#699 Exit 2

Posted: 22nd June 2019 by Jeroen in Games
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793rd played so far

Genre: Puzzle/Action
Platform: PSP
Year of Release: 2006
Developer: Taito Corporation
Publisher: Taito Corporation

There’s an interesting subgenre of puzzle games which are escape rooms – a room you’re locked in, that requires puzzles to be solved to get out. It’s something I want to play around more with, as they’re nicely contained adventures. And I’ve played a few in real life now, which works really well.

I say that mostly because that’s what I thought Exit 2 would be close to, but this seems to be more focused on action elements – not fully so, there’s puzzles, but you have to do more than that.

Our Thoughts

I feel like Exit 2 actually sounds pretty boring when I try to describe it. You solve puzzles, a lot of them involving boxes and switches, to open an exit and get out of the level. Pretty much every level also has you work with companions that you first have to rescue, but who will help you after that. Most have a subset of your abilities, sometimes with some additional special ones, but you’ll normally need to use all of them to complete your level. At the most basic level, for example, some levels have boxes you can’t move on your own, but others can help you. Then you get things like kids being able to get through smaller areas but can’t jump as far.

The puzzles are of that right level where there aren’t a lot of actions you can take, but there are enough combinations that it’s still challenging to figure out. The action elements help with this, but in general I find that the timing, and death associated with it, inhibits the planning you sometimes need to execute your plans. It’s not really making it impossible, adding another dimension instead, but I’m not sure how worthwhile it is.

Graphically, the game follows a cartoony comics style – not humorous, but with thick lines, speech bubbles and something stylized that works quite well here to set a semi-serious tone.

Final Thoughts

Exit 2 was an XBLA game and that feels right – it doesn’t feel big or epic, but as an indie game it does the right thing – it sets up a concept, works through it well and doesn’t overdo it. The action elements, in the end, are at the right level, not the focus but adding enough of an edge, while the AI followers really create a puzzle game that goes beyond pushing boxes.

#701 Fight Night Round 3

Posted: 18th June 2019 by Jeroen in Games
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792nd played so far

Genre: Fighting
Platform: Xbox 360
Year of Release: 2006
Developer: EA Chicago
Publisher: EA Sports

Oh man. I’ve never really gotten into fighting sports either, and while they’re okay games, the franchise based stuff doesn’t work as well for me – like sports, they can try to be too accurate, rely on previous knowledge and don’t really offer anything more fun. I’m expecting something like WWE Smackdown vs Raw 2010, where I don’t quite get it, especially as EA Sports other games don’t quite get me in the loop either.

Our Thoughts

Here’s one solution to the struggle with a tutorial system: there’s no real tutorial, so you get to figure it out as you go along. It’s probably just as well, the system starts to feel comfortable and natural quite quickly. I’m fairly sure there are a bunch of subtleties I missed, but it felt playable for the most part. I didn’t figure out the blocking as easier though – perhaps never quite did that, but I did well enough for a while to get some distance into career mode. It’s a steep learning curve throughout, but the game adjusts for that well enough.

I mean, I’m not into boxing, so my attention was limited when I started to struggle, but that took quite a bit longer than I expected and it felt good to get some results. It’s helped by some good graphics and animation – some of which also felt quite graphic, adding to the realism. It’s probably not to my long term taste, but it felt right.

Final Thoughts

Fight Night Round 3 does quite wel as a real life based fighter. It was accessible enough to get me in and provided enough to keep my attention for a while, realistic but not too much, which is what worked well enough. Will I get back to it? Probably not, but I’m glad I had the experience.

#583 Donkey Kong: Jungle Beat

Posted: 14th June 2019 by Jeroen in Games
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791st played so far

Genre: Platform
Platform: Gamecube
Year of Release: 2004
Developer: Nintendo EAD Tokyo
Publisher: Nintendo

Donkey Konga gave the world a Donkey Kong-themed music game using a custom bongo controller. Donkey Kong: Jungle Beat took those same controllers, but turned it into a platformer. An actual platformer, not a rhythm game skinned to show a platformers.

Our Thoughts

The control method defines a lot more about the game, but taking that away for a second before we dive into that – Donkey Kong Jungle Beat is a lovely looking game, taking you through a decent variety of 2D platform levels. The progression to unlock different levels gives you quite a bit of content early on, but also requires you to get better at the game (scoring the right level of medals) to continue on through. It meant I didn’t get as far as I maybe could have, as I wanted to see new stuff rather than replay, but it still gave me a decent chunk of levels to play without too much effort.

Maybe that’s also because I felt I got the game quicker than I expected. The rhythm based non conventional controls suit having played both the old style sports games like Summer Games and new rhythm like games with additional gameplay like the Bit Trip series. You tap the bongo tomove left or right, both to jump and clap to interact with the environment. The first are standard controls, although less accurate than you get with conventional controls. The clap stands out as the generic “activate this” button. It has a lot of different uses, such as having a monkey grab you and swing you around or stunning certain enemies, and it feels natural enough to stay fun while also feeling different enough.

The game actually feels more like a Sonic game, with its longer on rails sections and speed through larger levels being the most important. The game rewards control and especially observation, as the hidden passages are hidden really well and tend to be quite rewarding.

The boss fights, on the other hand do rely a bit more on precision in some cases, while the boxing matches feel like they’re from a different game. They’re less succesful for the most part and it feels like they got in the way more often than not.

Final Thoughts

Donkey Kong Jungle Beat‘s controls make it feel like quite a different game – not better, but the variation is so strange that it really makes for a game that’s a lot of fun. It’s not the type of platformer that you might expect from the creators of the Mario games, but as a different, almost Sonic-like feeling it works really well.

790th played so far

Genre: Action
Platform: Playstation 2
Year of Release: 2003
Developer: Konami Computer Entertainment Japan
Publisher: Konami

While we msotly know Hideo Kojima for the Metal Gear Solid series, while reading up when preparing for this entry I saw that he was also involved in the creation of the Zone of the Enders series. We’re playing the second of this over the shoulder shooter today, a game that seems obsessed with mechs and looks more like a 3D shoot ’em up than a full on action game. Knowing who it’s by, though, I’m expecting some interesting choices – and I hope the cut scenes are kept to a minimum.

Our Thoughts

My notes for this post include that the game has a lot of anime cut scenes, pretty much as if we’re watching a mech centered anime (a genre that, to be honest, I’ve mostly avoided so far but picked up on through cultural osmosis). I’ve already forgotten the details, but it plays a lot with the standard stories. It’s not rote, but there’s you finding the old very powerful mech and fighting with it. There are some variations on the theme, in part how you fuse with it, but the set up feels basic – you’ve got to stop the bad guys using everything you’ve got, and during your first base infiltration you end up freeing several prisoners while taking out a lot of enemies.

The game itself doesn’t have the cartoon cutscenes as much. It’s a 3D shooter which streamlines its graphics, looking good but it feels like it is also put in to allow for these bigger worlds to exist – large rooms with a lot of complex looking enemies, if somewhat geometric. I’m not sure I’d call it clean, but it feels like a deliberate choice to allow for technical trade offs to be made while still keeping to a style.

The game starts including a decent bunch of options in battle as well. There’s a mix of near and far attacks, burst and movement abilities and you gain extra weapons as you progress through the game. There’s a lot going on and a lot of options, but the controls are laid out well enough and are helpful enough that I could get into the flow rather easily. The weapon switching makes it more awkward, but it works well. The system also includes a leveling system, but I believe it just raises the numbers to help things get easier.

Beyond that the game is pretty linear, taking you room to room to clear enemies. A few have puzzles in them to find certain places, but it didn’t feel too interesting and while the game had a map, I rarely needed it. There was no point where I needed to backtrack, it just helped a bit when there were a few rooms to check out. It wasn’t a big deal most of the time though.

Final Thoughts

Zone of the Enders: The Second Runner feels like it achieves what it wants to, a third person shooter with 3D freedom of movement, combat that feels great and a bit of exploration, but mostly keeping you on a track to take you through the story. I’m not sure how much angecy you have with that, but it worked so far and the game stayed fun throughout.

789th played so far

Genre: Action/Adventure
Platform: Playstation 3
Year of Release: 2011
Developer: Naughty Dog
Publisher: Sony Computer Entertainment

We’ve already played two Uncharted games. Uncharted: Drake’s Fortune was quite fun, but had some issues with the fighting. Uncharted 2: Among Thieves was a lot better – solving part of that problem and leading to a long game we really enjoyed and saw through to the end. The third game is the last for the list – fair enough, as we’re in the final third of the list as well. I’ve had good reason to play on our consoles while I can while Peter is busy with another project, so I’m making full use of it now to get to these games.

Our Thoughts

While Uncharted 2 began with an epic action scene the game later returns to, where Nathan Drake is on a dangling train carriage ready to fall to his death while you climb it using the series’ impressive climbing set up, the third part starts simpler with a bar brawl in a British pub. And while we break into a museum, it starts off a bit more innocently here, and with Drake when he was younger. There are the usual escalations, but thankfully the game really draws out how long it takes before you get into a firefight. Those are a bit better, but still endless and I still struggled to always find them that engaging. Thankfully, the endless fights aren’t as common and I feel I spent a lot of time exploring these worlds, most notably when going into a French mansion that hides Templar secrets. It was a gorgeous forest, in a more temperate climate than we normally see, as well as a ruined mansion that felt like a change from the setting it had elsewhere.

If I wanted to be negative about it, I could say that the gameplay was more of the same. Now, the basics are the same, although that is to be expected from the series of the name when we’re only three games in. It would have been nice to feel like the gameplay was a bit more innovative, but it feels more polished.

On the other hand,t he game uses this in a wider variety of settings – most more interesting. It feels like there’s more actual investigation involved, in warehouses and so on, than it feels there were in the original games. There are still old crypts and such, but it feels like we’re staying in Europe more and the parts in London feel especially different, with a sequence where you look for a hidden tunnel standing out especially well. There’s places when the pacing feels off – the escape from the burning mansion feels interminable and it feels like it could have been fine at half the length. The fact that it comes with an interminable army of minions to fight you doesn’t help there either.

The game still sounds good – Nolan North’s voice acting is part of what makes Nathan Drake so charismatic and attractive, just mysterious enough, while the other characters come to life just as much with the voice acting. They’re animated really well, especially the different version of our main characters. And as always, the environments look amazing, visiting them is the real treat a lot of the time.

Final Thoughts

When you’ve played the previous games, Uncharted 3 brings exactly what you think it would. It adds to it, by avoiding the exotic settings that I feel it usually has and setting up some more normal, urban areas as well. It worked well for me and provided the variety and different set up that sets it apart for me. There’s something great about starting with a brawl in a London pub rather than hanging from a Russian train. The game still has it.

788th played so far

Genre: Action/Adventure
Platform: Xbox 360
Year of Release: 2009
Developer: Chair Entertainment/Epic Games
Publisher: Microsoft Game Studios

At the point when this game was released, it felt like the Metroidvania (Metroid and Castlevania, referring to their large worlds with backtracking to find all the secrets as you unlock more powers). They’ve becme a lot more popular in the last decade, especially in the indie sphere, but I’ve not seen them in this list as much. Shadow Complex is an XBLA game that seems to have gotten there early. As I want to play our XBLA games (if only to prevent hardware failure making life difficult), it feels like a good one to tackle.

Our Thoughts

Shadow Complex‘s start feels promising on its own. Rather than arriving in a space ship or as a vampire hunter, you’re a (relatively) normal man trying to save his girlfriend as she’s been kidnapped after exploring some caves. You find a big high tech underground base that you explore. It’s more stealth focused – while there are times to attack, avoiding and indirectly taking out enemies happens as often. Not as much as Mark of the Ninja, but there’s some of that feeling of exploration. It’s a decent setting that makes sense and feels more down to earth – sort of – even if the plot follows some pretty standard beats.

The base looks really good too. It’s of course somewhat stylized, but aside from it being big, it feels deep. Obviously this is a 2D game in gameplay, but the rooms go deeper (which you get to experience in a handful of first person shooter bits) and it makes the base look gigantic. It really creates a sense of scale (and possibly explains why the enemies keep respawning). There’s quite a variety in the rooms as well, with some of the first person shooter bits and some large scale battles as well as other options. It’s a place where I kept wanting to play another room, just to see what came next.

Final Thoughts

Shadow Complex is a fun, good looking game that gives you a big world to play in that rewards exploration. The setting isn’t as outlandish as other metroidvanias, nor is its powerset, but playing as a normal person actually works really well.

787th played so far

Genre: Shoot ‘Em Up/Strategy
Platform: PC/Playstation 3/Xbox 360
Year of Release: 2009
Developer: Codemasters
Publisher: Codemasters

I’m starting to feel more apathetic towards these military shooters. They’re big and popular, but while some Call of Duty games can sort of manage to draw me in, the first iteration of Operation Flashpoint didn’t work for me and my recent experiences with Battlefield haven’t been great either. I want to say I’ve got a good feeling about the sequel, but I don’t expect to make it deep in.

Our Thoughts

I don’t think Operation Flashpoint: Dragon Rising improved on the first game… I still didn’t see any actual enemies, was killed out of nowhere and felt I mostly relied on the AI to deal with all of that. I guess it’s strategy, but not in a way that made me feel I was directing anything, more just spamming the attack button. I’m not sure if it’s the graphics or the game’s intentions, but since we’re not set up for sniping in that first mission, it still failed as much as it did before.

That lack of clarity continued as I progressed in the first mission. As part of the game’s semi-tutorial, you’re told to call in an air strike on a specific place. It took me several goes to trigger that… and then didn’t have it change anything. I couldn’t call a second strike, but while I thought I hit it, it wasn’t enough. Since I didn’t seem to get the option again, it felt like the mission just broke (I had no chance of defeating them), and so that was it, really.

With a game setting that’s generic army fare against bad guys, so that, too, didn’t give me a reason to keep going in the game.

Final Thoughts

While I’m sure the game works when you get into it, it just came across as broken to me, inaccessible and very much paint by numbers. It wasn’t worth the investment and it feels like other games do it better.

#934 Halo Wars

Posted: 25th May 2019 by Jeroen in Games
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786th played so far

Genre: Strategy
Platform: Xbox 360
Year of Release: 2009
Developer: Ensemble Studios
Publisher: Microsoft Game Studios

I’ve played some console strategy games before, they lean more towards the tactical – something like Final Fantasy Tactics or Valkyria Chronicles, where you have a predefined set of units that you control individually. Larger grouped units in theĀ Command & Conquer mold, with more units you build as you go along, while growing the army and base building are a part of it.

Halo Wars isn’t the first to do so for a console, but it’s one of the few in the book. Not just that, we’re playing in the FPS focused Halo universe, which I’m not sure would overlap that much here. It’s a departure for the series, but as the shooter has some squad elements anyway, I can see where they’d come from.

Our Thoughts

Halo Wars simplifies the strategy formula enough to require less group interactions while keeping the same feel. It’s not something that’s new to the genre – earlier games have done so and in general it’s been trying to get more accessible – but I feel it’s the first time I’ve come across it here. Bases are simpler – you have a central building with several smaller ones around it, which fulfill the same roles as core buildings from other games – build infantry, artillery and so on. There’s fewer, and I believe only one that upgrades research (and even that’s streamlined), but the basics are all there. You have, on the other hand, still several unit types with their own abilities and I believe the usual triangle.

You still use with less units, and that’s good – it is difficult enough to keep up with what’s there, and several levels in, on a “survive for half an hour” mission, I felt like splitting my attention became too difficult to really keep up with multiple attacks – I missed my shortcuts at that point, but that’s for a mission type I never loved much anyway.

The game has a bunch of decent objectives anyway – not just destroying bases and surviving for times, but infiltrating a base and getting out again and optional objectives surrounding numbers of enemies killed and all of that. It’s an interesting set of those.

The setting of the game is the Halo world, but in the end I didn’t feel it mattered much. There’s a couple of unit names based on it and I’m sure the characters are familiar, but I feel that so far, the link hasn’t really helped much – a new world would have felt much the same, but perhaps it’s because on this superficial level, these SF worlds can feel interchangable.

Final Thoughts

While I struggled with the survival mission, Halo Wars was mostly a lot of fun to play. While hectic at times, it tuned its elements well enough that I had to keep paying attention, but didn’t feel rushed or overwhelmed by what was going on. I need to get back to it and give it another, proper go.

785th played so far

Genre: Action/Platform
Platform: Various
Year of Release: 2003
Developer: Ubisoft Montreal
Publisher: Ubisoft

The original Prince of Persia was a stand out platformer, its animation standing out but the full game having a story and set up that was quite appealing. It’s a game where straight up sequels could never quite get there – add too much and the charm goes away, change too little and it won’t improve on the original. For that reason, one of the few sequels of the game that was acclaimed was Sands of Time, which instead is a 3D action adventure game, though (as our genre list says) with more platforming.

Our Thoughts

I didn’t connect the heritage of the game until I was a while in. This game has its free running elements and it preceeds the release of Assassin’s Creed by four years, but is made by the same studio and presumably at least partially the same team. And while the focus isn’t entirely on open world exploration, there are decent chunks of levels where the height matters. These manifest more as puzzles in a section, but it is good to see the DNA where these systems came from.

They do need polish – there are, for example, several ways to run up a wall, while they trigger from the same button, and it can feel a bit down to luck whether you can make certain jumps or get the angle wrong. It doesn’t always feel good or natural, but it’s getting there.

The combat system, the other side of the game, is clunkier. First of all, it has the annoying feature that you need to “retrieve” an enemy’s soul to dispatch it, part of the lore of why the undead attack you. This can be difficult to execute when others are still attacking you, but because of the relentless spawn rate it can be difficult not to get overwhelmed – there are too many enemies sometimes and it’s easy to get stunlocked in it. The block system didn’t feel great either, making the whole thing feel clunky and dissatisfying and an annoying interruption of the more interesting parts of the game.

The story isn’t very heavy, but there’s something intriguing about the middle eastern setting that makes it have that magic sometimes. It’s all half-destroyed, but at least there’s something to it here, and the magic powers it introduces later are an interesting addition. Not overly helpful, but it switches up your options enough and a rewind is always useful in a game like this.

Final Thoughts

While there is a good base game here, Prince of Persia: Sands of Time has some control issues that take Ubisoft Montreal some time to work out. It looks nice for its time, but it’s almost a shame it’s sometimes saddled wiht the name – the legacy of Prince of Persia doesn’t really do much for it.

#558 NBA Street Vol. 2

Posted: 17th May 2019 by Jeroen in Games
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784th played so far

Genre: Sports
Platform: Playstation 2/Gamecube/Xbox
Year of Release: 2003
Developer: EA Canada
Publisher: EA Sports BIG

I’ve not only played the main NBA series before, but NBA Jam introduced me to something closer to the street basketball we are going to get into here and I swear it’s come up as a minigame before. NBA Jam appealed to me because you’re playing with a small team, which felt like it made play a lot more accessible. NBA Street Vol. 2 promises something similar. It feels like this is a sports game that’s going to be more appealing and accessible to me.

Our Thoughts

I quite enjoyed playing NBA Street Vol. 2. It took a bit of practice, but I felt I learned the game quite quickly and it felt like the difficulty was tuned well – I didn’t feel like I was cheating the AI to overwhelm it, but I managed to win most of the time. Only by a few points each time, but that felt quite right. There’s a lot going on, but the game takes you through the tutorial quite quickly while going quite in depth, which helps the game a lot to be accessible. It gave me a lot of wins, which was useful for sure, but I really had to work at it.

And I needed those wins. Wins get you points that help you unlock further things. In most games, you would start off unlocking a new game mode in one or two games, a new location one or two more, and keep rewarding you early on. Here, I got one early, but I felt I had to play for quite a while to get anything else. I get that this might make sense for the curve long term, but I wish I could have seen a few more different things a bit sooner, just to feel like I’m doing something.

It’s a small complaint if I wanted to jump into the game for longer, I suppose, but even then it seems like there is so much content here that a faster start wouldn’t have mattered much. If anything, the changes would have gotten me excited, and I don’t think the extra practice would have been that important.

Final Thoughts

Again, one of the better sports game is one that doesn’t get too serious. The game isn’t too complicated and having a smaller team gave me a lot more chances to keep control of what was going on. All of this felt incredibly well balanced and easy to control.