#170 Revenge of the Shinobi

Posted: 26th August 2020 by Jeroen in Games
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893rd played so far

Genre: Action
Platform: Mega Drive
Year of Release: 1989
Developer: Sega
Publisher: Sega

I’m sure I’ve mentioned wanting to make sure I spread out entries in a series, but I haven’t done a great job with Shinobi. I played the previous one just over two years ago, but here we’ve got the second of its platformers while the Playstation 2 3D action/adventuer still waits (the box is in our big pile right now). With a three entries series, I should probably start the second before we reach the final 100, so here goes…

Our Thoughts

I guess this is the point where I mention that there isn’t that much that I feel I can add to the game. The game still looks nice, considering the time in which it was made, as before, and that helps make it nice to play.

At the same time, there are its differences. You’re no longer scurrying around the level to rescue different hostages – your only goal is to reach the end of the level, as your one hostage is there. It’s a bit of streamlining of the design, but in this case means it just blends in further with the many other action platformers that we see here.

On the other hand, the moves you get feel a lot better. You get several different attacks. They’re limited by ammo counts – making the game even more difficult – but there are some options. The enemy variety is still great enough that you can keep planning around that, which helps build up that combination.

Final Thoughts

Like Shinobi, Revenge of Shinobi takes the existing genre and executes it well, creating a game that’s varied but also very, very difficult – too difficult to show too much of itself to me, but it’s clear there’s still a reason why it’s this notable. I’m not sure it’s an improvement over its predecessor – I’d style it as a step sideways, showing something different to be done within the series.

892nd played so far

Genre: Role-Playing
Platform: Playstation 2
Year of Release: 2002
Developer: Konami Computer Entertainment Tokyo
Publisher: Konami

I’ve been careful going through the JRPGs as I always enjoy them for the blog – and because they are pretty long plays, which I need to be careful with so I can keep up the pace of playing so I have a chance of completing it – a bit more than a year left!

Suidoken III looks interesting in part because of its cast. Based on the characters of The Water Margin, we have 108 characters, with about 27 or 28 being more proper main characters. Still, that feels ambitious, especially if they get more background than the typical Tactics characters.

Our Thoughts

Even in the time I had for the game – which exceeded the five hours I took for this, thanks to the Easter bank holidays stuck inside that gave me extra time – I just barely scratched the surface. There are thre emain characters, each with a number of chapters, and a fourth with less chapters as more of a support character. That last one I didn’t get to see – nor did I get to play one of the three main characters, as the story of Chris Lightfellow, the (female) paladin took about four hours while the rest of my playing time so far, of Hugo, the indigenous swordsman, involved a fair amount of grinding as it’s the canonical first character and starts at level one, while the others start a bit higher.

Aside from being an interesting set of characters, a lot of events happen from another person’s perspective as well, which makes for a nice different cadence f or its storytelling, especially as it works in any order (so far) as well. You have the remnants of story telling of the other characters around, with bits and areas that only make sense later (or are a nice area to revisit). It gets a bit confusing sometimes, but works out eventually.

There’s a whole castle building system that comes up after these first few chapters, but I didn’t get to really play with that yet. Similarly, I didn’t recruit many characters beyond the default ones for the first chapter, but I did see a lot of it around already. There’s named characters standing around, asking for things, but it takes a while (and the right character) before you can do anything with it, but it seems like a fun set of challenges.

Aside from a decent RPG battle system, the game also has strategic battles at a bunch of places. You move several teams of characters around these nodes. When they encounter the enemy, you take them on, but in the first one I tried, the main focus was to escape and you ended up fighting some strategic battles to make sure you can continue from there.

Final Thoughts

Not only did I enjoy this game throughout, I ended up getting other games in the series as the idea behind it appealed to me so much – the size and scope, the amount of contents, that part of my brain that wants to collect all of them. It feels like a fun challenge while providing a world and story that I’d love to dive deeper into over time.

#108 Darius

Posted: 18th August 2020 by Jeroen in Games
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891st played so far

Genre: Shoot ‘Em Up
Platform: Arcade
Year of Release: 1986
Developer: Taito
Publisher: Taito

For a lot of these shooters, it feels like it’s a bit more of the same – I swear that a lot of them go by different ways of handling weapons. Raiden, for example, always keeping you supplied with them. For Darius, however, something else applies – rather than having a single screen you play the game on, the arcade machine had three screens side by side. It’s something that’ll be more difficult to emulate at home… good thing we have far higher resolution monitors.

Our Thoughts

Darius actually looks gorgeous – the three screens mean that there is more room to display it and it works well to create a good looking game – it certainly feels more detailed than you’d expect from a game from 1986. It’s not just a nice surprise, but it helped me be drawn into a game more than others have done to that extent.

The game itself helps with that. The shooting is decent too, facing both flying enemies and turrets, with some separately coloured enemies that have the power ups – you don’t need to destroy everyone, but it helps. The level ends with a boss that’s, obviously, far more challenging, but not as unbeatable as some of the other games are. They’re not as elaborate, sure, but they work really well.

Final Thoughts

Darius has a pretty simple, straight forward gameplay, but it looks good and what it does, it does well.

#156 Impossible Mission II

Posted: 14th August 2020 by Jeroen in Games
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890th played so far

Genre: Action
Platform: Various
Year of Release: 1988
Developer: Novotrade
Publisher: Epyx

Impossible Mission II is, in fact, not related to the Mission Impossible franchise, despite using the same words in the title. It is, instead, the sequel to Impossible Mission, which is about a secret agent infiltrating an enemy base and, well, at least sounds like it’s a similar thing?

The first game had less enemy robots and, it seems, some other minor feature changes, but otherwise this is a sequel very much based on the original. It’s probably a good thing I don’t have to cover both.

Our Thoughts

Impossible Mission II feels quite complex considering the systems it was released on, the primitive graphics and how it looks like a standard one screen platformer looking better than, but deriving from something like Bounty Bob Strikes Back. In fact, Nebulus is close to it, having you climb towers while having little resembling the complicated interactions this game has.

In this game, you have a time limit to climb eight towers, solving puzzle rooms to get parts of a passcode to get into the ninth tower and beat the game. Each room – there are a handful per tower – has its own puzzle, involving some mild jumping, timing your moves around robots, and taking over these robots. You interact with varions PCs to get items and codes to continue and with that the bottom screen has a lot more going on, in part to record these different code fragments that are in-game audio files. As much as the game is described as an action game, it’s a puzzle on what to do.

Even beating a single room is difficult, even with help there was so much going on and I couldn’t make sense of what the various bits were.  It’s the other side of the impressive coin, and the complexity in this way doesn’t transfer to modern sensibilities – the lack of mouse support, additional text to give some hints and the expectation that you memorize icons not fitting in well.

Final Thoughts

Impossible Mission II is a mix of different ideas, most quite good but in an interface that isn’t readable enough yet to pull it off. I’m not sure whether the modern remake fixed it, but it feels like a concept that other games could get a bit closer to and be even more interesting.

889th played so far

Genre: Action
Platform: Playstation
Year of Release: 1997
Developer: Treasure
Publisher: Entertainment Software Publishing/Working Designs

I feel like we’ve been covering a bunch of games by Treasure recently, with action shooters being one of their clear fortes that we’ve covered with Alien Soldier and the Gunstar Heroes series. Silhouette Mirage draws from the same base, a semi-platformer that has you race around killing various enemies, this again with its own twist.

Our Thoughts

The gimmick of Silhouette Mirage is interesting enough. Your jester-like appearance comes from your body being split in half. The one that faces the screen is the active one, and you change by facing the other way – or doing a slower switch of sides, which is a bit more situational. Each side is more effective against certain enemies and a lot of the time you end up fighting in one side as you try not to be attacked in the back. It’s challenging although aside from the threat of falling, it tends to make battles more similar. There are a bunch of special moves, including some grabs and throws as well as reflecting moves, so it becomes more of a challenging beat ’em up.

What helps is that the game looks good. The graphics are pretty cartoony, looking fun but going smoothly, and the enemies have a slapstick feel to  them sometimes. There’s this looser, more animated feel to it – it hides the difficulty, but it’s still a treat for the eyes.

Final Thoughts

Silhouette Mirage‘s twist works for it most of the time, although at times the one direction you face for most of an encounter can feel difficult to stay on top of. Still, it’s a treat for the eyes and feels replayable.

888th played so far

Genre: Adventure/Fighting
Platform: Playstation 3
Year of Release: 2007
Developer: Ninja Theory
Publisher: Sony Computer Entertainment

Time to be reductive: Heavenly Sword looks like a hack and slasher not unlike God of War or Ninja Gaiden, fighting your way through enemies with maybe some exploration. It’s no wonder that this studio was later tapped to develop DmC, the disliked Devil May Cry sequel, and specialized in this type of game beyond then. This is their first – somehow, as I could have sworn we played a game of theirs before – and I guess it’s the one I judge them by.

Our Thoughts

There’s something that feels pretty good about the fighting in this game. It flows well and once you get to actually use the titular Heavenly Sword. You have three different modes of your sword – basically mapping to short distance, long distance/ranged and crowd control. It’s quite intuitive and the many moves feel fun to fight with. If it was all of the gameplay, it would have been fun, a nice bit of exploration, with combat corridors that might have dragged a bit… but I guess that’s the game, and it fits what others in the genre do.

Then there’s the other side, though, where the game tries to break up the fighting with a different activity. You need to shoot in several sessions – both the main character’s sister using her bow, and a bit later using a clumsy catapult. It sounds like a nice way to break up what you’re doing, but the controls don’t work for me.  It’s difficult to aim and the enemies are small, so it takes lots of tries to hit them. The first time, this just meant more enemies in a fighting section, nothing wrong with that. Later, though, you are forced to destroy three catapults in a limited time, hitting four targets on each (three at first, then a second one later). The hitboxes are small and difficult to predict. You get some control over the cannon ball as you go through, but it still feels difficult and inaccurate. I don’t think the game is explicitly Move compatible, but it seems like they wanted to use a Wiimote but couldn’t do it. There are some joystick controls that work a bit better to aim, but it’s not great and nearly blocked me from getting through – long before you get anything you really want.

Final Thoughts

Heavenly Sword is a beautiful games and while the fights get a bit repetitive, mostly they feel good to play through in the right doses, a chapter at a time. On the other hand, the shooting sections are both required and usually too difficult to handle, and it feels like they don’t belong here. Still worth a try for everything else though.

#550 Jak II

Posted: 2nd August 2020 by Jeroen in Games
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887th played so far

Genre: Action/Platform
Platform: Playstation 2
Year of Release: 2003
Developer: Naughty Dog
Publisher: Sony Computer Entertainment

For some reason, we played some Daxter before I covered either this game or the first Jak & Daxter game. It takes place between the two, before the current game, covering the two years in between. And oddly enough, having played a bit of it, it sort of spoils that first segment with what happened to you. It’s a weird way to get into the story for these, but I know the technology to expect now.

Our Thoughts

Jak II presents an interesting world that’s quite at odds with the more idyllic village start of the first game – it’s a dark city, polluted and cluttered with traffic, the invasive police being a threat at all times. When you travel outside it, you end up in these polluted places where the water seems toxic and buildings collapse as you move along. The story of fighting off an evil regime is little more that decent, but that’s fine, it’s a nice enough twist to contrast with the earlier games and others in the genre. Doing so in a more open world of this size is really quite interesting.

It’s a shame, then, that I couldn’t get more than three or four missions in. The main criticism of the game was its difficulty, and man, did I feel it. It isn’t just down to difficult jumps or hard enemies. The controls are more annoying than they should be. To do a long jump, for example (and this is the most egregious example I wrote down – and wrote down twice in fact) you need to roll and then jump just before the end of the roll. You’d better judge how far to roll, to not miss and overshoot. If you do… thanks to its checkpointing and design, half the time it leads to you restarting the level, which is just frustrating. The camera doesn’t help either, fighting you at every turn, especially in the cramped areas the game uses fairly often. It’s either that or a static camera that doesn’t let you judge your jump – and isn’t cinematic enough to make up for it.

Final Thoughts

The difficulty and gameplay of this game feel so misjudged – there’s a good world in here that feels interesting to explore, but it’s too harsh to feel fun and playable.

#388 R4: Ridge Racer Type 4

Posted: 29th July 2020 by Jeroen in Games
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886th played so far

Genre: Driving
Platform: Playstation 1
Year of Release: 1998
Developer: Namco
Publisher: Namco

The Ridge Racer series naming convention really gets confusing – aside from there being a second Ridge Racer with the same name on the list, this seems like the fourth one – although I keep forgetting it’s part of the franchise as the name is buried in the title.

With this being a Playstation 1 era game, you just know that this was taking the sprite based racer into a new 3D dimension. These days that just feels dated – while it would have worked for me, we’ll see why it’s still notable now.

Our Thoughts

While I wouldn’t call this a story heavy racing game, it is interesting to see that it at least seems to have a bit more than most. You chose between four teams at the start and while they have some statistical differences, they also have different storyline bits before each race – a short introduction that, in my case, set up the story of a woman who bought her own racing team but needs you to win so she can make her money back and be successful. It’s a nice little addition, something that makes it feel like something that’s not just an arcade racer.

Then there are the tracks themselves. They were decent, especially for the Playstation 1 era. The tracks needed to be learned anyway, but it feels odd now that we’re still dealing with limited chances at a race. We’re dealing with a home console now, retries of races should be fine. One place where this really showed for me, for example, is in the second level. It was set at sunset, which obviously looked nice and made for something different, it really got too dark to keep playing the game. Sure, we’ve struggled with this here before, but it seems unnecessary here. You can’t learn the track as easily, so this gets in the way.

Final Thoughts

This Ridge Racer sequel does step up the quality, but it still has its unnecessary arcade qualities. It was fun, sure, but still didn’t quite work for me.

885th played so far

Genre: Action/Shoot ‘Em Up
Platform: PC/Playstation 3/Xbox 360
Year of Release: 2007
Developer: Midway Chicago/Tiger Hill Entertainment
Publisher: Midway Games

I’ve managed to do some different preparation for this one – knowing I had a game with John Woo’s name on it, we watched his most known film, The Killer, a while ago. The heavy violence feels like it suits a video game and the Hong Kong setting feels distinct and interesting enough to make use of… I do still need to play Sleeping Dogs after visiting the city back in November. I’m as ready for this shooter as I’ll ever be.

Our Thoughts

One of the first things in my notes is that this feels like John Woo’s Cool Move Generator. It’s not the best shooter – without using the precision aim power, it feels really hard to aim and make it through. However, you get to constantly do cool moves – jumping over tables, shooting while sliding down wires and creating explosions everywhere. It really makes you feel good when you can get to it, but boring, if not frustrating, in between those moments.

The world is fairly linear – there are some goodies in short dead ends, but they didn’t feel that necessary. It’s all about fighting until you get exhausted, without as much plot other than explaining why there’s a boss you need to get rid of.

Finish a level and you get a score of the amount of damage you’ve caused to the world, in dollars, as well as a few other things (but who cares about how fast you are, right?). It unlocks some bonus materials. It’s not doing too much to force you to hit the goals, but works more as a nice pat on the back as you get through.

Final Thoughts

When you can get some cool moves in, John Woo Presents Stranglehold feels really good. Unfortunately, there are plenty of places where you don’t get those choices, especially in later levels when you leave the city. At that point the amount of enemies feels exhausting, without actually feeling interesting. You just keep going through until the end and I don’t think the end results are always worth it.

#844 Guitar Hero World Tour

Posted: 21st July 2020 by Jeroen in Games
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884th played so far

Genre: Music
Platform: Various
Year of Release: 2008
Developer: Neversoft
Publisher: Activision

As I’m approaching the 900 mark – a big milestone that I’m still amazed I’m getting this close to – I’m getting to a lot of penultimates and this is one – for Guitar Hero: World Tour I’m going to get the guitar out we’ve been using since The Beatles: Rock Band and last had out in Guitar Hero: Metallica. This time the game isn’t branded with a band, but instead is a general game. It is, in fact, the fourth game in the series, just not numbered as such (but succeeded by Guitar Hero 5, which isn’t on our list).

Our Thoughts

Listen, trust me, I’ve played the game, but as it is the Guitar Hero and Rock Band series aren’t that different to describe. The gameplay is the same and while I can say the selection of songs is good, that new selection is the big draw and I’m not music literate enough to really describe that… trust me.

The main new feature are extended sustains, which looked like a nice addition and was an extra option in there. The art in the cut scenes are nice but, to be honest, with the story not being there – another “you’re a starting rock star, make it in your career” thing – there isn’t much to it. That’s not the point of it anyway. You want to play your guitar with your friends and see how well you do. It still does that and the series stays great at it.