#966 Skate 2

Posted: 20th April 2021 by Jeroen in Games
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949th played so far

Genre: Sports
Platform: Playstation 3/Xbox 360
Year of Release: 2009
Developer: EA Black Box
Publisher: Electronic Arts

In my understanding, the Tony Hawk’s Pro Skater series and its spin offs dominate the skating genre, although it makes sense that EA would try to get into it considering the number of sports games they publish. It’s not a series that reached the yearly release timeline (probably because the environments need more than copy and pasting in a new list of players), but I wonder how a more modern skating game holds up.

Our Thoughts

As I was setting up my posts, I let the introduction to the game play, with your skater released from prison in a live action segment and giving credit to a lot of actors – both prisoners and guards – which immediately makes me wonder what I got into. It’s fairly low budget live action too, but the story mode just feels like it’s going for a cringy, edgy feel – an underdeveloped GTA to frame a story that feels more serious than I feel I’d get from a Tony Hawk series game.

All of that leads to you skating to a fairly standard skate park in a basic movement tutorial, while the skate park itself is set up to teach you a number of tricks through challenges. It uses the standard set up of a bunch of challenges with some thin story justification (taking shots for a magazine being the obvious one) and requires you to get all of them quite well without, I think, giving you quite as much feedback on what you’re doing wrong – there was one where I couldn’t get the height, while another felt like it didn’t really have the margins you need. I found the controls fairly floaty, and since there were no camera controls in the game, it’s actually quite difficult to go in a straight line – something you need to be able to pull these things off. I’m sure there’s a trick to it, but as the game focuses on teaching you the button combinations instead, you don’t really get to doing the actual work.

I get that these linear “do the trick” challenges helps you teach the game, but between the boring environment and fairly linear set of challenges, there’s not that much exciting here. When I compare it to Tony Hawk’s cul-de-sac start that had loads going on and more to discover, this felt incredibly boring in comparison. I tried the freeskate option, which gives you access to the later levels, and they’re big, interesting areas to run around in, but without any guidance it got quite boring too. You need some sort of story goals, but the game really seems to fight against letting you do something interesting.

Final Thoughts

I can see Skate 2‘s value in a different take on the skating genre and going for a more serious feel, but it doesn’t work. The controls don’t feel intuitive and the reliance on mandatory tutorials to teach you tricks hinders the game without making it feel any more accessible. It honestly feels like if you want this, there’s a series that clearly does it better, and this game trying to contrast itself with it comes off as hokey rather than interesting.

#256 Shadowrun

Posted: 17th April 2021 by Jeroen in Games
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948th played so far

Genre: Action/Role-Playing
Platform: SNES
Year of Release: 1993
Developer: Beam Software
Publisher: Data East

I’ve always been curious about the Shadowrun universe. Not enough to play a paper and pencil RPG with it, but there’s something about the cyberpunk universe that’s interesting, with a dystopia that seemed prescient. Yeah, I backed the recent RPG entries that were funded through Kickstarter – they’re on the list of games to play once I finish this list.

In 1993 and 1994, two earlier, console based RPGs were released based on Shadowrun. The 1994 version for the Sega Genesis (which I tried as well) is possibly technically more proficient and interesting, but felt fairly grindy early on to stay interesting. The SNES version is the one that’s actually on the list, and while there are some arguments on which one is best, I’m curious to see where it ends up going.

Our Thoughts

I ended up being quite amazed by this game. There’s a lot to do in the world, as divided as it is in the area, with a lot of NPCs walking around while following the proper RPG tradition of hiding secrets for later character growth everywhere. I followed a guide, since the game has enough obscure options that it’s really useful to have some idea of what to do (I doubt I would have found my first gun without it). Part of the reason for it is that with the game being dated, finding items can be a pixel hunt looking for small drawers and other bits when you still need them to progress. The game looks good beyond that, but it means that those details tend to get lost.

As part of the guide, to be able to progress further the start of the game can be a bit grindy. You get free healing in your apartment while there is a room next door that you can repeatedly enter to respawning enemies. Taking them out slowly levels your stats which lets you improve your skills – gunplay focused at the start as you don’t have your magic yet and it takes quite a while before you’ll get a deck to hack the different computer systems. It’s an unfortunate thing, but in the end it didn’t take too long, it gave me a chance to get used to the combat system and the rest of the game flowed quite smoothly as I explored the first neighbourhood.

Again, there’s a lot to do here, between finding out what’s going on and finding the people you need. The conversations use keywords, which leads to that unfortunate tendency to have to try every word in case someone has something to say. A guide helps here too, but when you hit it there’s so much detail to the world that it gets really interesting.

Final Thoughts

It’s in a way interesting to see an action RPG in the western style on a console known for its JRPGs. This marries the two, reducing the complexity of western games like the Ultima series while having a more open ended play than the Final Fantasy series on the SNES. I still recommend using a guide, but with it you play something that’s still a lot of fun – and yeah, I think it’s better than the Genesis installment.

#375 Grand Prix Legends

Posted: 14th April 2021 by Jeroen in Games
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947th played so far

Genre: Driving
Platform: PC
Year of Release: 1998
Developer: Papyrus Design Group
Publisher: Sierra Sports

The focus on Grand Prix Legends feels different just reading the description. While other racing games tend to have you drive modern cars with focusing on that polished experience – Forza Motorsport feels like one of the best of this – or even sets you in the future with the Wipeout series of games.

Instead, Grand Prix Legends is set in the 1960s, trying to replicate the 1967 Grand Prix, with its older cars, old layouts and racers of the time. It’s obviously quite a different setting and while I won’t expect the Mafia type of old style cars, I do wonder what the influences will be other than it looking that much older.

Our Thoughts

Sometimes games hit you in a weird place. While I never had the biggest interest in racing, as I discussed in past write ups (Sega Rally Championship and Gran Turismo) my father did. While I mostly accompanied him to some rally races, I have memories of visiting races at Zandvoort with him when I must have been about ten years old. While I don’t remember too much of the races, I remember some of the places where I watched it from from my memory – not too far of the pit street, and the exit from the Tarzanbocht – I feel there was a spectator area there where we watched some races from.

As this game replicates the 1967 Grand Prix, the old Zandvoort Grand Prix and old circuit are in the game and I recognised some of these spots. While I’ve recently had a similar experience with Project Gotham Racing 3, this one goes back further to really connect to that nostalgia. So yeah, I got stuck in the level geometry a few times and that got frustrating, but it worked.

Like GTR 2, this game doesn’t just have you go in for a few laps to win the race. Instead, the full race is simulated. While there are some options for time compression, you can race them at their full length and have to do the different practics and such. The real life number of laps and such can be shorted, but there’s that structure that’s there – it’s really a simulation of that season rather than a racing game that has you do a few laps of each circuit.

The downside, in general, is its age. Not only does the game look like it’s from 1998, as I said it’s also too easy to get stuck in the geometry. It’s tricky enough to control at times, and that sort of annoyance feels worse when you are dealing with these longer runs.

Final Thoughts

I’ll admit that this game hit a button that not everyone will feel, but it still works for me. The racing itself isn’t as much to write home about, it’s hard to keep your car under control, the fast forwarding leaves you missing out on too much stuff and it’s incredibly fiddly to get the game running these days. Still, there’s something here that hits that specific spot that simulates this experience.

#160 Narc

Posted: 11th April 2021 by Jeroen in Games
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946th played so far

Genre: Shoot ‘Em Up
Platform: Arcade
Year of Release: 1988
Developer: Williams Electronics
Publisher: WMS Industries

It appears that Narc was another controversial game back when it was released because of the amount of violence in the game. That, I suspect, will be a quaint complaint knowing where we are now, but it’s interesting to note that a game where you play a narc – beating up drug dealers and taking down criminals – gets those type of objections.

We’ve got another run and gun here, mopping up another shooter. Oh well, seventy-five games left to go!

Our Thoughts

Narc isn’t a very complicated game. It’s pure run and gun – there’s very little platforming, most of it doesn’t have any at all. You go around killing your enemies and arresting lower level thugs to get to the end of each level. At the end you have to capture the boss – a character who’s introduced in a pretty nice cut scene, but doesn’t really seem to make an appearance in the actual level… other than that their duplicates appear in other levels, because despite the nice looks it seems like they needed some optimization here.

Even so, although the fighting wears you out (hint: you usually don’t need to kill everyone), it has some neat touches that keey you going. There are some extended driving levels – race ahead a bit until you crash and have to get another car – but mostly it’s shooting down a lot of enemies until you get to the end.

Final Thoughts

Narc feels good to play. The loop gets quite repetitive, but it’s a pretty fun run and gun game that does what it does really well, without getting too difficult. It’s pretty neat for what it is.

#164 Fantasy World Dizzy

Posted: 8th April 2021 by Jeroen in Games
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945th played so far

Genre: Action/Adventure
Platform: Various
Year of Release: 1989
Developer: Oliver Twins
Publisher: Codemasters

Both because of my interest in older games and to prep playing older games, I regularly read the Retro Gamer magazine for a while. I haven’t taken the time to do so in a while, but one of the series I remember reading about a lot is the Dizzy series. It came up often, possibly in part because the Oliver twins were often up for interviews and because there was a lot of love for it (as well as an upcoming at the time Kickstarter campaign), but it seemed I had to play it for myself to really get it. There’s only one game in the series on the list, and this is the one. I hope this will let me see why it’s so beloved.

Our Thoughts

It feels like the action/adventure has drifted, at some point, into its own genre rather than a combination of the two as we (internally) treat these genre combinations on the blog. While Tomb Raider originally had some vague exploration and puzzle elements, it’s hard to see how Grand Theft Auto IV or Uncharted still have adventure game elements. Rather, they are action games that take place in levels that aren’t entirely linear and may reward some exploration, or are games that take place in an open world with a story structure. The adventure element here is how you vaguely interact with the world, as well as a link to the genre in other media.

Fantasy World Dizzy shows how these (often arbitrary) boundaries made more sense thirty years ago. There is an action element to the game in its platforming and timing (jumping a crocodile at the right time so you can keep his jaws wedged open), while a lot of it revolves around basic adventure elements – finding elements and using them in the right place to progress the story or the characters. It’s no Monkey Island, but the core of moving items and combining them is there, with some sideways logic and experimentation as you try to connect the dots. I suspect that similar flowcharts underlie both games.

If the game allowed it, I would have loved exploring that – walking around the area, trying to figure out what goes where, and exploring the world as you do. It doesn’t look fancy, sure, but there’s enough going on here that it’s a neat place to go through.

Unfortunately, the action elements trips it up. First, as you almost had to have in the eighties, you only have limited lives. You have your jumping puzzles and action set pieces, but they are weirdly frustrating. The platforming is just fine, but it’s all that bit too lethal – torches hanging on the wall aren’t just decoration, jumping at the wrong point in a hallway can kill you. It’s an odd decision, as normally you don’t get hurt by background elements that way, and they don’t otherwise add to the challenge, it’s just another silly thing to remember. You lose your lives too quickly for them, forcing you to restart, which deters you from wanting to solve the later puzzles – it takes so long to reach them, and you have to hope you’ll have enough lives when you do, that you can’t have the safe experimentation you need in a game like this to work. Again, thirty years of progress, but I’d have loved a version hacked to give you unlimited lives so you can try things without being sent back to the start of the game every time.

Final Thoughts

The game’s deadliness is really frustrating, as it really hampers your ability to come to grips with what’s going on and feel you’re making progress. It doesn’t need it, because there’s a lot there in this game, and there seems to be enough in here that just resetting you to the screen each time would keep you going long enough.

944th played so far

Genre: Puzzle
Platform: Playstation 3/Playstation Portable
Year of Release: 2008
Developer: Game Yarouze/SCE Japan Studio
Publisher: Sony Computer Entertainment

After Art Style: Intersect a few days ago, we’re now covering another minimalist, black and white puzzle game. This time, if the timings were reversed, I’d say it looks like a knock off of Monument Valley with an even more stripped down aesthetic. There are a lot of Escher-like perspective trikcs that I’ll have to work with here.

Our Thoughts

One of the core gameplay elements of Monument Valley was that of rotating the world and create visual illusions to make it seem paths line up – when it looks like you can walk from one to the other, you can. Echochrome trades on this same illusion, having to create a visual line up or hiding your join behind a pillar so your autonomously walking main character will cross the paths. You can rotate the level and move your camera however you want, but you have very little control over the actual area. All you have to work with is how you can change the perspective.

So you try to hide your gaps behind other platforms and connect walkways where you can to get different goals done – having two characters meet each other, have your character reach specific places and so on, avoiding enemies in certain cases. It’s a nice experience, not quite zen, but the minimal black and white line art and walking mannequins really focus you on the puzzles. The one thing that lets it down is that it’s incredibly fiddly. You’re not just lining up walkways, you have to hit the exact right spot – and there’s an angle it’ll just skip over so you can’t ever line it up. Because it felt this unintuitive, it felt like the game got in the way to be annoying rather than because I didn’t see the solution. It gets in the way of the toy aspect of playing around with the world. It’s a shame as it got that bit too frustrating.

Final Thoughts

There is something quite fun about Echochrome – the presentation is good, the idea is fun (and got copied plenty) and there is a good amount of variety in the puzzles. However, the controls are off enough that I struggled to finish things when I felt I fairly should have gotten it. The rules aren’t clear and that is not a good thing to get to in a puzzle game.

#888 Art Style: Intersect

Posted: 2nd April 2021 by Jeroen in Games
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943rd played so far

Genre: Puzzle
Platform: Nintendo DS
Year of Release: 2009
Developer: Q-Games
Publisher: Nintendo

Looking at the list of other Q-games titles we’ve played and that they published, such as the Pixeljunk series, Starship Patrol and Reflect Missile, it’s clear that they were one of the known indie developers for Sony and Nintendo at the point the first edition was written. I believe Art Style: Intersect, or DIGIDRIVE as it’s known elsewhere, is the final game of theirs on the list, which is quite a remarkable number for a team like this.

It’s part of the Art Style series, which draws on an earlier minimalist game series for the GBA, and the few screenshots I’ve seen show a focus on gameplay over aesthetics – it’s simple and abstract, but that’s something that fit in with plenty of other puzzle games anyway.

Our Thoughts

The core of this game is quite simple – cars in three different colours approach the intersection from four different directions. You need to direct them so they stack up on the same colour, with the limitation that they can’t reverse. When you get multiple of the same colour together, they slowly start giving you points bonuses. The speed builds slowly to add to your challenge, while misdirecting a car can really bite you if they go too far. Add that you can’t reverse cars and you get to a situation where you will start to run out quickly.

It’s quite fun on endless mode as you try to up your scores to get higher, but the versus CPU mode fails in that you get no visibility for your opponent, making it feel like you’re just getting arbitrary bonuses instead.

In the end the game’s downfall is in its simplicity. New modes just change the difficulty and theming, but there’s not much that changes, and what’s there doesn’t have an appeal beyond these short bursts. That’s fine, but it feels like there’s a deeper game in here that could use these options.

Final Thoughts

In the end Art Style: Intersect is a fun puzzle game to play with occasionally, and it obviously won’t break the bank to get it. Like with many puzzle games though, there’s not as much longevity in it, and something focused on shorter bursts of play or that tries to explore the ideas more would have been better. A quicker end state would have provided that goal to strive for.

#171 Herzog Zwei

Posted: 30th March 2021 by Jeroen in Games
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942nd played so far

Genre: Strategy
Platform: Mega Drive
Year of Release: 1989
Developer: Technosoft
Publisher: Technosoft/Sega

Strategy games that predate Dune II and others that created the RTS genre are always odd. When you get something turn based you can easily go back to the likes of Archon, while something like Power Monger has some interface problems that still make it quite clunky and slow to play.

It needed Westwood and Blizzard, through the Warcraft series, to perfect the formula, but both have cited Herzog Zwei as an inspiration for their games. It does look like an earlier Command & Conquer game, but at the same time just the fact that the Genesis doesn’t have a mouse says that this won’t work quite like this.

Our Thoughts

There’s something quite odd about this as an early RTS. As I said, using a controller means your controls are quite limited and you end up swapping into a menu to build each time while the game goes on around you – scrolling through vague icons to work out what you need to do. Then when a unit is build, the main character you control needs to airlift them out of your base to the battlefield, rather than them coming out and immediately attacking. In addition to that, you don’t directly command your units – you give some general command and they go from there.

Aside from that, you also need to capture bases to get extra resources and build your army to attack your enemy’s base. While you can’t take all the actions needed to win – capturing bases in particular is something I don’t think your own fighter can do – you do control the strongest unit on the field. It feels like you’re constantly running around trying to get your units out while also trying to get something done in the level to actually win it.

Final Thoughts

It feels like Herzog Zwei is an evolutionary step, creating a new setup for strategy games surrounding unit buildings and your goals. However, it feels like you have to do a bit too much to actually make as much progress as you’d want to.

#678 SWAT 4

Posted: 27th March 2021 by Jeroen in Games
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941st played so far

Genre: First-Person Shooter
Platform: PC
Year of Release: 2005
Developer: Irrational Games
Publisher: Vivendi Universal Games

In this day and age, it’s already quite uncomfortable to play as a member of the American police, doing SWAT operations, taking down criminals with a lot of violence and all that. I played the original Police Quest and while there were some odd moments in there, it created the idealized, by the books and strict view of policing. Later, as the series moved from its Sierra adventure game roots to more action based games, it was run by Daryl Gates, one of the big proponents of turning the police into its own military police, including encouraging these SWAT teams. Before creating the Police Quest: SWAT series, he was in charge of the LAPD during the Rodney King riots and it would seem he is responsible in maintaining the problems within the American police and beyond that lead to the current BLM protests and the police’s over the top, violent response to it – almost as if they’ve created their own little dictatorship that can’t be questioned.

I’m going into SWAT 4 with trepidation because of that. Daryl Gates was no longer associated with the series, but the change from an adventure game focused on police procedures into a tactical shooter that goes in on shooting and killing the bad guys, snipers and all, shows how a game series where I enjoyed the first changed so much that I don’t quite know what to do with it.

Our Thoughts

And lets be honest, at the start of this blog I wouldn’t have thought as much about it, but just as Tom Clancy games feel wrong to me now, I couldn’t bring myself to really try. The two big targets of your first mission are Alex Jimenez and Lian Niu, two what you’d euphemistically call “ethnic” names, and you’re in a rundown neighbourhood because this would never happen to your white suburban place, right? There’s no option to negotiate or defuse the situation, you just have to figure out whether you’re dealing with civilians (usually dressed in white) or one of the bad guys who’ll indiscriminately shoot at you. Yeah, you can arrest them if they surrender, but it’s all about that firefight.

In fact, to “rescue” all of the civilians in a level you have to restrain all of them, because that one cook might just also be a bad guy? The other suspects are ‘neutralized’ rather than what I really did – kill them. At least I can justify this in other games as them being terrorists, looking to kill you as much as you go after them, and looking to kill many more. Here, it feels over the top and unnecessary – perhaps too close to real life.

The tactical play doesn’t even seem that good. The commands to your squad are clunky and don’t seem to be followed quite well enough. The gunplay is awkward. It’s not that much fun.

Final Thoughts

Based on this game, the stereotype of the shouty, aggressive police officer is completely real and I still regret having paid money to play this game, as it feels grosser now than ever before. No matter what historic value this might have, these days other games do this better and nicer without glorifying a violent police force without examining the effects of this.

940th played so far

Genre: Role-Playing/Strategy
Platform: DS
Year of Release: 2007
Developer: Square Enix
Publisher: Square Enix

It’s time to start mopping up some franchises that had several entries still left – and with the immense series that’s Final Fantasy I need to tackle entry eleven out of twelve (and yes, I’m leaving a mainline series game until last… the lowest numbered on the list after we covered Final Fantasy VI a bit earlier than I expected).

The Final Fantasy Tactics subseries has two entries on the list and we’ve covered the original already. We’ve seen from games like Jeanne d’Arc that these type of strategy games work really well on a handheld system and I’m quite looking forward to trying this entry on the DS as well.

Our Thoughts

There are no real surprises when you start to play Final Fantasy Tactics A2: Grimoire of the Rift. You go out with a team of characters and fight your enemies on a 2D isometric field. You give them orders to move around, attack or cast spells in turn. The game adds a bunch of different objectives to this – aside from killing all or some enemies, you’re also tasked to hold them off for some time or weaken an enemy without killing it. The guest characters stick around for quite a while, which is pretty nice as well.

Although there is obviously a fairly lengthy storyline to follow, there is a big quest focus – almost immediately you can play a bunch of side quests that’ll power you up and take you around the map. If you follow extra restrictions during the battle, you also get a bunch of additional powers. They include your characters being revived if they die during the battle, so they actually feel mandatory, especially as all the other bonuses are worth it. On the other hand, it can be hard to follow them sometimes (especially when you forget to unequip your passive abilities).

As a strategy RPG, you also get to spend time on your characters. As I believe is tradition for the series, there’s a job system which means you get to change your characters’ classes around. They work well as they are, starting you with a solid party, but there’s a lot more management to do there. At the same time your clan gets to do the same – increasing it ranks gets you additional bonuses during the fights that I felt managed to customize them nicely per battle as well. It’s a neat chunk of game to work with.

Final Thoughts

One of the great things about the game is that it gets you started quickly – you get an open world with a list of quests to play with within a few battles. It lends to that feeling that the main quest isn’t what matters – you should go out there and play the many, many side quests on offer and unlock what they give you. It’s a great way to get you started, which I guess shows that they would have trusted their audience. I want to keep immersing myself in it and play around more.