It’s not very often I get into the FOMO-fuelled side of game collecting. But if there’s something I’m a huge fan of I’ll make an exception and be a sucker. During the final E3 as we know it, Devolver Digital premiered their last prerecorded lampoon of Nintendo’s Direct video series where new games and products get announced. Of course in their parodies they have their own zany storyline going on and do in fact, still tell people about the new stuff they’re publishing.
PROS: A fantastic shoot ’em up with some humor by the folks who gave us Gato Roboto.
CONS: The music could be better. The protagonists’ sprites look bland. Controversial launch.
SECRETS: There are a lot of unlockables for such a small game.
In a more controversial move, Devolver partnered with Special Reserve Games for the subject of this review. There would be two different physical releases you could only get through the SRG store, and once their fulfillment was made that was it. They did two batches, one during E3, and one a bit later. But that was it. The game’s branding even touts “Only Physical. Never Digital.” But going this route over a mass-market production also really limited the number of buyers, which no doubt would include many a scalper. Which there were. When the game got announced there were already listings on the site with insane prices.
But how is the game itself? If you were lucky enough to get an order in like I was, then you’ll find you’re actually getting a pretty great title. If you were not, however, not all is lost. I’ll be telling you why at the end of the review. Which will be shorter than usual, because the game isn’t very long. Made by Doinksoft, the studio that brought us Gato Roboto, Demon Throttle is a shmup. Or Shoot ’em Up if you will. It’s blended with some Run ‘N Gun elements. Your characters are on foot. You shoot demons down as if they were troops in Capcom’s seminal Commando. But by and large, it’s a shmup. The screen auto scrolls vertically, and you have free reign most of the time. It reminds me a bit of Dragon Spirit or Gunbird. Shmups where you pilot a person or creature instead of the more traditional spaceship or vehicle.
Where Doinksoft differentiates things further is in how the game plays. Instead of always hovering over everything you are still traveling on foot. So you’ll have to shoot not only enemies but huge swaths of scenery in the hopes of finding power-ups and life replenishments. You’ll find a lot of the staples you’d expect in the genre. There’s a temporary shield that acts as an extra point of damage. There’s a mace that acts as an orbiting option that can take out enemies. There are speed-up icons that make you move faster. And there are others that benefit your characters in different ways. That’s right, characters. You’re not just flying solo. You have to take control of two characters.
You get introduced to them in the opening movie. It’s made of cinema screens, replete with lo-fi voice samples to emulate the thrill of playing The Adventures Of Bayou Billy on the NES. You find yourself controlling a cowboy, who wants revenge on the head demon for “Kissing” his wife. You’ll also control a vampire who wants to get back four magical chalices the demons stole. And it’s here you’ll start the game.
The game is a short, but brutal four stages. You’ll go along blasting away demons and scenery until you get to the boss. It sounds par for the course, but remember you control two characters. You swap between them by pressing X. You can jump onto scenery or over bullets with B. Shoot with Y. While A fires off your bombs. The cowboy gets dynamite, while the vampire gets homing daggers. When piloting the cowboy you’ll shoot in a straight line. Six bullets at a time, and you can take five hits before dying. When using the vampire, you’ll get a crossbow that acts as a spread gun. And you’ll only be able to take four hits before going down. If both characters die, it’s game over. Demon Throttle has no continues.
The lack of continues or 1Ups really makes the game a challenge. Demon Throttle is tough. Fortunately, the game does have its own take on the Konami code called the DoinkSoft code in the manual. It doesn’t give you thirty lives though, it just starts you out with a shield for one extra point of damage on each character, and gives each of them two lives on every stage instead of one. The game is still going to kick your ass. Like many of the toughest shooters, it’s a game where the more you play it, the more enemy and power-up placements you’ll remember and improve over time.
The other feature that will help even the most frustrated player is the leveling system. Each of your characters gets experience points for killing bad guys. So if you try to kill as many bad guys as possible you’ll level up. Each character can get up to level five before being maxed out. And you’ll want to do that. The cowboy will shoot extra bullets and gain speed shooting. The vampire’s spread will be further and become more powerful. Each of the four bosses has a different series of patterns to memorize and maneuver around. Oftentimes, including moments of bullet hell.
When you finally do beat the game it’s probably not over. Because there are two endings. Remember those chalices the vampire wants back? Each stage has a secret stage in it a la Dragon Spirit where you need to uncover a stairwell. Run into the stairwell and you’ll be in an underground cave stage unique to each main stage. Defeat that stage’s boss and you’ll get the chalice. But you’re still not done because it takes you back to the current level’s midpoint and you have to finish that stage to go onward. So in a way, you actually have to beat 8 stages on two lives per stage. Four lives with the cheat code. Also, the stairs are in a different place every run. Beating the game unlocks a hard mode too, where you play remixed stages with far more enemies in them.
Over time and multiple plays, you’ll unlock a bunch of cute extras. With different screen borders you can enable before your play-throughs, as well as a sound test and even a bestiary. Once you unlock that, you can find hidden meat, or as my pal, Hungrygoriya says, “Meatsticks”. Find that, and then the game will put you into a random battle that plays like a turn-based RPG battle. If you defeat that monster they’re unlocked in the bestiary where you can read more about them. And I should mention if you have a friend over, you can play a two-player co-op mode where you each control one of the characters. One or both of you may like the CRT filter left on.
So DoinkSoft squeezed a lot of extra stuff to keep you going back to the game. Even a harder mode unlocks when you do manage to clear it. As with Gato Roboto, they went for a specific retro look. Where the previous game had a lot of monochrome DOS, Apple II, and Commodore 64 influence, Demon Throttle is very much an NES influence. There’s a similar color palette to it, the stages have that early NES look, while the pixel art for the enemies, bosses, and cinema screens are dead ringers. DoinkSoft clearly has a lot of love for the post-crash years of North American gaming. And as in Gato Roboto, they still appreciate crass comedy. Demon Throttle has its share of dirty jokes. And they’re pulled off well. In my several hours of playing through to the bad ending, I also never ran into any major technical issues.
The soundtrack and effects aren’t as memorable as they were in Gato Roboto, but they’re still good. They fit the motif of the game well, and the echoey effects that a lot of the NES games Rare made are here. Every now and again, there’s even a little bit of C64 SID influence, but it sounds very NES 95 percent of the time.
Now earlier, I said if all of this sounded good to you, you don’t have to fear that you can’t ever get it affordably. After playing through it on stream a nice person pointed out to me that there is a wider release coming and you can pre-buy that on Amazon. People who do will get a download code for Gato Roboto. What you won’t get in the wider release are the extras that the initial Special Reserve versions came with. And these extras were stickers and an instruction booklet for the base version, while the extra ten dollars got that stuff plus a fancier box for the premium version. The SRG limited releases were also numbered. Mine is 1,275 out of 10,000 for example. It’s a nice showpiece, but unless you just have to have every conceivable variation of every game for your Switch, just nab the wide release when it launches in September.
Overall, Demon Throttle is a fantastic time for any shmup fan or anyone looking for a retro-styled challenge. It’s just too bad that neither Devolver or SRG really made an equal attempt to let people know it wasn’t going to be impossible to find after enthusiasts and resellers got their copies. Still, if you stumbled upon my review, let people know they don’t have to spend hundreds of dollars on something they can buy for $29.99.
The steep difficulty and potty humor won’t be everybody’s cup of tea. But if some crass toilet or sex jokes on par with something out of Family Guy or South Park don’t bother you, you may want to give it a look. if you’re looking for a challenge not seen since the days of quarter-munching Toaplan games and not afraid to blister your thumbs, you might want to give it a try. Demon Throttle is a fantastic little game, marred by a marketing misfire. Hopefully, there will be an official “Hey! don’t worry guys, we made plenty!” follow-up campaign.
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.
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.
It’s finally here. It’s hard to believe, but Serious Sam 3 is almost 9 years old as I’ve started typing this. Over that time there has been a lot of concern with many fans. Many wondered if it would see the light of day after Croteam had such luck with the beloved Talos Principle and then their VR efforts with Serious Sam VR games like The Last Hope, and ports of The First and Second Encounter to VR. From there it was a sporadic blip or two. A quick quip to say it was coming, or news that the writers of The Talos Principle would be writing the storyline to this game. A couple of years ago we got the first trailer, then not much of anything. But then leading up to the release, we suddenly saw several trailers.
PROS: Legion System. Writing. Added Features. Classic gameplay is retained.
RIDE: Piloting Werebulls and Khnums is one of the most fun things you can do here.
Those trailers got a lot of people psyched. And shortly after I began my initial play through, I saw a few people lamenting the game. And I couldn’t understand why. When first starting the game I had a pretty exceptional first impression. The game has a slew of options for tweaking graphics, performance, audio, and more. The game does a pretty good job of pre picking options based upon your hardware configuration when it does its initial scan. But if you want to lower things for performance, or raise things to make them look as good as things allow.
That said, the requirements for Serious Sam 4 are a little bit beefy. While they’re nowhere near the level of hardware you’ll need for some of the AAA multiplatform blockbusters from the likes of Activision, EA, or Ubisoft, you won’t be able to get by on a potato machine. You’ll need at least a 64-bit quad core processor running 2.5Ghz or better, 8GB of memory, an nVidia GeForce 780 or better on the graphics end. If you prefer AMD graphics you’ll need a Radeon 7950 or better. The video cards have to have at least 3GB of Video memory on them and even that might be a bit anemic. The game will take 40GB or more of hard disk space. According to the game’s Steam page that should let you run the game at around a 720p resolution at 30 Frames per second (approximately 1280 x 720). Things may not look so sharp for those with an older computer but a 1080p monitor resolution or higher. Particularly if you want to run it full screen.
My computer (the one I played the game on) contains an AMD Ryzen 9 3900X, 32GB of RAM, and a 1TB M2 SSD along with an nVidia GeForce RTX 2080 SUPER. So I actually exceeded the recommended requirements a little bit. Be that as it may, I did have a couple of issues I’ll get to later in the review. But most of the time, things seemed to run the way they ought to. At least through the first half of the game anyway.
When the game begins we’re treated to an interactive introduction where the characters in the story can be seen talking. Or rather their reflections of themselves talking on broken satellite panels and spaceship debris floating above the Earth’s atmosphere. Things then shift down to the surface where we see a massive battle going on with the tens of thousands of enemies that Croteam promised us we would see. And to their credit, it’s one of the coolest things you’ll see in a video game. As I said, this is an interactive scene. In engine. Not a cutscene. You move around, fighting the hordes of Mental’s minions. It’s a short-lived moment though because you’ll be knocked out by a giant monster. Once this happens, we’re sent back a few months before this scene takes place.
This sets up the storyline by The Talos Principle’s writers Jonas and Verena Kyratzes. And if you thought that the deep, philosophical writing style of that game would be repeated here, and overshadowing everything you would be wrong. Here they go for a Direct-To-Video Dolph Lundgren vehicle, and it fits the series’ mix of violent, gristly action, and tongue in cheek effectively. Much like Serious Sam 3, this game dabbles in expanding the world of Serious Sam by introducing some newer characters as well as fleshing out some background ones a little bit more.
But the game never makes you delve into any of it if you don’t care to. You can skip every single cutscene the game has to offer if you choose to do so. One of the earliest characters you’ll meet is Kenny, who is basically like the Orko to your He-Man. He’s a comic relief character but almost in reverse. What I mean by that, is when the game introduces the other members of Sam’s team over time, you’ll find most of them have the 1980s action movie vibe about them. They crack one-liners while blowing away hordes of enemies. Kenny is more like a traditional rank and file soldier. Not a chiseled, gritty veteran (Though the game has one of those), but a character with an almost straight-man comedy role. Over time, the characters become an Expendables-like ensemble. The storyline basically starts right before the events of Serious Sam 3 so we have another prequel. A prequel to a prequel. But the story is honestly pretty entertaining.
One of the highest ranking officials in Mental’s army, Lord Achriman has all but conquered Earth. But he is constantly being annoyed by the small uprisings around the globe that keep him from putting a period on the end of his proverbial sentence. Throughout the game’s cutscene’s and in game background audio he fills the role of Half-Life 2’s Dr. Breen. Appearing on TV and Radio to spout off his propaganda and thinly veiled attempts to get the human race to just give up and let him have the last 10 percent of Earth as well. Sadly, as of this writing the character doesn’t seem to have a credit for the voice actor. But it’s easily one of the best performances here. Obviously, John J Dick reprises his role as Serious Sam, and he does it as well as ever.
Over the course of the game you’re tasked with helping a Priest, Father Mikhail get to the Ark Of The Covenant, so that the human resistance can use the Holy Grail to defeat Mental’s forces. This is another fantastic character who is well-written and somehow both grounded and over-the-top. A lot of the humor they sprinkle in is also over-the-top. Over-the-top without doing anything that very many would find too offensive either. Not that I’m debating comedy here, rather saying I didn’t see anything very sensitive people on any spectrum would be too bothered by. And honestly, when it’s funny, it’s really, really funny. I genuinely laughed several times during my playthrough. The characters are all likeable, even the villains, and the story even throws you a few curveballs here and there. Some you’ll see coming. But some will honestly catch you by surprise.
But don’t think this is going to be a game of escort missions, or boring fetch-quests. Well fetch-quests that don’t involve getting a key or other item you don’t really need. This is still very much a Serious Sam game. Though we’re given a number of new features here as well as find a few other features from previous games expanded upon. First off, Serious Sam 3 introduced a melee kill system that DOOM 2016 perfected in the eyes of many. It’s returned here, and it feels like they’ve given iD Software the kudos here because this will feel very similar. That said, some of the melee kills here are more involved than you might expect. They’ve also implemented a point system similar to DOOM 2016. Over the course of the game you can find these blue glass orbs. You can then use these to access a skill tree, and you can use the points to unlock abilities. And its used to great effect here. You’ll want to use these too, because Serious Sam 4 is the most challenging installment yet.
That’s because of something Croteam calls the Legion System, a software engine enhancement they’ve created that (as I mentioned earlier describing the intro) allows the game to display tens of thousands of enemies at once without a massive resource drain (most of the time. more on that later). As such there are a number of times throughout the game where you’ll be killing more aliens than ever. And while they are only that insane number a handful of times throughout the campaign, most of the time you’ll still be going up against more enemies than you did in the older games.
For those new to Serious Sam as a series, many have made the mistake of thinking of these games in the same vein as classic twitch FPS games like DOOM, Quake, or Duke Nukem 3D due to the fast gameplay, crazy weapons, and wise-cracking protagonist. But while those certainly inspired elements of the games Croteam’s series shares more in common with classic twin stick arcade games when it comes to level design. Where DOOM often has tight corridors, monster closets of a dozen to thirty most times and few massive arenas, Serious Sam does not. Serious Sam’s missions and maps share more in common with something like Midway’s Smash T.V..
You’ll often start in an area that gives you health items, and perhaps a weapon. You then leave that area and enter a large arena or vista. Here, you’ll be swarmed by many, many enemies. Often times it numbers in the hundreds. That’s not to say the games only put you in giant maps or sections with enemies. Each of them do, in fact put you in smaller structures, or areas with thin hallways, or mazes with a smaller number of enemies. But unlike other FPS games, it’s almost relentless. There aren’t very many moments where you can let your guard down in Serious Sam games, and Serious Sam 4 is no exception. Serious Sam’s enemies are also more vulnerable to some weapons than others. So it’s a constant management on the fly requirement as you’re always switching weapons as you confront different enemy types in the same massive wave.
Serious Sam stages are always quite large when you take into account the fact that with the exception of the second game, you can go almost anywhere within reason to hunt for secrets and other items. You can still very much do that in Serious Sam 4. But instead of just blindly roaming around for hours, this time stages have alternate missions that going off the beaten path will lead to. The game does mark these, and puts up little descriptors telling you what lies in store for you if you succeed in finding it. Often times it pays to take the risk, and go for these. They’ll have little cutscenes often times to set things up in the story to explain why Sam isn’t just going for the goal. Sometimes you’re getting something for a citizen, other times you’re trying for some meta storyline stuff. But in any case you do get useful things for doing so.
Among these are some of the new items you can use in combat. One of these is a thermos that basically gives Serious Sam super speed like the shoes in the other games did. The difference here is its been combined with Serious Damage from the older games. So you’ll outrun enemies, and have four times the stopping power. Another one of these items is effectively bullet time. So you get a splash of Max Payne in your Serious Sam 4. And it benefits you greatly when you’re fighting in some of the larger scale events and you need that extra time to dodge the 486 rockets from the 56 Scrapjacks that just warped into the battle. Then there’s the Black Hole Bomb, which like Mega Man 10’s, sucks all of the on screen enemies into a black hole. A fun, and well-executed take on the classic smart bomb. Finally there’s the tactical nuke which is more or less a flashy smart bomb.
Throughout the game you’ll also find audio logs, text files, and other things that fill out some of the story details the cutscenes and voiceover might miss. They do manage to do a couple of funny fourth wall breaking jokes here too. But by the end you’ll probably find a lot of it endearing. They’ve done a great job in the action and comedy side of Serious Sam.
Beyond that, they’ve once again retooled many of the classic enemies, and given them some noteworthy updates to their looks. In most cases, they’ve built upon their Serious Sam 3 counterparts, blending some of the more contemporary horror and sci-fi feel with these fantastical characters. But at the same time, they’ve brought back some of that classic, silly feel from the old games here, reminding us of just how not serious, Serious Sam is. This is reflected in the bright colors, and crazy designs of some of the newly introduced enemies. There are vampires that scream at you like Sindel, the Draconian Pyromaniacs that shoot fireballs with flamethrowers, and The dreaded Processed, a bunch of mutant Prisoners who swarm you and shank you with knives.
Combine it all together with far more numbers than you’ve ever seen previously and we’re talking quite a few dicey moments. Especially if you find yourself in an area with very limited ammo or health drops. Which happens a couple of times at dire moments in this game. It’s one of the handful of issues I had in my initial run. There are a couple of large scale fights where you simply will not have enough supplies on hand to survive. While this can happen to you even in the old games, in the old games it’s usually the result of you being a little too callous and free wheeling with your ammo. Here, these fights are going to be especially hard if you come into a situation with only four rockets, and find that there is a scant two, rockets flashing in the field waiting to be picked up. Now don’t misunderstand me. This is not a frequent problem. But when it happens, it really hurts. To remedy this the game does have a couple of options to help a little bit.
The first thing you can do, is save, and save OFTEN. That probably goes without saying. But if you can go back three or four rooms, pick up the right ammo again, then try to get back to the point you’ll have trouble with without using it, that’s something. The second thing you can do is use the aforementioned perk system by choosing options that will make enemies drop ammo for your currently held weapon when you kill them, or give you 1 to 5 percent health back if you dispatch them with a melee attack.
The third thing is one of the newer features, and that is headshots. If you can hit the enemies square between the eyes it does big damage. Most of your small enemies like the Processed, and Octarian foot soldiers will die in a single hit. Some of the medium enemies will take four to ten. Like the Scrapjacks. Large enemies like the Khnum will have you admitting you’re boned no matter what you use. Though you can use the perk system to allow you to ride some enemies like Werebull or Khnum as vehicles. This is honestly pretty cool.
Other ways to try to work around that are to save the aforementioned Black Hole Bombs, Bullet Time, and Nuke for the most dire situations. There’s also a health syringe I forgot to mention. It falls under that category as well as the enemy on enemy gas canister I also forgot to mention. This gas makes the enemies fight each other for a short time. So if you find some of those be sure to save them up for when those undefeatable waves turn up. One last power up I forgot to mention is the decoy, where quite humorously, a hologram of our hero skates around and fakes out the enemies causing them to shoot at it instead of you.
Some may complain that these are ways to make some of the game easier. But considering the fact that you’ll often fight several hundred to a thousand enemies, you’ll be glad they’re here. Despite ALL of those workarounds, there will be some moments where there just won’t be enough extra ammo or health lying in the area. So try to conserve ammo wherever and whenever possible.
One of the other things Croteam mentioned is just how large they can now make maps as well as their new vegetation system. Well there is one massive stage where you’ll be able to see it in action as it does indeed display a bevy of bushes, flowers, and trees. Unfortunately this is the stage where a lot of the technical problems reared their ugly heads in my initial play through. The first of these was a strange A.I. bug. I ran into an encampment of enemies where none of them moved around at all whatsoever until I shot one of them. Not a major problem in the grand scheme of things, but still odd enough. And it could make things a little too easy. This is also the stage where you’ll get to use a few different vehicles. These are some truly fun moments, especially when you can use them in combat.
Near the end of the stage, I started to get some of the other issues. There were a couple of weird pop in issues where the game seemed to suddenly have issues loading higher quality textures, and I also had some brief stuttering in a large scale battle. This wouldn’t have raised an eyebrow had it not been the one and only time I really saw it happen.
While I’m talking about the look of the game here, I’ll address one complaint I’ve seen come up a few different places online, and that is how the game allegedly doesn’t look much better than Serious Sam 3. That, in my opinion, isn’t entirely true. While the main characters look slightly better than the ones in the last game, the enemies here look FAR more detailed, and varied. The lighting here is greatly improved, and one also has to remember that this game renders an obscene amount of enemies at any given time, which likely requires as much power as rendering some of the Hollywood visuals present in some other new releases.
Some of the revised characters like the Gnarrs, Headless Kamikazes, and Scorpions look markedly better than they did in the previous game, and a lot of the new combatants have a level of detail that will simply amaze you, especially when there are 25 of them among the 400 other creatures charging at you. like the flying Kalopsys’ Brain stems or the wrinkles in the Processeds’ orange jumpsuits. Even the weapon models have some really nice textures on them that add a sense of realism to them. Environments also look noticeably better than they did in the last game. Especially thanks to the enhanced lighting effects.
Now that isn’t to say, that the game looks on par with some of the AAA games out there, but again, that is offset somewhat by the impressive animation and enemy counts. The other thing to consider is that development did stall for the creation of The Talos Principle, and the VR Serious Sam games. So it’s likely that they enhanced their existing software technology rather than create an entirely new iteration of their Serious Engine.
One part of the game that is undeniably fantastic however is the soundtrack. Damjan Mravunac really outdid themselves this time, giving us not only a lot of awesome new songs that fit the motif of each stage they appear in, but some remixed versions, and reimagined versions of classic songs from The First Encounter, The Second Encounter, and Serious Sam 3. One of the ones that especially stuck out to me was the Vatican Fight music that played during the lead up to an epic boss fight involving a Gundam in Italy.
Boss fights in Serious Sam have always been these grand scale, larger than life fights and the ones in Serious Sam 4 really up the ante. Almost all of them involve fighting skyscraper sized behemoths, and even the ones that don’t will still require some level of puzzle solving skills. This is especially true when you get to the last couple of them where mere brute force won’t be enough to take them down.
Once you do clear the game, there are a couple of factors that will likely lead to replays if you find you really enjoyed your run. The first of these are the side missions. Any of the ones you might have missed are still there for you to experience. So if you’re the type who likes to do everything a game has for you to go for, this gives you a great reason to play it again. The other thing is the multiplayer. Like previous Serious Sam games, you can go through the entire campaign in Co-Op. This makes an already fun game even more so. Unfortunately , this time around you can only have four players. This is likely a concession for performance concerns. But coming from previous titles where sixteen people could play together, it can be a little bit disappointing. Still, this is the perfect kind of FPS to play with friends of all skill levels as everyone can contribute to slaying down the hordes of skeletons, kamikazes, scorpions and harpy menace.
In closing, Serious Sam 4 is a terrific entry in the franchise that mostly follows the familiar formula that made the series beloved. It’s simplistic but brutal blend of arcade mayhem and difficulty is as fun as it ever was. And most of the new ideas, imported features from other games, as well as the clever writing and voice acting really accent the proven formula nicely. It really will give you some moments that will wow you, and it will genuinely make you laugh when it throws some humor your way. That said, the bugs, and performance problems that crop up three quarters of the way through the game can be pretty annoying at times. If and when you run into any of them you’ll either have to try to tweak the game settings, and settings on your computer to compensate if they happen to get pretty bad for you, or (In the case of A.I. inconsistency) you’ll have to find a way to cheese your way through. As of this writing, Croteam has said they’re looking into these problems and hope to have patches out to fix them. But as it stands they can mar an otherwise wonderful game. The other thing I would be remiss to not mention is that if you’ve played one of the older games and didn’t enjoy it for whatever reason, this won’t change your mind. While I feel they really improved on some things here, it’s again, still very much a Serious Sam game. The core concept is centered around clearing large waves of enemies to advance, and if that isn’t your thing, this probably won’t change that.
Problems aside, I still found this game incredibly enjoyable. It’s easy to recommend to franchise fans because of how fun it truly is, and I can even recommend it to newcomers who are looking for a fast-paced action game experience. Serious Sam games have their own unique flair and feel. They’re not in the Doom, Quake, or Duke Nukem 3D area of classic shooter despite the large amount of action they provide. But they’re nothing like any of the various military themed shooters, or the popular hero arena shooters out there either. This one also has a number of new additions that you may find yourself wishing the older entries had. Serious Sam 4 is a bad ass game hampered by some hitches that will hopefully be ironed out sooner than later. But even with its problems, it’s more than worth playing through. Especially if you have a couple of friends looking for a co-operative experience who are also willing to buy a copy for themselves.
These days it seems as everyone wants in on the Battle Royale shooter craze. The Culling kicked things off with blandness. PUBG refined the idea to critical acclaim. Fortnite polished it off, put on a Saturday morning veneer, threw in a F2P business model, and became the titleholder. Since then, we’ve seen many games taking the same core concept and trying to dethrone Epic’s wild success story with their own spin on it. But few games have tried to apply the high-player count-Last-Man-Standing-match idea to something other than a third-person shooter.
FRIENDSHIP ENDING: Joins the likes of Mario Party, and Warlords for ticking off pals.
Nintendo’s Tetris 99 is probably the only real breakout until now. Well, Devolver Digital and MediaTonic have brought us arguably the best example yet. Fall Guys has applied the idea to obstacle course challenge game shows. Double Dare, MXC, Wipeout, and others like them put contestants through crazy gauntlets. The latter of which couldn’t possibly fit on a studio set. Anyway, Fall Guys doesn’t quite get to 100 challengers as it taps out at 60. But the core concept is still intact. Be the last egg person standing and take the crown for yourself. In fact, they don’t even call the matches you take part in “Games.” They call them “Shows.”
Of course, before I go on with the show, we have to talk about the elephant in the room. Fall Guys is glutted with microtransactions and DLC. Clicking on the shop tab is almost indistinguishable from Fortnite. There are a bunch of adverts for crazy costumes, skin patterns, and silly dance animations for the rare occasion you win and want to brag about it. All of the prices are in a funky purple coin currency. A currency you have to buy (or tediously grind for) in order to pay for the things I just mentioned. The game isn’t so egregious about it that it puts game-breaking, pay-to-win stuff in there. It’s all cosmetic items and emotes. But you already have to spend money to get the game. This isn’t a F2P title like COD Warzone or Fortnite.
Fortunately, none of that stuff is going to get in the way of the fun. And that’s the thing, Fall Guys really is a lot of fun.The structure is composed of multiple rounds. Each round is a different physical challenge. Most of the time it’s everyone for themselves. Race through a crazy, over-the-top obstacle course to the end and hope to God you’re in the group allowed to move on. Every round has a qualifying number of placements. Early on the game will allow almost 40 of the 60 contestants to move onto round two. But by the final round, there are usually 10 contestants or less. Some of the courses aren’t races. One of them sees everyone on a platform where the goal is to stay on while giant foam-padded blocks attempt to push you off with only a small space to stand on for survival. Other times you’ll be told you need to be one of the few with a tail by the end of the round. So everyone is out for blood as they knock each other over trying to steal the tails from those who have them. Other times you’ll be placed in a tube with several floors made of blocks that disappear when you walk on them. So you need to constantly be moving in the hopes you don’t fall before anybody else.
Other times the game will force temporary alliances by placing you in team games. Maybe you have to put eggs in your basket and keep the other teams from stealing them for their own. Or you may have a soccer game with a Rocket League-sized soccer ball. Or you’ll all have to work together to push a boulder-sized ball up a steep incline. These are just a handful of examples. By the last round though, you can fully expect things to go back to doing whatever it takes to win. And unlike Captain Crunch in a Family Guy cutaway, there’s no going to The Godfather to ensure that happens.
Fall Guys much like Splatoon evokes a lighthearted atmosphere while invoking a cutthroat, hyper-competitive set of emotions. Obviously in a very different way as this is a game show. Few games that go for this dichotomy get it this right. Nintendo often does, but Mediatonic has gotten to their level here. You’ll constantly be thinking “One more game. I know I can do it this time!” And you probably won’t. But that’s okay. And that isn’t to say that Fall Guys is going to be as deep as a game geared toward e-sports grade mastery like a shooter or fighting game will often be. It isn’t. But it does hit that nerve friendship ending games like Mario Party, Dokapon Kingdom and Warlords do. Or even classic family board game night board games do. Because there’s always that one friend or relative who will be the one to throw even their closest pal under the bus by any means necessary. And that doesn’t change in Fall Guys.
But don’t let that fact sour you on giving this one a go. It’s bright and colorful. It looks superb. Each of the contraptions you’re thrown into really does look like something you’d see on a given episode of Wipeout. Everything has that pastel-colored look of padded-foam covered steel bars, fan blades, and blocks as you’re trying to win races or collect eggs. The character designs are super cute as you waddle around as your egg person trying to race your way to victory. And a lot of the costumes you can grind away for hours unlocking or choosing to pony up for during a daily sale are very cool looking. Some of these are DLC only of course. So if you want to walk around like a box of french fries you’ll have to buy the cosmetic DLC. The point is they do look really cool.
The game has some rather nice sound effects, although the music is one of the lower points for me. It’s fine, but there’s nothing that really jumps out other than maybe the jangling little clip that plays during the stage introductions. Still, it suits the atmosphere fine I just wish something stood out a little bit more.
Ultimately, I really enjoy Fall Guys. I can’t say I’m a big fan of the way the microtransactions are handled. I would have preferred a traditional storefront where people who do want to buy them could just get the costumes they wanted rather than having to log on at just the right time where they might nab it on a flash sale. Especially when the game already has two cosmetic DLC packs you can buy outside of the game on Steam or PSN. If the game has to have extra DLC that would be a more preferable way to do it for most people I would think.
The game also seems to have some connection issues likely due to server overload. The developers have already said the game sold far more copies than they anticipated needing an infrastructure for and they’re already at work updating server capacity. It has gotten better as I’ve been writing this. But you can expect to still see some disconnections as of now. It does look like they’re improving it as promised though.
With its bright aesthetics, tight platforming, and a course design that would make GonGon blush, Fall Guys is something you have to play to believe. It’s so much fun, and with friends more so. Just remember to try not to tie your ego to victories here as the experience is the focal point. Though you really will want to celebrate if you do win. Sometimes you really feel like you’re having a blue shell moment. Play. Lose a ton. Laugh. Play again.
Like the term or not, Metroidvania games have seen something of a resurgence in the world of independently made games. Large maps where you have to slowly discover and uncover areas through exploration have been around for years. But the best games with this design philosophy have had their own little hooks that make them stand out from the crowd. Axiom Verge, VVVVVV, and The Messenger all had unique takes on the idea. And Gato Roboto also has its own things it brings to the table.
PROS: It’s Metroid, The Nodes Of Yesod, Blaster Master, and Mega Man. With KITTIES!
CONS: Short. Veterans may find their way through even faster.
HUMOR: This game will get some laughs out of you.
Let’s get this out of the way. Gato Roboto is an excellent game. I think most people who buy it will enjoy it immensely. You’ll enjoy the gameplay, laugh at the jokes, and the Undertale inspired character designs are pretty good too. Aesthetically, Gato Roboto also wears the clothes of games played on our IBM PC Compatibles, Apple II’s, Commodore 64’s, Atari 800’s, and ZX Spectrums back in 1984. Outside of a handful of other mentions, most games that take the retro look take inspiration from the NES. So Gato Roboto stands out from the crowd a tad bit more in this regard.
It also helps that everything about this game is so darn cute. It’s like the folks at Doinksoft pretty much knew this was going to have to resonate with the Hallmark Card crowd, and it really does. You play the role of a cat who is on a military vessel with its owner. You, being a seemingly oblivious pet step on a keyboard which causes the navigation system to go off course. This results in a crash getting you and your owner marooned on an alien world. Your owner can’t escape the wrecked ship, so you agree to go do the job they cannot. Fortunately, they know a little bit about the planet and give you some clues.
Before long, you’ll discover a lab that looks suspiciously like the save stations in Super Metroid. You’ll also find a vehicle that looks suspiciously like the vehicle from Blaster Master. And like the latter, throughout your adventure, there will be times you’ll need to get out of it. The difference is in Gato Roboto you’re entirely defenseless when roaming on foot. These moments have an element of stealth gameplay, where you have to sneak around or approach a situation like a puzzle. When riding around in your vehicle you convert into a tiny kitten themed mech. And much like the Metroid games, you’ll have to find items to give you more powerful weapons, longer health bars, and the ability to go places you previously could not.
It also has a bit of the pre-Metroid exploration games like The Nodes Of Yesod, and TheArc Of Yesod. Those games also had you rolling around a large map for items. But they didn’t scroll. Gato Roboto has some areas like this, where the screen just flips to the next one. And with the art style used, it really fits the motif. Even if it can be jarring with the spots that do have four-way scrolling.
If Undertale made you laugh, it will be apparent to you that Toby Fox was an inspiration here. There is a lot of similar humor here. Characters balk at certain interactions. They’ll make references that are just vague enough that the intended audience gets them. And there are a few spots where they go the opposite direction with reference humor to make sure everyone gets the gag. They also throw in some stuff that only pet owners or the friends or relatives of pet owners will get.
Through it all, everything feels pretty tight. There aren’t too many moments where you’ll die and wonder why. That said, things do feel different when exploring the world on foot than they do when you’re piloting a vehicle. You have a little bit more momentum when scrambling around on four legs. You have a different arc and sense of gravity when jumping. There are also places you can go on foot that you can’t when piloting your mech. It all feels really good.
Boss fights usually feel right out of the Metroid games. Though there are a few that will hearken back to the NES Mega Man games. One fight, in particular, reminded me of a very specific Sonic The Hedgehog fight. While another reminded me of playing Super R-Type. So there are a number of old-school references geezers like me can enjoy along with the contemporary ones those I have a decade on will love as well.
Throughout it all, the audio soundtrack complements it well. If I had any complaints about it, there isn’t any particular tune that really stood out to me. Nothing that I know will make me go “I know this was from Gato Roboto!” years from now. But there’s nothing here that will feel out of place.
The only thing I feel that some people won’t like is just how short it can feel. My first playthrough was done in less than four hours. I found nearly 75% of all of the items in the process. By contrast, I probably put a good 20 hours into The Messenger, and Axiom Verge each. Be that as it may, Gato Roboto’s vehicle mechanic and collectibles do feel unique from other exploration games. It’s also a good candidate for speed running. In fact, one of its achievements on Steam is centered around it. As for the collectibles, you can find up to 14 hidden cartridges in the game’s map. If you manage to get them, they’ll allow you to change the color scheme from black and white graphics to other two-toned visual solutions. But more importantly, finding them all will allow an NPC to give you better equipment. If you go for a 100% completion run this might extend that playtime a bit. Especially if you decide to do that before trying to speed run the game or getting through it without going for the better items.
In conclusion, Gato Roboto does do enough to set itself apart from other Metroidvania style games. It’s very funny, has some challenging bosses, and some of the items can be pretty tough to get. I just wish it could have been just a little bit longer. On the other hand, a good game should leave you wanting more. Gato Roboto is a good game. One you ought to check out. Especially if you’ve already played some of its acclaimed contemporaries. And even if you haven’t, you’ll still likely enjoy it a lot. Especially if you like to get legitimate moments of comic relief in your games. Gato Roboto is one stray worth taking in.
Well, another year, another E3. Per usual there has been a slew of major announcements, directs, and panels. There’s a lot of talk about the Nintendo, and Square Enix presentations being the highlights of the year. While there’s no question there were a lot of major revelations and surprises that came from these two juggernauts, there was a lot of stuff overall. And while it’s true that some of the major panels turned out to be duds, there were some big titles that came out of the least hyped pressers.
E3 may not be as exciting as it used to be, but it still remains one of the biggest game-themed conventions around thanks to its long-standing relationship with being an industry, and press themed show. In recent years they’ve allowed fans to attend, but it is still geared far more toward showing off products than it is toward fandom.
In any case, every year I find myself more interested in some of the more obscure games than many of the popular ones. This year seemed to follow that trend for me, though there were still a couple of huge hits that squeaked their way in. In any event, read on. Maybe some of these will pique your interest too.
10.) AMD Ryzen 9 3900X
A lot of folks were probably way more hyped about Final Fantasy than a computer component. But for those who tuned into the AMD conference this year, this was a major revelation. At $499 it’s price competitive with as well as comparable to the Intel i9 9920k. They also showed off the benefit of extra cores when showing off the 8 core Intel i9 9900k, and 12 core AMD 3900X chips running Division 2, with OBS, on maxed settings. While the game itself ran comparably, the stream quality was night and day. If you’re a streamer who is going to be in the market for a new build in July, this may very well be worth your consideration. Especially when considering the current 12 core Intel solution is $1200 as of this writing.
09.) No More Heroes III
While Travis Strikes Again wasn’t fantastic, it wasn’t bad enough to sour me on the franchise. No More Heroes 1, had a great story, fun characters, and dark humor. Bogged down by a barren overworld. No More Heroes 2: Desperate Struggle was streamlined and a terrific hack n’ slash game as a result. All we really got was a trailer with a glimpse of familiar gesture moves. But it was well put together. It veered toward the stuff we loved about the first two entries on the Wii. So I’m cautiously optimistic that Suda51 will deliver.
08.) ASTRAL CHAIN
We previously only had a glimpse of this one, but the expanded footage made this game look even cooler. Giant robot monsters. Robot Police Officers. Fast-paced combat that Platinum Games is known for. The aesthetics are bombastic. The visual presentation is something that gets a resounding “Yes.”. Hopefully, this game continues Platinum Games’ tradition of quality action games.
07.) Daemon X Machina
Last year Nintendo showed off a quick trailer of this one which looked amazing. Then they put out a short playable demo that gave us the basic concept. We know there will be a customizable character you can play as and that the system for doing so is deep. We know that you’ll be piloting giant mechs and that during missions you can even get out of them to fight on foot. The controls needed some fine tuning but other than that it felt like it would be a solid action game. This year’s trailer showed off a lot more. It looks even more expansive and the action looks even more hectic than before. Here’s hoping the extra time made everything that much better across the board.
06.) Enter The Gungeon: House Of The GunDead
Devolver Digital always seems to have a great conference every year as they’re able to find a way to tell people what they’re releasing candidly while lampooning current trends the entire time. They showed off a few cool looking indie games but then they dropped a bombshell. The company is bringing out an actual arcade cabinet based on Enter The Gungeon. This game is a rail shooter in the vein of Operation Wolf, but with full-on light guns. It looks awesome. While I don’t have space to house it or the budget to buy one, I am interested to see one in action. Hopefully, a convention like RetroWorldExpo or Portland Retro Gaming Expo may have one on display someday.
05.) The Messenger: Picnic Panic
The Messenger was one of the coolest takes on the Metroidvania in a while. It had fantastic action, a great story and terrific time-travel themed feature that was used very well. If you still haven’t played it, you should. It’s awesome. For those who have played through the game and were left wanting more Devolver also revealed that the expansion pack to the game will be coming soon. Plus it will be free! The trailer shows off a new beach themed area, new enemies and even a cool octopus boss fight. Any excuse to fire up more of The Messenger is a good one. Let’s see what Sabotage has in store.
04.) Cyberpunk 2077
While RPGs aren’t my go-to genre, I can appreciate a good one and CD Projekt Red‘s next outing looks like it could be as big as their Witcher franchise. The expanded footage they showed off during Microsoft’s conference gave some nice details on the storyline where we’ll be playing the role of a mercenary in a dystopian future. The facial animations were quite impressive and the action looked great. This one may veer toward the Action RPG than the Witcher games did but even if that turns out to be true it will hopefully have enough to sate fans of the slower methodical pace of traditional RPGs too.
While it’s hard to say how this is going to turn out as Square’s segment on it showed very little outside of a prerendered trailer, I am intrigued. For a couple of reasons. First, People Can Fly is a studio that has always made fast-paced First-Person Shooters of a very high caliber. Painkiller was an amazing FPS with a Smash T.V. feel. It was like a darker version of Croteam’s Serious Sam. Years later they would find themselves working with Epic and EA where they made Bulletstorm. This was another high-quality game that felt like Half-Life 2’s linear style of action game in one sense. You played through different set pieces as the story demanded. But on the other hand, the action felt a lot like Platinum Games’ MadWorld. You had to find creative ways in the environment to dispatch your enemies for big rewards. Oddly enough, Steven Blum voiced the protagonists of both Bulletstorm and MadWorld. Outriders will be a completely different kind of experience. It already seems like there will be some sort of hero or class system. But the character design looks really cool. Especially the monsters you’ll fight which remind me of the old Inhumanoids toys. Couple those toys with People Can Fly’s track record and we may see something special.
02.) The Legend Of Zelda: Breath Of The Wild Part II
Yeah, I know everyone is pretty much excited for this one. But seeing how great the first one turned out coupled with the imagery from the teaser, you can bet I’ll keep an eye on this one. There was a lot of Zelda shown off this year between the reboot of Link’s Awakening (which looks adorable by the way. I love the claymation art style going on), and Caydence Of Hyrule. But this one already looks pretty amazing. It’s probably a good two years out, but it looks great.
01.) Chivalry II.
I’m going to preface this by saying that no, the original game wasn’t perfect. It had its share of bugs. When you made it to the highest level of play there were ways to exploit the movement system to do things the developers didn’t think possible. And while the expansion pack was fun, the lack of a true Team Objective mode meant many fans merely dabbled in it whereas in the base game they poured scores of hours into it. But in the grand scheme of things Chivalry was, and still is one of the most enjoyable competitive First-Person action games of recent memory. It did something few other games thought of at the time: Take the objective focus of a Modern Military Shooter like Battlefield and change the setting to the Medieval period. And while the game really veers into the Hollywood action side of things by portraying everything similarly to old time castle siege movies, there is some realism. The weapons in it existed. The missions take liberties with some of the dark war practices of that part of history.
So the original game was a blast in spite of all of its faults. This game looks to build upon the original’s solid foundation by adding new features. You’ll get to ride horses bringing essentially vehicular combat to the game. You’ll have newer objectives apparently. And they claim that the slashing action is being completely overhauled so some of the cheap looking stuff that could be done in the first game won’t be replicated here. I loved the original game so much that I put hundreds of hours into it. But as much as I love Chivalry I am tempering expectations a bit. The 1-year exclusivity with the Epic Games storefront is going to be a turn off for some. And while Mirage: Arcane Warfare was a fantastic take on the Hero shooter, it was a commercial failure. One can only hope that didn’t leave too bad a taste in the mouths of some buyers. All of those caveats aside, I really do hope Chivalry II lives up to Torn Banner Studios‘ advertised features. The trailer looked fantastic and something fans of the original 2012 release have wanted for a long time. It’s due out next year so hopefully, it shows up ready for primetime.
So there you go. Ten of the things that I was really invested in seeing. By no means is this complete, but these are the ones that stayed the freshest in my mind. But how about you folks out there? Feel free to comment below! Perhaps there’s something I missed or overlooked!
Sometimes a game comes out with a ton of fanfare, but ultimately lets everybody down. This is not one of those games. The Messenger earns every ounce of excitement, and praise preemptively thrown its way. Nearly everything about this one is so on point you can stop reading, and buy the game. In the words of Triple H, it is “That damn good.”
But while The Messenger would have likely done well enough as a mere homage, that wasn’t good enough for the team at Sabotage. The Messenger does so much more than mimic one of gaming’s best action platform games. It uses that formula as one small piece in a much, much larger puzzle. A puzzle that will likely take you hours to solve.
The Messenger centers around a Ninja clan that gets attacked by monsters. As one of the Ninjas, you’re chastised by your sensei for not taking your training seriously. You’re told a super warrior is supposed to save the day, but unfortunately for everyone this person doesn’t show up in time. The monsters wipe out the village, and you’re about to be destroyed when they show up just in time. The enemies retreat, and this warrior gives you a scroll. You’re told to deliver the scroll to the top of a mountain, and so you go on your way.
I won’t go into the rest of the surprisingly deep, and convoluted storyline here. But rest assured it is quite good. Filled with twists, turns, and even a lot of sardonic humor. I laughed a lot at the various jokes throughout my time with the campaign. But at the same time, I was pleasantly surprised at just how invested in the overall story I became. Plus the gameplay ties into everything very nicely. When the game begins, it truly will remind you of the NES Ninja Gaiden games. You have a similar run speed. You have similar jumping physics. You’ll even have a sense of familiarity as you can climb certain walls.
But The Messenger throws in its own entirely new mechanics that set it decidedly apart from Ninja Gaiden. Most notably the extra jump you can get by killing enemies, or hitting specific targets. If you get the timing right, you can jump, hit a target, and jump immediately after to get extra air. You can also gain momentum by repeating the process on subsequent targets. This allows you to kind of hop distances between targets, and get through areas faster. As you progress, the game makes mastering this technique essential, as it begins throwing in jumping puzzles, as well as highly challenging platforming sections where you’re surrounded by bottomless pits, spikes, or other death traps.
The game goes along much like those old NES action games. You’ll battle your way through a stage, then fight a boss, watch some dialogue boxes, or cinema screens, and move on. However each stage has a few checkpoints after every few gauntlets. Some of these gauntlets are shops, where you can spend the diamond shards you find on upgrades for your ninja. Some of these give you more resistance to damage. Some of these give you more attack power.
Over time you’ll also acquire new abilities like a wind suit, and grappling hook. And later in the game you’ll need them because stages are built around their use. It’s crafted so well, and so engrossing you’ll want to keep playing until you get to the final showdown with the demon army, and win the day. Throughout it all, you’ll be blown away at the NES inspired sprite work, and Famicom-esque chip tunes. It’s nothing short of amazing, and you’ll love every minute of it.
Another interesting mechanic is that while old school, this is another game that ditches lives. Instead of dying a set number of times, or having a limited set of continues, you simply keep playing. Now the original first two Ninja Gaiden games on the NES had unlimited continues. However this game does something a bit different. When you die, a little red bookie monster shows up. He steals any money you make until his debt for respawning you is paid. So while the game becomes more forgiving, at the same time you do well for not dying. Because not dying means more money, and more money means getting all of the items, and upgrades sooner.
When you finally defeat the Demon army’s second in command you’ll probably do what I did. Think there’s one last stage where your endurance, and cunning are pushed to the proverbial limit. Then one grandiose boss fight, and a satisfying finish. Well this is one part of the game I have to spoil in order to talk about the entire package. I’m not giving away details, just know that nothing could be further from the truth. The game basically comes out, and yells “Surprise! Now you’re going to play a Metroid clone!” The game really opens up at this point, and connects every stage you’ve played together. This makes one overarching world, and you’ll be sent throughout it.
However, The Messenger does not go sending you on power up fetch quests, in order access the new areas. Rather, you have to go find items that act as keys, and find NPCs to further the story. You can buy map markers in the shops, but even then, getting to those places is going to be very intimidating when you first attempt it. These new areas are filled with new traps, and puzzles. There are also challenge rooms where you can try to get these green tokens. If you find every one of them in the game there’s a surprise waiting for you. But that’s not even the best part.
The Messenger also adds a dash of stage morphing. It may just remind you of Giana Sisters: Twisted Dreams, although it isn’t done in the same way. The storyline adds an element of time travel, where you go through portals that send you 500 years into the future. And then other ones send you back. When you go into the future, the 8-bit NES aesthetics change to 16-bit Super NES aesthetics! The music also goes from sounding like the Famicom, to sounding like the Super Famicom, and Mega Drive decided to go on tour together. The soundtrack in this game immediately skyrockets from a pretty great one, to an absolutely stellar one. Not only that, but the game uses the time travel mechanic in some pretty intricate ways. Like Metroid Prime 2: Echoes did, The Messenger will make you go to one area of the map in the present, go through a portal to the future, so that you’ll come out in the right place in a different section of the map. Then you’ll go through a portal there to come back in the present where you’ll meet an NPC, or find a room with a green token challenge. Or something else entirely.
The story also begins to get both more interesting, and more cryptic when you discover a hub section, and you’re discovering entirely new areas that were never part of a previous linear stage from the first act of the game. They’ve done a terrific job with all of this, and that’s before you even get to the impressive boss encounters that follow. They make the early bosses you may have found difficult seem like you were lifting feathers before. But it does this by easing you over time without you even realizing it. It’s an action game, that becomes an adventure game, that implements a feeling you get when playing an RPG.
And I think that’s probably the best thing about The Messenger. It’s like you’re playing two completely different games back to back. You played Ninja Gaiden II: The Dark Sword Of Chaos. But instead of credits, a dying Jaquio goes “It’s not over. You have to defeat Mother Brain now, or the world will end! Ha. Ha. Ha.” The fact that it makes you feel elated, rather than angry is quite the feat.
So with all of that said, is this a 10 out of 10 game that will forever be the title future indie games are held to as a standard? Not quite. Though it is very impressive, and should be something you should buy I had one major problem with it. At one point in the game there is a section where you have to navigate an area by listening for sound. Well for whatever reason, the game would not play the sound properly. It made finding my way through a complete crapshoot. I had to guess my way through as if I were playing the final stage of Super Mario Bros. And while this isn’t something that breaks the game, as you can still get through it. It does ruin the intended experience of hearing what you need to hear in the place you need to hear it in order to follow the right path. I’m sure in time they may fix it with a patch. But as it stands it’s just enough to keep me from calling it near flawless.
Still, if you were hoping for a wonderful homage to Ninja Gaiden, you’ll get it. If you were hoping for something more than a wonderful homage to Ninja Gaiden you’ll get it. The Messenger truly is one of the best games to come out this year, and is something you really ought to check out. It’s one of the most engrossing games you’ll play this year. As impressive as the trailers may be, it’s still the kind of game you have to see to believe. Go buy The Messenger now. Even if you’re just stumbling upon this review 500 years from now.
Way back when The Expendables 3 was coming out in theatres, I reviewed a freeware game based on the film. That game was built upon today’s game as a spinoff. Why didn’t I talk about Broforce then? Well it was in Early Access back then. Which meant that the game wasn’t finished. Obviously I can’t review something that is incomplete. But, an exit from Early Access at the end of 2015, and a generous Christmas gift later, Broforce is technically done. Is it better than the free game from awhile ago? Yes it is.
PROS: Over 50 years of action movie nostalgia. Hilarious. Fluid controls.
CONS: Some may find it too repetitive. Insanely difficult bosses.
MISSING: A few noteworthy names.
Broforce is another in a long line of independent action platformers. You’ll be moving your characters from A to B, mowing down enemies, and fighting bosses. Initially you may come to the conclusion that it’s yet another budget title inspired by Contra, Ikari Warriors, and Commando. In some ways, that is a fair assumption. But stick with it for more than ten minutes. Before long you’ll find that it differentiates itself in a variety of ways.
Right out of the proverbial box, the game tells you all you need to know. Broforce is a parody, and celebration of action hero movies. There are references to over 50 years worth of films. Of both the big budget blockbuster, and low budget, direct-to-video B movie variety. The game even references action themed television. Rambo, Robocop, Universal Soldier, and 007 films, are but a mere handful of the properties that see themselves lampooned.
Broforce has a pretty hearty selection of modes considering the kind of game it is. The primary mode is its campaign mode. Here, you will go on 15 missions, each with several stages. Earlier stages give you a handle on the basics, but they quickly ramp up the difficulty. In each stage you’ll also see captives. Freeing the captives is your ticket to unlocking each of the many playable action heroes the game has to offer. This is also the way to score 1-ups. When you lose a life, your next life will be a different character. You’ll never get the same character to show up twice in a row.
After running through a number of stages you’ll face a boss character. These can range from beefier enemies you’ll face regularly in subsequent levels to over the top finales. Unfortunately boss fights are one of the few things in Broforce that might sour some players. That is because a number of them are just brutal. While they do have patterns you’ll eventually figure out, they aren’t intuitive. The first several times you attempt these fights, you’ll find the clues to victory are almost cryptic. You’ll feel very trial, and error at least initially. Once you finally do realize what you must do to win, these fights are still going to be pretty tough.
Beating a mission will take you back to a globe that looks like something out of Minecraft. You move a helicopter around it to go to the various missions. You can do some of these in whatever order you wish, but not all of them. There are also optional missions that crop up from time to time. You really should play through these for two reasons. First, you’ll get gear that can make things a little bit easier for you. Second, these stages require you to learn some of the more advanced movement techniques that game has to offer.
These techniques are almost a necessity when you get to the final leg of the campaign, where dexterity is a must. You’ll need to be able to speed jump, wall jump, and shoot with expert timing. All combined with the basics you’ll learn early on. Each of the characters has three basic moves, and a special. You can jump, shoot, or use a melee attack. Special moves are tied to things they’ve done in, TV or film. Sometimes they’ll be of a better use in combat. Other times in movement. In either situation it’s going to pay to not only master them, but to plan on when to unleash them since each has a limited number of uses.
When you finally do beat the campaign, you’ll find you won’t be done. Because there are a host of multiplayer options, as well as a harder version of the campaign to play through. Ironbro mode allows you one life for each of the action stars you rescue. No continues. No mulligans. If Rambo falls off of a cliff, he’s gone forever. Considering how difficult the boss fights are, you can’t afford to lose a single hero in the normal stages. But that’s not all. Aside from the two campaigns, you have an arcade mode that eschews the storyline. You also have multiplayer, both online, and offline for up to four players. You can play the campaign together, or play competitive modes. The game also includes the level editor used by the developers themselves! There are already countless maps up on the Broforce Community Workshop.
Multiplayer is a lot of fun. Playing locally is especially fun, as it brings back the feeling of gaming with friends. As great as the online options are here, it was nice to see local couch or desk multiplayer included. Playing the game with friends is as frantic as playing Contra or Battletoads with a friend. Everyone will have to try spectacularly hard to stay together, and communicate strategies together, on the fly. The game also lets you drop in or out on the fly.
Playing online means you can either set up a private game that friends can join, or you can hop onto a public game, or host one. Playing privately is probably the best option short of couch play. But you never know who might play with you publicly. In the few games I joined, I found a lot of really skilled players, that made things a lot more cohesive. But being the weakest player in a few of those games, I’m not sure how much I contributed. Either way, it made an already fun game more entertaining. Though I must admit if you get into a group of fairly unforgiving people it could be less so. Fortunately, it’s easy to drop out if you find yourself paired up with anyone you don’t get along with.
Versus modes come in two varieties. The first is a race mode that plays a lot like Giana Sisters Dream Runners. In the sense that you have to make the opponent fall so far behind they’re off screen. Doing this results in a win. But you’re also granted access to your weapons. So you’ll be killing enemies, and trying to avoid calamities the entire time. Some of these rounds can become pretty heated, so you might just want to play the race mode.
The second is a death match mode. Think of it like a combination of Joust, and Duck Game. You’ll run about an on rails scrolling stage, trying to kill each other. There isn’t much else to mention here. It’s nowhere near the depth of the aforementioned games, and you probably won’t get a lot of play time out of it as a result. Community maps help this a bit, but it still isn’t as fun as the campaign. Really, playing co-operatively is the best kind of multiplayer for the game, and it shows.
The aspiring designers out there will also want to stay for the level building tools. Which is surprisingly intricate. You can use any of the game’s built in assets to make stages as simple or as complicated as you wish. You can also upload them to the Steam community. Again, there are hundreds of levels made by fans you can download, and install. So even if you don’t feel compelled to create your own stages, you’ll probably find a lot of ones you enjoy playing through.
Broforce is a wonderful game, through, and through. While the campaign can get a little bit repetitive if you blow through it in a marathon session, it is still a blast. It makes a great party game when you have friends or relatives over. It even manages to be a lot of fun online with very few connectivity issues. It might not look quite as nice as other indie platformers in its league. But it has plenty of charm, and humor. It’s such a good time you probably won’t be bothered all that much. It’s well worth the asking price. If you’re still on the fence you can always check out the Expendabros game. It will give you a good idea of what you’re in for, and costs you nothing. But for anyone who loves action games, and action films, Broforce is a entertaining ride worth taking.
Croteam. A company that has given us a series inspired by Robotron 2084, Doom, and Duke Nukem 3D over the past decade. They’ve branched out, and given us a first person puzzle game. The Talos Principle has had a lot of praise heaped upon it since its release at the tail end of last year. Yet many people still haven’t heard of the game, let alone played it. Is it worth the critical acclaim? Yes. Is it as grand as claimed? Not entirely, but once you play it, it’s easy to see why it is so highly regarded.
PROS: Engaging story. Crafty puzzles. Some clever writing.
CONS: Begins to drag near the end. Subject matter won’t be everyone’s cup of tea.
EASTER EGGS: Many, many, MANY Easter Eggs.
The Talos Principle is a big surprise considering the sorts of games Croteam has made. But it is not an action game. Instead, the game follows the path of Valve’s Portal, and the Namco published Deadcore. Very much like those games you’ll be solving logic puzzles in first person. The game tries to follow a similar path too. Easing you into each mechanic, at least until the half way point. You’ll find some puzzles involve moving boxes onto levers to open doors. Or bridging lines of light with crystal connectors to open doors, or turn on another contraption. By the last leg of puzzles, you’ll even have to use security cameras, that use an in-game playback of your actions to solve puzzles. These, along with others can be very difficult to finish.
Sometimes the game likes to mess with you, by adding doors, switches or items you don’t need to use at all whatsoever. Other times it isn’t always obvious what to do, which is fine. But sometimes you’ll have a puzzle that is VERY particular about how it needs to be solved. Moments like these can take you a good hour or more to figure out, and even then might require a level of dexterity you need practice to reach.
When you first start the game you’re cast into an initial puzzle that not only tries to ease you into the mechanics, but the story as well. Talos Principle is about an Artificial Intelligence construct who is in a simulation. As that construct you’ll hear a voice from a being called Elohim. He guides you through the first half of the game, telling you to solve these logic puzzles before you can reach the highest level of consciousness. But once you begin exploring these levels you begin tor realize not is all what it seems. Throughout the game are audio logs from a woman who talks a lot about philosophical, theological, scientific topics, and theories. You also begin to find these very old IBM XT styled computer terminals. Many of these have similarly themed documents, along with emails, blog entries, articles, and so forth. Eventually these terminals begin to even debate these topics with you, and you’ll eventually discover that this is much more than a simulation. This part of the review might let off a couple of minor spoilers. So if you don’t want the story leaked out to you, skip ahead a couple of paragraphs.
It turns out the human race is wiped extinct from a cataclysmic event, and that the entire world you explore is an attempt to put all of the species’ knowledge into one machine. The one glaring flaw in this is that it is never explained exactly how logic puzzles do this, but the rest of what you are given is pretty captivating. What is really nice is the game doesn’t get too pretentious, or authoritative about anything. There are certainly allegorical elements to the story, and one might be able to infer some of the writer’s viewpoint. But at the same time it doesn’t beat you over the head screaming “This is how it is.” For the most part it throws things out there, and doesn’t try to change your mind. Rather it throws out a lot of different viewpoints, and lets you digest them. It certainly takes some influence from other works of fiction. I was reminded of stories like Dark City, and Do Robots Dream Of Electric Sheep/Blade Runner, among others.
While the story isn’t the most original one, it is a nice take on the idea of worlds within worlds, and the aftermath of the apocalypse. It also lends itself well to the actual gameplay, as everything in the game is centered around puzzles. So even the story bringing up the big philosophical questions of life can be seen as yet another puzzle. The puzzles themselves do follow a structure. When you complete the first puzzle you’ll find your rewards for solving puzzles are pieces out of Tetris the game calls Sigils. The goal is to earn enough of these sigils to open a barrier with them which takes you into the next leg of your journey. Eventually you’ll find yourself in a hub world. The hub world leads to 8 worlds. Each with so many sigils locked behind puzzles. Defeat enough of these, and you can use the sigils to solve a puzzle, and escape.
But your escape leads you to yet another hub world. Which has other hub worlds. One of which is a giant tower, while another leads to an underground church hub level. A third takes you to a hub level based on ancient Egypt. Which shouldn’t surprise you as much of Serious Sam’s stages went with that theme. The voice of Elohim warns you not to go into the tower which leads to the fact the game has a number of endings. If you can beat all of the puzzles you can either get a good or bad ending depending on which exit you take. There is one in the tower, and of course one in the church hub.
But there is also a third finish which is tied to one of the most grueling, and difficult aspects of the game. Star sigils. Each hub world has a number of super secret sigils shaped like stars in its puzzle stages. If you can manage to collect all of them, you then have access to more secret puzzles, that upon defeat lead you to a third super secret ending. The Talos Principle has almost too much content as a result. Even those who want the base level experience, and the least satisfying finish can put many, many hours into it. The last leg of normal puzzles can be very challenging, and have a negative side effect of dragging on.
The game does have a hint system, but it’s obfuscated by more puzzles. Throughout the game you’ll find QR codes, much like the ones on products you scan with a cell phone. In this you can find shrines where you can place one, and the game will answer you with a hint. On the stipulation you’ve found these super secret hub worlds, and solved enough puzzles in them to awaken a helper. The helper also answers you with a cryptic hint as to beating any given level. Moreover, you only get so many hints before your answered with “Figure it out on your own”.
Of course being a game by Croteam this is powered by the Serious engine. The Talos Principle looks beautiful. Skyboxes look amazing, the game makes excellent use of its color palette, and the lighting effects never feel overdone. The bloom effects are beautiful, the lighting flares are used at just the right moments. Shadows, and shades are used to great effect here. Going along with those pretty graphics, are some excellent voice work, and background music. When you listen to a very well acted voice sample, the wistful, and somber music amplifies the emotion in the performance. The soundtrack fits the imagery constantly. Even the cathedral hub’s Gregorian styled hymnal music echoes the overall vibe of its setting. There’s a serenity to all of it, that can even be eerie at times.
Thankfully, the game controls very well most of the time. Occasionally you might find the line of sight a connector displays isn’t accurate when you place it down. Sometimes you might slip off of a surface even though you should have stopped on it. But these instances don’t happen nearly often enough to ruin anything. Although you may become a little frustrated when they do happen. Generally though, everything works the way it is supposed to. Brisk, and usually spot on. Which is good because, toward the end you’ll run into a number of puzzles that require precision, and timing.
Overall, Talos Principle is really good. It has some nice puzzles. It has an engaging story arc. It’s really hampered by going on a little bit too long. Which is a strange criticism as these days everyone asks for more, and more content in their games. Nevertheless, the long length will drag on for some. If you’re one of them you’ll have to take a couple of days away from it here, and there to avoid burning out on it. There are also a lot of Easter eggs for anybody who loves finding secrets in their video games. If Croteam ever follows up with a sequel, one can only hope a little bit more puzzle variety is included to keep things from becoming monotonous at the end. But don’t let that dissuade you from trying the game out. It is still very enjoyable, has a science fiction story that is engaging, and is generally a really good game. Just make sure you don’t try to power through it in a weekend.
Many times as fans we have to cringe whenever one of our favorite movies, or games is remade. In many of those cases we find our worst fears come to pass, the story might be so far removed from the original it might as well have been its own franchise entirely. Other times they may get the core concept right, but little else. It’s rare when something fires on all cylinders, and meets or surpasses our lofty expectations.
PROS: An entertaining single player campaign. Flying Wild Hog does it again.
CONS: Some cheap enemies. Some players won’t like the lack of MP.
HOLY REFERENCES BATMAN: Including Monty Python, Star Wars, and Stan Bush.
Movies often have a worse track record than games, but there have still been a large number of misfires over the last thirty years. Last year however there were a couple of pretty good ones. Rise Of The Triad was a pretty great remake that essentially put new tech on an old game, without really changing too much of what made it awesome originally. Shadow Warrior takes a different approach, and oddly enough manages to pull that off without too many missteps along the way.
The original Shadow Warrior was both a good, and bad game. Built off of the Build engine that Duke Nukem 3D used, it had a long campaign, huge maps to explore, and a plethora of secrets. In theory, fans of Duke 3D should have loved it as it carried over much of what was liked. There were two big problems with it. The storyline wasn’t very memorable, and the humor in it started to cross the line of trying to be edgy, and veer into “This isn’t funny it’s just stupid, and mean” territory. While it never got as horrid as the stuff that showed up in the Postal series it certainly got a lot of ire, and faded away pretty quickly once Quake came out.
Many fans were perplexed when this new Shadow Warrior was teased leading up to release. Would it throw in a lot of pointless cultural jokes? Would it retain the open maps of the old 2.5D era, or would it be a linear modern design? With Hard Reset behind them, Flying Wild Hog set out to reboot the franchise as a modern game that doesn’t forget about the 3D Realms game it came from. They succeeded.
Shadow Warrior runs on the same custom engine that Hard Reset was made in. It shares some elements with Hard Reset, but is certainly not the “Hard Reset with a Shadow Warrior paint job” some of the fans of the original feared. In the game you play a reimagined Lo Wang who is now a prominent crime family member sent on a quest to find a mysterious sword. When a rival crime boss refuses to sell it, and you take it by force, all hell breaks loose as a demonic race of monsters begins invading the Earth. While you fought them in the original game, here the story gives it more of a purpose. As Lo Wang tries to figure out why the monsters are here, what the sword has to do with them, and how to survive, he meets a demon named Hoji. Hoji explains about a secret plot involving Whisperers, these robot like beings that hold demon’s memories away. This leads the two on a quest to track down these beings so Hoji can remember what is going on, and how it involves Lo Wang’s master.
Shadow Warrior is a single player campaign that goes on for around 16 stages, most of which clip along at a decent length. It follows a contemporary design used by many of today’s shooters like BioShock Infinite. You will enter an area, explore it getting more back story along with secrets, and hidden items. Then you’ll enter another section, and engage in a shooting gallery area. Sometimes there will be an in-game engine cinematic thrown in between. On paper it may seem like an also-ran but it does a number of things to differentiate it from other games in the genre.
The stages, while having a very linear path, do reward, and encourage exploration. Instead of only having the clichéd “Hallway, and two tiny alcoves” layout, they are instead one massive environment with barriers over the path. Stages feel less like a line, and more like a fun house instead. You will find in a number of stages you’ve backtracked without even realizing it, and then still be able to go back to other spots to look for secrets.
There are A LOT of secrets too. Going off of the beaten path will lead you to secret items, or retro themed rooms based upon the original Shadow Warrior. Some of these even reference the anime girls hidden in the old game. The game also tosses in its own Easter eggs. Not only referencing Hard Reset, but games Devolver Digital published including Serious Sam 3, and Hotline Miami.
Weapons, and gunplay feel really spot on as well. Guns have the heft, and loud explosions you would expect. Many are updates from the old game including favorites like the crossbow, rocket launcher and the Uzi. All of the weapons can be upgraded through Shadow Warrior’s store system. As you play the game you can collect Karma points from blood altars, as well as killing enemies. Get enough of them , and you can unlock special abilities. You can also power up your sword attacks by collecting crystals. These allow you to recover health, use different stances, or swings with your sword. You can also use the money you find ransacking drawers, and cabinets throughout the game to beef up your various guns.
There is a really wide variety of enemies to attack too. Some of your favorites from the original are here, along with a lot of new ones. Many of whom take special patterns, or have a special weakness to take down. Boss fights are especially satisfying. While they are all taken down in a similar fashion their designs are really cool. Each fitting the environments of their respective stages, and the mythos of the storyline being presented.
The game also has a lot of truly funny moments, a lot of which takes a more subtle comic relief approach rather than the low brow gags the old game went for. There are certainly a few cheap laughs too, such as the fortune cookie messages you can find, or in some of the dialogue. But it’s done well without pushing the envelope for the sake of doing so.
Hard Reset was a pretty nice looking first effort for Flying Wild Hog, and Shadow Warrior continues the trend. There are a fairly diverse number of environments throughout the game. The game is colorful, from mountainous Japanese villages, to industrialized factories, to some really dark, volcanic caverns Shadow Warrior looks great. This is an indie developer showing the world that B games can certainly sate fans of AAA visuals even if they aren’t pushing the same number of triangles, and light bloom.
The game ran fairly brisk on my aging hardware on high settings, dropping the frame rate only during the final wave of enemies before the final stage. Shadow Warrior is fairly scalable, allowing you to change texture quality, resolution, V-sync options, AA, and all of the features you’ve come to expect.
Beating the game will unlock a gallery, and the ability to re watch the comic book inspired scenes shown between certain levels. There are already some nice add-ons for this game like the Viscera Clean Up Detail add-on that puts you in the role of a janitor who has to clean up Lo Wang’s messes.
Shadow Warrior is one of the rare times a remake can go in an opposite direction, and still turn out to be a great game that doesn’t disregard the core fans who loved the original. While those who may have wanted a multiplayer mode tackled on might be disappointed, anyone looking for a truly good single player campaign should pick this up. Whether or not you enjoyed the original game, the reboot should entertain you in either case.