889th played so far

Genre: Action
Platform: Playstation
Year of Release: 1997
Developer: Treasure
Publisher: Entertainment Software Publishing/Working Designs

I feel like we’ve been covering a bunch of games by Treasure recently, with action shooters being one of their clear fortes that we’ve covered with Alien Soldier and the Gunstar Heroes series. Silhouette Mirage draws from the same base, a semi-platformer that has you race around killing various enemies, this again with its own twist.

Our Thoughts

The gimmick of Silhouette Mirage is interesting enough. Your jester-like appearance comes from your body being split in half. The one that faces the screen is the active one, and you change by facing the other way – or doing a slower switch of sides, which is a bit more situational. Each side is more effective against certain enemies and a lot of the time you end up fighting in one side as you try not to be attacked in the back. It’s challenging although aside from the threat of falling, it tends to make battles more similar. There are a bunch of special moves, including some grabs and throws as well as reflecting moves, so it becomes more of a challenging beat ’em up.

What helps is that the game looks good. The graphics are pretty cartoony, looking fun but going smoothly, and the enemies have a slapstick feel to  them sometimes. There’s this looser, more animated feel to it – it hides the difficulty, but it’s still a treat for the eyes.

Final Thoughts

Silhouette Mirage‘s twist works for it most of the time, although at times the one direction you face for most of an encounter can feel difficult to stay on top of. Still, it’s a treat for the eyes and feels replayable.

888th played so far

Genre: Adventure/Fighting
Platform: Playstation 3
Year of Release: 2007
Developer: Ninja Theory
Publisher: Sony Computer Entertainment

Time to be reductive: Heavenly Sword looks like a hack and slasher not unlike God of War or Ninja Gaiden, fighting your way through enemies with maybe some exploration. It’s no wonder that this studio was later tapped to develop DmC, the disliked Devil May Cry sequel, and specialized in this type of game beyond then. This is their first – somehow, as I could have sworn we played a game of theirs before – and I guess it’s the one I judge them by.

Our Thoughts

There’s something that feels pretty good about the fighting in this game. It flows well and once you get to actually use the titular Heavenly Sword. You have three different modes of your sword – basically mapping to short distance, long distance/ranged and crowd control. It’s quite intuitive and the many moves feel fun to fight with. If it was all of the gameplay, it would have been fun, a nice bit of exploration, with combat corridors that might have dragged a bit… but I guess that’s the game, and it fits what others in the genre do.

Then there’s the other side, though, where the game tries to break up the fighting with a different activity. You need to shoot in several sessions – both the main character’s sister using her bow, and a bit later using a clumsy catapult. It sounds like a nice way to break up what you’re doing, but the controls don’t work for me.  It’s difficult to aim and the enemies are small, so it takes lots of tries to hit them. The first time, this just meant more enemies in a fighting section, nothing wrong with that. Later, though, you are forced to destroy three catapults in a limited time, hitting four targets on each (three at first, then a second one later). The hitboxes are small and difficult to predict. You get some control over the cannon ball as you go through, but it still feels difficult and inaccurate. I don’t think the game is explicitly Move compatible, but it seems like they wanted to use a Wiimote but couldn’t do it. There are some joystick controls that work a bit better to aim, but it’s not great and nearly blocked me from getting through – long before you get anything you really want.

Final Thoughts

Heavenly Sword is a beautiful games and while the fights get a bit repetitive, mostly they feel good to play through in the right doses, a chapter at a time. On the other hand, the shooting sections are both required and usually too difficult to handle, and it feels like they don’t belong here. Still worth a try for everything else though.

#550 Jak II

Posted: 2nd August 2020 by Jeroen in Games
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887th played so far

Genre: Action/Platform
Platform: Playstation 2
Year of Release: 2003
Developer: Naughty Dog
Publisher: Sony Computer Entertainment

For some reason, we played some Daxter before I covered either this game or the first Jak & Daxter game. It takes place between the two, before the current game, covering the two years in between. And oddly enough, having played a bit of it, it sort of spoils that first segment with what happened to you. It’s a weird way to get into the story for these, but I know the technology to expect now.

Our Thoughts

Jak II presents an interesting world that’s quite at odds with the more idyllic village start of the first game – it’s a dark city, polluted and cluttered with traffic, the invasive police being a threat at all times. When you travel outside it, you end up in these polluted places where the water seems toxic and buildings collapse as you move along. The story of fighting off an evil regime is little more that decent, but that’s fine, it’s a nice enough twist to contrast with the earlier games and others in the genre. Doing so in a more open world of this size is really quite interesting.

It’s a shame, then, that I couldn’t get more than three or four missions in. The main criticism of the game was its difficulty, and man, did I feel it. It isn’t just down to difficult jumps or hard enemies. The controls are more annoying than they should be. To do a long jump, for example (and this is the most egregious example I wrote down – and wrote down twice in fact) you need to roll and then jump just before the end of the roll. You’d better judge how far to roll, to not miss and overshoot. If you do… thanks to its checkpointing and design, half the time it leads to you restarting the level, which is just frustrating. The camera doesn’t help either, fighting you at every turn, especially in the cramped areas the game uses fairly often. It’s either that or a static camera that doesn’t let you judge your jump – and isn’t cinematic enough to make up for it.

Final Thoughts

The difficulty and gameplay of this game feel so misjudged – there’s a good world in here that feels interesting to explore, but it’s too harsh to feel fun and playable.

#388 R4: Ridge Racer Type 4

Posted: 29th July 2020 by Jeroen in Games
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886th played so far

Genre: Driving
Platform: Playstation 1
Year of Release: 1998
Developer: Namco
Publisher: Namco

The Ridge Racer series naming convention really gets confusing – aside from there being a second Ridge Racer with the same name on the list, this seems like the fourth one – although I keep forgetting it’s part of the franchise as the name is buried in the title.

With this being a Playstation 1 era game, you just know that this was taking the sprite based racer into a new 3D dimension. These days that just feels dated – while it would have worked for me, we’ll see why it’s still notable now.

Our Thoughts

While I wouldn’t call this a story heavy racing game, it is interesting to see that it at least seems to have a bit more than most. You chose between four teams at the start and while they have some statistical differences, they also have different storyline bits before each race – a short introduction that, in my case, set up the story of a woman who bought her own racing team but needs you to win so she can make her money back and be successful. It’s a nice little addition, something that makes it feel like something that’s not just an arcade racer.

Then there are the tracks themselves. They were decent, especially for the Playstation 1 era. The tracks needed to be learned anyway, but it feels odd now that we’re still dealing with limited chances at a race. We’re dealing with a home console now, retries of races should be fine. One place where this really showed for me, for example, is in the second level. It was set at sunset, which obviously looked nice and made for something different, it really got too dark to keep playing the game. Sure, we’ve struggled with this here before, but it seems unnecessary here. You can’t learn the track as easily, so this gets in the way.

Final Thoughts

This Ridge Racer sequel does step up the quality, but it still has its unnecessary arcade qualities. It was fun, sure, but still didn’t quite work for me.

885th played so far

Genre: Action/Shoot ‘Em Up
Platform: PC/Playstation 3/Xbox 360
Year of Release: 2007
Developer: Midway Chicago/Tiger Hill Entertainment
Publisher: Midway Games

I’ve managed to do some different preparation for this one – knowing I had a game with John Woo’s name on it, we watched his most known film, The Killer, a while ago. The heavy violence feels like it suits a video game and the Hong Kong setting feels distinct and interesting enough to make use of… I do still need to play Sleeping Dogs after visiting the city back in November. I’m as ready for this shooter as I’ll ever be.

Our Thoughts

One of the first things in my notes is that this feels like John Woo’s Cool Move Generator. It’s not the best shooter – without using the precision aim power, it feels really hard to aim and make it through. However, you get to constantly do cool moves – jumping over tables, shooting while sliding down wires and creating explosions everywhere. It really makes you feel good when you can get to it, but boring, if not frustrating, in between those moments.

The world is fairly linear – there are some goodies in short dead ends, but they didn’t feel that necessary. It’s all about fighting until you get exhausted, without as much plot other than explaining why there’s a boss you need to get rid of.

Finish a level and you get a score of the amount of damage you’ve caused to the world, in dollars, as well as a few other things (but who cares about how fast you are, right?). It unlocks some bonus materials. It’s not doing too much to force you to hit the goals, but works more as a nice pat on the back as you get through.

Final Thoughts

When you can get some cool moves in, John Woo Presents Stranglehold feels really good. Unfortunately, there are plenty of places where you don’t get those choices, especially in later levels when you leave the city. At that point the amount of enemies feels exhausting, without actually feeling interesting. You just keep going through until the end and I don’t think the end results are always worth it.

#844 Guitar Hero World Tour

Posted: 21st July 2020 by Jeroen in Games
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884th played so far

Genre: Music
Platform: Various
Year of Release: 2008
Developer: Neversoft
Publisher: Activision

As I’m approaching the 900 mark – a big milestone that I’m still amazed I’m getting this close to – I’m getting to a lot of penultimates and this is one – for Guitar Hero: World Tour I’m going to get the guitar out we’ve been using since The Beatles: Rock Band and last had out in Guitar Hero: Metallica. This time the game isn’t branded with a band, but instead is a general game. It is, in fact, the fourth game in the series, just not numbered as such (but succeeded by Guitar Hero 5, which isn’t on our list).

Our Thoughts

Listen, trust me, I’ve played the game, but as it is the Guitar Hero and Rock Band series aren’t that different to describe. The gameplay is the same and while I can say the selection of songs is good, that new selection is the big draw and I’m not music literate enough to really describe that… trust me.

The main new feature are extended sustains, which looked like a nice addition and was an extra option in there. The art in the cut scenes are nice but, to be honest, with the story not being there – another “you’re a starting rock star, make it in your career” thing – there isn’t much to it. That’s not the point of it anyway. You want to play your guitar with your friends and see how well you do. It still does that and the series stays great at it.

#833 Devil May Cry 4

Posted: 17th July 2020 by Jeroen in Games
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883rd played so far

Genre: Action/Fighting
Platform: Playstation 3/Xbox 360/PC
Year of Release: 2008
Developer: Capcom
Publisher: Capcom

So we’ve played the first and third Devil May Cry games before – the latter’s start in a store or (according to my four year old memory) pizza place standing out as an odd place to start. Beyond that, they’re the type of action battlers whose formula I’ve seen and enjoyed – again, Bayonetta draws so much from the same setting.

We’re playing the final game in the series that shows up on the list today, with the games after that being questionable in the fan community anyway – so I guess it’s good we end it here (even if the games had been out by the time this game was released).

Our Thoughts

I have to say that the Devil May Cry 4 intro/tutorial is one of the better that I think I’ve seen in this genre. On one hand, it’s a cinematic sequence of Nero, the game’s initial protagonist, fighting Dante, the main character of the series, in a large cathedral where Dante just murdered someone. On the other, it’s a tutorial that succinctly  summarizes the different moves available to you during battle, gives you a chance to practice them and keeps them in their context. And then it sets up Nero as a contrast with Dante, hot headed, obnoxious and clearly unpolished. It’s a strong start in a way other games in the series don’t have.

The combat keeps feeling good like that, solid, with taking out large chunks of enemies working especially well. It looks like you can later play through the levels with other enemies – that feels like something that will create some nice variety. Still, you always feel powerful without overpowered, most single enemies not being as much as a threat as the sum of them is. The world itself is not as amazing. Like other games – God of War comes to a mind as I recently played Chains of Olympus – it’s mostly linear levels that lead you from fight to fight, without many diversions. Even when you get to a building you get to explore, it’s still fairly linear in your limits on where you can go each time. It really is just a vehicle to get from plot beat to plot beat and fight to fight. There are some semi-platformy/jumping puzzles – using RB+B to latch on and jump across places – that feel like it should be good, but I’ve found them go against me frequently, especially when ceiling spikes got introduced – I couldn’t find a consistent hold on point and really couldn’t get through the way I wanted.

Final Thoughts

It feels like Devil May Cry 4 provides a lot of what the series is known for – big fights and set pieces with some dramatic plots. It adds more replayability from the extra characters and added to that, seems to have several places in each level that you can’t get to until you get additional abilities. I would need to get past battle exhaustion – I just don’t find them as interesting – but there’s something here to play more with.

#725 Test Drive Unlimited

Posted: 13th July 2020 by Jeroen in Games
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882nd played so far

Genre: Racing
Platform: Various
Year of Release: 2006
Developer: Eden Games
Publisher: Atari

Test Drive Unlimited is described as an open world racing game, similar to Burnout Paradise, but set in what the book calls the perfect location: Hawaii. We’ll fly over, find an apartment, go out and race.

Our Thoughts

There is something interesting about an open world game set in a familiar location, in part because of the comparison of how it matches real life, but also, I think, in the way it creates odd designs organically – a road is there because of historic reasons, not because it was designed for it. It doesn’t necessarily lead to ramps or stunts like I sometimes saw in, for example, Fuel, no, it’s there to let you get to some houses. I’m not sure to what extent this applies to the Hawaii of Test Drive Unlimited, but there were some random roads and bypasses where it was hard to ignore that it was awkward for that reason. I’m sure things have been optimized and smoothed over, but you’re not in a game world as much.

Even the start feels a bit more real, even if it’s devoid of much story. You actually land at the airport and have to lease a car before driving to buy a place to stay and getting your own first car. Even that early on, it becomes clear there are loads of things to purchase – loads of cars, some seventy houses, plenty of dress up options and all the usual upgrades. It feels quite big from the start and at least the game starts off easy enough. The first unlocked challenges are straight forward enough to beat and I didn’t struggle much to get up a rank. It does start to ramp up more quickly as it went on, but I felt I had a decent enough chance for a while.

There’s a decent variety of races, with most of the proper races being traffic free, at least early on – something that was quite nice as a beginner to make it through, as later, less formal races with traffic become more frustrating. Then there’s the model driving, which feels sleazy with the way you are clearly trying to pick them up. It was fairly uncomfortable and felt a bit unnecessary, a choice I wouldn’t expect now and I skipped the missions after trying one. There’s plenty of other options anyway, between time trials, races, minimum speeds and speed traps and more.

Final Thoughts

Test Drive Unlimited genuinely feels huge, with loads of options from the start and more that unlock later. There are loads of races and challenges, and there were even more available online or to share with friends, which could have been as interesting. There are some dodgy parts though, and some very difficult challenges, but this had its moments for sure.

#590 Far Cry

Posted: 9th July 2020 by Jeroen in Games
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881st played so far

Genre: First-Person Shooter
Platform: PC
Year of Release: 2004
Developer: Crytek
Publisher: Ubisoft

I’ve really played this series out of order. Sure, we played the second and third game in that order, but both have their own quirks developed after this game. Far Cry 2 is described by many as an open world oddity, not reflecting where the series went and an interesting faction and mission system. Far Cry 3 is a true Ubisoft open world game, following the same course as the Assassin’s Creed series after the first and others – a big open world with loads of side activities and some set up that lets you unlock/earn the map step by step.

Far Cry, the first game, predates both of these developments, although its engine became the basic of everything Ubisoft after that. I’ve been looking forward to playing it and seeing where all of this goes.

Our Thoughts

It’s weird to play a game like this that has, as far as I can tell, no side activities. It’s a shooter in a big world, but rather than using that world for the many different situations, touches and small encounters other games like this seem to have, here it feels like you’re simply traveling from one point to another, while the world doesn’t really reward exploring. There’s nothing to discover and little to do other than taking on each mission. Yeah, it looks good in places, but in the end it’s hard to shake that feeling of it just being filler, sometimes with some enemies mixed in, but mostly something to drive through.

The missions are a lot more interesting, of course, and it feels like you get a lot of avenues to finish the missions – using stealth to travel in through various routes, taking enemies out one by one or a frontal assault, while for one I holed up in an observation tower and used sniper rifles to take them all out. It’s not as diverse when taking on a massive beached ship, where there are a few alternate routes, but mostly you go down one path, taking out enemies as you go. This is, of course, also one of the less interesting parts of the game as I played it, and even the arena fight at the end feels a bit standard.

Final Thoughts

I don’t think it’s unfair to say that this game is a step towards what the Far Cry series would become, but that it’s not that yet. It’s a lovely world to explore, with some good set pieces and taking down camps that work. At the same time, it still feels more level based than the big world seems to imply – the stepping stone aspect being as interesting on the game as anything else.

#654 Gunstar Super Heroes

Posted: 5th July 2020 by Jeroen in Games
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880th played so far

Genre: Shoot ‘Em Up
Platform: Gameboy Advance
Year of Release: 2005
Developer: Treasure
Publisher: Sega/THQ

So we played Gunstar Heroes as game… oh, 140 on the blog, some 740 games and at least seven and a half years ago. It actually still have some purple text in its write up! Now I’ll be honest and say that at this point, it has merged in my memory with plenty of other run and gunners, so I won’t try to draw out too many comparisons at this point. I have played a lot more Treasure games since though, with at least two more on the way (one of which I can now promise to have appear within ten games of this write up), and while Stretch Panic is an exception, games like Sin and Punishment still are in the similar area.

Just as there are over seven years between me playing the original game and this sequel, the two games were published twelve years apart and just as my writing hasn’t gotten much better in the intervening years, it feels like this sequel hews close enough to the original already. If nothing else, I’d expect that much from a sequel like this and how it’d build on nostalgia. A weird thing to say considering this game is now fifteen years old, but that’d what we get from this blog going on for this long.

Our Thoughts

To take out the initial concern I had, this game doesn’t shower you with choice, instead just offering you the choice between two playable characters, Red and Blue. They both have different weapon sets – nothing overly different, but just enough to make Blue feel a bit more controlled and Red a bit more reckless. You take each through the same levels, although the path of each character seems to be tracked separately in the save game – I think it’s just a convenience, with no differences otherwise.

Otherwise, this is another show that takes you through a long level, infiltrating a base, killing loads of enemies and going back out, or shooting others while you’re on top of a plane. It’s confident enough in this that it doesn’t give much of an introduction on what to do – I guess the manual would have said more about the controls – and the story introduction feels as generic as can be. This extends to the the bosses, were nothing is telegraphed and I felt confused on what to do to beat them – and quite surprised when they suddenly appeared. I felt lost playing the game, which wasn’t great. The story itself, aside from being generic, lost some of the humour we enjoyed in the original storyline.

Final Thoughts

At this point, I must admit I struggle to see what this game offers over the original. Yeah, it’s a decent shooter, doing all the standard run and gun stuff, but there’s nothing here that I’m feeling in it. I guess this clearly wasn’t for me, but perhaps the same thing happened a bit too often here.