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 As something originally made for phone touchscreens you don’t need precision, though, so it controls fine.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)

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Introduction
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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.

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Table of Contents
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Introduction

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.

Conclusion

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Issues with Zelda: Link to the Past
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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.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Many Issues with the Iffy PlayStation 3 Operating System

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

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

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

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

First, a few general system interface issues.

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

Problems with the PlayStation Store

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

Game Download, Install, and Deletion Issues

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Posted in Lists, Modern Games, PlayStation 3, Research | Tagged , , , | Leave a comment

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

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

Table of Contents for this update

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


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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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


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

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

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


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

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

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


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

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

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


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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

 

box

The US box. (Here is the Japanese one, more anime-styled: http://img.gamefaqs.net/box/9/7/3/44973_front.jpg )

Introduction

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

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

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

cutscene

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

Background and Story

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

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

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

level 1

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

Gameplay: The Controls

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

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

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

level

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

Gameplay: Combat

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

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

gameplay

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

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

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

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

egypt

The jumping-puzzles level.

Gameplay: Level Designs

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

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

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

last level

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

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

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

my photo

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

Graphics and Sound

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

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

Conclusion

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

Media

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=82AQJ5YZ80o – The full Genesis Rolling Thunder 2 soundtrack

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Y8twf5Ug7o8 – Genesis version longplay (both loops)

Posted in Classic Games, Full Reviews, Genesis, Reviews | Tagged , , , , | Leave a comment

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

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

Table of Contents for this Update

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


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

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

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

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


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

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


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

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

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

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


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

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

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


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

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


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

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

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

Posted in Game Opinion Summaries, Modern Games, PC, Reviews | Tagged , , | Leave a comment

PC Platformers Game Opinion Summaries, Part 8: Digital-Download 2d games (Part 5)

… So, yeah, this update was long coming; after finishing the Rush 2049 review I was pretty busy for a while and didn’t get anything done towards this next update of my PC Game Opinion Summaries list, which I am returning to here, for weeks.  Even considering that I probably should have been able to get this done, but at least it’s done now, and all eight games I cover here have pretty in-depth summaries as a result.

Of the eight games in this update, Love and Mystik Belle are probably my favorite two.  The rest are all average to good as well; nothing bad here, though Monster Bash probably is my least favorite of these.

Table of Contents

Just Get Through (2015)
Love (2014)
Magicmaker (2014)
Math Rescue (1992)
Momodora III (2014)
#Monster Bash (1993)
MURI (2013)
Mystik Belle (2015)


Just Get Through (2015, WinXP+) – 1 player (with online leaderboards), saves (times, scores, and unlocks only), mouse & keyboard or gamepad supported (xinput only). This is, yes, an indie pixel-art platformer. The game is okay, but I don’t love it. This heavily randomized game has levels made up of fairly simple tile-based layouts. There is no story or campaign to play through; you just play levels from various randomized or player-created sets available, trying to finish them in the best time you can. You can also make your own levels in an editor. All levels take place in caves dug out of the ground. You can move in the open spaces, and your goal is to navigate through each level with the games’ wall-jumping mechanic and dynamite weapon. There are no normal moving enemies here, but there are many deadly traps. You must avoid those traps in each stage and make it to the portal that warps you to the next level. Levels are short, but often are tough to get through. The game has mostly randomized level designs, and you can tell, unfortunately, as levels are often random and not well laid out. Visually, the game has a decent look to it, though it doesn’t stand out too much. The game has monochromatic graphics with a variety of selectable color palettes available, so you will see one color for most of the environment, and a second for the background. I have no problem with monochrome graphics, I love the Game Boy, but sometimes it can be hard to tell what is a trap and what isn’t because everything looks so similar in both looks and color. The moving obstacles aren’t hard to spot, but telling deadly spikes from normal plant life is much harder than it should be. And the randomization makes for boring levels sometimes, too, with far too many entirely irrelevant chunks of levels everywhere outside of the path you actually need to follow to get to the exit. There is absolutely no reason to explore in this game, so those areas serve no purpose. Designed levels are almost always more fun than random! Additionally, this game recommends mouse and keyboard play but runs exclusively in fullscreen-windowed mode and does NOT lock the mouse cursor to the screen, so anyone like me with two monitors has a big problem! While playing this game be very careful to not move the mouse cursor out of the window, because it’ll instantly minimize the game to the taskbar if you do. That’s such an easily solved problem, it’s hard to understand how they didn’t think of it. You can also play with a gamepad, and that is mostly better, but aiming will be easier with a mouse.

The gameplay is flawed as well, because the controls are not great. Your movement feels only okay, and the wall jump is very odd-feeling and sticky. You start sliding down a wall when you jump onto it, but the jump off of that wall sometimes goes in odd directions. You do move quickly, and it can be satisfying when you zip past some of the many spike traps and spinning blades in the nick of time, but between the bad wall-jumping and sometimes iffy other controls, too often this game doesn’t feel great to play. Additionally, everything in this game kills you in one hit. You get a set number of lives per run, and cannot save during a run and extra lives are rare, so the game punishes you somewhat harshly for every mistake. Due to the short length of stages runs can be short, so the lack of saving within a run isn’t a big issue and gives the game a classic arcadey feel, but it will lead to playing easier stages often as you slowly try to get better so you can actually get through a run. Given how most randomize level designs most will not be the same each time, but the difficulty curve does ramp up over the course of a run. Now, in order to help deal with that randomization, you have a weapon: dynamite. You can aim dynamite with the mouse or gamepad analog stick, and throw with the mouse button. Dynamite will blow up a chunk of the ground, which can be really helpful for getting past near-impossible trap layouts. I like the deformable terrain, that’s a great idea, but that the designers decided to just let you blow up the stage instead of ensuring that each stage is actually beatable as it is is not that good design-wise. You have limited dynamite too, so you can get yourself stuck in unwinnable situations at times if you are not careful. On the other hand, while this game has no form of permanent progression, every couple of levels during a run the game lets you choose one of three powerups that will stick with you for the rest of that run. Many of these boost or refill your dynamite, but you also can get higher jumps, more visibility, and more. It is a decent reward for getting farther.

In conclusion, Just Get Through is a below-average game with bland and sometimes confusing graphics, a very limited number of obstacles and traps to deal with, flawed controls centering around a somewhat poorly implemented wall-jump system, no goal beyond just playing levels because there is no main campaign here to be found, and a frustratingly high difficulty level at times. The game does also provide plenty of challenge, has endless numbers of levels to play between the map editor and randomization, and can be fun to play at least some of the time once you get used to it, so I can see why some people like it. Going by its Steam reviews, though, Just Get Through is probably over-rated. I found this game somewhat disappointing and can’t recommend it.


Love (2014, WinXP+) – 1 player, gamepad supported (xinput only), saves (options and scores only). Love is a pretty good pixel-art platformer with a classic Atari or Commodore 64-styled aesthetic. In this simple platformer, you play as a stick figure guy who has to make it through some pretty tricky levels. There are several modes here and a custom mode, but the main mode gives you 100 lives to get through 16 stages. I haven’t beaten it yet, though I have gotten pretty far. This is a simple game with simple and straightforward gameplay and controls. The game uses two buttons, one to jump and the other to change your respawn point to the location you are currently standing. You move pretty quickly and have good air control, but even so making jumps can be tricky at times because you only have a single jump, not double, the controls are touchy, and you are constantly having to make jumps to VERY narrow or quickly-changing spaces. The game does play fine on keyboard, but will be better on a gamepad due to the better control of a d-pad. Despite the regular deaths, though, the running and jumping controls here feel good, and the game is a lot of fun to play. As for that user-changeable respawn point mechanic, this button lets you set the location in the stage that you will start from again when you die. You can only change the respawn point when on solid ground, but this is a fantastic feature that helps let you avoid tough parts, if you choose to use it. Your goal on each stage is to reach the end. There is nothing to collect in this game, and no enemies to fight; you simply avoid threats. This may sound simple, but in fact the game has a lot of variety as you progress. This game is entirely predesigned, not random, and every level looks like it had a lot of work put into it.

For features, the main mode is, as mentioned, a 100-life, 16-level challenge. You cannot save your progress during a run, so once you run out of lives you need to start the game over from the beginning. Levels don’t take too long so this is quite doable if you can stay alive, but staying alive will be the challenge! While nothing is displayed on screen during play except for how many lives you have left, after a run you get a score screen showing how many times you used the ‘change the checkpoint’ power, whether you finished all the levels or not, your overall ranking, and more. This gives the game a nice score component, to encourage players to get better at the game and score higher. Beyond the main mode there are four others: a one-life mode for people very good at this game; a Remix mode which gives you 100 lives to get through eight remixed, more challenging versions of some of the levels from the main game; an Easy mode with infinite lives but that gives you much lower scores as a result; a speedrun mode which gives you infinite lives and a timer instead of a lives counter, to see how fast you can get through the game; and custom levels you can make and save in the LoveCustom level editor. Unfortunately the game has no online score or level sharing support built in, so if you want to trade levels or scores you’ll need to do it yourself. Otherwise this is a good, full-featured title.

Visually, Love has a black background, a single color for the regular platforms that make up most of each stage, and white for things which are interactive in some way. This game has a very chunky-pixel, low-resolution style to it, fitting with the games’ theme. It is silly how this very simple-looking game requires moderate computer power to run well, but that’s modern gaming, unfortunately. It runs fine even for me and my 9 1/2 year old computer when I’m not running other applications. Most white things kill you in one hit, but white circles are bounce pads you will automatically jump off of when you touch them, and certain white chains won’t hurt you, they just indicate where moving spike wheels go. Generally, though, you want to avoid everything white and not circular, because it’s death. Each stage has a different color for its regular platforms and a different look to it, so there is visual variety as you progress despite the very simple visuals. I grew up on somewhat newer games than the ones this game was inspired by, but Love’s early ’80s aesthetic looks great. The game does have some trial and error as you learn what to do in each stage and what each white thing will do, but for the most part the graphics are clear and sharp. The music is electronic, but it’s far too high fidelity to be in an actual early ’80s game. Still, it’s good electronic techno videogame music and fits the game quite well.

Overall, Love is a good game I definitely recommend to platformer fans. You don’t need to have played early ’80s games back then to like this game, it should appeal to anyone who likes traditional platformers. The game has a good visual look, good music, good level designs, fun and interesting challenges to work past, and plenty of challenge and lastability in its levels and added modes. I do wish that the game had online leaderboards and level trading, and that the game would tell you what level you are on or died at because it never does that, but otherwise this game is great. Definitely check it out.


Magicmaker (2014, WinXP+) – 1 player, saves, gamepad supported (xinput only). Magicmaker is an indie platformer made a very small team at Tasty Stewdios. The game is a platform-action game with tiny and often amateurish graphics, mouse and keyboard controls, some odd hitboxes, randomly generated levels, and a magic-crafting system that is central to the game, as the name suggests. So, that sounds like I’m sure to dislike it, right? Well, I do dislike the movement controls when using keyboard, but otherwise I kind of like this despite my dislike for both randomly-generated platformer levels and, especially, crafting systems. So, what is there to like about this game, for me? It’s about the gameplay first and foremost, but also the crafting system is simple and not tedious or frustrating; it’s as much an inventory system as it is anything else, as the main “crafting” you do here is equip some of the 40 different types of magic to your mages’ robe, wand, and attack spell. You can equip up to three different magic types to each of those inventory slots, and must choose a loadout before beginning a mission because you cannot change it in-game. In levels you do collect items, mostly new magic types or doubles of ones you already have in order to equip that type to more inventory slots and power up the magics’ strength, but you will never need to memorize crafting recipes here, or tediously hack at the enemies or ground to grind materials, because this is not that kind of game. Thank goodness.

Player control is simple, as you run around quickly, jump, and attack with magic. You can only have one wand at a time, but can equip two spell sets, and if you’re good you can unlock more than that. By default you move with WASD, jump with Space, aim with the mouse, use your two attacks with the two mouse buttons, and switch spells with the mousewheel. Moving and jumping with one hand while you aim with the other is as awkward as ever. Fortunately there is also gamepad support, but combat will be easier with the mouse since you can aim more accurately. There’s no perfect way I have found to play this kind of game, unfortunately. It does work as it is, and you can re-configure the controls, but it’s not ideal. Enemies eventually start shooting a lot of bullets at you, too, so bullet-dodging will be key to your survival; you have a health bar, but bosses particularly can kill you. As for your attacks, your weaker magic wand attack is infinite-use, while your stronger magic spell attacks drains a magic meter with each use. This meter refills fairly quickly, but you can’t just spam the stronger attack, you will need to mix it up. This mechanic works well. Of course the two million possible spells you can create with the 40 equippable magic types also will have a great impact on combat.

And on that note, gameplay in Magicmaker involves going on quests from the central hub at the school to various areas. As with many indie games this game is not too long, as there are only five areas each with a handful of quests, but there is a New Game + available once you beat the game and random missions as well, so there is a reasonable amount of content here if you get into it. Missions are generally simple and usually involve killing everything you find. There is some variety along the way, though, as in addition to lots of platforms to jump on and enemies to shoot at, there are also puzzles to solve, such as having to touch or shoot at gems to move them into doors to unlock optional chests or escape from an area. Mission maps are randomly generatied, though, so while they mostly work, sometimes they will be poorly laid out. There is an on-sceen minimap though, so you shouldn’t get lost. Most missions conclude with a boss fight though, and those can be fun and challenging. Then you can change your equipment and choose what to do next.

In the game, you play as a nameless young wizard who needs a job. A magic temp agency finds you a position as a security guard at a local magic school, so off you go to do the various quests they assign you in order to protect the school, though you end up defending a bad system; alternate endings would have been better. The story tries to be amusing, but the script is sparse at times and isn’t all well written. The gameplay is the draw here, not the story. The graphics aren’t the draw either, for sure, as the sprites are tiny and simplistic. Between your stick figure-ish character and the simple and angular environments, this game kind of looks like a mixture of basic assets and programmer art. That’s fine because the gameplay is good, but I should mention it. Even so, I do like some of the environmental details and the nice variety of enemies. Additionally, the game has some nice spell effects, which change based on your magic types equipped. Once you get used to the visuals, this game does look good. The musical compositions are quite nice string instrument bits. I really like them, but they are pretty short, so you’ll hear each areas’ music loop a lot. Still, it’s good. On the whole, with straightforward gameplay, fun action, and lots of spells to create and fight things with, Magicmaker is an interesting and fun indie platform-action game. The game does have issues, including some occasional possible grind for some magic, the randomized level layouts, and the iffy story, graphics, and movement controls, but it is good overall. This game is worth a try for cheap.


Math Rescue (1992, DOS) – 1 player, saves, gamepad supported. Math Rescue is an educational game which mixes platforming gameplay with math problems. The game was developed by and was published by Apogee. The team made both Math and Word Rescue games, and they are similar, but this game is probably the better of the two both because it released a little later and has improved graphics, and also because this games’ educational element works better than that one. Math Rescue is one part simple collection-heavy Apogee-style platformer, and one part math problem game. Designed for children up to ten years old but potentially fun for most anyone, the game teaches addition, subtraction, multiplication, and division, in both regular and word problem forms. You can play as either a boy or a girl, and run and jump around in enemy-free platformer stages. The girl character is actually the default in both of these games, possibly because the programmer was a woman. Math and Word Rescue are two of Apogee’s only games ever with playable female characters, unfortunately; their rivals at Epic were better with that, but at least Epic did publish these two games with gender diversity. The visuals are fairly standard Apogee EGA fare, with solidly drawn backgrounds and characters. There’s even parallax scrolling in some parts of the game, which is pretty nice for the time on the PC. There is a Soundblaster soundtrack as well, with some decent if unspectacular music.

Your goal in each stage is to find and solve enough math problems to make a key, which will then let you move on to the next level. Each level has quite a few problems on offer, each marked with numbered blocks marked with the numbers 0 to 9. When you touch a block you go into a math problem room. So, like some other edutainment games of the day, this is a math game that controls like a platformer.
You need to jump into the blocks in numerical order in order for your progress towards completing the level to count. Levels are small to moderate in size and are open-ended, so you wander around each level, looking for items to collect for points, number blocks to hit to enter math problem rooms, and avoid enemies. Now, this game is mostly non-violent game, but there are badguys here, the creatures which stole numbers from the world. There is an amusing backstory explaining why these slimy aliens want to steal Earth’s numbers, too. You attack with slime buckets that your helper, Benny the Bookworm, will dump on enemies. Whenever you hit the attack button he will automatically slime the nearest enemy on screen in the direction you are facing, so combat is quite simple. You do have limited ammo and health, though, and each time you get a question wrong an enemy spawns, so you do want to get questions right. If you die you will need to restart the current stage, though the game does save your progress at the current level automatically to a player file you name when you start up the game.

In math problem rooms, the problem you need to solve appears on the top part of the screen, and you can move around on the bottom as usual. There is a row of 10 number blocks there, and you simply jump up into the number, or numbers, that are the answer to the question. It’s simple and works well. The first episode of three in the game, which is the free shareware episode, has only addition and subtraction. If you get the full registered version however, episodes two and three also optionally have multiplication and division problems, which certainly will up the difficulty if you’re trying to answer them all in your head. This game won’t never ask really hard problems, everything involves single or sometimes double-digit numbers, but still there is some challenge here to the educational component in a way that there isn’t in Word Rescue, as I will get to later. Overall, Math Rescue feels like a conventional Apogee game crossed with an educational math game. The open, item-heavy levels feel like smaller versions of stages you’d see in a Keen or Duke Nukem game, the visuals and sound are Apogee-styled, and the game plays great. This is a somewhat slow-paced game as you cannot run and don’t move really fast, and the educational element makes it best for children, but I like it anyway. Math Rescue is a good game for sure, and anyone who thinks it sounds interesting should give it a look. It’s a fun little game. Originally released as a physical title for PC; now also available for PC, Mac, and Linux digital download on Steam, GOG, and 3D Realms’ website. I have the retail version through the now-unavailable 3D Realms Anthology that I got from their site, but you can still buy this game individually on all those sites.


Momodora III (2014, WinXP+) – 1 player, saves, gamepad supported (xinput only, if it works for you). Momodora III, from small indie team rdein, is a side-scrolling pixel-art action-platformer. This short but reasonably fun game is a shameless clone of the popular mid ’00s indie game Cave Story. This game looks, sounds, and plays a WHOLE lot like Cave Story, just with two Cave Story-esque square-faced anime girl characters to play as instead of Cave Story’s boy robot, and an even shorter and less substantial game than you’ll find in that title. I did like Cave Story, but I didn’t get as into it as some people did; I never have gone back to it after beating the freeware version once after it came out. And thanks to its popularity, this style of chunky-pixel action-platformer has become an indie-game staple. Even so, this one is worth a look, and Momodora III is its own thing and not only a clone. In this game you play as Momo or Dora, two anime-style girls who look different but play nearly identically. One can buy one item earlier on that makes the game easier, but otherwise they are the same. The story is also lacking. The game does not have an in-game introduction, so the only backstory is the few sentences of text on the online store pages. On top of that, this game does not explain anything that happened in the previous two games, which I have not played. What in-game story that does exist feels thin, as most bosses fight you without a word; only a few scattered characters actually talk to you. Fortunately the action is better than the writing. Visually, again, Momodora III looks like something straight out of Cave Story: the pixels are big and chunky, the characters have big, rectangular heads, and enemies drop bouncing shapes you pick up for points/money. The backgrounds are well-drawn and interesting, though, and there is a strong sense of atmosphere at times. The overall visual look is good. Musically, the game has a good orchestral-style electronic soundtrack. It’s not as low-fi as the graphics, but sounds good and fits the game well. On the whole, the presentation in Momodora III is pretty good, but shamelessly copies a popular game more than I’d like.

Even so, the gameplay is fun and stands up well on its own. In this pixel-art platformer, you run around, slash things with a sword, talk to people, and kill enemies while collecting shiny pickups that serve as money. If you hold down the attack button you can shoot out a projectile attack, but it’s kind of weak and is only sometimes useful. The controls are good and responsive, and you can take multiple hits here. Hearts are your health, three for Hard mode, 5 for Easy, and 6 plus regenerating health for Casual. The game uses only two buttons plus a pad, so the controls are simple too. On keyboard the game defaults to the arrow keys for movement and A and S for attack and jump, and that works fine though it is configurable, but a pad is preferable. However, gamepad support seems to be kind of flaky, and doesn’t work for some people even with Xinput controllers. You may need to use a joystick-to-keyboard program to use this game with a gamepad. Now, Cave Story had a variety of weapons, both melee and ranged, but that is not true here. So, this is a melee-focused game. You will get items, which you can equip in three item slots on an inventory screen, or four slots in New Game + mode, but these are not new weapons, just modifications to your attacks or things like healing or damage reduction. Most items stay in effect as long as you equip them, but a few are one-time-use. You don’t have an item button though, these items activate automatically once the right conditions are met, such as running out of health in that case. There is a free fairy bottle early in the first level, so it’s a very good idea to go back and get another one after using one on a boss and going to the next stage; the stage warps send you back to the beginning of the level you go to, so that’s the best time.

The world design here is simpler than Cave Story’s as well. While that game was a linear title, it has a main hub that connects to various side areas for a somewhat Metroidvania-like style. Momodora III, however, is broken up into more traditional levels. Each area does let you travel back and forth through it, and you can warp to past levels from any save point, but the main game here is mostly just moving forward through stages, and fighting bosses at the end of each level. There are also occasional shops to buy items with, though you also get some free here and there. I have always thought that linearity in games is just fine if it works well, though, and it does here. Each level looks noticeably different, and exploring the stages is fun on both a visual and gameplay sense. Levels are simple, with a good mix of action and platforming. This game is probably more action than platforming, but there are plenty of pits and spikes to jump over. The game also has a lot of bounce pads scattered around. On the action side, there is a nice variety of enemies to fight. Each enemy and boss has a set of attacks, and memorizing those is key. The boss fights are varied and fun, and learning each one’s attacks is interesting. Bosses take a lot of hits to kill and you die quickly, so some practice may be required. Unfortunately, sometimes various background or attack effects can obscure what’s going on, which can be an issue when you must be able to see enemeies to know what action they’re going to take next. Now, this is a very short game, beatable in an hour or two the first time you play it on Easy, the default setting, and it is even shorter with practice. There are only six or seven not-too-long stages here and that’s it. However, the game is fun while it lasts, so that’s okay. There is also some replay value in Hard difficulty and the unlockable New Game + mode, but the short length and unoriginal concept are the games’ main issues. Still, particularly if you find it on sale sometime, with a solid anime theme, good action, fun and varied boss fights, and well-designed environments, Momodora III is a fun little game worth a play.


Monster Bash (1993, DOS) – 1 player, saves, gamepad supported. Monster Bash is an okay sidescrolling action-platformer from and published by Apogee. As much as I love Apogee, this one has never been one of my favorites. It’s a fine game, sure, but their best games are a lot better. In this Halloween-styled game, you play as a young boy in his pajamas fighting off hordes of zombies, skeletons, and the like with his slingshot. That may sound kid-friendly, but oddly this game also has lots of blood for the time, so I’m not sure who the target audience actually is. That is one of several reasons that while it may be getting closer to Halloween as I write this, Apogee’s two halloween-themed games, this one and Alien Carnage/Halloween Harry, are two of my least favorite games Apogee published. Part of that may be simply that I have never liked horror-themed things much, but I also find the gameplay here not quite as fun as some other Apogee games are. Monster Bash is at least average, but most Apogee games were better than that. Visually the game is average for the time for a shareware game. It has solidly-drawn EGA graphics with large sprites, and a fine Soundblaster soundtrack. There is no parallax though, and the large sprites make for a limited viewing distance. You can’t look around to get a better view of your surroundings either.

So, this is a platform-action game. You can run and jump and will be doing a lot of that, but shooting is also a major focus. Your stones shoot out at a slight arc and can bounce around a bit, but you mostly just shoot at things in front of you. You do have a health bar in this game, thankfully, and unlimited ammo. Powerups can upgrade your attack temporarially and refill your health. Unfortunately, one of the biggest issues with this game are its slippery controls. Your guy slides around as he moves, and takes a moment to stop moving after you press the button, too. It’s not great. This game is not quite a Prince of Persia-styled highly animated platform-adventure title, but there is maybe some influence from that kind of game here and I don’t care for that. Levels are linear and fairly straightforward. Eventually more mazelike levels will appear, but the game feels focused on having you try to get to the exit. You often can’t backtrack in stages once you reach certain points, too. There are items to collect along the way for points, but that’s not as much of a focus here as it is in, say, a Keen game. That’s fine, I love lots of linear games, but with controls as flawed as these are, I never have found this game much fun to play and never have been able to stick with it for long. So, overall, Monster Bash is a mediocre platform-action game. Playing it again now, this is the same not-too-great game I remember it being when I first played it in the early to mid ’90s. Still, the game has plenty of large levels to explore, decent graphics and sound, and a theme some people will like a lot more than I do, so I’m sure there is an audience for this game; I’m just not a part of it. Originally released as a physical title for PC; now also available for PC, Mac, and Linux digital download on Steam, GOG, and 3D Realms’ website. I have the retail version through the now-unavailable 3D Realms Anthology that I got from their site, but you can still buy this game individually on all those sites.


MURI (2013, WinXP+) – 1 player, saves (scores and options only, not progress), gamepad supported. MURI is an indie platformer published by Ludosity AB and inspired by early ’90s DOS games, Duke Nukem 1 in particular. This game has some modern elements, but the core audio-visual presentation and gameplay are heavily inspired by Duke 1. The game even has a choice between 16 or 32fps, if you want an authentically low framerate like the first Duke game has. I’d rather play in the smoother mode, myself, but it is a pretty cool option to have. In the game, you play as a middle-aged black woman scientist, but beyond that too-uncommon choice of characters in a game, the actual story is annoyingly melodramatic and quite depressing. I won’t spoil what happens, but I want to play as the good guy in games, not as someone who does the things you do in this game! Too bad. As an aside, “Muri” means “impossible” in Japanese, apparently, but I don’t know why the game has a Japanese name when it’s Western-made and is designed to emulate classic Western games, not Japanese ones. Anyway,the story is conventional but the character isn’t, considering how almost all Apogee games star white males. Visually, this game looks very much like the CGA and EGA games it emulates. The game uses few enough colors that it well might actually be a 16-color palette, and the colors, including purple, white, green, and blue, are the kinds of colors commonly seen in ’90s games. The game also does have some parallax scrolling, though it’s only in some levels. It doesn’t affect the framerate of course, unlike many early ’90s PC games. The game has average to good graphics overall, with some pretty good-looking parts particularly thanks to how much of the look of this game tries to look as much like an Apogee game as possible. However, the sprites are only average looking most of the time and some environments are bland as well. That’s okay, but overall, I’m just not sure about what I think of making a game that you’re charging money for that is this visually similar to a classic title. The gameplay here does have some new ideas, but the graphics do not. As for MURI’s sound, just like in Duke 1, there are sound effects but not music. There isn’t even a footsteps sound like Keen 1-3 has, so there is only any sound in this game when you’re shooting, getting hit, or such. Some may dislike that, or the harsh-sounding sounds, but I think they fit the game perfectly. The audio’s just right.

The controls are simple, but you do have a few more moves than Duke has in Duke 1: you can walk around, jump, duck, and shoot. I like how the jumping controls are just like in Apogee games, so as long as you hold the jump button you automatically jump, and stop going up on your jump as soon as you let go of the button. The game has two-button controls, jump and shoot, just like early ’90s games, and I really like that it defaults to Control and Alt for shoot and jump. You can also use Z and X, but Control and Alt is best for the most authentic feel. Additionally, while you hold the shoot button you lock your firing in that direction, so if you want to fire the other way you’ll have to stop shooting for a moment and turn around first. This isn’t a feature any Apogee game has, and it does amp up the intensity of some of the firefights, as it allows for more bullet-dodging and trickier enemy patterns without the frustration of only being able to shoot forwards. However, there are a few times I died because of enemies hitting me from behind before I could stop firing and turn around, so it can hurt you at times. When you do get hit, you lose health on your health bar. You can take a good number of hits per life, and start with three lives per episode. When you die you respawn exactly where you died and without any progress lost, unlike most classic games; this makes boss fights much easier than they otherwise would be. There are also six different weapons to collect, and just like in Duke 1 you cannot switch them ingame; instead, the game simply equips the most powerful onme at all times. Your default gun has infinite ammo, but the others usually are limited, unless you collect an infinite-ammo version of one. If you do have one of those though, you lose it upon death. The controls overall are good.

As with the controls, level designs in MURI have a lot of similarities Apogee’s work in Duke Nukem 1. As in that game, levels are sizable, fun to explore, full of jumps, enemies, and secrets, and there are no instant-death pits. However, there are also some important differences. First, while the stages are decent-sized, these levels are smaller and much less mazelike than Duke 1’s sometimes oversized levels are. You shouldn’t almost ever get lost in this game, unlike Dukes 1 or 2. There are also a lot less collectibles in each level to find for points. Levels do still have hidden areas to find full of point items, and I like how the game hints at where you should look or shoot for these without always blatantly giving it away, but any ’90s Apogee game has far, far more. Compared to those games MURI puts much more emphasis on shooting and action, and less on exploration. These changes make the game feel more modern, in that less confusing or entirely linear designs are the modern style so as to keep players from getting frustrated, but while this game is definitely fun to play, the levels are much simpler than Duke 1 or 2 levels. The creator said the goal was a more streamlined and arcadey game than Duke is, though, and it does deliver on that. But the resulting stages don’t take long to finish, and this game has only four episodes of five levels each. I beat this game in a bit over an hour on Normal, and it was not challenging most of the time. There are two harder difficulties available, though, and they significantly up the challenge. You see, sadly, unlike every actual Apogee game ever, you cannot save during episodes in this game and if you run out of lives you will have to restart the episode from the beginning. So, in the higher difficulties where there are no health powerups in Hard and no health OR 1-up powerups in the top difficulty, Muri, every death matters a lot. You do get a score multiplier in the higher difficulties as a reward for your efforts, but there isn’t a high-score table or name entry, only a single highest score next to each of the four episode names. That’s disappointing, compared to the full score tables of any classic Apogee game. Overall, MURI is a slightly above average platform-action game with fun gameplay and a great nostalgic look, but it is also short, unoriginal, has an awful story, and is not on par with Apogee’s classics. Still, if it’s on sale and you like Apogee, sure, maybe pick this one up.


Mystik Belle (2015, WinXP+) – 1 player, saves, gamepad supported. Mystik Belle is an open-world platform adventure game by Last Dimension, a small indie team. The same developer also made Ultionus, a game I will cover later in the list. Both games are moderately sized, made while they, or maybe just he, work a bigger Metroidvania title, Legend of Iya, that had a successful kickstarter. Still, Mystik Belle is a reasonable-length game which will take some hours to beat. I still have a long way to go, two hours in. I backed the kickstarter, and because of many long delays he was nice enough to give all backers free copies of both of the games he made in the interim! Getting three games for the price of one was a pretty good deal, so I don’t mind the delays. Anyway, Mystik Belle is a good game with both quality gameplay and graphics. The game has good sprite-art graphics and platform-adventure gameplay that is one part Metroidvania action-platformer, and one part Dizzy series-inspired sidescrolling adventure game. This game is fun, though it can be confusing at times when you’re not sure what to do next. It gets tough at times, too. I’ve never played the Dizzy games so I can’t compare this to those, but even if it is challenging at times, the adventure element of this game is well done, and I like the action too. And visually, the first thing anyone playing this game will see are the detailed cartoon-style graphics with great-looking, large sprites. The game is set in a spooky witches’ school, and everything fits the theme great. The gameplay is pretty good too, but the graphics are one of the best things about the game. Though you are always in one area, there is a fair amount of graphical variety in the game and the graphics for both environments and characters are always very good. You play as Belle, a girl witch student falsely accused of stealing an important item at her magic school. So, you’re stuck with having to save the day yourself even though you did nothing wrong… though as in most any adventure game you will do some questionable actions during the game itself. Heh. Still, that may not be fair, but it’s a solid setup for a videogame.

In the game, you wander around the school and environs, fighting enemies and collecting items you will need to figure out how to use to progress. While you stay alive you will also earn experience which can increase your health meter, but this resets to zero after each death. The two major gameplay elements here are action-platforming and adventure game style puzzle solving. First I will discuss the action side of this game. The action controls aren’t too complex. There are four main buttons, for jump, attack, interact, and dash. There is also an inventory menu button with a good map on it for navigation. You do have a health bar, but bosses particularly can deplete it quickly. And while you might have plenty of inventory items, these are for puzzles only, not combat; you can’t heal with items. You start out only able to jump once, but will get more abilities as you progress. There are a few too many platforms that you can only just barely reach with a single jump, which can be annoying, but the controls are mostly good. The attack button shoots when enemies are at range and swings your broom as a melee attack when they are close. Combat is fun, but fairly standard; there are no combos or such to attempt, just basic attacks. The melee attack is strong, but you are much more likely to take damage close up so there is some strategy, but this isn’t a game with a deep combat system. You will get abilities as you progress, though, to give you more spells beyond your starting fireball spell. You will also get a double jump and more. As per the Metroidvania formula, each of these allows you to reach new areas of the map. Level design is also heavily Metroidvania-inspired, as the school is a large maze of rooms and corridors. There are horizontal, vertical, and larger rooms, and some enemies are set in specific places in a room, while others infinitely spawn from the sides or floor of the room. Regular enemies are mostly not too tough, but you can die, and as mentioned earlier you are punished for that. Unfortunately, after every death you respawn back at the starting room, which is a while from anything. Ah well. There is a warp system, but the warp points are widely scattered. And again, the bosses are tough and require memorization and plenty of dodging enemy shots while trying to shoot or slash when you can, so you will die. Still, the game is a lot of fun to play and learning the bosses is a good challenge, so I don’t mind.

But Mystik Belle is not only a Metroidvania action-platformer, it also a graphic adventure game. This school may be full of dangerous monsters, but there also are people to talk to, always in rooms that don’t have enemies in them, and items to get all over. You can only carry six items at a time, so you’ll be leaving items all over the place. Fortunately, while the map does not mark where people you can talk to or bosses are, it does mark all items you’ve dropped with white dots. That is extremely useful. The adventure puzzles here are traditional inventory puzzles. You get items in many ways — from defeated enemies, lying around on the ground, by using other items in specific places, and such. There won’t be much pixel-hunting here, though, thankfully, as items clearly stand out from the backgrounds, and areas you can interact with are marked with exclamation marks. You also will often need to combine items, but this is automatic: just put the required items in your inventory at once, and provided you’ve learned about this possible combination Belle will combine them. Then, you use those items in other places, either on exclamation point spots or when used on characters. You need to open the inventory menu and then select an item there to use them, though, as there isn’t an inventory-item button. This sometimes is a little annoying as you try to find the right spot to stand on to interact with something. With sprites this big that isn’t a big deal, but it is annoying once in a while. The biggest issue with the game for most probably will be trying to figure out what to do next. There is someone who will tell you about your items, but beyond that you’re kind of on your own. Characters involved in ongoing quests will talk about what you need to do for that quest, but you will need to remember two to talk to as the game does not have a quest log or map markers telling you where to go next. These were intentional choices, to fit the classic style of the graphics and gameplay, but I find it frustrating when I get stuck in a game not knowing what to do next! Thankfully there is a pretty good guide for this game on GameFAQs, so use that if you want. I have looked up a few things, I admit, and I don’t think it hurts the game.

In conclusion, Mystik Belle is an interesting mix of genres which works well. The hybrid of adventure and action-platforming is original, but the mix actually works pretty well. The game really is both an action and adventure game, so for example, in order to access new areas sometimes you will need to use items and other times you need to use the abilities or spells you get from defeating bosses. This mixture actually works pretty well, though. The gameplay is similarly good. The controls are simple and reasonably responsive, though jumps sometimes are a little trickier than I’d like, and until you get more moves combat is pretty simple. The game also has great graphics and animation, it’s often fun to just look at stuff. The big sprites do mean you can’t see far ahead, but all areas are designed around this view distance so it’s fine. There is a lot more good here than bad, and I will definitely be playing more of this game. So, overall, Mystik Belle is a pretty good game worth playing for sure. This game didn’t get a lot of press, but while it isn’t perfect, it probably deserved more attention than it got.

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Review: San Francisco Rush 2049 (ARC/N64/DC), The Greatest Racing Game Ever Made

So, because it was the Olympics, I was watching that a lot… on my HDTV, at least.  Often at the same time, I was also playing a lot of this game again for the first time in a  while on my CRT.  I have considered writing a review of Rush 2049 for a long time, but I’ve finally done it!  This review took a while to finish, and with how long it is, it’s easy to see why.  Yes, this is the longest review of a single game I have ever written.  This is an over 80KB text file!  I’m sure there are things that could be cut, but whenever I got back I just end up adding more, so I should stop now and just post it… :p

Also, sorry for all the bad screenshots.  Unfortunately I don’t have a way to capture them from real hardware myself.

This is the only screenshot almost certainly from an emulator that you will see here, which means the rest will look awful, but at least are real hardware. Check the video links out to get a better sense of the game!

Table of Contents

  • Introduction
  • The Controls and Handling
  • Arcade San Francisco Rush 2049: Drive the Future!
  • Home Console Rush 2049 – Rush 2049 for the N64 and Dreamcast
  • Modes and Options
  • Car Customization
  • Cheats
  • Graphics and Sound
  • The Modes: Race Mode
    • The Race Tracks In Detail
      • Race Track 1 / Marina
      • Race Track 2 / Haight
      • Race Track 3 / Civic
      • Race Track 4 / Metro
      • Race Track 5 / Mission
      • Race Track 6 / Presidio
  • The Modes: Stunt Mode
    • The Stunt Arenas In Detail
      • Stunt 1 / The Rim
      • Stunt 2 / Disco
      • Stunt 3 / Oasis
      • Stunt 4 / Warehouse
  • The Modes: Battle Mode
    • The Battle Arenas
      • Battle 1 / Stadium
      • Battle 2 / Melee
      • Battle 3 / Tundra
      • Battle 4 / Atomic
      • Battle 5 / Downtown
      • Battle 6 / Plaza
      • Battle 7 / Roadkill
      • Battle 8 / Factory
  • The Modes: Obstacle Course and the Obstacle Course Track
  • Conclusion

This might be my favorite Rush 2049 Youtube video.

Introduction

  • Title: San Francisco Rush 2049
  • Developer: Atari Games, aka Midway Games West (for the Arcade, N64, and Dreamcast versions)
  • Arcade Version Release: October 1999
  • Nintendo 64 and Dreamcast Versions Release: September 2000
  • Midway Arcade Treasures 3 [Dreamcast port] Version Release for Gamecube, Xbox, and PlayStation 2: September 2005; Port Developed by Digital Eclipse.

San Francisco Rush 2049 is a futuristic racing game, and the second, third, or fourth game in its series, depending on how you count.  It is the second full arcade game, third arcade release, and third console release, so I usually consider it to be the third game.  This fast-paced and high-flying arcade racing game is a classic ’90s arcade racer in its final form, with some of the best gameplay, graphics, and design ever seen in the field.  Rush game tracks are intricate and full of alternate routes and shortcuts, and this game has more and better on both of those fronts than any Rush game before.  In addition to exceptional level designs, the game also perfects the series’ controls, and has one of the all-time great videogame soundtracks as well.

I have written about S.F. Rush 2049 several times before, including a Game Opinion Summary of the game from some years ago, and an article about the version differences between the Nintendo 64 and Dreamcast versions of the game.  I have not, however, written a full review.  I have usually avoided writing reviews of my favorite games, because praise is really hard to do well!  Criticism is, sadly, easier, though the two are at least equally important, and praise may be more important.  And I want to cover three different versions of the game all at once, so it’s a complex review to put together.  I tried to organize it reasonably, but I don’t know if there is an ideal way to review this with so much to cover.  But when you really, REALLY love a game, how do you write about it well?  And that is the problem I have here; I don’t just like this game, I adore it.  Rush 2049 is one of the true greats, a game which has a permanent place near the top of my list of the best games ever made and, as I have said before, “the greatest game ever made in which you drive a vehicle”.  It is that good.  This is the game I have owned the longest that I am absolutely certain I have played every single year since I bought it in early 2001, and playing it again now the game is still unmatched.  This game is quite likely my most-played console game of all time.  It surely does not come close to the amount of time I’ve put into my most-played PC games, most notably Starcraft (1), Warcraft III, and Guild Wars (1), but for console games it is on top of the list.

Indeed, not only does the game still hold up near-impeccably, it really does not have any competition; the more time passes, the greater Rush 2049 appears in hindsight.  Nobody makes games like this anymore, and indeed they haven’t since around the time of its release.  Rush 2049 is a near-perfect masterpiece, the combination of a base of work from one of the best arcade developers ever, Atari Games, by that point also known as Midway Games West.  The studio had been bought by Midway in 1996, and after a few years Midway renamed them, though the Atari Games name appears on the arcade machine.  The arcade version of Rush 2049 ended up being Atari Games’ final arcade game release, as Midway gave up on the dying arcade industry in 2001.  Midway Games West would be shut down in 2003 after making their last game, the 3d platformer Dr. Muto.  As for Rush 2049, the arcade game, it’s fantastic!  The game builds on my favorite arcade game ever, San Francisco Rush: Extreme Racing, in some great ways.  Midway Games West’s console team made the home versions of Rush 2049 for the Nintendo 64 and Dreamcast, and both released in fall 2000.  They make significant improvements across the board over the arcade original, and this is the version I love the most.  This kind of game, with arcade sensibilities but the full feature set of a home console game, is something you got sometimes back in the ’90s to early ’00s, but you do not see anymore.  That is really sad, because that combination resulted in some of the most fun racing games ever, with this one at the top of that list.  Racing games of the past decade-plus do not even try to compete with this game, to their detriment.

But that’s enough background, on to the review.  This will be long.  I will start by discussing how the game plays.  After that I will cover the original arcade game a bit, before moving on to the home versions, including their systems, modes, graphics, music, and general gameplay.  Rush 2049 is a futuristic racing game set in the year, well, 2049.  The fairly silly backstory, which is only mentioned in the manual and never in the game itself as there is no in-game story, is that there has been a second gold rush, 200 years after the first one, and so San Francisco is a boom town yet again.  Sure, that works.  No story is needed in a game like this, but why not write something amusing for the manual?  So, the game is set in a familiar and yet futuristic city, with the major landmarks present but also futuristic elements as well.  It’s a fantastic mix which works great, and the choice to return to San Francisco, after Rush 2 was set across the USA, is brilliant; the city is just plain more fun to drive in in videogames than any other I have seen due to all its layout and hills.

As an aside, there is also a Game Boy Color version of Rush 2049.  It is an entirely different game, as you would expect, and plays in isometric 2d.  Unfortunately, it is very average.  If I review it, it will be covered separately; this is about the arcade and TV console game.

Track 4/Metro, as you head up a hill.

The Controls and Handling

I decided to cover this first because the controls and engine are the core of every game, and Rush 2049’s engine and San Francisco Rush 2049’s controls are great and engine just as good.  Rush games have a unique handling system which is divisive, but I love it.  The game is based around a physics engine, and it sticks to the physics.  This engine has its quirks, but the game won’t actually cheat you, it follows its physics model.  Indeed, Rush 2049 does not get the credit it deserves for its good car modeling; it’s not realistic, but it’s not supposed to be!  What it is is well-modeled, consistent, and challenging.  Cars in Rush games turn slowly and in predictable ways, and leave the air the moment they hit even the tiniest bump in the road.  All vehicles in this game have several stats which rate their capabilities, including speed, acceleration, and weight.  Each of the 13 starting and 6 unlockable vehicles has different starting stats, and they change on top of that depending on which parts you equip.  This is no sim or tuner game with a huge garage of options available, but on consoles you do have some car parts to choose from for your frame, transmission, engine, and tire type.  There are also visual customization options as well for your car colors and wheel rims.  In the arcade version you have fewer choices as you would expect, but there are still some.  

Before I continue though, while the Nintendo 64 and Dreamcast or Arcade versions of the game mostly handle identically, there is one difference between them, to the Dreamcast’s advantage: on the DC the game has analog acceleration and braking on the DC controller’s analog triggers, while on N64 you have only digital on-or-off acceleration and braking since N64 controllers only have an analog stick, not buttons or triggers.  While you can play the game just fine by feathering the accelerator to replicate the same result as pushing that DC trigger down halfway, driving at less than full speed is easier to do on the DC, and this is to your advantage at times so the DC as a result does have slightly better control.  Otherwise they really are the same, though, and I do like the feel of the N64 analog stick a bit more than the Dreamcast one.

There are also three handling options to choose from, Beginner, Normal, and Extreme.  On consoles you can change this as a setting, while in arcades specific cars are tied to each type.  I always play at the maximum Extreme handling setting, because it just isn’t Rush with anything less than the most challenging handling!  I, at least, like that the car fights you as you turn, as it tries to go straight most of the time.  This is not a drift game at all, it’s more traditional, series quirks aside.  As you turn you skid a bit, but there are no massive powerslides here, and there is no drifting beyond the bit of tire-squealing skidding you do during longer turns.  I love this, and once you learn the controls, you have good control over your car here.  With practice you will know when when you can stay at full speed all the time, when you need to let go of the accelerator to make a turn, and when you need to brake or handbrake to not go off the road.  If you don’t get your speed right or turn too early or too late it is very easy to go off the road on these complex courses, so there is a high learning curve here.  There are also several terrain types which you move over at different speeds, including pavement, dirt roads, and grass or dirt-covered off-road areas.  You want to stay off of that last type when you can, but sometimes you can successfully make a shortcut over some grassy areas.  Collisions are also done very well.  Cars bump into eachother fairly realistically, far better than many games of the time, and whether you crash or not depends on how fast you were going and at what angle your car was at when you hit something.  Brush against a wall and sparks will fly, or hit someone also moving and you will grind against their car.  It’s well done.  The game also makes great use of rumble, and a rumble pak or such is highly recommended for any console version of the game!  Most of the rumble elements are the usual, such as when you hit things, but the subtle rumble that starts when you begin a skid is useful during gameplay, it makes it easy to tell when you are fully in control and when you have started to lose it.

Aerial maneuvers also are fully controlled by the physics model.  The low gravity, and resulting constant high-flying jumps whenever you hit any kind of bump, is perhaps the Rush series’ hallmark feature and I love it.  However, being in the air is tricky, because you need to land!  As I said, the physics model controls you in the air as well, so like in real life, you cannot move around in the air like you could in, say, a 2d fighting game.  Instead, the angle and direction you were going when you left the ground is the direction you will go in.  You can adjust your speed a bit, and can twist the car around in the air with the cars’ wings if you are in a version or mode of the game which has wings, but you can’t redirect your line once you are already in the air.  Landing is also difficult, as you need to land flat, and not too fast.  If you’re tossed too far into the air even landing flat won’t help, you’ll explode on landing because you were going too fast; you’ll need to hope you land on a slope and land perfectly, to redirect your momentum that way.  Acceleration and braking is also a vital part of landing, as if you accelerate while landing you are much more likely to spin out than if you brake.  Whenever you don’t land perfectly, your car will go rolling and flipping around on the ground, more or less so depending on your speed.  Here again the brake button is essential, as you want to be stopping as you roll onto your wheels, not your roof; use the brakes, accelerator, and directions to nudge the car in the right direction.  While you will land on your roof as often as you land on your tires, it is possible to save yourself from difficult situations with skill and luck.  When you do land upside down, though, your car will explode.  I’ve always found the idea that Rush cars all have dynamite strapped to their roofs or something amusing.

Earlier, I mentioned that the cars have wings in some versions and modes.  In the first two Rush games, and in the arcade version of this one, there is no way to control your car in the air beyond the slight changes that changing your speed brings.  You get used to it, but having no control over your car in the air makes the games very challenging at times; you either get the jump right from the ground, or you’re doomed.  It makes for some great and challenging gameplay, but it can be frustrating at times.  Atari Games / Midway Games West realized this, and in a work of genius, the home versions of the game add wings to the cars that allow you to twist and rotate while in the air.  This feature is one of the very best things about Rush 2049, and is the most important feature that turned a very good arcade game into the best racing game ever made.  It does make landing easier, and I know some hardcore Rush 1 or 2 fans prefer that games’ lack of air controls to the wings of home Rush 2049, but I have always considered this an amazing, inspiring idea!  The possibilities it opens, for maneuvering your car through narrow spaces in the air, for flipping and spinning in the games’ Stunt mode, and more, are incredible.  I loved, and love, the “flying” winged cars of Rush 2049 so much that back in the early to mid ’00s, this game got me hooked on flipping TV remotes in the air like the cars in Rush 2049.  It took quite some time, and several broken remotes, before I finally broke that habit… but why not do that?  It’s such an amazing concept, executed incredibly well!

I very much doubt that the AI cars follow all of the physics rules, though, I must admit, as instead of having dynamic AIs, each computer follows one of the games’ pre-designed possible computer car routes.  Some of the resulting turns look maybe too tight without as much skidding as you might expect.  The AI has been much improved over the original Rush, however; there AI cars just followed each other in a line through the level, in a very close pack, so one mistake doomed you.  Here different AIs will do better or worse on each track, and they can mess up and crash as well, which is welcome.  When facing off against the computer your AI opponents are challenging, but those good at memorization may get used to their routes through the tracks.  I mostly don’t mind this, but there is one thing I find disappointing here: AI cars cannot enter shortcuts; bump one onto one and they will reset onto the track, even in Deaths Mode (described later).  While they are tough enough competition on the main roads that I’m fine with with them staying away from shortcuts as that would make the game even harder, it would be nice if they would stay on them if you bump them onto one, at least.  I’m sure this could have been done better, it is distracting and weird at times.  Ah well.  Still, your computer opponents in Rush 2049 will put up a tough fight, and I do think that the AI is mostly fine at it is; it’s plenty challenging, and each race will be different due to the random nature of what can happen during a race, both between AI cars and between you and them.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=aKKnN04nXss
Arcade track 7, aka home track 6/Presidio. The shortcuts are not the same as on consoles!

Arcade San Francisco Rush 2049: Drive the Future!

This article is mostly a review of the home console versions of Rush 2049, and the Nintendo 64 version in particular.  The arcade version is an arcade exclusive and has never been released on any home platform, unless you emulate it and I haven’t, so while I have played arcade Rush 2049, it was for a relatively small amount of time, particularly compared to the hundreds of hours I have played the console versions.  But the arcade version is the core experience which the home version only builds on but does not significantly change beyond adding wings and modes, so I will start here.  Rush 2049 is the third arcade Rush game release, following San Francisco Rush and its enhanced re-release San Francisco Rush The Rock: Alcatraz Edition.  This game brings Rush into the future, and that was a great idea indeed!  Most of my favorite racing games are futuristic ones, so I love the choice to go futuristic.  The tracks are a mixture of Tron-inspired neon, modern cityscapes, and outdoor environments, and the three mix surprisingly well.  Amusingly, the advertisement billboards that are present all over the game include some for real companies such as Dickies and Slim Jim.  These are present in the home version as well.  I wonder if they paid to be in the game, or if Midway had to pay… you never know.  So, fitting the theme, the arcade version’s ad tagline was “Drive the Future”, and it’s a good line for sure.  The games’ machine and poster art is also fantastic stuff!  Oddly they don’t seem to have used that subtitle with the home releases, though they do use the same cover art.  Arcade Rush 2049 runs on a standard Midway arcade board, with fairly good but not mind-blowing graphics for a 2000 release.  

The original arcade Rush 2049 game is a very good, but straightforward, racing game.  Unlike the later console versions all you can do here is race in single races against AI or human opponents.  This being an arcade game, it is a stripped-down experience, perfect for a quick game.  I mentioned earlier the more limited car customization available in the arcade game, but the basics are still here, including different cars with different stats and handling types.  The core gameplay is as described above.  I have played the final revision of arcade Rush 2049 within the past few years, and it is a weird experience.  on the one hand, Rush 2049 for arcades is Rush 2049, a version of my favorite racing game.  The graphics look just like the home console game I will describe; the tracks are very similar to how I know them; the controls and handling are the same, absent wings aside; and the gameplay is fantastic and incredibly fun.  But… without the added modes of the home game, without the wings, with its slightly different variation on the games’ soundtrack, and more, I just do not unreservedly love the game like I do the home version.  San Fransisco Rush 2049 for arcades is a really good game despite that, though, and due to its differences from the console game it is absolutely worth trying if you ever see any Rush 2049 machine variant somewhere.

There are five tracks in the original arcade game, four new courses and one rehash, a redone version of the Alcatraz track from San Francisco Rush the Rock: Alcatraz Edition and the first two Nintendo 64 Rush games.  Tracks in Rush games are linear paths, but the many shortcuts, alternate routes, and wide trackside areas you can drive through give the game a very open feeling that most racing games of the time do not match, while still being focused on a single course.  I really love this concept, as I prefer racing games to have closed courses over open city driving, but it is also fun to have some choices along the way.  Rush 2049 is the perfect merger of those two track design philosophies.  I will cover the home versions of the tracks in detail later, but track one is a short loop, while tracks two through four are medium length.  All four are shorter than any track from Rush 1 or 2, though, and the choice to make tracks shorter was a good one.  The tracks have more jumps, thrills, tricky segments, tough shortcuts, and the like than either previous Rush game, packed into a smaller space!  This means that the long periods of normal-road driving from the previous Rush games is now mostly gone, if you wish.  I don’t miss them, and you can see some of that if you stick to the road, anyway.  Rush 2049’s tracks also don’t have many of the cheap moments of the earlier games, so expect very few blind walls sitting right in the middle of the track, and there is only one or two times where the real path is a side-area and the “main road” is actually a dead end.  There also are now switches on the tracks which modify things in interesting ways, to open shortcuts by moving walls, making ramps appear, or more.  Some switches stay lit when activated, while others are time-limited, so learn them all.  These are different between the home and arcade versions, though.  These are huge improvements which make this game a lot more fun to drive in than the previous two games; you still need to do a lot of memorizing to succeed, but it feels less cheap with these better-designed, more fun, and less unfair tracks.  The home versions alter the courses, as the locations of shortcuts are different between versions, but the main shape and layout of each track is very similar between home and consoles.  Track five, Alcatraz, was cut from the console versions though, as it had already been in both other N64 Rush games.  They added a huge amount of new content to those versions to replace the absence.

Rush 2049 was a success in arcades, so despite the industry’s fading popularity Midway started working on an enhanced version.  One of Atari Games’ last arcade projects before Midway shut down arcade development was Rush 2049 Tournament Edition, or Rush 2049 T.E., an enhanced release of Rush 2049 with two more tracks, conversions of the two race-mode tracks added to the home versions, and online play between machines in arcades across the country.  Unfortunately, it was cancelled after location testing, so few of these machines saw release.  However, several years after the original release, another studio got the rights to arcade Rush 2049 and released the Rush 2049 Special Edition, or Rush 2049 SE.  This is essentially Rush 2049 TE, but with the online functionality removed, and it is the final arcade version of Rush 2049.  I have seen this machine around, so it is out there.


The N64 cover. The DC cover is similar.

Home Console Rush 2049 – Rush 2049 for the N64 and

Released in September 2000, the N64 and Dreamcast versions of Rush 2049 both launched at about the same time.  Both versions were developed internally by Midway Games West.  The N64 version is exclusive to that platform, but the Dreamcast version later was somewhat badly ported to the PlayStation 2, Gamecube, Xbox, and PC in the Midway Arcade Treasures 3 collection.  The two versions are very similar to each other, though there are naturally differences between the two platforms.  I wrote an article last year about the version differences between the two editions of Rush 2049, so see that for a more focused comparison of the two versions, but I will cover many of those differences here as well.  Though most of my time playing this game has been with the N64 release, I will try to cover everything noteworthy about both versions.  First I will discuss the games’ modes, options, and features; then the graphics and music; and then the Race mode, Stunt mode, Battle mode, and Obstacle Course in turn; and last, a conclusion.

First, though, I should mention one odd little difference between the two versions: on the N64 tracks are named with a number, while on the arcade and Dreamcast versions each track has a name instead.   As I have mostly played this game on the N64, I will usually refer to tracks by their number, not their name.  I often do refer to tracks just by their N64 names, but give both names when I discuss each track in turn below.

A menu.

A menu.

Modes and Options

San Francisco Rush 2049 is a very full-featured game, impressively expanding greatly on the basic arcade title.  When you start either console Rush 2049 game, the main menu allows you to start a one to four player game, enter the Options, Records, or Audio menus, or on Dreamcast also enter the Video and Internet menus.  If starting a game, after choosing the number of players, each player can create or load a player save file.  These can be saved and loaded from any memory card or controller pak on any controller attached to the Dreamcast or N64, and each player will need a separate file.  Here you also can view and reconfigure the controls.  After that, all game modes that that number of players can play will appear, including Battle, Stunt, Obstacle Course, and the various parts of Race mode, depending; some Race mode modes are single player only, and Battle mode is multiplayer only.  You then select the race options for that mode, choose a track and car, and begin the race.

All four of those modes are the best or among the best ever in their fields.  Race mode has four tournaments of eight to 24 races with a points-based championship system, single or multiplayer single races, and a time-trial mode for racing against yourself and the clock.  It is the best racing game ever.  Stunt mode has four stunt arenas to unlock in what I consider the best stunt game ever.  This mode has no AI competition, unfortunately, but you can play alone for points.  Battle mode is a two to four player local multiplayer-only car arena combat game, where you drive around and blow up other cars with various weapons scattered around the games’ eight battle arenas.  It’s the most fun I have ever had in a car combat game.  And last, the unlockable Obstacle Course track is a very challenging linear course where you must navigate past numerous hazards as quickly as you can.  Comparing the arcade game, with just a single race mode with five tracks, only four of them new, and nothing else, to the plethora of modes and tracks in this game is impressive.  The game does require you to unlock a lot of things in the game.  I have no problem with this, but some might dislike it.  All three main modes lock most of the tracks and you must unlock them, and there are unlockable cars and car parts as well.  All in all, Rush 2049 sets a gold standard for arcade-to-home conversions that few get anywhere near matching.

As for the other main menu options below the main player select option, the Records menu allows you to view the many records the game keeps track of in each player file.  The game keeps track of the five top times on every Race track, with separate listings for forward and reverse; each player’s best lap and race time on each track;the number of minutes you have spent in each track, not counting races you restarted because you need to finish a race for the game to record miles-driven and time information; how many points you have gotten, your best points-per-minute total, your best stunt, and more, separately for each stunt arena, your total time and number of first, second, and third place finishes for each circuit, and more.  The amount of records kept is pretty great, particularly for a game released in the year 2000.

The other main menu options are sometimes useful.  Audio allows you to change both music and sound effects volume and listen to any music track.  I prefer to set the sound effects lower than the music, so that the great music is easier to hear.  Options lets you change game-wide interface displays.  Here you can turn on and off every single element on the on-screen HUD, and also change the interface language in the Dreamcast version and enable Metric, that is kilometers instead of miles, if you want.  I play with all interface options on except for the Metric option, which of course as an American I would never use.  In Race mode, the HUD includes your speed, your place in the race when racing against opponents, a radar showing rival cars near you, a map of the track with each cars’ location marked, your total miles driven in the race, a skull-and-crossbones symbol if you are in Deaths mode, and some more.  Stunt mode only displays your speed, the time, and your point total on screen, which is all you need.  Battle mode displays the score, your speed, and arrows that move around the screen, pointed towards each opponent.  It’s all well thought through.  The unlockable car parts and unlockable cars add to the variety as well.  As for those two Dreamcast-only options, Video and Internet, they aren’t very useful.  Video lets you align the screen and view a test pattern.  Thrilling.  Internet is a link to the Rush 2049 website, and also lets you check your mail.  It’s pretty useless today of course, unless you are one of the very few who still uses Dreamcasts online.  I never have, but I doubt these links work anyway.  Still, at the time it was a nice feature to include.

In the Midway Arcade Treasures 3 versions of the game, things are mostly similar, but downgraded: you cannot re-configure the games’ controls in MAT3, and can only save and load to memory card slot 1, not any slot.  Long load times have also been added between menus that do not exist on the N64 or Dreamcast.  Stick to the real N64 and DC versions, both of which have full control configuration!

Car Customization

Rush 2049 for consoles has a total of 20 cars available, 13 by default and 7 unlockable.  Each has a unique look, and most have their own designs though a few unlockable cars are reskins of starter ones.  On the car select screen, you choose a car, set the visual look you want, and select which parts you want to use in the car.  Four stats, Top Speed, Acceleration, Handling, and Strength, rate your current selection of parts.  Though with the same parts equipped two cars will appear identical on the car selection screen, their different shapes and characteristics will make driving a little bit different with each.  Four part categories affect your stats: car frames, transmission types, tires, and engines.  You unlock these parts with miles driven in Race mode, and there are at least a half dozen items to unlock in each of those part categories.  Each one will affect the displayed stats, so you can see how the car will handle when you change parts.  Now, the better engines are just plain better unless you like going slow, but tires, transmissions, and frames each have positives and negatives depending on what kind of car you like to drive.  I like the lightest frame and fastest engine, for the most height on your jump, but this does mean you will spin out more easily and may need to take some jumps a bit more slowly, to not hit dangerous ceilings that you wouldn’t hit with a heavier frame for example.  Still, I prefer it that way.  It takes quite some time to unlock the best engine, as you need 2000 miles driven in Race mode to unlock it, so you’ll be playing this game a while to get everything.  This is true elsewhere as well; you will not get everything in this game quickly.  I’m mostly fine with that, it adds to the replay value!  I do wish that Battle Track 8 didn’t require a full 1000 points in Battle mode to unlock, though; that’s a very high number.

Visual car customization options are reasonable, and better on N64 than Dreamcast.  To change each cars’ look, you can change the paint colors and wheel rims.  The N64 version has 21 rims available, or fewer without an Expansion Pak installed in your N64, while the Dreamcast has 24.  For car colors the N64 has a huge advantage, however.  Each car has three different paint colors that display in different parts of the car.  You cannot reskin cars, add decals, or such, but you can change your cars’ colors.  On N64, you can directly choose the three colors you want from a selection of about 16 colors, to get just the car look you want.  On Dreamcast however, all you can do is choose from eight preset groups of three colors that draw from that same palette.  So, on DC, you cannot customize your cars’ colors. I really find this quite disappointing, and it’s a big negative with the Dreamcast release.  Rush 2049 isn’t as fun when my car looks wrong, and it looks wrong on the DC (and MAT3) because none of those eight presets are the car colors I use on the N64.  The best I can do on DC is use a blue-and-green skin, not the bright green, dark green, and purple one I have on the N64.

Cheats

Like many ’90s Midway games, Rush 2049 has a great selection of cheats available.  This has both some pretty amusing or useful cheats, and also quick unlocks for the impatient, or those who do not want to wait for some of the maybe too high point totals required for some unlocks, such as needing 1000 battle points to unlock Battle Arena 8 or needing 1 million stunt points to unlock the Obstacle Course.  Unfortunately neither the menu nor anything on it saves, so you’ll need to input the pretty tricky codes every time you turn the system on, but they are fun stuff to mess around with; I really wish you could unlock the cheat menu options permanently, because those codes really are quite tough to get right, at least for me.  I’m sure people much better at things like QTEs or long button combinations in fighting games would have no problem here, but I find them hard, particularly with the very tight timing requirements you have; what the cheat lists in the links below don’t say is how fast you have to input them.  

And that’s disappointing, because again, a lot of these cheats are really interesting!  You can unlock all cars, parts, and tracks, sure, but you also can change the fog color, turn on big-wheels mode, increase gravity so you don’t jump as high (boring…), make all cones or all cars mines so if cars touch at all they explode, disable the brakes, stretch the screen horizontally with Frame Scale, an option that is great for making the game look better on modern widescreen displays without needing to play it with bars on the side to preserve the 4:3 aspect ratio; increase cars’ maximum speeds with Super Speed; make the cars or track invisible; disable car collisions; enable a Battle mode paint shop; and some more.  It’s pretty cool stuff.  GameFAQs has nice lists of all the cheats; the buttons differ by platform, but the cheats themselves are identical.  N64 cheats: http://www.gamefaqs.com/n64/198529-s…sh-2049/cheats DC cheats: http://www.gamefaqs.com/dreamcast/19…sh-2049/cheats


This video is a nice direct comparison of the N64 and Dreamcast versions of Race Track 1.

Another video comparison, this time also with the Xbox version of Midway Arcade Treasures 3 included.

Graphics

Visually, Rush 2049 for the Dreamcast is a near-perfect port of the arcade game.  Everything from the arcade game is here, and it all runs in 640×480 progressive scan with a high frame rate, as well; the game sticks to 60fps most of the time.  The polygon counts per frame are only average so the game probably is not really pushing the hardware, but the texture work is great and environments are large and detailed.  Weather permitting you can see to the horizon at full detail, so if there is any distance texture reduction going on I can’t tell.  The game may not be the most visually advanced for the system, but it does look really nice and run great.  As for those weather effects, it’s really only darkness, in tracks four and six, or fog, in tracks 1-3 and 5, but as this game is set in San Francisco, fog is the right effect to use!  There is a slider for fog distance, and at full fog you can barely see anything.  Even with all the time I’ve put into this game, full fog is hard to survive in some tracks.  But regardless, I love the look of Rush games’ large, wide tracks, with their fantastic amounts of verticality, width, and secrets.  And of Rush tracks, these are the best and best-looking tracks in the series!  Every track has a unique look to it, but all have a great mixture of normal and futuristic buildings to look at, of trees and giant loops and jumps.  It’s really cool for the time how you can see big buildings, and then actually go over there and drive past them!  It’s a really cool looking game with a great visual aesthetic.  So, DC Rush 2049 doesn’t get anywhere near pushing the DC’s polygon count limits, but with its great art design, high resolution for the time, and great solid 60-fps framerate, the Dreamcast version looks great.  The DC version of this game still holds up very well visually and looks good today.

On the Nintendo 64, while the graphics are obviously downgraded versus the arcades or Dreamcast in many large and small ways, for the hardware the game is an absolutely incredible accomplishment!  With some of the best graphics on the system, N64 Rush 2049 has always been near the top of my list of the most impressive-looking N64 games.  Now, this game does require the Expansion Pak for many features, including access to track 6 and the Advanced and Extreme championships because Track 6 is too large to fit into RAM otherwise, in-race music (you want this!), some of the rims, and moving obstacles in tracks such as cable cars or fighter jets, so make sure to have one for this game; it’s pretty much essential.  The graphics themselves look pretty much the same with or without the Expansio Pak, though, and they are as close to the source material as you could get on this system.  The N64 version runs at a lower resolution, 320×240 interlaced; the N64 version seems to use a few less colors on screen, though this is a very minor difference; textures are lower quality, though they look great for the system; texture detail reduces noticeably a distance into the screen, so lines on the road will pop into higher focus as you get closer to them for example; the game runs at a lower framerate than it does on DC, though the mostly 30fps framerate is good for the N64 and the game sticks to that framrate well everywhere except for maybe Track 6, where I do think it might be a bit lower sometimes; it is missing some special effects, such as real projecting headlights on the cars on the night tracks and some cones of light coming out of certain buildings or the vertical connecting cables on the Golden Gate Bridge at the start of track six that pop in very close on N64 instead of being visible to the horizon; there are a few rare occasions where if you are looking into the horizon in certain tracks, such as tracks 5 and 6, where you may notice buildings pop in in the distance; and three and four player races in race mode have been removed, though stunt and battle modes are still available for up to four players.

There are also a few other very minor changes, but otherwise N64 Rush 2049 is the exact same game as it is on Dreamcast.  That may seem like a lot of changes, but considering that this is a previous-gen port of a game designed for more powerful hardware, it’s really not.  This isn’t an N64 game up-ported to the Dreamcast, like Star Wars Episode I Racer, it’s a DC/arcade game down-ported to the N64… and the N64 version is every bit as good, or better, than games made for the N64 first like Episode I Racer or Rayman 2!  And if you compare this game to Atari Games/Midway Games West’s previous N64 racing games San Francisco Rush: Extreme Racing, Rush 2: Extreme Racing USA, and California Speed, the visual improvement going from those games to this one is stunning.  Those games have pop-in covered by fog; this game has no fog except as a weather effect and you can see to the horizon in almost all situations.  Those games have huge, blury textures; this one has some blur, but you can make out the textures much better.  Those games’ level geometries look somewhat simple when you look at it, while this games’ tracks are impressively complex.  Midway and Atari Games did a spectacular job with this port.  The game is not at the top of the list of the N64’s best-looking games, to be clear, it’s no Battle for Naboo, but it’s a great-looking game and one of the best showcases for the system’s capabilities.

In multiplayer the graphics take a hit, of course, but the game still looks good.  On both the N64 and DC the two player mode does play with a large sidebar with a Rush 2049 logo in it, so it is not in full screen, perhaps to maintain the aspect ratio, or keep the framerate up.  Three player mode has each player in a quarter of the screen with a logo in the last quarter, so no player has a half-screen view and thus an advantage.  The framerates hold up well in multiplayer on both the N64 and Dreamcast.  That is not the case for that Midway Arcade Treasures 3 version for PS2, Xbox, and Gamecube, however; it is the has some serious framerate problems particularly in multiplayer, and even some in single player as well.  And I mentioned the un-reconfigurable controls and long load times previously, for more problems with that release.  MAT3 is ported badly on all platforms, so avoid it.  This isn’t a review of MAT3 though; look up my past writings on that disappointment for more.

Music

The game is as impressive aurally as it is visually.  Rush 2049’s soundtrack, in its somewhat altered N64 incarnation particularly, is one of my all-time videogame soundtracks, and indeed the N64 Rush 2049 soundtrack is one I listen to fairly often.  The game has a pounding videogame techno soundtrack, and I love it.  Every music track on this cartridge is incredible!  It’s a massive step up from the weird and sometimes mediocre stuff of most earlier Midway N64 racing games like Cruis’n USA or the first SF Rush.  I like techno music a lot, and this is great.  I also like how there is a song dedicated to each level.  The game doesn’t just randomly play music while you drive, each map has a song that always plays there; this is a style I much prefer over newer racing games which just have a random playlist of licensed songs.  You can set the game to only play one specific song if you want, though, by selecting that song in the Audio menu.  This also serves as a sound test, but remember to return the setting to Default after using the sound test if you want different songs to play during races.  The music adds significantly to the presentation.  Most songs throughout have a strong main core beat and are very catchy.  Indeed, the music is a factor in how I got hooked on tossing remotes like the ‘flying’ cars in the game; the music, particularly the Stunt mode tracks, fits perfectly with the high-flying, flipping gameplay!

As for the original arcade and Dreamcast soundtrack, it is higher fidelity than on N64 and there are more music tracks available, but it has a sometimes different sound to it I like less.  The N64 version has 12 music tracks, and it’s sort of actually ten, because two, Battle 1 and Battle 2, are very short little clips that appear to be unused in the game unless you enable them in the Audio menu, which might not be great considering that they do not loop so you’d only have music for maybe the first 30 seconds.  Meanwhile, the DC has 21 music tracks, with a separate one for every course in the game.  The music was all put in a different order on the N64 too, so almost every course has different music on the Dreamcast than it does on N64.  See the table below for all the changes; music tracks with the same name are different versions of the same music track, excepting only Internet (DC) which becomes Title on the N64.  That’s a big advantage there, but comparing song to song, I prefer the N64 soundtrack, myself.  I’m sure nostalgia is a part of that, but also I think that the lower fidelity actually benefits the music here, and the sound is a little more unique on N64.  The Dreamcast music also seems to have some more of that mid ’90s Midway audio weirdness that the N64 version stays away from.  The DC soundtrack is still fantastic though, and I love some of the tracks just as much as any from the N64 edition.
So, my overall favorite music track in this exceptional soundtrack is the N64 version of Stunted.  The DC version is good too, but the N64 one sounds better overall.  After that, Retro, one of the N64-exclusive tracks, is easily among the best here: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=PX-V2DKG4Cs . I guess it’s sort of like an 8-bit techno song gone 5th-gen? Great stuff. Title (N64) / Internet (DC): https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=x2xXXe8SqAE is also really good, I can listen to that loop almost endlessly without it getting old.  Stunted and Flier’s mix of ‘flight’ sounds and techno works really well and make Stunt mode better; I link those later, in the Stunt section.  Trancey is great too, I really like how it has this long minute-long buildup towards the full pounding techno section of the song.  And on the DC/arcade, I like how the first four tracks have music track names which match the settings of those courses, that’s a great touch.

The Music Tracks: A Comparison

Dreamcast
———
Race Track (N64 Name) – Music Track
———
Menus – [Unnamed Menu Music] (not in N64 ver.)
Post-Race Time Tables – High Score [Music track not available in Audio menu music test]
Online Web Browser Mode – Internet
Marina (Race 1) – Morning (not in N64 ver.)
Haight (Race 2) – Noon (not in N64 ver.)
Civic (Race 3) – Sunset (not in N64 ver.)
Metro (Race 4) – Night
Mission (Race 5) – Garage
Presidio (Race 6) – The Rock (not in N64 ver.) [This was used in the The Rock track in arcades, repurposed to Track 6 on DC.]
The Rim (Stunt 1) – Stunted
Disco (Stunt 2) – Flier
Oasis (Stunt 3) – Wingey (not in N64 ver.)
Warehouse (Stunt 4) – Trancey
Stadium (Battle 1) – High (not in N64 ver.)
Melee (Battle 2) – Vice (not in N64 ver.)
Tundra (Battle 3) – Starsky (not in N64 ver.)
Atomic (Battle 4) – Robo (not in N64 ver.)
Downtown (Battle 5) – Bassy
Plaza (Battle 6) – Speed? (Not in N64 ver.)
Roadkill (Battle 7) – Warrior (not in N64 ver.)
Factory (Battle 8) – Speed? (Not in N64 ver)
Obstacle Course – Hidden (not in N64 ver.)
Track unused in game and not present on the disc or cart, but you can find it on Youtube: Morning https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=SPZX7hkgopw

Nintendo 64
———–
Menus – Title [this is actually the track Internet from the Dreamcast soundtrack, NOT the DC or arcade menu music]
Post-Race Time Tables – Credits
Race 1 (Marina) & Battle 1 (Stadium) – Bassy
Race 2 (Haight) & Battle 2 (Melee) – Garage
Race 3 (Civic) & Battle 3 (Tundra) – Seventies (N64 exclusive music)
Race 4 (Metro) & Battle 4 (Atomic) – Night
Race 5 (Mission) & Battle 5 (Downtown) – Trancey
Race 6 (Presidio) & Battle 6 (Plaza) – Retro (N64 exclusive music)
Stunt 1 (The Rim), Stunt 2 (Oasis), & Obstacle Course – Stunted
Stunt 3 (Oasis) & Stunt 4 (Warehouse) – Flier
Tracks unused in game unless you enable them, but they are short and do not loop like normal tracks do: Battle 1, Battle 2

When you list it all out like that, isn’t it interesting how different those soundtracks are, both in the songs themselves and in which songs are used where?  There are more changes than you would usually see, but the results on the N64 work great, so I’m not complaining!

The Modes: Race Mode

Now, on to more detailed descriptions of the game modes, starting with Race mode.  I covered the basics of Rush track design earlier, in the section on the arcade game, so I will not repeat that here, but instead discuss how this mode works here on consoles.  Now, in Rush 2049, the first thing you do is select the number of players you are playing with.  Next, you enter a menu where you select a mode.  This list has all Race mode modes listed separately, along with other modes such as Stunt, Battle, and Obstacle Course, so unlike those others Race mode is not a specific mode, but instead a set of modes.  The game manual and marketing focus on the three-modes concept, though, so I will consider all of these similar modes as being a part of Race mode.  In single player, Race mode consists of Single Race, Practice, Ghost Race, and Circuit modes.  In multiplayer, it consists of Single Race and Practice only; Circuit and Ghost Race modes are single player only.

Race mode is the traditional racing game part of the game, and it is where most people will put most of their time.  It has six tracks, the four original tracks from the arcade game plus two new tracks designed for the home consoles first.  You start out with only four tracks unlocked, but unlock the last two by beating the initial tournaments.  Again, the first track is short; tracks 2-5 are medium length, the ideal length for a track in this game I would say; and track 6 is long, as long as any track from Rush 1 or 2.  The first mode is Single Race mode, where you choose a track, car, and settings, including AI difficulty and fog amount, and go, racing against five computer racers.  Next is Practice mode, where you can just drive around any course for as long as you want, perhaps hunting for the collectible coins hidden around each track.  There is no lap counter, lap limit, or AI opposition in this mode, you have free run on the track.  Practice mode is a great way to look for shortcuts as well as find coins, without the pressure of a race.  There is also Ghost Race mode, where you race around each track alone, in single player mode only and without AI opposition.  You are racing against the clock here.  Once you finish a lap, you then will race against your previous laps.  Unfortunately you cannot use wings on the cars here, unlike all other Race and Stunt modes; there must be a reason for this, but it has always led to me rarely touching Ghost mode, no wings is a huge negative here!  Also you can only save ghosts on the Dreamcast.  They take up a lot of VMU blocks, but it lets you do it.  Unfortunately, on N64 you can’t save ghosts at all, which is really too bad.  Still, considering how big the DC ghosts are, that is only limited use too, and I don’t think I have ever saved one.  Without ghosts you are just racing against the clock and the ghosts of laps you just completed.  It’s still fun, but isn’t quite the same.  Still, since there are no wings in Ghost mode, honestly I don’t care much; the absence of wings is the real problem.  I should note that on the Nintendo 64, with an Expansion Pak you can race against more ghosts at once than you can without one.  And last but not least, there is Circuit mode.  It has four tournaments available to play, one after the other.  It’s a good selection of modes and covers everything I could have wanted, a few minor features like ghost saving aside.

Circuit mode is the main draw for sure, at least for me. As in single races, you are in a field of six cars, you included.  This is reduced from the eight cars per race of Rush 1 or 2, or arcade Rush 2049, but it is enough.  In Circuit mode you start with the Beginner circuit, a short 6-race tourney through the four new tracks of the arcade original, both forwards and reverse.  The second circuit is 8 races, the third 12, and the last, the Extreme championship, the full 24.  Each circuit is harder than the one before it, so while unlike Single Race mode you cannot set AI difficulty in Circuit mode, the AI is pretty tough on the Extreme circuit so you shouldn’t need it to be even harder.  You get points based on your finishing position in each race, and the racer with the most points at the end of the circuit wins.  I love this setup, because it means that you don’t need to win every race to progress, you just need to be the best overall.  It’s the ideal design for a racing game. All championships can be played either normally or in Deaths mode, a mode that the previous N64 Rush games also have which only gives you one chance per race — blow up once and you lose. You can retry races in Deaths mode if you pause immediately after dying and choose the handy Restart Race option, but you only get one chance. After playing this game for a while, I decided to mostly play tournaments in Deaths mode because it makes things a lot more exciting when one mistake means failure.  Fortunately you can take the AIs out too, though! It’s tough, but so, so rewarding when things go well and you make it through that tough shortcut or win a race you were struggling in when some tough enemy crashes.

I get a great amount of satisfaction from playing races and circuits over and over, trying to get better times, win with fewer restarts in Tournament – Deaths mode, and more, but there also are collectibles here which also add to the replay value.  Both previous Nintendo 64 Rush games had items to find in the tracks and this game is similar, but this time there are more of them to find, and more things to unlock by doing so.  As I mentioned previously, on each track, there are eight gold and eight silver coins to try to find.  You unlock a car for getting all eight silver coins on all six tracks, a second for getting 24 golds, or half of the total from all six tracks combined, and a third vehicle for getting all of the golds.  There are three more unlockable cars as well, unlocked by meeting those same requirements in Stunt mode, except with 16 golds needed for the half number because there are only four stunt arenas.  You can collect coins in single race, practice, or tournament modes, and the game immediately saves any coins the moment you collect them, so even if you restart a race, while your times, and miles, will not count, collected coins will, thankfully.  Also collected coins vanish, so if you want to collect that coin again you’ll need to make a new player file.  The collectibles mechanic is a fantastic one because coins are mostly hidden in hard-to- reach places, only accessible by making challenging jumps from just the right point, executed perfectly.  Silvers are easier to get than golds, generally, and some are found on the ground hidden away in corners of tracks, but some of them are a challenge to collect as well.  The number of collectibles here is just about right; there are enough coins to add a lot of play-time to the game if you want to collect them, but not so many as to overwhelm.  As much as I love the game I never have gotten all of the coins, because I’d rather just have fun, versus try the sometimes frustrating jumps required for certain coins over and over until I hit one perfectly.  I have unlocked some of the vehicles, though, and one unlockable car, the GX-2, is my favorite in the game.

The almost entirely different music choices between the two versions are interesting, I wonder why the N64 changed things so much.  Those changes were mostly for the better, but moving Bassy and Trancey into Race mode, adding the new tracks Seventies and Retro, and switching Garage from track 5 (where it is on DC) to track 2 are big changes.  

The Race Tracks In Detail

Here, I’d like to say a bit about each of the six tracks. I won’t cover the arcade-only Alcatraz track here, but for anyone who remembers it from the previous games, it plays just the same as it does there, just with a visual overhaul.

Race Track 1 / Marina – The first track is a short figure-eight course near the Golden Gate area, but not on the bridge itself.  This is by a wide margin the shortest track ever in a Rush game, and it’s a fun little loop.  That doesn’t mean that it won’t challenge you at all, though, because there are a few tricky points in each direction.  When racing the forwards version, that last hill before the turn to the finish line is probably the hardest part; it’s easy if you are lined up right, but get just a bit off line and you’ll hit something along the sides of the track and explode.  This track has some fun shortcuts in it too, including the easy-to-find subway system underground which has several exits depending on direction, and more.  You’ll see switches for the first time here, and they open up some of the shortcuts, for instance for a transparent tunnel only accessible by a switch.  It can be tricky to stay upright in, though, so I usually don’t use it.  More interesting are the switches needed to access a giant loop in the middle of the course.  It’s easy to see, but tougher to get to!  Another interesting thing about this track is that when driving the track in Reverse mode, you need to take a detour around the first large hill from Forwards, which makes things a little trickier that way.  It’s a good beginning track, and a welcome break in Extreme championships from the harder other courses.  Aurally, on DC and the arcades the first four tracks have names themed to the times of day each track is set in, but on N64 that is gone.  I actually prefer the N64 music choices though, so I don’t mind this much.

Race Track 2 / Haight – This track goes through a more downtown area, and optionally through a large building under construction.  Though all tracks are urban, some have more wooded areas than others, and this one has some grass and trees in spots.  This is a pretty fun track and it’s not too hard.  The one tricky bit at first is that when driving the track forwards this track has the one instance of somewhere where you need to make a turn in a place where it seems like you can go straight, but you can’t; straight ahead is an eventual dead end, you’ll need to turn around and go back.  So, at that point be sure to turn.  Optionally you also can take a ramp here for a shortcut, though it requires a perfectly-timed loop in an obstacle-laden tunnel to get through without crashing.

Race Track 3 / Civic – Track 3 is an interesting track in an area with more trees and a lake, as well as a built-up section which goes down a steep hill.  This track has a giant tunnel that shoots you out a volcano as well as many shortcuts which allow you to stay off of almost all of the main track, if you can handle the sometimes-tough jumps on that path.  There are some cool sights here, such as the part where fighter jets buzz the course at one jump so low that you might hit them if you fly too high!  Otherwise the track is just plain fun, apart from Deaths Mode where you need to avoid that tunnel to the volcano because it tosses you up too high to usually survive.  This is a good track; it isn’t the best one, but all tracks in this game are really good and this is no exception.


Race Track 4 / Metro – The hardest track from the original arcade game, Track 4 is a night race through downtown future San Fran.  This track has tight turns, big jumps, lots of buildings, interesting shortcuts, and moving obstacles such as cable cars and trains.  And all of this in the dark!  It’s a fun track, once you can survive it, though.  It’s also fun when AI opponents do things like drive into cable cars.  It’s great that their AI is not perfect, it makes this game so much better than it otherwise would be!  Even so Track 4 can be imposing at first, with its many 90-degree turns and steep hills, but with practice it gets easier and lots of fun.

Race Track 5 / Mission – This track goes through a part of the city along an inlet.  Unlike those lakes you can drive on earlier, though, this water is mostly just an obstacle, apart from one little park fountain you can drive through.  This is an average course for this game, which means it’s fantastic but not the best track here.  I like the shortcuts here a lot, though; while all tracks in this game have a lot of shortcuts, some are easier to access than others.  This track has some long ones that are both not too hard to get to and are fun to drive on, including loops, jumps, branching shortcuts, and more.  It’s great fun stuff.  I particularly like the tunnel under one hill, as it’s easy to get to, faster than the main track, and ends/begins, depending on direction, with you driving over a lake… something you can do full-speed here.  Usually you slow down over water, but in certain shortcut areas you can go over water at full speed. Fun stuff.

Race Track 6 / Presidio – This track goes over the Golden Gate Bridge, and then through the park and city streets nearby.  Significantly longer than any other course, this track is every bit as long as any Rush 1 or 2 track, but as complex as any Rush 2049 one.  And it’s a night race as well, so it’s a bit darker than most tracks.  This all means that yes, it’s hard!  This track covers some very hilly ground, so it’s loaded with huge jumps over twisting city streets, as well as curving banked turns in darkened areas of the wooded park.  The track is visually impressive due to its scale and size, and there are some clever shortcuts.  There are two challenging 90-degree turns right after jumps, but with practice you get used to them, and all turns are marked with nice big arrow signs so they are not a surprise, unless the fog is up in this track high of course.  In high-fog races here it can be nearly impossible to actually finish, but still, it’s a great track and I’m glad it exists.

Additionally, the new music track here on the N64, “Retro”, is fantastic! Listen here: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=PX-V2DKG4Cs It is a fantastic track, easily one of the very best in the game.  This is the best song of all Race mode track songs; my other favorite tracks in this game are the Stunt songs and the N64 main menu theme.  On the Dreamcast, however, the music is “The Rock”, a decent but not amazing song that doesn’t stand out from the rest of the soundtrack. Replacing that with Retro was a fantastic move on the N64 port team’s part! Huge upgrade there.


The Modes: Stunt mode

Stunt mode in Rush 2049 is one of my favorite experiences in videogames.  Yes, I have spent many times more time playing Race mode, but Stunt mode is a fantastic change of pace, ten minutes of pure fun as I drive around driving off of jumps and flipping around in the air.  I have never played much of or enjoyed games like Tony Hawk, highly technical stunt games with tricky button combinations and aesthetics I dislike considering I have never liked skater culture; for me, Rush 2049 is the perfect stunt-focused game experience.  The game is simple and yet complex, easy and fun and yet challenging if you want to get the coins.  It’s the best short, chill gaming experience around.    

Gameplay in Stunt mode is fundamentally similar to Race mode, but here you drive around moderate-size arenas, going up jumps which fling you high into the air, and then spinning and flipping around in the air as much as you can.  Once all four wheels are on the ground for a second the stunt ends, and you get a score displayed on screen, along with the total number of individual tricks you did, broken down by type.  You will not score any points by staying on the ground; this is an air-focused mode.  There are about ten different kinds of tricks, including left and right spins, left and right flips, a wheelie for when only two of your wheels are touching the ground, rotations, and more.  Each trick only scores a few points, so the key to higher scores is the multiplier, which increases depending on the number of different tricks you do in a single stunt.  These multipliers increase as you do more tricks in a stunt, so doing only two tricks gets only a 2x multiplier while doing seven or eight can get a 40x multiplier, rocketing your score up into the ten thousands for a single trick.

Now, if you just land straight you may be more likely to land and get points, but the game rewards riskier driving, as those flips and spins you do as your car rolls around on the ground after an imperfect landing all count towards the current stunt.  Those rolls and wheelies at the end can add a lot to your final score!  Of course actually landing those stunts is difficult, but when you do it’s worth all that effort.  Sometimes it’s more fun to land something which actually gets you points, though, so knowing how to land better, with angles and braking, is useful.  Either way, that contrast between the very simple base gameplay and the high challenge of landing good stunts work together to make Stunt mode both fun and compelling.  Stunt mode is very easy to pick up and play, but has a high skill ceiling for those who stick with it.

The good to great level designs add a lot to the game as well, as the arenas are all designed to have a nice variety of different jumps to aim for.  I like arenas two and four the most because those two have the more fun jumps and designs, for me, versus arenas one and three, but all four are great.  They do a great job of having jumps large and small, from angled walls and little bumps on the ground to huge boost-pad jump areas.  Even if the basic act of driving around and jumping off things is similar, going off different jumps, towards different things, from different heights, keeps things fun and varied.  Thanks to the good level designs on top of the great gameplay, just driving around and having fun sometimes will lead to great, or amusing, results.

I find the basic gameplay here infinitely replayable, but there is some progression here as well.  First, as in Race mode, the later arenas must be unlocked.  You start with only the first arena, but unlock the others based on points.  Once you have 500,000 total points on your file you’ll have all four.  Beyond that, as I mentioned previously there also are coins to get in the Stunt arenas, and three cars to unlock by getting all silvers, half of the golds, and all golds.  Getting all the stunt coins is a serious challenge which requires a lot of skill and luck.  I have most of them, but not quite all.  Again I mostly prefer to just play the game, and not spend lots of time trying to get coins, but it is fun sometimes to try to get one, and with enough trying you can often do it.  The coins give you a goal to shoot for, and seeing those coins hovering there is tantalizing and definitely works at making the player hope to get them eventually.

Aurally, as the list above shows the N64 has two songs in Stunt mode and the Dreamcast four, though the N64 does re=use one of those other two tracks in Race mode. All four are fantastic, among the best around.  Comparing the versions of each, you can hear the similarities and differences. Stunted DC: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=tEdT46sjTnk N64: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=sPk7yMxEnh4 is the first song, and those flipping sounds and airy but very techno feel fit the game perfectly.  Flier, the second track, is very nearly as great, and also sounds perfect for a stunt song.  DC: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=pG9EBCDsUEk N64: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=mgckQNEvLJg  Both versions of both songs are absolutely amazing, but because of nostalgia or just the differences in composition the Nintendo 64 version of Stunted is one of my favorite songs ever in a videogame.  Flier isn’t too far behind.  And yes, Trancey is also great, on DC or N64, where it’s in Race mode of course.

Spinning through the air in Stunt Track 1.

The Stunt Arenas In Detail

Stunt 1 / The Rim – The first stunt arena is a simple design, good for an introduction to stunt mode.  This small arena with a futuristic theme has a large four-sided jump in the center with boosts on it to toss you higher into the air, surrounded by a larger two-level ring with supporting posts that break it up into sections.  The two raised levels of the ring can only be reached by jumping to them, but actually landing on one is difficult and unlikely, as you will be moving quite fast by the time you get there and the upper level has scattered speed-pads on them.  The arena is surrounded by some little jumps around the edge and angled walls.  This arena is fun for a little while, but the very simple design has little variety; the other arenas have a lot more different kind of jumps to go off, while with this you’re mostly just going over this one big jump over and over, in different directions each time.  Still, that doesn’t mean that the course is easy; some of the coins are actually pretty hard to get, as they require very precise speed and angles to get.  I still haven’t gotten a few of the golds here, particularly some of those on the top level of the ring.

Stunt 2 / Disco – Stunt arena two is a fantastically great medium-sized rectangle full of jumps of all sizes.  Three boost-pad jumps dominate the arena, one on a raised area near one end which has this long platform you jump over, one huge four-way jump in the center of the arena, and one more big two-way jump near the back.  There are a bunch of medium and small things to jump off as well, including several spires and a multi-angled pyramid.  Beyond that, most walls in this map are curved, to allow you to go up the walls if you wish.  All of these options are awesome, and the track looks cool too, as the futuristic, neon-filled aesthetic from the first track returns, amped up for this more varied environment.  Everything about this arena is near-perfect, I cannot think of anything negative to say about this arena’s layout, except that for scoring, Stunt 4 allows for higher scores due to its even more object-rich environment.  I probably like the visual look of this arena the best, though.

Stunt 3 / Oasis – Stunt 3 is an odd outlier from the other three arenas. In this outdoor arena, you drive around on a mostly off-road desert surface, jumping off of some small and medium-sized jumps arranged around this desert pit-like arena.  There are no boost pads and no giant jumps here, so scores will be lower.  Speeds are lower too, since the mostly off-road surface reduces driving speed. I do like some things about the layout, including the look of the tiered water-covered area on one end and the clever design of some raised areas with edges curved to route you away from them, so you need to find some other small jump to go over at just the right speed to make it onto those areas, but for the most part this track is far less interesting than any of the others.  Play it a bit once you unlock it, get the coins, and move on.  Fortunately I found it easier to get the coins here than on any other course, and do have all of them.

Stunt 4 / Warehouse – The final stunt arena is the most complex one of them all, and probably is the overall best as well.  Aesthetically I do prefer the sci-fi neon look of Stunt 2 over this track’s somewhat drab indoor warehouse design, but in terms of jumps, scoring potential, and variety of things to do, this track blows away the other three.  The course has a multi-level floor with three raised platforms you can drive to, all with many small jumps off of them.  There also is a mixture of angled walls and straight ones, and there are some VERY tricky jumps as well, particularly those to get a couple of the silvers high up along one of the walls.  Some jumps on this stage require you to rotate in mid-air to face the other way in order to continue forward on the next part of the jump, a really cool concept you also see in a few shortcuts in the main game, and in the Obstacle Course as well, but not in the other stunt arenas.  And yes, if you want a high score this is the place to go; my best single stunt on this track is 136,000, a score achieved by a many-trick stunt that finished with a long wheelie grind along a wall.  The trick is, it’s still building up stunt points even if two wheels are on ground and the other two on a wall!

Battle mode, with two players.


The Modes: Battle Mode

Battle mode is an interesting one.  On the one hand, this game is one of the most fun car combat games I have ever played.  The mixture of Rush’s incredibly fun gameplay with car combat is one which works exceptionally well, and as a result Rush 2049’s battle mode is one of the best ever!  However, this is an EXCLUSIVELY multiplayer mode.  There is no AI on offer here, so there is no solo battle mode whatsoever; indeed, this option only appears on the menu if you select multiple players from the main menu.  With AI and some kind of tournament structure this could have been one of the best car combat games ever, but as it is, it’s only one of the best multiplayer car combat games, and that is a huge downgrade considering how infrequently many players, particularly today, are going to be able to play Rush 2049 in multiplayer mode.  And even when you do, will you want to play enough of Battle mode to unlock everything?  As in the other modes though, you have to unlock stuff here.  You start with the first four battle arenas, and unlock the other four. The problem is that you need fairly high point totals to get the later ones. I did play Rush 2049 for the N64 semi-regularly in  multiplayer in college through the ’00s, but we mostly played Stunt and Race modes, so I only got about 300 battle points on my save.  This is enough to unlock arenas through the sixth one, but not seven or eight, which require 500 and 1000.  That’s a lot.  Also, all battle arenas have in-town settings, so there is less visual variety here than in Stunt or Race modes; you won’t see any trees or dirt in Battle mode.  A bit more variety there would have been nice.

Anyway, battle mode in Rush 2049 plays great, when you have the people around to play it.  Arenas are on the small side, perfectly sized for two to four cars driving around and shooting eachother.  All are complex areas, with walls, and often also platforms, ramps, multiple levels, and more.  They are identifiably Rush 2049 areas, but designed for combat first, and they’re all very well thought out.  Control-wise, you cannot use wings in this mode; instead, what is usually the Wing button now is the fire button for your car’s weapons.  You will mostly be on the ground instead of in the air in Battle mode anyway, as it’d be nearly impossible to hit anyone while jumping, so as much as I love the concept of wings on cars this isn’t really a loss, it’s just a change that fits with the style of this mode.  Each player has a health bar now, and weapons to fight the other players with.

Your default weapon is a basic low-damage gun; you want to get a collectible weapon as soon as you can, pretty much, this is nearly useless.  All weapon pickups are limited-use, and replace your basic gun while they last so you only have one weapon at a time. Each pickup has a small cone of colored light emanating from the top of it, and each one has a different color so you can tell what they are from a distance.  Also, once someone grabs a weapon it is gone until they grab a new weapon or it runs out of ammo, so there is some strategy to your weapon choices.  If you die, blow up on your own, or run out of ammo, you will respawn somewhere randomly in the arena with only the basic default gun.  You win once someone reaches the set winning point total, which defaults to ten but can be set anywhere between one and 20.  It all plays a bit like a Rush 2049 spin on Mario Kart Battle Mode combat, and it’s fantastic!  The weapon pickups available include the Ram, which kills anyone you hit instantly but requires you to actually run into them to attack; homing missiles, which are really good but limited in quantity and do explode if they hit walls; a machine gun which shoots quickly; a gun which shoots fairly powerful green bolts which can kill a car in just a few hits; and maybe more.  There is also an invisibility powerup which makes you hard to see and a healing powerup to restore your car’s health.

Finally, remember that on Dreamcast battle arenas mostly have music tracks exclusive to that course, while the N64 re-uses the race and stunt music in battle mode.  Because I mostly play Race and Stunt modes, I almost prefer the N64’s approach, because on DC a full seven or eight music tracks are locked into Battle mode where I will rarely hear them, including the DC rendition of Bassy, the music the N64 version uses in Race Track 1.  Considering how great this soundtrack is, it’s too bad you can’t hear all of it more often!

 

The Battle Arenas

Battle 1 / Stadium – This simple, and small, oval arena has a variety of walls and barriers around, but is easy to navigate.

Battle 2 / Melee – This map has a central area surrounded with some ramps that wrap around to become raised upper roads. It’s fun and chaotic.

Battle 3 / Tundra – The closest thing to an “not-city” track, this one has a river in the center with several large bridges over it.  There are also raised areas at each end of this medium-sized oval. It’s a pretty good arena, though there is less cover than some of them.

Battle 4 / Atomic – This cloverleaf-like level has a central water area with four round pods around it.  It is a decently fun stage, though it doesn’t have multiple levels, it’s fairly flat. There are quite a few large pillars to hide behind, though, for cover.

Battle 5 / Downtown – This requires 100 battle points to unlock. This rectangular track is on a steep hillside in the city.  There’s a raised area at the bottom and some ramps at the top, and buildings in between on the hillside.  The angle makes for different battles from the previous four arenas, so this is well worth unlocking.

Battle 6 / Plaza – This requires 250 battle points to unlock. This level has several tiers of ground, providing lots of cover and areas to hide in.  The areas include a tunnel section underneath part of the map, the multi-level main ground, and some raised areas.  This is a good map worth unlocking if you like battle mode.

Battle 7 / Roadkill – This requires 500 battle points to unlock. This larger arena full of big buildings and underpasses feels sort of like arena 5, but on flatter ground. Is it worth the time 500 battle points takes? If you have people you’re playing a lot of battle mode with, sure, but it’s not essential.

Battle 8 / Factory – This requires 1000 battle points to unlock.  That’s a lot, and that is unfortunate because this is a fun little arena.  It’s a smaller arena, but this multi-level arena is fun to drive around and has some nice places to hide in as well.

An early version of the Obstacle Course track.

The Modes: Obstacle Course

The Obstacle Course is a not too long, but very challenging, track.  This mode only has one narrow and entirely linear course, but it is the games’ final challenge of sorts, as you need to have earned one million points in stunt mode in order to unlock it.  Once you do get it, you’ll see why they require so much play-time to get it:  this track is HARD!  Your goal here is to make it past a series of challenges as you try to reach the end of the track in the fastest time possible, or at least before the five minute timer runs out.  That’s all the time you get per run, so while you have infinite restarts from before each challenge section, the clock is always ticking and you will need to learn all of them to be able to finish.  As with the other sub-modes there is no AI opposition here, but it’d never work anyway; the opponent here is the clock, and either your best times, or other best times you may find looking around the internet.  You’d need to be a great driver to get through this without any mistakes, but I’m sure some people can do it.

While the Obstacle Course isn’t my favorite part of Rush 2049, I do like the track.  The challenges you will need to get past include a gauntlet of swinging wrecking balls, jumps where you need to flip around in the air to continue driving on a ramp faced the opposite direction in the air, moving walls to avoid, jumps where you need to spin in the air to get through a narrow gap, and more, but it is punishingly hard.  On the N64, “Stunted”, from the first two stunt arenas, plays in the Obstacle Course.  On Dreamcast, “Hidden” plays.  Several newer PC games, including Nitronic Rush and its spiritual sequel Distance, were inspired by Rush 2049’s Obstacle Course mode.  However, while Nitronic Rush, which is a free game, and its still unfinished retail digital-distribution followup Distance are fantastically fun and two of the better racing games of recent years, they don’t replicate the sheer challenge of this mode, at least not in their main content.  The main tracks aren’t as hard, and the changes they made to the controls ease up on some of the difficulty too.  Both do have user-created tracks that seriously up the challenge, but the controls are the same throughout.  I do love those games, but this game is better.  For anyone who played and liked either of them, Rush 2049’s obstacle course is a recommended challenge!  The concept is a good idea executed well, and it’s worth your time to finish, even if it will be quite frustrating along the way.  

The back of the N64 box hypes the game up, but it’s all true!

Conclusion

In conclusion, Rush 2049 is one of my favorite games ever made.  I consider it the best game ever made in which you drive a vehicle, and the game has a permanent place in my top five best console games ever made.  The game does have a few flaws here and there, but they matter little compared to its unbelievable greatness in almost every way.  To list some negatives that apply to both versions of the game, there is no AI opponents available in Battle mode so the mode is multiplayer only, requiring 1000 battle points to get the last battle arena is a bit much considering there is no single player, the Alcatraz track from the arcade version is not present on consoles, and since the Stunt mode also has no AI single player mostly consists of hunting for coins or competing with your own best scores.  Also, maybe most importantly, the controls are fantastic, but take a lot of getting used to for those not used to Rush series controls.

However, there are so many things about this game which are absolute genius!  Best of all, the core controls, gameplay, and concepts are exceptionally well thought through and done just right.  But that’s not all, there is a lot more to praise here: the game looks good on Dreamcast and almost as good overall and incredibly great for the platform on the N64; has a fantastic techno soundtrack I still like listening to; the game has four modes, each different and among the best ever in their respective genres of racing, stunt driving, car battling, and car obstacle course driving for a game with some of the most variety and depth ever in the genre; all six of the Race mode tracks are incredibly well designed tracks that are among my favorites ever in a racing game; the Stunt arenas are nearly as great, with two epically incredible ones in 2 and 4 and two other pretty good ones too; there are a lot of collectibles and unlockables to keep you playing for many hours; and I love how many stats the game keeps track of.  It’s very cool to know the number of minutes you’ve played on each track, even if the number is low because restarts do not count towards this record.  Trying to beat your best times and point totals is great fun too.

Comparing the versions, while the Dreamcast version has better graphics and a few more features such as saving ghosts and 3 or 4 player multiplayer available in Race mode, it also has worse car customization since you can’t choose your exact car colors, and the soundtrack is not quite as incredible as the N64 soundtrack is.  Meanwhile, the N64 version looks worse and doesn’t have analog acceleration and braking, but does have those two advantages.  So, there is no “perfect” version of the game; both versions have drawbacks.  The Dreamcast version probably is the best overall, but the N64 version is more impressive for its hardware and my favorite version for sure.  The Midway Arcade Treasures 3 version is badly ported and should be avoided, though, again, if you have any other option.  I know that as a PS2, Xbox, and Gamecube game it is on newer platforms, but stick to the original N64 and Dreamcast versions of this game.  Midway Arcade Treasures 3 as a whole is probably a D+ game in my book, maybe C- at the best.  Its version of Rush 2049 is maybe C-grade, but with all its issues, pass on it in favor of a better version!  And those better versions aren’t just better, they are the best racing game ever.

So to conclude, Rush 2049 gets an easy A+ rating for the Nintendo 64 and Dreamcast.  This is not a perfect game, and I would not give it quite a 100%, but it’s close enough to get the A+ regardless.  I cannot say enough superlatives about this must-play game, anyone who can should play it!  As for the other versions, the arcade original gets an A.  It’s a great game, but the absence of wings and modes hurts it.

Posted in Arcade Games, Classic Games, Dreamcast, Full Reviews, Modern Games, Nintendo 64, Research, Reviews | Tagged , , , , , | Leave a comment

Review: Dragon Egg! (TG16) – A Good but Rushed Platformer

I’ll get back to my PC Platformers list soon, but I had to do this review first…

  • Platform: PC Engine (TurboGrafx-16)
  • Year: Released 9/27/1991
  • Developer/Publisher: NCS Masaya
  • Title: Dragon Egg!
The Cover

Colors aside this is representative of the game.

Introduction & Story

Dragon Egg! is a cartoony platformer NCS Masaya published in ’91.  This game is a tough one to review, because on the one hand it’s a pretty good, fun game, but on the other hand it’s also flawed, has an unbalanced difficulty level which is harder in the first half of this six-level game and easier in the second, is absurdly short, and feels unfinished.  When this game released in Japan in fall ’91 the PC Engine was still popular, but the smash-hit success of the Super Famicom (SNES) was taking over the market and NEC was moving towards a stronger focus on CD games over HuCard titles.  NCS Masaya may have been a third party, but they noticed this, as Dragon Egg! was their last HuCard release.  This all might be an explanation for why this game was rushed, but whatever the reason, it’s unfortunate.  Regardless, the game makes a great first impression with its good graphics and nice cartoony artwork, and it controls well as well, but the serious issues add up to some huge drawbacks.  The story is that you play as a young girl, off to save the world from evil with a dragon’s egg.  The text is all in Japanese, but the basics of what’s going on is clear enough: there is a demon troubling the land, and a young girl is the only hope to save the land from decay.  An old man, maybe her grandfather or something, gives her some goggles which are apparently dragon-rider gear, and off you go to save the day!  The intro cutscene is fairly long and looks great.  Unfortunately, it’s the only real cutscene in the game; the ending is extremely short.  There is a nice credits sequence, but still, as with many things in this game, the ending feels unfinished.

Intro

The intro looks great.

Graphics and Sound

Visually, the game is one of the better looking platformers on the system.  The PC Engine or TurboGrafx, on both HuCard and CD, does not have the wealth of platformers that the Super Nintendo and Genesis do.  Its platformer library is smaller, and many of the games are more NES-like in design than most of the games you see on those other two systems. The system had an earlier peak, and that shows.  This game, though, is clearly 4th-gen in style.  The background and character art is colorful and quite well-drawn. It shows off the consoles’ ability to put lots of colors on screen nicely, and the art design would look good anywhere.  Buildings do look a bit flat, I guess, but I don’t mind.  The sprite art is particularly nice, and well animated too.  The heroine in her pink overalls puts those goggles on once you power up enough to ride on the dragon, for example, which is a nice touch once you notice it.  Enemies raise their weapon as they approach you too, and do a ‘swing’ animation if you touch them.  Nice stuff.  There are not a huge number of different types of foes, but it’s enough for a game as short as this.  Those enemies are varied, and while the game has a cartoony anime look to it, there is some variety here, from the cute to the threatening.  Your dragon is somewhat adorably cute, but monsters vary from the big-headed and not too scary skeletons to the creepier flying bug-men . Other enemies include giants, slimes, and later on several kinds of gun and laser turrets.  Bosses similarly vary, from the barely threatening-looking first boss to the more serious later ones.  They all look great.  On an odd but then-common note though, the main character wears blue overalls and a yellow shirt in the manual art, but pink overalls with a white shirt in the game.  It’s odd how some older games have very different art between the manuals and games even in Japan… or sometimes, within the game itself; see Alisia Dragoon on the Genesis for an example of that.

I do need to say though, as in many anime fantasy settings, this world is historically incoherent.  It appears medieval at first and enemies have armor, swords, and bows, but there is electricity in places, there are enemy laser turrets, and the heroine wears modern clothing.  The setting makes little sense.  Is this fantasy or modern?  It’s both, apparently.  But beyond that all-too-common frustration, the game looks great.  The visuals here have a more polished look to them than most platformers on the system do.  Hudson’s platformers often match or beat this, visually, but I do think the game is in the upper tier visually, at least for this system.  The developers even pull off a limited parallax effect.  The whole background does not have multiple layers in it, but there are clouds which quickly move across the sky in many stages, to give some of that feeling of parallax movement.  It’s a great effect and definitely helps.  The music, however, is unfortunately strictly average stuff.  It’s mostly okay, but isn’t exciting or too memorable.  Some songs are too short, too, such as the five-second-loop that plays during the first half of the last boss fight. Still, the audio is alright, and after playing it for a while I guess a few tracks are somewhat catchy.

1-1

The first level.  Health and lives are in the upper right, dragon egg counter in the upper left.

Controls and Game Design

One thing making Dragon Egg! game good are the great controls.  The controls are precise and accurate. You do move a little fast, so you do need to look out or you’ll bump into enemies, but it controls very well.  This is a simple game, and all you’ll is move around, jump, and attack.  You start with two hearts for health, though each health heart can take two hits, and you can upgrade this to a maximum of four hearts during the game.  Though you can’t save your progress you do have infinite continues, but your goal should be to beat the game without dying, or without getting hit much at all if you’re in Hard mode, so the continues aren’t always needed.  Levels are all straightforward as well.  There is some depth in the upgrade system, however, though it’s badly unbalanced, particularly in Normal difficulty.  Whenever you kill an enemy they drop one of two different types of powerups: dragon eggs to upgrade your dragon’s form, or coins you use to buy other powerups.  Which one an enemy drops is entirely random, it is important to note; I kind of wish the powerups were predetermined, but which you get is purely a matter of chance.

Of the two upgrade systems, I will first cover the dragon mentioned in the title. Collecting dragon eggs upgrade your dragon between four forms.  You start out carrying an egg in a backpack, and can attack only at melee range.  You want to get out of this mode as soon as possible, because this attack is too close-range to avoid taking damage sometimes.  All four forms do exactly the same amount of damage per hit, varying on whether you have weapon powerups of course, I should say; it is the range that varies, but those range expansions are vital! It is funny how hitting a badguy with an egg does the same amount of damage as shooting them with a fireball, though.  Heh.  🙂 So, the first upgrade requires two dragon eggs.  Here, the dragon has poked its head out of the egg and breathes fire ahead of you.  This short-range fire attack is pretty good and actually will collect items, something the later upgrades’ attacks will not do. The third level takes three more eggs.  Now you ride on the hatched dragon’s back, and attack with fireballs that go across the screen.  The last powerup takes four eggs, and makes the dragon larger and better.  Now it’s got a higher jump that has some float to it for slower descents, and it upgrades your weapon potential as well — while the basic un-upgraded attack is the same as the level 3 dragon, with upgrades you will see the difference.  The top-level dragon is pretty awesome, and overpowered, so long as you have it.  It is a big target, though only your character is actually vulnerable and not the dragon. This is important to know for getting through the laser gates without taking a hit.

The money system similarly rewards staying alive, and is one more element making the first half of the game harder than the second — if you can get fully powered up and avoid losing those powerups, you’ll be nearly unstoppable.  You use collected money to buy powerups from shops scattered around the game. There are six different items you can buy. For 3 coins, you can buy cure items which you can use in the select menu. These heal half a heart each, and you can carry up to four.  There are three items that cost 10 coins.  First there is a firepower upgrade which doubles the damage you do per hit.  You can buy this again, for the same cost, to almost double damage again — this reduces an 8-hit giant down to 3 hits, for example.  Next, there is a range / multi-hit upgrade.  This gives the level 1 or 2 dragon a slightly longer range attack, the level 3 dragon two fireballs for an attack, or the level 4 dragon three fireballs.  You can also can purchase this a second time as well, to add homing to your level 3 or 4 dragon’s shots or a little more range to a level 1 or 2 dragon.  And last at 10 coins, you can buy additional health hearts, which, yes, you can buy up to two of, though you don’t need to as unlike the attack upgrades you can also get these other ways.  And last, two items are available for for 30 coins each: a barrier which gives you an extra hit which you don’t lose anything for losing if you are hit, or a skull which is a bomb you can use by double-tapping attack, or something like that.  You can only have one skull at a time in your inventory.  It is important to note that five of these six powerups can be lost, but you won’t lose the healthbar-expanding hearts.  I wonder why they decided that health upgrades are permanent, while attack upgrades can be lost.  It’s kind of odd. As for the other upgrades, in Easy or Normal you won’t lose any dragon or store-bought powerups unless you die, but if you do die you reset to the level-one egg-swing attack, and you lose all money and purchased items except for health expansions as well.  It’s painful stuff, if you were upgraded; the easiest way to beat the game is to not die.  In Hard mode the game is significantly more punishing: you lose store-bought attack powerups, then dragon eggs, each time you are hit.  More on this later.

There is no scoring system in this game, so the only pickups in levels are those items enemies drop, and a few scattered health bar-expansion heart, cure, and skull items.  There is also a roulette after each level which spins between a health expansion heart, a cure, a skull, or a 1-up.  Try to time your jump for the one you want the most.  Oddly, while they look identical, the cure items you get from the end-level roulette or that are placed in levels are entirely different from the ones you can buy in the stores, as quite unlike the ones you buy, the cure pickups are instant-use only and cannot be stored, and heal a full heart instead of only a half like the ones you buy do.  The two types probably should have used different graphics to signify that they are not the same.  Still, I like that the full-heart heals exist, they are quite useful because there is no health recovery between levels; you’ll start the next stage with the exact amount of health you finished the last one with.  When you add those hearts to your health they start out empty, too, so even if you don’t take damage you will need health at least to fill those.  It all works fairly well.

Shop

The shop and items.

Level Design and Layouts

The level designs are the core of any platformer, and thankfully stages in Dragon Egg! are nicely varied.  There are horizontal, vertical, and maze-like levels, and you need to approach each enemy type differently.  Enemy AI is extremely basic, as enemies mostly just move or shoot straight at you once they’re on screen, but it works as other things differentiate them, such as size, whether they fly or not, and whether they can shoot at you.  The six bosses are each entirely unique as well, so no two of those fights will be the same.  All six boss fights have the exact same stage background as well, with the same platform layout on it. I don’t mind this, but it does lack variety.  More importantly, one of the major issues with Dragon Egg! is that the game is badly unbalanced and sort of backwards — the second half of the game is significantly shorter and easier than the first half is.  The first two levels each are broken up into three stages and then a boss.  The difficulty ramps up just right here, as the game starts out quite easy but slowly gets trickier.  Level three only has two stages before the boss, but the second is the games’ one and only maze stage, so it may take a little while to get through.  Level 3 feels as long as either before it, and it might be the hardest level in the game.  But then you get to level four, and it all falls apart; while levels four through six are quite fun, they all have only ONE stage per level each!  One linear stage and a boss each, that’s it.  There are also level design elements that only appear once, which can be fine for some original challenge, but why does is stage 1-2 the only one in the whole game with instant-death pits in it, for example?  It’s bizarre.  The only explanation I can think of is that the game must have been badly rushed, shipped before it was really done because NCS needed it out NOW or something.  These and other cutbacks are quite unfortunate, because a more complete and polished version of this game could have been great.

Now, I’d like to go into a little more detail about each of the stages.  Skip this paragraph if you want to avoid any spoilers about the game.  Level one has you traveling across some mountains.  As mentioned previously, stage 1-2 is the only one in the game with bottomless pits.  It’s hard to avoid that enemy on the last jump, but you CAN do it without taking a hit if you jump at the last second.  I mentioned the first boss earlier. Level two is harder, as you travel through giant-infested caverns.  It’s a fun level, though it can be tricky at points in Hard mode.  The boss is a spawning creature which can be a pain to not take any damage against.  Level three is the maze in an electric castle. It’s a good, well-designed level, though it is quite challenging to get through in Hard mode without taking hits thanks to the flying bug enemies, the laser gates, and maybe worst of all the invincible gun turrets shooting at you.  The boss is this cubic thing with tendrils you need to destroy before you take out the core; it’s easy powered up, but a bit trickier if not.  Level four is a river-rafting trip over water.  You have to stay on the raft in the middle of the screen and enemies are only a minor threat, so the level is very easy.  The graphics here are great though, as the level has some really nice-looking rippling water effects.  The stage ending is a setup for another stage that doesn’t exist though; again, this game must have been rushed.  The boss is interesting, but again is easy at full power once you learn its pattern.  The fifth level goes through an Egyptian desert.  It’s a fun level, though again it’s too short and badly needs multiple areas.  The level 5 boss is one of the easier ones regardless of your power level.  And last, you go through the bosses’ fortress.  The level is only moderately challenging, though the boss is really hard if you aren’t powered up. This boss has two forms, and without powerups it takes a lot of hits to kill and attacks with curving fireballs that are hard to avoid.  It’s hard to do even a few hits in a row against the guy without taking damage, so you want to be powerful enough to take him out as quickly as possible.

L2 Dragon

With the level two dragon, shooting a fireball.

Hard Mode

There is a big elephant in the room that I have been sort of dodging around up to this point, however: the difference between the difficulty levels.  Dragon Egg! has the usual three settings, Easy, Normal, and Hard.  On Easy, the game is a complete and total cakewalk.   Don’t bother with it.  On Normal, the game is still really easy.  I beat the game on normal, without dying even one single time, the day after I got this game.  So it may have been easy, but it was a lot of fun while it lasted.  But to get a bit more out of this not-cheap game, I decided to try Hard mode… and it’s a huge difference from the lower ones!  Hard makes two major changes to the game: first, all enemies and bosses take twice as many hits to kill as they do on the lower difficulties.  This makes everything a lot longer and slows down the game.  And second, and even more importantly, you now are punished not only for dying, but for getting hit at all.  If you have bought powerups from the store, you lose one level from BOTH of those powerups each time you take a hit.  You also take damage, of course. And if you don’t have powerups, each hit takes away one dragon egg.  If there are no eggs in the meter at the moment you’ll be downgraded to the next level down, down to the minimum of just having the egg with its way-too-close melee attack.  And you REALLY need powerups, because the final boss is brutally, near-impossibly difficult without a significantly powered up dragon; I tried to beat him in Hard with no powerups once, but eventually had to give up, it’s just crazy-hard.

Overall, Hard mode’s changes make the game a LOT harder and much, much more frustrating.  The main reason why this review isn’t happening until now, instead of a week and a half ago when I first meant to write one, is because I just can’t stop trying and failing to beat this game on Hard!  I know I need to no-hit-clear it to win, and I keep messing up and dying somewhere in level three.  It’s really the “taking away powerups when you get hit” thing that makes it so hard; if you’ve gotten to the point where you’re losing eggs, it’s already over.  You cannot grind to get more money in this game, there is a preset number of enemies and each one only drops one coin or egg.  So if you take a hit and it steals 10 or 20 coins worth of powerups from you, that’s a hard to impossible thing to recover from.  It’s frustrating, because if I could get past the first half of the game with full power I think I could beat the second half with a lot less difficulty, but that’s easier said than done… argh.  So yeah, I keep trying, and putting off this review that I was initially going to “write quickly because the game is easy and fun.”  Heh.  But hey, as frustrating as that is, it also shows how addictive the game is; I’m still playing it, after all.  Had the game only had the Normal difficulty setting and no others it’d have been another one of those fun but very short game, but thanks to Hard mode the game has some lasting play value.

Archers

Archers shoot fire-arrows.

Conclusion

In conclusion, Dragon Egg! is a good game I definitely like playing, but it is also a flawed title that could have been a lot better.  This game has great graphics that are among the best on the platform in this genre, variety to the gameplay due to the different enemies and obstacles you run across, and something for everyone difficulty-wise as the normal mode is short and fun, if somewhat insubstantial because of how quickly you should beat it, while the hard mode is a serious challenge.  On the other hand though, the game is far too short and was obviously shipped in a partially-finished state, as the mostly missing second half of the game and very short ending show.  The unbalanced difficulty and too-easy gameplay if you get fully powered up are also issues; though Hard mode does alleviate that second one somewhat, it is still easier powered up.  The decision to have you lose a full level of BOTH attack-enhancer powerups every time you get hit one single time in Hard mode is also perhaps inordinately cruel for a game like this; it’d have been better if you lost only one attack powerup each time, if that mechanic had to exist. These issues are significant, but still I do like Dragon Egg! overall.  I give this game a B- score.   This is the kind of game this system needed more of and I recommend it to platformer fans, it’s good despite its issues.

Links

http://www.thebrothersduomazov.com/2009/03/dragon-egg.html – The Brothers Duomazov’s review has some nice screenshots from later in the game, read it!

http://www.videogameden.com/hucard/reviews/deg.htm – VGDen also has a a review, and a translation of the backstory — the girl’s name is Eran, and she is the descendant of the legendary Dragon Warriors and is the only one who can defeat the demon who has taken over the land.  Also, more nice screenshots.

Posted in Classic Games, Full Reviews, Reviews, TurboGrafx-16 | Tagged , , , | Leave a comment

PC Platformers Game Opinion Summaries, Part 7: Digital-Download 2d games (Part 4)

A week and a half for only seven summaries?  Well, some of these are fairly long and detailed, that takes some time.  This update includes a couple of really good games and some with issues, so it’s a nice mix.  I do want to again complain about games with xinput-only gamepad support, though, which many of these are.  Come on, just include directinput support!  Thankfully x360ce is here to save the day, but still, it’d be better built-in.  Oh, and yes, The Joylancer is weird.

One note first – I decided to call Guacamelee 2.5d, so it’d been moved to that section, instead of covering it in this update.  Fez has similarly been moved there, from a previous update.

Table of Contents

Escape Goat (2013)
Gateways (2012)
Gigantic Army (2014)
Gunhound EX (2014)
Hell Yeah! Wrath of the Dead Rabbit (2012)
Hocus Pocus (1994)
Joylancer, The: Legendary Motor Knight (Early Access Game) (2014-?)


Escape Goat (2013, WinXP+) –  1 player, saves, gamepad supported (xinput only).  I somehow failed to include this game in my list, so I’ll have to cover it now instead of last update.  Escape Goat is a great puzzle-platformer by Magical Time Bean with pixel-art graphics and some pretty clever mechanics.  You are a purple goat, and have been locked up in a dungeon for some unknown reason.  So, you need to become the Escape Goat and get out of there!  You soon meet a companion, a mouse who will help you out.  And to round out the cast, you rescue a sheep at the end of each area in the game.  To tell the story, despite being animals, animal-looking animals and not anthropomorphic ones, all the other characters talk to you.  That’s amusing.  The presentation here is good too, with pretty nice too-colorful-8-bit sprite-art, and tile-based, graphics and great chiptune music.  The graphics are all very well drawn, and each tile in the game is distinct and easily recognizable despite everything being pretty small on the screen.  That is important in a game like this which is all about the interaction between you and the various tiles in the game.  And that music, it’s catchy, well-composed, and fits the game great.  Really good work all around.

The gameplay is just as good, too!  Your basic controls include a double jump, a left or right dash you can do on ground or in the air, tossing out the mouse, and, in levels with the magic hat and if you have gotten it, the ability to switch the locations of the two characters.  The game controls well with either keyboard or gamepad, and the controls are responsive.  Each ability has limits, though, so for example you can throw the mouse high up, but only from the ground; you cannot throw it high up while in the air.  In the air you can only toss the mouse normally.  And you can only dash left or right, not up or down.  These limits can be frustrating, but they make the puzzles work, so they’re understandable.   There is also a reset button, to retry a level if you’re in an unwinnable position, an issue you will often have.  You have infinite lives and the game saves after each level, thankfully.  Each level is a single screen, with small but detailed graphics.  Level designs are interesting, and figuring out how to solve the puzzle that is each room is a lot of fun.  Some tiles are just basic walls and floors, but interactive tiles include crates you can destroy by dashing into, fireball-guns which shoot automatically, enemy wizards who shoot fireballs straight at you if you are in their line of sight, switches you or the mouse can activate, ice blocks you can push around by dashing into but the mouse will stop at if it’s walking along and touches one, explosive barrels, these interesting wheel-switches that only blocks or barrels can activate but you cannot, blocks that other blocks or wheels or such will be suspended over but you pass through, and more.  Your goal is to reach the door in each room, and collect keys to unlock that door if any keys are in the level.

The possibilities when you combine these block types into puzzles may sound overwhelming, but the level designs are really good, and the difficulty is just right.Some stages may take longer than others to beat, but the game does a fantastic job of slowly ramping up the difficulty, so instead of just running straight into a wall the challenge here is a nice, fairly smooth slope up as you learn the mechanics each puzzle teaches you, before later puzzles combine them into trickier forms.  You can also abandon a world to try another one if you want, and pick up where you left off later.  The level layouts themselves are the best thing about this game, though.  Levels have a great mix of action and puzzles, so this isn’t just a thinking game, reflexes are definitely also required.  I really like the variety of levels and puzzle types you see in Escape Goat.  Most levels rely on using both your goat and the mouse in order to beat them, and figuring out how to get to all of the keys with the goat, since the mouse cannot pick them up, is great fun.  Escape Goat is not a particularly long game, and should only take a few hours to beat as it is not long or as hard as some indie platformers, but it’s a very good one any puzzle-platformer fan should definitely play!  There are some hard post-game levels you unlock, too.  With good graphics and art design, great music, very good, responsive controls with some unique elements in the two-character mechanic, and great level designs and puzzles, Escape Goat is a fantastic game I highly recommend.  There is also a sequel; though I don’t have it yet, I’ll definitely get it sooner or later.  Also available for Mac and Linux on Steam.  This game is an enhanced port of a 2011 Xbox 360 Live Indie Games title of the same name.  That is still available, until XBLIG’s shutdown of course; read above for details on that.


Gateways (2012, WinXP+) –  1 player, saves.  Gateways is a mouse-and-keyboard-only platformer with a portal gun.  The game has a single large Metroidvania-style world, but with portal puzzles everywhere and with jumping on heads to defeat enemies, classic platformer-style.  The game has average pixel art graphics and bland chiptune-ish music, and clearly is a very low-budget affair.  The basic concept of a 2d platformer with portals is a pretty good one though, and the game does throw some tricky portal puzzles at you from fairly early on.  You are an older, white-haired scientist guy, and are apparently British because this game was written in British English.  Something has gone wrong in your oddly videogame world-shaped lab, and you’ve got to fix it, portal gun in hand… and more as well, later on, including a flashlight and a time gun.  Gateways is a flawed game with some definite issues, but the core puzzle element is mostly a good one.  Trying to figure out how to get a laser beam to a switch through the use of portals, or where to put portals to get over a pit or to collect all the collectibles that you can spend in hint stations without running into an enemy, can be fun.  The game shows you what’s through a portal when you look at it, too, which is a nice touch, though it does mean that you can’t see what would have been behind that portal.  There’s a fair challenge here too, as you die in a few hits.  You do have infinite lives from the last save point, but save points are somewhat far apart in this game so dying is a punishment.

That’s all mostly good, but Gateways has issues.  The graphics are bland; the controls are finicky at times as you need to land DIRECTLY on top of an enemy to hit them, which is tough, so I keep taking hits and dying while trying to land on enemies; closing portals is harder than it should be; and puzzles sometimes frustrating.  I don’t like the open-world concept either, and would definitely like this game more if it had one linear path.  There is a map with an arrow pointing out the general area you need to go to, but it’s only on a subscreen and not on the main screen, so you’ll need to pause and view the map sometimes if you want to navigate, which can be annoying.  And while the numerous hint stations around the game are appreciated, that the developer felt the need to include hint stations which tell you if you have the items yet to attempt the puzzle there says something.  Sure, that’s better than not having them, but shouldn’t it be fairly clear without that whether you can do something or not?  That is not the case here, so the awkward ‘can you do this puzzle yet’ element of the hint stations was included.  Still though, there are not many 2d portal games, and this one has some good puzzles in it.  Fighting enemies is kind of bad with how easy it is to take hits while trying to jump on them, the world is not straightforwardly designed and the game can be frustrating, and the game is visually very bland, but still there is enough here that some definitely will like this game.  Myself though, I’d probably call Gateways slightly below average.  It’s okay, but not great.  Also available for Mac and Linux through Steam and GOG.


Gigantic Army (2014) –  1 player, saves settings and unlocks (but not main-game progress, that you need to restart each time), gamepad supported (directinput supported).  Gigantic Army is a sidescrolling mecha run & gun action-platformer from Japanese indie team Astro Port.  It is inspired by NCS Masaya’s classic Assault Suits series, a series of three mecha action-platforming games on the Genesis (AS Leynos), SNES (AS Valken), and Saturn (AS Leynos 2).  The first two got US releases as Target Earth and Cybernator, and the last was Japan-only.  All three games are short but very difficult games which I like a lot despite the steep challenge.  Square also made a similar game for the SNES (Japan only) called Front Mission: Gun Hazard, but it’s an Assault Suits clone with added RPG elements that neither this or the next game have, so yeah, this game and Gunhound EX below are both very blatant Assault Suits clones.  Making a new game that uses the basic gameplay of a classic, but with new graphics, music, level designs, and such, is a popular approach for some indie developers, and when a series is quite dead, like Assault Suits was before these two games released, I’m fine with them doing this.

I’d like to cover the graphics first because it’s the first thing I noticed.  Visually, Gigantic Army has a “PC game” look to it, compared to the very console-styled Gunhound EX.  Inspired by the original AS Leynos, this game has long levels with infinitely-spawning enemies, and a zoomed-out camera somewhat like the original.  The game runs in 4:3 640×480 only, pretty dated for a 2014 release; this looks like something from the later ’90s.  I don’t mind that, but some will.  Environments are detailed and the art is good, but it doesn’t have the flash or production values of a Gunhound EX.  The mechas and enemies don’t look as good, and everything here are just basic scaling sprites, with few special effects and a totally flat look.  Again, it’s a very ’90s shareware PC-style look, I’d say.  I like that, but it does look cheaper.  The music is forgettable electronic stuff, and also doesn’t match up to Assault Suits or Gunhound EX sound.  Still, the game looks decent to good, and there is variety between stages.  And as for a story, there barely is one; all you get are text-only diaries between levels, written by a mechanic working for one of the factions in the sci-fi war you are a part of.  The character interactions and deeper plot of Assault Suits games and Gunhound EX are sadly absent here.

As for the gameplay and controls, Gigantic Army is indeed an Assault Suits-styled game.  This game uses only four buttons, for your main weapon, secondary weapon, jump/hover-jet, and shield.  You can also dash with a double-tap of forward or back.  You choose from three different main and secondary weapons at the start of each game, and can’t switch during the game.  All main weapons have infinite ammo, while all secondary weapons have limited uses per level.  I don’t think there are any more to unlock, either, giving this game quite a small arsenal for this genre.  Your mech moves at a decent pace, faster than Gunhound EX below, which is nice; it’s easier to dodge shots here than in that game.  The shield is nice as well, and blocks enemy fire until it takes too much damage and breaks.  Your main gun and shield both can be aimed by pressing Up and Down on the stick/keyboard, but they lock while firing or holding out the shield, so you need to aim while not attacking, then attack with the firing angle locked.  There are no alternate settings here, unlike Gunhound EX.  The game controls well, and at first this game may seem easier than some in the genre, but it tries to make up for that with limited continues and no saving in the main game.  Yes, you have only three lives here, and then it’s back to the beginning of the game.  You do unlock levels for play in Practice mode as you reach them, but you can’t progress through the game that way.  I really dislike limited continues, it’s such a frustrating and artificial way to add difficulty to a game!  Sure, as usual in these games there is only a handful of levels, but seeing all of them will require a lot of replay.  There aren’t even checkpoints in this game, so when you die at a boss you have to start the whole level over.  This is a problem sometimes.  And last, unlike any other game in this genre I know of, there is a ticking timer here with a tight time limit.  You will find weapon and time-extension power ups around, and you’ll need as many of them as you can get to not run out of time and die.  While I didn’t usually run out of time, this kind of game is plenty hard without it, it’s not needed.

The games’ six levels are linear, though there is some platforming here as you navigate each stage.  Those constantly-spawning enemies are your main threat.  I do prefer a more uniquely designed challenge over a stream of random stuff like you see here, but it does serve to emphasize the difference between bosses and regular enemies, and the boss fights are pretty good.  As as always in these games the bosses are huge, take a lot of shots to kill, and can take you down quickly, and thus are easily the hardest part of the game.  Some bosses and level design ideas borrow heavily from Assault Suits games, maybe to a fault, but there is enough new stuff here to make this its own game.  Gigantic Army is a good fun game with nice graphics, good controls, and lots of explosive mecha-platform-shooting action to be had.  It’s a homage to some under-recognized classics, and a good one.  The game is short, but with four difficulty levels, higher scores to shoot for, and limited continues to pay attention to, there is some lasting value.  However, the very flat graphics, forgettable music, minimal story, somewhat average-at-times action, that there are no weapons to unlock, and awful choice to have limited continues hold this game back.  I should also note that there is a bug, and saving for your unlocks and scores may not work correctly in this game unless you first start a game in Easy difficulty and then beat at least one level.  After doing that quit to the menu; now saving should work right.  If only you could save progress too, but you can’t.  Overall, though, Gigantic Army is good.  It’s not great, but it is good for sure and might be worth a look.  The Steam version also has Linux support available, along with PC.


Gunhound EX (2014, WinXP+, though this is an enhanced and altered version of Gunhound, a game released in 2009 for PC) [aka armored hunter GUNHOUND EX] –  1 player, saves, gamepad supported (directinput supported).  Much like Gigantic Army above but better, Gunhound EX is a great, but challenging, Assault Suits-inspired mecha run & gun action-platform game from Dracue, an indie studio in Japan.  And as with the above game it’s not really a platformer, but it has platforming elements for sure so I’m including it here.  The gameplay and visual style of Gunhound is a shameless copy of Assault Suits’ visuals and gameplay.  The difficulty is right up there with a Target Earth/Assault Suits Leynos or Assault Suits Leynos 2, also — I like this game a lot, but the game  gets very hard in a hurry, maybe too much so for some.  But first, some background.  Two nations, the NEU and EAU, are fighting, and you are Yuri, a female pilot on the Hound squad of Armored Hunter mecha pilots fighting for the NEU.  All other games I’ve played like this have male pilots only, so the change here is nice.  There isn’t much of an intro, and the online manual has only a little backstory, but each mission does have a text briefing, and as in Assault Suits games there are regular voiced conversations between your pilot and others on the squad during missions.  They’ll be of little help in-game, of course, but it’s nice that they are there.

Presentation-wise, the game has great 2d graphics, with sprite art that is very early to mid ’90s styled, but with nice shiny weapon effects and such that make it look more modern than Gigantic Army.  The sprites are large, more like AS Valken (Cybernator) or Leynos 2 than the first one.  The blocky and angular mecha designs are VERY much something out of Assault Suits, but that’s okay, and while I’m no mecha fan, they look very good and fit the game well.  The music is a good up-tempo videogame-style soundtrack, and I like it.  The Japanese language-only voice acting is also well-done.  There is some slowdown, but I think most of it is intentional. I also had one crash, though that may be my aging computer.  Otherwise the game runs well.  However, while there are a few graphics options, including 16:9 or fill-the-screen modes, the latter handy for a 16:10 monitor like mine, and framerate and anti-aliasing settings, you cannot change the screen resolution.  Also by default the gamepad is not enabled, and you need to use the keyboard to map keys (with Z to select, as is default in Japanese PC games) before you can use it.  That’s common in older PC games though, lots of DOS PC games don’t have joystick support until it’s enabled ingame.

Gameplay in Gunhound EX takes some getting used to.  You have a variety of weapons to equip, and each controls differently.  The game uses more buttons than Gigantic Army.  The controls are fully re-configurable, but by default the face buttons jump and hover, dash, use your main gun, and use your secondary attack, while shoulder buttons switch to your two special weapons and lock your firing direction, and the option buttons pause and drop heavy armor.  All weapons need to regularly reload, but you do have infinite ammo.  You always need to keep reloading in mind, though.  That heavy armor has a downside, too: with it on you take less damage, but you move much slower and drop like a rock in the air if you let off the jets.  As in Assault Suits games, your main gun is fully aimable in all directions, and while this is not a twin-stick shooter, there are options in the menu for if you want to be able to aim while firing or not.  It’s a good choice to have; I prefer it with aiming locked while firing, but you can play either way.  The game does not have full twin-stick aiming controls, that would dramatically change the way the game plays, so it’s better left out.  The controls are complex and touchy, and can feel clumsy, but the game actually plays great once you’re into it, though a gamepad is HIGHLY recommended, .  As you control a giant mech you do not move quickly, so the dash ability is critical for survival.  It also helps because when you turn around when not in a boss fight the camera switches to point in the other direction so you can shoot things coming from the other way, something which can be distracting and make dodging shots tricky… unless you dash, as dashing backwards keeps your mech pointed forwards while you move in reverse.  Handy!  To help get used to the controls there is a very useful, and challenging at times, seven-part training mode available, and I definitely recommend going through it.

In this short but challenging game, The levels themselves are straightforward, with straight paths to follow most of the time so the focus is on the action.  Unlike AS Leynos or Gigantic Army, levels here are shorter and are not filled with infinitely-spawning filler enemies; instead, everything is pre-designed.  The game mixes things up with its settings as well, as there are land, water, and space environments and a defense mission.  The giant bosses are also suitably tricky.  There is a webpage link in the pause menu for a strategy site that can be very helpful.  In space controls are trickier, as zero-g movement is a bit confusing.  The game is short, though: the main game has just five levels and then a final boss.  There are those seven training missions also, and there is an unlockable bonus mission as well, but that’s it.  Still, the levels have variety, and the game encourages replay through its scoring and unlock systems.  You can’t change weapons between missions, unlike most games of this style, but you can select a loadout on the main menu, and unlock more weapons for it each time you beat the game.  Playing for score is also rewarding for those good enough to be able to stay alive as well, for though you have infinite continues from the last checkpoint, using a continue resets your score to zero, so a good score is well-earned.  For this kind of game, the amount of content is reasonable; mastering what is here will require a lot of practice.

Overall, Gunhound EX is a fantastic game.  The gameplay is cloned straight out of a classic series and content is limited, but this is a really good game regardless, with great sprite-art graphics, good music, and great, challenging gameplay which keeps you coming back.  Highly recommended!  If you have to choose between this and Gigantic Army, get this one.  Gunhound EX was successful enough that its developer went on to make the recent Assault Suits Leynos remake for PS4 (and maybe PC eventually).  If there ever is a PC release I’ll get it for sure.  Gunhound EX is also available for PSP.  The PSP version only had a physical release in Japan, but there is a downloadable version in the US you can play on a Vita, since the PSP download shop has been shut down for original PSP systems, but not Vitas.  The original Gunhound also has a physical release for PC in Japan only.


Hell Yeah! Wrath of the Dead Rabbit (2012) – 1 player, saves, dual analog gamepad supported (xinput only).  Hell Yeah! Wrath of the Dead Rabbit is a decent, but somewhat obnoxious, platform-shooting game published by Sega.  In this cartoonish game, you play as Ash, rabbit prince of Hell, and need to murder a lot of people and robots because some paparazzi guy took photos of Ash playing with rubber ducks in his bathtub and posted them online.  Anyone who viewed that page must die! .. Yeah, I don’t think Ash understands how the internet works.  He isn’t too particular about his targets, though, as you make only infrequent attempts to figure out if the people you’re killing ever saw the thread.  Ash’s a complete jerk, so just kill everything that gets in your way regardless, pretty much.  This all has far too much somewhat-annoying attitude, but beyond that, I do not like playing as villains in games unless it’s VERY well done, and this is pretty much the opposite of that.  I greatly dislike the character you play as here, and what he does in the game is horrible, cartoony setting or no.  The game does have pretty good, brightly colored graphics with lots of animation, though; this game had some budget.  It is lacking in setting variety, as it’s pretty much all set in firey environs, but it looks good.  The cartoon-styled art design is good as well.

As for the gameplay, this is a twinstick or mouse-and-keyboard shooter… with a lot of platforming.  So you know what that means by now, I think the controls are kind of awful!  On keyboard, you need to try to use the keyboard to move and jump while you aim and shoot on mouse, and it doesn’t work at all.  Fortunately you often can just take your hand off the mouse and use just the keyboard for both, and then just go back to the mouse for when you need to fight, but sometimes you do need both jumping and shooting at once, and it’s very awkward and uncomfortable.  On gamepad things work slightly better, but jumping while aiming and moving all at the same time is still awkward.  While the dual-stick setup gives you great control over where you’re aiming, overall I prefer traditional controls.  You move quite quickly in this game too, so while the controls are responsive, getting where you want without getting hung up on little corners in the scenery can be frustrating.  Maybe the worst thing about the controls, though, are the QTEs.  You see, on every single one of the 100 major enemies you kill in this game, you’ve got to successfully do a “hilarious” QTE in order to kill the thing.  And you must kill all of them, as there are gates that only let you proceed once they’re dead.  If you mess it up, you take damage and get knocked back, which gets old fast.  I have always greatly disliked QTEs, and putting mountains of QTEs into a platformer was an awful idea.  Sure, there are a lot of violent death animations to watch once you succeed at them, but murdering these sometimes-totally-innocent creatures does not exactly feel good, and the comedy is only infrequently amusing.

Otherwise, though, this is a fairly traditional game, as you run around, explore levels, collect stuff, and shoot and jump.  You have three weapons to switch between from, and though this is a level-based game, you eventually get a teleporter to be able to replay old levels and get abilities as you progress that let you get to new areas in earlier levels.  The art design is mostly good if lacking in variety, and the fast movement can be fun, when you’re not getting stuck on stuff.  There is a lot of variety in enemy types as well, which is nice.  But overall, Hell Yeah! is trying WAY too hard to be cool, and for me at least it fails at that.  I got this game from a bundle and was not looking forward to playing this game because of the obnoxious themes here, and playing it justifies that.  Still, there is some solid gameplay here, particularly for people who like these dual-stick platformers more than I do.  Myself, I don’t think I want to ever play this again.  Also available, for digital download only, on Xbox 360 XBLA and PS3 PSN.


Hocus Pocus (1994) – 1 player, saves, 4 button gamepad supported.  Hocus Pocus is a platformer developed by Moonlite Software and published by Apogee.  This is a later Apogee release, and is one of their few platformers that runs in 256-color VGA instead of only 16-color EGA.  So, the graphics are colorful, but how is the game?  I remember liking this game well enough as a kid, but looking back on it, it has problems.  Moonlite Software had previously made another game I played back then, the thoroughly mediocre title Clyde’s Adventure.  Fortunately they did much better work with Apogee, but some of that games’ design did carry over to this one.  Clyde’s Adventure is a combat-free platformer focused on exploration and collection.  You have to get all the crystals in each stage to progress, levels are large and mazelike, and there’s a tight move limit so you need to learn the best route in each level to get through.  In Hocus Pocus levels are still large and made up of blocky platforms, and you still need to  collect all the crystals to beat each level, though there are only 5-9 per level this time instead of the hundreds of Clyde’s Adventure, but instead of that annoying move limit you have enemies to fight and a magic wand that shoots lightning bolts.  These changes are good and make this game a lot more fun than Clyde.  The game has simple, responsive controls; all you do is run around, jump, and shoot.  You can shoot up or forwards, and also can look up and down to see a bit farther.  You only have that one main weapon, the wand, but there are upgrades to shoot multiple bolts at once, and limited-use spells with greater power such as fireballs in some stages as well.  Exploring levels, fighting enemies, and collecting stuff can be fun.  There are also lots of optional items to collect for points, and secret areas to find full of optional items to collect as well.  Looking for that stuff’s fun.  And the game doesn’t have any instant-death pits either, which is great, though there are many long pits which damage you quickly and can lead to a death if you wall into them in the wrong place.

The game has some problems, though.  First, enemies in this game aren’t always wandering around the levels; instead, they are magically warped in when you reach certain points.  So, you’re constantly having enemies appear right on top of you, which can lead to damage.  You do have a health meter, most levels have health powerups to collect, and you can save and the game gives you infinite tries at each level, but still this will lead to deaths.  And be careful when jumping, as with your somewhat quick movement it can be easy to miss a jump and take damage as a result.  Those crystals can be an issue too, as you’ll often have multiple paths to follow, and you’ll generally need to fully explore every level to get all of the crystals.  If you reach the end but missed a crystal, you’ll just have to backtrack for it, avoiding traps along the way.  The game also has switches.  And on that note, Hocus Pocus’s idea of puzzles is either to hide stuff in random corners, or to have multiple switches that you need to set in the correct positions, but there aren’t clues so you randomly have to hit them until you get it right.  All of this adds up to a memorization-focused game.  You will be restarting levels repeatedly until you memorize the enemy, crystal, and trap locations, and while there is fun to be had, it will get old after a while.  The bad music, which loops constantly and doesn’t vary much within each song, doesn’t help much.  The background graphics are good, though, and there are nice parallax layers and smooth scrolling with lots of color use.  Even so, the sprites themselves do look somewhat amateurish.

Additionally, the game lacks variety over the course of the good-length campaign.  This game has four episodes, the first originally released free as shareware and the others pay, and each has a good number of levels.  The background tilesets change a bit between episodes, and different levels have different enemies, though each stage seems to have only two or three types of foes in it, but the core gameplay is unchanged throughout and gets repetitive.  And for one last criticism, the story is not nearly as funny as the writer thought it was; some of that backstory text is painfully bad.  Still, Hocus Pocus is, overall, an above-average game.  The game has a fast pace, plenty of content to see, and lots of stuff to find as you search through levels for all the crystals and point items, killing the monsters that appear to bar your way.  I may have some issues with this game, but it is more good than bad and is worth a look, for collectathon fans particularly.  The retail version was originally released only on physical media, but now the game is available on 3D Realms’ website and on GOG for digital download.  As usual you’ll need to fix the bad default GOG settings they use to get the game looking and playing right.


Joylancer, The: Legendary Motor Knight (Early Access Game) (2014-?) –  1-4 player simultaneous (single system), saves (though the full campaign is not implemented yet), gamepad supported (xinput only, at least for me).  The Joylancer is a fast-paced action-platformer developed by alpha six productions and published by Merge Games, inspired  indie game inspired by the look and sound of original Game Boy or Game Boy Color games, but with 16:9, parallax scrolling, and optional additional effects.  In this sci-fi game you play as one of the Joylancers, soldiers with a drill-like weapon, and have to defeat an ancient evil empire attacking your nation again.  Joy the Joylancer is the default character, but there are other choices of both genders, each with slightly different stats and abilities.  You zip around with your drill-like lance, fighting enemies and navigating platforms as you try to save the nation from evil.  The game definitely still feels unfinished, though, despite being in development for several years now.  The game has been in Early Access since 2014 but still is not finished after many delays, so this won’t be a review of the finished game, just what it is as of the January 2016 build, the most recent one as of this writing.  This is the only unfinished game on this list, but I have it, so I’m covering it.

For modes, the main ones are Arcade mode, where you have to play the whole game in one sitting, and Adventure mode, which is supposed to be the main game but currently just lets you move around the map and play the levels in any order.  There is also a battle arena for multiplayer versus fights, though I haven’t tried it.  The first issue I have with this game, though, is the menu interface.  The menu interfaces are confusing and poorly laid out; why is the spacebar the default pause button, on keyboard?  Why are the main menu and pause menu entirely separate; most games have an options menu in the main menu, but not here.  Why do you need to hit a keyboard key to get to the control-settings screen, instead of having it as an option in the pause menu?  It took me a while to figure out where the control settings screen was.  Why does the game save all settings completely independently to each save file profile, so if you switch profiles it’ll automatically switch the game between windowed and fullscreen modes depending on how each one is set, and the controls will auto-switch as well so your gamepad may randomly not work in some if you haven’t set up the keys there?  Oh, and I recommend changing graphics display settings ingame, as the menu doesn’t show what each one looks like.  And while I appreciate having lots of options, sometimes a developer needs to make choices, and putting so many options in like this is a little odd at times.  It’ll be interesting to see if all of this makes the final version.

Next, the visuals. Now, the display options let you change this, but in any settings the game has some sensory-overload issues.  First, the on-screen interface has eight totally different looks (I like G the best), but in any setting the constant stream of large, moving attack-type-and-damage-amount indicators that appear in the bottom right is overdone.  At least some don’t have useless indicators like a number that changes based on how high off the ground you currently are; yes, I can tell I am jumping without looking down there!  You can play The Joylancer in a monochrome palette, a two-palette mode, or full color.  In full color the game is garishly bright, as each sprite or background element uses a different 4-color palette and backgrounds are complex and loaded with stuff.  I like the concept here, as I love the GB line, but the clashing colors are too much sometimes.  So, I probably like the look best in monochrome, though unfortunately this does make it even harder to tell which sprite is yours in the messy melees.  The two-tone mode helps a bit here, to at least distinguish sprites from backgrounds, so that’s probably the best setting.  The actual sprite-art elements look nice, though, color aside.  It’s just a way too busy style, with the backgrounds, parallax, varying-size sprites, status displays, and effects, if you don’t turn them off.  As for the music, it’s weird.  It is chiptune-style sound, but it is this very weird electronic-sound stuff.  I have heard this kind of music before, though I have no idea what it’s called.  I find it discordant and grating, and have never liked this kind of music, though it is interesting I guess.

Finally, on to the gameplay.  The Joylancer is a two-button game, jump and attack.  This fast and flashy game is the opposite of a precision platformer.  As with everything else in this game, the game is a bit overly modifiable, though the core gameplay does not change.  You can alter how many attacks work, but how attacks go depends on your power meter, which has several blocks.  You have a weak normal attack, but also various power attacks.  Power attacks go a good distance forward on land, or diagonally upwards in the air.  By default it uses a full power attack when you hit attack and have meter, but I think I like the setting which makes you hit the button again better, so you don’t always use all the meter.  To recharge the power meter, you either need to tap Down+Attack repeatedly, or find and equip a part which auto-refills your meter.  One such part exists in this build, though it might be harder to get in the final game.  But oh yes, you have three equipment spots which you will get stuff for.  There isn’t much now.  The auto-charge is great because having to constantly charge attacks is annoying sometimes.  You can also jump high straight into the air with Up+Jump, attack straight down with Down+Attack, and the game even has parry and counter systems.  Yes, really.  Red lines on enemy attacks mean you can counter them with an attack.  As for the stages, levels are broken up into many short areas, and those areas are made up of decent but not always great platforming sections, and areas where you can’t progress until you defeat all the enemies.  The game plays very quickly, but despite this enemies have quite a bit of health and can take a while to beat.  Enemies have visible health meters in the status display area, and there is also a burst multiplier meter on screen.  Ultimately though I’ve never liked side-scrolling beat ’em ups much, so the heavy emphasis on fighting kind of loses me even with the additions this game has.  Zipping around with your lance can be fun for a while, but I always find myself losing interest in this game after a while.

On the whole, it’s fun to zoom around blasting through the enemies as you hit stuff, but I think it’s kind of a mess; I have little sense of when I’m taking damage and when I’m not, why my health sometimes refills, and more.  It’s so fast and chaotic that such details are hard to discern.  Since the game uses only two buttons, you’re spending a lot of time just mashing one button, sometimes with a direction, so combat is repetitive.  I’d like more platforming and less combat, myself.  Overall, The Joylancer is an interesting but flawed title, and I’d say right now it’s average at best.  There is something pretty interesting here, and the extreme degree of customization is somewhat unique, but between the simple, imprecise combat mountain of options to figure out, and unfinished elements because this game is still not done, I can’t recommend this game to most.  There is definitely an audience for this though, so if it sounds interesting check it out.

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