#769 Odin Sphere

Posted: 18th May 2020 by Jeroen in Games
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868th played so far

Genre: Action/Role-Playing
Platform: Playstation 2
Year of Release: 2007
Developer: Vanillaware
Publisher: Atlus

It feels like the Playstation 2 era is one of experimentation, a time where a lot of different variants of the game are created, made possible by better hardware while not being big enough to constrain by the size you might get. GrimGrimoire is on the edge of an RPG definition is there, while Grandia II and Dragon Quest VIII play with their variants of the genre and Square had a bunch of other experimentations at the time.

Atlus published its own variants as well and Odin Sphere is one of them, with the way it’s meant to build story. I’m quite keen to try it, if only because i know it’ll bring something different.

Our Thoughts

Playing through Odin Sphere, it’s hard not to be reminded of Muramasa: The Demon Blade. While Odin Sphere doesn’t have as much of a platforming, vertical focus, the paper cut out 2D feel is somewhat similar and the way you run around these levels feel somewhat similar. Here they wrap around, going in a circle, with your focus (still) on fighting off enemies in an action setting, using more powers as you unlock them. The comparison doesn’t hold up for too long, but it’s difficult to ignore here.

The game looks lovely too. I mostly played in the remake’s updated graphics, but switched back and forth for comparisons and they still look really nice. As said, the 2D sprites look gorgeous, and they fit in well with the levels and aesthetic. There’s a bit of artificiality in there, which¬† suits the game being stylized in that part of its play as well.

Another interesting side of the game is that the story isn’t sequential. There are several characters you play with and after you play through one player’s story, you run through another character before and after the events of the earlier story, showing other sides and such. It’s flexible and interesting enough to want to see through later.

Final Thoughts

I was really annoyed that I almost had to give up on this game. Your inventory is limited and during an alchemy tutorial I couldn’t pick up the items needed – clearly the game wasn’t programmed with the idea this could happen and it was quite frustrating to work out how to fix it myself without any prompts. With that, obviously it showed how much I enjoyed playing it and how I wanted to keep up the loop and move forward.

#466 Tribes 2

Posted: 11th May 2020 by Jeroen in Games
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867th played so far

Genre: First-Person Shooter
Platform: PC
Year of Release: 2001
Developer: Dynamix
Publisher: Sierra On-Line

From the creators of The Incredible Machine comes… one of the early multiplayer online shooters. The mecha Starsiege games led to Tribes, which then had its large online component isolated for this sequel. I’ve heard of it (in part in previews) more than I’ve the series, but it stuck in my mind as a good online PC shooter, when you had that PC complication. These days that’s all Team Fortress,¬†Fortnite and Overwatch, but this is that midway point between Quake and those games.

Our Thoughts

As always, my main focus for these games is that I try to see what the single player is like – I don’t have enough skill to really immerse myself in a shooter where most players will have been able to have nearly two decades of experience – assuming they are around. It’s fine, in this case playing the tutorial felt like a good idea. The game’s solo levels have a vague story that set up the world, although it’s mostly about tribes fighting that you have no real affinity with. It does takes you through the different features of the game and goals of the map – at first killing them, then capturing control points and making use of the facilities in different towers as they give you resources and such.

As a part of these big multiplayer matches with loads of players, the maps are suitably big. You have specific travel abilities as you need to cover large distances to get to the right point, and distance gives you a lot of chance to prepare as defenders. It’s a bit clunky to control still, but the game has the right feeling that it started to sink its hooks into me sooner that I would expect.

Final Thoughts

Tribes 2 has all of the FPS staples long before they were actually standard. It might not have invented them, but I feel the scale at which it does them is big enough to feel amazing. It’s not the prettiest or easiest to use, but it works and I can see how a giant match up might help.

866th played so far

Genre: Sports
Platform: SNES
Year of Release: 1994
Developer: Nintendo R&D3/Locomotive Corporation
Publisher: Nintendo

When I played the Wii version of Punch-Out, it was more or less a remake of the original NES game – or at least inspired enough by it. The SNES sequel of the original NES game, on the other hand, was one of the games recently added to the SNES Switch Online games and – well – that’s one of the consoles we have that I haven’t played a game on yet for this blog, so this seemed like something worth doing now.

Our Thoughts

At its most basic, Super Punch-Out!! works the same as the Wii game. You face a boxing enemy and need to memorize its patterns so you know when and how to attack and when to block. It’s a pretty standard set up – more of a sports pattern recognition game than the back and forth of most fighting games. It’s interesting, with some fun, Nintendo-appropriate graphics and gags. It’s also hard – Nintendo hard, as they say – and your timing needs to be (it feels) impeccable.

The delight, then, is in the variety of enemies. Yeah, of course each one requires you to learn something completely new, but there’s also the fun of discovering them, seeing their quirks and mini-stories. Even with the limited graphics, the personality from the other game is still there.

I just wish I was better at it.

#538 Amplitude

Posted: 3rd May 2020 by Jeroen in Games
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865th played so far

Genre: Music
Platform: Playstation 2
Year of Release: 2003
Developer: Harmonix
Publisher: Sony Computer Entertainment

I’m playing Amplitude a bit out of order – I should probably be playing Frequency first, but it’s one of those thigns where it didn’t work out that way today. I guess it makes sense to keep doing them backwards though, as we’ve played Harmonix’ bigger, more successful later games first – when we played both Guitar Hero and Rock Band, both series they created. Those games obviously build on what was set up in these games, which will make for an interesting comparison.

Our Thoughts

Although those instrument games look similar to Amplitude, they actually play quite differently. Instead of jamming with different buttons, you have to switch between lanes, pushing one of three buttons at the right time as you go along. Do it for enough time and you finish the lane, letting the associated instrument play on its own for a while as you move to another lane. The dynamic track adjusts as each instrument comes in as well, which makes for a neat experience that feels more impactful than the instrument games do. There’s a buzz to getting all the instruments going at once and hearing the full track, but I also got my favourites to get going – vocals matter more than a second guitar (and often gets easier).

The entire thing is, of course, rhythm based, but feeling the track come in quite obviously makes the flow feel a lot more natural. It feels possible, if not easy to be succesful and while getting full marks isn’t easy, getting high enough marks felt achievable quite early on.

There’s one place where I really moved away from the defaults though. The three lanes are selected using three shoulder buttons (or rather, two buttons and a trigger). They may sound nice so it’s easy to connect to all of them, but it’s quite difficult to really keep track of that. The alternative, using square, triangle and circle, works a lot better even if it’s not necessarily as quick to switch. It works well enough for how I played.

Final Thoughts

I think that for how I play, Amplitude is not just better, but is actually a more fun game than the Guitar Hero/Rock Band series. It’s more immediate, gives better feedback, and the variation gives you a chance to succeed at most times. It’s been a lot of fun as a game I’ll keep around for later.

#939 Madden NFL 10

Posted: 29th April 2020 by Jeroen in Games
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864th played so far

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

I’m not sure I’ve really enjoyed any previous American football games before. In fact, we played the original game in the Madden series before, John Madden Football. Madden NFL 10 was the most recent iteration when the first list was released, with it being one of the annual sports games that survived the first purge.

At this point the series has been established, which (based on previous experience) doesn’t always make for the most accessible game, even if it is the best, and I expect little different here.

Our Thoughts

It’s odd that the first notable thing about the game, before we get into any real gameplay, is that it is sponsored by Snickers. It’s on the loading screen, it’s mentioned in all of the preambles and it keeps showing up – a bit more subdued, but that first minute pushes it really badly. It’s not something you’d expect a big sports franchise to need, yet here it is. Reading about it, it’s now a series staple, and while these games sell for less than a pound now, these would have been released as a full price sports game – not something where you’d expect you need it. I guess it’s the future for some of these games, but you’d expect to see something come back in its favour.

When I got into the game, it ended up making more sense than I thought. While I don’t get everything that’s going on, I could make out what I had to do in most plays. I got to focus on one character, could play with where I was throwing the ball for each, and I started to get a feel for the ebb and flow of the game, winning ground and moving around. I wasn’t good at it, but it made a bit more sense and I didn’t feel as disoriented as I get with these games.

The franchise set up helped with the meta game. You can create your own league, and play multiple teams in there – giving you options for each of them, both for the team set up, training budget etc, or to play the matches. I didn’t dive too deeply into controlling lots of them as that became insane, but it seemed deep enough to stay interesting. It would help a lot if you want to play it with a group of friends.

While the game looks good – as you expect for the sports games of this era – I was a bit surprised with the soundtrack. It was very rocky, with some punk elements – not the type of music I’d associate with football. It’s not the most suitable for the series and I am curious what the reasoning was here.

Final Thoughts

Madden NFL 10 doesn’t stand out as an amazing sports game – it’s where many others are. It’s more accessible than most, though, and I’ve started to understand the sport better, something other sports games haven’t really managed to do before

#296 Return Fire

Posted: 25th April 2020 by Jeroen in Games
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863rd played so far

Genre: Shoot ‘Em Up
Platform: 3DO/Playstation/PC
Year of Release: 1995
Developer: Silent Software
Publisher: Prolific Publishing

I’m not sure how Return Fire ended up near the bottom of my list of games that I wanted to play, but it did, and so it goes in as a game that I just want to get done. So here we go: Return Fire looks like a military twin stick shooter from the early days not unlike Desert Strike, but with ground vehicles.

Our Thoughts

Playing this, the best description of what you do is capture the flag shooting. You need to fight past loads of enemies to find and destroy the building containing a flag, then retrieve it and bring it back to your base. While other games may have dressed this up before, this game makes it explicit long before it’s the FPS default mode. It’s not the most complex idea, but it works well here and there’s a nice bit of hide and seek to playing the levels, at least the first time you play them.

This is further enhanced by the different vehicles you can use. You can start off with your helicopter for recon, the easiest way to figure out what’s going on. Tanks storm through the area after that, clearing the way for your jeep to come in – one of the few vehicles, possibly the only one, that can take a flag. It’s a nice bit of variation that’s easy to figure out and use, but adds some strategy as you only have limited numbers of each vehicle.

There is a huge amount of levels too, with a lot of variety in the looks and area. However, the formula stays the same – so while it’s interesting to see all the different versions of the land they can come up with, you’re still finding the flag and capturing it each time.

Final Thoughts

I don’t think repetitiveness is necessarily a bad quality, especially seeing how it works on other platforms, and it doesn’t need to be too deep here either. It’s not the most complex or deep shooter, but there’s some nice tactics involved and there seems to be enough content to keep you going a long time.

862nd played so far

Genre: Action/Platform
Platform: Nintendo 64
Year of Release: 1999
Developer: Sucker Punch Productions
Publisher: Ubi Soft

My first encounter with Rocket: Robot on Wheels was actually through the video of a tool-assisted speedrun, which showed an action platformer that clearly drew on the Super Mario 64 set up of worlds with multiple missions, but was set in a theme park with a bunch of mechanical gadgets and similar touches. It seemed like a fun place to explore, focused but with enough variety as well.

The game’s price has been holding me back from playing, but we’re at the point now where I feel I can go for it and play it.

Our Thoughts

As happens in so many of these 3D platformers, including the recent Ape Escape and Sly 2, down to the original Super Mario 64, the games are good until you – well – have to platform. There were several tasks that needed to and while I managed to get through most of the bee hive, the narrow platforms became too much to handle. More so, climbing a giant dinosaur inside felt pretty much impossible with the way the camera didn’t behave.

Luckily, plenty of tasks are optional and so I could make up for it by racing cars, collecting various things and building and riding a rollercoaster. Yeah, somehow the game pulls that off by having a rollercoaster you can build yourself like a small Rollercoaster Tycoon, where riding it gets you a ticket, but making it go the right way gets you another. It’s a neat, flexible system that feels like it does a lot for a single feature in a small area. The game has a lot of these smaller touches and individual areas and the variation between them is big, with the different theme park areas really feeling different. I have no idea how normal guests would get around, but it works here.

Added to that, the physics engine works really well. The game was built around that and its modelling feels detailed, to the point where you can rely on a lot of it quite intuitively as you move around. As above, the camera doesn’t help, and I guess there are times where the controls don’t work the way you want because of it, but on the whole movement feels right, as a way to move around it.

Final Thoughts

It’s frustrating how many of these games don’t quite understand 3D platforming doesn’t work that well, and don’t leave you with a big margin of error to deal with them. Even now the camera is a big issue, but it felt like it was spoiling my progression here as I couldn’t get done what I needed. It’s a shame, because the delight in this game is seeing the new areas and the weird and wonderful things you can do in each level. I just wish I could get there a bit easier.

861st played so far

Genre: Adventure/Platform
Platform: Wii
Year of Release: 2009
Developer: Frontier Developments
Publisher: Frontier Developments

There was something incredibly charming about LostWinds, an IOS platformer where you controlled the winds that blow a character around, rather than making him jump directly. It felt uniquely suited to touch controls, although I can see how the Wii controls would have worked as well.

The sequel came out on these platforms too, but it doesn’t seem to have been ported to 64-bit IOS, and it’s now a lot more difficult to get Wii games. Instead, I’ve been playing the PC version for the blog, which will have its own pitfalls.

Our Thoughts

LostWinds 2‘s controls feel like they could convert more easily to mouse control than they do – after all, you can point and aim. It uses repeated speedy swipes to be able to move, and while that’s easy with your fingers, keeping your mouse moving in the right direction for repeated swipes is more difficult. It works and is playable perfectly well, but it’s not as much fun as the tablet gameplay and I suspect that while the Wii controls would have worked, the touchscreen is the more natural way to play the series.

With that said, these controls are only part of the game. The world of LostWinds is on display here again, with the sequel exploring, at first, a wintery area as you ascend a mountain. Later in the game, you get the ability to change the seasons between summer and winter, replacing cold, snowy areas with the grassy, sunny versions that are closer to the first games. They look similar, but each has a few different abilites and places where you can or cannot navigate, as water unfreezes, slippery slopes get easier to get up and fire isn’t necessary to keep warm. There’s a lot more going on here, with changes that are introduced gradually and naturally.

Final Thoughts

I didn’t play LostWinds 2 the way it’s best played, but it still had its impact. It’s a gorgeous world still and the differences add a lot of depth to the game. You can explore and expand your world slowly and not only are you able to retrace your steps with new abilities as you go on, the story has you repeatedly crossing the map to do things in different areas. It works incredibly well as a game, with a touch of art piece in there.

#720 Slitherlink

Posted: 13th April 2020 by Jeroen in Games
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860th played so far

Genre: Puzzle
Platform: Nintendo DS
Year of Release: 2006
Developer: Hudson Soft
Publisher: Hudson Soft

Unlike other games, I didn’t play Slitherlink because I grabbed it next on my list. The DS version isn’t easily found in English, but all of it was based on an existing paper game which has been remade it plenty of other place. So while I did track down the DS game, I really started playing because there was an Android app available that also implements it and it felt like a nice thing to do on a plane ride back home, rather than getting lost in another game of four deck Solitaire.

Our Thoughts

Slitherlink, like good puzzle games, is incredibly addictive. You create this path through squares, Minesweeper-like as each square tells you how many lines around it are filled in. You look for patterns, with some places where you know you can start or continue your path. At the best moment, every piece of path you draw unlocks another and you get into this snowball situation where you keep expanding your path – this can be the end, or lead you to the next puzzle. In between, you explore the grid for any hints, discounting options as they go on. It’s like a Sudoko or Minesweeper, but even more focused.

The game’s appearance obviously matches its simplicity and there’s nothing much to say here. It’s a puzzle game implementing a puzzle that, ultimately, can be played on paper. It doesn’t matter. You’ll get addicted anyway.

859th played so far

Genre: Action/Adventure
Platform: PC/Playstation 3/Xbox 360
Year of Release: 2009
Developer: Rockstar North
Publisher: Rockstar Games

Grand Theft Auto IV: The Lost and Damned was the first “expansion” of Grand Theft Auto IV, a game set in the same city/world with a different set of protagonists and missions. The Ballad of Gay Tony does the same, with quite a different set up – rather than the world of dive bars and bikers, this sets you up as a bouncer and business associate of the titular gay Tony.

I can’t say that the GTA series always has the best track record of dealing with more subtle social issues, so I’m hoping the gay jokes don’t get taken too far – I know a decade is a long time for this, but it still feels tricky.

Our Thoughts

The Ballad of Gay Tony doesn’t really have that much change in the gameplay – it’s truly the same game idea set in the same world as the others in the series. You get scored for missions now, there are some more side jobs – most notably club management, which ties into the story more heavily – and there are some different weapons and such, but if you’ve played the other games this will be more than familiar to you.

But that’s fine. As much as you have to play the game, shoot your enemies and so on, it’s the story that becomes much more important. More important, even, it’s the characters that I feel really make an impact in this game. The titular Gay Tony is the one I’d point out. In other games – Rockstar games from a few years earlier or plenty of games even at that time, he would have been a flamboyant stereotype with a lisp and specific mannerisms. He might even try to be the tough guy to hide who he is. Instead, while still clearly a GTA character, he’s a gay man, happy and proud to be out and tease those around him with it, but he’s also a tough businessman when the time calls for it. He’s not the male thug many characters in the series are, but while he’s partially the mafia type, he’s also his own unique character.

You still play the straight male enforcer, but it’s less important and again, while there are some gay jokes in there, he doesn’t participate. It was, to be honest, surprising and refreshing how well they handled it and while I’m sure you could dig in and find fault, it’s a game that tries and created something that, at least for me, worked better. It added a lot to my own enjoyment of the game.

Other side characters similarly get more depth. The two main sidekicks, Armando and Henrique, feel like they gain more depth than others would and there’s a bit more to explore. I enjoyed hanging out with them and from all of that, it feels like at least to a point, the game tries to be about relationships with people, keeping and balancing loyalties and seeing where it goes from there. It’s quite effective, all in all.

Final Thoughts

While I’ve been more of a Saints Row fan (which, with Saints Row IV, has its own positive LGBT portrayal), this feels like it might be the GTA version closest to taking its throne. I connected with the characters more and the story telling works better to me because of that. So far, it’s probably my favourite – I would have loved to spend more time in this specific story and I hope to get deeper into it again.