#478 Shenmue II

Posted: 23rd November 2017 by Jeroen in Games
Tags: , , , , , , ,

650th played so far

Genre: Action/Adventure
Platform: Dreamcast/Xbox
Year of Release: 2001
Developer: Sega AM2
Publisher: Sega/Microsoft Game Studios

650 in! It’s a pretty minor milestone, with the two thirds check that’s coming up being more significant, but I’m always excited with a new 50 and the way I get to update my stats and look further ahead.

For my special game of the 50, I decided to pick a sequel to a game I enjoyed a lot – and hence want to see more of. Shenmue has been a game that fascinated me at the time and has been making me more curious down the line. And with a third game on the way, perhaps it’s time I played the sequel now.

Our Thoughts

Somehow refreshing for a sequel, Shenmue II wastes no time to get going. You’re not immediately dropped into everything, but with the way we were playing you had to have a job on your second day as you paid for a place to sleep on the first, and part of that grind started early. I began each day with a morning at the docks, moving pallets, in a minigame that was a bit more difficult than I expected, but that always was profitable to cover teh first day and allow for some extra goodies.

Then you get to actually follow the story. The first day set me off with chases, investigation and plenty of fighting – skills that I didn’t need to use loads early on in the first game – and every afternoon and evening I’d continue my search. This partially required learning the layout of this fictional version of Hong Kong, with many districts, different streets (some looking quite similar) and luckily enough signs to get you in the right direction.

And for the most part it works. I wish I had a fast travel option, even if it cost game time, so I didn’t have to go through a tedious set of areas every time I want to move from my job to the other side of the city to continue the story. It’s an annoyance that feels worse than the grindiness and I hope that any remakes streamline it… it gets really frustrating, especially with some of the loading times.

Final Thoughts

There are some annoyances in the game – quite a bit of grinding and manual travel that takes way too long – the story and mechanics have me really interested and I want to see more. It’s a fun adventure game, with the quick time events common enough that you’re ready, but not difficult enough that they feel like they really get in the way. More important, as before, this feels like a real, living world that you’re walking through, that has more going on than your problems, and that’s what makes the adventure truly fascinating.

#741 Ultimate Ghosts ‘n Goblins

Posted: 19th November 2017 by Jeroen in Games
Tags: , , , , ,

649th played so far

Genre: Platform/Fighting
Platform: PSP
Year of Release: 2006
Developer: Tose
Publisher: Capcom

I’ve not done the best at Ghosts ‘n Goblins or Ghouls ‘n Ghosts, two arcade platformers that, by virtue of being arcade games, are pretty difficult. By 2006, however, arcades are no longer the primary way of playing games and having people pay per game just doesn’t matter. With that, I hope I can do better in this game.

Our Thoughts

The verdict on difficulty? The levels don’t feel that much easier, but the ‘metagame’ – lives and continues – is far improved. You have a lot of lives and unlimited continues, which means just restarting the level instead of the game. Still not the easiest, but it makes it easier to progress and see new things.

It also felt like there was more going on for equipment and options. I’m not sure whether that’s because I got further into the game this time or because they were added in this iteration, but it makes for an interesting experience.

Visually the upgrade isn’t as large, but as a throwback game that’s fine. It’s also excused by being a PSP game, which is, I suppose, where the two overlap. It’s functional and colourful enough though, so it wouldn’t have needed more.

Final Thoughts

The balance with these late sequels is always how faithful you want to be to the original games versus keeping it playable for a modern audience. Ultimate Ghosts & Goblins toes this line well, by being as difficult as ever, but providing a bunch of helpful additions, especially when surrounding lives and continues, that make the game a lot less frustrating to get through.

#68 Boulder Dash

Posted: 15th November 2017 by Jeroen in Games
Tags: , , ,

648th played so far

Genre: Maze
Platform: Various
Year of Release: 1984
Developer: First Star Software
Publisher: First Star Software

It might be that I’ve been focusing on a few other 1001 more lately, but that cover really reminds me of comic magazines. It’s an interesting impression – not quite what I was expecting.

So Boulder Dash is a maze digging game. I’ve played many clones of it – Supaplex was an extended family obsession while I believe Heartlight is the one I personally really got into. It’s one of those classics like, say, Sokoban, that spawned its own genre but isn’t really seen as often these days. And as with Sokoban, it feels like the original is still the one that really matters.

Our Thoughts

Boulder Dash isn’t a complicated game, but it has an interesting arc in how it ups the stakes. The first few levels feel physics based – dig, avoid falling boulders and collect gyms. That sort of stays, but enemies start to take over as you continue, which means avoidance becomes the threats that matter while the physics puzzles become less important, except when they deal with enemies.

There are a bunch of other elements, such as blowing up walls by taking out enemies, but the goal remain that of gathering diamonds and surviving to get to the exit.

It’s not a complicated game, but the levels are fairly large and have some interesting challenges to go through. There are plenty of additional puzzle options, and other games explore this, but at the same time this is where it starts, and Boulder Dash is still the game that does it best.

647th played so far

Genre: Action/Adventure
Platform: Xbox
Year of Release: 2005
Developer: Oddworld Inhabitants
Publisher: Electronic Arts

We played Oddworld games before, as a story based platformer that was about these characters gaining freedom. Here, a few games later in the series, we get a 3D action adventure instead, quite a different challenge. I’m wondering how it will integrate into the world.

Our Thoughts

For the most part, we have a 3D platformer here – like the Banjo Kazooies and Ratchet and Clanks we’ve played before, though with more of a set path through these levels, which are mostly different paths leading from the towns where you get your bounties. I didn’t feel like there was much reason for backtracking, with no real secrets to find, just approaches.

While a 3D action adventure, the game puts a lot of focus on stealth and nonviolent methods of taking out the villains. You are, after all, a bounty hunter, and you bring in those you defeat (with a magical capture gadget, of course) dead or alive – but they are worth more alive than dead. It’s an interesting approach, on some level one I prefer more as it feels more puzzle like, but I did end up just going all out a few times to take them all out.

One of your main tools is your crossbow, and it makes the game more interesting and stealthy. Similar to Thief‘s different arrows, you can collect different types of ammunition for your crossbow based on different critters dotted around the landscape. They give you the ability to distract and influence behaviour, for example,

I’m not sure it is enough to sustain the game for me, but it looks like I’d already gotten a lot further in than I thought – possibly over halfway through. It feels like the right length – the relative lack of exploration (so far) means that the large combat encounters work, but the remainder becomes a bit samey for me. It’s a good setup with some solid systems, but there’s something missing still.

646th played so far

Genre: First-Person Shooter
Platform: PC
Year of Release: 2007
Developer: GSC Game World
Publisher: GSC Game World/THQ

The S.T.A.L.K.E.R. series has been on my list for quite some time, as an open world post apocalyptic shooter is the sort of thing I’ve grown to enjoy – a Fallout 3 without RPG elements.

We actually watched the movie as preparation for the game and it made for some interesting context. While the gameplay is obviously not like the movie, we still get something similar in atmosphere.

Our Thoughts

There is an atmosphere in this game that comes through from the movie. The story of the latter gets weird, but it creates this atmosphere of a mysterious wasteland that’s deserted and slightly weird. Here, it’s not as abandoned as in the movie, but it’s rough, you’re outnumbered and, especially early, surrounded by far more powerful enemies. Your first mission is to raid this farm with a group, but whenever I tried, everyone around me died and I resorted to sneaking around, sniping the enemies out one at a time until I could release the man I was looking for.

I looked up some hints for some extra gear to use and further advice to make it through the early sections, some advice on where to go and who to talk to. A bunch of characters early on have some missions, which give you some good direction on collecting, handling anomalies and so on. It’s all fairly indirect, but it works to show you the game, preparing you before you go into the real zone.

While fairly unforgiving, the game always felt manageable to me. There were certainly some areas where I felt I didn’t figure it out yet, but on the whole it’s been going well enough.

It starts with a simple story – take revenge on someone, based on an entry in your PDA, while you help your “saviour” with a few jobs while you gain some power that way. I get that it will expand later, but the draw is really the large world, not dissimilar to Fallout, with a lot of leftovers from the past and plenty of places to explore. It’s still fairly populated, other stalkers walking around the area while you do. You’re in competition with them on one level of the game, where you try to become the top stalker through doing better than them or eliminating them. Of course their power is appropriately large, so it’s not as easy as it seems. Not just that, but these stalkers have their own plans and will continue their own business. There is a complex AI where they go through their own cycle and do their own things, responding to what you do, but doing more than just sitting there. It creates a living world that challenges you more.

Final Thoughts

Stalker creates a wonderful living world that is a joy to explore with a large number of missions and plenty of challenges. I’ve got to return to the world again for the blog, but I think it’s one I’m happy to return to so I can play around in it.

#438 Excitebike 64

Posted: 3rd November 2017 by Jeroen in Games
Tags: , , , , ,

645th played so far

Genre: Racing
Platform: Nintendo 64
Year of Release: 2000
Developer: Left Field Productions
Publisher: Nintendo

The original Excitebike game isn’t on the list. I’ve been exposed to it many times, most recently thanks to the excellent NES Remix, and it’s part of the classics that you associate with the NES – not quite Super Mario Bros or the original Legend of Zelda, but as iconic and accessible back then. In part, the track editing feature made it stand out – an early tool like it, it felt new and different.

This is arguably not much of a direct sequel – a 3D racer just isn’t the same, and there’s no similar track editing. It’s a re-invention, like we’ve seen with Super Mario 64 before.

Our Thoughts

Excitebike 64 looked pretty decent as a racer – for its time the tracks are pretty varied and they are readable. While looking fairly realistic, these days twenty year old “realistic” looking games tend to become a mess of pixels, but that hasn’t happened here. You know what’s going on quite easily.

And that’s needed, because the game can feel quite punishing if you fall off your bike, which early on you’ll do quite often. Bikes are harder to control and this game goes more for realism than I expected. There was quite a bit I had to keep track of, and not enough where I did. What felt annoying though is that the opponents didn’t keep their side of the deal.

First of all, what’s up with the rubberbanding? I mean, I appreciate the chance, but it feels like you always have at least one driver behind, no matter how badly you do. At the same time, they were rubberbanding to make sure I didn’t fall too far behind – in the other direction as well, but it wasn’t quite as obvious there.

The other side of that is knocking off and getting knocked off. Any time you’re not careful and get too close, the other opponent will knock you off. Now, it wouldn’t be worth trying, but you figure that would work both ways – if they get to you, they run the risk of getting knocked off themselves. However, it doesn’t work that way. While you are often knocked off, the opponents are immune to it and can take more risks than you can.

Final Thoughts

The game looks decent – especially for a Nintendo 64 game – and has a lot of the mechanics implemented – not much different from what modern games would offer. It’s a shame that some other gameplay elements make it more difficult and that I struggled, in particular, with the opponent’s mechanics. Something sadly felt off about them.

644th played so far

Genre: Strategy/Shoot ‘Em Up
Platform: Various
Year of Release: 2007
Developer: Ubisoft Paris/Red Storm Entertainment
Publisher: Ubisoft

The meaning of ‘strategy’ is, as so many genres, quite broad. While we’d normally think of an RTS like Command & Conquer or the Civilization series, for Ghost Recon Advanced Warfighter 2 it refers to tactical shooting. Not only do you attack yourself, you direct a squad to aid your attacks.

It’s not quite what I’m looking for personally, but it does add some variety to the genre and should make things interesting.

Our Thoughts

I played through the tutorial first – always good to get used to less orthodox element of a game like this, and aside from the many fighting options, it really emphasized during its tactical tutorial how to let your squad mates attack, and rely on them. As a mediocre FPS player, this was really useful – I can hang back and try to keep some control while letting them battle it out!

And then it started getting uncomfortable. I already knew the Tom Clancy series leaned towards the conservative end of the spectrum (with some other Ubisoft productions seemingly wanting to balance that), but I didn’t realise quite how deep it went. We’ve talked about Call of Duty: Modern Warfare 2‘s terrorist scene before, which was uncomfortable, but ultimately skippable. Here, the xenophobic tendencies are on display. It’s set in Mexico, called out as such, which in the game is an unstable country with a fight over control of the country. Not quite representing real life, and using a fictional setting would have worked just as well. It’s a joke, at one point, that Mexico would demand the US doesn’t invade them, because of course the USA would do so anyway, and it has a right to do so. There’s a whole spiel about undocumented immigrants, not considering how the US shaking up the political situation may lead to some guilt there…

It’s gross, it’s unnecessary, and while I’m sure my personal politics play a part here, it is reactionary in a way that seem intentional. The writers seem to want you to be afraid of Mexicans invading the country after some political upheaval – but don’t worry, the marines can sort it out.

Final Thoughts

The game was decent to play, but the politics on display here feel unnecessary aggressive and make me distinctly uncomfortable.  I am really not looking to more of this.

#993 Max and the Magic Marker

Posted: 26th October 2017 by Jeroen in Games
Tags: , , , , ,

643rd played so far

Genre: Puzzle
Platform: PC/Wii
Year of Release: 2010
Developer: Press Play
Publisher: Press Play/The Games Company

I’m not sure quite where Max & the Magic Marker comes from. It’s a game concept that feels obvious for the Wii and DS – a platform game where you can draw your own platforms. I feel like we’ve seen shades of this in the past… but I wouldn’t know where, especially not as the focus of a game.

Our Thoughts

Max & the Magic Marker lays out its mechanics early on. You collect ink to fill your pen and draw platforms to let you proceed – as a slope or something to jump on to let you get higher, as a boat or platform on a conveyor belt, or as a heavy thing to move others around.

It’s not the most complex, but it’s a decent concept. Part of the annoyance is that there are barriers that drain your ink, meaning that you have to keep collecting through the level. I can see why you’d do that, but it can be a bit annoying and feel pointless.

The variation also felt a bit sparse, with most of the options surrounding creating platforms that need to be at the right angle so you can walk up them, but they still fit in the space available. I’m glad I played this on the DS – I can only imagine how annoyed I would have gotten with the Wiimote not cooperating.

These platform twists are quite interesting, but I do feel the likes of Scribblenauts do these twists better. Here they still have the advantage of being more focused, but despite the listed genre, it felt more like a platform game with puzzle elements rather than a real puzzle, while the variety isn’t in there as much either. Some more variety and earlier, it would have been nicer.

Final Thoughts

Max & the Magic Marker has a pretty solid idea, but it felt like it didn’t sustain gameplay quite as much as it should have. Maybe frustration with the game and lack of variety meant that I didn’t see enough, but it felt like a lot of the potential was realised early on anyway.

Still, it looks decent and makes for a decent enough game, if not always as inspiring as it feels it could be.

#544 Flipnic

Posted: 22nd October 2017 by Jeroen in Games
Tags: , , , ,

642nd played so far

Genre: Pinball
Platform: Playstation 2
Year of Release: 2003
Developer: Sony Computer Entertainment
Publisher: Ubisoft

There are three pinball games on the list. We played the first chronologically – Pinball Dreams – five years ago and as we approach two thirds of the entire list, we are playing the second nearly half a list later. The last – also chronologically – is one we’re keeping until near the end. Less than four years until that point!

So today the middle entry, with the Playstation 2 game Flipnic. Beyond this being a pinball game with (presumably) multiple boards, I’m not quite sure how they would have updated the formula for the modern day.

Our Thoughts

Flipnic is indeed a lot more complex than previous pinball games I’ve played. There’s some clearly impossible actions in there – balls jumping or defying gravity, all looking smooth but going too long from what should be possible. It looks amazing, though, and achieves natural progression between the different parts of a board.

Because there are multiple fields per level – usually a core one that branches off to various other places. It is of course still thematically consistent, but there are a lot of fun parts to it and the challenge at times really is to get to the right board to unlock your next quests.

You see, quests are a big thing in this pinball game. You need to get your ball to various boards and use the right tactics (most often involving hitting and breaking things down, or hitting your balls up a long slope, platforming using flippers). They’re fun in giving you a goal to work towards and finding specifics to do on each board.

Unfortunately, they are also tied into the game’s unlock structure, which means you’re stuck with the first board and short outings on about three more. And while there are plenty of optional objectives as well, the main ones are actually quite difficult – I struggled to get to the first set, never really played too much with later boards.

And that’s a shame, because having played about ten minutes each of the later levels, they were as amazing and fun to play – and quite different. It’s a game that, despite the limited control you have, rewards exploration and trying things, and the quests make that harder than seems necessary. For a pinball game, they’ve done a lot to make it bigger and more special in a way that you can only do in a video game version. I need to explore it further some day.

#308 International Track & Field

Posted: 18th October 2017 by Jeroen in Games
Tags: , , ,

641st played so far

Genre: Sports
Platform: Playstation
Year of Release: 1996
Developer: Konami
Publisher: Konami

I’ve played Track & Field some time ago – a minigame collection based on various athletics challenges, set up for arcade play and the inspiration for Olympics games, Mario and Sonic or otherwise, for a long time to come.

Returning to the formula, this game takes the minigames from Track & Field and its sequel Hyper Sports, which we have yet to cover, but with the upgrades that more than a decade would cover.

Our Thoughts

I had fun with a lot of the mini games in this game. A lot of it was near-controler breaking button smashing trying to run as fast as you can, as well as trying to get your button presses timed right. There were still plenty that was hard – I couldn’t get the hurdles right – but with unlimited continues and retires, it was quite easy to keep trying to win the events.

And then I got to the high jump. Tried and kept trying. And I just couldn’t get it right – I didn’t see where I was going wrong.  Looking it up online, I wasn’t the only one – the game was really unclear what you were meant to do. To be honest, the instructions weren’t great on what to do – it was just easy enough to figure it out most of the time. Here, though, I couldn’t, and it was suddenly frustrating.

This is a minigame collection and a lot of it reflects that – the graphics are fine but not amazing, the gameplay is simple but with plenty of variation between them, and of course the difficulty gets mixed up a bit, although I’m sure different people would have found different activities difficult. On the whole, it still works and I suspect it would have worked ever better as a party game.