#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?

#243 SimCity 2000

Posted: 9th October 2018 by Jeroen in Games
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730th played so far

Genre: Management Simulation
Platform: Various
Year of Release: 1993
Developer: Maxis
Publisher: Maxis

I’ve been playing a fair amount of Cities: Skylines recently, the spiritual successor to the, by now semi-defunct, SimCity series. It’s one of those series I love playing and I’ve been holding off on playing them so I have a chance to savour them later. We covered the first SimCity over five years ago – back when this was a shared blog – and it still felt a bit primitive then.

SimCity 2000 was my first introduction to the franchise, though, and I’m expecting to enjoy it a lot again. If nothing else, we’ll still be close enough to get quite a bit out of it.

Our Thoughts

You can approach these older games in two ways – you can judge them trying to take them in the context of their time, trying to separate them from what follows, or compare them and see how they would fare now. In the latter category, SimCity 2000 has some issues. Aside from a lot more repeated buildings, abandonment seemed random, information about your city seemed difficult to obtain, and building certain things was unintuitive – a highway was far more difficult to set up than it had any right to be, being too fiddly. Sticking to a grid made sense at the time, but it constrains your gameplay far enough that it made the world feel smaller and more awkward. And while unlocking based on a date makes historical sense, having unlocks based on progress works better on training you, or unlocking everything from the start makes it easier to just plan what you do. Accuracy doesn’t necessarily matter much.

On the other hand, the magic of building a city is still there. You need to learn the rules – never build anything more than three squares away from a road, making sure power and electricity is build – but then you can build a city the way you want. A “no money” sandbox mode would be nice, but the game’s old enough that there are ways around that. Traffic density might just be cars going in loops, but it works to make the city feel busier. There are a lot of different buildings and systems that are at play to make your city feel more real. Maybe they don’t always interact as much as they should, but it’s there. And there are plenty of disasters to deal with.

The game is also fairly simple. Put down areas, things build. You need to spend a bit of time on getting the other resources in place, but it feels liek there’s always something to do and more to move on. It’s always extremely satisfying, which is part of what matters here.

Final Thoughts

Sure, this version of SimCity is dated and if you wanted to play more, you should probably play a later edition. At the same time, the isometric play, semi 3D and improvements on the original game feel like they set the real standard, and for me it’s still the defining version of the series, that everything else really built on.

729th played so far

Genre: Flight Simulator
Platform: Nintendo 64
Year of Release: 1996
Developer: Nintendo EAD/Paradigm Simulation
Publisher: Nintendo

I played Pilotwings about four years ago, a SNES flight sim with some unusual craft and an interesting set of missions – a bit simple now, maybe, but impressive for the time and with a fair amount to do.

As you can see, the Nintendo 64 got a sequel, although it took fifteen years for another follow up.

Our Thoughts

It feels like this game has less options than its predecessor, despite its increase in technology. We’ve lost skydiving and replaced a light plane with a gyrocopter. In the mean time, the areas in which the missions take place has grown, feeling more suitable for the platform and giving more interesting worlds to play with.

The controls are quite tricky – made for the N64 controller, but it still doesn’t always transfer well. There’s something in the way it feels delayed that the game works against you in places. It doesn’t add that much challenge, though, just awkwardness to do things like making the turns correctly or being able to dive just right, but that’s also because the game doesn’t always need it.

The missions aren’t impossible, but finishing them in time, while landing properly, is. You need to get enough points between the missions to continue to proceed. Per level, they always take place in the same area, just for the three different modes, and they soon feel hard. You need to keep trying and improve until you manage to get there… Something that got me to the third level or so, but keeping up became a bit much after that.

Final Thoughts

While the controls let it down, Pilotwings 64 provides a decent challenge with some nice missions in a world that looks better than its predecessor. It misses a bit of that game’s simplicity, but they both hold up quite nicely.

#990 PixelJunk Shooter

Posted: 1st October 2018 by Jeroen in Games
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728th played so far

Genre: Shoot ‘Em Up
Platform: Playstation 3
Year of Release: 2009
Developer: Q-Games/Double Eleven
Publisher: Q-Games

Q-Games’ PixelJunk series combines simpler cartoonish graphics with decently in depth gameplay, as suits a downloadable console game. We’ve played the Monsters variant before, a decent tower defense game, and this is the other game of theirs that’s on the list, obviously a shooter this time.

Our Thoughts

It’s not really a series, beyond the creator being the same and a shared name. Even the art feels flatter and simpler, although the underlying systems might be a reason for it. Although there are a bunch of enemies to kill in this shooter, the main focus is on rescuing these workers trapped in the mines.I couldn’t immediately identify the games where we did that before, but I’m sure we had.

The unique mechanics it introduces are interesting and really change the game. It introduces lava and water early on, both with their own interactions – water is safe, mostly helping by cooling you down, while lava kills you until you get certain suits, heats you and kills your rescuees – but works to get rid of ice and enemies. The liquid physics used are quite impressive and play into the puzzles throughout and it’s incredibly satisfying to get the combination right and make your way through.

It’s what turns the game into more than just a shooter, as manipulating the environment becomes as important as shooting enemies, and there are times where the latter became more of an inconvenience than something that felt necessary. It was still enough to keep you on your toes, and they’re used in the right amounts, but they’re more realistic obstacles.

Final Thoughts

As much as Pixeljunk Shooter is set to be a shooter, the highlights are the liquid physics and everything that flows from it. It’s a delight to mess around with and creates enough special situations to stay interesting.

#76 Karate Champ

Posted: 27th September 2018 by Jeroen in Games
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727th played so far

Genre: Fighting
Platform: Arcade
Year of Release: 1984
Developer: Technos Japan
Publisher: Data East

So I don’t really look forward to these early fighting games – the genre isn’t the best in general and it’s not until the likes of Mortal Kombat and Street Fighter that we see some of the kinks getting worked out.

Karate Champ, then, is the next game because it’s a game I’m not much looking forward to, but need to get done, so I might as well get it out of the way.

Our Thoughts

In Karate Champ, you don’t go out to save the girl. There’s no set of recognisable opponent. You literally play in a karate tournament, as you would expect. I don’t really know karate, so I’m guessing that’s pretty much how it works. You move by using two sticks, the input of the two combining to moves. It’s an interesting idea, but doesn’t lead anywhere. It was difficult to keep track of, and not knowing the rules (old game, nothing gets explained) it became quite difficult to deal with.

It doesn’t help that the intro for the game is fairly long – I couldn’t get into the game, or stay in it.

Final Thoughts

While Karate Champ probably works nicely if you know the sport, and it’s all about the martial arts, now it just feels a bit uninteresting and drawn out.

#621 Warhammer 40,000: Dawn Of War

Posted: 23rd September 2018 by Jeroen in Games
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726th played so far

Genre: Strategy
Platform: PC
Year of Release: 2004
Developer: Relic Entertainment
Publisher: THQ

When it comes to the universe, I’ve always been a fantasy player. There’s some interesting bits about the 40k universe, but nothing in it ever really tempted me. Sadly, until Total War: Warhammer, it hasn’t been greatly represented – even though many tried, and Shadows of the Horned Rat did work for me.

Similarly, while there were plenty of 40k games, Dawn of War is where it really took off and feels like it became massive. I still avoided it, but I’m now getting to the point where I really should give it a go and see whether it fits me.

Our Thoughts

It’s always a bit of a bad sign when one of the first levels of a game you play have you get stuck for a weird reason. In this case, it’s pathfinding: units got stuck between allies they were rescuing and couldn’t move out as they were now surrounded at all sides by those allies and had no way to get out. If the game had let me deal with individual units, it would have been fine, but since the whole squad couldn’t move in formation, it was stuck there.

Luckily, this didn’t repeat itself. Instead, I got to get into this game. Working with small squads made ordering them around more convenient. It feels like Warcraft 3, though without the strong presence of that game’s hero units. You have leaders, but they join squads and feel like they have less of an effect. As long as the pathfinding cooperates, it’s straight forward to control and grow, in a way that nicely replicates the 40k experience but makes it work better in the context of game building.

Base building is similarly simplified, with enough buildings to keep it interesting but not quite the mess you get in other RTS games. You mostly reinforce the squad so they don’t need to be near buildings and unit numbers aren’t too complex.

Resources are managed in a different way. You capture the strategic points that surround the area, which provide you with an income as you hold them as well as allowing for some defensive structures being built – mostly so nobody else takes over. It makes map control feel more real as you really have to reach and control areas and streamlines a lot of resource gathering.

Another way in which the game streamlines the experience is the way you handle reinforcements. You can always reinforce your squads where they are, meaning that during stealth and one man base less missions, you can make your way through more easily. That means that unless you’re fully wiped out, losses are a lot less crippling. It’s a nice mercy and improves the experience over what we’re used to from Red Alert.

There are only 11 story missions, all focused around the space marines, which means that my experience with the other armies was very limited. They’re decently chunky missions though, which makes up a bit for the shorter length, and they are varied enough to keep them interesting.

And it means I can see a lot of orcs flying through the air. That stays cool.

Final Thoughts

There’s probably a lot more to this game at a multiplayer level, but I had a great time playing the story missions. The structure is great and the whole experience is streamlined compared to the RTSes I’m used to, which makes it quicker to go through. It’s worth a revisit and I’m looking forward to playing the sequel.

#984 Mighty Flip Champs

Posted: 19th September 2018 by Jeroen in Games
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725th played so far

Genre: Platform/Puzzle
Platform: Nintendo DS
Year of Release: 2009
Developer: WayForward Technologies
Publisher: WayForward Technologies

Happily, unlike other digital platforms, DSi games are still very accessible for all players. One of those that’s been waiting on my 3DS for years has been Mightly Flip Champs. It’s one of those games that takes basic platforming and introduces a twist – something like VVVVVV, with the twist this time that you flip to different screens instead of reversing gravity. Perfect downloadable game fodder.

Our Thoughts

The concept of the game is a good one – you flip between different screens each level, the next oen previewed on the other screen, and use the different paths on each screen to make your way to the exit. You will see where you will flip to, making it pretty easy to see what you’re doing and creating a nice set of puzzles that for the most part feel fair. It’s a neat concept and (ignoring some of the niggles below) give you enough hints on where to go to solve the puzzle while still having you plan a few steps ahead. More so on later levels, where you need to remember four layouts you switch between, challenging you to remember whether you should stay or move.

There are a few places where it doesn’t work quite as well, and it mostly happens where the puzzles are aobut reflexes rather than puzzle solving. When you flip and there’s a wall where you flip to, you die – erring, it feels, on the side of killing you. Where this gets frustrating are in the levels where you need to fall off a platform and flip mid-fall, landing on a new platform. It’s fiddly to flip at the right time, as the space is something only character high, and it feels like you die a lot. Grabbing on to fences as you fall lead to the same issue, and it feels too awkward if you’re not used to the controls. It turns a puzzle into a non-puzzle and doesn’t feel right. A similar thing happens when you get to flip between spikes, and positioning means more than is fun.

Sadly, it’s those sections I got stuck on, and it feels frustrating as I just want to move to the next idea and see what they do with the mechanics. There’s two games at play here, and they don’t mesh as well as they could.

#419 Samba de Amigo

Posted: 15th September 2018 by Jeroen in Games
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724th played so far

Genre: Music
Platform: Dreamcast
Year of Release: 1999
Developer: Sonic Team
Publisher: Sega

The Dreamcast era really was one for weird peripherals. We saw this with Sega Bass Fishing (although I avoided it there by playing the PC version) and a few years later with the massive setup that came with Steel Battalion. Another peripheral were maraca controllers to play Samba de Amigo with.

Luckily, this game got a Wii rerelease and so instead of tracking down weird controllers, I just get to use the Wiimote, which feels like it should be a natural fit.

Our Thoughts

Do they work? Maybe not quite, but to explain that it needs some context on how the game works.

Obviously, shaking maracas to a rhythm doesn’t make for a great game on its own, so the game has you pointing instead as well. Up left and right, left and right, or down left and right – either both maracas the same way, or both in different directions. It’s a neat idea, but has its issues in the Wii edition because the nunchuk doesn’t have great motion detection. It means you need to twist it while you point, which is easy to get wrong when you get in the game, and the game seemed to mostly leave it to higher difficulties to really double down on it to avoid those issues.

The other part of the rhytm game is less rhythm based but more fun – there are several dance moves you’ll need to perform – waving your hands in the air or to the side. While they would be fairly arbitrary distractins in other places, they fit in well here. The game creates a lot of elements that require you to stand up and dance and these exercises really double down on them.

All of this also means that there are no weird buttons or other oddities to try to remember. You can follow along with the on screen prompts and, with some practice, just have to make sure you follow the instructions. That’s not as easy as it sounds, but it feels almost the purest, a game that fits the music it’s portraying most.

The music selection helps as much, with a number of samba classics that are delightful to dance to, and some odd choices that the game makes work incredibly well – Tubthumping is probably the first weird thing I came across, and it consists mostly of dance moves, but somehow it sort of works. Not as well as the others, but it’s a good break.

Final Thoughts

While the Guitar Hero series really created the plastic instrument genre with its guitars, I could see how Samba de Amigo would have been just as engaging while transfering a lot better to the Wii as well. It’s probably the best rhythm game I’ve played so far.

723rd played so far

Genre: Action/Role-Playing
Platform: Wii
Year of Release: 2009
Developer: Vanillaware
Publisher: Marvellous Games/Ignition Entertainment/Rising Star Games

For some games, the title is enough to get you excited. Muramasa: The Demon Blade? Yeah, there should be something awesome in there, right? An action RPG that plays a bit like a platformer feels like it should be my thing all the way through.

Our Thoughts

Let’s start with the obvious that I tend to overlook in these reviews: This game is absolutely gorgeous. It uses stunning hand drawn background – with elements that often get repeated and recombined, but they look great – and characters that are amazingly animated. It makes reaching and visiting new areas a treat, a nice additional surprise as you travel.

The game plays on a 2D area, with some platforming elements – you do a fair amount of jumping and reach some secrets with careful platforming. It’s as similar to a beat em up, really, something like Ghosts ‘n Goblins at its most basic. It, of course, goes far beyond that, but it’s a simple basic formula.

The game of course features a bunch of exploration – the world is huge and there are a couple of different ways in which it’s restricted. Most notably, areas are locked by different coloured barriers that require specific swords to open, which then gives you both more plot options and extra items to get, as well as allowing access to a bunch of other challenges.

Swords? Yeah, despite the title implying the existence of a single blade, your progression in the game comes through gaining resources to buy more swords. This partially comes in through a new game plus system to really get everything, but at its core you can equip better swords as your stats go up, which have stronger special attacks and better stats. Other blades get giving to you, mostly those giving you access to different areas. You can equip three swords at once and switch between them, although all of them appear in a large unlock tree. It’s a nice system to build progression around, that feels natural, restricts progress properly and fits narratively. The game has some more minor related systems, but the game is really at its best when you can focus on swordplay.

Final Thoughts

Muramasa did not disappoint. Whlie the game is heavily focused on its action, there’s so much more in its progression that keeps me far more interested – your characters can grow more powerful and there’s a lot of scope for exploration – the game’s world is big and varied enough to really reward it, while its map still gives you good directions throughout. It adds to a fun game and I need to figure out how replayable it becomes to unlock everything.