Wise Fwom Your Gwave! - Isometric Puzzle Platformers

Hey duders, this is a blog that I wrote and posted to the internet. I might just skip these introductions in the future.

We're all aware of and have varying levels of excitement for the resurgence of two major genres from our childhood that had since vanished (or retreated to the dark realms of the hardcore and foreign audiences): Graphic Adventure games and Fighter games. But what of the other niche genres that disappeared as times and attitudes and technology changed? Whenever the urge strikes, I'll be using this feature to highlight some nearly-forgotten type of game that I've noticed has made a comeback through the increasingly relevant channels of downloadable Indie games - created by developers who clearly fondly remember this shit as much as I do.

On this edition of Wise Fwom Your Gwave we're looking at Isometric Puzzle Platformers. Now, we're all familiar with the isometric viewpoint - that weirdly 45-degree-angled bird's eye view where "up" isn't up but actually diagonally up and right. Many games, such as Final Fantasy Tactics or Baldur's Gate or Diablo and plenty of others use this view as a stylistic choice. The true isometric puzzle platformer, a genre that really started with Q*Bert and Zaxxon but found its groove in classic C64 and Spectrum games like Knight Lore and Head-Over-Heels, depends on its slightly disorientating presentation to set up several jumping, item-placing and maze-orienteering puzzles to test players with their sheer difficulty. More examples: The Cadaver games attempted to meld this action-puzzle gameplay with a more traditional RPG, Solstice and Equinox make for a very accessible duo of NES/SNES adventures and Monster Max is a very densely packed series of puzzles for the original Game Boy.

Because the isometric format can be considered a form of "2 and a 1/2"D, a concept I'm not technically allowed to talk about due to Gerstmann's Law, it seemed like a sneaky way for designers and artists with too much integrity to create highly detailed sprite-based 2D worlds and characters while appeasing whatever marketing executives or focus groups that refuse to release anything with fewer dimensions than three. Of course, as 3D technology caught up to be as aesthetically pleasing as the older and wiser 2D format, the number of new releases that used the isometric view slowed to a trickle - including these platformer puzzler things. Which brings us to the present.

Moonpod's Mr. Robot (available on Steam) is a sci-fi themed puzzle platformer that uses the isometric format to depict a tiny robot attempting to rescue the stasis-kept humans from the hostile forces on board. Orbital Media's Scurge: Hive is a (very) derivative Metroid-esque adventure that is based around exploring non-linear isometric rooms and figuring out how to acquire keys and activate transporter nodes. Crystal Dynamics' surprisingly not awful Tomb Raider game - Lara Croft and the Guardian of Light - isn't quite isometric, but sets up its puzzles with a fixed 3D camera which creates a similar effect. It's starting to feel like this genre has a presence again, if only in small numbers so far. If Super Meat Boy is any indication, we're all eager for more super-tough nostalgia trips.

Bonus Comics

After reading (or skipping >:( ) all that waffle, it's time for more of this thing I do a lot now.

Deus Ex

Yup. Don't neglect the martial skills, kids.

Scurge: Hive

Spent way too long drawing those dumb hair logo jokes. Jenosa Arma: Demonstrating the thin line between attitude and sass.

Hunted: The Demon's Forge

Hunted had a lot of problems. I had trouble narrowing it down to one that Yahtzee hadn't already covered, though, so here's a thing with rock heads.

Bye Interns Nick and Ben!

Because it's their last day, and one or the other of them keeps featuring my dumb comics, I made a comic for Intern Nick (Babylonian) and Intern Ben (GlenTennis) as a final day gift to see them off. It's posted below with Nick's permission.

I'm sure there's a busy thread around for seeing them off already, but feel free to wish them well here too. Hoping for more Meta-games and Internal Affairs podcasts via some kind of Skype networking thingummy from them in the future.


A Link To The Zeldalikes

Hey peeps, back to words this week. I wanna discuss Zeldalikes today, that odd sub-genre begot by some game from the olde timey days called The Legend of Zelda for the NES. Yeah, that one. The Zelda series has a very specific formula that it sticks to religiously, which makes non-Zelda games that attempt to do their own thing with the same formula stick out as copycats and are subsequently relatively rare occurrences. Contrast this to Metroid or Mario - two equally popular NES games that went on to produce not only several sequels and spinoffs of their own, but dozens of imitators that vary from audacious knock-offs to highly inventive proteges.
So here's my three favorite Zelda games that don't actually have anything to do with Link, Hyrule or giant pig demon wizards. As always, feel free to add your own in the comments. Neutopia seems to be the big one I've not included.


Death Metal Zelda
Possibly the most well-known Zeldalike in recent memory, Darksiders follows the adventures of a Mr War as he rectifies his premature annihilation of Earth by attacking Warhammer 40k characters and creatures inspired by middle-school textbook doodles. While it contains many trappings of the contemporary "action-adventure" game, which generally features a lot of tearing things apart with QTEs and growling, it also borrows a lot from the Zelda franchise with its themed dungeons.
Each dungeon, true to the core values of any Zelda game, are a slightly maze-like series of areas where the goal is to first collect the map and compass for navigation; the dungeon "item", which generally opens up other parts of the dungeon; the boss key, which opens the way to the dungeon boss and then defeating the boss itself and claiming whatever McGuffin it was guarding. Darksiders cheerfully (or as cheerful as a broody manifestation of carnage can get) conforms to this dungeon formula for the whole game, giving the players ample areas to explore on the overworld too as their powers expand. It's not a game that has a lot of ideas of its own, but at least it steals them with style.
Sticking with the "stolen game form" system the Death game will be a metroidvania (so ironic, considering he dies in half of those), the Pestilence game will be one of those "infection" zombie flash games and Famine will be based on Cooking Mama. My uncle works for Nintendo, so he knows this stuff. 

3D Dot Game Heroes

Blocky Zelda
3D Dot Game Heroes is unrepentant with its Zeldalike status. A deliberate attempt to elicit nostalgia from a huge fanbase of Zelda worshipers, it adheres strictly to the many tropes and fixtures of the original NES Zelda. It has the boomerang, the bow, the bombs, the annoying Wizzrobes, the Moblins and a series of elemental "Sages" that the player must assist. Even the Boss Key has the same little devil horns.
Where 3D Dot Game Heroes sets itself apart is how gleefully it lampoons all these age-old tropes, eviscerating not only Zelda but similarly po-faced medieval fantasy games like Dragon Quest (especially the fourth one), Final Fantasy and the Dragon Slayer series. The blocky NPCs that populate the world freak out about the inexplicably high value placed on empty bottles, signposts, creating a 3D Mech game and curses that turn people into animals for often dubious reasons. The (admittedly slight) Zelda shenanigans are really just the framework for a good-natured pastiche of the 8-bit era that depends on an audience that is super familiar with its subject matter. It joins hilarious but flawed games like Cthulhu Saves The World, Anachronox and Psychonauts which really work best as vessels for comedy and parody than they do as games.
Also, for some reason, the music for the otherwise aggravating "Dash Circuit" mini-game is amazing, whereas the rest of the soundtrack is merely competent. I don't know why this is. Why are you so random with your level of quality, From Software?


Grim Zelda
Alundra, now available on PSN from what I'm hearing though I'm not going to check because the Europe PSN store is godawful, is a Zelda game in all but name. The main hero is an elfin youth, there's a village of superstitious but otherwise regular dudes and the villain is a nebulously evil spirit of some kind.
However, Alundra goes to a much darker place as its narrative arc progresses, as each dungeon means another NPC death in the hub village. Most dungeons actually take place in the dreams of these NPCs, and you're constantly discovering the dark secrets behind the town, its occupants and especially its ominous church. It's also difficult as hell, with the usual Zelda traps like spinning saws, zig-zagging blades and collapsing platforms turned up to eleven and unremitting in their brutality, with equally difficult Zeldalike puzzles to figure out too. I'm not sure if it was ever promoted as a more mature Zelda, but that's clearly what Alundra creators Matrix Software were aiming for.

Bonus Comics

With my Chantelise blog gaining some notice for featuring a bunch of stickmen doodles doing stuff (I guess?) I've decided to add a feature to this and future blogs where I create an observational comic for every game I've played this week. This should be fun, probably.
Deus Ex
I'm always doing this. I rarely have any multitools as a result. I'm the worst agent ever.
3D Dot Game Heroes
 USE ALL THE SPACE. ALL OF IT. I spent the whole goddamn game as a midget.

Chantelise: A Picturebook Journey

Chantelise is the newest game from Indie localization team Carpe Fulgur, originally from EasyGameStation. Having very much enjoyed Recettear, their first release (which was made after Chantelise, confusingly), I was all set to wait it out for the holiday Steam sales to pick it up.

But then Whiskey Media user omghisam decided to gift me the game in a shocking twist of magnanimity, with one stipulation: That I biographize my experiences with the game in my inimitable Microsoft Paint style.

Any Twitter followers of the Pass the Whiskey podcast (and that should be most of you. I mean... c'mon duders) can attest to my dubious mastery of that particular graphics program. So feel free to drop your expectations a bit. No, a lot. More than that. Okay, that should be enough.

Disclaimer: I wrote each of these observations and made them comics as I played the game. Some may be a little inaccurate as I was still in the process of learning the ropes. I'll be going into more detail underneath each image, though.

So yeah. Both a character introduction and a portent of the graphical horrors to come. Because there's a female anime protagonist, that makes this game a hentai.

Spells are cast by finding crystals on the ground after damaging enemies with physical attacks, and have different effects when cast alone or combined with others. It's a system that allows a lot of improvisation, but often you're better off stacking up ones of the same color (kind of like Match-3, in fact) for stronger elemental types. Above is a quick guide of the four basic spells. Earth, it turns out, does have its uses. But it's still mostly terrible.

Magic Defense is as big a deal as regular Defense in this game, and it is worth your consideration when choosing accessories. Trust me. I speak from experience.

Chante (the fairy) casts the spells, but as the token fairy she's also required to dole out inanely obvious commentary and hints. I don't know why.

So an interesting feature of this game is that on each of the brief action stages there's a hidden chest you can find by completing a specific task. It tends to be things like hitting all the trees, reaching a distant hard-to-reach platform or defeating certain enemies first. It is some serious Tower of Druaga obfuscating shit, and the hints you get for sacrificing HP at the church rarely tell you anything. But the treasures are worth it. So do random stuff all the time? And maybe that will work.

I have no idea why the mushroom enemies look like that. It confounds me.

After I drew this I met a silhouette boss and a multi-form final boss defeated with the power of friendship (spoilers for every JRPG ever?) So clearly there was more to add to this comic. Last panel still fits though.

Why do fishing mini-games always do this to me? They give you a little fishing bestiary in the item screen to fill up! With fishes! Gaaaaaah.

And this was where I quit.

Overall, if you like Recettear, you'll like this game. It's considerably less in-depth, as an Action RPG with limited resources, but it moves at a brisk pace, has some frantically fun Ys-esque combat and there's no penalty for getting your ass killed. And believe me, it'll happen a lot, since there's no healing items beyond what enemies feel like dropping very occasionally. There's no XP either: It's one of those games like Final Fantasy Crystal Chronicles where the clothes make the man (or anime) as far as stats go. So it's short but challenging, which kind of balances out. Definitely worth the ten bucks they're asking for it.


Mento's Journey Through Time & Space: Part 2 - Space

Game companies are always looking for.. wait, I already did this opening joke for part one.

Space is a tricky business to relate to video games. This is because every video game uses space in some way. They all make liberal use of the three dimensions of space with which we're all familiar (besides those of you who are animated characters of course, I didn't mean to sound toonist), having locations and destinations for your character to walk (or drive, or fly) around in and to. As such, I'll only be writing five unique ways that a video game will take on the abstract concept of space, as oppose to time's seven. Might also be because I'm lazy.

As a Setting

First port of call is as a setting again. Specifically, I'm discussing outer space here, an endless sphere of mostly nothing and occasionally a star or a planet or a TIE Fighter. Games have been drawing from the outer space (gravity) well since their very inception, all the way back to Spacewar. Ostensibly because nerds love outer space and NASA and Star Wars & Trek - the binary stars of the sci-fi world. One has to assume minimal technology needed to project a spot of white light on a black background was almost certainly a consideration in those primitive times too, however.

Highlighted Game: Mass Effect

The best space games, in my opinion, are those that let you explore a near-endless cosmos. To seek out new life and civilizations, to boldly blow up shit that looks at you funny with their sensors. While games like Gears or Halo or Dead Space might be set on in outer space, it's all on foot more or less. Mass Effect lacks the third part of the holy trinity of space games (that would be ship battles, that I'm actually fairly glad they exclude), but is still one of the most fleshed-out and accessible of all the space-related IPs that have come along in recent times. Gameplay is split between ground missions, which play out strategically in the first and slightly less strategically in the second (and seeing that footage of a turret mini-game for part 3, it appears to be a downward trend), talking to your crew and other NPCs both hostile and friendly, and scanning and mining unexplored corners of the Milky Way galaxy for a surprising abundance of information on planets and reading all the bizarre geological readings, alien poems and religious doctrines that pertain to them. The latter, along with the detailed Codex entries on everything in that world, is really what comprises the heart of Mass Effect - a universe that begs to be investigated further.

See Also: Star Control 2 (another well-defined universe of oddball NPC alien races and space-mining), Master of Orion (turns the exploration of outer space into a 4X Civ game), Freespace (like the superb TIE Fighter and X-Wing games, some of the best PC space sim combat games), X (one of those incredibly in-depth space sim/trader games that evolved from Elite.)

As a Way to Intimidate Players

What I mean by this is how a game will decide to make itself really, really big, and will show it off in a way where it's a little daunting. Each game has its own way of presenting how darn huge their worlds are to a player; often the first time the player checks their map or seeing "0.2% game completion" on the progress meter after what felt like a long intro mission. Done properly, this will impress on the player how much game there actually is out there, filling them with all sorts of tingly feelings about where to go first. This tends to be a thing with the more open RPGs, MMOs and sandbox games.

Highlighted Game: The Elder Scrolls

The King of way-too-big RPGs is Bethesda's long-running Elder Scrolls series. Moving from the glitchy but promising Arena to glitchier but even more impressively sized Daggerfall to the almost alien world of Morrowind to the hugely acclaimed Oblivion to the super-hyped upcoming Skyrim, dedicated fans have seen a continuing process of improvement with the graphics and core mechanics of each game, but in every case the first thing to impress players was the sheer proportions of the game world provided. When the player first emerges from the intro dungeon (and there's always an intro dungeon, or prison or sewer) and blinks away the initially painful sunlight, that whole land opens before them.

See Also: Terraria (this week's "game I've actually been playing", Terraria seems small until you try walking to one end of the map, or digging straight down to the bottom), Just Cause 2 (Panau was frickin' enormous), Symphony of the Night (seeing the inverted castle for the first time...)

As a Brainteaser

Of the many different methods of testing mental acuity, one of the ones I have the most trouble with for whatever reason are the spatial awareness puzzles. Most modern puzzle games that attest to being some sort of "exercise but for your brain", borrowing from the IQ tests that Mensa and schools used to put out, will happily feature these spacial awareness puzzles alongside more traditional questions on arithmetic, logic and problem-solving.

Highlighted Game: Tetris

The most famous puzzle game in the world is also one that's almost dependent on a strong sense of spatial awareness: How pieces will fit together, where to place problem pieces, how to set up Tetrises (Tetrii?) by building seamless walls of blocks and waiting for a long piece. Tetris is easy to get the hang of, but eventually it gets so fast you're not given a chance to even think about where to go next; it all becomes instinct. If you lack the spatial awareness to keep up, that's a bunch of tiny dancing Russians you won't be seeing. Unless you switch to the significantly less mentally exhausting Modern Warfare games and aim for their feet.

See Also: Professor Layton, Puzzle Agent, Brain Age et al (all these Mensa-type puzzle dispensers will employ the occasional sliding block or "which string becomes a knot when pulled" type spatial awareness puzzles), Cogs (a whole game based on those "which direction will this machine go if you turn this cog." I assume anyway, it's one of the few Indie Steam puzzle games that I haven't bought in some package deal yet), Pipe Dream (next to Tetris in "types of spatial awareness puzzle that have appeared everywhere in video games." Most recently? As the hacking mini-game in Bioshock.)

As a Way to Flip the Bird to Physics (Part 1: Warping)

Like with time, the best part of any science-savvy video game is how they take the universal laws behind a scientific concept that govern our very existence and toss them out the window. A very common implementation of disrespecting the laws of physics is the concept of warps and portals - creating two points in space that conveniently ignores all the space between them. Many games - generally Diablo types, but definitely not limited to those - use these portals as simply a way of fast traveling from the luxuries of a hub city to whatever part of the dungeon you were just in (or perhaps another city.) Others make them a major part of the gameplay, including...

Highlighted Game: Portal

Portal loves science like an abusive spouse. That's probably not a good thing to say, but what is a good thing to say is that Portal's warp-based gimmick factors into some highly inventive puzzles that tax a player's spatial awareness of space and momentum. It's one of those puzzle concepts that seems impossible to grasp until you start playing, at which point it starts coming naturally and makes you feel like a goddamn mental tyrannosaur each time you solve a test chamber. Portal 2's length did eventually led to a lot of repetitive "find the white wall to put portals on" puzzle solutions, but the original remains a tightly-packed series of sequences that perfectly escalates through each feature the game has to offer and culminates with a satisfying conclusion to the previously-sidelined narrative that building while you were busy solving puzzles. It kind of felt like climbing up the Tetris blocks you'd placed down to take your revenge against the sadistic "Next Piece" window.

See Also: Baldur's Gate 2 (like with any high-level D&D party, there's eventually so much planewalking and teleporting around that you start getting homesick for a plane where all the laws of physics and nature still apply. Planescape might be a better example of this though), Doom (like the first Star Trek movie, Event Horizon and The Fly, Doom is at heart a cautionary tale about making strides in teleportation technology too quickly. It's also about how huge monsters also have huge guts to rip and tear. Layers, people), Mortal Kombat (you want to win? pick a character that can teleport-attack and spam that business like it's going out of style.)

As a Way to Flip the Bird to Physics (Part 2: Gravity)

Gravity on the whole might be a topic for a completely separate blog in this series (except there's no way in hell I doing another one of these), but a fun way you can mess around with space is having dudes running across the ceiling and walls while you're futzing around on the ground like some backwards caveman. The prime example for the sort of thing I'm talking about is either this or this. Games, of course, do this too. Why wouldn't they? Are video games less capable of wizardry than Lionel Richie? Hmm, maybe don't answer that.

Highlighted Game: Prey

The first Prey had a lot of problems (that I, among with nameless others, are hoping the sequel fixes with its fun-looking bounty hunter antics), but the dizzying disorientation caused by popping out of upside-down portals and walking up magnetic rails was nothing sort of spectacular, doubly so in the midst of a fierce shootout. It made me sort of wish there was more to to game than the same old gooey alien antagonists and vagina doors. You wouldn't think you'd get sick of walking through vagina doors especially, but that's Prey for you.

See Also: VVVVVV (being able to flip your gravity led to many interesting platformer scenarios, in this delightful but all-too-brief Indie classic), Dark Void (before the jet pack, Dark Void's chief unique feature was having shootouts across vertical planes. Not recommended for acrophobics. A less kind person might go on to say that the game's not recommended for anyone), Dead Space (Isaac does the vertical magnet-boot walking too, and there's more than a few sequences where there's no gravity whatsoever and enemies fly at you from all directions. Shattered Horizon's also all about the zero-g combat.)

All this space and time stuff is super heavy, as Marty McFly might say. I think my next blog series will be on puppies and bunnies. And ponies, since they seem to be a big deal with a certain trio of podcasters 'round these parts. Won't that be an insightful read?


Mento's Journey Through Time & Space: Part 1 - Time

Game companies are always looking for ways to make games cleverer. Well, besides EA. And Epic Games. And Gearbox. And-

Game companies are always looking for ways to make games cooler. One way to do this is to dabble with the mighty powers of time and space, finding ways to manipulate and twist the usual laws that govern such things to create brand new exciting, challenging and innovative interactive paradigms and other meaningless promotional jargon. This is part one of a two-part series of blogs on the space-time continuum in video games.

Using the passage of time - both as it ticks along normally and as a plaything to be screwed around with at will despite the apocalyptic risks - are increasingly becoming common things in vidya as games become more sophisticated (and more consoles have built-in clocks, which can also help.) Because this also allows me to do my usual "tie in the blog with a video game I played this week" (in this case Ocarina of Time 3D), here are seven different ways video games have used time. Originally I was going to see if I could hit 12 (because hours) or 60 (because minutes) or 88 (because some serious shit), but those numbers are all too big and I have more games to play. I use that excuse every week. So sue me.

As a Setting

First thing everyone thinks of when you talk about time in fiction is the notion of time travel. One or more characters, usually either a Victorian-era professor or a Californian teenager (you know, the two groups that provided some of the most important thinkers in history) use a time machine to visit different periods of history for adventurous and educational purposes. Video games in particular are no strangers to this highly popular science-fiction setting.

Highlight Game: Chrono Trigger

Chrono Trigger is perhaps the most beloved time-travel video game ever made. That's right, I can just say things like that at random and expect people to accept it as gospel. Welcome to blogs? CT follows the adventures of the mute Crono; cute nerd Lucca; cute princess Marle; cute savage Ayla; cute frog knight Frog; cute robot Robo and cute world-annihilating alien parasite Lavos. Players travel to and explore different time eras like they would with different continents in any other JRPG. It has fun playing around with the time-travel feature too, creating scenarios where you have to ensure the existence of a major character (by making sure to rescue her ancestor), ensure the existence of mankind in general (by helping the earliest humans defeat their more-advanced reptilian rivals) and ensuring that life will continue beyond the Day of Lavos (oh, Lavos! What mischief will you get into next?)

See Also: Chrono Cross (like Trigger, but completely incomprehensible), Back To The Future (the Telltale games ones, not those awful NES licensed ones) Where in Time is Carmen Sandiegio? (this is a real game?)

As a Life-Preserving Tool

Time manipulation is one of the more interesting newcomers in the field of "helping players not die so often at video games." Historically, these boons have included: Extra lives, continues, "Easy mode", regenerating health, making the games only 5 hours long and letting Luigi very slowly beat the stage for you because you are no longer a man. Time manipulation, at the very least, makes undoing something you just did wrong, or slowing the bad guys down because they're moving too fast and they have mean faces and it's scary, seem less pathetic. It has that whole "whooooosh" blurry slow-down effect too. It's just neat, as long as you don't worry about how much you suck. I know I don't when writing these blogs! (Whoooa, going meta again!)

Highlight Game: Prince of Persia: The Sands of Time

Perhaps the most important leap in using time manipulation as a feature in modern video games is the first 3D Prince of Persia. Not that atrocity, just so we're clear, but rather Sands of Time. The Prince is able to rewind time (to prevent an unfortunate accident), fast-forward time ("To skip all of Farah's nagging, am I right fellahs?" - A Comedian) and slow down time (see also: Matrix Payne bullettime) as the situation calls for it. These powers are constantly useful and helps ease the fast-paced and complex (and occasionally time-sensitive) acrobatic gameplay, which might otherwise cause endless Game Overs. One sometimes wonders if Jordan Mechner created the time rewinding mechanism to simply assist players in their attempts to not die so often (like they did by the truckload with his rotoscoped classic original), accidentally creating a whole new avenue for future games to explore in the process. Yeah, and maybe he made the original to raise public awareness of how many fatal accidents are caused by spike traps per year. Yo, I'm thinking it's cash here, folks.

See Also: TimeShift (all sorts of generic sci-fi shooters are into this feature), Blinx: The Time Sweeper (yeah, the time cat. Meow), Braid (pretty much the apex of both time-manipulation games and whiny narratives about stalking your ex-girlfriend's nuclear missiles or something.)

As a Challenge

Probably the oldest and commonest use of time in video games is as a challenge-based limitation. Giving players a fixed length of time to complete a goal creates an impetus for the player to get on with it, instead of sitting around twiddling their thumbs (see what I did there? It's controller humor, you guys. No, screw you.) Time limits have been, to various degrees: the worst thing ever, something you barely notice, an interesting way to revitalize puzzles and scenarios after first beating them without the time limit, a way to reward players for their quick skill and an easy solution for when the deadline for the game is coming up and there's still 200 achievement points left to assign (and you don't have a multiplayer mode to hatefully drop them in, because most players won't care? No, of course they won't.)

Highlight Game: Super Meat Boy

Honestly, it was hard to narrow down a game for "games that use time limits." I ended up using Super Meat Boy because its whole A+ Par Time feature is a major part of its "difficulty can be fun!" mandate. Getting par times is crucial for unlocking half the stages in the game, and an obvious glass ceiling to those who perhaps shouldn't be playing such stressful, masochistic games. I'm not going to be condescending again here, because I could never beat the game myself. It's a whole different tier of challenge which I'll grudgingly leave to young people and asians. That's racist. Wow, actually pretty overtly racist even. That's not cool. I'll leave some asterisks here so I remember to go back and delete that. * * * * *. There.

See Also: Well, gee, how about almost every racing game, sports game, classic 2D platformer and quick-reaction puzzle game for starters? I have no idea where all this sarcasm is coming from, I think I woke up too early today. I'm so sorry, you guys! Huuuuugs!

As a Big Ol' Reset Button

To continue with the previous section: Games have used time limits since forever, and not always in a way people might find relevant or fun. Modern games have decided to make jokes at their expense and have created situations where you aren't expected to beat the game in anything like the amount of time they give you. As such, players are instead given the option to reset to the beginning of the time limit, keeping various benefits earned during their previous playthrough, and have another shot at it.

Highlight Game: Half-Minute Hero

Beating a JRPG in 30 seconds is insane, right? Most people couldn't beat a slime in that time, even if they were to draw near really really fast. What Half-Minute Hero does to help those people out is make the combat automatic (you're just a dude with a sword after all, no need to force player to hammer the attack button) and reverse time with an increasingly pricey cash sacrifice. The Goddess of Time is into shiny things, as she'll be happy to inform you. Each stage in the game plays more like a puzzle - you must find a way to reach the boss, level high enough to take them out and acquire as much equipment and treasure as possible before being able to reverse time becomes too expensive. There are other modes too, one with a slave-driving princess and another with a broody vampire anti-hero known only as "Evil Lord" (calling him Vincent or Alucard or Psaro would've been too obvious, I suppose.)

See Also: Legend of Zelda: Majora's Mask (relevant, given today's news about a possible 3D treatment), GrimGrimoire (I mention this game a lot on here, despite hating it. Weird), Breath of Fire: Dragon Quarter (the game doesn't mention reversing time, but there's certainly a lot of resetting.)

As a Puzzle Solution

Adventure games often have the most obscure solutions to puzzles. In the olden timey days (of which I am clearly an expert) this was because there was only ever one solution to a situation coded into the software, which was selected at random by the game designers after taking a specific amount of hallucinogens. And this was how text and graphic adventure games continued for a long while, until eventually hallucinogens were banned and hint systems and the like were encoded into the easy-peasy adventure games of today. Moving towards slightly more relevant territory: Some of these games had time-travel and cleverly forced you to think in the fourth dimension to solve some puzzles, including one classic LucasArts game in particular:

Highlight Game: Day of the Tentacle

At a certain point of the Day of the Tentacle, the three heroes are split between three separate periods of history all still within the mansion and its surrounding environs: Metal rocker Hoagie is in colonial times, surrounded by future presidents as they prepare to sign some piece of paper which I guess is important to Americans; Archetypal every-nerd Bernard is in the present, during an ill-timed convention of obnoxious inventors that he wants to stab to death; The lovely and possibly insane Laverne is in the future, a world under the yoke of the tyrannical eventual-conqueror Purple Tentacle. Items found in one period are often needed in another, and while most can be transferred via flushing them down a time-traveling commode (just because), several require some additional thought: A character that needs vinegar might hide wine somewhere where a future character can find it, or freezing a living creature (like a poor hamster, say) will preserve it across the time period.

See Also: Time Gentlemen, Please! (Another humorous time-traveling adventure game - clearly inspired by DoTT - and the sequel to Ben There, Dan That!), Legend of Zelda: Ocarina of Time (chiefly stuff like planting those seeds, beating the first half of the Spirit Temple or the headscratchingly paradoxical acquisition of the Song of Storms), Legend of Zelda: Oracle of Ages (more Zelda, huh? After Ocarina, I guess they all stared doing the time warp. Again), Dark Chronicle (the Georama half of this game deals with "make X like this so it becomes Y in the future" puzzles) and Ghost Trick ("go into the past to change the future" puzzles. Thanks to BeachThunder for reminding me of this (and that I have to play it.))

As a Weapon

While I covered how time manipulation can be used as a tool, I neglected to mention how some games are able to weaponize that shit. Manipulating your own timeline is all well and good, as long as it doesn't involve grandmas and "gettin' nasty in the past-y", but manipulating someone else's can be downright deadly. Several games provide ways to truly ruin someone's day with time-based weaponry.

Highlight Game: Singularity

Singularity eventually provides the player with a gun that does for time what the one in Half-Life 2 did for physics: Turns it into your bitch. Ostensibly used for fixing dilapidated fixtures and items by reversing the entropy that caused them to break (making a collapsed staircase good as new so you can use it, for instance), you can also point it at an enemy and Nazi-sympathizer-rich-guy-at-the-end-of-The-Last-Crusade them into skeletony oblivion by fast-forwarding that same entropic effect. The game wisely limits how often you're able to pull this off in a short time period, since it is brutal. Singularity's full of interesting shit like that, so go check it out if you can tolerate the slow start and the many ways it rips off Bioshock.

See Also: Any Final Fantasy game with Time Magic. Depending on which FF you're playing, "Stop"-ping enemies while "Haste"-ing your own team can be a real gamebreaker. I should also give an honorable mention to Mortal Kombat's hilarious griefing tool Babalities, which totally count as using time as a weapon.

As a Constant Reminder of Our Own Mortality

Well, this is a dour note to end this article on. Games, especially those of a slightly more artistic narrative bent, like to bring up how time can change so much, throwing out clues to ancient civilizations not totally dissimilar to our own, which were brought to ruination either by their hubris or their lack of environmental awareness. In case a blue dude in a green mullet wasn't enough to teach the kids about why it's a bad idea to litter, or leave the TV on, or create a toxin that turns turtles into ninjas. I'm confusing my early 90s cartoons, apologies. Point is, games will often use the passage of time to teach us lessons, or simply have a little fun with the endless cycle of life and death.

Baten Kaitos: Eternal Wings and the Lost Ocean

A strange part of of Baten Kaitos' unusual card-based inventory system is that certain items, when left unattended, will age into different forms in real-time. Some fruit items will ripen, changing from inedible projectile weapons to juicy health restoratives to gross goopy diarrhea-causers. Wood will fossilize, metal will rust and all manner of items will change, for better or worse. It can be an interesting feature, as long as you're vigilant and feeling experimental.

See Also: A famous example of this sort of thing is the secret way of causing Metal Gear Solid 3's The End's, well, end. As an extremely elderly man, all one needs to do is wait seven days after starting his boss fight (by changing the console's clock or just doing something else that week) and the guy simply dies of old age. Oh Kojima, you rascal. Here's some other games with real-time, and what happens when they're left unplayed too long: Animal Crossing will start to resemble a creaky ghost town where everyone's forgotten your name. Your Nintendog will starve to death (not really.) Your Sims character fills their house with pee and garbage and dies from a disease that was last deadly in the 18th century. Your Fable character will slowly age and wither, losing everything they hold dear to a vindictive antagonist (but at least there's farting for some levity!) Real-time features are so much fun!

Well guys, there are the words that indicate the blog is done. Do you know of any further uses for a time mechanic? Dish 'em out below, by all means. I'm going to spend some of my finite time on this Earth, with all its marvels and treasures, checking out the contents of my fridge for edibles. Wish me luck?


Mento's Movie Magic: Video Game Homages To "Alien"

Dear Lord I need help with these names.

People on here often wonder why the video game industry takes strides to follow and show great deference to the movie industry, despite how well the former is doing compared to the latter - though I might've wanted to wait a few weeks after Transformers 3 and Deathly Hallows Part Deux stopped making mad ducats before throwing out unfounded factoids like that. The reason for this is because video games are inspired by movies. Almost entirely, in fact.*

Occasionally a video game will base itself on the original comic or book when a movie adaptation rolls around, as if to take some manner of literary high ground, but it's only because of that movie adaptation that the game exists at all more often than not. I might one day cover video games that are only inspired by literary sources, like Legend Entertainment's Xanth or Death Gate adventure games, but that sounds both interesting and a lot of hard work - hardly germane for this blog writer guy - so instead I threw something together about games that liberally borrow from Ridley Scott's sci-fi horror masterpiece Alien, because there's a lot of those and it was easy. *Cough*.

Ol' Claw Hammer Head is out of bounds. Too easy!

Rules: (Because I like rules? Back latent OCD tendencies, back I say!) The game has to be set in a claustrophobic, quite filthy and run-down spaceship. With a hostile alien on board. That part's important. I'm also focusing on games that use the horror beats, without too much in the way of gun-packed action scenes (because that's more Aliens. If I did games that borrow elements from Aliens we'll be here all week.) I'm also excluding all those games which are actually based on the Alien franchise, especially those where they fight their old friends the Predator. So no predatory aliens fighting alien predators, at least no famous ones. I'm also not going to do Dead Space. That game is taking a whole different "zombies but in space" direction and attempting to distance itself from the audacious Alien parroting that the original was happy enough to embrace. In fact, I'm just going to avoid games anyone has ever heard of. How about them apples?

* For an interesting take on this, and why video game storytelling in general is still kind of jank, listen to IT Crowd/Black Books creator Graham Linehan's theory on it.

The Orion Conspiracy

The Orion Conspiracy is an adventure game from small British development studio Divide By Zero, in a time where homegrown adventure games were the exception rather than the rule (Telltale Games, Wadjet Eye Games and the many other adventure game makers of today are hardly major studios and happy to carve out their own niche on Steam and other similar venues.) Divide By Zero are also responsible for the Gene Machine and the Innocent Until Caught games, which are quite a deal better than the Orion Conspiracy. As you might surmise from that last statement, this isn't a fantastic game.


Level-5: A Ten-Year Retrospective

No awful Mento puns in the title this week - I'm on the road to recovery. It's been a long road, as Rorie might say (or soulfully belt out). But that's neither here nor there, as what matters is that it's been a long time and my time is finally near to write a Level-5 retrospective.

Level-5 is a prestigious developer of (chiefly) JRPGs. Like all the best smaller JRPG studios (like Quintet), it's had a strong relationship with Enix, creating two well-received iterations of Enix's flagship Dragon Quest series. Along the way, it's also developed several respectable IPs of its own, such as everyone's favorite dapper puzzle solver Professor Layton, the deep Dark Cloud duology, the expansive Rogue Galaxy and the sort of disappointing White Knight Chronicles. I'll be reminiscing about several Level-5 games I've played since 2001, when the first Dark Cloud hit Western shores.

Year: 2001

Game: Dark Cloud

Dark Cloud is Level-5's first title, and is very much a game that hints at the greater hits to come. While plagued with the usual myriad of minor issues that are inescapable with any studio's debut, what mattered to fans (like myself) was how different it felt to everything else on the market. While the combat was classic action RPG, the dungeons generated on the fly like any familiar Diablo/roguelike and the characters more or less JRPG archetypes with little personality, the balance between its generic yet colorful and fun dungeon-delving and the thoughtful, sophisticated Georama puzzle/sim system is really what stood out. Like Pikmin, another IP debut with a lot of weight on its adorable shoulders, it had so much charm and innovation that the shortcomings could be easily forgiven. And like Pikmin, it was fated to receive a sequel that would completely shadow the original.

Personally, it was the first game that made me glad I had a PS2. After almost half a year of ownership. Slow start, but we all know how amazing the PS2's library would eventually become.

Year: 2003

Game: Dark Cloud 2: Dark Chronicle

Dark Cloud 2 is fantastic. I love it to pieces. It's hard to write about it objectively, which is why this is a retrospective and not some attempt at me being some kind of professional game-writing-about kinda guy (perish the thought). It deepens both sides of the Dark Cloud equation: The combat has a stronger focus on elemental traits, and the balance between your ranged weapon (useful for fast, flying enemies), your melee weapon (useful for everything else) and the RidePod mecha (useful for bosses). The Georama is far more in-depth too, as you're no longer given entire pre-built houses and features but are rather given the blueprints and left to your own devices to gather the resources needed to make them. There's also the closely related photography and invention additions, the Spheda "mini golf with a difference" side-quest, the fishing side-quest, the weapon upgrade system (mostly intact from the original), and so on and so forth. It's hard to name a game that offers more for the player to be getting on with. But I sure do go on about Dark Cloud 2, and so we move onto..

Year: 2006

Game: Dragon Quest VIII

Dragon Quest VIII was Level-5's big break. DQ has always rivaled Final Fantasy in its native territory for sheer fan numbers, and perhaps surpasses it. Everyone's aware at this point of how releases are timed to coincide with national holidays and weekends so Japan's entire economy doesn't seize up with everyone taking sickies to go play it. In an unprecedented turn, DQ8 was actually localized and released almost globally for the first time ever for the franchise. Usually, the States was lucky to get every other DQ title and Europe none at all. So not only was DQ8 the third ever game made by Level-5 and the first time they were ever given the IP of an outside organization, but it was also the most important JRPG release (or Japanese game in general, perhaps) of the year worldwide. A lot of pressure, then.

Needless to say, they nailed it. The huge 3D world, though mostly filled with dead space, was as colorful and bright as DQ has always been, and every other aspect (the Akira Toriyama design, the humor, the music) matched blow-for-blow Enix's consistently high standards for their flagship franchise. They kind of needed the boost after the dreck they've been producing as part of Square-Enix.

Year: 2008

Game: Rogue Galaxy

Rogue Galaxy was Level-5 coming back to the drawing board for a big new IP, something to rival Dark Cloud with the lessons they learned with DQ8 (and to a lesser extent their first portable: Jeanne d'Arc, a small but competent SPRG). Rogue Galaxy is, for appearance's sake, a sci-fi Dark Cloud - one that focuses again on the dungeon-delving and massive amounts of sanity-testing side-projects. However, for the strides it makes in characterization and story, it still lacks much of the depth of Dark Cloud that so enamoured the first wave of fans (or the Level-5 hipsters, I suppose, if JRPG fans can be called such a thing). It's a fine game, far surpassing most of their competition, but it still felt kinda slight. Besides a non-too-captivating bug raising and battling side-quest (which probably appealed way more to the Pokemon crowd) and an interesting Pipe Mania-esque factory simulator for creating new technology, it seemed like a step down in the amount of content it offered. Still, the different worlds you visit are amazing to look at and the giant bosses are well thought-out, so maybe they simply decided to strengthen the parts I perhaps didn't care so much about.

Great, but not the next trailblazer I was hoping for. Maybe I'm just picky.

Year: 2011

Game: Professor Layton & Pandora's Box

And thus we come to present day, and the last Level-5 game I played. The Professor Layton series, now three-strong in Europe and the US and five-strong in its home turf, is undoubtedly the thing people think of when they think of Level-5 (that is, if they're the type to be aware of developers). It's their most famous and most popular IP at this point, and depicts the episodic adventures of a Victorian-era (though the occasional anachronism suggest it's some alternate history instead) professor and his apprentice as they solve puzzles to unriddle larger mysteries. Most of these puzzles have nothing to do with the mystery plot, and simply exhibit the sometimes inexplicable puzzle-loving nature of the duo and everyone they meet. Lushly animated and drawn in a storybook format, each new adventure is a treasure, though understandably after so many sliding block puzzles or chess piece conundrums, a little goes a long way. It's why I won't be playing Unwound Future until next year at the earliest.

The past three years were also Level-5's busiest, with a new Dragon Quest for DS (highly regarded, though I have yet to play it), bizarre soccer RPG Inazuma Eleven finally seeing a European release (but not the US, presumably because Europe's a huge fan of soccer?) and the aforementioned White Knight Chronicles, which again takes another step back from Dark Cloud 2's amazing diversity and simply focuses on dull MMO-type action RPG gameplay. WKC 2 is available to rent where I am, but I'm still kind of reluctant to try it. It's kind of a shame.

Level-5 is perhaps still my favorite developer, all things considered. It's a company I've been keen to follow over the years, unlike FromSoftware (the subject of my last ten-year retrospective) where my familiarity with their games turned out to be largely incidental. They're a little too recent to have been my motivation for pursuing game design as a career (my stint in university actually began before Dark Cloud came out) but if I were a little younger and had played Dark Cloud 2 during my formative years, it would've no doubt had the same effect. Here's hoping for a Dark Cloud 3!


Mento Miscellany 05/07/11

Just a bunch of little things today. Why, it almost resembles a real blog. Scandalous!

Steam Sales

So this is what I've been mostly doing all weekend and the days after the weekend, which I guess would be the weekstart. I don't mind admitting I've bought several of the items on my wishlist as they appear in the Daily Deals. Because why wouldn't I mind admitting that? I guess I should specify that what's actually been swallowing my time are the meta-achievements for free prize tickets. Apparently Steam doesn't have a skeeball simulator it can use. Put down your pirated Tower Defense Generator software and get on it, Indie developers. Anyway, here's what tickets I got so far and what advice I can condescendingly offer those still struggling:
  1. Join that one group. - I guess you just join that one group. Good luck?
  2. Link profile to Facebook. - To get this ticket you may need: A Facebook profile.
  3. Post on a friend's profile. - Yeah, you tell that random duder you met on the internet who's boss.
Okay, I'm cutting this sorry exercise short. Bottom line is that a lot of them are really easy to get, so go get. Don't buy any games you don't want unless you think a horribly derivative $15 Tower Defense game is worth a pair of goddamn sunglasses. Still being condescending, sorry. Moving on.

Community Starlet? Moi?

Well that title suddenly got a whole lot less awe-inspiring.

Playing "Shadows of the Damned"

Pfffft, boner. 

New Achievement System?

Well look at this guy, putting on designer airs. So this is an idea, or sequence of ideas, about a new and improved achievement system for a hypothetical future games console or some such piece of electronics. Maybe toasters? We don't know what the future holds. Essentially, this system simplifies achievements for the convenience of developers working on games (who could probably do well to just concentrate on the games themselves) while also making them more representative of the gamers that earn them.

As always, the name was the hardest part. Apparently I have a reputation with horrible names now. I was originally going to call these Mentokens, but that sounded a bit... Cho-Aniki. Then I thought Achievementos, but then I realized I should probably get out of the habit of creating terrible portmanteaus with my own name in them. So instead they're Lucky Charms. That's not going to get me into any legal issues down the road, probably. Here's how it goes down:
Each game gets 50 Charms to give away, not including the special three (see below). The developers choose which of the following three categories those 50 go into: Either focus on one, or spread them out across all three - this would obviously depend on the game they're making. The categories are, with randomly chosen icons representing them:

Hourglass - ENDURANCE

Endurance Charms are given to players that fulfill challenges that require a lot of time (such as time-trials or playing the game X hours) or a lot of repetitive work (killing X enemies, use a gun X times etc.) Each task rewards a number of Endurance Charms based on difficulty, or in this case zero difficulty and a lot of time spent. I know developers make these horrible achievements on purpose, so here's a category for them all to live in.


Collectible Charms are given to players who fulfill scavenger hunts or find all items in a level or sandbox-type environ. They reward careful exploration and, once again, dole out more Charms based on the difficulty of the task (or the number of stuff found).

Diamond - SKILL

Skill Charms are given to players who fulfill difficulty-based challenges, such as performing a trick shot or climbing the tallest structure or completing stunts. They reward player skill, which should be self-evident by the name. Knew I called it that for a reason.


This is a single (per game) Charm given to players who beat the game on any difficulty with any ending. It simply states that the player has completed a runthrough of this game. Anyone viewing your Charm collection can see how many of these you have and know instantly how many games (and what games) you've bothered to beat.


This is basically the Platinum Trophy equivalent, but it doesn't require the player achieve all the other Charms first. It's rewarded for any player that has:
  • Reached 100% Completion on the in-game progress indicator.
  • Beaten the hardest difficulty mode.
  • Defeated a very (or most) difficult challenge. (In case the first two don't apply, e.g. sports games)
Like the Heart Charms, there's only one per game and players can use them to instantly tell which games they've mastered.

??? - UNIQUE

This is a single Charm that's unique for each game, and shaped to be something befitting for the game it comes from. It can be awarded for anything (developers' discretion, and dependent on the game) and is considered the game's "souvenir". Like the Heart and Rainbow, it's considered a prestigious award and worth pursuing to make your profile all the more varied.

As gamers unlock these Charms and they start piling up on their public profile pages, other gamers (and advertisers? dun dun dun) can see what kind of games appeal to them based on the category of Charms they most favor. A predominantly Skill Charm gamer is one that relishes arcade-style challenges and pushing their reflexes and hand-eye-coordination, predominant Collectible gamers are those who enjoy taking their time and exploring, and the Endurance gamer is a very dedicated crazy person that could be recruited into your army of insane zealots and/or (or?) MMO guild. With this system achievements are no longer an arbitrary number of points or shiny things, but more like little scout badges that tell people where your strengths and inclinations lie. Plus I think it'd be handy to just have a way to tell if you've beaten a game or not without hunting for some eccentrically-named "beat game" achievement.
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The Mentop Tento: Ten Best Chase Bosses

Yeah... that name's not sounding any better in my head. Plus, a top ten list is kind of a crutch for dudes who can't think of proper blog articles to write. Pro-Tip: It's always a great idea to start a blog on a severely negative note.
Chase bosses! I once stated in a prior blog that I hated those unbeatable bosses that trounce your ass for dramatic emphasis, generally because of how badly handled those unwinnable battles tend to be. But this particular vein of unbeatable boss, where they will chase you across a certain distance and creep the hell out of you with music stings whenever they show up, tend to be a very effective narrative tool for a game to drop into their world. They're anathema to taking your time to explore, which I generally prefer doing, but I still love how the designers play around the concept regardless. I checked GB and we don't really have a specific concept page here for it that I can find, but there's one over on TVTropesif you want more examples.

10. The Executioner (Alice: Madness Returns)

Once again, this is a blog that was inspired by something I've played recently, in this case Alice: Madness Returns. As you're making your way across the creepy dilapidated castle of the previous game's antagonist (and generally the antagonist of any adaptation of Alice in Wonderland) the Queen of Hearts, you're frequently beset by what I can only describe as playing card zombies. The worst of which being the imposing Executioner, who towers over Alice and is completely invulnerable. This usually leads to a chase before Alice is able to escape his grasp. Of course, she does eventually get the upper hand...
While the execution (so to speak) is nothing new, this is pretty much the archetype of what I'm talking about with this kind of boss. I'm introducing the article still!

9. Linda the Lungfish (Psychonauts)

Psychonauts starts out slow, as you gradually learn the ropes of psychonautin' with a few tutorial levels set in the minds of your camp counselors Sasha Nein and Milla Vodello and explore the environs of Whispering Rock Psychic Summer Camp. The game really picks up when you start following the disappearances and subsequent brainless reappearances of fellow campers and bump into this large, scaly customer above. Linda is, of course, a misunderstood and unwilling accomplice to the true masterminds, but that doesn't stop the sequence where she chases you across the seabed (with her perspective no less) sort of thrilling. If only it was the scariest thing waiting in the deep waters for Raz.

8. SA-X (Metroid Fusion)

When Samus Aran is overcome by a new creature, an airborne virus known as the X Parasite found on the Metroid's home planet, she almost dies on the operating table of the space station who kindly answers her distress call. She gets cut out of her old power armor and with a last second discovery is given Metroid DNA to fight the X Parasite's influence. However, the virus has taken over her old suit, killed everyone on board and goes after her when she awakes. Thus begins the terror of Metroid Fusion's SA-X. While Fusion is often maligned for whatever reason (I kind of think it can be forgiven for the Adam narration shit considering how much worse Other M messed that up), the SA-X is an awesome concept, as an unknown alien creature walks around in your suit, with all your strengths (especially the ice beam, which is now deadly to the Metroid-fied Samus). If you're going to throw out the old "Samus loses all her abilities" trope, it's a wonderful twist to have all those abilities stolen by an enemy that then comes after your weakened ass. Sure beats dopey old Dark Samus.

7. Kusabi (Fatal Frame 2: Crimson Butterfly)

Fatal Frame is the king of this kind of scenario. While most ghosts politely submit to the ghost-busting powers of the mystical Camera Obscura, there are a rude few that simply ignore its effects and make a beeline for your throat (they're big on throttling, Japanese ghosts.) While this is true for every major antagonist of the series, who traditionally can only be defeated towards the end of the game, it's also applicable to the "Kusabi" or Rope Ghost who shows up in Fatal Frame 2. This is a guy, an outsider usually, who had been tortured for days and thrown into a pit that leads directly to hell in order to quiet the malevolence down there. His ghost is, let's say, rather displeased with how shit went down. It's the only ghost that can instantly kill you if it gets close and it's the only one that has ceased to resemble a human being because it got cut up so badly before dying. The game doesn't even need to tell you to run like the dickens when you see this thing.

6. X-ATM092 (Final Fantasy VIII)

An early sequence of Final Fantasy 8 has the SeeD mercenaries-in-training complete their final exam, which is apparently to re-enact the Normandy landings where the Nazis are replaced with giant metal spider robots, like the X-ATM092 seen here. Because you're on the clock, when you finally complete the objective and the goonish recurring bosses set this giant bugbot on your tail, you need to intelligently consider your options: Fighting it is not a good option. Running is better. However, the reason this guy on the list is because of those options. You could fight the thing, but it's incredibly difficult to overcome its rapid regeneration unless you've overleveled yourself. You could hide and let it pass you by, but you'd be downgraded on the exam for cowardice. You can also scare a stray dog away so it won't get trampled for bonus compassion points. If you're able to make it back to the beach for extraction, you get a neat and slightly fetishistic cutscene of the hot librarian character gunning it down for you with the extraction ship's huge chaingun. It's just a fun early sequence all round, in a game that gets progressively dumber and harder to follow as it goes on.

5. Galcian (Skies of Arcadia)

Galcian is the military commander of the Valuan Fleet and the main antagonist of Skies of Arcadia. While the player does eventually get to face him in a regular boss battle, there are two instances where you're simply told he's too powerful and must make a break for it. The first of these is a sequence that perfectly highlights how scarily determined this man is: He calmly and silently stalks you on top of a moving train while you desperately run to the end to escape. The second has a major character sacrifice himself to give you a moment to escape; though this character is clearly no slouch in combat, it's a forlorn hope that he'll have any chance against Galcian and indeed is depicted dead in the very next scene, with Galcian admiring his courage. Similar to how overwhelming the mythos of Sephiroth becomes (who I feel is generally overrated at this point, but a definite contender for Badass of the Month back then), the game effectively builds a scary reputation - based on observations the player is both privy to and ignorant of - around this character and what they're capable of. Ramirez, in comparison, is just some punk who kills you a few times in those annoying unwinnable boss battles. Screw that guy.

4. ...Something (Silent Hill 3)

Silent Hill 3 treads familiar ground for most of its run. Though not as absurdly formulaic as future non-numerical entries would become, most of the scares and thrills in Heather Mason's journey to find her connection to Silent Hill had been covered by those taken by James Sunderland and her foster father Harry Mason (who perhaps began the whole Mason surname trend for video game protagonists) in the two previous games. Silent Hill 3 does have a few surprises in store though: One being the infamous "mirror" room and the scenes in the otherwise harmless Borley Haunted Mansion attraction in Silent Hill's theme park. Upon exiting the attraction, Heather is relentlessly pursued through a gauntlet of narrow corridors by the most enigmatic danger the town has ever presented: A fast-moving red mist that leaves footprints, an industrial whining and the distant echoed laughter of children. Silent Hill has been creepier and bloodier, but rarely has it matched this level of sheer what-the-fuck terror.

3. The Dahaka (Prince of Persia: The Warrior Within)

The Dahaka, like the Executioner, is a device used by the game (in this case, Prince of Persia: The Warrior Within) to occasionally test the acrobatic platforming prowess of both the protagonist and the player controlling them; An inability to stay one step ahead of this unbeatable menace would mean your death. So while this hardly elevates most chase bosses from, say, an ever-advancing wall of spikes or lava or thousands of spiders, the Dahaka is a special exception for being such a terrifying prospect for a player to deal with: It's no mere demon or sand monster but an incorporeal entity created by the space-time continuum to sort out uppity princes that decide to disrupt said continuum to save themselves. It is nothing short of a force of nature, and thus utterly unstoppable... at least until the game decides it's allergic to water for some reason. Because that plot development certainly made for a satisfying conclusion to Signs didn't it? The water thing does allow a temporary reprieve whenever a chase starts, but it's still such a disappointing cop-out. Still, the Dahaka is not to be trifled with - It already murdered a tiny dog with glasses, two weirdos in a Delorean and a couple of surfers in a phone booth long before it ever met the prince.


2. The Waterwraith (Pikmin 2)

I might just be letting my love of Pikmin 2 cloud my judgement putting this guy so high up on the list, but the Waterwraith created an interesting persistent puzzle for the Submerged Castle dungeon. Should Olimar and the Pikmin spend too long on any one floor of this oddly bathroom-tiled underground labyrinth this crazy music would start playing, the Waterwraith would drop out of the sky somewhere close and then start rolling towards you, with the intent to squish Olimar flat. While you could avoid him to an extent by keeping to the smaller niches and passageways, this omnipresent threat would stay with you until you were finally able to defeat him once and for all on the final floor after procuring a handful of Purple Pikmin. Most chase bosses are simply there to test your reflexes, or build some mystique around the character or world in which they appear, but the Waterwraith was a game-changer that forced you to reconsider your exploration strategy from "find garbage" to "stay the hell alive."

1. Baron Von Blubba (Bubble Bobble)

Blame nostalgia for this one if you'd like, as the Baron certainly doesn't look as visually impressive as the others on this list. But speaking for everyone who played Bubble Bobble as a tyke on the home consoles of the day, this little guy creeped the hell out of us. His very presence is the result of spending too long on any one stage; dawdling when there should be bubble bursting to be done. The invincible Baron von Blubba will simply chase you across the screen and kill you as soon as he appears out of the ether, with little recourse for the player than to hurry the fuck up and beat the stage. He's the ghost of a whale if you were wondering. He even has his ominous little tune, which goes to show how sophisticated games were back then: A little tune plays, everyone is eaten by ghost whales. No messing around.
Really, I could've also gone for the caged duck in Chuckie Egg for this slot. That thing was fierce.