Before going on, for full disclosure, a while back the two people who made this game had apparently asked me to take a look at it. Unfortunately, I only recently got the notification I had gotten a message. Sometimes WordPress has the funkiest glitches. On top of that, I had a lot going on outside of my online presence so it took me a while to finally get to this one.
PROS: A solid Asteroids clone with some twists.
CONS: Not the deepest experience
POWER-UPS: Be sure to get them often.
With that out of the way, I’m getting to this now. I contemplated calling this a mini-review at first because on the surface there isn’t much to talk about. Upon seeing it for the first time your likely reaction will be “Oh, an Asteroids clone. Okay.” and go on about your day. But after you play it for a while you’ll start to see that they did put some thought into differentiating it from the many games that have taken a shot at updating Asteroids.
Pangaroids is a game that adds a slight hint of Pong into the mix by having borders around the playfield. What does this do? Well, the Asteroids (which I think are supposed to be space hockey pucks) can bounce off of the borders at various angles. So when you aren’t initially crushed by one of them, they can still rebound into you. As in Asteroids, shooting them blows them into smaller pieces that you also have to avoid while shooting them.
This results in the screen getting cluttered up a lot faster than in Atari’s old vector game. To help you, there are power-ups that will randomly drop from the destroyed space pucks. You can cycle through them before picking them up by shooting at them. And while it never gets as varied as other shmups that do this like Twin Bee or Cotton, it does break up the formula a bit. There are missiles, shields that can protect you from a hit, and a few others. Some of them will affect enemy behaviors to a minimal degree.
The game also has a similar thruster mechanic to Asteroids. So you have to try to anticipate where momentum is going to take you in addition to where your targets are going to be. So the game does have a bit of strategy involved within its space. Visually, the game doesn’t really do much to stand out. Make no mistake, it doesn’t look bad at all. But it has a clean, sterile look within its border, and sprites give off that early 2000s Newgrounds vibe.
The game controls well enough, with a little bit of floatiness you’d expect to see in any game following Atari’s classic arcade game. You move the ship using the arrow keys, and you fire with the space bar. Honestly, it’s pretty good for what it is. It isn’t going to set the world on fire and won’t pull you away from a deeper game you might be playing through. But for a game you can fire up in short bursts, it’s a pretty good option.
I’d say if you own a laptop you should add it to your Steam library. It’s the kind of game you can play on a commute or while waiting in an office for an appointment. And if you’re an old-timer like me, you may want to drop some time going for a high score. And you don’t see solid freeware games like this these days very often. As publishers usually go the ad-driven or microtransaction fuelled route instead. A full-fledged freeware microgame that plays well is a rarity. And the whole thing was made by a figurative handful of people so all in all a solid effort.
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 $29.99.
The steep difficulty and potty humor won’t be everybody’s cup of tea. But if some crass toilet or sex jokes on par with something out of Family Guy or South Park don’t bother you, you may want to give it a look. if you’re looking for a challenge not seen since the days of quarter-munching Toaplan games and not afraid to blister your thumbs, you might want to give it a try. Demon Throttle is a fantastic little game, marred by a marketing misfire. Hopefully, there will be an official “Hey! don’t worry guys, we made plenty!” follow-up campaign.
Well coming off of a round up of old-school inspired shooters coming soon, this time out we’re looking at relatively recent one. Hellbound is a game that wears its DOOM fandom on its sleeve. Almost to a fault. But can it hang with id Software’s long-running demon slaying series?
PROS: Visual Fidelity, Rock solid controls. Fast and fluid combat.
CONS: Lack of personality. Bland vocal performances.
MOTHER#$%#^*: Our hero loves to cuss for the sake of cussing.
Hellbound has a lot of really awesome things going for it. It looks spectacular, almost as good as the recent DOOM games. It plays as fast-paced as the recent DOOM games. It has some pretty great locales. It’s got a pretty good variety of enemy types. And there’s all kinds of little nuances in it you’ll likely appreciate.
In short, it’s very fun, and the majority of people who pick it up will likely enjoy their time with it. But there are some caveats with that statement.
Before I get into them though, Let’s go over what you get here. Hellbound as you can probably tell by now, is a shooter inspired by DOOM. Its protagonist isn’t a Space Marine stopping an invasion from Hell through a teleporter experiment gone awry on Mars. Instead you’re a being known as Hellgore who was a soldier killed on Planet Hell, and was resurrected for the sole purpose of revenge. The entire populace was wiped out by a being known as Ferlord, and his army of demonic minions.
With that quick setup Hellgore begins his mission of carnage and bloodlust. While the game definitely references the original DOOM and Duke Nukem 3D in its marketing, it clearly feels more akin to the 2016 version of DOOM. The level designs are pretty good and do offer some of that classic colored key hunting. But much like DOOM 2016, the overall size and scope of the maps are much smaller than they were in 1993. And while you will have to backtrack to a few previous areas to use that red key you just found, the jaunts are much shorter, leading to a more linear, modernized feel.
That in of itself isn’t a bad thing. The stages do have a nice flow to them, and there are even a couple of puzzles that will likely stump you. But it isn’t the same thing as it was in the old games that inspired it. In the original DOOM there were stages you could conceivably spend two hours on looking for secrets alone. That isn’t to say there aren’t some clever secrets in Hellbound because there are. A good number of them too. And while things aren’t as free as they were in DOOM 1993, that doesn’t mean there’s no exploration. This isn’t the hallway, cutscene, hallway formula of some of the blockbusters of recent years either.
Where the game begins to fall short is that there isn’t a lot of its own personality. While the main character (voiced by Artie Widgery) puts out some nice delivery, the dialogue at times is just crass for the sake of being so. I know there was a lot of shock value in some of the glory days of early PC FPS games. But something about it doesn’t seem genuine. Even though it’s very clear that everyone involved in making this poured their hearts and souls into doing so, in some ways it feels tied a little too close to DOOM. In the best and worst of ways.
In the best of ways, it’s that it nails the action. As I mentioned it has a very DOOM 2016 feel although you don’t have a melee attack or skill tree system. But all of the guns are DOOM style mainstays. You have a pistol, a shotgun, a beefier shotgun, a minigun, a plasma rifle, and a rocket launcher. They also have one weapon, the Head Crusher which is basically a baseball bat in lieu of the Chainsaw you’d have in DOOM. Of course if all else fails, you can still punch demons. The game also has soul orbs that are basically the super health orbs from the original DOOM. These give you up to 200% health. Then they veer a little bit into QUAKE territory by giving you a Hell Damage icon that is effectively Quad Damage. So a lot of enemies will explode, and harder targets go down faster for a time. Then there’s the Hell Skin which is basically the armor version of the damage icon. Finally there’s the Hell Speed which makes you run even faster.
On the flipside though, the character designs are largely DOOM stand ins. And while that wouldn’t be a bad thing, the characters are clearly meant to resemble their DOOM counterparts. The former humans are probably the biggest divide in design. But the Vladers, Karnals, and Pygons are very clearly Imps, Pink Demons, and Cacodemons from id Software’s frontrunner. So much so, at times you might find yourself wondering why you’re not playing DOOM 2016.
I don’t want to make it sound like this game is a bore though, it truly is not. It is good. The gameplay is exceptional at times. I only wish it differentiated itself just a little bit more. One thing some people won’t like however is the short length. It’s about the length of a single episode of one of those games it takes its inspiration from. Fortunately the gameplay is there. So for many, you’ll want to go back and replay it on a higher setting for more of a challenge. And if you still need more after that, there is a horde mode where you can choose an arena and see how long you last.
Ultimately, it has enough entertainment value to keep you going through it. By the end of the game I found myself hoping there was more. And that’s a good thing in a way, because it held my attention. It’s a really fun shooter. Unfortunately it doesn’t have the personality of something like DUSK or AMID EVIL. Yes those games were also inspired by old games, but they had environments, characters, and designs you can more easily get behind. DUSK had great horror elements in its simplistic look. Even though it took its shooting cues from QUAKE, it still felt very much like its own thing. Hellbound doesn’t. It feels more like a glass of RC to DOOM’s glass of Coca-Cola. There’s nothing wrong with that. But the best of these titles can stand on their own merits. And while Hellbound is excellent at what it does, it isn’t going to be something you might play over the game that inspired it. Even with voice samples, Hellgore isn’t as interesting as Doomguy.
I know I’m talking in circles now, so to recap: Hellbound is a very fun DOOM-like that you’ll really enjoy if you’ve already played DOOM 2016 and DOOM Eternal to death and want something very close to their template. But I wouldn’t get it over DOOM 2016 if you haven’t played that already. And there are other retro-themed shooters with more personality, games that stand out more than this one to consider. My hope is that they’ll continue Hellbound though. Perhaps a sequel that expands upon the excellent gameplay here, and comes back with some more original characters and locales. There’s a fantastic foundation here. It just needs a little something to stand out from the crowd of similar games also inspired by the games that inspired it.
Man, I know it’s been a frustratingly long hiatus. I’ve been working overtime at my job most weeks over the last several months. This has limited my free time, so I’ve ended up focusing more on my Twitch channel over the blog. Over there I play a wide variety of stuff as well as a fair amount of Splatoon 2. But lately I have been going through a number of FPS games in Early Access. Some interesting preview builds of games that hearken back to the early days of Apogee and id software. Being that they aren’t done, I can’t wholeheartedly recommend getting them right now. One of the risks in buying anything in Early Access is that there’s no guarantee the games will be done. And this isn’t the most original idea for an article as several bloggers and YouTube creators have made similar ones. Be that as it may, these are some of the ones I’ve found pretty interesting upon buying. Games you may want to keep your eyes on.
Of course, the resurrection of what many consider the original shooter formula isn’t new. They’ve been slowly coming out for a while. New Blood Interactive has been hitting it out of the park with games like DUSK and AMID EVIL, but we’ve seen plenty of other games too like the Rise Of The Triad 2013 remake, Ion Fury, and others. Anyway, these are of the preview versions I rolled the dice on, and some of my thoughts on them after playing them.
This is one of the most promising of the bunch here. If you really enjoyed the DOOM 2016 remake or it’s DOOM II: Hell On Earth inspired sequel DOOM ETERNAL, but wished it hearkened back to the old games a little more, this could be for you. What makes this one stand out? Well it has the DOOM 2016 look in terms of its world. It also has a similarly streamlined layout in terms of maps. Things are a bit more linear than they were in 1993, but it still retains some of the colored keys and secret hunting. But it also blurs the line more than the official Bethesda/id/Microsoft property does because you can have the enemies represented as either fully rendered models or you can choose to see 2D sprites! And while there isn’t quite enough there for a full campaign yet, the game does have a level editor and many fans have already done a bunch of fantastic community maps. The game also does an interesting Super Mario World style overworld map, showing you what you’ve beaten, and if you’ve found specific exits for secret levels.
New Blood Interactive is one of those publishers that does appear to finish their Early Access projects, and all of them have been must play experiences so far. DUSK and AMID EVIL are two acts that are going to be tough to follow. But ULTRAKILL seems poised to do pretty well for itself. Where DUSK combined Quake’s aesthetics and gameplay and Deliverance’s unsettling backwoods horror, ULTRAKILL pushes the low polygon retro look further. Where AMID EVIL brought back the Heretic/Hexen feel that has languished, ULTRAKILL brings in elements seen in all kinds of games, old and new. It has a melee system that is tied to its health system. You punch away projectiles. Punch enemies so they’ll bleed on you and fill your health meter. But it also has a creative kill system in the vein of PlatinumGames’Mad World, or People Can Fly’s work on Bulletstorm. You continually have to dash out of the way of projectiles one moment, and find creative ways to take out waves of enemies the next. If all of that isn’t enough for you, stages are chock full of secrets and the game already has several secret stages that each play absolutely nothing like the rest of the game. It’s also got an interesting yet popcorn storyline. Mankind is dead. Blood is fuel. Hell is full. The soundtrack is also this nice rush of industrial metal and techno subgenres.
Like ULTRAKILL this game also has an importance on dashing and punching. But for different reasons. Instead of being creative for point awards, and continually refueling your health meter, this game has you doing it for survival and resource conservation. You see each stage only has so many ammunition pickups. So if you go full Lundgren on every alien you see, you won’t have the buckshot you need to kill a larger enemy type, or destroy a damaged wall to get that secret item you spy on the other side through a window. Another cool thing about this game is the save system. Instead of going full old-school and giving you a quick save function or rather than go full new school and implement a checkpoint system, they give you beacons. These beacons are limited, and found throughout levels. You can then plant one on the ground to create your own checkpoints. This is to keep you from cheesing your way to the top by quick saving every time you kill something. And it also keeps you from having to redo something you had trouble with clearing. You have to be careful though, because you can plant one too early and still have to redo a tough monster closet, or too late and miss something important. The game also has a unique art style as like Prodeus before, you have sprite based enemies and pickups. There’s no option to switch to models, but it works for the anime and Blake Stone: Aliens Of Gold pixel art blend they have going on. (Well I was reminded of Blake Stone anyway.) Cut scenes are done in these fantastically done animatics (Think Street Fighter V’s cinemas) while in-game graphics have everyone looking fresh out of an Apogee PC shooter circa 1993.
This one also throws in some sarcastic one-liners with its protagonist. Like Shelly in Ion Fury, Caroline here will do the same. Unlike Shelly, Caroline is far more psychotic. She relishes blowing away bad guys, eating the hearts they leave behind when they’re punched into giblets, and causing mayhem. There’s a lot more dark humor here, and the game never tries to be something it isn’t. It also has a rather fantastic Industrial Metal and Electronica soundtrack. This one by Michael Markie. The game only has one episode done, but the final game looks like it will have three based on what the current build’s hub level looks like. There are also a ton of skulls to collect throughout the stages, and it looks like there will be a place in the hub level for you to use them at some point. I really enjoyed playing through this game’s build. So I’m hoping the full game lives up to the first episode. The one bug I ran into (one that disables all of your weapons except the pistol) is apparently already being worked on. So the developers have been going out of their way to talk to players which is a positive sign.
Maximum Action is an odd case. It started out nicely enough to intrigue New Blood, even getting partnered at one point. Then they were mysteriously dropped and the updates seemed to trickle. The game was picked up by Balloon Moose Games and carried on. A few days ago a major update finally dropped, adding a new stage and cleaning up a few things as well as changing composers. The game hasn’t excited me the way the others have, but there is a really cool hook here, and that is each level is a different movie scene. You basically play through the stage as pretend Dolph Lundgren, and at the end you can watch the replay. Which is pretty cool. And so the scenery of each stage is inspired by different action genres. Some have you doing James Bond style stealth missions. Others have you blowing away 80s drug dealers like the protagonist of a 1987 direct to VHS vehicle. And each stage also works as a sort of puzzle game as you have to figure out which bad guy to take out in which order. Or where certain bad guys enter a scene. Or when a vehicle will tear through. So it’s like a cross between Hotline Miami and Duke Nukem 3D. There are some goofy bugs though, particularly in the game’s playback feature where you can watch your performance. Here’s hoping this one can come out with some major fixes, because there is a really fun idea underneath it all. The Goldeneye 007 era blocky enemies are also entertaining.
HROT is another game that takes inspiration from the original Quake. It’s got the similar brown, drab palette. What really sets this one apart though isn’t just the Eastern European horror show it puts on display. It’s set in Czechoslovakia during the 1980s and the story centers around some mysterious activity. It’s entirely coded by one guy in Pascal. That in of itself is quite impressive. It’s also got some fantastic level design, on par with the classic id game. And like DUSK it does a lot with very little. It’s a bit on the short side as of now, but it’s one hell of a short ride.
WRATH: Aeon Of Ruin
3DRealms is publishing this one by KillPixel and what stands out on this one is that it is actually being made in id Software’s original Quake engine. But it does diverge from the Quake mold a bit. After all Quake II skewed the series purely into action, while Quake set things up in more of a dark, foreboding adventure mold for a possible continuation of its story. While Wrath doesn’t completely do that as it still has plenty of monster closets to deal with it does change things up a bit. Similar to Viscerafest you’ll need to collect items to create checkpoints. You’ll find a wide variety of different weapons to dispatch monsters with. The game also takes the hub world approach with different areas opening up levels to go through. Think in the vein of something like the original RAGE. There’s a fair amount of variety in terms of the different environments too. And despite the focus on exploration over action, there is still plenty of action. You’ll come away from many firefights on your last legs, praying you’ll find some health and ammo before finding another group of bad guys. Like Viscerafest and ULTRAKILL, Wrath also adds a dash attack. This function is quite useful navigating some of the vertical sections here as well as allowing you to conserve supplies by stabbing low level enemies instead of shooting them. It’s a pretty feature rich game too with a lot of customization options for all types of PC configurations. However, I have never gotten it to play nice with screen overlays, so I haven’t been able to livestream it myself. Still, it’s another interesting one you may want to look into.
And with that I’m off. I do have another few shooters in my Steam wish list so as I get to them I may do another one of these preview lists. And when some of these are completed I may be doing full reviews of some of them so stay tuned!
It seems Metroid clones are almost a dime a dozen now. Every year it seems we get a bunch of them, which only goes to prove Nintendo had a winning formula back in 1986. What’s pretty surprising is just how many of these modern spins on the formula have proven to be major successes in their own right. One of the better ones I’ve played is today’s game Blasphemous.
PROS: Solid controls. Character design. Level design. World building. Audio.
CONS: Story can be a bit nebulous at times leading to confusion.
GUILT: A lot of the themes and visuals center around it.
In the fictional world of Cvstodia, you take the role of a silent Knight. The world around you is filled with all sorts of bizarre creatures and you’ll run into many people in the land who are in a constant state of torment. Being a Metroidvania you’ll spend many hours exploring the land and entering different areas. You’ll find a giant boss within the first few moments. Something that led a lot of people to comparing the game to Dark Souls when it came out initially.
It turns out your silent protagonist is part of of the Brotherhood of the Silent Sorrow, a religious sect that was taken out by Escribar, a Darth Palpatine-esque character who leads a different sect. A mysterious entity known only as The Miracle resurrected you, and has made many other sometimes seemingly arbitrary decisions. As you end up traversing the world and finding different characters you’re told of a mountain of ash and the presumable ascension from the status quo if you can reach the top of it. In order to do this you’ll need to suffer through the game’s three humiliations. Each of these is a massive boss battle.
Blasphemous has a ton of influence from early Christianity with a lot of its art direction clearly resembling things seen in early Catholic imagery. And a lot of things seem to really borrow from the theme of Purgatory as you’re going through all of it. The idea of suffering, and atonement for one’s transgressions before they can move forward is there. And while it’s very loud in the imagery and dialogue, it doesn’t beat you over the head with it. Nor does it go for a 1:1 parallel.
Still, there is enough of it that it isn’t going to appeal to everyone. Some of your upgrades come in the form of beads on a rosary-like rope. These are going to give you any number of beneficial results. Some let you take less damage from fire. Or let you go through poisonous gasses without dying. Or buff certain attacks you might have enabled. Or any number of things. There are also major characters that act in place of the power up shrines you might see in a Metroid title. One of them has you taking swords out of their body to power up your attacks. Another is a tortured soul that lets you put more beads on your rosary.
And a lot of the enemies you’ll eventually face also take the form of corrupted clergy, or mystics. There’s a lot of creativity with the character designs too as it goes beyond merely being influenced by Medieval and Renaissance church art. Some of the adversaries you’ll go up against are both unsettling and imposing. Along the way, you’ll also run into a few NPCs that ask you to go on side quests. If you do them successfully you’ll get a better ending.
But without giving anything away, all of the endings are pretty good. Overall, the storyline is a pretty intriguing one that will keep you invested. Helped along by all of the world building that was done here. That said, it can be pretty hard to follow sometimes, and some of the points, and explanations will be found outside the game. Because it doesn’t always detail everything very well.
Be that as it may, everything else in the game is pretty fantastic. It isn’t just a really great looking game, though I can’t stress enough just how good the pixel art in it really is. But the level design is very good too. Some of the blocked progression will have you spending hours on your initial run as it isn’t always obvious where you need to go. When you finally do figure it out, you’ll be amazed you didn’t think of it sooner. Then you’ll move on and get yourself lost again. But through it all you won’t mind so much. Also throughout that map you’ll find the aforementioned power up rooms and upgrade rooms. But you’ll also find your expected warp rooms, as well as rooms to fill the bile jars you’ll find around the game. As well as a character who can buff the amount of health your bile jars can give you. Think of these like your E Tanks in Metroid.
If all of those special rooms weren’t enough you will find a few other ones. One of them is a type of room where you can build a skill tree of sorts using the currency of tears you’ll get by killing enemies throughout the game. There is also a slew of body parts you’ll pick up throughout the game. There’s an underground chamber where you can drop them off inside different compartments.
Combat in the game reminded me less of Metroid or Castlevania though. Instead, it feels much more like Slain. Much of it is built around a counter system where you have to get the split-second timing down to do a parry. Parrying just before an attack hits you stuns the opponent, allowing you to deal more damage. You’re going to want to take full advantage of this too because a few of these bosses are super tough. Particularly late in the game where they become much more powerful as well as faster. You’re definitely going to want to find as many beads and flasks as possible as well as have them powered up. Especially as you near the end.
Blasphemous excels in its world building, and a lot of that is due to the excellent backgrounds and character art we’ve discussed. But the audio is another large part of that due to the ambient music that as in Nintendo’s Metroid, is tailor made for each of the many regions in the map. It can be nebulous, ambient and even unsettling at times. Fitting right in with the themes of the game. You never know how much something is going to hurt, or how long it will last. But you always know it’s probably going to be harder than it looks. And while I don’t know it’s the sort of soundtrack you’ll want to commute to work to, it is something that makes the game feel more immersive. The overall sound design does so too, with some terrific samples of cries, screams, and effects that make things a lot more believable. They’ve done a terrific job with all of this.
Really, if you haven’t experienced this game yet, you should. My only major complaint with it is that as good as the storytelling is, it doesn’t go quite far enough in giving you information you need to figure out what is going on. So in order for many players to understand everything, they’ll find they have to go outside of the game for certain details. Information about some of the stables of villains, or regions. Some of the details on the motivations of the Miracle. Sure, things are likely to be up to the player to hypothesize or discuss with other players. But those who still want a coherent, fleshed out storyline will probably need to do some internet sleuthing even if they 100% the game.
Still, even with those missing details, everything here is going to hold your interest until you get one of the endings. I didn’t have too many technical issues during my time with the game although there was one time when the game never took the Game Over screen away when I continued. So while I could hear my character moving around, swinging a sword I couldn’t see any of it due to the black screen and red text. So I was forced to reload my last save point and continue on. So be aware there are a couple of bugs that may crop up. To their credit, the developers are still supporting the game with updates and fixes so your experience may differ by the time you’ve read this.
Ultimately, Blasphemous is a terrific game fans of Metroid, Axiom Verge, Celeste, The Messenger, and other big exploration games may want to look into. But it isn’t going to be for everyone. Some people might be put off by some of the imagery or horror elements here. That said, it is a well-made game worth looking into. There’s a fair amount of challenge, as well as replay value. Particularly if you want to find every possible part of the map that you can explore.
For full disclosure I was given a copy of this game from a friend who worked on this one. But that doesn’t sway my opinion on it, and I was not monetarily compensated for writing this review. All thoughts presented here are my own.
It’s been a while since I’ve been able to sit down and write a review. Hours at my regular job have been consistently high, and while things haven’t changed much in terms of the number of them I’ve been pulling, my schedule has been inconsistent. So I’ve focused more on getting some streaming in at night as playing games has always helped me decompress and talking to people who may hop in is usually a good experience.
PROS: Character design. Level design. Controls. Mechanics. Soundtrack.
CONS: A couple of cheap moments.
DON’T: Mistake this for a F2P mobile game port.
One of those games I streamed recently was Get-A-Grip Chip, an interesting game on Steam where you play as a robot who has to look for batteries using a magnet. It was given to me by a friend who did some of the work on it. It’s pretty fun. “Looking for batteries with a magnet? That’s supposed to be fun?” I can hear some of you asking. Well as simple as that sentence was, it’s a more complex idea with a lot of little ideas packed inside of that idea.
I’m told, that early on while working on something else, the team at Redstart Interactive found one really fun feature they had implemented, a grappling mechanic. They spent so much time on tweaking, and experimenting with it that they ended up building an entirely new game out of it. This game is ultimately what that game became. That story reminds me a lot of how a lot of Nintendo development stories go, start with something fun, then build the game, the world, the characters, and story around that. It works for Nintendo regularly, and it honestly does work here.
At first glance you might not see it. Visually, it has the crisp, flat, cut-out tones of something you might find on your cousin’s iPad. And what I mean by that is not the quality of the artwork, sprites, or character designs. All of these are very good with a blend of color depth and detail you might see in a South Park episode. Simply, that the way it is displayed could be perceived as a mobile title due to many of them having a similar look at first glance. That said, the world, the characters, and overall artwork is really good. And you’ll find a wide variety of different settings and environments in this factory as you play through this game. There are a few cutscenes in the game and these seem to have a more animatic vibe, animating a couple of frames to give you a sense of what is happening rather than a full-fledged FMV or animation. It’s something I’ve seen in many games lately even bigger ones. Monster Prom does it, Even Street Fighter V does it with its character story ladders.
Speaking of story, the one we are given here is that a company called RoboCo Manufacturing is making robots. Something I think is probably obvious. What isn’t obvious are the lack of failsafe measures. Because an accident happens on the line, a giant gear gets embedded in one of the manufacturing robots and this causes its programming to go haywire. This in turn causes the machine to go proverbially insane and begin blasting everything with death beams. One seemingly sentient robot named Chip needs to escape, but not before saving the ever so cute, also seemingly sentient batteries who look like Duracell gone Chibi.
Anyway, Chip has very limited mobility. He can move left, or right. In some cases up, or down. But 90 percent of the time left or right are your options. But Chip also has a magnet you can shoot short distances to latch onto things allowing you to swing around like Bionic Commando. The comparison to Capcom’s classic arcade game, its many home ports, NES pseudo-spinoff and even the newer ones that came out in the days of the 360 are appropos.
Because a lot like that series, this one will focus an awful lot on swinging around. Rivets, hanging rebar, there will always be something you’ll have to latch onto. Now while Bionic Commando focused on combat being an action game, this one goes more for mascot platforming. I was reminded of a number of them. Kirby came to mind because of the exploration element. While this is often far more challenging than Kirby, you still are going to be looking at ways to find creative solutions to seemingly complex problems. And some of them will not be so much seemingly complex problems as they are actually complex problems.
On the easier side of the scale, figuring out where the hidden batteries you need to save are is usually as simple as looking for a misshapen piece of wall. Or a sliver of a rivet just peeking into view. Actually getting to some of these batteries is quite a different story. Sometimes, sure, you can just roll behind a slightly off center looking wall and rescue your Rayovac friend. Often times, these paths will lead to new and far more challenging means to rescuing the battery in question. If and when you do successfully save a battery, you’re not in the clear because you still have to get them to the next checkpoint. When you do save one, the HUD will come up on the screen, and in the top left you’ll see a battery count. Each stage has ten batteries to save.
Now while you don’t have to save every battery to clear a level you do need to find so many of them to truly get further in the game. There are five floors, represented by levels of the building currently in the process of being destroyed. Each of the floors has five stages and a boss battle, each of which have the aforementioned batteries hidden within. Save enough batteries and you’ll unlock the next boss battle. It’s something that along with some of the boss battles, reminded me of Giana Sisters Twisted Dreams. In that game, you need to collect so many gems on your first run to unlock future stages, and also like that game there are sections where some grave danger initiates an auto scrolling section. The boss battles here are often like those sections in Giana Sisters Twisted Dreams. A wall of lava, acid, or other nefarious substance will follow you forcing you to rush through as fast as possible without perishing.
Doing that in of itself can be pretty daunting especially considering you have to do all of this by grappling. Doing all of that, and getting all of the batteries requires some Godlike reflexes and quick witted thinking on your feet. It is here, that I also really have to commend the games’ level designs. They all have a great blend of thinking fast to solve problems, and also trying to execute things, and discerning patterns as fast as possible. It really does lend itself well to speed running. But it also doesn’t really feel unfair except in maybe one or two instances where the game drops an unexpected enemy or obstacle your way. The game controls fairly well too with the WASD keys moving you, and you can use your mouse to aim your grappling hook. The game recommends using a game controller, so you may find that moving with a D-pad instead of keys on a keyboard is easier for you.
Get-A-Grip Chip also gives you unlimited lives, so the only thing that can ever really stop you from being able to beat the game is a lack of perseverance. It’s the kind of game I can see anyone really enjoying as you can clear the game by sheer determination. But I really think those who love a super difficult game will find a lot to like too, as trying to get some of the batteries rescued requires a LOT of dexterity, especially near the end of the game where you have to solve puzzles and solve them FAST. One nice thing is once you’ve saved a battery you don’t have to save it again on subsequent attempts. So you can 100% the game by focusing on only the batteries you didn’t find in previous attempts. Speed runners will get a lot of mileage out of this title though because trying to get through each stage in a really short period of time without dying is going to be quite the feat.
Clearing the game does also give you a satisfying ending, and it even shows you how many of the batteries you were able to save before escaping the collapsing factory. I quite liked Get-A-Grip Chip. Save for a handful of moments where they surprise you with an obstacle you have no way of knowing is coming, it’s generally very fair. When you die, more often than not you’re going to know it’s because you were unable to grab that ledge fast enough, or didn’t wait for that electrified lever to fully discharge or any other number of things. Everything is defined pretty well too. There was one instance later in the game I didn’t realize a background object was not a foreground object I could land on. But that could have easily been me being a dope.
And through it all I found myself really enjoying the soundtrack. There’s a pretty good variety here too. While everything could probably fall under the umbrella of Electronica since there are clearly a lot of compositions that were made on a computer that also would be far too much of a simplification. There are a lot of elements of different genres and subgenres here. Sometimes you’ll get some Techno. Sometimes there are moments that will feel more New Wave. Other times there are background songs that are decidedly Hip-Hop, or Heavy Metal. All chosen for appropriate sections. It’s pretty cool stuff, and as it turns out you can also buy the soundtrack on Steam too if you enjoy it enough to listen to beyond the scope of the game.
The characters are pretty cool, and it does a lot with the color palettes it employs. And with the control scheme I could easily see a sequel or prequel where they expand on some of the ideas presented here. I could even conceive a scenario where the company could potentially make a homebrew style version for older consoles and computers seeing how the set up works essentially on two sticks and a button. Seeing an Atari 2600 version, a Commodore 64 version, NES version, even a Colecovision or Intellivision version could be interesting. But now I’ve begun to ramble. The point is, Get-A-Grip Chip is one of the (to borrow a phrase fromMetal Jesus Rocks ) hidden gems on Steam. If you’re looking for something a little bit different give it a shot.
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 there are constantly new Metroid-like games. Many of which take Nintendo’s tried and true formula and then alter it with their own characters and setting. Many of them have been quite good. Another one you can put on that list is today’s game Mystik Belle. This game does something that really stands out by including elements of point and click adventure games in it.
PROS: Bright characters. Clever writing. Spot on controls.
CONS: A couple of obtuse puzzles.
ULTIONUS: Has a few nods to their previous game Ultionus: A Tale Of Petty Revenge
Mystik Belle tells the story of a little girl at a witching school who is blamed by the faculty when a mysterious witches brew goes missing. In order to keep herself from being expelled she reluctantly agrees to go find all of the ingredients so her teacher Ms. Willow can make another brew to replace it. She quickly gets more than she bargained for though when she finds out just how much she has to go through just to find a single ingredient.
Her pain becomes your pain, because Mystik Belle is tough. You’ll be exploring a fairly large map, fighting monsters and looking for items so that you can explore even further in areas previously inaccessible to you. Mystik Belle is also very much a point and click adventure game. Though it doesn’t give you the countless hours to search around every item of every background because there is danger at every turn. Especially when you’re just starting out.
You’re berated by the top three witches who run the school, you get barked at by an old monster, you’re given a hall pass and told to move your ass. Right from the beginning though you will love the writing. It’s cute demeanor may make you think it’s a family-friendly kids’ game. But it isn’t. The main character is rather sassy and the characters you run into sometimes drop some less than child-friendly dialogue. Make no mistake, it isn’t crass for the sake of being crass. You won’t be hearing a constant barrage of cuss words this side of a hard R action film. But when it does drop a swear you probably don’t want to have your four-year old around.
That said, the writing here is still very good. The characters have great personalities and charm about them. In many ways it feels like the best parts of the old Brat Pack teen comedy movies of the 1980s. It’s like if sword and sorcery movies were sent to the Breakfast Club detention hall. Would you like another? Yes! They’ve got you for two months.
Anyway, you’ll also be wowed by the bright, large, colorful sprites and multilayered backgrounds. Just like Ultionus, this one has a look very reminiscent of vintage Commodore Amiga games, though there aren’t the constant nods to it this time out. The level of details especially jumps out to me in this game. This is apparent in some of the animations of enemies as well as some of the powers you gain throughout the game.
The soundtrack is also something special. Each area has its own distinct theme that not only fits the mood of what you’re seeing but also throws nods to older games. One of the tracks in particular took me back to Castlevania III: Dracula’s Curse. The chip tunes here are very good and I hope it’s one of the soundtracks that ends up on the Steam soundtrack store. Certainly something you’ll likely enjoy.
As you go through your quest to find the ingredients to the brew, the point and click elements begin to become very apparent. Because you’ll need to find that split second to check backgrounds when you see an exclamation point, and you’re going to need to talk to EVERY NPC you run into. This is the only way you’ll be able to find some of the items you need to progress. Sometimes you’ll have to travel between areas not only to find an item in the wild, but to talk to one person to figure out where the next person you need to talk to is. Other times they’ll give you cryptic hints as to where something might be. Other times you’ll see something you know you need, but will have no idea on how to get there or what you’ll need to access it. And of course, there will be times you need to combine several items to create another item in order to gain access to a new area or to give someone to get something else you need. So think like Metroid meets Maniac Mansion. Two things that don’t sound like they belong together, and yet Mystik Bell makes it work very, very well.
The entire experience controls excellently too. When you die, you’ll know it was your own fault. Interestingly there are no save stations, or save options in the menu. If you die it will let you start in the room you died in with the health you entered the room with. Or you can spawn back at the beginning of the game with your items in tow. Mystik Belle can be tough at times but the toughest part in the game are some of the obtuse puzzles that will take you forever to solve. It isn’t always noticeable where you need to scour for an item, and it isn’t always obvious where you need to place something or who you need to give it to. That’s probably the only major complaint I can levy, is that there are a couple of times where the game could be just a little bit more specific.
Despite that, it’s an excellent, quaint game that really stands out from the pack. It isn’t often a fast paced style of game melds with another slower paced genre the way it does here. But it does so very, very well. On top of that there are two endings depending on whether or not you find every last item and collectible in the game. If you’ve truly been looking for something different give Mystik Belle a shot.
Castlevania is one of the most popular IPs in Konami’s arsenal. Along with Contra, it’s one of the series that made the company a household name in the days of the Nintendo Entertainment System. Over the last few years, a few independent studios have made games clearly inspired by Castlevania. Like the Bloodstained which were actually made in part with Koji Igarashi. The person who helmed many of Castlevania’s entries. Many of these Castlevania inspired games took their influences from either the earlier action platformers or the later adventure style games.
But today’s game is much different. The focus on Dracula, monsters, and other environments Castlevania is known for is here. However, the story, execution, and gameplay elements have some influences that are clearly from entirely different places. And while that might make some looking for a Castlevania-like take pause, this is something you really might want to check out.
PROS: Character design. Soundtrack. Play control. Visuals. A different take on Dracula.
CONS: At the end of the day the story is a bit basic. Minor bugs. Can’t adjust audio.
BLOODSTAINED: The Castlevania-like series does have a small link here.
Wallachia: Reign Of Dracula is a seven stage campaign with some of the best 2D assets and gameplay you’ve seen in a game of its nature. You play as a woman named Elcin. She’s trained to be a top archer, marksman, and swordfighter. One day, in a scene straight out of Star Wars, she comes home to find her family’s home destroyed and her relatives’ charred remains. Upon learning that Vlad The Impaler was the one behind it as well as the subjugation of the inhabitants of Wallachia she sets out to find her missing sibling and get revenge on the bloodthirsty Dracula.
The game’s narrative takes a slightly more historic approach here going with some of the Romanian histories around Vlad The Impaler. As such the game downplays some of the more fantastical elements Castlevania and Bloodstained celebrate. You don’t see flying medusa heads, reanimated skeletons, or movie monsters. But that doesn’t mean you won’t be seeing any horror elements or strange enemies. There are a few moments where you do indeed see some pretty crazy stuff. But the characters do try to downplay some of it with their dialogue.
The voice work in the game is very good too. Two big names are here: Kira Buckland and Robert Belgrade. You may not know the names but you know some of the work they’ve done. Nier: Automata and Castlevania Symphony Of The Night were pretty big games they respectively appeared in. I was also surprised to learn well after I’d bought the game, my buddy Mike Levy of Dude You Haven’t Played This Game and XVGM Radio had a small part in the game.
All of the voice work is performed exceptionally well, which is why it’s a bit of a disappointment the story breaks down to a simple revenge arc. There’s nothing wrong with that mind you. The gameplay doesn’t really need something that requires analysis or interpretation. But it would have been nice to see the story go a little further with the historical context it dips its toes into. Still, it keeps you entertained, you’ll like the characters presented here, and the sketched and inked cinema screens do a good job of moving things along between stages.
So what do you do in this game? You kick people’s asses in a matter that perhaps only Teela could rival. Elcin is armed with a bow and a sword. You can jam on the arrow button to rapidly shoot off arrows, or you can hold it down for charge shots. You can attack at melee distance with your sword button and once you’ve collected enough orbs you can have an NPC jump in with an assist. Some of them give you temporary invincibility, others beef up your attacks for a short time. The coolest one is probably summoning Minvu, your pet wolf who can clear a medium-sized villain or wave of enemies with a dash. You can cycle between which helper you want to come to your aid with a shoulder button press (assuming you’re on a controller). The other shoulder button lets you cycle between alternate arrows you can pick up. Some are more powerful, some are spread shots as well as others still. All of which can be charged. If that wasn’t enough the NPC helpers do different things if you collect even more orbs and you hold the UP button while selecting them.
You can also find general power-ups that make your arrows and sword stronger or let you charge shots faster. Each of the locales takes two or more forms. You’ll find every two areas or so the environments will have a mild change until you get to a boss before moving onto the next stage. This does a great job of conveying that each of these stages is a journey. Most of the stages do not play like the typical Castlevania game though. While there are still war-torn castles, areas of wilderness, and abandoned villages, you’re not going to be taking sluggish walks up flights of stairs or feeling heavy jumping between blocks. Instead, the game moves along at the pace of games like Revenge Of Shinobi and Rolling Thunder. You’ll have to carefully traverse each stage, memorizing enemy types and placements while using your arrows to dispatch them. Some of course you’ll cut down with your sword when they get too close. Sometimes you can find alternative ways through a section but in general, it’s a linear experience. One that will require some trial and error. This is where the Rolling Thunder influence comes to play a bit as there are soldiers of different color schemes that will attack you with their own specific attacks. They can often come from the background to attack you like in Namco’s classic.
All of these influences make Wallachia stand out because it isn’t just trying to be a Castlevania NES trilogy-like or a Symphony of The Night sendup like some of the other games have been. On top of that, there are some autoscrolling sections and other additions that keep mixing things up. Boss fights are especially fun as at first, they will seem insurmountable. But eventually, you’ll figure out the patterns and be able to move onto the next challenge.
As great as the gameplay, performances, and the soundtrack truly are, there are a couple of small things I had some problems with. The first problem is the audio. Yes, I just praised the soundtrack and sound files. But this is one of a few examples of a game I’ve reviewed where you can’t change the volume level. That’s going to make it something streamers will have to tinker with on PC to try to make it so their audiences can hear them and the game audio at the same time.
The second problem I ran into was on the level select screen. The game has one small bug. When I chose the level 0 bonus stage before going on to the first stage for the first time, the game crashed. After I played through a couple of levels, it notified me I’d “Unlocked” the bonus stage, and then it worked fine. Hopefully, a future patch will fix this and add a volume option. That said, I like that it had an option to map your controller buttons. So at least you can make things comfortable in that regard.
There are a lot of things to love about the game though. The gameplay is terrific as I said earlier. The soundtrack is great. Graphically it looks like it could be on the Amiga 1000 which is pretty much an instant win. And there are even a couple of neat things to do when you beat the game. There are more bonus stages you can unlock when you beat it based on the difficulty you choose at the beginning. But you can also unlock a special costume and that’s Miriam’s gown from Bloodstained!
Overall, I really enjoyed Wallachia: Reign Of Dracula. It’s a tough, but fair action game with elements from several genres and retro games. I can highly recommend checking it out whether you’re a hardcore Castlevania fan or just someone looking for something different. The slightly more historical look at Vlad The Impaler and his possible inspiration for Bram Stoker’s Dracula character is also a nice change from the often fantastical, Hollywood horror version of the character we’re all used to. This is still very much a video game version of the character, but one that stands out.
(Full Disclosure:A review copy Steam key was provided by Super16bits. All opinions are my own.)
As big as independent games have become over the last 15 years, there are many, many games that get lost in the sea of titles. Some of these titles are put out by very small studios, many of which are even one-person operations. Today’s game is from one such small studio. Sakura Stars is a bullet hell shooter from Super16bits, and it’s something shoot ’em up fans may want to look into.
CLASSICAL: Hopefully you like classical music because the OST entirely made up of it.
When a demonic threat arises, a team of three appears to fight the menace. After a brief introductory paragraph, you’re greeted with the title screen. Sakura Stars is a shooter that allows you to choose between two girls and a raccoon. Each of the characters has their own attributes. It hearkens back to some of the classics of old in this regard. Games like TRUXTON, UN Squadron, or Strikers 1945.
One of the girls can shoot a single shot. The second girl can shoot a double shot. The raccoon can fire a handy spread shot. And while the first two characters give you two lives, only the raccoon will give you three. Honestly, if you’re new or lapsed to the genre you’ll really want to start with the raccoon.
The game is relatively short, only going on for four stages. But don’t let the short-run dissuade you from considering this one because Sakura Stars is tough. There are no continues, nor are there any 1-Ups. At least none that I found in my time with it. And when I say this is a bullet hell shooter I mean it. There are bullets everywhere. Each enemy type will fire anywhere from one to ten bullets in a myriad of patterns. Destroying enemies will often create another ten bullets in the explosion. If you were hoping for an 8-bit era horizontal Giga Wing with anime influences you’re in luck.
At the end of each stage, is a boss encounter. These are anime-inspired demon girls who do insane bullet hell attacks. Much like the rest of the game it’s going to be a war of pattern memorization as you try to avoid getting hit while doling out enough damage to defeat the bosses. All in all, it’s easy to describe the core concept. But it’s also going to take you many, many attempts to get anywhere close to beating the game.
The game gets a lot of things right. I loved that it had a fairly memorable regular enemy or two. Flying space eyeballs with optic nerves flailing around and flying tengu faces are prevalent and have several different flying patterns. Sometimes they’ll come in horizontal rows, other times vertical. Sometimes they’ll zig-zag about. Early on, the eyes don’t shoot at you at all, but by the second stage you can expect a volley of bullets flying at you.
I liked the rather large sprites of the playable characters and their different firing mechanisms. But there were a couple of small things that I felt could have been done differently or improved. First of all, while the large character sprites are nice, it’s going to take you several deaths and restarts before you realize that their hitboxes are actually quite smaller than the characters themselves. You really have to navigate the characters’ eyes. If their eyes or the small circumference of pixels around them get hit, you’ll die. But hands? Feet? Hair? Bullets pass right through them.
Once you get used to that, it becomes a much more manageable game. But that still doesn’t mean it will be easy. It’s still a pretty challenging if short game. Maybe not to the degree of the hardest Toaplan, Treasure, or Cave shooter, but still pretty challenging for what you’re given. Keep in mind you’re not going to see the crazy options, multiple power shots or other items you’ll get in those major names of yesteryear. That’s another reason why this one is such a trial. The other thing that seemed a little off to me though is really the balance between the first two stages. After dying a ton, you’ll begin to realize you can breeze through the first level without firing a single shot. As I said earlier, the eyeballs don’t fire at you at all, and the Tengu faces’ shot patterns can be navigated. Plus you avoid a ton of bullets by not killing anything. Because killing things creates more bullets. You still have to kill the boss to progress however.
But all of that goes out the window in the second stage as everything does fire at you and the challenge makes a large jump rather than an incremental one. It could have perhaps helped players get a better handle on the game’s rules had it been a little different. Be that as it may, I still enjoyed my time with the game. I could nitpick about the bosses’ minimal animations or the game playing chiptune renditions of classical music as it doesn’t seem to fit with the look of the rest of the game to me. But that’s exactly that: nitpicking.
There is one thing I wish the game had though, and that’s a deeper options menu. You can’t really change the volume at all. It would have been nice to have music volume, effects volume, or overall volume settings. Especially if you want to play the game on stream. As is, you’ll need to figure out the volume in your own PC settings or streaming software if you do stream. There’s also nowhere to remap buttons. Though it is nice you can use an Xbox 360 or Xbox One controller without a problem. I was actually able to use my Horipad for my Nintendo Switch without any issues.
In conclusion, Sakura Stars is a solid effort from a studio that has only one previous game on Steam. Hopefully, a fleshed-out sequel or future project can iron out some of the minor issues I had with the game because overall it’s a fun, challenging bullet hell shooter. If you’re looking for something a little bit different or something small to play between some other games you may just want to give this one a look.