#421 Seaman

Posted: 13th February 2020 by Jeroen in Games
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845th played so far

Genre: Life Simulation
Platform: Dreamcast
Year of Release: 1999
Developer: Vivarium/Jellyvision
Publisher: Sega

It’s quite difficult to play Seaman these days. It was only released for the Dreamcast and needed a specific microphone that could plug into your controller and play. These are difficult to find, so you need to use unofficial workarounds to be able to play.

Even after we sorted something for that – using a microphones that probably didn’t work quite as well as the game expects – it was a lot more complex to actually see a lot of the game, as you need to play bits every day to advance. We finally did, so we can catch up on this write up.

Our Thoughts

A game like Seaman is fundamentally incompatible with the way I play the games for this blog – I want to binge a game, get into it deeply for a while, rather than spreading it out across time as other games come knocking. Luckily, you can always change your console’s date and play ahead that way, so that when your Seaman, the fish the game is named after, is done with you for the day, you can jump ahead. And you’re doing plenty of that – while you can get your Seaman to an adult state in less than a week, it requires you to do the right things each day, which I didn’t always feel was obvious. I used an FAQ to find it and even then wasted some resources because my fish didn’t need the food yet.

Once I goth there, it became interesting to interact with the different ages of the fish. They weren’t great at listening – which might be part microphone quality and part accent, but the game also is less liberal in what it listens to, compared to what you expect. Again, it’s not quite clear what you need to do each day, so I keep hoping I got that right. When it works out, you get to have an interesting conversation with a snarky but curious fish with a man’s head.

The other part that drags it down is the maintenance needed in the system. Each time you come back, you have to manage the temperature and oxygen levels, as well as feeding your Seaman. As far as I can tell, it doesn’t have an influence on anything other than stopping you from interacting with the fish when you start and to provide a reason for its demise if you don’t check in for a few days. It’s useless, and busywork in a game that doesn’t need it.

Final Thoughts

There is something genuinely fascination about conversing with your Seaman. Even if it’s constrained by what he knows and is willing to talk about, it is a lot of fun to follow. It’s sad that this is hidden behind a lot of busywork, several days of getting your fish hatched and several more where you need to teach him until he is willing to speak English. I think that if it were made today, we could have had more faith in the conversation system, and that’s what would have really paid off.

#698 Tomb Raider Legend

Posted: 9th February 2020 by Jeroen in Games
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844th played so far

Genre: Action/Adventure
Platform: Xbox 360
Year of Release: 2006
Developer: Crystal Dynamics
Publisher: Eidos Interactive

So I still had two Tomb Raider games left to play – Tomb Raider Underworld is yet to come. My only real exposure to the series was the original Tomb Raider, which was my only real exposure to the series before this blog. I’ve sort of seen how it moves on, but like Prince of Persia: Sands of Time, it also feels like at this time, it’s been overtaken a bit by how the gaming landscape changed. I’m not sure when the last time was that these games made an impact for me, and it’ll be interesting to see how it holds up now.

Our Thoughts

Action/Adventure games like this, exploring exotic environments (often jungles, as they feel like a location on Earth that hasn’t been explored a lot) with some shooting and puzzle solving, rely a lot on their feel. We were probably spoiled by Uncharted, which is the yard stick we measure these by, but the controls of Tomb Raider: Legend, at least in the PC port that we ended up playing, felt off. Part of this is the UI signposting we’re used to – modern games give you a feel for the ledges you can jump through, through the movement of your character and sometimes the look, that I was missing here. Even, or perhaps especially, taking that into account, the special interactable items that are there just don’t work right. In particular, jumping at vines is finicky and I ended up jumping through them and falling several times, which wasn’t just frustrating, but at times harmful because of your health. It felt clunky and perhaps made too many assumptions you are familiar with the series to make sense of it.

Once it works though, the movement feels quite good and the environments are pretty nice, at least considering its age. The story holds up nicely as well and is clearly a step up from earlier entries in the series (as far as I’ve played it), presenting an interesting origin story. Again, it still assumes familiarity with earlier games in the series, as there are some characters I don’t know – and don’t know whether to know.

Oh, and there’s gunplay. It’s mediocre. It felt unnecessary. I didn’t enjoy it being there – it’s not the strength of the game.

Final Thoughts

In a modern context, this game is overshadowed by Uncharted – it feels like it does just about everything better, and I had to resist comparing this game to it. It is decent and I could get into it, but it was a bit too rough in places and I think there’s a polish possible for future games. There’s one more on the list, and I’m looking forward to seeing how this gets improved.

843rd played so far

Genre: Flight Simulation
Platform: Xbox 360
Year of Release: 2007
Developer: Project Aces
Publisher: Namco Bandai Games

This entry on the list is the first I’ve heard of the Ace Combat series, a flight simulator series that takes place in its own fictional universe, rather than the (alternate) history of games like IL-2 Sturmovik. Instead we deal with Emmeria and Estovakia and other places with names that sound vaguely East European but don’t actually exist – not quite as bizarre (for me) as Valkyria Chronicles‘ use of Dutch names, but it feels on the edge of what seems real to me.

Our Thoughts

Ace Combat 6 starts off well. While I have played several other flight sims by now, this is the first tutorial I played where I felt I actually understood pitch and roll well enough that I feel good going forward. There’s a snag in the second tutorial where it’s not clear that you have to stall, but beyond that it’s a good tutorial, teaching everything you need while not staying around for too long – more in depth tutorials unlock later, but it stays out of the way.

That leads into some decently sized missions, not too short, but not as long as they get in other games – they feel like the right length. These are connected by an anime-styled story that explains the start and progress of the war that the game revolves around. It makes the story a lot more personal – while in other games you’re a nameless pilot, here you have a name, wing mates and, most effectively, a family that you lose touch with for part of the family. You still don’t see much of yourself, but the way it tells the story of this country is really effective.

Later missions up the stakes – requiring you to, for example, only focus on finishing a few of your list of objectives, as well as giving some other upgrades. There’s also a full video replay of the missions you play, which feels quite impressive considering the size of these missions.

Final Thoughts

There’s a lot more to unpack in this game, but there’s something especially compelling about the way it tells its story. It was more affecting than I expected and I hope it will pay off further as I keep playing.

#138 Head Over Heels

Posted: 1st February 2020 by Jeroen in Games
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842nd played so far

Genre: Action
Platform: Various
Year of Release: 1987
Developer: Ocean Software
Publisher: Ocean Software

After I felt like we mostly neglected them for quite some time, I have been trying to play some more of these isometric action adventure games again. I touched Fairlight a month and a half ago and I’m going for Head Over Heels today, which has the same aesthetic and pixelly look, even if it’s meant to be more action based.

Our Thoughts

One of Head Over Heels‘ selling points are its dual protagonists, as you switch between two characters are you play the game. You start off separated, which for these purposes mean that I didn’t get as much of a feel of the interactions between the two, but it’s an interesting approach for these games.

Comparing this to Fairlight, this game helped me quite a bit by staying more focused on where you can go – rather than opening up the entire play area, there are only a few screens for each to check on. I still used a walkthrough to get hints and ideas of what to do, as the game doesn’t give you as much direction. In fact, the walkthrough partially taught me how to play and some of the later interactions. Still, the constrained area worked a lot better here anyway.

Is it great? I still struggle with the controls. It doesn’t look much better, and I think I’ve lost the skill to read these games as we don’t play them anymore – and so, while the game is an improvement, this thing simply doesn’t work as well.

841st played so far

Genre: Action/Platform
Platform: Playstation 2
Year of Release: 2004
Developer: Sucker Punch Productions
Publisher: Sony Computer Entertainment

The Sly series is another one where we have a big gap between the two games of the series. We played Sly Cooper about nine years ago, as part of a collection of games we borrowed. We enjoyed it, but the whole thing was also part of a push to get a mascot for the Playstation systems – something we don’t have as much of a need for anymore, but at the time Sony seemed to have been trying.

The game got a sequel, which we’re playing today. I remember enough of the first game that I’m curious to see what else the burglar will do.

Our Thoughts

About a year ago, there were a number of complaints about a large chunk of a Game of Thrones episode being too dark to see what was going on. The response of the cinematographer was that you had to change the settings on your TV – watch it in a dark room on a TV that’s specifically tuned, almost sounding like you have to readjust your set for each show you watch. Playing through this game reminded me of that, as it was quite dark (as you’d expect from a thieving stealth game), but without any sort of brightness or gamma slider to adjust the game’s visuals to your environment. For that reason, I was squinting a lot, as there were sections where I felt I was basically traveling blind – apparently this is not a game to be played on a Sunday afternoon, even if that’s when we would have had time.

The game itself worked as other action platformers, with several hub worlds in which parts of the story levels take place, which then lead to smaller individual levels (that might be revisitable, but I did not have a reason to do so while I played). The levels, rather than centering around jumping and action section, it becomes a stealth game. During the hub levels, guards keep moving around and you need to avoid them while you go about. This is mostly using roofs and the like to get around. The levels are more set up for it – smaller areas, but with places to crawl and hide. It’s quite well done and keeps the game tense, which really suits the thieving mood.

The story draws on this as well, with some quite cool cutscenes and a Batman-like way of telling the stories – in parts, you have some quite Arkham Asylum-feeling bits, though obviously more cartoony and humorous rather than grim dark. It’s done quite well and there is more of a world here that’s interesting enough.

Final Thoughts

At first, the fact that we have a semi-mascot platformer here would draw comparisons to the like of Super Mario 64 and Banjo-Kazooie, but clearly the ideas have moved on. Sly 2 gives us a fun stealth game, using the action platformer formula, but focusing on that one element and making it the best version of it.

#763 GrimGrimoire

Posted: 24th January 2020 by Jeroen in Games
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840th played so far

Genre: Strategy
Platform: Playstation 2
Year of Release: 2007
Developer: Vanillaware/Nippon Ichi
Publisher: Nippon Ichi/NIS America/Koei

With GrimGrimoire, I continue my exploration of strategy games on the console. While a game like Halo Wars draws on the RTS genre, it looks like GrimGrimoire draws more on the likes of Dungeon Keeper, less units with more individuality. The magic angle certainly makes it look like there’s more there.

Our Thoughts

While the game feels like Dungeon Keeper, the first impression comes from the almost visual-novel style story that is being told – longer introduction that, at first, serve to introduce a bunch of characters. There’s a good reason why it does that later in the story, with some weird time mechanics that feel like a story that is more interesting to explore. It ties into your magic progression as well, in a way that shows how much more you’re learning while giving the characters a chance to settle into different stories.

When you get to the strategy game – which happens sooner in some cases than in others – it builds up the challenge quite nicely. You build ruins that allow you to summon creatures, not too different from other RTS buildings, but with smaller teams that are constrained by your resources. As you go on, you get to learn more spells and runes, which unlock further creatures and spells. It means there is a good explanation for your progression – explained by the story taking place in a magic academy. Because of that, you also get a playing field that’s vertical rather than horizontal, which makes the travel between floors quite a bit more interesting.

The units feel quite distinct as well, with some heavy hitters and faster units. There’s a big difference in movement as well, whether they can fly or not, and that really helps a lot to define them. Most interesting is the dragon, which is expensive and time consuming to summon, but it’s amazingly strong. The level where it’s introduced puts you against some, while teaching you some lessons on how to handle them as well. It feels good and stays a lot of fun.

Final Thoughts

The magic angle, with its summoning runes and other restrictions, make for a game that’s a lot more interesting to play and explore. When digging deeper, you see a lot in common with other strategy games, but somehow it feels distinct enough to stand out. It’s a game I want to dive bak into, not in the least because the story of the game is different enough to catch my attention.

#412 Mr. Driller

Posted: 20th January 2020 by Jeroen in Games
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839th played so far

Genre: Puzzle
Platform: Arcade
Year of Release: 1999
Developer: Namco
Publisher: Namco

As the last of this batch of Dreamcast games (for now – the real last one of the batch needs some more time to play), Mr. Driller has always reminded me of early list game Drill Dozer – drilling through coloured blocks to advance through a level. Mr. Driller, however, is a puzzler using these elements – probably a bit simpler at its core than the Gameboy Advance game.

Our Thoughts

Forgetting about the Drill Dozer link, which is quite superficial anyway, Mr. Driller is an excellent puzzle game using drilling. You’re standing on top of a pile of blocks that combine when they’re the same colour. You dig out these blocks a group at a time as you try to make your way to the bottom. There are a few things to stop you: You don’t want to be crushed underneath the falling blocks. The physics hold blocks up if they’re held up by at least one other block, so you can get hiding holes created. If you’re boxed in by indestructible boxes on all sides (except above you) and can’t drill out, you’re gone. Then there’s the time pressure from oxygen running out. You can replenish it by collecting pills, but it adds some pressure once you get to higher levels.

There are a few different modes which vary your goals (how deep you need to go and so on) and gameplay details, but the basics obviously stick around. It’s a good, solid system, challenging enough once you get deep enough while still staying fun to work out. There’s something pushing you to speed up at some point, but there’s a balance between that and not getting trapped. At its best, the big blocks falling cause some nice chain reactions as well and it’s satisfying when they pay off, especially in the bonus levels where you only have blocks of two colours.

Final Thoughts

Every time I look at this game, I desperately look for a PC port of the game. I want to play more of it – if I could, I would have played a round right now. Sadly, it doesn’t exist and I’ve had to put the Dreamcast away, so instead I hope I can get back to it next time it comes out.

838th played so far

Genre: Action
Platform: Arcade/Dreamcast
Year of Release: 1998
Developer: Sega AM 2
Publisher: Sega

I think today’s game has one of the longest titles on the list, as well as one that has some of the more random words thrown together – I don’t expect tangrams to feature at all in the game. Instead, this seems to be a fighter of some sort, heavily featuring mechs and all that. When we played a trial game of this to see whether it was working on our Dreamcast.

Our Thoughts

Cyber Troopers felt like quite a bland arena fighter. Yeah, it’s cool to have mechs here and fight each other, but the whole thing felt like a pretty standard fighter that was difficult to control. The arcade game was a twin stick shooter, but as that isn’t an option on the Dreamcast controller, the port’s controls feel difficult. Movement is on the D-pad and other actions are on the thumbstick, which feels really unnatural. Even more difficult, in a 3D game like this, is the lack of free look. Enemies jump all around, but it’s hard to find out where they’ve gone and to find and aim at them afterwards. It becomes a constant problem and it takes the speed out of the game while constantly frustrating you as well.

I believe they released specific controllers for this – they certainly did for some of the later ports – but we obviously didn’t have that here. Beyond that, there didn’t seem to be any other stand out features, or even a story mode or such worth talking about. There are a lot of complexities, but in the end it doesn’t end up contributing to the game.

It was the name, more than anything else, that got my interest in this, and it would be lumped in with the other fighting games otherwise. It’s worth to see, but the controls are enough to remove anything else that would stand out in the game.

#448 Power Stone 2

Posted: 12th January 2020 by Jeroen in Games
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837th played so far

Genre: Fighting
Platform: Dreamcast
Year of Release: 2000
Developer: Capcom
Publisher: Capcom

I haven’t played many Dreamcast games recently, in part because I have to go out and retrieve it from semi storage (the bedroom TV) and connect it to a TV that is too new to handle aerial connections gracefully. I’ve got a cable orderedfor next time, but for this session I’m hoping to knock a bunch of them off my list.

Power Stone 2 is a Dreamcast era fighting game. It’s 3D, rather than the 2D plane that you still saw more at the time, and to be honest the entire thing feels more colourful than more realistic fighters. It’s a good start, even if my expectations aren’t that high either.

Our Thoughts

When playing Power Stone 2, I find it hard to avoid comparisons to the Super Smash Bros series. First of all, weapons play a big part in these games, with them being quite defining at times. There is also a version of a final smash with their fusion attacks, which you can activate by collecting differently coloured gems. They are the main differentiator between character, who otherwise felt somewhat interchangable. It’s a nice feature and won me some battles, but seeing more individuality would have been nice.

The other part of the game that reminds me of Smash Bros games – at least the more modern incarnations – are the stages. They are active and dynamic and more complicated than that series. Each stage, except for the bosses, has several stages that you jump between – once by climbing a Japanese temple, another one with the floor giving way, and there’s a jungle temple where for part of the arena, you’re getting chased by a boulder Indiana Jones style. It makes the games a lot more interesting as you’re adjusting around this. I guess the fact that the fighters are interchangeable helps here, as one isn’t more suitable to some stages than others.

There’s a lot of stuff to do in the game, not in the least from the different variations. The standard arcade story mode is in here, with a limited set of stages and some story, although it has the downside of its bosses, which felt a lot less fun than a straight up battle. Then there are other modes that focus as much on collecting items and unlockables as you go through, for what feels like a longer campaign. I can see myself get lost in this for a long time.

Final Thoughts

Power Stone 2 has some symptoms of its age, mostly coming from the lack of distinct fighters and how that turned everything more generic. I also got annoyed with some boss fights, which is a shame because everything else worked so well and this is the closest I think I’ve gotten to seeing a game with the dynamics of a Smash Bros game, going for fun interactions more than serious, grim stories. If not for the demise of the Dreamcast, perhaps this could have been a contender for that crown.

836th played so far

Genre: Shoot ‘Em Up
Platform: Nintendo DS
Year of Release: 2007
Developer: WayForward Technologies
Publisher: Konami Digital Entertainments

Contra III was a pretty standard run and gun game, with some level based enhancements that made it stand out, but ultimately existing in a genre that doesn’t appeal to me. Contra 4 was released 15 years after it, which likely means this is a retro throwback – not the best sign for me.

Our Thoughts

Contra 4 does feel like a throwback to the old run and gun genre, playing and feeling like the originals. The only change I really spotted was the life system, which is a lot more generous than the original and allows you to get further in the game. You need it with the old school difficulty, which still makes it frustrating but at least I’ve got more attempts to try and finish it.

There’s a decent variety of weapons, which is always fun, but it didn’t have any standouts either – it’s the standard I’d expect for the genre, done well but nothing that jumps out.

Final Thoughts

I feel like Contra 4 wasn’t very memorable. It did what it did, and was quite tough to get through – I don’t think I got past the first level, with a very tricky and long boss fight at the end. It’s not a game I’m going to go back to, it just didn’t work out well.