Tag Archives: Indie Gaming

Cuphead Review

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By now, you’ve heard the praise, the fervor, and the cries of sore losers everywhere. But the hype for this one really is deserved. Cuphead is a magnificent blend of gameplay taken from Contra, Gradius, and even some Mega Man for good measure. And while many games have done so, Cuphead is one of the ones that stands out from the crowd. If you haven’t already bought, and downloaded this game to your Xbox One or Computer you really ought to. But if you need more details before doing so, read on.

PROS: Amazing animation. Wonderful music. Spot on controls. Tough, but fair challenge.

CONS: Some bugs keep it just shy of perfection.

GENERATIONS: The animation on display will even amaze your Great Grandparents.

Cuphead is the result of a couple of high-risk takers. Studio MDHR started out with a vision: An action game that truly feels like playing a late 1930’s cartoon. Early on they discovered that making that vision a reality was going to be far more time-consuming, and expensive than originally thought. They ended up quitting their jobs, and re-mortgaging their homes just to be able to bring this title to market.

My hope is that this risk has paid off. Because the finished product is nothing short of amazing. Cuphead very likely has the best animation of any video game ever made thus far. Studio MDHR painstakingly made every background in the game by matte painting it. Every frame of animation was hand drawn on a cell before being scanned into a computer to be inked, and colored. As a result the game delivers on the core promise of looking, and feeling like a 1930’s animated short. The character designs are breathtaking. All of the hallmarks of vintage cartoons are here. The angled pupils, exaggerated movement, and pretty much everything you can recall from old Popeye, and Betty Boop serials are here.

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Studio MDHR even went as far as hiring an actual big band jazz ensemble to write, and perform the score for Cuphead. So not only does it look like an 80-year-old cartoon, it also sounds like an 80-year-old cartoon. Just seeing the game in action alone would be worth the price of admission. There is such a wealth of talent on display through the entire game that it’s honestly something that has to be experienced. In the realm of audio, and visual experiences Cuphead is nearly in a class all by itself.

But what about the game play? Well, it’s a fairly solid, and enjoyable experience. The game starts out with a very clever tutorial, and a classic story book introduction. Cuphead, and his brother Mugman go against their guardian’s wishes when they visit a casino. Unfortunately, the Casino is owned by the Devil, and he rigs the game at the Craps table to claim the souls of our heroes. But they plead for their lives so he tells them he’ll forgive their debt if they go get the soul contracts of the others in the town.

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So that’s the set up for just why Cuphead, and Mugman are off on their adventure. The game places you on an overhead view of a map, where you move the characters around, and choose a stage, or talk to an NPC. There are three maps, and you’ll need to complete every stage to move onto the next one. Each map also has a shop in it where you can use coins to upgrade your abilities. There are three main types of stage on display here. You’ll have Run n’ Gun stages. These play like you’d expect, taking homage from games like Contra, and Metal Slug. So you’ll have to fire where you’re going. You can’t shoot backwards while moving forward. The game play is not a twin stick style, rather a more traditional one. In these stages you’ll find the aforementioned coins. So you’ll certainly need to play these if you want any hope of buffing up your character.

Some of the items in the shops will give you a new style of weapon, or extra hits on your health meter. But any item you choose will have a side effect to balance things out. For instance, buying extra health comes at the cost of weakening your attacks slightly. But there are a wide variety of things to check out here. So you can swap out items for others after you’ve paid for them, and see what load out works best for you.

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There are shmup levels too, these generally play like the third type of stage I’ll get to in a moment. The difference being here, you’ll be piloting a plane, and fighting a multifaceted battle against a boss character. With the shmup mechanics here, the game feels a lot more like the memorable moments in old horizontal shooters like Thunder Force III, R-Type, Gradius, or Life Force rather than the more contemporary bullet hell shooter. Just because there aren’t zillions of things to avoid doesn’t mean there isn’t anything to avoid. These encounters throw plenty enough at you, and you’ll have to memorize attack patterns to survive. You can also shrink your plane so if you get into a situation you don’t think is avoidable, it may just be your ace in the hole.

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Finally, there are the Boss stages. In these you’ll use the Run n’ Gun mechanics in a multifaceted battle against a boss character. These fights feel closer to the classic NES Mega Man boss fights. than the ones in the old Run n’ Guns. One boss in particular will give you memories of storming Dr. Wily’s castle in Mega Man II. All of these bosses however will require you to learn patterns, and expert timing to get through them in one piece. Since most of the stages in the game are Boss stages you can expect to lose many, many times when you first attempt them.

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There are also a couple of side challenges where you’ll free ghosts by parrying other ghosts. You should honestly do these because the parry is a mechanic Cuphead uses to beef up your super meter. When you fill up the meter you can do a very devastating attack which is especially handy in boss battles. Anything colored pink in the game can be parried, and these challenges are the perfect way to master this mechanic.

Most of the stages in the game have an easy mode in addition to a regular tough as nails mode. You’ll need to beat the harder difficulty on bosses to get the contracts, needed to finish the story. But playing the stages on Easy will let you progress, and see what future stages have to offer. You can also go back to any stage you beat previously to replay it. Cuphead definitely has a high level of challenge. But the challenge is generally very fair. You’ll die hundreds of times over. But upon your expletive laden loss you’ll understand that your last death was your own fault. You jumped when you meant to shoot. Or you didn’t plan for a moving platform properly. Or you weren’t patient enough. Or you panicked, and walked into that projectile.

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Cuphead isn’t impossible though. Those who absolutely love old platformers, shmups, and classic action games from the days of Atari, Sega, Nintendo, and Commodore platforms will likely pick things up a bit faster. But that doesn’t mean someone newer to this type of experience cannot persevere. It’s the kind of game that requires patience, and practice to excel in. For some players it may take more time, and patience than others. But everything in the game is so captivating it’s worth checking out.

There are a couple of very minor issues I have with the game though. The most alarming are a few rare bugs. Admittedly these are rare, and in time they’ll probably be fixed. But they’re still a nuisance when they happen. One of them will glitch a low-level enemies’ health to a point it takes no damage. When this happens you can try to just skip past it. But that might mean you take damage in the process, and impede your ability to clear the level. Exiting the stage, and re-entering it usually fixes it in the interim, but that is also a nuisance. The other bug I’ve run into is an inexplicable performance hit, where the game will suddenly drop frames, and run ridiculously choppy for around 60 seconds before going back to normal. It’s especially annoying in boss fights. Closing the game, and re-starting the application again, fixes it in the interim. But it can be pretty annoying. I also wish there could have been a few more action stages over boss rush stages to add to the variety.

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Nevertheless, I can wholeheartedly recommend Cuphead to just about anybody who is even remotely interested in it. The animation, and soundtrack alone are worth the price of admission. Even for all of the complaints some may have with the level of challenge, the experience easily overshadows that. This is a game that is a wonder to behold. And while old-school arcade challenge may not be your Cuphead of tea, (I know, that’s a terrible joke.) Cuphead is still one of the most entertaining experiences you’ll likely have this year. If you relish a challenge, and love classic cartoons you should buy this for your computer or Xbox One if you haven’t already. You may want to look into this game even if you normally don’t care for this sort of fare. The amount of talent, and dedication on display is nothing short of captivating.

Here’s hoping Cuphead was a successful enough endeavor for a follow-up, or another game using the same wonderful artists, and animators. I know I’ve repeated myself a lot in this review, and I probably sound a bit redundant. But win or lose, Cuphead is one experience you just may want to roll the dice on. (I think I did better on that one.)

Final Score: 9 out of 10

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Rogue Legacy Review

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I’m really late to the party with this one, as it’s been in the backlog for quite some time. But after seeing fellow blogger Esperdreams (whose stuff you should also check out) live stream the PlayStation 4 version a while ago, I fired it up. I’m pretty glad I did. Rogue Legacy is another game that mixes Rogue elements with bits of other genres.

PROS: Great character designs. Humor.

CONS: Minor hit detection issues.

WOW: Some of the randomness is worth checking out alone.

In the case of Rogue Legacy, the Rogue elements are blended with Metroidvania game play. But beyond that, there is a very creative twist that sets the game apart from other Rogue like/lite style titles. In pretty much every game of this style, if your character dies, even once, for any reason the game is over. You’ll get to keep some of the items you ground for. But you’ll be starting the game over again.

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In Rogue Legacy this is still the case. However, upon your next play through, you’ll get to play as one of that characters next of kin. So that means, a son or daughter of the previous combatant. It gets better though, because there are pros, and cons each child inherits. Some children will have vision problems. Some children will be easily confused. Or see everything in a mirrored perspective. There are a lot of these traits, and each one of them effects how the game is played.

Another common trait among this style of game is procedural generated stages. This idea is used in Rogue Legacy as well. Like Rogue Stormers, this game rearranges pre-designed rooms in new patterns to create new maps. One pretty cool thing the game does with this is self-referential humor. Often times you’ll find journal entries where the fighters will get information about the current castle layout from their ancestors. There is also a room with a jukebox you’ll randomly find where you can change the background music. Kind of like the record room you see in VVVVVV.

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There are other cool in-jokes like the clown target test. The obituaries when you lose. There are many, moments that will make you laugh. In spite of the fact that this game shares many of the same tropes seen in the trilogy of NES Castlevania games. Or the original three Metroid games. As you go throughout the map each time, you’ll find new areas upon every play through. Dark, demonic cavern areas. Giant haunted forest sections. Haunted towers. You name it.

Of course, once you die, the castle will look completely different. But you can use the gold you’ve earned during the last play through on upgrades for your progeny. You can upgrade your life bar, the amount of mana for using special weapons (a la Castlevania), as well as getting other things. You can unlock a bunch of possible classes for your future generations. Ninjas, Miners, and more. You can also upgrade the damage level you dish out, the amount of gold you can collect, and even get shops that come up before you go to the castle.

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These shops will let you bulk up your armor,  and add new abilities like dash attacks to your characters. Eventually you’ll find a third shop where you can exchange your gold collecting percentage for the option to lock the castle map in place so it repeats the exact same layout. Every time you explore the castle not only can you collect gold, but you can find chests with blueprints that can be used in shops for more armor, and weapon types. Some chests will only open if you complete a small mission like clearing the room of enemies, or getting to the chest without getting hurt. And while these aren’t long affairs, many of them can be quite the challenge. Others can’t be done until you have the right item or power ups.

Of course once you start getting the hang of the game, you’ll find boss rooms. These fights can be insanely hard. Not so much because of the bosses themselves. Though they are a challenge. But getting to them with a full bar of health, and a full bar of mana is a challenge in of itself.  Over time you’ll figure out that combat is mastered through timing. Timing not only when it’s safe to swing, but when to jump to avoid something. When to back away. The time in between any given enemy’s attack.

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But even when you learn this it isn’t a cinch to win. Because any given random layout can place you in a room with 50 different bad guys. Plus death-traps, spike pits, and other nefarious things in the environment. This is the kind of game that relishes high difficulty, and requires the patience to learn how everything works. Some have compared it to Dark Souls in that regard. And that’s fair. Mind you they’re two completely different games, with different rules. But both do require some patience to learn those rules.

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Over time, of keeping with it, you’ll begin to improve, and find yourself enjoying  yourself more. Even when you lose, there is enough humor, and charm to keep you coming back. Plus you’ll spend your gold, bulk up some stats, and items making enemies easier to slay. There is a point though, where the game decides just how easy might be too easy. So after a while you’ll notice beefier versions of enemies, or even find harder enemies showing up in the castle sooner. So most players will not be blowing through this one in a few minutes. It can be a grind. But the game obsfucates it pretty well most of the time. It also doesn’t feel like a carbon copy of the base formula. There is a wide variety of enemies, and the jokes can be really funny at times.

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The only big issue I have is that in some spots the collision detection is off just enough to make those sections feel cheap. You’ll take spike pit damage, but your character might not look like they actually touched the spikes. Some times you’ll swear you did a downward stab on a switch in time, but it doesn’t count as so. So these few moments can be a bit frustrating. The rest of the challenge comes from having the right tools for the right job, and the right amount of hand, eye coordination. Which is fine, this is a game that is about a challenge after all. When you do accomplish something in it, it just feels wonderful. You’ll scream “I FINALLY DID IT!” only to then realize you’ve got a long way to go yet. But it’s still satisfying.

Also satisfying are the chip tunes throughout the game. Each area has its own background song. Like I mentioned before, if you’re lucky you can find the jukebox room to change the current song, but each sector does have its own theme. Which gives it some of that Metroid vibe. It isn’t quite the same, since almost every time you play, the layout is different. But it does at least help make each background feel different from the last.

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Rogue Legacy also has a very crisp look reminiscent of old flash animation. Sprites have some bright colors, and nice details. There are cool visual touches on everything as well. The game even has an element of Paper Mario, as you watch your character flip over like a card whenever you turn them around.

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Overall, this is a really inventive take on a popular idea. If you enjoy challenging adventure games, or you can’t get enough of games with rogue elements Rogue Legacy should be on your list. Just make sure you pay close attention around switches, and spikes.

Final Score: 8 out of 10

Insanity’s Blade Review

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A number of titles have been Frankenstein’s monsters. Taking ideas, or mechanics from a variety of games, and combining them to bring something new to the world. It happens in everything, as any great idea has the potential to be improved upon, or repurposed for something else. Sometimes this gives us something glorious. Other times something banal, and uninspired. Sometimes something completely terrible. But a lot of times we’ll see something great trying to break out of some shackles.

PROS: Soundtrack. Graphics. Character design. Borrowed elements are good ones.

CONS: Glitches. Performance issues. Annoying bugs.

CAVALCADE: There’s a line of large, and obscure references on display.

Insanity’s Blade is a pretty cool game. Right off the bat, its cinema screens, and characters will remind you of Golden Axe. Begin playing, and the movement will possibly bring out memories of playing Rastan. Some of the enemy designs, backgrounds, traps, and weapons will bring about memories of the first four Castlevania games. The loot you pick up, and the rising coffins then make you remember Ghosts N’ Goblins. If all of those references weren’t enough for you, the dagger throwing, and climbing may even remind Commodore fans of First Samurai (an obscure game that was also ported to the Super NES.).

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All of these elements do work well together too. Stages have elements of all of these games. But connected in ways that flow well. One may see this, and figure it would feel disjointed. And they very easily could have. But fortunately, everything was well researched by the level designers in this regard. Moreover, many of the stages have branching paths. So it gives the game a little bit of replay value, as you can opt to take different routes on a second play through.

Also great is the inclusion of two-player arcade co-operative play. You can also opt to play either a story mode, or an arcade mode. Both of these are basically the same game, but the arcade mode reduces the story bits, and the mandatory side quest stages that I’ll get to later. Quite honestly, there are a lot of things to like in Insanity’s Blade.

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As you may already know, Insanity’s Blade is an action platformer. So again, you’ll be going through stages in the vein of early Castlevania titles. Expect pixel-perfect jumping. Floating heads. Spiked walls. Pits. The most brutal retro Konami stuff. There’s even some Mode 7 like effects that take you right back to Super Castlevania IV. But as I said earlier, there are plenty of other games it takes inspiration from. You’ll have the same movement speed, and jumping arcs of Rastan. You’ll start out the game with a mere punch, the ability to grab enemies, and a jump button. But you’ll find over the course of the game, you’ll get to shoot knives.  Think Shinobi.  (For an interesting twist, these can be disabled in the options menu.). Blowing up enemies drops coins, and money bags seen in Ghosts N’ Goblins as I said before. Pick up all of the money you find because hidden in every level is a shop castle that rises from the ground. These shops have weapon, and health upgrades in them. You’ll want them because like Magician Lord, the better the firepower, the longer you’ll live. The thing to remember is once you go inside them, they won’t come up again until you lose the level, and have to start over. So don’t go in them until you’re sure you have enough gold to afford what you want.

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Beyond the shop weapons, are weapons you’ll get on your quest. There’s a couple of swords, a Castlevania whip, among others. These are usually dropped by bosses, and tie into the game’s storyline. Bosses are another point in the game where I was reminded of First Samurai. Because like that game’s bosses, these are large, weird, and take a ton of punishment. Of course they also continue the look of all of those mentioned 8-bit, and 16-bit era console, arcade, and home computer games.

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The storyline is a bit simplistic, but works for the game fine. You play a character named Thurstan whose family is killed in an attack on his village. So he goes on a revenge mission looking to kill off the hordes of monsters responsible. He’s joined by a dwarf named Finn who gets roped into the adventure. Things get a bit weirder when they happen upon a sorceress, but I won’t spoil the story for those who haven’t played yet. It does what it needs to do, and according to the developer, was adapted from a graphic novel. Between the cinema screens, and labels you’ll be greeted with a map where you can choose either the next stage, or a side mission. Side missions usually have boss fights you need to do as they give you items required to complete the game. Other times you’ll face a gauntlet of enemies, or rescue some NPCs. The game also throws in a classic shoot ’em up stage near the end of the 16 stage adventure. There are plenty of things on hand for those who loved all of its influences.

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Playing through Insanity’s Blade though, you’ll find there really is a great game trying to break free of some small problems. Which is a shame because what is great, truly is great. The problems are two-fold. On my system which isn’t the latest, and greatest but is still well above the system requirements I ran into slowdown. This is the biggest issue. The game will randomly become jittery, and sluggish before going back to normal. It doesn’t make things unplayable, as the slowdowns are but a hiccup in the grand scheme of things. But when they happen during a tricky jump, or a trap you’re trying to avoid it can be very annoying. The game also doesn’t have an option to turn Vsync on or off.

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The second problem I ran into were a number of graphical bugs, where a background tile appeared where a foreground tile should have been. Also, as great as the visuals are some characters blend in with the backgrounds, and you won’t see them until after you’ve taken damage. This especially sucks when it happens by a pit, or other trap, and the knock back pushes you into said pit or other trap. I also had a couple of random crashes to the desktop. Again, nothing common enough to make the game unplayable, but still enough to grate.

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Be that as it may, I still had a good time playing through Insanity’s Blade. It’s now been out a while so I don’t see the hitches being resolved. But hopefully their upcoming Battle Princess Madelyn avoids these problems as the new game seems to have the same vivid pixel art style, and action platforming in mind. I also forgot to mention Insanity Blade’s soundtrack which has both an 8, and 16-bit option for its chip tunes. It’s pretty solid, and while it doesn’t reach the lofty heights of the NES Castlevania Trilogy, it does go along with its action fairly well. There are also a number of secrets hidden throughout the game, so it does give you another reason to go back, and replay it from time to time.  It’s a fun game. It’s just got a couple of quirks that keep it from being as memorable as the titles that inspired it.

Final Score: 7 out of 10

Kero Blaster Review

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I had a birthday a couple of weeks ago. It was an inconvenient time to hang out or grab a few beers with anyone. I was working, everyone I know was busy with their own work, and life stuff going on. Plus as you get older birthdays tend to become less, and less of a big deal anyway. But one of my friends from an old job was kind enough to send me a couple of games on Steam anyhow. One of these was Kero Blaster.

PROS: Great music, pixel art, and mechanics.

CONS: Minor technical hitches.

MASH UPS: It feels both very NES, and C64. That’s a winning combination.

I’d never heard of Kero Blaster. Despite the fact that it’s made by the creator of Cave Story. The little Steam tile didn’t look so hot when I opened my email. But I installed it, and after a title screen crash, the game started working properly. Fortunately, once I got my Steam Controller working I was pleasantly surprised. Kero Blaster does an ingenious thing by showing you controls right on the Title Screen. You have to clear the little blobs off of the screen, and you then answer a phone to start the game.

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From here you choose the save file you want to load, and the game starts. Upon playing for the first time, you’ll see a cut scene where a cat calls you into the office to bark at you. After the reprimand you go to an elevator where two scientist cats send you on missions. As you play through the game, you’ll get more cut scenes between stages that explain more of the storyline.

Honestly, the storyline is pretty good. It doesn’t make much sense at first, but over time the pieces are filled in, and you’ll find it’s quite funny. You play a frog who works at a company called the Cat, and Frog Company. Where the owner, a cat, progressively gets less, and less healthy looking. There is a bunch of workplace humor peppered in there over the game’s several missions. There aren’t too many games that make me legitimately laugh out loud. But this game has its moments. I think fans of comedic anime, and manga will laugh a few times playing this as well.

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Once the initial cut scene ends, you’re sent off on your action platform adventuring. The game seems to take influences from games that made the NES, and Commodore 64 platforms famous. Kero Blaster’s jumping mechanics remind me very much of Turrican. Jumping has a similar slow, yet precise feel to it. Also like Turrican, is the jet pack you’ll eventually get, allowing you to do double jumps to get to higher ledges. However the stages themselves are structured more like the ones in a lauded NES action game. Some stages have a Mega Man feel, others seem like something out of Castlevania. On paper, these are three series that have little in common. Yet the elements of each that were borrowed, and tweaked work really well together.

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Much like Mega Man, and Turrican, you’ll be doing a lot of shooting. Killing low-level enemies, medium enemies, and then fighting a giant boss monster at the end of every stage. Boss fights usually result in you finding a new weapon to use. Each of these is handy in specific situations, but they can all be used on the overwhelming majority of enemies. Unlike the Mega Man games, you play the game in a linear fashion, and there’s no real boss order as a result. But the boss fights do involve looking for patterns to mitigate damage taken. Again, it hearkens back to many C64, NES, and SMS games. Like a lot of other platformers out there, there are mid level shops in every level. Here you can spend coins dropped by defeated enemies. Doing so lets you level up your weapons, health meter, and buy help items. Kero Blaster has a pretty high level of challenge. But to make things a bit easier you get to keep your upgrades when you run out of lives. You also have unlimited continues, so if you persevere, you can eventually beat the campaign. When you do finish it, you’ll unlock a hard mode. So if you’re the type who loves old school difficulty, there’s something more for you to shoot for.

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The game has a wonderful aesthetic, that again, reminds me of Commodore 64 platformers. It’s displayed in a letterbox aspect ratio, with a limited color palette. Sprites are large, and backgrounds feature some nice detailing. I also really love the character designs in this game. There is a lot of variety in the enemy types here. Some are hilarious references to other games like crabs that behave like the Sidesteppers in Mario Bros. Then there are the aforementioned blob creatures which begin showing up in a number of ways. There are even Mega Man X style mid bosses here. While the graphics remind me of the C64, the audio very clearly hearkens back memories of NES soundtracks. The NES APU had a pretty distinct sound, and Kero Blaster does a pretty good job emulating it. Many indie games do so as well, but the compositions here are what set it apart from the pack. Many of the songs in this game are on par with those in titles like Shovel Knight. They are quite honestly that good. Very addictive, catchy songs that fit the action nicely. In addition to those though, there are some lilting, atmospheric chip tunes for accompanying environments too.

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That isn’t to say I didn’t have any issues with Kero Blaster. The .exe randomly crashes on my set up. Rarely when I’m playing the game, it usually happens when launching or exiting. Still, it has been often enough that it’s worth bringing up. Playing the PC version I have no idea if this is the case on IOS, or PlayStation 4. But at least on PC, expect to see a crash to the desktop once in a while.

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The default button layout is also not ideal. I was constantly pulling up the menu when I didn’t want to, or pressing shoot, when I meant to press jump. Fortunately the game does let you remap buttons on your controller, and keyboard. So you’ll certainly want to do that. Once you’ve done that, there isn’t much to complain about. Of course, some may be fine with the default controls. This may be different on the other releases too, as I have not played either of those versions.

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There are also a couple of areas I felt the collision detection could have been just a tiny bit better, as certain projectiles wouldn’t seem to hit the character, and would still net damage. It never felt the game was too hampered by this, but you may feel some of your deaths are cheap. These moments were rare in my play through, but still felt annoying when they did occur.

Finally, the game does not allow you to move your character’s stance while firing. If you’re walking right, mowing down waves of baddies, and suddenly get attacked from above you have to stop firing, then aim up, and begin firing. Again, not something that breaks the game, but if you don’t know this going in, you’re going to be upset.

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Ultimately though, I really do recommend this one. It isn’t drawn out with padding, nor is it something you’ll likely blow through in an hour. At least not on the first play through for most. The problems it does have aren’t so bad that they make things feel unplayable. It has likable characters, a fun story, and some genuinely good stage design. It’s a fun to play action platformer for your computer, IOS device, or PS4. And you get to torch monsters with a flamethrower as a frog. Slippy wishes he could be even one tenth of that level of bad ass.

Final Score: 8 out of 10

Rivals Of Aether Review

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Super Smash Bros. It’s arguably one of the most popular Nintendo franchises. Some may even say the most popular Nintendo franchise. From the original Nintendo 64 game all the way up to the Wii U iteration, it’s an iconic game. But fans will constantly debate what version is best. A passionate group of Smash fans would tell you it is the Gamecube version. And whether you agree with that or not, you have to admire that level of dedication. Not only have they gotten it recognition in the fighting game community as a competitive game, they’ve gotten it featured in tournaments.

So of course it was only a matter of time before companies would try to make their own platformer fighting game hybrids. Some of them terrible, some of them just okay, and some of them pretty damn good.

PROS: Super Smash Bros. Melee pacing. Unique features. Great character designs.

CONS: Relatively small roster compared to other fighters. Not a lot of single-player stuff.

WHAT?: Is what you’ll ask confusedly upon seeing some opponents’ recoveries online.

It would be easy to dismiss Rivals Of Aether as another Smash pretender. It has a similar 4-player party fighter feel. It has the same general goal; knock everyone off of the stage, and be the last one standing. It has a cast of characters with nowhere near the recognition of Nintendo’s major IP. Some of you may even ask “Why bother playing this over any of the Super Smash Bros. games?” But before you sigh, click on a different site, and prepare to see if Mr. Game & Watch has finally made it to S-Tier thanks to a professional player’s new discovery hold on.

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Because Rivals Of Aether is actually quite good. The game may not have the high production values, marketable Nintendo mascots, and blockbuster score. But it’s probably the best of any attempt to compete with Nintendo’s formula yet. Yes. Better than Sony’s attempt. And better than Papaya’s Cartoon Network themed clone. Both of which were solid efforts.

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Right from the get go, this game makes no qualms about who it targets. If you’re one of the die-hard Super Smash Bros. Melee fans out there, Rivals Of Aether is hoping you’re going to pick it up. Assuming you haven’t already. But if you’re not, and you enjoy the Smash games, you may just enjoy this as well. This game embraces the competitive end of the Smash fandom. You’ll find no items, or power ups. Not even for simple fun. What you will find, are some really cool looking stages, and characters. All of the characters make a great first impression here. They’re fairly unique (Except for maybe Wrastor who is clearly a Falco Lombardi stand in.), and have designs that stand out.

Upon getting into a match, you’ll find it plays very much like Smash. You’ll want to be the last one standing, as I mentioned earlier. It has similar play mechanics under the hood. Directional Influence is a major part of defensive play, affecting the angle of knock back when you’re sent flying. There are tilts, specials, and meteor attacks to boot. Enthusiasts will feel right at home here.

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But it isn’t a carbon copy of Super Smash Bros. either. Rivals Of Aether makes some enhancements that make it feel different enough to justify looking into it. It adds a second set of regular attacks it calls Strong Attacks. Where the Smash games have a button for regular moves, a button for special moves, and then different attacks based upon whether or not the stick was moved simultaneously with a button press this one adds a third button. It’s a small thing, but it also means another few moves per character.

The game also has a bigger emphasis on parrying. If you can time the block button perfectly, it grants you a brief moment of reprieve by putting an opponent in stun for a second. It also brings in advanced tech techniques by timing movement just before hitting surfaces. Rivals, also puts in a wall jump technique which can be really helpful when recovering from a strong knock back.

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One thing everyone will love is the sprite work on display. The pixel art is really, really nice stuff that hearkens back to the 16-bit console era. This game oozes Super NES, and Sega Genesis in terms of motif. The chip tunes aren’t half bad either.  Every stage has its own thumping songs that fit its visual flair. Interestingly, some stages will favor certain characters. To balance this out, at least in multiplayer, players can vote on what stages to disallow for a conflict. So if you see your opponent has chosen Orcane, you can put a giant red X on his stage so he can’t make easy saves by swimming.

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The game also has a pretty robust tutorial in it. Honestly it gives the level of care, and attention some of the better Street Fighter, and Tekken tutorials have had in recent outings. If you’re a newcomer it’s honestly worth checking out, and if you’re a Super Smash veteran you should at least look at it, as it can go over some of the differences nicely for you. It covers the absolute basics, but then covers combos, cancels, and the advanced wall jumping mechanics as well.

 

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Rivals has both offline, and online matches where you can play against random players, or friends. It’s, pretty fun. It doesn’t usually lag that badly unless the opposing player is on the other side of the country or world. And even then I’ve still had some matches that were playable. Not great by any stretch, but at least I could move without having to expect to wait 30 seconds to see Zetterburn take a step. Be that as it may, I still don’t recommend veering too far outside the realm of low ping opponents.There are also tag battle modes which can be fun to play, though I suspect most will play the Free For All mode the most. I was also impressed with the character creation tools. Like the ones found in King Of Fighters XIII, and Capcom Vs. SNK 2 you can change the color palette of the characters to use as a custom appearance for yourself. So if you want to make Wrastor green, you can do so.

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Where the game falters a bit is when it comes to one player modes. Aside from the excellent tutorial, the only real thing it has is the Story mode. Here, you take each of the characters, and play through their part of the game’s lore. Like most fighting games this is told by picking a character, playing through computer opponents in a 1v1 match, until you reach the final boss. After defeating the boss, you’ll get a bit more backstory, and credits. Once you beat the game with every character though, there isn’t much left for you to do. You can take the points you earn for playing, to unlock the secret characters. But beyond that there really isn’t much else. When considering the small roster, it doesn’t translate into much single-player time. Sure, one could point to the Abyss mode where you try to exceed goals the game sets with enemies, and items to beat. But for a game that wants to tear you away from Smash, that isn’t much.

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Don’t misunderstand me though, Dan Fornace, and his small team have done a terrific job in making a Smash-like fighter. If you don’t presently have a Nintendo console, and played a lot of Super Smash Bros. in the past, Rivals of Aether is a no brainer. If you do have a Gamecube, Wii, or Wii U, and love Super Smash Bros., you still may want to give this game a shot. Because it’s going to be more of what you love. As long as what you love is playing against other people in person, or online. This game has the competitive end set. But if your favorite parts of Smash have been breaking targets, Adventure modes, and Subspace Emissaries, Rivals may feel a little bit anemic. That said, if you’re a big fan of fighting games put this one on your radar.

Final Score: 8 out of 10

100 Foot Robot Golf Review

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Not too long ago, I discovered a game called Mecarobot Golf. A Super NES game by TOHO where the primary golfer was replaced with a giant golfing robot. It’s a great simulation for its time. But I was left wondering how much more fun it could have been with multiplayer, and a roster of movie monsters, and robots. Well, it turns out late last year a company decided to answer that question.

PROS: Humor. Large Roster. (Mostly) Pick up & play mechanics.

CONS: Wonky animations. Audio clips repeat too often.

VOLTRON: The classic bot is piloted by a pack of Pembroke Welsh Corgis.

Games made as a joke don’t always have much in the way of staying power. For every Shower With Your Dad Simulator, we get 15 games like Who Wants To Beat Up A Millionaire? But considering the game’s premise, and its similarity to the Super NES Game Pak I mentioned earlier I gave it a chance. Frankly, I’m glad I did. Make no mistake, 100 Ft. Robot Golf isn’t going to make your top arcade sports game of all time lists. But it does manage to do just enough right to make for a compelling party game.

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The game has a nice amount of content. I was surprised to find that there is a full-fledged campaign included along the usual practice, and exhibition matchups. The campaign takes you through a story mode, that more or less lampoons 80’s anime. An obviously suspicious TV host decides to try to get a bunch of Robot Golf pilots to come out of retirement for a new show. But as the story unfolds, a few mysterious clues art thrown out about a cataclysmic event on the moon. Throughout the story of course, there are a ton of jokes. A lot of which is reference humor. Quite honestly you don’t need to know about or understand anime to get a lot of the humor. The game enlists the voice talents of the McEllroy Bros.  who are known for their comedic podcasts.

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Here, they usually are heard as the Sportscasters during match ups. Although they’re in a few of the cut scenes as well. The rest of the cast does a pretty good job of mocking some of the bad dubbing found in some early anime. All in all, it’s funny enough to hold your attention for a play through. Beyond that, you’ll more than likely want to mainly play multiplayer. However, there are a number of custom skins you can unlock for each of the robot golfers. The way you do this is by scoring medals in the campaign’s chapters. You can then go to medal shops during the campaign to spend them on the unlockable items. So there are incentives for going back, and replaying chapters. One of the shops also features a crossover! There is a Saints Row themed shop buried in the campaign, and even a secret guest character I won’t spoil here.

So how is the actual golfing? Well, it’s a mixed bag. While you can play the standard golf rules pretty much every other golf game follows, this is not a simulator grade game. If you’re the type who watches the sport on TV, and plays a lot of EA’s Tiger, and PGA games, you’re probably not going to come back to this much. It doesn’t have a wide variety of clubs, or weather scenarios for you. Each golfer gets a driver, a wedge, and a putter. That’s it. There are some things to be aware of though. You still take into account the wind, and there are obstacles to be aware of.

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That being said, the game is actually a lot of fun because of the lack of realism. The swinging mechanics differ for many of the robots. Some of them require timing a press on several gauges to be pixel perfect. Others have gas gauges you have to pay attention to. Others have a two pilot scenario where the gauges have to be synchronized. So in spite of the simplicity there are a few things to keep it from feeling too simple. Each robot also has a special ability they can use on the course.

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Now where the game becomes really interesting is during multiplayer. Not only can you play a traditional set of rules, you can also play custom rule games. You can play the game where the first person to get the ball in the cup wins, regardless of attempts. You don’t have to alternate turns. Players can go full on swinging whenever they want. Moreover, you can do things to screw over your friends. If they hit a nice long drive you can jump in the way of the ball, and cause it to bounce off of your robot, and into a ditch. If you’re trying to get the ball through a narrow gap between two buildings you can destroy the buildings, and then take your shot. Players can attack one another. There are all kinds of crazy, over the top, ways to play golf.

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But not everything about the game will make you smile. Visually, the game looks fairly dated, with low-detailed backgrounds, and models that could have been done on the PlayStation 2. There are some questionable physics when it comes to destroying buildings, and other scenery. The giant edifices sometimes won’t tip over, instead sliding across the map like a bar of wet soap. The low gravity moon stages, and aqua stages may anger hyper-competitive players as it becomes easy for opponents to interfere with a long drive. The most annoying thing is probably the fact that audio quips begin repeating way too soon. So while you will laugh your ass off the first time you hear them, you may just turn off the audio upon the four hundredth time.

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Be that as it may, I really enjoyed the underlying game. The campaign was an entertaining play through, and you don’t have to be any good at the game to complete it. Of course, getting better at the title will get you the medals I mentioned earlier for those unlockable items. But the real star of the show is the multiplayer. This game is a wonderful option for game night, as it supports split-screen gaming on your TV. It also supports matches over the internet, though even that is going to be something you’ll want to do with friends. There doesn’t seem to be a large pool of random competitors playing regularly.

 

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Still, if you’re looking for something different to play when friends or relatives come over you’ll all have a pretty fun time. It isn’t going to outdo more serious sims for golf enthusiasts. But if you grew up with Voltron, or Gundam, and regularly marathon shows produced by Seth MacFarlane, you’ll probably really enjoy 100 Foot Robot Golf.

Final Score: 7 out of 10

Freedom Planet Review

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Sonic The Hedgehog. He’s seen a number of ups, and downs over the years. The consensus seems to be his earliest adventures on the Sega Genesis, Sega CD, Sega Master System, and Game Gear were his greatest glory days. Fast, frantic, platforming action that involved any number of paths to victory. But after the Dreamcast faded into obscurity Sonic went in all kinds of directions. Many of them terrible. A few of them average, and a few that were pretty good. But I’m not here to talk about Sonic this time.

PROS: Really amazing pixel art, chip tunes, and the game play you remember.

CONS: The shortcomings you remember. Padding.

BIKES: If running fast isn’t enough you can speed around like Chris Pine in Star Trek.

When Sonic The Hedgehog was released it was only a matter of time before the imitators would come about. People dump on Bubsy, but that game was far from the worst clone. Awesome Possum, Aero The Acrobat, even The Road Runner had a Sonic inspired game. So with so many others that didn’t hit the mark, what makes this game stand out in the sea of Sonic contenders?

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For starters, Freedom Planet absolutely nails the feeling of Sonic The Hedgehog. The physics, the sense of speed, all of it. If you’re a big Sonic fan who longs for a return to the 16-bit glory days of yesteryear, buy it. I could end it there. I’m serious. This is bar none, one of the best Sonic clones you can get. But there are a lot of things that set it apart from its biggest inspiration.

Freedom Planet has a deeper, darker, storyline than the Sonic games. Most of the Sonic games feature Dr. Robotnik/Eggman imprisoning animals, stealing emeralds, and holding the world hostage. Freedom Planet instead involves a much more detailed plot. It opens up with a King being killed by a despot in cold blood in front of his son. Who is then taken hostage, and forced to fight for the despot. It wasn’t something I was expecting going into this. But it got my attention for sure.  From there you discover that there is an all-powerful stone that three kingdoms on the planet safeguard, and of course the despot wants it for himself.

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From here the game opens up, and you can choose to play either an adventure mode or a standard mode. Playing the adventure mode, will let you experience cut scenes, and the stages are played in different orders depending on which of the three characters you choose. Going with the standard mode eschews the cut scenes, and you play every stage in order. Like a traditional platformer from the era the game pays homage to.

The interesting thing with the adventure mode is that you’ll get a slightly different experience each time you play through it. That’s because the game is played through the eyes of each character. The three characters are: Carol, a green wild cat. Lilac, a purple dragon, and Milla (an unlockable character), a dog. Each of the characters has their own attacks, and abilities making each play through a little bit different. Carol has some speedy punches, and kicks. She can also ride a motorcycle if you find gas can power ups. Lilac has a useful double jump. Milla has a shield, and can throw cubes.

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Once you start playing though you will immediately be reminded of Sega’s most popular mascot platformer. The same sense of speed. The same loops, twirls, and crazy tracks fill the game’s 14 stages. With all of the collectibles, 1-Ups, power ups, and health items in each of them you can opt to try to find everything, or you can try to clear everything as fast as possible. I know I’ve waxed on about how many Sonic influences there are, but the game also has a surprising number of similarities to Capcom’s Mega Man X series too. This becomes apparent in the game’s combat, and enemy designs. Instead of jumping on bad guys to defeat them, you’ll punch, kick, or hit them several times to take them out. Freedom Planet is also a big fan of putting in multipart stages, and mini-bosses. Some of these are really imposing, and lead you to believe you’re at the end of a stage. Only to discover you still have a way to go.

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Boss fights themselves are grandiose in Freedom Planet. These moments feel more like playing an arcade beat ’em up than they do a platformer. Although you’ll discover they have attack patterns, again in the vein of a Mega Man X title. But some of these, especially toward the end of the game can be really impressive in both challenge, and visual flair.

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Freedom Planet also has the courtesy to grant players four different difficulty levels. If you’re absolutely horrible at this sort of platformer, or even platformers in general the Casual setting is for you. It is nearly impossible to lose a life if you’re even remotely good at these kinds of games. But from there you have Easy, Medium, and Hard difficulty settings. With the latter going very much into the “Get good!” end of things. Aesthetically, everything in the game is beautiful. Galaxy Trail’s pixel artists should be commended for just how well they’ve recreated the look of games of the early 90’s. As you play through this one, you’ll be constantly reminded of those days on the Genesis, and Super NES. It really is a beautiful game to look at. The soundtrack is just as good, going for the twinge lo-fi synth of the Sega Genesis, and early computer sound cards like the AdLib. The tunes themselves are filled with hooks, and melodies you’ll want to hum along to. If you want a game that will satisfy your nostalgia, while giving you something new, this fits the bill.

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There are also some other small galleries you can visit when not playing the main game. Throughout the main game are cards you can find, and these will unlock sound files, songs from the soundtrack, and concept art in these galleries. Not something that the average player might get into. But for players who become big fans of the story, characters, and lore, it gives an incentive to replay the game a few times.

Of course, I did have a few minor complaints with this one that may be bigger concerns for someone else. First off, because it adheres so closely to many of Sonic The Hedgehog’s rules it has some of the annoyances. There are times you’ll have to make blind jumps, only to land on an enemy or a hazard. This can lead to some moments of trial, and error. While not a major problem that ruins the game, Some might feel it detracts from an otherwise enjoyable experience.

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Another issue is near the end of the game there is a shoot ’em up stage, and it doesn’t feel up to the same standard as the rest of the game. The bigger issue is there is no checkpoint after completing it. It is considered a part of the following stage, which is a pretty long one. So if you run out of lives, shut off the game, and come back to it later you’ll have to play the entire shmup part again. So unfortunately, instead of feeling like some variety, it ends up feeling like padding. Again, not a problem that makes the game unplayable by any means. But it really could have used a checkpoint at the end.

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Overall though, Freedom Planet is a wonderful platformer. It feels like an homage to Sonic, and Mega Man X while also being unique enough to stand on its own. It has some of those mechanics, but it adds enough of its own original ideas, and tweaks thus avoiding becoming a forgettable wannabe. In fact, the game did well enough when it launched three years ago that a sequel is around the corner. So whether you play it on the Wii U, PC, or the recent release on the PS4 you won’t regret it.

Final Score: 8 out of 10

Shower With Your Dad Simulator 2015 Review

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“What?” “Really?” I can hear you ask. “What the hell is this?” asks another. True, this is an absolutely bizarre game, with a premise that can easily be misconstrued. But, things aren’t always what they seem. If you open this book, you’ll find the cover doesn’t give you nearly enough information to come to a conclusion. This pool is both shallow, and deep.

PROS: A surprisingly deep puzzle game, with a load of content. Dark comedy.

CONS: Premise will make some uncomfortable. Dark comedy.

MULTI-TRICK PONY: This could have easily been a one-joke distraction. But it isn’t.

Shower With Your Dad Simulator 2015 came out two years ago, and instantly got under the skin of many. The theme of the game, really is just centered around bathing. But with no other information upon the release, people were put off. It’s easy to see why. But, this game manages to skirt by with its shock value, and dark humor.

Oddly enough, that’s because the game delivers much more than that. It’s shocking yes. It wears its absurdity on its sleeve like a badge of pride. But once you get over the hurdle of actually installing it, and booting it, there’s a solid, fun game to be found underneath the joke. And throughout that game, it throws in a lot more humor. And just when you think it’s about to beat a dead horse, it rides in with an entirely new horse, making jokes that have nothing to do with communal showers.

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The base game mode is a match-up puzzle game. You start out by choosing one of three Father, and Son duos. The game begins, and as the son, you have to find your father before the time runs out. If you can do that, you’ll add more time to the clock, and do it again. This cycle repeats until you mess up, and choose the wrong parent. Basically, you’re shooting for a high score. But it doesn’t end there. As you do better, new things are added to the game. You’ll find bars of soap that double your score. Other power-ups are unlocked as you improve. There’s a razor that shaves the fathers’ heads. There’s a pair of water wings, that don’t do much of anything. You can even find giant mugs of craft beer, that make the game harder as they affect your movement.

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Beyond these power-ups, the game begins to throw in obstacles to mess you up. Wet floor signs, you can bruise your legs on. Which will slow you down for a few seconds. Water puddles that make you slip, and slide randomly if you touch them. Often into the wrong dad, and getting you a Game Over screen. Persevering only makes the game do more to thwart your attempt at a high score. Putting curtains over the fathers after a split-second so you may potentially guess wrong. Adding more fathers that look similar to the one you’re supposed to meet up with, so you’ll pick the doppelgänger instead, and lose.

The second mode is a variant where each time you meet up with your dad, you’re given the role of a different child. This makes the game even harder. There’s a third mode where the dads fall from the top of the screen, and you have to grab the correct father based on the child you’re cast as. In this mode you use the mouse to stretch your hand out, and move with the arrow keys.

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But the game doesn’t end with these solid puzzle games. Shower With Your Dad Simulator 2015, has a bunch of hidden mini games you’ll unlock over the course of your play time. Some of these are even weirder than the base game. One of them is a gritty, film-noir themed point, and click adventure game. The story centering on a broken shower in a police station. This one even finds time to make jokes about the genre in addition to the shower, and bathing puns. Another one has you going up against a ninja, and his five sons, while another mini game is a shmup, where you pilot a bathtub. The latter of which involves shooting down other tubs, while trying to fly your own tub in the style of Flappy Bird.

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For a budget title, built around a joke, the game has a lot of effort thrown in. The simple graphic style still incorporates a lot of small details. Streaks on the floor when you hit one of the puddles. Wet floor signs, falling over when you bump into them. The visual effects when you get a power-up. This even goes on when going into one of the unlockable mini games, or even the Commodore 64 lampoon when booting the game. The music in it isn’t too bad either.

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Sometimes something comes along so weird, so strange it has to be seen to be believed. It’s even rarer when that thing, has good gameplay underneath all of that mystifying oddity. Shower With Your Dad Simulator 2015 is one of those things. If you can get around the absurdity of it all, you’ll have a fun time with it. It isn’t very long, but it is fun in short bursts, and those short bursts can add up quickly.

Final Score: 8 out of 10

Retro World Expo 2016 Recap

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Last year’s inaugural Retro World Expo was a rousing success. It gave fans in New England a chance to meet YouTube celebrities, gorge on classic gaming, and mingle with thousands of fans. Not to mention the droves of exhibitors who showed up to sell their products. It was a great time last year.

Well, that success translated into an even better convention this year. This time the event took the course of a weekend, rather than one single day. Again, there were some great guests. Returning from last year, were  many of Retroware’s finest. Creators Lance Cortez, and John Delia were back, along with”Pixel” Dan Eardley, The Gaming Historian (Norman Caruso), and The Game Chasers. But joining them were Pat “The NES Punk” Conti,  the creators of Stop Skeletons From Fighting, and Mortal Kombat’s own Daniel Pesina.  Josh Tsui also made an appearance. He was one of Midway’s Mortal Kombat 4 designers. These days he heads up Robomodo, a small developer known for mobile. But they’ve also done some of the later Tony Hawk games.

But there were even more guests! Nick Mueeler, and Ste Kulou were there. They began HD Retrovision, a company known for component cables for old systems. They returned this year with Robert Neal of RetroRGB fame. They were there educating fans on signal types, cable types, the differences between them, and performance.

Wood Hawker was back again too. You may know him from his show The Game Quest where he travels the world hunting for games. He’s even done a number of crossovers with some of the biggest names on YouTube.

Antoine Clerc Renaud also made an appearance this year. He wrote much of the Complete History of Coleco, a book about the company behind the Colecovision. As well as the Adam, and several memorable toy lines.

Eric Lappe of The Video Game Years fame was also there, as well as cover sensation Banjo Guy Ollie! Rounding things out were RF Generation who have a database archive site where you can pull up information about games for a vast variety of platforms. They also do a solid podcast.

Beyond the guests were a host of bands who played shows throughout the two days in the arcade area. Epic Game Music was the most popular, but Lame Genie, The World Is Square, and You Bred Raptors were also heard during the convention. All of the bands absolutely crushed it, gracing the arcade with driving blends of hard rock, and (in the case of TWIS) folk. On the main show floor, Radlib was playing throughout both days.

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The arcade was bursting with classics this year. Centipede, Missile Command, Asteroids Deluxe, Crystal Castles, and The Star Wars Arcade game were on hand representing classic Atari. Representing Nintendo’s arcade heyday were Donkey Kong, Donkey Kong Jr., and Popeye. Sega classics were there too. Turbo Outrun, After Burner, Thunder Blade, and Shinobi. There were a lot more games on hand beyond even those! Taito’s Jungle King/Hunt. Konami’s Gyruss, and Frogger. Capcom’s Final Fight, Street Fighter II CE, Street Fighter Alpha 3, Knights Of The Round, and Ghouls N’ Ghosts. Still need more? On the Midway/Williams front NARC, Mortal Kombat II, Mortal Kombat III, and Mortal Kombat IV could be seen. Namco’s Ms. Pac-Man was also on free play.

The arcade also had a pretty decent selection of Pinball machines. I couldn’t get them all listed, but the Nightmare On Elm Street machine was especially fun to play. Even though I’m terrible at pinball, I had fun failing miserably. Thanks in part to the great sound effects, challenging design, and fantastic aesthetic.

The console game room also returned, though this time it was given a different area, rather than share the floor space of the arcade with the cabinets. Again, there were a lot of great classic systems set up. Nintendo, Super Nintendo, Sega Genesis,  Atari Jaguar, and other old systems were prevalent. Although I didn’t see as many pre NES game consoles this year. A little disappointing for old timers like me, but the plethora of vintage arcade machines more than made up for it.

The console area also had a lot of tournaments run by Game Haven, which is this really cool LAN center in Norwalk, CT. They let you go in with friends, and rent time on computers, and consoles for tournaments, practice, or just to play for fun with friends in a local environment. So having them run the tournament ladders seemed like a good fit. There were tournaments for NHL ’94, and NBA Jam on the Genesis. A Mortal Kombat II tournament, and Super Street Fighter II tournament on the Super NES. For the competitive wrestling fan, there was also a WWF No Mercy tournament on the Nintendo 64. There was even a bonus challenge centered around the infamous E.T. The Extra Terrestrial for the Atari 2600.

Plus on top of all of these, was a Super Smash Bros. 4 tournament, which drew quite the following at the show. This one was hosted by Legacy Tournaments which specializes in regional Smash Tournaments.

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Of course there were also countless returning vendors. But among them were a couple of indie developers showing off some of their upcoming games. The first of these was a company called Giant Evil Robot. They were showing off a game called Mecha-Tokyo Rush. The version at the show was a nearly final version in a demo mode. Mecha-Tokyo Rush is an endless runner. But to set it apart from the plethora of other endless runners on the market, it implements elements of the Mega Man games. So you’ll be able to select stages, earn items from boss fights, and blast robots. But, being an endless runner you never bother with moving. The game just moves along, and you time your jumps accordingly. But you’ll do so while shooting . Visually, the version at the show didn’t look half bad. It had a decent 16-bit look to it. The full game will let players choose different characters, and items. The keys on the demo laptop weren’t ideal so I asked the representative if it would allow players to use a game pad, and I was told they may add functionality down the line. At launch it won’t. The game will be a F2P game with things you can unlock with game credit. I wasn’t given any specifics about it. The game does look a cut above some other F2P stuff you may have tried, so hopefully the final game turns out well.

The other developer booth was interesting because it was both about a documentary, and an upcoming game. The New 8-Bit Heroes is the documentary. It follows the designer of a new game called Mystic Searches, and the progress of developing the game. That designer’s name is Joe Granato. He found old design documents he made as a kid, and decided to make his childhood dream game. But here’s where things get really engrossing. The game was made to run on an NES. The NES like a lot of platforms in the 1980’s ran on a MOS 6502 processor, or variant. The Atari 2600, NES, Commodore 64, and many other platforms used it. Back then, most programs were written in assembly language, and translated into machine language. Which meant they had to be written in a language like PASCAL  or a complicated Hex system, and pretty much everything had to be coded in. Even the graphics, and sound.

These days, most games run on an engine. Many games share one. Unreal Engine, Unity, and others are used by countless games, which lessens some of the workload as an engine does a lot of background work freeing up programmers, artists, etc. to focus on other things. That’s probably an oversimplification on my part, but the point is, this makes things easier.

Anyway, during the course of making Mystic Searches, the designers quickly realized how long writing a game in  6502 assembly language was going to take. So they wrote their own Graphic User Interfaces for things. Things like placing graphics tiles. Things like attributing properties to objects. Eventually, they had enough GUIs made that they essentially built their own game engine!

So they’re going to be launching a Kickstarter for the engine. Not only will it let end users build a game with the included assets, but advanced users can import their own sprites, music, and content. It’s simple enough that an average person can make something on their own. But deep enough that aspiring developers can make something very involved. The hope is that the final revision will let people do different genres. RPGs, Shmups, Platformers, and more. But the most exciting part of all of this is that the program will allow end users to flash their games to an actual NES Game Pak!

They had a working prototype set up at the convention so that show goers could check it out for themselves. After trying it out, I was very impressed with what I was shown. I grew up typing game programs out of magazines in BASIC, or into Hex address compilers. Suffice it to say, I was pretty terrible at it. Even though technically all of the work (aside from hours typing it in) was already done for the reader.Plus playing a game, is more fun than typing in a game. But here, the tools, while still requiring a bit of learning, and experimenting, were still understandable. You don’t need to know how to code anything in order to use it. It reminded me a lot of using map editors for the original DOOM. Or games like the Shoot ’em up Construction Kit.

I asked a few questions during my time with it, and got a few details in the answers. I asked if there were any plans to have a business level license for other developers, and was told there really wouldn’t be. Anyone can pretty much buy the utility, and do what they want. The license does say however, that anyone who wants to sell a game they make with the utility cannot use any of the utility’s assets. Meaning they have to draw all their own sprites, background art, etc., as well as write their own music. The reason being that the utility was used to make Mystic Searches, and as such the assets are intrinsically tied to that IP.

But they want as many developers, and hobbyists as possible to use the product. So they aren’t looking to have the typical Business, and Consumer licenses many other software utilities do.

I asked if there was a way to import one’s own content, or even piggyback their own code onto the utility, and was told one can definitely do it. They really want the product to be as open as possible while keeping things simplified for beginners.

Another person asked about pricing. Nothing is set in stone, so they didn’t have a finalized price at the time of the show, but they were shooting for a sub $100 mark. This would give the customer the hardware to make their NES Game Pak when they were ready. They also said they may have one SKU for just the software utility, and a separate one for the hardware. They added, that there would be a list of suppliers for the hardware so that if one doesn’t want to buy it all from the developer, they can get the hardware elsewhere if they wanted to. Mystic Searches is shooting for a holiday release, while the utility release isn’t as concrete.

I asked about any plans for retailers, and was told they were discussing ways to possibly have a program with small businesses to print future games on demand. This could take some risk away as a small store wouldn’t have to buy a case of copies of Mystic Searches or future titles. Instead the store could print as few or as many as they needed. This would be an entirely different venture than the utility they were showing off however.

If the final products turn out as well as what I saw during the show, the homebrew community is going to be very pleased. Mystic Searches is looking to be a really good send up of games like The Legend Of Zelda, Ys I+II, and Crystalis. It’s also coming out in three different Game Pak casings. A standard gray color for $40. A black color with custom artwork by Morgan Davidson will set you back $64. Finally, there’s the limited edition wood grain version, which brings a hint of Atari 2600 heavy sixer to the Nintendo Entertainment System. This one is an expensive $128 as it is hand carved. Aside from the special cartridges it seems about in line with what most other homebrew games cost.

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There were a lot of panels this year, and I managed to get into three of them. The first of which was The Gaming Historian panel with Norman Caruso. This year, he did a live entry into The Gaming Historian series where he talked about the making of the infamous Super Mario Bros. movie. He went over many things that happened behind the scenes. Tension between the cast, and the directors. The constant rewrites to the script, some of which even happened during filming, and of course Nintendo’s involvement in the film.

After the history lesson, Norman took volunteers for another game of Video Game History Jeopardy. This year I was actually selected as a contestant! Competition was stiff though, as both of my opponents were very keen. One of them could have been a professor when it came to Sonic The Hedgehog which was one of the categories. After a very exciting game came the final Jeopardy question that nobody got right. But luck shined on me when it turned out my two opponents put everything on the line, and I had put all but one dollar on the line. I suppose watching a lot of Jeopardy as a kid paid off.

After the Jeopardy game, Norman took a quick Q & A session. One of the questions that stood out was when a fan asked what had happened to The Nintendo buyout of the Mariners episode of The Gaming Historian. Apparently it wasn’t Nintendo that had tied things up. It was the MLB. But not all hope for the episode is lost, both parties are trying to work things out.

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The second panel I managed to get into was Pixel Dan’s panel. Dan is the proprietor of a YouTube channel where he reviews toys. He also goes to toy shows all around the country, and interviews toy designers, and toy company representatives about upcoming toys. In the panel he talked about some of the more esoteric toy lines of the 80’s, and 90’s. Some of the stand outs were Food Fighters, a line where food items take the roles of opposing armies. He also brought up the Rock Lords line, a subset of the Go Bots line where robot warriors turned into rocks as opposed to vehicles. He also gave overviews to Army Ants, a line of army themed ant figurines  and Computer Warriors. This was an interesting if failed line of toys that transformed ordinary household items into secret military installations, and vehicles.

Rounding things out were the Stone Protectors, a line that combined the action of Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles, with the classic wishing troll dolls. The end product was a group of Troll superheroes who fought aliens. The toys also had flintlock embedded in them so that when you used their action feature you could see sparks light up the gems in their chests!

It was a nostalgic look back at a time when toy companies were a lot more willing to take chances. A time when people designing toys had a lot more creative, and artistic freedom. These days companies are more risk averse since they no longer only have to compete with each other, but with game, and tech companies too. This results in a large reliance on licensed IPs like movies.

After looking at some great toy lines, Dan brought in Norman Caruso to show off the premier episode of From Plastic To Pixels. It’s a new project the two are working on, highlighting video games that have been based on toys. The first episode showcases the M.U.S.C.L.E. NES game.  They mentioned some of the games in future episodes, but you’ll have to watch the show to see what they are.

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The third panel I attended on Saturday was Pat Contri’s. Pat talked a bit about his new book,  Ultimate Nintendo: Guide To The NES Library 1985 – 1995.  In it, you’ll find every commercially produced game ever made for the console. Pat has painstakingly collected, and rated each title as well as given a rarity rating to each title. The titles don’t just end with the games Nintendo licensed. He included unlicensed games, and even the European PAL territory exclusives.

I asked him how long it took to make, because the production values ate amazing. He said it took him three years to do, and it had an impact on his primary projects like Pat The NES Punk episodes. Another person in attendance asked him if he would be doing a Super Nintendo guide. He didn’t rule it out entirely, but it isn’t anything pending right now. He did reveal however that there is a companion app being made for smart phones. The app will have the information in the book, as well as ties to online price guides.

At the end of the panel Pat selected fans to take the Pat The NES Punk challenge. There were three sets of fans put in one on one match ups. My friend Jordan managed to get into the first challenge, where he played Sky Kid against an opponent. There was an issue with the second controller though so instead the challenge was changed to Ghosts N’ Goblins. Whoever got the furthest on one life would be the victor. Jordan won this handily by getting to the first boss.

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The second challenge was a Vs. Excitebike matchup on the Famicom Disk System. The players in this round kept pace with one another going back, and forth a lot in a one lap race. The final challenge was an entertaining bout of two player Donkey Kong Jr. Math. The winners each received a digital version of Pat’s new book, and the losers won a bad game to rip on.

At the end of the first day there was also an auction for some really cool gaming items. A few of the arcade cabinets in the arcade were up for auction. After these were auctioned off, things moved into the panel room, and continued. Some of the items that went for huge money included old storefront Nintendo, Sega, and Sony neon signs. Some of these went for several hundred dollars. The first three Mega Man games were  sold, as well as the very rare Flintstones Surprise At Dino Peak NES Game Pak. This game went for $750, which is actually a little bit lower than the current average online price. I was really excited to see a boxed Commodore 128, and 1571 disk drive. Unfortunately, I couldn’t afford to be the winner of said computer. But it was great getting to see one  in such great condition. The winner also won an auction for the Coleco Adam computer.

After that was a karaoke session in the arcade room to close out the day.

Sunday, there were a few other panels including one with the Game Chasers. I unfortunately was unable to make it back in time for that panel. But I was surprised to see pro wrestling legend Tony Atlas walking the floor! He was very cordial, and was willing to make a second attempt at taking a photo when I had an issue with my camera. I bought a signed print from him. Really awesome experience.

I got the opportunity to talk to Pixel Dan, Norman Caruso, and Pat Contri over the course of the show as well. All of them were very kind, and very cool. If you haven’t seen any of their material definitely check it out. They’re very good at what they do. I also picked up Pat’s book, and I can say it is worth every penny. As I said earlier, it is a very impressive guide for anybody who likes to go back, and play or collect NES games.

Speaking of picking things up, there were a lot of excellent vendors at the show this year. Two Nerds returned from last year, selling some awesome screen printed glassware. Last year I’d gotten a great Samus Aran beer stein, which I use all of the time. I introduced one of my friends to their rep, and he immediately bought a Jack Skellington themed glass for his many servings of Pepsi.

Of course, Retro Games Plus was back, and if you’re ever in Connecticut it is always worth visiting their store for old games. They have some of the best selection, and pricing in the area. Level 01 was also present again, as well as one of the area Game Xchange  franchisees. These are also pretty good places to go hunting. Another area small business called 1UP was there as well. Which I can also recommend. It’s run by a husband, and wife duo who try to get out to as many conventions as possible. I’ve gotten things from them before, and it has always been in great condition.

But there were also a TON of new vendors this time around with a lot of great stuff. Some of which has generally been impossible for me to find locally. I was pleasantly surprised to find many of them had a great assortment of Atari 2600, Colecovision, Intellivision, and other platforms from the early days many of us grew up in.  My buddy Chris Trentham was there with a booth of his own. I got some nice deals on some Commodore 64 cartridges, as well as a copy of the scarce Frogger II for the Atari 2600.

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From one of the vendors (I feel bad that I can’t remember every one of them) I managed to snag a copy of Tac-Scan, and Jr. Pac-Man for my Atari 2600 collection, and I also found a great deal on the VCS version of Congo Bongo from of all vendors, a graphic design vendor called  DSquared. One of their artists, Doug Chapel was selling some Atari cartridges in addition to his artwork. We talked about VCS collecting, VCS homebrew for a few minutes. He does some nice stuff. If you need some custom art give their site a look.

While on the subject of art, there were a lot of artists among the vendors this year as well. Some of the other standouts were Justm3hStudios, an artist who does a lot of custom buttons, and sketches. A guy named Chris Vales was doing some impressive Overwatch themed work, and Tom Ryan Studios was there. I saw him previously at ConnectiCon. Another fantastic art duo you might want to check out is  East Of Haven. They had some terrific pencil work on display, and were doing commissions.

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Russ Lyman was on the floor getting some footage for his always fun, YouTube channel, and he may have received a few surprise cameos for an upcoming video. I also spent some time talking about games far worse than E.T.  with the terrific guys from RF Generation. Stuff like the Data Design Interactive stuff on the Wii for instance.

Sadly, I didn’t get to see or do everything. There was so much this year. I didn’t even mention the cosplay contest or the Table top gaming.  I really hope this year was more successful than last year, because this convention has the potential to become an annual tradition. It could also become as big as some of the other major conventions in time. It was a blast of a weekend, and with any luck at all I’ll be visiting again in 2017.

Hard Reset Redux Review

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Wait. What? I’m re-reviewing Hard Reset? Well yes, though not in the way you would think. Flying Wild Hog brought out an updated version earlier this month, and I’m here to talk a little bit about the changes. Both minimal, and substantial. It’s another re-mastered, reissued games in a seemingly endless trend. But is this one a good director’s cut or a bad one?

PROS: New content. Balancing. Performance. Loyalty program.

CONS: The visuals don’t always convey the power of the new engine.

ZOMBIE CYBORGS: The Z-movie grunts still manage to be creepy.

Hard Reset was the first major project by Flying Wild Hog. It was a tough as nails First Person Shooter that took place in a dystopian future. Where killer robots are everywhere, a monolithic corporation has skeletons in its closet, and our hero blasts his way through the storyline. It was a lot of fun, and you can read my review here.

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In the years since, FWH helmed the reboot of Apogee/3D Realms’ Shadow Warrior. One of the few times a remake has been as good or even better than the original. Unlike today’s game, that game was a complete start over from scratch. Everything was different, the setting, and story. The characters returned but, were still different from what the old Shadow Warrior was. But it managed to be a very fun game, even though so much of the story had changed. So fun, and successful in fact, that a sequel is coming soon.

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But to make that sequel they built a new engine, and so they ported Hard Reset over to it. The results are pretty great for the most part. Though there was some controversy when it first launched. A video surfaced showing some parts of the game that looked slightly better in the original version. Which threw some people into a tailspin. Flying Wild Hog actually addressed the complaints . Visually, you can decide for yourself. But after having played it, I can tell you that like a lot of arguments, truth is somewhere in the middle. At least in my humble opinion.

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The new engine’s lighting is noticeably different. Depending on what is happening, sometimes it might look better or worse. In my case, most of the time it actually looked better. The textures honestly don’t seem that bad at all. There were maybe two instances of wall posters that looked a little grainier in the first stage. But beyond that it looks largely the same. Aside from a couple of stand out moments where it looks better, it looks pretty much the same. Really, if you’re only coming into this for the graphics you might feel a little bit disappointed.

However, if you’re here for a better experience you won’t be. The move to a new engine means that you can run this version at a much better performance than the original. The new Road Hog engine is much better optimized, and at least on PC you’ll be likely seeing frame rates in the hundreds  so long as you meet the requirements, and tweak your settings accordingly. On console I don’t know, as I haven’t played those versions. But they should be more than playable seeing how Shadow Warrior has done respectably on Xbox, and PlayStation. Flying Wild Hog  have stated the game runs 60 fps, and full 1080p on the XB1, and PS4.

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Hard Reset Redux also adds a number of balance changes. Enemies don’t feel nearly as much like bullet sponges as they could in the original version. They’re still challenging. They still employ all kinds of crazy techniques to kill you, and you will still find yourself trying to blow up background scenery to harm them. When you’re not doing that you’ll be trying weapon combinations to do so. But you won’t have to waste nearly a clip of bullets trying to take down one bull charging monstrosity.

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They’ve also added a new sword which works a lot like the sword in Shadow Warrior. Sometimes it ends up feeling overpowered. Especially on the lowest level enemies because it can cut them down so quickly. But to counteract that, the enemies can actually hurt you a lot more, so it isn’t always wise to use it. They’ve done very well with putting things in place to make you want to use every weapon upgrade. There are also new levels, and enemies here. Thankfully, they don’t feel rushed or cobbled together. They also feel balanced, and fit right into the action, and the mythos.

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If you already bought the original version on PC, through Steam the developer also gives you a sizable discount on this version. So it isn’t a very expensive upgrade. Be that as it may, I wouldn’t call this a must buy if you already own the old version. That is unless, you really loved it enough to play through it multiple times. If you did, the boost in performance, balance tweaks, and added content are all things you will definitely enjoy. So if you were a big fan, these bonuses are going to outweigh any concern you may have over the graphics. Which again, are pretty much the same most of the time. When the new lighting techniques work in its favor the new game does look a bit better. When they don’t only the biggest nitpickers are going to say it looks markedly worse. It really doesn’t though. Either way, don’t come into this for the graphics. Most won’t notice the difference unless it’s pointed out. Come into this for the better performance, and content.

 

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For those on console, I’d say check it out. It is a wonderful game that feels a lot like Quake, or Doom in its gun play. It has some elements of Painkiller’s hordes, but an entirely different pacing. If you’ve enjoyed recent iterations of Doom, and Wolfenstein there’s a very good chance you’re going to enjoy Hard Reset. If you enjoyed Shadow Warrior, I’ll especially recommend looking into this since it was made by the same people, and some of those Shadow Warrior Easter eggs will make more sense. If you’ve never played it all whatsoever, look into it for the reasons above, and in my review of the original game. You’ll be getting a fun title with a fair amount of bonus content in Redux.

Final Score: 8 out of 10