#236 Maniac Mansion: Day of the Tentacle

Posted: 23rd August 2016 by Jeroen in Games
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536th played so far

Day_of_the_Tentacle_artwork

Genre: Adventure
Platform: Various
Year of Release: 1993
Developer: LucasArts
Publisher: LucasArts

I’ll admit, playing Day of the Tentacle today was self-indulgence. The special edition was released a few days earlier and I was really looking forward to experiencing it again.

Although technically the sequel to Maniac Mansion, this game took in a lot of the improvements from later games and (from what I remember) really played a lot better.

Our Thoughts

I was playing this with Peter – I had played the game before, he hadn’t. It showed soon after. Although initially the puzzles aren’t as complex, later puzzles have some odd leaps of logic that jump out at me, but aren’t obvious to the first time player, and some require some weird leaps of logic. It’s a trademark, almost, of LucasArts games, but it didn’t match with me trying to see what Peter could solve. You can see what you need to do, but not always how to get there (with some oddly unnecessary red herrings).

Still, knowing the puzzles I got to enjoy this more and it shows off so many more elements that work in the game. The graphics are good – even in the old version, a lot is done with, sometimes, very few pixels – the bold designs take care of that. The dialogue is excellent, filled with jokes and well done (but obscure) hints.

There’s a lot of joy in the initial exploration of the mansion, something the game’s time travel mechanics sort of have you do three times over. The looping nature of it in two of the three periods help keep the drudgery down, although there’s still the usual large amount of travel in places. The time travel aspects often comes down to getting and sending items between periods (something easier when I found out about a trick that would have sped up gameplay – items can be swapped from the inventory without traveling to the designated spots), although later eras can be affected in other ways – one I personally like is a puzzle that requires you to change the design of the flag so you can use it as a costume later.

Final Thoughts

Day of the Tentacle feels as funny and inventive now. The puzzles do feel like they could be a bit less obscure sometimes, but the rsults are usually fun enough to work for me.

#44 Sokoban

Posted: 19th August 2016 by Jeroen in Games
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535th played so far

sokoban-original

Genre: Puzzle
Platform: Various
Year of Release: 1982
Developer: Hiroyuki Imabayashi
Publisher: Thinking Rabbit

Sokoban feels like it’s one of the better known puzzle games out there, to the point where Nethack names a set of floors after it. Box-shoving and boulder-shoving comes down to the same thing after all.

I don’t know where I first came across the game – must have been at a friend’s place – but Sokoban was one of those puzzle games that was always intriguing, even if the progress of the time left it behind in favour of others. At this point, I can’t even say for sure whether the version we’re playing now is the best, or the most accurate, or the original – it’s just one of the versions out there.

Our Thoughts

Beyond that, there isn’t loads to say about Sokoban. The graphics are exceedingly simple – differing a bit based on platform you’re running it on, but the system doesn’t necessarily allow for many changes. There are crates, places the crates need to go, boxes and walls. The gameplay sounds as simple – push those boxes to get them to their destination. Push them the wrong way and they might block other boxes, get stuck in a corner or make the puzzle impossible in some other way.

Oddly enough, it’s probably one of the more often replicated game puzzle types, most notably with Pokemon having some of these in most of their games.

And the reasons why are probably obvious. The puzzles are fairly easy to understand and straight forward. If set up and signposted well, they can be pretty easy, but as the game quickly shows, they can be incredibly complicated as well. Just one slight change in a puzzle can turn it from straight forward to tricky or impossible.

And with just the slight trappings, the experience is pure. The boxes are the obvious skinning of the puzzle, but it matters little what you’re doing. It’s all simply about getting them where they need to go. And you can always try that another time.

Final Thoughts

Sokoban is a good, simple puzzle game – as such games should be. Often imitated, it is for good reason, and the simplicity means it slots into puzzles for other games nicely – a legacy of its own.

#692 Yakuza 2

Posted: 15th August 2016 by Jeroen in Games
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534th played so far

Yakuza2

Genre: Action/Adventure
Platform: Playstation 2
Year of Release: 2006
Developer: Sega
Publisher: Sega

Going into this, I have seen Yakuza 2 listed as an open world action game – an eastern Grand Theft Auto, like Sleeping Dogs. Perhaps with less of an open world, but a similar mission structure and world set up.

And I mean, a member of the mob out for revenge and establishing control of the area. It starts as a known quantity. I should probably play it.

Our Thoughts

I thoroughly enjoyed Yakuza 2. It started off somewhat slowly, with a lot of exposition in cutscenes (mostly, I believe, to summarize the first game), but once it got going, it cleared up. Having the game fully focused on hand to hand combat made it easier to grasp. There’s depth to the systems, but it’s not overwhelming like a lot of fighting games. I picked it up easily and felt like I did quite well.

Beyond that, there’s more to the story as well. As I said, the game summarizes the first, and while it has some predictable twists and turns, it also gives you a great amount of backstory that immediately ups the stakes. You can skip this – for replays – but it is all set up well. This also extends to later in the game. While there are random battles, they all have a short backstory to explain them, and the main fights have more interesting introductions as well.

One of the things that was especially interesting – especially when compared to Sleeping Dogs, which also heavily favoured melee combat – is the interaction with the environment. In most action/adventures – in most games, really – the environment is fairly static. There might be one or two programmed in interactions, but it then feels like it has one or two set pieces. Yakuza 2, while often having a constrained area, has loads of interactions – any wall, any placed item, anything you can get close to will allow you to make some move while you hold them. There are some specific side pieces – an early memorable battle allows you to throw a group of people over a balcony – but there are so many that there are often a bunch to enjoy.

This isn’t as much of an open world – unlike the other games – which might be another reason why there are more designed options. They’re larger than Zeno Clash‘s setup, partially because there is a lot more exploration involved, but it feels explorable for specific encounters and side quests. No need for too much randomness.

Final Thoughts

The initial long cut scenes, which I felt I had to see to get the context, made me worry a bit about the game, but by the time I reached Osaka, I was sold. There is a lot of interesting exploration and the combat feels great to play through.

In fact, as much as I was looking forward to playing it, I probably enjoyed it more than I was expecting. Possibly the best of its type that I have played so far.

#501 Metroid Prime

Posted: 11th August 2016 by Jeroen in Games
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533rd played so far

MetroidPrimebox

Genre: Action/First-Person Shooter
Platform: Gamecube
Year of Release: 2002
Developer: Retro Studios
Publisher: Nintendo

The Metroid Prime series is Metroid done as a first-person shooter, an interesting variation on the theme that was experimental at the time.

So when we started playing Metroid Prime, we did so using the Wii remastered version. Because of its control issues, we redi it a few weeks later with the Gamecube version – so there’s a fairer comparison.

Our Thoughts

Playing the two versions show how much a tutorial can make a difference. The Wii controls are so awkward, the escape at the end of the tutorial level felt impossible for a while. I just couldn’t get through in time, and wasn’t that close to finishing it either. The Wii version doesn’t support the Gamecube controller either – not making your life any easier. Later, trying the Gamecube version, I finished the level with quite a bit of time remaining and actually got into the semi-open world.

Because that tutorial level isn’t really representative, and doesn’t feel much like Metroid. While scanning for information bits is interesting and adds some flavour to the world, there are no secrets, no passages to explore (except for a semi-mandatory one needed to get the map) and not much to do but to follow the path. It’s probably so you can’t miss anything while going through the tutorial, but it doesn’t feel like a Metroid world yet.

After this (and losing a bunch of abilities they teach you about) you end up on another world, more open than the corridors we’ve seen in the 2D Metroid games (although it still has those as well). It invites you to explore and (to be honest) see all the parts you can’t get to yet, parts of the world that opens up as you gain more abilities. The promise is actually there, which is very exciting.

Looks-wise, the Wii version is an upgrade, but it’s a waste with the gameplay downgrade. The first(?) alien world also mostly has a lot of browns, but I hope later upgrades change that far enough.

Final Thoughts

Although the size of the world is impressive and the game feels more open in how the world looks, even if not necessarily in the path, Metroid Prime does lack something the earlier 2D games had. It’s probably because it has the slower start, where other games drop you in this environment where you still don’t have as many places where you can go, but can see all the other paths and where it feels like there are more places to go… later.

532nd played so far

Disgaea_Hour_of_Darkness

Genre: Role Playing/Strategy
Platform: Playstation 2
Year of Release: 2003
Developer: Nippon Ichi Software
Publisher: Atlus/Koei

I’m struggling to remember whether we’ve played a tactical RPG yet. I’ve played some before – Pokemon Conquest was an addiction in the house for a while – but aside from games in the region like Baldur’s Gate, the good list ones such as Fire Emblem or Final Fantasy Tactics haven’t come up yet.

Disagea: Hour of Darkness is the first of two games in the series that are on the list. It’s, as said, a tactical RPG involving demons, involving you taking back rulership of the (dark) world.

Our Thoughts

One of the downsides, for me, of tactical RPGs is that they miss out on some parts of the RPG experience that I tend to enjoy – the storylines and characters – and that individual character development can feel a bit limited. While characters gain levels, usually this just changes the numbers without adding much in the way of abilities or choices – equipment being most of that. Disgaea adds some more development, but it’s designed for breadth, with loads of characters, rather than getting deep into its development. Most story is in cutscenes outside the battles.

And those battles are pretty decent. I’ve not found a cap on how many people I can bring in yet, which means there’s some grinding potential for difficult battles (although that might change later), although it can feel like a bit of a slog for bigger battles. Sometimes the animations can really feel like they slow things down. On the other hand, there are plenty of options in the game, the friends attack system being implemented nicely in particular – if you attack with other characters next to them, they’ll join in the attack.

Land effects – or geo panels – pay a role as well, with removing them being a part of the reward system, but also helping or hindering you. By being on the right square, you can increase your attack power, get weaker or gain bonuses. Interacting with specific jewels on the battlefield changes or removes them, damaging everyone on the tiles, which can create some powerful chains, but also giving you the downside of losing that effect. It added an extra layer to the game, nicely improving the strategic background.

Although it takes time to begin unlocking, the options outside combat are interesting as well. As you go up in power, you can increase your ranks in the Dark Assembly, where you can hold votes to improve your shops, unlock maps and gain other aid. It’s an interesting mechanism that makes it feel like there are more politics at play, which ties into the plot. Even if it’s just a numbers game, it feels like you have to actually become a ruler.

Final Thoughts

I don’t think I invested quite enough time in this game to really come to grip with the mechanics – although that would take more time than I would have anyway. The game was already a lot of fun to play, even if the last level we played was quite frustrating. I’m keen on going back to experiment further.

#270 Sensible World of Soccer

Posted: 3rd August 2016 by Jeroen in Games

531th played so far

Sensible_World_of_Soccer_cover

Genre: Sports
Platform: Amiga/PC
Year of Release: 1994
Developer: Sensible Software
Publisher: Renegade/GT Interactive

More football games, more sports, more of what I feel we’ve seen before. Sport games just as much feel like they’re a checkbox game – same functionality, each adds a feature, but how does Sensible World of Soccer compare to FIFA 10, what more would it offer?

Our Thoughts

This… was a football game. Slightly more playable than other games, I’m happy to report, as it seemed like it handled better, but I still didn’t manage a win. I did manage to score though, that was a big win. But more on that in a bit.

For me, more strategy player than twitchy action game, this game had the perfect option. Rather than playing out the entire game each time, you can let the game resolve the results of your matches, while you just set up the strategy – an early Football Manager setup. It may not seem like much, but means that you can still progress at a somewhat faster pace.

As said though, the actual matches, which should be the focus of the game, aren’t my sort of thing. Two notes I’ve had is that, first of all, the aiming is pretty bad – there isn’t much granularity to be had. That was off putting, as was the player AI in general, which didn’t get the players where you want them.

Final Thoughts

These football games really just aren’t my thing, but it also feels like there’s no game that seems to really train you in them – some game-based cultural heritage that I never learned. Unlike FPS games, however, I haven’t been picking up on it as I played, partially because, again, the games don’t seem to be set up for it.

The football manager mode was nice, though, so this isn’t a lost cause. If anything, this is something I expected to see resolved in later games instead. A good try, with a supposedly decent simulation (for its age) – and the reights to a lot of the real life teams and players of the day!

#266 Gravity Power

Posted: 30th July 2016 by Jeroen in Games
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530th played so far

gravity_power

Genre: Shoot ‘Em Up
Platform: Amiga
Year of Release: 1994
Developer: Bits Productions

To be honest, Gravity Power seems to be a Lunar Lander ‘inspired’ game. Not too inspiring to be honest, although we’ll see.

Oddly enough, this was an upgraded version of an earlier released game, initially released with a magazine (to encourage you to buy the magazine). It was good enough to make it in here.

Our Thoughts

Gravity Power is a simple game. A 1 vs 1 Lunar Lander-style shooter, not unlike Gravity Crash, just not as… impressive, really. And you need to take off from the ground. Oh, and it’s two player only (or at least the AI player never worked for me – Amiga games are troublesome to play now), which really limited the appeal of this game for me.

I can see how, once you get used to the controls, this can be a very fun game, and there is a lot of variety in the levels. It’s just that the setup doesn’t work well. The game looks fine, but would have been dated even at the time.

Final Thoughts

I tried the game, and as close minded, it didn’t work for me. The book says it was once considered by some to be the second greatest game – it doesn’t feel that way to me. These days, just skip ahead to Gravity Crash.

529th played so far

RG_EU_Cover_300

Genre: Role Playing
Platform: Playstation 2
Year of Release: 2005
Developer: Level-5
Publisher: Sony Computer Entertainment

Somehow it feels like I haven’t played a JRPG in a while. In fact, when it comes to the blog, RPGs have been sparse lately. I make up for it in my personal gaming, and indeed I recently completed Final Fantasy X. Still, I miss the usual variety it offers to the blog, not having a chance to explore the fields. Although there have been plenty of other good games – I have no reason to complain.

Rogue Galaxy is an action RPG focused on bounty hunting. Beyond that, the descriptions of these RPGs blur together a bit – I think I’m better off just playing it.

Our Thoughts

Action RPGs are a bit of a love-hate thing for me. Adding in small timing-based QTEs, as in Paper Mario, work well for me, while if it is barely an RPG in combat, like Fallout 3 outside of VATS, I can enjoy it as that. Rogue Galaxy makes it a bit more difficult, as it is a fairly standard 3rd person action fighting game (at times like a cheap Shadow of the Colossus), with RPG trappings and spells, but not quite as much fighting precision.

Character progression ins somewhat interesting. There is pretty standard leveling involved, but also use of items to unlock extra abilities – somewhat like Final Fantasy X‘s grid, but with more standard stat changes. It’s an interesting system, allowing for trade offs without fully screwing you over if you can’t find something you need.

The story and concept add some natural feeling side quests and variety of the levels. As a galactic bounty hunter (starting off on a wild desert planet, which does sound familiar) you travel around the galaxies fighting on different themed planets. It sets up a bunch of the changes and a good reasno to travel. It also gives you a good reason to travel back – capturing enough of each enemy to meet your quota. There’s more of a story than that, of course, but the basic setup is there.

The boss fights seem to be even more interesting. The first boss fight is in stages, not just requiring differently aimed attacks, but also having you climb the beast to hit weak spots. It’s not quite Shadow of the Colossus complex, but it brings in some interesting added variety. The controls don’t always deliver on it, but it works.

Final Thoughts

Rogue Galaxy is a good looking game with a bunch of interesting ideas. The battle and advancement systems aren’t entirely new, but feel fresh and more interesting than what we get otherwise. The side quests are varied and create a far more interesting world and set of tasks than you’d normally get. It all works that well.

#197 Super Tennis

Posted: 22nd July 2016 by Jeroen in Games
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528th played so far

SupertennisSNES_boxart

Genre: Sports
Platform: SNES
Year of Release: 1991
Developer: Tokyo Shoseki
Publisher: Nintendo

It feels like there are a fair amount of tennis games on the list. I suppose it’s the standard approach – Pong started it, and even afterwards it’s a pretty simple formula to start with as a sports formula. Super Tennis is, I guess, a predecessor to the Mario Tennis series, one of the games where Nintendo’s mascot doesn’t appear yet.

Even so there are a bunch more tennis games, both older and newer, and even if Top Spin 3 has been a while, there are a bunch more coming up down the line.

Our Thoughts

Tennis games are usually cut from the same cloth. The rules of tennis don’t change that much and while you can tweak the moves a bit, most of the rules are already present in this game. You change the graphics, but even then there is a standard setup looking from the back of one player. It’s probably why it can easily show up fully in a game like Wii Sports. We see 2D sprites here, but the basic gameplay stays the same between all of these.

And yeah, I realise there are probably control differences. I’m not skilled enough to tell the differences, and don’t have the time to figure it out.

One of the small touches that worked quite well were the added voice samples. They were still rare in the era, but the limited vocabulary from the referee allows for some of it, and it adds to the atmosphere. It seemed like a nice touch.

Beyond that, the game feels nice and simple. There are simple tournament modes that work quite well and the controls are straightforward. It’s pretty good fun, really.

Final Thoughts

There’s nothing remarkable about this game, but it shows how tennis is such a good sport – better, I feel, than something like football.  There’s nothing special, possibly, but it works well and looks good in a SNES way. Just fun.

527th played so far

Black_&_White_Coverart

Genre: Life Simulation/Strategy
Platform: PC
Year of Release: 2001
Developer: Lionhead Studios
Publisher: Electronic Arts

Black & White isn’t a game we’re going into blindly. We’ve both played – I don’t think I ever finished it, but I always enjoyed playing the game a lot.

Black & White is a god game from Peter Molyneux, one of the first games where the designer overpromised and didn’t quite deliver (also see Fable). The twist this time is that you control a giant creature who influences events and can be molded by you. Sort of.

Our Thoughts

Black & White is pretty much what we described before, a god game where you encourage your tribe to build up an area, but don’t have much control yourself. You can move them to place to get them to do jobs, but you’re just as often hoping they will do the right thing.

But the creature makes all the difference. Again, he has his own mind, but you can leash him to teach him things. One makes him nicer, one makes him more evil, the third helps him learn faster. He has his own personality, formed by your action – do nice things around him (helped by the leash) and he’ll do the same, do bad things and he’ll copy that. You can punish him by hitting him, or scratching him to reward him and teach him behaviour. Add to that that he can learn to cast spells and manipulate the world in the same way you can, and you get an interesting challenge, where you have to balance watching him, teaching him and tending to the rest of the world.

All of this is in an interface that tries to integrate as much as possible. Therea re no real menus (other than an option screen that requires temple access in the first place) and so all control is through the hand cursor you’re using. It’s minimal and immersive, but at times annoying – for example, a lack of minimap navigation means you can get lost and have some trouble trying to find a mission location again.

But it works. The interaction feels more seamless and the world and creature responsive enough to seem impressive, showing off the AI. It gets you and is an amazing toy. Some of the missions don’t work well (and I can’t get the hang of creature fighting), but it’s all good enough to get you through.

Final Thoughts

Creaky around the edges, the game is ambitious in a way that doesn’t always quite work out. Where it does, though, the game is immersive and fun, setting up a great toybox to play around with. The storyline adds to that, but enough of it just has you wanting to see what the game brings out next.