#143 R-Type

Posted: 20th September 2017 by Jeroen in Games
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634th played so far

Genre: Shoot ‘Em Up
Platform: Arcade
Year of Release: 1987
Developer: Irem
Publisher: Irem

As we go back to the eighties, we get to one more of the many, many side scrolling shooters. I don’t mind them too much – they are fun enough, often having something good to look at for the time of day – but being made for the arcade, they tend to be challenging and sometimes frustrating. R-Type doesn’t seem to do much different here either.

Our Thoughts

You might say that I flipped some switches to get infinite lives on this game – it’s the advantage of playing the arcade versions of games these days. These frantic shooters are quite difficult, as they need to balance enemy count with survivability. For me, this made it too hard here and I struggled with the first area at first.

It’s a shame what I would have missed if I hadn’t cheated. The areas are incredibly busy, but what’s always interesting are the bosses. These are big here, with lengthy fights and a lot of variation. It’s still hitting about hitting in the right areas, but it looks and feels and good.

Final Thoughts

It’s hard to pick out something specific about this game. It looks good, especially for its time. It’s well put together. THere’s a lot of variation. It’s one of the good shooters.

#502 Dungeon Siege

Posted: 16th September 2017 by Jeroen in Games
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633rd played so far

Genre: Role-Playing
Platform: PC
Year of Release: 2002
Developer: Gas Powered Games
Publisher: Microsoft Game Studios

I’ve been looking forward to playing Dungeon Siege for a while. I’ve tried the RPG before (having owned it for quite some time) but never got that far in – too many other good things to play. The Diablo style, over the shoulder play felt unique though, feeling advanced at the time, while streamlining a lot of the complexities of other RPGs.

It’s time, then, to jump in and play more than ten minutes of this game. Not just get a feel, but see what happens when I get far enough to see a city and do some quests.

Our Thoughts

Dungeon Siege is an entertaining game where I feel time may have overtaken it a bit. The graphics feel a bit off, in a way that hasn’t aged well, but at least it tries to create bigger settings and areas to fight in – just constrained with loads of cliff faces and VERY dense forests. It feels like it tries, but doesn’t quite have the technological capability to pull it off.

Beyond that, it’s mostly a monster fighting fest, and a lot of it feels a bit MMO-like – go out to this area, kill loads of monsters and deal with some related quests. So far, the main quests felt like they’ve been “Get to the next area”, but I suspect that will change at some point.

There is a fairly complex party control system. You control one directly, while directing the rest through a fairly straightforward interface. There are quite a few options there, but it’s laid out well enough that it’s not as overwhelming. Party members do seem to drop in and out a bit, which is unfortunate, as it encouraged me to make my main character a generalist in a game that seems to encourage specialists. There are plenty of joinable characters to give you options, although most of them didn’t seem to have as much personality. I am curious how that develops.

The character system is learning through use, another place that supports the specialist system. It’s just a few bars going up, which makes the system simpler than most, but it’s also streamlined enough to make the game simple. The main customization is on items, with plenty of them dropping and loads of modifiers seemingly able to be applied. It seems to be part random, but I haven’t played enough to see to what extent that’s the case. As always, money is scarce in the early game, so I was struggling a bit to diversify my magic, but I felt like i was starting to see more options. The spells certainly seemed varied enough for it.

Final Thoughts

It’s hard to not compare this game to Diablo‘s loot systems and World of Warcraft‘s quests and I’m pretty sure the former was looked at when this game was being developed, down to the backpack puzzles that’s in plenty of RPGs, but feels familiar here.

Dungeon Siege uses it all well, with the environments creating some variation in a way that suits the era. It’s dated, but still fun to play and a good set up for what’s to follow.

#957 Punch-Out

Posted: 12th September 2017 by Jeroen in Games
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632nd played so far

Genre: Fighting
Platform: Wii
Year of Release: 2009
Developer: Next Level Games
Publisher: Nintendo

When I started playing this, I thought I’d already played Super Punch-Out, but I turned out to be wrong. I must have tried a game in the series before, but not this one.

The reason I thought I did is because I did remember that I did not do well at it. I’m mostly relying here on newer games generally being a bit easier. I certainly hope that will be the case here, as this is a game I want to explore.

Our Thoughts

As I’m writing this, I recently read some of Ashita no Joe, a Japanese boxing manga. I didn’t enjoy the story much, but it was interesting to read a bit about the technique of the sport and the importance some attach to it. I can’t say I care much more about the sports, but it was deeper than I thought, even if it wasn’t as deep as they were trying to present it.

How does this apply to the game? There is certainly more to it than just punching, with the high and low attacks from both hands and some more aiming.  After that a lot of it comes down to recognising tells, dodging and countering at the right time, and go on the aggressive when your opponent lets their guard down. There’s timing involved, but it also gives you a chance to develop your own style.

Sadly that breaks down a bit once you get to King Hippo. It’s a puzzle fight that requires you to wait, then do a specific set of puchines at the right time. There’s no room to explore or build your personal style, you just go with it. It’s a bit of a let down after the previous set of opponents, as I can’t get the timing or attacks right.

Aside from that, there are a bunch of practice and other modes to bulk up the game. One of the nice things about it is that there are more places to enjoy the graphics. They’re cartoony, exaggerated but gorgeous, creating a lot of character for each of the opponents. They are clearly streotypes, but only for small sections, which keeps it palatable.

Final Thoughts

Boxing hasn’t become an amazingly better sport after playing this, although I wouldn’t expect it to that much. It is a game that creates an interesting, different challenge that is greatly enhanced by the unique opponents. It’s fun to go through them, and the real treat each time came from what the new opponent brought, and how that influenced their fighting style.

#665 Tower Bloxx

Posted: 8th September 2017 by Jeroen in Games
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631st played so far

Genre: Puzzle/Strategy
Platform: Internet
Year of Release: 2005
Developer: Digital Chocolate

Despite being available online, this game has also been sitting on my phone for about six years now. I’ve been waiting to play it until now, until I felt ready to play it – I kept not wanting to get too far into the puzzle and strategy genres, which I enjoy so much and am (almost happily) starting to fall behind on. At least now I get to try it – and risk one less game falling off the internet.

Our Thoughts

Tower Bloxx has you build a city by building giant towers, created by stacking blocks. The challenge is to release the swinging floors on time, so you get a fairly straight tower. Sure, they aren’t stable at all, but the wobbliness is a part of it.

The core game is this stacking game, building a giant tower without it falling off, but in the main game, this combines with a placement mini game. You unlock different colour towers as you build more of the city, and higher level towers are required to be surrounded by different other colours. It’s not the most complex puzzle, but it adds some variety and forces you to work with the different options.

None of this is too complicated, but it’s fun to play around with. I got bored around the third block, which was enough to stop, but it mostly seemed to entail a few more unlocks and areas. That’s probably the main problem I had – there’s no real longevity to it.

Final Thoughts

This game looks fun and there’s some interesting challenges in it. In small doses it’s pretty good, but it feels like it doesn’t hold up as something to play for longer. It’s fine where it is, but I’m not sure I see myself playing it more often.

#618 Torus Trooper

Posted: 4th September 2017 by Jeroen in Games
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630th played so far

Genre: Shoot ‘Em Up
Platform: PC
Year of Release: 2004
Developer: ABA Games

I have ragged on Tempest derivatives before, as often they seem to add some slightly fancier graphics (with still a retro look) without really making the game feel that much better.

Torus Trooper derives from that formula yet again…

Our Thoughts

So this was a lot better than the standard Tempest setup. You still go around the edge of a tube, but here you also move forward in it. Parts of the tube are missing, not that it matters much as you’re swooping around to face enemies anyway. The visuals of it, the tube moving through the area in the distance, creates far more of a sense of space than other games have, and it feels easier to predict places.

The entire game flows better this way and it’s a lot easier to get into. It makes sense and looks better to boot. It speeds up gameplay quite a bit as well – as it’s easier to predict what’s coming and work your way around them.

The other part that works better are the controls. As the ship has a more predictable place on the screen, you don’t get confused with clockwise/counterclockwise buttons, instead having the world adjust to you. Maybe it’s not original, but it feels so much more satisfying this way.

Final Thoughts

This is the best implementation of Tempest-style gameplay that I’ve seen so far. This might not seem like much based on how down on them I normally feel, but here it works  to the extent that it kept me playing a long time.

#205 Hunter

Posted: 31st August 2017 by Jeroen in Games
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629th played so far

Genre: Action/Adventure
Platform: Amiga/Atari ST
Year of Release: 1991
Developer: Paul Holmes
Publisher: Activision

There’s a lot of randomness in game selection. In the case of Hunter, it’s because it always makes me think it’s some early 3Dish shooter, while in reality it seems to be something quite different – similar to how Mercenary‘s game play eluded me for some time – even now I’m not sure I really got that game.

Hunter has you go out as a spy – a sort of James Bond – infiltrating, assassinating and so on. You do all of this in a larger world with some semi-3D graphics. It’s an interesting concept, but where does it go?

Our Thoughts

The concept behind Hunter is interesting and the large levels it sets up for you intriguing enough, even though the time limits in the missions didn’t allow for a lot of exploration – it felt more like a way to make it difficult to find your eventual mark. For me, it became more frustrating.

First, with a map this size, you need decent movement options. Maybe no fast travel, but you don’t want lots of dead time navigating when there’s nothing else going on. Sadly, here your movement is slow and you don’t have anything interesting happen in the mean time. I lost missions because I wasn’t fast enough, but I felt I couldn’t go fast enough anyway.

The game seems to have several options in dealing with situations – there is a conversation system that I never triggered – but that seems to be more a puzzle on what to do rather than giving you a way to adjust your playstyle. Again, this is the age, but it didn’t feel like it was communicated well.

What felt bad as part of the polish is that some sprites felt a bit too much like programmer art. I realise there were limits on what you could do with them, and it takes time, but it all doesn’t work as well as it should have done.

Final Thoughts

While Hunter is a nice concept, it doesn’t work for me. Possibly because it has been done better in more modern games, and I certainly felt it was slightly too complex to get in these playthroughs. It just also wasn’t worth the effort – especially as it became too difficult for me.

#604 Daigasso! Band Brothers

Posted: 27th August 2017 by Jeroen in Games
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628th played so far

Genre: Music
Platform: DS
Year of Release: 2004
Developer: Nintendo
Publisher: Nintendo

While music games are popular everywhere, the Japanese seem to have their own odd style of games that don’t make a lot of sense to us and feel different. Only some of them make it to the west, such as Elite Beat Agents, and they always seem to stand out in some way.

Daigasso! Band Brothers was Japanese only, making for a more interesting challenge playing this. I assume the button prompts are recognisable, so we can go from there.

Our Thoughts

I am still not sure what exactly the backstory was – the Japanese dialogue almost completely passed me by. The game itself didn’t really need many words though, so that helped. What you’re doing – as with so many of these games – is to press the right buttons at the right time. There aren’t many options in this game – basically just the left or right side of your console at first, although it gets narrowed down to specific buttons and the shoulder buttons on modes that got too difficult for me to play.

I mean, I struggled with the faster songs anyway, but it was fun to go through anyway. What helped is that a bunch of the music has more interesting sources – a lot from Nintendo games and properties, which makes for more interesting games than the J-pop that fills most of the remainder of the game.

There are some different followup modes – including one that lets you record your own music – but I wasn’t in the best place to investigate all of these without a better translation. It mostly brings its own specific style to the genre.

627th played so far

Platform: Playstation 3
Year of Release: 2007
Developer: Evolution Studios
Publisher: Sony Computer Entertainment

I genuinely struggle sometimes to distinguish different types of off road(ish) racers. Pure‘s quad bike racing is probably the game that most exemplifies the genre to me, as it was the first we really covered and one that really struck us as a good game. This is obviously an earlier game to do it, and I’m sure we’ve had more that do it.

What makes them interesting is that they certainly are a sign of technology progressing. When a racer is on a track, it’s easier to put more on the track and get performance out of it, as you can determine where the player can and can’t go, and only focus on making that look good. As you open it further, you need to plan paths and time them, and make them balanced, as well as keeping them performing and running well. That latter part, especially, creates performance and AI challenges you wouldn’t otherwise have. You also need more work to make it look good and realistic – asphalt doesn’t move much, and the objects are more defined, while you want more variation when you go off road. It’s different, but we saw that it could be pulled off in Pure, compared to the lesser Stunts (4D Racing) and similar games from the past.

Our Thoughts

I’ve had some problems with the game. At its core it was a decent, fun racer, with an interesting Mad Max-style framing story. The desert setting works well, making for a bunch of different natural (seeming) tracks that’ll let you around the arena simultaneously. These are mostly for different options for different vehicles – lighter ones having more jumps and going higher, while heavier vehicles stay low, but often on the straighter path. There’s more to balance it, but that’s what makes that interesting.

Sadly, I also ran into a couple of issues that made the game more frustrating than fun. First of all, there are places where the track is incredibly dark and I ran into things because I didn’t know what was there. Brightness settings weren’t really strong enough for that. Another more annoying visual issue is that vehicles coming from behind can block your camera, and more than once the camera clipped through the vehicles, making it even worse. It feels this should be really easy to fix, but now it just adds an artificial difficulty to the game that shouldn’t be there.

Now, I might have been bad at this game – I certainly was in parts – but I never could get a lead. There was certainly some rubber banding going on, a bit more in the back when trying to catch up than in the front, where I think I just crashed too often for it to take effect. Most levels took some time to get used to, but I never could get that comfortable gap. Of course, the lack of track map did make me wonder.

Final Thoughts

In the end, when not too dark, the game looks good. The music works really well too, it’s very good. It just gets quite difficult at times, and I’m not sure I really reached the point where I was good enough to get the further levels.

626th played so far

Genre: Action/First-Person Shooter
Platform: Gamecube
Year of Release: 2004
Developer: Retro Studios/Nintendo
Publisher: Nintendo

After finding out that the first Metroid Prime game was best played on the Gamecube rather than Wii, we also tracked down a Gamecube copy of the second in the game (the third only being available on the Wii anyway).

The first game had some pacing issues for me and only lit up some time in, when the training wheels fell away and we completed the first full, separate-seeming level. Will this fix that?

Our Thoughts

Metroid Prime 2 did grab me faster a lot earlier than the first game. A big part of that for me is, I think, that you start off in the open world straight away. It’s still more on wheels from the start, in part because (of course) you lose most of your goodies after the first set of rooms. There is a door you can’t go through until an hour or two in, mostly placed there to give you an easier route back to the starting area – not useful at the time, but tantalizing and making it clear there’s more content hidden.

It means that there’s quite a bit of variation in the level, and again, bringing you there earlier works better. The rails don’t quite come off – the game is more backtracking to find extra secrets rather than allowing you to go anywhere, of course for a large part because you gradually unlock more areas – but the suggestion of different areas, where you pass through a part of it but get it fully later – works quite well.

The way the setting is created is, again, interesting. A lot of it comes down to scanning items in the area, which give you journals and logs. It feels more refined here than in the first game, with a first big power being given in an area that as much is about finding the logs of the crew members of this ship, explaining what happened and some hints at what went wrong. The area feels lived in because of it. Sure, it’s pretty walking simulator like, but that is what works to tell a story in games.

The power set is fairly Metroid like, with a bunch of standard puzzles, but it feels like there are a bunch of places where the game does new things with it. One area has you go into your morph ball and pinball boost you up a tower – without much work on your end – which isn’t even a set piece, just a neat use of the system that I feel I didn’t quite see in the previous game. The game makes excellent use of its powers to enable and strengthen traversal, in part making it feel like you’re going where you’re not supposed to go (even if that’s what it’s designed for), which makes it more interesting.

There’s of course plenty of combat as well, although it takes a while for options to really feel available, but as so often it’s not what I’d focus on, and doesn’t stand out as much for me. They’re decent shooters, but a bit fiddly with having to shoot some far away things, and it felt like it was mostly used with the right frequency to add excitement, but without becoming the focus of the game.

Final Thoughts

Metroid Prime 2 feels like a genuine improvement on the first game, streamlining the experience a lot and giving you access to more vital/fun powers earlier. By integrating the tutorial, you get past the worst of the first game, and the set pieces we came across were more interesting and plentiful in the early game. It feels like you’re both sort of exploring an interesting world and trying to do something useful.

#262 Final Fantasy VI

Posted: 15th August 2017 by Jeroen in Games
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625th played so far

Genre: Role-Playing
Platform: SNES
Year of Release: 1994
Developer: Square
Publisher: Square

This game was moved up in the queue because Peter wanted to play it for his Before I Kick blog. By the time this publishes, his write up hasn’t gone out yet – he’s a month or two ahead, so it’ll be a while.

Still, I’m happy to go for it. The general consensus is that this game and Final Fantasy VII are the pinnacle of the series. From what I’ve seen of this game – not necessarily played, but also seen in Let’s Plays and the like – I agree this game is up there, even if FFVII didn’t live up to the hype for us. Final Fantasy X was the best of the ones we’ve played, but I also know this is quite a different game. I’ve been looking forward to playing this, so I’m glad to go for it now.

Our Thoughts

I am really enjoying this game. Present tense because this game is so big, I’m far from done with it. I’m basing as much of my experience on what I know of the game, and what Peter has seen while getting ahead of me. And to cover the other controversial main item – we’ve played both the Steam version and the GBA iteration of the game. We’ve seen both versions of the graphics, as well as some of the other changes.

Why is it that good? First of all, the characters are incredibly interesting. There is a large cast and while not all of them are too relevant to the plot, they all feel distinctive and have their own story. This transfers to battle too – each has their own ability or set of abilities, some stronger or more useful than others, but it really lends to who they are. The one time it feels they truly overlap, there is a story reason for it as well, making it even more interesting.

The world itself is fairly big, and while it certainly feels the need to hit certain points, it also creates a lot of specific, out of the ordinary set pieces. For example, the opera house and phantom train are both fun and feel different in their own ways. They are some pretty cool sections to explore, and the mid-game event strengthens that further. The characters also have links in different places, which ties the areas together further.

Beyond that, the variation in gameplay offers feels large – from boat rides that feel more interesting than normal to longer stealth sections and a lot of monster collection that feels more natural. It feels like one of those games where there’s something for everyone. I’m not quite sure whether that’s true, but I’m certain there are some areas that I’ll end up ignoring that’ll capture others.

Final Thoughts

With Final Fantasy VI, the series went out with its last major 2D title.  It goes out with a bang, with a large but (mostly) well realized cast, an interesting world and many nooks and crannies to explore. The battle system is interesting, with a twist for each character that might not make all of them viable, but makes them feel unique with a clearer niche. Possibly the best Final Fantasy title – at this point I’m not sure which one I’d rank above it.