Archive for the Best / Worst Category

Game I’ve Played / GotY 2018

Posted in Best / Worst, Blog, Bloodborne, Castlevania, Games, Lists, Metal Gear Solid, Resident Evil, Screenshots on January 12, 2019 by slateman


Usually I split this into two postings, but alas! it’s already 2019. Today’s update will include the games I’ve played over the last year as well as the easy choice as to which was the best. The latter will be detailed on my main Games Of The Year page. I’ll separate all this into individual sections. First – Platinums! Bold words indicate a 2018 title.

Platinums 2018

  • Bloodborne
  • Burly Men At Sea
  • Castlevania: Requiem
  • God Of War
  • Guacamelee! 2
  • Lara Croft Go

Two of the PS4’s greatest exclusive games were conquered this past year. Bloodborne stays with me and I now consider it one of the greatest games ever made. That’s a different list I’ve been mulling over. I’ve written about some of the rest of these already. Moving on…

Older Titles Played in 2018

These will fall into three categories:

  1. First-time plays (not completed)
  2. First-time played/beaten
  3. Beaten again

Here we have a mix. Some are simple PS+ games, others are purchases I never cared to complete, etc. A key for easy reference is listed above.

  • Assassin’s Creed Origins
  • Bloodborne
  • Burly Men At Sea
  • Call Of Duty: WWII
  • Dark Souls III
  • Fe
  • Firewatch
  • God Of War: Chains Of Olympus
  • God Of War: Ghost Of Sparta
  • God Of War: Ascension
  • Grand Theft Auto V
  • Hot Shots Golf: World Invitational
  • Lara Croft Go
  • Lego Marvel Super Heroes 2
  • Matterfall
  • Metal Gear Solid 2
  • Nioh
  • Rayman Legends
  • Resident Evil 4
  • Sherlock Holmes: The Devil’s Daughter
  • Sky Force Anniversary
  • Ys VIII: Lacrimosa Of Dana

Due to Gothenburg’s wonderful library system, I got to borrow some pretty cool titles this past year. I quite enjoyed AC:O – would like to return to it and would also love to try its sequel. Similarly, Nioh seemed cool and I’m still chugging through Sherlock Holmes though it didn’t really inspire me like its predecessor.

Many others I tried and never really felt inspired enough to finish. Dark Souls III was fucking difficult (I later tried DS Remastered and fared better). Matterfall was a huge disappointment, particularly after Nex Machina. After beating the PS3 remasters of the two PSP God Of War games, I figured I’d try out Ascension again. And again I lost interest. Firewatch, Fe, Rayman Legends – all just hit the ‘meh’ button and never beckoned me to return.

On the other hand, a few older titles were memorable. The aforementioned Bloodborne, those two GOW games and finally beating GTAV were some of the highlights of the year. Toss on yet another replay of RE4 and my second playthrough of the underwhelming MGS2 and old titles impressed in 2018.

2018 Titles

Once again we have categories: played, beaten and platinumed, despite the redundancy of that last item.

  • Bloodstained: Curse Of The Moon
  • Burnout Paradise Remastered
  • Castlevania: Requiem
  • Chasm
  • Dark Souls Remastered
  • God Of War
  • Guacamelee! 2
  • Hollow Knight
  • Ikaruga
  • Iconoclasts
  • Just Cause 4
  • Onrush
  • Overcooked 2
  • Red Dead Redemption 2
  • Shadow Of The Tomb Raider (Started in 2019)
  • Spider-Man
  • Spyro The Dragon: Reignited (2019 plat!)
  • Street Fighter 30th Anniversary Collection
  • Yoku’s Island Express (2019 plat!)

I haven’t been nearly as interested in some of these titles as I had hoped I would. I sold back RDR2 b/c I simply has zero interest in playing it. Spider-Man was probably a great game, but I didn’t feel the itch to play that either. I never beat Bloodstained and found Hollow Knight to be far less enjoyable than all the praise suggested. Just Cause 4 looks better than 3, but in so many other ways it felt like a step backwards. I’m not even listing some titles like PS+ games that I played and deleted here.

Burnout Paradise drew me back in just as it did a decade ago, Guacamelee! 2 was a fun and challenging romp but was marred by a few incredibly-difficult parts and I don’t think I’d ever go back to play it again. The first on the other hand…I would. And did! Overcooked 2 was great, but my wife and I devoured it and never touched it again. I’ve just started Yoku’s Island Express and will be finishing up JC4 in the coming weeks/months.

So, what we’re left with is the clear and easy victor. While I thought RDR2 might challenge the mighty Kratos, it didn’t even come close. God Of War’s story, gameplay, visual luster, deep and engaging lore and simple fun factor was leagues beyond anything else I played in the year (Well, Bloodborne may have the edge, I don’t know). I still haven’t a clue how Sony Santa Monica pulled it off. They took this beloved series, reinvented so much of it and made us all care about this one-dimensional killing machine. Being a father while playing it surely helped. This game is fucking legendary already and I look forward to diving in again when things slow down a bit.

Game Of The Year 2018 is an easy choice. God Of War. Now, my New IP GOTY? I don’t know that yet. Based on the limited titles I’ve played, Yoku’s Island Express wins, but that’s temporary. I feel Dead Cells or Celeste might take that crown, however, I haven’t had the opportunity to try them out yet. Let’s see what I missed below.

2018 Titles I Haven’t/Want To Play

  • A Way Out
  • Assassin’s Creed: Odyssey
  • Celeste
  • Darksiders III
  • Dead Cells
  • Detroit: Become Human
  • Divinity: Original Sin 2
  • Far Cry 5
  • Mega Man 11
  • Shadow Of The Colossus
  • Tetris Effect

There are a few games I genuinely want to try out here. Unlike music, it’s not so easy to just try out everything you like and are interested in. A Way Out would be great…with a friend. Odyssey will require many hours, but I bet it’s a blast and quite the quick-and-easy opposite of something like Red Dead. Others on this list are a ‘kinda want to try’.

But the ones I must one day play: Dead Cells and Celeste. Both seem right up my alley and I think I’d just love them. They could be that coveted New IP GOTY. But…they’re a bit expensive for indie titles and I’ve been awaiting a sale to dip my toes in. Can’t wait to try them though!

Sulphur Aeon – OMFG

Posted in Best / Worst, Blog, Lists, Music on December 29, 2018 by slateman

This band’s last effort ranked #5 of 2015 and shocked me entirely at its outrageous heaviness, absurd speed and killer cover. Here I am, at the end of 2018, writing up my best albums of the year and I stumble upon its follow-up. And what have I here? An album that just crushes, easily surpasses its predecessor, whose cover is as nightmarish as the last and which very well could rival even my top-three of 2018. WTF?

The Scythe Of Cosmic Chaos is a grand continuation of the last masterpiece and is so goddamn heavy, it just has to bring a smile to your angry, Lovecraftian face. It’s fast, contains melodic breaks and has impeccable production. With me being so wishy-washy on the three records atop my list, it’s refreshing to have something just knock me on my ass. It may not be #1…but who knows…this album is that fucking good. \m/

Oh – and the full image of the last album…just because it’s so insanely awesome.

Just Cause 4 – Mini-Review – Disappointment

Posted in Best / Worst, Blog, Games, Reviews with tags on December 27, 2018 by slateman

Just Cause 4 is out and considering how much fun I had with the second and third iterations, I just had to dive back in to see Rico’s newest adventures. Despite the poor reviews installment #3 got, I quite enjoyed the romp through the fictional environments, blowing up virtually everything and scouring the world to collect all those obscure hidden treasures and spots.

However, while JC4 fixes some of the basic issues inherent in JC3, the end result is a lackluster title, missing much of the heart and soul of what the series so fantastic. Bottom line? I’d play 3 over 4 any day – warts and all.

Let’s get the good out of the way first. This game looks good, runs smoother and more fluidly than the last and its load times have been drastically shortened. Explosions and chaos in general is still rather impressive.

With that short list covered, what remains is more of the same…except it’s sometimes less of the same. The series has never striven for realism or depth. Quite the contrary, really, and locating bases to simply reduce them to rubble was genuinely the reason I signed up. Now, there’s no specific purpose to do that. Instead, causing chaos fills a meter which leads to more squad reserves which leads to advancing your frontlines in order to unlock new supply drops. Ummm…OK. So, I can still blow shit up, right?

Sure! Except you can’t keep track of the places you blew up. And while you do so, let’s say in a helicopter, you can raze an entire base to the ground without anyone even complaining. “Enemy chopper noticed,” or some similar message is mentioned, but that’s OK. Just keep destroying the bad guy’s satellites and fuel reserves. They won’t mind. If going on foot, on the other hand, expect some serious resistance. But who cares? Rico can absorb 8,000 shots before the screen gives you warning and then you can just grapple hook elsewhere and return 4 seconds later to continue the mindless fun. There’s no reason to actually kill the baddies because they appear to just keep respawning. Oh, and those remote mines I used 90% of the time in JC3? Yeah – Inexplicably gone. Quite literally the best parts of JC3 are gone. At least they added nitro boosts and jumping abilities to boats. Maybe that evens it all out???

Missions fare no better, mind you. It’s always about flipping switches and then hacking consoles. Well, sometimes it’s about hacking consoles and then flipping switches. Oh no, sometimes it’s about driving some dude to hack some consoles and then protecting him. At least you’re not flipping switches. It’s fucking stupid – and I say that having played the barely-more-than-skin-deep JC2 and JC3. I’m sorry, sometimes it’s about blowing up generators and THEN hacking consoles. My bad for missing out on that mission diversity.

Now – of course, there’s new stuff! New grapple hook loadouts allow you to make them liftoff like MGS5 or shoot boosters. I suppose they’re nice, but their implementation, some 6 hours into this venture, are also skin-deep at best. I use them when I need to, but, perhaps b/c I’m not 14 and have all the time in the world, I find the entire system clunky and unwieldy. In this effort, I’m assuredly missing out on the game’s best features.

But one of the greatest portions about JC3’s beautiful, open world was the exploration of said world. Here, there’s literally no incentive to do so. There are no secrets or perks or hidden awesomeness. Nope…if there’s nothing on the map, then there’s literally nothing there. You could wingsuit over it for shits and giggles, but like I mentioned, there is no reason to go there. Screw it. Just load up the next shitty mission which happens to be the same as the last shitty mission. The forgettable story with forgettable setpieces and forgettable characters are there simply to move forward towards what I’m envisioning is a very non-memorable finale.

So, the final verdict is that this game takes the best parts of the prior game, relegates them to meaningless side notes, adds some weather effects that I simply don’t give a shit about and fails on about every level beside the frame-rate and load times. No remote mines, a shoddy lock-on system, no incentive to explore, weak missions and average everything else really hurts what could have been a phenomenal game. Of course, things might get oh-so-much-better in the coming hours, but given how it’s gone so far, I won’t hold my breath. Might as well just boot up JC3 instead. :(

Some screenshots forthcoming…If I care enough to upload them.

Castlevania: Symphony Of The Night – 200.6% Again!

Posted in Best / Worst, Blog, Castlevania, Games, High Scores/Accomplishments on November 15, 2018 by slateman

Just four months later, I’ve 200.6%ed Symphony Of The Night again! In the process, I managed to platinum Castlevania: Requiem as well. Two of the best Castlevania games in one package? I shelved Red Dead Redemption 2 to play 20-year old games. What a world.

To address the port itself – it’s lazy as hell. The options and modes are pretty pathetic and it’s missing some truly basic items. You can’t turn off the overly-used rumble feature? Simply no option at all? But while it’s a real bare-bones title, the games are rock solid. Playing through Rondo Of Blood again reminded me just how awesome it is – handily defeating the other games of the era (see my recent retro-game backlog!) The game’s hype is spot-on and it’s a must-play from the series.

There’s little to say about Symphony that hasn’t been said yet. There was really no way I wasn’t going to 200.6% this beast. I was reminded of its few bullshit moments which come from a different time. However, the whole experience was just remarkable, just as good as ever. In addition, the trophies really gave me reason to try things I never would have and even after so many playthroughs, I learned new things. This game is a legend and yet another run solidifies it as a top-10 ever game. (Or so…that list is tough to quantify!)

So, after not playing the game fully to completion in the prior 21 years, I’ve now managed to do it twice in four months. Not bad.


Retro-Game Backlog Entry #5: Castlevania: Dracula XX

Posted in Best / Worst, Blog, Castlevania, Games, Lists, Retro Games on November 10, 2018 by slateman

After Castlevania III, I must’ve just stopped playing the series. I appear to have missed everything up until Symphony Of The Night in 1997. It makes sense; I had no SNES or Genesis and college meant poverty for most. So, as I address this backlog, these titles feel very new, despite their age. Now, I tinkered with some of them, Super Castlevania IV most notably, but I most certainly never beat them and with Dracula XX (not Rondo Of Blood, the SNES sequel to it), I never would have had the patience to complete it without emulation!

However, going back to the start…Dracula XX was Konami’s attempt to bring the legendary Rondo to the SNES without severely downscaling it. Instead, they made an entirely-different but kinda-the-same game. In every aspect it’s inferior. What we got was a noble attempt. Several of the key elements were recreated here and it rewarded exploration with a pair of bonus stages and girls to rescue. Unfortunately, since those same features were on the Turbo CD game, it’s impossible not to compare.

Richter returns and the fantastic hero traipses throughout familiar stages replete with beautiful fiery and watery effects. They look impressive but the design of those same stages is really quite weak. It was a product of its time; every jump was situated with a particularly-placed enemy crafted with the sole purpose of instilling frustration. Death comes from everywhere, jumps, floating heads, annoying enemies – it can be grueling. The foes are the customary ones, with many a true challenge. Saving the two girls is a must for the good endings, but even those were far too brief.


The game’s music, on the other hand, doesn’t let down. Well, it’s not that any game in the series at that time did. The familiar tunes don’t have quite the same punch as Bloodlines’ tracks did, but that’s no worry. I found myself muting everything else or turning up the volume as I played with headphones just because of the soundtrack. They rarely disappoint.

And then we have Dracula himself. After a rather easy battle in the original Dracula X, Konami decided to concoct the bullshittiest final boss I think I’ve ever encountered. The walk up to the tower was impressive, before a glowing moon, but the rest of it was memorable for all the wrong reasons. He had two forms: the first similar to what we all know and a second beast form where he flies above. However, the whole battle takes place on columns and the screen is wide. Therefore, you don’t have access to attack many times and in the time-honored tradition, a hit bounces you back – oftentimes to your death! Oh, it’s just so much fun, particularly when you manage to get to the final form and die by one misplaced jump. It’s fucking brutal and I would’ve been so pissed had I purchased this thing back in the day. You will die. Over and over. And not in any fair fashion. I’m getting angry just thinking about it and it marks one of those many gaming quotes, “I’m never going to do that again in my life.”

That final battle mars what is otherwise an OK game. It’s frustrating but looks good and sounds great. This title isn’t fondly remembered, understandably so. However, I’ll take Richter over those Bloodlines heroes any day. Another day, another retro game completed. I’m thinking I’ll hit up Super Castlevania IV next. I never loved that one, but most people do. See how it goes!


Retro-Game Backlog Entry #4: Castlevania: Bloodlines

Posted in Best / Worst, Blog, Castlevania, Games, Lists, Retro Games on November 1, 2018 by slateman

Having proclaimed my love for Castlevania already, one might expect for me to have played virtually every entry. However, it is not the case. Of course, I have gone through a vast majority of the series, but a handful eluded my gaze over the past three decades. One such title is the Genesis game Castlevania: Bloodlines.

I never owned the hardware and during the mid-90s, I avoided Castlevania entirely. In fact, it was only many years later that I got around to Super Castlevania IV. In any event, let’s address the best part of this game first: the music. The series is known for its hummable tunes and this game shows them off in spades. Familiar melodies return, but virtually every portion of the game’s audio shines and it stands as the title’s highlight, hands down.

Nothing else about this game stood out quite as much. The modern environments really didn’t work for me and were in direct contrast to the moody locales in every other Castlevania title. Some bosses and game effects just felt like excuses to show off the system’s tech. In a later level your screen is torn in half or you’re mirrored above the stage. Enemies flail about displaying interesting 3D effects but none were truly interesting themselves. Machine foes, reflecting patterns and fancy displays seemed more important than good level-design choices or enemy choices. I didn’t particularly enjoy big chunks of the game. This was compounded by the ending.

As with many other games of the time, the ending ramps up the difficulty substantially. I’m not a fan of boss-rush modes and the game’s finale is just nonsense. First you face Death who looks as bad-ass as usual. He dishes out these cards and whichever one you hit dictates who you fight: any of the bosses from stages 2-5. While they are random, you have to defeat all four. One of the cards is a screenful of meat. Hopefully you didn’t get that one first! So, after beating four bosses, you square off against Death who isn’t particularly difficult. OK! Now for Dracula, right? Nope…you head up another set of stairs and find a woman who summons a Medusa-like creature before you fight the woman herself. She’s rather easy once you’ve got the pattern down, fortunately.

And NOW you fight Dracula – assuming the stage – boss rush – death – medusa – chick boss combo didn’t kill you. Now you get a classic three-form Dracula battle before an atrociously-underwhelming finale boots you back to the beginning urging you to beat it on expert mode.

Beyond the music, there were certainly perks. Some of the effects were more than simply flash, and I’m sure at the time it was all really quite impressive. Large enemies and bright colors added a beautiful visual flair and newcomer Eric Lecarde changed how the game was played – with different paths for him and for John Morris. These all added up to a unique experience and one that is quite interesting in the series’ universe.

Ultimately though, while the game has a fair share of perks and good replay value, I will probably never return to this game. That soundtrack, however, will get some new spins as there is some truly phenomenal music. Beyond the killer tunes though, there’s not enough to beckon me back. I’ll stick with the classics of the series instead – spoken after 200.6%ed Symphony Of The Night and purchased Castlevania Requiem.


Guacamelee! 2 – Platinum Get!

Posted in Best / Worst, Blog, Games, High Scores/Accomplishments on October 27, 2018 by slateman

I realize I said that I gave up. Those damn chicken illuminati challenges just annoyed me. Well, the first one most of all. But it kept tugging at me to return – I knew I could do it!!!

And so after a few weeks, knowing that Red Dead Redemption 2 would consume me at the end of October, I went back. And I beat those damn challenges. And I’ll never do them again!!!

So it was just hard mode that sat between me and the platinum. The first Guacamelee! was more difficult than the second and I platinumed that. So this one should be easy, right? Not at all. Some of those small battles were insanely difficult with a narrow margin of error. Get hit twice in a frenzied room of a dozen foes flailing about chaotically? Restart. Miss one button press? Restart. But facing the final boss for the third time (twice to get both of the endings + hard mode) was still incredibly easy. Each of the three times I defeated him on the first try, refreshing after getting brutalized over the 10-hour replay session.

Platinum achieved, but I don’t think I’ll ever return to Guacamelee! 2. It looked great, played great and the music was fantastic. However I think the first game is superior. For now, I’m done, at least until Guac! 3. Below is one of the harder challenges, just to open up the chicken illuminati ones. *sigh*.

Retro-Game Backlog Entry #3: Ninja Spirit

Posted in Best / Worst, Blog, Games, Lists, Retro Games on September 23, 2018 by slateman

Irem’s 1988 title Ninja Spirit is reportedly the first TurboGrafx-16 title to receive a perfect 10 from EGM upon its release in 1988. My memories of this game are fond: the high-leaping ninja, his mirror clones and, of course, that first boss. Returning to this game was a mostly-positive experience marred, once again, by the inordinate difficulty spike common for games of the time.

The game’s familiar intro begins with our hero’s father being killed by an unspecified green glob attack. Moonlight, the protagonist who strangely is a wolf, begins his quest for vengeance. The game’s presentation is highly stylized and entirely over-the-top. Equipped with several possible weapons, my playthroughs often stuck with the standard sword, despite its weakness in several cases. Having up to two mirror images of yourself plus shadowy sword trails make for a memorable introduction. Ninja enemies spawn from everywhere, throwing daggers and filling the screen with impressive sprites. As you get accustomed to the incredibly-floaty physics, the first stage’s boss appears, an utterly-massive, six-armed demon. He is by no means difficult, but virtually anyone who has played this game recalls his striking appearance. I’d imagine this was the biggest boss for any game at the time, 30 years ago.

The relative simplicity of the first stage is forgiving, particularly on the TurboGrafx mode which allows several hits from minor characters before death. The arcade original did not have this and as the game progresses, most non-croney enemies will still result in a one-hit death. Using your clones to block and attack while you remain safe at a distance is a great method, but certain foes take an awful lot of hits. As stages progress, memorization is your ally – these guys get difficult! The vertical stage is reminiscent of Contra and the bosses never get as surprising as stage 1, at least until the end. More on that in a minute.

The music isn’t far from what you’d expect from a 1988 title. It is dark and mysterious, entirely fitting for a shadowy ninja game. The tracks aren’t entirely memorable, but they suit the title perfectly. I suppose, in retrospect, I never quite found a better ninja title in my gaming days. I never got into Ninja Gaiden (outside the original and brutal trilogy in the ’80s) and need to return to Nioh, which was rather good. We’ll see if Sekiro can trump this upon its release next spring. I digress.

Running along the ceilings in later stages and battling baton-wielding toads all gets very rigorous. The screen is littered with enemies and flying attacks making survival without powered-up weapons a chore. Though enemies carrying those perks are numerous, sometimes getting to them is suicide – perhaps a good risk-versus-reward balance.

Honestly, WTF?

But then after you’ve survived the last levels of memorization and mania, you’re ready to descend the pit towards the final boss. As difficulty goes in games, this is just stupid. The aforementioned pit is literred with flying ninjas, swords held high. You jump into said chasm blindly and one hit from any of these hundreds of foes will end you. Descending through these guys is quite literally the definition of memorization because after a few lost lives, you’re forced to repeat the entirety of the fifth stage. And by that, you’re just running as fast as you can to avoid ninjas that take multiple hits but who can kill you in one and these deadly puffs of gas that don’t seem to affect aforementioned super-powered ninjas. Yes, memorize this pattern because after the run-away technique and the memorize this one-hit-death pit of stupidity, you reach the boss. This guy’s green snaky attacks are what killed your father – though we never really learn why. My method here was to throw shurikens and run away like my own life depended on it. The unnamed boss doesn’t move, fortunately, but after all these sequences of precision and stress, that’s good. It’s OK if you die to him, you can redo that ‘falling in a pit of flying fucking ninjas’ all over again!

The credits sequence has cool half-screen images of all seven bosses with their chapter names written in elegant Chinese. You’re then presented with some semblance of a story, about you having saved the day, but it doesn’t matter, evil will just return. Inspirational! Now go back and play it on arcade mode!

Final Verdict
I’d play Ninja Spirit again. But I don’t know if I would care to try beating it again. To be fair, the hour-long experience fit right in for the time. Had you purchased a $50 game and beat it in one sitting, you would be disappointed. The 25-hour experiences of today were virtually unheard of back then and this was an arcade port, remember! However, while the setting, ambience and feel are familiar and wonderful, the rigor of the end-game makes it difficult to appreciate nowadays. I’m wholeheartedly glad to have returned if only for the sheer glee of revisiting that first stage. There’s a nice sound test where you can listen to all the music and there are also curious messages unlocked by a code – good for a laugh, I suppose. Much like the prior entries into this retro-gaming list, the first levels of this game are a lot of fun and worth a try. I’m glad I’m embarking on this journey. I’m thinking Gunstar Heroes next.

Retro-Game Backlog Entry #2: Super Air Zonk

Posted in Best / Worst, Blog, Games, Lists, Retro Games on September 23, 2018 by slateman

While my memory of the two Air Zonk games is hazy, I had high hopes for the CD-based sequel. Issued in 1993, it turns out I likely never played this one and that’s a good thing. While there are a few improvements in the Super follow-up, it’s not not quite as good or as fun as the original. Had this been my introduction, I might not look back so fondly on the game series.

On the plus side, the ludicrous difficulty of the first game is not at all matched here. The game’s music, now Red Book, of course sounds a lot better but that does not make it more memorable. I found myself irritated by most of the music in the first four selectable stages. After choosing those four, you’re presented with three more that you must go through sequentially. Those levels had much better music, worth turning the volume up for. Unfortunately, some of the game’s tinnier sound effects, like when your weapons are powered up, cut through everything making you reduce that volume rather quickly. It turns out the Japanese version featured lyrics with certain songs, something I don’t feel I missed out on. Though, I still find the Japanese name for the game/series hilarious (PC Genjin or CD Denjin in this case).

While the audio quality itself is superior, it’s hard to say much else is. Controls and the buddy system have changed a bit, but the most underwhelming thing must be the visuals. Landing a year later than the original Air Zonk, it was fair to expect bigger and better and more of everything good. But the visuals first and foremost disappoint. Those glorious 16-Bit (*cough*) graphics with the multi-layered parallax scrolling feel watered down and the stages just didn’t have the same vibrancy. In fact, Super Air Zonk doesn’t feature that same parallax which is surprising and disappointing. Stages end up looking flat despite the colorful palette. This is certainly attributed to a different developer taking the helm: the typically-consistent Hudson Soft in this case.

As for the gameplay itself, the developers clearly took inspiration from R-Type. The third level has you moving around a pre-set path which sometimes leaves you stuck at certain points or paused waiting for the stage to progress. Other portions of levels are just entirely barren, an inexplicable issue in a game like this. Initial stages also have hidden sections which are rewarding for replays, but most of the design choices felt like a step backwards. Instead of that ‘bigger and better‘ sensation you want, a lot was ‘as good or worse‘. The power-ups changed this time around, they too take inspiration from R-Type, but the result was by no means better. You could separate from your mid-stage buddy, assuming you managed to collect and save him, or have the buddy attach to you. Each had a different firing configuration, much like in Irem’s legendary shooter. However, the diversity of weapons wasn’t as interesting or as useful. A few are entirely overpowered and you better not lose them if you get them. The game is quite tough with standard weapons and these huge screen-filling attacks were perfect for when enemies surrounded you from all sides.

The eased-up difficulty of the final stages was a positive change, though some felt it was too easy. The final boss, for instance, was a
straightforward sequence of repetition, requiring no real skill outside the standard dodge-and-weave of the four forms of Emperor Sandrovich . It was, therefore, asubstantial improvement from the bullshit demands of the first entry. However, the boss rush on stage 6 was right up there with the bullshittiest moments in gaming. The ending baddie summons the bosses from the first levels of the title, one at a time. However, if you can’t beat that boss fast enough, the next arrives, and the next (presumably – you’d likely be dead by then). But don’t rest up yet…after defeating the 1-2-3-4 punch, the boss summons those assholes two more times. It’s nonsense, the bullet sponges just returning dishing out incessant attacks and you have to restart the entire stage if you falter. Oh yes, this was a save-state game and I feel no remorse for playing it as such. Now, perhaps if I shelled out hundreds or thousands of dollars I’d care. But I fortunately did not.

Final Verdict
I was disappointed by Super Air Zonk. Outside of improved audio, which couldn’t always be appreciated, it offered very few benefits that could stand toe-to-toe with its superior predecessor. It was a fun romp for the most part, with the first two stages being entertaining and the last few having memorable tunes. However, those perks felt few and far between and were I to revisit the series, it would most certainly be to play the first game, not the second. Weaker visuals, no parallax scrolling and level design curiosities make this an unmemorable sequel. If curious, try the Japanese game, at least it has piles of poop when you launch a super attack. That and a second-hand copy sells for 1/30th of the price. I’m serious. Look it up.


Retro-Game Backlog Entry #1: Air Zonk

Posted in Best / Worst, Blog, Games, Retro Games on September 22, 2018 by slateman

I don’t know if I played this game back in the day. I’m fairly certain I played Super Air Zonk on the Turbo CD. Regardless, for some reason this was the first game I opted to address. After a difficult playthrough, I went back to realize there are three difficulty levels – Sweet, Spicy and Bitter. My run was on the middle difficulty.

The game starts out well enough – bright and bubbly and totally ’90s. The side-scrolling shooter had plenty of tributes to the Bonk series it derives from and the soundtrack is familiar and upbeat. As the stages progress, the formula doesn’t diverge much. Bosses are large and colorful and the power-ups are fun and diverse. You can hold down the II button to charge up your attacks, which work for most weapons. These result in surprising-for-the-90s effects which either do a weapon-specific attack or launch a screen-clearning bomb.

However, by the time level four rolls around, things start getting out of control. The boss rush finale is insanely rigorous and artificially lengthens the gameplay through its sheer difficulty spike. The continue system, right at home in 1992, is brutal. And as the fifth stage progresses on, you just hope you played your cards right. Air Zonk is one of those games that is manageable if you are powered up properly. Getting hit and losing that weapon boost, and you’re essentially neutered as the masses come at you. Dying early on means you might as well just give up and re-start.

But it doens’t matter. That final boss is just bullshit central. It’ll take you several go-arounds just to figure out the formula, which means replaying that absurd final stage again. Oh, and again. And when you do find that pattern, it doesn’t mean things are easy. He has five random attacks which aren’t too difficult to dodge, but before each and every attack he shoots out a green ball which if it hits you…*ahem* when it hits you completely blocks your shots. Therefore, your choice is to dodge the five random attacks and live or dodge the green attacks and get hit by his main ones. So…now that you’ve been hit, expect for almost all of your attacks to be stopped.

And so you dance this weaving pattern. Dodge, get hit by green orbs and wait for those to stop nullifying your shots so you can get a handful of hits on him and repeat. More than half of my game time was on this boss. For the remainder of the game I could see why EGM awarded this as their best TurboGrafx game of 1992. But that finale was just nonsense. I’d go back and play around in the first three stages or so but have no interest in the rest.

Final Verdict
Air Zonk is representative of its era. The bright and colorful palette, fun soundtrack and wide range of weapons make for a fun romp in small doses. The end of the last stages were just stupidity, however, and negate any enjoyment from the first portion of the game. Would revisit the initial sections and wouldn’t wish the latter on my worst enemy. I’m glad I played, now to tackle the Turbo CD Super Air Zonk! I imagine its soundtrack will be both more impressive and familiar, as I almost certainly played that one 25 years ago or so!