… So, yeah, this update was long coming; after finishing the Rush 2049 review I was pretty busy for a while and didn’t get anything done towards this next update of my PC Game Opinion Summaries list, which I am returning to here, for weeks. Even considering that I probably should have been able to get this done, but at least it’s done now, and all eight games I cover here have pretty in-depth summaries as a result.
Of the eight games in this update, Love and Mystik Belle are probably my favorite two. The rest are all average to good as well; nothing bad here, though Monster Bash probably is my least favorite of these.
Just Get Through (2015, WinXP+) – 1 player (with online leaderboards), saves (times, scores, and unlocks only), mouse & keyboard or gamepad supported (xinput only). This is, yes, an indie pixel-art platformer. The game is okay, but I don’t love it. This heavily randomized game has levels made up of fairly simple tile-based layouts. There is no story or campaign to play through; you just play levels from various randomized or player-created sets available, trying to finish them in the best time you can. You can also make your own levels in an editor. All levels take place in caves dug out of the ground. You can move in the open spaces, and your goal is to navigate through each level with the games’ wall-jumping mechanic and dynamite weapon. There are no normal moving enemies here, but there are many deadly traps. You must avoid those traps in each stage and make it to the portal that warps you to the next level. Levels are short, but often are tough to get through. The game has mostly randomized level designs, and you can tell, unfortunately, as levels are often random and not well laid out. Visually, the game has a decent look to it, though it doesn’t stand out too much. The game has monochromatic graphics with a variety of selectable color palettes available, so you will see one color for most of the environment, and a second for the background. I have no problem with monochrome graphics, I love the Game Boy, but sometimes it can be hard to tell what is a trap and what isn’t because everything looks so similar in both looks and color. The moving obstacles aren’t hard to spot, but telling deadly spikes from normal plant life is much harder than it should be. And the randomization makes for boring levels sometimes, too, with far too many entirely irrelevant chunks of levels everywhere outside of the path you actually need to follow to get to the exit. There is absolutely no reason to explore in this game, so those areas serve no purpose. Designed levels are almost always more fun than random! Additionally, this game recommends mouse and keyboard play but runs exclusively in fullscreen-windowed mode and does NOT lock the mouse cursor to the screen, so anyone like me with two monitors has a big problem! While playing this game be very careful to not move the mouse cursor out of the window, because it’ll instantly minimize the game to the taskbar if you do. That’s such an easily solved problem, it’s hard to understand how they didn’t think of it. You can also play with a gamepad, and that is mostly better, but aiming will be easier with a mouse.
The gameplay is flawed as well, because the controls are not great. Your movement feels only okay, and the wall jump is very odd-feeling and sticky. You start sliding down a wall when you jump onto it, but the jump off of that wall sometimes goes in odd directions. You do move quickly, and it can be satisfying when you zip past some of the many spike traps and spinning blades in the nick of time, but between the bad wall-jumping and sometimes iffy other controls, too often this game doesn’t feel great to play. Additionally, everything in this game kills you in one hit. You get a set number of lives per run, and cannot save during a run and extra lives are rare, so the game punishes you somewhat harshly for every mistake. Due to the short length of stages runs can be short, so the lack of saving within a run isn’t a big issue and gives the game a classic arcadey feel, but it will lead to playing easier stages often as you slowly try to get better so you can actually get through a run. Given how most randomize level designs most will not be the same each time, but the difficulty curve does ramp up over the course of a run. Now, in order to help deal with that randomization, you have a weapon: dynamite. You can aim dynamite with the mouse or gamepad analog stick, and throw with the mouse button. Dynamite will blow up a chunk of the ground, which can be really helpful for getting past near-impossible trap layouts. I like the deformable terrain, that’s a great idea, but that the designers decided to just let you blow up the stage instead of ensuring that each stage is actually beatable as it is is not that good design-wise. You have limited dynamite too, so you can get yourself stuck in unwinnable situations at times if you are not careful. On the other hand, while this game has no form of permanent progression, every couple of levels during a run the game lets you choose one of three powerups that will stick with you for the rest of that run. Many of these boost or refill your dynamite, but you also can get higher jumps, more visibility, and more. It is a decent reward for getting farther.
In conclusion, Just Get Through is a below-average game with bland and sometimes confusing graphics, a very limited number of obstacles and traps to deal with, flawed controls centering around a somewhat poorly implemented wall-jump system, no goal beyond just playing levels because there is no main campaign here to be found, and a frustratingly high difficulty level at times. The game does also provide plenty of challenge, has endless numbers of levels to play between the map editor and randomization, and can be fun to play at least some of the time once you get used to it, so I can see why some people like it. Going by its Steam reviews, though, Just Get Through is probably over-rated. I found this game somewhat disappointing and can’t recommend it.
Love (2014, WinXP+) – 1 player, gamepad supported (xinput only), saves (options and scores only). Love is a pretty good pixel-art platformer with a classic Atari or Commodore 64-styled aesthetic. In this simple platformer, you play as a stick figure guy who has to make it through some pretty tricky levels. There are several modes here and a custom mode, but the main mode gives you 100 lives to get through 16 stages. I haven’t beaten it yet, though I have gotten pretty far. This is a simple game with simple and straightforward gameplay and controls. The game uses two buttons, one to jump and the other to change your respawn point to the location you are currently standing. You move pretty quickly and have good air control, but even so making jumps can be tricky at times because you only have a single jump, not double, the controls are touchy, and you are constantly having to make jumps to VERY narrow or quickly-changing spaces. The game does play fine on keyboard, but will be better on a gamepad due to the better control of a d-pad. Despite the regular deaths, though, the running and jumping controls here feel good, and the game is a lot of fun to play. As for that user-changeable respawn point mechanic, this button lets you set the location in the stage that you will start from again when you die. You can only change the respawn point when on solid ground, but this is a fantastic feature that helps let you avoid tough parts, if you choose to use it. Your goal on each stage is to reach the end. There is nothing to collect in this game, and no enemies to fight; you simply avoid threats. This may sound simple, but in fact the game has a lot of variety as you progress. This game is entirely predesigned, not random, and every level looks like it had a lot of work put into it.
For features, the main mode is, as mentioned, a 100-life, 16-level challenge. You cannot save your progress during a run, so once you run out of lives you need to start the game over from the beginning. Levels don’t take too long so this is quite doable if you can stay alive, but staying alive will be the challenge! While nothing is displayed on screen during play except for how many lives you have left, after a run you get a score screen showing how many times you used the ‘change the checkpoint’ power, whether you finished all the levels or not, your overall ranking, and more. This gives the game a nice score component, to encourage players to get better at the game and score higher. Beyond the main mode there are four others: a one-life mode for people very good at this game; a Remix mode which gives you 100 lives to get through eight remixed, more challenging versions of some of the levels from the main game; an Easy mode with infinite lives but that gives you much lower scores as a result; a speedrun mode which gives you infinite lives and a timer instead of a lives counter, to see how fast you can get through the game; and custom levels you can make and save in the LoveCustom level editor. Unfortunately the game has no online score or level sharing support built in, so if you want to trade levels or scores you’ll need to do it yourself. Otherwise this is a good, full-featured title.
Visually, Love has a black background, a single color for the regular platforms that make up most of each stage, and white for things which are interactive in some way. This game has a very chunky-pixel, low-resolution style to it, fitting with the games’ theme. It is silly how this very simple-looking game requires moderate computer power to run well, but that’s modern gaming, unfortunately. It runs fine even for me and my 9 1/2 year old computer when I’m not running other applications. Most white things kill you in one hit, but white circles are bounce pads you will automatically jump off of when you touch them, and certain white chains won’t hurt you, they just indicate where moving spike wheels go. Generally, though, you want to avoid everything white and not circular, because it’s death. Each stage has a different color for its regular platforms and a different look to it, so there is visual variety as you progress despite the very simple visuals. I grew up on somewhat newer games than the ones this game was inspired by, but Love’s early ’80s aesthetic looks great. The game does have some trial and error as you learn what to do in each stage and what each white thing will do, but for the most part the graphics are clear and sharp. The music is electronic, but it’s far too high fidelity to be in an actual early ’80s game. Still, it’s good electronic techno videogame music and fits the game quite well.
Overall, Love is a good game I definitely recommend to platformer fans. You don’t need to have played early ’80s games back then to like this game, it should appeal to anyone who likes traditional platformers. The game has a good visual look, good music, good level designs, fun and interesting challenges to work past, and plenty of challenge and lastability in its levels and added modes. I do wish that the game had online leaderboards and level trading, and that the game would tell you what level you are on or died at because it never does that, but otherwise this game is great. Definitely check it out.
Magicmaker (2014, WinXP+) – 1 player, saves, gamepad supported (xinput only). Magicmaker is an indie platformer made a very small team at Tasty Stewdios. The game is a platform-action game with tiny and often amateurish graphics, mouse and keyboard controls, some odd hitboxes, randomly generated levels, and a magic-crafting system that is central to the game, as the name suggests. So, that sounds like I’m sure to dislike it, right? Well, I do dislike the movement controls when using keyboard, but otherwise I kind of like this despite my dislike for both randomly-generated platformer levels and, especially, crafting systems. So, what is there to like about this game, for me? It’s about the gameplay first and foremost, but also the crafting system is simple and not tedious or frustrating; it’s as much an inventory system as it is anything else, as the main “crafting” you do here is equip some of the 40 different types of magic to your mages’ robe, wand, and attack spell. You can equip up to three different magic types to each of those inventory slots, and must choose a loadout before beginning a mission because you cannot change it in-game. In levels you do collect items, mostly new magic types or doubles of ones you already have in order to equip that type to more inventory slots and power up the magics’ strength, but you will never need to memorize crafting recipes here, or tediously hack at the enemies or ground to grind materials, because this is not that kind of game. Thank goodness.
Player control is simple, as you run around quickly, jump, and attack with magic. You can only have one wand at a time, but can equip two spell sets, and if you’re good you can unlock more than that. By default you move with WASD, jump with Space, aim with the mouse, use your two attacks with the two mouse buttons, and switch spells with the mousewheel. Moving and jumping with one hand while you aim with the other is as awkward as ever. Fortunately there is also gamepad support, but combat will be easier with the mouse since you can aim more accurately. There’s no perfect way I have found to play this kind of game, unfortunately. It does work as it is, and you can re-configure the controls, but it’s not ideal. Enemies eventually start shooting a lot of bullets at you, too, so bullet-dodging will be key to your survival; you have a health bar, but bosses particularly can kill you. As for your attacks, your weaker magic wand attack is infinite-use, while your stronger magic spell attacks drains a magic meter with each use. This meter refills fairly quickly, but you can’t just spam the stronger attack, you will need to mix it up. This mechanic works well. Of course the two million possible spells you can create with the 40 equippable magic types also will have a great impact on combat.
And on that note, gameplay in Magicmaker involves going on quests from the central hub at the school to various areas. As with many indie games this game is not too long, as there are only five areas each with a handful of quests, but there is a New Game + available once you beat the game and random missions as well, so there is a reasonable amount of content here if you get into it. Missions are generally simple and usually involve killing everything you find. There is some variety along the way, though, as in addition to lots of platforms to jump on and enemies to shoot at, there are also puzzles to solve, such as having to touch or shoot at gems to move them into doors to unlock optional chests or escape from an area. Mission maps are randomly generatied, though, so while they mostly work, sometimes they will be poorly laid out. There is an on-sceen minimap though, so you shouldn’t get lost. Most missions conclude with a boss fight though, and those can be fun and challenging. Then you can change your equipment and choose what to do next.
In the game, you play as a nameless young wizard who needs a job. A magic temp agency finds you a position as a security guard at a local magic school, so off you go to do the various quests they assign you in order to protect the school, though you end up defending a bad system; alternate endings would have been better. The story tries to be amusing, but the script is sparse at times and isn’t all well written. The gameplay is the draw here, not the story. The graphics aren’t the draw either, for sure, as the sprites are tiny and simplistic. Between your stick figure-ish character and the simple and angular environments, this game kind of looks like a mixture of basic assets and programmer art. That’s fine because the gameplay is good, but I should mention it. Even so, I do like some of the environmental details and the nice variety of enemies. Additionally, the game has some nice spell effects, which change based on your magic types equipped. Once you get used to the visuals, this game does look good. The musical compositions are quite nice string instrument bits. I really like them, but they are pretty short, so you’ll hear each areas’ music loop a lot. Still, it’s good. On the whole, with straightforward gameplay, fun action, and lots of spells to create and fight things with, Magicmaker is an interesting and fun indie platform-action game. The game does have issues, including some occasional possible grind for some magic, the randomized level layouts, and the iffy story, graphics, and movement controls, but it is good overall. This game is worth a try for cheap.
Math Rescue (1992, DOS) – 1 player, saves, gamepad supported. Math Rescue is an educational game which mixes platforming gameplay with math problems. The game was developed by and was published by Apogee. The team made both Math and Word Rescue games, and they are similar, but this game is probably the better of the two both because it released a little later and has improved graphics, and also because this games’ educational element works better than that one. Math Rescue is one part simple collection-heavy Apogee-style platformer, and one part math problem game. Designed for children up to ten years old but potentially fun for most anyone, the game teaches addition, subtraction, multiplication, and division, in both regular and word problem forms. You can play as either a boy or a girl, and run and jump around in enemy-free platformer stages. The girl character is actually the default in both of these games, possibly because the programmer was a woman. Math and Word Rescue are two of Apogee’s only games ever with playable female characters, unfortunately; their rivals at Epic were better with that, but at least Epic did publish these two games with gender diversity. The visuals are fairly standard Apogee EGA fare, with solidly drawn backgrounds and characters. There’s even parallax scrolling in some parts of the game, which is pretty nice for the time on the PC. There is a Soundblaster soundtrack as well, with some decent if unspectacular music.
Your goal in each stage is to find and solve enough math problems to make a key, which will then let you move on to the next level. Each level has quite a few problems on offer, each marked with numbered blocks marked with the numbers 0 to 9. When you touch a block you go into a math problem room. So, like some other edutainment games of the day, this is a math game that controls like a platformer.
You need to jump into the blocks in numerical order in order for your progress towards completing the level to count. Levels are small to moderate in size and are open-ended, so you wander around each level, looking for items to collect for points, number blocks to hit to enter math problem rooms, and avoid enemies. Now, this game is mostly non-violent game, but there are badguys here, the creatures which stole numbers from the world. There is an amusing backstory explaining why these slimy aliens want to steal Earth’s numbers, too. You attack with slime buckets that your helper, Benny the Bookworm, will dump on enemies. Whenever you hit the attack button he will automatically slime the nearest enemy on screen in the direction you are facing, so combat is quite simple. You do have limited ammo and health, though, and each time you get a question wrong an enemy spawns, so you do want to get questions right. If you die you will need to restart the current stage, though the game does save your progress at the current level automatically to a player file you name when you start up the game.
In math problem rooms, the problem you need to solve appears on the top part of the screen, and you can move around on the bottom as usual. There is a row of 10 number blocks there, and you simply jump up into the number, or numbers, that are the answer to the question. It’s simple and works well. The first episode of three in the game, which is the free shareware episode, has only addition and subtraction. If you get the full registered version however, episodes two and three also optionally have multiplication and division problems, which certainly will up the difficulty if you’re trying to answer them all in your head. This game won’t never ask really hard problems, everything involves single or sometimes double-digit numbers, but still there is some challenge here to the educational component in a way that there isn’t in Word Rescue, as I will get to later. Overall, Math Rescue feels like a conventional Apogee game crossed with an educational math game. The open, item-heavy levels feel like smaller versions of stages you’d see in a Keen or Duke Nukem game, the visuals and sound are Apogee-styled, and the game plays great. This is a somewhat slow-paced game as you cannot run and don’t move really fast, and the educational element makes it best for children, but I like it anyway. Math Rescue is a good game for sure, and anyone who thinks it sounds interesting should give it a look. It’s a fun little game. Originally released as a physical title for PC; now also available for PC, Mac, and Linux digital download on Steam, GOG, and 3D Realms’ website. I have the retail version through the now-unavailable 3D Realms Anthology that I got from their site, but you can still buy this game individually on all those sites.
Momodora III (2014, WinXP+) – 1 player, saves, gamepad supported (xinput only, if it works for you). Momodora III, from small indie team rdein, is a side-scrolling pixel-art action-platformer. This short but reasonably fun game is a shameless clone of the popular mid ’00s indie game Cave Story. This game looks, sounds, and plays a WHOLE lot like Cave Story, just with two Cave Story-esque square-faced anime girl characters to play as instead of Cave Story’s boy robot, and an even shorter and less substantial game than you’ll find in that title. I did like Cave Story, but I didn’t get as into it as some people did; I never have gone back to it after beating the freeware version once after it came out. And thanks to its popularity, this style of chunky-pixel action-platformer has become an indie-game staple. Even so, this one is worth a look, and Momodora III is its own thing and not only a clone. In this game you play as Momo or Dora, two anime-style girls who look different but play nearly identically. One can buy one item earlier on that makes the game easier, but otherwise they are the same. The story is also lacking. The game does not have an in-game introduction, so the only backstory is the few sentences of text on the online store pages. On top of that, this game does not explain anything that happened in the previous two games, which I have not played. What in-game story that does exist feels thin, as most bosses fight you without a word; only a few scattered characters actually talk to you. Fortunately the action is better than the writing. Visually, again, Momodora III looks like something straight out of Cave Story: the pixels are big and chunky, the characters have big, rectangular heads, and enemies drop bouncing shapes you pick up for points/money. The backgrounds are well-drawn and interesting, though, and there is a strong sense of atmosphere at times. The overall visual look is good. Musically, the game has a good orchestral-style electronic soundtrack. It’s not as low-fi as the graphics, but sounds good and fits the game well. On the whole, the presentation in Momodora III is pretty good, but shamelessly copies a popular game more than I’d like.
Even so, the gameplay is fun and stands up well on its own. In this pixel-art platformer, you run around, slash things with a sword, talk to people, and kill enemies while collecting shiny pickups that serve as money. If you hold down the attack button you can shoot out a projectile attack, but it’s kind of weak and is only sometimes useful. The controls are good and responsive, and you can take multiple hits here. Hearts are your health, three for Hard mode, 5 for Easy, and 6 plus regenerating health for Casual. The game uses only two buttons plus a pad, so the controls are simple too. On keyboard the game defaults to the arrow keys for movement and A and S for attack and jump, and that works fine though it is configurable, but a pad is preferable. However, gamepad support seems to be kind of flaky, and doesn’t work for some people even with Xinput controllers. You may need to use a joystick-to-keyboard program to use this game with a gamepad. Now, Cave Story had a variety of weapons, both melee and ranged, but that is not true here. So, this is a melee-focused game. You will get items, which you can equip in three item slots on an inventory screen, or four slots in New Game + mode, but these are not new weapons, just modifications to your attacks or things like healing or damage reduction. Most items stay in effect as long as you equip them, but a few are one-time-use. You don’t have an item button though, these items activate automatically once the right conditions are met, such as running out of health in that case. There is a free fairy bottle early in the first level, so it’s a very good idea to go back and get another one after using one on a boss and going to the next stage; the stage warps send you back to the beginning of the level you go to, so that’s the best time.
The world design here is simpler than Cave Story’s as well. While that game was a linear title, it has a main hub that connects to various side areas for a somewhat Metroidvania-like style. Momodora III, however, is broken up into more traditional levels. Each area does let you travel back and forth through it, and you can warp to past levels from any save point, but the main game here is mostly just moving forward through stages, and fighting bosses at the end of each level. There are also occasional shops to buy items with, though you also get some free here and there. I have always thought that linearity in games is just fine if it works well, though, and it does here. Each level looks noticeably different, and exploring the stages is fun on both a visual and gameplay sense. Levels are simple, with a good mix of action and platforming. This game is probably more action than platforming, but there are plenty of pits and spikes to jump over. The game also has a lot of bounce pads scattered around. On the action side, there is a nice variety of enemies to fight. Each enemy and boss has a set of attacks, and memorizing those is key. The boss fights are varied and fun, and learning each one’s attacks is interesting. Bosses take a lot of hits to kill and you die quickly, so some practice may be required. Unfortunately, sometimes various background or attack effects can obscure what’s going on, which can be an issue when you must be able to see enemeies to know what action they’re going to take next. Now, this is a very short game, beatable in an hour or two the first time you play it on Easy, the default setting, and it is even shorter with practice. There are only six or seven not-too-long stages here and that’s it. However, the game is fun while it lasts, so that’s okay. There is also some replay value in Hard difficulty and the unlockable New Game + mode, but the short length and unoriginal concept are the games’ main issues. Still, particularly if you find it on sale sometime, with a solid anime theme, good action, fun and varied boss fights, and well-designed environments, Momodora III is a fun little game worth a play.
Monster Bash (1993, DOS) – 1 player, saves, gamepad supported. Monster Bash is an okay sidescrolling action-platformer from and published by Apogee. As much as I love Apogee, this one has never been one of my favorites. It’s a fine game, sure, but their best games are a lot better. In this Halloween-styled game, you play as a young boy in his pajamas fighting off hordes of zombies, skeletons, and the like with his slingshot. That may sound kid-friendly, but oddly this game also has lots of blood for the time, so I’m not sure who the target audience actually is. That is one of several reasons that while it may be getting closer to Halloween as I write this, Apogee’s two halloween-themed games, this one and Alien Carnage/Halloween Harry, are two of my least favorite games Apogee published. Part of that may be simply that I have never liked horror-themed things much, but I also find the gameplay here not quite as fun as some other Apogee games are. Monster Bash is at least average, but most Apogee games were better than that. Visually the game is average for the time for a shareware game. It has solidly-drawn EGA graphics with large sprites, and a fine Soundblaster soundtrack. There is no parallax though, and the large sprites make for a limited viewing distance. You can’t look around to get a better view of your surroundings either.
So, this is a platform-action game. You can run and jump and will be doing a lot of that, but shooting is also a major focus. Your stones shoot out at a slight arc and can bounce around a bit, but you mostly just shoot at things in front of you. You do have a health bar in this game, thankfully, and unlimited ammo. Powerups can upgrade your attack temporarially and refill your health. Unfortunately, one of the biggest issues with this game are its slippery controls. Your guy slides around as he moves, and takes a moment to stop moving after you press the button, too. It’s not great. This game is not quite a Prince of Persia-styled highly animated platform-adventure title, but there is maybe some influence from that kind of game here and I don’t care for that. Levels are linear and fairly straightforward. Eventually more mazelike levels will appear, but the game feels focused on having you try to get to the exit. You often can’t backtrack in stages once you reach certain points, too. There are items to collect along the way for points, but that’s not as much of a focus here as it is in, say, a Keen game. That’s fine, I love lots of linear games, but with controls as flawed as these are, I never have found this game much fun to play and never have been able to stick with it for long. So, overall, Monster Bash is a mediocre platform-action game. Playing it again now, this is the same not-too-great game I remember it being when I first played it in the early to mid ’90s. Still, the game has plenty of large levels to explore, decent graphics and sound, and a theme some people will like a lot more than I do, so I’m sure there is an audience for this game; I’m just not a part of it. Originally released as a physical title for PC; now also available for PC, Mac, and Linux digital download on Steam, GOG, and 3D Realms’ website. I have the retail version through the now-unavailable 3D Realms Anthology that I got from their site, but you can still buy this game individually on all those sites.
MURI (2013, WinXP+) – 1 player, saves (scores and options only, not progress), gamepad supported. MURI is an indie platformer published by Ludosity AB and inspired by early ’90s DOS games, Duke Nukem 1 in particular. This game has some modern elements, but the core audio-visual presentation and gameplay are heavily inspired by Duke 1. The game even has a choice between 16 or 32fps, if you want an authentically low framerate like the first Duke game has. I’d rather play in the smoother mode, myself, but it is a pretty cool option to have. In the game, you play as a middle-aged black woman scientist, but beyond that too-uncommon choice of characters in a game, the actual story is annoyingly melodramatic and quite depressing. I won’t spoil what happens, but I want to play as the good guy in games, not as someone who does the things you do in this game! Too bad. As an aside, “Muri” means “impossible” in Japanese, apparently, but I don’t know why the game has a Japanese name when it’s Western-made and is designed to emulate classic Western games, not Japanese ones. Anyway,the story is conventional but the character isn’t, considering how almost all Apogee games star white males. Visually, this game looks very much like the CGA and EGA games it emulates. The game uses few enough colors that it well might actually be a 16-color palette, and the colors, including purple, white, green, and blue, are the kinds of colors commonly seen in ’90s games. The game also does have some parallax scrolling, though it’s only in some levels. It doesn’t affect the framerate of course, unlike many early ’90s PC games. The game has average to good graphics overall, with some pretty good-looking parts particularly thanks to how much of the look of this game tries to look as much like an Apogee game as possible. However, the sprites are only average looking most of the time and some environments are bland as well. That’s okay, but overall, I’m just not sure about what I think of making a game that you’re charging money for that is this visually similar to a classic title. The gameplay here does have some new ideas, but the graphics do not. As for MURI’s sound, just like in Duke 1, there are sound effects but not music. There isn’t even a footsteps sound like Keen 1-3 has, so there is only any sound in this game when you’re shooting, getting hit, or such. Some may dislike that, or the harsh-sounding sounds, but I think they fit the game perfectly. The audio’s just right.
The controls are simple, but you do have a few more moves than Duke has in Duke 1: you can walk around, jump, duck, and shoot. I like how the jumping controls are just like in Apogee games, so as long as you hold the jump button you automatically jump, and stop going up on your jump as soon as you let go of the button. The game has two-button controls, jump and shoot, just like early ’90s games, and I really like that it defaults to Control and Alt for shoot and jump. You can also use Z and X, but Control and Alt is best for the most authentic feel. Additionally, while you hold the shoot button you lock your firing in that direction, so if you want to fire the other way you’ll have to stop shooting for a moment and turn around first. This isn’t a feature any Apogee game has, and it does amp up the intensity of some of the firefights, as it allows for more bullet-dodging and trickier enemy patterns without the frustration of only being able to shoot forwards. However, there are a few times I died because of enemies hitting me from behind before I could stop firing and turn around, so it can hurt you at times. When you do get hit, you lose health on your health bar. You can take a good number of hits per life, and start with three lives per episode. When you die you respawn exactly where you died and without any progress lost, unlike most classic games; this makes boss fights much easier than they otherwise would be. There are also six different weapons to collect, and just like in Duke 1 you cannot switch them ingame; instead, the game simply equips the most powerful onme at all times. Your default gun has infinite ammo, but the others usually are limited, unless you collect an infinite-ammo version of one. If you do have one of those though, you lose it upon death. The controls overall are good.
As with the controls, level designs in MURI have a lot of similarities Apogee’s work in Duke Nukem 1. As in that game, levels are sizable, fun to explore, full of jumps, enemies, and secrets, and there are no instant-death pits. However, there are also some important differences. First, while the stages are decent-sized, these levels are smaller and much less mazelike than Duke 1’s sometimes oversized levels are. You shouldn’t almost ever get lost in this game, unlike Dukes 1 or 2. There are also a lot less collectibles in each level to find for points. Levels do still have hidden areas to find full of point items, and I like how the game hints at where you should look or shoot for these without always blatantly giving it away, but any ’90s Apogee game has far, far more. Compared to those games MURI puts much more emphasis on shooting and action, and less on exploration. These changes make the game feel more modern, in that less confusing or entirely linear designs are the modern style so as to keep players from getting frustrated, but while this game is definitely fun to play, the levels are much simpler than Duke 1 or 2 levels. The creator said the goal was a more streamlined and arcadey game than Duke is, though, and it does deliver on that. But the resulting stages don’t take long to finish, and this game has only four episodes of five levels each. I beat this game in a bit over an hour on Normal, and it was not challenging most of the time. There are two harder difficulties available, though, and they significantly up the challenge. You see, sadly, unlike every actual Apogee game ever, you cannot save during episodes in this game and if you run out of lives you will have to restart the episode from the beginning. So, in the higher difficulties where there are no health powerups in Hard and no health OR 1-up powerups in the top difficulty, Muri, every death matters a lot. You do get a score multiplier in the higher difficulties as a reward for your efforts, but there isn’t a high-score table or name entry, only a single highest score next to each of the four episode names. That’s disappointing, compared to the full score tables of any classic Apogee game. Overall, MURI is a slightly above average platform-action game with fun gameplay and a great nostalgic look, but it is also short, unoriginal, has an awful story, and is not on par with Apogee’s classics. Still, if it’s on sale and you like Apogee, sure, maybe pick this one up.
Mystik Belle (2015, WinXP+) – 1 player, saves, gamepad supported. Mystik Belle is an open-world platform adventure game by Last Dimension, a small indie team. The same developer also made Ultionus, a game I will cover later in the list. Both games are moderately sized, made while they, or maybe just he, work a bigger Metroidvania title, Legend of Iya, that had a successful kickstarter. Still, Mystik Belle is a reasonable-length game which will take some hours to beat. I still have a long way to go, two hours in. I backed the kickstarter, and because of many long delays he was nice enough to give all backers free copies of both of the games he made in the interim! Getting three games for the price of one was a pretty good deal, so I don’t mind the delays. Anyway, Mystik Belle is a good game with both quality gameplay and graphics. The game has good sprite-art graphics and platform-adventure gameplay that is one part Metroidvania action-platformer, and one part Dizzy series-inspired sidescrolling adventure game. This game is fun, though it can be confusing at times when you’re not sure what to do next. It gets tough at times, too. I’ve never played the Dizzy games so I can’t compare this to those, but even if it is challenging at times, the adventure element of this game is well done, and I like the action too. And visually, the first thing anyone playing this game will see are the detailed cartoon-style graphics with great-looking, large sprites. The game is set in a spooky witches’ school, and everything fits the theme great. The gameplay is pretty good too, but the graphics are one of the best things about the game. Though you are always in one area, there is a fair amount of graphical variety in the game and the graphics for both environments and characters are always very good. You play as Belle, a girl witch student falsely accused of stealing an important item at her magic school. So, you’re stuck with having to save the day yourself even though you did nothing wrong… though as in most any adventure game you will do some questionable actions during the game itself. Heh. Still, that may not be fair, but it’s a solid setup for a videogame.
In the game, you wander around the school and environs, fighting enemies and collecting items you will need to figure out how to use to progress. While you stay alive you will also earn experience which can increase your health meter, but this resets to zero after each death. The two major gameplay elements here are action-platforming and adventure game style puzzle solving. First I will discuss the action side of this game. The action controls aren’t too complex. There are four main buttons, for jump, attack, interact, and dash. There is also an inventory menu button with a good map on it for navigation. You do have a health bar, but bosses particularly can deplete it quickly. And while you might have plenty of inventory items, these are for puzzles only, not combat; you can’t heal with items. You start out only able to jump once, but will get more abilities as you progress. There are a few too many platforms that you can only just barely reach with a single jump, which can be annoying, but the controls are mostly good. The attack button shoots when enemies are at range and swings your broom as a melee attack when they are close. Combat is fun, but fairly standard; there are no combos or such to attempt, just basic attacks. The melee attack is strong, but you are much more likely to take damage close up so there is some strategy, but this isn’t a game with a deep combat system. You will get abilities as you progress, though, to give you more spells beyond your starting fireball spell. You will also get a double jump and more. As per the Metroidvania formula, each of these allows you to reach new areas of the map. Level design is also heavily Metroidvania-inspired, as the school is a large maze of rooms and corridors. There are horizontal, vertical, and larger rooms, and some enemies are set in specific places in a room, while others infinitely spawn from the sides or floor of the room. Regular enemies are mostly not too tough, but you can die, and as mentioned earlier you are punished for that. Unfortunately, after every death you respawn back at the starting room, which is a while from anything. Ah well. There is a warp system, but the warp points are widely scattered. And again, the bosses are tough and require memorization and plenty of dodging enemy shots while trying to shoot or slash when you can, so you will die. Still, the game is a lot of fun to play and learning the bosses is a good challenge, so I don’t mind.
But Mystik Belle is not only a Metroidvania action-platformer, it also a graphic adventure game. This school may be full of dangerous monsters, but there also are people to talk to, always in rooms that don’t have enemies in them, and items to get all over. You can only carry six items at a time, so you’ll be leaving items all over the place. Fortunately, while the map does not mark where people you can talk to or bosses are, it does mark all items you’ve dropped with white dots. That is extremely useful. The adventure puzzles here are traditional inventory puzzles. You get items in many ways — from defeated enemies, lying around on the ground, by using other items in specific places, and such. There won’t be much pixel-hunting here, though, thankfully, as items clearly stand out from the backgrounds, and areas you can interact with are marked with exclamation marks. You also will often need to combine items, but this is automatic: just put the required items in your inventory at once, and provided you’ve learned about this possible combination Belle will combine them. Then, you use those items in other places, either on exclamation point spots or when used on characters. You need to open the inventory menu and then select an item there to use them, though, as there isn’t an inventory-item button. This sometimes is a little annoying as you try to find the right spot to stand on to interact with something. With sprites this big that isn’t a big deal, but it is annoying once in a while. The biggest issue with the game for most probably will be trying to figure out what to do next. There is someone who will tell you about your items, but beyond that you’re kind of on your own. Characters involved in ongoing quests will talk about what you need to do for that quest, but you will need to remember two to talk to as the game does not have a quest log or map markers telling you where to go next. These were intentional choices, to fit the classic style of the graphics and gameplay, but I find it frustrating when I get stuck in a game not knowing what to do next! Thankfully there is a pretty good guide for this game on GameFAQs, so use that if you want. I have looked up a few things, I admit, and I don’t think it hurts the game.
In conclusion, Mystik Belle is an interesting mix of genres which works well. The hybrid of adventure and action-platforming is original, but the mix actually works pretty well. The game really is both an action and adventure game, so for example, in order to access new areas sometimes you will need to use items and other times you need to use the abilities or spells you get from defeating bosses. This mixture actually works pretty well, though. The gameplay is similarly good. The controls are simple and reasonably responsive, though jumps sometimes are a little trickier than I’d like, and until you get more moves combat is pretty simple. The game also has great graphics and animation, it’s often fun to just look at stuff. The big sprites do mean you can’t see far ahead, but all areas are designed around this view distance so it’s fine. There is a lot more good here than bad, and I will definitely be playing more of this game. So, overall, Mystik Belle is a pretty good game worth playing for sure. This game didn’t get a lot of press, but while it isn’t perfect, it probably deserved more attention than it got.