Archive for the Blog Category

Castlevania: The Adventure – Rebirth Thoughts

Posted in Best / Worst, Blog, Castlevania, Games, Retro Games on October 20, 2021 by slateman

I tinkered with this back in the day but never played it through, despite its rather kick-ass soundtrack. I’m on a Castlevania tear as of late, clearly thanks to the Advance Collection’s surprise announcement & quick release. Having taken down two of the collection’s three GBA games (I realize Dracula XX is on there as well, but I just beat that three years ago), I wanted to get a look at this title and I quite enjoyed it!

Unfortunately, this game is not available officially anywhere and I don’t see Konami digging that deep in the archives to issue this one at any time, so now is as good as ever to dive in. This game is a bit harder than some later entries, a throwback to the Classicvania formula replete with old-school sound effects. Visuals are pretty cool, blending 2D style with some 3D effects. The stages are all familiar-looking and while they don’t aim to diverge from traditions, they’re fun and colorful. From graveyards to the clock tower to the standard steps to Dracula, the game never exceeds its budget concept and that’s just fine with me. Much like the other two Rebirth titles (Contra & Gradius), they know exactly what they ought to be and there’s a reason Konami issued these on the Wii and not one of the other more-powerful platforms.

Fire, water, stained glass backgrounds very cool, but enemy diversity suffers, with numerous palette-swapped enemies feeling redundant. Overall, the visual style is a half progression from HOD – I think I actually prefer Aria’s predecessor.

The game’s five stages cover the gamut of Castlevania tropes and Simon controls rather well, given the throwback nature of the title. Whip enhancements were a nice perk and different-colored candles revealed which kind of bonus was added before even hitting them. There were plenty of quirky sections including a gear mechanism towards the end, however, the best mechanic added to this Rebirth game was the branching path concept. Despite being rather thorough in games, the numerous locked doors and alternate pathways truly lend themselves toward additional playthroughs with some choices skipping mid-bosses entirely.

And the bosses were indeed cool. Many familiar faces returned, now often featuring different move sets. Early level battles are quite easy, but later ones required the usual Castlevania accuracy. None were truly thrilling to behold, however, Death was impressive and Dracula’s final form was a rigorous challenge.

The end result was a pretty straightforward game with plenty of replay value. The soundtrack is killer, as they often are, and despite the thin storyline, I truly enoyed my romp through the rebirth of this Game Boy game. While it’s new enough to avoid the retro tag, I’m counting it as it’s more unaccessible than most other retro entries in this franchise!

GBA Castlevania Comparisons

Posted in Blog, Castlevania, Games on October 13, 2021 by slateman

I’m enjoying these titles so much. As I moved into Aria Of Sorrow it was fun to see their progression instantly, rather than waiting a year for a new release. It’s making me hope that much more for a NDS collection. Anyhow, save rooms & warp rooms compared.

CotM
HoD
AoS

Castlevania: Harmony Of Dissonance Thoughts

Posted in Best / Worst, Blog, Castlevania, Games, Lists, Retro Games on October 11, 2021 by slateman

Immediately after polishing off Circle Of The Moon, I progressed to Harmony Of Dissonance, the GBA’s second installment. Changes are immediately evident: larger sprites, much more colorful visuals, upgraded graphics, new enemies and a more adept protagonist. While the story is ultimately a rehash of CotM, there’s a lot to like here, particularly in comparison to its predecessor. Unfortunately, large chunks of this game have tremendous downsides which make the inferior Circle Of The Moon a comparable title.

As I progressed into the second castle, I made a realization: I almost certainly never beat this game. Stumbling across an old save – it appears the 60% mark was about my limit. If memory serves me right, I revisited it later and felt the same pang of frustration. The game is deliberately obtuse, an old tactic employed to artificially lengthen the game’s duration. Several areas are off-limits, but the map “opens” them up, thereby marking them and making a revisit quite challenging. The rewind feature is spectacular to erase some of those mistakes, but oftentimes a key opens just a very specific door or two with no word of where that might be. The overly-spacious two-castle system compounds this issue as warping is initially slower and more arduous than in the past and there’s an awful lot of running around just to revisit a dead-end you knew about in the past. In fact, things are so spacious that the main goal is to dash through vast swathes of the castle searching for the next extension – unfortunately almost always stumbling upon another wall or impassable segment.

20 years later and with the aid of decades of guides, this task is much simpler, but no less absurd. The enemies themselves are quite diverse, building off of CotM with 3D effects and the like, but despite the size of the bosses and their impressive animations (both attack and death), most felt rather uninspired and far easier to beat. The initial GBA game was a rigorous challenge; this game is not. Once again, you resort to zipping through portions of the castles, here designated as A and B, and even getting hit is rarely a concern. Fortunately, controlling Juste is far more forgiving than Nathan Graves and his animations are substantially more impressive. Those wonderful bosses, added animations and effects come at a hefty cost: the game’s sound. It suffers and contains scant few memorable tunes, a series staple. In fact, the title sounds like an archaic NES game, but even that is too kind, as the songs here don’t contain the standard hook. The shopkeeper’s tune sounds downright ancient and represents one of the weakest set of tunes in any Castlevania ever.

My gripes continue, but Harmony Of Dissonance is generally fun once things get moving. There are a ton of items to collect, different armors and the like, though none are incredibly exciting, and there’s nothing comparable to CotM’s DSS system, unfortunately. Collecting furntire isn’t quite my style. Visually it sings with a huge assortment of backgrounds & colorful enemies: overall it’s a lot of fun to look at. Scouring screenshots is a lot more rewarding than the first GBA game.

As I approach 200%, it’s so interesting to discover (re-remember?) that I never finished this. The era of its arrival was a tumultuous one for me – however, I’m almost certain I completed every subsequent 2D Castlevania on the GBA & NDS. Until I can verify by getting my old-school GBA from Maine, I remain uncertain if I actually beat Dracula in Circle Of The Moon as well! Wouldn’t be surprised if I hadn’t!

As a stepping stone to Aria Of Sorrow, the game really is impressive despite its numerous flaws. I’m tremendously happy I got to revisit this with the assistance of guides, save states and the rewind feature. I am stoked to finish it and to move on to its successor!

Late Update: I’ve now beaten the game and witnessed all three of the title’s endings. My final map count is at 99.7% for each castle, maxing out at 194.4%. I appear to be missing the same number of rooms in each. The two versions of Maxim were uniquely-different fights and the Dracula Wraith final boss was a pretty cool, horrible amalgamation of his body parts (a callback to Castlevania II: Simon’s Quest – much like the Simon Wraith callback to the original Castlevania.)

Castlevania: Advance Collection Thoughts – Circle Of The Moon

Posted in Best / Worst, Blog, Castlevania, Games, Retro Games on October 2, 2021 by slateman

I played Circle Of The Moon back when it launched in June 2001 on the Game Boy Advance. I went through the game on the non-backlit launch GBA and quite enjoyed the first real sequel to Symphony Of The Night. The game was fun, but flawed, and it was quickly followed up by its successor merely 15 months later. I recall that title and its improvements. The entries flowed for the next half decade and my, how i took for granted the golden age I lived through.

Now two decades hence, I dropped a cool $20 for this four-title collection and I started at the beginning (sort of). Things are substantially different now, as I’m equipped with a mobile phone to look up a FAQ, save states to revert to former safe spots and a glorious rewind feature to wipe clean each and every misstep – if I so desire. Instead of backtracking, losing progress and getting frustrated by the challenging bosses, I’m consuming this game with a nigh-perfect run. It’s wonderful but it also reveals the game’s shortcomings. These are both due to design and storage limitations. Most of the Metroidvania tropes are here with a very limited selection of updates and collectibles. 90% of the discoveries in this game are HP, MP or Heart upgrades. While useful, they’re not tremendously thrilling and the series’ search & backtrack formula is therefore less rewarding.

The game’s DSS system is quite interesting and this collection updates the manner of collecting cards. Save states may render those upgrades less important, but the design is fantastic nonetheless.

Circle Of The Moon was impressive for the era and is still a worthwhile play in spite of those shortcomings. Recycled, palette swap enemies and repeating level backgrounds do limit the diversity, but none of this was really surprising for a handheld, particularly one that replaced the old-school Game Boy Color. And the limited graphics are offset by a rather good soundtrack. The controls are stiff, but that improves as the sequels progress. Several of the bosses are truly difficult and some sections presents a tough challenge. It’s all good though, as I have been zipping through, enjoying the experience. There is great replay value in the DSS system, but I look forward to beating Dracula and moving on, possibly 100%ing it in the process.

The story is thin and the controls are clunky but overall it’s exciting being able to play this (legitimately) for the first time in so many years. My real hopes is that a DS collection is to follow. If the rumors of a reboot are true and if I could have all three collections on my PS5, I’d consider this a new golden age of Castlevania!

Late Edit: I completed the game, deliberately not reaching 100%. In retrospect, I believe it’s possible I never completed this game back during its initial release. Beating Dracula now was a total pain in the ass – I think it’s entirely plausible that I never beat that asshole without aids. In any event, it was a fun playthrough today and I’m glad this game was re-issued.

Upcoming Game Release List

Posted in Blog, Games, Lists on August 29, 2021 by slateman

The usual looking-forward post, this time focusing solely on games. Stars follow the title name – the more, the greater the interest! Let’s do it!

14 Sep – Deathloop – ☆
21 Sep – Kena: Bridge Of Spirits – ☆☆
07 Oct – Far Cry 6 – ☆☆☆
08 Oct – Metroid Dread – ☆
21 Jan – Elden Ring – ☆☆☆☆
18 Feb – Horizon: Forbidden West – ☆☆☆☆
TBA 21 – Puzzle Bobble 3D: Vacation Odyssey – ☆
Spring – Lego Star Wars: The Skywalker Saga – ☆☆☆
TBA 22 – God Of War Sequel – ☆☆☆☆☆

In the future, I’m also looking forward to Diablo 4, The Elder Scrolls VI, the Dead Space reboot and the second installment into the Final Fantasy VII Remake. Oh, and the new Skate game. But otherwise, this is a pretty comprehensive list with Elden Ring, Horizon and God Of War topping my most-desired titles.

Conversely, looking back, 2021 hasn’t been a bad year with R-Type Final 2, Resident Evil VIII, Ys IX: Monstrum Nox, It Takes Two, Ratchet & Clank: A Rift Apart and Hades all being solid releases.

4x4x6 Algorithms

Posted in Algorithms, Blog, Cubing on July 30, 2021 by slateman

This was my favorite puzzle and when it fell and got destroyed in Sweden, I was heartbroken. However, a few years later, whilst living in Italy, I replaced it and – to my dismay – realized I had forgotten some crucial steps into solving it!

Things are really quite simple and matching those inner-edge pieces remains my toughest challenge. I figure I should catalogue this stuff for future reference, rather than relying on old YouTube videos to help me through. OK, let’s see!

  1. Solve centers (like a 4×4)
  2. Solve edges (like a 4×4)
  3. Return to Cuboid (like a 3×3)
  4. Make sure your two middle layers are good.
  5. Solve inner-edge pieces (I struggle here)
  6. Position inner-lower layer ‘cross’ segment
  7. Then solve inner-lower layer edges (like a 3x3x2): R2 / U / R2 / U’ / R2
  8. Now inner-upper layer edges (headlights)
    • Headlights on Left (or 2x): R2 / U / R2 / U2 / R2 — u’ / d — R2 / U’ / R2 / U / R2
    • Inner-edge swap (Opposite): R2 / U2 / R2 / U2 / R2
    • Inner-edge swap (Adjacent): R2 / U / R2 / U — R2 / U2 / R2 / U2 — R2 / U / R2 / U’ / R2
  9. Middle-Layer Parity (If necessary): U2 / R2 / F2 / U2 / F2 / R2 / U2 / F2
  10. Now bottom centers (Intuitive)
  11. Bottom edges (just like step #7)
  12. Repeat Headlights & inner edges steps (#8)
  13. Middle-Layer Parity Redux (if necessary)

See if that makes sense the next time I need it!!!

Second Half Of 2021 In Music

Posted in Blog, Music on June 20, 2021 by slateman

Just some upcoming music release dates for personal reference!

25 Jun – Suidakra: Wolfbite
25 Jun – Dream Theater: Images And Words Live 2017
02 Jul – At The Gates: The Nightmare Of Being
30 Jul – Lantlôs: Wildhund
20 Aug – Wolves In The Throne Room: Primordial Arcana
20 Aug – KK’s Priest: Sermons Of The Sinner
27 Aug – Thyrfing: Vanagandr
27 Aug – Obscurity: Skogarmaors
03 Sep – Iron Maiden: Senjutsu
17 Sep – Carcass: Torn Arteries

Resident Evil: Ranking The Mainline Entries

Posted in Best / Worst, Blog, Games, Lists, Resident Evil on June 14, 2021 by slateman

I’ve already discussed my completion statistics on the franchise but with Resident Evil 8 in my rear-view mirror, I thought it time to reflect on all the mainline entries and how they stack up against one another. As I stacked these and went through my personal history, there were some surprising upsets, if you will. Ultimately, however, I felt confident in my final hierarchy and while these could very well change, as of today, I’m quite happy with my results.

Foregoing any further ado, let’s leap into this list: ranking the nine mainline Resident Evil titles.

#9) Resident Evil 0

# Of Times Beaten: ZERO

Of all nine entries, this is the one I never completed. The dated mechanics, ‘meh’ storyline, banal characters and backtracking all just made this game a chore. I recall where I bailed too – I left some mandatory item somewhere because of the traditional inventory system and couldn’t remember how to get back. Quality-of-life fixes like we see in modern titles were nowhere to be seen.

I didn’t like it, I didn’t finish it and I have no regrets about not revisiting it. Let’s move along.

#8) Resident Evil 6

# Of Times Beaten: One

The Good: Leon’s story is pretty good and Chris’s is remotely positive.

The Bad: Jake’s is uninspired and Ada’s just dragged on.

Since I played these in order of my perceived quality, the game started out OK and just decayed into a chore. If I remember correctly, I only powered through Ada’s campaign just to say I beat it, over two years later.

Due to my sheer love of the franchise, I purchased the PS4 remaster but never really dove back in. Perhaps one day – if only for Leon’s campaign.

#7) Resident Evil 3


# Of Times Beaten: Three

I’m talking about the remake here and not the original as I never played Nemesis back in the day. The main gripe many had with 3make was its brevity – certainly a valid point. However, the game itself was just fantastic otherwise and unlike RE8, return to it I did – several times! My best run clocked in at 97 minutes, simply the perfect length for a one-sitting speedrun.

Sure, it’s campy but the game looked great and had the trademark powerful feel to guns and I quite liked it indeed.

Resident Evil 3: Completion Stats

#6) Resident Evil 8: Village

# Of Times Beaten: Three

Having just beaten this, it’s startling to see such a good game rank so low on this list. As always in lists such as these, it looks worse than it is.

On the upside, this game looks fantastic, feels wonderful and has virtually every element of a good RE game that I love. However, it felt scattered, possibly due to the Covid-inspired development cycle it endured. House Beneviento was not as impressive to me as it was to so many others. Moreau’s level, while cool-looking, wasn’t spectacular and thus, speedruns of those two levels felt like a chore. I did return for a collectible run, then a speedrun and then a Village Of Shadows (hardest difficulty) run, but Heisenberg’s BS fight left me annoyed and I simply abandoned it.

While the game took some of the best elements of RE4, I felt it missed the mark in many others. The village was my favorite part followed by Castle Dimetrescu leaving the second half (or latter 2/3rds even) less phenomenal IMO.

Resident Evil 8: Complation Stats
First Run: 10:11.51 Speedrun: 2:35.26

#5) Resident Evil 2


# Of Times Beaten: Two (+ Two 1998 version)

This list is now getting into the difficult-to-rank range. I played RE2 at launch in 1998 and at its relaunch almost 20 years later. The original was impressive and marked the first RE game I beat. The remake was equally impressive, utilizing Capcom’s RE Engine for a visually stunning re-envisioning. While I never beat the second campaign, the title was a spectacular return to form after RE7’s first-person vantage and the change in focus over the many years after RE4.

However, as good as it was, some would say #5 is far too low on this list. Much like RE8, I’ve never felt the compelling urge to dive back in for collectibles or a speedrun, something the next entries on this list.

Resident Evil 2: Completion Stats

#4) Resident Evil VII: Biohazard


# Of Times Beaten: Two

7 better than 2? I dare say, “yes,” emphatically. And here’s why…

While RE2 was a tremendous game in both its releases, neither was as powerful to me as RE7’s newness. The first-person perspective and new protagonist, the escape from Raccoon City and familiar faces were all welcome changes, but it was the decaying house and ambience that proved the most poignant. That the opening 30 minutes shocked the hell out of me, surprising given the series’ history. The fact that the entire game is playable in VR only exacerbates the discomfort and potency of the franchise’s ambience.

While the second half lost some of its luster, it didn’t stop me from getting every trophy but the hardest difficulty one (I couldn’t beat Mia, I think I could’ve done the rest of the game were I able to!) and then penning a speedrun guide on the title. Whereas RE2 was more of the same – only bigger and better, RE7 was a huge overhaul and a more impressive experience for me personally.

Resident Evil VII: Completion Stats

#3) Resident Evil


# Of Times Beaten: Three?

Oh, the classic! Now, I didn’t beat this PS1 game originally, though I played through most of it before having to return it to a friend. I also failed to complete it when it was remade on the Gamecube as the game was too terrifying. I certainly beat it on the PS4, however, and followed it up with several additional runs.

The revamped title retains much of the old-school feel while functioning so much better. After completing the game, I’m certain I returned for a speedrun. Though I haven’t returned to it since, nostalgia ekes into my opinion of this game. Coupled with quality-of-life fixes, I found this game the perfect blend of old and new. Unfortunately, it’s not my favorite entry in the franchise despite my long history with the game.

Resident Evil: Completion Stats

#2) Resident Evil 4

# Of Times Beaten: At least six

My expectations were a bit low for RE4 when it was announced as a Gamecube exclusive. After a few minutes, however, all those concerns were dashed when I first faced the chainsaw-wielding man and experienced the grotesque death that followed. In fact, this moment joined those damn dogs in the original title among my favorite moments in gaming history. In the end, I’ve played this game on the Gamecube, PS2, Wii, PS3 and PS4 – a true testament to my opinion of it. And let’s face it, the impending VR game, if it comes to the PS5 and its upcoming VR unit, will mark the sixth time I play this.

As for why I’ve played the game so much, it just had a fantastic blend of pure action, ammo restriction, a little Ashley hand-holding which upped the tension remarkably and a fantastic setting. The setpieces are intense, the firepower is immense and the runthroughs are rewarding. However, not fantastic enough to land at #1 on this list.

RE4: PS3 Stats RE4: PS4 Stats

#1) Resident Evil 5


# Of Times Beaten: At least seven

Now this is an unpopular opinion, but my playtime is my evidence. While I played RE4 on more platforms, I spent way more time with the rock-punching Chris and sexy Sheva than fair-haired Leon and his babysitting pal Ashley. The game’s save system ranked you by each chapter and allowed for quick sessions and continuous improvement. I played the co-op game twice with other humans and loved the mix of secrets, powerful weapons and traditional RE nonsense.

My original stats from the PS3 game show that it’s the only Resident Evil I platinumed/100%ed. I S-ranked almost the entire game and clocked in a full 60 hours – before playing it all again on the Xbox 360 and again on the PS4. Perhaps one day I’ll revisit it and its luster will have faded. But as of 2021, it remains my favorite RE experience and thus lies atop the heap as my favorite title in the illustrious franchise.

Resident Evil VIII: Village Complete!

Posted in Blog, Games, Resident Evil, Reviews on May 27, 2021 by slateman

After a 10-hour journey, my first playthrough of Resident Evil VIII is complete. I mention ‘first’ because I have already mapped out subsequent runs: collectibles, a speedrun, infinite ammo preparations, trophy cleanup and so forth. It’s important because while I did not like RE: Village quite as much as several of its predecessors, the franchise’s post-game roadmap is often just as fun and rewarding as its first experience the game run.

It’s hands-down one of my favorite things in gaming: enjoy the game spoiler-free and fresh before returning to dissect it entirely and finally powering through it with an absurd arsenal and beating it in a fraction of its original duration. Village took me only 10 hours – and that included scouring every corner and exploring every nook and cranny. I’m not sure where it sits among my traditional first-run times, but it felt about right.

Unfortunately, it felt far less cohesive than other Resident Evil installments. I realize people are less fond of VII’s second half, but I quite enjoyed that game throughout. The broken-up nature of each individual area left the latter half of this game as a substantially-different experience than the first half. The crumbling village at the steps of the elegant castle were my favorite areas of the entire game. The house of dolls has ruffled feathers of many but I found only slight unease at the environment. Heisenberg’s stronghold was my least-favorite but longest section of the whole European adventure.

From a narrative standpoint, it’s hard to find fault – this is Resident Evil after all! However, the main nemesis, Mother Miranda, was absent in all but name until the end and the most-used foe Heisenberg, was generally pretty weak. Gigantoid Lady Dimitrescu and her daughters were my favorite creations, sadly relegated to the opening hours. The other boss had a great section, the Bloodborne-inspired windmills and crumbling houses and his hideous design was quite disgusting indeed.

As a total package it felt short of prior installments, but removing said comparisons, it presented a fantastic experience with ample post-game offerings. Contrasting to a title like the original The Last Of Us which had a far superior tale but which I never wanted to revisit – one wonders what the better game really is? Like everything else, that truly depends on what you’re looking for in this medium.

This post comes several weeks after its original publication date and in the time since, I went back to do a collectibles run followed by a speedrun. The hard-mode run (Village Of Shadows) was marred by an annoying-as-heck boss battle with Heisenberg. Coupled with Ratchet & Clank’s release and my impending move, that playthrough was shelved and I likely won’t revisit it. On the plus side, the subsequent playthroughs were rather enjoyable, particularly with infinite weapons and my opinion of the game grew – enough to place it as #6 on my list of favorite mainline Resident Evil games. For now, here is my usual gallery of spoiler-filled snapshots.







Resident Evil Trophy Progress

Posted in Best / Worst, Blog, High Scores/Accomplishments, Resident Evil on May 3, 2021 by slateman

This image is equal parts cool and pathetic. Here’s my PSNProfiles collection of Resident Evil games. Of course, this only catalogues the Playstation 3 and onwards – but even still, this is a hefty list! My curiosity was borne out of me purchasing Resident Evil Revelations (Again!) As it was only on the PS3 (well, and several other platforms), I knew I could never play it on modern PS consoles. One drunk, $8 click later and it was mine (Again!) In the light of Resident Evil VIII coming out soon, I wanted to see what my history looked like visually. Well, for better or worse, here it is! From my first platinum (RE5) to now…that’s a lotta RE!

In all? 375 trophies across 17 games.

[Note] This has been updated with RE8 statistics. Stuck on Heisenberg on Village Of Shadows difficulty. Yeah…think I’m done with this game!