Tag Archives: Nintendo 3DS

Bloodstained: Curse Of The Moon Review

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Ah, Konami. These days it’s become fashionable to belittle their games with good reason. But that’s partly because they used to be one of the kings of game publishing. From Pooyan to Gyruss. From Gradius to Contra. From Crime Fighters to Metal Gear. From Quarth to Super Cobra, this giant has scores of legendary games under its umbrella. But over the last decade there has been a shift in its focus. One that has led many of its best known talent to leave the company. Most know about Hideo Kojima’s departure. But less known is Koji Igarashi, the man behind many of Konami’s better Castlevania games. In 2014 however he would leave the company as he felt his console roots weren’t a good fit for the company’s shift toward mobile phone, and tablet games.

Taking some inspiration from what Keji Inafune had done after leaving Capcom, Igarashi, also took to Kickstarter to raise money for a new project. Bloodstained: Ritual Of The Night. This was a successful enough endeavor that today’s game, Bloodstained: Curse Of The Moon came out of it as a stretch goal for backers. For the rest of us, it’s an indie game inspired by the classic game series its producer worked on. It may sound like a familiar story. But is it one of the ones that ends as a success?

PROS: A nearly 1:1 representation of Castlevania III: Dracula’s Curse’s look, and feel.

CONS: It’s almost too similar. Minor bugs.

CASTLEVANIA VETERANS: Will wish you could start with Miriam.

Bloodstained, truly does take many of Castlevania’s mechanics, tone, and visual flair to heart. In fact, this game plays nearly identically to Castlevania III: Dracula’s Curse. That game had you playing as the protagonists ancestor, with the mechanics set up in the original NES version of Castlevania as a baseline. From there it added other characters you could choose to join you, and depending on which path you took through the game each had specific roles. This was to give you an incentive to go back through it multiple times.

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This game is very similar in its approach. Except that to set itself apart, you aren’t a vampire slayer. You’re a demon hunter named Zangetsu. You’ve been cursed by a powerful demon, and so you’re on a mission to find, and kill him in order to break the curse over you. You also don’t use a whip. Zangetsu is armed with a sword. So unlike Castlevania, you won’t have the range you’re likely accustomed to. What you will have however is the same walking speed, and knock back from the NES Trilogy of old. You’ll also find yourself facing very similar attack patterns as in those old games. Sure, the bats, and Gorgon heads may have been replaced with new faces. But you can still expect those wavy patterns over pits, and other traps that will make traversing a trial.

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You may not see two dragon heads stacked, spitting fire. But there will be an equivalent. There may not be a chain of skeleton bones, and a lizard skull coming out from a wall. But here will be something similar. The list goes on, and on, and on. As the story, and stages progress you’ll meet other characters whom you can choose to add to your party. Miriam is the Simon Belmont clone you’ll wish you started the game with. She has a whip that works very much the same way, as Simon’s. This gives you that sweet balance of ranged, and melee attack power, and familiar gravity when jumping or walking off of ledges.

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Later on you’ll meet Gebel, this game’s take on Alucard. He’s also a vampire, and you can also turn into a bat as him. Finally, there’s Alfred who is a magician. He’s also elderly, slow, and has a fairly small health meter. He attacks with a small cane at essentially point-blank range. As in the Castlevania games, there are candles, and other hanging objects you can destroy for items. Some of these are ammo for special weapons, while others are weapons themselves. What sets this one apart a little bit is just how different each character’s weapons are. No special weapon is represented twice. There are a set exclusive to each character. For instance, Miriam can have a spinning disc attack that goes back, and forth. Alfred on the other hand can get a weapon that lets him turn enemies into ice blocks he can then jump on, or have another character jump on.

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There are all sorts of possibilities. The other thing is that each stage, even the earliest ones all have branching paths in them that only specific characters can go to. You may need to switch to Gebel so you can turn into a bat, and fly through a small gap for one path. You may need to slide under something for another, and so you’ll have to switch to Miriam. This sort of mechanic gives the game a lot of replay value, as in order to see everything each stage has to offer you’ll need to try each of them with the applicable characters.

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The thing is you have more options with them than you do with the ones in Castlevania III. What I mean by that is, you don’t drop one when you meet the next. If you choose to take one along for the ride, they stay with you the entire game. The game can be quite a challenge too, especially near the end of the game. So having all of the characters working together makes defeating Gremory, the leader of the Demons, more manageable. However, what makes the game worth playing over again even more are the multiple endings. Depending on which characters you take along, or leave behind you’ll get different outcomes if you clear the game.

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And beyond that there are a few difficulty settings. You can play the easiest setting if you just want to go through the game at your leisure. It reduces the knock back so it isn’t as cruel as the NES Castlevania trilogy could be. It also gives you unlimited lives, so you also won’t see the continue screen. But the veteran mode is the hardcore NES game difficulty you remember. Or if you’re too young to remember, but want to experience anyway. Getting knocked back into pits, crumbling bricks, rotating trap floor tiles. It’s all here. Clearing this will unlock an even harder mode though. So the absolute biggest Castlevania transplants will want to check it out, as it makes an already tough job more challenging.

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Visually the game also follows the Castlevania III mold. It has a very similar color palette, and a very similar pixel art style. This isn’t to say everything is exactly the same. There are background animations, and graphics based puzzles the old Konami games don’t have, and a slew of special effects the old 8-bit 6502 chip variants, and accompanying graphics chips simply can not do on display. The music in it, and synchronization with the cinema screen animations are spot on too. It sounds very much like a Famicom console game through, and through. Inti Creates has done a phenomenal job in the graphics, and sound department with this game.

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But all of this success might be a little too successful. In being so close to the Castlevania NES fill in so many wanted, it doesn’t retain its own identity as much as it needs to. Other than Alfred, the main characters are very much your Simon, Sypha, and Alucard stand-ins. As detailed, and beautifully laid out as the stages are, they could easily be mistaken for an NES Castlevania outing. The mini bosses, and bosses are where the game really begins to turn the tide on this a bit though. These are great multi part affairs that don’t look they would necessarily be in one of Konami’s games, but fit this spiritual successor at the same time. The game also has a handful of minor bugs in it. Mostly collision based bugs. There were a few sections with crumbling blocks designed to make you lose a life if you fail at navigation. At one point I fell, but landed safely in an area where I had to jump to my doom anyway. There was nowhere else to go. Some of these seem to be helping in speed runs. But for the rest of us, they’re the rare inconvenience.

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Still, beyond these observations I really enjoyed playing through the game’s many stages. Anybody who loves the old school Castlevania games probably owns this by now. But if for some reason you don’t, it’s an absolute blast. It’s a truly great action-platformer with some great obstacles to overcome, and some of the best boss fights I’ve been in. I only wish the game did a little bit more to make it feel unique. Sure the main protagonist doesn’t use a whip, but before long another character does. Sure, you’re fighting an army led by a demon, rather than Dracula. But that army still has a lot of skeletons, and zombies in it. Hopefully the upcoming Ritual Of The Night will address this while continuing to do everything else as well as this game does. Be that as it may, Curse Of The Moon is still a keeper.

Final Score: 9 out of 10

Kid Tripp Review

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Endless Runners. There are thousands of them out there on a multitude of mobile devices, consoles, and computers. The good ones try to do something unique. Robot Unicorn Attack was an early example of a great one. A runner with challenging patterns, speed changes depending on how well you were doing, and a great song choice for its BGM. Turbo Pug was another one that pleasantly surprised me by adding different variables into the mix, along with great music, and cute characters. So how does this game fare in a sea of similar contenders?

PROS: Nice chip tunes. Nice sprite work. Conventional stages.

CONS: Cheap deaths.

ADORES: The big Nintendo, and Sega mascot platformers.

Kid Tripp was originally a game for the iPad, then the 3DS. But now it finds itself on the Nintendo Switch. It’s a lot like an Endless Runner. Except that it can be beaten. You see, this game’s trailer on Nintendo’s shop never makes it clear that you won’t be controlling your character’s movement. Other than jumping, or throwing rocks. It jumbles along, showing off visuals, and music in line with what you might find on a Nintendo or Sega console in the mid to late 1980’s. Chances are, if you were to pick it up without doing any research, you would think of this as a typical platformer.

But you’d be wrong. Kid Tripp gives you some stages laid out in a way you’d expect Mario, Alex Kidd, or Sonic to run through. But you have no say as to how Kid Tripp will move through it. He just automatically starts running, and you have to instinctively know when to jump. Basically, you have two commands throughout the entire experience. A jump button, and a throw button. That is it. Jump, or throw rocks. So the entire game consists of auto scrolling stages, and you timing jumps. Much like an endless runner. Except with an end, because there is no procedural generation on display here.

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Right away, this is where some disappointment sets in. The reason that games like Robot Unicorn Attack were compelling was because of the vintage arcade play they provided. You were always on a quest to last longer, and eventually get to the top of the boards to gloat to everyone that you were the best. Then, a friend, relative, or even rival would attempt, and eventually succeed at besting that score. So it led to a competitive environment. At the same time, it was a great casual game. You could play it for 20 minutes on your lunch break, or you could play it for hours before you had to go to bed.

This game does none of that. Instead it tries to be more like Super Mario Bros. with a broken D-pad. No matter what you do, you’ll always move right. I can already hear some of you bringing up Super Mario Run. The thing is, for its faults, Super Mario Run is a pretty well done mobile title. Mainly due to the well thought out level design. In that game you generally have enough stuff on the horizon you can see, and plan for.

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Kid Tripp does not consistently do this. Often times you will not see a pit, enemy, or other lethal obstacle until you’ve already succumbed to it. So where Mario feels familiar, Kid Tripp can feel frustrating. That’s because trial, and error in this game doesn’t always come off as challenging. Sometimes it just comes off as cruel. A stage starts, you’re going along, and you get crushed by a boulder. You’ll have no visual or audio cue of note that it might happen. You just get to a platform, see you’re going to have to bounce off of killer spiders, and get crushed by the boulder before there’s any time to react. There’s no way to avoid it the first time.

So you’ll finally figure out when you need to jump to avoid boulder death. Then you’ll bounce on the spiders, and you’re dead. You were killed by the next obstacle you couldn’t possibly know about, because it was off-screen a moment ago. That is how a number of stages in Kid Tripp work. The conflicting thing is how other stages don’t do this. Some of them do give you some advance warning. Some of them have some genuinely fun, and creative moments. One of them is even a really nice send up of the mine cart stages in the Donkey Kong Country games. There are some really great moments that will make you glad you decided to play it. It also keeps records, so you can try to speed run the game, and shoot for the best possible time.

The game also has some pretty good sprite work going for it, with some great character designs. Though on the flip side, Everything seems substantially zoomed in. Which leads to some of the blind jumps, and cheap deaths. That said, it looks bright, colorful, and a nice use of darker shades for contrast. As far as graphics go, this is a good-looking indie game. It also has the chip tunes to match. Kid Tripp has a soundtrack rife with catchy hooks, and digital effects.

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Kid Tripp also has a few different movement speed settings. Honestly, I didn’t notice all that much of a difference between them. For the most part the game played pretty much the same. There are also achievements you can shoot for, like clearing levels without killing an enemy, or beating the game using fewer than a certain number of lives.  The game isn’t terribly long as it goes around four worlds, and a few sub levels in each. There are a lot of homages in it too. Every stage ends with a spinning post sign as in Sonic The Hedgehog. The settings of each stage hearken to the Super Mario Bros. games, and some of the death traps will remind you of Mega Man.

Kid Tripp isn’t a terrible game by any means. It looks nice, it plays alright most of the time, and it has some good music to go along with the action. But the game could have used some better scaling, and balancing.  There is some enjoyment to be had with it for sure. But the lack of balance, and telegraphing in key points of some stages leads to cheap deaths. Still, the challenge isn’t insurmountable, and if you’re persistent you’ll likely clear it. Hopefully any potential sequel will address the problems, and take things from fairly decent, to pretty great.

Final Score: 7 out of 10

Boulder Dash XL 3D Review

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Way back in 1984 came an excellent platform puzzle game called Boulder Dash. It was a big hit on home computers of the time. The Atari 400/800 version came first, but the game made its way to the Commodore 64, ZX Spectrum, and some of the consoles like the Colecovision. There was even an NES port. Over the years it has seen newer versions. Some by First Star Software, the company who created it. Others by different developers who were licensed to do so.

PROS: A really great take on Boulder Dash with some refinements.

CONS: Some of the tweaks aren’t intuitive.

ROBOTS: Your quasi-human miners have been replaced by automatons.

In 2012, a small outfit called Catnip made a new version for the Xbox Live service, and computers called Boulder Dash XL. It replaced the main characters with robot interpretations, but it retained the spirit of the original game fairly well. It also added a few new spins on the game which I’ll get to in a bit. Boulder Dash XL 3D is a port of that game to the 3DS. This port was done by the folks at Ludosity who went on to make the well received Princess Remedy games on Steam.

For the uninitiated, Boulder Dash is a series where you collect diamonds while mining. You’re given a few minutes to get a certain number of diamonds, and then make your way to the exit. You do this, by moving around the stages, digging dirt, and picking them up. The challenge of course is trying to get these without getting crushed. Much like the rocks in Dig Dug, digging out the dirt from beneath the boulders will cause them to fall. You can also be crushed by the very diamonds you collect.

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But where Dig Dug focused more on defeating all of the bad guys in the stage to advance, Boulder Dash does a lot more with the boulders (hence the name.). Boulders, and diamonds will shift to the left or the right as they fall on top of one another.  When you first start out, the earliest levels are pretty easy to figure out. You’ll find you can get the required number of diamonds, and get to the exit. There’s a bit of risk/reward too in that you can also try to get all of the diamonds for bonus points rather than just the required number to exit. Of course, getting all of the diamonds requires nearly flawless puzzle solving skills. Often times making a mistake will not only keep you from getting that last diamond, but may get you trapped between boulders, forcing you to restart.

But its a very engrossing formula, and this version adds a host of new mechanics to an already fun game. There are transporters, there are boxes that turn boulders into diamonds, and vice versa. They even added a few power ups on some levels that are used in a number of puzzles. That’s in addition to some of the newer takes on enemy types featured here. There is a large wealth of content here too. There are around 100 stages or more for you to play through. This edition also has several modes in it.

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The primary mode is the Arcade mode, where the game puts you through the 100 stages in a row. This mode works with the traditional Boulder Dash rules. You’re given a time limit, and you have to get the qualifying number of diamonds to make the exit appear so you can escape as quickly as possible for the most time points. Again, getting every diamond is worth a huge bonus, but you risk running out of time, or trapping yourself if you don’t get them just right.

Next up is Puzzle mode, which gives you a 25 stage gauntlet. Every stage you complete can be replayed at any time, but you’ll have to beat them all in a row in order to see them all. This mode eschews the time limit, giving you more time to experiment, and figure out exactly how the level designers wanted you to find your way out of the mazes.

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Zen mode is essentially the Arcade mode but without the time limit. So in a way it feels like a giant practice mode where you can try to fine tune your techniques on each of the stages to minimize the amount of time it takes you to clear them. It’s pretty neat from that particular perspective, but most will likely prefer the Arcade mode over it since it’s a lot more high stakes, which feels more rewarding when you succeed.

 

Score mode features four stages where you can either try to go for the time bonus or you can try to get every last diamond possible. To get the best scores, you’ll likely have to skip a number of diamonds as it’s a balance of knowing how many diamonds, and how many seconds left on the clock will get you in terms of points. It’s an interesting concept some players may enjoy. To me it isn’t as interesting as the Puzzle mode, or as fun as the Arcade mode. But still fun to check out.

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Retro mode is one of the coolest inclusions in this game. It’s a combination of stages from the original game, as well as all new stages specific to this iteration. The interesting thing it does is replace all of the textures with the original 8-bit tile sprites from the Commodore 64 version of the first Boulder Dash. There are 25 stages in this set, and for older people like me who pick this up, the nostalgia it conjures up is great. But for people who never played the original, the newer stages are still a nice challenge. So even if you pick this up having never played the original, this mode gives you more content to enjoy.

 

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Visually, the main game on display here is pretty nice. The blocks, boulders, and diamonds all look pretty good, and the monsters all have pretty interesting takes on their original designs. There’s also a pretty good use of lighting considering the obviously smaller budget when compared to a lot of the big hits on the 3DS. Be that as it may, the change from the humanoid miners to robots is a bit weird. It by no means hampers the game. It isn’t going to make any old timers scream “Sacrilege!” to the heavens. It’s just a small change that doesn’t make any sense. As for the 3D, I couldn’t really test that out, as I own a 2DS which doesn’t have the 3D functionality. But honestly this isn’t the kind of game that requires 3D to enjoy. In terms of performance, I didn’t run into any major issues, though there was some minor slowdown when I caused a slew of boulders to fall at once. Still, it didn’t get in the way of the actual game play.

There isn’t much in the way of good audio here though. The soundtrack doesn’t have the up tempo, frazzled chip tune theme of the original. It has a mostly forgettable set list, with one or two songs that can even annoy a bit. Some of you may disagree, but honestly I think you’ll enjoy it more without the music playing. The sound effects themselves are fine. You can hear the falling boulders, and explosions perfectly well, and they fit the game as intended.

 

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Boulder Dash is one classic game that is perfectly suited to a portable platform. It’s the kind of game you can attempt to clear a map or two in during a lunch break, or commute. But you can also spend a weekend away, putting in a few hours into going for a high score, or solving puzzles. It’s also just a great game in its own right. This version on the 3DS is a pretty fun, and convenient iteration of the game. It’s probably not going to live up to the lofty heights of the original versions for those who grew up with them. But be that as it may this is (as Metal Jesus Rocks might say) a hidden gem in the 3DS library. It’s addictive. It’s fun. It’s Boulder Dash.

Final Score: 8 out of 10

Mighty No. 9 Review

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Released last year under a mountain of controversy, Comcept’s, and Inti Creates’ spiritual successor to Mega Man was met with reactions from reviled to merely tepid. Suffice it to say, people didn’t like it. This didn’t come without good reason. But now that the dust has begun to settle, there’s a question left over. Is Mighty No. 9 really that bad?

PROS: Voice acting, character designs, a few inventive moments.

CONS: Unbalanced stages, poor graphics, technical issues, dash mechanic.

LUCK: You’ll need a lot of it in key areas.

In some ways, yes Mighty No. 9 is that bad. I listed many of the reasons under the cons. Graphics are the first thing we notice when firing up any game. In this game your first thought is going to be “Oh no.” Remember the later Mega Man X games on the PlayStation 2? Mighty No. 9 has a very similar look. 2.5D with low quality textures, and simple geometry. In this game everything renders at 1080 p so it looks a lot sharper. But it also makes many of the games sprites look grainy, as they don’t appear to have been made in HD. So the higher resolution actually makes some parts look worse.

This is especially true of explosions, bullets from your arm cannon, menu items, and background touches. This results in some really jarring moments. On the plus side, the character designs are pretty cool. Especially when you meet the other bosses. These are the moments that remind you of classic Mega Man games, fighting robot masters in confined spaces.

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Gameplay is about what you’d expect. Like the Mega Man, and Mega Man X series you choose the order of stages in the hopes of finding the best route through the game. Every boss has a weapon you can assimilate, and you have to figure out which weapon defeats which boss. Unfortunately, even this aspect of the game isn’t nearly as good as it is in the games it borrows from.

There are several reasons for this. The most obvious being technical issues. For whatever reason, Mighty No. 9 suffers from terrible slowdown in certain spots. Reportedly, some versions are far worse than others. I played the PC version, so I can’t comment on any of the console versions. But I think it’s safe to say no matter what version you play, you’re going to get frustrated. There doesn’t seem to be any particular reason why the slowdown occurs. I tried lowering the settings to rock bottom, it still happens. And there are a fair number of options you can change in the PC version. You can also play it with a keyboard, but you really do want to use a game pad. Especially with some of the problems here.

These issues don’t make the game impossible, but they immediately begin to sour you on things. Lowering the fun factor further is the unbalanced nature of stages. When playing any given level you’ll often find a spot that has over the top difficulty in it. Usually involving enemies that swarm you, a pixel perfect jumping section surrounded by traps that kill you instantly, or both.

Now, the Mega Man series has sections filled with death traps that require pixel perfect jumps, and maneuvers. The differences are that 1.) in most cases they don’t come out of nowhere, and 2.) the controls are tighter. In Mega Man, these areas often come up after you’ve been eased in. A room will introduce you to something new to learn. You’ll use that in subsequent rooms, each gradually adding onto the challenge until you learn well enough to feel comfortable taking on that giant trap. Case in point, the infamous death beams way back in the Quick Man stage in Mega Man 2. You got a taste early, but after figuring it out quickly, you played through the stage, and when it brought it up again, only harder, it was a challenge. But it didn’t feel insurmountable. You got a feeling of persistence.

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In Mighty No. 9 these sections seem to just come out of the blue. Moreover, you don’t have quite the same level of control. So you’ll get into an area, have no idea what to do, and just be plunged into it. No teaser, no taste, no feeling of “Oh THAT’S what I need to do.” When you finally do figure it out, it won’t be a sense of discovery, it will be a sense of dismay. “Are you kidding me?” is probably the most common question you’ll scream aloud. Your fun will be decreased even more when you discover that instead of refining things, the game brute forces you through by giving you random power ups as you near the end of your lives. As if to say “Here, take a lot of damage, but scrape by with some beefed up power, and E-Tanks.” That doesn’t make it more fun, that just cements the fact that the designers realized they’ve created a chore rather than a challenge. There are also a few gameplay moments that get repeated throughout stages, the biggest being what I call swarm rooms, where you have to clear a wave of enemies before you can continue.

Another difference between this, and Mega Man are how you find replenishments. In the Mega Man games, you gain health, and ammunition two ways. Finding them drop out of robots when you kill them, or else in the play field. Sometimes you might have to solve a puzzle or have a certain robot master’s weapon to get them. But pretty straightforward. In Mighty No. 9 you have to use the game’s dash mechanic. This works like the one in Mega Man X. You can press the shoulder button, or double tap. When you shoot low-level bad guys enough times, they’ll glow blue, red, green, or yellow. Then you have to dash into them. The blue ones fill your E-Tank (of which you can have two), the green ones speed you up, and the red ones make your arm cannon more potent. Yellow reduces the damage you take from getting hit. You’ll also have to use the dash to get over a lot of the game’s pitfalls.  The thing is, the dash is also a tad bit slippery here. So you’ll sometimes hit spikes you wouldn’t have in Mega Man X, or fall into pits you wouldn’t have in Mega Man. This makes those aforementioned death sections all the more infuriating. So again, it’s no wonder this game has the bad reputation it does.

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But I will say it isn’t all bad. The bosses, and subsequent fights are generally pretty cool. These are the parts of the game where it starts to feel a little bit more like a good Mega Man game again. There are some interesting patterns to learn, and the designs of the bosses are honestly pretty awesome. They also make some of the death sections moot if you play them in the correct order. This is because they come back to help you in the story, which clears out some of the hazards. In these moments, Mighty No. 9 becomes pretty fun, and entertaining. This is in part because of some wonderful performances from the actors. All of the characters have personality, and flair because of them. Even Steven Blum shows up in it, as a boss!  That boss fight is also interesting because they do something original with it. You have to explore the level, and find him three times before it unlocks the boss room for you to face him. It’s a genuinely fun moment. Of course, the discovery of boss order is also ruined when you realize that the correct stage to play adds a second advice tab on its description. If you click said tab, you’ll hear the boss you defeated last, give dialogue. At this point, you just look for whichever level has the extra audio log displayed before entering.

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Another fun moment, (aside from an infuriating death trap section) is when you get to take control of the Roll stand-in, and infiltrate a base. It’s a Metal Gear themed stealth mission. But it’s done well, and shows off a completely different play style rather than just slap Mighty No. 9’s mechanics onto a different model. Even the boss in the level takes advantage of that. The final stage is a hodgepodge of everything you force yourself to learn throughout the game, and without giving too much away, the final encounter both requires you to know the mechanics, as well as getting lucky with item drops. At least in an initial play through. I will also give the soundtrack a nod in that the end credits feature a really cool performance from Mega Ran, as well as a chip tune OST you can turn on in the options. None of them are as memorable as the ones in early Mega Man games, but they aren’t half bad, and fit the action well.

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Mighty No. 9’s story isn’t too much different from the original Mega Man’s either. All of the robots in America go haywire, and Mighty No. 9 has to go save the day. The alterations here are that the enemy robots aren’t destroyed. Instead, their defeat somehow removes the computer virus making them go awry, and they grant Mighty No. 9 their weapon program afterwards. There’s even a Dr. Wily stand-in, although they throw in a twist you can see coming from a mile away.

If you do happen to become a super fan somehow, Mighty No.9 does have other modes that unlock as you play. These are a combination of timed challenges, co-operative challenges, and then some competitive internet speed runs. The trouble is, that with the lack of online players you’ll likely never play the speed runs, or co-op challenges.

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Mighty No. 9 made a lot of Worst Of 2016 lists. Really, the game itself probably isn’t the worst released last year. It has numerous problems, no doubt. But it’s still functional enough to play through. There are bright spots in it where it becomes fun as well. If not for the technical issues, and design flaws, this could have been above average. And you can see while playing where whatever happened behind the scenes during development killed potential. If the game looked as good in those early teasers, and played as well as the NES Mega Man games like it was supposed to, we’d be looking at a really good game. Instead, we’re looking at a barely average game marred further by a controversial development cycle. We’ll probably never learn what went wrong, or why it took so much money to give us something this ugly, unbalanced, and hobbled. If you’re morbidly curious about it, you could do worse. But you should probably invest in that Mega Man 2 Game Pak  for your NES instead. Or any of the Mega Man collections. Really any Classic Mega Man game will do.

Final Score: 5 out of 10

Senran Kagura 2: Deep Crimson Review

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As a game collector, I occasionally stumble into titles. Games I have no prior knowledge of. Or very little knowledge of. Like some of you this will begin online, and end in a storefront. Earlier this year, Mark Bussler over at Classic Game Room did an episode on Senran Kagura: Estival Versus for the PlayStation 4. A very bizarre, over the top hack n’ slash action game with an emphasis on endowed characters. I like to think I know a bit about esoteric games. But I had no idea that this was actually a series.

Imagine my surprise one day when I saw this sequel for the 3DS sitting on a store shelf. “They put a sequel out, on Nintendo’s handheld?” I thought. Well yes. Except this ISN’T the sequel to the PlayStation 4 game. After some research I discovered that the series oddly enough, started on the 3DS in Japan. So this game is the sequel to THAT game, and the one Mark reviewed on his show is actually a spin-off.

PROS: Great graphics, responsive controls, a simple combo system that isn’t mundane.

CONS: Some of the content isn’t for everybody. Can get a bit lowbrow.

COLLECTIBLE: Apparently the print run for this game wasn’t very high in the USA.

Senran Kagura 2: Deep Crimson is an arcade style hack n’ slash game. You’ll go through a variety of stages fighting hordes, and hordes of enemies. There are also, of course, bosses. As you play through the campaign you’ll be introduced to a wide variety of characters. Many of whom you will be able to take control of throughout the game.

The controversial gimmick in this series is where some folks may have some reservations about picking one of these games up. When you’re fighting enemies, you’ll find your attacks will rip their clothes to shreds. When they’re just about dead, they’ll be down to their undergarments. Your characters are subject to these rules as well. Take enough damage from opponents, and your clothes will be ripped to pieces. When you’re completely out of health you’ll be down to your underwear as well.

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The game plays the gimmick more for laughs, and less for eroticism. Even if the camera angles during transformations are peculiar. But like an R Rated B movie comedy on Cinemax in 1995, it can come off as kind of crass. Of course humor is subjective. Some are going to laugh at how over the top it is. Others are going to be totally confused. While some may even feel a little offended. The game is absolutely unabashed in its presentation. So again, this game is most certainly not for everyone.

Fortunately, there are enough good things about Senran Kagura 2 that action game fans may want to check it out. The fighting system isn’t the most technical, it’s actually fairly simple. But not so simple that things feel mundane. It feels a bit like the Rocksteady Batman Arkham games. You mix up attacks with a weak, and strong button which result in some really awesome combos. They aren’t deep, but the animations are brisk, and smooth. There’s also a nice variety of moves during these sequences as well.

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You can also jump, and do air attacks using the jump button with the attack buttons. There’s also a dash you can use. Finally, there’s a transformation sequence you can perform once you earn enough scrolls while playing. These are reminiscent of the transformation scenes from the old Sailor Moon anime. The off-putting difference being where the characters place their scrolls during these sequences. Once transformed you can then perform a super when you have enough of a meter filled. You use these by pressing the L button along with other buttons which do a variety of crazy animations. These are normally the kinds of things you can see in fighting games like Street Fighter V or Marvel Vs. Capcom 3.  There are even tag team combos you can do in some levels where you’re forced to toggle between multiple characters.

Senran Kagura 2 also has a couple of camera options when playing. By default the camera will stay fixed, and you can target enemies with the D-pad if you feel more comfortable locking on to them. If you’re playing on a 3DS (Sorry 2DS or 3DS XL owners) you can also use the optional Circle Pad Pro. This lets you run the camera freeform like a mouse, or a second thumb stick. The newest 3DS can also do this with its built-in Circle Pad Pro replacement. As I own the 2DS I really couldn’t test this option out, but I was able to play fine with the fixed camera.

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All of this makes for a hack n’ slash beat ’em up game that feels really good. Again, everything flows smoothly, and quickly. You quickly find yourself going from enemy to enemy seamlessly, and racking up crazy combos. Whether you come from classics like Double Dragon, Streets Of Rage, and Final Fight or modern games like God Of War, Devil May Cry, or Dynasty Warriors you’ll likely enjoy the fighting system here. Tamsoft were also the developers behind Onechanbara. But where that series can sometimes feel mundane, and repetitive this game doesn’t.

I think a major reason it doesn’t is because there is a wide variety of enemies on display, each with a different set of strategies needed to defeat them. There are various monsters, ninjas, soldiers, other students, and storyline characters to go up against. The vast number of playable characters also helps. Each character plays completely different from the rest of the cast. Some characters are faster, with attacks that do minimal damage, but also stun enemies so you can get in more hits. Others are slower with far more powerful attacks. Then you have others that fall somewhere in between. It can again, feel like a fighting game in that regard. You can try using the entire cast, or you can settle on one character you feel most comfortable with. Of course the campaign will make you play with each character as there are scenes that require particular characters for the storyline.

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The game has a fairly extensive campaign where you’ll follow the adventures of several stables. These are good, and evil students of Shinobi who rival one another. But as the story goes on you’ll discover that they also have common enemies. I don’t really want to give anything away, but it’s a halfway decent romp. It isn’t the most original story, and there are a lot of events you’ve seen dozens of times in other games. But I will give it credit for at least attempting to give each of the characters some personality beyond being simple eye candy. There are actual motivations, cares, fears, and some moments of genuinely funny dialogue. It has its share of common archetypes mind you. There’s the super serious personality, the hyperactive personality, the one that second guesses themselves constantly, the brash personality. But there are some original takes on them here.

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Don’t get me wrong, you’re not going to hold up the storytelling in Senran Kagura 2 alongside revered tales told in Portal, Half-Life, Deus EX, or System Shock 2. This is still a very silly, over the top game. But it does at least try to be more than a soft core button masher. That said, some of the extras don’t, like the  game’s costume decorator where you can pick the two outfits for any given character. You get to unlock new ones as you play the game. Some of them are actually pretty cool looking, while others are right out of Bikini Car Wash Company. Rounding out the extra features is the AR photo mode. This mode lets you take any of the player models, and super impose them over a photo you take with the 3DS camera.

Senran Kagura 2 also has a Co-Op mode, where you, and a friend can sync up your 3DS systems, and play the campaign together, or replay individual missions together. Back on the single-player  front, you can go back, and play any previous stage with any character to level them up. At the end of every stage you’re also given a rating. The better you do, the higher your score, and the more unlocks you’ll receive. Senran Kagura 2’s difficulty does start to really ramp up around halfway through the game. So going back, and replaying earlier levels with some of the newer characters you unlock isn’t the worst idea.

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In between levels you can also go back to a hub level, which changes between chapters. There are 5 chapters, each with several missions. Senran Kagura 2 is a pretty long game all things considered. The hub level lets you communicate with the characters for some back story dialogue. You can also choose to enter one room to go on missions, one for each of the various modes, as well as the options menu. Here you can change audio, and visual settings. You can also turn off the clothes tearing sequences if you want. You can also use the sub-menu on the touch screen to jump to any of these rather than walk around the hub.

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All in all, Senran Kagura 2 is actually a pretty fun, and challenging game if you can get past the exploitation B movie vibe of everything. There’s no full frontal nudity or intercourse on display so this doesn’t get into anything overtly pornographic. But it isn’t embarrassed about its suggestive camera angles, or dirty jokes either. Which is why  it still isn’t something for everyone. If, however you can look past the risqué elements you’ll find a pretty good action game, and R rated comedy underneath it all.

Final Score: 8 out of 10

Mega Man Legacy Collection Review

Around eleven years ago now, (Wow, time flies!) Capcom entrusted the defunct Atomic Planet to bundle the Mega Man Classic series, a couple of arcade games, and extras onto the XBox, PlayStation 2, and Gamecube. What resulted was a playable but often far from perfect emulation. On the one hand people loved having the games on one disc, but over time the flaws started to annoy lifelong fans of the series. Now Capcom has taken another stab at entrusting a company to do a collection. Is Mega Man Legacy Collection a better one, than Mega Man Anniversary Collection?

PROS: Mega Man’s first six games from the NES on your PC, XB1, PS4, or 3DS

CONS: Digital Eclipse’s emulator isn’t quite what they’ve hyped it as. No MM7-10 or side games.

DR. WILY: Newcomers may weep when they get to his eyebrow raising castle bosses.

Do I really need to go over the games themselves? Probably not, but I’ll give a synopsis for those too young to remember any of the Mega Man games, or the five people who don’t know who he is. Mega Man is a series of games that were helmed by Keiji Inafune starting back in 1987. In the game you play as Rock, a robot who offers to have his creator Dr. Light turn him into a combat robot after Light’s, colleague Dr. Wily goes insane, and programs Dr. Light’s other robots to take over the world. Mega Man then goes on a mission to destroy the six reprogrammed robots, before confronting Dr. Wily himself. The characters, and story were inspired by classic anime like Astro Boy, and Neo-Human  Casshern. But obviously beyond the themes they go in their own original directions. Each game has a formula with a few minor variations as the series goes on. You’ll have the option to tackle each one of Dr. Wily’s robot masters in any order you choose. Upon picking one, you’re thrown into an action platformer stage, and have to fight your way to the end. To help you there are energy cells for your life bar, as well as your weapons acquired from defeated robot masters. When you get to a boss, defeating them, will give you one of their powers. The key is discovering the order to do the stages in, as each boss is easily defeated by another bosses’ weapon. Defeating all of the bosses moves you onto Dr. Wily’s castle, or the castle of other series villains.

While the first game sold adequately, the second game became a smash hit, and would cement Mega Man (Called Rock Man in Japan) as one of Capcom’s earliest franchises. The games themselves are all quite good. Though some may feel fatigue with Mega Man 5 or 6 as you know what to expect by then. But even those games are pretty good, and bring some new things to the series formula. Mega Man 6 was originally not published by Capcom in the US, but by Nintendo, who had even done a Nintendo Power contest urging those who entered to create a boss character. Capcom had done this contest for years in Japan, but Nintendo’s promotion opened it to North America as well. two North American winners had their characters featured as bosses. Knight Man by Daniel Vall’ee, and Wind Man by Michael Leader. Mega Man 6 even features fake bosses, where upon defeating them you won’t be seeing the usual power absorption animation. Instead you’ll go back, and find the right boss room to defeat the actual robot master rather than the decoy.

Anyway, MMLC isn’t a flawless emulation. The developers talked about an engine they made, to recreate the game experience. But at the end of the day it’s an emulator. It doesn’t simply run the ROMs, it pulls all of the assets from them though, and tries to emulate the experience of running the games on the NES. So don’t go in expecting a completely recreated experience. You’re buying the ROMs, and running the assets (Graphics, music, level maps) through the emulator.

The emulation is pretty good though. Music sounds pretty close to the way it does on NES versions of the games, the colors are pretty close, and things seem to control pretty well. I haven’t noticed any major problems running these titles on my PC. Though there was one point in Mega Man 1, A fire column sprite in the Fire Man stage flew off the screen instead of freezing when shooting it with the ice shot. Beyond that one instance it ran fine with zero issues in performance. The emulator does attempt to recreate the performance of an NES though. So do expect some slowdown when a lot happens on the screen at the same time. On console things may be a little murkier depending on the input lag of your particular TV. But for most people, this is going to be a perfectly fine experience.

MMLC also adds a few options, and extras to incentivize a purchase. Like a lot of other emulated bundles, the games allow you to turn on a few different viewing modes. You can stretch the games to full screen, or play them in their original aspect ratio. You can also choose from CRT monitor, or CRT SDTV filters that will add scan lines, and blur to the graphics to simulate the look of playing on an old television set. This is nice if you’re one of the fans who doesn’t like the crisp blocky pixels most emulators display. There are also optional border designs you can turn on to simulate an arcade cabinet look. The PC version also allows you to turn off Vsync to increase some performance, though if you have a computer near the minimum requirements you may see a wildly fluctuating frame rate.

Other bonuses include archived concept art from Capcom, some of which is also in the Mega Man Anniversary collection. You’ll also be able to play the game soundtracks through an in-game music player. All of the catchy robot master themes, and songs are here. You’ll also see cover art for the albums.

Each game also features the original Japanese Rock Man cover art in the launcher. There are also a number of challenges you can take part in to get on leader boards, and unlock achievements. Achievements are done in a bronze, silver, or gold system. Where the faster you can complete the task, the better your rank. You’ll also have to beat all six games, and complete challenges in order to enter all of the challenges. Some of the challenges are even Boss Rush modes where you’ll fight each boss in a row, on a single life bar.

Mega Man Legacy Collection is worth getting over Mega Man Anniversary Collection if you want an experience that’s closer to running these games on an NES. You won’t get Mega Man 7,8, or either of the arcade games, but you won’t see all of the alterations, and cuts either. That said, if you happen to own a Wii U, you can buy the individual ROMs separately (Except for Mega Man 8), and those emulations are even closer to the real thing, save for some slightly darker colors. On the other hand buying this collection is still $15 instead of buying the games on the E shop for $30. Of course nothing tops having a working NES, and the 6 Mega Man Game Paks. But if you don’t still have those from your childhood, or you’re new to Mega Man, that is an expensive endeavor. Each game goes for a minimum of $25 as of this writing, with some being almost $100.

From a value perspective Mega Man Legacy Collection is a good one. Emulation is much better than what we saw in the last compilation. If you’ve long since lost your NES, or you haven’t played these games elsewhere already it’s worth picking up. If you already have the anniversary collection, you might want to buy this collection to get closer representations of the NES games. But if you’ve already bought these games on the Nintendo E shop, or you have the NES Game Paks there’s no need to buy these games again. The extras are nice, but don’t warrant a double or triple dipping.

Final Score: 8 out of 10

1001 Spikes Review

Over the past few years a subset of platformers have come to pass. All focusing on very difficult challenges, some may even call impossible challenges. 1001 Spikes is another one of these games to come along. It even brings along a few new features with its retro themed visuals, and chip tunes. Watch your every step. There are hazards everywhere.

PROS: Challenging gameplay. Crafty level design. A lot of content.

CONS: All stages need to be cleared to play the last leg. High difficulty.

PARODIES: Of popular video game characters galore.

Appearing first on consoles, 1001 Spikes recently made its way to computers. It also came to every major computer operating system in the process. Windows, Macintosh, and Linux. Developed by Nicalis, the game is another title that relishes high difficulty. Following the paths set by stuff like I wanna be the guy, VVVVVV, and Super Meat Boy, it focuses a lot on platform jumping through relentless traps. Nearly everything in the game will kill you, from the obvious spikes, to lava, chasms, buzz saws, spears, to boulders. Everything wants you dead. At first you might think it isn’t all too different from other NES themed indie games you’ve played. But given enough time, you start to see where 1001 Spikes does have its own identity.

1001 Spikes is a puzzle platformer. Instead of having difficult jumps or traps as small sections of any given level, the game makes them the entire level. Or more accurately they become puzzles. The game tasks you with trying to figure out where to jump, and when. How to time a landing just right or when to shoot a projectile. Projectiles are rarely used to actually kill enemies. Instead they’re used to hit switches, or knock an obstacle back so you can sneak through. Each stage in the campaign is little more than a room 2 to 4 screens in height or length. The object is to collect a key so you can open the door, and exit. As a bonus, each stage has a hidden skull. Collecting the skulls will not only add another life via 1-Up, but over time unlock characters, and features.

Many of the unlockable characters, and costumes are parodies of famous NES game characters. Among these, are a really spot on spoof of Ghosts N’ Goblins’ Arthur. He even takes two hits to die with the first hit knocking off his armor, revealing his underpants. There is also a Ryu parody (Street Fighter), who even throws fireballs, and dragon punches. There is a Master Chief parody (Halo), replete with armor, and weaponry. There are also many other parodies, and in-jokes.  Even Commander Video from Bit Trip Runner makes a cameo along with his Atari 2600 era Activision themed rainbow.

In a way, the structure is a lot closer to something like Wrecking Crew, Boulder Dash, or Bomber Man. It can be deceiving at a first glance because the puzzles resemble action games like Castlevania, Ninja Gaiden, or Mega Man given the brutal nature of the traps. The game also keeps tabs on the time, and lives spent on completing each level. This lends itself to making the game appeal to people who love the concept of speed running. Much of the difficulty comes not from the obvious hazards themselves, but from the unexpected surprises. The stages are sadistic in that just when you think you’ve found somewhere safe to land, it turns out to be a crumbling block. Or booby-trapped with spikes. Or a switch that drops chunks of the ceiling on top of you. As you move on, the game quickly becomes a job in trial, and error. You’ll begin examining each room for potential treachery, expecting the worst with each landing. This may sound like an awful masochistic time. But you’d be surprised to find it is fun in its frustration. Each section is like a code you have to crack. When you do, sections that were previously impossible become much, much simpler. Again, setting you up for the challenge of trying to win with the best possible time.

1001 Spikes does have its own storyline that you can see unfold as you progress. It tells the tale of a young explorer named Aban Hawkins. His father is a renowned archaeologist who goes missing. Aban never got along with his father, and was always at odds with him. Nevertheless, when his sister calls him into the office to give him a box from their father, it leads him on a quest. Aban goes to South America to explore deep caverns. It is here he wishes he hadn’t gone, as of course, these caverns prove to be death trap central. If you can manage to beat all of the levels in the campaign, you’ll be granted access to the final leg of Aban’s journey. Fortunately, (or unfortunately depending on how you look at it) you can skip any level if it proves too difficult for you. Any level you’ve previously skipped can be replayed at a later time. So you can move on, clearing a few later stages, then go back to a previous one that got a little too irritating.

In addition to the primary campaign the game does have unlockable arcade modes. It should be noted all of them can be played with up to four players. The first one is a coin horde mode, where everyone battles it out over a golden vase. At the end of the round it will explode. So players have to hang onto it long enough to get more coins than their opponents. Their opponents can try to claim it from them, but a bigger problem are the traps, and enemies in each of these stages. You can expect to lose a lot of lives here, as in the other modes.

The second arcade mode takes a little bit more of an action game leaning. You have to climb a giant tower to free a hostage from their captors. Each tower is a few stages long. You get 9 lives per stage, and if you lose all of your lives you have to start all over again from the bottom of that tower. Being that it is part of a notoriously difficult game, expect as many death traps, as you would during the campaign. But you’ll also have a lot of grunts trying to impede your progress. They’ll get in the way during crucial moments, They’ll shoot you. They’ll do anything they can to make you lose.

The final arcade mode is a long series of extra levels that aren’t in the campaign. Many of these are more difficult. Being designed more for multiplayer, instead of worrying about an exit key, and 1-Ups these stages have coins. So much like some of the recent Super Mario Bros, games, you’ll compete by coin collecting. But again, it becomes pandemonium as you also have to worry about the myriad of deathtraps. Coins you collect in the arcade modes, can be used for items in an unlockable shop. These items include aforementioned hidden characters, and costumes. As well as the ability to watch the game’s many cinema screens at one’s leisure.  I should also mention that some of the costumes can only be used in the arcade modes. Why this is I have no idea.

In any case, 1001 Spikes is a pretty cool game on whichever platform you choose to play it on. Although for some reason the Wii U version doesn’t utilize the popular off TV mode. There are reports that this may be patched in at some point. But if you pick it up for Nintendo’s box, at least for the time being, you will have to look at the TV. But again, it is an enjoyable, well crafted game. Just be advised it isn’t a game for the faint of heart, and that if you’re easily put off by games with high difficulty you may want to think twice about it. For everyone else, it’s certainly worth playing. You can play it in small bursts, or jam on it for an entire day off from work. It’s another soul crushingly difficult game, but a satisfying one.

Final Score: 8 out of 10.