Saturday, June 26, 2021

Metroidvania May Round-up

With 2D platformers already being one of my favorite genres, #MetroidvaniaMay was a natural fit for me. I decided to spend this month exploring some newer indie games in the genre as well as playing an old classic that I had been meaning to get around to for a very long time. I streamed all three of this month's selections on my Twitch channel

 Record of Lodoss War: Deedlit in Wonder Labyrinth

I've been looking forward to this one for a while since I was such a big fan of Team Ladybug's previous Metroidvania game, Shin Megami Tensei Synchronicity Prologue (review). Deedlit in Wonder Labyrinth is based on the Japanese fantasy novel series, Record of Lodoss War, which has previously been adapted into anime and several other games.

Pros:

  • This game's gorgeous pixel art and animations do a great job of evoking the classic look of the anime.
  • Deedlit's proficiency with both swords and bows makes her a very versatile character; it was fun to switch back and forth between melee and ranged attacks on the fly. 
  • Similar to SMT Synchronicity Prologue, Deedlit can dynamically change her elemental strength and weakness. This gives boss battles an Ikaruga-like quality that I quite enjoyed. 
  • In addition to using the bow for combat, you can also ricochet arrows off surfaces to flip switches and pull off some cool trick shots. The use of arrows for puzzles provided a nice change of pace.
Cons:
  • The difficulty curve is all over the place, especially for boss battles. There were some I would defeat very easily and others I would struggle with, but there wasn't a clear ramp-up in between.
  • As much as I liked the element switching mechanic, it was hard to keep track of which element Deedlit had equipped in the heat of the action because her elemental affinity only changes her appearance slightly. Also, the UI feature that shows your current element is at the very edge of the screen and hard to glance over at during a battle.
  • While I'm generally familiar with the characters and story of the anime, the story of this game seems to have been written for players who are caught up on the whole novel series. As a result, the plot seemed vague and unclear to me at times.
Verdict: Most of these cons are minor nitpicks. I can comfortably recommend this game to anyone looking for a mechanically solid Metroidvania.
Score: ⭐⭐⭐⭐
Completion Time: 8 hours, 12 minutes (98% map completion)

Blaster Master Zero

Inti Creates games are pretty much my jam, with Bloodstained (review) and Gunvolt (review) ranking highly among my favorite 2D platformer franchises. As a result, I was very curious to see how their revival of the NES favorite, Blaster Master, would fare.

Pros:

  • Similar to what they did with Bloodstained, Blaster Master Zero retains the 8-bit charm of the NES game's designs but adds extra detail and color beyond what an NES could render. It gives the games a very appealing Shovel Knight-like aesthetic.
  • I loved the music in this game! So many 8-bit bops!
  • Switching between side-scrolling vehicle sections and top-down on-foot sections gives the game a nice sense of variety.

Cons: 

  • The game felt too easy for the majority of the campaign then had a sudden difficulty spike near the very end.
  • The map features some repetitive level design elements (e.g. rising water/lava/acid) that got old after a little while.
Verdict: While it won't supplant either of my favorite Inti Creates games, I had a lot of fun with Blaster Master Zero and will definitely play its sequels at some point in the future.
Score: ⭐⭐⭐⭐
Completion  Time: 10 hours, 48 minutes (100% completion)

Castlevania: Symphony of the Night

It may have taken a long time to get around it, but this month I finally crossed one of my biggest gaming shames off the list! Symphony of the Night is one of the defining works in the Metroidvania genre and it has gone on to inspire many others since its original release on the Playstation 1. 

Pros:

  • While the pixel art looks low resolution for a PS1 game, it makes up for it with fluid animations and smoothly rendering many sprites on screen at once (a feat that SNES Castlevania games definitely could not pull off).
  • This game has an interesting and varied soundtrack that blends the retro rock-inspired sounds of the earlier Castlevania games with baroque and jazzy pieces. Part of the fun of discovering a new area of the castle was getting to hear what kind of music it would have.
  • Symphony of the Night's version of Castle Dracula is huge, intricate, and a lot of fun to explore.
  • The game's voice acting and script are terrible but in an endearing sort of way.

Cons:

  • Even compared to the previous two games I played this month, Symphony of the Night had a very inconsistent difficulty. Older Castlevania's are known for their challenging boss battles, but this game's fights were often unusually easy, which made many encounters feel anti-climactic. 
  • Some rooms in the castle spam you with enemies in a way that can get very annoying. This was especially true in an area that spawned infinite Medusa heads while I was trying to solve a puzzle.
Verdict: I'm really glad I got around to playing this iconic Metroidvania game. I could definitely tell that certain aspects of the genre were still being worked out in Symphony of the Night, but I had a good time with it despite some rough edges. Playing this also gave me a sense of appreciation for how much refinement and iteration Castlevania and other Metroidvanias have gone through in the years since.
Score: ⭐⭐⭐⭐
Completion Time: 11 hours, 31 minutes (best ending route)

Overall, exploring these three games gave me a better sense of the commonalities between Metroidvanias, both in terms of their strengths and weaknesses. I feel like I have a much better sense of why this genre continues to endure and is such a popular format for indie developers to tinker with. 

Note: This post is part of the Chic-Pixel community's #CapcoMonth event. For more info and their full list of events, check out this page: Community Game-Along Master List

Sunday, May 9, 2021

Capcom Month Round-up

For Capcom Month, I decided to color outside the lines a bit with three games from established Capcom franchises and two indie games that are heavily inspired by Capcom works. Taking this approach gave me a great variety of aesthetics and gameplay styles, which made for a really fun and interesting month. With the exception of Monster Hunter, I streamed all of these on my Twitch channel.  Here's a roundup of mini-reviews for each game that I played:

Gunvolt Chronicles Luminous Avenger iX

While technically not made by Capcom, I kicked things off with the third game in Inti Creates' Mega Man-like series, Gunvolt. Rather than playing as Gunvolt himself, this entry follows his rival Copen in his battle against the nefarious Sumeragi Corporation. While this entry still delivered the tight pixel art action the Gunvolt series is known for, I found that I enjoyed this one a little less than its predecessors. Copen's move set doesn't work quite as well for my playstyle as Gunvolt's does and I didn't particularly care for this game's supporting cast. Thankfully, the game featured a great rogues gallery of over-the-top villains and a kicking soundtrack which helped elevate things a bit. Ultimately, I'd say this is the weakest entry in a strong series but still a solid action game in its own right. 

(You can find my review of the original Gunvolt here: Gunvolt Review )

Score: ⭐⭐⭐

Completion Time: 6 hours

Devil May Cry

While I've been aware of the Devil May Cry series since its debut, I didn't actually have my first foray into Capcom's stylish character action series until Devil May Cry 5 in 2019 (DMC 5 review). I had such a blast with it that I immediately added some of the older games in this series on my to-do list and #CapcoMonth provided the push I needed to finally dive into DMC 1 via the Devil May Cry HD Collection. I was pleasantly surprised to find that despite this essentially being an anti-aliased PS2 game, it still holds up great in terms of gameplay and art direction. While there are a few elements that haven't aged well, namely some awkward camera angles and having limited lives with spread-out checkpoints, I still had a lot of fun on Dante's first adventure and will likely tackle DMC 2 & 3 at some point in the future.

Score: ⭐

Completion Time: 6 hours and 25 minutes

Resident Evil 3 (2020 Remake)

Similar to Devil May Cry, Resident Evil is a Capcom series that I didn't fully come to appreciate until fairly recently. After loving Resident Evil 2 Remake and Resident Evil 7 (but having mixed feelings on Resident Evil Zero), I was looking forward to playing another modern entry in one of video gaming's most beloved horror franchises. Gameplaywise, RE3 Remake plays very similarly to RE2 Remake, in that it's a third-person action-adventure game, however, the pacing of RE3 is much brisker than its predecessor. The focus on more linear level designs and big action set pieces gave this game a tone that felt much more like an action movie than a horror movie. Once I got used to that, I had a good time blasting zombies and other monsters as this game's especially badass depiction of the recurring series heroine, Jill. Ultimately, I think I prefer the more atmospheric adventure game approach of RE2 Remake and RE7 but this was still a really fun ride.

(You can find my review of Resident Evil 2 Remake here: RE 2 Remake Review )

Score: ⭐

Completion Time: 9 hours and 34  minutes

Monster Hunter Rise

You've likely noticed a theme at this point, but Monster Hunter is yet another Capcom franchise that I've been aware of for a long time but never really dug into before. In this case, Rise is the first Monster Hunter game I've ever played. I found right off the bat that while the basic gameplay loop is very simple (fight monsters, get crafting materials, make stronger weapons and armor, repeat), almost everything else about the game is needlessly complicated. It took me several hours to get through back-to-back tutorials, figure out the controls, and learn to navigate the clunky UI. However, once I managed to get through all that, I found Rise to be a really enjoyable experience. Having only a limited story and minimal world-building, the single-player campaign is fairly bare-bones but still satisfying, and the online co-op mode is a lot of fun whenever I actually manage to coordinate with other people to play. However, for me, what elevated this game from "good" to "great" was the presentation. I absolutely loved this game's medieval Japanese fantasy setting, catchy music, cute animal companions, and cool monster designs. I don't think I'm going to be someone who plays every MonHun game that comes out, but I'm really glad I took the time to get into this one.

Score: ⭐

Completion Time: 25 hours (Single-player campaign and few co-op sessions)

Nina Aquila Legal Eagle 2

Nina Aquila 2 cover art


After seeing the foundation established by the first game (see my review of Nina Aquila 1 for more info), I was keen to see where this indie Ace Attorney-like series would go next. Improving on the original in almost every way, Nina Aquila 2 offered a much more interesting case to investigate, a more complex story, and some new investigation segments to break up the courtroom drama. However, what set it apart was the scene of the crime: a hotel hosting an anime convention and trading card battle tournament. This opened up a lot of opportunities for humourous writing that mixed legal drama with anime fandom. I also enjoyed the Yu-Gi-Oh-inspired minigame that is integrated into the campaign as Nina gets dragged into the world of competitive trading card battles. While both the minigame and puzzle-solving parts of the mystery felt a little too easy for my tastes, Nina Aquila 2 was still an overall fun and charming package. I'm looking forward to playing the third game sometime in the future!

Score: ⭐

Completion Time: 9 hours



 Note: This post is part of the Chic-Pixel community's #CapcoMonth event. For more info and their full list of events, check out this page: Community Game-Along Master List

Sunday, March 28, 2021

Shantae and the Seven Sirens


In celebration of #WayForwardMarch, I played through the fifth game in the Shantae series, Shantae and the Seven Sirens, on my Twitch channel. Having played and enjoyed several other WayForward games in the past, including the previous two Shantae games, I had a fairly good idea of what I was getting myself into here but was still excited to check out the latest exploits of everyone's favorite half-genie.

Background:

Shantae is an indie 2D platformer series that stars the half-genie belly dancer, Shantae, and a colorful cast of supporting characters that include pirates, zombies, and mad scientists. In this entry of the series, Shantae must explore an island with a complex series of underground passageways to find her fellow half-genies that mysteriously went missing. Unlike previous entries in the series, Seven Sirens features one large continuous map rather than a series of separate smaller levels, which gives it a much more explicitly Metroid-like feel. Also in proper Metroidvania fashion, as Shantae progresses through her adventure, she gains new powers, usually in the form of animal transformations, that improve her ability to overcome obstacles.

Pros

  • Having been making 2D platformers for decades, WayForward knows how to make one of these games control well and Seven Sirens is no exception. Shantae's jumps, attacks, and special abilities all feel great. I especially liked her salamander transformation, which allows her to climb on walls and airdash.
  • Shantae's move set is complemented by cute and charming character art and animations. The attention to detail and personality imbued into not only the game's heroine, but the supporting cast, enemies, and NPCs do so much to make this game (and the rest of the Shantae series) so endearing.
  • While I missed the immediately danceable signature sound of long-time series composer, Jake Kaufman, I still found plenty of tracks to like from Seven Sirens' 4-person sound team. The overall sound is a bit more varied than the previous games with some traditional Shantae bops as well as some nice mellow pieces.
  • I'm not particularly invested in the story or "lore" of Shantae, but I definitely enjoy the humor in these games. There were quite a few scenes in Seven Sirens that gave me (and my Twitch viewers) a good chuckle.

Cons

  • Seven Sirens provides a big map to explore, but, much of the level design is fairly bland. It was not especially interesting to uncover new areas nor does it offer the platforming challenge of rgw previous games' more linear stages.
  • This game has really fun boss designs but the battles themselves aren't actually that exciting. I got through most of them just spamming attacks and using the plentiful healing items that are collected while exploring.
  • Dialog in Seven Sirens is only partially voice acted in a way that I found exceptionally jarring. Often within a given scene, characters would go back and forth between being voiced and silent seemingly without any rhyme or reason. I would have rather they had a few key scenes fully voiced and left everything else quiet.
  • At the beginning of my playthrough, the performance of this game on PC was quite rough despite it not being particularly graphically demanding. Load times were also quite long. About halfway through, a patch came out that mostly resolved this but this game was already a year old at that point.
Overall, Shantae and the Seven Sirens is a by-the-numbers Metroidvania that's elevated by an especially charming presentation. As a result, I got a lot of enjoyment out of playing it even though it's solidly in the middle of the pack gameplaywise. 

Score: ⭐⭐⭐⭐
Completion Time: 12 hours and 30 minutes, 67% item completion






Friday, February 12, 2021

Adventure & Puzzle Game Round-up

Over the past few months, I've really been going all-in on Community Game-Along events on my Twitch channel. I've found they're a fun way to keep my queue varied and interesting. The previous two month's themes, #AdventureGameMonth and #PuzzleGameMonth, smoothly flowed into each other to provide 60+ solid days of putting my brain through its paces!

Here's a roundup of mini-reviews for all 7 games I streamed for these events:

Day of the Tentacle


As someone who really enjoyed other Lucas Arts adventure games such as Grim Fandango and the Monkey Island series, I've been meaning to play this classic title for quite some time. Once I started playing, I was immediately struck by the distinctly 90s cartoon aesthetic and sense of humor that reminded me of shows such as Animaniacs and Hysteria. The gameplay, however, took a while for me to get my head around. Switching between controlling 3 protagonists exploring the same environment in 3 different time periods made for some novel puzzle designs but also made it much easier to get stuck than in a more conventional point-and-click adventure game. As a result, I found myself alternating between having fun engaging in cartoon antics and being frustrated when I kept having to wander around the same locations over and over to figure out what the game wanted me to do next. That being said, I'm really glad I played this but it hasn't displaced Monkey Island and Grimfango among my favorite Lucas Arts games.
Score: ⭐⭐⭐



Nina Aquila Legal Eagle (Chapter 1)


This one was a real curiosity for me. Essentially, Nina Aquila is an indie developer's recreation of the gameplay of Phoenix Wright Ace Attorney using the RPG Maker engine. While Nina Aquila still looks and feels like an RPG Maker game, I was quite impressed with how well Tanuki-sama Studios managed to work the engine to create a game with the same general structure and mechanics as Ace Attorney. As for the content of the game, the court case itself is entertaining but much more straight forward than Phoenix Wright. Nina Aquila was released episodically on itch.io and the first chapter that I played during #AdventureGameMonth was an effective proof-of-concept that has me looking forward to trying out the subsequent chapters in the future.
Score: ⭐⭐⭐
Note: The first two chapters of this game were included in the itch.io Racial Justice Bundle 

Call of the Sea


Taking a break from my usual indie and retro games, I decided to check out this highly regarded Xbox Series X launch title via Xbox Game Pass for PC. As you would expect from a brand new game first-person adventure game, it featured beautiful and lush environments that were really cool to explore. I also found the 1920s Lovecraft-inspired story to be quite interesting. The game's puzzles featured a good range of difficulties, however, there were one or two that just didn't make sense to me at all and I ended up having to look up the solutions. Unfortunately, the overall very positive experience I had with Call of the Sea was marred by some pretty serious performance issues despite my PC comfortably meeting the system requirements. This is a game I'd definitely recommend playing, but on Xbox Series X, since supposedly that version runs much more smoothly, or waiting until the PC version has been out longer and gets patched.
Score: ⭐⭐⭐
Note: This would have been an easy 4-star game if not for the technical issues. 

Carto


Another recent Game Pass release, this indie puzzle adventure game stars a character who can edit the game map, thereby changing the layout of the world around her. Throughout the game, you collect new map pieces that you can fit together in different ways to create new environments, solve puzzles, and help various NPCs. It's a short and sweet game with a unique hook, cute graphics, and a quirky sense of humor. I definitely recommend checking this one out.
Score: ⭐⭐⭐⭐

Manifold Garden


When I first saw previews of this game, I immediately knew it would be a must-play. Manifold Garden is a first-person puzzle platformer that, at first look, might seem similar to Portal. However, only a few minutes of playing it reveals that it's a completely unique experience. For starters, your character cannot jump but can instead instantly change the direction that gravity pulls, suddenly making walls, ceilings, and the surfaces of any object in the environment traversable. On top of that, each level is a maze of surreal Escher-inspired environments that loop back upon themselves This means that if you fall into a pit, you'll soon find yourself falling through the sky rather than hitting the bottom of the level. Manipulating the gravity and exploiting the looping level design leads to some really interesting puzzle scenarios. In addition to the mechanics, I really loved this game's visual design which increased in intricacy along with the puzzles. Overall, this was easily my favorite game that I streamed during both #AdventureGameMonth and #PuzzleGameMonth and in general, is one of the best puzzle games I've played in a long time.
Score: ⭐⭐⭐⭐⭐
Caution: If you are at all prone to motion sickness, there is a strong chance that this game could trigger it.

Witchway


Compared to most of the other puzzle and adventure games I played, Witchway was pretty simple and straight forward. As a witch with telekinesis, you navigate a Metroidvania-style world by moving blocks around to create platforms and activate switches. While not anything particularly revolutionary, it sported great music, adorable pixel art, and just enough puzzle complexity to fit its 3-hour run time. This game did what it set out to do and was a nice break from the meatier games I tackled during #PuzzleGameMonth.
Score: ⭐⭐⭐
Note: This game was included in the itch.io Racial Justice Bundle 

Hue


My last game for these events was another 2D puzzle platformer, but with a bit of a twist. Hue takes place in a mostly black and white world with few key interactive objects rendered in bright colors. The protagonist has the power to change the background color of the levels which makes any object in the environment of the same color disappear as it blends into the background. By carefully switching colors in the right sequence, the player can navigate obstacles and avoid deadly traps such as spikes and lasers. I found that the way this game brought a unique mechanic to otherwise traditional puzzle platforming gameplay was enough to set it apart from other games in the genre. I also really liked the game's crisp high-contrast aesthetic and very well-balanced puzzle difficultly. 
Score: ⭐⭐⭐⭐

Putting my puzzling skills to the test for two consecutive months was a real challenge and a lot of fun! That being said, I feel like my brain earned some much-deserved rest. Time to go watch some anime!

Friday, January 1, 2021

Game of the Year 2020

The year 2020 was rough for me, both due to the pandemic and for some personal reasons as well. As a result, I felt much less motivation to write than in years past. However, that certainly doesn't mean that I didn't have the energy to play games; quite the opposite in fact! This year I tackled over 75 games! With release dates ranging from 1982 to 2020, there were some real gems in there that I'd like to highlight in a quick little Top 10 list:

#10: Ys Oath in Felghana

The Ys series has pretty consistently had a spot in my honorable mentions for the past several years, but Oath in Felghana is the one that had what it takes to break the top 10, even in a very competitive year. Felghana is the perfect encapsulation of everything that makes the Ys games great: fast-paced combat, tough bosses, an interesting story, and a rockin' soundtrack. This series doesn't deviate much from the action RPG formula, but it is so well-polished that it's quickly making its way into my favorite RPG franchises. 

#9: Paper Mario The Origami King

While its combat didn't exactly stay fresh the whole time, Origami King's creativity, charm, and humor were more than enough to make this one of my favorite games of 2020. Part of what elevated this game into my Top 10 was streaming it; experiencing this frankly absurd game with others provided some much-needed levity in a really tough year.


#8: Ace Combat 7

As somebody who loves the aerial vehicle sections in games like Battlefield, I've been meaning to get around to trying purely air combat-focused game. Ace Combat 7 fit the bill; I had a blast with it! Much like Forza Horizon, I liked that AC7 provides options to tweak the level of realism to your liking. As someone who doesn't have much flight sim experience, the ability to fly realistic-looking aircraft with more forgiving arcadey physics was just right for me. I'm looking forward to playing more games like this in the future. 


#7: Legend of Heroes: Trails in the Sky (First and Second Chapter)

Falcom's Legend of Heroes franchise has been recommended to me many times over the years, especially the Trails in the Sky chapters, but until now I had always felt intimidated by the length and scope of these JRPGs. (The game is script is notoriously massive, several times longer than the novel War and Peace). However, being stuck at home in a quarantine situation earlier in 2020 provided the perfect excuse to finally jump in. I loved the tactical battle system, rich world-building, and taking a long journey with some endearing characters. After completing the main arc of Trails in the Sky (e.g. First and Second Chapter), I needed to take a break but I have a feeling I'll be relishing the next games in the series when I get to them.



#6: Azure Striker Gunvolt

As somebody that tends to be lukewarm on Megaman, it turns out the trick to getting me to like it is to inject some extra anime nonsense. Gunvolt took the Megaman formula and added some unique mechanics, a flashier style, and some incredibly catchy music. Developer Inti Creates has a real knack for taking the core of classic retro games like Megaman and Castlevania and reimagining them in exciting new ways. (review)

#5: Shovel Knight

I've put off playing this for far too long! Shovel Knight has charming pixel art, excellent chiptunes, and very tight 8-bit platforming. I can definitely see why this is always ranked so highly among the top faux-retro indie games.

#4: Evan's Remains

I was initially drawn in by Evan's Remains upon seeing its gorgeous pixel art on a Twitch stream hosted by my pal, Stapecape. Once I got into it, I really enjoyed figuring out the game's tricky puzzle platforming challenges and unraveling its mysterious story. The game takes a bit of an unusual turn at the end, which may be offputting to some, but I enjoyed the journey so much that I ultimately wasn't concerned about the final destination. 

#3: Wander Song 

This music-themed adventure game was full of charm and heart. Despite an art style that didn't seem like my thing at first, the story and offbeat cast of characters sucked me right in. Even though it came out a while ago, I hadn't heard of Wandersong until this year and it immediately rocketed itself up to being one of my all-time favorite indie games. (review)

#2: The Talos Principle 

While disregarded by many as a Portal-clone, this game's combination of challenging puzzles and philosophical themes made it a game that will stick with me for quite some time. It's the perfect game to play when you're looking for something somber, slow-paced, and cerebral. (A mood that I found myself in quite a bit this year.)

#1: Nier Automata 

With a slick sense of style, a fun blend of gameplay styles, and a stellar soundtrack, this was a damn fine video game! Also, for some reason, 2020 just felt like the most appropriate possible year to play a game about exploring the ruins of human civilization. (review)


Honorable Mentions:

With how many games I played this year, it was inevitable that a lot of great games wouldn't make the Top 10. This year one of my projects was to get into new genres and franchises that I previously never explored, so many of my honorable mentions are a reflection of that. Here's a selection of some of the other great games that I'd like to highlight.

  • Sound of Drop: Fall into Poison - I decided that this year I would try to get into visual novels and this one was my favorite among the ones I finished in 2020. I enjoyed the spooky atmosphere and making tough life-or-death decisions. This game also demonstrated to me that I not only enjoy visual novels but that streaming them can be a lot of fun.
  • Mario 64 - I had somehow never played all the way through Mario 64 until this year. I played through the majority of this game during a marathon charity stream and had a great time finally completing this platforming classic. 
  • American McGee's Alice - This was a game I have been meaning to play for 20 years. I'm so glad I finally did! Once I got my head around the controls, it really clicked with me.
  • Doom Eternal - There was no need to break the mold when the previous Doom was so good. Eternal took what was already great and built upon it in a very effective way.
  • Streets of Rage 4 -  I played through this slick-looking beat 'em up with my pal PixelPacas and it proved to be one of the most simple yet satisfying gameplay experiences of 2020. 
  • Yakuza Kiwami - Yakuza was another series I'd been meaning to play for a while. This remake of the original game in the series really drew me in and has me convinced to try more entries in the franchise. 
  • Final Fantasy 15 - My road trip with the bros of Final Fantasy 15 was an absolutely engrossing experience. If not for how clumsily the story was handled, this game would have had a shot at landing in the Top 10. (review)
  • Phantasy Star 4 - This was my first experience with Sega's retro RPG series and it still totally holds up. This is easily one of the top games in the Sega Mega Drive collection on Steam. 
  • Chantelise - I was really impressed by this obscure indie action RPG that some have described as "anime Dark Souls". Thanks to @Simon_Ashtear for the recommendation! (review)
  • Spiritfarer - Farming or slice-of-life games aren't usually my thing but this beautifully animated and emotional game really spoke to me this year. 
To wrap up this post, I'd like to offer my heartfelt thanks to all my blog readers and Twitch viewers. Exploring games with y'all was one of the few bright spots of 2020. My blog posts will probably be pretty sporadic going forward but I still plan on keeping it going and sharing more great games both in written form and via my Twitch channel. Here's to a better 2021!

Note: In addition to this personal Top 10, I also put together a Games of the Year article with my fellow Geek to Geek Media content creators. Check that article out to find out about our picks for the best games of 2020. (Geek to Geek Media's GotY article)

Wednesday, November 25, 2020

Horror Game October Round-up

When people think about "horror" games, they immediately think of survival horror and jump scares associated with games like Resident Evil. And while that is certainly a prominent segment of horror games, "horror" is more of a theme or flavor that can be applied to a variety of game genres. In celebration of #HorrorGameOct, I decided to devote my Twitch channel to streaming and exploring horror gaming in a variety of forms.

Bloodstained Curse of the Moon 2

After absolutely loving the first Bloodstained, I came to this one with unreasonably high expectations. What I found was a game that was still really good but didn't quite recapture the magic of that first experience. That being said, the new playable characters were fun, especially the corgi in a mech. If you're a Castlevania fan, all three Bloodstained games are easily must-plays.

Score: 🎃🎃🎃🎃

Resident Evil 7

My prior experiences with Resident Evil games have been pretty mixed. While I would rank several of them among my favorite spooky games, others have been an exercise in frustration. The first impression this game gave me was not a good one, the introductory areas seemed tailored for the VR experience but felt off as a regular player and the "killer rednecks" trope this game leans into has become quite tired for me. However, after pushing through that stuff and into the meat of the game, I found that the game did a great job of taking the classic Resident Evil formula and updating it with more precise first-person controls and a great sense of atmosphere. Overall, it didn't quite eclipse my favorite game in the series, Resident Evil 2 Remake, but I would still rank it very highly among survival horror games that I've played. 

Score: 🎃🎃🎃🎃

Halloween Forever

This little retro-style indie platformer was included in the Racial Justice Bundle from itch.io earlier this year. It sported cute Halloween-themed sprite work, simple but polished mechanics, and a moderate difficulty curve. I would recommend it to anyone looking for a short spooky game that can be completed in a single evening. 

Score: 🎃🎃🎃🎃

Silent Hill 4

Until this year, my only exposure to the Silent Hill franchise was watching the Silent Hill movie back when it came out in  2005. While I wasn't a big horror game fan back in those days, the movie piqued my interest enough to put trying one of these games on my very long-term to-do list. This year, when Konami made SH4 available on PC via Gog, the opportunity to check off that box finally arrived. Though I struggled with this game's jankyness and awkward controls at first, I eventually came to appreciate this game's mysterious atmosphere and surreal take on horror. Considering that series fans often consider SH4 to be the worst game in the series and I still had fun with it, I think I'd enjoy the other Silent Hill games if Konami elects to make them available on PC.

Score: 🎃🎃🎃

Castlevania 3

As a big Castlevania fan, it's always bugged me that I was never able to finish one of the most beloved games in the series when I originally played it. This year I finally decided to see it through! This time I ended up playing the Japanese version of CV3 (via the Castlevania Anniversary Collection) in order to enjoy its enhanced soundtrack and more balanced difficulty compared to the Western release. With this game's multiple characters, branching, paths, diverse environments, and stellar score I can absolutely see why it's a fan favorite. Some of the more punishing aspects of NES game design still lead to some frustration but I managed to complete a "pure" playthrough without the use of save states or cheats!

Score: 🎃🎃🎃🎃


Clock Tower: The First Fear

Hearing that this SNES and Windows 95 point-and-click adventure was a major source of inspiration for later survival horror games like Resident Evil and Silent Hill, I was very curious to give Clock Tower a try. Early on, I was really impressed with how effectively this game conveyed the atmosphere of horror despite the limitations of its 16-bit platform. I also liked, how much detail and personality was put into the character animations, particularly for the game's primary villain, the Scissor Man. Unfortunately, the aesthetic qualities of the game were really the only thing I enjoyed. As an adventure game, I found this game to be extremely opaque, even by 1995 standards. Many times, the solution to making progress was not a function of puzzle-solving or logic, but meeting some kind of arbitrary criteria such as entering and exiting a room multiple times or repeatedly inspecting an object until your character decides that she wants to interact with it. It also didn't help matters that for a game that involves a lot of wandering around and trial-and-error, your character walks extremely slowly and running even a few yards almost immediately depletes her stamina. As a result, I found playing Clock Tower to be interesting from a historical perspective but a subpar adventure game experience.

Score: 🎃🎃

American McGee's Alice

This dark and twisted take on Alice and Wonderland is something I've been wanting to play for a really long time. At first, the controls of the game felt really off to me, but once I got my head around the fact that this was a 3rd person action game made in the Quake 3 engine, everything started clicking. While 3D graphics and game design have come a long way since this game was made, exploring the surreal worlds of Wonderland was still an experience that totally held up for me. I'm looking forward to playing the sequel next year.

Score: 🎃🎃🎃🎃

Rusty

While it might be especially trendy now, indie studios cranking out Castlevania-like games is by no means a new phenomenon. Rusty is an early 1993 PC game about a whip-wielding vampire slayer on a quest to rescue damsels in distress and defeat an evil count (sounds familiar doesn't it?). Suffice to say, I didn't go into this game expecting to see anything particularly original or high quality. Much to my surprise, the game was actually pretty good! I liked the graphics and music quite a bit and I appreciated the way it deviated from Castlevania by incorporating a more maze-like level design. Unfortunately, this game's level design can also be a source of frustration as each level has a relatively short time limit and Rusty's movements are a little too stiff to pull off some of the maneuvers the game asks of you. As a result, I found Rusty to be an interesting experience that was worth playing, but it would've needed more polish to stand side by side with its source of inspiration, Castlevania.

Score: 🎃🎃🎃

 Note: This post is part of the Chic-Pixel community's #HorrorGameOct event. For more info and their full list of events, check out this page: Community Game-Along Master List 2020

Monday, September 28, 2020

Sonic Team September Round-up

During the Console Wars of the 90s, my camp was firmly established on the Nintendo side of the schoolyard (see The Sega Gap for more info). Recently, the availability of Sega's library on PC has made catching up on the games I had previously skipped due to childhood biases quite easy. With this month being #SonicTeamSept, I thought this would be a find time to tackle several Sega games in my Steam backlog in one fell swoop on my Twitch channel.

Nights Into Dreams

My first and only prior experience with Yuji Naka's Sega Saturn title, Nights into Dreams, was at a department store demo kiosk. Back then, I could not make heads or tails of how to play this bizarre fever dream of a game. Two decades and a very careful readthrough of the instruction manual later, Nights is still a really difficult game to figure out; it doesn't neatly fit into any existing game genre. 
Here's a short summary of how the gameplay works in a level of Nights Into Dreams:
  • Nights flies through fixed 2D planar routes within a larger 3D environment collecting orbs
  • By collecting at least 20 orbs within the time limit, Nights can destroy the Ideya machine
  • After destroying the Ideya and returning to the starting point, the flight path changes and a new Ideya spawns
  • Destroying 4 Ideya machines warps Nights to a separate battle area to take on the level boss
It took a while, but once I got the hang of soaring through the air, collecting orbs, and the somewhat opaque boss battles, I found that I was having a pretty good time. It also helped that the gameplay was accompanied by colorful, stylized graphics and a poppin' soundtrack. After finishing it in a single sitting (it's a pretty short game), I was struck with the feeling that the game was a bit too barebones for a major console release, yet too esoteric for the arcades. I'm really glad I got to experience it as an affordable Steam release in order to better understand its place in gaming history but I don't think I would have been satisfied if I would have bought it as a full-priced Saturn game back in 1996.
Score: ⭐⭐⭐
Completion Time: 4 hours and 20 minutes
Flying through rings and collecting orbs as Nights


Sonic Generations

Since Sonic the Hedgehog is one of the few Sega series that I have considerable experience with, I was pretty excited to play this game that serves as a celebration of the franchise's history. In Sonic Generations, you alternate between playing 2D platforming stages as retro Sonic and 3D platforming stages as modern Sonic. Each stage is based on iconic locations from previous Sonic games such as Green Hill Zone from Sonic the Hedgehog 1 and City Escape from Sonic Adventure 2. It was awesome to see high-definition reimaginings of classic areas; they also sported some interesting rearrangements of the music from these stages as well. The gameplay itself, however, was a mixed bag. In many cases, the game successfully captured the smooth and snappy gameplay of classic Sonic games, but in other cases, either the level design or controls felt janky. As a long-time Sonic fan, I had fun with Sonic Generation's retro-modern nostalgic mashup but it may lack the polish to reel in people who aren't already invested in the adventures of Sega's blue hedgehog.
Score: ⭐⭐⭐
Completion Time: 6 hours and 30 minutes

Green Hill Zone as depicted in Sonic Generations


Sonic CD

Among the classic 16-bit Sonic games, this is the only one I've never played (due to it being confined to a Sega Genesis add-on system for so many years). This game's use of CD technology provides a notable boost to the graphical detail and music quality compared to the standard Genesis titles. It was quite nice. However, I found the level layouts and time travel mechanics (a concept unique to this entry in the series) to be quite confusing. Perhaps if I had spent more time with the game, I could have come to appreciate these aspects of Sonic CD but I generally come to retro Sonic games for a straightforward pick-up-and-play experience. On the other hand, this game does some cool things with boss battles, many of them added a puzzle-like element that made them much more interesting than traditional Sonic battles. Overall, this was a solid 2D Sonic but it didn't come close to touching Sonic 2 and Sonic Mania as my favorite 16-bit Sonic games.
Score: ⭐⭐⭐
Completion Time: 2 hours and 18 minutes (Bad ending because I don't understand time travel)

I loved the rich color pallet of Sonic CD

I found playing all three of these games to be interesting and worthwhile experiences, though I don't think I would put them on the same level as some of Sega's timeless classics. That being said, seeing three very different phases within the evolution of Sega's aesthetics and gameplay design in a single month was a lot of fun.

Note: This post is part of the Chic-Pixel community's #SonicTeamSept event. For more info and their full list of events, check out this page: Community Game-Along Master List 2020