#56 Planetfall

Posted: 12th June 2017 by Jeroen in Games
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609th played so far

Genre: Interactive Fiction
Platform: Various
Year of Release: 1983
Developer: Infocom
Publisher: Infocom

It feels like the arcades dominate these early years of gaming, and my mind, when seeing a title like Planetfall, automatically assumes it’s some action gamer or shooter once again with a space theme.

The space theme is still there, but instead we get another Infocom adventure. That’s a good thing – even now they’re still good story writing for games, and they were amazing compared to everything else that was put out in the day. Will I be able to survive the puzzles?

Our Thoughts

So it did, and although some puzzles were clear – making it out of the spaceship where you start to a relatively safe space is quite manageable – this game adds a hunger and sleep mechanic. I suppose it’s sensible that it does so, but it’s another puzzle to solve that makes itself more difficult by the long term inplications if you don’t quite get it – it can create dead ends that you can’t get out of with a restore, especially considering how far away from the solution you can be considering distance.

Still, it makes for an interesting experiment, and I can see why you would try it. It suits the difficulty these games tend to go for, and it’s something where if I had the time, I would probably enjoy diving into it repeatedly.

For this playthrough, however, I’ll admit that I grabbed a walkthrough after my first few tries. That created some odd back and forth to work around inventory limits, but at least showed me how to get past the nutrition limits.

What I got at that point was that the story, so far at least, might not have been that amazing. The real value is in the game’s worldbuilding, taking you through a weird alien castle (with some odd injokey rooms) and having you explore the base. For that, it’s good fun at least, even if it feels like a lot of work to get through.

Final Thoughts

I am really intrigued by interactive fiction, but at this point the game feels quite harsh and unsuited for the casual exploration I like to do. It’s a nice world to dive into, just with some flaws.

#619 Unreal Tournament 2004

Posted: 8th June 2017 by Jeroen in Games
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608th played so far

Genre: First-Person Shooter
Platform: PC
Year of Release: 2004
Developer: Epic Games
Publisher: Atari

One of my big early FPS experiences was the first Unreal game, one of the early games in the genre to play with story telling and audio logs. It was a new experience that I wasn’t used to and inspired me.

Sadly, that didn’t end up on my list, but as is often the case, it’s the multiplayer in the series that really made a dent, and (in the vein of Quake III Arena) got its own series of games. This is the sequel to the first in that series, for whatever reason.

Our Thoughts

So despite the game having a clear multiplayer focus, Unreal Tournament‘s single player goes beyond a bot tutorial designed to get you into multiplayer as quickly as possible. It takes you through an actual tournament – getting you to qualify and then (presumably) winning it. It’s not just on rails, but you earn money based on performance. It gives you some choices and direction, which really helps sell it as a good experience. Sure, there’s no real story, but there’s some real progression.

The shooting, then, is pretty decent. It’s nicely chaotic, set up to just throw many players in there, and the levels are large enough that it’s more than just a firefight. There’s a bit of exploration, but mostly the different levels and areas split up the fights quite nicely.

Final Thoughts

A multiplayer focused FPS is what it is, and for my style of play that comes down to the bots you play against. Here, they feel like they have a bit more personality than normal, they have some interesting strengths and bring what feels like a nice bit of variation.

I doubt I’d keep up with multiplayer – and I have no real interest to submerge myself in it – which means the game lacks some longevity for me, but it’s been working well enough so far.

607th played so far

Genre: Stealth/Shoot ‘Em Up
Platform: Playstation Portable
Year of Release: 2007
Developer: SCE Bend Studio
Publisher: Sony Computer Entertainment

It’s time to start covering some more stealth games – Metal Gear Solid had filled our quota for a while, while we added here and there, but now it’s time to actually catch up on it again.

I’ve not played any games in the Syphon Filter series and, to be honest, outside of this game I didn’t really know it existed. This makes it a completely new experience for me – assuming it works for me in the first place.

Our Thoughts

I’ll be honest, Logan’s Shadow is fairly forgettable for the most part, the idea of a stealth infiltration of a boat feeling fairly repetitive. What didn’t help is that the game didn’t seem to leave much room for stealth… for me it really mostly played as a shooter. I probably missed tricks along the path, but it didn’t matter much if I just shot everyone I encountered.

So I don’t think I quite got the game, both in making it more interesting and getting the gameplay. It sounds like the plot is a high point, which I couldn’t really get to anyway, and the cover system doesn’t seem to make it stealthy to me.

Beyond that, the game plays fine, pretty much as you’d expect, with too many options for me to always remember (although I did manage quite well, so I guess it’s just the appearance of it, rather than it actually being too much).

Final Thoughts

This game is fine, I suppose. Not as stealthy as I was expecting, but there seems to be a lot to it anyway – I guess it could get better, it’s just a shame the start feels like a scenario I’ve seen quite often by now.

#1008 Portal 2

Posted: 31st May 2017 by Jeroen in Games
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606th played so far

Genre: Platform/Puzzle
Platform: Various
Year of Release: 2011
Developer: Valve Corporation
Publisher: Valve Corporation

I’ve been simultaneously looking forward to the sequel to Portal, and been holding off on it as a possible final puzzle game. In the end, the determining factor was that we got Lego Dimensions (part of the series that started with Lego Star Wars), got the Portal pack, and felt we needed to play the sequel to understand the references. We just had to go for it, helped by getting Peter to play it for Before I Kick.

Our Thoughts

Portal 2 feels distinctly different from the first game from the start. The first game starts off in a clean room, takes you through crafted, clean areas that look very designed and contained. This starts breaking down near the end, but that’s part of a tonal shift and a clear change in the game. The second starts with the facility breaking down, and while the clean rooms are there, they’re not as clean.

It continues like that. The game starts off feeling the same as the first, with signs that things are breaking down, following the same beats with some alterations. Then it breaks down, and the second half of the game takes you away from the clean Aperture Science into the history of the company and its other off beat products.

It leads to a lot more interesting puzzles, with repulsion and speed up powers allowing for far different areas. Unfortunately, they also create more open worlds where a few times I got stuck not because I couldn’t figure out the puzzle, but because a panel seemed too hidden or the precision required was a bit much. One incident requiring you to shoot a portal at long distance through bars comes to mind as being particularly fiddly.

It’s the writing and storytelling that becomes more impressive. The original Portal was fairly simple – one character, really, set up through voice acting and only visible at the end. In the sequel Wheatley shows up in the first scene. He is a part of your journey through the game, while GLaDOS, defeated before, ends up taking a different route as well. Some of the later revelations regarding her personality are especially interesting.

Final Thoughts

It’s hard to say whether I really think Portal 2 is better than Portal. It expands the story and mechanics, breaking down the aesthetic to create a new, interesting setup. It removes the focus of the first game, which repeated far more concepts (except the boss fight at the end, which felt less a part of what the game was anyway). On its own, however, there were a lot of interesting puzzles here, and an interesting world to walk through.

605th played so far

Genre: Role-Playing
Platform: Game Boy Advance
Year of Release: 2003
Developer: AlphaDream
Publisher: Nintendo

I’ve been holding off on covering the Mario & Luigi series for a hwile until we started running out of Mario series games a bit… I really love the Mario RPGs and these are the ones I probably have the most affinity with. We’re covering the three games in the series that were out at the time the first edition of the book was released, and that means starting at the first game that paired Mario and Luigi in a single RPG.

Our Thoughts

There is something special about Mario RPGs. They are fairly light and funny, but the gameplay systems go surprisingly deep cmpared to what you’d expect. The timed attack and defense are still here in this version – more noticeably than in other games as the damage values are higher and some enemies expect you to use them, which requires quite a bit of memorization. Both hammer and jump attacks exist, like previous games, and of course it matters for the enemies. But having two brothers on the field at one time, you get a bunch of strategy that the single character(ish) Paper Mario games do not have.

While Super Mario RPG had a party, it played like a standard Square RPG, with limited interaction between party members beyond the likes of buffs and multi member attack. Superstar Saga takes this further, by allowing the brothers to combine attacks (with multiple button prompts), as well as requiring observation to see which brother will be attacked. The last turns into a bit of puzzle, moving the defense system beyond just the right timing into getting the right button press as well as the right time. It’s not too difficult if you know what you’re looking for, but it can take some time to make the connection.

The brother interaction, then, really makes for some unique combat situations, but the neat thing is that it applies to the world as well. Several barriers need to be crossed by the brothers working together, jumping one after the other, and the game delights in creating new situations where their powers need to work together. This is even more special once you get specific powers, and have things like Luigi squashing Mario with his hammer so the latter can fit through small holes. They really reward exploration and backtracking without feeling forced or limited. Furthermore, a lot of the powers feel a bit slapsticky, which adds to the light tone the game has throughout.

The story is partially standard – save the Princess’s voice after it has been stolen (and later save the Princess herself). It takes place, at least initially, without Bowser as the main protagonist – a nice tradition of many Mario RPG games to give a different antagonist – and moves you to a new kingdom mostly populated by green bean creatures. You still encounter many known enemies, but by avoiding having too many Toads, the game again creates a unique atmosphere. It also delights in its own wackiness, not making it (somehow) too serious an adventure and through that creating a story that’s far more memorable. It avoids a lot of the standard Mario story tropes (and allows them back in later when they fit better) while introducing a new cast that feels just as worthwhile to play. Of course a lot of it is restricted to cameos in later games, but here’s it’s just good enough.

Final Thoughts

Mario & Luigi Superstar Saga starts a subseries that feels unique enough to have its own voice and niche. It still feels like Mario, and especially like a Mario RPG, but it doesn’t force in what it doesn’t need, and creates its own additions that create a far more interesting world. For me, I prefer the Mario & Luigi series to the Paper Mario run because of its weirdness, and this game shows best why this is the case.

#425 Faselei!

Posted: 23rd May 2017 by Jeroen in Games
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604th played so far

Genre: Strategy/Role-Playing
Platform: Neo Geo Pocket Color
Year of Release: 1999
Developer: Sacnoth
Publisher: SNK

Faselei! is a game that I’ve spent a lot of time trying to find out more about, but one that’s quite tricky to do so. Released for the rather small Neo Geo Pocket Color, this strategy game doesn’t have a Wikipedia page and never seems to have been that big – despite being, it seems, one of the most notable games of the system.

To find it on the list is, to say the least, interesting. Obviously, with the little research I can do, I’m not quite sure why, but I’d like to find out. A strategy/RPG is my sort of game, so I have to give this a try.

Our Thoughts

Faselei, at its core, plays like a tactical RPG. In fact, in look and feel during the battles it mostly reminded me of Advance Wars, which doesn’t have RPG elements itself, but the initial impression worked as well. The turn based aspects feel quite differently developed, however, which is where the strategic part becomes interesting.

Rather than having a limit on move and attacks like a lot of these games have, keeping the pools separate and always giving you stuff to do with multiple characters, here you control one character with a bunch of actions per turn. These actions are turn, move forward, use an equipped weapon or other (often more situation specific) actions. You define these beforehand and everyone’s actions take place at once. It requires a bunch of planning and prep, making combat even more tactical and all about predicting what should happen. It’s a different challenge, and despite the limitations, I did enjoy it.

Sadly, I found that I became useless quite early on. Your ammo is limited, which left me running around trying to get my ally to kill the opponent instead. In part this was because I was supposed to equip between missions. I thought I had done – but I apparently failed to do so two missions in a row. I also found it hard to predict what to get versus when to save, so I suspect I never would have had enough ammo anyway, but it made the game quite difficult to get going.

The RPG elements themselves are fairly weak in comparison. You can buy upgrades and improve yourself, but I hadn’t found it to be strong for the sections I played. It seems to mostly be there to add flavour to the strategy. Not that I mind – it actually works quite well for me here.

Final Thoughts

Sadly, some interface or balancing issues meant that I aborted my playthrough a bit earlier than I really wanted to. I was still imporessed with what was there, considering how dense the content was and all the options that were present. I would love to see this game remade – it seems perfect for a mobile device and a bit of cleanup would make it perfect.

#307 Guardian Heroes

Posted: 19th May 2017 by Jeroen in Games
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603rd played so far

Genre: Fighting
Platform: Saturn
Year of Release: 1996
Developer: Treasure
Publisher: Sega

The genre of fighting games is pretty broad as used here, and has a tendency to overlap with the action genre. Here it isn’t the one-on-one fighting you might get from, say, Street Fighter, but it’s closer to the brawling of Double Dragon – and in this case, it sounds like, with more areas to explore.

In a way, just reading up on the game before starting, it seems like there’s some RPG elements – battling with different characters while moving through a story heavy world – far more story heavy than I’ve seen in the perfunctory cutscenes in most fighting games. I need to see whether this is one that can hold my attention better than most.

Our Thoughts

That introduction gives you the broad strokes of what the game is. It starts with a cutscenes of our main characters in a tavern, which gets invaded because of the sword they picked up in earlier adventures.

You get a choice of which character to play, each with its own characteristics. This already feels like it sets it apart, adding RPG elements to the beat em up. You gain experience points as you play, allowing you to develop the characters further. It already makes the game feel more varied – even if, for base simplicity, I went for the big strong guy without many abilities. Just beat them up, really. But at the same time, leveling up did make a difference – investing a bit in speed was immediately noticeable.

The story also branches based on your actions, something I didn’t really explore too much, but that also wasn’t signposted that much – I only found out about it by reading guides afterwards. It’s a nice reward for replays, just not something I’ve been seeing much of.

I think what got me is that the game wasn’t the easiest – partially as I had to adjust to the controls, which always seems to stump me with these games. I hadn’t quite learned it, and I felt I wouldn’t do so any time soon anyway.

Final Thoughts

Guardian Heroes is probably the best in the genre I’ve played, one that I enjoyed for the most part. Sure, I ran into a difficulty wall after a while, and need to properly revisit it, but it felt a lot of fun to play up to then. The graphics are more cartoony than I’m used to, not trying to be realistic (or gorey) but more looking like a fun adventure cartoon.

#94 Mercenary

Posted: 15th May 2017 by Jeroen in Games
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602nd played so far

Genre: Action/Adventure
Platform: Various
Year of Release: 1985
Developer: Novagen

I think I underestimated Mercenary slightly. All this time, I thought it was another shoot ’em up, which is frequent in this era, and certainly not the action/adventure we’re getting here.

What it is, is a game that has you crash on a planet and wants you to escape from it. Sounds interesting enough.

Our Thoughts

As we’ve seen before in The Sentinel, early 3D was a bit wireframed and a lot of creative angles to make it all work. Having dabbled a bit in the maths and programming behind it, it’s quite fascinating to see how they pull a lot of it off.

Graphically, Mercenary is there. Fairly effective wireframes, creating weird buildings and creatures, and simple (often single colour) backgrounds with lines denoting the existence of walls and doors. I recognise how impressive it is, although of course these days it comes across as somewhat dated.

The game itself seems to have you wander around this world, taking on missions, buying and selling and crawling through dungeons until you have the resource to take off from the planet again. It felt like the whole thing turned into a Ultima-like dungeon crawl, without any of the RPG elements that made that game more interesting to me.

Part of that is that I felt the game never really managed to communicate what I as meant to do. Sure, we could blame that on age, but I’m just not sure it ever would have wanted to. It was an incredibly frustrating limitation, and in the end it’s what made me give up on the game.Something a bit more defined would have been better – considering a more interesting open world is not something I could expect from a game of this age.

Final Thoughts

Mercenary is a game I could see myself loving twenty-five years ago. I’d have the time to play around and try, occasionally discovering bits and pieces. Now, however, it feels so much more like a chore to play, and other games with less filler already annoy me with these things to the point of turning them off. If it had a more focused experience, I would have loved to have gotten into this.

#1004 Limbo

Posted: 11th May 2017 by Jeroen in Games
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601st played so far

Genre: Platform/Puzzle
Platform: Various
Year of Release: 2010
Developer: Playdead
Publisher: Playdead

We begin the next hundred with another known indie game. Limbo is a platformer that gained a good reputation for its implicit storytelling and world it creates in a platformer setting. I never actually had a chacne to play it yet, and this blog is part of the reason I’ve held off for a while. Now is the time to actually try it.

Our Thoughts

We’ve seen several games before that used its environment for story telling – Bioshock comes to mind. Few use only that, and in that sense this is as much a spiritual successor to Another World and the like. In fact, it feels like platformers do this well. While Braid uses plenty of words, its core story even comes from its mechanics.

Now I’m not sure Limbo has (so far) told as explicit a story, but it certainly has a world to show to you. A lot of it is still ambiguous, open to interpretation, but there’s a feeling invoked by the world and people you meet that says more about what’s going on.

Even so, there’s more to the game than that. It’s been described as a trial and death system. You will die often while trying to solve a puzzle, but each time it will put you back right before the start of a puzzle (or group of ones, you will occasionally retrace some of your steps). This means death isn’t punishing, repeating them is just the means to an end, trying to figure out how to get there. This means that making it through without a death feels a lot more satisfying, but dying doesn’t matter too much – you don’t have to keep doing the same things over and over again. It’s quite liberating.

The puzzles themselves haven’t, so far, been punishingly complicated. Instead they require some thinking combined with some more difficult platforming sections that will require practice and timing to get right. I didn’t really get stumped because I didn’t get it, I mostly needed perseverance to get through the more timing critical sections. It really nicely combined the two genres in that sense.

Final Thoughts

Limbo is a game that looks good, equating a feeling about the world by leading you through it. It creates a setting where all the puzzles you encounter make sense, with plenty of callbacks (that poor yet evil spider). The good and fun puzzle design works well, as do the light failure conditions that encourage you to go in and try constantly

50 Game Round Up: 551-600 (Jeroen)

Posted: 9th May 2017 by Jeroen in Uncategorized

After a rather exciting fifty that featured us making it halfway through the list, these fifty were a lot more basic. At this point, we’re happily coasting along, trying to smooth out any genre outliers (I like having a nice mix) and doing some catching up. There have been some pretty exciting games as well – one that clearly became bigger for me, as we’ll see in a bit – and there’s a bunch I want to spend more time with soon.

The next fifty will likely be more of this, but who cares? I’ve still been leaving some big games I’m (badly) looking forward to while I’ve been trying to get the ones I care about least out of the way early.

Best Game I Had Not Previously Played

So what’s the top game? On some level Skyrim probably hit that for me, but its open ended nature doesn’t feel quite right for me to put here… and to be honest, it’s a game I’ll be coming back to in a bit anyway.

Body Harvest is a game that felt like a milestone on its own. It’s been quite clear that the game, although not the first open world game, pushed the genre forward by setting up Grand Theft Auto 3 as a major gamechanger. It’s been interesting and fun to play.

Even more of a winner today, however, is another game in the Final Fantasy series. Although Final Fantasy X was a big success, I have also felt more affinity with the 2D entries in the game. Final Fantasy IV did not disappoint in that sense, creating some interesting characters where game mechanics interact with the story quite well. I’m looking forward to playing more of the 2D games.

Worst Game

On the other hand, as I feel my appreciation for these games starts to widen, I’m at a point where I don’t feel there were really bad games in the list. There are, however, some that are disappointing or don’t seem to offer much.

Ghouls ‘n Ghosts was another game like Ghosts ‘n Goblins, and while it wasn’t a bad game, it didn’t give me much new in a genre that, in the games made at that time, doesn’t appeal to me. It’s a place where arcade difficulty really removes my enjoyment of the game.

Super Stardust HD, on the other hand, doesn’t have that age excuse. Twin stick shooters feel like they’re fairly common, and while graphically it’s interesting, it didn’t engage me as much thinking back on it. There’s some interesting mechanical changes, but the core concept just doesn’t appeal to me.

Most Surprising Game

This far in, the middling games that I didn’t know too much about, other than by vague reputation and idea, can really surprise me more than I felt they did with the original set. Others can disappoint too, of course, but that’s for later.

I know I was going to like Anno 1701, but how close it was to The Settlers series (and its derivatives) was amazing. It really appealed to me and I am genuinely looking to play all of these.

Survival horror games aren’t necessarily my bag, and the Resident Evil series especially hasn’t grabbed me yet. Playing Resident Evil 4 was a big surprise, as it seemed to reinvent the series in a way that makes it far more shootery, but also made it a lot more fun for me to play. I felt I wasn’t fighting the camera as much, that already helped a lot.

What got me most, however, was The Warriors. Sure, it is not going to top my list of best games, but where I was expecting a fairly standard brawlers, this felt like a semi-open, quest based lengthy semi-adventure. It was a lot closer to the Yakuza series than to Zeno Clash, even if it still has a decent fighting element.

Biggest Disappointment

Looking through the list of fifty, there were two games that I put down as a disappointment, each for different reasons.

The first, Snake Rattle N Roll, was one I wanted to be fun based on its age and vague memories of old NES games. Instead it turned out to be more frustrating than I liked, and it ended up not as nice as I hoped.

The other suffers from being an unmemorable sequel. I have played both Battlefield 1942 and Battlefield 2 in this fifty, having to catch up a bit, and the latter didn’t do it for me. Not just because it wasn’t the best genre for me – although it certainly isn’t – but because it didn’t feel as much fun as the first game, and I actually found the maps less interesting to play, with less variation and fun things than I was hoping for. A real downer, unfortunately, and with more games in the series coming, not a good start.

Best Blast From The Past

Weirdly, I’m starting to feel like I’m replaying less games than I used to. This might be coming from us tackling a large number of borrowed big games, but it’s been making this tricky.

Fable II, for example, was great to play again (and not just as a research thing). I had played it for a few hours before – far less than I did the blog. It was a good one to get back into though, as somehow the game manages to meet a lot of needs that I have for it. It’s far from the perfect RPG, but it was so much fun to play again, especially knowing a bit more what I was doing.

Double Dragon was far more of a return to a game I had played loads. Sure, not this exact iteration, but to be honest, the series never seemed to have strayed far from its roots anyway. It’s probably not something you’d expect from me – I’m not great with side scrolling brawlers – but this sat at the right point of being more playable, without being too over the top.

Games We Kept Playing

And this? There’s just one game that qualifies here, and it might have effectively been the best game of the batch. We’ve gotten fully addicted to Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim, and while we haven’t finished it after many months, we’ve been creeping closer. There is so much to see and do, and it looks so good, that it’s an amazing world to be in. Far from flawless, but still one of the best.