#135 California Games

Posted: 21st August 2019 by Jeroen in Games
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808th played so far

Genre: Sports
Platform: Various
Year of Release: 1987
Developer: Epyx
Publisher: Epyx

Out of all these replay games, California Games is the one I’ve probably known longest – even in the full list there are a few (like Donkey Kong and Pac-Man) that could match it. I played it, in part, on a keyboard that was slowly dying, and not having a shift-key made some of the minigames a lot more difficult to play, but somehow I spent hours on figuring out the hackysack game and bmxing around.

I’m well aware of its limitations, but I hope some of that magic has carried over and I can still find my way around. Why else would I have spent this much time on the game?

Our Thoughts

The upsides, playing California Games after I’ve played more conventional games like Track & Field and Summer Games II, is that it brings a number of games to the table that feel quite different from the standards. There’s no awkward button mashing running game and although something like BMXing is quite similar to Excitebike, there is actually a nice bit of variation in the scenery and it feels like quite a different game (even if roller skating is quite similar – though with a more ice cream defined endpoint).

What was vaguely reassuring is that I still had okay skills with the ones I used to be good at, and still don’t get the games I never got. I’m not sure I quite understand surfing – although I remember learning a few tricks for it 25 years ago, getting up on the board seemed difficult enough. I got back into Footbag easily enough – kicking the bag up is easy enough to time, and it comes down to the tricks you need to learn – and frisbeeing is probably the closest to the other games, with the standard golf hit bars and a trickier catching sequence at the end.

The controls remain flakey, even with a full keyboard, and somewhat inconsistent feeling between mini games. That impacts the games and makes it more difficult to learn it, holding back this feeling like a coherent set of games. It’s easy to jump between games though, not requiring a certain order if you don’t want to, and that on its own feels comfortable – you can do what you want.

Final Thoughts

California Games‘s strength in this group of games lies in its variety of games, it feels different and unique, which not all games like this seem to do. Sadly the games aren’t all that consistent – at least in controls and feel, even if the quality is similar enough – and it feels like a bit more care could have solved that. It’s a fun way to waste some time, but didn’t entirely hold up in my mind.

#349 MDK

Posted: 17th August 2019 by Jeroen in Games
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807th played so far

Genre: Shoot ‘Em Up
Platform: PC
Year of Release: 1997
Developer: Shiny Entertainment
Publisher: Shiny Entertainment/Playmates Interactive

I’ve sort of played MDK before – it wasn’t loads, and mostly dropping into other people’s games rather than playing a full campaign on my own. The sequel stands out as being an early Bioware game, release shortly after Baldur’s Gate, as they were still getting settled. The first was made by Shiny Entertainment, who also made future game Sacrifice, but co-designed by Nick Bruty, who later made Giants: Citizen Kabuto, a game I liked rather less.

The meaning of MDK isn’t as clear – at least officially – but we thought it was genuinely meant to stand for Murder, Death, Kill. The creators denied it, but it was such a cool sounding name that we had to go for it. The game itself wasn’t that aggressive from my momery, but even that didn’t really matter here.

Our Thoughts

MDK feels like a product of its time. Graphically it’s got some nice models, but it also has the lengthy brown unreadable ground textures in places and generally works more on creating bigger environments than making that readable. Beyond that, what you get is mostly a decent third person shooter, using smaller areas than we make get in current games but clearly designed to help with performance. It’s fine, but the amount of enemies in each place means that there were times where the whole thing can feel quite overwhelming, with not that much leeway for errors.

There’s a decent selection of weapons, which get pretty ridiculous – the “World’s Smallest Nuclear Bomb” is as deadly as you’d expect, but just as ridiculous. More notable for most of the game, though, are the other abilities. Each level starts with a freefall using the parachute in your suit and subsequent areas in the level let you use the same thing. The gliding gives you a nice bit of extra control when playing and works as a nice addition to make the world feel more 3D. The sniper scope is another nice addition – it does what you expect it to do, but is usable whenever you want. It feels incredibly satisfying and becomes a part of the core gameplay.

The levels themselves differ a lot in how engaging they are. Some are pretty standard, almost boring arenas, but others take place in these giant factories and testing facilities. Where it works well, you get a nice bit of world building, but despite there being a written explanation, the story never really gets shown well in the game. It’s a shame – considering there are voice overs, adding a few more might have made it all connect a bit better for me.

Final Thoughts

MDK is a difficult, unforgiving shooter that sometimes manages to pay it off with some amazing moments and nice sights, but at others drops the ball a bit and makes them less interesting. On the whole it was okay to play, but time hasn’t been as kind as it should have been, so it’s a case of needing to be careful with what you get into.

806th played so far

Genre: Driving
Platform: PC
Year of Release: 1998
Developer: Stainless Games
Publisher: Sales Curve Interactive/Interplay Entertainment

Carmageddon is one of those games that felt like a transition to adulthood for me. While we weren’t allowed to play – the violence and indulge in dark humour were too much for our parents – we got an illegal copy and I remember playing it while not telling my friends’ parents what we were actually playing. There was something exciting and naughty about it that made it even better.

A few years later, when I got a new system, it had the second game in the series – this one – installed on it, so of course I played it. By that point, my parents didn’t care as much and it was okay to play it – with some comments, but it was fine. I guess the world moved on, we got older, and it just didn’t feel as bad as presented. Twenty years on, more will have changed, but this is where we’ll see how that goes.

Our Thoughts

The first question to ask is whether Carmageddon II is a good racer? Whatever else the game may offer, it’s important that it does the basic gameplay well. The answer there is that as a racer on its own, it’s pretty standard. The game feels quite floaty, especially with your first car, and you don’t have a lot of grip (it’s pretty bad, to be honest, if this is meant to be average grip). It’s not impossible, but if you want to have the collisions this game has, it’s good for your car to have some weight to it. In a blast to the past, the game still uses a standard checkpoint system: go from point to point in the time allotted. What saves that is that the game is very generous with bonus time, so unless you go out of your way to be a good person, which isn’t easy in the game, you might run out.

Here’s the thing though: Racing around the track isn’t really the fun part of the game. Sadly some challenges require it, but when you can it’s not what you want to focus for. Another is to kill all the pedestrians in the level – the bit msot people objected to, but not something you want to do normally. They’re a quick source of extra time and money, but they get exhausting to find after a while.

More enjoyable, and what you’d want to do, is to waste your competitors. They’ll seek you out too, sometimes, which makes that more helpful, but it’s a lot of fun to find the different ways to waste them. More important, if you wreck another car, you get a chance to buy their car at the end. Getting a sturdier, heftier car really helped moe going forward – just to get more cars.

What makes finding the pedestrians more difficult, but chasing the cars more fun, is that the game’s levels are pretty big. Multiple courses use the same level layout with different routes and checkpoints. The areas still seem bigger than that and it feels like there are more secrets and easter eggs in there that can take a while to discover. It also makes it a lot more fun to wreck cars, as there are so many more places to go – even underwater if you want to, which has more there than you’d expect.

Final Thoughts

Carmageddon II isn’t a great racer. It’s fine, but feels too floaty to really work well as a racing game. Where it sets itself apart is in its violence and how much it indulges in it. It’s far from realistic, but that comedy is what makes it work. It’s crass, but goes far enough for it that it works here.

#109 Gauntlet II

Posted: 9th August 2019 by Jeroen in Games
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805th played so far

Genre: Action
Platform: Arcade
Year of Release: 1986
Developer: Atari Games
Publisher: Atari Games

While I’ve played Gauntlet before, as I said then, I’ve played its sequel before. In fact, as a family we played it as far as we could – not just me, but my sister and mother as well. As Gauntlet II loops its levels infinitely, this was a lot of experiencing the same levels with some difficulty variations, but it was a great multiplayer experience.

For this round, I’ll be playing on my own, but I also get to think how well it still works.

Our Thoughts

While Gauntlet II still has the same basics as the original – lots of enemies spawning from these spawn point areas as you make your way through maze-like levels, finding exits and collecting keys to open doors. There are a bunch of different magic items around that give you different powers – moving through walls is especially useful, while certain ones that attract or deflect enemies help or annoy more with combat. There are still digitized bits of speech in there – something that feels impressive looking back on it. That even made it into the NES port, which makes it feel even more impressive.

By now I’ve played the arcade version as well, and I must admit I thought the NES port was pretty faithful. It looks and feels the same and I didn’t notice anything in the arcade game that wasn’t in the NES port. Other than the obvious coin difference – this is a game you can keep playing forever… as long as you keep feeding coins into it.

The other part that’s good about the game, but that I couldn’t get into as much here, is the multiplayer. The four player gameplay feels tempting and I enjoyed it on the NES. It feels made for it, both in places where you can help out (with, I suspect, certain enemies getting easier) and with ways to annoy each other as you have to share resources. Health, and hence time, is especially limited this way, probably to keep you paying.

Final Thoughts

Does this game improve on the original? Yeah, although may be not as much as is obvious when I describe it here. It’s that bit of extra polish and the expansion of content. But the formula still works and I kept being entertained by it, and that feels like the bigger determining factor. Get a home version that doesn’t require you to feed it quarters, and you’re on to a winner.

#350 Myth: The Fallen Lords

Posted: 5th August 2019 by Jeroen in Games
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804th played so far

Genre: Strategy
Platform: PC
Year of Release: 1997
Developer: Bungie
Publisher: Bungie/Eidos Interactive

Next on the list of games I’ve played before, the 3D elements of Myth: The Fallen Lords made it memorable to me. While I knew the likes of Command & Conquer and Warcraft, having a rotating camera felt different and at the time I actually had to learn those commands.

Then when I saw this on the list, I figured I had to hold off on it – the age of it would probably make it pale a bit next to the likes of Warcraft III, but it felt like there was something special about it.

Our Thoughts

One of the things that I rarely mention here are the difficulties of getting these games working. For Myth, this was an especially big annoyance, as the game was later recreated in its sequel and that sequel is the one that got all the fan patches. Instead, I had to do a lot more tweaking to get everything sorted, with some outdated engine parts. All I can say is that you want to be careful… and possibly pick up Myth 2 while you’re at it.

All of that also led to some stability issues which meant that I had to replay some early missions several times. I guess it was good experience to see variations, but that’s where it is.

Myth itself is more of a tactical game, rather than a pure strategy game. There is no base building or resource management – what you see is what you get. Some levels give you a chance to recruit some more, but it’s all about using and following the units you have.

Missions tend to be fairly straightforward, starting off as a kill everyone thing, but also having you reach a point and do a controlled retreat at one point, or retrieving a single item from a battlefield. Enemies are set along your route, moving along as necessary, but it feels like you’re moving from combat to combat. It’s a decent set up with some variation in enemy types, but for me the lack of creating units removes a bit of interest.

Final Thoughts

Myth looks fine, obviously a bit dated now, but as I said that part of it was amazing at the time. The setting itself is fine – I guess I’ve never been too impressed with Halo‘s story telling, but what Bungie created here seemed like a fairly standard world. It’s fine, but at this point I wish it did a little bit more.

#911 Dragon Quest V

Posted: 1st August 2019 by Jeroen in Games
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803rd played so far

Genre: Role-Playing
Platform: SNES
Year of Release: 1992
Developer: Chunsoft
Publisher: Enix

For those of you following along on this: Yes, this is a game release in 1992 with a number that goes far higher than this. When putting the first edition of the 1001 list together, the editors seem to have ordered this game in the position it’d be in for its western release – the 2008 DS version – rather than its original SNES release date. The date was fixed, but it stayed in the wrong place. The second edition fixed this (something that took me a while to discover when trying to figure out the changes in the list), but since we’re sticking with our original order for the numbering, #911 is what we’ve got.

Our Thoughts

It feels like there’s a standard start to the Dragon Quest series, where you leave your village and go to a nearby cave. Somehow I imagine it as always being kids – although that isn’t right – but it feels like there’s that trip, with plenty of slimes in between. There’s a cave like that at the start here, and it felt familiar – together with returning from a long trip and dealing with an absent mother. It soon diverges though, with some odd elements – there’s an odd alternate world or time travel plot that’s introduced (and not resolved based on the Wikipedia description), travel to other (dream?) worlds and other mystical and magical bits.

There’s also a far deeper story than the first game, which just had a standard multiplayer plot. Here, a large chunk of the early story is dedicated to you living in a castle and dealing with a prince, which feels like it sets up a lot of what follows. There’s a lot going on and I should have gotten deeper to really get it, but the story it sets up is interesting enough.

There are some frustrations too, though. Luckily death didn’t feel too punishing, but I ran into trouble several times as my allies just wouldn’t follow orders – they can be quite helpful when it works, but when they jump to just defending as I need healing or other help, it gets annoying.

It meant I missed out on one of the big features – while monster training is a thing, a system they explore in later games in the series and predating Pokemon by several years, I never actually got to see it. I just didn’t really have the time. It seems quite fun, offering quite a twist on the standard “defeat monster” formula that Final Fantasy (especially Final Fantasy VI) explores with its blue mage and other classes, but here it seems to be front and centre instead.

Final Thoughts

This game is genuinely huge – bigger than I can cover with the time I’ve got dedicated to the blog, but tempting to play further when I have the time and can get into the series. The world building and storytelling already feels amazing, characterful and in depth and even if it looks a bit primitive still, it all works well together as long as I can get to tweak the difficulty.

802nd played so far

Genre: Action/Role-Playing
Platform: Nintendo DS
Year of Release: 2009
Developer: AlphaDream
Publisher: Nintendo

I’ve started playing Bowser’s Inside Story about ten years ago, shortly after its release, but didn’t get too far – too many other games and this list distracted me far enough. I’ve enjoyed the formula though – as we talked about in both Superstar Saga and Partners in Time – and this had its own new twist as we’re about to discuss.

Our Thoughts

As the name implies, parts of this game take place inside Bowser. Mario and Luigi end up inside because of some plot details – best not to think too much about it – and spend a lot of time in Bowser’s insides to activate powers, as well as to fight enemies he inhales at various points in the game. It leads through some interesting fabrications – some probably build on real medical stuff, but with plenty of (say) flame based additions and the like. It’s a different setting, allowing for a lot of the platforming RPG puzzles we’ve seen in the series before.

As always, though, it’s more compelling to play as the bad guy, and that’s the other side of this game. While Mario is inside Bowser, you also control the giant beast as he wanders around this incarnation of the Mushroom kingdom, using his powerful punches and fire breath to make his way through. It uses a lot of the standard puzzles, replacing jumping with these other powers, but in a way that fits in with how everything else works.

The game might at times have felt like a skin over the existing mechanics, but what truly makes the game work – again – is its charm. As always, Bowser is written well and his boisterous attitude and confidence make the standard story beats work much better – not as many people are intimidated as he thinks they should be, but it works well.

Final Thoughts

While on osme level, it feels like Mario & Luigi might start to run into diminishing returns with its mechanics, the setting and characters more than make up for it. The last of the series we’re playing may not be its pinnacle, but its gameplay is still great and the way Bowser is a part of all of the game is what really makes it work for me.

#87 A Mind Forever Voyaging

Posted: 24th July 2019 by Jeroen in Games
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801st played so far

Genre: Interactive Fiction
Platform: Various
Year of Release: 1985
Developer: Infocom
Publisher: Infocom

To kick off the next fifty and hundred, we go to an Infocom adventure. Not quite an indie – I’m starting to run light on those anyway – but these Infocom adventures do stand out, and A Mind Forever Voyaging is special even there in how it isn’t a standard Infocom adventure, but instead an exploration of a cities throughout the years. It osunds different.

Our Thoughts

Most games like this drop you in a world and give you the option to explore and solve puzzles inside it – a story playing out around that you drive by your actions, giving you something to do to move along. We’ve seen some exceptions – Thirty Flights of Loving took you through brief moments of story, but mostly have you walk from place to place, while Facade puts you in a room with a couple that argues, with a history. A Mind Forever Voyaging goes further down that path. In the first part of the game, as you learn not just the controls, but the world you go into – finding your house, museums and other important places in the later story. While you take some actions – unlocking doors and buying newspapers – throughout you’re really just observing, figuring out how the world operates and what happens with it.

Once you finish your todo list and have seen a lot of the world, the game really unleashes. The simulation you’re in advances by ten years, calculating what the results are of the plans the government want to put in place. As you progress through the years, you gather evidence of why this doesn’t work – showing a troubled, dystopic future that slowly gets worse. There’s a bit of a personal storyline there – or rather the persona you as an AI inhabit – but again you stay an observer, slowly seeing how everything gets worse. There’s a final chapter that has you stop the plot, but that’s more of a satisfying button than the meat of the game.

The game is big and deep when it comes to that. The systems your AI use are well detailed, and there is more going on in the world than you see during a single playthrough (or at least need to). It’s different from what happens normally and a way of exploring a world that I don’t feel really gets explored until more games decades later. It may sound boring, but this is well worth a playthrough.

50 Game Round Up: 751-800 (Jeroen)

Posted: 22nd July 2019 by Jeroen in Round-Up

With another 50 done, it’s also time for another round up post. Again, I’m running out of these, with only five more to go if I include this one – and considering how they always take that bit more time to write, I’m actually starting to think that’s not too bad. In a way it’s time to move on.

At that same point, the last 50 is also another fifty – no more themes, just more games to play. Plenty of good ones, thankfully, so I’m still enthusiastic about continuing – and I know how many good ones there are in the two hundred or so that are left.

Best Game I Had Not Previously Played

During this fifty, I’ve given in to playing a number of games I’ve been holding off for years for the blog, but have been desperate to play.There’s a set of three that stands out there in particular.

I’m not sure I knew too much of The World Ends With You, but it’s a game that resonated with me when I saw it and the setitng and mechanics of it worked to make a really good game. Psychonauts has an interesting setting, adding to the game’s decent mechanics for something more.

But I am who I am and X-Com: Enemy Unknown just pushes all the buttons for me: a strategy game with a good story and decent progression. The original was outdated, but here the extra polish just works for me.

Worst Game

As for the worst games, it really comes down to the military shooters. The team based stuff hasn’t appealed to me, in part because it felt like they didn’t try to do something to change that. There’s two that stood out -negatively.

Battlefield 1943 was online only, but I didn’t get anything new out of it and with a broken tutorial, I bailed out pretty quick. Worse, though, was Operation Flashpoint: Dragon Rising. It’s meant to have a singleplayer campaign, but that broke for me on the first level… It might sound silly, but why did I bother?

Most Surprising Game

I think I can say that this time, I genuinely was surprised by some games being a lot more fun and playable than before. One of them stands out a lot – I mean, I could talk about how Donkey Kong Jungle Beat worked a lot better than before, or how I played Shadow Complex for quite a bit longer than I expected.

But really, Chronicles of Riddick: Escape from Butcher’s Bay takes it. I was expecting that it was a simple shooter I could get through fairly quickly, but I got an FPS game with a mor eengaging story than that and some more complex mechanics. It gave me a lot more than I expected, and that’s what made it great.

Biggest Disappointment

I can be quick here too, really. Spore may not have aged well, but both Star Wars Rogue Squadron games, the original and Rogue Leader, felt like they were highly rated and beloved, but felt like a broken mess in practice that I couldn’t play half the time. It’sactually pretty bad and disappointing and I’m glad I could just finish the series.

Best Blast From The Past

As I’m moving to the end of the list, I’ll soon be playing a bunch of games I’ve played before – it’ll be part of my theme for the next fifty, to help with game selection and give me something else to focus on. In the last fifty, though, I haven’t played many. Myst is one of the few, and it still stands out as an adventure, one that held up far better than I expected.  It’s a classic for a reason and deserved to be played for that landmark.

Games We Kept Playing

As I am starting to get eager to get back to the gaming I love, there are fewer games I stick with. I want to play my own thing, and not everything expires – often I’d rather restart the game anyway. But there’s one game that I intentionally played to finish, that’s how much of a blast I had, and Full Throttle deserves to be recognised in this post. It was a birthday present to myself, and that’s how it worked out.

#234 Myst

Posted: 20th July 2019 by Jeroen in Games
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800th played so far

Genre: Adventure/Puzzle
Platform: Various
Year of Release: 1993
Developer: Cyan
Publisher: Broderbund

Game 800! To celebrate that achievement (and it really is one to me, somehow the before-last 100 milestone matters a lot) I’m playing game that I’ve been interested in for a long time, for similar reasons as The 7th Guest, but haven’t made time to play yet. I’ve seen some of the lore and know a bit of the world, but the solutions are far away, so I’ll need to see how that works out.

Will it hold up? I’m going to assume it will.

Our Thoughts

To a point, Myst still holds up. Sure, graphically it’s not as modern as modern games are, but considering the age it still looks pretty good. Unlike Ridge Racer last time, released in the same year, this uses prerendered graphics and the original consisted more of movies from one place to the other. I played one of the later remakes, but it still worked well enough.

One of the things that can really set a game apart is how succesful it is in its environmental storytelling. System Shock did some of that early on and Looking Glass Studios continued from there, while modern games like Gone Home made a genre out of that, but Myst does something similar here. As the worlds are written by a character in the story, as you find out more of as you go on, they already reflect some of that personality, and with both of the sons livining in the different eras, the way the rooms are laid out tell syou all you need to know about their personalities. It’s quite impressive in a way that I’m not sure is always recognised.

The worlds are small – smaller than I expected I suppose – but are neat to explore. They obviously somewhat constrain your options, which makes finding the puzzles and sorting out their interactions easier. The puzzles are sometimes difficult enough though – there are some where I got myself some hints and one, a music puzzle, felt impossible to do by someone who doesn’t have the musical knowledge, while also having an interface that makes it unnecessarily difficult. When they work though, there’s always that nice extra reward of being able to progress to a new bit of the world, which is worth it on its own.

Final Thoughts

Has Myst aged? Up to a point, but I’d argue it matters little. It’s smaller than you might make these days, but its compact nature helps more than it hinders. It’s unfortunate some puzzles feel too awkward, in my case locking access to a world, but at least the plot is flexible enough to let you get away with missing one.