#638 Animal Crossing: Wild World

Posted: 13th December 2017 by Jeroen in Games
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655th played so far

Genre: Life Simulation
Platform: DS
Year of Release: 2005
Developer: Nintendo EAD
Publisher: Nintendo

So we’ve reached our second jump into the world of Animal Crossing, after playing the first game. In the mean time, we have also played Animal Crossing: New Leaf, the series’ 3DS entry, and so Wild World lands at the middle point between these two experiences.

Our Thoughts

For Wild World, I must admit I struggle with what to use as my reference point. Compared to the original game, plenty of things seem to have changed, but New Leaf is my real Animal Crossing touchstone, the one I played most, and it has more to it than Wild World, absorbing all its new features and adding its own. It’s trickier for it to compare.

On its own, the game is its charming self, building a house under dubious circumstances while decorating, helping out characters and living out your life. It sounds a bit more boring and sure, it’s not a high action game, but there’s something quite relaxing about it, an extra place that becomes your home, celebrates your birthday and so on.

There are some nice distractions while you do so, though – fishing, buying and selling, collecting and decorating. It sustains play and gives you a reason to come back each day while not forcing too much of an investment. The game adds a bunch of these, and streamlines some from the first game, but it really is down to some incremental improvements.

Final Thoughts

The Animal Crossing is ideal for handhelds, really, a game to immerse yourself in for bits at a time, without requiring a big commitment. It works out well here, with plenty to do without ever being overwhelming. It’s a fun diversion, in a second life, and now set on a platform that’s great for it.

#325 Star Control 3

Posted: 9th December 2017 by Jeroen in Games
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654th played so far

Genre: Strategy/Shoot ‘Em Up
Platform: PC
Year of Release: 1996
Developer: Legend Entertainment
Publisher: Accolade

There are a bunch of hybrid games, that combine two genres that don’t normally fit together, but manage it with their own spin. Prior to starting Star Control 3, I’d already seen parts of its predecessor in a let’s play, so I’m ready for this adventure-strategy hybrid, the shoot ’em up part coming in during battle sequences.

I’m now looking forward to trying this for real, see where the story leads me.

Our Thoughts

Star Control 3 really grabbed me. It’s really an adventure/strategy/shoot ’em up, with the latter part – controlling several battles that happen in these games – being partially optional. You can let the AI play them, but they’re not as good as you would be playing on your own. That’s fine too – the battles feel like an annoying version of Asteroids, although with loads of different ships with their own stats and setups. I do wish we’d see something more strategic here instead, considering the size of fleets you can acquire.

The strategy portion adds more to this. There are a whole lot of base building and planet colonization options. These don’t go quite as in depth as 4X games (Master of Orion and Galactic Civilizations came to mind), but there’s still some optimizing you can do. This includes colonizing other worlds, but so far it felt like the time needed to do that wasn’t always worth it in the timeframe I had so far – especially as it takes away resources from the original planet. The focus is also on creating resources for your own fleet, rather than growth on its own terms.

What appeals most to me are the adventure/growth elements. Your first step is to gain the support from nearby alien races. Some will do so easier, others require you to jump through some hoops. Doing so requires some fuel balancing as well, so you can continue to travel, made more complex as your star map is actually 3D.

It’s this personal touch, where you actually have to build relations and focus each race, that is interesting. It adds a lot more personality to what could otherwise be an interchangable set of races with some unique units. That these alliances shift as you progress only make the game more interesting.

Final Thoughts

While, as said, the genres of this game are more complicated than we express in a short summary up there, it actually holds together well and you move between the layers seamlessly. It’s incredibly compelling, once I ignore the ship battles, and make for a series I feel I need to explore further – it’s a shame only this entry is on the list.

653rd played so far

Genre: Role-Playing
Platform: Gamecube
Year of Release: 2004
Developer: Intelligent Systems
Publisher: Nintendo

Paper Mario: The Thousand-Year Door came up the week before I played it, but as I needed more time to it, I wanted to dedicate a day to it – something I did today (as I write this).

Aside from it always being good to get an RPG in, the Mario series always provides really good ones. The first Paper Mario was a lot of fun to play and I started this one years ago… just didn’t finish it because a certain blog starting eating up quite a bit of my gaming time. Now I get to properly play more of it!

Our Thoughts

Thousand-Year Door is as charming as the earlier games and hits a bunch of the same mechanics. Where it expands, though, it does so wonderfully, in a way that works really well for the story, world and game. Throughout, for example, you have an audience for your battle. They get excited as you do better and will increase your star power, as well as throwing helpful items. Sometimes they get infiltrated by enemies, which you have to be careful with, at just the right rate to keep it interesting – often enough that you don’t forget about it, but not often enough to dominate.

In a lot of games, that’s a system you expect them to add but then forget about. Here, the game keeps referencing them, with bosses scaring them away and them playing out in different circumstances. It’s a place where systems mix and fit in well. In a similar vein, the normally for-fun attack fx badges (which changes the sound effects) actually have a gameplay effect in at least one (major) battle. It’s not the biggest thing, but plays with the mechanics in such an interesting way that it feels fair but fresh.

It feels like this happens more out of battle too. While the first Paper Mario played with the mechanics already, I feel like there were more paper based elements in here – both in powerups you get, such as flying around as a paper airplane, which happens quite often, and in the way the world changes, using paper style cutouts and the like that felt more frequent. Add to that a lot of use of the different planes and we get to a world that’s filled with interesting things, while feeling a bit more condensed (in a good way).

The story, too, feels a bit more creative. Rather than a standard Bowser kidnapping, we get another new villain group. Doing so really works better for Mario RPGs, as it means there’s a new group of enemies to use while allowing the basicc enemies to populate the world and fill it out, avoiding a bunch of basic beats.

Final Thoughts

Paper Mario: The Thousand Year Door lives up to the expectations of a Mario RPG. It’s charming, looks good and introduces its own set of gameplay rules that add to the game. I really need to keep playing – at least I’ve got a few more RPGs like it left in the list, as there are some good ones in there.

#467 IL-2 Sturmovik

Posted: 1st December 2017 by Jeroen in Games
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652nd played so far

Genre: Flight Simulator/Shoot ‘Em Up
Platform: PC
Year of Release: 2001
Developer: 1C:Maddox Games
Publisher: 1C/Ubisoft

So we’ve had another random game, and this one worked quite well – I needed another flight sim and, with two games in the series, IL-2 Sturmovik was a good one. Not that I know more of it than that you’re flying around in battle simulation, but it’s going to be interesting to play one of them again.

Our Thoughts

So I really didn’t appreciate the start of this game. Tutorials can be a bit of a problem, repeating the same motions for every game in case someone doesn’t know how mouse look worked. On the other hand, however, not having one means that it becomes more difficult to learn the game specific areas. The latter can be done through game specific introductions, but it will depend on the game you play.

For IL-2 Sturmovik, the choice feels a bit worse than normal. The tutorial basically consists of a bunch of non-interactive cutscenes that explain what you have to do, but don’t give you a chance to actually try it. They feel like videos that are in engine instead to save on space, but the lengthy explanations meant that I forgot most of it before I had to use it and skipped most of it after a while.

The game itself appears to want to be a realistic sim that’s difficult to keep up with even in the easiest mode. There are a lot of things to keep track of and I suspect the difficulty is mostly down to damage done/received when you encounter combatants. You’re still having to do your best to keep control of the plane and go through what feel like difficult motions to chase down an enemy and shoot down their planes – more complicated than I thought they would be.

Still, there’s a lot to do in the game. I’m playing from the GOG version, which merges in some different packs, but there’s a lot to be said for flying around the different areas, taking on others in combat and feeling in the middle of everything. It’s difficult, but feels realistic.

Final Thoughts

I think I was probably too overwhelmed to get fully into this game. It’s difficult to learn everything, but it shows there’s a lot to do in here and a lot of depth that feels like it would be great to get into. It’s just been too much of a challenge for me to get everything out of it yet, but I didn’t quite have the time…

#185 Powermonger

Posted: 27th November 2017 by Jeroen in Games
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651st played so far

Genre: Strategy
Platform: Amiga
Year of Release: 1990
Developer: Bullfrog Productions
Publisher: Electronic Arts

Selecting the order of games for the list can be tricky and mostly comes down to what I fancy at the time – for genre reasons or because I just really want to play something from a developer.  A lot of previous times, we have also focused on catching up – avoiding a lot of Nintendo platforms because we’ve played them loads, for example, while we really needed to get more Playstation 2 games in.

That, I can safely say, has passed now and while I’m keeping an eye on all my stats, it feels less urgent – we just need a bit of everything. For that reason, I’m going to try a different approach for the next fifty – I’m picking games more or less at random. I’ll have the occasional option for a reroll because there are games I want to avoid, and I may not always have full access, but we’ll see where it goes.

That random selection actually gave me a game I’ve been aging for quite a while anyway. Powermonger is a strategy game that looks really interesting. It’s fascinated me since I first saw it in a collection of game guides (I had to get my fix somehow, twenty years ago…) where you had the generals lined up at the side of the board, ready to take your orders as you played your game. Now I actually get to experience all of that…!

Our Thoughts

The big downside of old strategy games, especially those of Bullfrog in this era, is the interface. Aside from the map in the middle and the imposing generals at the top, the game has a lot of buttons on the left and bottom, documented in the manual, but without (decent) mouse overs or great icons that’d help you understand what’s going on.

So with that, I think I understood the game, but I’m not quite sure. There is a basic pre-Dune 2 RTS setup that revolves around raising armies and giving rough commands to attack an area, which the full army matches on – it felt like there’s no real tactical depth here though, which hadn’t been developed yet.

Strategically, though, the game is interesting. While you move around the area rampaging and taking over towns, you have to balance hunger and growing a town. Soon, you’ll control multiple generals. While you can order them around, it takes time for messages to reach them, adding a bigger planning aspect. The townspeople also keep doing their jobs – farming or making tools – with you being able to influence them, even though they work on their own. For its time, the game’s world feels remarkably alive and growing throughout.

Final Thoughts

This game didn’t disappoint. Sure, it wasn’t as accessible than later games, but it offered more depth to me than Populous and as I went into this as an early strategy game, I wasn’t expecting as much anyway. It llived up to my hopes though, and had more in it than I expected – and thus created a fun game. Sure, not something I’d casually pick up now, but glad I played it.

50 Game Round Up: 601-650 (Jeroen)

Posted: 25th November 2017 by Jeroen in Round-Up

Another fifty done, and the work continues – I wouldn’t call it a grind, but we’re not in the most interesting stretch right now, more just business as usual. It’s time to try and draw some games from the list that stood out in this set of games.

Best Game I Had Not Previously Played

Looking back on it, I’m surprised by the number of great games that were in here. Obviously, a lot of them will be good to pay by the nature of the list, but even my short list was long this time. Demon’s Souls gameplay complexity won me over despite being incredibly difficult and obtuse. S.T.A.L.K.E.R. showed me how I would enjoy an open world FPS and System Shock 2‘s FPS/RPG hybrid felt like it could take this position in any other batch. It really has been a good batch, even if it didn’t seem as memorable a number.

I was extolling the virtues of Shenmue II only recently, but that’s because it’s deserved and why it was the last of the fifty – since rebought on Xbox in addition to the Dreamcast copy for ease of use, I’m still hoping the talk of a remaster is going to come true.

The other best game is another sequel of a game we loved. Portal 2 feels like it mixes up the formula more than Shenmue, using the same initial mechanics but adding to it in a natural way. It’s executed really well and stays engaging throughout, at just the right length.

Worst Game

On the other hand, I struggled to actually find many bad games in here, and really put it down. The one that stands out negatively for me is Manic Miner, the old platformer that just doesn’t work anymore these days. Just not quite worth it anymore.

Most Surprising Game

I’ve had a couple of surprises in here too. There are a few games that I wasn’t too sure of, but really engaged me. Grand Slam Tennis was exhausting, but so much fun. De Blob was slightly different, but a lot of fun in the end with an odd premise. Flipnic was a game I was expecting to find middling, but it actually turned out to be a lot of fun.

Most surprising, though, was Oddworld: Stranger’s Wrath. In part because I didn’t realise the genre shift the series had undergone at this point, but because, coming out long after 3D platformers established itself, this game knew the tropes and knew how to apply them well.

Biggest Disappointment

I’ve got a few games that really came down as a disappointment. Picking two, the first is Max & The Magic Marker. The concept held so much more promise than it executed.

What really became a disappointment, though, is Lode Runner. I could see soem of the potential, but the last time I played it, I enjoyed it so much more than I did here. Some spark had, sadly, gone missing.

Best Blast From The Past

Before going through this list to prep, I thought there weren’t many games I’d played before – if any at all. There are still a lot of new games, but I’ve played Lords of Midnight a very long time ago, withouth fully understanding it, and it was nice to get some context for it. Thief was a game I experienced through friends as much as I did in real life, and it worked as well there.

More noticeable, I’ve played quite a bit of Mario & Luigi: Superstar Saga before and while I lost of a lot of muscle memory (a downside of continuing an existing save) the world itself is still quirky and fun and they made for a fun game. Really a series I want to play more of.

Games We Kept Playing

So much to play, so little time! Still, we have a clear winner here. We played plenty of Final Fantasy VI afterwards, and although I need to get back to it, it’s still amazing to play through and was compelling enough to keep playing.

#478 Shenmue II

Posted: 23rd November 2017 by Jeroen in Games
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650th played so far

Genre: Action/Adventure
Platform: Dreamcast/Xbox
Year of Release: 2001
Developer: Sega AM2
Publisher: Sega/Microsoft Game Studios

650 in! It’s a pretty minor milestone, with the two thirds check that’s coming up being more significant, but I’m always excited with a new 50 and the way I get to update my stats and look further ahead.

For my special game of the 50, I decided to pick a sequel to a game I enjoyed a lot – and hence want to see more of. Shenmue has been a game that fascinated me at the time and has been making me more curious down the line. And with a third game on the way, perhaps it’s time I played the sequel now.

Our Thoughts

Somehow refreshing for a sequel, Shenmue II wastes no time to get going. You’re not immediately dropped into everything, but with the way we were playing you had to have a job on your second day as you paid for a place to sleep on the first, and part of that grind started early. I began each day with a morning at the docks, moving pallets, in a minigame that was a bit more difficult than I expected, but that always was profitable to cover teh first day and allow for some extra goodies.

Then you get to actually follow the story. The first day set me off with chases, investigation and plenty of fighting – skills that I didn’t need to use loads early on in the first game – and every afternoon and evening I’d continue my search. This partially required learning the layout of this fictional version of Hong Kong, with many districts, different streets (some looking quite similar) and luckily enough signs to get you in the right direction.

And for the most part it works. I wish I had a fast travel option, even if it cost game time, so I didn’t have to go through a tedious set of areas every time I want to move from my job to the other side of the city to continue the story. It’s an annoyance that feels worse than the grindiness and I hope that any remakes streamline it… it gets really frustrating, especially with some of the loading times.

Final Thoughts

There are some annoyances in the game – quite a bit of grinding and manual travel that takes way too long – the story and mechanics have me really interested and I want to see more. It’s a fun adventure game, with the quick time events common enough that you’re ready, but not difficult enough that they feel like they really get in the way. More important, as before, this feels like a real, living world that you’re walking through, that has more going on than your problems, and that’s what makes the adventure truly fascinating.

#741 Ultimate Ghosts ‘n Goblins

Posted: 19th November 2017 by Jeroen in Games
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649th played so far

Genre: Platform/Fighting
Platform: PSP
Year of Release: 2006
Developer: Tose
Publisher: Capcom

I’ve not done the best at Ghosts ‘n Goblins or Ghouls ‘n Ghosts, two arcade platformers that, by virtue of being arcade games, are pretty difficult. By 2006, however, arcades are no longer the primary way of playing games and having people pay per game just doesn’t matter. With that, I hope I can do better in this game.

Our Thoughts

The verdict on difficulty? The levels don’t feel that much easier, but the ‘metagame’ – lives and continues – is far improved. You have a lot of lives and unlimited continues, which means just restarting the level instead of the game. Still not the easiest, but it makes it easier to progress and see new things.

It also felt like there was more going on for equipment and options. I’m not sure whether that’s because I got further into the game this time or because they were added in this iteration, but it makes for an interesting experience.

Visually the upgrade isn’t as large, but as a throwback game that’s fine. It’s also excused by being a PSP game, which is, I suppose, where the two overlap. It’s functional and colourful enough though, so it wouldn’t have needed more.

Final Thoughts

The balance with these late sequels is always how faithful you want to be to the original games versus keeping it playable for a modern audience. Ultimate Ghosts & Goblins toes this line well, by being as difficult as ever, but providing a bunch of helpful additions, especially when surrounding lives and continues, that make the game a lot less frustrating to get through.

#68 Boulder Dash

Posted: 15th November 2017 by Jeroen in Games
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648th played so far

Genre: Maze
Platform: Various
Year of Release: 1984
Developer: First Star Software
Publisher: First Star Software

It might be that I’ve been focusing on a few other 1001 more lately, but that cover really reminds me of comic magazines. It’s an interesting impression – not quite what I was expecting.

So Boulder Dash is a maze digging game. I’ve played many clones of it – Supaplex was an extended family obsession while I believe Heartlight is the one I personally really got into. It’s one of those classics like, say, Sokoban, that spawned its own genre but isn’t really seen as often these days. And as with Sokoban, it feels like the original is still the one that really matters.

Our Thoughts

Boulder Dash isn’t a complicated game, but it has an interesting arc in how it ups the stakes. The first few levels feel physics based – dig, avoid falling boulders and collect gyms. That sort of stays, but enemies start to take over as you continue, which means avoidance becomes the threats that matter while the physics puzzles become less important, except when they deal with enemies.

There are a bunch of other elements, such as blowing up walls by taking out enemies, but the goal remain that of gathering diamonds and surviving to get to the exit.

It’s not a complicated game, but the levels are fairly large and have some interesting challenges to go through. There are plenty of additional puzzle options, and other games explore this, but at the same time this is where it starts, and Boulder Dash is still the game that does it best.

647th played so far

Genre: Action/Adventure
Platform: Xbox
Year of Release: 2005
Developer: Oddworld Inhabitants
Publisher: Electronic Arts

We played Oddworld games before, as a story based platformer that was about these characters gaining freedom. Here, a few games later in the series, we get a 3D action adventure instead, quite a different challenge. I’m wondering how it will integrate into the world.

Our Thoughts

For the most part, we have a 3D platformer here – like the Banjo Kazooies and Ratchet and Clanks we’ve played before, though with more of a set path through these levels, which are mostly different paths leading from the towns where you get your bounties. I didn’t feel like there was much reason for backtracking, with no real secrets to find, just approaches.

While a 3D action adventure, the game puts a lot of focus on stealth and nonviolent methods of taking out the villains. You are, after all, a bounty hunter, and you bring in those you defeat (with a magical capture gadget, of course) dead or alive – but they are worth more alive than dead. It’s an interesting approach, on some level one I prefer more as it feels more puzzle like, but I did end up just going all out a few times to take them all out.

One of your main tools is your crossbow, and it makes the game more interesting and stealthy. Similar to Thief‘s different arrows, you can collect different types of ammunition for your crossbow based on different critters dotted around the landscape. They give you the ability to distract and influence behaviour, for example,

I’m not sure it is enough to sustain the game for me, but it looks like I’d already gotten a lot further in than I thought – possibly over halfway through. It feels like the right length – the relative lack of exploration (so far) means that the large combat encounters work, but the remainder becomes a bit samey for me. It’s a good setup with some solid systems, but there’s something missing still.