Welcome to Octurbo-CD

Last year, I undertook an investigation into the mysterious back-catalogue of the ill-fated TurboGrafx-16 console with a screenshot LP series named TurboMento-12, which eventually culminated in Octurbo; a far breezier daily series that stopped after about an hour into each game. While the NEC TurboGrafx-16 enjoyed more than moderate success in its home nation as the PC Engine, the TG-16 did not fare quite as well in the US. NEC didn't even try to sell the console in Europe and as a result the TG-16's been something of an enigma to me, a UK videogamesman. Wanting to better understand what I missed out on, I endeavored to look into its history, its high-profile games, its low-profile games, its low-brow games (that Lady Sword incident...) and a few PC Engine exclusives that didn't make the cross over to the States for (usually) explicable reasons.

Still a mystery.

However, what I didn't do last year was check out the console's CD library. NEC is famous for developing the first console with a CD-ROM drive in 1988: the creatively-named TurboGrafx-CD (and, in 1992, the Turbo Duo, which played both CDs and the original system's HuCards). The PC Engine equivalent is the even more creatively-named PC Engine CD-ROM2. This edition of Octurbo will look at as many of these CD games as possible or, to be a bit more realistic, about twenty-four or so. As before, I'll be taking a scenic route through some of its best-known (and lesser, forgotten) titles. It's worth noting that while the TurboGrafx-CD only saw 45 official releases (to the PC Engine CD-ROM2's 400+), the CDs were not region locked. You still had to know Japanese to play any of the text-heavy stuff like adventure games, visual novels or RPGs, but the few lines of backstory at the beginning of any number of great JP-exclusive shooters and action games for the system were an acceptable casualty (though the import fees were probably more of a dealbreaker). Just from a historical perspective, it's interesting to see how those early CD-ROM console developers handled having several magintudes more memory space to work with but the same limited computing/graphical power. At least the music was better. Redbook audio did a lot for VGM.

I've brought it up before, but there are some amazing resources out there for TG-16/PCE games and the discussion thereof. There's Hardcore Gaming 101, which is usually the best place to look if you need a lot of info on some obscurity or other; there's Chronturbo -- the sister series of Doc Sparkle's excellent Chrontendo -- which is an ongoing video series that explicates on every video game released for the TurboGrafx-16 and PCE in chronological order; The Brothers Duomazov, a trio of guys who are systematically challenging everything for the system and writing up their experiences; and I <3 The PC Engine, an intermittent and presently defunct series from video game historian VIP Magweasel a.k.a. former GamePro editor Kevin Gifford, who goes into detail about individual games and the history of the console also in chronological order. There's more, of course -- it seems the TG-16's mystique inspired more than a few people, especially those who followed its far more plenteous and varied PC Engine output -- but that's probably more than enough reading material. Hell, you still have all of the below to get through first. Chop, chop.

At any rate, I'll be using this blog as a contents page of sorts, adding new items to the table below and linking back to this page after every entry. Thanks for checking out some weird 16-bit CD games with me, everyone. Hope you like anime cutscenes.

01/10 - Castlevania: Rondo of Blood09/10 - Kaze Kiri: Ninja Action17/10 - Star Parodier
02/10 - Lords of Thunder10/10 - Dungeon Master: Theron's Quest18/10 - Motteke Tamago
03/10 - Bonk 311/10 - Valis II19/10 - Cosmic Fantasy 2
04/10 - Last Alert12/10 - Exile20/10 - risky anime pick...
05/10 - Beyond Shadowgate13/10 - Minesweeper21/10 - a turbomento sequel...
06/10 - Dungeon Explorer II14/10 - Cotton: Fantastic Night Dreams22/10 - another suggestion...
07/10 - Cho Aniki15/10 - Strider Hiryu23/10 - a notorious brawler...
08/10 - No.Ri.Ko16/10 - Ys IV: Dawn of Ys24/10 - the ultimate monster...
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Wiki Project: Super '93

Hey Wiki Pages and Wiki Squires, I have exciting news. Well, by a certain muted definition of exciting. Mildly intriguing news, let's go with that. I've just completed a Wiki Project that has taken nine months from start to finish. I haven't been working tirelessly on it day or night or anything, more as an occasional something to do while I listen to new Bombcast and MBMBaM podcasts, but it still required a lot of work and perseverance. Sorry, I'm making this sound like I climbed Everest or something. Let's start over:

At the start of this year, I began what seemed like a fairly simple task: Ensure that every SNES game from 1993 had a full wiki page. My definition of "full" for the purposes of this exercise included the following:

  1. Overview text. Most game pages ideally need an overview section (brief synopsis, basic history of releases, any pertinent facts about the game from a meta standpoint) and a gameplay section (actually gets into detail about how the game plays, its systems and features), but I kind of just left them with overviews in most cases.
  2. Deck. That little blurb at the top of the page that briefly describes the game. There's nothing too concrete in the rules about what that message ought to contain, but a simple single-sentence description of the game usually suffices. At least it does for my purposes.
  3. Screenshots. Just a smattering of gameplay shots, all the relevant box art and every title screen (for cases when a game changes its name after localization). We have an awful lot of sketchy .jpeg screenshots, unfortunately. Makes me wonder what decade they were taken in.
  4. Header image. The background shot, the one that goes behind the deck. This requires high-res screenshots, which is kind of a pull when you're dealing with a console that natively displays in a 320x200 resolution. Such a small image looks awful and blurry when blown up for a header image, considering most modern PC monitors use something like 1366x768 or higher as their default. It also means choosing the right shots that work well within the small target window that the site picks out for the display. We have a useful tool by mod @chaser324 that lets you "test" uploaded images, but I've gotten to the point now where I can feel it out well enough. Mostly.
  5. Full details. The side-panel that tells you the platforms, release date, genres, themes and so on. It's not always possible to fill out every field (especially aliases and franchises, given that they're not always applicable), but I try to ensure we have as much info as possible.
  6. Releases. Obviously, the game needs all its releases too. It's a database thing. Since the big site switch, there's now spaces for a developer and publisher for every release (publishers typically tend to change depending on region) so there's usually at least some work to be done here even on popular pages.

Now, the way I figured it, the Super Nintendo is one of the most popular consoles in the world. I fully expected every page to have at least half of the above already complete. I suspected I'd be filling in the occasional missing detail and adding a fancy new header image and then moving on. Yeah, that wasn't the case. Most Super Nintendo pages require a lot of work, it turned out. Even the big ones.

Because talking about old games is more fun than talking about updating the wiki pages of old games, I'm going to segue now into a list of highlights. I discovered many of these games for the first time while working on this project -- Japan's Super Famicom saw a lot more games than the US/Europe SNES ever did -- and while many are your standard baseball and mahjong nonsense, there's a few weird hidden gems in there too. I'll throw in some stats and stuff too, for flavor. You know, nothing brightens up an article like a bunch of numbers.

January

  • List of releases: 16
  • US Block: 2
  • Japan Block: 14
  • List of Super Famicom exclusives: 9

SNES highlight: The Super Nintendo release schedule of 1993 was a lot like the modern console release schedule of today: the first few months of the year were fairly mild, it picked up around Spring, became a drought in the Summer and then slowly picked up again around Autumn and continued strong until the holiday season peak. January saw an average number of releases, but it also saw a relatively small amount of games in the "US Block": those games that first appeared in the US. These include the ubiquitous Epyx sports mini-game collection California Games II (which was first released on PC three years prior, so I don't know what the delay was) and The Hunt For Red October game. Dated computer ports and mediocre license games is pretty much the US Block in a nutshell.

In most cases I'll picking a game that was released in Japan that month and saw a US release at some point later on. While they've been dislodged as world leaders in video game development in recent times, the Japanese really were the only ones producing anything of merit on consoles back in the early 90s. I realize what that sounds like, but it's more a demonstrable fact than any weeaboo protestation.

They didn't even try to make these cutscenes less anime.

The SNES highlight for January 1993 is Makeruna! Makendou, otherwise known as Kendo Rage. While not a particularly great game (slim pickings this month, I assure you), Kendo Rage is interesting because the localization team was asked to take something so incredibly Japanese as a sentai Japanese schoolgirl with a katana and make it more "American". Unlike many other Western makeovers, there wasn't much that ended up changed, and the game is still as anime as two Gundams surreptitiously rendezvousing under a cherry blossom tree. If nothing else, it demonstrated a hope that intensely Japanese games would be given more chances overseas, and many of the most memorable Super Nintendo games were those so unashamedly Japanese that they stayed with you.

"Hey, asshole!"

SFC highlight: The Super Famicom highlight, of the nine games that never (officially) left the Land of the Rising Sun, is Elfaria. Though it seems like a (El)fairly(a) standard JRPG, perhaps one that was never quite good enough to see a localization, I was amazed at the artwork when taking screenshots for it. Created by Susumu Matsushita, it reminds me of the European comics I used to read as a kid, like Goscinny/Uderzo's Astérix. I'd hazard a guess that much of the in-game artwork had a similar style. When Enix hired manga artist Akira Toriyama (he of Dragon Ball fame) to work on the character and monster designs of Dragon Quest, other developers saw his involvement as one of the many X-factors that made Dragon Quest so successful. As well as copying its first-person turn-based combat and other mechanics, JRPG developers would also frequently hire prominent artists from other fields (manga, anime) to give their own game a distinctive art style.

February

  • List of releases: 18
  • US Block: 3
  • Japan Block: 15
  • List of Super Famicom exclusives: 10

SNES highlights: The easy standout of February 1993 is Star Fox, the first entry into the 3D polygonal on-rails anthropomorphic animal space-sim series from Nintendo themselves. Nintendo actually sought outside help from UK developer Argonaut Games, which had created a polygonal shooter for Nintendo the previous year (1992's X) and were best known for their Starglider series.

Polygons! In my Super Nintendo!

Star Fox is the first game to use the Super FX chip, famously, and would lead the charge for a smattering of polygonal games for the system. Of course, it wouldn't be until the next generation of consoles when polygonal graphics would become the norm, but SNES developers were never one to shy away from exploiting the system's limited tools to create 3D-ish presentations. It was the sprite-scaling Mode 7 that got the most use, and pre-rendered 3D models after that. Sneaky stuff.

Honorable mentions: SimAnt, which failed to make the splash SimCity did for the SNES, despite having the more interesting premise. The US Block games were Cool World (based on that "adult" Roger Rabbit movie starring Brad Pitt), Harley's Humongous Adventure (I shudder to think how many SNES platformers used the cliché of micro-sized protagonists walking through normal households) and Hit the Ice (a parody ice hockey game, because that's a sport everyone takes too seriously).

Medama-Oyaji. Literally means "eyeball dad". He's Kitarou's dad, and an eyeball.

SFC highlights: The SFC stand out is Gegege no Kitarou: Fukkatsu! Tenma Daiou. The Japanese tended to fall into the similar trap of putting development speed over quality when it came to their licensed games, but Gegege no KItarou: Fukkatsu! Tenma Daiou -- based on the Gegege no Kitarou manga/anime about a yokai (spirit) boy who helps humans by fighting the worst the underworld has to offer -- is a visually arresting, challenging boss rush in the vein of something like Treasure's Alien Soldier. Boss characters seem to pop out around every corner, and many have interesting patterns or are so damn bizarre that it throws you for a loop. I saw most of what the game had to offer thanks to an episode of hit Japanese LP TV show GameCenter CX. It didn't get any less crazy after that first encounter with a giant blob with a dude's face on it.

Honorable mentions: Leading Company, a corporate life sim where the 80s still rule supreme. Can you make your rival businessmen destitute before it's time for your liquid lunch? How much more tastefully off-white can you make your embossed business card? Are those Huey Lewis MIDIs on the soundtrack? Also: Wally o Sagase!, where you literally (well, in-game) meet Waldo's maker in a metaphysical take on the world's favorite hidden person picture puzzle franchise.

March

  • List of releases: 31
  • US Block: 2
  • Japan Block: 29
  • List of Super Famicom exclusives: 14

SNES highlights: March was a busy month with thirty one releases, and the best SNES game of the lot is probably Ogre Battle: The March of the Black Queen. A Squaresoft joint, the game combines the turn-based RPGs the company was known for with a tactical real-time war sim, where troops would slowly march towards their destinations as you attempted to out-maneuver the enemy forces. It's all about choosing whether to stack one squad with your best units and hoping they trample everything in their way, or spreading the units around for equal growth and minimal casualties.

The game has some great artwork too.

The game was actually a semi-serious spin on Square's parody series Hanjuku Eiyuu. They presumably felt that the very Japanese comedy stylings wouldn't work as well overseas as a traditional Fire Emblem-y/LOTR fantasy warfare scenario.

Honorable mentions: Also released in March of 1993 was Chou Makai Taisen: Dorabocchan, best known to us as The Twisted Tales of Spike McFang. it's a top-down third-person shooter similar to Pocky and Rocky, that almost felt like a kid-friendly spin-off of the Castlevania series. In the original Japanese version, Spike apparently ate the hearts of his enemies (another allusion to Castlevania and its convention of a heart-based economy). The US version changed it to tomatoes. What is he, Count Duckula? The excellent SNES shoot 'em ups BioMetal and Pop'n Twinbee also came out this month.

Caught this guy jaywalking. A crime is a crime, perp!

SFC highlights: There were a bunch of interesting Super Famicom exclusives this time. The one I had the most fun grabbing images for was Edo no Kiba, one of two SFC games from 1993 that could be boiled down to "anime RoboCop". Like its Sega counterpart ESWAT, the player is this cool as hell cyborg cop who rockets through dystopian NeoTokyo beating up criminals with military-grade weapons.

Honorable mentions: Ihatov Monogatari is a bizarre little adventure game that doesn't rely on conflict to tell its story, and seems to be based on the posthumously published works of a long-dead Japanese author. This Hardcore Gaming 101 article goes into more detail. Metal Max 2 seems like a badass open-world JRPG with a post-apocalyptic setting that allows you to hire your own mercenary army of Mad Max dudes in tanks and trucks. Neugier: Umi to Kaze no Koudou is a top-down action RPG with QTEs that struck me as similar to Illusion of Gaia. JoJo no Kimyou na Bouken is the first ever JoJo's Bizarre Adventure game, and is a weird mix of an adventure game and turn-based fighter RPG? I guess a confusing genre mix is apropos for that particular anime.

April

  • List of releases: 19
  • US Block: 7
  • Japan Block: 12
  • List of Super Famicom exclusives: 6

SNES highlights: We calm down a bit in April with nineteen releases, and a much larger US Block than we've had previously. There's too many promising games here to choose a highlight, but I'll go with Breath of Fire because I'm a mark for that series. Capcom's Breath of Fire games are their take on a traditional fantasy RPG, albeit one where the main character can shapeshift into a dragon. The first Breath of Fire had some great graphics, a neat isometric view for its combat and the aforementioned dragon shapeshifting was sort of a heavy metal take on the summons of Final Fantasy: a temporary boost of otherworldly power to depend on in cases of emergency.

Honorable mentions: Like I said, this month seemed packed with great SNES games. Operation Logic Bomb is considered one of the best hidden gems on the system, a top-down shooter in the Metal Gear/Alien Syndrome mold with some trippy visuals in its partially-virtual cybernetic world and a bunch of novel features. Blizzard's best game, The Lost Vikings, also premiered on the system this month, as did Hudson's first super outing for their little anime Ted Kaczynski in Super Bomberman. Of course, we also got Wayne's World, Toys and American Gladiators this month too. April, she is capricious.

Is that Grounder?

SFC highlights: I'm going to give this one to Ryuuki Heidan Danzarb, a scenario-based sci-fi RPG from Pandora Box with some unspecified help from Gainax, the creators of Neon Genesis Evangelion. I've yet to delve too far into the game's fan translation, but it seems fairly varied with its different missions, each with its different tasks to achieve. A bit like Live a Live, another fan translated RPG worth checking out for its unusual design choices.

Honorable mentions: I'll (honorably) mention this one for sheer weirdness value, Action Pachio is a Pac-Man World take on Coconuts Japan's pachinko mascot Pachio-kun. Pachio-kun had until this game only starred in pachinko sims, on a never-ending quest to procure as many of his tiny inanimate brethren as possible. What's odder is that they built the game to be more like Sonic the Hedgehog, emphasizing speed and rolling around. It didn't seem too bad, honestly.

May

  • List of releases: 13
  • US Block: 8
  • Japan Block: 5
  • List of Super Famicom exclusives: 3

SNES highlights: The release schedule trickles to a relative crawl as Summer approaches. May is the first month where the US Block outnumbered the Japan Block. Still, for as few games as there were, there's still a few good picks here. My favorite would have to be the Super Nintendo adaptation of Shadowrun, a complex isometric RPG that you didn't see too often on consoles. It pre-dates the Infinity Engine series, even, making it very impressive indeed. The player had a few options when it came to upgrading their decker hero Jake Armitage, and the game required you be smart about things to avoid falling into its many pitfalls.

That it would go on to inspire the recent Shadowrun Returns (which includes an extended cameo from Jake) is a testament to how ahead of its time it was.

Honorable mentions: There's the console-exclusive sequel Final Fight 2, which drops Cody and Guy from the roster but at least keeps the important one; there's Super Turrican, the appeal of which continues to be lost on most Americans (not that I know either. It's the soundtrack, I think); and there's also Bubsy in: Claws Encounters of the Furred Kind, which I just put here as a joke. The actual third honorable mention is Titanic simulator SOS (a.k.a. Septentrion), just one of many odd experiments Human Entertainment developed during their time. It's brutally difficult, rewarding repeated playthroughs as you gradually figure out where to go in the limited amount of time the game gives you to escape a sinking cruise ship. It also made for a pretty good GameCenter CX episode.

Mecha-Lion has this in the bag.

SFC highlights: Of the three Super Famicom exclusives this month, my hands are kind of tied with the highlight: Conveni Wars Barcode Battler Senki: Super Senshi Shutsugeki Seyo!. This sesquipedalian strategy RPG was the first SFC game to be compatible with the Barcode Battler toy, via a peripheral you could plug into a controller port. It's kind of neat to have a video game turn the barcodes you find on groceries into units for a strategy RPG thing, even if the game itself doesn't seem too hot. Kinda like those Monster Rancher games and CDs. Considering the only other two options were a Go game and a pachinko game, there's not much of a contest.

June

  • List of releases: 26
  • US Block: 13
  • Japan Block: 13
  • List of Super Famicom exclusives: 10

SNES highlights: I might've said the Summers were quieter. I lied. There were twenty six new games in June, which is the second largest amount of the year so far. This is due to both US and Japan Blocks going at full speed to draw in all the kids who don't like to go outside during the warmer months, I'd assume.

I can't help but mentally plan out which rows I intend to move first.

The SNES highlight this time is Yoshi's Cookie, because Yoshi gets too much shade thrown at him around here and Cookie is a deceptively addictive puzzle game.

Honorable mentions: Plenty to choose from here as well. Lufia & The Fortress of Doom (Estpolis Denki) isn't much compared to its sequel, but was appealing due to its cartoony artwork and simple mechanics in a time when JRPGs were finding early success in the wake of Final Fantasy IV (the JRPG localizations prior to FF4 were kind of niche. And now JRPGS are niche again, I suppose). Run Saber is a goofy, enjoyable action game that borrows more than a few pages from Strider's book with its acrobatics. Battletoads in Battlemaniacs is the best looking Battletoads game, if you're one of a Rare breed actually fond of that sadistic series.

The only thing she loved more than her dear husband was not wearing seatbelts.

SFC highlights: Maybe it's not the greatest game, but for premise alone it's gotta be Gekitotsu Dangan Jidousha Kessen: Battle Mobile. In the near future, Mad Max-ian road bandits kill the wife of a newlywed couple on their honeymoon. The guy spends the next year souping up a red Interceptor, fills it with weapons and takes on the gang's leaders in a Spy Hunter-inspired vehicular combat game. The Japanese-fluent @pepsiman and the barely English-fluent Mento tried to decipher its word salad title and could only come up with "Breakthrough Bullet: Final Car Fight: Battle Mobile". Now, that's a title!

Honorable mentions: Props go out to Dragon Slayer: Eiyuu Densetsu II, the "lost" Legend of Heroes sequel that remains one of the few older games in the series to never see an English localization. Cosmo Police Galivan II: Arrow of Justice is both the other anime RoboCop game I talked about and the runner-up for best title this month. It's a more standard side-scrolling brawler than Edo no Kiba, which had you moving at incredible speeds with your jet boots taking down biker gangs.

July

  • List of releases: 28
  • US Block: 2
  • Japan Block: 26
  • List of Super Famicom exclusives: 14

SNES highlights: I have no idea what to tell you. Maybe Japan takes summers more seriously than we do, because the vast majority of the games released this month were in Japan. It's tough narrowing down a SNES highlight with that kind of traffic, but Super Mario All-Stars is a pretty safe bet.

Peach gets so mad if you stay on this title screen for too long.

A compilation of three of the best games for the NES (and the Japanese Super Mario Bros 2, dubbed the Lost Levels here) graphically enhanced is hard to beat, after all. All-Stars would go on to be bundled with most Super Nintendos going forward, usually coupled with Super Mario World on the same cart.

Honorable mentions: Almost too many to count. The best three would be the surprisingly decent co-operative puzzle game Goof Troop; the underappreciated Rocky Rodent from Irem, who changes his hairstyle to pass through levels; and the endlessly entertaining Street Fighter II Turbo, who some might claim is the best of the early iterations of Capcom's juggernaut fighter series.

SFC highlights: While it might seem like we're spoilt for choice here, there is only one true answer: Giant Bomb favorite Sanrio World Smash Ball!. The simple joys of watching a frog and a raccoon frenetically swat a flying disc back and forth cannot be overstated, and it's always a welcome sight whenever the Bomb Squad bring it out during a slow UPF.

Honorable mentions: While Sanrio World Smash Ball! doesn't have much in the way of competition, there's still a few interesting SuFami games in that enormous pile of July releases. Death Brade is an hilariously named arena fighter known elsewhere as Mutant Fighter, sort of like a mythology-based Pit-Fighter; Dai-3-Ji Super Robot Taisen is the first of Banpresto's crossover mecha RPGs to make it to the Super Famicom; and then there's the inscrutably anime Super Back to the Future II, a Japan-exclusive platformer that looks way more fun than the awful movie license dreck we got.

August

  • List of releases: 15
  • US Block: 0
  • Japan Block: 15
  • List of Super Famicom exclusives: 10

SNES highlights: Shockingly, the US didn't produce a single new game for the SNES in August, despite 1993 being one of the peak years for the console. That Summer slump in full force, I'd suspect. Japan kept us covered though, producing yet another batch of memorable titles.

The no-doubts-whatsoever highlight of August is Seiken Densetsu II, best known as Secret of Mana. Secret of Mana was, along with Final Fantasy IV, one of the benchmark JRPGs for the system and would help launch the genre as a force to be reckoned with in the US for the remainder of the Super Nintendo's relevancy. (The PlayStation's Final Fantasy VII would launch it to even greater heights, of course, but that's neither here nor there). Secret of Mana may well be one of the greatest games ever created for the Super Nintendo; a game that could be ethereally beautiful with its affecting soundtrack, visuals and story while simultaneously one of the goofiest and baffling experiences with its chaotic three-player mode and anime idiosyncrasies. It's the game that sold me on JRPGs forever.

Honorable mentions: With only five games that ever saw US releases on the list (actually, that's a lie, there's only four: the fifth saw a single international release for France, so I couldn't count it as a Super Famicom exclusive), there's not a whole lot of options here. Super Slap Shot seems like an entirely capable ice hockey game with close-ups for its fights and Nobunaga's Ambition began an entire genre of inscrutable strategy sims based in Sengoku era Japan (the SNES game is actually the second in the series, referred to as Zenkokuban or "Whole Country Edition" in Japan). Notable as well is that French game I mentioned earlier: a brawler based on Sailor Moon. Yeah, that Sailor Moon.

Defeated at his castle, Wario now contents himself with taking cheap shots at Mario.

SFC highlights: The only real choice here, and perhaps the only game anyone would've heard of, is the Japan-exclusive Mario & Wario. In this mouse-driven game, Wario drops a bucket on Mario's head and the player, as a helpful fairy, has to direct him and clear his path of dangers. It's a tough game that relies on timing and mouse control, and only gets more difficult in the later stages when they stop giving you checkpoints. It's another game that made for an interesting episode of GameCenter CX.

Honorable mentions: There's honestly not much else this month. There's a couple of baseball games and a couple of horse racing games; two genres that seem to make up most of the Super Famicom exclusives. Jutei Senki is a curious take on a Fire Emblem style strategy game where nature gods and mechanical beings fight each other. There's also a Super Famicom Kunio-kun dodgeball game, Kunio-Kun no Dodge Ball Dayo Zenin Shuugo!, which seemed like fun. Sword World SFC is interesting, in that it's a video game adaptation of a Japanese table-top RPG, sort of like the D&D video games we got over here.

September

  • List of releases: 31
  • US Block: 16
  • Japan Block: 15
  • List of Super Famicom exclusives: 12

SNES highlights: It's full steam ahead as Autumn begins and games start coming out again. The US Block is back in force, outnumbering the Japan Block once more.

Doesn't look like much, but Plok's got it where it counts.

My favorite of this bunch is Plok, a hero that throws out his limbs to hit enemies making him somewhat vulnerable if he misses. The game's quite challenging, in spite of its colorful and comedic countenance. It also sports one of the best soundtracks of any Super Nintendo game, created by the Follins brothers using every trick in their repertoire to get the most out of the SNES's SPC-700 sound chip. It's really gotta be heard to be believed.

Honorable mentions: I suppose I ought to mention Mortal Kombat, even if no-one particularly cared for the sanitized Super Nintendo version. Instead, the next best game by a very close margin is Zombies Ate My Neighbors, the LucasArts top-down shooter that had more B-movie charm than it knew what to do with. Third spot goes to, appropriately enough, the surprisingly decent advergame Cool Spot, devised by the folks who would go on to create Shiny Entertainment and the Earthworm Jim series.

Title screen says it all, really.

SFC highlights: Hmm, tough call. For historical reasons, I'm putting forward Torneko no Daibouken: Fushigi no Dungeon, a.k.a. Torneko's Great Adventure: Mystery Dungeon. As in, the first ever Mystery Dungeon game. Torneko's a portly gentleman who became my favorite character in Dragon Quest IV's roster: a merchant who would frequently rip off his customers with items he found after beating up monsters. Fushigi no Dungeon continues his avaricious adventures, hunting deep below the Earth for valuable treasures to fleece people with.

Honorable mentions: The awesomely-titled Kachou Shima Kousaku: Super Business Adventure is an otherwise dry multiple-choice visual novel where you have to make the best life decisions for a milquetoast salaryman. GS Mikami: Joreishi wa Nice Body is an interesting supernatural platformer based on a comedy anime about a wealth-obsessed exorcist. Gerry Anderson's Thunderbirds: Kokusai Kyuujotai Juudou Seyo!! is curious for being a Japan-only adaptation of a popular British marionette TV show, like Team America played straight (and with less collateral damage to landmarks and actors).

October

  • List of releases: 34
  • US Block: 18
  • Japan Block: 16
  • List of Super Famicom exclusives: 13

SNES highlights: It's going to continue to get more serious as we move on, as more and more games are pushed out to meet the Holiday demand. Unsurprisingly, there's a few good ones here.

Fittingly, Game Room would get buried without any money whatsoever.

Sunset Riders, the Arcade game Jeff Gerstmann pined for up until the very end of Game Room, is a fun Konami shooter that got a fairly solid conversion for the Super Nintendo. It sadly lacks the four players of the original cabinet, but it's almost identical sound and graphics-wise. Well, besides all the customary Nintendo censoring. I remember loving many Konami Arcade games and being sad that their home versions never quite measured up, but Sunset Riders is one of the few they got right.

Honorable mentions: Some other excellent games from this month include Pac-Attack, a Tetris-like puzzle game based on another game that had characters that weren't going to be very recognizable to Western audiences (like the similarly westernized Dr Robotnik's Mean Bean Machine). This month also saw a spate of EA Sports stuff, including NHL '94 and Madden NFL '94, back when EA were pretty much ruling the school for licensed sports games. Another honorable mention is Super Star Wars: The Empire Strikes Back. I loved the sound quality in that series, even though I rarely survived the initial Hoth stage in this one. At least the first Super Star Wars had a grace period before dropping all the impossible jumping sequences on you.

SFC highlights: I'm just going to start listing weird stuff, since I didn't play any of these long enough to pick a clear winner. Miracle Girls is a very saccharine platformer that plays similarly to Little Nemo: The Dream Master for the NES, right down to stunning enemies with candies.

Ranma 1/2: Akanekodan Teki Hihou is a rare Ranma 1/2 game that isn't a fighter, like Hard Battle, but rather an RPG. Super Chinese World 2: Uchuu Ichibuto Daikai is the Japan-only sequel to Super Ninja Boy, and continues that series' bizarre sense of humor and kung fu action albeit as a fighter game rather than a brawler.

November

  • List of releases: 42
  • US Block: 16
  • Japan Block: 26
  • List of Super Famicom exclusives: 15

SNES highlights: It's going to get harder and harder to narrow down highlights as we see more and more releases as 1993 closes out. This month in particular has two games very close to my heart.

Kind of describes my life in a nutshell, really.

I'm going to have to say Illusion of Gaia is my pick for this month. The second game in Quintet's Soul Blazer series, Illusion of Gaia is a simplified but certainly not easy action RPG that superficially resembles The Legend of Zelda with its overhead view and puzzle-filled dungeons. It also has a gonzo story, sending the party (though you only ever play as Will and his two badass transformations) across the world to search for mystical statues needed to defeat an evil comet. All the dungeons in the game are based on famous landmarks, like the Wall of China and Angkor Wat. It's one of those games I wish I could show off to more people, maybe in the form of an LP. Ah, if only I had the video editing means. I'm sure other LPs of it exist.

Honorable mentions: Equinox was my second choice, an isometric puzzle-platformer styled like the C64 games that eventually made Rare a household name. Equinox is another game like Plok that was fortunate enough to be scored by the Follins brothers, and although it's mostly ambient music it still sounds phenomenal. Disney's Aladdin is another easy choice, as one of those rare movie licenses that had some talented folk behind it who actually gave a (street) rat's ass about the source material. I'll throw Patrick a brachiosaur bone with my final choice of Jurassic Park. It's perhaps not as good as the Genesis take (a similar case could be made for Aladdin, though I can go either way on that one), but the SNES version is curious for its inclusion of Doom-style first-person indoor sections.

The boss fights in these games are always the highlight.

SFC highlights: Well, let's see. I think a good choice would be Ys IV: Mask of the Sun. The Ys games are generally fantastic, and it's a shame IV and V were never localized at the time. Ys IV in particular has an interesting history, in that it's actually one of three Ys games with that numeral: Ys IV: Dawn of Ys shares the same story but plays very differently, and was released by Hudson for the Turbo CD (or the PC Engine equivalent, at least). Both games were replaced canonically with the recent third iteration, Ys IV: Memories of Celceta, which can be bought in the US and Europe for the PS Vita (and, hopefully soon, on Steam). Many accounts seem to suggest that MoC is the best Ys game made thus far.

Honorable mentions: There's Accele Brid, which is an unusual mech shooter where you fly through tunnels. The tube shooter wasn't really a thing on 16-bit consoles, since they couldn't pull off the necessary sprite-scaling technique at a sufficient speed (something that plagued every home console port of Space Harrier for the longest time). It was deemed good enough to get an Aeon Genesis fan translation, so it can't be all bad. There's also Super Uno, which is just Uno but kinda super? Seems very odd indeed that it was never localized. Maybe the developers didn't think it would sell overseas without webcam support? Rounding out the trio is Aretha, because I giggled at the name like a child. I know, I know, Aretha Franklin is (was? is) a person and the name actually means "virtue" in Greek. Still a child. The game itself doesn't seem too bad either, though it's more straightforward fantasy JRPG stuff. It has a female protagonist at least, which was (and still is) somewhat unusual. Weirdly enough, she's not called Aretha.

December

  • List of releases: 55
  • US Block: 12
  • Japan Block: 43
  • List of Super Famicom exclusives: 32

SNES highlights: December's launch schedule is just ludicrous. Fifty-five new releases in a single month, more than double of most of the others. It's not even the US that's responsible this time in their mad dash to find likely candidates for Christmas presents, as the vast majority are from Japan who don't even do the whole presents thing at Christmas as far as I'm aware. It's more like Valentine's Day for them from what I gather from all my Japanese animes. With cake. It's... look, I admire they found some way to make it fun that didn't involve carols and spending too much money.

I always thought Mega Man needed more backtracking and upgrades. I hear the Mega Man ZX games are even more SpaceWhipper-like.

As for the SNES highlight, we're really spoiled for choice here. However, realistically, I don't think there's any beating Mega Man X. I didn't get into the Mega Man X series at the time, but there's no denying the amount of craft in those games. The soundtrack's amazing too, easily one of the best in the entire Mega Man franchise, which is saying something.

Honorable mentions: Metal Combat: Falcon's Revenge is worthy of mention for being a superior sequel to Battle Clash, which had been up to that point the only reason to buy a Super Scope. TMNT Tournament Fighters is beloved to a certain group of weirdos too, but there's definitely something appealing about playing out your "which Turtle is better?" arguments in a fighter game with a bunch of odd comic book-only characters to round out a supporting cast. I'll give the last slot to a curiosity pick: Firestriker, a title that possibly inspired Wizorb with its odd merging of an RPG and an Arkanoid "bat and ball" game.

I long for the day when Jeff figures out how to unlock this bad boy and beats Brad at his own Ninja Kid game.

SFC highlights: Though there's thirty two games to choose from, there's only one real choice: Battle Tetris Gaiden. The only SFC game that can compete with Sanrio World Smash Ball! for the affections of the Giant Bomb audience. What to know something interesting about this one? There's a way to play as the two boss characters with a simple button sequence on the character selection screen. From what I've heard, they're both even more unbalanced than Ninja Kid. It's only a matter of time until one of the crew figures out how to access them...

Honorable mentions: Well, I guess there's no denying the influence of Super Puyo Puyo. Though not the first Puyo Puyo incarnation, it would be the one to inspire many spin-offs, including Mean Bean Machine and Kirby's Avalanche. Ganbare Goemon 2: Kiteretsu Shogun Magginesu is the SFC-only sequel to The Legend of Mystical Ninja (one of my favorite SNES games) and not only has a plot similar to the N64 Mystical Ninja Starring Goemon (one of my favorite N64 games) but also introduces Goemon's giant robot doppelganger Impact to the series. Dolucky no Kusayakiu is my pick for "what the hell, Japan?": a baseball game populated entirely by Coca Cola soft drink mascots, represented as anthropomorphized animals. In fact, because this month was so busy, here's two more honorable mentions: Zoku: The Legend of Bishin is another Mad Max-inspired post-apocalyptic vehicular combat-slash-brawler, though with the added twist that all the antagonists are tough female bikers. Kessen! Dokapon Okukoku IV: Densetsu no Yuusha Tachi is historically notable for being the very first Dokapon game, which are combination RPGs-board games, similar to Monopoly. The "IV" in its title refers to the number of human players it supports.

Unknown

  • List of releases: 7
  • List of Super Famicom exclusives: 1

SNES highlights: Welcome to the bonus zone. These seven games don't seem to have any specific release data; I only know that they came out some time in 1993. This is largely the fault of Europe, which didn't seem to keep records of any of their release dates (possibly because EFIGS translations meant games would be brought out in different countries within the PAL region over a period longer than a month). There's only six recorded Europe-premiering games, five of which are exclusive to the region.

Ahh, good old PAF.

The highlight? Well, I'd probably go with the SNES Asterix. It's a fairly solid platformer that wasn't released in the US because the indomitable Gaul doesn't have much of a presence there, but that's no mark against its quality.

Honorable mentions: Aren't too many of these. The Humans is a fairly fun puzzle game in the vein of The Lost Vikings or Lemmings, where you use your barely evolved cavemen to look for new inventions to further their intellectual growth. Might and Magic II is actually one of two Might and Magic II games released that year, one exclusive to Europe and one exclusive to Japan. (From what I've played, Japan's seems the more fun. They actually upgraded it.) Super Morph is another puzzle game, one that has you switching forms to get through a laboratory. It's kinda reminiscent of the many Indie puzzle-platformers you see on Steam today, like Puddle or Element4l.

What am I even looking at? Why is Yoshi in my house?

SFC highlights: Well, let's see, there's only one Super Famicom game without a definite date. That would be Yoshi no Cookie: Kuruppon Oven de Cookie. It's not quite a sequel to Yoshi's Cookie, but rather a remake that added a whole bunch of advergame stuff about Panasonic's Kuruppon Oven, including how to use your Kuruppon Oven and what to cook in your Kuruppon Oven. Weird stuff. It's also super rare, as only 500 copies were ever made. Needless to say, copies tend to fetch crazy high prices.

What's even weirder is that it's not even the only product-placement cookery advergame from Nintendo in 1993 either: Motoko-chan's Wonder Kitchen also came out that year. It's another game that teaches you how to cook delicious food with lots of close-up images. Like, did Japanese people have their Super Famicoms hooked up in their kitchens?

Anyway, that is the end of this little adventure to the misty pasts of 1993. The Super Nintendo would see even greater peaks in 1994 and 1995, before the success of Sony's PlayStation overshadowed it and Nintendo refocused most of their efforts on the Nintendo 64. As for future Wiki Projects of mine, I think I'll go for something a little less ambitious before moving onto the next year for Super Nintendo. I could do with a breather, honestly.

As could you all after reading this far. Thanks for checking out this monster of a war journal from the wiki frontlines and I'll catch you all later. (Octurbo's only a week away...)

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Wiki Project: Super '93

Hey Wiki Pages and Wiki Squires, I have exciting news. Well, by a certain muted definition of exciting. Mildly intriguing news, let's go with that. I've just completed a Wiki Project that has taken nine months from start to finish. I haven't been working tirelessly on it day or night or anything, more as something to do while I listen to the Bombcast and MBMBaM podcasts, but it still required a lot of work and perseverance. Sorry, I'm making this sound like I climbed Everest or something. Let's start over:

At the start of this year, I began what seemed like a fairly simple task: Ensure that every SNES game from 1993 had a full wiki page. My definition of "full" for the purposes of this exercise included the following:

  1. Overview text. Most game pages ideally need an overview section (brief synopsis, basic history of releases, any pertinent facts about the game from a meta standpoint) and a gameplay section (actually gets into detail about how the game plays, its systems and features), but I kind of just left it with the overview in most cases.
  2. Deck. That little blurb at the top of the page that briefly describes the game. There's nothing too concrete in the rules about what that message ought to contain, but a simple single-sentence description of the game usually suffices.
  3. Screenshots. Just a smattering of gameplay shots, all the relevant box art and every title screen (for cases when a game changes its name after localization).
  4. Header image. The background shot, that goes behind the deck. This required higher-res screenshots, which is kind of a pull when you're dealing with a system that natively displays in 320x200 ratio. Such a small image looks awful and blurry when blown up for a header image, considering most modern PCs use something like 1366x768 or higher. It also means picking the right shots that work well within the small horizontal band that the site uses for the display. We have a useful tool by mod @chaser324 that lets you "test" uploaded images, but I've already gotten to the point where I can feel it out well enough. Mostly.
  5. Full details. The side-panel that tells you the systems, release date, genre, theme and so on. It's not always possible to fill out every field (especially aliases and franchises, given that they're not always applicable), but I try to ensure we have as much info as possible.
  6. Releases. Obviously, the game needs all its releases too. It's a database thing. Since the big site switch, there's now spaces for developer and publisher for every release (publishers typically tend to change depending on region) so there's usually at least some work to be done here even on popular pages.

Now, the way I figured it, the Super Nintendo is one of the most popular consoles in the world. I fully expected every page to have at least most of the above already complete. I suspected I'd be filling in the occasional missing detail and adding a fancy new header image and then moving on. Yeah, that wasn't the case. Most Super Nintendo pages required a lot of work, it turned out. Even the big ones.

Because talking about old games is more fun than talking about updating the wiki pages of old games, I'm going to segue now into a list of highlights. I discovered many of these games for the first time while working on this project -- Japan's Super Famicom saw a lot more games than the US/Europe SNES ever did -- and while many are your standard baseball and mahjong nonsense, there's a few weird hidden gems in there too. I'll throw in some stats and stuff too, for flavor. You know, prettying up the place with a bunch of numbers.

January

  • List of releases: 16
  • US Block: 2
  • Japan Block: 14
  • List of Super Famicom exclusives: 9

SNES highlight: The Super Nintendo release schedule of 1993 was a lot like the release schedule of today: the first few months of the year were fairly mild, it picked up around Spring, becomes a drought in the Summer and then slowly picked up again around Autumn and continued strong until the holiday season peak. January saw an average number of releases, but it also saw a relatively small amount of games in the "US Block": those games that first appeared in the US. These include the ubiquitous Epyx sports mini-game collection California Games II (which was first released on PC three years prior, so I don't know what the delay was) and The Hunt For Red October game. Dated computer ports and awful movie license games is pretty much the US Block in a nutshell.

In most cases I'll picking a game that was released in Japan this month and saw a US release at some point later on. While they've been dislodged as world leaders in video game development in recent times, the Japanese really were the only ones producing anything of merit on consoles back in the early 90s. I realize what that sounds like, but it's more a demonstrable fact than any weeaboo protestation.

They didn't even try to make these cutscenes less anime.

The SNES highlight for January 1993 is Makeruna! Makendou, otherwise known as Kendo Rage. While not a particularly great game (slim pickings this month, I assure you), Kendo Rage is interesting because the localization team was asked to take something so incredibly Japanese as a sentai Japanese schoolgirl with a katana and make it more "American". Unlike many other Western makeovers, there wasn't much that ended up changed, and the game is still as anime as two Gundams surreptitiously rendezvousing under a cherry blossom tree. If nothing else, it demonstrated a hope that intensely Japanese games would be given more chances overseas, and many of the best and most memorable Super Nintendo games were those so unashamedly Japanese that they stayed with you.

"Hey, asshole!"

SFC highlight: The Super Famicom highlight, of the nine games that never (officially) left the Land of the Rising Sun, is Elfaria. Though it seems like a (El)fairly(a) standard JRPG, perhaps one that was never quite good enough to see a localization, I was amazed at the artwork when taking screenshots for it. Created by Susumu Matsushita, it reminds me of the European comics I used to read as a kid, like Goscinny/Uderzo's Astérix. I'd hazard a guess that much of the in-game artwork had a similar style. When Enix hired manga artist Akira Toriyama (he of Dragon Ball fame) to work on the character and monster designs of Dragon Quest, other developers saw it as one of the many X-factors that made Dragon Quest so successful. As well as copying its first-person turn-based combat and other mechanics, JRPG developers would also frequently hire prominent artists from other fields (manga, anime) to give their own game a distinctive artstyle.

February

  • List of releases: 18
  • US Block: 3
  • Japan Block: 15
  • List of Super Famicom exclusives: 10

SNES highlights: The easy standout of February 1993 is Star Fox, the first entry into the 3D polygonal on-rails anthropomorphic animal space-sim series from Nintendo themselves. Nintendo actually sought outside help from UK developer Argonaut Games, which had created a polygonal shooter for Nintendo the previous year (1992's X) and were best known for their Starglider series. Star Fox is the first game to use the Super FX chip, famously, and would lead the charge for a smattering of polygonal games for the system.

Polygons! In my Super Nintendo!

Of course, it wouldn't be until the next generation of consoles when polygonal graphics would become the norm, but SNES developers were never one to shy away from exploiting the system's limited tools to create 3D-ish presentations. Of course, it was the sprite-scaling Mode 7 that got the most use, and pre-rendered 3D models after that. Sneaky stuff.

Honorable mentions: SimAnt, which failed to make the splash SimCity did for the SNES, despite having the more interesting premise. The US Block games were Cool World (based on that "adult" Roger Rabbit movie starring Brad Pitt), Harley's Humongous Adventure (I shudder to think how many SNES platformers had the cliché of micro-sized protagonists walking through normal households) and Hit the Ice (a parody ice hockey game, because that's a sport everyone takes too seriously).

Medama-Oyaji. Literally means "eyeball dad". He's Kitarou's dad, and an eyeball.

SFC highlights: The SFC stand out is Gegege no Kitarou: Fukkatsu! Tenma Daiou. The Japanese tended to fall into the similar trap of development speed over quality when it came to their licensed games, but Gegege no KItarou: Fukkatsu! Tenma Daiou -- based on the Gegege no Kitarou manga/anime about a yokai (spirit) boy who helps humans by fighting the worst the underworld has to offer -- is a visually arresting, challenging boss rush in the vein of something like Treasure's Alien Soldier. Boss characters seem to pop out around every corner, and many have interesting patterns or are so damn bizarre that it throws you for a loop. I saw most of what the game had to offer thanks to an episode of hit Japanese LP TV show GameCenter CX. It didn't get any less crazy after that first encounter with a giant blob with a dude's face on it.

Honorable mentions: Leading Company, a corporate life sim where the 80s still rule supreme. Can you make your rival businessmen destitute before it's time for your liquid lunch? How much more tastefully off-white can you make your embossed business card? Are those Huey Lewis MIDIs on the soundtrack? Also: Wally o Sagase!, where you literally (well, in-game) meet Waldo's maker in a metaphysical take on the world's favorite hidden person picture puzzle franchise.

March

  • List of releases: 31
  • US Block: 2
  • Japan Block: 29
  • List of Super Famicom exclusives: 14

SNES highlights: March was a busy month with thirty one releases, and the best SNES game of the lot is probably Ogre Battle: The March of the Black Queen. A Squaresoft joint, the game combines the turn-based RPGs the company was known for and a tactical real-time war sim, where troops would slowly march towards their destinations as you attempted to out-maneuver the enemy forces. It's all about choosing whether to stack the deck with your best units and hoping they trample everything in their way, or spreading the units around for equal growth and minimal casualties.

The game has some great artwork too.

The game was actually a semi-serious adaptation of Square's parody series Hanjuku Eiyuu, and they presumably felt that the very Japanese comedy stylings wouldn't work as well overseas than a traditional Fire Emblem-y/LOTR fantasy warfare scenario.

Honorable mentions: Also released in March of 1993 was Chou Makai Taisen: Dorabocchan, best known to us as The Twisted Tales of Spike McFang. it's a top-down third-person shooter similar to Pocky and Rocky, with some absurd visuals and almost felt like a spin-off of the Castlevania series. In the original Japanese version, Spike apparently ate the hearts of his enemies (another allusion to Castlevania and its convention of a heart-based economy). The US version changed it to tomatoes. What is he, Count Duckula? The excellent SNES shoot 'em ups BioMetal and Pop'n Twinbee also came out this month.

Caught this guy jaywalking. A crime is a crime, perp!

SFC highlights: There were a bunch of interesting Super Famicom exclusives this time. The one I had the most fun grabbing images for was Edo no Kiba, one of two SFC games from 1993 that could be boiled down to "anime RoboCop". Like its Sega counterpart ESWAT, the player is this cool as hell cyborg cop who rockets through dystopian NeoTokyo beating up criminals with military-grade weapons.

Honorable mentions: Ihatov Monogatari is a bizarre little adventure game that doesn't rely on conflict to tell its story, and seems to be based on the posthumously published works of a long-dead Japanese author. This Hardcore Gaming 101 article goes into more detail. Metal Max 2 seems like a badass open-world JRPG with a post-apocalyptic setting that allows you to hire your own mercenary army of Mad Max dudes in tanks and trucks. Neugier: Umi to Kaze no Koudou is a top-down action RPG with QTEs that struck me as similar to Illusion of Gaia. Jojo no Kimyou na Bouken is the first ever Jojo's Bizarre Adventure game, and is a weird mix of an adventure game and turn-based fighter RPG? I guess the confusion is apropos for that particular anime.

April

  • List of releases: 19
  • US Block: 7
  • Japan Block: 12
  • List of Super Famicom exclusives: 6

SNES highlights: We calm down a bit in April with nineteen releases, and a much larger US Block than we've had previously. There's too many promising games here to choose a highlight, but I'll go with Breath of Fire because I'm a mark for that series. Capcom's Breath of Fire games are their take on a traditional fantasy RPG, albeit one where the main character can shapeshift into a dragon. The first Breath of Fire had some great graphics, a neat isometric view for its combat and the aforementioned dragon shapeshifting was sort of a badass take on the summons of Final Fantasy: a temporary boost of otherworldly power to depend on in case of emergency.

Honorable mentions: Like I said, this month seemed packed with great SNES games. Operation Logic Bomb is considered one of the best hidden gems on the system, a top-down shooter in the Zombies Ate My Neighbors/Metal Gear mold with some trippy visuals in its partially-virtual cybernetic world and a bunch of novel features. Blizzard's best game, The Lost Vikings, also premiered on the system this month, as did Hudson's first super outing for their little anime Ted Kaczynski in Super Bomberman. Of course, we also got Wayne's World, Toys and American Gladiators this month too. April, she is capricious.

Is that Grounder?

SFC highlights: I'm going to give this one to Ryuuki Heidan Danzarb, a scenario-based sci-fi RPG from Pandora Box with some unspecified help from Gainax, the creators of Neon Genesis Evangelion. I've yet to delve too far into the game's fan translation, but it seems fairly varied with its different missions, each with its different goals for success. A bit like Live a Live, another fan translated RPG worth checking out for its unusual design choices.

Honorable mentions: I'll (honorably) mention this one for sheer weirdness value, Action Pachio is a Pac-Man World take on Coconuts Japan's pachinko mascot Pachio-kun. Pachio-kun had until this game only starred in pachinko sims, on a never-ending quest to procure as many of his tiny inanimate brethren as possible. What's odder is that they built the game to be more like Sonic the Hedgehog, emphasizing speed and rolling around. It didn't seem too bad, honestly.

May

  • List of releases: 13
  • US Block: 8
  • Japan Block: 5
  • List of Super Famicom exclusives: 3

SNES highlights: The release schedule trickles to a relative crawl as Summer approaches. May is the first month where the US Block outnumbered the Japan Block. Still, for as few games as there were, there's still a few good picks here. My favorite would have to be the Super Nintendo adaptation of Shadowrun, a complex isometric RPG that you didn't see too often on consoles. It pre-dates the Infinity Engine series, making it very impressive indeed. The player had a few options when it came to upgrading their decker hero Jake Armitage, and the game required you be smart about things to avoid falling into its trap.

That it would go on to inspire the recent Shadowrun Returns (which includes an extended cameo from Jake) is a testament to how ahead of its time it was.

Honorable mentions: There's the console-exclusive sequel Final Fight 2, which drops Cody and Guy but at least keeps the important one; there's Super Turrican, the appeal of which continues to be lost on most Americans (not that I know either. It's the soundtrack, I think); and there's also Bubsy in: Claws Encounters of the Furred Kind, which I just put here as a joke. The actual third honorable mention is Titanic simulator SOS (a.k.a. Septentrion), just one of many odd experiments Human Entertainment developed during their time. It's brutally difficult, rewarding repeated playthroughs as you gradually figure out where to go in the limited amount of time the game gives you to escape a sinking cruise ship. It also made for a pretty good GameCenter CX episode.

Mecha-Lion has this in the bag.

SFC highlights: Of the three Super Famicom exclusives this month, my hands are kind of tied with the highlight: Conveni Wars Barcode Battler Senki: Super Senshi Shutsugeki Seyo! This sesquipedalian strategy RPG was the first SFC game to be compatible with the Barcode Battler toy, via a dongle you could plug into a controller port. It's kind of neat to have a video game turn the barcodes you find on groceries into units for a strategy RPG thing, even if the game itself doesn't seem too hot. Kinda like those Monster Rancher games and CDs. Considering the only other two options were a Go game and a pachinko game, there's not much of a contest.

June

  • List of releases: 26
  • US Block: 13
  • Japan Block: 13
  • List of Super Famicom exclusives: 10

SNES highlights: I might've said the Summers were quieter. I lied. There were twenty six new games in June, which is the second largest amount of the year so far. This is due to both US and Japan Blocks going at full speed to draw in all the kids who don't like to go outside during the warmer months, I'd assume.

The SNES highlight this time is Yoshi's Cookie, because Yoshi gets too much shade thrown at him around here and Cookie is a deceptively addictive puzzle game.

Honorable mentions: Plenty to choose from here as well. Lufia & The Fortress of Doom (Estpolis Denki) isn't much compared to its sequel, but was appealing due to its cartoony artwork and simple mechanics in a time when JRPGs were finding early success in the wake of Final Fantasy IV (the JRPG localizations prior to FF4 were kind of niche. And now are again, I suppose). Run Saber is a goofy, enjoyable action game that borrows more than a few pages from Strider's book with its acrobatics. Battletoads in Battlemaniacs is one of the best looking Battletoads games, if you're one of a Rare breed actually fond of that sadistic series.

The only thing she loved more than her dear husband was not wearing seatbelts.

SFC highlights: Maybe it's not the greatest game, but for premise alone it's gotta be Gekitotsu Dangan Jidousha Kessen: Battle Mobile. In the near future, Mad Max-ian road bandits kill the wife of a newlywed couple on their honeymoon. The guy spends the next year souping up a red Interceptor, fills it with weapons and takes on the gang's leaders in a Spy Hunter-inspired vehicular combat game. The Japanese-fluent Pepsiman and the barely English-fluent Mento tried to decipher its word salad title and could only come up with "Breakthrough Bullet: Final Car Fight: Battle Mobile". Now, that's a title!

Honorable mentions: Props go out to Dragon Slayer: Eiyuu Densetsu II, the "lost" Legend of Heroes sequel that remains one of the few older games in the series to never see an English localization. Cosmo Police Galivan II: Arrow of Justice is both the other anime RoboCop game I talked about and the runner up for best title this month. It's a more standard side-scrolling brawler than Edo no Kiba, which had you moving at incredible speeds with your jet boots taking down bike gangs.

July

  • List of releases: 28
  • US Block: 2
  • Japan Block: 26
  • List of Super Famicom exclusives: 14

SNES highlights: I have no idea what to tell you. Maybe Japan takes summers more seriously than we do, because the vast majority of the games released this month were in Japan. It's tough narrowing down a SNES highlight with that kind of traffic, but Super Mario All-Stars is a pretty safe bet.

Peach gets so mad if you stay on this title screen for too long.

Graphically enhanced versions of three of the best games for the NES (and the Japanese Super Mario Bros 2, dubbed the Lost Levels here) is hard to beat, after all. All-Stars would go on to be bundled with most Super Nintendos going forward, usually coupled with Super Mario World on the same cart.

Honorable mentions: Almost too many to count. The best three would be the surprisingly decent co-operative puzzle game Goof Troop; the underappreciated Rocky Rodent from Irem, who changes his hairstyle to pass through levels; and the endlessly entertaining Street Fighter II Turbo, who some might claim is the best of the early iterations of Capcom's juggernaut fighter series.

SFC highlights: While it might seem like we're spoilt for choice here, there is only one true answer: Giant Bomb favorite Sanrio World Smash Ball! The joys of watching a frog and a raccoon frenetically swat a flying disc back and forth is something to behold whenever the Bomb Squad bring it out during a slow UPF.

Honorable mentions: While Sanrio World Smash Ball doesn't have much in the way of competition, there's still a few interesting SuFami games in that enormous pile of July releases. Death Brade is a hilariously named arena fighter known elsewhere as Mutant Fighter, sort of like a mythology-based Pit-Fighter; Dai-3-Ji Super Robot Taisen is the first of Banpresto's crossover mecha RPGs to make it to the Super Famicom; and then there's the inscrutably anime Super Back to the Future II, a Japan-exclusive game that looks way more fun than the awful movie license dreck we got.

August

  • List of releases: 15
  • US Block: 0
  • Japan Block: 15
  • List of Super Famicom exclusives: 10

SNES highlights: Shockingly, the US didn't produce a single new game for the SNES in August, despite 1993 being one of the peak years for the console. That Summer slump in full force, I'd suspect. Japan kept us covered though, producing yet another batch of memorable titles.

The no-doubts-whatsoever highlight of August is Seiken Densetsu II, best known as Secret of Mana. Secret of Mana was, along with Final Fantasy IV, one of the benchmark JRPGs for the system and would help launch the genre as a force to be reckoned with for the remainder of the Super Nintendo's relevancy. (The PlayStation's Final Fantasy VII would launch it to even greater heights, of course, but that's neither here nor there). Secret of Mana may well be one of the greatest games ever created for the system, a game that could be ethereally beautiful with its affecting soundtrack and visuals while simultaneously one of the goofiest and baffling experiences with its chaotic three-player mode and anime idiosyncrasies. It's the game that sold me on JRPGs forever.

Honorable mentions: With only five games that ever saw US releases on the list (actually, that's a lie, there's only four: the fifth saw a release in France, so I couldn't count it as a Super Famicom exclusive), there's not a whole lot of options here. Super Slap Shot seems like an entirely capable ice hockey game with close-ups for the fights and Nobunaga's Ambition began an entire genre of inscrutable strategy sims based in Sengoku Japan (the SNES game is actually the second in the series, referred to as Zenkokuban or "Whole Country Edition" in Japan). Notable as well is that French game I mentioned earlier: a brawler based on Sailor Moon. Yeah, that Sailor Moon.

Defeated at his castle, Wario now contends himself with taking cheap shots at Mario.

SFC highlights: The only real choice here, and perhaps the only game anyone would've heard of, is the Japan-exclusive Mario & Wario. In this mouse-driven game, Wario drops a bucket on Mario's head and the player, as a helpful fairy, has to direct him and clear his path of dangers. It's a tough game that relies on timing and mouse control, and only gets more difficult in the later stages when they stop giving you checkpoints. It's another game that made for an interesting episode of GameCenter CX.

Honorable mentions: There's honestly not much else this month. There's a couple of baseball games and a couple of horse racing games, two genres that seem to make up most of the Super Famicom exclusives. Jutei Senki is a curious take on a Fire Emblem style strategy game where nature gods and mechanical beings fight each other. There's also a Super Famicom Kunio-kun Dodgeball game, Kunio-Kun no Dodge Ball Dayo Zenin Shuugo!, which seemed like fun. Sword World SFC is interesting, in that it's a video game adaptation of a Japanese table-top RPG, sort of like the D&D video games we got over here.

September

  • List of releases: 31
  • US Block: 16
  • Japan Block: 15
  • List of Super Famicom exclusives: 12

SNES highlights: It's full steam ahead as Autumn begins and games start coming out again. The US Block is back in force, outnumbering the Japan Block again.

Doesn't look like much, but Plok's got it where it counts.

My favorite of this bunch is Plok, a hero that throws out his limbs to hit enemies making him somewhat vulnerable if he misses. The game's quite challenging, in spite of its colorful and comedic countenance. It also sports one of the best soundtracks of any Super Nintendo game, created by the Follins brothers using every trick in their repertoire to get the most out of the SNES's SPC-700 sound chip. It's really gotta be heard to be believed.

Honorable mentions: I suppose I ought to mention Mortal Kombat, even if no-one particularly cared for the sanitized Super Nintendo version. Instead, the next best game by a very close margin is Zombies Ate My Neighbors, the LucasArts top-down shooter that had more B-movie charm than it knew what to do with. Third spot goes to, appropriately enough, the surprisingly decent advergame Cool Spot, devised by the folks who would go on to create Shiny Entertainment and the Earthworm Jim series.

Title screen says it all, really.

SFC highlights: Hmm, tough call. For historical reasons, I'm putting forward Torneko no Daibouken: Fushigi no Dungeon, a.k.a. Torneko's Great Adventure: Mystery Dungeon. As in, the first ever Mystery Dungeon game. Torneko's a portly gentleman who became my favorite character in Dragon Quest IV's roster, as a merchant who would frequently rip off his customers with items he found while beating up monsters. Fushigi no Dungeon continues his avaricious adventures, hunting deep below the Earth for valuable treasures to price gouge.

Honorable mentions: The awesomely-titled Kachou Shima Kousaku: Super Business Adventure is an otherwise dry multiple choice visual novel where you have to make the best life decisions for a milquetoast salaryman. GS Mikami: Joreishi wa Nice Body is an interesting supernatural platformer based on a comedy anime about a wealth-obsessed exorcist. Gerry Anderson's Thunderbirds: Kokusai Kyuujotai Juudou Seyo!! is curious for being a Japan-only adaptation of a popular British marionette TV show, like Team America played straight (and with less collateral damage to landmarks and actors).

October

  • List of releases: 34
  • US Block: 18
  • Japan Block: 16
  • List of Super Famicom exclusives: 13

SNES highlights: It's going to continue to get more serious as we move on, as more and more games are pushed out to meet the Holiday demand. Unsurprisingly, there's a few good ones here.

Fittingly, Game Room would be buried without any money whatsoever.

Sunset Riders, the game Jeff Gerstmann pined for until the end of Game Room, is a fun Konami Arcade game that got a fairly solid conversion for the Super Nintendo. It sadly lacks the four players of the original cabinet, but it's almost identical sound and graphics-wise. Well, besides all the customary Nintendo censoring. I remember loving many Konami Arcade games and being sad that their home versions never quite measured up, but Sunset Riders is one of the few they got right.

Honorable mentions: Some other excellent games from this month include Pac-Attack, a Tetris-like puzzle game based on another game that had characters that weren't going to be very recognizable to Western audiences (like the similarly westernized Dr Robotnik's Mean Bean Machine). This month also saw a spate of EA Sports games, including NHL '94 and Madden NFL '94, back when they were pretty much ruling the school for licensed sports games. Another honorable mention is Super Star Wars: The Empire Strikes Back. I loved the sound quality in those games, even though I rarely survived the first Hoth stage. At least the first Super Star Wars had a grace period before dropping all the impossible jumping sequences on you.

SFC highlights: I'm just going to start listing weird stuff, since I didn't play any of these long enough to pick a clear winner. Miracle Girls is a very saccharine platformer that plays similarly to Little Nemo: The Dream Master for the NES, right down to stunning enemies with candies.

Ranma 1/2: Akanekodan Teki Hihou is a rare Ranma 1/2 game that isn't a fighter, but rather an RPG. Super Chinese World 2: Uchuu Ichibuto Daikai is the Japan-only sequel to Super Ninja Boy, and continues that series' bizarre sense of humor and kung fu action albeit as a fighter game rather than a brawler.

November

  • List of releases: 42
  • US Block: 16
  • Japan Block: 26
  • List of Super Famicom exclusives: 15

SNES highlights: It's going to get harder and harder to narrow down highlights as we see more and more releases as 1993 closes out. This month in particular has two games very close to my heart.

Kind of describes my life in a nutshell, really.

I'm going to have to say Illusion of Gaia is my pick for this month. The second game in Quintet's Soul Blazer series, Illusion of Gaia is a simplified but certainly not easy action RPG that superficially resembles The Legend of Zelda with its puzzles. It also has a gonzo story, sending the party (though you only ever play as Will and his two badass transformations) across the world to search for mystical statues needed to defeat an evil comet. All the dungeons in the game are based on famous landmarks, like the Wall of China and Angkor Wat. It's one of those games I wish I could show off to more people, maybe in the form of an LP. Ah, if only I had the video editing means. I'm sure other LPs exist.

Honorable mentions: Equinox was my second choice, an isometric puzzle-platformer styled like the C64 games that eventually made Rare a household name. Equinox is another game like Plok that was fortunate enough to be scored by the Follins brothers, and although it's mostly ambient music it still sounds phenomenal. Disney's Aladdin is another easy choice, as one of those rare movie licenses that had some talented folk behind it who actually gave a (street) rat's ass to the source material. I'll throw Patrick a brachiosaur bone with my final choice of Jurassic Park. It's perhaps not as good as the Genesis take (a similar case could be made for Aladdin, though I can go either way on that one), but the SNES version is curious for its inclusion of Doom-style first-person indoor sections.

The boss fights in these games are always the highlight.

SFC highlights: Well, let's see. I think a good choice would be Ys IV: Mask of the Sun. The Ys games are generally fantastic, and it's a shame IV and V were never localized at the time. Ys IV in particular has an interesting history, in that it's actually one of three games with that title: Ys IV: Dawn of Ys shares the same story but plays very differently, and was released by Hudson for the Turbo CD (or the PC Engine equivalent, at least). Both games were replaced with the third iteration, Memories of Celceta, which can be bought in the US and Europe for the PS Vita (and, hopefully soon, on Steam). Most accounts seem to suggest that MoC is one of the best Ys games ever made.

Honorable mentions: Lessee... there's Accele Brid, which is an unusual mech shooter where you fly through tunnels. The tube shooter wasn't really a thing on 16-bit consoles, since they couldn't pull off the necessary sprite-scaling technique at a sufficient speed (something that plagued every home console port of Space Harrier for the longest time). It was deemed good enough to get an Aeon Genesis fan translation, so it can't be all bad. There's also Super Uno, which is just Uno but kinda super? Seems very odd indeed that it was never localized. Maybe the developers didn't think it would sell overseas without webcam support? Rounding out the trio is Aretha, because I giggled at the name like a child. I know, I know, Aretha Franklin is (was? is) a person and the name actually means "virtue" in Greek. Still a child. The game itself doesn't seem too bad either, though more straightforward fantasy JRPG stuff. It has a female protagonist at least, which was still somewhat unusual. Weirdly enough, she's not called Aretha.

December

  • List of releases: 55
  • US Block: 12
  • Japan Block: 43
  • List of Super Famicom exclusives: 32

SNES highlights: December's launch schedule is just ludicrous. Fifty-five new releases in a single month, more than double of most of the others. It's not even the US that's responsible this time in their mad dash to find likely candidates for Christmas presents, as the vast majority are from Japan which don't even do the whole presents thing at Christmas as far as I'm aware. It's more like Valentine's Day from what I gather. With cake. It's... look, I admire they found some way to make it fun that didn't involve carols and spending too much money.

I always thought Mega Man needed more backtracking and upgrades. I hear the Mega Man ZX games are even more SpaceWhipper-like.

As for the SNES highlight, we're really spoiled for choice here. However, realistically, I don't think there's any beating Mega Man X. I didn't get into the Mega Man X series at the time, but there's no denying the amount of craft in those games. The soundtrack's amazing too, easily one of the best in the whole franchise, which is saying something.

Honorable mentions: Metal Combat: Falcon's Revenge is worthy of mention for being a superior sequel to Battle Clash, which had been up to that point the only reason to buy a Super Scope. TMNT Tournament Fighters is beloved to a certain group of weirdos too, but the simple pleasures of playing out your "which Turtle is better?" arguments in a fighter game with a bunch of odd comic book-only characters cannot be denied. I'll give the last slot to a curiosity pick: Firestriker, a title that possibly inspired Wizorb with its odd merging of an RPG and an Arkanoid "bat and ball" game.

I long for the day when Jeff figures out how to unlock this bad boy and beats Brad at his own Ninja Kid game.

SFC highlights: Though there's thirty two games to choose from, there's only one real choice: Battle Tetris Gaiden. The only SFC game that can compete with Sanrio World Smash Ball for the affections of the Giant Bomb audience. What to know something interesting about this one? There's a way to play as the two boss characters with a simple button sequence on the character selection screen. From what I've heard, they're both even more unbalanced than Ninja Kid. It's only a matter of time until one of the crew figures out how to access them...

Honorable mentions: Well, I guess there's no denying the influence of Super Puyo Puyo. Though not the first Puyo Puyo incarnation, it would be the one to inspire many spin-offs, including Mean Bean Machine and Kirby's Avalanche. Ganbare Goemon 2: Kiteretsu Shogun Magginesu is the SFC-only sequel to The Legend of Mystical Ninja (one of my favorite SNES games) and not only has a plot similar to the N64 Mystical Ninja Starring Goemon (one of my favorite N64 games) but also introduces Goemon's giant robot doppelganger Impact to the series. Dolucky no Kusayakiu is my pick for "what the hell, Japan?": a baseball game populated entirely by Coca Cola soft drink mascots, as anthropomorphized animals. In fact, here's two more honorable mentions: Zoku: The Legend of Bishin is another Mad Max-inspired post-apocalyptic vehicular combat-slash-brawler, though with the added twist that all the antagonists are tough female bikers. Kessen! Dokapon Okukoku IV: Densetsu no Yuusha Tachi is historically notable for being the very first Dokapon game, which are combination RPGs-board games, similar to Monopoly. The IV in its title refers to the number of human players it supports.

Unknown

  • List of releases: 7
  • List of Super Famicom exclusives: 1

SNES highlights: Welcome to the bonus zone. These seven games don't seem to have any specific release data, I only know that they came out some time in 1993. This is largely the fault of Europe, who didn't seem to keep records of any of their release dates (possibly because EFIGS translations meant games would be brought out in different countries within the PAL region over a longer period). There's only six recorded Europe games, five of which are exclusive to the region.

Ahh, good old PAF.

The highlight? Well, I'd probably go with the SNES Asterix. It's a fairly solid platformer that wasn't released in the US because the indomitable Gaul doesn't have much of a presence there.

Honorable mentions: Aren't too many of these. The Humans is a fairly fun puzzle game in the vein of The Lost Vikings or Lemmings, where you use your barely evolved cavemen to look for new inventions to further their intellectual growth. Might and Magic II is actually one of two Might and Magic II games released that year, one exclusive to Europe and one exclusive to Japan. (From what I've played, Japan's seems the more fun. They actually upgraded it.) Super Morph is another puzzle game, one that has you switching forms to get through a laboratory. It's kinda reminiscent of the many Indie puzzle-platformers you see on Steam today.

What am I even looking at? Why is Yoshi in my house?

SFC highlights: Well, let's see, there's only one Super Famicom game without a definite date. That would be Yoshi no Cookie: Kuruppon Oven de Cookie. It's not quite a sequel to Yoshi's Cookie, but rather a remake that added a whole bunch of advergame stuff about Panasonic's Kuruppon Oven, including how to use your Kuruppon Oven and what to cook in your Kuruppon Oven. Weird stuff.

It's not even the only product-placement cookery game from Nintendo in 1993 either: Motoko-chan's Wonder Kitchen came out some time earlier. It's another game that teaches you how to cook delicious food with lots of close-up images. Like, did Japanese people have their Super Famicoms hooked up in their kitchens?

Anyway, that is the end of this little adventure to the misty pasts of 1993. The Super Nintendo would see even greater peaks in 1994 and 1995, before the success of Sony's PlayStation overshadowed it entirely and Nintendo refocused most of their efforts to the Nintendo 64. As for future Wiki Projects of mine, I think I'll go for something a little less ambitious before moving onto the next year for Super Nintendo. I could do with a breather, honestly.

As could you all after reading this far. Thanks for checking out this monster of a war journal from the wiki frontlines and I'll catch you all later. (Octurbo's only a week away...)

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The Comic Commish: The Previous Generation (Jul-Nov 2012)

So this is it, the very last The Previous Generation. Not quite the end of the Comic Commish, however. I have plans for this series next year, even though I'm no longer beholden to my very generous pal @omghisam for Giant Bomb memberships. I certainly appreciate the many months of fine premium content Giant Bomb has provided in that time.

As always, I have three new comics attached to lengthy discussions pertaining to three particularly excellent games that come out during a specific six month duration. I'll also revisit games from that period that I've previously made comics for, as well as a few more that will have to go without comic representations for the time being.

This twelfth and final entry to the Previous Generation concerns games released between July and November 18th 2012. November 18th is the US release date of the Nintendo Wii U and the official start of what is now the current generation of consoles. Though the duration is a month shorter than the usual length of time for this feature, there's no shortage of quality games to examine.

I'll Miss You Most of All, Scale Tool

Theatrhythm Final Fantasy (Square-Enix/Indieszero, DS, July '12)

Theatrhythm Final Fantasy was one of those rare cases like the original Super Smash Bros. where my interest was piqued the moment I heard the game's premise. An Ouendan-style rhythm game using Final Fantasy music and characters? Sign me up. That's pretty much my hypothetical video game equivalent of peanut butter and chocolate. Then, of course, that ever-present concern set in that Square-Enix would mess it up somehow, like they seem to with almost everything Final Fantasy-related these days, but once I heard that the developers behind the first two GCCX games were behind it, I was back on board again. What's unusual for me is that I don't generally buy into hype or even follow games with release dates months in advance because there's no telling how it will turn out until its ready to launch. At that point I might as well watch Giant Bomb's Quick Look on it (provided it isn't a JRPG...) and check a few reviews before mentally adding it to a list of games to get later once its dropped in price to something reasonable, and keep myself busy with the hundreds of other games I've been meaning to play. In complete opposition to my usual strategy, I was glued to any news about Theatrhythm -- from its early previews right up to its launch -- and then bought it shortly after release. I suppose I was pretty eager to try it out.

As for the actual quality of the game, it's pretty much what I was expecting, which is probably all the praise it needs. I don't much care for the little arrow sliders (especially the ones that change direction), or for some of the repetition with the Dark Notes, or for how long it takes to unlock the bonus characters, but everything else about it is quite excellent. The goofy paper doll puppet theater aesthetic is a great concept (see also: Puppeteer), I appreciate the way it frames the rhythm game as traditional Final Fantasy battles with all the heroes lined up on the right, and the music sounds as good as it's always done. Of course, it's missing Final Fantasy Mystic Quest's inexplicably amazing soundtrack, but then I hear the new Curtain Call sequel fixes that grievous error.

Persona 4 Arena (Arc System Works/Atlus, 360/PS3, August '12)

I've never been a huge fan of fighting games, generally sticking to single player fare that doesn't require hours of practice before you get good at it, and I've especially steered clear of the busy-looking output of Arc System Works. However, there are a few franchises that would be draw me to a frenetic fighter game spin-off, and Persona is one of them. Building on the dating-sim/dungeon-crawler Shin Megami Tensei: Persona 4, Persona 4 Arena creates a new story and re-imagines the entire cast (plus a few extras from predecessor Persona 3) as fighters with unique movesets and talents. ASW has also packed the game with more systems, buttons and gauges than even a F-16 fighter pilot could follow (or Drew with a .pdf), and it becomes very clear after perusing the tutorial lessons that the game might well take a lifetime to master completely.

All the same, ASW takes a somewhat self-deprecating step with its story mode, reducing the difficulty immensely to aid those who only want to watch the visual novel tales of each character as they pass through a new version of the TV world created by the broken psyche of a mysterious cyan-haired girl with a bizarre Brooklyn accent. The girl, usually referred to only as "Miss Student Council President", creates the sort of mysterious waif character most JRPG plots seem to shoehorn in somewhere. In spite of this, though, the game is not only excellently written but manages to nail each individual fighter's personality perfectly, giving them motivations congruous to their character and providing each with a satisfying narrative to follow. Though Souji (i.e. Charlie Tunoku) and the mystery heroine get the most exposition in their stories, there's bits and pieces of extra information and backstory sprinkled in each of the "less important" characters' stories, making them all essential to some extent. Likewise, the Persona 3 characters are brought in and integrated with the world of Persona 4 almost effortlessly, though it's a little weird to see them all grown up.

I can't really speak to the game as a competitive fighter. The basics are easy enough to pick up, and you'll never need to learn any more than the bare essentials to get through the story mode without a scratch. Rather, I can only speak to the game as a visual novel with the occasional action-y bit that continues the Persona 4 canon. In that regard, it's excellent, and makes me excited to see where the story goes next in Persona 4 Arena Ultimax. If you love the characters and world of the Persona games and get by in fighters just fine by mashing the buttons until your fighter-obsessed friend gets so frustrated at your constant cheap victories that they demand you play something else, then Persona 4 Arena is definitely worth checking out.

Hotline Miami (Dennaton Games, PC/PS3, October '12)

The first mean trick that Hotline Miami pulls on its new players is making itself out to be a hyperactive, cocaine-fueled murder-a-thon. That is sorta the truth, insofar as the presentation is concerned, but the core gameplay is way more measured and tactical than it first appears. The player is provided with numerous options to clear out floors of buildings of its white-suited gangsters, but given how easy it is for these thugs to instantly kill the vulnerable protagonist, some consideration must be given to strategy. Speed is still very important, but more so is having a plan. Who to kill first? Go silent with a melee weapon or loud with a gun? Are there two goons in that room or three? Is that door actually hooked up to an explosive or am I just imagin-

Hotline Miami doesn't shy away from its ugliness. It's constantly asking questions about the player's behavior, even as the player has no other recourse but to play the game in the violent and sociopathic way it wants them to. The character portraits are hideous, the player's masks are disquieting (and possibly alive) and the gore is absurdly prominent. For as much as it's visually repugnant, though, it's aurally sublime in equal measure, with one of the best licensed soundtracks of smooth jams and pulse-quickening electro beats ever put to virtual murder simulatin'. It boils down its gameplay to as close to pure stimuli as possible, doing so as effectively as other twitch-based games like Geometry Wars and the Arcade classics before it, and manages to squeeze in a cynical sense of humor and a psychedelic Vice City aesthetic on top.

Revisited

Though I've gotten out of the habit of late, I used to portray any number of the video games I was playing into comic form each week. It's certainly been a running issue with the past few Comic Commishes that everything I had already played in any given period of time had already received a comic or two. No sense in just letting them lie in a folder somewhere, so here they are again.

Darksiders II (Vigil Games, Multiplatform, August '12)

Though Vigil Games couldn't continue the weirdly Todd McFarlane-esque angels versus demons narrative they had going, Darksiders II is a worthy if perhaps a little underwhelming cap to the series. The original Darksiders was prominent for being a grim character action game with some laughably familiar Legend of Zelda trappings (all War needed was a little fairy telling him where to go) that ended up being a lot more fun than most serious critics would dare to admit. Darksiders II carries on in that regard, though it was clear the series had some grand designs for how much bigger they wanted to go. Maps became more expansive and open, more worlds and settings were visited and there was several times more exposition going down as Vigil endeavored to thoroughly explore the apocalyptic multiverse they had created, with a distinct sense that all this extra backstory would lead up to something in the sequels. At the same time, these growing pains led to all sorts of unfortunate pacing issues and a lack of consistency, throwing the player into weirdly disconnected scenario after scenario in a game that was far longer than it needed to be. The addition of Diablo-style colored loot was an interesting but equally half-baked addition, as it became clear that certain "possessed" weapons capable of growth were the only ones worth bothering with. As I said, though, Darksiders II is a fine if an unfortunately unintended way to finish the series, and you'll certainly get your money's worth with the amount of content it packs in.

The Last Story (Mistwalker, Wii, August '12)

The Last Story was perhaps the most divisive game of the Operation Rainfall trio, but it's also one of my favorite Wii games of all time. Merging a typical Final Fantasy-ian plot (the developers Mistwalker were founded by Final Fantasy creator Hironobu Sakaguchi) with third-person shooter gameplay isn't the most obvious combination, but it works surprisingly well. With the number of tactical options provided to the player, they can move the battle along as quickly or as slowly as they wish by pausing and considering their next move. The AI allies are fairly self-sufficient, but if they start getting knocked down with alarming frequency then it usually means that your intervention is required somewhere. Work around traps, aggro the bigger problems so that the rest of your team can take care of the weaklings and always, always try to keep tabs on the entire battlefield. Bosses especially are where the tactical side of things really shine, as you'll be telling everyone to back off while the boss is at its most dangerous or to attack in force once the enemy's vulnerable.

It's about as chaotic as real-time Final Fantasy is ever likely to get, but at the same time there's something fun about sorting through that chaos and figuring out the trick to every battle to emerge the victor. The plot's fine if a little too unremarkable and familiar, ditto for the characters and the general dungeon design, but like its Operation Rainfall peers Pandora's Tower and Xenoblade Chronicles it manages to squeeze the Wii for all the graphical power it can manage. The soundtrack by Uematsu is uniformly excellent as well, though that probably goes without saying.

Sleeping Dogs (United Front/S-E, PC/360/PS3, August '12)

Drowsy Puppies wasn't particularly remarkable as a run-of-the-mill open-world crime game beyond its uncommon setting of Hong Kong, but it was an amazingly polished product given its troubled development history. The gunplay, hand-to-hand combat and open world elements of Narcoleptic Mutts were all far superior to the most recent Grand Theft Auto and the Hong Kong crime movie story was wonderful as someone who has long been since a fan of the genre. There was also a certain knowingness to lead character Wei Shen's absurd bravado, and he felt like an amalgamation of classic HK movie heroes (usually played by Chow Yun Fat with his laidback charm) played with a huge dollop of self-awareness. It's a more subtle take on what Saints Row did, choosing to stay within the safe confines of Soporific Hounds' inspirational material rather than going completely off the rails. Lethargic Lassies also looks gorgeous: the rain-slick streets of Hong Kong and its mix of traditional Chinese buildings, slums and modern skyscrapers lends the city at least some small amount of the personality that its real-life counterpart has in spades.

Though, honestly, the best thing about Comatose Collies might simply be watching Vinny Caravella play it.

Dust: An Elysian Tail (Humble Hearts, XBLA/PC, August '12)

The result of a one-man development team, Dust: An Elysian Tail is perhaps one of the best SpaceWhippers to come out of the Indie scene for a very long time. The secret to its appeal, I think, is the amount of speed it gives the player, letting them either run circles around their foes or blast right past them to get to where they need to go. The swordplay rewards experimentation and combos, coupling magic with a twirling attack that scatters enemies around and lets you pick them off at your leisure. The game uses an overworld map system, making it somewhat easier to get around and backtrack for missing items, and while I don't care for its Disney-esque anthropomorphized animal character portraits, the rest of the graphics are impressive as hell, especially considering they all came from one dude. The writing's great too, especially for your ditzy companion fairy, as if it needed another thing to commend.

Borderlands 2 (Gearbox Studios, PC/360/PS3, September '12)

Borderlands 2 suffers somewhat by adhering to the worst habits of its predecessor (generally talking about its sense of humor, though it can be as samey and grindy as its forebear as well) but in all other respects is a much bigger and better product, adding many new systems like the Badass Rankings to find ways to wring even more euphoric pleasures out of the perpetual Skinner boxes that are loot-driven RPGs. Its super rare drops, its gambling for new weapons and eridium, its vast array of sidequests and its new class-based enhancement items all give players more to do as they shoot their way across Pandora and attempt to stop yet another enormous apocalyptic monster from being awoken, and then killing it once it inevitably does wake up. The game does itself no favors with its story and new characters, but it's clear Gearbox knew what they were doing when iterating on their flagship series. If only they knew what they were doing with all the other games they've been attached to.

Dishonored (Arkane Studios, PC/360/PS3, October '12)

Dishonored kind of fell flat with a lot of folk who were perhaps expecting something more involved with its stealth mechanics, but as someone who has no expectations whatsoever when it comes to stealth games (and first-person stealth games in particular), I loved it. I enjoyed its weirdly Moby Dick-ish steampunk setting, I really liked the otherworldly powers afforded to Corvo that made getting around and staying hidden so much easier and the flexibility with the stealth (inasmuch as I didn't instantly lose after getting spotted) in general. I super liked the BioShock level of kleptomania as you ran/blinked/blunk? around collecting everything for cash and upgrades too. Dishonored is about as good a first-person stealth game as you're likely to find in this era and it's also entirely novel, taking a rough template from Thief and going somewhere weird with it.

XCOM: Enemy Unknown (Firaxis Games, PC/360/PS3, October '12)

The miracle that Firaxis' XCOM reboot managed to pull off was that it appealed to both the extant fanbase of the very demanding X-COM series while appealing in turn to an entirely new crowd, presenting a game that stayed true to its roots while adding enough new features that both increased the player's options on the battlefield while also allowing enough leniency to not chase every newcomer off. The tactical combat especially is a lot more enjoyable, with defensive decisions like taking cover and spending a unit's turn to wait for an enemy to appear before firing that greatly increased the odds of everyone surviving. Likewise, the player's efforts to keep the world's governments happy is made easier with the launch of satellites and additional fire teams. The only issue is that each individual campaign takes so long, especially when the enemy ships start getting bigger, that one successful playthrough was enough for me. It's not hurting for longevity at least.

The Other Ones

As in, the ones that sadly won't be graced with MS Paint renditions this time. Still come highly recommended.

Thomas Was Alone (Mike Bithell, PC/PS3/IOS, July '12): Mike Bithell's talking blocks game is a slow burner, but while it remains graphically simple throughout the puzzles get ever more devious and clever. Switching between what are essentially a bunch of colorful shapes with different personalities and abilities while a droll British man narrates their story might not make for the most engaging experience on paper, but the clever writing is enough to keep one going to the game's eventual conclusion, especially as characters fade in and out of the story. Equally engrossing are the aforementioned puzzles, of course, which are never too demanding on a player's reflexes or timing, instead depending largely on their perspicacity.

FTL: Faster Than Light (Subset Games, PC, September '12): FTL's one of those games you love to hate. It'll throw so many curveballs at you that it's often just enough to make it out of each encounter in one piece and with most of your crewmembers still breathing. Even the smartest player who knows which parts of the ship to upgrade and what weapons are ideal for an unstoppable battleship of doom can be blindsided by one of the game's many randomized events, brought down because they were saving up their resources in a risky gambit. While much of the FTL experience is selecting potentially fatal multiple choice decisions, not unlike Telltale's trademark Dilemmas of Doom, the strategic ship-to-ship combat is both a frenetic and deliberate game of cat and mouse, as players change target priorities for their lasers and get distracted by boarding parties and drones. For a game that can be so serene and thoughtful, it's also kind of relentless and brutally unfair. And once you reach the end and your plucky survivors hobble over the finishing line, they're simply thrown into the meat grinder as they face an opponent they cannot hope to overcome (unless they've been spectacularly lucky with the random events). A downer ending is always a brave decision by any fiction writer.

The Unfinished Swan (Giant Sparrow/SCE Santa Monica, PS3, October '12): The Unfinished Swan, true to its theme, is a game that can't quite capitalize on its many smart ideas, presenting short and interesting levels each with their own gimmicks and presentations, whether it's daubing an entirely white level in paint to make out where the borders and staircases are, or drawing shapes to walk on or growing vines to reach new areas of a stage. It's graphically minimalist, but this style generally works in its favor as it ensures the stage-by-stage mechanics remain both simple and filled with potential. There's a lot one can do with a blank canvas, after all. If a game's greatest fault is that the fun is over far too quickly, I have to say that's a darn sight better than one that overstays its welcome.

Edna & Harvey: Harvey's New Eyes (Daedalic Entertainment, PC, October '12): Harvey's New Eyes fizzles out somewhat after its first chapter, but that first chapter is perhaps the most darkly humorous Daedalic -- which generally puts out some very average adventure games -- has ever managed, as you systematically (though inadvertently) murder everyone within your convent school. That the protagonist Lilli has denial issues that prohibit her from seeing the carnage, allowing her to remain a cheerful and oblivious protagonist throughout, just adds to the... messedupitude (my spellchecker says that isn't a word, say it ain't so). When the game opens up a little and starts poking at the edges of Lilli's sanity with the various hypnotic behavioral blocks and a jaunt through the sanitarium that was the setting of the game's predecessor, it all starts to unravel a little bit. Still, it's a very strong opener and probably remains my favorite Daedalic game overall from what I've played of their ludography.

And that's it for the final Comic Commish: The Previous Generation! Thanks once again to @omghisam and the Giant Bomb crew for last year's membership and for making it so worthwhile, respectively! I'm going to go prepare for Octurbo now. Whoooole lotta Turbo-CD nonsense coming your way next month.

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Mento Gear Solid

"Mento Gear Solid?"

"Yes, Snake, Mento Gear Solid is the name given to a top secret military project started in 2014. It was deemed a failure shortly after its inception because the creator of the project insisted on role-playing the intro."

The version I'm playing. When it came to buying the original PS1 release, I feel asleep.

Hey, my fellow animal-codenamed comrades. A little while ago I decided to play through Swery's Deadly Premonition, partly due to its prominent position in my pile of shame and partly because I was missing out on some classic Giant Bomb videos by stubbornly refusing to spoil the game for myself. In recent weeks, a similar situation has arisen where the indefatigable Drew Scanlon and the indecipherable Dan Ryckert have decided to play Konami's and Hideo Kojima's 1997 tactical espionage action game Metal Gear Solid in its entirety. Biting the bullet, I have just this moment finished my initial playthrough of that particular game in order to stay one step ahead of this dumb website and the dumb games it decides to Endurance Run.

You might also recall that I decided to jot down my reactions to Deadly Premonition as I was having them, presenting a truncated account of someone discovering a very silly game full of twists and extremely odd stylistic choices for the first time. What better game to follow that up with than Metal Gear Solid?

Suffice it to say, this list of observations contains spoilers for every scene, twist and surprise in the game. Those currently enjoying Metal Gear Scanlon as their first window into the mind of Kojima might want to bookmark this feature for later, were I to assume that people would actually want to do that. I am the inferior twin to that series, after all. Recessive genes and all that. But I'm getting ahead of myself.

I present, in full, my first playthrough of Metal Gear Solid. Please enjoy:

It's Like One of Dan's Japanese Animes

  • Well, it's my first time, so let's do these VR Missions first.
  • Right, so the basics seem obvious enough. Crawling is quieter, makes me less visible but is slower, everyone has vision cones and I can knock on crates to draw their attention. Cameras have blind spots. Soldiers can also see footsteps, which seems sophisticated for a game this old. (I'm at least somewhat aware that MGS was the progenitor for a lot of now-ubiquitous stealth mechanics.)
  • In fact, I feel like I've played enough stealth games that were in some way directly inspired by MGS, so this is all familiar enough.
  • Reading up on "Previous Operations" (i.e. the MSX games) before I start in case there's some terminology/context I need to know.
  • Apparently, Snake and Gray Fox had "a fist-to-fist duel involving no hatred or murder intent. During that weird moment of purity, the two were bound by forces transcending words and emotion." What? This is already anime as fuck.
  • During the intro we're told about the six mercenaries of FOX-HOUND (why is it all caps? Is it an acronym?). They sound like an odd bunch.
  • So only I can hear the CODECs go off, because it stimulates the small bones in my ear. So what about when I talk into it? How's that stealthy?
  • All right, I got past the elevator. Certainly was a lot of info they just dumped on me.
  • Hey Mei Ling. So 140.96 is the save button, huh? I guess using the main menu to save would've ruined the immersion. I mean, I say that, but "talk to me if you want to save the game" kinda does the same damage. I've heard it's a MGS staple to do stuff like this though, so I'm down.
  • All right, so I've learned that I need to find a DARPA Chief, whatever that is, and that all the ladies love cool Solid Snake. Good to know.
  • What's a chaff grenade? Does it separate soldiers from wheat? Oh, it scrambles sensor-based electronics with multiple false signals. Well that's clever.
  • Master Blondie told me to look out for mice in vents. Apparently they know where the critical path is. Have they played this game before? I suppose everyone has by now.
  • Going through more vents. Overheard some interesting stuff. The DARPAman's downstairs somewhere, they captured a woman (I know enough about MGS to know who that is) and there's another intruder besides myself (this, I didn't know).
  • Yep, got dead trying something stupid. I wonder if any YouTubers have overdubbed those plaintive "SNAAAAKE" cries over nature documentary footage of snakes getting eaten yet.
  • Did I just do a full circuit? Goddammit. Vents, man, you can't trust 'em.
  • Getting urgent CODECs instructing me how to exit vents and use ladders. Eh, video game stuff. I can forgive it. Better than not knowing.
  • Oh, DARPy DARPy DARPy. Building a giant T-Rex nuke robot was a bad idea. I'm also encountering a lot of instances of Snake repeating nouns as questions. I recall this being a thing.
  • Oh, the DARPA Chief died somehow. Well, I wasn't sure how to carry him around in my inventory anyway.
  • Ms. Rookie Eyes just got us killed. Well, it's more that I didn't know how to shoot a gun, having been explicitly told to avoid doing so. I figured it out eventually.
  • Was that slow-mo butt shot really necessary? Kojima-san, why is your nose bleeding?
  • It's clever that all the item descriptions give you context commands. The game seems to use square and circle interchangeably, so getting a heads-up is useful.
  • Just fought some joker with an olde-timey revolver. Revolver Ocelot. Was that fight supposed to be that easy? I just ran around and shot the dude.
  • I guess my little problem got handed off to this invisible ninja robot. Thanks invisible ninja robot!
  • ArmsTech President Kenneth Baker is an ornery sort. 40 years of Star Wars conventions can do that to a guy, I guess. At least he seems taller these days.
  • "Meryl's CODEC number should be on the back of the CD case". Boom, there it is. Playing this on PSN, I had to look that one up. 140:15, for the record.
  • Looking for a Hal Emmerich now. I know who that is too. It's weird having all these bits and pieces but not the whole picture.
  • Several pounds of MUF, huh? No comment.
  • Another case of Sudden Plot-Important Death Syndrome. SPIDS kills so many every year, usually striking just before the victim can reveal useful info. Please, give whatever you can to help us end this terrible disease. The number to call is 022- *hurk* My heart! *whump*
  • Called up Meryl. Enlightening stuff. Especially the part about women "having more hiding places then men" to conceal keycards. Good grief.
  • Called up weapons expert Nastasha too. I guess she's the one to ask about armaments and nukes. I'm not quite sure how often I'm meant to talk to these people, but they all have their explicit areas of expertise.
  • All right, so I'm heading through these cargo doors now. Better figure out how infra-red works.
  • Ah, the cigs. Worked it out before they had to tell me. This would be great if this top-down view allowed you to register the height of things, like these vertically moving instant-kill laser beams. Well, that was a few dumb deaths.
  • Mines? I don't have a Mine Detector. Should I have picked one up? My current strategy appears to be "blow up, die, remember where they are after I reload."
  • Oh, and I guess Deepthroat is yet another mystery guy chiming in with advice.
  • "Snakes don't belong in Alaska." Neither do shirtless guys, Chief Tattoo. Jeez, these FOXHOUND weirdos.
  • Raven apparently took off during the tank fight. I just ended up blowing up some random gunner grunt instead.
  • Oh wait, he was actually inside the tank when it exploded. He survived, of course. Everyone seems to survive getting exploded or dismembered just fine.
  • No shooting around the nuclear warheads, got it. I saw Broken Arrow, I know the drill.
  • How many of these quotes does Mei Ling have? Does she have a big book open next to her? "Wait, Snake before you go... um... "FK... in the coffee. It never fails." It means, don't be surprised if, uh, the bad guy is... I don't know. Just go. Don't you have a terrorist plot to foil?"
  • Dayum, not only did I get a rocket lawnchair by detouring to B1 of this building instead of going to B2 like I was supposed to, but it's named after La Femme Nikita.
  • Oh, I did in fact need it for the puzzle in the B2 labs. Flying an RC missile around was interesting; I feel like I've seen that puzzle before somewhere. Perfect Dark? Ratchet and Clank? They came later, of course. (Apparently the Nikitas have been with the Metal Gear series since the beginning.)
  • Well someone had fun in this corridor. Looks our old friend Cyborg Ninja's work.
  • "It's like one of my Japanese animes". Hey Otacon. Way to pee yourself in your first appearance.
  • Well, this is an interesting fight. Ninja dude can't get hit and kills me in two slashes with his katana doodad. People keep calling him a cyborg though, so maybe he'll like these scrambler grenades.
  • Well, they work, but I do chip damage with everything, even C4. I get him halfway down before I run out of Chaff grenades.
  • Ah, I can just punch him and he puts his sword away. Now this is a little more fair. Wish I saved some of those grenades now.
  • I say it's more fair, but his punches still take half my health off. His cartwheel kicks are a little friendlier.
  • Man, this room though. A Policenauts poster? Subtle.
  • Right, yes, we get it. You're Gray Fox. From the files. I don't need any more hints. You also sound a lot like that Deepthroat guy too, btw. Or am I not supposed to know that yet?
  • Now we're getting a big exposition dump about Gray Fox. And another one about Metal Gear. Why does this thing need four different weapons? For the inevitable boss fight?
  • "I don't need you, I just need your brain. I've got an ice cream scoop, stand still for a minute."
  • Well, Meryl got hit. I guess I'd better check on her. Also more butt talk? Otacon's an enabler.
  • "Otaku Convention" is where Otacon comes from? I'm glad it's not some porn thing, at least.
  • So I've noticed I get extra health and more ammo space after every big encounter. I guess it's leveling up, but the game doesn't want to make a big deal about it.
  • Man, don't CODEC Mei Ling when you're sneaking through a women's bathroom. Awkward.
  • "They gave me psychotherapy to destroy my interest in men." Say what? Is that normal?
  • "You've got a great butt." Jeeeeeez.
  • "What happened to the music?" That's non-diegetic music, Snake. "Non-diegetic music?" Yes, it means you were never able to hear the music, you weird little man.
  • Oh no, I know who this guy is. Psycho Mantis. I already know all his tricks, alas.
  • That was still kinda tough, even knowing the controller port trick. I really should've searched around for another ration before jumping into it.
  • So Psycho Mantis became evil because he hated listening to everyone's constant thoughts about boning? But Snake is different somehow? Not what I was getting from all that butt talk.
  • "You have a large place in Meryl's heart." "Like a ventricle?"
  • Psycho Mantis sure is taking a long time to die for someone riddled with bulletholes.
  • Aww, I don't want to shoot wolf-dog puppies.
  • Did that sniper shoot Meryl right in her hoo-ha? That looked painful.
  • Are they really making me return to the start of the game to grab a sniper rifle? The sniper's going to die of old age before I get back. (Yes, that was deliberate.)
  • At least I got some sweet stuff from exploring earlier locations. More ammo, a new cardboard box and, finally, a mine detector, long after I really needed it.
  • What's more, stuff just seems to regenerate if I leave and come back after a while. So if I run into any more trouble, like the rations with Psycho Mantis, all I gotta do is poke around a bit in areas I've already been to. Neat.
  • Anyway, I have a PsEG (or whatever, a sniper rifle) now, I better return and deal with Ms. Beautiful and Deadly Sniper Wolf before Meryl completely bleeds out.
  • Sniper battle was... interesting. I'm still not sure if I did it right, but I won so I guess I did.
  • For the record: I just waited until she went behind the pillar and then got into sniper position, since she always seemed to take longer to get set up there.
  • Well, looks like my ass got captured. Figures Wolf would survive a dozen sniper rifle bullets to the face. What are they feeding these guys?
  • Liquid Snake sounds a lot like Master Blondie. I wonder if I'm supposed to notice. Maybe there's not enough VAs to go around?
  • All right, so this interrogation scene is already interesting. Liquid wants Big Boss' DNA, claims I'm some sort of "son" (I suspect clone, but that's because I already know they mean clone) and that Decoy Octopus is already dead.
  • Did I kill Decoy Octopus? I mean, if he was in disguise... Maybe I won't count him out just yet. (Also I keep getting him and Launch Octopus mixed up.)
  • That's a clever way to have an interactive First Blood Part II torture scene, I'll admit it.
  • And now I gotta figure out how to escape jail, somehow. The guard's the same sickly goofball that got jumped by Meryl earlier. But first, an ethical argument with Campbell.
  • Torture mini-games and then a whole bunch of talking? Is this my life now?
  • Otacon won't choke a dude? What kind of friend is this guy? At least he brought me a hamburger.
  • I think I was supposed to use the ketchup and handkerchief to fake an illness or something, but I just hid under the bed. Seemed to do the trick.
  • All right, I got all my stuff back! My guns, my mine detector, my binoculars, my ticking time bomb, my cigs and -- most importantly -- my cardboard boxes!
  • Wait, time bomb? Good thing I checked my inventory when I grabbed that crate. I'll just put it over here, away from my person.
  • Made it all the way back to the Sniper Wolf battle. Didn't notice that the pause screen refers to it as "U.grnd pssge". U Grind? Is this a Tony Hawk stage?
  • Snake just had a flashback of Meryl getting shot, and her blood pools were already on the ground before the first hit. Now she's saying new stuff too. This is not how sepia-toned flashbacks work.
  • Now we're all disconsolate about Meryl over the CODEC. She didn't die, right? I mean, we haven't found the body yet. Also I guess Naomi had a grandfather we're all interested in hearing about. Maybe plot relevant, maybe just way more CODEC talking than I needed. Maybe both.
  • Ah, no climbing this tower stealthily, huh? I got spotted by a cutscene camera and the alert timer won't go down.
  • Oh god this sucks so bad. My health just got chipped away by the thousands of people on this stairs I couldn't see until they were close enough to hit me.
  • All right, switched to stun grenades. Went slightly better this time. Still almost out of rations.
  • Well, I'm glad they didn't follow that horror with another tough boss battle. Grrr.
  • Ironic that after several hours filled with comments about Meryl's ass, Snake dies by getting all the Hind he could want.
  • This rappelling sequence is kind of obnoxious, but sort of an interesting diversion too. Just how much steam power did this tower need?
  • And now I'm getting shot at by dudes I can't see across a walkway. It's just one damn thing after another with this game.
  • Got to the other tower, couldn't use the lift so took the stairs all the way to the 2nd floor where I'm reliably informed that the staircase is too broken to get around and I need to head back up to the lift again because it's suddenly fine. Is this game making fun of me?
  • "Do you think love can bloom even on a battlefield?" Ohhhh boy, that line.
  • I love running into the field of view of cameras I can't see because of the game's perspective. Never gets old.
  • 1 turret, then 2 turrets, then 3 turrets, then 4 turrets. Goooood stuff.
  • A Hind D?! This battle's kind of fun, but at the same time the unpredictability of the Hind's strafing (and its absurd health) makes it a slog too.
  • Y'see, there's no way to switch out of Stinger view until a couple seconds after Liquid's done being damaged and crying about it, at which point there's no time to hide from his retaliatory strafing run.
  • So it's a battle of attrition I can't win, because the game doesn't give you enough rations between its horrible set-pieces.
  • Running to the roof, rappelling down the roof and dealing with those three absurdly strong henchmen on the walkway has left me with little to cure myself with.
  • What you do, it seems, is to switch off your rocket laddo just before the missile hits. It'll still hit but now I can move around to avoid his counterattack.
  • Apparently it speaks to my fundamental lack of understanding of rocket launchers that you can put them away after the rocket's already on its way. I figured you needed to train it on the target until it hits. Turns out I have a lot to learn about heavy ordinance.
  • Nothing makes you feel more like an idiot than beating a boss you were having trouble with without getting hit once. Or a badass. One or the other.
  • That'll do for today, I think. After saving it, Mei Ling and Snake discussed how memories are too precious to be saved digitally. Definitely enough for today.
  • So I guess I'll take this elevator down. Gotta burn off some Chaff grenades so I don't get caught by those ten turrets again.
  • Well, this elevator ride seems quiet enough. Wait, who farted?
  • Man, some nice work with Otacon's portrait freaking out. Invisible dudes in the elevator, sure, why not. At least now I can use their camouflage thing myself once they're gone.
  • Nope, I can't. Because of reasons.
  • More cameras in tight places that I can't possibly see with my radar out of commission. Yaaaay.
  • Dunno if I've said this yet, but automatically using rations when out of health if you have them equipped is a dang useful feature.
  • Snake vs. Wolf Round 2. Looks like another cat and mouse game of... wait, they're letting me use Nikitas now?
  • Well, I won't claim that I feel proud of myself, but I really didn't care for another "fair" sniper battle.
  • MGS really likes the long expository death scenes, huh? I'll let her have this, given the very ignominious way I killed her. No-one deserves having a rocket fly up there.
  • "Give me my gun. She's a part of me." *Otacon hands her the rifle* "Take this, nerd! *pow* You and your damn Japanese animes! This is for all the Madoka you made me watch! *pow, pow*"
  • "What are you fighting for?" "If we get out of this, I'll tell you!" "O-okay! Thanks for nothing I guess!"
  • So there's a little warehouse filled with Nikita missiles in this boss area. I guess I was supposed to use it after all. Or was that the chump path?
  • This other little warehouse just has mines in it. Mines that someone dug underneath the steel floor, I guess. I'll grab a few for later, why not.
  • Man, there's a few of these little warehouses filled with stuff. I guess this was supposed to be a way tougher fight?
  • Whoa, thought I got a game over going down those steps. Nope, it's a disc change. I forgot games had those.
  • Funny. Just tried to sidle across to another platform, but something knocked me out and dropped me in the molten steel. Pure physical comedy. Welcome to Disc 2.
  • More dudes on elevators. I appreciate that these guys are like 10x stronger than regular grunts too. Makes it more fun to get stunlocked in corners.
  • I do have those claymores from before though... hmm...
  • Nope, they all vanished as soon as the battle started. Serves me right for using illusionary mines, I guess. Back to wildly shooting and hoping I hit one of them with this awful combat engine.
  • In all fairness, while lining up and shooting people from a top-down view is pretty dire, I can't see how they could've worked around it. Most stylistic choices have their downsides, I guess.
  • Why even have a radar if it's down half the time? And why put mines and cameras everywhere when I have no chance of finding them? It's a crapshoot.
  • I called Master Blondie about all the damn ravens around here. Apparently he had some interesting things to say about Naomi. Could she be a spy?
  • Also, I'm guessing from the ravens that you-know-who is about to show up. It's odd, Vulcan Raven was like the one dude from this game I didn't already know about. Is he just a forgettable Native American stereotype?
  • That Raven fight was perhaps my favorite so far. Outsmarting a much stronger opponent with tripmines, C4 and stealth is what this game ought to be about.
  • Ohhh, so that explains why there's one DARPA chief that was a stinky corpse and one that was mostly fine until a few hours ago. And also explains what happened to Decoy Octopus. I guess he got killed by the nanomachines? I hear nanomachines are a big deal in this series.
  • Gross. Raven got eaten by ravens. It's how he would've wanted to go. I wonder if the ravens had been waiting for him to kick the bucket this whole time? "Finally! Caw!" They even ate his bones! And pants!
  • Went all the way back for that level 7 door in Sniper Wolf's arena, after Raven apparently upgraded my keycard. It had missiles in it. Well, maybe they'll be useful if I'm fighting that Metal Gear.
  • Revolver and possibly Liquid (I say "possibly", like they're not building to something with that guy) are still around. Better watch my step.
  • They are taking the mickey with that many cameras, surely. That was a very silly room.
  • Man, there's Metal Gear REX. He seems kinda big, actually.
  • "Are you a hacker?" "Yup." Good talk. I need to get up to the control room to shut off Stompy before he wakes up.
  • Stealth nukes? Metal Gear sounds like bad news. Actually, it's this sinister BGM which is making it sound like bad news.
  • Got jumped by goons despite being told that this hanger was empty. Way to take a headcount, Snake. "It's totally empty". Right.
  • Liquid's planning on asking for Big Boss's DNA and a billion dollars. Snake is only surprised at the billion dollars. That's... not what I would be surprised about.
  • Is... Revolver on our side? He knows we're here and that we have a PAL card. Interesting. Liquid's talk of betraying Russia seems to have disagreed with him.
  • The key is a "Shape memory alloy"? Different temperatures? Oh, what the hell is this even.
  • Oh wait, Ocelot finally spotted me and shot at me. I guess he's still not my friend. Also our key fell in a nuclear toilet. Also the goons are still alerted and there's nowhere to hide.
  • I'm going to hazard a guess that I need to change the key's shape by going to a cold area (say, Raven or Wolf's arenas) and then a hot place (that refinery I sneaked through). More backtracking, cool.
  • And of course as soon as I walk out of the Metal Gear room, I get sideswiped by the thousand cameras in this tiny hall I forgot about.
  • Something that occurred to me, and Otacon backed it up shortly after, is that after I've heated this key I'll have to run back through Raven's sub-zero freezer room of death. I wonder how much time I have before the key cools down again?
  • Talking of which, there are now dudes patrolling Raven's boss area. They also took away his giant gatling gun that he left there after he got unceremoniously ate. Nice attention to detail.
  • Turns out Dr Naomi was the one killing all those people with random heart attacks. Apparently, it was some nanomachine "FoxDie" tech. I just figured she had a Death note.
  • Naomi, this story about your upbringing is very touching, but this key is starting to cool down and I really need to get through Freezyland before it becomes useless again.
  • Got back in time. Is there really a way for this key to cool down again? Scary thought. Well, more annoying than scary.
  • Whoops, I activated the warhead. Master Blondie seems happy about it. Mostly because he's secretly Liquid Snake. Probably why he had the same VA, then. That's one mystery solved.
  • Oh and he booby-trapped the room with poison gas. I'll see if Otacon can get me out of here. "Hold on for a minute," he says. Great. I'll practice taking deep gulping breaths, shall I?
  • I like that "Master" is still an option on my CODEC list. For some reason, he doesn't want to pick up when I call him.
  • Liquid appears to have lost his shirt too. Good lord.
  • He has a spy in the Pentagon? What's he called, Incognito Walrus?
  • Liquid's whole revenge terrorist plot was based on daddy issues? Well that figures.
  • Also I guess I'm fighting this 40 foot tall walking tank now. Good thing I stocked up on rockets. Two times the charm?
  • Nope, won't make a dent. Nothing does. This'll make for an interesting fight, I can tell already.
  • Ahhhh, Otacon's got the scoop. I have to blow up the radome and the cockpit becomes exposed. Then I blow up the cockpit with the pilot inside. Easier said than done, I suspect.
  • Well, I can't dodge its missiles, so I'll do the stealthiest thing I can: Stand directly in front of it, firing rockets back and forth. The Vinny strategy.
  • Damn, it actually worked. Well, sorta. Gray Fox to the rescue!
  • Should we be having this conversation now, Fox? There's an enormous tank out there right now. "We're just about out of time," Yeah, no shit, I think its laser just clipped my ear.
  • I got a lock-on on the exposed cockpit, but I gotta wait for Gray Fox's dying soliloquy to finish first.
  • Man, there's really nothing left of ninja dude. Some thorough stomping work, almost admirable. Looks like I'll have to fight Rex at full health again.
  • All right, so I died. But I figured out something in my desperation with having to restart part one of the fight: Chaff grenades don't stop him shooting missiles, but it does mean they can't heat-seek me any more. I managed to get to the Gray Fox part using only one ration this time.
  • Yessssss destroyed the blasted thing this time. Ran out of chaffs and almost out of rockets, but I did it.
  • Except... Liquid's now marching toward me and I can't get up. Oh well. I gave it my best shot at least.
  • More ranting about war and Big Boss while I lie here and listen to it. Talk about a captive audience.
  • Super Baby Method? That sounds like the diametric opposite of the rhythm method.
  • Haha, it's super weird when they switch to stock footage. I guess all this video is why the game's on two discs?
  • Liquid's starting to get antsy that Solid keeps repeating various proper nouns back to him. I can hear the irritation in his voice. No, no, I'm right there with ya, buddy. Let the megalomaniac speak, Solid, c'mon.
  • A lotta Theories getting thrown around right now. And Dan Ryckert says this is his favorite game of all time? But it's so full of science and learning.
  • Oh heck, we're getting nuked. Campbell's a good guy though, he's giving us room to get out. But now Secretary of Defense Jim Houseman's in the house, man, and it seems we're in big trouble.
  • Liquid set a bomb to go off when Meryl's heartbeat stops? That's some kinky shit, Liquid.
  • I guess we're having a bare-chested fistfight on top of the death robot. "What's wrong, Snake?!" Well, these hand-to-hand controls for one. The fact we're both called Snake and it's confusing is another.
  • No seriously, why are they half naked in an Alaskan base? Was all the chauvinistic talk about Meryl's ass a smokescreen for something else?
  • Well, after a rather annoying fistfight on top of the Metal Gear REX, Liquid tumbles off into oblivion. Good riddance. No more vaguely effeminate blond guys in this series, I'm sure. (Again, deliberate joke.)
  • Otacon's staying behind to see to our escape. Of all the otakus I ever met, he was the most... human.
  • We gotta go, but we need clothes... ah, there's Snake's Sneaking Suit! He... that's what he called it.
  • Oh, but we've got one more sequence left to suffer. And it's a turret sequence? Well, about time, what warmblooded third-person shooter doesn't have one of these?
  • I suspect this "drive out of a long tunnel before everything explodes" scenario is where Halo got it from?
  • Oh for Super Baby Method's sake, that blond asshole is back. I have no health left! Give me mercy, game!
  • Wow this is awful. This is worse than the fistfight. It's worse than climbing that communications tower, even. There's just no easy way to aim in this game. You just have to hope that your gun and the thing you want to shoot are on the same vector.
  • Oh, wait, I take it back. This thing has a first-person view, kinda (I have to hold down both first-person view and shoot). Not perfect, but it was enough to get me out of there.
  • "Liquid's dead." Yeah, I didn't buy it either. It looks like it's- Oh good, FoxDie finally kicked in. Thanks, fatal genetically engineered virus! You were the true hero after all.
  • If Liquid's not dead, he's going to get hell of chilblains lying in the show without a shirt like that.
  • Phew, the bombers were called off and the Houseman has left the house. Man. Campbell also saved the day! I didn't do shit but die a lot!
  • "Your brother told me to tell you to forget about him and live your own life, Naomi." "Frankie said that?" "Yes. He also said... to relax."
  • Naomi's being super vague about how long I've got left with this killer virus. Probably for the best. I wouldn't want to be the one to say, "Thanks for saving the world! Please enjoy the next seventeen minutes to the fullest."
  • Now we're getting a long lecture about genes. And then the screen faded to black... and then came back and the gene talk kept going. Funny. This game does have a subtle sense of humor, along with its absurd pathos and homoeroticism.
  • Meryl? Honey? Maybe you don't want to let Snake drive the snowmobile. He could literally drop at any moment.
  • "My name's David! David Hayter!" "Hey Dave. Was that in the script?"
  • And so they ride off into the sunset, towards the caribou, planning to enjoy life for as long as Kojima will let them. Which won't be very long.
  • But before we cut to credits, some preachy statistics about the slow pace of global nuclear disarmament. Fine, I'll decommission a few thousand missiles tomorrow, I swear.
  • Nature documentary stock footage with folksongs playing over the credits is really doing it for me. What a dumb, dumb game.
  • Wait, there's a Solidus Snake? AND HE'S THE PRESIDE- Yeah, I knew this already too. Man, that would've made for a hell of a cliffhanger back in the day, I imagine.
  • My code name, for the record, was "Iguana". 15 hour playtime too, but it didn't feel that long. I have absolutely no desire to play this game again for a better score.

I Watched the Stupidity of Metal Gear Solid Through the Scope of My Rifle

So there you have it. The day is saved, Snake is probably going to die in a few hours (or three games from now. What am I, an MGS expert?) and Revolver Ocelot apparently knows the president. Who is also a clone of Big Boss. Certainly left the door wide open for a sequel, and I hear there was several.

Heating the PAL cardkey. The Dumbest Thing (TM)?

It's hard to judge Metal Gear Solid on its merits this far removed from its original release when game design has evolved so much, and when some of those strides can be credited to this very game. It's clear it was a big deal when it first showed up and, like Resident Evil, was popular enough to codify a very specific genre that many games would go on to emulate to varying degrees of success. There was certainly a lot about it I liked, but for every cool or interesting sequence, there was an interminable CODEC conversation or a really effin' frustrating set-piece that instantly drained my enthusiasm to keep going. With games packed with innovation, there's always that other side to the coin that is the general lack of consistent functionality. Some parts work a whole lot better than others, depending on how effectively each wholly new and untested gameplay idea was implemented. There's enough cases of that in MGS to make it tough to get through at times. It's also what makes it so endearing. Well, that and the daft script.

I might try Metal Gear Solid 2 at some point. I'll admit, I actually tried playing it years ago, but decided that because I had no idea what was going on that perhaps playing the original first would be the smarter decision. No promises, though: as I stated, I don't particularly care for stealth games, and MGS isn't really one for conveying what you need to know about guard movements and such without the radar, which was down most of the time. From I recall of MGS2, it had a similar overhead view that didn't give a whole lot away. I've also heard that the second game has all sorts of other problems too.

Anyway, thanks for sticking with me through another annotated playthrough of a game I ought to have beaten years ago. I'm going to have to make this a thing from now on, though perhaps only with well-loved older games known for being strange and unpredictable. I'm sure I have a few games like that left in my library... wait, what even was the next game I was intending to play...?

Yakuza 3, huh? Hmm.

The Dragon of Dojima hungers for more anime stupidity!

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The Expert of Enchantment, the King of Conjuration: Master of Magic 20 Years On

A little while back I covered SimTex's Master of Magic in a trio of Brief Jaunts: a truncated LP intended to familiarize people with old DOS classics, though it inadvertently became a slideshow of tiny, tiny pictures (dang ol' DOSBox image capture). At the time, I lightly expounded on just why Master of Magic continues to be a perennial favorite of mine, while demonstrating some of its basic mechanics and the absurdly broken Warlord + Halfling Slingers strategy. I didn't get too far into it though, just kind of going over the basics in a brief screenshot LP format. I've yet to make a decisive case for why I love this game so much, or at least put it into a sufficient number of words.

The truth is, while I've played and enjoyed a handful of games from the empire-sim genre (such as Sid Meier's Civilization, Bullfrog's Populous and Sensible Software's Mega-Lo-Mania), I don't actively seek out games of that type. I generally don't care for any type of strategy game where there's a clump of opponents plotting my downfall and working ever closer to those goals while I mill around chasing minor projects like an idiot who for all the world believes he has nothing but time on his side. There's also the matter of how old Master of Magic is now -- 20 years! This month! -- and while some mechanically less-complex genres can foster the sort of timelessness that ~20 year old games such as, say, Super Mario World or Doom can enjoy, those like the in-depth strategy-sims are usually far better served through generations of tweaks and feature additions as players are given ever greater control over the empires and armies and worlds under their command. Master of Magic in particular is such a huge mess of complex systems and features, as was unfortunately made abundantly clear by how broken the game was at launch, that you'd think it would be quickly supplanted by the first fantasy city-sim to better realize what it was trying to do.

Despite all of this, Master of Magic endures. I've always suspected that it's because it secretly turned out a nigh-perfect implementation of its concept once the various bugs were ironed out, and the reason subsequent games that follow its footsteps have fallen short, whether they were intending to topple it at the time or honor it with a modern remake, is because the original was a culmination of great ideas that coalesced in just the right way, dooming any attempt to alter that formula to an invariably lesser product. Of course, this is all my opinion, and I'm sure others are of the mind that Age of Wonders or Warlock: Master of the Arcane or Eador: Masters of the Broken World or Disciples are the superior game/series. They certainly all have their strengths, and a lot more polish. For me, though, it just feels like there's something missing with those pretenders to Master of Magic's throne; something that stops those games short from being at its level. These games clearly have an appreciation for what Master of Magic did, but perhaps not the full realization of just how it did it.

Because Master of Magic is enjoying its 20th birthday this month, I've decided to revisit it in a little more detail. I've messed with video recordings and screenshots, but I think I'm going to have to go deep with a big ol' text dump to fully understand what it is about this game that puts it so high in my estimations. Consider this a merging of an LP, an essay and one of those Mento + The Mechanics rundowns as I try to explicate what makes Master of Magic the master. Of magic. (Can you believe I actually edit these things?)

Magic Slider!

Decisions, decisions.

Right off the bat, the player is given a handful of fairly intimidating world construction conditions to mess around with. Most any game of this genre has procedurally-generated worlds with some degree of user customization over the "seed" code that will go on to create them, and Master of Magic is no exception. While the standard options of changing the difficulty, size of the landmasses (that is to say, the percentage of world that is actually land instead of sea, as each generated world has a uniform size) and number of CPU opponents are all fairly explicable and had already existed long before Master of Magic came to be, the player is also treated to a setting for the game's magic. Specifically, they're allowed to toggle between "weak", "normal" and "powerful".

It's actually a very minor decision, at least on the surface level. The only thing this setting affects is the strength of the magical nodes scattered around the world: these nodes are usually protected by random assortments of creatures of a matching element, and once emptied of its treasures the wizard can send a magic spirit (the most simple summoned being) to meld with it and transfer its power to the wizard's mana reserves. This power becomes more of a vital commodity with a "powerful" magic setting, and control over the nodes becomes paramount for the player wizard and their CPU rivals. In a sense, it's like the difference between arguing over a copper mine or a gold mine: you'd be far more eager to retain control over the latter. When magic is "powerful", the various nodes become the first port of call and wizards are likely to send armies to, well, "negotiate" over them.

Conversely, when node strength is low, magic revenue generated by the player's cities (in particular mana generated by certain buildings, and having cities placed near valuable mana-generating resources) become all the more valuable. A wizard's mana is his lifeblood, and the number of spells and how often those spells can be used is linked inextricably to how much magical power a wizard can procure. In this scenario, the wizard is best served by founding a lot of towns, or taking over existing settlements, in order to maintain a mana advantage.

So as a somewhat ambiguous throwaway setting on the world creation screen, it sets an interesting precedent to the sort of game Master of Magic ultimately is. Its effects are far more subtle than a new player might realize, but still makes for an important consideration when strategizing. Many of Master of Magic's seemingly cut-and-dry elements actually come with their own caveats, compromises and conditions. Likewise, some of its smallest stones can still cast large ripples.

Wizard Creation!

Wraith Fiennes ain't nuthin' ta [radio edit] wit.

An unusual decision at the time was to allow players to create their own wizard character, forsaking the many pre-generated and archetypal wizards provided by the game. Unusual in part because each of the wizards has their own distinct personality based on figures from history (well, literary history and world folklore anyway, I'm not sure there were many real wizards) much like the rulers of Civilization, and that veteran players of the game might bump into, say, Horus and realize that their future is going to be filled with annoying floating islands and flying units to contend with. Sssra the Draconian will almost always be the one opponent the game dumps on Myrror, Lo-Pan's not to be trusted and Tauron will as likely set you on fire than reason with you.

However, their personalities are just as much defined by innate dickery algorithms as by their magic tome configurations. Each wizard has an assortment of magic books of certain elements, and these determine which spells they end up learning. However, they can also influence aspects like eagerness to wage war and trustworthiness, depending on the traits of that particular element of magic. Chaos magic breeds violent and unpredictable nutcases, Sorcery creates surreptitious spymasters who are able (and willing) to dispel enchantments on a personal and global level, Nature begets friendly but territorial rivals. Life wizards are fanatical and build deadly armies of empowered crusaders, and also have more freedom to cross the planes. Death wizards are just bad news period. What's more, these elemental compositions define how well you're likely to get on with another wizard, as having a magical commonality with someone opens the door to sharing spells and engendering warmer relations. This can lead to situations where a wizard that you were friendly with in one game can become your bitter enemy in another because of a different set-up.

The second reason that it was unusual is because it opens the door to exploitation, especially as the player is also allowed to select "retorts": innate bonuses that a wizard may choose instead of magical tomes, lowering the number of spells they might learn but conferring advantages of a different sort. Part of what's amazing about Master of Magic is that there's very few ways to exploit the game this way. Its purpose, rather, is to offer veteran players different ways to approach the game. For instance, the Conjurer retort lessens the cost of summoning creatures, which makes it a far more viable option for those who have it. Warlord is perfect for those who intend to train standard armies instead, relying less on ethereal beasts and putting their magical effort into enchanting the troops and heroes they hire. The retorts and magical tome compositions of a player-created wizard offers near-endless replay value, and because of the relatively simplistic way the game determines how two wizards will get along, a created wizard feels as much a part of the world as a pre-made one.

Race Selection!

Welcome to Orcplace. It's a place, with orcs. In it.

The last stage of the world creation process is selecting the race of the player's first city. It's another fairly minor decision, because the world is randomly populated by any number of other races irrespective of the one the player chose. However, the player's capital is almost always going to be the most important city, especially early on when it's the player's only city, and the type of race you choose can be important for the sort of game you're planning to play, much like the retorts and tomes of the prior step.

But man oh man are there a lot of races. Nine for the basic plane of Arcanus and five more for the alternate plane of Myrror. Each of these fourteen races have their own special bonuses, their own unique units and their own dispositions towards other races. As with many aspects in the game, the variation doesn't so much create a tier system of "good, better, best" but creates preferable options for the many ways the player might choose to play the game.

What's not immediately apparent is just how certain races work. Orcs, for instance, are not a martial race of barely tolerated monsters, but one of the most industrious and gregarious of the races, having access to almost the full breadth of the city construction tree. That leaves them with little in the way of unique units (they have but one: Wyvern Riders), but an Orc city is likely to be one brimming with industry. They also have a higher than average growth rate and other races generally like them, reducing the amount of unrest whenever the player adds a new Orc city to their empire. Though traditionally antagonists, in Master of Magic Orcs make for a fairly decent starting race for beginners.

It might seem intimidating, but there's no big penalty for selecting the "wrong" race. Chances are, the first neutral city your units find will be owned by a different race and give you more options to work with. A single playthrough gives the player enough opportunities to play as a whole menagerie of sentient species, giving them plenty of food for thought about choosing a race more beneficial to their style of play for next time. Personally, I just find it fun to switch up every new game. Even the hated insectoid Klackon can make for an interesting game, as their enhanced production bonus can lead to plenty of new hives popping up all over the world. Something to be said for riding giant stag beetles into battle, too.

Myrror!

The world through the looking glass.

I've mentioned it a few times, but one of the more overt differences between Master of Magic and its peers is the alternate plane of Myrror, an entirely separate world that effectively doubles the overall map size. Myrror works similarly to the Underdark of the Forgotten Worlds D&D setting: there's a lot more danger, but also more to gain. The dungeon rewards are greater, the player has access to adamantine and the races are far more interesting if a bit more severe with their strengths and weaknesses. Being able to start on Myrror is an expensive pick for any wizard at the beginning of the game, and given the general difficulty boost it's usually a better idea to start on Arcanus and find the closest Tower of Wizardry: these structures aren't all that more dangerous than your average ruins or node, and serve as instant travel points between the two planes once conquered. Chances are, with the exception of the one CPU player that starts in Myrror, the second world will be ripe for the picking as none of the other CPU opponents really prioritize dungeon-delving and planar travel. A good mid-game strategy has always been to find a way over there and start taking over the many neutral cities, reveling in the lack of competition for resources.

What's more is that Myrror is just a straight up cooler place to hang out. It feels far more alien and bizarre than the sunny and relatively normal Arcanus, and it offers plenty of late-game instances for players who still want to keep bashing dungeons with their killer party of heroes, summoned monsters and army units. Jumping into Myrror's often one of my first goals, because I just like hanging out there, starting towns linked by magical paths that units can travel on indefinitely, seeking out locations surrounded by mana crystals and other rare and wonderful resources to set up new cities. My usual go-to whenever I talk effusively about Master of Magic is that it's often far less fixated on trying to outdo your opponents, and gives you plenty of opportunities to just assemble a band of heroes together to go out exploring and make a name for themselves. Myrror is an embodiment of that wanderlust.

Information Gathering!

Shit, Freya. Get it together.

Master of Magic surfaces a lot of information about its world. It doesn't quite go so far as revealing the building or spell research trees (it would take an awful lot of implementation, given how much data there is) in any sort of "Masterpedia", but it does give you a full cabinet of advisers that you can turn to whenever you need to know something about the current status of the game. You have standard statistics nerd stuff like your Historian and Astrologer, both of whom comparatively rates you alongside the rival wizards you've met. There's the Cartographer, who displays the world map with annotations. The Apprentice tells you what spell you're currently researching, the Chancellor lets you review the turn's events (like population growths), the Tax Collector lets you reap in more cash from populations at the risk of increasing unrest and the Mirror lets you see your own status.

The two most important advisors, at least as far as I'm concerned, are the Surveyor and the Grand Vizier. The Grand Vizier is essentially a setting that lets the game handle building construction in cities. This frees the player to focus on warfare and exploring the world, rather than micromanage every city in their domain. This option becomes more valuable the more cities you own, especially if you're focused on a certain goal and don't want to be distracted at the start of every turn by a bunch of remote villages which need a new granary or shrine. Many players might balk at relinquishing any control to the CPU, however, and it won't necessarily make the wise decisions of a player-controlled wizard. For instance, it's only really necessary to build units in a single town that has a full suite of war colleges and barracks and other advanced unit-enabling structures. Troops from that one city can then be deployed anywhere in the world, provided the player has some patience (or a little bit of teleportation magic up their sleeves). Creating a squad of elite soldiers of a unique class in a handful of turns in a city built primarily for that purpose and sending them marching halfway across the world to where they're needed usually ends up being far more preferable than generating a bunch of local spear-wielding nobodies that get knocked over by a gust of wind (occasionally literally; it all depends on what spells the enemy wizards have). Still, at the end of the game where you already have your Army of Death (TM) cutting a bloody swathe across the world, it helps to have someone tending to the smaller stuff back home. But then you probably don't need to worry about new buildings at that point anyway.

The Surveyor is useful for creating settlements, as the guy measures the lay of the land and determines how suitable an area it would be for a new city. It tells you what terrain bonuses provide, gives you a hypothetical maximum population of any city built in that area and also tells you what sort of food and production bonuses it's likely to enjoy from the surrounding landscape. What's more, the Surveyor records scouting reports, reminding you what the various dungeons and nodes on the map contain if you've already gone in there to take a look around. He can be very handy when it comes to selecting a possible destination for armies and settlers alike, and it's a little nuts that the game deigns to reveal this information to you. Actually, it seems absurdly generous that it would tell you how well your opponents are doing too. Either way, the Info panel makes for some very useful data gathering and I can certainly appreciate some hard info in my strategy games. Most just don't reach that "obsessed stalker" level of fact-finding.

Structure Trees!

Yeah brah, I'm going to Magic U this year. Gonna major in engineering with a minor in divining the future.

I actually love the city-building aspects as much as the combat and magic in this game. Though each town has a certain critical path that it would be wise to follow early on, further development really comes down to the sort of cities you want, or need, to create. The revenue of gold, food and sometimes mana increase the larger the population gets, but beyond that the player has to consider what kind of needs they have and what strengths each particular city has, given its race and surroundings. A city nestled in the mountains will have a much faster construction rate, but will be lacking for arable farmland. Likewise, a city surrounded by grasslands will never be wanting for food, but might struggle to reach a metropolis at anything near the speed of the former example.

It gets even more conditional. A city surrounded by forest would be ideal place to build a sawmill, but such a structure would not be worth the upkeep in a city lacking a lot of surrounding woodlands. If there's nightshade nearby, the player will need to build a shrine to take advantage of it (and take advantage they should, as magical immunity is nothing to sneeze at). Alchemist's Guilds allow troops to be generated with magical weapons, but the player's wizard might already have the Alchemy retort which generates the same effect, making the building slightly less valuable. Mineral deposits like iron, coal, mithril or adamantium reduce the cost of military unit production (and confer magical weapons in the case of mithril and adamantium) and make for ideal places to set up unit-producing cities. Conversely, any structure that increases the level of a military unit, or allows more military units to be made, is fairly useless for a remote city with no roads far from any border to a rival wizard's land. A lot of considerations have to go into building cities for specific purposes, and it's one of the more strictly strategic parts of this game that I enjoy. Lots of thinking ahead.

All the same, there's something engrossing about building every possible structure in one place and seeing the overhead view of the settlement become a bustling metropolis of industry and magical power. Likewise, casting city spells that allow it to be shielded by a wall of fire or float through the air can really bring some personality to the place. You end up becoming as fond of the cities you own as you do about the heroes you're training, and it's just as painful when you lose one to carelessness.

Troops!

Don't underestimate these little guys.

This factors more into the combat side of things, which I'll eventually get to, but the way soldier units work in Master of Magic can be somewhat deceptive. Every unit in the game, be it a hero or a monster or a common soldier, has a bunch of stats that determine physical strength and defense, resistance, movement and health. What's less apparent is that these stats apply to every singular creature within the group. A group of eight beings, therefore, have eight times the stats on display. The more powerful the individual troop type, the more likely that they'll move in a smaller group. This is especially true of cavalry, which usually march in groups of four (unless they're riding enormous fantastical creatures like dragon turtles or stag beetles, which have even smaller groupings).

Units can therefore be deceptively powerful with the right enchantments. We'll take the example of eight spearmen: Each fights separately within each round of combat, but it's usually the case where the low hit percentage chance of each individual soldier results in a lot of misses, creating a small amount of damage output from the troop as a whole. Simply making them more accurate, however, greatly increases the damage output as more of those eight hits actually land. Giving each of them a magical enchantment that lets them breathe fire, which adds a little bit of damage to the start of a melee round, vastly increases the damage output as the same bonus is added eight times, while for a hero the same enchantment would only be applied once.

The temptation for new players is to summon a Final Fantasy game's worth of mystical creatures and group them with heroes and send them all off to beat up jerks. It's easy to overlook the humble squad of troops due to their relative lack of spark and lousy stats. Even so, there's situations where the right mix of hero-enabled bonuses and magical enchantments can create truly devastating armies out of the most harmless looking troops, and there's even cases like the Halfling Slingers where an innocuous little bonus like being lucky, which simply boosts a unit's chance to land a hit, can make them utterly devastating in greater numbers. As each unit can level up through experience, much like heroes, you start getting attached to the scrappy bands of veterans in your charge who have survived numerous encounters with much bigger armies and terrible creatures. At least, far more attached than you would be to some nameless horror you called from the ether to go stomp on things. Unless you named it Stompy, that is. How can you not love a pet named Stompy?

Unit and Hero Powers!

Well, hello there, handsome. See all those bonuses? That's what he STARTS with.

But, of course, this being the game that it is, there's far more complexity on a unit level than simple numbers. Heroes especially are the center of the maelstrom when it comes to dozens of different powers and abilities that can subtly affect their proficiency in combat and compatibility with other units. The most immediately obvious beneficial powers are those that grant movement bonuses on the world map, such as Pathfinder or Mountaineer. Stronger heroes and monsters might even have innate Water- or Wind-Walking skills that affect the whole party, making them ideal for ferrying around troops.

Many magic-user heroes can not only use ranged attacks in battle, but can cast spells from the wizard's spellbook. Certain troops and monsters can do the same. Others can you bonus gold, mana and research points, while others still buff the stats of all the units in their stack. Because heroes can also equip items, which themselves can carry all sorts of enchantments, you'll quickly discover that heroes can be a very dangerous and unpredictable commodity. It's worth hiring a few heroes in every game and seeing how they turn out at higher levels, because certain skillsets can really make a difference to a hero's later development.

Remember what I said earlier, about heroes being a singular unit and often overestimated compared to high level troops? With some heroes, the reverse is true, because it's so very easy to overlook a single dude on a horse at the back of armies filled with griffins and war bears. Heroes have the greatest capacity for growth, and have the highest damage potentials and stat caps. Unlike summoned monsters, which never get any stronger unless you cast enchantment spells on them, heroes start weak and grow steadily more powerful, some eventually overpowering even the strongest monsters. A special hero that only Life players can summon, Torin the Chosen One, is the most powerful unit in the game. I guess it's no surprise that heroes pack so much firepower, as anyone who has played Heroes of Might and Magic or Warcraft (or, hell, any RPG ever) is probably familiar with the idea, but it's always worth seeing just what a hero can do by checking their overview before deciding which unit in an enemy's army is likely to give you the most trouble. If there's a dude at the back glowing with eldritch magical energy, it's probably gonna be that one.

Enchantments!

Here's that same hero again with non-corporeality, immunity to weapons, invisibility, flame weapons, flight and a cloak of fear. I call this configuration "You are already dead".

So yeah. About that glowing eldritch energy. If you're playing a wizard of the Life or Sorcery element or simply don't care for summoned creatures, you've got a few other options for where you'll want to be channelling your magical energy. Of course, you'll want a reserve of mana to throw offensive spells in the midst of combat, but once you have a few nodes (or a lot of worshippers, depending on how you're playing the mana intake route) under your belt you'll release you'll have something of a surfeit of dire magickal energies.

There's a few permanent (well, as long as you can pay the upkeep) spells that you can start using once you're noticing that you're earning more mana than you can spend. The most interesting, by my reckoning, are the number of permanent enchantments you can give units under your control. Some are contingent on particular instances: you might temporariy need someone who can see through illusions in order to survive a fight with invisible/phantom units, say. Others are just useful buffs worth keeping around, even after their effects become negligible (though it's a fair chance that the mana cost to keep them going at this point would also be negligible). It's something a player new to the game can have fun exploring, like so many of the other factors in creating a wizard and setting a race and building the first towns.

It is always worth keeping in mind that going enchantment-heavy makes certain other magical routes less viable. One such example?

Summoning!

These little guys are a lot less cute close-up.

Summoned creatures can require absurd amounts of mana upkeep the stronger they get, so what's generally best is to pick a target destination, move your summoning circle as close to it as possible (which means setting it up in the nearest friendly city) and create something you intend to banish as soon as its task is over. Of course, each summoned creature requires a hefty mana cost in additio to hemorrhaging mana every turn, so it pays to be resourceful if this is the way you to want to spin things.

And why wouldn't you? Summoning creatures, though perhaps not the most cost effective route to victory, is easily the most fun. Especially if you've gone all in on Death, Chaos or Nature, which all have an embarrassment of riches as far as summoned unit types are concerned. Creatures that hit hard and get hit hard in return -- glass cannons, to use the common parlance -- can be sent in and devastated by the veritable safari of unruly creatures, but chip away at their numbers all the same. A particularly tough dungeon can be dismantled piece by piece by these attacks, if the player wants to take such a cowardly route. The alternate would be to bring your best meatshield summoned creatures (the Behemoth or Hydra are wonderful for this) and pack as many archers and mages as you can fit into the stack as support.

As much as you might rue the loss of the mana you spent summoning something, these eidolons or guardian forces -- or whatever your preferred nomenclature -- are prized largely for being expendable. They never level up, they never get any more powerful, and any creature can be summoned again at equal strength with enough time and patience. Of course, there's no harm in dabbling in elementals either, who have the singular benefit of being able to be summoned directly into battle then and there. Fire elementals are weak but hit hard, air elementals are invisible and fast and work as ideal ranged unit eliminators and earth elementals are literally built like brick shithouses and move almost as fast. There's a certain degree of tactical utility to all three, especially if an enemy army just marched into a relatively unprotected town.

Global Enchantments!

What game isn't filled with zombies these days?

Continuing on our applications of magic, we have the third of five paths any wizard can follow if they find themselves earning more mana than they know what to do with. Global enchantments are few and far between, but they have one aspect that perhaps supersedes all others: a global enchantment, when cast, is immediately apparent to all rival wizards. Indeed, it affects everyone, though some feel the effects more strongly than others. In particular, few offensive global enchantments actually target the caster, though they aren't always spared. It's pretty effin' ballsy to call everyone out like that, and even more ballsy to ruin their shit from half the globe away.

Global enchantments are, perhaps obviously enough, some of the most powerful spells in the game and usually require a massive draw from the player's reserves to keep active. We're usually talking double figures per turn, and all the while the rival wizards grow more suspicious of you (or outright hate you) for your brash display of power and/or testicular fortitude. A minor global enchantment, Aura of Majesty, engineers your opponents' temperaments to like you more, but the rest tend to have a minor to severe negative effect on how others perceive you.

But you know what? Screw 'em. Some global enchantments are downright terrifying in their power, and they're right to fear them. Some are even straight up end of the world scenarios, like the Chaos wizard's Armageddon, which will systematically destroy both worlds with two fresh new volcanos every turn, feeding mana directly to the caster at the cost of, well, everything. A Life wizard can use Crusade to boost the experience level of every single unit under the caster's command, including newly produced troops, making a large enough army nigh-unstoppable. Nature has a couple of good ones: Nature's Awareness fully reveals the map (you can turn this one off right afterwards if you don't care to watch a bunch of CPU troops move around between each turn) and Herb Mastery instantly heals all the caster's units at the end of every turn. If a Sorcery mage has 150 mana per turn to burn off, and that would be something of a miracle, they can simply stop time itself for everyone but themselves. As for Death? Well, they can either cast Zombie Mastery which creates a fresh (well, by one definition, if not another) squad of zombies with the death of every normal unit or cast Death Wish to simply kill everyone, everywhere, unless they can somehow make a tough resistance roll. Hey, guess what? All your cities are full of zombies now. Deal with it.

These are spells you use when you want other wizards to know you're serious. They're prohibitively expensive and absurdly overpowered, but there's no better way to intimidate folk. Well, except the CPU can't really be intimidated, but why let that spoil the fun? Let them crap their collective wizard robes as you drop meteors from the sky and cast the world into permanent night.

Artificing!

Sean Connery the dragonman with a full set of gear. (Also, check out that esoteric Doom reference someone sneaked into the game!)

A wizard might come across artifacts and magical items every now and again, either via door-to-door merchants or through looting dungeons, but they can be a rewarding if expensive hobby if you decide to get into creating them yourself. Heroes all have several equipment slots, some dependent on their class (rangers use bows and don't use shields, for example), and if you have a hero that needs an extra bit of firepower or could use some defense, it's a fine idea to craft them a particularly strong piece of equipment to help them out.

The alternative would be to enchant a magical item with the most useful spells in your repertoire and hand it to the hero, then remove the enchantments they already have on them. Item enchantments are free, once the items are created, and it could end up saving mana in the long run. Of course, this isn't an option for regular units and summoned creatures, as they are unable to use items, but then they're generally fine without enchantments anyway.

The issue with this is that a particularly strong Create Artifact or Enchant Item spell will take an immense amount of mana, dipping deep into your reserves and preventing you from casting anything else until it is done. If you're playing a wizard who doesn't particularly care about using magic every turn, or have a particularly large reserve to burn through, creating items for your characters isn't a bad plan. Then again, you can always keep raiding ruins and nodes and towers for whatever spoils they have and hope you strike it lucky with an item your heroes can actually use.

I really dig building artifacts, personally. It's a bit of a resource drain, but there's no better route to an unstoppable badass with a piece of equipment that confers some high-level stat boosts and a few vital enchantments. Being able to micromanage the stats for a piece of equipment allows you to cover the weaknesses of the heroes in your thrall. It's the pro option if you're going all in with an overpowered hero, and I've managed to create guys who can walk into dungeons filled with the worst monsters imaginable and waltz right back out again without a scratch.

Alchemy and Other Resource Management!

Ahhhh that's the stuff.

The final use for mana is to simply transform it into gold. The reverse too, if necessary. You'll take a 50% loss no matter which direction you go in, unless you pick the retort that always makes it an even exchange. This retort, Alchemy, is superbly useful because it can cover your ass when faced with unforeseen circumstances. One such circumstance is discovering that there are no nodes nearby after the starting the game, but plenty of rich ruins to plunder. If you're generating so much magic that it's getting ludicrous, turn it into gold and burn it on some new buildings and units, which can be instantly built if you're prepared to make it rain a little.

The best part of the Alchemy retort is that it effectively adds gold and mana together into a single resource. Even if both reserves say 100, you'll always have 200 mana or 200 gold if you happen to need either. It's another situation where the game creates something that initially appears to only have mild utility, but can actually be invaluable in the hands of a player who knows best how to use it.

Scouting!

Heck no. Those guys are pretty big.

One of the first things you should do, and one of my favorite steps of the usually rough and laborious early stages of the game, is send the little spearman unit you are given to poke around the nearby geography, gingerly checking out nearby dungeons (which is to say, ruins, nodes, towers, the usual stuff). The game is gracious enough to give you some idea of the danger within before making you decide whether or not to pick a fight with the inhabitants, but shrewd enough to not give too much away. Generally speaking, the scouting report will tell you the most powerful unit in a dungeon. it won't tell you how many of that unit are in there, or if it has any weaker but still troublesome buddies. It's very possible to wander into a Nature node, say, knowing there's only war bears in there and then getting hit with a barrage of magical attacks from a few packs of sprites. Those little guys can pack a wallop in numbers, often taking down a low-level hero in a single combat round.

So there's no real reason to trust that the scout report is entirely helpful, but it does mean that you can mentally note a place for later once you have a bit more muscle in your employ to take it out. It takes some experience with the game and its units to understand just when this point will be, but most encounters can be put into a rough "low-level, mid-level, high-level" tier system for simplicity's sake. If you're feeling adventurous, playing on a lower setting or are simply not averse to save-scumming, you can go into one of these places and get the full lowdown before bugging out. It's risky stuff, but nothing makes planning strategies easier than knowing exactly what's in there. You can even walk up to a node with a full army in one stack and a "canary" unit in the other who can hop in, get the full report and get brutally dismembered; possibly a low-level summon like a magic spirit that you can create instantaneously. It's generally a good idea to have a magic spirit ready to go regardless if you have designs on a node, as I've mentioned previously.

The strategies around scouting are endless, and it comes down to knowing just enough that any location is probably dangerous as hell regardless of how harmless it sounds. There's always the possibility that the place is entirely empty too in which case, hey, free stuff.

Combat!

Hey, anyone order a hot dog? How about 28?

Man, it's probably about time to discuss what I like most about the combat, huh? I feel like after talking about the units, the magic, the skillsets and the equipment that I should probably get around to when all of it becomes necessary. Combat in Master of Magic is a far more involved affair than most games of this genre generally allow. Rather than throwing two stacks of creatures against each other and removing those which land face-up, every unit needs to be moved around a grid like a strategy RPG. World map movement bonuses can still apply in battle, as flying units cannot be attacked by grounded melee. Invisible units can't be targeted by any ranged or anyone who can detect invisible creatures. All these fun little rules can make every fight different and interesting, if occasionally an unpleasant surprise.

What doesn't quite come across in these pictures are how tense it can be when you put two units together and make them fight. A little MIDI roar and a little blood splatter later, and one emerges the victor, and it's not always the one you might expect. It's at this point that you realize a certain someone has run afoul of the game's randomized dice rolls, or that one particular unit was packing some heat in the way of a subtle enchantment or a much higher experience level than anticipated. It's also terribly invigorating, by which I mean rad as hell, when some enormous lumbering beast wanders up to a hero you've put a lot of time and effort into and gets its ass kicked trying to land a hit. Units don't so much collapse on the battlefield as simply vanish as soon as their HP runs out, and at that point they are gone for good. Sending a hero into a clump of enemies and blinking to find the hero standing alone is badassery in a bandana.

At the very least, this system can get you attached to individual units as you get used to directing them on the battlefield, and you'll probably find yourself moving a hero in critical condition around the edges to escape a deathblow while the rest of your army tries to finish off what's left. Nothing's more heartbreaking than seeing a unit one's been leveling up for dozens of turns disappear into oblivion.

Combat Priorities!

A breath attack can be pretty darn useful at times.

What's a little more nuts about the combat is how certain types of attack will either precede or supersede the standard melee. In normal circumstances, melee is simply the back-and-forth of attacks; each side rolls to attack and defend, and takes damage accordingly. As far as I can tell, this all happens simultaneously. If you have a lot of special attacks that apply before melee even starts, you'll regularly find yourself killing opponents while receiving nothing in return because you'll have diminished their health reserves before they ever got a chance to return fire.

These "special attacks" aren't always magical in nature. A "thrown" bonus, which is meant to suggest that the fighter throws an axe or javelin or whatever low-distance ranged weapon they were holding before engaging in hand-to-hand, can be found with a lot of regular troops and low-level heroes. Many faster units will have First Strike, which means they apply their melee damage first before the opponent does the same, rather than doing so simultaneously. Then you have things like breath and gaze attacks, which are usually the domain of monsters (and can be very nasty), but can be given to units with the right spells/enchantments. Any special attack that requires getting into melee range before it can stick, like poison or vampirism, has to occur during standard melee and not before.

When fighting something like Phantom Warriors, which have no defense but also ignore defense when attacking, an attack that applies before melee begins is the only sure way for regular units to survive the encounter. The same for heroes. Like a good "to hit" bonus, any means to apply damage to an opponent before they get the chance to reciprocate is absolutely priceless. However, it's one of those things you eventually pick up when playing this game and watching how certain heroes seem to emerge from battles without a scratch, while others seem to get as good as they give. It's another reason why this game rewards the attentive, and especially rewards those who use every battle and every campaign -- whether won or failed -- as a learning exercise. There's just so many (optional) tidbits of information to pick up each time, and that's key to the game's longevity.

Diplomacy!

Dear Diary, today I made a new friend. (Believe it or not, he's putting on airs. I never thought he could feel so free-ee-ee to threaten me.)

It's about time we discuss the rival computer-controlled wizards, or as we Master of Magic veterans colloquially refer to them as, "oh, those assholes". You don't know who your opponents are until you bump into them, either via a wandering unit of theirs or an allied town. They'll introduce themselves to you, and then they become available to talk to or to spy on, via those helpful advisers of yours. As noted earlier, a rival wizard is pre-disposed to treat you a certain way depending on how closely your magical dispositions match. Sharing magical tomes gives you more and common and puts you slightly higher in their estimations.

The game has a subtle system for understanding a rival wizard's temperament towards you. All you'll receive is an adjective: calm, troubled, peaceful, unease, and so on. When talking to them, you'll notice that the gargoyles surrounding the magic mirror that acts as the magical version of FaceTime will have a certain eye color: this is another shorthand for how the wizard feels about you, with eyes tending towards green being harmonious and eyes tending towards red as perhaps a sign you should start bracing for a hissyfit.

It doesn't stop there, of course. Each of the CPU wizards have their own personalities, and discovering and understanding these personality types can help figure out what their future plans are. Expansionists won't stop encroaching on your land, building multiple hamlets around the edges of your territory until you snap and start razing the annoying resource-draining things to the ground. Maniacal wizards cannot be reasoned with and will probably wage war as soon as they find you. There's a bunch of others too, some governing their diplomacy, others governing their playstyle.

I do tend to forget a lot of birthdays, in fairness.

Then you have the super subtle stuff that you'd only know if you studied the manual or have played the game multiple times. Finer details like how Life magic, even if the rival wizard doesn't share Life books, will always put you in slightly higher stead because Life wizards are viewed as intrinsically trustworthy, and the reverse being true for Death magic. Turns out no-one likes a necromancer.

While being more powerful than other wizards can drop their trust in you, though usually not to the extent where they'll risk waging war at a moment's notice, being considerably weaker than other wizards is far more likely to cause them to stomp you out of existence. It's partly why the harder modes are so much more difficult, because the CPU already begins with more resources and is therefore way less into the idea of talking to you and would rather send a giant army over to discuss your eviction from reality tout de suite. Also, as soon as you start casting the Spell of Mastery, absolutely everyone will wage war on you regardless of how warm your prior relations were: at this point you're going for broke, and no-one wants to sit around and watch you cast the spell that instantly banishes them into the Abyss.

There's something about how the use of magic makes every wizard feel more visible than what would normally be allowed for leaders in empire-sims, and how much information the game is prepared to give you either through your standard diplomacy toolset or via spells built for espionage and divination. Your historian and astrologer can tell you right off the bat just how well you're doing in comparison, and setting up Wizard Eyes in enemy territory can give you a fairly decent sense of what's going on regarding troop movements. There's even a spell that will tell you what everyone is casting, if you want to go full NSA on them. It's great that the game feeds your paranoid tendencies.

Node Management!

Ah, that sweet node juice. Gimme gimme!

What makes messing with rival wizards fun, though, is when you both have eyes on a node close to both your territories. The amount of power generated by a node is directly proportional to how well it was guarded, and anyone who is able to emancipate a node from its protectors will have a magic spirit (the most basic summoned creature) ready to meld with it and bring in some much needed magical power. However, once a node is emptied, it becomes fair game for any wizard. If you send a single magic spirit to meld with a node, all a rival has to do is march an army in there and wrestle control away from what is, figuratively speaking, a floating bedsheet.

What tends to follow is a game of tag, where each wizard sends larger forces to stand guard over particularly valuable nodes, trying to dedicate as few resources as possible into holding onto the thing. This becomes a particular problem if you've set the game's magic as "Powerful" when starting up, as nodes become the default means of raising magical power, which is the most useful resource there is.

The levels of dickishness that your rivals are capable of will never be made more evident than when you find yourself playing node Pong with them. Anyone who's fought with the CPU over a goldmine in Heroes of Might and Magic can relate, I'm sure.

Events!

Shit! Oh wait, I'm evil. Yay!

Random events can make a game very interesting indeed. A setting hidden away in the options menu, a random event has a chance of happening every new in-game year. Their effects can be substantial, from losing a lot of magical power each turn to losing a lot of reserve cash to pirates. There are positive ones too, of course, but the game is far more likely to throw bad ones at you if you're doing particularly well. Some events will persist for a long time, being a constant drain on gold/mana/food intake until they randomly decide to go away.

All the same, I kind of love this feature. There's the randomness factor, for one, which helps make every game somewhat exciting. It's also like turning on disasters in SimCity too: If you're finding that the game too quiet it can be fun to have to occasionally deal with some unforeseen occurrence. It's also fun when it's a global event that affects everyone, too, as every wizard postpones their schemes for the time being so they can just weather the storm. It can suck when it's something like a mineral resource running out or a city falling to a rebellion, but at least it means you'll never be bored.

The "OP Point"!

Me and the coneheads have had a talk, Ariel, and we've decided to terminate your association with this plane of reality. No hard feelings, right?

My absolute favorite part of any Master of Magic is the late-game, when you've cultivated unassailable armies of death and have control over most of both worlds. You can either end the game quickly by removing what remains of your rival wizards' forces, getting a time bonus that adds to a higher overall score, or you can eschew the time bonus and try to raise as much population and research as many spells as possible.

What's also feasible during this time is raiding all the difficult dungeons you decided to leave well enough alone after receiving a scouting report that was essentially just a prolonged scream, and reaping some extremely useful rewards. It's even possible to earn new spell books and retorts from dungeons, as well as finding prisoners (who become new heroes), artifacts and all sorts of interesting crap.

While the game perhaps becomes something of a giddy, childish power fantasy at this point, that's always been the best part of any RPG. When you've developed a team of adventurers to the point where you're taking down dragons and demon lords, each painstakingly earned victory throughout the game getting you closer to this godlike state, it's fun to indulge in some high-level encounters. The alternative is to use these Titans Among Men to stomp out a bunch of now mostly powerless wizards, and where's the fun in that? (It's actually very fun. Trust me.)

The Bit At the End

While I've certainly waxed lyrical on a lot of what appeals to me about Master of Magic, it always comes down to the nostalgia factor inherent with these hoary old pieces of interactive entertainment. I think this game is a piece of art, but at the same time I can fully appreciate that a new player could get turned off almost instantly by its age, its obtuse complexity and its relative primitiveness. I remember coming home from long days of school and staying up almost until the wee hours of the morning building an empire and just having a grand old time, enjoying myself with the fruits of my conquests and searching for new dungeons and cities beyond the fog of war. So for as much as the previous twenty bulletpoints have explicated my appreciation for Master of Magic, it's ultimately the two full decades of fond memories with it that keeps it firmly in my pantheon of the best video games ever made. Isn't that always the way with the weird old games we love?

Another game? ...Sure. Why not?

(Secret postscript: I only discovered this yesterday, but there was actually a Japan-only PlayStation port of Master of Magic named "Civizard: Majutsu no Keifu"! Even twenty years later, this game still finds ways to surprise me. I'm definitely going to have to look into that, my lack of Japanese reading skill be damned.)

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Bundle Boggle: Groupees' Be Mine 14: Part 2

So here we are with Part 2. I left you all with the merest aperitif last time, but now it's the main course. The $5 main course of Groupees' Be Mine 14 bundle, to be precise. I need to stop with the meal metaphors; I'm hungry enough right now.

There's four games to look at today, and there's a curious mix of the interesting and the "interesting". (I need to buy a damn thesaurus already.) Bizarrely heavy focus on supernatural antics during the colonization of the Americas too. It's probably worth noting that this bundle will end later today, and might already be over by the time you read this. That's my bad: I could've started these Bundle Boggles earlier but I got sidetracked by those loveable Giant Bomb buffoons and their Deadly Premonition playthroughs. Blame Agent York.

Be Mine 14 More Like Benign 4. (Oooooh and the Burns Keep Coming.)

Betrayer is the headliner of the bunch: an atmospheric horror-themed first-person shooter that has a bit more of an action-adventure edge to it. Though you can run around shooting bestial Spaniards with a crummy bow and arrow to your heart's content, it seems more like a game that rewards patience, prudence and persistence: You earn money from taking down foes and through exploration, but you're also very vulnerable to getting swarmed by enemies if you're gallivanting around and taking things too lightly. The best course appears to be to stealthily remove the nearby dangers while keeping a clear route back to the home base open in order to restock on droughts of healing water and other supplies. As for particular goals, the player can jump in and out of an "other world" filled with spirits both malevolent and benevolent and see what's shakin'. Many of these spirits (the benevolent kind, at least, since the malevolent ones don't seem to be big talkers) ask you to search for remnants of their former lives so they can pass on, and there's also dangling narrative threads to follow in the form of notes and gravestones. So far, it seems to be a game that is content to give you a few ideas and lets you seek out answers on your own.

Yep, you guessed it, this fellow has Ghost Problems. Maybe even Ghost Problems More.

Fittingly, I'd have to say this game reminds me the most of the Elder Scrolls series. There's nothing overtly RPG going on, as you don't level up or anything, but the tactical approach to enemies and the way you're often investigating new points of interest in the immediate area because they just popped up on the radar (in Betrayer's case, this "radar" is a sound that perks up whenever the player is close to an object of note as well as otherworldly wails that direct you towards your quest targets). I know I spent much of Oblivion and Skyrim keeping low to the ground whenever enemies were nearby in order to get the advantage of surprise in battle (though the off-the-record reason was so I could avoid as much of those games' combat as possible). It's mechanically similar in other ways too, though perhaps a better comparison would be something like Far Cry where you generally pick a direction and FPS your way to riches and glory. Neither really fits into what Betrayer's doing, which has more of a methodical horror edge to it that steers you away from combat simply because these are scary spooky monsters that the game wants you to take seriously despite all those loud comical "DING!"s your arrows make whenever they are deflected by their Conquistador armor. It's not a perfect contrivance, but it doesn't take long for the game to establish a satisfactory explanation for why you're meant to be playing it the way they want you to. Personally, I generally don't mind stealth when it's this unobtrusive to the rest of the game, and there's no big furor if you happen to get spotted (or killed, even, though you can make things more difficult by implementing a corpse run feature that drops your valuables upon death for later retrieval).

As for the story of Betrayer, it seems to regard a haunted outpost in 17th century Virginia, when colonists were establishing the first trade routes and settlements on the newly discovered continent and getting into fracases (fracii?) with the locals. It's clear some manner of massacre happened around these parts, but I'm sure it'll take a little while longer before the bigger picture forms and we discover which side were the aggressors (my money's on both sides being driven to destroy each other by supernatural entities, since this place seems lousy with the things). There's also a mysterious maiden in red (the game has only ever referred to her as such) who is seeking her twin and seems oblivious to the spooky monsters and otherworldly portals that are perturbing the player. I believe she's the only friendly face the player ever meets, and I don't doubt that she has a central role in the game's mysteries.

Nope, no Chris de Burgh shit. I'm not even going to acknowledge that song for the sake of a caption.

Betrayer seems like an intriguing game so far, and one I'd be happy to continue exploring. The combat and stealth are perfunctory, but then they don't seem like the focus. Instead, the spotlight seems to be on progressing the plot by exploring the local area for clues and fulfilling tasks given by woeful spirits unable to cross over. Maybe a little bit of treasure hunting and equipment finding to make the surrounding environs a little less dangerous to wander around in too. I've never been entirely copacetic on what a game from the "action-adventure" genre is meant to entail, but if it's simply any game that surrounds its narrative-driven progression core with an outer shell of acceptable action gameplay, Betrayer is it. I just wish it ran a little better on this machine. All that greyscale can take a lot out of a graphics card, it appears.

Watch the Betrayer QL here.

I've yet to make up my mind about Consortium. Someone mentioned that the game was pushing some social elements in its advertising on the last update, and it lead me to believe that this was some manner of cel-shaded Star Trek take on Velvet Sundown. The game's a bit more like an first-person story-driven Mass Effect from what I've played, but I'm enjoying how it cleverly integrates the notion that the player has been warped through time into a "Consortium" crewmember's body and left to play out a multi-branched storyline involving the disabling and boarding of your military ship by mercenaries apparently after your blood in particular. The game purposefully leaves out a lot of information about the Consortium and its technology on the basis that you should already know everything as a high-ranking crewmember of the ship, and lets you intuit and piece together the finer details on your own. Or you can simply ask everyone what they mean whenever they mention what are, to them, everyday concepts. You'll arouse suspicion by asking too many questions and sounding like an imposter, but there's only so much improvisation you can do without the information necessary to understand what's going on. Because there appears to be an option to replay from the same point (or reload earlier checkpoints), it seems as if it's possible to play the game multiple ways and discover multiple solutions to scenarios. Scenarios like the hijacking I just played, which is presumably the first of many. I know I said it isn't quite as Star Trek as it appeared, but for the life of me I can't help but think of that FMV game where Q forces you to repeat the mission that killed your father until you get it right. In another sense, it's almost the same kind of amateur improv theater that Velvet Sundown is, though of course without the other human players.

Rook 25 is a likeable Irishwoman with a short fuse. Her real name's Alannah. To an indifferent player, though, she might well be simply "Rook 25". The game seems to accept and work around both interpretations.

The game's also a FPS, but like Betrayer it doesn't force you to do anything of the sort if you're looking for an alternate and more pacifistic approach. There's a training room that lets you practice the basics of the combat that the game wisely adds as an optional objective early on, but the game takes pains to convince you that combat is rarely necessary if you're clever and resourceful enough to avoid bloodshed. As for NPCs, there's various crewmembers with their own unique personalities and temperaments that may well have important ties to the story, but they all have these non-descript designations relating to chess pieces, which is one of those many unknown things you have to kind of figure out by asking around (discreetly of course, lest you draw too much attention) and looking up data files on the information kiosks. Here's a freebie: Bishops are apparently the badass Spartan types that do all the dirty work when it comes to armed conflict and are prized highly by crews for their martial prowess. Knights seem to run things, rooks fulfill most of the other senior officer roles and the pawns are interchangeable ensigns and grunts. Of course, they all have real names and personalities and separate nationalities beyond their non-descript titles like "Bishop6" or "Pawn15". It's ultimately up to the player just how invested they want to get in these characters' lives. The game certainly doesn't mind if you intend to be the brusque, all-business type.

What was occasionally amusing is that the game makes it very easy for you to accidentally reveal yourself as a stranger in a strange land. For instance, you know as a traveler from presumably the 2010s (the game suggests that it is the player's own consciousness that has leapt through time) that this is many years into the future, but you'll occasionally have the option to ask about raising shields or scanning for lifeforms and have people react to you like you're a nutcase for thinking those technologies exist. Other times you'll get blindsided by talk about some contemporary technology or current event and either have to ask pointedly about it or simply improvise around it somehow. There's always the option to remain silent throughout, and various hints suggest that it's a common enough personality trait among the taciturn and security-focused Bishops. There's many more fun little details too, like how people will explain that you stand motionless and twiddle your fingers in mid-air whenever you're checking your inventory or mission log, though since everyone else in a senior position employs similar technology folk generally don't think anything of it.

I have no idea what this guy is doing. He just started dancing after we finished talking about my head trauma.

Consortium does have its array of flaws though. For one, the graphics are a little... well, they're more stylized than anything, so I can't fault them too much for that. I suppose that's the benefit of the cel-shaded format. I'm not particularly fond of how wooden everyone's model animations are and how dull and round-edged the world is, let's just say, though there's some cool screen "static" effects that occurs as your connection to the future fluctuates occasionally. The load times can be abysmal, with large pauses between lines of conversation even, and the combat and motion in general feel a little stilted. The game has a curious system for inventory management where you can store items like guns as energy and recreate them later, or you can create a more versatile form of energy (used for healing and repairs) by recycling the junk you find all over the place. They both share the same bar though, and you're frequently having to burn off one type of energy to make room for the other, which can make for some annoying juggling when the chips are down.

Overall, I can see a lot of potential for an adventure game like this with its emphasis on branching storyline paths and being a little smarter about working out things (or rewinding to take the road less vaporized), though it might need a bit more work first. At least the story parts are intriguing.

All right, confession time. I figured that The Mysterious Cities of Gold: Secret Paths would be some inoffensively bland game for children, but I didn't care. After Betrayer, it was perhaps the game that piqued my interest the most. For the children not of the sun (or, to be less obtuse, those not of the 80s) The Mysterious Cities of Gold was an animated serial about a trio of children attempting to find the titular locations scattered around the newly discovered Central and South American continent, with each episode featuring a new adventure through a temple full of traps or attempting to stay one step ahead of the villains who were also after the golden cities for various reasons (as well as being filled with priceless treasures, they kept talking about how much "power" these places had. You know the drill if you've ever played a JRPG). It was also one of the earliest animes that was ever broadcast on terrestrial TV (at least here in the UK, Europe and I believe Canada), co-produced by both French and Japanese animation studios. As a result, both it and its contemporaries like Ulysses31 had this weird kind of energy and pacing to them, making them feel almost otherworldly. It's hard to parse into words the kind of effect shows like this had on me as a kid, because kids can't really articulate such nuances and I as an adult have mostly forgotten just how I felt about them back then, but you can imagine how someone who grew up on Disney and Hanna Barbara and Looney Toons would react when faced with anime for the first time. Just a whole other venue entirely. Plus, the two shows I mentioned could get kinda weird at times too.

The reboot has apparently transported the trio to China. Sure. No reason they can't have golden cities too.

So anyway, The Mysterious Cities of Gold is one of those franchises that hits the nostalgia nerve pretty hard for me just because of how prominently it stood out back in the day (and it's almost melancholy theme tune still occasionally pops into my head). It was relaunched last year, apparently continuing where the original 80s cartoon left off, though I've not felt compelled to check it out in case it doesn't live up to my memories of the original. I mean, it was pretty much the same case with that Thundercats reboot, plus I'm fairly sure they're not making those shows for folk in my age range any more. This game, however, seems to follow the show's plot fairly faithfully, grabbing what I can only imagine are clips from the show itself for the cutscenes between each stage. They look a little too well-animated to be made for the game, and they'll occasionally fast-forward through several episodes of exposition just to get to the next event they can build a level around.

Talking of which, I should probably explain what this game's about. It's a fairly standard Lost Vikings teamwork-based puzzle game with a few stealth elements thrown in (the antagonists are all adults, so there's not much else a trio of kids can do about them other than hide). The player has to solve puzzles by correctly utilizing the three kids and their unique abilities: Esteban, the Spanish kid, can activate pillars of light with his sun medallion; Zia, the Inca priestess girl, can squeeze through tight spaces; and Tao, the last scion of the sunken yet highly advanced Mu civilization, is the only one able to read stones that provide necessary hints to solve puzzles. There's also collectibles to find (the game even does the Donkey Kong 64 thing of making some of them color-coded so only a specific kid can grab them) and enemies to stealth around. The stealth is fortunately fairly mild: the game uses a MGS style over-head view that makes it easy to spot enemies, and the game produces footstep icons to show you where they're headed. If they spot you, you have a few seconds to jump into a hiding spot or back away before it "locks" and you get discovered.

These early stages reminded me a bit of the Adventures of Cookie and Cream too. Switches and fences and twisty platforms.

The game's also fairly generous about game overs and such. Essentially, you can get captured as often as you like, but you'll forfeit one of the three "medallion" bonuses at the end of the stage if you get caught more than a certain amount. The other two are, perhaps obviously enough, for getting all the collectibles and finishing the stage in a reasonable amount of time. In the end, it's an inoffensively bland game for children (called it!), but it's definitely not bad. There's a distinct dearth of these sorts of teamwork-based puzzle games, and really the last game that was anything like this was that excellent top-down Lara Croft and the Guardian of Light co-op game for XBLA. But, you know, without the combat or the two player co-op. Still, I'm happy enough to walk away from this knowing they did right by the show. Now let's see about getting a Jayce and the Wheeled Warriors game made...

Whispering Willows I feel is an example of what are being derisively referred to as "walking simulators" these days: games -- which are still quite definitively games, don't get me wrong -- that prioritize story and atmosphere above attempting much in the way of what one might consider traditional gameplay, like shooting stabby things and stabbing shooty things. As Elena, the daughter of a missing groundskeeper who vanished after attending to the creepy old mansion just outside of town, the player is tasked to explore a series of doomed domiciles and eerie estates in Elena's search for both her father and for answers to the deeper mysteries surrounding the property. It's a 2D adventure game -- not unlike the original Clock Tower for the Super Famicom or Lone Survivor for an example that's a bit more recent -- that has you looking for notes and keys and puzzle items and occasionally leaving your earthly form behind as a spirit to check out heretofore inaccessible areas and move objects around via possession. It has some interesting set-pieces, but the game is also largely devoid of combat or anything overtly "actiony" besides a few chase sequences. It's not particularly scary either, but I get the feeling that it's meant for a younger age group obsessed with creepypastas regarding haunted Pokemon carts or emaciated gentlemen or whatever.

The actually-perturbing stuff like this happens far too infrequently for my liking.

I know I seem to toss out game comparisons every time I write about one of these Indies, but I tend to think of them as helpful touchstones to help generalize what the experience is like without giving too much away, which is always something you want to avoid in a narrative-driven game such as this. In this case, Whispering Willows strikes me as similar to something like Finding Teddy or Superbrothers: Sword and Sworcery EP. Largely combat-free (I hardly think Superbrothers' dumb back-and-forth mini-games count) adventures that are more about the exploration and the presentation and following a strong narrative thread (that is to say strong as in forceful and linear, not necessarily a sterling example of fiction) that follows the usual survival horror route of giving you the scenic tour of various locations as you hunt for keys and quest items. It's not a challenging game by any stretch, and the lack of any maps or running (while indoors) drags it out a bit more than it needed to be dragged, but it's an entirely okay game. Like much of what I've covered today, it falls easily within the 3 star range.

That's really all I have to say about this one. It has its secrets, it has its charms and it has a neat atmosphere, but it's really more ephemeral than ethereal. Not something you'd buy a whole bundle for, but a fun little diversion all the same. Though it is notable for having an Ouya shout-out in it. That's not something you see every day.

The Bit at the End

Well, there you have it. The $5 tier is interesting, but perhaps it's better to save that cash and just get Betrayer when it's on special offer. At least there's nothing abjectly terrible in that tier, unlike the $1 lot. I can say with some certainty that all four of these games can be enjoyed to some extent by pretty much anyone. Whether they're actually worth one's time or not is a matter best left to the individual, however. Still, I hope to jump back into Betrayer at some point, and The Mysterious Cities of Gold might be my go-to puzzle game for a while if only so I can get the Cliff Notes version of what this new reboot series is about (man... a new Reboot series, though). I'd keep playing Whispering Willows too, but it appears I completed it in the two hours I assigned myself as a sufficient amount of time for a layered critique. Well, that's a freebie.

Anyway, I have no idea if it's helped convince any of you one way or the other to go check out the bundle as the last few hours of its availability tick away. I don't believe I'll cover the freebie games that have been added since the bundle's launch, since I won't be anywhere near done by the time the bundle is over and by then the exercise will have been rendered moot. Instead, here's a brief summary of the three bonus games and my entirely unsubstantiated reviews of same:

  1. BloodRayne 2: I've never played one of these BloodRayne games. I believe they're horror-themed hack-and-slashers (or "character action games" as we've been calling them of late) featuring a pneumatic Nosferatu (Nosferita?) heroine. Unlike the vampires it features, I can't imagine it's aged well in the ten years since it came out, and like Rayne's suit, I have very little material to work with to say much else about it. Perhaps it still has some schlocky appeal for fans of the genre?
  2. Eschalon: Book III: I own the first two of these, so I'm hesitant to jump into the third without all the backstory to supply context. The Eschalon series seems to be part of this wave of isometric grid-based Ultima throwbacks (usually put out by Spiderweb Software) to appeal to the older gaming generations. I mean, even older than I am. If I ever try one of these games, it'll almost certainly be the first in the series.
  3. Heileen 3: New Horizons: I wish I knew what the hell this was. It looks like a piratey visual novel with a bounty of Princess Maker stat-increasing simulation elements thrown in. It'd be hard to LP this game without quoting that line in Anchorman regarding promiscuous female pirates and their odor, but I'd still be up to the challenge. It's not like it's the only weird dating game I appear to have picked up in my Steam library... one day, Akira.

So yeah. Portentous, if not particularly helpful. Thanks for reading, and I'll keep finding stuff to write about as we edge ever closer to Octurbo 2014 and the Grafx horrors that await. Byeeee~

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Bundle Boggle: Groupees' Be Mine 14 (Part 1)

Feels like it's been long enough since I've done one of these. Not an analysis of potentially abysmal yet delightfully cheap Indie games, as May Madness still lingers in the collective memories of... well, pretty much just myself, but a lengthy look at a bundle's worth of goodies to see if my faith in the value of the whole was well-placed. Prior Bundle Boggles have had me take apart a game bundle by its many tiers and, in the case of Groupees, the various games added to the bundle as bonuses for helping it achieve specific milestones in sales.

Of course, what with all this ethics palaver surrounding professional video game critics (not that I'm one of those, but bear with me here, I'm doing a bit) and their susceptibility to conflicts of interest and accepting free shit, I'm happy to say that delving into their newest bundle -- the fourteenth of their flagship Be Mine series, for which they usually roll out the big guns -- will net approximately zero benefits, as the bundle has already unlocked all its reward tiers and Groupees don't give a shit about what I have to say. Also I'll probably be insulting most of it, and by "probably" I mean "almost certainly". How's that for transparency?

Honestly, the best Bundle Boggles are those where the included games at least look interesting, and I'll certainly give that much to them. For now, I'm going to take this slow and simply look at the three original $1 tier games, the cheapest buy-in price. Part 2, which should come either later today or sometime early on Friday (I want to get it done before the PAX Prime streams start in earnest), will look at the four slightly more intriguing games that make up the $5 tier. After PAX Prime ends, we'll see where we are with the bonus freebies. Of course, by the end of PAX, the bundle sale will be over regardless.

Still, it's an excuse to look at some Indie games, and that's always fun. As always, if you have any opinions on the featured games or general feedback please feel free to comment below.

Space Balls, Magic Balls, and Just Plain Balls

Meltdown is a fairly enjoyable though largely no-frills shooter that is sort of a cross between Diablo and Bastion. And maybe throw a little bit of Mass Effect and XCOM in there too. It sounds like an eclectic mix of genres, but really it's a third-person shooter with some RPG elements given an unusual-for-the-format isometric perspective and a few clever mechanics that would be more innovative had they not been poached from elsewhere. But hey, a large part of game design is taking something that works and transplanting it into a new venue. Were the art world like the video game world, it'd be like taking Michaelangelo's David and giving it shades, a beer and an Hawaiian shirt. Still art, just a little different. (Disclaimer: I am not an art critic.)

Meltdown's little space marine guy goes through a series of short action stages filled with robots and power-ups and crates and all the good shooter stuff, and some of these are built around "instances" that are represented on the mission briefing screen as icons. A skull icon means that at some point the player will meet a few "guardian" boss bots that they must eliminate in order to continue. A pair of crossed swords indicates that there will be at least one arena, inside which the player will run around taking down waves of spawning enemies. This variation is usually enough to keep things interesting, though the stages themselves sure don't seem to change much, being an interchangeable series of boxes and old vehicles (?) sitting on some spacey space platform in space. Along the way, you'll be grabbing cash and microchips to buy and upgrade (respectively) weapons and equipment -- turns out you can upgrade everything with chips in the future, even headbands. There are lives, for some reason, and grabbing these will provide a few extra continues if you happen to get your ass kicked mid-asskickery. Finally, you can level up by defeating enemies and earning fat percentage bonuses at the end of each stage based on how well you performed, and the amount of cash and XP you earn via these bonuses often makes it a tempting prospect to revisit earlier stages in your current powered up form to rake in some extra spending money/skill points for the trials to come.

Baseball caps give you more money drops. It's unknown whether turning the cap around enhances or diminishes this bonus.

I mentioned some XCOM and Mass Effect similarities, perhaps a little spuriously, and I suppose people might be wondering where they come in if this is some kind of frantic action RPG with guns. The XCOM comparison derives from how the shorter missions allow for a bit of strategic retooling if things aren't going the way that they're supposed to, and there's a tactical side to the game that, alas, it has yet to fully exploit. Early during its tutorial section, the game sets up several situations where one could use the cover to their advantage, or might skilfully dodge roll over mines and other dangers, and it suggests that a particularly resourceful player might use these mines and walls to perhaps kite enemies to strategically advantageous spots. Of course, the mental wherewithal to pull something like this off when there's several enemies running in from all directions might take a bit of practice to acquire, but given the number of robotic enemies that employ explosives (or are themselves explosives that are trying to kamikaze you) that could be tricked into damaging each other there's definite room to make the game a bit smarter than your average bear shooter. The Mass Effect parallel is a little more clever, and demonstrates what I often consider to be the point of my series that discusses game mechanics: if a game introduces a clever mechanic and no-one else tries using it, it'll vanish from the game designer hivemind and an inferior, less-evolved feature will continue to supplant it, so jump in there and give it some love if you're making a game in the same vein. Meltdown has one chief feature for how its guns work: a heat sink that allows all guns to fire endlessly until they become so overheated that they are literally too hot to handle, at which point the gun is "reloaded" by having this heat sink ejected and replaced. I'm sure this appears in other games too (Meltdown seems to borrow a lot from Borderlands as well, having "ammo regeneration" as a possible bonus stat despite it not making much sense) but it's such an interesting take on the usual reload paradigm that tasks the player to think about how frequently they're firing rather than how many bullets they have left in the clip. The game will also automatically reload whenever the heat sink overheats or if there's a quiet moment, so the player can maintain their concentration elsewhere.

Never go anywhere without a tactical scarf. It's no tactical turtleneck ("the tactleneck") but it's still vital.

Meltdown is one of those cases where it's "mostly" finished, as in you can get a fully-featured experience as it currently sits, but is constantly in development with new elements and tweaks being added all the time. It's the positive variant of Early Access, where the developers thought enough of their audience to give them an entirely workable and all-but-complete prototype to enjoy while they continue to work on the finer details in the background. For as straightforward as the game is it's quite a bit of fun, though there's still some obvious rough patches (like the sheer pointlessness of the cover system beyond the first few stages, how the buggy scrollbars will make it very difficult to access the first and last items on a list and a smattering of typos) that have yet to be ironed out and a few more innovations (like the aforementioned strategic potential and some more varied level design) to be added before it can become something truly worth seeking out. Still, I found what's already here to be a lot more fun than Bastion at least, if somewhat lacking comparatively in the presentation stakes. Take that as you will. (It has some really dumb dubstep too if that's your thing! Like Broforce, it's certainly not a game that minds being stupid.)

With every action comes a reaction, and with every positive variant of Early Access we must occasionally come across a negative one. Which is to say, a barely functional piece of garbage. Legacy, as this ignominious and far too overwrought preface might suggest, is one of those Early Access games that is either so far away from its prospective end goal to be unrecognizable and unplayable in its current state, or is simply on a hiding to nothing. Given how this particular Alpha (or Pre-Alpha, even) is referred to as v0.98, I suspect it's probably the latter.

Legacy is an action RPG with a sort of Ocarina of Time/Tomb Raider action-adventure puzzle bent, from what little I played before quitting. The player, as well as fighting skeletons and finding treasure, must jump across gaps, push blocks and find keys to proceed in a creepy dungeon filled with... I dunno. Poop gas. That's usually something you find in dungeons, right? Or is that just sewer dungeons? The issue with Legacy, or the first issue in a catalog of the things, is that these jumping puzzles aren't fun. They certainly aren't fun when the game's in an early Alpha state and the keys frequently refuse to co-operate, but they also aren't fun when you're required to hit three separate buttons (the run and forward keys) before the jumping occurs. And then making the jumps require some very precise last-second timing. And making this the tutorial. Works better than an "Abandon All Hope, Ye Who Enter Here" sign for repelling trespassers, I suppose.

These friggin' jumps, man, I swear. At least the game's kind enough to tell you which three keys you ought to be pressing.

Perhaps worse than the platforming is the fighting. Apparently a graduate of the Die By the Sword school of "swing your weapon around and hope for the best, because the nuanced counter- and parry-heavy combat system the developers were aspiring towards have not quite manifested into being" of combat design, Legacy's swashbuckling duels leave a lot to be desired. I could start talking about how the game looks like a Unity tutorial that someone placed in the "Don't" folder, or how the eight second loop of creepy dungeon music lost its terrifying effect around -- let's just estimate a round figure, here -- the first loop, but at this point it's like kicking a puppy. This game is not good, in so many words.

It's also not complete. These systems may well receive a lot more careful consideration and development time as the game gradually approaches its finished state. Or it's possible that the last 0.02 before reaching that vaunted v1.0 has been marked down as a few minors tweaks to give your bowlcut-sporting, sword-waving, Quest 64-refugee hero a better flowing cape or something. I'm not enthusiastic about the end product here, guys, and this is yet another reminder as if we still needed one to caveat emptor when it comes to these bundles.

Of course, the biggest crime here is that Little Big Adventure 2 (and its forebear) are still languishing in Steam purgatory (and not the usual one), despite being bona fide PC classics. Well, perhaps that's pushing it, but Twinsen's adventures are novel open-world real-time action-adventure games and very worthy titles for their innovations and idiosyncrasies, if perhaps a little too much "of its time" to be appreciated fully today. The tank controls and primitive polygonal graphics certainly take some getting used to almost two decades after the fact.

As with the first game, in Little Big Adventure 2 the player is essentially chasing leads across the world (and eventually a second world) and moving from one area to the next, talking to NPCs and solving puzzles to enable further exploration and occasionally fighting monsters with a floating telekinetic ball which can also be used to hit switches and other out of the way items. Between Adeline and Delphine, the French put together a lot of distinctive adventure games back in the 90s. Of course, Adeline also made that insane Time Commando thing the GB crew played on UPF once, so perhaps there is such a thing as being too distinctive.

Yeah, yeah, I know. 17 years ago, though! We're talking the same year as Final Fantasy VII and Tomb Raider II.

To keep things moving, there's a few interesting things to learn about how LBA 2 operates. The first is that the player has to decide Twinsen's "behavior" for each situation. He has a normal setting, which allows him to search for items and talk to people, a sporty setting that allows him to run and jump for sections that require it (or if you just need to get somewhere fast), an aggressive mode for fighting and a discreet mode for sneaking around for situations where combat isn't an option, or at least not the preferable option. Rather than holding a button down to go into a sneak or fighting mode, the player simply brings up a menu (or hits the correct function key) to assign one of these behaviors to Twinsen. It's odd, in the same way that assigning Peach her mood swings in Super Princess Peach was odd (though nowhere near as laughably sexist), but it's an elegant way of not having to memorize a bunch of different keys for the various actions Twinsen can perform at any given moment: each behavior has an inherent action built-in, like jumping for sporty or punching for aggressive, and these are all activated by the "action" key, which is the space bar by default. You probably don't need to run and jump all the time, and holding buttons down to do so would be annoying, so simply switching to sporty when athleticism is necessary (rarely when investigating or solving puzzles or even fighting, where you'll need a slower pace to line stuff up easier) is a far better solution. The behavior also affects the ball's trajectory when thrown, so the player has four different angles to work with when it's time to use it to solve puzzles or hit distant enemies. The second thing to know is that there are the multiple different species, each with their own quirks. The four main ones that make up the majority of Twinsun's population are the human-like Quetch, the elephantine Grobo, the kangaroo-esque Rabibunnies and the suitably-spherical Spheros. The third and most important thing about the game is that Twinsen always swings his arms around like an idiot whenever he finds a quest item and it always makes me smile.

Did I mention how badass this game is? At least it will be once I'm in my dress and throwing this tennis ball at fools.

I love these games, but then I also had the benefit of playing them relatively close to release. Even so, for as badly as certain aspects of this game have aged, you still don't see too many adventure games with this much weirdness and clever design out there. It's the rare sort of adventure game with action sequences that are actually fun and fit into the game's world congruously, like Secret of Monkey Island's swordfighting, rather than being some one-off arcade-style sequence which badly jars with the thoughtful dialogue and inventory puzzles that make up the rest of the experience. It's all one in the same in LBA 2 (and LBA for that matter), whether you're flinging balls around a dungeon or running around town to find medicine for your sick dragon (who also happens to be a pretty sick dragon, bro).

Oh yeah, this game's also called Twinsen's Odyssey, in case you've been wondering what the hell "Little Big Adventure" is for the past four paragraphs and figured it had something to do with Sackboy.

Anyway, that's enough Indie investigations for a little while. Stick around for Part 2 where I'll look at Betrayer (this one's the big one), The Mysterious Cities of Gold: Secret Paths, Whispering Willows and Consortium. See ya then!

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Deadly Observations: Part 2

Greetings, fellow citizens of Greenvale, to the second half of this series of "Deadly Observations": A group of 65 (sup Swery) observations, reactions, criticisms and general incredulity which I jotted down during my inaugural playthrough of Access Game's 2010 open-world horror banger Deadly Premonition. Of course, this game has a long and storied association with this site, with two huge Endurance Runs I'm eager to check out now that I've beaten the game and discovered all of its secrets. I would recommend reading Part One first.

As with part one, I'd encourage those who are still holding off on reading or watching anything that might spoil the game to continue doing so by avoiding the following list. It reveals many of the game's many twists and oddities that are definitely best experienced first-hand, or at least through the Giant Bomb ERs.

Stick around afterwards for my final thoughts on the game! (It's spoiler-free too, if you wanted something out of these blogs as a member of the uninitiated.)

W... T... F... In the Coffee! It Never Fails

  1. NPCs are even worse drivers than I am. Lilly the store owner just span her minibus around on its axis 90 degrees and clipped through another car on the way out. (I say "worse" but that probably took a lot of skill to pull off.)
  2. Driving to a certain character's house, and the chapter title's called "The Second Sacrifice". I guess I suspect foul play?
  3. Actually, just looking at the trading cards, they all pretty much explain the whole plot and who dies. Better continue to ignore the things.
  4. While I'm on this long, unskippable drive, just remembered I spotted Forrest at the art gallery. He must've been Kaysen the joint. Thank you, thank you, I'll be here for all 60+ more of these.
  5. Forgot to mention: The game's "Black Lodge" music is fantastic. That saxophone is just dying in a room and no-one's helping it.
  6. The Ames house interior looks worse than I remember. Someone throw a party in here?
  7. A cherry pie, huh? Wanna get a little more overt, game? I still haven't picked up on what we're riffing on here.
  8. Can we not? With the infinitely respawning enemies?
  9. Damn, that's how you do a bathroom murder. Eat your heart out, Psycho. No, no, not literally, get away from Janet Leigh. She's suffered enough.
  10. "What a Hell. Even Becky has been killed." I can't tell if this is Engrish or not. It certainly is a Hell of some sort.
  11. Oh cool, I can open the toilet that Thomas puked in. Better leave no stone unturned, right Zach? You wanna field this one, buddy?
  12. These Sigourney missions are not good, I'm losing more and more of my warmth for them. Driving Miss Crazy is not what I signed up for.
  13. Though I am getting free cars and suits out of it, so I suppose there are worse paying jobs. I do like that Sigourney's missing a shoe every time you talk to her, and that said shoe is on her driveway.
  14. The talking twin is rocking back and forth, while the non-talker rocks side-to-side. Notable? Probably not. Creepy? Probably redundant to say that with these two.
  15. For that matter, why is everyone using a pair of six year olds as their courier service? I gotta commend Swery for somehow combining Children of the Corn with the twins from the Shining, by the way.
  16. Y'know, I'm not entirely certain that they aren't the Raincoat Killer, with one sitting on the shoulders of the other under the coat...
  17. Tailing mission. Will the game let me vote this "one star"? At least it had a twist ending.
  18. If you set the shadows on fire, sometimes they freak the fuck out and teleport right at you. I guess I don't want to do that then.
  19. Holy moley, do I not care for these crawling shadow/Sadako/Sudoku ladies.
  20. Oh man, I know art can be risqué, but check out the fellow in this portrait. Like a baby holding an apple. Yowzer. (Here's the portrait.)
  21. I like how these rest areas in the Other World zones all have shaving stations. Like I'm going to trust a razor near my face here. Or a mirror for that matter, given what happens in Silent Hill 3.
  22. Favorite thing to do with the flamethrower? Besides burning those wall-crawlers? Melting padlocks off locked doors.
  23. "George! Catch us!" Yeah, okay, I'm cool with where this is going.
  24. All right, I didn't expect this impromptu insane museum tour. Well played Swery.
  25. And now I'm following Kaysen's dog around for more clues, despite it having the worst pathfinding. While the upbeat driving music plays.
  26. Maybe a Scooby Doo ending isn't out of the question...
  27. Ah, that's why I'm following Kaysen's dog. Because Kaysen was locked in the victim's sex dungeon. TMI.
  28. Hey, drinking with George, sounds like fu- oh, branch whipping domestic abuse story.
  29. Carol's singing voice is... interesting. An interesting approach to saying words. The Cobain school of vocals has a lot to answer for.
  30. York's hotrod is even faster and harder to handle. Looks like my CITPM just got another boost.
  31. Origins of Zach! He's an invisible friend who lives inside York's head. Mystery... still open.
  32. Oh, and we're fighting over the same girl. Hope she's into threesomes.
  33. These ghost stories from Keith each time you buy a "psychic spot" map are really good. York flinches to the lighting change every time.
  34. "How's my cooking?" "...I went into a sewer once-" "All right, stop."
  35. We're going fishing! Because that's where the stolen police documents about the original Raincoat Killer case went! I guess! Did York figure it out because the spot next to the archives was wet? You know it's raining in this town almost constantly, right?
  36. Growing less fond of Mr. Stewart and his dumb Resident Evil puzzles. Who am I kidding? I love Mr. Stewart.
  37. Whoa. this flashback is intense. Some Umbrella shit was going down in this town back in the 50s. And Kaysen was there, somehow. Gee, I wonder if he's behind everything?
  38. Going through Thomas's apartment. I hate it when I'm right. I'm lying, I actually like it a lot.
  39. I swear this dead blonde in the red dress is leading me around in circles. In the rain. It's like a Chris Isaaks music video.
  40. I didn't realise bars had so many storage rooms. This Other World dungeon is 80% storage rooms.
  41. QTE Killer just teleported in front of me. I hit the correct prompt in time and instantly died. I don't like these parts much, gotta say.
  42. I can see in his little picture-in-picture often he gets stuck in the geometry. These chases are the dumbest.
  43. Just found a stuffed deer head with a prompt that says "stick into". I dunno if I'm into that kind of thing, game.
  44. Well hello there Thomasina. Glad the game handled their only LGBTQ character with some class.
  45. Tiny York needs to hustle already. This dream sequence is interminable. It's close to Max Payne bad.
  46. Aww, "Deputy Willie". This little pup's going to help us find Yor- IT'S SOME KIND OF DEMON DOG IF IT'S WITH KAYSEN, DON'T TRUST IT.
  47. Great, they gave Emily a gun. I'll take some potshots at Kaysen while I have the opportunity. None of your comic relief buffoonery will work on me, Kaysen. I ain't buyin' a lick of it.
  48. DAMN! Bye Thomas! What a way to end a boss fight. I definitely can't stop now, I'm hooked.
  49. Are you really going to call that chapter "Cat Fight", game? Is that what we're going with?
  50. This "running into a door" animation is too good. I might just keep doing this. Not like I have any idea what else I ought to be doing. (Oh, I had to hold A. Not press A. Like with every other door. Ever. I hate this game. No, all right, I hate certain aspects of this game.)
  51. Oh great, leave a half-dead Emily with Kaysen. Great idea, York. Your best yet.
  52. What is George dressed like? Is this what all that punk rocker car talk was leading up to? I can't wait to pay him back for all those QTEs.
  53. All right, he just turned into Oni I guess. Let's hope Capcom doesn't see this. He still has a few QTEs still in him too, it appears.
  54. Yessss! Get fucked, boi. What's the matter? Didn't hit the right button to dodge that axe in time? HAHAHAHA.
  55. Oh man, the real culprit reveals himself. I cannot believe who it is. I am dumbfounded. I am rendered literally speechless by this revelation. I ca-
  56. Giant dog in the road! Giant dog in the road! I knew it! That fucker was a demon dog! You all heard me call it!
  57. "It wasn't an upside-down peace mark... it was a tree!" Our prodigious FBI Agent everyone. "It was... Kaysen?" Another stroke of genius. Keep the insights coming, I'll go get some popcorn.
  58. And in this chapter our guest protagonist is... the Raincoat Killer? While Amazing Grace plays? I'd say that the game has gone off the rails, but what rails?
  59. The town's gone insane again. Sweet. Man, could I have killed all the townspeople if I wanted to? I might've wanted to rid the world of these twins before Greenvale ends up like The Village of the Damned.
  60. Oh so that's who Zach is. Clever stuff. Especially the bit with the scar. Wait, so who am I then? I'm so confused. Mento? Who the fuck is that?
  61. Man, they really put Emily in the fridge, huh? Goodnight, sweet ladycop. You had the best and most realistic character model in the game. Until they stuck a tree in your hoo-ha, anyway.
  62. Wow, Kaysen's pretty gross in full-on monster mash mode.
  63. What the hell is this thing? And how does Kaysen's dungarees still fit it?
  64. Cool guys don't look at abominations exploding.
  65. Aww, we get a little more light comedy with Emily's corpse. This is going to be a happy ending, isn't it?

Should've Stayed in the Red Room

Deadly Premonition is definitely... well, let's not say interesting. Not because it isn't true, but because it's such a loaded and ambiguous and lazy way to describe something so utterly strange.

Taking a tree analogy, because it seems apropos, Deadly Premonition is a case where you can look at all its roots and kind of understand what they might be leading to, and then get thrown for a loop as you look up and see the gnarled, twisted approximation of a tree that sprouted from them. Those roots include Silent Hill (the general look and feel of the game's overt horror beats), Resident Evil 4 (the very distinctive over-the-shoulder gunplay, though one could make the case that Dead Rising is perhaps the better source due to how frickin' unwieldy it can be to control that reticle), Twin Peaks (I could make an entirely separate blog about the Twin Peaks references, but I'm sure I've already been beaten to it) and American horror movie/fiction in general, which the game makes clear is of personal interest to the game's writer(s) through the conversations Agent York has with himself (kinda) in car rides. However: knowing all those inspirational sources won't help make sense of the game, or how it came to be the way that it is.

Instead, we'd be better served following the auteur root for answers. (Sorry, "route". Damn trees on the brain still.) Much of modern Japanese games, now that the technology behind game development has advanced to the point where it can allow more of a creator's vision to manifest on-screen, are directed by the various auteurs prominent in the industry. Shigeru Miyamoto, Shinji Mikami, Hideo Kojima, Hideki Kamiya, Suda51, Yasumi Matsuno and, indeed, Mr. Hidetaka Suehiro are the sort of folk who, once you've played something that they directed, it becomes instantly apparent just who is behind a game even if you know nothing else about it going in. I actually suspect that these games do well primarily because they have such a strong creative talent calling all the shots, with the actual quality of the game itself coming secondary. We've come to the point now where game design all over the world has been strongly influenced by the generations that have come before, and Indies like Shovel Knight have proven that many of the formulae established in Japan for so many genres and themes can be replicated accurately enough by pretty much anyone with access to game development tools and a modicum of talent and understanding for how and why the design of those games allowed them to be successful. What has become a priceless commodity in light of all this, is having a very distinctive vision directing a game to set it apart in an increasingly bigger market. Japan does "distinctive" like no other -- which might sound vaguely euphemistic I grant you -- and so I feel the "auteur game designer" conceit subsequently has a lot of steam behind it in that territory, as well as in the overseas territories those games manage to reach.

Deadly Premonition is wonderful because it has such a distinctive voice. It's perhaps not a great game on a purely mechanical basis. In fact, there's no "perhaps" about it. The third-person shooting gameplay is sluggish; the driving is doubly so; it can be awkward to get to places due to how often the time of day and the weather can screw you over; it can be very obtuse on a handful of matters; and it has an interesting tendency to broadcast all of its twists long before they happen. It has its rare moments of mechanical brilliance too, of course, such as how all the shadows seem identical until you played a few of the game's "Other World" areas for a bit and notice that the occasional shadow is actually a lot stronger than normal, or faster, or takes more damage before going down. Their behavior's often different too, either becoming hostile immediately or milling around passively until they eventually spot you. There was one interesting sequence where a bunch of cop shadows were endlessly shooting away at an Other World facsimile gun range, never targeting you until you got into their range of vision. There's definitely a lot of great design ideas well-hidden in the aggressive mediocrity of the game's production values.

Said lousy production values don't extend to the music and the narrative elements like the characters and story though. I frequently found the bizarre music choices to be a delight, with an eclectic mix of orchestra, metal, reggae (kinda?), punk rock, rockabilly, lounge music, Green Day covers and what is perhaps the earwormiest whistlin' ditty that has ever existed. I didn't even need to link to it; it probably started playing in y'all's heads as soon as I mentioned it. The characters are a mix of small town folk either inspired by their Twin Peaks equivalents or people Swery might've perhaps met once, with the occasional incongruously bizarre addition like the gas-mask wearing industrialist Mr. Stewart and his rhyming manservant, or the Milk Barn's head-bobbing rockabilly enthusiast and his Sokoban-endorsing Maude Flanders-ish wife, or the trashy duo who run the gas station, or the tubby but jovial seed salesman who is clearly involved with the game's tree-related murders in some way while the game tries desperately to pretend that he isn't. The story sets up early on why every other building in the town is a huge labyrinth ("the lumber trade died down and the population dwindled to a tenth", more or less) and why many stores close when it rains ("the Raincoat Killer will getcha!"). Contrivances, sure, but it all fits with this weird small town and its folklore and history. The story's also hospitable enough to spin its wheels for the first half to get you acclimatized to all the oddness, before revving up gears for the murder-a-thon that constitutes the second half of the game. Revelation comes after revelation and it's unusual to see a game pick up steam in this way and become more and more bizarre, than the standard other way around as everything kind of winds down towards a conclusion.

It's hard to know what to make of this game when it comes to recommending it to other people. It plays into that dichotomy between advocating a game as a purely mechanical product for its technical aspects and functionality, like a DVD player or a toaster, or reviewing a game as a piece of art. I'm not sure Deadly Premonition is either. It's a B-Movie game (a B-Game?); the very definition of a cult classic. It's also effortlessly charming and absolutely worth seeing for yourself and is just about functional enough to keep you engaged with the gameplay and not have something break or crash every other hour (unless we're talking picket fences that you can't help but careen into with your car). But then, it's been four years with so much coverage from so many people discovering the game and wanting to talk about it, that it's probably safe to say that everyone's made up their minds about Deadly Premonition already. Let me add to that wailing cacophony of similar opinions: This is a game you should play. Not because it's good, but because it's unique.

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Deadly Observations: Part 1

This is a totally normal game.

Hey Zachs and Yorks, I've been playing SWERY's and Access Games's seminal classic Deadly Premonition of late, finally plunging the figurative harpoon into a white whale of mine after so many years. What's also noteworthy is that I knew next to nothing about the game going in, managing to avoid the many LPs (and the site's two Endurance Runs) and other articles written about the game so I could savor the weirdness first-hand. SWERY's D4 should be out soon (probably) and I still want to play Access's problematic Drakengard 3 before the year's out, so I wanted to ensure that I had this one out of the way before Summer ended and game releases would start showing up again.

Honestly, I just needed to get this one done so I could understand what everyone was saying about this game. I feel like I'm missing out on a big chunk of this site's history by not watching those ERs too. If anything, that's the TL;DR to take away from all this.

Totally normal.

Talking of too long didn't read, I've been recording a list of observations -- reactions, really -- as I've been playing for the sake of doing something with them further down the road. I've decided to publish the first sixty five (like Swery65!) of these observations completely divorced from context as I sit around what I can only assume is close to halfway through the game. Maybe just think of them as a series of live tweets? Some are incredulous responses, some are questions, some focus on gameplay and GUI issues and, indeed, some are premonitions, possibly of the deadly kind. I look forward to seeing how many of those get explained or further elaborated upon as I continue to play, though I suspect it won't be nearly enough.

Probably goes without saying, but please don't post any spoilers past Chapter 10. I'll do a Part 2 post-game that will be freely open for spoilers and discussions about the ending, if people still feel like talking about this game four years after the fact. For now, keep things as ambiguous and vague as the game itself does, both for my sake and for those who have yet to play (and to those people, I'll hypocritically warn them about spoilers for the first ten chapters of the game too) and just enjoy watching someone discover this bizarre game in real-time, sorta. As for my feelings on the game as a whole, I'll expound on those in Part 2 after I'm done.

What Do You Make of All This, Zach?

  1. Creepy twins. Creepier dead naked woman in a tree. Nope, this whole thing is creepy.
  2. York's already an interesting guy. Is Zach real? Or is he real in the same way Agent Cooper's "Diane" was real?
  3. Oh no, I get it, we're Zach. So this isn't like Baten Kaitos, I take it.
  4. So do the other characters not hear him whenever he talks to Zach, or...?
  5. Also did I miss half a Tarantino conversation about Tom and Jerry's dysfunctional co-dependent relationship?
  6. These shadowy locals seem friendly. They're bending over backwards to help welcome me to the town.
  7. Guy in a raincoat just QTE-killed me with an axe. I already don't like the guy.
  8. Hey, it's Ms Watts- uh, Wyatt. And Sheriff Handlebars. Local law enforcement at its finest.
  9. Chapter Prologue complete. Apparently I earned a grand for doing nothing. Puts all those $30 bonus medals I went out of my way for in perspective.
  10. Does this game have to scare the shit out of me every time a cupboard has an item I can use?
  11. Do people just move a few dozen yards away whenever they're talking and not on-screen? I can barely hear them. Maybe everyone has tinnitus. Explains why they can't hear York talking to Zach.
  12. Met Polly Oxford, the hotel owner. Apparently it's normal to sit 20' away while eating meals, and walk around at a 75 degree angle from the floor. Old people, am I right?
  13. Also, turns out I'm a coffee diviner. I can read the future in the star(buck)s.
  14. $19.56 for crackers? Why that high? Why that specific?!
  15. $119.34 for an earthworm. So much for the expression "dirt cheap".
  16. Why does every map start super zoomed-in and then have the option to zoom in further?
  17. Been checking around town, since they gave me a free police car to crash into things/people. Buncha weirdos around here so far.
  18. York really likes 70s/80s movies, huh. I appreciate the attention to detail at least, though also perturbed by it somewhat.
  19. Why is Christmas music playing while I race? No wait, that's just Green Day.
  20. The jingle for successfully completing a sidequest sounds a lot like failure music to me. Kind of odd that I can tell the difference.
  21. Gas station attendant randomly switches from stripper Tina Armstrong to grouchy Paul Phoenix.
  22. The convenience store owner is a 50s greaser who only shows up in the afternoons and sounds like Dweezil Zappa.
  23. He's also the daddy(-o) of the creepy twins.
  24. Also his store is called the Milk Barn. I am unable to purchase milk here.
  25. Lady, you better not be making me play Sokoban. The last time someone made me play Sokoban they ended up pushed into a corner. With a forklift.
  26. There's greasers in the darts cafe too. The older one has a dartboard tucked into his headband.
  27. Oh yeah, the darts cafe is named after SWERY65. I see hick bars named after Japanese game developers all the time. Like calling a British pub The Kings Arms.
  28. I scored some "red dust" for the murdered girl's best friend. Where is Becky and what has she had?
  29. Mother of victim has gone looney tunes. I guess that's to be expected, in a town where sanity is already in such short supply. Leland Palmer much?
  30. Sympathetic, sensitive gay character as the Sheriff's deputy. I'm sure he won't end up dead or an offensive transvestite parody or both at some point.
  31. Squirrel keys?!
  32. The Sheriff has dumbbells named after Schwarzenegger and Stallone. No comment.
  33. That chess puzzle at the hospital wasn't even a chess puzzle. I just had to know that a horsey isn't actually called a horsey. That was actually the extent of it.
  34. The hospital's the first big spookhouse level of the game. Starting with the big guns, hey DP? Or is it that you wanted to get it out of the way?
  35. Now the hospital receptionist is quizzing me about cytoplasm and nuclei. Hey, I've played Persona 4, I know the drill. Gimme your worst, I have Google open.
  36. Sure am finding a lot of human bones lying around. It's probably fine to walk around town with half a human skeleton in my pocket. Is this you, Zach?
  37. Every single mailbox seems to have SMG ammo in it. Has everyone subscribed to "Ammo of the Month"?
  38. Why does the game always make me feel terrible for going off on my own? Emily does a really good "wounded" face. Sorry lady, I got sidequests to do.
  39. Met Harry and Michael. I can only assume Gordon Freeman broke this guy's legs with a crowbar. Dude's a big fan of beat poetry though, even if all his whispering sounds like "pick up that can" to me.
  40. So whenever you go down the hill too fast, you lose complete control of the car? That doesn't seem like a very good safety feature for cars to have.
  41. Oh ho ho, the love interest is a terrible cook. Even in small town America I can't escape you, anime.
  42. That damn sawmill went on forever. It was like a Silent Hill stage. But with more QTEs.
  43. The QTE Killer sucks ass, by the way. Can't wait until I hit the right combination of buttons to unmask him, Scooby Doo style.
  44. Why am I trying to push all the boxes in this tense on-rails chase scene? Just walk around them, dummy! It's for your health.
  45. Was that just a sexy back reveal scene?
  46. York just showed his badge to the whole town meeting.
  47. Crazy rich old Combine guy just warned us all about "purple fog" in his beat poetry. This game has more in common with Persona 4 than anticipated.
  48. Just met Carol, Wesley and the General. Game saved all its badasses for last, I see. Also Nick from the diner, but he seems more like an asshole.
  49. Crazy old lady with the alias "The Pot Lady". Subtle. Y'see, it's a like a log and she talks to it and-
  50. "This one guy used womens' skulls as urine cups. And then drank rum and cokes out of them." Thanks York.
  51. Holy shit, I just found a guitar with infinite endurance. It kills everything in one hit. Why is... anything?
  52. "Engine Boost is the basis of everything." Cue story about getting dysentery in the 'Nam. The General's awesome.
  53. Plus he made the car faster, boosting my Crashing Into Things Per Minute rate. My CITPM is now through the roof, and also a lamppost or two.
  54. "I'd like to eat a sushi with fries and ketchup on it."
  55. "I've eaten fried Cicadas." No, no, keep this up George. I'll have to remember to watch these lunchtime scenes in every chapter.
  56. So the gunsmith guy is the one who gives me stuff for all these trading cards I keep finding. That explains... actually, nothing. But hey, freebies.
  57. Forrest Kaysen. Not only does the game remind me of the "FK" message in the coffee, but the guy walks around with a goddamn red tree. He'd be the obvious culprit if he wasn't so obvious.
  58. Forrest's dalmatian ran off with all my human bones. Got them back and found a magnum with infinite ammo stashed with it. What has this dog been doing?
  59. Met Diane Ames. Probably a reason why she looks like Julianne Moore. Same reason why Emily looks like Naomi Watts. Which is "fuck likeness rights".
  60. "I'd describe Emily's cooking as Amazon-like." (What?)
  61. "I am here for Mr Stewart's lunch. Thank you a bunch." Hey Mr Stewart.
  62. Turkey, strawberry jam and cereal. "Sinner's sandwich?" Only if your sin is that you're a hungover college student who can't face going to the grocery store.
  63. Oh no, everyone's faces after York changes his lunch order. This is too much.
  64. The A&G in the A&G Diner's name stands for "apple and gravy". Not names, just those particular foodstuffs. Behind every mystery there's more mystery.
  65. "So he left you to hold up the fort." Hold up the fort? Is he an army of Mexican soldiers?

Conclusion

I don't get this game. I want to keep playing though. So much.

Just One More Thing...

Almost forgot the most important part. This was copied verbatim from a poster in the hospital:

Yes!Your Doctor Told Us

...That you aer to be our patie-

t.Accept our enthusiastic

congratulations and well wish

on your coming cvent... and be

assured that we have a very

personal interest in your case

and have already taken steps to

see to ti that your stay in the

Palo Alto Hospital

will be pay us a

social visit before

you enter?We want

to mennt and gree

you.For yours!

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