#386 Star Wars: Rogue Squadron

Posted: 9th January 2019 by Jeroen in Games
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752nd played so far

Genre: Shoot ‘Em Up
Platform: PC
Year of Release: 1998
Developer: Factor 5/LucasArts
Publisher: LucasArts

I had yet to kick off two Star Wars game series. Star Wars: TIE Fighter was still in the previous fifty and it focused on space combat, becoming incredibly accessible compared to other games in the genre. On the other hand, the Rogue Squadron focuses more on arcade action, more often taking place in on the surface of planets. We’ve seen how Star Wars can already accommodate other genres – say, as RPG or Lego action game – so this feels like it would work. It’s just a coincidence, really, that the last two series were related to flying vehicles.

Our Thoughts

Somehow, despite a five year lead, I struggled more with playing Rogue Squadron than I did playing Tie Fighter. It felt more difficult just to stay upright, but the fact that you’re doing fly-bys on stationary targets, rather than crafts you can lock onto, didn’t help either. Others seemed to move too fast to keep up with, which made it just as hard. The craft also felt rather weightless, with the fighters turning too fast to keep up with.

It made the game frustrating, as it became difficult to execute the attacks. It’s not even the chaos, just the space you need to correct. All I can really do right now is hope the sequel improves the handling.

#705 Art Style: Orbient

Posted: 5th January 2019 by Jeroen in Games
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751st played so far

Genre: Puzzle
Platform: Gameboy Advance/Wii
Year of Release: 2006
Developer: Skip Ltd.
Publisher: Nintendo

At this point, two different tasks I’m doing cross. The game after each landmark is informally reserved for a more indie game, while there are two games in the Art Style series, so it’s time I start that too.

Art Style: Orbient is a weird Wiiware game. They’ve had some good hits already, like Bonsai Barber and the Bit.Trip games, and this seems like something to take a chance on.

Our Thoughts

The gameplay in Art Style: Orbient revolves, first of all, around gravity. And not gravity in the sense of falling down, but in the astronomical sense, of bodies revolving around each other and attracting each other. It’s about orbits and maintaining those.

You start off as a small speck, floating around in space while you’re surrounded by larger stars. You can attract yourself to them or repulse yourself away and can either end up in a stable orbit around them, you might follow others or float freely away in space.

As you do that, you absorb the smaller objects that float around (I guess like a streamlined Katamari Damacy), and you grow as you do, like a controllable black hole that absorbs what it can. When you see a yellow gate, you get a chance to get out.

The game’s visuals are quite streamlined and that stylised look does a lot to give you something to interpret. I think I’m close to the intended meaning, but it matters little. The trick in playing the game is to learn the controls – they are so different from moving in other games that that control keeps its challenge for longer. It works well, with a fun combination of learning that and dealing withe the changing environment.

50 Game Round Up: 701-750 (Jeroen)

Posted: 3rd January 2019 by Jeroen in Round-Up

Here we go: Three quarters of the way through the list, it’s really starting to feel like the grind continues. There are a bunch of good games coming up – yeah, we’ve saved enough of them – and there’s a lot of what’s filler to me, the shoot ’em ups and such that I’ve never really been into. Still, there’s few just bad games, and it makes it all start to blur together a bit.

Then again, I’m struggling, at this point, what was in the past fifty and what I played three years ago, so it’s always nice to see what came in recently and is eligible for these entries so, in a way, these are surprises for me too.

Best Game I Had Not Previously Played

There have been a bunch of large games in this batch of fifty, all of which would appeal to me. Dawn of War had its issues, but I still remember it fondly and I am looking forward to playing its sequel. At the same time, Bioshock 2 for me improved on its predecessor a lot for me, and I still want to go back to the world of Rapture.

Best, though, was Diablo 2. Not just because it was an action RPG, a genre I’m fond of, but more so because it was a game that worked well in multiplayer and we’ve had a lot of fun playing through the game together.

Worst Game

There’s some games I marked as the worst that are partially there because of how old they are – although I’d argue that Jet Set Willy has flaws that contemporary games did better and that Karate Champ just created a confusing system.

At the same time, it’s hard to apply that argument to Elasto Mania. It just didn’t really connect as a full game. There is something good about the user generated work and there’s something interesting about the physics simulation, but other games seem to handle it so much better that it didn’t work here.

Most Surprising Game

I have to say that the other side of the grind is that game really can surprise you, for better or worse. You form these preconceptions and while games sometimes disappoint (see the below heading for more), others do well.

One such preconception was with Eye of the Beholder. While it isn’t flawless, I expected a game that would take a while to get into. Instead, it felt a lot more accessible and easier to play. I got through part of the game and it really showed me how appealing the genre could be.

Muramasa: Demon Blade felt like a bit of an unknown – I wasn’t sure what to expect. The platforming, action and RPG elements work out to create a great area to explore and I was happy to dive in more deeply – more so than the action game I expected.

Biggest Disappointment

So to cover some of the disappointments as quickly as I can – Retro Game Challenge has a great concept to work from, but botched it by forcing you to complete too much of the first game to progress. Operation Flashpoint was such a mediocre implementation of the genre that it feels like it should be a footnote. Need for Speed: Most Wanted sets up a great promise, but seems incredibly reluctant to actually let you play it.

But then there’s the most personal disappointment. The Neverhood looks good and starts off nicely and I was hoping to finish it, but it gets so incredibly tedious that it just isn’t worth it at the end.

Best Blast From The Past

Game replays are often easy wins for me – I know what they’re about, so can play and writen them up a bit faster. It means that I might have been playing them more often and this category becomes more difficult to fill.

Still, this fifty there was SimCity 2000, the well known city builder and the version I started with. It’s dated, sure, and I struggled in comparison with the current Cities Skylines, but it still had a fun core to play with – the genre is just that good and the design still that appealing.

Games We Kept Playing

This category was even more difficult – nothing stuck as much as I normally wanted. Still, there’s one – Dragon Quest got some extra attention afterwards, as I had it on a tablet and it made sense to grind some more while travelling. Maybe not as much as other games, but it worked here.

750th played so far

Genre: Role-Playing
Platform: Playstation
Year of Release: 1997
Developer: Squaresoft
Publisher: Square/Sony Computer Entertainment

Happy new year! And happy 750th game landmark! It’s pure coincidence the two coincided, but I quite like that both happen at the same time.

My search for a big game to play coincided with my quest to start some remaining franchises. I hadn’t played anything in the Final Fantasy Tactics series yet, despite some time with Final Fantasy Tactics Advance showing me it’s been good. It’s more Disgaea than Advance Wars and I assume that will hold up for the original game as well.

Our Thoughts

To start with the basics: Final Fantasy Tactics is a good strategy game. The battles are quite lengthy and start off quite difficult, but they make fo rfun puzzles and offer a decent challenged. Replaying them (because I forgot to save…) makes them easier, but still leave enough of a challenge that it isn’t just repeating the same moves. There’s a big list of possible classes with their own setups that I haven’t gone deep enough in, but so far it’s been quite satisfying. I noticed I needed to more work to get the party balance right – no guidance here – but I’ll get there.

You’re also regularly joined by AI characters who help you out, but they are useful a lot less often. Sometimes, they’re in the right place and really help out, but they seem to mess around too much sometimes and just get in your way.

There are some other odd decisions too. For example, you can’t enter a dead character’s square. I guess this is for some sort of future resurrection ability, but right now it means they can get stuck it weird places that makes the level unintentionally more difficult. It’s part of the parcel that makes the game more difficult than it feels it’s intended to be at the moment and increases the learning curive a bit from before.

A related downside are the cutscenes. They are slow – not just long, but they feel like they’re set up slowly and it gets a bit frustrating sometimes. The storyline didn’t really engage me yet, so I was hoping for more there.

The game looks nice. The 3D environments are boxxy but easy to rotate, with sprite characters on top of that. It works really well to keep the game playable while giving it a nicely elaborate art style as well.

Final Thoughts

Difficulty aside, this game does take what feels like a Final Fantasy story and puts it in this different battle mode and context that helps create a fun experience. I’d love to try and get deeper in it, but perhaps in an entry of the series that has advanced further.

749th played so far

Genre: Shoot ‘Em Up
Platform: PC
Year of Release: 2001
Developer: Bohemia Interactive Studio
Publisher: Codemasters

According to the book, this is the first soldier FPS – focused on the reality of participating in war rather than the shooter fantasies of, say, Quake (to use a not quite contemporary). More realistic loadouts, weapons and so on. It’s a formula since followed by many others, Call of Duty foremost amongst them.

They’ve usually not appealed to me quite as much as the all guns blazing variety, as they can be story light (and with a story I don’t care about) and don’t end up being much fun. I don’t feel the need to experience (and revel in) war that closely. It’s still a popular genre, though, and so there are plenty of entries for them left on the list – so we still have to progress through it.

Our Thoughts

So I suppose that this is a pretty accurate military shooter – it’s very team based, with tactic elements being available even if the first levels have you working under the commands of someone else. Their AI feels awkward, pointing you in the wrong direction with its orders, but the game at least tries to emulate the commands and I assume does a lot to give you that control in later levels as you lead a squad through. The interface for it works as well as it can, but it’s a bit fiddly for me. Luckily, ignoring it didn’t seem to matter much in the grand scheme of things.

The cut scenes don’t do the speed of the game any favours. They are in engine, but they drag and could have been scripted and set up more tightly. It’s all a bit flaky and unnecessary, as the story isn’t that great to be honest. I wasn’t interested from the ongoing paranoia.

Then getting into the first level is difficult as well. There’s a long driving cutscene after which you’re walking in an empty field for a while. There are comments about distant enemies, but they don’t appear and I’m fairly sure they are buggy. Then as you come to the village (either ahead of the rest because they move so slowly or out of position because I was getting that bored) and see some specks in the distance. And then you are dead because you are (quite realistically) killed that quickly and the opponents have great accuracy. To be fair, I got a bit closer once or twice, but half the squad died and I couldn’t do much more, but I have no idea what went wrong and what I could have done better. There’s nothing to go on and it wasn’t much fun. So after about five goes, I had to decide that first level was the final one. It’s a shame.

Final Thoughts

While the first Operation Flashpoint game is quite admirable in how it is the first to create this atmosphere and type of game. It doesn’t quite give enough information to really help beginning players, though, and it has all the edges of a seventeen year old game, that make it harder to get into the game or want to stay in it as well.

Interestingly, this finishes three quite different shoot em ups in a row. This FPS-adjacent game is one style, while we had a run and gun shooting game a few days ago and played a 3D space shooters last week. It’s quite interesting to see how different these games are, even without the obvious Space Invaders clone as well. I’m always happy to see the variety that can be in a genre and seeing these near each other makes it even more interesting. Still, it’s a strategy game next time – certainly something different.

#218 Contra III: The Alien Wars

Posted: 26th December 2018 by Jeroen in Games
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748th played so far

Genre: Shoot ‘Em Up
Platform: SNES
Year of Release: 1992
Developer: Konami
Publisher: Konami

I’m making my way through the franchises I haven’t started yet, I am coming across some that I haven’t started because I haven’t really cared enough. The Contra series is another run and gun series – very mild platformers that focus on you shooting loads of enemies. They were an arcade favourite that would have found success on home consoles as well, but were either taken over by FPSes as a popular game or combined with other genres, between platformers and beat ’em ups. I mean, Bionic Commando Rearmed did it as well, but added to it.

Our Thoughts

So Contra 3 is a pretty standard run and gun game – you run down a level and have enemies attacking from both directions, while you try to advance through the level. I’ve not been helped by direction changes feeling a bit clunky, which made the game a bit annoying to play in places.

There’s a decent variety of weapons, coming from enemies you shoot out of the sky. It’s quite fun to play around with these and you get two options, allowing for some strategizing. It means that, on the whole, taking out enemies is decent enough – though nothing too difficult.

The game, however, also contains its own amount of platforming, more than games of the genre tend to. What helps is that there’s a bunch of destructible terrain, creating a game that feels quite dynamic, and adds in decent terrain obstacles – including podobo-like balls that jump out of the fire. Not realistic, but it works quite well, and they were quite difficult to deal with in the end.

Final Thoughts

While Contra 3 is a pretty standard run and gun, it at least has some nice level based touches that make progression a bit more interesting than having extra enemies appear.

#280 Star Wars: TIE Fighter

Posted: 16th December 2018 by Jeroen in Games
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747th played so far

Genre: Shoot ‘Em Up
Platform: PC
Year of Release: 1994
Developer: Totally Games
Publisher: LucasArts

There is a subset of Star Wars games that focuses on the space dog fights that are a part of the franchise – small crafts flying around as they chase each other around the large structures. They were even part of the Lego Star Wars games, as annoying as they might have been there.

For me, they were not the favourite part of the series and I’m not very hopeful for the games either. There are four games on the list – two in the Tie Fighter line and two in the newer Rogue Squadron line. I still need to start both and you’ll see Rogue Squadron come around in a few weeks. Today, we fight as part of the empire, so let’s see how we go.

Our Thoughts

One of the things that usually gets me in these games is that they can be disorienting. I don’t think it was as much of an issue with Star Fox, although I remember that as being more on rails, but with the likes of Elite it seemed like that black void didn’t let me orient myself at any point. However, I guess Tie Fighter must have set a new high, as I never felt like I was spending a lot of time figuring out where I’m going.

That made it more fun to go through these space battles, flying up to different craft to check them and chasing enemies. There’s a decent targeting system that gives you a fair amount of control and makes it easier to follow your enemies (including speed matching) or your allies if you need to. You still have to get your aim correct, which isn’t always as easy, but the game kept me from constantly spiralling.

The game still stayed challenging for me, as aiming stayed tricky, and the big long fights got quite tricky to keep up with. It stayed fun to play, however, setting a standard for other games to now live up to.

#985 Tiger Woods PGA Tour 10

Posted: 12th December 2018 by Jeroen in Games
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746th played so far

Genre: Sports
Platform: Various
Year of Release: 2009
Developer: EA Tiburon
Publisher: Electronic Arts

I’ve mentioned my general discomfort with sports games before, as a genre that I don’t get much out of. I can understand why they’re popular and why people would enjoy them, but I often find them awkward to control and difficult to follow.

Non-team sports tend to fare better and golf especially feels different – Golden Tee Live was its own special experience, but even Mario Golf managed to hit a decent spot and recently Golf Story has been a great early Switch hit. The PGA Tour series is the leading franchise for the golf genre, so we play what was the latest one when the original list was released – back when Tiger Woods could lead the franchise.

Our Thoughts

Let’s start by being clear about one thing – a golf game is still a golf game, and the basics of that haven’t changed. Sure, the courses here look better than ever, but in the end you’re still doing the same thing as always.

The swing system is a lot better than most. Usually there’s the system of aiming, followed by a pointer moving across a bar where you want to hit the right area. Here, you use the full range of a thumbstick, pulling back and pushing forward to simulate the swing. It’s a system that gives you more options to aim and allows for more trick shots without feeling complicated. It was intuitive and felt really satisfying to play. The game makes its limits on how far you’ll hit clear, assuming a perfect shot, which helps you put some limits in. It makes it quite easy to get through the basics of the game. You need to learn how to do it perfectly, but it’s surprisingly easy to pick up the game and just play.

The game has a lot of courses, set up in various tournament setups, as well as a bunch of cosmetics and gameplay changes to buy. It’s obviously a system to really get stuck in, but it felt less required here than it otherwise would be, which makes for a nice balance between long term gameplay and first time goes.

Final Thoughts

TIger Woods PGA Tour 10 is the best golf game I’ve played – it looks good and has more intuitive controls than most. I still struggled in places – especially putting, which (it sounds like) is a problem on most golf games anyway. There’s room for clearing things up, but on the whole it’s a decent way to play golf from your couch.

745th played so far

Genre: First-Person Shooter
Platform: PC
Year of Release: 2005
Developer: Monolith Productions
Publisher: Sierra Entertainment/Vivendi Universal Games/Warner Bros. Games

Supernatural elements to the extent that F.E.A.R. seems to have, based on the reading I have done so far, are normally the domain of the survival horror. Resident Evil has some of it together with its zombies and it sounds like Eternal DarknessĀ revolves around it.

Here, though, it’s a clearer shooter, with no survival elements. It feels like a different way of dealing with horror and I’m wondering how it will all fit together.

Our Thoughts

Looking at F.E.A.R., the story is what stands out. In a world where you seem to have a psychic connection to something, the game has a bunch of small cutscenes where the shooting gets interrupted by weird occurences – encounters, destruction, just things that feel weird. It’s a neat way to keep the world unsettling, allowing for some in level storytelling, without interrupting the flow.

Unfortunately, in between those story bits, the game feels like a bog standard military shooter – limited weapons, loads of enemies and long, endless, samey levels that seem to go on forever – the water plant really started boring me after a while. There’s little new that seems to be introduced, and while there’s a part of bullet time included, it didn’t feel like it made much of a difference to me.

But it’s a real shame, because the nuggets of story rewards are few and there’s a lot in between, with what’s in between feeling uninspiring and unnecessary.

#306 The Neverhood

Posted: 4th December 2018 by Jeroen in Games
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744th played so far

Genre: Adventure
Platform: PC
Year of Release: 1996
Developer: The Neverhood, Inc.
Publisher: Dreamworks Interactive

The Neverhood is another game I’ve been looking forward to for a long time. My first school diary for secondary school came with a demo disc for a bunch of games (it was video game themed) and this was one of the demos that was included. I didn’t know of any other links (Earthworm Jim wasn’t on my radar at the time and I never really got into it afterwards) but the claymation intrigued me and the puzzles were fun. I’ve always wanted to play more of it to see where the story goes and enjoy the animations and in the past few years I’ve held off for this game.

Our Thoughts

Let’s start with the positives (and they outweigh the downsides mostly). The Neverhood is a gorgeous game, the claymation not having aged even if some of the cinematics themselves have started to look a bit rough – in the game itself it looks fine. The world is colourful, a bit wonky but with a decent amount of variation. Just the first few houses are inviting and interesting to explore.

The puzzles are a mixed batch. Unlike the likes of LucasArts games, there’s no dialogue and there’s no inventory to speak off (you have some space, but it’s not as big a part of puzzle solving). Instead, the puzzle are real puzzles, things like getting the levels of pipes right and doing sliding puzzles. There’s some backtracking required, but early on it plays quite well and teaches you some of the stranger mechanisms.

This changes a bit later on. The puzzles doesn’t necessarily get loads more difficult, but instead they get tedious. This starts early on with a optional tape that tells part of the backstory of the world being hidden behind a five minute long corridor, which only barely compares to the required path around a mountain cliff you undertake in this weird scooter – the length sort of obfuscates what goes on, but it still feels like it could be a lot faster. Sadly, it wore me out after a while, as it just wasn’t enjoyable to keep retrying, and left the game alone when the endgame just pushed it too much.

Final Thoughts

I’m really torn on The Neverhood. The world looks lovely and invites exploration, having plenty of treats around. It’s more of a puzzle game than most, but sadly it doesn’t seem to be able to keep them constrained enough. Considering this came after the giants of Myst and Day of the Tentacle (and Loom pulled off the inventory light adventure game better), it feels that should have provided a good base. Still, it’s worth it as its own experiment that maybe pushed further than it should have.