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

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

Table of Contents

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Table of Contents

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Table of Contents for this Update

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

The Summaries

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Article Updates Again

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

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

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More Updated Old Posts

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

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Old Article Updates

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

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

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

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

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

The Issues of Kickstarter Crowdfunding

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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.

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