#425 Faselei!

Posted: 23rd May 2017 by Jeroen in Games
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604th played so far

Genre: Strategy/Role-Playing
Platform: Neo Geo Pocket Color
Year of Release: 1999
Developer: Sacnoth
Publisher: SNK

Faselei! is a game that I’ve spent a lot of time trying to find out more about, but one that’s quite tricky to do so. Released for the rather small Neo Geo Pocket Color, this strategy game doesn’t have a Wikipedia page and never seems to have been that big – despite being, it seems, one of the most notable games of the system.

To find it on the list is, to say the least, interesting. Obviously, with the little research I can do, I’m not quite sure why, but I’d like to find out. A strategy/RPG is my sort of game, so I have to give this a try.

Our Thoughts

Faselei, at its core, plays like a tactical RPG. In fact, in look and feel during the battles it mostly reminded me of Advance Wars, which doesn’t have RPG elements itself, but the initial impression worked as well. The turn based aspects feel quite differently developed, however, which is where the strategic part becomes interesting.

Rather than having a limit on move and attacks like a lot of these games have, keeping the pools separate and always giving you stuff to do with multiple characters, here you control one character with a bunch of actions per turn. These actions are turn, move forward, use an equipped weapon or other (often more situation specific) actions. You define these beforehand and everyone’s actions take place at once. It requires a bunch of planning and prep, making combat even more tactical and all about predicting what should happen. It’s a different challenge, and despite the limitations, I did enjoy it.

Sadly, I found that I became useless quite early on. Your ammo is limited, which left me running around trying to get my ally to kill the opponent instead. In part this was because I was supposed to equip between missions. I thought I had done – but I apparently failed to do so two missions in a row. I also found it hard to predict what to get versus when to save, so I suspect I never would have had enough ammo anyway, but it made the game quite difficult to get going.

The RPG elements themselves are fairly weak in comparison. You can buy upgrades and improve yourself, but I hadn’t found it to be strong for the sections I played. It seems to mostly be there to add flavour to the strategy. Not that I mind – it actually works quite well for me here.

Final Thoughts

Sadly, some interface or balancing issues meant that I aborted my playthrough a bit earlier than I really wanted to. I was still imporessed with what was there, considering how dense the content was and all the options that were present. I would love to see this game remade – it seems perfect for a mobile device and a bit of cleanup would make it perfect.

#307 Guardian Heroes

Posted: 19th May 2017 by Jeroen in Games
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603rd played so far

Genre: Fighting
Platform: Saturn
Year of Release: 1996
Developer: Treasure
Publisher: Sega

The genre of fighting games is pretty broad as used here, and has a tendency to overlap with the action genre. Here it isn’t the one-on-one fighting you might get from, say, Street Fighter, but it’s closer to the brawling of Double Dragon – and in this case, it sounds like, with more areas to explore.

In a way, just reading up on the game before starting, it seems like there’s some RPG elements – battling with different characters while moving through a story heavy world – far more story heavy than I’ve seen in the perfunctory cutscenes in most fighting games. I need to see whether this is one that can hold my attention better than most.

Our Thoughts

That introduction gives you the broad strokes of what the game is. It starts with a cutscenes of our main characters in a tavern, which gets invaded because of the sword they picked up in earlier adventures.

You get a choice of which character to play, each with its own characteristics. This already feels like it sets it apart, adding RPG elements to the beat em up. You gain experience points as you play, allowing you to develop the characters further. It already makes the game feel more varied – even if, for base simplicity, I went for the big strong guy without many abilities. Just beat them up, really. But at the same time, leveling up did make a difference – investing a bit in speed was immediately noticeable.

The story also branches based on your actions, something I didn’t really explore too much, but that also wasn’t signposted that much – I only found out about it by reading guides afterwards. It’s a nice reward for replays, just not something I’ve been seeing much of.

I think what got me is that the game wasn’t the easiest – partially as I had to adjust to the controls, which always seems to stump me with these games. I hadn’t quite learned it, and I felt I wouldn’t do so any time soon anyway.

Final Thoughts

Guardian Heroes is probably the best in the genre I’ve played, one that I enjoyed for the most part. Sure, I ran into a difficulty wall after a while, and need to properly revisit it, but it felt a lot of fun to play up to then. The graphics are more cartoony than I’m used to, not trying to be realistic (or gorey) but more looking like a fun adventure cartoon.

#94 Mercenary

Posted: 15th May 2017 by Jeroen in Games
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602nd played so far

Genre: Action/Adventure
Platform: Various
Year of Release: 1985
Developer: Novagen

I think I underestimated Mercenary slightly. All this time, I thought it was another shoot ’em up, which is frequent in this era, and certainly not the action/adventure we’re getting here.

What it is, is a game that has you crash on a planet and wants you to escape from it. Sounds interesting enough.

Our Thoughts

As we’ve seen before in The Sentinel, early 3D was a bit wireframed and a lot of creative angles to make it all work. Having dabbled a bit in the maths and programming behind it, it’s quite fascinating to see how they pull a lot of it off.

Graphically, Mercenary is there. Fairly effective wireframes, creating weird buildings and creatures, and simple (often single colour) backgrounds with lines denoting the existence of walls and doors. I recognise how impressive it is, although of course these days it comes across as somewhat dated.

The game itself seems to have you wander around this world, taking on missions, buying and selling and crawling through dungeons until you have the resource to take off from the planet again. It felt like the whole thing turned into a Ultima-like dungeon crawl, without any of the RPG elements that made that game more interesting to me.

Part of that is that I felt the game never really managed to communicate what I as meant to do. Sure, we could blame that on age, but I’m just not sure it ever would have wanted to. It was an incredibly frustrating limitation, and in the end it’s what made me give up on the game.Something a bit more defined would have been better – considering a more interesting open world is not something I could expect from a game of this age.

Final Thoughts

Mercenary is a game I could see myself loving twenty-five years ago. I’d have the time to play around and try, occasionally discovering bits and pieces. Now, however, it feels so much more like a chore to play, and other games with less filler already annoy me with these things to the point of turning them off. If it had a more focused experience, I would have loved to have gotten into this.

#1004 Limbo

Posted: 11th May 2017 by Jeroen in Games
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601st played so far

Genre: Platform/Puzzle
Platform: Various
Year of Release: 2010
Developer: Playdead
Publisher: Playdead

We begin the next hundred with another known indie game. Limbo is a platformer that gained a good reputation for its implicit storytelling and world it creates in a platformer setting. I never actually had a chacne to play it yet, and this blog is part of the reason I’ve held off for a while. Now is the time to actually try it.

Our Thoughts

We’ve seen several games before that used its environment for story telling – Bioshock comes to mind. Few use only that, and in that sense this is as much a spiritual successor to Another World and the like. In fact, it feels like platformers do this well. While Braid uses plenty of words, its core story even comes from its mechanics.

Now I’m not sure Limbo has (so far) told as explicit a story, but it certainly has a world to show to you. A lot of it is still ambiguous, open to interpretation, but there’s a feeling invoked by the world and people you meet that says more about what’s going on.

Even so, there’s more to the game than that. It’s been described as a trial and death system. You will die often while trying to solve a puzzle, but each time it will put you back right before the start of a puzzle (or group of ones, you will occasionally retrace some of your steps). This means death isn’t punishing, repeating them is just the means to an end, trying to figure out how to get there. This means that making it through without a death feels a lot more satisfying, but dying doesn’t matter too much – you don’t have to keep doing the same things over and over again. It’s quite liberating.

The puzzles themselves haven’t, so far, been punishingly complicated. Instead they require some thinking combined with some more difficult platforming sections that will require practice and timing to get right. I didn’t really get stumped because I didn’t get it, I mostly needed perseverance to get through the more timing critical sections. It really nicely combined the two genres in that sense.

Final Thoughts

Limbo is a game that looks good, equating a feeling about the world by leading you through it. It creates a setting where all the puzzles you encounter make sense, with plenty of callbacks (that poor yet evil spider). The good and fun puzzle design works well, as do the light failure conditions that encourage you to go in and try constantly

50 Game Round Up: 551-600 (Jeroen)

Posted: 9th May 2017 by Jeroen in Uncategorized

After a rather exciting fifty that featured us making it halfway through the list, these fifty were a lot more basic. At this point, we’re happily coasting along, trying to smooth out any genre outliers (I like having a nice mix) and doing some catching up. There have been some pretty exciting games as well – one that clearly became bigger for me, as we’ll see in a bit – and there’s a bunch I want to spend more time with soon.

The next fifty will likely be more of this, but who cares? I’ve still been leaving some big games I’m (badly) looking forward to while I’ve been trying to get the ones I care about least out of the way early.

Best Game I Had Not Previously Played

So what’s the top game? On some level Skyrim probably hit that for me, but its open ended nature doesn’t feel quite right for me to put here… and to be honest, it’s a game I’ll be coming back to in a bit anyway.

Body Harvest is a game that felt like a milestone on its own. It’s been quite clear that the game, although not the first open world game, pushed the genre forward by setting up Grand Theft Auto 3 as a major gamechanger. It’s been interesting and fun to play.

Even more of a winner today, however, is another game in the Final Fantasy series. Although Final Fantasy X was a big success, I have also felt more affinity with the 2D entries in the game. Final Fantasy IV did not disappoint in that sense, creating some interesting characters where game mechanics interact with the story quite well. I’m looking forward to playing more of the 2D games.

Worst Game

On the other hand, as I feel my appreciation for these games starts to widen, I’m at a point where I don’t feel there were really bad games in the list. There are, however, some that are disappointing or don’t seem to offer much.

Ghouls ‘n Ghosts was another game like Ghosts ‘n Goblins, and while it wasn’t a bad game, it didn’t give me much new in a genre that, in the games made at that time, doesn’t appeal to me. It’s a place where arcade difficulty really removes my enjoyment of the game.

Super Stardust HD, on the other hand, doesn’t have that age excuse. Twin stick shooters feel like they’re fairly common, and while graphically it’s interesting, it didn’t engage me as much thinking back on it. There’s some interesting mechanical changes, but the core concept just doesn’t appeal to me.

Most Surprising Game

This far in, the middling games that I didn’t know too much about, other than by vague reputation and idea, can really surprise me more than I felt they did with the original set. Others can disappoint too, of course, but that’s for later.

I know I was going to like Anno 1701, but how close it was to The Settlers series (and its derivatives) was amazing. It really appealed to me and I am genuinely looking to play all of these.

Survival horror games aren’t necessarily my bag, and the Resident Evil series especially hasn’t grabbed me yet. Playing Resident Evil 4 was a big surprise, as it seemed to reinvent the series in a way that makes it far more shootery, but also made it a lot more fun for me to play. I felt I wasn’t fighting the camera as much, that already helped a lot.

What got me most, however, was The Warriors. Sure, it is not going to top my list of best games, but where I was expecting a fairly standard brawlers, this felt like a semi-open, quest based lengthy semi-adventure. It was a lot closer to the Yakuza series than to Zeno Clash, even if it still has a decent fighting element.

Biggest Disappointment

Looking through the list of fifty, there were two games that I put down as a disappointment, each for different reasons.

The first, Snake Rattle N Roll, was one I wanted to be fun based on its age and vague memories of old NES games. Instead it turned out to be more frustrating than I liked, and it ended up not as nice as I hoped.

The other suffers from being an unmemorable sequel. I have played both Battlefield 1942 and Battlefield 2 in this fifty, having to catch up a bit, and the latter didn’t do it for me. Not just because it wasn’t the best genre for me – although it certainly isn’t – but because it didn’t feel as much fun as the first game, and I actually found the maps less interesting to play, with less variation and fun things than I was hoping for. A real downer, unfortunately, and with more games in the series coming, not a good start.

Best Blast From The Past

Weirdly, I’m starting to feel like I’m replaying less games than I used to. This might be coming from us tackling a large number of borrowed big games, but it’s been making this tricky.

Fable II, for example, was great to play again (and not just as a research thing). I had played it for a few hours before – far less than I did the blog. It was a good one to get back into though, as somehow the game manages to meet a lot of needs that I have for it. It’s far from the perfect RPG, but it was so much fun to play again, especially knowing a bit more what I was doing.

Double Dragon was far more of a return to a game I had played loads. Sure, not this exact iteration, but to be honest, the series never seemed to have strayed far from its roots anyway. It’s probably not something you’d expect from me – I’m not great with side scrolling brawlers – but this sat at the right point of being more playable, without being too over the top.

Games We Kept Playing

And this? There’s just one game that qualifies here, and it might have effectively been the best game of the batch. We’ve gotten fully addicted to Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim, and while we haven’t finished it after many months, we’ve been creeping closer. There is so much to see and do, and it looks so good, that it’s an amazing world to be in. Far from flawless, but still one of the best.

600th played so far

Genre: Adventure/Fighting
Platform: PC/Xbox 360/Playstation 3
Year of Release: 2009
Developer: Rocksteady Studios
Publisher: Eidos Interactive

Although this was a big milestone game that I normally look forward to, it took me a while to actually get to it – the past few months (as of the time of writing) have been busy, and we only got around to playing it just after Christmas. Not really a big boost, but it has just been one of those busy months.

I’ve intentionally reserved this game, in part because Peter really wanted to go for it and because it’s one of those big games that have topped our lists. It’s certainly slightly different and a game I’ve been wanting to invest some time in.

Our Thoughts

Arkham Asylum turned out to be my sort of game, for the most part. I’m not sure I’ve got the reflexes to really pull off the combos, but it’s forgiving enough and telegraphs enough that it stays fun to fight mobs of enemies. Sure, it’s not always easy, but it isn’t impossibly difficult either. But just as often, you need to approach these with stealth – you’re not bulletproof and need to sneak up on any thugs with guns – and that’s a lot more fun.

You start off with a good arsenal of stealth tricks, gaining several more as the game progresses, and the environment always seems well enough equipped to use them, with vents to crawl through, gargoyles to dive down from and all sorts of other places to hide and do a sneak attack from. It’s incredibly satisfying every time you get it right and a lot of the fun there is in the puzzle of figuring out how to deal with the different enemies.

Then there’s the other bit that probably interests me more. The exploration – never complicated, but rewarding you for digging deeper. There’s a bunch of interesting lore things to find, while also giving the xp that helps you fill out your abilites. On our playthrough, I certainly did so a lot more than Peter – wasting loads of time in several places – which mostly helped him coming back as I pointed out some collectibles.

It all hit well with me. The stealth and exploration elements appealed, with the fights aimed at just the right level for me. And it was a nice looking environment to walk around in – sure, half-destroyed buildings, but that creates the right atmosphere, and it looks quite good at that.

Final Thoughts

From what I understand, this is probably the best game in the series. Other gamesĀ  in the series have their advantages, but not the universal acclaim. In part this has the constrained environments, which helps you focus, giving some paths to take different paths, but not too much at once. The focus gives you the right tools to do in each part – fight in some areas, stealth your way around in others and sometimes use more puzzle-like setups to do so. Then there are other optional puzzles that make it even more interesting. It’s the right mix that I really enjoyed.

#137 Double Dragon

Posted: 3rd May 2017 by Jeroen in Games
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599th played so far

Genre: Fighting
Platform: Arcade
Year of Release: 1987
Developer: Technos Japan
Publisher: Taito

When I was younger, one of our NES games (that I played over and over) was Double Dragon III, a fun two player beat ’em up that we invested a lot of time in – even if I’m not sure we ever saw the end of it. It was a big thing that cemented my feelings about the genre and still is what I compare a lot of these to.

It’s the first game that’s on the list. It seems like that’s mostly because the sequels improve on the game – somewhat. More important though, does it still measure up to my memories?

Our Thoughts

So first of all, yeah, it was fun to play a game in the series again. True, I could set myself to have infinite lives, which greatly sped up my progress and allowed me to beat the game, but it was fun to get there, for a large part. The beating it part isn’t a great accomplishment – this isn’t a long game, having just a few longer levels – but it felt right for a game of this type. Not wasting too much of your money, and the difficulty is high enough that there aren’t loads of places to go. It’s optimized to actually give you an ending if you get good enough.

One of the more interesting things of this side scrolling beat ’em up comes from the weapon interaction. Most enemies have a chance to spawn with a weapon, which you can knock out of their hands and use yourself. There are also elements in the environment that allow you to do the same. These days that’s fairly common, but it still feels special, especially with the era, graphically, it really takes place in.

I had some issues with the combat not always flowing naturally into each other, which gave me some trouble with flinching. There were a few points where that got frustrating, as I couldn’t quite figure out the rules – happily, as above, sorted by not having to worry about lives.

Final Thoughts

While the actual fighting isn’t the most polished I’ve seen, Double Dragon feels good to play. The weapons do a lot to help with that, while obviously a lot still felt familiar to me. I’m glad I got to cheat a bit, but after that, the game was a lot of fun to play through.

#240 Daytona USA

Posted: 29th April 2017 by Jeroen in Games
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598th played so far

Genre: Driving
Platform: Arcade
Year of Release: 1993
Developer: Sega AM 2
Publisher: Sega

Some time ago we played Sega Rally Championship, as an arcade machine while we wer visiting Euro Disney. This game is two years younger, again as an arcade cabinet, and so we basically go back even further in early 3D graphics on a racer.

As one of the first texture mapped racers, lthis game looks better than any earlier games did – something that I’m sure will underwhelm me – and that seems to have earned it a lot of money. For me, though, the graphics won’t matter, just whether the game plays well.

Our Thoughts

So while playing the game I wasn’t really thinking of this being an old 3D game. One of my first notes is how it has polygonal non-round wheels, although with 1993 in mind, it’s actually quite impressive. There’s some (faked) sky reflection going on in your windows, which creates a pretty good illusion on its own, and the main issue really comes from the weird grainy textures you get in the day – rock noise never looks good and needs a far better resolution to pull off.

It’s a standard track racer beyond that, with checkpointed time limits as you need in an arcade racer, and the best part of the experience seems to be the graphical experience, the excitement of which comes through even now. It doesn’t push it, but it’s present. The good multiplayer – which I’ve been playing around with a bit as well – helps as much, creating the similar racing excitement.

Still, I think the main draw is how this draws you into the race, while keeping things tough enough that you have to push yourself to finish a level. I did a few times – and then cheated to properly see the tracks – but it has this uncanny ability to keep you trying.

Final Thoughts

Daytona USA isn’t the strongest racer, looking back at it now, but the initial thrill must have been amazing and the excitement still seems to be coming through. I quite enjoyed playing it – although mostly making me wish for a home version of this. They couldn’t have managed that back then, but now it feels like a good development for the genre.

597th played so far

Genre: Action
Platform: Playstation 2
Year of Release: 2005
Developer: Rockstar Leeds
Publisher: Rockstar Games

As there are 10 GTA series games on the list of 1001, we tend to play one every 100 games – and as, per tradition, the first games in the series were played at the 100 point, that’s where all subsequent sequels appear now.

Grand Theft Auto: Liberty City Stories goes back to the city of Grand Theft Auto 3, although set a few years prior to that game. Most of it would be familiar at least – the same city in more than just name and style, as seems to be the case for other repeated cities in this series.

Our Thoughts

Although I played Grand Theft Auto III for some time, I wasn’t really expecting to come back to its world a few years later and still be able to find my way around, recognise places and know where my old base was. It was a pretty nice return, but I didn’t remember quite as much of the story as I did of the environment I spend a lot of time traversing. I’m sure there were some characters I vaguely remembered, but they didn’t connect as much as they would have for someone who spend hours in the game going through all the missions.

It also gave me a chance to reflect on the changes that have been made. It’s not as smooth as the way I expect the fourth official installment in the game to run, based on what I’ve seen of Grand Theft Auto V and the Saints Row series – saving could be handled so much nicer in my opinion – but the controls are feeling better and missions are a bit nicer to handle, and seemed more varied. Sometimes easier too, in a good way, but there were still places I struggled. I still didn’t feel quite as lost as I had elsewhere.

When it came to playing it, the missions were less imprenetable than earlier games, although still marred by the lack of more frequent autosaves (causing meaningless repetitive diversions) and some oddly constrained choices in the time given when combined with the still awkward control choices. It felt like time was one of my enemies too often, as it was the only reason I failed missions, in a place where it didn’t fit. It seemed like an artificial constraint detracting from more fun mechanics.

Still, the main problem is that these interactions kept me from interacting with the world and story, something that I didn’t feel at all during my first outing in Liberty City. That’s a powerful thought, really. Let me do my thing my way.

Final Thoughts

Liberty City Stories might be as good as San Andreas if you ask me – although I probably shouldn’t say that too loudly here. It feels like it’s as good of a game and setting, even if the world feels slightly less engaging. If we could just get to a place where levels are less frustrating to play, it would be a really good game.

596th played so far

Genre: Strategy
Platform: Nintendo DS
Year of Release: 2007
Developer: Keen Games
Publisher: Disney Interactive

I’ve always wanted to play the Anno series. The basic ideas of village building and economy handling is one that appeals to me, as previously discussed for The Settlers, it scratches this vaguely simulationist itch.

Out of the extended series of games, only this one ended up on the list. It seems to be the case that these games have gotten a lot better as they’ve gotten newer, so it might not be the worst thing that we go in for this one.

Our Thoughts

This game mostly follows the example of the Settlers series, where you are creating and maintaining a supply chain while having to deal with external traders, invaders and everything else going on. It works for and soothes my coder brain, as it is all about optimizing your town.

It’s all a bit smoother and streamlined of the Settlers series, mostly making it a bit less important to get it exactly right and giving more fun and flexibility. You’re still paying attention to what buildings need space and where things are linked, but as you’e not managing people as much, it all goes a lot faster.

The story, at the same time, is a lot more present, which makes it more interesting. You have clearer goals, as your leaders from Europe send you requests and demands. There is a lot of context given, with several factions interacting, which works well enough.

Final Thoughts

Anno 1701 hits the right buttons for me – the ones that make me want to do constant city management in a Civilization game. It’s all about efficiency and maximizing throughput, without being punishing if you don’t get it quite right. I am planning to jump into the series now, as there seems to be so much more to explore.