#711 Guitar Hero 2

Posted: 19th June 2018 by Jeroen in Games
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702nd played so far

Genre: Music
Platform: Playstation 2/Xbox 360
Year of Release: 2006
Developer: Harmonix
Publisher: Activision

Man, it’s been a while since we got our plastic instruments out – possibly as far back as the original Guitar Hero as game 184 – and while we’ve had other peripherals for individual games, the setup needed to play these games has made me want to do them in bulk. I’m not quite doing that (yet), but as this game only needed a single guitar, this seemed like the point to bring it back.

Guitar Hero 2 is what it is, the sequel to the original game. The feeling I get with these games is that it’s, well, more songs, and I’m hoping there will be more than this.

Our Thoughts

So what’s different? There’s a practice mode, which would help me learn the songs better, focusing on single sections – something I didn’t explore as much, because for the blog I want to see a lot, but that would have been useful down the line. The tutorial felt like the best I played for these games – it’s good to pick up on what’s going, but doesn’t feel as long. It felt more playable in a way.

But I think I struggle a bit with these games because of the nature of this blog. I don’t want to spend ages learning songs, I want to see everything that happens in the game and try to get the full experience. Here, however, it’s about learning and mastering the songs, getting used to the rhythm and learning the flow of the game that way. I mean, it’s part of the reason why I’m looking forward to replaying this without the pressure of some three hundred more games behind me.

Still, the game’s song choices are great and they make for a great set in career mode. It feels like a bit of shame that you can’t play them in free play straight away, but need to unlock them through the career mode first. It’s a fun mode to play – obviously the actual single player game, but the game is made for, and feels big in, multiplayer, with the play against each other being more important for the parties these games became big at.

Final Thoughts

I played the first Guitar Hero nearly six years ago (that feels depressing to hear…) so I don’t think I remember the details enough to compare. The broad strokes of gameplay are the same, effective as they are, and as a sequel it feels like it mostly adds new songs (possibly with more licensing options) and tightens the gameplay quite a bit. It’s smooth, well polished and plays well, probably the most important quality you need in the game.

#719 Naked War

Posted: 15th June 2018 by Jeroen in Games
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701st played so far

Genre: Strategy
Platform: PC
Year of Release: 2006
Developer: Zee-3 Digital Publishing

It’s getting harder to pick out indie titles for the first of the fifty and I’m sure I’ve skipped one or two already. I managed to dig one out from the pile though, multiplayer focused strategy game Naked War. I believe it’s vaguely Worms inspired, but we’ll see where that goes.

Our Thoughts

One of the downsides of playing this game on my own is that it’s simply not a single player game. Most would implement simple bots that at least give you somewhat of a challenge, but in this case the opposing soldiers just stand around doing nothing. It made the game easy, of course, and I could explore what the game did in different places, but surely it’d be worth a day or two to add anything? (Yeah, I know feature development in games is never that easy. I also know how these trade offs work and how it could be made to work)

I mean, there were still parts that were made difficult, but that’s the controls or rules. With explosions reducing height, units can get into a place where you cannot find a place to fire at them. In other places, because the heights are difficult to deal with (it’s hard to target when paths cross over each other) some are easily sheltered without a way to reach them. I don’t know whether I’m missing something in the controls, whether that fixes itself in real multiplayer or whether you’d just be out of luck.

So I can see the appeal, you could run around and shoot each while avoiding your enemies (there are steps for that). Everyone has high HP – you can take a punch, there’s no insta-kills or other tricks that I’ve seen. That will add some longevity to the game and leads you to allowing for more tactical setups than you need otherwise.

While the game has cartoony-ish graphics, the weapons and machines feel quite militaristic. In a way that makes it feel weirder that there is no death, but instead that the characters lose their clothes, cartoon style. It makes it a cartoonish setup that I feel doesn’t come across elsewhere, which makes it feel odd. There’s ways to regain your clothes, apparently, as a way to control the ebb and flow of the battle, but without a single player mode, it’s hard to tell any of this.

Final Thoughts

Naked War is clearly set up for multiplayer, playing on your own maps and trying to figure out how to defeat your opponent. Single player doesn’t work, and it feels like a big omission that would have made this accessible – if only to get more practice. It would have made it engaging for me – just not now.

50 Game Round Up: 651-700 (Jeroen)

Posted: 13th June 2018 by Jeroen in Round-Up

These most recent fifty have been interesting. Picking mostly random games, I had some big surprises (and some good games I threw back because I really had done too many of that genre). At times I’m unprepared, often I’m surprised, and at least I got to plan far enough ahead that I knew what sort of thing was coming – something I needed if I don’t know how much time I’ll have for a game.

Over two thirds of the way through, the milestones are coming now and I feel like getting through the rest and finishing this. While it’s still three years off, the box of games is getting emptier (I’m getting closer to fitting the lid on!) and all piles are getting smaller. Three hundred or so left, and I feel ready.

Before we get to the next fifty, though, let’s look at the best and the worst of the past fifty.

Best Game I Had Not Previously Played

I’ve got a bunch of good ones in this list of games. I’ll cover a bunch of others in the group as well, but my top two came at the end.

Despite its control flaws, Pikmin presented an interesting world and premise and surrounds you with incredibly cute creatures. There’s a toybox feel to it, with large colourful enemies and some building and putting thins together. There’s something that works and I really should be playing the sequel soon to see all of it.

But speaking of toyboxes, Chibi-Robo appealed to that the most. You’re playing a toy, intelligent and helpful, there’s a lot of personality in the game, including in the silent protagonist. There’s plenty of small tasks to keep you occupied while you explore and figure out the bigger tasks. Although it’s set in a house, it feels like a large house to explore. There’s something exciting about being shrunk and explore a familiar situation at this scale, which this case takes great advantage of.

Worst Game

I feel like there were a bunch of games that didn’t sit well with me. While I’m not bothered by violence and try to explore different points of view, sometimes it does get to me and (perhaps because of recent events) they get to me more. Manhunt would also fit in this pattern, gratuitous without a pay off.

For that reason I am also tempted to put Tom Clancy’s Splinter Cell here, as the reactionary politics really put me off – and I think I’m just soured on the series now. For a stealth or action game, this feels a bit disappointing anyway, so it doesn’t work.

But then there’s Spindizzy,and while there’s something hidden deep in there, for me it’s a game that just didn’t work. The controls were awkward to use and I felt blocked from really making any progress. It just wasn’t for me, age is partially to blame them, but that’s what it is.

Most Surprising Game

At this point, it feels like the point of surprise has shifted as I’ve generally explored more about the game and have a better idea what each game brings – the research seems to be doing that for me and I pick up bits as I play along.

Star Control 3, then, didn’t quite come out of the blue, but its mix of genres, the options in which you could tackle certain problems and the different things that there are to accomplish make for a game at an amazing scale that feels like it exceeds what we would otherwise get. I need to get back to it – especially as some see it as the weakest of the series – and explore all of them.

Biggest Disappointment

As for disappointments, I can do this rather quickly – there was one game that was always high on my list, a cool concept and setting that I wanted to explore and see a lot of, using adventure and RPG mechanics – but applied in a way that didn’t work, especially when combined with some horrible controls. Bioforge was not what I was hoping to play and I had to leave it far earlier than I wanted to originally.

Best Blast From The Past

I’ve only played a few games that I’ve played before. Both Spy vs Spy and Command & Conquer: Red Alert were games I played a long time ago, mostly with friends, and while it was fun to revisit it didn’t quite hit that point for me.

On the other hand, Mario & Luigi: Partners in Time was a game I played an awful lot of, and revisiting that was really good. The Mario RPGs are good fun, and this entry in the Mario & Luigi series is a good example of that, showing off a lot more details and options. One game that I am happy to revisit.

Games We Kept Playing

In a way these are the real hits, aren’t they? The games that didn’t end when we moved to the next. This time there are actually two games I could apply this to.

We covered quite a bit of the Walking Dead while playing, but finished it in a few sessions afterwards. It remained an amazing story and became more compelling as we got deeper into this world. It’s a masterpiece, still, that I loved making my way through and it’s probably the biggest win of the fifty.

Persona 4, in the mean time, is a work in progress as the game is that much bigger. I’m slowly making my way through – still expanding my party as, it seems, more options keep popping up. But it’s the social aspect that fascinates me far more than the tower climbing, just telling stories of these growing friendships. It’s a fascinating concept that I need to see more of.

#486 Pikmin

Posted: 11th June 2018 by Jeroen in Games
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700th played so far

Genre: Strategy
Platform: Gamecube
Year of Release: 2001
Developer: Nintendo EAD
Publisher: Nintendo

Another landmark! 700 already. I mean, this is 7 years in the making, but we’re getting closer all the time.

At this point, there are some game series I really need to start – multiple entries where I haven’t played any. This is not on purpose – just how it goes sometimes – but we wanted to make sure we actually covered them on time. Pikmin is a Gamecube addition to the Nintendo line up, one where you guide these cute Pikmin creatures to repair your spaceship and get out. So far, I’ve mostly seen this through Nintendoland, which had a minigame based on it, but I want to see how it plays out.

Our Thoughts

Consoles have always struggled with setting up strategy games the way the PC does, one where you can play with a large number of units and have the large scale battles from Command & Conquer or even Warcraft – one where a double digit number of units or ore work out the fight and building up an army matters. Without mouse select, how do you split and order units. This is, to be fair, a problem that seems to be solved by now, but I’ve yet to experience it in all its solutions.

Pikmin, to its credit, has created a good solution. You play professor Olimar, a space traveller who has landed on an unknown planet and found these plant creatures called Pikmin. They grow like seeds, with the help of a hive, and when you pick them they will follow you. You can give them limited orders, mostly by throwing them at things to pick up, fight or otherwise manipulate. Some coloured ones have extra abilities (like exploding, which does sound horrible) and so you get the three basic ‘units’.

You lead them around the level. They will follow you unless you store them in their hive, or leave them waiting while it’s convenient to have less around. That last bit also happens when they get stuck behind something, which means you need to be careful with the swarms that follow you. This is even more important because, as night falls, you go to bed and any Pikmin that aren’t safe with you will disappear and die. It’s an interesting mechanic that forces you to pay a lot of attention… and do a sweep of the area just before you go to bed.

What makes it difficult, though, is that the controls to control Pikmin aren’t always great. Most important, while the colour Pikmin you use for different tasks matters, you cannot select which one you throw. You just use whichever one is the nearest, which isn’t great if you slightly move and get a bomb in rather than your tenth standard one. It really stands in the way and nearly lost me just about everything and creates a giant management chore instead to get it right. With the time limit present – yeah, that is thing here too – the time pressure makes the time you need to sort this even more frustrating. A single button hookup could have sorted this and it baffles me this wasn’t done before.

Final Thoughts

These control niggles undermine what’s a fun strategy game. When you get the chance to explore, there are a lot of things to discover and track down and a number of nice, simple puzzles that stand in your way – the big step is to get enough Pikmin there. I wish I could play it slightly more sandboxxy, slightly more focused on strategy and exploring, but here it has a solid enough game.

#634 Chibi-Robo

Posted: 7th June 2018 by Jeroen in Games
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699th played so far

Genre: Adventure/Platform
Platform: Gamecube
Year of Release: 2005
Developer: Skip Ltd.
Publisher: Nintendo

So there are a few action/adventure-like games left that feature you playing as a robot – aside from this, we’ve yet to play Rocket: Robot on Wheels, and I believe Space Station Silicon Valley is another. It means that I’m ill prepared – in my prep I realised this isn’t set on a space station or alien planet, it’s actually set at home. In other words, today I’m going in completely blind.

Our Thoughts

I’m not quite sure what I expected, but this wasn’t quite it. You’re left in a household as a helper robot to fix a family, in a world that actually reminded me of the early stages of Katamari Damacy – lots of messy items thrown around while you are a tiny character in your own home. It’s a perspective that always turns the mundane in something challenging and scarier and even though this is a friendlier world, here it adds some more exploration.

Here, however, you don’t grow – nor do you need to. Instead, you help out in small and big ways. Early on, cleaning the living room is a nice way to get some brownie points that allow you to gain some upgrades and grow to get your first extra abilities. Later, you start to focus on bigger stories, reuniting husband and wife and fixing a lot of people and creatures’ lives around the house. As you unlock abilities, you also get the chance to engage in some combat, get to different areas and otherwise proceed further.

Through all of this, an energy limit stops you from going too far. There are plenty of plugs where you can recharge, and running out isn’t a game ender, but it prevents you from pushing yourself too far when exploring. It doesn’t take too long for it to become less of a hindrance, as your battery size increases, but it is enough to feel like a hindrance from time to time.

The game is pretty cute, not exaggeratedly cartoonish to look at, but the perspective enhances some of the more cartoony points. The characters are exaggerations – especially when they aren’t human – and it creates a fun tone to what is partially a fairly dramatic storyline. It’s quite well executed in a world I want to see more of.

#570 Manhunt

Posted: 3rd June 2018 by Jeroen in Games
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698th played so far

Genre: Action
Platform: Playstation 2/Xbox/PC
Year of Release: 2003
Developer: Rockstar North
Publisher: Rockstar Games

With Manhunt, we play one of the more controversial games out there – at least at its time of release. It’s a protagonist playing in a big game of murder and death, something you do in most games, but that celebrates it here in its fully violent ‘glory’.  Undoubtably, it will look boring and primitve now (Carmageddon, the controversial game I remember from my childhood, certainly suffered that fate).

There is a larger conversation about violence in games (with at least some credible research showing no link between video games and violence, or even situations where we see a correlation between higher video game consumption and lower violence rates), but I don’t feel too qualified to talk about that now. Instead, let’s talk about the quality of the game instead, as much as we can.

Our Thoughts

The easiest way to ruin a game are its controls and Manhunt has an issue there. The camera doesn’t have a fully free control, instead following the character – it’s as if you’re doing first person while in a third person game, and it doesn’t quite work – it’s quite confusing and, for example, really turns you around (yeah…) when you leave the wall after sticking with it in stealth. It’s something you sort of getting used too, though not fully, and it never quite gets out of your way.

It sort of carries over to combat – it all feels quite clumsy and can be quite bad. Really, the game is all about stealth takedowns – sneak up and kill them before they notice you, often in violent, gross ways. In fact, you can decide how bad it is by how long you hold the button – creating the infamous scenes.

The game revels in its gratuitous violence, encouraging you to amp up the violence and killing you gruesomely if you don’t get there. The background seems to be that you’re a condemned murderer, now the protagonist in a violent murder TV show – one that revels in seeing you kill everyone. So you get encouraged to, although of course the game doesn’t allow for a different approach. It feels there’s no point to it, no reason, and it just doesn’t compel me to keep playing I’ve seen plenty of violent games, but this is just so pointless that I don’t see why I would participate in this one.

Final Thoughts

As the boundary of what’s acceptable keeps shifting, this game’s supposed upsides – a big violent game – doesn’t look as compelling as both the violence isn’t interesting, and how it portrays that doesn’t appeal because it’s dated, and would have looked dated within a few years anyway. Something beyond “Raargh violence” might have made this work, but this is so underdeveloped it’s not worth it for me.

697th played so far

Genre: Action/Strategy
Platform: Various
Year of Release: 1984
Developer: First Star Software
Publisher: Beyond Software/Tynesoft/Wicked Software/Kemco

I remember playing Spy vs Spy with friends about… 20 years ago maybe? Probably a few more than that, but probably about a decade after its first release. I only remember bits of it, but it stands out to me that a game that was that old even then still remained fun for us. Now I have to play it again, and it’s an experience I’ve sort of been looking forward to reliving for the past seven years of doing this blog.

Our Thoughts

The premise of this game is simple: Find a few different items (passport, ticket and such) that let you leave the country, while you set traps for the other spy so they are slowed down and can’t find them before you. The traps have an interesting system of checks and balances – most have an item to save you from them as well, creating a bit of a challenge where you have to be lucky and fast enough to find them. You need to know what you’re doing. You can tell game complexity is going up and it really works here by building on some simple concepts.

The stakes are raised with each level, featuring larger areas with more places to travel through. This is nice against the AI, but in multiplayer really would challenge you further and I think it’s those interactions, from so long ago, that I really remember well.

The game’s fairly stylized visuals – dictated by the era it was made in – work well. They feel like good copies from the comics series this is based on and create a good setting for the slapstick. It’s like they knew their limitations, and knew this could apply here well.

Final Thoughts

Spy vs Spy may see simple to us now – when we’re used to adventure mechanic, this feels fairly straightforward. At the same time, I feel it’s an advance for the time and it plays well, having just enough going on, int he game and with its graphics.

696th played so far

Genre: First-Person Shooter
Platform: Playstation 3
Year of Release: 2008
Developer: Insomniac Games
Publisher: Sony Computer Entertainment

Some of the games I’ve picked randomly on this list were very much “Yeah, that’s a game I should just check off”. Reistance 2 feels like an FPS, hailed for its large number of weapons in the book, as well as other places where it goes big (in numbers). Is it worth it? I’ll see if I can be convinced. So far, these modern shooters tend to feel boring and samey to me, and really need something special to stand out.

Our Thoughts

I can’t say that Resistance 2 wowed me at any point, or gave me a feeling that I wanted to keep playing. I suppose there were some vaguely memorable moments, but I doubt that’ll last for a year. Let’s split this critique in two parts, as I feel both have their flaws and good sides.

Starting with the tutorial, it felt bad to play through. I didn’t get many choices – fair enough for a tutorial, and indicating how the rest of the game is mostly a single path – but I felt I had several unfair deaths along the way. There were some unexpected instakills that required me to replay sections – sometimes several times – because I didn’t see why it was. Add to that several surprise monster appearances that made it all feel unnatural. I felt like I wasn’t in control, which felt jarring, I just had to hope I hit the right points even when the game wasn’t great at telling me what I needed to do.

That disappears a bit when the tutorial is over. Sure, you still don’t get a lot of choice on where to go, but you get some side areas to explore, some more options on how to approach things and generally more ways to prepare for what’s to come. This leads to a bunch of set pieces, stealth sections and big FPS areas which feel a lot more fun to play through. There are still downsides – first person platforming isn’t great, especially when hitting the water can be instant death even early on or in dark environments. A bunch of monster fights feel like they’re just infinite battles, where you wait for the timer to run it without it actually being fun to do.

The game stands out in the weapons it provides. There’s a lot of variety and it makes good use of secondary fire. One that stood out was the magnum, which fired detonatable gel when you use seocndary fire. This is used for both progression and mayhem and it’s one of those things that feels fun to pull out from time to time.

Final Thoughts

The things this game wants to do, it does well: Big action pieces, lots of weapons and lots of enemies. The bits in between can get frustrating though, and even the fighting got to me. When I first saw daylight again after the first level, I felt exhausting reaching it, and that feeling never quite went away. I can see how you can really get into this if it’s your thing, but here it just did not connect.

#131 Blasteroids

Posted: 22nd May 2018 by Jeroen in Games
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695th played so far

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

Asteroids is a classic, defining the 2D shooter genre in a major way. Its sequels don’t come up much on the list – although derivatives might have – and Blasteroids is the one official one that made it on – nearly a decade later.

The game looks different – gone are the vector graphics – and seems to have a proper level structure in it. We should see some progress here.

Our Thoughts

Blasteroids offers basic Asteroids gameplay as the game starts, shooting rocks one screen at a time. The graphics are different from the start – moving away from vector graphics gives it a more conventional look, losing some of what the original game feel unique.

The game itself becomes the better for it. After the first screen, we go into a mission map, which you can tune for your own difficulty (although you have to beat all of them eventually). It introduces more aliens that fly around, more challenges to deal with, and at the end of the map a decent boss fight – challenging but not difficult enough to put me off.

It makes for a more epic twist and really builds up the game – something you really need by this point in time, where the old gameplay wouldn’t do if you wanted to call it a modern game (for 1987). It’s just enough and tweaked enough that it is a lot of fun. This is genuinely a good game.

#541 Wario World

Posted: 18th May 2018 by Jeroen in Games
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694th played so far

Genre: Action/Platform
Platform: Gamecube
Year of Release: 2003
Developer: Treasure
Publisher: Nintendo

Wario is a bit of an odd one, isn’t he? Starting off as a villain, he took over platforming duties on the handhelds in his Wario Land series (until that went back to Mario again) when he moved to minigame collections as well as Mario sports series. In all of it, he’s defined by his greed and desire for wealth, in various guises.

In Wario World, Wario jumps into 3D, sort of – a 3D platformer of sorts that still seems to have you going after treasure. I guess they found the best developer for this!

Our Thoughts

This game was quite fun to play through, once I got used to some of the oddities – things like how to unlock some of the treasures and how to handle some of the controls. It’s 3D, but starts off as a 2D platformer with some depth, and always have that static camera that gives you that perspective. Not having a camera struggle, and being able to rely on platforming instincts, is really quite useful. The small bonus underground puzzle levels enforce that, creating some action, platforming and puzzle sequences that keep it all fun.

The fights themselves, meanwhile, feel more like larger brawls, with their inspiration clearly taken from beat ’em ups of the past – not too different from my past Double Dragon experience. Perhaps with less enemies, more colourful and cartoony, and with more different behaviours, but it does feel like a group surrounds you and you get to punch your way out of them.

It’s a shame that the game fell down at the final boss of the first world for me. I’ll freely admit it’s likely my fault, but I couldn’t get to grips with how to beat it and when trying to follow the rules I learnt from earlier levels, it went wrong and I got nowhere. I feel I could have done more, but I struggled to see where to go and got frustrated enough that I resorted to videos to see what to do. It’s a shame – it feels like some more explicit hinting would have done it for me.

Final Thoughts

As a platformer, this game is a lot of fun and feels like it foreshadows later developments in the Mario games – going down the earth for different challenges didn’t seem that far off some of the challenges in Super Mario Odyssey. The fighting is decent in groups, but don’t necessarily work as well for big boss battles. I may have been unlucky and gotten the wrong idea, but the levels felt so much more inventive that I wish I had more of that.