841st played so far

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

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

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

Our Thoughts

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

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

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

Final Thoughts

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

#763 GrimGrimoire

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

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

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

Our Thoughts

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

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

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

Final Thoughts

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

#412 Mr. Driller

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

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

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

Our Thoughts

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

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

Final Thoughts

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

838th played so far

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

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

Our Thoughts

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

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

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

#448 Power Stone 2

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

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

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

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

Our Thoughts

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

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

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

Final Thoughts

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

836th played so far

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

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

Our Thoughts

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

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

Final Thoughts

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

835th played so far

Genre: First-Person Shooter
Platform: PC/Playstation 3/Xbox 360
Year of Release: 2009
Developer: Monolith Productions
Publisher: Warner Bros. Games

Bringing in another sequel, we return to the world of F.E.A.R., an FPS with a horror-based story that we played about a year ago that was effective in its story telling, but didn’t have much to show for its shooting – it was very average and yet ate up too much time playing. I’ll be honest, I’m not sure I expect that to be too different in the sequel, so we’ll see how that goes.

Our Thoughts

There’s something especially effective about horror in a first-person context. You’re much more in the moment and in the area, and so when something happens it feels that bit scarier. There’s a bit where this is especially effective early in the game, where you need to escape a hospital that has been attacked by others. There are lots of dead bodies around, some in mysterious places, and since you are unarmed you feel vulnerable. You end up sneaking past some guards and while I’m sure it’s safe enough, it feels really tense.

By that time, you’ve already completed a different mission with more of your weapons. During that you have a bunch of creepy things happen – following a creepy girl in a vision or dream sequence, you get your vision shifting and weird things showing up in the levels as you play. Every time you enter an empty room, you are on your toes.

There are still plenty of fights, but they feel slightly more focused – you’re spending less time running around large areas until you’ve gotten all of them. It’s a fine cover shooter – certainly better than Kill Switch – and while I enjoy it enough it was never my highlight of the game. The game has a pretty good physics set up too – a lot of it feels dynamic, with you flipping tables and using everything in the environment to add to the firefights.

Final Thoughts

F.E.A.R. 2 is a good sequel. The combat feels better than before, although the real interesting part is the exploration of the areas, experiencing the stories and finding the goodies around the level. The balance might have been a bit off on the amount of battles, but overall it felt like an improvement.

#559 Kill Switch

Posted: 31st December 2019 by Jeroen in Games
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834th played so far

Genre: Shoot ‘Em Up
Platform: Playstation 2
Year of Release: 2003
Developer: Namco USA
Publisher: Namco

Kill Switch really is one of those generic titles that does tell you what it’s about, but feels interchangeable with about twenty other games at the same time. Everything about it screams generic-ness – it’s a cover shooter, you’re fighting terrorists, even the cover is desert brown. Right from the start, my question is why? Why Kill Switch?

Our Thoughts

Why indeed? It’s not the best cover shooter, the Gears of War series proves as much (full disclosure – I worked on the spin-off Gears Pop! title, although I never got near the main franchise, and you could apply the same argument even to Mass Effect 2, though perhaps not as strongly). I’ve put the story down as terrorists – the environment certainly seem to cover that – but it’s vague enough that there’s not much there beyond standard story beats. The reason it’s here is not because it’s the best, but because it’s the first -this is what started the modern cover shooters that became such a big thing.

Taken on its own, Kill Switch is a standard military shooter with a cover system that’s rather middle of the road – while a good attempt, the controls don’t feel quite right yet. A large part of it is that the controls are pretty flaky. It’s hard to get the aim sensitivity right, which made the whole thing aggravating, with missed shots for seemingly no reason. Even the move controls suffer though, as crossing some wooden planks took three goes because the controls didn’t let me do it normally.

It’s not worth the aggravation, especially as the story is so paper thin. It’s all standard, I never felt it offered anything special and it mostly bored me. It’s not worth bothering for either.

Final Thoughts

I think this is where the definition of having played a game comes in. I have no desire to finish it and think it’s weaker than what came after it, but being the first, it feels important to know. It feels like a good enough reason to include it, but it’s a game to try, not to finish. Keep it in mind for what it did, not what it is now.

#310 GTI Club Rally Cote d’Azur

Posted: 27th December 2019 by Jeroen in Games
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833rd played so far

Genre: Driving
Platform: Arcade
Year of Release: 1996
Developer: Konami

In my last write up about Fuel, I wrote about games that would have been good when the book was published, but wasn’t as notable now. On the other hand, GTI Club Rally Cote d’Azur feels like it fits in with the likes of Sega Rally Championship, games that are notable because of what they became, but may not be the best now. I guess we’re getting another checkpointed race – I’m happy I’m starting to run out of these arcade racers.

Our Thoughts

This game’s basic game is quite straight forward when you’ve played earlier arcade racer – you go around a track, hitting check points in order to increase your time limit.  However, where other games stick you to a single track, GTI Club takes you to a small village with a street plan that you can explore. You don’t really get much time in the arcade mode, but there is a small alternate route I’ve used to avoid a tunnel at one point.

Beyond that, while the idea is nice, it’s not at the level of the Carmageddon games where there are plenty of opportunities to explore and gain extra time to let you do so, here you have to stick to the track to be able to complete the rounds on time. The preset tracks all follow a fairly similar route, not using most of the village, which feels like a waste of the area. I guess it’s there for the visuals, but it feels like it might have been too much.

Final Thoughts

As is the case with many of these arcade racers, GTI Club has bigger ambitions than its arcade set up allows. There’s a nice growth in where you could go in the game, but the time limits make it difficult to actually do something with it. It was nice to spend some time with it, but not something I am keen to keep playing.

#923 Fuel

Posted: 23rd December 2019 by Jeroen in Games
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832nd played so far

Genre: Racing
Platform: PC/Playstation 3/Xbox 360
Year of Release: 2009
Developer: Asobo Studio
Publisher: Codemaster

One part of the structure of the list is that 2009 games are over represented on the list – over a tenth of the list is that, which makes sense when the book was published in early 2010, when those would have been the best games, but something that feels off now. Fuel is one of those games that’s on the list because it was notable at the time, but doesn’t feel like it has as much of an impact now.

Fuel is an open world racing game that is set in a post apocalypic, Mad Max-like racing obsessed universe. I’m not sure how it’ll compare to others, like Burnout Paradise, the main other one I remember playing.

Our Thoughts

There is something that feels epic about the big wastelands of Fuel. You have these giant levels, with different biomes in and between them – starting off near a lake with a fairly wooded section, the second one feels like it has some more desert in it, and so on. I don’t they connect officially, but the world is set up as if they are, moving from area to area. They don’t really need to be anyway, each section is so big that you can get lost in there – and often do, as I did when I went racing around to explore the world and see what’s out there in this abandoned, messed up world. The Mad Max comparison is hard to avoid, although the variety of the world helps a lot and works a lot better.

The world has some incentives to explore. You have a bunch of collectibles – mostly liveries and pretty pictures, but it gets you moving. There are also challenges and purchasables to find and generally it always feels like you can get somewhere if you can get going a bit longer. The world is big enough that it takes quite a while between places, but the markers are decent enough to work. It’s fun to see the world, even if it doesn’t quite have the storytelling other games put in their open world – it’s mostly just there.

The real progression is available through the menu. There are a bunch of important races that you have to finish in different difficulties – an easy low difficulty, but the third, hard difficulty is challenging at the start and soon starts requiring a lot of practice. Since you need to finish a bunch to move to the next area – so far two of the three stars per race, but I’m sure that’ll change – you have to keep practicing to either finish a few harder races or get decent at all of them.

One nice addition is how the game sends you on your direction. They are dynamic and adapt as you drive, giving you a decent line on where you need to go next without getting confused if you experiment with your route. Unlike many other games, I never felt lost, which really helped my confidence – and gave me a good chance to pull ahead a few times.

Final Thoughts

Is Fuel worthy of being on the 1001? I don’t think it is with hindsight, even if we just look at games up to 2010, but I can see why it would have felt special at the time. There’s something magnificent about the big open worlds, but those same worlds also feel too big – not too empty, but the scale doesn’t work for driving around casually and finding things. The races are good, though, and I enjoyed those a lot as well – although again, I reached a skill ceiling I couldn’t breach yet. It’s maybe not amazing, but the game is fine and worth messing around in.