#817 Bionic Commando Rearmed

Posted: 18th August 2018 by Jeroen in Games
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717th played so far

Genre: Platform
Platform: PC/Xbox 360/Playstation 3
Year of Release: 2008
Developer: Grin
Publisher: Capcom

For some games on this list, we are playing the remake rather than the original. Bionic Commando seems to have been a rather beloved NES game with some impressive time attacks. I doubt the latter factored into the decision for the remake, but one did arrive and it was considered good enough to end up on this list. This game still follows the original game’s stories and mechanics, apparently with added multiplayer and challenge rooms, so I suppose you can say I’ll cover two games in one.

… yeah, I didn’t believe that either.

Our Thoughts

Jumping is not a mandatory part of platformers and its early days and we’ve seen it in a few games. After Super Mario Bros, though, leaving it out seems unthinkable. That makes this game mor einteresting. In Bionic Commando Rearmed, you don’t get a jump button. Instead, you get a grappling arm that lets you swing around instead. It changes a lot of things about the platforming, both by limiting your options on where you can use it, but more often to allow for more options – chaining swings becomes important soon, as do the different angles you can jump up with and the speed at which you do so. It’s a change that fundamentally changes how you move around and it works incredibly well. It also creates the option for the challenge rooms – additions in this version, it focuses on pure platforming and movement around these rooms, rather than the shooting that was almost mandatory in games of the day – you probably wouldn’t have needed enemies, but they are there.

There is a pretty large variety in weapons that you can swith between, which makes the combat quite nicely, there’s a bit more to it. You permanently unlock and upgrade these, rather than having to keep collecting them, which really feels like you’re growing in strength and abilities as you play through. This is also the case in area unlocks – there are a bunch of areas, with a number of them unlocked at most times, but access to one being restricted by when you complete another, or something feeding back and recommending a replay because you unlocked another. It adds a size to the world that feels good now, but would have felt amazing as the original release. Even now the backtracking makes the world feel more important.

The game’s graphics seem pitched just right as well – stylized thorugh a slight cartoon edge, the graphics are slightly stylized (justifying reuse if nothing else), which works well – it doesn’t distract too much, looking perfect as the backdrop for this action.

Final Thoughts

Bionic Commando Rearmed feels like the perfect downloadable game – released on Steam, XBLA and PSN, it was created to be that. The graphics can be simple to keep it constrained and it seems like a good place to put these remakes – the origins are clear, but it’s all been polished enough to be more playable. The jumping works and fighting is fun enough – and there’s not too much that it gets tiring. The challenge rooms really show where it can lead – there are a lot of different movement options that makes me wonder what more is hidden around the level, and which makes it feel like there are a lot of ways around the level in the first place.

#74 Hyper Sports

Posted: 14th August 2018 by Jeroen in Games
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716th played so far

Genre: Sports
Platform: Arcade
Year of Release: 1984
Developer: Konami
Publisher: Konami

We’ve been playing a bunch of games based on sports games before, mostly from these earlier eras – Summer Games II comes to mind – but the collection of minigames with a sports theme lasts in the modern day in the likes of Wii Sports. Other modern ones tend to feel like cash-ins, often for the Olympics, and so they’re really just filler that don’t really apply to the blog.

Hyper Sports, today’s sport minigame collection, got the Olympics license and branding in Japan only. As a game, it is the sequel to Track & Field and it introduces a number of different sports.

Our Thoughts

In the end, these games use the same patterns – here, too, there’s a lot of two button mashing to move fast (swimming here), and timed button presses for some jumps. They are simple – minigames or QTEs from modern games – and while they have an immediate rush of being able to get further, they don’t really offer much fun long term. Worse, there are some where the timing felt finicky enough that I rarely got past them – the long horse being one of these – and as there’s no real explanation of what you’re meant to do that I remember, there’s a lot of experimentation to figure out what button press goes where.

There’s a non-gameplay improvement that stood out. While it might not be the first, the game contains some synthesized speech to comment on the action.It doesn’t influence the game too much, but it’s a nice addition and it feels quite special that it’s in there in the first place.

Final Thoughts

Hyper Sports doesn’t offer large changes from the other sports games, but at least the collection of sports is not as standard as the others – swimming as the first speed mini game rather than some type of running feels a bit more special. I wish I could jump between sports more often or do them in a different order, but I guess that’s the difference between a home and arcade game. It’s progress.

#523 Hitman 2: Silent Assassin

Posted: 10th August 2018 by Jeroen in Games
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715th played so far

Genre: Action
Platform: Various
Year of Release: 2002
Developer: IO Interactive
Publisher: Eidos

I guess I’m trying to start the franchises that have multiple items on the list, where I haven’t started them yet. It’s not been something I’ve been actively seeking out, but when I am reminded of one, I do my best. More, at least, than I always do keeping up with them later – SimCity has had one entry covered, two to go, but because management sims are rare and I want to treasure these, they’re taking a while.

Anyway, the Hitman series needed their kick off, and with all the stories I’ve been hearing about the 2016 Hitman game, I really want to try it now. Time to go for it – stealthy assassinations a-plenty.

Our Thoughts

There are two ways to go with this game. The game has a large number of ways to tackle it. Taking the first main mission, for example, where you’re infiltrating a mafia member’s house to assassinate the boss. Sure, there’s the option for a killing spree, which I might have taken in parts of the game when I didn’t want to restart after everything went wrong, but that’s clearly not intended.

Instead, there’s an innocent mailman wandering to the house, a guard steps outside the walls for a wee and there’s a milk delivery. All three seem like valid options to get in, either by giving you a disguise or an unobserved path in. That then limits your next path, the direction into the mansion you’re infiltrating, and how you proceed. You still need to be careful that your disguise isn’t discovered, by staying in the right areas and staying unobtrusive, but sometimes murder isn’t the easiest way to solve that. I’m sure you can do all of it without killing anyone but the assassination target, but again, I struggled.

What got me is that the game was quite difficult and that I found the tutorial sparse in palces. While it mentions non lethal takedowns, for example, it doesn’t explain how to sneak properly (with crouch being a more natural button that doesn’t actually make you stealthy) and it took me a few goes to get it right. Even at the start, the game is difficult, regardless of difficulty level, and in the end I went for the aggressive mode – it felt more satisfying and less frustrating. It feels like this mostly comes down to polish, though, with some improved controls and tutorials taking you a long way.

714th played so far

Genre: Action/Adventure
Platform: Gameboy Advance
Year of Release: 2004
Developer: Capcom/Flagship
Publisher: Nintendo

In the past year or so, I’ve been playing a lot of The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild, the Zelda game that combines the open world of an Assassins Creed game with the world of The Legend of Zelda and then strips down everything it doesn’t need (and adds plenty of bits it does need).

It feels weird, then, that I haven’t played one for the blog in a while (or perhaps not, I might have had enough already). One group I haven’t touched as much are the top down handheld installments, of which the Gameboy Advance and Nintendo DS had a few. Even more important, The Minish Cap is one of the games that came free with my early 3DS purchase, so I really ought to cover it.

Our Thoughts

The Legend of Zelda: The Minish Cap builds on a lot of elements from its predecessors. A Link to the Past is the obvious inspiration, the colourful graphics and world being closer than Link’s Awakening world which had a stripped down look by necessity. And here, too, it has it unique feature – or gimmick, if you will, and it’s hard to argue this isn’t one. Thanks to the Minish cap, a bird that perches on your head through most of the game, you can shrink to become the size of the Minish, a tiny people that lives in the forests and areas surrounding you. It creates an additional incentive to explore areas and a new way to solve puzzles, as well as some more inhabited areas than you often see in Zelda games. It’s not amazing, but it works quite well and follows on the Oracle series of doing things. Some other secondary elements get introduced as well – mostly focused on learning sword techniques and upgrading swords, as well as additional movement abilities, but it’s not the key focus as much, with the Minish cap really expanding the scope of the world.

This is reflected in the dungeons. The ones I saw, at least, were all small as well. This means, of course, that a lot of the dungeon scenery is more organic, with a barrel in the first dungeon being a clear nod to the size’s origin. The enemies, too, are ‘normal sized’ enemies that look large in this new world. It’s a nice touch and feels better than the inexplicably present, created dungeons in other games.

What’s most convincing are the charming graphics. This game was released after Wind Waker and it shows in the art style. It works well for a smaller screen, creating a clear look at what’s going on. I know it’s not universally popular, but it worked for me.

Final Thoughts

After Breath of the Wild, any Zelda game would suffer, but this is a decent installment – not one I’d necessarily put at the top, but it feels accessible and welcoming. There’s a feeling of some gimmickry being present, but it feels like there’s something for later DS games to build on.

#472 Gitaroo Man

Posted: 2nd August 2018 by Jeroen in Games
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713th played so far

Genre: Music
Platform: Playstation 2
Year of Release: 2001
Developer: Koei/iNis
Publisher: Koei/THQ

Gitaroo Man is a rhythm game that, from its cover, I always peg as a bit of a RPG game. What the cover doesn’t look like is how the game seems to be pegged – one where you become a guitar based superhero who has to fight off invaders by playing awesome tunes. I can do that, right?

Our Thoughts

I mean, it’s a different, slightly more original story for a rhythm game, comparable to the likes of Elite Beat Agents, here saving the world from invading demons and angels using amazing guitar skills. It’s cute, and although the animations repeat plenty in th elevels, at least you’re kept busy enough that you don’t notice as a player. The cartoony graphics also transfer to the characters, and you have the assistance of some incredibly cute musicians to fill your band. It’s fun to play and look at.

However, I found out that I could never be a guitar-wielding superhero. I’m bad at these rhythm games and this one feels unforgiving in places. Rather than just relying on specific button presses – something that happens in some sections, but not all – you need to follow the trajectory of a line with a thumbstick while pressing a button for parts of it. There’s some leeway in the shape of the cone that needs to track the line, but I’m still not fast enough.

I do prefer the latter mode. It has a bit more flexibility and makes it about picking a single direction and pressing a button, not getting confused about which buttons I’m pressing at which time. My joystick skills aren’t good enough for it the whole time, but it’s an innovation I do prefer over other games of the genre.

Final Thoughts

Gitaroo Man is well crafted, looking like a nice cartoon which some fun characters. Its story is fairly simple, but it is presented really nicely and makes for something more than a band… or helping people with their problems through dance. The gameplay works well, the line being a decent twist even if I wasn’t great at it, and it feels like it offers something new compared to the past.

#180 Actraiser

Posted: 29th July 2018 by Jeroen in Games
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712th played so far

Genre: Action/Strategy
Platform: SNES
Year of Release: 1990
Developer: Quintet
Publisher: Enix

I played Actraiser a long time ago, probably by getting through some random SNES games when I had a chance to – I don’t really know what attracted me to it, but I connected with it. It’s a game that combines action levels with a strategy game, which is an odd combination, but works for me. I get to properly review it now – hoping this is the game that I remember.

Our Thoughts

So one half of the loop of this game – building villages, shooting down enemies where they fly in and planning everything out. You don’t get loads of choice, just say what needs to be developed next, but there’s something really attractive about the loop here that kept me entertained. It’s helped by unlocks travelling between villages – when you unlock grain in one level, you also get seeds to bring to another and help them grow. When your villages are big enough, you can move on down to the next level.

The story marries that to the other level quite well – basically, to allow the villages to develop, you need to jump into a statue and clear a level. This is a side scrolling beat em up level – run through, kill enemies, a boss at the end. It’s nothing remarkable and I admit I used cheats to make it easier. The idea works well and I tried some legitimately, but the interplay felt more important than the actual execution of the levels and possibly not quite aimed at me.

The cynic in me sees how this could work as a free to play game – creating a loop of improving your cities and fighting off outsiders, waiting for timers to run out – but the existing ‘port’ removes the strategy elements entirely. Even as a basic concept – action levels surrounding a strategy game – it seems to be almost unique, but a concept worth exploring. I guess it’s a case where genres weren’t delineated enough to matter yet, where you could mix and match, a concept that wouldn’t be easy to sell to a publisher these days.

Final Thoughts

Actraiser is a unique game that probably has two sets of fans – with those on the border being best served, emulation means that straddling the line is easier, at least for the strategy fans. The city building never gets too complex, but it’s fun, and the endorphin feedback loop works amazingly well, considering how basic it is.

711th played so far

Genre: Platform/Puzzle
Platform: Wii
Year of Release: 2009
Developer: WayForward Technologies
Publisher: Majesco Entertainment

I’ve seen A Boy and His Blob before, as a NES time attack video. I got the basic idea, feeding this blob jellybeans that made it transform, but the full gameplay always stayed vague. I knew I had a chance to give it a go for the list and I’ve been waiting for that chance – after all, I need something to look forward to.

Our Thoughts

A Boy and His Blob is, almost most importantly, a cute game. The graphics are very cartoony, with backgrounds that could appear in a Ghibli movie. The real sign of this, and the heart of this game, is a button that makes the boy hug the blob. I haven’t run into a situation where it’s required, but it’s an adorable sequence that’s reaffirming, the panic in the boy’s voice pitched just right to make you feel worired. There’s comfot in the animation, which feels appropriate in this world of scary creatures. It’s unnecessary for gameplay, but it sets the tone more than anything else.

But beyond that, this is a pretty rewarding puzzling game. It’s forgiving of mistakes – you never have to go back too far and it didn’t feel like there were many lethal situations. Your toolset is always limited, I don’t think we ever had more than three jelly beans to use. But those few options – each flavour turning the blob into a different form – are enough to get you through. They are to create stairs, trampolines, parachutes or other ways to travel, often giving you a decent headscratcher but not having too many options that it becomes impossible to find out what to do. There are also the essential collectibles – chests that unlock challenge levels, which in turn unlock additional goodies like concept art. It’s the usual that you expect, but the challenges to get there, in a two step path, work well.

Final Thoughts

The setting, art and direction of this game combine to create a friendly enough world to play through, but with enough menace through its enemies and colours that it’s not too nice. It’s kid scary (or, I suppose, what I think that should be at my age) with some threat, but where there’s always the feeling that it’s going to be okay. It’s just that lovely.

710th played so far

Genre: Driving
Platform: Game Boy Advance
Year of Release: 2001
Developer: Intelligent Systems
Publisher: Nintendo

The Mario Kart series is one that we have to cover a lot of entries for – and we covered them throughout, with Mario Kart 64 being an early game and Mario Kart DS making for a recent good travel game. Today it’s the Gameboy Advance release. The DS game was a lot of fun, so I hope that comes across first here.

Our Thoughts

It’s difficult to see what’s so super about this game, other than the resemblance the game has to Super Mario Kart. It has the same semi-3D sprites creating the course, with some better semi-3D sprites so the objects fit in better, but it uses the same basic graphical system – and some of teh same sharp corners that made the original so frustrating to play at times.

It’s the first iteration for a handheld, but I don’t think that’s quite as notable, so that wouldn’t be a reason to add it to the list. It allows for multiplayer with some added modes, but to be honest, I found it to be good in the console versions anyway. But if you want it to be special, I understand the missing Mario Kart: Double Dash on the Gamecube offers a more interesting experience, even for multiplayer.

Aside from its own place on the list, this felt like the weakest Mario Kart game so far. It’s not as punchy or as fluid, I never got quite as much fun out of it. It worked well as a racer for the SNES era, but at this point we’re at least half a decade past that, and we know there are better experiences out there. It looks fine for the small screen, but that is its era.

What I miss, though, is what other Mario games do: they bring something new to the table. Whether it’s the spray in Super Mario Sunshine, the creative RPG playfulness of Paper Mario or the constant entertainment of Mario Kart 64, this game failed to bring that.  It looks and plays fine, but at this point, I want more than fine from the series.

709th played so far

Genre: Role-Playing
Platform: PC
Year of Release: 1990
Developer: Westwood Associates
Publisher: Strategic Simulations Inc.

I haven’t played too many D&D games for the list recently. Games like Baldur’s Gate defined my taste in games, but after we covered some of them, I’ve left Eye of the Beholder until later. I believe it’s the last one, but as a first person dungeon crawler, it’s still different from the isometric Infinity Engine games we played before.

It feels like Eye of the Beholder is one of the examplars of SSI’s long reign of D&D games. It’s not the first, but it put Westwood on the map and their Lands of Lore series was as big as the Command & Conquer series became. Would we have had that without this game?

Our Thoughts

Possibly the first and biggest takeaway I got from this game is how much it felt like a D&D campaign. Maybe not the roleplaying “you all meet in a tavern” bits, or other city exploration, but going into a dungeon, finding your way around, fighting enemies, solving puzzles and looting as you accomplish your goal. Eye of the Beholder takes place in a single large dungeon and it has quite a bit to offer on each floor.

This is still also an early D&D dungeon crawl, so the floors aren’t necessarily all fair – without a thief, I believe there might be a dead man walking scenario or two and there are some traps that feel like they kill for minor mistakes – possibly even without much to avoid it. I got a Tomb of Horrors feel from it – you are there to be challenged on that level.

The game expects you to map throughout. While there are some unique sections, the environment textures are repeated through a level and it’s easy to get confused with where you are. The first level loops through some corridors that I get confused by, and the second level introduces tiles that turn you around, without immediately being obvious. There’s something authentic to this too, but I miss the bulk “this is a 20 feet corridor” that summarizes it all.

The other thing that adds to the feeling of an authentic D&D campaign is the amount of interactivity. Objects have weight, to use with pressure plates, and there’s an early puzzle involving daggers thrown through bars. It’s a bit prescripted, but it’s an interesting touch that creates some extra challenges and out of the box thinking.

Combat is optimized from its paper and pencil roots, as you would expect in a game, and basically comes down to pressing buttons to attack when they’re available. There’s a more complex system for spells, but that’s because, well, we’ve got spells. There aren’t as many natural moments to rest, but so far it’s not been too difficult, it feels like the traps have been more lethal than combat so far. The other downside is that if a character dies, you don’t have a way to raise the dead early on, or a way to replace party members. I’m told that these follow later, but so far I just saved and reloaded more often. It’s probably the most awkward bit in the game.

Final Thoughts

Given the constraints, this feels like what I would have wanted from a D&D game in the early 90s. There’s a lot of trial and error, but it’d be as close as I could get to the real thing while being on the computer. Now, the standards have obviously evolved, and I would want to keep a walkthrough around at all times, but it’s still more enjoyable than plenty of other tries at the genre.

#835 Gears of War 2

Posted: 13th July 2018 by Jeroen in Games
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708th played so far

Genre: Shoot ‘Em Up
Platform: Xbox 360
Year of Release: 2008
Developer: Epic Games
Publisher: Microsoft Game Studios

Microsoft’s big shooter franchise comes around again. We’ve played the first Gears of War a long time ago and while it was a fun co-op game, I must admit we never went back to it and revisited it.

We are now going back to it and, with how the blog has developed, I will of course be playing on my own. The thing is, does it work and, with six years of experience, does it still hold up?

Our Thoughts

Gears of War 2 plays pretty much exactly as I expected, a lot of shooting as you fight through larger areas. While I didn’t play co-operative this time, the game still invokes that feeling – always putting you in a squad of fighters, often in the same group that you’ve known for a long time and can banter with (which is likely more effective when you’ve played the first game). It’s all about that, and I enjoyed having the group to fight with.

The other side of this are the setpieces that come with a shooter like this. The tutorial has some big explosoins – some you cause yourself – and the game works to make itself big that way. I’m not sure it’s actually that great – alien invasions and all that feel a bit common for the genre – but it’s done decently well. It’s more about the squad you’re with, really.

And I think that’s where everything came through. The game is about the squad, in how it plays, in how you interact, in how the story goes. You might rise on giant mechs, but it feels it becomes a bit of a companion you need to protect.

Still, the downside is that, in the end, the game is just shooting, and it feels like that loses a bit when you’re doing it on your own. It’s fine, but I guess I just get bored with that.

Final Thoughts

Looking at the previous game and how I experienced this one, I think the lack of co-op play let this one down for me – not because it isn’t possible, but because I didn’t do it. It’s a bit unfortunate and I guess it’s something I could work on.