709th played so far

Genre: Role-Playing
Platform: PC
Year of Release: 1990
Developer: Westwood Associates
Publisher: Strategic Simulations Inc.

I haven’t played too many D&D games for the list recently. Games like Baldur’s Gate defined my taste in games, but after we covered some of them, I’ve left Eye of the Beholder until later. I believe it’s the last one, but as a first person dungeon crawler, it’s still different from the isometric Infinity Engine games we played before.

It feels like Eye of the Beholder is one of the examplars of SSI’s long reign of D&D games. It’s not the first, but it put Westwood on the map and their Lands of Lore series was as big as the Command & Conquer series became. Would we have had that without this game?

Our Thoughts

Possibly the first and biggest takeaway I got from this game is how much it felt like a D&D campaign. Maybe not the roleplaying “you all meet in a tavern” bits, or other city exploration, but going into a dungeon, finding your way around, fighting enemies, solving puzzles and looting as you accomplish your goal. Eye of the Beholder takes place in a single large dungeon and it has quite a bit to offer on each floor.

This is still also an early D&D dungeon crawl, so the floors aren’t necessarily all fair – without a thief, I believe there might be a dead man walking scenario or two and there are some traps that feel like they kill for minor mistakes – possibly even without much to avoid it. I got a Tomb of Horrors feel from it – you are there to be challenged on that level.

The game expects you to map throughout. While there are some unique sections, the environment textures are repeated through a level and it’s easy to get confused with where you are. The first level loops through some corridors that I get confused by, and the second level introduces tiles that turn you around, without immediately being obvious. There’s something authentic to this too, but I miss the bulk “this is a 20 feet corridor” that summarizes it all.

The other thing that adds to the feeling of an authentic D&D campaign is the amount of interactivity. Objects have weight, to use with pressure plates, and there’s an early puzzle involving daggers thrown through bars. It’s a bit prescripted, but it’s an interesting touch that creates some extra challenges and out of the box thinking.

Combat is optimized from its paper and pencil roots, as you would expect in a game, and basically comes down to pressing buttons to attack when they’re available. There’s a more complex system for spells, but that’s because, well, we’ve got spells. There aren’t as many natural moments to rest, but so far it’s not been too difficult, it feels like the traps have been more lethal than combat so far. The other downside is that if a character dies, you don’t have a way to raise the dead early on, or a way to replace party members. I’m told that these follow later, but so far I just saved and reloaded more often. It’s probably the most awkward bit in the game.

Final Thoughts

Given the constraints, this feels like what I would have wanted from a D&D game in the early 90s. There’s a lot of trial and error, but it’d be as close as I could get to the real thing while being on the computer. Now, the standards have obviously evolved, and I would want to keep a walkthrough around at all times, but it’s still more enjoyable than plenty of other tries at the genre.

#835 Gears of War 2

Posted: 13th July 2018 by Jeroen in Games
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708th played so far

Genre: Shoot ‘Em Up
Platform: Xbox 360
Year of Release: 2008
Developer: Epic Games
Publisher: Microsoft Game Studios

Microsoft’s big shooter franchise comes around again. We’ve played the first Gears of War a long time ago and while it was a fun co-op game, I must admit we never went back to it and revisited it.

We are now going back to it and, with how the blog has developed, I will of course be playing on my own. The thing is, does it work and, with six years of experience, does it still hold up?

Our Thoughts

Gears of War 2 plays pretty much exactly as I expected, a lot of shooting as you fight through larger areas. While I didn’t play co-operative this time, the game still invokes that feeling – always putting you in a squad of fighters, often in the same group that you’ve known for a long time and can banter with (which is likely more effective when you’ve played the first game). It’s all about that, and I enjoyed having the group to fight with.

The other side of this are the setpieces that come with a shooter like this. The tutorial has some big explosoins – some you cause yourself – and the game works to make itself big that way. I’m not sure it’s actually that great – alien invasions and all that feel a bit common for the genre – but it’s done decently well. It’s more about the squad you’re with, really.

And I think that’s where everything came through. The game is about the squad, in how it plays, in how you interact, in how the story goes. You might rise on giant mechs, but it feels it becomes a bit of a companion you need to protect.

Still, the downside is that, in the end, the game is just shooting, and it feels like that loses a bit when you’re doing it on your own. It’s fine, but I guess I just get bored with that.

Final Thoughts

Looking at the previous game and how I experienced this one, I think the lack of co-op play let this one down for me – not because it isn’t possible, but because I didn’t do it. It’s a bit unfortunate and I guess it’s something I could work on.

#118 Dragon Quest

Posted: 9th July 2018 by Jeroen in Uncategorized
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707th played so far

Genre: Role-Playing
Platform: NES
Year of Release: 1986
Developer: Chunsoft
Publisher: Enix/Nintendo

The Dragon Quest series (known as Dragon Warrior in its early English installments, but we’ll go by the proper name here) has three entries on the list – none of which I have played so far. In fact, I never really jumped on a game in the series yet, despite its creative premises in later games and how it seems it rivals Final Fantasy in ambition and contents. In fact, I believe that for the longest time, this was the bigger RPG series in Japan, even if here it niever made quite as much of an impact.

We start with the first game in the series, so I’m expecting the staples – slimes and such – although perhaps not yet playing as a few generations of shopkeepers.

Our Thoughts

The blue slimes that are the earliest and weakest in almost all games in the series feel weirdly familiar to see here. It’s played straight – the game doesn’t have a trope to play off of here – but there are some places where I really saw the groundwork being laid. We’re limited to a single person, no party, which changing the power dynamic of the JRPG by giving you less of a backup, but I get a decent sense of progression throughout.

The game looks simple – even the Android port feels like it’s not moved much beyond the NES version, which works quite well, and the interface is clunky in places. Some actions, especially in town, take a bit too long, but it’s quite nice that there is some more interactivity than just shops, people to talk to and inns – a bunch of items are hidden behind locked doors, which you can buy keys for, but it’s a quest of its own. Similarly, the lighting system in the dungeons is probably the weirder system. Every time you enter one, you need to use a torch to be able to see anything in there. It’s a new one each time – and just feels a bit unnecessary.

Final Thoughts

Dragon Quest is a far simpler game than the JRPGs we are now used to. It’s got its awkwardness. But the game is also incredibly accessible because of it and a lot of fun to play. It’s the grind, but the grind is addictive.

#437 Elasto Mania

Posted: 5th July 2018 by Jeroen in Uncategorized
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706th played so far

Genre: Simulation
Platform: PC
Year of Release: 2000
Developer: Balazs Rozsa
Publisher: Balazs Rozsa

Sometimes, an indie physics simulation is what you need to play. The screenshots of Elasto Mania – a motor cycle racing game with early 2000s simple graphics never quite sat with the memory of a game description that I would have expected to be more like Stretch Panic – a completely unrelated game.

Here, we’re talking about a motorcycle game, physics based as we drive through… some area? It’s not quite clear, all I know is that there’s an elastic motorbike, really.

Our Thoughts

In the end, Elasto Mania has a simple concept. You drive around on a motorbike that stretches, yeah, accelerating in either direction, trying to manipulate jumps and other physics interactions to get you from point to point – both to gain apples that open the exit and to get to the exit itself. It mainly gives you the challenge of how to reach these points – easy at the start, but the included levels ramp up difficulty really quickly, and that challenge only gets more difficult in the user created additional levels. The controls are messy – gain air, and you’ll keep spinning without a way to stop it if you’re not careful, and I didn’t figure out the controls for it. You just have to keep it steady so you don’t facpelant, which feels tricker than needed.

I feel like the custom made levels are the more interesting part of the games – as a physics puzzler, it’s fine but only gives you so much. When the user comes in, it becomes a lot more challenging and you get the really unique options in there. It’s also still not that common for games to support user generated content to this extent, which sets it apart on its own.

Final Thoughts

Showing the power of user generated content more than anything, the physics in this game are occasionally stimulating but nothing too special. Instead, seeing what people do with such a basic engine is more interesting and stimulating.

#88 Commando

Posted: 1st July 2018 by Jeroen in Games
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705th played so far

Genre: Shoot ‘Em Up
Platform: Arcade
Year of Release: 1985
Developer: Capcom
Publisher: Capcom

For my own amusement and occasional help in picking games, I have a list of games, constantly updated, that I am looking forward to playing and those that I really don’t, and I’d rather just be done with. Commando is on the latter list, with you playing as a commando dropped in to do something and kill loads of soldiers in the process. It’s one that I just want to get over with.

Our Thoughts

No twin stick shooter today – Commando has you shoot in the direction you move in, which might be easier to keep track of, but also makes it quite difficult to pull off any sort of slightly more impressive moves to avoid any enemies. It’s awkward and feels like it’s done for simplicity rather than to add a challenge, a part of the original design. Now, considering the era we’re at that’s not too surprising – twin sticks require more money and work to implement and, to be fair, when you’re running around a field you’re best off shooting in the direction you’re walking in.

What puts me off is what I said before. It is one of those shooters where you walk around, shoot soldiers and move on. The graphics are okay for the era, nothing to write home about, and there doesn’t seem to be much more here that’s on offer. It does the job, but doesn’t bring it for me.

#579 Bejeweled 2

Posted: 27th June 2018 by Jeroen in Games
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704th played so far

Genre: Puzzle
Platform: PC
Year of Release: 2004
Developer: Popcap Games
Publisher: Popcap Games

I’ve been getting invested in match three games for a bunch of reasons recently and, while I was looking through the list, realised that the grand daddy of them all, Bejeweled, had two of its sequels on the list. It feels like enough of a reason to play it now and see how it holds up now.

Our Thoughts

The first Bejeweled isn’t on the list, although I’m sure I must have played it. Still, I know the genre from all its derivatives – match three is almost its own genre, played mostly on phones, with Candy Crush Saga and Toon Blast regularly being high on the top grossing charts. In comparison, this is simple – only very basic combos, no weird objectives or similar. Just get a high enough score, a certain number of matches. I believe this sequel adds some modes and new levels compared to the original, but the core game is still there.

Even then, though, it’s hard to separate the original from its expanded sequels. The matching of gems is there. The power ups for matching are in there. You gain points. The objectives are simple – mostly just matching – and beyond that you just play the game. Depending on your game mode, you keep going, you have a time limit or you just have a limited amount of pieces where you need to solve the puzzle. It’s simple. It’s straight forward. But it works. And becomes incredibly addictive real quick. You can see why it has such lasting appeal.

I’ve been spending a lot of time with match three games and playing them, but more isn’t necessarily better – I really appreciated the simplicity this time.

#1019 Dishonored

Posted: 23rd June 2018 by Jeroen in Games
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703rd played so far

Genre: Stealth
Platform: Playstation 3/Xbox 360/PC
Year of Release: 2012
Developer: Arkane Studios
Publisher: Bethesda Softworks

While this game came up, we’ve had the release of Dishonored: Death of the Outsider just behind us, which had some great reviews while simultaneously feeling like it might be the end of the series. It’s always felt quite acclaimed and important, but I guess it never quite caught on (especially for the numbers Bethesda might expect…).

In the mean time, I’ve held back on the first game in the series. It’s significant enough to be known to be good, a modern step in the stealth game. I have to try it, and this feels like the time to do it.

Our Thoughts

Some time ago, we played Thief: The Dark Project. It created large stealth levels, set in houses and environments that let you create your own path through the world based on your playstyle and chosen equipment. Ignoring Dishonored‘s opening level – mostly a fairly linear affair that takes you through sewers as you break out of prison (did I mentioned this was published by Bethesda? There’s a theme) – you end up in these large city blocks. There are definite constraints to your movement, but the first level allows for a (likely suicidal) frontal assualt or at least one or two side passages further. They are larger, here, but that’s not just time – it allows each level to be filled with content. There are the (by now obligatory) collectibles listed, as well as numerous side quests that you get told about as you go on. This can go from a break in into a fancy house to helping out strangers or taking out smaller gangs.

You get a bunch of powers that help you along, upgraded with the runes you collect along the way. Blink, a short range teleport is the first one, but aside from passive abilities like health upgrades, you get a chance to possess other creatures, freeze time or see enemies through walls. It’s the power of the mask you possess, set up in some weird story cut scenes that I haven’t quite worked out yet. The whole thing gives you a decent sense of mobility and superiority over your victims, especially with the innate stealth your character possesses even before he’s magic.

That allows the game to take stealth to its own version of perfection. In the dystopic world, it makes sense that soldiers have their spaces and paths and not everyone needs realistic AI – those that would usually aren’t in the areas you can access. It’s not exactly a living world – it doesn’t need to be – but it’s a world that rewards your stealthy walks while allowing for violent binges.

The chaos system – where, in short, the world changes based on how violent you are – further rewards stealth and I believe the story changes based on how violent you get – less is better, preserving the legacy of the queen whose murder made you an outlaw. It’s a challenging game to keep to stealth and while I haven’t been able to see all the consequences, it creates a sense that what you do matters far more than you get elsewhere.

Final Thoughts

As amazing as the game looks – it’s a grimy city with some lovely architecture, leaning heavily on a steampunk setup – it really doesn’t matter that much when playing it. It creates the right atmosphere, it puts you in the right mindset, but it’s not what makes the game great. That comes from some polished stealth setups, encouraging use of your powers that, when it works out, feels really good. Not that I’ve quite managed that all the time… but it’s been great to explore this world and see what’s in there.

#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.