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Sine Mora EX Review

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The Shmup (short for Shoot ’em up) is the one old genre that hasn’t reclaimed its popularity. At one time the likes of Space Invaders, Galaxian, and Phoenix ruled the roost. Then when platformers became big, the genre gave us 1942, Dragon Spirit, and Xevious. Then the Beat ’em ups, and Fighting games all but conquered the arcades. But the genre had continued popularity with the likes of R-Type, U.N. Squadron, and Truxton.

After this period though, the genre began to slowly fade into obscurity. It never truly went away. It still gave the occasional notable game like Giga Wing, or Ikaruga that became darlings. Today, the genre is still around, and there are countless great games in it. It even has a devoted, hardcore fan base. But where Street Fighter IV, and Mortal Kombat 2011 brought traditional fighting games back into the limelight, the same hasn’t been the same for old-school Shoot ’em ups.  Sine Mora EX has that potential.

PROS: Beautiful visuals. Great music. Refined mechanics. Fun.

CONS: Story can be hard to follow. Mini games don’t add very much to the experience.

4K: PC, and PS4 PRO versions support it.

Originally released in 2012 as Sine Mora, Sine Mora EX is a refined version that fixes bugs, updates the graphics, and expands content. It elevates a pretty good game, to a pretty great one. The game has a minimalistic menu. You have a Story mode, which is honestly a great way to play it when you start out. Then Arcade mode, which is going to be the option for advanced players who don’t want to bother with the lore. Score Attack, for mastering levels. There is also a challenge mode which gives you 15 endurance rounds. Then there is a boss rush mode, which lets you practice boss fights. But you have to unlock them by getting to them in the storyline first. So this is really going to be for those who are interested in speed running the game upon beating it.

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Rounding things out is a Versus mode. This is a small assortment of mini games. In most of them, you’ll pick a single screen arena, and battle a friend as little robotic orbs. Some of the stages have other hazards, or obstacles to maneuver around or destroy. But it’s pretty much kill or be killed. There is one interesting mini game that is different. Here, you each shoot at ships, but if you accidentally destroy a ship that resembles yours, the game ends. They’re a fun little diversion. But really, you won’t be coming to this game for it, and you’ll want to play the main game instead.

Sine Mora EX’s main campaign is awesome. Whether you play it in Story mode or Arcade mode, you’ll be thrust into a shmup that embodies elements of every subgenre. A lot of people have called this a Bullet Hell shooter. While there are moments where the entire screen is filled with bullets, that isn’t really the case. Some boss fights employ this, but you’ll find a lot of the missions themselves do not. Instead they take the movement of something like R-Type, or Gradius, and give you the challenge of avoiding walls, while shooting down enemies, and threats.

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But there are many things that make this game stand out on its own. The most obvious one being how it handles lives, and scoring. In a lot of challenging shooters over the years, games had either a scenario where a single hit on your ship killed you, or you had a small life bar allowing for a few hits before you would be destroyed. Sine Mora EX throws those mechanics out the window, and instead puts the onus on time limit. You have to beat the clock in order to win. “Great! I can get hit as many times as need be! This game is going to be easy!” you might be exclaiming to yourself.

Well get that thought out of your head immediately. Because your life bar is the time clock. If you make a mistake, and crash into something the game shaves off a second or two. If you get shot you’ll lose a few seconds. Suddenly that game has gone from being insanely easy, to pretty challenging. Moreover, they’ve made another swerve. Getting hit makes you drop power ups! So you’ll have to pick them up immediately.  But if all of this sounds too complicated, don’t lose heart. There are a number of tools to help.

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First off, and most importantly, you’ll gain time for every bad guy you destroy. You’ll want to crush as many of them as possible because time is life in this game. Keep adding to the timer, and you’ll see it to the end. The stages also have checkpoints. When you reach one it resets the timer. So if you’re low on seconds, and you reach one you’ll be in the clear for a moment. The game also gives you a wealth of power ups, smart bombs, coins, and even bullet time to use.

That’s right. Bullet time. Now it isn’t infinite. There is a meter that lets you see how much you have, and it drains when you use it. But during those Bullet Hell moments it can be a Godsend. Particularly when you just can’t seem to figure out the spread pattern. As you play through the game you’ll be going through different periods, and characters in the story. So there are a number of different ships you’ll pilot. They’re all designed to look more like planes, but considering the different settings the stages take place in, you’d assume they have features of a star or sea ship. But I digress.

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Each of the different space planes has a unique smart bomb that can be fired. Some of them shoot a super laser, others drop a ton of grenades, some shoot a plethora of missiles. You’ll want to know the nuanced differences though because they won’t work the same way in every situation. There’s also the risk, versus reward aspect here that can be really fun. Do you try to save up your smart bombs for the bosses or do you use them now while the screen is cluttered with grunts? There are also your firepower upgrades to grab, as they make your primary fire more effective. If you can get nine of them, and not crash or get shot you’ll chew through enemies. And then there are the time bonuses, and bullet time bonuses to nab. You’ll find the bullet time works wonders.

They also added a cooperative feature to the story as a friend can play as a gunner. It isn’t quite the same has having a second ship altogether, but it does give you some reprieve. They control a satellite which acts like one of the options from the shooters of old. This allows the first player to take on primary targets while they clean up small annoyances. Handy for boss battles.

Another thing you’ll appreciate is how the game puts in some challenges that have nothing to do with shooting weak points, or avoiding a hail of bullets. In one stage you’ll come across a section filled with sensors that, should you be detected knocks off all of your time. After exploding through all of my continues, and restarting, imagine my surprise when I found I had to fly in sync with piles of garbage coming from the background to avoid detection. It’s just a small thing, but it’s different from what many might expect.

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If you play through the Story mode, you’ll get voice overs that are in line with a Star Fox game. Just with more curse words. There is however, zero percent Slippy Toad in the list of ingredients. Kidding aside, you’ll also get some monologues between stages that try to set up motivations of pilots, and give you a little bit of narrative between stages. It helps explain why you have completely different vehicles, and settings every stage. Unfortunately it doesn’t always make the most sense if you’re only passively seeing it. Because of how everything jumps around. The story is a bit more cohesive if you pay attention to every last bit of dialogue, and you re-read every word of every monologue. But even if you’re invested in the story, you’re going to miss some of it as you’ll forget some of the chatter you just heard when it becomes time to blow away enemy targets again.

That said, the story itself is actually pretty cool. It centers around characters facing an iron-fisted Empire on a planet called Seol. It declares war on an opposing nation of inhabitants called Enkie. Both of the factions master time travel. One of the characters is out for revenge when the Empire kills his son for not wiping out the Enkie. So in a number of missions, you’ll follow his story arc. But the Enkie also want revenge on the Empire for driving them toward extinction. So in other stages you’ll be playing Enkie characters.  The story is an interesting one, and it even has a pro wrestling grade swerve in it that honestly surprised me. The problem with it, is the execution. If the game had done just a tiny bit better with the cut scenes, and shown more of it, instead of having you read it, it would have been a bit easier to follow. Still, if you take the time to pay more attention on subsequent play through attempts it gets a bit more enjoyable.

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Repeatedly playing in the Arcade mode is also where you’ll notice this game’s use of difficulty scaling. The game starts you at rank C here, and if you’re not doing so hot this is about where you’ll stay. By contrast, if you’re blowing through sections with ease you can expect the game to rank you up to B or even an A! Then it will punish the crap out of you. Enemies take more hits, shoot more lasers, and things get more hectic.  If you can’t hang, the game will knock you back down a peg or two. This is also where the game has a real chance of reinvigorating the genre for those who don’t come to it as often. At the same time it gives enthusiasts something they can really sink their teeth into.  Arcade mode also lets you select different planes to start with, so you may find some work better in some missions than the ones you have to use during the Story mode. Back to Story mode a second. In that mode you’ll have eight continues (though there is a slightly harder variant of Story mode) to complete the game. If you don’t get through the entire Story campaign  You can start on a higher stage when you come back to it later. Though you’ll start the way you did at the beginning which means you’ll be outclassed.

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Arcade mode eschews all of the story elements, reduces the number of continues, and exclaims “Come and get some!” You’ll be seeing all of the same levels, and bosses but with none of the narration. This mode is also a bit harder from the outset. But if you’ve plowed through the story, and want to go back to the game again, it’s a great way to experience it again. There are even a couple of power ups you won’t see in the Story mode. The game is gorgeous enough you may just want to replay it anyway. For a small game, it boasts some pretty great production values. Mind you it isn’t going to be quite the same as something from a AAA vendor. But it does so much with so little.  Though I suppose a big part of this is the involvement of Mahiro Maeda. When one of the people behind The Animatrix is designing bosses in your game, it’s going to show.

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The Nintendo Switch version of the game (which you’re seeing in this review) looks great. It has crisp textures, nice lighting, wonderful color depth, and detailed models. All running at a full 1080p with a fast frame rate. The Xbox One port is just as good-looking, and the PS4 version will even support 4K provided of course you’re using the PS4 PRO model of the console. The PC version of course will support it as well if you have the 4K monitor or TV to display it on, and hardware in the machine to run it that high. Which shouldn’t be much, as the system requirements aren’t very high for the PC version. As far as I could tell in my time on the Switch, I saw no real issues with slowdown, stuttering, or other performance problems. The PC version also gave me no real issues.

The audio is pretty good too. Grasshopper brought in Akria Yamaoka who did the sound direction on Silent Hill. Silent Hill made great use of ambient sounds for the horror vibe. Here he combines that ambience with an electronica sound. So it gives this a cyber thriller kind of score. Which you might not think much of at first. But when the bosses show up to crush you into dust, does it ever fit the theme. It may not have the same effect as it did in Silent Hill, where the discomfort melded with the fear. But it does make the encounters even more imposing. You might not worry about monsters getting you. But you’ll probably take the giant robot spider a bit more seriously.

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While by no means an expert on the genre, I do feel like this is the most accessible shmup to come out in years. It may technically be a re-master of sorts. But the game’s attention on the Switch has been getting people talking about them again. Oddly enough if you want a physical copy of the Switch version you’ll likely have to go online, as few retailers appear to have gotten it when it came out last year. At least Stateside. Target, and Wal-Mart have it on their online sites, but not at their stores. GameStop, Best Buy, and others don’t (of this writing) seem to have it at all. But you can find it through smaller businesses usually on Amazon. There’s also the option to import the European release. If you don’t care about physical media you can download it from Nintendo’s e-shop. The Xbox One, and PlayStation 4 versions however, seem to be everywhere. You can download those on their respective stores too. The PC version is available on Steam as well.

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Ultimately though, Grasshopper has put out a game that can be enjoyed by veterans, and newcomers alike. The easier Story mode (of which you can go with a harder version) does make things a bit more inviting for newbies. Even if the story could be executed a little bit better, it’s still pretty good for what it is. The Arcade mode is something longtime enthusiasts will more than likely love. Especially for those who may not have played the original Xbox 360, PlayStation 3, Vita, and PC release. The scaling is also nice for those who are competent, but not masterful. If you love shmups, but somehow haven’t played this, pick it up. If you’ve never played a shmup, this is a great jumping on point to see if you’ll enjoy them. Hopefully we’ll see more Sine Mora in the future.

Final Score: 8 out of 10

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Beach Head II: The Dictator Strikes Back Review

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These days, there are all kinds of wonderful death match experiences. From Rise Of The Triad onward, First-person shooters have given players hours of competitive multiplayer. But back in the golden age, not as many games did this. Oh sure, there was the quest for the high score. However, many games had you on the same side, or alternating turns while competing for points. But when Beach Head came out it had a novel idea. Combining several games resulting in a really fun campaign. The sequel took that idea on step further.

PROS: Well crafted. As fun today, as it was when it came out years ago.

CONS: Last stage can go on too long between two great players.

MEDIC: The voice samples are some of the most memorable quips in a video game.

Beach Head II is one of the best competitive multiplayer games ever made. Released two years after the original game, it made one little change to its formula. This completely changed the dynamics of the game in this sequel. Instead of alternating turns, this game casts one player as the heroic army, and the other player as the dictator’s evil forces. The core concept is intact. There are a set number of scenes, each acting as its own arcade style game. Once that game is played, things move onto the next game, and so on. This tapestry of games, makes for an overall campaign, and storyline. Beach Head takes place during World War II. But the setting in this sequel is more contemporary.

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The first stage is an invasion. Player one air drops a squadron onto the shore, and from here they have to storm the Bastille. Player two has to do everything in their power to keep the heroes from getting inside, by using a giant turret. As the second player fires down upon the walls, the first player has to move combatants one by one, to the entrance. They can scale walls, or run down toward the next set. If they get to the bottom, they’ll succeed.  The more combatants they can get down to the bottom the better prepared for the following stage. This is also the moment you’ll see something else that makes the game memorable. This is one of the earliest computer games that implemented voice samples.

When one of the allied combatants get shot, it plays one of four samples. These are looped so the deaths will vocalize the same pattern of phrases. Even still, these are pretty great for the time, and are still pretty memorable. There are other samples that play in later stages too. Now one may think the odds are against the allied forces, and they are. But the heroes can throw grenades at the dictator’s turret. A successful throw will destroy it for big points, and the soldier will make it in, as a replacement turret spawns in.

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Stage two sees the allies taking control of the turret, and firing into the dictator’s military installation. Here the object is to provide prisoners cover as they try to shuffle along, and escape. The person playing dictator, can summon tanks, combat jeeps, a bomb expert to set traps, and even a guy on a roof dropping rocks onto the prisoner. Points are awarded to the allies for every successful rescue, while the dictator gets points for successfully murdering prisoners.

The third stage is a helicopter escape mission. The allied player loads the chopper with liberated soldiers, and attempts to get away. It’s a shmup level, but the dictator can control the many vehicles in an attempt to shoot down the chopper. If they’re successful the round starts again, with the allies trying to shuttle out any remaining prisoners. Obviously the allies get huge bonus points if they can successfully dodge all of the dictator’s assaults.

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The final stage sees the leader of the allies facing off against the dictator himself. Each on a pier facing each other. They throw knives at each other. After landing a few hits the victor will see their opponent fall into the sea. This battle goes on for ten matches. This is where the game’s one major flaw comes into play. The final battle can go on far too long. Once you have two evenly matched players, they can easily duck out, sidestep, and otherwise dodge dagger throws. A 30 minute match up of fun, can quickly become a several hour affair due to the last battle. In hindsight Access Software should have made this a two out of three falls match.

Be that as it may, the final battle is still a lot of fun thanks in part to the nice animation, and splendid sound samples. Hearing the dictator exclaim “YOU CAN’T HURT ME!” is a pretty rewarding experience. Once all of the modes are done, the final score is tallied letting you know which army was victorious.

Aside from the voice samples, the sound effects are really good. Explosions, gun fire, and other sounds are all a cut above most other games of the time. There is also a really nice chip tune of the US Marines theme song. Visually the game still holds up pretty nicely. The sprites all have a great use of shading techniques to portray details. And while not every thing is graphically impressive, it does an awful lot, with a little.

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Now in addition to the full on campaign, you can play the individual stages instead. This is nice if you really enjoy a specific level more than the other ones. But for most who go back, and play this one, going through the campaign together is really what makes things fun. One can also play through the game on their own as the allies. There are three difficulty levels, and the higher you go the more punishing it is. The highest difficulty is notoriously difficult, as the computer will rarely make a mistake. If you have nobody to play it with, it’s a fun ride. But the real entertainment comes from competing with a friend. I spent many Saturdays, and afternoons playing this with my brother, and friends from school back in the 80’s. It was one of the most fun multiplayer experiences on the Commodore 64.

But Beach Head II was also published on other computers of the time. If you collect for the Apple II or Atari 400/800 line, you can also find this game for those platforms. If you happen to live in Europe, you can also find versions for the Amstrad CPC, and the ZX Spectrum. No matter how you play it though, this is one awesome head to head game worth picking up if you have the chance.

Final Score: 8 out of 10

Rogue Stormers Review

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A number of years ago, Black Forest Games had released Giana Sisters Twisted Dreams, an expansion pack, and a spinoff. These games of course were continuations of the classic cult Commodore 64 game. But back in the days of the sisters, Rainbow Arts had also made one game that wasn’t consigned to cult status.

That game was Turrican, a multi scrolling action platformer. It would go on to be a pretty big deal, with sequels appearing on various computers, and consoles. Including the Super NES. Of course not every game in that series would be a Rainbow Arts game. But the first one was. One of the biggest hooks was its jetpack. Something not a lot of games have done as well. It also came out at a time when action platformers were becoming the norm.

Many innovations were happening with arcade style games. A couple of years earlier Konami would release Contra. Before that Atari would merge fantasy RPG mechanics into a top down action game with Gauntlet. Going back farther than that, we can see Robotron would give us a new control scheme. What does any of this have to do with today’s game? Quite a bit.

PROS: Looks gorgeous. Frantic, and fun combat. Cooperative multiplayer!

CONS: Brutal difficulty.

HUMOR: There’s a lot of subtle, and not so subtle comedy. Stabbygale.

Rogue Stormers started life as an Early Access game on Steam. Originally called Diesel Stormers, Black Forest Games was forced to change its name during production to avoid a lawsuit by a clothing company. But regardless of the name change, the game carved out a niche for itself. It stayed in the beta program for two years where it went over a couple of major revisions.

The final game is a combination of action platforming, and rogue like titles. At first glance some might think it is a Risk Of Rain clone with a bigger budget.(If you’ve never heard of that game CheapBossAttack recently did an excellent review of the PSVita version.) But they would be wrong. Rogue Stormers does have some similarities with that game in that it has waves of bad guys, unlockable characters, and some randomized stages. But from there the similarities really begin to end.

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Rogue Stormers actually has more in common with the games I mentioned earlier. At its heart you’ll be playing a twin stick shooter. You move through the game with one stick, and fire with the second. You’ll also be equipped with a jetpack right out of Turrican that will let you hover for a few seconds after you jump. You can also dash along the ground or in the air. So even though you’ll be in the midst of a lot of chaos, you’re also given a pretty great level of control.

Your character also has their own specific special attack. There are five characters in total. Each one with their own pros, and cons. They act as individual classes as in Gauntlet. Just as that game had different characteristics in each class, so does this game. The first character is given a machine gun, and a damage booster. As you unlock more you’ll find an opera singer with a flamethrower. A bar waitress with a shotgun, a warrior with slime themed specials, and finally a sniper. Not only do these characters have different play styles, but they all have their own personality.

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There are two main ways to play the game, a single player story mode, and then there is a Co-op mode. The story mode tosses you into six stages before a final showdown. As in multiplayer, you’re never going to play the same level twice, even though the objectives are in the same order. The game will put you into a randomly generated stage made up of around 9-12 rooms. Every time you play you’ll have a different mix of rooms but with a unique objective for each mission. Because of this, each stage is its own little adventure. You have to explore the stage thoroughly in order to find the end. You can try to rush your way to the end, but if you aren’t very good at classic action games of yester year it isn’t very advisable.

Going through the levels, you’ll find there are a number of portals in rooms. Step around half way into any given room, and these portals will open up. Hordes of orcs, and other enemy types will attack. You’ll find some reprieve after you defeat any given horde, as you pick up health, and experience points. Each of these is important to collect, and this is also one of the reasons why you may not want to rush to the objective too quickly. The game starts you off with only so much health. Taking hits from anything can damage you, and while some small arms fire may not worry you at first, it does add up. You also only have one life per game. One life. Should you die, you have to go all the way back to the start.

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Fortunately, the levels, and enemy corpses are going to drop experience points. You get to keep your level going after deaths, and restarts. Most importantly, filling an entire experience bar will give you a randomly generated perk. You get to keep these perks even after you die, so eventually the difficulty may become a bit more manageable for you as you progress. I’m not very good, but even after five or so restarts, I managed to have a few. The other thing about the single life system is that it will again, hearken back to the 1980’s arcade game feel. Back then, if you ran out of lives you started over. Oh sure, there may have been the odd game that allowed for continues. But your low score was a sign to everyone that you spent a lot more than a token.

This can be seen as or a good or a bad thing, and there are valid reasons from either viewpoint. On the bad side, one might point out that the lack of continues may mean that some players won’t see a lot of what the game has to offer. On the other hand, the campaign is only six stages in length. The meat, and potatoes are really in the gameplay. Personally, while losing can be frustrating, it somehow doesn’t feel completely unfair. It’s an awful lot like a bullet hell shooter in that regard. Again, I barely beat games like R-Type, Abadox, Gradius, or Contra when I was a kid. When I did it was after hundreds of attempts, and continues. But there was a lot of fun to be had in that challenge, and I think there is here too. Considering that you do get some perks, and other characters you get to keep once you’ve unlocked them, it does get easier.

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That being said, this is still a pretty difficult game. Most players aren’t going to burn through it in 20 minutes. But stick with it, and you’ll feel vindicated when you finally complete a mission, or defeat a boss. In addition to perks, characters, XP, and health pickups, the game does have a number of awesome weapons, and items you can use during a play through. There’s the awesome spread gun, that feels right out of Contra. Handy for taking out small mobs, or dealing big hits on bigger enemies. There are portable land mines. There are cool remote turrets. There are attachments to your primary guns that cause extra damage to enemies.

All of the game’s weapons are fun to use, and feel useful. While you might find you like using one pick up over another, you’ll never feel the secondary weapon you have is worthless. Some of them might work on one particular type of enemy better than another. But everything is still very effective. You just need to take your time, experiment with weapons, and learn how they work against each obstacle. Once you become proficient with a few of these items, and discern some of the enemy patterns things can become quite addictive.Deaths go from rage quitting to “One more game.”. I also have a word of advice for you; always pick up gold drops.

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Gold drops are another important utility in the game. Each stage will have a hidden shop room you can use to buy temporary buffs for your character. You can find gold any number of different ways. Most commonly, you can raid the corpses of fallen orcs. But there are treasure chests, that have gold, and other items too. Some require a key, usually found by exploring. There are also red colored chests, and lottery machines you can use your gold on. I wouldn’t advise the red chests, as there’s a high chance you’ll actually lose health. But the lottery machines will often give you a secondary weapon or more gold. Secondary weapons can also be found by freeing prisoners peppered throughout the land. If you do choose to go spelunking for the shops, make sure you grind as much gold as humanly possible because some of the better items are pretty pricey.

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Multiplayer also makes the game a lot more palatable, as this gives the game more replay value. Basically, the co-op mode can be played online or offline. Up to four people can play together, and it’s everything in the story mode just with your friends or strangers. Offline co-op is one of the best things about Rogue Stormers. So few games have couch multiplayer anymore. Especially on the PC. It makes this game again, feel like being in an arcade in the 80’s or 90’s. Which is great. The rogue like elements actually help it in this regard. Were this a fully traditional experience, like Turrican or Contra, or Commando players could memorize where everything is going to hit them from after a while. Seeing how they recycle rooms here that can still happen. But you also have the rooms in different areas each time. There’s always a chance to be caught off guard.

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Rogue Stormers also has a story, though it’s pretty cut, and dry. We meet an evil orc, named Hector Von Garg. He convinces the kingdom of Ravensdale to turn against the Rogue Stormers, before enslaving everyone. Now the heroes fight to dethrone him. Throughout the game you unlock bits of story lore which come in the form of newspaper clippings. The story isn’t much to write home about, but the art, and character designs most certainly are. Everything feels new, and yet familiar. Sometimes things look right out of Warcraft III, with the exaggerated looks of the orcs, and yet the game has a lot of its own style. There are clearly influences from Warhammer, but again everything still has a distinct look. From the orcs in hot air balloons, to the magic squids you can fly. Backgrounds have the gloomy, dreary atmosphere you would expect in a war-torn fantasy world. The little details in the environments give this game a nice dose of personality.

The soundtrack, and effects are also really worth a listen. The mix of electronica, rock, and orchestrated music fits the dystopian environments brilliantly. It almost feels like a sci-fi film at times, which is probably fitting considering some of the steam punk influences with some of the game’s antagonists. Composer Jonathan van den Wijngaarden brings the same quality of work to this game, as he has in many a big budget title. The results are fantastic. If you’re a fan of ambient orchestration you might want to nab the soundtrack.

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The game also has a pretty respectable level of options for you to tweak. You can change your resolution, window size, and even a number of lighting, and texture quality settings. As well as change the level, and type of anti aliasing. I would have liked to have seen some more of these options available rather than general sliders for categories. But Rogue Stormers is still a cut above other games in this regard. On the plus side you can use any number of control options. I tested the game with a Steam controller, Xbox 360 controller as well as my trusty G402 mouse. All of them worked flawlessly. While I would still recommend you use a controller, if you don’t have one, you can still be effective with  a mouse.

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Performance is pretty good overall. Though I found in my case sometimes things would chug along at maxed settings during major explosions, or if a large number of enemies appeared in certain rooms. Dialing things down slightly did help. To be fair, I was also running the game while I had a lot of other things running on the machine. Nevertheless, If you are on an older machine, consider turning off the FXAA, and SSAO, it won’t look too much different, and you may avoid some of those drops. Other than that everything ran very smoothly, and performance was really nice. The requirements aren’t absurdly high either. Minimum specifications are almost a decade old as of this writing.

 

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While the combination of bullet hell shoot ’em up, action platformer, and rogue like elements may not sound like they’ll gel to some, here they do. Rogue Stormers is a lot of fun to play, especially with three friends. It probably isn’t going to set the world on fire, but it is something I recommend picking up. Particularly to anybody who loves golden age arcade games like Robotron, or fans of those old action games on the computers, and consoles of yesteryear. Although Rogue Stormers veers that way, fans of rogue like games still might want to check it out anyway. It does use the chosen elements of that subgenre very well. Even if you’re not one for any of those types of games you may want to give it a look. It’s different enough from either it still might just appeal to you.

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The only thing keeping it away from sheer impeccable status are the lack of online players, and a couple of very minor things akin to nitpicking . Like being forcibly warped to the other players if you disagree on where to go, or the sometimes finicky flying squid. Really nothing major. Of course if you don’t have friends over very often the lack of online players might be a sticking point. But, if you can convince a few of them to nab a copy, or you’re able to plunk down a little bit extra for a two-pack, you’ve got one of the most entertaining multiplayer experiences of the year. Online or offline, Rogue Stormers is a cult game worth joining. A very difficult one. But so was Demon’s Souls.

Final Score: 8 out of 10

Reposted Review: Road Rash 64

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(Originally published on the defunct Retro Retreat)

The lauded Electronic Arts series lands on the N64. Except that this entry was not made or published by EA. Confused yet?

Originally an exclusive for the Genesis, Road Rash saw rare ports on the Amiga, Game Boy, before a quick reboot on the 3DO, and Windows before disappearing awhile. EA also brought it over to the Playstation as Road Rash 3D, and took one last stab with Jailbreak. But Electronic Arts final attempts on the Playstation failed to capture the 16-Bit glory days of the series on Sega’s most popular console. Enter the late, THQ with a grand proposal.

PROS: Truly captures the feel of the Genesis classics. 4 player split screen.

CONS: Like F-Zero X it goes with low poly counts. With worse textures.

WEIRD BUT TRUE: The game totally calls bull crap on you for gaming the system.

Back in 1999  (Has it been 13 years already?) a strange thing happened. It’s not uncommon to find late ports of titles showing up on a competing platform. It is however strange to see a franchise entry be created by a developer with no apparent ties to that franchise’s IP. Stranger to see that entry be published by a publisher that doesn’t own that IP.

Strangest of all, seeing that title in a store, on a shelf, and all completely legitimate.

But that’s exactly what happened. Back in the early 90′s, Electronic Arts published a 3 game motorcycle combat racing series called Road Rash. A Genesis exclusive, the first title later saw ports to the Commodore Amiga computer, and the Game Boy handheld. As it’s ports were not on traditional consoles, anyone who wanted to play the series on the big screen had to buy a Genesis. It was a great series too. Going head to head against friends, while you swung bats at each other while driving bikes at 200 mph was a blast.

So much so that gamers temporarily put aside the petty console war, and challenged each other whenever they ended up at the Sega kid’s house on a Saturday. The series briefly made an appearance on the 3DO when EA founder Trip Hawkins left to create the 3DO company. That version made it to Windows 95. After the 3DO was defeated by the Playstation, and it’s rivals however, EA would bring the motorcycle combat racer to Sony. When they did bring over Road Rash as Road Rash 3D though, they toned down a lot of the fighting aspects, and focused on the racing portions. This probably would have been passable among the series’ most ardent fans if not for the fact that RR3D had no multiplayer mode whatsoever. EA tried to make up for it with Road Rash Jailbreak, (USA gamers got it late) and reception while not bad, was still a far cry from it’s days on the Genesis.

Enter the late THQ. Around this time it was finding pretty modest success on the Nintendo 64 with it’s World Wrestling Federation games, and previous World Championship Wrestling titles. Besides this, the publisher always seemed to attempt filling gaps on the platform. It tried publishing Quest 64 during the N64 launch period to give RPG fans something to play in the wake of losing Final Fantasy. While that was a very blunderous miscalculation, with today’s title the practice was one of their successes.

THQ contacted EA, and worked out a publishing deal to make their own original motorcycle battle racer using the Road Rash moniker. They certainly didn’t squander the opportunity.

Road Rash 64 took everything fans knew, and loved about the Genesis games, then amped them up to eleven. Moreover, the game even did a few things some of your favorite modern racers do. Like the 16-Bit originals, RR64 will have you racing against other psychotic bikers in violent races for blood sport. Make it from point A to B in one piece while placing in the top three you qualify for the next race. Make it through all the races, and you will find yourself in the next circuit. RR64 also does all of this on one large map. While being A to B distance racing, the game does not put up any invisible walls. You can feel free to drive off-road, drive lines through “S” winds of track, or even attempt to skip long areas of track.

But don’t think that any of that will help you. Because Road Rash 64 also calls you out for being conniving. Get used to seeing the question “Cheat much?” crop up in red, and white if you do anything the developers found questionable. If you flat-out try to skip a race by driving around the preplanned route, right to the end you can expect your bike to mysteriously break down while a warning “Cheaters never prosper.” taunts you. You won’t want to break down either, because each breakdown takes away prize money. Prize money is very important in this game because you need it to buy bikes. Why do you need bikes?  Because later circuits require faster bikes to enter. If you can’t afford a bike that meets the race requirements, you can’t progress. So you’ve been warned.

The game also brings back police chases. Biker cops will show up to crash your party. Unlike the other bikers who may need to keep making you total your bike until it can’t race anymore, the police only need to make you crash once to arrest you. Get arrested, you lose money for bail. Run out of money, and it’s game over. So not getting arrested is just as important as not crashing, and having the nicer bikes. Be that as it may, the real fun of the game ARE indeed the fights, and crashes. Road Rash 64 features amazingly, hilarious crashes. Where other games will infuriate you because one tiny mistake cost you a victory, here you will laugh, and wonder how your racer is still alive. It even has an award called “Cascade”. It will pop up when half of the racers are involved in the same crash. Bodies will fly hundreds of feet in the air, rag doll in the street, and then be run over by traffic. There are also pedestrians you can hit during races for bonus points.

There are so many fun weapons to use here too. Of course there are the typical B-movie biker staples like bats, chains, or clubs. But you can find pool cues, steel pipes, mace that can be used to blind other bikers, and the greatest weapon for this sort of game: a taser. Even once you make it through the main game you’ll have a lot of multiplayer modes to play. Thrash mode is probably going to be the best of the bunch. This mode lets you, and three friends race on any of the tracks featured in the campaign. All of the weapons are available to you, and as in the main game, you can pick up other stuff like damage amplifiers.

Other modes are lap based modes on tracks not seen in the main game. Here you can run a 1,3,5,or 7 lap race against one another, or play variants of these like tag mode (Everyone has to gang up on a specific player before the game assigns IT status to the next player). Deathmatch mode is here too. In DM you get a frag for each lap you make, and if you are knocked off you lose a frag. The final multiplayer bit is Pedestrian hunt. This mode sees players trying to run over anyone standing in the street or on a sidewalk. Whoever hits the most at the end of the track wins.

There is one major off putting thing here though, as you can probably tell by the screen caps. That’s the graphics. Even at the time of release they are far below what most players expected. The N64 did have a lot of games people cited as visual power houses. Turok 2, Goldeneye, Perfect Dark to name a few. But Road Rash 64 goes just a minor step above the fidelity found in SNES games like Star Fox or Stunt Race FX. One likely explanation for this is the lower polygon numbers increase performance. Even Nintendo’s own F-Zero X did this. But even F-Zero X had pretty respectable textures in comparison.

Nevertheless, Road Rash 64 does take advantage of the Expansion Pak cartridge. Players who have one installed in their N64′s will have access to a few graphics options to mildly improve the quality. Widescreen mode (Although it’s really stretch o vision), Letterbox mode ( Really more of a window box. Makes the screen smaller, and centered to sharpen the image.), and then there’s the option of using Higher Resolution Textures at the normal 4:3 setting. For most  players, the typical Normal setting or the Hi Res mode are the best options. Hi Res doesn’t add much of a performance hit either. So if you have the Expansion Pak, it’s probably the best bet.

Road Rash 64 is the odd duck of the series. It’s a game that nobody ever expected to see, and then when they did see it, they had to do a double take. While it isn’t very much to look at, it is a great example of gameplay over graphics. It’s a lot of fun, and is the only four player entry in the series. It’s also not terribly expensive, so if you’re looking for another party game to add to your Nintendo 64 collection you can easily do a lot worse.

Final Score: 7.5 out of 10 (A lot of fun despite it’s faults.)