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2023: It Was a Year, and It Happened

Me as baby.
Me as baby.

In 2005, I boarded a plane in Honolulu with a group of Lutheran teenagers en route to Seattle. I was a teenager, trying to figure out how romantic relationships worked and actively wondering if I bought into the Lutheran church as an institution anymore. Katamari Damacy was still new and fresh and it was my favorite game.

We were hosted by a small Lutheran liberal arts college in Tacoma for a few days prior to the larger youth gathering in Seattle. I fell in love with the school. Living in Seattle was something I had become interested in years prior, having spent most of my childhood growing up in the empty prairies of the central United States. Seattle was where Nirvana was from, I knew, so it must be cool. This Lutheran college, coupled with my pretty good grades, was going to be my ticket to the Pacific Northwest. I applied to precisely one college, and fortunately was accepted into the welcoming arms of Pacific Lutheran University.

I drove from Texas to Tacoma with my father in 2007. This is one of my most cherished memories. It will be with me long after he is gone. Just five days of driving through staggering, haunting beauty across the American southwest, then up through the whole of California and into the blue/green/gray landscapes of Oregon and finally Washington. We set my single day driving record on that trip, covering 880 miles between two hotels.

To add to the inherent drama of this telling, it was on that trip that we made a stop in San Diego to meet a friend of mine I had met on the Internet, originally in a Final Fantasy role playing blog community. My parents were a little trepadacious, as were hers, but through some direct communicating and putting the concerned parents into contact everybody came to understand that this was not in fact the beginning of some horror tragedy situation. It was just two young people who wanted to meet in person after talking for a few years online and through letters. This friend of mine introduced me to some friends of hers who were then dating, then took me to a city park to take in the greenery, then to the airport to play a rousing game of "guess which of these random people are secretly spies", and then the next morning we were on our way north.

I am now married to this friend, and the two people she introduced me to that night are now some of the closest friends I have. One of them lives nearby, and I was back in San Diego last November to see the other get married. So, yeah. Big times.

I write this all out here because I'm writing this from a cafe on Garfield Street, the two block neighorhood off campus which I have been orbiting since 2007. This was my home nest, my den, for four years of transformative college and young adult experiences. I didn't play a lot of video games in college so Katamari Damacy remained my favorite, though it faced some early competition from Portal and Guitar Hero. I've come here a few times a year ever since graduating out of sheer self-serving romanticism, and the last couple GOTY posts by yours truly were done in the coffee shop on this street which has changed hands almost half a dozen times in nearly 20 years.

This feels different now because it will probably be the last of these posts I write from my nest.


I'm going to be honest here, there's a version of this post where I alternated the games stuff with what amounts to my entire life testimony of my time in the Pacific Northwest. It's very personal and like all very personal writing it is also very much not exciting to read. Here's what I'm going to say instead.

I attended undergrad in Tacoma and fell in love with this city. I've told people for years my ashes will be scattered here. I attended grad school at UW and fucked up very badly with that entire plan, but while trying to drop out like a normal burnt out person my supervisor (who had worked in the department for forty years) announced his retirement and I was offered a portion of his duties to help the department limp on for a while. This morphed into a fulltime job which paid quite well considering the circumstances, and in this milieu my Final Fantasy friend from San Diego moved to Seattle and we eventually, finally wound up dating. The job just became something I was stuck with, despite the horrible commute and the slow rolling realization that I hated almost every aspect of it.

The job funded us through my spouse's grad school, through buying a house, through a global pandemic, and through various tribulations until I had what I am going to describe as a nervous breakdown last year. Numerous physical and mental health professionals told me I should consider making changes, and I finally accepted this advice in October and ended what was probably the best opportunity I will ever, ever, ever be handed in my life.

Amidst this, for a laundry list of reasons which I'd tell you about if we were Really Great Friends (some of you are reading this and I really appreciate your help this last year specifically), we started actively considering a Pretty Big Move. Details, details. This move is now a 99.9% certainty, and has some massive ramifications on my life going forward. I look forward to talking more about this.

Also in the near term, while I have been hunting for jobs now for a few weeks, the plan was that my spouse would be able to float us as I was able to support us while she was not working for periods during grad school. That plan turned out to be a gamble on her place of employment not imploding, which is precisely what has happened. We've got plans, but we are now squarely in Plan F or G territory when we sure would have preferred to be on Plan B or C at this point.

Tacoma is good because you can order lefse at a coffee shop and nobody bats an eye.
Tacoma is good because you can order lefse at a coffee shop and nobody bats an eye.

(Edit: Turns out I tested positive for COVID not long after this was written. Huzzah.)

All of this is to say, as I sit here writing this all out in the same library I once visited as a sixteen year old kid, is that the last year was not one where video games were much of a priority. When I sat down to count the games I actually finished this past year, I was surprised that the number broke 30. If that's the bar to clear for 2024, I'm not optimistic about clearing it. As for what I spent most of my time playing, you'll have to read on!

Anyway, this is all rambly and awful and I'm posting it to the fucking Giant Bomb blog section where a few dozen of us still lurk. About the most self serving thing imaginable, really. But then again, that's video games. I play them because I like the way they make my brain feel. I probably always will. I do think my relationship to video games is changing, just as my relationship to this physical space is going to be fundamentally changed soon. Just forcing up a bunch of nostalgic pap is all.

Let's just do this and go home. Okay then.

Oh yeah, there was going to be a fun recurring framing device about Katamari Damacy woven through this thing. Suffice to say it is better than every game listed below, by varying degrees.

Also, a note on time: I have perhaps never cared less about linear time than I have in the past year. Most of the games on this list are not from 2023. A few of them are. If they just stopped making games for a few years I'd get all caught up. Oh well.


Best Surprises

The Outer Worlds

For some bizarre and unarticulatable reason this specific past year, my spouse and I had a hankering for a big open world first person game that let you build up a crew of interesting characters to fill out a space ship that takes you from one interesting location to another while telling an at least passable story. Weird! I know we played this for a while around launch and bounced off, but I say again by some strange turn of events this wound up fitting a very specific niche. I have issues with the game, but I think those are as much me being tired of Creation Engine feeling games as anything else. Sometimes the Best Surprise is just being surprised at how much your relationship to a thing has changed over time, and with perspective, hint hint.

This is polite chuckle funny and it's still getting more of a laugh than anything in *another game*.
This is polite chuckle funny and it's still getting more of a laugh than anything in *another game*.

Stranger of Paradise: Final Fantasy Origins

I finished a Soulslike-like game for the first time! It has nu-metal and fedoars! It manages to enhance the lore of one of my favorite games in the Final Fantasy series! What the hell? My only regret here is I played this on easy to just Get To The Lore, and that wound up making what seems like a pretty beatable and player-friendly experience into an absolute cake walk. I also think this game has one of the worst inventory systems I've seen in a game. Just an endless stream of plus 1% shoestrings and shit. You can carry hundreds of meaningless new hats and crap and you'll use an infintesimal fraction of them. But on the other hand, an unrequited fistbump leads to a man named Jack Garland setting up the intro to Final Fantasy I. So.

Madden NFL 08/NCAA Football 08

The Xbox version of these ames doesn't look quite this good, but it's still alright.
The Xbox version of these ames doesn't look quite this good, but it's still alright.

Well, here it is. My most played game(s) of the last year. I went into some real deep depression wells throughout 2023, and after waking up from a fugue state I realized that I had built two dozen custom football teams. I had replicated the entire CFL, complete with current and historic uniforms. I founded Ryukyu University, saw them admitted to the WAC, go 6-6 in their first season while knocking out #24 ranked Boise State in the season closer and losing the New Mexico Bowl by 4 points. I then played out an entire NFL season as the BC Lions, pulling off a blistering 4-12 while playing the trade market well enough to pick up a few extra draft picks, and anyway yeah I played a lot of these games. More than I like to admit. I played a lot of Madden on the PlayStation 2(tm) in my youth. Sometimes retreating into the fallowest nostalgia is what is necessary to calm a brain.


Worst Experiences

Various Congo Bongo ports

An undercurrent of my video gaming year has been a steady descent into RetroAchievements madness. I've made it a sad, sick, sadistic little goal of mine to at least touch every game and port of said to which I have some claim of ownership, with the intent of farming as many of these pretend points on a silly website as possible. Hit me up and I'll share my account and we can make numbers get bigger, together!

Anyway. Congo Bongo isn't great shakes in its original form. In fact it mostly exists as a petty little spat between Nintendo and Isegami Tsushinki over Donkey Kong, which was actually programmed by the latter. Isegami Tsushinki was more than happy to develop an arcade game which also featured a large ape but represented a technological leap over Nintendo's game. It's okay. However! It has some home console ports that stand as some of the worst things I've played. The SG-1000 port, which was basically a launch title for the platform, is a sad little port job. Two of the levels are missing, as is the arcade isomentric perspective. The platforming in the sceond level is a damn mess due to the new weird slightly shifted perspective.

At least it isn't the VCS port. This version is also missing two levels, but for reasons only known to the gods and the programmers there was a noble attempt to preserve the isometric perspective here. The first level works alright, but the second is a just a disaster. I have seen videos of people completing it, which is the only reason I believe it is even possible to complete. The perspective is baffling, the original version's path of platforms is largely placed with floating targets, and your jump is just stiff enough to make this miserable beyond words.

Soccer for the NES

Props to the shitty Virtual Console filter for making this bad game even worse.
Props to the shitty Virtual Console filter for making this bad game even worse.

I like soccer. I do not like Soccer. Primeval sports games are a fine place to go if you're looking for a confusing and often wretched few minutes. Soccer for the NES fares worse than most of its black box sport-ish peers for just how limited it is. The game barely feels like soccer. It's a five on five game on a tiny field, which generously puts this in arena soccer territory but without walls that are in play, which automatically makes it worse. Arena soccer is rad as hell.

Right, this game. the dribbling animation is this awkward little kick in front of the player fielding the ball, which looks exactly as stiff as the game of soccer is not. Shooting is governed by moving a cursor up and down the opposing goal with the directional pad, which you are also incidentally using to maneuver your player. I find this to feel terrible. What is truly wild is you can elect to play this with 45 minute halves, which take about 9 minutes to play out. I don't even think the second player bump that all of these games get would overcome that much NES Soccer.

Yuuyuu Jinsei

This game was so bad it sorta derailed HuCARTography, along with general life bullshit. It's just a video game conversion of The Game of Life. The issue is, The Game of Life is one of the worst things we've ever done as a species. I hate it with all of my being, and I hated this game in turn. Just read my thing about it. Suffice to say I've been wondering lately if it, LocoCycle, or Surfing H3O is the single worst game I've finished. It's in rarefied air. The kind of air that gets trapped in a butt that makes a fart, haha! Fuck Yuuyuu Jinsei.


Honorable Mentions

Citizen Sleeper

Alright I know a lot of you played that very big RPG this year with the dice rolls and the fucking and whathaveyou. Well I didn't because it only came out on my couch-friendly platform for me a few days ago now, and at this point I'm working on a map of local food banks so I'm not buying that thing. But I did play Citizen Sleeper, a game which deals with some Big Problems and Big Themes using dice while also not overstaying its welcome. I appreciate the choose your own adventure nature of this game a lot. It's cool!

F-Zero 99

If you had told me at the beginning of the year that I'd be getting a followup to my favorite SNES game I would have probably called you a liar. I also would not have expected a Battle Royale style experience, and yet. And yet. Boy howdy, there are some people playing F-Zero 99 online right now that will make your punk ass wish you had not gotten out of bed that day. Wish you hadn't been born. Wish you hadn't paid Nintendo $20 at some point in the last twelve months so you could be fed your own teeth by somebody named ~~joseph43~~ on Nintendo Switch Online. Game's good though. I may never get a top ten finish when it counts but I'll take making the top half most of the time.


No Caption Provided


Okay, I have to write this out. This was supposed to chum the wife, at least as a homeopathic Skyrim substitute thing while the next Elder Scrolls is mind palaced, and in that respect Starfield is one of the more complete failures I have seen in some time. Skyrim worked, I would posit, on the Major Strength of a completely frictionless game which invites you, goads you even, into trying and doing everything. You can live out the monomyth of the wizard stealth archer with invincible dog companion who never initiates the quest that spawns dragons forever, just picking flowers and eating child sized wheels of cheese to your heart's content. Its Minor Strength is a cast of characters who have, for better or worse, become "iconic". Going back to that game and hearing the same three or four voice actors changing out hats and fake beards for every character, spouting their little canned lines in their city block sized towns and hovels, remains somewhat charming. It lacks the sheer robotic energy of Oblivion's version of the same thing done, arguably, better despite the technological limitations. The whole thing winds up being Soft, and Cozy, and Hyggelig.

The third thing Starfield asks a Skyrim worshipping fanbase is to play a simplified version of Star Wars: TIE Fighter. You then meet a procession of the most dishwater dull, poe faced saps in the entire universe (who are bankrolled by a weapons company CEO! he's just whitewashing his fucking reputation! what the fuck!) who just seem very excited that Space Is Big And We Can Go To It Wowee. These people, sadly, are also the ones with the most writing and they also pay better than most of the other work in the universe.

The moment I knew Starfield was going to be a deeply compromised experience for me was watching my spouse play the first five hours. She gave her character traits which are BY THE WAY the best idea in this game, they're free friction that you can apply right up front that give flavor and role playing footholds to a very large cliff face. One of those traits was, in essence, "I'm kind of a shit to my ship's crew which has some penalties but they always perform better as a result". Not earth shattering but it's something. After completing the "leave one featureless rock to fly to another before going to the worst mapped city in the history of Bethesda's video games and buddy that's saying something" tutorial, she found a Vague And Inoffensive General Space Religion Temple in Space Canada City. The second dialog option with the VAIGSRT Priest was "I sure feel about about being a piece of shit to my crew". She selected it, and the priest's response was "Oh that's alright lil bud, wanna get rid of some of the only role playing in this game? It won't cost you a dime."

You can just get rid of your traits.

I started a character named Sludgeworth. I've played 80 hours of the game. I upgraded my ship licensing to pick up more people in a desperate attempt to find any interesting persons in THE FUCKING UNIVERSE and keep them around. I built an interstellar logistics network to manufacture complex goods as a moneymaking scheme. I joined the only future corp in the One Good Town in the game, to discover it is I shit you not just some warmed over thieve's guild shit. After dozens of hours of trying to play as a shitty, balding, money grubbing capitalist Lee Van Cleef motherfucker I said fuck it and started doing the main quest. Buddy, Constellation is the most boring assembly of milquetoast saps in the universe but they're also turbo mode for making money. Just fly to empty rocks, scan said constituent rocks and the occasional shambling mound monster, and wham! there's a few thousand credits. Then I did my first temple thing, which I'm sure somebody thought was Very Cool, but I Would Disagree. Floating around toward Christmas tree lights was neat for maybe the first three times. I don't know what brain genius thought it would be better if you needed to repeat this fallow action about a dozen times, but nevertheless You Do. I was then given a Skyrim Shout menu (called it as soon as I saw that radial menu system had a big ol gap up top), which purportedly lowers gravity in an area.

So naturally I leave the temple, use this shout(tm) on my companion about ten feet from me, and it effects her zero percent. I try to jump, and it effects me zero percent. This power doesn't do anything? Oh, does this just work on enemies? Cool, lemme pull up the six menu layers it takes for me to get fast traveled to a place where they probably spawn, or I could use this same menu to fast travel to where this wretched mission must be turned in at my Vaguely Colonial Clubhouse in Space Canada City and fuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuck.

Having said all of that. There are things in this game which I found fun. My shitty capitalist is a gun pervert and modifying a range of pistols into lighweight, silenced instruments of fucking murder has been surprisingly good on my brainstem. Building out my space logistics network to make some sort of perverse widget out of other widgets is about as close as I've ever been to being a Minecraft deviant. I think the space combat is alright, though I honestly wish it leaned even more into complex flight mechanical stuff. But as you've gathered, I wish a lot of things in this game were different. It doesn't have enough cruft to be Elite, and it has entirely too many bizarre choke points to even sniff Skyrim.

Somebody I deeply respect from this site made a Daggerfall comparison with this game and I do think that's apt. I also think the game is Not Bad. It's just got a vastly more limited audience than one of the best selling, most exposed games of all time and feels like it was made in part for its own creators. I also wonder if it says more about me than anybody else that I can't fully give myself to Starfield.



10. Jet Set Radio

Chalk up another entry in the Jeff's Fiscally Irresponsible Video Game Habit series here. There are a few decent routes for normal people to play Jet Set Radio in $current_year, including the version on Steam that they've had on sale for literally no dollars and no cents several times. The game is playable on a Series X in digital form even. That version of the game, however, has two big drawbacks.

  1. It is not playable on a kiosk model of a Sega Dreamcast with a big honking heatpipe straight from the factory, which you have paid to have modded with a new fan, a recapped power supply, and which you have modded by hand to use a MODE drive emulator which contains the entire cannon of Good Dreamcast Games and several dozen others besides.
  2. It is missing two tracks from the original soundtrack, which as you probably know is an all time great. This is made up for, in some sense, by including tracks from all the regional variants in one game so you kinda get more JSR music than you even had from the jump? Still kinda stinks but there's a reason this isn't the primary drawback in the list.

(NOTE: I've since discovered this was delisted from Xbox platforms in 2023 and I missed my window to buy it. Shit.)

Look at this awesome colorful ass game!
Look at this awesome colorful ass game!

I've glibly described some games as "style exercises" as a shorthand for a very long time now. Jet Set Radio might be the greatest style exercise of all time. It captures Turn of the Willennium energy, crystalizes it, and animates it perfectly. Just skate around on sick cel shaded levels, tagging walls with art your middle school mind could only begin to fathom the coolness of, to a smorgasbord of the most unhinged J-rock soundtrack conceived of to that point. You know your soundtrack is great when you can just copy-paste most of it into the sequel and it still winds up being an all timer there as well.

The warts basically amount to some prescriptive boss fights, a few frustrations navigating levels finding things, and the lack of a second stick on the Dreamcast for tolerable camera controls. Even with those, we're still talking about one of the best games on the system.

(cw: the next three entries are all from the same franchise)

9. Theatrhythm Final Fantasy: Final Bar Line

It is public information that I do a recurring podcast series with @zombiepie and @thatpinguino. Some time ago I told these boys that we should really play Theatrhythm Final Fantasy: Curtain Call for the 3DS. @thatpinguino balked as he doesn't own a 3DS. To that I now say, pound sand! You can now Theat some Rhythm on your PlayStation(tm) family of consoles as well as your Nintendo Switch(tm)! And it's not much worse than the 3DS version!

Sure wish you weren't trying to lock me into playing five dozen FFXIV tracks!
Sure wish you weren't trying to lock me into playing five dozen FFXIV tracks!

To get my gripe with this game out of the way first, this game's worst feature (beyond its pricing and DLC scheme) is the structure. Curtain Call on the 3DS allowed you to dive in and play tracks at will, and handed you quests where songs were mixed and matched together. It was a bit more jazz. Final Bar Line's structure is altogether far too rigid, locking you into one game quest silo at a time and locking off others until you hit some arbitrary feeling points into each of those silos. The quest difficulties also range in a bizarre arrangement across games; structurally the game encourages players to start with "easier" games like Final Fantasy VII or, umm, Final Fantasy II before heading into "hard" games like FFVI and FFXIV. Shoutout to that last one in particular for having a quest series that is dozens of songs long, versus something like FF Tactics that has about seven tracks in total.

Structural issues aside, it's still a fantastic controller based rhythm game. It gets pretty darn hard as well! In addition to the 3DS entries' "tap on icon" and "drag icon with stick" tricks, Final Bar Line introduces multi-press keys which require you to occasionally hold one button while tapping/holding another. The higher difficulty levels of this game are absolutely brutal, and you are also under zero pressure to pursue those. If you simply want to tap along to the Mobius Final Fantasy soundtrack (for some reason) (you weirdo) you can merrily do that.

Maybe the worst thing I can say here is I just prefer the control layout and inherently less input sensitive nature of playing this on the 3DS and its discrete, integrated hardware versus the latency minefield of PS4 into sound receiver into projector with controller latency added for good measure. Still a great time though.

8. Final Fantasy III

This box art whips so much ass.
This box art whips so much ass.

As mentioned above, I met my goshdarn wife via the magical world of the Final Fantasies and regularly spend hours of recorded time discussing this series with friends. I love these games. Mostly. I've touched most of them, and spent a good deal of time with every one of them. Until this year though, Final Fantasy III was probably the least explored of these. Of course in my headiest days of discovering emulation I wound up with a few different fan translated patched versions of the Famicom game on my Sony Vaio(tm) with Pentium 4(tm) processor. I also owned the DS conversion thing at some point, long since traded away or lost. But neither of those excursions lasted more than a few hours.

I've now played this game to completion and, moron that I am, own two copies of its shiny Pixel Remaster(tm). I can confidently say that, of Final Fantasy games designed for the FC/NES spec, it is my second favorite. It feels like a dress rehearsal for the principle creative minds behind the series, working alongside a singular genius programmer in Nasir Gabelli for whom this wound up being basically a final huzzah on the platform and in the broader industry. The job system is here and it is barebones as hell, though it does lead to a lot of space for "expressive" gameplay as the kids call it these days. A few portions of the game are a bit to prescriptive to allow for a full range of options (though there is space for Horii's Path of Grindage to overcome these as well), and let me tell you about that last dungeon being a bunch of bullshit. The Pixel Remasters allow for quicksaving, but in fact that quick save is functionally a "save anywhere" feature in all but name. The original game lacked this, expecting you slog through effectively two (maybe three) Final Dungeon Hard dungeons without saving or restocking supplies at any point. And that's terrible. Did I abuse this feature to get through the game? You bet your sweet ass I did! There was a point in my life where I would have considered this to be dishonest or somehow Bad And Wrong, but there were times where I thought meerkats were called "meekrats" and let me tell you, those times persisted a lot longer than I would like to admit as well.

The game is full of JRPG grinding and good sprites and some of the best Famicom music from one of the seminal composers of the medium. It is also crusty, occasionally obtuse, and has ideas that were done better elsewhere; hell, Final Fantasy I has a job system **basically** and I think that game is better than this one despite being a hell of a lot simpler on paper. Obviously Final Fantasy V contains the purest statement on this FF jobs concept as well. What's wild is just two years separate FFIII and V. What a special company, and what a white hot streak they had from 1990 to 2001 or so.

7. Final Fantasy XII: The Zodiac Age

Now I'm not going to lie, I am a bit surprised to find myself putting this game in this spot on this list myself, But when I consider moving it any any direction, including right off the bottom, my gut response is a hard NO.

I feel a strange kinship with this game at this point. It wound up intersecting my life in some peculiar ways. You know, the life that I can't stop writing about in the margins of what is a normal top ten gamez i like this year lol listicle thing. I resonate with Matsuno and the feelings of burnout and exhaustion which ultimately drove him off of this project. The game was shepherded into a sellable form by Akitoshi Kawazu, a man responsible for one of my least favorite games and a few others I would really like to play for myself. You can see the Kawazu in this game with its absolute bullshit treasure drop system, and you can see the flamed out Matsuno in the overly ambitious story. In between these poles is a really interesting RPG which attempted to square an impossible circle: a single player MMO that is not 100% butt. It gets close!

There's also the PS2 angle to this whole thing. I think if we all sat together and, as Plutarch suggested occurred amongst leaders of the Greek city states of old, had a vote as to which is the greatest video game console of all time, I think most of the ballots would look like this:

  1. First console/Sentimental choice
  2. The Sony PlayStation 2(tm)

And a fair amount of ballots would look like this:

  1. The Sony PlayStation 2(tm)
The good characters in this game are almost strong enough to make up for the presence of Vaan. Almost.
The good characters in this game are almost strong enough to make up for the presence of Vaan. Almost.

The PlayStation 2's lifetime neatly contained my entire adolescence, teenage years and, due its insane longevity, my entire time in college including grad school. Discounting FFXI expansions, Final Fantasy XII was the final statement of the series on the best selling console of all time to this day. And even if we live in a world where the PS4 went onto outsell it (not possible anymore) or the Switch does (still possible!) FFXII is playable on both of those systems as well. I wound up playing a bit of XII in college, but at that point my video game time and interest was at its nadir and my time was mostly spent whipping through COD campaigns or writing very exciting papers on Unit 731. But I remember this game as the last huzzah of the PS2 in general (never you mind Persona 4, God of War II, latter day FIFA, etc) and that will carry a very literal nostalgia with it for me personally.

(I also wound up playing and beating this game on the Switch after poking it throughout the pandemic, so this game is now tied in with memories of those dark times as well)

The game itself is fine! The Matsuno shines through in its relatively complex and written villains, its ensemble cast (Vaan and Squeenix meddling be damned), and its relative inscrutability compared to the prior X entries' "stand across from the goblins and select Attack" approach to the JRPG. Some people hate, hate, hate that the game boils down to writing AI scripts of out purchasable, constituent pieces. I did not hate this! It is strange that, of all places, the most FFXII pollenation I've seen outside of this game is in the Dragon Age series with its party scripting tools. Mastering this system turns your party into a very cool dervish of murderous sexy rabbit and dollar store Han Solo types plus a rotating third.

It's just a shame that so much of this game is an Actually Good Story, Actually spread entirely too thin over enormous zones full of grindage and, again I must say this, some of the most anti-player treasure/loot drop stuff ever conceived by man. The horrible crystal dungeon toward the end of this game is drizzling shit bad. But there's a lot of great stuff surrounding that dungeon! I like this one a lot!

6. Panzer Dragoon Saga

No Caption Provided

I know, this probably feels a little low.

As somebody who owns a physical copy of this game (loose but all the same very real) and who is in a position where I am actively considering selling just to support my family in the near term, I wish Sega would put in the time and effort to reissue this game in some form or another so more peope could experience it. Not necessarily because it is some shining and perfect masterpiece, which it is not, but because I think the game's actual merits have been completely occulted by talks of its rarity and aftermarket value.

Ol' Azel: Panzer Dragoon RPG here isn't even a late model Saturn game, really, considering that system had games for most of another two years in Japan. It is, however, a fantastic role playing game with some production touches that games in the genre wouldn't touch for another console generation. A fair amount of the space on its four disks is dedicated to fully voice acted rendered video clips, and another chunk of each disk is dedicated to the fully voice acted in-engine content. The first disk in particular has an indulgent amount of video, setting up its plot built around one young person's desire for revenge and to learn more about the cute robot girl that was pulled out of a cave. As the story progresses you are presented with a combat system which manages to marry the gameplay of Panzer Dragoon with the workings of a turn based Japanese role playing game, and a soundtrack that at its peak punches with the likes of Chrono Cross.

However, while I'd venture to call the first disk Literally Perfect and while the second disk has some incredible references to Another Game, the reality is the game kinda runs out of shit by the middle of the third disk. There's a limited number of environments in what is a roughly 20 hour game, but too many hours of that are spent in one or two dungeon environments and one of those involves taking away your Rad as Heck Dragon and swapping it for a Vespa with a bad starter. The story ultimately lacks any real standout characters, which is a shame because the designs of Edge and Azel at least are great. Then again, I don't know if telling a story to rival Final Fantasy was ever really the point. Team Andromeda built this game as a technical showpiece, doing everything the hardest way possible, for what was even by the game's inception a dwinding potential audience both domestically and globally. It took a tragic toll on the team as well, given the non-zero amount of individuals who worked on the game who did not live to see its release.

(Pro tip: There are about a dozen items scattered throughout this game called D Units, and collecting them all will unlock a new kind of dragon for you. Finding all of these is not worth the time and will actively make your time with the game worse. I have learned this so that I may share it with you.)

Ultimately you're coming to this game for its one-of-a-kind combat and setpiece moments, including an ending which I won't spoil but I will describe as "going for maximum bang with minimal bucks". It is absolutely worth the time and effort to "find" a "copy" of Panzer Dragoon Saga so long as Sega doesn't buck the hell up and make it available themselves.

Also yeah part of why this game only winds up this high is I finished some real bangers this last year.

5. Metal Gear Solid 3: Snake Eater

I think I'm ultimately a Metal Gear Solid 2 person.

Having said that, holy smokes Snake Eater is a game. Hopping around all excited for games in the Metal Gear Solid series, on this site of all places, feels a little safe and pandery even for my tastes. What do I even say? It turns out one of the most popular, best selling entries in one of the the most acclaimed franchises of the entire medium is alright according to me. But then you play this game and are just constantly confronted with how exceptional it is.

Fair play, they make this guy mucho uncomfortable over the course of the game.
Fair play, they make this guy mucho uncomfortable over the course of the game.

Can you level criticisms against Snake Eater? Of course! It's another game where Kojima read a few interesting articles about some geopolitical topics and decided he should blend them into a story which also has a guy who has to go dooky real bad, yall. The presence of The Boss as a Strong Female Character belies its broad, shitty treatment of women (a conversation which should include The Boss as well). It has a kitchen sink approach to the Dualshock 2(tm) controller which occasionally asks you to do things that would not make sense in any other video game. The game quite literally makes a goof on itself for having a ladder sequence go on for comically too long, and that is the capstone to a middle of the game that can at times be a bit sparse. I ultimately grew pretty sick and tired of adjusting my camouflage and eating them titular snakes, or more specifically the menu fiddlefuckery that these require.

For me, a lot of these issues are eclipsed by a series of some of the most engaging boss encounters I've played, culminating in a dang masterpiece of the medium. These fights are moments in video game time, a few of them worthy of enshrining in a pantheon of Cool Boss Fights. Highlights would have to include your encounter with Ocelot and his stupid goddamn revolvers, the (optional!) war of stealth attrition with The End, and the final encounter with The Boss in all of its pageantry. Allowing the game to linger on the shot as long as you are willing to put off pulling the trigger to end things is just a five star ten out of ten molto bene moment which, even if it didn't invent it specifically, makes every try at such a scene afterwards feel like a cheap copy.

Also tying this ludicrous fiction into the rest of the twentieth century was kinda cool! The series began on the MSX with Kojima doing a little exploration of late 1980s South African border conflict stuff he probably saw on the news at some point, and while the other games in the series had pointed back through time, this grounds the whole fiction in pre-Second World War events which are also codswaddle. I dunno, I have a history degree and sometimes I like when something shows me a picture of a thing from 1946 and I can say "Hey that's familiar!", is that so bad?

I can't wait to get Metal Gear Solid 4 done with this year so I can more or less retire my PlayStation 3(tm).

4. Yakuza 0

If you want to get me to like your game, one of the cheat codes you can use is to put Space Harrier in there as a playable game.

This is another game which has some history on this site and has also been praised widely and recently, so tooting its horn here with too much enthusiasm seems as self-serving and redundant as it was about Metal Gear Solid 3 a few minutes ago. Nevertheless, these posts must be written. And in a similar vein, this game must be played.

Kinda wild that this game, strictly speaking, is a PS3 thing.
Kinda wild that this game, strictly speaking, is a PS3 thing.

My prior experience with the Ryu ga GoKuz-A Dragon series amounts to starting Yakuza 4 (via PlayStation Plus(tm)), watching the plot summaries for the previous three games, getting in some shogi, and finishing the first chapter. I enjoyed that. I also put it down. Yakuza 0 is not a game I put down, at least not for very long, because it managed to sink several little hooks into me that kept me coming back. This game seems to be one of the longer entries in the series and I would wager it winds up skewed that way (at least on HowLongToBeat, long may it live) because so many optimization perverts like myself get deeply involved in the hostess club and real estate management aspects of this game. I did not come even within the ballpark of 100% clearing my save file, but I did defeat the Five Billionaires en route to uncovering the truth behind a garden variety back alley murder.

And what a story that is woven here. I was not expecting this game to explore Sino-Japanese foreign relations in the 1980s. Turns out that's a pretty major undercurrent in the story here, alongside the anticipated skullduggery and misdeeds of the titular Japanese crime families. Kazuma slowly grows from a fledgling foot soldier Just Goku, and they manage to make this evolution make sense. They also sow seeds for the ensuing games in the series, from what I think I know, and then there's basically a second game included which focuses on Goro and how he might have a little bit of decent human being buried beneath an, umm, bristly exterior and all of that scar tissue.

Just fightin' dudes is also a good time as well. Just taking a walk to the arcade to play Space Harrier again or talk to my mushroom buddy in the alley and suddenly a random encounter starts and I start Definitely Not Fucking Murdering people with fists and bicycle parts. You wind up doing a lot of ol' punchy kicky in this game and I was never not having a great time doing jazz fighting with either protagonist.

3. Ico

Rounding out the PlayStation 2(tm) games on this list is another game I did not play on the PlayStation 2(tm). Ico remains available digitally on the PlayStation 3(tm) as a standalone download, though the physical version includes Shadow of the Colossus alongside it (plus some exclusive themes? I need to buy this thing and get those before PSN gets dragged behind the shed and shot).

Ico is a combination very deliberate puzzle platformer and escort mission with no clear objective beyond "leave the place you are in". That people have taken these pieces and have constructed upon them fan theories which range from gender transition narrative to retellings of biblical history is remarkable for two reasons; that there's not a lot in there to build upon, and that the game had such a huge groundswell of support despite its pitiful marketing budget.

It's the visual equivalent of the bad Resident Evil basement music.
It's the visual equivalent of the bad Resident Evil basement music.

When I think about what Ico would look like with contemporary Sony meddling, it makes me wanna vom. And I don't vom. I have vommed once in the last eighteen years and I didn't know what was happening at first. Ico 2023 would have a painstakingly motion captured sequence of some parents having a heated, cuss filled debate over whether or not to abandon their child. It would have dozens of voice samples of Ico saying things like "Need to jump to that chain, but how?" and "I think there's more bombs back there" and "Yorda, I think you can climb up here now!" and other shit. The game is instead a largely silent experience beyond atmospheric sound and punctuations of music for world events. Honestly the game is just refreshiing in its unpatronizing approach to game design. It's not like you're being asked to do anything terribly puzzling, but there are moments where you'll scratch your head a bit. Not having some future television adaptation friendly character chiming in with the solution to your problem after five seconds of player inaction, while holding a Sony controller, feels great.

I remember this game existing in stores in 2001, the year we got a PlayStation 2(tm). Let me tell you how much the box art of this game, which would indicate it's the story of a nine year old boy who plans on beating the shit out of a windmill with a 2x4, did not sell me on this title. I was thirteen years old, and the game I was interested in was the one where I could hijack cars and raise hell across a little facsimile of New York City. That was supplemented in a year's time by the game where you hijacked motorcycles and raised hell across a little facsimile of Miami. It wasn't until my family moved to Hawaii and I was confronted with Katamari Damacy, the best game, that I likely developed the capacity to enjoy Ico. In some instances life doesn't give you something until you're ready for it.

2. The Legend of Zelda: A Link to the Past

Continuing the trend of games that feel strange to discuss as they've been pretty well turned over for decades, here's goddamn Link to the Past. I've had maybe a dozen running starts at this game over the last twenty years, but 2023 was the year I finally put it to bed. And in truly controversial fashion, I enjoyed it!

Rather than get too stuck in describing what is, again, one of the most celbrated video games ever made, Ill talk a bit about my memories of it. This is not a SNES game I remember seeing or playing on real hardware (a short list). My first time playing it was probably via emulation on my Sony Vaio(tm) desktop in high school. There was this shop in Hawaii called Jelly's, which has since moved and changed its name to Idea's, which is the correct punctuation, and they sold me about half of the vinyl records in my collection between 2003 and 2006. They also sold video games. I remember seeing a lot of NES and SNES games for between $5 and $10, including A Link to the Past. Didn't pick it up though. I wound up buying my copy after being moved back to West Texas. It was in a skate shop that also sold assorted video game shit, and my copy was $6. The prices at which you could get stuff like mainline Zelda games twenty years ago were wild.

This screen was the barrier to me getting through A Link to the Past for years and years.
This screen was the barrier to me getting through A Link to the Past for years and years.

I'm not sure if the copy I have now is the copy I bought then, but I do know that the copy I have is the second SNES cartridge I ever gave a CR2032 battery swap job. The saves that were in RAM survived the job. I am pretty sure that game has a save which is as far as the Agahnim fight. That's where most of my runs at this game have died over the years. Not because it's some wild difficulty spike or anything. I think I had just had my fill by that point. I also wasn't initially into the Light World/Dark World split mechanics, and if I'm honest I still find getting between the two maps frustrating. This was finally the playthrough where I accepted that the hassle in getting between worlds was kinda the point, that wanting to be able to get around both worlds faster is the friction that gets resolved over the course of the back two thirds of game as you slowly uncover more abilities and items. By the end of the game you feel pretty powerful, both with your gear and your knowledge of all the points in the world where you can transit back and forth.

So yes, big congratulations to one of the most acclaimed works in one of the most lauded franchies from one of the most ballyhooed developers in the medium. You're not even my favorite game on the SNES, and you're not even the best game I played to completion in 2023. But you're pretty special.

1. Panzer Dragoon Zwei


GOD IS IN HIS HEAVEN. ALL IS RIGHT WITH THE WORLD. A Sega game, made for the Sega Saturn, has earned its place at the top of this list. And what a goddamn fantastic game it is.

I first encountered a Sega Saturn in 1997, I think. Blockbuster(tm) in Minot, North Dakota had a service where you could rent consoles. My family was trying to choose between the platforms available at the time so we rented all three in succession. The game that we pulled with the Nintendo 64(tm) was Mario Kart 64. The Sony PlayStation(tm) came with Test Drive: Off Road. And buddy if you think that's a dubious choice, the game we rented with the Sega Saturn(tm) was The Incredible Hulk: The Pantheon Saga. I'll let you guess which console got bought ultimately based on on those titles.

It wasn't until much, much, much later in life that I became Sega curious, and that's owed in large part to Sonic's Ultimate Genesis Collection for the Xbox 360. Not that emulation wasn't an option to me by that point, but having al lthese games I had only glimpsed as a kid available in a very couch coop friendly format in college was rad. Dipping into this little compilation over and over again dragged me, step by step, down the road of Service Games.

Blahblahblah, I came into a bunch of Sega hardware over the years and a big chumbus of a CRT to experience these games as they were intended. And as 2023 was the year in which I was going to use this perverse stack of old hardware to experience Panzer Dragoon Saga, it was also the year where I needed to play through all of Panzer Dragoon Zwei to do a ridiculous save file transfer into Saga in order to experience every microscopic crumb of that game.

So I sat down with about 90 minutes, played all of Panzer Dragoon Zwei from start to finish, and I'm here to tell you it's a goddamn masterpiece. The game is a series of tightly scripted levels with a couple branching paths to allow for replayability, and if ever there was a game to replay this is it. Each level is tightly and deliberately assembled, with camera and musical cues so lovingly hand crafted that to call the game "cinematic" feels like an underhanded complement. Sony makes a lot of "cinematic" games that are alike in quality to mid-aughts cable television. Zwei feels a fucking statement from start to finish, because it is.

The game runs at a pretty solid 30 frames per second, a 50 percent improvement over its predecessor, and has widescreen support. For a Saturn game from 1996 that is absolutely bonkers. Those would be fun trivia bits if the gameplay wasn't up to snuff, but as mentioned this is the sequel to Panzer Dragoon which is the spiritual successor to one of the best games ever made, so you bet your ass the gameplay is on point. The systems innovation here is a very light progression system which you can influence by finding and transiting the alternate paths in a few of the levels, improving your dragons stats ever so slightly more by learning the "best" route through the game. If you're worried that not knowing all the routes will have you missing out on some of the best setpiece moments of the game's generation, don't. The bosses in the game work up from rad as hell retrofuturistic biomechanical devices to the coolest retrofuturistic biomechanical devices you've ever seen. I didn't really say it before, but some of the best moments of Panzer Dragoon Saga are specific references and throwbacks to events in Zwei.


This game is so good that its existence improves other good games around it. It's unbelievable. It's one of the best games I've played. I hope it becomes more readily accessible for more people at some point, through that delayed Forever Entertainment remake or some other means. I hope I play more games as good as Panzer Dragoon Zwei in the future. That would be great.

Anyway here's me and my wife and my dog and Santa please don't tell him Santa isn't real he's just a boy.

He don't like Santa.
He don't like Santa.

HuCARTography VIII: Hardly Sporting

Pro Yakyuu World Stadium

Developer/Publisher: Namco | Release: 20 May 1988 (JP)


Psst. Hey man, check this out. You like that Famista? I got more of that Famista, but without that “Fami” part.


World Stadium is Namco cheekily releasing Famista-style baseball games on any non-Nintendo platform. This started out in the arcades before a couple iterations here on the PC Engine, ultimately becoming a whole line of yakyuu games on Sony platforms in the future.

I’m going to avoid the overwhelming urge to write one simple set of text here to be copy and pasted across every Famista and/or sports title to be covered herein and on NamCompendium. The urge is oh so strong.

Hard to overstate just how important this game was to Namco. Prior to the Tekken series, the Famista games were the best selling console games the company had in its portfolio.
Hard to overstate just how important this game was to Namco. Prior to the Tekken series, the Famista games were the best selling console games the company had in its portfolio.

Pro Yakyuu Family Stadium was a home baseball video game from 1986 that presented what was, at the time, a presentation of the sport that was pick-up-and-play friendly and cute as hell. The chubby little ballmen of Famista are iconic, influencing a certain subset of Japanese sports games to this day. As for the gameplay, the series shares a hamartia with a fair deal of sports games of its era: the CPU is an absolute bastard. The controls for batting and pitching are straightforward enough, but the game playing itself is better than you are at both of these aspects of the sport of baseball, to say nothing of the sluggish movement of the fielders. The view of the ballpark during defensive plays only reveals most, not all, of the playing field. You are made to rely on a small minimap in the corner of the screen to help position your outfielders for pop flies and short line drives, and all three outfielders move in unison. I am horrible at this, and so are you. Naturally, Pro Yakyuu World Stadium is pretty good at this.

Thus, this series is always best with an equally handicapped opponent: a friend or sibling, preferably of the sort who are interested in thirty five year old baseball video games over MLB The Show. With a level playing field, at least there’s the space for some banter while you both fumble with fielding and throw impossible looking pitches. Solo dolo, these games are Not That Fun.

In short you’ve played one Famista (and to that we can add R.B.I Baseball on the NES) you have pretty well played them all, and should know what's in the tin. Let’s get this over with then, shall we?


In terms of what World Stadium offers over its contemporaneous Famicom games, it’s a rough proposition. On the one hand the sprite work is more detailed, but not so much that you’ll be blown away by the power of Hudson’s machine. The music is the same Famista tracks you know and love, but with that tinny, slightly warbly PCE sound. It has a dozen teams which are related to, if not literal representations of, squads in the domestic Japanese baseball world. That’s neat, but that has been a feature of the series since its original Famicom release in 1986.

If you've played enough Famista, you can hear this image. Nobody on base so it's still that first jingle. You know the one.
If you've played enough Famista, you can hear this image. Nobody on base so it's still that first jingle. You know the one.

That’s just it though. The appeal here is getting a Family Stadium-style ballgame onto the platform, nothing more or less. World Stadium had made its arcade debut prior to this release, and the game was a hit in arcades just as it was on the Famicom. Pro Yakyuu World Stadium was certainly well received on the PC Engine as well. It scored a 35 in Famitsu, which at that early point in the magazine’s life was rarified air reserved for the likes of Dragon Quest, Zelda, and… well, the first Pro Yakyuu Family Stadium. It was enough, domestically anyway, to simply be a version of Namco’s take on the sport on the hot new platform.

Innings Played: 3. I’ve put in my time with these games and for my own sanity I’ve learned to limit my time with them.

Runs Scored: 2. The scores in man vs. machine Famista games are grounded, in the sense that some games are absolute blowouts in real life as well. The AI managed 7 in three innings.

Turbo Ratio: Not Applicable. This isn’t just a function of there not being an overseas release of the game either. has zero sales data for World Stadium at time of writing. Copies range from loose for $7 to complete for $25. I bought mine by chance for about $10 in a local shop. The closest thing America ever got to a Famista release, RBI Baseball by Tengen for the NES (a literal reskin of the first Famista game), goes for about $10 as well.


So, NEC and Hudson secured one of Namco’s hottest properties on their hot machine. And as the first sports release on the system, it had plenty of room to breathe and soak up market share in its own crease. No need to worry about competition. No need to release a competing product in the sports genre, or specifically the baseball genre, anytime soon. No sir, it’s World Stadium or bust on the PC Engine here on out. That’s right, Nothing Stupid Is About To Happen In This Space No Siree.

Power League/World Class Baseball

Developer/Publisher: Hudson | Release: 24 June 1988 (JP) / December 1989 (NA)


Been a while since we've had some TG16 box art to show off here.
Been a while since we've had some TG16 box art to show off here.

Of all the silly moves that could be made on this platform, by this company, it’s hard to imagine the release of Power League directly after a conversion of Famista being trumped anytime soon. I understand that Japan is one of maybe half a dozen domestic markets on earth that could stomach multiple baseball video games being released in a calendar year, but that’s not really the concern I can identify off the bat (hoho!). It's more the sales cannibalization angle; if the goal is to woo third parties to your non-Nintendo platform with the goal of having them make enough money to stick around – in the process slowly drawing mind share away from Nintendo – why do something that will demonstrably take some of that money away from them?

Like, imagine if you sold hot dogs on a street corner for a fairly nominal rental fee on the space. Then the guy who tolerates you setting up in front of his apartment building suddenly starts charging you $15,000 a month to use the space. Then I come along and offer you a different block that is up and coming but the rent is the same as the old agreement, so you jump over to the new block. Then I set up a hot dog stand directly next to yours with a sign that says my hot dogs are the best on the block no question. I would imagine, in this Tim Robinson-esque scenario, that you would be just a little but fucking furious.

Can I say definitively that this specific release laid the groundwork for there being only two Namco baseball games on the platform versus Hudson’s six? No. But are these phenomenon related? Hmm.

And you want to know the best part?


It’s just another period baseball game. There are differences in visual presentation and game feel from Namco’s product, sure, but not the sort of differences that mean a damn thing in 2023. These are both ancient sports games which hold limited contemporary appeal beyond firing up for the sort of TurboGrafx-16 multiplayer parties dreamed of by only the most perverse YouTube retro gaming personalities.

In retrospect, Reggie Jackson Baseball (and Tommy LaSorda Baseball) both use this perspective as well.
In retrospect, Reggie Jackson Baseball (and Tommy LaSorda Baseball) both use this perspective as well.

(It’s worth noting, in both this and the instance above, that the multiplayer in either game is bound to purchasing a separate multitap adapter to expand the PC Engine or TG16 beyond its native single controller bus)

Power League, which did receive a North American release as World Class Baseball (the only baseball game released on the platform over here), errs on the side of realism when compared to Famista derivatives. The player proportions are more anthropomorphic and less chibi, and the score after three innings of baseball was more representative of a typical game in my experience. Perhaps the most notable change beyond aesthetic choices is the shift to a more direct top down perspective during fielding versus the more tilt shifted fielding camera in Namco’s offering. It’s a more grounded, less fanciful video game rendition of a sport which had for years dealt with complaints of being overly protracted and dull. On the other hand, the AI is a bit less brutal than that of Famista/Worldsta (can I coin Worldsta?) and the soundtrack isn’t the same three or four warmed over tracks Namco had already recycled ad nauseum for two years by this point.

It’s no walk (ha! because baseball!) but I’d probably take Power League in this particular fight. I’d also take neither if given the option, thank you very much.

Innings Played: 3. The same three innings I will extend to the dozen odd baseball games on this system, as anything beyond that would imply that I’m enjoying myself.

Successful deep hits fielded: 3. Call it beginner’s luck but the computer opponent liked to pop it way up into left field, leaving me plenty of time to get my ball lad under the ball ball.

Turbo Ratio: 1:2. A complete Japanese copy of Power League goes for $10, half of the $20 going rate of World Class Baseball.


Author's Note: Looks like I've failed to link Chris Bucci's Turbo Views videos for the last few available games. Gonna backfill these in the coming days, starting right here and now with his video review of World Class Baseball.


HuCARTography VII: Yū Yū Jinsei

Yū Yū Jinsei

Developer/Publisher: Hudson

Release: 22 April 1988 (JP)


Piss temperature: Boiling
Piss temperature: Boiling

The Game of Life is abysmal. It’s the dirt worst board game. I rank it worse than Candy Land in a walk. Both games are abominable, make no mistake. However, I can think of at least one way to make Candy Land at least slightly more interesting and game-like: draw two cards and pick the better one. At that point you’re at least working with the children (because to be clear these are both baby games) on some basic strategy like making the most of choices. What’s there to do in The Game of Life? It’s a series of random events. There’s little to no meaningful interactions between players. It reduces life to its most shallow metric, the simple pursuit of money, as the only real goal or end point. I think it’s one of the most dismal indictments of capitalism ever produced.

I’ve spent some time in therapy over the last few years. One of the most helpful things I’ve gotten from that experience is being reminded of how much agency I actually have. It turns out I have the ability to simply walk away from bad experiences if I want. There may be consequences, sure, but I can choose to take those consequences. As for circumstances beyond my control, I can frame these events as random chance, as natural consequence, or as the whims of fate (feel free to capitalize the F). As it happens, a lot of events in the “outside of my control” column don’t feel great compared to events I can influence. As far as I care, that’s just that lack of agency making itself known.

I bring all of this point because The Game of Life is one extended exercise in having near zero agency. Beyond a few basic choices, the player is a passive observer to a game of chance. Money simply appears and disappears. You simply wind up married and with kids based on a plastic spinner. Your quality of life in the game’s take on your end of life is a simple function of how much money you randomly wound up with at a point on the board.

I even think the physical game looks like shit. It's a visually uninteresting ketchup-and-mustard path with cheap plastic parts. There's a reason Catan was such a revelation to so many of us in college.
I even think the physical game looks like shit. It's a visually uninteresting ketchup-and-mustard path with cheap plastic parts. There's a reason Catan was such a revelation to so many of us in college.

This is not only a horrible game on its face, I would argue, but also a profoundly awful worldview to even insinuate to the younger audience toward which such a rudimentary game is targeted. I would rather teach young people about their own agency, that they have the power to make meaningful choices throughout their lives. Furthermore, I would rather work toward a society which does not have money in hand and money contributed as the barometers for the sort of end of life care you deserve.

Growing up, I played The Game of Life with family members a few times. The thought of that bums me out. I can’t honestly say I’ve made life choices based on my seven year old experiences with The Game of Life. But I can say that there’s a body of research to indicate that young brains are surprisingly sponge-like, and they’ll absorb the messaging around them. A bunch of middle aged people laughing because a player got sick and lost all their money, and had to retire to a farm in the middle of nowhere because That’s Just How Things Are, is not made better by the fact that some of these relatives were describing the guts of their own lived experiences. Maybe it’s actually a tragedy that people get kicked down the ladder for the rest of their lives due to events outside of their own control. Perhaps instead of spending hours of family time creating little pocket dimensions of people stuck in horrible situations while saying “Shit Just Happens Sometimes”, we could spare some time trying to improve society somewhat.

I don’t know man, I just don’t like The Game of Life I guess, anyway.

Suffice to say I find it puzzling to say the very least that the Jinsei genre of games has had a long life in Japan. At least the physical board version of The Game of Life has the single temporal merit of gathering a few friends or loved ones in a physical space, without the need of some screen or other digital abstraction to share in an activity. A Jinsei video game removes even that token appeal. This is a gripe I share with most digital board game stuff, to be fair. But at least most electronic facsimiles of board games are ersatz takes on things worth one runny shit.

I did not look forward to this experience. Then I had the experience. Was my mind changed by the playing of Yuuyuu Jinsei?


Maybe the white car will move a lot. Maybe it will move a little. Play to find out!
Maybe the white car will move a lot. Maybe it will move a little. Play to find out!

No. It’s just The Game of Life.

Here’s a list of things working in this game’s favor.

  1. By allowing you to designate the number of players, you can shorten the length of a game of Jinsei by playing the entire thing either solo or against one other player or computer.
  2. The music is okay.

There, all done.

For posterity's sake, this post took me several months to finish because I was genuinely rocked to my core by how much I hated this game.
For posterity's sake, this post took me several months to finish because I was genuinely rocked to my core by how much I hated this game.

This product is exactly what it advertises. You make a choice of whether to enter the workforce immediately or to attend school at the jump, then slowly progress across a board one roulette wheel spin at a time. You occasionally land upon a choice space where you can risk your money in exchange for more money. You occasionally land on a space where the game arbitrarily hands you money. You occasionally land on a space where the game arbitrarily takes money from you. You occasionally land on a space where the game decides to move your piece back to the start of the board. You occasionally get a holographic rookie Ken Griffey Jr. card by commenting on this blog post. You occasionally land on spaces which allow you to either rob your opponents of $100,000 or move them back a fixed number of spaces. You occasionally make it to the end of the board where you can gamble all of your money on a one in ten shot to become a millionaire and win the game automatically. You occasionally wind up close enough to a player who triggers a random event that takes half of your money. You occasionally have baby. You occasionally occasionally you occasionlolaksjdlajieaka;sdoiafe

What a fucking embarrassment to this entire medium. Did you know that this game has its origins in a board game from 1860? To think this species has allowed this fecal colony to fester and drip its pus all over the place for nearly two centuries makes me want to go smash some windows. God damn it. Not just the worst game I've played to date on the PC Engine, but one of the worst I've ever played to completion.


Amount of hatred I have towards Yuuyuu Jinsei: Immeasurable.

Turbo Ratio: Who cares. If you are spending money on this thing, get help. I’m probably not your friend either.


HuCARTography VI: R-Type


Developer/Publisher: Hudson

R-Type I 25 March 1988 | R-Type II 3 June 1988 (JP) | R-Type November 1989 (NA)


No Caption Provided

We’re eight games in and we’ve finally arrived. Here it is, the first shooter released on the PC Engine. R-Type would define the fate of the platform in a way that Hudson likely did not foresee. In some sense this is the canonical game for the system, though for my money the title most deserving of that position is a little down the line yet.

But I’m getting ahead of myself. What the hell is an R-Type anyway? This is a conversion of an Irem arcade shooter from 1987. It was rapturously well received in Japan, being the highest grossing arcade game of its release year and remaining in the top 10 highest grossing games for all of the following year. The game itself utilized a new arcade board designed by Irem and featured Giger-inspired visuals, an innovative “Force Bit” option mechanic, and a high level of difficulty even for a genre defined by its willingness to kick in your teeth.

Fun fact: Nintendo is the publisher and distributor of record for R-Type in North American arcades. It was the last arcade game they released for a good long while.

R-Type was ported to a few systems. The ZX Spectrum version of the game is warmly regarded by devotees of that platform, with the game winding up at or near the top of a lot of Best Speccy Game round-up type lists. The Master System port is also pretty good, with a nifty FM Synth soundtrack on cart. But the PC Engine conversion towers over the lot of them, by virtue of being the most technically impressive. What cuts are made here, specifically the loss of some vertical resolution and a few bouts of flickering sprites, are more than acceptable for how damn close they got here.

Shoutouts to our PAL pals who got to play R-Type looking like this.
Shoutouts to our PAL pals who got to play R-Type looking like this.

There is one particular fly in the ointment, however. You’ll note that the release dates above indicate that this game did not come into the world in the usual way. R-Type has a veritable feast of sprite work, compared to anything prior to it on the PC Engine. These sprites take up memory, and due to either technological or fiscal limitations Hudson was not able to fit this onto a single HuCard in early 1988. The result? R-Type released on two cards, R-Type I and R-Type II, each with four of the eight levels that comprise the arcade game. By the time of the North American release of the game, my guess is NEC and/or Hudson were able to foot the bill for larger ROM sizes necessary to make this game whole.

No Caption Provided

I’m not all that skilled at shooters, but this game is a real treat for the senses. In the past I've made it up to the gates of the fourth level before tapping out. Let’s have another round.


Holy shit this game is good. By no earthly measure am I good at this game, in fact I struggled to grind my way through level three again just as I always have. But with a little more experience in the genre I can appreciate what this game is doing better at this point, and it’s rad as hell.

The thing about R-Type is that the difficulty is less about throwing a gazillion space ships with a bazillion bullets on screen for you to endure. Its challenge, instead, stems from solving how to navigate safely through each of the eight levels. This in turn, comes to include when and how best to utilize your Force Bit for both its offensive fire and invincible hit/hurt box. The first two levels are straightforward horizontal shooters, with space to experiment with your bit and lots of wild looking enemy sprites. The first boss is basically on a timer, and adept use of your Bit can have it shredded in very short order. The second end boss is more of a solved puzzle type, where the solution is to place your ship in one precise spot and fire away until the weird yonic worm tunnel monster is killed.

Now that's a sprite artist working through some stuff in public.
Now that's a sprite artist working through some stuff in public.

Then you get to the third level, that classic arcade game trope. If you’ve ever fiddled around with any shooter made after 1987 with a level built around fighting one massive alien mothership, this is the archetype. The level itself is only two or three minutes long but its impact reverberates through shooter design to this day. You’ve got to carefully maneuver your ship through tight spaces, emphasizing smart use of the Force Bit to clear out enemies in tough to reach spots before slipping into a narrow spot on the back of the ship to take it out.

And that’s as far as I’ve made it in R-Type! I’ve poked the fourth level a few times but no farther. A clean run of R-Type I on Popular Video Sites Online reveals that the HuCard can be devoured in well under twenty minutes with practice. However, you will be putting in a great deal of time before you roll the first four levels unless you're quite adept at this sort of thing. And that’s before you get to the second set of stages, originally released on the separate R-Type II HuCART. These are bastards, every one of them, and I’ve yet to finish the first of these. Nor am I particularly interested in doing so, to be honest. This is a survey, not a ThaBeast721 style quest to beat every PC Engine Game.

This image alone is one of the most iconic in its genre, and on the PCE/TG16 platform.
This image alone is one of the most iconic in its genre, and on the PCE/TG16 platform.

The impact and legacy of this one is fairly hard to overstate. I’ve looked at the Famitsu scores for about half of the PC Engine’s library at this point, and can say conclusively that it was one of that publication’s few PCE games to score in the gold score territory. Its 34 puts it just shy of the 35s scored by Ys Book I & II and, uhh, Pro Yakyuu World Stadium. It is tied with Devil’s Crush and, furthermore, a point higher than the PCE conversion of Snatcher. And these were some of the slobberiest Famicom devotees in the world, writing in what was more or less a video game monoculture. Even those review staff folk couldn’t deny what they were looking at. Needless to say a cursory stroll through Shmup YouTube will have you sooner or later coming across PC Engine R-Type (or more likely its North American release which compiled both halves into a single card), with genre deviants still enamored with its accuracy and performance.

Now, would I recommend this is a game to introduce people to shooters on the PC Engine? Hell no. Its high skill floor and brutal late game are anything but new user friendly. I have a very specific recommendation for this general subject; as to horizontal shooters specifically I’d point to the PCE port of Gradius as a jumping off point. But as a thing that has to be seen, a necessary waypoint on the journey through this library? With apologies to Victory Run, it’s the first truly essential game in the system’s library. You owe it to yourself to have a look at this thing if you are interested in the platform. Just don’t expect to feel great about your video game acumen if you aren’t immersed in this genre.

Times Crushed Under The Stage 3 Mothership: 2. Turns out part of my problem is tracking my ship and my Force Bit independently, and mistaking the invincible one for the non-invincible one.

Number of Types of R-Type: 3. There is the split Japanese release (with no interoperability between the carts, in case there was any doubt), the “complete” North American release, and the CD-ROM2 release which allowed Japanese players to experience the entire eight level game on a single piece of media for the first time, with added redbook audio. Maybe I’ll make it that far.

Turbo Ratio: 1:1, incredibly. A complete North American copy of TG16 R-Type is sitting at $80ish on Price Charting at time of writing, which is about the cost of complete PCE copies of R-Type I and R-Type II combined. You can save about $20 importing R-Type Complete on CD-ROM2, but at that point you’re also in CD-ROM2 drive territory so money is not a thing you care about at all. You sicko.


Author's Note: Originally failed to link Chris Bucci's video review of this title. Here it is.


HuCARTography V: Youkai Douchuuki and The Arrival of Third Parties

Here we are at the big inhale, before the console really steps into the spotlight. And by an astonishing coincidence, the occasion aligns with another specific perversion of mine. The next few entries in this thing will be a little more substantial. My work situation is very much Not Normal yet, and I don't have a great idea of if/when that will happen for me again. This might formally become a biweekly thing for the time being. In the meantime, follow Borgmaster and subscribe to the Deep Listens podcast because you never know when Fandom will decide to kill the blogs on this site for no reason.


Yokai Dochuki

Developer/Publisher: Namco | 5 February 1988 (JP)


Third parties arrive on the PC Engine! And who else would it be than those wizkids at Namco, the second ever third party developer on the Famicom. Who was the first, you ask? Hudson, of course.

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Yokai Dochuki, which I’ll roughly translate to “The Journey of the Yokai”, is a Namco arcade platformer from 1987. I’m going to be incredibly broad here and say Yokai Dochuki is Namco riffing on Capcom’s Ghosts 'n Goblins. The game has you traversing a handful of platforming levels with a horror/hell/yokai theme, using projectile weaponry to deal with various monsters impeding your progress. There are shops along the way where you may spend currency picked up in levels, making this another game with a little bit of Wonder Boy essence sprinkled into it. There’s also something like a morality system. It’s got quite a bit going on, honestly.

I’ve poked this briefly in the past and honestly wasn’t thrilled. It is one of the handful of HuCards I own, what with me being a bonafide Namco pervert, but I’ve never seen fit to actually play a hard copy of the game.

I do have a bit of a head canon around this one, however. This game was released right around the time Namco and Nintendo began a bit of a public spat. As mentioned, both Namco and Hudson were early comers to the Famicom, and had received something like most favored nation status when it came to licensing and production of games for the system when both came to the platform in 1984. At that point, it was not entirely clear that Nintendo was destined to become a company that produced multiple feature films. Three years later, however, Nintendo was the home console market if you weren’t in Europe or Brazil. When it came time to renegotiate terms around licensing deals, they came to the table with an arrogance and entitlement that may be a bit familiar to anybody who follows Nintendo’s modern legal machinations. This led to some very ugly spitting back and forth between Nintendo President Yamauchi and Namco President Nakamura in the domestic press, not to mention sowing the seeds for some of Tengen’s activities in North America. We won’t get into that all here though.

What matters is these negotiations were certainly grounds for Hudson, Namco, and eventually other developers to seek out other platform options as they came along. Neither company ever fully stopped supporting the Famicom – in fact Namco would release dozens of games for the system even after this point – but going forward it was not a foregone conclusion that the Famicom would be receiving either ports of the latest and greatest arcade titles, or flagship original creations. Yokai Dochuki is the doyen of this movement. The Famicom would receive a conversion of this game four months after the release of the PC Engine version, and while it is not the worst game Namco would publish on the platform, it is by most measures far inferior.

Happy to provide that bit of background, because now I’ve got to play this thing.


Youkai Douchuuki is about as middling a game as I can imagine. It is perfectly fine, but with nothing to recommend it today.

(Arcade screenshot) The cluttered interface does this game zero favors.
(Arcade screenshot) The cluttered interface does this game zero favors.

I failed to mention above that this game features not only a morality system of sorts, but also that it ties into the fact that there are multiple endings to this game. I also omitted that you are playing as a young boy named Tarosuke who was sent to the Jikogu, aka Narana, the Buddhist hell world where souls are sent to be purified. His crime? Causing mischief during his (brief) life. The game is a quest to reach Yama, a judge-like figure present in East and Southeast Asian pantheons, in order to determine the final fate of young Tarosuke.

You do that with some ho-hum hopping and shooting in a world filled with yokai enemies which you may or may not recognize from the recent Yokai Watch series from Level-5, all while buying material upgrades from shops. At the end of levels, you play a brief single screen shooter where your goal is to protect a praying Tarosuke while he beseeches an oni for entry to the next level of hell. Here you control a spirit, Monmotaro.

The actual ending you receive is determined as a function of how much money and how many demons you collect in the final level of the game. There are five of these endings, with the best and worst sending Tarosuke to Heaven or Hell respectively.

I did not see these endings naturally because, to be honest, I found the gameplay here a bit too tedious. You are only able to shoot horizontally, so you’ve got to get yourself in position to deal with enemies on multiple platforming tiers. The jumping itself is a bit stiff to boot. It’s not terrible, but in terms of raw platforming I think this is outdone by Bikkuriman World. Maybe not where I'd want to rate in terms of my platforming.

Ah well. It’s just as well that Namco used this game to get to grips with the new hardware. Things will start looking up for them very shortly thereafter. And as for the PC Engine itself, an all time great was just around the corner from this freshman effort.

Oni Appeased: Two. The whole game is beatable inside of an hour, but I am a busy boy with places to do and things to go.

Turbo Ratio: Not applicable. You can pick up a loose copy of the inferior Famicom port for $10, a third the price of a complete PC Engine copy. The arcade version is also available via Hamster for $8, and if you simply must play this game you may as well play it raw.


HuCARTography IV: Jaseiken Necromancer

Jaseiken Necromancer

Developer/Publisher: Hudson | 22 January 1988 (JP)


Early in this project I alluded to just how complicated the PC Engine platform looks to an outsider. It has an 8 bit central processor with 16-bit graphics processing. It has multiple variants, some of which include minor chip variations while others include CD-ROM units and different BIOS revisions. Those CD-ROM cards are particularly hairy, and kept me off trying to emulate the system for years. These factors are often cited as to why the platform, it is argued, was not a success compared to its brethren.

Another factor often cited was the relative lack of RPGs, this at a time when the format was coming into its own both critically and commercially. Where are all of the Final Fantasy clones? Why isn’t there a Dragon Quest equivalent on my TG16? It’s just shooters and late 1980s arcade ports all the way down, right?

Well, dear readers, in truth the platform wound up with a goodly amount of role playing games by the time of its death. Indeed, there were roleplaying experiences of all types. Ports of western PC games, strategy, and certainly a few games that owe their entire inspiration to one Yuji Horii. As it happens, a majority of these were either 1) exclusive to Japan, 2) released on one of those pernicious CD-ROM formats, or 3) both. And as it also happens, the sixth game ever released for the PC Engine meets the first case.

Jaseiken Necromancer has an immediately striking piece of box art. Done on commission by no less than Hans Ruedi Giger, it evokes a horrific biomechanical setting which sets it leagues apart from the friendly cover art of Toriyama or the wispy fantasy works of Amano. This is an RPG with some Fucked Up Stuff, probably.

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My working foreknowledge of this title is as follows:

  1. This is a fairly simple JRPG, having been made to live on a two megabit HuCard. Its primary innovation is the ability to swap between multiple premade characters into different parties of three, each of which trios have their own strengths and weaknesses. Strategy is built around determining which pairing is best for a given challenge.
  2. Being a JRPG from the late 1980s, the amount of grinding is too high to chart.
  3. There is a partial translation of the game on, one which unfortunately leaves all the plot and text boxes untouched for technical reasons. Between this translation and a detailed guide done by Griever_GF on GameFAQs, this game is mostly playable by a non-Japanese reader.

HowLongToBeat indicates that Jaseiken Necromancer clocks in between 30 and 40 hours long. I can therefore guarantee I will not be finishing this game, now or ever. With that in mind, how is this thing?


I’ve messed with quite a few “classic” JRPGs at this point. I’ve finished Final Fantasies I and I, Dragon Quests I and II, Phantasy Star II, and fiddled with various console ports of Wizardry and the like. I don’t recall any of those games filling me with as much dread as Necromancer did when, upon defeating my first trash mob of one bug, I was awarded one (1) single experience point and two (2) gold.

Now, we can deduce a few things from there. As it turns out the gold yield was tolerable, allowing for a stay at an inn every three mobs or so. The experience yield, however, is a little on the low side. Even if the leveling tables for characters have small increments, this is going to be an absolute grindfest.

Fair play, this does look a good deal more impressive than your contemporary Famicom JRPGs.
Fair play, this does look a good deal more impressive than your contemporary Famicom JRPGs.

I played about two hours of this to really get my sea legs and have some force to put behind my opinions on this game I will not finish. In that time I learned a little bit. It turns out the choice of party you make is actually permanent, meaning once you choose two of the five possible companions you are thereby locked into that choice for the next several dozen hours. This is kinda cool, in the sense that your playthroughs of this game can be somewhat different. The companions available to the player are Lime, a damage magic specialist; Chaos, a recovery magic user; Baron, a physical attacker with better damage output than the protagonist; Maist, a rogue with high speed but relatively low damage; and Romina, an all rounder who requires quite a bit of leveling to become great at anything. A Red Mage by another name, basically.

Upon assembling your merry band of misfits, it’s out into Starting Town™. This game has allocated a sparse amount of tiles to label its buildings in town, which are 90% the same little house but with a roughly 4x4 pixel placard to indicate that a service is provided therein. Starting Town has an inn, a resurrection shop, an item shop, a place to buy swords, and a magic store.

One of the truly cute things about this game is that you start with a basic weapon for most classes, but you must manually equip said weapon lest you enter your first fracas unarmed. This is done by a very much cribbed from Dragon Quest style menu, with options for Talking, Inspecting, Inventorying, and Statusing your boys and girls. Having to select a menu option to speak to NPCs is a depreciated thing these days, but for a game developed in 1987 This Is Fine. Having the players walk into combat with their swords holstered because they fail to check if they’re equipped by default? That’s some bullshit.

In any event, upon leaving town you encounter Late 1980s JRPG Encounter Rate Combat. If you haven’t taken the plunge, allow me to explain. You know the trope of these games having a random encounter every pace or so? Absolutely in play here. You will be fighting trash mobs for hours and hours and hours. And you really need to be doing this, as the enemies outside of the immediate orbit of town will beat you bloody. My party of Hero (the canonical name if online guides are any indication), Lime, and Maist got to work fighting these moths and zombies for a while.

It turns out this game has a neat mechanic whereby different characters have different level tables. Unlike a lot of role playing games with EXP mechanics, this hearkens to more of an AD&D experience (or, more likely, a Dragon Quest II experience) where some characters will accumulate stats faster than others. In my case, Maist hit level 2 before Hero, and well before Lime. This has the feeling of your classic “Linear Warrior, Quadratic Wizard” trope, where physical damage dealers scale faster but eventually tail off in utility to a magic user with a range of wild and crazy spells for different situations. I like this!

"Yep, that's a Japan-exclusive Dragon Quest clone alright. Bad news is once you get one you've got a couple dozen at least. I hope you have good home owners insurance, friend, because ho boy."

Another nice touch are the enemy sprites. The competition in the console role playing game space at the time relied on static sprites for enemies, perhaps set against solid black fields and/or in windows. Necromancer draws reasonably detailed sprites onto environmental specific backgrounds, and they even have some light animation. Furthermore, upon death, they spurt blood! It’s kinda nifty and adds a nice visceral weight to the game’s combat.

Alas, that’s all I have to report. I fought dozens of fights against swordfish, bugs, and zombies in various formations. I bought a spell. I stayed at an inn several times. I walked around a lake looking for a town, based on the highly reviewed GameFAQs guide. Then the weight of the task on hand fully fell upon me and I realized that nothing here was going to really grab me. I’m relying on a translation with reasonably done menus and spell names but no plot or dialog is in English, so I can either rely on machine translation and attempt to suss out a Japanese horror/eldritch video game plot from the Showa era, or try to engage with a Showa-era JRPG on a strictly mechanical basis. To that end I’ve played several of those (the Showa era having ended in 1989) and this absolutely another one. I’m good.

The historical positioning of this game is, to invoke one ArbitraryWater’s terminology, dubious. It is the first role playing game on the platform, and would remain the only one for a good long while. In that sense it had its niche. On the other hand, this had the incredible misfortune of launching directly between Final Fantasy I and Dragon Quest III. The former is a bit basic, but the six class party system alone allows for a more varied experience than Necromancer. The latter is arguably the best JRPG on the Famicom, a high water mark for the genre. Both games put this one right into the ground.

Not gonna lie, the title screen art is less Giger and more witch house.
Not gonna lie, the title screen art is less Giger and more witch house.

I’d extend that assessment to the music as well. The soundtrack is not nearly varied enough for a thirty hour game, and even if you were to remind me that the quantity of music is not that far off from FFI or the early Dragon Quest titles on the Famicom, I’d argue the music in those games is infinitely more memorable than what is on offer here. Uematsu wrote the Final Fantasy Prelude in literally minutes and we’re still humming it thirty five years later, it is instantly recognizable. I stopped playing Necromancer three hours before writing this and I have forgotten the town music already.

So, that’s Jaseiken Necromancer. It’s worth noting that this game is still available, for now, on both PSN through the PS3 and on the Wii U Virtual Console in all territories. That’s right, Konami is selling an entirely Japanese role playing game from 1988, with zero translation niceties, for a couple bones on the Wii U right now. This was also included on the PC Engine/TurboGrafx-16 Mini in all territories, again untranslated. Is that a good deal? Well...

Party members resurrected: 1. Don’t stray from the starting town until you’ve gotten a level or two on you.

Encounter to Steps Ratio: 1 to 3 or thereabouts. Not for the faint of heart.

Turbo Ratio: Not applicable. However, when you factor in the roughly $8 cost of the game on the Wii U Virtual Console versus a complete HuCard, you could make the case that we’re in about 1:2 territory for the $20 physical copy. However however, given that most of you don’t own a Wii U (and that I traded mine in a few years ago when I realized I was never going to use it again, Game & Wario be damned), the cost of a used Wii U plus the game makes this a silly proposition. Not to mention the Wii U eShop is closing in short order.

<---HuCARTography: Year I Round Up


Jeff Presents His Own Games of His Year 2022

Note: Life comes at you fast some times. A unique opportunity has fallen into my lap this week, and time I was planning on spending doing some writing is instead going to be taken up by something else. I have a few articles already written, but I want some more in the can before I get back to posting HuCARTography entries. Stay tuned, and thank you for your patience.

I got invited to a WiiU pre-release event ten years ago. It was weird!
I got invited to a WiiU pre-release event ten years ago. It was weird!

Well, here I am. I have now seen the entirety of 2022, plus a little bit of this thing we’ve elected to call “2023”.

My last year was spent trying to claw things back out of a plague-ridden pit. There was a little more visiting with friends and family, some interstate traveling, and overall I am exiting the year feeling about as socially un-isolated as I could hope for in the current environment of multiple communicable respiratory diseases.

There have also been some related efforts at improving my own mental health. I started seeing a therapist. It’s been really great! I’ve found myself being able to better articulate my own wants and needs, which turns out to be a useful stratagem in communicating with other people. Who knew?

In that spirit, I think one of the needs that this site fulfills is a need for community around our shared hobby. It is not lost on me that this website has changed a lot in the last two years. I’ve been lurking around here for over a decade now. Change is not new to Giant Bomb. I think having new opinions and perspectives on this hobby – to say nothing of broader aspects of the human experience – is vital. Something I’ve been working on as part of the therapeutic process is approaching new situations from a position of gratitude. I don’t know a lot of the people who are going to read this thing, but for those of you who do show up, thank you for your time. I hope that we can all continue to make this community one of the best on the World Wide Web.

Alas, something I have not done a ton of this year is roll credits on games. That is not to say I haven’t been playing many of them, in fact I’ve hands on dozens of them these past twelve months. I’ve talked about a few of them on the Deep Listens podcast, others on Hardcore Gaming 101’s Top 47,858 Games of All Time show, and continue to write about them at NamCompendium (I promise it’s not dead!) and the new HuCARTography series right here.

Some of these games I have determined to be Worth of Various Merits. So I made some lists! Here they are! Hurray!


(Per last year’s post, I have continued to eschew the feeble notion of linear time in favor of experiencing all of the games at once forever. Hence most of these games are not in fact from 2022; in truth I only played a handful of This Year’s Hot New Releases.)


My Comfort Food Game of the Year

Devil’s Crush

Early this year, I was sent an email by John Microsoft with a special offer: I could buy an Xbox Series X for the low cost of having to bundle in Assassin’s Creed: Valhalla. One traded in Xbox One X later I began living the current generation dream. Even better, after paying $20 to register myself as a Very Real Developer of Very Real Games on the Xbox platform, I began to avail myself of various dark magicks on this Series X. It turns out the system is a very good Atari VCS, Famicom, PC Engine, Mega Drive, Super Nintendo, PlayStation, Dreamcast, Gamecube, PlayStation 2, and PlayStation Portable. Who would have thought?

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In truth the process of sideloading into this mode is a bit of a hassle versus a purpose built device – apropos of nothing, offices are selling small form factor PCs lacking TPM 2.0 support for pennies right now – but on the other hand I can unlock achievements for Devil’s Crush from my Xbox, and that rules.

Devil’s Crush, the second of Naxat’s pinball trilogy on the 16-bit platforms, is an incredible game. It was released on both the PC Engine/TurboGrafx-16 and the Mega Drive/Genesis, with minor differences in music and color palette. Both versions are fantastic, and to be honest this is the game I’ve spent the most time with in RetroArch so far. I’m not a huge pinball person, nor am I particularly gifted at video pinball. And yet. Good golly, I sure do love gunning for new high scores in this game. Every bonus stage, every dead drop, every time the lady’s face in the middle of the board explodes into a demonic grimace… All incredible.

The loose price for the Genesis version (called Dragon’s Fury) has climbed up quite a bit, but I’d still say it’s worth your time just for how much this game rips. For the price most of you will pay for a look, there’s no excuse to not check out Devil’s Crush.

Runners Up: Galaga and Ridge Racer

If Devil’s Crush in its manifestations are in the top slot here, Galaga takes second place. I’ve unlocked RetroAchievements in the SG-1000 and Famicom ports, and a few PSN achievements for the arcade version. Galaga is one of the greatest games of all time. I will take any excuse to play any version of Galaga at any time.

As for Ridge Racer, I was spurred to revisit this in large part by the HG101 episode about the arcade original. The game was selected by Namco as their first release on the PlayStation, and Sony saw fit to designate it as serial number 1 in all territories. That was a fine choice, as this game rules. It set the table for Namco’s incredible run on the first two PlayStations, and only looks better when held against Sega’s rough conversion of Daytona USA on the Saturn.

My Biggest Surprise of the Year

John Madden Football (GEN)

Yeah, I know. No, this is not a bit. No please where are you going–

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The good folks at Hardcore Gaming 101 elected to cover a Madden title in light of the passing of He Who Rode The Bus in late 2021. Being vintage gaming minded, they went with the Genesis release of the original John Madden Football. Now, I grew up watching football, but have gotten well out of the habit as I’ve become a bit put off by the sport’s entire oeuvre. That gave me more of a leg to stand on for talking about a football vidcon than a chunk of the podcast folks over there, so I stepped in to cover this game for an episode of the show. You can listen to that here.

It turns out that not only was this series decent once upon a time, but right from the jump this was a pretty great game on the Genesis. The licensing is not present, nor are the oceans of plays made available in later games, but I was honestly shocked at just how much still made the cut. You can run onside kicks, call audibles, throw passes that bounce directly off the helmet of an unaware receiver, and even run plays through holes that actually get pushed open by your offensive line. That last part shocked the shit out of me, considering the game’s vintage. It’s easy to imagine the line of scrimmage in a gridiron game of this era being a no man’s land of nearly a dozen sprites smooshing on top of each other. No, they actually set decent blocks when the defense allows for it.

I played an entire playoff series in this game, and took the cursed early 1990s Bills all the way to the Lombardi Trophy that still haunts them. It felt right.

The thing about football that makes it translate so well to this medium is it is basically turn based strategy. And with the relatively simple playbook provided here, this is straightforward enough to be a good jumping off point if you’ve ever thought about trying one of these games. It lacks the over the top features of something like NFL Blitz, but as a simulation of the sport it really impresses for its age.

Runners up: Might and Magic VI: The Mandate of Heaven and Girl’s Garden

I feel bad putting a goddamn Madden game above MM6 here, but if you know me well enough you know that I have a pretty big soft spot for dungeon crawling shit. My favorite DS game is Shin Megami Tensei: Strange Journey. I’ve put a lot of hours into various Etrian Odyssey titles. Furthermore, I’ve DOSBox’ed around with a couple Might and Magic entries prior to this year and was well aware the series was in my wheelhouse. So to say this game surprised me as much as I was surprised by a thirty year old game about American football would be to tell a lie.

However! This game sure does overdeliver! The transition from a grid based world to free roaming sprite based 3D exploration, while initially jarring and admittedly ugly as sin, does nevertheless create a uniquely fucked up looking world that I love seeing. There’s so much good player agency, so much weird Might and Magic lore, and honestly a manageable amount of content in the game. It does not contain one complete and massive world, but rather a selection of world chunks each of which containing its own dungeons and shops. That the game takes a wonderful trip into nonsense science fiction land with laser guns by the end (SPOILER) is the incredible icing on the cake.

Put another way, I did not even finish Might and Magic VI and I was more than happy to declare it better than Suikoden, Grandia II, and Xenosaga Episode I on a ranked list of role playing games. It’s that damn good.

As for Girl’s Garden, I’d be remiss to not touch upon this game if not just for its sweet Yuji Naka SEO potential at present. This was another RetroAchievement trifle for me. I figured I’d have a go at this SG-1000 collect-em-up to see what that rascally inside trader (allegedly) was up to before I was born. Turns out he made a decent little game with a young female protagonist willing to risk life and limb for a shot at wooing another boy child. There’s a nice amount of systems at play in this one where the skill floor and ceiling are in a surprising balance.

My Biggest Disappointment of the Year


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Holy shit, the delta between this game’s reputation and my experience with it was huge. I tend to find common cause with Alex Navarro, and he has over the years brought up Tearaway as a worthwhile Vita experience. This sentiment is echoed by most of the delusional ultras for the platform, such that when Sony threatened to exterminate its digital storefront I couldn’t help but plunk down the full price for this game (god forbid they run a sale on there ever again).

I think I managed an hour. It’s not so much that the platforming is abjectly horrible, it’s mostly of the *fine* variety. It was that, coupled with any time you are required to manipulate the environment with the back touch screen of the Vita. It’s like trying to fly a helicopter with a Bop It! dripping with coconut oil. Even the fairly straightforward levels in the first chunk of this game began to frustrate me, as I fumbled around in them like a dog trying to hump a beach ball. And while I could git gud or whatever, I don’t think the skillset of “Media Molecule platformer with simultaneous dual rearscreen touch environmental manipulation” is all that portable.

Maybe the console conversion is fine.

Runners up: Bugsnax and Hybrid Heaven

Bugsnax winds up in a runner up spot because, though I found the gameplay rote and the “big crazy reveal that you will not believe please no spoilers” underwhelming as hell, I did wind up finishing the thing as it is neither too long nor too complicated. The notion that the twist in the game is too dark for a younger audience seems kinda wild, considering the sorts of conceits that underpin your Brothers Grimm and Roald Dahls of the world. One for a younger audience than myself, for sure. And one perhaps too infected with Pokemon Snap Syndrome (PSS).

What an insane thing Hybrid Heaven is.
What an insane thing Hybrid Heaven is.

As for Hybrid Heaven, I would be lying if I said I could recommend this all too strongly. That’s not to say I wouldn’t recommend it; in fact, I think its freak show mix of third person platforming and wrestling-based turn based arena combat make it one of the most interesting games on the Nintendo 64 – to say nothing of its plot, which is also breathlessly stupid from the jump. But said plot is conveyed by some of the most scuffed and compressed spoken audio on the system, and that navigating environments is often hindered by a dismal camera. The game also has one of the worst Expansion Pak implementations on the system, dropping a tolerable framerate straight into single digit frames in order to run around a “stunning” 480i. I still dream of finishing this one day, out of pigheaded stubbornness. That can be my lonely battle, and not yours.

My Most Played Game of 2022

Microsoft Sudoku (Android)

Oh fuck yes. Daddy like.
Oh fuck yes. Daddy like.

I’ll never apologize for loving sudoku puzzles. I was introduced to these little critters in high school and while initially not a fan, I’ve had the bug now for the better part of twenty years. Microsoft Sudoku for Android has the distinction of not only feeding me an endless diet of algorithmically generated conventional puzzle, but also features Irregular Sudoku, daily challenges, a persistent leveling system, and honest to god Microsoft Gaming Points. I don’t know if I have it in me to hit skill level 250 – I’ve been playing for the better part of three years and have barely made level 75 – but I’ll be damned if I don’t wind up with most of the sick GP credit from this one. Sudoku rules.


Alright, time for two separate and very different lists.

My Bottom 10

10. Sky Odyssey

This game just squeaks onto this list. This spot could have a couple different games from my last year of exploration in it, but Sky Odyssey lands (hoho!) here by virtue of just how forcefully my mind and body rejected it.

Sky Odyssey makes a handful of lists on the Internet for being an interesting early PlayStation 2 flight sim thing. What is packaged inside of this case could be described as such, in fairness. However, the mission design is dull as hell and the flight model sits at an uncomfortable middle ground between your Pilotwings “fun style” and your Microsoft Flight Sim “real style”. This game lasted about half an hour in my PS2 before I wound up slapping it back into the case, hauling it to work at A Large University, and leaving it on a Free Stuff Table. Wouldn’t recommend.

9. Hello Kitty World

This is a fun one. Hello Kitty World, as you can imagine from the title, is a licensed game based on the Sanrio universe of properties. It is also notable for being a straight conversion of an earlier Game Boy title, Balloon Kid, for the Famicom.

This box contains lies.
This box contains lies.

Now, I wouldn’t tell you that the Game Boy version of Balloon Kid runs in a particularly smooth fashion. I don’t know what the actual refresh rate is of the GB’s original shitty screen, but the game looks and feels like it runs at around a half of that rate at best. There’s a lot of weird, jittery, sluggish feel to that game. Big deal, right? The Game Boy is basically an elevated calculator. Surely the Famicom would be able to pull off such a game, right? It handles Balloon Fight well enough.

Well, this runs no better than that Game Boy version. I’d even argue it runs worse, looking like you’re playing the game on some sort of busted ass emulator from the late 90s on a single core Pentium. When you roll up the assy performance with the paultry amount of content in the game – a measly six levels – you wind up with a real stinker. This was on my Buy On Sight list for a while just for the novelty of playing a port of a GB game on the Famicom as a three apple tall cat, but no longer.

Still, Balloon Kid can only be so bad. This one makes the cut for technical shambolic reasons more than anything else.

8. About An Elf

Okay, this fucking thing.

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Full marks here go to YouTubeist man ThorHighHeels for highlighting this game early in 2022 as one of the stranger pieces of software available on the heavily glutted Switch digital storefront. About An Elf is the first (and seemingly only) title from Austin-based Meringue Interactive, and I hope they continue to make games because this is some truly bizarre shit. The game centers around an elf named Dam, who looks like she was ripped straight from the banner ads of Your Favorite Adult Entertainment Website, and Roland the BraveCat, a cat made out of memes. The entire game plays as a sort of simple visual novel with light adventure game puzzle elements, and honestly the game part is the least part of this experience.

What I’m here for is the wild visual style. It looks gross. Everything has this plasticine sheen, and the animation is bizarre. This game has basically zero still frames, with every object bobbing and shaking around constantly. Every character looks like an animator held a Barbie doll by the legs and rotated it rapidly from left to right, creating a short loop that then just runs forever while characters spout absolute gibberish back and forth. It’s unlike anything I’ve seen. It’s also not that good, hence making this list. But it is unique!

7. The Super Spy

The first of two Neo Geo “classics” to make this list this year, The Super Spy is a uniquely inept title. Those lovable scamps at SNK decided to have a stab at merging arcade gameplay with role playing game sensibilities, something which had been done as early as 1984 in Namco’s The Tower of Druaga. The vehicle for these RPG mechanics, in this instance, is a first person dungeon crawler with a sort of Die Hard skin. Gameplay is a freak hybrid of the first person bonus games from Shinobi, and Nintendo’s Punch-Out!!.

The combination of elements here doesn’t quite congeal, and that would be bad enough. What sends this into doodoo territory is the laughably bad localization. I would bet my bottom dollar it was the work of one individual at SNK. I would bet my next dollar that this individual would never describe themself as “fluent” in English. It's scuffed beyond belief, making The Legend of Dragoon look like The Secret History.

(It's also not in the site database, much like About An Elf above. Free points, people, let's go.)

6. J.J. and Jeff

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Loathsome piece of software, this one. One of the first five games to be released by Hudson on the PC Engine it developed, Kato-chan and Ken-chan – also known to have worked under the alias “J.J. and Jeff” – is a bizarre mix of detective-themed physical comedy, scatalogical obstacles, slippery platforming, and hidden object mechanics. Its roots in a Japanese variety show that helped sire America’s Funniest Home Videos only add to the strangeness of it all. I personally find this game miserable to play. Not quite as soul sucking as the entries below, perhaps, but bad enough to unequivocally call it the worst launch PC Engine game.

5. Virtual Hydlide

We enter the top half of this list with a game that is, by some more empirically minded, certainly the Most Bad Game of the lot here. Virtual Hydlide is a rock star among classic kusoge. Everything about it just hollers “Big suck energy”. It looks like shit. It runs like shit. It sounds like shit. It plays like shit. It is part of a series full of mostly shit. Its energy is almost entirely of filth.

To think they used a golf engine game to make this.
To think they used a golf engine game to make this.

So imagine my surprise when, upon putting my first play sessions of more than a minute or so into this game, that I found myself furiously squinting and seeing a little bit of fun in here! Now, I want to be absolutely clear: the game is horrendous. However, I think there’s more here than meets the eye. The secret sauce is really in its random generation: each world is spun up from a ten character seed, and the worlds themselves are small enough to be sprinted across in about two minutes of real time. That’s a lot of worlds to explore, and on higher difficulty levels the game takes off a lot of the bumpers (a filled in minimap, Skyrim-esque icons telling you where to go) and forces you to get to know the world it has generated on the fly just for you.

There’s also surprisingly little gristle on the bone here. Combat does not yield experience – a mercy, as engaging in combat might be the weakest part of the game – so you are best served playing this game in a furious dead run from each mandatory equipment milestone to the succession of bosses laid out in front of you. Unfortunately, acquiring said mandatory equipment requires a mix of simple exploration and maddening random drops from chests in fractally generated dungeons. Special shout out to the bosses which require magic swords with ranged attacks. These swords are basically random procgen fodder, and without one you dead ass cannot progress past a certain point about 40% through the game’s progression.

To once again reiterate, Virtual Hydlide is a bad game. But it is bad in ways that I find largely hilarious. It’s like watching a baby giraffe. It’s like seeing an exhibit at the International Stepping on Rakes Hall of Fame. And yes, I also think it has the faintest glimmer of an alright roguelike thing within it to make its manifest shortcomings all the more frustrating.

4. Aidyn Chronicles: The First Mage

I nearly fell asleep writing the title of this game.

H2O Entertainment, makers of celebrated role playing games like Tetrisphere, The New Tetris, and The Flintstones: Big Trouble in Big Rock, saw an opportunity to fill a very underserved need on the Nintendo 64. One certainly can’t fault the studio for its ambition here. The game they built here is suitably large, with explorable 3D environments and a great deal of text and cutscenes to flesh out its story and world. The lack of RPGs on the system also provided this game with a substantial lane for sales success.

That is, it would have. It turns out Nintendo itself identified this genre gap and filled it in late 2000 with Paper Mario. Now, these two games don’t share much beyond some foundational role playing concepts, but for the typical drooling N64 audience of the turn of the millennium (and to be clear I was in that camp at the time) it pretty well hoovered up the entire mind share.

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And so, Aidyn Chronicles was shuffled out in early 2001. By this point the PS2 was a year old in Japan, the Dreamcast was being discontinued, and Nintendo folk were looking forward to a Gamed Cube. This game went largely overlooked at launch. That might be to its benefit, however, as this thing is one of the most thunderously dull games I’ve seen. What on paper sounds like a substantial RPG experience in a richly realized world is instead one of the slowest games on a system choking with them.

Consider the opening cutscenes. This game starts with about ten minutes of introductory scenes, which highlight some of the more grotesque textures and models employed to build the game’s characters. They also want for direction and composition, feeling amateurish compared to something as rough as Hybrid Heaven – to say nothing of games like Vagrant Story, which predates Aidyn by an entire year.

Or consider the combat. The game features full three dimensional worlds explored on foot, with monsters in the world. Upon making contact with these monsters, the game loads in a separate combat arena. Suddenly the rat in a dirt path that was more or less on top of you is now thirty paces away. And as combat is done in turns and rounds, you spend the first turn or two of most encounters simply closing space before you can begin the melee. This adds such an agonizing amount of wasted time to what is already a tedious game, and honestly whatever good the game has beyond its first hours is unsalvageable just for this element alone.

I don’t envy H2O for the task of trying to cram a game of this size and scope onto the Nintendo 64, but what they produced is quietly one of the biggest flops on the console.

3. Top Player’s Golf

I’d like to tell you all a story. Back in 2015, I was living in North Bend. This is the town which was made famous by David Lynch et al as the setting for Twin Peaks. It was an Interesting Time in my life. I used to go on long walks through town, down by the river and inevitably around a large city park. On one of those walks, I wanted to listen to a podcast where people talked a bit about the computer role playing game Wasteland from 1988. What turned up was Hardcore Gaming 101. I subscribed, and a few weeks later the website started a new podcast format: The Top 47,858 Games of All Time. I got involved producing the show, and here I am several years later still in near daily communication with the site’s staff.

This last year I had the opportunity to designate one of the Patreon episode games. The only restriction was it was part of their Late Summer and Early Autumn of Arcade series so I needed to pull an arcade title. I’ve written a lot about Namco games, so naturally I leaned toward covering Neo Turf Masters for the Neo Geo. Alas, they had already covered it. However! They had not covered the other golf game on the Neo Geo, Top Player’s Golf. So this is what I chose. And then I went through the trouble of spending eight hard earned American dollars on the official Hamster-published digital release of the game on my Xbox Series X, a console which all-seeing Odin certainly envisioned as the perfect host for Top Player’s Golf.

Imagine paying hundreds of 1990 dollars to own a home copy of *this*.
Imagine paying hundreds of 1990 dollars to own a home copy of *this*.

As it happens, this game is horrible. The kindest thing I can say about it is the caddy feature is surprisingly rich for an arcade game from 1990. The caddy sprites are well animated, with spoken dialog that just about matches the written text on screen for each hole. The translation is not that far removed in quality from something like The Super Spy, mind, but dealing with the raw mechanics of golf (“The hole is a dogleg”, “Watch out for the bunker”, etc.) works to its advantage here. Everything else is as rotten as can be. Gauging shot distance blind is a bastard, the shot meter is surprisingly unwieldy, putting feels naff… Just a cavalcade of bad.

Then you add the arcade mechanics into the soup. One quarter drop gets you a handful of holes. You need to hit a birdie or better on each, otherwise your stock of “lives” is chewed through. In all likelihood you’ll need to quarterfeed this game a few dollars to play an entire 18 holes of golf on one of two courses. This is dastardly shit, and particularly rich considering that the game in question is nowhere near good enough to justify adding another credit. That’s just good money after bad.

2. Terminator 2: Judgement Day (SNES)



This is a home conversion of an arcade game based on the hit film Terminator 2, so far so good. Of course there is a case to be made that all of these pre-Virtua Cop arcade shooters have the depth of a day old puddle of piss, but there’s something about T2 (and its dear friend Revolution X) that comes off as exceptionally hollow to me. The game is a mindless, greedy stream of the same damn enemies over and over again, with the aim of extracting as much money from your pockets in as little time as possible.

So why not port that to the Super Nintendo, a horrible platform, with an overall reduction in visual fidelity. Then add compatibility with the Super Scope, the worst light gun ever made, to supplement the true kusoge-esque bliss of playing an arcade shooter with a pad. It’s abominable stuff. Easily the worst light gun compatible game on the platform; I’ll give RX exactly one extra point for the laughable camp of a 1970s rock band trying to be cool in the 1990s but in video game form.

I dragged this out specifically to show my spouse, who is a huge fan of the film. Her only response, after a few minutes of staring in silence, was “This looks terrible”. She is right.

1. Unlimited Saga

I really tried to not have this wind up here, at the summit of this year’s Mount Kuso, but in the end this is the right choice. Kawazu’s misery generation device was inflicted upon me once again due to a steady influx of subscribers to the Deep Listens Patreon. My brief revisit of this game did nothing to dissuade me of the opinions documented on my review of the game on this site. I do continue to be an understated appreciator of Final Fantasy II, and am open to the idea that other works in the SaGa Saga might be good. This game is simply beyond redemption. To talk about too much is genuinely upsetting after a certain point, so let us go forth.

What's that quote about staring too long into an abyss?
What's that quote about staring too long into an abyss?


My Top 10 Games of 2022

10. Air Combat

You know that very good series of arcade action jet combat games set in a slightly wonky version of our own planet? It turns out, the series most deeply steeped in Namco’s Strangereal started off strong all the way back in 1995. This is ultimately brief and fairly slight early PlayStation title, and it has not yet had its healthy dose of melodramatic silliness which underpins the geopolitical chicanery of later Ace Combat games. No Gray Men here is what I’m saying. Still a good amount of fun though. I like the mix of sparse geometry, simple textures, and a few dogged “angry polygons” present in this game. Namco was really pushing the system here.

9. Escape from Terror City

If nothing else, please go check this studio out when you're done here.
If nothing else, please go check this studio out when you're done here.

Speaking of Angry Polygons, everybody give it up for Renegade Sector Games. This small independent studio has been turning out lo-fi polygonal shooters for the last few years, and Escape from Terror City is my favorite of the lot so far. There’s a charming simplicity to this game. I can assure you that there was a plot happening, but I don’t remember it and I’d be lying if I said I cared. You play as a spiky haired man with a gun. You run through CGA-colored polygon towns, each of which neatly chunks up into a few Cabal-like zones. Shoot the bad people who are shooting at you while avoiding their fire, and eventually take down bosses with memorizable patterns. Absolute smooth brained video game bliss.

I honestly just love the visual style of this studio’s 3D games, and would encourage you to check them out in itch or Steam. Thunder Kid is pretty darn close to EfTS, if a bit harder. And All Would Cry Beware! has nods to Metroid Prime. Their next game, Reavers of New Rome, has a demo available on Steam right now. Remember demos?

8. Resident Evil VII

I like how different this game is from the last one. Escape from Terror City was built on DirectX 9 and officially supports Windows XP SP2. Resident Evil VII has virtual reality and ray tracing report, and was made by a studio with enough money to fly American reviewers to Rome just to look at a few of its games (once upon a time, anyway).


My dear partner expressed interest in playing Resident Evil VIllage last year. Being the kind and supportive partner that I am, I told her that we already had that Resident Evil at home. Of course I was referring to the copy of RE7 that I had bought for a few bucks on a sale a while back. So it came to pass that I poked at both RE1 (the remaster-ish version anyway), RE4, and all of RE7 in one year. It’s good!

I don’t play a lot of horror games, and this is in truth the first RE game I’ve finished. As a reboot for the series after the famously maligned sixth entry, this is a pretty dang good jumping off point. They set the table well, literally so in an early scene of the game, by establishing a creepy haunted house vibe with a host of malicious characters out to rip your appendages off. Then the game presents you with your first “Insert the Boglin into the Boglin hole in this door” puzzle, and suddenly the broad strokes of a 1996 campy action horror game are now present in this new first person skin. That they held the most explicit tie-in to the previous games’ universe until the final frames was merely icing on the cake. (Spoiler)

7. Lightning Returns: Final Fantasy XIII

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God bless you, some of you are probably reading this because you enjoy what I write. That’s awfully kind! Thank you! However, I have a deep and terrible secret about myself that you should know: I suck and and am a crummy person. I am a doodoo man.

(Just kidding, though this is exactly the sort of stuff that therapy is helping me navigate!)

But for real, as much as I’d like to tell you about Lightning Returns: We Needed To Make More FFXIII In This Engine Because Sunk Cost Fallacy, I am ill equipped to do so. Why bother, when the truth is ZombiePie’s ongoing writeup of the game will cover all of the ground I possibly could and then some. He’s a decent guy, that ZP. I make a show with him!

Suffice to say, LR:FFXIII is a pungent cocktail of Valkyrie Profile, Tetsuya Nomura, and Shenmue. It’s a game with an ending so good Square Enix is still out there copyright striking people for posting it online. They saved the best for last in the XIII trilogy, and I sincerely hope tri-Ace gets to continue existing in 2023 in spite of the dire financial straits the company is navigating at present.

6. Hitman 3

I put this on a “Well Shucks I Sure Meant to Play That Game” list last year, and it was an early goal for the year to see it through to the end. I’m glad I did! Hitman 3 is absolut(ion)ly more adventures in IOI’s World of Assassination, but I find it an incredible accomplishment that the only additions they’ve really made since 2016 are level packs, yet the foundations are so rock solid that I’d be hard pressed to not put the game on this list. I think your feelings regarding the story wrapup in Hitman 3 will be tied up in how you feel about the more metatextual elements of the series; for my sake, I think what they’re doing is telling a campy spy fiction story as opposed to Actual Weighty Storytelling, so I can’t get too upset about it either way. Especially when I’m playing Cluedo as a contract killer with a bunch of jarred spaghetti sauce in his pockets.

I will never, never not find it funny that one of the main rewards for level completion are increasingly useless firearms. Anytime you’re using a motherfucking Kalashnikov in one of these games, you’ve fucked up!

5. Hardspace: Shipbreaker

My entire brain is lit up by this image.
My entire brain is lit up by this image.

One of the firmest and also only times I pumped my fist in the air out of delight in 2022 was the announcement that Hardspace: Shipbreaker was coming to Game Pass. I had heard Former Site Staff talk about it, followed one of its creators on Twitter, and the pump had been pretty well primed for me to be very into this game. And as it happened, I was very into this game indeed.

I find the experience of taking these spaceships apart in zero gravity to be as a soothing balm to my weary mind, body and soul after a long day toiling at a comfortable desk on a beautiful campus. The joy of separating a bulkhead and tethering it into a furnace, the delight of ripping out each individual lighting fixture and casting them into the space junk pile… Just a pleasure to play. The game also features excellent background music and sound design, as well as a light but topical metaplot about corporate greed and underground labor organization. Just good shit.

4. Kirby and the Forgotten Land

Playing the part of the “Game From A Given Year That I Liked” this year is Kirby. I’d like to tell you that my thoughts on that lil’ pink demon’s latest adventure are even the least bit profound, but that would be a big silly lie. I liked the jumping and the finding of the little dudes hidden in the levels. I liked those a lot. I enjoyed how the game handled the inevitable “somehow these games always arc towards eldritch abomination territory” angle at the end quite a bit.

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I will say, my favorite Kirby games have a very specific difficulty trajectory. They start Easy, even Piss Easy (which is notch below Easy). By the end of the game, they start asking you to actually play them a bit. Then, in latter day Nintendo fashion, they hand you a bunch of end game and post game content that pushes the mechanics of the game to their upper limits. I’d hazard a guess that most people could make it to the end of a Kirby game, and many could finish it, but you lose a lot of people in attempting to 100% these.

Forgotten Land intersperses its difficulty throughout with challenge levels that present some real bastard par times. I’m in no rush to perfect each and every one of these, but considering I Full Cleared Kirby’s Epic Yarn several years ago I figure it’s time to pull off a similar feat at some point.

3. The Norwood Suite

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The Deep Listens Podcast covered Tales From Off-Peak CIty Vol. 1 last year. It’s a game about making pizza. It’s just about perfect. I wanted more. Turns out, I owned The Norwood Suite as a side effect of having once suffered from Humble Bundle’s Disease (HBD). Lustily, I installed the game onto my personal computer.

I don’t generally like adventure games, as a rule. Here’s another rule: humor is one of the most subjective and divisive elements which may be folded into a video game.

The Norwood Suite is an incredibly funny first person adventure game. If you’ve not taken the plunge, the closest thing I would liken Cosmo D’s output to is something like Jazzpunk. But that comparison feels downright juvenile when I read it. I’ll make a bad comparison: if the humor in Jazzpunk is a Jerry Lewis film, The Norwood Suite is more Peter Sellers. That’s a bad comparison.

(What is this game about, Jeff?)

The Norwood Suite is a game about running an errand at a hotel full of weirdos. It has some of the best atmosphere I’ve ever seen in a game. I love how fucked up this game looks. The music, and the way this game uses music, is some truly best in class shit.

Just go download the demo. Hell, if you too suffered from HBD you may already own this. I look forward to playing Betrayal at Club Low very soon.

2. F-Zero X

I’ve talked, just, a ream of shit about the Nintendo 64. Both on this website and on numerous podcast-shaped mediums over the years. What a foul thing it is. The wretched controllers. The smudgy antialiasing layer glooped thoughtlessly over every frame of every 25fps collectathon. Nearly 400 games on the system, and I’m happy to tell you that three quarters of them are firmly on my shit list.

I can hear this picture.
I can hear this picture.

F-Zero X is not on the Shit List. It’s one of the five or so truly great games on the system. And you know what? This year, I unlocked enough trophies and content in F-Zero X (my Japanese copy running on my Japanese N64 because I am very cool) to consider myself having “beaten” it. And I loved every last second of it.

F-Zero has always been a series about fast arcade-y action. It’s here for a good time, not a long time. X doesn’t really rock the boat over what was established with F-Zero Prime, a launch title for the Super Famicom. What it adds are new tracks, a ton of new racers, and one of the most technically impressive games on the N64. Perhaps the most impressive. This game flies past you. Nintendo scrimped and scraped everything they could, utilizing brick simple textures and geometry at every pass, all in the name of keeping the frame rate as high as possible. It doesn’t manage perfection, but it gets tantalizingly close!

As for the racing action, it’s bite sized doses of white knuckle excitement. Winning F-Zero X races at higher difficulties provided me with some of the smuggest moments of delight I’ve felt in some time. I wouldn’t profess to be “great” at F-Zero X, but I’ll be damned if I wasn’t “good” in the couple weeks I was going back to it on the regular.

Let me put it this way: On the back of this time with F-Zero X, I no longer feel the money spent on a Japanese N64 was wasted.

1. Final Fantasy VI

So much of what I love about Final Fantasy VI has nothing to do with the game.

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I was a military brat as a child. In 2003, we moved from central Texas to Hawaii for three years. I would like you to briefly imagine a better place to be a middle class white teenage boy than O’ahu. You can stop now, it’s not possible. I was already a blossoming dork at the time, and my dad bought me my own personal computer around my 15th birthday. It was a Sony Vaio VCG-RB30. He even bought a discrete graphics card for it because somebody told him it was a good idea. Again, I defy you to tell me there was a more fortunate teenage boy.

I’ll even double down: I also met a beautiful young lady who also lived on base. And she was a musician, so we started a band! And we used to sneak out of our houses in the middle of the night to spend time together under the warm tropical starlight! And much later in life she invited me to her wedding, and we still talk! This is all true!


(To this friend, if you ever read this: Hello! Please air whatever dirty laundry you wish! We can all laugh about this stuff now, it’s 20 years gone!)

Where was I? Oh yeah, this game. This wonderful friend was the person who introduced me to a thing called “Final Fantasy”. I don’t recall if they had a SNES or not, but somehow she showed me Final Fantasy VI. It reminded me of Phantasy Star II and Paper Mario, the only two other console role playing games I had ever experienced up to that point (yes, weird spread, I know). I was immediately interested, but alas I was wanting for a SNES. Well, jeez, that was no problem, as her brother was the one who introduced me to a thing called Emulation on a Personal Computer.

What I am suggesting is that Final Fantasy VI is intrinsically tied up with some of my earliest successes as a person interested in heterosexual romance, three of of my most formative and rose-tinted years, and hobbyist computer tinkering which has since morphed into the mode by which I have financed every single part of my adult life.

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You’ll note that I haven’t said a word about the game yet. What is there to say? It was Square doing a 360 tomahawk slam dunk on a console it knew forwards and backwards. It features some of the best writing the company has ever done, with a translation which not only conveyed that story with care, but actually enhanced it so much that a Japanese company has since used this gaijin work as the basis for the post-facto canonical personality of its antagonist. It has the finest soundtrack on the system. It is a masterful piece of software.

In the full light of day, I am more than happy to tell you that the conditions under which this impossibly good work of art – weeks spent away from home sleeping under desks, life events missed – were probably not worth it. I would rather that the men and women who made this work had been able to rest easy than to throw themselves at this project for nearly two years. This was not the first crunch game at Square, and certainly was not the last.

How in the hell do you release a version of this game without credits over the opening scene?
How in the hell do you release a version of this game without credits over the opening scene?

I’ve also learned that the themes of grief and loss in Final Fantasy VI, and indeed the arc of these games from V through X, reflect the very real grief of series creator Hironobu Sakaguchi. His mother perished in a house fire; every time I think of the motif of persons trapped in a burning building in any of the games he has touched, I can’t help but think of Sakaguchi working through this very real traumatic experience in a wrenchingly public manner.

All we can really do is stand in awe of Final Fantasy VI as a creative work, and offer a profound thanks to the persons who poured themselves into this video game, this object of temporary amusement. That thanks is of course a damn sight more than Square Enix had the decency extend when it omitted the original credited persons from the Pixel Remaster version available on (hopefully more soon!) digital storefronts at present.

As for my own relationship to the series, I shortly thereafter bought a new sealed Greatest Hits copy of FFVII from a Sam Goody in the Pearl Ridge Mall for $15, introduced my midwestern cousins to FFX when visited Hawaii – probably to go to a beach or some shit, who knows – and today I get together about once a month to talk about this series with two other grown ass men who are still ensnared by these stories of magical robots, star-crossed teenage lovers, and exotic locales. I live a blessed life.

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HuCARTography: Year I Round Up

In the mid-1980s, software developer Hudson approached platform holder Nintendo with what amounted to a hardware pitch. This hardware would have amounted to a sort of Famicom++, allowing for richer aural and visual experiences than what had been hitherto accomplished on said platform. This proposal was ultimately rejected. However, a certain Japanese electronics company which had already carved out a niche in the domestic home computer market would be far more receptive to this design. And so, here we are. We’ve come to the end of 1987, the first year where a person could reasonably expect to purchase a PC Engine. What with it existing and all.

I thought I’d take the chance to write a very simple blog post here to pad out the run time look back on this first year and consider the position of the platform and its library. As mentioned in the first game-centric post of the series, the system seems to have sold in the ballpark of half a million units in its first weeks or months. It was in this early period of the system’s existence where it appears to have been outpacing the Famicom in raw sales in Japan. As far as I’m concerned, that speaks much more to the reception of NEC’s advertising and Hudson’s developer credibility than the actual library of games available in these first few months.

First order of business, a quick racking and stacking of 1987’s PC Engine offerings from worst to best.

5. J.J & Jeff tafka Kato-chan & Ken-chan

A dodgy early platformer that owes a great deal to Super Mario Bros. in basic mechanics. A couple decent tunes notwithstanding, spending time with this game is generally not fun. It’s not even the most notable scatalogically inclined game on the system. In the immortal words of Michael Rosen, “Waste of money.”

4. China Warrior/THE Kung Fu

I'll take any chance I get to emphasize a Japanese game with all caps THE in the title.
I'll take any chance I get to emphasize a Japanese game with all caps THE in the title.

There is a small gulf in quality between these two games. China Warrior has a pleasant energy, and for my money the first good music composed for the system. It also has a caps lock THE in the Japanese title, which accidentally invokes the incredible Simple 1500 Series name scheme that was but a twinkle in the video game industry’s eye at this point. Alas, the game is Spartan X but Slightly Worse, except for the Boss Fights which are Simply Worse.

2b. Shanghai

I feel a bit embarrassed about this one, but fuck it. I like Shanghai. I’ve played hundreds of hours of different conversions of this puzzle game, and have put in some time with this one as well. It has fifty different tile sets and a few different music tracks, which is good because the first one will cause Psychic Damage after a few minutes.

2a. Bikkuriman Man tafka Wonder Boy in Monster Land

I am going to put these two in a tie for second (and third?). Bikkuriman Man is the second Wonder Boy game but reskinned for a treat that came with a collectible item that was so insidious in nature that the Japanese government had a gander at just wha the fuck was causing all those school yard fights. I’ll forever find this funny. As to the game, it has the notable concession of a continue code and that makes this take on Wonder Boy II: Monster Land in the Boy: THE BikkurimanBoy probably the most user-friendliest way to play the game today. The SMS version is brutal. Too bad the redrawn sprites are entirely absent the charm of the original game.

1. Victory Run

Get used to your car in this position.
Get used to your car in this position.

It’s like OutRun, which reminds me of Sega, but it’s a rally game, which also reminds me of Sega. It also has listenable driving music, which again is a Sega thing. Basically this game has played an incredible trick on the author, but I’ll allow it because I have been enjoying this game for a few years now and situating it in this launch year only increases my estimation of it. There’s a reason this game is released everywhere PCE/TG16 games get reissued, and it’s not just because Konami owns it outright.


Second, I’d like to have a brief gander at what else Hudson was doing around this time.

Nintendo President Yamauchi Hiroshi was fond of the notion of three year fads. In his estimation, Japanese society seized on new fads and friends for about three years time before dropping them like so many sacks of moldy tangerines. Was this based on his decades helming a toy company? Was this just conjecture? Who knows! But it did inform his company’s decision making in any event.

To that end, Nintendo launched the Famicom Disk System in 1986. This add on was meant to supplement the capabilities of the then three year old Famicom base system, in part, but also to allow for a larger, cheaper storage format to be used by developers in releasing games. As it turned out, evolution in microchip technology and economies of scale would allow Famicom and NES games to eclipse the hard limit of FDS game size right around the time the platform launched. Some developers soldiered on in support of the Disk System, most notably Nintendo itself. Others, including as it turned out Hudson, never adopted the platform. Their only release on the system, Bomberman, was a quick conversion of the FC game to disk format in 1990.

Incidentally Namco wound up doing the same thing around the same time with six of their back catalog releases. Namco’s relationship with Nintendo at the time was certainly spicy, and I can’t imagine Hudson straight up launching a competing platform hand in hand with a major technology company and outselling Nintendo in their home territory for a few months endeared them to the famously uncongenial Yamauchi either.

Behold, perhaps the first Famicom game to sell a million copies.
Behold, perhaps the first Famicom game to sell a million copies.

Hudson had been the first third party on the platform, and their port of Lode Runner was the first runaway success in the system’s history. The Famicom was entrenched enough in Japan that Hudson never really stopped supporting the system. In fact, they released six games on the system in 1987 and another three the year after. The company’s first role playing game, Momotaru Densetsu, released on the Famicom four days before the launch of the PC Engine. Faxanadu, their conversion/reworking of Falcom’s Xanadu, landed between Shanghai and THE Kung Fu. The releases would continue on the Famicom, even as both it and the PC Engine’s commercial lives came to a close. Indeed Hudson would send the Famicom into its long official night with its final Japanese retail release, Takahashi Meijin no Boken Jima IV. If you have to ask, yes that is in fact another Wonder Boy game.

But that’s in distant 1994, and we’re talking 1987 still. In that bold spirit let’s have a quick look at what the competition to the PC Engine was doing for The Holiday Period of that year.

On the Famicom, the biggest releases against the PC Engine’s first five titles include Hudson’s own Faxanadu for a start. From 30 October to 31 December the Famicom also received Capcom’s Mega Man (in Rockman form), Square’s Final Fantasy I, Konami’s port of Metal Gear from the MSX, and Nintendo’s Punch-Out!!. The latter never really had the same glowing reputation in Japan if I recall, but it is notable for being one of the scant few cartridge releases by Nintendo between the release of the Disk System and the launch of Super Mario Bros. 3.

As for the Disk System, things have already started to slow down a bit by late 1987. Taito’s Bubble Bobble launched for the platform day and date with the PC Engine, and as this never got a cartridge release it was the only way to play Bubble Bobble natively on the Famicom. Everything else falls into the Unlocalised Obscurities pile.

Big time drooling mess over this one.
Big time drooling mess over this one.

The Japanese Master System/Mark III’s commercial life was a rocky one, and in some sense the PC Engine executed it twice. Firstly, it cemented NEC as the de facto second player in the domestic console space. Secondly, and this is a pet theory, it probably lit a fire under Sega’s ass to upgrade their home console technology if they wanted to not wind up completely routed at home or abroad. In any event, there were seven SMS games released in Japan in this period and while most of them are not all that highly regarded, one of those releases was Phantasy Star. That game, is a fucking game. The recent Switch release even makes it playable! Not a lot of Master System games got converted to a Mega Drive cartridge in Japan; in fact, only one of them did, and it was this one, because dang it people liked Phantasy Star over there.

As for Atari, I can’t speak to how much presence either the 2600 or 7800 had in Japan by late 1987 but let’s say, for the sake of argument, that presence was “measurable in micrograms”. Desert Falcon is the most notable game released for the 2600 in 1987 – allegedly. This also tacitly admits that Atari was inexplicably still supporting a 1977 platform in 1987, while also failing to sell a 1984 platform – the 7800, after releasing it in 1986. Atari Stuff! As for the 7800, I like that version of Joust. Food Fight is also pretty good. Basically if you liked dated arcade experiences that were good for a half hour or so, the 7800 had those and only those.

So, fully situated then, the PC Engine’s game competition for its first few months of life were the worst Mega Man game on the Famicom, a port of Metal Gear literally missing the Metal Gear, and two foundational Japanese role playing games. Phantasy Star and Final Fantasy I are two rich role playing experiences, the sort of which the PC Engine allegedly wanted for throughout its life. That’s certainly not a neat little setup for anything.

<---HuCARTography III: The End of 1987


HuCARTography III: The End of 1987

The PC Engine's launch year comes to a close! We're gonna cover the last two games today. This is done in large part because one of them is horrible, and I'd rather this coverage year (and this calendar year) end on a less dismal note.


Kato-chan & Ken-chan/J.J. & Jeff

Developer/Publisher: Hudson | 27 November 1987 (JP) / 13 March 1990 (NA)


When I try to conjure the early PC Engine game with the worst energy to mind, J.J & Jeff is what appears every single time without fail. What a cursed thing this game is.

No Caption Provided

I guess Hudson and NEC nabbing a somewhat “hot” license, that being the contemporary Kato-chan Ken-chan Gokigen TV program, was an early coup for the platform? Kato and Ken’s program was a variety/comedy show with sketches and bits and gags and quite a bit of humor in the scatological vein. I’m talking the pee pee poo poo stuff, folks. The program also had a running segment built around laughing at home video footage, a format which was noticed by American television producers and spun in the America’s Funniest Home Videos format. ABC still pays royalties to the Tokyo Broadcasting Company to this day for use of this format.

But, as you know, television is a shitty and dying medium that we should all be in a great hurry to put into the ground. Bury it next to film, I say. Games are the future, and nothing says “current and respectable state of the art medium” like J.J. & Jeff.

So, this is a platformer. To be as kind as possible, Kato-chan & Ken-chan is a jump-about game in the vein of Super Mario Bros. The main differentiators are its toilet humor-based gags – the original version straight up uses flatulence as a mode of attack – and a reliance on more exploration of levels rather than linear runs to a goal line. In that respect the KK/JJJ game here has a little adventure game DNA, perhaps? Maybe, even, a little Sonic?

This is trying to kill me, isn’t it?


Right at the jump, the template here is certainly Super Mario Bros.-ish. Specifically Super Mario Bros. 2, aka The Lost Levels, considering that the two gentlemen depicted herein are made unique from one another by their physics. J.J. runs and jumps not unlike so many Italian-Americans in red shirts, while those inclined to sliding around and having a horrible time should go with Jeff.

Not that I want to conflate these two games much more than that, however, as this is easily my least favorite game on the platform thus far. It might actually be, just bad!

My goodness, such mirth. I am sore with laughter. My poor sides.
My goodness, such mirth. I am sore with laughter. My poor sides.

Generously an exploratory platformer, J.J. & Jeff starts you off by selecting one of These Guys, both of whom are A Kind of Guy, that being A Guy Into Poop Jokes. The Guy of These Guys who you don’t Guy as to start, winds up going from a Jumping Around Guy to a Show Up In Levels in Sight Gags guy for the rest of the game. These appearances range from hanging out in public lavatories to dispense hints about the game, to hanging out in bins throwing rubbish at the player until they are righteously kicked in the mush. Meanwhile your Jumping Around Guy becomes a Kick Everything Guy, as well as a Wonder Boy Clone Guy, because what this series needed already was more Wonder Boy-adjacent content.

To the latter point, J-Chan & Jeff-Chan cribs Wonder Boy Prime’s trademark “player has hummingbird DNA” mechanic, whereby you must constantly be eating fruits and other floating foods in the environment to stave off the depletion of an endlessly draining health meter. You aren’t dying quite as fast as Wonder Boy/Takahashi Meijin/whatever the hell protagonist is portraying Wonder Boy in a given game, but it is enough to compel you through the levels without spending endless time wandering about.

You’ll spend your time in these levels engaging in roughly tolerable platforming stuff, though the enemies in this game are bastards. The worst of these, generally speaking, are the birds. However, the real issue is their effluent. This is a game about shit. You get shit upon by birds a lot. There are stray piles of shit on the ground that must be avoided. There are other platformer vintage appropriate foes, bugs and dogs and the like, but avoiding divebombing birds is of immediate import if you want to otherwise engage with this title.

And by otherwise engage, I mean run around in ratchet scrolling levels kicking everything in sight. Attempting to kick everything in sight, including the open sky in some areas, is essential to finding hidden coins and, in due time, keys that are required to advance through the game. It’s a hidden object platformer. Jesus. I don’t want this at all.

God bless the noble attempt to localize this game, I guess.
God bless the noble attempt to localize this game, I guess.

I can at least appreciate, from a distance, the attempt to capture the mad cap nature of a single sketch bit from a 30+ year old Japanese variety program. That bit, one built around the premise of two bumbling detectives, is somehow preserved in the North American release of the game. It’s not “ha ha” funny, but it is non sequitur funny. I guess. I also think the music is alright. This HuCard had the widest variety of tracks released so far, riffing genres ranging from rock to muzak and even a little samba.

Otherwise, this is one for my bin. Likely yours as well. The TurboGrafx-16 is not the first place I turn for platforming action, but even on that list there are better options than J.J. & Jeff. They’re just a while down the road from here.

Volume Number listed on the box art: 6. They do eventually get this sorted out, I swear.

Turbo Ratio: Roughy 1:1. A good and reputable source for such figures has loose Japanese HuCards going for about half the complete price, but this is a medium that really needs protection from the elements. Also what are you doing, don’t buy either of these for $40.

Here's what Chris had to say!


Victory Run

Developer/Publisher: Hudson | Release: 28 December 1987 (JP) / 29 August 1989 (NA)

Finally, some decent fucking food video game.

At the end of 1987, the first year of PC Engine commercial availability, Hudson elected to release the system’s first pretty good original game. Victory Run is a point-to-point racer in the vein of Rad Racer/Highway Star, and despite its arcade sensibilities was created whole cloth here for this platform. It has a few frustration points and doesn’t really rate compared to OutRun, but on this particular platform it absolutely hangs.

Understated but very good box art.
Understated but very good box art.

Sega’s classic scaler is absolutely the inflection point here, though there is some differentiation. The game is based on a loose, approximate version of the Paris-Dakar Rally, broken up over eight different legs. At the outset, the player is given the opportunity to buy a handful of replacement parts for their vehicle. You will be made to live on these parts for the rest of your run, as there is no other opportunity to shop. And you will be using them, as your car will take a beating during these rally runs. Most of these are your typical Sega scaler fare, with off road obstacles and traffic clogging up the road. Special props must be given to the semi trucks in this game, which take up a ton of real estate and will drive you mad. There are also jumps along the way, and not approaching these with care is a sure way to wind up splattered all over the rocks on the periphery.

A difficult game then, but I recall my last few times playing it with fondness. Compared to our dear friends J.J. and Jeff this is a bonafide masterpiece. Or is it?


This is far and away the best game to come out in the PC Engine’s launch year. Wonder Boy in Monster Land by way of snack foods notwithstanding, this is the first game I’d recommend checking out without hesitation. It’s a fun little racer!

If you’re familiar with OutRun, you’ve got a good working framework of what goes on in Victory Run already. The differences lie in some long term planning that is required in this game over the former arcade masterpiece. As mentioned before, your choices in buying 20 units from five different car parts are crucial. You’re going to lose a lot of rounds of Victory Run before you learn what parts you tend to bust up during play. Managing your supply is a push-pull between racing conservatively while also battling against time. To that end, you are dealing with eight point-to-point races with a finite pool of reserve time to get you through to the end. If you are driving past a segment’s par time, you’ll begin to eat into your reserve pool. Chew through that, and it’s right back to the title screen. No hidden continue codes to speak of here, just a kick in the pants. That is also quite OutRun-esque as well.

Just had to get a still image of one of these semi trucks on here. Still images don't do justice to this game.
Just had to get a still image of one of these semi trucks on here. Still images don't do justice to this game.

Victory Run also differentiates itself by the minute-to-minute gameplay. Yes, there are scaling vehicles which swerve around the road to make your life miserable. But there are also bumps and dips in the road which will send you flying, generally into obstacles on the side of the road if you are not careful. Managing these is a risk-reward calculus between dwindling time and dwindling parts, rewarding skilled play as you get better at identifying these upcoming risks. There are also different road surfaces and obstacles which require actual braking and gear shifting mid-race, meaning you will not in fact be dropping your rally car into top gear and leaving it there for the entire leg of a race while you veer through the course. It’s a surprisingly technical game for its vintage, and it’s this depth that I believe elevates it so far beyond the previous four games.

This is all bolstered by a decent little soundtrack. It doesn’t have the range of genres that J.J & Jeff had before it, but everything here makes for a good driving experience. I wouldn’t say it torches OutRun at its own soundtrack game, but in a world where OutRun hadn’t yet shipped on the platform (that would happen about three years after Victory Road hit shelves), the included tracks make for great nodding along while driving experiences.

My main identifiable gripe with the game is how the track segments end. All of them conclude with a straightaway which you can take at a dead run. There is a point where the car is basically yanked away from you by the computer as you coast across the line to get your time checked by a nice lady. However, the clock is still rolling during this offboarding portion, and you can in fact get ganked right then and there as you are inches away from success. Losing in this brutal fashion, particularly as you get deeper into the game, is rough stuff. Then again, given the genre expectations of the day and the simple reality that you can grock the whole thing inside an hour with experience, it’s hard to get that upset.

So, Victory Run rules. I don’t even care that this is somehow labeled as “Vol. 3” in the top right corner of the Japanese box art, silly as it is. If China Warrior/THE Kung Fu gets a reserved recommendation for its “charm” as an early PC Engine showpiece, Victory Run gets an unreserved recommendation as the platform’s oldest immediately fun game. It has a measured depth to it, looks and sounds great for a 1987 home console game, plays well, and will take a few attempts to master. To borrow phrasing from that program about cooking in some islands off the coast of Europe, it’s something of a triumph.

Tires used to reach level 5: 3. Tires are your friend.

Engines used to reach level 5: 1. Unless you’re bashing into rocks constantly you’ll probably be fine on engines, and if you are there’s a good chance you won’t make it far enough to need to swap parts anyway.

Turbo Ratio: Roughy 1:1. This was a well received game and is incredibly common in bulk lots of PC Engine games, but can also be found in its North American variant for the same $20 or so. At that price it is easily one of the first games I’d recommend you pick up if you have been so far enticed into collecting for this platform.

Finally, here's what Mr. Bucci had to say on the subject of Victory Run.


Next week, we'll do a final send off to 1987. It occurred to me, somewhat later than it should have, that all of these posts just about align with the 35th anniversary of the PC Engine aka TurboGrafx-16's original release. What I'm suggesting is, next week you better show up with appropriate gifts for a video game console.

<---HuCARTography II: THE Kung Fu

HuCARTography: Year I Round Up--->


HuCARTography II: THE Kung Fu

I'd like to set an expectation up front here. Some weeks I might cover two games. Others, when it counts, I might cover one. There may even be weeks where three games get a look in one of these posts. I'm also reserving the right to occasionally post about things outside the realm of PC Engine games, as well as not posting anything at all if other things are going on in my life. In that spirit, look forward to a Game of the Year thing sometime around the end of the Gregorian calendar in lieu of a HuCARTography entry.



THE Kung Fu / China Warrior

Developer/Publisher: Hudson | 27 November 1987 (JP) / November 1989 (NA)


And so it came to pass that the first game released on the PC Engine read “Vol. 2” in the corner, while the second read “Vol. 4”. Whither “Vol. 1”? Hither, naturally.

No Caption Provided

The bespoke serialization of these games would suggest that THE Kung Fu was meant to be the launch title for this system. One look at screenshots of this title and it will be immediately clear why this was flagged for such a position. THE Kung Fu features some of the largest and most detailed sprites featured on any home console to date, making for killer screenshots and television B-roll to promote the new system.

Then you turn the game on, and realize that Kung Fu on the NES does the whole “fun video game” part of being a video game a hundred times better.

Former site contributor Jeff Gerstmann (which still feels strange to write) was fond of dragging out this particular battle axe whenever slobbery TG16 fanboy things wafted in his direction, and it’s easy to see why. The game is eminently easy to dunk upon, accomplishing so very little with so much. Twelve levels slowly walking forward punching wasps and dodging rocks? No thank you. Its position as the de facto “launch” game for the system, actual chronology be damned, only adds to the anemic feeling around the system's North American life. Consider that the NES launched with a remarkable port of Donkey Kong, or the even better Super Mario Bros. for those outside of Japan. The Mark III/Master System had a great version of Hang-On to show off at launch, which remains a fun little arcade racer despite losing its music in the conversion. Hell, the Atari 2600 launched with Combat, and that might be the best game on the system.

The PC Engine had a belt scroller which feels shallow compared, again, to a creaky two year old arcade conversion at time of release.

Anyway let’s see if we can find the fun! *nervous emoji*


What if I told you that PaRappa the Rapper has a little China Warrior DNA in it?
What if I told you that PaRappa the Rapper has a little China Warrior DNA in it?

So here’s the thing: China Warrior is basically a rhythm game. You know that minigame in Rhythm Tengoku, the one where you are a karate man who punches various objects thrown at you with oddly intricate timings?

Yeah, that one? That’s a huge part of Hudson’s THE Kung Fu here. Everything that is not a boss fight is an extended riff on that; or, more accurately, Osawa et al may well have had this game in mind when they put together that little portion of the Rhythm Heaven universe. Whereas Irem’s Kung Fu/Spartan X has combat that feels a little more rough and tumble, catch as catch can while you make your way to whatever you do plot-wise in those decades old arcade games, China Warrior is more of a game of memorization and pattern management. And given the arrangements of obstacles and enemies in the game, that starts to feel a little bit Bemani. How apropos, what with Konami owning Hudson and by extension this very game.

That’s not to say it’s a one to one thing, however. Part of Rhythm Heaven’s charm, or indeed the reason rhythm games work in general, is how tight the controls are. You have to get very close to the metal (or great at calibrating display and sound outputs) to succeed at those games at a high level. This, uhh, lacks that nuance. It’s a game about punching rocks and stacks of enrobed figures, all in predictable patterns which one can commit to memory.

These are then punctuated by boss fights that are the actual bad part of the game. All of the pattern recognition, rhythmic stuff goes right out the door at these fights and instead you’re just made to mash and hope you saved enough health/found enough power ups to tank their damage. I’d say this is just another sad story of a pre-Street Fighter fighting game thing, but 1) Street Fighter 1 debuted a few months before THE Kung Fun, and 2) we’ll be dealing with that particular little ass disaster soon enough.

Yeah fighting this dude over and over again sucks but on the other hand *BONUS 10000* so who knows really.
Yeah fighting this dude over and over again sucks but on the other hand *BONUS 10000* so who knows really.

The more musical case I’m trying to make for this game is bolstered, I’d argue, by the first Good soundtrack on the PC Engine. I’ll make a confession here: part of the reason I wanted to buy this console in the first place is because I figured the audio quality I heard over the years via emulation had to be somehow scuffed. My dear friends, that’s just how the PCE/TG16 sounds. There’s a particularly tinny, crispy sound to the system that is unmistakable. There’s also a distinct lack of low end to most of the music, which as a former touring bassist is up there with Not Liking Rush as one of the cardinal sins. Still, I’ve come to appreciate developers who could coax the 6502-derivative chipset in here to sing. And seeing as Hudson developed about a fifth of the total library for the platform, it’s good to see them getting it done here at or near launch. The title theme has an immediate Hong Kong action film schlocky energy, chopsticks lick be damned, and the main level music has a nice driving riff that I find a pleasant accompaniment to punching assorted people and things. Shame the boss music is also a bit of a letdown though.

That’s THE Kung Fu though, a game that is certainly iconic but ultimately disappoints. Coupled with the dubious merit of being the canonical launch title for the system despite not actually launching with the system, and you got yourself quite a stew. It’s worth firing up just to see Hudson’s first best shot on the hardware, what with its enormous sprites and kinda baller level music. Just don’t go trading it for Kung Fu on the NES.


Times I’ve played the China Warrior riff on an air guitar: Once. Maybe twice. Look, I'm a simple guy.

Turbo Ratio: Roughly 1:1. Between being an early game in Japan that looks to have sold well, and a fairly undesirable game even in the TG16 collector lunatic world, you should pay in the $40 ballpark in either direction at time of writing. That’s a bad price for China Warrior!


Finally, making his debut on this blog, here's what noted TurboGrafx-16 lover spida1a had to say on the subject of China Warrior.

Next week, let's wrap up the first calendar year of PC Engine games just in time for their 35th anniversaries.

<---HuCARTograph I: The Opening Salvo

HuCartography III: The End of 1987--->