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Kero Blaster Review

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

PROS: Great music, pixel art, and mechanics.

CONS: Minor technical hitches.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Final Score: 8 out of 10

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Giana Sisters 2D Review

In a way this almost feels like cheating. It’s all of the stages from Giana Sisters DS on Steam. Why not just refer you to my Giana Sisters DS review? Because there are a number of things that have changed for better, and worse.

PROS: It’s the Nintendo DS game. On Steam!

CONS: It’s the mobile port of the DS game on Steam.

SAD: Still waiting on a re-release of the C64 original.

Between the time Spellbound folded, and remnants founded Black Forest Games, there was one developer who swooped in, and got a license to port Giana Sisters DS to the iPad named Kaasa. The company updated some of the visuals, and replaced a substantial amount of pixel art with updated hand drawn art. Eventually Black Forest Games would have full ownership of Giana Sisters again, but that didn’t eliminate Kaasa’s claim to their DS update. So this release is a port of a port of a game.

Content wise, the game is almost exactly the same as Giana Sisters DS. The artwork does resemble the original version, though the sharp, clean look of everything may disappoint some players. The game itself follows the same path as the original DS version. You’ll start out with a cut scene of Giana losing her gems in a nightmare, and re-entering the land of dreams to reclaim them. From there you’ll see a map screen for each world. Beating each stage will unlock the next stage, and eventually the next world.

Giana Sisters 2D has 8 worlds with 9 stages in each. Each stage also has a bonus stage that can be unlocked. Bonus stages tend to be collection stages, where you can hunt down gobs, and gobs of gems. Every 100 gems nets you a 1-up. Each world has a locked icon. If you can find all of the red gems in each of the 9 stages you’ll unlock the bonus stage. In the original DS version of the game, you also needed to unlock every bonus stage in order to unlock the retro stages.

Retro stages work a little different in this version. Here, you can simply choose to play the retro stages. Keep in mind that these are the DS versions of the Commodore 64 levels. So they have the added secrets, and alterations of the handheld. This means that you won’t be seeing the classic dragon, and spider bosses either. So while it is a nice nod for long time fans, it still isn’t the same. You’ll certainly want to play through them to complete the game, and have a fun time doing so. But don’t go into it expecting the C64 classic either.

Now while the game does have everything the DS version has, there are some oddities, and troubles that keep it from meeting the DS version’s high bar. Again, for some, the updated graphics will ironically turn them off. There is something to be said for the intricate, detailed pixel art of the original game. That isn’t to say Giana Sisters 2D is a horrible looker, it isn’t. Considering the iPad background it has, it’s one of the better ports. But there will be a vocal group of people who won’t like the change. Graphically, the only technical complaint you may have are the rare lines you can point out around certain tiles at times. It isn’t enough to distract you from playing, but it is noticeable.

The other problems the game has are related mainly to bugs. I have yet to find one that genuinely breaks the game, but they are annoyances that impede the enjoyment somewhat. Sometimes the game will show the wrong stage number going into a level or even load the wrong level. Backing out the map screen, and selecting the level again fixes this, but it is a pain when it happens. Achievements sometimes don’t unlock until after you’ve exited the game. Black Forest Games is looking into the issues, but for now, these are things to consider before jumping in. Fortunately the core game play is still here, offering the same challenge, and feel of the DS original. Even Fabian del Priore’s tunes are back to bounce along to the bump, and jump game play.

Also keep in mind, if you’re coming into this game after playing through the excellent Twisted Dreams, the experience is different. Giana Sisters DS was a direct sequel to Great Giana Sisters, and so you’ll be experiencing something closer to a Super Mario Bros. experience. Not a complete clone, but the inspiration is there. That said, the game has a few tricks that became staples of the series in Twisted Dreams, most notably the bubblegum machines. Eating gum gets you into giant bubbles you can pilot through dangers in certain stages. Conversely, if you played the original Commodore 64 game, and missed the DS sequel, know that things are beefed up. Especially in the vein of enemies, and tricky jumps toward the end of the campaign.

Ultimately, Giana Sisters 2D is worth purchasing if you don’t already have Giana Sisters DS. Getting the Game Pak for the DS these days is pretty tough, especially in the United States, where it saw a very limited run. As of now, the DS version goes for its original MSRP loose in most cases, and even more if you find one complete. Giana Sisters 2D is a convenient solution. But do know there are some minor issues as of now.

Final Score: 7 out of 10