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Your 2018 Retro Favorites!

by Xeogred Sun Dec 30, 2018 7:19 pm


1. Front Mission: Gun Hazard (SNES)
- I'm going to give it to Gun Hazard for my favorite retro game in 2018. A gorgeous looking mid to late 90's Square Soft title with an array of four awesome composers, Uematsu and Mitsuda included, and dozens of tropes pulled from my favorite anime genre sci-fi/mecha, this was a home run for me in every department. After finishing this one I hit up a few more SNES mecha sidescrolling platformers that play similarly, but I seriously can't think of much else that I've played in the same vein of Gun Hazard and its interesting blend of genres. While there are lite RPG elements, it was the mecha upgrading that truly felt awesome... and even better yet, upgrading and buying new transporters and ships as well. Topped off with recruiting characters and rivals, I can't emphasis enough how much this thing plays out like a classic 1980's Sunrise mecha show. The fan translation was top notch and showcases the excellent story and characters. Simply put, Gun Hazard should be in the same conversation alongside the other SNES JRPG juggernauts that Square Soft produced back in the day, it's amazing.

2. Metroid II: Return of Samus (GB)
- With the power of a color hack, Metroid II finally clicked with me and I beat the thing in like two days or something. I absolutely loved it, finally! I really enjoyed the 3DS remake and the fanmade AM2R as well, it always felt weird that I still had not gotten through the original. While Super Metroid kind of rightfully gets all the attention, it really is interesting to see the things that Metroid II did here first, evolving the series a bit from the original NES release. I still like how Metroid II has a more linear structure, but is still a huge alien labyrinth to explore. The music is very sparse outside of the catchy surface tune but the atmosphere is pretty dark and impressive for the GB.

3. Mega Man ZX Advent (DS)
- Another "Why haven't I played this?" case for years here. I didn't like the original ZX much but was convinced Advent was a big improvement. I can barely even remember ZX so it's honestly hard to compare, but I have to say I really enjoyed my time with Advent and was caught off guard by the high difficulty, namely with the boss battles. Just about all of them felt like they could have been some late final boss encounter, taking up the entire screen space with their attacks or detailed body, it was fun. Great music too.

4. Shadow Hearts (PS2)
- I love Victorian England settings, horror, and JRPG's. I still don't give the PS2 enough love when it comes to my JRPG backlog, I have a bunch I need to hit up. Shadow Hearts is the beginning of this new era for me and I loved most of it. What I didn't love is how hidden and gated a HUGE portion of the side content is, down to my favorite dungeon (Kowloon Walled City) in the entire thing being all too easy to miss if you don't carefully follow some utterly obtuse steps. I loved the dose of sci-fi near the end and while most of the game is rather dark and serious, there was a lot of humor too and it never felt forced or out of place. The balance was just right. A very lovable group of characters and a fun journey. The OST isn't the most melodic so maybe not my preference, I don't think of the OST a lot in retrospect, but it was incredible in game and sets the gothic mood really well.

5. Heretic: Shadow of the Serpent Riders (PC)
- I love Doom TOO MUCH. For years, decades, Doom has made getting into anything else around its release almost impossible at times for me. I still think Wolf3D is a bore and it took me ages to warm up to Quake for whatever reason. I remember sampling Heretic and Hexen years ago, but just instantly wanted to play more Doom instead. Well Heretic finally clicked with me this year and I'm glad it did. It was fun to relearn a Doom engine game from top to bottom, enemies and weapons wise. There were some really cool levels and environments here for sure, sometimes making me think of Thief even, and that's always a comparison I love. Heretic wasn't as hard as the Doom fan megawads I'm accustomed too, but the bosses and some mobs could be very tricky. Although I can't think of any mindblowing levels and the final episode did feel a bit tacked on, all around I think this whole package was very consistent and a blast. I kind of wish there were more episodes to be played, but oh well. I did follow up and try out Hexen again, but I don't really see that one ever clicking with me with its weird hub section and focus on shifting away from the combat.

6. Dragon Quest V (DS)
- This really was a year of things finally clicking with me. Final Fantasy is one of my favorite franchises of all time and so I've basically known about Dragon Warrior/Quest's existence for ages as well, yet they never really pulled me in. Until V! I'll admit it was still a bit of a slow burn early on, but once the first time leap happened and the game opens up a bit more with monster recruiting and whatnot, I started playing DQ V more and in longer sessions, then promptly finished it. After experiencing V and having absorbed a bit of the others through osmosis, I'm definitely excited to keep diving into DQ now that I kind of see some of the quirks and knacks the series offers compared to other JRPG's. I'm a big fan of Akira Toriyama, so I'll always enjoy that aspect too. My current plan is to follow up with DQ IV (DS), DQ VIII (PS2), or perhaps even DQ IX since it looks so appealing visually, a high budget non-DBZ-Toriyama game!

7. Koudelka (PSX)
- Looking back on Koudelka already brings up some weirdly mixed emotions, that battle system is just such a strange choice. Apparently even lead designer Hiroki Kikuta would have done something entirely different, if he was in control of whomever handled the gameplay department here. Regardless, it was still really enjoyable for me, but it's truly all the other parts of Koudelka that made it a monster highlight of the year. I love PSX survival horror games and the polygonal grit of the late 90's, Koudelka is one of the best looking games on the platform, with amazing voice acting for its time on par with the likes of Metal Gear Solid, etc. Koudelka is the first of the Shadow Hearts verse and what I really loved about this one, is that there were no time for jokes... outside of a very charming intoxicated scene among the main characters, Koudelka was dead serious and rather mature compared to the norm. The story and characters were top notch, with the dense atmosphere being a major highlight as well. For fans of PSX survival horror, this is a must play.

8. Doom (PSX)
- The most unique and best port of the original Doom and 2 (yep, both games are jammed into this!). All I can really say about Doom PSX is that playing this version invoked some powerful nostalgia, as if I were transported back to 1994 and playing Doom for the first time again on some old Windows 95/98 machine. The controls have some smart design choices like the shoulder buttons for strafing, but it's still a bit chunky and kind of requires some relearning, which aided in this enjoyment. The aspect ratio even seems stretched a bit off, not truly 480p or whatever, yet this made the game feel even weirder in an awesome way. The depth of field is limited and the resolution is sharply pixelated, again, just seriously invoking that classic gritty vibe that I loved here. And all the sound effects and music are completely redone in the same style as Doom 64's more horror/ambient style. This was an awesomely weird and somewhat surreal experience. For Doom fans, this version is highly worth checking out.

9. Ninja Gaiden II: The Dark Sword of Chaos (NES)
- Ninja Gaiden Xbox is one of my favorite games of all time. Action platformers of the 8/16bit eras are some of my top favorites. Yet Ninja Gaiden took forever to click with me, until yes, 2018 the year when the pieces came together for so many things. While I don't know if I see myself casually revisiting the NES trilogy a lot going forward, because of the sheer brutality of the final boss battles, I still really enjoyed my time with all three games. I was blown away by the graphics as well, some of the best backgrounds and level detailing you'll find on the NES, topped off with those beautiful NES "cutscenes". Overall, I'm currently set on the second game being my favorite of the three. I really dug the scenario in this one and recall every level just being such a treat to look at and play. I was pleasantly surprised to see the weird mix of modern contemporary locales and demonic mythology/sci-fi being mixed into things all started in the NES games and wasn't just the styling of the modern trilogy.

10. Shatterhand (NES)
- I think my last favorite could be a rotating door among the Natsume titles. I don't know if Shatterhand is my favorite of the bunch, visually it might be, but it does kind of come off like an awesome champion of what Natsume's NES offerings brought to the table. A handful of excellent action platformers with absolutely killer OST's and graphics, most of the games chalk full of awesome 80's action hero tropes that I dug a lot. What is there to say really, if you like the NES in any capacity, the Natsume titles are definitely worth checking out.

For the most part, this list has no order. But I'm definitely giving it up to Gun Hazard for the Big #1 Champion of 2018.


Favorite OST or select tracks?
- When you beat over 100 games a year and as a VGM enthusiast, this question suddenly seems impossible to answer. So I'm just going to list some titles that I think had killer OST's all around:

Front Mission: Gun Hazard (SNES)
Shadow Hearts (PS2)
Koudelka (PSX)
Shatterhand (NES)
Journey to Silius (NES)
Batman: Return of the Joker (NES)
Brain Lord (SNES)
Undercover Cops (Arcade)
Dragon Fighter (NES)
Shadow of the Ninja (NES)
S.C.A.T.: Special Cybernetic Attack Team (NES)
Power Blade 2 (NES)
Vice - Project Doom (NES)
Skyblazer (SNES)
Cadillacs and Dinosaurs (Arcade)

Honorable mentions?
- Skyblazer (SNES) really stuck out to me when I was looking over my list again. That's an excellent SNES game everyone should check out.
- Vice - Project Doom (NES) a little overhsadowed in my end of year Natsume binge, but equally just as awesome as those games, if not better than some. VPD is a top notch must play for the NES.
- Cadillacs and Dinosaurs (Arcade), I played a dozen or so arcade beat em' ups this year and this one was easily my favorite of the bunch. Highly recommended.

Biggest disappointment?
- I still wish I could like Final Fantasy Mystic Quest (SNES), but it's just too boring. Great music though.
- I had really high hopes going into Nightshade (PS2), unfortunately it just hasn't aged very well compared to some other character action games from that era. So I'm fearful the PS2 Shinobi is showing a lot of rust now too. Both have great OST's though.

Favorite replay:
- A lot of highlights this year, but utterly mastering REmake for the PS4 trophies and platinum was insane. DMC4 was great to revisit with the Special Edition and tear things up with Vergil, quite possibly the most insanely fun character to ever play as in the history of the action genre. The Mega Man binge was real, hitting up all four Zero's again for the second time finally was a treat, then the X Legacy Collection dropped and I cruised through X1-X6 again, only to relearn that I absolutely love X6 despite its hilarious reputation. As a Mega Man veteran I love a narcissistic installment towards the end there! Also, Super Ghouls n' Ghosts and hitting up some Castlevania games again was fun. It was great to finally play the 3DS version of Ocarina of Time too and I have to say, I still think that game holds up in a lot of ways. It's crazy how it set the standard for so many franchises and styles of games that followed it.

Favorite Doom megawad:
- Hellbound. Still hard to grasp one designer did this megawad solo and the detailing of the levels look like you're playing Doom 3.

Favorite hack:
- Metroid: Rogue Dawn. An absolute must play for anyone who loves the original Metroid. This hack feels as authentic as it gets, like a lost real NES sequel from another dimension. Even if the OST has stuck with me months and months later.

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