828th played so far

Genre: Action/Platform
Platform: Nintendo 64/Playstation 1
Year of Release: 1998
Developer: DMA Design
Publisher: Take Two Interactive

It feels like the Nintendo 64 era was the high point of the 3D action platformers – your Super Mario 64s and Banjo Kazooies. Sure, later platforms had them too, but they were so much more popular at this point and it feels like I’ve sen more of them. Smaller areas with some tricky jumps, usually a fair amount of collectibles and cartoony physics.

While offering its own thing in controlling enemies, Space Station Silicon Valley feels like it fits in in this mold – you move from level to level, with some challenges in each level and moves that unlock until you can face the final boss. I’ve enjoyed the genre enough so far that I’ve been enthusiastic about this one – I hope it pays off.

Our Thoughts

I’m not sure the title of Space Station Silicon Valley really explains a lot of what’s going on. The main gameplay loop is that you’re this tiny bug that moves between mechanical animals. You start off going into this mechanical dog, but to finish your missions you need to switched between them – either because you’re meant to do that or, more often, because you need the different abilities. Sheep, for example, can float and since they run on bio energy rather than electricity, they can go into the water as well. They’re weak in battle though and incredibly slow. It’s a pretty neat mechanic where you even need to keep your food chain in mind, as (for example) other dogs will try to attack sheep.

The levels are fairly short, with two or three tasks each. There are no checkpoints during the levels: If you fail, you start from scratch. That’s actually what’s quite frustrating: a small mistake can kill you and while the levels aren’t that big, they do invite exploration enough that you want to try things. However, if you accomplish anything, a mistimed jump could lose you all of it. Add to that that the levels don’t always make sense at first glance, and it becomes quite a frustrating experience.

There are some collectibles in the game – a trophy per level as well as a bunch of power cells and they were the more interesting thing to try and get in the level. It also, however, seems to be completely pointless and not something the game tracks too in depth, and it feels like a bit of effort to reward you for them, even if more cosmetically than what you get by getting them all at the end, would have made for a nice extra goal. I’m still not sure if the save system would have helped here, though, or just made that a lot worse.

Final Thoughts

Space Station Silicon Valley has two sides to it. The animal swapping mechanic is a really nice idea, even if it feels like the animals could be tweaked. The missions are a mixed bag and don’t feel like anything to write home about. The other systems, though, are pretty frustrating and work against you far more than is justified. It’s easy to imagine a new version of this fixing these issues and really making use of these mechanics, but as it stands the game’s age is probably responsible for pushing it all down.

#385 Wetrix

Posted: 30th November 2019 by Jeroen in Games
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827th played so far

Genre: Puzzle
Platform: Nintendo 64
Year of Release: 1998
Developer: Zed Two
Publisher: Ocean/Infogrames

Time for our next Nintendo 64 title of the batch. Wetrix has always been an interesting entry on the list – as much a tech demo for water physics as it’s a puzzle game using them. It’s an interesting concept, but I’ll have to see where they end up taking it.

Our Thoughts

Very few games have a Dutch translation – even those made in the Netherlands or Belgium don’t tend to unless they’re aimed at a very local audience or young kids. Seeing it in Wetrix, then, was an unexpected surprise and I had to try the (at times awkward) translation for myself. Nobody else would probably care, but I thought it was a nice feature.

Wetrix itself is a pretty straight forward puzzle game. You raise and lower the landscape and occasionally get to dump water on top (in a place you specify). Your goal is to make sure as little water as possible leaves the playing field – too much and you lose. It’s not too complex, but like good puzzle games the simplicity is effective.

The downside is that the game doesn’t do much more with the system. There are no designed levels or individual puzzles to solve, just semi-random combinations on a blank field. It lacks a bit of longevity there to keep you going. It’s more impressive technologically, with the simulated flow of water feeling impressive even now, it’s still something we don’t see in that many games.

Final Thoughts

Wetrix doesn’t feel like a game I could play for hours at a time, but it’s great to dip into every once in a while to play a few levels and see what happens to the game. While this could easily feel like a tech demo, Wetrix goes beyond that to create an addictive enough puzzle game. We own the sequel – I should give it a try at some point.

#367 1080 Degrees Snowboarding

Posted: 26th November 2019 by Jeroen in Games
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826th played so far

Genre: Sports
Platform: Nintendo 64
Year of Release: 1998
Developer: Nintendo EAD
Publisher: Nintendo

Sometimes, going into a game, you know it’s not going to be great. After SSX Tricky was an early highlight, an earlier snowboarding game on the older Nintendo 64 will never quite live up – with nostalgia and the earlier implementation of the sport being the more important reason it’s on the list. Not that it’s necessarily best, but for style, I don’t expect something quite the same.

This week, we’re playing some Nintendo 64 games, as we got it out of storage, and this would feel like a good time to get through them.

Our Thoughts

I’ve never been snowboarding – the only winter sports experience I have is from (a lot of) ice skating and one afternoon of cross-country skiing organised by school. For that reason, anything I can say about snowboarding is second hand – although I suspect games have taught me some priorities. One of the big differences seems to be that when going down a slope you don’t just do it to go as fast as possible, but you want to put tricks in – jups and moves and such. It’s what makes snowboarding stand out here.

1080° Snowboarding includes these tricks too and the practice mode dedicates a lot of time to you getting them right. Sadly, half the modes after that don’t need them as they’re purely speed focused. While they might be a nice distraction, the controls are imprecise enough that it’s hard enough to make your way down. I manage quite well, for a first handful of races at least, but it felt like a fairly plain race where it came down to how well I managed to start to follow the route. The controls became a bigger problem in the slalom – I just didn’t feel like I could always make the movements necessary to alternate sides and I ran out of time partway through – it has the arcade mechanism of timed check points. The trick attack mode is the best for being able to use the tricks, but again the time limit stops you from it being that much fun.

Final Thoughts

1080° Snowboarding is a decent implementation of a snowboarding game – at times a bit too hindered by the mechanics of the time, but it does what you expect. At the same time, that experiences has been improved on so often since that it’s more of a step up than a game worth chasing down on its own merits.

#842 Age of Empires: Mythologies

Posted: 14th November 2019 by Jeroen in Games
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825th played so far

Genre: Strategy
Platform: Nintendo DS
Year of Release: 2008
Developer: Griptonite Games
Publisher: THQ

The obvious route when adapting a real time strategy game like the Age of Empires series to consoles and handhelds is to make it turn based. You often need precision mouse movement and a lot of different clicks  to pull of the functionality and while Starcraft seems to have a straight up Nintendo 64 adaption (although I’ve never played it), Halo Wars shows that to pull off a real time format, you want to simplify gameplay. Even then it can be hard to keep up with the genre.

So for Age of Empires: Mythologies – mostly an adaptation of Age of Mythology for the DS rather than an adaptation of the main history series – we play a turnbased strategy game.

Our Thoughts

Age of Empires: Mythologies does draw a lot from turn based, grid based like Final Fantasy Tactics. You get a set number of units, mostly using a type triangle, with some hero units that are quite a bit stronger with some nice abilities. So far it’s never gotten big enough that I lost track of what’s going on, but there are enough chances.

What it obviously brings in are the building elements. We saw some of that on Advance Wars, but here it’s far more expanded and complicated, like the main series. You can create units and support buildings, as well as research, just not in this real time setup. It also supports moving through the ages, which is as important to get the upper hand. All of it creates quite a different set up to expand the game.

The single player missions feel a bit low in number – they can take longer to play than in other games, but it feels like a low number per side compared to other games. There are a bunch more scenarios and such to challenge you, but it may feel a bit slim.

Final Thoughts

I get the feeling that the thought here was about how to get Age of Empires on the handheld first, then they thought about how to do it second. It worked out well, with a compromise between the series and what the console demands. It worked out well, but I felt I needed more patience to get through this than when I am able to rush through at speed.

#708 God Hand

Posted: 10th November 2019 by Jeroen in Games
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824th played so far

Genre: Fighting
Platform: Playstation 2
Year of Release: 2006
Developer: Clover Studios
Publisher: Capcom

God Hand‘s lineage becomes clear when you look at the other games. Clover Studios made both Viewtiful Joe and Okami and a part of its creative team went on to make Bayonetta. All of that defines what we’re going to get – a highly polished 3D beat ’em up with crowds of enemies, developed characters and shorter areas to explore and fight in, rather than large areas. Some exploration, not too much.

With God Hand, we specifically get a mix between Japanese martial arts, as you’d expect from the genre, and westerns. It’s a combination that comes up in movies every once in a while, and it works, so I’m looking forward to seeing how it plays out here.

Our Thoughts

I’m not quite sure the western setting of God Hand was used to its best ability here, although I guess this is more a fighting gmae with some western elements than a western setting with other elements like we see in other places – see something like Oddworld: Stranger’s Wrath for that. While there are the western-seeming village you start off in, there are also the magic globes that give you abilities and scrolls with further techniques. Even the enemies are more Japanese magic, with demons rather than outlaws fighting you, and some offensive-seeming Japanese gay stereotypes. While the world is vaguely interesting, it’s not as interestingly laid out as the story would suggest, and using more tropes from cowboy movies would have helped sell the world – and create a more unique story.

The fighting itself is quite interesting. It’s decent at it’s core, but there are loads of additional moves to buy, find and use, allowing for a lot more customization when fighting. The specific twist here are your god hands, arms that contain a god inside them, and that’s what their powers revolve around. You need to build up power to be able to use your big moves, but you get a few good goes for bigger fights. For the most part, it’s quite satisfying.

As I said, the game is divided into smaller areas – a few arenas to fight in, some places with secrets and generally enough for a bit of exploration without it dominating the game. It’s good for the game, keeping up the pace, although I wish there was a bit more to it myself – I felt I might have been spending a bit more time looking around than I should have.

Final Thoughts

God Hand is an in depth fighting game that pushes its moveset and challenges you quite a bit. In that sense, it fits in its lineage. However, its setting isn’t as engaging after the first few areas and the levels are fine, but not amazing. I can see the appeal, but I feel this could be pushed a bit further.

#155 Laser Squad

Posted: 6th November 2019 by Jeroen in Games
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823rd played so far

Genre: Strategy
Platform: Various
Year of Release: 1988
Developer: Target Games
Publisher: Blade Software

I’ve grouped the original Rebelstar and Laser Squad together – fairly primitive seeming tactical games that haven’t quite reached the deep mechanics UFO: Enemy Unknown brings to the genre. They look like interesting puzzle boxes, if a bit difficult to figure out without a manual. I’ll need to see how well I’ll be able to figure this one out.

Our Thoughts

It’s hard for me not to compare this game to Rebelstar, as this feels like the evolution of that. You’re still going out in a larger squad, completing a mission that isn’t explained well in the game itself. Laser Squad pulls it off a lot better though, and setting it up as a midway point between Rebelstar and X-Com, giving you more information and a better looking game than the former, but not having the polish and information the latter has. I played the PC port, which probably helped with that anyway.

On the other hand,t he game has me feeling somewhat annoyed from the start. You start by buying the equipment for the crew The UI for this is slow and frustrating and since there are no presets , you have to go through the slog every time. Even worse is when you need specific equipment, like grenades, but don’t bring them with you because you didn’t know. It means going back and restarting the process from scratch – not exactly the most fun thing to do. It makes for a frustrating start and having some handholding here would have made a big difference for everything that followed.

When in the game, it works quite well – you move around, can ready shots or fire when you get an opportunity. A lot of it seems to be setting up waiting for others to come into view. I never quite pulled this off, in part because of one big issue. When learning a game like this, especially when in turn based mode, you spend quite a bit of time figuring out what you can do – how far can you walk, can you get around this corner, all that sort of stuff. The best games do this with an undo option, but at the very least you don’t get charged until you actually do it. Not in Laser Squad – several times I lost my AP because I couldn’t do something, but the game charged me anyway. It’s possible the messaging here wasn’t the clearest, but I do blame the game for not being that straight forward.

Final Thoughts

As a stepping stone, Laser Squad feels like an interesting game to play. The turn based strategy features didn’t come out of nowhere, and the X-Com series, even if it didn’t directly draw on this, were influenced by the same ideas this game has. At the same time, the UI is obtuse and it’s all a bit too big and complicated, while the open missions never give you a time to build to it. It might not have been as easy to add to the game, but this is too hardcore for the casual player to enjoy.

#731 Trauma Center: Second Opinion

Posted: 2nd November 2019 by Jeroen in Games
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822nd played so far

Genre: Simulation
Platform: Wii
Year of Release: 2006
Developer: Atlus
Publisher: Atlus/Nintendo

Going back to game series we first, and last, played a long time ago, the original Trauma Center was a fun surgery-based game that made good use of the touchscreen. It took me three quarters of the list – and a lot of changes – to get to this sequel, which uses the Wiimote as its own alternative way to control the game. It makes complete sense and I’m going to enjoy seeing how it works. Besides, with a nearly eight year difference, I doubt I’m going to be able to compare them anyway.

Our Thoughts

The main gameplay of Trauma Center – the surgeries – sounds straight forward enough. There are a limited set of standard tools – knifes, stitches, sterilization gel and all that – and you need to use them in the right order to cut into your patients’ bodies, find what’s wrong with them and fix it. The difficulty builds quite well – you get a tool or two per surgery early on and there are frequent callbacks to remind you of the different techniques. As long as you follow the main line, the difficulty builds fairly well, while staying challenging.

You spend your time as a doctor, guided at first by a nurse who tells you what to do, but as things go on those training wheels come off. At the same time the story ramps up – at first you are clearly the junior, making rash calls, but you need to learn to be more responsible. At the same time, you learn about the Healing Touch, a power that lets you slow down time for a while to handle surgeries. Even with that on, you need to be precise and quick, which I didn’t necessarily pull off all the time.

This is a remake of the DS game and while I’ve been angry at that for things like Metal Gear Solid: The Twin Snakes, it actually didn’t bother me here. Maybe it’s because there’s about a seven year gap, but the actual gameplay feels incredibly different. The touch screen and Wiimote controls are different enough and this way feels both more visceral and less precise, adding a challenge to some of these surgeries. It wasn’t that difficult to get past (and I guess the game adjusted for that), but the feel is different.

The other side of that is, of course, that the remake adds extra content. It’s an extra set of stories following Naomi Weaver, who has her own healing touch. The first level you get to immediately feels like more of a puzzle level, more complicated than the original levels with its own challenges. It’s far from impossible, but it’s more difficult from the start, which felt like a good preview for what happened later as well. It’s a decent addition that felt quite natural, even if it was clear it was bolted on.

Final Thoughts

I kept off on playing this game because I was genuinely looking forward to playing it. The first game connected well with us and I wanted to make sure I had the time to play this game – which I had now – and give it my attention. It didn’t disappoint – it felt as good as I was hoping, the visual novel is about dramatic enough to be engaging and the gameplay worked well. It’s challenging but fun and it feels like there’s a lot more the game can do. I need to keep an eye out for more games in the series.

821st played so far

Genre: First-Person Shooter
Platform: Playstation 3/Xbox 360
Year of Release: 2008
Developer: EA Dice
Publisher: Electronic Arts

After having played many Battlefield games, both Battlefield 1942 and 1943 made it clear to me how much of this is a multiplayer franchise and that the multiplayer FPS has no appeal for me. I picked this as the next game because I figured I’d be able to check off another basic multiplayer game.

Luckily, when preparing I saw this had a singleplayer campaign, as apparently console players would have expected one. I won’t complain – it gives me more to play with in this game.

Our Thoughts

So I guess I got to enjoy a singleplayer Battlefield campaign again, which may sound better than it is. The concept is that you are part of the bad company – troublemakers basically used as cannon fodder. Of course, this means you end up in the middle of a lot of firefights and gaining control of different areas and you’re still going to survive because that’s what the story wants. It’s a good excuse to get you into the action like you want from a military shooter.

It’s all, in the end, pretty standard military shooter stuff. You go from area to area and kill enemies as you come across them, taking over control points and sometimes using some neat weaponry. It’s pretty decent, but there are no real surprises. The one thing that stands out is building damage – it’s fairly realistically simulated and it looks incredibly good. It feels like it’s used more in the start than later, but at least it’s something. There are some collectibles as well, the first using this building damage system, but as they’re all guns, they have limited appeal. It’s probably more so for the hardcore player, but not here.

What makes the singleplayer campaign boring is that you’re spending a lot of time moving from area to area. These are pretty long, boring roads that have little point other than, I guess, to hide loading screens. I’d rather have a quick loading screen, though, as they don’t make any use of the time – no conversations, interesting events or good scenery. It felt pointless and boring.

Final Thoughts

Battlefield: Bad Company does well by its genre: a decent military shooter that has some good graphical qualities and features, but ultimately doesn’t offer anything quite amazing enough. It’s good if you’re a fan, but if not this won’t be the game that will convince you otherwise.

#724 Medieval II: Total War

Posted: 25th October 2019 by Jeroen in Games
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820th played so far

Genre: Strategy
Platform: PC
Year of Release: 2006
Developer: Creative Assembly
Publisher: Sega

It’s been about 400 games – and so four years – since I last played a Total War game, in Rome: Total War, and about seven years since I played Medieval: Total War, the first game in this sub series. After this, there’s one more to come, which means the last one will be in less than two years time – faster than any other gap between the games.

In the mean time, I’ve had my moments of obsession with Total War: Warhammer and its sequel, which of course feels like a highly evolved version of this, but this will be a lovely game to explore anyway.

Our Thoughts

My interest in the Total War series – unlike many others, it seems – has always been in the grand strategy side. I’d happily play it like Civilization or Crusader Kings, abstracting away the battles in favour of large strategies. It’s in part because the level of micromanagement feels off – some things are too granular while you can’t keep the overview of the full battle, but a lot of it has a lot of downtime as well which feels like it could be filled otherwise. Despite of how it should be, I feel I do worse than just letting the AI resolve the battles. Thankfully, I’ve not come across a battle I have to play, so it’s not that big of a deal, but I always feel like I’m missing out.

The other side is fairly compelling – a struggle for possession of areas, where you need to spend some time on growing the economy, but a lot of that goes back into growing your military. The other focus is on that of leaders – something that comes back in the series, but the combinations of alliances and marriages feels deeper than it is in other places. It’s a theme for the era, I guess – Crusader Kings focuses on it too, and the world was small enough for individuals to matter. It mostly felt like a management challenge, as you’d want these both leading your armies and growing your cities, and the whole thing was an interesting limit on what you can do.

Final Thoughts

Medieval II: Total War looks fine, plays fine, and advances on the gameplay from earlier titles. It’s not the most amazing of changes, but everything we liked before is still there and I guess it just gives you more of that.

#710 GTR 2

Posted: 21st October 2019 by Jeroen in Games
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819th played so far

Genre: Racing
Platform: PC
Year of Release: 2006
Developer: Blimey! Games/Simbin
Publisher: ISImotor

Considering the most recent racer I played is one of the less realistic ones, with Carmageddon II, switching to GTR 2 is going in the opposite direction. Based on the book write up, this is one of those games that goes for extreme realism. It’s something that, from experience, probably means I won’t get far, not unlike Need for Speed: Most Wanted‘s trouble.

One difference here is that this is all track based, based on the FIA GT Championships, and so there will be a lot of real life elements. That usually means something blander, as we can’t have the real life expensive cars get blemished. We’ll see how that holds up.

Our Thoughts

It’s interesting how compressed other games make the act of racing. You get a qualifying lap and two or three rounds down the circuit and you’re done. GTR 2 has options for time compression, but there’s a default option and the game clearly likes it. You get the real amount of time to qualify – you can speed it up as you wait and play with that, but the option is there. The race takes the real number of rounds and time and you could race for two hours if you wanted. I’m not sure how the Le Mans race works, but I assume there’s some pattern. It’s a nod towards realism that the game wants to go for everywhere.

The racer feels realistic beyond that as well. The game is licensed and you’re racing your cars on real circuits, in real seasons, and the way the car handles and moves around the circuit is the same. I’m not sure quite how realistic the damage is, but beyond that I struggled hard and the game doesn’t seem to give you much help. It’s a challenge – not one that I always got along with, but it really felt I was putting the effort in. Badly, and shortening the races may have helped with it, but it just didn’t feel right to do it with this game.

The game looks fine but not amazing, but everything else surrounding that fits so right that that doesn’t matter. Although it’s a racing game, GTR 2 feels like a racing simulator, going for accuracy and making you feel like you’re in an actual racing season. That’s difficult, but cool to get into.