Tag Archives: Nintendo

Ys VIII: Lacrimosa Of Dana Review

I’ve never been a massive Role Playing Game player. I can definitely appreciate a good one for what it is. But the complexity and math in many of the deepest ones have always drained me. I always preferred the twitch, hand-eye coordination focused experiences of platformers, shooters, fighting games, beat ’em ups, and other action genres. That isn’t to say early TSR versions of Dungeons & Dragons games on my Commodore 64 weren’t good or fun. But growing up, worrying about mapping and spreadsheets felt more like playing Excel than action games ever did. But as I got older, I began to understand why other people preferred a more cerebral experience. Ys (along with Ultima) is one RPG series that made the genre more palatable to action fans like me.

PROS: The deepest storyline in the series yet. Excellent combat. Massive world to explore.

CONS: The world still isn’t 100% open. Don’t expect Skyrim or Breath Of The Wild.

HOURS: One of the longer games in the series. I spent 53.7 hours on my play through.

Ys as a series has always had a great blend of action and JPRG mechanics. It’s still very much an RPG. You need to find items, talk to specific people at specific times to get specific information. You need to go explore large sections and dungeons for gear. You need to grind for experience to defeat later enemies and bosses. You need to visit shops for key items. At the same time, you don’t have to worry about spreadsheets and such. You simply delve into a menu, grab the thing you need and go. You don’t have to have long drawn out menus in equally drawn out turn-based battles either. Combat is as immediate as playing Golden Axe. Early Ys games used a “Bump” system where you ran into bad guys off center to do damage. But later games replaced attacks with button presses and flashy animations.

Most of the Ys games have the typical fantasy lore, and storyline you would expect a general JRPG to have. Adol (and sometimes his pal Dogi) end up washing ashore in unfamiliar territory and somehow end up having to solve the problems engulfing the land. Usually some evil sorcerer is behind it. Sometimes it’s more of a sympathetic villain comparable to Darth Vader. Sometimes it’s something else entirely. But now and again the series will shake things up with new ideas. Ys Origin took place centuries before the original game, and explored a lot of the back story, introducing three character arcs to boot. Ys 7 had a robust party system. So what does this game do that the other games didn’t?

The big thing here is the world. Ys VIII gives you a massive map. One you can see things in the distance and get to. It’s so big that it’s easy to go into it thinking you’re going to get a major dose of Western CRPG influence in a huge world you can go anywhere in. And while at later points in the game things open up, this is not going to be like an Elder Scrolls game. So don’t make the mistake of thinking it will play like Morrowind or Oblivion or Skyrim. While the map is quite vast there are yellow lines around every major section of the map. These lines presumably do two things. First, they hide some loading. You can tell this by the fact that it resets and respawns the same enemy sets specifically for each section. Second, it blocks you from going into a section before the game wants you to. This ties into the storyline because some of the sections pretty much require you to have seen a particular cutscene or complete a certain event leading to said cutscene before you can go there. So as expansive as the world is, it isn’t like a Western RPG where you’re crafting much of the story through exploration. The main story progression demands some parts go in a particular order.

Fortunately, you’re probably not going to mind being stonewalled once in a while, because this is one of the best storylines in the entire series. Like most of the Ys games you will end up shipwrecked. But that’s about the only similarity to the narrative of the other games. Things start Adol and Dogi off on a cruise ship headed to what can only be compared to Bermuda. Near the island is a section of ocean where ships disappear and the crews are never heard from again. When things open up though, you don’t just get a setup cut scene. You play through a fairly interactive ship, talking to the crew, meeting the other passengers, and even getting some foreshadowing that doesn’t reveal itself as such until much, much later. Things culminate with a surprise battle against a giant Octopus like boss. Defeating the boss sends you to the meat and potatoes of the game. The ship is destroyed in the chaos and Adol is once again washed ashore.

But this time it’s a massive island. Marooned, prepare for quite an arduous trial. Getting off of the island is going to be much, much more involved than you would imagine. You’ll have to not only find other survivors who expand your party, you’ll have to built a new settlement with them. This gives it a bit of a Tower Defense element. Once you have found enough of the passengers, your hideout becomes an RPG style village where you have item shops, a medical doctor’s office, food shop, and more. One of the people you can rescue will also be able to tailor costumes for playable characters. In addition to those you can also buy costumes as DLC for the game. But I never felt the need to do so. There’s already so much stuff under the hood here it felt rather pointless to me. The game also has an underlying mechanic where you can choose to help fellow survivors by doing side quests. Doing so builds your reputation with them, and they’re more prone to helping you out either with beefier items, or in terms of the game’s story. Ys VIII also has multiple endings, so getting the best of them often means doing what you need to do to help your village.

Another new feature this entry adds is a horde battle/defend the base mashup, which gives things a bit of a Dynasty Warriors meets Plants Vs. Zombies. You’ll have to put up barricades, bait traps, gongs, and other stuff to impede monsters from getting into your makeshift town. But then you have to go out and attack the invaders with some hack n’ slash action. Doing this also gives you certain benefits although if it’s not your sort of thing you can choose to ignore most of them. There are a handful that tie into the story, so you will be forced to play those.

Combat also has a few changes. You can change between different combat styles which effects certain enemies in different ways. It is possible to brute force your way through without paying attention to it. But that also means grinding for a lot of health options like potions, and finding food supplies. Speaking of food, this game does take one page from Nintendo’s Breath Of The Wild by implementing a cooking system. Although it isn’t as Deep as the Zelda game’s it does come into play with the food, medicine, and general crafting. You’ll have to find so many pumpkins, or plants, or enemy bones or what have you to make dishes. The higher tiered dishes will refill more of your health, and revive fallen party members in fights.

That’s right, party members. As in Ys 7, you can recruit many of the characters you meet into your system, and change characters on the fly. Some are ranged characters that use magic or guns, others are more up close and personal. On top of this, some of the people you rescue will have talents that turn into even more shops. Shops that let you create new costumes with perks or a blacksmith that can level up whichever weapons you’re characters presently have.

And if all of that isn’t enough for you, you’ll still need to spend hours exploring the world, finding entirely new items, clues that lead you to other characters, and even shortcuts and entrances to new areas once you’ve rescued enough people. You’re also going to need to play a lot of the Sega Bass Fishing inspired minigame they’ve thrown within the game. Getting some of the exotic fish leads to key items as well as needed treasure and food ingredients. And you’ll run into some other NPCs who can level up your attack’s effectiveness as well.

Frankly, if you’re the sort who wants to 100% your RPGs there is a lot of stuff to do in the side quests alone. Even if you don’t, you’ll still find yourself doing a fair amount of the side stuff so that you can get a leg up on some of the harder points in the game. And while the game may have those narrative driven walls I talked about, that doesn’t mean there’s a straight linear experience. You’ll still be backtracking to areas you already visited to find alternate routes. You can still discover some things far earlier than I’m sure many intended.

Once you get pretty far into the storyline, you’ll start seeing elements that might seem out of place. But the narrative does do a fantastic job of tying it all together. The island features many, many secrets, most of them are intrinsically tied to our heroes escaping the island. And over the time you spend uncovering them, you’ll learn more about each of the characters various lives and backgrounds. One of the things that really struck me with this particular entry is how important everyone feels. Even characters that on paper might not seem to add importance to the story, still add a lot to the world building. Most of the characters do grow over the course of the storyline and come out richer for the experience. Some learn lessons. Some don’t. But the change in setting really reinvigorates the overall mythos while doing something different. It’s a far cry from the typical “Evil wizard wants to take over the world” fare you might be used to. And things feel really cohesive too. The answers might not come when you would like them to, but they do wrap up the loose ends pretty nicely. There are several endings as well. So there is a bit of replay value for those who want to experience everything.

As the story unfolds you’ll discover that the island is actually populated by dinosaurs. But before you can say “Jeff Goldblum” you’ll be peppered with numerous monsters and mighty reptiles. Before long Adol begins having dreams of a bygone era. You’ll play through these typically upon finding settlements to rest in. At least initially. Later in the game you’ll have to go into the past to affect the present and vice versa. Sometimes it will be necessary in order to make an area accessible. Other times it will be necessary in order to fill in gaps of the story. One of another new things are campsites which in turn tie into the food system. As you can set up a campfire and cook meals. Before long, the dreams partially become reality as the past and present begin to affect one another. Without giving too much away for those who haven’t played it yet, you’ll begin to learn the secrets of the island, the lost civilizations that once thrived there and how all of it is tied to the characters’ current predicament.

Returning from previous games’ are the fast travel crystals that allow you to get between large areas without having to grind away for miles. It’s also handy when your village gets raided by enemies as you can choose to get back and do the tower defense horde mission if you want to. Also, as in most of the series you’ll find items you’ll have to constantly swap in and out of use. Some of these let you climb to seemingly impossible to reach areas. Others let you breathe under water so you can explore for new areas or treasure. Still others let you walk over water letting you get through some of the swampy areas a little more quickly.

And no Ys game is complete without a plethora of major bosses. Ys VIII features a metric ton of them. Many of them are even optional fights but all of them are worth fighting and defeating. Of course, you can still run into some of them when you’re too low on experience or you don’t have enough healing items. So be sure to save often. That is one nice thing here, in most cases you can save whenever you want. Although during the aforementioned boss fights you cannot, nor can you change your party roster during a battle. So you’ll need to make sure you do that before encountering a boss. There are also a couple of times when the game is going to make you think you’ve gotten the final encounter over with and you’re ready to see the credits roll. Only to surprise you with more story. More grinding. More questing. Ys VIII is a massive game.

Beyond all of that are going to be a bunch of other side quests, and optional goals I didn’t get to touch much on. Like the giant Gorilla you’ll meet who can level up your characters and give them some new skills. You fight him in mini boss battles to do this. Win and you get the new moves. Fail, and you get to scour the world for food so you can pay them to do it again. Every playable character can be powered up this way, so you may find yourself swapping party members to give all of them a fighting chance near the end of the game. And the end of the game leaves you with a variety of emotions. Elation, poignancy, contentment, and perhaps some regret. But after beating the game it was nice enough to tell me that there are multiple endings depending on your choices throughout the game. So it does lend itself to replay value. Especially since it does so in a vague way. So unless you’re going to look up how to definitively get the best canonical ending, you may find yourself coming back to this one a couple of times every few months to play a bit differently and see if you’ve altered your literary destiny.

As you can see, the game looks terrific. As mentioned, you can see way off into the distance, and for the most part if you can see it you can eventually get to it. It isn’t so much the technical aspect that makes it happen here. The game doesn’t really have a lot of geometry at work. It’s almost all being done with texture work and art. And it’s all fantastic. On the technical side though there are some impressive lighting effects at play, especially when you find yourself in dungeon sections, caves, and underwater where you can see it at work. Falcom has always managed to do so much with so little in the Ys games and this one is no exception. This game is also on a wide variety of platforms so even on the less powerful options you’re getting something tremendous.

And I’d be remiss if I didn’t bring up the soundtrack. While this is another entry that experiments a bit more with different genres it still gives long time fans their hardcore, symphonic metal. Each area of the island seems to get its own score. Which is nice as it makes the games feel a bit more distinct. There are orchestral areas, rock areas, electronica areas and others that have more of a world music influence. Of course, encountering bosses introduces the majority of the crunchy guitar solo driven heavy metal the series is known for.

Anyway, Ys VIII could very well be the best game in the series. And while it might have launched with some well documented translation problems, I only recently got around to playing it. So for me the problems were nil. Though I suspect even with some inaccurate or broken dialogue one could have still gotten a rough approximation of what was going on. In any case, if you’ve been curious about this one for a while, check it out. And while there are other longer RPGs out there, this one never felt like it was wearing out its welcome to me. I never got bored or overly confused with menus or felt like I was doing anything pointless. Whether you’re a hardcore fan of the series, or a dabbler looking to try something new, Ys VIII is worth picking up. It’s got great mechanics, wonderful characters you’ll care about as well as loathe for the right reasons. It’s got a bunch of subtle and not so subtle influences. And the storyline will keep you interested over the entire 50 plus hours you’ll likely spend playing it. And the multiple endings might be something you want to go back to the game to in order to experience it all.

Final Score: 9 out of 10

Serious Sam Collection Review

The Nintendo Switch has had a track record of being like my niece when she was a toddler. “I CAN DO IT MYSELF!” she would exclaim when she got interested in trying something. Like when she flew a kite for the first time. She’s a teenager now (Time flies)but she would never give up on anything at 4. Much like her, the Nintendo Switch has been running video game software most would not have thought possible. While visual concessions were there, we still saw Panic Button port DOOM (2016), we saw Shiver port Mortal Kombat 11 last year, CD Projeckt Red migrated The Witcher 3 with all of its DLC content onto the thing, and now Croteam has migrated Serious Sam Collection.

PROS: Customization options. Performance enhancement options. Bonus content.

CONS: Minor performance issues. No gyroscopic aiming. No physical editions as of now.

BONUS CONTENT: A Horde mode, and Split-Screen multiplayer added.

While this bundle is on all of the current generation platforms I’m focusing on the Switch version here since that’s the one I bought. But I can compare the games with the original PC releases as I explain how well the transition to Nintendo’s tablet system has gone. I imagine the PlayStation 4, and Xbox One versions will look a little bit better as they share some technology with the PC in components. But the content will be pretty much the same, so if you plan on looking into either of those versions this review may still help you.

It’s hard to believe but Serious Sam has been with us for almost twenty years already. I can still remember working at an OEM when I played a demo for the first time. I would get computer game magazines and read up on new releases and this was at a time when often times demos of new games would come on CDs bundled with magazines. PC Gamer had given away one such demo disc with the Serious Sam The First Encounter demo along with the free Seriously Warped Deathmatch mod for those who bought the full game. It was one of the demos that hit home (along with the poor performance of UT, and SIN on my current machine at the time) that I would need a new computer.

Fast forward over the years and Croteam would make The First Encounter, The Second Encounter with GODGames, then go to Take 2 Interactive (2k) where they would make Serious Sam II, leave Take 2, and go to Devolver Digital (Founded by ex GODGames members) where they would put out HD remasters of The First Encounter and The Second Encounter before giving us Serious Sam 3 BFE, and The Talos Principle. These all ran on updated versions of their Serious Engine. Serious Sam II on Serious Engine 2, the remasters on Serious Engine 3, and SS3 on Serious Engine 3.5.

Since this collection runs under Serious Engine 3.5 you won’t be seeing Serious Sam II. Previously, Croteam did put out a similar collection on the Xbox 360 that came with one of the indie spinoff games normally on digital stores like Steam. So if you don’t have a respectable computer these days, but you do have that 360 collection and one of the current consoles, do you need to get this collection? Well this collection gives you a DLC that collection did not. So you may want to indeed if you’re a big fan of the franchise. But there’s more to it than that.

Serious Sam Collection for Switch, Xbox One, PlayStation 4 here includes Serious Sam HD The First Encounter, Serious Sam HD The Second Encounter with its Legend Of The Beast DLC, and Serious Sam 3: BFE with its Jewel Of The Nile DLC. It doesn’t include any of the indie spinoff games like the 360 collection did, but you do get the DLC for the second title here that that collection did not include. So this feels a bit more complete.

Of course on the PC, there is Serious Sam Complete Pack which also included Serious Sam Fusion which acts like a similar launcher hub as the one built into this collection. So in either case you can play these three games from one executable program. But the PC collection also does give you the indie spinoffs as well as Serious Sam II. If you just have to have every canon game in the series, that’s one edge to getting these games on Steam.

On the other hand, while a few of the games and spinoffs have been on previous video game systems many have never heard of these games or played them outside of Europe. This is despite their massive popularity on computers and those previous ports and iterations Stateside. So getting these again on consoles gives people who have played them in the past a convenient way to play them again in their living room. The fact that the Switch is a tablet means it’s also an easy way to enjoy yourself while terrorizing patrons with the sounds of headless kamikazes when you get your morning coffee. But more importantly, it potentially introduces these games to an entirely new audience preparing them for the eventual day when they play Serious Sam 4 or try to track down Serious Sam II out of curiosity.

So for those who have never played these games, what do you do? Serious Sam is a series inspired by the id Software and 3D Realms games of old. Games like DOOM, Quake, Wolfensten, Duke Nukem 3D, and Blood. However, many make the mistake of coming into these games and playing them like those games. Serious Sam may be inspired by those old shooters of yore, but it plays nothing like them. It plays more like a First-Person version of a 1980s or early 90s twin stick arcade shooter. Games Eugene Jarvis made for Midway, like Robotron 2084, Smash T.V., and Total Carnage.

In all of these games you’ll be placed in long, intricate levels that feature massively open rooms, fields and arenas. You’ll explore rooms and areas looking for secrets, killing a couple of enemies here and there before getting into one of these battlefields. You’ll immediately be swarmed from all sides with hundreds and hundreds of enemies. Survive these onslaughts, pick up some health, and ammunition and continue the cycle over 15 levels or so. But that’s just the barebones version. These games do a lot with so little. Just when you begin to get the hang of fighting low-level enemies, the games introduce new enemies. Each enemy type has to be dealt with a certain way. The Kleer Skeletons are best dealt with by using a shot gun at just the right moment as they pounce at you. But get more than five of them and you may want a minigun. But while you’re dealing with those, the game will quietly send in Harpies from the heavens that require different tactics to defeat. By the middle of these games you begin to very quickly juggle different weapons for different threats while fighting them all at the same time. It’s crazy, stressful, and a lot of fun. On the downside, some might find it too repetitive. But honestly, the combination of 80s arcade gaming and late 90s PC FPS action is a winning one. You’re always doing something. When you’re not killing monsters you’re resupplying. When you’re not resupplying you’re hunting for secrets. And despite the name of our hero, these games do not take themselves seriously at all. Even the grittier newer releases with their more realistic graphics are still about being over-the-top arcade action. With funny one liners that could be in a Dolph Lundgren vehicle, and plenty of hilarious Easter Eggs.

So that’s a summary of what you do in general. I’m not going to review each game individually here as I’m talking about a collection. Though I will talk a little about the differences in each before getting into how well these games have made the transition from computers to consoles. The two Serious Sam HD titles are remastered versions of the original games that came out in 2009, and 2010. While Serious Sam 3: BFE was originally released in 2011. The DLCs for the second HD Remaster and Serious Sam 3 came about in 2012.

The two HD remasters have a slightly less realistic look to them than the third game does, being older. But the general play style is the same. Here’s where the series began in a sense of releases. Sam is sent back to ancient Egypt to defeat Mental in the past so that in the future the alien race is unable to conquer the Earth. You’ll spend hours in each of them and it’s important to remember these are technically two halves of one game. The second half has a much wider variety of settings than the first half, and really perfects the formula set up in the First Encounter. Moving onto Serious Sam 3 you’ll learn you’re playing a prequel. the BFE stands for Before First Encounter. So in that game you’re playing the events just before the original game. There are a number of visual effects that the third game has over the remasters. But that does come at a price of performance.

Serious Sam Collection does give you a remarkable number of options for a console release. And while the number of options are not as deep as they are in the PC releases over the years, it’s impressive. Very few console games give you any customization. Many of the core game options have made their way over as you can tinker with your crosshair, turn gibs on or off, change the color of the blood from red to different colors or even use the hippie texture which changes the blood texture to flowers. You can also turn the blood off entirely. You can change the order of weapons when cycling them, and you can pick which character you want to use for multiplayer modes.

But it doesn’t end there, the game will also let you choose from a number of preset button mapping settings including some that will swap the thumb sticks’ roles to accommodate left handed players. You can also disable auto aim and you can tinker with the sensitivity of the thumb sticks for your aiming. Croteam also migrated the color scheme graphics options here. So like on PC, you can change the tone of the colors to be brighter, darker, richer, or softer with different presets and then tweak the individual brightness, contrast, saturation, and gamma of each. But probably the coolest thing here is the fact you can optimize the game for graphics settings or performance. When you go into the actual game it doesn’t seem to make a dramatic change in visuals either. But you do feel the difference while playing the games. This is especially true in Serious Sam 3.

On Nintendo Switch the games look comparable to a computer running with lower and medium settings enabled. Things like shadows and Antialiasing are obviously set lower as you can see jag lines along things like cables or palm trees. Performance with the graphics set to optimize graphics over performance seems pretty similar to setting it to optimize performance in the HD remasters. The frame rate seems to hover around 60 most of the time, though when things got hairy with hundreds, upon hundreds of enemies setting it for graphics could sometimes see a split second dip in framerate into the 20s where things would chop up a second before going back to normal. Setting it to performance made this even rarer, and it would come at the cost of some less defined shadows, AA, and draw distance. Not that big a deal. Serious Sam 3 however, almost requires you set it to performance as the bump in graphics requires more from the Switch’s Tegra. It never gets unplayable on Graphics, but it does kick way down to the 30s in frame rate.

And while you may not physically see it with your eyes, you can feel the difference in your hands. Things are much less responsive and the dips that are uncommon in the remasters are more common. The performance setting seems to uncap the frame rate (I’m not a coder, I can’t say for certain) but it feels much closer to what it does on a computer. It still dips once in awhile, but it feels much better. And visually, it doesn’t look that much different. You can really analyze it and then notice some of the things I mentioned when talking about these settings on the remasters. But it’s not a massive difference save for the rare occasion you might notice something in the far, far, distance sprinkling into view.

While there will no doubt be some who downplay having these games on the Switch due to the lower settings, they’re missing another marvel. Serious Sam Collection joins the likes of Mortal Kombat 11, The Witcher 3, DOOM (2016), and Wolfenstein: The New Order, as games that probably shouldn’t have been possible on the system, not only running on the system but running well. And while concessions in the graphics were made, these games still look pretty great. And tweaking the color options can actually compensate a bit for taste. I tinkered a bit by starting out with the “Vivid” setting, and then moved the contrast, brightness, gamma settings around a bit and found it really made some of the moments in the third game look a bit more lively. The settings get shared across all of the games though, which is a little disappointing when you consider that the earlier games are more colorful, and so what you do for the third game may not work out as well for one of the other games for you. Turning off the blood, and gibs can also help you slightly with performance as it’s a tiny bit less for your Switch to draw and animate during the massive battles. And so if it saves you a couple of frames per second here or there, those who want the best speed possible may just do that.

To this day, there are some video game players on the PC end that will run games on the lowest settings possible, even on a new system with bleeding edge parts because they do not want a sub 60 FPS experience under any circumstances. And while there’s certainly a point where you can become so obsessed with framerate it keeps you from enjoying a game, there’s something to be said for having a framerate that stays high so that when intensive things happen and it has to drop, it drops from really high to high. That way as a player you’re not seeing or feeling it the way you do when it goes from high to low. Even some of those who buy this for one of the other consoles may consider this. I didn’t notice enough of a change to warrant leaving it off for myself. But your mileage may vary.

When compared to the PC versions of these games, obviously the PC versions are going to come out ahead, as they’re more feature rich on the computer and unless your computer is well over a decade old, they’ll probably perform better there. But that said, it is interesting to see how close these get to the computer versions. In terms of content, everything is here. The same stages, the same number of enemies, the DLC is here in its entirety. Everything is here. And it looks and sounds terrific by the standards of the Nintendo Switch. As I said earlier, that they squeezed all of it onto the little tablet that could, and had it perform as well as it does and still looking nice really speaks to the talent at Croteam. The console versions all also add split-screen co-op campaigns, horde modes, and deathmatches to the mix. Which is fantastic for anybody who has friends, family, or roommates as you can play together without everyone having to buy the game and a console plus a subscription. But like the computer versions, it supports online play as well. So you can still go through the campaign, or play deathmatches, or horde games together that way.

Be that as it may, there is one sticking point with the multiplayer and that is draw distance of enemies. Whether you’re playing the game online with friends or strangers or you delve into split screen you can expect this issue to crop up. It seems that enemies will draw into view six feet in front of you at times. This can be an issue because when you play the game normally, you may have harpies coming from the distance, or a large herd of werebulls gunning for you. Not being able to see them until they get close increases the difficulty a lot. Even if you’re playing on a lower setting with less enemies, it’s something to be aware of. This is presumably to keep the game’s framerate from tanking as it has to draw everything multiple times. And while it doesn’t break the game, it does increase the challenge beyond what was intended. It’s still going to be fun, but you have to expect some unfair moments. Fortunately, you can spawn right where you died during a multiplayer match, and you have unlimited lives unless you set it otherwise. So co-operatively beating the campaign is doable.

And while this isn’t going to look nearly as good as a computer running everything maxed out in 1080p, 1440p, 4k or 8k, it does look the part. Again, compare it to a 7 year old machine with a midrange card of the era in it, running at medium or low. It’s following the trend of those other PC games, and Mortal Kombat 11 I mentioned before. If you’ve never played these games before and only have a console, you’re probably going to love them on your Switch or PS4 or XB1. They’re fun games on any platform really, and they’ve made the transition to consoles pretty well. I do however have one major issue with the Switch version. In spite of all of the customization that made its way over, and amenities made for consoles it would have been a slam dunk to have motion controls be the icing on the cake. Splatoon 2, DOOM, Wolfenstein, and even Overwatch have gyroscopic aiming. This is one edge the Switch has when it comes to shooter games. While some might deride motion controls, when it comes to shooters on controllers, it has always been far superior than using thumb sticks. Because it’s much closer to the movement of a mouse on PC. It would especially benefit these games considering just how many enemies are thrown to you at any given time.

Still, in spite of the lack of motion controls, and some technical workarounds stifling multiplayer a little, I still recommend Serious Sam Collection. If you’ve never played these beforehand this is a fantastic way to become introduced to the series. If you have played them, this gives you the perfect opportunity to replay them in the living room, and in the case of the Switch version you can conveniently play them on the go, which is great because you can play these for five hours or five minutes. The occasional performance dip is disappointing but these are still very playable versions that perform very well most of the time. The lack of motion aiming on the Switch is a missed opportunity, but the games are still so fun its worth dealing with their omission. Plus you get all of the DLC expansion packs and you’re getting the bonus of couch co-op. Sadly, as of now there are no physical versions, so video game collectors might feel a little disappointed by that. But these are nevertheless worth picking up even if they won’t be booted from a card, or Blu Ray. For some it will be a new experience, and for veterans it’ll be fun reliving them and comparing them. And who wouldn’t love hearing the loud chorus of “AAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAARRRRRRRRRRRRRRRRRGGGGGGGGGHHHHHHHH!” emanating from your Nintendo Switch during your morning coffee run at Starbucks? If the coffee doesn’t wake you up, the explosions of headless kamikazes will.

Final Score: 8 out of 10

I’ll be a (friendly) competitor!

It’s no secret I’m a big fan of Splatoon. While I play a variety of games, it’s one of my most visited series on my Twitch channel. And while I am not at the same level in Nintendo’s team shooters as I was 14 to 20 years ago in Epic’s Unreal Tournament series, it is a game I’ve tried to master as much as I can.

This has culminated in me being part of an upcoming tournament hosted by Retro Game Brews. For those who don’t know, they do an entertaining podcast, but frequently host tournaments, and races on their own Twitch channel. Often times they’ve spotlighted retro games, and speed run contests. But this time they’re doing Splatoon 2.

So I’m being set up with three other players on 10/30 over on Retro Game Brews channel and hopefully we’ll win. But even if we don’t it should make for a good experience. I haven’t been in a situation like this in years when I would be involved in Sunday night scrims in Unreal Tournament 2004. If any of my old UT teammates stumble upon this, hopefully I’ll see you there.

So I’ve been playing a lot more Splatoon 2 on the channel as I’ve been practicing up some weapons I normally don’t. Believe it or not, Splatoon 2 and it’s predecessor both have three positioning roles, and each of the game’s weapons fall into one of them. So I got to a point where I felt satisfactory with the Kensa Splatterscope, pretty good with the .96 Gal Deco, and surprisingly decent with the Kensa Splattershot Jr. Normally, I roll with the buckets in the game. But if I’m placed into a support or backline roll I would like to at least do competently.

Anyway, I won’t be the only one involved in this tournament. 1UpJohn will be there, as will MegaRetroMan. Neither of whom will be on my team, but neither of whom will be taken lightly. Leading up to the tournament again, I’ll be playing a lot of practice so you might just catch me online. When the time comes it will be up to myself, Kleyman, Baggins, and Princess Kitty Mew Mew when the time comes.

And while this tournament will largely be low key, and none of us are going to be what you might think of as an e-sports level, for anybody looking to improve at the game I highly recommend a few people. Wadsm is one of the best players out of Germany and has a fantastic video on Gear here

ThatSrb2Dude hails from the UK, and is one of the best players in the entire competitive Splatoon scene. Here he goes over an optimal setup for proper motion controls but do keep an eye on all of his material as it can be very beneficial to new and old players alike.

Latias is a phenom with chargers, the game’s Sniper class of weapons. Watching some of their material here is not only going to shock you with how good they are, but you may pick up some basic strategies on how to be a better support or backline player.

And while they’re sporadic with their video releases you can’t go wrong with watching FTWin playing through the North American Nintendo tournaments.

Why do I mention these people? Well one of the best ways to improve at anything is to analyze what some of the best people at a game are doing in the game, and seeing if you can’t adapt some of it to your own unique play style. It doesn’t mean you’ll be a pro overnight, but you may see some improvement. And in any game, hobby, or in life in general, seeing improvement can be as big a motivator as a big win can be. Best of luck to all in the tournament who might see this, and to everyone out there in your own quests to grab the proverbial brass ring! Hopefully this tournament will get a few more folks to check out Splatoon 2 if they haven’t already.

And if you’re interested in other tournaments, races, or other competitive old-school events, be sure to follow Retro Game Brews. A massive thanks for the opportunity to take part in this.

Splatune & Splatune 2 Review

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It’s no secret that I have been a big fan of Nintendo’s 2015 foray into competitive third-person shooters as well as its 2017 sequel. The subsequent single-player expansion pack was pretty cool too. It included 80 stages. Merely clearing the game lets you play online as an Octoling. But if you make it to completion? Well, then it even features one of the toughest secret boss fights since Capcom and SNK gave us God Rugal.

One of the best parts of the Splatoon games has consistently been their music. Whether you’re talking about Keity Pop & Mari Kikuma voicing the Squid Sisters, (Sea O’ Colors in Japan) Rena Itou & Alice Peralta voicing Off The Hook (Tentacles in Japan), or any number of the game’s many fictional bands like the Chirpy Chips (ABXY in Japan). The music goes beyond simply providing something to listen to during matches, it is used extensively in world-building.

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So the music does a good job in the games but how does it fare on its own? In my opinion, it fares very well. Many game soundtracks these days feel like film soundtracks. Either grand orchestrated pieces that may fit a scene perfectly well. Or a collection of real-world musical tracks most of us know, or at the very least have heard somewhere else. These soundtracks hearken back to a time where several things were true. Video game music used to really describe a game’s identity. When you heard Guile’s theme outside of Street Fighter II, you immediately thought of Guile fighting another character like Blanka on the airstrip. Even today, songs like Going Down The Fastway immediately take anyone who has ever played Rise Of The Triad, back to 1995 sitting at their computer eating monk meal.

Outside of video games, throughout the 1970s, 1980s, and even the 1990s if you bought an album it potentially included tchotchkes. Sometimes they might have been replica ticket stubs for a show the album was a recording of. Other times they gave you fold-out posters.  When CDs began to overtake Vinyl records in the 90s these weren’t as common. But now and again there would still be something spiffy showing up with one of them. 15 years ago some of them even tried to mimic the look of a vinyl record by coming in gatefold sleeves. Of course, nowadays CD releases are neither as sought after as the vinyl resurgence nor do they have the prevalence or simplicity digital downloads do.

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But video games have also started to see an interest in their soundtracks over the last several years. And while many of them can be purchased on Steam or sometimes directly from their composers, Many of them have been going the film route. With a grand orchestrated score or a list of top 40 hits. Which may make sense for Grand Theft Auto. But it doesn’t make sense for everything. But oddly enough while a lot of soundtracks are available they’re not always available across the board. Sometimes they’re only on digital storefronts. Sometimes only on vinyl, in a very limited number. Or sometimes pretty plentiful, on CD, but not here in North America.

The Splatoon Soundtracks have yet to see a digital release as far as I can tell, and they have no international release so you’ll have to import them from Japan or buy them from a business that has already imported them from Japan. Or from an importer, or from an individual second hand. But it is a worthy endeavor.

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No matter what kind of music you’re into, there’s likely going to be a few songs you’ll really like. The first album has a lot of electronic synthpop, New Wave, and Power Pop inspired by the early 90s Pop Punk sound. And this fits very well as the characters in the games are doing battle in malls, skate parks, and other places teens and young adults would be. But the OST also has many Experimental, Electronica, and Post Punk sounding tracks as that fits the campaign nicely. The Octarians are led by a Samurai Octopus DJ after all. The thing is, all of these fit a long car ride, or a commute nicely.  Most of the music here stands out and even the stuff that doesn’t is still pretty good. The stars here are clearly the Squid Sisters, but there are a lot of good songs over two discs. And beyond that, you still get all of the sound effects they recorded.

The second soundtrack continues this trend, but Off The Hook has a blend of Hip Hop and dance genres like Funk and Disco. These tracks are really good and again, stand on their own. One of the especially catchy jams is Acid Hues which those who have played Splatoon 2 may remember from the Splatfest events. You’ll get a wider variety of music in the sequel with tracks like Fins & Fiddles having a Celtic rock band influence, Rip Entry having a very slick bass line that feels like it could hang out with a Red Hot Chili Peppers set, and Tentacular Circus mashing a bunch of effects together before erupting into something that sounds like DEVO had a few beers with Danny Elfman. It goes with the craziness of the stage it’s featured in. But by itself, there’s something captivating about it. Splatune 2 also has a lot of cool Jazz and seafaring Rock. And of course, the highlight for a lot of fans will be the Squid Sisters’ Spicy Calamari Inkantation.

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But these albums also give you some of the extra little things I talked about with the albums of old. Splatoon gives you a couple of nice alternate covers you can use to simulate the fictional albums of the game’s universe. Including the breakout Squid Sisters record as well as DJ Octavio’s. Splatune 2 on the other hand includes a polybagged guitar pick with a rather nice Splatoon squid logo on it.

Do you absolutely NEED to get these? No. You’ll be paying more than the price of a typical album, and you’ll have to pay extra for importing them. But if you’re a big fan of the games and you like collecting physical releases of games, movies, and music these are something to consider picking up. Kadokawa has also released other official Splatoon series’ albums. Octotune (which I don’t have yet) includes all of the tracks that were added to Splatoon 2 through updates over the years as well as all of the music from the Octo Expansion pack. Beyond that, they have also done live album versions of the different live shows Nintendo has done over the years.

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Besides giving us a Philip J Fry “I see what you did there.” meme moment, Splatune and Splatune 2 are fantastic soundtrack albums that hearken back to a time long before buying music on iTunes or streaming it through Spotify was how to get your music. With a wide variety of sound and some really cool feelies, these can be appreciated by anyone who likes good music. Though, importing these is still going to appeal mostly to the biggest fans. If you are one of those biggest fans you won’t be disappointed. If you’re not, you likely won’t be disappointed either as the music is really good. Still, it won’t be everybody’s cup of tea. Even if that tea is super tasty.

Final Score: 9 out of 10

Streets Of Rage 4 Review

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Man, the past several days were an on and off again situation with getting electricity. With the recent tropical storm, there were issues plus I lost it for a day this past Sunday after hearing a loud hum, then seeing downed wires outside. And the power was shut off after that so the five trucks of linemen could redo the street.

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It got me thinking about the backdrop to Streets Of Rage 4. Mr. X is gone from the city and for a decade some normalcy returns. But suddenly the violent crime level skyrockets. The power of both electrical and local civic variety is transferred to a new criminal enterprise: The Y syndicate. Led by the evil Mr. X’s twin progeny. They’ve recruited a lot of the original enemies you remember from the Sega Genesis days, along with a number of new surprises.

PROS: Comic book visuals. Groovy soundtrack. Gameplay.

CONS: Some cheap A.I. May seem too short for some.

SEGA: Should have Lizardcube give Golden Axe and Comix Zone this treatment.

This new Streets Of Rage has a very nice comic book look to the whole affair. So much so, that I immediately began to wonder what a new Comix Zone might look like if helmed by Lizardcube, the studio that brought us this sequel. It’s bright, and colorful in a way that still fits the dystopian, chaotic remnants of a city now ruled by criminals B movie vibe it goes for. The artwork and animation here are fantastic. Streets Of Rage 4 also has a lot of cool galleries where you can see the concept art. And it goes a step further than some other games here because you get to see a lot of the work in progress rather than a handful of sketches or prerendered graphics.

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Unlike many comic books, they haven’t kept the game in the same narrow 20 year period of the character’s lives. Old stalwarts like Axel Stone are… well, old. Not elderly just yet, but you can tell he’s been out of action a while. It’s like they took a splash of The Expendables movies and sprinkled it on top. But much like River City Ransom: Underground’s mainstays, they haven’t let themselves go either. And there are a couple of newer characters introduced here. Cherry, Adam’s daughter makes her debut along with Floyd who is this really cool combination of Mortal Kombat’s Jax and Final Fight’s Mike Haggar. Of the roster I found him to be the most enjoyable to use.

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But everybody is viable and you’ll unlock other playable characters over the course of multiple playthroughs. You’ll also be enamored with the soundtrack here as you get renditions of classic chiptunes as well as some new jams that complement those nicely. It goes along well with the theme of bridging the classic trilogy of brawlers with some modern-day visual flair. But the game also has a number of unlockable retro characters seemingly right out of the Sega Genesis games. There are also some hidden boss encounters that take you back to the 16-bit console’s sprite style. Think almost like the retro stages employed in games like Shadow Warrior (reboot) or Rise Of The Triad (reboot).

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The game also has several difficulty settings. If you beat them they open up tougher versions for you to try your hand at. Including a No Death Run mode where you can attempt to beat the entire game on one life. Yes, many games have added this feature as well, but it does still give a devoted fan something of merit to shoot for. This game, in particular, is one of the toughest games to employ this. Even on the lower difficulties, it can be pretty easy to lose lives when you get sandwiched between mid-card enemies or go up against some of the cheaper bosses. So expect to have nerves of steel should you want to attempt a no death run on the highest of challenge levels.

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As for the gameplay, it’s classic Streets Of Rage. Lizardcube has gotten nearly 1:1 with the feel of the older games. It felt closest to SOR2 for me, though I’m certain any superfan who disagrees will tell me why I’m wrong. Be that as it may, it is a beat ’em up. On the surface level, it might seem like “Go right, and mash punch” is the only thing you do, but on further inspection, it really isn’t.  Streets Of Rage 4 has mostly pretty good hit detection, if you miss, you likely weren’t close enough or were too far above or below the enemy for it to land. This follows a lot of the classics. Attack diagonally, and try to get in grapple moves for big damage. Though every enemy in the game needs to be approached differently. One enemy type may deflect or reverse holds. So you’ll have to punch them a million times. Other enemies are blocking happy so you have to bait them into whiffing an attack. And yes, you can expect the A.I. to employ the classic brawler bull of sandwiching you between four bad guys that interrupt you when you’re beating up one of them. But figuring out ways around it are a staple of the genre.

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The thing is, with all of the tools and variety it doesn’t feel old or repetitious. The game also doesn’t wear out it’s welcome. It’s a relatively short game. One that honestly ends almost too abruptly for me. I would have liked to have seen some more stuff fleshed out. While this isn’t a game you’ll come into looking for a deep storyline, it does feel a bit too superficial. Outside of a little bit of exposition, we don’t get much about the new crime boss duo. We don’t see how or if Mr. X died. We don’t see how the kids come to power. It’s kind of like “Hey! Our dad is gone, but we’re taking over.” And the abrupt finish to it puts it a step below vintage brawlers in this regard. Again, B movie stuff, but even the old games in the series along with Final Fight, and Double Dragon did this a little better. Not by much. But enough that it’s noticeable.

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That said, at this level, I’m really nitpicking. Overall, I rather enjoyed Streets Of Rage 4. There’s enough here for the old-timer teens of the 90s to love, and for those who are newer to enjoy as well. It’s as silly and over the top as always while letting you feel like a badass the entire time. And it’s a cut above some of the other beat ’em ups that we’ve seen recently.  Whether you’re a long time fan who has waited for eons for this release, or you’re someone not experienced with Beat ’em ups looking for something new this is one worth picking up.

Final Score: 8 out of 10

Bloodstained: Curse Of The Moon 2 Review

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Well, last time we looked at Wallachia, a Castlevania inspired game that plays nothing like a Castlevania game. And today we’re back with a sequel to a game that does. Bloodstained: Curse Of The Moon was a rather fantastic sendup of Castlevania III: Dracula’s Curse. One that celebrated the use of multiple characters and branching paths. Unsurprisingly, a lot of fans wanted more. But surprisingly, out of nowhere a sequel dropped on all of the digital console storefronts and Steam.

PROS: More of what you loved from COTM. 2-player co-op.

CONS: 2-player co-op. Checkpoints could be better balanced.

OLD CREW: The characters you loved are nowhere to be seen. Or are they?

As in the previous game, this is another love-letter to Castlevania III. If you’ve played the previous game, you’ll know exactly what to expect here. Zangetsu returns to slay demons as a new threat begins to emerge. So you’ll be doing exactly that. Things kick into high gear right away as the NES style is markedly improved with even more detail in the sprite work. If you thought the last game had good use of the NES’ aesthetic, you’ll really like this one in terms of the style. The animations are brilliant too. When you get to the end of the very first stage, you can see some background details in the boss introduction the NES could never do. So you can expect some flashy things that weren’t common until the Super Nintendo or even Playstation, just done with this 8-bit era look.

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Anyway, within each of the game’s stages there are many branching paths. Most of which cannot be reached on your initial run of the stage. As in the original game, you’ll meet new characters in-between stages who will aid you on your quest. There are three of them. Dominique (Who comes from Bloodstained: Ritual Of The Night. She was that game’s shopkeeper role.) who fights with a spear, has a higher jump, and can use healing items. Later on, you’ll meet Robert, the weakest of the group. He’s an ornery old man with a shotgun. He can also go prone, allowing you to reach some rooms the others cannot. And because he has a shotgun, he’s perfect for situations where enemies are blocking crucial jumps. Finally, there’s Hachi a Pembroke Welsh Corgi who pilots a Steampunk Gundam. Yes, really. He’s got the ability to hover for short distances and destroy some structures.

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Each of the stages goes on through three areas with a couple of checkpoints. And within those areas the branching paths I mentioned come into play. One path might require Robert to crawl through a crawlspace. Or Dominique to use her Scrooge McDuck pogo jump on. Or the dog to smash through a floor. Sometimes these paths are a more difficult route to take. Sometimes they’re easier. And sometimes, either way, they’re necessary. One of the few issues I had in my playthrough was the placement of checkpoints. Most of the time it’s fine and breaks up the action mostly pretty evenly. But there are other times when it doesn’t and losing your party means redoing a very long gauntlet again. Again, this is a minor complaint. But it’s something that will inconvenience you. Near the end of your run, there’s one placement that actually makes things maybe a little too convenient as it will start you right near a bunch of items that make it difficult to actually game over in spite of how difficult the section is.

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Throughout it all, though you’ll notice there were still a lot of routes you couldn’t take before even though you had all of the characters at your command. That’s because you didn’t. The little secret the game holds is that you cannot see everything on an initial run. So those of you out there who are completionist players will need to beat this game no less than three times to see it all. After you beat the game, you’ll be told you can play Episode Two, which is exactly like Episode One except now you start with Robert and Hachi already at your stead. You’ll now be able to take routes they could do that you couldn’t do before. The checkpoints and bosses are the same except now they’ve gotten a bit more difficult than before. Over time you’ll meet more characters who you can take other paths with. So Curse Of The Moon 2 does go out of its way to give you replay value.

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New to the series is a co-op mode where two people can play through the game together at the same time. It does work for the most part. You can strategize, find situations where one player uses one character, while the other switches to something different, and utilize strategies in tandem. The problem is that much like in the days of the Commodore 64 and NES if two players with a wide skill gap play together it’s going to lead to a lot of deaths. As both players really need to stay near the center of the action. Go too far ahead, and the other player will impede you by being too far behind. You can help a weaker player by playing the game on the casual setting which takes away the Castlevania style knock-back you suffer when hitting a bad guy. But that only goes so far. It’s a nice inclusion but if you tend to get really angry when a friend or sibling costs you a victory, you’ll probably just want to play it alone.

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I enjoyed Curse Of The Moon 2. It’s a very tough game, but mostly pretty fair. Nitpicking over the checkpoint distances aside. You don’t have to have played any of the previous games in the franchise to enjoy it, though it does help you understand a little bit more of the story, and helps as an addendum to Ritual Of The Night as the first Curse Of The Moon did.

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If you’re a big fan of Castlevaniaesque games or NES hard games of yesteryear, this is a release worth checking out. If you enjoyed the first one already it might not wow you as much. But it’s more of a good thing. Dedicated fans will want to play through it multiple times to see all that it has to offer. And if you’re slow to frustration this is something different to play with a friend these days than the genres you’re normally used to.

Final Score: 9 out of 10.

Hori RAP. V HAYABUSA for Nintendo Switch Review

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The Nintendo Switch is the first Nintendo console since the Wii that has gotten a fair number of fighters, and likely the first since the Gamecube that saw a lot of mainstream fighting franchises on it. Of course, the last decent arcade stick for a Nintendo system was probably the Tatsunoko Vs. Capcom stick for the Wii or the Soul Calibur joystick for the Gamecube. As great as those consoles are, many AAA publishers like Capcom, and Warner Bros. or Namco didn’t bring a lot of their top fighting games over to the Wii since the hardware couldn’t run their advanced graphics of the time, and the Wii U didn’t have the desirable sales figures. But over in the realm of the PlayStation and Xbox brands, there were many of them. As such a lot of high-quality arcade sticks came out to go along with them for tournament players. One of these companies is Hori. They’ve been making arcade-quality controllers and joysticks for eons.

PROS: Arcade-quality stick, and buttons. It also works with your Windows-based PC!

CONS: You’ll have to plug it into your dock. You can’t use it to play Splatoon 2.

SHORYUKEN: There are reskinned versions with fancy Street Fighter II art.

The Hori Real Arcade Pro V Hayabusa is an absolutely fantastic controller. It comes in a metal frame, something very rare as cost-cutting is a very major business move in video game peripherals. The red piano gloss finish makes it stand out when placed on your coffee table or desk, and it has a very nice rubberized material underneath it to ensure it doesn’t slide all over the place while you’re using it.

The joystick has an arcade-quality construction as do the pressure-sensitive buttons. Often times just grazing the buttons can denote an input, so you really won’t need to beat on this thing. The microswitches in the joystick give it that familiar clicking you’ll remember from your days in the arcade after school if you grew up in the 70s, 80s, or 90s. For everyone else that means a fairly accurate directional input which is a must if you’re looking to play a lot of fighting games with it.

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The Nintendo Switch has gotten plenty of fighting games too. While it launched with Ultra Street Fighter II and a few Neo Geo classics via its e-shop, it has since seen several collections as well as newer releases like Mortal Kombat 11, Blazblue Cross Tag Battle, and Samurai Shodown alongside their Xbox One, PlayStation 4, and Windows releases. If you’ve been buying a lot of these, you’re really going to love this controller.

On the face, of course, are the stick, Y, B, A, X, L, R, ZL, ZR, and + buttons. But along the right, you’ll have your screenshot button, – button, Home button, as well as buttons to set up Turbo settings, remap key configurations, as well as a switch to configure the controller’s stick to behave as either the left or right joycon stick. there’s also a switch to toggle between Nintendo Switch mode and PC mode.

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That last bit is a Godsend because if you’re like me and you buy games on your computer as well as for your Switch it means you don’t need to own two arcade sticks. If you play Tekken 7, Street Fighter V, Killer Instinct, or other major fighting games on your computer this is also going to be a terrific accessory for you to own.

And it isn’t just going to benefit those who eat, sleep, and breathe fighting games. This controller is great for many a retro gamer too. Playing old-school arcade compilations on this has been great. While not every arcade game is ideal (Twin-stick shooters are still going to be better with a gamepad. TrackBall games are still best with a mouse or a TrackBall. Paddle games just aren’t the same without one.) most of them are. Playing Final Fight, Pac-Man, Rolling Thunder, Dig Dug, and other games is absolutely fantastic. And there are a number of new games that go along great with it as well. Especially many of the great indie games that pay homage to many of those arcade games of yore. Those who love to play shoot ’em ups may also want to invest in one of these. I was able to play the aforementioned titles as well as Giana Sisters Twisted Dreams and Blazing Chrome on my PC with the stick with few if any issues.

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One other feature I really like is the trap door on the back, where you can snake the USB cable when you’re not using the stick. It makes it easy to put away, as well as less of a nuisance if you’re going to bring the controller to a friend or relative’s home, or if you’re a fighting game enthusiast going to a local Street Fighter II tournament. It’s just a small space covered by a piece of plastic, but it’s a very nice touch that solves an annoyance one might not normally think about.

Like I said earlier, this isn’t going to be a good all-purpose controller. Games that require analog controls like 3D Platformers or open-world RPGs obviously don’t work with it, nor do some other experiences like First or Third-Person Shooters or action games. So it isn’t going to be something everyone will want. But I can say, if you do love fighting games and have been on the fence about getting an arcade stick this will definitely fit the bill. It’s sleek, durable, and just feels so comfortable when you’re using it. The fact that it’s also a great PC controller means you can easily go between both platforms. Especially nice for those who might play the same game on both platforms.

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And while it’s a shame I can’t really play Splatoon 2 with it, the fact it goes so well with classic arcade genres like Beat ’em ups, Shoot ’em ups, maze games, and more makes it very versatile for retro experiences. If I were to complain about anything with this controller, I would say some are going to find they may not have space for it in their entertainment center. As wonderful as it is, it is a little large. Lengthwise it’s slightly larger than a beefy PC keyboard at around 17 inches and 9.5 inches deep. It’s also around 5 inches tall. So that’s essentially the He-Man of joysticks. On the other hand, He-Man is the greatest action figure of all time and the most powerful man in the universe. So why wouldn’t you want this?

Be that as it may, this one is still smaller than many of the arcade sticks you’ll find on the market without having to go down to something cost-reduced with lower quality parts to get the size down. So it is a good balance between size and performance if you can manage to have it at your desk or on your TV stand. The only two things I guess I can nitpick from there are the fact that the cable length may be too short in some living rooms. At a computer desk, it’s perfect, but I can see some scenarios where you may need a USB extension cable to get from the dock to your couch. The only other thing is that while the finish on the joystick is exemplary, it does collect dust, and palm prints quickly and easily. So if you plan on leaving it out as a conversation piece you’ll want a microfibre cloth to clean it up pretty regularly.

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Beyond a couple of very minor quibbles, the RAP V Hayabusa is one terrific controller. I can’t go as far as calling it essential. But for arcade and fighting game enthusiasts it’s an investment you’ll really be happy with. Especially since it works with PC as it you’ll still likely be using it long after Nintendo retires the Switch. Hori has done a fantastic job here. If you’re in the market for an arcade stick you may want to get yourself this one. Hori also has Street Fighter II-themed variants of the same stick including a rather nice one that mimics the look of the original arcade cabinet. Whether you get one of those or this original switch themed one it’s still the same components.

Final Score: 9.5 out of 10

 

Mortal Komat 11 Aftermath DLC Review

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Every so often, video games will have a DLC set that isn’t just cosmetic options, or loot boxes. Sometimes they’ll have a DLC that resembles the PC game expansion packs of the early 1990s. Like when DOOM and Duke Nukem 3D had extra episodes. These days, such DLC experiences are less common but Nintendo gave Splatoon 2 a substantial expansion, and now Netherrealm has done something similar for Mortal Kombat 11.

PROS: A second storyline campaign. New Characters. New Stage Fatalities.

CONS: A far better bundle for those who haven’t bought MK11 already.

FRIENDSHIP: The free addition of a classic Mortal Kombat II feature is here.

Fighting games adding a bunch of stuff is nothing new mind you. Mortal Kombat, Street Fighter, Tekken, Blazblue, and even Super Smash Bros. have had seasons of characters they’ve added over time to their games. And it’s not uncommon to see a final version of some of them that just include everything released a year or two later. But usually, that’s the extent of the content. Characters, maybe a stage or two, and that’s about it.

For this Mortal Kombat 11 update though, they actually have delivered enough stuff to warrant consideration. The biggest one being a second story mode that adds onto the one included in the original version. After the defeat of Kronika, Shang Tsung shows up to tell Liu Kang he can’t fully fix things because of how things went down in the main storyline, and in order to continue, he has to let him go back in time to before the point where Kronika’s underlings breached his island.

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So reluctantly Liu Kang agrees, and so you’ll spend another 4 hours or so going through a continuation of the storyline. And you’ll be spending most of that time waiting to see when the game will swerve you. Because you’re a classic Mortal Kombat bad guy, and that’s what bad guys do. The storyline is mostly pretty good, as it tries to explain away some of the smaller things the base story overlooks. But really astute viewers will probably find a couple of new holes to nitpick. Nevertheless, it managed to hold my attention over a few hours as I played through to the end.

Still, the game gives you two endings, and as the first story mode, there are a couple of times where you’ll get to choose different characters to use. Some of the newer characters that have been added since launch show up here like Sheeva and Fujin. And of course, Robocop is included as well, although he isn’t part of the campaign. These are welcome moments as they give you a good reason to go back and play it a second or third time to see the minor and major changes to the story.

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When you’ve completed the campaign though you’ll find the other inclusions will take up a fair amount of your time. You’ll get the aforementioned Sheeva, Fujin, and Robocop. All of which are incredibly fun to use (although Fujin launched with an unintended infinite combo that some of the best players discovered. So expect that to be patched out eventually.) Every character has a lot of effective special moves, 2-in-1 moves, launchers, links, and combos. So enthusiasts will have plenty of things to experiment with. On top of that, there are new costume options, and as with the base game, you can create your own alternate set of moves. As well as put in new augments to tweak their effectiveness or defensiveness. If you’re a fighting game dabbler, you’ll still be impressed with the spectacle of everything even if you have no intention of mastering any of it.

Aftermath Kollection also comes with the earlier Kombat Pack that had the previous DLC characters and skins that had been released up to its release. So if you’re someone who hasn’t played Mortal Kombat 11 at all, this is the way to go as it has pretty much everything. For people who bought the base game last year but didn’t keep up with the extra characters and other DLC, Aftermath + Kombat Pack bundle is the way to go if you want to get everything conveniently. If you bought all of that already you can get Aftermath standalone which gets you the new story mode and three characters you don’t have yet.

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The good news is that the story mode is pretty entertaining, and the lines in it are well performed. Those who play fighting games alone, rarely venturing online may feel it’s worth getting just to have another few hours to play through the extra storyline mode this adds.

As far as the audiovisual stuff goes, MK11 Aftermath is fantastic. The presentation continues Netherrealm’s tradition of detailed player models, backgrounds, and impressive graphics. You can’t talk about Mortal Kombat without talking about Fatalities, Brutalities, and other gory bits. Long time fans will really love the finishers here. Most of them are as over-the-top as ever, balancing R Rated Hollywood blockbuster gore with elements of dark comedy nicely. As such, there aren’t too many things that come off as either so brutal they’re disturbing, or so silly things just seem stupid. This is even true of the Friendships Mortal Kombat 11 has reintroduced for the first time in over twenty years (God I’m old.)

The Friendships mostly do fit their characters’ personas very well, while being genuinely funny. Part of that is due to the lighthearted, bubbly, synthpop piece that accompanies them. One of my personal favorites is The Joker’s where the game makes you think he’s about to use a handgun to do a fatality only to have an off-screen Batman intervene forcing him to give the opponent balloons.

There are also new Stage Fatalities to learn as well, via a free update inclusion with the Friendships. These aren’t quite as memorable as some of the mainline finishers here or as memorable as some of the ones from older games, but they’re still pretty good. Then there are the Brutalities that the newer characters bring along, and most of those can even hang with their Fatalities. Robocop has some especially gristly ones.

The sound effects are as good as ever with everything approaching movie sound effects as bones break, the flesh is stripped from the bone, and the cold ambient soundtrack rides along with all of this. I will also give a lot of credit to Shiver again because I have the Nintendo Switch version of Mortal Kombat 11. As I said with the vanilla version, it’s astonishing how they were able to get this big-budget blockbuster running on old tablet tech. Again, to accomplish the brisk 60 frames per second performance sacrifices were made. It’s obvious background textures are set much lower. It’s obvious that AA was set to low or off. Lighting effects were reduced. The Switch version of Aftermath looks as if you were playing on a computer with everything set to low or medium because your 8-year-old video card can’t process everything on high. But that’s not a bad thing. The game still looks great and plays great retaining all of the features of its PC/PS4/XB1 siblings.

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Online matches were mostly pretty good for me, although definitely not perfect. Over the course of playing online on and off during the week, I found most of my matchups ran fairly well. I was able to be destroyed fairly, and win fairly. But there were also a number of times I got into matches ranging between mildly lag ridden and borderline unplayable. This is likely due to being paired with opponents on the other side of the world, but it could still use some work. Still, with Shiver and Netherrealm keeping up with the updates and patches this will hopefully make badly connected matches a little less commonplace.

Still, MK11 Aftermath is a lot of fun, and the additions are going to please a lot of the franchise fans with the bonus characters, finishers, and expanded storyline. If you’re someone who always wants a full roster you’ll probably want to pick this up as well. I only wish there was a much deeper discount in its release window for those who have bought all of the previous stuff this bundled in already. Normally I don’t talk about pricing since that can change wildly at any time. But since it is the elephant in the room in the launch window, some in that boat may want to wait for a sale. But if you haven’t picked up MK11 yet at all, the bundled Kollection version is well worth picking up. Physical collectors should know that the retail release of the Kollection version on Nintendo Switch is just going to be a download code. So unless you really have to have that empty plastic case, you’re better served to buy it on the e-shop.  Some baffling retail decisions aside, Aftermath is an entertaining DLC you might want to look into if you enjoy Mortal Kombat 11.

Final Score: 8 out of 10

Blazing Chrome Review

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It seems everyone loves classic Konami games. Yes, there was a time when the company was lauded for putting out some great stuff. Rather than be reviled for putting out mediocre stuff and then nickel and diming you within that mediocre stuff. Super Cobra, Gyruss, Gradius, Frogger,  the list goes on. But arguably the two franchises everyone can get behind are Castlevania and Contra. It isn’t hard to see why. One series puts you in the boots of vampire slayers out to kick Dracula’s ass. The other puts you in the shoes of 80’s action heroes out to save the world from extraterrestrial armies, and supernatural forces.

Over the years others have tried to put their own spin on these to compete or else pay homage to them as they’ve been largely dormant. And in the case of Contra, Konami’s attempt last year was almost universally panned for pretty much not playing or looking like Contra at all whatsoever. Although it did have a death panda. So I suppose there was something. Anyway,  it was a scant short couple of months later today’s game was released. Blazing Chrome actually does play like a Contra game, being heavily influenced by Contra Hard Corps on the Sega Genesis. Is it worthy of the praise it has gotten over the course of nearly a year? Yes. Is it an absolutely flawless game? No. Does that really matter? To most of us probably not.

PROS: Breathtaking pixel art. Neo New Wave. Great character and level design.

CONS: Some *really* cheap enemies on your first few runs.

KRISTINE: Why had I never heard of them before beating this game?

Blazing Chrome isn’t the first Run ‘n Gun to pay tribute to Contra and it certainly won’t be the last. But it is one of the better ones in recent years. When I first started playing the game I was immediately reminded of Contra III: The Alien Wars as both start you out in a war-torn cityscape. Though the pacing of the game veers a bit more toward Contra Hard Corps. The storyline, of course, is very different. Instead of centering around an alien invasion angle, Blazing Chrome has more in common with the Terminator movies. It’s the distant future, and we have a ragtag band of heroes fighting off the robot armies bent on snuffing out humanity. They even reference the machines as “Toasters” a pejorative that I suspect would raise the eyes of robot sympathizers in this fiction.

Be that as it may, you can actually play as a “Toaster” since Doyle, is a robot who has betrayed the sentient robot overlord to serve the human resistance. Mavra is this world’s Sarah Connor, a badass who takes down the robots with extreme prejudice.  After a very detailed set of cinema screens, you will start the game and choose which of our two protagonists you want to use. (There are others but you have to unlock them by playing through the campaign.) Then you choose the overall difficulty setting you desire. There’s a brief tutorial after this, and you’re then thrust into an exciting picture of a tablet.

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The tablet has each of the stages laid out, and you can play them in the order you wish. It’s essentially taking a page from Taito’s POWER BLADE games on the NES, where you can go through these in the order you want before going onto the final stage. This, in turn, is an offshoot of the Stage Select set up in Capcom’s Mega Man games. So Blazing Chrome is a big fan of more than only Contra.

Each of the stages has a difficulty number on it going 1 (easiest) to 5 (hardest) the thing is it isn’t really an indicator of difficulty. Each of the stages has something fairly tough about it. In fact, that’s one of the things that will become very apparent. The game revels in some very cheap enemies resulting in some artificial bumps in the challenge. Even if you play on the easiest setting you’re going to have enemies that jump in the exact place you need to be jumping. Or coming from the side onto the platform you need to be on at that precise second. It’s as if the designers knew where you were going to go and placed a Nelson Munz “Ha Ha!” there.

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Now one could point out that’s exactly what the Contra games do. But this does it to the nth degree at a couple of places in the game. However, don’t lose heart and give up so easily. Because Blazing Chrome is a rather brilliant game. Once you die in a spot the first time, you’ll begin to think of alternative patterns you might use to jump instead. Or you may simply discover you have to be patient in a setting that on its surface seems to require impatience. You’ll find simply waiting a second before jumping means the enemy pulls the trigger on that jump (no pun intended) first allowing you to get off the shot you needed to get by.

And really that’s the only major crime the game commits. Relying too much on “A-HA!” deaths. Beyond that, everything else is more than fair. Attack patterns aren’t impossible to spot. You might have to attempt a certain section or boss several dozen times to figure it out, but you’ll eventually be able to do it. The game also has unlimited continues on the easiest and normal settings. So you won’t have to worry about starting the entire game over again after a few fail states

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Blazing Chrome also has a wide variety of scenery it’s worth noting here. You have the usual war-torn cityscapes and mechanical underworlds you might expect from a game like this. But there’s also a beautiful snowcapped nuclear winter stage replete with one of three shmup sections. Another is a rather long battle train stage which also involves a motorcycle section. At one point in the game, you’ll have a section that will take you back to the glory of Sega’s Space Harrier. And it’s also one of the more challenging legs of the game.

Visually, as I’ve said, the pixel art on display is amazing. Blazing Chrome is a beautiful game. Joymasher’s artists have clearly put in a lot of love and care into the characters, animation, and backgrounds to bring this world to life. And the soundtrack keeps pace with it’s thumping New Wave Post Punk chiptune goodness. And while it all has the art design of something that should have come out on the Sega Genesis or Super Nintendo, the game has a slew of visual effects that would probably not have been possible on either of those consoles. This is especially true when you get to the final act of the game where everything becomes a TRON reference. It’s really awesome stuff.

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Beating the game also nets you a number of things. First of all, you’ll get two new characters, a cyborg and a ninja who play more like Mega Man X than the soldiers of Contra. All four of the characters also have a melee attack a la Metal Slug, so keep that in mind when enemies really start swarming you. Beating the game on normal also unlocks a mirror mode where all of the stages are the same but the scenes move right to left instead of left to right. It’s a bit weird at first trying to remember what obstacle comes next as it can be disorienting. But once you readjust it’s a novel addition. You’ll also notice if you start the game on easy, then play on normal a bunch of new surprises are in store for you. There are new pitfalls. extra enemies. Even bosses will have extra attacks they don’t employ on the lowest setting.

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You can also unlock a boss rush mode where you fight every boss in the game in a row. Not a major addition, but something to do when you’ve done pretty much everything else. That is until you decide to go for the Hardest difficulty where the game throws even more bad guys at you, everything takes more damage to kill, and you only get three lives. Also, you only get three continues. And as daunting as that may sound, after having played a bunch of the game I can say it is doable. The question is whether or not you would want to. If you’re the sort of player who likes to squeeze every last piece of content out of your game it’s something worth going for. If you’re more the type to beat a game once or twice before putting it away for a while you might ignore it.

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Still, in spite of some initial frustration, some out there might have, stick with the game. Eventually, you’ll get to the end of the game and enjoy the terrific finale. While the final leg is a bit of a gauntlet, it’s an entertaining one that consistently does something new. Being able to play the stages in the order you wish is nice too as you can get the ones you like the least done first or dive into the ones you like right away. Fire up Blazing Chrome, win the day, and listen to that awesome Kristine song. Which immediately made me wonder why I hadn’t heard of them before. Turns out they’re pretty great.

As is Blazing Chrome.

Final Score: 9 out of 10

Super Mario Multiverse: Mario Bros.

 

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Well, the stars have aligned, the time has flown and here we are. The Well-Red Mage invited I as well as a slew of others to take part in the Super Mario Multiverse special crossover event. In it, you’ll see some words about the many, many, MANY games featuring Nintendo’s mustached mascot. Everyone remembers Super Mario Bros., Donkey Kong and Super Mario 64. But not a lot of people comparably talk about the first major game where his name was in the title.

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Mario Bros. came at a weird time for many of us. It bridged the gap between Mario’s adventures as a construction worker trying to save his girlfriend from a crazed ape and his time as a plumber trying to save royalty from a dragon turtle. And while a lot of people knew about it well in advance of Super Mario Bros. Some people didn’t. In fact, some people still don’t know it’s a thing. Imagine my surprise for instance, when a former coworker tried playing it on the Famiclone handheld I’d brought in for my lunch break one day. He kept trying to jump on the shell creepers and flies to no avail.

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Travel back to 1983 however, and you’ll find there were a few home versions released across several platforms. In Japan, the Famicom obviously got a version. But Hudson Soft also ported the game to the PC-88 computer. Ocean Software would port the game to a slew of computers in the European market including the ZX Spectrum and Commodore 64. Here in the United States Atari would get the publishing rights and proceeded to release the game for the Atari 2600 and Atari 5200.  The 5200 version is interesting because the console largely used the same components as Atari’s 8-bit computer line, the 400/800, XL (and later under Tramiel) XE. Despite this fact, the 5200, and 400/800 versions were different games. When the XE came out years later, a vastly superior version came out from Atari Corp. which was backward compatible with the 400/800 and XL lines. It makes one wonder why this couldn’t have simply been on the 5200 years earlier.

Atari also published North American computer versions on its Atarisoft label. Most famously for the Commodore 64. Of course, the North American video game market crash was right around the corner. So before long Warner Communications (Warner Media) would sell the home division of Atari to Jack Tramiel, who had been pushed out of Commodore. This version of Atari was called Atari Corp. to differentiate itself from the Arcade division Warner still owned. Which they sold to Midway, who renamed it Atari Games West, folded it back into Midway, and then Midway sold itself to Time Warner. (Warner Media.).

 

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But I almost went on a tangent of coincidence there. We’re talking about Mario Bros. And Atari Corp. would port Mario Bros. to the Atari 7800, and the Atari 400/800/XE. At a time when the NES was already killing it with Super Mario Bros. Though you can also find Mario Bros. on the NES as well. It’s also interesting how the porting rights worked out back then as it often led to computer platforms getting two versions of the same game. In this case, Ocean brought Mario Bros. to European C64 owners while Atari brought Mario Bros. to North American C64 owners.

 

As an aside, there were a bunch of unofficial ports and sequels like Thundersoft’s Mario Bros II, which was more or less a reworking of Mario’s Cement Factory into a bottling plant. You filled cases of bottles and put them on a truck. And if you messed up, the boss would come out of their office and berate the Mario Bros. Thundersoft was mostly known as a group of European code crackers who would give away retail games with the anti-piracy measures removed. But this seems to be the one lone quasi-original thing they did. which they also gave away. It does, of course, use Nintendo’s characters and concept. But it doesn’t seem to have lifted graphics. Many of the other ports and clones of Mario Bros. walked much closer along the line of legality.

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Nintendo itself has also given the game these stealth reissues over the years. As a mini-game in Super Mario Bros. 3 then again as a mini-game in Mario & Luigi Superstar Saga. The port jobs, in general, are pretty good. Save for one or two bad ones, every one of them gets the core concept right. Some even go above and beyond. Atari’s Commodore 64 (as Atarisoft), and Atari 2600 versions are fantastic. Yes. The Atari 2600 version is a great version of Mario Bros. Atari Corp. also re-released it when they brought out the 7800 version which is also an excellent version of Mario Bros. In PAL (European) territories the 2600 re-release came as a red label variant no less, driving completionists just a little bit more crazy as there were already two domestic silver label variants in the wild.

 

Despite, all of the ways that Mario Bros. has been available to play though, a lot of people never checked it out. Particularly, Stateside. There are a few reasons for this, but many hypothesize the North American video game market crash certainly didn’t help. Fewer people were getting games as there was a lot of drivel out there at the time. There were also a lot of consoles out there. Sure most of us remember Atari 2600, Colecovision, and Intellivision. Thanks to the wealth of info out there today many of us wish we had maybe gotten a Vectrex. But ask the average person about an underlooked good system like the Magnavox Odyssey 2, and you’ll get a blank stare. Ask about the Emerson Arcadia 2001 and they may start wondering if you’re from another world. Or on a watchlist.

 

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These days, people worry if a fourth contender tries to enter the console market. Well, back in 1983 there were far more than four video game systems on store shelves. And most of them looked about the same in what they could do. Even the ones that looked better still had very similar games on them. There were also a lot of tiny upstarts throwing whatever they could at the wall to see what would stick.

 

And the home computers were running the same games at a higher fidelity, running their own deeper experiences the consoles didn’t have the features to handle, and they were getting down to similar prices. Before long everything would implode and Mario Bros. was one game that for at least a few people got lost in the shuffle. Some of this was felt in arcades too. While I can remember seeing Donkey Kong, and Donkey Kong Jr. among the machine selection at Chuck E. Cheese, I really only remember seeing Mario Bros. at Riverside Park when the family went to Agawam, MA. on a summer day. (It’s Six Flags New England now.)

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My first experience with the Atari 2600 version was at a friend’s. They had the Atari 2600 Jr. as well as an NES. I had never seen it before. But there it was. And while it isn’t the prettiest version of the game, it nails most of the gameplay down. There are a couple of tiny things missing like the ability to jump on the POW block. But the most important stuff is there. I’d imagine a lot of people’s first experience with a Mario game was Super Mario Bros. if it hadn’t been Donkey Kong. The NES was a juggernaut largely in part because of it. And it’s much more vast, and a more complex game compared to regular Mario Bros. But here’s the thing. Everyone who has played Super Mario Bros. but not Mario Bros. Should play Mario Bros. And before everybody jumps down my throat just hear me out.

First of all, it’s a really fun game. One that has a great sense of risk vs. reward. It’s also quite competitive when you get a second player as Mario and Luigi have to rally to outscore one another. It even can be dastardly when you’re intentionally bumping your opponent into enemies to stay alive longer. But more importantly than that, many of the things you love about Super Mario Bros. began here. Shellcreepers were the forebears to the Koopas. Coins are a big part of both games. and it got the ball rolling on Mario’s platforming style. There will be plenty of times you find yourself in situations where pixel-perfect jumps and timing are the only way to get out of hot water.

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Mario Bros. is also where the earliest series’ jumping physics got started. While not the same as in the Super Mario Bros. trilogy on the NES, they are similar. You can see what that classic bump and jump gameplay was built upon. Most of the Super Mario games feature bonus stages and even those are in Mario Bros. in the form of coin stages. Speaking of coins, they make that familiar sound whenever you collect them. But in Mario Bros.,  you had better get all of them if you want that sweet stack of bonus round points. And Mario Bros. even proves itself a viable stage in Super Smash Bros. Ultimate. Even more so than Donkey Kong’s 75m stage.

It’s a game that is important on so many levels and is sadly overshadowed by historical factors and future Mario releases. Thankfully, Nintendo often reminds us of this with its presence in newer releases. And there is a slew of ways to play it today. Any number of the aforementioned home ports are out there for collectors to seek out. And you can still get the arcade version on the Nintendo Switch through the e-shop. The Nintendo Online service also includes sone NES and Super NES ROMs you can download at no additional charge. One of those games is the NES port of Mario Bros. So if you own a Switch, and have been considering paying the annual $20 to play against your friends in Mario Kart 8 Deluxe or Splatoon 2, you’ll also be able to check out NES Mario Bros. without having to track down the original Game Pak.

In any case, the next time you find yourself in a conversation about important Super Mario moments, remember that between chasing down a gorilla to save his ex-girlfriend and chasing down a dragon-turtle to save his current one, Mario ran a successful plumbing business with his brother Luigi. And it was during those years he gained the skills he needed to save the Mushroom Kingdom hundreds of times over.