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No Thing Review

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Imagine the surprise I was given when Nintendo reminded fans on Twitter that they may have a few unredeemed coins on the eshop set to expire. I had a scant handful, and so I figured, “Why not give it a shot?” and looked to see if there was anything that cheap. Well I stumbled upon this little game. A game about travelling along a path, in a Orwellian future that would actually lead me down quite the rabbit hole.

PROS: Simple, yet compelling game play.

CONS: Fairly short for anyone adept at it.

SUDA51: Your first look at the game will almost certainly remind you of No More Heroes.

Apparently I’ve been living under a rock, because after playing it for a couple of hours, (Yes, hours.) I just had to do some research. No Thing started life on phones, and tablets during the craze of endless runners. Except that it set itself apart in, many, many ways. The most obvious is the art style. This game looks like something Suda51 would have made for a No More Heroes mini game. Blocky minimalist geometry? Check. Low color palette? Check. Regular images that somehow come off as surreal or even creepy? Check. It has a very similar art style.

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But that isn’t to say it’s a stereotypical endless runner dressed up in edgy shock value. Far from it. For starters, it isn’t endless. There are ten stages. That’s it. Many of the stages are pretty long though. Even in the early goings. The stages are also not made via procedural generation. Every time you play, they’ll be the same. So this game is much more conducive to speed runs. It also isn’t a 2D side-scroller. This one uses a First-Person perspective.

No Thing also has a story that seems simplistic at first, but uses its stage layouts, and bizarre imagery to tell it. In this regard it reminded me an awful lot of games like Portal, and Deadcore, despite the fact it plays nothing like them. And through it all, it just became something I had to keep playing to see more of. The setup is that it’s the dystopian future of 1994. You’re an office worker who has to send a message to the Queen Of Ice. That’s it. Walk to her, and give her the message. Except it isn’t that easy.

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No Thing’s stages are essentially long tracks, and walkways. You use two buttons. One turns you ninety degrees left. The other ninety degrees right. At first you’ll go along fairly easily. Left turns. Right turns. You’re probably thinking to yourself “So? That sounds pretty boring. What’s so special about that?” Well before long the game puts gaps up in the path. Going over them makes a minor jump. The better you do, the faster you begin to go. So it doesn’t take much to have you running. Eventually, the game throws in ramps, branching paths, and mazes. Keep in mind all the while if you go off the path, you fall to your death as this is Super Mario Cyborg in that all of these stages hover over a chasm.

Over the course of the game’s stages, a voice that sounds like it came from early speech synthesis technology narrates instructions, and vague words that also tie into the storyline. Of course you won’t have time to read it as things become faster, and faster. Take your eyes off of the task for even a second, and you’ll fall to your doom. Throughout all of it  you’ll die a bunch of times, but you’ll keep playing it. It’s strangely addicting.

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The stages themselves have a pretty wide variety. Which you might not assume considering the length of the game, and the simple control scheme. But some of these work like tracks you lap. Others are long trails. Others place a lot of ramps in places which speed you up, and have you catching air. There are other stages that throw you curveballs by waiting to give you a turn at the last moment. And that’s part of why you’ll keep giving this one a go. You’ll just want to see what comes next.

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This isn’t to say, it’s a perfect experiment of course. Sometimes you’ll catch air, won’t be able to see below you, and you’ll have to estimate your landing. Also, while many of the filters in the game go along well with it, they can get in the way. When you’re about to make a crucial decision, and the distortion filter comes on, it could lead to you missing a turn. That means starting the stage all over again. The storyline may also a little too vague for some. You’ll get some references through the visuals, and cryptic speech. But chances are you still won’t get exactly what’s going on. On the other hand that could be the point; everyone can take something different away from the experience.

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One thing that certainly stands out is the soundtrack. Coincidentally if you get this one on PC via Steam you can buy the OST as DLC. Many would throw it under the Synth Wave genre, which pays homage to the New Wave, and Synthpop genres, particularly of the early 1980’s. Most of the compositions here are pretty catchy, and make great use of simulated analog synthesized sounds, and percussion.

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No Thing may have come out alongside much of what fans would cast under the shovelware category. But it isn’t. The aesthetics aren’t for everybody. But the underlying gameplay is honestly pretty good. And in spite of some of the cheap deaths due to the eventual jumps, it’s still a pretty fun game. Persistence is the key in No Thing. Every time you screw up, you just have to play again until you beat the level at hand. I enjoy going back to it fairly regularly. It even has a handful of achievements you can receive for beating stages, and scoring exceptionally well. With it being on Steam, and the Switch, I can see it being something speed runners may look into. Again, an acquired taste to be sure, but it might just be a game you want to check out. Especially if you want a game that stands out on your phone, or just something different from the genres you might normally buy on your computer or console.

Final Score: 8 out of 10

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The Messenger Review

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Final Score: 9.5 out of 10

Splatoon 2: Octo Expansion Review

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Splatoon. It’s become one of the most popular Nintendo franchises in a fairly short period of time. And, as I’ve pointed out in two reviews, it’s easy to see why. It’s an excellent take on third-person team shooting. Plus, each of the games offered a substantial campaign that was easily worth the asking price. Now, Nintendo has gone 90’s PC gaming, and released an expansion pack for Splatoon 2. It boasts a whopping 80 stages, and promises to expand the lore. But does this expansion truly deliver?

PROS: An 80 stage campaign. Killer OST. Unlockable multiplayer content.

CONS: Some of the mission goals aren’t always clear.

PEARL & MARINA: Can be used to cheese your way through.

Splatoon 2: Octo Expansion does indeed deliver on its promises. Maybe not in the exact way you might want. But it gives you what it promised mostly in spades. The campaign centers around Agent 8, a Octoling who wakes up in a subway with no memory of who they are. You’ll start out by customizing the general look of your Octoling, like you did for your Inkling in the mainline Splatoon 2 campaign. As it turns out, Captain Cuttlefish from the original game is also in the subway. Over the course of the campaign we learn that the subway is actually a test facility.  That’s right, Inkopolis has its own Aperture Science.

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The way the expansion is structured is a bit strange at first, but eventually you’ll figure it out, and everything will make sense. Throughout the course of the game you’ll be riding along on a subway train. Stages are placed about along train lines. Some of these tracks intersect with other train lines, and if you want to see everything, you’ll need to complete every stage on a line. Beating any given stage, will give you something the game calls Mem Cakes, icons that resemble the characters throughout the Splatoon mythos. That is, if the characters were marshmallows in a breakfast cereal. Completing an entire line, and collecting all of the Mem Cakes will net you apparel you can use online when you complete the storyline. There’s a giant insect on the subway train. Every time you go to him with a set of Mem Cakes you’ll get the aforementioned clothing.  You can also play as a Octoling online if you complete the storyline. So this expansion gives you incentive to try to beat all eighty of its stages.

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In order to play stages you’ll need some power eggs, and the game starts you out with some. Each stage has an entry fee depending on how difficult the designers feel it is. Once the fee is paid you’ll begin the stage. Stages do show off a lot of variety. Many of the levels play like the ones in the primary campaigns of Splatoon, and Splatoon 2. You’ll go from point A to point B, and take out any enemies you see along the way.  While that sounds simple, in practice it rarely ever is. Your reflexes, and mind will be pushed hard as you try to balance combat, and platforming. These are a lot like EX grade stages in other games, where the bar is raised even higher. You’ll find yourself learning advanced techniques, and new mechanics. But don’t be intimidated. These skills parlay into the primary Splatoon 2 multiplayer, and you’ll likely do better at its other modes too.

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But that’s far from the only kind of stage you’ll be playing. Other stages are survival modes, where you have to go a period of time avoiding obstacles, and projectiles for a period of time. Some of them will send you into a room of death traps. Other times it will be a room of enemies. Often times you’ll be completely unarmed, and in just about every instance you cannot take a single hit of damage. The time limit can be as low as a few seconds, or as long as a few minutes. When you first start out these will indeed be pretty tough. But over time you’ll learn patterns, and eventually clear them. As frustrating as the early attempts can be, these stages are a lot of help too. Because again, you’ll learn how to better dodge, and outwit online opponents by playing them.

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The 8-Ball stages are about on par with what you’d find in Valve’s Portal series, at least in terms of complexity. Initially, things start out pretty softly. You’ll get the basic mechanics of the idea, shooting an 8-Ball at just the right angle to move it along a series of courses to the end. But as you unlock newer stages based around the mechanic, they become far more elaborate. Many of them have segments where there are no guard rails. So if the ball falls into the abyss, you lose a life. Some of them involve pinball bumpers, multiple balls, switches, and time trials. They’re some of the best stages in the expansion.

There are also a number of puzzle stages that involve rotating the stage around in order to reach your objectives. Again, these are comparable to some of the Portal puzzles in terms of complexity. Then there are the handicap matches. These are the multiplayer games, only instead of playing online, it’s just you up against a team of Octolings. These matchups can be compared to the ones in the main Splatoon 2 campaign. You’ll have to defeat the Octoling soldiers which seem to have advanced A.I.

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But it doesn’t end there. Some of the stages will give you an option of what weapon to use, while others will demand you use a specific one. There are also gauntlet stages, where you’ll have to defeat hordes of enemies in order to get to the next checkpoint. Some of these use the mechanics from the main game as well, such as invisible walls, and floors that need to be inked in order to see them, or switches that have to be shot in order to freeze a piece of geometry so you can jump on or over it. There’s even one that puts the attackers on a turn table, where a switch will cause enemies to spin around in front of you.

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There are also a few boss stages in this campaign. Many of them bring back harder versions of previous bosses. But there are also a few new ones that go along with the storyline of the Octo Expansion. The toughest part about these, are the high entry fees. If you lose, you’ll be going back to other levels to grind away enough currency for a re-match. Be that as it may, these can feel like a massive accomplishment when you finally emerge victorious. When I say these are harder versions, I really mean these are harder versions. The strategies you used before won’t always translate to the rematch. Plus you’ll have to dish out more damage than before, and be on the lookout for new tricks from these old dogs.

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The overall goal is revealed to you when you happen upon a phone in the early goings of the Octo Expansion. This mysterious phone wants you to collect four devices, that are represented on the rail line maps. In order to get to each, you’ll have to play stages that lead up to them in order. Once you’ve done so, you’re ready to escape (which isn’t as cut, and dry as it sounds) But you won’t see every rail line initially. You’ll discover them when you find a stage that intersects on them. So as I mentioned earlier the game gives you a lot to do. Especially if you want to earn those cosmetic items for multiplayer in Splatoon 2. Discovering new lines will also have the conductor giving you currency to enter new stages with so you’ll get a perk for doing so. Don’t forget clearing stages also gives you money so you’ll earn money to go on. As stated earlier, certain levels also give you a choice as to what weapon to use. So if you want to go high reward for an equally high risk, you can choose the least advised option for a bigger payout.

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Of course some of the challenges on display here take only the most honed skills. For many, this will only give the drive needed to complete these. But if you find them too frustrating you can call on Pearl, and Marina to let you skip them. It’s a lot like the aid Nintendo has put in some of its Super Mario Bros. games. Allowing people of a lower skill level to see everything. However the game also makes note of the stages you’ve skipped, and gives you faded versions of the meme cakes outlined earlier. This means you also miss out on some of the lore, because much of the storyline is built into background item drops, chat logs, and other devices. It isn’t all front, and center via cut scenes.

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A lot of this stuff is really well written too, and goes a lot deeper with allegorical commentary, than you might realize. But it also does it without beating you over the head. It’s subtle enough that those looking for it will find it, and those that don’t pay as much mind to it won’t miss it. And at the same time there’s nothing controversial one could glob onto. They did a great job of letting players see the events from a number of viewpoints. There is also some Sci-Fi in this that comes out of nowhere, and yet still fits the storyline like a glove.

You don’t have to clear every stage to be able to complete the campaign, but because of some of the multiplayer rewards, and some of the storyline elements you’ll have enough incentive to go back, and play the stuff you skipped, or replay the stuff you might have previously found too taxing. You’re definitely getting a lot of value in the Splatoon 2 Octo Expansion.

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Be that as it may, I do have a few minor gripes with it. The largest small problem is that it isn’t always clear where you’re supposed to go in some missions. In this handful of stages, you’ll figure it out simply enough with some trial, and error. But knowing off the bat helps immensely most of the time. A minor nitpick but there you are.  It’s also possible to cheese your way through by skipping stages after every two failed attempts. The flip side of this is that you’re not really getting the experience of actually playing the game. It’s certainly a viable mechanic for newcomers to be able to see more of the game, but it has the potential for abuse.

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I also would have preferred more original bosses over the returning bosses from the campaign. The new versions of these old bosses again, do present new, and more difficult challenges than before. But seeing these guys again just didn’t have the same magic. Especially when so much of the rest of the expansion is so new. Still, you’ll likely enjoy the tension that these skirmishes provide. It’s just too bad they couldn’t have had some more original characters for these encounters instead. Visually speaking, there isn’t a notable jump over the base game, but it still looks great. Nice designs, some slick textures, and visual cues. Pretty much everyone will be fine with it. But for those holding out hope this would look like a pseudo-sequel were probably aiming a little too high.

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And finally, I would have preferred more New Wave, Power Pop, and Pop Punk tracks than the expansion pack delivers, but the Electronica it gives the audience is very good. It’s at its best when it goes for ambience during some of the most difficult tasks at hand. There are also some great uses of sampling the original Wii U game soundtrack in it. So in terms of using the soundtrack for telling the story, one can’t complain much.  Again, all of my issues are minor, and two of them boil down toward preference more so than actual complaints. Really the main issue is that some goals aren’t laid out to you properly in a very small percentage of levels. In the grand scheme of things, that really isn’t that big a deal.

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Octo Expansion is a worthwhile expansion pack. Players who wished the base game had more single-player content than the base game should absolutely download this. With 80 stages, and so much variety, chances are you’ll be playing this a fairly long amount of time. It also has plenty in it for anybody who has become a big fan of the characters, and the world they inhabit. There is a lot of backstory here for those willing to look for it, and for those looking to uncover it. Not only in the cut scenes, and chat logs. But in the actual gameplay as well. It is even a solid buy if you come to Splatoon 2 for the Turf War, Ranked Battles, and Splat Fests. Because beating a lot of these stages will actually improve your skills online. They often require learning some advanced techniques to complete which then parlay into multiplayer. Plus there are all sorts of apparel, and Octoling options you’ll have access to once you manage to complete the storyline.

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Is Octo Expansion required to be able to enjoy Splatoon 2? Not at all. If you stick with the base game, you’ll still get to enjoy all of the Turf War, and Salmon Run you want. But if you like the idea of some added online perks, and hours upon hours of new content for a game you already love, Octo Expansion is a solid recommendation. There are so many things to love about this one. Whether you’re a hardcore fan who sings Calamari Inkantation every chance they get, or just somebody who happens to enjoy a good console shooter, Octo Expansion is quite the catch.

Final Score: 9 out of 10

Some advice from a collector.

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With some out-of-town family visiting, and some heavy work days, I unfortunately won’t have a review this week. So instead I’ve decided to do something a little bit different with commentary. It’s no secret that I love all kinds of games, especially some old ones. Some of you may wonder just how to get your hands on some of the games I’ve reviewed. Here are some small tips I’ve found over the years. Maybe they’ll help you in rounding out your game collections.

Keep everything. (At first)

Well, I should be a bit more specific. That stack of old games in the cellar. That tub of old games in a closet. Don’t just toss those. Carefully go through them, and replay them. Unless you’re in a situation where you honestly have no room of course. Then you’ll want to either research the values, and get some money back, or donate them to a charitable cause. But if you’re going to build a collection, look at what you already own. Keep the stuff you really enjoy, or what you’re intrigued by. You’ll probably even find some stuff you don’t remember buying, or getting. It’s the perfect time to experience them.

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Focus.

When you’re just starting out, don’t try to get every little thing you get your hands on. Rather focus on one or two platforms. There are a few approaches you can take. A lot of people like to start with something they grew up with. For older hobbyists that usually means something like the Atari 2600, Commodore 64 or the NES. Some of the younger blood may shoot for PlayStation, and Nintendo 64 games. Nostalgia makes stuff  more palatable when you start out. Plus buying everything you stumble upon will become a problem if you only have so much room.

Network.

If you find an independent store you like, don’t be afraid to talk up the staff. (When they’re not busy. I cannot stress this enough. If there’s a line, a parent asking them about a game. A lot of stock to put out. Don’t bother them when they have a lot of stuff to do.) When there’s a free moment, on a Tuesday afternoon you can build a rapport. Just by talking about games, or other stuff. Over time they may find out you’re collecting primarily Sega Master System stuff, so when something good gets traded in they may ask you if you want to buy it first. As you’re a regular, who buys a fair amount from them. And likewise, you may discover an employee digs Tiger Handhelds. So when you find one at a yard sale for a few dollars you let them have it. (So long as the store lets them accept gifts.) It’s a nice gesture that lets them know you appreciate their professionalism, and stellar service.

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You can also use social media to find a trade group in your area. Then you can meet other local players, and collectors in your area. There’s a good chance someone will have a game or accessory you’ve been looking for, and they may be willing to give it to you for a bit less than the average online or store price on it. And you’ll want to spread that around. If you’re looking to unload something, give a fair price on it. And be open to trading. Sometimes you’ll get a few really cool pieces for one thing you have that isn’t so easy to come by. More important than your collection, will be all of the friends you make in the process. Real friends who care about you as a person, and vice versa. The hobby isn’t merely about amassing stuff. It’s about having people to share it with. Don’t discount the friends you make online either!

Don’t be a completionist.

This is a huge one for anybody who collects anything. I once mentioned this in an interview with Chasing HappiNES I did last year (Check out his channel, it’s pretty great!) but it bears repeating. Completionism can get really bad, really fast. Because it can become an obsession. It happens in every hobby. If you don’t know what I’m talking about, often times there are variances in collectibles. An example I like to bring up is the 2002 iteration of Mattel’s Masters Of The Universe toy line. Not only did collectors have a vast roster to try to find, but there were several versions of He-Man, and Skeletor released. Battle Sound He-Man, Jungle Attack He-Man, Smash Blade He-Man, to name a few! But it didn’t end there because many of the toys were released on cards that were written in English, as well as on other cards  that were written in multiple languages. But that still isn’t the end, because you had to factor in that there were minor paint differences, and chase versions of most of the characters. To be a completionist in that line meant not only buying each character, but buying them two or three times for the card differences, paint differences, etc. After all, if you wanted to own everything in the line, that meant all of those variants too!

Believe it or not, it’s the same when game collecting. If you look at the Atari 2600 you’ll find several versions of most of its first-party games. Early games were numbered with a text label. Then they were re-published without the numbers. Then they were published again, with the box art on a black background. Then a silver background. Some of them even came out again, on a red background. Even third-party games were often released multiple times, on different labels.

It doesn’t end with the Atari 2600 though. Many NES games, Super NES, and Genesis games came out with alternate boxes, and labels. Add multiple regions, variants of those regions, and you have yourself a ton of clutter. Instead of all of that, focus on getting good games, you know you’ll play.

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Embrace importing.

Let’s face it. Some games are pricey. Insanely pricey. If you want a legitimate copy of Mega Man 7 for the Super NES but don’t have the $170 or more, there is another way. Getting Rock Man 7 for the Super Famicom for $30. It’s the Japanese version. It can be played on an American Super NES with the assistance of a pair of pliers, and five minutes. Truth be told many pricey games are somewhat affordable if you import them from other territories. Now, in some cases running them is pretty easy. In others not so much. So you’ll want to do some research. But another reason to get into importing, is that you’ll be able to play a ton of stuff that was never released Stateside. Really good stuff!

There’s no shame in Digital Distribution.

Some games are not only pricey, they’re impossible to find, and have no international release. Other games have rights issues, that get cleared up, but only temporarily. Also, there’s the fact that some of us have no room to store every platform ever. Thanks to services like Steam, and GoG on PC you can get some of those old games digitally. If you own a Wii the Nintendo Wii Shop Channel is still up for the system. That means you can still buy some TurboGrafx 16, Genesis, Master System, games. The current E-shop on the Wii U, and 3DS is still going too. Of course there are also the Xbox, and PSN stores for those platforms. None of these stores are perfect, and there are some issues that DD doesn’t solve. You can’t download the games again if the stores close, and you can’t resell them if you don’t like them. But it is a convenient, and affordable option for some titles. As with importing, some games are much less expensive digitally. Some can only be purchased digitally.

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Take a risk on mystery games.

Cartridges for some platforms are decades old. While you generally want to have loose games in the best possible condition, sometimes you have no choice but to buy a game with a torn label, video store sticker, or crayon, or marker on it. Sometimes because it’s one of those elusive titles. But sometimes you’ll find a cartridge for your system of choice with no label sitting in a store. Usually insanely cheap because the staff have no idea what game it is. Buy it. When you get it home, and slap it in your 2600 that blank Activision cartridge could be another copy of Pitfall or it could be a rare copy of Double Dragon! It could also wind up being a counterfeit, but if you got it from a reputable store it should be refundable. Which reminds me.

Make sure you’re getting authentic games.

Bring the proper tools with you when you go shopping. A reputable store should let you take apart that Super NES Game Pak if you’re about to drop $100 on Chrono Trigger. There are a wealth of great resources out there on how to spot these ‘Pretend’ games. The YouTube channel Metal Jesus Rocks put together an excellent video about it. You should definitely check out. Handheld games seem to get hit the hardest, but there have been counterfeit cartridges as long as there have been video game consoles.  It’s unfortunate, but you’re going to need to do the research. Especially if a game you want isn’t cheap.

Get out of your comfort zone.

Maybe it’s a series you never bothered to look at. Maybe it’s a genre you never gave a chance. When you go thrift store shopping, pick up that RTS sitting unopened for $3. Try out that obscure game nobody has ever heard of. Many times you’ll be pleasantly surprised. Other times you might be disappointed. But you can say you’ve experienced a wider variety of experiences. You could also discover a developer whose work you enjoy.

Go where nobody else is going.

I live in a small state, where big towns, and cities are surrounded by towns composed of miles of woods. During the spring, and summer when yard sales are most prevalent these are the places I’ll have the most luck. Why? Because most people don’t think to drive an hour away to a town with no major businesses. But they should. Usually these residents are just looking to get rid of things too. They’re not interested in making top dollar. They’re just looking to get it out of the house. They also don’t want to go an hour into town just to recycle things, or donate things. If your area has any passing similarities to mine, it’s a tactic you may want to employ for yourself. These are the places you’ll have a higher chance of finding a bundle of games, or an old console or computer for cheap. Just make sure you max out the gas tank before heading out. Getting stranded in a town on a barely traveled road isn’t fun.

I also have luck on more recent platforms when going to stores nobody expects to have things. Sometimes an office supply store, home care store, or department store (that deals mainly in apparel ) will have games for seasonal impulse items. After that season ends, they’re put on clearance to move. So next time you need a new pair of shorts in the summer, or are in sudden need of glassware, take a look while you’re there.

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Don’t be afraid to go third-party on Amazon.

I’ve gotten a number of good deals from third-party vendors on the site. Commando for the Atari 2600 with the manual being the best one.  But I’ve gotten other stuff too, like a never opened Sega Arcade Smash Hits bundle for IBM/PC (DOS). You almost never see those loose. Let alone new. Now this does require some research on your part. You have to check the customer ratings, and you might have to contact the seller before plunking down the money. Sometimes  you’ll find a particular seller doesn’t primarily deal in games, and may have a detail wrong. Remember to keep all of the sales info, and copies of any conversations in case you have to return it. And take photos if it comes in a vastly different condition than described, or if it’s a counterfeit. There’s some risk involved here, but it can be mitigated with good practices. Of course if something sounds too good to be true it probably is. If you see a $300 game listed for $5 there should definitely be some skepticism on your part.

Don’t lose sight of what’s important.

Partaking in any hobby is fun, and can even be healthy. It keeps your mind working, and gets you out of the house. But if adding that copy of M.U.S.H.A. to your Genesis collection is going to mean being late on a utility bill, or eschewing a financial obligation you should wait on getting the seminal shoot ’em up. This might sound obvious, but if you’re missing rent, or can’t walk through your home without tripping over something you may want to downsize, and re-evaluate a bit. You can replace items. You can’t replace people.

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Don’t think of your collection as an investment.

Sure, some games are rare, and expensive. But not all of them will stay that way. If you happen to have something that is sought after, and pricey good for you. You may be able to find a buyer, and put that cool $300 toward this month’s mortgage. But unless you’re running a business,  don’t look at your heavy hitters as bankable guarantees. Actually, even if you own a business you can’t count on someone waltzing in with $700 to drop on your copy of Flintstones Surprise At Dino Peak. Look at your collection for what it is; a fun appreciation for the history of the medium. A bunch of titles you can revisit. Perhaps with friends, family, other players, and younger people interested in what came before.

There will always be some titles that hold value. But in the 1990’s everyone thought their copies of Superman #75, and X-Men #1 were going to be akin to winning the lottery. They weren’t. X-Men #1 had one of the highest print runs of any comic book ever, and only the first print run of The death of Superman was ever worth anything. Plus the poly bag it shipped in wasn’t acid free. So ironically, only the ones people actually took out to read once, are in better condition. Even those, only fetch around $10 these days. So if you bought one in 1993, almost 24 years later, that’s a profit margin of around $8.

Don’t buy new releases expecting them to make you wealthy. Yes, it is true most of the more valuable old games came out in the final years of a given platform’s prominence. But that doesn’t mean in 15 years the average person is going to give you the money they were going to put down on a car for a copy of Pepsi Invaders either. They could. But that shouldn’t be a foregone conclusion in your mind. If you do sell a game out of your vault, don’t cheat yourself. But don’t expect to get top dollar either. Sometimes things happen that throw a wrench into such get rich quick schemes anyway. When Devil’s Third was quietly released in limited quantities scalpers were charging double the MSRP to the tune of $120. Not long after, a second printing happened, and today, a new copy is a mere $40. A fair number of people are stuck with a bunch of extra copies out there. All because they thought it was a guaranteed meal ticket. It wasn’t.

Have fun.

Hobbies, are supposed to be an outlet. A break from the stress, and anxieties of every day life. So have fun. Share photos of that new pick up. Schedule a day to invite people over to play some Colecovision together. Stay up late one night after work in multiplayer with friends. Take the significant other out with you game hunting. Spread the joy around.

Double Dragon IV Review

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Double Dragon. It was one of the most successful franchises Technos Japan ever put out. In 1987 this series began life as an arcade game, where it kick started the Beat ’em up genre as we know it today. It was so popular, it was ported to nearly every platform imaginable, including the Atari 2600, and the Commodore 64 would see TWO versions. The most popular of the ports was the NES version, which played differently, and expanded the stages. This trend of expanded, and added levels would continue with Double Dragon II, and become one of the best games in the NES library. Even though Double Dragon games would continue to appear on everything, the NES versions would always stand out. This new game is an homage to that fact.

PROS: Looks, feels, and plays like an NES Double Dragon sequel. New content.

CONS: Severe lack of basic options. Background graphics don’t always jibe with sprites.

GEARS: If you thought Double Dragon II had tough platforming sections……….

Technos Japan has been sold around a few times over the last decade, and with every sale something has been attempted with Double Dragon. The GBA’s Double Dragon Advance came out to some acclaim remaking the original on the handheld. Double Dragon Trilogy gave us the three Arcade versions, but with some nagging issues. Way Forward’s Double Dragon Neon came out to some mixed reception. Some thought it was good, others not so good. But all agreed it was a bit of a parody of the series, and the time it came out in.

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Arc System Works has instead played Double Dragon straight. Double Dragon IV takes place in the series’ continuity, placing it after the events of Double Dragon II, and before the events of Double Dragon III. The story here is that after the defeat of the Black Shadow Boss, there was a worldwide Armageddon. The breakdown of society led to rival street gangs gaining more notoriety. The Lee Brothers end up fighting a new threat along with the old ones. The story even works in Technos Japan’s other game, Renegade. The Renegade gang here are actually very close designs to the bikers, and martial arts masters introduced in that series. Which is clever as it cements the notion that all of these games are part of the same universe. Double Dragon, Renegade, and maybe even River City Ransom.

Unfortunately, the Cinema screen texts don’t always explain everything very well. So if you don’t take the extra few minutes to play it out in your head before starting the next stage, you can get confused. Of course being a Double Dragon game, at some point Marian gets taken hostage again, and you have to get her. But rescuing her isn’t the main objective in this iteration of the series.

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The game itself reminded me an awful lot of Capcom’s Mega Man 9, and Mega Man 10. Arc System Works has taken essentially the same approach here. Many of the character sprites you went up against in the NES versions of Double Dragon I, and II are all here. The Renegade characters have been redone in a way that fit the style of those games as well. But Double Dragon IV also gives us a number of entirely new characters to fight too.

As Mega Man 9 brought back the familiar movements, and play control of Mega Man 2, Double Dragon IV looks, plays, and feels like Double Dragon II. Except it doesn’t retain the arcade version’s punch, and kick mirroring. In that game facing right or left would remap the attack buttons. In this game the punch button is always the punch button, and the kick button is always the kick button. If you loved playing the first three NES Double Dragon ports, you’ll absolutely love playing through this.

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Making the game feel even sweeter, are the new moves they’ve added. You can do a few new standing, and wake up attacks including this M.Bison\Vega\Dictator torpedo move. But your enemies have also been given a lot of new moves. Abobo has a new bad ass dragon punch. Burnov has an upgraded back drop. Linda has a crippling new back elbow. That’s on top of the super moves the new cast has. Expect a lot of out of nowhere RKO levels of shock on your first time play through.

Double Dragon IV is also one of the longest games in the series. It’s almost as long as Super Double Dragon/Return Of Double Dragon on the Super NES. Most of the stages go on for at least as long as a typical NES entry’s stage does. But there are some that are shockingly short, and others that are mystifying long levels. Some of these also see the return of Double Dragon II’s platform jumping death traps. Others also see the return of mazes. So choose the right doors! These sections can frustrate you if you don’t get them right. Not just because losing tends to do that, but because you have three lives, and five continues to beat the entire game. Most screw ups in these areas cost an entire life bar.

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But if you keep playing, and slowly mastering the super moves like the Jean-Claude Van Damme Cyclone Kick, Dolph Lundgren Jugular Uppercut, and Chuck Norris Kneecap to the face of body launching, you can win. Like the NES forebears, it’s all about learning the timing of these moves, and on what frames to break them out on. Really, other than the cruelty of some of the jumping puzzles, and some backgrounds not meshing well with the sprites (Some of the backgrounds look like the digitized photo backgrounds on Super NES, and Genesis games) fans will like it. If you’ve never played a Double Dragon game it’s still a fun time, though they geared things toward those who have been fans since the late ’80s. The soundtrack is also very good, both reprising series’ mainstays, and bringing new songs. You can choose to play with an all new up tempo synth rock inspired soundtrack, or you can play the game with the soundtrack done entirely in chip tunes. Either is great!

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As a game, it’s easy to recommend Double Dragon IV. It’s fun to play, and again feeling like they took the lessons of Capcom’s Blue Bomber retro comeback to heart. They even went as far as updating Double Dragon’s NES fighting game mode. That’s right, as you play you can unlock the game’s characters for a 1-on-1 street fight. And it’s as fun as you remember. It won’t be a replacement for your Street Fighter, Mortal Kombat, Tekken, or Guilty Gear fix. But it is a nice distraction from the main game. If you beat the game there’s also a survival mode called Tower you can play. Basically, you survive enemy waves for as long as possible.

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Sadly, I can’t whole heartedly tell you to rush out, and buy this. Because there are a couple of major problems with it. None of them stem from the game play, but they are all bothersome. The first problem is the lack of options. There are none. At all. You can remap your controller, or keyboard. That is it. No video modes. No rendering multiple resolutions. No filters. Nothing. The second issue is that the game has no in-game full screen ticker. Those with minimal computer knowledge will be completely bewildered that they have to play the game in a window. A window that you can’t even resize. Those who do know a little something will be pressing ALT+ Enter to force it into full screen. The third problem is, that even though you can force the game into full screen, you can’t do anything about the aspect ratio. You can’t choose between 4:3 or 16:9 or 16:10. In short, you’re stuck playing windowed unless you know to press ALT + Enter on your keyboard. With zero options.

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I don’t think anyone expected a smorgasbord of PC options. But most games at the very least give a few filter options, and some resolution options. This game is also locked to 30 fps, and you can’t even turn off V-sync. Most PC players want the option as it frees up performance, even if it means seeing some screen tearing. It’s unfortunate that Double Dragon IV is this devoid of any performance options, or options for visual flair.

Overall, Arc System Works has given us an excellent Double Dragon sequel. But it has been marred by a terrible menu, and menu U.I. I can’t speak to the console version of the release in this regard, having only played it on the computer. Even still, for console players, the lack of any filter effects may be a turn off. At least it may for those who prefer to simulate the color blending look of an old CRT with their retro themed games. Or digital retro re-releases for that matter. If you can deal with the anemic menu options, and missing features you’ll still have a fun time with Double Dragon IV. If you can’t, then you may want to see if Arc System Works patches in some menu fixes first.

Final Score: 7 out of 10

Warhammer 40,000 Space Marine Review

Relic has for the better part of a decade, made some really interesting RTS games based off of Games Workshop’s Warhammer franchise. Each of these games has translated much of the tabletop board game to the world of video games. But in 2011, Warhammer would be thrown into the world of action games. Space Marine brought the lore of Warhammer to a slew of players who may have never touched an RTS or a tabletop game.

PROS: Beautiful graphics, and atmosphere. Solid performance. Multiplayer.

CONS: The game can be repetitive. Limited customization options Multiplayer lowly populated.

WHAT?: You have to unlock classes, and customization options.

For the uninitiated, Warhammer 40K is a decades long running tabletop board game. Featuring figurines for players to customize, Warhammer is about strategy. Battles play out with dice rolls while players keep stats of their armies’ strengths, weaknesses, and supplies. This is admittedly a gross oversimplification of a deep strategy game. But it gives you an idea of what one can expect. Warhammer has such a cult following that it actually spawned several computer RTS games. When Relic took the reigns we saw titles that captured the spirit of the board game version with all off the micromanagement computer strategy gamers love. But with Space Marine, Relic attempted to bring the property to action gamers who may have loved the character design, but for whatever reason couldn’t get into strategy games. As well as the Warhammer buff who also happens to like a variety of action games.

Space Marine follows a single player story campaign in which players take on the role of Captain Titus. Titus is on a mission to save a planet from an impending Ork invasion. Throughout the campaign you will fight quite literally hundreds of enemies in huge firefights. Often reminiscent of games like Serious Sam, Painkiller, and Bulletstorm. However, the game also features a melee combat system. As you play through the missions you will find yourself constantly switching between various guns, and hand to hand armaments. Space Marine does this seamlessly, allowing you to dispatch four or five enemies at a time. With swords, knives, axes, or hammers while shooting other enemies. Shootouts also showcase some of the grittiest visuals the Xbox 360, and PS3 can muster.Enemies will lose limbs from taking a chainsword to the shoulder. Or a torso will explode in a shower of gibs in a hail of gunfire.

The game feels like a really well put together cross between aforementioned arcade shooters, and third person action slashers like Devil May Cry. There is also a health system that is neither quite the widely accepted “Hide behind a wall to regain health” or the classic “Find, and manage stimpacks wisely” systems of yesteryear. Instead, while you can hide behind walls for cover (and stop yourself from losing more health), the way you regain it is through killing. Sometimes this means stunning an enemy to perform a gruesome killing blow. Other times it means using the game’s fury meter. Similar to Alice: Madness Returns’ mechanic, Fury is a meter that will fill your health bar, while allowing for less damage to be taken. You fill the meter as you play. Once you activate it you have a limited time of reprieve before you need to start filling it again.

As the game progresses, you will find upgrades for your weapons, and watch in-game theatrics that further the story. I can’t compliment the graphics enough. Space Marine still looks beautiful, and runs at a smooth frame rate. Nowhere is this showcased better than in the real-time cut scenes. These scenes are accompanied by some really impressive performances. The game’s story goes for the same sort of action movie clichés a lot of other action games have over the past decade. But it still manages to engross you into the world of its source material. It manages to give off some background to newcomers without a lot of speeches. It follows the rule of “Show. Not say.” pretty decently. Even if it does use the tired method of finding audio logs to fill in some of the gaps. While the story is predictable at times, it is entertaining, and the final boss battle features just the right amount of challenge. That said, once you beat the campaign there is little reason to go back. The campaign does have a few drawbacks, that a handful of people will absolutely abhor. First off, the maps are VERY LINEAR. Aside from the rare alcove with a recorded message, levels are rife with models of rubble. These are placed in a way that blocks your every incentive to want to explore. This complaint can hardly be levied only at this game. Most of the single player action games over the last decade have gone down this path. But it would have been nice if Space Marine could have been one of the games to buck the trend. Especially since everything looks so good, and does capture the aesthetic of the board games so well.

The other issue some may have is how the game is structured. Most of the levels in the game follow a formula. You’ll find an ammo dump room, which leads to a skirmish room where you will fight hundreds of enemies. Then you will wander into another ammo dump room leading into a cut scene or story exposition. Then you will fight another 400 enemies before exiting the level. Now if you love old school arcade games, horde modes that force you to micromanage your ammunition, or games like Serious Sam you might not see this as a negative thing. But if you don’t, this can become tiresome. Especially since Space Marine’s campaign is 16 stages long. Some of which can take up to an hour to complete. To be fair the game does try to mix it up with an on rails shooter section or a boss segment. But some may find it isn’t enough to keep them wanting to play through it in one sitting.

Thankfully, the one place where Space Marine truly shines is in its multiplayer mode. Which is also sad because it isn’t populated much these days. The main two modes are a Team Deathmatch mode, and a Team Objective mode. But these are done very well. As in many other games there is a class system:

Tactical Marine: This is the most well-rounded class between speed, shooting, and melee.

Assault: This class allows for jump packs (Jet packs you can fly around with) and has an increased melee range for people who love knives, and chainswords.

Devastator: This is the tank class where you have reduced speed, but can take more damage, and have access to the more powerful guns, and explosives.

One novel feature is the ability to copy load outs. This is a great way for new players to close the gap on higher rank players. Because it lets you respawn with the weapons they killed you with. Do well enough with these, and you’ll level up even faster. Speaking of levelling up, the game also doesn’t dole out XP based only on kills. If you used two weapons on someone there’s a bonus. If you assisted someone else, there’s a bonus.

There is one gripe with the multiplayer, and that’s the fact that classes, and character customization have to be unlocked. You have to grind your way to level 3 to use the classes, and to level 4 to tweak your player model. It doesn’t take eons to do, but it is a nuisance. Also, it would have been nice if Orks, Eldar, and other franchise races were playable factions for multiplayer. There is DLC you can still find for the game that adds in a 4 player cooperative mode where you get to be the Chaos Space Marines. But that’s not really the same thing. But even in its basic state, multiplayer can be a fun alternative to the real world themed shooters out there. The major drawback to all of this however is the age of the game, coupled with the ownership of the developer changing hands. Unfortunately the multiplayer isn’t populated with a lot of random players these days. Many people moved on to newer games so you would mainly have to play the multiplayer option with friends. Things fare slightly better on the PC version but not by very much. The game also isn’t getting the support it once had. That’s because after the game came out, publisher THQ folded up, and the studio making the game was acquired by SEGA.

Should you buy Space Marine? That depends on your taste in games. For anyone looking for a frantic “Kill anything that moves” action game, you’ll have a lot of fun playing through the campaign. It certainly hits all of those notes. But if that isn’t your preferred gaming experience you’ll want to play it in bursts. The formula can become repetitive for those who don’t eat, sleep, and breathe spectacle fighters. Even if it does blend that style, with shooting really well. Multiplayer is going to be a crap shoot at this point. It’s one of the better takes on the competitive team shooters to have come out over the last five years. But it’s also old hat at this point, and people have moved onto other games. If you can still find nine people who are willing to play it with you, it is a lot of fun. But that’s probably a big “if” at this point. Still, it can be found fairly inexpensively, and is a great title for those who are curious about the Warhammer universe.

Final Score: 7 out of 10

Sin & Punishment Review

Treasure. A developer long known for cult favorites, was one of the kings of shmups. Unsung kings. By the time the Super NES, and Genesis came around, everyone knew of heavy hitters. Gradius. R-Type. Raiden. Contra. But Treasure put out many great games that were under the radar at release, but became sought after later. Nowhere was this more true than on the Genesis. Gunstar Heroes, Dynamite Headdy, and Alien Soldier went on to be cult classics. Even today they’re popular enough that a loose copy of Gunstar Heroes goes for as much as a newly shrink wrapped release. After the Genesis, Treasure would make games for Saturn, Dreamcast, and even Sega’s rival Nintendo. Sin & Punishment is not only one of the best rail shooters on the Nintendo 64, it’s one of the best you will ever play.

PROS: Fast, smooth game play. High, rewarding challenge.

CONS: Difficulty may turn off some.

MOD: It was a Japanese only release. But it is on the US Wii Shop Channel.

Sin & Punishment never made it outside of Japan. It was released in 2000 at the very end of the Nintendo 64’s lifespan. Though acclaimed, Nintendo never brought it to North America. It was intended to be released here, but due to the Nintendo 64’s decline by that point it wasn’t. If you’re really worried you won’t be able to navigate the game, you shouldn’t fret. You don’t have to know a single word of Japanese. Though you may have to experiment with the main menus to get into the game. Something that takes all of five minutes. Similar to the Super NES, The Nintendo 64 also had different tab placements in the system to prevent games being inserted from other regions. If you don’t mind tinkering with some pliers, you can remove them. This will make your N64 capable of running imported cartridges.

For those unwilling, or unable to mod their console, you can also use a Game shark as a pass through device. Or if you don’t want to go through those steps, and you own a Wii, there’s another option. As of this writing Nintendo’s Wii Shop Channel is still around. While you may not be able to play Wii games online, you can still buy them. The Virtual Console section is no exception. So you can skip all of the importing, and modifying should you desire.Be aware though, if you choose to play the game on the Wii (or Wii U in Wii mode), you will need to invest in a classic controller attachment if you haven’t already.

With the lengthy introduction out of the way, I’ll talk about the game. Sin & Punishment takes place in a dystopian future. There is widespread famine, and so new creatures are cultivated for food in Japan. But the creatures mutate into deadlier beings before turning on the populace. A military group called the Armed Volunteers steps in to fight the creatures, as well as another one called the Saviors. The Saviors oppose both the creatures, and the Armed Volunteers. The setup starts out like a standard action movie, but things become more, and more bizarre as you play through the campaign. The three main characters are Aichi, Airan, and Saki. Throughout the game there are in-game cut scenes that give a bit of back story for the characters, and why they’re fighting the Armed Volunteers. Without giving anything away, there is an ulterior plot that is uncovered later. Things do get pretty strange. It isn’t a deep story, but it is an entertaining one for an entertaining game.

As for the game itself, it is an on rails shooter like Star Fox. Through most of the game you’ll be dodging obstacles, and a lot of projectiles while you fire a seemingly endless barrage of fire. There are a wide variety of enemies too. Giant monsters, hundreds of soldiers, ships, tanks, and other vehicles. The best part of all of this is just how brisk, and smooth the game runs. There are only a few moments of any slowdown during a play through. The Bosses are the main attraction in these kinds of games, and Sin & Punishment’s are definitely a big deal. Nearly every stage has a couple of boss fights. Just when you think you’ve conquered a level, you’ll find out you haven’t. Best of all,the game does this without it feeling like padding. In the end it feels like just about the right amount of time. Throughout the game you get to use three main attacks. There is a gun, that has two modes. A free aim mode that does higher damage, and a lock on mode. Locking on is almost like auto-aim in a first person shooter. It makes the game a little bit easier, but it also does a lot less damage to targets. The third attack is a melee attack. If an enemy gets too close, you can double tap the trigger to stab at them.

Environments look pretty nice too when compared to most other games on the Nintendo 64. Textures seem a little bit better quality than in a number of other games, and there are a wider variety of settings. Each stage has its own particular settings, and themes. When you start the game you’re in wheat fields, with tree trunks. Soon you’re in a city. Then under the ocean, a military installation, and even space. While these are almost action game tropes, They’re all done with a unique flair. Some of the special effects are really cool too. There are great uses of colors, and translucent effects.  The main drawback here though is that the models are fairly rudimentary. This was probably to keep the frame rate up to the speed the game play requires. Fortunately the wonderful texture work compensates a lot. It is definitely not an ugly game. Sin & Punishment also has some of the best sound on the console. Voice samples come in pretty clear, explosions, lasers, and pretty much every other sound are great. The music even complements the action very well. It all blends together to make for a great experience.

It isn’t a very long game either. If you’re really good you can beat it in a couple of hours. But rail shooters don’t generally lend themselves to long experiences either. They hearken back to the glory days of arcades, where shorter but more exhilarating experiences prevailed. They are also very difficult which this game certainly is. You can expect to die, and continue many, many times. Even on the easiest setting, you can find yourself running out of continues, and starting all over again. But again, such is the nature of this type of game. The high challenge will make the determined want to keep playing, and the really good trying to beat their time. If the thought of frustration turns you off it might not sound like your cup of tea. But most of the time the game is fair. Most importantly, the game is fun.

Sin & Punishment can certainly sound like an exclusive experience, intended only for fans of the genre. But don’t let that stop you from giving it a try. The strange story, characters, and dialogue are worth seeing, and they’re built upon a really good arcade shooter. Save for a couple of minor nitpicks over models, and a couple of cheap deaths it’s one of the best games in the Nintendo 64 library.

Final Score: 9 out of 10