The Dredge of Seventeen: February

When it comes to game releases every year has its big headliners and hidden gems, but none were more packed than 2017. As my backlog-related project for this year I'm looking to build a list of a hundred great games that debuted at some point in 2017, making sure to hit all the important stops along the way. For more information and statistics on this project, be sure to check out this Intro blog.

Despite being the shortest month, I made a decent amount of progress in February with five new games to add to the current 2017 rankings. I guess I can chalk this up to a certain degree of enthusiasm for this project while it's still in its salad days that I'm sure will wane in the later months as I consider an ever-dwindling supply of leftovers to boot up. For now, I'm optimistic about how it's going: one of the games below was on the shortlist of must-plays that I drew up after some research, and I've since picked up another one that I'll no doubt be slotting into some future update. This eventual Top 100 is going to look pretty definitive by the time we get to December.

Anyway, enough prognosticating about a year that may yet herald the end of all things - we've got some 2017 games to review.

Hellblade: Senua's Sacrifice

No Caption Provided

I still remember the hoopla around Ninja Theory bringing the "mid-tier" back. Development budget, that is, not mid-tier quality. Senua's Sacrifice definitely feels like a callback to some of those ambitiously small (if that's not an oxymoron) games like, I dunno, ICO for PlayStation 2. Games that are packed with top-grade visual and audio excellence that clearly had some conscious artistic choices that it had to make, but gameplay-wise were fairly straightforward, linear, and short in comparison to the sort of bombastic big-budget RPGs and open-world games happening elsewhere. That isn't to say that Hellblade doesn't have nuances - the combat was more involved than I initially gave it credit for - just that for the most part it takes a backseat to the game's narrative and atmosphere.

The other notable goal of Senua's Sacrifice, besides the whole "resurrecting the mid-tier" (Mid-size? Mid-budget?) conceit, is its representation of those with neuroatypical conditions and how such an ailment can be conveyed to the player effectively within a game's toolset while still being accurate and respectful to real-life sufferers of mental disorders. The protagonist, the Celtic warrior Senua, has some sort of psychosis that causes her to hallucinate both visually and aurally: the former is treated as a shamanistic gift of "seeing" that is invoked by many of the game's environmental puzzles, which typically has the player identify rune shapes in their surroundings, while the latter is represented by a ubiquitous Greek chorus of disembodied voices that will often browbeat and disorient Senua but can on occasion offer helpful advice. At certain intervals during the game, especially when stressed, Senua becomes unable to proceed until she's calmed herself down and has regained enough clarity to move on. It can be a harrowing time, deliberately so, when coupled with Senua's grief over her dead lover - the story of the game has her enter the Viking underworld to ask the goddess Hel to return his soul - and flashbacks of her traumatic upbringing at the hands of her overbearing, religious father.

Killing zombies, carrying your BF's disembodied head... the game has some shocking parallels to Lollipop Chainsaw, now I think about it.
Killing zombies, carrying your BF's disembodied head... the game has some shocking parallels to Lollipop Chainsaw, now I think about it.

The actual gameplay is roughly split between Senua's investigations of each new area, which involves the visual rune puzzles I mentioned above that will occasionally take on variants (one involves finding the rune and rushing back to the right door before you burn to death in hallucinogenic flames), and regular combat encounters with Hel's draugr minions. Combat is a simple enough dance of light, heavy, and "melee" (punching) attacks, each designed with certain combos and opponents in mind. A dude with a shield, for instance, needs a melee attack to knock that shield away before you can get in a quick sword combo of light and heavy attacks. After a certain point in the story, the player learns to use Senua's focus - her way of calming down her mind - to trigger a brief state where enemies are slowed down or, in some cases, become vulnerable to attack. This focus needs to be recharged between uses with combos and evasive steps, and is one of the few elements to be represented in the game's mostly HUD-less player interface via a little brass mirror that Senua carries on her hip. New enemy types appear further into the game and there's a smattering of boss fights, each with their own gimmicks. The combat is varied and compelling enough but most of the fights tend to be these drawn-out affairs where you're fighting several waves of enemies one after the other before you're mercifully allowed to get back to enjoying the atmosphere.

I particularly enjoyed the game's world-building, most of which is done incidentally by a collection of stone monuments that depict stories of ancient Norse mythology such as the pre-meditated murder of the Aesir Baldur, the travails of the great human warrior Sigmund, or the particulars of Ragnarok. I'd only just played the 2018 God of War game fairly recently so most of these tales were still fresh in the mind, but the dramatic VO delivery made them worth seeking out. The setting looked spectacular, even if most of the locales were burned-out ruins and dark caves and beaches lined with the rotting hulls of Norse longships, and Senua's bouts of psychosis were played with a certain amount of apposite intensity due to the way the camera would frequently fill the screen with Senua's tortured face (provided by Melina Juergens, a video editor who acted as a stand-in for the motion capture tech until the developers realized she was perfect for the role - she ended up winning a BAFTA for her performance). For as much as I appreciate the level of consideration that went into the game's combat mechanics, I'd have to say my favorite part of the game is the long stretch in the middle where you're bereft of blade and don't have to fight anything until you eventually recover the famed sword Gramr (which I then re-dubbed "Killsy Gramr"). Foes tended to drop a lot faster with that blade - which, naturally, meant the game threw that many more waves at you per encounter.

I really have to hand it to Ninja Theory, this game looks amazing.
I really have to hand it to Ninja Theory, this game looks amazing.

Though I was a little enervated by the constant battles by the end of the game there's no doubt that Hellblade is something very special - more than its The Simpsons parody of a name might suggest - and I think turning a game about chopping Viking zombies apart into a sensitive portrayal of a wounded warrior's mental health issues gave the game an edge and a raison d'être that it perhaps needed to justify its high-budget/short-length approach. After all, I imagine it'd be difficult to pitch a game like this with an expensive presentation and semi-elaborate combat engine saddled with such a brief run-time - however, when you set out with a purpose like Hellblade's, it's easier to sell it as a compact, intimate story rather than some vast open-world affair or an online game or "game as a service." You can't exactly tell a personal story about a troubled young woman going through hell and back (both literally and figuratively) for her lost love only to turn around and give her unlockable Devil May Cry skins or a giant foam hand as a weapon. Well, maybe this industry could.

Ranking: B.

AER: Memories of Old

No Caption Provided

I've noticed a phenomenon in the past where Indie games might distill the essence of a bigger budget game by only focusing on one or two aspects, intelligently getting around the issue of not being able to compete blow-for-blow by emphasizing only on what they feel is most integral to the player experience, and this seems to occur most commonly with games taking on The Legend of Zelda. Ittle Dew, for example, focused mostly on solving tricky dungeon puzzles, while Oceanhorn felt like a downgraded (in scope, if not quality) The Wind Waker. AER: Memories of Old gave me instant flashbacks of flying around the high-altitude areas of The Legend of Zelda: Skyward Sword on my trusty gullwing, set as it is in a world of floating islands where life is barely clinging on.

It's evident from how good it feels that the developers concentrated on getting the overworld traversal right first and foremost: the protagonist is a changeling who can switch between human and bird forms with a button press, allowing her to jump off any cliff, seamlessly transform, and flap and glide her way to the next destination. This traversal aspect, which in most games would simply be the means of getting from one point of interest to the next, is easily the highlight of AER and something I could see a larger and more ambitious game incorporating as-is, no modifications necessary. Conversely, those points of interest are a little more jejune: the game has three dungeons which only require a few environmental puzzles to complete, and you'll need to solve a few more on the overworld to acquire the keys to get into them (recall Link's Awakening, where obtaining dungeon keys was half the struggle), but beyond that the world is mostly empty but for a few stone tablets and chatty animal gods, both of which provide exposition and lore. If you're a fan of incidental world-building, AER's has a fairly intriguing backstory about a massive ideological war that caused the world to break up into its current aerial form and how it's been in slow decline ever since despite the efforts of a nigh-messianic figure in trying to heal the environmental rift the war created, but if you aren't much for reading there's not a whole lot of reason to go out of your way beyond the story-critical dungeon islands - the only other things out there are miscellaneous sites of curiosity that reward achievements/trophies upon their discovery, not unlike the discoveries of Skies of Arcadia (which I'm sure was another influence). Like the overworld, the dungeons first seem vast and filled with interesting sights, but there's only ever a few levers and buttons to press to get to their centers where you receive the traditional piece of McGuffin and can move onto the next.

Pretty but mostly empty. Just like it says on my online dating profile (I lied about the first part).
Pretty but mostly empty. Just like it says on my online dating profile (I lied about the first part).
The flying does feel great, I just wish there was a little more to do than soar majestically.
The flying does feel great, I just wish there was a little more to do than soar majestically.

Circling back around to the lede, it's evident some Indie games try to present a full package but by necessity have to skimp on every aspect, providing what often feels like a microcosm of a full-budget game. Others, like AER, are ambitious enough to have aspects that easily stack up to the most expensive games on the market - I actually can't think of an open-world game that has a traversal system as effective for getting around in a hurry, without just fast-travelling from the map - while de-emphasizing almost everything else to the point of barely being present. There's enough game in AER, don't get me wrong, but it's odd that a game with such a large map could probably take you less than two hours to complete (and that's including the time to smell the roses). Almost has the vibe of a tech demo, even, or a game that perhaps wants you to take a moment to absorb the atmosphere, take in the incidental storytelling and worldbuilding, and just vibe than to always follow the quickest route from point A to B. I have to commend it for that traversal and for its beautiful cel-shaded graphics and ambient music which serve its fantastical setting and serene tone well, though I can't help but be left wanting a little more.

Ranking: C.

Never Stop Sneakin'

No Caption Provided

I was (and am, I suppose) a big fan of Humble Hearts's Dust: An Elysian Tail, not just for the laudable level of scope for a one-man project, but in how it took on the emerging Indie explormer tide and chose to make something novel with the concept with a more focused and combo-heavy combat system. Innovation in and of itself is a valuable commodity in the game industry - I shudder to think how much Warner Bros. paid to hang onto the patent for the (possibly literal) million dollar idea that is the Nemesis System - but is served best when the creator has the capability to construct the perfect vessel for it. A combination of creativity and competency is the heart of effective game design, humble or otherwise. This is perhaps why Never Stop Sneakin', the studio's follow up project, is something of a disappointment.

Don't get me wrong, there's many aspects of this game that are great. It's a pitch-perfect parody of the original Metal Gear Solid, not just in its over-serious delivery of very not-serious themes but right down to the early PS1-era polygonal graphics. Sneaking into the enemy's base to thwart their plan of using a time machine to kidnap every president by gaining enough insight into their operation to build your own time machine is inspired insanity that wouldn't go amiss in the MGS universe. More commendable than the presentation, though, is the game's ingenious approach to the stealth mechanics of that age: the game manages to streamline the process of keeping out of vision cones and choking out guards while their backs are turned, and even taking out cameras and turrets with EMP devices, to just the D-pad. Everything but the protagonist's movement is automated: guards are instantly taken out upon touching distance with the protagonist's katana; if a guard spots you, you automatically shoot them if you have any bullets to do so; turrets are destroyed via melee or by EMP at a distance if they spot you; and computers and cabinets are hacked/investigated just by standing near them for a few seconds. It's a supremely elegant system that fosters a speedier gameplay loop, given how little you have to stop and think about nuances with such a minimal control scheme. This expedient simplicity then dovetails nicely with the game's scoring system: you earn more ESP (espionage, a currency used to develop your home base) by maintaining higher combo chains, and while getting further into the base does increase the enemy patrols in both number and intensity you'll also unlock all sorts of perks to make the process of sticking to the shadows that much easier.

The game cycles between a few templates for the level design, but they don't affect the gameplay much. This one set aboard a S.H.I.E.L.D.-esque helicarrier was my favorite.
The game cycles between a few templates for the level design, but they don't affect the gameplay much. This one set aboard a S.H.I.E.L.D.-esque helicarrier was my favorite.
The game's silly CODEC calls and cutscenes almost make the repetitiveness worth it. Almost.
The game's silly CODEC calls and cutscenes almost make the repetitiveness worth it. Almost.

The big downside is that the game is a roguelite, and not a particularly varied one. Each mission essentially has you infiltrate the same floors (eventually fifteen) over and over, with one of just five different boss fights at the end of each three-floor block. Needless to say, you've seen almost everything the game has to offer after about an hour, but a full playthrough takes closer to fifteen and requires dozens of these near-identical runs. The only major changes the game ever reveals is extending the size of these loops, unlocking more perks (I wish they'd all been unlocked from the beginning, frankly, since the first few aren't all that exciting), and acquiring some cosmetics for your sneakin' expert and the weapon (a CQC-esque dual-wield gun and sword combo) you take into battle. The base building is entirely perfunctory: each structure takes a certain amount of ESP to build, and occasionally needs you to rescue an NPC or acquire a special object on the next run. These high value targets are really just a way for the game to pad out its time even longer, since you'll often have enough ESP for three or four more buildings at any given moment.

Never Stop Sneakin' is a case where the innovation was front and present - we haven't fully entered the phase of Indie PS1 low-poly pastiches, barring a few RE-inspired horror games here and there, and that streamlined stealth system really is brilliant - but the overall game design wasn't sufficiently up to snuff to accommodate it. Though I realize a roguelite swept all the game awards last year, I'm of the mindset that we really don't need any more games created in the run-based procgen style, for as cheap as that can sometimes make level design for the more cash-strapped Indie studios out there. It also feels like a game fundamentally at odds with itself - taking on the last few floors with all those upgrades can be a great deal of fun, but working your way up the fiftieth iteration of those early floors definitely is not - so I'm not sure what could've been done different either. Half of a great idea, I suppose.

Ranking: C.

A Normal Lost Phone

No Caption Provided

I don't know if playing Simulacra (IGotW #113) made me paranoid for horror hijinks afoot whenever an adventure game invokes a mobile phone interface or what, but I was feeling some small amount of dread booting up A Normal Lost Phone. Like I'd have to figure out where the owner's kidnappers had taken the phone's original owner, or lie to their loved ones to maintain a charade of vitality while I rooted around their private correspondence for clues to their grisly fate. Turns out this game pulled something on a Gone Home on me.

A Normal Lost Phone is a short (like, 90 minutes long) narrative adventure game framed entirely within the smartphone of a person called Sam: a phone which you have just discovered abandoned on a public street late at night. You initially learn a number of things about Sam by checking their recent messages (and already I'm feeling kinda bad about that, though this is a fictional person): they're a student at a local music school, today is their eighteenth birthday, they recently broke up with a long-term girlfriend and it didn't go well, and it's possible they're in some kind of trouble or have chosen to run away from home for reasons as yet unknown. To dig further into Sam's business, you need to intuit some passwords. The first is the local public wi-fi so you can log into Sam's email account. Beyond that there's a dating site they signed up to - twice, for reasons that eventually become clear - and a forum they frequent. I've probably broadcasted the "twist" loud and clear already with the language I've used, but just in case:

Sam is a trans woman, though has only realized this about herself in the past few months. Both her family and her ex appear to be very anti-LGBTQ+ from Sam's accounts, so she's in something of a bind concerning an opportune time to come out, and you learn that half her contact list knows her as a woman ("Samira") rather than a man ("[deadname redacted]") due to her surreptitious attempts to socialize with a different crowd in her new persona - something that isn't clear from the first read of her messages with them but makes more sense in retrospect, especially with some of the more cryptic interactions. The forum in question is a local LGBTQ+ coming out message board with a VIP section - another password to figure out - and from here you eventually learn what happened to Sam and what caused her to lose her phone. This is followed by a conveniently timed email from Sam to her confidante Alice, saying that she's left town and looking to start anew. To assuage Sam's fears that she forgot to lock her old phone before tossing it, Alice makes the point in her reply that whomever finds it will either wipe it immediately to resell it or will take the time to learn about Sam, will realize that discarding her phone was a deliberate step towards cutting ties with her old life, and will wipe it anyway out of kindness. Doing so summons the credits.

The game provides the option of responding to some of these contacts, often providing a clue to passwords, but that always felt like a step too far.
The game provides the option of responding to some of these contacts, often providing a clue to passwords, but that always felt like a step too far.

It's a subtle approach to telling stories with a particular focus on interpersonal drama, one that encourages you to voyeuristically dig into the particulars of someone's life if only to paint a clearer picture of what happened so you can do the right thing once you come out the other end of your little snoop-a-thon. I'm still a mite uncomfortable with the mobile phone format (though not with the story itself, which was a little rough in spots but ultimately optimistic) but I can appreciate how it's a filter to see the world - especially one's social universe - that many are intimately familiar with, and the generation below mine probably finds an adventure game structure like this far more approachable than an Infocom text parser or SCUMM's wall of verbs. I'll be interested to see where other developers take the concept, now that I've seen two very different stories delivered in this fashion.

Ranking: C.

Endless Fables 2: Frozen Path

No Caption Provided

Well, it's another HOPA. Unlike the Einstein-smooching adventures of the January HOPA Modern Tales: Age of Invention, there's nothing too distinctive about this one or its story by comparison. Even its puzzles tended to err on the easy side for this genre, though it did involve way too many games of Simon which sucks because my memory is hot garbage.

This one was also about Norse mythology, but then what game isn't these days? One curious parallel - or a case of both being equally accurate to the original source material, perhaps - is that both Endless Fables 2 and Hellblade depict a version of the goddess Hel that is exactly half corpse, split right down the middle. Most other sources just kinda make her look gaunt and pale, taking "half-dead" a little less literally, except I guess for Thor: Ragnarok (also released in 2017) in which she looked like a goth Cate Blanchett with badass antlers. No contest, really.

That's honestly about all there is to say about Endless Fables 2 but for one last observation: it had way too many games of Simon, which sucks because my memory is hot garbage.

Ranking: E.

With three more C-ranks I think the mid-table is filling out well. As the only B-rank, Hellblade's the best of this bunch and will probably end up in the late 30s or early 40s somewhere which, I have to stress this, is certainly nothing to sneeze at given what a strong year 2017 was. I'm also considering bumping Heat Signature up (it's currently #30) just because it tackles the roguelite-stealth genre in a more palatable way than Never Stop Sneakin' and I have newfound respect for how difficult that must've been to pull off.

I'm going to try to keep this momentum going through March, but I'm gonna have to tackle some of the longer items on the 2017 backlog eventually and that's going to drop the average per month just a skosh. Be sure to check back in this time next month for the next grab-bag of contenders.

1 Comments

Indie Game of the Week 208: The Inner World

No Caption Provided

It's another German adventure game created in the classic point-n'-click style - similar Teutonic Indie throwbacks include King Art Games's The Book of Unwritten Tales and Daedalic's Deponia - but I picked this one out for a semi-cogent reason: it saw a sequel in 2017, and is therefore something I might want to look into as part of my other year-long project for 2021. Studio Fizbin's The Inner World is about as traditional as this genre gets, including some pretty obtuse puzzle design, but it also has a strong narrative drive and a certain amount of respect for the player's time and perspicacity, or lack thereof as the case may be.

The Inner World is set in an inverted planet: that is, the known world is an empty sphere surrounded by dirt that apparently goes on forever in all directions, with cities and forests lining the inside of this hollow orb. I've always been a fan of inverted worlds in games - Quintet's Terranigma and Atlus's Shin Megami Tensei: Nocturne come to mind due to their cool overworld visuals - so this was automatically a point in the game's favor. The protagonist Robert, true to genre tradition, is a mostly weak-willed but goodnatured hero who'd be morally beyond reproach were it not for a chronic (though gameplay-necessary) need to steal anything that isn't nailed down, and occasionally nailed down items as well. His quiet life as a monk apprentice is upended after a chance encounter with a thief girl and her pet pigeon, eventually leading him to discover the secret behind the world's biggest issue - people living in fear of constant attacks by petrifying "wind god" dragons - and the mysteries of his own origin.

The vaguely amphibious
The vaguely amphibious "gorf" is a very Simon the Sorcerer/Discworld type invention: a creature that is so venomous to be deadly in a dozen different ways, but polite enough to warn you about them beforehand.

There are specific qualities I always like to see in a modern graphic adventure game, and to The Inner World's credit it gets most of the small stuff right, even if the bigger stuff can be occasionally underwhelming. To start the with the former: the game compartmentalizes itself in a roughly episodic nature (though not in a literal, buying episodes piecemeal manner) in that the protagonist and his eventual partner Laura are frequently whisked off to a new area of the game and leaves the previous (as well as most of their now-useless inventory) behind to start fresh in each of the game's chapters. It also has a function that highlights all hotspots on the screen, which is always a positive accessibility feature if nothing else. These factors greatly ameliorate the occasions where the game might temporarily stump you with a puzzle solution that requires a little more lateral thinking, or specifically thinking like an adventure game designer, and you're having to experiment a little to make progress. The "bigger stuff" I alluded mostly concerns the writing: the game was not written nor was it voiced by native English speakers, and it makes itself known in myriad smaller ways that would be difficult to pick out by anyone who hadn't been speaking the language since small times.

I do like the story so far though, even if it is a little fractured due to those sudden scenery changes. The diehard adventure game fanbase in Germany - not to generalize too much - have a huge affection for a UK franchise called Simon the Sorcerer, which took what felt like traditional fantasy/fairytale stories and injected them with a certain '90s genre savviness and satirical comedy (the Discworld games did something similar, building on the tone set by the books) that often erred towards comic misanthropy, especially as far as the game's self-serving, anti-hero protagonist was concerned. The Inner World definitely has shades of something similar going on with its sense of humor, though it's not quite as sarcastic and mean-spirited: Laura, your companion for most of the game, is very much the type of character who'd rather brute force a problem than try to find a solution that doesn't involve violence and hurt feelings, but she'll usually follow Robert's lead until she decides to strike out on her own. Kind of feels like the game is having its cake and eating it too.

An instance where the localization perhaps lets itself down...
An instance where the localization perhaps lets itself down...
...though is put to good use here, with a rhyming puzzle that takes a little bit of thought to solve. You already stole the picture of the left guy to use as a disguise, but still have to work out his number-color-number password to convince other guards you're him.
...though is put to good use here, with a rhyming puzzle that takes a little bit of thought to solve. You already stole the picture of the left guy to use as a disguise, but still have to work out his number-color-number password to convince other guards you're him.

Ultimately, the Inner World is a deliberate and affectionate '90s point-and-click homage driven by some welcome quality-of-life features that the games it hearkens back to didn't enjoy, though is at equal turns let down by its delivery of jokes that perhaps didn't translate well. Its ambition as a game doesn't really extend beyond that, but given it was made and released in the midst of the hype surrounding Double Fine's Broken Age Kickstarter campaign I could see other studios getting into the spirit of bringing back that specific era, before companies like Wadjet Eye eventually made it their stock and trade. Given that it's a 2013 Indie game you can also expect it to be a little shorter and less polished than the Indie adventures of today, but it still looks professional enough (plus its world design is definitely distinctive, and that can count for a lot) and appears to have an even more ambitious sequel that I'm looking forward to trying someday.

Rating: 3 out of 5.

< Back to 207: Glittermitten GroveThe First 100The Second 100> Forward to 209: ???

Post-Script: In the final chapter, which I started just after the review went up, I hit a game-breaking bug. A certain vital item just up and vanishes from the game. Since the game is constantly auto-saving, it's now in a "dead man walking" state and cannot be fixed unless I start over from the beginning. Needless to say this is not a good look for a game that has ostensibly been patched at least once since it came out eight years ago. Gonna have to recommend you maybe avoid the Steam version (and the iOS version, since it happens there too). Life's too short for games that fall flat on their face at the final hurdle.

1 Comments

Mega Archive CD: Part IV: From Sewer Shark to Tenbu

The Mega Archive has gone into indefinite hiatus, but we still have one more update for its CD side-hustle before we can put the year of 1992 behind us. The Sega CD had only just debuted in North America so we're still in launch window territory for the time being, with a handful more games that hit the shelves around the same time as the console itself. That includes one more FMV game from Digital Pictures - perhaps their next most famous after Night Trap - and a few noteworthy Amiga/MS-DOS visitors with CD-enhanced ports ready to go. The second half of this entry covers the rest of the December '92 Mega CD (that's the Japanese one) line-up, which includes some arcade and computer conversions and another one of those intense anime FMV LaserDisc QTE games; one that Giant Bomb exhibited fairly recently even. We just have the eight games overall in this final entry, so I may have rambled on more than usual for each item.

I'll sign off at the end in more detail, but this is the conclusion of the Mega Archive feature in its current form and I'm happy to have embarked on this journey with everyone who has followed along so far. In case you're new to the Mega Archive, however, here's a quick refresher of where we've been:

Part IV: CD30-CD37 (December '92)

CD30: Sewer Shark

No Caption Provided
  • Developer: Digital Pictures
  • Publisher: Sony Imagesoft
  • JP Release: N/A
  • NA Release: December 1992
  • EU Release: June 1993
  • Franchise: N/A
  • Genre: FMV
  • Theme: Doing Charlie Work in the Post-Apocalypse
  • Premise: The world has become an enormous sewer, as we all expected it would, and it's up to a group of verbally abusive "sewer sharks" to clear out or avoid all the mutant beasts that have taken up residence while they make their deliveries.
  • Availability: It has yet to join Night Trap with a lavish remastered update, but maybe by the end of next year? It'll be its twentieth anniversary by then (though its footage was originally filmed in 1987...).
  • Preservation: The most famous poopchute-shooter that ever was and, God willing, ever will be. Sewer Shark's another like Night Trap that doesn't really need an introduction if you've been on this site long enough: it's a chief port of call for any Sega CD retrospective looking to recreate the atmosphere of runaway hype around its launch window, and GB's had several of those (most recently this UPF from last December). This was another one where I couldn't be sure about a release date: GameFAQs and Wikipedia insist it was October 15th, the Sega CD's initial launch date before it was surreptitiously bumped back to November to expand its launch library a little, but they may have been confused by how Sewer Shark was a Sega CD system pack-in. It was, but only for the second model, which debuted around mid-1993. SegaRetro, which evidently does more than a little research into these things, plucked their release month from the preview section of an issue of GamePro and I'm more inclined to believe that. Being released just around the holidays would also explain its high sales figures: I imagine a big, flashy, in your face FMV novelty was a big draw for kids impulsively looking for items to stick on their lists to Santa, especially with the amount of savvy promotion Sega of America pumped into it and the Sega CD. As for the game itself, I played it a few minutes and came to the conclusion that its premise is very apropos, since it definitely belongs in the sewer (I do appreciate its The Running Man-lite story though, and the actors' performances are precisely as over the top as they need to be).

CD31: The Secret of Monkey Island

No Caption Provided
  • Developer: LucasArts
  • Publisher: JVC Musical Industries (NA) / Victor Entertainment (JP)
  • JP Release: 1993-09-23 (as Monkey Island: Yuurei Kaizoku Daisoudou!)
  • NA Release: December 1992
  • EU Release: N/A
  • Franchise: Monkey Island
  • Genre: Adventure
  • Theme: Fighting Like a Dairy Farmer
  • Premise: Guybrush Threepwood isn't a mighty pirate yet but he's learning, and thanks to a collection of unusual talents he may just survive his first encounter with the evil corsair LeChuck.
  • Availability: A "Special Edition" remake was released in 2009 and is still available on Steam, GOG, iOS, Android, PS3, and Xbox 360. If your heart's set on the Sega CD version though, Limited Run Games just put out a reissue last year.
  • Preservation: We've seen a couple of decent adventure games from Dynamix on the Mega Archive CD so far, but here's where the Sega CD starts to roll out the A+ material. LucasArts's The Secret of Monkey Island, the brainchild of Ron Gilbert (with design assistance from David Grossman and Tim Schafer), was the first in a new wave of "accessible" adventure games that broke from the existing punitive Sierra model and did away with reload-necessitating fail states and other inconveniences, allowing players of all skill levels to enjoy the story and puzzles. Given an incorrigibly silly sense of humor brought over from Gilbert's earlier Maniac Mansion and built in the same "wall o' verbs" SCUMM engine, The Secret of Monkey Island is an utter delight from beginning to end, barring except the part where you have to follow an old man through a maze too many times. The Sega CD version is based on the 1991 PC CD-ROM remaster with its improved graphics and CD audio, though by the system's nature it had to decrease the number of on-screen colors, boost the load times, and switch the saving with a wholly inadequate password system overall making it something of a lesser experience. You could still do a lot worse. I love the Japanese localization's subtitle, which roughly translates as "Big Ghost Pirate Fuss." It certainly is one of those.

CD32: Wolfchild

No Caption Provided
  • Developer: Core Design
  • Publisher: JVC Musical Industries (NA) / Sega (EU) / Victor Entertainment (JP)
  • JP Release: 1993-03-19
  • NA Release: December 1992
  • NA Release (Genesis): March 1993
  • EU Release: May 1993
  • Franchise: N/A
  • Genre: Platformer
  • Theme: Somehow Not Affiliated With Wolfmother
  • Premise: Local man willingly turns himself into a werewolf to defeat the criminals that killed his family, sort of like the Paw-nisher.
  • Availability: No rereleases so far. Core Design's IPs (besides Tomb Raider) were bought by Rebellion a few years back, so it's up to them if they feel like tossing some "Amiga Classics" into a compilation (they also just bought the Bitmap Brothers' library too, so this seems likelier than ever).
  • Preservation: If there's one thing the Genesis was never lacking for besides shoot 'em ups, it was grimdark action games where the gritty presentation tail was often wagging the uninspired shooter/platformer dog. These particular games and the culture that inspired them (early '90s comic books and the more violent anime OVAs handpicked for localizations) just radiated this awkward teenager angst that's a little embarrassing to look back on now, but must've been the dog's bollocks at the time. Speaking of testes, this game goes balls out with the presentation with a lavish animated intro setting up who or what the Wolfchild is but the actual gameplay - inspired mostly by Altered Beast from what I can tell, with a dash of Strider - can be a bit lacking and repetitive, which was corroborated by many of its contemporary reviews. You can definitely tell it originated on the Amiga: the use of gray everywhere and those gradient fill skies are always a big giveaway.

CD33: After Burner III

No Caption Provided
  • Developer: CRI
  • Publisher: Sega (NA/EU) / CRI (JP)
  • JP Release: 1992-12-18
  • NA Release: March 1993
  • EU Release: 1993
  • Franchise: After Burner
  • Genre: Shoot 'em Up
  • Theme: Filling the Skies With Burnin' Love
  • Premise: After Burner returns, sort of, with this special Sega CD entry in Sega's arcade jet fighter franchise.
  • Availability: Unlike the first After Burner, Sega hasn't touched this game since the Sega CD.
  • Preservation: After Burner's kind of a weird franchise. The original is rightly regarded as one of the greatest arcade games to come out of Sega's '80s golden age for the sheer sense of speed it conveyed to its players, achieved with the inchoate super-scaler tech and high framerates. After that, you have After Burner II which was mostly a reissue with a few extra features that could bring some heat to the Mega Drive launch library (MA II), and now you have After Burner III which is a reskin of a different arcade jet fighter game called Strike Fighter, the 1991 sequel to G-LOC: Air Battle. The big difference between AB3 and Strike Fighter was that the latter stuck to a cockpit view, while AB3 allowed you to switch to the traditional AB third-person perspective that closely followed the player's jet even while it was pulling off barrel rolls and high-G turns (and the transition between the two modes is pretty cool). Strike Fighter was all Sega, but CRI adapted it for the FM Towns - part of the sister company's prerogative was to deliver Sega's newest arcade games to high-end computer systems that could support the tech behind them - and that was the basis of the Sega CD port as well.

CD34: Gambler Jiko Chuushinha 2: Gekitou! Tokyo Mahjong Land Hen

No Caption Provided
  • Developer: Yellow Horn
  • Publisher: Game Arts
  • JP Release: 1992-12-18
  • NA Release: N/A
  • EU Release: N/A
  • Franchise: Gambler Jiko Chuushinha
  • Genre: Mahjong
  • Theme: If You Can See Shady Guys in Smoky Mahjong Parlors Then You've Come to the Ron Part of Town
  • Premise: Everyone's favorite comedic dirtbag mahjong hustler manga comes to Sega platforms again, only now it's more "CD" than "seedy".
  • Availability: I know Ben and Jan brought the sexy back to mahjong, but a licensed game based on some ancient manga is unlikely to pull a comeback.
  • Preservation: Oh hey, it's these guys again. It's been a while since we covered Gambler Jiko Chuushinha: Katayama Masayuki no Mahjong Dojo (MA VI) but I did mention at the time that we'd encounter its Mega CD sequel eventually. It's really just more mahjong, and despite the goofy tone set by the character designs there's a certain degree of pragmatism with the game design: instead of trying to squeeze everyone around a mahjong table with everyone's hands running across the four borders of the screen, the game instead depicts each hand one atop the other. It does make it easier to follow what declared melds everyone has and who discarded what, and the dead wall sits happily at the top along with the round's stats, but it's not exactly flashy. Still, you do what you can with the limited resolution of older systems. The Gambler Jiko games are marginally more fun to play than their peers because of those crazy character designs, but unless you know enough about mahjong to play it without needing English tutorials or tile descriptions it's not something you're likely to enjoy much. (Incidentally, that word salad title translates as "Self-Centered Gambler School 2: Fierce Battle! Tokyo Mahjong Land Edition." Not sure what's so fierce about a mahjong game at a theme park, but I guess you sell more copies by injecting some excitement.)

CD35: Road Avenger / Road Blaster FX

No Caption Provided
  • Developer: Wolf Team
  • Publisher: Renovation Products (NA) / Sega (EU) / Wolf Team (JP)
  • JP Release: 1992-12-18 (as Road Blaster FX)
  • NA Release: March 1993 (as Road Avenger)
  • EU Release: April 1993 (as Road Avenger)
  • Franchise: N/A
  • Genre: FMV
  • Theme: The Quick (Time Event) and the Querulous
  • Premise: A gang of hoodlums trashed your car and killed your wife, and you're very upset. Like, "modifying an armored muscle car for a brutal campaign of revenge" upset.
  • Availability: There was a recent iOS port. Play it while you're driving for extra verisimilitude.
  • Preservation: Wolf Team's back with another anime FMV game rescued from the arcades of the mid-80s, put through a process where Wolf Team had to re-draw all the frames from what was previously VHS footage to work with the limitations of the console, and then given some new theme music courtesy of Japanese rock band The Jaywalk (apt!). Wolf Team went through a similar amount of trouble previously with the Sega CD ports of Time Gal (MACD III) and Cobra Command (MACD II). It's also another game in the Mega LD series, a Sega-affiliated branch of the Pioneer LaserActive LaserDisc console/player, and while I have no idea what that emulation scene looks like I am getting more curious about it as we keep seeing these anime FMV LD adaptations. Road Avenger (previously Road Blaster, but was renamed for its NA/EU releases presumably because of Atari's RoadBlasters) is a little more intense than the others, since you're directing a high-speed chase in real-time; that means many more button prompts in a shorter span of time as you swerve to avoid god knows what in your quest to take down an entire Mad Max movie trilogy's worth of vehicular villains.

CD36: Capcom no Quiz Tonosama no Yabou

No Caption Provided
  • Developer: SIMS
  • Publisher: SIMS
  • JP Release: 1992-12-25
  • NA Release: N/A
  • EU Release: N/A
  • Franchise: Quiz Tonosama no Yabou
  • Genre: Trivia
  • Theme: Welcome to the Family Feudal Lords With Your Host, Richard Dawsengoku
  • Premise: Though the quiz is set in the 16th century, the questions are all contemporary. That said, they're all based on Japanese culture of the '80s and early '90s so you're still not going to know any of them.
  • Availability: Naaah, topical trivia doesn't age well. If you wanted to see it in action though, there's a (translated!) GameCenter CX episode based on the PC Engine CD version.
  • Preservation: Trivia machines are one of the few areas where Japanese arcades and UK bars overlap and Capcom got in on the fun with a couple of Sengoku-themed quizzers (the "no Yabou" part being a not-so-subtle nod to Koei's Nobunaga no Yabou games) in the early '90s to accompany their Capcom World trivia series, using the war-torn period as a framing device for the player's success: more correct answers meant more territory conquered. Capcom licensed the rights to SIMS for this Mega CD port and did the same thing for Hudson with the PC Engine CD, though oddly only the Sega version included the extra "Capcom's" clarification in its title (possibly because Capcom didn't develop it? Second-party studio SIMS has a "reprogrammed by" credit on the title screen). To give you some idea about how accessible a game like this would be to any of us now: in that GCCX episode mentioned above, filmed in 2005, a team of staff members comprised entirely of Japanese natives struggled to answer most of its questions.

CD37: Tenbu Mega CD Special

No Caption Provided
  • Developer: Wolf Team
  • Publisher: Wolf Team
  • JP Release: 1992-12-25
  • NA Release: N/A
  • EU Release: N/A
  • Franchise: Tenbu
  • Genre: Strategy Simulation
  • Theme: We Had a Sengoku Game So Now We Need a Three Kingdoms Game, Those Are the Rules
  • Premise: Romance your way across the Three Kingdoms in this wargaming sim, and by romance I mean hit people with swords.
  • Availability: Tenbu came out on other systems but nothing more recent than 1993.
  • Preservation: We have one more game from Wolf Team to finish off the year, and this time it's one of their originals. Well, sorta. Wolf Team had a few Sengoku sims like the Zan series back in the day and they must've figured, like Koei, that the Three Kingdoms conflict of Ancient China was fundamentally similar enough to be compatible with the same game format. Thus, Tenbu: Sangokushi Seishi for the PC98 was born. I've encountered Tenbu before - a port or remake was released on the Super Famicom in 1993 - but it was a little too dense to glean much about how differently it might play compared to its many peers. I think Japan treats these historical re-enactments with a certain amount of reverence and gravitas (excepting perhaps the frequently thirsty liberties taken by the Dynasty Warriors games), which makes these strategy sims a little too serious and clinical (read: boring) for my preferences. I'll be the first to admit that I might not have a sufficiently cultured palate to appreciate the intricacies of proper grain storage. As for what makes this Mega CD port a "Special" version, as far as I can tell it involves adding two scenarios to the original game's line-up and introduces the game and each scenario with live-action FMV clips from a 1985 Chinese TV series called Zhuge Liang, which retold the Romance of the Three Kingdoms novel from the perspective of the titular Shu strategist.

That's it for the 1992 Mega Archive! Thanks to everyone who commented on any one of the many blogs produced in this series running down the Sega Genesis/Mega Drive and Sega/Mega CD, and if you're a passive peruser I hope that you at least found it occasionally amusing and/or elucidating. This console was a major blind spot of mine barring the big names like Sonic or Streets of Rage, and I've enjoyed plumbing its more obscure depths and ragging on the shovelware that any popular enough console naturally accrues over the years. Celebrating the long history of this medium has always been the beating heart of this website, and I hope filling the Genesis platform's wiki page's forums with these rundowns didn't ruffle too many feathers.

This might not necessarily be the end of the Mega Archive, but if it ever comes back to cover 1993 I definitely think I need to retool it so it's a little less of a... well, an intimidating info dump with a few deeply buried goofs. Something sleeker, for sure. A Mega Drive Model 2 version of the Mega Archive, as it were. See you in March for something brand new.

2 Comments

Indie Game of the Week 207: Glittermitten Grove

No Caption Provided

On the one hand, I'm torn about spoiling anything about what was eventually revealed to be the next chapter in the Frog Fractions saga for fear of denying its eventual players what they'll come there to enjoy, whether they yet realise it or not: the ubiquitous element of surprise. Per contra, this game has been out for five years and I think there's probably been enough "beating around the bush" reviews in the meantime that at this juncture everyone either has some distinct idea about what's going on or has long since played it themselves. I'll be the first to admit that sometimes Indie Game of the Week doesn't so much provide a service introducing lesser-known Indies to (a very small segment of) the Giant Bomb community than it is an excuse for me to wax lyrical about whatever it is I've been playing that week, known quantities very much included. Therefore I'm just going to talk earnestly about what Frog Fractions 2 entails and put up a spoiler disclaimer now.

Glittermitten Grove deliberately keeps up its "front" for quite a while, to deter would-be looky-loos who weren't sufficiently invested in amphibious math to dig far enough into it. Literally, in this case, as the door to the rest of the game could only be found deep beneath the fairy glade I was nurturing. Glittermitten Grove, which is simply the first of many different genre experiments both familiar and novel that the game will throw at you, is a real-time town-building simulator where you direct fairies to construct their arboreal kingdom atop nearby flora, collecting resources and building structures to increase how much of those resources can be held at any one time. Said structures include houses where fairies can sleep, pantries for excess food storage (vital to prepare for winter), prisms to collect "sparkles" needed for magic spells, and various silos for wood, crystals, and so on. There's certainly enough game here to fool anyone who encountered Glittermitten Grove on Steam by accident, which might account for why it took the internet a while to find out about it. However, once the illusion was broken for the internet at large, the developers leaked a password ("butts," keeping it classy) to skip right past the moderate amount of fairy town investment it takes to find one of these secret entrances to the core game.

Glittermitten Grove is part town-builder, part arboreal management sim. It's integral to trim branches and leaves to ensure each tree gets enough sunshine. Every part of it, including the
Glittermitten Grove is part town-builder, part arboreal management sim. It's integral to trim branches and leaves to ensure each tree gets enough sunshine. Every part of it, including the "ready for mobile" HUD, is a pitch-perfect disguise.

Said core then presents itself in the form of "TXT World," an ASCII-based hub similar to Rogue and NetHack but with a (mostly) fixed geography. This core involves exploring TXT World, collecting items and keys needed to make further progress across its many branches, and occasionally bumping into "mindstones". The mindstones are where Frog Fractions 2 picks up, as each tosses you into an entirely different game: most of these are short experiments or parodies that eventually boot you back to TXT World once the player completes a simple goal or otherwise gets enough of the gist. The ultimate goal is to collect two of each symbol, many of which are far better hidden than others and most at least requiring you complete some puzzle or take the right item to the right area of the hub. The sheer inventiveness of this core mode alone is remarkable to behold, and it's next to impossible to predict where a mindstone will take you next. However, the game is designed in such an accessible way that most mini-games don't need to be successfully completed to receive the award - it's more the point that you saw the joke, not that you spend far too long past the point of sale trying to master it - and there's plenty of tips and advice from the Glittermitten Grove tutorial fairy (the only "survivor" of that mode) for the truly lost. That said, the advice only really applies to the mini-games and any new equipment you find: locating all the symbols is purely on the player to discover on their own. (I said I wasn't going to bother avoiding spoilers, but those mini-games are so strange and interesting I either want to leave them as surprises or go into more detail in a separate blog some day. My favorite conceptually was the real-time strategy chess, and the funniest was the Dark Souls LCD game or the Dante Alighieri "Where in the Circles of Hell is the Kidnapper Korn Cellist?" detective game.)

I'm not going to blame the game for not having a Mass Effect 2 save to import though. That foolishness is on me.
I'm not going to blame the game for not having a Mass Effect 2 save to import though. That foolishness is on me.

Unfortunately, a game as ambitious and strange as this also has its share of issues and bugs, even after half a decade since its initial release. I've found two major problems, both of which have made the game impossible to complete (after doing a little post-confusion FAQ-checking to be sure). The first is sorta my fault but in another, more accurate way, entirely not: I had to stop playing after it had gotten late and had just reached one of the game's little TXT World "episodes" - finishing a mini-game sometimes causes TXT World to fundamentally change, and following this divergence to its end leads to another mini-game or a key item before "normalcy" returns - and I quit the game during this section. After reloading the save, I was put back in the standard TXT World hub and the mini-game mindstone portal that began the process had collapsed. Since I'd not recovered the item I was supposed to get at the end of that chain of events (a sword that lets you break through walls), it meant further progress could no longer be made - though I do intend to give it another hour of poking around just to be sure. The second bug involves a requirement to have a mic installed: if you don't, a certain rhythm mini-game can't be completed and you're left without the key item it rewards you (though supposedly there's a back-up somewhere). Worth noting again that you can lose the majority of mini-games and still pop back in the hub with the reward item; the game is generously undemanding, perhaps determining that each mini-game can require different skillsets to complete or maybe not wanting to dwell too long on any one riff. For whatever Byzantine reason the developer intended, the one mini-game that requires external hardware you might not own is one of the few that you absolutely have to complete successfully to make critical progress (well, maybe; see the previous parenthetical).

I think I've brought this up before but don't remember when and where, but it's very important in an enigmatic puzzle-focused game like this that absolute trust exists between the player and the developer; that if you're stuck or you don't get it, it must always be a failure on the player's part (sidenote: one could argue that it's part of the developer's job to make things "obvious enough" via enhanced user-friendly mechanics, but given Frog Fractions' deliberate obtuseness I can forgive it if the solution isn't immediately clear - it's part of the game's charm, after all). In this case, it does indeed seem as if the developer was at fault and now I feel less engaged with the game with that trust broken, seeing as I have no idea what else might not be working as intended. Sort of like how if you can't trust the surgeon operating on you, you'd never go through with the operation. I have some sympathy for missing game-breaking bugs that resulted from unexpected player behavior in my brief time as a designer, but that doesn't make it any more enjoyable to be on the receiving end of one.

Combining Where in the World is Carmen Sandiego and The Divine Comedy works way better than it should. Which circle of hell is reserved for those who steal the Golden Gate Bridge?
Combining Where in the World is Carmen Sandiego and The Divine Comedy works way better than it should. Which circle of hell is reserved for those who steal the Golden Gate Bridge?

Thus, my time with Glittermitten Grove came to an abrupt and unsatisfying end, dropping my overall rating for the game a full point. As with the first Frog Fractions, I admire any developer willing to take such a meta journey with video game mechanics new and old for the sake of comedy and keeping the player guessing in a state of constant confusion, and I especially admire the very indirect way that Glittermitten Grove was presented to the world - hiding in a fairy simulator that sat ignored on Steam for a week until somebody finally put two and two together. At some point, a point which may have already happened with that sequel sneakily hidden in some DLC, the Frog Fraction creator will be able to match that pie-in-the-sky imagination and ambition with what must be an absurdly challenging task of making it all correctly work in unison. Until then, I think this will be a series I'll continue to appreciate from afar.

Rating: 4 out of 5.

Post-Script: Yeah, I'm an idiot. I spawned with the aforementioned glowing sword upon restarting, but since it only glows in rooms with secret walls I was unaware I'd managed to keep it. Apparently it was cool with me not completing the puzzle after leaving the mini-game. For as worried as I was that the end game would become too meandering with only a handful of collectibles left and no idea where to search for them, a certain development in the late-game makes it much, much easier to get around and I'm always grateful for expedient conveniences when I'm getting close to the end of something, so kudos for that.

After a little while I managed to get credits to roll (with one heck of a power ballad about frogs and an "assistant to the assistant director" joke that goes on way too long, by design) so I'm satisfied I'm done and bopped the score back up to something more deserving. I might have to get in on that iconic cap business after all...

< Back to 206: The Aquatic Adventure of the Last HumanThe First 100The Second 100> Forward to 208: The Inner World
1 Comments

Mega Archive: Part XXVII: From Puyo Puyo to T2: The Arcade Game

Another warm welcome to the Mega Archive, a chronological journey through the release library of the Sega Genesis/Mega Drive. Well, we finally got here. This is all that's left of 1992, and the end of the Mega Archive in its current form. That said, we will have one more Mega Archive CD coming sometime later this month before I put a cap on this whole endeavor for a long hiatus while I consider what, if anything, Mega Archive '93 will look like.

Some big "coffee cup dregs" energy as we finish off the handful of remaining games with firm December release dates and then tackle a whole bunch of titles where I couldn't find anything more specific than "it came out at some point in 1992, probably." This also includes the very last of Game Toshokan - downloadable games provided freely to subscribers of the Sega Meganet service, the Japan-exclusive precursor to the Sega Channel - and a few miscellaneous curios like one of the earliest online-only multiplayer games and a special rental-only version of Madden Football. We'll also see the system's first ever pachinko game in this entry, so that's... that's fun. That's the one with the balls.

All right, so there's not a whole lot of heat surrounding this particular set of mostly forgotten Sega detritus, but at least it's not wall-to-wall licensed platformers. I'll take it. And you can take these links to previous entries of the Mega Archive, if it pleases you:

Part I: 001-020 (Oct '88 - Dec '89)Part XI: 161-175 (Jul '91 - Aug '91)Part XXI: 311-320 (Sep '92 - Oct '92)
Part II: 021-035 (Dec '89 - Mar '90)Part XII: 176-190 (Aug '91 - Sep '91)Part XXII: 321-330 (Oct '92)
Part III: 036-050 (Apr '90 - Jul '90)Part XIII: 191-205 (Oct '91 - Nov '91)Part XXIII: 331-340 (Oct '92 - Nov '92)
Part IV: 051-065 (Aug '90 - Oct '90)Part XIV: 206-220 (Nov '91)Part XXIV: 341-350 (Nov '92 - Dec '92)
Part V: 066-080 (Oct '90 - Dec '90)Part XV: 221-240 (Dec '91)Part XXV: 351-360 (Dec '92)
Part VI: 081-098 (Dec '90)Part XVI: 241-255 (Jan '92 - Feb '92)Part XXVI: 361-370 (Dec '92)
Part VII: 099-115 (Jan '91 - Mar '91)Part XVII: 256-270 (Mar '92 - Apr '92)Part XXVII: 371-381 (Dec '92)
Part VIII: 116-130 (Mar '91 - Apr '91)Part XVIII: 271-285 (Apr '92 - Jun '92)
Part IX: 131-145 (May '91 - Jun '91)Part XIX: 286-300 (Jul '92 - Aug '92)
Part X: 146-160 (Jun '91 - Jul '91)Part XX: 301-310 (Aug '92 - Sep '92)

Part XXVI: 371-381 (December '92)

371: Puyo Puyo

No Caption Provided
  • Developer: Compile
  • Publisher: Sega
  • JP Release: 1992-12-18
  • NA Release: N/A
  • EU Release: N/A
  • Franchise: Puyo Puyo
  • Genre: Puzzle
  • Theme: Thinking 37 Moves Ahead
  • Premise: Beans, beans, the magical fruit. The more you stack, the more points you'll loot.
  • Availability: You can buy a version of it these days that also has Tetris in it. Seems like a good deal. If you want to stick to original flavor Puyo, the arcade version of this game was released on Switch.
  • Preservation: Oh hey, it's Puyo Puyo. A franchise that's been a staple of the competitive puzzle block-dropping genre for so long it's easy to forget that it must have started somewhere. That somewhere was the MSX2 and Famicom, but this expanded Mega Drive port turned up shortly thereafter and made Sega a huge amount of bank in Japan. Puyo Puyo was of course the basis of Dr. Robotnik's Mean Bean Machine in the west, but that game saw a number of tweaks in addition to its Sonic cartoon branding so it counts more as a sequel or remake (both of which get separate pages on the wiki) than a remaster. In case you've been sleeping under a pile of colored beans this whole time, Puyo Puyo began as a spin-off of Compile's cutesy Madou Monogatari RPG series and quickly eclipsed it. Puyo Puyo ingeniously took on the underdeveloped meta game for multiplayer Tetris and figured out a more competitive system, creating a game loop that is less about keeping your side of the field clear as the speed picks up but instead all about setting up - dominoes style - combos that can be triggered with a single drop; the more you demolish in one go, the bigger the chain and the more junk is thrown over to your opponent. (As for Madou Monogatari, there will be a Mega Drive port of that too. In 1996. Maybe don't hold your breath.)

372: Jerry Glanville's Pigskin Footbrawl

No Caption Provided
  • Developer: Developer Resources
  • Publisher: RazorSoft
  • JP Release: N/A
  • NA Release: 1992-12-18
  • EU Release: N/A
  • Franchise: N/A
  • Genre: Footbrawler
  • Theme: Football's Fine and All, but What if it Had Even More Concussions?
  • Premise: What if you staged a football game between knights, Vikings, and cavemen? Would they actually understand the rules, or just try to kill each other? This game inventively imagines the latter.
  • Availability: For some reason (I can think of several) this was never added to any of the Midway Arcade Treasures compilations.
  • Preservation: GDRI has an enlightening interview with programmer Kevin Seghetti that goes into his relationship with Punk Development and RazorSoft, and mentions Pigskin Footbrawl as the last conversion he did with that particular group of entities before cutting ties and moving on. The "Developer Resources" credit is actually all him and a few sub-contractors: it was a company he'd founded to create 16-bit developer tools rather than as a game developer label, but he used it for the few of the projects he worked on like this conversion of a C-tier (and presumably cheap to license) Midway arcade sports game. This behind the curtain stuff interests me far more than having to analyze or talk about anything football-related, even when the game in question doesn't really have a whole lot of football in it - it's mostly a violent free-for-all to get the ball to the endzone by any means possible, kinda laying down the groundwork for the likes of Mutant League Football. At any rate, I believe this is the last we'll hear of early Genesis provocateurs RazorSoft and Punk Development (though worth mentioning again that Punk's management had already left to form Iguana Entertainment by this point, and we'll be hearing from them many more times yet).

373: Pachinko Kuunyan

No Caption Provided
  • Developer: I.S.C.
  • Publisher: Soft Vision
  • JP Release: 1992-12-18
  • NA Release: N/A
  • EU Release: N/A
  • Franchise: N/A
  • Genre: Pachinko
  • Theme: Playing With Balls
  • Premise: Ren goes looking for her wayward father in Yokohama's Chinatown district, where he was last seen. Pachinko is involved.
  • Availability: Unlikely to see a long overdue localization unless they tie it into The Price is Right somehow.
  • Preservation: I have been unable to figure out what "Kuunyan" means. It could either mean peach oolong tea, a mother-in-law, or a rough Anglicism for "canyon." The mystery behind the name is probably more curious than the game itself, which has a typical structure found in many of the pachinko games available on rival systems the SFC and PC Engine: a sort of adventure/RPG framework that has you walking around pachinko parlors in a top-down view, setting up a story that can only progress once you've earned enough money putting balls through holes. I'm not sure why, but there's a very in-depth forum post about the game elsewhere on the internet that connected a lot of dots for me regarding the story and the progression. The game has a huge variety of parlors to visit and machines to play, dozens of hours' worth, with only its central mystery narrative motivating you to keep going. It even lets you zoom in on the machines to study the pin arrangements: bent pins and the like can make certain target zones easier or harder to hit. For as much as I was looking forward to some more JP Mega Drive exclusive weirdness, I'm glad this is the only pachinko game the Mega Archive will ever have to contend with.

374: Championship Pro-Am

No Caption Provided
  • Developer: Rare
  • Publisher: Tradewest
  • JP Release: N/A
  • NA Release: 1992
  • EU Release: N/A
  • Franchise: R.C. Pro-Am
  • Genre: Racing
  • Theme: I'm a Night Owl, so I'm More Pro-PM
  • Premise: You know what would liven up this remote control car race? If we gave them cruise missiles. Kids love cruise missiles.
  • Availability: The Genesis version hasn't been rereleased, but the original two R.C. Pro-Am games are featured on Rare Replay for Xbox One.
  • Preservation: We have our first ever Rare game on the Mega Archive! While they were a company very closely associated with Nintendo in the NES, SNES, and N64 eras they did briefly port a few of their NES games over to the Genesis as well as this single "original" game: a sequel to the isometric NES racer R.C. Pro-Am. It's also the Genesis debut of Tradewest, a one-time importer of Japanese arcade games that eventually got bought and absorbed into Midway's expansion into console gaming in the late '90s. We'll see Tradewest one more time this entry, and both several times more in 1993. I say this is an original game, but it's just R.C. Pro-Am with a facelift: they even left the vehicles as RC cars (as evinced by their antennae) and kept most of the same features including picking up junk on the courses that either improved your vehicle or gave you single-use weapons. The only major change is that the letters you collect to unlock new vehicles now say CHAMPION instead of NINTENDO. Still, sticking "Championship" on any new edition does make it seem cooler, so props to whomever was running Tradewest's marketing division back then.

375: Go Net

No Caption Provided
  • Developer: Aisystem Tokyo
  • Publisher: Sega
  • JP Release: 1992
  • NA Release: N/A
  • EU Release: N/A
  • Franchise: N/A
  • Genre: Go
  • Theme: Surprisingly Not a Soccer Game
  • Premise: So let me get this straight - if you have no-one nearby to play board games with, you can use a modem to play with someone hundreds of miles away instead? That'll never catch on.
  • Availability: If you want to pay through the nose for a defunct online game, "go" right ahead.
  • Preservation: The Mega Drive isn't new to online gaming - the "Tel Tel" series introduced the idea of playing simple games over a modem, and the Game Toshokan library of digital distributables had been around a while by now - but this is the first release dedicated solely to online gaming. As far as I can tell, there's no way to play Go on this unless you have a subscription and a modem to connect to others; it's more a key than a standalone product, like one of those free AOL CDs that clog the ocean floor to this day. Aisystem also released an equivalent product via PC systems, in case you didn't want to jump through the hoops of getting a separate modem peripheral for your Sega console, but I'm not sure if the two versions ever had cross-play. Now that'd be innovative.

376: Ikasuze! Koi no Doki Doki Penguin Land MD

No Caption Provided
  • Developer: Sega CS
  • Publisher: Sega
  • JP Release: 1992
  • NA Release: N/A
  • EU Release: N/A
  • Franchise: Penguin Land
  • Genre: Puzzle
  • Theme: Overly Eggsact and Eggscruciating
  • Premise: Drop a penguin egg - carefully! - down a shaft to the lady penguin waiting at the bottom.
  • Availability: As with most Game Toshokan games it didn't see a separate retail release, but the Master System Penguin Land has more features and perhaps presents the better option.
  • Preservation: Just two Game Toshokan games left to go and this is the first of them. It's another adaptation of one of Sega's older games, in this case the 1985 SG-1000 puzzle-platformer Doki Doki Penguin Land. It's one of those puzzle games like Sokoban where the premise is easy to pick up but the solutions to later stages are often so elaborate and precise you need to plan everything out before you even make the first move. The egg can only fall so far and by necessity must enter the next part of the level before you can, so it's not just making sure it's safe to land but will remain safe long enough for you to get down there and get it moving further down. A lot of lining up enemy patrols and floating platform patterns just right and then executing without a single error. And all this mental exertion for a game starring an adorable penguin who kicks his little feet in frustration when he messes up.

377: John Madden Football: Championship Edition

No Caption Provided
  • Developer: Blue Sky Productions
  • Publisher: Electronic Arts
  • JP Release: N/A
  • NA Release: 1992
  • EU Release: N/A
  • Franchise: Madden NFL
  • Genre: Football
  • Theme: Sometimes Madden isn't for Sale, Sometimes You Can Only Rent Him
  • Premise: John Madden's back with the greatest challenge of all - championship teams! Squads from past and present compete across time to become the ultimate... football... guys.
  • Availability: Unless you find yourself crashing through the roof of an early '90s Blockbusters like Captain Marvel, I don't think this limited availability game will be all that easy to track down.
  • Preservation: Remember what I said earlier about slapping "Championship" onto a game to make it cooler? Those Sega suits had it all figured out, man. I don't think the idea of a rental-only game was a novel concept even in 1992 - I want to say there were certain NES games in a similar boat that have since ballooned in value - but it does feel like a quick cash-in grab. Take John Madden Football '93, which was already doing gangbusters, and present a proverbial Malibu Stacy with a new hat (in this case, a version filled with historical NFL teams that could've easily been included in the original as a value add) that's only available in this rare, exclusive context. This sort of marketing cynicism could well be the origin point of EA's eventual status as industry supervillains.

378: Kiss Shot

No Caption Provided
  • Developer: Sega CS
  • Publisher: Sega
  • JP Release: 1992
  • NA Release: N/A
  • EU Release: N/A
  • Franchise: N/A
  • Genre: Billiards
  • Theme: How Dare You Ask Me to Kiss Sh- Oh, "Kiss Shot"
  • Premise: If you lost all your money to a guy named "Fats" and need some billiards practice on the cheap, Kiss Shot is here to underwhelm.
  • Availability: It's Game Toshokan, so unless you have a time-travelling Sega Modem it's probably gonna be hard to find.
  • Preservation: The final Game Toshokan game. I can't say I'll miss this little library of nondescript timewasters, but it is remarkable to think that we had a "downloadable" industry as far back as the early '90s with the same degree of size/budget disparity between them and the full price retail games available. Of course, that's been a thing forever with home computers and its shareware/freeware market, but at the time it was unheard of for a console to embrace that model of distribution and now every console does. Of course, none of the Game Toshokan games have proven to be worth writing about today (much less play) and Kiss Shot is no exception. As barebones as you can make a billiards game and hobbled with strangely long "CPU decision" load times between moves, Kiss Shot looks like a Side Pocket but sure as hell doesn't feel like one.

379: Pro Quarterback

No Caption Provided
  • Developer: Leland Interactive Media
  • Publisher: Tradewest
  • JP Release: N/A
  • NA Release: 1992
  • EU Release: N/A
  • Franchise: N/A
  • Genre: Football
  • Theme: Football
  • Premise: Football
  • Availability: Let's see... Leland Interactive was bought by WMS, which then sold that branch to Midway Games, which then sold that branch to THQ after going defunct, which then went defunct itself, so... THQ Nordic? Or the "Embracer Group" as it now styles itself. They'd be the ones to ask for a rerelease, if you can safely get in and out of their compound without being converted to the One True Path.
  • Preservation: Can't say Pro Quarterback really stacks up against what Madden was doing around the same time, especially given how much uglier it looks. A more dedicated football fan would have more points of comparison to make - how many teams, how many plays, and how since neither had the NFL license that maybe levels the playing field a little - but I suspect Pro Quarterback came and went without fanfare. Might explain why we don't have anything more specific on its release window (the SNES version came out in December of 1992 though, if that means anything). It's also telling that Tradewest couldn't find anyone in the NFL to lend their name to this thing, even though coach Jerry Glanville signed off on a tangential football game where Vikings and knights beat the shit out of each other.

380: Steel Talons

No Caption Provided
  • Developer: Polygames
  • Publisher: Tengen
  • JP Release: 1993-06-25
  • NA Release: 1992
  • EU Release: 1992
  • Franchise: N/A
  • Genre: Action / Simulation
  • Theme: Frames or Polygons? Can't Have Both
  • Premise: Steel Talons puts would-be aces through their paces as they train to join this secretive and elite squadron of helicopter pilots.
  • Availability: There's a lot of Atari arcade history left forgotten by its current custodians Infogrames, including many of their trailblazing 3D games like this one. This port probably doesn't need to be preserved though.
  • Preservation: Having run out of the easy Atari arcade games to convert, publishing label Tengen and frequent developer partners Polygames (who before now had been Sterling Silver Software - see Pit-Fighter (MA XIV) for the previous Sterling/Tengen collab) kept trying to get these 3D polygonal games to work on Genesis hardware with mixed results. Steel Talons, perhaps apropos for a game about helicopters, is extremely choppy. This is doubly deleterious when you consider that each of its scenarios score your efforts based on the amount of time taken. It's thankfully not super heavy into the flight simulation aspect - it was originally an arcade game after all - but it's evident the 16-bit console generation wasn't quite ready for polygonal dogfighting just yet. Well, at least not until February 1993 with the debut of Star Fox.

381: T2: The Arcade Game

No Caption Provided
  • Developer: Probe Entertainment
  • Publisher: Arena Entertainment (NA/EU) / Acclaim (JP)
  • JP Release: 1994-02-25
  • NA Release: 1992
  • EU Release: December 1992
  • Franchise: Terminator
  • Genre: On-Rails Shooter
  • Theme: A Shooter Based on the Only Terminator Movie Where No-One Dies from Getting Shot*
  • Premise: Skynet has sent another Terminator back through time to eliminate John Connor, and Connor has sent his own reprogrammed T-800 unit to protect his younger self and learn already outdated '90s slang.
  • Availability: Nothin' doin'. You'd think they'd put out a downloadable remaster for modern consoles to coincide with one of the many recent terrible Terminator movies, but maybe the film distributors didn't want people to remember a time when Terminator movies were good.
  • Preservation: Perhaps the best Terminator 2 video game, though that's setting the bar low, the arcade game was an on-rails shooter that spent most of its time in the future with adult John Connor (not the Edward Furlong one) blowing up hunter-killers and endoskeletons en route to Skynet's time-travel facility. The second half of the game follows the movie, though it does do something inventive with the Cyberdyne level: how well you do in destroying absolutely anything that looks like it could house an inchoate Skynet determines whether or not Judgment Day still happens. I suck at these light gun games so I didn't get too far, but even if the Genesis version couldn't scale sprites like the arcade and SNES versions could it's still not too bad a port. You can even use the Menacer light gun if you have one: T2's one of the few games to support it. The biggest hurdle for this game's wiki page - sorting out which of the T2 tie-ins was which - had already been sorted back when I encountered the SNES version, so thanks past me. Maybe I won't send a robot back to kill you.

(*except for, like, one rando tourist early on.)

Start the Conversation

Indie Game of the Week 206: The Aquatic Adventure of the Last Human

No Caption Provided

It's a day with a Y in it, so that means we're covering another explormer on Indie Game of the Week! To be specific, it's a rare case of an underwater explormer - Aquaria and Song of the Deep being the only other examples that come to mind - and one that balances the grimness of a watery post-apocalyptic Earth with the natural beauty of a vast sub-aquatic ecosystem. The Aquatic Adventure of the Last Human sees an intrepid spaceship explore a mysterious anomaly that opens up close to Earth, disappearing into its event horizon for an untold number of years (it's implied to be tens of thousands) before being unceremoniously spat back out. They had the presence of mind to give this ship a submarine function, which turns out to be vital because the entire Earth is now entirely covered by ocean with no sign of intelligent life remaining. The narrative thrust of the game, then, is to figure out what happened in those intervening years and where everyone went.

You maniacs! You... submerged it? Damn you all to hell!
You maniacs! You... submerged it? Damn you all to hell!

Like other aquatic explormers, while there's a distinct of platforming (and I realise this is one case where my neologism for this genre does not apply) you still have the same dynamic of needing power-ups to progress past certain barriers. It doesn't take long to reach a crossroads hub of sorts where you can split off into three distinct zones, and from those a few other places, but further exploration in each zone requires you to procure the right upgrades first: a torpedo to clear out paths blocked by rockfall, for instance, or a chainsaw to cut through the surprisingly sturdy kelp. Enemy encounters only ever come in two forms: stationary hazards which you can only ever stun briefly, if that, and the boss fights that make up the majority of the game's action sequences. The boss fights hit the right balance of challenging and inventive, invariably requiring whichever weapon-based power-up was the last one you acquired (or, in a few cases, an airdash-like thrust to evade harm). Your ship restores hull integrity over time, and you can upgrade this aspect until you're able to recover from any damage within seconds, but in many cases the greatest danger is presented by getting trapped by these colossal foes or pushed into a wall hazard (like giant clams) which in both cases results in instant death.

The stretches between bosses are comparatively sedate: the game is big on atmosphere, playing around with the bright colors of coral reefs one moment and in the next sinking into the darkest depths where anything might be lying in wait, and in many areas you can see the decaying structures of human civilization and messages left behind by those who once lived there for indirect hints as to what may have occurred. The game's definitely a treat for marine biologists of any stripe, though perhaps not so much for those who suffer from thalassophobia; the game has some real horrors to throw at you, especially in the regions corrupted by manmade pollutants. That a boss fight might start at any time (though seeing the game auto-save as you pass through an antechamber is usually a good hint) keeps the tension moderately high throughout, but for the most part your exploration of the deep will be as a passive observer picking your way past the debris while looking for answers.

I'm not sure what's so tranquil about a 12,000 ton octopus that keeps throwing shit at me. Maybe I woke it up?
I'm not sure what's so tranquil about a 12,000 ton octopus that keeps throwing shit at me. Maybe I woke it up?

On the whole, Aquatic Adventure is a bit on the thin side and largely coasts on its ambience, though I still enjoyed my time with it. All I really ask out of this genre are some fulfilling exploration, entertaining boss fights, and enough quality-of-life enhancements to make it feel like the developers respect the player's time, and this game checks all those boxes. As well as a fast travel system, the very last upgrade you find on the critical path tells you where all the other ones are in case you felt like backtracking for them, and I always appreciate that as an OCD 100% completion type guy who'd rather not look up revealing documents online if they can help it (well, at least not the video game walkthrough type). The game's sense of scale makes every area impressive, if sometimes a bit too expansive for their own good if you're determined to scan each region top to bottom for upgrades, and even if the central mystery was a little underwhelming I liked the incidental way most of the lore was delivered: it felt much like Souls where you really have to go out of your way for every morsel of backstory, and even the dumbest-looking boss is given an elegiac post-mortem by the protagonist's notes. There's only so many directions you can take a "mysteries of the deep" narrative in a post-Jules Verne, post-Ecco the Dolphin world so I don't envy developers hoping to find a new edge. Best you can do is point every aspect of your presentation towards emphasizing just how alien and dangerous and beautiful the world beneath the waves can be; nail that vibe and you're most of the way there.

Rating: 4 out of 5. (NB: Received as part of the Itch.io Racial Justice and Equality bundle.)

< Back to 205: EarthlockThe First 100The Second 100> Forward to 207: Glittermitten Grove
Start the Conversation

Mega Archive: Part XXVI: From Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles to Ex-Mutants

Welcome back to the Mega Archive, a chronological exploration of the Sega Mega Drive/Genesis, as it inches ever closer to the end of 1992 and the conclusion of a banner year for Sega's 16-bit champ. Have to admit, now that the western developers have all but taken over, it's become a lot less... I suppose "mysterious" is the word I'm looking for here. When I researched the SNES/SFC in a similar fashion, its sheer volume of Japan-exclusive content made every new month a wonderland of weirdness (even if that "weirdness" was often just limited to pachi-slot sims). The Mega Drive didn't quite enjoy the same level of third-party support in its native land - though there's plenty to be said for quality over quantity - and so most of what I catalogue here tends to be familiar multiplatform games: either those the Genesis shares with the SNES and other contemporary consoles or Amiga/Atari ST conversions. Fun to revisit for sure, but mostly well-trodden territory. We'll have one more episode each of Mega Archive and Mega Archive CD to finish off 1992, and then it's time for a very long break I think.

We had one hell of a line-up on the last Mega Archive with the likes of Streets of Rage 2 and Ecco the Dolphin, so it's only fair that this week is mostly whammies. Well, that's not entirely accurate: we do have a decent Amiga racing game, an excellent cartoon brawler, a beloved Disney platformer, an EA-Sega mainstay liked well enough to make it onto the Sega Genesis Classic, and even a cameo from an old Giant Bomb favorite.

Before we get started, here's a quick (?) recap of where we've been:

Part I: 001-020 (Oct '88 - Dec '89)Part XI: 161-175 (Jul '91 - Aug '91)Part XXI: 311-320 (Sep '92 - Oct '92)
Part II: 021-035 (Dec '89 - Mar '90)Part XII: 176-190 (Aug '91 - Sep '91)Part XXII: 321-330 (Oct '92)
Part III: 036-050 (Apr '90 - Jul '90)Part XIII: 191-205 (Oct '91 - Nov '91)Part XXIII: 331-340 (Oct '92 - Nov '92)
Part IV: 051-065 (Aug '90 - Oct '90)Part XIV: 206-220 (Nov '91)Part XXIV: 341-350 (Nov '92 - Dec '92)
Part V: 066-080 (Oct '90 - Dec '90)Part XV: 221-240 (Dec '91)Part XXV: 351-360 (Dec '92)
Part VI: 081-098 (Dec '90)Part XVI: 241-255 (Jan '92 - Feb '92)Part XXVI: 361-370 (Dec '92)
Part VII: 099-115 (Jan '91 - Mar '91)Part XVII: 256-270 (Mar '92 - Apr '92)
Part VIII: 116-130 (Mar '91 - Apr '91)Part XVIII: 271-285 (Apr '92 - Jun '92)
Part IX: 131-145 (May '91 - Jun '91)Part XIX: 286-300 (Jul '92 - Aug '92)
Part X: 146-160 (Jun '91 - Jul '91)Part XX: 301-310 (Aug '92 - Sep '92)

Part XXVI: 361-370 (December '92)

361: Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles: The Hyperstone Heist

No Caption Provided
  • Developer: Konami
  • Publisher: Konami
  • JP Release: 1992-12-22
  • NA Release: December 1992
  • EU Release: April 1993
  • Franchise: Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles
  • Genre: Brawler
  • Theme: Heroes in a Half-Port
  • Premise: Shredder has shrunk down Manhattan and it's up to the Turtles to turn everything back from pint-sized to Queens-sized.
  • Availability: No rereleases, though its sibling Turtles in Time was "re-shelled" semi-successfully for 360 and PS3.
  • Preservation: Wild it's taken this long for a Turtles game to show up, huh? Eastman and Laird's culturally-confused foursome of Japanese-trained, Italian-named amphibians became a major hit when they were adapted into a 1987 animated show. Before then of course it was an underground Indie comic that was considerably darker and more violent, and it perhaps surprises no-one that the first Genesis game based on the franchise leans more into their edgy origin than the beloved syndicated cartoon. While the game is clearly based on Turtles in Time - the second arcade game though the fourth in the overall chronology of game adaptations - enough liberties have been taken to justify calling it a wholly original entry, with a new arrangement of bosses and levels and its aforementioned divergent graphical style. I've no idea what people think of Hyperstone Heist's place in the overall TMNT video game pantheon this many years later, except that Turtles in Time was brought back and Hyperstone wasn't so maybe that says enough (part of me thinks it's wiser to stay out of it in case this is some anicent ongoing Aladdin-like "which system had the best game?" imbroglio).

362: Toxic Crusaders

No Caption Provided
  • Developer: Infogrames
  • Publisher: Sega
  • JP Release: N/A
  • NA Release: December 1992
  • EU Release: N/A
  • Franchise: Toxic Crusaders
  • Genre: Brawler
  • Theme: Sanitizing Troma for the Childrens
  • Premise: Toxie and the gang have to clean up the mean streets of Tromaville by hitting bad guys with mops.
  • Availability: Nope.
  • Preservation: Whenever I get nostalgic for the cartoons of my youth, especially when I'm in a combative enough mood to compare them to the cartoons of today, I'm reminded of just how sweaty the desperation was to sell toys that many kids of the late '80s and early '90s were introduced to movie properties they weren't anywhere close to the right age to enjoy. Toxic Crusaders, one of many cartoons of the '90s to embrace environmentalist themes, was based on the Troma property The Toxic Avenger, which had considerably more murder, sexual assault, and child endangerment (and that's putting it mildly) than anyone should be comfortable with at any age - Troma being something of an icon for edgy, gross-out horror comedy. The Crusaders, meanwhile, had the occasional "grown-up joke" but didn't quite wade the same irradiated waters and mostly just beat up unscrupulous nuclear plant technicians trying to hide toxic waste barrels in the park and then told kids to recycle. (Also, Colonel Campbell was in this show? He played the blue guy with the big nose. Huh.) The game's nothing special: a run-of-the-mill brawler with some awkward fast-moving skateboarding sections that see you constantly getting hit by cars. It made an effort to give each of its characters a level befitting their abilities though; for example Junkyard, a hobo that was genetically combined with a dog, has a grappling hook tongue that gets a lot of use in his part of the game (to swing across gaps with, sickos).

363: Road Rash II

No Caption Provided
  • Developer: Electronic Arts
  • Publisher: Electronic Arts
  • JP Release: 1993-07-23
  • NA Release: December 1992
  • EU Release: 1992-12-04
  • Franchise: Road Rash
  • Genre: Vehicular Combat
  • Theme: Singlehandedly Keeping the Chain Whip Industry Alive
  • Premise: Kickstart your bike and then start kicking other dudes off theirs in EA's biker brawler sequel, now exclusive to the Sega Genesis.
  • Availability: It's made a few appearances since, first in the EA Replay PSP compilation and most recently on the Sega Genesis Mini.
  • Preservation: There are many franchises that I associate closely with the Sega Genesis, even if they perhaps weren't exclusive to that platform, and EA's Road Rash is definitely one of them. Apparently I'm not alone if this sequel got itself added to the Sega Genesis Mini line-up. A response to the age-old proposition of "what if Hang-On but you could punch people?", Road Rash II polishes the concept introduced in the first game, allowing players to eventually upgrade to sturdier and faster bikes as they kept winning races. In true Streets of Rage style, every opponent has a name and a health bar if you felt like wasting time thinning out the field, or just focus on the ones with the more aggressive names and temperaments before they clobbered you first. The most important addition (besides the chain) is you could now hit the motorcycle cops that would sometimes tail you, escaping an early retirement from the race and a hefty fine, in a move that I'm sure had nobody up in arms about video game violence.

364: Deadly Moves

No Caption Provided
  • Developer: System Vision
  • Publisher: Kaneko
  • JP Release: 1992-12-11 (as Power Athlete)
  • NA Release: 1992 (as Deadly Moves)
  • EU Release: N/A
  • Franchise: N/A
  • Genre: Fighter
  • Theme: Jump Buttons in Fighter Games
  • Premise: Joe intends to be the champion of champions but there's a long list of opponents to take down first, including a certain high-flying Hawaiian with a prominent underbite...
  • Availability: The game's long out of print, but the curious can see it in action via this episode of Ranking of Fighters.
  • Preservation: That's right, our old friend Warren is back. Well actually, he never left: Deadly Moves released around the same time as Power Moves for the SNES, and there's no significant differences beyond the name. Both versions are called Power Athlete in Japan, so whether the official name in the west was Deadly Moves until Nintendo balked and sanitized their version, or Sega of America subtly suggested the name to Kaneko to make their version seem more violent and edgy, is known only to the publishers. This is our first encounter with System Vision: this obscure Hokkaido-based developer primarily worked on fighters and the occasional fighter port, including a 1994 Genesis game slightly better than Deadly Moves (I won't spoil what it is, only that some samurai might have a shodown in it).

365: Nakajima Satoru Kanshuu F1 Super License

No Caption Provided
  • Developer: Varie / Aprinet
  • Publisher: Varie
  • JP Release: 1992-12-11
  • NA Release: N/A
  • EU Release: N/A
  • Franchise: Nakajima Satoru
  • Genre: Racing
  • Theme: Only Thing More Impenetrable than Formula One is Japanese Formula One
  • Premise: Professional racer Nakajima Satoru is back one last time for this conclusion to a trilogy of F1 games from Varie, however this the first to actually have the F1 license.
  • Availability: F1 won't even let the GB wiki use their logo, you'd think they'd let anyone rerelease old F1 games?
  • Preservation: Oh look, another Drew game. We've been following this particular F1 series a while - the first was Nakajima Satoru Kanshuu F1 Grand Prix (MA XV) and the second was Nakajima Satoru Kanshuu F1 Hero MD released overseas as Ferrari Grand Prix Challenge (MA XVIII) - but I'm sad (eh...) to say this is the last of them. Satoru Nakajima, to refresh you all, was a mildly successful F1 racer overseas but something of an icon back home in Japan, where he blazed a trail for other Japanese racers to compete on the global stage (previously they'd been involved as engineers and designers). This was the first game in this series to be officially licensed by Formula One, but it seems it wasn't enough to keep this series going for much longer: as well as a SNES update of F1 Hero that launched the same month, it saw one more SNES sequel before the series ended. If you're looking for a serious Formula 1 simulation game with swimsuit anime girls in most of the menus, this might be the one for you.

366: World of Illusion Starring Mickey Mouse & Donald Duck

No Caption Provided
  • Developer: Sega CS
  • Publisher: Sega
  • JP Release: 1992-12-18 (as I Love Mickey and Donald: Fushigi na Magic Box)
  • NA Release: March 1993
  • EU Release: 1992-12-14
  • Franchise: Disney
  • Genre: Platformer
  • Theme: Known as Land of Illusion in California
  • Premise: Mickey and Donald escape the castle of illusion only to fall into a world of illusion. Aren't all cartoons illusions though? Makes you think dot jpeg.
  • Availability: World of Illusion is the second game this entry to have made it onto the Sega Genesis Mini.
  • Preservation: Nostalgic Disney fans are usually drawn to the games based on movie licenses, Aladdin and The Lion King most of all, but for my money nothing tops the Mickey Mouse games from that period. The Illusion series was exclusive to Sega systems and are perhaps the best platformers you can get for the Genesis and Master System that aren't Sonic-related, at least in terms of their ingenuity and presentation. World of Illusion expands on what Castle of Illusion started, giving Mickey and Donald a co-operative adventure through various levels inspired by fairy tales and occasionally other Mickey Mouse/Donald Duck cartoons. The game noticeably builds its levels based around whether you have Mickey, Donald, or both: for example, Mickey is the only one who can squeeze through narrow gaps unassisted, so anyone tackling that level as just Donald will see slightly different level design to compensate. It's evident that despite all their edgy tough guy posturing, Sega took its relationship with Disney seriously if these were the caliber of games they were putting out on the cartoon corporation's behalf.

367: John Madden Football '93

No Caption Provided
  • Developer: Blue Sky Productions
  • Publisher: Electronic Arts
  • JP Release: N/A
  • NA Release: December 1992
  • EU Release: 1992-12-14
  • Franchise: Madden NFL
  • Genre: Football
  • Theme: Football
  • Premise: Football
  • Availability: Madden NFL games are still coming out, just find a newer one.
  • Preservation: December's the "end zone" of the year where the football season ends and the playoffs begin, so expect to see many football games charging towards it. In fact, we'll have three in the next episode, so that's something to look forward to (yaaaay). What's wild to me about this one is that it was developed by Blue Sky, but not the Blue Sky we've been bumping into with other football games like NFL Sports Talk Football '93 Starring Joe Montana (MA XXIV). No, this is the Blue Sky that would later become Looking Glass Studios: the creators of System Shock and Ultima Underworld and (after another name change) Deus Ex. Apparently, the cutting-edge tech they were using had caught the eye of EA's higher ups who were looking for a new studio to make the next Madden, and LGS found itself in the odd position of making Madden '93 and the first Ultima Underworld at the same time (because life is never fair, the former made way more cash for them than the latter, despite the latter being a huge milestone in the history of CRPGs). Despite still lacking the NFL license - Sega swept it up that year for the Joe Montana game I mentioned - this was one of the more successful entries in the franchise. LGS later claimed that EA began developing all subsequent Madden games in-house to avoid the significant amount of royalties they had to pay out to contract developers like themselves after Madden '93's high sales figures.

368: Lotus Turbo Challenge

No Caption Provided
  • Developer: Magnetic Fields
  • Publisher: Electronic Arts
  • JP Release: N/A
  • NA Release: December 1992
  • EU Release: 1992-12-14
  • Franchise: Lotus
  • Genre: Racing
  • Theme: How Fast Can a Car Named After a Flower Move?
  • Premise: The Lotus series comes to Sega Genesis with an all-new arcade feel. Can it compete with Sega's own OutRun though?
  • Availability: Nothing more recent than a 1994 compilation for the CD32.
  • Preservation: Lotus Turbo Challenge was more or less the racing franchise for Amiga (and Atari ST) owners - slick, attractive, and striking that fine balance between simulation and arcade to be realistic while also accessible enough to every level of player (as opposed to, say, the Test Drive franchise which was much more geared towards the simulation fans). It had pretty rad theme music too. Because this sequel was tweaked a little more towards the arcade set by changing the race format to the more familiar checkpoint-chasing of OutRun and the like, it saw itself getting a Genesis port courtesy of EA (previously, Gremlin Graphics had published the games on computers; it's unclear how much they were involved with the Genesis port, but it does credit them in the opening screens). Certain qualities had to be reduced a bit (including, sadly, the music) but it's a faithful enough port if perhaps a bit limited in size. Being built specifically for two-player splitscreen means a lot of wasted space in single-player too, though I guess you could argue that it's relaxing to have a calm blue sky taking up half the screen.

369: Risky Woods

No Caption Provided
  • Developer: Dinamic Software, Zeus Software
  • Publisher: Electronic Arts
  • JP Release: 1993-02-19 (as Jashin Draxos)
  • NA Release: December 1992 (as Risky Woods)
  • EU Release: 1992-12-14 (as Risky Woods)
  • Franchise: N/A
  • Genre: Platformer
  • Theme: Los Bosques Arriesgados Son Demasiado Arriesgados
  • Premise: Save the good monks in this brutally tough platformer set in some risky woods. They're risky because of the danger, y'see.
  • Availability: Unlikely to see a modern port, as Dinamic went bankrupt shortly after its release.
  • Preservation: Couple new developers this time, Dinamic and Zeus. While I have no idea who Zeus were (contractors brought in to finish the Genesis port, is my guess), Dinamic is the first Spanish studio to snag themselves a Genesis release. Presently, Spain enjoys a moderately busy industry of Indie developers such as Pendulo Studios (Yesterday, Blacksad) and Tequila Works (Deadlight, The Sexy Brutale), but it was rare before then for any of its games to break out of its native land, let alone see the sort of global coverage that Risky Woods had with the help of distributors Electronic Arts. As to the game itself, Risky Woods is very much the typical "Amiga platformer": visually dense and impressive, though the gameplay errs towards the stupidly hard and generally unfair. To the latter point, you are regularly given items in treasure chests that penalize you in some way, and they're indistinguishable from the good. Likewise, your goal is to rescue a bunch of monks imprisoned in stone, but some of them are actually hostile and seemingly placed there to troll you. It's evident that there's a lot of Ghosts 'n Goblins DNA in here (your main weapons are projectiles that can be replaced or upgraded, and with enough perseverance you can earn yourself some protective armor), and between these traps and endlessly respawning flying enemies they certainly got the "Why am I putting myself through this?" vibe right.

370: Ex-Mutants

No Caption Provided
  • Developer: Malibu Interactive
  • Publisher: Sega
  • JP Release: N/A
  • NA Release: December 1992
  • EU Release: 1992-12-18
  • Franchise: N/A
  • Genre: Platformer
  • Theme: The Three Cornerstones of Any '90s Comic Series - Swords, Boobs, and Saving the Environment
  • Premise: The Ex-Mutants, a superhero group restored back to humanity by the genius Prof. Kildare, must defeat Sluggo if they're going to save the post-apocalypse.
  • Availability: There's been nothing Ex-Mutants-related produced since 1994. Marvel owns the IP though, so maybe if the MCU's really struggling for new teams...
  • Preservation: I don't spend a whole lot of time over on our sister site Comic Vine, so I'd never heard of the Ex-Mutants before. Seem to be part of a wave of superhero team comics like Youngblood where all the members were teens with attitude who had ninja weapons and cussed a whole lot. I dunno, that whole period of the 1990s is frequently a sore spot for any serious comic book fans but I can't say I was all that invested in the industry at the time beyond the X-Men and Batman cartoons. The Ex-Mutants, not to be confused with the X-Mutants though I'm sure that was intentional, are survivors of the post-apocalypse restored back to human forms by a benevolent cyborg scientist that looks like a Terminator and were given the roles of being the only attractive people left in the world, which naturally drew in a lot of antagonism from weird slug monsters like the game's villain Sluggo (not the one from the Nancy comics, I made sure to check). It plays much like Risky Woods, above, with platforming and projectile-based attacks and a whole lot of traps and other hazards. It does play a little better than most of the superhero games from that era though, the reason being that Malibu Comics bought their own game development studio (Acme Interactive, who we've met a few times before with sports games like David Robinson's Supreme Court and Cal Ripkin Jr. Baseball (both MA XVIII)) to turn one of their own IPs into a video game. It must've sold well enough because Malibu Interactive went on to make several more games for the Genesis and SNES, usually featuring superheroes that weren't theirs. Ah well.
Start the Conversation

Indie Game of the Week 205: Earthlock

No Caption Provided

It's odd that it's taken me this long to acknowledge the hard work of Indie developers that have tried their own spin on a 16-bit/32-bit JRPG throwback. The Indie scene can sometimes feel like a zombie movie with the amount of antiques emerging from the grave stronger than ever, but this direction's been serving them well in getting some much needed attention from a general audience perhaps apathetic to new, untried properties but very invested in reliving some aspect of their childhoods. On this very column (is that term applicable to blogs?) I've covered first-person dungeon crawlers like Operencia (#202) and Vaporum (#155) that liberally borrowed from Wizardry, Dungeon Master, or Might and Magic, top-down CRPGs like Eschalon (#66) and Avadon (#153) that are resurrecting that Ultima flavor, and of course Zeboyd's output (and similar 16-bit champions like Stegosoft's Ara Fell (#177)) that are taking the Chrono Triggers and Final Fantasies of the SNES era into bold new directions.

Less common, and perhaps harder to pull off given the requisite increased size and scope, are riffs on PS1- and PS2-era RPGs. In recent months on IGotW that's included the likes of Indivisible (which had some distinct Valkyrie Profile aspirations), Shiness: The Lightning Kingdom (inspired by the Tales franchise, particularly Symphonia, and the Legaia games), and The Tenth Line (mostly doing its own thing, but gave a tip of the hat to Final Fantasy VIII and IX): Indies that were certainly ambitious, but overall mixed in terms of their execution. Earthlock, first released in 2016 and then rereleased with enhancements in 2018, looks to be another in that vein; mixing lots of ideas from older RPGs into a gestalt that feels like a paradoxical blend of familiar and distinct, with all the inherited pros and cons of the era of gaming it hearkens back to.

The Talent Grid! Recognizable, but also not? Any of those blue (stats) and yellow (abilities) cards can be replaced, if you decide to make this guy a powerhouse (or perhaps someone very resistant to magical damage if a magic-slinging boss is giving you the business...).
The Talent Grid! Recognizable, but also not? Any of those blue (stats) and yellow (abilities) cards can be replaced, if you decide to make this guy a powerhouse (or perhaps someone very resistant to magical damage if a magic-slinging boss is giving you the business...).

The story of Earthlock has yet to kick into high gear, but so far involves a group of travellers who meet by circumstance and are working together to complete mutual goals. Desert scavenger Amon is out to find the kidnapped uncle who raised him; the squat bestial scholar Gnart left the comforts of civilization for an important courier mission and badly wants to return home; Imperial scout Ivory "Ive" Lavender is looking to rescue her canine partner (and eventual party member) from goblins; and mysterious agent and martial artist Olia has a top secret mission that occasionally keeps her away from the main party. Both the look and feel of the game so far reminds me of the output of Tokyo RPG Factory (I Am Setsuna, Lost Sphear, etc.) in how they're channelling a specific time and place that maybe sits somewhere between the PS1 and PS2 eras - everything's 3D, but the character models are relatively simple and low-poly and the art direction is more stylistic than realistic (so, to invoke them again, more like FFIX than FFVIII) - and to compensate for this low-tech presentation more emphasis has been put on elaborate mechanics and features inherent to the combat and exploration aspects of the game.

While there's little Earthlock has that is truly novel, it does include a number of systems I haven't seen in a good long while, which I appreciate both because it means someone is keeping these older innovations alive rather than left forgotten, and because the developers clearly know their RPG history which is reassuring to know whenever you take a leap on one of these throwback projects. These features include: a character development system that resembles a streamlined Sphere Grid, most of which is empty until you can fill it with whatever stat boosts, skills, and passives you prefer; an encounter quirk similar to the one in The Last Remnant where you can "stack" multiple enemies in the field for a tougher but more rewarding (via bonus XP) battle against all of them simultaneously; a stance-switching mechanic that means every character has two effective combat roles (Amon, for example, has an elemental ranged stance for aerial targets and a rogue-like melee stance that lets him steal); and the ability to pair characters together to let their bond grow which unlocks passive boosts that emphasize the traits of those two characters that happen to overlap - for instance, Gnart and Ive are the party's healers, and keeping them paired together will eventually boost the power of their respective healing abilities. Beyond these ideas, though, the game plays exactly how older Japanese-style RPGs do, replete with an overabundance of random encounters (they can be avoided, but it's not always feasible) and a fairly generic plot about saving the world from a mysterious group looking for ancient artifacts.

An example of a tricky fight that can be won with a little ingenuity. Taika, the dog companion, has a defensive stance that provides elemental protection to party members. This is important for this fight against a
An example of a tricky fight that can be won with a little ingenuity. Taika, the dog companion, has a defensive stance that provides elemental protection to party members. This is important for this fight against a "Burnacle" because its main strategy is to counter all attacks with a magic resistance debuff followed by strong group elemental spells. Amon, the rogue at the bottom left, has nine of these mag-def debuffs and will be murdered instantly by any strong magical attack, but Taika's elemental shield keeps him safe.

The boilerplate story in particular is at current wasting a semi-novel premise for a setting: Earthlock's world of Umbra suffered a magical catastrophe that stopped it from spinning, turning the half of the planet permanently facing the sun into a desert wasteland and the dark half into a frozen realm of endless night. The remaining life on the planet congregates in a narrow band with liveable conditions on the equator between the two halves, though the world map and general NPC dialogue don't really reflect this unusual geography at all, set as it is across a handful of open areas with some standard desert, forest, and plains biomes. However, since I've barely reached the halfway point of the story so far - there's still a slot open for another party member, even - I'm not going to come down too hard on this aspect until I've made more progress.

What I've gleaned about Earthlock's design philosophy suggests the developers wanted to present a simple and familiar framework elevated by some deeper character customization and a level of strategy to the combat that would be uncommon to the late-'90s era it homages; to the latter I'll say that the game has not been overly easy so far, especially boss fights that often require you to figure out the trick behind these powerful foes before they can wipe your party. For example, an early boss fight against a Goblin King proved overwhelming with the powerful counterattacks it sent the party's way, until I realized it never countered ranged attacks and reorganized my party to be more ranged DPS friendly. As with Operencia from a few weeks back, or perhaps something like Divinity: Original Sin II, the freedom to respec each character's stat and ability distribution from scratch at no extra cost means there's free rein for some necessary retooling if a boss fight's proving too much to overcome with your current loadout, and understanding how each party member's two stances can serve the party dynamic can be tantamount to success. That said, the game's not exactly beating my ass down at every turn either; if anything it's found the right balance of challenge with its encounters thus far, where even randos hit hard enough that you can't ignore them and mash on through with regular attacks. I'm just glad to know that if I ever hit "that one boss" there'll be methods at my disposal to push past it. Exploration-wise, there's an in-depth crafting system for making new gear and talents (what you equip to power up your character after they level up), a treasure hunting mini-game, and a farming sim that boils down to running around a garden harvesting plants every few seconds whenever you get low on healing or ranged ammo supplies (since the plants restock both): all relatively minor additions, but they offer a reprieve from the battles and a way to refresh and enhance your party should the need arise.

There's not a whole lot to the gardening, but spending a few minutes gets you all the consumable supplies you need. Further investment nets you even better materials, but of course you'll need recipes to make any higher-level stuff. Game's not dumb enough to let you run around with endless elixirs right from the jump, after all.
There's not a whole lot to the gardening, but spending a few minutes gets you all the consumable supplies you need. Further investment nets you even better materials, but of course you'll need recipes to make any higher-level stuff. Game's not dumb enough to let you run around with endless elixirs right from the jump, after all.

Given the limitations of an Indie studio, Earthlock uses what little it has admirably by prioritizing what's important over what is often fluff; its flaws meanwhile are those it shares with the old-school RPGs it venerates - an abundance of random encounters and uninspired storytelling. If you still have the tolerance for that slower approach, there's enough going on under the surface of Earthlock to merit some digging.

Rating: 4 out of 5.

< Back to 204: GrisThe First 100The Second 100> Forward to 206: The Aquatic Adventure of the Last Human
1 Comments

The Dredge of Seventeen: January

When it comes to game releases every year has its big headliners and hidden gems, but none were more packed than 2017. As my backlog-related project for this year I'm looking to build a list of a hundred great games that debuted at some point in 2017, making sure to hit all the important stops along the way. For more information and statistics on this project, be sure to check out this Intro blog.

Here we go with our first gaggle of 2017 leftovers. My rough goal is to hit around three games per month, but I managed to squeeze in four this time to give ourselves a rolling start:

Little Nightmares

No Caption Provided

I was inspired to boot up this atmospheric little horror platformer as its sequel is due out later this month (February). The game's clearest strength is its presentation: not only do its characters have this wonderfully off-putting claymation quality to them, especially the large lumpy antagonists you must avoid, but there's excellent use of light and shadow throughout. It's a game that follows in the quiet footsteps of Playdead's Limbo and Inside, delivering a dialogue-free yarn about an abandoned child looking for an escape path across some deeply hostile territory, with gameplay instances focused on either environmental puzzles involving pushing and pulling objects or stealth sequences where you need to not be where any of the game's enormous foes can see you. It also gets more bleak and strange as it continues, and I always appreciate a horror narrative that just digs deeper and deeper into an uncanny realm.

For the most part I liked playing Little Nightmares, but there's certain annoyances that are unfortunately inherent to its particular wordless narrative approach: to whit, there's next to nothing in terms of direction or UI. The former's tough when you need to grab some random object in the background (nothing ever really stands out in the game's drab darkness) to bring down a platform needed to progress, while the latter's a more prominent concern during the stealth sequences (no vision cones or the like; enemies can just spot you off-screen sometimes too, and their surprised sounds are usually the only warning you get). I appreciate that there were stylistic choices that took priority, and the game's not all that challenging unless you're going for the no-deaths achievement or the speedrun, but it can make certain fail states or momentary roadblocks seem unfair or cheap. It is an excellent atmosphere piece though, and in a less packed year I'd probably give it a much higher placement. As it stands...

Ranking: C. (That's a high C-Rank mind, putting the game somewhere around the 40s in the upper half of the eventual top 100. I do think it's better than Mini Ghost and Poi, which currently occupy the 50th and 51st slots respectively.)

Crowtel Renovations

No Caption Provided

Crowtel's a cute little game about a crow that owns a rundown hotel who must blast their way through several floors to elude a pair of health inspector cats determined to close the place down. It's a shooter/platformer hybrid with a simple control scheme and very little in the way of features or power-ups, though the difficulty is moderately high throughout and there's a variety of different building-related hazards, enemies, and bosses to overcome. Examples might include an AC on the fritz causing slippery ice and evil snowmen to form, or a construction worker mole still building the top floor who hates being woken up while on his break.

Crowtel Renovations feels like, and is, an expanded GameJam or demo concept: the original being the sort of basic but appealing freeware Itch.io game that a developer might toss together over a week, and then after everyone's positive feedback decides to turn it into a "real game" by filling it with enough content and variety to justify a modest price tag. I kinda love seeing these, because it feels like watching in real-time a fledgling Indie game designer earn enough confidence and experience to make a living out of what was maybe once a hobby or distant dream. Even so, the run-and-gun gameplay is a bit too plain for me and I'm not all that charmed by its silly and UwU sense of humor; it feels like Frog Detective where it's all a bit... cloyingly wholesome? Even when it's being subversive? Also feels like it's riffing on Pixel's Kero Blaster a bit too much (especially the bonus story that features a frog protagonist) to the extent that I thought it was the same developer during most of the playthrough. It's not, for the record, though this SinksAdventure person does a darn good impression.

Ranking: D. (No knocks against it but I don't see it hanging with most of my list so far given how rudimentary and short it is. It's not really trying to shake the pillars of heaven though; it just wants to be this small and adorable shooter thing about a hotelier bird that shyly asks for a couple hours of your time.)

Modern Tales: Age of Invention

No Caption Provided

You better believe I have a stack of HOPAs (Hidden Object Puzzle Adventures, learn more here if you dare) to pad out this top 100 list, accumulated over the years from a whole bunch of Artifex Mundi IndieGala bundles. HOPAs are all functionally identical: a combination of basic inventory puzzles, Layton-style IQ puzzles involving sliding blocks or logic grids, and of course the requisite hidden object scenes. I burned almost everything I might have to write about them in that Rainy Days and Mundis series, but they're weirdly compelling casual gaming comfort food that are never anything to write home about.

The random HOPA pick for this month, Modern Tales, does have some wild narrative twists to it as an unexpected bonus. Set at the dawn of the 20th century with a focus on inventors and scientific discovery, the heroine will: buy a Porsche from Mr. Porsche and later abandon it; ride a Zeppelin after stealing it from Mr. Zeppelin and crash it into a mountain after the bad guy shoots it with a laser; befriend a teenaged Coco Chanel, presumably while avoiding talking politics; and fall in love with a 21-year-old Albert Einstein after a meetcute in Switzerland (she literally "finds a stranger in the Alps," so to speak). Despite putting the spotlight on science and engineering brilliance the entire game, the dramatic conclusion has the heroine shoot a purple beam from a magic staff at the bad guy to non-lethally freeze him in place once she runs out of ideas. I normally don't play these games for the story, but this was one of the few exceptions where it was retroactively worth it.

Ranking: E. (Let's be real; I'm figuratively insulating the basement with these HOPA picks, all of which can happily sit at the bottom of the top hundred list until something else can knock them off. That said, I think the above narrative weirdness might elevate this one above its hidden object peers.)

Finding Paradise

No Caption Provided

The pick of January's particular litter is this sequel to Freebird's To the Moon: a weepy, narrative-focused adventure game built within the RPG Maker engine. As before, the game centers around the "final wish" company Sigmund Corp., which operates similarly to the enterprise in Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind in that they strap their clients into a bunch of gizmos and artificially tinker with memories to the client's preferences. With Sigmund, the idea is to give a dying patient memories of a life they never had but dearly wished for: fixing regrets, making different choices, and completing lifelong goals they had to abandon for one reason or another. In To the Moon, the Sigmund Corp. employees Dr. Eva Rosalene and Dr. Neil Watts helped client Johnny Wyles complete his dream of reaching the moon; in Finding Paradise, the client Colin Reeds simply wants to die happier than he already is without changing too much (in particular, retaining his wife Sofia and son Asher).

The game has a structure that initially seems straightforward: for the process to work, the two technicians have to first traverse the subject's memories from most recent to furthest in the past, though a strange hiccup sees them alternating between his advanced age and his childhood moving in a "decaying orbit" towards a moment in his early adulthood. Each memory "scene" requires that they recover a certain amount of memory data - represented as orbs - and then find a "memento" (an important recurring item) to travel to another point in his life; rather than have you hunting for collectibles, though, these orbs and mementos are almost always in the critical story path. The later twists and turns eventually upset this pattern, and then the game speeds up towards its heartfelt conclusion. Since most of the best parts of this game are deeply entwined with the telling of its story, I'll have to spoiler-block the rest:

A recurring major character in Colin's past is his childhood friend Faye, with whom he embarks on many of his most important moments as a younger man: learning the cello and joining a community orchestra, realizing his dream of flying and becoming a professional pilot, and generally being more outspoken and confident about chasing his goals after a shy and lonely childhood. Faye only exists in the childhood memories, however, and not in any of Colin's old man memories. The scientists theorize this is because she was "the one that got away" before he met his eventual wife Sofia, or that she died young and maybe the trauma caused the vortex-like epicenter of his lifetime of regrets, and that she is the big mistake he wants to redress. Instead, it turns out she's not real: she's an imaginary friend that cured Colin's chronic loneliness as a child and continued to look over him, and after learning she is to be deleted as Colin's biggest regret she turns on the scientists and attempts to expel them from Colin's mind in a series of showdowns. The game has some fun with horror elements as Faye initially tries to scare them away with jumpscares and glitches, and then actively takes control of the memory traversal machine's programming and tries to force them out. I kind of love this reveal and the slow burn of who or what Faye is, especially as she starts acknowledging the protagonists after faking being another passive figment of Colin's memories up to that point. It's sweet that Colin's main regret was never getting to tell Faye about how his life turned out, after saying goodbye to her as a grown man who no longer needed an imaginary friend; just seeing her one last time was all the closure he really needed before moving on. (I also suspect I'm missing some useful context from A Bird Story, the 2014 "minisode" that ties To the Moon and Finding Paradise together; it's implied a few times that Faye is based on the bird Colin rescues in that game.)

The ending isn't quite as emotionally impactful as To the Moon's, but the unexpected left-turns in the story made up for it. It also still retains To the Moon's goofy sense of humor that arises between the more dramatic moments: Dr. Neil Watts is frequently a workshy and insensitive buffoon that Dr. Eva has to rein in, and despite existing in the story as a Greek chorus commentating on someone else's life they're afforded their moments of personality too. Sounds like the developers intend to keep making more games in this series, though hopefully with shorter gaps than the six years between To the Moon and Finding Paradise, so here's hoping another one will show up this year or next.

Ranking: B. (I'm thinking somewhere around the same place as Rakuen, which is currently #33, since the two share a lot of DNA: in addition to similar emotional themes and the RPG Maker connection, both also involve Laura Shigihara and feature a song of hers.)

Start the Conversation

The Dredge of Seventeen: Intro

One of the secret best games from the year. I hope to find more
One of the secret best games from the year. I hope to find more "secrets" like it buried in my backlog.

Friends, like many of you I was bowled over by 2017's bounty of video game offerings. It was a veritable cornucopia of video game delights that year, including many franchise peaks: The Legend of Zelda, Super Mario, Ys, NieR, Tales, Divinity, Yakuza, Assassin's Creed, Danganronpa, SteamWorld, and Uncharted all debatably got their best games in a long while (if not ever) during the twelve months of 2017 - Mass Effect perhaps being the only exception - and that's not to get into all the excellent new IPs that debuted also. Since then, I've been slowly growing my "adjusted" GOTY list for 2017 to account for everything I was unable to fit in at the time.

Here at the dawn of 2021, four years later, I'm looking to expand that adjusted list to an even hundred: 2017 will be the first year, ever, that I'll have a top hundred GOTY list instead of a top ten or twenty, and because of how strong that year was even the 100th ranked game on there will still be something commendable. As of the end of 2020, that 2017 GOTY (Adjusted) list sits at 66 entries: two-thirds the way to my stated goal. Each month of 2021, I'm going to try to play an average of 2.8333* games from 2017, which will get me the 34 I need to finally complete a list of one hundred. That's just math, my dudes.

(Granted, I could've come up with a nicer word for these leftovers than "dredge," but then I wouldn't have been able to make that sweet pun. Some sacrifices are necessary.)

So yes, this is my "thing" for this year. Playing a bunch of four-year-old games.

Next is a list of major remaining/unbought 2017 highlights I probably should include on that final list, in descending order of importance (2021 Steam/PSN sales don't fail me now):

  1. Trails in the Sky the 3rd (PC) (Played TBD)
  2. Hellblade: Senua's Sacrifice (PS4) (Played February)
  3. Metroid: Samus Returns (3DS)
  4. Zwei: The Ilvard Insurrection (PC)
  5. The Mummy Demastered (PC/PS4/NS)
  6. Cuphead (PS4/NS)
  7. Layton's Mystery Journey (NS)
  8. Snipperclips (NS)
  9. Tokyo Dark (PC/PS4/NS)
  10. Yonder: The Cloud Catcher Chronicles (PS4/NS)
  11. Dragon Quest Heroes II (PS4)
  12. Observer (PS4/NS)
  13. Echo (PS4)
  14. ELEX (PS4)
  15. Knack II (PS4)

(That said, I do currently own more than 34 unplayed 2017 games, so this feature's goal will be met at no extra cost if I really decide to cheap it out. Sorry Knack.)

Before we commence with The Project, I want to explain in way more detail than is needed how I'll be rating the games I play. Each will receive a letter grade which corresponds to whereabouts on the final list of 100 I project it'll place:

  • S-Rank (1-10): For as much faith as I have that there's some excellent 2017 games I overlooked, I'm skeptical any can break into the top ten as it stands right now. It's some real crème-de-la-crème primo shit up there. We're talking something better than Tokyo Xanadu eX+ or Hollow Knight, which... well, I can think of maybe one game on my yet-to-play list that might make it, but hard to say any others will.
  • A-Rank (11-20): This feels like a more conceivable goal for the better games on my to-do list. Though they've missed the top ten, we're still breathing in the rarefied air of 5-Star City up here: all games I'd recommend to others without reservation. Would-be VIPs looking to cross the velvet rope will need to surpass Mario + Rabbids: Kingdom Battle or SteamWorld Dig 2, which is unlikely but not impossible.
  • B-Rank (21-40): This will be the main battlefield for these additions, I suspect, which is roughly analogous to a "firm 4-Star zone". Any half-decent game will have a chance here, provided I like it more than Assassin's Creed Origins (not difficult; I'm a little burned out on AC these days) or Wonder Boy: The Dragon's Trap (looked great, felt ancient).
  • C-Rank (41-60): The middle of the table is still nothing to scoff at - around a softer 4-Star rating in most cases. We'll probably see the greatest turnover here, as various current B-rankers get knocked down by newcomers. The C-rank entry barrier consists of Milkmaid of the Milky Way and Uurnog Uurnlimited: two decent enough Indies that I don't have any strong emotions about. If a game inspires a reaction better than "eh, it was all right," it's in with a shot.
  • D-Rank (61-80): Talking of ambivalence, here's where I imagine all the games that came in and went out of my skull without interrupting the furniture will end up. Games I'll be struggling to recall for too much longer, but certainly weren't abjectly awful or had too many caveats to condemn them. The white bread, non-dairy low-fat margarine spread, also-rans of the 2017 release library. This is currently where my GOTY list ends, so anything that doesn't have enough juice to topple anything else on there will end up here by default. Well, until the list expands beyond 80 entries, in which case they'll end up at...
  • E-Rank (81-100): This is where the word "Dredge" actually applies, though keep in mind I'm not sticking anything on this list that doesn't deserve to be there. Even if I don't feel strongly about any of the games that wind up at the bottom it doesn't mean that I don't think some joy can be derived from them. It could also be the case that a lot of great games that just didn't tickle me right end up down here, to the consternation of their fanbases. Right now, as the current list stops at 66, there's no bar for a game to overcome to end up here beyond "don't be shit." I'm curious to find out what will float down here by the time I'm done.
  • F-Rank (100+): Look, I don't mean to be impolite here, but there's a strong possibility that there's going to be games in this upcoming roster I can't in good conscience add to a "best of anything." Whether they're woefully uninspired or have major issues or I simply don't like them, this is the grade for those games I don't want anywhere near a personal GOTY list. Pretty much talking anything 2-Stars or below. Of course, every F grade I give out means I'll have to compensate with an extra game if I still want to still hit that 100 target by the end of the year, but a guy's gotta have standards...

Finally, here we go with the project so far:

MonthNew TotalGames Added (+ Rankings)
January70Little Nightmares (C), Crowtel Renovations (D), Modern Tales: Age of Invention (E), Finding Paradise (B).
February75Hellblade: Senua's Sacrifice (B), AER: Memories of Old (C), Never Stop Sneakin' (C), A Normal Lost Phone (C), Endless Fables 2: Frozen Path (E).
March??????
April??????
May??????
June??????
July??????
August??????
September??????
October??????
November??????
December??????

One last thing: Suggestions for 2017 games that deserve to be on a top 100 list are encouraged, though keep in mind that I'm picky when it comes to preferred genres. For further details, please feel free to peruse this spreadsheet of 2017 games I've played, games I intend to play (whether I own them already or not), and games I've discounted or abandoned. The Giant Bomb community's top 50 are on there already. (Donations welcome for anything wishlisted! But only if you have spare keys from bundles lying around; no need to put yourself out on my behalf. I'll be sure to include credits where applicable.)

Well folks, here's hoping I hit one hundred by December 31st and don't get too distracted with non-2017 games. Doesn't seem like there's a whole lot else happening this year, at least...

Start the Conversation