Tag Archives: indie

Retro World Expo 2018 Recap

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It seems like only yesterday I attended Retro World Expo 2017, and here I am talking about the fourth iteration of this convention. RWE 2017 was an absolute blast, and RWE 2018 was also an absolute blast. I made my way to the Hartford Convention Center Saturday morning to find that this year’s entry was different. Instead of going up the center’s escalator, and lining up, this year used the ticket booth section of the lower floor. This was an improvement, as it made figuring out where to go much more seamless. There was however one piece of confusion that a convention center employee had to solve, and that was the front door. Some guests inadvertently cut the line by going right to the booth before it was made clear they had to go to the rear entrance of the lobby to enter a line.

That said, everything moved smoothly, and even though I’d arrived behind a few hundred people, I was getting my bands in less than ten minutes. For whatever reason the QR code did not display on my pre-registration form when printed. But the ticket attendant was easily able to find my info, see I had prepaid, and give me my wristbands for the weekend, and after party. Once inside, I went upstairs to find not one, but two amazing custom vehicles.

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The first was a really cool Jurassic Park themed vehicle. The paint job was right out of the films. Impeccable. The pattern was spot on, and had a nice gloss finish. There was also a plastic triceratops near by to finish off the movie vibe. Great stuff. Next to that vehicle was none other than Russ Lyman’s Super Mario Kart 2.0. Sadly, earlier this year he lost his original Super Mario Kart in an accident. Fortunately he was able to replace his vehicle, and over time modify it. The end result is an even better design than before, sporting a beautiful multicolored design, and a breathtaking Super Mario Bros. pit crew portrait by Tom Ryan Studio. Both vehicles were parked out in front of the convention floor so that attendees could take photos.

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Some of the earliest guests I met were Daniel Pesina, Rich Divizio, and Anthony Marquez who were character actors in the original three Mortal Kombat games. All of them were super cool, and down to Earth folks. I talked with them about how big a part of my teenage years that the MK games, and Street Fighter were for me. As well as pretty much everybody else. I ended up buying a promotional poster style photo, and all three of them were kind enough to sign it for me. If you ever have the opportunity to see them at a show, you ought to take it.

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As I wandered the floor, I veered into the arcade area where I saw something both wondrous, and disappointing. The KRULL arcade cabinet. Based upon the cult 1983 Sci-Fi Fantasy film; you’re sent through a number of action sequences loosely based on those found in the movie. It uses a twin-stick setup similar to the one in Robotron 2084, and it is a lot of fun to play. Sadly, the machine was out-of-order, so I couldn’t actually play it. I did however get a few photos of it, since actually laying your eyes on one these days is a rarity. Should you find one in working order at a barcade, amusement park, convention, or other situation, do play it. It’s pretty cool.

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Around this time Russ Lyman bumped into me, and we began catching up. Around this time I spotted the Imaginary Monsters booth, so we walked over, and I introduced him to the developers. (Full disclosure, I know two of them personally.) The team is working on a new Metroidvania style game called Abyxsis: The Demon Reborn. They brought a demo version to the show, and what they showed was pretty good! It obviously has a way to go before completion, but I liked what I saw. In it, you appear to play as a winged monster who has to traverse dark labyrinths to find NPCs, power ups, and other items. Like Metroid, there’s a sense of exploration. But at the same time, your character has the ability to do some really fun aerial moves. This looks to be one of the themes of navigation. What they showed was also pretty tough. Enemies take a lot of damage, and can put you down quickly. Again this is all subject to change being a fairly early demo. But the tight controls, wonderful pixel art, and map design are promising.

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Imaginary Monsters wasn’t the only indie studio to attend though! Adjacent to their booth was a studio called Jumpmen Gaming. They had two games they were showing off. The first was Project Myriad, a hexadecimal tower defense game with puzzle elements. I didn’t get much time with it so I certainly can’t review it here. That said, it might be something worth looking into if you’re a fan of the genre. I’m not fond of using the phrase “Fan of the genre” as it tends to be overused. But in this case I think it’s applicable. It clearly looks to do something different with the concept by going with a hex display, something usually geared toward a special niche of war games. The puzzle elements seem to add some flair as well. If any of that sounds like something you would like to try, it was recently released on Steam, and isn’t too expensive.

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The other game they showed was Sentinel Zero. This game was in its very early stages. This upcoming release is a horizontal shoot ’em up game in the vein of R-Type. What sets it apart are its cartoon vector graphics. The presentation reminded me a lot of early Newgrounds games written in Flash. Think Alien Hominid. But the little that was shown was pretty fun. You earn power shots by filling a meter. You fill the meter by shooting everything. The hook seems to be quickly filling the meter, and unleashing charged shots as fast as possible. They also had two bosses to show, one of which was a giant spider. Again, it has a long way to go before being ready for prime time. But it looked like good start for a project by a two-person upstart.

Another interesting looking indie game demo was Depths Of Sanity by a studio called Bomb Shelter Studios. I didn’t get any real footage or screens of this one as I didn’t get the chance to try it myself. But it was intriguing. It appears to be an underwater action, and exploration game where you’ll pilot a submarine, and find all kinds of upgrades for it that allow you into previously inaccessible areas. Like a Metroidvania with elements of Blaster Master thrown in for good measure. Again, another early build. It does have a store page on Steam with a release date of Q4 2019.

Finally, Giant Evil Robot was back with the recently released full version of Mecha-Tokyo Rush. This is a combination of endless runner, and Mega Man clone. Things seemed a bit better than the build I saw last year. I didn’t have time to really play it though, so I can’t really say much in terms of its final state. The game does have a free to play model however, so you really don’t have anything to lose if you want to check it out.

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After taking my initial walk around the floor, I went to the first of the panels I attended. The Connecticut YouTube panel. This panel featured Ryan Alexander (RAXTheGreat1), Mike Levy (Dongled), Sam Hatch (Culture Dog), John Delia (The Video Game Years), Paul Barnas (Retro Gaming Arts), and Russ Lyman (Russ Lyman). For those who don’t know, Retro World Expo has roots in Retroware TV, one of the earliest video hosts before YouTube became the de facto delivery model video content creators use today. Many don’t realize Retroware has its own roots in Connecticut. So it only makes sense to have a panel dedicated to some of the online content creators who are local to the area.

But while the panelists are natives of the State, the information delivered in the panel is applicable to anybody getting into video content on the internet. I would even go onto say a lot of it is applicable to any creative endeavor online or off. A lot of the questions posed to the panelists revealed some insightful answers. When asked about the motivation behind creating content everyone unanimously agreed one has to do it first, and foremost out of a love of it. Few, if many creators of any medium become overnight success stories. One shouldn’t make a video expecting to be the next James Rolfe. If it happens, fine, but going in with that expectation is a recipe for disaster. More than likely, you’re not going to garner a massive flood of views, and subscriptions when you start out. Even the creators who are big names today, often took months or years of work to become those big names.

Continuing from there, Mike Levy brought up the importance of making content you, as a creator want to make. Chasing trends isn’t going to work because it isn’t genuine. Others pointed out that potential fans may be able to sense that as well. When the subject of potential collaborations between creators came up, Mike, and Russ also pointed out the need to have a fleshed out idea to present. It isn’t enough to simply ask another creator to do a crossover project. Especially since they’re often pressed for time for their own projects, jobs, and lives. Instead one has to have a project idea ready to go, ideally with what role the person has in mind for them. The creator may still decline depending on the given situation. But they’ll be more likely to at least listen to what it is you have to propose.

Other panelists also drove home the importance of consistency. Trying to keep content coming out for the audience to experience. At the same time though, they did acknowledge there were times where a legitimate break is needed. Commitments, responsibilities, and other things may eat into time normally allotted toward creative endeavors. Sam, Paul, and John also talked about the guilt creators often feel for missing self-imposed deadlines, but acknowledged sometimes it’s unavoidable. Another topic was the importance of lighting, and audio in videos. Even a high quality camera can’t compensate for a lack of light, or bad audio. If the audience can’t see you, or your audio is too distorted or too light or too loud it can turn them off. Even if the content is good. Russ pointed out an episode he made on this very subject.

There was also a discussion about the recent controversy over former IGN writer Filip Miucin’s theft of YouTuber Boomstick Gaming’s Dead Cells review, which led into a wider discussion of online content theft. While some felt Miucin likely felt pressured by deadlines, everyone agreed that plagiarism was despicable behavior. Some of the panelists were rather shocked when they found their own content re-uploaded by other people without permission.

On the lighter side of things, there were some humorous moments where the panelists discussed changing trends in online video. At one time, many preferred long form content. But these days some viewers complain if it isn’t quick, and digestible in a few moments. One particularly funny point was when the crew talked about the trend of unboxing videos being popular. The joke that stood out centered around an unboxing video where the box would house smaller boxes within boxes like a set of nesting dolls. It was also in this panel that Ryan would point out some new YouTube creators were in the crowd.  Nerdy, and Squirdy are YouTube newcomers, and after checking them out I think Ryan may be onto something. These two have a nice variety of different gaming content you just may want to look into.

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After the panel I walked back down to the main floor, where I got in some arcade gaming in. Every year Retro World Expo has a respectable number of arcade machines set up, as well as console set ups where attendees can play without quarters or tokens. Every machine is set to Free Play mode. Some of the machines I saw this year that I don’t remember seeing last year aside from KRULL, were a Star Wars: Return Of The Jedi machine, The Simpsons Arcade Game, and a Dig Dug cocktail table. Over the course of my time at the show, I played a fair amount of Street Fighter II: Champion Edition, Final Fight, Shinobi, Ms. Pac-Man, Donkey Kong, and Dig Dug. There was also a Ghouls n’ Ghosts machine, but it was always in use. One of the guys in my local trade group managed to find some time on it though, and even cleared it on only a few lives! Impressive.

I also wandered the floor this year looking for some Atari 2600, and Commodore 64 game deals. On the first day, I managed to track down a boxed copy of Gravitar, and a loose copy of Cruise Missile. The latter of which I had never seen before. Apparently it was released in 1987, and is a shmup involving above ground combat, and subterranean combat in the vein of MagMax. I also saw many of the guys from RF Generation were back, as well as Steven Christina Jr, and Karly Kingsley from Super Retro Throwback Reviews. I sat down with them for a short interview they should be airing in the coming weeks. SRTR was also raffling off a bunch of cool PS4 releases, as well as an NES Classic, and a Super NES Classic so I bought a couple of tickets to try my luck.

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At around 4 o’clock or so I attended the Mortal Kombat panel with  Daniel Pesina, Rich Divizio, and Anthony Marquez. They were joined by Sal Divita. Sal was instrumental in bringing the NBA Jam series, and its spinoffs to arcades, and consoles. But he also had involvement as Nightwolf in Mortal Kombat 3. In addition to that, he still saw a lot of the development process on all of the early Mortal Kombat games. Daniel, Rich, and Anthony brought a lot of insight into the world of game development as they talked about the creation of Mortal Kombat. It was an idea that almost didn’t come to fruition, as Midway was hoping for a licensed project with Jean-Claude Van Damme. But when that fell through, Midway allowed Ed Boon, and John Tobias to move ahead with their ideas.

As it turns out, there was a great deal of painstaking work involved in the original games. Every video taped action the actors made, had to be cut down to 8 frames of animation due to memory constraints. Not only that, but many of the characters’ moves had to be shot multiple times when it was discovered that being even the slightest bit too close or far from the camera would make sprite sizes inconsistent. Midway also had a very low-budget for the early games so the crew had to use make shift lighting using office desk lamps, and some sessions were filmed using a camera owned by John Tobias’ father.

As for the controversy surrounding the game’s violence level, when it came to politicians, Midway’s stance was to ignore it. But the actors were contract players, not official Midway employees, so they were unabashed in defense of their work. All in all, a very informative panel not only for fans of Mortal Kombat, and fighting games, but for anybody interested in video game development, and history.

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After that panel I wandered the floor some more, stopping to talk to friends, and acquaintances whom were either shopping, gaming, or vending. I also finally met The Gamescape Artist in person. My first contact with him was during a fellow blogger, hungrygoriya’s live streams (If you love old school JRPGs, check out her blog, or channel. It’s great!). He’s a friendly guy, and quite the painter! He has a wide range of paintings of iconic video game scenes to choose from, and he also does commissions. They’re high quality, highly detailed pieces, so if you’re looking for something to spruce up your game room consider giving him a shout out.

I also ran into the makers of an independent games’ magazine. Old School Gamer Magazine is just what it sounds like. It’s a new publication with articles covering retro games, as well as modern stuff inspired by retro games. The format is a little bit different from what I’d expected. It reminded me a bit of 1980’s computer magazines like Compute!, Ahoy!, and Commodore RUN, minus the program code you could type in, and save to a floppy for free software. The issue they gave me was the fifth one, and it came with a cool poster of the cover art. The representative informed me that they give away the digital version for free via email, but for a fairly low price you can have the physical magazines mailed to you every month. If you miss the days of getting Nintendo Power, GamePro, EGM, and Computer Gaming World at the newsstand, go check it out to see if it’s right for you.

I also met a group of Video bloggers who do VLOG articles, and live streams. The Geeky Panda covers convention cosplays, as well as games, and have an active Twitch page you can check out if so inclined. They play a bunch of stuff including Resident Evil VII, and Fallout IV. If you’re looking for a new variety streaming channel to follow, they may be your ticket.

After the show floor closed I walked over to the adjacent Hartford Marriott’s hotel bar. Normally I would have paid a visit to the City Steam Brewery, but the after party started an hour after the main show ended. I felt I wouldn’t make it back in time. Fortunately the hotel bar did have City Steam Naughty Nurse, so I pre-gamed with the delicious Amber Ale. After that, I went back to the convention center for the after party event which was a lot of fun.

There were a number of things to check out over the course of two hours. You could play arcade cabs that were set up in one of the rooms. Big Bucks Entertainment ran a special edition of Press Your Luck, where contestants who landed on a Whammy had to take a shot. Host Davira Kuy was also doing so in a rather impressive Quan Chi (Mortal Kombat 4) cosplay. The Imaginary Monsters developers were there, so I introduced them to my friends, and acquaintances, as everybody mingled. There was also a fun Drink, and Draw event going on. It was a nice way to end the first part of the convention.

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I commuted back home after that, put away the first day’s pick ups, and got some rest. Day two was a Sunday, so after services, I headed back to Hartford to catch what I could. I did manage to get into Pat Contri’s panel which had some updates on projects he has in the pipeline. He, and his team are working feverishly on the follow-up to his excellent NES collecting guide. This one will be centered on the Super NES, and will be in a similar format. There will also be an alternate cover for the PAL readership. He is also looking into updating the original NES book with some improved screenshots. So future print runs may include these. But the biggest news is that he is working with some other creators on a documentary video about the video game industry’s shift away from physical media. The project will talk about both the pros of such decisions, and the cons of such decisions. The teaser he revealed does look quite promising.

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At the end of the panel he brought back the NES Challenge, and I was able to be a contestant in the second bout! In a cut throat match of Donkey Kong Jr. Math, I barely managed to squeak out a victory! The first round pitted two fans against one another in Balloon Fight, while the third round pitted a couple against one another in an Abobo Vs. Abobo match in Double Dragon. The winners were granted a download key for a digital edition of his NES guide, while the losers were granted shoe string budget games for the Atari 2600, and Sega Genesis. A great panel overall.

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I also got to see Norman Caruso’s Gaming Historian panel again this year. This time he did a live episode centered around a certain Nintendo made boxing franchise. I won’t say anything else about it, but like all of his episodes, you can expect to be amazed as there will be some revelations you won’t believe. This year he also changed game shows. Instead of video game history themed Jeopardy, he did video game history themed Who Wants To Be A Millionaire? This year’s contestant won last year’s Jeopardy game only to discover he won a T-shirt that didn’t fit, so this year he was attempting to win the appropriate size.

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The last panel at the show I caught was a special panel centered around the history of Castlevania, and the Metroidvania formula used in modern independent games. Mike Levy was joined by Marc Duddleson (My Life In Gaming), Mike Desiderio (Rewind Mike), and Pam Dzwonek (Cannot Be Tamed.). Throughout the panel they went over many of the games in the series, and talked about the transition from action platformer to the Metroidvania style most think of today. But they also brought up the fact that there were times where the series hasn’t simply abandoned one style for the other. Marc, brought up the fact that the Nintendo 64’s entries in the series have many similarities to the NES trilogy with a focus on platforming, and combat. Pam, and Mike talked a bit about how even Castlevania II: Simon’s Quest had RPG elements that in some ways can be seen as a forebear to the labyrinthine designs seen in later games.

But they also discussed many newer games like Axiom Verge, Hollow Knight, and Mystik Belle. Here, Rewind Mike pointed out that some of these games veer more toward Metroid, while others veer more toward Symphony Of The Night in terms of design. He also mentioned Abyxsis after seeing it on the floor earlier in the day, and having liked what he had seen. Things closed out with some Castlevania trivia, with the winning attendee getting a Castlevania II: Simon’s Quest Game Pak signed by James Rolfe, and many of the online personalities who attended the show. From Mike Levy’s personal collection no less. And no, I did not win. My Castlevania knowledge is rudimentary. Although I do surprise people when I point out Konami did port the game to many 80’s era computer platforms. Also they’re expensive. If you thought the NES cartridge is steep, try getting the Commodore 64 floppy disk. Anyway, it was a great panel.

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I spent most of my final moments of the show on the floor again. I found a few great deals over that time. The crown jewel was the copy of Bubble Bobble for the Commodore 64 a friend of mine had at his booth. Most people remember the NES release, but the C64 version was pretty much on par, and you don’t see it as often. Another vendor had a slew of boxed, and unboxed games, so I looked through the vast selection where I found a copy of Pengo for the Atari 2600. It’s not a release that you see very often at all. It had no tag on it so I asked for a price. When they replied “It has a ripped label so ten dollars.” I just said “Done.”, and picked it up.

I was demoed a party card game called Cheer Up. It plays similarly to Cards Against Humanity, but with its own twist. It goes through rounds in three steps while also simplifying it with a three-letter system. This opens things up by having three card answer types, but also color coding them to make things easier to follow. It wasn’t something I got into, but that’s probably me not being as drawn to board games as other people. I can see the appeal though for those whom have guests over often. Basically, the person asking a question gets every other player to submit answers from their hand, with the funniest one getting points. If you have people over for regular game nights, you might want to see if it’s for you. They have a free digital download version on their site which is nice, because then you can try it to see if you’ll enjoy it before buying a copy.

I also spotted a booth hosted by another YouTube up, and comer GothamLounge who does Long plays with commentary. If you’re stumped on a game, you may want to see if it’s something he’s played through. He seems like a nice fellow, so I wish him luck on his online endeavors. As I was catching up with friends, and acquaintances before the show closed I was tracked down by the Super Retro Throwback team to discover I had won the Super NES Classic Edition raffle! So I guess this was my “steal” of the show as I ultimately got one of these ridiculously cheap. A special thanks to them for interviewing me, and hosting the raffles. I also nabbed some sweet Splatoon themed stickers, and buttons from the always great Elijah Taylor, and JustM3hStudios booths. If you see them at a con near you check them out sometime.

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All in all, I had another great year seeing some great panels, scoring some deals, and meeting up with friends like The Best Spuds. But there was so much going on it was impossible to get to everything. I didn’t get a chance to talk to a number of guests. I didn’t get to say “Hello” to The Gaming Historian, RGT85, Game Dave, or Bob Backlund. (Yes, the great wrestling legend Bob Backlund was at the show.). There were a ton of interesting people there this year, and I’ve undoubtedly missed some of them. I apologize in advance.

But even if you weren’t interested in any of the guests there were a lot of other things happening. The Arcade games, and console games were set up to go all day. There were pinball machines to play. There were tabletop miniature games to play. There were live musical acts to jam out to. There were several tournaments going on as well. The ever popular Fortnite had a singles, and doubles competition, there was a Mario Kart 64 competition, a Goldeneye tournament, even a Nintendo World Championships tournament.

There was also a cosplay contest going on this year, and the massive auction made a return. Unfortunately for me I missed it. I was told somebody won a complete Commodore 64 setup (including a vintage monitor) for well below value. Some years the auction can actually lead to deals for some con goers. And even if none of that appeals to you, there are always a lot of vendors to check out. You may not get insane deals, but you can almost bet at least someone will have something you never see when you go hunting locally.

Congrats to everyone at the convention for putting on another great show this year. I hope to be able to make it out again next year. And thanks to all readers who made it this far. As you can see, I had a lot of ground to cover, and I still didn’t get to everything. If you’re in New England next year when it rolls around, check it out. It’s well-organized, entertaining, and they squeeze a lot into it.

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The Messenger Review

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Final Score: 9.5 out of 10

Most anticipated titles shown at E3

Man, what a hectic last few weeks, with more to come. It’s kept me away from time to do much. Though at least I was able to get a couple of streaming nights in. Still, I missed most of the E3 conferences, and I’ve been playing catch up. All three of the platform holders had pretty average events this year. Bethesda did a 180 from last year, even if none of the people in attendance seemed to know who Andrew W.K. is.

Ubisoft seemed bog standard. I didn’t see EA’s though the reception doesn’t appear to have been too warm. But beyond the big conferences there were a lot of trailers, and announcements of smaller titles. And I tend to like to pay attention to those, because they can often turn out to be as exciting as the hyped stuff. So these are some of the titles I saw that caught my attention. Hopefully they’ll turn out to be great games we want in our computer, and console game libraries.

Daemon X Machina

Nintendo’s Direct was the first time I’d heard anything about this game. But a trailer’s job is to generate interest in the subject matter. So mission accomplished. It appears to be some kind of action game involving mechs. But what sets this apart (at least in the trailer) is the No More Heroes unsaturated art style, and a rocking industrial metal soundtrack. It goes really well with the depictions of exploding robots, and bloody skies. I want to hear more about this one. If you’re a fan of Voltron, MechWarrior, Metal Storm, Transformers, Gundam, or giant killer death bots in general, you may want to too.

Insurgency: Sandstorm

I’ve been looking forward to seeing more about this once since it was announced. The original game is a wonderful blend of tactical shooter, and team shooter. There isn’t much of a HUD if any. There aren’t any kill cams. Most of the weapons will kill you in one or two hits. If you have body armor, maybe three. There aren’t any unlockable items that require grinding. If your class can use a weapon, you can use it. They balance this with a point system that forces trade offs. And it has all of the modes a Battlefield player might want. This sequel hopes to bring that experience to consoles next year after it launches in September on computers. Without the focus on loot boxes or battle royal modes this could be something Battlefield, and Call Of Duty veterans may want to check out. For those who don’t like to deal with sore sports online, it also offers a robust one player campaign. To sweeten the deal NWI is bringing it out at less than half the cost of a AAA release, and giving customers who bought the old game 10% off. They’re giving an additional 10% off to people who preorder.

Super Smash Bros. Ultimate

Frankly, I don’t know how you don’t get at least a little bit excited for this one. Even if you’re a staunch fan of traditional fighters like Street Fighter, or 3D fighters like Soul Calibur or Tekken, this one should still impress you. Maybe just a tiny bit, but still. They’ve reworked the damage for 1 on 1 fights, heavily nerfed repeated dodges, and made short hop attacking a little bit easier. This is going to make the competitive end of the audience intrigued, and in some cases happy. For the rest of us, this is giving a lot of great stuff too. If you bought the figures, and adapters for your Gamecube controllers, they’ll all work on it. Every character from every previous Smash game is in here. Plus there is bunch of new assist trophies, items, and even some new characters.  This one comes out later this year, and I can already sense many will fire up the older games to practice up.

Serious Sam 4

Serious Sam may not have the star power he did back in the early 2000’s. But you’re always guaranteed a fun time filled with mindless action. For those who don’t know, this long running series by Croteam puts you in a large campaign of stages that have you constantly shooting, and managing resources. Some compare it to stuff like the original Doom. But that’s actually a long way off. The level designs are often interlocked arenas. So you’ll enter a room, destroy a wave of enemies, get an item, and destroy another. The thing is each room potentially has hundreds of enemies to contend with at a time. It’s more accurate to compare it to old Midway games like Robotron 2084, Smash TV, and Total Carnage. But the constant introduction of new enemy types, weapons, and the vast number of Easter Eggs to find keeps them fresh. This time they got the writer of The Talos Principle to write the story for Serious Sam 4. So who knows if Serious Sam will be Serious? Either way, I find these games fun so I hope to check this one out as well.

RAGE 2

Yes I know, there are a lot of shooters on here. But I did enjoy the original Rage when it came out. Abrupt ending aside, it was pretty cool. The desert was a hub world with towns in it. It had a pretty entertaining Mad Max inspired story, and it had the shooting you’d expect an iD game to have. So this sequel has me intrigued. The desert is more than a hub world supposedly, and there are a larger multitude of factions. The action looked good, and so I’m hoping for the best. The original didn’t sell horribly but it didn’t sell Doom, or Wolfenstein numbers either. So I was honestly surprised this sequel was green lit. Still, I liked the old one, and this one looks like it could be an improvement.

Tunic

I know there are a ton of Legend Of Zelda clones out there. But this one stood out to me during the Microsoft conference. It doesn’t look like it does a ton of new things with the gameplay, but at the same time it has an inviting art style, and I loved seeing some of the character designs. Hopefully it turns out really well. It displayed a fairly large map so there will be a lot of ground to cover.

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Similarly, at the Sony show there were a lot of big, anticipated games. But once again, something smaller showed up in the line of trailers. This one is by Remedy who invented the Max Payne franchise years ago. They also did the Alan Wake, and Quantum Break. While Quantum Break was derided for making people watch long, episodic cut scenes, this seems to have eschewed that experiment. The protagonist has this telekinetic ability allowing her to pick things up remotely, and use them as weapons. Sure it’s not the most original idea. But it looks cool in this one. When you’re done with The Last Of Us 2 you might want to pop this in. It looks fun.

Super Mario Party

I rarely get excited about a Mario Party game. Don’t get me wrong. I have most of them. Even the least exciting iterations are still a hit during holidays, and get together moments. But Super Mario Party is the first one in a long time that I kind of really want to play. For starters the frame rate (at least in the trailer) seems like it will be 60 fps on most modern HD TVs which will be pure glory for some of those mini games. Second of all, they seem to be doing interesting things with it if you network two Switches together. On the flip side, my nieces only continue to learn games in 8 seconds. So when I visit my Sister I’m likely leaving with the least amount of stars. They’re pretty good at Smash, and Kart too. But I suppose it happens to even the best of us. We get old, and our siblings’ progeny dethrone us eventually. Still, Super Mario Party looks pretty great even if it will leave me with zero stars.

Ninjala

I really want to see more about this one. Ninja kids Nerf sword fighting while doing parkour, and Baby metal is rocking out in the background? It looks like there is a big reliance on bubblegum. Not sure what that’s about, but it also looks like there is co-op, and versus modes in it. The trailer doesn’t go into much detail, but like Daemon X Machina, I am intrigued.

Ghost of Tsushima

This game looked really cool. The trailer didn’t show off much of what the objective or story was. But the combat, the environments, and characters looked really compelling. I would have liked them to have spent a little bit more time on it. But in any case, Sucker Punch got me talking about this game, and if you missed it or forgot about it, you may want to follow this one. Again, hoping it turns out great. But it looked really good, and like something those with a PS4 ought to look into.

Octopath Traveler

Even though I veer more toward the instant gratification of action genres, I do like a good RPG now, and again. This game has me interested for a few reasons. One is the look of everything. It reminds me a bit of the Ys remasters with its blend of 3D models, and 2D sprites. The filters on everything makes it look unique too. Another reason is that it’s giving players eight different characters to play with, each with their own career paths, and storylines. So it looks like it can be something a die-hard RPG fan can marathon for days. But also something someone with limited time can span out over a year by playing through one story, taking a break, then going back to it.

Mega Man 11

I’m a huge fan of the Classic Mega Man series. I’ve played through all of them. 1-10, as well as the GB line, and the side game Mega Man & Bass. This one looks like they’re trying to make it accessible to newcomers with a bullet time mechanic. But they’re leaving it optional so veterans can play completely old-school. They’re also returning to a more modern 2.5D look. It’ll be interesting to see how they do without Inafune at the helm. But the trailer does look decidedly Mega Man.

Cyberpunk 2077

CD Projekt Red always seems to deliver solid RPGs. (A few of which I still need to finish.) But this one looks like a big departure from what we normally see. It’s Sci-Fi instead of Fantasy. It’s taking inspiration from a pen, and paper series, and yet also seems to have action elements.  I do want to see where they take the not too distant future theme compared to some of the others that have ventured there.

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They showed off a little more of this one in some interviews, and I’m even more excited about it than when I saw the initial trailer two months ago or so. It’s a love letter to both the NES Ninja Gaiden Trilogy, as well as action platformers on the Super NES. It’s fast, frantic, and being built with speedrunners in mind. The visual changes are tied to the game’s story, and it’s been confirmed to not only release on the Switch, but on PC as well. As someone who loves action platformers, I’m really looking forward to this one.

Metal Wolf Chaos XD

Originally released on the inaugural Xbox, most have never played this one. Because it was exclusive to the Japanese market at the time. These days, finding an original copy for your Xbox is an expensive endeavor. It’s a mech action game with the premise of a DTV B Movie.  By From Software no less. Devolver Digital is re-releasing this game with some updated visual options on Xbox One, Playstation 4, and PC. It’s completely silly, and over the top. If the high aftermarket prices online have kept you from getting this already, this is one remaster you might not want to miss.

 

So there you go. This year’s show might not have had the hype, and power of last year, but there was still plenty to look forward to. Whether you looked for grandiose blockbusters, or indie games, or somewhere in between. These were some of mine, and I hope you enjoyed this run down. Hopefully you’ll enjoy seeing some of these as much as I did. What were some of your E3 announcements? Feel free to comment below.

The Next Penelope Review

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Combinations. Sometimes they work really well. Most of us like peanut butter with chocolate, fluff, or jelly. In gaming, we often see developers experiment with different elements from one genre, and blending it with elements from another. The Next Penelope is one of many such games. But the components it assembles are far more removed from one another in comparison to other titles.

PROS: Minimalist art style works well.

CONS: Technical hitches. Lack of options. A.I.

HOMER: Expect Iliad, and Odyssey references.

The Next Penelope bills itself as a top-down racer in the vein of the old Codemasters Micro Machines games that appeared on the NES, and Sega Genesis. But in reality that’s only one part of the game. The Next Penelope utilizes these kinds of races, but attempts to cross-pollinate them with bits of F-Zero. You can boost, which drains the health of your vehicle, and you can drive over pit stop lanes to repair your vehicle.

But it doesn’t stop there. The game also includes elements of vertical, and horizontal shoot ’em up games like Raiden, and R-Type. As with the boost mechanic, using the weapons throughout the game will also drain your vehicle health meter. There are several great weapons to use throughout the campaign, and you’ll find that they’re almost always the key to victory.

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So how does the game work? The Next Penelope references Homer’s Odyssey. From the subtitle; Race To Odysseus, to names of characters, and places from the epic poem. In this game you play as Penelope who is trying to get to Ulysses. But in order to do so you’ll have to go to different star systems, and proceed to win different racing circuits. The reality is that each of these circuits has one race. Each circuit lists three races, but only the second race is actually a race. Your first race is usually a trial where you have to master one of the weapons or abilities. Complete that task, and then you’ll enter a race. A race you have to place first in. If you don’t win, you can’t advance. Winning the race will put you up against a boss for the third event. If you defeat the boss, you’ll get to take the weapon you gained in the first event with you through the rest of the game.

You can technically, go through the game in any order you want, a la Mega Man. But the game really wants you to go in a specific order. Because you’ll quickly find the races are almost impossible to win without the weapon or item required. Where as in Capcom’s games starring the Blue Bomber, you can get through an entire stage using only an arm cannon, here you can’t. You won’t even beat the course required to get to the boss to use your weapon on, without said weapon. That’s because the rubber band A.I. in this game is ridiculous. Even if you lead three laps because you’re good enough to do it, the last lap you will be bombarded with enemy racers’ firepower, and get overtaken.

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Over the course of the game you’ll get laser guns, a teleportation device, a grappling hook, and even a cloud that turns bullets into experience points. Win the races, and it’s off to fight a boss. Admittedly, the boss fights are some of the best parts of The Next Penelope. Most of them are pretty creative, and involve some level of puzzle solving skills on your part. There are a few that are disappointing though, because they boil down to trial, and error gameplay as opposed to the puzzle solving twitch action of the better ones. Still, these are where most of the fun times happen.

That isn’t to say the racing is terrible. Most of the tracks have some pretty cool designs, and you’ll have to get your turns just right, to drift around a corner or make a jump over a gap safely. Tracks have some interesting hazards too, like flooded streets, blockades that require specific items to avoid, and even have shortcuts that require expert timing, and speed to use. What kills the fun a bit is the aforementioned A.I. if you thought some of the old Mario Kart, Need For Speed, or Cruisin‘ games had cheap CPU racers, you’ll have flashbacks when playing this. The pain is doubled when you realize this game has the same steering scheme as games like Super Sprint. Your space car also moves automatically, so you can’t brake around corners, or to avoid hitting something.

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Thankfully the controls are responsive, and if you don’t want to use the classic D-Pad controls, you can use the triggers on your controller to steer left, or right. Once you have a handle on them, and you get a few circuits in, it will become a lot more manageable as the items, and weapons will help keep you in the lead a lot. Once you’ve gotten through a set of races you can move along a star map to the next set you want to attempt. There are also extra courses you can attempt. But these won’t be playable until you’ve completed the campaign for the first time. You’ll also earn XP throughout the game, and there is a store on the star map where you can spend your XP on upgrades. In my time with the game, I found it best to wait until near the end to do this, but you can also go into the shop whenever you want between circuits.

Once you beat all of the main circuits, you’ll be able to enter the final showdown. This is a two boss rush. Here the game ceases to be a top-down racer, and becomes a horizontal shmup. What makes these fights challenging is that the game continues to use the F-Zero drain mechanics from the races. So as you shoot at the bosses you’ll drain your health. Beating these guys will take careful resource management, and all of your cunning.

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The story here isn’t particularly great. It references Homer’s poems a number of ways, but it doesn’t do anything interesting with them. It’s really just there to set up each of the circuits so that the boss encounters make more sense. On the plus side, the artwork is very nice. It could easily pass for one of the late 90’s action shows that aired on Cartoon Network with minimalist designs that are accented with a wonderful use of color. This moves into the mainline game graphics too, which use an interesting blend of background tile art, and shaded shapes for the vehicles, and characters. It reminded me a bit of Another World’s look. vehicles appear to be almost like models when in actuality they’re an animated series of sprites. It’s pretty impressive for a such a small game.

 

The Next Penelope isn’t a bad game, by any means. But it isn’t going to be for everyone. The worst part of the experience is the brutal A.I., and there are a number of technical hitches in it that don’t help. Sometimes the game will hiccup for no apparent reason. I played the game on both my gaming desktop that far exceeds the requirements, and an old laptop. In both cases they came up at arbitrary times. It didn’t matter if I had the settings maxed or set to minimum. The game also has a CRT filter you can enable. Again, sometimes this would happen with or without simulated scan lines. In my case I had been playing for a few hours before it would happen. But when it did it was awful, as it would cause me to drive off course, or crash into an obstacle. I don’t know if this happens on any of the console versions as I haven’t played those. There was also the strange omission of any kind of volume controls in the game. This makes it a tough game to stream as you can’t just go in, and lower the sound if it drowns out your voice. Instead you’ll have to go tweak your system’s microphone, and sound settings. Which isn’t always a simple task depending on your configuration.

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That said, it’s worth experiencing if you’re looking for something a little bit different to play. It looks nice, controls fine, and there are some truly fun moments in it. But only the truly devoted will go through the bonus missions, or care to accomplish all of the game’s achievement milestones. It’s not a terrible game, but don’t expect the moon either. If you come into it looking for something on par with an F-Zero or Wipeout game, you’ll want to look elsewhere. But if you’re open-minded, and want to try something new, you might be surprised.

Final Score: 6.5 out of 10

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.

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.

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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