#379 Devil Dice

Posted: 10th October 2017 by Jeroen in Games
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639th played so far

Genre: Puzzle
Platform: Playstation
Year of Release: 1998
Developer: Shift
Publisher: SCEI/THQ

A puzzle game based on using dice? Thanks to a bit of a Playstation extravaganza week, we’re going to try and see how that one works.

Our Thoughts

There are a bunch of ways dice can be used in puzzles, and this game finds one suited to computer play. Your goal is first of all to match up dice in groups matching their face up numbers – so two twos, three threes and so on. You can add more matching faces after that for combos, as probably makes sense, but that should give you the basic idea. You can roll or push them – rolling giving you more flexibility although you actually need to be on top of dice to do that – but need to stay aware of the dice layout to make sure they all match after a while.

This worked nicely on the specific puzzles, although they are not necessarily the most complex – the limited number of moves and limits to the size of the puzzle made it difficult to do so. It might ramp up later, but I got a bit bored with it.

The larger play modes with ongoing spawns work a lot better – frantic as more blocks pop up and you get less room to maneuver. I quickly stopped paying loads of attention to the precise order of dice and just tried to get them back in place. It was still fun, but it did feel like it didn’t work for as long as the rounds lasted. Sure, having to play longer is nice, but I can restart anyway.

The CPU led multiplayer mode works the same, but again I felt disadvantaged as I didn’t quite develop the right eye for the game. It was still fun just running around, but the fact that you had to win made it tricky.

What it came down to is what I didn’t quite find the mode I liked in this game. Somewhere in between the simple puzzle mode and the ever spawning mode – possibly random fields or something, I’m not quite sure. It’s what makes me a bit down on this game, because it feels like it doesn’t quite get there.

#426 Threads of Fate

Posted: 6th October 2017 by Jeroen in Games
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638th played so far

Genre: Action/Role-Playing
Platform: PlayStation
Year of Release: 1999
Developer: Square
Publisher: Square

Square was on a roll in the late 90s. We’ve seen their Final Fantasy output, still some of the golden age of the series, and we’ll discuss the flawed sequel, but better standalone Chrono Cross at some point too. Threads of Fate is another game in their list, this time as an action RPG.

Our Thoughts

When starting the game, you immediately get confronted with a choice – do you play as Rue, an amnesiac boy trying to revive his friend, or Mint, who wants the Relic – the macguffin the game revolves around – to gain control of her kingdom. It threw me for a moment, as I hadn’t quite heard of this split yet, but it started an interesting dichotomy.

You see, while the game uses the same locations for both, the story is different (with Mint having a far sillier tone), hitting similar beats and locations, but having quite different things going on. The implication appears to be that they both happen around the same time (even if you can’t quite consolidate things that way), with each taking charge in their story.

I got the feeling that Rue’s story and game was set up first, although it’s hard to say without knowing the development history. His story is the more straightforward one, and it feels like Mint’s story intersects with it. He also has the more interesting, substantial abilities. By defeating enemies, he can learn to transform into them and use their abilities. This is used in puzzles, where you have to take on the right forms in a place, things like that, as well as by matching them with enemies. At one point early on, a spider was vulnerable to fire, and another enemy had a fire attack. You used one to defeat the other.

On the ohter hand, Mint’s special abilities come from her magic. Instead of learning spells, they are on a matrix – colour, or energy, and effect type – stuff like single attacks, group attacks and so on. It’s not as complex, but it makes for an interesting system where gaining a new ability really makes a big difference in the number of additional choices you get.

Final Thoughts

Threads of Fate is an RPG with a fairly light story, but interesting battle system with the abilities it gives the two main characters. Thanks to the action focus, it’s not too complex, but it creates a far more interesting setup instead. Sadly it makes for a few difficult positioning battles that Mint especially seems ill suited for, and on the whole the game feels somewhat forgettable, but it’s good as a slightly different experiment.

#925 Grand Slam Tennis

Posted: 2nd October 2017 by Jeroen in Games
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637th played so far

Genre: Sports
Platform: Wii
Year of Release: 2009
Developer: EA Canada
Publisher: Electronic Arts

So following the Legend of Zelda games I played earlier this week, it felt time to do something more active. In this case, as I really should play both a Wii game and a sports game, some tennis seems appropriate.

Tennis is well suited to the Wii, as seen in Wii Sports before, and a game fully focused on it while including motion controls seems like it would be a lot more fun.

Our Thoughts

Having kids move while playing really was a theme of the Wii, wasn’t it? Grand Slam Tennis includes a fitness mode and while it feels very platform-specific, I did feel like I was burning some calories while I was here (with my apologies to the downstairs neighbours).

To continue the earlier comparison, as you would imagine from a full game with some serious tie-ins, this game is more complex than the Wii Sports minigame. This manifests itself in several places, first of all the complexity of the controls that I think I forgot to memorize after a while. It implements more complex rules and you really have to adjust your playstyle to match.

The other place where this game adds complexity and justifies being its own game are the customization options. You can upgrade certain core stats, as you see more often in games with a career mode, as well as earning abilities from your opponents as you defeat them. There are also the usual cosmetic options, although it’s not hard to argue those are less important.

You earn these by playing all the tournaments in a Grand Slam. There are a bunch of different matches before the real tournament – both to let you earn some abilities and to show off some alternative game modes – which means that no matter how good or bad you play, you always get a fair amount of stage out of each section. It’s a nice concession and gave me more time to build my skills without feeling the game was over in five matches.

The game’s graphics are at an odd level. They’re a clear step above Mii graphics, putting more effort into recognisability and body shapes, but not that much. It’s probably because they had limitations with the Wii’s power, but it is a bit unsettling, I’m not sure what it is meant to be.

Final Thoughts

Grand Slam Tennis is a good tennis game, in that it made me feel most like I was actually playing tennis and came closest to giving me that workout on a fairly warm day. It feels like it includes a lot of what makes tennis tennis. At the same time, I didn’t get that far into the tournament and never quite got the hang of it – I started doing a bit better and winning some points here and there, but not too much. We’ll assume that’s just me, though, but it means I never got as much out of this game as I feel is in there.

636th played so far

Genre: Action/Adventure
Platform: Game Boy Color
Year of Release: 2001
Developer: Capcom/Flagship
Publisher: Nintendo

These games have a bit of a special place in my heart. I got these games when I got my Gameboy Advance – the first Gameboy I owned – and it was special. Like the Pokemon games that were already popular at the time, this was a game that had two versions, but where Pokemon – and most other versioned games – usually have smaller differences but still very similar storylines and a lot overlapped.

So here’s the other side of this: with two distinct versions, to cover a single game here, I have to play it twice.

Our Thoughts

Again, it’s worth emphasizing how different the two games are. Not only are the stories different, not only does the map change in different ways depending on the version – one changing the seasons, the other having you switch between past and present – but the focus of the games changes just as much. You find out soon enough, especially once you reach the first dungeon, that Oracle of Seasons has more of an action focus – more enemies and so on – while Oracle of Ages throws more puzzles at you. It’s probably not a surprise at this point that I prefer the latter.

So what we have here is a set of two games that have a shared ending, only available when you have played both of them – and the pont where you actually encounter Gannon. It’s a neat concept, and the amount of content in each game actually make them feel worth the price. Even when you only have one of the two games, it’s still worth it, too, considering the length of each game and the size of the world.

Aside from the usual lengthy main quest – similar to other Zelda games, but with the game-specific additions – there are several hitns at other quests that I barely started here. A lot of it is the usual trading back and forth you get in more of these games, but it adds some more scope to the world. Maybe trickier is what seems to be RNG based nut growing to get badges as an equipment mechanic, a neat idea but one that feels like it’d make it easier to mess with things.

Aesthetically, the game only vaguely improves on Link’s Awakening – it looks fine, with some charming animation, but it’s very functional. It makes it clearer what’s going on, and allows for some interesting character, but nothing amazing either.

Final Thoughts

Oracle of Ages might well be my personal Zelda game so far, as the puzzles felt more interesting and challenging – the focus on one element over the other actually makes it that much more enticing and seems like it allows the developers to set up more interesting challenges. The two games are also so much more distinct thanks to the game-specific mechanics and story changes. It’s a pretty amazing combination that is a delight to play.

#62 Manic Miner

Posted: 24th September 2017 by Jeroen in Games
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635th played so far

Genre: Platform
Platform: Various
Year of Release: 1983
Developer: Matthew Smith
Publisher: Bug-Byte/Software Projects

Our next game is another early platformer. This one is inspired by Miner 2049er and will lead to future game Jet Set Willy. It’s an early platformer which looks fairly basic – so yeah, this time I played the improved  Game Boy version. The platform is listed as various and I could use the better graphics, having seen the original. The gameplay, however, should not have been much different.

Our Thoughts

After we’ve been talking about how hard arcade games are in this era, it’s a shame that games for home consoles seem to have the same fate. I tried Manic Miner and, to show that I am bad at these, failed on the first level. I guess there isn’t as much of a tutorial to it anyway, but this obviously didn’t feel good.

Where it went wrong was the jumping. I never really managed to get the arcs right and while I could get to the top of the first level, after many tries, I just didn’t get the solution to jumping past the vines on the top floor without hitting them. It’s been a shame.

I’ve looked at videos to see how the game proceeds, and I can’t say I got the feeling that would change much. That’s fine for a game like this – it’s an early platformer that combines its elements in nice different ways – but I just can’t claim any great finds in here.

Final Thoughts

Manic Miner is decent, but at times quite limited platformer. It’s a clear product of its time and I can see why it would have been great at the time, but I found it to be less playable now due to its limited controls with an awkward, not that tight jump.

#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.