980th played so far

Genre: Action/Adventure
Platform: Nintendo DS/PSP/iPhone
Year of Release: 2009
Developer: Rockstar Leeds/Rockstar North
Publisher: Rockstar Games

For the final Grand Theft Auto series we go to something atypical for the modern series – a handheld entry in the series that I’m sure will be compromise. The game has an overhead perspective rather than the 3D action/adventure set up the series has become known for, instead going back to the overhead perspective from the Grand Theft Auto original installments. It’s a change and I’m looking forward to seeing how this one holds up.

Our Thoughts

It’s tricky to get used to the top down perspective for this game. While the original games had the same perspective, it worked better there than it does here. The graphics for this game are obviously an upgrade over what was released 12 years earlier, but in this case that’s to its detriment. There are a lot more overhead elements – signs, bridges and so on – that keep blocking your view, and the graphics upgrade makes it harder to parse what’s where as well. It means that it takes some time to get used to what’s happening, and there are still plenty of times that you just don’t know what’s going on.

The controls get similarly awkward and that’s where you feel the other side of the problem – while this game is trying to imitate its console siblings, the hardware limitations get in the way and the small screen, handheld controls and limited processing power all work against it. The game becomes an exercise in frustration, and some of the missions requiring you to run over the city just get frustrating to try several times over as it feels like the game isn’t making any allowances for the differences here.

Final Thoughts

I played on the PSP and I have to wonder whether that makes a difference to my experience of the game, but I doubt the iPhone version would have fared much better. While a noble attempt to bring GTA to the handheld market, it’s missing out on some elements and can’t match up to what its previous games suggest.

#362 Shining Force III

Posted: 19th July 2021 by Jeroen in Games
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979th played so far

Genre: Role-Playing
Platform: Saturn
Year of Release: 1998
Developer: Camelot Software Planning
Publisher: Sega

It feels like I’ve been needing to get through a number of Saturn-only titles that never gained a port, so require quite a bit more effort on my part. I played Burning Rangers last week and I’m still staring at Panzer Dragoon Saga as another RPG I’ll play near the end. Today’s is the somewhat tactical RPG Shining Force III that I hope will get me something out of it as well. I’ve been enjoying the likes of Final Fantasy Tactics so far but, to be honest, I am a bit scared at how many of them I’ve left until the end. As they’re not quite as high up there as others, I have to hope they won’t turn me off at the final hurdle.

Our Thoughts

I have to admit that it’s rare that I see class warfare as a core part of a tactical RPG, especially one where it’s at the forefront from the first moments of the game. The central conflict, at least at this point, is one of the empire versus the republic, in a country that split itself through nobility versus middle class. It’s an interesting setting, one that I felt had some practical issues, but it felt like an interesting enough set up that I’d like to explore a lot further as it didn’t feel quite as stereotypical good guys versus bad. It’s similar to what we saw in Suikoden III on some level, but feeling even more internal. That is, of course, still undermined by a demon invasion, but I found the world building surprisingly effective. Like that game, this game also ended up with three overlapping storylines, but here they were released as three separate scenarios. Only the first was ever released outside Japan, though, so I don’t think I will ever see the full story.

Exploration is fine in the game, working as a standard RPG overworld although it’s a bit clunky to navigate – again, the Saturn’s gamepad isn’t quite suited to a 3D world. Then we get the battles, and although it got me a while to get there, it’s where it all ground to a halt. The battles are incredibly tough from the start – even with multiple attempts I couldn’t manage to clear it, and even looking at videos of people playing through it I couldn’t figure out what I was doing wrong. The implication, from some things I saw, is that since restarting after death is easy, while you keep your gained XP and so on  when you do, the best strategy is to grind that way. I don’t think it’s meant to be needed for the first battle, but it can be done. I didn’t quite make it, and that wall became too steep for me to climb over.

Final Thoughts

The difficulty of the first battle was really off putting, and I struggle to convince myself to want to give Shining Force III another go. I actually don’t really see what the selling point of the game here is, other than its three scenario set up. That feels like it’s lost on us anyway and in the end this feels like the game is too aggravating to really keep trying.

978th played so far

Genre: Puzzle
Platform: iPhone/Playstation 3
Year of Release: 2008
Developer: Capybara Games
Publisher: Disney Interactive Studios/Starwave

At this point, a lot of block puzzles revolve as much around how you theme it as it does about the gameplay itself. While we’ve seen a bunch of variations on the theme, premium versions of the game take more time to defend why you’re doing this. For Critter Crunch, this appears to be a big fuzzy creature hungry for some set of bugs that we’re going to have to make happy.

Our Thoughts

The idea behind Critter Crunch is that groups of critters slowly move down from above. You need to feed smaller critters to larger critters in appropriate size increments, with them exploding once they eat two of the smaller ones.  It’s simple enough, but with a few different colours per size and those working together to create combos – creatures linked to the one that explodes with the same colour come along and they chain together from there. As it speeds up, it does get hectic, especially as you can sometimes run out of room to temporarily park your creatures as you try to set up bigger combos, more obnoxious when you figure out you can’t get rid of the bigger sizes without getting to and sacrificing smaller ones.

What really makes the game one you can enjoy for a long time is the amount of content. The regular levels build up putting in additional power-ups and hazards that develop slowly, while the number of columns can change a lot. Soon after, though, you also unlock various other puzzle levels – no new creatures, just destroy them all with what you have – and time-based challenge levels. There are a lot of them and I felt I had a good chance to get lost in them as I did so.

Final Thoughts

Critter Crunch is a block puzzle game where the presentation adds that bit of definition to the rules of the game, the absorption mechanic feeling clearly defined by the way they look – all pieces fit in the same square, but bigger ones do feel bulkier. There’s a lot of specific content in here beyond just playing the game, something that clearly pays off in keeping you occupied with the game.

#365 Burning Rangers

Posted: 13th July 2021 by Jeroen in Games
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977th played so far

Genre: Action
Platform: Saturn
Year of Release: 1998
Developer: Sonic Team
Publisher: Sega

Less than fifty games left and the list still brings up some pretty unique concepts. I don’t think I’ve played another game here where you are a firefighter. Sure, SOS The Final Escape/Disaster Report had you deal with various hazards, but this focus feels far more specific.

Add to that that we have another Sega game by the Sonic Team, who have made some quite odd games that tried to push the boat out in places and I’m looking forward to something quite new and different.

Our Thoughts

For a large part, Burning Rangers is a pretty normal action game, with some prerequisite jumping areas. You’re spending some of that time putting fires out and rescuing civilians as you come across them. You’re spending a lot of time doing your collecting as well, with crystals being the most obvious requirement – you need some to rescue civilians and they’re your life force, obviously taking after the Sonic games.

It’s a decent formula, but I found myself get lost in it. There are no subtitles for the voice overs, but mission briefings are given in voice with quite a bit of noise. This doesn’t just happen in the briefings, though, but as you’re playing the mission the voice overs also direct you through the level. That made it hard to find out where to go, as I didn’t get the clues all the time anyway, but the game also doesn’t give you great tools to handle the verticality the game has. Since you’re playing on a joypad, the camera controls are pretty bad, and so it can be hard to see what’s going on.

Final Thoughts

Burning Rangers has an interesting concept that it carries quite nicely, with levels that feel appropriate to the setting. When it comes to playing it though, it doesn’t quite manage to pull off its ambition and loses something of its appeal along the way.

976th played so far

Genre: Strategy
Platform: PC/Playstation 1
Year of Release: 1996
Developer: Bullfrog Productions
Publisher: Electronic Arts

For my final Bullfrog game – I’d forgotten I had one left – we return to the cyberpunk setting of Syndicate with Syndicate Wars, a sequel that leaps ahead to an even more corporate focused era. We end up with another isometric strategy game.

Our Thoughts

With a few years more of context, I look at the game differently. The game definitely improves on the first game, looking better, possibly being a bit more readable and easier to get into. In fact, real time play aside, there was a lot here to compare to X-Com as well – you’re spending your time between missions dealing with research and keeping various factions happy while picking that up during gameplay as well. On the other hand, the fact that you can pick multiple sides, of corporations, to get different missions and outcomes makes for a different feel to it. You’re not wondering why people would work against you while you’re saving the world, instead you’re just being opportunistic.

Even so, the game stays impenetrable in places. I managed to finish a bunch of missions, but the game’s own AI clearly did some of the work for me and I missed out on how things were fitting together several times that I didn’t do things properly. It’s, as we set with the first game, a consequence of its ago, but it’s also one of those things where a remake in this world would do incredibly well.

Final Thoughts

I think Syndicate Wars is a game I’d have more to say about twenty years ago. As time has moved on, however, this game hasn’t worked as well, and pushed it to a point where, although I can see the value of it, I also know that there are other games that now do this better. It was one of the pioneers in that sense, I suppose, but the sequel to it doesn’t feel as impressive now even though the 3D environments of the time would have been more amazing. Now, though, it’s fine enough, perhaps little more than that.

#652 GT Legends

Posted: 7th July 2021 by Jeroen in Games
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975th played so far

Genre: Racing
Platform: PC
Year of Release: 2005
Developer: SimBin Studios
Publisher: 10tacle Studios/Atari

After fairly recently playing GTR 2, we now get to play the previous SimBin game – same system, different races, and so a lot of realistically timed races in their specific setting. It’s the last game in the realistic racing genre that I’ve only been trying for a year or two… but that’s how close to the end we are.

Our Thoughts

Looking at the list of games, it feels like Grand Prix Legends is almost closer to the setting of this game. While that game was set in the era the old cars belong to, GT Legends sets its races in the modern time in championships for older cars.

While the game is another accurate simulator, letting you skip practice but having a full length simulated race – aside, obviously, from having far shorter rounds with only about three laps at a time – you don’t immediately start with the full circuit, but instead do shorter laps and only have those unlocked for the earlier rounds. As you unlock more cups and challenges, the tracks unlock further as well. Not only does it make for easier challenges, it builds your knowledge of the track a bit more as well. The downside is that you can’t immediately play what you want, it would be nice to at least get some free practice on these tracks earlier. Even so, the shorter rounds are weirdly exhausting even now, so it felt good that I didn’t have to play them too often.

I also like a couple of the other changes to help build that realism, even though they probably add to the exhaustion. The game basically has no HUD by default, instead relying purely on the visible instrument panel and other in-universe features – most notably the pit lineside boards they hang out each round to pass on your position and such. They’re remarkably helpful in making the game more immersive.

Final Thoughts

It’s hard to say whether I’ll actually play one of these racers again, as they’re quite exhausting and less accessible, but I appreciate GT Legends is out there. It shows what you can do with the genre and how, it feels, you can really create an immersive racing simulator. It’s worth trying and I’ve certainly still been enjoying it.

974th played so far

Genre: Action/Adventure
Platform: Various
Year of Release: 2008
Developer: Crystal Dynamics
Publisher: Eidos Interactive

It’s hard not to feel that the Tomb Raider franchise has been overtaken. They are still decently well regarded, but after the most recent entries it seems like the series has lost it a bit. It doesn’t help that Uncharted seems to do what it does better, without as much of a veneer of misguided English imperialism, while I don’t think the series has really had a reinvention as we saw in Deus Ex: Human Revolution.

All that is to say that with the last game in the series, I am not running out to play a new entry any time soon just yet, although we’ll see how this entry holds up.

Our Thoughts

I have to say that this game managed to put me in a bad mood early on. The PC port of the game, which I played because – well, why not, right? – is troubled and was released with some clear problems. If nothing else, you need to enable vsync for the game to work. It’s off by default, and by the time I found out I had already moved some boulders to an unwinnable state. It’s poor form considering that cost me 45 minutes of game time as I wasn’t expecting that, forcing me to restart the first proper level from scratch.

And there are some other issues as well. The controls feel like they’ve lost their shine since the earlier games, I died several times because the camera angle isn’t quite right, which felt unfair, and the only way I felt okay with it is that the deaths didn’t set me back that far. The combat is just as bad, not supporting stealth that well despite trying to set up levels for it and generally becoming firefights where aiming doesn’t work that well. There’s no joy in it.

The story is fine, although I didn’t get to see too much that really became interesting, but the paranormal elements it introduces seem interesting. The game really shines in its levels, which feel bigger and more open than others, with some very interesting, different worlds and settings that I know I’ve only scratched the surface of. It’s pretty neat and if the game felt better to play around it, it feels like they could really shine.

Final Thoughts

This might be the worst game in the Tomb Raider series I played – it felt like it’s backsliding when the Uncharted series is going in the other direction. It sounds like the later games picked it up somewhat, and it probably would have been on the list instead of this if it was released at the right time, but at this point Tomb Raider Underworld feels like one to avoid.

973rd played so far

Genre: First-Person Shooter
Platform: Various
Year of Release: 2011
Developer: Eidos Montreal
Publisher: Square Enix

I’ve always had Deus Ex on my list of beloved games, since seeing it for the first time. With Invisible War making for a disappointing sequel, I didn’t expect to see the series again. Seeing a sequel be announced and released was good enough, hearing that, to some extent, it held up to the legacy was just as amazing. It ended up in the second edition of the 1001 video games books list, which means it really seems to be worth it.

Our Thoughts

The original Deus Ex set quite a bit of its tone – a larger area with a lot of routes into the Statue of Liberty, a few side quests to play through them and a lot of moments where you can try and it works. Applying the same standards to Human Revolution doesn’t come out quite as well. The start was pretty strong – I took the time to explore the office before starting the first mission, took too long, and… yeah, I didn’t have any hostages to save and got plenty of flak from everyone around. That was a mistake, and I deserved it, but it was clearly different from how it normally worked.

After that, though, I felt that I was more limited than in the original game. There were places where stealth was an option, but there were a lot less hacking options. There are meant to be stealth options, but I found them a lot harder to find and follow, and instead I ended up doing a lot more fighting. I probably messed up a few times there as well, but the game and levels didn’t feel as open as the first game, more leading you room by room in that first chapter with a few different runs. It’s still pretty fun to work out how to do it, but that original simulationist feel is missing somewhat.

Once you finish that first level, with the last boss being beatable through conversation alone – a neat touch that nicely carries through the game even though I wish I could do it earlier, it changes quite a lot. This is the point where I should have explored the office, with some nice skill upgrades to break into your colleagues’ office. Then the first hub opens up, you get a pile of quests to chase, and it feels a lot better. You don’t get all options to solve all problems, but there are enough routes to do them and if you don’t finish all the quests, that’s fine. They’re not the biggest areas, but I feel it outdoes the first game in size.

Final Thoughts

The original Deus Ex followed a specific vision, with Warren Spector bringing his Looking Glass experience in from games like Ultima Underworld II and the System Shock series. Deus Ex: Human Revolution takes inspiration from that set up, but it doesn’t feel like all of its routes are quite as planned out and polished as they were in the originating game. Even so, with modern sensibilities added and determined to take some less from that game, it does its own thing well enough to make it feel similar, even if on the whole the differences and linearity drag it down a bit for me.

972nd played so far

Genre: Puzzle
Platform: Wii
Year of Release: 2007
Developer: Ignition Banbury
Publisher: Ignition Entertainment/Atari

Remember Mercury Meltdown? We’re finally playing its Wii-based sequel!

Our Thoughts

The Mercury Meltdown series is an odd one. While there are several different entries in the series, they are all versions of the same game for different consoles. Controls aside – more of that in a second – there aren’t any new features in the game – no apparent new obstacles or mechanics, and it uses the same level structure as before. The levels are different and slightly adjusted to the game, and I understand that the graphics are improved, but it is more of the same.

What helps is that the controls of the game are really natural. As we have the Wiimote to use, you can tilt the stage by tilting the controller and roll your mercury that way. It’s a lot of fun and works better than the PSP bit. The levels are tough, but I think I could bear it a bit better than I did with the PSP version.

Still, I can’t shake the feeling that this is an expansion pack sequel – more of the same, without really bringing something new. That’s fine for a game, sometimes you just need that, but as I’ve said before, I don’t like it for this list. If Super Mario Bros.: The Lost Levels is already a bit much, can you really justify two games of the smaller Mercury Meltdown series for the list?

#257 Breath of Fire II

Posted: 25th June 2021 by Jeroen in Games
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971st played so far

Genre: Role-Playing
Platform: SNES
Year of Release: 1994
Developer: Capcom
Publisher: Capcom

In the list of RPGs, the Breath of Fire series feels like an also-ran – a decently successful series that never quite got the traction Final Fantasy and Dragon Quest did. It had six entries – one of which mobile – but without gaining quite as much traction. And that’s the downside now – I can’t tell you what makes the series special in comparison to these other entries. I hope I can figure it out today. I generally enjoy JRPGs enough anyway, so I’m sure that’ll be fine.

Our Thoughts

It’s hard to say, at this time, what really sets Breath of Fire II apart. For a large part of it, it is a standard JRPG, albeit with possibly a slightly more hub based approach of going out somewhere, doing some quests, then returning to an ever growing base. It’s pretty well executed, but a formula that I know well, and so far the main change in mechanics are the use of hunting and fishing and some other field effects – a nice idea to give you a bit more to do, but their reliance on items you buy makes them somewhat more awkward than they should be. That and them appearing only after battle, at which point you need to chase them and hope you don’t end up in another random encounter as the encounter rate is sky high… That and the rather mediocre translation gets off putting.

And it’s a fine game beyond that – I did enjoy playing it despite most of it. There’s a decent story here and the grinding was workable enough, especially as the Switch port meant I could play through them with TV on in the background. Some interesting areas come into play, similar to Final Fantasy VI‘s missions, albeit missing some of that title’s subtleties.

Final Thoughts

It’s not that Breath of Fire II is a bad RPG – it really shows some of the strengths of the genre in the SNES era. At the same time, though, that’s all it does, and there’s little here that feels innovative or new. It’s a decent example of the genre, and good to play because of that reason, but I struggle to find much to recommend this over others of the time.