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prfsnl_gmr
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Re: Games Beaten 2020

by prfsnl_gmr Sun Jul 12, 2020 6:20 pm

First 30
1. Her Story (iOS)
2. Elminage Original (3DS)
3. Legend of Grimrock (iOS)
4. Silent Bomber (PS1)
5. Crash Bandicoot (PS1)
6. Bust-a-Move 2 Arcade Edition (PS1)
7. Transformers Cybertron Adventures (Wii)
8. Squidlit (Switch)
9. Sydney Hunter & The Curse of the Mayan (Switch)
10. Mega Man Legends (PS1)
11. Revenge of the Bird King (Switch)
12. Blossom Tales: The Sleeping King (Switch)
13. Gato Roboto (Switch)
14. Kamiko (Switch)
15. Night Slashers (Arcade)
16. Subsurface Circular (Switch)
17. Iconoclasts (Switch)
18. Wonder Boy Returns Remix (Switch)
19. Resident Evil 3 (PS1)
20. The Messenger (Switch)
21. The Messenger: Picnic Panic (Switch)
22. Samsara Room (iOS)
23. Heroes of the Monkey Tavern (Switch)
24. Sayonara Wild Hearts (Switch)
25. Gris (Switch)
26. Donut County (iOS)
27. Donkey Kong Country 2 (SNES)
28. Donkey Kong Country 3 (SNES)
29. Contra (Arcade)
30. Super Contra (Arcade)

31. Minesweeper Genius (Switch)
32. Kuso (Switch)
33. 20XX (Switch)
34. Spooky Ghosts Dot Com (Switch)
35. Aggelos (Switch)
36. Quell+ (iOS)
37. The White Door (iOS)
38. Grizzland (Switch)

Grizzland is an inscrutable metroidvania that looks somewhat like an Atari 2600 game played on a black-and-white TV. It received somewhat favorable reviews, and since I like mystifying games that look terrible, I was pretty excited for it (especially since I picked it up on sale for $2.49). Unfortunately, I hated it. The game’s inscrutability is more annoying than rewarding. (“Did you not shrink down to the right size before falling down this pit and hugging the right wall? Well, you can self-destruct or work your way back here to try again! See you in ten minutes!”) Moreover, the combat is atrocious. Swinging your weapon in this game is like swinging the heaviest weapon available in Demon’s Souls...with a magic user...and input lag...and poor hit detection. It literally ruined the experience for me, making what should have been A breezy metroidvania game into a complete slog. Not recommended.
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alienjesus
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Re: Games Beaten 2020

by alienjesus Sun Jul 12, 2020 6:53 pm

1. Ys: The Oath in Felghana PSN Vita
2. Final Fantasy XII: The Zodiac Age Switch
3. Super Mario Party Switch
4. Moss PSVR
5. Paper Mario: Colour Splash Wii U
6. The Firemen SNES
7. Bishoujo Senshi Sailor Moon SFC
8. Kuukiyomi: Consider It! Switch eShop
9. Valkyria Chronicles Switch eShop
10. Illusion of Time SNES
11. Trials of Mana Switch
12. Undertale Vita
13. Rastan SMS
14. Rainbow Islands SMS
15. River City Girls Switch
16. Animal Crossing: New Horizons Switch
17. Streets of Rage 4 Switch eShop
18. Dragon Warrior IV NES
19. Super Tennis SNES
20. Castlevania III: Dracula's Curse Switch eShop
21. Pilotwings Switch eShop
22. Castlevania: The Adventure Switch eShop
23. Streets of Rage Game Gear *NEW*
24. Hatsune Miku: Project DIVA Mega Mix Switch eShop *NEW*
25. Ninja Gaiden Game Gear *NEW*
26. Psychic World Game Gear *NEW*
27. The G.G. Shinobi II: The Silent Fury Game Gear *NEW*
28. Sonic the Hedgehog: Triple Trouble Game Gear *NEW*


Streets of Rage

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I recently decided to splash out on a modded game gear, which comes with a new LCD screen and makes the console actually feel playable. Because my Game Gear library is pretty small, I also decided to pick up a selection of new games for the system. The first of these games I actually sat down to play was Streets of Rage.

Streets of Rage on Game Gear is an interesting oddity, for fans of the 16 bit title. The game is fairly faithful to the content which is included, although there is also a lot of stuff that had to be cut. First of all, there’s only 2 playable characters: Axel & Blaze. Their moveset is most intact, although weirdly there doesn’t seem to be a way to attack when grappling an enemy other than your throw or vaulting over them and slamming them. Also missing is the iconic police support, presumably due to the system lacking a third face button. Finally, the game is also missing 3 of the original’s 8 stages. The missing stages are stage 2 (backstreets, with the wolverine boss), stage 3 (the beach with the wrestler boss) and stage 7 (the elevator stage). This makes for a slightly odd experience when you finish stage 1 and jump straight to the bridge which is normally stage 4.

The game looks OK for the system, although the sprits feel a bit crushed, I guess because they were made for Master System and shrunk to Game Gear resolution to keep everything full screen. It also seems quite technically impressive too, with lots of moving sprites on screen. Unfortunately, this is where it most lets itself down – the performance here is shocking. When enemies are on screen your button presses frequently don’t register, and it gets worse the more there are. Blaze’s combo is also broken – enemies break out of stun too fast with her slower combo here, so her final move misses 99% of the time and leaves her very vulnerable.

I had fun trying out this game, and it was interesting to see an 8 bit version of it – but it’s really not a must play by any means. Buy if and try if for cheap if you’re a fan, but otherwise, skip it.



Hatsune Miku: Project DIVA Mega Mix

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I love the Project DIVA series, especially the entires on Playstation Vita (DIVA F and F 2nd), so I was very excited to pick up this game when it launched on Switch. This is a compilation of 130 or so (including the DLC) songs, mostly from previous entries in the series although with a handful of new ones thrown in, so a ton of game for your money.

However, upon playing, it took me a while to get into this one, because there’s some differences in the gameplay compared to my favourites. See, DIVA F and F 2nd were designed for console & handheld first and foremost, so the gameplay mechanics were centred on that. You press the face buttons in time with the circle, square, X and triangle icons as they appear on screen, arrows require you to press the corresponding button plus the d-pad pointing the same way, and star symbols required swiping the touch screen. However, DIVA Mega Mix aims to replicate the DIVA arcade games, and brings over some changes which take some adjusting to.

First of all, arrows are gone, as the arcade game uses big button pads to play and only has one for each symbol. Instead, sometimes you’re asked to hit multiple buttons at once (X + circle for example). 130ish songs down and I’m still only just getting my head around these actions when they appear in songs. The game also asks you to hold down a buttons sometimes, whiulst contuinung to hit others. This can be complicated too. In all honesty, both of these mechanics feel a bit rough on a controller, but I imagine they work great on the arcade pad. Unfortunately, the arcade pad costs a bomb, so I’m stuck with the less ideal way to play.

Still, as I worked through the game and got used to the new mechanics, I did once again find myself having a lot of fun. Whilst the changes do make the game feel less fun to play without the arcade style setup, the core gameplay is still fun enough that it’s enjoyable, and the music still has a lot of variety too.

There’s not much more to say about Project DIVA Mega Mix. In terms of value, it’s a great starting point for the series due to the massive amount of content on offer here. However, I’d still recommend people start with one of the PS3 & Vita entries in the series if they want to experience the series at its best.




Ninja Gaiden

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More Game Gear next. A little whilst back I played through the Master System version of Ninja Gaiden, a game not many people even know exists. That game, whilst completely different to the NES or even arcade versions, is actually pretty great and definitely worth picking up. Here is another totally forgotten about version of Ninja Gaiden, and despite being on Game Gear, it’s not a port of the excellent SMS version. Unfortunately, there’s probably a reason this one has been forgotten - it’s a totally forgettable experience.

The game takes place over 5 fairly short levels, and features some Ninja Gaiden staples – you run through multiple levels at high speed, slashing enemies and using your ninja magic to progress. This game feels somehow even more fluid then previous entries as you can swing your sword whilst running. However, that’s about all there is to say that’s good about the game, as it’s a very generic experience otherwise.

The game is very easy for 90% of the experience – I never came close to dying at any point in the first 4 levels as the platforming is very simple and the game drowns you in health potions throughout. There’s not a lot of variety for the first 3 stages, although stage 4 is an interesting climbing stage where you bounce between 2 buildings as you climb upwards and stage 5 features an extended section where you manoeuvre around walls and pillars as there is no floor at all. Unfortunately, the only real challenge comes from the final boss who is quite tough in his 3rd form and sends you back to the wall section of stage 5 when he beats you – so I got sick of that novelty pretty quickly as I replayed it again and again…

In terms of NES Ninja Gaidens other strong points, Game Gear Ninja Gaiden still fails to match up. The story is barely there, and whilst there are cutscenes they’re often 10 seconds long and feature one image and text only. The graphics are quite bland and feel very flat, and the music is nothing memorable at all.

Overall, Ninja Gaiden for Game Gear is not very good, and probably not worth your time. However, it is cheap and it’s not a terrible experience, so if you want to give it a go sometime, why not? I still think you should pass though.




Psychic World

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I went into Psychic Worlds hoping 3rd time’s the charm with my Game Gear acquisitions, after 1 interesting but slightly janky port and one pretty medicore entry in a popular series. Psychic World is a game which appears on both Game Gear and Master System, but is actually a fairly different game on both – the premise and level themes are the same but the level layouts are different.

The plot of the game is that you and your sister work for a scientist dude who is researching psychic powers. One day, the creatures he was experimenting on escape and kidnap your sister, so you fit a special helmet which boosts your psychic abilities and go after her. You progress through 5 or so worlds making use of a variety of psychic powers to progress. Initially, you can run and jump and shoot your basic psychic blast, which is weak but fairly all purpose. However, by killing enemies you can acquire new powers to use. These come in 2 forms.

First off is alternative attack powers, which must be won by defeating stage bosses first, but then regular enemies can also drop them (and collecting multiple boosts the power and spread of the attacks). These com in fire, ice and sonic powers, and each are effective vs different enemies and have additional level functions – ice can create platforms which can also be melted with fire, and sonic waves break certain blocks. Attack powers cost no e.s.p bar to use.

The second type of psychic power are utility abilities which can be dropped randomly by enemies. Once acquired, they can be activated at any time, but require some of your esp bar to use. Examples include a power to jump higher, and one which resets you back to the start of the level – which is essentially a retry button if you screw up and are low on health, although iirc the game has unlimited continues. The most useful power though, which you’ll use a lot, is the invincibility power, which renders you impervious for a short time. This makes bosses and tricky platforming sections much easier.

I actually really enjoyed my time with the game. It’s not perfect – it’s too short and a little easy (although a few levels took several tries), and I triggered the reset ability by accident a few more times than I’d like. The trick to getting the good ending is a bit obtuse as well. But it’s a fun little 8 bit action game and I think it’s worth your time. The music is good for Game Gear and it looks pretty nice too – certainly better than the Master System version. This one is good!




The GG Shinobi II: The Silent Fury

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Although I bought a bunch of new Game Gear titles, I actually already had one which been sat in the backlog for quite a while, and so I decided I would play through that as well. The G.G. Shinobi II is the sequel to the rather good first title, and so I was expecting good things. That game was a bit tough towards the end though, so I wasn’t expecting it to be easy.

In the GG Shinobi games, you play as a band of ninjas, all in different colours Power Rangers style, who all have different abilities. Each ninja has different weapons, inate abilities and magic – Red has a short range sword and a teleportation spell to jump to the level exit fast when revisiting, but no inate ability. Blue uses a grappling hook to attack, and can also use it to swing over gaps, plus a tornado spell that allows him to fly briefly. Yellow can wall on water and throws a boomerang shuriken which can be thrown upwards too. His spell grants temporary invincibility to attacks. Pink throws bombs which arc downwards, and can walk on ceilings. His spell is a rather useless one which lights dark rooms. And finally, Green throws throwing stars which are weak but ranged, and can double jump like Joe Musashi. His spell creates an earthquake to damage enemies and break certain walls.

Despite the interest band of abilities, you start quite weak. Red is your only ninja initially, and you have only 4 health to take hits with. However, you can choose from one of 4 levels to begin with, and upon finishing each you rescue one of the other 4 ninjas. You’ll need their abilities to revisit levels too, as each level contains a hidden crystal needed to unlock the final stage, plus a health increase item to bring your total health up to an eventual 12 points, 2 at a time. Revisiting stages with new powers is fun and adds an exploration element to the game.

Upon getting all 4 crystals though, you lay siege to the enemy castle for the 5th, and this is where things get rough. The final stage is an incredibly tough gauntlet of platforming challenges interspersed with boss fights throughout a complex labyrinth – and it makes those health power ups feel a but wasted as most deaths come from instant death spike pits rather than enemies. It takes some practice to get through the stage, but eventually I managed, and the bosses were easy enough. On the plus side, despite the harsh final level which took me as long to beat as the rest of the game put together, it’s still notably easier than the even more brutal final level in the original GG Shinobi game.

It has a bit of a rough difficulty progression, but The G.G. Shinobi II is a great game for the Game Gear, and must own for the platform. Its undoubtedly one of the best games on the system and it looks, sounds and plays great. I highly recommend it if you want to try some portable 8-bit Sega goodness.


Sonic the Hedgehog Triple Trouble

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Choo-choo, the Game Gear train keeps on chugging. Sonic Triple Trouble is the 4th portable Sonic title for Game Gear, after the ports of Sonic 1 & 2 for Master System, and also Sonic Chaos (which I think was ported from Game Gear to SMS instead of vice versa). This is a sequel to Sonic Chaos (it’s called Sonic & Tails 2 in Japan, Sonic Chaos is 1) and the first Game Gear exclusive classic Sonic title of the bunch.

I think the Triple Trouble in the title refers to the games 3 antagonists. Whilst you can play as either Sonic or Tails this time round, you’ll be vexed by Knuckles the Echidna, back in his antagonist days, as well as the ever present Dr. Robotnik. New to this game is Nack the Weasel, an opponent who only shows up in special stages to fight you for a chaos emerald. These special stages caused me some confusion, as I’m not really sure how you trigger them. I know you have to find a special monitor in each stage, but hitting it didn’t always make a special stage appear so I guess there’s some other criteria.

Anyway, the game otherwise plays similarly to Sonic Chaos. To account for the zoomed in view, the game is pretty easy and doesn’t feature too many enemies. Running into enemies also doesn’t seem to make you lose all of your rings, just some of them. The zoomed in view still causes some issues, especially in later levels where more bottomless pits feature, and I can’t help but feel this would be a better Master System game than a Game Gear one. Nonetheless, the stages are fun enough, if mostly forgettable, besides a a fun little train section I enjoyed.

Sonic Triple Trouble is a little pricier than a lot of Game Gear games, although it’s not crazy expensive by any means. Like all Sonic games on the system, it’s not really a must own. The original 8 bit Sonic game is still the best by far, but you definitely want to play that on Master System instead. Still, I had a fun hour or so playing through this game, and I liked it enough to recommend it. Give it a go sometime and see if you agree.
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PartridgeSenpai
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Re: Games Beaten 2020

by PartridgeSenpai Sun Jul 12, 2020 6:57 pm

Partridge Senpai's 2020 Beaten Games:
Previously: 2016 2017 2018 2019
* indicates a repeat

1. Invisigun Reloaded (Switch)
2. Human: Fall Flat (Switch)
3. Shantae: The Pirate's Curse (3DS)
4. Darksiders: Warmastered Edition (PC)
5. Splatterhouse (PS3) *
6. 3D Dot Game Heroes (PS3)
7. Tokyo Jungle (PS3)
8. Pictobits (DSiWare)
9. Puzzle Quest: The Legend Reborn (Switch)
10. WarioWare Gold (3DS)
11. Disaster: Day of Crisis (Wii)
12. Sleeping Dogs: Definitive Edition (Xbone)
13. Sleeping Dogs: Nightmare in North Point (Xbone)
14. Sleeping Dogs: Year of the Snake (Xbone)
15. Dynamite Headdy (Genesis) *
16. Shovel Knight: King of Cards (3DS)
17. Shovel Knight: Shovel of Hope (3DS) *
18. Shovel Knight: Plague of Shadows (Switch) *
19. Shovel Knight: Specter of Torment (Switch) *
20. Shovel Knight: Showdown (Switch)
21. Dragon Quest Builders 2 (PS4)
22. ActRaiser (SNES)
23. Castlevania: The Adventure ReBirth (WiiWare)
24. Mega Man X (SNES)
25. Breath of Fire II (SNES)
26. Ape Escape 2 (PS2) *
27. Doubutsu No Mori+ (GC)
28. Ape Escape (PS1)
29. Ape Escape 3 (PS2) *
30. Maken X (DC)
31. Cubivore (GC)
32. Wario World (GC) *
33. Hatoful Boyfriend (PC)
34. Fire Emblem: Mystery of the Emblem (SFC)
35. Baku Bomberman 2 (N64)
36. Chameleon Twist (N64)
37. Gato Roboto (PC)

38. The Messenger (PC)
39. The Messenger: Picnic Panic (PC)

Continuing playing through Metroidvanias I've gotten for free on PC over the past few months, I played through The Messenger this weekend as well as the free DLC pack that was added in a while after release. It's a game that's really fun to play and an excellent addition to the string of retro-inspired action games over the past few years, even if it isn't my favorite out of all of those. It took me around 8.5 hours to 100% the main game with an Xbox One controller on my PC, and another 2 hours to 100% the DLC.

The Messenger is the story of a ninja tasked with carrying a scroll to the top of a glacier on the edge of his island to fulfill a prophecy after his village is destroyed by the Demon King. Only after arriving at the end of the island, however, does it get revealed that The Messenger is only one in a long line of Messengers who have been carrying out this same task throughout time, putting off annihilation by the demons time and again forever, and it's up to your particular Messenger to help defeat that cycle once and for all.

The writing is definitely closer to something like Guacamelee 2 than a Hollow Knight or Timespinner (or heck, even Guacamelee 1). There are some solid character traits to the few characters that are there, but most of them just amount to being 4th-wall breaking and quirky. I found the humor in the game, while often clever, was so omnipresent in all the dialogue that it was usually more annoying than actually enjoyable (especially by the greed demon who brings you back to life). The narrative overall has a decent bit of interesting (if a bit gratuitous at times) lore, but isn't really trying to do that much in the end other than give a fairly archetypal story of good triumphing over evil. Not an outright bad thing, but definitely something worth mentioning.

The gameplay of The Messenger is where things really shine, at least for the most part. The game starts off in a more 8-bit-inspired graphics style with music to match, and those sections largely compose of linear action-platforming segments. Once you get around the 8th stage or so, you hit a time warp and travel forward in time 500 years and the graphics and music change to a 16-bit style, and then after a few more stages the gameplay also transitions to a Metroidvania instead of being linear.

I don't think the game is nearly as solid a Metroidvania as it is an action game, though. The bosses and the stage flow of the linear sections are really great, but once you get to the Metroidvania part, it feels a lot more like backtracking around a lot rather than exploration (due in no small part to how annoying the game's warps are placed). It's luckily not usually too hard to figure out where to go (save for one section about getting through an underwater Lost Woods-type area), but the game slows down a LOT in the Metroidvania section, and that was fairly disappointing. It's still not a bad Metroidvania, but it's a shame the game's main gimmick of "linear action game that becomes a Metroidvania" seems to not really stick the landing very well.

The gameplay and bosses really are great though. The game's main gimmick is introduced from the prologue in that you get another jump when you land a hit in the air, and there's no limit to the number of times you can do this. This makes for some really wild platforming potential as you get more upgrades to your moveset, both optional and non-optional. Some of the optional ones (particularly the ability to attack while you do the glide) feel like the break the intended flow of the game a little bit, and A both activating your glide and de-activating it AND jumping can make the precision of some challenge rooms a real pain, but the gameplay still feels really good to go through, especially once you've got some practice at it.

The game has a fair amount of challenge rooms and optional content you can go for if you're feeling up for a challenge, and they're usually pretty fair and nice challenges. Sometimes they're maddeningly difficult, and the hardest of them easily make up the most difficult sections in the game. That said, they're totally optional and only unlock a sidegrade (granted it's a very good sidegrade) for your shuriken, and none of them are nearly so hard as the most difficult optional areas of Hollow Knight (to give one example). I loved tracking them down, and it was always super satisfying to finally conquer one.

The music and graphics are also great, but I also think that that's an unevenly split level of quality. The 8-bit graphics and music far surpass the 16-bit stuff for various reasons. It may just be down to hearing most all of the 8-bit stuff before you hear the 16-bit versions of it, but I didn't like any of the 16-bit (more Mega Drive-esque) tracks as well as their 8-bit counterparts. I'm also not a huge fan of the 16-bit stage designs largely because of how they force you to relearn the visual language of the game in a fairly hamfisted way. The game is full of wall-mounted objects (usually lanterns of some kind) that you can slash for a jump in mid-air, and the 8-bit sections usually have these hanging in untextured (or lightly textured) backgrounds. The 16-bit sections are much brighter and have much more involved backgrounds, and they make these wall-mounted objects much harder to see, especially going back through areas you've been through once before. The game is still beautiful and very pretty to look at, but the 16-bit sections feel like they prioritized aesthetics over function at some point and the game suffers a little for it.

The Picnic Panic DLC is unlocked once you beat the game's main story, and you can access it from the game's shop. In an alternate universe, The Messenger of that world hasn't been doing so hot, so you've gotta step in to go in their stead to a tropical island off the coast. This is a really good add-on to the main game that has another dozen or so collectibles across two new mostly-linear areas. There's a fun new surfing mini-game, as well as what is definitely the hardest proper boss in the game, and even a Punch Out-style final boss battle just for funsies. It flows really well into the rest of the existing content, and the writing is all-around a little tighter and better than the main game (although not by any great margin, I just liked the humor here more). It's definitely worth checking out if you enjoyed the main game, and is an absolutely stellar piece of free content.

Verdict: Highly Recommended. For all the small faults I may find with it, I'd be damned if I said I didn't really enjoy my time with The Messenger. It's not quite Shovel Knight, but it's still an amazingly fun action game and a pretty darn good Metroidvania. It's challenging but still forgiving, and it's well worth the purchase if you like either of those genres.
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prfsnl_gmr
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Re: Games Beaten 2020

by prfsnl_gmr Sun Jul 12, 2020 9:26 pm

First, awesome reviews, AJ. Just amazing. I really like it when someone goes on a kick with esoteric games on an esoteric system.

Second, I’m glad you enjoyed The Messenger, Partridge. All of your criticism’s are 100% valid, but I still loved that game to death. It was so challenging, so fast, and so fun.
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MrPopo
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Re: Games Beaten 2020

by MrPopo Mon Jul 13, 2020 2:21 am

1. Elite Dangerous - PC
2. Soldier of Fortune - PC
3. Star Wars: TIE Fighter: Defender of the Empire - PC
4. Star Wars: TIE Fighter: Enemies of the Empire - PC
5. Star Wars: X-Wing vs. TIE Fighter: Balance of Power - PC
6. Star Wars: X-Wing Alliance - PC
7. Phoenix Point - PC
8. Serious Sam HD: The Second Encounter - PC
9. Descent II - PC
10. Inbento - Switch
11. Ori and the Will of the Wisps - XB1
12. Doom Eternal - PC
13. Serious Sam 2 - PC
14. Black Mesa - PC
15. Descent 3 - PC
16. Darksiders II - PC
17. Resident Evil 3 (2020) - PC
18. Overload - PC
19. Final Fantasy VII Remake - PS4
20. Trials of Mana (2020) - Switch
21. Persona 5 Royal - PS4
22. Call of Duty: Modern Warfare 2 Campaign Remastered - PC
23. Sublevel Zero Redux - PC
24. Final Fantasy XII: Zodiac Age - PS4
25. Maneater - PC
26. XCOM: Chimera Squad - PC
27. Sakura Wars - PS4
28. Stela - Switch
29. Tony Hawk's Pro Skater 2 - DC
30. Darksiders III - PC
31. Shadow Warrior (2013) - PC
32. Robotrek - SNES
33. Shadow Warrior 2 - PC
34. EVO: The Search for Eden - SNES
35. Blast Corps - N64
36. Command & Conquer: The Covert Operations - PC
37. Command & Conquer Red Alert: Counterstrike - PC
38. The Last of Us Part 2 - PS4
39. Exodemon - PC
40. Halo: Reach - PC
41. Halo: Combat Evolved Anniversary - PC
42. Halo 2: Anniversary - PC
43. The Legend of Heroes: Trails of Cold Steel - PS3

Trails of Cold Steel is set in the same universe as Trails in the Sky, just a couple years later and in a different part of the continent. I first picked up the game shortly after finishing Trails in the Sky 3, but quickly burned out after the prologue because it was just too much of the same game. Now that the third game came out on Switch I decided to go for the series again, though I will be taking a break between this one and the second one to play Halo 3 (as it's about to come out on PC in the Master Chief Collection).

Trails of Cold Steel mostly builds on the gameplay systems of Trails in the Sky, but now things are in 3D and there is a different flow to the story. The game is set at the Thors Military Academy in the Erebonian Empire. You are a member of a new type of class at the school; while normally nobles and commoners are separated your class is mixed. Your class is an experiment for the school's faculty, and engaging in this experiment is what drives most of the plot. The basic layout of each chapter is you spend some time at school running errands and interacting with your classmates, then you go out into the Empire to do some field work helping people out. This is intended to expose you to the world (both in universe and to the player), but as you do so you start to find the beginnings of the overall plot of the Cold Steel games; the tensions among the different factions that make up the Empire that will eventually come to a head at the end of the game. In fact, the game mostly serves as a prologue for the rest of the story in a way not too dissimilar to how Trails in the Sky 1 was a lower-stakes story compared to what would come in the other games.

The combat system builds on what Trails in the Sky did. Positioning is still important, but now you're on a 3D field instead of the isometric field, so there tends to be more encirclement happening. You still have three basic options; attacking, using crafts (special attacks), or casting artes (spells). The game uses the same timeline with bonuses system of the first game, and you still can skip the timeline using an S-Craft (at the expense of all your craft points). So things will be extremely familiar for people who have played the previous game.

The biggest change in these systems is how quartzes work. In Trails in the Sky you would slot various quartzes to get passive stat bonuses and to gain one or more points of a given element. Then, depending on the total elemental points you have on a line (a character will have from one to three lines) you will gain artes, with higher artes requiring more points and more diverse points. Here you instead have quartz that is dedicated for the various spells, in addition to the passive stat bonuses. This has a couple of implications. The first is that it turns the value of lines on its head; whereas in the previous game having one line was advantageous for a caster (as you could get multiple high level spells), here it is all downside. Unlocking nodes costs a greater amount for each node on a given line, so having more lines means you pay less to unlock everything. And the quartzes that can cause stats effects are limited to one per line, but if you have three lines you can equip three different status quartzes. So the character who has a caster setup ends up having their setup feel like more of a liability (though it doesn't really matter too much). The whole thing basically makes it easier to make your characters do whatever you want (though their crafts still will incline them to specific roles). There's also a new master quartz available, which levels up with the character and provides some inborn stats, artes, and passive bonuses; this ends up being the main way to give characters unique strengths.

However, all that stuff I said about spell setups doesn't actually matter, because midway through the game spells get left in the dust. See, the balance of things in this game is that speed is the god stat. But more importantly, they give you a lot of access to delay, which is the ability to move an enemy down the timeline. Basically, after taking an action everyone gets a delay number based on the action taken (so attacks are cheaper delay-wise than high level magic). The game sorts by delay with the smallest delay going next. You can both equip quartz that makes your attacks cause delay as well as certain crafts being able to cause delay, which includes one your main character gets which causes a high amount of delay in an area for a reasonable cost. There are a grand total of two boss fights who are immune to delay. All others can be permanently delay-locked so they never get a turn. Once you realize this and build for it (max everyone's speed and delay causing ability) you will steamroll the game, aside from the aforementioned two boss fights. And one of them is really just a long endurance fight and isn't actually difficult (the other one though, hoo boy). I understand it that they nerfed this tactic in the sequel; we shall see.

It's a long game (60 hours), but it builds towards an interesting storyline that I'm looking forward to seeing unfold over the coming games. They do a lot of hint dropping towards this game's plot as well as the deeper sweeping events, and you will be rewarded if you've played the previous games by cameos and hints at plotlines that were first introduced in those games. I'm not sure how much was preplanned when they started the overall world and how much they've made up as they've gone, but there are a lot of twists and turns that are going to keep things interesting.
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Re: Games Beaten 2020

by BoneSnapDeez Mon Jul 13, 2020 9:25 am

MrPopo wrote:43. The Legend of Heroes: Trails of Cold Steel - PS3

Trails of Cold Steel is set in the same universe as Trails in the Sky, just a couple years later and in a different part of the continent. I first picked up the game shortly after finishing Trails in the Sky 3, but quickly burned out after the prologue because it was just too much of the same game. Now that the third game came out on Switch I decided to go for the series again, though I will be taking a break between this one and the second one to play Halo 3 (as it's about to come out on PC in the Master Chief Collection).

Trails of Cold Steel mostly builds on the gameplay systems of Trails in the Sky, but now things are in 3D and there is a different flow to the story. The game is set at the Thors Military Academy in the Erebonian Empire. You are a member of a new type of class at the school; while normally nobles and commoners are separated your class is mixed. Your class is an experiment for the school's faculty, and engaging in this experiment is what drives most of the plot. The basic layout of each chapter is you spend some time at school running errands and interacting with your classmates, then you go out into the Empire to do some field work helping people out. This is intended to expose you to the world (both in universe and to the player), but as you do so you start to find the beginnings of the overall plot of the Cold Steel games; the tensions among the different factions that make up the Empire that will eventually come to a head at the end of the game. In fact, the game mostly serves as a prologue for the rest of the story in a way not too dissimilar to how Trails in the Sky 1 was a lower-stakes story compared to what would come in the other games.

The combat system builds on what Trails in the Sky did. Positioning is still important, but now you're on a 3D field instead of the isometric field, so there tends to be more encirclement happening. You still have three basic options; attacking, using crafts (special attacks), or casting artes (spells). The game uses the same timeline with bonuses system of the first game, and you still can skip the timeline using an S-Craft (at the expense of all your craft points). So things will be extremely familiar for people who have played the previous game.

The biggest change in these systems is how quartzes work. In Trails in the Sky you would slot various quartzes to get passive stat bonuses and to gain one or more points of a given element. Then, depending on the total elemental points you have on a line (a character will have from one to three lines) you will gain artes, with higher artes requiring more points and more diverse points. Here you instead have quartz that is dedicated for the various spells, in addition to the passive stat bonuses. This has a couple of implications. The first is that it turns the value of lines on its head; whereas in the previous game having one line was advantageous for a caster (as you could get multiple high level spells), here it is all downside. Unlocking nodes costs a greater amount for each node on a given line, so having more lines means you pay less to unlock everything. And the quartzes that can cause stats effects are limited to one per line, but if you have three lines you can equip three different status quartzes. So the character who has a caster setup ends up having their setup feel like more of a liability (though it doesn't really matter too much). The whole thing basically makes it easier to make your characters do whatever you want (though their crafts still will incline them to specific roles). There's also a new master quartz available, which levels up with the character and provides some inborn stats, artes, and passive bonuses; this ends up being the main way to give characters unique strengths.

However, all that stuff I said about spell setups doesn't actually matter, because midway through the game spells get left in the dust. See, the balance of things in this game is that speed is the god stat. But more importantly, they give you a lot of access to delay, which is the ability to move an enemy down the timeline. Basically, after taking an action everyone gets a delay number based on the action taken (so attacks are cheaper delay-wise than high level magic). The game sorts by delay with the smallest delay going next. You can both equip quartz that makes your attacks cause delay as well as certain crafts being able to cause delay, which includes one your main character gets which causes a high amount of delay in an area for a reasonable cost. There are a grand total of two boss fights who are immune to delay. All others can be permanently delay-locked so they never get a turn. Once you realize this and build for it (max everyone's speed and delay causing ability) you will steamroll the game, aside from the aforementioned two boss fights. And one of them is really just a long endurance fight and isn't actually difficult (the other one though, hoo boy). I understand it that they nerfed this tactic in the sequel; we shall see.

It's a long game (60 hours), but it builds towards an interesting storyline that I'm looking forward to seeing unfold over the coming games. They do a lot of hint dropping towards this game's plot as well as the deeper sweeping events, and you will be rewarded if you've played the previous games by cameos and hints at plotlines that were first introduced in those games. I'm not sure how much was preplanned when they started the overall world and how much they've made up as they've gone, but there are a lot of twists and turns that are going to keep things interesting.


Based and Falcompilled.

Popo, you play the original Dragon Slayer: The Legend of Heroes on PCE yet?????????????????????????????????????
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Re: Games Beaten 2020

by MrPopo Mon Jul 13, 2020 11:36 am

No, but it's on my shelf. I'll get to it eventually.
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Re: Games Beaten 2020

by Ack Mon Jul 13, 2020 12:04 pm

1. The Legend of Zelda: Link's Awakening (Switch)(Adventure)
2. Final Fight [Japanese Version] (Switch)(Beat 'Em Up)
3. Ziggurat (PC)(FPS)
4. Magrunner: Dark Pulse (PC)(FPS)
5. The King of Dragons [Japanese](Arcade)(Beat 'Em Up)

6. Captain Commando [Japanese](Arcade)(Beat 'Em Up)
7. Knights of the Round [Japanese](Arcade)(Beat 'Em Up)
8. The Witcher (PC)(RPG)

9. Tenchi wo Kurau II (Arcade)(Beat 'Em Up)
10. Dark Sun: Shattered Lands (PC)(RPG)

11. Lichdom: Battlemage (PC)(FPS/RPG Hybrid)
12. Star Wars: Republic Commando (PC)(FPS)

13. DOOM 64 (PC)(FPS)
14. Half Dead 2 (PC)(Adventure)

15. Powered Gear - Strategic Variant Armor Equipment (Arcade)(Beat 'Em Up)
16. Torchlight II (PC)(RPG)

17. Battle Circuit [Japanese](Arcade)(Beat 'Em Up)
18. Hard Reset Redux (PC)(FPS)

19. The Stanley Parable (PC)(Walking Sim)
20. Waking Mars (PC)(Adventure)
21. Requiem: Avenging Angel (PC)(FPS)

22. Night Slashers (Arcade)(Beat 'Em Up)
23. Oddworld: Stranger's Wrath HD (PC)(Action Adventure)

24. Strikers 1945 (Arcade)(SHMUP)
25. SiN Episodes: Emergence (PC)(FPS)
26. Crysis Warhead (PC)(FPS)

27. Metro 2033 (PC)(FPS)
28. Good Job! (Switch)(Puzzle)
29. Blasphemous (Switch)(Action Adventure)

30. Two Worlds: Epic Edition (PC)(RPG)
31. Chex Quest HD (PC)(FPS)

32. NecroVision: Lost Company (PC)(FPS)
33. Icewind Dale (PC)(RPG)

34. Icewind Dale: Heart of Winter (PC)(RPG)
35. Icewind Dale: Trials of the Luremaster (PC)(RPG)

36. Ravenloft: Strahd's Possession (PC)(RPG)
37. Singularity (PC)(FPS)
38. The Witcher 2 (PC)(RPG)
39. Still Life 2 (PC)(Point and Click Adventure)
40. Myst IV: Revelation (PC)(Point and Click Adventure)
41. Gato Roboto (Switch)(Action Adventure)
42. Painkiller: Overdose (PC)(FPS)

43. Battle Realms (PC)(RTS)

I picked up Battle Realms some years ago when it was being given away free on GOG. It's an RTS that features a mixture of Japanese and Chinese mythology and culture mixed together. The game takes place on an island continent, with multiple provinces that are ruled by either the evil warlock-led Lotus Clan or the barbaric Wolf Clan. Previously, an evil clan known as the Serpent had also dominated part of the island nation, but with the death of that clan's king and eldest son, it has scattered.

Enter the second son of the dead Serpent Clan king. You get a choice: either restore the evil Serpent Clan or instead become leader of a new Dragon Clan, a noble one which thinks of its people and wishes to bring peace to the island through war and bloodshed!

Yes, while the plot has various twists and turns, it ultimately boils down to the usual Make War for Peace storyline you get in an RTS. However, it also offers up some player agency through the game, starting with your decision in the first level: do you help a group of bandits attacking peasants and thus work to restore the Serpent Clan or aid the peasants and create the Dragon Clan? Along the way, you'll receive the chance to decide where to invade, who to protect, and what sort of allies you want. There are also sometimes hidden conditions on levels which will reveal Hero units you can also utilize, some of which are incredibly useful. Others...not so much. I found it best to rely on certain Hero units for invasion and others for base defense, though not always; one of the best siege Heroes is unfortunately absurdly slow, so he ended up on defense duty most of the time.

Battle Realms uses a training mechanic to build units. You must harvest rice and water, but your basic workers, peasants, may then be sent to attend training in various buildings. Want spearmen? There's a barracks. Archers? There's a range. Then you take these warriors, and to build them further, you send them to the other place to crosstrain. This enables the creation of tier 2 units, and once you have access to the third training building, tier 3. For Dragon Clan, the tier 3 unit is a samurai, so I soon began setting waypoints between training facilities so that my Hero units could lead samurai squads, always with a geisha, which is the Dragon Clan healer. Manage combat correctly with a geisha, and you can massacre an enemy squad without losing a man. It's great...when it works.

Unfortunately, the AI is familiar with this tactic, so it loves taking fast troops and running them straight at the healer. Geishas in melee cannot heal, so you only need one enemy to distract them to result in a squad wipe. The AI knows this and will try to do it often. In fact, the AI is actually a pretty smart cookie; during my playthrough, I noticed coordinated attacks on my base on different fronts, enemy waves taking the long route to hit weaker base defenses, and enemy peasants running off to establish new bases while their old one was being destroyed. Often times the game will also force you into a corner where you have to expose yourself on multiple fronts to enemy onslaught because those are the only places to get resources, so get used to constant invasion. The (better) alternative is to take your initial group of warriors and rush at the beginning against weaker enemy forces who have not yet been able to build up while your peasants rush to build you healer reinforcements. I had to do this to get through multiple levels.

Now while I have covered training up units, I haven't yet talked about actual upgrades, such as ensuring units hit harder, have better health, use less stamina for running or abilities, etc. To do this, you have to build up Yin-Yang points. These points get generated through combat, and you tend to earn them faster the further you are from your base when you engage in said combat. In short, the more aggressive you are, the more powerful you become. So much for giving peace a chance, eh? It also forces you into the base rush mindset early on, because you not only can severely hinder an opponent's ability to produce, but you also gain faster access to upgrades, thus enabling you to better crush your enemies.

In short, Battle Realms doesn't want you to turtle.

Do I like it? I have mixed feelings. Some of the approaches I appreciate, like having a separate resource for upgrades and seeing units grow more powerful through consistent training. Some approaches, like the forced aggressiveness, I'm not as big a fan of because it limits what playstyle options I am allowed. I do admire being able to make decisions over the course of the game that impact how events unfold and even which units I can employ. But would I come back to it? Only to play the expansion, which I'm already doing.
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Re: Games Beaten 2020

by dust_hound Tue Jul 14, 2020 12:03 pm

@Ack - great write-up of Battle Realms. I'd heard of it but never tried it, so thanks for fleshing out my mental picture of what it'd be like to play.

13th July 2020 - Prince of Persia: Rival Swords (PSP, played on PS Vita)
Let me preface this by saying that I know my past "games beaten" entries have been fairly negative about the games I played, but that's because I'm in the process of whittling down my backlog via trying to clear games that I might have given up on before.

Anyway, you know how when you play certain games you can really feel the care and attention that the devs put into the production? Like Donkey Kong '94, Zelda: LTTP, Front Mission, Sega Rally, Final Fantasy IX etc? Well Prince of Persia: Rival Swords (the PSP port of PoP: The Two Thrones) has absolutely none of that. If competently-handled, it would have been a solid way of playing the final chapter of the Sands of Time trilogy of 3D platformers. As it stands though, it's a beyond-shoddy port of what was already merely an OK game, and had basically the bare minimum of work done to make it run "acceptably" on PSP.

Graphics have taken a serious hit - where PoP: The Two Thrones on PC and home console had relatively nice visuals for its time, the translation to PSP was NOT kind. The landscapes and lighting are passable, but the main character and supporting cast look terrible, even by PSP standards, with beyond low-res textures. Animation is still relatively smooth though. This whole package is further let down by a fluctuating frame rate that I'm not sure goes above 30, and often jarringly dips to what looks like the 20s and probably below. Another let-down is more from the game's setting itself. The first Sands of Time focused on creating a beautiful atmosphere despite limited locales, with colours, architecture, and lighting coming together cohesively to compose some really vivid environments. The Two Thrones on the other hand fails in this regard, as it focuses on a journey through rather boring city streets, rooftops, and sewers. There are technical problems too - during my playthrough there were at least two occasions where the game failed to load the graphics during cutscenes and subsequently froze. Sounds also fare badly - often cutscene audio is missing or out of sync, and sound effects sometimes don't finish properly. The ambient sounds are still good though, and music is also fittingly atmospheric.

The gameplay itself is still mostly decent. The focus is on traversal of the environments, where the puzzle is how to get from point A to point B, making use of the landscape features and avoiding traps. Unfortunately, combat features a lot and is as bad as it always was in the other games of the Sands of Time trilogy. The Prince has various combos to use, and can fight with weapons picked up from downed enemies, whilst the other playable character has a chain whip and is more powerful. That second character's segments are different from the Prince's in that their health is continually declining and must be replenished by absorbing the sands of time either from killed enemies or breakable containers in the environment. It's basically a timer to keep you moving, and that fact is exploited in way too many sections which have lengthy platforming segments without opportunities to refill in between so you have to race along. It's here that one of the worst parts of the game comes into play - damage during these segments doesn't just slow you down - it also reduces your 'timer' even further. Both characters also have opportunities to stealth kill enemies, but sadly these also feature that worst of emissions from game-satan's fresh pink asshole, the QTE. Not only do you have to sneak up on an enemy to kill them, you have to then activate the stealth kill and successfully complete a QTE to complete it. This in itself would be bad in cases where the tougher enemies have several steps in their QTE, but there are also parts where special enemies guard portals and can summon more guys to ruin your day. If you mess up their stealth kill QTEs, you're forced to fight several enemies at once, with more spawning in after you beat each one. Whoever thought that the above "features" might be fun or good "game design" is hopefully no longer working in the games industry and can't hurt anybody else. Predictably the final boss also features QTE elements, on top of a lengthy platforming sequence where they can knock you off causing an instant death. Whilst the game has the time rewind and slowdown elements from the rest of the Sands of Time trilogy to help overcome difficult parts, I found them to be fairly insufficient in mitigating the frustration.

Pacing is also utterly abysmal - often the more difficult sections have no checkpoints, forcing you to complete them in one go (or not in my case - my PS Vita is hacked so I could use save states, because fuck that noise) and in other sections with very little danger checkpoints are over-used. It's as though they didn't even playtest it. That said, there is one thing I will say about this version in its favour: On the PC version of Two Thrones, there's a section where the Prince has to race a chariot, battling enemies along the way and featuring instant death at several points, followed by a tough boss battle, but there's no save point in between so even if you've mastered the chariot part you still have to play through it each time that boss battle defeats you. Thankfully, the PSP version adds that save point in. I know lots of people would say that they didn't have any difficulty with this part, completed it first time etc., but it's often acknowledged as the most difficult part of the game, and it's what caused me to rage-quit the PC version last year.

Having reached the end, I can't say that I enjoyed the experience very much, so it's certainly a one-and-done game for me. I did like the story elements, and the ending provided great closure to the Sands of Time arc, featuring a brilliant callback to the first game. Regardless, unless you're really curious about the story and have no other means to play PoP: The Two Thrones, I'd advise everyone to steer well clear.
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Re: Games Beaten 2020

by BoneSnapDeez Tue Jul 14, 2020 3:02 pm

1. ACA NeoGeo: Cyber-Lip (Switch eShop)
2. Pengo (Atari 2600)
3. Kirby's Epic Yarn (Wii)
4. Knights of Xentar (PC)
5. Hoshi o Sagashite... (Mark III)
6. Dead Zone (Famicom Disk System)
7. Samurai Sword (Famicom Disk System)
8. High School! Kimengumi (Mark III)
9. Princess Tomato in the Salad Kingdom (NES)
10. Sindbad Mystery (SG-1000)
11. Steins;Gate (Vita)
12. Champion Boxing (SG-1000)
13. Squidlit (Switch eShop)
14. Skyblazer (SNES)
15. Tokyo Dark: Remembrance (Switch eShop)
16. Bubble Bobble (Famicom Disk System)
17. Steins;Gate Elite (Switch)
18. Johnny Turbo's Arcade: Joe and Mac Returns (Switch eShop)
19. Johnny Turbo's Arcade: Express Raider (Switch eShop)
20. Alex Kidd in the Enchanted Castle (Genesis)
21. Sword of Vermilion (Genesis)
22. Steins;Gate: My Darling's Embrace (Switch eShop)
23. Oink! (Atari 2600)
24. Bio Miracle Bokutte Upa (Famicom Disk System)
25. Super Castlevania IV (SNES)
26. Phantasy Star Online (Dreamcast)
27. Chaos;Child (Vita)
28. Scar of the Doll (Steam)
29. Kirby's Adventure (NES)
30. Rhapsody: A Musical Adventure (PlayStation)
31. Hangman (Atari 2600)
32. Metal Slug (Neo Geo MVS)
33. Metal Slug 2 (Neo Geo MVS)

34. Masters of the Universe: The Power of He-Man (Intellivision)
35. Shark! Shark! (Intellivision)
36. Videocart 1: Tic-Tac-Toe / Shooting Gallery / Doodle / Quadra-Doodle (Channel F)


Masters of the Universe: The Power of He-Man
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Games released during my birth year are always a real hoot. Masters of the Universe: The Power of He-Man is an Intellivision release, fittingly developed by Mattel, based on the He-Man action figures and media. The game was also ported to the Atari 2600 under the "M Network" branding, with an unaltered title. As a licensed game, this one's not available on the Intellivision Lives! compilations or various Flashback systems, though the original cartridge isn't especially difficult to track down.
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Gameplay is reminiscent of the likes of Dragonfire, where each stage is split into two distinct "phases" to be played one after another. The first phase involves the "wind raider" which is some sort of battle hovercraft. Here He-Man must travel 30 miles, which only takes a minute, to complete a segment. This feels almost like a horizontal shmup, though it has that same sort of old school "scrolling" seen in shooters like River Raid. He-Man is essentially locked into a vertical axis in the screen's middle, and pressing right or left on the controller disc causes the mountainous backdrop to scroll along the screen's bottom. Hazards come in the form of fireballs, these take one or several laser blasts to destroy based on the chosen difficulty level. The fireball AI is actually rather clever; dodging them is tough so it's recommended to blast 'em all instead. These hovercraft segments move left to right, and while He-Man can scoot left to avoid a fireball, doing so wastes precious fuel. Naturally, colliding with a fireball or a complete loss of fuel equals a deduction of one life. Additionally, Skeletor scurries along the bottom of the screen. He can be pelted with bombs for additional points. Controls are fluid, and this is one of those games that doesn't use the "telephone" buttons at all, outside of selecting a difficulty level. The top "side" buttons (which exist on each side of the controller) are used to fire the laser cannon, while the bottom buttons (again, on each side) drop bombs. Note that, as is common among most shooters this ancient, the player is only allotted one shot onscreen at a time. This means, for instance, that He-Man is unable to fire a laser to the right if a bomb dropping towards Skeleton remains onscreen, so maintaining a good rhythm is pertinent. He-Man does not mash buttons.
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The second phase of each stage consists of a "ground attack" launched against Skeletor. At this point He-Man must traverse through three environments (mountains, forest, Castle Grayskull) to catch his perpetually fleeing rival. At the start of each of these top-down rounds, He-Man is positioned on the left side of the screen, with Skeletor on the far right. He-Man's progress is thwarted by the lightning balls hurtled by his nemesis. Touching one of these does not deduct a life, but pushes He-Man back a distance, thus granting a time penalty. Fail to reach Skeletor within the allotted 90 or 120 seconds, and He-Man is whisked away (literally, in a tornado) to a prior hovercraft segment. A press of any one of the four side buttons allows He-Man to lift his shield. This will protect him from a lightning ball, at the expense of a few precious seconds of time. While the shield can be wielded liberally at first, at higher difficulties it's more useful to try to simply weave around the lightning. There is a time extension item that appears in the form of a sword, but chasing after one of these can ironically become a time-waster. Reach Skeletor to witness a very amusing (and automated) sword battle, and the game loops -- but at a tougher difficulty.

The game's graphical presentation is simple, but pleasing to the eye. There are some amusing "cutscenes" observed when Skeletor flees to (and from) his castle and when He-Man lands the wind raider. The backgrounds feature some surprising little details, like the animated flags in Castle Grayskull. The sound design is equally competent, with some great effects (particularly a bomb colliding with Skeletor), and the He-Man theme song jungle is played at various pivotal moments. It's unlikely that this is anyone's favorite Intellivision game, but it's certainly "good enough" -- and since it hasn't been reissued console owners would be wise to give it a shot.


Shark! Shark!
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This is probably one the best games available on the Intellivision, and you play as a fish that continuously gets fatter. As a first-party Mattel title, Shark! Shark! is also easily found on compilations and a reboot is planned for the Intellivision Amico. Who's excited? I'm excited.

The concept here is incredibly simple. It's an "eat or be eaten" scenario, where the player takes control of a small fish that can consume other sea life to grow in size, and must avoid those those larger, stronger specimens. The battle is waged within a single screen watery arena; the ocean floor at the bottom functions as a foreground and can be passed through. Any fish smaller than (or even equal to) the player's can be eaten while any contact with a larger fish will cause the player's fish to be eaten, plus a life deducted. It's like the first stage of E.V.O. minus the Creation allegory. Points are granted as fish are gobbled up. At every 1000 points, the player's fish grows in size, with "size 5" being the largest. There are some additional lobsters and crabs that can be eaten as well, though their size is a bit ambiguous, so it can be hard to tell when it's safe to grab them. The instruction booklet does clear things up a bit in this regard, clarifying that the player's fish must be at "size 4" to safety consume crustaceans.
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The titular shark makes occasional appearances as well. This cartilaginous beast can't be eaten outright, but can be defeated if its tail is repeatedly munched. It's a tricky affair, as the shark will turn around instantly once bitten, so perfecting a hit and run strategy is essential. There's also a jellyfish that's completely indestructible and most be avoided outright. The "difficulty level" chosen upon booting the game really just corresponds to overall game speed, with the humorously titled "medium slow" being the default. The control disc is used for swimming, while button presses can be used to stop the player's fish on a dime, or to cause it to "dart" for a moment. The controls are admittedly a tad clunky, especially since the disc cannot be depressed at the same time the player tries to initiate a stop or dart, and Shark! Shark! novices will probably be inclined to avoid these speed alterations altogether.

The AI is well-programmed with sea creatures either charging the player or fleeing, based on their stature. An additional two-player mode is where the game truly shines, as players can eat each other and are thus competing to "get big" quickest. The graphics are pleasing and colorful, with a rainbow of critters perpetually cascading across the screen. The sound design is great: there's even a simple but menacing tune that commences when a shark enters the ring. It may or may not be a nod to a certain blockbuster film released several years prior.

Shark! Shark! well represents the best "type" of second generation title. The "rules" are clear, but, much like the ocean itself, there's a deceptive layer of depth to be found here, and the most successful players will have to consistently weigh risks vs. rewards. Forgotten (or undiscovered) by most gamers today, anyone exploring the Intellivision library should consider this entry essential.



Videocart 1: Tic-Tac-Toe / Shooting Gallery / Doodle / Quadra-Doodle
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Videocart 1: Tic-Tac-Toe / Shooting Gallery / Doodle / Quadra-Doodle (just rolls off the tongue...) failed to make a huge splash in the video gaming scene, then and now, but it is notable for one thing. Arriving in the year of America's bicentennial courtesy of the Fairchild Channel F and one Jerry Lawson, this is the first removable game cartridge released for home use. Undeniably antiquated, this comes from an era where the concept of a "video game" was still vaguely defined, and the ability to manipulate any object on a television screen felt like an absolute marvel.

While those initial Atari 2600 releases each felt bloated by the 800 various game "modes" many of the earliest Channel F games consisted of a series of discrete minigames. As the full title of Videocart 1 unambiguously indicates, this one is no exception. The individual minigames are selected by pressing one of the numbered buttons on the console as the cartridge boots up. First comes Tic-Tac-Toe, where a single player faces off against the computer. The human player goes first and the AI is quite exploitable, so the excitement wears thin quickly. Plus, the controls are rather clunky, as you're only allowed to move horizontally, row by row. It is worth losing once, just to see the YOU LOSE TURKEY message -- one of the earliest examples of "comedy" in a video game. Next comes the highlight of the cartridge: Shooting Gallery. Before playing, one must first select speed and time by using the console's buttons. The player is given a rifle, suspiciously shaped like a Pong paddle, and must attempt to shoot as many vertically-dropping "dead ducks" as possible before time runs out. The rifle's position remains fixed while shooting, but after each successful shot the rifle's location and angle are changed. Bullets ricochet off the ceiling and floor, and success is predicated on proper timing. It's relatively fun, though I can't stomach the thought of attempting mode 4, which lasts for twenty minutes.
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Doodle is a primordial paint program, which takes full advantage of the Channel F's idiosyncratic controllers. Through a combination of moving the controller's "top" in cardinal directions -- as well as twisting and "plunging" it -- one can design an image with varying line widths and colors. It's essential to read the instruction booklet before diving into this one, as it's all too easy to delete an image by mistake. Finally we have Quadra-Doodle, which feels like a graphical tech demo, where the game itself creates a series of symmetrical geometric shapes, which can then be modified by the player. "Great for parties" boasts the back of the box.

Game visuals are plain and beyond primitive, but the color choices are much less garish than those seen in Atari's pre-1980 classics. The sound design consists of nothing but boops and beeps, which are emitted by the console's speaker, rather than the television. Overall, it's impossible to rate this sort of thing "objectively" in 2020, but I find the Channel F and this accompanying launch title quite charming. And, needless to say, the creation of ROM cartridges was an enormous innovation.
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