#876 Super Smash Bros. Brawl

Posted: 11th May 2021 by Jeroen in Games
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956th played so far

Genre: Action/Fighting
Platform: Wii
Year of Release: 2008
Developer: Sora Ltd.
Publisher: Nintendo

I believe Super Smash Bros Ultimate, the currently latest in the series, hadn’t been released the last time I played a Super Smash Bros. game. I sunk a fair amount of time into that – not as much as Peter, but the single player campaign really appealed to me and starting as Kirby helped cement that even if I mained Link through a lot of it.

While I know there are differences – to the point that the professional scene only wants to play Super Smash Bros. Melee because of their preferences – but it’s not something I notice quite as much. I’m more looking forward to seeing how well the single player experience holds up compared, something that I’ve found differs between versions.

Our Thoughts

It feels like the specific cartoony fighter style of the Smash Bros. series always felt a bit different from other fighting games in its tone and use of weapons. They’ve done a lot of work to keep very different fighters balanced (with far more variety than just about any other fighter), which is pushed further with ultimate smash moves and the various items and stages that pop up. It’s amazing that it works so well and you mostly can have a favourite without it being that much of a problem. While, obviously, the variety isn’t as big as Ultimate, the roster in Super Smash Bros. Brawl is pretty big and it’ll take you a while to unlock all of them and get used to them.

The fighting itself seems a bit floatier than I’m used to, which was a bit of an adjustment to deal with the controls and play. It makes the game a bit harder compared to the tighter play that I remember from Ultimate, but it didn’t take me too long to adjust.

The game also contains a decent solo campaign. It’s quite linear and is mostly fighting through longer stages rather than the individual battles in Ultimate, but it’s quite fun to see the cutscenes and how the characters combine. It’s still pretty lengthy and the other challenges help lengthen that as well. It’s helped by the large number of collectables to get from all the different modes, of which I even managed to unlock a few more while playing for this write up, over a decade after the last time we played.

Final Thoughts

Super Smash Bros. Brawl obviously lives up to the reputation of the series, a good looking, solid fighter that has its own identity and combines different franchises in a way none of its copycats pulled off quite as well. The amount of options is staggering and it remains worth playing – even more when the size of Ultimate feels overwhelming.

955th played so far

Genre: Action/First-Person Shooter
Platform: PC/Xbox/Gamecube
Year of Release: 2002
Developer: Raven Software
Publisher: LucasArts

So I still had two Star Wars games left to play, and it felt like it has been a while since I played with force powers, rather than flying ships around. We’ve played Star Wars Jedi Knight: Dark Forces II before, an earlier game in the series,which was quite fun even if I never got to the force powers in that game. As I’ve got a bit more time these days, I hope that I can get to it earlier this time. It feels like the game should let you do so anyway.

Our Thoughts

As I sort of said, it takes a while for you to get to use those Jedi powers. Initially, you land on a planet to penetrate a base, free prisoners and do other heroic things. It’s a lot of shooting that builds up its enemies slowly and has some quite frustrating jumping puzzles that I barely cleared and where I used noclip to avoid repeats. It then went into a mine level that had some more interesting exploration puzzles to go as I grew my set of weapons. It still felt like an FPS from its age, with winding levels that only have a single real path at a time but has you doubling back because you missed that one extra door that opened up, with the second level having quite a clever twist that forces you down a different route. It’s a decent implementation of the concept, among the better of the era that I’ve seen, but it takes a while to reach that point.

Then you decide you need to get your Jedi powers back and have to go through the trials to do so. There is a lot more interaction here in the physics to make use of your force powers. It’s a pretty neat system with the final puzzles having some neat twists, but it’s all a bit tricky which at times makes it a bit too easy to get stuck.

Final Thoughts

Star Wars Jedi Knight II: Jedi Outcast is good at doing what it does, and it brings in enough twists to keep it fun. As I said, the force powers makes a big difference, but dragging an empire officer around part of a level and threatening him so he’d open doors was just as much fun. There’s a lot more here than I expected, and there’s more for me to get into still.

954th played so far

Genre: Strategy
Platform: PC
Year of Release: 2001
Developer: Pyro Studios
Publisher: Eidos Interactive

As I’ve mentioned a few times before, I’ve covered all the games for this blog that I’ve played in the past. That does, however, leave a game like today’s Commandos 2, where I played the original game but not the sequel. I have some idea of what to expect. I’m not sure how much translates as I mostly remember the overall feel rather than gameplay and I think it was mostly from playing the demo, which obviously was just the start. It means that I feel I will finally get to see where the series goes beyond that initial work.

Our Thoughts

When working as a small group of commandos rather than a large army you can occasionally replenish, your decisions become more specific. Add to that that the numbers aren’t in your favours to treat it as a tactical game like Final Fantasy Tactics or Jeanne d’Arc. Instead, your goal is to take your enemies out by stealth if you can, doing small things one character at a time, and you take a lot of time to figure out each step and finding out the consequences of that step.

What you get instead is something closer to a stealth game, where you try to figure out these small puzzles to break down a larger area and take it on step by step. You’re quite limited in what you can do, although it seems like later levels both slowly grow your force and the options you have.

The main downfall becomes the lack of information, as it can be a bit unclear what things are and what you can do – climbing down poles occasionally felt off on UI, but there are some other issues as well.

Final Thoughts

Commandos 2: Men of Courage struggles a bit to escape its time in how it controls and informs you, but the levels present some interesting puzzles. They’re not necessarily what I look for in my strategy games, but as a stealth approach to the genre there’s a lot to like here.

953th played so far

Genre: Sports
Platform: Gamecube/Playstation 2/PC
Year of Release: 2004
Developer: Awesome Developments
Publisher: Ignition Entertainment

I don’t really know much about pool. I’ve seen some snooker years ago in late night watches and possibly a sports program of sorts at the gym and it looked interesting, but I never really got around to learning it. I guess I was never enough of a bargoer to end up in a snooker bar (or related game) and so I’ve never seen any of the variants at play.

I think I played a bit of an earlier game based on a set of rules that I figured out, but that’s in the early nineties and I’ve forgotten any rules that applied to it. All I can do is hope that it’ll teach me.

Our Thoughts

Sometimes I start writing up an entry early. It might be because the game is doing something so bad that I feel I need to get it documented straight away. It might be because I’m making a lot of connections that I want to get down. And yes, sometimes the loading times are long enough that I start writing bits and need a few minutes before I start the level. This game – and I can guarantee you while I’m still composing it – was written up while waiting for my opponent to take their turn in a random match. While the game feels nice when you can play, and a decent simulation of the rules, the AI needing ten seconds to think, then spending another five seconds to walk to their place and give an animated view of taking a shot. All in all, it can take easily a minute or two before you get to move again, with no option in the game to speed it up. That, I’m sorry to exclaim, is a bad job done on either the Playstation 2 port that I was playing or the game in general.

And it’s a shame because there is a lot here. The game isn’t quite as great about explaining how to play – the manual lacks the cue you need to take a shot (the analog cue mode isn’t just positioning, it’s actually doing the shot) and the rules are only vaguely mentioned in the manual, not in a way that I picked up on.

After that there’s a lot to see here. There are a lot of different rulesets implemented that it’d take quite some time to explore them all, and you can use money to buy both visual customizations – ball and table – as well as differently shaped tables and a bunch of minigames. The latter ties into the game’s setting on a tropical paradise, complete with still living dodos wandering the island. You get a loan shark who’ll fund you for up to three times, as you need to put money up during the competition so you can grow your wealth. This means you can go bankrupt after the third time you need the help, but with the slow speed of the game I never got to a point where I got to worry about it.

Final Thoughts

I know I kept going on about it, but the game’s speed is a real turn off. Wanting to get the best value out of my time for these games is a bit of a side effect for doing the blog, but this feels bad. It’s not even that it’s got a reason for taking this much time, other than being a bit too enamoured with their own animations, but so much seems to be standing around waiting for the game to decide what to do next. Such a waste.

952nd played so far

Genre: Adventure
Platform: PC/Amiga
Year of Release: 1994
Developer: Revolution Software
Publisher: Virgin Interactive Entertainment

I know Revolution Software’s games mostly from the Broken Sword series, of which I’ve played the first four and backed the fifth – I still need to play it at some point, when we’ve got more time for an adventure, and when I’ve been able to play through the third and fourth entry together.

Beneath a Steel Sky, their second game, was released for free in 2003 and is fully supported by ScummVM, which makes for a good introduction to the system. For that reason alone you have no excuse not to play this, and so that’s what I ended up doing – just after, it turns out, the release of the sequel Beyond a Steel Sky.

Our Thoughts

Of course Beneath a Steel Sky doesn’t hold up to the grpahical standards of Broken Sword, although the jump they make in two years is quite big – these fit in with the earlier LucasArts games around the Monkey Island time.

In the dystopian world of the game, you have grown up dwelling in the wilds but get captured at the start of the game to be brought to the Union City city state. You escape as the helicopter crashes and make your way through the city as you try to escape, but also find out more about the city this is set in.

The game is pretty much divided into four acts as you travel down the city – the utilities layer first, with the workers locked from going further, and going to the more affluent as you trick your way into going down. It’s a good way to split up gameplay, slowly opening more options, while you get used to the area. It works quite well as a gating mechanism while keeping your options open. The areas are all small enough as well so the game doesn’t take too long – it took me a long afternoon to finish it, which felt enough.

The interesting but sometimes frustrating feature is that the character wander when it’s worth it – they go in loops around their area, so you sometimes need to catch them at the right moment. There are only a few moments where that really matters, so it mostly works to add a bit of life to the place, but it makes for some minor puzzle variation in it.

Final Thoughts

I don’t want to say much more about the story, but it felt worthwhile and building up quite well, while the final puzzles were tricky enough to warrant that build up. It’s another good adventure game on the list, even with some body horror and weirdness that not everyone may appreciate. I think the later games by Revolution are better, but this is a great step already.

951th played so far

Genre: Shoot ‘Em Up
Platform: Gamecube/Playstation 2/Xbox
Year of Release: 2003
Developer: Swingin’ Ape Studio
Publisher: Vivendi Universal Games

I don’t quite know where this game will go. In my head, I’m expecting another action platformer, something Jak and Daxter in gameplay, with more of an aesthetic of Rocket: Robot on Wheels, and clearly a lot more shooting. It looks a bit dirty and gritty, but I’m not sure how that’ll hold up.

Our Thoughts

Sometimes you get some odd associations with games, and I’m sure that for this one the association will be that of listening to Ed Gamble talk to Paul Chowdry about Taskmaster as I played through a few of the later levels I played. I’m not sure whether it really had an influence, but it felt like it kept me going a bit. The game plays like a 3D semi-platformer with a lot of shooting for decent parts of it, but then there are the fights – each room has a big bunch of enemies that you need to kill, often several groups at a time with some of them respawning for some time. It’s why it was good to have a distraction there as the shooting got boring enough after a while.

The levels are fairly linear, but there’s a decent amount of secrets hidden – upgrades and extra weapons and so on, with collect-a-thons to really get those. The large firefights or recurring enemies popping up are what ruins it – even if the rewards are limited, the exploration was more interesting than these ongoing firefights that went on too long.

The aesthetics of the game sound boring – a mine that is filled with robot workers and now robot enemies. It makes for some interesting exaggerated areas and so far it was a decent enough aesthetic to make the game work. It’s a fairly standard conceit that the game doesn’t do anything special with, but it gives room for robot-based shenanigans like controlling other robots for a little while as they perform tasks while you stay safely out of the way. It’s a neat system to works well.

Final Thoughts

While I feel Metal Arms has a world I want to explore, I did struggle with the amount of firefights that stopped adding to the game at  a certain point – cut the number in half and you’d still have a fun game, just while being able to breeze through. There’s enough there in the game to keep going, though, and I do want to see what more the game will offer.

50 Game Round Up: 901-950 (Jeroen)

Posted: 24th April 2021 by Jeroen in Round-Up

Here we are again – my nineteenth round up of the bunch. I’m at a weird place with the list now – this is the last one that’ll be covering fifty games. I’ve got some ideas for the end, but no matter what it won’t be a set of fifty again. I’ll discuss my plans for the end when we’re close to it (around the 998th game or so), but until then it’s the run to the end. It’s a weird thought already that I’m close to finishing and as I’m writing this I’ve updated my spreadsheets so I get some idea of when I’ll finish and how fast I need to keep playing to finish on time.

So there is one thing I can announce: Unless I messed up my calculation I’ll finish the list on the blog’s 11th birthday, November 22nd this year. It gives me about seven more months left to play, and I’ve already sped up to posting every three days rather than four.

For once, it is the beginning of the end.

Best Game I Had Not Previously Played

I’ve had a bunch of good games in this batch too. Looking through it, Final Fantasy Tactics A2 really improved on the formula and put it in a system that really worked for me, even if there were some time mechanism that felt useful. Even so, it’s still behind on other games in the series. Shadowrun was a really enjoyable game too, even if its age did work against it.

Even so, the trains found the way to my heart – The Legend of Zelda: Spirit Tracks may not be universally loved, but I found it charming,  interesting, and an addition to the Zelda universe that really worked for me.

Worst Game

One of the upsides of the final rush is that the bad games make less of an impact, they’re just another speedbump as I make it to the end. Don’t like it? Move on, I’ll just get back to the good ones later. Take, say, Out Zone. It has some interesting mechanics, but is mostly just a shooter, but I can just remember the good bits while forgetting what didn’t work well.

And then there’s Samurai Shodown II, which didn’t just fail to make an impact, but it doesn’t do anything that I found interesting about it. It wasn’t an interesting fighter, it was done better before, and after, and it just didn’t have anything.

Most Surprising Game

What moves on from there is that some games really leave an impact beyond what I’ve been expecting, still standing out. With Everybody’s Golf 5: World Tour, we got a golf game that felt better than any other. Hotline Miami‘s brutality and weirdness of story also made an impact that I still feel.

But with Crazy Taxi 3, I got so enthusiastic about it that I wrote out the entry mostly in its loading times because there was so much in there that I wanted to write about. I was expecting a fine driving game, but the style and feel worked so much better than I would have thought.

Biggest Disappointment

I also look forward to games now – in fact, I’ve left some big games I’m really looking forward to to be played at the end to keep it fun. For these fifty, I may have done this more than I should, but some of them also didn’t pay off. Mafia: City of Lost Heaven felt like such a disappointment once I got used to Grand Theft Auto IV and it never really got together.

More so, though, I was looking for a fun adventure game in Henry Hatsworth in the Puzzling Adventure and, to be honest, it wasn’t in there. There’s a decent game there, but I felt deceived by everything pointing to a game not being that. It’s partially an external thing here, but the game still didn’t entirely get there.

Best Blast From The Past

I’ve been playing all the games I’d played before over a year ago, but while I skipped it last time I have something to add here today. After all, I didn’t finish my blog playthrough of Patapon and came back to it a few years later, which sort of feels like a compromise like that.

But then there’s Descent, a game that I never played myself, but have seen friends play often enough that I am that familiar with it. And as clunky and old fashioned as it might be, there is a gem in here that I worry might have disappeared with further polish. It’s from its time, but that’s what seems to work for it.

Games We Kept Playing

I know we had this category, but at this point I’m so focused on finishing the list and surviving the mess that is 2020 that I’ve stuck to games that make me feel comfortable. At the same time, with this list growing older I’m looking at newer games.

Well, that and I want to finish Baldur’s Gate II one last time before Baldur’s Gate III is released (assuming that last one is one I care about)

#962 Resident Evil 5

Posted: 23rd April 2021 by Jeroen in Games
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950th played so far

Genre: Survival Horror/Shoot ‘Em Up
Platform: Xbox 360/Playstation 3/PC
Year of Release: 2009
Developer: Capcom
Publisher: Capcom

As I’m preparing to play this  – probably the last ‘normal’ landmark game before they’re all significant milestones – it’s the last game on the list of the influential Resident Evil survival horror franchise. Not just that, it’s November 1st, the day after Halloween, and it’s a grim and rainy day. Everything is aligning to finish the series and finish this set of fifty games with a big title.

Our Thoughts

Resident Evil 5 starts with the original Resident Evil‘s protagonist Chris Redfield who is, by now, an elite agent dealing with all sorts of conflicts around the world. It feels like he’s there as a somewhat omnipotent protagonist, flown into the worst situations to deal with what comes up. It feels far away from the rookie police officer of the first games and it means the situations he comes in feel less believable. What doesn’t help is that the tone of the game has shifted since those early iterations, with this game being set in a more modern world with a grittiness that I don’t feel was quite there in earlier games, and it feels a bit too realistic for the series as it was before.

Then again, while playing I didn’t quite get that the attitude applied or was valid – probably down to my own skill. The game still feels fairly hard  at times and the push on limited ammo is something you really feel – especially early in the game. It’s justified for the setting, but even with how this was I failed several times. It feels like a bit too often it comes down to big shoot outs where you have to find your right place, rather than focusing on individual enemies and dealing with those. It’s an odd departure from how a lot of games approach it, but I guess it makes sense in context – it’s just not really what I’m looking for form the series.

There’s a lot of other stuff this game tries to do. You are joined by a second character through the game. They could be your coop partner, but even when you’re playing on your own they’re pretty effective in getting you through the game. They are pretty independent and you mostly deal with them by swapping items and helping each other out, but you can point them at things to have them do it for you. The levels are also set up to be replayed. Your inventory carries over between them as well as between other levels, but it also seems like you could grind out levels to get everything you need. I don’t know if it’s required, but I didn’t see obvious places for some other collectibles to be hidden, so there might be a reason to come back for it.

Final Thoughts

I’ll be honest – the biggest hint I felt I got that this was a Resident Evil games was when you investigated things – the way it popped up felt specific to the series. Beyond that, while there is a lot of overlap, it does feel like this became more focused on action rather than having the adventure elements. Then again, at least the tank controls were dropped, so there’s something that improves the series, rather than mostly deviating from it.

#966 Skate 2

Posted: 20th April 2021 by Jeroen in Games
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949th played so far

Genre: Sports
Platform: Playstation 3/Xbox 360
Year of Release: 2009
Developer: EA Black Box
Publisher: Electronic Arts

In my understanding, the Tony Hawk’s Pro Skater series and its spin offs dominate the skating genre, although it makes sense that EA would try to get into it considering the number of sports games they publish. It’s not a series that reached the yearly release timeline (probably because the environments need more than copy and pasting in a new list of players), but I wonder how a more modern skating game holds up.

Our Thoughts

As I was setting up my posts, I let the introduction to the game play, with your skater released from prison in a live action segment and giving credit to a lot of actors – both prisoners and guards – which immediately makes me wonder what I got into. It’s fairly low budget live action too, but the story mode just feels like it’s going for a cringy, edgy feel – an underdeveloped GTA to frame a story that feels more serious than I feel I’d get from a Tony Hawk series game.

All of that leads to you skating to a fairly standard skate park in a basic movement tutorial, while the skate park itself is set up to teach you a number of tricks through challenges. It uses the standard set up of a bunch of challenges with some thin story justification (taking shots for a magazine being the obvious one) and requires you to get all of them quite well without, I think, giving you quite as much feedback on what you’re doing wrong – there was one where I couldn’t get the height, while another felt like it didn’t really have the margins you need. I found the controls fairly floaty, and since there were no camera controls in the game, it’s actually quite difficult to go in a straight line – something you need to be able to pull these things off. I’m sure there’s a trick to it, but as the game focuses on teaching you the button combinations instead, you don’t really get to doing the actual work.

I get that these linear “do the trick” challenges helps you teach the game, but between the boring environment and fairly linear set of challenges, there’s not that much exciting here. When I compare it to Tony Hawk’s cul-de-sac start that had loads going on and more to discover, this felt incredibly boring in comparison. I tried the freeskate option, which gives you access to the later levels, and they’re big, interesting areas to run around in, but without any guidance it got quite boring too. You need some sort of story goals, but the game really seems to fight against letting you do something interesting.

Final Thoughts

I can see Skate 2‘s value in a different take on the skating genre and going for a more serious feel, but it doesn’t work. The controls don’t feel intuitive and the reliance on mandatory tutorials to teach you tricks hinders the game without making it feel any more accessible. It honestly feels like if you want this, there’s a series that clearly does it better, and this game trying to contrast itself with it comes off as hokey rather than interesting.

#256 Shadowrun

Posted: 17th April 2021 by Jeroen in Games
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948th played so far

Genre: Action/Role-Playing
Platform: SNES
Year of Release: 1993
Developer: Beam Software
Publisher: Data East

I’ve always been curious about the Shadowrun universe. Not enough to play a paper and pencil RPG with it, but there’s something about the cyberpunk universe that’s interesting, with a dystopia that seemed prescient. Yeah, I backed the recent RPG entries that were funded through Kickstarter – they’re on the list of games to play once I finish this list.

In 1993 and 1994, two earlier, console based RPGs were released based on Shadowrun. The 1994 version for the Sega Genesis (which I tried as well) is possibly technically more proficient and interesting, but felt fairly grindy early on to stay interesting. The SNES version is the one that’s actually on the list, and while there are some arguments on which one is best, I’m curious to see where it ends up going.

Our Thoughts

I ended up being quite amazed by this game. There’s a lot to do in the world, as divided as it is in the area, with a lot of NPCs walking around while following the proper RPG tradition of hiding secrets for later character growth everywhere. I followed a guide, since the game has enough obscure options that it’s really useful to have some idea of what to do (I doubt I would have found my first gun without it). Part of the reason for it is that with the game being dated, finding items can be a pixel hunt looking for small drawers and other bits when you still need them to progress. The game looks good beyond that, but it means that those details tend to get lost.

As part of the guide, to be able to progress further the start of the game can be a bit grindy. You get free healing in your apartment while there is a room next door that you can repeatedly enter to respawning enemies. Taking them out slowly levels your stats which lets you improve your skills – gunplay focused at the start as you don’t have your magic yet and it takes quite a while before you’ll get a deck to hack the different computer systems. It’s an unfortunate thing, but in the end it didn’t take too long, it gave me a chance to get used to the combat system and the rest of the game flowed quite smoothly as I explored the first neighbourhood.

Again, there’s a lot to do here, between finding out what’s going on and finding the people you need. The conversations use keywords, which leads to that unfortunate tendency to have to try every word in case someone has something to say. A guide helps here too, but when you hit it there’s so much detail to the world that it gets really interesting.

Final Thoughts

It’s in a way interesting to see an action RPG in the western style on a console known for its JRPGs. This marries the two, reducing the complexity of western games like the Ultima series while having a more open ended play than the Final Fantasy series on the SNES. I still recommend using a guide, but with it you play something that’s still a lot of fun – and yeah, I think it’s better than the Genesis installment.