My Post-Zelda palate cleansers: Flinthook, Retro City Rampage, LocoRoco, and very old arcade games.

This weekend was supposed to be all about Zelda. I blocked off a good chunk of time to finally finish that game, after starting it on March 4th, and figured I would need at least 15-20 hours since I still had the whole Rito divine beast quest to complete and I wanted to gear up before the final battle. On Saturday I booted the game up early, went through the divine beast much faster than expected, checked out a few last parts of the map I hadn’t explored and then set about collecting some materials for my final assault on Hyrule Castle.

This is not Hyrule Castle. This is the only part of Breath of the Wild i didn't like and it irritated me so much I took more than a month off from the game until I worked up the determination to push through it. After I finished it the game got good again.
This is not Hyrule Castle. This is the only part of Breath of the Wild i didn't like and it irritated me so much I took more than a month off from the game until I worked up the determination to push through it. After I finished it the game got good again.

Since I wandered close to the castle during the collection process I decided to peek my head in “just to get the lay of the land” and maybe collect some of the items rumored to lurk within. Unsurprisingly, I ended up plowing through and finishing the game. I was actually talking to my friend on the phone while I was playing, saying “I should leave this area to get my gear and cook some better food then come back for an actual attempt” repeatedly, up until the point I had Ganon’s lifebar depleted and realized that, yes, I really was going to finish this game.

So I found myself on Saturday evening watching the closing cut scene to Breath of the Wild and thinking “What am I going to do with all this time set aside for Zelda now that Zelda is finished?” I may dive back in to finish some more shrines and do some other stuff later, but I’ll probably wait until the DLC release, since that promises additional story content, and by that time I’ll be ready to return to Hyrule once again.

The next game in my queue is Horizon: Zero Dawn, but I don’t think starting another huge open world game with a bow as a weapon right after Zelda is a great idea (and the Bombcast crew has talked about the difficulties in switching between them) so I decided to spend some time dipping into smaller games on my backlog as “palate cleansers.” Like a dollop of sorbet between two big courses a smaller game with a very different style can help create a sense of distance between two big AAA open world releases, helping you to appreciate the bigger games better. You get to experience a smaller story, and less technically impressive graphics, which keeps you from directly comparing the big games, and the simplified mechanics and focus keeps a sense of "sameness" from developing and reducing the impact of a larger game.

And, hey, I love smaller games too, so it’s win-win.

Flinthook

Bullet hell has escaped the shooter genre and made its way into platformers.
Bullet hell has escaped the shooter genre and made its way into platformers.

I started my small game marathon by loading up Flinthook, a game I have been playing off and on since its release. I really like almost everything about Flinthook except the progression, which feels slow. The art style is great, the game controls perfectly, with responsive platforming and shooting, it’s challenging and engaging with an absolute metric ton of content, the music is exquisite and the writing is sharp and funny. The problem is that Flinthook is a rogue-like where you purchase permanent upgrades, and the currency for said upgrades takes a long time to get. If you have a run where you don’t kill the boss of the mission (Flinthook is divided up into 4 different “bounties”) you could spend half an hour and only collect 4-6 pieces of currency, with 15 needed to upgrade your health at the higher stages, and that upgrade only giving you 10 more HP on top of the 140 you already have. 1.5 hours to raise your HP by 8% is SLOWWWWW going, and it makes a game that’s fun and fresh feel a little too grindy. This is essentially the same problem I had with Enter the Gungeon, another game that I really liked playing moment to moment but where the very slow progression frustrated me. I’m not the greatest gamer in the world, and it looks like many others have beaten the game at the point where I’m just about halfway through, but regardless, Flinthook is a game that I would enjoy a lot more if it were just balanced a little less harshly. Or maybe you’re supposed to go back and grind old bosses (killing a boss means a run might net you 3x as much currency) but that’s not interesting to me either, since I’ve played those levels to death.

This time around I did manage to beat the second boss, which only 13% of players have done according to Xbox Live. This is evidence that the game probably is balanced too unforgivingly, since you’d like more than 15% of your players to make it halfway through the game, especially when it hasn’t been on Games With Gold yet. The third mission seems really tough, but I’ll probably be back to play through it someday since this is a game I like enough to want to finish.

Tentative rating: 7.5/10 (Would be 9/10 if it were balanced less punitively)

Qix++

Qix++ looks like a very early XBLA game but came out in late 2009
Qix++ looks like a very early XBLA game but came out in late 2009

It’s Qix. You drive a little ship around the outside of a play space and then carve into the space, trying to reduce the size of the playfield to 25% or smaller, while a central enemy tries to kill you when you move into the space and little orange sparks threaten you on the outside. This version is…fine…in that it plays well enough and looks pretty good, but I remember when this came out Jeff said that it didn’t have enough content to justify $10 and he was absolutely right. 16 levels is just ridiculous. But for $2.71 (including tax) it’s hard for me to be too upset. This is a game I’ve been curious about for a while and I’ve now satisfied my curiosity cheaply and effectively. I enjoyed it well enough and if there were more to it I would probably play more. Well, technically there is more, but 2 packs with 4 levels each for $3 a pop is just not a good value. That’s $6 for probably 20 minutes of amusement, and that’s not a price point I’m comfortable with.

Tentative rating: 5/10 (Would be 3/10 if I paid the full $10)

Retro City Rampage DX:

Retro City Rampage looks like Grand Theft Auto re-interpreted in a faux 8-bit style. It's pretty appealing considering how simple it is.
Retro City Rampage looks like Grand Theft Auto re-interpreted in a faux 8-bit style. It's pretty appealing considering how simple it is.

Next on my list was Retro City Rampage, which I played on PS4, and was the only game of this group I actually finished. This is another game I’ve been thinking about playing for a while now. I had an image in my mind of what it was like and I was…exactly right (to be fair, I’ve seen some footage.) It’s a weird little GTA parody that also parodies every other game/geek culture thing it can think of. Sometimes it’s clever, more often it’s just interesting to see how they try to mimic the style of Metal Gear or an adventure game in a GTA 1 type engine (they do a pretty good job to be honest, though they also have some cool custom modes that I don’t want to spoil here) and it’s moderately fun to play. The game looks very nice considering its simple graphics, with lots of color and sprites that pack a lot of personality into a small amount of detail. The music is sublime. I will say that the controls are kind of fiddly, especially the driving, which can be extremely fast and a little slippery at times (though you can change direction on a dime) but the game is balanced so that that mostly isn’t a problem. Mostly. There were several boss fights and difficult sequences towards the end that had me swearing at the TV. Fortunately, the game’s (mostly) very generous checkpoints made these mere frustrations and not stopping points, though if fewer of them had come so late. The difficulty spike is excusable since these sections were part of the parody aspect of the game, but ironic frustration is still frustration.

I am not sure the game actually endorses this perspective.
I am not sure the game actually endorses this perspective.

I’m excited about Shakedown Hawaii, the spiritual successor coming in June for the Switch (which is the ideal place to play this kind of game, with its bite sized missions) and think I’ll like the 16-bit style and less parody-based story more than RCR itself, but I did finish RCR in two days because it’s short and I found it kind of neat. I wanted to see what it did next, which is a pretty strong endorsement for a game like this.

Rating: 7.5/10

LocoRoco Remastered:

This game has a wonderful aesthetic like a children's illustration book, and the music is even better.
This game has a wonderful aesthetic like a children's illustration book, and the music is even better.

I never had a PSP so I never played LocoRoco, even though I was intrigued by its super colorful graphics and astoundingly weird soundtrack. Now I have played some LocoRoco and…it’s decently fun. The controls are intentionally loose, which can be annoying, and the game’s hypersaccharine style can be grating, but I enjoy the various environments and tunes, and the gameplay is just engaging enough not to be a deal-breaker. I feel like I’m more able to appreciate the game at this point in my life than when it first came out (and I was a little more invested in things that seemed “cool” and “adult”) but I like it. I’m also happy to finally understand how it plays, exactly, which is something that was never 100% clear to me, even though I understood there was tilting and rolling. It’s one of those games you need to get your hands on to fully comprehend how it plays.

LocoRoco is a mid-tier Japanese games with extreme polish and creativity that you don’t really see anymore. It reminds me of Katamari Damacy and Lumines, two games I absolutely adored (I played Lumines on XBLA, and I played a LOT of Lumines.) I don’t like LocoRoco nearly as much but I like it, and it’s very pleasant to be reminded of that great era of Japanese game design, before we entered the dark ages that we seem to finally be climbing out of.

I didn’t plow through LocoRoco, and I can’t imagine doing the work to get the platinum in it, but I think I will probably come back to it from time to time for a level or two until I eventually get to the end. It’s a solid,

Tentative rating: 7/10

Shinobi is 30 years old and its ninja magic is STILL awesome. SEGA!
Shinobi is 30 years old and its ninja magic is STILL awesome. SEGA!

That’s a lot of games to play over such a short period of time, and I’m not even counting Shinobi or Sonic the Hedgehog, which I played a bit of during a phone call just to have something to do with my hands. It felt good to dip into my back log a bit, and while none of these games will be all-time favorites (though Flinthook could have been if it were a little more forgiving) they’re all worth playing to a some degree or another (even Qix++ is not a bad game, just a very content-lacking one, released after games like Bionic Commando Rearmed, Braid, and ‘Splosion man had shown that XBLA releases could be substantial, memorable, experiences.)

As for whether the palate cleaning worked…I think it did. After playing this much, and finishing Retro City Rampage, there will be some distance between Zelda and Horizon: Zero Dawn when I start it next weekend. That, plus the fact that I got to experience all these smaller games that I’ve been meaning to play for a while, makes this weekend a definite win in my book as far as gaming goes.

Okay I played a few rounds of Sonic the Hedgehog too. What a marvel this game was when it launched. It's still gorgeous today and I enjoy the platforming. SEGA!
Okay I played a few rounds of Sonic the Hedgehog too. What a marvel this game was when it launched. It's still gorgeous today and I enjoy the platforming. SEGA!
Big money, big prizes, I love it! I mean as long as my Xbox is on and I own Midway Arcade Treasures I HAVE to play a little Smash TV too, right? I'm only human.
Big money, big prizes, I love it! I mean as long as my Xbox is on and I own Midway Arcade Treasures I HAVE to play a little Smash TV too, right? I'm only human.
And if you're playing Smash TV you gotta play a couple rounds of Robotron, the granddaddy of them all, right? This is the most common screen I see in Robotron. That game is frickin' hard. It's DIFFICULT!
And if you're playing Smash TV you gotta play a couple rounds of Robotron, the granddaddy of them all, right? This is the most common screen I see in Robotron. That game is frickin' hard. It's DIFFICULT!

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