First Impressions – The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild (Wii U) – An Open-World Critic’s Take

I have always been critical of open-world games, but one of my favorite franchises has gone in that direction now, so I’ve tried this game despite my misgivings. Perhaps I should have held this back until or unless I finish the game, for a review, as a lot of this is probably stuff I would like to say there, but I want to write this now, so I’m posting it. I’m sure there would be more to say for a review anyway, or I could just reference this and add to it.

INTRODUCTION

The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild, or BotW, is the latest Zelda game. It released only a few months ago, and because I got a Wii U earlier this year I am able to play it. After some indecision because of the games’ genre I bought the game a few weeks ago. I am still early in it, but I have played enough to write up my initial thoughts on the game so I have done so.

To describe where I am in the game, after getting the game I explored this plateau area that you start on and, a little while later, finished that section of the game and got off of there into the main overworld. Then I went south towards the tower south of the start point, then stopped playing partway there after dying a bunch. I got back to the game over a week later, and have been more consistently playing it since. I got to that tower in the south area, found a stables and a horse, found and did a few shrines (I will describe these later, for anyone who has not played the game), then started heading towards the next story point, to find Impa. I got up the tower in that area and did a few shrines there along the way and then stopped. Later I got to Impa’s town, and have done a few more shrines as I go east from there. So yeah, I’m early but I do think I get the idea of the game.

So, what do I think? Well, there are some things about this game I like, but also others I dislike. My main issue with the game is its genre: I have never liked open-world games. I love the Zelda franchise, it is one of my favorites for its fantastic gameplay, but I strongly prefer a more directed experience over a more open-ended one. I definitely do not think that just by making a games’ world bigger, you make it better. And that is a big problem because BotW is an open-world game first, and a Zelda game… sometimes. There is fun to be had here, but there is also a lot of tedium.

CONTROLS

First though, I would like to discuss the controls. Zelda games always have great controls and for the most part that is still true here, but I do have a few issues with it that can be annoying. With the face buttons you can move with the left stick, quick-switch weapons, shields, or special items with the d-pad, and attack and jump with the face buttons. Jumping is now entirely manual, the opposite of the auto-jumping of all 3d Zelda games since Ocarina of Time. I really like that they added a jump button, but getting used to the fact that you won’t auto-jump at platform edges anymore takes some getting used to and makes the game harder than its predecessors. On the shoulder buttons you block, shoot arrows, and use your special abilities. Combat is simplified versus the last few 3d Zelda games, as I will explain later; this is perhaps an issue. The game also has a weapon durability system, and it is another huge issue with this game; you will often need multiple weapons per fight! Additionally, for me personally, I’ve always hated dual shoulder buttons on controllers, and keep hitting the wrong ones when trying to do the thing for the other button… bah. The game also has an endurance system that I will get to soon. There are also a lot of on-screen indicators, all quite useful.

Much worse, though, while the game was originally designed around the Wii U Gamepad, with a map and inventory on the Gamepad just like the Wii U versions of The Legend of Zelda: The Wind Waker HD and Twilight Princess HD. However, in order to foolishly make the Wii U and Nintendo Switch versions of the game as identical as possible those features were completely removed. This is kind of a tragedy and leaves the game feeling kind of incomplete for a Wii U title. If they had to remove some more advanced gamepad functions that is possibly understandable, but there is absolutely no reason whatsoever to remove the basic map and inventory features that should be on the gamepad. Even just putting the map on the bottom screen would have been fantastic and there is NO excuse not to do it! “We must make the two versions identical” makes no sense when they are not the same console, and this really does hurt the game.

More positively, since the Switch does at least have a tilt sensor in its controllers at least the tilt-based motion control elements remain, though they work the same as they do in Wind Waker HD, which means that you can only use motion aiming some of the time. I wish that there was an option to look around with the tilt controls all of the time (as in Splatoon), I’d use it! For looking up and down particularly, motion works a lot better than an analog stick. Instead, much like the Wii U version of Wind Waker, you need to use the first-person view to use motion, or the items (bombs, icemaking item, magnet, and such). Why limit motion to only certain items and not just let people use it? It doesn’t make much sense, and you’d think that given that this is the third Wii U main Zelda game like this (I presume, if TP HD is the same) they’d have improved on the aiming. Ah well.

ENDURANCE AND DIFFICULTY

Except for swimming in Wind Waker I don’t believe a Zelda game has had an endurance system before, but this has it and it is central to the game. You can swim and can climb almost any surface, but all of that burns stamina, and your stamina meter will run out quickly early in the game. The problem is, if you run out of stamina while swimming you die. If you run out of stamina while climbing you fall, and will die if you fall too far. There is also a similar cold system, as you will slowly freeze and then die if you go into a cold area without equipment that blocks the cold or food items which give you temporary cold immunity. No Zelda game has done any this before — in the past, if you fall into deep water or a pit for example you’d just respawn near the edge and maybe take a little bit of damage. Here, though, you die. Fortunately the game does let you save when you want and also autosaves regularly, but these don’t pick up right from where you left off, but go back to the last invisible checkpoint, and you will lose the progress you’ve made since then. Dying is not punished much here, but there is just enough of a punishment for it to sometimes be more frustrating than nicely tense.

Indeed, whether it is from running out of stamina or being killed by the also-challenging enemies BotW is a tough game. It does supposedly get easier much later on as you power up, but until you get to that point it’s a hard game and I have died often. In this way the game is very different from previous 3d Zelda games, and gets back to more of the challenge level of a classic 2d Zelda. The challenge comes from several places. One is the stamina system mentioned above. Second, though, is the next subject, the open-world nature of this game. Since Morrowind the Elder Scrolls series has handled damage by scaling the enemy difficulty, so that enemies everywhere differ in challenge relative to your level. This game doesn’t seem to do that, though, and you can go just about anywhere right from the start, so it is very, very easy to get into hard fights from early on. Enemies do a lot of damage, and I’m finding a lot of enemies who kill me in one hit. As much as I dislike scaled enemies, and I do, this is pretty frustrating for different reasons. It is no fun to die constantly because enemies, even those along the main path, can kill me in one hit.

Breath of the Wild makes some major changes to traditional Zelda progression, in that you have only four key items this time, and you get all of them at the beginning. Even so, this game does have progression. There isn’t a levelling system, but as you beat Shrines you get orbs, and for four orbs you can upgrade your stamina meter or get another heart added to your health. You can also buy clothing from some shops which give you bonuses. Food items, weapons, bows, and shields will come and go thanks to the weapon durability system, but these bonuses are more permanent. With how hard the enemies hit, and with how fast your stamina meter depletes, finding shrines to upgrade both of those is important.

THE GAMEPLAY AND ON EXPLORATION

Now, on to the gameplay and its core focus, open-world exploration. Breath of the Wild is a huge game with a large world to explore, and while there are other things to do, the focus is on wandering around that world. I’ve never liked this genre though as I said above, and I don’t love this game either; they’re too open-ended to hold my interest. Open-world games feel unfocused and usually lose me very quickly. First, I don’t like having to make choices if I don’t have to, and these games are all about choice. And second, the concept often seems to be “more space” instead of “better gameplay”; just letting you climb all the hills doesn’t make the whole game better, it just means you can do the same three things in more places… except because the designers had to spend so much time making the huge world, it is very likely that you won’t have encounters along the way that are nearly as carefully designed as you would in a more linear title. In this game for instance the amount of terrain is vast, but the enemy variety is quite limited. So, you will fight the same enemies, in slightly altered ways, over and over as you explore. And because you can go almost anywhere right from the start since traditional Zelda progression has mostly been abandoned here, the difficulty progression is uneven since the world is not all scaled to your ability and you can, and will, wander into hard areas all the time. I would rather see a more traditional sequence of events, as you start from easy areas and move up to harder ones as you go. This also allows for much more interesting puzzle elements in the world than you will find in any open-world game; compare Skyward Sword’s overworld to this one to see that contrast in full. SS’s overworld may be a bit too puzzle-dense, but this was not the solution. While some elements of the controls are similar, the core gameplay of BotW is totally different from any Zelda before. I knew it would be of course, and I am having some fun wandering around, finding shrines, and fighting the badguys, but it’s hard to not compare this to other Zelda games and find it wanting.

While this game is mostly a traditonal open-world game with a slight Zelda flair, Breath of the Wild does do a few new things, such as in its map system. You can bring up the map with a button. Much like how Ubisoft apparently does things, though I’ve never played any of Ubisoft’s open-world games, the map does not fill in as you explore. Instead, the map is broken up into districts. Each district has a large, easy-to-find tower somewhere in it, and once you climb that tower up to the top that whole district’s map will be revealed. On the map, shrines (these are puzzle-rooms scattered around the world), towers, and stables are automatically marked, but that’s it. In an Ubisoft game the map would be loaded with symbols for all kinds of things, but here you can mark the rest of that stuff yourself, if you wish. I like maps a lot, so this is great. There are limits though: there are only maybe twelve icons you can use, you can only put 100 icons total on a large world map that can take far more than that, you can only place icons in one color, yellow, and you cannot write text on the map. These limitations are unfortunate, but even so this is a pretty good map system, one of the best in the Zelda franchise. It is also probably a better solution than those done previously in the open-world action/adventure game genre. Now, BotW’s world is huge, but empty; it takes forever to get from point to point! Fortunately the game does have a pretty good quick-travel system, as from the map you can instantly travel to any tower or shrine that you have reached. Even so, getting from place to place takes a long time. There is a sense of adventure here, but I prefer the world size of a standard Zelda game over this.

One more huge change from past 3d Zelda games is that you get a lot less help this time. Nintendo has long wanted to help players out, to make sure that they know how to play the game and have a good chance of getting through it, but this game leaves more things up to the player, for good or ill. So, despite the large open world, there isn’t a helper character traveling around with you in BotW, telling you what to do and where to go. Some people love this about the game, but I’m fine with those characters myself and think that they are usually helpful; you need something to help you navigate a game! This game has some things to help you do that, but not a dedicated helper character. But because of that design, people have compared BotW to the original Zelda for the NES. There is some truth to that. However, while I like the original Zelda game, between its high difficulty and too-open design, it is far from my favorite Zelda game. It isn’t even my favorite Zelda-ish game on the NES, in fact; StarTropics is, because I prefer its linear style and absence of annoying randomly hidden stuff you need to find like the NES Zelda games do.

But while it may hearken back to NES games, fortunately BotW does have far more there to help you figure out what to do than the original Zelda does. There is an indicator which helps you find nearby shrines, which is incredibly helpful as while some shrines are easy to find others are hidden away; there are quest markers on the map telling you where to go for quests; you can place indicators when in the first-person view that add a marker on your map at the point that you mark, which is pretty great; those towers (that you go up to reveal the map) are large and easy to see from a long distance; and more. I know I’m still relatively early in this long game, but I haven’t gotten lost yet. I will say though, this game does demand more from the player than a Zelda game has in quite a while, and this surely has driven some people away early on; this is exactly why helper characters were invented in the first place. On the Plateau for example, there are pretty much no hints at all about how to survive in the cold area! In order to survive there you need to figure out how to cook those cold-resistant herbs into something which gives you longer-term cold resistance pretty much, just eating them one at a time won’t last long. And then if you happen to go to the right place (as I fortunately did) you get that cold-resistant outfit at the top of a mountain there, making that whole effort kind of pointless… hmm, it was satisfying once I figured it out, but from a design standpoint I’m not sure what I think of that. There should be more help there than they give you for things like that.

Now, some people say that in open-world games you should not try to follow the games’ main quest path, but instead should wander around, explore, and see what you can find. That may be how these games are designed, but that is close to the opposite of how I usually do anything. There are a lot of things to see on the map, though I imagine most are just the usual slight rehashes of the same stuff, and it is probably true that you’ll need to go off the main paths to find them. And even if a lot of those areas and encounters are very similar I won’t say that there’s nothing to that kind of exploration, because seeing interesting places in games can be pretty cool. I have quite liked finding some nice vistas and such in Guild Wars, for example.

However, I just would not want to randomly wander in order to find those places, that is not how I do things. I of course don’t just randomly wander! It’s pointless, or worse, boring — think of grinding in RPGs, which is similar in that your only objective is “level up” and not “get to a specific place”. Either in games or in real life, if I’m going somewhere (in a game, for a walk, what have you) I want to know where I’m going before I start out. If you had to explore to reveal the map that would be a pretty big thing pushing me to explore (and yes I wish this game did that, video above or no), but since it gives you each area’s map all at once all, what I have done so far after getting off the plateau are going towards either a tower or the next quest marker, while following shrine-sensor pings along the way when it goes off since those can be fun. That works. Maybe at some point I’ll try going to other map points though. As for on the plateau, there I just had to explore it, but it’s small enough that that’s quite reasonable.

But overall, the sheer size of the world already has gotten me kind of bored sometimes because of how spread out everything is. And saying that yet again is not nearly as repetitive as running across the world in an open-world game is!

COMBAT AND PUZZLES, AND OPEN-WORLD DESIGN

I discussed the basics of the combat system above, under Controls, but some elements of it require more discussion. These are side-effects of Breath of the Wild’s open-world nature; on the one hand this is an open-world game, but on the other hand Nintendo did want at least SOME of that classic Zelda gameplay style to be somewhere in this game. But to make a world large you need to make compromises elsewhere, and that is as true here as anywhere.

For whatever reason, but possibly because making a large world is difficult, BotW has a relatively limited number of enemy types; you see the same few enemies a lot. I referenced this earlier, with how a more linear game — like all past 3d Zelda games — has a constantly changing set of enemies and experiences to see as you progress through the game. This game has constantly changing scenery to explore through and a lot of things to find, and has a lot of different weapon types to pick up and attack enemies with, but not only will you be fighting the same enemies often, the way you do it is in some ways more limited than it was previously. Combat has been simplified in comparison to the last three 3d Zelda games, Wind Waker, Twilight Princess, and Skyward Sword. In some ways it is perhaps even simpler than the Nintendo 64 games were, in fact. Basically, you seem to be able to swing around weapons at whoever is in front of you, use your bow or bombs, lock on to targets and circle-strafe them, and that’s about it. The game has fewer items and fewer combat moves than past titles, it’s not even close. As I dislike QTEs I have always had mixed feelings for the almost QTE-like “press A for a jump attack” moves of the Gamecube games, but entirely removing those moves from the game was probably not the right solution. Sure you have more weapons in this game than ever before in a Zelda game, but all any of them do is basic swing and poke attacks.

There is one big addition, though, and that is a physics engine. It allows you to do some amusing things, including rolling rocks down hills, starting small fires, blowing things up, and more. I’ve only seen a little of this myself, but having seen more online, yes, you can do some cool things… but that is not a full replacement for the more complex combat of before. And anyway, like usual with open-world games, that results in a lot of scenarios drawing from that same limited playbook. I’d much rather have fewer but more carefully designed encounters and physics puzzles that are each more interesting and fun, versus more things that all blend together because there are so many of them and many are not as special. The different environments do change things up, and I’m not far enough in to the game for combat to feel repetitive yet, and I know that there are some monsters which require different strategies such as the Guardians, giant rock monsters, etc… but still, while this game is good, it’s not a design style I’ll ever like as much as a conventional Zelda game like OoT or TP.

On that note, while there are a lot of reasons why Zelda is one of my favorite videogame franchises, including the action, puzzles, exploration, and more, puzzles are a huge part of why I love Zelda games, so I need to talk about the puzzle element of BotW. Where previous Zelda games have a series of puzzle-heavy dungeons to play through, BotW has a large open world, and they chose to make this open world just a world to explore, not a puzzle-filled one like the overworld of Skyward Sword. There are some hidden corners you will need to work your way to with your climbing and abilities, but for the most part this games’ puzzle elements come in the aforementioned shrines and in the games’ four dungeons, not in the overworld. I have not seen the dungeons yet, but they kind of sound like expanded shrines conceptually and apparently are sadly not on the scale of classic Zelda dungeons. As for the shrines, those I have played some of. Each of the 100-plus shrines is very small, and gives you one or two classic Zelda-style puzzles to solve, or one challenging boss-style enemy encounter to defeat. Either way these are always pretty fun stuff, and they make good use of your very limited selection of special abilities. I like the shrines, and if I actually stick with the game for a long time (which is unlikely?) could see wanting to find a lot of them; these are the part of the game that feels the most Zelda-like in the ways that I like Zelda games. But then they end after a couple of minutes and it’s back to the too-big-for-its-own-good overworld… ah well. Traditional Zelda dungeons are definitely better, they usually don’t leave me wanting more like BotW shrines do. They also don’t usually have much in the way of combat in them, which works with how short they are, but hurts them compared to past 3d Zeldas — the nine shrines I’ve gone through so far, all combined, would not be as great as the first dungeon of a traditional 3d Zelda, I think, though the puzzles (or fight, in one) in them are often pretty cool stuff.

ON ITEMS

Now, all through this article I have mentioned this games’ limited selection of key items. In all past Zelda games, you start with only a few abilities, but gain more as you go. You almost always get a new major item for each dungeon, and it helps you reach the place and also to complete it. This game is completely different, however. In BotW, you have only four main items, and you get all of them on the plateau at the start of the game. Beyond that you can have large inventories of food/potion items, weapons, shields, and bows, as well, which are all things you will be collecting and using or dropping all the time as you go along.

But first, the key items. They have two problems. First, there are only four of them, which is way too few. One is the old item, bombs, brought back again. The other three are more new, though, as they create ice platforms out of any water source, allow you to move around metal objects, and allow you to freeze certain items in time. It’s always great to see the new item ideas Nintendo comes up with, and these are some good ones. Why are there so few of them, though? These are interesting, but for a game this long I would have liked to see more. Now, some weapons are usable in interesting ways, to light things on fire, blow things around with bursts of air, and that’s great, but isn’t a full replacement. You also have a VERY limited inventory at the start; if there’s a way to expand that I badly need to do it, because the weapon inventory particularly is way too small. When you combine the tiny inventory with the constant need for new weapons because of the annoying weapon-durability system that requires you to constantly switch weapons while fighting because of how fragile everything is, it gets annoying fast.

The other issue is with the decision to give you all four of those items right at the start of the game. I understand the reason for doing this, as they want you to be able to explore the whole world right from after you leave the plateau, but I don’t like it. Previously, Zelda games always gave you items over time, usually one per dungeon. Nintendo first experimented with something different in A Link Between Worlds, but I didn’t like that design much at all; there you can only rent most of the items, and can do so in any order so there isn’t a clear progression from dungeon to dungeon as you usually expect in Zelda games, as they could not make dungeons assuming you had any items other than the one required for that area. Many Zelda games may make poor use of items from previous dungeons, but that goes too far. And anyway, I want to permanently get items, not just rent them! This game doesn’t do that, fortunately, but even so, allowing people to go anywhere in your game right at the start can be problematic, because one of the best ways to design a game is to have a steady increase in difficulty and, in a game like this, item selection as you move through a game. Allowing players to play levels in any order can work, as it does in Mega Man, but too often it leads to flat difficulty “curves” that bore players because the challenge almost never picks up, as in Knuckles Chaotix. Whether that flat curve is too easy or too hard, it’s not as good as a more traditional design which steadily increases as you go. Here, if anything, the game is apparently harder at the start than the end, because once powered up you are quite strong. That may be satisfying, but is it really good design?

Beyond the key items, BotW makes even bigger changes to the usual Zelda formulas with how it handles the rest of your inventory. First, all of your melee weapons, bows, and shields have that durability system added which means that they will break, CONSTANTLY. You also start with a very small amount of inventory space for weapons, which doesn’t help at all. This can be expanded, slowly, if you find the right semi-hidden items, but it is still a problem. Weapon durability in this game is ridiculously low to comical levels, and the mere feact that weapons are left all over does not make up for it. This has been one of the more criticized elements of this game, and it deserves it.

Less bad, though, is how BotW handles healing. Previously, some enemies, chests, pots, or what have you would drop hearts, and you would heal if you pick them up. Alternately, faries can fully heal you if you die. Some games also allow you to buy limited-used healing potions you can put in your inventory. This time, however, healing hearts are gone. Instead, you need to collect different types of foods and then eat or cook them. Fortunately they use their own separate inventory section, and you seem to be able to hold a lot of the stuff right from the start, unlike weapons. That is good. These foods come in two types, for food or for potions. Edible foods mostly come from collecting plants, killing wildlife creatures, and such. You can also make potions; these require you to mix bugs, frogs, and such with body parts that you get from killing enemies.

So yes, Zelda has a crafting system now. For either, you can either eat the raw items and get a limited amount of healing, or find cooking pots that are scattered around at certain points in the world and cook together ingredients there to make meals or potions. If you put together ingredients that form a good recipe you get that item, but if you don’t you get junk food that barely does anything. This is an okay idea, though I’ve always greatly disliked crafting. At least this crafting system is fairly simple and isn’t the main focus of the game, thank goodness. The big issue here is, there is no ingame recipe list at all, so either I’ve got to just not care much about what I make, try to memorize it all, or look up a list online. This is really bad game design with no excuse, you need an ingame recipe book in anything like this.

GRAPHICS AND SOUND

Finally, graphics and sound. As I said, the game looks great. For overall art style I do think that TP has the best art design ever in the franchise, but this game builds on the “cartoony but with a bit of realism” style of Skyward Sword, but probably because of the better hardware it looks even better than that game does. This is a really nice looking game. There are a lot of great vistas to see as you climb the mountains, forests to explore, lakes to be afraid of because of the stupid endurance system, and more. This is a very good looking game despite the somewhat dated hardware it is running on, and it runs pretty well.

Aurally, however, the game seriously lacks, as most of your adventure is done to just sound effects and environmental sounds! Previously the Zelda series always had some of the best soundtracks ever in gaming, but this one ditches that in favor of a very understated, minimalist soundtrack and a lot of environmental sounds from the things near you. This works I guess, and the sounds can be alright, but the overall audio presentation is mostly forgettable and average in ways Zelda music never has been before and that is very disappointing.

CONCLUSION

So overall, maybe ten or more hours in, Breath of the Wild is a good but flawed game that takes the Zelda series in a direction I wish it hadn’t. It was probably inevitable that Zelda would eventually succumb to the open-world tide, but while there definitely are things I like about this game and I will keep playing it, I, at least, wish that Nintendo had made another traditional 3d Zelda game. But with the rapturous reception this game received, will we ever see one of those again? That’s sad to think about… but we’ll see, I guess.

With this game, here’s the question I am thinking about above all others: if this was some other game, nearly identical to this one but not Zelda, would I be playing it? And if I was, would I stick with it? I’m leaning towards “maybe” and “probably not” as the answers to those questions. However, is that because of my just not giving it enough of a chance, because of my very longstanding bias against open-world games? … Maybe? Right now I don’t know.

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Game Opinion Summary Article Hyperlink Updates – Finally Completed!

So, I’ve spent some time over the past few days working on finally finishing up the tedious but worthwhile task of adding hyperlinked Table of Contents sections to my Game Opinion Summary articles. It may seem simple but it is a time-consuming task, particularly for longer articles like the first two of these. After these four I found out about how to do these and have been putting contents hyperlink sections in each update as I write it, so this should be it.

The articles updated are: Playstation Part 1, Playstation Part 2, Nintendo 64 (2015) Addition, and Atari 5200.

Posted in Atari 5200, Classic Games, Nintendo 64, PlayStation, Updates | Tagged | Leave a comment

Review: Splatoon (Wii U) – A Surprisingly Great Shooter from Nintendo

… Sorry the site was down for a couple of days. Fixed. And here’s a new review too, finally, of a game I have been playing a lot of for the past month or two.

Introduction

Splatoon is an online multiplayer-focused third-person shooter developed and published by Nintendo in 2015 for the Nintendo Wii U. A big hit, at least for its relatively unsuccessful system, Splatoon still has an active online player base; I got the game last month, not too long after I finally, at long last, got a Wii U in April, and have almost never waited more than a minute or two for a match, and usually it is much less than that. Considering that the game is several years old and on the Wii U that is pretty impressive.

As for me, When I got this game I was hoping to like it, but I wasn’t sure. While I have liked some of them here and there, I am far from a big fan of first or third person shooters. It’s never been a favorite genre of mine, and my interest in online shooters is even lower; I played a few online shooters back in the late ’90s to early ’00s, but have never really been hooked to one like I was to Blizzard’s RTSes, for example. Splatoon is supposed to be great, yes, but that doesn’t mean I’d like it. Making things worse, while many popular games drop in price over time, this one hasn’t really. I paid $40 for the game, and that was actually less than Gamestop, say, charges for the game. Nintendo has decided to keep their game prices high for most of their games, not dropping prices like other publishers do, and Splatoon is no exception — $40, for a three year old game? Well, it better be good…

And it is! Splatoon, in both single and multi player modes, is a great and surprisingly addictive game. It takes the basic form of a shooter and changes things up with completely unique gameplay: Splatoon is all about painting the world. The game has a charmingly weird sense of style, as you play as humanoid squid-children who can switch back and forth between a squid form and a human form, and that affects the gameplay in some pretty cool ways, but the painting is Splatoon’s most unique feature, and it is at the core of why I like this game so much. I love maps in games, and particularly ones which you fill in as you go. This game is all about quite literally filling in the map to win, and that is amazing.


Controls and Gameplay

Splatoon is, again, a shooter with a twist. You play as a form-shifting squid child called an Inkling armed with an ink weapon, and go around painting the world or ‘splatting’ other Inkling squid-children by covering them with ink. In all modes there are two sides, each of whom has a different ink color they use. It can be red and blue, orange and purple, or more. While the single player campaign is a solo affair, online multiplayer is a four-versus-four game exclusively, so this is largely a team game. That design works well, as I will explain later. The basic controls allow you to use your main weapon, use your sub-weapon and superweapon, move around, switch to squid form while you hold down a button, and jump. You can also aim several ways, as described below. Many weapons allow you to either fire normally, by holding down the trigger, or use the weapon an alternate way by tapping it. With rollers or brushes for instance, if you tap the trigger you splatter paint around, but if you hold the button you paint the ground. Other weapons charge instead, so the longer you hold the button the stronger the attack. It’s quite varied. Each attack type is useful in different situations. You can only use one weapon at a time, which you choose from the main menu before entering a match. You use up ink as you use your main or secondary weapon, and an ink meter on screen shows how much ammo you have left.

As for that ink though, well, the game calls it ink to fit with the sea-life theme, but it’s basically paint, except with a waterey twist. While in squid form you move more quickly and are nearly invisible within the ink, but both of those only work within your color of ink. Additionally, while in your color of ink in squid form your ink-tank ammo meter will refill, so you will need to switch back and forth to recharge. I like it better when shooters don’t make you recharge, Doom-style, as it’s annoying and frustrating to run out, but it does add some strategy to the game. Squid form may sound great, but you cannot attack while you are a squid, only when you are a kid, so you will probably spend most of your time as a humanoid. Squid form is mostly useful for refilling ammo, faster movement through the level through areas already inked or for when you want to try to hide from your opponents, then. Those functions are all key to this game though, and the balance between squid and kid, movement and attack, is very well thought through and is done just right. The wall and floor-painting-focused gameplay may be Splatoon’s most unique feature, but the squid/humanoid dichotomy is nearly as important and it is just as unique. It’s a key behind what makes this game so interesting and fun, as zooming around as a squid can be great fun, but you’ll need to pop out sometime to ink the world or try to get your opponents… but can you do that safely? It’s great design, both fun and challenging.

Now, there is one more element to Splatoon’s controls that I need to cover in more detail, and that is aiming. There are two ways to look around in this game, either with the right analog stick on the Gamepad, or with tilt motion controls, as your view will move around as you move or tilt the gamepad. With motion controls on you can still use the right stick to change your view on a horizontal axis, but not a vertical one; that is motion-only. If you turn off motion controls then only the right stick controls you view. Some people like motion aiming and some do not, but I think it gives you much better and more precise control over your aim, particularly your vertical aim, than just an analog stick would. The motion controls are fantastic for looking up and down or a little bit to either side, and it’s definitely the best way to do those things. It is great that they left the right stick enabled for horizontally turning the camera, though, because the stick is better for quickly rotating the camera. This is because the Gamepad is large and bulky, and turning all the way around to see behind you is not always feasible while sitting holding the thing. Despite that though, the motion control element to the game is great and works very well. I’ve found myself trying to aim by moving the gamepad around in other Wii U games that don’t have support for this… heh.

Another important part of the game are your armaments, and there are many types of weapons available for online play. In single player you have only one main weapon, a basic machine gun style splatter gun, a couple of sub-weapons to choose from, and limited-use superweapons. You don’t have options here, but works well for the kind of campaign they made. For online play however you can choose between many weapons, including sniper rifles, machine or Gatling guns, giant rollers, brushes, buckets, charge guns, splatter guns, and more; there is a wide variety, with something for everyone. Each weapon type feels quite different as well, so trying out a lot of them is rewarding. As I love inking the ground the rollers are definitely my favorite though, they are the best at thoroughly covering surfaces with ink. In addition to your main weapon the game also has many sub-abilities available. In single player you can select between three or so that you can purchase with points you collect in the levels, but in multiplayer each weapon has two preset sub-abilities. There are many weapons available, including similar weapons that only vary in which sub-weapons they come with, so you should be able to find a weapon with sub-abilities you like. The first kind of sub abilities include grenades of several types, sensors to detect where your opponents are, and more. These can be used at will, but use a lot of ink for each use. The second type of subweapon is a more powerful attack that takes time to charge. As you ink ground a meter fills up, and once you fill up the meter your super ability can be activated. Super abilities include waves of bombs you can throw out, giant ink-strikes that hit a point you target on the map, a Kraken mode where you turn into an invincible Kraken squid for a little while, leaving a trail of ink and hopefully opponents behind, and more.

When you get hit you take damage, though there isn’t a damage meter. Instead, ink of the other sides’ color starts filling up your screen. If this damage gets too bad your are splatted and you get sent back. How this works is different in single and multi player; in single player there are checkpoints you go back to, but in multiplayer you go back to your start point on that map. In multiplayer, you will also have to wait a few seconds after being splatted before you respawn and can start out again, so there is a penalty for being knocked out. Single player has a penalty as well, though I will discuss that later. Inklings cannot take much damage before they get splatted, so staying away from enemy attacks is important. The quick splats and respawns keep the game moving at a good pace, and for the most part the health system works well. Sometimes it can be hard to know how much damage you can take before you get splatted, though; it all varies depending on what your and your opponents’ equipment and abilities are, so as the game does not display any damage numbers, much less have health bars, it can be vague sometimes. Still, again, the combat and pacing are done very well.

Additionally, unlike many games on the Wii U, Splatoon makes great use of the screen on the Wii U Gamepad, its main tablet-like controller with a large screen in it. Ingame in multiplayer games, the screen is used for an incredibly useful ingame minimap which doesn’t only show you which areas each team has inked at the moment, critical information to have, but also allows you to super-jump straight to the location of any of your teammates anytime you want. This is usually marked with a circle on the ground, so astute enemies can wait for you to land and splat you, but when used right these jumps are a key to victory. Note that because of this you do need to use the Gamepad itself with this game in everything other than the single-system multiplayer mode, you cannot use a Wiimote or Wii U Pro Controller. That’s fine though, that map display is great. As a result of this the game also doesn’t have off-TV play support, unlike most games on this system, but with how central the second screen is to the game it is understandable. Unfortunate, but understandable.

All of that may sound interesting and unique, but perhaps the most impressive thing about Splatoon is how well it all comes together. This game has extremely responsive controls, unique gameplay that fits together incredibly well despite how different so many elements of the game are from genre norms, a great control scheme laid out just right on the Gamepad, good use of the Gamepad’s second screen, a good sense of speed as you zoom around as a squid, satisfying action with a variety of weapons, lots of ground to have fun covering with ink, and so much more. Once you’ve played it a lot the game can get repetitive, as there is only so much to see, but it stays fun despite that.


Characters and Features

When you first start up Splatoon, you start by creating a squid character who you will play as in the game. You can customize your character, but the only options are your gender and skin color so customization is limited, though the games’ many clothing options allow you to look more unique. Even so, it’s great that they have those options at all, because Nintendo games usually have male-only protagonists and very, very rarely let you play as a non-white or light-skinned Asian character. This game is different. You can’t name your player, though; instead, once in-game the name displayed is the name of whatever the Mii linked to your Nintendo account is. If you change which Mii is representing your account your Splatoon username will change along with it, so it is not set from the start, thankfully. This works, though it means that nobody has a set username you can actually look up. I presume that this was done as a part of Nintendo’s near-paranoid efforts to hamstring their online services in the name of protecting children, as if you just reveal Nintendo account names online or something someone would have a much easier time finding someone than as it is, where it’s just whatever Mii you are currently linking to it.

Anyway, with your character set you can start the game. The main menu is not just a list of options, but is a moderate-sized plaza that you can move around in. You will see other squid-kids there, representing other people who were in matches you competed in recently I believe, though it is not actually an online space. Here you can walk to the various places on the map, or, much more conveniently, you can just touch those points on the on-screen minimap on the Wii U’s Gamepad screen. This use of the Gamepad screen continues ingame, as described above, and it’s great. Thanks to the quick links on the pad there isn’t much reason to wander around the plaza, unless you want to find some person you fought recently and buy a copy of an item they have equipped, but it can be fun anyway.

The places you can go include entrances for the Single Player or Multiplayer areas; a guy who will sell you clothing items you see on people on the plaza, for a high price; a minigame area where you can play the Squid Jump 8-bit-style minigame; and entrances to the shops that sell equipment. The equipment items that you can buy come in four varieties: weapons, shirts, shoes, and headgear, and a different shop sells each type. Oddly, you cannot change your pants; all Splatoon kids wear regulation black shorts, no other options are available. That’s odd, considering how different everything else can look, but I guess it works. I think the sequel will have more options though, and that’s nice.

Now, equipment is not only visual. Each weapon, shirt, head, or foot gear item has several attached enhancements, between two and four each. More expensive ones are more likely to have four, as you might expect. When you buy an item from one of the stores you won’t know what its enhancements are, either; they unlock after you use that item for a while. Item enhancements in the game include ones which increase your attack power, hide the bubbles that usually give away your location when in ink as a squid (but with a penalty), decrease ink usage, speed up ink recharge time, and more. Which you get will depend on the luck of the draw, so this is another random element in the game. These modifiers only slightly alter your stats but they do matter, so you need to consider function as well as form when you choose what to wear.

Minigame: Squid Jump

Either from the main plaza or while waiting for a multiplayer game, you can play a simple little minigame with 2d, NES-style graphics called Squid Jump. In this game you play as a squid, and have to try to get to the top of what I believe is an infinite number of stages. Making things tricky, you cannot move left and right on a platform; instead, all you can do is jump, and adjust your trajectory in the air by tilting the Gamepad left or right. You also can alter your jump height based on how long you hold the jump button down for before you release it. That’s it for the controls, though. The game plays well, but because you cannot move around while on a platform, you need to plan your jumps carefully. Don’t go too slow, though, because the water is slowly rising behind you, and you need to jump to the top of each stage to escape! It’s a fun little minigame to play while waiting, and the game keeps track of your best score.


Modes: The Basics

Most of your time playing will be in the two main modes, though, either the single player campaign or online multiplayer. The single player story mode is short, estimated at five hours at most, but it’s a lot of fun while it lasts. It’s an only moderately challenging campaign that both goes through a story and prepares the player for some of the basics of the main multiplayer game. In the multiplayer menu, you choose between four options: Turf War, Ranked, or Team versions of each of those two modes. Turf War is the main mode, where you ink terrain. There are three modes in Ranked, though, which the game will switch between day to day; more on that later. I’ve never tried the Team modes, but while more options would be great, having only two main player lists admittedly does help keep the player base up, and it is still very easy to find a game.

While there are only maybe ten multiplayer maps and a couple of modes, Splatoon does several things to keep you playing online. First, there are two ranking systems in multiplayer, a level-based one that only increases until you reach a cap of 50, and a ranking-based one for the Ranked mode only which will go up or down depending on your performance in that mode. The ranking system can be frustrating as you need consistent wins to advance and it is never clear why you gain or lose as many points as you do, but it works. The game does one more thing on top of those to keep you coming back, though, and for me at least it’s more controversial.

That is, multiplayer-mode Splatoon locks what you can access each day. This is one of the games’ defining elements, and it is both good and bad. At any given time, you can only play two maps in Turf War, and only two maps in Ranked, both locked to one of the three Ranked modes. Every time you turn on the game, or when the rotation changes, teen Inkling idol hosts Callie and Marie introduce the four maps currently in rotation and give some jokes about each one. That’s amusing, but do you want to play a different map or Ranked mode? Sorry, you can’t, you’ll need to come back later to do that. Similarly, the shirt, shoe, and headgear shops only display five items per day. If you want something else you don’t have, come back tomorrow to see the new random selection of five items each. You can, however, buy any weapon that you have unlocked at any time; that’s nice at least, and I wish the other shops worked similarly. Put together these limitations do a great job of encouraging longer-term repeat play, for a shorter session per day, and that is probably the intent. However, I really dislike that you are locked out of so much of the game at any time. When I want to play but am stuck with only some of the least interesting maps available and the least-good Ranked mode, it encourages you to just stop playing for now and that wouldn’t be a problem most shooters have since most have more options than this. But on the other hand it keeps you playing and focuses everyone on only two multiplayer queues, helping make it easier to find a game, so it’s not all bad. Overall though, the time-based limitations work, but I wish they’d been a bit less restrictive.

But anyway, on to more detail about the modes, single player first.


Modes: Single Player – Hero Mode

I covered many of the important details about single player earlier, but I should sum it up here. Single player mode in Splatoon mostly plays and controls similarly to multiplayer, but in a very different game structure. Here levels are mostly linear instead of being open areas, they have almost as many platforming elements as shooting, you are following a story, and the game has a traditional level-and-boss structure, to name the most important differences. Your armaments differ as well, as again you have only one main weapon here, a machine-gun type weapon. You also have only three sub-weapons available, and can choose between them once you buy them. Superweapons are even more restricted, as you cannot just normally equip them; instead they drop as one-time-use powerups in boxes in the levels, so you can only use superweapons when the game allows it. This works well for the kind of game they have made, as limiting their use helps with the difficulty balance I am sure. I never really missed them, your main gun and squid and jumping abilities are usually all you need.

The single player mode’s story is simple, but it’s good enough. The Inkling squids’ enemies, the Octolings, have attacked and taken some creatures that provide power to the squids’ city, and you need to stop the villains and get back the electric-bulb things they stole. There is one at the end of each level. That sounds basic, but the writing is amusing and the conversations during this short campaign are fun stuff. Anyway, ‘save the day from the bad guys’ is all the plot most games need, and it’s fine here. The humor is decent, and there is some good, interesting backstory in the hidden collectibles in the stages (details below).

The single player game is accessed from the main plaza, and has its own overworld map to explore. The campaign consists of five areas, with five levels and a boss in each one. The overworld map has no enemies on it, but there is something to do, as you need to actually find the levels. Levels are marked with hatches, but they do not appear until you ink the area, so you’ll explore around each area, inking everything you can find until you uncover the locations of the stages. You can play the levels in each world in any order, an can quick-warp to any stage by touching it on the minimap on the Gamepad, but you do have to beat all of the levels in an area before you can face that worlds’ boss, and must beat each boss to move on to the next area. The game was never hard enough to make me want to give up on a stage and go try a different one instead, but still this is a nice idea and it does work. The game has a decent difficulty curve as you go along and while mostly easy, it does get tougher later on.

One thing making this mode harder that I have some issues with, however, is the continue system within a stage. Now, as mentioned previously, when you get splatted in single player mode, you return to the last checkpoint you reached. However, there is an indicator on screen, and if you are splatted three times without making it to the next checkpoint or the end of the level, you lose, are kicked out to the overworld, and will need to start the level over from scratch. If you do reach the next checkpoint, though, one mark is added back on to the “lives” indicator, giving you an additional chance from that point. As a result of this, there were a few times that I had to repeatedly restart a level over from the beginning because of a hard part near the end, and that is not much fun. I’d much rather see it kick you back to the previous checkpoint, for example, instead of forcing you to replay the whole level. I understand the need for some challenge here, but this is a somewhat frustrating way to do it.

Despite that though, very few parts of this game are hard. Perhaps the main reason for this is one of the games’ few significant flaws: it doesn’t really have competent enemy AI. There are, sadly, no bots available in multiplayer (so far as I know), and most opponents in the single player mode are very basic ones that stand in place and shoot you or just move back and forth and such. The few times you do fight against Octoling opponents moving around in small arenas or versions of the single player levels, the fights are very easy and end in seconds almost every time. This is a great game, but it would be better with good enemy AI and bot options. FPSes had those things the better part of two decades ago, why doesn’t this one now?

Apart from that though, Splatoon’s single player mode is really good. It is short at maybe five hours long, but they do a good job of covering for the seriously lacking AI because of the level designs and nature of the challenges you face along these compeltely linear stages. You will need to jump over gaps by inking areas and then getting past the obstacle before the ink is erased, avoid sniper-type enemies long enough to get close to them so you can take them out, navigate narrow platforms while under attack from obstacles you may or may not be able to fight back against, and more. It’s fun stuff. Each of the five bosses is completely different too, and all five of those fights are well designed and quite satisfying. In classic Nintendo style you need to figure out how to hit the boss three times. The single player isn’t just good on its own, though, it does also begin to prepare the player for multiplayer. Indeed, people unfamiliar with shooters definitely should play through the single player mode first. Without good AI opponents it won’t prepare players for everything they will face in multiplayer, but it does introduce the basics of how to play the game pretty well, and it’s fun and rewarding along the way.

Oh, and if you want something more to do after finishing the game, there are two additional challenges. First, each level has a hidden page in it. These research note pages show various things, such as the history of this world, sketches of weapons, and more. They’re interesting stuff, and finding some will unlock new weapons in multiplayer as well. That’s good, but the other added mode is more annoying: as I mentioned earlier, there are a second set of challenges, one per level, that require the Splatoon Amiibos in order to be accessed. I believe you need all three of them to play the full set, of course. I don’t have those (yet anyway) but may have to buy them sometime… bah, I’d rather not.


Modes: Multiplayer

The single player mode is fun, but the core of Splatoon is its multiplayer. Single player is a solo experience, but both public online multiplayer modes, Turf War and Ranked, are four-on-four team battle fights. The only way to play with less than four people per side is Private Match mode, which I mentioned earlier but have never tried, and the Battle Dojo, a decent but not amazing two player single-system mode. That latter mode is interesting, but the main focus here is on online play, so that is my main focus. I will cover each mode separately below. There are about ten multiplayer maps, but again you will only be able to play four at a time, two per mode. First, though, I want to say a bit about a few things all of the multiplayer modes have in common.

First, while the single player levels are linear stages, multiplayer levels are large arenas. Each of the approximately ten levels is unique, and most feel very different from each other. Interestingly, all maps are almost exactly mirrored along a line somewhere in the middle of the stage. On the minimap you always start on the “same” side of the map, though this is impossible of course, and in most maps there is no way to tell which side is which. I did notice some very small differences on the sides of a few maps, so maybe they all have hints, but for the most part each map is the same on each side. This makes things fair, as one team will not have an advantage over the other based on their starting position, so it was a good level design idea.

One thing that all modes in this fast-paced game have in common is a timer. Matches are kept short, as you have only three minutes for Turf War or five for Ranked modes. As previously mentioned, unlike single player you can get splatted as much as you want in multiplayer, you are just punished with a few seconds’ delay before you can start out again. Splatoon is the perfect game to play for a few minutes, but it is also very possible to look up and realize you have been playing for an hour.

Another similarity between the modes are your armaments. I mentioned some weapons in brief earlier in the Gameplay section, but they have a large impact on the multiplayer in particular since this is where you will see most of them. During matches there are a lot of ways to play, and your choice of weapon will differ depending on your playstyle. Sniper weapons are great for long-range attacks; rollers for maximum inking — they’re my favorite, but are terrible at range; gatling guns are powerful and shoot a lot of ink, but only shoot in bursts and drain ammo fast, so you’ll need to press the fire button repeatedly and fill your ink up even more than otherwise; brushes make a very narrow trail but spread a lot of ink around if you splatter it around, which is fun but drains ink fast; and many more. Both for you and your opponents, the weapon variety is a key to the game. Knowing the difference between weapon types is a great skill to learn.

Next, details about each mode in turn.

Battle Dojo: Offline Multiplayer in Balloon Battle

The Battle Dojo in the plaza houses the aforementioned offline multiplayer mode. In this two-player mode, one player plays on the TV with a Wii Classic Controller or CC Pro, or a Wii U Pro Controller. This isn’t a mini Turf War game, though; instead, you play Balloon Battle, a mode where both players compete to see who can shoot the most balloons within a three minute time limit. You can shoot the other player of course, to splat them and send them back to their spawn point after a delay, and you can ink the ground for faster movement, but your goal is shooting those balloons. The match starts with a few, and more will spawn as time progresses. That’s all there is to it.

Balloon Battle mode is alright and can be fun, but it’s definitely not one of the best things about this game. For one, there is no map in this mode; an onscreen minimap would be nice, but no, you just have to know the stages. Worse there are only five maps available here, all cut-down versions of some of the main maps, and only eight weapons are available, covering most of the basics but that’s it. Weapons only have their main attacks and primary (grenade or what have you) sub-ability, too; super abilities are not attached to the weapons, but instead are pickups in crates here, much like they are in single player. You cannot even play as your regular Inkling here either, or customize either character; one is a generic Inkling Boy, and the other a generic Inkling Girl. I know not all maps would fit well with only two people, but even so it’s weird that this mode is so restrictive. It’s nice that they have this TV-and-Gamepad multiplayer option, for a local multiplayer mode where each player cannot see what the other is doing, but traditional splitscreen support for four players for 2-on-2 Turf War matches would have been fantastic and better overall. This is an amusing mode to try sometime, but Turf War below is the main draw.

Multiplayer Mode: Standard Online Play – Turf War

Turf War is Splatoon’s main single player mode. All of the multiplayer maps are available in this mode, cycled through two at a time of course. I mentioned it already, but this is a simple but fantastically fun four-on-four-only game where you try to cover the whole level with your teams’ color of ink. There is a three-minute time limit for each game, and when time runs out, the team whose color covers more of the stage wins. Only ink on the floor of the level counts, it is important to say. You can paint the walls, but it’s only useful for moving around to an area up that wall, not painting the map. There isn’t a percent indicator on screen during the match, though, so if it’s close you’ll need to keep trying right up to the end, when the games’ mascot cat Judd will show the final map, say what percent of the field each team covered and thus who won. Turf War is Splatoon’s most unique and iconic mode, as it makes perfect use of the painting mechanic. Sure, you can and will target and splat the other players, but that isn’t how you win; indeed, you can make a major contribution to victory with few or no splats if you are effective with your inking. This is awesome stuff because, again, I love maps, and particularly filling in an ingame map, so the core gameplay here is incredibly satisfying. This less violent form of first / third-person shooter gameplay is simple, innovative, and great.

When the match ends, after Judd shows the winner and finishing stats, you get ranking points for the games’ level system, and money which you can use to buy equipment with. You get both ranking points and money regardless of if you win or lose, though you will get more ranking points if you win as there is a +1000 point bonus for being on the winning team. Turf War’s stat screen shows three things for each player: their finishing point total, which I believe is based on turf inked, plus a thousand for the winners; how many times you splatted other players; and how many times you were splatted. Those last two do not affect your score, they’re just to see how well you did.

Multiplayer Mode: Ranked Mode – Tower Control, Splat Zones, and Rainmaker

Ranked mode is different from Turf War in two ways. First, your objectives are a bit more complex, and more directly confrontational than Turf War is. And second, there are higher stakes because of the ranking system and penalty for losing. While in Turf War there is no penalty for losing other than just getting fewer points, in Ranked mode you lose ranking points when you lose and, if the other team wins with a Knockout, you also don’t get any money either; you will have a score on the results screen, but won’t get anything for it. The ranking system starts you at grade C-, and each hundred points of rank moves you up a grade mark until you max out at, presumably, A+. I’m currently at B- at the moment, which is as high as I’ve been so far. It takes time to build up rank, and you need to win consistently in order to rank up because once you get out of C- you will lose as many ranking points for a loss as you will get for a win. I haven’t played much of online FPSes with win-or-lose online ranking systems like this before, but I don’t know that I like it — it’s much more stressful than normal Turf War mode is because of the risk of losing rank, and it often feels like my overall record doesn’t matter, only my current streak. Unfortunately however you have to face the ranking system, because I really like two of the ranked modes. They’re a lot of fun and add some nice variety to the main Turf War game.

There are a few other similarities between the three Ranked modes. First, scoring, Again, in all three modes here, unlike Turf War, an indicator is on the center top of the screen showing how close each side is to winning. This works as a countdown timer, as each side starts at 100 and will win if their indicator reaches 0. Additionally, while Turf War has a flat three-minute timer, Ranked is different. You can win with a Knockout if you achieve your main objective in the match, but there is one other way to win a ranked match: if a team is behind, but is controlling the modes’ object of contention — either the tower, splat zone(s), or rainmaker — when time expires, the game goes into Overtime. If that team can then win without losing control of the aforementioned object of contention, then they win. If, however, the other team stops them even for an instant, then they lose. Comeback overtime wins against the odds are unlikely, but they are possible, and can feel great, or not good, depending on which side you turn out. In one recent match of Splat Zones my team managed to lose despite having a huge 3-to-53 lead with under a minute remaining; somehow we just completely fell apart and they won in overtime without us regaining control. Other times things go the other way though, so Overtime is a nice feature.

One other interesting thing are the maps. While Ranked mode plays on the same maps as Turf War, they are modified here for each mode, and not all maps are in all modes. Some maps just would not work well for the design styles of some of the modes, so they have understandably been removed. More interesting, though, are the level design changes. There are some obvious additions to meet with the ways each mode plays, but some maps actually have altered level layouts as well. Some stages have additional pathways open that don’t exist in Turf War, for example, and others close some paths. I think I like the Rainmaker version of Camp Triggerfish more than the Turf War version, for instance, because it opens a connecting path in the center.

Now I will say a bit about each of the three Ranked modes and how they play.

Tower Control – In Tower Control, you have to get a tower, which starts in the center, to a goal on the other teams’ end of the map. The small, rectangular tower moves along a track marked on the ground, and you have to stand on top of it to make it move forward. It will only move when one side has more players than the other on top of the tower. If you get the tower all the way to the other teams’ goal within the five minute time limit, you win automatically. If you don’t, then the team which got farther wins, based on scores that are displayed on the top center of the screen during play. That’s Tower Control; it’s simple, but challenging and a lot of fun. This is a fantastic mode, and it is my favorite of the three Ranked play modes. You will quickly learn the route on each map and where the choke points are, but every match is different because of the games’ myriad play styles. I like how the moving tower doesn’t allow one side to just sit in place and win, you need to constantly be on the move with the tower. It’s great stuff.

Splat Zones
– My least favorite of the three Ranked modes, Splat Zones is an area-control mode. In each map in this mode there is a rectangular zone marked out somewhere on the map, and you need to control it for 100 count on the countdown counter on the screen. This mode is all about camping, which is probably why I find it much less fun than the others; it’s not really about going around inking, or trying to bring something to a goal, but sitting on a central point and defending it. I like inking, not sniping, so I don’t like this mode that much. It can be fun at times though, and I do like the one map which has two Splat Zones instead of one. You need to control both at the same time to make the counter decrease, so it’s a tricky one to win but that added complexity is great. As for the other maps, though… one Splat Zone really is just a camping sniperfest. Blah.

Rainmaker – Rainmaker is a bit like Tower Control, but more freeform. At the center of the map is the Rainmaker, a special hat that you need to bring to a goal pillar on the other side of the map somewhere not far from the other sides’ base. The Rainmaker has a shield on it when no one is wearing it, though, and you need to shoot it enough with your color to make the shield pop. This sends out a wave of ink that will splat nearby opponent Inklings. When wearing the Rainmaker you are marked on both players’ maps so long as you are in humanoid form, so it’s hard to hide, but you have a special weapon. Instead of your normal gun, you use the Rainmaker instead, which shoots tornados of ink straight ahead. The weapon charges, so the longer you hold the button the larger the tornado. The Rainmaker is powerful, but holding it you are a magnet for attacks from the other team so it mostly balances out. Rainmaker’s a fun mode, but I think I like Tower Control a bit more; you can lose track of where the Rainmaker is, and it can be overpowered. Still, it’s a pretty good mode.

Multiplayer Mode: Team Modes and Private Match

The Team modes, for either Turf War or Ranked, are the same as the regular modes described above, except instead of playing with random teammates, you play with teammates from your Wii U Friends List, against other similarly not-random teams. I don’t know how easy it is to find matches in these modes because I’ven ever tried it, but I imagine it’s tougher than regular random matches are. Please note that Splatoon has no voice chat support at all, even in a friends match, so if you want to chat with people you’ll need some external app. I’ve never used voice chat in any online game so this is just fine with me.

Private Match mode is a little different. In this mode, you and people on your Wii U Friends list can play any mixture of maps and modes, only with yourselves and not anyone else — so you’ll need enough people to fill up both sides of a match. As I have nobody on my Wii U (or even Wii) friends lists, I’ve never used this. It’s pretty annoying, honestly, that the only mode that actually lets you play all of the maps is locked to a friends-list-only thing! There should at minimum have been a single match mode for you and AI opponents. That’d have required competent AI bots of course, but the game should have that too. Still, for people with Wii U Friends set up, friends codes and all, it’s a nice option.


Graphics, Style, and Sound

Splatoon has a strongly unique visual style and it looks great. The art design is somewhat anime-inspired, but the squid and sea-life aesthetic is taken in an original direction here. The game is all about inking ground and looking stylish, and visually it does both really well. Thankfully, unlike far too much anime there is nothing creepy about this game, too; it’s sad that I have to say it, but with anime you never know. There is nothing like that here. The Inklings do all look the same apart from gender, skin color, and clothing, but there are so many clothing options that there are surely thousands of possibilities for how you can look. The clothing has variety. Looks include various ‘brands’ and themes, different types of clothing from t-shirts with symbols to various button-up shirts, special weirder items, and more. Headgear includes everything from many types of hats to other things like headphones, as well. That’s just aesthetics, but again the most impressive thing here is how seamlessly the game merges gameplay and design. The whole squid/kid thing is weird but the game makes it work, both stylistically and in gameplay as you seamlessly switch between both forms in ways that make this game unlike any other. “Are you a squid, or are you a kid?” Both, of course, and the gameplay relies on it.

Technically Splatoon runs really well. Ever since the Gamecube Nintendo has cared a lot about framerates, and apparently Splatoon runs at about 720p at an always-smooth 60 frames per second. As I can barely tell the difference I don’t know if I would be able to tell if the game was 30fps or 60 on my own, but it is important that the framerate is so stable, that matters a lot in a game like this. The game doesn’t have anti-aliasing, unfortunately, in order to keep the framerate up, and that does hurt it, but otherwise Splatoon shows off the Wii U’s power.

Aurally, Splatoon has a weird but catchy soundtrack of faux “squid music” and “squid pop”. There are some voice lines in a fake squid-language, and lots of odd sounds throughout the songs. It’s hard to describe, but as a result Splatoon’s audio is easy to recognize. It’s not my favorite game soundtrack, but the music is good and is somewhat unique sounding. The games’ odd sounds and pop-styled vibe fit the games’ theme very well.

Conclusion

Splatoon is a great game which took an established genre and did something unique with it. It also asks questions, only some of which it answers — how did the world come to be this way? Are the characters juvenile delinquents, or is all this inking actually state-sanctioned? And while you can only play as a squid-kid, otherwise you can create the character you want, still a somewhat uncommon thing in Nintendo games. The game looks good and runs great, too. The reason the game is so memorable and popular isn’t because of any of that, though. It is because of the fantastic, very well polished gameplay. Many games are unique and original within their genres, but uniqueness and quality are by no means connected; many times games which try new things don’t quite work in some way. And while I may make some minor quibbles about Splatoon — about my dislike for the ‘come back tomorrow to play other maps, only two for today’ system, for Splat Zones, about how short and easy the single player game is, the absence of good AI opponents, and such — they are just that, minor. Splatoon is an extremely well-polished gem and it is one of the most addictive first or third person multiplayer shooters I have ever played. I’m glad to have gotten it while it is still easy to find a game online, that’s for sure. Once Splatoon 2 for the Switch releases Splatoon 1 numbers will surely decrease as they move over to the sequel, and being on much more popular hardware than the Wii U is I expect that game to be a hit, but the original Splatoon is also a great game that should be played. I give it an A rating. Splatoon is very highly recommended, try this game whether or not you like shooters.

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New old summary update(s)

I’ve finally gotten back to continuing to add hyperlinks to all the articles in my old summary lists, and here are two more: the Sega 32X & 32X CD list here: http://www.blackfalcongames.net/?p=151
and the Nintendo Gamecube list here: http://www.blackfalcongames.net/?p=129

I’m getting closer to updating all of these…

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E3 2017: My Thoughts, Particularly on the Press Conferences and Nintendo

Sorry for the lack of updates recently. I got a Wii U last month at last, probably a couple of years after I should have, and have been quite addicted to it, particularly Splatoon, Mario Maker, and Super Mario 3D World. But this isn’t the place for that, this is for gaming’s big event last week, E3.

Like usual I watched a whole lot of E3 footage last week, including all the main press conferences and lots of floor footage particularly from Nintendo and Giant Bomb though I won’t say much about the latter’s shows. So, for the third year in a row, I wrote up an article compiling all of my thoughts about this years’ show, focusing on the press conference and my primary interest as far as E3 is concerned, Nintendo. This years’ show was not as interesting in some regards as last years’ was, because there were fewer major game reveals and no new platform announcements, just details on Microsoft’s upcoming system they announced last year, but even if it wasn’t the best E3 there were quite a few interesting reveals and lots of details about games that were shown at the show to discuss, so there is plenty to say!

    The Press Conferences

Electronic Arts

EA’s conference happened first, and it was on Saturday so this year E3 started earlier than ever before. It was an hour and a half long and didn’t have much to show that was all that interesting. Or at least, it didn’t show much that was new. EA’s conference had a few good parts, but mostly it was just another not too great EA press conference; their press conferences are usually among my least favorite, though EA makes some great games, and this year was no exception. EA started with their sports games this year. The intro with a bunch of guys drumming while wearing Rob Gronkowski jerseys was amusing, but the long segment for EA’s football, soccer, and basketball games that followed was not. And also not particularly interesting to me was the end, which was a long segment about Star Wars Battlefront 2. I like Star Wars a lot but I have never played any of the Battlefront games before. I’m sure the game would be fun for a little while, but Battlefront, like Battlefield, isn’t a kind of game which has ever grabbed me for long; I remember finding the Battlefield 1942 demo amusing for a bit back when it first released, but not enough to to buy any games in that franchise. And on the note of Battlefield, EA also showed off Battlefield 1’s upcoming Russia expansion. The game has fantastic graphics and WW1 is an interesting setting, but for how long I would play the game I doubt it’d be worth the money unless it was cheap.

There were some games at the EA conference that looked more interesting, though. There is a new co-op-only game from the guy who made Brothers: A Tale of Two Sons looks like it could be pretty good, though I don’t know if I want to play it considering its tone and prison / prison-escape setting. EA also showed the new Need for Speed game, and it was a good trailer. I like the NfS franchise, but we’ll see how this one turns out. The graphics look really good, but it didn’t seem like much of it was actual gameplay so I couldn’t really tell how the game will actually play from that trailer. Still, it’s another fast and fun looking NfS game with fast, expensive cars, so that’s cool.

And then after the long Star Wars Battlefront 2 segment, the conference ended. It was mostly just a sequence of videos without much of a stage show most of the time, so the conference was average stuff. Two big titles were missing from this conference, Amy Hennig’s Star Wars action game, which was not shown publicly at this E3, and Bioware’s action-RPG, which was held back for the Microsoft conference. After watching this conference I thought that I was probably looking forward to seeing what it was.

Microsoft

Microsoft was next, running their conference on Sunday afternoon. The main focus of their show was on showing off the Xbox One X, a new much more powerful revision of the Xbox One hardware. The system will be the most powerful console ever by a sizable margin, but very few exclusive games were shown off to help convince people to buy it beyond just the “powerful hardware!” aspect. And also concerning, late in the conference they announced the price, and it is high: $500. The less powerful Xbox One S has been cut to a reasonable $250, but $500 is a lot. It is mostly focused on people with 4K televisions, which is a small market of peopl who probably have money to spend on expensive electronics, but that also limits Microsoft’s potential audience. Still, the hardware and graphics of the thing look great.

But while exclusives were few and far between, Microsoft did show a lot of games, 42 in total they kept saying, and that’s good. Apart from a handful of first-party games most of those 42 are multiplatform third-party titles which might have timed exclusivity windows at best, and almost all are Western titles as Microsoft’s serious problems at getting Japanese games on their platform continues, but they did show a lot of stuff, some of it interesting.

But seriously, as far as a Microsoft platform-exclusive library goes — that is, games only available on PC and Xbox One — here’s all I can think of that they showed: Crackdown 3, Forza Motorsport 7, Sea of Thieves, Ori 2, State of Decay 2… and not much else. The very nice looking 2d platform/action game Cuphead and the not-VR-anymore 3d platformer Super Lucky’s Tale also may be MS exclusives, but that’s about it. There may be some other indie things, but MS had NO major new game announcements here, unless you count Ori 2 and Forza 7, but while Ori 2 is a 2.5d platformer, and the sequel to a very highly acclaimed game from not long ago. The new game looks amazing, I can’t say that a sequel is a big surprise with how successful the first one was. There have also been hints that the game would get a sequel. Similarly, Forza 7 has been heavily hinted at so it’d have been more surprising if the didn’t show it than that they did. Forza 7 looks amazing and does a great job of showing off the hardware power of the Xbox One X hardware, but I find simulation driving games boring so I wouldn’t want to play it. As for the rest of those games, Crackdown 3 could be pretty fun, but I’d need to see more of it; the original is good. Sea of Thieves has some good ideas, but the very strong co-op focus is a big negative, as how playable will the game be with random online groups? Because I’d almost never be playing with friends, and the game has no solo play at all pretty much, so while I love Rare I am very doubtful that there would be much in the game for me. And State of Decay 2 just doesn’t look interesting at all to me. I know MS doesn’t have many first-party studios left now, since they have shut down multiple studios including Lionhead, Ensemble, and more, but we’re really seeing how much that is hurting; you need games on your system to make people want to buy it! Peter Molyneux may have his problems, particularly with the truth, but the Fable games were pretty good and they are missed, for example.

Making that worse, almost everything they showed was Western-developed, so MS has done nothing here to change the X1/PS4 narrative that Japanese games almost never appear on X1, but PC and PS4 only. Maybe there’s nothing they can do about that now, but it is unfortunate and makes me less interested in the system. The issue for me specifically is the paucity of PC/Xbox-only titles, to be clear, not that MS is now releasing all of its first-party games on PC as well; I’ve been a PC gamer since the early ’90s and have always considered PCs to be the best gaming platform. And since I bought a new computer in early 2017, it’d be great to see more PC games that push its hardware. I was pretty unhappy with how MS mostly abandoned the PC back in the early ’00s in favor of mostly only supporting the Xbox / Xbox 360. So, it’s fantastic that MS is getting back to supporting the PC better again now. And as my PC and TV are in different rooms, there is a place for a console like the Xbox One in my game collection. Microsoft just needs more exclusive games. And as I mentioned earlier the loss of Japanese third-party game support is very disappointing as well. It’s sad how MS collapsed completely in Japan after the ’00s; they never were successful there, but it was nice how the 360 got a lot of major Japanese titles. I don’t have a PS4 or X1 (or should it be XO? XONE? Why is there still not an agreed-on acronym for this system?), and naturally if I was to get one I’d far rather get the MS system than the Sony one because of how much I dislike Sony and because the powerful hardware Microsoft announced here looks great, but it has nothing I can’t get on PC and is missing a lot of third-party software that the PC and PS4 have. Of course though really when I get another system (this holiday, next year, or whatever) because I also love Nintendo it’s sure to be a Switch and not either of those systems and the Switch has even less third-party support since at least MS has all of the Western studios onboard, but still. Anyway, I may sound harsh, but it’s just because I do like Microsoft’s consoles and operating systems, and want to see them succeed. And I hope they do succeed with this and win back the Japanese developer audience, even. We’ll see how the X1X sells.

Right before mentioning the X1X’s price, MS announced something pretty interesting, that the system will soon have some original Xbox backwards compatibility added in. That’s awesome, though they didn’t mention any details of how it will work. Only one game was announced so far and it sounds like only a limited number of titles will be brought over, but the first game is a real classic, the great flight combat game Crimson Skies: High Road to Revenge, but that’s a great one to start with. In the conference MS didn’t make this clear, but later I believe I saw that you will be able to activate these games with real original Xbox discs, and that’s great because you won’t need to rebuy the game to play it on the new system, unlike how, say, Nintendo does this kind of thing. That’s great if true. Between this and things like the recent HD re-releases of original Xbox titles Voodoo Vince and Phantom Dust, it’s great to see MS care about the original Xbox again beyond just Halo. So they aren’t trying to erase the existence of the original Xbox system.

As for the third-party games shown at the conference, I won’t try to cover all of them. I do have to mention the last one though, Bioware’s upcoming action-RPG Anthem. The game was shown at the end of the conference, and it has some great art design and could be good, but I don’t know if it actually will be. The game is a Destiny-style multiplayer-focused sci-fi third person shooter. There is a lot I don’t like about Destiny but the core shooting gameplay is surprisingly good. If Anthem is similar it could be good, but at this point who knows. Way too many games these days are first or third person shooters and this one is no exception though. And when you consider how Bioware’s last couple of open-world action-RPG games have had mixed receptions (Mass Effect Andromeda, Dragon Age Inquisition, Dragon Age II if you count it…), will this be better? The visuals are good, but I have no idea based on this if it will be fun to play.

Bethesda

Bethesda’s conference was next, airing Sunday afternoon. This one was almost exclusively a video, excepting only a bit from their top guy Pete Hines at a few points in the conference. As a result it barely needed, but it had one. You’d just think that with a stage you’d make some use of it, but ah well. They did put each segment in a “theme park” framework which is amusing and worked fairly well. I’m generally critical of Bethesda, as anyone who has read a lot of my stuff would know, for some pretty valid reasons including their bad business practices and my dislike of giant open-world games, but they do own id and their main focus this year was on a new game in one of id’s classic franchises.

That game is a new Wolfenstein game, Wolfenstein II: The New Colossus. It’s from the developers of the highly regarded Wolf game from a few years ago and looks pretty good. The visuals are good of course, but the gameplay looks good. This time the game is set in an America conquered by the Nazis (the last game was set in Europe), and you need to help defeat the Nazis here. That sounds serious, and but despite that the trailer is amusing in a weirdly interesting way. The art design, silly writing and story, and more are pretty good. Watch the video of the game, it’s well worth it. From the Nazi-propaganda fake-TV shows to the ingame cutscenes this game may be doing something that has been done before, but it’s having fun with it. The silliness within a serious franchise, Nazi robots to destroy, and all have long been some of my favorite things about the Wolfenstein franchise, and this one looks good. The title intrigues me too; “The New Colossus” is of course the title of the famous poem written for the Statue of Liberty, which goes “send me your tired, your poor, your huddled masses yearning to breathe free” and such, and was written by a Jewish woman in the late 1800s. The game is about a rebellion against the Nazi occupiers so it could just be a reference to the obvious (freedom, America, etc.) but will it be any more than that? And even if it’s unintentional I can’t help but think of at least a few modern political issues this makes you think of… but anyway, as for the gameplay, it looks like a very fun and good-looking game in which you kill a lot of Nazis. It should be good. As an aside though, the title of this game is questionable because this is the fifth game in the current Wolfenstein chronology, not the second. It doesn’t make much sense to call it “II”… heh.

After the Wolfenstein reveal Bethesda showed quite a few other games, though it was all just videos. They showed a new Dishonored 2 game, which I believe is a standalon expansion or something and may be multiplayer-focused; I like Thief at least in theory and Dishonored is similar so it’d probably be fun. They also showed one game for a Nintendo system in some footage of their upcoming port of Skyrim to the Switch. It’s great to see The Elder Scrolls on Nintendo, even if I’m hardly a series fan, and it looks like Skyrim all right, with some added Amiibo support. If you scan the Link amiibo for example, you get his outfit in the game or something like that. They also showed three VR projects — and this was interesting because VR was something conspicuously absent from Microsoft’s conference — for a new shooting gallery-style Doom title and VR ports of Skyrim and Fallout 4. They only showed much of the Doom game, and it has warping like most VR games. I’m not sure how well Doom would work without movement, but I guess people with headsets will see. Additionally Bethesda also showed little bits about their card game Elder Scrolls Legends, some new content for their MMO The Elder Scrolls Online, and maybe a bit more. Overall Bethesda had a decent conference. It was short-ish at only 40 minutes or so, so the pacing was good. I liked this more than last years’ Bethesda conference.

Ubisoft

Ubisoft was fourth, and since MS moved to Sunday they had the early afternoon to themselves. Ubi started with a bang early on, as they announced a title a lot of information leaked about early, Mario & Rabbids Kingdom Battle for the Switch, for real and showed a bunch of gameplay… and it looks great! Miyamoto himself made a special surprise appearance at the conference, too. There was a pretty entertaining discussion between Yves Guillmot and Miyamoto, watch it. One of the games’ creators from Ubisoft said that Nintendo said to make a Mario game unlike any other Mario game before, and, well, they succeeded, there has never been a Mario game like this. As for the game, yes it is real, and it does look quite good. The games’ graphics are great and have a shiny, cartoony look to them, very much like many Mario games of the last few years. The gameplay is, interestingly enough, a tactical strategy game basically. The characters all have guns, too. Sure, they are futuristic laser weapons and not realistic guns, but still Mario with a gun is kind of weird stuff to see. Oh, and compared to Mario Odyssey, here Peach is a playable character in your party and appears to be reasonably tough, while there you need to rescue here again. Ubisoft wins that one by a lot, Nintendo needs to stop being so sexist! And as for the gameplay it doesn’t just look great, it sounds like it is great going by impressions from the show. Once in a battle you move each character within the movement range, shoot at enemies, throw allies at other points in the map, etc. It looks fun, and a Mario strategy game is a good idea which actually works. The games’ concept seemed silly when the existence of this game leaked, but the game actually looks great. It’ll be out in August too, so it’s coming soon.

After that, Ubi showed a bunch of stuff, including The Crew 2 (now with planes and boats, and no sign of an overly serious plot like the original… but will it control well this time?), Far Cry 5 (now in Montana, versus a cult), Just Dance 2018 (once again coming to the original Wii, as well as everything else! The last Wii game was, I believe, last years’ Just Dance game, but it is not dead yet… maybe this is the last year? We’ll see.) some more of the new Egypt-themed Assassin’s Creed Origin (which was announced at the Microsoft conference Sunday; it’s an AC game in every way, just in Egypt now and with a black protagonist. Gameplay appears unchanged though, so it’s probably going to be decently fun but not too compelling for me.), an Olympics DLC addon to Steep, the new game Skull & Bones (basically the pirate parts of AC IV/Rogue spun off into a multiplayer-focused, ships-only game; it looks pretty good, though it’s a late 2018 title so it’s a ways off. It’s set in the 1700s as usual for pirate games, but in Indian Ocean instead of the Caribbean. The unique setting could be interesting, I like that the game is trying something different there!), and a few more. It was all well presented, though I did miss Aisha Tyler — this year she wasn’t hosting, they just had Yves Guillmot and each games’ developers pretty much. That is too bad, but it still was a very Ubisoft press conference thankfully with some of their usual silliness.

Then, at the end, came the big reveal… a brand new trailer for Beyond Good & Evil 2! Yes, the project lives, though art style aside it looks unrecognizably different from anything either from the original game or even that BG&E2 trailer from like ten years ago now. The new trailer is great, but it’s a 100% CG cutscene without a hint of gameplay. And for the other major negatives, it’s a prequel so it won’t star Jade; it sounds like some kind of open-world / space exploration game, and not a 3d platform/stealth game like the original; and no year or platforms are mentioned. So yeah, despite being in development for a very long time this game is still early on apparently. That’s not great. The game could be great, sure, but knowing so little and with such a dramatic change of everything from the first one, who knows. Now, considering that I did not love the original like many making some changes is not bad, but I would have liked to see Jade return at least. Still, it’s kind of crazy that this game is still in development. After the conference information came that the game is apparently still early in development and might go in some sort of early access route, perhaps. I wonder if the game ever actually releases, it sounds very early. I had issues with the original game but I really hope this game actually is finished sometime in the next few years.

Overall, Ubisoft’s conference was pretty good, and once again is the best one through Monday.

Sony

And last for Monday, Sony’s conference was in its usual evening slot. Much like last year Sony gave a shorter and game-heavy conference, cut a lot from their boring two hour conferences of years past. As a result this show was more like MS’s conference this year than the Sony conferences of old, but it was probably cut back too much; trailer after trailer with minimal context is not the best way to show a game, in my opinion, some discussion of the game beforehand is great. Sony’s hardware is out, so it’s all about the games, for PS4 (Pro) and PS VR.

As with many companies this year Sony divided their footage into several parts. Unlike Nintendo, who started with a show then streamed afterwards during the show, Sony did a pre-show stream that concluded with their conference. Some games were only shown in the main one-hour pre-show piece, and others only in the conference itself. Some interesting titles only appeared in the pre-show, such as Knack 2 and Gran Turismo Sport. I don’t care about GT much, as just like Forza sim racers do not interest me, but Knack 2… I haven’t played the first, but despite its infamous mediocrity I like that kind of game at least in theory, so sure, why not make another one, particularly if it is better than the first one e is usually regarded as being?

But in the main show Sony focused on only its top hit titles for the US market. Staring with the games they showed that I disliked the most, as expected, they showed a lot more information about Days Gone and the new God of War. Days Gone is what it looked like at last years’ E3, a zombie game where you play as a not-very-nice biker guy. It looks as completely uninteresting now as it did a year ago, to me anyway. Open worlds, QTEs, luring zombies into killing your enemies, etc… it did not look very good, or in any way interesting to me. My main issues would be that Zombies are hugely overdone, QTEs are terrible, the protagonist is kind of an awful person from what little we see, and the core gameplay looks generic. God of War also looks similar to last year — it’s God of War, but Kratos has an axe now, and the game has a new, somewhat contemplative story tone as well. Considering the horrific things Kratos did in the previous games, saying that just because centuries have passed now he’s sort of decent is hard to believe, but I’ve always thought Kratos is one of the most unpleasant, awful game protagonists around and what he did before doesn’t go away just because of this game. And anyway, he still is an angry killer and I imagine the plot will eventually turn into an excuse for killing your way through another set of gods, so yeah, my borderline hate for this series’s story continues. As for the gameplay… walk around and hack things, just slightly differently this time. Meh. The games’ third person behind-the-character viewpoint is new for this franchise, but that’s not better, just different.

The rest of Sony’s first-party titles shown in the conference looked better, but not by much. They showed more of their Uncharted stand-alone addon thing, which is interesting for starring a pair of female characters but not for its generic shooting-and-auto-platforming gameplay; announced a Horizon DLC addon set in a nice-looking snowy mountain setting; announced a PS4 port of Shadow of the Colossus, with better graphics this time but a 2018 release date for this remake of a remake of a very popular classic; and some more. One other focus title was David Cage’s Detroit, the latest title from that maker of very cinematic games. You play as three characters, and the one this trailer focuses on is a guy who is leading an android rebellion against the humans, it seems. The story could be good, but I wish it was a game and not just a QTE sequence with cutscenes and minimal interaction like his games always are, this one included… ah well. Sony also showed footage of their upcoming Spiderman game for PS4. I think that was announced before, yes? It looks like a Spiderman game all right. Run around a city, web people, etc. I’ve never cared for Spiderman games and doubt this one would change that, but it looked fine, QTEs excepted. There’s some nice destruction in this trailer, but will the game have real destructible environments or is it just canned? And how much of that trailer was actually gameplay, a lot was cutscenes and QTEs… so at this points who knows. Oh, and it’s a 2018 game too. As usual Sony sure does love showing things you won’t be able to play in the year of their conference.

And finally, Sony had a VR segment, announcing some new games for their Playstation VR headset. Star Child, a 2.5d platformer in VR, could be good though I doubt it really needs to be a VR-only game. The other VR games interested much less. There is a horror game called The Inpatient, an FPS titled Bravo Team, a little more shown of Skyrim VR from Bethesda, Final Fantasy XV fishing (Yes, really… but why? And what?), and a good-looking somewhat Redwall-styled action-adventure game starring a mouse warrior called Moss. I’d like to play that one.

Additionally there was also a bunch of third-party stuff shown, much of which will be multiplatform — COD: WWII, Destiny 2, Marvel vs. Capcom 4, Monster Hunter World, and more. Monster Hunter World is a big one, but it apparently will be multiplatform so it’s not exclusive. I don’t like what little of this series I have tried, but for fans it’s nice to see one on a major console again for the first time in a while, I guess.

(Not at this conference: The Last of Us 2. I don’t really care, but I’m sure many people are disappointed by that.)

Overall the Sony conference was alright, but it didn’t have the big reveals of last year, or any major reveals at all really. They did show more exclusives than Microsoft did, but most of the big exclusives aren’t games I care about at all or want to play, so that doesn’t mean much. They also moved too quickly from trailer to trailer, without much explanation of each game. Sony this year, overall was average at best, probably below that.

Nintendo

Nintendo went last as they always do, airing a short video presentation on Tuesday morning just before the show opened. Despite yet again only having a video and live demonstrations from the show floor, Nintendo easily won E3 2017 and had a great show. Headlining the conference was the announcement of Metroid Prime 4, a game I am very excited for though it is probably a couple of years away. Continuing on the Metroid theme, in the first hour of the E3 showfloor Treehouse stream they announced a new 3DS Metroid game, Metroid: Samus Returns, which is a remake of Metroid II for the Game Boy. Additionally Nintendo also announced Kirby and Yoshi games for Switch, both of them 2.5d platformers similar to the Kirby and Yoshi games of recent years and due to release in 2018. I have always loved the Kirby series, so it’s great to see it continue. The game looks very similar in design to the Wii and 3DS Kirby games. The Wii and 3DS Kirby platformers are really good, and this looks like it should be just as good. Being able to combine powers returns too, something not seen in the series since Kirby 64! That’s really cool, that was one of the better things about that game. And for another Switch followup to a series previously on 3DS, in the conference Nintendo announced, with no details, that a mainline Pokemon game is starting development for Switch, to release… sometime. This is another sign of the 3DS not having much of a future past 2017 or early 2018; the next Pokemon game, Pokemon Super Sun & Super Moon, release this year for 3DS, but the next one will be on Switch. This is similar to Fire Emblem, which recently had a 3DS game release, but there has been anannouncement that the next just had a 3DS release but there has been an they said the next major FE title will be for Switch, that switchover is happening.

I would like to say a bit about that though, on the future of the 3DS and Switch. The last couple of Kirby platformers have been on 3DS, so while Nintendo is still supporting the 3DS this year, this is another sign that next year they are probably planning in going in a Switch-only direction next year. Still, we aren’t quite there yet. I like my New 3DS a lot so while the system is getting older I’m glad to see that it will continue to see software support. Beyond that though, one reason it’s good that the 3DS is still alive is that it is more portable than the Switch is. I wonder, will they have some more portable-friendly version of the Switch then? Between the large size of the tablet, the lack of built-in screen protection that folding provides, and the poor battery life, the Switch is not nearly as portable as the 3DS is, and Nintendo so far seems to realize that, as most games on the Switch are “console-style” titles and not handheld-style” games. It will be very interesting to see if Nintendo does eventually go Switch-only, if they will release a more portable variant of the Switch, or if a year or more down the road they release another more portable console to follow the 3DS. Either of the later two would work I think.

Some people are frustrated by Nintendo’s decision to continue supporting two platforms, and want the 3DS killed off right now in favor of only the Switch. The concept of having one device for all Nintendo games is not a bad one, but abandoning the ~70 million plus people who own 3DSes in favor of the smaller, and supply-constrained, Switch audience would be foolish and Nintendo knows that. So, I at least like that the 3DS has a solid library for this year, and that Nintendo added to it with some major announcements at this show such as the aforementioned Metroid: Samus Returns. That’s great, this slower fade-out is a far better move than abruptly abandoning a still-successful platform. I know I’ve never used a Switch and I’m sure it’s a great portable for times when you can bring it with you, but is that really the solution as a handheld as it is, with, again, its large-ish size, lack of an easy screen cover (folding systems are great for that), and poor battery life… it’d be fantastic for taking around the house and such, like the Wii U Gamepad but without that annoying range limit so it would also be great to bring on a trip, but for carrying around or playing on the go? The 3DS is clearly better for that.

Anyway, back to the games. While Nintendo did announce some games for 2018 or later, the most important of which I mention above, their main focus at this E3 was on games releasing this year. The games shown were mostly first party, since sadly the Switch still has very poor third party support. A few third party games were shown in the conference though, most notably Rocket League, which is getting a Switch port. That’s awesome, Rocket League is a great game which well deserves its huge success. Fascinatingly It’ll have PC/X1/Switch cross-platform multiplayer too, similar to Minecraft which will also have cross-platform multiplayer for everything except Playstation systems. Sony-platform versions will not have cross-platform multiplayer because Sony refuses to allow that, for stupid reasons, but at least everything else will. I hope Sony gives up on their refusal to allow cross-platform multiplayer soon. Still though, cross-platform multiplayer between all the other platforms should be great. A bit of FIFA was also shown in the conference, but it is too bad that that continues to be the only game EA has announced for the system. First party wise, Mario Odyssey and Xenoblade Chronicles 2 probably got the most time, though others like Splatoon 2 were mentioned. XC2 looks alright, but the character designs and selection are pretty disappointing — seriously, after having that great character creator in XCX, why in the world did Monolith-soft think that forcing players to play as the generic annoying young anime protagonist guy who you have to be in this game was a good idea? It’s not! The character art is also not very good, and I know that’s an issue XC and XCX have to some degree as well but this might be worse. The actual gameplay looks like classic XC stuff though, and that’s good because they are pretty good games. Apparently this game is going to be a more directed, story-focused experience, more like the first Xenoblade game than X, and that’s good, but that character choice is disappointing.

As for Mario Odyssey, it looks fantastic! It’s an open-world Mario game, very much like Marios 64 or Sunshine but with one major new mechanic, that you can throw your hat and possess many types of monsters with it, or turn into electricity and travel down power lines and the like. You can also turn flat and go into 2d segments of levels. The game looks really good of course, and it’s great to see Nintendo return to this 3d Mario style after so long away. I’m sure the gameplay will be very well polished, and the variety of stages is good. That story is TERRIBLE though, there is no excuse for “rescue the princess” AGAIN in this series. No, it is not okay. The whole ‘wedding’ and ‘evil wedding planner villains’ ideas are amusing, sure, but they do not take away from that core problem. And only being able to play as Mario is a definite disappointment too; just being able to take over enemies isn’t quite the same, though it is a pretty good gameplay concept. On the other hand, though, it’s cool that Pauline appears in this game, for the first time in a main-series Mario game, and she is no less than the Mayor of New Donk City. That’s a step up from her previous appearances! Still though, Nintendo’s backsliding on gender is awful, both here and in other games they showed this year. This stuff needs to stop.

Mario Odyssey’s graphics look really good, for the platform at least. It doesn’t have that glowing shine of 3D World or Mario Kart 8, though; it goes for a more ‘realistic’ look, with contrasts between the realistic elements and the cartoony ones like Mario himself. I guess some people criticize that ‘plasticy’ look, but I think that games like 3D World and Mario Kart 8 look amazing! Those are really impressive looking games, and I’m not sure if I like this look quite as much. This time that shine isn’t there, and what you do have, that mix of visual styles with different looks towards more or less realistic styles both within each of the games’ worlds and between each one, works but doesn’t have that immediate ‘pop’ for me that 3D World’s shine does. The worlds they showed here at E3, the city and desert, both look very nice though so that’s fine. Once they release it will, however, be interesting to compare this game to Ubisoft’s Mario & Rabbids Kingdom Battle, which has that ‘shiny’ look to it and looks fantastic.

So for the most part, Mario Odyssey looks like a really, really fun, classic 3d adventure platformer in a way the Mario hasn’t seen in 15 years. There have been a lot of Mario games in the past decade-plus, but this is quite different from all of them in a lot of ways and that’s great. The game looks really fantastic, with inventive gameplay, worlds that look like they will be a whole lot of fun to explore, lots of stuff to find, and so much more. It’s very exciting that Nintendo is finally making a new Mario 64 or Sunshine-style Mario game, it has been fifteen years now since the last one! If I really wanted to criticize something else, this game is “Mario 64 style but new”; it doesn’t have a completely new and unique game design element to it like Galaxy, 3D Land/World, and Mario Maker all do. New Super Mario Bros. should be on that list too I guess, though I don’t like those games nearly as much as Galaxy, Maker, or 3D World; they are good but feel less original and compelling. Still, each of those game styles does something new and different, but this game returns to the style used before any of those four. As different as they are, all four of the recent Mario game styles are more linear experiences for the most part, some mazelike Mario Maker levels excepted, so Mario Odyssey’s large, open 3d levels are a significant change from Mario games of the past decade and as much as I generally prefer a more directed experience to a completely open one, in the case of Mario both styles work great so I love that 3d Mario is finally back. I only got a Wii U last month — yes, this is one of the main reasons I haven’t updated this site in a while, I’m sorry — but as a result I’ve been playing Mario 3D World and Mario Maker recently, and both are REALLY amazing games that are easily among the better games in the genre. I hope that Nintendo makes another Mario Maker game on the Switch, but I have also wanted to see the Mario 64 style return, and it’s awesome that it finally is! I just hope that if it’s as great as it looks that it gets a good reception; Yooka-Laylee is outstanding and deserved much better than the mixed reception it has received, and I hope something similar doesn’t happen with Mario. In conclusion, I have a few issues with Mario Odyssey, but for the most part it looks very good and I am looking forward to it. It’s only a few months away now…

    Thoughts on things shown on the E3 Show Floor or During E3

Nintendo: E3 Show Floor Thoughts

First, on Metroid Prime 4. On the one hand, wow! The game was announced in the conference with just a logo, and as a big fan of the original Metroid Prime I am excited. But on the other hand, afterwards we learned that Retro Studios is apparently not working on the game, instead some new internal team at Nintendo headquarters in Japan is. I’d rather see Retro make the game, but if this is true and it is another team I hope that they are up to the task, because this is should be a very important title for Nintendo and they need to get it right. The game is probably still several years away, though, so we’ll see how that turns out. Because of that, we still don’t know what Retro is working on, several years after their last game. By this point I’d really like to know; shouldn’t three-plus years be long enough to announce your next project? Hopefully we hear before next years’ E3… but even if it is a new team Metroid Prime is one of the all-time greats and it’s been a long time since the last one, so I’m really looking forward to this one even if it is years off.

On the floor, Super Mario Odyssey was Nintendo’s main focus this year, and the booth looked like a street scene from New Donk City. Unlike last year they did show other games, and had a tourney stage for Arms, Splatoon 2, and Pokken Tournament DX tournaments, but Mario was the main focus and going by gameplay videos from the show-floor demo it looks fantastic. You can possess all kinds of things with your hat, from people to Bullet Bills to enemies, and each one has different abilities that let you do different things to get to new areas in the stage, past challenges, or what have you. Like Mario 64 the levels are large and open, but there are some platform-jumping segments here and there. Only the earliest levels were shown, so I’m sure things will get much more complex later on. It looks like a good mix, much like Marios 64 and Sunshine before.

Seriously though, the presence of Mario & Rabbids: Kingdom Battle at the show, which looks like a surprisingly good turn-based strategy game with a decent sense of humor and great gameplay, makes Mario Odyssey’s very sexist depiction of Peach look really bad. In Mario & Rabbids Peach is one of the playable characters in your party, and has a gun just like Mario and co. and goes around shooting enemies. The Peach Rabbid character acts even tougher, too. But meanwhile, what is Peach doing in the mainline Mario game? Getting kidnapped again, go rescue her. Ubisoft has plenty of its own issues with gender in its games — Ubi’s open-world games pretty much always have male protagonists, for example — but Nintendo is worse and as a fan that is frustrating.

On the subject of the 3DS, Metroid: Samus Returns was shown and it looks great. The game is being programmed by Mercury Steam, a developer with a mixed track record, but working with Nintendo often brings the best out of developers and this project is looking good. The game is a 2.5d platformer and supports stereoscopic 3d for what is supposed to be some nice depth in the visuals, and the background graphics in the gameplay demo videos look pretty good. The gameplay looks good too, and while it is mostly classic Metroid, the game does a few new things, including allowing you to aim in any direction instead of only being able to shoot left, right, or up, and giving Samus a melee attack. And even better, the game will allow you to drop markers on the map, to remind yourself where key points are! That is a fantastic idea that should make this games’ map system easily the best ever in a Metroidvania game, and I hope more games in the genre use it in the future. The game releases later this year and I’m interested.

While the main half-hour conference was entirely Switch focused, on the show floor Nintendo showed 3DS games, and made a few more announcements after Metroid: Samus Returns. One is Mario & Luigi Superstar Saga + Bowser’s Minions, which is one part a port of the original Game Boy Advance game Mario & Luigi: Superstar Saga, and one part new game, or perhaps minigame, Bowser’s Minions. I have actually never really played the first M&L game, since at the time it didn’t look too interesting, but I do have some interest so if this is reasonably priced I might get it. The Bowser’s Minions thing could be fun too. Nintendo also announced a new 3DS puzzle game with a sushi theme, Sushi Striker, that will release in 2018. It looks silly and fun and I definitely want to play the game. The 3DS has a few other previously announced first-party games releasing over the next year as well, including Fire Emblem Warriors (which will require a New 3DS; fortunately I have one), Pokemon Super Sun and Super Moon, the 2.5d platformer Hey! Pikmin (it could be good? Who knows; I’m no Pikmin fan, but I am somewhat interested), Miitopia (some social network/game thing which looks completely uninteresting to me), and, releasing in just a few days now, the action-RPG Ever Oasis. Going by what we had seen of the game before I was not particularly intersted in Ever Oasis, but after trying the new demo that released during the show and looking at the footage from the floor, I’m definitely looking forward to it! Ever Oasis is a Zelda / Mana-style game with good controls, great art design, and fun gameplay and combat. You play as a male or female character trying to build up your oasis, both by doing quests to help out people who might want to move in, and presumably also by venturing out to collect stuff, defeat threats, and the like. There are some predesigned areas and also randomly-generated dungeons to explore, and it looks good. I’ll be getting this one.

On a less happy note, while this was a great E3 to be a Metroid fan, it was yet again an awful year to be a F-Zero fan. F-Zero is one of my favorite racing game franchises ever, so Nintendo’s total lack of interest in the series continues to be incredibly frustrating! I know th efuturistic racing game genre is not as lively as it once was, but games like the Wipeout collection for PS4 or Fast Racing Neo for Switch, not to mention similar titles on the PC, show that there is still an audience for them, and F-Zero’s style is one of the best. Nintendo, make another F-Zero game, please! It’s one of your best franchises and it’s a real shame to see it abandoned like this.

Non-Nintendo E3 Show Floor Thoughts

Finally, I should say a little about the show itself beyond the Nintendo booth. When it comes to playing games, while I have a large collection of older to semi-modern game platforms — I have most major platforms up to the Wii U, though I do not have a Switch, PS4, or Xbox One, or a few significant classic systems such as the Jaguar, Intellivision, or Colecovision to name a few — the largest amount of my playtime comes on the PC, 3DS, and, since I got it last month, the Wii U. But while the PC has always been my favorite gaming platform, E3 as a show is generally focused much more on console games than PC. Many PC games are at the show of course, and since Microsoft is now releasing all their first-party titles on PC as well as Xbox One there was actual PC stuff in the Microsoft booth again, but they are mostly just ports of console-focused games, not PC-original experiences, and most were the kinds of major AAA titles that rarely interest me enough to make me want to watch more of them beyond their appearances in the press conferences. As a result, while I love the PC, I didn’t see much at E3 PC-related to say much about, beyond what is in the press conference sections above. As for my love for classic gaming, E3 is definitely not a show for that; its purpose is to show off upcoming titles after all. So when it came to the show itself I mostly watched Nintendo’s great Treehouse streams. I did also watch Giant Bombs’ nightly interview shows, and many of those were interesting, but they never have Nintendo people on so I’m not sure how much I have to say about that here. On the subject of VR though, which came up in several of their panels, it will be interesting to see how long it takes to actually catch on; right now it is just too expensive, and the physical space requirements are also hard to deal with. I don’t have a VR headset and doubt I will anytime soon.

And last, there are some interesting things to discuss about the show itself. E3 is in transition, as the rise of streaming internet video and digital distribution has greatly reduced some of the main reasons for its existence, such as showing distributors the products they should order for the coming holiday season and giving a large platform for announcing upcoming titles. Now many games are just bought online, and publishers can get a large audience on their own for an announcement video or conference without needing E3, so it feels less relevant than ever. At the same time though, it still is important as an event where a significant number of industry people all gather at the same place and meet, as still the gaming industry event which gets the most attention publicly, and as a place to see a lot of footage of upcoming games in a short time. I love watching E3, and I hope it does not go away. And to try to keep E3 relevant, this year for the first time tickets were sold to allow members of the general public in to E3. They apparently sold 15,000 tickets, at costs up to $250… and then did very little on the show floor to modify anything to fit with the far larger crowds this meant. As a result lines were horrendously long for any more prominent game and a lot of people were upset. I hope that next year they modify things to fit better with crowds, such as separate areas for press and journalists, a press day followed by days which allow in the public like Germany’s Gamescom conference does so that journalists can see titles without having to wait in hours-long lines, more demo stations at booths, and such. I’m sure they will work this out over time, but it’s too bad that the first year was not as well planned as it should have been.

Overall though, E3 was a fun show to watch as always, and I’ll be looking forward to seeing it next year too!

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New Article Updates

I’ve gotten back to updating the old game Opinion Summary lists with working hyperlinked table of contents sections, both in the articles and on the site’s main Table of Contents page. Updated this time are:

The Odyssey 2 system review & game opinion summary article: http://www.blackfalcongames.net/?p=79
The TurboGrafx-16 CD (& PC Engine CD) game opinion summary article: http://www.blackfalcongames.net/?p=82

In addition to adding the above, I also fixed all broken image links in the Odyssey 2 article above, and also the box shots in the Power Piggs of the Dark Age (SNES) review here: http://www.blackfalcongames.net/?p=47 and the Avenger (TCD) review here: http://www.blackfalcongames.net/?p=93 .

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PC Platformers Game Opinion Summaries, Part 15: Digital-Download 2d games (Part 12)

The next update is done, covering six games which vary from pretty good to just okay. With this the 2d digital-download-games section is, for now, complete. Next I will move on to 2.5d games.

Table of Contents

Insanity’s Blade (2014)
JumpJet Rex (2015)
Mutant Mudds (2012)
No Time To Explain Remastered (2015)
Potatoman Seeks the Troof (2014)
Rocketbirds: Hard Boiled Chicken (2012)


Insanity’s Blade (2014, WinXP+) – 1-2 player simultaneous (single system), saves, gamepad supported (xinput only). Insanity’s Blade is a pixel-art platformer by Casual Bit Games styled after classic late ’80s to early ’90s arcade platform-action games. This is a difficult but fun classic-styled platform-action game with a dark and bloody fantasy theme. You play as a barbarian-ish warrior guy, slaughtering legions of monsters, zombies, and more as you try to find and kill the demon who destroyed your village. And yes, as expected your village burns to the ground at the beginning, as usual in fantasy games. The very basic and predictable story is told with overlong cutscenes that are mostly lengthy blocks of text, but you can skip them if you want fortunately. Along the way, you will play main levels and side levels, which you select from a map screen. Player one is always the barbarian guy, while player two can play as whoever your companion is, first a dwarf warrior but others later on. The companion character is only there in cutscenes in single player, so you don’t have an AI ally, and they do not have as many abilities as the main character, but still it’s great that they put co-op into the game.

Gameplay in Insanity’s Blade is simple, but has some depth in that classic arcade style. You move at a good pace, and the game uses three buttons, for attack, jump, and grab. Jumps always go the exact same height no matter how long you press the button for, but you can control your movement in the air so this isn’t quite Ghosts n Goblins-like stuff, thankfully. Jump height control would be nice, but this works. The two attack types are the core of the combat system and are well thought through. Initially your main attack is melee-range, but you very quickly get a projectile attack and can upgrade your attacks with money you collect in the levels. You can also do some additional moves by combining button presses with directions. This way you can rip off an enemy’s arm and beat other foes with it, though I find this move very hard to pull off; rip enemies in half; and more. The game is balanced well, as grabs kill most enemies in one hit but require melee range, while your ranged attacks let you hit them from afar but take more hits to kill enemies. Some enemies are also immune to one attack type or the other, so you will need to learn which attacks to use when as you play the game. You have a health bar, though there are also instant-kill traps that will kill you immediately. When you die you get three lives per try by default, and start from the last checkpoint you passed in the level. If you get Game Over you will have to restart the stage, though. This classic design works, though having to restart levels frequently when you die at a boss at the end too many times gets frustrating. If the game is too much for some there are five difficulty level options available though, including easier settings than the default. That’s good.

The level designs here are straightforward, as expected from an arcade game-inspired title. Levels follow a linear path, for the most part, and enemies are always in the same place each time. This game is mostly about learning the jumps and enemy patterns in each stage, and it’s fun but very challenging stuff. There is some variety here, though, as some levels have branching paths to add a bit of variety, and each level has a new setting and sometimes new enemies as well. This game does not feel quite as restrictively memorization-based as Volgarr the Viking is, but there is an element of that here, as you will find as you get farther in. Memorization is important, as those instant-kill traps, such as crushing ceilings, can be cheap sometimes unless you move slowly through new areas. This is a challenging game and it is easy to take damage quickly, but the fast pace, strategic elements in figuring out how to fight different enemy types, good visuals, and constant action make you want to keep trying. Those bosses take a lot of hits to kill, though. They are large and impressive looking, but drag on maybe too long. Still, the gameplay is mostly good.

Visually, this game looks reasonably good, and definitely has the look of a late ’80s or early ’90s arcade-style game. The sprites are well drawn, the art design is good, and backgrounds are varied and interesting. The game uses multiple parallax layers as well. The low budget of this games’ two-person team does show, though. Coins flicker and then disappear in a somewhat glitchy way and sometimes are still collectible after vanishing but not other times; the level two boss’s laser, when it hits the ground, causes a large spark… which appears on the top of the cliff if it hits a wall instead of ground, because I guess they didn’t do a horizontal blast. There are more examples of issues like those, too. For some other issues, there are also many foreground objects in some levels which only turn transparent when you are actually behind them, which is a problem because the designers like to put enemies there. That may be on purpose, but it still can be annoying. And this is about the controls and not the graphics, but in the main menus, with a gamepad A is accept and B is back. You can re-define the controls, and this reverses that if you switch Jump (back) and Attack (accept)… but this only affects the pause-screen menus once you are in the game. So, reverse the buttons as I did and you need to use A to accept in order to load up your save and such, then B to accept once you’re in the game. That should be fixed. Still, the graphics are mostly good. The music is a solid but not amazing chiptune soundtrack. Interestingly it has both 8 or 16-bit styled variants you can choose between in the menu, though there is no similar option for the graphics.

Overall, Insanity’s Blade is a good action-heavy platformer. This is a simple game, where you walk around levels killing enemies as you try to make your way to the end, and it looks and feels a lot like a classic arcade game. The game looks nice and plays fairly well. I would have liked a bit more jumping control and clear instructions for how to pull off the more advanced moves, and there are some graphical and interface issues, but for the most part the game is fun to play, or at least it is until you die deep in a level yet again and have to start it all over. But there are difficulty options to help with that if you give up, and this is the fun kind of challenge that keeps you coming back until you get through. Insanity’s Blade has some flaws, but overall it is good and worth a look. This game is more obscure than it should be, but the developers’ next and currently unfinished project, Battle Princess Madelyn, has gotten much more attention. Maybe give that one a look once it releases, but play this first.


JumpJet Rex
(2015, WinXP+) – 1 player, saves, gamepad supported (xinput only, if you have a controller that works correctly with the game; mine does not). JumpJet Rex is a time trial-based flying platformer. The game has a pretty silly plot. Set millions of years ago, you play as Rex, a dinosaur astronaut who has been tasked with stopping an asteroid heading towards Earth. That’s good stuff, and the game is okay though it has issues. The controls are mostly simple, though they have some oddities. The keyboard controls are re configurable, but by default you can move left and right, fly upwards with your infinite-use jet-boots, drop down quickly, do a spin attack to hit enemies though it has very limited range, dash straight forwards (with a separate button, not a double-tap), and jump. You can jump as many times as you want in the air, but why is there a jump button when you can also fly infinitely? Well, that’s because the jetpack button is extremely sensitive, so you go flying up at the slightest touch of the button. The jump, which always goes the same height up, is thus sometimes useful. The keyboard controls work okay, though the too-sensitive controls can be frustrating and you need to use the mouse or gamepad in menus because while you can move the cursor around with the keyboard you can’t actually select the highlighted item with the Enter key, only whatever the mouse is nearest. Ugh. Menus aside, gamepad controls are utterly broken, at least for me, unfortunately. On my xinput gamepad there is no way to fly upwards, the games’ central mechanic. Additionally you can only move left and right with the analog stick and not the d-pad, and buttons rarely respond when you press them. That’s unusable. Though it probably would still be very sensitive this game would be more fun on gamepad than keyboard, but a keyboard-to-gamepad mapper will be the only way to play this on a pad if you have this issue as well, and those are never as good as built-in gamepad controls. It’s too bad, because there is a fun game here if the controls work.

This is a time-trial-focused game first and foremost, so levels are short and are timed. Each level has requires a certain number of stars to unlock, and has three stars to get, mobile-style. You get one star just for beating the stage, a second for beating a set time, and the third for either another time goal or some other objective. Additionally, the game keeps track if you collected the treasure in each level. Levels are usually only a few screens large but hard to navigate, so you can zip through them quickly if you dash regularly and learn the layout, but will require memorization as laser beams that turn on and off, floating mine-like enemies, spikes, and more abound. You will also need to hit switches to open doors and such. This is a hard game and you will need to memorize each level perfectly to get through quickly. In addition to the enemies there are also gates to travel through and gold bricks to collect for score. You usually want to either go for all the treasure or a fast time in a run, but not both at once, so the game has some replay value. When going for treasure, you need to look for each levels’ warp, which sends you to a tricky bonus stage filled with more gold blocks and a gem. In the main level when you die you will respawn infinitely at the last checkpoint you activated, though the timer will keep ticking up of course, but the bonus-level warp is a one-time-per-run deal so be careful. On the whole JumpJet Rex can be fun, but the too-sensitive controls and tight, hazard-filled levels get frustrating after a while, particularly when you keep dying because of the controls as much as the stages themselves.

Visually, this game has a modern pixel-art look, with rectangular sprites that remind me of some other modern pixel-art games. Environments are tile-based, and are also nicely drawn and have a good cartoon style. There are only four environments though, so expect repetition. The music is okay but forgettable. Overall, JumpJet Rex is a frustrating flight-based time-trial game that looks nice and can be fun to challenge, but it would be better with more forgiving level designs, better, less twitchy controls, and none of the games’ many control and interface problems. If it sounds fun despite that it may be worth a look though, there is a good game here if you get used to it. I don’t know if I will play this again though.


Mutant Mudds (2012, WinXP+) – 1 player, saves, gamepad supported. Mutant Mudds, from Renegade Kid, is a classic handheld game-style pixel-art platformer that originally released on the Nintendo 3DS eShop before being ported to the PC. This is a simple but fun game with a water gun, hover-pack, and some level design inspirations from Virtual Boy Wario Land, which is pretty cool. Unfortunately here on the PC the game doesn’t run in stereoscopic 3d like it does on the 3DS, and I would like to play it on that console, but otherwise it is the same here and it’s good. You play as Max, a boy off to save the world from the invading Mudds, mud-like aliens who are attacking the earth but are vulnerable to water. Considering how much water there is on this planet I’m not sure if attacking Earth was a good idea, Mudds… heh.

The gameplay here is as simple as the classic platformers it was inspired by. You walk around, duck, shoot, and jump. The controls are tight and responsive, and the game plays well. You can also hover with a second tap of the jump button. The hover is limited by a meter in the lower left of the screen, and you can expand it later on with an upgrade but initially it lasts a couple of seconds, Princess in Mario 2 (USA)-style. You do need to be careful to not hit jump twice too quickly as this will start a hover just above the ground, which can kill you at times, but it’s a great mechanic which the levels are designed around. Combat is simple, you shoot enemies with the water gun. You can only shoot straight, while either standing or ducking, and enemies will sometimes be moving above you so avoiding them until you can shoot at them is necessary, and can make for some fun jumping puzzles. You get three hits per life, and there are no health pickups in levels but you do have infinite continues from the last checkpoint you hit, or the beginning of the level otherwise, so that’s fine. If you are careful you should be able to avoid damage anyway, hits are your fault. There are a few upgrades to get in the game, but for the most part this game sticks to what it does, and that’s fine as it’s good.

The level designs are similarly classic assortments of platforms you will have to navigate. The main quirk is, like VB Wario Land, that this game has multiple screen layers that you can travel between at certain points. I’m sure that on a 3DS this would look pretty cool, but on PC it just makes everything larger or smaller, with a blur effect on the other layers. Like VBWL some enemies move between the layers, and again that’d be nice to see in 3d. Otherwise though this is a well-designed conventional platformer, with enemies that move around for you to shoot, gems to collect, and exits to find. On that latter point, each level has three objectives: get to the main exit, get to the hidden sub-land exit, and get all of the gems. The game has a map screen, and you unlock more levels there once you have completed enough objectives. There are 40 levels in the game, which is a reasonable number. Stage lengths are just about right, not too long or too short, and the sub-objectives, which are doors you need to find marked either G-Land or V-Land, add to each levle as well. As their names may suggest, G-Land stages have a mostly greyscale color palette, like the original Game Boy, and V-Land stages have a red and black palette, Virtual Boy-style. I like these touches, and it was great to see a platformer on 3DS actually take influence from VB Wario Land, the VB’s great classic; Nintendo would later put similar dual-plane gameplay in their 3DS Kirby games, but this title released before them. The levels get harder as you go as well, though this isn’t one of those crushingly difficult indie platformers, it is fairly balanced.

Visually, as mentioned this game has a nice chunky-pixel pixel-art look. The game doesn’t try to look like a Game Boy game, as it does use a larger color palette, parallax scrolling, and such, but it looks nice. In 3d it’s surely even better, since I do like 3d effects, but in 2d on a PC it looks good. The music is good chiptune-style music which fits well into this kind of game. Overall, Mutant Mudds is a pretty good game which I like quite a bit… except for one thing: there is also a Deluxe version of this game, available for various platforms including the PC… but I got this game on GOG, and for some very annoying reason the developers decided to not release the Deluxe version on GOG. Buy it again on Steam if you want the 20-plus added levels and other added content that version has. This is not the only time I’ve seen something like this happen, Blade Kitten (which I will get to eventually) did something similar, but it’s always annoying. You shouldn’t have to re-buy a game because it’s locked to one store and the new version is on another one. That aside, though, really the only other complaint I could have about this game is that it lacks variety, but when the gameplay is as fun as this is I don’t mind that. Mutant Mudds is a good game well worth getting, preferably in one of its Deluxe edition incarnations. The original Mutant Mudds was released digital-only for the 3DS eShop, PC, and iOS, and the Deluxe version (released in 2014) is available digital-only for 3DS, Wii U, PS3, PS4, Vita, and PC. The game has a harder sequel with the same core gameplay that released in 2016 called Mutant Mudds: Super Challenge available digital-only for the 3DS, PC, PS4, Vita, and Wii U. For all titles, only the 3DS releases are in stereoscopic 3d.


No Time To Explain Remastered (2015 remaster of a 2011 game, WinXP+) – 1-2 player simultaneous, saves, gamepad supported (xinput only). No Time To Explain Remastered is a flinging-propulsion-based platformer from tinyBuild. Originally a Newgrounds flash game, this remaster expands the game somewhat and gives it better controls than it would have in a browser. The game has the misanthropic humor and cartoony yet bloody art style you expect from Newgrounds games, and some decent ideas in its gameplay though it is not original. The story here is that you are a guy at home, when suddenly the wall of your house blows apart and a you from the future appears, gives you a futuristic giant laser gun, and promptly gets dragged off by a huge monster. Just about every stage in the game begins with one of your protagonists’ versions, from some point in the timeline, being dragged off by whatever monster that levels’ boss is, screaming horribly every time while blood flies out. Some of the lines are amusing and I did laugh a bit, though they repeat a lot after a while. The story is an intentionally complex and poorly explained, as the name suggests, time-travel story, but it’s amusing and fast-paced, as most of this game is action and not plot.

The controls here vary from character to character as you move through the game, but all characters have normal movement, a low jump on a button, and a special weapon or ability that helps you move across the screen quickly that you aim with the right stick or mouse. The controls are reasonably responsive, though they are a little slippery at times, and a gamepad is highly recommended as aiming with the mouse isn’t great. Your main character’s is that giant laser cannon mentioned earlier. You can use it to shoot bosses or blocks, but more often you will be using it as a propulsion device, as you move in the opposite direction you’re shooting it in. The key to the game is learning the physics of how the gun, and other characters’ weapons such as a shotgun which tosses this other guy a certain distance backwards when fired while also shooting a short distance ahead as well. The physics are not realistic, and sometimes it can be frustrating when you can’t figure out why your guy won’t go up as high as you need, but it is internally consistent so once you learn how it works, blasting around the screen can be fun. There is even two player co-op support, though this kind of game is definitely best alone.

This game is made up of longer levels, each of which is broken up into many short, several-screens-long stages. Again sort of like other Newgrounds-based games like Super Meat Boy, the sprites here are on the small side but character movement is fast, so you can zip across the screen quickly with the right tactics. There are no breaks between stages in this game, but each level ends with a boss fight so you can tell when one ends. You have infinite tries for the sub-stages, usually from the last ground you touched instead of having to restart the level when you die as you will many times, but at boss fights you get only four ‘lives’ per try so you will need practice to get past them. The game is mostly fast-paced and fun, and it is hard though this isn’t always Super Meat Boy levels of hard. I’m fine with that, though, and for those wanting a challenge there are downloadable user-made level sets available, beyond the default one. It is important to say though, unfortunately the save system only saves from the beginning of the level you are on, not the stage, so watch out for that. Your goal in the game is to reach the end of each stage while also optionally collecting a single item hidden somewhere in each one. The game will save each of those optional collectibles once you get them, thankfully.

Overall, No Time to Explain Remastered is a fun little indie game with some interesting and amusing ideas. It can be frustrating at times due to the tough level designs and how the games’ physics and controls work, the games’ Flash roots show in some ways, and this is not a particularly long game, but this is mostly a good fun game worth a look. The laser-jetpack based gameplay differentiates this from something like Super Meat Boy, and issues aside the game is fun to play, and the levels are fun to figure out. I like the pacing here, which is slightly slower than Meat Boy but still moves along well. And if the main game isn’t enough, there are also user-created levels add a lot of replayability. This game isn’t amazing, but it is good. Genre fans should try it. Also available digitally for Mac and Linux on Steam as well as PC.


Potatoman Seeks the Troof (2014, WinXP+) – 1 player, no saving, gamepad supported (xinput only). Potatoman Seeks the Troof is a short indie game by Pixeljam, and that indeed was made in a game jam, with a simple but nice 2nd-generation, Atari-like visual style and similarly simple but quite challenging one-button-and-a-stick gameplay. You are Potatoman, and you are seeking the Troof, whatever that turns out to be. You will learn at the end, but characters along the way tell you what their ideas of the Troof are. The story is simple but amusing, enough to keep you going through this little game.

The gameplay and controls are very simple as well, fitting with its early ’80s-inspired look: your goal is to walk to the right in each stage until you reach the end, while jumping over hazards. Each level is a linear path that is the same every time, apart for variances from enemies that aim for you. You cannot fight back, so you’ll just need to avoid everything. You just need to learn the patterns, avoid the numerous obstacles heading towards poor little Potatoman, and move on in your journey to learn the Troof! Each level in this game has a different visual theme and set of obstacles to avoid, from staying away from birds dropping mountains of eggs in your direction, to avoiding cars in a town, to dodging rocks as you climb a mountain, and more. If an obstacle hits you, you respawn before that section of the level. You have a limited number of lives for each stage before you have to start it over; the number of lives per level varies, but it is at least six. You can continue after a game over, though, so long as you don’t close the game. Yes, as mentioned above this game does not save, so you have to beat this in one sitting, unfortunately enough. Potatoman Seeks the Troof is a fun game, and it is quite short, but it gets aggrivatingly hard at times and it would be nice to be able to break it up into multiple sessions. Ah well.

The games’ visuals consist of single-color sprites on simple backgrounds. Background environments are made of multiple colors, but they have large blocks of single colors, as early ’80s games would. Unlike a game from back then, though, this game runs in widescreen, has multiple layers of parallax scrolling, and can fill the screen with sprites with no slowdown. So it’s hardly Atari 2600-accurate, but still I like the look here, and it’s nice to see an indie platforemr which doesn’t go for a 3rd or 4th-gen aesthetic. The simple but catchy chiptune music fits the game well, also. Overall, Potatoman Seeks the Troof is a fun but difficult little game worth a look if you like very short games which kill you a lot. It really should have had a save system, but give it a try. Also available digitally for Mac on Steam as well as PC.


Rocketbirds: Hard Boiled Chicken
(2012, WinXP+) – 1 player, saves, gamepad supported (xinput only). Rocketbirds is a pretty mediocre run & gun action-platformer by Ratloop Asia… or should that be roll & gun, since you move faster while rolling and enemies often shoot over you? Whatever you call it, Rocketbirds is okay, but flawed in a lot of ways. This is a shooting-heavy platformer where you explore around levels, shooting enemies who all take way too many hits to kill with a variety of guns while you find your way through the stage. The gameplay is okay, but the presentation is maybe the most notable thing here. The game has very large graphics with some decent cartoony characters, all birds as the name suggests. But then, it places them in front of oddly photo-realistic backgrounds that look like they are either polygon models or photos of polygon models. Given the tech specs this game requires it’s probably the latter. It is a distinctive look, particularly with the games’ rotating camera that twists walls as you move towards them in a ‘3d’ manner, but it looks kind of odd. The game actually even has 3d support, for anyone with a headset or 3d goggles for their PC, but I don’t so I can’t try that. Aurally, the music is maybe the worst thing about this game for me; Rocketbirds has a rock soundtrack with full vocals, and I do not like rock music — or guitar music in general, in fact — and this stuff is really bad. It’s from some band I have never heard of called “New World Revolution”. The music is really annoying and unpleasant and drags the whole game down for me, since it has a large place in this game: most story cutscenes have only that awful music and no non-musical dialogue, for example. The few voiced lines are done in accented English.

The gameplay is better, but it does have issues. You move with the keyboard or gamepad analog stick, and do have analog movement with the pad. You cannot move with the d-pad though for people who would prefer that, not unless you use a keyboard mapper program that is. You duck with down, and can then quickly roll along the ground. You can often just roll right past enemies, as you are not locked onto screens until the enemies are dead and only take damage from enemy bullets and not from their sprites themselves. You can also jump of course, though not very high; pick up items, which requires a button press for everything other than the mini ammo pickups enemies drop; change weapons, with the d-pad on a gamepad; and shoot your gun, straight ahead only; you cannot aim around in this game, unlike many modern games like this. Given how much I often dislike mouse aiming in platformers I am fine with that and the game is designed around shooting people in front or behind you and not above, but bizarrely, the default keyboard controls put shoot on the mouse, even though it has no other function. Uh, what? Why? Finally, you have health and ammo bars. Items will refill this as you go. For weapons you start out with just a pistol, but do get some more interesting weapons later, such as one which lets you to take over enemies and walk them around. Still, the gameplay here is mostly simple. The controls are okay but not tight, and rolling around through enemies or watching them jiggle around as you shoot them may be amusing for a little while but it gets old quickly. Enemies do get harder as you progress, but there are only a handful of types. If you do die you respawn nearby and have infinite lives, though.

The level designs aren’t much of a help either. Levels in Rocketbirds are not entirely linear, so backtracking and exploration will be required as you hunt for keys or other items you can use. That’s fine, but it can sometimes be hard to tell what you can interact with and what you can’t thanks to the games’ very high-detail environments. The game does scroll, but it often flips between screens, through many doors, elevators, and more. Enemies won’t follow from one screen to the next, making that roll move even more useful. There are prompts for when you can pick something up, but still it is occasionally confusing. The huge sprites also mean that not much fits on each screen. In addition to the main gameplay, some segments have you flying around on your rocket jetpack. Here one button jets you forward, while another shoots. These parts are amusing, but simple and drag on a bit long at times. Hitting enemies can also be tricky, since the sprites in these scenes, opposite the rest of the game, are tiny. On the whole, Rocketbirds is an okay but below average game with very annoying music and decent but flawed and repetitive gameplay. It’s not bad, but I don’t like it very much. Some people will like this game more than I do, though, so check it out if it sounds interesting. Also available digitally for Mac and Linux on Steam as well as PC.

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PC Platformers Game Opinion Summaries, Part 14: Digital-Download 2d games (Part 11)

With this update I get to the end of the alphabet for 2d platformers and start on the games I got since deciding to stop adding new titles to random updates, but instead to put them at the end of this section. So yeah, I’m almost to the end of 2d platformers now!

Table of Contents

Waking Mars (2012)
Word Rescue (1992)
BLACKHOLE (2015)
Blocks that Matter (2011)
Curse of the Crescent Isle DX (2015)
HAUNTED: Halloween ’85 (2017)


Waking Mars (2012, WinXP+) – 1 player, saves, gamepad supported. Waking Mars is a nonviolent puzzle-platformer from a mobile and PC-focused developer headed by a guy who once worked for Looking Glass Studios. You play as an astronaut on Mars with an infinite-use jetpack, and have to get through many levels by growing life in caverns under Mars. The game takes itself seriously, and your astronaut guy and a woman who helps you out via communications act sort of like how you would expect astronauts to. You do also have an AI companion as well. The caves are segmented with living gates, and the only way to open them is to grow enough life for the gate to open. If you wanted to just blas thte doors open, go play a different game. The amount of life you need in an area to get the doors to open is measured by a level, and as you go the puzzles you will need to figure out in order to get that level high enough get harder and harder. There are two kinds of life, plant-like and animal-like. You grow plant-like life by throwing ‘seeds’ at certain points that have small grass-like plants growing on them. You can grow one plant on each patch of ground, but things are not so simple as just planting stuff randomly; the different plant types interact with each other, and you can also upgrade the patches of ground in various ways as well to affect how the plants grow. The game starts out easy, but figuring out what to do will get tricky later on.

Additionally, as you progress you will also start to run into Martian animal-ish life. Now, this is mostly a simple game, as far as the gameplay goes. It defaults to keyboard and mouse controls, but while I often dislike that, here, due to the slow-paced gameplay, it works fine. You move around the screen with the stick or keyboard keys, and throw things with a mouse button, and that’s about it. It is worth mentioning that the game is also available on phones, which enhances that point. You do have a health bar, but most of the time the only damage you can take is when you fall too far. However, there are some threatening life forms you will have to avoid, so there is some of that element here even if it is not the focus. I like the calm style here and that you spend the whole game growing things, instead of destroying like usual. It can be frustrating if you’re not sure what to do, and late in the game apparently it wants you to get all areas up to the highest life level in order to ‘really’ finish the game which is annoying, but still this is a good game.

Visually, Waking Mars uses a lot of sprite layers to make a pretty nice-looking image with a lot of parallax. Your character may be a vector or polygon-ish thing, I’m not exactly sure, but I decided to leave this game in the ‘2d’ category anyway because everything else is obviously sprite-based, and he may be a sprite as well. The art design is good, and I like the various forms of life you can grow. The backgrounds are all types of caverns, but still wtih all this parallax it looks good. Aurally, the music is okay but not memorable. There is also voice acting for all the conversations, and it’s decent. Overall, Waking Mars is a good, though not great, puzzle game in jetpack-platformer form. The game has a good difficulty scale as you progress and it is satisfying when you figure out what to do to raise the life level. This isn’t a game for everyone, but it is worth a look. Also available for Linux and Mac on Steam, and also available for iOS and Android. The game is supposed to be the same there, but the controls are surely better on a computer.


Word Rescue (1992, DOS) – 1 player, saves, gamepad supported. Word Rescue, published by Apogee and developed by Redwood Games, is Math Rescue’s word-based predecessor. For anyone who hasn’t, please go read my summary of that game, because this one is very similar, except you match words to items instead of solving math problems. Because this game released before Math Rescue, however, in a few ways it isn’t quite as good as its successor despite both games releasing in the same year. In this game you play as either a boy or girl. The controls are simple, you just move, jump, and attack. You die if you get hit and have to restart the level, though you do have infinite lives. This is an easy game so that shouldn’t often be a problem, though, and the game saves your progress after each level you complete.

The gameplay is also simple. In each level you can wander around collecting items, but your main goal is to, as described earlier, match them to the words which describe them. You touch a word box to make a word appear. Then, all other word boxes turn into pictures. Go find the item somewhere in the level that is of that word and it matches, and match all of the words and items in each stage to move on to the next level. You can also collect letters that make a word which displays on the bottom of the screen; you get bonus points for getting the letters in order. In the stages, the words and objects are scattered around each level, along with other things such as enemies, pits, and more. Yes, there are actual pits and enemies in this game, rare as they may be. Your attack button pretty much kills any enemy in sight when you hit the button so long as you have ammo though,; this is a kids’ game and it shows. There are three difficulty settings, and there are more enemies and less ammo on the higher settings, but still this isn’t a very hard game. The matching-based gameplay is the bigger issue though, as I don’t find it as interesting as solving even easy math problems is, so I don’t find this game as good as Math Rescue is. The platformer element is as fun as ever for an Apogee-published game, as like so many of their games the levels are large spaces for you to explore and collect things in. The game can be fun, as you run around collecting stuff and finding all of the items, but the matching-based gameplay holds it back.

Visually, Word Rescue is an okay-looking EGA game. The graphics look nice, though this game has simpler flat graphics instead of the slightly angled look of Math Rescue, and environments are not as detailed as they would be in that game either. Most levels have just one background layer, but some levels do pull off parallax backgrounds, which is somewhat impressive for the PC at the time; the PC has no built-in parallax hardware, after all. There is also Adlib/Soundblaster music present, which is nice for a time when quite a few PC games still had only PC Speaker support, though there are only a few music tracks. On the whole Word Rescue is an okay platformer for kids which teaches some basic reading and item-recognition skills in an okay platformer. It can be fun in short bursts, but the simple matching-based gameplay and low challenge mean this game is probably one of my less favorite Apogee games today, though it is above average even so. I like that Apogee tried to do some somewhat educational games, and Math Rescue is a good one, but this isn’t quite on its level.


BLACKHOLE (2015, WinXP+) – 1 player, saves, gamepad supported (xinput only). Blackhole is a very difficult platformer by FiolaSoft with a gravity-flipping mechanic and mostly good, but very frustrating, gameplay. The story here is a sci-fi comedy, though. This game is set in the future, and you are the coffee guy on a spaceship that was going around closing black holes which were somehow threatening Earth. This black hole grew suddenly, however, and the ship was pulled in… but instead of being destroyed, you somehow find yourself in a weird space, all alone except for your irrevent female AI voice companion. Your guy does not speak, but the AI does, a lot. Some of her lines are funny, fortunately, and it does take your mind off of the very difficult stages at times. There are options to cut back or remove the cutscenes if you want, though. Blackhole is mostly about its difficult gameplay with gravity-flipping puzzles, though. The game has an overworld you can freely move around, and stages you access from warp points on that map. You have infinite lives here, but have to restart the stage you are in if you die, which will get frustrating. The goal in each stage is to get as many blue ball pickups as you can, of the ones in the stage, and then get back to the starting point. The game has a timer to keep track of how long each stage takes you as well. Stages are small and short, but quickly get crushingly difficult regardless. This game has over ninety puzzle-stages, and because stages are timed and you do not need all of the balls in order to move on there is some pretty good replay value here, so there is plenty of content here for people who like the game. Fortunately you can reset the stage at the press of a button.

The controls in Blackhole are simple. All you can do in this game is move around and jump, and the controls are digital-only, as usual in 2d platformers, not analog. You have no other powers; you cannot control the aforementioned gravity flipping yourself, but instead when you touch a platform emitting white light, you will flip so that that that direction is ‘down’. This means that figuring out which areas you should attach to and which you should not is key to the puzzle design, as you might expect. I have issues with the controls, though. You move pretty quickly, but it’s okay; the jumping is where I have an issue. It feels like you have minimal air control in this game and the physics are strange, so give the slightest touch and you go flying off to your certain doom, as you die if you fall too far or touch any obstacle. You must get your jump starting location, height, and length exactly right every time in order to make jumps, and with these controls that is harder than it should be. An analog control option might have been nice. and this game is almost entirely about hard jumping puzzles, as you try to either touch or not touch those gravity-flip areas while figuring out how to get to the blue balls. Trying to get a jump exactly right, in where you jump from, how much you are pressing left or right both before you jump and as you fall, trying to slide along a wall halfway down a fall after avoiding obstacles above, all while knowing that mess up and you start the stage again, is not fun after the thirtieth time… ugh.

Graphically, Blackhole has sprite-art graphics that look nice but not great. I like the weird, somewhat monochromatic environments and the strange maybe plantlike things growing around, and there is a parallax background, but the character sprites have a very odd art style to their faces that I do not like much. This is a gameplay-first game, but despite that it does look nice enough. There is also some decent music. Still, with how hard this game is due to its controls and level designs, Blackhole can be very frustrating. I’m sure that once you get used to the controls it gets better, but then the game just gets even harder, so that may or may not help. Blackhole does have some good stage layouts with many very tricky puzzles that will take creativity and many tries to solve and some decent graphics, but after a while I quit the game in frustration because of the controls and sometimes maybe too difficult stage designs. This game may call itself a puzzle-platformer, but this is no slow-paced puzzler, it is a test of precision platforming skill that often will be incredibly frustrating more often than it is rewarding. Overall, Blackhole is a decent to good game which can be addictive and fun, and it can be satisfying to figure out a stage and finally get through it alive. However, the game is held back by its weird physics and kind of awful jumping controls. The memorization-based design that requires you play every stage over and over and over and over until you get it right is also sometimes tedious, and I’m not sure if I want to play any more of it.


Blocks that Matter (2011, WinXP+) – 1 player, saves, gamepad supported (xinput only). Blocks that Matter is a puzzle-platformer made by Swing Swing Submarine that has an interesting block collection and building mechanic. In this game you play as a Tetrobot, a little robot that needs to save two game developers who have been kidnapped by a villain. I presume that they made the game. The story tires to be cheesy and amusing, and it is sometimes amusing, but I find the gameplay the main draw here, not the story. The graphics are decent but somewhat average 2d sprite art with a slightly cartoony look. It’s good enough. Fortunately, the gameplay is pretty good.This game has both puzzle and platformer elements, but it is more puzzle game than platformer; you will do a lot of jumping here, but this is mostly a slow-paced game where the main challenge is in setting the blocks up right, more so than dealing with difficult jumps. That will be harder than it may sound though, as Blocks that Matter has good, challenging level designs that will take some thought to figure out.

The game has simple controls: you can move around, jump, drill forwards with the drill in the center of your robot, place blocks, and switch between block types to choose which one to place. You cannot drill while jumping, however, The environments are indestructible, but certain blocks can be destroyed either with your drill or by jumping up into the block from below several times to break it. When you destroy a block, you collect it in your block inventory. Then, when you hit the ‘place blocks’ button, the game pauses and you can place a block. You must place blocks four at a time, Tetris-style; the game explicitly references Tetris when describing the system, so the similarity is on purpose. Because different block types have different attributes, again, including whether or not they can stand on their own in the air or need support either below or to a side, depending, it is important to consider which block types you have and use the right ones in each spot. You can then destroy blocks you have placed, which is sometimes required, though remember that some of their rules hold regardless, such as sand blocks collapsing if they are not supported below. It’s a good system which works well.

So, the challenge here is figuring out where to place blocks in order to get through the level. There are different block types, each with different properties, as well. The puzzles quickly get quite tough, but it’s a fun challenge. In each level all you need to do is reach the exit, but there is also a collectible chest to get in each stage if you want some added difficulty. Figuring out what to do in each level in order to set up blocks to reach the end is pretty fun. Blocks that Matter is a simple, challenging, and fun game worth a look. The game also has a sequel, Tetrobot & Co., which I will cover soon.


Curse of the Crescent Isle DX (2015, WinXP+) – 1-2 player simultaneous (single system only), saves, gamepad supported (xinput only). Curse of the Crescent Isle DX is a retro-styled pixel-art platformer by Adam Mowery with gameplay inspired by Super Mario Bros. 2 (USA) crossed with a puzzle-platformer. You play as either a King or Queen of a somewhat fantasy-Middle Eastern kingdom, who has to save the day because your daughter the Princess and the Prince she was going to marry were kidnapped by a villain who wants to conquer the land, instead of allowing the peace that marriage would have brought. It’s great that you can play as either gender in this game, that is somewhat uncommon. In this classic-styled platformer, you explore through mostly-linear levels, trying to go from left to right. There are the usual pits and such to avoid, but as in Mario 2, when you jump on enemies you are not damaged, but instead stand on top of them as they move around. From here you can either walk around carrying them over your head, or stand on them and move around holding them below you. When standing on a monster, you bounce upwards if you touch a spike, other monster, or breakable block. You can also throw the creature you are currently carrying. The controls are okay, though they are a bit slipperier and less precise than I would like. This is also another game you want an xinput controller or d-to-xinput emulator for, because it is harder with a keyboard. Still, the game has some good ideas. You have three heart-shaped hit points per try, and can refill them with heart powerups scattered around the levels. You have infinite continues from the beginning of each level, but there are no checkpoints within each stage so you need to learn each one to finish it. The game will save from the last level you reached, in the Continue option on the main menu, but it also has a password system for access to any stage, if you know the passwords. I don’t understand why it is a password system instead of just a level-select which unlocks levels as you reach them, but it’s better than nothing.

But returning to the gameplay, Curse of the Crescent Isle’s unique element here is not just that you can carry enemies, as that has been done before. It is that each enemy type has a special ability that you will need to use in order to make it through the levels. So, one drill-like monster allows you to break through blocks, above or below depending on where you are holding it; another allows you to move along the ceiling or floor of the level, depending; another, made of ice, instantly freezes over enemies and water when you touch it to them; and more. This is where the puzzle element of the game comes in to play, as you play a level while trying to figure out how to use the monsters in order to get through the stage. It can be a fun challenge and there are some good puzzles here, but the game is frustrating at times, unfortunately, as it has many trial-and-error elements. You cannot look around the stage and pits are everywhere, but is that pit a bottomless pit, a way to get to the next part of the stage, or an optional area with a heart in it? There is no way to know without going down there and maybe dying, if it happens to be a pit. And even if it isn’t a pit, it is easily possible to get stuck in levels in places you cannot get out of, if you fall down the wrong pit without the right monster that will let you escape. The developers knew this, so there is a ‘restart level’ option on the pause screen. That’s nice, but it would be better if there weren’t so many random traps like that. This is mostly a fun game, but due to the controls and level designs it gets frustrating at times.

Additionally, the game is not very long and has low replay value, as levels are linear and there are almost no collectibles to find. The only things in these stages to find, other than the monsters and scattered heart refill items are coins. There is one giant coin ‘hidden’ in each level, though early on they are easy to find. I know modern puzzle-platformers often don’t have them, but it might have been nice to see more collectibles. Beyond the main game mode there are two other options, a boss rush and a speedrun mode with a timer, but they don’t add much to the game, and this game is one that will probably take most only a few hours to finish. You could play as the other character, but they play the same so it is only a visual difference. Still, this is a cheap downloadable title, so for the amount it costs you probably get your money’s worth. There is also a two player co-op mode, on a single system only, which could be fun to check out sometime, though this is mostly a single-player game.

Visually, Curse of the Crescent Isle DX has a nice, 4th-gen-style pixel-art look, with good, large sprites and lots of visual detail and parallax. The game doesn’t try to specifically look like something from any one classic console, but it has a good look to it and the art is pretty good. The chiptune-style soundtrack is also very fitting for this kind of game, and there are some decently nice tunes. However, the menu presentation is extremely basic, as the main menu is a text-only menu with an extremely large and ugly block font with two columns of text options to scroll through. You can’t press left and right to go between columns either, but have to only use up and down. It works once you get used to it, but the main game looks nice, so it’s too bad the menus are so basic. And again that password option is odd; I see from the patch notes that the save-game features were added in patches, so I can see leaving this in after it was supplanted, but why not put in a level select menu too? It’s a minor issue, but is worth mentioning. Overall, though, Curse of the Crescent Isle DX is a good game. It may have some flaws, including some control issues and short length, but the somewhat original and yet familiar gameplay mostly works quite well, and it’s fun to play through this game, look at the visuals, and figure out the puzzles. This is an enhanced version of a game originally made for Xbox 360 Xbox Live Indie Games, where it should still be available. Also available on Mac and Linux on Steam, along with the PC. There also was a Playstation Mobile version, though it was only briefly available before PS Mobile’s discontinuation and shutdown.


HAUNTED: Halloween ’85 (2017, WinXP+) – 1 player, no saving, gamepad supported (xinput only). Haunted: Halloween ’85 is a modern indie NES game that was first published as an actual NES cart in 2015, before also being released on PC here. Indie developers have been making new games for old consoles since the ’90s, but it is rare to see one of those games also release on Steam like this one has. Because it is a real NES game, unlike most retro-styled indie games this one actually has to stick to the NES’s limits, which is nice to see. The game was developed by Retrotainment Games and published by GamePump, a new publisher who were going to set up a subscription service, but gave up on that and started publishing games on Steam instead. Their first title was the puzzle game Lit, and this one is the second. Haunted: Halloween ’85 is a sidescrolling platformer/beat ’em up, with beat ’em up-style combat as well as tricky platform-jumping segments. This is a nice-looking game with some good ideas and gameplay, but also flaws that hold it back. The story is that you are Donny, a boy in the year 1985 who is late to school. He rushes to school, only to find… zombies everywhere! So, you set off to find out what’s going on and get past the undead hordes. It’s a simple plot but it works, though the intro may be a bit more verbose than this game needs. You can skip it by hitting a button, though.

The controls are simple, as expected for the NES: one button jumps, and the other punches. If you punch quickly you will do a three-hit combo, and each hit of the three does more damage than the last, one to two to three. You can also do a four-damage strong punch by hitting down+punch together. Combat is simple but can be fun, as you punch zombies, ghosts, posessed objects, and more. You don’t have a great deal of range, but if you keep hitting punch you usually won’t take damage to enemies coming straight at you, though making sure to be in line with your foes is important. On that note, as for jumping, it has issues. First, when you stop pressing left or right, Donny takes a few steps before stopping moving, so the controls are not as precise as you’d like. You jump high as well, so while you do have air control while jumping, landing where you want can be tricky and you will often have to hit back in the air in order to land on a platform. Every level of the game requires you to get through platforming gauntlets made up of stretches where you have to jump between very small platforms over death pits, too. With a little practice you get used to the controls, but while not awful, they could be a bit better.

Levels are made up of two main elements, platforming parts such as described earlier, and larger open flat spaces where you fight enemies. Now, sidescrolling beat ’em ups can be too simplistic, and it’s never been a genre I often love. Many sidescrolling beat ’em ups almost exclusively play on one flat plane, but this does not; instead, there are bumps, multiple platform layers, and more. The combat may be simplistic, but at least the level designs mix things up a bit. The platforming segments add to the variety too, and the tension. Part of that may be because of the controls, but with practice you can get through. Unfortunately though, to save cart space and cover for its classically-short length, this game has limited lives and continues and no saving, much like so many games back then. I have never liked this kind of design much and it’s no better here, but at least you do get five lives per continue and three continues, and there are 1-ups available. Still, I’d really like some way to start from levels I have reached. The game is fun enough to be worth playing some of anyway, but it’s worth mentioning.

Visually, Haunted: Halloween ’85 is a decently nice-looking NES game. As with all NES games the title has tile-based graphics with a limited color palette, and fitting the theme this game uses a lot of black. The tiles and sprite art are mostly good. The music is, as expected, chiptunes, and they are solid compositions which fit the creepy theme. Overall, Haunted: Halloween ’85 is an okay game with some okay combat and level designs. Movement and jumping controls could be tighter and you can’t save, and the gameplay is very simplistic and can be repetitive, but still genre fans should give the game a look. Also available on a cart as a homebrew NES release.

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PC Platformers Game Opinion Summaries, Part 13: Digital-Download 2d games (Part 10)

Yes, it’s finally an update to this list! This time I cover five games. One I like a lot, while the other four have some positives and negatives. With this update I’ve almost reached the end of the alphabet for digitally downloaded 2d games, but I have a handful more games to cover that I bought while working on this section of the list and decided to do at the end instead of in the beginnings of random other articles as I did several times before, so this category is not quite over yet.

Table of Contents for this Update

Ultionus: A Tale of Petty Revenge (2013)
Umihara Kawase (1995/2015)
Valdis Story: Abyssal City (2013)
VVVVVV (2010)
Volgarr The Viking (2013)

The Summaries


Ultionus: A Tale of Petty Revenge (2013, WinXP+) – 1 player, saves, gamepad supported. Ultionus is a classic-style platform-action game from Lost Dimension, a mostly one-person team who also made Mystik Belle, which I covered earlier. This one was his first game released on Steam. Like Mystik Belle after it, this is part modern platformer and part classic European computer game-inspired, but the two games are quite different. Where that game is part Metroidvania and part Dizzy-style sidescrolling adventure game, this one is a side-scrolling platform-shooter with some shmup levels starring a scantily-clad female protagonist. The game has an intentionally ridiculous story, as you are trying to … find … someone who said some mean things about you on Spacebook. Heh. The game apparently is pretty much a remake of a European ZX Spectrum game called Phantis, but as an American I’ve never played that game. It looks quite similar design wise-however, going by videos. One title this does remind me of, though, is W.U.R.M. for the NES. The two games are different, as Ultionus has no analog to W.U.R.M.’s boss battle system, but both games have female leads in a game that is part platformer and part side-scrolling shooter. Back in the ’80s to early ’90s game genres were not as set as they later became, so you saw more interesting crossovers that combine multiple genres into a single title, as W.U.R.M. or Phantis do.

So what is Ultionus? The game is a somewhat short but difficult platform-action title with big, very well drawn graphics and some gameplay variety as you go. Fairly traditionally, you can walk around, shoot, and that’s about it. Thankfully you do have a health bar, but depending on the enemy you can die quickly if you get hit. The controls are fine, but you do move slowly and somewhat stiffly. Your goal is usually to go to the right until you find the end of the stage, but there is a good amount of variety along the way, as some levels are linear, others are mazelike, and a few have you controlling a vehicle instead of walking. The variety is nice and helps keep the game interesting; if you dislike a stage, keep playing, the next level will probably be a bit different. There are only six or seven levels in this game, and they are not particularly long, but the game is hard enough that it will not be easy to finish, particularly if you choose to play on the higher difficulties, which give you limited lives. Fortunately there is also an easy mode which gives you infinite lives, and the game does save your progress after each level, but still the game is sometimes frustratingly difficult. In that classic style, the game makes up for its short length with high difficulty, and it mostly works.

I do have one significant complaint about the design here, though: as in games like Valis, this game absolutely LOVES to have enemies zoom in at you at high speeds which you only have an instant to react to. I’ve never liked the Valis series probably in large part because of that, and it’s no better here. The water level, where you are constantly being attacked by large dragons that pop up out of the sea at random, take several hits to kill, and kill you if they touch you, is really frustrating at times for example. I’m sure the original Phantis works just like this as well, but this annoying stuff is why I will never consider the Valis games to be great, and while it may not be quite as bad here it is sometimes an issue.

Graphically, just like Mystik Belle, Ultionus looks great. The game uses very large, detailed sprites with a nice cartoony art style and it is fun to play at times just to see the nice visuals. Each level has a different visual theme too, so there is variety here. The chiptune-style music is also good. So, overall Ultionus is a good game and I do like it despite its definite flaws. The game looks great, plays decently well though I do wish you could move faster, has some fun levels, and presents a good classic challenge, particularly if you want to beat it in the limited-lives modes. It is a short game with some really frustrating enemy speed and placement design issues, and I do like Mystik Belle more than this game, but the game is above average overall at least and is worth a look.


Umihara Kawase
(1995/2015, WinXP+) – 1 player, saves (menu and settings stuff only, not game progress), gamepads supported (xinput only). Umihara Kawase is a modern port of a Japanese Super Famicom (SNES) game of that name, which had not had a Western release until this Steam release by Studio Saizensen and published by Degica. Umihara Kawase is a cult classic, and it is for the most part pretty good. You play as a Japanese schoolgirl traveling through a world full of platforms and fish-monsters. You can run and jump, but jumping on enemies kills you. Instead, inspired by Bionic Commando, you have a fishing pole with line which works like a grappling hook, a lot like that games’ bionic arm. You can throw the line in any direction, and then swing on it back and forth and pull in or let out the line to change the line’s length. Being able to change the line length is great, and is something Bionic Commando never did. On the other hand though, it is harder to swing from grapple point to grapple point in this game than it is in Bionic Commando; here that is very easy and is the core of the game, but here it is a tricky maneuver that will take a lot of practice to get used to. Easier swinging without landing would have been great here. Still, there is a lot you can do with the line, and your control over the line is the central focus of this game. Fortunately, the controls are great. Comparing Umihara Kawase to Bionic Commando, the two games are similar but different. Both focus on a swing mechanic, but beyond that they diverge, as Umihara Kawase focuses entirely on traversing difficult puzzle-style platforming challenges with your fishing line, instead of being both an action shooting game and a grapple-platformer as Bionic Commando is. You can defeat your fish enemies by hitting them with the fishing hook, but they will just respawn at random as you play so you always want to move forward if you can. I do prefer Bionic Commando to Umihara Kawase, but this is a pretty good game too with some great ideas.

As far as the gameplay goes, Umihara Kawase is very simple; this game is entirely focused on puzzle-platforming. There are 40 difficult stages to get through, and this is a very tough game, but there is minimal gameplay and graphical variation along the way. The graphics look nice for a Super Nintendo game and have held up well, but there are only a handful of enemy types and the stage environments and backgrounds all look similar. The levels, again, focus on difficult platforming challenges. Except for a couple of boss levels, your goal is to get to the exit on each stage. Some stages have multiple exits, allowing you to skip levels if you can find the hidden warp exits. The first couple of levels may seem simple, but the difficulty level goes up steeply, and very good line control is required. That’s great, but the game has a major flaw: the save system, or lack thereof. To complete all fourty levels you get ten lives, zero continues, and no saving allowed. Oh, and oddly all Umihara Kawase games for some random reason put the status screen info in the middle of the screen, instead of the top and bottom. I wish it was in the usual places, but you get used to this quickly. Anyway, you cannot save your progress or continue from any point other than the beginning, and in a game this difficult and memorization-based, that, for me, is a crushing flaw. This PC port does add a mode where you can play any level you have beaten in the main game, but you cannot progress to new levels from there so this does not fix the problem. They really should have put in a normal save system here, because it kinds of ruins the game. I love the controls and gameplay here, and the difficult grappling challenges can be a lot of fun to figure out, but having to start the whole game over constantly is not fun or rewarding. Definitely play Umihara Kawase, but play it with savestates in an emulator or something if you want to enjoy it. Also on Super Nintendo, in Japan only.


Valdis Story: Abyssal City (2013, WinXP+) – 1 player, saves, gamepad supported. Valdis Story is an indie Metroidvania action-platformer with a combo and cancel-based combat system. This game was originally a Kickstarter, but I got it from a bundle somewhere, I believe. This is an okay but flawed game that I don’t particularly like, but I don’t really dislike either. I can see why some people really like Valdis Story, but it does some significant things I don’t like. In the game you play as one of initially two but later four characters, two male and two female. You start out with two unlocked and get the others sometime later on. They are similar, but each has distinctly different gameplay and upgrade trees. The story is confusing at first and poorly explained, but there is a war between two goddesses, both of whom are turning humans into their allies, angels or demons. Humans who are neither angel or demon are becoming rarer, but the four main characters are still human. The game is set in the eponymous abyssal city, which sank into the earth early in the war between the two sides. The protagonists are from the surface but giant monsters sank your ship, so you descend to it. Unfortunately, the game doesn’t explain things very well and the story is confusing. The story is also perhaps a bit overly edgy at times, and is not the draw here. The gameplay is also lacking explanation, as there is no tutorial at all in this game despite it having a somewhat complex combat system and skill leveling mechanic. There is a manual which helps a bit, but even that lacks details of what some commands do. The game has other issues as well, including unbalanced difficulty, design which punishes you for not getting high ranks when you beat bosses, and a very bad map screen. There are things to like here, including some elements of the graphics, the great soundtrack, the controls, and the exploration, but Valdis Story has a bunch of little issues.

In the game you have a bunch of different moves, including a jump, block, weak and strong attacks, a cancel command on the Down button/arrow key, a magic button which you combine with directions in order to cast spells, and an Assist button to call a helper character. You can also wall-jump off of walls when you touch one. The controls are okay, and I do like how you grab onto platform edges when near them, but jumping puzzles can be frustrating in this game because of the large sprites and small platforms. The key elements of combat are the two attack buttons and canceling, as you must learn combos of the two attack buttons in order to do well in combat. I’ve never liked or been any good at combo systems, and it’s no better here than anywhere. Worse, maybe, because of the boss experience system I will describe later. The enemies block a lot too, so you will need to learn when to block or dodge-roll behind an enemy to attack them from behind. In order to roll, you have to press down to cancel and then forward or back to roll in that direction. You are invincible while rolling so it is a key maneuver, but activating it is a bit clumsy. I also don’t really understand the cancel system which you activate by hitting down on its own; I wish the game explained how that works, but it doesn’t. You use this button to cancel your current action into another one instantly, as in a fighting game, though while I like fighting games I’ve never been serious enough about them to care about canceling, but this game never explains how to use this or all you can do with it, while also requiring you to use cancels perfectly both in combat and for many puzzles. That’s annoying. I like the magic more, though you have limited and too-slowly-regenerating mana so you can’t always use your spells. There are six magic elements, and you unlock one spell per button that you press along with the magic-use button, starting with two at the beginning. The buttons are for up, down, air, and left/right. It is interesting that each button has its own unique spells so you may have to swap during combat if you really need to use multiple spells in the same category, but thankfully you can switch from the pause screen. On the whole the controls feel okay, and I like how fast you can move around the screen. I don’t like the combat very much though, and that’s a big issue since this is a combat-heavy game. This game gets hard fast, and I don’t enjoy this kind of combat enough to want to keep playing or learn to get better.

In terms of level design, as usual in Metroidvanias, maps are made up of many inter-connected rooms full of enemies, with gates that require various abilities and such you will need to return to once you get the required upgrade. The designs are fine but not especially memorable for this genre. The map is awful, though, as the pause or on-screen maps only show the rooms very near to your location, and there is no way to view a map of the whole game world. The map also has no details on it beyond marking doors, so it does not tell you where save rooms, chests, or anything are, and doesn’t tell you what direction you should be going in either; hope you can figure that out from the clues people give you, the map won’t help. Beyond enemies and jumping puzzles though, the game also has many chests that are locked behind puzzles you can only access with perfectly-timed moves to get to that door before it closes. Sometimes you will need to use specific cancels in the puzzles, and the harsh timings can be overly difficult, but at least it’s something different. All you get from most of these chest are crafting items though, and, yes, this game has crafting. it’s the simple kind of crafting, where you get stuff then turn them in for items, but as someone who hates crafting, I don’t think that reward makes me want to do lots of these puzzles. The other reward you get is experience from the enemies you kill, which you can use on skill points and skills as you level up. The game has big skill trees, and lets you put points in anything regardless of if it’s a good build or not. Some bosses may be immune to your specialty, but fortunately there is a guy who will respec you, so you may be required to go back and redo your skills late in the game if you chose the wrong skill setup. Of course you won’t know this until too late. I love the original Etrian Odyssey even though it does that but worse, but still it is annoying. Worse is the boss experience system: this game has a rating system after each boss fight, and you get bonus experience for higher ratings. Getting higher ratings is apparently very important if you want to do well later on in the game, but I’ve never been one to want to master the combat system in this kind of game so hearing about that makes me less likely to want to keep playing.

Visually, Valdis Story is fully sprite-based. The art design is okay, but not the best, and some things look kind of look pre-rendered in a not-great way. The backgrounds can look nice, but the game does seem a bit low-resolution at times. Some graphical elements are nice and detailed, but others look blurry; it’s an odd mix. There is a nice variety of areas in the game though. Aurally, I do really like the classical music-style soundtrack; that is definitely my favorite thing about this game. It’s quite good. Other than that, though, Valdis Story is average at best and kind of a disappointment. This is not a bad game, as the controls, basic fighting when you don’t need combos, and level traversal can be fun, but with a combat system I don’t like much, blurry visuals, a confusing and overdone story, and a bad map that doesn’t really tell you where you should be going, this game probably has more flaws than strengths for me but genre fans should give it a look. Also available on Mac on Steam, along with PC.


VVVVVV (2010, WinXP+) – 1 player, saves, gamepad supported. VVVVVV is, yes, a very difficulty retro-styled pixel-art platformer. It is also a quite short game. That may not sound original, but this games’ retro style is more Atari or ’80s computer game-inspired rather than NES or SNES, for a simpler and very pixel-ey look, and this is a good game thanks to good design and its key gameplay feature, gravity flipping. Sort of like the classic NES game Metal Storm, but focused entirely on this mechanic, at the press of a button gravity reverses and your character will fall to the other side of the screen, top or bottom. All you can do in this game is move your Atari-like pixel guy left and right and flip gravity, and your challenge is to get through each screen without touching any of the numerous obstacles. This is a pure avoidance and platforming game with absolutely no combat element, and it couldn’t be better for it! You move quickly and do skid a bit after you let go of the movement controls, but the game is designed around that and once you learn the controls, moving around is great fun. I really like the gravity-flip mechanic, it makes for some really fun gameplay. When you die it is your fault and not the controls, and this game is all about precise control so that is important.

The story in VVVVVV is that you are Captain Viridian, captain of a spaceship which has run into trouble. In the game, you will need to find your missing crewmates and then reach the end point in order to win. There are also several dozen optional shiny trinkets in often hard-to-reach areas for you to collect if you want some added challenge. Instead of scrolling this game flips between static screens, which works well for its design but can take some getting used to in the few areas with multi-screen puzzles. The world map is open and nonlinear, but it is also not hard to navigate as there is a map screen that fills in as you reach new screens, with details of what is on that screen, and the map has a sort of hub-and-spokes design, as there is a central area with side areas you will go to with each of your crewmates in them. I occasionally didn’t know where to go, but just trying to find ways to reach the currently blank parts of the map works well. The games’ world is simply designed, made up of only walls, spikes occasional moving or static obstacles of various styles, bounce lines that repel you, disappearing blocks, teleporters, checkpoints, and your other crew members and the trinkets. You learn the various game components quickly, the challenge is figuring out where to flip gravity in order to fall where you need to in order to navigate through the screen to your goal. It’s a tricky but fun challenge that I really like. You die in one hit though, but this isn’t as bad as it seems.

That is because when you do die, you get sent back to the last checkpoint, but the game has infinite lives and checkpoints are numerous. As a result, most of the time each screen or two are a stand-alone challenge and you will rarely need to replay things you have finished already unless you are backtracking somehwere because of something you missed. This is a style also seen in some other hard indie platformers like I Want To Be The Guy, but thankfully while it is a challenge, VVVVVV does not match that games’ crushing level of difficulty. While it is a quite challenging game, the simple design and good controls make this game fun to play and not too hard to progress in with practice. It is difficult at times, but it is a challenge that you can overcome surprisingly quickly. I have finished this game, unlike many titles on this list, and it took only two hours to do so. Fortunately, VVVVVV has a level editor and comes with a bunch of included alternate levels made by fans, most as long or longer than the main campaign, so if you like the game there is plenty more to do, even if it is all using the same graphics and music as the main game.

Visually, VVVVVV is a very simple-looking game. Sprites are small and mono-colored, the platforms and walls that make up most of the screen are made up of a lot of straight lines and bars and only a handful of colors themselves, and while there is parallax, it’s just stars flying by behind the screen, not anything more complex. Each screen also has a name on the bottom center of the screen, which is a nice touch. The game looks very much like an ’80s computer game, and that is surely the intention. It’s a simple but nice look and looks good. The chiptune-style soundtrack is pretty good too. It is a techno-style electronic music soundtrack which fits the game perfectly and sounds really good. Overall, VVVVVV is a very good game. This game released back in 2010, but with great mechanics, good controls, and great level designs with a perfect balance of challenge and fun, it is still one of the better indie platformers around. VVVVVV is very highly recommended; platformer fans really should play this game if you haven’t already. Unfortunately, creator Terry Cavanaugh has not made another platformer since; his only other paid title since this one is the amazing but impossibly hard arcade-style title Super Hexagon. That game is great even if I’ll probably never be anything other than terrible at it, but I’d love to see him make another platformer. The game is available for PC, Mac, and Linux on Steam; as always you get all three versions for one purchase.


Volgarr The Viking (2013, WinXP+) – 1 player, saves (optionally), gamepad supported. Volgarr the Viking is a Rastan-inspired 2d pixel-art sidescrolling action-platformer. The character style, controls, and core gameplay all come straight from Rastan crossed with Super Ghouls and Ghosts. Rastan is a hard game but SG&G is excessively difficult in my opinion, to the point where I don’t like the game much, and this game is right up there with it in challenge but manages to be fun anyway. As much as I do like this game when I can manage to stay alive, the difficulty is oppressively high. You play as a barbarian guy wearing not much, much like Rastan, and have to get through a succession of very hard levels along your quest. The controls are simple, just right for this kind of game. Volgarr can jump, swing his sword, and throw spears. And not only that, but like in Super Ghouls & Ghosts, you have a double jump but have zero air control, so you need to plan jumps carefully. Air control is nice, but you get used to these jumps with practice. Additionally, hitting down plus attack will do a downward attack to hit enemies or blocks below you, a button rolls forwards, and your throwing spears are not only an attack but will stick into walls to make platforms you can stand on as well. The controls are tight and very responsive, thankfully. because you die if you are hit when not upgraded. Those upgrades come from chests you will find along the way in each level. The first gives you a shield which can block two hits before breaking; the second, if you reach it with your shield intact, gives you a helmet that gives you an extra hit; and the last gives you a fire sword that is more powerful than your basic weapon. Getting hit when fully upgraded drops you down to just having the shield, though. And when you die, you go back to the start of the current section of the level. Levels generally are broken up into two parts, with the boss at the end of the second part… and no, the boss is not a separate part, so die at the boss and you have to redo the whole last long section of the level in order to get another chance. It’s intentional and incredibly annoying, just like the absence of additional checkpoints is.

So as that suggests, Volgarr is an oppressively hard game based entirely around memorization. Each level section is a lengthy linear path, and your goal is to memorize exactly what you should do at each moment in order to defeat your enemies as quickly as possible, avoid obstacles, and move forward. This is a classic-styled game, with level designs and challenges very similar to arcade platform-action games of the later ’80s to early ’90s, and there is a lot to like as you slowly learn each one as the levels are well thought through and carefully designed. Every challenge can be surpassed if you are able to do the right action at the right moment. You will face armies of lizardmen of various colors, spike traps, faces that shoot arrows at you, bottomless pits, plants spitting acid at you, and much more. The first level has a tropical jungle temple theme, interesting for a game starring a Viking, but it works and looks great. Each of the six levels has a different setting and enemy selection, and the challenge just gets higher as you go. The sprite art here, for both backgrounds and characters, is all really good work, just as good or better than those from most classic ’80s or ’90s platformers. There are some nice effects here and there as well, such as transparent waterfalls. The foreboding and yet adventurous music, with jungle drums and other sounds, is great, and the sound effects are really good as well. This game has some very good presentation. But then you die again, and are reminded that Volgarr’s basic design philosophy is “git gud or don’t bother playing”, and that is problematic for a lot of ways, including that not everyone is equally good at this kind of very demanding game, that some people may want to see the later parts without having to put in the extreme amounts of effort required and that is just fine, and such. There’s a lot to love here but also some serious issues.

The problem is, I rarely feel like I have much choice in this game; you just memorize what to do, then try to execute that if you can. The ‘there is one correct thing to do at each moment’ memorization is perhaps not quite as strict as it is in Splatterhouse 2 for the Genesis, but that is what most of this game is, and when you mess up, as mentioned previously, you are harshly punished. As much as I like the aesthetic and do find the game addictive for a while, the excessively high difficulty level loses me after a while and I have never gotten past early in the second level of this game, because by the time I finally beat the first boss I had had about enough. At least if you manage to beat a whole level the game does save that and let you continue from that point, but you cannot continue from those mid-level checkpoints if you quit the game, you will need to start over. With how long levels are in this game that is a real problem. And to add insult to injury, if you want the good “A” ending, you cannot save at all and need to play the game in one sitting, and without taking much damage either as there is a whole alternate level path if you can beat levels fully upgraded! of course, this does not carry over if you “skip levels” as they call it to start from somewhere other than the beginning of the game. There’s oldschool and then there is just obnoxious, and I think this game, like SG&G, crosses that line. Overall Volgarr the Viking is one part a fantastic, very well designed classic-style action-platformer with great controls, very difficult but also very well designed levels, addictive gameplay, and good graphics, sound, and music… and one part exceptionally difficult and frustrating game that hates you designed by a guy who requires the player to no-hit-clear the game in one sitting with no saves if they want the good ending. If you are either very good at games or into masochistically hard games Volgarr the Viking is an easy recommendation, play it now! If you aren’t, maybe give it a look; so far I have still only gotten to the first half of the second level of this game, but despite that I really like the game anyway, despite the designers’ unfortunate and frustrating “get good or don’t play” attitude. Also available, as a digital download only, for the Playstation 4, Xbox One, Nintendo 3DS, and Playstation Vita. There is also a free, but officially-sanctioned, Sega Dreamcast version available for download if you want, which you can burn to a disc and play. I’ve tried the DC version and it is a good, very faithful port, lower-resolution graphics aside of course. They could have sold it I’m sure, there is a market for retail DC homebrew games, so it’s very cool they released it for free.

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Article Updates Again

I haven’t written summaries recently, though the next update of that list shouldn’t take too much longer, but I have continued updating my old Game Opinion Summary articles with Table of Contents lists that link each summary, and also putting those direct links in the site’s main Table of Contents page as well, since that’s far better than having to find the summary in the article on your own.

This time, the Nintendo 64 and Sega CD lists have been updated. I did the N64 list several days back, but am only mentioning it now that I also finished a second one. The N64 list is just the usual links addition with some spelling fixes, but in addition to those, in the SCD list I also improve the way I do images, to have the comments and image in a captioned box instead of just a picture with text underneath. This way looks a lot nicer.

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