#904 Forza Motorsport 3

Posted: 21st January 2019 by Jeroen in Games
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755th played so far

Genre: Racing
Platform: Xbox 360
Year of Release: 2009
Developer: Turn 10 Studios
Publisher: Microsoft Game Studios

The Forza series is one that has been growing in prestige, standing out as the Xbox’s racing series and with ongoing prestige – the release of Forza Horizon 4 got a lot of people excited.

For me, after playing Forza Motorsport 2 I have to move on to the third game in the series. The second game seemed decent enough and I hope that will hold up.

Our Thoughts

The basics of the racing game are, as always, good. The controls are decent enough and as boring as it sounds, this really meets those basic requirements. The question always becomes what the differences between them are.

One feature that’s mentioned early is the ability to rewind. Basically, if you make a mistake, you can rewind the game to retry parts of it. As much as that would be helpful, though, it only rewinds a limited amount of time and, in my experience, not far enough to actually make a difference. If you’re on top of it, I guess it might be better, but the system felt a bit too limited for me, when as a starting player I assume I’d be someone this was focused on.

The assists beyond that were a lot more useful. Breaking help especially helped me a lot – I tend to struggle with the low grip in the early cars and they help a lot with not needing that, with getting the right line and overtaking where necessary. Besides, they gave a decent idea of what the AI would do, so if you were going to overtake, you knew where and why.

One of the nicer features is that there’s XP in the game to sort out unlocks. It means that progress through the game is less skill based – you could grind your way through, which means that it feels like you’re always moving forward and not wasting your time. The same with always earning credits – you can always get a bit further to upgrade your car.

Final Thoughts

Forza Motorsport 3 is a good racing game. I can’t judge it for advanced player, but it’s accessible for beginners while there were clearly ways to make it harder and had some space to improve my times. There’s still a lot to unlock, too, so a lot more fun to be had.

#679 Ninja Gaiden Black

Posted: 17th January 2019 by Jeroen in Games
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754th played so far

Genre: Action/Adventure
Platform: Xbox
Year of Release: 2005
Developer: Team Ninja
Publisher: Tecmo

The video games list has a sad group of repeat entries, Metal Gear Solid: The Twin Snakes being the most quoted remake on the list. Ninja Gaiden Black is another – a remake of the original Ninja Gaiden 3D action/adventure that we played a long time ago. More notably, this was released about a year after the original game and it mostly has an easy difficulty combined with a higher difficulty on the other difficultty settings. Right now, that feels a tad much already.

Our Thoughts

It’s been six and a half year since I played the original Ninja Gaiden and it probably shows in how I enjoyed the game. I recognised the route, including the tough first boss fight, but not enough to notice the differences between the two. The game was still as good and I enjoyed fighting my way through. I played on the medium difficulty – it seemed wrong to go with the easy one – and yeah, it was difficult, possibly more than the first, but it felt doable. I got some hints for the first boss, but as it’s known as (one of) the hardest first bosses, I was glad how it was possibly to beat it. Once I knew the tricks, it was straightforward enough to go ahead. The challenge is enjoyable, rather than frustrating, which is a high bar to clear for me.

There are a few places where the camera gets in the way as well. There’s no free look – the camera follows you, sometimes changing between rooms, and it got a bit frustrating. I don’t think it ever got completely in my way, but it could have been a bit clearer.

As far as the remake aspects go, the game looks fairly similar to the first, and there seem to have been few upgrades. The remake really focuses on some gameplay enhancements and such. It’s fine and the game looks nice, playing fluidly, buit mostly suitable for its era.

Final Thoughts

As the game is a decent rebalancing of the first game, this is probably the better game to play. At the same time, having both on the list feels redundant, as this game doesn’t move that far beyond the original – even less, it seems, than with most remakes. It’s an odd change, but if you have a choice, this is the version to go for.

753rd played so far

Genre: First-Person Shooter
Platform: PC/XBox
Year of Release: 2004
Developer: Starbreeze Studios/Tigon Studios
Publisher: Vivendi Universal Games

Although tie in games are usually seen as bad, we have seen some good ones – Goldeneye is the one that everyone loves, while Star Wars arguably has some games that are better than the movies. Still, a spin off of a random action flick that didn’t make much headway critically doesn’t feel like a great base to build on. Still, Vin Diesel helped out making the game and it clearly was good enough to have two entries on the list, so we’ll see how that works out.

Our Thoughts

While most of these adaptations would have focused on the action points of their movie, Escape from Butcher Bay creates its own plot around the titular Butcher Bay – with the help of Vin Diesel, who consulted on the game.

I mean, I haven’t seen the movie, so I’m not sure how much overlap there is, but reading the summary of the movie’s plot doesn’t really trigger any recognition, so while I’m sure there are some references, it’s pretty standalone – probably to the game’s advantage.

The game starts with a lengthy escape sequence that serves as the game’s tutorial. You still end up failing, but the way the game plays it works incredibly well and felt strangely more satisfying than you getting recaptured. It fooled me, for sure, but there’s no need to spoil that.

After that, the game drops you in an action adventure hub. You help people with missions, there’s some fighting, but also exploring and finding items. The game starts alternating between these adventure hubs and action focused segments, but it all breaks up the monotony and adds character to the areas, especially when prisoners start to interact with each other. It gets lost a little after the first area, but shows signs of showing up again – a decent back and forth.

Final Thoughts

This game shines in those adventure segments, when you get a feeling for a real world rather than connected rooms. Those action segmets are fine, but it’s that world that stands out as much as it can, with the situations and options it creates.

#386 Star Wars: Rogue Squadron

Posted: 9th January 2019 by Jeroen in Games
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752nd played so far

Genre: Shoot ‘Em Up
Platform: PC
Year of Release: 1998
Developer: Factor 5/LucasArts
Publisher: LucasArts

I had yet to kick off two Star Wars game series. Star Wars: TIE Fighter was still in the previous fifty and it focused on space combat, becoming incredibly accessible compared to other games in the genre. On the other hand, the Rogue Squadron focuses more on arcade action, more often taking place in on the surface of planets. We’ve seen how Star Wars can already accommodate other genres – say, as RPG or Lego action game – so this feels like it would work. It’s just a coincidence, really, that the last two series were related to flying vehicles.

Our Thoughts

Somehow, despite a five year lead, I struggled more with playing Rogue Squadron than I did playing Tie Fighter. It felt more difficult just to stay upright, but the fact that you’re doing fly-bys on stationary targets, rather than crafts you can lock onto, didn’t help either. Others seemed to move too fast to keep up with, which made it just as hard. The craft also felt rather weightless, with the fighters turning too fast to keep up with.

It made the game frustrating, as it became difficult to execute the attacks. It’s not even the chaos, just the space you need to correct. All I can really do right now is hope the sequel improves the handling.

#705 Art Style: Orbient

Posted: 5th January 2019 by Jeroen in Games
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751st played so far

Genre: Puzzle
Platform: Gameboy Advance/Wii
Year of Release: 2006
Developer: Skip Ltd.
Publisher: Nintendo

At this point, two different tasks I’m doing cross. The game after each landmark is informally reserved for a more indie game, while there are two games in the Art Style series, so it’s time I start that too.

Art Style: Orbient is a weird Wiiware game. They’ve had some good hits already, like Bonsai Barber and the Bit.Trip games, and this seems like something to take a chance on.

Our Thoughts

The gameplay in Art Style: Orbient revolves, first of all, around gravity. And not gravity in the sense of falling down, but in the astronomical sense, of bodies revolving around each other and attracting each other. It’s about orbits and maintaining those.

You start off as a small speck, floating around in space while you’re surrounded by larger stars. You can attract yourself to them or repulse yourself away and can either end up in a stable orbit around them, you might follow others or float freely away in space.

As you do that, you absorb the smaller objects that float around (I guess like a streamlined Katamari Damacy), and you grow as you do, like a controllable black hole that absorbs what it can. When you see a yellow gate, you get a chance to get out.

The game’s visuals are quite streamlined and that stylised look does a lot to give you something to interpret. I think I’m close to the intended meaning, but it matters little. The trick in playing the game is to learn the controls – they are so different from moving in other games that that control keeps its challenge for longer. It works well, with a fun combination of learning that and dealing withe the changing environment.

50 Game Round Up: 701-750 (Jeroen)

Posted: 3rd January 2019 by Jeroen in Round-Up

Here we go: Three quarters of the way through the list, it’s really starting to feel like the grind continues. There are a bunch of good games coming up – yeah, we’ve saved enough of them – and there’s a lot of what’s filler to me, the shoot ’em ups and such that I’ve never really been into. Still, there’s few just bad games, and it makes it all start to blur together a bit.

Then again, I’m struggling, at this point, what was in the past fifty and what I played three years ago, so it’s always nice to see what came in recently and is eligible for these entries so, in a way, these are surprises for me too.

Best Game I Had Not Previously Played

There have been a bunch of large games in this batch of fifty, all of which would appeal to me. Dawn of War had its issues, but I still remember it fondly and I am looking forward to playing its sequel. At the same time, Bioshock 2 for me improved on its predecessor a lot for me, and I still want to go back to the world of Rapture.

Best, though, was Diablo 2. Not just because it was an action RPG, a genre I’m fond of, but more so because it was a game that worked well in multiplayer and we’ve had a lot of fun playing through the game together.

Worst Game

There’s some games I marked as the worst that are partially there because of how old they are – although I’d argue that Jet Set Willy has flaws that contemporary games did better and that Karate Champ just created a confusing system.

At the same time, it’s hard to apply that argument to Elasto Mania. It just didn’t really connect as a full game. There is something good about the user generated work and there’s something interesting about the physics simulation, but other games seem to handle it so much better that it didn’t work here.

Most Surprising Game

I have to say that the other side of the grind is that game really can surprise you, for better or worse. You form these preconceptions and while games sometimes disappoint (see the below heading for more), others do well.

One such preconception was with Eye of the Beholder. While it isn’t flawless, I expected a game that would take a while to get into. Instead, it felt a lot more accessible and easier to play. I got through part of the game and it really showed me how appealing the genre could be.

Muramasa: Demon Blade felt like a bit of an unknown – I wasn’t sure what to expect. The platforming, action and RPG elements work out to create a great area to explore and I was happy to dive in more deeply – more so than the action game I expected.

Biggest Disappointment

So to cover some of the disappointments as quickly as I can – Retro Game Challenge has a great concept to work from, but botched it by forcing you to complete too much of the first game to progress. Operation Flashpoint was such a mediocre implementation of the genre that it feels like it should be a footnote. Need for Speed: Most Wanted sets up a great promise, but seems incredibly reluctant to actually let you play it.

But then there’s the most personal disappointment. The Neverhood looks good and starts off nicely and I was hoping to finish it, but it gets so incredibly tedious that it just isn’t worth it at the end.

Best Blast From The Past

Game replays are often easy wins for me – I know what they’re about, so can play and writen them up a bit faster. It means that I might have been playing them more often and this category becomes more difficult to fill.

Still, this fifty there was SimCity 2000, the well known city builder and the version I started with. It’s dated, sure, and I struggled in comparison with the current Cities Skylines, but it still had a fun core to play with – the genre is just that good and the design still that appealing.

Games We Kept Playing

This category was even more difficult – nothing stuck as much as I normally wanted. Still, there’s one – Dragon Quest got some extra attention afterwards, as I had it on a tablet and it made sense to grind some more while travelling. Maybe not as much as other games, but it worked here.

750th played so far

Genre: Role-Playing
Platform: Playstation
Year of Release: 1997
Developer: Squaresoft
Publisher: Square/Sony Computer Entertainment

Happy new year! And happy 750th game landmark! It’s pure coincidence the two coincided, but I quite like that both happen at the same time.

My search for a big game to play coincided with my quest to start some remaining franchises. I hadn’t played anything in the Final Fantasy Tactics series yet, despite some time with Final Fantasy Tactics Advance showing me it’s been good. It’s more Disgaea than Advance Wars and I assume that will hold up for the original game as well.

Our Thoughts

To start with the basics: Final Fantasy Tactics is a good strategy game. The battles are quite lengthy and start off quite difficult, but they make fo rfun puzzles and offer a decent challenged. Replaying them (because I forgot to save…) makes them easier, but still leave enough of a challenge that it isn’t just repeating the same moves. There’s a big list of possible classes with their own setups that I haven’t gone deep enough in, but so far it’s been quite satisfying. I noticed I needed to more work to get the party balance right – no guidance here – but I’ll get there.

You’re also regularly joined by AI characters who help you out, but they are useful a lot less often. Sometimes, they’re in the right place and really help out, but they seem to mess around too much sometimes and just get in your way.

There are some other odd decisions too. For example, you can’t enter a dead character’s square. I guess this is for some sort of future resurrection ability, but right now it means they can get stuck it weird places that makes the level unintentionally more difficult. It’s part of the parcel that makes the game more difficult than it feels it’s intended to be at the moment and increases the learning curive a bit from before.

A related downside are the cutscenes. They are slow – not just long, but they feel like they’re set up slowly and it gets a bit frustrating sometimes. The storyline didn’t really engage me yet, so I was hoping for more there.

The game looks nice. The 3D environments are boxxy but easy to rotate, with sprite characters on top of that. It works really well to keep the game playable while giving it a nicely elaborate art style as well.

Final Thoughts

Difficulty aside, this game does take what feels like a Final Fantasy story and puts it in this different battle mode and context that helps create a fun experience. I’d love to try and get deeper in it, but perhaps in an entry of the series that has advanced further.

749th played so far

Genre: Shoot ‘Em Up
Platform: PC
Year of Release: 2001
Developer: Bohemia Interactive Studio
Publisher: Codemasters

According to the book, this is the first soldier FPS – focused on the reality of participating in war rather than the shooter fantasies of, say, Quake (to use a not quite contemporary). More realistic loadouts, weapons and so on. It’s a formula since followed by many others, Call of Duty foremost amongst them.

They’ve usually not appealed to me quite as much as the all guns blazing variety, as they can be story light (and with a story I don’t care about) and don’t end up being much fun. I don’t feel the need to experience (and revel in) war that closely. It’s still a popular genre, though, and so there are plenty of entries for them left on the list – so we still have to progress through it.

Our Thoughts

So I suppose that this is a pretty accurate military shooter – it’s very team based, with tactic elements being available even if the first levels have you working under the commands of someone else. Their AI feels awkward, pointing you in the wrong direction with its orders, but the game at least tries to emulate the commands and I assume does a lot to give you that control in later levels as you lead a squad through. The interface for it works as well as it can, but it’s a bit fiddly for me. Luckily, ignoring it didn’t seem to matter much in the grand scheme of things.

The cut scenes don’t do the speed of the game any favours. They are in engine, but they drag and could have been scripted and set up more tightly. It’s all a bit flaky and unnecessary, as the story isn’t that great to be honest. I wasn’t interested from the ongoing paranoia.

Then getting into the first level is difficult as well. There’s a long driving cutscene after which you’re walking in an empty field for a while. There are comments about distant enemies, but they don’t appear and I’m fairly sure they are buggy. Then as you come to the village (either ahead of the rest because they move so slowly or out of position because I was getting that bored) and see some specks in the distance. And then you are dead because you are (quite realistically) killed that quickly and the opponents have great accuracy. To be fair, I got a bit closer once or twice, but half the squad died and I couldn’t do much more, but I have no idea what went wrong and what I could have done better. There’s nothing to go on and it wasn’t much fun. So after about five goes, I had to decide that first level was the final one. It’s a shame.

Final Thoughts

While the first Operation Flashpoint game is quite admirable in how it is the first to create this atmosphere and type of game. It doesn’t quite give enough information to really help beginning players, though, and it has all the edges of a seventeen year old game, that make it harder to get into the game or want to stay in it as well.

Interestingly, this finishes three quite different shoot em ups in a row. This FPS-adjacent game is one style, while we had a run and gun shooting game a few days ago and played a 3D space shooters last week. It’s quite interesting to see how different these games are, even without the obvious Space Invaders clone as well. I’m always happy to see the variety that can be in a genre and seeing these near each other makes it even more interesting. Still, it’s a strategy game next time – certainly something different.

#218 Contra III: The Alien Wars

Posted: 26th December 2018 by Jeroen in Games
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748th played so far

Genre: Shoot ‘Em Up
Platform: SNES
Year of Release: 1992
Developer: Konami
Publisher: Konami

I’m making my way through the franchises I haven’t started yet, I am coming across some that I haven’t started because I haven’t really cared enough. The Contra series is another run and gun series – very mild platformers that focus on you shooting loads of enemies. They were an arcade favourite that would have found success on home consoles as well, but were either taken over by FPSes as a popular game or combined with other genres, between platformers and beat ’em ups. I mean, Bionic Commando Rearmed did it as well, but added to it.

Our Thoughts

So Contra 3 is a pretty standard run and gun game – you run down a level and have enemies attacking from both directions, while you try to advance through the level. I’ve not been helped by direction changes feeling a bit clunky, which made the game a bit annoying to play in places.

There’s a decent variety of weapons, coming from enemies you shoot out of the sky. It’s quite fun to play around with these and you get two options, allowing for some strategizing. It means that, on the whole, taking out enemies is decent enough – though nothing too difficult.

The game, however, also contains its own amount of platforming, more than games of the genre tend to. What helps is that there’s a bunch of destructible terrain, creating a game that feels quite dynamic, and adds in decent terrain obstacles – including podobo-like balls that jump out of the fire. Not realistic, but it works quite well, and they were quite difficult to deal with in the end.

Final Thoughts

While Contra 3 is a pretty standard run and gun, it at least has some nice level based touches that make progression a bit more interesting than having extra enemies appear.

#280 Star Wars: TIE Fighter

Posted: 16th December 2018 by Jeroen in Games
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747th played so far

Genre: Shoot ‘Em Up
Platform: PC
Year of Release: 1994
Developer: Totally Games
Publisher: LucasArts

There is a subset of Star Wars games that focuses on the space dog fights that are a part of the franchise – small crafts flying around as they chase each other around the large structures. They were even part of the Lego Star Wars games, as annoying as they might have been there.

For me, they were not the favourite part of the series and I’m not very hopeful for the games either. There are four games on the list – two in the Tie Fighter line and two in the newer Rogue Squadron line. I still need to start both and you’ll see Rogue Squadron come around in a few weeks. Today, we fight as part of the empire, so let’s see how we go.

Our Thoughts

One of the things that usually gets me in these games is that they can be disorienting. I don’t think it was as much of an issue with Star Fox, although I remember that as being more on rails, but with the likes of Elite it seemed like that black void didn’t let me orient myself at any point. However, I guess Tie Fighter must have set a new high, as I never felt like I was spending a lot of time figuring out where I’m going.

That made it more fun to go through these space battles, flying up to different craft to check them and chasing enemies. There’s a decent targeting system that gives you a fair amount of control and makes it easier to follow your enemies (including speed matching) or your allies if you need to. You still have to get your aim correct, which isn’t always as easy, but the game kept me from constantly spiralling.

The game still stayed challenging for me, as aiming stayed tricky, and the big long fights got quite tricky to keep up with. It stayed fun to play, however, setting a standard for other games to now live up to.