Before going on, for full disclosure, a while back the two people who made this game had apparently asked me to take a look at it. Unfortunately, I only recently got the notification I had gotten a message. Sometimes WordPress has the funkiest glitches. On top of that, I had a lot going on outside of my online presence so it took me a while to finally get to this one.
PROS: A solid Asteroids clone with some twists.
CONS: Not the deepest experience
POWER-UPS: Be sure to get them often.
With that out of the way, I’m getting to this now. I contemplated calling this a mini-review at first because on the surface there isn’t much to talk about. Upon seeing it for the first time your likely reaction will be “Oh, an Asteroids clone. Okay.” and go on about your day. But after you play it for a while you’ll start to see that they did put some thought into differentiating it from the many games that have taken a shot at updating Asteroids.
Pangaroids is a game that adds a slight hint of Pong into the mix by having borders around the playfield. What does this do? Well, the Asteroids (which I think are supposed to be space hockey pucks) can bounce off of the borders at various angles. So when you aren’t initially crushed by one of them, they can still rebound into you. As in Asteroids, shooting them blows them into smaller pieces that you also have to avoid while shooting them.
This results in the screen getting cluttered up a lot faster than in Atari’s old vector game. To help you, there are power-ups that will randomly drop from the destroyed space pucks. You can cycle through them before picking them up by shooting at them. And while it never gets as varied as other shmups that do this like Twin Bee or Cotton, it does break up the formula a bit. There are missiles, shields that can protect you from a hit, and a few others. Some of them will affect enemy behaviors to a minimal degree.
The game also has a similar thruster mechanic to Asteroids. So you have to try to anticipate where momentum is going to take you in addition to where your targets are going to be. So the game does have a bit of strategy involved within its space. Visually, the game doesn’t really do much to stand out. Make no mistake, it doesn’t look bad at all. But it has a clean, sterile look within its border, and sprites give off that early 2000s Newgrounds vibe.
The game controls well enough, with a little bit of floatiness you’d expect to see in any game following Atari’s classic arcade game. You move the ship using the arrow keys, and you fire with the space bar. Honestly, it’s pretty good for what it is. It isn’t going to set the world on fire and won’t pull you away from a deeper game you might be playing through. But for a game you can fire up in short bursts, it’s a pretty good option.
I’d say if you own a laptop you should add it to your Steam library. It’s the kind of game you can play on a commute or while waiting in an office for an appointment. And if you’re an old-timer like me, you may want to drop some time going for a high score. And you don’t see solid freeware games like this these days very often. As publishers usually go the ad-driven or microtransaction fuelled route instead. A full-fledged freeware microgame that plays well is a rarity. And the whole thing was made by a figurative handful of people so all in all a solid effort.
Back in 1984 Kevin Eastman and Peter Laird struck gold when their comic about four turtles saving the world became a minor hit, and then a major one. Three years later Mirage Studios would have a cartoon based upon the book out and Playmates would have an action figure line that coincided with it. As the end of the decade approached Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles would become a major franchise that seeped into all facets of pop culture. Video games would be inevitable. Konami would get the video game rights, and proceeded to create some of the best licensed games ever made. Based upon the 1987 cartoon show, these would start out with an adventure game on computer platforms and the NES. But most memorably would be the several beat ’em up titles that spanned across the Arcades, NES, Super NES, Sega Genesis, and Game Boy. Flash forward to today, and it’s an entirely new landscape. But now Tribute has entered the fray with a new TMNT brawler. But does it hold a candle to those old Konami games?
PROS: Terrific pixel art, animation, gameplay, music, and more. 6-player co-op!
CONS: Some minor but annoying bugs. Technical hitches in some versions.
TURTLE POWER: There’s an obvious amount of love for the glory days here.
In a word; yes. Shredder’s Revenge is fantastic. However, I’d be remiss if I told you to expect a carbon copy of the vintage Konami experience. Because while there are plenty of callbacks to the old games, it doesn’t play identically. If you’re coming into this game expecting another Turtles In Time, you’re not going to get that. That’s because Tribute has implemented its own entirely new set of mechanics. Yes, you’ll be mashing the attack and jump buttons. But not in the exact same way you did in the arcade or on your Super Nintendo.
You’ll have an attack button, a jump button, a button for supers (More on that in a bit), and a button for dodges. There is also a button for helping up a friend when they get knocked out when you’re playing multiplayer. You can also do taunts. Beyond that, there is a whole set of underlying mechanics. The biggest of these is a robust combo system that could fit well in a fighting game. You have your typical attacks, but you’ll get auto combos, juggles, air juggles, and more. Beyond that you can get some light tech elements too, allowing you to get up quickly upon falling down.
The combo system is important too. Because throughout the game you’ll need to use super moves to get waves of enemies off of you when they surround you. They’re also very useful in boss fights as they make quick work of many of their health bars. Combos can also have a challenging element in trying to keep your hit counter as high as possible. Every time you get hit by an enemy the counter will reset. If your counter gets reset before your super meter gets filled, you’ll also drain your meter before you can use it, and you’ll have to fill it again before you can use it again. You can also use taunts to try to fill the meter, though if your taunt is interrupted it will be for naught. That said, on lower difficulties you can essentially cheese your way to supers by taunting in between waves of baddies.
There are two main ways to play Shredder’s Revenge. The primary mode is the story mode. This mode plays each of the game’s 16 stages across a map made in the vein of the overworld section in the initial TMNT game on the NES. Playing through each of the stages unlocks a path to the next one, and within each of the stages, classic secondary characters from the original cartoon series can be found. Finding these characters will then place them on their own specific points on the map. Going to these has the characters telling you to find a certain number of items across the campaign. For example one of the characters may want you to find diary entries or another may want VHS tapes. These items then get hidden within the stages so over the course of a few play-throughs you’ll be breaking every conceivable crate, or other destructible pieces of scenery to find them all. If you do, you then drive back to deliver the items to the corresponding character. Find every item and there are little surprises waiting for you at the end of the game.
The story mode also takes a page from the NES version of Double Dragon, where you’ll unlock some moves over time. You can also level up your super meter to three bars, allowing you to have a little bit of an easier time with some of the later levels. Because some of the later stages throw a lot more enemies at you at once. Having the ability to do three supers helps immensely near the end game too.
The other way is the arcade mode. This eschews the map and its character-driven fetch quests. In turn, leaving you with a cut-and-dry experience. You’ll start at stage 1 and power through to stage 16. Playing this way also does away with the story mode’s leveling-up system. So you’ll have to be more selective when deciding when to use a super. The arcade mode also limits the number of continues you can use. To supplement these continues, you can earn 1-Ups throughout the game by earning enough points. At roughly 200 points or so, you’ll earn one. The thing is, each enemy only nets you one or two points. While playing solo this isn’t a big hindrance. But if you’re playing this mode with a group, you’re going to want to divide the workload evenly if you don’t want one player walking away with the lion’s share of lives. Fortunately, the game’s aforementioned help-up function is going to mitigate that.
Over the course of the game, you’ll see it’s very clear the team at Tribute really love the classic cartoon, Playmates action figure line, and vintage Konami brawlers. The pixel art is absolutely fantastic. The characters are very detailed, with expressive facial animations and a slew of frames for each of the many moves. Enemies have that same amount of time and care packed into each and every frame. There are many nods to all of that classic TMNT pop culture too. Many of the vehicles and figures from the classic toyline are represented here. A lot of the 1987 cartoon series is constantly referenced with even minor characters showing up. The Neutrinos, Punk Frogs, Erma, and other part-time players are here alongside your major protagonists and antagonists. Each of the characters controls very well, and the collision detection is mostly very good. There are even a lot of nods to the Konami games of old. For example, when you do the grapple moves, they’re similar animations to the ones you saw in Turtles In Time.
The audio follows that same trend. The chiptunes on display are clearly inspired by Konami’s old classics but it doesn’t end there. There’s a lot of variety with Rock, Pop, Hip-Hop, and Metal tracks. There’s even a track by Mega Ran in the game. Beyond that, they somehow managed to get the budget to bring in some of the original actors from the classic cartoon including Rob Paulsen and Cam Clarke. As such, the cutscenes can get a lot closer to the old arcade experience between stages as you’ll get to hear the fab four (The turtles, not the Beatles) sound off with the supervillains of Dimension X. Beyond that you’ll get to hear some classic voice quips during the combat. The punches, kicks, clangs, and explosions all sound top-notch too.
Again, Tribute has absolutely crushed it when it comes to presentation. Coupled with the excellent gameplay, there’s not too much to complain about here. But that doesn’t mean there aren’t a number of things that can stand to be improved upon. The game’s online gameplay is one of the major areas. Depending on which version of the game you’re playing your mileage may vary. I bought the game on both PC (via Steam) as well as the Nintendo Switch (via the Nintendo e-shop). While I didn’t run into any major issues, I did notice the Switch version suffered some slowdown when certain sections of the game got particularly busy. It was also on the Switch I once found myself stuck against a backdrop item when in the middle of a jump kick for a couple of seconds.
And while I didn’t run into any bugs when playing online, my good buddy and fellow Twitch streamer 1UpJohn ran into severalmajorissues when playing the Xbox Series version on Livestream. Players would be invisible. Other times an enemy or boss would be stuck in a grounded frame of animation which in turn would essentially soft-lock the group from being able to progress. These bugs strangely enough only happened to him when playing online multiplayer. Not frequently enough to ruin the game by any means. But they did occur often enough that he had to replay a couple of stages a number of times.
These are some issues to be aware of at the time of this writing. And while in my circle of friends the Microsoft Xbox family had the highest number of occurrences, it doesn’t mean that these problems will never show up on Switch, Playstation, or computer versions. Beyond that, there is also the fact that the aforementioned taunt function abuse can cheese the game. To the point where those who play online with random players, may feel frustrated if they’re not looking to blow through the game with an exploit. Supers in the game do a lot of damage to bosses in particular. Fortunately, playing the game on the hardest setting can mitigate this somewhat.
Hopefully, Tribute will be given the resources to patch out some of these bugs, and possibly rebalance the game so those looking for a little bit more of a challenge can get one. Overall, though this is a fantastic beat ’em up. If you’ve been starved for more belt scrollers this is a solid buy. If you’re a child of the 80s or 90s who grew up with the vintage cartoons and action figures there’s a very good chance you’re going to love this. The amount of care and detail displayed throughout the game shows that the developers had a lot of reverence for that era of the TMNT IP. Nickelodeon could have easily slapped the Turtles on any fly-by-night project for another nostalgic cash grab. Thankfully, that was not the case here. If you’re a TMNT mega-fan there’s a lot to love here. And if you were looking for a 1:1 recreation of the Konami model, you’re not going to find that. This is still very much its own thing. But you should still check it out. There’s enough love of those old games here blended in with everything else you’d be hard-pressed to come away unsated. The gameplay isn’t better or worse than what those old games had on offer, it’s just a bit different.
Sadly, the problems hold it back from being as great as it could be. But it’s still a very enjoyable experience. Perhaps if this game does well enough for Tribute and DotEmu they’ll be able to make equivalent brawlers for some of our other favorite Saturday morning cartoons of a bygone era. Perhaps He-Man and The Masters Of The Universe?
After being shut down last year, and some delays RetroWorldExpo was able to return in 2021. There were a couple of concessions this year, there were no hyped after-hours events as in previous years. But there were a couple of surprises in the roster of guests this year. Beyond that, there was still a lot of fun to be had, and Hartford still had some nightlife beyond the convention center to take in after hours.
Still, there was a lot packed into the two days and it wasn’t possible to get to everything I wanted to but I still got to see a lot. One unfortunate thing is on day one my phone’s battery was low pretty much all of the day, and so I didn’t get as many photos as I would have liked to. I pressed on anyway getting in a few notes where I could. The panels started a little bit later this year and so I was able to start out my Saturday on the main floor perusing the vendors.
Getting down the guest booths I saw Pixel Dan again, who returned. This year he brought his new book The Toys Of He-Man And The Masters Of The Universe Where he and Val Staples (One of the main people behindHe-man.org ) compiled every Mattel-produced He-Man toyline piece from the original line through the recent Classics line that ended last year. It’s a pretty deep dive into the various toylines as you’ll hear later. I got to talk with him a bit, and as every year I’ve gotten the opportunity he was nothing but friendly. I bought a copy from him for myself and had it signed which was really cool.
Timothy Clarke was there too. He was the man behind the Boglins toyline, and in recent years has been able to reclaim the rights to produce them. So he was selling some entirely new ones. Pat Contri and Norman Caruso of Pat The NES Punk and Gaming Historian fame were back as well. And new to the show was a YouTuber who probably doesn’t need an introduction: MetalJesusRocks.
But I got to also see a number of local content creators who were on the floor. My pals Russ Lyman and Mike Levy were there and had a couple of panels I sadly didn’t get into. (Sorry guys.) I also got to see fellow Twitch streamers ConsoleKev , Kobayashi Riku, Dan from BestSpuds ,1UpJohn , and I got to see DNick55 in person for the first time. All on the floor over the weekend Which was really cool. All of these guys are fantastic people you should check out if you haven’t already.
Big Bucks Entertainment was back again too. Over the two days, Davira Kuy hosted recreations of Press Your Luck and Who Wants To Be A Millionaire? This year they had somebody make it all the way to the end of Millionaire where they won the big prize at the end which was a Power Rangers DVD signed by the original cast!
I also ran into Tom Ryan who had a booth up again this year, and a new National Lampoon’s Christmas Vacation-inspired print that I just had to pick up for my Brother who loves that movie. He seemed to be doing pretty well this year, and he had a large assortment of newer pins in addition to prints.
And I got in some time with the arcade cabs and console games this year. Over the course of the weekend, I found myself getting in a few games of Tempest, Killer Instinct, Popeye, and Double Dragon. Which actually crashed on me during the second day,. Not sure what happened, but by the end of the show it was working again. I also got in a respectable score in River Raid on the Atari 2600.
My buddies over at Imaginary Monsters were there along with a lot of other independent developers. Imaginary Monsters showed off an interesting take on Robotron 2084 called Grindblood’s Gauntlet where you play a tormented character gunning down waves of monsters and demons. The current build played pretty nicely with some excellent twin-stick controls. Hopefully, some of the ideas can be expanded upon to flesh it out a little more. But the foundation here was pretty good.
Another indie game I got to check out was When The River Runs Dry, by a studio called ZwinzlerGames. In it, you play an anthropomorphic horse character who wakes up in a forest where drought is taking place. You use the keyboard to navigate your character and the mouse to do certain things in the environment or cast items or attack certain enemies. And it isn’t really a fast-paced game. Rather, you have to take your time and explore like you would in something like The Legend Of Zelda. But a lot of the pointing and clicking reminded me of old-school Sierra games like Police Quest. But that doesn’t mean you can dawdle either because there is constant pressure to find water sources too. Taking too long means it will drain out and your character will collapse. You’ll know if you are taking too long too because the screen slowly grows dark all around you as a cone shrinks. The controls seemed a little confusing at first. But it’s something you may want to keep your eye on.
Possum House Games was there as well with a demo for Space Cat 9, a roguelike platformer where you play as a kitten going up against an army of mice. They also had some trailers for their previous releases on Steam. First up; Shot In The Dark, a really interesting take on stealth platforming where you need to use contrast in battle. And I mean contrast in terms of black levels on your display. Because the color scheme is composed of mostly black and white graphics with bright reds for certain atmospheric moments. You move your character with the keyboard while using the mouse to click and shoot enemies. You play a cowboy with a revolver who ends up going on missions that become more and more bizarre.
The second trailer was for their first major release called The Sword And The Slime. In that one, you play a sentient magic sword that is accompanied by a gelatinous puddle of slime. And you need to use the slime to find creative ways out of sticky situations. So it’s a bit like David Crane’s A Boy And His Blob on the NES, but a little bit faster-paced and with a much weirder and surreal setup.
Screenwave Media was there too with their own demos of some upcoming releases. I was unaware but they are actually publishing LOVE 3, and as someone who enjoyed the original LOVE I was surprised to learn I somehow never saw a sequel. well apparently Fred Wood had put out a sequel a few years ago and I had either forgotten or I hadn’t heard about it. It was called LOVE 2 Kuso. LOVE 3’s promotional materials were a little bit deceiving in that it uses rendered models in the advertising which made me think it would be transitioning to a 2.5D sort of style. But when I got to see the demo running, it isn’t. It’s still very much the aesthetic of the original, yet obviously expanded upon. And for those of you who have never played the original LOVE, do check it out. It’s a great platformer with some awesome music with a style that very much takes me back to games like Lazy Jones on the Commodore 64. You may have to google all of those things. But it will be worth it. But the early look at LOVE 3 was pretty nice.
The second game they showed off was Iron Meat which I think is the one that was probably the most popular of the three. It’s a Run n’ Gun in the vein of classics like Contra and they went for a Super NES era look to the graphics. The demo is controlled nicely and it does have a lot of stuff Contra fans will like. If games like Super Cyborg and Blazing Chrome weren’t enough Contra-likes for you, you might want to check it out when it releases.
And the third one they showed off was Dumpy & Bumpy which is a puzzle game involving pushing blocks. So I was immediately reminded of HAL Laboratory’s LOLO series as well as the classic SEGA arcade game PENGO. It’s got elements of both of those along with other objectives they throw-in. It didn’t make the biggest splash with me compared to the other games they showed off. But it wasn’t bad by any means. If you love puzzle games that don’t do the usual match three colors rules or tweaking Tetris, you may want to keep an eye on it.
There was one other developer there too and while their game demo wasn’t as polished as some of the other things there, their staff was very passionate about their game and after playing it I have to say they have something here. The Killer Gin is a small group of people who made a game using RPG Maker last year called Killer Gin. At the show, they had a spinoff called Killer Gin Battle Arcade which is presently in Early Access on Steam. Visually what I saw isn’t going to compete with some of the similar indie games out there. But it controlled well and does do something a little bit differently.
Killer Gin Battle Arcade appears to be another take on the Super Smash Bros. Ring out rules gameplay. You get a variety of characters from their JRPG, who battle to knock each other out of the game. The difference here is that there aren’t really meters where you have to damage someone to a ridiculous level before you knock them out. Nor does it have a life bar system. Instead, the game uses elements of classic arcade games. The first is from the original Mario Bros. Enemies will spawn onto the blocks and you’ll have to hit them from underneath to be able to weaken them so you can kick them off. The second is like JOUST. There are pits, lava pools, and other things you need to avoid. While this is all going on the four of you are still trying to knock each other out of the map. And what little I played of it was honestly pretty fun.
The game has a long way to go before it’s done. but they hope to add Parsec support so people can use that to play online together since the team is relatively small and not versed in extensive networking code. The rep at the show also mentioned the potential for different ring announcers and accompanying countdown animations in future builds. Obviously, they’re not going for a Smash killer here. But with some graphical improvements, a few new features this could be a surprisingly fun diversion you might want to look into.
The first panel I went to was by Screenwave Media. Head Ryan Schott and their media manager talked about their core business as a Multi-Channel Network which is partnered not only with Cinemassacre, but several high profile YouTube channels. Basically dealing with many of the flags, content claims on YouTube as well as getting out promotion and advertising for these channels. Entering the video game space with AVGN Adventures they’ve begun carrying over some of the things they would do as an MCN for higher profile YouTubers to publishing games for indie developers. And they brought up some of the different avenues some budding developers could use to expand their reach when trying to market their games.
After that panel, I caught Pat Contri’s panel where he showed off the latest Pat The NES PUNK episode followed by a Q & A session with the audience. Some of the discussions centered around topics that have been on his CUPodcast as of late, like the Intellivision Amiico and the controversies that have been coming out about it. The controversy surrounding WATA graded sealed games. And then some information about his new Nintendo 64 book he is in the midst of putting together after his Nintendo Entertainment System and Super Nintendo Entertainment System books. Both of which are excellent and cover the entire scope of their libraries. The Nintendo 64 book will also take a look at Japanese-only releases as well as the Nintendo 64 Disk Drive.
I also attended the Gaming Historian panel. Norman Caruso gave us a look at an upcoming project involving the original Donkey Kong. He found some new information, and without giving much away it’s going to be a pretty great episode. After a Q & A segment following the presentation, he closed with a Who Wants To Be A Millionaire? game where one audience member managed to get through to the top with a little help.
There were also two independent wrestling shows this year via Blitzkrieg Pro Wrestling I really didn’t get to see much of them but they did one each of the days. Speaking of Pro Wrestling, WWE alumni Tatanka was there too, but he wasn’t in the wrestling show. He did have a guest booth though.
At the end of the first night, I went to City Steam Brewery with some friends and had some great beer and food. I tried out their seasonal pumpkin beer cleverly titled “Gourd Vibes Only”, and tried their new Hartford Yard Goats-themed IPA. I also had their Jungle Crush IPA with my two Kielbasa sausages with sauerkraut. If you ever find yourself in the State Capitol city do check it out. It’s got a terrific restaurant in it, a comedy club, and of course many great kinds of beer to choose from. After dinner, we walked back over to the Convention center and in the adjacent lobby, many of the guests were there. Before heading off I ran into Metal Jesus Rocks who was rather cordial.
I came back the following day for the second day of the convention. The second day is generally shorter but RetroWorldExpo always seems to divide panels up with the larger YouTube names between both days nicely. When I made it back to the Convention center I spent the first chunk of the day browsing around for any interesting merchandise I might have missed out on. I didn’t really see too much although I have to say one booth stood out to me after my pal Juu Hachi pointed it out and that was Canvas Quest. They had the game-themed posters and wall art you might expect a business with that name to have. However, where they really made themselves stand out was in the area of pins. There were hundreds of different pins based on various games ranging from completely esoteric to super popular. I found two that I just had to pick up in spite of the fact I’m not a big button or pin collector. The first of these was a pin of Evil Otto based on the Atari 2600 port of Berzerk. And the second is the Yar pin which of course is the giant space fly you play as in Yars’ Revenge.
I also got into three panels the second day. The first of these was Pixel Dan’s panel where he talked about the process of making his book. It took over 3 years to put together. Much of the work involved flying all over the United States finding different collectors in the Masters Of The Universe fan community. The book features photos of every Mattel produced or officially licensed as canon toy in the original Masters Of The Universe line, Princess Of Power line, He-Man line, Masters Of The Universe 200x line, and Masters Of The Universe Classics line. That’s nearly 800 toys and it features several photos for each both in completely unopened packaging as well as loose, but with all of their accessories intact as well as the accessories themselves.
He also mentioned getting the accessories photographed was the hardest part of the process as centering the shots for small pieces proved difficult. The photography was done in each of the collectors’ homes over the course of a few days at each, and there were many collectors to visit. Because some only collected MOC (Mint On Card) or CIB (Complete In Box) while others may have had loose figures with or without all of the accessories. And obviously, a sealed collector wasn’t going to want their collectibles opened in the process. He did show off one video clip where he and Val Staples had to photograph one person’s Eternia playset which is one of the rarest playsets in the toyline and is a behemoth with many fragile parts. Getting the playset on the filming table was quite the task and everyone bit their nails anticipating something banging or dropping which of course, thankfully didn’t happen.
At first, the project was going to be self-published, but Dark Horse offered to pitch it to Mattel on their behalf since Dark Horse had already had the official license to do other Masters Of The Universe hardcover collections. Mattel gave their blessing and so the project then became an official part of Masters Of The Universe! The book is very detailed in not only the descriptions of every toy, but each page has an easy-to-follow layout showing the toys in the package as well as loose. Each accessory has its own photo and they even managed to take photos of the action features most of the toys had. Like Mosquitor’s blood pumping window or the battle damage, you can see on Battle Armor He-Man and Skeletor when they are hit in the chest. They even color-coded the pages depending on which faction the character in question may have come from. In MOTU there are generally four, the Heroic Warriors, Evil Warriors, Evil Horde, and Snakemen. The sides of the pages also have grey tabbed sections so you can get a good estimate of which toyline you’re going to be thumbing through without even going to the table of contents. The amount of details is staggering and it’s a fantastic book for any collector.
After Pixel Dan’s panel, I saw the MetalJesusRocks panel. This was an off-script panel where Jason (as he told us is his real name) loosely revisited a topic he covered in a video not too long ago about modern-day collecting tips. Some of these included things like looking at platforms that people may not be paying much attention to. Often popular systems mean that more people are going to want the big games on them and so a lot of prices for those games will reflect that in the aftermarket. So maybe instead of looking at Gamecube games try looking at something else you might not have considered before. You might find you have as much fun, and they may be less expensive in the process. Other things might be to look at the Japanese or European versions of a game you might want. Sometimes there’s a great divide between prices between different regional versions, and if it’s a title where language isn’t going to be a barrier it could be a good bargain for you. Beyond the tips there were some nice discussions about some of the Limited Run releases, console digital storefronts eventually closing down, and games we may buy a multitude of reasons out of love or obsession.
The last panel I managed to catch was the Super Retro Throwback live podcast where hosts Steven Christina Jr. and Sammie Ann Fontaine discussed some pop culture with an audience. Topics included bad remakes of popular movies, first films seen in a theatre, earliest console game memories, the Occulus Rift, and the 12 hours or more time commitment to get through the extended cuts of the Lord Of The Rings trilogy of films. There was some audience participation and they also gave out some free stuff throughout the course of the panel. I ended up with a shirt and a copy of Dead Rising IV on the Xbox One.
I spent the last hour of the show just chatting with some friends and I caught up a bit with DougMansLand who had managed to live stream through much of the weekend there. He had a pretty good turnout at his booth. If you haven’t checked out his channel give it a spin. In a short time, he’s already built up quite a nice variety channel. But time flies when you’re having a good time and unfortunately, 5 o’clock came up pretty quickly. There were some things I missed out on this year. I didn’t get to see the auction this year, though I had heard there were some pretty interesting things this year including a fully restored late 90s gaming rig. I also didn’t get to see the Street Fighter V tournament or the wrestling shows. And I missed Russ Lyman and Mike Levy’s panels which I’m sure were really good. RetroWorldExpo squeezes so much in it’s impossible to get to everything But that’s part of what makes it so fun.
I already can’t wait to see what they do with the show next year which is supposed to be happening sometime in August. Again, I apologize I didn’t get any useable shots of the indie games on display as my phone’s battery barely had the juice in it to take the photos I managed to. But all of the ones I played and saw showed some promise. Many of them have demos on Steam and Itchio so definitely check them out if they sound like games you would enjoy. Next year I should be better prepared. This year I definitely needed the weekend though. Between some mild health scares, the stress in my personal life, and recently losing my mother to pulmonary fibrosis getting the time to decompress and see people I haven’t gotten to in a while was a needed respite.
Some things I would selfishly like to see next year would include; a Berzerk cabinet, a Frenzy cabinet, Mark Bussler (of CGR fame) as a guest, and if possible an Unreal Tournament 2004 tournament and a Splatoon 3 tournament (assuming Nintendo has released it by then.). I know I’m probably asking for the moon there. But even without those things I know I’ll be looking forward to the show. Here’s hoping I’ll be seeing all of my local and not-so-local friends there if possible.
Wow. It’s been a long time since we’ve seen a game from Torn Banner Studios. Their first major release; Chivalry: Medieval Warfare was a fantastic, if buggy game that blended the Push mode gameplay of a Battlefield game with an innovative swinging mechanic unseen up to that point. And it had just enough janky animations to give us some unintentional comedy along with the depth of the combat.
PROS: Expanded mechanics. Cross-Platform play. Large scale maps. Upgraded visuals.
CONS: A bit light on launch content. Unlockable things involve a huge time sink. Bugs.
EPIC: Exclusivity will turn off a substantial amount of potential PC players.
Torn Banner followed that up with a fun expansion pack based off of the Deadliest Warrior TV show, which gave fans some combat tweaks, and deathmatches. Sadly, it didn’t have the Objective mode that made the base game famous. Most recently they tried their hands at making something newer with Mirage: Arcane Warfare. That game used Chivalry’s sword fighting combined with some light RPG elements and magic spells in a competitive team game. It was a really good game that didn’t sell well and was quickly abandoned. Something many buyers still haven’t forgotten. This, and the fact that the publisher of Chivalry II, Tripwire Interactive did a timed exclusivity deal with the Epic Games Store will undoubtedly mean some people will have some trepidation here.
Fortunately, Chivalry II seems like it has already done infinitely better so far than Torn Banner Studios’ last game. So it doesn’t look like it’s going to suffer the same fate. Be that as it may, there are still going to be a lot of people who may decide to wait for the game to show up on Steam or GOG in a year or get the game on their PlayStation or Xbox console of choice instead.
If you do decide to nab this one, I don’t think you’ll be disappointed with the gameplay though. Chivalry II is fantastic. Especially if you were a fan of the original release. For starters, almost everything you would have loved in the first game is here. You get the swing manipulation that made the original game famous. Chivalry II again has three primary attacks. A horizontal swing, a vertical overhead swing, and a stabbing motion. But unlike most games, you don’t simply end it at pressing an input. On PC, you’ll use the left button on the mouse to do a horizontal attack and the mouse wheel does the other two attacks. Rolling up stabs, and rolling down does your overhead. But it doesn’t end there. Immediately upon doing one of these attacks you’ll, be able to “steer” them by moving the mouse (or thumbstick on a controller). This opens up a ton of possibilities by letting you turn an overhead into a diagonal slash. Or a horizontal swing into someone’s leg. The right mouse button can be used to parry or block attacks. In the old game you needed to equip a shield to block. But in this new entry anyone can block by holding the button down. This makes handicap situations where it’s you up against 3 opponents a little bit easier though, you’ll still likely die until you get in a lot of experience.
Parries are done by pressing the right mouse button just as the enemy weapon is about to hit you, and you also have to “steer” the parries as if it were a weapon. If you do it, you’ll open up other combat options like ripostes where you can get a free hit, or a window for something evasive. Some other changes are to the class system. Now every character can do a dodge. In the original this was reserved for a Man-At-Arms class. This along with the blocking addition gives everyone more options and allow you to get within the side view or even behind an opponent if you’re good enough.
Both of these options use a lot of stamina though, so you’ll have to do so wisely. If you over do either of these you can expect people to easily figure out ways to make you exhaust yourself, and get yourself into a situation of helplessness. You can become disarmed both figuratively and literally. Another mechanic they’ve added is the inclusion of shield damage. In the original game, you could equip all sorts of shields and it was cool. You could use them to protect yourself from arrows, and incoming strikes. This is still true in Chivalry II. However, now shields can take damage which means you can’t completely hide behind them. Eventually, they will start to degrade, losing pieces as you continue to use them. That isn’t to say they’re like glassware or paper though. They can take a lot of punishment, and even in disrepair they can still be effective. But the days of crouching in a corner behind a tower shield barely taking damage are over. Eventually the shield will break to the point of uselessness.
But, the game has a few other mechanics that have been added or retooled. Two of the ones that jumped out at me were the charge ability and the throw ability. You can hold down the attack inputs to trade off a long windup with a more potent swing. That means that although you will be more vulnerable, the swing will do more damage. You’ll still need to play mind games though. If you ONLY go for these high powered swings you’ll be easily cut down as people can see it coming and either stab you before it comes out or evade it then attack you. The best of the best will parry you or interrupt you. Throwing weapons and other items is another cool new feature. You can throw your sword into an archer before they can line up a shot, or you can throw a disembodied head at opponents as a message.
And with so many objects you can pick up on the battlefield the possible projectiles become endless. Flaming chickens, branding irons, wagon wheels, cabbages, and more await your baseball arm. And in the case of foods you can eat them for health replenishment. Everyone also starts with a bandage too, so if you come out of a skirmish near death you can use it and replenish yourself faster than trying to find cover and wait. Another health update in the game is the inclusion of being downed. If you’re a big Fortnite fan, you’ll already know how it works. For the rest of you it’s a second chance mechanic. If you are defeated on the battlefield you won’t always die in the fight. Sometimes you’ll eat a hatchet and end up 99.7% damaged. In this state you can’t fight and have to crawl to a teammate to help you. In most cases you’re going to be finished off though. Unless you know you have 10 or more people directly behind you to pick you up, opponents will stab you as you try to escape. It’s not uncommon to see some players intentionally seek out those on their hands and knees to get some quick scavenger kills.
Beyond all of that, you’ll still be able to do feints, a quick cancelling of a move input at the beginning of its animation. This will fake out a lot of opponents who will try to counter or parry early and allow you a free hit. You can still combine moves together by swinging at just the right time during a previous movement. But sometimes you’re going to find opponents who know what you’re going for. So there are also now interrupt moves where you can get in a cheap punch to flinch them and allow you a minor chance at a comeback.
They’ve done a great job with all of this. And it continues into the game’s different modes. As of now the game has its classic Free-For-All Deathmatch and Team Deathmatches which are a nice way to practice the combat. And within that realm you can also find Duel servers, where you’re going to get into one on one fights. Again, another great way to get a handle on the melee combat. But the biggest reason to play this game is the returning Team Objective mode. This essentially works like it did in the original. It’s a Push mode where the attacking team tries to push back the defending team to different points on the map until they get to the final one and hopefully win the day. Unlike something like Battlefield or Call Of Duty though, players usually aren’t going to sit at a flashing letter for 60 seconds and then move to the next flashing letter. Each of the points is a tangible objective the attackers need to accomplish. Sometimes it involves razing a farm to the ground. Sometimes it involves stealing the Kingdom’s riches. Other times it involves using siege weaponry to gain passage into a castle. Things like towers, and battering rams. Often when attackers do push their way to the final point the game assigns a defender the role of a major character the attackers must assassinate and thus the defending team has to coalesce around them to wind down the remaining minutes for a last second win.
It’s really engaging stuff, and you’ll likely be really addicted to the gameplay on offer. Feeding into that is the revised class system. In the old game there were four: Archer, Knight, Man-At-Arms, and Vanguard. In Chivalry II there are four base classes, and then within each of those four are another three you’ll unlock over time as you play.
This is where some of the game’s shortcomings start to come into play. There’s a big focus on customization here, and so you’ll have to unlock things by playing. The grind to do so is pretty real though. You won’t take long to get the subclasses unlocked, but the weapons, and cosmetics are a much different story. You’ll have to put in an obscene amount of time to get a certain texture for your outfit unlocked. The weapons aren’t as bad in this regard. But it’s still a grind. Of course, like a lot of modern games there’s a pretend currency you can buy with real money to buy the cosmetic items early. But even if you do, you still have to be a certain level before you can equip it. So you probably won’t ever want to do this.
To it’s credit, there are a fair amount of things you can alter here on your different characters. Multiple faces, costume accents, and other skins. And you can also tweak the look of your classes between your time spent on the Agatha Knights, as well as the rounds where you’re assigned to the Mason Order. Plus you can do a set of characters with no affiliation for the FFA rounds you find yourself in.
Going back to the classes a moment, one thing I also didn’t get to mention is that in combat each of these has a special move that they can use to help their team. Think of these like the ones in Nintendo’s Splatoon games. Over time, frags, and objectives you pull off you’ll fill a meter. When the meter is full you can perform the move. Some classes like the archer class can build braziers so your team can set projectiles on fire before shooting them. Others like the knights can blow a horn that heals the team. Or place a banner for an area of effect healing circle.
In addition to that, Chivalry II has a host of new abilities for each of the classes that add more depth to the combat. Some of them can do a shoulder tackle, causing an opponent to get knocked over and rolled around a second or two before being able to get up. The Vanguard’s charge attack returns, leading up to a powerful leaping strike. In the massive crowds of opponents these can be quite the spectacle. And while I personally find it more complicated, you can play this game in third-person by pressing P on the keyboard. Some of you may prefer it in third-person as you can see more of the combatants, and those prone to motion sickness may also prefer this viewpoint. For me, first-person just felt more natural.
Now, Chivalry II is going to draw some obvious comparison with a competing game: Mordhau. And some of you may be wondering which is better. But it isn’t a cut and dry, or open and shut case. Both games do similar things, but do them differently in ways that aren’t always a better or worse scenario. Some things in Chivalry II are better in my opinion. Chivalry II has better servers. And this is a BIG edge because it means you will have far better online matches. There are more of them, and they (as of this writing) seem to have far more stable connections. I’ve had more rubber banding, ghost swings, and slowly degraded performance experiences in Mordhau. Now that said, Triternion has recently upgraded their servers, and promised more updates to fix this. But as of this writing, Chivalry II has (in my experience) better performance.
In terms of content, Mordhau does have a few things Chivalry II either doesn’t have or has less of. Off the bat, Mordhau has horseback riding. And on the large scale battlefields in Chivalry II, horses would make things far easier to navigate. And while horses in Mordhau can feel a bit overpowering at times, their existence is something that is still welcome. Torn Banner Studios has talked about adding them in future updates. But as of now this is a point for Triternion. Triternion also gets a point for having far more customization options in its create-a-character feature. You can reshape faces, do a lot of individual part swapping in the costume designer, and overall it just does more.
But Chivalry II has generally better performance, and the animation seems smoother in my opinion. If you haven’t played either, this is instantly noticeable and will catch your eye far faster. Models are a little bit more detailed, and the overall look is just a little bit more refined. Chivalry II also has a lot of performance options throughout the menus. You have a multitude of different lighting effects, texture quality settings, supported resolutions and more. On my system (AMD Ryzen 3900X, 32GB RAM, RTX 2060 SUPER, Seagate FireCuda 1TB M2 and a T-Force 1TB SSD) I’m able to run the game maxed out around 1080p with a high frame rate. There are MANY settings you can tinker with though, and the game still looks good on the lower settings. If you haven’t been able to upgrade a CPU, RAM, or a graphics card (which is completely understandable at the time of this writing as chip shortages have driven prices through the roof.) the game should still be a fun time for you on the computer with lowered fidelity. Of course, if you’re near the minimum requirements ( Intel I3 4370, GeForce GTX 660, 8GB RAM) you may want to wait or go with the PlayStation 4 or Xbox One version. I didn’t have a machine that old to test the game on, but I suspect using a nearly 10 year old card will involve tweaking files beyond the scope of the in-game options. Your mileage may vary at that level.
But there’s nothing like the feeling you get when you survive a fight and throw someone’s disembodied head into an opponent’s face. Chivalry II also gets up to 64 players in a game at the same time! But when it comes to the gameplay, both games are fantastic at giving you a melee system that will take you plenty of time to master. Mordhau’s chambering system gives it a different feel than Chivalry II’s despite being similar on a surface level.
Both games have great dismemberment effects. Both games have situations where you’ll be able to fight on a few seconds longer upon losing an arm until you bleed out. Both games have great archery mechanics. In Mordhau, holding the bows back too long will make you sway wildly. In Chivalry II holding the bows back too long will drain your stamina and result in an almost recoil sort of effect. But in both cases finding that perfect blend of distance, and hold time results in a satisfying hit or kill on an opponent. In both games you need to lead opponents. Now some of you will find you like one more than the other, or one deeper than the other, but at the end of the day they’re both excellent in their own way.
Chivalry II is an absolute blast to play, and the only thing keeping it from perfection are some nagging issues that are going to annoy people. Most of these are the result of bugs. Chivalry II features other cool features I didn’t mention yet like cross-platform play. If you’re on a computer or a console, you’re going to run into players on either of the formats. Which is really cool. What isn’t cool is when you try to pair up with friends to find that the party system doesn’t place you on the same team! And while they’re FAR less common (at least in my experience) than they were in Chivalry 1, models still can be found jittering around after you die in rare collision bugs. There are also some occasions where your character doesn’t charge into battle with everyone else at the start of a match, and you have to choose your character again to get into the game. Things like this along with the microtransactions creating a grind hold back an otherwise fantastic game.
Chivalry II is a lot of fun, and it’s one I can highly recommend checking out. The objective based maps are some of the most fun I’ve had in a new multiplayer game in a while. The added lore here even benefits things as you can understand the motivations of both the Agatha Knights as well as the Mason Order in the game’s storyline. It’s told in some menu texts, as well as a couple of really well made videos. But then the game does a great job of referencing it throughout its environments and world building. And as in the first game, neither of the armies come out smelling entirely like roses. Both do some really nefarious things in the various missions, but for the sake of simplicity the Agatha Knights are sold to us as the Heroic Warriors and the Mason Order are the Evil Warriors.
The basic gist is that 20 years have passed since the original game and things are leading to an uprising. In the original Chivalry, the kingdom of Agatha was thrown into upheaval when King Argon led a crusade mission in which their mightiest warriors were defeated. With the King dead, his right hand General, Malric Terrorwin grew enraged as he believed they were put on a fool’s errand. After the defeat, Malric would form The Mason Order with those who agreed with his view. And before heading back to Agatha, would betray the remaining knights along with his group. But the Agathians had a fill in leader in interim King Feydrid Kearn. The events of that game led to a war for the crown between Malric Terrorwin’s Mason Order, and Feydrid Kearn’s remaining Agatha Knights.
By the events of Chivalry II, Malric has won that war, the Mason Order has become the de facto leadership, and Malric is now its despotic King. Killing people for questioning him as he sees his rule as absolute. However, Argon’s offspring Argon II emerges with a claim to his father’s throne. The Civil War between the Agatha Knights and Mason Order is reignited as the Agatha Knights hope to overthrow Malric and restore the kingdom to its former glory.
In the end, whether you end up fighting for the Agatha Knights or the Mason Order, you’re going to feel really invested in the world and its large scale 64 player battles. Torn Banner Studios did put out a roadmap which claims they’ll be supporting this game for years with fixes and content. Hopefully they can live up to those promises because Chivalry II is an excellent game. It’s just a shame it came out of the proverbial oven just a little bit too early. If you can look past the more egregious issues like the glitched party system, the microtransaction grind, and the limited number of maps at launch, you’ll find one of the most fun multiplayer games of recent years.
Well coming off of a round up of old-school inspired shooters coming soon, this time out we’re looking at relatively recent one. Hellbound is a game that wears its DOOM fandom on its sleeve. Almost to a fault. But can it hang with id Software’s long-running demon slaying series?
PROS: Visual Fidelity, Rock solid controls. Fast and fluid combat.
CONS: Lack of personality. Bland vocal performances.
MOTHER#$%#^*: Our hero loves to cuss for the sake of cussing.
Hellbound has a lot of really awesome things going for it. It looks spectacular, almost as good as the recent DOOM games. It plays as fast-paced as the recent DOOM games. It has some pretty great locales. It’s got a pretty good variety of enemy types. And there’s all kinds of little nuances in it you’ll likely appreciate.
In short, it’s very fun, and the majority of people who pick it up will likely enjoy their time with it. But there are some caveats with that statement.
Before I get into them though, Let’s go over what you get here. Hellbound as you can probably tell by now, is a shooter inspired by DOOM. Its protagonist isn’t a Space Marine stopping an invasion from Hell through a teleporter experiment gone awry on Mars. Instead you’re a being known as Hellgore who was a soldier killed on Planet Hell, and was resurrected for the sole purpose of revenge. The entire populace was wiped out by a being known as Ferlord, and his army of demonic minions.
With that quick setup Hellgore begins his mission of carnage and bloodlust. While the game definitely references the original DOOM and Duke Nukem 3D in its marketing, it clearly feels more akin to the 2016 version of DOOM. The level designs are pretty good and do offer some of that classic colored key hunting. But much like DOOM 2016, the overall size and scope of the maps are much smaller than they were in 1993. And while you will have to backtrack to a few previous areas to use that red key you just found, the jaunts are much shorter, leading to a more linear, modernized feel.
That in of itself isn’t a bad thing. The stages do have a nice flow to them, and there are even a couple of puzzles that will likely stump you. But it isn’t the same thing as it was in the old games that inspired it. In the original DOOM there were stages you could conceivably spend two hours on looking for secrets alone. That isn’t to say there aren’t some clever secrets in Hellbound because there are. A good number of them too. And while things aren’t as free as they were in DOOM 1993, that doesn’t mean there’s no exploration. This isn’t the hallway, cutscene, hallway formula of some of the blockbusters of recent years either.
Where the game begins to fall short is that there isn’t a lot of its own personality. While the main character (voiced by Artie Widgery) puts out some nice delivery, the dialogue at times is just crass for the sake of being so. I know there was a lot of shock value in some of the glory days of early PC FPS games. But something about it doesn’t seem genuine. Even though it’s very clear that everyone involved in making this poured their hearts and souls into doing so, in some ways it feels tied a little too close to DOOM. In the best and worst of ways.
In the best of ways, it’s that it nails the action. As I mentioned it has a very DOOM 2016 feel although you don’t have a melee attack or skill tree system. But all of the guns are DOOM style mainstays. You have a pistol, a shotgun, a beefier shotgun, a minigun, a plasma rifle, and a rocket launcher. They also have one weapon, the Head Crusher which is basically a baseball bat in lieu of the Chainsaw you’d have in DOOM. Of course if all else fails, you can still punch demons. The game also has soul orbs that are basically the super health orbs from the original DOOM. These give you up to 200% health. Then they veer a little bit into QUAKE territory by giving you a Hell Damage icon that is effectively Quad Damage. So a lot of enemies will explode, and harder targets go down faster for a time. Then there’s the Hell Skin which is basically the armor version of the damage icon. Finally there’s the Hell Speed which makes you run even faster.
On the flipside though, the character designs are largely DOOM stand ins. And while that wouldn’t be a bad thing, the characters are clearly meant to resemble their DOOM counterparts. The former humans are probably the biggest divide in design. But the Vladers, Karnals, and Pygons are very clearly Imps, Pink Demons, and Cacodemons from id Software’s frontrunner. So much so, at times you might find yourself wondering why you’re not playing DOOM 2016.
I don’t want to make it sound like this game is a bore though, it truly is not. It is good. The gameplay is exceptional at times. I only wish it differentiated itself just a little bit more. One thing some people won’t like however is the short length. It’s about the length of a single episode of one of those games it takes its inspiration from. Fortunately the gameplay is there. So for many, you’ll want to go back and replay it on a higher setting for more of a challenge. And if you still need more after that, there is a horde mode where you can choose an arena and see how long you last.
Ultimately, it has enough entertainment value to keep you going through it. By the end of the game I found myself hoping there was more. And that’s a good thing in a way, because it held my attention. It’s a really fun shooter. Unfortunately it doesn’t have the personality of something like DUSK or AMID EVIL. Yes those games were also inspired by old games, but they had environments, characters, and designs you can more easily get behind. DUSK had great horror elements in its simplistic look. Even though it took its shooting cues from QUAKE, it still felt very much like its own thing. Hellbound doesn’t. It feels more like a glass of RC to DOOM’s glass of Coca-Cola. There’s nothing wrong with that. But the best of these titles can stand on their own merits. And while Hellbound is excellent at what it does, it isn’t going to be something you might play over the game that inspired it. Even with voice samples, Hellgore isn’t as interesting as Doomguy.
I know I’m talking in circles now, so to recap: Hellbound is a very fun DOOM-like that you’ll really enjoy if you’ve already played DOOM 2016 and DOOM Eternal to death and want something very close to their template. But I wouldn’t get it over DOOM 2016 if you haven’t played that already. And there are other retro-themed shooters with more personality, games that stand out more than this one to consider. My hope is that they’ll continue Hellbound though. Perhaps a sequel that expands upon the excellent gameplay here, and comes back with some more original characters and locales. There’s a fantastic foundation here. It just needs a little something to stand out from the crowd of similar games also inspired by the games that inspired it.
Man, I know it’s been a frustratingly long hiatus. I’ve been working overtime at my job most weeks over the last several months. This has limited my free time, so I’ve ended up focusing more on my Twitch channel over the blog. Over there I play a wide variety of stuff as well as a fair amount of Splatoon 2. But lately I have been going through a number of FPS games in Early Access. Some interesting preview builds of games that hearken back to the early days of Apogee and id software. Being that they aren’t done, I can’t wholeheartedly recommend getting them right now. One of the risks in buying anything in Early Access is that there’s no guarantee the games will be done. And this isn’t the most original idea for an article as several bloggers and YouTube creators have made similar ones. Be that as it may, these are some of the ones I’ve found pretty interesting upon buying. Games you may want to keep your eyes on.
Of course, the resurrection of what many consider the original shooter formula isn’t new. They’ve been slowly coming out for a while. New Blood Interactive has been hitting it out of the park with games like DUSK and AMID EVIL, but we’ve seen plenty of other games too like the Rise Of The Triad 2013 remake, Ion Fury, and others. Anyway, these are of the preview versions I rolled the dice on, and some of my thoughts on them after playing them.
This is one of the most promising of the bunch here. If you really enjoyed the DOOM 2016 remake or it’s DOOM II: Hell On Earth inspired sequel DOOM ETERNAL, but wished it hearkened back to the old games a little more, this could be for you. What makes this one stand out? Well it has the DOOM 2016 look in terms of its world. It also has a similarly streamlined layout in terms of maps. Things are a bit more linear than they were in 1993, but it still retains some of the colored keys and secret hunting. But it also blurs the line more than the official Bethesda/id/Microsoft property does because you can have the enemies represented as either fully rendered models or you can choose to see 2D sprites! And while there isn’t quite enough there for a full campaign yet, the game does have a level editor and many fans have already done a bunch of fantastic community maps. The game also does an interesting Super Mario World style overworld map, showing you what you’ve beaten, and if you’ve found specific exits for secret levels.
New Blood Interactive is one of those publishers that does appear to finish their Early Access projects, and all of them have been must play experiences so far. DUSK and AMID EVIL are two acts that are going to be tough to follow. But ULTRAKILL seems poised to do pretty well for itself. Where DUSK combined Quake’s aesthetics and gameplay and Deliverance’s unsettling backwoods horror, ULTRAKILL pushes the low polygon retro look further. Where AMID EVIL brought back the Heretic/Hexen feel that has languished, ULTRAKILL brings in elements seen in all kinds of games, old and new. It has a melee system that is tied to its health system. You punch away projectiles. Punch enemies so they’ll bleed on you and fill your health meter. But it also has a creative kill system in the vein of PlatinumGames’Mad World, or People Can Fly’s work on Bulletstorm. You continually have to dash out of the way of projectiles one moment, and find creative ways to take out waves of enemies the next. If all of that isn’t enough for you, stages are chock full of secrets and the game already has several secret stages that each play absolutely nothing like the rest of the game. It’s also got an interesting yet popcorn storyline. Mankind is dead. Blood is fuel. Hell is full. The soundtrack is also this nice rush of industrial metal and techno subgenres.
Like ULTRAKILL this game also has an importance on dashing and punching. But for different reasons. Instead of being creative for point awards, and continually refueling your health meter, this game has you doing it for survival and resource conservation. You see each stage only has so many ammunition pickups. So if you go full Lundgren on every alien you see, you won’t have the buckshot you need to kill a larger enemy type, or destroy a damaged wall to get that secret item you spy on the other side through a window. Another cool thing about this game is the save system. Instead of going full old-school and giving you a quick save function or rather than go full new school and implement a checkpoint system, they give you beacons. These beacons are limited, and found throughout levels. You can then plant one on the ground to create your own checkpoints. This is to keep you from cheesing your way to the top by quick saving every time you kill something. And it also keeps you from having to redo something you had trouble with clearing. You have to be careful though, because you can plant one too early and still have to redo a tough monster closet, or too late and miss something important. The game also has a unique art style as like Prodeus before, you have sprite based enemies and pickups. There’s no option to switch to models, but it works for the anime and Blake Stone: Aliens Of Gold pixel art blend they have going on. (Well I was reminded of Blake Stone anyway.) Cut scenes are done in these fantastically done animatics (Think Street Fighter V’s cinemas) while in-game graphics have everyone looking fresh out of an Apogee PC shooter circa 1993.
This one also throws in some sarcastic one-liners with its protagonist. Like Shelly in Ion Fury, Caroline here will do the same. Unlike Shelly, Caroline is far more psychotic. She relishes blowing away bad guys, eating the hearts they leave behind when they’re punched into giblets, and causing mayhem. There’s a lot more dark humor here, and the game never tries to be something it isn’t. It also has a rather fantastic Industrial Metal and Electronica soundtrack. This one by Michael Markie. The game only has one episode done, but the final game looks like it will have three based on what the current build’s hub level looks like. There are also a ton of skulls to collect throughout the stages, and it looks like there will be a place in the hub level for you to use them at some point. I really enjoyed playing through this game’s build. So I’m hoping the full game lives up to the first episode. The one bug I ran into (one that disables all of your weapons except the pistol) is apparently already being worked on. So the developers have been going out of their way to talk to players which is a positive sign.
Maximum Action is an odd case. It started out nicely enough to intrigue New Blood, even getting partnered at one point. Then they were mysteriously dropped and the updates seemed to trickle. The game was picked up by Balloon Moose Games and carried on. A few days ago a major update finally dropped, adding a new stage and cleaning up a few things as well as changing composers. The game hasn’t excited me the way the others have, but there is a really cool hook here, and that is each level is a different movie scene. You basically play through the stage as pretend Dolph Lundgren, and at the end you can watch the replay. Which is pretty cool. And so the scenery of each stage is inspired by different action genres. Some have you doing James Bond style stealth missions. Others have you blowing away 80s drug dealers like the protagonist of a 1987 direct to VHS vehicle. And each stage also works as a sort of puzzle game as you have to figure out which bad guy to take out in which order. Or where certain bad guys enter a scene. Or when a vehicle will tear through. So it’s like a cross between Hotline Miami and Duke Nukem 3D. There are some goofy bugs though, particularly in the game’s playback feature where you can watch your performance. Here’s hoping this one can come out with some major fixes, because there is a really fun idea underneath it all. The Goldeneye 007 era blocky enemies are also entertaining.
HROT is another game that takes inspiration from the original Quake. It’s got the similar brown, drab palette. What really sets this one apart though isn’t just the Eastern European horror show it puts on display. It’s set in Czechoslovakia during the 1980s and the story centers around some mysterious activity. It’s entirely coded by one guy in Pascal. That in of itself is quite impressive. It’s also got some fantastic level design, on par with the classic id game. And like DUSK it does a lot with very little. It’s a bit on the short side as of now, but it’s one hell of a short ride.
WRATH: Aeon Of Ruin
3DRealms is publishing this one by KillPixel and what stands out on this one is that it is actually being made in id Software’s original Quake engine. But it does diverge from the Quake mold a bit. After all Quake II skewed the series purely into action, while Quake set things up in more of a dark, foreboding adventure mold for a possible continuation of its story. While Wrath doesn’t completely do that as it still has plenty of monster closets to deal with it does change things up a bit. Similar to Viscerafest you’ll need to collect items to create checkpoints. You’ll find a wide variety of different weapons to dispatch monsters with. The game also takes the hub world approach with different areas opening up levels to go through. Think in the vein of something like the original RAGE. There’s a fair amount of variety in terms of the different environments too. And despite the focus on exploration over action, there is still plenty of action. You’ll come away from many firefights on your last legs, praying you’ll find some health and ammo before finding another group of bad guys. Like Viscerafest and ULTRAKILL, Wrath also adds a dash attack. This function is quite useful navigating some of the vertical sections here as well as allowing you to conserve supplies by stabbing low level enemies instead of shooting them. It’s a pretty feature rich game too with a lot of customization options for all types of PC configurations. However, I have never gotten it to play nice with screen overlays, so I haven’t been able to livestream it myself. Still, it’s another interesting one you may want to look into.
And with that I’m off. I do have another few shooters in my Steam wish list so as I get to them I may do another one of these preview lists. And when some of these are completed I may be doing full reviews of some of them so stay tuned!
It seems Metroid clones are almost a dime a dozen now. Every year it seems we get a bunch of them, which only goes to prove Nintendo had a winning formula back in 1986. What’s pretty surprising is just how many of these modern spins on the formula have proven to be major successes in their own right. One of the better ones I’ve played is today’s game Blasphemous.
PROS: Solid controls. Character design. Level design. World building. Audio.
CONS: Story can be a bit nebulous at times leading to confusion.
GUILT: A lot of the themes and visuals center around it.
In the fictional world of Cvstodia, you take the role of a silent Knight. The world around you is filled with all sorts of bizarre creatures and you’ll run into many people in the land who are in a constant state of torment. Being a Metroidvania you’ll spend many hours exploring the land and entering different areas. You’ll find a giant boss within the first few moments. Something that led a lot of people to comparing the game to Dark Souls when it came out initially.
It turns out your silent protagonist is part of of the Brotherhood of the Silent Sorrow, a religious sect that was taken out by Escribar, a Darth Palpatine-esque character who leads a different sect. A mysterious entity known only as The Miracle resurrected you, and has made many other sometimes seemingly arbitrary decisions. As you end up traversing the world and finding different characters you’re told of a mountain of ash and the presumable ascension from the status quo if you can reach the top of it. In order to do this you’ll need to suffer through the game’s three humiliations. Each of these is a massive boss battle.
Blasphemous has a ton of influence from early Christianity with a lot of its art direction clearly resembling things seen in early Catholic imagery. And a lot of things seem to really borrow from the theme of Purgatory as you’re going through all of it. The idea of suffering, and atonement for one’s transgressions before they can move forward is there. And while it’s very loud in the imagery and dialogue, it doesn’t beat you over the head with it. Nor does it go for a 1:1 parallel.
Still, there is enough of it that it isn’t going to appeal to everyone. Some of your upgrades come in the form of beads on a rosary-like rope. These are going to give you any number of beneficial results. Some let you take less damage from fire. Or let you go through poisonous gasses without dying. Or buff certain attacks you might have enabled. Or any number of things. There are also major characters that act in place of the power up shrines you might see in a Metroid title. One of them has you taking swords out of their body to power up your attacks. Another is a tortured soul that lets you put more beads on your rosary.
And a lot of the enemies you’ll eventually face also take the form of corrupted clergy, or mystics. There’s a lot of creativity with the character designs too as it goes beyond merely being influenced by Medieval and Renaissance church art. Some of the adversaries you’ll go up against are both unsettling and imposing. Along the way, you’ll also run into a few NPCs that ask you to go on side quests. If you do them successfully you’ll get a better ending.
But without giving anything away, all of the endings are pretty good. Overall, the storyline is a pretty intriguing one that will keep you invested. Helped along by all of the world building that was done here. That said, it can be pretty hard to follow sometimes, and some of the points, and explanations will be found outside the game. Because it doesn’t always detail everything very well.
Be that as it may, everything else in the game is pretty fantastic. It isn’t just a really great looking game, though I can’t stress enough just how good the pixel art in it really is. But the level design is very good too. Some of the blocked progression will have you spending hours on your initial run as it isn’t always obvious where you need to go. When you finally do figure it out, you’ll be amazed you didn’t think of it sooner. Then you’ll move on and get yourself lost again. But through it all you won’t mind so much. Also throughout that map you’ll find the aforementioned power up rooms and upgrade rooms. But you’ll also find your expected warp rooms, as well as rooms to fill the bile jars you’ll find around the game. As well as a character who can buff the amount of health your bile jars can give you. Think of these like your E Tanks in Metroid.
If all of those special rooms weren’t enough you will find a few other ones. One of them is a type of room where you can build a skill tree of sorts using the currency of tears you’ll get by killing enemies throughout the game. There is also a slew of body parts you’ll pick up throughout the game. There’s an underground chamber where you can drop them off inside different compartments.
Combat in the game reminded me less of Metroid or Castlevania though. Instead, it feels much more like Slain. Much of it is built around a counter system where you have to get the split-second timing down to do a parry. Parrying just before an attack hits you stuns the opponent, allowing you to deal more damage. You’re going to want to take full advantage of this too because a few of these bosses are super tough. Particularly late in the game where they become much more powerful as well as faster. You’re definitely going to want to find as many beads and flasks as possible as well as have them powered up. Especially as you near the end.
Blasphemous excels in its world building, and a lot of that is due to the excellent backgrounds and character art we’ve discussed. But the audio is another large part of that due to the ambient music that as in Nintendo’s Metroid, is tailor made for each of the many regions in the map. It can be nebulous, ambient and even unsettling at times. Fitting right in with the themes of the game. You never know how much something is going to hurt, or how long it will last. But you always know it’s probably going to be harder than it looks. And while I don’t know it’s the sort of soundtrack you’ll want to commute to work to, it is something that makes the game feel more immersive. The overall sound design does so too, with some terrific samples of cries, screams, and effects that make things a lot more believable. They’ve done a terrific job with all of this.
Really, if you haven’t experienced this game yet, you should. My only major complaint with it is that as good as the storytelling is, it doesn’t go quite far enough in giving you information you need to figure out what is going on. So in order for many players to understand everything, they’ll find they have to go outside of the game for certain details. Information about some of the stables of villains, or regions. Some of the details on the motivations of the Miracle. Sure, things are likely to be up to the player to hypothesize or discuss with other players. But those who still want a coherent, fleshed out storyline will probably need to do some internet sleuthing even if they 100% the game.
Still, even with those missing details, everything here is going to hold your interest until you get one of the endings. I didn’t have too many technical issues during my time with the game although there was one time when the game never took the Game Over screen away when I continued. So while I could hear my character moving around, swinging a sword I couldn’t see any of it due to the black screen and red text. So I was forced to reload my last save point and continue on. So be aware there are a couple of bugs that may crop up. To their credit, the developers are still supporting the game with updates and fixes so your experience may differ by the time you’ve read this.
Ultimately, Blasphemous is a terrific game fans of Metroid, Axiom Verge, Celeste, The Messenger, and other big exploration games may want to look into. But it isn’t going to be for everyone. Some people might be put off by some of the imagery or horror elements here. That said, it is a well-made game worth looking into. There’s a fair amount of challenge, as well as replay value. Particularly if you want to find every possible part of the map that you can explore.
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.
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.
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.
For full disclosure I was given a copy of this game from a friend who worked on this one. But that doesn’t sway my opinion on it, and I was not monetarily compensated for writing this review. All thoughts presented here are my own.
It’s been a while since I’ve been able to sit down and write a review. Hours at my regular job have been consistently high, and while things haven’t changed much in terms of the number of them I’ve been pulling, my schedule has been inconsistent. So I’ve focused more on getting some streaming in at night as playing games has always helped me decompress and talking to people who may hop in is usually a good experience.
PROS: Character design. Level design. Controls. Mechanics. Soundtrack.
CONS: A couple of cheap moments.
DON’T: Mistake this for a F2P mobile game port.
One of those games I streamed recently was Get-A-Grip Chip, an interesting game on Steam where you play as a robot who has to look for batteries using a magnet. It was given to me by a friend who did some of the work on it. It’s pretty fun. “Looking for batteries with a magnet? That’s supposed to be fun?” I can hear some of you asking. Well as simple as that sentence was, it’s a more complex idea with a lot of little ideas packed inside of that idea.
I’m told, that early on while working on something else, the team at Redstart Interactive found one really fun feature they had implemented, a grappling mechanic. They spent so much time on tweaking, and experimenting with it that they ended up building an entirely new game out of it. This game is ultimately what that game became. That story reminds me a lot of how a lot of Nintendo development stories go, start with something fun, then build the game, the world, the characters, and story around that. It works for Nintendo regularly, and it honestly does work here.
At first glance you might not see it. Visually, it has the crisp, flat, cut-out tones of something you might find on your cousin’s iPad. And what I mean by that is not the quality of the artwork, sprites, or character designs. All of these are very good with a blend of color depth and detail you might see in a South Park episode. Simply, that the way it is displayed could be perceived as a mobile title due to many of them having a similar look at first glance. That said, the world, the characters, and overall artwork is really good. And you’ll find a wide variety of different settings and environments in this factory as you play through this game. There are a few cutscenes in the game and these seem to have a more animatic vibe, animating a couple of frames to give you a sense of what is happening rather than a full-fledged FMV or animation. It’s something I’ve seen in many games lately even bigger ones. Monster Prom does it, Even Street Fighter V does it with its character story ladders.
Speaking of story, the one we are given here is that a company called RoboCo Manufacturing is making robots. Something I think is probably obvious. What isn’t obvious are the lack of failsafe measures. Because an accident happens on the line, a giant gear gets embedded in one of the manufacturing robots and this causes its programming to go haywire. This in turn causes the machine to go proverbially insane and begin blasting everything with death beams. One seemingly sentient robot named Chip needs to escape, but not before saving the ever so cute, also seemingly sentient batteries who look like Duracell gone Chibi.
Anyway, Chip has very limited mobility. He can move left, or right. In some cases up, or down. But 90 percent of the time left or right are your options. But Chip also has a magnet you can shoot short distances to latch onto things allowing you to swing around like Bionic Commando. The comparison to Capcom’s classic arcade game, its many home ports, NES pseudo-spinoff and even the newer ones that came out in the days of the 360 are appropos.
Because a lot like that series, this one will focus an awful lot on swinging around. Rivets, hanging rebar, there will always be something you’ll have to latch onto. Now while Bionic Commando focused on combat being an action game, this one goes more for mascot platforming. I was reminded of a number of them. Kirby came to mind because of the exploration element. While this is often far more challenging than Kirby, you still are going to be looking at ways to find creative solutions to seemingly complex problems. And some of them will not be so much seemingly complex problems as they are actually complex problems.
On the easier side of the scale, figuring out where the hidden batteries you need to save are is usually as simple as looking for a misshapen piece of wall. Or a sliver of a rivet just peeking into view. Actually getting to some of these batteries is quite a different story. Sometimes, sure, you can just roll behind a slightly off center looking wall and rescue your Rayovac friend. Often times, these paths will lead to new and far more challenging means to rescuing the battery in question. If and when you do successfully save a battery, you’re not in the clear because you still have to get them to the next checkpoint. When you do save one, the HUD will come up on the screen, and in the top left you’ll see a battery count. Each stage has ten batteries to save.
Now while you don’t have to save every battery to clear a level you do need to find so many of them to truly get further in the game. There are five floors, represented by levels of the building currently in the process of being destroyed. Each of the floors has five stages and a boss battle, each of which have the aforementioned batteries hidden within. Save enough batteries and you’ll unlock the next boss battle. It’s something that along with some of the boss battles, reminded me of Giana Sisters Twisted Dreams. In that game, you need to collect so many gems on your first run to unlock future stages, and also like that game there are sections where some grave danger initiates an auto scrolling section. The boss battles here are often like those sections in Giana Sisters Twisted Dreams. A wall of lava, acid, or other nefarious substance will follow you forcing you to rush through as fast as possible without perishing.
Doing that in of itself can be pretty daunting especially considering you have to do all of this by grappling. Doing all of that, and getting all of the batteries requires some Godlike reflexes and quick witted thinking on your feet. It is here, that I also really have to commend the games’ level designs. They all have a great blend of thinking fast to solve problems, and also trying to execute things, and discerning patterns as fast as possible. It really does lend itself well to speed running. But it also doesn’t really feel unfair except in maybe one or two instances where the game drops an unexpected enemy or obstacle your way. The game controls fairly well too with the WASD keys moving you, and you can use your mouse to aim your grappling hook. The game recommends using a game controller, so you may find that moving with a D-pad instead of keys on a keyboard is easier for you.
Get-A-Grip Chip also gives you unlimited lives, so the only thing that can ever really stop you from being able to beat the game is a lack of perseverance. It’s the kind of game I can see anyone really enjoying as you can clear the game by sheer determination. But I really think those who love a super difficult game will find a lot to like too, as trying to get some of the batteries rescued requires a LOT of dexterity, especially near the end of the game where you have to solve puzzles and solve them FAST. One nice thing is once you’ve saved a battery you don’t have to save it again on subsequent attempts. So you can 100% the game by focusing on only the batteries you didn’t find in previous attempts. Speed runners will get a lot of mileage out of this title though because trying to get through each stage in a really short period of time without dying is going to be quite the feat.
Clearing the game does also give you a satisfying ending, and it even shows you how many of the batteries you were able to save before escaping the collapsing factory. I quite liked Get-A-Grip Chip. Save for a handful of moments where they surprise you with an obstacle you have no way of knowing is coming, it’s generally very fair. When you die, more often than not you’re going to know it’s because you were unable to grab that ledge fast enough, or didn’t wait for that electrified lever to fully discharge or any other number of things. Everything is defined pretty well too. There was one instance later in the game I didn’t realize a background object was not a foreground object I could land on. But that could have easily been me being a dope.
And through it all I found myself really enjoying the soundtrack. There’s a pretty good variety here too. While everything could probably fall under the umbrella of Electronica since there are clearly a lot of compositions that were made on a computer that also would be far too much of a simplification. There are a lot of elements of different genres and subgenres here. Sometimes you’ll get some Techno. Sometimes there are moments that will feel more New Wave. Other times there are background songs that are decidedly Hip-Hop, or Heavy Metal. All chosen for appropriate sections. It’s pretty cool stuff, and as it turns out you can also buy the soundtrack on Steam too if you enjoy it enough to listen to beyond the scope of the game.
The characters are pretty cool, and it does a lot with the color palettes it employs. And with the control scheme I could easily see a sequel or prequel where they expand on some of the ideas presented here. I could even conceive a scenario where the company could potentially make a homebrew style version for older consoles and computers seeing how the set up works essentially on two sticks and a button. Seeing an Atari 2600 version, a Commodore 64 version, NES version, even a Colecovision or Intellivision version could be interesting. But now I’ve begun to ramble. The point is, Get-A-Grip Chip is one of the (to borrow a phrase fromMetal Jesus Rocks ) hidden gems on Steam. If you’re looking for something a little bit different give it a shot.