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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More Updated Old Posts

So, continuing on my work of adding hyperlinks into all of my old Game Opinion Summary posts/lists, adding a table of contents with links to all titles in the article, plus direct links to each game in the Table of Contents page. The Game Boy, SNES, PC Racing Games, and Atari 2600/7800 lists all now have those features added. Unlike with the Saturn list I mentioned in the last update though, with these I just added the links and fixed a few spelling mistakes, not more, beyond fixing two broken image links in the 2600/7800 list. That’s all that is really needed here, I think.

Posted in Atari 2600, Atari 7800, Classic Games, Game Boy, SNES, Updates | Tagged , , , , , | Leave a comment

Old Article Updates

So after for years just not wanting to deal with how time-consuming it would be, I’ve finally started updating my old Game Opinion Summary articles to add in a Table of Contents with links to all of the titles in that article. I’ve started from the beginning, so the Saturn article now has these features. It took a while, but it makes the article easier to navigate.

While I’m at it I’m also checking my old articles for spelling errors again, and found a few and corrected them. I’ve also made it so the web links in a few early reviews, those from before the Saturn summaries article, are now actually links. Additionally, while looking back at them, I’ve made some improvements to the text here and there; in particular I’ve tried to remove parenthesis in all those places where I like to put entire sentences in them, because even if these articles are not copy-edited, at least I can do this. I haven’t actually changed the contents of the summaries, however, with only one exception: in the Saturn article, I made repeated mentions of “2.5d” fighting games when referring to titles like Virtua Fighter which are in a 3d arena, but don’t let you move in 3d with the up and down or shoulder buttons, but instead only shift in 3d with attacks. I much prefer fighting games to allow you to move in directly instead of only with moves, but even so they really are not truly 2.5d — that term should be reserved for games which play exclusively on a 2d plane in their gameplay, such as Street Fighter IV and such for instance, not for titles like these which have 3d shifting in attacks but not moves. I don’t like making content changes to older articles, but this is something I should have changed years ago really.

But anyway, most of the work here was in implementing the links. I will continue with this despite how long it takes, though I probably won’t make a post like this for every article I update, as there are quite a few.

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The Issues of Kickstarter Crowdfunding, and Crowdfunding and Digital versus Physical Game Preservation

There are two sections to this article, each separate but related. Both are issues I’ve been thinking about for some time, but the release of Torment: Tides of Numanera reminded me of some of them again, so here I have written out my current thoughts on this important way of getting games funded.

The Issues of Kickstarter Crowdfunding


Sometime around 2010, I wrote an article called “The Death of PC Gaming”. I only posted it on forums and not on my site, and never have posted it here because it is now quite outdated, but in it I describe how much I miss the PC gaming industry of the ’90s, something which in the ’00s went away forever. I bemoaned that most North American game development had gone to consoles only, excepting only MMO-focused studios, and such. And I also said that while digital game storefronts such as Steam were good, I didn’t think that they could reach casuals as well as having actual physical products on store shelves could. That is still a potential issue, but in the years since Steam and other digital PC gaming storefronts such as GOG have expanded incredibly.

And getting to the point, so has Western PC-focused game development. Some of this comes from small indie studios, who have a better chance to find an audience on digital platforms than most could back in the ’90s, but some comes from Kickstarter, a website that pioneered a concept called crowdfunding. For those who don’t know, crowdfunding sites like Kickstarter, Indiegogo, and Fig allow people to give someone money in order to help them make something, in this case a videogame. The person or company puts up a campaign, with details about the project they want to make, and sets a funding goal, and then they have 30 days to try to raise that amount of money from the general public. When you buy into a game you are called a ‘backer’, and do not get a financial stake in it, unless you back Fig projects at a high enough level, but are promised rewards from the developer once the game releases, including the game, various Kickstarter-exclusive physical products, and more. These services had been around for a bit, but in 2011, Tim Schaefer had the idea of bringing back the classic PC adventure game by a Kickstarter, because no game publisher would fund such a project. The project took off and did great, and I did back it at a low backing tier that got me a digital copy of the game.

In the years since, Kickstarter and such have become important pieces of the game creation world, allowing games to exist that never would have gotten funded otherwise. That is fantastic, and I do not regret backing the several dozen games I have supported on Kickstarter. However, as time passes and more of those projects, even some of the long-delayed ones, finally have released, that Kickstarter has some issues has become more and more apparent. I love that games that could not exist otherwise now have a way of getting the funding they need to get that funding and release, but for the backer, except for projects that are just short of their goal and need some help to get there, it is much harder today to see the benefit of backing games unless you just want to feel good about supporting a developer’s product.

I can break up the major issues I currently have with crowdfunding games into four or five different categories.

1) First, you will usually pay more than you would for the same game if you get it on sale sometime after launch. This we’ve always known, but for games that have succeeded in meeting their funding goal and thus are sure to see development continue, it discourages me from backing them because what’s the benefit to me for doing so now? Not much, really, unless you’re investing in a Fig game with enough money to actually get returns, since being able to do that is Fig’s main selling point, but even there the economics are apparently not great unless the game in question sells very well since the minimum investment is high. I know that backing a Kickstarter is not technically making a purchase, but the promised reward is the only thing the backer gets back for their money, so the value-for-the-money issue is important. Is it worth backing a game a few years before its release, for more money than the game will cost at or soon after launch, just to support a project you like from early on even if it’s well past its funding goal before the campaign finishes so the game is sure to enter development and, if the developer does their work, complete?

As much as I said earlier that I don’t regret backing the crowdfunded games I have supported, there are a few where I know I spent more than I would have on those games had I bought them after launch, and I didn’t get anything for that that I wouldn’t have gotten afterwards either in most cases. The concept of supporting small developers is great, and Kickstarter is important because publishers are still not funding a lot of the kinds of games that Kickstarter helps people get funding for such as small indie games and mid-sized titles of the type that have mostly died off, but when you get no real benefit back from spending your money that way it does make it harder to convince me to spend on more similar projects. For people who have enough money to be able to spend it freely this is not an issue, but for everyone else, the issue of Kickstarter’s value proposition is a tough one. On the one hand these games need to exist somehow and won’t otherwise, so if everyone holds off on backing these games and they fail to fund they probably simply will never get made, and that would be really terrible. Someone needs to bite the bullet and support these games regardless of value! But on the other hand, once that funding is there and the game releases, backers regularly lose out versus people who cared less about that game and did not back it. I don’t know what the solution to this conundrum is. There is one thing out there to help encourage people to back games, however: backer-exclusive rewards.

2) Backer-exclusive rewards are a great way to encourage people to back a crowdfunding project. Instead of just getting the same thing as people who buy the game when they release, you can get something that later buyers either never will be able to get in the case of a digital reward or, in the case of physical rewards, would need to find a backer to buy the thing from. These are great, but occasionally even these have drawbacks. If you do back a game at a physical-product tier, there is no guarantee that there won’t be a better physical product released around time of launch that costs less, but you won’t get unless you buy the game again. Torment: Tides of Numanera is a good example of this. Torment: Tides of Numanera had a successful Kickstarter back in early 2013, and is just releasing around the time t his article was written. I did back the kickstarter, I should disclose, at a tier that should get me the backers’ collector’s edition of the game. Some time after the kickstarter ended, however, the developer InXile made a deal with Techland for console and physical PC releases of the game. Some time later, and not publicly, InXile allowed Techland to make their own collectors’ edition of the game… which turns out to be both cheaper than the one backers were offered years earlier and, depending on who you asks, might come with better stuff. The backer edition is not being changed to include the retail collector’s edition’s extras, either. Since the backers collectors’ edition is not out yet it’s impossible to directly compare them, but this definitely does not exactly encourage me to back more crowdfunding campaigns, if what you’re getting is kind of worse than something that costs less and doesn’t require you paying for something long before you know how good it will actually be.

To be more specific about the differences between versions in the case of Torment: Tides of Numanera, the biggest difference between the two versions is that the backer CE includes a thicker manual, cloth map, and printed collection of some/all of the novellas written in this games’ world, while the Techland retail CE includes a thinner manual (difference is not clear yet), paper map, steelbook case, and a statuette. The retail CE statue is quite a bit smaller than the statue that you could get in the Kickstarter, but you had to back the game at the $1200 level to get that backer statue, while the retail one is in a box that costs less than the statue-less backer CE. I do like the extras only included in the backer CE and don’t collect game statues so this isn’t a huge issue for me personally, and I understand how it happened, but still it discourages me from backing future InXile games when I know that I’m likely to get something about as good for less money when the game releases, and by that point you can know if it’s a game you really want to play anyway, something much harder to do before it’s been made. But regardless of the contents, for various reasons Kickstarter rewards often don’t arrive until well after the games’ digital release, which brings us to the next issue.

3) Physical backer copies of crowdfunded often take quite some time to arrive, so your “reward” for backing the game at that tier is either having to just play the game digitally, or wait weeks or more before you can play the game. THere are some projects which offer backer-exclusive beta access to games if you buy in at a high enough tier, but I suually would rahter play a game once it’s done, so I don’t go for those. There are good reasons for physical rewards to be delayed, but it is annoying and frustrating, and sometimes unfair to the backers as well. The main causes of this are that fulfilling backer rewards can be expensive and time-consuming, and developers may not have the time or money to do that before release, and that developers may want to wait for a patch or fully finished version of the game to finish before they release a physical disc copy of the game for titles that promised such a thing, and this may not happen until some time after launch. There may also be issues finding something for some piece of promised physical merchandise too, who knows.

I have multiple examples of delayed physical rewards, including Pillars of Eternity, Torment: Tides of Numanera, and in the worst case, one where the rewards never actually shipped in the first place even though the game released digitally some time back, Mighty Number 9. The reasons for these delays are understandable in most cases, though Mighty No. 9 never shipping many of its physical rewards and failing to send people the things they backed the game for is inexcusable. Even in the cases where the rewards do eventually show up though, it can be harder to convince yourself to buy in to a higher physical-reward tier of a kickstarter when you know that it won’t be there until some time after launch and you’ll probably end up playing the same digital copy of the game as everyone else anyway. Still, so long as that the stuff shows up eventually, it is pretty cool to have exclusive things like Wasteland 2’s big box version, or, for a game not from Kickstarter or another site like it but that I also had top pre-purchase before its release, the physical box and poster that came with Gaijin Works’ English release of Summon Night 5. That stuff’s great… so long as it shows up, Mighty No. 9. That game is okay, but not shipping rewards is inexcusable! But anyway, getting back to the issue of delays because of waiting for a completed game or its patches, after the numbered section of this list, see below for a separate section on some issues physical rewards and digital content raise for gaming preservation and ownership. This is one of gaming’s most important issues, and crowdfunded games have some tough decisions to make about which way they should go with them. Crowdfunding is risky and anyone backing projects knows it, and it is sometimes worth the risk, though. But do be careful about what you back. The next point is related to this.

4) Because you’re backing a game before most of its development, there’s no way to know if the game you are supporting will actually end up being any good or not, or, as mentioned above, if you will actually get everything you paid for or not. Sometimes you don’t, and unless you sue over it there’s nothing you can do about that. Some crowdfunded games have totally collapsed and failed to produce anything at all, but I’ve avoided those; you can usually tell the seriously questionable ones from their pitches. Apart from that, the best example of a failure of this point is of course Mighty No. 9. The game did come out… but again, backers who backed the project at physical-product tiers? They never actually shipped most of that stuff, the physical boxes and such for example that they claimed they’d make. Sorry, you wasted your money and got nothing for it if you backed those. Spending your money and then getting nothing for it except for broken promises is really awful.

In the case of Mighty No. 9, though, even people who only backed the game at a digital tier were disappointed by it, because the game was nowhere near as great as originally promised. If it had been a more normal game release, paid for by a publisher, it still would have been disappointing, but not quite as much so as it was as this crowdfunded Kickstarter project that failed to live up to expectations. I do not think that one failed Kickstarter project shows that the whole service is bad, but before backing something do your homework about the developers involved and the project, and know that sometimes the game you back won’t be as good once finished as it seemed in the pitch. It is often hard to tell how good a game is going to be until it’s finished, you can’t tell that up front when it is approved.


5)
Stretch Goals help increase funding, but may never be completed because of how game development works. Once a popular Kickstarter game has been funded, developers often start promising additional things once the game reaches a certain level of funding. The problem is, since these promises come during the campaign, before most game development has acually been done in most cases, because games change during development those promises may be broken in the final game. This is the case in Torment: Tides of Numanera, but it is one of many; another one that comes to mind is A Hat in Time, which made stretch-goal promises for its soundtrack that were not fulfilled. In Torment: Tides of Numanera, some people are upset because during development InXile cut or scaled back some of the content they promised in stretch goals… and then didn’t talk about some of it publicly. Those changes were only discovered when people started data-mining the data as they started to get it closer to release. InXile has apologized for that, but that’s not great; publishers should tell people about goals which will not be fulfilled, and say why. The game only exists because of people giving you this money, and they deserve to know this.

Now, because game development is difficult and games change while in development, I fully understand why the changes happened, and don’t mind them myself. The problem with very specific Kickstarter stretch goals is that you’re committing to a specific featureset before you’ve gotten far enough in development to know how the game will actually end up once you’ve worked on it more. You see this in plenty of Kickstarter games both major and minor. It’s always unfortunate, but this stuff always happens in games, it’s just better known here because crowdfunded games are publicly open in a way that game development almost never is. So yeah, while it’s too bad, I don’t mind these changes if the final game is great. I’m not sure how developers can avoid this problem; specific stretch goals help drive excitement and increase funding, which helps regardless of if that goal’s text is reached, but there’s no way to know which ones are actually deliverable that early… so yeah, not sure there, but again personally I don’t mind this; for me, of these five numbered issues, this is by far the least important. But regardless it is an issue, only I’m not sure what the best solution is. It would probably be best to not overpromise in your stretch goals, but what’s worse, some irritated backers in a year or two, or less money up front? Both have their plusses and minuses, so I can see why many crowdfunded projects still promise many specific stretch goals, but I am sure some of those will never happen.


So, in the past year-plus I’ve backed almost nothing on these services, versus a bunch of stuff in the several years before that. I don’t regret backing most of those things, and some did get me exclusive physical rewards you can’t get elsewhere, but between the costs, risks, and issues with some of those physical rewards, it’s usually not worth it, I think. I will back a kickstarter if it’s something really interesting and the campaign is maybe not going to make its goal, because if it fails maybe that game never gets made at all, but something like a Wasteland 3 or Pillars of Eternity 2? I backed both of the previous games in those series, but not the new ones for those reasons. There absolutely are Kickstarter projects worth supporting, and again games like those need to exist and I love that there are people who do want to back them, but as I have outlined above there are issues with Kickstarter that make it a questionable value proposition, particularly when you’re talking about games that are comfortably funded like those. Is it worth paying $15 or $50 or what have you for a copy of a game you could get for a fraction of that on sale on Steam a few months after its release, if it ends up being good? I do like crowdfunding, but I will probably continue to only occasionally back projects. Kickstarter is an exciting idea which has helped resurrect the mid-tier game and that is incredibly important, and crowdfunded games like Distance and, despite its issues, Pillars of Eternity have been among my favorite PC games in recent years, so I really dislike that I’m being so critical here. Those games need to exist, but financially it is hard to justify backing a lot of them instead of buying them after release.


Crowdfunding and Digital versus Physical Game Preservation


This is the second section of this article. Relating to point three of the first section above, my biggest case of a delayed physical reward from a crowdfunding project that eventually did arrive is Pillars of Eternity, and this leads into another major issue in gaming today, game preservation. Unlike the other points on this list, this one is not an issue with crowdfunding, it is an issue with gaming in general. I still want to discuss it though, and it is about Kickstarter so it fits here. I waited until months after the digital release for the physical box (regular, not collectors’) backer-edition copy of Pillars of Eternity to finally ship. There were several reasons for this. First, developers Obsidian had promised a fully DRM-free game you could just install from the disc and play, as it is with classic games. So, in order to avoid needing a big day-one patch and having a very incomplete game on the disc, Obsidian decided to wait until after the game was really done before they made the discs, which meant they couldn’t start making discs until launch day, since games today aren’t finished until release and cover for this with annoyingly large day-one patches. It’s unfortunate that things have gotten to this point, and it’d be great if we could get back to having games actually launch after they are finished instead of the moment they are done, but what do you do as a developer, delay getting income from a game for weeks because you’re waiting to make discs for backers, or release the game? You might have budgets you can only meet with that income, or something, you never know; being an independent developer is difficult. This wasn’t the only negative element about Pillars of Eternity’s physical box version, I will get to its other major issue later, but it is an important one.

So, between waiting for the patch, producing copies of the games and boxes for something that is only for backers and will not be sold in stores in this form, and shipping them, this led to delays in delivery of the physical rewards. This is a common issue, and indeed, Torment: Tides of Numanera just released digitally, but physical copies have not shipped yet and probably will not for several weeks at least. I hope it doesn’t take too long. Backers wanting to finally play the game they spent money on some time ago could just install the Steam/GOG key and play that in the interim, but then as far as the game itself goes and not the physical stuff, what was the point of spending enough to get a box? There are three ways to solve this issue: either you set up your own separate service for patches, addons, and what have you; only allow people to play the base game DRM-free but require Steam or GOG purchases or keys for addons, DLC, multiplayer, and such; or you ship a physical copy of the game that includes a Steam key and requires Steam to run, so it’s basically the same as a digital copy just with a box.

The problem with that last option is that one of the reasons to want a physical boxed copy of the game is not only to have a physical product, but also to own an actual, real copy of the game. When you “own” something digitally, you do not actually own that game; you just own a licence to access that data on that service’s server. If that service goes down, well, you may lose access to everything on that service, which is not good. Additionally, for game perservation purposes, actual physical copies of full, complete games are ideal. All of the patches, addons, and such that exist digitally today are great while these services work, but once they go down entire sections of gaming will cease to exist. Just look at consoles with shut-down online play services for examples of this, such as the Wii and DS most recently. I’d love to play some of those games online again, but you can’t really for the most part; there is a homebrew effort to replace it, but good luck finding anyone to play with outside of SSB Brawl or such, I’m sure.

So, the promise of a full game on a disc was a good idea… but all of that digital stuff I was just talking about is an integral part of games now, and a lot of that stuff launches after release. Pillars of Eternity is not a DLC-heavy game, but it has one major DLC expansion, and Obsidian’s solution was to only allow backers who had backed the ‘get the expansion’ tier to be able to download the addon for the physical release of the game. Since they do have a menu system there you would think that they could offer the addon there for backers to buy, but for some awful reason that never happened, so anyone who did not back the game years before its release at a ‘get the addon’ tier, that disc copy is pretty much useless if you want to play the full product. They did release a few patches for the physical release downloadable by everyone, but not the expansion. I really wanted to play the game from the disc copy I’d backed, but unfortunately that is not possible.

That’s worse than Pillars on a DRM standpoint, but better from an addons standpoint, because at least you won’t have the problem here that that game does. And I see that PoEII does not promise “DRM-free” in its physical-box tier, so they’re clearly giving up on it too. That’s kind of too bad, since tying your game to a digital store that may or may not continue to exist is kind of annoying, but with all the integration those stores have, what choice do developers have? Buying addons, DLC, playing multiplayer, etc. in a truly separate DRM-free copy of the game would require the dev to set up a whole separate infrastructure for that after all, which both kind of defeats the purpose of having everything on the disc and may be impossible depending on the developers’ financial condition. It’s kind of sad that modern gaming is so deeply tied to these systems which can just go away, but you can’t just ship everything on a disc at launch and be done with it anymore and retail expansion packs are a thing of the past, so this is kind of an impossible situation. I want both complete games on discs, and things like online leaderboards and multiplayer, patches, expansions, and the like, and this requires online services of some kind. Even if you make discs for your game, you can’t have all of that stuff with some kind of service that is not only on the disc.

In conclusion, we need a better way of backing all of this up for future preservation’s sake, but it’s hard to see how we get there. Being able to play games as they were in the future after those services go offline, in a way that is impossible for so many games already, is incredibly important. But what is the solution? Saying ‘if you want me to fund you on Kickstarter you can’t do those things’ is unreasonable; developers should not be expected to not make money off of their game after release just because they went to Kickstarter. Crowdfunding will not get enough money to make a big-budget game, so even aiming below that, developers often need funding beyond just what the campaign brings in, so denying them additional post-launch revenue streams would not work out. I do not like DRM or exploitative cash shop stuff at all, but when you like a game you often want to see more content for it, and people need to have a way of getting that stuff and attaching it to the game. As Pillars shows, without a service like Steam or GOG that can be difficult for developers to do on their own.

Outside of just Kickstarter, the bigger problem is, how do you square the desire for online multiplayer and leaderboards, friends lists, and the like with the need to preserve games for the future? This industry doesn’t really have an answer for this at the moment, unfortunately. Developers are always focused on their current or next thing instead of the past, since that is what makes them money, so they don’t try to answer it, and the people who do are struggling because of how integrated online content is now. It would be best if there was some way of having physical copies of game with all of their DLC included on DRM-free discs, releasing some time after the original release of course, but while this does happen for the occaisonal game here and there, many other games fall through the cracks and that’s a tragedy. Whatever can be done to preserve games so that they can be played in the future needs to be, regardless of how hard it is. So, as great as the concept of that Pillars of Eternity DRM-free disc was, in the end what is needed the most is not that, it is a better way of getting a way to back up Steam and the content on it. Having DRM-free options is important, and this is a plus for GOG for instance since its games are not tied to a server once you download them, but at least right now if these are the only two choices, I’d rather have a developer say ‘sorry, Steam only’ than ‘sorry, you can’t play the expansion unless you play it on Steam’. PoE II’s crowdfunding campaing seems to have taken that latter direction. For this industry in general though, whether it is Steam, GOG, Xbox Live, or PSN, we badly need full backups of all of that stuff outside of the companies that run them, and separate backups of every revision of every game, or else that data will be lost forever, like so much already has been! You can’t have history without the historical artifacts and works that tell you what that history is, and that game data are those artifacts.

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PC Platformers Game Opinion Summaries, Part 12: Digital-Download 2d games (Part 9)

Six summaries again this time, and it took a little longer than I wanted, but all six summaries are fairly long and detailed so I think I used the time well. Five of these six games are not the best known titles and have some issues, but all five are interesting each in their own way. The other… is the massively popular game Terraria, so most people surely know of it, and anyone with any idea of my taste in games can probably understand why it’s probably my least favorite 2d platformer I have covered so far for this list.

Table of Contents

Tobari and the Night of the Curious Moon (2012)
Taimumari (2015)
Team Indie (2014)
Terraria (2011)
Terrian Saga: KR-17 (2014)
They Bleed Pixels (2012)


Tobari and the Night of the Curious Moon (2012 Japan release, though the worldwide Steam release was in 2015) – 1 player, saves, gamepad supported. Tobari and the Night of the Curious Moon is an anime-styled platformer from Desunoya, a Japanese indie developer. You play as Tobari, a schoolgirl magic-user at an anime girls’ high school which has some odd, and magical, things going on. As the name suggests, night has suddenly fallen on this school even though it is daytime, and you need to figure out what is going on and why. Along the way Tobari will encounter various people from the school trying to slow her down, but this is not a particularly serious game, so it is as much comedy as drama. The gameplay is the main focus here, though, not the story, and that’s just how it should be. In terms of gameplay, Tobari is a conventional platformer with a somewhat Kirby-styled design, a moderate challenge, an overworld map of levels that unlock as you go, levels with secrets and hidden exits to find that unlock side things on the map, and more. There is definitely fun to be had here, but unfortunately the game also has extremely floaty controls that significantly hold the game back.

The controls and gameplay here are simple. As in many platformers you attack with your currently-equipped spell, or your magical staff, with one button and jump with another. Your attack is unique and jump is horribly floaty, but you kind of get used to it over time. Beyond that, you also have a ‘walk’ button to move slowly. You can have two different spells at a time, and there is also a button to switch to the other spell, and another one to drop the currently equipped spell item. There is no limit to how often you can use a spell here, though a few do have recharge time. As in a Kirby game, many different spells are available in most any level, and you have to choose which spells you want to take with you, either for combat or for level traversal. Now, when you do not have a spell equipped in a slot, you attack with that close-range staff mentioned earlier. It works well, and if you hit certain enemies with the staff they drop a magic item which will fill that spell slot with that spell. You can only attack with the staff if an empty slot is currently equipped, however; otherwise that spell replaces it. This is somewhat similar to Kirby, but can be annoying at times when you forget that you have a non-combat spell equipped and get hit. You can also jump on enemies’ heads to damage them, unless they have spiked or electric defenses of course, but you can only get magic powerups to drop if you hit enemies with your staff, so be sure to avoid jumping on any foe you want a power from, it won’t drop! Additionally, landing on them properly can be difficult with these controls, so your staff or magic are better options. You can take three hits per life by default, and there are health-refilling hearts scattered around the levels, fortunately. Levels also have checkpoints, though if you run out of lives and get Game Over you will need to restart the level.

The magic system is the core of the game. Otherwise the gameplay system is conventional stuff, but I like playing as a mage with multiple spells in a platformer, that isn’t something that happens nearly often enough! Each spell is significantly different as well. There aren’t a huge number of them, but there are enough for a good amount of variety, including a fireball, a broom which jets you straight forward a good distance, a double jump which can be tricky to use since you have to jump the first time with your regular jump button and then the second time with the attack button, lightning which hits things a bit in front of you at any elevation, a weird ball-magic form you can end up in that makes the controls even more frustrating, and more. Unlike in Kirby games though, you cannot take powers from one stage to the next; instead, you start each level with just your default attack. This is good because you know that all areas in a stage can be reached with the powers available in that stage, if you just figure out how. And there are things to collect here, most notably money. Each stage also has a hidden moon symbol item to find, if you want. There are shops in levels and, if you unlock them by finding hidden exits in stages, the overworld where you can buy things. Shops in levels sell powers, health extensions, and sometimes checkpoints. These are cheap, but temporary, as as usual you lose all of it when you finish the stage. Overworld shops sell saves, some other powerups, extra lives, and such. It all works, and it’s easy to get lots of money in this game either by grinding in levels or just through regular play, so the temporary nature of most purchases is fine.

Level designs in Tobari nad the Night of the Curious Moon are solid, if standard, fare. This is a tile-based game with a fairly generic doujin-game look, as the sprite art is nice, but environments are extremely basic things mostly just made of plain blocks, and backgrounds are forgettably generic. The music is fine. Levels scroll in all four directions and are moderate in length, so the game keeps the pace moving at a good clip. Despite the controls this game is only average in challenge at most unless you want to get everything, and I’m fine with that.Also the challenge does go up as you progress of course. There are also occasional boss fights. They’re traditional hit-the-big-baddie affairs, but bosses do thankfully have on-screen health bars, so you don’t need to guess how much damage you need to do. Things like timer switches also have on-screen bars showing how long they will last, which is great. The side areas full of money and harder-to-find hidden moon icons or occasional secret exits make you want to revisit stages to look for areas you missed the first time, too, if you don’t quit because of the controls that is. Some of those secret areas are harder to reach than they should be, since landing precision jumps onto moving enemies is both difficult with how floaty the controls are, and high-stakes, since dead enemies in this game stay dead until you restart the level, so if you jump on an enemy but miss the jump, you’ll need to quit and restart to get another shot at that. I usually prefer having enemies stay dead, but here it’s actually annoying sometimes; maybe certain foes should have respawned, while the others stay dead. Ah well.

Overall, I want to like Tobari and the Night of the Curious Moon, but it has issues. On the good side, the female protagonist, magic system, Kirby influences from one of my favorite platformer franchises, and some of the level designs are pretty good. I also like that this game is moderate in challenge, instead of the crushing difficulties of so many retro-style platformers. However, the extremely floaty controls make any precision difficult, and I’m not sure if I will stick with this game to the end. You will often have to restart levels because you accidentally jumped on an enemy you meant to attack with your staff, or because you missed a jump and fell in a pit yet again, and such. The plain graphics, sprites aside, could be better as well. Still, I like this game despite its flaws, and there is enough good here that the game is definitely worth a look, particularly for anime or Kirby fans. It’s above average and can be fun.


Taimumari (2015) – 1 player, saves, gamepad supported (xinput only). Taimumari is another difficult retro-styled indie platformer with anime-esque pixel-art graphics, though unlike the above title this game is Western. Though this is a somewhat obscure title with a mixed reception, I found it surprisingly good! Inspired more than anything by Mega Man but with some original touches, Taimumari is tough bug good. This is a low-budget game with some flaws and a sometimes quite frustrating difficulty level, but if you like classic-styled platformers there is some good fun to be had here. In this Western anime-styled game, you play as a female mage with animal ears who has to save her world from villains who are going to destroy it by messing with the time stream. The story tries for something a little different, but it’s not all that complex, and some seems poorly translated into English as well. The game also tries for some sex appeal in its promo pictures and such which is not reflective of the game itself, which has tiny little sprites and no actual ingame content like that promo pic; was it really necessary? Ah well.

Fortunately, the gameplay is better than the presentation. Taimumari has both challenging platform jumping and melee or ranged combat, so there is some variety here. The heroine has a melee-ranged sword for her main attack, and you can also double jump and do an air dash, Mega Man X-style. Additionally you can slide down and jump off of walls, though oddly there is no visual representation of that in the game. You also have a magic meter, and can use a defenseive shield spell with one button, or one of several attack spells with another. You can switch between offensive magic spells with a separate button, and will find more in the levels as you play. Each spell is a bit different, so get them all! They can use the meter up quickly, but it does recharge fairly quickly. You have a health meter as well, and that does not refill unless you find one of the scattered health-refill pickups. You also have limited lives, and if you run out you will need to restart the current level from the beginning again. This is definitely a punishment because again, while Taimumari is a somewhat short game, with only four levels and then a final sequence of Wily’s Tower-like stages, it is also very challenging. The controls are responsive and mostly work well. Usually hits and deaths feel deserved, and for the most part I like the way this game controls. The double jump and dash give you good maneuverability, as you can travel across a lot of screen without touching the ground. Wall jumps allow you to extend this even farther. You will take unfair hits every once in a while and your hitbox can be large, but just stay away from threats and you should avoid damage… though that can be much easier said than done, as enemies in this game like to shoot large amounts of stuff at you that will be tricky to dodge. There are also some cruel instant-death-spike-trap mazes to navigate. Still, it plays well. The controls in general feel fine but average, in that ‘probably made in Game Maker or such’ way. On that note, the wall-jump thing is oddly implemented; instead of a normal wall-jump where you have to be sliding down the wall to jump off of it or something like that, this game just resets your invisible double-jump ‘meter’ whenever you’re within a tile of a wall or platform, I think. You can also press over to slow your descent, but you don’t need to do that to jump. This is more generous than most double jump systems, but it can get weird at times, and just being able to infinitely jump when next to a wall looks odd since there is no visual cue.

On the note of the levels, Taimumari has some pretty good level designs. This is a traditional classic-style game, with linear, left-to-right stages you will need to navigate through that are loaded with enemies to slice up and pits to jump over. Along the way, though, the game keeps mixing things up and throwing new challenges at you. I like the games’ varied level designs, as you will face everything from wind blowing you around over death pits and tricky enemy placements that may be tough to kill before they shoot at you, to straight platform-action segments where you run along and slash baddies. The game does rely perhaps a little too heavily on instant-death spikes at times, and be sure to never touch any part of a spike because you will die instantly, but for the most part the level designs here are strong.

The game has fairly basic graphics and sound. This is a fairly plain-looking game with basic tile-based sprite graphics. Excepting bosses sprites are tiny, and they are not particularly detailed for the most part. The backgrounds look nice, and I do like some of the sprites, but visually this game is a quite average indie effort. Additionally, animation is lacking; while you have a wall-slide and can jump off walls at will, there is no visual representation of either of those, so you just need to know that if you’re falling by a wall, pressing over towards the wall slows down your fall, again with no ‘slide’ animation or anything, and you can jump as well. I’m sure it’d be trickier to do, but I really wish the game had a wall-slide animation, it’d help. Otherwise animations are basic and minimal. Still, otherwise visually the game looks fine, and there is a decent amount of variety between levels, as each of the six stages has a very different look and some exclusive enemies as well. The sound is the expected chiptune stuff you expect from this kind of game. It’s decent to good, sometimes bland and sometimes catchy. No issues there. This is a hard game for sure and it has some very frustrating parts at times, and the graphics have limitations and the presentation is clearly very low-budget, but Taimumari is a good, classic-styled platformer with solid controls, gameplay, and stages. It’s worth a look for the right price, if you want a lesser-known difficult retro-styled platformer to play.


Team Indie (2014) – 1 player, saves, gamepad supported (xinput only). Team Indie, from Brightside Games, is a nice-looking puzzle-platformer with a time mechanic starring an original cat character, but also featuring the stars of ten indie games, from fairly popular characters such as Commander Video from the Bit.Trip series and Tim from Braid to lesser ones like Jitters from The Great Jitters: Pudding Panic. That may sound gimmicky, but the game actually has a good concept for using all these characters, as you go through each stage using multiple characters that you switch between at certain points. This is a nonviolent platformer with jumping and puzzle elements. It has new ideas, particularly in the puzzles, and while it isn’t an amazing game it is fun.

Team Indie has simple controls which mostly work well, rare glitches aside, but each character controls differently so I’m not going to list all eleven. The game uses two main action buttons and the d-pad for movement. There are also buttons that stay the same, one to rewind to the previous characters’ level segment and another to pause. The main character is a cat called Marvin, and you must reach level exits as Marvin to complete them so you spend the most time as him. Levels are made up of collections of floating platforms in traditonal videogame style, with scattered collectables, character-switch icons, and switches which enable things. There are also some enemies to avoid, though pits are the main threat. In each level you start out as Marvin, but switch to guest characters when you touch their character switch icon. Each icon is used once you touch it, you you need to figure out the right order to use them in.

At this point you learn this games’ design: all of the characters in a segment move at the same time, once you have done that section of the level as a character. So, in one puzzle for instance you need to play as Jitter, a slime who can make platforms in the air, in order to make platforms that let the other characters cross gaps, then cross those gaps as Commander Video, who cannot stop moving forward as per his auto-runner game but can slide, in order to slide through a gap to get some powerups and hit a switch that will allow Marvin to cross and get up to the exit. Once you finish as each character and hit a Marvin switch again, you’ll see that character moving on the route you took while you play as Marvin or the next guest character. If you hit an enemy, fall in a pit, or hit the rewind button, however, you will return to the start point of the current characters’ run. If you hit rewind again you will go back to the last character before that, so if you messed things up badly you can rewind more than one segment. So, there are two elements to the puzzles in this game, first figuring out what order to use the characters in based on what character-switch icons are available, and then figuring out what to do. It’s a fun challenge, though some of the later characters do sometimes have glitchy control issues, and you will often need to rewind a segment or two to get things just right. The game is fun to play and makes me want to find all the collectibles, though, so it’s a fun game, when you’re not stuck on something that is of course. There are over 50 levels in this game, and it saves how much of the stuff you have gotten in each level, so there is a fair amount to do here, particularly if you want to collect everything.

Visually, Team Indie is a pretty nice-looking game with a good cartoony style, nice sprite art, and detailed environments and backgrounds that remind me a bit of Rayman Legends, just lower budget. There are only a couple of environment types, but they look good so it works. The character sprites each look like their representative character, but redone in the cartoony style of this game, and the sprites all look pretty good and are nicely animated. The music is also good, though the graphics are probably better. Overall, Team Indie is good. Not all ten of the licensed guest characters are equally easy to use and once you learn all the characters the puzzles get somewhat predictable, but for the most part this is a fun game that is just challenging enough to be fun, but not keep you stuck for a long time. I like the graphics, puzzles, and character-switching mechanic. You do end up going through the same areas over and over, but it’s different each time since each character has different abilities, and each segment is short enough to not last too long. Team Indie is fun to play and can be addictive as you try to collect everything, and it’s worth a try if you find it for the right price.


Terraria (2011) – 1 player local, 1-6+ player online multiplayer, saves, gamepad supported (xinput only). Terraria is a 2d sandbox crafting game, a kind of game I have never seen any appeal in whatsoever, myself. The game is basically Minecraft in side-scrolling 2d, but maybe with more of a focus on multiplayer. You play a character who explores a randomly-generated side-scrolling world, and dig, collect stuff, and use that stuff to craft it together into other stuff as you build things and try to not die repeatedly. The problem is, I absolutely hate crafting and do not like randomly-generated level designs in most cases. Naturally, as a result, I have little interest in Minecraft, 2d or 3d. So, while I’ve had this game for some time, I’ve never played it because I’ve always been sure I would greatly dislike it if I tried the game. And indeed, trying it now, I don’t like it much at all. I can kind of see why people who like crafting might see something in this kind of game, but there is nothing here for me, I find it terrible.

But backing up a bit, Terraria starts with you creating a character and world. There are a few customization options, but not a lot. You can set your colors though for each piece, which is nice. Worlds are randomly generated, and there is no actual apparent goal here, you are just tossed into a world and sent off to die over and over and over, pretty much, until you give up or start building things. You can reconfigure the controls, but the defaults are clumsy on keyboard and mouse or gamepad. You can jump, attack, open the menu, use a grappling hook if you have one, and access quick-item slots, or switch between the selected item if you’re using a gamepad. With a pad controlling your character is okay, though the controls are kind of clumsy. Menu navigation is awful with a pad, though, as you have to flip between the various panes of items, equip slots, and menus with buttons, and you can’t pause in menus, so you can and will be killed just because you were stuck in a menu; awful! With keyboard and mouse character control isn’t as good, but menus are much easier… except for one major flaw: the game doesn’t lock the mouse to the bounds of the screen! For anyone like me with multiple monitors this is an absolutely crippling flaw, as one little move outside of the edge and a click minimizes or de-selects the game window. And since the game doesn’t let you pause, yes, this too will lead to deaths for sure thanks to bad programming, and that’s not okay. Beyond that though the graphics and music are pretty good. The music is good and fits the game well, first. Visually Terraria’s character and enemy sprites are tiny but look nice, and the tile-based environment look great for tile-based design. The game has lighting effects as well, and a day-night cycle, all of which look good. You absolutely need light at night, from torches, fires, or what have you, because otherwise you can see nothing.

While that may be accurate though, and good art direction, from a gameplay standpoint that leads into one of this games’ biggest problems: it has a very, VERY high learning curve, and teaches you next to nothing about what you are supposed to be doing. It’s also apparently balanced much more for multiplayer than single player, so on your own this game is difficult. It just throws you out there, and you’ll start dying over and over and over in notime, since getting to the point where you won’t be constantly swarmed by monsters takes more patience than I have for these stupid crafting games. You’ll need to build a house to get to that point, I presume, but collecting resources from chopping down trees, digging holes in the ground, and such, and picking up the stuff that drops afterwards gets boring very quickly, and is not my idea of fun at all. In the little time I spent with this game, the parts that were kind of fun were exploring the world and filling in parts of the map, but that isn’t what you are supposed to be doing so as much as I love exploring out maps, it got unsatisfying quickly as I died repeatedly from falling into caves, being overrun by enemies, or what have you. When you die you go back to the start point, which gets frustrating.

But as for what you are supposed to be doing, collect and craft, sorry, I don’t care about them. The game does do a few things to help out, though: you start with basic items to fight, cut, and dig with, and the game does give you recipes so you don’t need to guess at the way items can be crafted together. That’s great and is better than some crafting systems, but even so the basic loop of digging/cutting stuff to combine together into other things you can then build with is not something I want to spend my time doing. I like building plenty; I loved Legos as a kid, SimCity 2000 is one of the all-time greats, and such, but this is a different kind of thing thanks to the collection-and-crafting-centric design. Even if it just had building and no crafting I’d probably still dislike this for its unfocused design, as in platformers I usually prefer a more directed experience over a too-open one, but it would be better.

So, after trying this game out, my opinion on crafting games has not changed: I hate crafting and do not find it fun. A very basic crafting system maybe can work, such as Guild Wars 1’s, but even with its crafting-recipe menu, Terraria is vastly more complex than that. Worse, its tediously boring collection-focused core gameplay does not interest me. I don’t want to “collect them all” in this kind of game, I’d want to explore the map, which gets you nowhere really here. Instead you need to chop through the terrain collecting stuff, and that is incredibly boring. The randomly generated worlds have no predesigned vistas to see either, just whatever it tossed together. Despite that Terraria does look pretty good, and the audio design is good as well, but the actual gameplay is a mixture of frustration and boredom more often than it is even kind of fun, the learning curve is high, and apparently you need to play multiplayer, something I have not done and don’t want to do, to have fun here. This absurdly successful game has sold 20 million copies apparently, so most people probably have it already, but while I can see how people could like it, I find this game completely terrible and the least fun game I’ve played so far in this list. I don’t think I want to ever play Terraria again. Also available on Xbox 360, PS3, PS4, Vita, Xbox One, 3DS, iOS, Wii U, Android, Windows Mobile, and Mac and Linux as well as PC on Steam.


Terrian Saga: KR-17 (2014) – 1 player (with online best-time leaderboards), saves, gamepad supported (xinput only). Terrian Saga: KR-17 is a 2d pixel-art platform-shooter from Wonderfling. The game calls itself a “32-bit-style” platformer, and that is accurate, though incomplete. That may sound like most of this update, but this game is different: like MURI but better, the game is inspired by classic early to mid ’90s PC games, in this case Commander Keen in specific as far as the level designs go, though the gameplay is its own thing. Unlike MURI, this is no clone. This is one of the most authentically ’90s-styled ones of these pixel-art platformers; this game feels like it could be an indie DOS game from 1994 or such, and that’s great. The game does have some issues, but it has more strengths. In this charming and fun title, you play as a Terrian military robot sent on a difficult mission to fight against your enemies. The story is just a basic setup for the gameplay, but it’s all you need. With a cute and ’90s-esque art style and pretty good art design, this game looks nice too.

The controls are straightforward, though the game does use more buttons than a real ’90s PC platformer probably would. You can jump and shoot as usual, and have a short-distance forward dash if you double-tap forwards. Your basic shot feels a little weak, but it’s enough. Additionally you have a Select/Read button, which is mapped either to a button or Down; a button for your jetpack, when you have it; to use the currently selected special weapon; a button on the pad to switch between those special weapons, which are grenades, a flamethrower, and two types of mines; and a button to use your homing missile companion. The homing missile is this games’ most unique element, as when you use it you then control the missile, and can fly it around the stage anywhere you want, until you run into something of course and explode. The game uses this for both combat and puzzles, which can be interesting. You have five hit points in this game, and at least early on there are plenty of health powerups, though things get harder as you go of course. You also have an energy meter. Your main gun can fire infinitely, but homing missiles and your special weapons both require energy to fire. It does not auto-refill, so you will need to find refill stations to fill up again. There are also many save points which you can continue from, and as this game has infinite lives from the last save point, you’ll never be sent back. This is a modern touch, but some classic Apogee platformers have infinite lives like this too, so it fits fine. The controls are responsive and feel pretty good, though I would strongly recommend a gamepad, either an X360 one or another one with a keyboard-to-joystick emulator, because this kind of game is much harder played on keyboard. The one control oddity is that you need to find a certain powerup to get the jetpack, and you keep it for the rest of the level, but sometimes you also can use the jetpack in the next stage while other times it is taken away, and the game does not tell you which it is; you’ll just need to hit the jetpack button on the next stage and see. It works.

Level designs are large and open rectangles, very much in the Commander Keen style, but with puzzle elements that not only have you finding keycards and hitting switches, but also involve using your homing missile companions as well. I like the level designs here, and figuring out where to go is fun stuff, as is hunting around for all the powerups and items which, as in the titles it was inspired by, are all over, sometimes in sight and other times in hidden corners. Sure you don’t need to get them, but trying to find at least some of the hidden stuff! The combat is not quite on par with the puzzle or exploration elements, as it’s fairly basic stuff where you run around and shoot enemies while trying to dodge their shots, but still this is a pretty fun game. The game keeps things interesting with a good amount of graphical variety as you go through the various areas in the game, and also with new puzzles and challenges as you progress. Sometimes it can be a little tricky to tell what is a platform and what is a background, or things can be hidden by a background, but this is rarely much of a problem and I really like the detailed graphics, so I don’t mind a few slightly confusing bits. Save points and weapon energy refill spots are all over, and all can be used as much as you want. The game also keeps track of how long each level is taking you to beat, and there are online best-time leaderboards on Steam to compete on too. Nice stuff. Some minor faults aside, for the most part this is a pretty good game with good level designs and gameplay.

The graphics are, again, pretty good too! The game has very detailed backgrounds, multiple layers of parallax scrolling, big sprites, nice animation on both your character and the enemies, and more. The in-game sprites and backgrounds all look great. As mentioned backgrounds sometimes do blend in with the foreground, but this is rarely distracting. There are a good number of different enemy robots to blow up, each with a different type of attack, and static obstacles such as spikes which damage you as well. For the cutscenes, the game, surely intentionally, has an amusing art style reminiscent of the somewhat weird look of Western anime-inspired cutscenes in games such as Turrican 2 or Mega Turrican. It fits the theme of this being a ’90s “32-bit” game. The music is chiptune-styled stuff as expected, and it’s good.

On the whole, Terrian Saga: KR-17 is a really good game. This game is perfect nostalgia bait for those of us like me who grew up on early to mid ’90s PC platformers, and this game feels like a new game like that, and that’s not something you see very often! The game looks great too, and sounds pretty good as well. There is a fair amount of game here to get through and exploring the levels, finding the secrets, and making your way to the end is lots of fun. With its occasionally confusing graphics, bland combat, and lack of notices telling you when your jetpack is going to be taken away the game does not quite match up to Apogee’s best releases, but this game is really fun and is better than most PC platformers. Terrian Saga: KR-17 deserves a lot more attention than it got, and is really cheap, too! I highly recommend this game, get it for sure.


They Bleed Pixels (2012) – 1 player, saves, gamepad supported. They Bleed Pixels is a very difficult pixel-art platformer from Spooky Squid Games. That may sound generic, but while it takes some inspiration from titles such as Super Meat Boy, this game has some pretty original ideas going on. Some of them work and others don’t, but They Bleed Pixels is an interesting title. I like a lot about it… except for the controls and incredibly frustrating, excessively high difficulty level. You play as a schoolgirl, just sent to a private boarding school sometime in the early 1900s. In the library there she finds a book, a dangerous book which turns her into a very Lovecraftian form, with a mostly normal body but huge red claw-like hands. Naturally she wants to go back to normal, but every attempt to abandon or destroy the book fails. The plot is simple and doesn’t go much beyond that, but still it’s a solid setup for a Lovecraftian-styled platformer which plays like one part Super Meat Boy homage, and one part beat ’em up-style action-platformer.

The first unique point here, and major issue, is about the controls. They Bleed Pixels uses only two buttons, but each button has many functions depending on how long you press it and whether you’re hitting a direction on the pad along with the button or not. For jumping, your jump height varies depending on how long you press the button down. Make sure to be perfect every time with this, or you will die. You also have a wall-slide, where if you are close to a wall and press towards it you slowly slide down it. You can then jump off of the wall. Attaching to walls can be frustrating sometimes when you are totally surrounded by spikes, but you’ll need to be perfect to survive. You also have a double jump, which works fine. For combat, if you tap the attack button you kick the enemy forward. If you hold it, you kick the enemy up. If you hit action plus a direction, you attack with your claws that way. If you hit action plus forward harder, you do a teleport-strike attack in that direction. If you hit attack in the air you attack in the direction you are facing. And if you hit attack plus down in the air you do a downward strike. If you attack enemies with a variety of attacks before killing them you will get a combo, and these increase your points and also how much meter killing them fills up. Those are most of the moves, though there may be a few more. You do have three hit points and attacks always do only one point each, but often being hit once means death, since many spike pits cannot be escaped from, sawblades send you flying across the stage in ways you’ll never recover from, and such. This game’s level designs demand absolute precision to not die, and between occasional control-response issues, how every button doing multiple things, and the games’ frustratingly large hitboxes, getting through the harder levels later in this game is a serious excercize in frustration as you die over and over and over because you weren’t quite perfect somewhere. There is an Easy mode available, but you cannot play the last level in Easy and you can’t switch between the two during play, so “Normal” is the only real choice.

Helping you out is one more interesting system: you create your own checkpoints. In this game, as you kill enemies and collect the few items scattered around the games’ entirely linear levels, a meter builds up. When the meter fills, if you stand still for a few seconds while on flat, non-slippery ground, you will create a checkpoint there. This sort of gives you control of where you continue, but as you progress you will find many segments that don’t give you any flat, non-slippery ground for long stretches, so at times you just want to make a checkpoint in the obvious safe spot you’ve been given, then try to get through the next stretch. You have infinite lives from the last checkpoint, so you can just keep trying, but after dying scores of times in some tough part later in the game my patience started to run out, and despite putting quite a while into this game several years ago, I still haven’t finished it. Levels in this game are a long, linear sequence of challenges, some platforming and some combat-based. Your main obstacles include saw blades, spikes, bottomless pits, annoying slippery sections of floor that you slide on, cannot wall-clime, and cannot create checkpoints on, and various types of blade traps. There are also many switches to hit, though watch out because many are traps… that you will have to set off anyway to proceed, of course. Enemies include basic guys which move back and forth and attack at you, little creatures with big swords, annoying ghosts which teleport back and forth to attack you on both sides, and a few more. The combat is decent fun, when the controls work right, and has some variety with your different attack types. It can be frustrating at times, but the platforming segments are where the serious difficulty lies.

Visually, They Bleed Pixels looks great. This is a faux-retro game with a very blade and spike-heavy setting and a somewhat monochromatic look that makes the red blood stand out on your grey, white, and black surroundings. All sprites are well-drawn and have big white borders around them. This is another tile-based game with small sprites, but this game has better art direction than some other such titles covered above. The good visual design is a strength here, even though there is somewhat limited graphical variety, as while backgrounds will vary as you go through the game, but the foreground graphics, enemy types, obstacles, and such, are the same throughout. Still, the game looks good despite that. The music fits the creepy tone of the game game well, also. And the game in general is a lot of fun for a while, as you work through these creepy worlds, killing baddies and working your way past the difficult traps and jumps that fill each level. But as you get deeper into the game, the way that too many functions have been crammed onto each button so it is far too easy to do the wrong thing while hitting the buttons what seems like exactly the way you are supposed to, the way that you must perfectly make every jump if you don’t want to die and often have to go through long sequences without being allowed a spot for a checkpoint which ensures that you will need to do hard sections over and over and over, the large hitboxes and the way you slowly slide down walls, and more combine to make the game incredibly frustrating and maybe not fun. Because it does so many other things right They Bleed Pixels is well worth a look, particularly for fans of very difficult games, but because of its flaws even some hard-platformers fans will lose patience with this one, unfortunately. Still, it’s a decent to good game overall even if most are unlikely to finish it.

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