#916 Crayon Physics Deluxe

Posted: 30th August 2021 by Jeroen in Games
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993rd played so far

Genre: Puzzle
Platform: PC
Year of Release: 2009
Developer: Petri Purho

There’s this fun little genre of puzzle games that consists of small Rube Goldberg setups, where you add some bits and pieces to a level to reach your goal – often bringing one thing to another. The Incredible Machine and Armadillo Run do this through adding objects, while Crayon Physics Deluxe seems to take its cue from Max and the Magic Marker and lets you draw them instead. It feels more limiting, but looking at it the game seems to have plenty of puzzles to keep you going.

Our Thoughts

The core of Crayon Physics Deluxe is quite simple. You can draw objects that’ll help guide a ball to all the stars in a level, either giving it a surface to move on, a wall to stop it or some other solution. It’s pretty open in how you do it, as long as you reach the goal you get your basic point. It builds up from there, where elegant and awesome solutions get you bonus points, while being efficient in your solution does the same. It’s a neat trick to let you progress (I think you only need the basics to keep advancing through most of the areas) but get rewards for thinking further.

The aesthetics do amazing at adding to that. They are all crayon drawings, from the levels to the world map to other art, and it’s a charming and lovely idea. It’s incredibly consistent throughout the game and really creates that feeling of fun while retaining the simplicity you see in the game itself.

Then as you progress to later islands, the game starts introducing additional items – pivots swing around, for example, and ropes that you can use in pulley systems. They all come from the same idea quite nicely and never get too complex, a nice idea on its own.

Final Thoughts

Crayon Physics Deluxe does exactly what a puzzle game needs to do: It takes a concept, lets you play with it, and slowly builds on it until you’re surprisingly complex puzzles. It’s a nice idea and works well in its execution.

#443 Jet Set Radio

Posted: 27th August 2021 by Jeroen in Games
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992nd played so far

Genre: Action
Platform: Dreamcast
Year of Release: 2000
Developer: Smilebit
Publisher: Sega

Back when we played Jet Set Radio Future it really felt like we found an odd piece.  While we obviously have plenty of other skateboarding games, with Tony Hawk‘s games being great, this game’s graffiti focus in a dystopian future made the skateboarding and its tricks almost secondary.

We lamented playing the game out of order back then as we focused on some other collections, and apparently we ended up saving the original until pretty close to the end of the list. We still see how that holds up and how the original was different.

Our Thoughts

We still have a very stylized skateboarding game with Jet Set Radio, but while the sequel seemed to focus more on tricks and physics-defying stunts, Jet Set Radio focuses more on straight up skateboarding. It still doesn’t all make physical sense, but the training is its own challenge level where it expects you to grind for a long time – and only when you realize that’s optional for playing the game do you start to see how finishing the training level is something for advanced players.

Where I struggled mostly – and I’ll admit this is partially because I played the PC port, which I suspect wouldn’t work as well as the designed controller – are the controls. They are fairly awkward and I’ve found it quite difficult to turn corners. It made it quite difficult to avoid the enemies in each level as well, especially with the lack of hiding places in the first levels.

The aesthetic really makes you push past a lot of that, though. The punk feel of it really adds to that rebel element, which carries through in the design of the different characters even where those are difficult to unlock. The use of graffiti adds to that and the whole set up creates this stylized feel that really worked to connect with me. While the music wasn’t quite as memorable as Jet Set Radio Future, it was still pretty good here.

Final Thoughts

As we’ve played the sequel, we’ve seen a game that is refined and focused more on the elements we enjoyed – the ridiculous stunts, the music and the entire style of the game that feels inspired by the graffiti you spread in this game. It’s a bit more arcade-like here, as well as frustrating as you need to memorize the levels, but it’s good as long as it doesn’t expect you to skate and do tricks – the levels where you had to do them in a specific order where I couldn’t pull that off were frustrating enough to put me off playing the game for longer.

#347 Star Wars: X-Wing vs. TIE Fighter

Posted: 24th August 2021 by Jeroen in Games
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991st played so far

Genre: Shoot ‘Em Up
Platform: PC
Year of Release: 1997
Developer: Totally Games
Publisher: LucasArts

While with some other genres, I seem to be ending on a group of games from a sub genre that I don’t make it to the end, as per my discussion on Tactics Ogre a few days ago, for shoot ’em ups I appear to have ended up with three 3D space shooters at the end. It’s one of the big names first, as we’ve played a Star Wars: Tie Fighter games before and enjoyed it, while today we’re jumping into a follow up game that should at least be a good technical upgrade.

What we are saying goodbye to is the Star Wars series. While its shooters have never been highest on the list for me, I loved the Knights of the Old Republic series, especially its second installment, so while the series might be a bit overrated, it has been a great base to create more games from. It’s pretty neat.

Our Thoughts

I don’t think I can claim there’s something amazingly different about this game. The basics of Star Wars: X-Wing vs. Tie Fighter are pretty familiar – I am fairly sure that the training missions in the game are the same ones we saw in Star Wars: Tie Fighter, except possibly for some minor additions. The Star Wars flavour is nice to have, and the ship designs always remind you of that, while it creates a nice base to build on here as well.

Once you get out of the training missions, the game does lose its structure a bit. There is no campaign. Instead you’re playing individual missions in an imperial vs rebel arena. They are fairly evenly matched and as far as I can tell, the focus of these is on multiplayer settings that you can play as well but obviously isn’t quite what I played through. It means that when you get shot, you jump into an AI craft instead to keep going and the whole setup feels really good for a long stint of playing with friends, even more with the large number of missions the game has for you to get through.

Final Thoughts

It’s possibly unfair to fully judge this game on its single player mode as it is clearly multiplayer focused. I can’t say I didn’t enjoy the show though. It was a lot of fun to fly around and shoot your opponent, investigate freights and deal with other such challenges. It’s worth spending some time on for sure.

990th played so far

Genre: Role-Playing
Platform: SNES/Saturn/Playstation 1
Year of Release: 1995
Developer: Quest
Publisher: Quest/Riverhillsoft/Atlus

As I’m going through I’m reaching all of these minor milestones. It’s been a while since I played my last western RPG – arguably Shadowrun or Dungeon Master if you’re looking at something more traditional. They are the genre I’ve build a lot of my gaming identity around at some point and even now I’d call Planescape: Torment my favourite game. Today we close off another subgenre though, as Tactics Ogre is the tactical RPG we’re playing. Disgaea 2 was another recent one in the genre that feels like it was defined by Final Fantasy Tactics, even as it’s not necessarily the first.

Beyond that, though, I don’t know much more about the game than its basic genre and the fact that it’s sub title is, to be frank, a bit ridiculous. What we’ll see later is where this will end up.

Our Thoughts

While we’ve seen a lot of tactics games where you can create or use near-copycat units of the same class, all warrior deriving from teh same base, it feels like Tactics Ogre pushes it a bit further by introducing its version of a job system. The XP gains you get don’t go to a character, but go to a class instead, so if you want it’s easier to sub characters in and out. Need an extra healer for this mission? Another one is ready to go without as much difficulty. It means that you can have a consistent set of characters that continues through the story while you can change what you’re playing. It’s a neat system that supports the narrative need, such as they are, quite well.

The other place where the game changes how it works is the MP system. Where in other games, you start with a set amount that ticks down, here it starts off at nothing in the first round and starts charging through them. While it means your casters are useless for the first turn or two, the fact that you’ll be able to cast again without having to worry whether you need it later is a relief that makes it easier to jump in and use them.

There are some nice touches with a split storyline at some point, where there are three possible routes to take, but that wasn’t something I saw too much of, as the game gets quite grindy – or just hard – quite quickly if you don’t stay on top of everything you need to do.

Final Thoughts

If not for the time consuming, grindy nature of parts of the game, I would have seen more of this, but as it stands even as a handheld game I ran into some time problems playing through it. The game’s systems are interesting and the changes it makes to the tactical RPG formula are welcome in improving how it plays. I’ll have my PSP out to play more of it later.

#324 The House of the Dead 2

Posted: 18th August 2021 by Jeroen in Games
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989th played so far

Genre: Shoot ‘Em Up
Platform: Arcade
Year of Release: 1996
Developer: Wow Entertainment
Publisher: Sega

We’ve had a couple of light gun games left and The House of the Dead 2 is the last one left. We’ve played House of the Dead: Overkill somewhat recently, where we saw that the Wii port worked really nicely as a replacement for the light gun. For The House of the Dead 2, we first assumed using the Dreamcast edition, but the light gun doesn’t work with modern games. Instead I tracked down the PC port of the game, which will let me use the mouse to point and shoot instead. It should make the game a bit easier, but I’m fine with that. I might actually get to see more than the first level.

Our Thoughts

The House of the Dead: Overkill, as I said, already says a lot about how the game works, just with a light gun as we’ve seen in Point Blank, Virtua Cop 2 and a bunch of others. The enemies – possibly more palatable to worried parents of the day – are mostly zombies and similar horrors. It means we get to see both quite reovlting creatures as well as the gory death that comes as you kill them. Sure, it’s fairly primitive 3D, but it’s good enough.

The story is fairly sparse, but it gets told well enough. You can save humans that are around and if you do, they’ll either give you a bonus of some sort, such as an extra life, or access to a short cut or alternative path through the level. It works better to set the atmosphere though, with some idea of what’s going on, rather than just the cut scenes in between that feels a bit more generic.

Final Thoughts

I have to admit that I’m looking for the odd edutainment adaptation The Typing of the Dead, but it’s been fun enough going through this world, using my mouse to kill zombies where I could. It does what it does well, though perhaps not that much beyond that.

#690 Company of Heroes

Posted: 15th August 2021 by Jeroen in Games
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988th played so far

Genre: Strategy
Platform: PC
Year of Release: 2006
Developer: Relic Entertainment
Publisher: THQ

While we’re not done with RTS games yet, we have reached one other landmark: Company of Heroes is the final WWII game I’m playing for the list. I know that’s not a major step, but as I’ve discussed before it always feels like a bit of a cheap way to get emotions and to set a scene in a way that isn’t necessarily that engaging for me. It’s something I felt recently with Hidden & Dangerous 2, but goes back to Call of Duty and has always been a thing. I guess it’s because I grew up in Europe, where it wasn’t just a case of the heroes storming in to big hurrahs, and you learn more of the nuance involved.

With an RTS we’ll divorce ourselves from the immediate feeling of death as the units become copycat units on the screen. Let’s see how that works out here.

Our Thoughts

There is something quite refreshing about an RTS from the 2000s that still follow the standard formula of building a base, pumping out units and sending out your armies. We’ve seen it more often, sure, but it feels like the grittier strategy games tend to lean more towards a set number of units you guide through a mission instead. While a number of early missions still limit what you can build – although your basic units still let you set up some defenses – it’s set up to let you build full armies to a limit not unlike the similar systems in Warcraft. To add to the realistic feel, rather than collecting resources you capture support points that give you that income. Again, we can go back to less realistic games for examples of that, with Dawn of War working similarly. It feels more realistic that way, following the flow of battle as it would be while preventing the stalemate that can happen when you run out of units.

At the same time playing the game can feel like you’re going through a macro version of those military shooters. You start off following the battle of Normandy, landing on the beach and guide your troops forward. A lot will die and only a few need to survive. They then move down the level taking enemies out and I found myself thinking of tactical shooters doing a similar set up, moving through as you take control of specific points. You can see how those missions fit in here, but now you’re taking control of the bigger picture, infiltrating that farmhouse being only part of getting control of the area.

What helps that feeling is that a mission doesn’t just start and end with a cutscene, while you play through uninterrupted in between. Company of Heroes fits in new cutscene movies in various places during the missions, while adds to the feeling that you’re doing them in multiple stages which influence each other, but give clear narrative beats. It’s a nice way to keep adding context to what you’re doing.

Final Thoughts

I’m still not fully comfortable with the setting of Company of Heroes, it feels overdone and praying on some cheap sentiments. What it puts in is well executed though, with incredibly solid missions that get quite challenging, but give you plenty of options to proceed in most places. It’s compelling to play and even then feels like it all fits together, even spatially as you can see how one map leads to another and you can feel how it’s all meant to fit together.

#458 Thief II: The Metal Age

Posted: 12th August 2021 by Jeroen in Games
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987th played so far

Genre: Action
Platform: PC
Year of Release: 2000
Developer: Looking Glass Studios
Publisher: Eidos Interactive

I’m always amazed at what games Looking Glass Studios released and how its influence stretches into a lot of modern games and their underlying simulationist tendencies. Aside from the previous Thief game, which set up these houses and other locations for you to infiltrate and burgle, with guards wandering as you create your root through manipulating world, there’s System Shock 2, which creates a spaceship to explore and go through, this time just as often to fight as to stay stealthy through, and Ultima Underworld 2 was an early game that tried to do the same to dungeon crawling even earlier. Obviously this can be a trick as often as there is real, full reactivity, but it stays interesting to see as a genre of sorts.

It expands from there to, around the same time, start off Deus Ex with some of the same developers, and then tries to create this same feeling in Bioshock. More recently, I know Prey‘s 2017 not-a-sequel with the same name was listed as another great example of this, but also showing that not everyone might want this.

All this is to say that Thief II is another step forward in that mold. Not always intended to be stealthy, it genuinely looks like an upgrade over the first game and create something interesting based on that.

Our Thoughts

There’s a lot going on in the average Thief 2 level. First, each level is quite different between difficulties, with different goals as well as people patrolling and things set up – going far beyond just changing some numbers. Just thinking about the first level, for example, shows how that works. I play on easy because I’ve got a few more games to get through and I’m not the best at these – I’m just here to have a good time with the game. I need to sneak into a mansion, following a path on the basement floor that’s quite neatly laid out, and sneak a woman back out. Simple, straight forward and a good tutorial for the game. On higher difficulties, not only do you get tasked with stealing items, you’re also told to go to other floors for some specific items. The second goes further with that, not just requiring you to steal more, but also avoiding killing people and dealing with moving shipping labels. It makes for an interesting playthrough, with a level that clearly can have several different uses and build on each other.

Added to that is that the levels feel bigger and more interesting. After the first few levels, you’re not just going in for theft, you also end up breaking into a police station to destroy and plant evidence and a later level is basically a chase to stay out of trouble for some time. It’s really tense and even as the mechanics are in there, they all seem intelligent enough to pose a challenge without going too far.

And again, these levels, whatever they are, feel like lived in places. If you’re stealthy, some people will continue to do their work, and while not too complex, it all feels natural. Items are where you expect them and often enough you can go to places because it makes sense that you do. Sure, there are plenty of concessions to gameplay, but the game feels like it’s built around all of that.

Final Thoughts

With Looking Glass Studios closing after the release of this game, the design behind it went in different ways. While I’m not sure the game is their best in all areas, in a lot of ways it does do it all perfectly – great worlds, a story that’s fully reflected in gameplay and difficulty modes that actually make a difference rather than upping numbers. It’s just a shame that its age shows a bit, but it shows I need to check its sequels.

#812 Bejeweled Twist

Posted: 9th August 2021 by Jeroen in Games
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986th played so far

Genre: Puzzle
Platform: PC?Internet/Nintendo DS
Year of Release: 2008
Developer: PopCap Games
Publisher: PopCap Games

A decade later, it’s hard not to feel that Bejeweled lost out after Candy Crush Saga created a large list of match three games to fight for everyone’s attention on phones. There have been a lot of variations on the theme too, which the Bejeweled series prefigured as well by today’s Twist entry. Today I get to see how this works out.

Our Thoughts

When you start playing, Bejeweled Twist looks a lot like normal Bejeweled. You get a field of gems and you are meant to group them so they explode and are replaced by others. Destroy more of them or create combos to get higher points and you go on from there. Here, instead of swapping gems to create combos, you twist them in groups of four, a different way of setting up these puzzles. At this point I’ve seen all sorts of variations in different games, but here it does, indeed, feel like a nice twist on the formula.

Your main killer are bombs that appear and need to be removed on time, but beyond some additional special gems the game starts to repeat itself quite quickly. There’s certainly something fun in the repetition of the game and the challenges it sets, escalating the number of gems you need to explode. Without much more going on, though, it fails to really sustain that loop, and with the type of gameplay used in premium games to underpin other games like Puzzle Quest, the game really is just there for when the mood strikes.

Final Thoughts

Bejeweled Twist is a nice way to explore and do something slightly different with the match three genre, but ultimately it’s not the twisting mechanic that Bejeweled needed for its innovation, but adding in more features to make your levels more interesting.

985th played so far

Genre: Shoot ‘Em Up
Platform: PC
Year of Release: 2003
Developer: Illusion Softworks
Publisher: Gathering of Developers

On my quest to slowly round up the duplicate genres that are left, I’m rounding off one of the shoot ’em up list – we’ve still got a bunch of them left and this makes for the last third person shooter that I believe I have to cover for the list.

We’ve seen Illusion Softworks’ work fairly recently in Mafia: City of Lost Heaven, which is the type of game they started to lean towards more, but here we’re looking at the second of three military shooters they made. It’s not exactly my favourite, but I’ve seen this done well too, so I am curious how that’ll work.

Our Thoughts

Possibly despite appearances, I try to play through the tutorial of each of these games when they’re available. If possible I skip the basics – I don’t need another game explaining WASD to me – and some lengthy ones end up in a “I’ll figure out the advanced stuff later” category as well, but I figure I can afford to spend half an hour to get an idea of what works. In the case of Hidden & Dangerous 2 though, I didn’t finish it. I killed myself with grenades in the tutorial too often to be able to complete it, as it required me to start from scratch each time. It’s fine to skip it, but it’s weird how that can happen.

The set up there as well as the cut scene movies create an odd feeling as well – a British gung ho feel that never really connects with me because none of this feels that genuine. It’s one of those things that always bothers me about these shooters – their approach to real life wars as a bit of a lark where we’ll take over easy always feels a bit off, and this game really seemed to draw on that.

Once the game starts, we get a squad based shooter where you control a group of four randomly generated soldiers. You play as one and give others to the others, in a system we’ve seen elsewhere in, for example, Operation Flashpoint. It’s an okay system, which stands out a bit in the RPG lite elements that are present, as your soldiers’ stats will grow as you go through. It’s a nice way to add something to hold on the otherwise replaceable characters for. The objectives have some interesting set ups as well telling the stories, requiring you to meet a contact who’ll lead you through the swamp (that you could probably walk around anyway). It’s a neat touch even if in the end a lot of it comes down to killing your opponents.

The downside comes in with the jank in the game. In the most egregious example I remember, I was climbing up a tower for something, but when I got to the top I suddenly started falling down to my death. I had someone else to switch to, but I felt like the game just going against me without a good reason. It all felt that little bit off, which ties into those earlier tutorial issues – it’s a bit too much work to deal with.

Final Thoughts

While I see where this is a good military shooter, the setting and the jankiness felt like it got in my way a bit too much. I know I’m just not into these things, but this didn’t have anything to try to win me over either.

984th played so far

Genre: Action/First-Person Shooter
Platform: Wii
Year of Release: 2007
Developer: Retro Studios/Nintendo
Publisher: Nintendo

I’ve felt a bit ambivalent about Metroid Prime. Not because of the series itself, but because its Wii controls are quite bad and I’m glad that after having a short go at it, I switched to Gamecube controls for Metroid Prime 2 and had a lovely time in its large 3D worlds.

Metroid Prime 3 is Wii only and introduced the controls these other entries got in the port. I hope the world will stand up against it.

Our Thoughts

I can be honest, the Metroid Prime Wii controls don’t work any better because the game was made for it. Pointing at the edges of your screen to change your view, for example, really doesn’t work nicely, for example, and the sweeping motions and pointing means that my wrist couldn’t play the game for too long. It doesn’t help that the lock on doesn’t work properly a lot of the time, which is bad if you don’t get a proper way to look around either. It was all so awkward and unclear that I couldn’t stand it after a while.

What pushes that further is that the world of Metroid Prime 3 isn’t as interesting as the previous games. There are some interesting touches, but so much takes place in a powerplant at the start, rather than the desert old-mechanical world from the previous game that this series doesn’t work as well.

Final Thoughts

It feels bad to be brief as I end the Metroid franchise, but it feels like the third game in the series is a step backwards. The second game does it better, without causing RSI, and I just never really felt like I was playing something here that I really enjoyed.