#841 Spelunky

Posted: 18th November 2018 by Jeroen in Games
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740th played so far

Genre: Action/Adventure
Platform: PC
Year of Release: 2008
Developer: Mossmouth, LLC
Publisher: Mossmouth, LLC

When listening to recent gaming podcasts, people whose taste I generally agree with or at least respect mention Spelunky as a game they really enjoy, its daily challenges especially being something they love to engage in as being a great driver to keep playing and offering an experience that relies so much on skill and player knowledge.

Spelunky is a roguelike platformer – featuring random levels like Nethack, but focusing on platforming skill and action to take on enemies and challenges rather than a turn based RPG system. The challenges, though, come from how systems combine and never just a single problem, or they would once you get the experience. Emergent gameplay and all that – we’ll see how it goes.

Our Thoughts

Spelunky is a challenging game. A lot of the individual challenges aren’t too difficult – correct jumpins and taking out enemies – some can make your life difficult if you don’t know the trick yet. The real challenge comes from the accumulation of elements, as enemies pop up at the wrong time, jumps are tricky and while reaching the exit isn’t always the hardest, doing so optimally is.

Because there’s always something else to go for. Shops have tools – once you can’t always afford early on, but want to get. Treasure is buried underground and there are even entire rooms that you can only reach by getting through the walls, mostly using your bombs. They are, of course, a limited resource, so you need to consider whether you’ll get enough benefit out of using There are constant trade offs, which adds a strategic dimension beyond the action segments.

Even with the time I spent on it, I noticed I was starting to discover more systems even towards the end and even as I didn’t progress in levels. As I’m meant to get more as I progress in levels, I’m curious to see where all that will end up.

Graphically, the game is fairly simple. I played the HD version, which uses redrawn, cartoony graphics rather than the sprite work of the original version, and the bold colours help make everything stand out. They’re effective and the changes as you go through are enough to add to the fun of discovering and exploring these levels.

Final Thoughts

In the end, Spelunky is a difficult game and I probably missed out on a lot. The systems just don’t seem readily explored like this, but the layers that I’ve already seen are enough to pull me in further.

#793 Super Mario Galaxy

Posted: 14th November 2018 by Jeroen in Games
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739th played so far

Genre: Platform
Platform: Wii
Year of Release: 2007
Developer: Nintendo EAD Tokyo
Publisher: Nintendo

One of the struggles going through this list is to pace playing certain franchises so we don’t play them too soon, and the Mario series is a clear example of that – we playing the important Super Mario Bros. quite early on, started the first of the RPG series, Super Mario RPG, soon and started the 3D iteration Super Mario 64 within the first few months.

With only a few games int he last series, Super Mario Sunshine, the previous game, took half a decade to get around to, but I feel I get to play the first Wii installation further. As the Wii was popular, it feels like the main Mario game for the platform was a swell, and I’ve played around with it a bit before – before we started the blog and when I still really needed to learn the Wii controls. I hope this attempt will go better.

Our Thoughts

I feel like the 3D Mario series still suffers from its camera controls. While the original game introduced an impressive leap forward, I’ve always struggled when the games took that control away from me and comparing Super Mario Galaxy to its contemporaries show that it tends to struggle. The game’s first galaxy – the areas the game is divided in, ignoring, the scientific background of all of this – has no free camera controls, and when you’re running around small, weirdly oriented planets, it screws with my orientation more than it normally would.

The game’s basic idea works well, though. Rather than working on a flat world, you have several planets, some very small, others a lot larger. A number of them are spherical, as you’d expect, albeit it sometimes with pretty large holes (or black holes inside, if you need more of a challenge). Others are more oddly shaped – hourglass and dumbbell shapes show up and weirder shapes as the level dictates, with some of them creating chunks that look more like a standard level. In most galaxies, you travel between a bunch of them, neatly separating the areas although I’ve not encountered the branching paths I expected, other than when used to create different paths for different stars.

Sadly, it feels like these galaxies don’t have many stars each, so you don’t spend a lot of time in each. They’re large areas, but sometimes they feel quite underused, which is a shame. This is especially the case in galaxies with a strong theme, such as one focused around bees, that feels like it could house a lot more. Super Mario Odyssey has spoiled us at this point, but compared to the others it still seemed sparse.

Final Thoughts

As always, the presentation of a main Mario game is perfect. It looks good, is creative, is great at teaching you the mechanics and redefines what a Mario game is once again. It’s let down by the camera controls, but beyond that offers a great game that might be outshined now by Super Mario Odyssee, but stays addictive in its own sense.

#722 Lumines Live

Posted: 10th November 2018 by Jeroen in Games
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738th played so far

Genre: Puzzle
Platform: Xbox 360
Year of Release: 2006
Developer: Q Entertainment
Publisher: Microsoft Studios

There are a bunch of games that take after Tetris and the Lumines series always seemed like a worthy one. While not music or rhythm based, the game’s pace influenced the music in a way that made it feel like the two interacted that much.

Lumines Live was developed alongside the official sequel (which was aimed more at the portable PSP) and is listed in the book as having some issues with expensive DLC, but as I played it on an Xbox Live Arcade collection, that won’t bother me as much.

Our Thoughts

The core gameplay of Lumines stays the same in Lumines Live, blocks drop and you need to combine them into ever growing blocks. While you’re getting into it, this quickly piles up, but as you get in the game and reach the flow, the placement starts to make more sense and you get in this flow where, with a bit of luck, you get some big cascades.

It gets a bit finicky when you start reaching the top row – dropping down gets pretty touchy and you get the column of pieces that you see too often. It got me some (near) losses, but was more an annoyance than a real problem in the game.

I still haven’t seen quite what the improvements are from the base game though. The book write up mostly mentions the first impact of (larger) DLC packs, but I didn’t really experience those and so I felt I mostly got the big screen experience.

Final Thoughts

I guess I might have noticed some differences in the different modes, but playing through the game still felt the same as before. It’s fine with me – the Lumines formula works really well. It’s still great fun and the choice between the different games probably comes down more to what devices you have access to.

737th played so far

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

After playing the first Geometry Wars game, I felt we played a nice shoot ’em up that was nice in shorter bursts. It didn’t sustain itself for too long, but the stripped down aesthetic and general feel really scratched that shooter itch without the annoyances the older games in the genre would bring along. It felt modern and more playable.

A sequel, then, would have to balance that, and it seems like Geometry Wars 2 does so by being willing to mix it up and change the game around. It’s a decent strategy that doesn’t always pay off, as it can dilute the game as well. We’ll ened to see where it falls today.

Our Thoughts

While the first game’s simplicity was its boon, I don’t think this sequel would have gotten away with doing just that – especially as it’s not just a minigame, but is sold as its own Xbox arcade game. What it does is to expand the number of game modes offered. This goes from a score attack like the original game to having unlimited lives, but a time limit, to the point where you can’t shoot unless you’re in a safe area or only destroy enemies by flying through gates. It’s a pretty nice set of options and as you unlock them one at a time, I had enough time to appreciate each of them. The way it’s ordered builds nicely as well, introducing new weapons and options at each go. Often, concepts vital to a mode are introduced one or two earlier so you can get used to them and requirements on your score – low but enough to make you work for them – mean you have to give each mode a good try before moving on.

Once you get in the game, its abstract visuals persist and match with the technomusic. It is a great combination that keeps you focused but also sets up a large number of enemies that are easy to distinguish and often hint well at what they do anyway. There’s a big variation in them, with different behaviours and attacks. The distinction between the approach modes of some is especially interesting – two very similar enemies has one always following you, while the other backs off, for example, and it’s neat when you can explore and exploit that.

Final Thoughts

Geometry Wars: Retro Evolved 2 lives up to its predecessor, improving the gameplay by expanding its modes outwards rather than trying to go bigger. The core gameplay stays the same and the excellent visuals stay the same, but it tweaks the formulas enough to stay interesting. A lot is the same thing, but you have to change your approach each time to be slightly different. It’s become a shooter that I actually want to go back to – and that’s really rare.

#415 Outcast

Posted: 2nd November 2018 by Jeroen in Games
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736th played so far

Genre: Action/Adventure
Platform: PC
Year of Release: 1999
Developer: Appeal
Publisher: Infogrames

Some games have stood out for a long time and I’ve been looking forward to trying Outcast from the day I first saw previews in gaming magazines. It was quite proud of its voxel technology – something that turned out not to go as far most of the time – but also created a semi open world, where you could go where you wanted and do what you felt like. It was amazing at the time and I remember reviewers needing to get used it a bit.

Our Thoughts

Through a weird accident, our protagonist Cutter Slade ends up on an alien planet, wanting to repair his ship and find his colleagues so he can go back to earth. And of course you get involved in the going ons on this alien world, with one group now dominating the others. You become a resistance fighter while trying to get everything together so you can find your way back.

You do this by walking around the world. It’s not a fully open world, instead consisting of several separate areas that are linked through portals. The tutorial village lead to another area, which have several more – almost all guarded by the warrior caste. You’re free to wander around any of the areas though, as long as you can avoid or beat these enemies, and I got to see a few different areas. Each have a bunch of missions – some plot based, I think often taking down the warrior leader of the area but also convince the others to stop or start doing certain things that weaken the warrior caste. Other side quests are similar, adding to your equipment or getting resources to upgrade those.

The world looks suitably alien and everything is done to enhance that feeling. The landscape looks alien enough, even if there are recognisable shapes. The customs and names are different enough to stand out. There’s a lot of lore and it feels like they’ve taken a lot of care to build something consistent. This even plays into the general AI – everyone seems to have their rhythm through the day, interacting and making sense, and they all respond to what goes on around you. This also extents to enemy AI, which feels natural in how it calls for help and responds. It’s still a bit stupid, but clever enough and while later games make it better, for 1999 this feels very realistic.

The downside of the game is its weak combat. I found it incredibly difficult – not helped, I guess, by the fact that the enemies start out at their strongest and get weaker. There aren’t single enemies to take out early and it’s easy to get drawn into a battle if you’re not constantly vigilant. I managed to make it from one side of the map to the other without being seen, but it’s far from easy, and taking out enemies near a portal took a lot of abusing the AI by hiding. Not that stealth generally works – they still know where to find you, instead you have to rely on weak pathfinding. It’s a bummer, because it’s something that keeps you from enjoying this world by having to be too careful. I see why it’s needed, but a rebalancing for the modern day would be helpful (although, of course, I guess there’s the call for smoother controls that feel more modern that would fix this).

Final Thoughts

Did Outcast live up to my expectations? To be honest, despite my excitement I wasn’t expecting something incredibly amazing either. It wasn’t as dated as it could have been, and while the combat was clunky, the world it presents still feels good. The Kickstarter campaign for an HD remake failed, but several versions of that remake have been developed – I guess it would have fixed things, but at the same time, I think a sequel would be better. Get back to this world, and see what new stories it can tell.

#127 Buggy Boy

Posted: 29th October 2018 by Jeroen in Games
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735th played so far

Genre: Driving
Platform: Arcade
Year of Release: 1986
Developer: Tatsumi
Publisher: Tatsumi

There are a bunch of games that look like Buggy Boy, racers from a pre-3D era, running down a semi endless track that relies on sprite scaling to get the illusion of racing forward. Out Run is the canonical example for me, at least the one I remember from my youth. Buggy Boy is from the same era, so we’ll see whether it leaves the same impact.

Our Thoughts

Buggy Boy does follow this standard formula, although it feels like it takes it a step up. The basic gameplay alone does. Rather than beating someone’s time around a track, or making it through on time, there are flags dotted around the course. Collecting them gains you bonus points, which is what the game judges you on in the end. You can also drive through gates, giving you additional time from time to time. It makes the race more strategic, as you need to hit the right points on the track to keep going.

There are five different courses, one a repeated loop and five longer races. They are visually distinct with some different obstacles, but the trick stays similar, getting through without crashing while keeping to time. They’re all unlocked from the start, which gives the game a nice bit of variety which it feels like other games like it tend to lack.

Final Thoughts

Buggy Boy isn’t amazingly advanced, but I don’t think that’s really needed for an arcade racer of the time. I would of course have been happier with no time limits, or easier ones, to make it a bit gentler as a casual experience, but as it is this worked well and felt more varied than most others like it.

#273 Sub-Terrania

Posted: 25th October 2018 by Jeroen in Games
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734th played so far

Genre: Shoot ‘Em Up
Platform: Mega Drive
Year of Release: 1994
Developer: Zyrinx
Publisher: Scavenger

While we’ve played some in cave, sometimes land your ship shoot em ups before – Lunar Lander being the obvious one – I have conincidentally picked this and Pixeljunk Shooter to be played closely together. Both are similar multidirectional shooters, flying through cave systems, released about 15 years apart. And of course, here there’s no fluid dynamics. Still, I’m going to need to spend a bit of time separating the two in my mind.

Our Thoughts

The truth is that I struggled more with Sub-Terrania. While the controls feel fairly standard, it relies heavily on your movement determining acceleration rather than velocity, which makes it difficult to control and brake to avoid running into the walls. And fuel is limited, so, well, the game might not be in the arcade, but it feels like it keeps that difficulty and doesn’t really agree with me.

There’s some nasty placed challenges that don’t help with this. There are platforms that move back and forth when you hit them that can squash you, enemies in awkward places and other tricky sections. They just didn’t make for a fun challenge, it got frustrating instead, with the wins being small enough to not really matter. It does what it does, well enough, but not really worth it.

#1017 Mark of the Ninja

Posted: 21st October 2018 by Jeroen in Games
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733rd played so far

Genre: Stealth
Platform: PC/Xbox 360
Year of Release: 2012
Developer: Klei Entertainment
Publisher: Microsoft Studios

I’ve had Mark of the Ninja down as its own indie game, a 2D stealth game that presumably has you ninjaing somewhere quietly. Beyond that, I’m actually not sure where it goes or what to compare it to – especially that’s on the list – and in appearance I think the looks of Muramasa: The Demon Blade come closest. It’s one of those games where I just have to go and play it.

Our Thoughts

You get woken up as your dojo is under attack. You fight off the intruders, mostly by moving around them, tricking them and hiding them in the many tunnels present in the dojo. Then you go out for revenge. There’s more to the story than this, mostly leading to how you gain your abilities and how they avoid your outlook on life, but it feels like that’s what happened early on.

Although upgrade purchasing comes in late (only in the third level), there’s a lot of emphasis on finishing challenges to be able to afford them (to the point that I worried I’d missed them) through various collectables and challenges the game throws at you. They give you different ways to attack or distract, lending itself to the different approaches to the game.

After all, while this is a stealth game, the game still needs combat mechanics, and you could probably hack and slash your way through. The system is quite in depth, although sometimes a bit difficult to come to terms with. I started doing okay if I needed to do something, but the difficulty of the enemies goes up enough that you clearly need more experience. Besides, the game clearly rewards stealth in its missions, so it’s never really the best solution. It’s about avoiding enemies by sneaking past through vents, taking them out from the back (and hiding their bodies) and often enough, hiding from the ceiling in the shadow as they walk past. It mostly is done intuitively – you can read everything you need to know from the screen, which doesn’t necessarily make it easier, but feels fairer.

So yeah, sometimes the aggressive approach is needed, but it never felt quite as satisfying. Maybe when you could use stealth to do both, but there’s always that pressure to hide the body so you couldn’t be found. The automatic defenses add to this – usually aggression doesn’t help, but it puts everyone on a higher alert state that always makes things worse.

Final Thoughts

Mark of the Ninja is a great stealth game. The 2D nature means it can set up more elaborate puzzles while giving you a better view of the surroundings and it’s all stylized enough to give you a good idea of what everything will do. The story content takes some time to take off – I never got quite far enough to see much of it – but it seemed quite promising with some mystical elements. There are some good challenges in here and enough variety to keep up interest.

#996 Bioshock 2

Posted: 17th October 2018 by Jeroen in Games
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732nd played so far

Genre: First Person Shooter
Platform: PC/Playstation 3/Xbox 360
Year of Release: 2010
Developer: 2K Marin
Publisher: 2K Games

After Need for Speed: Most Wanted, I need a more reliable game today. I remember the original Bioshock really fondly and enjoyed its inspiration System Shock 2 when we got to playing it.. I think I’ve intentionally held off on playing the sequel because I just can’t be sure how it will be. I still believe it’ll be a good game though, so I think that’s what I really need today. Time to return to Rapture, I guess, or some version of it.

Our Thoughts

Bioshock 2 did not disappoint. There is something weirdly attractive about this world, even if it’s in a museum/theme park with animatronic rides that explain the philosophy behind Rapture. There are still the small stories that tell you more about the world and why things are the way they are. It feels like they more immediately comment on Ryan and his way of running Rapture and the downsides, as the story appears to be more about the other factions that started to change it. There’s a bit less going on in the moment – the area feels quite static, possibly not helped by more respawning than I remember from the previous game – but the areas still tell a story of their own.

Then again, your story is more immediately obvious than in the first game. You know you’re a Big Daddy pretty much from the start, the little sister you’re supporting being lost in Rapture where you need to chase after her. She’s a constant presence, still, through the things she left in the levels, and while your appearance never seems to have mattered to as many people that you meet, interacting with the other little sisters just feels different.

Since you’re this lumbering semi-robot thing (I don’t know what Bioshock lore describes you as), traversal between areas relies on some underwater levels as well. That might sound silly, but it’s a lovely break from all the action, looking nice as sea creatures flow around you and you see these large buildings flow around. In the original, these outside areas were just window dressing, but here they are part of the world.

The RPG elements of the game seem to work better than in the first game. Unlocks come earlier and more quickly, and while not as many or required to progress, or even find secrets (the game implies you can’t always backtrack), a lot more options are available sooner as shops unlock sooner too. It feels pretty good to have the option to get stronger sooner and the upgrades are incredibly useful. You’re still looking for slots, but not as badly as in the first game.

Final Thoughts

Bioshock 2 lived up to the hype, giving a twist on the world and system that’s different enough from the first game, but fits into the same mold. I really enjoyed getting back into its world and I’m looking forward to the last entry that’s on the list, when I get to play in three years, but I should get back to it sooner than that.

#662 Need for Speed: Most Wanted

Posted: 13th October 2018 by Jeroen in Games
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731st played so far

Genre: Racing
Platform: Various
Year of Release: 2005
Developer: EA Canada
Publisher: Electronic Arts

I’ve always distantly admired the Need for Speed series. I remember the original being released and playing it with friends and enjoying the naughty feeling of being chased by the police and the thrill to speed along and getting away.

Two entries in the series are on this list and since we’re approaching that three quarters mark that I’m looking forward to, it’s time that I get these two entry franchises started. Let’s hope it works.

Our Thoughts

I didn’t really get to play this game. That’s not for a lack of trying, but ten goes at the first race and never winning it means this game is too difficult. I’d say for me, but the first race, the first level, is your chance to hook your player. Unless you’re intentionally making a difficult game – and I see no evidence that it’s the case here – you want to make sure they can beat it. Rubber band, give some bonuses, give a better car, there are many options.

The car you start in is way too floaty. I’m sure expert players don’t mind that, but when you’re learning the game, its physics and its controls, you don’t want to be drifting all over the place because you misjudged a corner. That’s bad on boarding and not providing a good user experience.

And that’s a shame, as there’s promise in the game. The FMVs are set up in a way that blurs computer generated images and actors really well and I was hoping to see where they went with that. The world looks interesting. But who cares if you can never get far enough into the game?