Tag Archives: indie

Retro World Expo 2017 Recap

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Now in its third year, RetroWorld Expo has slowly built up momentum over its humble beginnings. While it still isn’t the size of something like one of the PAX shows, it has made quite the impressive successes over the first two iterations. The biggest change this year was the move from the Oakdale center in Wallingford, CT to the Hartford Convention Center in Hartford, CT. Due to this, the show was able to increase the floor space, and use conference rooms for panels.

Getting into the show was very smooth, and easy. I didn’t have to go through two or three different lines to get in. I simply showed my ticket receipt to the volunteer at the booth, got my wristband, and got in. Of course, I would hinder myself a little bit by not gassing up the car before making the drive. (More on that later.)

 

Upon walking onto the floor, I saw a few familiar faces as I took a quick gander at some of the vendors’ booths.  One of whom was Tom Ryan. I’ve talked about him in the past, as he does phenomenal artwork. A couple of years ago I got an awesome Thundercats print from him. This year he had an amazing Masters Of The Universe print! It features a very detailed Castle Grayskull, while a Darth Vader-esque Skeletor appears in the background. In the foreground there’s a really great silhouette of He-Man with the Power Sword. It’s awesome. It looks even better in person.

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After catching up with a few people I headed upstairs, as “Pixel” Dan Eardley was back again, and I wanted to get into his panel, as they’ve always been entertaining. This year didn’t disappoint, as he talked a bit about some upcoming crossovers. I can’t really go into too much detail about them as I don’t want to spoil anything for anybody. Suffice it to say, you’ll be pretty impressed with the first of these. After showcasing it early to those of us in the panel, he was also kind enough to show off a small home video clip that was quite heartwarming.

After this, he showed off some teaser footage with The Gaming Historian, and Eric Lappe of Let’s Get. There will be a few new episodes of From Plastic To Pixels coming down the pike. This is a series that focuses on showing off video games based on toy lines. It’s a fun show because it goes beyond a typical Let’s Play show by bringing in some of toy, and game knowledge. If you haven’t seen it yet, check it out. The panel closed out with a short Q & A segment with attendees. Some of the questions revolved around the upcoming episodes, that I don’t want to spoil. But a few questions were asked about some vintage toys, and games.

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I was a guest on Big Bucks Entertainment’s Super Millionaire. This is a company that does covers of the Game Shows you likely grew up watching. They did two of them throughout the course of the show. One being the update of Who Wants To Be A Millionaire, and the other being Press Your Luck.  To get on the show, the company put up question challenges on its Facebook group. Leading up to the show, I had taken a shot in the dark, and answered a question. Well, it turns out I was right, and was put into the pool of potential guests.

So I showed up with my buddy Jordan as my lifeline. We were given a rundown of the game rules, and stage procedures. There were three of us who made it on. One of whom turned out to be a member of Super Retro Throwback Reviews. They had their own booth nearby. One of the judges turned out to be one of my good friends Russ Lyman, who was also in a panel later on in the show. He has a swell YouTube show where he combines VLOGs, DIY repair, gaming into one entertaining channel. He’s the one who got this snapshot of me on stage! He also brought his custom car to the show for everyone to see. None of us got very far into the game. Of the three I actually did the worst. I got all of the questions up to the first tier nicely. But upon reaching that first checkpoint I got the question wrong. I didn’t want to waste my lifelines. In hindsight I probably should have. But it was still a very fun experience.

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But it didn’t end there because they kept the show going with audience members. Most of them didn’t fare much better than those of us who played initially. My lifeline got to go on, and had to use all of the lifelines on the first three questions. None of which covered game knowledge. (Thankfully when he called me up, I guessed the question right.) But after he lost, there was an attendee that came within inches of winning the entire game. Unfortunately the Judges were wrong about the voice actor who played Sinistar (It was John Doremus), and he went with their guess. Nevertheless, as I said before it was a lot of fun, and the quality of the set props was pretty good. It made for a great facsimile, and even the Press Your Luck set was pretty awesome.

I got in a little bit of shopping with a couple of friends after that. We found one husband & wife run vendor booth with a ton of vintage Atari games in addition to the NES, Master System, Genesis, and Super NES games on display. Many of them were boxed, and complete! I found a complete copy of Fatal Run which is one of the late life 2600 releases. There was also a complete copy of Kung Fu Master my friend Jordan picked up. There was also a rarely seen complete copy of Red Label Space Invaders. These were just some of the 2600 highlights. There were a ton of great games for all of the platforms, but the 2600 selection was unreal.

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I found an old 7800 Alien Brigade Ad from an outfit called Glossed Over. They find vintage ads in great quality, and preserve them in laminate. They had a ton of memorable Nintendo, and Sega print ads. But there’s something special about the old Atari game ads. A few tables from where I found Fatal Run, I finally procured a copy of Tapper for the 2600! Up until the convention I had only ever seen it once before, so I picked it up on the spot.

But there wasn’t a ton of time left to keep shopping, the RetroWorld Expo brought back the auction from last year. Hosted by TV’s Travis Landry, the auction went on for three hours. I saw some of the items before they went up, and most of those seemed to be in decent shape. There was a really nice Commodore 64 set up among the items that included a Bread bin NTSC Commodore 64 model, a First-party joystick, a 1541 Disk Drive, and it had the box, and manuals. The box looked beat up, but everything else looked pristine.

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So I sat through the auction with a few friends, and of course I didn’t win the C64 set up. After it got beyond the aftermarket value, I had to give up. But it kept climbing. In fact many items got spectacularly high. Not as crazy as last year’s auction. But still pretty high. There was a Nintendo World Championships cartridge that nobody bid on because the opening bid was astronomical. It was nice to see one in person though! Some of the highlights for me were the bidding war that broke out over a Little Samson cartridge, which ended around $800. (Which is oddly enough a steal considering it goes for over $1,000 in many cases.) As well as the fervor over a really nice Sega Sonic store display sign, and the fact there were TWO copies of Mega Turrican up for grabs. Those were the other two items I took a shot on, but lost both.

Some other items that went up included a few lots. One was a box of NES common games. Another one was a bunch of Master System games. Beyond that, a pretty nice Atari 5200 bundle, and a copy of Power Strike on the Master System. I’m sure there are a bunch of other items I’m forgetting. It was still pretty exciting though. It’s a shame not many toy collectors were on hand, because there were a bunch of figures, and busts that went for well below what you’d typically expect to pay.  A couple of NES Classic Minis went for auction too, and went for a bunch of money. With the announcement that they’re going to be re-released again at retail, this kind of surprised me. Still, it was nice seeing some of this stuff. Like the Nintendo branded retail case I still remember seeing in Bradlees back in the day.

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I spent some more time on the floor, I got in a few rounds of Missile Command, and Street Fighter II in the arcade. I also found my buddy Bijhan had a booth where he let me have a complete boxed copy of Gunship for MS-DOS. My friend Jordan also hooked me up with a Shadow Warrior 2 scroll, and bag. As the sales floor started to close up for the night, I managed to find a copy of Pac-Attack for the Super NES. There was another after party this year, but I had to skip it due to the low amount of gas in the car. Since I commuted to the show, I wanted to make sure I got fuel before the stations might have closed. A few people were kind enough to point me to a couple of options. I managed to get to one, gas up, and get back to town.

Day two I went back to Hartford, for the rest of the show. I got there a little bit early, and I bumped into Pat “The NES Punk” Contri walking the floor. Just as last year, he was very kind, and cordial. I politely asked him if he had another copy of his NES Guide book. He took me to his booth to get one, and on the way over I told him where I’d found my deals the day before. He thanked me for buying a copy, I thanked him for his time, and let him get back to his game hunting. After that, I ran into my friends Chris, and Brian who had a small vendor booth for the weekend. Somehow I’d missed it the first day. They had a few coveted items, but I ended up getting some deals on some slightly less common games. I found RoboWarrior for the NES, and Desert Strike for the Super NES for a pittance. And it wasn’t just because I’m friends with them, they gave anyone who came by, bundle pricing if they bought multiple items. It’s part of why they do pretty well for themselves at events, and meets. I also got to catch up with Noah, and Paul from Retro Gaming Arts, and Rax The Great.

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There was another booth I can’t remember the name of, but the business was another really nice group of people. They had noticed all of the stuff I was carrying along with my camera, and offered a bag before I even started shopping. And when I did peruse their racks not only did I find a Joe & Mac cartridge for the Super NES, at a really good price (The first one, not the obscure sequel), it came in a protective plastic box. In fact every loose cartridge they sold did, and they were in excellent condition.

After this though, I went back up for several panels. The first one was the RFGeneration Collectorcast Reunion show. Bil McGee, Duke, and Rich Franklin did a live podcast where they talked about collecting tips. Budgeting for items at conventions. Networking, and making friends. Helping those friends find things they need. As well as reminiscing about road stories, and times where they had to go into some strange, or even scary places to find those coveted titles. All of which resulted in a lot of funny moments. Bil McGee does a lot of behind the scenes planning of RetroWorld every year so there was some time spent on what is involved in the process. It was a really entertaining, and informative panel overall. Plus their site is a pretty good source of information for collecting games.

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Especially their databases. At the end of the panel there was a short Q&A session. Some people asked about some of the topics discussed. I asked them to pair a beer with their favorite classic game. Duke didn’t drink so his answer was soda, as in many old games there were billboards in levels advertising fictional ones. Rich, paired stout with Tempest (which is an excellent choice.) Bil loved the question, and gave several examples that I can’t remember. But one that did stand out was drinking Lord Hobo Boom Sauce, or Consolation prize for any game that had shotguns. Because this would reference the cult movie Hobo with a shotgun. One can’t argue with that logic, although the audience erupted into laughter when Duke said he wouldn’t drink from anything called Lord Hobo.

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The next panel was The Gaming Historian panel. This year, Norman Caruso went with a similar format to the panel as he did last year. But this year he went with a topic that wasn’t child friendly. To which he warned the parents in the audience who promptly took their kids out. He went over a major Rock star scandal from several years ago, and cleared up a lot of the misconceptions about it. He also told us about an upcoming episode of The Gaming Historian, which like the Pixel Dan panel, I can’t really talk about here, as I don’t want to spoil episodes. All I can say about it, is that it’s going to be longer than most of his usual episodes are. He rounded out the show with a quick Q&A where most of the questions centered around the subject matter of the panel. But he was also asked about what happened to his episode about Nintendo’s purchase of the Mariners.

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Major League Baseball was immediately livid about it, and actually sent him a cease, and desist letter. So he tried to get into contact with them to iron things out. One representative liked the episode, and considered buying the episode. But only if things were cleared with Nintendo. Nintendo was fine with the episode. But when he went back to Major League Baseball, they ultimately decided they weren’t going to make any deals, and demanded the episode stay pulled. MLB is notorious for going after people, and fining them for seemingly innocuous things. In the 80’s they often sued people for taping games to a VHS tape to be viewed when they got home from work. All because they were that afraid, someone would try to sell the taped game. So as the potential debts piled up, Norman had to pull the episode.

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The panel ended with another Gaming Historian Jeopardy match. This year’s contestants did battle for a free Gaming Historian T-Shirt. Most of the questions were new, though there were a few repeats from last year. At first one of the contestants was running away with it, but before long all three were in the running. When Final Jeopardy hit though, two contestants gave Celebrity Jeopardy SNL Skit-esque answers, allowing the victor to claim the prize.

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After the panel ended The Game Chasers panel started, and they invited Norman to stick around for it. It was a really fun panel because it felt like a really good podcast. The banter was really good, and it led to a lot of hilarious road stories. One of the stories was about a debate over what really constitutes slippin’. Another was an argument Jay had with a cast member about what the official credentials for guacamole are. One moment that stuck out was when Norm told Jay about how great The Golden Girls is, and Jay thought he was being set up. But the audience reassured him it’s a timeless show. There were of course a few gross out stories that wouldn’t make the show. But overall it was a lot of laughter, and a lot of fun.

After that panel came the Connecticut Local YouTubers panel. This one featured my buddy Russ Lyman, Culture Dog, Miketendo, and Retroware TV’s own John Delia. After giving an overview of what each of them covers, they opened things up for questions. There was a lot of good advice in the panel, trying to know your audience.  How to discern constructive criticism from noise. Showing appreciation for those who appreciate you. I got to ask John about his experience with getting The Video Game Years on Amazon. He told us that the way the payments from Amazon work, is much better than the way it worked on YouTube. In a couple of months the show made more than it did on YouTube. This also led into the topic of finding new audiences. Because he found a lot of people on Amazon like to binge watch more than they do on YouTube. So a whole new group of people discovered it, and watched it.

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Some of the challenges he ran into had a lot to do with closed captioning. Amazon requires every show creators put up include the feature. So getting the show on the service took hundreds of hours of added work. Once they got the captioning done, the show got rejected again because of the static images. So they had to edit out some of the static logos to get it ready. When it finally did get submitted in the right state, they still had to call Amazon, and explain everything they just went through. The company then looked, said “You’re right”, and launched it, where it has been a success.

Some of the other attendees then asked the panel if they would just move to Amazon, and the answers were no, because of the different groups who watch or listen. Culture Dog, and Miketendo brought up the importance of one’s authentic self. People can tell when you stray from it. Russ mentioned that even if you do a bunch of different content, there should be something that ties them together. As an example he noted how much of his Do It Yourself content references gaming. That means a few of the viewers who come to the channel for game stuff might check out some of the DIY episodes. Everyone on the panel talked about doing YouTube shows out of the love of the hobby over coming out of the gate looking to be an overnight success. For a variety of reasons.

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After that wrapped up,  Joe Granato returned from last year’s convention with a major update on his NES Maker, and Mystic Searches, projects. He briefly showed off a trailer for his New 8-Bit Heroes documentary, and then jumped into the updates. He started out that process by explaining how the project started out. He, and his team found his old childhood ideas for an NES game, and decided to make that dream a reality. What they found in the process was just how complicated MOS 6502 assembly coding truly was, and after a short time found the project was going to take a very long time. So in the process they ended up coding their own editor to deal with mapping, objects, characters, and other assets.

So while using the tool to get the game made, they found potential in selling the editor as a standalone product when it’s completed. This will let people make their own NES games, and flash them to an actual NES Game Pak. Joe did concede there are some limits in it, as it was made to cater to RPG, and Adventure genres. But that people have demonstrated other genres can be done with it, though you may need to take up coding for some of that.

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He also showed off some more of Mystic Searches, and the progress on it. The over world appears to be finished, and everything looks pretty tight. They’re shooting to get it out by early next year, and the three versions of the Game Pak were shown again this year. He also noted they’re also looking for a Steam release, and they’re in the process of getting a Nintendo Switch license. There aren’t any planned ports for other vintage platforms like The Commodore 64, Super Nintendo, or Atari platforms. Hopefully the final game, and utility turn out well. It is pretty apparent a lot of love has gone into making it thus far. There were even some real world locations referenced in the game’s over world. But keep an eye on this one. Mystic Searches, and NES Maker could be quite the homebrew titles when they come out.

I finished out the day by heading back down to do  some more hunting for the last hour or so. I stopped by Bijhan’s booth again, and he let me have a MOC Smash Mario Amiibo. Which was super cool of him. I was also a million times grateful to Norman Caruso. I stopped by his booth to pick up his Gaming Historian Blu Ray, and thank him for coming to the convention again. Unbeknownst to me at the time, I left my phone there like an idiot. I bumped into some of my pals in The Best Spuds, and played some WWF No Mercy before leaving the show. I couldn’t find my phone, but of course the convention center was closing up. So all I could do was quickly check the Lost, and Found before leaving. Of course the phone wasn’t there. Well when I got home, I found a message from my friend Antoinette in our trade group. Norman had found my phone, and asked around to see if anybody knew who owned it. She recognized it as mine, and tagged me. I’m super thankful to the both of them, as I’m not quite ready to go get a new one just yet.

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That’s one of the best things this convention showcased to me this year. The wonderful sense of community here. People from all backgrounds coming together over a love of classic gaming. Every year I get to meet new people, and go to events. Even if you don’t see anything to buy, and you aren’t interested in the panels, there are tons of arcade games to play. There are a lot of  console, and computer games to play. There were even a host of tournaments hosted by my buddy Aldo this year. Including a big Overwatch tournament, Super Street Fighter II, Super Smash Bros. Wii U, and Mario Kart 64 among others.

They even had a couple of high-profile Cosplayers Midge Scully, and Maya Gagne there. I didn’t get a chance to see them, but they were there. Some other guests I didn’t get to see were Wood Hawker, and RGT85. Also Daniel Pesina came back with John Parrish this time. I also unfortunately didn’t get a chance to see them. If you’re not familiar with them, they were two of the motion capture actors in the earliest Mortal Kombat games. If you get the chance to see them you should.  Hopefully everyone returns next year, and I can rectify missing some of them.

Honestly as small as RetroWorld Expo is compared to larger conventions, it still has so much going on it’s impossible to see it all. Really, the only nitpick I really had this year, was the gap of time between the first night’s shutdown, and the after party I missed due to my own incompetence. Mainly because it breaks up the flow. There’s an hour-long window of nothing to do. I feel like if they could have either started the after party right away, or had a small panel to fill that gap problem

That said some of the stuff in the after party would have been fun. There was a drink, and draw event, one room had Culture Dog playing movies on LaserDisc, and then there was another spot for club music, and mingling. Again, in the grand scheme of things a very minor nitpick, and due to my own ineptitude didn’t matter anyway. The good vastly outweighed the bad this year. A part of me already can’t wait to see what they do next year.

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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

Rise and Shine Review

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Duos can be very effective in storytelling. Sherlock Holmes had Watson. Batman brought on Robin. He-Man had many allies, but usually rode into skirmishes on Battle Cat. Ren, and Stimpy. The list goes on. There’s a strength in a duo’s ability to give subtext to a story or a series of stories. Their relationships grow as time goes on, and what each of them bring to the table can be as engrossing as what happens around them. It has even been effective in video games. Rise, and Shine is another game that uses the duo very well.

PROS: Beautiful art. Interesting characters. Reference humor.

CONS: Fairly short experience for some. High difficulty for others.

CAMEOS: Far too many to note, and not in ways you’d expect.

Rise, and Shine takes place in a world called Gamearth, a planet under assault from Space Marines. Everything is laid to waste as the invaders kill all of the inhabitants, or turn them into monsters. As Rise, you’re given a magical revolver named Shine, when you see a Hyrulean gunned down in front of you. Before dying, he gives you Shine, and you move onto a quest to get to the Odyssey Temple.

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The setup immediately throws you into the action, and introduces new mechanics as the story moves along. Rise, and Shine is advertised as a twin stick, run, and gun game. But it really isn’t. There are elements of that to be sure, namely in the combat sections. But the reality is that the game shares a lot more in common with old cinematic adventure-platform hybrids. You’ll enter sections, and have to solve a puzzle to move forward, in every room. Even many of the fights you’ll end up in, are won by solving a puzzle.

In many ways it reminded me of Another World, a game that influenced many, many games after it came out. Games like Flashback,  Fade To Black, and the Oddworld games all had elements of Out Of This World. Rise, and Shine does as well. But the twin stick combat does make it considerably different. The game also throws in a number of challenging puzzles that take advantage of combat mechanics. Again, you’ll move with one stick, while aiming with the other. On PC you can move with the WASD, keys, and use a mouse to aim, or you can use a game pad with twin stick controls. But also remember, the game will transition from these brief Metal Slug meets Robotron moments, into the aforementioned Another World meets Max Payne moments.

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At one point in the game you’ll be given different ammunition types. Electrical bullets, as well as normal ones. The electrical bullets can be used on certain enemies, or switches. Other times you’ll need to use the normal bullets. In battles you’ll often switch between the ammo types, as some enemies, and even bosses will require hot swapping between them.

Eventually you’ll have two other mechanics to master. Exploding bullets that act as remote mines, and bullet time zones. Many of the game’s puzzles will require you to learn them in order to get switches, doors, or other paths to open up to you. There are also a few times where you’ll need to be perceptive, or go off of the beaten path to find secrets, items, and other assorted Easter Eggs.

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Rise, and Shine also has a very captivating style to it. It has a crisp, computer animated 2D look to everything. But unlike some other games that have gone for a similar style, this doesn’t feel like a Flash cartoon. The attention to detail alone makes it highly worth looking at. The color gradients, the outlines, and lighting make characters, and backgrounds pop. It really does feel like a child’s pop up book come to life. Albeit, with a gory M rating. Rise, and Shine has some absolutely nightmarish imagery.

Heads roll. Bodies get crushed. Entrails, and limbs are strewn about the streets. Pools of red splash with every kill. Plus with the high difficulty, you’ll likely witness your own demise hundreds of times. As a matter of fact, the high body count, and number of your own deaths are worked into the story. On top of that, the game is loaded with all kinds of game references going back to the industry’s infancy. Be that as it may, you’re going to see a lot of Nintendo references compared to most others. Still, it’s a fun ride, through, and through.

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One complaint some will have is the length of the game. One of the things the game seems to take away from Another World is a focus on telling its story in a highly stylized way, with as few technical problems as possible. Another World is quite the challenge on the first run through, but once you memorize its puzzles it can be cleared quickly. The same goes for Rise, and Shine. As of this writing I’m on the game’s final boss, and I’ve spent a good 4 hours of play time getting here. Most people seem to be in the 5-8 hour range, but for those who pick up things faster, they may clear it in 2 to 4 hours. That said, the final stage has an obscene level of difficulty, I haven’t been able to clear.

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This is something the individual potential player will have to take into consideration when thinking about picking it up. But if you do, you’ll find just that. A highly detailed, fun experience with a lot of challenge, and a very clear focus. Outside of a shorter experience, there isn’t very much to complain about other than the difficulty spike in the last stage. In my time with it I’ve yet to find any major bugs, or crashes. Everything performs well, and it is just as responsive on a controller or with the keyboard. Though I personally had an easier time aiming with a mouse, than a thumb stick.

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In the end, Rise, and Shine is a pretty good game. One that gives fans of adventure-platform computer games, and fans of brutally hard games a great time. But if you’re somebody who is wary of shorter games, or you’re easily frustrated by difficult games, you might want to wait on this one for a while.

Final Score: 7 out of 10.

 

 

Love Review

Love is one of the lesser known yet notable independent platform games to have come out over the last decade. Yet it was one of the earliest games of its type. Bringing in a focus on difficult jumping puzzles, and speed run design.

PROS: Level design. Music. Gradual difficulty.

CONS: Short length. Occasional clunky movement.

SINCE LOVE: Super Meat Boy, VVVVVV, 1,001 Spikes, and others have shared elements of Love.

Way back in 2006 when many independent games were experiencing a resurgence, Fred Wood designed Love. Early builds went for an allegorical vibe. Suggesting that the better you did, the better your relationship would be. Over time it instead became the retro themed platformer it is today. Love isn’t a particularly long game. In it you take a very simple human figure through 16 stages filled with death traps. In a lot of ways Wood’s game inspired many of the heavy hitters independent programmers, and studios bring out today. It shares a common love (no pun intended) of Commodore 64, Atari 2600, and NES games. Especially difficult platformers like Mega Man, Spelunker, and Pitfall II.

The affection of Commodore is apparent in the game’s graphics. Everything runs in a similar color mode, and backgrounds clash two contrasting colors. In the primary mode, Love gives you 100 lives to clear the game’s 16 stages. The game operates by having you move, and jump your way through the obstacles. There is also a spawn button, where you can place a marker telling you where you will spawn on your next life. This makes the game a bit easier, as you can place a marker before any jump or trap. In doing so, you won’t have to replay large chunks of a level to get to that point again. Death traps can be surprisingly gruesome for a game with such low visual fidelity. The deconstruction of your pixels suggest you’ll have exploded, bled out, or suffered some level of dismemberment.

If you can clear the game, or even if you can’t you’ll be rewarded with a report card on your progress. Love isn’t the first video game to have a report card system. But it does use it in a way that can possibly entice you to do better. Especially since it can be difficult toward the end. While the difficulty is high, it is gradual. It starts out with some challenging jumps. But you might not necessarily die from a botched jump early on. In the first stage, you may just find yourself redoing some of the earlier portions. Over time the game introduces newer challenges. Bounce pads. Spikes. Even pits you are supposed to fall down, while avoiding things as you fall. These on their own won’t sound like anything new, but at the same time, the game manages to introduce these at just the right pace. You learn to overcome the odds over time, gaining some confidence along the way. Rather than just having everything, including the kitchen sink thrown at you right away. And while there’s nothing wrong with the latter, for some it can seem frustrating for the sake of being frustrating. Instead, Love takes its time introducing challenges.

Which isn’t to say that it is an easy game. Far from it. Many of the traps are really well thought out puzzles, that require a shocking amount of skill to solve. Even after you intellectually know what you have to do, you’ll need some reflexes to pull off the solution in many cases. Joining the primary mode, is an easy mode that gives you unlimited lives, at the cost of score. There is also the You Only Live Once mode, which gives you one life to clear the entire game. This is a feature that has been replicated hundreds of times over by other games that have come since this one. Rounding things out are the Speed Run mode which times you, and the Remix mode which randomizes things.

The audio is filled with an eclectic mix of electronic styles. There are some Synthpop chip tunes, Industrial, and Trip Hop arrangements. Some of the songs are shared between levels, but each of them does give the game a feeling of identity. They fit the mood of the stages, and can be appreciated by those who don’t generally enjoy electronica. Composer James Bennett does a phenomenal job here. The soundtrack is also available separately if you find you do want a copy for your work commute.

If there are any complaints to be levied, they’re mainly the sometimes slippery movement. If you stop moving, your character will keep moving for a pixel or two. This means you really have to plan ahead in later levels where the stakes are higher. Especially since most players won’t have many lives left by then. Assuming you’re not playing on the easiest setting. The spawn system can also make the game a bit too easy for those who love pushing themselves. Fortunately, for those who love a challenge  placing spawn points reduces the score at the end of the game. Still, it can be very tempting to place them before any really difficult challenge. Although I suppose the one life only mode is one way to remedy this.

Overall, Love isn’t a very long game. But it doesn’t need to be. It’s a fun, bite-sized game that you can replay over, and over again attempting to master it. Much like the old Atari, and early Commodore games that clearly inspired it. It’s also one of those obscure titles that might have inspired many game makers you probably do like. It recently made its way to Steam so hopefully that will make it a little bit better known. It’s fun, successfully embraces moments of old, and provides a gradually increasing level of challenge. It’s quite possible you could fall in love with Love.

Final Score: 8 out of 10

Fistful Of Frags Review

I’ve had a lot of doctor visits as of late. If you’ve been following my Twitter feed you might have noticed me lamenting my poor dietary decisions over the last 30 years. Suffice it to say, when bills start piling up, you kind of have to put game purchases on the back burner. At least until you catch up. What does this have to do with today’s game review? Well if you’re in a state of “I can’t spend any money on non-essential things right now” it can suck. Especially if it means spending your little bit of free time bored.

Fistful Of Frags

PROS: It’s free! Really, really free! A western setting! Fun.

CONS: It really isn’t much to look at. Too similar to TF2. Minor bugs.

HOLY HALF-LIFE 2 BATMAN: Yes it’s another indie game that started out as a Source mod.

Freeware used to be a thing. In today’s climate when someone says “Free.” many of us instantly think about pay walls, and timers. Sometimes a game will start out as a paid game, and then become free. Team Fortress 2 is the most famous example of that. Its only post download purchases are the purely cosmetic hats people buy. But 30 years ago, there were many free games if you were playing on a computer. Often times computer magazines had entire sections devoted to free games, and other programs. All you had to do, was take the time to type in the 15 pages of code, and remember to save.

By the time MS-DOS was king, and about to be usurped by Windows 95 Free games were all over the place. Hobbyists made them. Even some companies made them. Sometimes even companies unaffiliated with gaming somehow gave away a free game. Chex Quest anyone? But of course over the years that became less, and less common. Eventually freeware games were replaced with shareware games. Where you had the first 30% of a game for free, and then bought the full game if you really enjoyed it. This proved to be a very successful model for companies like Apogee, and iD who would give us Wolfenstein, Rise Of The Triad, Doom, Duke Nukem, and Quake. Eventually however, we even saw those days disappear.

Rather than follow the path of micro-transactions forged by smart phone games, Fistful Of Frags opts to be freeware. True freeware. There are no add-ons to buy. No cosmetic items. Nothing. You have the complete experience for no charge whatsoever. But even a free game isn’t free from scrutiny. After all, it still has to be fun enough for you to want to download it in the first place. Fortunately Fistful Of Frags is fun enough for a download.

The game pretty much clones the experiences of Team Fortress 2, and Half-Life 2’s Death Match mode. You have your classic push cart mode. In it, you’ll have to move a mine cart from one side of the map to the next within a time limit. The opposing side will attempt to stop you. There is also the point capture mode, where you have to hold a position for so many seconds. In this game you also have to have the area clear or the timer will stop until you take out the enemy team. If you can keep them at bay, you’ll capture the point, and move onto the next. These modes also take a page from Counter Strike by having a shop at the start of each round for your load outs. Don’t worry though, the currency is not based on actual money. Rather, your round performance as a team will determine how much you’ll be able to spend. Suffice it to say, you’ll want to do well enough to have your favorite tools available.

Then you have the standard Death Match mode. Kill more opponents than anybody else within the time limit to be the victor. The game does add a few of its own provisions to the rule set though. First off, you won’t have access to everything right away. You’ll be allowed to choose a starter weapon, and favored hand. But many times you’ll begin with your fists, and have to find a weapon in the field. There is a variant of Death Match called Break Bad, where each kill gets you money, that you can use toward your load out on your following life.

Each of the Death Match modes can be played in teams, or in free for all settings. If you play in teams, there are four factions: Desperadoes, Vigilantes, Bandits, and Rangers. All of the factions are functionally the same. The only change is the player model you’ll be using. In team games, you can even play four team variants. So this allows all four factions to be in a game at the same time.

The game does attempt to differentiate itself from other modern shooters. One of the ways it does this is with its melee fighting system, and with its emphasis on dexterity. When you are completely unarmed, you can still have a chance at survival. It has a left punch, and right punch mechanic using the left, and right mouse buttons. You can also kick people back to get some distance. The game doesn’t go as deep as it could however. You don’t really get to steer your swings the way you do in something like Chivalry. But the fact you can mix things up is encouraging. The game could have easily gone with the fist as a pointless button 1 jamming affair. Instead it went with a system akin to a boxing game. Moreover, when brandishing firearms, or melee weapons you can choose which hand to use. Each hand setup has advantages or disadvantages. You can have a right-handed, a left-handed, or ambidextrous position. When using two weapons the left button is the left gun, and the right button is the right gun. Some of the alternate firing modes are a lot of fun too. Like the Clint Eastwood inspired rapid-firing of a revolver. There is even a focus on counting the number of times you’ve fired a weapon as it has a western theme.

That old west theme also works in the game’s favor. There aren’t a lot of western themed games compared with other settings.  So Fistful Of Frags stands out. It also has some fast, arcade movement, mixed with some realism. At least in the fact that picking up too many items will actually slow you down. This is one game where hoarding weapons can actually be a detrimental thing. Plus the game has some pretty great level design. Maps flow for their game modes really well. Weapons are mostly pretty good, with many of the weapons having some pretty good effectiveness. You’ll also stumble upon colored crates in maps. These have different weapons in them, and certain colors yield better ones. Of course the better crates are often in places near choke points, or places that leave you vulnerable. So going for them can be a pretty big risk.

Fistful Of Frags is one of many Source games that started out as a Half-Life mod, and it shows. It puts its wild west theme to good use. It has some great stages. But it isn’t going to win any beauty awards. The game looks very much like a 2004 release, and there weren’t many visual upgrades added to the engine. Where other games that started as mods have had overhauls, this has not. There aren’t a lot of lighting effects, or other visual add-ons to hide the limits either. The game even launches with a Half-Life 2 icon on your taskbar. It does nothing to disguise the fact that it runs as a stand alone mod. There are also some technical hitches that hold it back a bit. Sometimes I found myself stuck on objects. Some of the maps have areas you can go beyond, where you shouldn’t be able to. Sure you’ll die, but falling into a barren wasteland, and clipping through objects is something to be avoided. Then there is the minor nitpick in that there are only four player models. One for each team. Character variety could certainly add some more personality to the game. The main drawback however, is the lack of modes. With what you’re given, you might opt to play Team Fortress 2 with its added classes, and constant updates. Or you might opt to play something like Quake Live if you’re just itching for some Death Match action.

Be that as it may, I can say the game is FUN. Even if you only play it in short bursts, or the occasional night with friends. It controls well, the maps are interesting, and again, there haven’t been many western themed games compared with other settings. And because we’re talking about freeware here, you aren’t out anything if you end up disliking it. Hopefully though, the developers can take what they’ve learned, and apply it to a more fleshed out, deeper experience. There is certainly enough to build upon. As it stands, Fistful Of Frags is definitely worth checking out. Even if it is fairly average.

Final Score: 6 out of 10

 

Expendabros Review

All too often games based on films, or other properties, in a word; suck. Expendabros is one of the rare exceptions.

PROS: Blows the last Expendables tie-in out of the water. FREE.

CONS: This is really less freeware, and more a glorified demo.

UNKNOWN: If this game has any actual spoilers. If it does. Expendables 3 will be weird.

Developed by the same team that is making BroForce,  Expendabros is loosely based on The Expendables 3. As such, the game works as not only a movie tie-in, but as a demo for BroForce as well. The game runs on the same engine, and uses many of the same assets that are in its predecessor.

Expendabros is up to four players on a single machine. It plays essentially the same as BroForce. Players will have to get from one end of the stage to the next. The whole affair is reminiscent of games like Konami’s Contra, or SNK’s Ikari Warriors. You will be attacked from every direction from grunts, mechs, gunners, and more. The game also throws in some really fun, and over the top bosses for you to conquer. Many of them are very challenging, and difficult to defeat. Particularly the end boss who practically turns the game into a bullet hell shoot ’em up.

Where  Expendabros differs from other 2D side scrolling shooters is its environments. Pretty much, every sprite the game displays is destructible. This means you can shoot your way through the terrain, almost like Dig Dug. Doing this can be both beneficial, and detrimental. It’s good because sometimes it means you can skip through a difficult section or get the jump on a deathtrap device. It’s bad because it also sometimes leads to dead ends or bottomless pits.

During missions, you will have to free prisoners from cages. When you do this you’ll slowly unlock members of the cast of Expendables 3. Unlocking the characters adds lives. But each character has their own abilities. Terry Crews gets a giant chain gun that is handy against bigger enemies. Dolph Lundgren gets a lot of cool explosives. Sylvester Stallone uses his dual pistols, while Jason Statham throws his trademark knives.

Unlocking the team members helps you last longer because when you die, another member is put under your control at random. It goes like this until you either clear the level or lose every team member.  There are also NPC characters throughout the game. You can interact with many of them, giving them weapons. Upon doing so these characters work a lot like the option orbs in Konami’s Gradius.

They will go about the level shooting grunts on your behalf. But they can, and usually will die from explosions, bullets, and things meant to kill you. You will also find flagpoles around the area. These act as checkpoints. Getting these raised means your next character will spawn next to one upon your death. Some of these are pretty difficult to get to. Especially in the later stages where the challenge begins to ramp up.

Visually, the game isn’t going to blow you away. It has a decent look to it going for a nice spin on the look of 8-bit, and 16-bit consoles. Between levels there are some pretty cool cinema screens that tell the story. Some of these are interactive QTEs.  Again, it goes a long way to try to bring back feelings of Contra, and Ikari Warriors. Games that actually took inspiration from theatrical, and direct to video action films.

The audio is actually quite nice. There’s an announcer in the vein of old Midway shooters like Smash TV. Guns, and explosions sound really cool while also being a throwback to the halcyon days of arcade cabinets. The Expendabros isn’t a very long game. You can clear it in four hours or less. But the game is a lot of fun for that short ride. By the end you’ll find the freeware title did its job, making you want BroForce. Or, like me, you’ll want BroForce as soon as it’s completed. BroForce is still in Early Access, and you may be wary of paying money for an incomplete game. To be fair, the developers at Free Lives have continually supported the title. But seeing how it isn’t done, you might want to choose to wait as I have.

As it stands, Expendabros is a really great introduction to BroForce, and one of the best freeware games you can get right now. The fact that it is this well put together, and a movie licensed game is a rare miracle. It isn’t often we see a good  game based on a movie, and rarer to see a free good game based on a movie.

Final Score: 8 out of 10

 

Deadlight Review

Adventure platforming returns in Deadlight.

PROS: Great visuals, gameplay, level design.

CONS: You’ve seen this story dozens of times now.

MAKE IT HARDER ON YOURSELF: Try to beat it without shooting any zombies.

As a gamer during the holiday season sometimes friends, and family may scrape enough together to get you a game or two. One of the more interesting games I received for Christmas 2013 was Deadlight. Released at the tail end of 2012, Deadlight is a survival horror themed game that shares an awful lot more in common with games like Another World (Out of this world), Flashback, and the original Prince Of Persia than it does those like Resident Evil, Silent Hill, or Eternal Darkness.

It’s almost jarring because the visuals in this game go out of their way to use the Unreal Engine to evoke that sense of dread seen in the last 15 years of survival horror. The storyline follows that of a gristly aging man named Randall Wayne who is searching for his family in the zombie apocalypse. It’s not the most original story in games or films especially in this current trend of zombie themed stories over the past several years. But to its credit, Deadlight does try to put its own spin on it toward the end. Throughout the campaign you guide Randall through Washington suburbs, cityscapes, underground caverns and more as he tries desperately to find his loved ones.

The game is displayed, and played in a 2.5D perspective. As I said near the beginning of the review, Deadlight takes its inspiration from early 90’s platform adventures built around trial, and error puzzles. The most notable of which is Another World. So much so that when you beat the game, you can find Eric Chahi’s name in the special thanks section of the credits along with Jordan Mechner’s. These were the creators of Another World, and Prince Of Persia respectively.  Like those games, Deadlight’s gameplay puts you into situations where you have to think about carefully timed jumps, plotted out uses of items, or causing distractions to solve puzzles. Most enemies have to be outwitted rather than dispatched save for a couple of epic sprinting sections that will bring back memories of escaping Combine forces near the beginning of Half-Life 2.

Miss a jump, and you may fall onto spikes. Time a roll wrong, and you may find yourself electrocuted. Fail to solve a puzzle in time, and someone you care about may die causing a game over.  There are also a lot of secret items, like diary pages, and scrapbook pieces you can collect to fill in some of the back story if you’re so inclined.

If it sounds like I’m calling Deadlight too derivative, don’t take that the wrong way. It does indeed borrow a lot of elements from its inspiration, but by no means does this make it a bad game. In fact, it does a pretty great job in its attempts to recreate that style of gameplay that has been relatively absent since the days of the Amiga, Super NES, and Genesis. It’s clear that the folks at Tequila Works loved those games, and were really committed to making a great send up of that gameplay.

Deadlight does make a few missteps along the way though. First of all, the PC version of the game has a very paltry configuration menu. If you play this game on a computer you will find one sole, slider devoted to quality. That’s it. Moving it left turns some of the effects off, while moving it right will turn some back on. You can’t turn on or off individual settings at all whatsoever. So those who really like to tweak games will be disappointed. Keyboard commands are there, but it’s clear that the game was meant to be played on the Xbox 360 pad. From the Microsoft game studios logo in the credits, to the 360 button prompts, to the references to Xbox Live, you will really want to play this on a 360 pad if you have one.

Deadlight tells its story mostly through cinema screens that are animated in only one or two spots. I know this is a growing trend in middle budget, and independent games. But in the case of Deadlight it really misses an opportunity to try to ape its inspiration. One of the reasons Another World was so great was because of how it could tell its story so well without a single line of dialogue. It used it’s environments, and players’ reactions to them to tell the story. Deadlight has some great environments, and to be fair most of its voice acting is pretty decent. But it doesn’t use them to their full potential. It would have been nice to see  more of the cinema screens replaced by the in-game sequences the game already uses to further back story in some sections.

Also I would have liked to have gotten to know the motivations behind the true villains revealed to the audience during gameplay. We are told that they are behind the zombies, and they have ulterior motives. But the game doesn’t really explore that back story very well. It does give us some insight into the past of the protagonist though, and so it does wrap up that narrative, even if it is a little abrupt in doing so.

In the gameplay department, it isn’t always obvious which ledges can be navigated or what objects can be moved. But those are indeed nitpicks. After a few times of dying trying to solve puzzles you’ll have that idea bulb go off, and make your way out. Finally, the game isn’t very long. Advanced players can make their way through the game in about three hours. The average player will probably complete it in about five. The game is a budget priced title, so this isn’t as bad as a AAA $60 title clocking in at far too low a running time. But at $15 some players may decide to wait for a discount.

Overall however, I really enjoyed my time with Deadlight. It isn’t going to be the most original title you’ll play. It’s story, and gameplay have been done elsewhere. But it is also a very well crafted game you can tell developers really poured a lot of effort into. The mechanics work great. The play control works great. The puzzles are put together very well. It’s just a really fun game to play through, and figure out. For anyone who wishes there were more Another World, Flashback, Prince Of Persia, or early Oddworld games to play, check it out.

Final Score: 8 out of 10.

Divekick Review

What started out as a joke became quite the compelling fighter.

PROS: Hilarious characters. Funny jokes. Surprisingly deep gameplay.

CONS: Subpar artwork in spots. Hard to navigate menus.

MISSED IT IF YOU BLINKED: Was recently nominated for an award on Spike TV’s VGA show.

Divekick is quite possibly one of the most  backfired joke games you will ever play. What do I mean by this? It’s preposterous setup would make one think of the game as one thinks of certain bad films. So bad, that it becomes so unintentionally comedic it’s a must see. At first glance it’s exactly what many thought.

The game’s gimmick or hook is it’s two button scheme. There are no buttons other than literally a jump button, and a kick button. While on the ground, pressing kick moves you backwards, and in the air it does a “Dive Kick”.  There are a couple of very minor additions beyond that, but they’re practically non-essential.  These buttons are even the only way to navigate menus, as one button goes left, the other goes right, and pressing both make selections.

Once you understand all of that, and then see it in action you will laugh. It is pretty hilarious to see these goofy characters limited to two button control schemes trying to duke it out. But once you actually begin to play Divekick you will slowly change your tune. The reason for this is because in it’s absolute dumbed down to the core simplicity, the game breaks down into why one plays tournament fighters to begin with. To out think, and out maneuver one’s opponent.

One cannot button mash their way to victory here. Unlike actually bad fighters riddled with dial-a-combos, and bad hit detection Divekick is well crafted. One hit is all it takes to win a round. That’s it. ONE HIT. This makes every round a sudden death round. So the lack of quarter circle projectiles, charge attacks, EX super meters, Fatalities, Chains, Combos, and so on suddenly doesn’t matter. The game almost hearkens back to the golden age of fighting games, long before Street Fighter. Games like Karate Champ. Except with Flash Animation.

The game does try to make things slightly more interesting with it’s parody of Street Fighter X Tekken’s Gem system. Some gems may give you one extra pixel of hit detection, others may give the opposing player a huge round win advantage by making you have to beat them 8 times whereas they only have to beat you once.  But these things do very little to greatly lengthen or deepen the main concept.

Divekick brings a couple of modes along. It has a campaign mode where one can play each character through a gauntlet of other characters to get an ending cinematic much like Street Fighter, or Mortal Kombat or any other fighter at this point. It also has both an online, and offline versus mode. The online mode has the same  online net code system that Skull Girls used, so it’s actually a really fun experience online. So long as you can find someone to play with. Because of the “Laugh, and move on” vibe the game gives off, many seem to have done just that. It’s too bad because the game really does deserve to be more popular. But as it is, don’t come into it looking to play online against strangers, as much as friends. If you do get online you’ll have no major complaints. Lag is minimal, and performance is pretty good.

The meat of this game is going to be offline competition. Like most fighting games the real fun is going to be playing against friends who come over, or in a public tournament in your area. Despite the zany characters, fighting community jokes, and lack of everything fighters are known for, you’ll be biting your nails. Because everything comes down to that one moment. That’s the entire game, a constant flood of that welcomed, competitive, stress. You’ll laugh at first, but after that subsides you’ll keep coming back for more.

Divekick is a game you really need to play. It unfortunately wears it’s joke veneer a little too well for it’s own good. But don’t let that stop you. Pick your Steam, XBL, or PSN poison, and have at it. You’ll be glad you did.

Final Score: 8 out of 10

Super Amazing Wagon Adventure Review

A noteworthy indie PC game finally hits Steam long after being ported to consoles. What is all of the hoopla about?

PROS: A decent shoot ’em up wrapped in an homage to Mecc’s Oregon Trail.

CONS: Difficulty swings wildly between easy, and hard.

WHY?: Did it take so long for Valve to green light the game?

Super Amazing Wagon Adventure, or SAWA is just one of many games that have come out in recent years with the purpose of remembering The Oregon Trail. For anyone who grew up in the 1980’s or early 1990’s it was a memorable part of school. Students had to huddle into groups, and decide what steps were necessary to get from one coast of the US to the other using a wagon. What supplies would the group bring? How much food, water, or ammunition? What usually happened was one person would be overzealous with the purchase of hunting weapons so that they could play a hunting minigame.

Of course, this usually resulted in the wagon being too heavy with beef carcasses, and the group getting stranded in the middle of nowhere, running out of meat, and dying.

This game essentially makes the entire game the hunting game, by turning the coach into a ship like one would use in R-Type. But it doesn’t drop the Oregon Trail influence there either. The game starts out by asking you to name your party, pick mug shots for each, and begin. It also takes the random nature of it’s influence by throwing you into situations. You may be in the middle of chasing down buffalo, and then the game decides to put in more animals. Often times however the game just goes all out zany.

For instance there are times when you choose to attempt jumping a river. So you end up in space shooting down asteroid fields. Or the game throws you into a Civil War section. Or it decides your rider ate hallucinogenic vegetables, and tosses you into a Robotron 2084 inspired stage. This is where the game becomes really fun because of just how over the top it becomes. You can replay the game hundreds of times, and it’s different almost every time even if a couple of sections repeat.

On top of that there are all kinds of secret unlockable wagons, and modes based upon whatever random challenges the game throws in. Like a lot of other retro inspired indie games, this one also has 8-bit effect modes like scan line emulation.

Super Amazing Wagon Adventure is certainly worth looking into. Especially if you have a low rent laptop, and want to put something on it as a time killer when waiting on a meeting. Or if you have some downtime while you’re out. It’s one of those games you can play for five minutes, or five hours. It will make you laugh whether you win or lose, and the randomness of it all can be quite fun. Arguably, it can get shallow in spots, but there are far more worse indie games for more money than this one. If you can skip a trip to Starbucks for a day, it’s certainly worth the asking price.

Final Score 7 out of 10