Tag Archives: Run and Gun

Cuphead Review

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By now, you’ve heard the praise, the fervor, and the cries of sore losers everywhere. But the hype for this one really is deserved. Cuphead is a magnificent blend of gameplay taken from Contra, Gradius, and even some Mega Man for good measure. And while many games have done so, Cuphead is one of the ones that stands out from the crowd. If you haven’t already bought, and downloaded this game to your Xbox One or Computer you really ought to. But if you need more details before doing so, read on.

PROS: Amazing animation. Wonderful music. Spot on controls. Tough, but fair challenge.

CONS: Some bugs keep it just shy of perfection.

GENERATIONS: The animation on display will even amaze your Great Grandparents.

Cuphead is the result of a couple of high-risk takers. Studio MDHR started out with a vision: An action game that truly feels like playing a late 1930’s cartoon. Early on they discovered that making that vision a reality was going to be far more time-consuming, and expensive than originally thought. They ended up quitting their jobs, and re-mortgaging their homes just to be able to bring this title to market.

My hope is that this risk has paid off. Because the finished product is nothing short of amazing. Cuphead very likely has the best animation of any video game ever made thus far. Studio MDHR painstakingly made every background in the game by matte painting it. Every frame of animation was hand drawn on a cell before being scanned into a computer to be inked, and colored. As a result the game delivers on the core promise of looking, and feeling like a 1930’s animated short. The character designs are breathtaking. All of the hallmarks of vintage cartoons are here. The angled pupils, exaggerated movement, and pretty much everything you can recall from old Popeye, and Betty Boop serials are here.

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Studio MDHR even went as far as hiring an actual big band jazz ensemble to write, and perform the score for Cuphead. So not only does it look like an 80-year-old cartoon, it also sounds like an 80-year-old cartoon. Just seeing the game in action alone would be worth the price of admission. There is such a wealth of talent on display through the entire game that it’s honestly something that has to be experienced. In the realm of audio, and visual experiences Cuphead is nearly in a class all by itself.

But what about the game play? Well, it’s a fairly solid, and enjoyable experience. The game starts out with a very clever tutorial, and a classic story book introduction. Cuphead, and his brother Mugman go against their guardian’s wishes when they visit a casino. Unfortunately, the Casino is owned by the Devil, and he rigs the game at the Craps table to claim the souls of our heroes. But they plead for their lives so he tells them he’ll forgive their debt if they go get the soul contracts of the others in the town.

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So that’s the set up for just why Cuphead, and Mugman are off on their adventure. The game places you on an overhead view of a map, where you move the characters around, and choose a stage, or talk to an NPC. There are three maps, and you’ll need to complete every stage to move onto the next one. Each map also has a shop in it where you can use coins to upgrade your abilities. There are three main types of stage on display here. You’ll have Run n’ Gun stages. These play like you’d expect, taking homage from games like Contra, and Metal Slug. So you’ll have to fire where you’re going. You can’t shoot backwards while moving forward. The game play is not a twin stick style, rather a more traditional one. In these stages you’ll find the aforementioned coins. So you’ll certainly need to play these if you want any hope of buffing up your character.

Some of the items in the shops will give you a new style of weapon, or extra hits on your health meter. But any item you choose will have a side effect to balance things out. For instance, buying extra health comes at the cost of weakening your attacks slightly. But there are a wide variety of things to check out here. So you can swap out items for others after you’ve paid for them, and see what load out works best for you.

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There are shmup levels too, these generally play like the third type of stage I’ll get to in a moment. The difference being here, you’ll be piloting a plane, and fighting a multifaceted battle against a boss character. With the shmup mechanics here, the game feels a lot more like the memorable moments in old horizontal shooters like Thunder Force III, R-Type, Gradius, or Life Force rather than the more contemporary bullet hell shooter. Just because there aren’t zillions of things to avoid doesn’t mean there isn’t anything to avoid. These encounters throw plenty enough at you, and you’ll have to memorize attack patterns to survive. You can also shrink your plane so if you get into a situation you don’t think is avoidable, it may just be your ace in the hole.

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Finally, there are the Boss stages. In these you’ll use the Run n’ Gun mechanics in a multifaceted battle against a boss character. These fights feel closer to the classic NES Mega Man boss fights. than the ones in the old Run n’ Guns. One boss in particular will give you memories of storming Dr. Wily’s castle in Mega Man II. All of these bosses however will require you to learn patterns, and expert timing to get through them in one piece. Since most of the stages in the game are Boss stages you can expect to lose many, many times when you first attempt them.

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There are also a couple of side challenges where you’ll free ghosts by parrying other ghosts. You should honestly do these because the parry is a mechanic Cuphead uses to beef up your super meter. When you fill up the meter you can do a very devastating attack which is especially handy in boss battles. Anything colored pink in the game can be parried, and these challenges are the perfect way to master this mechanic.

Most of the stages in the game have an easy mode in addition to a regular tough as nails mode. You’ll need to beat the harder difficulty on bosses to get the contracts, needed to finish the story. But playing the stages on Easy will let you progress, and see what future stages have to offer. You can also go back to any stage you beat previously to replay it. Cuphead definitely has a high level of challenge. But the challenge is generally very fair. You’ll die hundreds of times over. But upon your expletive laden loss you’ll understand that your last death was your own fault. You jumped when you meant to shoot. Or you didn’t plan for a moving platform properly. Or you weren’t patient enough. Or you panicked, and walked into that projectile.

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Cuphead isn’t impossible though. Those who absolutely love old platformers, shmups, and classic action games from the days of Atari, Sega, Nintendo, and Commodore platforms will likely pick things up a bit faster. But that doesn’t mean someone newer to this type of experience cannot persevere. It’s the kind of game that requires patience, and practice to excel in. For some players it may take more time, and patience than others. But everything in the game is so captivating it’s worth checking out.

There are a couple of very minor issues I have with the game though. The most alarming are a few rare bugs. Admittedly these are rare, and in time they’ll probably be fixed. But they’re still a nuisance when they happen. One of them will glitch a low-level enemies’ health to a point it takes no damage. When this happens you can try to just skip past it. But that might mean you take damage in the process, and impede your ability to clear the level. Exiting the stage, and re-entering it usually fixes it in the interim, but that is also a nuisance. The other bug I’ve run into is an inexplicable performance hit, where the game will suddenly drop frames, and run ridiculously choppy for around 60 seconds before going back to normal. It’s especially annoying in boss fights. Closing the game, and re-starting the application again, fixes it in the interim. But it can be pretty annoying. I also wish there could have been a few more action stages over boss rush stages to add to the variety.

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Nevertheless, I can wholeheartedly recommend Cuphead to just about anybody who is even remotely interested in it. The animation, and soundtrack alone are worth the price of admission. Even for all of the complaints some may have with the level of challenge, the experience easily overshadows that. This is a game that is a wonder to behold. And while old-school arcade challenge may not be your Cuphead of tea, (I know, that’s a terrible joke.) Cuphead is still one of the most entertaining experiences you’ll likely have this year. If you relish a challenge, and love classic cartoons you should buy this for your computer or Xbox One if you haven’t already. You may want to look into this game even if you normally don’t care for this sort of fare. The amount of talent, and dedication on display is nothing short of captivating.

Here’s hoping Cuphead was a successful enough endeavor for a follow-up, or another game using the same wonderful artists, and animators. I know I’ve repeated myself a lot in this review, and I probably sound a bit redundant. But win or lose, Cuphead is one experience you just may want to roll the dice on. (I think I did better on that one.)

Final Score: 9 out of 10

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Time Soldiers Review

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While the world was getting hyped about E3 last week (and yeah, there are some cool looking games coming down the pike. I’ve been peeking in on conferences when I can.) I was hunting for some additions to my collection. I stumbled upon a Master System cartridge I’ve rarely seen outside of conventions, and it was pretty cheap so I thought “Why not?” The box art alone was worth the price of admission. But I got a fairly compelling action title in the process.

PROS: A really cool take on the classic top down run n’ gun.

CONS: Difficulty spikes, occasional collision issues.

WOAH: Giant dinosaurs with laser guns. What’s not to love?

Originally a twin-stick arcade shooter by ADK (The folks who gave us World Heroes), Time soldiers was ported by Sega to the Master System.  Before you even open the box to put the game in you’ll marvel at the artwork. It has everything a child of the 80’s was into. Dinosaurs, rocket launchers, and tanks. Once you start playing, you’ll see it lives up to the lofty promises the box advertises.

The setup is that in the distant future, a despotic, intergalactic Warlord decides to conquer the Earth. To do this, he traps many of the world’s best soldiers in different time periods throughout history. The guy basically looks like the Anti-Monitor from The Crisis On Infinite Earths, and probably has a lot of the same powers. So “Why couldn’t he just destroy the world with antimatter?” seems like a good question to ask.

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Anyway, you have to go on a quest to rescue each of these warriors from their cells throughout history. On paper, this seems pretty straightforward. Go kill bad guys, and blow up stuff in a sequential order, and roll the end credits. Time Soldiers takes inspiration from earlier run n’ guns like Ikari Warriors, and Commando. You play from a top down perspective, and do just that. Kill hundreds of enemies who come charging at you guns blazing.

But what makes this game stand out from almost every other game of its ilk, is the fact that it is never the same game twice. Time Soldiers, places each of these hostages in a different place every time, and you have to kill a boss in order to proceed. Often times, the game will not place you in the proper time period from the get go. So you’ll play the first stage, and then be sent to a new era.

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Each of the eras has a few different versions, and these will vary depending on when you’re sent to that era. So if you get sent to the Prehistoric era on stage two, it will have one version. But get sent there again a few stages later, and it will be a variant. The game will also make you fight a mini boss if you’re in the wrong era for the current hostage you’re tracking down. Defeating the mini boss will then either open another time machine (which look suspiciously like the portals from Stargate) where you’ll have to go to another time period or it will summon the actual boss.

The bosses are pretty cool. They’re not nearly as difficult as the stages are. But they’re large, and interesting sprites. They remind me a lot of the encounters of Alien Syndrome, though the patterns are much easier to learn than in that classic. But don’t be fooled by a lower difficulty. Time Soldiers only affords you two continues  on the Master System. Since you die if ANYTHING touches you, this game still isn’t an easy one. Especially since the game may send you on longer paths during certain rescues. The saving grace are some boss warps that can skip you ahead to a boss fight. On the other hand, if you aren’t powered up, taking them down with a pea shooter makes things more intimidating.

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Time Soldiers does offer a wide variety of weapons. In that respect it can feel like Contra. The thing is, these armaments aren’t permanent. After so many shots, or so many seconds they run out of ammo. So often times you’ll want to conserve them for taking down bosses, or mini bosses. You get these, power ups, and boss warps by shooting specific enemies in any given level. Basically, you’ll want to shoot as many targets as possible, because as the game goes on things will only get tougher.

Time Soldiers has a really nice look to it, and embraces the absurdity of everything. Dinosaurs shoot lasers. Ancient Romans have shields that can take a ton of bullets before going down. The mini bosses continue the weirdness, with cutesy, pink helicopters just being the tip of the iceberg. Everything is colorful, and some of the backgrounds are interactive in a sense. Going over tall grass or mud will slow you down. There are a few catchy chip tunes to thump along with the action, and the sound effects stand out against some of the other titles in the genre.

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Overall, it’s a really good action game for the Master System, and easy to recommend you add to your collection. It’s also one of the more affordable obscure games out there. It was also available on some computer formats, but as I don’t have any of those versions, I can’t really comment on them. Still, if you have a chance to check one of them out, you just may want to. If I had any major issues with this Master System version, it would be the occasionally weird collision detection. Most of the time things go the way they’re supposed to, but I did notice a few occasions where I passed through enemies I shouldn’t have, or got stuck on a piece of scenery in one game, but not on a repeat attempt. It isn’t enough to ruin the game, but it is something holding it back a little bit. Otherwise, it’s a solid addition to any collector’s library.

Final Score: 8 out of 10.

Alien Syndrome Review

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Throughout the 1980’s Sega was making its mark in arcades. It pushed what was possible in racing games, and rail shooters with Outrun, Space Harrier, and After Burner. It gave us the awesome Golden Axe, and the visually impressive Altered Beast. Unsurprisingly many of these games were ported to its own consoles, the Master System, and the Genesis. But there is one of their IPs that came, and went in this period. Something so familiar, and so different. Something so difficult, and yet addictive. I’m talking about Alien Syndrome.

PROS: Great visuals, atmosphere, music, and control (most versions).

CONS: Obscenely difficult. Dark Souls difficult. In deep space.

ALIENS: One of many blockbuster influences that can be seen here.

At its core, Alien Syndrome seems like a typical overhead shooter. You move either Ricky or Mary, depending on which player you are. As you go along, you kill various creatures for big points. But it isn’t so simple. Where previous overhead run n’ guns like Commando, or Ikari Warriors had you kill enemies, and charge to the end of a linear level, this doesn’t. Alien Syndrome is unrelenting about its premise. Your mission isn’t a simple matter of killing things, and getting to the end. Each stage is a ship, and on each of these ships are a number of survivors you have to rescue. Not only do you have to rescue these survivors, (who are stuck in cocoons the way the ones in Aliens were portrayed) you’re timed. Because each ship has initiated a self-destruct sequence a la Captain Kirk.

 

This is to ensure that the menacing invaders cannot make it to Earth in the event you fail your mission. Also because each stage is a ship, there are no straight runs to the north. Instead, each of the stages is a maze, with its own distinct layout. So you have to explore every last nook, and cranny looking for survivors. The survivors are represented by a row of heads. As you rescue them, they’re depleted from the bar. If things get tough, or confusing (which they will) each of the ships have a few maps. Finding these on the wall will pull up a map on  the screen. On the map are flashing pixels, that represent the survivors.

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Once you find all of the hostages, the game will prompt you to get to the exit so you can escape. But in each of the airlocks is a boss alien. These are large, and diverse. Each of them is imposing. Each of them has a powerful attack, and the later bosses employ some very tricky patterns. The bosses all look really cool too. For a title that has fallen into obscurity, it has some of the most memorable bosses in arcade game history. Even the very first boss, is the sort of thing you’ll wish were made into an action figure or statue. These designs are that good.

But, run n’ gun games are often only as exciting as their weaponry, and enemies. Alien Syndrome has a great many of each. Again, taking influence from the Alien movies, there are flame throwers, fire-ball guns, and grenade launchers. But there are others, like the blaster that shoots laser beams like the Imperial blasters in Star Wars. There are also temporary shields, and chess pieces you can find for points.

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How do you get these things? There are cubby holes on walls, marked with the appropriate letter for the weapon. For example L is the laser. The enemies are also varied throughout the game. In earlier stages you’ll fight brain slug creatures, but you’ll see everything from aliens to creatures that shoot their eyes as projectiles. Quite honestly, everything on display is really cool. Every ship has its own decor. So you won’t see a lot of the same tiles in subsequent levels. Some of the ships are what you would expect to see in a space-themed game. Steel floors, technical circuitry patterns for walls, and other touches. But other stages are completely alien (no pun intended.). Some ships seem like they’re made of flesh, others are like stone. Many of the stages have some really cool parallax scrolling effects on floors to represent pits or other pitfalls. And fall you will if you walk over them.

Alien Syndrome is quite the challenge too, because there isn’t a single moment where you aren’t attacked by a horde of aliens. You have to be quick on the draw, as well as quick to react. Dodging projectiles, enemy creatures, while trying to rescue people at the same time. The difficulty especially ramps up after the first stage, and the bosses will often hand you your own behind on a silver platter. There are also no continues, making your performance all the more important. It really does give you the visceral action of the genre, while providing other challenges.

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There are many ways to play Alien Syndrome as it was ported to a lot of platforms. Interestingly enough, the ports to Sega’s own Master System, and Game Gear resulted to almost entirely new games. The scrolling is gone. Instead things work on an almost flip-screen mechanic, only scrolling when reaching the end of the screen in a Castlevania door style transition. The other major changes are almost entirely different maps, and new bosses. The core concept is the same, and it retains the songs from the arcade machine. But these changes make for arguably the worst version of the game. That isn’t to say you shouldn’t play Alien Syndrome on the Master System. It is still a pretty good iteration. It’s brisk. It gives you the same style of gameplay in a new, and unexpected way. Rather, it isn’t the best option for those looking for a replicated experience on a retro console. If you do pick this one up though, you’ll want something other than the Master System Control Pad, because the sometimes mushy d-pad will have you accidentally walking into an alien, or projectile. I recommend the Sega Control Stick. It just seems more responsive in this game. For whatever reason, this game won’t see a Genesis controller properly, so the Sega Control Stick is the next best thing.

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The other two major versions I happen to own ate the Unlicensed Tengen NES port, and the Commodore 64 port. Both of these are pretty good, getting the stage layouts, enemy types, and overall feel pretty nicely. The Commodore 64 version fares especially well though, as it’s the most responsive version I own. Everything is fast, and smooth most of the time. While there can be a bit of slowdown when an awful lot is going on, it still performs better than the NES version overall. The C64 doesn’t have as large a color palette as the NES, but it somehow gets closer to the arcade experience in terms of visuals. The C64 also has the arcade cabinet’s animated attract mode, and a really good original soundtrack. It’s another example of the staying power of the computer’s SID sound chip.

But Tengen’s NES port is no slouch either. It still looks pretty good most of the time, and even manages to add some pretty cool cinema screens to amp up the experience. I should also note that while the C64 has the better soundtrack, the NES version also tries to replicate the arcade’s songs rather than experiment with them, or add new ones. While it isn’t as responsive or quite as fluid as the C64 version, it is the only one of the three to offer continues. On the C64, and SMS you’ll need to clear the game on a handful of lives. For those out there who don’t own a vintage computer, but you have an NES, and a SMS it’s a pretty close race. For authenticity the NES port wins, but the SMS version looks a bit nicer.

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Of course, all of this is moot if you have Sonic’s Ultimate Genesis Collection for the Xbox 360 or PS3 though. Because the arcade ROM was included in the compilation. You’ll have a nearly 1:1 experience at that point. Be that as it may, most of the home ports all offer a pretty great send up of the original. Alien Syndrome also appeared on the Atari ST, Commodore Amiga, ZX Spectrum, Sharp X68000, MSX computers as well as MS-DOS.

It’s a shame this IP has lied so dormant over the years, aside from a brief, largely ignored game on the PSP, and Wii that played nothing like the original. Alien Syndrome is a fun, if difficult run n’ gun. If you have any of the platforms it appeared on, you owe it to yourself to track down a copy. If you’re blessed to live near an arcade that has a working cabinet, do yourself a service, and put in a few quarters. With its challenge, memorable characters, and insane bosses, Alien Syndrome is one arcade classic you’ll never want to forget.

Final Score: 8 out of 10

Rise and Shine Review

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Duos can be very effective in storytelling. Sherlock Holmes had Watson. Batman brought on Robin. He-Man had many allies, but usually rode into skirmishes on Battle Cat. Ren, and Stimpy. The list goes on. There’s a strength in a duo’s ability to give subtext to a story or a series of stories. Their relationships grow as time goes on, and what each of them bring to the table can be as engrossing as what happens around them. It has even been effective in video games. Rise, and Shine is another game that uses the duo very well.

PROS: Beautiful art. Interesting characters. Reference humor.

CONS: Fairly short experience for some. High difficulty for others.

CAMEOS: Far too many to note, and not in ways you’d expect.

Rise, and Shine takes place in a world called Gamearth, a planet under assault from Space Marines. Everything is laid to waste as the invaders kill all of the inhabitants, or turn them into monsters. As Rise, you’re given a magical revolver named Shine, when you see a Hyrulean gunned down in front of you. Before dying, he gives you Shine, and you move onto a quest to get to the Odyssey Temple.

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The setup immediately throws you into the action, and introduces new mechanics as the story moves along. Rise, and Shine is advertised as a twin stick, run, and gun game. But it really isn’t. There are elements of that to be sure, namely in the combat sections. But the reality is that the game shares a lot more in common with old cinematic adventure-platform hybrids. You’ll enter sections, and have to solve a puzzle to move forward, in every room. Even many of the fights you’ll end up in, are won by solving a puzzle.

In many ways it reminded me of Another World, a game that influenced many, many games after it came out. Games like Flashback,  Fade To Black, and the Oddworld games all had elements of Out Of This World. Rise, and Shine does as well. But the twin stick combat does make it considerably different. The game also throws in a number of challenging puzzles that take advantage of combat mechanics. Again, you’ll move with one stick, while aiming with the other. On PC you can move with the WASD, keys, and use a mouse to aim, or you can use a game pad with twin stick controls. But also remember, the game will transition from these brief Metal Slug meets Robotron moments, into the aforementioned Another World meets Max Payne moments.

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At one point in the game you’ll be given different ammunition types. Electrical bullets, as well as normal ones. The electrical bullets can be used on certain enemies, or switches. Other times you’ll need to use the normal bullets. In battles you’ll often switch between the ammo types, as some enemies, and even bosses will require hot swapping between them.

Eventually you’ll have two other mechanics to master. Exploding bullets that act as remote mines, and bullet time zones. Many of the game’s puzzles will require you to learn them in order to get switches, doors, or other paths to open up to you. There are also a few times where you’ll need to be perceptive, or go off of the beaten path to find secrets, items, and other assorted Easter Eggs.

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Rise, and Shine also has a very captivating style to it. It has a crisp, computer animated 2D look to everything. But unlike some other games that have gone for a similar style, this doesn’t feel like a Flash cartoon. The attention to detail alone makes it highly worth looking at. The color gradients, the outlines, and lighting make characters, and backgrounds pop. It really does feel like a child’s pop up book come to life. Albeit, with a gory M rating. Rise, and Shine has some absolutely nightmarish imagery.

Heads roll. Bodies get crushed. Entrails, and limbs are strewn about the streets. Pools of red splash with every kill. Plus with the high difficulty, you’ll likely witness your own demise hundreds of times. As a matter of fact, the high body count, and number of your own deaths are worked into the story. On top of that, the game is loaded with all kinds of game references going back to the industry’s infancy. Be that as it may, you’re going to see a lot of Nintendo references compared to most others. Still, it’s a fun ride, through, and through.

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One complaint some will have is the length of the game. One of the things the game seems to take away from Another World is a focus on telling its story in a highly stylized way, with as few technical problems as possible. Another World is quite the challenge on the first run through, but once you memorize its puzzles it can be cleared quickly. The same goes for Rise, and Shine. As of this writing I’m on the game’s final boss, and I’ve spent a good 4 hours of play time getting here. Most people seem to be in the 5-8 hour range, but for those who pick up things faster, they may clear it in 2 to 4 hours. That said, the final stage has an obscene level of difficulty, I haven’t been able to clear.

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This is something the individual potential player will have to take into consideration when thinking about picking it up. But if you do, you’ll find just that. A highly detailed, fun experience with a lot of challenge, and a very clear focus. Outside of a shorter experience, there isn’t very much to complain about other than the difficulty spike in the last stage. In my time with it I’ve yet to find any major bugs, or crashes. Everything performs well, and it is just as responsive on a controller or with the keyboard. Though I personally had an easier time aiming with a mouse, than a thumb stick.

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In the end, Rise, and Shine is a pretty good game. One that gives fans of adventure-platform computer games, and fans of brutally hard games a great time. But if you’re somebody who is wary of shorter games, or you’re easily frustrated by difficult games, you might want to wait on this one for a while.

Final Score: 7 out of 10.

 

 

Time Slip Review

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The Super Nintendo Entertainment System was host to a lot of difficult games over its time in the market. It was also home to many, uncommon games, some of which were ports of computer games. It even had a number of outright rare games like Hagane. It’s a system a lot of people collect for because it has many of these obscure titles.

Run, and gun games were also at their zenith around this time. Shmups were getting grander with Super R-Type, Gradius III, and UN Squadron. Run, and guns were right up there with the space shoot ’em ups on the Super NES. Excellent ports of Sunset Riders, and Smash TV. Gunforce. Contra III: The alien wars was probably the best received of the bunch. But imitation is the sincerest form of flattery. Remember the obscurity I hinted at earlier? Well Vic Tokai published a fairly uncommon Contra III clone.

PROS: Nice graphics. Inventive character designs. High challenge.

CONS: No Continues. Some levels go on too long. Masochistic difficulty in places.

BOSSES: Most of the stages have three or more!

The Sales Curve, is part of Square Enix today. But long before a series of mergers, and takeovers they were a studio that made a lot of esoteric games. A lot of them were actually pretty good. You may have actually heard of their biggest game, Carmageddon. But even before then, they developed things for other publishers on a number of platforms. One of those things is today’s game Time Slip.

Published by Vic Tokai, Time Slip is a Contra clone that mixes things up with a Gradius clone. But it isn’t all Konami influences here either. There are a few key differences, and some nice features that are worth looking into. The storyline presented here isn’t the most original plot. You’ve seen it in other games, books, TV shows, and films before. A race of interstellar aliens wages war on Earth. Part of their plan is to go back in time to kill off humanity throughout history to prevent the present day humans from being formidable. When things look their bleakest, a lone scientist goes back in time, through several historical periods to defeat them single-handedly, and prevent humanity’s extinction.

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The game plays a little bit different from Contra in a couple of ways. The art style is definitely similar, with enemies, and bosses you would expect to see in a Contra game. But you are going to die from anything that touches you instantly in Contra. That is not the case in Time Slip. Instead, you are given a life bar, and every hit you take knocks off one block of the life bar. If you lose all of the blocks, you lose a life. Falling into a pit, or a trap will knock all of them out instantly. The game starts you out with nine lives, and you can replenish your bar with batteries you find hidden in crates. The crates can also hold other power ups, like smart bombs, and missiles. Grabbing a battery with a full health bar will give you a 1-Up. You can also shoot down projectiles, which is another saving grace.

This is good because Time Slip doesn’t give you any continues. This may very well be the most difficult run, and gun on the console. The game goes on for six levels, and if you have any hope of completing it, you’re going to need to treat each box on that life bar as an individual life. There are also no cheat codes, save states, stage select options, or passwords. You have to play the entire thing in one sitting. You don’t even get an easy setting. You’re going to have to dig down deep, and do your best.

Time Slip also doesn’t make your task any easier with its play control. It isn’t as smooth as the games it borrows from. This is partly due to the fact that it has some clunky animation when you climb walls, or jump over obstacles. But it also has to do with the fact that there are two ways to shoot. You have a button that fires in any direction while your character stays still. In many places this creates a dilemma because if you stand still, enemies will just spawn endlessly. But it can be handy in some sections where you need pixel perfect placement.

The other fire button is a bit more traditional as you can fire as you move. A third fire button lets you shoot your special weapons you’ve picked up, and the shoulder buttons let you select those. Fortunately, it isn’t all cinder blocks, and chains around your ankles. Time Slip can be a lot of fun. Over time you’ll level up your gun with pick ups, each speeding up your firing rate, and the spread of attack. Dying will downgrade you, but it’s all the more incentive to find batteries, and gun upgrades.

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Beyond those there are a lot of the power ups I mentioned earlier.  You should go as long as possible without using them however. Because you’re going to want them to use on the bosses. Time Slip has many, many bosses over the course of its six levels. A lot of them will feel out of Contra like the dragon, the volcanic monster, or the space ships. All of the bosses have intense patterns you need to memorize in order to escape without taking any hits. Which is all the more reason to not take damage. Because you’ll need every battery fueled 1-up in reserve if you want any hope of ever completing the game.

Each stage, save for one or two of them, is a long affair. Right out of the gate you’re thrust into a medieval themed stage where you’ll have a forest sub level followed by a boss. Then a cavern themed sub level. Followed by a boss. Followed by A BOSS. Then a castle themed level. FOLLOWED BY A BOSS. This is the kind of thing you can expect to experience while playing Time Slip. Some of the levels include shmup sections that feel a little bit more like Gradius. But these sections will throw an awful lot at you. Like the normal stages, you have two buttons, one to shoot in front of you, and one that will fire in the last direction you moved.

Fortunately the graphics, and sound are pretty good. The large sprites look vibrant, with a lot of great little details. The aliens, and the bosses in particular. The Super Nintendo’s Mode 7 effects are used especially well with things scaling to make some nice visual cues. The soundtrack isn’t something you might care to listen to on its own. But it fits the theme of the game nicely, with ambient moody synths. Explosions, and other sound effects are about what you’d expect from the time. Nothing Earth shattering, but nothing particularly memorable.

Time Slip is infuriating. Yet it is addictive. You’ll lose your last life, toss your controller, possibly even break your controller, and swear off of it. But then, ten minutes later, you’ll find yourself taking another crack at it. You’ll lose again. Then put it away for a while, and go back to it. Eventually it will go on the shelf for maybe even months or a year. But over time you’ll hear its call to make another feeble attempt at defeating it. Oh you’ll claim to hate it. But deep down you’ll know that had it only been given a little bit more balance, and given a difficulty setting option it may have been a lot more popular.

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That isn’t to say that Contra III was easy. Far from it. But it had better pacing, and a more intuitive control setup. Those are really the main problems with Time Slip. A couple of stages could have stood to be broken up into more levels. The lack of continues, are going to upset many who happen to clear that long first stage. To its credit Time Slip’s power ups do make things a lot easier once you’ve mastered how they work on bosses. But it still can feel a bit like a chore if you immediately restart the game after losing all of your lives on the fourth stage or so.

Still, if like me, you enjoy collecting esoteric games I’d recommend Time Slip. There is enough interesting about it to justify having in the collection. It has cool characters, huge bosses, and great atmosphere. The controls do work the way they’re supposed to, you just have to be willing to get accustomed to them. I know I’m repeating myself, but the bosses, environments, weapons, and enemies make this worth picking up. It’s going to be a very difficult run for most of us. But it still manages to be a fun attempt at victory.

Final Score: 7 out of 10

Jet Gunner Review

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These days it isn’t hard to find a game with graphics inspired by the Nintendo Entertainment System. Some of them are terrible, others are pretty great, and some fall somewhere in between. Jet Gunner is one of the better ones you can add to your Steam library. Because it does give you what it promises, and even goes beyond.

PROS: Nintendo hard. Performs well. Very generous Easter Egg.

CONS: Lack of options.

JETPACKS: May be making a resurgence in games.

Jet Gunner does give you what it promises, an action platformer that will remind you of NES games by Capcom, and Konami. The story is simple. A giant brain controlling the world’s robots has gone mad, and attacked humanity. As the last human in the military you have to single-handedly destroy the robots, and brain. Basically, a B movie level plot that could have been in many NES games.

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Jet Gunner is an action platformer that has the pace of NES Contra, with enemies out of Super C, and Castlevania. It also has the re-spawning enemies, and jumping challenges of Mega Man. Keep in mind when I say this, I don’t mean they’ve lifted any sprites or designs. Rather, that these elements were clearly inspired by those games. Jet Gunner also does a few interesting things with these elements so it doesn’t feel like you’re playing a cobbled together pretender.

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There are sections early on that will keep you on your feet, or off of your feet. Buildings crumble beneath you. Cars try to run you down. Chunks of the scenery fall from above. This game can be ambitious at times. It also has a jetpack mechanic. Double jumping will launch you into the air. Some of the game’s platforming is built around it, putting you through jumping puzzles to get 1-ups, health or weapons.

The weapon variety is actually pretty nice. Again, it will likely remind you of the NES Contra games. There’s a machine gun, a spread gun, a flame thrower, a gun that shoots flaming buzz saws that boomerang, and others. Most of the weapons feel pretty useful except maybe for the spread gun. It shoots a high, and low arc. But nothing straight in front of you. Each gives only a finite amount of ammo though, so you don’t want to shoot these things haphazardly.

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The game also borrows an element from Shatterhand, and that’s giving you random robot helpers. Weapon pickups have two different colored boxes. One color gives you the gun, the other will spawn a robot helper with that weapon. Unlike Shatterhand, you don’t need to collect multiple letter combinations to get them. One box is all you need.

Across the six stages you’ll go through the usual video game locations, cities, jungles, oil refineries, and the like. But again each of them does something different to keep things from getting monotonous. Ironically things can still feel a little monotonous due to the lengths of the stages. Each gives you a lot to see, but go on for six sections each. Every stage has multiple bosses though. Each one of these ranges from a spin on a Contra boss to something creative, and original. When you find the former, you’ll just smile, and remember the stage 1 fortress, or the stage 6 Robot. But when you hit the latter you’ll be amazed, and wonder why every boss couldn’t be on the same caliber. The game also does save your progress after you beat each stage, and you can continue as many times as you want.

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Jet Gunner has a couple of minor bugs, in the vein of things you’d find in some actual NES games. At one point I glitched through a platform on the second stage. They’re very uncommon, and sparse so you won’t really see them very often. The only other complaints I had were the lack of options. You can run the game windowed, or full screen. You can also turn off Vsync to get better performance. But this is one of the rare cases I’d advise you leave it on because everything flickers, and you’ll be running into invisible enemies. You can play with either a keyboard or an Xbox 360 game pad. If you have any other game pad you’ll have to use an external mapping program like Xpadder in order to use it.

The graphics, and sound on display do very well to emulate the feel of an old NES Konami game. It uses a nice palate for backgrounds, and the foreground characters have a fair amount of detail. The characters are all one color though, so they don’t have some of the definition  some old games had. Still, it’s nothing to sneeze at. The music isn’t all that memorable, but it does fit the general theme of the game. Jet Gunner also has one hell of an Easter Egg. If you dig through the game folder, you’ll find it includes a second game. An entire second game. It’s cool to see any developer go the extra mile to give you value. You basically get two games without even realizing it.

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Overall, I’d say Jet Gunner is a worthy addition to your Steam library. It might not be the best looking indie game, but it does give you what is advertised. A challenging action game with NES inspired graphics. It’s fun to play, and while levels can get a bit long-winded, the length is mitigated by the ability to save, and continue. Plus you’re getting a second game included with it without even knowing about it. If you were to give this to someone, you could actually get away with saying “It’s the gift that keeps on giving.”.

Final Score: 8 out of 10.