#658 Mario & Luigi: Partners in Time

Posted: 19th March 2018 by Jeroen in Games
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679th played so far

Genre: Role-Playing
Platform: DS
Year of Release: 2005
Developer: AlphaDream
Publisher: Nintendo

Out of the various Mario RPGs, it feels like this is the one I played most – it was released early in the DS’s life and it gave me a good early game to play. For that reason, I start this write up knowing what to expect already. Following Mario & Luigi Superstar Saga, let’s double the series’ main cast for Partners in Time!

Our Thoughts

A lot of series rely on making sequels that are somewhat similar to each other – expanding and polishing a concept. Paper Mario and Thousand Year Door feature the same basic gameplay, with the latter layering some systems on top. Outisde of Nintendo this is even clearer – Doom 2 is more of the same, Pokemon relies on putting the same or similar mechanics in a different world and let’s not start on sports franchises.

The Mario & Luigi series, although to some extend building on the first game, introduce something quite different for each sequel. We’ll have a game where half of it takes place in Bowser’s body soon (somewhere in the next three years or so), one that’s partially based in Luigi’s dreams and a ‘simple’ Paper Mario crossover. Today’s game has you play with four instead of two main characters – thanks to the DS’s added buttons – as it introduces Mario and Luigi’s baby selfs thanks to a time travel plot. So far, thankfully, the time travel shenanigans have been kept simple and it’s mostly been an excuse to dole out some different powers and see some different versions of some of the levels.

The controls do become more complicated at this point – both because there are more timings to remember, and because you have to keep track of two groups at different times. Getting the timing on battles right, for example, gets that bit more frustrating here than it was before and I believe muscle memory helped me through battles this time – they didn’t always do that.

Final Thoughts

I’ve had a good time with this game. The timing catches me out sometimes, but the different puzzles that the splitting of characters gives you is a lot of fun, while the characterization still works well. It’s got the usual charm, with a twist that works well.

#533 Beyond Good & Evil

Posted: 15th March 2018 by Jeroen in Games
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678th played so far

Genre: Action/Adventure
Platform: Various
Year of Release: 2003
Developer: Ubisoft
Publisher: Ubisoft

Beyond Good & Evil often gets advertised with the two protagonists of the game – a young woman and a pig man. As in a pig’s head and such. That latter part always looked interesting and made me curious about the game. Now, I get to see what that’s about in today’s action/adventure.

Our Thoughts

For the most part of the game, this has been a lot of fun to play. I had an issue on the timing of one minigame – a chase/race that relied on awkward controls – but for the most part this game ramps that up well. What’s good about it?

First of all, you’re dealing with a lot of interesting characters. You’re a young woman running an orphanage that’s running low on money, so you step up as a photojournalist as well. Your companion Pey’J – the pig-like creature – is an inventor who creates a bunch of the gadgets that increase your powers as you go along. I believe we find out more about him later, but I’m trying to avoid spoilers here – I certainly thought he was fun to have around.

The world builds on that, with interesting characters. The setup is a city dominated by a military dictatorship, with plenty of underground criminals, so there are enough small sidequests there. You end up joining the resistance to try to make things better. At the same time, you need to collect money and finish side quests to be able to afford your upgrades. The collectibles themselves are first of all photos of different species, for financial gain, while others increase your health. It’s a good mix and gives a lot of rewards.

Playing the game itself is straightforward in the best way too. There are no jumping puzzles and jumping feels fluid and intuitive, it didn’t get in my way. Beyond that the puzzles were simple and combat didn’t involve too much (yet). Vehicle combat wasn’t as good, but it clearly didn’t matter as much. Combat in general felt fine – most of the challenge came from being overwhelmed, but the first big boss we fought had a great mix of puzzle and action elements where you were always able to keep moving.

Final Thoughts

Beyond Good & Evil is a game where everyone was surprised it never got a sequel, and I can see why it’s that surprising – the world is unique enough, with a interesting, gripping backstory, while the mechanics feel balanced for what the game is trying to be. A good polish pass would probably smooth out the few remaining bits, but it’s still a worthwhile game to play.

677th played so far

Genre: Action/Adventure
Platform: Xbox 360/Playstation 3/PC
Year of Release: 2008
Developer: Rockstar North
Publisher: Rockstar games

The Grand Theft Auto series feels like it’s been a constant companion. There are ten of them on the list, we’ve been doing them every 100 nearish to the end and when it came up randomly this time, it felt it fit.

Of course the series as we played it now came into being with Grand Theft Auto 3 (and Body Harvest), but with the next numbered installation, we can expect the series to take a step up.

Our Thoughts

GTA IV sets you up as Niko Bellic, an Eastern European immigrant chasing the American dream while helped, initially, by his cousin who’s supposedly succesful from when he moved. He meets a larger cast of character, several of whom want Niko to travel out on usually criminal acts, following the pattern established previously in the series.

The game does this well, building on previous entries, using the improvements from, especially, San Andreas to keep the storytelling going better. We’re no longer limited to the static scenes of the third game to introduce a mission, instead explaining as you go on, and everything flows naturally into each other. You get longer interactions in the car, but they also extend further beyond the missions. The world feels more alive, helped by small missions you can pick up as you move around and interactions outside the missions, where you socialize with your friends, including possible romances, and can go out on a drink, play games and more.

It’s this world that’s the most interesting, but a lot of other things are improved – driving feels a bit better, combat a lot more, and escaping the police feels a bit less exploitable and more natural – if harder at times. I didn’t quite get there, but it didn’t feel like as much of a struggle as it was before. The only comment I have is that saving could be easier. Auto saves are limited to certain moments, but otherwise you have to retreat to a safehouse that might not always be easy to reach, and which are still scarce at this point. Checkpoints within the missions would be useful as well, as they can go on for a while and missing at a late stage and having to redo everything – including the drive there – gets pretty frustrating. I guess it changes the balance of the game, but considering how punishing death can be, I’d always want to restart anyway so I don’t have to collect everything again.

Final Thoughts

Grand Theft Auto IV feels like another step in the genre. There’s issues with the series that come out more as they continue, but even so here the world is interesting, the missions engaging and the gameplay itself is fun. The remaining games are all built on top of this base and I have a good feeling about that.

676th played so far

Genre: Strategy
Platform: PC
Year of Release: 1996
Developer: Westwood Studios
Publisher: Virgin Interactive Entertainment

While I originally focused on playing Command & Conquer, the Red Alert series never held quite as much of an appeal to me. Partially it’s because World War II settings don’t really interest me a lot of the time, while the sci fi side works so much more, but I think I build myself up more for the original, while this felt like a more boring sequel. I only got to the series later – mainly remembering playing the second game in the series with friends.

So while I know I enjoy the series, I just never quite made the jump and have been holding off a bit. Not helping is that the original C&C didn’t hold up as much as I hoped. Let’s see whether it works here.

Our Thoughts

I must say, Red Alert looks older than I remember – another reason to show I played a later game in the series – but it still plays really well. The maps still feel expertly crafted and it’s all a lot of fun to play.

Although there are some base building maps, it felt like there were more puzzle levels, where you get a set number of troops and have to reach a place or a few of them. This isn’t exactly unheard of in these games, but where in others you still use some force to overwhelm them, here you are fragile enough that they feel like puzzles – sneaking around an area and blowing stuff up from a safe place. It’s stealth in an RTS engine and is an incredibly interesting way of approaching these levels. I’m not sure I always quite got the point of the puzzles, but it’s a nice counterpart to the big base building that usually dominates these levels. Because it’s so much trickier, it’s more fun to play.

I got most of the base building by jumping into a few multiplayer levels, where you obviously get to have access to everything, rather than the steadily rising level of technology seen in the single player campaign. And man, there are loads of options here, especially with the different ways of summoning units, some side effects (more than in Command & Conquer) and a whole setup of naval units that are still hit and miss in a lot of games. It’s quite overwhelming and not getting the build up, I don’t think I used them to optimal effect – but there are clearly a lot of tactical options here.

Final Thoughts

Red Alert was a definite surprise – while building on a now proven great series, the levels are some of the most creative I feel I’ve seen in the genre. The mechanics themselves feel like a reskin of Command & Conquer, with some cut and additional content added, but the way it makes use of these in the campaign is quite different and very interesting to play with. A step up that I hope we can actually experience more of.

#285 Bioforge

Posted: 3rd March 2018 by Jeroen in Games
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675th played so far

Genre: Role-Playing/Puzzle
Platform: PC
Year of Release: 1995
Developer: Origin Systems
Publisher: Electronic Arts

I’m not sure quite where I stand with Bioforge. Graphically, and in vague theme, we have something that resembles an older version of System Shock, but it’s billed as an RPG/Puzzle/Adventure while the manual lists a bunch of combat options… A lot of this is going to depend on where it wins out for me.

Our Thoughts

What genuinely got to me while playing this game is that quite a bit of it was let down by the game’s age and the consequences it has on the controls. We have a third person perspective with a camera per ‘room’ or area and with that, we get tank controls (with no WASD!) that are slow and awkward. I can accept it, up to a point on Grim Fandango, but for the most part, that game isn’t about the timing.

Here, imprecise turning meant that running down a hallway to avoid a cannon you cannot take on yet becomes very difficult. Combat feels too complex and difficult and, so far, hasn’t added much to the game beyond being an HP drain – which feels annoying considering it’s a very limited resource in the game. The controls feel too imprecise to really play the game, and I couldn’t bring up the patience for it.

And if this game were remade – something that seems unlikely as EA doesn’t care much and it’s not really a big name – that would probably do it. The world seems interesting, a dystopian feeling space station where you are landed and have to escape while being threatened and so on. The puzzles are pretty fun – quite obvious, when the controls aren’t a hindrance to solving them. It makes some good use of computer interfaces, manipulating the world through all of that, creating a real sense of the possibilities here. The project was also developed as an interactive movie – something that sounds a bit like a buzzword, but it inidcates the story it’s trying to tell. It didn’t quite work on me, but I do feel there’s a clear greater effort taken in the storytelling here that we don’t see elsewhere.

Final Thoughts

It’s hard to feel like there aren’t games who did this better – Quest for Glory combines a similar set of genres but feels playable as it’s based in a point and click adventure instead of a 3D engine like we get here. The System Shock series trades on similar themes, although with less adventure game puzzles. Here, it challenges you, but not quite to the point as it could have when the 3D control issues would have been worked out.

#69 Bomb Jack

Posted: 27th February 2018 by Jeroen in Games
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674th played so far

Genre: Platform
Platform: Arcade
Year of Release: 1984
Developer: Tehkan
Publisher: Tehkan

Here’s a simple one – again one of the oldest games on the list. The screenshots look a bit like Pang, but clearly you’re moving around what feels like a superhero rip off – Astro Boy with a Bat Man mask or something. But there’s bombs involved – loads of bombs – so we’ll see what happens.

Our Thoughts

There really is a big difference between how platformers look in the arcade and how they look at home at this point – compare this to Bounty Bob Strikes Back, released in the same year, for a big change in graphics. It is also, however, a single screen game without any scrolling, which means it’s some distance away in gameplay from Super Mario Bros, which doesn’t look quite as good but feels bigger.

So the game looks nice for its day, colourful with some pretty backgrounds for the five different levels. You collect all the bombs on a screen before you move on to the next one, getting a bit of a power boost as you collect some of them. There are several enemies around that you can’t touch, where the game becomes mostly about avoiding them.

What makes the game feel unique is that your controls are different from normal. While you can’t quite fly (never mind the cape) you have a very high jump and can descend quite slowly, giving you a lot of vertical control that really changes how you approach the game. You want to be up a lot and steer your way around, meaning you go up and down a lot more collecting bombs than you normally do. At the same time, when you hit enough bombs and your enemies turn into coins, getting to them before the timer runs out is more difficult, in part because the horizontal control gets trickier with the vertical levels. For the same reason, platforms are as much of a hindrance as they can help – they stop you going up, while often keeping enemies on top meaning you want to stay out of the way there.

Final Thoughts

Bomb Jack is a charming game that does its things quite well – a clearly defined goal with decent mechanic that feel like they shake up the platform standards enough to stand out. It follows the tropes of its days – collecting rather than advancing – but it makes it feel fun and exciting to do so.

672nd played so far

Genre: Adventure/Shoot ‘Em Up
Platform: Playstation 3
Year of Release: 2009
Developer: Naughty Dog
Publisher: Sony Computer Entertainment

On our first outing in the Uncharted series, we had a good time exploring some great venues, but had some issues with the shooting in the game. We felt strengthened hearing it would be better in the sequel and that’s what I’m looking to explore today.

Our Thoughts

When a game starts in media res, like this game does, it really needs to show off what it does best. And in that, Uncharted 2‘s opening scene succeeds well. It starts with a climbing section that felt so satisfying previously, made cinematic by the train and its cold surroundings. There are a few secrets hidden early on, some small gains to be made, and after that some decent gunplay.

After that, we got to what’s really a tutorial break in – stealing an artifact with plot relevance from a museum. It repeats a few bits about jumping that you’ve done before, but then shows up more of the climbing, breaking in and, more important, stealth and gun fighting sections. The latter have improved a lot, with a lot more small groups and far less infinite respawns – even where they exist, there are better end conditions than reaching a point on the floor.

But as the break in into the museum shows, stealthing through the game is a lot of fun and works decently well. A lot of it overlaps with the climbing and free running sections, so you’re relying a lot on movement to take out your enemies. There are some really tense moments that use it and it makes the game’s combat sections mostly far more palatable.

Beyond that, the story is fine and the characterizations are good again. The interactions between Nathan and the other main characters are well written and relatable, making for a game that’s a lot of fun to play through. The animation is also really good – in particular where Nathan is concerned. He looks really good and moves so fluidly, it’s clear they spent a lot of time on it and man, does it help leave a good impression of the game, especially when he walks through these lovely looking, varied environments.

Final Thoughts

It feels like this game improved on the issues that were a problem in the first game. Combat still isn’t the game’s strongest point – exploration and climbing work better – but it’s smoothed over a lot, and having seen the more complicated combat areas as Peter played through them, it was a fun option to watch.

#820 Burnout Paradise

Posted: 15th February 2018 by Jeroen in Games
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671st played so far

Genre: Driving
Platform: Playstation 3/Xbox 360/PC
Year of Release: 2008
Developer: Criterion Games
Publisher: Electronic Arts

I mostly remember Burnout 2 as a chaotic racer whose big selling point was a big crashing mode that felt especially exciting and plainly fun to play. The racing was supposed to be its focus though, and that’s what we get in the better regarded open world big brother that we get to play today.

Our Thoughts

Burnout Paradise is a large, attractive open world racing game. Unlike others, you never leave your car (although I believe there are one or two places where you can hop between them) and instead focus on driving through a large city. Early on there’s a lot of exploration – first of all to find all the different challenges you can take on (more or less one per crossing), but just as valuably to find shortcuts, occasional additional cars, collectibles and, most important, repair shops.

That last one becomes very important, as they’re not marked on the map by default, but a number of activities seem to require them. Breaking your car is never good, but since a bunch of them involve others actively trying to ram you, you want to get a repair in but don’t initially know where to go. A bit more help would have been extra – I ended up seeking them out early to get rid of that handicap.

It still marred my enjoyment of the challenges and, at least for this playthrough, I focused on finding those where I wouldn’t be held back too much by this. That was fine anyway – there was a lot to explore, and driving up to the observatory was a fun enough challenge. Playing more would likely see me make even more use of that.

Final Thoughts

The difficulty curve is a bit counteracted by having to learn your away around – not to learn the different (main) streets, but because the location of repair shops matters a lot and you can’t easily find those. It’s a negative I felt all the way through, but it was a lot of fun regardless.

#169 Final Fight

Posted: 11th February 2018 by Jeroen in Games
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670th played so far

Genre: Fighting
Platform: Arcade
Year of Release: 1989
Developer: Capcom
Publisher: Capcom

Final Fight is not a one-on-one fighter (as I thought for some time) – instead it’s another beat ’em up like Double Dragon. I guess it’s just one to experience.

Our Thoughts

This mostly felt like a pretty straight forward beat em up. You get your enemies storming you, you beat them off and keep going until they’re dead or you move ahead far enough. It uses props – showing how there’s more sophistication and use of the environment here – including chandeliers, but it’s not extensive enough to really have an impact. I never felt they helped me much, it was just an extra hit that got me.

It didn’t help here that I felt locked into my animations several times, with the game forcing animations to finish before I could continue acting. It made the game feel sluggish and frustrating, rather than fast as you want in situations where you get swarmed. Add to that a slightly awkward control scheme with not enough buttons – attack and pick up on one button being one of the compromises that don’t feel right  – and I had were a bunch of times where the game just felt frustrating.

There’s some interesting things – health pickups in the form of food feel a bit rare in this game – but despite some good ideas and a good basic setup, the game never took me from fine to memorable. To me, that’s unforgivable for this list.

#986 NBA 2K10

Posted: 7th February 2018 by Jeroen in Games
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669th played so far

Genre: Sports
Platform: Various
Year of Release: 2009
Developer: Visual Concepts
Publisher: 2K Sports

I’ll be honest, I feel like a lot of these sports games are ones I have to cover – the yearly entry of the time was put on the list as the best representative of football, hockey, baseball or football, but it’s partially because that happens to be the one that was out then, rather than completely the best. It’s fine, but not being a big player of sports games, they are always a bit more awkward.

I’ve already played NBA Jam, which was an older, but seemingly streamlined basketball game. This is years later, of course, but I’ll see how this works out.

Our Thoughts

So as all sports game do to me, I had to take my time to get into it. Unlike other games in the genre, though, I did get there. I mean, I started off with big name teams I recognised – like the Chicago Bulls – so the game was clearly on my side, but that’s what I needed to start. The controls and gameplay felt incredibly intuitive, and while I’m sure I missed some tricks, I managed to do okay getting through the game – far better than I expected and certainly better than I did in other sports games.

I didn’t jump into career mode as much, which is mostly again because I’m worried about not making it, and not being able to make it through these is what put me off the games earlier. The quick play mode feels so good to play and really rewarding, which was a good reinforcement and a good way to show how these sports game can stay accessible, even to first time players – and it’s something that carries through to these game modes.

It still feels like a good basketball game as well – at least as far as I can judge – and from other games, I feel like they might be perfect as an introduction to the genre. Here, however, it’s pulled off well in a way that doesn’t force you to deal with a legacy of years.