… So yeah this update ended up being absurdly delayed, most recently because first I did the LttP writeup first and then more recently because I built a new computer, but it’s finally done, six new summaries. Three of them are great modern classics while the other three are kind of bad, so there’s quite a variety here!
Serious Sam: Kamikaze Attack (WinXP+, 2012) – 1 player, saves, gamepad supported. Serious Sam: Kamikaze Attack is a runner mobile phone game that has a somewhat obscure PC release. I got it from a Humble Bundle, and certainly wouldn’t have this otherwise because I am no phone-games fan and find endless runners fairly basic. And indeed, like most runner-style platformers, this one gets old quickly and has little depth. Still, though, for what it is, the game is okay. So, in this game, you play as a headless kamikaze guy, one of the enemy types from the first-person shooter franchise that this game is a spinoff from, and run to the right as you try to catch up to and blow up Serious Sam himself. The game has some okay-looking 2d artwork of the characters and decent backgrounds, but it’s clearly a low-budget affair and that shows. As far as the gameplay goes, you run automatically, so the game only uses two buttons, one for jumping and the other for sliding. You have a double jump and can mix these together, so you can jump during a slide or slide midair, which is nice. As you run you will need to jump over pits, slide or jump over obstacles, bump into things you can push forwards, and slide to knock incoming projectiles like missiles or grenades back to the left of the screen. You have a slide meter which fills up as you slide, though, so you cannot slide endlessly. Managing that meter is important here. Fortunately the controls are responsive, though not precise sometimes, particularly in how slides and jumps connect. As something originally made for phone touchscreens you don’t need precision, though, so it controls fine.
So, the basic game design is simple, but it works. The level designs are maybe too basic, though. Some endless runners make attempts at more complex level designs, but you won’t find that here; all stages are flat ground that moves from left to right, that’s it. It’s a completely linear game that follows one path, and that path is flat ground, apart from the occasional pit. There is some variety, as there are several different obstacle types to avoid and multiple environments to run through as you progress, but this is a very simple game. It rarely is challenging either, particularly early on. There is a fair amount of content here, both a main game and also an endless mode for modes. The main game mode has 20 levels per world, several worlds to work through, and an optional objective on each mission to try to complete if you want. The optional objectives are usually things such as ‘destroy X number of obstacles along the way’, ‘knock back Y number of missiles’, or such, but they add a little to this otherwise extremely simplistic game. Even so, though, the game is something that probably will only be fun for a few minutes at a time. Levels are short enough that one level won’t take long, but why not just spend that time playing a better, more complete game, particularly if you’re playing on a PC and not a phone? If this was free maybe it’d be worth a few minutes, particularly for Serious Sam fans, but it costs at least a dollar on phones, and I can’t find a legit way to buy the PC version anymore so maybe it was pulled at some point, if it was ever on sale beyond those Humble Bundles that is. Not sure. Anyway, you can still buy this game for iOS or Android if you want.
Shantae: Risky’s Revenge: Director’s Cut (WinXP+, 2014, original DSi release 2011) – 1 player, saves, gamepads supported. The second game in WayForward’s now long-running series, Shantae: Risky’s Revenge originally released as a download-only game for the Nintendo DSi handheld system on its DSiWare e-shop. The game brought back the Shantae series after nearly ten years, as despite several efforts there had not been a Shantae game since the first one for Game Boy Color in 2002. On DSi the game was well-regarded and brought this series back, which led to its current success, but is considered to be fairly short. After a while, WayForward published this PC port of the game. It’s pretty much identical to the original release, except there is now high-resolution character art that appears on screen during conversations. The contrast between the low-rez sprite art and the high-rez character art can be a bit odd, but anytime you increase a games’ resolution and screen size this drastically there are going to be issues. While I’d rather play this game on a handheld, I got this before I had a 3DS and thus access to the DSiWare shop, and this PC version sells for less too, particularly when it’s on sale.
That’s the background, but how is the game? Like all Shantae titles, Risky’s Revenge is a fun Metroidvania-styled action-platformer set in a cartoony world. The main theme is Middle Eastern-inspired, but each side area has a different theme. As always, you play as the somewhat scantily-clad half-genie Shantae. These games are somewhat sexy, but in a tame way; none of the Shantae games have anything beyond an E or E-10+ rating. With simple controls, good if quite low-resolution graphics, and a somewhat small but well-designed and fun to explore overworld with several dungeons deeper within, Shantae: Risky’s Revenge is a good game. The game controls well, first. You start out with a basic single jump, hair-whip attack, and back-dash, and all control quite well and responsively. As usual in this genre, you will unlock more abilities as you progress as well. Some of those are upgrades for her regular humanoid form, but Shantae also gets the ability to transform into various animal forms. These mostly are useful for accessing new areas in the overworld map and in the dungeons, both for progression and for finding hidden chests with money or other powerups in them. Combat is quick, as you hair-whip enemies to death. It mostly feels great, though when you have to hit enemies while in the air it can require a slightly annoying degree of precision. There are a lot of different types of enemies though, both in looks and in movement and attack styles, so the game has a good amount of variety. Surely because of WayForward’s experience in the industry, Risky’s Revenge is a well-polished game; most indie platformers don’t feel as good as this to play.
So, the core gameplay is pretty fun and fast-paced. The game has a somewhat interesting overworld design with many multi-layered areas connected with jump pads, instead of just a single-plane map. It works well. Additionally, while most Metroidvania games just have a single world map, or segmented maps you do in sequence, as previously mentioned this game has a world map with dungeons within, making for an interesting mix of styles. The dungeons can be confusing at times, but they are well-designed, and figuring out what to do in each is fun stuff. Still, in both dungeons and the overworld, there is an issue here: as with all Metroidvanias you have to do a lot of backtracking in the game, and you also will need to keep track of suspicious places where you might be able to use your powers. The smallish world does not take too long to explore, thankfully, but you will need to memorize some of it, or just explore around again after getting each new ability. I’ve never loved this element of game-world design, of course, so it is frustrating at times. In town you can get hints about which direction you should be heading in the overworld, at least, though you’ll need to figure dungeons out on your own. There also is a very nice map of the overworld to help you navigate, which shows all the points of interest and how areas connect, including all of those multiple layers many areas have. Unfortunately, however, there are no dungeon maps, so they can be confusing; I really wish the dungeons had maps. Sure, wandering around enough should eventually get you where you need to go, but I find it much easier to navigate mazelike levels with a map.
Visually this game looks great as well, for the platform it was originally released on at least. This game is a pixel-art platformer and the art design is very good. Shantae, the other townsfolk and such, your enemies, and environments all have distinct visual styles which look great. And despite how different each area is, it does fit together well. Yes, everything is heavily upscaled pixel art meant for a handheld, so the original version probably looks better, and that high-res character art looks odd compared to the very chunky pixels of the regular game screen, but the good art design and charm shows through regardless. The music is very good as well, and probably has enhanced fidelity here on the PC. The soundtrack is familiar Shantae-like music for anyone familiar with other games in the series, but it’s good fun stuff. Overall, Shantae: Risky’s Revenge is a pretty good game. I do often eventually lose patience with the exploration-and-backtracking element of the Metroidvania genre, but otherwise this is a good-looking and great-playing title well worth playing, either here on the PC or on the 3DS if you want to play the original version. Also available on the 3DS eShop; the game was originally released for the DSiWare shop, but the DSi’s online store has been shut down, so anyone who does not have it on their DSi today will need a 3DS to play that version of the game.
Shovel Knight (WinXP+, 2014) – 1 player, saves, gamepad supported (xinput only). Shovel Knight, from Yacht Club Games, is a retro-inspired, 8-bit-styled platformer. It is one of many games like that released in the past decade, but among them this game is one of the most popular. Originally a kickstarter that resulted in a PC game, the game has had console ports on physical media and a regular stream of addons from the developers that still continue to release. Indeed, the next major update is scheduled for later this year. As a note, the Plague Knight expansion is in the game now, but I’m just focusing on the original campaign here, starring Shovel Knight. Shovel Knight is not flawless, and there are other good indie retro-style platformers that deserve more success than they have gotten, but Shovel Knight deserves the success it has had. The story is the games’ one major weakness, really. You are the hero guy Shovel Knight, and need to rescue your kidnapped female companion Shield Knight from the evil ENchantress. So yes, it’s a very traditonal, very sexist “hero saves girl from evil witch” story. Ugh! There is supposed to be a gender-reversal option for Shovel and Shield Knights added in the major patch coming in a few months, but that doesn’t fix the issue. I know that this is a very NES-like story, but why copy the bad elements of NES design along with the good? It’s unfortunate. The game does have some amusing comic bits here and there and a decent sense of humor, but the core story is bad.
The gameplay is a lot better, though, and so are the visuals. Shovel Knight’s core concept is a NES-like platformer inspired first and foremost by the great NES classic DuckTales, with some elements from other games as well. The game does not stick straight to the NES’s hardware limitations, though, so the game uses more colors than you would see on a NES, doesn’t have any sprite flicker and has very large sprites, and has parallax backgrounds. I’d rather see a classic-styled game like this, which mostly looks very much like a NES game, be accurate to the original hardware, but this isn’t quite that. Still, for what it is, a NES-plus title, Shovel Knight looks pretty good. The game has a nice cartoony art style, and the sprites are all very nicely drawn. Backgrounds are varied too, as every level has an entirely different setting and boss. Sometimes the visuals affect gameplay too, in hiding secrets, or in the flashes of lightning lighting up the dark areas of Shadow Knight’s stage, for example. The music is a chiptune soundtrack as you’d expect, and it’s good. I haven’t found it to be all that memorable, so far at least, but each theme fits its area well and they sound good.
The game controls well, and as mentioned above Shovel Knight controls pretty much just like Scrooge from DuckTales, but with a health bar and special magic items on the side. Your shovel works as a pogo stick, just like Scrooge’s cane in that game, and you lower it to bounce off of things by pressing Down while in the air. It works great and is fun, though it’s not original. Otherwise the controls are simple, with a jump button and an attack button for melee-range attacks. You can attack either by hitting enemies with your shovel either in the ground or air, or by bouncing on them, either works. Some enemies guard against one or both, so in tougher fights you will need to pay attention and attack when you get an opportunity. Additionally, you also have magic. You switch between the equipped magic item with two other buttons, shoulder buttons if you’re on a gamepad, and use magic with Up+Attack. The spells are varied, and include ranged attacks, temporary invincibility, and more. Magic is limited though, and your magic counter does not auto-recover; you will need to pick up magic pots to refill it. So, it’s sort of like the special weapons in a Castlevania game, for instance. The controls are good and responsive and always work just as they should, but sometimes the game feels a bit messy, as you and bosses trade damage for example; sometimes hits feel unavoidable, just there to drain your health, and it can be frustrating. This gives the game a messy feel at times, one better than a lot of classic Western games to be sure, but sort of like that. I would not want to play this game with one hit deaths and probably usually prefer health bars to one hit deaths, but it is true that not having a health bar forces designers to make their combat systems much more precise than you see here, if you want it to be as great of a game that is. Still, on the whole the controls are good, though it is perhaps a bit too close to DuckTales; I can’t say that this game quite matches that classic. It is good that each add-on character campaign they add gives you alternate controls, though; Plague Knight controls completely differently from Shovel Knight, and the same will be true for the additional playable bosses they are still working on.
The game is structured like many later NES titles, in that you have a world map you can move around on, Mario 3-style, full of full levels, towns, and smaller areas to explore. Each of the full levels is a fairly lengthy area with, as mentioned, a unique setting and Knight boss at the end. Levels are linear, but along the way, again like DuckTales, you collect money in this game, and levels are full of hidden areas both large and small full of coins and gems. Shovel Knight has well thought through levels that have bot hvariety and a good challenge curve, from the very easy early stages to much more frustrating ones deeper in the game. You do have infinite lives from the last checkpoint, though, so the game does not copy the NES in its lives system, that is more modern. However, when you die you drop some of the money you collected in the stage, which is then left on that screen in three floating bags. If you die again before getting back to get them you lose that money, and your next death loses you even more cash. So, if you do die, try to not die again before getting back to that point! This can be tough at times later on, but there are some upgrades that can help, and punishing you somehow for dying is good. Additionally you do have the option to destroy checkpoints if you want. This will give you more money, but you will then respawn from the last one before it, as it’s gone now. That adds some nice risk and reward for people who want more challenge. Outside of the main levels, towns have people to talk to and shops that you can use your money in. Upgrades include expansions to your magic and health bar, healing items, upgraded suits and weapons, and such. Upgrades are fairly costly, so you’ll want to get as much money as you can in the levels if you want to keep up with the upgrades. This may mean replaying levels you have beaten already to grind for money, but fortunately this is optional.
Overall, Shovel Knight is a pretty good game. The core campaign, Shovel Knight’s, controls like DuckTales but with Castlevania-like side weapons and a health system, but with responsive controls, a good number of quite well-designed levels to play through, plenty of secret areas to find, lots of varied enemies to fight, good graphics and graphical design, and more, this is indeed a quite good game. It isn’t perfect, as the unoriginal gameplay, messy combat, not NES-accurate graphics, and bad story hold it back a bit, but it is very good, and I absolutely recommend Shovel Knight to the handful of people who have not played it yet. Available as a physical release on 3DS, PS4, and Wii U, and as a digital-only release on PS Vita, PS3, Amazon Fire TV, and Xbox One. Available digitially on GOG and Steam for PC, Mac, and Linux; as always one purchase gets all three formats.
Super Lemonade Factory (WinXP+, 2012) – 1-2 player simultaneous (single system only), saves. Super Lemonade Factory is a port of a mobile phone game of the same name. As such, this is a very simple game, and that’s okay; it does have one interesting gameplay element in that you control two characters that each have different abilities, sort of like a simpler and not as good spin on The Lost Vikings. Unfortunately, the game has poor, slippery controls and an incredibly limited amount of content that makes it a hard one to recommend. In the game you play as two characters, a young couple who have inherited a soda and lemonade factory somewhere in Europe soon after World War II. The male character can jump higher but only once and can charge into boxes to break them, though this will not hurt anything other than boxes so it is not an attack, while the female one can double jump and can talk to the other characters to get bits of the slightly odd story. You cannot attack, so you will just need to avoid everything that can hurt you. The story is that you both need to go through all of the rooms in the factory in order to inherit it. For no apparent reason, touching any of the factory workers hurts you; the game doesn’t make any attempt to explain why this happens, particularly when you can talk to them and get bits of plot… then touch them and take a hit? I know games need obstacles, but it’s better when you come up with an explanation for it. Ah well. Worse, the controls are extremely slippery and floaty and do not feel good at all — this is why you do not make action games in Flash, as this one seems to have been made in — and the game does not support gamepads; you’ll need to use a keyboard-to-joystick converter program for that. There is an option that makes xinput gamepad button labels appear on the screen, but actual gamepad support was removed in a patch because it wasn’t working right, and hasn’t been put back. The game is playable on keyboard and still wouldn’t be great on a pad, but it probably would be slightly better.
The bigger problem is in the levels themselves, though. This game has only twelve levels, all only one or two screens large! The characters are smallish, but these levels are not exactly densely-packed either, so you can easily finish the game on Normal in half an hour. After beating Normal mode you do get a Hardcore mode, which consists of new versions of the same 12 levels that now have lots of spikes everywhere and no checkpoints, to make them more annoying to navigate. If you want to beat that as well it adds a little to the game, but not much. The ending barely exists as well. Beyond that, there isn’t much to collect either. Showing its mobile roots there is an analog of a ‘three-star’ system, but it’s far too basic: you get one marker on each level for getting the one and only collectable, a soda bottle placed somewhere in the level, and the other two are one for remembering to talk to the guy character, and one for talking to all workers/enemies in the stage. There is no scoring system or anything, so replay value is near-zero. Additionally there is a level creator, but they can be glitchy, and I’d rather not play this game any more anyway. So yeah, there’s very little to this game.
Visually, the game has some decently nice sprite-art characters in a very chunky pixel style, but the backgrounds are extremely basic Flash-environment that doesn’t fit the character art too well. There are also only maybe six sprites in the game ,for your two characters and the four or five workers who inhabit the stages. The music is catchy chiptunes, but there are only a couple of songs. Overall, if this was a free flash game, it might be worth playing through once, since despite the iffy controls, figuring out each of the stages is kind of fun for a bit. But for money, much less the $5 the developer wants on Steam, forget it! I got this in a cheap bundle, so for that money it may have been worth it, but probably just pass on this one. The Flash and mobile roots show through in too many ways, and there’s far too little here for it to really be worth it. I love The Lost Vikings and as a full game with a better engine this game could be good, but it’s not there. Also available on iOS. There is also a mobile-only sequel.
Super Meat Boy (WinXP+, 2010) – 1 player, saves, gamepad supported (xinput only). Super Meat Boy is one of the more popular very difficult retro-revival-styled platformers released last generation. After Cave Story and I Want to Be the Guy, indie platformers saw a comeback in the mid to late ’00s. This high-quality, polished title is one of the most popular of them. The sequel to a 2008 Flash game on Newgrounds, Super Meat Boy is indeed good. You play as Super Meat Boy, a blob of meat who has to make his way through many challenging levels as you try to rescue your meat girlfriend from the evil meat guy who kidnapped her. Beyond that though the game does have a dark comic style with some questionably violent and cruel humor very much in the style of other Newgrounds games of the ’00s. Fortunately the gameplay here is far improved over its Flash-based predecessor. Still, the basic setup is unfortunately awful generic sexist stuff, and that is too bad, but the controls, gameplay, and level designs of this game are all pretty good! Super Meat Boy is a fast-paced game with zoomed-out graphics and many small but tough levels.
The controls are very simple: you run and jump, that’s it. You have a run button and a jump button, and jump a shorter distance while not running, and a much farther but less high distance when jumping. You will need to learn when to run while jumping and when not to in order to get through this game; don’t just hold the run button down, you will die. You move fast while walking and even faster while running, keeping the pace up. You also will slide down walls, faster if you’re holding Run than when you are not. You will need to jump to get higher on a wall though, so strategy is required when on a wall, since the game loves to put obstacles mid-wall that you will need to avoid as you climb. I should note, this is an avoidance-based game with no combat in it. That’s just fine. Combining these abilities, you’ll need to navigate your way through hazard-filled levels loaded with giant spinning blades, spike pits, moving enemy blobs of meat which patrol platforms, and the like. Pretty much anything which isn’t a wall or floor will kill you, so this is a game of memorization as you slowly learn what to do in each level. The very well-designed stages are the best thing about the game, and are surely what gave it the good name it has. Each level has a very different feel to it, and the slow increase of difficulty and variety of stages in a game with limited graphical variation is impressive. You do move so fast that control can be tricky, but when you die it’s usually your fault. You restart instantly every time you die, thankfully. It’s great that there is no waiting for the next respawn.
When you do beat a stage, the game shows a combined replays of all of the attempts you just made all together, which can be fun to watch. You can also save a replay of your winning run through the level if you want, and see the end of level stats. The main goal of the game is getting through levels as fast as you can, so When you beat a level you see your time, and there are online leaderboards. Beat a level in a fast enough time and you get an A ranking on the stage, which is marked on the level-select screen. Levels also each have a hidden bandage item to find, though, and it keeps track if you found it. You’ll need to get the bandage and survive to the exit for it to count, if you die you’ll need to get it again. There are also a lot of levels, with at least five worlds of 20 levels each plus bonus levels and user-created levels you can also access, so there are hundreds of stages to play.
Visually, the game has very simple graphics, but it has some style. The story plays up its classic theme, with the villain, a top hat-wearing fetus in a glass jar, taunting Meat Boy with his kidnapped girlfriend at the exit of each level, Game Boy Donkey Kong-style. The visuals fit the setting as well. Meat Boy is a blob of meat, so as you move you leave a meaty blood trail behind on wall surfaces you have been on. By the time you beat a lot of the levels there will be a lot of blood all over, that’s for sure, which makes it more satisfying when you finally get a stage right and can move on. The obstacles fit the “meat” theme as well; those aforementioned spinning blades chop Meat Boy up when he hits them, and you’ll also see things like meat grinders and the like to avoid. Each world has a new visual look to it as well, which is good. Still, the visual look of the environments has a pretty generic, sort of Flash game-ish look to it, with very sharp lines and plain if varied environments, so the graphics could be better. Super Meat Boy also has a potentially off-putting sense of humor; this game is a dark comedy, and wants you to laugh at awful things. Sometimes it is a bit amusing, but other times it goes too far. This isn’t my kind of comedy for sure, though at least it does something different, instead of just being generic.
Overall, Super Meat Boy is a classic for good reason. The graphics may be only okay, but thye have some style, and the fast-paced, extremely challenging gameplay will keep you coming back for a while at least. The game gets extremely difficult by the time you’re a few worlds in, and I haven’t beaten it, but it is something worth coming back to every so often. Thanks to the short levels and instant restarts, this game is a great one to play for either short sessions or long. Also available, digital-only on all formats, on Xbox 360, Playstation 4, PS Vita, Android, Wii U, and Mac and Linux as well as PC, if you buy it on Steam and such.
Superfrog (DOS, 1993) – 1 player, saves, gamepad supported. Superfrog is a thoroughly mediocre platformer from Psygnosis. First made for the Amiga, this game also released on PC, but if that version is like this one I don’t think it’s worth playing on either platform. With annoying controls, blind jumps, too fast movement, iffy level designs, and more, this game has too many big problems. Even so though, fans of ’80s to early ’90s-style European platformers should will like this more than I do. Inspired by the fantastic Genesis megahit Sonic the Hedgehog, Superfrog takes the basic concept from that game, but can’t match its great controls, level designs, graphical look, or music. As in Sonic you run and jump and that’s it,and there is a momentum system so many jumps will require a running start to make. Unfortunately, the controls are imprecise and can be frustrating. The momentum system here has nothing on the Genesis Sonic games’s good physics engine. You die quickly too, so you cannot make many mistakes before restarting the level and, all too soon, the game, since you can’t save your progress. Great.
The biggest issue the game has are the level designs. Much like James Pond 3 for the Genesis (or Amiga), this game is very fast and has huge levels that scroll in all four directions, but those levels are full of traps, pits, enemies, and such that you can only see or avoid if you move slowly. So, you plod around with your superhero frog, moving as slowly as you can to see what’s coming up so you won’t run into it and die. Some of the less fun handheld 2d Sonic games from the past few decades have some elements sort of like this, but it’s at least as bad or worse here than it is in those games. Levels in Superfrog are huge and are full of stuff to collect, a familiar style to Western platformers of the time. It can be satisfying to find the hidden stuff in the stages, but the frustrating level designs and not-great controls hold it back too much to make me want to spend the kind of time exploring that this game encourages. Due to the difficulty there’s plenty in Superfrog to keep you playing for a while if you get into it, but I didn’t, and doubt many others who aren’t nostalgic for the game will either. The game does have okay if bland graphics and music, but it’s not nearly enough to make up for the many other flaws. Pass on this one, it’s not fun or worth playing.
Additionally, Superfrog won’t be easy to find legally either, because all digital releases of the game, both the original version on GOG and an HD sequel/remake that was on multiple platforms, were removed from sale in mid 2016. If you want to play Superfrog legally now you will need to buy a physical-media copy, and that is absolutely not worth it. For those who have it, the digital release on GOG also works on Mac and Linux through DOSBox. The HD remake, when it was available, was released digitally for PC/Mac/Linux, iOS, PS3, and Vita. The original version is still available as a physical release for the Amiga, Amiga CD32, and PC (DOS).