#544 Flipnic

Posted: 22nd October 2017 by Jeroen in Games
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642nd played so far

Genre: Pinball
Platform: Playstation 2
Year of Release: 2003
Developer: Sony Computer Entertainment
Publisher: Ubisoft

There are three pinball games on the list. We played the first chronologically – Pinball Dreams – five years ago and as we approach two thirds of the entire list, we are playing the second nearly half a list later. The last – also chronologically – is one we’re keeping until near the end. Less than four years until that point!

So today the middle entry, with the Playstation 2 game Flipnic. Beyond this being a pinball game with (presumably) multiple boards, I’m not quite sure how they would have updated the formula for the modern day.

Our Thoughts

Flipnic is indeed a lot more complex than previous pinball games I’ve played. There’s some clearly impossible actions in there – balls jumping or defying gravity, all looking smooth but going too long from what should be possible. It looks amazing, though, and achieves natural progression between the different parts of a board.

Because there are multiple fields per level – usually a core one that branches off to various other places. It is of course still thematically consistent, but there are a lot of fun parts to it and the challenge at times really is to get to the right board to unlock your next quests.

You see, quests are a big thing in this pinball game. You need to get your ball to various boards and use the right tactics (most often involving hitting and breaking things down, or hitting your balls up a long slope, platforming using flippers). They’re fun in giving you a goal to work towards and finding specifics to do on each board.

Unfortunately, they are also tied into the game’s unlock structure, which means you’re stuck with the first board and short outings on about three more. And while there are plenty of optional objectives as well, the main ones are actually quite difficult – I struggled to get to the first set, never really played too much with later boards.

And that’s a shame, because having played about ten minutes each of the later levels, they were as amazing and fun to play – and quite different. It’s a game that, despite the limited control you have, rewards exploration and trying things, and the quests make that harder than seems necessary. For a pinball game, they’ve done a lot to make it bigger and more special in a way that you can only do in a video game version. I need to explore it further some day.

#308 International Track & Field

Posted: 18th October 2017 by Jeroen in Games
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641st played so far

Genre: Sports
Platform: Playstation
Year of Release: 1996
Developer: Konami
Publisher: Konami

I’ve played Track & Field some time ago – a minigame collection based on various athletics challenges, set up for arcade play and the inspiration for Olympics games, Mario and Sonic or otherwise, for a long time to come.

Returning to the formula, this game takes the minigames from Track & Field and its sequel Hyper Sports, which we have yet to cover, but with the upgrades that more than a decade would cover.

Our Thoughts

I had fun with a lot of the mini games in this game. A lot of it was near-controler breaking button smashing trying to run as fast as you can, as well as trying to get your button presses timed right. There were still plenty that was hard – I couldn’t get the hurdles right – but with unlimited continues and retires, it was quite easy to keep trying to win the events.

And then I got to the high jump. Tried and kept trying. And I just couldn’t get it right – I didn’t see where I was going wrong.¬† Looking it up online, I wasn’t the only one – the game was really unclear what you were meant to do. To be honest, the instructions weren’t great on what to do – it was just easy enough to figure it out most of the time. Here, though, I couldn’t, and it was suddenly frustrating.

This is a minigame collection and a lot of it reflects that – the graphics are fine but not amazing, the gameplay is simple but with plenty of variation between them, and of course the difficulty gets mixed up a bit, although I’m sure different people would have found different activities difficult. On the whole, it still works and I suspect it would have worked ever better as a party game.

#339 Einhander

Posted: 14th October 2017 by Jeroen in Games
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640th played so far

Genre: Shoot ‘Em Up
Platform: Playstation
Year of Release: 1997
Developer: Square
Publisher: Square/Sony Computer Entertainment

Going on to knock out some of these Playstation games (I was really behind. Still am, really), today I need to cover a shoot ’em up. Einhander has been in my mind for a while, for a large part because the name is that distinctive.

The other part that caught my eye were the graphics. While still looking like a side scroller, the 3D elements make it look so much better than others, and make me more excited to actually play this.

Our Thoughts

I’m sure I’ve addressed this before, but as I keep running into it, I have to ask – why include continues and limits in a home game? I get that you want the game to be difficult – I don’t think it’s necessary, but I can see why you’d want it. But continues feel like such an arcade concept that they don’t fit in. Especially with no save games, I want to keep playing. Sure, let me feel like I’m not good at it, but let me bash my head against it, grind it out and show me the cool stuff. You don’t need to get extra quarters out of me, don’t keep game mechanics set up to get that reaction. At least we have Youtube these days.

The game looks good though, and the shiny things there are most important to keep my intention through this. They’re 3D graphics while you play on a 2D plane, but the point of view moves back and forth to give a good look of the big bosses. There’s some good ones here, including a giant war machine you fly around to take out bit by bit.

Final Thoughts

Einhander is a good shooter with some great designs, in a world that feels genuinely exciting to explore. It’s just a shame that the game design prevents you from really getting deep into that, as the best bits don’t come in straight away. So close, really.

#379 Devil Dice

Posted: 10th October 2017 by Jeroen in Games
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639th played so far

Genre: Puzzle
Platform: Playstation
Year of Release: 1998
Developer: Shift
Publisher: SCEI/THQ

A puzzle game based on using dice? Thanks to a bit of a Playstation extravaganza week, we’re going to try and see how that one works.

Our Thoughts

There are a bunch of ways dice can be used in puzzles, and this game finds one suited to computer play. Your goal is first of all to match up dice in groups matching their face up numbers – so two twos, three threes and so on. You can add more matching faces after that for combos, as probably makes sense, but that should give you the basic idea. You can roll or push them – rolling giving you more flexibility although you actually need to be on top of dice to do that – but need to stay aware of the dice layout to make sure they all match after a while.

This worked nicely on the specific puzzles, although they are not necessarily the most complex – the limited number of moves and limits to the size of the puzzle made it difficult to do so. It might ramp up later, but I got a bit bored with it.

The larger play modes with ongoing spawns work a lot better – frantic as more blocks pop up and you get less room to maneuver. I quickly stopped paying loads of attention to the precise order of dice and just tried to get them back in place. It was still fun, but it did feel like it didn’t work for as long as the rounds lasted. Sure, having to play longer is nice, but I can restart anyway.

The CPU led multiplayer mode works the same, but again I felt disadvantaged as I didn’t quite develop the right eye for the game. It was still fun just running around, but the fact that you had to win made it tricky.

What it came down to is what I didn’t quite find the mode I liked in this game. Somewhere in between the simple puzzle mode and the ever spawning mode – possibly random fields or something, I’m not quite sure. It’s what makes me a bit down on this game, because it feels like it doesn’t quite get there.

#426 Threads of Fate

Posted: 6th October 2017 by Jeroen in Games
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638th played so far

Genre: Action/Role-Playing
Platform: PlayStation
Year of Release: 1999
Developer: Square
Publisher: Square

Square was on a roll in the late 90s. We’ve seen their Final Fantasy output, still some of the golden age of the series, and we’ll discuss the flawed sequel, but better standalone Chrono Cross at some point too. Threads of Fate is another game in their list, this time as an action RPG.

Our Thoughts

When starting the game, you immediately get confronted with a choice – do you play as Rue, an amnesiac boy trying to revive his friend, or Mint, who wants the Relic – the macguffin the game revolves around – to gain control of her kingdom. It threw me for a moment, as I hadn’t quite heard of this split yet, but it started an interesting dichotomy.

You see, while the game uses the same locations for both, the story is different (with Mint having a far sillier tone), hitting similar beats and locations, but having quite different things going on. The implication appears to be that they both happen around the same time (even if you can’t quite consolidate things that way), with each taking charge in their story.

I got the feeling that Rue’s story and game was set up first, although it’s hard to say without knowing the development history. His story is the more straightforward one, and it feels like Mint’s story intersects with it. He also has the more interesting, substantial abilities. By defeating enemies, he can learn to transform into them and use their abilities. This is used in puzzles, where you have to take on the right forms in a place, things like that, as well as by matching them with enemies. At one point early on, a spider was vulnerable to fire, and another enemy had a fire attack. You used one to defeat the other.

On the ohter hand, Mint’s special abilities come from her magic. Instead of learning spells, they are on a matrix – colour, or energy, and effect type – stuff like single attacks, group attacks and so on. It’s not as complex, but it makes for an interesting system where gaining a new ability really makes a big difference in the number of additional choices you get.

Final Thoughts

Threads of Fate is an RPG with a fairly light story, but interesting battle system with the abilities it gives the two main characters. Thanks to the action focus, it’s not too complex, but it creates a far more interesting setup instead. Sadly it makes for a few difficult positioning battles that Mint especially seems ill suited for, and on the whole the game feels somewhat forgettable, but it’s good as a slightly different experiment.

#925 Grand Slam Tennis

Posted: 2nd October 2017 by Jeroen in Games
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637th played so far

Genre: Sports
Platform: Wii
Year of Release: 2009
Developer: EA Canada
Publisher: Electronic Arts

So following the Legend of Zelda games I played earlier this week, it felt time to do something more active. In this case, as I really should play both a Wii game and a sports game, some tennis seems appropriate.

Tennis is well suited to the Wii, as seen in Wii Sports before, and a game fully focused on it while including motion controls seems like it would be a lot more fun.

Our Thoughts

Having kids move while playing really was a theme of the Wii, wasn’t it? Grand Slam Tennis includes a fitness mode and while it feels very platform-specific, I did feel like I was burning some calories while I was here (with my apologies to the downstairs neighbours).

To continue the earlier comparison, as you would imagine from a full game with some serious tie-ins, this game is more complex than the Wii Sports minigame. This manifests itself in several places, first of all the complexity of the controls that I think I forgot to memorize after a while. It implements more complex rules and you really have to adjust your playstyle to match.

The other place where this game adds complexity and justifies being its own game are the customization options. You can upgrade certain core stats, as you see more often in games with a career mode, as well as earning abilities from your opponents as you defeat them. There are also the usual cosmetic options, although it’s not hard to argue those are less important.

You earn these by playing all the tournaments in a Grand Slam. There are a bunch of different matches before the real tournament – both to let you earn some abilities and to show off some alternative game modes – which means that no matter how good or bad you play, you always get a fair amount of stage out of each section. It’s a nice concession and gave me more time to build my skills without feeling the game was over in five matches.

The game’s graphics are at an odd level. They’re a clear step above Mii graphics, putting more effort into recognisability and body shapes, but not that much. It’s probably because they had limitations with the Wii’s power, but it is a bit unsettling, I’m not sure what it is meant to be.

Final Thoughts

Grand Slam Tennis is a good tennis game, in that it made me feel most like I was actually playing tennis and came closest to giving me that workout on a fairly warm day. It feels like it includes a lot of what makes tennis tennis. At the same time, I didn’t get that far into the tournament and never quite got the hang of it – I started doing a bit better and winning some points here and there, but not too much. We’ll assume that’s just me, though, but it means I never got as much out of this game as I feel is in there.

636th played so far

Genre: Action/Adventure
Platform: Game Boy Color
Year of Release: 2001
Developer: Capcom/Flagship
Publisher: Nintendo

These games have a bit of a special place in my heart. I got these games when I got my Gameboy Advance – the first Gameboy I owned – and it was special. Like the Pokemon games that were already popular at the time, this was a game that had two versions, but where Pokemon – and most other versioned games – usually have smaller differences but still very similar storylines and a lot overlapped.

So here’s the other side of this: with two distinct versions, to cover a single game here, I have to play it twice.

Our Thoughts

Again, it’s worth emphasizing how different the two games are. Not only are the stories different, not only does the map change in different ways depending on the version – one changing the seasons, the other having you switch between past and present – but the focus of the games changes just as much. You find out soon enough, especially once you reach the first dungeon, that Oracle of Seasons has more of an action focus – more enemies and so on – while Oracle of Ages throws more puzzles at you. It’s probably not a surprise at this point that I prefer the latter.

So what we have here is a set of two games that have a shared ending, only available when you have played both of them – and the pont where you actually encounter Gannon. It’s a neat concept, and the amount of content in each game actually make them feel worth the price. Even when you only have one of the two games, it’s still worth it, too, considering the length of each game and the size of the world.

Aside from the usual lengthy main quest – similar to other Zelda games, but with the game-specific additions – there are several hitns at other quests that I barely started here. A lot of it is the usual trading back and forth you get in more of these games, but it adds some more scope to the world. Maybe trickier is what seems to be RNG based nut growing to get badges as an equipment mechanic, a neat idea but one that feels like it’d make it easier to mess with things.

Aesthetically, the game only vaguely improves on Link’s Awakening – it looks fine, with some charming animation, but it’s very functional. It makes it clearer what’s going on, and allows for some interesting character, but nothing amazing either.

Final Thoughts

Oracle of Ages might well be my personal Zelda game so far, as the puzzles felt more interesting and challenging – the focus on one element over the other actually makes it that much more enticing and seems like it allows the developers to set up more interesting challenges. The two games are also so much more distinct thanks to the game-specific mechanics and story changes. It’s a pretty amazing combination that is a delight to play.

#62 Manic Miner

Posted: 24th September 2017 by Jeroen in Games
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635th played so far

Genre: Platform
Platform: Various
Year of Release: 1983
Developer: Matthew Smith
Publisher: Bug-Byte/Software Projects

Our next game is another early platformer. This one is inspired by Miner 2049er and will lead to future game Jet Set Willy. It’s an early platformer which looks fairly basic – so yeah, this time I played the improved¬† Game Boy version. The platform is listed as various and I could use the better graphics, having seen the original. The gameplay, however, should not have been much different.

Our Thoughts

After we’ve been talking about how hard arcade games are in this era, it’s a shame that games for home consoles seem to have the same fate. I tried Manic Miner and, to show that I am bad at these, failed on the first level. I guess there isn’t as much of a tutorial to it anyway, but this obviously didn’t feel good.

Where it went wrong was the jumping. I never really managed to get the arcs right and while I could get to the top of the first level, after many tries, I just didn’t get the solution to jumping past the vines on the top floor without hitting them. It’s been a shame.

I’ve looked at videos to see how the game proceeds, and I can’t say I got the feeling that would change much. That’s fine for a game like this – it’s an early platformer that combines its elements in nice different ways – but I just can’t claim any great finds in here.

Final Thoughts

Manic Miner is decent, but at times quite limited platformer. It’s a clear product of its time and I can see why it would have been great at the time, but I found it to be less playable now due to its limited controls with an awkward, not that tight jump.

#143 R-Type

Posted: 20th September 2017 by Jeroen in Games
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634th played so far

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

As we go back to the eighties, we get to one more of the many, many side scrolling shooters. I don’t mind them too much – they are fun enough, often having something good to look at for the time of day – but being made for the arcade, they tend to be challenging and sometimes frustrating. R-Type doesn’t seem to do much different here either.

Our Thoughts

You might say that I flipped some switches to get infinite lives on this game – it’s the advantage of playing the arcade versions of games these days. These frantic shooters are quite difficult, as they need to balance enemy count with survivability. For me, this made it too hard here and I struggled with the first area at first.

It’s a shame what I would have missed if I hadn’t cheated. The areas are incredibly busy, but what’s always interesting are the bosses. These are big here, with lengthy fights and a lot of variation. It’s still hitting about hitting in the right areas, but it looks and feels and good.

Final Thoughts

It’s hard to pick out something specific about this game. It looks good, especially for its time. It’s well put together. THere’s a lot of variation. It’s one of the good shooters.

#502 Dungeon Siege

Posted: 16th September 2017 by Jeroen in Games
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633rd played so far

Genre: Role-Playing
Platform: PC
Year of Release: 2002
Developer: Gas Powered Games
Publisher: Microsoft Game Studios

I’ve been looking forward to playing Dungeon Siege for a while. I’ve tried the RPG before (having owned it for quite some time) but never got that far in – too many other good things to play. The Diablo style, over the shoulder play felt unique though, feeling advanced at the time, while streamlining a lot of the complexities of other RPGs.

It’s time, then, to jump in and play more than ten minutes of this game. Not just get a feel, but see what happens when I get far enough to see a city and do some quests.

Our Thoughts

Dungeon Siege is an entertaining game where I feel time may have overtaken it a bit. The graphics feel a bit off, in a way that hasn’t aged well, but at least it tries to create bigger settings and areas to fight in – just constrained with loads of cliff faces and VERY dense forests. It feels like it tries, but doesn’t quite have the technological capability to pull it off.

Beyond that, it’s mostly a monster fighting fest, and a lot of it feels a bit MMO-like – go out to this area, kill loads of monsters and deal with some related quests. So far, the main quests felt like they’ve been “Get to the next area”, but I suspect that will change at some point.

There is a fairly complex party control system. You control one directly, while directing the rest through a fairly straightforward interface. There are quite a few options there, but it’s laid out well enough that it’s not as overwhelming. Party members do seem to drop in and out a bit, which is unfortunate, as it encouraged me to make my main character a generalist in a game that seems to encourage specialists. There are plenty of joinable characters to give you options, although most of them didn’t seem to have as much personality. I am curious how that develops.

The character system is learning through use, another place that supports the specialist system. It’s just a few bars going up, which makes the system simpler than most, but it’s also streamlined enough to make the game simple. The main customization is on items, with plenty of them dropping and loads of modifiers seemingly able to be applied. It seems to be part random, but I haven’t played enough to see to what extent that’s the case. As always, money is scarce in the early game, so I was struggling a bit to diversify my magic, but I felt like i was starting to see more options. The spells certainly seemed varied enough for it.

Final Thoughts

It’s hard to not compare this game to Diablo‘s loot systems and World of Warcraft‘s quests and I’m pretty sure the former was looked at when this game was being developed, down to the backpack puzzles that’s in plenty of RPGs, but feels familiar here.

Dungeon Siege uses it all well, with the environments creating some variation in a way that suits the era. It’s dated, but still fun to play and a good set up for what’s to follow.