#611 Pikmin 2

Posted: 13th June 2021 by Jeroen in Games
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967th played so far

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

While I enjoyed playing Pikmin, it was a flawed classic: The controls weren’t great and the time limit was one that made me quite nervous. I was hoping that a sequel would improve on that and although I can’t say much about the controls, I do know that this game drops the time limit. After Battalion Wars, I feel I’ll do better at that anyway. It should be a good one though.

Our Thoughts

I’ll be honest, I really liked the lack of a time limit, it was nice to be able to explore the area and figure out the puzzles without having the feeling I need to rush through. The alternative progression in which you’re tasked to pay off debts works incredibly well, both as a general progression mechanic and as a way to cram in a lot of jokes about the everyday objects that make up their treasures (secretly enforcing the idea of the miniature world this takes place in).

And man, there’s a lot to explore. Aside from the overworld feeling as expansive as ever – I certainly had to deal with the day and night rhythm that still kept going – you also have a lot of dungeons to explore, three or four per area. You need to get the right abilities – or rather, Pikmin – to get to them, which works well to pace them and gives you a reason to return to old areas later on.

There are two new types of Pikmin, both of which are obviously useful. Where the original three are born from the bulb, the new purple and white Pikmin require you to throw another type of Pikmin into specific flowers. Purple flowers give you the heavy purple Pikmin, which have a far better carrying capacity, while the white Pikmin are necessary for the treasure they find and speed they have, even if they are otherwise useless. Luckily you’ve got a second character with you as well to control them so you can split the groups, which really helps getting the different types in place.

Final Thoughts

Pikmin 2 feels a lot more relaxed than the first game, while giving a nice bit more content to play with. It was a lot of fun to see and I kept wanting to see a bit more of the game. Another one for the list I can start in another six months or so.

966th played so far

Genre: Fighting
Platform: Playstation 3/Xbox 360
Year of Release: 2008
Developer: Project Soul
Publisher: Namco Bandai Game

I had a bit of a discussion on what fighting game to leave until last, and between SoulCalibur and Street Fighter, the latter seemed more appropriate – even more when you consider our first covered game was already from the SoulCalibur series. That means that today we’re covering a fighter that includes several Star Wars characters in its roster as guest crossovers, as well as a 3D field rather than a 2D scroller.

It also means it’s been a decade since I touched the series, so good luck to me?

Our Thoughts

I might actually be feeling the effects of playing more fighting games over the years, but Soul Calibur IV felt quite accessible compared to what I was expecting. It’s a game that plays a lot more slowly and more deliberate than other focus, in part because you’re dealing with deliberately slower equipment, but that allows you that extra time to think, plan and be ready for the attack. It meant that, on the existing save file I was playing, the normal story mode was quite easy. The characters were powered up, sure, which meant that some lesser used fighters were harder, but even so the game wasn’t extremely difficult to get through.

It also helped me see some of the more bizarre characters – even beyond the presence of Darth Vader and Yoda, the gameplay of a character like Ivy or Voldo feel strange and interesting, where I had to get used to a lot of it. It’s been a fun journey that way, with quite an accessible start.

Final Thoughts

I quite enjoyed Soul Calibur IV. Perhaps that’s because the existing save game helped me, but I had a lot of fun playing through the different stories and other modes, even if the later endurance modes got harder. The visuals match this, with some lovely and dangerous looking environments in places (even if some of the beauty shots lasted a bit too long).

965th played so far

Genre: Puzzle/Platform
Platform: Game Boy Advance
Year of Release: 2004
Developer: Nintendo Software Technology
Publisher: Nintendo

I couldn’t stay away from platform games forever. I’m running down various lists and this takes care of another double-genre game, while also getting me near the end of the Mario franchise. It’s slight throwback Mario vs. Donkey Kong, a game that takes the feel of the original Donkey Kong but turns it into a complex puzzle game rather than the action platforming of that original title.

I’m not sure if I’ve ever touched this game after I had a look through the 3DS freebies from way back when that was the early buyer bonus, but I’m properly touching it today for the first time. Still, I have a good feeling about it.

Our Thoughts

Like many good puzzle games, Mario vs Donkey Kong has a pretty simple start. Use a switch, grab a key, get some of the optional presents and make your way to the door – a fairly straightforward level that you figure out quite quickly. The game builds from there, relying a lot on blocks being switched on and off, handling enemies and creating safe paths through the level. The aesthetic borrows a fair amount from Donkey Kong, with a lot of elements I recognize from that game and its sequels, although the gameplay only vaguely resembles the game. There are even some really nice moves new to the Mario games, such as a handstand that allows you to “stomp” enemies coming from above.

The game shakes it up quite nicely as well within each world, with the penultimate level being a lemmings-like “guide the toys” scenario that works quite differently. It means that there’s a lot of variety, with there being enough elements that each puzzle feels different, but without overwhelming you at any point.

Final Thoughts

There is a lot at play in this Mario vs Donkey Kong, wrapped in an update of the Donkey Kong style and it’s one of those puzzle games that keeps piling on mechanics rather than giving you a single set that continues to play. The build up really works and it’s a nice way to create a puzzle game in the Mario world that still uses those Mario moves.

964th played so far

Genre: Platform/Shoot ‘Em Up
Platform: Playstation 3
Year of Release: 2007
Developer: Insomniac Games
Publisher: Sony Computer Entertainment

We’ve got a nice minor landmark here. While I’ve been avoiding finishing genres, the Ratchet & Clank series is one of the later entries in the “character and sidekick” series of 3D platformers that Banjo Kazooie originated and also showed up with Jak & Daxter. Each has its own twist on it, and despite the writing being good I’m not sure the series got me as much as the others. With this being the more recent entry, I hope to see if it will grab me more this time.

Our Thoughts

Looking at my earlier notes, Ratchet & Clank Future: Tools of Destruction is the game that hit best. The platforming works pretty well here, and is one of the smoother experiences I’ve had in a 3D platformer. The shooting is decent, with enough help to get you through and although the levels are pretty linear, there are enough places to explore and keep you finding secrets. The worlds themselves are mostly futuristic areas – from a sleek cyberpunky futuristic city to a more urban sci fi fantasy area, so far mixed in with alien swamp areas and goo/acid factories. It’s partially quite standard, but the gameplay works quite well.

You have a lot of unlocks, both to buy new weapons and to upgrade them. While the game is quite generous with the bolts that are the basic currency, it’s got crystals and others that are rarer and restrict you further – initially just giving you the crystals from bosses, but later having a few other enemies give them as well. It’s a good drive to keep you going and try a bit more, as you can really feel the impact of playing earlier on.

Final Thoughts

I enjoyed myself quite a lot playing through Tools of Destruction, even as it took me a few attempts to get through the first level – it took me a while to get used to the flow of these levels. Once I got there, though, it was fun – racing along rails, shooting what came across, and occasionally using Clank’s small size to get through some other places. The dialogue and story held up and made for a really good game on their own, something I enjoyed playing. These updated versions of these franchises are worth going back to.

#628 Battalion Wars

Posted: 1st June 2021 by Jeroen in Games
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963rd played so far

Genre: Action/Strategy
Platform: Gamecube
Year of Release: 2005
Developer: Kuju Entertainment
Publisher: Nintendo

For some reason I thought Battalion Wars was a prequel to Advance Wars: the big game version of it before it was adapted for the handheld. I was wrong – not only did this come later, it changed the format quite a bit to be a more 3D, on the ground series.

It’s something different, even if I haven’t always loved this type of strategy as much, as I recently discussed with Herzog Zwei. It’s hard to keep track of everything you need to do and the interface needs to be perfect to work. It wasn’t with Herzog Zwei, but Pikmin pulled it off, and I wonder how it works here.

Our Thoughts

Battalion Wars takes place in the same world as Advance Wars, but with quite a different feel: As I said, you’re a battlefield commander ordering your troops around. This includes you acting as your own strongest unit, but has you getting units in different positions and running around as you need to get them to the right place. Except for those places where I just want to get through an area and attack en masse while my opponents come in with different troops. The controls are just that bit too awkward in these situations.

That broke down further when I had to deal with the driving controls of the game. The fourth mission has a long driving section in it where you’re racing down while avoiding enemies as you’re up against a time limit. The time limit isn’t generous, but when you’re bouncing around the area it becomes really difficult to finish it. It was genuinely frustrating and I was close to giving up after a few tries. I know it’s possible, but it wasn’t fun to do so.

The story itself, despite using fictional countries, feels a lot like an aggressive Americans vs treacherous Russians story that felt a bit too over the top. It’s a bit unfortunate, but on the whole it suits the tone of the game – I guess it’s what it is.

Final Thoughts

I think that story defines how I feel about the game though. It’s solid enough, doing what it needs to do, but the gameplay isn’t entirely my thing, it doesn’t quite fit together, and I may try again, but want to try some different games like it.

#736 Virtua Tennis 3

Posted: 29th May 2021 by Jeroen in Games
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962nd played so far

Genre: Sports
Platform: Various
Year of Release: 2006
Developer: Sega AM3/Sumo Digital
Publisher: Sega

It feels like it’s only been weeks since I played Mario Power Tennis, the previous tennis (or tennis-inspired) game, even if it’s been over half a year. But as I approach the end of the entire list, this is one of the last sports games remaining.

This is a more serious tennis game though, using the real world and real players, and I suspect there will be a fair amount of references to real life and nods at simulation.

Our Thoughts

Given the experience I think I’ve had by now with tennis games, I think I can safely say that this is a good one where playing is concerned. The controls are pretty intuitive, something that feels mandatory with these games by now. You start off on the world map with mostly just practice modes open. As you go through them, increasing your skills both as a player and by having the numbers go up, what’s available on the worldmap changes and tournaments open and close. These are accessible, of course, based on your own ranking, so you can’t get into the big ones until you’re at a minimum rank, so you really start at the bottom with some smaller tournaments that, at the very least, seem straight forward enough to beat. It’s a neat way to gate your progress, even if it’s frustrating when you can’t do much but practice for the week when you want to play.

And the game is a lot of fun to plan. It’s mainly the tennis playing, which hit the right level of difficulty so far – hard, sure, but you’re still likely to beat it early on – while training helps enough as your numbers go up. There’s nothing innovative in the gameplay, but the numbers going up help, and the wide variety of mini games during your practice keep it from going stale.

Final Thoughts

It always feels like sports game don’t really find a way to innovate, but I think tennis games, together with golf games, are ones that have already managed that. Virtua Tennis 3 rightly avoids innovating on that, instead focusing on a realistic-feeling setup to the tournament and your way through the year (even as it’s obviously compressed from real life). The tutorial and practice sessions are far better integrated through the various mini games than a tutorial or separate mode would do, as it pushes you forward – and adds a nice bit of customization to your character, without that overwhelming the game.

#850 Ninja Gaiden II

Posted: 26th May 2021 by Jeroen in Games
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961st played so far

Genre: Adventure/Fighting
Platform: Xbox 360
Year of Release: 2008
Developer: Team Ninja
Publisher: Microsoft

One of the stranger and more frustrating features of the list are the near-duplicate games. I feel I have only played a single Ninja Gaiden game, but did it twice because of the Ninja Gaiden Black upgrade – same engine, same gameplay, just some tweaks and updates on a list that could always use more variety. It’s time for the second game now, where we’ll get a new story, new levels and generally an actually new game in the series. Time to play Ninja Gaiden II!

Our Thoughts

The start of Ninja Gaiden II is really appealing. Although only a few years newer, the world looks prettier. Even though it’s set in and around a Tokyo tower block, it has a number of high up natural features, including cherry blossom gardens and water features, that add to an area that does feel Japanese. It’s a stereotypical lens, sure, but that’s part of the whole game. It looks lovely even as the game goes on, a game that’s pushing itself further than the first installment.

All of this surrounds a highly violent game, heavily featuring cutting off limbs and such that culminate in big, bloody finishing moves, most satisfying after taking on a larger group. There are a lot of techniques that the game introduces you to early on, giving you instructions every few steps – it’s a good thing most of it flows naturally, as it’s a lot to absorb, and they do a good job training you after you get the instructions and reinforcing it a few times later on – giving you an achievement each time you pull something off for the first time helps a lot confirming that. That first level really feels like a good marriage of a decent, interesting level and a packed tutorial that’s doing okay.

The next level mostly lets go of that, instead taking you back to the village you started the first game in as you travel back to your dojo – under assault and on fire once you reach it. It felt familiar as I went up there, but at the same time it got an upgrade and a different path through as well. It was a neat way to get you back in while not immediately looking back and it works well enough.

Final Thoughts

I’ve obviously been soured on this series a bit thanks to the first game’s double inclusion on the list – it’s a good game, but not quite that good. This is a good sequel though, building on what came before, looking and playing better – it’s gorgeous in places – and the many different things in there work well. It’s a good game, fun to explore even if there aren’t that many secrets or different paths.

960th played so far

Genre: Racing
Platform: Xbox 360/PC
Year of Release: 2007
Developer: Bugbear Entertainment
Publisher: Empire Interactive

Racer 38. The only one of Bugbear Entertainment’s on the list, although we’ve seen Empire Interactive publish a couple of games so far in quite different genres. Beyond that, it’s a racing game, that’s about all I have.

Our Thoughts

It was odd playing this game while listening to a podcast discussing Teardown‘s destruction mechanics. While this doesn’t let you destroy everything, the game uses plenty of destructible scenery while also encouraging you to hit and destroy opponents where you can to help you get ahead. It’s quite physics-driven, with some ragdoll elements, and the game feels brutal because of that. It even encourages you by giving you nitro when you’re being destructive, which is a boost you really need to get ahead.

And you do need them – the game is happy to set you back real far when you get a crash in, and it’s normally hard to catch up without getting knocked about. The use of nitro to speed you up further helps make it far more reasonable to be able to catch up and win the race, a cheat button that’s needed after all the other tricks that are involved.

Once you get used to that, you race through some quite nice, natural environments – the sort of older rural areas where you race wouldn’t get in the way of too many (even if you destroy their sheds, fences and patio furniture). There are quite a few of them, with a bunch of different types of races on the tracks, which gives you a lot to do. Unfortunately that also means time trials and the like – modes that avoid the destruction and physics based stuff in favour of pure driving, at which point it all seems timed too tightly and it loses the fun the proper races have.

Final Thoughts

The Ultimate Carnage subtitle really applies here, with that being the best element of the game that’s notable in its absence in various places. It makes for a good hook, one we saw games like Burnout take on as well, but this is one more place where it works.

959th played so far

Genre: Role-Playing
Platform: Playstation 1
Year of Release: 1999
Developer: Square Product Development Division 3
Publisher: Square

Chrono Trigger was one of the biggest RPGs of the 16-bit era and probably rivals only Final Fantasy VI in its focus on JRPG character building and story telling, even outshining it as it could focus on a smaller cast. It’s no wonder then that Square decided to create a sequel. It’s meant to be more closely linked to its base game than the Final Fantasy series is, though mostly through cameos and appearances rather than more direct references – I believe the way later Dragon Quest games handle it.

I’ve seen it criticized a lot, although mostly from the comparison. It’s a good game, but not as good as Chrono Trigger‘s heights are. Based on the fan reaction, this might not be on here, but all I know is that it’s meant to have its own charm. With that said, I don’t know what to actually expect as I’ve only heard about this game second hand. Will it work that well?

Our Thoughts

What makes Chrono Cross that bit less compelling is its central conceit. Where Chrono Trigger focused, in its stories, on time travel, having the past influence the future and with a main villain who goes back in time, Chrono Cross works across parallel worlds. There’s two of them – one in which the main character survived into adulthood and the other where he didn’t – and aside from switching between them you can influence them somehow. I’m not quite sure why you can do the latter (wouldn’t it deviate?), but it’s how the game works. Beyond that, it’s a neat way of exploring the butterfly effect in a game in a way that you can rarely see done. It’s not as intuitive as time travel though, which is where I got a bit confused on how it could all work out.

Even so, there’s another place where I feel it leans into it, although I can’t say I’ve fully experienced it. While Chrono Trigger already did a lot with its New Game Plus mode, Chrono Cross takes it further. Not only are there loads of endings, most only accessible by replaying, but the immense cast (not as big as the Suikoden series, but it seems close) can’t all join your party in a single playthrough. Unlocked characters seem to carry through between plays, but there are several splits in the path where you are limited in who you can collect when you go through. Even early on you want to deny some people joining you so others can join you first. It even impacts how the rest of the game plays: The second town you visit has three different ways to get into a castle, with different characters and gameplay. It’s an interesting choice that, again, hits that collector’s nerve in my brain.

The battle system’s flexibility ties into that. Each character and enemy is tied into an element and one of the things you do during battles is to use your techniques, attacks and even items to change the colour of the battlefield to match your preferred elements and increase your own damage while diminishing the enemies’. You also assign certain abilities to your character based on the grids that they’ve unlocked, so you can customize each one to focus on the abilities and elements you need for each. There’s some character-specific stuff in there as well – double and triple techs make a combat – meaning that there’s a lot of depth here even when you can just let the game figure it out. One other thing that helps with this many characters is that you don’t have to worry about grinding as much: Your maximum level is determined by the number of bosses you’ve defeated, with that mostly giving you some extra stats, after which your characters don’t get stronger. It both means that you can be focused on playing through the game rather than leveling, while you know you’re never too far behind. It works nicely to make the game that much more playable: it’s not as if they needed to inflate the playtime with grinding anyway.

Final Thoughts

It feels like sometimes Chrono Cross tries to get ahead of itself: Spending too much on being better and bigger than Chrono Trigger, while trying not to resemble it too much. Had it been named anything else it probably would have been one of the great PS1 RPGs, but it suffers in the comparison. It would’ve been an exploration of complex story telling that I would have liked to have seen more of.

#483 Ikaruga

Posted: 17th May 2021 by Jeroen in Games
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958th played so far

Genre: Shoot ‘Em Up
Platform: Arcade/Dreamcast/Gamecube
Year of Release: 2001
Developer: Treasure
Publisher: Treasure

I think I’m going to end up getting this wrong and come across it, but if I’m right this is the last Treasure game on the list. From their early start with Gunstar Heroes to their last listed Sin and Punishment: Successor of Skies, we’ve seen them as one of the giants of the shoot ’em up genre. We’ve also seen them take on a bunch of other genres, with the bizarre Stretch Panic and 3D platformer Wario World. It’s weird, then, how they seem to have disappeared, focusing on re-releases and sequels since around the time of the list’s original release.

Today’s Ikaruga is one of their shoot ’em ups, although with some inspiration of Silhouette Mirage

Our Thoughts

It seems quite an inspired take to use their Silhouette Mirage colour swapping gimmick to a top down shooter. Enemies are either black or white and you can swap between them. You absorb all shots from your own colour to power up big attacks while you do double damage to the opposing colour. It means that you’re constantly swapping between the two, mostly to avoid damage during big waves but also to maximize the damage you do. With the standard shooter standard of enemies in formations that you try to avoid, it becomes interesting enough, but when you get to the big boss fights it really takes advantage of this. While normally you wouldn’t be able to avoid the constant waves of fire, the fact that you can absorb damage from one colour without being hurt by it means that you can avoid a bunch of it and try to work tactically to defeat them.

It actually builds on that until you get to the final boss, where you not only make a lot of use of avoiding bullets, but your weapons are disabled and the only option you have is to avoid everything that’s fired at you until the time runs out. It’s a great twist on a shooter and with the PC version having enough options to make you more or less immortal, it’s possible for anyone to see it (I doubt I would have without them). It feels like it makes the game that much more accessible, tweaking it to create the challenge you can handle.

Final Thoughts

It’s not often that I finish a shooter like this, but the game makes it straight forward enough. There’s a lot of fun and skill in weaving through bullets and timing your swaps just right. It may be a bit shorter than most (but I’m not sure I could tell), but it felt quite addictive to get through and figure out.