770th played so far

Genre: Platform
Platform: Xbox/PC/Playstation 2
Year of Release: 2005
Developer: Double Fine Productions
Publisher: Majesco Entertainment

I’ve been creating a bit of my buffer for these write ups, which has the handy side effects that I can use Christmas to play some longer games, rather than using it to catch up and get ahead. I’m still not quite on the hundred per year expectation, but by slowing down a bit I can at least take the chance to enjoy the games a bit more.

While Double Fine Entertainment has had quite a varied output, their first game is probably one of their best known ones. Psychonauts is a 3D platformer with a heavier story focus – of, I believe, going inside the brains of other people to sort out their problems. If it’s like others, there are plenty of additional things to find, but I also hope we get decent solutions to the control issues earlier platformers had.

Our Thoughts

There is something charming about the story telling in Psychonauts. While Raz, our protagonist, takes his position as future hero serious from the start, the summer camp setting filled with odd, over the top characters gives a more childlike look at what become quite heavy themes as we look at the inner life of these characters. Psychonauts, after all, are humans with psychic powers that allow them to get into others minds, see their fears and issues, and help you work through them. Most important, you start getting insights into Raz’s own mind, which you only get to explore a step at a time, figuring out what’s locked away.

The minds, first of all, are pretty cool environments. They’re the levels in the game – fairly linear, with a set of collectibles that are in each level and more specific enemies. The levels are all quite different and distinctive – the first is a war-based theme with trenches and other machines of war, while later a teacher’s mind turns out to be a cube with a further organised set up and more mechanical elements. Your own mind? A dark cave, obviously.

On the other hand, the levels are connected in a large open world – where most of your powers still work thanks to plot logic, creating a weird and (in my mind) very big camp to go through, in an area that has some weird other experiments going on. There’s also the obligatory store with powerups to buy, although I think that’s being kept until later to really kick off – it all seemed quite unaffordable to me.

Final Thoughts

Psychonauts is a good 3D platformer, with controls that work a lot better than they did a hardware generation earlier when it was still working itself out. It’s quite straight forward there anyway, but it also adds in a charming plot that explains a lot of your weird abilities and takes you into far stranger worlds – while justifying that existence. It’s  not just charming, but also a great game to play and I’m looking forward to the sequel.

#655 Fire Pro Wrestling Returns

Posted: 18th March 2019 by Jeroen in Games
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769th played so far

Genre: Fighting
Platform: Playstation 2
Year of Release: 2005
Developer: Spike
Publisher: Spike/Agetec/505 Games

I don’t get wrestling. I’m not even talking about fakeness or performances, I don’t really get the appeal of watching people fight. I think I struggled with that in the previous WWE game we discussed. Fire Pro Wrestling Returns at least avoids the WWE side of things, drawing from other international leagues that I guess seem to take themselves more seriously. It also looks like it avoids the standard 3D side perspective, so at least we’ll be playing something new.

Our Thoughts

There’s a lot that feels different here from other fighting games. The isometric perspective is a big change, almost immediately making it seem more strategic. At the same time, I don’t think that’s the real result. There are very few indicators as to what’s going on during the fight. As the game is mostly based around your fighter’s exhaustion, that’s what you need to check, but only some of your animations really indicate it – like when you get up after falling. It means that you’re doing a lot on gut feel, which doesn’t always work, and which contrasts with games where I feel like I have more of a grip on the mechanics and controls.

I suspect that the real reason for the perspective is for the game’s stand out aspect: its customization.The default roster is immense, with a triple digit number of wrestlers based on a template, a few customization options and some groups of fighting styles. The system gives a lot of variety, but it feels like the entire game doesn’t really allow for that much individuality, they’re all the same fighters at their basic. There’s still a fair amount of custom fighting styles, but I think that at the same time, I didn’t get enough of an idea of what the real differences were.

There areloads of modes to play through as well, with different tournament types and setups. It’s actually a bit of a dredge to set up in the first place, but for the most part it feels impressive enough.

Final Thoughts

I guess it’s hard for me to say for sure, but this feels like a game with a bunch of options, not all of which necessarily lead to a difference in the game that really matters. It’s nice to get something different out of a wrestling game, but arguably it doesn’t give me enough to work with and learn them.

768th played so far

Genre: Action/Adventure
Platform: PC/Playstation 3/Xbox 360
Year of Release: 2009
Developer: Rockstar North
Publisher: Rockstar Games

I’m playing this set of one hundred’s GTA game nice and early. The final few don’t have quite as much staying power – The Lost and Damned, today’s entry, is an expansion pack sequel for Grand Theft Auto IV, set during this game but with a different protagonist and set of missions but the same world. There’s some overlap between them and a bunch of characters are shared, but it’s more a bunch of references than that there’s an outright impact.

Our Thoughts

One of the big advantages of a tie-in game like this is that the game doesn’t feel the need to tutorialize. It takes you through the controls and systems, but they’re quick references while the game doesn’t really linger on them, while the main game tends to have longer missions that slowly introduce concepts. It’s nice to be in the middle of things straight away, getting you into things, without the enemies immediately overwhelming you.

With the game being about a biker gang, there’s a lot of bike riding, and this game does it well. Often, it feels too uneven in these games until you get used to them – cars just feel better. Here, the controls are better and riding feels stabler, while still faster and lighter than cars are. It’s incredibly satisfying to drive around, while you feel more of a part of the world – you can avoid cars and deal with traffic better, but do need to keep paying attention.

There’s a small but to that – driving as a group is important as part of a gang, and for conversations to continue you need to be in the right place in the group. The triggers for that are finicky and it feels like they work against you learning more. A smaller issue is that when you’re following, you’re not allowed to get ahead – which is annoying they suddenly brake, but you don’t always have enough room to slow down and follow at a safer distance. I’m sure there’s ways around that, but I felt scolded for no reasons a few times.

Final Thoughts

I really enjoyed this entry in the GTA series – it felt easier to get into and work a bit better. The story is tighter, the game looks better and I’ve just been enjoying myself more as I cruised around the city. There’s a lot of other options, keeping the world open, but at what felt like a better scale and speed. I’m genuinely looking forward to the next one.

#1014 XCOM: Enemy Unknown

Posted: 10th March 2019 by Jeroen in Games
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767th played so far

Genre: Strategy
Platform: Various
Year of Release: 2012
Developer: Firaxis Games
Publisher: 2K Games

I’ve played the original X-Com series for the blog, including the city focused sequel, and while I still loved the basic formula, I struggled with the interface and difficulty of the original.

A few years into this blog, they released this remake, made by Civilization giants Firaxis, and it became a well loved game, rivalling the original. I held off on playing it because, well, it ended up on this list and I might as well for the right moment, say for a lonely Sunday in the run up to Christmas. I’ve got the time, I’ll take it.

Our Thoughts

Now, first of all, I played XCOM on easy, as I wanted to get through itand see more of what’s going on. This meant I might have had an easier experience than the original UFO: Enemy Unknown, but as the difficulty slider was broken in the original game, who knows for sure? What was certain is that it was easier to understand what happened, what to do and how it all works together. The game starts off with plenty of cutscenes with some story which guide you through the steps of building up your base while still being able to respond to the random events that come up during the game.

While the base building is obviously secondary to the tactical mode, the strategic part of the game hits the right points. It’s not overly complicated to deal with your base, but there’s some balancing of different rooms and fund allocations, with enough ego boosts when you get something right. Research in particular has an added layer on how things interact that work quite well. The other side, where you need to balance the needs of different contintents, really gives you a decent feeling of trade offs. Usually, when a mission comes up, you have to pick between a few different locations to take on. Those that you help will continue to provide funding, but the ones you avoid helping a few times will drop their support which will hit your income. It creates a nice set of trade offs where you need to make the hard choices – who do you help and who do you drop?

The battles themselves feel fairly straight forward, but with a lot of complexity that comes in when you dive in deeper. Your soldiers have a bunch of options, but they’re presented well and mostly focuses on a couple of options at a time. There’s some awkwardness with line of sight, in a few missions I had enemies show up out of nowhere, but it’s a lot better than the first game and became a lot easier to get used to.

Combat is still lethal, but it’s easy to swap soldiers out. They rank up as they gain experience, unlocking additional abilities based on their class while generally unlocking their abilities. It makes these stronger soldiers more useful to keep around, but it’s always a trade off whether you want to use them. Luckily, even injuries require them to be swapped out, so you’re always sharing XP over a larger group. It does also mean that luck defines what you can do.

So far, the enemies play on a lot of general stereo types. They’re lovingly crafted, with some great animations and feeling just right. The whole game does, really, adding a layer of polish while putting in references to the old games and some sci fi tropes without overwhelming that angle.

Final Thoughts

XCOM: Enemy Unknown is the game I needed in the X-Com series: Streamlined, easier to read but not entirely moving away from the difficulty the harsh environments create. It’s addictive and a game I need to play a lot more rounds of. It could absolutely be a Civ replacement for our holiday gaming.

#778 Planet Puzzle League

Posted: 6th March 2019 by Jeroen in Games
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766th played so far

Genre: Puzzle
Platform: DS
Year of Release: 2007
Developer: Intelligent Systems
Publisher: Nintendo

I’ve been bad in playing DS games, not getting to them as often as I should – even though they’re as often great for watching TV with or similar. What doesn’t help is that it feels like they’re dominated by puzzle games, which I have to pace myself on to not run out.

Planet Puzzle League is one of those, and I have a chance to play it now. I’ve played Puzzle League games before, such as in their Pokemon iteration, and they feel like part of the brand of Tetris rip offs – following the likes of Dr. Mario and Lumines – so it should be accessible and still fun. If nothing else, it’ll certainly prove to be addictive!

Our Thoughts

Planet Puzzle League follows its standard formula: You swap blocks so they form a line of same coloured blocks that’s at least three blocks long or high. Blocks come up from the bottom if you’re in a score attack or timed mode, while in puzzles they sit there. It feels a bit stale by current standards, but we’ve got a solid game here. For the modes I played, the difficulty curve was quite gentle, but engaging. I’m not sure it quite got to addictive, though, in comparison the modes felt a bit stale and there’s little to dress up the entire game.

There isn’t much that varies on the formula. You play the game and it speeds up, while the graphics change as they go on. The visual styles start off quite clear, but I found a bunch of them to e quite difficult to read. While that might create some false difficulty, I don’t think it pays off at any point.

Final Thoughts

Planet Puzzle League is a decent puzzle game, which follows a decent twist on the formula. It doesn’t feel like it does anything innovative, but it runs quite well.

#85 Deja Vu

Posted: 2nd March 2019 by Jeroen in Games
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765th played so far

Genre: Adventure
Platform: Various
Year of Release: 1985
Developer: ICOM Simulations Inc
Publisher: Mindscape/Kemco

As time went on, the adventure has continued to evolve – and while interactive fiction was the medium of story telling, it’s just not as attractive as graphics bring in. For that reason, games started introducing some graphics and Deja Vu is an early one that does so. I’ve seen bits of it, and it isn’t full on like, say, Broken Sword, but we’re moving on from having to use your imagination like you would do in Zork. I have been wondering about the style and looking forward to try it, so I’m glad it’s come around now.

Our Thoughts

One of the things that I feel playing this game is that it’s still trying to figure out graphical adventures. The images are there and they are used in lieu of some descriptions, but not everything is there and you still have a room based structure where you move from one to the other, without an avatar in the world or anything like that.

The game’s interface is a bit awkward – it feels like an early window-based interface, I guess early Mac style, and your inventory, as well as other containers and such, are actually windows you switch between. It’s mostly a nice idea, but as there’s no sorting or linking to that, it’s easy for stuff to get buried or lost.

Still, although the interface is awkward and gets in your way sometimes (yeah, I did check a hints file after a while), the game is a lot of fun to play. You get to explore a story of amnesia, starting in a deserted bar that has its secrets. There are some text adventure touches that disappeared from later games – wandering characters and the like – that might not be as modern now, but create that living world that we get. Not to the extent of The Hobbit, but it’s there. The big question is still where it goes, but it feels like something fun to dive back into.

Final Thoughts

Deja Vu is an interesting game, still exploring the lemeents of UI and how to integrate more modern UI design into games. Not a lot of games do that still – for good reason – but seeing it explore this different way of interacting is interesting. Beyond that, though the game makes good use of the different option while still telling a bigger, more intricate story that you saw more in the text adventure days.

#797 The World Ends With You

Posted: 26th February 2019 by Jeroen in Games
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764th played so far

Genre: Action/Role-Playing
Platform: Nintendo DS
Year of Release: 2007
Developer: Square Enix/Jupiter
Publisher: Square Enix

Square Enix always seems to try to create new RPGs, playing around with the set formulas to see what new things they can create. This happens both in the changes to the Final Fantasy series as well as different series like Chrono Trigger. The World Ends With You is a more recent exmaple of that, using a modern day setting and some other interesting mechanics that I’m looking forward to trying.

Our Thoughts

The aesthetics of The World Ends With You stand out from the start, a roughly current era Tokyo – specifically the area around Shibuya, which always gives the odd sensation given I visited it a few years ago. Mixed in with that is a Jet Set Radio like, skater influenced style that especially applies to our main character Neku. Parts of the game feel like they’re in back alleys and service corridors, not just the busy streets of Tokyo. It’s not a setting and style that’s explored often and especially not in RPGs, but it works incredibly well here. There’s a weird focus on commercialism as well – your equipment comes from different brands, and since brands are associated with areas (and I guess the type of people who hang out there), your equipment will be stronger or weaker based on the brand’s placement in that area. It’s a nice touch that feels appropriate but unique.

The story makes use of that too. You get mixed up in a lethal competition that will end the world if you don’t finish it, although the protagonist doesn’t care as much early on. The fact that it’s limited like that creaes a sense of urgency – I don’t think there’s an actual time limit, but there’s a push to keep going forward even if the game doesn’t require you to finish in a certain time. The story feels like it can keep ramping it up and pulling that off, in part because it mixes it with the life of ordinary people at the same time, mostly through the sub and side missions you get.

The battle system feels as different. You can adjust your level, first of all, to determine your difficulty – although an easier battle also gets you less rewards. More interesting is that you play at two levels – you play on the touch screen, where you use equipped pins to perform different moves. It keeps your options focused, but works out well. At the same time, your partner is fighting on the top screen. The AI can control her, but if you want you can take over, doing more reflex based attacks and optimizing the attack boost through the light that switches between you. Still, that really feels like an advanced technique, which I wasn’t ready for yet.

Final Thoughts

The World Ends With You really relies on its setting in many ways – it defines its aesthetic, the game mechanics, the story and everything. It’s a lovely combination that I felt taken in by and will want to continue to dive into.

#786 Rock Band

Posted: 22nd February 2019 by Jeroen in Games
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763rd played so far

Genre: Music
Platform: Various
Year of Release: 2007
Developer: Harmonix
Publisher: MTV Games

Every once in a while I have to bring out the plastic instruments and play one of these music games. I want to spread them out (if only to keep my notes and write up clear) but there’s so much work in putting some of these up that it feels like a waste – which is why I go for having the guitar out even now.

That was, after all, all that Guitar Hero had, but Rock Band came out to make this even more of a party game, allowing up to four instruments at once – guitar, bass, drums and your voice. We’ve seen this formula before in Beatles Rock Band, but here’s the first game that did it like this.

Our Thoughts

With a formula that’s repeated this often, a lot of the commentary for one game applies to the other. It’s ncie to play, I’m getting better at the guitar controls and there’s still a fairly compelling game loop.

While that stays the same, the surroundings do change. In this game, your band is playing in the background, rather than the Beatles more psychedelic backgrounds, which works better for the multiple instrument gameplay. It’s quite nice and ties in to the customization the game offers – both the looks of your band members and the clothes they wear, which you can unlock and purchase. It’s not essential to gameply, but creates a nice touch.

The songs themselves, then, are the important distinguishing factor. Rock Band focuses on rock songs, as the name implies, and they offer a wide variety for all of the instruments. It’s a shame, once again, that not all songs are unlocked immediately – I understand having setlists for the single player campaign, but it felt like a hindrance for casual play.

Final Thoughts

Rock Band kickstarted a popular genre into the stratosphere for a few years, as the team based play made the rhythm games a real social experience. I never quite felt a part of it, and it’s not something you really feel when you’re home along, but it’s hard to ignore that aspect to it that I can’t review as well now. Even without that, though, jamming in these games stays a lot of fun.

762nd played so far

Genre: Action
Platform: Gameboy Advance
Year of Release: 2003
Developer: Konami Computer Entertainment Tokyo
Publisher: Konami

I’m moving on with the Castlevania series – two handheld titles left, one of which I’m covering today. The second is the DS Dawn of Sorrow, so I assume there’s a link between the two games.

It’s another Metroidvania, a side scroller with another trip into Dracula’s castle – the storyline is pretty predictable, but it’s the journey through the massive palace and its supernatural inhabitants that matters.

Our Thoughts

While they were present in Symphony of the Night, this is the first Castlevania game I’ve played where the RPG elements stand out more. I still described it as RPG lite, but there is XP, you level up to gain HP and MP and there’s a bunch of equipment to gather. This matters because it felt like exploration was more worthwhile than in other Castlevania games, with detours always bringing you something and rooms having a purprose beyond exhausting your resources.

The game feels more accessible anyway. I struggled previously with the long gaps between save and heal points, but they felt like they occured more frequently playing through this – or at least you were directed there more often – and the stronger RPG elements meant that it was easier to push through a bit longer.

The added feature are souls. As you defeat enemies, there’s a random chance they’ll drop a soul. Each enemy type has its own and they have different ways of enhancing your stats and abilities. It’s a neat system, more appropriate to the setting than just gear, but the random nature of drops makes it difficult to really rely on it – I’ve had to replay sections multiple times, and whether or not I got a soul made a big difference.Still, it’s been a neat idea.

Final Thoughts

As I get further into the series, the Castlevania games keep working better for me. The additional convenience systems keep making the game easier to get through, which gives me more of a chance to explore the areas instead. The difficulty still goes up, which really started to opay off, but there’s a lot more in the game here that gets me roped in. That’s what I really want of it.

#96 Tehkan World Cup

Posted: 14th February 2019 by Jeroen in Games
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761st played so far

Genre: Sports
Platform: Arcade
Year of Release: 1985
Developer: Tehkan
Publisher: Tecmo

It’s amazing how many football games are in the list and in particular how far they are spread throughout the years – other sports may have had their recent game stay on while FIFA 10 was booted off, but there are plenty more waiting in the wings.

Tehkan World Cup, the effective predecessor of Sensible Soccer, is an early game to go isometric, unlike soccer-like Ballblazer that played with a simple version of the rules but went first person. It feels like that perspective change alone would be revolutionary.

Our Thoughts

Tehkan World Cup is a football (or soccer) game that plays like it. It’s also an arcade game that is, by now, over thirty years old, and it lacks the more complex features of later soccer games – you steal the ball by running into it (a tackle animation sometimes plays), there’s no need for passing and throwing in the ball is very simple. It is a lot more accessible than the new games, but in this case to the point where it lacks the slight complexity from the mid-era games like Sensible Soccer.

Although simple doesn’t necessarily mean easy, the game is simple enough that there were some exploits that made it easier to get through when the game got to the right point – get in the right position and you were guaranteed to score. It made it a bit nicer to get through, as otherwise while this is a nice basic football game, there’s not as much meat on these bones – at least it can give you that endorphin hit.

Final Thoughts

Tehkan World Cup is a straightforward football game, with limitations as you’d expect them from the era. It’s fun if you want that sort of game, but there’s games that just cater to that feeling so much better, even one that don’t go quite as in depth as many others.