Archive for the Games Category

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!

Retro-Game Backlog Attack

Posted in Best / Worst, Blog, Castlevania, Games, Lists, Retro Games on September 21, 2018 by slateman

As I age, it becomes increasingly difficult to be surprised or impressed. So many themes in gaming, TV shows or films have a ‘been there, done that’ feel to them. That’s not always bad = more of the same is oftentimes familiar comfort food that suits a specific purpose or need in life.

And while the prior paragraph may sound cynical and bitter, it’s by no means the full story. Just this year I played through Bloodborne and God Of War, both perfect 10s and Game of the Year candidates for their respective years.

However, while AAA games may be formulaic, they are also expensive and here in Sweden, that’s doubly true. Everything is expensive here! So, what to do to get my fix of awesomeness? Well, now that you mention it, the answer is something I’ve been thinking of doing this for quite some time…

Today I’m uploading a list of older games I’d like to tackle. Most will be my initial playthroughs as these titles are some that, for one reason or another, eluded my gaming gaze over the past few decades. Some, however, are ones I’ve desired to revisit – those are noted with an asterisk. With some modified hardware and trusty emulators in my grasp, here is a list of a dozen or so games I endeavor to tackle over the next few months. If all goes well, I’ll share my post-game thoughts after each accomplishment. OK, let’s get to it!

PC Engine

  • Air Zonk
  • Ninja Spirit *

Turbo CD

  • Gate Of Thunder
  • Lords Of Thunder
  • Super Air Zonk

Playstation

  • Einhander *
  • R-Type Delta

Genesis

  • Castlevania: Bloodlines
  • Contra: Hard Corps
  • Gunstar Heroes

Super NES

  • Castlevania: Dracula X
  • R-Type III
  • Super Castlevania IV *

Nintendo64

  • Mischief Makers *

Guacamelee 2! En Route To Platinum?

Posted in Best / Worst, Blog, Games on September 1, 2018 by slateman

There are several new games which have piqued my interest. And with several more on the horizon, I fear the impending backlog to address. So, I bit the bullet and dove right into Guacamelee 2! After platinuming the first and then beating it again on the PS4, I set my sights on the the tough-as-nails platformer sequel. However, this time the difficulty was toned down a bit. Well, that’s only partially true. While I bested the final boss on the first attempt (wat?!), the post-game challenges are OMFG brutal. If I’m not mistaken, I have one more rigorous challenge ahead and that one has kicked my ass. I can do it though. I can do it! Oh right…and then I have to beat it all again on hard mode.

But just like the first game, I think that’s a manageable endeavor. The game is generous with its checkpoints and quick with its loading. Thus, most challenges are just a determined step away. And ‘one step at a time’ is the mantra for this game. Just give me another week or so. Perhaps I’ll get there. Until then, some screenshots on this remarkable sequel which, for most intents and purposes, lived up to its predecessor.

Edit:
On second thought…screw this platinum. The end-game chicken challenges are downright brutal and the one I’m stuck on doesn’t instill that, “Just one more time, I’ll get it, I know I can!” feeling. No, instead it’s an incessant barrage of, “Fuck this.” In summation, screw this platinum. I’m good.

Ys VIII Begun!

Posted in Blog, Games, Music, Ys on August 19, 2018 by slateman

My Ys journey started almost 30 years ago on the TurboCD and the legendary series continues with a title that truly stands up to those iconic classics. Just last year I completed II, Felghana and Origin but entry #8 (by far not the actual eighth game!) would have to wait. And while I’d prefer play on my big-screen TV and PS4, the Vita will have to do, much as it did for those three aforementioned titles.

And I’m excited as the first three hours have been compelling and fun, not unlike countless Ys titles in the past. Reading reviews never helps convey quite how systems work and how fun they can be. What I can share, however, is the kick-ass overworld theme for the first section. I instantly fell in love with it and the tune captures that rocking exploration feeling the series is synonymous with. It’s immediately become one of my favorite Ys tracks ever… Quite the statement given the franchise’s heritage. Ah well, enjoy the song… It’s spectacular.

I Beat A GTA!

Posted in Best / Worst, Blog, Games with tags on August 9, 2018 by slateman

Despite having played every major GTA installment dating back to the late 1990s, I have never actually completed any of them. Not a one! From the London updates to the original, through the PS2’s trilogy, even GTA4, I’ve played almost everything (Except 4’s DLC). In fact, I’ve already written about GTA3’s impact on gaming. But at no point did I ever follow-through and see the credits on any of them. That’s not a bad thing! They were all marvelous releases and Rockstar’s brand revolutionized gaming and became the biggest-selling form of media in history.

And I actually started GTA5 when it came out. However, I had to return it to GameFly for one reason or another. As the years progressed, I watched the sales figures creep up. 60, 70, 80, 90 million units. Holy shit.

With sales never floundering, the price tag rarely dipped. However, I finally nabbed the game at the low, low price of $20. And it is quite low, considering just how much game is crammed into this behemoth. With no other games capturing my attention at the time and a busy autumn ahead, I gave it a go. Reminiscing of the missions I’d done and branching into new territory, the entire lot was a hell of a lot of fun. It’s such a polished product with scores of random events, WTF moments, incredible writing and amazing production value. I cannot recommend it enough and even completing it leaves a great majority of the game still unseen, both online and off.

As has been my wont, here are some spoilericious snapshots from the journey. For the first time, I can claim accomplishment in clearing a GTA game. It’s about damn time!

Castlevania: Symphony Of The Night – 200.6% Finally!

Posted in Best / Worst, Blog, Castlevania, Games, High Scores/Accomplishments with tags on July 28, 2018 by slateman

20 Years Later – Finally 200.6%!

At 42 years old, my personal Castlevania history dates back three decades to the original on the NES. Like so many others, I’ve played just about everything. The classic trilogy, Bloodlines, IV, SOTN and its subsequent GBA/NDS titles, the PS2 3D ones, LoS, side stories, etc, etc, etc.

And at the top of that heap, to me, remains Symphony Of The Night. It’s just so [insert 20 superlatives we’ve all heard]. Anyhow, while I was a day-one adopter in early 1997, I never made it past 197% or so. This continued when I replayed it in the early ’00s, and again when I got the PS1 Classics version on the PS3. Oh, and when I replayed it **again** on the PSP with Dracula X Chronicles.

My itch for more Castlevania meant another replay of Rondo Of Blood, now on my Vita, and…why the hell not, let’s do it again! And now my goal was to *finally* get the elusive 200.6%. Methodically going through the game room-by-room, I made it to the end of the second castle, started doing my clean-up and realized…I missed Mudman. No! No!!! So bummed, I took a day or two off before heading back in and finishing it all off.

Little did I know that getting 200.6% was still achievable despite my oversight!!! And so finally, for a game I started playing just after my 21st birthday, is now (sorta) 100% complete at my tender age of 42!

What To Play: 2018-2019 Edition

Posted in Best / Worst, Blog, Games, Lists, Resident Evil with tags , on June 15, 2018 by slateman

As E3 rolled out the new and exciting, it’s hard not to truly get pumped up by something. There are some enormous titles a’coming – and many of them are not so far off. Sony’s Resident Evil 2 reveal gave us our first glimpse of the game in action as well as a release date merely seven months later.

Today I’d like to go through some upcoming release dates alongside my excitement level. Three stars = must buy, pretty much. As always, this is more of a personal checklist, but now that it’s written up, there’s some good shit on here!!! Let’s go!

07 Aug – Dead Cells ***
07 Aug – Overcooked 2 ***
21 Aug – Guacamelee 2! ***
31 Aug – Divinity: Original Sin 2 *
14 Sep – Shadow Of The Tomb Raider *
26 Oct – Red Dead Redemption 2 ***
13 Nov – Spyro: Reignited Trilogy **
04 Dec – Just Cause 4 ***
31 Dec – Mega Man 11 **

2019
25 Jan – Resident Evil 2 ***
29 Jan – Kingdom Hearts III **
22 Mar – Sekiro: Shadows Die Twice ***
?? ??? – Bloodstained: Ritual Of The Night***
?? ??? – The Last Of Us – Part 2*

Resident Evil 4 – Again!

Posted in Best / Worst, Blog, Games, Resident Evil on June 15, 2018 by slateman

By my count, this is the fifth time I’ve beaten Resident Evil 4. I’ll simply never forget my first time on the GameCube – and that chainsaw death. I followed this with the PS2 game, and later the Wii game which, by all acounts, was the easiest of them all. The remaster on the PS3 and now on the PS4.

But on this last playthrough, I wondered to myself, why precisely I was doing it again. I found it curious that on both of these Playstation versions, I paused. There was a significant delay between certain trophies. After saving Ashley and before defeating Bitores Mendez on this playthrough, I stepped away for seven months. As surprising as that might be, the lapse was 3-and-a-half years back on the PS3. Evidently that middle section is my least favorite.

So back to the question: Is this really one of the best games ever? Five playthroughs suggest yes, but that middle bit gave me pause. However, the flurry of trophies as the game ends on both the PS3 and the PS4 show that I just blasted through the finale. The level design is smart, the bosses are challenging but not overly dumb (as is the case with certain games) and it balanced the tiptoe beginning with an action-packed ending. Resident Evil 4 is not a top-10 game ever IMO. But it is a top-20 game and that’s not half-bad. I’ve definitely spent too much money on this game, but it’s OK when the final product is that fun, with satisfying head-shots, intense anxiety due to those effin’ Regenerators and tremendous sound design.

Perhaps after two Nintendo systems and three from Sony, I may have completed it for the last time. At least, until the remaster on the PS5!

Oh, and just checking out those trophies made me think, “I must’ve taken a picture from the last time I beat the game! I did – and the stats are significantly different! I’m certain pause time contributed to the lengthy duration of this latest run, but, I couldn’t have paused it for that long!