#117 Solomon’s Key

Posted: 12th July 2019 by Jeroen in Games
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798th played so far

Genre: Puzzle
Platform: Various
Year of Release: 1986
Developer: Tecmo
Publisher: Tecmo

We have been getting two things out of our Switch Online subscription. One is that we’ve gained quite an addiction to Tetris-99, at which Peter has become a master, and the other is that we’ve gotten access to the NES classics collection. Most of the games on there are classics we’ve already covered or that aren’t on the list, but one small title stood out to me. Most people probably didn’t think much of Solomon’s Key, but it’s one of the older remaining games on the list and I guess I just got a great way to play it.

Our Thoughts

I had some fun with Solomon’s Key, though as an old puzzle game like this it gets hard quite early and I started using walkthroughs at about the third level. The Switch release doesn’t come with a manual that I’ve spotted, so things like being able to remove walls and how magic works was stuff I had to work out on the fly. It worked quite well when I got into that, with a simple fighting mechanic while the basic mechanism, creating and removing dirt blocks to change the level, works well to create individual challenges that require exploiting a lot of the game’s mechanics.

What probably helps is that, as this isn’t an arcade release, the game feels like it’s on your side. It might limit resources like attacks, but the block building and removing is unlimited so it removes an optimization challenge. The challenge becomes trapping enemies without using magic to kill them as much as you can, and that works well enough to turn it into a puzzle.

The puzzles have variations in their solutions, without forcing a specific set of actions, which makes it more flexible in playing – another nice extra to have, that shows how it isn’t a straight up puzzle game – it’s a good mix of all genres.

Final Thoughts

To be honest, considering the age of teh game and the general look, I wasn’t expecting much from Solomon’s Key. While it isn’t amazing, the puzzles hold up remarkably well and the game is suprisingly fun to play – challenging but not too much so.

797th played so far

Genre: Shoot ‘Em Up
Platform: Wii
Year of Release: 2009
Developer: Treasure/Nintendo SPD
Publisher: Nintendo

It hasn’t been that long since I played Sin & Punishment, a rail shooter with quite a bit of movement that became quite chaotic and difficult to keep up with. It took nearly a decade for the game to get a sequel, but here it is on the Wii, with some better graphics and anything else that I assume you’d get after 9 years.

Our Thoughts

On the whole, Successor of the Skies is a more of the same. For the most part, it’s a rail shooter that has you floating around with a jetpack and move through these futuristic environments. You fight against all sorts of enemies, with one standout sequence leading you through tunnels that run through the ocean, with fish jumping in and out and you having to fight off these giant sea serpents that go in and out of the tube. It’s a decent set of set pieces that worked quite well.

Even outside the upgrades in that sense, the game felt more playable than its original. The controls feels better, but the entire field, while still busy, doesn’t feel as chaotic. I find it easier to know what to shoot and how to find weak points, and while there are still some places where I struggled, it felt better, including with some more frequent checkpoints.

Now, there’s a story, but I don’t think it makes much of a difference to the path you take (although I could be wrong there, having only taken one!). I’ve got it in my notes as very anime, with some over the top characters and storylines. It’s nice for it to go in that direction – it’s all colourful and less serious, which makes it quite a bit better.

Final Thoughts

Sin & Punishment: Successor of the Skies is a lot more playable than its predecessor. It feels quite a bit easier to progress, with the controls feeling better and the screen less chaotic. It was quite good and it was quite a bit further where I started to struggle with the bosses – and even then I felt more impetus to keep going.

796th played so far

Genre: Survival Horror/Stealth
Platform: Playstation 3
Year of Release: 2008
Developer: Project Siren
Publisher: Sony Computer Entertainment

Siren Blood Curse has been living on our PS3’s hard drive as quite a chunky download for some time now. Its episodic release means that there are a lot of individual parts that, together, took quite a while to download, and there’s a part of us that (assuming the game isn’t that much of an all time keeper) would be nice to get rid off – at least once we’re done with it.

Although a rerelease/reimagining, the game this is based on is, for once, not a list game, but it sounds like the two diverge quite prominently anyway. The genre mixed in with the survival horror this time is stealth – looking at it, it feels like it’s somewhere between Silent Hill and Fatal Frame, although I’m not sure to what extent that pays off.

Our Thoughts

This game is frightening enough. The first cutscenes feel a bit over the top, but when you gain control for the first time, you have to avoid this zombie woodsman – in part making your way through a cabin, hiding as he goes past and runnign out past him. Although you can kill him at the end, for a lot of it he’s too scary to face. The game continues like that for a long time, with few opportunities to kill until you get a gun, and even then you want to be careful. Instead, there are plenty of situations where you can kill indirectly or need to avoid patrol routes. It’s decent for that stealth game in concept, but the execution is flawed.

Probably the biggest problem is that the game at times relies on you interacting with spots in the environment – using buttons and pushing things, actions like that – that are difficult to find and use. They’re small and several times I just ran past closets I had to hide in, doubling back to find it. I didn’t have enough time to do that and so I got attacked more than once because of that. It feels incredibly finicky in a genre where I want this to feel intuitive – I can get the tension from the actual game and don’t need these controls to ‘help’ with that.

It’s a dark game, at times gross and definitely leaning into the horror elements quite strongly. I guess that doesn’t help to find things, but it’s quite effective at painting the atmosphere, and it’s almost a shame the gameplay elements jar enough to pull you out of it.

Final Thoughts

I wanted to enjoy Siren: Blood Curse and the story is there – even if it seems a bit convoluted as well. The chapter system works quite well to set up the plot and take you through as you switch between characters. However, the gameplay doesn’t feel tuned enough to enjoy it and the controls could be a lot better to make the game less frustrating.

795th played so far

Genre: Shoot ‘Em Up
Platform: Gamecube
Year of Release: 2001
Developer: Factor 5/LucasArts
Publisher: LucasArts

We’ve got a pretty rapid follow up to Star Wars: Rogue Squadron. It was a bit of a struggle that I didn’t really agree with as much. I preferred the older shooters – for various reasons – and found these to be a bit unplayable.

And yet the sequel is on the list, because clearly a lot of people did enjoy it and it’s good enough to be. Often the sequel do get better in these situations, so I hope so.

Our Thoughts

I couldn’t with this one, again. The tutorial area was pretty unclear on what I had and hadn’t done and felt like it took too long to get stuff done – if nothing else, just reaching the objectives is as hard as always as I struggled to fly to specific places. I would have hoped for a case where flying is at least somewhat enjoyable, but it felt like it worked against me a lot without giving me the leeway needed.

Then when I got into the actual mission, I struggled too. The radar is pretty useless, I didn’t spot the objectives on it which meant I was flying around blind. At the same time, starting on the Death Star meant that the environment was grey, with other things in a different shade of grey. For the first areas, that meant I was struggling. For the long trench run, that just became impossible despite several tries. I just never made it work.

Final Thoughts

It’s disappointing how such a supposedly well rated game in a movie franchise that should support it just doesn’t work for me. I tried for quite a while to get into it, but I felt it wouldn’t let me and kept working against me. Perhaps this was just a generation too early for me, or trying to take it a step too far.

#755 E4

Posted: 26th June 2019 by Jeroen in Games
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794th played so far

Genre: Action/Shoot ‘Em Up
Platform: Xbox 360
Year of Release: 2007
Developer: Q Entertainment
Publisher: Q Entertainment

Man, the name of this game is incredibly annoying. Here in the UK, E4 comes out as a TV channel that I don’t pay too much attention too, and the expanded name – for this one, Every Extend Extra Extreme – is unwieldy and confusing enough that my brain has never been able to get around it. That’s been enough for me to not quite get my brain around it.

When you do get some screenshots up, you see something that looks like an Everyday Shooter or Geometry Wars. It looks like a heavily stylized shoot ’em up. It’s not quite, though, and I have to get into the game to explain why that is.

Our Thoughts

When you play it, it turns out that E4 is not quite a shooter like that. I’d call it more of an explode ’em up. You explode your ship, which explodes others in the area, which then, if all goes well, creates a domino effect where every next ship that enters ends up falling in the same range and you get this near endless effect that raises your score exponentially and gives you value for money.

All of this is colourful and creates its own soundtrack, creating this weird effect that happens before your eyes. It’s pretty and enchanting, and usually quite time consuming. That last bit is the only weird balancing act – you have a limited time and spend some time picking up time powerups between explosions (based on the length of your shield remaining) so you can keep go and push the time limit forward, not unlike Chime‘s time boosts. It adds a layer of challenge, true, and an endpoint, but it also feels quite short when I would have preferred a longer game. There are a few difficulty settings that give you different limits, but it feels a waste not to let you enjoy the colours for a long time.

There is also a traditional shooter mode of sorts, but that’s so against the spirit of the game that it feels skippable. It’s the exploding that matters.

Final Thoughts

E4 is a nice looking game with an interesting mechanic that sustained itself for long enough for me. However, as the game went on the restrictions feel annoying and too focused on that leaderboard and I can see the formula not sustaining itself this way. It could have been a zen experience that turned too frantic here.

#699 Exit 2

Posted: 22nd June 2019 by Jeroen in Games
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793rd played so far

Genre: Puzzle/Action
Platform: PSP
Year of Release: 2006
Developer: Taito Corporation
Publisher: Taito Corporation

There’s an interesting subgenre of puzzle games which are escape rooms – a room you’re locked in, that requires puzzles to be solved to get out. It’s something I want to play around more with, as they’re nicely contained adventures. And I’ve played a few in real life now, which works really well.

I say that mostly because that’s what I thought Exit 2 would be close to, but this seems to be more focused on action elements – not fully so, there’s puzzles, but you have to do more than that.

Our Thoughts

I feel like Exit 2 actually sounds pretty boring when I try to describe it. You solve puzzles, a lot of them involving boxes and switches, to open an exit and get out of the level. Pretty much every level also has you work with companions that you first have to rescue, but who will help you after that. Most have a subset of your abilities, sometimes with some additional special ones, but you’ll normally need to use all of them to complete your level. At the most basic level, for example, some levels have boxes you can’t move on your own, but others can help you. Then you get things like kids being able to get through smaller areas but can’t jump as far.

The puzzles are of that right level where there aren’t a lot of actions you can take, but there are enough combinations that it’s still challenging to figure out. The action elements help with this, but in general I find that the timing, and death associated with it, inhibits the planning you sometimes need to execute your plans. It’s not really making it impossible, adding another dimension instead, but I’m not sure how worthwhile it is.

Graphically, the game follows a cartoony comics style – not humorous, but with thick lines, speech bubbles and something stylized that works quite well here to set a semi-serious tone.

Final Thoughts

Exit 2 was an XBLA game and that feels right – it doesn’t feel big or epic, but as an indie game it does the right thing – it sets up a concept, works through it well and doesn’t overdo it. The action elements, in the end, are at the right level, not the focus but adding enough of an edge, while the AI followers really create a puzzle game that goes beyond pushing boxes.

#701 Fight Night Round 3

Posted: 18th June 2019 by Jeroen in Games
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792nd played so far

Genre: Fighting
Platform: Xbox 360
Year of Release: 2006
Developer: EA Chicago
Publisher: EA Sports

Oh man. I’ve never really gotten into fighting sports either, and while they’re okay games, the franchise based stuff doesn’t work as well for me – like sports, they can try to be too accurate, rely on previous knowledge and don’t really offer anything more fun. I’m expecting something like WWE Smackdown vs Raw 2010, where I don’t quite get it, especially as EA Sports other games don’t quite get me in the loop either.

Our Thoughts

Here’s one solution to the struggle with a tutorial system: there’s no real tutorial, so you get to figure it out as you go along. It’s probably just as well, the system starts to feel comfortable and natural quite quickly. I’m fairly sure there are a bunch of subtleties I missed, but it felt playable for the most part. I didn’t figure out the blocking as easier though – perhaps never quite did that, but I did well enough for a while to get some distance into career mode. It’s a steep learning curve throughout, but the game adjusts for that well enough.

I mean, I’m not into boxing, so my attention was limited when I started to struggle, but that took quite a bit longer than I expected and it felt good to get some results. It’s helped by some good graphics and animation – some of which also felt quite graphic, adding to the realism. It’s probably not to my long term taste, but it felt right.

Final Thoughts

Fight Night Round 3 does quite wel as a real life based fighter. It was accessible enough to get me in and provided enough to keep my attention for a while, realistic but not too much, which is what worked well enough. Will I get back to it? Probably not, but I’m glad I had the experience.

#583 Donkey Kong: Jungle Beat

Posted: 14th June 2019 by Jeroen in Games
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791st played so far

Genre: Platform
Platform: Gamecube
Year of Release: 2004
Developer: Nintendo EAD Tokyo
Publisher: Nintendo

Donkey Konga gave the world a Donkey Kong-themed music game using a custom bongo controller. Donkey Kong: Jungle Beat took those same controllers, but turned it into a platformer. An actual platformer, not a rhythm game skinned to show a platformers.

Our Thoughts

The control method defines a lot more about the game, but taking that away for a second before we dive into that – Donkey Kong Jungle Beat is a lovely looking game, taking you through a decent variety of 2D platform levels. The progression to unlock different levels gives you quite a bit of content early on, but also requires you to get better at the game (scoring the right level of medals) to continue on through. It meant I didn’t get as far as I maybe could have, as I wanted to see new stuff rather than replay, but it still gave me a decent chunk of levels to play without too much effort.

Maybe that’s also because I felt I got the game quicker than I expected. The rhythm based non conventional controls suit having played both the old style sports games like Summer Games and new rhythm like games with additional gameplay like the Bit Trip series. You tap the bongo tomove left or right, both to jump and clap to interact with the environment. The first are standard controls, although less accurate than you get with conventional controls. The clap stands out as the generic “activate this” button. It has a lot of different uses, such as having a monkey grab you and swing you around or stunning certain enemies, and it feels natural enough to stay fun while also feeling different enough.

The game actually feels more like a Sonic game, with its longer on rails sections and speed through larger levels being the most important. The game rewards control and especially observation, as the hidden passages are hidden really well and tend to be quite rewarding.

The boss fights, on the other hand do rely a bit more on precision in some cases, while the boxing matches feel like they’re from a different game. They’re less succesful for the most part and it feels like they got in the way more often than not.

Final Thoughts

Donkey Kong Jungle Beat‘s controls make it feel like quite a different game – not better, but the variation is so strange that it really makes for a game that’s a lot of fun. It’s not the type of platformer that you might expect from the creators of the Mario games, but as a different, almost Sonic-like feeling it works really well.

790th played so far

Genre: Action
Platform: Playstation 2
Year of Release: 2003
Developer: Konami Computer Entertainment Japan
Publisher: Konami

While we msotly know Hideo Kojima for the Metal Gear Solid series, while reading up when preparing for this entry I saw that he was also involved in the creation of the Zone of the Enders series. We’re playing the second of this over the shoulder shooter today, a game that seems obsessed with mechs and looks more like a 3D shoot ’em up than a full on action game. Knowing who it’s by, though, I’m expecting some interesting choices – and I hope the cut scenes are kept to a minimum.

Our Thoughts

My notes for this post include that the game has a lot of anime cut scenes, pretty much as if we’re watching a mech centered anime (a genre that, to be honest, I’ve mostly avoided so far but picked up on through cultural osmosis). I’ve already forgotten the details, but it plays a lot with the standard stories. It’s not rote, but there’s you finding the old very powerful mech and fighting with it. There are some variations on the theme, in part how you fuse with it, but the set up feels basic – you’ve got to stop the bad guys using everything you’ve got, and during your first base infiltration you end up freeing several prisoners while taking out a lot of enemies.

The game itself doesn’t have the cartoon cutscenes as much. It’s a 3D shooter which streamlines its graphics, looking good but it feels like it is also put in to allow for these bigger worlds to exist – large rooms with a lot of complex looking enemies, if somewhat geometric. I’m not sure I’d call it clean, but it feels like a deliberate choice to allow for technical trade offs to be made while still keeping to a style.

The game starts including a decent bunch of options in battle as well. There’s a mix of near and far attacks, burst and movement abilities and you gain extra weapons as you progress through the game. There’s a lot going on and a lot of options, but the controls are laid out well enough and are helpful enough that I could get into the flow rather easily. The weapon switching makes it more awkward, but it works well. The system also includes a leveling system, but I believe it just raises the numbers to help things get easier.

Beyond that the game is pretty linear, taking you room to room to clear enemies. A few have puzzles in them to find certain places, but it didn’t feel too interesting and while the game had a map, I rarely needed it. There was no point where I needed to backtrack, it just helped a bit when there were a few rooms to check out. It wasn’t a big deal most of the time though.

Final Thoughts

Zone of the Enders: The Second Runner feels like it achieves what it wants to, a third person shooter with 3D freedom of movement, combat that feels great and a bit of exploration, but mostly keeping you on a track to take you through the story. I’m not sure how much angecy you have with that, but it worked so far and the game stayed fun throughout.

789th played so far

Genre: Action/Adventure
Platform: Playstation 3
Year of Release: 2011
Developer: Naughty Dog
Publisher: Sony Computer Entertainment

We’ve already played two Uncharted games. Uncharted: Drake’s Fortune was quite fun, but had some issues with the fighting. Uncharted 2: Among Thieves was a lot better – solving part of that problem and leading to a long game we really enjoyed and saw through to the end. The third game is the last for the list – fair enough, as we’re in the final third of the list as well. I’ve had good reason to play on our consoles while I can while Peter is busy with another project, so I’m making full use of it now to get to these games.

Our Thoughts

While Uncharted 2 began with an epic action scene the game later returns to, where Nathan Drake is on a dangling train carriage ready to fall to his death while you climb it using the series’ impressive climbing set up, the third part starts simpler with a bar brawl in a British pub. And while we break into a museum, it starts off a bit more innocently here, and with Drake when he was younger. There are the usual escalations, but thankfully the game really draws out how long it takes before you get into a firefight. Those are a bit better, but still endless and I still struggled to always find them that engaging. Thankfully, the endless fights aren’t as common and I feel I spent a lot of time exploring these worlds, most notably when going into a French mansion that hides Templar secrets. It was a gorgeous forest, in a more temperate climate than we normally see, as well as a ruined mansion that felt like a change from the setting it had elsewhere.

If I wanted to be negative about it, I could say that the gameplay was more of the same. Now, the basics are the same, although that is to be expected from the series of the name when we’re only three games in. It would have been nice to feel like the gameplay was a bit more innovative, but it feels more polished.

On the other hand,t he game uses this in a wider variety of settings – most more interesting. It feels like there’s more actual investigation involved, in warehouses and so on, than it feels there were in the original games. There are still old crypts and such, but it feels like we’re staying in Europe more and the parts in London feel especially different, with a sequence where you look for a hidden tunnel standing out especially well. There’s places when the pacing feels off – the escape from the burning mansion feels interminable and it feels like it could have been fine at half the length. The fact that it comes with an interminable army of minions to fight you doesn’t help there either.

The game still sounds good – Nolan North’s voice acting is part of what makes Nathan Drake so charismatic and attractive, just mysterious enough, while the other characters come to life just as much with the voice acting. They’re animated really well, especially the different version of our main characters. And as always, the environments look amazing, visiting them is the real treat a lot of the time.

Final Thoughts

When you’ve played the previous games, Uncharted 3 brings exactly what you think it would. It adds to it, by avoiding the exotic settings that I feel it usually has and setting up some more normal, urban areas as well. It worked well for me and provided the variety and different set up that sets it apart for me. There’s something great about starting with a brawl in a London pub rather than hanging from a Russian train. The game still has it.