Tuesday, April 28, 2020

Strider (2014) Review

Strider is one of Capcom's series that I've often admired from afar; I've watched Twitch streams of the 8-bit and 16-bit games, and I've looked longingly at the box art of the PS1 game as a broke kid in Walmart, but I've never really dug into any of the games myself. So to close out my celebration of #CapcoMonth, I decided to finally jump in with the most recent entry in the series, Strider (2014), which I was able to pick up as part of a Humble Bundle.

Strider (2014) is a 2D "Metroidvania"-style platform game that serves as a revival of Capcoms's classic ninja action series. In the game, an elite ninja operative, Strider Hiryu, must infiltrate a heavily fortified cyberpunk dystopian city to assassinate an evil dictator. As he explores the city to gain access to the dictator's stronghold, he acquires a variety of new abilities and faces off against the dictator's generals. This review is based on the PC version of the game.


  • Being a ninja is awesome! From the get-go, Strider can climb almost any surface (including ceilings), slide, dash, and flip through the air. Even with his most basic starting sword, he can pull off rapid slashing attacks in multiple directions that have both ground-based and aerial variations. There area lot of games about ninjas out there, but this one really stands out for absolutely nailing the lightness, speed, and agility that you would expect of a classic anime ninja.
  • The game features a couple of cool set pieces, like fighting a dragon flying through the sky that breaks up the regular gameplay and solidifies this as a Strider game and not just a generic ninja Metroidvania.
  • While much of the music is fairly indistinct, the electronic remixes of classic Strider tracks are very catchy and kick in at just the right time to enhance the action.


  • With a few exceptions, the game's environments are primarily drab industrial areas that don't make for a particularly memorable setting.
  • Strider's difficulty was often inconsistent. In some cases, I would breeze through several areas and boss battles, only to be hit with an abrupt difficulty spike. However, on the normal difficulty level, even the spikes were approachable as long as you have a good grasp of the mechanics.
While Strider (2014) lacks some of the bells and whistles that many newer Metroidvania games might have, this game nails the most important facet of the genre: character locomotion. Ninja-ing my way through the dystopian future landscape and cleaving through waves of enemies always felt satisfying. For that alone, I can comfortably recommend Strider (2014) to any Metroidvania fans. This experience also has me interested to go back and try the older Striders that I missed; maybe I'll finally pick up that PS1 game that my younger poorer self missed out on.

Score: ⭐⭐⭐⭐
Completion Time: 6 hours, 17 minutes (Normal difficulty, 68% map completion)

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 2020

Wednesday, April 22, 2020

Duck Tales Review

While I generally consider myself to know my classic games pretty well, I have to admit that I tend to dismiss licensed games offhand. Thus, Duck Tales wasn't on my radar until rather recently. In fact, I wasn't aware of this game's classic status until I started noticing how frequently its music was featured on video game music podcasts and name-that-tune events.

Duck Tales is a 2D platformer based on the animated series of the same name. In the game, Scrooge McDuck must explore six sprawling levels to recover his stolen valuables. Scrooge's unique ability is to use his cane as a pogo stick to traverse the environment. He can also use his cane like a golf club to whack small objects across the screen. This game was originally released for the NES. I streamed the PC version via the Disney Afternoon Collection on my Twitch channel.

  • While this game only has six levels, it gets a lot of mileage out of them due to their massive size and intricate designs. Exploring the various pathways of each level looking for secrets is easily this game's standout feature.
  • Scrooge's cane mechanics are pretty novel for a game of this age. Bouncing on enemies and across spikes using the pogo cane is a fun form of traversal once you get the hang of it. I also appreciated the way you could use the cane to dispatch enemies from a distance by hitting rocks at them like golf balls.
  • Duck Tales features some very cute sprite work the manages to exude personality despite the limited rendering capabilities of the NES. For example, when Scrooge is about to whack something with his cane, you can see his tail wagging back and forth. This animation is only a single pixel moving back and forth but it still manages to make a big difference in terms of making the character feel alive.
  • The music in this game is a real treat. Thanks to video game music podcasts, I already knew this game had some catchy tunes and I can now say from experience that it features catchy chiptune bops from start to finish.

  • Duck Tales does not offer any way to save your progress in the game; there are no save points or passwords. In fact, there are not even continues. Thus, if playing this on the original hardware, losing all three lives completely resets the game to the beginning. This sounds like a very frustrating way to experience this game. Thankfully, the Disney Afternoon Collection version adds the ability to use save states. Using save a state at the start of each level made it much more enjoyable.
  • To initiate a pogo jump, you must first hit the A-button to jump and then while in midair hit the B-button while pressing down on the D-pad. I found this to be a little cumbersome for an action you have to execute so frequently and quickly. Messing up the coordination on this set of inputs lead to many accidental deaths before I got used to it. Since the B-button serves no other purpose while airborne, I think it would have made far more sense to have the B-button alone initiate a pogo jump whenever Scrooge's feet are off the ground. 

Playing through the original version of Duck Tales was a pretty cool experience; I can definitely see why it's considered a classic. Given that the few minor issues I had were mostly the product of NES-era game design, I'm very curious to try Wayforward's remastered version of Duck Tales to see what kind of tweaks they may have made. Either way, I definitely recommend trying out Duck Tales via the Disney Afternoon Collection to anyone interested in 8-bit classics or Disney cartoons.

Score: ⭐⭐⭐⭐
Completion Time: About 2 hours and 30 minutes

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 2020

Wednesday, April 15, 2020

Resident Evil Zero Review

I have tried to get into the Resident Evil series many times in the past: in-store kiosks of the original PS1 games, playing through the Gamecube version of RE1 due to the instance of a friend, and being coached through the opening section of RE4 at a party. In each case, there was some sticking point (often the control scheme) that kept the series from really clicking with me. That all changed last year when my wife and I had a fantastic time playing through Resident Evil 2 Remake. Now that I've come to appreciate what this series is all about, I thought it might be interesting to go back to an older game in the series for my next #CapcoMonth game.

Resident Evil Zero is a survival horror game that serves as a prequel to the original Resident Evil. It is the fifth game in the series and the last to be made in the classic pre-rendered adventure game style of RE1 before the series transitioned to the full-3D action game format of RE4 and its successors. Resident Evil Zero's unique feature is that it features two protagonists, Rebecca and Billy, who must work in tandem to navigate zombie-infested environments to discover the origin of the T-virus. This review is based on the PC version of the game, Resident Evil Zero HD, which I streamed in its entirety on my Twitch channel.

  • It's been a long time since I've played a game that uses pre-rendered backgrounds and fixed camera angles. While it can be an impediment to action and navigation at times, the aesthetic appeal of this style is hard to deny.
  • While most of the Resident Evil games feature underground scientific facilities at some point, and this game is by no means an exception, I appreciated that RE Zero offered some new types of environments to explore as well. Starting off on a luxury train in motion was a nice change of scenery. I also liked the abandoned church in a later section of the game.
  • Alternating between controlling Billy and Rebecca added an interesting wrinkle to exploration and puzzle-solving. Since Billy and Rebecca each have their own distinct abilities, this character swapping mechanic reminded me a bit of the classic puzzle game, Lost Vikings.
  • The puzzles in the game make for some surprisingly good brain teasers. However, I have to admit that the contexts in which they appear in the game often make very little sense. Why would it be necessary to solve a number puzzle to activate the emergency brake on a train, or map out a logic puzzle to reset a power breaker?
  • The PC version's mouse and keyboard controls were easy to pick up compared to how I remember the gamepad controls of the original RE games feeling. Using WASD to move the character and the mouse buttons to use weapons and interact with objects felt pretty natural. A few exceptions existed in areas where the camera perspective would abruptly change, leading to momentarily disorientation. 

  • The inventory management in this game is extremely cumbersome. Each character only has six item slots with many items and weapons consuming two of these slots. The game does not offer any opportunities to expand the size of your inventory or store items externally. As a result, a disproportional amount of my gameplay time was spent shuffling items around between my characters or dumping items on the floor to free up space. I would then have to backtrack across the map any time I needed to retrieve an item I had dropped. The other games in the series solve this problem with item storage boxes located at each save point. It baffles me why the designers of this game decided to omit this feature.
  • Resident Evil Zero retains the slow door opening animations present in earlier RE games every time you move between rooms or floors in a building. While these screens may have been necessary to accommodate loading times on the PS1, I don't see why the PC version of RE Zero elected to keep them. This slowdown coupled with the large size of Zero's map exacerbates the issues with backtracking that result from poor inventory management.
  • While the controls of this game are generally improved over earlier RE games, I found that they were very fiddly when it came to trying to pick up specific items on the floor and interacting with certain objects in the environment. The frequency with which you have to shuffle your inventory by picking up and dropping items really highlights this particular issue. 
  • Due to the issues above, the game feels tedious after a while and outstays its welcome. In order to spare myself some time and frustration going into the game's final area, I elected to use a cheat to replenish my ammo supply rather than trudging back and forth across the map to collect all the extra ammo I had dropped in various places throughout the campaign.

In summary, I was initially really enjoying this journey back to the classic Resident Evil style but over time, quality of life issues made the game feel like a slog. I think similar to my experience with Final Fantasy 13, using cheats to spare myself some late-game tedium was the right decision and keep me from being soured on the overall experience. There's enough interesting ideas here to make RE Zero worth a look for RE fans or those nostalgic for the pre-rendered style that was popular 20 years ago. For everyone else, however, I'd say this is an entry in the Resident Evil franchise that can comfortably be skipped.

Score: ⭐⭐⭐
Completion Time: About 20 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 2020

Many years removed from its original release, this is still a very pretty game.

My scorecard at the end of the game reports an artificially low playtime since the game requires reloading your last save after every game over.

Sunday, April 5, 2020

Azure Striker Gunvolt Review

Long time readers know that I am a regular participant in Chic-Pixel's Community Game-Along events. With April's theme being Capcom games, I had a lot of options. For my first #CapcoMonth game, I selected Azure Striker Gunvolt. This game wasn't developed by Capcom itself, but by ex-Capcom employees at Inti Creates. Gunvolt is heavily inspired by Mega Man, which isn't among my favorite retro series, so I had previously looked the other way when Inti Creates decided to take their own spin on this style of game. However, after getting some hands-on time with one of the Gunvolt games on the show floor at MomoCon last year (impressions), I could immediately tell this was more than a simple Mega Man clone and the first game ended up on my Steam wishlist as soon as I got home.

Azure Striker Gunvolt is a 2D action game in the style of Mega Man. The game is comprised of action-platforming stages that culminate in a boss battle; the order that these stages are played is up to the player. However, unlike Mega Man, Gunvolt does not defeat his enemies purely by firing projectiles at them. Instead, he tags enemies with a needle gun that does minimal damage but increase's the target's electrical conductivity. He then emits an electric field that strikes down each tagged enemy with lightning. (You've probably figured out by now, why the main character is named "Gunvolt".) Azure Striker Gunvolt takes place in a dystopian cyberpunk setting with heavy anime influences. This review is based on the PC version of the game, which is available via Steam.

  • I really enjoyed the game's core mechanic. Loading up as many enemies as possible with conductive needles and then unleashing the electric field to zap them all at once was very satisfying.
  • For an otherwise pretty straightforward action game, it has a surprisingly involved story. While this story leans heavily into anime and comic book themes and tropes, I found it to be entertaining and a good way to break up the action. I would absolutely watch an anime series or movie with this cast of characters and setting.
  • This game has a kicking soundtrack that features synthy instrumental tracks for the general action as well as vocal electro-pop songs that play during certain story events or when certain criteria are met during gameplay. The vocal tracks are very catchy and would always get me hyped whenever they would come on.
  • Gunvolt has great 16-bit-like pixel art that is embellished with higher quality effects for certain elements like the electric field. This can make for a pretty chaotic display during the heat of battle, but I found that I really liked the way it looked once I learned to be able to keep track of the action. During dialog and cutscenes, characters are represented with nice-looking anime portraits in a visual novel-style presentation. 
  • As someone who struggled with some of the Mega Man games, I appreciated that Gunvolt adds several features that make getting through it a little more manageable:
    • Each level features multiple checkpoints including one right before the boss room. You can continue from these checkpoints as many times as you would like until you beat the level.
    • The game includes some light RPG mechanics that allow you to level up your character and upgrade his gear. I only made minimal use of this feature because I felt like the game's difficulty level wasn't high enough to necessitate replaying each level multiple times to grind for XP and crafting materials, but it's nice that it's an option for players who get stuck and want to increase their chances of success.
    • Every once in a while, an angel-like character will appear and resurrect you when you are about to die via a mechanic called "Anthem" (there's a justification in the game's story for why this occurs). In addition to resurrecting you, Anthem temporarily powers you up and changes the music to an especially catchy song. Sice Anthem occurs by random chance, it only triggered a few times for me during my playthrough, but it often saved my bacon during multiple-stage boss fights and the song that played added to the excitement of the battle.
  • Gunvolt has some dialog that takes place during gameplay. This dialog is voiced in Japanese and displays in textboxes with English subtitles. With how busy the screen can be in the midst of the action, I found this dialog to be very distracting and ultimately had to disable it. For example, in one case I had a character exclaim "Watch out for those spikes!" while I was platforming; the problem was that the dialog box displayed over the spikes, causing me not to see them and skewer my character as a result. Thankfully, the mid-action dialog didn't seem to be essential to the story, so I don't feel like I missed out on much by disabling it.
After loving the last Inti Creates game I played, Bloodstained (review), I was pleased to find that this studio had knocked in out of the park with another excellent 2D action platformer. I'm already looking forward to playing the next two games in this series! I highly recommend Azure Striker Gunvolt to anyone who enjoys retro-style action, even those who aren't fans of Mega Man, Gunvolt's source of inspiration.

Score: ⭐⭐⭐⭐⭐
Completion Time: 9 hours, 52 minutes (includes reaching both the "normal" and "true" ending)

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 2020