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.

Posted in Classic Games, Saturn, Updates | Tagged , | Leave a comment

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.

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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PC Platformers Game Opinion Summaries, Part 11: Digital-Download 2d games (Part 8)

… 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!

Table of Contents

Serious Sam: Kamikaze Attack (2011)
Shantae: Risky’s Revenge: Director’s Cut (2011/2014)
Shovel Knight (2014)
Super Lemonade Factory (2012)
Super Meat Boy (2010)
Superfrog (1993)

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).

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Article: Why Zelda: A Link to the Past is Overrated (but good)


I love the Legend of Zelda games, they are among the best! Indeed, I have sometimes considered it my favorite videogame series. This action-adventure franchise is amazing thanks to its great gameplay, graphics, music, and design. I know everyone has their own picks for their favorite Zelda games, but my favorites are Link’s Awakening and Ocarina of Time, followed in some order by the two Oracles games and Twilight Princess. Perhaps the most popular Zelda game, however, is this one, 1990’s The Legend of Zelda: A Link to the Past. It is not a game I played in the ’90s, but this early SNES classic is one of gaming’s most revered titles among some circles. It is indeed a very good game in a lot of ways, and I have often loved my time with this game. The classic Zelda formula and gameplay is one of gaming’s best, and this game does that well, for the most part.

However, despite that, over the years there is no Zelda game I have criticized more than this one. When LttP is good it’s very, very good, but I feel that the game has a few too many niggling issues the game has that hold it back. No game is perfect of course, but as great as it is a lot of the time, LttP’s flaws are too frustrating to overlook. As a result of the various issues I have with this game, it has been a regular target of mine; there are posts of mine online going back to at least 2003 criticizing Zelda: LttP on various fronts. I have never compiled those various criticisms into one single article, however, so after thinking about doing so for some time, that is what I have done here.

Please note, this is not a review; it is, instead, a list of most of the points of criticism I have about this game, with details about why each one is an issue. LttP’s positives have been said many times by many people, but its flaws are not mentioned as often, and some of them bother me. But remember, I do think that LttP is a fairly good overall; it’s far from perfect, but it is much more good than bad. Currently I think of it as an A- grade game, though at times when I’m being even more positive about it I have thought about it as possibly deserving of a full A. And while playing the game some again while putting this article together, I was reminded of some of the ways that this really is a great game, and the limitations of some of my criticisms; some apply much more to the first time you play the game than any subsequent replays, for example. But even so, the game has flaws that need mentioning.

One of the biggest challenges in judging LttP is that while at the time of its release it did a lot of new things, later games in the series would improve on what LttP does in so many ways that this game looks dated and frustrating in comparison. I know everybody has different tastes in games, but I really like some of the things later games do that this one just does not do as well. My two favorite Zelda games are the next two after this game, namely Link’s Awakening and Ocarina of Time, and both fix almost all of LttP’s flaws, while bringing back the outstanding, and often unmatched, core gameplay central to all classic Zelda games.

But as for this game, it is good, but has some real problems. I decided to make this article a list of issues, with a separate section for each major concern I have about the game. I think this structure works well for this kind of article. I do need to say though, while each of the numbered points on the list below has a different number of words backing it up, the length of the section and the importance of that issue do not necesarily coorelate; some issues are very important despite taking many fewer words to explain, while others take a while to explain but are not quite as important. I will try to make it clear how important each issue is as the article goes along.

Lastly though, a note: this article will have many major unmarked spoilers about Zelda: A Link to the Past in it. Do not continue reading if you have not finished the game.

Table of Contents


Table of Contents

Issues with Zelda: Link to the Past:

0) Nostalgia: I don’t have much nostalgia for the game, but I do for (the much superior) Link’s Awakening.

1) Interface & Map: The interface is dated and the in-game map could be better.

2) Combat Issues: Combat can be frustrating thanks to Link’s too-short sword-attack range and weak shield.

3) Poor Map & World Design: LttP has one of the most boring overworld map layouts ever in a Zelda game. This is a big deal for me.

4) Story & Towns: The town, story, and character interactions in this game are seriously lacking compared to any later Zelda game.

5) Dungeon Issues: The dungeons are pretty good, but some are too linear and frustrating and one near the end has an unacceptably horrible “puzzle” at the end.

6) Required Hidden Items: LttP has a lot of required items hidden in random corners of the world with minimal or no hints about where they are. I have never liked this kind of design at all!
Items/areas I had a particularly hard time finding:
6A) The Book of Mudora
6B) The Quake Medallion
6C) The Flute
6D) The Ether Medallion
6E) The Bombos Medallion
6F) Getting into the Swamp of Sorrows
6G) The Ice Rod
6H) Silver Arrows
6I) Overlookable Items, Concluded

7) Continues & Saving: The continue system is too limited. The game needs more points you can start from if you die or save.

8) The Character Art: I have never liked the style of LttP’s in-game character art sprites; they have a weir and not good look to them. The background art is fine, but not the characters.


Issues with Zelda: Link to the Past

0) Nostalgia: First, the issue of nostalgia. I’ve been playing games since the eighties, though we did not actually have gaming platforms at home until the early ’90s. However, while I did play some of the original NES Zelda game, I have no memory of spending any amount of time with Link to the Past for SNES back in the ’90s. I read about it, I read that LttP-inspired Zelda comic in Nintendo Power in ’92, and such, but hadn’t played the game much at all. The first Zelda game I owned myself was Link’s Awakening for the Game Boy, which I got in late ’94 and immediately fell in love with. I still really, really love LA, and consider it the best 2d Zelda game ever for a lot of reasons. But despite some misgivings I did want to sometime go back and play that SNES game some people talk about so much, so when the GBA port released in the early ’00s I bought it… and found it alright, but not as good as LA or either of the GBC Oracles games, Zelda: Oracle of Ages and Zelda: Oracle of Seasons. I dropped the game in the sixth dungeon and never have gone back to finish that version.

Several years later, after I started collecting classic games with my purchase of a Super Nintendo in 2005, I bought a copy of the SNES version of LttP. I played it partway and did think it was pretty good, and better than the GBA version, but I eventually got stuck midgame and stopped playing. In 2008 I finally went back and finished the game for SNES, and my reaction was pretty much as you see here: I liked it, with caveats. It is quite likely that if I had played it back in the early ’90s, despite the frustrating elements I would like it more than I do now thanks to nostalgia. However, I do think I’d still like LA more, because of the improvements to things like combat, mapping, story, required-item hunts, and more. LA and its successors build and improve on things LttP did, so this game feels primitive in some ways in comparison to later titles.

So, while I will admit that nostalgia is a definite factor here, I do believe that my issues with this game are things that mostly would bother me regardless of when I first played the game. The best games hold up regardless of when you first play them, and as my classic-games collection has grown and grown over the years there have been many games I love that I’d never even heard of before, back when they were new! LttP’s problem is not just that I didn’t play it when it was new, but that its game design does some things I dislike.

1) Interface & Map: Next, the interface is dated and the in-game map system, the one you bring up with the X button, could be better. Over time, the number of items you can have equipped at once in Zelda games has increased. From only one in the first couple of titles, it went up to two in LA and three in OoT, and it has stayed at at least two in most every Zelda game since. But in this game, you can only equip one item at a time, apart from your sword and shield, which are permanently mapped to buttons. This feels quite limiting compared to most newer Zelda games, as you’re constantly having to pause and switch items to a degree beyond most newer titles. The Super Nintendo controller has plenty of buttons, and they should have added at least one more equippable item slot. This isn’t the huge problem of some items on this list, but it is a bit annoying.

The pause menu screen where you change which item you have equipped is kind of clumsy, too, as if you select an item which includes multiple items within, such as the bottle, it may change the item within that category instead of switching items. So, you need to watch out which items you select while switching items, so you don’t get caught in sub-menus. This could have been handled better. The on-screen interface is a little odd as well; why do you need to know how many bombs and arrows you have on screen at all times? That is not such essential information that having this on screen all the time makes sense, versus the solution later games use which is to just put a number on each item that has a limited quantity of uses. That is the better design than this.

Lastly in this category is the issue of the map. If you hit the X button, you open the map screen. In the overworld this opens a Mode 7 map of the whole overworld that you can scroll around, and in a dungeon this opens the dungeon map, if you have found that dungeon’s map item that is. The overworld map is fine, but stylistically, I strongly prefer a map which reveals areas as you explore, instead of maps that let you see everything from the beginning regardless of if you have been to that location or not. Unfortunately, LttP does the latter: you can see the whole overworld map from the first time you open it. Most people probably like this just fine, but I care a lot about ingame maps, and I don’t. In comparison, the next game, Link’s Awakening, switches that out for a grid-based map which reveals as you explore. This really encourages me to explore much more than LttP’s map style does, because I really want to reveal all of the squares on that map! I may not care much about loot in videogames, but I do care about exploring out maps in games which have a minimap which reveals as you go. I wish LttP had that as well, and not only LA and the Oracles games. And on top of that, in LA you can even move a cursor around the map, getting info about what the name for the tile in each area or the building in each location is. There is no similar function here, so you’ll just need to remember where everything is.

Still, the overworld maps in LttP is a very detailed depiction of each of the two worlds in the game, so it is a useful map that makes navigating in this game easier. The map is great for that. But by showing you the whole map of it from the start, for me this discourages me a bit from exploring as much as I would in an LA or an Oracles game. And when you combine this with LttP’s decent but sometimes annoying item-switch menu and on-screen display, you get something that is good, but not as great as the best Zelda games in this category.

2) Combat Issues: Another important issue with LttP is that combat can be frustrating. Some people claim that this game “isn’t very challenging”, but I would say that they have played the game too many times to remember that it’s actually pretty tough! I died more than 80 times in my first time finishing the game on the SNES, and even though I didn’t finish the GBA version my death count is not low. Part of that is that I’ve only beaten the game once and Zelda games are always easier on a replay than the first time, and some is probably just that some people are really good at games, but there is more to it than just that. You see, after LttP, the Zelda series made several important changes to its combat system that make combat easier and more fun than it is in this game or the first one for the NES. For the most part combat in LttP is fairly standard for a Zelda game, which means it’s great. You have a sword for your main weapon, a shield for defense, and a bunch of other items you can use in combat as well that you will get as you play. The core of the Zelda series is about exploration, action, and puzzles, and the combat here is mostly great fun. However, as good as LttP combat is, the sword and shield both saw big improvements starting with Link’s Awakening and it is hard to go back to this style after having played that game.

First, your sword’s range is limited, and your range varies depending on which way you are facing. You have good range to the left or right of the screen, but up and down range is a bit less. And worse, your diagonal range is very limited. While in the next game, Link’s Awakening, Link’s sword-swing animation hits a full three tiles, those in front of you, diagonally forward-above, and above, in this game your limited little sword attack swings only in a small arc in the direction you are facing. You don’t have the vertical hit you do in LA, and you don’t have as much forward distance in your swings as you do in that game either, particularly when facing up or down. Additionally, when you hold the sword button down, you charge up for a spin attack. This is great, and is also useful because if enemies walk into you when doing this they will get hit, but in this game the ‘charged’ sword is held close to Link’s body, so it has very little range. In comparison, in LA Link holds his sword out like normal when it is charged, making hitting enemies with it easier. These changes make combat harder than it should be because you’ve got to get close to enemies in order to hurt them with your main weapon, the sword, and this increases the chances you will take damage. This is a regular issue throughout the game and does hold it back. I’m still not used to the sword’s limited range in this game, really. This is a significant issue with LttP.

And second, like in the first game for the NES, while you have a shield, it is nearly useless. In this game, unlike almost any newer newer Zelda game, the shield is only for blocking projectile attacks such as arrows and has no function outside of that. Blocking arrows can be useful, but blocking regular enemies and their attacks is far more important! In comparison, in most Zelda games from Link’s Awakening and on, the shield is vitally important during combat because it blocks enemy attacks. Going from that back to this game with its very basic and limited arrows-and-such-only shield is not pleasant. While most third and fourth-gen action-adventure and action-RPG games don’t have shields able to hold back enemies either, some games do, and walking around with this shield on your sprite that serves almost no purpose is kind of frustrating. It’s like, you have a shield Link, use it when that enemy walks into you! But no, they didn’t think of that idea until Link’s Awakening. Ah well.

As a result of those two factors, I find combat in LttP to be less fun than it is in any of the Game Boy or GB Color Zelda games. I’m not sure if this is a harder or easier game than those, as I died more times beating any of the three GB/GBC games the first time than I did in this one, but I played this game well after those so some improvement is expected, and in LttP I felt like I had more frustrating, unfair deaths than I did in those games. It’s definitely fun to explore around in this game, but you’ll take hits more often than you should due to your limited attack range and defense, and this makes the game more frustrating at times. This is an issue they fixed starting in the next game in the series. Overall combat in Link to the Past is pretty good, with fun core sword-swinging combat and some variety with your various items such as the hookshot and fire and ice rods. However, it could have been better, and the limited range and shield make combat in this game less fun than it is in newer Zelda games, and harder than it should be at times as well.

3) Poor Map & World Design: Ever since I first played it, one of my biggest problems with LttP has always been its map layout and design. The problem is, it’s not good, at all! Both in its overall layout and in how fun it is to explore, LttP’s map is kind of boring. While this game does not have the worst overworld design in a 2d Zelda game, I would say that The Minish Cap is worse, it’s one of the weaker ones for sure and this really bothers me. Across the Zelda series, in both the 2d and 3d games, you see two basic concepts in world design: either a carefully designed world, that is tricky to navigate and is densely packed with unique areas and things to see and do, or a large and open world that you can explore large amounts of more quickly and that has a much lower density of interesting or relevant areas. Link to the Past and Ocarina of Time are good examples of that second style, while Link’s Awakening and Majora’s Mask are of the first style. I think that the second style is better from a gameplay and level-design standpoint, when done well; it leads to more interesting, more varied maps with more to do and a more carefully designed feel, versus lots of pointless space that seems to be there for no reason other than to wander around in. As someone who has never liked open-world games much, that kind of design is not much of a draw for me. Objectively the two styles are probably equal, though, that’s just opinion. And beyond that, execution matters the most, as either style can be great or mediocre, depending on how well they are designed. For instance, I consider Ocarina of Time to be my favorite console game ever, while Majora’s Mask is interesting but very flawed due to its time mechanic. Despite that, MM has the more interesting, and almost certainly better, world to explore, but a game is more than its world, other factors are more important, in this case the time mechanic. In LttP’s case, the game has both the not-as-good style of world and also doesn’t have other elements that completely make up for that.

So, when I think of the game world in LttP, I think of a large and open map that is mostly decently designed, but just is not as interesting to explore as the maps in the top Zelda games. Yes, exploring the world can be a lot of fun in that classically Zelda way, and there are interesting areas to find as you look around, puzzles to solve, and more, but most of the map is mostly-empty and feels like it’s just there to take up space. When you first reach the desert and can run through it in five seconds to your goal and that’s the end of that, how is this supposed to be good world design? You’d never see this in Link’s Awakening or a 3d Zelda game! When exploring around the map in this game, looking for those scattered areas which actually are important, most of the time you instead just run in to more of the usual boring too-open spaces full of random enemies to run past or maybe fight if you want filling most of the space, with corners that serve no purpose more often than not to the edges. It’s hard to keep up my interest in finding the areas that are important, the places that have items like those below I couldn’t find, when I find most of the map so forgettable. And even when an area does have a key item in it, this game rarely explains that well enough, expecting you to fully explore everything regardless of how important it seems. I will get in to this issue in depth later, though.

So the problem is, this game requires you spend quite a bit of time exploring and finding items, but I found the world too uninteresting to make me want to actually do that exploration. And even when I did find a suspicious spot in the overworld, sometimes I couldn’t figure out how to proceed because of how obscure the overworld puzzles often are. But when outside of the usually pretty interesting dungeons most of the world feels irrelevant, I just wanted to go find the next dungeon. Another thing that can make you want to explore a game is its story, so while I will discuss this in more detail in the next section, the story and character interactions aren’t nearly good enough to help here either. The writing here is average at best, both in the basic story and the only decent NPC characters that are scattered around. In many later Zelda games the characters and in some cases even the story can help you want to keep going, but while it is improved over the original NES game by a lot, that is not so much the case here. Most of the better story and character interactions are early in the game, too.

Additionally, if you look at the zoomed-out map on the X-button map screen, you’ll notice that the overworld map layout is not that great. THere are some scattered corners with neat stuff in them, but that is not the bulk of the map. A Link to the Past is the only 2d Zelda game with a very straightforward and unvarying hub-and-spoke world, and I don’t like that; it’s kind of boring! The gameworld here is built around a central castle, surrounded by a ring of open ground connecting to the main areas in the game. The map in this game is made up of nine square areas, connected by mostly wooded spaces in between the main themed regions. One area, Death Mountain, takes up two of the nine squares, but otherwise each square is one area. These squares are even mostly identical in size! No other 2d Zelda game has such a simplistic layout, and it holds this one back. 3d Zelda games can be more like this, Ocarina of Time in particular, but there the good layout and other improvements make the world great regardless of that. The later games mix things up more than you see here. LA’s more complex world design helps make that game better.

LttP does do one thing which mixes things up in terms of map design, though: it introduces the concept of multiple game maps to the Zelda series. The implementation isn’t the best, but it is a good idea. While you spend the first half of this game in the Light World, midway you gain access to the Dark World, where you travel through a dangerous alternate realm. This map is a variant on the main map, so it is familiar and yet different. This concept of having multiple variations on the map is one that many Zelda games have used since, so it is an influential and important addition to the series. It’s not quite as cool as having an all-new second world would be, but it requires a lot less work and seeing an alternate version of the same world can be interesting for sure, so it does work. And the Dark World is satisfying in some ways, as it adds challenge to world traversal that rarely exists before you reach it. However, its design is very linear. This wouldn’t bother me if it had multiple start points, since I don’t mind linearity in games so long as you don’t need to replay the same stuff over and over, but unfortunately unless you’re in a dungeon you can only start from the center point of this map, and unlike in the Light World the Dark World’s center area has only one exit. So, you end up circling around the Dark World over and over. You do eventually get an ability that alleviates this issue, but still, this could have been better. The Dark World also has many fewer people to talk to than the Light World and no real town, so the games’ already limited amounts of interaction drop off even more here.

4) Story & Towns: Related to the previous point, Zelda: LttP has a very basic and no-good story, limited interactions with other characters compared to any newer game in the series, far less to do in the games’ one town than any subsequent Zelda game, and, of course, fewer clues for what you should be doing than any game after it in the series either. That last point is separate, though related because of how Zelda games combine story, towns, and clues together. But as for the rest of it, so, the story in this game is that you need to rescue the princess, again. It’s the same old garbage sexist story as usual, just with a better, more complete introduction segment than you’d see in the NES games. At the start the story seems to have promise, as you go to the castle, find your uncle and then Zelda, and escape with her. Once she gets kidnapped and the game proper begins, however, most story goes out the window apart from some conversations with the old sage Sahasrahla and a few psychic-link messages from Zelda. The game does have one twist, the initial villain Agahnim is revealed to be working for traditional series villain Ganon, so after beating Agahnim at the midpoint of the game you go over to the aforementioned Dark World. You start out in the dark world in an animal form, though, which is kind of amusing, but you soon get an item that lets you stay in human form there. Then you work your way through the dungeons in the Dark World until you can get Ganon. This is all a lot more plot than the nearly nonexistent story in the original Zelda, but that is a very low bar to cross and even compared to many other SNES games, LttP’s story is not that good. It has its moments, most notably the intro section and when you first go to the Dark World, but for the most part the story is entirely forgettable and generic, when it’s even there at all. And on top of that, “rescue the princess”, one of Nintendo’s favorite game plots, is a terrible and sexist plot that should go away forever, so it’s disappointing to see it return here. And as for the games’ ending, the less said the better; there barely even is an ending, beyond a very basic ‘you win’ sequence. It’s a far cry from the endings of most any newer Zelda game.

However, many Zelda games have bad stories; it is not a series known for great storytelling most of the time, it is best known for its great gameplay. Most newer Zelda games help make up for the weak stories with other things, such as amusing non-player characters (NPCs) to look at and interact with in the world, minigames, at least one town, and more. Link to the Past does have those things, but only in very early, rudimentary forms. Comparing this game to Link’s Awakening only a few years later, the improvements in NPC writing, design, and variety; towns; and minigames all are incredible and very, very noticeable. Where LA has some of the most memorable NPCs and situations in the series, with clever writing and a varied and amusing cast, and newer 2d or 3d Zelda games like Ocarina of Time or A Link Between Worlds have larger casts of interesting characters to interact with, minigames to play, and non-combat areas to explore, LttP shows the series’ first halting steps towards having these elements in a top-down Zelda game. The original Zelda is a great game, but apart from a few caves with one inhabitant each, who either gives you a clue or item or is running a store, your quest is done alone. Zelda II has full towns full of people to talk to, but its sidescrolling perspective makes it quite different from all other Nintendo Zelda games. Despite that though, I’m not sure if LttP is actually an improvement over Zelda II or not…

So, in this game, the third in the series, there is one town, Kakariko Village in its first appearance. The town is in the left center of the map, and is decent-sized but mostly barren of interesting things to do. There are some NPCs scattered around town, mostly in buildings, but they have little to say and there isn’t much progression or change here, unlike the towns in later Zelda games. I know many people at the time found the town fun to explore, but I find that there is so little to do there that most of the time the town is irrelevant. Apart from one key item and one dungeon, there is little reason to ever return to the town, something you could never say about Mabe Village in LA, or any main town in any 3d Zelda game. The handful of characters have little to say, there are no interesting minigames to play, and there isn’t much to find beyond a few overly obscure clues, either. For 1991 maybe having a guy who runs around town quickly and you need to figure out how to stop and a few people scattered around in the houses in town made for a good town, but it really doesn’t hold up at all. The town isn’t even monster-free either, unlike the (light-world) towns in all subsequent Zelda games! And as for the Dark World, there isn’t a town there at all, something else takes its place. Apart from towns, this game does have some scattered houses to visit, sort of like the caves of the original but better looking. It’s good that there are some of them in the game, but it’s nowhere near enough to make up for all the games’ other faults. And anyway, again, LA does this better.

On the whole, this game is heavily focused on the adventure, not the town and story elements of later Zelda games. The Zelda series is great because of the adventuring, dungeons, action, and puzzles first and foremost, but the lacking presentation, towns, and story in this game make it less interesting than later titles in the series. And even if it was a step forward for Zelda games in each of those categories at the time of its release, I think it is fair to compare it to other action-adventure games of its generation and find it lacking! Any of the three Soulblazer/Illusion of Gaia/Terranigma games have far better stories and character interactions than anything in LttP, for example, and Link’s Awakening is a huge improvement over this as well. As a result, while playing LttP I saw no reason to return to the town after the first time or so, so by the time much later in the game that I actually did need something there the thought of going back there didn’t cross my mind. I know that Ocarina of Time significantly expanded how much there is to do in a Zelda town, but this is the least interesting town in any Zelda game with actual towns. And as for the story, the decent start is wasted as soon as it turns into yet another stupid “rescue the princess” game. And yes, it’s a huge black mark against Nintendo they they STILL think that that’s an acceptable plot for most of their major titles. As much as I love the gameplay in so many Nintendo games, their sexism is unfortunate.

5) Dungeon Issues: After I finished LttP, I thought that one of the best things about the game was its many fun dungeons. And that is true, the dungeons are mostly great! However, I do have two issues to discuss about them here. This is not one of the most damaging issues on this list for sure, as the many great, classic Zelda dungeons in this game are a key part of what makes it so good, but as good as it is, as in many other categories, in these dungeons some issues hold LttP back versus its successors.

The main issue I have with dungeons in this game is that there are too few shortcuts and the dungeons are too linear, so when you die, and you will die a lot because this is a tough game at least the first time you play it, you will usually be forced to replay the whole dungeon again from the beginning. This often can be just as hard this time as it was the last time, or harder if you used not easily replenishable items like fairies or potions, and it makes the dungeons in this game feel more unforgiving than those in most any Zelda game following it. Some people like this, but I don’t because it results in forcing you to replay the parts of dungeons you are good at over and over, which is rarely something I enjoy; I want to be able to focus on the next challenge, not be forced to repeatedly replay the dungeon.

The causes of this are interlocking, but I’ll try to break it up. On the point about linearity, Zelda dungeons are usually fairly open levels with a somewhat disguised linear structure, as you explore the dungeon trying to figure out its puzzles and defeat the foes within. There is always a progression to the dungeon, but in most Zelda games, getting through a dungeon doesn’t take too too long if you have gotten the keys, been through it before, and such. I felt like that is less the case here; some dungeons are like that, but others, the Ice Palace and Misery Mire worst of all, are long linear corridors with no shortcuts, a design that forces you to replay those whole tough dungeons over and over from the start. Those aren’t the only too-linear dungeons in this game, either, as it’s a common design in LttP. Misery Mire is where I quit playing the GBA version of this game for good, and it’s easy to see why, really. The dungeons before and after those are mostly better, with one very important exception I will discuss later, but they do still have some issues.

But the problem is not just that dungeons are linear paths, all Zelda dungeons are linear to some extent after all. What makes this a real issue is the absence of shortcuts. Starting from LA, Zelda games have very useful mid-dungeon shortcut warps you unlock after beating the miniboss. Making things even simpler, the newer 3d games, from Wind Waker and on, restart you from the beginning of the last room in a dungeon when you die, instead of from the beginning of the dungeon. LttP, naturally, does neither of these things. There are no quick-warps in this game, that was a new creation in LA, and as mentioned earlier dungeons are often not designed with shortcuts either. Instead, when you die, you start from the last door to the outside that you entered and will have to restart from there. As great as most of the dungeons in this game are, this can be a real pain as doors are often few and far between. It gets old fast. And if you want to stop playing and pick the game up later? Sorry, unlike most later Zelda games, you can’t restart from the dungeon enterance; instead, when you turn the game on and load your save, you can only continue from the usual three places if you are in the Light World, and only one, the central pyramid, in the Dark World. So, just leave your system on if you want to continue from that dungeon without added travel. Too bad. The GBA version changes this, but the graphics and sound are too badly downgraded for it to be worth recommending.

And lastly, one of the later dungeons, Turtle Rock, is mostly a pretty cool dungeon… except for one thing: at the end, there is a special door. This door requires you have both the Ice and Fire Rod items, which you will need to use to get through to the boss. The Fire Rod is a regular item you get in a dungeon earlier in the game, so that’s no problem, but the Ice Rod is one of those items hidden in a random cave with few clues. I didn’t know the Ice Rod existed until reaching this door, as the incredibly vague “hint” Sahasrahla gives at the dungeon entrance really does not help one bit, so naturally I didn’t have it. I will discuss this awful design decision again later, but I had to leave the dungeon, look up in a FAQ where the cave with the required item is, spend a quite frustrating time wandering around Lake Hylia looking for the right cave, finally find the right one, get the item, go back to the dungeon, and restart it from scratch because of course I had to, this game has no shortcuts. It took a little less time the second time, as I knew what to do, but still, this was an absolutely unacceptable design and if I’d stopped playing forever at that point I wouldn’t blame myself one bit.

On an unrelated note, one other issue with the dungeons in this game is that bosses are usually much easier than the dungeons before them. In retrospect there are other Zelda games similar to this, as Link’s Awakening’s bosses, once you know how to fight them, also aren’t as tough as the dungeons for the most part, but still, it would have been nice to see some of the bosses be a bit tougher. Some are fairly bland designs, too — the first two dungeons both have you just face a couple of strong regular-styled enemies, for example. Each dungeon should have an interesting, unique boss, and not all of the bosses here are that. Couldn’t you have come up with something more interesting than just ‘four giant soldiers’ or ‘three worm things’? And unlike LA, most bosses don’t say anything to you before you fight them, either. That fits with the general theme of that game having more story in it than this one, but it is worth mentioning. Still, the boss fights in this game are usually fun, and ome of the bosses are fairly interesting. They’re good… but there are other Zelda games with better boss fights than these.

So, on the whole, while they are good to great, LttP’s dungeons are not among the best dungeons in a Zelda game. Many newer Zelda games go too far the other way towards making dungeons too easy, thanks to design decisions such as reducing the amount of damage you take on each hit, allowing you to start from the door of the room you died in instead of being sent back to the entrance of the dungeon as you are in this and all of the other ’80s and ’90s top-down Zelda games, and more, but with its poor designs in some dungeons this game goes too far the other way. Thankfully this game is easier than the very challenging NES games, but it is still hard. It’s often the fun kind of hard, the kind of game that keeps you coming back until you figure it out, but once in a while it’s the bad kind of hard, and as more of the more frustrating dungeons are in the later parts of the game, after you get past a certain point the dungeons become a slog at times. Thankfully the last few dungeons are better, and of course not every dungeon in a game is going to be equally great, but this is an issue worth mentioning.

6) Required Hidden Items: When I think about the flaws of this game, one of my biggest problems with the game has always been that in a very ’80s-game-like way, Link to the Past has a whole bunch of items you are required to have in order to progress in the game, but the game either tells you absolutely nothing about and just expects you to have found, or they only give you a clue so uselessly obscure that it’s of no help. The items you get in dungeons, such as the bow, bombs, and such, are fine; you get those as you go through the dungeons, as usual in the series. The problem are items you need that are found in the overworld. I want to know what I’m supposed to be doing in a game, so being required to find various items hidden in random corners is no fun at all for me. I have always been one to prefer a more guided experience over a totally open-ended one, though with the right design I can love games with big worlds, such as many Zelda games or Guild Wars. But this game, or the NES Zeldas before it? I’m sorry, but I do not like this stuff at all. This is related to why I’d never play Metroid Prime with the guide marker off.

The defense I’ve always gotten when I say this is that some people enjoy this kind of exploration in a way I never have, and that the game has clues for most of these items. The former is just a difference of opinion, but for the latter defense, I find those “clues” either so subtle that I don’t notice them, or so vague that they’re useless; I would never, ever have finished this game without a guide. In fact, when I first bought this game for the GBA, I quit playing in one of these points, as I gave up without figuring out how to get in to Misery Mire. I could have looked it up online again and found out what the required item was and where to find it (it’s called the Ether Medallion), but having to do that repeatedly in a game I wasn’t loving anyway just didn’t seem worth it again, so I dropped the game there. Some time later, perhaps after beating the SNES game, I did pick the GBA version up again, but I quit in the sixth dungeon, Misery Mire, because it’s hard and maybe the worst dungeon in the game. When I got the game for SNES several years later I did eventually like it more and finish it, but only with the help of guides at various points, including all seven of the particularly bad cases I will go over below.

Yes, if you do slowly explore everything, figure out all the vague clues and don’t miss any puzzles, and go back regularly to hunt for areas you can now use items you’ve gotten in you won’t have these problems, but expecting all players to do all of those things is asking too much. If I found the world more fun to explore, if the game made you continue to explore the world as you go as LA and beyond do by slowly unlocking areas of the world as you progress, if the mapping system rewarded you for exploration instead of just showing you it all from the start, maybe I’d have been better at finding this stuff in this game. But the game does none of those things, so I mostly just wanted to go to the next dungeon after completing each of them, since the dungeons are the most fun part of the game. I like exploring in games when the game-world is fun to explore and when the game encourages exploration, but I have always found LttP’s world kind of boring for reasons explained above. And importantly, I don’t care much about loot in games, so just exploring around with the goal of finding items isn’t much of a draw for me. I like exploring to find a place, to fill in my map, to see what’s out there, to clear out the enemies in that part of the map, or what have you. But just to find some more loot? I care much less about that than most people seem to.

Beyond wishing for a better gameworld though, two things this game could have done would have fixed almost all of these problems. First, the game really needs a quest log to remind you of tasks you have not completed, things people have told you, and the like. This is something the Zelda series has almost never had, unfortunately, but there is one in Majora’s Mask, and it shows why these are so great. Any good RPG or game with a lot of quests and hints and such should have an in-game system to remind players of which ones they haven’t completed, it’s extremely useful stuff. The only alternative is to try to remember everything or write stuff down on paper on your own, and you probably should do that in this game for some things.

And second, the games’ in-game hint system is basic and isn’t useful most of the time. Zelda games have had hints since the first game, but through the first three the hints are mostly very vague, the kind of clues that expect you to figure most of the game out for yourself as you explore. If you miss something that’s just too bad. Like its sequel, Link’s Awakening, LttP has two hint systems, beyond the clues told to you by Sahasrahla, random villagers, signs, and the like: the oracle’s house, where you can go to get a nearly useless clue about what direction you should be going at and pay 30 rupees for the “privilege” of the oracle’s not useful information, and hint panels in dungeons where Sahasrahla gives you a hint related to that dungeon. These are a little better, but still often are of limited use; sometimes he’s helpful, other times useless. The next game, Link’s Awakening, brings both of those hint systems back, but improves on them considerably. Overworld hints now come from telephone booths, which are free to use and give you a reasonably helpful clue from a weird old guy called Ulrira who you call for hints. In dungeons, there is a hint in each dungeon on a stone slab, for help on some puzzle in that dungeon. The small improvements in hint quality they made between these two games make for a big difference in fun; it is very possible to get stuck in LA, and when I first played it in the mid ’90s I remember it taking me several months to finish, but that game is never as frustrating as this one is because of its better gameworld design and more useful hints. The trickiest part in LA is the trading game, but even that has more clues than anything in LA.

So, returning to LttP, a quest log and an improved hint system which theoretically gives you clues towards the locations of required items you’ve missed and now need would have done wonders here. Unfortunately the game does not do those things, so here we go.

Warning: spoilers of course!

6A) The Book of Mudora – I’ll start this list with the first and least annoying case of a required hidden overworld-map item. The Book of Mudora allows you to translate the text on stone tablets, and you’ll need it to get into the Desert Palace. Getting this item requires an item you got after completing the first real dungeon, the Pegasus Boots, and just like they would again do in Link’s Awakening, it is “hidden” on the top of one of the bookcases in the library in town. You’ve got to charge at that bookcase with the boots to get the book. That’s alright, and you get the Pegasus Boots not too long after first having to visit the town so if you thoroughly explored the town area you should remember about the book in the library, but when I first played this game on SNES I didn’t do that, so by the time I needed the Book of Mudora I’d forgotten about that book in the library, and there are no clues to this required item’s location in the game. The one “clue”, from that guy in town who moves very quickly and you can now catch, is just that since you now have the Pegasus Boots you should look for things to charge into, but that’s not not much of a clue since it pretty much just says the obvious, explore! So, either go around looking for things you can now charge into until you remember to check the library, or else use a guide. I think I did the latter.

6B) The Quake Medallion – This required item is found in a pond in a random corner of the map. You don’t get any real clues to its existence this time, you’ve just got to have explored enough to find this spot, and figured out that there is a puzzle here as well. You see, there’s a sign near the pool which says “do not throw items in the water”, so naturally this means you need to throw things in. Throw in enough stuff, and you get the Quake Medallion. There are no clues to this item’s existence beyond that one sign, and as not all signs refer to required items, not by a longshot, that’s one weak clue! All of the medallions are, again, required, and hiding a required item off in an obscure corner of the map, with only a hint that anything is even there, is too much. This is another thing I did not figure out while playing the game and needed a guide to find; I just hadn’t found this corner of the map. Since this item is not one with any real hints but just something you need to find the problem some of these items have about the hints being long before the item is needed does not apply here, but the core problem of a required item hidden off somewhere with minimal hints to its existence remains. I have no problem at all with Zelda games hiding optional items like this one is; it’s kind of a clever puzzle, really, once you find the pool. However, required ones should not be so hard to find!

6C) The Flute – The Flute is an item mostly useful laterl see point 6F for its uses. But getting the Flute itself is kind of tricky. In the Light World area south of Link’s House, if you find a clearing surrounded by trees, with an arrow of bushes pointing towards the one entrance, you will find a spirit of a boy playing his flute sitting on a tree-stump there. He vanishes when you approach, though. So, once you can get to that part of the Dark World, you need to return to that same point. Now he is corporeal, and offers you the Shovel if you will look for his flute for him, hidden under flowers somewhere around that area. The Flute is in the light world, though, not the dark, so you’ll need to think to go back, then dig up all the flowers around that clearing until you find it. Return to the boy in the Dark World with the flute and he gives you a clue to the next step, that you should return it to old man in the village. This sounds a bit complex, and I’m sure I was stuck on it for a little while, but finding the flute itself wasn’t the big problem, for me anyway. Really the only clues about it come from that boy, if you find him, and the old man he references, who is at the bar in the village, but I did find the flute. It’s that next step that I completely missed, as section 6F shows. But regardless, this is a key item, and it’d probably be all too easy to miss if you hadn’t been to that clearing or if you don’t think to go back to that area once you can go to the Dark World version of that area.

6D) The Ether Medallion – Probably the second-worst and most annoying item to have to go back and find if you missed it when you first pass through the area where it is hiding, the Ether Medallion is a required item that is hiding in an area off of somewhere you will pass through only once, in the very top center of the map near the Tower of Hera, the third dungeon. It’s across a bridge off to the side of the dungeon’s entrance, somewhere easy to miss if you’re focused on going to the dungeon as I usually am. Yes, you can see the bridge, but the tower is much more prominent. Indeed, even knowing it’s there, playing the game again for this article I almost walked right past it again. And worse, even if you do go over there when you first arrive here to go to the dungeon, you can’t get the item; you need the Master Sword to get Medallions, so you’ll need to remember that this item is here, complete the third dungeon, go through the Mysterious Woods after that and get the Master Sword, and then trek all the way back up the mountains to the top to finally get this item. And if you missed this side-area or forget sometime in between, there are, of course, no clues at any point in the game about what this item is or where you should find it. How helpful. I missed this item when I went to this dungeon when first playing the game on SNES, and this is really bad because when you finally hit the point much, MUCH later in the game that the Ether Medallion’s power is required, the game doesn’t say a word about what item you need to get past that point; it just assumes that you got it already. Since I didn’t, it was very confusing because there was no way to know based only on what you are given in the game what item I even needed, much less where to look for it. I eventually had to look this up online, and it was still a pain because getting up to the top of the mountains takes a while, it is not a direct route. There’s really no excuse for there to not be this well hidden, and to not have any clues.

6E) The Bombos Medallion – The third medallion is hidden in a corner of the Dark World. I didn’t have as hard a time finding this one as I did the other two, as I don’t remember being stuck at this part, but that may have just been luck. As with the other two this is a required item with no substantive hints referencing its existence. You find it by warping from a certain point in the Dark World, where in the Light World you travel from the marsh to the desert but here is a dead end. Three stakes there form a triangle, and warp from that point to find a stone tablet the Book of Mudora can translate. This gives you the medallion. If you explore this area you have a solid chance of figuring this out, as looking for warp points is an important part of this game, but I can see someone missing it, so as with the other medallions this really needed some kind of clue for if you don’t have it when needed later.

6F) Getting into the Swamp of Evil – In the Dark World, the lower central area, the Swamp of Evil and the dungeon 6, Misery Mire, located inside, is inaccessible; there is no way in. There is a vague, typically useless clue, but that won’t be much help. After a while, you may realize that the only way to get there would be by a warp from the Light World, where that area is accessible. Travelling between the Light and Dark worlds is a key mechanic in this game, and as you progress you get better tools to do that with. While at first you can only warp at set warp tiles, you eventually will get an item which lets you warp between worlds at will. But this game being this game, you aren’t so much given this item, as you are required to find it through a series of tricky puzzles you may or may not even know exist. Traveling between the Light and Dark worlds is a key mechanic in this game, and as you progress you get better tools to do that with. You’ll need one of those to get into the Swamp, because no warp is initially accessible.

To solve this problem, you need the Flute; see above for that one. Now that you have it, you need to figure out what to do with the thing, as all it seems to do is play a little song. If you remember the lines the townsfolk say, something I was not doing while playing this game, and that clue from the boy who gave you the flute, you may recall that there is an old man at the bar in town who vaguely mentions knowing the boy who gave you the flute. I didn’t get the reference or think of playing the flute before people in town in response to the maybe too-vague clue (it doesn’t say “play”, but “give”…), got stuck at some later point in the game and took a long break from it, and then finally came back only to have no clue about what to do once I had to get into the Swamp. Eventually I had to look it all up online. What I didn’t know is that you have to play the flute in front of that old man and he will tell you to play the flute at the rooster weathervane in town. Do that and you unlock a fast-travel mechanic which has a drop point that is otherwise inaccessible, letting you then warp over to the Dark World inside the Swamp of Evil. But since the boy only gives you this clue once and there is no way to see it again, this is another one of those things where, if you don’t figure the puzzle out right away and I did not, you will probably be hopelessly lost much later in the game when the item this quest-path leads to is suddenly required. That’s flawed design; this could have been handled much better.

I, of course, forgot about that old mans’ line right after he said it when I first got there very early in the game, and by the time much, much later in the game that the flute was needed I had no clue what to do with the thing. You won’t have the flute when you first get to the town or for quite some time afterwards, so this is just a thing you’ll need to remember if you don’t want to have to give up and use a guide like I eventually did. And remember, importantly, there certainly is no hint in the game that the flute gives you warping, or that the flute quest has anything to do with getting in to the Swamp of Sorrows, which is when warping is first needed! You need to figure all of those things out for yourself, with no help from the game. I wish it would do some of that.

6G) The Ice Rod – I covered the problems with this incredibly frustrating item earlier, in the Dungeons section, but the Ice Rod is yet another required item you find in a cave in the overworld. Unlike all previous items in this section, however, this one is needed in a dungeon. And it’s not only needed IN a dungeon, but it’s needed at the very end of a long and difficult dungeon near the end of the game… and that is the one and only time you ever need this item in the game. Now, there is a clue about its existence, but that clue is way back, given to you by Sahasrahla after you finish the first real dungeon, the Eastern Palace. He says that an important item can be found in a cave on the eastern side of Lake Hylia. What you need to do is not too complex, if you do it right away: you need to search around Lake Hylia, find the route through the lower-central plain area to the bottom and right side of the lake, find the cave in question, notice that there are bombable walls nearby, buy some bombs from a store, blow open that cracked wall, and get the Ice Rod, you’re all set, no problem. You won’t actually need it until the bottom of that dungeon near the end, but it might be handy here and there.

However, when I played this game on the SNES in ’08, I did not find the Ice Rod. I probably did look in some cave near Lake Hylia, but for whatever reason never found the Ice Rod, and didn’t have any idea I was missing a required item; that hint is vague, and not every hint people give you is about required items after all. And then when the item isn’t actually needed for about six or seven dungeons after the one and only hint in any way related to its existence is given, and there are absolutely no more references to the Ice Rod after that, it’s easy to see how I could have overlooked it. If you’re going to do this kind of puzzle right, give a better hint and have it be required soon. That’s how a newer Zelda game would do this. Here, though, the time gap between when you are (vaguely) told about the item and when you actually need it is crazy-long!

So, as described earlier, not remembering, or maybe even knowing, that an Ice Rod existed or that I’d need it, I got all the way to the bottom of the Turtle Rock dungeon late in the game, only to find that there is a door there that you can only open with both the Ice and Fire rods. So, I had to leave the dungeon, go use a FAQ to tediously search around for the right cave that had this item I didn’t know about, and then go back and completely restart the dungeon from the beginning, because they couldn’t be bothered to include things like shortcuts or boss-room warps in this game’s dungeons. This was more frustrating than any other item on this list because it forced me to replay a dungeon just because I didn’t have some random previously unnecessary item the game hadn’t mentioned in probably several dozen hours. At least in all of the other items above, the worst that could happen was that you just couldn’t progress. This one has the most serious repercussions if you miss it, and unfortunately I somehow managed to do that. As much as I do also dislike how modern Zelda games often make puzzles a bit too obvious, games like this one or the original Zelda for the NES show games which go too far in the opposite direction, and show why that kind of player guidance came into being. People should not be punished this severely for simply missing an item hidden in some random cave, that isn’t needed through almost the entire game until suddenly at the very bottom of a late-game dungeon it’s suddenly required!

6H) Silver Arrows – At the very end of the game, if you want to defeat the final boss, you need to shoot him with a special alternate type of arrow called the Silver Arrows. There is no clue in the game that this item even exists until you get them, so I’m sure many people got close to the end, only to realize that they couldn’t damage the final boss after a certain point and must be missing something. This is one thing on this list here I did know about the likely existence of when I first reached the end, though, because Silver Arrows also exist in the great early ’90s Zelda comic in Nintendo Power that was loosely based on this game, and I’ve read that comic multiple times and like it quite a bit. So, I did think to look for them before trying to beat Ganon, but the location sure is obscure! Right in Ganon’s Pyramid, the central building of the Dark World, if you destroy this one particular panel with a Super Bomb, it creates an opening into the place the silver arrows are hidden. The panel is cracked but won’t break from a normal bomb, so that is sort of a clue you need something more, but that this panel holds anything particularly important behind it, or how to break it, is of course not mentioned anywhere.

The issue is that in order to break that panel you need an item that you only need for this one purpose, a Super Bomb. You get this at the otherwise mostly useless Bomb Shop, but not right when you first find that tile; oh no, at that point the bomb shop still has nothing of note. Instead, you’ll just need to realize that at some point late in the game the Bomb Shop started carrying Super Bombs, and to keep checking until it does so you can go back and buy one. And on top of that, you’d then need to run across the right place to bomb, which could be tricky. This recalls some later dungeons in the original Zelda, such as ones hidden behind random rocks and trees and such, so you’d need to just randomly bomb the world’s terrain until you find the right place. This time is a little better than that since there is at least one clue, but it’s still fairly annoying. While I knew I needed silver arrows, without a guide I doubt I’d have ever figured out this whole too-involved process.

6I) Overlookable Items, Concluded: Looking back, and playing this game again some, I can understand why I missed some of these items I missed my first few times playing this game in the ’00s. Others seem simpler in retrospect, making me think ‘I probably should have found that’ about things like the Book of Mudora or the Ice Rod. But other items, like the three Medallions, the Silver Arrows, and such… that is not good. The only decent excuse here would be that this stuff is mostly only annoying the first time you play the game, so the second time through LttP it should be much less frustrating, but shouldn’t a great game be great the first time through, and not only later ones? Not everyone wants to play games multiple times, after all, or to keep playing after repeatedly getting stuck in a game, so required items like those should not be being as well hidden as they are. Do that for optional things, not required ones. The concept here is that the game doesn’t give you direct hints about where required overworld items are, it just gives an obscure one once, told to you by one NPC usually in a way that you can’t get them to repeat, and then expects you to figure out what that means before proceeding. As much as I dislike the way many modern games lead you around too much, this is worse. This kind of incredibly frustrating, wander-around-lost-with-no-clue-of-what-to-do experience is exactly why modern games DO lead you around too much! Getting that balance right, in having puzzles which are interesting and challenging but aren’t too easy or too hard, is incredibly difficult, but later Zelda games such as LA or OoT nail it. This game does make steps forward versus the NES games, but not enough of them.

7) Continues & Saving: The continue system is too limited. The game needs more points you can start from if you die or save. I have referenced this issue several times already, but I think it deserves its own point on the list as well. Again, when you die in the overworld in this game, there are only a few places you can start from. In the Light World there are three, in the lower center, upper center, and top of the map. The Dark World has fewer continue points though, only one right in the middle. There is also only one exit from the center of the Dark World map to the rest of the map, unlike the Light World which is more open, so until you get the ability to freely warp between worlds navigating the Dark World can be tedious when you just want to get to where you were again. While any newer Zelda game will let you start from somewhere close to where you died, starting with Link’s Awakening which allows you to save or continue after dying from the nearest doorway you entered, when you die here the penalty is much more severe if you weren’t near that central point. Crossing this games’ map may not take too long, but requiring you to do this over and over gets old after a few times.

In a dungeon, though, oddly enough, if you die you will respawn from the last doorway from the outside you entered the dungeon from. This is very helpful in dungeons which have multiple entrance points along the way, and in some cases dungeons were designed with these on purpose, to give you checkpoints of a sort. That’s great, but it is really weird that if I die a screen into a dungeon you restart from that dungeon entrance you entered, but if you leave the dungeon by that same entrance and die a screen over from it, in the overworld, you’ve got to restart all the way back at one of the four aforementioned overworld starting points! Seriously, how does that make any sense? LA fixes this problem by just letting you continue from the last door you entered, period.

And worse, if you decide to stop playing and turn the game off you will only be able to continue from those overworld points mentioned earlier, you cannot start from the entrance of the dungeon you are in. You really should be able to do that, as you can do in any Zelda game after this one and dungeons can be tricky so not everyone is going to want to play every one in one sitting. As I said earlier, particularly in the Dark World, having to start over from the Pyramid all the time is really a pain, as it can take a while to get anywhere from there. Once you get the warping item it’s not as bad, but it still can be frustrating. The limited continue points date this game.

8) The Character Art: I have never liked the style of LttP’s in-game character art sprites, and this has always been one of my more significant issues with the game. Now, for the most part, this is a pretty good-looking game. LttP uses at least some of the graphical powers of the Super Nintendo to good effect, with sizable sprites, lots of color, detailed environments that show how much more powerful the SNES is than the NES, effects such as the rain that falls at the beginning of the game, and more. There is quite a bit of slowdown when more than a few things are on screen, but it is a first-generation SNES game, so that is understandable. The art style of the backgrounds is mostly great, and Link’s Awakening’s background-art style is quite similar to this games’.

However, when it comes to the character and enemy sprites things go downhill fast. I know art is a very subjective thing, but I have always thought that LttP’s character art style is not very good. This game has a very cartoony, anime-esque art style, sort of a predecessor to the style of Ocarina of Time but more cartoony not nearly as good looking. I like anime, but this games’ character and enemy sprite designs have always looked kind of odd to me. In terms of art design in Zelda games, I have always preferred the more “realistic” looking Zelda games over the more cartoony ones. Twilight Princess has, in my opinion, the best art design ever in a Zelda game, for example. That game looks amazing! This game is much more cartoonish than that, and oddly so as well; this is no match for the the divisive but sharp-looking world of Wind Waker, among more cartoony-looking Zelda games. Some of the characters and enemies barely look like the things they are supposed to represent, if you compare their original designs to the in-game sprites. Some of them are really odd looking. From Link’s odd floppy hat, to the misshapen enemy guards, to the various blobby enemies, the character graphics here are often good for their style, but I find the the style is off-putting and kind of ugly-looking at times. While Link’s Awakening borrows many things from this game in its art designs, the overall look is a bit less stylized than it is here, and as a result I like the sprite art there better than LttP’s by quite a bit.

So, when Nintendo announced that the actually pretty good Gamecube game Zelda: Four Swords Adventures would take its graphical design from LttP, I was disappointed. I know a lot of people love this games’ look, but while I do like the visuals overall, I don’t love them and wish that that game had done something a bit different. Ah well, at least they did do some new things such as putting huge numbers of enemies on screen, better visual effects, and more; it’s no SNES game, visually, it just uses this art style.

Finally though, one note about the GBA port of LttP. While the gameplay is largely the same as before, the graphics and music are quite a bit worse looking than they are on the actual SNES. The GBA’s sound chip is no match for the Super Nintendo’s, as you can hear in any SNES-to-GBA port, and it hurts this game as much as any. And as for the visuals, they look similar, but perhaps to look good on the original-model GBA they have been brightened, and don’t look quite as good as before. That brightening was needed, as I did stick with an original-model GBA up until I got a Nintendo DS and there are a few games which are too dark on that not-backlit original-model screen, but it does hurt LttP’s visual look. The save system is a bit better, but the most surprising thing about the SNES version when I bought it was how nice the game looked, character sprite art aside; apart from that it just looks so much better on SNES than GBA! Stick to the original version of this game. But even on the SNES, the character art design just is not that great looking.


So, overall, The Legend of Zelda: Link to the Past is a great classic. I played the game again some for this article, and it’s easy to see how people who played it when it was new could still think that it is one of the best games ever made. However, as good a game as it is, LttP does also have some flaws, and they are bothersome enough that they have always distracted me away from the great parts of this game to a significant extent. Some of the flaws are bigger than others, however.

First, I find that the game discourages exploration, when compared to other Zelda games. Exploration is central to this game of course, but Combining several of the points in the list above, because the games’ world map is too open, and user-viewable map on the X button shows you the whole map from the start, you don’t need to reveal it as you explore as you do in LA. When you combine these two factors, I felt less interested in exploring the world over the course of the game because you can go almost everywhere right at the start, so what’s the point of going back to places you have been already? The problem is, sometimes you NEED to return to those corners, because some item you need is hidden in one of them behind objects you can only get past with an item you don’t have yet. Remembering where all of those places are is difficult and I’m not great at that, and I do NOT enjoy wandering around aimlessly looking for things I can now open; not knowing where I’m going in a game is not my idea of fun. The solutions here are all things later Zelda games do: more useful and clearer hints about the locations of key items you need, a world map not so open so exploration is encouraged throughout the game, a map that reveals as you go encouraging you (or me, at least) to want to fill out that map, and more hints about places where you may be able to use an item you don’t have yet. LA does every one of those things, and Ocarina of Time and beyond most of them as well. Even the element of that in OoT most like LttP, OoT’s fairly open map, is at least more segmented than LttP’s is, as you unlock large new areas as you progress around the central hub.

Second, even beyond point one, I dislike the way the game hides vital items around the overworld. The way you are supposed to play this game is to slowly explore the world, making sure to note every place you may be able to use an item you do not have yet as you go and then getting every item as soon as you can. Finding these items seems easy once you know where they are, but learning where all of the key items are either takes a lot of patience, or an online guide. Now, puzzles are good. Games that tell you exactly what to do at every point, as many modern games have in the past decade or so, often goes too far, dumbing down games so much that they’re too easy to be much fun. But this kind of design, closer to NES-style frustration than anything, has too little help. The game does have a few attempts at hint systems, including an oracle who will give you vague and nearly useless clues, hints from Sahasrahla, Zelda, other townspeople, and signs as you progress, and subtle hints in the environment towards areas of importance with cracked walls, circles of rocks, and such, but no Zelda game after this one would have a design which puts so much importance on finding items on your own, and there is a reason for that: it frustrates anyone who didn’t manage to explore in quite the right place, or who did go there but missed the too-subtle clues the gamer has to lead you towards them. It also hurts a lot when the game repeatedly doesn’t require you to actually use key items for a LONG time after you get them, so if you missed them when that one hint was given it’s nearly hopeless; you’ll never be given that hint again, and nothing at the point where you use these items, such as the Ether Medallion or Ice Rod, hints towards where that item can be found; the designers just assume you got it already, without having checked back around the time of the original hint if that was the case or not. As with the previous paragraph, this was a solvable problem: just make sure that the player actually got this item close to where you find it by having a puzzle or obstacle you can only get past with that item soon after you are supposed to get it and while you’re still in a place where getting back there isn’t a complete pain, and have a better hint system so that if you did miss a key item, when you finally need it you aren’t hopelessly lost like I was multiple times in this game. Without a guide I would never had finished this game, no question about it.

Next, I wish that your sword’s range was a little bigger and your shield was more useful. Going back to the game now, I’ve been taking hits over and over because of how close you need to get to enemies to damage them. Your attack is only a moderate-ranged sword-wave in the direction you are facing, with almost no coverage beyond just straight ahead in one of the four directions you can face. From LA on your swords have longer range than this in Zelda games, keeping you a little bit safer. The near-useless shield is an even bigger difference from later games, as here it is only for blocking projectiles and nothing else. It works, as you just need to avoid enemies by moving around them, but if you’re used to being able to block enemies with your shield as you can in almost any Zelda game from LA or beyond, going to this game will take some adjustment for sure. You will take many hits that feel cheap.

And last, I have never liked the look of the characters in this game. Link is somewhat odd-looking here; I don’t mind the pink hair, but the art style is just a little weird. Enemy sprites are even stranger. The backgrounds and music are both great, and the game mostly runs well though it has significant slowdown at times on the SNES, but the character art is just off a bit, compared to the better-looking Zelda games.

So in the end, The Legend of Zelda is a very good game with a lot going for it. The game is mostly beautiful-looking, it has a great and memorable soundtrack, it plays great most of the time, it evolves the Zelda formula and improves significantly over its NES predecessors, it has quite a few very well-designed, really fun dungeons to play through, and more. I do like this game, despite everything here, and it is worth playing, with a guide at least. But I do not unreservedly love it, and I always will think of Zelda: Link to the Past as a flawed game with quite a few bothersome issues, both major and minor. And for that, compared to the extremely high praise it usually receives, I do think it deserves the term “overrated” that I gave it in this article’s title. As good as this game is, it is the next title, Link’s Awakening, that masters the 2d Zelda formula. This game is good, but not quite there in some ways that really bother me.

Posted in Articles, Classic Games, Research, SNES | Tagged , , , | 6 Comments

Many Issues with the Iffy PlayStation 3 Operating System

While I work on my next article, and it is in the works, how about this little almost ten-years-out-of-date, but new to me, list of complaints? I got a PS3 for the first time a few months ago, and while the system has lots of good and interesting games, the system OS has all kinds of problems compared to its contemporary the Xbox 360, and in some ways the Nintendo Wii as well. I’m making this list because it’s kind of crazy that Sony never fixed some of these things, after so long! So, let’s get on to the list.

First, I need to say that the system I got is the final model of the PS3, the top-loading SuperSlim system. It has a 12GB internal flash memory storage space and does not require a hard drive, unlike previous PS3s, but doesn’t have the memory card (Memory Stick Pro Duo, etc.) slots that the first-model PS3 has. However, this space is far less useful than it may sound due to system limitations.

Please remember, the PlayStation 3 released a full year after the Xbox 360. Both OSes have been worked on a lot since their original releases as well, so there is no excuse for the system having all of these problems, particularly compared to a system which predates it.

Last, I’m sure that I’m not covering everything here I could about PS3 OS issues; these are just the things I’ve particularly noticed, since getting the system a few months ago. If anyone has anything more to add to this list, please share them!

First, a few general system interface issues.

  • The controls require you to use the gamepad only in menus, there is no PS Move pointer support. The Move does work in menus, but only as a gyroscope, letting you move the usual d-pad/analog stick selection around with tilting instead. The Wii is the opposite of this, as it has pointer-only controls in menus, and I wish it let you use the d-pad or analog stick as well. Both systems should let you use either one, not only one or the other!
  • It’s kind of slow, and doing anything takes longer than it does on the 360 — loading…
  • There is no simple list of how much space games/apps take up, unlike the 360 or newer systems like the 3DS. Instead you need to go into each games’ info page separately to view how much space that game is taking up. This means that if you do start running out of space, figuring out what’s big will be tedious and time-consuming.

Problems with the PlayStation Store

  • The store is not integrated into the OS but instead is a completely separate application. Nintendo systems work this way as well, and it’s not bad, but the Xbox 360 has the store fully integrated into the OS, and that’s the better, faster, easier to use design compared to this. The Sony store also takes far too long to load, and worse…
  • You cannot use the PlayStation button on the controller to return to the OS while in the store. In any game, pressing the PS button returns you to the system menu, where you can close that game, open something else, open some system settings, view the list of current downloads, or what have you… or not do any of those things, and just use it as a pause system and return to the game with another press of that button. But in the store, you cannot return to the OS; instead, pressing the PS button merely gives you the option to quit the store. This is a problem because…
  • You cannot view the download list while in the store, there is no option to view your list of downloads there. The current-downloads list is only available in the system menu, and since you can’t view this in the store, you need to quite the store to see it. So, if you want to see what’s downloading and what has finished, how many things are still in the list, how close you are to maxing out the number of things you are allowed to have in that list, or such, too bad, you can’t. You need to quit the store to view what you’re downloading, then wait for the store to load again to go back in if you needed to… ugh.
  • Sometimes, when you’re using the store, it will randomly crash and quit you out of it for no reason. As the store interface is slow to use and buggy, it can take a while to get back to where you were; see below.
  • The store OS works terribly and, when you go to download something and then back out back to the search list you were just on, will almost never actually leave the title you just downloaded selected. Instead, something far above it will be selected…. usually the very top game in the list. Considering that everything is very slow to navigate and to mention only one example the PS3 demos list is over 500 games long, this is a huge problem! Scrolling all the way down that list every time you want to download one more demo is really tedious, and as much as I want to try more of the PS3’s demos, I eventually gave up on this, at least on the system itself. Again there isn’t any kind of fast-move either, unlike the 360 which lets you scroll by pages with the shoulder buttons. If you want to download a bunch of stuff the PS3 store is barely usable.

Game Download, Install, and Deletion Issues

  • The system defaults to downloading as a full-screen application, instead of in the background. You need to hit a button to download something in the background, and this will take longer because it needs to prepare for the background download first, a process which takes longer the larger the file is. The X360 always downloads in the background, which is great. The Wii does not let you do anything else during downloads, but as downloadable Wii games max out at 40MB, this isn’t much of a problem. Newer Nintendo systems such as the 3DS do have background-download support, without the PS3’s delays. This is a relatively minor issue, but it is worth mentioning.
  • After downloading a game it does not auto-install, unlike pretty much every other console I have ever used. Instead, it downloads an installer that you will then need to run yourself to install the game. This means that you need twice the amount of space a game takes up in order to install it, since you must have both the installer and game there at the same time while it’s installing. After the install finishes you get the option to delete the installer, if it’s a PS3 game that is, but still this a weird and unnecessary step for a console. Yes, things like PS1 Classics that work on the PS3, PSP, and Vita, or PSP games you download onto your PS3 for transfer to a PSP or Vita, do need those installers so you can move those games over to the other systems somehow, and it’s handy that they keep those by default, but nothing else should have an installer here, it should all be automatic.
  • Worse, unlike downloads, game installs must be done as a full-screen thing, meaning you cannot do anything else with your PS3 while a game is installing. ‘Go do something else for a while, the PS3’s useless right now’, pretty much. On the 360 the whole download and install process is seamless and runs in the background, but that doesn’t work here. And as for the Wii, the 40MB maximum size keeps install times short, and it happens automatically after the download too, none of this PS3 oddness.
  • Download speeds from Sony’s PSN network are oddly slow, and take longer than they do on the 360. I know I only have the PS3 connected by wi-fi, not wired internet as I have with the 360 (because I only have one cable long enough to go from the router to where my consoles are), and wi-fi is slower than wired, but still, all that I’ve heard about how slow PSN downloading is seems to be true.
  • On the Xbox 360, if you buy a game on the PC and then turn on your 360, it will automatically download it. On PS3, however, it does not do that; you need to manually go into the store’s previous-purchases list and tell it to download the game manually. It’s a real pain.
  • On a related note, deleting games or files on this system takes FAR longer than it does on 360 or Wii. Why does everything in the interface take so long? It’s crazy how slow this is…

The Worst Thing about the PS3 Interface: System Hard/Flash Memory Drive Limitations – This is a part of the above category, for the most part, but I’ve split it out into its own section because it’s so bad and bizarre that it needs to be mentioned on its own.

  • Worst of all, the PS3 seems to only support one usable system drive at a time. I first got this PS3 without a hard drive, and quickly found that many games require large installs so the 12GB of internal memory very rapidly filled up, much faster than it does on 360. The PS3 supports up to 1TB hard drives, so I got one of those. So, after I installed the hard drive, it asked me if I wanted to switch the save location over to that. If you say no, the HDD basically doesn’t exist and is inaccessible; the system continues to only have the 12GB of internal flash memory available, and nothing more. What?? If you say yes, the system starts a VERY long HDD install process. Once that finally completes, the 12GB internal flash basically doesn’t exist and is inaccessible, unless you remove the hard drive and thus go back to only that. You cannot use both at once. That’s just insane design!
  • Even stupider, even though on the SuperSlim the OS is installed into the system in what I presume is a hidden flash memory space that isn’t user-viewable, once a hard drive is installed, the OS must be installed to the HDD, not the internal memory. That very long install I mentioned is the system copying the OS over to the hard drive. As long as the HDD is in there, both the 12GB user-viewable space and the larger OS space beyond that are hidden and unusable, and that’s crazy. I would much, much rather have the OS stay in its original flash memory location, where it surely will run more quickly than it would from a hard drive. With how slow too many things are in this OS it could use the help. I know that previous PS3 models do not have any internal flash, and only have the hard drive for both the OS and games, but once they made a model with internal flash they needed to fix the OS to account for that fact, to let you continue to use the OS on the internal flash while using the HDD for game installs. If you have internal flash and a hard drive, you must allow people to use both sources. The PSP lets you run games off of the disc or out of the flashdrive menu, and the X360 allows you to save and load from the internal flash, hard drive, or, for save files, cloud saves… and it now even has 2TB external hard drive support too, though this was only added this year and surely would be slow considering that the 360 doesn’t have USB 3.0. But anyway, on PS3, you have none of that, only “only the HDD” or “only the flash”.
  • So, in one positive, the PS3’s maximum hard drive size allowed is 1TB, twice the size of the largest hard drive size the X360 supports, 500GB. That’s good. However, after transferring over the contents of the mostly-full 12GBs of flash memory, and before I had downloaded or installed anything else, the system said it had only 829 of 919 GBs free! Uh, the internal flash was only 12GB, yes? So why did almost ten times that much space get used up? Is the PS3 OS really that huge, or something? Sure, I’m unlikely to fill this up anytime soon given that I’m not subscribing to PSN Plus long term and haven’t been in the past, so I’m not getting all those free game that that have now almost filled up my 360’s hard drive, but still, that’s weird. I wonder how big the hidden OS-only part of the internal flash is…
  • While that internal 12GB space is completely invisible and unusable as far as I can tell so long as you have a hard drive installed, the PS3 does support external USB flash-memory sticks, and also several types of flash memory cards on the first model of the system, but these can only be used for playing videos or music or for copying save-data to, in order to back your save files up that way or easily move them to a different system. You cannot save or copy actual game data itself to a memory stick or card and couldn’t load it from one even if you had a card with game data on it. PS3 games can only save to the device they are installed on. There is no PS3 equivalent to the X360’s “where do you want to save the game to?” menu. Even if you plug a USB thumb flash drive into your PS3, or a memory stick into your first-model system, it won’t let you use it for actual games. This may be an anti-piracy measure, but both the Xbox 360 and Wii let you play games from memory cards/sticks in some way, so it’s a somewhat odd limitation.
  • On a related note, just like how you can’t play games from memory sticks, the PS3 does not support external hard drives either. Whether there is some OS limitation or if it’s a misguided antipiracy measure, it’s unfortunate either way. On the positive side it is very nice that the PS3 has support for up to 1TB hard drives, that’s a decently large size, and it has had that support all along too, unlike Microsoft who only allow HDD sizes they have released, and who only doled out larger drives slowly over the course of the generation; the 360 didn’t get up to its final max internal HDD size of 500GB until 2013, and didn’t support external drives over a few gigabytes until 2016. Now, however, the 360 does finally have support for up to two 2TB external drives, and while they do have slower USB 2.0-only access, that’s still better than the PS3’s max of only 1TB. Games on these systems can be fairly large, so space fills up surprisingly quickly if you buy many digital copies of retail titles. Sony has done nothing similar to keep up with MS. But of course, how could the PS3 support such things when it can’t even support both its hard drive and what is basically an internal flash drive at the same time?

Search issues. Finding the installed game you want to play on your system takes longer than it should.

  • Above, I said that it’s handy that files you can transfer to Sony portables, the PSP or Vita, such as PS1 Classics, PS Minis, and PSP games you downloaded on your PS3, have installers that stick around on your PS3 so you can transfer those files over to the handheld. And that is true. However, Sony’s badly lacking interface and file-sorting systems cause some real problems here: all of these installers appear at the top of your Games list. So, if you want to play a game installed on your PS3, you will need to first scroll down past all installers, even if those are not even for games this system can install or play, until you finally get to the games down below. And as all games you can copy over to a handheld but also do run on the PS3 do not auto-delete the installer after you install the game on the PS3, unless you delete those installers, or copy over the installers then delete them, this can clutter up fast. That you can do this is important because Sony shut off the PSP’s access to the Sony store, so transferring files over from a PS3 is the only way to play downloadable PSP games on an actual PSP, but this could have been handled MUCH better with something as simple as a folder the system puts installers in automatically, instead of requiring all of them to be on the top of your main games list.
  • Relating to the above point, the PS3’s games-list sorting functions are worse than either other TV console of its generation, so it’s harder to find a specific game if you have much at all downloaded to the system than it is on the Wii or 360. There are four sorting options: sort alphabetically, sort by the order you downloaded/installed the files in, sort by folders (useless), or sort by game type. That last one puts the games in three folders, for PS1 Classics, PS3 games (and PS2 Classics), and PS Minis), and there are the usual alphabetized lists within each of those. That’s it. In comparison, the Xbox 360 has a very handy option to sort your games in the order you have most recently played that game, and also a great option to hide demos from your games list if you want. On the 360 you also can scroll quickly using the shoulder buttons to switch over by a bunch of games at a time, important for longer lists. Unfortunately, the PS3 has none of those features: there is no way to hide demos, scroll quickly, or sort by most-recently-used. This makes getting to your games take longer.
  • You also cannot reorganize the order the games appear in the list yourself. You can move Wii games around the system’s menu at will, and it’s a very nice way to keep similar games together, put your more frequently-used games in quicker-to-access places, and such. If you aren’t going to have good sorting options like the 360, at least there should have been some ways to reorganize your list, either like it is on the Wii, or through user-createable custom folder support. You can’t create custom folders either, something which could have helped deal with these issues. I know that the 360 and Wii don’t support this either, but newer systems do and the system has a “folders” sort-view option… but there is no way to create a folder or set folders games should be in, so it’s useless.
  • On top of all of that, the Xbox 360 also has a nice, easy to use search function, not for web search but for searching the contents of your system as well. The PS3 has nothing of the sort; instead you just have to scroll down its cluttered, un-organizable list until you find the game in question.

Finally, while the system itself is mostly fine, I do have a few minor gripes about it.

  • For a Sony system it looks okay (for me about a Sony system, that’s praise!), but while it’s good that the top-loading drive probably is less prone to failure than slot-load drives are, it does make switching games take slightly longer, and it doesn’t look quite as nice as the slot-load drives of the first two models do. it’s also a little harder to put into a height-limited space, since there is little room to reach in to put the disc in from above in such a spot, which is the only place I had to put my PS3. Microsoft, in contrast, kept standard tray-load drives in all three revisions of the Xbox 360. Nintendo did like Sony though, and the Wii Mini has a top-load drive, though that model is much harder to find than this one (the Super Slim PS3) is.
  • The Super Slim has only two USB ports, both on the front only, and you’ll need one of those for the PS Move camera… which I really wish I could plug into the back. With only two ports you could only charge one controller at a time while your Move is plugged in unless you use a hub.
  • As for the controller, it’s alright, though I’ve never liked Sony controllers much. I do like the triggers on this pad a lot more than PS1 or PS2 shoulder buttons though, for sure! They’re nice. The surface on the analog stick feels a little nicer than the PS1 or PS2 ones as well I think. Still though, I’d have liked to see the boomerang controller… so yeah, there’s the issue for this, it’d have been interesting to see that released as an optional alternate pad.

Once you finally get into a game the system works fine, but seriously this interface is not very good. I have heard that the Xbox One’s interface is slow and the PS4’s is actually better, that’d be an unfortunate reversal. As for comparing it to the Wii there are plusses and minuses; the Wii’s interface is easier and quicker to use and is more customizable, but the Wii doesn’t let you run games straight off the SD card, which is awful because it forces you to use up some of the limited writes on the system’s internal memory every time you play a different game from ST, and also does have a separate store app and you can’t download/install games you bought in the background. So versus the Xbox 360 the PS3 falls far, far behind, but versus the Wii it’s close.

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PC Platformers Game Opinion Summaries, Part 10: Digital-Download 2d games (Part 7)

So yes, after three weeks since my last article, I return with just seven new summaries. Between the horrendously disappointing election and then getting a cold right afterwards, though, I think I needed a bit of a break. Well, this list is back now, so enjoy! I cover some good and interesting stuff this time.

Table of Contents for this update

Rayman Origins (2012)
Realms of Chaos (1995)
Residue: Final Cut (2014)
Rogue Legacy (2014)
room13 (2015)
Schrodinger’s Cat and the Raiders of the Lost Quark (2015)
Secret Agent (1992)

Rayman Origins (2012) – 1-4 player simultaneous local multiplayer, saves, gamepads supported. Rayman Origins from Ubisoft was the first new non-handheld platformer starring Rayman since 2003’s Rayman 3, and returned the series to its 2d roots. It is a beautiful-looking 2d game with great art design and sprite work. The great cartoon-animation art design is the first thing you will notice when playing Rayman Origins, and the way the soundtrack is tied into the game at times may be the second, but the platformer engine underneath is very good as well, as is the gameplay. In this fairly straightforward platformer you play as Rayman or several of his friends. It’s great that the game has a four player co-op mode, but unfortunately, probably inspired by New Super Mario Bros., the player characters are Rayman, his best friend and comedic sidekick Globox, or two random Teensies, sort of like the two Toads in those games. This games’ sequel, Rayman Legends, improves on this quite a bit, as it adds a female playable character to the cast, something this game sorely lacks. The story this time is that Rayman and friends annoyed some creatures who lived deep in the earth and were locked up by them, so you need to break out and beat them all up. Both sides in this fight seem like they have problems. In each level, when you’re not admiring the art design, your goal is simple, you just need to get to the end of many linear platforming levels. Levels usually scroll left to right and the path forward is obvious, you just need to get there, and look for secrets along the way of course. Fortunately, while this game is 2d again, it does not bring back the original Rayman’s stratospheric difficulty. As in most modern games you have infinite lives from the beginning of the last section of the level here, so you don’t need to worry about Game Overs, much less having to start the whole game over because of a cruel continue limit like you do in the original game unless you cheat.

The gameplay itself is familiar, but quite distinct from previous titles in the series. The basics of 2d Rayman controls are here: you can jump and throw your fist as a punch, swing on things, free creatures from cages in each level, and collect as many lums, the basic pickup, as you can find as you go. Familiar enemies return as well, such as those silly pith-helmeted guys from the original game. The controls are simple, with just a jump button, a punch button, and run button. Jumping and attacking are as they were before, but that is where the similarities end. Rayman and his friends can run a lot faster than he ever could before in 2d Rayman games, first, and this game in general is much faster-paced than previous Raymans were. You move through environments quickly in this game when you want to, and with the zoomed-out camera and widescreen view you have a good view of what’s coming towards you too, avoiding that issue from the original game. Your heroes have new moves as well, including being able to slowly slide down and jump off of walls when you touch one; grabbing onto ledges when you jump close to the edge; aiming attacks in any cardinal direction while in the air in order to hit enemies above you, say, in mid-jump; ground-pound by hitting attack+down while in the air; and more. As in most games in the series you get new moves as you progress.

Most levels in this game are standard stages where you explore those stages as described earlier. This is an entirely linear game, even more so than past Rayman games, and I’m fine with that, though I can understand that some may have wanted more exploration here. Instead what you get are segmented levels where you try to collect as many of the lums as you can as you explore each stage. The game has many plantlike items you can punch to make platforms appear or disappear, generate some lums, enable or disable a group of enemies, or such, as interacting with things is important. Some of these are actually traps which enable enemies ahead of you while others are essential, so some learning is required. The level designs are good, so exploring around, finding lums, whacking baddies, and hitting objects to see what they do makes for some pretty good gameplay. There are also death pits, though not often, but remember that deaths only set you back to the beginning of the last stage section, so the game is forgiving in that regard. You can also find additional hit points from some pickups, to be able to survive a hit or two before dying. Once you move on to a new stage section you usually can’t really go back, though, and you get a rating and rewards at the end of each level depending on how many lums and cages you found and how fast you beat the level, so the game encourages replay if you want to get everything in the game. That’s great and adds a lot to the game.

In addition to the standard levels, though, there are also some stages with slightly different rules. I mentioned that music ties into the game at times early in the review, and you see this in the introduction, but it actually comes into play in the game sometimes. The game has some auto-scrolling levels, and here you need to hit the buttons in time with the music in order to progress through the stage. As I’m hopelessly bad at QTEs or anything music-related these are definitely not my favorite part of this game, but at least they still play like a platformer so it’s not too bad. And that music itself is good. It’s not as memorable as the great graphics are, but it is good and fits Rayman’s cartoony world well. And visually, Rayman Origins is bright, colorful, and cartoon-styled. As mentioned the sprites are a bit on the small side, but this was a very good move for both multiplayer and for general screen visibility reasons. All sprites and backgrounds are hand-drawn, and the animations are typically fantastic, and the detailed environments do not make navigation confusing as colors and sprite designs make it very easy to tell each object type apart. That is something many games get wrong, but not this one. Indeed, visually this game is a big-budget title for a modern 2d platformer and it shows. I have always loved the look of environments in Rayman games too, and while Rayman 2 is still my favorite across the board, this game looks really good too. It both is faithful to the series while also looking more modern to fit its much more recent release date, which was no easy feat to pull off I am sure.

So, overall, Rayman Origins is a pretty good platformer. I do still miss 3d Rayman games, and Rayman 2 has still not been topped within the series, but it was fantastic to see a major publisher other than Nintendo put a big effort into a 2d platformer again, and the game turned out well. Rayman Origins does have a few issues, including linearity, sometimes strict button-press requirements in order to get through challenges, a lot of missable items in levels which ensures that you WILL need to replay levels in order to find everything because you can’t just go back and collect the stuff you missed as you go, and such, but these are minor issues compared to all the things the game does right. Between the graphics, music, level designs, gameplay, replay value, and multiplayer, Rayman Origins is recommended for sure. Also available as a physical release for PC, Wii, Playstation 3, Xbox 360, PlayStation Vita, and Nintendo 3DS, and digitally for the PC and Mac through Steam (this version), PlayStation 3 (PSN), PlayStation Vita (PSN), and Xbox 360 (XBLA).

Realms of Chaos (1995) – 1 player, saves, 4 button gamepads supported. Realms of Chaos was the last platformer published by Apogee, my favorite shareware publisher of the early to mid ’90s. I haven’t played as much of this game as I did some of Apogee’s earlier titles, but I have always liked what I have seen of it. Because of its later release date, unlike most Apogee platformers, this game has both 256-color VGA graphics and Soundblaster or even General MIDI music support, so this game looks and sounds pretty good. The game is a somewhat Conan-esque fantasy platform-action game with traditional but good gameplay. You play as two characters, a brother and sister. Fitting to some standard character types, the brother is a warrior and the sister a magic-user. He wears a tunic and fur boots while she has a loincloth and skimpy top, so the outfits mostly fit the setting but the sister’s outfit definitely is skimpier. That is stereotyped, but on the other hand this is one of the only Apogee platformers with a playable female character, so I’ll take what I can get. You can switch between the two of with a button press, which is cool, and important to the gameplay as the two characters play quite differently. Levels are mostly linear, and this game does not have a world map or multiple routes through most levels so it is a more straightforward and action-focused game that is less collection-centric than many Apogee games are. That style fits the genre well, though, and level designs are good. Of games I have covered in the PC Platformers Game Opinion series so far, Claw is probably the closest to this game in terms of gameplay, but each has some things that make it unique.

Starting from the beginning though, both characters can move and jump. Moving is normal, but jumps are partially automated. While you can control your character in the air to a degree, move around in the air; you can nudge the character left or right, so jumps are not fully automated, but you will need to jump from the right point in order to make many jumps. This reminds me of the Prince of Persia style of game design, and the visual look does as well at times, but the rest of the gameplay is more standard so I would not call this one of those games. Here the differences between the two characters first present themselves, and it’s as you might expect: the female character can jump a little farther and moves faster, so she’s more fun to move around as, but on the other hand she has less health. The guy has three circles of health, specifically, while she has only two. Each character does have a separate health bar, but if either dies you restart the level, so switching to the other character when one is injured is important. If you die, you can pick up from your last save or else you will continue from the beginning of the level; continues are unlimited. Remember that this is an Apogee game, so you can save anytime, which is great as always.

You will need both of them, though, as biggest difference is in combat.The brother is a warrior, so he uses a sword. He can only attack at short range, and can only attack left or right, but does a good amount of damage. His attack range is a bit shorter than it looks from the animation, but you get used to it. The sister, however, is a mage, so she can shoot small fireballs which shoot across the screen. She can attack left, right, or up, and that upwards attack is invaluable at times. However, her attacks do less damage per hit than his do, and worse her attacks are limited. Beyond health-up items the main collectible in this game is red gems, and she uses one gem each time you hit the attack button. Gems do carry over from level to level, too, so if you use a lot in one stage you won’t have as many later. So, it is often worthwhile to play as the guy when fighting regular enemies, because he does not have a limited attack. This mechanic works well though, as it forces you to think a bit more during combat than you might otherwise and encourages some exploration to find more of the gems. Also, there are enough scattered around to be able to attack as her quite a bit, most of the time at least. Once you get used to the slightly odd jumping and attack ranges, playing Realms of Chaos is pretty fun.

Levels in Realms of Chaos are, again, linear. Where you need to go is always clear, the only challenge is getting there. Many enemies patrol the platforms that make up most of this game, and below beds of spikes await if you miss a jump or get bumped off a platform by the baddies. That is sometimes frustratingly common, because traps abound in this game, both in the form of enemies diving in from off the screen to attack you, and also things such as collapsing platforms that are sure to kill you at least once, since they do not look different from the other platforms. With your infinite continues you will get past these challenges with practice, though, and the difficulty here is mostly balanced fairly well. The game does lack in variety, as it does not change too much as it goes along, but when you have a good formula that doesn’t matter too much, I think. And it is fun for sure. The colorful graphics are good as well. The art design is good, though not incredible, and there are a nice variety of enemies, including bats, lizardmen, and more. There are multiple background environments you travel through as you explore as well, from forests to caves and castles, and all are pretty well-drawn. There is no parallax scrolling here, unfortunately, but otherwise the visuals are pretty nice for a shareware game. I have had a few issues with how the game runs in DOSBox, such as menus that fail to react, but they are fixable. I like the sort of classical-ish soundtrack as well, and in General MIDI it sounds great. It’s by Bobby Prince, the same guy who also composed for Doom and other Apogee and id titles. Overall, Realms of Chaos is a pretty good action-heavy platformer. The game does have a few issues, including repetitive design and controls that take a little getting used to, but with good visuals and sound, plenty of levels to figure out, a good mechanic in its character-switching concept, and fun core gameplay, it’s well worth playing. The game has a physical release from 1995, and also is available digitally on Steam and on 3D Realms’ website. I have the 3DR site version, and it’s mostly good, though you will need to change the DOSBox settings manually to run in the correct aspect ratio; for some very odd reason they chose to have it default to filling the screen, even though this 4:3 game should only be played at that ratio.

Residue: Final Cut (2014) – 1 player, saves. Residue is a unique adventure/platformer from small indie team The Working Parts. This game is one of those that asks the question, how much does ambition and originality matter versus fun factor? Because while this game is interesting, has a good to great sense of atmosphere, and is mostly well written, the actual gameplay is a mixture of tedium and janky frustration. Despite that, there is something here worth a look. This game is set in the now mostly dried-out Aral Sea basin. Because most of the water was diverted to agriculture, the once-huge lake in north-central Asia, the Aral Sea, now is a wasteland. This game follows the stories of several people who live there and are involved in a mysterious campaign at the edge of one of the remaining parts of the lake. The story takes time to get going so I won’t spoil it, but it did make me want to keep playing to see what would happen next. Unfortunately, while the dried-out-Aral Sea element of the story is interesting, for some reason there is also one of the worst traditional videogame stories here: you need to rescue the woman. In the beginning of the game, a woman gets trapped underwater. She has an air tank, but can’t get free for whatever reason so the main goal of the game is for the three playable characters, who are all male of course, to save her. Blah. Still, the setting and environments are pretty nice. This game has a fairly flat 2d look, and the sprites are not the most detailed and do lack in animation, and it can be hard at times to tell areas you can move or interact with from backgrounds, but the good art direction and stark, barren environments full of rusting ships combine to give the game a good look despite that. The music and sound are good as well, and fit the abandoned, decaying nature of the game perfectly. The script is also fully voice acted by people with thick Slavic accents, presumably from Russia, or Ukraine since that is where the game is set. The voice acting is okay, though it could be better. This is obviously a very low-budget game, and you see it in the janky animations, iffy level designs, and more, but the presentation is good.

For gameplay, Residue is basically a slow-paced platformer with a lot of story scenes telling a graphic adventure game-style story. As such it is a genre crossover; there aren’t many other games quite like this. The game controls with the keyboard, and you move with the left/right arrow keys and do your characters’ action or open doors with the spacebar and up/down arrows. As mentioned there are three characters you play as here, each quite different. You cannot switch between the three when you want, however; instead, you’re stuck with one for a chapter, then switch to someone else as the story demands. The three are the womans’ young son, who can move quickly, jump, and swim; an old man who helps out the boy, and moves very very slowly and can aim around a flashlight to help the two of them see in dark areas for his only action other than walking and using ladders; and the leader of the odd group, a man with medium speed and a grappling hook for mobility. The chapters where you have to play as the old man are far too slow-paced and tedious to ever be fun, unfortunately. The grappling hook guy is better, but the points you can grapple to are so arbitrary and hard to discern that his levels are frustrating at times as well. The boy is the most fun to play as, since he moves the fastest and can swim in the many water-filled areas, but here there are issues as well: instead of being able to freely swim underwater, you can only jump in and then go down a bit deeper once by hitting jump. Once down that deep you can only surface, unless you find an underwater ceiling that will hold you underwater that is. So, you need to find areas to jump from that angle you down to the point you need, and ladders and such underwater to use while there. You do have limited air, though, so watch out; run out and you’ll have to start the stage over. There are also many breaks for conversations as you go, so gameplay is segmented. And again those level designs themselves are not great due to confusing graphical layouts and design.

The game is short too, with only 11 moderate-length stories; this should only take 3-plus hours to beat, if you focus on it, a bit more if you really get stuck somewhere. So, overall, is Residue: Final Cut worth getting? It has iffy gameplay, keyboard-only controls, not-great controls, some tedious parts such as all of the old man levels, an only partially good story, and sometimes confusing graphical design. On the other hand, though, the game has great presentation and atmosphere, varied gameplay, an interesting and quite original core story about the Aral Sea, and some fun parts. Residue is a mixed bag overall, average at best really, so try it or not depending on your interests. Despite all those issues I do think I like this game in the end, but not all will.

Rogue Legacy (2014) – 1 player, saves, gamepad supported (xinput only). Rogue Legacy is a popular roguelike action-platformer from . This 2d, sprite-based game has very nice visuals, good controls, and plenty to do, but I only somewhat reluctantly got this game when it was on sale because I didn’t like what I heard about some elements of the design. Though I have liked some games with inspirations from the field here and there I’ve never been a big roguelike fan, and the roguelike-inspired randomization and repeat-play-required elments are absolutely central to this game. And indeed, playing it, this is a game which could be fun in a more traditional setting, but as it is I don’t want to keep going for long at all. Yes, the graphical design is good. I like the various castle backgrounds, and the variety of enemies and items you can collect is nice. The music fits the game great as well. The combat mostly feels good as well, though it can be too difficult at times. The overall product, however, just is not for me.

So why is that, then? Rogue Legacy is a game about an infinite succession of heroes, sent off into a castle full of monsters with the goal of destroying the evil creatures within. There is a story, but it’s not the main focus of the game. First, you choose one of a couple of possible heroes, each of which has several positive or negative traits. These traits can just be amusing things like something which gets rid of sprite animation, or they can be harmful things such as near-sightedness which makes everything not close to you blurry. Once you’ve chosen an heir, you set off into town. Here you spend money you got in your last run on upgrades for your character and town. Upgrades are permanent to your bloodline (game save file), but you cannot return to the shop once you enter the castle and you lose all money once you enter so spend everything you can every time, so beating this game on your first heir would be nearly impossible; you need to spend many, many generations (games) dying, leaving, and buying upgrade for future generations before finally you will be able to make much progress. The problem is, I don’t like this mechanic. The idea that people inherit everything from their parents is obviously false, first; you inherit some things but not others. So, the basic concept here is nonsense. And beyond that, the idea that you need to have dozens of generations (or more) of this family all die just to form one super-human person actually able to get through the castle is a depressing idea I don’t like; I want the hero to be able to win, not their 100th-generation descendant! I know most people probably would call this a weird thing to complain about, but it bothers me on a storyline level. The resulting gameplay, focused around playing similar areas over and over and over and over, bothers me as well, as I have never liked grinding one bit and that is what you do here. If you could return to the store during a run it’d make things a little better; I’d still prefer this as a traditonal game and not a roguelike, but it’d help. See room13 below, for example, which benefits from getting powerups during a run instead of only between runs.

As for the controls, you move your knight fairly quickly, and can jump, attack, dive-attack straight down, and such as usual. With the right upgrade you can double jump as well, which is great. The game controls okay, but could have been better; with your fast movement it can be harder than I’d like to dodge incoming attacks, and enemies sure will shoot a lot of stuff at you at times. And when you do get hit you die quickly, so the game is very unforgiving. Worse, the game is VERY stingy with handing out health-refilling powerups. It is easy to lose a lot of characters in a hurry, and as you get farther you will need to do well to make any meaningful progress because you lose money when you enter and there is no bank, so you can only spend your last runs’ profits on upgrades each time. This can be a frustrating loop. I’m sure it is satisfying when you finally get a character good enough to get through, but I don’t know if I want to go through all that. The levels themselves are completely randomized as well, it is important to say. Level designs are mostly good, but unless you pay a guy in town beforehand the dungeon will be completely different every time, and the difficulty found within will vary widely from run to run. It’s maybe a bit too unpredictable — will you start near tough rooms with jumping puzzles over death pits, or easy stuff with basic foes? Who knows. This is why pre-designed levels are usually better than random ones, you get a better difficulty curve. Overall, Rogue Legacy has a good engine that I wish they’d made a traditional platformer with. With preset levels, a shop to return to during the game, more health drops (and/or difficulty level options!), no or only a minimal grinding component, and such, it could have been good. As it is, I know a lot of people really like this game, but personally no thanks. Available as a digital download only for all formats: PC, Mac, and Linux through Steam, and PlayStation 3 (PSN), PlayStation Vita (PSN), PlayStation 4 (PSN), and Xbox One on consoles.

room13 (2015, Early Access Game – still unfinished) – 1 player, saves, gamepad supported (xinput only). room13 is a single-screen run & gun shooter developed by The Paper Robot, a one-man team, and published by Clickteam, who mostly make game creation tools. Yes, this game was made with Clickteam Fusion, but it’s interesting to see that they publish games too. More importantly, this is another game that really isn’t a platformer but I’m going to cover here anyway. Please note, room13 is still in Early Access and is unfinished. Most importantly, the Story mode does not exist in the game yet, just an endless Arcade mode. The game is an indie title obviously made on a very small budget, but with solid gameplay and decent art design it’s fun stuff. You play as some weird guy with a variety of heads, as you unlock more as you progress, fighting against endless swarms of zombies in a giant mansion. So yes, this is a zombie game, one of the more tired kinds of games out there, but I do like it despite that. The game has pixel-art graphics with a mostly black, white, and red color scheme, so it’s mostly monochromatic except for the blood. That sounds grim, but the art design itself is cartoony and almost cute, so this isn’t as dark a game as it could have been. It’s simple, but I like room13’s graphical look. The sound and music are fine and fit the game well, but aren’t particularly memorable. As for modes, again here there is only Arcade mode, which is an endless score-attack game where you get only one life per run, so die once and you need to start the game over. The game tells you how long you survived for after you die, which is nice.

The gameplay here is kind of a twin-stick shooter, though with limitations. On a pad, you move with one stick and fire with the other, but you cannot shoot in any direction here; instead, you can only shoot left, right, or straight up. On keyboard, the game uses keyboard-only controls. While it is a bit awkward, moving with WASD while shooting with the arrow keys does kind of work. The controls are fully remappable too, which is nice. You move quickly and have several other moves as well, including a jump, a melee attack, and an attack that shoots a projectile which drains some of your health. You see, you have limited ammo here. As you kill enemies, they drop meat chunks and items. Meat only stays on screen for a limited time, so collect it when you can. As you collect meat it fills a meter on screen, and once full an item appears that ends the level once you touch it. Other items include ammo and health refills and things which destroy all the enemies. Once you finish a stage, you have 10 seconds to grab a random selection of powerups you can get if you want. Sometimes you will find new heads in between levels, particularly after beating a boss level. As these affect your stats, it’s great that you can get these because it means you can win on any run, instead of having to slowly build up skills over the course of many deaths as it is in, say, Rogue Legacy above. Anyway, between stages you also can either play another level in the same room as the last one you were in, or, by entering one of the doors or ladders that open during this time, move over to a different room instead. There are 13 rooms here, each with different layouts, obstacles, points the zombies come from, and traps to avoid and use against the foes. As you would expect, the first room is simple, but later ones are more complex and challenging.

The core gameplay here involves running back and forth, shooting zombies as they spawn and collecting the meat they drop. There is strategy though, as you should save the health and ammo pickups for when you need them, and need to learn each stage for the best points to stick around in as well. Watching your ammo is also key, as running out when you’ve got a bunch of enemies between you and an ammo pickup is trouble! The melee attack can help, but isn’t the most useful thing all the time. The progression here is kind of an issue, though. Enemy AI is tough, and surviving for even a couple of rounds is hard until you’ve put a decent amount of time into this game, but the enemies only keep getting harder for a handful of rounds, while the game wants you to play for as long as 25 rounds in one game in Arcade mode in order to unlock all of the heads. So, if you do get good enough to handle the game it mgiht get repetitive, but so far at least I’m having fun. Overall, though, room13 is a decent one-person indie shooter/platformer with a nice cartoony graphical style and good controls, but limited options, modes, and content. It’s fun for a little while, but will probably get old quickly. Maybe check it out now, or wait for it to finally get out of Early Access and look at what it has then; a Story mode which puts all of the stuff in order, with heads unlocked as you go and regular bosses as I believe is promised, would be great and I’d like to play that mode. As it is give it a try if it sounds interesting.

Schrodinger’s Cat and the Raiders of the Lost Quark (2015) – 1 player, saves, gamepad supported (xinput only). Shrodinger’s Cat and the Raiders of the Lost Quark is an okay puzzle-platformer from Italic Pig and published by Team17. One part partially randomly-generated puzzle-platformer and one part long series of physics jokes, this game is alright and can be fun, but does have some issues. The story is that something has gone very wrong in the Particle Zoo, and it’s up to you, a cat called Shrodinger’s Cat, to save the day. This game is fully voice acted and the Cat has regular conversations with Zoo denizens during your adventures that even have dialog options, so this game has a bit of an adventure game feel to it at times. The entertaining writing may draw people in, though they are heavily physics joke-focused, so some of the comedy is reliant on the player knowing enough about physics to get it. I haven’t taken physics since high school myself, so I’m sure I’m missing some, but still it is good stuff. The graphics are also good and have a nice cartoony look to them. Most characters are various types of subatomic particles, and all have weird or fitting shapes and look good. Background graphics are also nice, but unfortunately most levels are randomly generated rectangles full of random platforms, so there is no flow to stages or the visual look of most of the game.

Unlike the complex physics humor, the basic controls here are simple, though the game has depth. You move with the d-pad or WASD buttons, and jump with W, Spacebar, or a button on the pad. The controls are okay but a bit slippery and average. The game uses one set of buttons beyond those basics, though: you activate Quarks with the arrow keys or the gamepad face buttons. Quarks are collectibles in this game, and there are four kinds of them, all scattered around the levels. Without them you are nearly helpless, with only movement and a basic jump available, but by using Quarks you can activate many more abilities. You use an ability by using three Quarks, and there are at least a dozen combinations available. You press the first two buttons to load those two Quarks into the queue, then hit the third button to activate the power that that combination gives you. There is a combination list on the pause screen, but still you will need to memorize all of the combinations in order to have much fun with this game. Your Quark abilities include a parachute, protective shield, missile to break through one type of terrain, propeller to reach higher areas, net to transport away target enemies, and more. Keeping them all straight takes some time.

This system seems like a good setup for some tricky puzzles, though, and it should have been, but unfortunately most stages are randomly designed. Your goal is to get through while beating as many of the enemies as you can, since the game keeps track of how many have been defeated. The way it works is that the game randomly generates stages for your game, and then they will stay the same throughout your time with the game. So, it may not be obvious that the levels are randomized since you will not see different layouts in levels if you return to earlier areas, but they are. The problem with this is that this really hurts the puzzle element of the game. Quarks probably should be limited, with just the ones needed for each area but instead they are plentiful, and levels feel more like boxes loaded with randomly scattered platforms, Quarks, and foes than they do interesting challenges. Random generation saves game-design time for sure, but it hurts the fun factor so much that I don’t think it’s worth it at all. So, in the end Schrodinger’s Cat and the Raiders of the Lost Quark is an amusing and fairly well-made game with some good humor and plenty to learn, but the repetitive, simplistic environments, boring level designs, and too plentiful Quarks hold the game back quite a bit. This game is alright to good, but it could have been better. Still, it might be worth a look, particularly for people who like science. Available as a digital download only for all formats: PC, Mac, and Linux through Steam, and PlayStation 4 (PSN) and Xbox One on consoles.

Secret Agent (1992) – 1 player, saves, 2-button gamepad supported. Secret Agent, from Apogee, is a great platformer that plays like a sequel to their earlier title Crystal Caves. The story and setting here are entirely original, but the gameplay and engine are taken straight out of Crystal Caves, just with a cheesy and amusing spy-movie setting. So, like many Apogee games, from Commander Keen to Pharaoh’s Tomb, Secret Agent is a collection-heavy platformer where you explore around rectangular and often open-ended stages, collecting stuff and trying to find your way to the exit. Crystal Caves is a good game, but I remember definitely liking this one more when I first played them back in the early ’90s. I only had the shareware version then, not the registered as I do now, but I thought Secret Agent was very good, like a better version of Crystal Caves in a different setting. I haven’t played the game in quite some time now though, so how does it hold up? Well, it is good, but the game does have a few issues. First, despite releasing in 1992, Secret Agent runs only in 16-color EGA and only has PC Speaker audio, not Soundblaster. I don’t mind the EGA, but sound card support would have been great, and had been in some previous Apogee titles. And also just like Crystal Caves and Pharaoh’s Tomb and its followups Monuments of Mars and Arctic Adventure, Secret Agent has tiny little sprites of limited detail, in order to fit as much as possible on the screen. The art and art direction is pretty good, and the spy-movie theme continues throughout, though, so they did what they could with the small sprites allowed. You’ll see ’60s-style giant computers, killer robots, enemy agents, and plenty more as you explore the stages. The game mostly re-uses the same enemies and obstacles throughout, so there isn’t much graphical or gameplay variety in the game, but what is here is good.

The controls here are quite simple: you can walk, shoot, and jump. Your movement speed is not fast, but it’s just right for the small scale of the levels. As for jumping, that can take practice; jumping controls are a little stiff, you fall quickly and sort of stick to ceilings when you bump them, so learning how to make jumps over low ceilings or how to fall onto a moving platform without ending up in the instant-death water below takes practice, but you will eventually get the hang of it. As for your gun, it shoots straight, but consider each shot carefully because you have very limited ammo, and ammo carries over from level to level so if you use it all up in one stage you won’t have much in the next one. This can serve to encourage stealth and avoidance, and stages often are designed in ways that let you avoid at least some foes, which can be fun. On the whole the controls are good and responsive. While touching traps like water kill you instantly, otherwise you get three hit points per life. You also get infinite lives from the start of each stage. Yes, infinite lives are not a modern concept in platformer design, Apogee was doing it back in the early ’90s! The game has a world map where you choose which level to play next as well, and you can save anytime on the map. This game has a point system of course, so as in Commander Keen and others once you’ve beaten a level you cannot replay it in that game, so while you can try a stage as many times as you want before beating it, for score purposes if you care about points you’ll want to get as much as possible in that run in which you beat the stage. It’s all designed well.

The stage layouts themselves are familiar, as I said, but Secret Agent does have a few original elements. First, to beat each level, you must find the dynamite item in that stage and then bring it to the exit door; only then can you leave. Ammo pickups are also scattered around, but I mentioned them already. Each one gives you only five bullets, so use them carefully. The usual requisite colored keycards are here as well, in red, blue, and green, but this time going through a door uses that key, so you’ll need top find another key to go through another door of the same color. Also, fitting the spy movie theme, there are computers scattered around which do things such as disable death lasers. You can’t just use the computer though, but need to find the floppy disk item in the level, then go to the computer. One other collectible that means more than just points are the X-Ray glasses, which make more platforms appear, as now you can see previously invisible platforms. You can’t actually land on these invisible platforms without the glasses, so they act more as a switch than real “invisible platform detectors”, but still, it’s a unique spin on a quite traditional concept. Most of the rest of the items in each level only exist to boost your score. The villains’ thugs patrolling each level will try to keep you from reaching the end, though. Moving enemies just patrol back and forth in a space, but they will charge or shoot at you on sight depending on which type of enemy they are, so you always need to be careful. Levels are basically big puzzles, you just need to figure out the best route through the stage that gets you all the items. If you do kill enemies you will get points, and grabbing the gravestones dead enemies drop gets you more, but that all uses ammo so again it won’t always be the best strategy. This game is hard from the beginning, so the learning curve at first is steep, but once you get used to it you’ll make good progress.

So, overall, I still like Secret Agent a lot. The gameplay may be simple and straightforward, but the depth and challenge of the many levels will keep you coming back. With lots of levels, nicely-drawn if tiny graphics, a consistent challenge, and just plain good gameplay, this is a game that I still like. Once you get used to the jumping, I really have no complaints with this game beyond wishing it had sound card support for some music. Perhaps more of a difficulty curve would have been nice, going from easy to hard instead of the consistently challenging difficulty of the game as it is, but it works well as it is, I think. Secret Agent is a great game for sure, and definitely give it a try if you like any games like this. The game has a physical release from 1992, and also is available digitally on Steam and on 3D Realms’ website. I have the 3DR site version, and it’s mostly good, though you will need to change the DOSBox settings manually to run in the correct aspect ratio; for some very odd reason they chose to have it default to filling the screen, even though this 4:3 game should only be played at that ratio.

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Rolling Thunder 2 Review (Sega Genesis) – Exceptional Action-Platforming



The US box. (Here is the Japanese one, more anime-styled: )


  • Title: Rolling Thunder 2
  • Platform: Sega Genesis
  • Released: 1991 (1990 in arcades)
  • Developer & Publisher: Namco

I have previously reviewed Rolling Thunders 1 and 3, so for some time now I have meant to also review this middle chapter in the series. I wrote a good-length summary of my thoughts on this game earlier this year for my Genesis Game Opinion Summaries list, but while I played the game for that I only beat it on Normal difficulty and stopped there. This is the last of the three games in this series that I bought and the last of the three I finished, so as a result this is the last that I review. Now, however, I have gone back and played through on Hard mode, and while I still like the first game the most, Hard mode in Rolling Thunder 2 improves the game; I like this game more now than I did before, and I’ve always liked it a lot. Rolling Thunder 2 is fantastic and I love it, so on to the review!

First though, please note that I will make many comparisons between this game and the first one in this review. Sorry about that, for anyone who dislikes it, but considering that this is a sequel I think it’s the best way to go. I never mention Rolling Thunder 3, however, so just go read my review of that game to see how that disappointment turned out. I might go back to that review sometime, it could be better and I never did play most of that game through in Hard mode either.


The story is told with cutscenes like this, with a picture up top and scrolling text below.

Background and Story

Rolling Thunder 2 is a really great side-scrolling action game from Namco. For anyone who hasn’t played it Rolling Thunder is one part Elevator Action and one part Shinobi’s predecessor, though I like it more than any of those games. This sequel plays like the first one, but with some changes that make it less cruel and random. The game originally released in arcades, and I will discuss that version briefly first, though unlike the first one I don’t recall playing it in arcades myself’; I didn’t play this game until the ’00s, I believe. The original arcade version of the game has seven-ish levels, each much more visually distinct than the stages in the first game. It also adds two player co-op play to the series. Player one is previously captured Leila, and player two is the first games’ protagonist Albatross. There are two difficulty levels available too, the second reached by beating the game once, so there is more to see than the first game, you just won’t take quite as long to get through most of it due to the less cruel design. Rolling Thunder 2 is tough, but it is predictable. With practice and memorization you will learn what to do. As in the first game, there is only one boss fight in this version of the game, at the very end. The game also has one or two player simultaneous play.

When it came time to bring Rolling Thunder 2 home, though the first Rolling Thunder’s home port had been on the NES, developer Namco decided to port this game to the Sega Genesis, probably because Rolling Thunder fits in very well with the kinds of games on Sega’s platform, such as the somewhat similar Shinobi series. Namco supported all three consoles that generation, the SNES, Genesis, and TurboGrafx-16, but few titles were multiplatform, as was the trend of the time particularly from Japanese developers; instead, each system’s library is mostly exclusive. This is an odd move from a modern perspective, but they thought it made sense at the time. The port of Rolling Thunder 2 to the Genesis is very faithful to the arcade game, with no content cut from the arcade game. The Genesis version adds quite a bit to the game, in fact, with three or four new levels and three new boss fights scattered across the game. You also can choose to play as either character at the start, instead of each player being locked to a specific one. The graphics aren’t quite arcade-perfect, of course, but they’re more than good enough, and the music is great. More on that later. Finally, as with the first game, the console version has a password save system which lets you pick up from the last level you have reached. In a game this hard, and it is quite challenging, that is essential! As much as I love this series, if you had to restart the games every three or six deaths I’d never have beaten any of these games; I do not so amazing that I could beat a game like this easily, and rarely have the patience to stick with and bead hard games that force you to start over from the beginning constantly. This design, a very tough but fair game with a save system, is pretty much perfect.

This game is a sequel to the first Rolling Thunder, so the story and characters are related. There are two playable characters, both playable in either single or co-op modes. You can play as either Albatross, the male agent from the original game, or Leila, the captured female agent he rescued at the end of that game. This time Leila isn’t a damsel in distress thankfully, but instead is Albatross’s equal as a front-line agent. The “rescue the kidnapped woman” plot is one of the worst things in writing, so I’m very happy that it’s gone for this game, and instead you can play as either gender as you like! On this important subject, Rolling Thunder 2 is by far the best game in the series too, given how the third games’ female character can only be accessed with a code and doesn’t have cutscenes. On the subject of story, Rolling Thunder 2 has a bit more plot than the first game. The story is simple, and is told with some scrolling text between each level with a half-screen still cinema screen showing where Albatross and Leila are now. The plot is that Albatross defeated the evil organization Geldra in the first game, but they’re back! Geldra has a new leader, an evil arms merchant named Gimdo, and you’ve got to go take him down. In each mission you get closer to your goal. However, Gimdo may be taking on Geldra’s mantle, but the environments and enemies look quite different from before. As a result it feels more like you’re facing a new group, rather than Geldra again, though the types of enemies are very familiar for sure. Oddly though, while the first game has a 1960s spy movie aesthetic, this game has a modern look. Albatross looks similar to how he did before, but are these the same people decades later or new agents with the same names as the old ones? I’m not sure, and the game does not explain this as far as I know. Additionally, while in the first game the regular enemies, called maskers, wear hooded masks that sort of look like multicolored KKK hoods, this time your foes all appear to be robots. Apart from their heads the maskers do look similar to how they did before, and it is a good Rolling Thunder look, but I do prefer the look of the first games’ villains by a bit. I miss the old pointy-hooded badguys.

level 1

The first level, Florida, has trucks to jump up onto instead of regular platforms, but they don’t move so it’s not too different really.

Gameplay: The Controls

Rolling Thunder for the Sega Genesis is a side-scrolling shooting action-platformer. While somewhat similar to other games such as those mentioned previously, this series has a feel all its own. The game has 11 levels, four bosses, and two difficulty levels, so there is a good amount of content here. Just like in the first game, basic gameplay involves you slowly walking to the right as you shoot enemies and hide in doors along the way. Many areas have two tiers of platforms on the screen, including the ground and then a platform above it mid-screen. You walk around with the d-pad, duck with down, fire with B, and jump with C. A is unused. A bit like a Prince of Persia-style game, this game is nicely animated, so you’ll need to press a button a moment before it is needed to account for the animation. Up will enter a door, if you are standing right in front of one. Most doors are simply a place to hide, but some give you extra ammo. These are marked with ammo symbols. Some of the seemingly normal doors will give you powerups too, however, so check all the doors! Unmarked door powerups include another hit point added to your health bar, a special weapon such as a machine gun or flamethrower, or more time added to the always-ticking countdown timer. If you run out of time you lose a life, so this is useful. The extra health is the best of these, though, as it allows you to take a hit without dying! There are three kinds of jumps you can make.

Of all the things changed from the first Rolling Thunder game, the freer jumping system this game implements is one of the most important. In the first game, you cannot control yourself in the air, so once you press forward and jump you go a specific, preset distance forward every time. This time, however, you can control exactly how far forward you jump, which gives you much greater jump control and makes the jumping element of this game dramatically easier than it was previously. This is particularly noticeable in the one level with bottomless pits you need to jump over. Where the equivalent level in the first game was an incredibly hard nightmare this one is fairly easy, and the control change is probably the biggest reason why. However, but jump heights are still preset; each jump type will always go to the same height, you can only control the horizontal distance traveled. So, pressing Jump while standing will do a medium jump, high enough to make it up onto a box in front of you. You can’t go up to the upper layer with a normal jump, however; the only way to go to an upper platform is to hit Up and Jump at the same time. This will do a high jump, and land you on the upper platform if there is one there. And lastly, you will jump a lower height if you hit jump while ducking. This is much less useful than the other jumps, but there may be times it’s worth trying. Ducking itself is, however, absolutely essential! You cannot move while ducking, only fire, stand up, or drop down to the lower level if you are on the upper level. Your movement is slow and there is no run button, slide move, or anything of the sort, but this perfectly fits the nature of the game. This is a deliberate and controlled game where you memorize each area as you go, learn the enemy patterns and obstacles, and then try to get through the level without mistakes if you want to move on. I can understand how some people may not like this, as Rolling Thunder is far from Contra or Metal Slug’s fast-paced blasting, but I absolutely love these games and their spin on the genre.

The health system in this game is similar to before. You have two hit points, the same as you do in the NES version of the first game. In the first game you lose one hit point if an enemy touches you, or two if you get shot. This game is mostly the same, but there is one big change that makes things easier. If an enemy punches you or hits you with a grenade, you lose one hit point. If you get shot, you lose two. If you touch an enemy when they are not punching, however, you do not lose health. When you take a hit or touch an enemy who isn’t attacking you will bounce back a bit, but in the latter case you won’t take damage. This is a change from the first game, as in that one any touch against an enemy’s sprite automatically took away half your health. And on top of that, when you touch an enemy or take a hit you have a moment of invincibility. If enemies shoot or punch you during that instant the hits will not count. This situation is dangerous of course, as a gap just a bit too long between attacks will end the invincibility and hit you, but still, this is an incredibly useful change which makes level navigation much easier than it was in the first game. Where before you had to avoid all enemies all the time, now sometimes you can jump or drop onto an enemy, bounce off of their back towards a door or something like that you want to reach, and get to safety before they can turn around and attack you. It’s great. So, unless you find a hidden extra-health powerup, one bullet kills you. Enemy bullets will pass through their compatriots, so watch out for guys in the back! Oddly, though, enemy grenades WILL kill other enemies, and this can be useful at times. The limited health and constant danger help create the constant sense of tension that is part of what makes these games so great. You’re a spy infiltrating an enemy base, so while the game centers around combat you should avoid some foes, in Hard mode particularly.


Hiding in a hidey-hole, fighting the sniper enemies.

Gameplay: Combat

Combat in Rolling Thunder 2 is great fun. Jumping while ducking may not be too useful, but ducking itself is perhaps the most important core element of combat in Rolling Thunder 1 and 2. Ducking under enemy attacks and shooting them from down low is strategy number one in this game, as most enemies only attack at chest-height. You can’t get too comfortable, though, as you do always need to watch out for enemy types who attack low or use grenades. As before your main weapon is a pistol, and there are a few special weapons scattered around in certain levels for greater firepower. Enemies come at you from both sides, and occasionally also from above. Enemies spawn once you reach specific points in the level, so you can’t wait around for them to appear, you will need to move forward to trigger them, or inch forward if you don’t know what is coming. Again, this game is all about learning enemy patterns. You will need to learn which enemies appear from where, and also what each enemy does. While most enemies just move forward across the screen, attacking you if they see you, some pace back and forth across a small area. That latter type is the more troublesome, because the other type of enemy can often be avoided.

Your enemies are numerous, and mostly similar-looking. The series’ trademark color-coded masker enemies return, with their robotic design overhaul, and as before it is incredibly useful to know at a glance how many hits an enemy will take and whether they will attack high or low. Enemy types include basic green badguys, who will only ever attack high and may have a gun or grenades; pink ones who attack low, but only take three hits; black-ish ones which take six shots to kill; and more. Regular enemies include seven kinds of regular maskers, two animals, and the three special masker types. This time most enemies are humanoid, though; only three levels have enemy animals in them, one level each for bats, dogs, and cats. There are some special humanoid enemies in a few levels, including armadillo-like guys in one stage and snipers and a special radioactive-hazard masker you must shoot in the back to hit in a few stages, and those are all decent additions that mix up the gameplay. Still, compared to its predecessor a higher percentage of the enemies in this game are standard masker types. That’s alright, though, as the very frustrating large flying bird enemies from the first game were a real pain and hard to fight. Removing them in favor of a mostly humanoid enemy set was probably a good move. It may be yet another factor in reducing the games’ difficulty, but it does make it more fun.


Indeed, avoiding enemies is often the better strategy here when you can! Whether you enter a door to hide behind it, go to the other level of the screen to stay away from tougher foes above or below, or just hide crouching behind a box as you wait for enemies to pass by overhead, any enemy you don’t need to fight is some bullets saved for more important targets. Just make sure that you aren’t spotted, however, because if you are seen then enter a door, some enemies will stop and wait for you to appear again, instead of continuing to move on across the screen. Ammo management is particularly important in the last level as the game, as you will need to save every bullet you can for the really hard final boss fight, but it is useful throughout because of how harsh the penalty for running out of bullets is. On the subject of ammunition, in the first game, if you run out of ammo that’s it, you can’t attack at all. This time you do have an attack when ammo runs out, but it’s very limited: you can still shoot, but you shoot extremely slow-moving bullets, and, worse, can only have one bullet on screen at a time when out of ammo. You only start with 40 bullets, so while you will get occasional refills in the marked doors, if you try to kill every enemy in every level you will surely run out and be in trouble, particularly in the second loop, hard mode, where there are more enemies but not more bullets. As I played through hard mode I got better at stealth, particularly in that last level where the key to victory is avoiding as many enemies as you possibly can. It’s fun to watch the silly badguys run across the screen and jump to their doom off a platform as you hide in a room nearby.

The four bosses in the Genesis version of Rolling Thunder 2 are a varied bunch, and adding them in was a great idea. Rolling Thunder is great with only the one boss at the end, as the first game and the arcade version of this game are, but having more bosses makes things a bit more interesting and mixes up the gameplay. They also provide some of the stiffer challenges in the game. The bosses are a large robot with a targeting laser, an attack by a huge number of regular enemies, four turrets which shoot at a box marked with a moving target sight you’ll have to stay out of, and, at the end, the final challenge: Geldra himself, a robot who shoots instant-death lasers at you. The Geldra fight has two phases, a first where you just jump over small laser blasts and a second where you will need to memorize the pattern of screen-crossing laser beams if you want to survive. These lasers block your shots too, so shoot as much as you can when he is vulnerable. It’s very tough, and you need to redo the whole level each time you fail because there isn’t enough ammo after the checkpoint to have a chance, but it is incredibly satisfying when you finally beat the guy and win, so it’s a great boss fight despite the frustration.

The two player mode has a few quirks. This is the only Rolling Thunder game with multiplayer, and it actually works pretty well. Both players have their own lives, but in two player the A button does something, to enter the game again if you ran out of lives and game over. This takes one of the other players’ lives, though, so you can only do it if they have lives left. The number of enemies is the same as in one player so the game is easier, but both players share ammo so you can’t just run and gun or both players will be in trouble. In this thinking-persons’ shooter, it’s good to encourage that in co-op as well. This isn’t the best co-op game around, but it is a good one when playing with someone willing to learn the game.

As for the two difficulty levels, unlike the first game where the hard mode is pretty much just the second half of the game, this time Normal and Hard are each the complete game, it’s just a lot harder the second time. You need to beat Normal to get the password for the first level in Hard. Like in the first game, in Hard mode enemies take more shots to kill and all enemies who don’t have grenades will shoot at you. Normal mode here is a bit easy compared to the first game, the final level excepted, so I find Hard mode the more satisfying one to play. It’s a great challenge. On the whole, Rolling Thunder 2’s gameplay is fantastic. Easily one of the best action games of the generation, Rolling Thunder 2 takes a great model and improves on it in some key ways. Allowing you to touch enemies without taking damage, giving you much more jump control, and having a limited zero-ammo attack, and adding in two player co-op play all ease up on the first games’ stiff challenge, but this game is still plenty hard thanks to tough enemy placements and some hard bosses. This is mostly good, but for whatever reason the cruelly unfair design is part of why I love Rolling Thunder, so this is both good and bad. The level designs themselves have also been made a bit less unfair. I will discuss that subject next, along with some interesting level design elements seen in some stages.


The jumping-puzzles level.

Gameplay: Level Designs

In the eleven levels in this game, you travel through various locations as you seek out Gimdo’s secret base. You start out in Florida, seeking out a mansion owned by Gimdo. The first level is a nice introduction, as it has a simpler layout than the remaining levels do. Here you travel down a road, walking along or jumping up onto some large trucks. It nicely eases the player in to Rolling Thunder design. After several levels there you move on to several more locations, including Egypt, a base in a cave, and some indoor installations in the style of the levels from the original Rolling Thunder. I like the level variety, it adds something to this game versus the very similar-looking stages in the original. I already covered many elements of level design above, including the way levels are mostly made up of two tiers of platforms, ground and platform above, that you jump between. Both are usually a flat surface, outside of the cave level, but boxes, vehicles, or other obstacles scattered around will block your, and your foes’, path. A few stages have obstacles you can duck inside for cover, as well, like the tires from the first level of the original game. Most levels are a single screen high path forward, but a few do have elevators or other points where you must jump up or down a screen or more. I always really like these areas, because as much as I love them the game does need some variety from the straight corridors. I think that the first game might have more of these areas than this one does, but while in Normal they aren’t particularly interesting, they are fun challenges in Hard mode. In Hard mode dodging the bullets and grenades that enemies on the sides of these platforms or elevators toss at you can be difficult. Everything in this game is, of course, very predictable, so things will go very similarly in a level if you take the same actions, but enemies can take slightly different actions depending on your or other enemy moves, so you do need to keep on your toes even if you’ve played a level a dozen times before or more.

Indeed, Rolling Thunder 2 levels mix things up nicely. Most levels have the usual two-level design that is signature to this series, but as in the first game some areas require you to be on the ground. This forces you to face a specific wave of enemies, to keep the player from just avoiding everything. Areas with no doors or blocks and waves of enemies essentially require memorization to get through, even more so than the rest of the game does. The Egypt levels also have some background areas you can move into, a second layer on the ground that has its own doors and such in it. The first game also has some segments like that, particularly in its original arcade incarnation, but the NES version cut many of them out versus the arcade original. This time, everything from the arcade game is here, so there are no cuts. While there are green screens separating the two layers the game does not actually switch to a separate view so trying to figure out if enemies are shooting in the background or foreground can be occasionally confusing, but this is rarely an issue. And I like the addition of doors in the background areas, the first game didn’t have that. While full background passages are only found in the few Egypt levels, several levels have static locations in the background that you can hide in. These are kind of doors without a doorway, so you cannot move around in them, but they do let you pop in and out of cover faster than you can from behind a door. One level makes good use of this, as you fight enemies which shoot deadly laser blasts at you and also hide in cover by utilizing cover points effectively. You need to shoot them when they pop out to shoot at you, so act quickly!

The other unique level design element I need to mention again is the level with jumping puzzles in it. While ten of the eleven levels in this game have no instant death pits to jump over, there are some in one indoor Egypt level. The first game had several segments with jumping puzzles, but this one is longer than those in the first game so that could make up for that. However, thanks to the improved controls that give you control over how far forward you jump, this level is far easier than those before. As with many elements of this game, I really appreciate the better jumping here and love this game, but I do also miss the harsh challenge of the original title. The platform-jumping level is one of the hardest and most frustrating things in the first game, but here the equivalent level is a fun little romp I got through quickly on both difficulties. On Hard there are a lot of little flying bats or birds attacking you in this stage, but they’re far easier to avoid than the nasty dividing fire-bats from the first game that love to knock you into the pits, so that eases up on the challenge as well.

last level

The last level is tough, so hide in a door when you can.

I have mentioned this previously as well, but the last level is a fascinating challenge. The previous bosses can be tough, but the last boss in this game is one of the hardest moments in any game in this series. I described the fight earlier, but while the first phase isn’t too hard with practice, the second is incredibly challenging if you don’t have at least 60-plus bullets left when you reach that phase of the fight, because if you run out of ammo you never will survive long enough to kill him with slow bullets. The problem is, the last level is quite long and in Hard mode particularly is absolutely loaded with enemies, so I had to work on my avoidance techniques to beat this level. Dodging guys by jumping to activate enemies, going back down to get out of their way, then back up to move past them work, but can be tricky when you’ve also got other enemies you haven’t killed behind you, ready to shoot you in the back! And even when I did do well at avoidance in the first half of the level, after killing most enemies in the door-free second half I never had anywhere near enough ammo at the end. But after spending days failing to get through this level, I finally realized that ducking behind boxes in the second half was the key, as many enemies would just jump over them and move on. And with that I reached the final boss with plenty of ammo, and beat him surprisingly easily once I finally didn’t mess up. Just make sure to have over 100 bullets when you reach the final boss and you should be okay. It’s a really hard level, but as frustrating and aggravating as it was, I loved the challenge and the effort was all worth it in the end.

On that note, I need to get back to the issue of cruel and unfair level design. One part of why I love Rolling Thunder is that at times the game requires you to be near-perfect in order to get past a section, but you have the abilities to meet that challenge. Once you beat a stage (or two, for the first half of the first game) you’ll get the password for the next level and not need to go back to the last one, crucially, so each level or two is an individual challenge, but you need to be good and learn what to do to get through. However, the first game has some sections that essentially rely on luck. When you need to drop down to a lower platform with an enemy patrolling back and forth, there is often nothing you can do but hope for good luck, which is unlikely, or back up a few screens and try to get things just right so that the enemy in question disappears. This time, most of those elements are gone. Normal difficulty has pretty much none at all, in fact! Hard mode, unlocked by beating the game once, is a lot tougher, but the addition of the ability to touch an enemy without taking damage completely changes the equation in situations like that one. The strategy of retreating to make enemies vanish actually does still work, amusingly enough, but I only had to do that once in this game, in the cave level. That cave level has uneven floors which make getting through some areas without taking a hit tricky. But for the most part, with practice once you have learned a section of a level, with the right strategy this time you should be able to get through it regularly without needing such techniques. Normal is too easy, but this game in Hard mode is near-perfect Rolling Thunder design.

my photo

I took this photo of the final screen in Hard mode after beating it. I could just post a screencap from the web, but I’d rather post my own…

Graphics and Sound

Visually, Rolling Thunder 2 is a good but not great looking game. This may be an accurate port of the arcade game, but this game wasn’t pushing hardware, not with these graphics and its slow pace. That said, the game does have some pretty good-looking backgrounds, parallax layers in the backgrounds of many but not all levels, and nice variety in settings and environments as you progress. I don’t know if anything here looks amazing, but it all looks good, as the screenshots in this review show. The sprite work is similarly good. I may prefer the original pointy-masked average badguys, but these more robotic ones have good designs too. Again, apart from the few animal enemies in a few levels almost all enemies are slight redesigns of one basic design, but that fits the theme of an evil organization’s goons perfectly so I am entirely fine with that. I also, again, really like the decision to let you play as either a male or female character. Albatross and Leila’s sprites both have good designs and outfits which fit spy action movie characters well. She isn’t too over-sexualized either, which is good.

As for the music, Rolling Thunder 2 has a very good, catchy soundtrack. Namco did pretty good work here, and every track sounds good. This music does not push the Genesis’s sound hardware to the limit, but the chiptunes that are here sound very good and mostly hold up well under repeat play. If you get stuck in a level for a particularly long time some songs may get old, but even after days of trying I was still mostly enjoying the last levels’ theme, so the music is great.


In conclusion, Rolling Thunder 2 is an absolutely fantastic game, and one of the better games on the Genesis for sure. This system has a lot of games sort of like this, perhaps most similarly Shadow Dancer: The Secret of Shinobi, another favorite of mine, but based on its fantastic gameplay and level designs, Rolling Thunder 2 is one of the best. This game was made easier than its predecessor Rolling Thunder 1 (for the arcade and NES) in many ways, though. The changes including better jumping controls, less unfair enemy placements, not having you lose health when you touch an enemy who is not attacking you and adding a bit of invincibility on that touch, a fairly easy first run though the game in Normal mode which lets you see the whole game, and some more. All of these changes make most of this game easier to get through than its predecessor, though the very difficult final level will keep you trying for a good while before you finally see the ending. I really loved my time with this game though, and beating it in Hard mode as well as Normal was absolutely worth it! When you finally get it right, take all of the enemies down without mistakes through both avoidance and killing certain enemies you need to without getting hit by any of their attacks, it is incredibly fun and rewarding. I may still slightly prefer the first Rolling Thunder, that all-time classic that is my favorite Namco game, but Rolling Thunder 2 is very nearly as great. This game gets an easy A grade and I very highly recommend it. In either single player or two player co-op Rolling Thunder 2 is exceptional, play it!

Media – The full Genesis Rolling Thunder 2 soundtrack – Genesis version longplay (both loops)

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PC Platformers Game Opinion Summaries, Part 9: Digital-Download 2d games (Part 6)

The first three games in this update are games I recently got in bundles, so I’ve got to cover them now instead of where they would appear earlier in the alphabet. After that, three games covering O and P. I’ve been quite distracted with some new console game stuff I got recently, but I finally got this done. This time I cover seven indie games released in the past four years. Oniken might be my favorite game this update and Cally’s Trials my least favorite, but it’s a mostly solid batch of games.

Table of Contents for this Update

Cally’s Trials (2016)
Capsule Force (2015)
Environmental Station Alpha (2015)
Oniken (2014)
Out There Somewhere (2014)
PixelJunk Eden (2012)

Cally’s Trials (2016, WinXP+) – 1 player, saves, gamepads supported (xinput only). Cally’s Trials is an average-at-best platform action game from VDO Games with pretty basic gameplay and graphics, some bugs, and a nice soundtrack. You play as 6 year old Callie, and she may be young but she’s already collecting a large arsenal of pistols, shotguns, machine guns, and more. Probably because the guns here are realistic, considering her age this kind of feels more questionable than games with kids with fantasy weapons like laser guns and the like. But this game has a lot more issues than that. First, visually, this is a bland-looking game that clearly was made on next to no budget in some game-maker software. Many indie platformers use these, but the end results here are pretty much freeware-grade stuff, but this game costs money. The game has bland-looking tile-based environments and okay but genericly cartoony sprite characters. It all looks pretty bland. The soundtrack is better than the graphics, though. I don’t know how well all of it fits the game, but this game has a solid soundtrack.

The controls are simple: you can move, jump, shoot, slash with your sword, and switch weapons. The controls are decently average, but can be glitchy at times. You can also get multiple jumps if you buy them in a store in the main hub world. This store sells a variety of upgrades you will eventually need. Now, this game calls itself a “roguelike”, but it really isn’t; it’s just a platformer with worlds that branch off from a hub with a store system. They try to call it a roguelike because when you run out of lives in a game, you are sent back to the hub to buy permanent upgrades with the money you earned in that run. The levels are not randomized, though, and there are no other roguelike elements here, so it really is not a roguelike, just an overly grindey platformer. Can’t get past that next area? Grind for money earlier on until you can afford the upgrade you need! I don’t like that kind of design much at all. This game wouldn’t be too long if you could just play through it, but by making things just difficult enough that you will surely have to die and redo levels until you can afford more upgrades the game drags, and I can’t see myself sticking with it much more.

Once you are in a level, you run, jump, and shoot everything that moves. Levels are made up of square tile blocks only, with a handful of types including blocks, spikes, lava, and the like. There are no angled surfaces or such here, and little variety within each of the games’ handful of areas. The level designs are decent and can be fun to explore sometimes, but it is average stuff. Enemy AI is essentially nonexistent, as well; all enemies on the ground just move back and forth along the platform they are currently on, while airborne enemies just fly around, maybe at you or maybe not. Each enemy is unique, as some will shoot at you, some will be stopped if you rapidly attack them with your sword while others will not, and such. So, you will need to learn how to effectively fight each type, and this does add to the game. Still, there is zero variety in enemy movement patterns, and this gets old fast. Even bosses are exactly the same as the rest of the enemies in this regard. Unless you get hasty you shouldn’t die much to most enemies.

And as for those weapons of yours, you get a sword that does a flat 1 damage per hit, and several guns, more as you progress, that upgrade as you use them. All weapons require button-mashing to an uncomfortable degree, as there is no autofire on any weapon here and attacking quickly is important. Enemies have a lot of health each, too, so it takes some time to kill them. Basically this game is all about finding places where you can shoot enemies where they can’t hit you back, and usually finding these places is easy. You can die, though. There are two kinds of death in this game: if you touch an environmental obstacle like a spike, lava, etc., you are instantly sent back to the beginning of the current stage. If an enemy hits you, however, you lose health, and if your health runs out you die and return back to the beginning of the game, with your money to buy those upgrades with. You can buy one-time-use extra lives that will respawn you at the beginning of the current stage if an enemy kills you, but these are pricey and take money away from other things you can buy. The game is designed around repeat runs in a not-great way. This game is a spinoff of a series that was originally on cellphones, apparently, and I’d say that mobile design thinking affected this game negatively. So, in the end, Cally’s Trials is a forgettable mobile-style game. The game is never terrible, but it’s never good either. I guess it’s amusing at times, but it’s also mobile-inspired and flawed. There’s really no reason to try it unless the game really sounds interesting for some reason.

Capsule Force (2015, WinXP+) – 1 player tuturial/mission mode, 2-4 player simultaneous multiplayer (local only), saves, gamepads supported (xinput only). Capsule Force, developed by klobit and published by Iron Galaxy, is a platformer take on the recent fad for local multiplayer games. This local-multiplayer-focused wave of games may be passing now, and I have mostly not played them myself since I have few opportunities for local multiplayer anymore unfortunately, but I got this in a bundle recently and it does look fun, so I tried it out. Well, this game has everything except for one of the most important things: a good single player mode. The main mode in this game is the multiplayer mode. Here two to four human players, all on one computer, fight it out. There are several different modes, with the main one being a mode where you need to take power orbs to your end of the screen, but there are no computer AI opponent options sadly; the game is multiplayer only. The single player mode is a mission mode broken up into four different mission categories. You need to complete all missions in one category with at least a C rating before you’re allowed to move on to the next one, unfortunately. This restriction really can be annoying when you’re stuck on one mission and want to try some other game type, but you can’t because it won’t unlock yet. Mission types are, in order, target shooting, getting through a stage in under a time limit, , and . You control one of the four characters, one of each gender for the red and blue teams, through each mission type. These missions are challenging and fun, and beating all of them with good times will take a decent while, but they are no substitute for AI opponents to face off against and a full-fledged single player game. As fun as trying to get past the walls of laser fire or figuring out the fastest way to destroy all those targets are, the single player mode in this game is basically like if Super Smash Bros. had only the minigames like Break the Targets for a single player mode, and no actual AI opposition to fight against. It’s fun, but you need more than this!

All of that is really unfortunate, because Capsule Force looks, sounds, and plays really well. This game is Western, but has an ’80s sci-fi anime aesthetic which looks pretty cool. The game has very nice pixel-art graphics, good chiptune music, and solid controls and game design. The stages each look unique, and I like the multi-layered parallax. If this game is trying to look like an ’80s arcade game, it succeeds. The chiptune music is good as well and fits the theme great. I like the controls too. The game uses four buttons, for jumping and double jumping, shooting, using your shield, and dashing. When you hit fire you shoot straight, or if you hold it down you can aim your shot; this allows shot aiming without the problems of a twin-stick layout, and it works well. You shoot slowly so you need to aim each shot well and consider your shots, it’s key to the game as one shot kills your character, after which you respawn by dropping out of the ceiling from the nearest place there is an opening. The shield is useful, as it defends you as well as damaging anyone close. As for the dash, it goes only a very short distance in the distance you’re moving, and then you freeze in place for a moment after that. That may sound bad, but at that moment you can jump again, and you can alternate jumps and boosts as much as you want, which is cool. So, overall, this is a fun and frenetic action-platformer, with good controls, graphics, and gameplay. The absence of AI opponents and a single-player mode with full-length levels is a major problem, though. As good as the game is, and what’s here is good, only buy Capsule Force if it’s very cheap in a bundle as it was for me, or if you have people to play against locally; it’s probably not worth it otherwise.

Environmental Station Alpha (2015, WinXP+) – 1 player, saves, gamepad supported (xinput only). Environmental Station Alpha is an indie Metroid clone from Hempuli Oy with low-rez, very chunky pixel-art graphics and challenging platform-action gameplay. This game is technically a Metroidvania, I guess, but really this is mostly Metroid in both theme and gameplay, though the game does do some things differently from Metroid, at least. You play as a small orange robot that sort of looks like a blob of pixels, and have to explore the eponymous station in the title, looking for information about what happened there and, since you fall deep inside at the beginning, a way back to your ship outside. The controls are appropriately simple. Initially you can only jump and shoot a short distance forward, but you get more abilities as you progress for both attacks and mobility, and eventually you will get items you can map to two additional buttons as well. The controls are mostly solid, but the jumping takes getting used to; due to your fast and somewhat slippery movement, I was missing jumps sometimes for a while. You do have a health bar and the game does not have instant-death pits or traps, but even so this is a very challenging game. It is easy to take damage, both from the many enemies and from environmental hazards like spikes or other traditional Metroid areas like warm areas, dangerous liquids, and such. The issue is that it’s difficult to heal damage you take, as enemies don’t drop anything in this game; so far as I’ve seen, the only way to refill health is from the Metroid-style save stations scattered around the world. That’s much harsher than most Metroidvania games are. So, the game will be frustrating at times for sure, but you will get better with practice.

Graphically, the visual style here is low-rez enough to sort of look like a game for an early ’80s computer or pre-NES console, but, for the most obvious modern elements, better music than any of those platforms have and the usual parallax scrolling backgrounds. The game does seem to use tile-based graphics, but it isn’t as repetitive looking as some tile-based games can be, as there is a good amount of graphical variety and different environments to explore. The graphical and level designs are good for the style, but I’m not the biggest fan of this super-low-res, ultra-blocky look; I may love classic games, and it does give this game a slightly different look from many of the other Metroidvanias out there, but it is perhaps too pixelated. The art design is fairly average as well, and isn’t as polished as a Cave Story’s is. Still, the game does have a good sense of atmosphere at times thanks to the good, sometimes creepy soundtrack, the varied environments and enemies, and some good area design. There are some yellow slime creatures that hop around like an animal which I find kind of creepy, for example; good work there. That soundtrack is quite good also, again. The music tracks fit each area well, with machine-like sounds for station areas, more alive sounds for plant regions, and such.

In terms of gameplay this is a very conventional Metroid-style game. You can shoot down as well as up here and can’t roll into a ball, and some powerups such as a grappling hook don’t come out of Metroid, but the main influence is clear. There’s even a hot area which does automatic damage until you get the right powerup, for example! The world is made up of connected areas, some a single screen and some multiple. The world map is standard stuff for the genre, with the expected horizontal and vertical corridors along with the occasional larger square room, along with plenty of hidden areas. Unfortunately there is a short load between each screen, and this does get old quickly. As is standard in the genre, the abilities and keycards you find in the game will allow you to access new areas of the world. There is a map on the pause menu, but this traditional title requires you to go back and regularly explore around areas you have already been, looking for new places you can go. Some of these are obvious, but others are hidden, so you’ll need to search thoroughly to stand much of a chance here. The game world is slowly revealed as you progress so you’re not just wandering around the whole world from the beginning, but still, while this game is definitely fun, having to constantly backtrack, looking for areas I can go to now while not actually knowing where I’m supposed to be going, is frustrating. I have never been much of a fan of Metroidvania games; I want to have a decent idea where I’m supposed to be going and what I’m supposed to be doing in a game. Randomly wandering around looking for that one hidden area I need to find to progress or how to solve some tough puzzle with no clues is not much fun, and this game has plenty of that kind of thing in it, particularly if you want the good ending. Sort of like my strong dislike of required grinding in RPGs and the like, I want to have a clue about what I’m supposed to be doing, and be able to progress forwards! Still, with guides I did have fun with and beat both GBA Metroid games and Super Metroid as well. I do kind of like this game because while I don’t adore Super Metroid like some do, it is a good game and this is highly reminiscent of it. There isn’t a text guide for this game, though, so good luck if you get stuck. But even for Metroidvania fans the absence of any health powerups can be an issue, as it makes the game much harder than it otherwise would be. And you will die easily, particularly to bosses, until you learn their patterns.

Overall, Environmental Station Alpha is a solid, but challenging, Metroidvania game. Thanks to the challenging gameplay combined with very limited healing this game can be tense at times in both good and bad ways. For me though, the biggest issue here is the main hook of this kind of game, that you’ll frequently be wandering around trying to figure out or remember where to use your abilities or trying to figure out some complex puzzle, and there are no in-game hints to tell you what you should be doing next. Some people like this, but I don’t. Overall then, I’d call this game average, with some good and some bad points. Metroid fans should try it for sure, but for the rest of us, maybe wait for a bundle if you are interested; that’s how I got it. There is also a Mac version on Steam. The store page says that the Mac version has no cloud save or gamepad support, but it should otherwise be the same.

Oniken (2014, WinXP+) – 1 player, saves, gamepad supported (xinput only). Oniken is a NES-styled platformer from . In both its graphics and gameplay, this game takes a lot of inspiration from a variety of NES action-platformers. While this game plays heavily on nostalgia the graphics and gameplay are not copied from any one NES game, but are instead reminiscent of many, from Ninja Gaiden to the NES version of Strider and Shatterhand. The story is that you play as a tough future swordsman off to save the world from evil. There was a horrible war, and an evil group called the Oniken used that opportunity to take over. Your guy, a member of the small resistance force, sets off to defeat the villains. You have allies, but naturally they only appear in cutscenes, not ingame. The basic plot is decent average work, but the cutscenes, particularly the early ones, are way too long; there is more story here than is necessary for this kind of game. There are odd sound problems in the cutscenes too, as the audio often completely stops playing halfway through cutscenes. Odd. Once the game finally begins, though, it’s pretty good.

Visually Oniken looks good. The graphics look a lot more like a NES game than most of these faux “8-bit” platformers do. The number of pixels on screen and visual look of the game are very NES-like and well done. As much as I do prefer 4th-gen games to 3rd I like how well this game sticks to its theme, and the results are great. This game has pretty good art design with a nice retro-1980s-future aesthetic. The game does not stick strictly to the NES’s hardware restrictions, though, so there are some modern elements here, including the usual requisite parallax backgrounds at times, no flicker when multiple sprites are near eachother, and maybe too many colors on screen at once, and there is more blood than Nintendo ever would have allowed on the NES, but the look works well on the whole. The solid backgrounds and quality sprite work help a lot as well, for sure. Your guy is an appropriately musclebound tough guy, and enemies are a selection of soldiers and robots that could have been in games from the late ’80s or early ’90s. The chiptune soundtrack is similarly good. Like real NES music many songs are short loops, but what’s here is solid, apart from a few odd audio issues I will mention.

As for the gameplay, like the games that inspired it this game is a very difficult but straightforward and linear game with lots of swordfighting action and some platform jumping. The game controls well, and as you might expect uses two main action buttons, for Jump and attack. Up plus attack uses a special weapon, and a third button activates the Berzerk special ability if you have it. You can also duck, and will need to duck to hit smaller enemies. The controls are tight and responsive and feel great. You also have a health bar, and when you die you respawn from the beginning of the current part of the stage. The stage layouts are good and the game is fun to play through, but the checkpoints, which are placed at screen transitions, are not frequent; there are only two per level. Dying at a boss sets you back to the start of that segment, not to the beginning of the boss fight, unfortunately, as well. You only get three lives to complete each level with too, and if you run out you will have to start the level over. Thankfully the game does have a level select and levels unlock there as you reach them, so you don’t need to replay the whole game each time you get game over, but ‘Difficult’ is definitely one of the operative terms here. Oniken can be quite frustrating and you will need to memorize each new challenge you reach in order to get past it, though I’ll never try the insanely difficult Hardcore mode, myself; that’s only for the crazy-good, or ultra masochistic. But overall, thanks to the solid visuals, controls, gameplay, and level designs, Oniken is the kind of hard game that makes you want to keep trying until you get it right, not give up right away. Oniken is a good, solid 8-bit-style platformer and I like it. The challenge is steep, but any classic platforming fan should try this one.

Out There Somewhere (2014, WinXP+) – 1 player, saves, gamepad supported (xinput only). Out There Somewhere is a pixel-art indie puzzle platformer with Metroidvania elements by MiniBoss, a small team which so far has only made this one game. You are an alien astronaut space policeman, stranded on a dangerous world after your ship crashes while chasing a dangerous criminal. In fact this chase is playable in the form of a basic and not great shmup level, but when you inevitably lose it the real game begins. In this highly challenging game, you need to figure out how to use your teleport gun to get past many different situations. You do not have any form of normal attack, only a teleport gun, so this is more a game of avoidance than attack. Now, the game is often fairly linear, but as the ‘Metroidvania’ label suggests you do get upgrades as you progress, so there is required backtracking. I’d probably rather they had just given you a series of challenges to beat rather than this, but Metroidvanias are the style of the day, so they put that in the mix here. Visually, this game is nondescript; it has average vaguely 4th-gen-ish tile-based pixel-art graphics, and the tiles used repeat constantly. Late ’90s PC platformers look better than this. Additionally, as in some other very hard indie games like I Want To Be The Guy, Out There Somewhere does not have scrolling levels. Instead, you travel between static screens that are connected into a single larger world. This means there is no parallax either. The sprite art design is decent and there are some nicely odd creatures here on this strange alien planet, but it’s the gameplay that makes this game interesting, not the visuals. The music is similarly fine, but not memorable.

The controls are simple to learn, but hard to master. You can jump and shoot your portal gun, and when your shots hit a wall or portal-shot-stopping barrier you teleport to that location. While you cannot attack here this is no pure puzzle game, however; a lot of platforming skill is required. A key tactic used from very early on is that your momentum carries over when you warp, so the game often requires you to have the right momentum when you warp to carry you up to a platform. Or, jump at just the right moment as a portal shot creates that portal and you can effectively jump from the spot you’re warping to. Though the controls are tight and responsive getting these warp-jumps right can be hard, so this game gets very tough in a hurry. And all the while, enemies patrol the platforms trying to kill you, and there are instant-death pits, other deadly hazards, and more scattered around as well. You die in one hit too, so if any enemy touches you you go back to the last checkpoint. You do have infinite lives in this game, but the checkpoints are often a couple of screens apart so you will need to redo things frequently. Indeed, as in most games of this kind, the steep difficulty is this games’ biggest issue. You need perfect timing on both your shots and jumping to make it through the jumping puzzles in this game without either missing jumps or dying. It is often a fun challenge, but I did start to get frustrated after a while. Overall Out There Somewhere is an average to good puzzle-platformer with interesting mostly nonviolent gameplay and lots of challenge. That challenge will be too much for some, but fans of difficult games, as well as puzzle-platformers, definitely should check this game out. It’s very cheap and worth a look.

PixelJunk Eden (2012, WinXP+) – 1 player, saves, gamepad supported (xinput only). PixelJunk Eden is a … sort of platformer-like thing … from , the team behind all of the PixelJunk games. Each title in this series has completely different gameplay, but I have only played this one and PixelJunk Monsters, which is a tower defense game, so I don’t know much about this series apart from Monsters. That’s a good game, but this one is entirely different. PixelJunk Eden is a unique, interesting, and simple game. In this 2d side-scrolling game with simple but striking sprite art made up of solid colored objects, you grow life in a garden by control a little creature which can move by jumping only. Yes, you cannot walk along the ground, but the game works fine as it is. You play with either a gamepad or the mouse by aiming your jump direction with the mouse or analog stick, and jumping with the mouse or gamepad buttons. The left mouse button does a jump attached to a bungie-like thread, while the right button does a normal jump. This is what you will mostly use. This is a simple and chill game with no timer or enemies which can harm you. The game is broken up into levels, and your goal in each one is to collect the Spectra item in that level. Once you get it the game immediately quits the level back to the level-select screen and shows a score screen for your run in that stage, so only collect those items when you’re ready to leave. Apparently the original Playstation 3 version of the game does not do this and allows you to stay in a level after getting all of the stuff. I’d have liked to see that option here too, quitting out immediately is annoying sometimes. There are 15 levels with a total of 76 Spectras to collect in them, so a bit like Mario 64 you will need to play each level several times, with a different objective point each time. You can start a level either from the beginning or from the last Spectra you collected.

Within those levels, your goal before getting those key items is to explore around, experience the games’ style and music, and score points. When jumping, you will pass through objects you can land on if you hold the right mouse button or its gamepad equivalent down, but will land on the next one you touch if you let go of the button. Additionally, by holding down the button while you jump and moving the mouse/stick around you can adjust your trajectory in the air somewhat. Between these two mechanics you can have fairly good air control, though your jump does have a maximum height so you do need to plan your jumps. In the air there are two different types of items to collect, pollen orbs which stay in set locations and give you points, and moving orb-like Pollen Prowlers, helpless “enemies” that spawn infinitely spawn from the sides of the level and you kill at a touch. When you touch multiple pollen prowlers in a single jump it builds a combo; this will boost your score and also generate more little pixel items. Most of the time these pixel block things slowly float to the ground and give you points when you collect them, but they also will move towards certain circles that are scattered around the environment if they are close enough to them. If you fill up a circle with pixels it will brighten. Then, touch that circle with your character to have a new piece of background scenery grow out of where the circle was. It’s a fun and engaging mechanic which fits with the “eden” title, as everything in this game looks alive. As you progress the game adds more mechanics as well, including wind, teleporters, and more, so you won’t see everything right away. Though this game is not incredibly long there is a fair amount to do.

Visually, as I said, the game uses large blocks of solid colors to represent objects. Generally there will be three color shades in a stage, one for the background, another for the foreground objects you can attach to, and the last for you, the pollen, and such. The look is simple but works very well, and I like how everything waves around to show how it is alive. Aurally the game has a great, understated techno soundtrack. Overall, PixelJunk Eden is pretty good, but it is simple and challenge-free. Jumping around, growing plants, and then jumping off of them to get higher in the level and reach the Spectras higher up is fun stuff, but that is all there is to this game; the worst thing that can happen to you here is that you land in a point beyond the edge of the level or touch some other hazard, if there are any, and get warped back to safety with no other penalty. This is one of those games meant to be an experience as much as it is a game, I think, since you cannot die and the game has no real challenge. Still, PixelJunk Eden is a good, interesting game well worth a try. Pick it up on sale sometime. Also available for download only on PlayStation 3 PSN, though note that this version made many changes from the PS3 original. I haven’t played that version, but it apparently has not quite as good graphics, lets you stay in levels after you get a Spectra, has slightly different controls, has a two player co-op option that this version sadly lacks, and more. I might want to get it, to see the differences.

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