December's Desura Dementia Deux - Part 2: BasketBelle, Super Space Rubbish and 8-Bit Commando

It's another part of my trio-based format for December's Desura Dementia, wherein I look at Desura games that are the niche-iest bunch of niche titles that ever niche'd. So tuck into some quiche as I unleash the niche by clumsily swinging my critical eye over these three Desura games like its some sort of judicious bardiche. This is awful wordplay. I don't know what to tell you.

Is it Asteroids? Is it Contra? Is it the Shoes?!

The game: Studio Bean's BasketBelle

The source: The Indie Royale Harvest Bundle

The pre-amble: BasketBelle is a basketball-themed platformer/action game in which a young man attempts to rescue his sister, Belle, from the shadowy forces that kidnapped her, using nothing but his prodigious basketball skills and the wise musings of his father. The gameplay tends to switch up between levels, but usually revolves about basketball in some way. Aesthetically, the game looks (and sounds, with its ambient soundtrack) like And Yet It Moves, with the same kind of cardboard cut-out/sketchbook look and European whimsy.

The playthrough: I kind of liked this game. It was pretty cute, had a few neat ideas for what it could do with its core basketball mechanic and ended quite satisfactorily after a couple of hours. Yep, I may have finished one of these "jump in for a first impression" games in a single setting, but it was a sweet couple of hours.

Thought it was kind of fitting that this game required Adobe AIR to run. Also kind of annoying, since I had to reinstall it before the game would work.

I'll start from the beginning: the initial goal of the game appears to be to beat various amorphous blobs that vaguely resemble creatures at basketball, by sliding and dodging and faking jump shots in order to make the net clear so you can score. Apparently, all one-on-one basketball games are to 11 points; and because that's kind of a lot of repeating the same boss-defeating process (if you think of how "boss puzzles" in games usually work, the magic Miyamoto method of only needing to score three hits is usually preferable because the enjoyment was in figuring out the method) the game finds interesting ways to subvert your expectations. For instance, it might magically allow you to score three baskets at once, or let a match continue while a small story snippet plays out and when the player resumes the game it's moved on a little and each player has scored a few more baskets apiece. Clever little touches like that persist through the whole game.

It's not all one-on-one matches either: early on, you get eaten by a snake and have to fight your way out through a bunch of puzzle rooms that require some clever use of the running/juking mechanics you've just been taught. Later, you'll learn to fly (must be the Air Jordans) and have a few stages floating through a lightning storm. The way it keeps surprising you right up until the end, and layers in more and more of the backstory as it goes on, kept me glued to the game until its conclusion. I wasn't expecting a whole lot, but excepting a few rough spots I was pleasantly surprised with how much fun I had.

The verdict: I beat the game so I won't be going back. A short and sweet Indie puzzle-platformer.

The game: Slakinov Games' Super Space Rubbish

The source: Reward for buying at least 10 Indie Royale bundles.

The pre-amble: Super Space Rubbish is a 2D space shmup that deliberately evokes the Atari Arcade classic Asteroids. While the presentation is all blocky rocks and triangular ships, the player is mining the rocks and collecting money to upgrade their craft. They must be on the look out for the spacecraft of competing claim-jumpers and bizarre astronomical phenomenon.

The game's optional backstory reveals a Douglas Adams-esque plan to "deconstruct" the Earth in the 31st century after it was deemed unprofitable to Tesco's, the megacorporation that owned it. Various enterprising types, such as yourself, are attempting to mine what few resources are left in the Earth's remains: an asteroid belt filled with debris and odd lifeforms.

The playthrough: Super Space Rubbish has some interesting ideas, chief of which was taking the sort of acquisition-mining and space combat 2D space-faring games like SPAZ, which all kind of began with Asteroids and its multi-directional movement so long ago, and returning them to their ancestral home. While it's about as fun as Asteroids usually is, the game moves extremely slowly: for whatever reason there's a shop drone that allows you to spend money and a completely separate one that lets you sell off all the materials you've been mining. Which means you can only upgrade every two "stages", and it takes a lot of money to upgrade essentials like weapon strength, armor and energy regeneration. Most vitally, extra lives (actually escape pods) cost a prohibitively high number of credits for the early game and don't come back if you try continuing after a game over - you have to make it through the rest of the game on one life. You keep everything you've upgraded/earned up until your destruction, so there's always a chance of scraping through or simply grinding for new upgrades if a particular stage is too tough, but as I stated before: it's a pretty glacial process.

You thought I was kidding about the Asteroids comparison? At least it's all... bloomy. Like Geometry Wars.

I did want to like this game though. I can't even imagine how many hours I spent playing Asteroids back in the day. Probably as much as I spent playing Elite, which is itself a big influence on these types of "mining/trading/upgrading in a constant loop" space game. Maybe if I sharpen my skills a little, I can survive one more stage with the single life each continue gives you. Or I can start over and just try to hold onto them until I can afford some better upgrades. Neither sounds particularly palatable though.

The verdict: See above. It's a neat little game that does some interesting things with Asteroids' very basic model, both graphically and mechanically, but it's just too incremental for its own good. Thousands of dollars for a new weapon when I'm earning a couple hundred every other level? Who does it benefit to make the player wait that long between major upgrades?

The game: 2DEngine's 8-Bit Commando

The source: The Retro Groupee Bundle

The pre-amble: 8-Bit Commando is a throwback side-scrolling run and gun very much in the style of Contra, or the many other games of the period with the same type of gameplay. Your shirtless dude can run, jump, shoot in multiple directions and basically die a lot. Everything in this game, from its graphical presentation to its music to its title screen art, is evocative of a time when this is what we (well, let's say those just hitting their 30s) did as adorable little tyke gamers holding NES controllers and cursing at a seventh-grade level. Which is to say, play as buff army dudes shooting everything in sight with very little plot to follow. It'd be hard to imagine games with that sort of description being popular today, I'd bet.

The playthrough: No, no, I get it. Everyone liked Contra a whole lot and we haven't really seen a resurgence of that mix of balls-hard difficulty and endless amounts of giant vehicles and goofy army drones to blow up. At least to the same extent as, say, 2D platformers.

8-Bit Commando does have a few ideas up its non-sleeves, such as enforcing a strict time limit that allows the player to resume their game as often as they'd like from checkpoints in lieu of a lives system, but should that time limit run out it's back to the very start of the stage for Mr Ersatzenegger: this ensures that the player won't get frustrated by losing the scant few lives they have on a couple of dumb errors, but is still required to practice the stage old-school style until they're able to reach the boss and beat it before the (admittedly quite generous, considering) time limit expires.

Well, at least it's not a damn helicopter. Hate those things.

It's just... we've moved on a lot since those days, and there's no reason why you can't make a modern game that just so happens to have that same style of frantic 2D run-and-gun action. Something as sharp-looking as Hard Corps: Uprising or as mechanically in-depth as Mercenary Kings are what I want to see from this genre going forward. I mean, that's assuming I wanted anything from this genre whatsoever, which I generally don't (sorry @pollysmps); I get my ass handed to me enough by games like Dark Souls already, thanks. It's fun to look back, but why not play Contra if that's the case? Why make 8-bit games in this day and age? Make modern games with an older generation's ideas and attitudes if you'd like, but leave the past in the past.

I suppose I don't really get it after all.

The verdict: Nah. It's not a bad game for what it is; as throwbacks go it's remarkably faithful and its graphics and animation are suspiciously good for a supposed 8-bit game. But... I'd rather just play Contra. Or anything else, really.

Part 1Part 2Part 3Part 4Part 5
Start the Conversation

December's Desura Dementia Deux - Part 1: Gentrieve 2, LogiGun and Reef Shot

Hey folks and welcome to another monthly feature of mine, returning for its second year. I make a big furor about Steam every March, but it's easy to neglect its smaller, Indie-r brother Desura - a digital distribution service that focuses more on smaller studios and developers, and were selling games in Alpha states before it was cool. Many Desura-only games are on the waiting list to be Greenlighted, or have chosen to eschew Valve's draconian admission process entirely. Subsequently, many of them have slipped through the cracks and avoided any major coverage, and so I want to give them and the service some ups (and, yeah, maybe I also want to find out if all this weird Indie stuff I've been sitting on is worth playing).

Last time, I picked fourteen games that looked interesting and went through them in alphabetical order. Since I've been buying even more Desura games this year (I blame the Indie Royale bundles) I decided to stick everything in my Desura library that wasn't yet available on Steam into a random item selector and just see where fate takes me. Also, because I have a few 2013 games I want to see out before the end of this year, I'm grouping these Desura posts into three per update, with three day delays between each. No need to spam everyone's notifications again so soon after Octurbo...

Photography, Physics and Phr00t

The game: Gentrieve 2

The source: The Indie Royale Spring Sun Bundle

The pre-amble: Gentrieve 2, from phr00t, has been described (by me, right now, at my most loquacious) as a procedurally-generated 3D first-person shooter roguelike Metroidvania, in which each "fortress" level is built from scratch using only a sixteen character code as the basis. Players progress through an abstract world of geometric shapes and platforms, fighting off cuboid enemies, looking for power-ups and attempting to reach the end goal: the Mass Generator, which is at the core of each of these fortresses.

The playthrough: Gentrieve 2 is a really odd experiment in PCG, but I'm not entirely convinced it's quite at where it wants to be. Though the easy money would be on a Minecraft comparison, the game actually bothers with more than simple cubes. I mean, there's, uh, spheres as well. The first-person shooter gameplay is kind of basic and perfunctory, as is the platforming, but the game's not kidding about being a Metroidvania: you even get your own 3D map that auto-updates locations with their contents and even color-codes them if they happen to be one-way tunnels or boss chambers or what have you.

It's sort of like Metroid Prime running on a lot fewer polygons. Or Quake on a lot more.

Though I didn't play it a particularly long time, I took a spin on two different dungeons: one that I asked the computer to generate for me, the other I created myself with the non-sequitur phrase "HelloChineseBaby". What's a little remarkable is how much easier the game's randomly generated fortress was: I might be imagining it (and I should probably build more than two dungeons before jumping to conclusions) but I'm thinking there might be something in the game's algorithms designed to cough up a simple dungeon to acclimatize new players. "HelloChineseBaby" was definitely no joke, and I was getting stomped by rooms full of enemies, spike traps and an enormous spherical boss room way too soon into my adventure. It is definitely a little exciting, in a weird way, to create your own randomized dungeon adventures, and this has been a selling point for many roguelikes since their inception. I just wish I had more to do than run around a bunch of blocky rooms shooting things; considering the player is remotely controlling a high-tech military drone, I can't see why this couldn't have been more like Descent. Now that'd be a confusing but fun mess of a procedurally generated game.

The verdict: It's not too bad. I don't think its basic gunplay and platforming could sustain someone's interest to the same extent as the endless creativity of Minecraft or Terraria, but there's a kernel of an idea here that might potentially be a bigger deal further down the road. Who wouldn't want to play a procedurally-generated Metroidvania game? (Like that in-the-works Chasm game, maybe, or perhaps Gentrieve 3?)

The game: LogiGun

The source: The Indie Royale Debut 3 Bundle

The pre-amble: LogiGun is a 2D puzzle-platformer. Yep, one of those. As is often the case with these things, you have to use your environment, your character's abilities, the game's physics engine and your own wits to get from point A to point B. There might also be a story that explains what's going and why you're doing all these puzzles, maybe.

The playthrough: I don't want to be hard on LogiGun. It's very much content with what it is, and assumes the player is too, because the puzzle difficulty is quite challenging right off the bat. It'll tutorialize everything out of a sense of duty, but you'll be throwing boxes around and hitting switches in a specific order in no time at all. It has quite a few interesting ideas and wasn't going to wait around for me to get used to the last introduced mechanic before tossing a few more my way, which is always appreciated in this era of slowing the eff down to allow those at the bottom of the class to catch up. I'm being mean for no reason now, but the crux of the matter is that I like a game that sets a strong pace and tasks you with keeping up with it: not to make the internet's millionth malapropos Dark Souls comparison or anything, but that's the type of situation that I'm referring to.

Hey, buzz off Mr (Mrs?) Hologram, I got boxes to stack on other boxes.

The game's presentation is initially barebones: it's more interested in the puzzles than developing any specific aesthetic. In that sense, and this could be applied to the above Gentrieve 2, it feels like a game designed by a coder rather than an artist. Nothing wrong with that, of course, just that when you have a small team your priorities lean either on one thing or the other, and I'd probably prefer a lot of fancy mechanics that work than a lot of fancy pictures on the whole. Eventually, a mysterious anime person started conversing with the mute protagonist, so I'm guessing that's where the game will start to explain what its deal is and break out of its monochrome walls and lasers shell a bit.

The verdict: Obviously we've seen a lot of games like this in the Indie boom of the past few years: Closure, The Swapper, Gateways, Rochard... and those are just the 2D ones which focus on (mostly) realistic physics. I wish I had an answer for what a game like this could do to stand out. "Having a story" no longer cuts it, because that's become as much of a requisite at this point as competent puzzle design. It might just be that you're either down for some clever physics puzzles and can't get enough of the literal dozens of these things out there, or we're looking at an ever-decreasing demand for these Portal-a-likes (being deliberately reductive here; no coining new genres for me). LogiGun, for what it's worth, seems like a good "one of these" at a reasonable price.

The game: Reef Shot

The source: Adventure RPG Groupee

The pre-amble: Reef Shot's an undersea photography game that largely focuses on taking pictures of pretty, pretty fish. There's also a side-plot concerning the lost Mayan El Dorado tribe, the Spanish Conquistadors that attempted to chase them down several centuries ago and a mysterious lost prophecy. No telling what the prophecy is about, but the game is set during December 2012 if that helps. Fortunately, I can do you one better than this pre-amble, because there's a Quick Look (featuring the rare pairing of Drew and Patrick!) you can watch.

The playthrough: Honestly, I'm sort of ambivalent about Reef Shot. I tend to enjoy these underwater exploration games, but so far it's been rather rigid in what it's allowed me to do. The sole goal (at least so far) is to follow the instructions on screen: this means taking pictures of specific fish, or snapping a picture of a plane wreck or something equally interesting that isn't piscine-related. The game actually won't let you continue until you've done whatever it asks of you, so with many cases you're told to swim out to a transponder beacon and hunt out whichever fish species you're told to snap, often several times, rather than go around snapping everything in your view and moving on at your own pace. The game also doesn't catalog anything, nor score you points on how your photos turned out: instead, points are rewarded in the form of stars which can be spent on the fly for one-off bonuses like a free oxygen/camera refill or for the game to helpfully point out where the next fish is.

I heard you like photographing fish, so I photographed this fish photography game so you can something in your something, I dunno. I'm really motivated to finish this Xzibit meme, you can tell.

There's something to be said for reining in the amount of freedom a player has, because often this freedom can cause them to swim around in circles and stress out about what to do, but at the same time that freedom is also fundamental part of these relaxing aquatic games. I'm hoping the game expands out a little in future levels and maybe gives me a checklist of target spots and lets me have at them in any order I choose. I don't know if I want to keep following commands rather than go exploring on my own. All this linearity makes it feels like an on-rails arcade game, in a way, or maybe a tour at SeaWorld.

Reef Shot does look great though. If I'm not mistaken (and I can't admit I've been following this specific genre too closely), the last serious one of these underwater photo games was Endless Ocean: Blue World on the Wii, which means that Reef Shot could potentially be the best looking game of its type right now, at least with all the settings turned up. That seems like an important consideration for a game focused on its many wonderful aquatic sights and beautiful fish. The perks you get by spending stars gives you plenty of reason to want to take good pictures, since it might mean the difference between being able to refill your tank or having to bow out early, but it's a little dispiriting that you never see any results of your photography. Plus, without the wreckage exploration tension or salvage fun of Everblue, it just doesn't stack up to Arika's PS2 series in terms of fun. I need more to do than take pictures of fish and statues, consarnit. Is that too unreasonable to ask?

The verdict: Reef Shot's fine so far, and offers players an experience that not is not exactly in high supply. If it keeps going with this tedious "photo this same fish five times" malarkey it probably won't keep my interest for much longer, though.

Part 1Part 2Part 3Part 4Part 5
Start the Conversation

The Comic Commish: The Previous Generation (Jul-Dec 2007)

Hey folks and welcome to another fashionably late Comic Commish: my monthly expression of gratitude for my magnanimous Gold membership sponsor @omghisam. If you didn't catch last month's inaugural feature (or any Comic Commishes before then), I simply doodle a bunch of stickfolk that vaguely resemble video game peoples doing video game stuff.

The spin for this sponsorship year (October '13 to September '14) is that I revisit consecutive six month periods from the previous generation and talk about some of the games I enjoyed from that segment of the seventh generation's timeline. It's become a common practice, I hear, to occasionally "skip" a generation and come back to it once newer consoles are out and everything from the previous is cheap and cheerful. If you've been sleeping on the PS3/Wii/360 generation and need to catch up, here's a good place to start. Well, if you like JRPGs anyway, since that's mostly what I'm covering.

The period highlighted for November is the latter half of 2007. Some good stuff in here, far better than the shaky first half.

If You Were 18 When These Games Came Out, You'd Be 24 Now. That's... Not All That Impressive a Fact, Really.

Blue Dragon (Mistwalker, 360, August '07)

So when I started this thing, I figured I'd concentrate on good games. But then Sam decided that I should really just focus on JRPGs, since they're the sort of thing that aren't really covered to any serious extent on Giant Bomb. On his own head be it.

Blue Dragon is the first Mistwalker RPG, created exclusively for the Xbox 360 due to a special agreement with Microsoft Studios. It has a bunch of Akira Toriyama characters (Sakaguchi clearly still had a few connections after leaving Square) running around a really quite attractive cartoon world fighting robots and a creepy old guy who cackles a lot and looks eerily like Mr Burns by way of Piccolo. As would be the case with all Mistwalker games to come, several of Blue Dragon's aspects are torn right out of old Final Fantasies and reconfigured to befit a modern RPG: specifically, the fan-favorite Job system has been modified to allow for more customization within each individual job while reducing the overall number of possible jobs to switch between, streamlining the system a bit without sacrificing too much of its complexity. Honestly, it's not like anyone used half of FFV's jobs, and Tactics's unit versatility kind of fell by the wayside once ninjas, calculators and T.G. "Hello, I'm here to break your game" Cid showed up, so I'm kind of with Mistwalker on this one.

Eternal Sonata (Tri-Crescendo, 360 [later PS3], September '07)

The issue with Eternal Sonata is that it starts slow and wears you down from the outset by coupling its initially unimpressive but perfunctory combat with the all-too-earnest story about Frederic Francois Chopin's Magical Adventures Through Fantasyland and a cast of anime mannequins with cute music-related names. This is actually a test for patient players as the game will start to pick up as it introduces more characters and adds layers of complexity to its combat, slowly introducing chains, group combos, active blocking and its light/dark mechanics, eventually resulting in a game with a solid gameplay core beneath its treacly exterior. It's worth saying also that the game's graphics and its soundtrack (which includes a few Chopin pieces, naturally) are absolutely beautiful, even half a decade later. Once you're blatting out 32 hit combos with Salsa and laying out merciless Harmony Chain after Harmony Chain against the end-game bosses, you'll wonder why the game couldn't have been this satisfying to begin with.

Mass Effect (BioWare, 360/PC, November '07)

My inability to draw a Mako Tank (let alone ride one) aside, there's nothing I could say about Mass Effect that hasn't already been said a dozen times over. The first game had an experimental style, in that it kind of threw about a dozen different movies' worth of sci-fi tropes at the player while somehow still creating a universe that felt entirely new. Shepard's first battle with the ominous Reapers, introduced through their harbinger Sovereign (but not their sovereign, Harbinger, who appears later), is one that is superbly drawn out and the way the game allows the player to dictate the order of the big set-pieces is a subtly clever way of putting agency in the player's hands while still persisting with a solidly linear story. Great moments, wonderful layered characters, a soundtrack and presentation that was clearly engineered by sci-fi buffs who knew a thing about a thing when it came to starships and romancing blue/green alien ladies and some really really slow elevators combine to create one of the most impressive and memorable western RPGs of the previous generation.

And this is where I write something about how Mass Effect 2 was better and then scurry away while giggling to myself.

The Other Ones!

(I'm not going to bother creating a "list" list and pray to Holy Hardcore Snider that the blogging code plays nice and actually allows me to embed it this time. I'll just create a bulletpoint list instead. Y'know, old school listing.)

  • Jeanne d'Arc (Level-5, PSP, August '07) - This Level-5 strategy RPG lacks some of the vastness of their PS2 games, but is still a solid SRPG in the FFT mold with a few tricks up its sleeve. Its re-imagining of the 100 Years War as some kind of demon-inspired fantasy brouhaha with gothy androgynous anime Gilles de Rais and inexplicable leonine beastman La Hire helping out a rather intense version of Joan of Arc is also kind of charming, in its own way.
  • Shin Megami Tensei: Persona 3 (Atlus, PS2, August '07) - Persona 3 needs no introduction, though after the last Comic Commish I didn't feel like I should include any more PS2 RPGs because of that whole "PS2 is previous gen" technicality business. Still, Persona 3 was released during this period and is one of the best late-period PS2 games. After Persona 4, of course.
  • BioShock (Irrational Games, Multi, August '07) - Right, BioShock. It was kind of a big deal at the time, and from all accounts still is with its most recent sequel in the considerations for Game of the Year. Well, by some at least. The original took System Shock 2's template of a horror-themed first-person RPG shooter and gutted all the spaceships and AIs business for a steampunk world inspired by Objectivism and a retro-futuristic city at the bottom of the ocean. There'll be no accusations, just unfriendly mutations under the seeeea.
  • Metroid Prime 3: Corruption (Retro Studios, Wii, August '07) - One of the best uses of a Nintendo IP in recent memory, the Metroid Prime trilogy closed out with this Wii sequel that managed to make Wii Remote controls not suck and expanded its scope to include several well-realized planets for Samus to visit. Whether you're cautiously making your way across a Bespin lookalike, dodging acid rain on the Space Pirate homeworld or poking your way through an especially eerie derelict space hulk, Metroid Prime 3 recovered from the fumble that was Metroid Prime 2 and pulled out what was perhaps the best of the three games.
  • Two Worlds (Reality Pump, PC/360, August '07) - I just find Two Worlds endlessly amusing. What was clearly meant to be a pretender to Oblivion's throne, with its huge world filled with quests and dungeons, was ultimately a very buggy, laughably-voiced RPG with a story that made very little sense. I've heard Two Worlds Two is a lot better, but I almost don't want to play a competent version of this game. It wouldn't be anywhere near as fun.
  • The Legend of Zelda: The Phantom Hourglass (Nintendo, DS, October '07) - Phantom Hourglass is the first true sequel to Wind Waker, continuing where its progenitor left off with Link continuing his seafaring adventures in a world absent Ganon's shadow. Most of the Wind Waker charm survives intact, with a curious stylus-led control system and a Deppish new character in the duplicitous but goodhearted Linebeck.
  • Chibi-Robo: Park Patrol! (Skip Ltd, DS, October '07) - The second Chibi-Robo game isn't anywhere near as fun or clever as the first, but it's still a Chibi-Robo game. That means careful power management, adventure game puzzles, slowly transforming a rundown environment into a haven with diligent effort and a charming presentation that looks at a world far too small to be of notice to us giant human types. It's a little hard to explain what Chibi-Robo is to those who haven't played it (action-adventure-RPG cleaning simulator?) but if you can't find the original GameCube game, this is almost a worthy substitute.
  • Folklore (Game Republic, PS3, October '07) - Game Republic's games had a certain schizophrenic level of quality, but they did put out a few great games between Dragon Ball spin-offs and, ugh, Knights Contract. Brave Story: New Traveler, Majin and the Forsaken Kingdom and this game, Folklore, were all weird and wonderful in their own way. Majin and Folklore especially feel like lost Studio Ghibli movies, with Folklore featuring a menagerie of fairyfolk inspired by Celtic legends and a couple of humans who get caught up in a civil war between two factions of odd characters. It's a pretty decent action RPG that has you ripping the souls out of monsters and using them to fight other monsters, like some Shang Tsung horrorshow version of Pokemon.
  • The Orange Box (Valve, Multiplatform, October '07) - The star of The Orange Box is Portal, a small game with some great ideas. That's not to disparage the lasting success of Team Fortress 2 or the creativity of the two Half-Life addenda episodes, but Portal was the reason you wanted to buy this thing for consoles. Valve's in a position now where they don't ever need to make another game again, let alone such a grand compilation: they could probably subsist on Steam royalties and Team Fortress 2/DOTA 2 hats until the end of time.
  • Zack and Wiki: Quest for Barbaros' Treasure (Capcom, Wii, October '07) - Zack and Wiki didn't make much of a furore when it came out, mostly due to it being a Wii game, but it's one of the most brilliant deconstructions of an inventory-based adventure game that I've ever played. It has such a joyful spirit about its incremental puzzle lunacy as well, with lots of Capcom references and collectibles to find. Best of all, it re-introduces the idea of having a point-and-click style game where everything you need to solve a puzzle is on the same screen, negating the need to lug around a giant rucksack full of single-use junk everywhere you go.
  • The Witcher (CD Projekt RED, PC, October '07) - The Witcher began CD Projekt RED's franchise of serious Baldur's Gate contenders, after BioWare moved away from the strict table-top rulesets for more accessible fare. The Witcher was there to pick up where they left off, though, and with two games and a third on its merry way we have one of the greatest in-depth western RPG franchises of the last decade. The cynical yet irresistible Geralt of Rivia is such a great character too, which definitely helps when you're forced to memorize a few complex combat systems in order to keep him alive.
  • Ratchet and Clank Future: Tools of Destruction (Insomniac Games, PS3, October '07) - Ratchet and Clank's first PS3 foray is a huge graphical leap, if an otherwise standard business-as-usual iteration in one of Sony's most consistently excellent exclusive franchises. Honestly, it's getting hard for me to tell these games apart, but I'd be happy to recommend any one of them. Tools of Destruction, I believe, does a fair job of acclimatizing new players due to it being the first for a new console generation, so if you haven't yet leapt into the clever Saturday morning cartoon world of R & C, ToD might be a good place to start.
  • Super Mario Galaxy (Nintendo, Wii, November '07) - Well, Eurogamer just declared Super Mario Galaxy to be the Game of the Generation, and who am I to question their decision? It's not my personal pick, nor the Giant Bomb forum's, but it definitely deserves to be in the running for that accolade. It's just incredible.

Anyway, that ought to be enough to be getting on with if you're in the mood for some six year old video games. Man, that is a pretty creepy sentence to say out loud. Now, if you'll excuse me, I need to tell a green Luigi man to stop dying constantly. New Super Luigi U is no joke, despite being a giant joke about how Luigi's kind of a goofball.

8 Comments

Soundtracks of the Generation

No, this is not another contest. Games are already too much a matter of taste already without adding something as patently subjective as music on top of it. Rather, I'm just curious what everyone's favorite soundtracks of the past seven-ish years have been? I've thrown together a list here (but not a list list, since they still won't let you hyperlink) of twenty of my favorite overall soundtracks from 360, PS3, Wii, DS, PSP and PC (post-2005) games and a subsequent runner-up smattering of single tracks from otherwise exemplary OSTs.

(Because YouTube videos to copyrighted music tend to disappear faster than the morning dew, I've left the entire titles of the tracks featured for people to copy/paste into Google/YouTube in case the videos they link to are already down.)

(Though I don't intend this to become a popularity contest, absolutely feel free to post your own favorites in the comments. Try to limit the number of embedded videos if you can, as having a lot can start to pile on the bandwidth.)

Xenoblade Chronicles

Xenoblade Chronicles is a remarkable game by many metrics with which one might judge a video game already. It looks incredible, it has a truly unique setting, it effortlessly merges JRPG creativity with Western RPG design, it has a overpowered furball that can bring down monsters twenty times its size. Its best feature far and away though is its soundtrack. An outstanding 92 tracks, many of which are day/night remixes, from the cream of the Japanese game composer crop.

The quality consistency of so many tracks from so many composers just completely baffles me. I have no idea how Monolith Soft pulled this off.

Nier

Nier's a difficult game to recommend, because it feels almost deliberately old-fashioned in a lot of ways and aggressively bizarre in others. Its affecting soundtrack, though, is universally adored by anyone who played through the game, whether they enjoyed the overall experience or not.

Apparently, a lot of the singing was done in a language based on Gaelic but otherwise entirely fictional. If there's meaning to be found in those lyrics, it's not for us to know. As enigmatic as anything else in Nier, then. (The same team is working on Drakengard 3's soundtrack, from what I hear. I might have to step into that nightmarish world of inter-dimensional infant abominations and implied incestual overtones once again.)

Shatter

Created by Indie musician Module, Shatter's soundtrack is - again - the clear highlight in an otherwise fun, HouseMarque-esque cybernetic re-imagining of the old Atari game BreakOut from Sidhe. Shatter usually hovers around a dollar in price whenever the Steam sales come around, and it's worth it for the music alone. I elected for an eclectic electro soundtrack as a nice change from all the orchestral JRPG music I'll be putting up here, but it really is a remarkable piece when heard from start to finish. It's the Discovery of video game OSTs, if one could make a hyperbolic statement like that without a few unfortunate "Citizen Kane of video games" overtones (though in all honesty, it does sound like what the musician was going for, even to my musically untrained ears).

Super Meat Boy

Danny Baranowsky is rightfully getting his dues as an iconic Indie game maestro due to his musical contributions to Edmund McMillen's output. His frenetic Super Meat Boy soundtrack is not only his best recognized but possibly his best full stop. A similar case could be made for The Binding of Isaac's great, moody music as well.

Perhaps one of the best design decisions made for Super Meat Boy was to not interrupt the music whenever Meat Boy met a grisly end, but then the alternative would've probably sounded like a record caught on a five second loop with the way I play.

The Last Remnant

The Last Remnant can be a bit of an unholy mess of byzantine character development systems and texture pop-in insanity, but its soundtrack and sense of scale are above reproach. Being able to direct entire armies in regular turn-based RPG battles didn't get old for me, even with the odd limitations the game made regarding what I could use and when.

Though I've leaned heavily on its metal-as-fuck battle music with my selection above, it also has a lot of great ambient dungeon and town tracks. Like Xenoblade, its soundtrack is enormous enough to be spread across three discs, but almost all of it is golden.

(Nisus and Schismogenesis comprise the two-part final boss theme, hence the double-placing. Without giving too much away about the final battle itself, Schismogenesis's appearance is a very bad harbinger.)

Super Mario Galaxy

Probably a foregone conclusion that the music in a Super Mario game would be superlative, but it's easy to forget with the amount of recycling the New Mario games have done that the folk at Nintendo - Mahito Yakota and Koji Kondo specifically - can hammer out an incredible soundtrack from time to time. Nostalgia aside, Galaxy's full orchestral soundtrack is the biggest musical accomplishment in the Mario series and one of the most legitimately impressive albums on this list. But then I'm a sucker for jumping on Goombas, so maybe there's a bias. (Nope.) (It's amazing.) (Also, I guess technically speaking Super Mario Galaxy 2 has an equally good soundtrack, but it's really more of the same. In every respect.)

Now if only I could get Club Nintendo EU to acknowledge that I've bought a Wii U so I can finally earn enough Happy Disney Currency Equivalent to buy that Super Mario Galaxy OST off them.

VVVVVV

VVVVVV's soundtrack, composed by SoulEye, is some impressively catchy chiptune music that earwormed its way into my head during the handful of hours it took me to explore and collect everything in the unstable and hazardous universe Captain Viridian and his crew find themselves trapped in. Both the visuals and the music are a love letter to the Commodore 64, and to its many talented composers like Martin Galway, Rob Hubbard and Tim Follin.

I don't know why it's worth noting, but just as every character in the game has a name that begins with V, every track in the OST has a name that begins with P. I'm not quite sure what the significance is, but then there's a lot in this game I'm not sure about. How gravity works, for one thing.

Radiant Historia

I have to fight the temptation to just add every soundtrack that Yoko Shimomura worked on in the last generation of consoles. She's just about supplanted Nobuo Uematsu as the one composer I'm always happy to see listed in a game's credits before I start playing it.

Radiant Historia's soundtrack emphasizes a purer form of the standard JRPG orchestral soundtrack, divorced from the usual synthesizer additions. Shimomura's particularly fond of violins, and it's hard to escape them in RH's reserved music. But then why would you want to?

Bastion

Greg Kasavin and Supergiant Games really went all out with the production values on Bastion, creating a beautiful watercolor-influenced world with one of the best Indie soundtracks in memory. The gameplay itself was a bit more of an acquired taste, but that's probably a matter for debate. The soundtrack has a great, unique folksy flavor to it that manages to enrapture or excite whenever the situation at hand calls for it, and I'm impressed by its hard mood swings after listening to it in its entirety when packed together in a playlist.

It's probably a bit of a forum meme at this point to include Bastion on every "best of" list going, but hey, I liked it a lot. Well, the music anyway. I think I soured on the game itself after the twentieth attempt on that blunderbuss bonus trial stage, or hearing the Kid's origin story over and over on the many arena runs. Bah. (Still a big fan, Greg! Can't wait for Transistor!)

Neotokyo

Neotokyo is a Source Engine mod I'd never heard of prior to discovering its soundtrack by Ed Harrison. Eschewing my usual beating around the bush, this OST is just phenomenal from beginning to end. I almost can't believe something this good was attached to a free Indie Source mod. It's largely electro and drum n' base, from what little I know about musical nomenclature, but there's a strong emphasis on emotional beats that actually makes listening to the whole playlist kind of draining after a little while. One of my favorite soundtracks from this generation from a game I've never played, nor am likely to. I'm such a poseur.

As well as the selection of tracks above, you can download the entire soundtrack on the artist's page in MP3 or FLAC form for free. Suspicious, right? Why give this away?

(So now we're at the halfway point, I'm going to drop the number of song links to three for the next ten items. I mean, we'll be here all week otherwise.)

Ys Seven

Ys Seven is, believe it or not, the seventh Ys game. I guess they ran out of fancy subtitles. I believe it's only truly new Ys game this generation (besides Origin, which is more of a spin-off anyway), as number six was that PS2 game Ark of Napishtim from a few years back. Seven is still some Ys-ass Ys business, which means a lot of great boss fights and a lot of great music to go with same. Falcom always assembles a lot of very busy tunes for their RPGs and listening to its music again reminds me that I've been meaning to check out Trails in the Sky for the longest time. By the time I get around to this PSP Special Edition I bought at moderate expense the Steam version will have been out and on sale at least once for 75% off, causing no end of irritation.

Oh right, Ys Seven. It's got a fine soundtrack overall but its battle music is really the money melon, so to speak. It just so happens I might've accidentally selected three boss themes. Oops. Funny, that.

Dark Souls

Maybe I'm just bitter that it lost the GotG poll (but not so bitter I won't be giving ME 2 its due later, don't worry) and want to keep carrying a bonfire-lighting torch for it in some way, but Dark Souls' soundtrack is both amazing in how it sounds and in how it's used: There is very little music in Dark Souls. Lordran is not a particularly musical place. So when a song starts playing, it has some meaning behind it. Firelink Shrine has a somber theme, to suggest a sanctuary of a sort, but almost all the music in the main game comes from the boss battles. These boss themes, all unique, are more like leitmotifs for their respective opponents: Seath's signifies his madness, Gwyn's his utterly broken spirit, Sif's sad resolution with what you have forced her to do - these emotions are all carried by their songs, which are as important to the game's very unintrusive and subtext-driven lore as the odd snippets you gain from reading item descriptions and listening to NPC hints.

Now, can we quit talking about Dark Souls? We all know it's the greatest game of the generation. Let's not beat a dead V-Bomb, here.

Fez

Since there won't be another Fez for, uh, one reason or another, we can now appreciate this game for its uniqueness on top of everything else. A wolf in sheep's clothing, Fez lures you in with its cutesy pixel graphics, clever little world spinning gimmick and an ambient soundtrack that doesn't so much get you geared up for adventure than really make its world feel lived in and a little lonely. Of course, it then goes off the rails a little when the focus switches to hunting for the elusive anti-cubes that make up the considerably more involved second half of the game.

Though even while jumping through inter-dimensional portals for matter-negating tchotchkes and dodging the resulting fissures in the fragile veil of reality, the music lends a certain down-to-earth nature to everything. Well, except for where the tracks sound like they're glitching out a little. Maybe Fez is going for an "old, forgotten NES game that had gotten a bit moldy in the attic in the interim" sort of approach with its soundtrack, but given all the insanity of its meta-language and lateral thinking puzzles it's probably going for something a little more... impalpable. Whatever the hell that means. Jeez, why do I always sound like this whenever I try to talk about this game?

Final Fantasy XIII

That's more like it - overdramatic JRPG music is a little more in my comfort zone. Who'd have thought that a game in a series that had an entirely separate game built around its good music would have good music? So crazy. Final Fantasy XIII is probably only the favorite FF game to a small fraction of the series's fanbase (and don't tell me if you are one of those people, because you scare me) but its music is still a stand out. Square-Enix never skimps on the presentation of its flagship franchise, after all, even if some of the more important elements (story, characters) can often fall by the wayside.

Hey, whatever, we've established a few times since it came out that the game gets good at around the twenty hour mark. Its detractors are just being unreasonable. Cough.

Right, more about the soundtrack. There's quite a plethora of tracks with vocals, which wasn't something Final Fantasy really did beyond the occasional signature tune like FFVIII's Eyes on Me. I think we have Final Fantasy X-2 to blame for their marked increase. As well as for a lot of other things. Come at me, @arbitrarywater.

Double Dragon Neon

Double Dragon Neon wasn't so much a reboot in the sense of WayForward's later DuckTales re-imagining, but more of a love letter to a very silly period when brawlers were King. I almost found it amusing that Jeff took an immediate disliking to the game due to its undermining of Double Dragon's serious mythology (he was right on the money about its mediocre gameplay though). I mean, Double Dragon is a game where your girlfriend gets sucker punched in the gut and you have to run after her to a mystical temple in the middle of nowhere while avoiding giant musclemen in their briefs who may or may not have painted themselves green before challenging you.

What I'm saying is that Double Dragon was dumb and Double Dragon Neon deliberately so, but while a lot of its comedy is kind of broad and terrible, the era-appropriate soundtrack is superb. If it's not remixing the original themes in an aurally pleasing manner, Its either capturing the 80s feel with tracks like Neon Jungle and Glad I Am or being a big ol' goof with the Tapesmith's ridiculously OTT rock music (not to mention the snippets of 80s music parodies from the cassettes themselves) or the plaintive boss soliloquy Dared to Dream, which sees out the game.

The World Ends With You

The World Ends With You (or TWEWY as many fans call it, despite it sounding like the name of SWERY's hip-hop obsessed younger brother) is an achingly hip DS RPG from a few years back in which streetwise teenagers and reapers tangle in the streets of the brightly colored Shibuya shopping district. Something of a departure from the usual JRPG haunts of quasi-medieval Europe and whatever anachronism-filled settings Final Fantasy tends to come up with.

The music follows suit, creating many memorable tracks with a J-Pop flavor that wouldn't seem out of place in a Jet Set Radio game. I was actually a little concerned that it was all licensed music and I wouldn't be allowed to include it (which is why Hotline Miami isn't on here, for those wondering), but it was all actually created for the game. It's quite an achievement for the DS, considering how limited the sound output are on those things without headphones plugged in.

Journey

Austin Wintory's music for the sublime Journey is apparently built in such a way to respond to player stimulus, building up whenever the player approaches a site of importance and tying itself in with the sounds of collectibles and the like. As is the case with the rest of Journey's presentation, it feels very organic and player-focused, as if to cater itself to that specific player's quest.

It actually took a second listening divorced from the game itself to fully appreciate the music, because it's built in such a way to blend into the background in the most positive sense of the idea. Oh hey, guys, if you haven't played Journey yet you probably should. It's not going to change the way you think about life and the universe and stuff (that's what drugs are for) but it's really something that ought to be played for yourselves. And, unlike Flower or Flow, it's actually a game, so that's a big plus (cue angry responses).

Eternal Sonata

I'll be discussing Eternal Sonata in more detail with the next Comic Commish I'm working on, but the crayola anime adventures of one Frédéric François Chopin as he lies in a TB-induced fever dream aren't as bizarre or as cloying as one might initially expect from first impressions. I mean, sure, everyone spouts poetry before unleashing their special attacks and they all kind of look like adorable creepy mannequins of the sort you'd spot out of the corner of your eye on a dark night in an abandoned insane asylum only to be replaced with visions of blood and knives and the distant screaming of-

Wait, Eternal Sonata's soundtrack. Well, it splits its focus between actual Chopin pieces, performed by concert pianist Stanislav Bunin, and some quite excellent JRPG orchestral pieces by Motoi Sakuraba, who has probably been credited on more RPGs than any composer ever. Guy gets around, musically speaking. The final boss theme, Scrap and Build Ourselves, was apparently a little of column A and a little of column B, which is probably why it's so good.

No More Heroes

As was the case with The World Ends With You, Suda51's best game (I mean, we're all agreed on that, right? Say what you will about Killer7's bonkers presentation, but I don't think it played very well) has something of an eclectic pop music sensibility to it, with wildly varying styles between boss fights that made fighting those weirdos all the more memorable. I can't speak for its sequel's music, since I never did get around to playing it (it's on the backlog, I swear) but I'm always stoked to hear more crazy Engrish Japanese rap and rock music on a soundtrack. It's why the Ouendans always appealed more to me than Elite Beat Agents, with its Good Charlotte and Ashlee Simpson tunes. Blegh.

I do wonder if I haven't rated Pleather for Breakfast and We Are Finally Cowboys higher because I enjoyed the fights they belonged to so much. Those insta-death attacks were incredibly cheap but still looked cool as hell.

Opoona

Uh oh, have I lost my mind after writing up so many of these? Who the hell still remembers Opoona? Opoona's soundtrack is actually pretty damn good, with music that ranges from the sort of ambient theremin-heavy sci-fi muzak you'd hear in the background of any given Phantasy Star Online and some fun little melodies like Partizans, which almost sounds like it should be accompanying a magical anime girl transformation sequence. Don't look at me like that; I just found the music in Opoona to be extremely pleasant to listen to. Considering so much of the game is running around performing odd jobs for people, it's nice to have something soothing piping through the speakers while you get lost in what felt like a dozen consecutive futuristic shopping malls.

Oh, Opoona's not that bad, really. It's clearly meant for the tiniest of babies, but when that just means that a game has chosen to emphasize fun over spending several million dollars on 1080p explosion physics and hyper-realistic dog animations, I'm way the fuck on board. I think that sentiment extends to the Wii in general, for that matter.

All right, what follows are a list of single tracks from games with great music that didn't quite fit into my top twenty for one reason or another. It's still some of my favorite VGM ever, let alone from this last generation:

And, of course, Blue Dragon - Eternity. Can't forget that. Can't ever forget that...

So yeah, I think that's probably more video game music and words about video game music that I perhaps needed to include. I've missed a lot, though, so post away in the comments if you feel there's something that's been criminally overlooked. Thanks for reading, and here's hoping that the next generation can do even better.

7 Comments

Bundle Boggle: Groupees' Be Mine X (Part 2)

Man, it's been almost a week since I put out the first blog of this multi-part look at Groupees' new (well, old at this point) bundle Be Mine X: the tenth in their flagship series of Indie game/soundtrack collections. Last time, I covered four games that were available for anyone who paid at least the $1 minimum, and this time we check out the original four games given to consumers who spent five bucks or more. Might be a better idea if in the future I concentrate on the various "beat the average" games first, considering the higher potential cost-to-value ratio.

Anyway, because I've dithered so much, there's now an extra five games (not to mention a bunch of music LPs) that have been unlocked in the bundle: King's Bounty: Warriors of the North, Project Night, Little Gardens, Jazz: Trump's Journey ($5 or more) and Pid ($5 or more). I'll have to cover those in Part 3, should I manage to finish it before the bundle expires in three days.

The BMX Bundle: Part 2: Five Bucks Club (Still No Bikes)

Call of Juarez probably doesn't require much of an introduction. The first of what would become a hit-or-miss series of third-person shooters, Call of Juarez presents a good ol' Western full of revenge and redemption and resourcefulness and resentment and a lot of other words that begin with "re". Respiration; there's probably some of that. The game splits its focus between a former-gunslinger priest and his wayward but well-meaning half-Native American nephew, with the former having all sorts of slow-down bullet-time abilities at his disposal while the latter gets by on sneaking and running more often than not. It's sort of an elegant if inflexible solution to that Metal Gear Solid/Deus Ex stealth game quandary of choosing whether to go it full-bore or use a bit of subtlety: instead, the game has you alternate between both.

Call of Juarez both suffers and benefits from its age. It was made in a pre-Modern Warfare/pre-Gears (barely) era of FPS games back when they were all still trying to do their own thing, so while it's dragged down with some awkward mechanics (I don't know if I'll ever get used to that whip swinging, nor did I find the box moving too responsive), it still has its own personality. The bullet-time is goofy but still somewhat novel in its application (you need to put your guns away to activate it, which is a little cumbersome) and the story's not too bad from what little I saw of it, with one protagonist chasing down the other due to a case of mistaken identity. It's certainly rough around the edges, but it's not aged too poorly.

Face Noir is an earnest Indie adventure game that puts you in the (gum)shoes of a hardened 1930s New York private detective as he goes about solving crimes, getting drunk and pining for the dames what done him wrong. If there's a chief problem with Face Noir, and there's a few to choose from, its that the game is a little too attached to its genre: it puts all its cards on the table, reveling in the tropes of the very specific and well-trodden language of film noir without giving itself any means to set itself apart with a unique personality. To give you a better example of a noirish detective game: Discworld Noir, based on Terry Pratchett's novel series but not directly adapted from any one of them, takes all the recognizable elements of noir fiction and blends them with the fantasy universe of the Discworld novels. The result is a somewhat clever spoof on noir tropes in a universe where barely any of them would make sense; for instance, Ankh-Morpork is a city where you could theoretically solve a murder by waiting for the Disc's sardonic Grim Reaper to show up and asking him a few questions about the deceased. That game also demonstrably knew its Maltese Falcons and Double Indemnities back to front, but didn't simply ape the atmosphere and cadence of those movies and called it a day - rather, it took noir's recognizable elements and merged them with a fantasy world to create an amusingly incongruous juxtaposition.

Hey, buddy, Italian Colin Farrell only believes in whiskey, okay? So take a hike.

Anyway, I'm digressing a bit here because Face Noir doesn't have a whole lot going on: all its elements were either lifted from the fiction it venerates a little much (there's even a character based on Peter Lorre's slimy delivery, which is something even the Mega Man cartoon did) or, if we're talking about its mechanics, lifted from better adventure games. As well as the usual inventory puzzles, there are ones that can be solved by linking two facts together (like the LOOOGIC! of Ace Attorney Investigations) as well as a few other infrequent off-beat instances like that. I can't say I really enjoyed the time I spent with the game: it looks and feels a little too generic for its own good, the script isn't exactly sparkling with its one-liners and the character models are a bit too on the mannequin side of the uncanny valley. Still, though, if you're a fan of this specific sub-genre of crime fiction maybe there's more here for you to enjoy. It certainly doesn't skimp on the atmosphere at least.

Legends of Dawn is a game I wish I really could've figured out. Or maybe I don't, since from all reports it's not exactly the most well-crafted open-world experience ever put together. An RPG of the Elder Scrolls or Divine Divinity vein, where you're essentially dumped into a world and left to forge your own path with the many options available, Legends of Dawn hints at a hell of a lot of complexity early on - both in-game and externally with the many promises it made as a Kickstarter project that were apparently credible enough to allow it to reach its goal. A brief glance into the game's achievements shows how much there is to see and do in the game, with all its faction reputation management, combat styles, homestead improvements, item-crafting and so on. It was actually all a little intimidating, though in a good way.

But then I tried playing the game.

What does any of this stuff do? Why am I collecting it all? What is this?! It's like I'm finally reaping what I've sown for all my video game kleptomania.

I'm not sure if Legends of Dawn is incredibly slow or if it was just my PC struggling to get all its moving parts working. It certainly doesn't look like much, with graphics that resemble those of Neverwinter Nights 2 or Dungeon Siege, but I can't help but get that paranoid PC gaming feeling that either I'm letting it down or its letting me down without being fully cognizant of which is more accurate. Given the sheer number of weird little bugs, crashes (while saving, no less, which also resulted in a dozen identical save files once I jumped back in), strange chronological issues with the quests (a few asked me to return to places I'd never been) and systems that go completely unexplained, like an otherwise interesting-looking rune-based lockpicking system, I started to get the impression that this game was either woefully unfinished or created by a company who didn't quite know what they were doing. It's like the development team took on every open-world RPG element they thought looked neat and tried to jam them into an engine that couldn't hope to fully support them without a lot more work. I'm not the type to dismiss any game out of hand, and it's possible Legends of Dawn becomes far more stable further down the line, but it's not a good precedent to set if one intends to endear oneself to a prospective fanbase. It seems to be a very regrettable yet common trend with Indie games recently to release a broken-ass product and ask the poor saps who bought it new to "just hang on a moment while we fix this element, tweak this system and maybe put out all these fires".

Finding Teddy, thankfully and conversely, is actually kind of good. An adventure game that takes more than one page from the books of Superbrothers and Fez, your child protagonist is tasked with recovering their teddy from a fantastical world full of danger. As a tiny girl, the player doesn't have much in the way of offensive options; rather, the goal is to solve environmental puzzles by finding objects and placing them where they're needed. Much of the game is dialogue-free (at least initially) and plays out in a similar manner of dreamlike whimsy as its inspirations. With a little more detail, it merges old-school pixel art with modern particle effects and lighting, and emphasizes the calming effects of music with both an ambient chilled-out soundtrack and the discovery that this world's language is linked to musical notes. As the game progresses, you're called on more often to solve puzzles using the game's musical alphabet, which thankfully does not require you to do much more than experiment a little to figure out what's required. There's no memorizing musical notation, and the musical glyphs aren't exactly a million miles away from the letters they represent.

It can be a very pretty game, but it's clear it was made for a mobile device with a smaller screen.

It's a cute little adventure game all told, and not one that's going to take you more than a couple of hours. A few of the puzzles might stump you, but given how the game separates each area and removes access to earlier zones, there'll only ever be a very finite number of hotspots to interact with. As well as the aforementioned Indie darlings, I'd liken Finding Teddy to Amanita Design's output: mostly wordless point-and-click adventure games oozing with charm and adventure, with clever little narratives that operate as much on subtext than the game spelling it out for you. Except for the lyrical puzzles where you literally are spelling something out, of course.

It's Over!

That should do it for Part 2, then. I'll get Part 3 up as soon as humanly possible so that people have the full picture before the bundle ends. Currently, it's looking like you'd be best off missing out on the pricier tier - Finding Teddy is available on iPhone for considerably less than five dollars, and nothing else really stands out. Without even checking the unlocked games, though, I can easily recommend the basic package - the Be Mine bundles tend to pack so much in even before the unlockables show up. See you all in Part 3, I guess.

< Back to Part One.

Start the Conversation

The Fun Bundle Boggle Boondoggle: Groupees' Be Mine X (Part 1)

Wouldn't believe how many iterations that title went through. So glad I settled on something sensible. (Thanks to @video_game_king and @pollysmps for the suggestions! I didn't use them! Sorry!)

Hey Giant Bomb peoples. If you're like me, you've probably found yourself with a minor bundle addiction these past few years. Sites like Indie Royale, Groupees, Indie Gala, Bundle Stars and, of course, the Humble Bundle have been practically giving away Indie games for a considerable period of time now and it's gotten to the point where A) I really need to start curating this shit, sorting the wheat from the chaff and such, and B) I really need to start legitimizing some of these purchases by playing and talking about them. This feature, of which its current title is mercifully transitory, is intended to provide service A for all y'all while settling service B for myself.

I'll only be talking about currently active bundles, and summarizing the games they're packing. Whenever possible, I'll try and give you some outside video content to peruse as well. I could record my own, but that would give away how incredibly slow this PC currently is. I think I bought it without the tacit knowledge that it could do little more than balance my household budget and send emails to my local member of Parliament.

First on the docket is Groupees' Be Mine X bundle. Because of how Groupees works, the bundle's value is contingent on the number of people who bought it: as more bundles are sold, extra items are added. It's an effective way to spread word of mouth, and their Be Mine series is kind of their flagship product and usually contains all the big name Indie titles that almost 5% of gaming people on the internet might recognize.

The BMX Bundle: Part 1: Core (P.S. There are No Games Involving Bikes)

Electronic Super Joy is one of those Indie platformers that likes to focus on being difficult, but carries itself in such a way that attempts to mitigate any potential frustration to be had with it. Well, at least that's the plan. The masocore platformer, as the kids are fond of calling them, are predicated on creating challenging courses with an equally lenient stance on failure. You can bang your head against a sequence over and over, and the game is all too happy to accommodate you by setting you down close to where you fell so you can keep trying without burning out quite so quickly.

Electronic Super Joy just about manages that but not to the same extent as, say, Super Meat Boy - Team Meat's litmus test by which all masocore platformers are invariably measured. Small things, like the brief "ascending" animation upon death and the occasionally discombobulating special effects can knock off one's momentum just sufficiently to make Super Meat Boy's paradigm ever so slightly warped and ineffective here. ESJ's well-crafted enough, but it's becoming clearer as more imitators appear that SMB managed to capture lightning in a bottle, and it's hard to replicate something that has so much precision and craft well-hidden beneath an exterior of gooey viscera and poop jokes. Electronic Super Joy feels a bit like a knock-off Rolex, to follow that analogy to its logical conclusion.

fuck fuck fuck fuck FUCK

But that dissatisfaction does not extend to its incredible sense of style, which oozes from every pore of its otherwise generic pixelated countenance. The thumping electro music, which are some real "feel it in your fillings" type jams that the Be Mine X bundle creators were wise to include in a pair of free soundtrack downloads, the neon visuals and the disturbingly euphoric cries with each checkpoint changes the mood of the game from being something you play while seething with obstinate determination to a sort of approximated drugged-out trance that somehow allows your unconscious mind to take care of the difficult parts for you. It sounds like some goofy-ass PLUR raver speak, but these types of games are all about getting lost in the moment until the requisite combination of jumps, pauses, ducks and slides just magically issues from your exhausted hands. I'm sure anyone who's spent a considerable time (let's say half an hour at least) attempting to beat a single level in Super Meat Boy knows the feeling.

Electronic Super Joy, then, is a masocore platformer that has some idea of what it's doing, if not quite the chops to pull it off. The game has a sort of irreverence towards its own format, giving and removing powers capriciously and setting up threads and set-pieces that ultimately go nowhere, and invites you to just go along with its flow.

Electronic Super Joy QL

Shelter, on the other hand, has a very specific idea about what it wants to be. As a mother badger (or badger-like creature), you are given a small stable of children and no direction other than a starving child and a nearby piece of food. Feeding the youngling causes it to awaken refreshed and allows you to exit the initial cave to the big scary world beyond. Shelter is all taking care of your children, specifically in two ways: protection and nourishment. Without outright telling you, your children are all slowly getting hungrier, and the game uses the desaturated colors of their coats to relay this information to you. Likewise, the musical stings upon entering a new area are your only indication that there might be something dangerous (or something edible) ahead. The musical stings extend to feeding your children with whatever fruits, vegetables or smaller animals you are able to procure for them, providing a very basic level of feedback on how well you and your family are faring.

For all the urgency in finding food and running from predators, Shelter is a very serene game. There are ideograms that explain how you can dash into trees to knock their fruit down, or how to use your mouth to pull up vegetables and scare off potential predators, but the game tends to just sit back and watch you work. For instance, at no point does the game impart a very important lesson: that all babies are selfish assholes and it's up to you to ensure that the food you discover is equitably shared among the five of them. If you aren't paying attention, you'll start noticing that the healthier children are often the first to reach whatever item of food you've just dropped for them, forcing their malnourished siblings to fall behind. Simply holding the food in your mouth for a moment causes all five children to stand around you in a semi-circle, allowing you to drop the food in front of the hungriest (again, by judging the desaturation of their coats, which is something else the game will intimate if not state expressly) and ensure all five are equally healthy and hale.

I should probably tinker with my brightness settings a bit beforehand next time. To be fair, I did just emerge from a cave.

I wouldn't say the pace of the game is for everyone. It's slow about introducing its mechanics and the other denizens of the forested area your small tribe calls home, it doesn't use save files and there's not a whole lot of a narrative to pursue nor concrete directions to follow. More than once (and this happened to Patrick a few times as well), I found myself turned around and walking back along the same route, wasting time revisiting previous locations now devoid of precious food. It's also quite muted in its presentation (especially after coming off of something like Electronic Super Joy) and subsequently feels like a zero-stress, chilled out, explore-a-thon like Proteus or that Irrational Exuberance game from the LA Game Space pack I checked out a while ago. It's really anything but once the bigger creatures start appearing and you're constantly fretting about your vulnerable badger babies. Very much part of that burgeoning wave of Indie games that purposefully attempt to cajole an emotional response out of the player, if that's what you're into. Me? I stopped feeling things a loooong time ago.

Patrick's "Preview Thing" of Shelter

Last Knight is some classic dumb fun that relies on taking a singular set-piece found in bigger games and building an entire game around it. Specifically, how games like Assassin's Creed II or FFCC: The Crystal Bearers might include chase sequences that require you to not so much doggedly track your foe Chase HQ style than to simply survive what it throws at you until the story kicks in and sorts out the chase's target with a cutscene. With Last Knight, the goal might be to chase down enemy knights (or something equally nefarious), but the real meat of the game is in the chase itself.

The game has a deliberate bright and cutesy style that almost causes it to resemble a rejected Wii Sports mini-game based on jousting (not entirely without precedent, given the fencing mini-game). It's clearly not intended to be taken too seriously, but rather as a goofy little aside that captures your attention for a few minutes at a time. Indie games are continuing to diverge in that respect, with some pursuing serious themes and pathos in lieu of there being any big studios having the cajones to do so, while others follow the mobile phone game mentality of making their games as bright and cheerful and eye-catching as possible.

The game has a great sense of humor too. For instance, this is a dream sequence, so my horse and I are fast asleep. Yet still inexplicably being carried along while ragdolling.

Last Knight has you jumping gorges, knocking down bullseye targets with your lance, juking left and right to avoid boulders and collect treasures and possibly also knock an evil (yet equally adorable) knight off his horse in the process. As it progresses, the narrow paths get more and more precarious and filled with traps and monsters to distract you. It's a graphically, tonally and structurally solid little diversion; nothing too substantial, but then it feels like a game with no further aspirations beyond being a few hours of fun.

Last Knight Trailer

One Finger Death Punch is a game I wasn't going to bother covering in part one, but it's one of a handful that are still being added as bonuses as more people buy the bundle. So, effectively, it's part of the core series of games you'll acquire by spending any amount on the bundle. As with Last Knight, it balances absurdly simplistic game mechanics with a depth that slowly makes itself apparent as it pulls more and more tricks from the sleeves of its Shaolin robe.

One Finger Death Punch puts you in the buff stickman physique of a powerful martial artist that can defeat most opponents with a single move. These single moves correspond to a single mouse button - the left mouse button for foes on the left, the right mouse button for foes on the right. The challenge is when there are multiple opponents approaching in both directions and you're given a very small time frame with which to deflect each and every one. Subsequently, it becomes something like a cross between Kung-Fu Master and Divekick: sure there's only two buttons, but if you honestly believe that'll make the game too easy I suggest you try putting your crane kick where your mouth is. Or maybe don't, since that sounds kind of painful and you would probably have to go to the hospital. Kicking yourself in the face, man... not a good scene.

Man, I totally exsanguinated that guy. By hitting a single mouse button. Why can't all character action games be this simple?

Look past the Xiao Xiao visual stylings (which, like the whole two button interface, is meant to lure you into a false sense of security) and you'll find a seriously busy twitch brawler that wastes no time upping the ante and making your life very difficult as enemies with special abilities pour in while you juggle various one-shot skills, weapons, destructible backgrounds that occasionally dispense items and a hell of a lot of mouse button prompts. Silver Dollar Games has apparently come a long way since "Don't Be Nervous Talking To Girls".

Unprofessional Fridays 10/04/13 (Vinny's Segment: Starts at 01:39:40)

Well, that wraps up the four games you get when you purchase the bundle for at least the $1 minimum. (Well, except they just added that King's Bounty game with all the barbarians.) Next time I'll look at the games you get for spending $5 or more on the bundle, which includes the original Call of Juarez and Indie open-world RPG Legends of Dawn, and then the various games that have been unlocked (including King's Bounty: Warriors of the North) since the bundle began. See you then, bundle buddies? (I'll work on that sign-off too.)

Part 2 is this-a-way >

1 Comments

Octurbo: Splatterhouse

Welcome to the final and spookiest Octurbo, after which I consign this feature to the graaaave. And then also yoooou? Because death threats are scary, right? Or lawsuit-incurring. Uh, let's forget I said anything.

So today we take a not-at-all-predictable route and delve into Namco's macabre brawler Splatterhouse. Splatterhouse has a long and storied history you can read all about somewhere like Hardcore Gaming 101, which delves into the few changes made to the home conversions, as well as its less well-known sequels and spin-offs. Honestly, and in spite of this being a deliberate Halloween pick, I'm really more interested in how it plays than worrying about the absence of a reverse crucifix boss or a mask change.

And how it plays is essentially a 2D brawler back when there wasn't a depth of field to work around. Your Jason Voorhees-type dude simply punches monstrosities as they appear to the left and right. While it sounds absurdly basic and could potentially have the same sort of difficulty curve normally associated with Arcade brawlers (i.e. incurring damage is usually unavoidable and you'll need to blow through a stack of quarters to see the ending) it's actually a little more measured in its pace. Enemy and obstacle spawn placements can be memorized, boss encounters can be planned out ahead of time and both your character and the enemies trudge along at a moderate speed allowing you to react in time to surprises. I've heard the home version was deliberately made easier to compensate for that whole "quarter eating" dynamic as well, so by all accounts the TG-16 Splatterhouse is an Arcade/home console conversion done right. Not pixel perfect, of course, but then you can't have everything.

Let's Make This Splatterhouse a Splatterhome

Welcome to Splatterhouse! Splattered with blood, I bet!
'Twas a dark and stormy night in Missingno Forest. Rick and Jennifer had gone to the old West mansion because horror movie, but then Jennifer was suddenly abducted because horror movie and Rick woke up with a cursed mask of horror movie on his horror movie and horror movie horror movie would pay for this with their undead un-lives!
You can punch these gooey zombies, but punching's for suckers.
Instead, it's best to find the nearest conveniently located 2x4 and send them flying. They can't feel things, they're monsters.
These chained up zombies don't seem to hold any ill-will towards their captors, because they are equally determined to stop you. Even if it means resorting to dropping their toxic innards in your path and hoping you walk into it like a dumbass. Hey, their options are limited, all right?
Bat, meet bat.
I hate these Clicker guys. Take them down and their heads continue to come after you, and for some reason they're harder to hit than the bats were.
So here's the first boss. The game does some interesting things with bosses in this game though, so for this particular room we simply have to avoid and take out these hideous gutworm things for a few minutes.
However! The game plays a mean trick on you by establishing early on that the safest place to sit in the room is in the middle, by the fireplace: enemies spawn from the left or right, giving you a change to turn around and sock them as they show up. The very last worm, though, bursts from that hanging corpse and will land on you if you're in the middle. It's sneaky, but it's one of those things you'll always remember for next time.
More zombies and 2x4s. This game and I have an understanding already.
While they don't attack, those skewered and manacled fellows in the background still squirm around. It's disquieting, but then what isn't in this game?
The hanging corpses from the boss room are now regular enemies for some reason. You know, I'm sensing that this is where a lot of Binding of Isaac's messed up imagery came from.
This water sequence isn't quite as bad as it looks, since I can still move at a reasonable clip. The zombies down here are gooier than usual.
For some reason there are also aquatic mines down here. Thankfully, my vertical jumps in waist-high water seem to go as high as they normally do, which is probably fine from a physics standpoint. I mean, probably. I'm no professor of water sciences.
Second boss is similar to the first, in that you're fighting an entire room full of evil. In this case, we're to become a Poltergeist's peltered guest.
This fight is all about memorizing a sequence of events: first there's a bunch of dropping objects you need to walk around to avoid, then you're accosted by a bouncing chair, some spinny knives and finally the eye painting.
The eye painting moves fast but if you swing at the air constantly (or use those handy built-in turbo buttons) it can't seem to get close.
As a final dick move, the poltergeist flees the painting through the shuttered window and, after a few seconds, the chandelier drops. It can finish you off if you weren't expecting it.
"JOSEPH!" "NO! DON'T GO!"
Oh hey, someone gave me a shotgun. That was irresponsible of them.
Ah, you know what? Floormasters might be where I draw the line. I think I've probably shown off more of this game than I needed to. I mean, it's Splatterhouse. Everything you need to know is in the name, really.
Before we end, let's just check out the Japanese version. As you can see, the most obvious difference is that the Arcade version's overtly Friday the 13th hockey mask has been left in.
And just to confirm what happens once you get past those floormasters: Dr Salvador's here to greet you with his extremely high tolerance for pain and impossible-to-overcome range with them there chainsaws. All the spooky threads have been tied up. That's... probably a relief, I dunno.

And that's Splatterhouse. Honestly, I think this is probably the best known TG-16 game after Bonk, or at least one of the better acclaimed ones. It's a little too basic for a brawler, but then what it does well is to create a lot of interesting situations to stick your enormous menacing bruiser in. Instead of goofy bosses like some kind of skeletal Abobo (who would be called Abonebone, of course, but that goes without saying) you have clever scenarios like that poltergeist room. Though most of the regular zombie enemies march towards you single-file like in a Kung Fu Master game, becoming too complacent will make you easy prey for the more devious enemies on the horizon. What I'm saying is that for a brawler without depth, it sure has a lot of depth. If you catch my meaning.

It's time to draw this mini-LP and, indeed, the entire Octurbo feature to an end. I hope you've enjoyed this extensive look into what the TurboGrafx-16 was all about, and have gotten to understand it a little better, though I'm well aware of the big Turbo-CD shaped gap I've yet to pry into. Maybe I'll do all this again next year, but with the added benefit of having Rondo of Blood and Lords of Thunder to look forward to. As (I believe) the earliest CD-based console the Turbo-CD certainly had a lot of interesting ideas to check out.

Until then, have a great Halloween and I'll leave you with a few extra TG-16 links to be getting on with:

The Brothers Duomazov - These guys have been doing the old "what's in the TG-16 library that we didn't know about" lark a lot longer than I have. Same mix of screenshots and commentary, though they actually bother finishing most of them. Pfeh, a few hours of gameplay and a quickly produced article every day is clearly the ideal way to go.

Chronturbo - Chrontendo's little brother is only four episodes deep thus far (for some reason the last isn't on that playlist so you'll need to search for it), but Doc Sparkle's documentaries on every NES/Master System/TG-16 game ever released in chronological order are always wonderfully researched and produced. It's a shame these videos aren't better known around here - but then we aren't exactly a retro-gaming focused site.

Hardcore Gaming 101 - I tend to link to Kurt Kalata's site of essay-sized video game retrospectives a lot, but only because it's the best information resource on the web for many of the obscure games they cover. Though a lot of their articles are subjective viewpoints submitted by enthusiastic amateur writers, I've always thought that our wiki would be much improved if we could drop links to the work that goes on with that site. Beats only having a paragraph or two of explanatory text for all those games that are so esoteric that they don't even have Wikipedia articles. Goes without saying that they have more than a couple of pages on the PC Engine/TurboGrafx-16 too.

GameCenter CX: Splatterhouse - Huh. It seems SAGCCX very recently managed to translate and put out this special feature episode of Arino challenging the very same game I just did. I guess it's not the most surprising coincidence in the world, though, given how few memorable 8-/16-bit horror games exist. If you haven't discovered GCCX yet, then... you might want to free up this weekend?

< Back to Octurbo

Start the Conversation

Octurbo: Samurai Ghost

Our penultimate game for this month-long TurboGrafx-16 feature is Samurai Ghost (Genpei Touma Den: Kan no Ni): a rather perplexing action game that is the sequel to the even odder Genpei Touma Den - perhaps best known to a few of us as memorable GCCX entry The Genji and the Heike Clans. Oddly, TG-16 owners received the sequel but not the original, which wouldn't see a localization until a decade later with a Namco compilation for the PS1.

As with the first game, the player controls the phantasmal warrior Kagekiyo who is out to avenge the death of his entire clan (including himself) by their rivals the Heike, who apparently cheated by falling in with demons or youkai or some such. So it's kind of like the Hatfields and McCoys, if you played a zombified Hatfield trying to gun down a bunch of demonically possessed McCoys who are flying around breathing fire on you. Actually, that doesn't sound too bad an idea for a game either. Get on it, AAA studios.

Ghost Samurais Follow the Boo-shido Code

Welcome to Samurai Ghost! Though it's actually "Samurai-Ghost". Probably not a distinction worth splitting bamboo over.
So apparently Lord Yoritomo didn't get the hint when we slashed him to ribbons in the previous game. To be fair, if Kagekiyo can find a way to keep resurrecting himself, there's no reason his enemies can't.
For some reason the game begins with an automatic sequence where you run forwards and kill this random dragon. Maybe I'm breaking out of some unearthly jail to go kill Yoritomo on Earth again? Honestly, this game is steeped in so much Japanese history and folk mysticism it would leave a Megami Tensei player lost and confused.
With my wise sense of direction, I immediately start in a volcanic zone. Making that the first stage seems kind of backwards. I'm not sure I like the expressions on all these smirking ground faces, either. They can trollface all they like, but at least I'm not embedded in the topsoil.
Most foes in this game take a single slice from Kagekiyo's wild sword swings, but guys like this skeletal samurai actually require you parry their attack, knock their sword away with a heavy blow and quickly slice them when their guard is down. It's all intuitive too: the enemy doesn't attack often, and the gap to kill it after the parry is relatively wide. I have to imagine that it's practice for the far more difficult bosses who'll fight similar duels with you later on.
Most enemies drop these hole coins. I never did figure out a use for them. Maybe there are hidden stores that I wasn't perceptive enough to find?
The floating platforms from the previous games are back, but as with the duelling skeletons from before, there's no real danger of falling off these so it's more for practice. I mean, you can get jabbed by those spears, but there's no big pit or lava or anything quite as fatally conclusive.
Again, more a demonstration of future travails, these spiky floating platforms work as Thwomps too: painful to walk under, but easy enough to walk over.
Goddamn, I love the backgrounds in this game. I really ought to figure out how to make gifs of these, because the parallax scrolling is impressive. As is the fact that these huge backgrounds seem to change in every sub-stage.
This is a boss fight, so the HUD across the top moves to show a purple boss health gauge previously hidden on the right. They all work off the same candle-based health economy as you do. He's also an enormous skeleton boss, but then I'm getting used to those after Legend of Hero Tonma.
As with the first game, the exit to a level is always one of these Shinto shrine gates (which I remember being called torii thanks to Katamari Damacy). It's usually a big relief whenever I spot one in the distance.
I can't imagine all those territories are separate levels. It looks more like a tessellated pattern to me. The path you chose was very important in the first game, but this one seems a bit more linear. Or, again, I'm not perceptive or knowledgeable enough to find any secret branching exits.
So, wait, the last place I was in wasn't a volcanic zone? The title text does that interesting Walking Dead (and a few other examples I can't think of right now) thing where it's part of the world and only leaves the screen once you walk away and force it to scroll past.
This sub-stage sets up an interesting challenge: there's a lava wall right behind me (presumably a pyroclastic flow, since this is a volcano and all) but I'm getting accosted by enemies as I try to escape. The skull spider is a particular menace, as it will continually walk away and outside the range of your weapon while spit webbing at your legs, which freezes you in place until you cut it away with your sword. The tengus aren't quite so much of an obstacle, but I do like this game's pragmatic interpretation of the ubiquitous crow demons of Japanese folklore.
Talking of Japanese folklore, we have one of the two malevolent Japanese weather deities, Raijin or Fujin. I'm going to guess it's Raijin, since I seemed to get shocked by electricity a lot. Like the spiders, he kind of hovers out of my reach and blats me with projectiles. Charming fellow.
Of course, not even deities can escape my wroth. I am one determined fellow.
The bonus stages from the first game are back: the goal is to follow the big Buddha type fellow in the background there as it drops dozens of coins and useful power-ups. It'll quickly double back and switch directions though, so we need to keep an eye on where it's going. Easier said than done.
I think we've seen enough of this game for now. Due to a lack of any sort of progress indicator or a world map that makes any sense whatsoever, I'm going to assume I've passed whatever world 1 was after that bonus stage.
Which means I can finally leave this weird ghost medium crone from The Others behind. Man, those faces are creepy. Are they decorations or do they just hover behind her like that? If the latter, does that mean she can only contact the spirits of twins?

Anyway, I leave behind a lot more questions about Samurai Ghost than answers. Seems like that kind of game, though, if watching Arino struggle through the obtuse The Genji and the Heike Clans gave me any indication of what this franchise is all about. It does seem strange that the game's pared away a lot of the odder aspects of the first game to emphasize the swordfights and platforming, but at the same time it probably had the serendipitous effect of making it more palatable for US localization. A hypothetical American me of 1992 wouldn't need to know what tengus are or who Yoritama was if I'm just given a cool zombie samurai protagonist and a bunch of weird monsters to chop into pieces. Kids of the 90s were uncomplicated that way.

As I'm finding with a lot of these TG-16 games, Samurai Ghost juuuust skirts the line between "this is an all right game" and "this is a great game that deserves to be remembered as a classic of the 16-bit era". Really haven't seen too many that manage to stay firmly in that second category, despite covering a lot of games so far that have been at the very least interesting and potentially quite fun. I guess it's like what Jeff was saying about the Amiga: there are folk who swear by it (and I loved its admittedly inferior cousin the Atari ST, so I'm with them), but you have to wonder when seeing most of it for the first time years later if nostalgia isn't carrying most of that weight.

Anyway, all this conclusive talk can wait until tomorrow when Octurbo finishes for good with my final (and probably quite obvious, given the date and recent subject matter) game. Jury's still out on whether I bother completing TurboMento-12 - I think I've done more to promote the TurboGrafx-16 so far this year than even NEC did back in the day. See you all on Halloween, folks, and in case I don't - have a fun one.

< Back to Octurbo

Start the Conversation

Octurbo: Fushigi no Yume no Alice

As we count down the last three Octurbo games I've decided, in a half-assed attempt to be seasonal, to select the scariest three games left on my list to see this feature out. First up is Sankindo's Fushigi no Yume no Alice, which I interpreted as "Alice in Wonderland, but with a Fushigi Ball". I mean, that's basically that Jim Henson movie Labyrinth, right? Turns out "fushigi" just means "wonder" though, so I guess this is a straight up Alice in Wonderland adaptation.

Still, though, it's a pretty freaky book and the game doesn't skimp on all its terrifying wordplay and... Victorian-era allegory? Yeah, all right, it's not particularly scary. I just picked it because VGK has covered it in the past, and that guarantees me at least one comment. Desperate times and all that.

(If you're wondering about the developer, Sankindo did a bunch of Japan-only TG-16 games like Cross Wiber and Hani in the Sky before moving onto Arcade quiz machines for the rest of its life. So, kind of a big deal.)

Japanese McGee's Alice

Welcome to Fushigi no Yume no Alice! Clever "looking glass" reference up there. Name actually means "Alice in Wonderdream", rather than Wonderland. I have no idea if that means anything though, besides that maybe someone couldn't get the license. To the, uh, public domain book?
This is Wonderland, then. Or Wonderdream. Whatever. I can see the Dodo over there, but it doesn't seem particularly Japanese so far.
Oh never mind.
So Alice is apparently Banshee's great grandma or something, as she attacks with her voice. You can charge it up to make it more powerful, which is necessary for taking down some of the more irritating enemies as it blasts through their projectiles at maximum strength. I'd bring up Wagyan Land, but that's kind of a deep cut and I don't know if yelling at people to kill them isn't something that's been around for even longer.
Man... I was kidding about this being a Halloween game, but these fish skeleton ladders are just mad macabre.
I tried fighting Wispy's evil twin, but he kept spitting out hornets and I hate those things. Seriously not worth it. I only have three hit points, and they seem to vanish very quickly whenever these guys show up.
Talking of butts, these card knights throw spears which then drop out of the air after a few feet, making them very hard to hide from. I'm already having to call upon all my Mega Man skills to charge up shots and pick the best moment to fire.
Eventually, though, I make it to the gingerbread cottage which was totally in Alice in Wonderland and not something else.
I think this game's mocking me now. I swear it's not a Halloween-themed game. At least I'm fairly sure it isn't.
Anyway, after murdering what may well have been a harmless bunch of trick or treaters, it's time for my reward.
Which is just the White Rabbit showing up and telling me something I can't read. Obtuse as ever, then.
Forest 2 begins much the same way as Forest 1. In fact, the rest of the level is eerily similar too: I walk across this green plain, up a ladder into a creepy forest and make my way to another gingerbread house for a boss fight. I mean, there's a few differences in the level design, but it's still a little... disquieting.
The boss is different though. I think there actually was a crocodile in Alice in Wonderland, which makes for a nice change. Or at least a poem about one. That book had a lot of poems.
Again, I can't help but feel a sense of deja vu for Forest 3. I wonder how many of these identical Forest levels there are?
I hate these owls. I mean, anyone who's played Castlevania 3/Dracula X has learned to hate owls, but these seem extra dickish. You can't easily reach them, but they're all but guaranteed to hit you if you try to jump any of these gaps.
With a single hit point, I managed to squeeze through this door before the half dozen monsters and monster projectiles on-screen managed to finish me off. Surely I'll be rewarded for this deft maneuver?
If getting insta-killed by a Pinocchio puppet that immediately lands on your head the moment you enter the boss room counts as a reward, and I honestly can't imagine it does in any culture, then consider me well-rewarded.
Ack...
AGHHH. NO MORE, PLEASE.

It's an odd coincidence that I followed Legend of Hero Tonma with Fushigi no Yume no Alice, because my lasting impression of the former was how devastatingly tough it was for something that looked so innocuously adorable. Alice pretty much trumps it in both those respects, giving us a little girl heroine surrounded by cute creatures and sneaker-wearing ghost bosses which then brutally punishes anyone who dares to look upon all that and think, "Wow, this is clearly a game intended for nine-year-olds, why is a grown man playing it for his blog feature?"

Make no mistake: if it could, Fushigi no Yume no Alice would kill you and everyone you ever cared about. One only has to glance at the above screenshots to know that this a game for the hardest of the hardcore. I defy anyone to make the claim that they're man (or woman) enough for Alice's Wonderdream. Major League Gaming! No Scrubs Allowed! Headshot Cit-

< Back to Octurbo

3 Comments

The Comic Commish: The Previous Generation (Jan-Jun 2007)

Welcome all to the fairly delayed relaunch of The Comic Commish: a monthly feature in which I pay for my Gold Membership with MS Paint doodles in the least equitable deal since the purchase of Manhattan. When I'm not biting the hand that feeds with ill-advised Native American jokes, I occasionally like to reflect on the roads less traveled. Like, the virtual roads. From video games. That I haven't played. Hence the "less tr-

I occasionally like to reflect on video games of former console generations that I never played, often taking advantage of value depreciation and what little time I have left until Quetzlcoatl remembers to check his calendar and gets on with that tardy apocalypse of his to sweep a few of them up while everyone's busy playing the brand new Assassin's Creed VII: I Read Somewhere That We Evolved From Marmosets, Sorta, So Now the Assassin's a Monkey. Well, turns out I've actually played quite a few more than I realized, so I figure I'm a position to help my good buddy @omghisam (who apparently only did worthwhile things during this time) and hopefully the readers at home with some suggestions from the past six or so years of game releases.

What this entails, then, is a monthly spate of comics on games that were released in a certain release window in the US during the currently-current-but-soon-to-be-previous generation of consoles. I'm covering January to June of 2007 for the month of October 2013 (this one) and hope to finish with the latter half of 2012 by September 2014. We'll all be knee deep in PS4 and XB1 releases (or, more realistically, still buying everything in Steam sales), but it's worth remembering the vast libraries of modern day classics we leave behind as our industry inexorably marches forward like one of the sixteen Colossi. (Shadow of the Colossus wasn't this generation by the way, so that's a red herring.)

The "Previous Generation" Subtitle Was a Star Trek Thing. Hope You All Got That.

Hotel Dusk: Room 215 (CING, DS, Jan '07)

Hotel Dusk's one of those visual novel adventure games with a few curious trademarks to call its own. The first is the striking rotoscoping work on all the characters, who animate and emote like the creepy 1950s mannequins of LA Noire only wish they could (oh, she was lying? I thought that expression meant she was discomfited by the giant dentist chair you locked her face in to mocap it). The second is its protagonist: Kyle Hyde, a down and out salesman who has been secretly chasing his disgraced partner ever since that one fateful night when Kyle was forced to shoot him and leave him for dead. Already, the game is steeped in noir tropes and dramatic pathos, but layers in a Phoenix Wright style absurd sense of humor that only manifests itself enough times as to not disrupt the game's carefully maintained somber edge. It's a classic whodunnit with twists and turns and red herrings and bourbon and well worth the time of anyone looking for a well-manufactured video game story.

Rogue Galaxy (Level-5, PS2, Feb '07)

Yes, I realise I'm already breaking a cardinal rule by covering a PS2 game, technically not part of the previous generation, but decent current gen games were still light on the ground around this time. We'll get to them, I promise. Rogue Galaxy had the unenviable position of following up Dark Cloud 2 and Dragon Quest VIII: two of the greatest and most expansive PS2 RPGs ever made. While it would fair to say that it doesn't quite meet the expectations set forward by its predecessors, it does at least have the benefit of having a novel setting (well, since there aren't many space JRPGs outside of Phantasy Star and Star Ocean) and Level-5's development team at their peak. While the story has you bouncing from planet to planet, making new friends and bringing down bounties that are causing the local populace trouble (which isn't a particularly original story progression path, I'll grant you), Level-5 is busy at work in the background establishing the numerous extra-curricular activities its games became known for after Dark Cloud, giving players a wide range of side-stuff to do should they ever grow weary of whichever dungeon they're in. It's also a game that features Deego, the buff mercenary boxer dog, so I can't in good conscience not recommend it.

Crackdown (Realtime Worlds, 360, Feb '07)

I figure I should probably put one of those current gen console games in this current gen console remembrance feature somewhere, so here's Crackdown, one of the best early 360 games. Crackdown begat what might be known as "the superhero sandbox": a game that slowly weens you off the driving and gunplay you're used to towards superhuman leaping and explosive ground pounds. It felt like expanding the sandbox format in a whole new direction, rather than basic, unfulfilling incremental rewards like a little more world to explore or putting more weapons in your arsenal. Franchises that skirt the line, like the last two Saints Row games, have found that the payoff in building up the main character from a human to a demi-god is considerably more thrilling than a human who becomes a slightly richer human with a penthouse apartment. I've never seen the point of a good story in a sandbox game, since you spend so much time outside the main objectives and simply farting around the big playground seeing how it ticks, so despite all the gentle mockery about Crackdown being a glorified orb hunting game, it really set one of the most important precedents in open world games today. Just don't play the sequel.

The Other Ones!

Well, I have the list, but the site won't let me embed it. Whoop-de-doo. Writing blogs on GB is so much fun, you guys. You have no idea. Well, it's here. I suppose this post was long enough already.

10 Comments