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Turrican Flashback Review

Released in 1990 by Rainbow Arts and Factor 5 Turrican was one of the biggest successes in computer gaming. As the 8 and 16 bit home computer business model was being supplanted by the IBM PC compatible desktop in the US at the time not everyone got to play them. Commodore 64, Amiga, and Atari ST players here would find something amazing though. In Europe however, things were reversed as computer platforms were still a more popular platform than the home consoles were. (Although consoles were still popular don’t misunderstand.) Turrican was huge throughout Europe, and Turrican would eventually end up on consoles all around the globe starting a year or so later.

So what made the series so special? Well Manfred Trenz who had already had Katakis, and The Great Giana Sisters under his belt, would combine several different genres together. Turrican has the action platforming of a game like Mega Man. It has the non-stop blasting of run n’ gun games like Contra. But it rewards a lot of exploration. Going off of the beaten path throughout the many stages earns you power ups and extra lives. There are many inspirations from Metroid. Then there are the many gems to collect like in the Giana Sisters vein. Getting enough of these requires the added exploration, and you need to do it if you want to earn continues.

PROS: All of the major releases are here in one affordable collection!

CONS: Random crashes to the start screen.

RIGHTS HELL: The Commodore 64 originals were unable to make an appearance.

The series would move from the Commodore and Atari computer realm to consoles eventually. Turrican would appear on the Game Boy, Sega Genesis, Turbografx-16, and see later entries on the Super NES. To get original copies of some of these titles is pretty expensive today, especially the Super NES releases which can cost as much as a car payment.

Enter ININ and Factor 5 with this (and another!) collection. Ratalaika has done a mostly wonderful job getting these games emulated and running. I say mostly for a reason I’ll get to in a bit. But first the good. First off, from as best as I can remember, Amiga emulation seems spot on. The games sound very good and the unmistakable Amiga sound comes through in spades. The games have all been mapped to a controller layout perfectly too. So you don’t have to worry about where major keyboard keys would be mapped. You can customize layouts to some degree, and you can also choose from different borders. You can also decide what aspect ratio you want to use depending on your preferences. And like many retro collections now, you can decide between a host of different scanline filters if you want to try to emulate a CRT look. Flashback also includes a save state feature, and you’ll definitely be using it. I’ll explain later.

You get four major games here, and they’re arguably the most important of the releases. Turrican and Turrican 2 are here and they’re the Amiga versions. These are the ones that most people remember as by release many Europeans had moved from the C64/128 ecosystem to the Amiga one. And while the C64 version would have been amazing to see here, there are some kind of rights entanglements around it where Factor 5 owns the IP but the C64 version has elements another entity owns. Because of this it isn’t likely to be in any kind of collection in the foreseeable future. As I noted before, the Amiga versions seem to be emulated very well, and they play great.

Mega Turrican is the third title in the collection which is the Sega Genesis (Mega Drive outside the US) port of Turrican 3 which was originally on the Amiga. In it, the circular laser whip from the first two games gets replaced with a grappling hook making it feel completely different. But the rest of the core gameplay remains the same. Being on the Genesis the game’s jumping feels a little bit less floaty so you will notice it playing these games in order. Emulation is spot on again though, as that really stringy, buzzy Genesis sound comes through. And it plays fantastically well.

Rounding things out is Super Turrican, the first of the Super NES releases. Super Turrican is a lot like Super R-Type in that it combines elements from the previous games to be this totally awesome Greatest Hits Frankenstein game. It’s also got a lot of entirely new elements mixed in. So it’s a fantastic experience. And as I actually have a copy of Super Turrican I can say again, the emulation is excellent here.

This leads to the one major problem I have with this collection, and that is that will randomly crash to the console start screen. I have the Nintendo Switch version, But I’m told this can happen on the PlayStation 4 version as well. At least in my case, the occurrences were uneven too. On the first two games it happened maybe three or four times across the both of them. When I got to Mega Turrican however, it happened countless times, particularly near the end of the game. In Super Turrican it happened a little less often than the other games but there was at least one instance I ended up rebooting the game.

This is why you’re going to want to use the save state feature, because the odds are pretty good you’re going to start a game over because you ended up crashing. Hopefully, this issue will be addressed at some point with a patch because everything else about this collection is really, really good.

Now beyond the scope of this collection, is another one from Strictly Limited Games that was released in both a collection that gives you all of these games plus the Amiga version of Turrican 3, the director’s cuts of Mega Turrican and Super Turrican, as well as Super Turrican 2. This can be attained as a massive bundle with extra collectibles or as two volumes for a little bit of a price cut. Being that it’s a Strictly Limited release, this is one that is something you’ll have to get in on soon as once they have a predetermined number of orders in, they won’t be making more. For those who really want a version of every game in the series it is a viable option worth looking into. For the rest of us Turrican Flashback is a highly recommended collection that comes with one major caveat holding it back from perfection. Hopefully the Strictly Limited Anthology doesn’t ship with the same issue. As I haven’t played that collection I can’t say whether or not the same technical issue is present.

In any case, even with it’s problem Turrican Flashback is a collection worth tracking down. Especially if you want an affordable way to play these classics again. You get all of the most important games in the series and you only really miss out on the final game Super Turrican 2. For the most part you will have been able to say you’ve played through the series. And all of the games (save for a random crash) are emulated very well, and play very well. My hopes are that Ratalaika can find a way to fix the crashes with a firmware update, and that Factor 5 can rescue the original Commodore 64 games from rights hell so they can be re-released in some capacity in the future. This is a series with a rich history, and one that for many encapsulates a period of computer gaming history between the era of 8-bit home computers taking over the role of consoles in the early 80s (particularly in the US during the videogame market crash) and the era of the MS-DOS and Windows PCs supplanting them and their 16-bit brethren in the mid 90s. Eventually, Commodore Amiga and Atari ST games would also appear on Sega and Nintendo machines, as well as IBM PC Compatibles. But these were important home computers and Turrican is an important series. One that cemented Factor 5 as a powerhouse developer who would push hardware as far as they could. Even with it’s problems, Turrican Flashback is a collection action fans of all stripes ought to consider.

Final Score: 8 out of 10

Serious Sam Collection Review

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Final Score: 8 out of 10

Fall Guys Review

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These days it seems as everyone wants in on the Battle Royale shooter craze. The Culling kicked things off with blandness. PUBG refined the idea to critical acclaim. Fortnite polished it off, put on a Saturday morning veneer, threw in a F2P business model, and became the titleholder. Since then, we’ve seen many games taking the same core concept and trying to dethrone Epic’s wild success story with their own spin on it. But few games have tried to apply the high-player count-Last-Man-Standing-match idea to something other than a third-person shooter.

PROS: Bright colors. Cute characters. Tight controls. Wonderful course design.

CONS: Connection issues. Conflicting monetization schemes.

FRIENDSHIP ENDING: Joins the likes of Mario Party, and Warlords for ticking off pals.

Nintendo’s Tetris 99 is probably the only real breakout until now. Well, Devolver Digital and MediaTonic have brought us arguably the best example yet. Fall Guys has applied the idea to obstacle course challenge game shows. Double Dare, MXC, Wipeout, and others like them put contestants through crazy gauntlets. The latter of which couldn’t possibly fit on a studio set. Anyway, Fall Guys doesn’t quite get to 100 challengers as it taps out at 60. But the core concept is still intact. Be the last egg person standing and take the crown for yourself. In fact, they don’t even call the matches you take part in “Games.” They call them “Shows.”

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Of course, before I go on with the show, we have to talk about the elephant in the room. Fall Guys is glutted with microtransactions and DLC. Clicking on the shop tab is almost indistinguishable from Fortnite. There are a bunch of adverts for crazy costumes, skin patterns, and silly dance animations for the rare occasion you win and want to brag about it. All of the prices are in a funky purple coin currency. A currency you have to buy (or tediously grind for) in order to pay for the things I just mentioned. The game isn’t so egregious about it that it puts game-breaking, pay-to-win stuff in there. It’s all cosmetic items and emotes. But you already have to spend money to get the game. This isn’t a F2P title like COD Warzone or Fortnite.

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Fortunately, none of that stuff is going to get in the way of the fun. And that’s the thing, Fall Guys really is a lot of fun. The structure is composed of multiple rounds. Each round is a different physical challenge. Most of the time it’s everyone for themselves. Race through a crazy, over-the-top obstacle course to the end and hope to God you’re in the group allowed to move on. Every round has a qualifying number of placements. Early on the game will allow almost 40 of the 60 contestants to move onto round two. But by the final round, there are usually 10 contestants or less. Some of the courses aren’t races. One of them sees everyone on a platform where the goal is to stay on while giant foam-padded blocks attempt to push you off with only a small space to stand on for survival. Other times you’ll be told you need to be one of the few with a tail by the end of the round. So everyone is out for blood as they knock each other over trying to steal the tails from those who have them. Other times you’ll be placed in a tube with several floors made of blocks that disappear when you walk on them. So you need to constantly be moving in the hopes you don’t fall before anybody else.

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Other times the game will force temporary alliances by placing you in team games. Maybe you have to put eggs in your basket and keep the other teams from stealing them for their own. Or you may have a soccer game with a Rocket League-sized soccer ball. Or you’ll all have to work together to push a boulder-sized ball up a steep incline. These are just a handful of examples. By the last round though, you can fully expect things to go back to doing whatever it takes to win. And unlike Captain Crunch in a Family Guy cutaway, there’s no going to The Godfather to ensure that happens.

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Fall Guys much like Splatoon evokes a lighthearted atmosphere while invoking a cutthroat, hyper-competitive set of emotions. Obviously in a very different way as this is a game show. Few games that go for this dichotomy get it this right. Nintendo often does, but Mediatonic has gotten to their level here. You’ll constantly be thinking “One more game. I know I can do it this time!” And you probably won’t. But that’s okay. And that isn’t to say that Fall Guys is going to be as deep as a game geared toward e-sports grade mastery like a shooter or fighting game will often be. It isn’t. But it does hit that nerve friendship ending games like Mario Party, Dokapon Kingdom and Warlords do. Or even classic family board game night board games do. Because there’s always that one friend or relative who will be the one to throw even their closest pal under the bus by any means necessary. And that doesn’t change in Fall Guys.

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But don’t let that fact sour you on giving this one a go. It’s bright and colorful. It looks superb. Each of the contraptions you’re thrown into really does look like something you’d see on a given episode of Wipeout. Everything has that pastel-colored look of padded-foam covered steel bars, fan blades, and blocks as you’re trying to win races or collect eggs. The character designs are super cute as you waddle around as your egg person trying to race your way to victory. And a lot of the costumes you can grind away for hours unlocking or choosing to pony up for during a daily sale are very cool looking. Some of these are DLC only of course. So if you want to walk around like a box of french fries you’ll have to buy the cosmetic DLC.  The point is they do look really cool.

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The game has some rather nice sound effects, although the music is one of the lower points for me. It’s fine, but there’s nothing that really jumps out other than maybe the jangling little clip that plays during the stage introductions. Still, it suits the atmosphere fine I just wish something stood out a little bit more.

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Ultimately, I really enjoy Fall Guys. I can’t say I’m a big fan of the way the microtransactions are handled. I would have preferred a traditional storefront where people who do want to buy them could just get the costumes they wanted rather than having to log on at just the right time where they might nab it on a flash sale. Especially when the game already has two cosmetic DLC packs you can buy outside of the game on Steam or PSN. If the game has to have extra DLC that would be a more preferable way to do it for most people I would think.

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The game also seems to have some connection issues likely due to server overload. The developers have already said the game sold far more copies than they anticipated needing an infrastructure for and they’re already at work updating server capacity. It has gotten better as I’ve been writing this. But you can expect to still see some disconnections as of now. It does look like they’re improving it as promised though.

With its bright aesthetics, tight platforming, and a course design that would make GonGon blush, Fall Guys is something you have to play to believe. It’s so much fun, and with friends more so. Just remember to try not to tie your ego to victories here as the experience is the focal point. Though you really will want to celebrate if you do win. Sometimes you really feel like you’re having a blue shell moment. Play. Lose a ton. Laugh. Play again.

Final Score: 8 out of 10

Mortal Komat 11 Aftermath DLC Review

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Final Score: 8 out of 10

Battle Princess Madelyn Review

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Ghosts N’ Goblins is one of the classics that is often imitated these days. It isn’t hard to see why, as it’s pretty much a winning formula. A hero that can only take two points of damage before dying, must go on an action platforming adventure of quarter-munching proportions. Some of these games simply take that essence, and try to provide a carbon copy. Others take the idea, and try to build upon it.

PROS: The brutal, unforgiving, and yet somehow addictive fun you love.

CONS: Bugs, minor collision detection issues. Inconsistencies.

GHOST PUPPIES: May haunt your dreams, but they can also help you.

Battle Princess Madelyn is one such game. It uses the combat of Capcom’s classic series as a foundation, and puts a large skyscraper of ideas upon it. For the most part it works because it does something substantial. It has not one, but two campaigns to play through. The first of which combines the tried, and true combat with adventure game, and JRPG conventions.

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The primary campaign is a Story mode. It opens with a little girl named Madelyn lying in bed playing a Minecraft clone on her tablet. Her Grandfather comes in, and in true The Princess Bride fashion proceeds to read her a bedtime story. He tells her the tale of a warrior, coincidentally also named Madelyn in a European kingdom in what is presumably during the Medieval period. This Madelyn has a tiny lap dog named Fritzy. With the castle overrun by monsters, the little canine sacrifices his life to save the Royal Guard.

After some dialogue with her Grandfather, it turns out that Fritzy’s soul isn’t content to go to the afterlife just yet. As a spirit, he decides to follow Madelyn into glorious battle. Over the course of the game Fritzy goes from being a merely cute avatar that follows you around, to being a very useful back up character that will help you immensely. While the initial area looks like it will be another Ghosts N’ Goblins clone, (Super Ghouls N’ Ghosts to be specific), That is quickly proven not to be the case, as a fellow warrior sends you into town.

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Once in the town you begin to do things that are more akin to an Adventure or JRPG. You have to talk to townspeople, whom give you vague clues, or demand you go on fetch quests. You eventually find your way to the castle where key members will send you on the adventure. The castle is also home to two major spots. A toy room, and another room that becomes important much later.

Over the course of the game you’ll find dolls of low-level enemies, major characters, and bosses. Collecting every one of these gets you the best possible outcome, so its something you just might want to invest in. The other room becomes important later in the storyline, and involves warping you around to various areas.

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The game’s many stages are interconnected though not as intricately as something like Metroid. Be that as it may, you’ll still want to map it out, because you’re going to spend a large part of the campaign going sector to sector on foot. Why? Well remember the villagers I mentioned before? Many of the fetch quests they send you upon involve finding, and rescuing their friends from zombies. Aside from that there are also ghosts that can lead you to other secrets. And there are many hidden paths, shortcuts, and items that you’ll have to destroy parts of environments to even find. Basically, if you want to get the best possible finish you’ll need to do a lot of rescuing, and a lot of discovering. The rewards for many (but not nearly all) of these feats are the aforementioned dolls. Each of these dolls gets you one step closer to unlocking the door in the toy room, and the resulting end game.

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Not only that, but the only way to open up the game’s shop to buy power ups is tied to one of these fetch quests. Many of the villagers throughout the game want you to find one of the items they’ve foolishly lost. Each of the game’s areas has a village of their own, and many of their citizens lost these items in other areas. So you’ll be warping around a lot too.

Throughout it all though, the game has that classic Capcom arcade game play down to a science. Well mostly. The majority of the time you’ll feel like you’re playing the unofficial sequel to Super Ghouls N’ Ghosts. Zombies rise from the Earth in much the same way. There are all sorts of monsters, and demons that show up out of nowhere, and you’ll have to master your jumping, and shooting pretty quickly. Where things falter a bit is in the hit detection.

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Unfortunately, there will be a few times where you’ll have your foot stand near, but not on a hazard. But the game will say “Nope. You touched it.” which leads to a cheap death. Other times you’ll suffer cheap deaths when enemies spawn on you, or shoot a projectile that gets stuck in a part of the environment. Thus making hitting it unavoidable. These aren’t heavily widespread moments, but it can be enough to get frustrating. In the case of the story mode, this is mitigated by having pretty decent checkpoints, you’ll automatically start in when you run out of lives. When you die, you’ll start right where you died too, so at least you won’t have to start an entire section over.

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Eventually you’ll find your way to boss rooms. Throughout the game you’ll need to find keys to the boss rooms, so again, keep exploring. Boss fights are quite frankly the highlight of the game. All of them can hang with the best fights in some of the best Super NES, and Sega Genesis games of yesteryear. They’re very inventive. Even when one of them might seem generic, like the Spider bosses, or the Skeleton, they do things that throw that impression out the window. Either through the environments they take place in, or through their attack patterns, or even character mannerisms.

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When you defeat a boss, and move to the next area you’ll almost always find yourself near a town, and in that town you’ll find a fast travel artifact. Late in the game you’ll need to collect items to be reassembled in that second room I mentioned earlier. Here you’ll feel like you’ve reached the end. But you’re still far from it. It opens up all new areas that can only be accessed in the room, and you’ll also find your dog’s soul will now become even more useful. Over the course of the game you’ll acquire the expected knives, spears, lances, and such. All of which you can cycle through using the left shoulder button. But you’ll also start finding puppy soul powers you can use. These can help immensely, especially on bosses. Do keep in mind however, that these have limited supplies shared with your lives. So you’ll want to save these for key moments.

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Upon beating the story mode, you’ll find you won’t be done. You can go back, and find all of the dolls you missed. But beyond that you can play the Arcade mode. This mode is very much a Ghosts N’ Goblins experience with stages feeling more linear, and with the brutal challenge fans of that series would expect. You’ll have to start a stage over when you’re out of lives. Lives are really tied to Fritzy’s meter more so here, as when it becomes depleted completely you know you’re going to start the level over. Thankfully, you’ll still start where you last died. At least until the meter is depleted. You also get to use Fritzy’s powers in this mode as you find them by holding the attack button until it’s charged. Keep in mind as in the Story mode this will deplete the meter, so it reduces the number of lives you can use. Over time you can refill the meter the better you do. Getting to the end is a lot more streamlined as a result. Stages don’t feel exactly the same, as large chunks are completely different. Though you’ll still go up against the same bosses. Be that as it may, it’s still quite a tough game that will take all but the most devoted players a while to get through. Mostly due to the overall challenge of it. But some of the problems from the Story mode do rear their head here. So while the stages are shorter, and in a specific order, they add their own challenges, and sometimes the technical issues can make them even tougher. You can basically keep continuing, but each time means you’ll start the current stage over again, through all of its phases.

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The most striking thing about the game is just how good it looks, and sounds. This game is a wonderful send up of Super Ghouls N’ Ghosts. It has an amazing portfolio of sprite graphics, and animation that look like it could have appeared on Nintendo’s 16-bit juggernaut or even Commodore’s Amiga line of computers. The game even has a soundtrack that will evoke memories of the Commodore Amiga, early MS-DOS Adlib sound, and even a dash of the Sega Genesis for good measure. But even beyond that, you can have a more modern, CD quality orchestrated soundtrack if you choose. The game also has an optional scan line filter if you prefer a slightly blurred look to everything rather than have everything looking crisp.

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Still, on the whole it’s hard not to recommend this one. There may be some inconsistency in the FMV sequences, and the rest of the graphics. There may be some hit detection issues, and you’ll suffer a few cheap deaths here or there. But when the game is at its best it works so well it just has to be experienced. With two primary modes to play, it’s almost like having two games in one. Of course the main attraction is the Story mode. The variety of missions, and side quests while similar, will appeal to a lot of people who might normally skip it out of fears of the high difficulty, as it is a bit more forgiving. Be that as it may, the Arcade mode is something any fan of Capcom’s classic arcade game might want to play. The combat, while not perfect, is noticeably better than many of its peers. If not for the handful of technical issues you’ll likely run into, this would be a must own. But just because it falls a few notches away from perfection doesn’t mean it shouldn’t be played. It is true that it can feel, cheap, relentless, and unfair at times. But it’s also a lot of fun the other 90% of the time, with its solid action, loveable characters, and the fact it makes you want to spite it by beating it. It isn’t going to be for everyone. But for fans of adventure games with an old school twist, or Ghosts N’ Goblins fans yearning for the day when Capcom will finally take their money, it’s worth recommending. If this sounds like you Battle Princess Madelyn is still worth firing up on your computer, Xbox One, Switch, or PlayStation 4.

Final Score: 8 out of 10

Choplifter HD Review

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Released in 2012, Choplifter HD is another modern update of a classic game. But is this something you should download to your trusty computer, Xbox 360 or PS3? Or should you go back, and free your Apple II from storage?

PROS: Classic gameplay with a few novel conventions

CONS: Graphics snobs may turn their noses up at the 1997 era visuals

REALLY?: Scoop Sanderson? You couldn’t create a better Anderson Cooper parody?

In 1982 Dan Gorlin coded what would be a classic computer game. Choplifter was published by Broderbund Software. First on the Apple II, and was then ported to other 8-bit computer platforms like the Commodore 64, and Atari 800. It proved so popular that eventually Sega would pay Broderbund for the rights to port it to arcades, where it became even more popular. Choplifter exploded onto 8-bit consoles after that, including the Atari 7800, Nintendo Entertainment System, and Sega’s Master System. But in order to fully explain the good, and bad about today’s game I have to first talk about what made the original so great.

Choplifter was novel at the time because it wasn’t the typical arcade blaster most games of its ilk were. True, you did shoot down infantry, bomb tanks, and avoided being shot down. But most important was the fact that you had to rescue prisoners of war. In the game you flew out of your base over a side scrolling battlefield much in the same vein as Midway’s Defender. The difference being that you had to land over prison camps, and wait for the prisoners to board your helicopter, then hightail it to the beginning of the level to drop them off before heading out to get more. With every trip, the enemies became more relentless. They would employ more, and more manpower to stop you. Every wave graded you on how many prisoners you could rescue. The more lives you saved, the higher your score.

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Choplifter was also notable because of how you controlled your helicopter. You could have a left profile to fire at left targets, a right profile to go to the right targets, or face the foreground to attack foreground targets. By the time it hit arcades the game also had a fuel meter which added a little more strategy because it forced players to estimate if they could risk getting more prisoners or if they would have to go back for them later.

So here we are 30+ years later with Choplifter HD, a remake available through digital distribution channels like Steam, and it’s still on PSN for PlayStation 3, as well as XBL for Xbox 360. How does it stack up?

Well for the most part it plays pretty much exactly the same as the original game, and its variants. Most of the game will have you looking out for prisoners to pick up, and bring back to base. It also carries over the fuel system from Sega’s revised arcade port. As a result, Choplifter will really feel to familiar to anyone who grew up playing the original game. But by today’s standards some may feel the formula could become monotonous after a while. This is where developer inXile really took me by surprise. This new version adds a few new mission types to the mix. In some stages you will be tasked to instead take out certain targets rather than save people. In others you will have to prioritize saving injured prisoners on death’s door over other prisoners. Still in other missions you will merely have to get from one side of a map to the other without getting shot down.

To keep things fresh they also added a few hidden secrets, and objectives. The most common one being the rescue of ever annoying news anchor Scoop Sanderson. Making a name only a few letters away from the real person is both hilarious, and pretty stupid. But to be fair, the characters do have some funny one liners even if they are repeated fairly often. For the truly devoted, there are also loads of video game cameos to be found here. Not the least of which involve Super Meat Boy, Duke Nukem, and Minecraft.

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As in the original, expect later levels to be very difficult even on easier difficulty settings. The game begins to really throw everything including the kitchen sink at you. Tanks, Fighter planes, EMP bombs, Snipers who have pin point accuracy, and hordes of zombies (Yes they even made a few George Romero stages for you) all come gunning for your chopper.

Another cool feature of this remake is the fact that you can unlock more powerful or more interesting helicopters to replay earlier stages with. Some will make some levels easier, others will make them more challenging. It isn’t much, but it does give players a reason to go back, and revisit it. Of course, like many games these days you can pony up real world money to buy DLC. Namely more choppers. You really don’t need to do this, as the DLC doesn’t make the core game feel any more or less complete. There are also a host of achievements players can go after if they are really dedicated to do so. Plus, the game doesn’t go on forever like other updates of classic games sometimes do. There are just enough stages to get your fill without it getting too old too soon.

Visually the game is far from ugly, but it’s also nothing special. Characters are low poly count, and low detailed. Textures are fairly crisp, but also not overtly detailed. There are some mild lighting effects but again nothing that will wow you. But if you look a little closer you will find some details to appreciate. Shooting infantry will result in some 80’s action film cliché’s like oversold falls, or giblet showers, or in some cases flailing around while they burn to death. Explosions look the part, and the sound effects are mostly pretty good. As I mentioned before some of the dialogue is pretty funny. But the main voice of your helicopter pilot can grate at times. It also becomes obvious through longer play sessions that they have the same actor doing several parts. But in the end it’s a pretty minor quibble for a game like this.

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Choplifter HD is one of those fun diversionary games that is perfect for the digital download environment. It’s something you can play in short bursts, or for hours on end. It’s inexpensive so you really aren’t out a lot if you don’t enjoy it. But for those who do there is a lot to like. It’s too bad the graphics couldn’t have been just a tiny bit better because at first glance they may remind you of some of those cheap shovelware games you find in supermarket discount bins during the holidays.

That’s not to say graphics make a game good. But in a case like this with a game with little fanfare, the casual observer may make the mistake of passing it up. Even for an equally priced download that truly is shovelware in sheep’s clothing. Honestly there are far worse things you can spend money on than Choplifter HD. If you’re even the slightest bit curious about it do give the game an honest shot. It’s a fun update of a vintage game. It doesn’t try to reinvent the wheel, nor does it do too little. It isn’t the prettiest update around, but it is a pretty fun break from everything else.

Final Score: 7 out of 10.

Double Dragon IV Review

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Double Dragon. It was one of the most successful franchises Technos Japan ever put out. In 1987 this series began life as an arcade game, where it kick started the Beat ’em up genre as we know it today. It was so popular, it was ported to nearly every platform imaginable, including the Atari 2600, and the Commodore 64 would see TWO versions. The most popular of the ports was the NES version, which played differently, and expanded the stages. This trend of expanded, and added levels would continue with Double Dragon II, and become one of the best games in the NES library. Even though Double Dragon games would continue to appear on everything, the NES versions would always stand out. This new game is an homage to that fact.

PROS: Looks, feels, and plays like an NES Double Dragon sequel. New content.

CONS: Severe lack of basic options. Background graphics don’t always jibe with sprites.

GEARS: If you thought Double Dragon II had tough platforming sections……….

Technos Japan has been sold around a few times over the last decade, and with every sale something has been attempted with Double Dragon. The GBA’s Double Dragon Advance came out to some acclaim remaking the original on the handheld. Double Dragon Trilogy gave us the three Arcade versions, but with some nagging issues. Way Forward’s Double Dragon Neon came out to some mixed reception. Some thought it was good, others not so good. But all agreed it was a bit of a parody of the series, and the time it came out in.

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Arc System Works has instead played Double Dragon straight. Double Dragon IV takes place in the series’ continuity, placing it after the events of Double Dragon II, and before the events of Double Dragon III. The story here is that after the defeat of the Black Shadow Boss, there was a worldwide Armageddon. The breakdown of society led to rival street gangs gaining more notoriety. The Lee Brothers end up fighting a new threat along with the old ones. The story even works in Technos Japan’s other game, Renegade. The Renegade gang here are actually very close designs to the bikers, and martial arts masters introduced in that series. Which is clever as it cements the notion that all of these games are part of the same universe. Double Dragon, Renegade, and maybe even River City Ransom.

Unfortunately, the Cinema screen texts don’t always explain everything very well. So if you don’t take the extra few minutes to play it out in your head before starting the next stage, you can get confused. Of course being a Double Dragon game, at some point Marian gets taken hostage again, and you have to get her. But rescuing her isn’t the main objective in this iteration of the series.

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The game itself reminded me an awful lot of Capcom’s Mega Man 9, and Mega Man 10. Arc System Works has taken essentially the same approach here. Many of the character sprites you went up against in the NES versions of Double Dragon I, and II are all here. The Renegade characters have been redone in a way that fit the style of those games as well. But Double Dragon IV also gives us a number of entirely new characters to fight too.

As Mega Man 9 brought back the familiar movements, and play control of Mega Man 2, Double Dragon IV looks, plays, and feels like Double Dragon II. Except it doesn’t retain the arcade version’s punch, and kick mirroring. In that game facing right or left would remap the attack buttons. In this game the punch button is always the punch button, and the kick button is always the kick button. If you loved playing the first three NES Double Dragon ports, you’ll absolutely love playing through this.

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Making the game feel even sweeter, are the new moves they’ve added. You can do a few new standing, and wake up attacks including this M.Bison\Vega\Dictator torpedo move. But your enemies have also been given a lot of new moves. Abobo has a new bad ass dragon punch. Burnov has an upgraded back drop. Linda has a crippling new back elbow. That’s on top of the super moves the new cast has. Expect a lot of out of nowhere RKO levels of shock on your first time play through.

Double Dragon IV is also one of the longest games in the series. It’s almost as long as Super Double Dragon/Return Of Double Dragon on the Super NES. Most of the stages go on for at least as long as a typical NES entry’s stage does. But there are some that are shockingly short, and others that are mystifying long levels. Some of these also see the return of Double Dragon II’s platform jumping death traps. Others also see the return of mazes. So choose the right doors! These sections can frustrate you if you don’t get them right. Not just because losing tends to do that, but because you have three lives, and five continues to beat the entire game. Most screw ups in these areas cost an entire life bar.

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But if you keep playing, and slowly mastering the super moves like the Jean-Claude Van Damme Cyclone Kick, Dolph Lundgren Jugular Uppercut, and Chuck Norris Kneecap to the face of body launching, you can win. Like the NES forebears, it’s all about learning the timing of these moves, and on what frames to break them out on. Really, other than the cruelty of some of the jumping puzzles, and some backgrounds not meshing well with the sprites (Some of the backgrounds look like the digitized photo backgrounds on Super NES, and Genesis games) fans will like it. If you’ve never played a Double Dragon game it’s still a fun time, though they geared things toward those who have been fans since the late ’80s. The soundtrack is also very good, both reprising series’ mainstays, and bringing new songs. You can choose to play with an all new up tempo synth rock inspired soundtrack, or you can play the game with the soundtrack done entirely in chip tunes. Either is great!

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As a game, it’s easy to recommend Double Dragon IV. It’s fun to play, and again feeling like they took the lessons of Capcom’s Blue Bomber retro comeback to heart. They even went as far as updating Double Dragon’s NES fighting game mode. That’s right, as you play you can unlock the game’s characters for a 1-on-1 street fight. And it’s as fun as you remember. It won’t be a replacement for your Street Fighter, Mortal Kombat, Tekken, or Guilty Gear fix. But it is a nice distraction from the main game. If you beat the game there’s also a survival mode called Tower you can play. Basically, you survive enemy waves for as long as possible.

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Sadly, I can’t whole heartedly tell you to rush out, and buy this. Because there are a couple of major problems with it. None of them stem from the game play, but they are all bothersome. The first problem is the lack of options. There are none. At all. You can remap your controller, or keyboard. That is it. No video modes. No rendering multiple resolutions. No filters. Nothing. The second issue is that the game has no in-game full screen ticker. Those with minimal computer knowledge will be completely bewildered that they have to play the game in a window. A window that you can’t even resize. Those who do know a little something will be pressing ALT+ Enter to force it into full screen. The third problem is, that even though you can force the game into full screen, you can’t do anything about the aspect ratio. You can’t choose between 4:3 or 16:9 or 16:10. In short, you’re stuck playing windowed unless you know to press ALT + Enter on your keyboard. With zero options.

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I don’t think anyone expected a smorgasbord of PC options. But most games at the very least give a few filter options, and some resolution options. This game is also locked to 30 fps, and you can’t even turn off V-sync. Most PC players want the option as it frees up performance, even if it means seeing some screen tearing. It’s unfortunate that Double Dragon IV is this devoid of any performance options, or options for visual flair.

Overall, Arc System Works has given us an excellent Double Dragon sequel. But it has been marred by a terrible menu, and menu U.I. I can’t speak to the console version of the release in this regard, having only played it on the computer. Even still, for console players, the lack of any filter effects may be a turn off. At least it may for those who prefer to simulate the color blending look of an old CRT with their retro themed games. Or digital retro re-releases for that matter. If you can deal with the anemic menu options, and missing features you’ll still have a fun time with Double Dragon IV. If you can’t, then you may want to see if Arc System Works patches in some menu fixes first.

Final Score: 7 out of 10

Giana Sisters Dream Runners Review

Black Forest Games gives us a bite-sized  Giana Sisters based off of a recently added multiplayer mode for Giana Sisters Twisted Dreams. Is this another underground classic for this underground series?

PROS: This game is a lot of fun.

CONS: But only if you have friends to play it with.

ON FOOT KARTING: The first noteworthy attempt since Mad Dash graced the original Xbox

It’s no secret that I like The Great Giana Sisters. First taking Super Mario Bros style platforming to the Commodore 64, and other home computers throughout Europe. Then decades later on the Nintendo DS in a sequel. Then it took an entirely different direction in its third installment Twisted Dreams, and its expansion Rise Of The Owlverlord. After these titles, Black Forest Games moved onto its current Early Access project Dieselstormers. But every so often it has given its core Giana fans something to sate them. For awhile they were free bonus levels, and recently a Multiplayer mode for Twisted Dreams.

Giana Sisters Dream Runners is a standalone multiplayer only game based on the earlier Twisted Dreams multiplayer. In this game you are given a decent number of levels that can be played with up to four players. You can do this online or offline. The object is less like a traditional platformer, and more a Kart racer. But don’t go into this expecting something like Wacky Wheels. These are still 2.5D environments you’ll side scroll through. Racers have to run through the courses for several laps. There are power ups you can gain, similar to Mario Kart. You can use these to slow down or take out other racers temporarily, giving you the chance to outrun them. There are a fairly wide variety of these items. One spawns three owls to attack other players. There’s a spring that shoots mines at everybody. Another one targets each player with lasers. There’s even a homing meteor! Not every item is a weapon. Some give you a quick warp a few meters ahead, or a more powerful roll attack to get through some of the enemies or traps easier. The game also adds a dash mechanic where pressing down lets your character do a baseball slide under low hanging traps. You’ll want to master this.

If you can manage to outrun everyone else the person you’ll get a star. The first player to get three stars wins the race, and you’ll go back to the race selection screen to pick a new stage to race on. The way you outrun the other players is a bit systematic. Eventually the furthest behind will fall so far behind they go off-screen. When this happens, a thirty-second time limit lets the remaining three players know they’re going to have to dig in for the top spot. When the timer runs out the person currently in first gets that precious star. It should also be noted, that the Twisted Dreams button layout doesn’t translate to Dream Runners. That’s because not only do you now have a weapon button, but the light/dark mechanic has changed. It is still here, but instead of changing on the fly, there are now floating spheres you touch in the courses to make that happen. It adds a strategy in that it can change sections of the track, giving players another avenue to confound, or elude the competition.

Over time you’ll unlock additional Giana Sisters characters including some of the series’ notable enemies. Each character has some advantages or disadvantages, but all seem fairly balanced. It’s a pretty cool game that combines kart racing mechanisms with speed running. On its face, the game is exceptional, and gives you everything it advertises. But I’d be remiss if I didn’t tell you there are a couple of big problems with Giana Sisters Dream Runners.

The biggest problem is the fact that you cannot play this game with less than two players. Well actually you can. But you won’t want to for very long. There are bots you can put in, you can even assign three of the four players as bots. The bots can be challenging, but since every round is a single race, rather than a circuit there isn’t much incentive. On the plus side, you can give each bot its own difficulty, but ultimately nothing beats the fun of trash talking your friends in a racer. This is really the sort of game where you want to play with at least one other person. Playing with three people is the most ideal though since there is a lot more back, and forth near the top.

The final problem is the game’s online mode. Net code, and stability seem fine. The problem isn’t so much with running into lag, rubber-banding or warp despite a low ping. No, it’s the lack of players. You might wait a while for an opponent to show up in your lobby. For whatever reason, many of the people who own this one, aren’t playing online. At least not as I write this. Again though, if you have a few friends with a copy, Online mode can be just as enjoyable as playing locally. In spite of these issues though, I’m not going to tell people to skip this game entirely. The underlying game is wonderful. It gives speed runners the challenge of making it through a difficult course, and gives kart racing fans the items, and mind games they love. If you loved the soundtrack in the last game, and its expansion, you’ll enjoy it here too. Some old songs return, with some crafty remixes of others. Giana Sisters Dream Runners is a really good game. It’s just saddled with some baggage that will unfortunately hurt single players. If you have a group of friends who are willing to play something different with you however, pick up a few licenses, and have at it. Especially if you enjoyed any of the other games in the series.

Final Score: 7 out of 10 (For fans who have friends)

Divekick Review

What started out as a joke became quite the compelling fighter.

PROS: Hilarious characters. Funny jokes. Surprisingly deep gameplay.

CONS: Subpar artwork in spots. Hard to navigate menus.

MISSED IT IF YOU BLINKED: Was recently nominated for an award on Spike TV’s VGA show.

Divekick is quite possibly one of the most  backfired joke games you will ever play. What do I mean by this? It’s preposterous setup would make one think of the game as one thinks of certain bad films. So bad, that it becomes so unintentionally comedic it’s a must see. At first glance it’s exactly what many thought.

The game’s gimmick or hook is it’s two button scheme. There are no buttons other than literally a jump button, and a kick button. While on the ground, pressing kick moves you backwards, and in the air it does a “Dive Kick”.  There are a couple of very minor additions beyond that, but they’re practically non-essential.  These buttons are even the only way to navigate menus, as one button goes left, the other goes right, and pressing both make selections.

Once you understand all of that, and then see it in action you will laugh. It is pretty hilarious to see these goofy characters limited to two button control schemes trying to duke it out. But once you actually begin to play Divekick you will slowly change your tune. The reason for this is because in it’s absolute dumbed down to the core simplicity, the game breaks down into why one plays tournament fighters to begin with. To out think, and out maneuver one’s opponent.

One cannot button mash their way to victory here. Unlike actually bad fighters riddled with dial-a-combos, and bad hit detection Divekick is well crafted. One hit is all it takes to win a round. That’s it. ONE HIT. This makes every round a sudden death round. So the lack of quarter circle projectiles, charge attacks, EX super meters, Fatalities, Chains, Combos, and so on suddenly doesn’t matter. The game almost hearkens back to the golden age of fighting games, long before Street Fighter. Games like Karate Champ. Except with Flash Animation.

The game does try to make things slightly more interesting with it’s parody of Street Fighter X Tekken’s Gem system. Some gems may give you one extra pixel of hit detection, others may give the opposing player a huge round win advantage by making you have to beat them 8 times whereas they only have to beat you once.  But these things do very little to greatly lengthen or deepen the main concept.

Divekick brings a couple of modes along. It has a campaign mode where one can play each character through a gauntlet of other characters to get an ending cinematic much like Street Fighter, or Mortal Kombat or any other fighter at this point. It also has both an online, and offline versus mode. The online mode has the same  online net code system that Skull Girls used, so it’s actually a really fun experience online. So long as you can find someone to play with. Because of the “Laugh, and move on” vibe the game gives off, many seem to have done just that. It’s too bad because the game really does deserve to be more popular. But as it is, don’t come into it looking to play online against strangers, as much as friends. If you do get online you’ll have no major complaints. Lag is minimal, and performance is pretty good.

The meat of this game is going to be offline competition. Like most fighting games the real fun is going to be playing against friends who come over, or in a public tournament in your area. Despite the zany characters, fighting community jokes, and lack of everything fighters are known for, you’ll be biting your nails. Because everything comes down to that one moment. That’s the entire game, a constant flood of that welcomed, competitive, stress. You’ll laugh at first, but after that subsides you’ll keep coming back for more.

Divekick is a game you really need to play. It unfortunately wears it’s joke veneer a little too well for it’s own good. But don’t let that stop you. Pick your Steam, XBL, or PSN poison, and have at it. You’ll be glad you did.

Final Score: 8 out of 10