Tag Archives: Console games

Splatoon 3 Review

I apologize for being so late to the party getting this out. How do I go on about this one without sounding redundant? I don’t know that it’s even possible at this point but I’m going to try. Sometimes the best moments of creativity and innovation come about when your back is against the wall. Other times, they come about from analyzing what you have and refining it. The original Splatoon came about in an environment of the former. The Wii U was not a big seller and in a bid to move the needle, it became something of a phenomenon. It took a popular genre, the third-person multiplayer shooter, and combined it with the fast pace of the classic PC arena shooters. But it also created its own unique gameplay loop with its core Turf War mode.

With that one stroke of genius, it made a competitive genre palatable to not only hardcore veterans who had played since the days of DOOM and Duke Nukem 3D but to the many who had barely touched the genre. Because the focus was now on an objective that anyone could do. You might not be confident in your ability to hold down a giant flashing letter in Battlefield, but you could look down and paint a floor. And doing it contributed something. But Splatoon didn’t end there, you had a well-rounded package. It eventually had Ranked Battles, modes that were akin to those in its contemporaries, as well as one that was a microcosm of the Turf War in Splat Zones. Now you didn’t worry about the whole map. Just designated areas in the center. But it also included a campaign with a lighthearted tone atop a surprisingly deep and dark storyline. It had characters nearly everyone who played the game fell in love with, and it began a tradition of stealthily teaching multiplayer mechanics through its Super Mario Galaxy meets Metal Gear Solid level design.

PROS: New mechanics. New weapons. New specials. Greatly expanded lobby system. Stellar campaign. Salmon Run is no longer limited to specific hours. TableTurf card battles.

CONS: Connectivity issues. Not all of the improvements are visible at face value.

DEEP CUT: The latest idol group is a trio, and bring along some real bangers in the soundtrack department. But they haven’t forgotten about Off The Hook or the Squid Sisters either.

Splatoon 2 would follow 5 years later and that game was the latter. It added a lot of new stuff to an already great formula. It too had a great storyline campaign mode. But it expanded upon it. It also stealthily taught beginners the basics and gave them a lot to do. Every multiplayer mode returned from the original and it introduced Clam Blitz, a new mode with elements of Unreal Tournament 2003’s Bombing Run, and the Salmon Run horde mode that became very popular with a segment of the fandom. Splatoon 2’s Octo Expansion gave the single-player 80 challenges that played like a combination of Splatoon 2’s main campaign and puzzle stages with the tone of something like Portal. And clearing it lets fans play as the Octolings introduced in the original game’s storyline. Clearing 100% of that Expansion Pack unleashes one of the toughest secret boss fights of all time on you as well. And successfully completing that gives you a multiplayer item that tells the world you did it.

So with all of these improvements and iterations, one can only wonder what they could possibly add to make the game even better? And the answer to that is quite a bit. Not everything is going to be obvious to everyone at face value. The graphics are improved a lot over Splatoon 2, but in such a way you have to start to analyze it. Geometrically it isn’t a major leap, but the texture work is much sharper. There are improvements to some of the special effects, and it all runs at a pretty solid 60 frames per second. At least in the actual game modes. Once again you’ll spend time in a hub world upon booting up the game in any instance after the first one, and it has much more going on with background details and animation. The emphasis on the new city and the world that gets explored reflects this and so you’ll be running around half that when in Splatsville.

By now, Splatoon has settled into a formula that long-time fans will be familiar with but is easy enough for newcomers to get a handle on. When you first turn on the game, it immediately hits you with an important question. At least it does if you’ve played Splatoon 2. That question is “Would you like to import your Splatoon 2 data?” Choosing to do so nets you a few benefits. The first is that you’ll be given Sheldon Licenses. These will let you gain early access to some of the weapons you would normally have to grind for. If you mained a weapon in the previous game, it is nice because you can jump right in and use it. All of the base weapons from Splatoon 2 are here, and I know I’m very late getting this published, so at the time of this writing there are already some new ones you can try. Speaking of new ones, this game introduces a new bow class of weapons where you can shoot ink arrows in horizontal shots or vertical shots. The latter happens when you fire while jumping. The other is the new Splatana class, where you essentially have a weapon you would brandish like a sword. There’s a stamper and a windshield wiper for example.

Beyond getting your hands on weapons early, importing your data means that you can enter Ranked Battles earlier. In Splatoon 3 they’re called Anarchy Battles, and you can play them in either a single match called Open, or you can do a first to five called Series. Normally the game would have you grind up to level 10 in the general Turf War mode, then open up the Ranked Battles. The Ranking system has been slightly altered from the previous game. Whereas Splatoon 2 had a system that went from C to S with a -, standard, and + sub-rank in between before moving on to S+ and then X where you had a four-digit ranking Splatoon 3 does not. Instead, Splatoon 3 goes from C to S+. Recently, X was added to the game. X Rank works the way it does in the previous game, where you’re given a four-digit power level that goes up or down based on your wins and losses. However, it is separated entirely from the other letters.

That said, to access X Rank mode you’ll have to attain an S+ Rank. One thing that makes the goal a little easier in one respect is that you won’t rank down from losing games. Should you fight your way to an A+ Rank, for example, losing too many games will not take you back down to A or A-. Instead, the game has a point system in between the grades. You’ll need to attain enough points to enter a Rank Up series where you need to play three games and hope you earn enough points from that to get you over the top. If you manage to get to S+ you’ll unlock the coveted X Rank.

All of this means on paper, that the Ranking system is easier and will be more beloved. But it isn’t the whole story. Because the inability to lose rank also means that you can’t be sent back down to people with the same level of talent should you find yourself unable to win enough points to move further. Especially if you lose so much that you go into a large number of negative points. To alleviate that issue, the game does reset ranks every season, by knocking every player down by one grade. You can also get one mulligan to knock down if you choose to do so once per season. So it isn’t quite as simple as things would seem.

With all of that out of the way, during your first boot-up of the game, you’ll be tasked with creating your avatar. You can now choose to be an Inkling or Octoling right out of the box. You then customize the look of your character. This time around they’ve expanded the starter options. There are more hairstyles than there were in previous games. Eye color is a new customization option and you now get a pet salmonid (One of the enemies from the Salmon Run mode introduced in Splatoon 2.) that you can also customize. You then guide your character through a brief tutorial to get you used to the basic controls. At the end of which you catch a train to Splatsville, the new hub world that resides a long way from the desert you begin in.

Once you arrive in Splatsville, you’ll find the concept of the hub world has greatly been expanded upon. You’ll have the manhole cover where you can follow Captain Cuttlefish down to play through this iteration’s campaign. You’ll also see the shops where you can purchase weapons, clothing items, and new to the series, locker equipment. Splatoon 3’s city block hub also has a new card battle minigame you can play. And there’s also the returning Salmon Run mode. And of course, there is the expected tower you can enter to go play various modes online.

It’s recommended most newcomers to the series play the campaign first, though even veterans may want to as there are a few new mechanics to learn here. The story mode in all of the Splatoon games stealthily teaches you the game mechanics while giving you a substantial single-player experience to play through. In Splatoon 3, you don’t have to have played either of the other Splatoon titles to enjoy it or understand it. But for those who have played them, there are loads of nods to the older games, with a lot of little details that tie the three games together. One of the ways the games have allowed the players to affect the storyline is with their Final Splatfest events, which I’ll get to later. But the winners of that event in each of the games have driven the development team on what theme to lead the next title’s storyline with.

In Splatoon 2 that event was Chaos Vs. Order and with that battle, Team Chaos won. As such, Splatoon 3 has elements of chaos throughout its story mode campaign. The setup this time is that many of our favorite characters have left the upscale area of Inkopolis to visit the city of Splatsville. Splatsville is surrounded by desert landscapes, and the city embraces its fair share of the musical counterculture. This is reflected in the soundtrack, which continues the influences of punk rock, and hip-hop. But there has been a bit more of a new wave influence in many of the campaign stages with some synths and bass lines you could almost mistake for the likes of Depeche Mode, Duran Duran, or Simple Minds. There’s also a continuation of electro-pop and some post-punk influences as well.

There are two hub worlds to go through. These work like the previous games but they’ve been expanded. There’s a prologue set where you’ll see the familiar kettles you enter throughout a small map. Each of these leads to an individual level where you’ll have to get from the beginning to the end. Most of these work like a Super Mario Galaxy level structure, with you facing platformer challenges in a linear fashion with checkpoints you’ll continue on from if you lose a life. Each level gives you three lives. If you lose all of them, you’ll lose points (represented by power eggs) as you’ll have to spend some of them to continue.

In this iteration, you’ll find a lethal fuzzy substance all around the hub map. Much of which covers the kettle entrances to levels you’ll need to play. You may be wondering what purpose your pet salmonid serves as it follows you around the hub worlds and levels of the game. What he does is remove the aforementioned fuzz. You’ll have to spend a different amount of power eggs on each removable portion. This stuff also appears in some of the individual stages. So keep note of that.

In addition to helping you remove fuzz, the salmonid can find secrets within the levels for you to uncover. They’re often invisible and can hide anything from more eggs to sunken scrolls that tell you more of the lore to locker decorations which I’ll also get to later. Once you get to the end of the first hub world you’ll face a boss who is familiar to players of the first two games. Beat this encounter, and you’ll find yourself in a subterranean arctic world called Alterna.

You’ll move on as you did in the previous hub world. But Alterna is much, much larger. At the end of each section, there is a pipeline that takes you further into subsequent hubs. Think of them like the worlds of a Super Mario game’s structures. Sometimes you’ll be given a branching path, and each of these pipelines costs eggs to enter. So not only do you have to worry about removing all of the fuzz, but you’ll have to keep earning enough to continue onward. If you run out of cash though, fear not. You can go back and replay earlier maps, perhaps even looking for secrets you may have missed originally, to earn more.

The other thing that changes is the fact that in Alterna not every stage follows the same formula. Taking a page from the previous game’s expansion pack; Octo Expansion, some of these stages take a challenging approach instead, which gives things more of the first-person puzzle stage feel found in games like Portal. All of this gives the game a lot of variety. Beyond that, each of these stages whether they’re a platformer, puzzle, or boomer shooter-feeling horde battle, will teach you many of the game’s mechanics.

Splatoon 3 also continues the trend of larger-than-life boss fights where it’s one part arena shooter and one part pattern memorization. Some might feel familiar to those who played earlier titles, but many of them are entirely new experiences. Some actually reference some other Nintendo games, so for fans of Nintendo IPs in general, they are nice nods.

As for those mechanics I talked about, they can become pretty complex and deep. The basics are you can, of course, shoot floors, and swim underneath your own ink. But swimming also reloads your weapons, allows you to move faster, and at higher levels learn how to trick jump around areas faster. Splatoon 3 adds two new moves into the mix. A squid roll that allows you to parry shots fired at you, should you become proficient enough. Quickly jumping in the opposite direction while swimming can net you a free hit during a small window of animation. The same can be said about the squid jump, a move where you can charge while swimming to get an extra boost. Useful when climbing walls.

Going through the campaign can get you acquainted with the basics of each of these, but of course, playing online matches is where you’ll really learn the advanced mechanics and unorthodox uses of the different move sets. Not only will learning these kinds of things benefit you in online matches, but there is also a super-secret surprise waiting for you if you 100% the campaign. One that opens up after the credits roll and will require the use of every aforementioned mechanic to overcome. If you can pull that off you will get a nice little perk for multiplayer.

All of the major multiplayer modes are back as expected. Chief among them is the Turf War where both teams vie for control of the map by painting all of the floors their respective team colors. It is the flagship mode most will be familiar with. There are a wide variety of different weapons to use to do so. At the end of the three-minute battle, the team with the most paint laid down is the victor.

Beyond that are the modes we mentioned earlier; the Anarchy Battles. Anarchy Open battles are single rounds of the game’s ranked modes. As in Splatoon and Splatoon 2, the modes and maps are cycled every hour or so which means every combination is eventually played. The difference here is that the Anarchy Open battles can be played by anyone of any rank at any time. Whereas the Anarchy Series will still pair people up in solo queues with other players of the same rank, Open matches are a little loose with it. That’s because, in the Open, you can pair up with friends of all stripes.

Ranked Modes in Splatoon 2 could only be played with friends of the same skill level unless you were all B+ or above and played in a league together. Or, if you wanted to stick to private matches where none of you would gain experience to level up. In Splatoon 3 Anarchy Open changes things by letting your friends join up on you even if you’re all from different ranks. What’s nice about this is that not everyone is going to have the same interest level in the competitive end of the game. If you’re someone who wants to grind your way to S+ so you can play X rank, but you have 2 friends who don’t, you can still enjoy the modes together. Beyond that, it also gives newer players and casual players incentive to go beyond the base Turf War mode.

Anarchy Series battles are where individual players will want to play the ranked modes when they want to push to level up. In these battles, you’ll be tasked with getting five wins while paired with three other random people. You’re allowed to lose up to three games. If you win the majority of the series you’ll get a lot of points to level up. If you lose, you’ll lose a number of points. Consistently losing as I mentioned earlier, can get you into negative points, but if you get a good streak going you’ll reach the point level needed to enter a Rank Up series. If you can win that you’ll make the next letter grade.

Returning are Tower Control, Rainmaker, Splat Zones, and Clam Blitz. Tower Control works similarly to push cart modes seen in other shooters. There are paths set up along the map that the tower follows. Getting to the tower and standing on it moves it along that path. The goal is to move it to an endpoint in the enemy base for a win. There are checkpoints along the way you’ll need to capture in order to progress.

Rainmaker is similar. It’s a bit like a combination of a push cart mode and an escort mode. There’s not a set path in the map, but like the Tower Control mode, you’re tasked with moving an object from the center of the map into an endpoint in the enemy team’s base. The difference is that this time it’s a giant gun shaped like a fish that can shoot a powerful blast of ink. Each team is trying to get ahold of it. Once someone on your team gets it, it’s up to the others to escort them across enemy territory to get it onto a podium. That means constantly shooting down the opponents who will be trying to kill them to take it for themselves.

Splat Zones is a competitive microcosm of the Turf War. Unlike Turf War, you’re not tasked with painting the entire map. Rather, you need to paint one, or two very specific zones in the center of the map and control them until a timer hits zero. If the enemy team takes control of it from you, you’ll have penalty seconds added to your timer for if and when you take control back of them. If you do, they too will be penalized with extra seconds. Get to zero before time runs out and your team wins.

Finally, there’s Clam Blitz, where each team tries to invade the other team’s base and fill a basket with clams peppered throughout the map. In order to do this each team will need to destroy the opposing team’s shield with a football. How do you get a football? By collecting enough clams you’ll create one. Chaos then ensues as both teams shoot at any football they see, as you can’t carry a football under the ink with you, and it gives away your position. So it’s up to each team to divide duties between escorting football wielders into enemy territory and staying behind long enough to play goalie against enemies charging into your team’s territory.

All of these modes can involve a wealth of strategies to employ. It’s astonishing how deep all of them become at a high level where analyzing the maps, weapons, and how the gear system ties into all of it really come into play. For those new to Splatoon, the gear system is another one of the series’ hallmarks. When you go into the shops to buy the costume options you’ll find each of these has a perk. Which is referred to as gear. Some of these perks may refill your ink faster when you’re swimming. Some may fill your special meter faster. Some make you run faster. Or a number of other perks. You will also see question marks on these clothing options. These will be filled by random perks after so many experience points gained in the competitive online modes.

Advanced users have some other options when it comes to gear. One can go to a character in the plaza hub named Murch, who returns from the last game. Except now he’s older. Murch can put specific perks on your gear if you have enough ability chunks to do so. You get these by either grinding them in online matches or having him scrub your gear off of clothes you’re not using. You can also get gear randomly when you go into the tower to go into online matches. There’s a vending machine you can spend points you earn in online battles on the machine for random items and sometimes those items may be a bundle of a variety of ability chunks.

If you have at least 10 chunks, you can have Murch place them on one of your question marks. So it gives you the opportunity to build a very specific set of perks over time. If you have clothes you want extra question mark slots on for more perks you can also have Murch place those on them. But you need to give him Seasnails. You get these through the Splatfest events Nintendo runs throughout the year.

In these special events, the city hub will turn into a late-night block party and when you go online you’ll be placed on a specific team you choose at a table. This table will give you three options to choose from, and once you do, for the duration of the event you will play Turf War on behalf of that team. During the Splatfests, there are different variants of the Turf War. There are the open battles that are open to well, everyone hence the name. In open battles, you’ll be able to group up with friends. Similar to how you can with the Anarchy open battles where you play the various ranked modes.

Then there is the Turf War Pro mode. These battles work the same way as the open ones, except you can only play them in a solo queue. You’ll have to be paired with three random teammates and try your best to get the big win by being a team player. Probably more so than in the open version because there are more clout points at stake. More on that in a moment. As it does mimic the Anarchy series battles in that you have to play it with random players, you’ll find a lot of the people you’ll be playing with are more competitive. That’s because in the Anarchy series players are trying to grind their way up the ranks. That mindset will likely translate to the Splatfest open Turf War battles since the ranked modes are disabled during the event.

After the latest patch, they began opening up the option to play in Tri Color Turf War battles after the halfway point during Splatfests. In these matches, one team of four faces off against two teams of two. It’s still very much a Turf War. Where things change up a bit is that at the center of the map, a beacon will spawn. Two teams will have to attempt to get them when they appear. If either of those teams manages to get one or both of them, a giant octopus-shaped sprinkler will appear on the map, automatically giving them a big boost in acquiring turf. The defending team not only has to stop them from getting these super sprinklers, they also have to come away with more floor coverage than their opponents. The attacking teams have a disadvantage as they’re two-person teams against a four-person team. But anything can happen. The two underdog teams can temporarily align themselves to ensure the defending team doesn’t have said numbers advantage. But they can also go into business for themselves by trying to sneak away with both of the sprinklers.

All three of these Splatfest Turf War variants will give your team a number of clout points. Clout points are a big deal during the event because the winning team in each category will get a point toward victory. Each of those three modes ultimately adds up to three points. Beyond those points, there is one given for the most popular team (ie: the team most people joined). and one point for whichever team ended up with the most conch shells. Not to be confused with the sea snails mentioned earlier. These shells are picked up whenever you update your catalog level during the event. Which you may want to do even outside of the event as you’ll unlock some cool stuff for doing so anyway.

There are also the Festival shells you’ll get if you end up in a 10x battle and win. these give you a better chance of getting into 100x or 333x battles. If you get into any of these multiplier matches and win, you’ll gain a lot more clout points on your team’s behalf. So it really behooves you to take what would normally be seen as the most easy-going match type a little bit more seriously. That’s because, at the end of the event, you’ll be rewarded with a certain number of sea snails depending on how much you leveled up and where your team placed in the event. You can then take these snails to Murch who can boost your star power on clothes with them to get you more slots.

As you can see, this gives competitive people more depth to work with as they shoot toward higher levels. “What kind of gear should I pair with what weapon?” they may ask themselves. As far as the weapons go, there is a wide variety to choose from as denoted earlier. Every weapon class returns along with the new ones. So between the weapons and gear, you’ll have to decide what kind of role you’re going to attempt to fill in each match type.

When you do go online to play in a Turf War or the Ranked modes the lobby system has also been greatly expanded upon. No longer do you simply stand in an elevator, select your mode, and move on. Instead, when you enter the tower you’ll find a large room where you can practice on training targets. There’s also a training dummy you can turn on to practice combat with. The Targets work like the ones in Sheldon’s shop in the first two games. But by being in the lobby you can do some aiming drills while you wait to connect to other players in a match.

Connecting to friends is also, much, much easier now. Where the old games required you to plan to be on at the same time to coordinate a league battle so you could play the other modes, form a lobby for Turf War, or even set up a private game, Splatoon 3 gives you some quality of life updates. As I mentioned earlier you can easily choose “With Friends” options on Turf War or Anarchy Open battles. If you see any of your friends listed as online and in a game of either, you can join them on the fly. You won’t always be on the same team, but you can surprise them. The game does still let you set up lobbies. But they don’t have to be League Battles. Now you can ping your friends to join your lobby be it a public or private game. In a public game, you’ll usually wind up alongside one another too.

The online experience also lets you record your matches for a period of time so you can watch replays of them and see the perspectives of every player involved. This is a fantastic tool for people who want to go back and find their mistakes so they can rectify them in future matches. Next time, they may expect a splat bomb around a certain corner. Or realize that a wall they thought obfuscated them from a sniper’s perch actually didn’t. Plus they can give you codes you can give out to friends that they can punch in and watch the same replays. The feature also works with the Nintendo Online phone app. As in Splatoon 2, you can also use the app to find brief windows to get clothing items the in-game shops might not have at that particular moment. You can still use it for voice chat, but that seems pointless when you can just conference call friends or use an app like Discord. Still, the integration is nice in some respects.

Also returning is the LAN feature. This is actually a key one because it allows for people to not only host an offline LAN party in the vein of a late 90s fare like Rise Of The Triad, DOOM or Duke Nukem 3D but also for tournament organizers. Splatoon had a more niche scene due to the low base of the Wii U, but Splatoon 2 quickly became a noteworthy title on the Switch. One that had a notable scene grow up around it with several high-profile events from Nintendo among others. Splatoon 3 has already eclipsed those numbers and has gained traction, growing that community further. So retaining this feature is big.

Another addictive feature of the lobby is the locker area. Once you level up enough a room opens up where you can fill a locker with stickers, posters, collectibles, weapons, and other decorative models you can get at the new store they opened in the hub world. Run by a character named Harmony, the store gives you a catalog level as you splurge on more stuff. It’s mainly a silly side thing you can take part in to personalize your lobby experience a bit.

Speaking of personalization, Splatoon 3 adds some stuff other popular shooters have had for a while. Now you can get your own banners that display behind your name at the beginning and end of matches. You can also get titles in prefixes and suffixes that you can combine over time. Some have direct references to in-game lore, while others are more about other aspects of the game. And you can also decorate your background banner with badges you earn by completing challenges and objectives in any of the game’s other content. On paper, it sounds small, but in practice, it’s quite endearing.

And while you may miss Crusty Sean and his food truck of wonder. You can still get drink and food tickets. The lobby does have a snack bar where you can purchase them with the money you get from online battles. They’ll also sometimes show up in the balls you get from the vending machine of random chance using the same money. Speaking of that machine, you can also use concha shells (not to be confused with sea snails) you earn during Splatfests to get random chance capsule balls from it as well.

I can already hear some people screaming about the other stuff I haven’t mentioned yet like the return of Salmon Run. It returns from Splatoon 2 and is the series’ take on the player vs. environment horde mode popularized by games like Gears Of War. You and three other players get sent on extermination missions by Grizzco CEO Mr. Grizz to continue gunning down waves of salmonid sea creatures and their boss counterparts for power eggs. To truly succeed you’ll need to survive three waves and within each bring back a certain number of power eggs to your team’s basket. You’re all given random weapons every wave, and you have to work together to survive. Especially when bosses show up as they all take different strategies to defeat, and they tend to hold the power eggs. If you can survive all or most of the waves you’ll be rewarded with experience to level up. Salmon Run has its own separate ranking system and you can also unlock certain costume options that are only available to attain in that mode. Since you can use them in competitive modes, it gives fans of PvP a reason to jump into PvE. Periodically you may get a bonus wave where a mega-boss salmonid shows up like Godzilla and takes a ton of punishment before you can put them away.

Rounding all of that stuff out is the new TableTurf Card Battle minigame which is found in a separate part of the hub world. You’ll earn cards over time that represent different weapons and sprays as they’re placed on a board in a turn-based card game. The idea is to cover most of the board with your ink the way you would cover a map in a Turf War. Some cards do more work than others, and depending on where you place them you can take over some enemy turf. You also can’t place them anywhere. They have to line up on a grid in very specific ways. It takes some getting used to, but when you do it is a fun break from the other modes.

And they also brought back the plaza posts from the other two games. There’s a mailbox you can visit that brings up a rudimentary drawing program. I highly recommend you use it in handheld mode so you can draw freehand with a stylus rather than trying to draw with a thumbstick and buttons. Once you’ve created something you can upload it to a Facebook or Twitter account and in doing so, your art may appear in someone else’s plaza or even a match.

One other enhancement they’ve made is that the recon mode has been greatly expanded. You don’t have to be in an online queue to access it anymore, the same character in the lobby selling tickets is out in the plaza for you to visit. And they’ll allow you to choose any map in any mode to explore for up to an hour. This is really nice for anyone who wants to study the map layouts or experiment with unorthodox means to get around them. Very handy for anyone who wants to get a little bit more competitive with friends or strangers.

As you can see, Splatoon 3 is much more than a facelift to the previous game. It’s a lot more apparent to longtime fans than it might seem to newcomers. But it truly is fantastic in almost every way. I have to say almost because there are a couple of Mr. Grizz-sized elephants in the room. The first are some of the bugs that were thankfully caught early. Some of these potentially ruined certain modes, as they were forced off until the bugs were fixed. One of which made Rainmaker nearly instant winnable by achieving a single checkpoint. Another affected certain brush weapons. Nintendo is usually very good about catching this sort of thing before release, but sadly some of these slipped through during the launch weeks.

The other that has improved for me a bit, but not for everyone is connectivity drops. Sometimes you will be disconnected for seemingly no reason. The game will think you lost an internet connection when you haven’t. And while this doesn’t happen every day you play for a few hours, the frequency is random and can be really annoying when it happens. Especially if you’re about to win a ranked match, and then you lose points because the game thought you disconnected on purpose in a fit of rage quitting. While it’s great it punishes actual rage quitting, it is a pain in the neck to get a false positive.

Fortunately, post-release the more egregious problems have been patched out with the latest updates. And the connection issues have been greatly improved. But it still isn’t perfect. You’ll run into the occasional disconnection. Sometimes you may have a night where you see several disconnections close to one another. In which case exiting the game and rebooting the game may temporarily keep them at bay. And while it’s a lot better than it is in other Nintendo Switch games like Super Smash Bros Ultimate, it still isn’t perfect. Over time they’ll hopefully, get the situation to a better state. As it stands it’s almost gotten on par with Splatoon 2’s occasional drops.

Ultimately, Splatoon 3 is a major upgrade over Splatoon 2. At first glance, some may make the mistake of seeing a prettier version of the last game. But as you can see, digging beneath that superficial surface reveals that it is so much more than that. While this could have been pointed out a bit better by Nintendo’s own marketing, at the end of the day it didn’t seem to hurt much as it has already eclipsed the numbers the previous entries put up. The enhancements to Salmon Run make the mode more viable. The tweaks to the ranked modes and the process of leveling make them more viable for the general audience to dabble in whereas in previous games they may have stuck with Turf War. The new catalog system, locker system, tags, banners, and emotes give the series a lot of customization and personal attachment. The soundtrack is excellent and brings back familiar songs from its in-universe character bands, to entirely new efforts most anyone will love. One of the best is Deep Cut’s “Til Depth Do Us Part.” which plays during the Splatfest events. There are always great puns in Splatoon games.

The new mechanics add a lot of new utilities for the more competitive end of the player base to experiment with and master. Particularly the ability to parry with the squid roll. The Tableturf card game can be a fun diversion from shooting each other, and it can even be a pretty substantial mode in its own right. The expanded Recon mode and returning mailbox feature may seem like small things, but really can be greater than they appear at face value. The connection issues keep it from being perfect and it’s a shame some issues weren’t addressed until after release. But this is still one of the best games you can buy for the Nintendo Switch despite its faults. Whether you’ve poured thousands of hours into Splatoon 2 or you’re a shooter fan new to the series, Splatoon 3 is an easy recommendation.

Final Score: 9 out of 10

Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles Shredder’s Revenge Review

Back in 1984 Kevin Eastman and Peter Laird struck gold when their comic about four turtles saving the world became a minor hit, and then a major one. Three years later Mirage Studios would have a cartoon based upon the book out and Playmates would have an action figure line that coincided with it. As the end of the decade approached Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles would become a major franchise that seeped into all facets of pop culture. Video games would be inevitable. Konami would get the video game rights, and proceeded to create some of the best licensed games ever made. Based upon the 1987 cartoon show, these would start out with an adventure game on computer platforms and the NES. But most memorably would be the several beat ’em up titles that spanned across the Arcades, NES, Super NES, Sega Genesis, and Game Boy. Flash forward to today, and it’s an entirely new landscape. But now Tribute has entered the fray with a new TMNT brawler. But does it hold a candle to those old Konami games?

PROS: Terrific pixel art, animation, gameplay, music, and more. 6-player co-op!

CONS: Some minor but annoying bugs. Technical hitches in some versions.

TURTLE POWER: There’s an obvious amount of love for the glory days here.

In a word; yes. Shredder’s Revenge is fantastic. However, I’d be remiss if I told you to expect a carbon copy of the vintage Konami experience. Because while there are plenty of callbacks to the old games, it doesn’t play identically. If you’re coming into this game expecting another Turtles In Time, you’re not going to get that. That’s because Tribute has implemented its own entirely new set of mechanics. Yes, you’ll be mashing the attack and jump buttons. But not in the exact same way you did in the arcade or on your Super Nintendo.

You’ll have an attack button, a jump button, a button for supers (More on that in a bit), and a button for dodges. There is also a button for helping up a friend when they get knocked out when you’re playing multiplayer. You can also do taunts. Beyond that, there is a whole set of underlying mechanics. The biggest of these is a robust combo system that could fit well in a fighting game. You have your typical attacks, but you’ll get auto combos, juggles, air juggles, and more. Beyond that you can get some light tech elements too, allowing you to get up quickly upon falling down.

The combo system is important too. Because throughout the game you’ll need to use super moves to get waves of enemies off of you when they surround you. They’re also very useful in boss fights as they make quick work of many of their health bars. Combos can also have a challenging element in trying to keep your hit counter as high as possible. Every time you get hit by an enemy the counter will reset. If your counter gets reset before your super meter gets filled, you’ll also drain your meter before you can use it, and you’ll have to fill it again before you can use it again. You can also use taunts to try to fill the meter, though if your taunt is interrupted it will be for naught. That said, on lower difficulties you can essentially cheese your way to supers by taunting in between waves of baddies.

There are two main ways to play Shredder’s Revenge. The primary mode is the story mode. This mode plays each of the game’s 16 stages across a map made in the vein of the overworld section in the initial TMNT game on the NES. Playing through each of the stages unlocks a path to the next one, and within each of the stages, classic secondary characters from the original cartoon series can be found. Finding these characters will then place them on their own specific points on the map. Going to these has the characters telling you to find a certain number of items across the campaign. For example one of the characters may want you to find diary entries or another may want VHS tapes. These items then get hidden within the stages so over the course of a few play-throughs you’ll be breaking every conceivable crate, or other destructible pieces of scenery to find them all. If you do, you then drive back to deliver the items to the corresponding character. Find every item and there are little surprises waiting for you at the end of the game.

The story mode also takes a page from the NES version of Double Dragon, where you’ll unlock some moves over time. You can also level up your super meter to three bars, allowing you to have a little bit of an easier time with some of the later levels. Because some of the later stages throw a lot more enemies at you at once. Having the ability to do three supers helps immensely near the end game too.

The other way is the arcade mode. This eschews the map and its character-driven fetch quests. In turn, leaving you with a cut-and-dry experience. You’ll start at stage 1 and power through to stage 16. Playing this way also does away with the story mode’s leveling-up system. So you’ll have to be more selective when deciding when to use a super. The arcade mode also limits the number of continues you can use. To supplement these continues, you can earn 1-Ups throughout the game by earning enough points. At roughly 200 points or so, you’ll earn one. The thing is, each enemy only nets you one or two points. While playing solo this isn’t a big hindrance. But if you’re playing this mode with a group, you’re going to want to divide the workload evenly if you don’t want one player walking away with the lion’s share of lives. Fortunately, the game’s aforementioned help-up function is going to mitigate that.

Over the course of the game, you’ll see it’s very clear the team at Tribute really love the classic cartoon, Playmates action figure line, and vintage Konami brawlers. The pixel art is absolutely fantastic. The characters are very detailed, with expressive facial animations and a slew of frames for each of the many moves. Enemies have that same amount of time and care packed into each and every frame. There are many nods to all of that classic TMNT pop culture too. Many of the vehicles and figures from the classic toyline are represented here. A lot of the 1987 cartoon series is constantly referenced with even minor characters showing up. The Neutrinos, Punk Frogs, Erma, and other part-time players are here alongside your major protagonists and antagonists. Each of the characters controls very well, and the collision detection is mostly very good. There are even a lot of nods to the Konami games of old. For example, when you do the grapple moves, they’re similar animations to the ones you saw in Turtles In Time.

The audio follows that same trend. The chiptunes on display are clearly inspired by Konami’s old classics but it doesn’t end there. There’s a lot of variety with Rock, Pop, Hip-Hop, and Metal tracks. There’s even a track by Mega Ran in the game. Beyond that, they somehow managed to get the budget to bring in some of the original actors from the classic cartoon including Rob Paulsen and Cam Clarke. As such, the cutscenes can get a lot closer to the old arcade experience between stages as you’ll get to hear the fab four (The turtles, not the Beatles) sound off with the supervillains of Dimension X. Beyond that you’ll get to hear some classic voice quips during the combat. The punches, kicks, clangs, and explosions all sound top-notch too.

Again, Tribute has absolutely crushed it when it comes to presentation. Coupled with the excellent gameplay, there’s not too much to complain about here. But that doesn’t mean there aren’t a number of things that can stand to be improved upon. The game’s online gameplay is one of the major areas. Depending on which version of the game you’re playing your mileage may vary. I bought the game on both PC (via Steam) as well as the Nintendo Switch (via the Nintendo e-shop). While I didn’t run into any major issues, I did notice the Switch version suffered some slowdown when certain sections of the game got particularly busy. It was also on the Switch I once found myself stuck against a backdrop item when in the middle of a jump kick for a couple of seconds.

And while I didn’t run into any bugs when playing online, my good buddy and fellow Twitch streamer 1UpJohn ran into several major issues when playing the Xbox Series version on Livestream. Players would be invisible. Other times an enemy or boss would be stuck in a grounded frame of animation which in turn would essentially soft-lock the group from being able to progress. These bugs strangely enough only happened to him when playing online multiplayer. Not frequently enough to ruin the game by any means. But they did occur often enough that he had to replay a couple of stages a number of times.

These are some issues to be aware of at the time of this writing. And while in my circle of friends the Microsoft Xbox family had the highest number of occurrences, it doesn’t mean that these problems will never show up on Switch, Playstation, or computer versions. Beyond that, there is also the fact that the aforementioned taunt function abuse can cheese the game. To the point where those who play online with random players, may feel frustrated if they’re not looking to blow through the game with an exploit. Supers in the game do a lot of damage to bosses in particular. Fortunately, playing the game on the hardest setting can mitigate this somewhat.

Hopefully, Tribute will be given the resources to patch out some of these bugs, and possibly rebalance the game so those looking for a little bit more of a challenge can get one. Overall, though this is a fantastic beat ’em up. If you’ve been starved for more belt scrollers this is a solid buy. If you’re a child of the 80s or 90s who grew up with the vintage cartoons and action figures there’s a very good chance you’re going to love this. The amount of care and detail displayed throughout the game shows that the developers had a lot of reverence for that era of the TMNT IP. Nickelodeon could have easily slapped the Turtles on any fly-by-night project for another nostalgic cash grab. Thankfully, that was not the case here. If you’re a TMNT mega-fan there’s a lot to love here. And if you were looking for a 1:1 recreation of the Konami model, you’re not going to find that. This is still very much its own thing. But you should still check it out. There’s enough love of those old games here blended in with everything else you’d be hard-pressed to come away unsated. The gameplay isn’t better or worse than what those old games had on offer, it’s just a bit different.

Sadly, the problems hold it back from being as great as it could be. But it’s still a very enjoyable experience. Perhaps if this game does well enough for Tribute and DotEmu they’ll be able to make equivalent brawlers for some of our other favorite Saturday morning cartoons of a bygone era. Perhaps He-Man and The Masters Of The Universe?

Final Score: 8 out of 10

Cruis’n Blast Review

I know it’s been a long time (too long) since I’ve been able to find the time to get in a review. But with the traffic at work slowing down a little bit (finally), and a snowstorm keeping us closed for a day, I can actually get in some writing. So today we’re going over a game I’m a little bit late to the party on, but one I’m glad I finally picked up for myself.

PROS: Visual design. Inventive tracks. Drifting mechanics. Takedowns. Split-screen!

CONS: Rubberband A.I. returns. No online multiplayer. Some track section recycling.

WHAT!?!?!?: Is what you will shout upon seeing some over-the-top stuff. But in a good way.

Cruis’n is a series that hearkens all the way back to 1994 with Cruis’n USA. Midway’s foray into the series was a fun and sometimes weird take on Sega’s Outrun. It saw you driving through several tracks from one end of the United States to the other. It was a lot of fun. And due to the IP being co-published by Nintendo, a port to the Nintendo 64 was inevitable. And while the port by Eurocom to the console was a solid effort it still didn’t perform as well, and there were some of the visual gags edited out.

Sequels Cruis’n World and Cruis’n Exotica took the series into an even zanier territory. Where tracks took you into impossible situations. Like driving under the deep sea for example. After these games, Midway focused on their more grounded San Fransisco RUSH games which were technically superior racers that still kept a similar driving style.

What some people may not know, and it wasn’t until I looked at the credits that I learned it, is that after Warner Bros. bought Midway, Robotron 2084 creator and arcade legend Eugene Jarvis would go on with other Midway alumni to form Raw Thrills. And Raw Thrills has been making coin-op arcade games at a pretty steady pace over the last several years. You’ve probably even played a few of them at a barcade or a movie theatre.

Well, Raw Thrills would get the opportunity to make a new Cruis’n game in a partnership with Nintendo in 2016 with the Cruis’n Blast arcade cabinet. The first major appearance of the series since Midway published the ill-fated Cruis’n on the Nintendo Wii. The Cruis’n Blast arcade cabinet did well enough that Raw Thrills has ported the game to the Nintendo Switch, and they’ve expanded the content to some degree.

So what sets this one apart from the rest of the series? Well, the fact that some of the original people who made the first three games at Midway also worked on this one really shows. It feels like both a return to form and a considerable upgrade over those old games. That may seem like an odd statement to those who have seen the visual fidelity of other racing games in recent years. No Cruis’n Blast certainly can’t hang with something like the latest Forza game’s photorealism. And there are other arcade racers that still push more polygons than what you’ll see here. And yet Cruis’n Blast still looks pretty breathtaking even several years after the arcade cabinet release.

A big part of that is due to the wonderful art direction. Screenshots don’t do this game justice. When you’re playing this game, it really is a treat for the senses. It’s bright and colorful. It has fantastic texture work. Everything feels cohesive and while things can be really crazy and completely unrealistic, it all does seem like it belongs together. You can expect to see stuff you would ordinarily see in some blockbuster action films. One moment you’ll be driving through a fight between two yetis and then a second later sliding down a giant flow of lava and magma and somehow not bottoming out or destroying your car.

Like the Cruis’n and Rush games of old, the game ditches the usual lap-based tracks for some A to B line races. Along the way, you can find alternate routes and shortcuts in each of the tracks. You’ll have to avoid traffic as hitting cars that aren’t competitors will slow you to a crawl. You’ll also have to avoid grinding up against the guardrails, walls, and other things so that you can keep your vehicle going as fast as possible. But not only are there forked paths for you to choose from but there are also many ramps to jump over and many tricks you can use to maintain your lead.

Returning from older games, are the booster moves. You can double-tap the gas to get a quick boost while doing a wheelie. You can do it while turning to get the vehicle upon its side. You can do it off of jumps to make the car jack knife spin forward. The game also has a nitro system you can use three times per race. Though you can use the prize money you pick up or earn at the end of a race to add more. This game also has a proper drifting mechanic. You can slide around corners at high speeds and begin to fill a meter. If you can fill it out quickly and straighten out your vehicle you’ll get a quick boost. All of this stuff goes a long way to keep you going at an insane speed. On top of all of that, the game takes a page from Citerion’s Burnout games and allows you to get takedowns on your A.I. rivals. They’re big, flashy explosions that even use a splash of bullet time to make them feel as impactful as the other crazy stuff you’ll be seeing at the same time. It’s all a super fun sensory overload.

Being an arcade port, the game has all of the arcade version’s tracks in it. But that’s not all. The game also has six circuits, each with its own four courses that you’ll need to place highly in. In order to unlock the following circuit. You need to get a Gold trophy ranking in each circuit. So in order to do that, you’ll need to place first in the majority of the four tracks and never less than third place. Each of the tracks (including the arcade machine tracks) has three hidden keys in them. You’ll need to find all of them in order to unlock some of the vehicles. And with so many branching baths in the tracks for them to lie in wait in, it’s one way you’ll go back and replay the tracks a multitude of times for.

Speaking of unlockable vehicles, there are a number of crazy ones including triceratops, a flying saucer, and a unicorn. But there are other more grounded ones including some classic cars, an ATV, and a host of others. Beyond those, you can also level up each of them as you re-play all of the game’s tracks with them. You can get new paint jobs, decals, body kits, and most importantly some slight engine upgrades.

There are four difficulties, and you’ll have to get all gold medals in each of the circuits to not only get to the next circuit, unlock higher difficulty settings. Playing through the circuits does not unlock them in the next difficulty either. So if you play through the game on Easy you’ll have to do it all again on Normal. Do it all on Normal and you’ll unlock Hard. Do it all again on Hard and you’ll unlock extreme. Fortunately, you don’t have to re-unlock the extra cars in subsequent difficulties, and the arcade tracks are in a separate menu so you won’t have to replay those if you don’t want to.

That’s especially nice since the game has split-screen multiplayer. This brings back a great party game option for you when you have people over. And guests can use the crazy cars you’ve unlocked as well. It even performs pretty well in split-screen for the most part although the 4-player option is a notable cut from 60 fps to 30 fps. But the game also has a local wireless option where you can network four Nintendo Switch consoles for a quasi-LAN experience.

So with all of the good on display here, is there anything to be wary of? Sadly, yes. If you come into this game expecting some online racing like I did you’ll be disappointed. There are no online modes to speak of here so the only way you can play with someone else is if they come over to do so. Eugene Jarvis said in an AMA they *want* to do so. But that doesn’t confirm they will be able to.

Another thing that will drive some people nuts is the return of rubberband A.I. You can expect to be clowning the other racers on higher difficulty runs only to have the distant second place car, suddenly boost past you as you approach the finish line or the game to decide to move a motorist in front of you when you have a third of the course to go. This makes sense as the game was originally an arcade machine, and the old games were also arcade machines meant to get you to keep putting in tokens. Cheap computer opponents are a simple way to do this. But this doesn’t make it any easier to swallow. You can fully expect to flip a few tables here, especially once you get beyond the scope of Normal difficulty.

And of course, if your friends can’t abide a lower if understandable framerate they won’t want to play in four-player mode as the look and feel of 60 vs 30 is going to be obvious. I think the game is fun enough to grin and bear it but some of the arcade racing purists out there may find it unacceptable. If everyone has their own system and game card the local wireless option mitigates this. But not everyone does.

One other smaller nitpick I have with the game is that it does recycle bits of tracks in some of the later ones. Particularly the last two circuits where they changed some of the visual cues to go with newly introduced themes, but reused stretches of earlier tracks. Many racing games do this, and it isn’t a dealbreaker by any means. But I would have liked to have seen completely original tracks in the end. I could have also done without the pretend Katy Perry theme song that permeates the menus as it just isn’t my cup of tea. The rest of the soundtrack is pretty good though with elements of electronic dance music, funk, disco, and one rock n’ roll track. You can cycle through the OST while racing.

But overall, I really like this iteration of the Cruis’n series. Its bright colors, wacky vehicles, insane set pieces, and Split-Secondesque transitions are all fantastic. The addition of drifting mechanics pairs really well with the classic Cruis’n and Rush formula. Tracking down the different keys for the unlockables feels fun and inviting rather than a chore. The presentation is a huge reason for that. Cruis’n Blast isn’t the deepest racing game. But that doesn’t mean there isn’t anything under the surface. You’ll need to learn some advanced drifting and the shortest routes for you to take first place. Especially in higher settings. Fans of Mario Kart’s gyroscopic options will also love that they’re an option here as well. But more importantly than that, it’s just a fun game. Whether you were playing the originals in the arcade and Nintendo 64 in the late 90s or you were raised on newer high-speed arcade racers, Cruis’n Blast is well, a blast.

Final Score: 8 out of 10

RetroWorldExpo 2021 Recap

After being shut down last year, and some delays RetroWorldExpo was able to return in 2021. There were a couple of concessions this year, there were no hyped after-hours events as in previous years. But there were a couple of surprises in the roster of guests this year. Beyond that, there was still a lot of fun to be had, and Hartford still had some nightlife beyond the convention center to take in after hours.

Still, there was a lot packed into the two days and it wasn’t possible to get to everything I wanted to but I still got to see a lot. One unfortunate thing is on day one my phone’s battery was low pretty much all of the day, and so I didn’t get as many photos as I would have liked to. I pressed on anyway getting in a few notes where I could. The panels started a little bit later this year and so I was able to start out my Saturday on the main floor perusing the vendors.

Getting down the guest booths I saw Pixel Dan again, who returned. This year he brought his new book The Toys Of He-Man And The Masters Of The Universe Where he and Val Staples (One of the main people behind He-man.org ) compiled every Mattel-produced He-Man toyline piece from the original line through the recent Classics line that ended last year. It’s a pretty deep dive into the various toylines as you’ll hear later. I got to talk with him a bit, and as every year I’ve gotten the opportunity he was nothing but friendly. I bought a copy from him for myself and had it signed which was really cool.

Timothy Clarke was there too. He was the man behind the Boglins toyline, and in recent years has been able to reclaim the rights to produce them. So he was selling some entirely new ones. Pat Contri and Norman Caruso of Pat The NES Punk and Gaming Historian fame were back as well. And new to the show was a YouTuber who probably doesn’t need an introduction: MetalJesusRocks.

Some of the other major names that made it out were the returning My Life In Gaming’s Coury and Tri. As well as RetroRGB. LON TV’s Lon Seidman was there, the members of Hack The Movies, Kieran and Justin from the Cinemassacre podcast also made the trek. Destiny Fomo was there this year. As well as Bonzai Pop’s Mike Pixley and Boundary Break creator Shesez.

But I got to also see a number of local content creators who were on the floor. My pals Russ Lyman and Mike Levy were there and had a couple of panels I sadly didn’t get into. (Sorry guys.) I also got to see fellow Twitch streamers ConsoleKev , Kobayashi Riku, Dan from BestSpuds , 1UpJohn , and I got to see DNick55 in person for the first time. All on the floor over the weekend Which was really cool. All of these guys are fantastic people you should check out if you haven’t already.

Big Bucks Entertainment was back again too. Over the two days, Davira Kuy hosted recreations of Press Your Luck and Who Wants To Be A Millionaire? This year they had somebody make it all the way to the end of Millionaire where they won the big prize at the end which was a Power Rangers DVD signed by the original cast!

I also ran into Tom Ryan who had a booth up again this year, and a new National Lampoon’s Christmas Vacation-inspired print that I just had to pick up for my Brother who loves that movie. He seemed to be doing pretty well this year, and he had a large assortment of newer pins in addition to prints.

And I got in some time with the arcade cabs and console games this year. Over the course of the weekend, I found myself getting in a few games of Tempest, Killer Instinct, Popeye, and Double Dragon. Which actually crashed on me during the second day,. Not sure what happened, but by the end of the show it was working again. I also got in a respectable score in River Raid on the Atari 2600.

My buddies over at Imaginary Monsters were there along with a lot of other independent developers. Imaginary Monsters showed off an interesting take on Robotron 2084 called Grindblood’s Gauntlet where you play a tormented character gunning down waves of monsters and demons. The current build played pretty nicely with some excellent twin-stick controls. Hopefully, some of the ideas can be expanded upon to flesh it out a little more. But the foundation here was pretty good.

Another indie game I got to check out was When The River Runs Dry, by a studio called ZwinzlerGames. In it, you play an anthropomorphic horse character who wakes up in a forest where drought is taking place. You use the keyboard to navigate your character and the mouse to do certain things in the environment or cast items or attack certain enemies. And it isn’t really a fast-paced game. Rather, you have to take your time and explore like you would in something like The Legend Of Zelda. But a lot of the pointing and clicking reminded me of old-school Sierra games like Police Quest. But that doesn’t mean you can dawdle either because there is constant pressure to find water sources too. Taking too long means it will drain out and your character will collapse. You’ll know if you are taking too long too because the screen slowly grows dark all around you as a cone shrinks. The controls seemed a little confusing at first. But it’s something you may want to keep your eye on.

Possum House Games was there as well with a demo for Space Cat 9, a roguelike platformer where you play as a kitten going up against an army of mice. They also had some trailers for their previous releases on Steam. First up; Shot In The Dark, a really interesting take on stealth platforming where you need to use contrast in battle. And I mean contrast in terms of black levels on your display. Because the color scheme is composed of mostly black and white graphics with bright reds for certain atmospheric moments. You move your character with the keyboard while using the mouse to click and shoot enemies. You play a cowboy with a revolver who ends up going on missions that become more and more bizarre.

The second trailer was for their first major release called The Sword And The Slime. In that one, you play a sentient magic sword that is accompanied by a gelatinous puddle of slime. And you need to use the slime to find creative ways out of sticky situations. So it’s a bit like David Crane’s A Boy And His Blob on the NES, but a little bit faster-paced and with a much weirder and surreal setup.

Screenwave Media was there too with their own demos of some upcoming releases. I was unaware but they are actually publishing LOVE 3, and as someone who enjoyed the original LOVE I was surprised to learn I somehow never saw a sequel. well apparently Fred Wood had put out a sequel a few years ago and I had either forgotten or I hadn’t heard about it. It was called LOVE 2 Kuso. LOVE 3’s promotional materials were a little bit deceiving in that it uses rendered models in the advertising which made me think it would be transitioning to a 2.5D sort of style. But when I got to see the demo running, it isn’t. It’s still very much the aesthetic of the original, yet obviously expanded upon. And for those of you who have never played the original LOVE, do check it out. It’s a great platformer with some awesome music with a style that very much takes me back to games like Lazy Jones on the Commodore 64. You may have to google all of those things. But it will be worth it. But the early look at LOVE 3 was pretty nice.

The second game they showed off was Iron Meat which I think is the one that was probably the most popular of the three. It’s a Run n’ Gun in the vein of classics like Contra and they went for a Super NES era look to the graphics. The demo is controlled nicely and it does have a lot of stuff Contra fans will like. If games like Super Cyborg and Blazing Chrome weren’t enough Contra-likes for you, you might want to check it out when it releases.

And the third one they showed off was Dumpy & Bumpy which is a puzzle game involving pushing blocks. So I was immediately reminded of HAL Laboratory’s LOLO series as well as the classic SEGA arcade game PENGO. It’s got elements of both of those along with other objectives they throw-in. It didn’t make the biggest splash with me compared to the other games they showed off. But it wasn’t bad by any means. If you love puzzle games that don’t do the usual match three colors rules or tweaking Tetris, you may want to keep an eye on it.

There was one other developer there too and while their game demo wasn’t as polished as some of the other things there, their staff was very passionate about their game and after playing it I have to say they have something here. The Killer Gin is a small group of people who made a game using RPG Maker last year called Killer Gin. At the show, they had a spinoff called Killer Gin Battle Arcade which is presently in Early Access on Steam. Visually what I saw isn’t going to compete with some of the similar indie games out there. But it controlled well and does do something a little bit differently.

Killer Gin Battle Arcade appears to be another take on the Super Smash Bros. Ring out rules gameplay. You get a variety of characters from their JRPG, who battle to knock each other out of the game. The difference here is that there aren’t really meters where you have to damage someone to a ridiculous level before you knock them out. Nor does it have a life bar system. Instead, the game uses elements of classic arcade games. The first is from the original Mario Bros. Enemies will spawn onto the blocks and you’ll have to hit them from underneath to be able to weaken them so you can kick them off. The second is like JOUST. There are pits, lava pools, and other things you need to avoid. While this is all going on the four of you are still trying to knock each other out of the map. And what little I played of it was honestly pretty fun.

The game has a long way to go before it’s done. but they hope to add Parsec support so people can use that to play online together since the team is relatively small and not versed in extensive networking code. The rep at the show also mentioned the potential for different ring announcers and accompanying countdown animations in future builds. Obviously, they’re not going for a Smash killer here. But with some graphical improvements, a few new features this could be a surprisingly fun diversion you might want to look into.

The first panel I went to was by Screenwave Media. Head Ryan Schott and their media manager talked about their core business as a Multi-Channel Network which is partnered not only with Cinemassacre, but several high profile YouTube channels. Basically dealing with many of the flags, content claims on YouTube as well as getting out promotion and advertising for these channels. Entering the video game space with AVGN Adventures they’ve begun carrying over some of the things they would do as an MCN for higher profile YouTubers to publishing games for indie developers. And they brought up some of the different avenues some budding developers could use to expand their reach when trying to market their games.

After that panel, I caught Pat Contri’s panel where he showed off the latest Pat The NES PUNK episode followed by a Q & A session with the audience. Some of the discussions centered around topics that have been on his CUPodcast as of late, like the Intellivision Amiico and the controversies that have been coming out about it. The controversy surrounding WATA graded sealed games. And then some information about his new Nintendo 64 book he is in the midst of putting together after his Nintendo Entertainment System and Super Nintendo Entertainment System books. Both of which are excellent and cover the entire scope of their libraries. The Nintendo 64 book will also take a look at Japanese-only releases as well as the Nintendo 64 Disk Drive.

I also attended the Gaming Historian panel. Norman Caruso gave us a look at an upcoming project involving the original Donkey Kong. He found some new information, and without giving much away it’s going to be a pretty great episode. After a Q & A segment following the presentation, he closed with a Who Wants To Be A Millionaire? game where one audience member managed to get through to the top with a little help.

There were also two independent wrestling shows this year via Blitzkrieg Pro Wrestling I really didn’t get to see much of them but they did one each of the days. Speaking of Pro Wrestling, WWE alumni Tatanka was there too, but he wasn’t in the wrestling show. He did have a guest booth though.

At the end of the first night, I went to City Steam Brewery with some friends and had some great beer and food. I tried out their seasonal pumpkin beer cleverly titled “Gourd Vibes Only”, and tried their new Hartford Yard Goats-themed IPA. I also had their Jungle Crush IPA with my two Kielbasa sausages with sauerkraut. If you ever find yourself in the State Capitol city do check it out. It’s got a terrific restaurant in it, a comedy club, and of course many great kinds of beer to choose from. After dinner, we walked back over to the Convention center and in the adjacent lobby, many of the guests were there. Before heading off I ran into Metal Jesus Rocks who was rather cordial.

I came back the following day for the second day of the convention. The second day is generally shorter but RetroWorldExpo always seems to divide panels up with the larger YouTube names between both days nicely. When I made it back to the Convention center I spent the first chunk of the day browsing around for any interesting merchandise I might have missed out on. I didn’t really see too much although I have to say one booth stood out to me after my pal Juu Hachi pointed it out and that was Canvas Quest. They had the game-themed posters and wall art you might expect a business with that name to have. However, where they really made themselves stand out was in the area of pins. There were hundreds of different pins based on various games ranging from completely esoteric to super popular. I found two that I just had to pick up in spite of the fact I’m not a big button or pin collector. The first of these was a pin of Evil Otto based on the Atari 2600 port of Berzerk. And the second is the Yar pin which of course is the giant space fly you play as in Yars’ Revenge.

I also got into three panels the second day. The first of these was Pixel Dan’s panel where he talked about the process of making his book. It took over 3 years to put together. Much of the work involved flying all over the United States finding different collectors in the Masters Of The Universe fan community. The book features photos of every Mattel produced or officially licensed as canon toy in the original Masters Of The Universe line, Princess Of Power line, He-Man line, Masters Of The Universe 200x line, and Masters Of The Universe Classics line. That’s nearly 800 toys and it features several photos for each both in completely unopened packaging as well as loose, but with all of their accessories intact as well as the accessories themselves.

He also mentioned getting the accessories photographed was the hardest part of the process as centering the shots for small pieces proved difficult. The photography was done in each of the collectors’ homes over the course of a few days at each, and there were many collectors to visit. Because some only collected MOC (Mint On Card) or CIB (Complete In Box) while others may have had loose figures with or without all of the accessories. And obviously, a sealed collector wasn’t going to want their collectibles opened in the process. He did show off one video clip where he and Val Staples had to photograph one person’s Eternia playset which is one of the rarest playsets in the toyline and is a behemoth with many fragile parts. Getting the playset on the filming table was quite the task and everyone bit their nails anticipating something banging or dropping which of course, thankfully didn’t happen.

At first, the project was going to be self-published, but Dark Horse offered to pitch it to Mattel on their behalf since Dark Horse had already had the official license to do other Masters Of The Universe hardcover collections. Mattel gave their blessing and so the project then became an official part of Masters Of The Universe! The book is very detailed in not only the descriptions of every toy, but each page has an easy-to-follow layout showing the toys in the package as well as loose. Each accessory has its own photo and they even managed to take photos of the action features most of the toys had. Like Mosquitor’s blood pumping window or the battle damage, you can see on Battle Armor He-Man and Skeletor when they are hit in the chest. They even color-coded the pages depending on which faction the character in question may have come from. In MOTU there are generally four, the Heroic Warriors, Evil Warriors, Evil Horde, and Snakemen. The sides of the pages also have grey tabbed sections so you can get a good estimate of which toyline you’re going to be thumbing through without even going to the table of contents. The amount of details is staggering and it’s a fantastic book for any collector.

After Pixel Dan’s panel, I saw the MetalJesusRocks panel. This was an off-script panel where Jason (as he told us is his real name) loosely revisited a topic he covered in a video not too long ago about modern-day collecting tips. Some of these included things like looking at platforms that people may not be paying much attention to. Often popular systems mean that more people are going to want the big games on them and so a lot of prices for those games will reflect that in the aftermarket. So maybe instead of looking at Gamecube games try looking at something else you might not have considered before. You might find you have as much fun, and they may be less expensive in the process. Other things might be to look at the Japanese or European versions of a game you might want. Sometimes there’s a great divide between prices between different regional versions, and if it’s a title where language isn’t going to be a barrier it could be a good bargain for you. Beyond the tips there were some nice discussions about some of the Limited Run releases, console digital storefronts eventually closing down, and games we may buy a multitude of reasons out of love or obsession.

The last panel I managed to catch was the Super Retro Throwback live podcast where hosts Steven Christina Jr. and Sammie Ann Fontaine discussed some pop culture with an audience. Topics included bad remakes of popular movies, first films seen in a theatre, earliest console game memories, the Occulus Rift, and the 12 hours or more time commitment to get through the extended cuts of the Lord Of The Rings trilogy of films. There was some audience participation and they also gave out some free stuff throughout the course of the panel. I ended up with a shirt and a copy of Dead Rising IV on the Xbox One.

I spent the last hour of the show just chatting with some friends and I caught up a bit with DougMansLand who had managed to live stream through much of the weekend there. He had a pretty good turnout at his booth. If you haven’t checked out his channel give it a spin. In a short time, he’s already built up quite a nice variety channel. But time flies when you’re having a good time and unfortunately, 5 o’clock came up pretty quickly. There were some things I missed out on this year. I didn’t get to see the auction this year, though I had heard there were some pretty interesting things this year including a fully restored late 90s gaming rig. I also didn’t get to see the Street Fighter V tournament or the wrestling shows. And I missed Russ Lyman and Mike Levy’s panels which I’m sure were really good. RetroWorldExpo squeezes so much in it’s impossible to get to everything But that’s part of what makes it so fun.

I already can’t wait to see what they do with the show next year which is supposed to be happening sometime in August. Again, I apologize I didn’t get any useable shots of the indie games on display as my phone’s battery barely had the juice in it to take the photos I managed to. But all of the ones I played and saw showed some promise. Many of them have demos on Steam and Itchio so definitely check them out if they sound like games you would enjoy. Next year I should be better prepared. This year I definitely needed the weekend though. Between some mild health scares, the stress in my personal life, and recently losing my mother to pulmonary fibrosis getting the time to decompress and see people I haven’t gotten to in a while was a needed respite.

Some things I would selfishly like to see next year would include; a Berzerk cabinet, a Frenzy cabinet, Mark Bussler (of CGR fame) as a guest, and if possible an Unreal Tournament 2004 tournament and a Splatoon 3 tournament (assuming Nintendo has released it by then.). I know I’m probably asking for the moon there. But even without those things I know I’ll be looking forward to the show. Here’s hoping I’ll be seeing all of my local and not-so-local friends there if possible.

Chivalry II Review

Wow. It’s been a long time since we’ve seen a game from Torn Banner Studios. Their first major release; Chivalry: Medieval Warfare was a fantastic, if buggy game that blended the Push mode gameplay of a Battlefield game with an innovative swinging mechanic unseen up to that point. And it had just enough janky animations to give us some unintentional comedy along with the depth of the combat.

PROS: Expanded mechanics. Cross-Platform play. Large scale maps. Upgraded visuals.

CONS: A bit light on launch content. Unlockable things involve a huge time sink. Bugs.

EPIC: Exclusivity will turn off a substantial amount of potential PC players.

Torn Banner followed that up with a fun expansion pack based off of the Deadliest Warrior TV show, which gave fans some combat tweaks, and deathmatches. Sadly, it didn’t have the Objective mode that made the base game famous. Most recently they tried their hands at making something newer with Mirage: Arcane Warfare. That game used Chivalry’s sword fighting combined with some light RPG elements and magic spells in a competitive team game. It was a really good game that didn’t sell well and was quickly abandoned. Something many buyers still haven’t forgotten. This, and the fact that the publisher of Chivalry II, Tripwire Interactive did a timed exclusivity deal with the Epic Games Store will undoubtedly mean some people will have some trepidation here.

Fortunately, Chivalry II seems like it has already done infinitely better so far than Torn Banner Studios’ last game. So it doesn’t look like it’s going to suffer the same fate. Be that as it may, there are still going to be a lot of people who may decide to wait for the game to show up on Steam or GOG in a year or get the game on their PlayStation or Xbox console of choice instead.

If you do decide to nab this one, I don’t think you’ll be disappointed with the gameplay though. Chivalry II is fantastic. Especially if you were a fan of the original release. For starters, almost everything you would have loved in the first game is here. You get the swing manipulation that made the original game famous. Chivalry II again has three primary attacks. A horizontal swing, a vertical overhead swing, and a stabbing motion. But unlike most games, you don’t simply end it at pressing an input. On PC, you’ll use the left button on the mouse to do a horizontal attack and the mouse wheel does the other two attacks. Rolling up stabs, and rolling down does your overhead. But it doesn’t end there. Immediately upon doing one of these attacks you’ll, be able to “steer” them by moving the mouse (or thumbstick on a controller). This opens up a ton of possibilities by letting you turn an overhead into a diagonal slash. Or a horizontal swing into someone’s leg. The right mouse button can be used to parry or block attacks. In the old game you needed to equip a shield to block. But in this new entry anyone can block by holding the button down. This makes handicap situations where it’s you up against 3 opponents a little bit easier though, you’ll still likely die until you get in a lot of experience.

Parries are done by pressing the right mouse button just as the enemy weapon is about to hit you, and you also have to “steer” the parries as if it were a weapon. If you do it, you’ll open up other combat options like ripostes where you can get a free hit, or a window for something evasive. Some other changes are to the class system. Now every character can do a dodge. In the original this was reserved for a Man-At-Arms class. This along with the blocking addition gives everyone more options and allow you to get within the side view or even behind an opponent if you’re good enough.

Both of these options use a lot of stamina though, so you’ll have to do so wisely. If you over do either of these you can expect people to easily figure out ways to make you exhaust yourself, and get yourself into a situation of helplessness. You can become disarmed both figuratively and literally. Another mechanic they’ve added is the inclusion of shield damage. In the original game, you could equip all sorts of shields and it was cool. You could use them to protect yourself from arrows, and incoming strikes. This is still true in Chivalry II. However, now shields can take damage which means you can’t completely hide behind them. Eventually, they will start to degrade, losing pieces as you continue to use them. That isn’t to say they’re like glassware or paper though. They can take a lot of punishment, and even in disrepair they can still be effective. But the days of crouching in a corner behind a tower shield barely taking damage are over. Eventually the shield will break to the point of uselessness.

But, the game has a few other mechanics that have been added or retooled. Two of the ones that jumped out at me were the charge ability and the throw ability. You can hold down the attack inputs to trade off a long windup with a more potent swing. That means that although you will be more vulnerable, the swing will do more damage. You’ll still need to play mind games though. If you ONLY go for these high powered swings you’ll be easily cut down as people can see it coming and either stab you before it comes out or evade it then attack you. The best of the best will parry you or interrupt you. Throwing weapons and other items is another cool new feature. You can throw your sword into an archer before they can line up a shot, or you can throw a disembodied head at opponents as a message.

And with so many objects you can pick up on the battlefield the possible projectiles become endless. Flaming chickens, branding irons, wagon wheels, cabbages, and more await your baseball arm. And in the case of foods you can eat them for health replenishment. Everyone also starts with a bandage too, so if you come out of a skirmish near death you can use it and replenish yourself faster than trying to find cover and wait. Another health update in the game is the inclusion of being downed. If you’re a big Fortnite fan, you’ll already know how it works. For the rest of you it’s a second chance mechanic. If you are defeated on the battlefield you won’t always die in the fight. Sometimes you’ll eat a hatchet and end up 99.7% damaged. In this state you can’t fight and have to crawl to a teammate to help you. In most cases you’re going to be finished off though. Unless you know you have 10 or more people directly behind you to pick you up, opponents will stab you as you try to escape. It’s not uncommon to see some players intentionally seek out those on their hands and knees to get some quick scavenger kills.

Beyond all of that, you’ll still be able to do feints, a quick cancelling of a move input at the beginning of its animation. This will fake out a lot of opponents who will try to counter or parry early and allow you a free hit. You can still combine moves together by swinging at just the right time during a previous movement. But sometimes you’re going to find opponents who know what you’re going for. So there are also now interrupt moves where you can get in a cheap punch to flinch them and allow you a minor chance at a comeback.

They’ve done a great job with all of this. And it continues into the game’s different modes. As of now the game has its classic Free-For-All Deathmatch and Team Deathmatches which are a nice way to practice the combat. And within that realm you can also find Duel servers, where you’re going to get into one on one fights. Again, another great way to get a handle on the melee combat. But the biggest reason to play this game is the returning Team Objective mode. This essentially works like it did in the original. It’s a Push mode where the attacking team tries to push back the defending team to different points on the map until they get to the final one and hopefully win the day. Unlike something like Battlefield or Call Of Duty though, players usually aren’t going to sit at a flashing letter for 60 seconds and then move to the next flashing letter. Each of the points is a tangible objective the attackers need to accomplish. Sometimes it involves razing a farm to the ground. Sometimes it involves stealing the Kingdom’s riches. Other times it involves using siege weaponry to gain passage into a castle. Things like towers, and battering rams. Often when attackers do push their way to the final point the game assigns a defender the role of a major character the attackers must assassinate and thus the defending team has to coalesce around them to wind down the remaining minutes for a last second win.

It’s really engaging stuff, and you’ll likely be really addicted to the gameplay on offer. Feeding into that is the revised class system. In the old game there were four: Archer, Knight, Man-At-Arms, and Vanguard. In Chivalry II there are four base classes, and then within each of those four are another three you’ll unlock over time as you play.

This is where some of the game’s shortcomings start to come into play. There’s a big focus on customization here, and so you’ll have to unlock things by playing. The grind to do so is pretty real though. You won’t take long to get the subclasses unlocked, but the weapons, and cosmetics are a much different story. You’ll have to put in an obscene amount of time to get a certain texture for your outfit unlocked. The weapons aren’t as bad in this regard. But it’s still a grind. Of course, like a lot of modern games there’s a pretend currency you can buy with real money to buy the cosmetic items early. But even if you do, you still have to be a certain level before you can equip it. So you probably won’t ever want to do this.

Created with GIMP

To it’s credit, there are a fair amount of things you can alter here on your different characters. Multiple faces, costume accents, and other skins. And you can also tweak the look of your classes between your time spent on the Agatha Knights, as well as the rounds where you’re assigned to the Mason Order. Plus you can do a set of characters with no affiliation for the FFA rounds you find yourself in.

Going back to the classes a moment, one thing I also didn’t get to mention is that in combat each of these has a special move that they can use to help their team. Think of these like the ones in Nintendo’s Splatoon games. Over time, frags, and objectives you pull off you’ll fill a meter. When the meter is full you can perform the move. Some classes like the archer class can build braziers so your team can set projectiles on fire before shooting them. Others like the knights can blow a horn that heals the team. Or place a banner for an area of effect healing circle.

Created with GIMP

In addition to that, Chivalry II has a host of new abilities for each of the classes that add more depth to the combat. Some of them can do a shoulder tackle, causing an opponent to get knocked over and rolled around a second or two before being able to get up. The Vanguard’s charge attack returns, leading up to a powerful leaping strike. In the massive crowds of opponents these can be quite the spectacle. And while I personally find it more complicated, you can play this game in third-person by pressing P on the keyboard. Some of you may prefer it in third-person as you can see more of the combatants, and those prone to motion sickness may also prefer this viewpoint. For me, first-person just felt more natural.

Now, Chivalry II is going to draw some obvious comparison with a competing game: Mordhau. And some of you may be wondering which is better. But it isn’t a cut and dry, or open and shut case. Both games do similar things, but do them differently in ways that aren’t always a better or worse scenario. Some things in Chivalry II are better in my opinion. Chivalry II has better servers. And this is a BIG edge because it means you will have far better online matches. There are more of them, and they (as of this writing) seem to have far more stable connections. I’ve had more rubber banding, ghost swings, and slowly degraded performance experiences in Mordhau. Now that said, Triternion has recently upgraded their servers, and promised more updates to fix this. But as of this writing, Chivalry II has (in my experience) better performance.

In terms of content, Mordhau does have a few things Chivalry II either doesn’t have or has less of. Off the bat, Mordhau has horseback riding. And on the large scale battlefields in Chivalry II, horses would make things far easier to navigate. And while horses in Mordhau can feel a bit overpowering at times, their existence is something that is still welcome. Torn Banner Studios has talked about adding them in future updates. But as of now this is a point for Triternion. Triternion also gets a point for having far more customization options in its create-a-character feature. You can reshape faces, do a lot of individual part swapping in the costume designer, and overall it just does more.

But Chivalry II has generally better performance, and the animation seems smoother in my opinion. If you haven’t played either, this is instantly noticeable and will catch your eye far faster. Models are a little bit more detailed, and the overall look is just a little bit more refined. Chivalry II also has a lot of performance options throughout the menus. You have a multitude of different lighting effects, texture quality settings, supported resolutions and more. On my system (AMD Ryzen 3900X, 32GB RAM, RTX 2060 SUPER, Seagate FireCuda 1TB M2 and a T-Force 1TB SSD) I’m able to run the game maxed out around 1080p with a high frame rate. There are MANY settings you can tinker with though, and the game still looks good on the lower settings. If you haven’t been able to upgrade a CPU, RAM, or a graphics card (which is completely understandable at the time of this writing as chip shortages have driven prices through the roof.) the game should still be a fun time for you on the computer with lowered fidelity. Of course, if you’re near the minimum requirements ( Intel I3 4370, GeForce GTX 660, 8GB RAM) you may want to wait or go with the PlayStation 4 or Xbox One version. I didn’t have a machine that old to test the game on, but I suspect using a nearly 10 year old card will involve tweaking files beyond the scope of the in-game options. Your mileage may vary at that level.

But there’s nothing like the feeling you get when you survive a fight and throw someone’s disembodied head into an opponent’s face. Chivalry II also gets up to 64 players in a game at the same time! But when it comes to the gameplay, both games are fantastic at giving you a melee system that will take you plenty of time to master. Mordhau’s chambering system gives it a different feel than Chivalry II’s despite being similar on a surface level.

Both games have great dismemberment effects. Both games have situations where you’ll be able to fight on a few seconds longer upon losing an arm until you bleed out. Both games have great archery mechanics. In Mordhau, holding the bows back too long will make you sway wildly. In Chivalry II holding the bows back too long will drain your stamina and result in an almost recoil sort of effect. But in both cases finding that perfect blend of distance, and hold time results in a satisfying hit or kill on an opponent. In both games you need to lead opponents. Now some of you will find you like one more than the other, or one deeper than the other, but at the end of the day they’re both excellent in their own way.

Chivalry II is an absolute blast to play, and the only thing keeping it from perfection are some nagging issues that are going to annoy people. Most of these are the result of bugs. Chivalry II features other cool features I didn’t mention yet like cross-platform play. If you’re on a computer or a console, you’re going to run into players on either of the formats. Which is really cool. What isn’t cool is when you try to pair up with friends to find that the party system doesn’t place you on the same team! And while they’re FAR less common (at least in my experience) than they were in Chivalry 1, models still can be found jittering around after you die in rare collision bugs. There are also some occasions where your character doesn’t charge into battle with everyone else at the start of a match, and you have to choose your character again to get into the game. Things like this along with the microtransactions creating a grind hold back an otherwise fantastic game.

Chivalry II is a lot of fun, and it’s one I can highly recommend checking out. The objective based maps are some of the most fun I’ve had in a new multiplayer game in a while. The added lore here even benefits things as you can understand the motivations of both the Agatha Knights as well as the Mason Order in the game’s storyline. It’s told in some menu texts, as well as a couple of really well made videos. But then the game does a great job of referencing it throughout its environments and world building. And as in the first game, neither of the armies come out smelling entirely like roses. Both do some really nefarious things in the various missions, but for the sake of simplicity the Agatha Knights are sold to us as the Heroic Warriors and the Mason Order are the Evil Warriors.

The basic gist is that 20 years have passed since the original game and things are leading to an uprising. In the original Chivalry, the kingdom of Agatha was thrown into upheaval when King Argon led a crusade mission in which their mightiest warriors were defeated. With the King dead, his right hand General, Malric Terrorwin grew enraged as he believed they were put on a fool’s errand. After the defeat, Malric would form The Mason Order with those who agreed with his view. And before heading back to Agatha, would betray the remaining knights along with his group. But the Agathians had a fill in leader in interim King Feydrid Kearn. The events of that game led to a war for the crown between Malric Terrorwin’s Mason Order, and Feydrid Kearn’s remaining Agatha Knights.

By the events of Chivalry II, Malric has won that war, the Mason Order has become the de facto leadership, and Malric is now its despotic King. Killing people for questioning him as he sees his rule as absolute. However, Argon’s offspring Argon II emerges with a claim to his father’s throne. The Civil War between the Agatha Knights and Mason Order is reignited as the Agatha Knights hope to overthrow Malric and restore the kingdom to its former glory.

In the end, whether you end up fighting for the Agatha Knights or the Mason Order, you’re going to feel really invested in the world and its large scale 64 player battles. Torn Banner Studios did put out a roadmap which claims they’ll be supporting this game for years with fixes and content. Hopefully they can live up to those promises because Chivalry II is an excellent game. It’s just a shame it came out of the proverbial oven just a little bit too early. If you can look past the more egregious issues like the glitched party system, the microtransaction grind, and the limited number of maps at launch, you’ll find one of the most fun multiplayer games of recent years.

Final Score: 8 out of 10.

Turrican Flashback Review

Released in 1990 by Rainbow Arts and Factor 5 Turrican was one of the biggest successes in computer gaming. As the 8 and 16 bit home computer business model was being supplanted by the IBM PC compatible desktop in the US at the time not everyone got to play them. Commodore 64, Amiga, and Atari ST players here would find something amazing though. In Europe however, things were reversed as computer platforms were still a more popular platform than the home consoles were. (Although consoles were still popular don’t misunderstand.) Turrican was huge throughout Europe, and Turrican would eventually end up on consoles all around the globe starting a year or so later.

So what made the series so special? Well Manfred Trenz who had already had Katakis, and The Great Giana Sisters under his belt, would combine several different genres together. Turrican has the action platforming of a game like Mega Man. It has the non-stop blasting of run n’ gun games like Contra. But it rewards a lot of exploration. Going off of the beaten path throughout the many stages earns you power ups and extra lives. There are many inspirations from Metroid. Then there are the many gems to collect like in the Giana Sisters vein. Getting enough of these requires the added exploration, and you need to do it if you want to earn continues.

PROS: All of the major releases are here in one affordable collection!

CONS: Random crashes to the start screen.

RIGHTS HELL: The Commodore 64 originals were unable to make an appearance.

The series would move from the Commodore and Atari computer realm to consoles eventually. Turrican would appear on the Game Boy, Sega Genesis, Turbografx-16, and see later entries on the Super NES. To get original copies of some of these titles is pretty expensive today, especially the Super NES releases which can cost as much as a car payment.

Enter ININ and Factor 5 with this (and another!) collection. Ratalaika has done a mostly wonderful job getting these games emulated and running. I say mostly for a reason I’ll get to in a bit. But first the good. First off, from as best as I can remember, Amiga emulation seems spot on. The games sound very good and the unmistakable Amiga sound comes through in spades. The games have all been mapped to a controller layout perfectly too. So you don’t have to worry about where major keyboard keys would be mapped. You can customize layouts to some degree, and you can also choose from different borders. You can also decide what aspect ratio you want to use depending on your preferences. And like many retro collections now, you can decide between a host of different scanline filters if you want to try to emulate a CRT look. Flashback also includes a save state feature, and you’ll definitely be using it. I’ll explain later.

You get four major games here, and they’re arguably the most important of the releases. Turrican and Turrican 2 are here and they’re the Amiga versions. These are the ones that most people remember as by release many Europeans had moved from the C64/128 ecosystem to the Amiga one. And while the C64 version would have been amazing to see here, there are some kind of rights entanglements around it where Factor 5 owns the IP but the C64 version has elements another entity owns. Because of this it isn’t likely to be in any kind of collection in the foreseeable future. As I noted before, the Amiga versions seem to be emulated very well, and they play great.

Mega Turrican is the third title in the collection which is the Sega Genesis (Mega Drive outside the US) port of Turrican 3 which was originally on the Amiga. In it, the circular laser whip from the first two games gets replaced with a grappling hook making it feel completely different. But the rest of the core gameplay remains the same. Being on the Genesis the game’s jumping feels a little bit less floaty so you will notice it playing these games in order. Emulation is spot on again though, as that really stringy, buzzy Genesis sound comes through. And it plays fantastically well.

Rounding things out is Super Turrican, the first of the Super NES releases. Super Turrican is a lot like Super R-Type in that it combines elements from the previous games to be this totally awesome Greatest Hits Frankenstein game. It’s also got a lot of entirely new elements mixed in. So it’s a fantastic experience. And as I actually have a copy of Super Turrican I can say again, the emulation is excellent here.

This leads to the one major problem I have with this collection, and that is that will randomly crash to the console start screen. I have the Nintendo Switch version, But I’m told this can happen on the PlayStation 4 version as well. At least in my case, the occurrences were uneven too. On the first two games it happened maybe three or four times across the both of them. When I got to Mega Turrican however, it happened countless times, particularly near the end of the game. In Super Turrican it happened a little less often than the other games but there was at least one instance I ended up rebooting the game.

This is why you’re going to want to use the save state feature, because the odds are pretty good you’re going to start a game over because you ended up crashing. Hopefully, this issue will be addressed at some point with a patch because everything else about this collection is really, really good.

Now beyond the scope of this collection, is another one from Strictly Limited Games that was released in both a collection that gives you all of these games plus the Amiga version of Turrican 3, the director’s cuts of Mega Turrican and Super Turrican, as well as Super Turrican 2. This can be attained as a massive bundle with extra collectibles or as two volumes for a little bit of a price cut. Being that it’s a Strictly Limited release, this is one that is something you’ll have to get in on soon as once they have a predetermined number of orders in, they won’t be making more. For those who really want a version of every game in the series it is a viable option worth looking into. For the rest of us Turrican Flashback is a highly recommended collection that comes with one major caveat holding it back from perfection. Hopefully the Strictly Limited Anthology doesn’t ship with the same issue. As I haven’t played that collection I can’t say whether or not the same technical issue is present.

In any case, even with it’s problem Turrican Flashback is a collection worth tracking down. Especially if you want an affordable way to play these classics again. You get all of the most important games in the series and you only really miss out on the final game Super Turrican 2. For the most part you will have been able to say you’ve played through the series. And all of the games (save for a random crash) are emulated very well, and play very well. My hopes are that Ratalaika can find a way to fix the crashes with a firmware update, and that Factor 5 can rescue the original Commodore 64 games from rights hell so they can be re-released in some capacity in the future. This is a series with a rich history, and one that for many encapsulates a period of computer gaming history between the era of 8-bit home computers taking over the role of consoles in the early 80s (particularly in the US during the videogame market crash) and the era of the MS-DOS and Windows PCs supplanting them and their 16-bit brethren in the mid 90s. Eventually, Commodore Amiga and Atari ST games would also appear on Sega and Nintendo machines, as well as IBM PC Compatibles. But these were important home computers and Turrican is an important series. One that cemented Factor 5 as a powerhouse developer who would push hardware as far as they could. Even with it’s problems, Turrican Flashback is a collection action fans of all stripes ought to consider.

Final Score: 8 out of 10

Thoughts on the Splatoon 3 trailer

I know I’m really late to the party on this one, at least in article form. By now there are countless others within the gaming community with their own thoughts about what’s going on in the limited footage we were shown. For the five of you who just came out from under a rock, Nintendo recently released their first full-length Direct where they showed off games and products per usual. Every one of these videos always excites some, disinterests others, and for some reason, others get so upset they act completely irrationally about it.

This time out there was some disappointment that there was no mention of how the Metroid Prime 4 restart is going, and not much from lapsed series like F-Zero. And while they didn’t have anything to show on The Legend Of Zelda: Breath Of The Wild 2, they did let us know there was an HD remaster of Skyward Sword coming, which admittedly looks pretty neato.

They showed a lot of popular games were making their way over to Switch like Fall Guys, Apex Legends, Hades which was kind of neat. A bunch of new RPGs, some Monster Hunter games we knew about were expanded on. Not a bad presentation. While I would have liked some other surprises, there was a lot for every kind of player there. But then at the very end, they said “Oh before we leave there’s one last thing for you to see” and then came a trailer for Splatoon 3.

Now the surprise had been a little bit blown for me as I had to work during the initial broadcast and my coworkers told me they dropped a trailer as their phones buzzed them. Almost immediately after that, my phone was blowing up with social media notifications, texts from people, and on.

So when I got home that night I watched the trailer for myself, and some thoughts have been percolating over the last few days about it, so I’ll go a little bit more in-depth here than I really could on Twitter.

First off, I’m not all that surprised there will be a Splatoon 3. That was pretty much inevitable. Splatoon launched on the Nintendo Wii U in 2015. A console that while really cool, failed to catch on for a whole host of reasons. I won’t go into that well travelled dead horse of a topic, but to suffice it to say it didn’t really sell very well. Splatoon was in many ways the best thing to happen to that console. Mario Kart and Super Smash Bros. were two franchises that kept it at retail for awhile. Many bought a Wii U just for those two games. But Splatoon was a NEW I.P. on a failing console that still managed to sell an obscene number of copies. Moreover, it was a fantastic and yes, fresh, take on the team shooter that combined a new, and deep movement system not seen since the era of arena shooters like Unreal Tournament with the team emphasis of games like Battlefield and Team Fortress 2. It didn’t turn the Wii U around, but it did far better than what anyone would have expected.

Splatoon 2 came out two years later in 2017 sold millions upon millions more than the original and is still selling now. The recent announcement has undoubtedly resulted in some rebuys from old players who want to practice up, and new players who want to see what the fuss is about. So with two highly successful games so far, it was only a matter of time before a third one would be made. I wasn’t entirely sure it would have also been on the Switch, usually if it’s not a Mario or Zelda game odds are it will be the only entry on the platform. But on the other hand, Splatoon 2 will have been around for about 5 years which is plenty of time for a new entry to be in the pipeline.

Anyway, the trailer starts us out in a desert where we then see a hooded Inkling. The creator system from Splatoon and Splatoon 2 seems to be here, but greatly expanded as there are a host of hair and leg covering options those games didn’t have. And then we see the Inkling’s pupils being selectable as they raise their eyewear. But interestingly enough there is a Salmonid pet that can also be customized. This is interesting in of itself because in Splatoon 2’s Salmon Run (Horde mode) these were the things trying to kill you.

Beyond that, in Splatoon 2 after you beat the campaign and Callie returns to the hub world to give you game statistics Marie has recorded, there are storyline dialogue bits peppered in. One of which has Marie telling you that the way Grizzco is getting their power eggs is “Pretty sketchy”. So from that we can gather that the mysterious Mr. Grizz may have some major role in the next game’s storyline. He could potentially be the new bad guy holding these creatures against their will and we’re going to have to free them. The Nintendo Twitter message of New Year’s 2020 does spell out S. ave O.ur S. almonids after all.

The desert backgrounds also give off a kind of Mad Max vibe which would also tie in to Splatoon 2’s final canon Splatfest where Team Chaos defeated Team Order. The final canon Splatfest in Splatoon effected the storyline in Splatoon 2’s campaign as when Team Callie lost to Team Marie, Callie went on a sabbatical but then went missing. Nintendo’s own website put up storyboards leading up to the game. Low and behold the end of the campaign sees a brainwashed Callie fighting alongside DJ Octavio.

Further supporting this is that the NOA Twitter has called the new hub we see in the trailer Splatsville and on top of that it’s referred to as the “city of chaos”. So if we know where to look we can get little nuggets of information from this trailer. The hub has far more detail than the ones in previous entries so the little details could be nothing but visual flair, or they could be entirely new gear shops we are not yet privy to. But it’s going to be fun speculating about until the next bit of stuff about the game comes out in official means.

For the quick glimpse of what appears to be Turf War we do get to see some of the weapons appear to have been retooled. But we get a closer look at the bow the inkling carried at the beginning of the trailer. It appears to shoot a spread shot of three ink lines. There’s not a lot of multiplayer here, about 19 seconds if that. But in the chaos we can see there are two moves that happen. A strange air dodge that kind of resembles M.Bison’s Psycho Crusher from Street Fighter II, and a wall jump that allows for an extra height boost.

When I first saw them I wasn’t really sure what to think. The air dodge looks like it might have some defensive utility. Kind of like how substrafing in the current game makes you harder to hit, and lets you zig-zag out of the way a little bit faster. The thing is the spin drill animation of the trailer makes it look like it won’t be something only the most experimental people will discover or find in a metagame. It looks like something built in, anyone can do. It also makes me wonder if it will have some kind of parry property where maybe you can deflect a hit.

The wall jump seems to show one player getting a double jump off of a wall swim jump then one shot killing an opponent. We don’t know if it will have any major utility other than surprise attacks yet, but I immediately thought back to my Unreal Tournament 2004 days where double-jumping, dodge jumping, and wall dodging not only helped you avoid projectiles, but also helped you navigate the map faster with alternative routes. Maybe this swim jump boost will let you get to even higher ledges it would take many more seconds to reach through other means. If this is true, this opens up the game A TON. These moves have official names thanks to the NOA Twitter. They refer to the first move as a “Squid Roll” and the jump as a “Squid Surge”.

So I really want to see them elaborate on both of these. They also have a brief glimpse of a few specials. One of which looks like a combination of the Sting Ray and Tenta Missiles from Splatoon 2, which I’m not sure how I feel about. The Sting Ray is already pretty beastly even if it is a little slow. The Tenta Missiles aren’t so much beefy. But they can be annoying, and it can be a great spotting tool as they bottle rockets all home in on you. Having both of these at the same time, if that is indeed the case could be overkill. So balance is going to be a concern. The other two specials they showed off were a new robot crab, and the Inkzooka from the original Wii U game.

The crab is definitely interesting. How will it work? Will it be a turret I can place on or near the objective? That would be something terrific for defense. Will it be more of a satellite that follows us around and protects us? Will it be something we can use to target a specific enemy as they try to capture an objective? All of these could be pretty good uses. The Inkzooka seems like they’re no longer having it fire tornadoes of ink, and instead it’s firing off up to three mortars of ink. Sort of like a bonus three shot Explosher you get to break out .

Overall, a lot of stuff packed into a few seconds. It reminded me a bit of the character trailers for fighting games where you have to look at everything frame by frame to gleam something from it. So we know we’re getting two new moves that are going to enhance combat and potentially navigation. That’s exciting. The new bow looks interesting. I wonder if it will be another charger type weapon or if it will be more like the bows in Chivalry or Mordhau. And if it will be like the latter I think that will be fantastic because in those Medieval games, bows cannot be held forever. After so many seconds you have to cancel your draw, and redraw. Otherwise you will lose all accuracy and hit nothing. You also have to account for leading targets and projectile drop. So hopefully it will be similar here.

I also like the idea of the pet salmonid for the story mode. I can’t help but wonder if they will be utilized in multiplayer somehow. And it’s obvious the death crab special is going to be a highlight or it wouldn’t have gotten that forefront view. In any case, Nintendo answered some fan questions preemptively with their Twitter thread. One other thing is when the characters spawn in on their espresso machines. It looks like we’ll be jumping into the map from above now. This is going to be something I’ll be paying attention to as more info gets told to us. On the plus side, it looks like it should cut down on the odds of a team going in and trying to spawn camp the opponents. But on the negative side, does this mean you can spawn pretty much anywhere in the map? Or do you have to be within a certain vicinity of the end of the map? If it’s the former, well that could be nice as you could try to find a spot where it’s safe. But if it’s the latter, once everyone figures out what that limit is, spawn camping teams will just go there instead. So again, this is information I’ll be paying attention to. It’s interesting the old clam bake point in the trailer has tarps all over it.

In any event I am very excited to see how this one turns out next year. I presently have over 1,200 hours in Splatoon 2, and continue to enjoy the game. My hopes for the game are bigger maps, an improved individual Rank system that would factor in more than whether or not you and those you were paired with win or lose. Things like who is holding an objective, saving teammates, getting turf covered and more should be a factor in my humble opinion.

I’m also interested to see what capacity Salmon Run shows up in if it returns considering the fact that we have a pet salmonid now, and the implications it places on Mr. Grizz. Will he be the bad guy? Will he just be a patsy for DJ Octavio? Will DJ Octavio reference Vince McMahon? There are a lot of questions that open up from such a small amount of footage. I’m definitely keeping an eye on the future videos Nintendo puts out on this one.

Blasphemous Review

It seems Metroid clones are almost a dime a dozen now. Every year it seems we get a bunch of them, which only goes to prove Nintendo had a winning formula back in 1986. What’s pretty surprising is just how many of these modern spins on the formula have proven to be major successes in their own right. One of the better ones I’ve played is today’s game Blasphemous.

PROS: Solid controls. Character design. Level design. World building. Audio.

CONS: Story can be a bit nebulous at times leading to confusion.

GUILT: A lot of the themes and visuals center around it.

In the fictional world of Cvstodia, you take the role of a silent Knight. The world around you is filled with all sorts of bizarre creatures and you’ll run into many people in the land who are in a constant state of torment. Being a Metroidvania you’ll spend many hours exploring the land and entering different areas. You’ll find a giant boss within the first few moments. Something that led a lot of people to comparing the game to Dark Souls when it came out initially.

It turns out your silent protagonist is part of of the Brotherhood of the Silent Sorrow, a religious sect that was taken out by Escribar, a Darth Palpatine-esque character who leads a different sect. A mysterious entity known only as The Miracle resurrected you, and has made many other sometimes seemingly arbitrary decisions. As you end up traversing the world and finding different characters you’re told of a mountain of ash and the presumable ascension from the status quo if you can reach the top of it. In order to do this you’ll need to suffer through the game’s three humiliations. Each of these is a massive boss battle.

Blasphemous has a ton of influence from early Christianity with a lot of its art direction clearly resembling things seen in early Catholic imagery. And a lot of things seem to really borrow from the theme of Purgatory as you’re going through all of it. The idea of suffering, and atonement for one’s transgressions before they can move forward is there. And while it’s very loud in the imagery and dialogue, it doesn’t beat you over the head with it. Nor does it go for a 1:1 parallel.

Still, there is enough of it that it isn’t going to appeal to everyone. Some of your upgrades come in the form of beads on a rosary-like rope. These are going to give you any number of beneficial results. Some let you take less damage from fire. Or let you go through poisonous gasses without dying. Or buff certain attacks you might have enabled. Or any number of things. There are also major characters that act in place of the power up shrines you might see in a Metroid title. One of them has you taking swords out of their body to power up your attacks. Another is a tortured soul that lets you put more beads on your rosary.

And a lot of the enemies you’ll eventually face also take the form of corrupted clergy, or mystics. There’s a lot of creativity with the character designs too as it goes beyond merely being influenced by Medieval and Renaissance church art. Some of the adversaries you’ll go up against are both unsettling and imposing. Along the way, you’ll also run into a few NPCs that ask you to go on side quests. If you do them successfully you’ll get a better ending.

But without giving anything away, all of the endings are pretty good. Overall, the storyline is a pretty intriguing one that will keep you invested. Helped along by all of the world building that was done here. That said, it can be pretty hard to follow sometimes, and some of the points, and explanations will be found outside the game. Because it doesn’t always detail everything very well.

Be that as it may, everything else in the game is pretty fantastic. It isn’t just a really great looking game, though I can’t stress enough just how good the pixel art in it really is. But the level design is very good too. Some of the blocked progression will have you spending hours on your initial run as it isn’t always obvious where you need to go. When you finally do figure it out, you’ll be amazed you didn’t think of it sooner. Then you’ll move on and get yourself lost again. But through it all you won’t mind so much. Also throughout that map you’ll find the aforementioned power up rooms and upgrade rooms. But you’ll also find your expected warp rooms, as well as rooms to fill the bile jars you’ll find around the game. As well as a character who can buff the amount of health your bile jars can give you. Think of these like your E Tanks in Metroid.

If all of those special rooms weren’t enough you will find a few other ones. One of them is a type of room where you can build a skill tree of sorts using the currency of tears you’ll get by killing enemies throughout the game. There is also a slew of body parts you’ll pick up throughout the game. There’s an underground chamber where you can drop them off inside different compartments.

Combat in the game reminded me less of Metroid or Castlevania though. Instead, it feels much more like Slain. Much of it is built around a counter system where you have to get the split-second timing down to do a parry. Parrying just before an attack hits you stuns the opponent, allowing you to deal more damage. You’re going to want to take full advantage of this too because a few of these bosses are super tough. Particularly late in the game where they become much more powerful as well as faster. You’re definitely going to want to find as many beads and flasks as possible as well as have them powered up. Especially as you near the end.

Blasphemous excels in its world building, and a lot of that is due to the excellent backgrounds and character art we’ve discussed. But the audio is another large part of that due to the ambient music that as in Nintendo’s Metroid, is tailor made for each of the many regions in the map. It can be nebulous, ambient and even unsettling at times. Fitting right in with the themes of the game. You never know how much something is going to hurt, or how long it will last. But you always know it’s probably going to be harder than it looks. And while I don’t know it’s the sort of soundtrack you’ll want to commute to work to, it is something that makes the game feel more immersive. The overall sound design does so too, with some terrific samples of cries, screams, and effects that make things a lot more believable. They’ve done a terrific job with all of this.

Really, if you haven’t experienced this game yet, you should. My only major complaint with it is that as good as the storytelling is, it doesn’t go quite far enough in giving you information you need to figure out what is going on. So in order for many players to understand everything, they’ll find they have to go outside of the game for certain details. Information about some of the stables of villains, or regions. Some of the details on the motivations of the Miracle. Sure, things are likely to be up to the player to hypothesize or discuss with other players. But those who still want a coherent, fleshed out storyline will probably need to do some internet sleuthing even if they 100% the game.

Still, even with those missing details, everything here is going to hold your interest until you get one of the endings. I didn’t have too many technical issues during my time with the game although there was one time when the game never took the Game Over screen away when I continued. So while I could hear my character moving around, swinging a sword I couldn’t see any of it due to the black screen and red text. So I was forced to reload my last save point and continue on. So be aware there are a couple of bugs that may crop up. To their credit, the developers are still supporting the game with updates and fixes so your experience may differ by the time you’ve read this.

Ultimately, Blasphemous is a terrific game fans of Metroid, Axiom Verge, Celeste, The Messenger, and other big exploration games may want to look into. But it isn’t going to be for everyone. Some people might be put off by some of the imagery or horror elements here. That said, it is a well-made game worth looking into. There’s a fair amount of challenge, as well as replay value. Particularly if you want to find every possible part of the map that you can explore.

Final Score: 8 out of 10

Ys VIII: Lacrimosa Of Dana Review

I’ve never been a massive Role Playing Game player. I can definitely appreciate a good one for what it is. But the complexity and math in many of the deepest ones have always drained me. I always preferred the twitch, hand-eye coordination focused experiences of platformers, shooters, fighting games, beat ’em ups, and other action genres. That isn’t to say early TSR versions of Dungeons & Dragons games on my Commodore 64 weren’t good or fun. But growing up, worrying about mapping and spreadsheets felt more like playing Excel than action games ever did. But as I got older, I began to understand why other people preferred a more cerebral experience. Ys (along with Ultima) is one RPG series that made the genre more palatable to action fans like me.

PROS: The deepest storyline in the series yet. Excellent combat. Massive world to explore.

CONS: The world still isn’t 100% open. Don’t expect Skyrim or Breath Of The Wild.

HOURS: One of the longer games in the series. I spent 53.7 hours on my play through.

Ys as a series has always had a great blend of action and JPRG mechanics. It’s still very much an RPG. You need to find items, talk to specific people at specific times to get specific information. You need to go explore large sections and dungeons for gear. You need to grind for experience to defeat later enemies and bosses. You need to visit shops for key items. At the same time, you don’t have to worry about spreadsheets and such. You simply delve into a menu, grab the thing you need and go. You don’t have to have long drawn out menus in equally drawn out turn-based battles either. Combat is as immediate as playing Golden Axe. Early Ys games used a “Bump” system where you ran into bad guys off center to do damage. But later games replaced attacks with button presses and flashy animations.

Most of the Ys games have the typical fantasy lore, and storyline you would expect a general JRPG to have. Adol (and sometimes his pal Dogi) end up washing ashore in unfamiliar territory and somehow end up having to solve the problems engulfing the land. Usually some evil sorcerer is behind it. Sometimes it’s more of a sympathetic villain comparable to Darth Vader. Sometimes it’s something else entirely. But now and again the series will shake things up with new ideas. Ys Origin took place centuries before the original game, and explored a lot of the back story, introducing three character arcs to boot. Ys 7 had a robust party system. So what does this game do that the other games didn’t?

The big thing here is the world. Ys VIII gives you a massive map. One you can see things in the distance and get to. It’s so big that it’s easy to go into it thinking you’re going to get a major dose of Western CRPG influence in a huge world you can go anywhere in. And while at later points in the game things open up, this is not going to be like an Elder Scrolls game. So don’t make the mistake of thinking it will play like Morrowind or Oblivion or Skyrim. While the map is quite vast there are yellow lines around every major section of the map. These lines presumably do two things. First, they hide some loading. You can tell this by the fact that it resets and respawns the same enemy sets specifically for each section. Second, it blocks you from going into a section before the game wants you to. This ties into the storyline because some of the sections pretty much require you to have seen a particular cutscene or complete a certain event leading to said cutscene before you can go there. So as expansive as the world is, it isn’t like a Western RPG where you’re crafting much of the story through exploration. The main story progression demands some parts go in a particular order.

Fortunately, you’re probably not going to mind being stonewalled once in a while, because this is one of the best storylines in the entire series. Like most of the Ys games you will end up shipwrecked. But that’s about the only similarity to the narrative of the other games. Things start Adol and Dogi off on a cruise ship headed to what can only be compared to Bermuda. Near the island is a section of ocean where ships disappear and the crews are never heard from again. When things open up though, you don’t just get a setup cut scene. You play through a fairly interactive ship, talking to the crew, meeting the other passengers, and even getting some foreshadowing that doesn’t reveal itself as such until much, much later. Things culminate with a surprise battle against a giant Octopus like boss. Defeating the boss sends you to the meat and potatoes of the game. The ship is destroyed in the chaos and Adol is once again washed ashore.

But this time it’s a massive island. Marooned, prepare for quite an arduous trial. Getting off of the island is going to be much, much more involved than you would imagine. You’ll have to not only find other survivors who expand your party, you’ll have to built a new settlement with them. This gives it a bit of a Tower Defense element. Once you have found enough of the passengers, your hideout becomes an RPG style village where you have item shops, a medical doctor’s office, food shop, and more. One of the people you can rescue will also be able to tailor costumes for playable characters. In addition to those you can also buy costumes as DLC for the game. But I never felt the need to do so. There’s already so much stuff under the hood here it felt rather pointless to me. The game also has an underlying mechanic where you can choose to help fellow survivors by doing side quests. Doing so builds your reputation with them, and they’re more prone to helping you out either with beefier items, or in terms of the game’s story. Ys VIII also has multiple endings, so getting the best of them often means doing what you need to do to help your village.

Another new feature this entry adds is a horde battle/defend the base mashup, which gives things a bit of a Dynasty Warriors meets Plants Vs. Zombies. You’ll have to put up barricades, bait traps, gongs, and other stuff to impede monsters from getting into your makeshift town. But then you have to go out and attack the invaders with some hack n’ slash action. Doing this also gives you certain benefits although if it’s not your sort of thing you can choose to ignore most of them. There are a handful that tie into the story, so you will be forced to play those.

Combat also has a few changes. You can change between different combat styles which effects certain enemies in different ways. It is possible to brute force your way through without paying attention to it. But that also means grinding for a lot of health options like potions, and finding food supplies. Speaking of food, this game does take one page from Nintendo’s Breath Of The Wild by implementing a cooking system. Although it isn’t as Deep as the Zelda game’s it does come into play with the food, medicine, and general crafting. You’ll have to find so many pumpkins, or plants, or enemy bones or what have you to make dishes. The higher tiered dishes will refill more of your health, and revive fallen party members in fights.

That’s right, party members. As in Ys 7, you can recruit many of the characters you meet into your system, and change characters on the fly. Some are ranged characters that use magic or guns, others are more up close and personal. On top of this, some of the people you rescue will have talents that turn into even more shops. Shops that let you create new costumes with perks or a blacksmith that can level up whichever weapons you’re characters presently have.

And if all of that isn’t enough for you, you’ll still need to spend hours exploring the world, finding entirely new items, clues that lead you to other characters, and even shortcuts and entrances to new areas once you’ve rescued enough people. You’re also going to need to play a lot of the Sega Bass Fishing inspired minigame they’ve thrown within the game. Getting some of the exotic fish leads to key items as well as needed treasure and food ingredients. And you’ll run into some other NPCs who can level up your attack’s effectiveness as well.

Frankly, if you’re the sort who wants to 100% your RPGs there is a lot of stuff to do in the side quests alone. Even if you don’t, you’ll still find yourself doing a fair amount of the side stuff so that you can get a leg up on some of the harder points in the game. And while the game may have those narrative driven walls I talked about, that doesn’t mean there’s a straight linear experience. You’ll still be backtracking to areas you already visited to find alternate routes. You can still discover some things far earlier than I’m sure many intended.

Once you get pretty far into the storyline, you’ll start seeing elements that might seem out of place. But the narrative does do a fantastic job of tying it all together. The island features many, many secrets, most of them are intrinsically tied to our heroes escaping the island. And over the time you spend uncovering them, you’ll learn more about each of the characters various lives and backgrounds. One of the things that really struck me with this particular entry is how important everyone feels. Even characters that on paper might not seem to add importance to the story, still add a lot to the world building. Most of the characters do grow over the course of the storyline and come out richer for the experience. Some learn lessons. Some don’t. But the change in setting really reinvigorates the overall mythos while doing something different. It’s a far cry from the typical “Evil wizard wants to take over the world” fare you might be used to. And things feel really cohesive too. The answers might not come when you would like them to, but they do wrap up the loose ends pretty nicely. There are several endings as well. So there is a bit of replay value for those who want to experience everything.

As the story unfolds you’ll discover that the island is actually populated by dinosaurs. But before you can say “Jeff Goldblum” you’ll be peppered with numerous monsters and mighty reptiles. Before long Adol begins having dreams of a bygone era. You’ll play through these typically upon finding settlements to rest in. At least initially. Later in the game you’ll have to go into the past to affect the present and vice versa. Sometimes it will be necessary in order to make an area accessible. Other times it will be necessary in order to fill in gaps of the story. One of another new things are campsites which in turn tie into the food system. As you can set up a campfire and cook meals. Before long, the dreams partially become reality as the past and present begin to affect one another. Without giving too much away for those who haven’t played it yet, you’ll begin to learn the secrets of the island, the lost civilizations that once thrived there and how all of it is tied to the characters’ current predicament.

Returning from previous games’ are the fast travel crystals that allow you to get between large areas without having to grind away for miles. It’s also handy when your village gets raided by enemies as you can choose to get back and do the tower defense horde mission if you want to. Also, as in most of the series you’ll find items you’ll have to constantly swap in and out of use. Some of these let you climb to seemingly impossible to reach areas. Others let you breathe under water so you can explore for new areas or treasure. Still others let you walk over water letting you get through some of the swampy areas a little more quickly.

And no Ys game is complete without a plethora of major bosses. Ys VIII features a metric ton of them. Many of them are even optional fights but all of them are worth fighting and defeating. Of course, you can still run into some of them when you’re too low on experience or you don’t have enough healing items. So be sure to save often. That is one nice thing here, in most cases you can save whenever you want. Although during the aforementioned boss fights you cannot, nor can you change your party roster during a battle. So you’ll need to make sure you do that before encountering a boss. There are also a couple of times when the game is going to make you think you’ve gotten the final encounter over with and you’re ready to see the credits roll. Only to surprise you with more story. More grinding. More questing. Ys VIII is a massive game.

Beyond all of that are going to be a bunch of other side quests, and optional goals I didn’t get to touch much on. Like the giant Gorilla you’ll meet who can level up your characters and give them some new skills. You fight him in mini boss battles to do this. Win and you get the new moves. Fail, and you get to scour the world for food so you can pay them to do it again. Every playable character can be powered up this way, so you may find yourself swapping party members to give all of them a fighting chance near the end of the game. And the end of the game leaves you with a variety of emotions. Elation, poignancy, contentment, and perhaps some regret. But after beating the game it was nice enough to tell me that there are multiple endings depending on your choices throughout the game. So it does lend itself to replay value. Especially since it does so in a vague way. So unless you’re going to look up how to definitively get the best canonical ending, you may find yourself coming back to this one a couple of times every few months to play a bit differently and see if you’ve altered your literary destiny.

As you can see, the game looks terrific. As mentioned, you can see way off into the distance, and for the most part if you can see it you can eventually get to it. It isn’t so much the technical aspect that makes it happen here. The game doesn’t really have a lot of geometry at work. It’s almost all being done with texture work and art. And it’s all fantastic. On the technical side though there are some impressive lighting effects at play, especially when you find yourself in dungeon sections, caves, and underwater where you can see it at work. Falcom has always managed to do so much with so little in the Ys games and this one is no exception. This game is also on a wide variety of platforms so even on the less powerful options you’re getting something tremendous.

And I’d be remiss if I didn’t bring up the soundtrack. While this is another entry that experiments a bit more with different genres it still gives long time fans their hardcore, symphonic metal. Each area of the island seems to get its own score. Which is nice as it makes the games feel a bit more distinct. There are orchestral areas, rock areas, electronica areas and others that have more of a world music influence. Of course, encountering bosses introduces the majority of the crunchy guitar solo driven heavy metal the series is known for.

Anyway, Ys VIII could very well be the best game in the series. And while it might have launched with some well documented translation problems, I only recently got around to playing it. So for me the problems were nil. Though I suspect even with some inaccurate or broken dialogue one could have still gotten a rough approximation of what was going on. In any case, if you’ve been curious about this one for a while, check it out. And while there are other longer RPGs out there, this one never felt like it was wearing out its welcome to me. I never got bored or overly confused with menus or felt like I was doing anything pointless. Whether you’re a hardcore fan of the series, or a dabbler looking to try something new, Ys VIII is worth picking up. It’s got great mechanics, wonderful characters you’ll care about as well as loathe for the right reasons. It’s got a bunch of subtle and not so subtle influences. And the storyline will keep you interested over the entire 50 plus hours you’ll likely spend playing it. And the multiple endings might be something you want to go back to the game to in order to experience it all.

Final Score: 9 out of 10

Serious Sam Collection Review

The Nintendo Switch has had a track record of being like my niece when she was a toddler. “I CAN DO IT MYSELF!” she would exclaim when she got interested in trying something. Like when she flew a kite for the first time. She’s a teenager now (Time flies)but she would never give up on anything at 4. Much like her, the Nintendo Switch has been running video game software most would not have thought possible. While visual concessions were there, we still saw Panic Button port DOOM (2016), we saw Shiver port Mortal Kombat 11 last year, CD Projeckt Red migrated The Witcher 3 with all of its DLC content onto the thing, and now Croteam has migrated Serious Sam Collection.

PROS: Customization options. Performance enhancement options. Bonus content.

CONS: Minor performance issues. No gyroscopic aiming. No physical editions as of now.

BONUS CONTENT: A Horde mode, and Split-Screen multiplayer added.

While this bundle is on all of the current generation platforms I’m focusing on the Switch version here since that’s the one I bought. But I can compare the games with the original PC releases as I explain how well the transition to Nintendo’s tablet system has gone. I imagine the PlayStation 4, and Xbox One versions will look a little bit better as they share some technology with the PC in components. But the content will be pretty much the same, so if you plan on looking into either of those versions this review may still help you.

It’s hard to believe but Serious Sam has been with us for almost twenty years already. I can still remember working at an OEM when I played a demo for the first time. I would get computer game magazines and read up on new releases and this was at a time when often times demos of new games would come on CDs bundled with magazines. PC Gamer had given away one such demo disc with the Serious Sam The First Encounter demo along with the free Seriously Warped Deathmatch mod for those who bought the full game. It was one of the demos that hit home (along with the poor performance of UT, and SIN on my current machine at the time) that I would need a new computer.

Fast forward over the years and Croteam would make The First Encounter, The Second Encounter with GODGames, then go to Take 2 Interactive (2k) where they would make Serious Sam II, leave Take 2, and go to Devolver Digital (Founded by ex GODGames members) where they would put out HD remasters of The First Encounter and The Second Encounter before giving us Serious Sam 3 BFE, and The Talos Principle. These all ran on updated versions of their Serious Engine. Serious Sam II on Serious Engine 2, the remasters on Serious Engine 3, and SS3 on Serious Engine 3.5.

Since this collection runs under Serious Engine 3.5 you won’t be seeing Serious Sam II. Previously, Croteam did put out a similar collection on the Xbox 360 that came with one of the indie spinoff games normally on digital stores like Steam. So if you don’t have a respectable computer these days, but you do have that 360 collection and one of the current consoles, do you need to get this collection? Well this collection gives you a DLC that collection did not. So you may want to indeed if you’re a big fan of the franchise. But there’s more to it than that.

Serious Sam Collection for Switch, Xbox One, PlayStation 4 here includes Serious Sam HD The First Encounter, Serious Sam HD The Second Encounter with its Legend Of The Beast DLC, and Serious Sam 3: BFE with its Jewel Of The Nile DLC. It doesn’t include any of the indie spinoff games like the 360 collection did, but you do get the DLC for the second title here that that collection did not include. So this feels a bit more complete.

Of course on the PC, there is Serious Sam Complete Pack which also included Serious Sam Fusion which acts like a similar launcher hub as the one built into this collection. So in either case you can play these three games from one executable program. But the PC collection also does give you the indie spinoffs as well as Serious Sam II. If you just have to have every canon game in the series, that’s one edge to getting these games on Steam.

On the other hand, while a few of the games and spinoffs have been on previous video game systems many have never heard of these games or played them outside of Europe. This is despite their massive popularity on computers and those previous ports and iterations Stateside. So getting these again on consoles gives people who have played them in the past a convenient way to play them again in their living room. The fact that the Switch is a tablet means it’s also an easy way to enjoy yourself while terrorizing patrons with the sounds of headless kamikazes when you get your morning coffee. But more importantly, it potentially introduces these games to an entirely new audience preparing them for the eventual day when they play Serious Sam 4 or try to track down Serious Sam II out of curiosity.

So for those who have never played these games, what do you do? Serious Sam is a series inspired by the id Software and 3D Realms games of old. Games like DOOM, Quake, Wolfensten, Duke Nukem 3D, and Blood. However, many make the mistake of coming into these games and playing them like those games. Serious Sam may be inspired by those old shooters of yore, but it plays nothing like them. It plays more like a First-Person version of a 1980s or early 90s twin stick arcade shooter. Games Eugene Jarvis made for Midway, like Robotron 2084, Smash T.V., and Total Carnage.

In all of these games you’ll be placed in long, intricate levels that feature massively open rooms, fields and arenas. You’ll explore rooms and areas looking for secrets, killing a couple of enemies here and there before getting into one of these battlefields. You’ll immediately be swarmed from all sides with hundreds and hundreds of enemies. Survive these onslaughts, pick up some health, and ammunition and continue the cycle over 15 levels or so. But that’s just the barebones version. These games do a lot with so little. Just when you begin to get the hang of fighting low-level enemies, the games introduce new enemies. Each enemy type has to be dealt with a certain way. The Kleer Skeletons are best dealt with by using a shot gun at just the right moment as they pounce at you. But get more than five of them and you may want a minigun. But while you’re dealing with those, the game will quietly send in Harpies from the heavens that require different tactics to defeat. By the middle of these games you begin to very quickly juggle different weapons for different threats while fighting them all at the same time. It’s crazy, stressful, and a lot of fun. On the downside, some might find it too repetitive. But honestly, the combination of 80s arcade gaming and late 90s PC FPS action is a winning one. You’re always doing something. When you’re not killing monsters you’re resupplying. When you’re not resupplying you’re hunting for secrets. And despite the name of our hero, these games do not take themselves seriously at all. Even the grittier newer releases with their more realistic graphics are still about being over-the-top arcade action. With funny one liners that could be in a Dolph Lundgren vehicle, and plenty of hilarious Easter Eggs.

So that’s a summary of what you do in general. I’m not going to review each game individually here as I’m talking about a collection. Though I will talk a little about the differences in each before getting into how well these games have made the transition from computers to consoles. The two Serious Sam HD titles are remastered versions of the original games that came out in 2009, and 2010. While Serious Sam 3: BFE was originally released in 2011. The DLCs for the second HD Remaster and Serious Sam 3 came about in 2012.

The two HD remasters have a slightly less realistic look to them than the third game does, being older. But the general play style is the same. Here’s where the series began in a sense of releases. Sam is sent back to ancient Egypt to defeat Mental in the past so that in the future the alien race is unable to conquer the Earth. You’ll spend hours in each of them and it’s important to remember these are technically two halves of one game. The second half has a much wider variety of settings than the first half, and really perfects the formula set up in the First Encounter. Moving onto Serious Sam 3 you’ll learn you’re playing a prequel. the BFE stands for Before First Encounter. So in that game you’re playing the events just before the original game. There are a number of visual effects that the third game has over the remasters. But that does come at a price of performance.

Serious Sam Collection does give you a remarkable number of options for a console release. And while the number of options are not as deep as they are in the PC releases over the years, it’s impressive. Very few console games give you any customization. Many of the core game options have made their way over as you can tinker with your crosshair, turn gibs on or off, change the color of the blood from red to different colors or even use the hippie texture which changes the blood texture to flowers. You can also turn the blood off entirely. You can change the order of weapons when cycling them, and you can pick which character you want to use for multiplayer modes.

But it doesn’t end there, the game will also let you choose from a number of preset button mapping settings including some that will swap the thumb sticks’ roles to accommodate left handed players. You can also disable auto aim and you can tinker with the sensitivity of the thumb sticks for your aiming. Croteam also migrated the color scheme graphics options here. So like on PC, you can change the tone of the colors to be brighter, darker, richer, or softer with different presets and then tweak the individual brightness, contrast, saturation, and gamma of each. But probably the coolest thing here is the fact you can optimize the game for graphics settings or performance. When you go into the actual game it doesn’t seem to make a dramatic change in visuals either. But you do feel the difference while playing the games. This is especially true in Serious Sam 3.

On Nintendo Switch the games look comparable to a computer running with lower and medium settings enabled. Things like shadows and Antialiasing are obviously set lower as you can see jag lines along things like cables or palm trees. Performance with the graphics set to optimize graphics over performance seems pretty similar to setting it to optimize performance in the HD remasters. The frame rate seems to hover around 60 most of the time, though when things got hairy with hundreds, upon hundreds of enemies setting it for graphics could sometimes see a split second dip in framerate into the 20s where things would chop up a second before going back to normal. Setting it to performance made this even rarer, and it would come at the cost of some less defined shadows, AA, and draw distance. Not that big a deal. Serious Sam 3 however, almost requires you set it to performance as the bump in graphics requires more from the Switch’s Tegra. It never gets unplayable on Graphics, but it does kick way down to the 30s in frame rate.

And while you may not physically see it with your eyes, you can feel the difference in your hands. Things are much less responsive and the dips that are uncommon in the remasters are more common. The performance setting seems to uncap the frame rate (I’m not a coder, I can’t say for certain) but it feels much closer to what it does on a computer. It still dips once in awhile, but it feels much better. And visually, it doesn’t look that much different. You can really analyze it and then notice some of the things I mentioned when talking about these settings on the remasters. But it’s not a massive difference save for the rare occasion you might notice something in the far, far, distance sprinkling into view.

While there will no doubt be some who downplay having these games on the Switch due to the lower settings, they’re missing another marvel. Serious Sam Collection joins the likes of Mortal Kombat 11, The Witcher 3, DOOM (2016), and Wolfenstein: The New Order, as games that probably shouldn’t have been possible on the system, not only running on the system but running well. And while concessions in the graphics were made, these games still look pretty great. And tweaking the color options can actually compensate a bit for taste. I tinkered a bit by starting out with the “Vivid” setting, and then moved the contrast, brightness, gamma settings around a bit and found it really made some of the moments in the third game look a bit more lively. The settings get shared across all of the games though, which is a little disappointing when you consider that the earlier games are more colorful, and so what you do for the third game may not work out as well for one of the other games for you. Turning off the blood, and gibs can also help you slightly with performance as it’s a tiny bit less for your Switch to draw and animate during the massive battles. And so if it saves you a couple of frames per second here or there, those who want the best speed possible may just do that.

To this day, there are some video game players on the PC end that will run games on the lowest settings possible, even on a new system with bleeding edge parts because they do not want a sub 60 FPS experience under any circumstances. And while there’s certainly a point where you can become so obsessed with framerate it keeps you from enjoying a game, there’s something to be said for having a framerate that stays high so that when intensive things happen and it has to drop, it drops from really high to high. That way as a player you’re not seeing or feeling it the way you do when it goes from high to low. Even some of those who buy this for one of the other consoles may consider this. I didn’t notice enough of a change to warrant leaving it off for myself. But your mileage may vary.

When compared to the PC versions of these games, obviously the PC versions are going to come out ahead, as they’re more feature rich on the computer and unless your computer is well over a decade old, they’ll probably perform better there. But that said, it is interesting to see how close these get to the computer versions. In terms of content, everything is here. The same stages, the same number of enemies, the DLC is here in its entirety. Everything is here. And it looks and sounds terrific by the standards of the Nintendo Switch. As I said earlier, that they squeezed all of it onto the little tablet that could, and had it perform as well as it does and still looking nice really speaks to the talent at Croteam. The console versions all also add split-screen co-op campaigns, horde modes, and deathmatches to the mix. Which is fantastic for anybody who has friends, family, or roommates as you can play together without everyone having to buy the game and a console plus a subscription. But like the computer versions, it supports online play as well. So you can still go through the campaign, or play deathmatches, or horde games together that way.

Be that as it may, there is one sticking point with the multiplayer and that is draw distance of enemies. Whether you’re playing the game online with friends or strangers or you delve into split screen you can expect this issue to crop up. It seems that enemies will draw into view six feet in front of you at times. This can be an issue because when you play the game normally, you may have harpies coming from the distance, or a large herd of werebulls gunning for you. Not being able to see them until they get close increases the difficulty a lot. Even if you’re playing on a lower setting with less enemies, it’s something to be aware of. This is presumably to keep the game’s framerate from tanking as it has to draw everything multiple times. And while it doesn’t break the game, it does increase the challenge beyond what was intended. It’s still going to be fun, but you have to expect some unfair moments. Fortunately, you can spawn right where you died during a multiplayer match, and you have unlimited lives unless you set it otherwise. So co-operatively beating the campaign is doable.

And while this isn’t going to look nearly as good as a computer running everything maxed out in 1080p, 1440p, 4k or 8k, it does look the part. Again, compare it to a 7 year old machine with a midrange card of the era in it, running at medium or low. It’s following the trend of those other PC games, and Mortal Kombat 11 I mentioned before. If you’ve never played these games before and only have a console, you’re probably going to love them on your Switch or PS4 or XB1. They’re fun games on any platform really, and they’ve made the transition to consoles pretty well. I do however have one major issue with the Switch version. In spite of all of the customization that made its way over, and amenities made for consoles it would have been a slam dunk to have motion controls be the icing on the cake. Splatoon 2, DOOM, Wolfenstein, and even Overwatch have gyroscopic aiming. This is one edge the Switch has when it comes to shooter games. While some might deride motion controls, when it comes to shooters on controllers, it has always been far superior than using thumb sticks. Because it’s much closer to the movement of a mouse on PC. It would especially benefit these games considering just how many enemies are thrown to you at any given time.

Still, in spite of the lack of motion controls, and some technical workarounds stifling multiplayer a little, I still recommend Serious Sam Collection. If you’ve never played these beforehand this is a fantastic way to become introduced to the series. If you have played them, this gives you the perfect opportunity to replay them in the living room, and in the case of the Switch version you can conveniently play them on the go, which is great because you can play these for five hours or five minutes. The occasional performance dip is disappointing but these are still very playable versions that perform very well most of the time. The lack of motion aiming on the Switch is a missed opportunity, but the games are still so fun its worth dealing with their omission. Plus you get all of the DLC expansion packs and you’re getting the bonus of couch co-op. Sadly, as of now there are no physical versions, so video game collectors might feel a little disappointed by that. But these are nevertheless worth picking up even if they won’t be booted from a card, or Blu Ray. For some it will be a new experience, and for veterans it’ll be fun reliving them and comparing them. And who wouldn’t love hearing the loud chorus of “AAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAARRRRRRRRRRRRRRRRRGGGGGGGGGHHHHHHHH!” emanating from your Nintendo Switch during your morning coffee run at Starbucks? If the coffee doesn’t wake you up, the explosions of headless kamikazes will.

Final Score: 8 out of 10