858th played so far

Genre: Racing/Puzzle
Platform: Nintendo DS
Year of Release: 2008
Developer: Firebrand Games/Atlus
Publisher: Focus Home Interactive/Atlus

I had an amazingly good time a while ago with Trackmania: United Forever for the PC. The racing felt fun and the puzzle and track building was a pretty fun twist. It wasn’t the first to do it, but it worked incredibly here as well.

There was a DS version released in the same year – the numbers in the list are consecutive – and it’ll be interesting to see whether the fun transfers. The trackbuilding certainly should with its touchscreen.

Our Thoughts

Somehow, Trackmania DS doesn’t work as well as its PC-bound cousin. The game doesn’t look as good – something you’d expect from the DS anyway – but it doesn’t parse as well and probably could have used a pass to adjust to all of that.

This extends to the racing. It’s fine and at times fun, but the controls aren’t precise enough to really stay fun. It’s clunky and I ended up struggling with cornering – jumping off the track and losing any speed, without having a way to adjust. It’s difficult to get this right in other platforms, depending on the controls you use, but it doesn’t feel tuned right here.

That’s even more of a disadvantage as you need to earn coins to unlock different tracks and other modes – you don’t get much to start with and have to do pretty well to get these quickly. It’s not a clear process anyway, but also takes a lot longer than feels fun. This includes being able to get to puzzle mode – which doesn’t matter as much, as while this was the highlight of the PC version, here the editor controls are too unintuitive to use it the way you should.

Final Thoughts

While Trackmania DS was an okay racer, Trackmania: United Forever is so much better that it makes this feel bad. If it was released a decade earlier, it would have been a nice highlight, but here it feels like it just doesn’t work as it should.

857th played so far

Genre: Strategy/Role-Playing
Platform: PC
Year of Release: 2009
Developer: Relic Entertainment
Publisher: THQ

The first Dawn of War game hit a strategy spot, focusing on smaller squads that are easier to follow and keep track of. The world was as engaging as I’d expect and while base building was a thing, it was less important than capturing specific strategic points to make your way through a map.

The publicity for the third game said the second game focused more on heroes, which that third game started to reverse. Considering how I enjoyed Warcraft 3, though, I feel like I’m going to enjoy this one as well.

Our Thoughts

There are a bunch of elements of Dawn of War II that hit me in the right spot. There’s a heavy focus on heroes and leveling them, determining how they develop and so on. Even determining who goes into the mission and the squad they take with them feels like it has a big effect on what you can do and you develop your favourites as well. They’re decently written, given their limited ability to comment, but it’s really good to have these characters present.

The campaign does fit into that as well. While there’s a bit of a flow to the missions, they have quite a bit of effect on each other as well. You travel between multiple planets, which takes some time to travel between. I don’t think time has had an effect yet, but I can see that applying to the campaign at some point. Each planet has multiple maps, one per region, and each has several buildings you can start to control – although out of the two or three per map, you can only get one per mission. When you do, they give you an advantage – giving you additional support in other levels you play on the planet. It’s a neat idea and it feels like the campaign matters so much more.

Beyond this, the campaign feels good – there are some nice different objectives and the variety of units really makes a difference as you play through. The downside is that there is no base building, but with the focus on characters and strategic points this doesn’t feel as necessary, with the game caring more about how you make it through the level with the resources you have.

Final Thoughts

Dawn of War II feels different from other strategy games, especially from those the first game drew from, but by drawing on the new mechanics they feel closer to what a Warhammer 40k battle feels like – no base buildings, but instead keeping up with your units. It’s a neat system that’s incredibly effective and I’m sad to hear the third game moved away from it, as this was probably the best recent strategy game that I’ve played.

#439 Grandia II

Posted: 28th March 2020 by Jeroen in Games
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856th played so far

Genre: Role-Playing
Platform: Dreamcast/Playstation 2/PC
Year of Release: 2000
Developer: Game Arts
Publisher: Game Arts/Enix/Ubisoft

Every once in a while, I end up with a chance to sink a decent amount of time in a bigger game, and I’d been saving Grandia II for one of those games. It came from the JRPG boom of this era and looked really interesting, but I couldn’t just rush through it.

Despite being a sequel, I know nothing about the original, so I’m going in completely blind – other than what I know of RPGs, but I hope we’ll see something original there too.

Our Thoughts

It’s hard to remember what the Playstation 2 and Dreamcast were really capable of back in 2000 – you can tell that there’s a lot more they can do compared to the previous generation. In particular, Grandia II features quite large, open areas you travel through, without the loading screens you might have gotten before. I can’t say that the graphics are amazing – they’re still a bit dated – but it’s nothing bad here really. It’s a proper 3D world as well, with a rotating camera, and pretty much every area has interactive elements. At first it might seem like you’re just climbing stairs, but as I got further I got to do puzzles both to open new paths and to defeat enemies in ways that didn’t need me to battle them. One dungeon requires you to play with water levels, and while other games have done it similar, the way it all comes together feels quite impressive for a game of its age.

The battle system adds to this game’s ambitious feelings. While it uses an ATB set up, the game adds movement and positioning to it. You don’t get much control over it, but there’s a strategic element to who you target. Most of the time, though, it seems to come down to you not being able to reach your target if the AI can’t path you there quickly enough. Still, the battles feel dynamic and work well here.

Moves and such are bought with skill coins, and magic with magic coins, something that works as a pretty easy to follow system. What’s neat about the magic is that you can equip different magic configurations – vaguely like Final Fantasy VI‘s espers. Since (so far) the game features fairly frequent character switching, this is actually pretty useful to make sure you always have the magic you need.

The story isn’t quite as engaging so far – standard help the church maiden fair that, I’m sure, will turn out to have some evil religion involved. You pair up early on with a demon, which seemed quite neat, but I’m curious if there’s an unexpected twist here later… rather than the expected one I had so far.

Final Thoughts

While Grandia II has plenty of resemblance to its contemporaries, the positioning system and experience feels unique enough to me. The story may not have wowed me as much (so far), but the production has, and that’s what really becomes promising for this series.

#144 Gemini Wing

Posted: 24th March 2020 by Jeroen in Games
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855th played so far

Genre: Shoot ‘Em Up
Platform: Arcade
Year of Release: 1987
Developer: Tecmo
Publisher: Tecmo

We have covered well over 100 shooters right now. From the outside, this looks like one of many sidescrollers that time hasn’t been kind too – probably with its own unique features, but nothing is jumping out at me that’s really getting me excited.

Our Thoughts

For the most part, Gemini Wing is a standard side-scrolling shooter. The enemies are pretty generic aliens, pretty much as you’d expect, and the backgrounds are pretty standard.

What stands out, as the special feature of the game, is the special weapon system. There are a bunch of nice ones, but the way you use them isn’t the same as other times. Normally, you’d get unlimited shots of a weapon that changes as you collect different power-ups, or you get one or two charges that get replaced as you get a new one. In Gemini Wing, the shots of your special weapons follow you instead. You shoot them out in the order you connect, but there’s this constant connection between your special weapon and what you see and connect. It’s a neat idea and works quite well here.

Final Thoughts

I can’t say that, as a game, Gemini Wing impressed me enough to stand out – it’s a step in the genre’s development that probably makes sense when you follow it, but doesn’t stand out when you don’t have the context. The weapon system works nicely, though, and that makes it feel like there’s more here that could stand out.

#182 G-Loc: Air Battle (R-360)

Posted: 20th March 2020 by Jeroen in Games
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854th played so far

Genre: Shoot ‘Em Up
Platform: Arcade
Year of Release: 1990
Developer: Sega AM 2
Publisher: Sega

For today’s shoot ’em up, we get a flight simulator-like plane dog fighting game. Rather than the focus on accuracy of the former, getting the shooting in is more important – it looks like a primitive Flight Simulator, but based on the description we don’t get that much freedom or as many options. It seems fine enough, but let’s see how it goes.

Our Thoughts

The uncharitable reading of this game’s gameplay is that it’s a standard shooter with a plane HUD on top. Playing this in the arcade, some cabinets seem to have been a sit down affair that moved as you flew around, for some cool realism. Here, there’s a smooth feeling shooter where the oddities of the genre make sense.

At the beginner level, it really feels like a standard shooter. You can aim, while you shoot at the enemies coming at you. The medium difficulty gives you more speed control, which adds quite a bit to the strategy and adds in the flight simulation that sets the game apart. The control feels quite intuitive, which is quite good considering how later games still struggle with it.

The game has you shooting down planes coming in against you in most level, although in some there is a focus on ground troops instead. There’s the usual general fire, as well as auto lock on missiles that have a limited number. What’s quite nice is that the opponents have these as well, and when one gets fired at you from behind it switches to an outside view to help you avoid it. It’s a decent working system.

Final Thoughts

G-Loc may not seem like much at first glance, but it’s a lot of fun. The shooting is good, the controls are well done and play well and the game looks good, especially for its time. It’s a gem that sadly seems to be mostly forgotten, and worth giving a go when you can.

853rd played so far

Genre: First-Person Shooter
Platform: PC
Year of Release: 2002
Developer: 2015, Inc.
Publisher: Electronic Arts

It feels like the Medal of Honor series is another military shooter similar to the Call of Duty series – you’re a soldier, you go out and attack places, guard them or similar and go through from there. Beyond that, I’m honestly not sure what sets the series apart.

Our Thoughts

So this was actually released a year before the first Call of Duty game, although I’m not sure it matters as much. One difference is that this still has the feel of an earlier PC shooter, when the systems were created around mouse and keyboard. It means that you get a nice, larger weapon selection that works better for these  controls. It’s refreshing to go back to, for sure.

The game itself is quite challenging, both from its difficulty and because it feels clunky, still. It doesn’t help that the first mission includes an escort section, which is always difficult, but even more when you’re just starting and not dealing with great AI or control over escort. It’s an annoyance.

Considering its age, the game is decent – not looking the best, but nice enough for its age – and despite the difficulty it stays quite playable. The genre evolved for sure, but it started off well here.

#681 X3: Reunion

Posted: 12th March 2020 by Jeroen in Games
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852nd played so far

Genre: Simulation
Platform: PC
Year of Release: 2005
Developer: Egosoft
Publisher: Deep Silver/Enlight

While the Elite games define a genre, others take after them too. X3: Reunion is one of them. The third part of the story – the fourth being released less than two years ago – it seems to trade on the same ideas like that or Freelancer, but obviously with a number of improvements. What interests me more is that it also seems to have a story, which should help guide the action.

Our Thoughts

While X3: Reunion has a lot of the trading functionality of the Elite series, early on the story is the bigger focus of the game. After the initial cutscenes, you face an alien fleet that’s attacking the universe and you do your best to fight back. This then, through the involvement of a cult and others, leads to the bigger plot. It feels like following missions helps guide you through the world and teaches you the ropes. It’s something these games definitely need and it works well here.

Beyond that, X3: Reunion is a nice looking space game, that plays a lot better than others. It’s an area to investigate and lost in – as long as I can manage to get back to that.

#103 Trinity

Posted: 8th March 2020 by Jeroen in Games
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851st played so far

Genre: Interactive Fiction
Platform: Various
Year of Release: 1985
Developer: Infocom
Publisher: Infocom

After we started the previous fifty with one Infocom adventure, A Mind Forever Voyaging, which I loved, I got to play another one from the list. It left me with Trinity, which is more focused on puzzles, though with a stronger story than, say, Zork. Just the description sounds odd, so let’s see how it goes.

Our Thoughts

Trinity‘s story starts off simple, walking through London’s Hyde Park (sort of…) and helping out people as some weird events start happening around you and, it turns out, an atom bomb is about to fall on the city. You escape in a rather Carroll-esque way into a wondrous land that gives access to a number of locations at a moment just before a nuclear explosion. It follows the development of the technology and the areas where it happens.

The conceit is interesting – it doesn’t draw you in as immediately as A Mind Forever Voyaging does, as the puzzles are a bit more obscure. The fairy tale world feels fairly disjointed, which makes the puzzles more difficult to track, while the other areas are fairly small. It also feels easier to fail, which isn’t great in places – death is still an option, and I believe there are situations where you can get into a dead man walking situation.

Final Thoughts

Trinity takes you into a weird, off beat world that draws inspirations from some big events in recent human history – its specific focus is quite interesting, as are the things it builds off it. It’s a theme that would have been that big in the eighties – nuclear disasters may not have loomed quite as big (and Chernobyl had not yet happened), so it seems like it would have closer to people’s minds than it might be now. As an adventure game it may not fit my current tastes as much though – I was glad I could at least go to a guide.

50 Game Round Up: 801-850 (Jeroen)

Posted: 6th March 2020 by Jeroen in Round-Up

I’ve had some interesting moments in this fifty games. I’ve finished replaying all the games I’ve played before – which will make one of the below categories mostly redundant in the future (or will at least require some creative accounting), but it also means everything that’s come since is a bit more surprising. At the same time, I’m getting several genres falling by the wayside – saving the final game for a big final push. More of that in the next fifty, I’m sure, as I keep moving to the end.

Best Game I Had Not Previously Played

Part of the downside of this quest is that I’m playing parts of a game that I want to play more of.  Now I’ve gotten this far in, this just gets worse – I am looking forward to using these hours to dive deep into games (as well as playing more board games. And relaxing. And just doing what I want to do). I’ve summed up a bunch of favourites in here, but these are specifically worth calling out.

GrimGrimoire was a surprisingly fun strategy game and while there were moments where I did struggle with parts, I feel like the story that’s being told is engaging and needs to be explored further. Dissidia Final Fantasy was just as surprising, but it might just be the fighting game that’s perfect for me.

For my winner, though, I need to go to my favourite genre. I’ve fallen in love with what the Dragon Quest series does, and Dragon Quest: Journey of the Cursed King tops that list. There is so much here, and it feels like a modern RPG that also innovates in a way that the series as a whole keeps doing.

Worst Game

At this point, it does feel like a lot of the worst games are old ones – games where time passed them by and they’re not as good as they would have been at the time. Rolling Thunder, for example, looked nice for its time, but was difficult to play and didn’t seem worth it.

The biggest offender of this is Fairlight, which is an isometric action/adventure that has no hints, feels inaccessible and isn’t a lot of fun. Even the Youtube walkthroughs I saw didn’t go anywhere and didn’t tell me what was going on, beyond a bunch of trial and error that I can’t be bothered with.

Most Surprising Game

What’s mostly happening with this list is that having played a bunch of them, you start forming your opinions before then. While a bunch of them pay off, others exceed your expectations. Dragon Quest V is an older RPG, but the scope of its story, even ignoring the mechanics, is great, especially when you consider there are such long stretches that don’t involve any combat. Wetrix is a puzzler that works remarkably well – more than you’d think, and it becomes so much more addictive even if the progression didn’t work the way I thought it would.

A Mind Forever Voyaging, on the other hand, doesn’t just bring in the additional quality.Its structure and setup feels so far beyond other Infocom games that it manages to tell a story far more interesting, in part as a real exercise in world building. It grabbed me from the start and it feels like it took until more recent walking simulators that you saw an experience like this created on a larger scale.

Biggest Disappointment

On the other hand, plenty of games are disappointing too. Laser Squad really felt like it could bring a fun if simple strategy game, but it was just that obtuse and difficult to deal with.It felt like it didn’t work, and it was disappointing when I was ready for something I could sink my teeth into.

Best Blast From The Past

This set of fifty games is the last where I’m playing games I’ve played before – so the last set will all be new to me. Going back and playing through Curse of Monkey Island was really nice, showing me that part of the story again even if it fell flat at the end – again. It certainly reminded me of some good puzzles I thought were in other games.

But the real blast from the past was the Incredible Machine. The series charmed me early on and I still enjoy playing them, as the charm still exists. It beats games like Eets by its variety and focusing on creating puzzles, without other distractions. Yeah, it’s still a brilliant game to play.

Games We Kept Playing

As always, we haven’t been able to keep playing loads of games – and although it’s a focus on blog gaming, it’s also because the games on the list are getting older and there are new ones worth playing… But out of them, it’s Mr. Driller that we kept getting stuck into. It’s that much fun and I want to play more of it.

850th played so far

Genre: Action/Adventure
Platform: DS
Year of Release: 2007
Developer: Nintendo EAD
Publisher: Nintendo

Somehow, I managed to end up behind on Legend of Zelda games and have three more to go in about 150 games – yeah, with 850 we’re at a clear landmark and it feels good to play a game in a big series this time.

Phantom Hourglass is one of the handheld top down games like Minish Cap, using more of the seafaring that we also saw in Wind Waker – taking its inspiration in look and themes. I enjoyed the former, and I think I did the latter eight years later, so we’ll see how it goes here.

Our Thoughts

I think that at this point in the life of a series, it’s fair to ask what new thing a game offers. Phantom Hourglass draws on elements that appeared in its console iterations before, while using that to gate the game as well – you need to gather charts to open up more of the world, using a central dungeon you keep coming back to. You’re limited in how long you can stay in there, upping that time limit and getting items to get through the dungeon faster are part of what you keep doing throughout the game.

The dungeons feel like fairly prototypical Zelda fare, with some nice stealth puzzles put in and the added pressure from the time limits in the dungeon – they didn’t get to me too much, but it works well to create some added urgency. It didn’t get in the way much, with everything feeling generous enough, but the tension is there.

The exploration of the world works quite nicely. Rather than a world that feels packed together, with unlocks taunting you constantly, the charts and growing world keeps you focused on your goal, at least early on, and it feels like you can actually finish exploring places earlier on rather than having to sweep the map every time you get powers for new places. It feels big and open, in a way that the series really moves towards later.

Final Thoughts

I don’t think Phantom Hourglass is among the best Zelda games, but this shows how the quality of the series is so high that almost any real entry in it deserves a place on the list. There’s enough in the world to recommend it, as well as the charm in the characters and the way it is all put together. Sure, I’m looking forward to Spirit Tracks – that one seems custom made for me – but it’s incredibly good here.