#437 Elasto Mania

Posted: 5th July 2018 by Jeroen in Uncategorized
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706th played so far

Genre: Simulation
Platform: PC
Year of Release: 2000
Developer: Balazs Rozsa
Publisher: Balazs Rozsa

Sometimes, an indie physics simulation is what you need to play. The screenshots of Elasto Mania – a motor cycle racing game with early 2000s simple graphics never quite sat with the memory of a game description that I would have expected to be more like Stretch Panic – a completely unrelated game.

Here, we’re talking about a motorcycle game, physics based as we drive through… some area? It’s not quite clear, all I know is that there’s an elastic motorbike, really.

Our Thoughts

In the end, Elasto Mania has a simple concept. You drive around on a motorbike that stretches, yeah, accelerating in either direction, trying to manipulate jumps and other physics interactions to get you from point to point – both to gain apples that open the exit and to get to the exit itself. It mainly gives you the challenge of how to reach these points – easy at the start, but the included levels ramp up difficulty really quickly, and that challenge only gets more difficult in the user created additional levels. The controls are messy – gain air, and you’ll keep spinning without a way to stop it if you’re not careful, and I didn’t figure out the controls for it. You just have to keep it steady so you don’t facpelant, which feels tricker than needed.

I feel like the custom made levels are the more interesting part of the games – as a physics puzzler, it’s fine but only gives you so much. When the user comes in, it becomes a lot more challenging and you get the really unique options in there. It’s also still not that common for games to support user generated content to this extent, which sets it apart on its own.

Final Thoughts

Showing the power of user generated content more than anything, the physics in this game are occasionally stimulating but nothing too special. Instead, seeing what people do with such a basic engine is more interesting and stimulating.

#88 Commando

Posted: 1st July 2018 by Jeroen in Games
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705th played so far

Genre: Shoot ‘Em Up
Platform: Arcade
Year of Release: 1985
Developer: Capcom
Publisher: Capcom

For my own amusement and occasional help in picking games, I have a list of games, constantly updated, that I am looking forward to playing and those that I really don’t, and I’d rather just be done with. Commando is on the latter list, with you playing as a commando dropped in to do something and kill loads of soldiers in the process. It’s one that I just want to get over with.

Our Thoughts

No twin stick shooter today – Commando has you shoot in the direction you move in, which might be easier to keep track of, but also makes it quite difficult to pull off any sort of slightly more impressive moves to avoid any enemies. It’s awkward and feels like it’s done for simplicity rather than to add a challenge, a part of the original design. Now, considering the era we’re at that’s not too surprising – twin sticks require more money and work to implement and, to be fair, when you’re running around a field you’re best off shooting in the direction you’re walking in.

What puts me off is what I said before. It is one of those shooters where you walk around, shoot soldiers and move on. The graphics are okay for the era, nothing to write home about, and there doesn’t seem to be much more here that’s on offer. It does the job, but doesn’t bring it for me.

#579 Bejeweled 2

Posted: 27th June 2018 by Jeroen in Games
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704th played so far

Genre: Puzzle
Platform: PC
Year of Release: 2004
Developer: Popcap Games
Publisher: Popcap Games

I’ve been getting invested in match three games for a bunch of reasons recently and, while I was looking through the list, realised that the grand daddy of them all, Bejeweled, had two of its sequels on the list. It feels like enough of a reason to play it now and see how it holds up now.

Our Thoughts

The first Bejeweled isn’t on the list, although I’m sure I must have played it. Still, I know the genre from all its derivatives – match three is almost its own genre, played mostly on phones, with Candy Crush Saga and Toon Blast regularly being high on the top grossing charts. In comparison, this is simple – only very basic combos, no weird objectives or similar. Just get a high enough score, a certain number of matches. I believe this sequel adds some modes and new levels compared to the original, but the core game is still there.

Even then, though, it’s hard to separate the original from its expanded sequels. The matching of gems is there. The power ups for matching are in there. You gain points. The objectives are simple – mostly just matching – and beyond that you just play the game. Depending on your game mode, you keep going, you have a time limit or you just have a limited amount of pieces where you need to solve the puzzle. It’s simple. It’s straight forward. But it works. And becomes incredibly addictive real quick. You can see why it has such lasting appeal.

I’ve been spending a lot of time with match three games and playing them, but more isn’t necessarily better – I really appreciated the simplicity this time.

#1019 Dishonored

Posted: 23rd June 2018 by Jeroen in Games
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703rd played so far

Genre: Stealth
Platform: Playstation 3/Xbox 360/PC
Year of Release: 2012
Developer: Arkane Studios
Publisher: Bethesda Softworks

While this game came up, we’ve had the release of Dishonored: Death of the Outsider just behind us, which had some great reviews while simultaneously feeling like it might be the end of the series. It’s always felt quite acclaimed and important, but I guess it never quite caught on (especially for the numbers Bethesda might expect…).

In the mean time, I’ve held back on the first game in the series. It’s significant enough to be known to be good, a modern step in the stealth game. I have to try it, and this feels like the time to do it.

Our Thoughts

Some time ago, we played Thief: The Dark Project. It created large stealth levels, set in houses and environments that let you create your own path through the world based on your playstyle and chosen equipment. Ignoring Dishonored‘s opening level – mostly a fairly linear affair that takes you through sewers as you break out of prison (did I mentioned this was published by Bethesda? There’s a theme) – you end up in these large city blocks. There are definite constraints to your movement, but the first level allows for a (likely suicidal) frontal assualt or at least one or two side passages further. They are larger, here, but that’s not just time – it allows each level to be filled with content. There are the (by now obligatory) collectibles listed, as well as numerous side quests that you get told about as you go on. This can go from a break in into a fancy house to helping out strangers or taking out smaller gangs.

You get a bunch of powers that help you along, upgraded with the runes you collect along the way. Blink, a short range teleport is the first one, but aside from passive abilities like health upgrades, you get a chance to possess other creatures, freeze time or see enemies through walls. It’s the power of the mask you possess, set up in some weird story cut scenes that I haven’t quite worked out yet. The whole thing gives you a decent sense of mobility and superiority over your victims, especially with the innate stealth your character possesses even before he’s magic.

That allows the game to take stealth to its own version of perfection. In the dystopic world, it makes sense that soldiers have their spaces and paths and not everyone needs realistic AI – those that would usually aren’t in the areas you can access. It’s not exactly a living world – it doesn’t need to be – but it’s a world that rewards your stealthy walks while allowing for violent binges.

The chaos system – where, in short, the world changes based on how violent you are – further rewards stealth and I believe the story changes based on how violent you get – less is better, preserving the legacy of the queen whose murder made you an outlaw. It’s a challenging game to keep to stealth and while I haven’t been able to see all the consequences, it creates a sense that what you do matters far more than you get elsewhere.

Final Thoughts

As amazing as the game looks – it’s a grimy city with some lovely architecture, leaning heavily on a steampunk setup – it really doesn’t matter that much when playing it. It creates the right atmosphere, it puts you in the right mindset, but it’s not what makes the game great. That comes from some polished stealth setups, encouraging use of your powers that, when it works out, feels really good. Not that I’ve quite managed that all the time… but it’s been great to explore this world and see what’s in there.

#711 Guitar Hero 2

Posted: 19th June 2018 by Jeroen in Games
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702nd played so far

Genre: Music
Platform: Playstation 2/Xbox 360
Year of Release: 2006
Developer: Harmonix
Publisher: Activision

Man, it’s been a while since we got our plastic instruments out – possibly as far back as the original Guitar Hero as game 184 – and while we’ve had other peripherals for individual games, the setup needed to play these games has made me want to do them in bulk. I’m not quite doing that (yet), but as this game only needed a single guitar, this seemed like the point to bring it back.

Guitar Hero 2 is what it is, the sequel to the original game. The feeling I get with these games is that it’s, well, more songs, and I’m hoping there will be more than this.

Our Thoughts

So what’s different? There’s a practice mode, which would help me learn the songs better, focusing on single sections – something I didn’t explore as much, because for the blog I want to see a lot, but that would have been useful down the line. The tutorial felt like the best I played for these games – it’s good to pick up on what’s going, but doesn’t feel as long. It felt more playable in a way.

But I think I struggle a bit with these games because of the nature of this blog. I don’t want to spend ages learning songs, I want to see everything that happens in the game and try to get the full experience. Here, however, it’s about learning and mastering the songs, getting used to the rhythm and learning the flow of the game that way. I mean, it’s part of the reason why I’m looking forward to replaying this without the pressure of some three hundred more games behind me.

Still, the game’s song choices are great and they make for a great set in career mode. It feels like a bit of shame that you can’t play them in free play straight away, but need to unlock them through the career mode first. It’s a fun mode to play – obviously the actual single player game, but the game is made for, and feels big in, multiplayer, with the play against each other being more important for the parties these games became big at.

Final Thoughts

I played the first Guitar Hero nearly six years ago (that feels depressing to hear…) so I don’t think I remember the details enough to compare. The broad strokes of gameplay are the same, effective as they are, and as a sequel it feels like it mostly adds new songs (possibly with more licensing options) and tightens the gameplay quite a bit. It’s smooth, well polished and plays well, probably the most important quality you need in the game.

#719 Naked War

Posted: 15th June 2018 by Jeroen in Games
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701st played so far

Genre: Strategy
Platform: PC
Year of Release: 2006
Developer: Zee-3 Digital Publishing

It’s getting harder to pick out indie titles for the first of the fifty and I’m sure I’ve skipped one or two already. I managed to dig one out from the pile though, multiplayer focused strategy game Naked War. I believe it’s vaguely Worms inspired, but we’ll see where that goes.

Our Thoughts

One of the downsides of playing this game on my own is that it’s simply not a single player game. Most would implement simple bots that at least give you somewhat of a challenge, but in this case the opposing soldiers just stand around doing nothing. It made the game easy, of course, and I could explore what the game did in different places, but surely it’d be worth a day or two to add anything? (Yeah, I know feature development in games is never that easy. I also know how these trade offs work and how it could be made to work)

I mean, there were still parts that were made difficult, but that’s the controls or rules. With explosions reducing height, units can get into a place where you cannot find a place to fire at them. In other places, because the heights are difficult to deal with (it’s hard to target when paths cross over each other) some are easily sheltered without a way to reach them. I don’t know whether I’m missing something in the controls, whether that fixes itself in real multiplayer or whether you’d just be out of luck.

So I can see the appeal, you could run around and shoot each while avoiding your enemies (there are steps for that). Everyone has high HP – you can take a punch, there’s no insta-kills or other tricks that I’ve seen. That will add some longevity to the game and leads you to allowing for more tactical setups than you need otherwise.

While the game has cartoony-ish graphics, the weapons and machines feel quite militaristic. In a way that makes it feel weirder that there is no death, but instead that the characters lose their clothes, cartoon style. It makes it a cartoonish setup that I feel doesn’t come across elsewhere, which makes it feel odd. There’s ways to regain your clothes, apparently, as a way to control the ebb and flow of the battle, but without a single player mode, it’s hard to tell any of this.

Final Thoughts

Naked War is clearly set up for multiplayer, playing on your own maps and trying to figure out how to defeat your opponent. Single player doesn’t work, and it feels like a big omission that would have made this accessible – if only to get more practice. It would have made it engaging for me – just not now.

50 Game Round Up: 651-700 (Jeroen)

Posted: 13th June 2018 by Jeroen in Round-Up

These most recent fifty have been interesting. Picking mostly random games, I had some big surprises (and some good games I threw back because I really had done too many of that genre). At times I’m unprepared, often I’m surprised, and at least I got to plan far enough ahead that I knew what sort of thing was coming – something I needed if I don’t know how much time I’ll have for a game.

Over two thirds of the way through, the milestones are coming now and I feel like getting through the rest and finishing this. While it’s still three years off, the box of games is getting emptier (I’m getting closer to fitting the lid on!) and all piles are getting smaller. Three hundred or so left, and I feel ready.

Before we get to the next fifty, though, let’s look at the best and the worst of the past fifty.

Best Game I Had Not Previously Played

I’ve got a bunch of good ones in this list of games. I’ll cover a bunch of others in the group as well, but my top two came at the end.

Despite its control flaws, Pikmin presented an interesting world and premise and surrounds you with incredibly cute creatures. There’s a toybox feel to it, with large colourful enemies and some building and putting thins together. There’s something that works and I really should be playing the sequel soon to see all of it.

But speaking of toyboxes, Chibi-Robo appealed to that the most. You’re playing a toy, intelligent and helpful, there’s a lot of personality in the game, including in the silent protagonist. There’s plenty of small tasks to keep you occupied while you explore and figure out the bigger tasks. Although it’s set in a house, it feels like a large house to explore. There’s something exciting about being shrunk and explore a familiar situation at this scale, which this case takes great advantage of.

Worst Game

I feel like there were a bunch of games that didn’t sit well with me. While I’m not bothered by violence and try to explore different points of view, sometimes it does get to me and (perhaps because of recent events) they get to me more. Manhunt would also fit in this pattern, gratuitous without a pay off.

For that reason I am also tempted to put Tom Clancy’s Splinter Cell here, as the reactionary politics really put me off – and I think I’m just soured on the series now. For a stealth or action game, this feels a bit disappointing anyway, so it doesn’t work.

But then there’s Spindizzy,and while there’s something hidden deep in there, for me it’s a game that just didn’t work. The controls were awkward to use and I felt blocked from really making any progress. It just wasn’t for me, age is partially to blame them, but that’s what it is.

Most Surprising Game

At this point, it feels like the point of surprise has shifted as I’ve generally explored more about the game and have a better idea what each game brings – the research seems to be doing that for me and I pick up bits as I play along.

Star Control 3, then, didn’t quite come out of the blue, but its mix of genres, the options in which you could tackle certain problems and the different things that there are to accomplish make for a game at an amazing scale that feels like it exceeds what we would otherwise get. I need to get back to it – especially as some see it as the weakest of the series – and explore all of them.

Biggest Disappointment

As for disappointments, I can do this rather quickly – there was one game that was always high on my list, a cool concept and setting that I wanted to explore and see a lot of, using adventure and RPG mechanics – but applied in a way that didn’t work, especially when combined with some horrible controls. Bioforge was not what I was hoping to play and I had to leave it far earlier than I wanted to originally.

Best Blast From The Past

I’ve only played a few games that I’ve played before. Both Spy vs Spy and Command & Conquer: Red Alert were games I played a long time ago, mostly with friends, and while it was fun to revisit it didn’t quite hit that point for me.

On the other hand, Mario & Luigi: Partners in Time was a game I played an awful lot of, and revisiting that was really good. The Mario RPGs are good fun, and this entry in the Mario & Luigi series is a good example of that, showing off a lot more details and options. One game that I am happy to revisit.

Games We Kept Playing

In a way these are the real hits, aren’t they? The games that didn’t end when we moved to the next. This time there are actually two games I could apply this to.

We covered quite a bit of the Walking Dead while playing, but finished it in a few sessions afterwards. It remained an amazing story and became more compelling as we got deeper into this world. It’s a masterpiece, still, that I loved making my way through and it’s probably the biggest win of the fifty.

Persona 4, in the mean time, is a work in progress as the game is that much bigger. I’m slowly making my way through – still expanding my party as, it seems, more options keep popping up. But it’s the social aspect that fascinates me far more than the tower climbing, just telling stories of these growing friendships. It’s a fascinating concept that I need to see more of.

#486 Pikmin

Posted: 11th June 2018 by Jeroen in Games
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700th played so far

Genre: Strategy
Platform: Gamecube
Year of Release: 2001
Developer: Nintendo EAD
Publisher: Nintendo

Another landmark! 700 already. I mean, this is 7 years in the making, but we’re getting closer all the time.

At this point, there are some game series I really need to start – multiple entries where I haven’t played any. This is not on purpose – just how it goes sometimes – but we wanted to make sure we actually covered them on time. Pikmin is a Gamecube addition to the Nintendo line up, one where you guide these cute Pikmin creatures to repair your spaceship and get out. So far, I’ve mostly seen this through Nintendoland, which had a minigame based on it, but I want to see how it plays out.

Our Thoughts

Consoles have always struggled with setting up strategy games the way the PC does, one where you can play with a large number of units and have the large scale battles from Command & Conquer or even Warcraft – one where a double digit number of units or ore work out the fight and building up an army matters. Without mouse select, how do you split and order units. This is, to be fair, a problem that seems to be solved by now, but I’ve yet to experience it in all its solutions.

Pikmin, to its credit, has created a good solution. You play professor Olimar, a space traveller who has landed on an unknown planet and found these plant creatures called Pikmin. They grow like seeds, with the help of a hive, and when you pick them they will follow you. You can give them limited orders, mostly by throwing them at things to pick up, fight or otherwise manipulate. Some coloured ones have extra abilities (like exploding, which does sound horrible) and so you get the three basic ‘units’.

You lead them around the level. They will follow you unless you store them in their hive, or leave them waiting while it’s convenient to have less around. That last bit also happens when they get stuck behind something, which means you need to be careful with the swarms that follow you. This is even more important because, as night falls, you go to bed and any Pikmin that aren’t safe with you will disappear and die. It’s an interesting mechanic that forces you to pay a lot of attention… and do a sweep of the area just before you go to bed.

What makes it difficult, though, is that the controls to control Pikmin aren’t always great. Most important, while the colour Pikmin you use for different tasks matters, you cannot select which one you throw. You just use whichever one is the nearest, which isn’t great if you slightly move and get a bomb in rather than your tenth standard one. It really stands in the way and nearly lost me just about everything and creates a giant management chore instead to get it right. With the time limit present – yeah, that is thing here too – the time pressure makes the time you need to sort this even more frustrating. A single button hookup could have sorted this and it baffles me this wasn’t done before.

Final Thoughts

These control niggles undermine what’s a fun strategy game. When you get the chance to explore, there are a lot of things to discover and track down and a number of nice, simple puzzles that stand in your way – the big step is to get enough Pikmin there. I wish I could play it slightly more sandboxxy, slightly more focused on strategy and exploring, but here it has a solid enough game.

#634 Chibi-Robo

Posted: 7th June 2018 by Jeroen in Games
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699th played so far

Genre: Adventure/Platform
Platform: Gamecube
Year of Release: 2005
Developer: Skip Ltd.
Publisher: Nintendo

So there are a few action/adventure-like games left that feature you playing as a robot – aside from this, we’ve yet to play Rocket: Robot on Wheels, and I believe Space Station Silicon Valley is another. It means that I’m ill prepared – in my prep I realised this isn’t set on a space station or alien planet, it’s actually set at home. In other words, today I’m going in completely blind.

Our Thoughts

I’m not quite sure what I expected, but this wasn’t quite it. You’re left in a household as a helper robot to fix a family, in a world that actually reminded me of the early stages of Katamari Damacy – lots of messy items thrown around while you are a tiny character in your own home. It’s a perspective that always turns the mundane in something challenging and scarier and even though this is a friendlier world, here it adds some more exploration.

Here, however, you don’t grow – nor do you need to. Instead, you help out in small and big ways. Early on, cleaning the living room is a nice way to get some brownie points that allow you to gain some upgrades and grow to get your first extra abilities. Later, you start to focus on bigger stories, reuniting husband and wife and fixing a lot of people and creatures’ lives around the house. As you unlock abilities, you also get the chance to engage in some combat, get to different areas and otherwise proceed further.

Through all of this, an energy limit stops you from going too far. There are plenty of plugs where you can recharge, and running out isn’t a game ender, but it prevents you from pushing yourself too far when exploring. It doesn’t take too long for it to become less of a hindrance, as your battery size increases, but it is enough to feel like a hindrance from time to time.

The game is pretty cute, not exaggeratedly cartoonish to look at, but the perspective enhances some of the more cartoony points. The characters are exaggerations – especially when they aren’t human – and it creates a fun tone to what is partially a fairly dramatic storyline. It’s quite well executed in a world I want to see more of.

#570 Manhunt

Posted: 3rd June 2018 by Jeroen in Games
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698th played so far

Genre: Action
Platform: Playstation 2/Xbox/PC
Year of Release: 2003
Developer: Rockstar North
Publisher: Rockstar Games

With Manhunt, we play one of the more controversial games out there – at least at its time of release. It’s a protagonist playing in a big game of murder and death, something you do in most games, but that celebrates it here in its fully violent ‘glory’.  Undoubtably, it will look boring and primitve now (Carmageddon, the controversial game I remember from my childhood, certainly suffered that fate).

There is a larger conversation about violence in games (with at least some credible research showing no link between video games and violence, or even situations where we see a correlation between higher video game consumption and lower violence rates), but I don’t feel too qualified to talk about that now. Instead, let’s talk about the quality of the game instead, as much as we can.

Our Thoughts

The easiest way to ruin a game are its controls and Manhunt has an issue there. The camera doesn’t have a fully free control, instead following the character – it’s as if you’re doing first person while in a third person game, and it doesn’t quite work – it’s quite confusing and, for example, really turns you around (yeah…) when you leave the wall after sticking with it in stealth. It’s something you sort of getting used too, though not fully, and it never quite gets out of your way.

It sort of carries over to combat – it all feels quite clumsy and can be quite bad. Really, the game is all about stealth takedowns – sneak up and kill them before they notice you, often in violent, gross ways. In fact, you can decide how bad it is by how long you hold the button – creating the infamous scenes.

The game revels in its gratuitous violence, encouraging you to amp up the violence and killing you gruesomely if you don’t get there. The background seems to be that you’re a condemned murderer, now the protagonist in a violent murder TV show – one that revels in seeing you kill everyone. So you get encouraged to, although of course the game doesn’t allow for a different approach. It feels there’s no point to it, no reason, and it just doesn’t compel me to keep playing I’ve seen plenty of violent games, but this is just so pointless that I don’t see why I would participate in this one.

Final Thoughts

As the boundary of what’s acceptable keeps shifting, this game’s supposed upsides – a big violent game – doesn’t look as compelling as both the violence isn’t interesting, and how it portrays that doesn’t appeal because it’s dated, and would have looked dated within a few years anyway. Something beyond “Raargh violence” might have made this work, but this is so underdeveloped it’s not worth it for me.