Tag Archives: Platformers

Giana Sisters Twisted Dreams OWLtimate Edition Review

BTGSTDOETitle

Well, it’s been over a week, and I’m slowly on my way back to normal. I feel like I’m being stabbed whenever I cough or sneeze. If I get up or down out of a chair or bed everything is sore, and I can’t pick up anything heavier than 15 pounds for a while. Things were far worse when I first got out of the hospital though, and so it was a nice surprise to find one of my favorite games has gotten a second director’s cut. A super-duper director’s cut. An “Ultimate” edition. A OWLtimate” edition. On the Switch!

PROS: The additions are more substantial than they sound.

CONS: A couple of miniscule bugs. Physical release isn’t very wide.

EARWORMS: The new songs are as catchy, as the rest of the OST.

Well Deviot, you were enamored with the original 2012 release, its expand-alone on PC, and the Director’s Cut that combined both on consoles. Isn’t it a given you would like this too? Why even bother talking about this one? I can already hearing you ask. Sure, it’s no secret I love this game about as much as Mark Bussler loves Truxton. As I talked about way back in the original review, there is so much about the game to like.

BTGSTDOEStage1

But where most reissues, do a couple of minor things, like clean up some graphics, or add some filters or history lessons  this one does more. The biggest inclusion is the introduction of five new stages. However instead of simply throwing them into a bonus chapter, and being done with it, Black Forest Games has peppered them into the existing worlds. This not only adds the new content into the game, but does it in a way that is going to feel benign to newcomers. At the same time, seasoned veterans will not simply blow through the original stages to get to these new stages.

BTGSTDOENew

The new stages are also very, demanding! In a good way mind you. They’ve been placed near older stages of a similar difficulty level, while at the same time putting in sections that require a mastery of the base mechanics. So they will still feel like a gradual increase in challenge to those who have never played Giana Sisters: Twisted Dreams before. But veterans who wish to find every last gem while using the fewest lives possible are probably not hitting one hundred percent on their first attempt either.

BTGSTDOECinema

So for those who haven’t played Giana Sisters: Twisted Dreams before, and haven’t heard me sing its praises multiple times, this is the gist. Years have passed since the original Commodore 64 game’s time. But the inhabitants of the Dream world haven’t forgotten about those events. So one night as Maria helps her Sister to bed, a vortex opens up, and pulls her though. Giana jumps into the vortex after her, and this is where the main game begins. After being acclimated to the basic controls through a brief section, Giana sees the dragon from the original game swallow Maria whole, before he flies away. So from this point on, you have to go save your Sister from the belly of the beast.

BTGSTDOEBillboard

The meat, and potatoes of the game is this campaign which sprawls four worlds. The first three are the original three worlds (with some new stages peppered in), and the fourth world, the Rise Of The Owlverlord expansion. What really sets this game apart from other platformers is its brilliant use of morphing effects. At the press of a button the world shifts from a bright, cheery dream to a dark, dystopian nightmare. Each stage is filled with puzzles that require you to switch back, and forth between these worlds in order to solve them, and forge ahead. Not only must you get from one end of a stage to the next, you have to worry about your ranking when you do. You’ll be given a star rating at the end of every stage. You can get anywhere from one star to five stars. You have to average around a four star rating in order to open the boss stage in each of the worlds.

 

BTGSTDOEMasterGems

So how do you get a good rating? Well the best way is to find as many of the gems in each stage as possible. There are five types, and many of the stages have hundreds to acquire. Blue gems are the standard ones. But there are also red, and yellow gems. This is where the morphing effects come into play, because the red ones can only be collected in the Dream world, while the yellow ones can only be collected in the Nightmare world. Moreover, when Giana shifts the world her abilities change. In the Dream world, she becomes a Punk Rocker, who can dash as a fireball. In the Nightmare world she appears in her trademark outfit, and can slow her fall with a twirl. As you get further in the game, you’ll begin to see where you have to switch between the two forms to get through sections. You’ll also want to have a keen eye for secrets, because it’s how you’ll find the coveted Master gems. These are giant-sized blue gems that are worth around ten gems. Plus they unlock a bunch of concept art!

BTGSTDOERating

You’ll also want to collect the pink colored shield gems when you see them because they allow you to take an extra hit of damage before dying. Keep in mind everything kills you. You have a plethora of enemies. Owls, spiked crates, charging knights, to name a few. But then there are a bunch of obstacles to overcome, and traps to avoid. Saws, spikes, acid pools, boulders, walls that cave in, and then some. There are also moments where an entire section will flood with acid, and you have to go through a gauntlet of obstacles quickly in order to avoid being burned alive. But of course said obstacles will also kill you, so fair warning, Giana Sisters Twisted Dreams is not an easy game. But it does ease you into the challenge. The game slowly introduces new mechanics over time, and you’ll know what you need to do. But it isn’t going to do it for you either. It’s the kind of challenge a lot of old-school games had. Where failure only makes you more determined. Most of the time your deaths don’t feel cheap. When you mess up, you’ll be upset with yourself. Not the game. That said, try not to die more than a few times per stage. Dying less also gives you clout toward getting stars.

BTGSTDOEDifficulty

Fortunately, if this sounds too daunting Giana Sisters: Twisted Dreams Owltimate Edition, also has a few changes from the initial computer game release that make it both manageable, and involved. Like the previous console iteration’s Director’s Cut, the boss rooms have been converted into stage exits, and the boss rooms are now standalone stages. This makes the run up to a boss a little bit easier in that you won’t have to immediately go into the encounter after a long fought battle through a stage. But at the same time, you’ll still be going into those boss battles, all of which require pattern memorization, and fast reflexes to take down.

BTGSTDOEBossRoom

This updated release also has two difficulties, Normal, and Hard. Normal acts as the Easy setting. Some of the sections remove some obstacles, or give players additional aid. Such as putting bridges over spikes, or putting extra shield gems in boss rooms. Hard mode basically plays as the hard mode from the original release. If you manage to clear the four episodes on Hard you’ll unlock Hardcore. Hardcore mode is basically the Hard mode but with no checkpoints. So if you die in a stage, you’ll respawn at the beginning of the stage. You won’t have to grab gems again, but you will be starting over. Of course the point of Hardcore isn’t collecting things anyway, it’s just trying to get from A to B on as few lives as possible. If you can manage to clear Hardcore mode, the game then unlocks Uber Hardcore mode. This tasks you with clearing the entire game on one life. And that means this is also the most difficult version of Giana Sisters Twisted Dreams ever released. At least in terms of this mode. Because now all of the boss encounters are standalone stages, and there are five other stages peppered in on top of those. Good luck to all of the speed runners out there who will be poised to pull that off.

BTGSTDOEOwlFactory

Speaking of speed running, the game does offer a Time Attack mode where you can play each stage individually, and try to beat the developers’ times. If you can do so, the stage will display a trophy on the stage’s icon. There is also a Score Attack mode where instead of going for time, you’re shooting for a high score. You get big points for gems, and taking out enemies. The game also includes all of the free holiday stages from the PC release, and the DC edition on the PS4/XB1(Digital)/Wii U. These are altered stages from the campaign made more difficult, and reworked with some Halloween, and Christmas decor. It is here you’ll also find an additional tutorial stage that guides you through some of the basic mechanics. I also found it interesting that the game has a surprisingly deep language setting hidden in the options menu. So if for some reason you can’t find this in stores in your area, it makes importing it on cartridge far more attractive if you collect physical games.

BTGSTDOELanguage

And as in previous releases there are a lot of concept art, and renders you can unlock by finding the Master gems in the campaign. But not only did BFG make another expansion pack worth of stages for this release, they also added in some cut scenes. Now some who have already played the Director’s cut, elsewhere or the Rise Of The Owlverlord expansion on PC may find them familiar. But they’re all new. Except for the ones used in the World 4 stages which are mostly carried over from ROTO. And a lot of them, while still working in a simple, silhouetted, silent film way fill in gaps. You’ll actually get glimpses into the lives of Giana, and Maria outside of the Dream world. And some of it can be surprisingly dark for such an optimistic, care free character. Other clips cover Giana’s search for Maria. Some spend time focusing on Maria, and there is one particularly cool moment where we get to rock out with Chris Huelsbeck!

BTGSTDOEChrisHuelsbeck

Of course, Black Forest Games managed to get Chris, and Machinae Supremacy to come back a third time for a couple of new songs. Once again, these songs shift along with the world as you play. So again, when playing in the Nightmare aesthetic you can hear Chris Huelsbeck’s  New Wave synth compositions, and when in the Dream aesthetic you’ll hear Machinae Supremacy’s SID Metal interpretations. And again, they flow along seamlessly so as you shift back, and forth you’ll be in the same place in either version of the song. It does so much to add to the game’s atmosphere.

BTGSTDOEGumballMachine

If you haven’t already played the game elsewhere you’ll find the graphics are wonderful. All of the scenery has vivid detail in every little model. Trees, benches, bridges, garden gnomes, mushrooms, and the bones, stones, crumbled structures, gargoyles, and toadstools they shift into are breathtaking. As well as the matte painted backgrounds that add, a nice sense of depth perception to it all. It’s 2.5D after all.  There are a fairly wide variety of settings throughout the game as well. Lush forests, eerie swamps, cold dark castles, and even airships! Again, the level of detail in the textures, and models in the backgrounds is pretty impressive despite the simpler geometry.

BTGSTDOEAirship

And there are a lot of little touches throughout the game. When climbing bookshelves, you’ll see little pages falling out of books. When you’re twirling your way through the forest you can see leaves blow by in the breeze, and little blue jays fly by in the background. Eventually you’ll run into the gumball machines introduced in Giana Sisters DS. These will put a translucent pink bubble of gum around you, and you have to navigate areas by continually pushing a button while steering with a thumbstick. It’s like Joust. But with gum. There is a lot of creativity on display in this game.

BTGSTDOEAirship2

Plus the characters all manage to have such great details on their models. Giana’s cool little skull has representation on her Punk Rock skirt. You can see the little feathers on the owls. You can see the little buckles on the knights, or the spikes on the blowfish. Even the water sheen on the turtles looks pretty cool. When you get to the dreaded Gurglewocky dragon to save Maria, you’ll even marvel at the level of facial animation on the boss. It’s hard to believe the game is nearly six years old at this point, but it still impresses.

BTGSTDOEGurglewocky

As much as I’m imploring everyone to check this one out (again), there are a couple of things that keep it just shy of perfection. There are some very minor technical bugs in this release. I ran into one, solitary clipping glitch in my initial run, which made me have to restart the level as I got stuck in a platform. I couldn’t repeat it, so odds are it’s fairly rare. But it was disappointing. I also hit a tiny bit of slowdown in one of the stages in World 4 for about 3 seconds in handheld mode. But the rest of the time, the game seemed to run at or around 60 frames no problem. Chances are it performs better on a HDTV, I never noticed any dips when playing docked. But honestly I played mostly in handheld mode as I recovered from my surgery.

BTGSTDOEGurglewocky2

Frankly, very minor issues considering how great the overall game is. Overall, the performance is very good, and unless you’re an absolute nitpicker you may not even notice it. As it stands I only ever experienced the one hiccup in performance. So having said all of this should you pick it up? Well I suppose it does depend a little bit on the situation. If you have a Switch, and have never played this one on a computer or another console, this is a resounding “Yes!”. This really is one of the best platformers to see release over the past few years. The unique art style to the beautiful graphics, and especially the way the soundtrack is worked into everything. The level design is top-notch, and again, while there is a lot of challenge here, it isn’t unfair, and can become quite addicting. It really does stand out in a way that other modern platformers have not. Everyone should really check it out.

BTGSTDOEGlitch

Having said that, should you buy it again if you’ve played it elsewhere? For some I would definitely say “Yes.” If you loved the previous releases, there’s a substantial amount here for you. Plus we’re talking about the Nintendo Switch, which means it’s also portable. If you’re taking a vacation trip, and don’t want to bring your bulky laptop with you, this is a great version of the game to take along with you. It’s also something you can play a stage of on your commute, or hanging out while getting coffee. But if you’ve played it to death elsewhere, and don’t care about the new content you may give it a pass. But why would you want to do that when Giana Sisters is just so good?

BTGSTDOEPhysical

The issues it has may hold it back from perfection, but the additions to an already great game certainly make it the Owltimate edition. If you’ve got a Nintendo Switch, and love platformers Giana Sisters: Twisted Dreams Owltimate edition is pretty much essential. It’s just odd THQNordic doesn’t seem to be giving the physical release a wide one. You’ll need to either go to Amazon or Best Buy (as of this writing) to get it. Otherwise you can get it on the Nintendo eshop as a digital download.

Final Score: 9.5 out of 10 (BUY IT NOW!)

Advertisements

Super Monkey Ball 2 Review

BTSMB2TITLE

Again I apologize for the delays. The frequent trips to the doctor’s, and the ten-hour work shifts took up a lot of time this month. But I had one day in May free to spend with family, and that surprisingly leads to a game review. When you’re spending time with people who aren’t the rabid video game fans you are you want to make sure there’s something approachable. But something challenging at the same time. It would be easy to choose some Atari 2600 games. Many of them fit the bill. But it’s an hour’s work getting pre-composite systems up, and running on a modern TV. Then you must have a good scaler in the set, if you don’t you need to get your upscaler to bridge the VCR to the set. Your folks don’t have all day. And while there are some great experiences on current consoles, some of the older relatives may find the multiple functions required rather daunting. You need something older in a pinch, but you don’t have to go back to the 1970’s for your indoor picnic. You can break out a Nintendo Gamecube for this one.

PROS: Campaign. Mini games. Visuals. Pretty much everything.

CONS: Some mini games aren’t as memorable as others.

CROSSOVER POTENTIAL: Nintendo, and Sega collaborate a lot. Where’s Super DK Ball?

Following on the heels of Super Monkey Ball, Super Monkey Ball 2 is easily one of the best games on the Gamecube. (Admittedly, one can also get Super Monkey Ball Deluxe if one does not own a Gamecube, but does own a PS2 or an Xbox. It’s basically both games in one.) Released in 2002, Super Monkey Ball 2 is a bigger, and better version of the already excellent Super Monkey Ball. It has even better stages, and even more party games than the original, making it the preferred version to play at gatherings. Though the original is still a tremendously wonderful game everyone should check out if given the chance.

BTSMB2TILT

So what do you do in Super Monkey Ball 2? Where does one begin? There are so many cool modes to play here. The obvious meat, and potatoes are the game’s challenge stages. What makes this fun, are not only the well crafted levels. But the fact you can play with three other people. The object of the game is to get your monkey through a goal ribbon. That’s it. Now that may sound easy, but as the old adage goes it’s “Easier said, than done.” When you first begin any of the modes, you’ll choose a monkey. Each of whom has some minor differences in how they control. Aiai is the main character. He’s the most well-rounded of the primates. Then there is MeeMee who is similar in stats to her co-star. Baby is the lightest of the monkeys while Gon Gon is the heaviest.

The challenge stages are broken up into three sets. A ten stage beginner set, a twenty stage intermediate set, and a fifty stage expert set. Everyone alternates turns, and turns end when someone succeeds or fails at a stage. Everyone also gets two lives, and several continues to try their hand at clearing the stage. If you can manage to get through an entire set of stages without using any continues the game will then enter you into a gauntlet of bonus stages, which increase the challenge ten fold. Some of the main stages can get to be quite the challenge. Some of the bonus stages can get almost sadistic as they require pinpoint accuracy, and impeccable timing.

BTSMB2SQUARES

But through it all, none of it is really all of that infuriating. It’s just something really addictive. When you fail at a stage, you just want to attempt it again, and again until you’re victorious. The mechanics in the game work something like Marble Madness, where you’re pushing your monkey ball or pulling it back as you’re trying to navigate paths. Except it is then combined with mechanics out of a rolling ball sculpture. Some stages feel like you’re moving the stage around, while others feel like you’re in control of the ball. The only thing you’re ever-moving in these stages is the thumb stick. Again, many of the courses on display get pretty elaborate. Combined with the short amount of time you’re given to complete them, you can easily find yourself frantically trying to keep your monkey from falling into an abyss.

Super Monkey Ball 2 also has a story mode in it for those who want a solitary experience. Here, you have to go through 100 stages in a row to stop a mad scientist from taking all of the world’s bananas. Immediately you’ll wonder why Sega, and Nintendo haven’t done a Donkey Kong, and Super Monkey Ball crossover together. Be that as it may, these stages are very much an extension of the challenge stages. Just more of them, and more intricate in the second half.

BTSMB2BADGUY

But if a massive story mode, and huge number of multiplayer stages isn’t enough for you, there are a plethora of mini games on hand as well. Some of them have to be unlocked by earning points in other modes. But you’ll have the best of them opened up almost immediately. There’s Monkey Race, which tries to combine the main game with elements of Mario Kart. This one is decent, but nowhere near as good as a proper Mario Kart game. There’s a fun brawl mode, as well as a boat racing mode. Then there’s Monkey Golf which is an interesting take on Golf, as well as a really fun Monkey Bowling mode. This one makes our monkeys into the bowling ball, and does all kinds of wacky things with the lanes. So you really have to nail timing to get a good angle, and approach each lane as a puzzle.

There are mini games based on Baseball, Tennis, and Soccer too. These play about as well as the Golf mode does. Monkey Dogfight is a pretty fun mode as well.  It’s basically a combination of one of the other mini games, and the Vs. mode from Star Fox 64. Monkey Shot is an on-rails light gun shooter. It’s a fun concept, but it would have been better if it had a compatible light gun to play it with. Still, you can move the cursor about at a fairly quick pace, so it’s still an entertaining diversion.  Monkey Billiards is a pool mini game where all of the balls are replaced with monkey balls. It’s cutely crafted to say the least.

BTSMB2PARTY

Arguably the best of these mini games is Monkey Target. I must admit it takes some getting used to. But once you understand how it works, it’s a phenomenal party game. Each player rolls down a ramp, and after launching off of the half-pipe at the bottom can open their ball. This converts the halves of the ball into a hang glider. From here, each person has to hang glide over an ocean, and try to land on a floating target for huge points. Depending on where you land, you’ll get a different number of them. To make things more interesting you can collect bananas in the sky for points, find stars to double your points, and even items to help you stop on a dime. For your landing to count you have to close the ball before landing. Falling on that 1,000 point spot gets you zero points if you land on your stomach.

But the best part about Monkey Target is just how deep it is, in spite of how simple it is. You have to account for altitude, and wind which are represented in your corner of the screen. If the wind is blowing west, and you try to move east, you’ll get some resistance. Also if you lose momentum your monkey starts to beep that they’re falling. This is where panic mode sets in when first starting out, and people pull back. But you can’t. It is here you want to push into a nosedive, pull back at the last second, and get a nice lift back into the sky.

Of course, in spite of how good you become at the gliding, some of these targets have shapes that make landing on them quite the task at hand. Often if you don’t line up your landing just right, you’ll roll off into the ocean, and sink. And, because this is a party game, your Uncle can employ dirty tricks like crash landing into you, stopping on your coveted point value, and knocking you back to that ten point border. Still, it’s a great time, and one of the reasons you’ll want to fire up the game beyond its primary puzzle stages.

BTSMB2BABY

And it does all of this while looking, and sounding amazing. Character models have some nice little details on them. The bright colors, and lighting effects feel right out of Sega’s 00’s arcade era. It looks like the natural extension of a First-Party Dreamcast game. The soft Electronica soundtrack complements the game nicely. Even today, 16 years after its release Super Monkey Ball 2 holds up well. It’s a beautiful game indeed. It also supports the Gamecube’s Progressive Scan mode. So if you have the costly Gamecube component cable or you’re playing it through a Wii on component cables you can make it look considerably sharper than on the stock composite cables. There are some Third-Party HDMI solutions coming out now as well. Like this one reviewed by RAXTheGreat1. So that’s something you may consider looking into.

Overall, Super Monkey Ball 2 is a must own if you have a Gamecube. Especially if you have company over for events, or holidays. It’s a lot of fun. The original is also a blast, so you may just want to pick up both of them. For those who don’t have a GCN, but do have an old Xbox or PlayStation 2 Super Monkey Ball Deluxe basically contains both games. So be sure to pick it up. The series would continue on newer consoles, and even a phone app. But honestly SMB2 is the apex of the series. Hopefully Sega will revisit the franchise someday. Whether or not that happens however, Super Monkey Ball 2 is still highly recommended.

Final Score: 9 out of 10

Kid Tripp Review

BTKIDTRIPPTITLE

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

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

CONS: Cheap deaths.

ADORES: The big Nintendo, and Sega mascot platformers.

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

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

BTKIDTRIPPRUNNER

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

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

BTKIDTRIPPDEATHS

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

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

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

BTKIDTRIPPSONIC

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

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

Final Score: 7 out of 10

Bubsy: The Woolies Strike Back Review

BTBubsyTWSBTitle

Every now, and again there will be a remake, or a reboot that just makes you ask yourself “Why?” Sometimes it’s a property that is universally reviled. Other times it’s something that wasn’t so bad it could make a Worst Of list, but not particularly good either. But to the surprise of everyone, someone, somewhere, decided to do it anyway.

PROS: It’s good. Seriously! It’s good!

CONS: Unbelievably short. Recycles a lot from a much more noteworthy game.

RETURN: The game promises Bubsy will.

Bubsy is one such franchise that falls under this scenario. Back in the days of the Super NES, and Sega Genesis, Accolade brought out their own mascot. The hope was they would have a game that could rival the two biggest franchises in the platformer genre. But while Bubsy wasn’t the horror show some folks make it out to be, it wasn’t great either. There were some problems on its quest to out-Sonic Sonic The Hedgehog. It had collision issues at times. It relied a lot on blind jumps that often led to cheap deaths. Every stage had multiple paths, but these paths could be confusing, and sometimes even malicious. Some would take you to traps, others would even go to the beginning of a stage!

A lot of the folks who complain about Bubsy, forget it did well enough to warrant, a sequel, a spinoff for the Atari Jaguar, and another sequel on the PlayStation in the form of Bubsy 3D. Hell, there was even a short-lived cartoon pilot, and a comic book series. But then, the series went dormant. Over time, popular opinion on these games soured, and these days it’s rare to hear anyone heralding any of them as an essential game in the genre. Still, when compared with some of the other Sonic, and Mario clones of the time, the first three Bubsy games weren’t all bad.

BTBubsyTWSBTheft

So now around two decades later we have Bubsy: The Woolies Strike Back, and; it’s honestly not that bad. In some ways, it’s actually quite good! The new Accolade, (which owns some of the original Accolade’s IPs) hired Black Forest Games to give us this new game. For those who don’t know, Black Forest Games is the studio that gave us the excellent Giana Sisters: Twisted Dreams, and its expansion pack a few years ago. So Accolade chose a studio wisely.

Bubsy is a 2.5D platformer that runs on the same engine Giana Sisters: Twisted Dreams did. In fact, it has a lot of the same hallmarks, and mechanics. No more blind jumps, or awful hit detection. In this new Bubsy, you’ll know your mistakes are on your end. Stages are straightforward, but they do retain the idea of different paths. However there is no longer the brisk running of the old 16-bit games. Bubsy runs along at a slower pace these days. But this isn’t a crawl either. The camera is much better in this game too. No longer do you have to worry about blindly falling into a chasm, or bumping into an enemy.

BTBubsyTWSBStageOne

As in first game, the Woolies return. Obsessed with yarn, they steal the world’s supply, including Bubsy’s private reserve. So you’ll go across three worlds, each with five stages on your mission to stop them. When you fire up the game you’ll get a brief storybook segment explaining the simplistic story arc. From here you’ll start the game. You’ll see a map with a path through it. Each of the regular stages marked by a red ball of yarn, and boss stages marked by a purple one. Defeating a boss opens the next world, and you’ll repeat the process.

Each stage will give you achievements for meeting three metrics. Not losing any lives, entering a yarn room, and finding every T-shirt. When you’re in any given stage you’ll go around trying to get as many yarn balls, and T-Shirts as possible. You’ll also need to find a certain number of keys, if you want to be able to open the yarn room. The T-shirt mechanic is a little bit different from the way it was in the old games. Instead of having several types, here your first acquired shirt will allow you to take a second hit before dying. Any shirt you find while you’re able to take a second hit, will net you a 1-Up.

BTBubsyTWSBFloat

So you’ll go along trying to find the end of any given stage while accomplishing these metrics. You don’t have to meet any of them to complete a given level, but it can help by boosting your score, and the number of lives you have in reserve. Each of the stages will have a variety of Wooly threats. Some of them will appear on foot, others will hover around on jetpacks. Sometimes you’ll find one in a small saucer shooting at you. In addition to the Woolies themselves, you’ll contend with spike traps, water hazards, and even killer sand sharks. A lot of sections with these dangerous environments employ many of the obstacles introduced in Giana Sisters: Twisted Dreams. There are fans that can push Bubsy up if he’s floating above them. There are sections with falling boulders. Near the end of the game, there is even a section where a room fills with lava, before draining it, and filling it again. Even one of the enemy types cribs an attack pattern from the knights in Giana Sisters: Twisted Dreams.

That isn’t to say the game is nothing more than a re-skin. There are plenty of differences. For instance, the deep, world shifting, and puzzle mechanics are exclusive to Giana Sisters. There aren’t many super secret areas, in the extent of that game. And the focus in that game was a lot more on challenging areas, and secrets than in Bubsy. Bubsy still tries to go more toward the 16-bit games’ feel. You’re going to try to find the fastest route possible unless you want to hunt down every last ball of yarn, and T-shirt, all without dying. Still, after playing Black Forest Games’ flagship franchise, you will definitely notice when one of its mechanics makes an appearance here.

BTBubsyTWSBPassword

Visually, Bubsy looks quite nice. The game hits the Saturday morning cartoon look even the old games tried to go for. There are all kinds of nice visual touches throughout the backgrounds. There are even a few clever sight gags if you take the time to try to find them. The same dry comedy, and corny wordplay humor also return from the old games. Every now, and again you’ll see the character break the fourth wall (sometimes literally) with a joke. They even reference some of the criticism laid at the feet of the old games. One example is when the hero excitedly reminds the audience about how falling from beyond a certain height in the old games would kill him. There are also the expected cat themed pun titles for each stage. Boss fights are pretty fun encounters too. You’ll have to learn some intricate patterns in the later fights, but all in all they’re pretty fun.

BTBubsyTWSBGiana

The audio is easily the strongest part of the game. They contracted the great Chris Huelsbeck to compose the game soundtrack, and it’s wonderful. Every stage has some catchy, bouncy New Wave, Synth-Wave, and Synth-Pop tracks that stick with you long after you’ve stopped playing. The sound effects are very nice with high quality explosions, splashes, and Saturday morning cartoon effects. The presentation is just great. Honestly, over the course of the game, you’ll have a good time.

BTBubsyTWSBMap

Unfortunately this iteration of Bubsy does have one major issue, and that’s its relatively short length. Part of this is due to the small sizes of the earlier stages. If you don’t make too many mistakes, and you’re not out for every last collectible they don’t take long to finish. The difficulty level is also very, very easy. For most players anyway. If you’re someone who has played a lot of platformers, you can probably clear the game in under two hours time. There are a couple of reasons for this. First, are the large number of lives you can stock up. You start with nine (because you’re a cat.), and if you don’t make a lot of mistakes by the end of a given stage you can have nearly twenty.

The other is in the boss fights. When you die, you don’t start the boss fight over again. You’ll re-enter the chamber, and the boss will have the amount of health it had when you died last. For most people, if you have more than five or six lives, you’ll get through these fights with little issue. Players obsessed with completion may squeeze out a bit more time. If you’re looking to collect every last trinket, maybe you can pull it off in three hours. Ultimately, some people won’t mind this. But most people likely will. If you’re someone in the latter camp, you may want to pick up another platformer you haven’t played yet instead. For example, Black Forest Games’ own Giana Sisters: Twisted Dreams is one of the best platformers to be released in recent years, and as good as this game is, Giana Sisters is still leagues better overall.

BTBubsyTWSBBoss

But if you’re a big fan of the Bubsy games in general there’s nothing really bad here. It’s short, and it borrows heavily from a better game. But it’s still pretty good. Just know you’ll have to spend a lot of time re-playing it in speed runs to maximize your enjoyment out of it. The best audience for this game is probably younger children who are just getting into platformers. It’s got enough challenge for them, with plenty of charm, and atmosphere. Upon completing the game there is a hint that there will be another game in the series. If, and when Accolade brings it out, hopefully they’ll address the short length, and commission some more unique ideas. Bubsy’s latest endeavor isn’t a bad game, but there are a lot of better options in terms of the amount of content, and challenge.

Final Score: 7 out of 10

Insanity’s Blade Review

BTIBTitle

A number of titles have been Frankenstein’s monsters. Taking ideas, or mechanics from a variety of games, and combining them to bring something new to the world. It happens in everything, as any great idea has the potential to be improved upon, or repurposed for something else. Sometimes this gives us something glorious. Other times something banal, and uninspired. Sometimes something completely terrible. But a lot of times we’ll see something great trying to break out of some shackles.

PROS: Soundtrack. Graphics. Character design. Borrowed elements are good ones.

CONS: Glitches. Performance issues. Annoying bugs.

CAVALCADE: There’s a line of large, and obscure references on display.

Insanity’s Blade is a pretty cool game. Right off the bat, its cinema screens, and characters will remind you of Golden Axe. Begin playing, and the movement will possibly bring out memories of playing Rastan. Some of the enemy designs, backgrounds, traps, and weapons will bring about memories of the first four Castlevania games. The loot you pick up, and the rising coffins then make you remember Ghosts N’ Goblins. If all of those references weren’t enough for you, the dagger throwing, and climbing may even remind Commodore fans of First Samurai (an obscure game that was also ported to the Super NES.).

BTIBHTP

All of these elements do work well together too. Stages have elements of all of these games. But connected in ways that flow well. One may see this, and figure it would feel disjointed. And they very easily could have. But fortunately, everything was well researched by the level designers in this regard. Moreover, many of the stages have branching paths. So it gives the game a little bit of replay value, as you can opt to take different routes on a second play through.

Also great is the inclusion of two-player arcade co-operative play. You can also opt to play either a story mode, or an arcade mode. Both of these are basically the same game, but the arcade mode reduces the story bits, and the mandatory side quest stages that I’ll get to later. Quite honestly, there are a lot of things to like in Insanity’s Blade.

BTIBTextcrawl

As you may already know, Insanity’s Blade is an action platformer. So again, you’ll be going through stages in the vein of early Castlevania titles. Expect pixel-perfect jumping. Floating heads. Spiked walls. Pits. The most brutal retro Konami stuff. There’s even some Mode 7 like effects that take you right back to Super Castlevania IV. But as I said earlier, there are plenty of other games it takes inspiration from. You’ll have the same movement speed, and jumping arcs of Rastan. You’ll start out the game with a mere punch, the ability to grab enemies, and a jump button. But you’ll find over the course of the game, you’ll get to shoot knives.  Think Shinobi.  (For an interesting twist, these can be disabled in the options menu.). Blowing up enemies drops coins, and money bags seen in Ghosts N’ Goblins as I said before. Pick up all of the money you find because hidden in every level is a shop castle that rises from the ground. These shops have weapon, and health upgrades in them. You’ll want them because like Magician Lord, the better the firepower, the longer you’ll live. The thing to remember is once you go inside them, they won’t come up again until you lose the level, and have to start over. So don’t go in them until you’re sure you have enough gold to afford what you want.

BTIBCinema

Beyond the shop weapons, are weapons you’ll get on your quest. There’s a couple of swords, a Castlevania whip, among others. These are usually dropped by bosses, and tie into the game’s storyline. Bosses are another point in the game where I was reminded of First Samurai. Because like that game’s bosses, these are large, weird, and take a ton of punishment. Of course they also continue the look of all of those mentioned 8-bit, and 16-bit era console, arcade, and home computer games.

BTIBBosses

The storyline is a bit simplistic, but works for the game fine. You play a character named Thurstan whose family is killed in an attack on his village. So he goes on a revenge mission looking to kill off the hordes of monsters responsible. He’s joined by a dwarf named Finn who gets roped into the adventure. Things get a bit weirder when they happen upon a sorceress, but I won’t spoil the story for those who haven’t played yet. It does what it needs to do, and according to the developer, was adapted from a graphic novel. Between the cinema screens, and labels you’ll be greeted with a map where you can choose either the next stage, or a side mission. Side missions usually have boss fights you need to do as they give you items required to complete the game. Other times you’ll face a gauntlet of enemies, or rescue some NPCs. The game also throws in a classic shoot ’em up stage near the end of the 16 stage adventure. There are plenty of things on hand for those who loved all of its influences.

BTIBCastlevania

Playing through Insanity’s Blade though, you’ll find there really is a great game trying to break free of some small problems. Which is a shame because what is great, truly is great. The problems are two-fold. On my system which isn’t the latest, and greatest but is still well above the system requirements I ran into slowdown. This is the biggest issue. The game will randomly become jittery, and sluggish before going back to normal. It doesn’t make things unplayable, as the slowdowns are but a hiccup in the grand scheme of things. But when they happen during a tricky jump, or a trap you’re trying to avoid it can be very annoying. The game also doesn’t have an option to turn Vsync on or off.

BTIBGhostsNGoblins

The second problem I ran into were a number of graphical bugs, where a background tile appeared where a foreground tile should have been. Also, as great as the visuals are some characters blend in with the backgrounds, and you won’t see them until after you’ve taken damage. This especially sucks when it happens by a pit, or other trap, and the knock back pushes you into said pit or other trap. I also had a couple of random crashes to the desktop. Again, nothing common enough to make the game unplayable, but still enough to grate.

BTIBPanzer

Be that as it may, I still had a good time playing through Insanity’s Blade. It’s now been out a while so I don’t see the hitches being resolved. But hopefully their upcoming Battle Princess Madelyn avoids these problems as the new game seems to have the same vivid pixel art style, and action platforming in mind. I also forgot to mention Insanity Blade’s soundtrack which has both an 8, and 16-bit option for its chip tunes. It’s pretty solid, and while it doesn’t reach the lofty heights of the NES Castlevania Trilogy, it does go along with its action fairly well. There are also a number of secrets hidden throughout the game, so it does give you another reason to go back, and replay it from time to time.  It’s a fun game. It’s just got a couple of quirks that keep it from being as memorable as the titles that inspired it.

Final Score: 7 out of 10

Frostbite Review

bqoasbs

Last week I looked at a pretty great handheld with a bunch of Atari 2600 games on it. Seeing how we’re in the midst of the holiday season, and snow is beginning to trickle down upon us  I thought I’d go with a theme. A seasonal theme. So this week coming off of the Flashback portable I’m revisiting the glorious 2600 again to talk about Frostbite.

PROS: An excellent combination of puzzles, and platform jumping!

CONS: Sensitive controls.

POLAR BEAR: Frostbite’s lone boss isn’t the lovable Coca-Cola mascot you love.

Created by Steve Cartwright, Frostbite is one of the best Activision published Atari 2600 games you may have missed. So often when talking about Activision’s earliest games we remember the super hits. Pitfall!, River Raid, and Kaboom!. But a lot of other great games they put out in their heyday often get lost in the shuffle. Which is a shame, because Frostbite is not only one of the best Activision games, it’s one of the best games on the Atari 2600.

There are a lot of games on the console that can land in that pantheon. So why does Frostbite deserve to join them? What does this game do better than other games of the type? Frostbite takes one major cue from Q*Bert, and builds an entirely new concept around it. In that game you jump on the top surfaces of blocks to change their colors until they all match. But in this game you play as a builder named Frostbite Bailey. Frostbite Bailey needs to build an igloo to survive in. In order to do this you have to jump on ice floes as they float down an icy ocean current. When you land on one, a brick shows up on the shore, and the ice flow changes to a blue color.

o4rgg65

Once every row of ice floes turns blue, they turn snow-white again, and you continue building your igloo by jumping on them. When the last jump is made, a door appears, and you can enter your igloo to end the level. While the concept sounds simple enough, you’ll find the game is anything but easy. Moreover, the better you become, the more difficult the hurdles that are thrown in front of you. Besides all of this, there is a thermometer that acts as a timer. If you can’t complete a level before the temperature hits zero, you’ll freeze to death. And you really do. The death animation shows your dead corpse turn blue in the icy tundra. There are a litany of ways to die in Frostbite. Miss a jump, and you’ll drown in a watery grave as your heart stops. Animals will pull you into the ocean to kill you. Or chase you down, and maul you.

01avar8

The really nice thing is, you’re eased into the mechanics. The first level runs very slow, and you’ll only have the snow geese to contend with, while you jump around building your igloo. But each successive level adds more danger. First these dangers are minor. King crabs join the fray. Ice floes become rows of smaller chunks. But by the fourth level things start to kick into overdrive. Ice flows break apart or sink after so many seconds spent standing on them. Killer clams show up. The enemy attack patterns begin to change. The toughest addition is the polar bear who comes out of hibernation. From this point on, you’ll have a boss you cannot kill. All you can do is attempt to sneak into your igloo once it is built. If you get spotted at all by the bear, it will chase you down, and kill you off-screen.

ankc4kp

But to balance these challenges are some nice scoring mechanisms. To start with, you’ll get points for jumping on ice floes. You get points for any degrees left on the temperature timer at the end of every round. Sometimes the game will throw you a bone by sending out a row of fish where you may normally see killer crabs, clams, and geese. These can be eaten for points. Every 5,000 points you score nets you a 1-Up. Fish also add a big risk/reward element. Do you go for the extra food points, or just try to get into your igloo before you freeze to death?

But even with the extra credits, you’re forced to do better. You’ll soon learn in later stages you have to make a lot of diagonal jumps. Because going directly up or down many times will land you right on a crab who will pull you into the ocean, and kill you by hypothermia. You’ll also need to master this if you have any hope of successfully avoiding polar bears. The polar bears love to stalk the doorway of your igloo once it’s been built, and you’ll need enough clearance to quickly get away, and into the igloo.

aqwn2rd

On top of all of this Frostbite triples the speed of the game every major score metric. You’ll first notice it if you can crack 10,000 points. But at every noteworthy score it gets faster, and faster. Back when the game was new, Activision gave high scorers one of their coveted patches if they could crack 40,000. With some practice, and determination this is achievable. What is really astonishing after playing the game, is discovering footage of players reaching scores in the hundreds of thousands of points.

neynerb

But here’s the thing. Even though Frostbite may have released in the summer of 1983 it retains a level of addictive gameplay on par with mainstays like Tetris. Like any of your favorite games it has a great mix of elements that will keep you coming back once you’ve played it. It also has that classic Activision look. Simple graphics, yet somehow laced with enough detail that it looks a cut above most other games. Activision, and Imagic were wonderful in this regard. Frostbite is no exception. Bailey has some nice touches like his hair peeking out from under his hood, and all of the creatures have cool animations going on. There isn’t anything in the way of music, but the sound effects go along with everything nicely. Especially the gnashing teeth of the polar bear when he gets you.

alqjea3

If you collect for the VCS, Frostbite, like many Activision games should be on your buy list. It isn’t a very common game, but it isn’t outlandishly rare either. It’s one of the more affordable uncommon games too. If you don’t have an Atari 2600 on hand, there are a number of Activision 2600 collections that include the game. The Activision Anthology on the PC, and PS2 being one of the best. There is also a mobile version of the Activision Anthology, making Frostbite, and other titles playable on modern tablets, and phones. Of course nothing beats playing on the original hardware, but these are great alternatives.

Final Score: 9 out of 10

Broforce Review

BTBroforceTitle

Way back when The Expendables 3 was coming out in theatres, I reviewed a freeware game based on the film. That game was built upon today’s game as a spinoff. Why didn’t I talk about Broforce then? Well it was in Early Access back then. Which meant that the game wasn’t finished. Obviously I can’t review something that is incomplete. But, an exit from Early Access at the end of 2015, and a generous Christmas gift later, Broforce is technically done. Is it better than the free game from awhile ago? Yes it is.

PROS: Over 50 years of action movie nostalgia. Hilarious. Fluid controls.

CONS: Some may find it too repetitive. Insanely difficult bosses.

MISSING: A few noteworthy names.

Broforce is another in a long line of independent action platformers. You’ll be moving your characters from A to B, mowing down enemies, and fighting bosses. Initially you may come to the conclusion that it’s yet another budget title inspired by Contra, Ikari Warriors, and Commando. In some ways, that is a fair assumption. But stick with it for more than ten minutes. Before long you’ll find that it differentiates itself in a variety of ways.

BTBroforceMap

Right out of the proverbial box, the game tells you all you need to know. Broforce is a parody, and celebration of action hero movies. There are references to over 50 years worth of films. Of both the big budget blockbuster, and low budget, direct-to-video B movie variety. The game even references action themed television. Rambo, Robocop, Universal Soldier, and 007 films, are but a mere handful of the properties that see themselves lampooned.

Broforce has a pretty hearty selection of modes considering the kind of game it is. The primary mode is its campaign mode. Here, you will go on 15 missions, each with several stages. Earlier stages give you a handle on the basics, but they quickly ramp up the difficulty. In each stage you’ll also see captives. Freeing the captives is your ticket to unlocking each of the many playable action heroes the game has to offer. This is also the way to score 1-ups. When you lose a life, your next life will be a different character. You’ll never get the same character to show up twice in a row.

BTBroforceBrobocop

After running through a number of stages you’ll face a boss character. These can range from beefier enemies you’ll face regularly in subsequent levels to over the top finales. Unfortunately boss fights are one of the few things in Broforce that might sour some players. That is because a number of them are just brutal. While they do have patterns you’ll eventually figure out, they aren’t intuitive. The first several times you attempt these fights, you’ll find the clues to victory are almost cryptic. You’ll feel very trial, and error at least initially. Once you finally do realize what you must do to win, these fights are still going to be pretty tough.

Beating a mission will take you back to a globe that looks like something out of Minecraft. You move a helicopter around it to go to the various missions. You can do some of these in whatever order you wish, but not all of them. There are also optional missions that crop up from time to time. You really should play through these for two reasons. First, you’ll get gear that can make things a little bit easier for you. Second, these stages require you to learn some of the more advanced movement techniques that game has to offer.

BTBroforceDredd

These techniques are almost a necessity when you get to the final leg of the campaign, where dexterity is a must. You’ll need to be able to speed jump, wall jump, and shoot with expert timing. All combined with the basics you’ll learn early on. Each of the characters has three basic moves, and a special. You can jump, shoot, or use a melee attack. Special moves are tied to things they’ve done in, TV or film. Sometimes they’ll be of a better use in combat. Other times in movement. In either situation it’s going to pay to not only master them, but to plan on when to unleash them since each has a limited number of uses.

When you finally do beat the campaign, you’ll find you won’t be done. Because there are a host of multiplayer options, as well as a harder version of the campaign to play through. Ironbro mode allows you one life for each of the action stars you rescue. No continues. No mulligans. If Rambo falls off of a cliff, he’s gone forever. Considering how difficult the boss fights are, you can’t afford to lose a single hero in the normal stages.  But that’s not all. Aside from the two campaigns, you have an arcade mode that eschews the storyline. You also have multiplayer, both online, and offline for up to four players. You can play the campaign together, or play competitive modes. The game also includes the level editor used by the developers themselves! There are already countless maps up on the Broforce Community Workshop.

BTBroforceCharacterSelect

Multiplayer is a lot of fun. Playing locally is especially fun, as it brings back the feeling of gaming with friends. As great as the online options are here, it was nice to see local couch or desk multiplayer included. Playing the game with friends is as frantic as playing Contra or Battletoads with a friend. Everyone will have to try spectacularly hard to stay together, and communicate strategies together, on the fly. The game also lets you drop in or out on the fly.

Playing online means you can either set up a private game that friends can join, or you can hop onto a public game, or host one. Playing privately is probably the best option short of couch play. But you never know who might play with you publicly. In the few games I joined, I found a lot of really skilled players, that made things a lot more cohesive. But being the weakest player in a few of those games, I’m not sure how much I contributed. Either way, it made an already fun game more entertaining. Though I must admit if you get into a group of fairly unforgiving people it could be less so. Fortunately, it’s easy to drop out if you find yourself paired up with anyone you don’t get along with.

BTBroforceDM

Versus modes come in two varieties. The first is a race mode that plays a lot like Giana Sisters Dream Runners. In the sense that you have to make the opponent fall so far behind they’re off screen. Doing this results in a win. But you’re also granted access to your weapons. So you’ll be killing enemies, and trying to avoid calamities the entire time. Some of these rounds can become pretty heated, so you might just want to play the race mode.

The second is a death match mode. Think of it like a combination of Joust, and Duck Game. You’ll run about an on rails scrolling stage, trying to kill each other. There isn’t much else to mention here. It’s nowhere near the depth of the aforementioned games, and you probably won’t get a lot of play time out of it as a result. Community maps help this a bit, but it still isn’t as fun as the campaign. Really, playing co-operatively is the best kind of multiplayer for the game, and it shows.

 

BTBroforceEditor

The aspiring designers out there will also want to stay for the level building tools. Which is surprisingly intricate. You can use any of the game’s built in assets to make stages as simple or as complicated as you wish. You can also upload them to the Steam community. Again, there are hundreds of levels made by fans you can download, and install. So even if you don’t feel compelled to create your own stages, you’ll probably find a lot of ones you enjoy playing through.

BTBroforceChuckNorris

Broforce is a wonderful game, through, and through. While the campaign can get a little bit repetitive if you blow through it in a marathon session, it is still a blast. It makes a great party game when you have friends or relatives over. It even manages to be a lot of fun online with very few connectivity issues. It might not look quite as nice as other indie platformers in its league. But it has plenty of charm, and humor. It’s such a good time you probably won’t be bothered all that much.  It’s well worth the asking price. If you’re still on the fence you can always check out the Expendabros game. It will give you a good idea of what you’re in for, and costs you nothing. But for anyone who loves action games, and action films, Broforce is a entertaining ride worth taking.

Final Score:8.5 out of 10

Shovel Knight Review

aenljl5

I know, I’m late to the party again. I can’t always help it. Once, again you probably don’t need me to tell you to play Shovel Knight either. It’s gotten all sorts of critical acclaim, and has done so well that the folks at Yacht Club Games have a physical disc version out for consoles. Not to mention the amiibo figure for fans of the Nintendo Wii U version.

PROS: Old school action platforming inspired by Mega Man & Duck tales!

CONS: High difficulty will scare away some. Anticlimactic end boss.

WHAT?: There’s a super secret mode for those who can beat the game.

So what can I say about Shovel Knight you might not know about? Probably not very much, but I’m certainly compelled to attempt it. Shovel Knight is a 2D action platformer with art, and music inspired by games that came out on the Nintendo Entertainment System. Most notably, the first six Mega Man games, and Duck tales.

The game also borrows ideas from Super Mario Bros. 3, and Zelda 2. Basically, if you were a big fan of Capcom or Nintendo, in 1987, there is a lot of fan service here for you. The game starts you out with some entertaining cinema screens to set up the action. You play a knight who goes into a depression after losing his comrade on a mission. He retires, and in his absence a sorcerer takes over the land. Fearing for their lives, many powerful knights align themselves with her, and plunder the surrounding kingdoms, each one taking a kingdom over.

9r80fay

From here your knight picks up his trusty shovel (hence the name), and proceeds to go on a quest to take back the land. After an introductory mission, that helps get you acclimated to the controls, you’ll be placed on a map much like the one in Super Mario Bros. 3. There are mission stages, wandering enemies, villages, and bonus stages. Each segment allows you to play three missions in whichever order you choose.

Villages work the same way games like Zelda 2, the Ys series, and other action RPGs do. You can go into shops, get items to use in missions, level up your life capacity, weapons, and even interact with characters. Shovel Knight even adds a number of hidden secrets in the villages, as well as throughout the game. Some of them are almost necessary to find if you want to be victorious.

kuo82j7

As in the classic Mega Man series, you will face a boss at the end of each mission. The boss will have a pattern you need to analyze, and learn in order to defeat them. On your way to the boss, the stages are full of the tricky jumping, and challenging enemies you would expect. Much like Scrooge McDuck, and his cane, Shovel Knight has a pogo move with his shovel. He can also swing the shovel at bad guys, and use the money he finds in the stages to level it up. Also like Duck tales, there are hidden rooms throughout the stages that give you access to treasure, sheet music that you can bring to a minstrel, and hidden shops.

Finding these hidden shop items can be a Godsend. Some of them make getting through some areas much easier. In the case of some of the game’s bonus levels, they’re actually required. They can also deal higher damage on bosses than your shovel, or magic items you find in the towns. But the standard magic items are important too, giving you the secondary weapons that work better on certain grunts, or even bosses. Again, it certainly feels like Mega Man, except that the bosses aren’t the ones leaving you the weapons.

imleq04

Clearing the mission levels will break the barriers on the map (similar to Super Mario Bros 3’s locks), and open up newer areas. Again, revealing three more missions, and other spaces. The wandering enemies on the board are also worth going to. Most of them are mini boss affairs, but defeating them will give you a lot of cash, and a bit of background lore.

Speaking of cash, it is also important to collect as much as possible. It’s also important that you fail as little as possible. Shovel Knight doesn’t give you a traditional lives system the games that inspired it do. There isn’t a game over screen upon losing a certain number of lives. Instead the game takes away a big chunk of your money every time you die. It leaves some of that money hovering above your resting place for you to take back on your next attempt.  But each failure costs, more, and more until you have nothing left.

 

ciz8zfk

The game also has a woman in one of the towns who keeps tabs on the gold you’ve collected, number of times you’ve died, among other statistics. It also gives you a final tally at the end of the credits if, and when you do manage to complete the game. Beating the game also gives you the chance to replay the entire game in the role of one of the bosses.

Shovel Knight does have a few minor differences between its versions. If you play it on Xbox One, it includes a showdown with the Battletoads. PlayStation 4 owners get a similar showdown, but with Kratos. Wii U players get a cooperative mode, while 3DS users get a list of challenges. If you play the game on your computer, you’ll have  a couple of performance options over the console versions. Console owners can also buy the game physically for a bit more than the price of the digital download.

8xc7571

Any way you choose to go though, is going to give you a good time. I know I’ve mentioned similarities to some great classic games. That isn’t really a complaint though. Shovel Knight takes the best aspects of those old games. But it also does a lot of new things with them, including some well made puzzles built around them. I also didn’t talk much about the style of the game. If you haven’t played it, and are only looking at screenshots here, you might want to sigh at first. True, a lot of small businesses making platformers these days have gone for the look of an old system.

But Shovel Knight has some of the best sprite work around. It really does emulate the look of an NES very well. Better than many of its contemporaries. It also does a lot of clever visual tricks, and uses these tricks in the actual game design. For example near the end of the game, there is a section where a storm comes into view. During which, all you can see are silhouettes of characters, and objects. In this section many of the platforms are hollow, and you’ll fall through. It is only by looking for one specific detail that you can tell where you need to go.

dailt3h

It does something similar in one of the boss encounters. Even when it doesn’t effect game play, it just nails the look of an NES game.  The palettes, the parallax scrolling, all make Shovel Knight feel like it could have been made by Capcom back in 1988. The music isn’t too shabby either. Yacht Club made sure that every song sounded like it is playing on an NES. Five channels, with the bending frequency noises, and orchestrated in some of the catchiest chip tunes in recent memory.

Again, all feeling like a late 80’s NES game made by Capcom. If you were a big fan of Mega Man, or Duck tales back in the day this is certainly a game that will be up your alley. It’s also going to be a great game for anybody who appreciates a great challenge. There are some very difficult parts in this game. But in all of the right ways. It’s the kind of challenge that will be infuriating at times. But also addictive enough that you will keep chiseling away at it until you’re victorious.

tddwhdp

If I have any complaints with Shovel Knight, it’s mainly that sometimes you’re going to feel a little bit off. You’ll feel like you should have been on a surface, but the game will disagree with you. It is mainly on one or two very rare occasions, that involve a very specific object that I don’t want to spoil for you here. Granted, I know the game has been out awhile, but there are still plenty of you who didn’t get around to checking this out yet.

But you should, because aside from that one grievance it’s a really good action platformer. One that is still being supported heavily by its creators over a year later. So much so that there are even free expansions yet to come for it.  If you missed out on it before, or are the sort who has to have a tangible copy of every game you own on a shelf, pick it up. The physical disc version came out recently, and doesn’t cost too much more than the downloadable version. If you choose to play the PC version however, I highly recommend a game pad. You can use a keyboard if so inclined, but things will feel a bit more natural for most players.

Final Score: 9 out of 10

 

Giana Sisters 2D Review

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Final Score: 7 out of 10

1001 Spikes Review

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

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

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

PARODIES: Of popular video game characters galore.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Final Score: 8 out of 10.