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64 in 64: Episode 42

No Caption Provided

Welcome back once again to another episode of 64 in 64, wherein we continue to dispel any fanciful notions about the N64 being "kind of a great console, when you get right down to it". Well, I say that, except I liked the two games covered this month quite a lot. That's right, it's a rare positive episode of 64 in 64, where I walk away at the end feeling refreshed and hopeful for the future of this feature (or what little of it remains). That, my friends, is what we call a distinct lack of pattern recognition.

As promised, we're proceeding with a themed list for every even-numbered entry until the finale and this time I want to talk about the strangest Japan-only games I was able to dig up. I realize it's a little trite to harp on how unusual Japanese games can be, and possibly also a bit xenophobic, but these are concerns that Japanese companies themselves often have to consider when it comes to figuring out whether or not to localize and publish their games overseas. It's usually a case of finding the right distributor if they can't just get someone big like Nintendo to do it, and if there's licensed properties involved there's often a heap of trouble figuring all that out, but sometimes a game is so absolutely unsuited for localization because of the amount of explanation required that they won't even bother; I suspect that was the case for many of the following.

  1. Wonder Project J2: The sequel to a SFC game where you communicate with a robot child to help them adjust to human society. Notable for its Ghibli-esque visuals.
  2. 64 de Hakken!! Tamagotchi: Minna de Tamagotchi World: A sugoroku board game based on the Tamagotchi toyline.
  3. Susume! Taisen Puzzle Dama: Toukon! Marutama Chou: A Puyo Puyo-style puzzle game with multiple odd opponents, including a sapient axolotl.
  4. Ucchan Nanchan no Honoo no Challenger: Based on the same high-tension Japanese game show that brought us the PS1 game Irritating Stick.
  5. Super Robot Spirits: A Super Robot Taisen/Wars spin-off that's a fighter instead of a strategy RPG.
  6. Kiratto Kaiketsu! 64 Tanteidan: A sugoroku game focusing on a team of Scooby Doo-esque teen detectives.
  7. Getter Love!: A dating sim that's been repurposed into a competitive multiplayer party game.
  8. Ganbare Goemon: Mononoke Sugoroku: Another sugoroku game, this one's themed around Konami's Ganbare Goemon/Mystical Ninja franchise.
  9. Itoi Shigesato no Bass Tsuri No. 1 Ketteihan!: A chill bass fishing game hosted by none other than the surreal comedic mind behind the Mother/EarthBound RPGs.
  10. Hamster Monogatari 64: A hamster-raising sim where you can eventually train and race them competitively.

None of the above are in my Pre-Select shortlist but the random chooser might yet have other ideas. Can't say I'm not intrigued by half of them but I'd rather not tangle with sugoroku given the amount of text that's usually involved. Speaking of an unnecessary amount of text, it's time to reiterate those rules again:

  • Two games. Both for N64. Both played for 64 minutes each exactly. Both reviewed in incremental sixteen minute segments. Both are hopefully good games, but I'll be sure to let you know either way. Oh boy and howdy doody, will I.
  • I didn't choose one of them. I left that decision process to a computer. I regret it to this day. Though, honestly, this time it was surprisingly accommodating so credit where credit is due. To a computer. That does not and cannot care about "credit". I swear I'm losing it.
  • Since our declared goal here is to judge these games for inclusion onto the Nintendo Switch Online service I've made sure to (mostly) stay clear of anything already on there or earmarked to be included. Those mad(balls) bastards finally added Iggy's Reckin' Balls and even threw in Extreme-G as a bonus. They're plumbing the library of the erstwhile Acclaim now, gods help us all.

Be sure to consult the table below for previous entries. If you're looking for which episode covers which games, the ranking list at the very end of this blog should prove more conducive. That's me, Mr. Helpful.

Episode 1Episode 2Episode 3Episode 4Episode 5
Episode 6Episode 7Episode 8Episode 9Episode 10
Episode 11Episode 12Episode 13Episode 14Episode 15
Episode 16Episode 17Episode 18Episode 19Episode 20
Episode 21Episode 22Episode 23Episode 24Episode 25
Episode 26Episode 27Episode 28Episode 29Episode 30
Episode 31Episode 32Episode 33Episode 34Episode 35
Episode 36Episode 37Episode 38Episode 39Episode 40
Episode 41Episode 42Episode 43Episode 44Episode 45
-=-Episode 46Episode 47Episode 48-=-

Star Wars: Rogue Squadron (Pre-Select)

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History: Star Wars: Rogue Squadron is the second of four Star Wars games to hit the N64 and the highest regarded out of all of them, creating a pure starfighter sim (as opposed to a half-and-half like a Shadows of the Empire) that puts players in control of Luke Skywalker as he becomes the Rebellion's most accomplished X-Wing pilot between the first and second movies of the original trilogy. Heading up his own division, the titular Rogue Squadron, after the destruction of the Death Star Skywalker takes on missions all across the galaxy to deter the Empire at every turn. While it lacks the complexity of PC contemporaries like X-Wing vs. TIE Fighter, the game's more accessible and arcade-like approach is a better fit for a home console like the N64 and serves as a fine gateway to those more-involved PC games. It would eventually be followed by two sequels on GameCube.

To an Atari ST kid like myself the German developers Factor 5 will forever be known as the Turrican guys but for most Americans it wasn't until their association with LucasArts making Star Wars games like this that they became renowned. That relationship also led to the two other N64 games they developed: Star Wars: Episode I - Battle for Naboo (sort of a spiritual sequel to Rogue Squadron) and Indiana Jones and the Infernal Machine, two more games I honestly wouldn't mind trying out also. LucasArts are, of course, the video game division of LucasFilm and are behind anything Star Wars or Indiana Jones, including those already named and two others on N64: Star Wars: Shadows of the Empire (covered in Episode 33) and Star Wars: Episode I - Racer. Though Disney dissolved the division after their acquisition of LucasFilm properties in 2012, shifting the role of publishing Star Wars games to third-parties such as Electronic Arts, they recently revived the brand under its original name of LucasFilm Games. While I have enjoyed many of their Star Wars games in the past, to me LucasFilm/LucasArts was always more important for their pivotal role in the evolution of the graphic adventure game, especially those produced by the likes of Ron Gilbert, Tim Schafer, and Dave Grossman.

Man, long lead-in. I dunno, I feel like this is one of the precious few certified bangers left for the system that I should probably cover before it inevitably shows up on NSO or as a standalone retail game by the newly resurrected LucasFilm Games. You can still buy the PC version on Steam (though there's a bevvy of compatibility issues if the reviews are anything to go by) and so I would be surprised if there wasn't some amount of buzz pushing the license holders to either port that version to Switch or negotiate with Nintendo to put the N64 version online. Either way, I'm getting out ahead of things here largely because playing Shadows of the Empire a while back put me in the mood to play a better version of that Hoth battle and I seem to recall it's in here, if perhaps only as a secret or as the final stage. I don't think I'll be mourning the lack of on-foot levels (though I am a big fan of Dark Forces and its various Jedi Knight spin-offs; too bad they never saw N64 ports, but maybe that's for the best).

16 Minutes In

Could... could you check if that guy isn't just playing possum? Maybe make sure there's not a pulse?
Could... could you check if that guy isn't just playing possum? Maybe make sure there's not a pulse?

I spent this first block trying to get the Gold Medal on the first mission, Ambush at Mos Eisley, but it's proving to be elusive due to the game's stringency. The mission is designed to be a softball to get you acquainted with the game's pace—the Empire is taking out allies and civilians quickly, so this game's more about speed than it is carefully lining up shots—and its controls. The first half has you shoot down a bunch of probe droids by following the radar wedge (not to be confused with the other Wedge) to various Tatooine homesteads; the droids go down in a single shot and aren't targeting you, so they're sitting ducks. After that, you're tasked with taking down six TIE Bombers trying to destroy Mos Eisley itself, and it's another case where you want to be fast more than you want to be accurate. Oh jeez, I hope they don't blow up that cantina full of violent criminals that's racist against droids.

I'll admit to not trying all the buttons yet. I recall that the special and secondary weapons (in the X-Wing's case, that'd be the torpedoes) are linked to the C-buttons but all I used here was the A button to accelerate, Z to slow down, and B to shoot. Slowing down makes hitting targets much easier while speeding up is of course necessary to reach and take down enemies before they do too much damage. The post-mission scoring table has a "bonus" category that tells you that there's some permanent power-up you can acquire there: if I get far enough into the story to find a mission that has one, I'll be sure to grab it before moving on. It might help in getting the gold medal on these earlier stages too if I can use them (that is, if they're "backwards compatible").

32 Minutes In

According to the radar there should be an AT-ST somewhere around here. Maybe I should take off this cool guy eyepatch over my left eye? I just thought it'd be fitting for a Rebel Alliance pilot, you know?
According to the radar there should be an AT-ST somewhere around here. Maybe I should take off this cool guy eyepatch over my left eye? I just thought it'd be fitting for a Rebel Alliance pilot, you know?

Deciding to be less precious about sticking it out until I finally get gold, this block focused on the next two missions: Rendezvous on Barkhesh (make it easy to spell why don't you) and The Search for the Nonnah. Rendezvous on Barkhesh is the first escort mission of the game—both a staple of the space sim genre and a big reason why I don't play them too often—as Rogue Squadron babysits five slow-moving transport units across a zigzagging map full of AT-STs and turrets. The trick is realizing when it's safe to leave your protectees behind to clear out the obstacles to come and when to stick on them like flies on poop because a bunch of TIE Bombers will just magically spawn and start wiping them out. It's a timing thing, mostly, and one that is benefitted by a few retakes of the mission if I was more serious about this. The Search for the Nonnah just has you looking for someone's elderly grandma after she wanders off while shopping for rutabagas, making sure to check in with every nearby park bench and "that nice young man from the fish market". Actually, the Nonnah is a crashed Rebel freighter carrying vital personnel and equipment stolen from the Empire, which the latter wants back. You're immediately accosted by waves of TIEs upon entering and then must quickly find the crashed ship (it's in a lake) and protect it from a nearby Imperial shuttle deploying these little baby AT-ST things as well as more TIEs. It's almost tougher keeping yourself in one piece than it is the Nonnah and the evacuation shuttle: the TIE Interceptors in this level are no joke.

The torpedoes are handy but you need a target lock to use them effectively, which are harder to trigger on faster moving targets like TIEs. I've found it's best to use them against slower, tougher ground targets like the AT-STs. The A-Wing you're given in the Nonnah mission is much zippier than the X-Wing and its torpedoes aren't so much the slow tracking kind but just a heavier version of your regular lasers so you can use those without as much lead-in, but the downside is that A-Wings feel like they're made of tissue paper. I took my first game over on that mission because I kept crashing into things: something I'm sure will go better next time now that I know what I'm doing, mostly. I found that the R button is what makes you barrel roll, so I'm going to need to get more proficient with evasive maneuvers if the Interceptors continue to be a factor.

48 Minutes In

This mission may have given me a lot of trouble but rest assured that I never resorted to any unscrupulous cheating to get past it.
This mission may have given me a lot of trouble but rest assured that I never resorted to any unscrupulous cheating to get past it.

Well, I talked a big game last time about keeping focused but for this whole block I was stuck on that Nonnah mission. The issue I kept running into was when the evacuation shuttle takes off and is beset by Interceptors, who are tough to nail down due to their high speed and relentless firepower. You don't want to play meat shield for the shuttle as it has way more shields than you do, but at the same time you can't afford to let the Interceptors play darts with it for long so I found the best strategy was to hang back from the shuttle, wait until an Interceptor got on an intercepting path, got behind it, and then smoked that fascho fo' sho. At least I got good at finding the Nonnah quickly—she can't get too far with that bad hip of hers—and eliminating the beachside opposition of tanks to give our allies some breathing room. Irritatingly, I just needed to gun down one more Interceptor to have nabbed the Gold for this mission: the amount of near-misses I'm getting is truly astounding. Can I clutch out just one before I'm done here?

Not much more to add since I barely made progress. One annoyance is that you get three lives and then it's game over, but all this really does is boot you out of the current mission as far as I can tell. One time I lost two lives and then the fission mailed because that shuttle couldn't get its ass out of there fast enough, and then upon starting the mission over I died once from colliding with a tank and that led to an instant game over: it decided it wasn't going to refresh my extra lives amount after that fail state. Kinda sucky. I'll keep that in mind next time I try to start a mission with less than the maximum amount of retries. Otherwise it's really just a matter of not flying into shit. Feels self-explanatory enough.

64 Minutes In

Just a requisite of any Star Wars starfighter game at this point. I wanna know why the Empire didn't account for this tactic on Hoth if the Rebels had been doing this since forever ago.
Just a requisite of any Star Wars starfighter game at this point. I wanna know why the Empire didn't account for this tactic on Hoth if the Rebels had been doing this since forever ago.

Ending on a perfect note, I managed to completely crush Defection at Corellia—a tough multi-stage urban siege that had us take down TIE Bombers, TIE Interceptors, several probes and AT-STs, and at least two AT-ATs, all in a firepower-deficient Speeder (though its cable sure came in useful)—even picking up the first of the game's "bonuses", some enhanced torpedoes for the fighters that use them—and was told that, despite defeating way more enemies and saving more friendly targets than I needed to, I failed to get silver by nine seconds. Yeah, screw you too game. This was a fun mission though, as we got some big Star Wars cameos: Crix Madine, the blond dude with the fake beard from Return of the Jedi who leads the Rebel strategy meeting against the second Death Star and is also the subject of this mission's title, as well as the sudden appearance of two deadbeats flying around a ship shaped like a big pizza with a slice taken out.

I guess the part of this game I never cared for was that scoring system. Instead of awarding a certain amount of points per category and letting the composite determine your ranking, it insists you succeed at every single category and if even one is found lacking than you're SOL. The former system rewards different approaches, whether you're the cautious type to systematically remove threats or the rough and tumble type who dashes in and satisfies the minimal requirements to push the mission onto its next stage, but here you have to complete the mission in a way very much mandated by the game with no wriggle room for self-expression. Alternatively, you can just come back later with those bonus improvements or maybe some "external help" to hit those targets, but all the same it's kind of joyless in its exacting nature. Well, if you care about medals at least. Casually the game's still got it where it counts.

How Well Has It Aged?: As Well As Yoda (Prior to Him Dying of Old Age, of Course). One thing I didn't really bring up is how good this game looks. There are moments where it looks and feels like a PS2 game and though the draw distance continues to be a factor in anything N64-related Rogue Squadron did its best to mitigate it with a minimal amount of fog and some subtle (enough) sprite replacements for ship models beyond a certain range. The sound design is exactly what you'd want from the very distinct sound library that Star Wars employs in all its iterations and the radio voiceovers are nice and crisp, which is desired when half of them contain vital info. A graphical remaster that could bring it up to parity with its GameCube sequels (then maybe released as a trilogy compilation) wouldn't be a bad way of honoring this series.

Chance of Switch Online Inclusion: Never Tell Me the Odds. All depends on what plans Disney has for their older Star Wars games going forward. Some might yet get the full high-definition remaster treatment like Star Wars: Battlefront did just recently, and I could see Rogue Squadron certainly having the fan cachet to make that case for itself. If not, then it would make sense for Nintendo and Disney to sit down and hash out some kind of plan for getting the N64 Star Wars games on NSO given their generally positive rep. Wouldn't be shocked to hear all four announced the same time, though they've already missed this year's Star Wars Day to do it on. Maybe when that Rogue Squadron movie comes out? Is that still a thing? They're working on that, right? Anyone? Wedge?

Retro Achievements Earned: 4 (out of 49). Pretty straightforward set, with one each for the main sixteen missions and three secret missions and a second each for earning the gold medals. The rest relate to the military ranks (which are based on the medals you earn) and a handful of time trials and post-game mission revisits in other starfighters.

The New Tetris (Random)

No Caption Provided

History: The New Tetris is, despite the name, a mostly faithful rendition of the world's favorite puzzle game in which players stack blocks each made of four pieces into a grid to... wait, I guess everyone knows how Tetris works. Some of its new tweaks to the formula have now become indelible to the blueprint of modern Tetris, specifically the use of a reserve space—where you can store a single piece for later use, typically a long I-block for a tetris when the field is ideally set up to receive it—and a short window for some aftertouch "T-spins" that lets you resettle a piece to a more ideal state once it has finished falling. There's also an additional scoring method unique to this game that I'll get into when we cover it below. The primary goal of The New Tetris is to create lines in any of its modes which are all contributed to the rebuilding of the Seven Wonders of the Ancient World: each requires an absurd number of lines to fully construct, however, making them long-term pursuits.

H2O Interactive return once again after Tetrisphere (from Episode 34) and Aidyn Chronicles: The First Mage (from Episode 20) for their third and final outing on 64 in 64. The Canadian company went defunct shortly after Aidyn Chronicles, which I'm sure had nothing to do with its closure. I mean, it's a fine video game after all. As was the case for Tetrisphere, Nintendo themselves acted as publishers along with some involvement from Blue Planet Software, formerly Bullet-Proof Software, which was the Henk Rogers-owned company that originally brought Alexey Pajitnov's Tetris to Nintendo systems and later became The Tetris Company in both name and fact. They made a whole movie about it and everything.

This may be a first for 64 in 64: the randomizer choosing a game I was already planning to cover as a pre-select. How uncharacteristically cooperative of it. This would be the third of four Tetris games on the N64 that we've featured so far, following Tetris 64 (from Episode 1) and Tetrisphere, leaving only Capcom's Disney-fied Magical Tetris Challenge as the sole unplayed N64 block-stacker. The New Tetris, along with Rogue Squadron above, belongs to the few remaining games on my list for this feature that I personally own; TNT was a great "cooldown" game, which is to say something that I'd stick on for a few sessions between games that demanded longer playthroughs that I would stay laser-focused on until they were done. I dunno if I ever managed to build all seven wonders in the end: the later ones required what felt like a million lines each, which is quite the investment even for as eminently playable as Tetris could be. I somehow doubt I'll be able to get too far with them in the time alloted here either, but all the same I predict it's going to be a chill, pleasant way to spend an hour and change.

16 Minutes In

All hail the Hypercube.
All hail the Hypercube.

I jumped right into the standard Marathon Mode—there's two others, but I might be too good at Tetris to get around to them today—and started stacking them there tetraminoes. It's mostly the same Tetris everyone's familiar with, but with one notable new scoring system: by creating both monosquares and multisquares I can earn line multipliers whenever I clear lines that intersect those squares. The way to create either is to form a perfect 4x4 square with four pieces: using four of the same piece gets you a monosquare, which is golden and worth more, while using two or more different pieces gets you a silver multisquare which still kicks a hefty bonus your way. You can form monosquares with any piece type with the sole exceptions of the S and Z pieces (however, you could still sandwich either of those between one each of the two L-block types for a multisquare).

It's a neat idea for a mechanic because it's one of those risk vs. reward situations, much like setting up tetrises themselves, where you're as likely to break everything chasing after the high-scoring squares as you are actually making and clearing them. This goes double when the speed starts picking up and you wait ages for the RNG to finally throw a bone your way (a pain I know all too well with this feature). Since I want to earn as many lines as possible to start building those wonders—the first is 2,500 lines, so it might take a while—I'm going to keep at Marathon until I eventually lose, then I'll alternate to some of the other modes.

32 Minutes In

Yeah, this is going to take a while. Send for more Tetris slaves.
Yeah, this is going to take a while. Send for more Tetris slaves.

I held out for a while, reaching the top of the screen after 700 lines. There's an achievement for 1,000 in one session but maybe that'll require kicking the rust off my Tetris legs a bit first. A drop in the bucket as far as the Wonders are concerned, but then they didn't build those things in a day (though the Hanging Gardens of Babylon was probably only a weekend project at most: it's just a bunch of hanging baskets, how hard could that be to set-up with a stepladder nearby?). The trick is to never get too complacent clearing out single lines to make room for more monosquare construction: every line has a small effect on the game speed, and it becomes unmanageable before too long. I feel like almost anything I write about Tetris is going to come off as preaching to the choir though; between Tetris Effect and Tetris 99 it feels like it's back on the crest of yet another wave of popularity in recent years.

What else is there left to say? Hmm. The monosquares and multisquares have this neat little animation touch where they'll take a little bit longer to clear out than a regular line would after being completed, which might be a helpful moment in time to think about the upcoming blocks and where you could stash them. A piece will also flash if it's about to complete one of these squares, just in case the game's moving too quick that you didn't even notice you'd set one up perfectly. That probably wouldn't happen with a monosquare—those things definitely need to be set up well in advance, since it's not all that common to get four of the same piece just incidentally—but it's more common than you'd expect with multisquares. The squares are definitely the key to earning lots of lines at once, so they're worth aiming for if you're trying to build all these Wonders within a single lifetime.

48 Minutes In

As you can see, aiming to complete those squares on the left caused a bit of a mess on the right. Nothing a well-placed T-shape can't fix though.
As you can see, aiming to complete those squares on the left caused a bit of a mess on the right. Nothing a well-placed T-shape can't fix though.

For this block I checked out the Sprint mode, which simply has you clear as many lines as possible within three minutes. Best I was able to do was around 115, which is a long way from the 250 one of the RetroAchievements wants from you. I suspect this set was created by one of those crazy people who speedruns Arika's Tetris: The Grand Master series for fun. Naturally, the only way you're going to pull this off is to quickly assemble and clear a few of those monosquares. Yes, I bring those things up a lot but they're really the only element that makes this game stand out in a sea of near-identical puzzle games. Not that I'm on board with any new feature they decide to introduce—the heart rate monitor and sacrilegious non-tetramino blocks of Tetris 64 was some real gimmicky shit that added nothing—but without it I'm just left describing an hour of Tetris in eight paragraphs. Yo, you guys ever heard of Tetris? It's a block-stacking game where-

Sprint's kinda neat though. You can throw more caution to the wind knowing you only have seconds left on the clock, creating a huge mess higher up the field since it'll never be a factor as you continue to create opportunities with valuable pieces down where the action is with whatever time is remaining. If I need a T-shape to complete another square and the game keeps tossing me useless S/Z shapes, I can ditch that unholy business in some misbegotten stack on the far left of the screen and not worry about it. Like the Tetris version of fly-tipping. Three minutes really isn't a whole lot of time to get anything done, so knocking out a hundred lines in that time is nothing to sneeze at. Anyway, just a single mode left and going by its name—Ultra Mode—it's probably going to be the most low-key one yet.

64 Minutes In

Oh heck yeah, come to Uncle Vanya. For the record, a tetris comprised of both a monosquare and a multisquare is worth 65 lines at once. You see what I mean about squares being big business?
Oh heck yeah, come to Uncle Vanya. For the record, a tetris comprised of both a monosquare and a multisquare is worth 65 lines at once. You see what I mean about squares being big business?

Ultra Mode is essentially the reverse of Sprint Mode: rather than have a limited amount of time, you instead have a limited number of lines to clear. Time taken is a factor here, of course, but it's also a test of how quickly you can create and clear squares to hit that target as soon as possible. I suppose Ultra and Sprint work as options if you don't have a whole lot of time available and are not sure how long a Marathon session will take you, true to its name. Either way, regardless of the mode, you get to keep all the lines you form and they all get sent to the Wonder-in-progress, so you get those warm tingly feelings that no session is ever "wasted".

I neglected to mention this but the game has a ranking system that provides a numerical representation of your quality as a Tetris player. It's like those rankings you get in online games such as Apex Legends or Street Fighter, in that it can go either up or down depending on how well you did in the last few games. Kind of dispiriting to watch it sink because you crashed and burned going for broke on a monosquare that refused to drop its fourth piece, but good judgment (and luck) is a definite factor when it comes to Tetris. It also helps in a multiplayer game like this to know how good your opponents are: competing with someone with a much higher or lower rank might be grounds to introduce a handicap, for instance.

How Well Has It Aged?: It's... Tetris. I think this might be one of my favorite renditions of Tetris. The squares add such an interesting layer of challenge and the Wonders, as immaterial as they are, give me something to work towards if just playing Tetris by itself isn't sufficient motivation. Like I said, this was a cart that was in and out my N64 on a regular basis because I could just slap some blocks together and work on those Wonders between those games that required a bit more dedication. It's still good for that role and maybe more so than ever if its fate is to sit in a big library of other games that are also only going to be played briefly once each. The only thing that really dates it is the jungle EDM soundtrack which is super, super of its time (still slaps though).

Chance of Switch Online Inclusion: The Ball is Monosquare in Nintendo's Court. I believe, much like Tetrisphere, Nintendo bought the rights to this particular T-spin on Tetris after H2O Interactive evaporated, if they didn't already own it before then. They would have to renegotiate with The Tetris Company for the rights to distribute it on NSO, I'm sure, but if they were looking for a solid four-player Tetris game that would have a guaranteed audience this would do the trick. It's nowhere near as weird as Tetrisphere, for one.

Retro Achievements Earned: 9 (out of 27). Some real heavy-hitters in this set, including competing with the CPU on its highest level and some previously-mentioned ridiculous milestone targets. There are even cheats to make the game more difficult (kind of backwards) and there's achievements related to those too. Seems like an "only experts need apply" scenario.

Current Ranking

  1. Super Mario 64 (Ep. 1)
  2. Diddy Kong Racing (Ep. 6)
  3. Perfect Dark (Ep. 19)
  4. Mystical Ninja Starring Goemon (Ep. 3)
  5. Donkey Kong 64 (Ep. 13)
  6. Doom 64 (Ep. 38)
  7. Space Station Silicon Valley (Ep. 17)
  8. Goemon's Great Adventure (Ep. 9)
  9. Bomberman Hero (Ep. 26)
  10. Pokémon Snap (Ep. 11)
  11. Tetrisphere (Ep. 34)
  12. Rayman 2: The Great Escape (Ep. 19)
  13. Banjo-Tooie (Ep. 10)
  14. Rocket: Robot on Wheels (Ep. 27)
  15. Mischief Makers (Ep. 5)
  16. The New Tetris (Ep. 42)
  17. Super Smash Bros. (Ep. 25)
  18. Mega Man 64 (Ep. 18)
  19. Bomberman 64: The Second Attack! (Ep. 41)
  20. Star Wars: Rogue Squadron (Ep. 42)
  21. Forsaken 64 (Ep. 31)
  22. Wetrix (Ep. 21)
  23. Harvest Moon 64 (Ep. 15)
  24. Bust-A-Move '99 (Ep. 40)
  25. Hybrid Heaven (Ep. 12)
  26. Blast Corps (Ep. 4)
  27. Kirby 64: The Crystal Shards (Ep. 2)
  28. Ogre Battle 64: Person of Lordly Caliber (Ep. 4)
  29. Tonic Trouble (Ep. 24)
  30. Densha de Go! 64 (Ep. 29)
  31. Fushigi no Dungeon: Fuurai no Shiren 2 (Ep. 32)
  32. Snowboard Kids (Ep. 16)
  33. Spider-Man (Ep. 8)
  34. Bomberman 64 (Ep. 8)
  35. Jet Force Gemini (Ep. 16)
  36. Mickey's Speedway USA (Ep. 37)
  37. Shadowgate 64: Trials of the Four Towers (Ep. 7)
  38. Body Harvest (Ep. 28)
  39. Star Wars: Shadows of the Empire (Ep. 33)
  40. Gauntlet Legends (Ep. 39)
  41. Toy Story 2: Buzz Lightyear to the Rescue! (Ep. 29)
  42. 40 Winks (Ep. 31)
  43. Buck Bumble (Ep. 30)
  44. Aidyn Chronicles: The First Mage (Ep. 20)
  45. Midway's Greatest Arcade Hits Vol. 1 (Ep. 39)
  46. Conker's Bad Fur Day (Ep. 22)
  47. Gex 64: Enter the Gecko (Ep. 33)
  48. BattleTanx: Global Assault (Ep. 13)
  49. Last Legion UX (Ep. 36)
  50. Hot Wheels Turbo Racing (Ep. 9)
  51. Cruis'n Exotica (Ep. 37)
  52. San Francisco Rush 2049 (Ep. 4)
  53. Iggy's Reckin' Balls (Ep. 35)
  54. Fighter Destiny 2 (Ep. 6)
  55. Charlie Blast's Territory (Ep. 36)
  56. Big Mountain 2000 (Ep. 18)
  57. Nushi Tsuri 64: Shiokaze ni Notte (Ep. 35)
  58. Castlevania: Legacy of Darkness (Ep. 14)
  59. Tetris 64 (Ep. 1)
  60. Mahjong Hourouki Classic (Ep. 34)
  61. Mahjong 64 (Ep. 41)
  62. Milo's Astro Lanes (Ep. 23)
  63. International Track & Field 2000 (Ep. 28)
  64. NBA Live '99 (Ep. 3)
  65. Rampage 2: Universal Tour (Ep. 5)
  66. Command & Conquer (Ep. 17)
  67. International Superstar Soccer '98 (Ep. 23)
  68. South Park Rally (Ep. 2)
  69. Armorines: Project S.W.A.R.M. (Ep. 7)
  70. Eikou no St. Andrews (Ep. 1)
  71. Rally Challenge 2000 (Ep. 10)
  72. Monster Truck Madness 64 (Ep. 11)
  73. F-1 World Grand Prix II (Ep. 3)
  74. F1 Racing Championship (Ep. 2)
  75. Sesame Street: Elmo's Number Journey (Ep. 14)
  76. Wheel of Fortune (Ep. 24)
  77. Mortal Kombat Mythologies: Sub-Zero (Ep. 15)
  78. Yakouchuu II: Satsujin Kouro (Ep. 40)
  79. Mario no Photopi (Ep. 20)
  80. Blues Brothers 2000 (Ep. 12)
  81. Dark Rift (Ep. 25)
  82. Mace: The Dark Age (Ep. 27)
  83. Bio F.R.E.A.K.S. (Ep. 21)
  84. Ready 2 Rumble Boxing (Ep. 32)
  85. 64 Oozumou 2 (Ep. 30)
  86. Madden Football 64 (Ep. 26)
  87. Transformers: Beast Wars Transmetals (Ep. 22)
  88. Heiwa Pachinko World 64 (Ep. 38)
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Indie Game of the Week 370: Tangle Tower

No Caption Provided

Shocker of shockers, I'm not playing an explormer this week. I still have plenty of them on standby, don't doubt that for a moment, but even I have to admit that everything's better in moderation. Or maybe that's just my Moderator bias talking. Either way, I've switched tracks to another old favorite of mine—the classic point-and-click adventure game—with this week's Tangle Tower, originally from 2019. Tangle Tower is the sequel to Detective Grimoire, one of the earliest games I covered on this feature (IGotW #38), and like that game repurposes the usual format of the genre to make it more in-line with a whodunnit procedural where gathering clues, interrogating suspects, and taking what you'd learned and applying some abductive reasoning to solve each stage of the crime are the primary objectives. (I swear it's a total coincidence that I chose this game now given developers SFB Games are presently enjoying the limelight because of the buzz around their newest game, Crow Country: a Resident Evil-style polygonal survival horror throwback.)

Tangle Tower has Detective Grimoire and his new sidekick Sally, the sarcastic gift shop proprietor from the previous game, reach the isolated titular manse to solve the murder of artist and free spirit Freya Fellow, who was slain inside a locked atelier with her mute aunt Flora as the only witness. The tower also houses several family members from various branches of the main family tree of the Remingtons, who once owned the tower but have since married into two external families, the Fellows and the Pointers, who now occupy the two tower-structures that poke out of what was originally a normal mansion overlooking a vast circular lake. You interview the other family members to understand what sort of relationship they had with the deceased and with each other, as well as corroborating their accounts on the evening the body was found, while searching around the mansion for many well-concealed clues. It turns out every family member is hiding something, though whether it bears any relevance to the crime you're there to solve is to be determined. The clue-gathering often involves solving Professor Layton-esque puzzles that sometimes require a little outside information (such as the meaning of certain symbols) to open up some locked container or other, the contents of which then get added to the list of topics that you can ask the suspects.

In case you thought this puzzle was too slight we added an extra puzzle for you to do.
In case you thought this puzzle was too slight we added an extra puzzle for you to do.

As with the previous game, the central mystery and the way it has you put it together with the information and items you've acquired is a great slow-burn approach to solving a tough mystery by doing it step by step, one smaller line of inquiry at a time. It also shares its predecessor's sense of style, digging deep from the realms of whodunnit fiction and classic LucasFilm adventure games alike for its idiosyncratic cast and environments and sense of humor. The style reminded me of the cartoon Gravity Falls a bit: less so the character designs but more the high degree of surrealism throughout its many detailed backgrounds that nonetheless have a familiar, lived-in feel to it all. Three of the major characters, including the deceased, are impressionistic teenagers who despite their unusual upbringing are still fairly normal examples of (albeit troubled) kids; the adults, meanwhile, tend to be the type with plenty of skeletons in their closets, as befits the rogue's gallery of suspects in a murder mystery. You spend quite a bit of time talking to the game's eight main suspects so plenty of effort has been put into their voice acting, animation, designs, and personalities to put them a step above the usual NPCs of this genre, who usually only exist for the sake of one puzzle or maybe a red herring joke or two. The various rooms of the mansion have almost as much personality too, befitting the characters that dwell in them or offering some hidden layers as their involvement with the central crime becomes more clear. After What Remains of Edith Finch, I'll always be game for exploring an eccentric (and unnecessarily tall) homestead owned by rich, crazy people.

Of particular note is the game's flow. You spend the first half of the game with almost full freedom of the mansion, with certain bedrooms closed off only until you've had the chance to talk to the people who sleep there; this way, you can have better context behind why their rooms may look a certain way and why the item you just found in a secret drawer or a locked cabinet might explain some things that you may have already picked up about them from your earlier conversation. After you've been everywhere and talked to everyone once, you can then go back to earlier characters and discuss everyone you've met and the items you've found since you last spoke with them. That's usually enough to trigger some suspicions Grimoire has about a certain suspect, which then leads into a guessing mini-game based on the evidence found to wrangle some truth from them. Doing this with every suspect then puts you on the endgame path, where there's a procession of clues and revelations that takes you all the way to the thrilling denouement. I appreciate that the second half the game is structured in a more railroaded fashion because at that point you've probably learned all there is to know—or at least have the means to learn them, since you've been picking up a bunch of items that don't have a clear purpose yet—and just need to piece it all together in a series of quickfire deductions.

This deduction process goes step by step, making them easier to put together without necessarily talking down too much to the player who may have already solved it an hour ago. I think this approach is mostly to ameliorate that annoyance you sometimes get in games of this thematic genre (especially Ace Attorney) where the game wants some very specific information from you phrased in a very specific way that isn't immediately intuitive.
This deduction process goes step by step, making them easier to put together without necessarily talking down too much to the player who may have already solved it an hour ago. I think this approach is mostly to ameliorate that annoyance you sometimes get in games of this thematic genre (especially Ace Attorney) where the game wants some very specific information from you phrased in a very specific way that isn't immediately intuitive.

I really enjoyed this game. It's short and sweet without a whole lot of content, but it still has a few challenges to sink your teeth into between the Layton puzzles and the way the game uses a set of rotating slots to input your deductions which requires a bit of subtextual comprehension (and if you're off by a single "slot" the protagonist mentions it, so you're not left floundering for long if you're most of the way there), the characters were distinctive and fun to talk to if not always helpful, the usual adventure game observations from checking random background hotspots had a lot of good jokes to discover, and that central mystery had me deducing half of it right away and the other half I was left guessing about right up to the point where the game expected me to have it all figured out, so I didn't feel too dumb or too smart which is always a tricky balancing act. The developers might've moved onto a different avenue entirely if Crow Country is any indication of their future output, but I hope to meet Detective Grimoire and his goofy hair again sometime in the future.

Rating: 4 out of 5.

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Anyway, Here's WonderSwan (Part Four)

Welcome back to another furtive rummage through the back-catalog of the Bandai WonderSwan: a Japanese-only handheld that existed briefly in the gap between the Game Boy Color and the Game Boy Advance, with technology boasting that of the latter if not always the color palette. Last episode felt like the series finally "landing", accomplishing the early stages of two goals I had in mind when crafting the outline for this feature: seeing what kind of output Squaresoft had on the system after embracing it as an alternative to Nintendo, to whom they were formerly loyal until a big falling out, as well as encountering the first WS game I was intrigued enough with to see it through to its end. We have more of both this time but I suspect there won't be too much of either in the updates to come; even so, those will be the highlights I'm personally anticipating. For anyone else, I'm sure the highlights instead will be those times I come up against a truly inscrutable anime tie-in and flounder around helplessly with the Japanese menus for ten minutes before calling it quits. Well, depending on your temperament and appreciation for watching others suffer, I suppose (I feel like Blight Club being as popular as it is has turned the site's audience onto a dark, sadistic path).

Speaking of sadistic, my continued negotiations with the Random Chooser Unnion* are progressing swimmingly. In AHW Part Two I managed to secure the "Lucky 7s Clause", in which I could switch every seventh entry from a random selection to one of my own choosing. I've just now procured another boon in the "Prime Plus Plan": from this entry onwards, I also have full jurisdiction over every prime-numbered entry. There are no numbers between 16-20 that are divisible by seven, but both 17 and 19 are primes so I've substituted a few wanted games of my own in there. And to think, all it cost me was full healthcare and dental plans for all employees. Pfft, peanuts. I'll be sure to keep working my bargaining magic over these blue-collar rubes in the entries to come, provided I even bother to show up to the meetings. Truly a leader conscientious of his workforce.

*I can't spell this word properly or else the whole blog errors out for some reason. Hmmmmmmmmmmm.

If you're looking for more WonderSwan goodness be sure to check out the past entries here: Part One, Part Two, and Part Three.

#016: Final Fantasy

No Caption Provided
  • Developer: Squaresoft
  • Publisher: Squaresoft
  • Release Date: 2000-12-09
  • Inscrutability: Minor (with the partially-complete fan translation)
  • Selection Process: Random.
  • Is This Anime?: It's so close.

Field Report: The first Final Fantasy famously pulled Square's butt out of the fire when its financial outlook appeared bleak, kicking off a turn-based RPG franchise that would eventually prove to be the company's most identifiable flagship and main source of revenue, especially once the MMOs started showing up. However, Final Fantasy 1 feels a bit prototypical compared to what followed, with a basic (if somehow also convoluted) story outline that saw four interchangeable "Warriors of Light" attempt to halt a series of natural disasters by defeating a quartet of elemental lords and the evil god of Chaos that controlled their actions from the distant past. As with any party-based D&D game, from which Final Fantasy is indirectly sourced (going through a few inspiration intermediaries like Wizardry and The Black Onyx), party composition and balance is important though veteran players often like to challenge themselves with unorthodox and impaired combinations.

This would've been the last revision for Final Fantasy 1 before its 2002 reappearance on PlayStation as part of the Final Fantasy Origins compilation (and, soon after, Final Fantasy I & II: Dawn of Souls for Game Boy Advance), and it turns out the graphical facelift it saw in FF Origins actually came from this version of the game. Not only are the sprites remastered to resemble those from the 16-bit games but they also added backgrounds to combat scenes (it was just a void before) and other aesthetic enhancements everywhere you looked. I'd assumed that Square throwing together a FF1 port (their simplest RPG, if you don't count Mystic Quest) was just a quick means of testing out the hardware and seeing if the WonderSwan was a good fit for them, but they put a lot more effort into this remake than I gave them credit for.

Just reviving my dudes at a church. Kind of a recurring thing in this game. Also, I can't show it here but there's a really nice flickering effect from those windows: the game's not shy about showing off the better hardware.
Just reviving my dudes at a church. Kind of a recurring thing in this game. Also, I can't show it here but there's a really nice flickering effect from those windows: the game's not shy about showing off the better hardware.
My four meaty boys, Toriniku, Hitsuji, Gyuuniku, and Butaniku. What they lack in skill and versatility they make up for in sheer brawn.
My four meaty boys, Toriniku, Hitsuji, Gyuuniku, and Butaniku. What they lack in skill and versatility they make up for in sheer brawn.
I'm glad the fan translation kept this line. Too bad it didn't make it into Stranger of Paradise though. I think they replaced it with 'I, Garland, will beat the shit out of all you fucknuts!!' while he's blasting Sinatra on his AirPods. You know, cool guy shit.
I'm glad the fan translation kept this line. Too bad it didn't make it into Stranger of Paradise though. I think they replaced it with 'I, Garland, will beat the shit out of all you fucknuts!!' while he's blasting Sinatra on his AirPods. You know, cool guy shit.

Since the only fan translation that exists for the WonderSwan port of FF1 is an incomplete one, I decided to do the intelligent thing of assembling a party entirely out of Black Belts (or Monks, going by the translation) so I wouldn't have to tinker around in my inventory too often in case none of the items or equipment were translated (they were). What I forgot about is that Black Belts are kinda weak at the start (and also the middle, and also towards the end) so there was a whole lot of buff men grinding in the forest, as it were, before I felt prepared enough to take on Garland at the Chaos Shrine to the far northwest of Corneria. Incidentally, if you are interested in the full plot of Final Fantasy 1 then I highly recommend playing Stranger of Paradise, which is a faithful retelling that doesn't do anything weird with it whatsoever.

After powering up enough where my attacks weren't just whiffing half the time I marched into that shrine, rescued the princess from the curiously weak Garland, and set off to the nearby town of Pravoka to deal with their pirate problem. The pirates weren't tough at all; however, the random encounters on the world map in the Pravoka region were a different tale altogether. We started meeting these huge ogres that hit like a freight train and groups of four "MadPony", which are one of the earliest enemies that are capable of attacking multiple times a round. Good XP and cash from both though, and since Black Belts don't need to save up for equipment too often (with a few exceptions, mostly of the accessory kind) I made sure to keep myself replete with curatives. At any rate, I remembered that the next dungeon after acquiring the pirate ship was one that had a lot of poison-type enemies and I wasn't prepared to go through all that again, especially with no healers on my team. I've completed this game before after all—via the Dawn of Souls remake, in fact—so this was mostly just a quick visit to see what was different. I will say that the game does look pretty good: even the SNES port didn't look this sharp, though of course the more popular GBA and PS1 ports that soon followed stole most of the glory from this version's graphical updates. There were also some much-needed QoL additions too, like party members attacking other enemies if their chosen target had already been slain and a clear indicator of who could wear what and how they'd benefit stats-wise from switching gear. Still, it was mostly the same old Final Fantasy 1 as ever: a bit grindy and dull but worth seeing through at least once if you're a fan of the franchise, if only to see how far it's come since.

Time Spent: Just shy of 90 minutes.

#017: Rainbow Islands: Putty's Party

No Caption Provided
  • Developer: DigitalWare
  • Publisher: Megahouse
  • Release Date: 2000-06-29
  • Inscrutability: None (Fan Translated)
  • Selection Process: Chosen (Prime Plus Plan).
  • Is This Anime?: Nah.

Field Report: Taito's Rainbow Islands is the sequel, sorta, to Bubble Bobble and shifts the action from blowing bubbles at monsters in single-screen stages to ascending a vertical level with rainbows that can be walked upon or used to trap and defeat enemies. Bub and Bob also return to the starring roles but are back in their original human forms as Bubby and Bobby. As in Bubble Bobble, there's a moderately high level of challenge that can be mitigated if you know the game's secrets, the most important of which if you want the good ending involves spawning and collecting seven gems of the color spectrum in each of the game's worlds. Putty's Party is a spin-off, or sequel, or maybe like an alternative timeline game (think the other modes in some Castlevanias where you're controlling a different character), where you're instead playing as Patty: one of the two heroines Bub and Bob set out to save in Bubble Bobble. I'm not sure what else has changed but I guess we'll find out.

Despite being another Taito game there's no trace of them anywhere around this particular WonderSwan port/reimagining. Instead, we have DigitalWare and Megahouse, neither of which I know too much about. DigitalWare is a developer that worked in a supporting role for a great many games, though few that have been verified by GDRI, and this was the only WonderSwan game they were ever attached to. It sounds like they might've done the brunt of the programming and graphics but had other contractors pitch in on everything else. Megahouse is, I'm fairly sure, one of several publishing labels that Bandai used along with Angel and others. They're also the publishers for one other WonderSwan game: Tetsujin 28-go, an adventure game based on the very early (we're talking 1950s) mecha manga that was known in the States as Gigantor. Man, the tangents we go off on sometimes.

General rule of thumb is to make a rainbow above the enemy and then collapse it on top of them. You're guaranteed either a gem or a power-up that way. Rainbows can also block enemy fire, useful for the later worlds where it feels like every foe has projectiles.
General rule of thumb is to make a rainbow above the enemy and then collapse it on top of them. You're guaranteed either a gem or a power-up that way. Rainbows can also block enemy fire, useful for the later worlds where it feels like every foe has projectiles.
I'd completely forgotten that they had an Arkanoid-based world in Rainbow Islands. There's a Darius one too, complete with a warning about an approaching boss.
I'd completely forgotten that they had an Arkanoid-based world in Rainbow Islands. There's a Darius one too, complete with a warning about an approaching boss.
One of the permanent power-ups, earned from the third world. You can only have one of these equipped at once though, and I usually go with the double-rainbow Earth Pot item instead. (Double rainbow! So intense!)
One of the permanent power-ups, earned from the third world. You can only have one of these equipped at once though, and I usually go with the double-rainbow Earth Pot item instead. (Double rainbow! So intense!)

Disclaimer: I'm one of those weirdos who likes Rainbow Island more than Bubble Bobble, partly because traversal with those awkward mostly-vertical jumps isn't anywhere near as difficult when you can create your own platforms (well, sure, you can jump off your own bubbles too in Bubble Bobble but it's not ideal). The game's little cutscenes aren't just an excuse for ditzy tomboy protagonist Patty and her tsundere fairy familiar Notti to be all cute: one of the first few tells you important information about how the big diamonds work. Chiefly, that you have to collect seven gems per world by defeating enemies at various longitudes—that is to say, the vertical slice of the screen where the corpse lands determines what color gem you get, from red at the far left to violet at the far right, or in this game's case a darkish gray and a slightly darker gray. Yeah, I guess it needs pointing out that a game about rainbows is kind of a bad fit for a monochrome system but the "color" depth is higher than the Game Boy so they can still give each of those gems their own distinctive(ish) shade of gray at least.

Chalk this up as another game I was able to complete before writing this review, since the game is relatively short at just five worlds with four stages apiece, as opposed to the seven worlds (or ten, including secret ones) of the original Rainbow Islands. The stages always followed a similar pattern of two normal stages, followed by an "event" stage—for the odd-numbered worlds you had to quickly ascend to escape a rising tide, usually the result of spending too long in any one level, while the even-numbered worlds had you hunt down a secret door by firing rainbows everywhere—which is then followed by the final stage complete with boss fight. Most bosses can be defeated quickly by spamming rainbows at them, though they won't flinch at all so you do still need to anticipate their movements to not get caught by them. As for the differences between this and regular Rainbow Islands, there's quite a few significant new features: the biggest change allows you to enter a secret door after completing a world with the big diamond, the result of finding all seven rainbow gems, and the item within gives you a permanent power-up (double-rainbows, faster rainbows, faster Patty, or some cheat-like wings that let you fly past the level). You can also summon Notti with a specific item, and he'll circle around you like an option in a shoot 'em up and insta-kill anything he touches. Naturally, the other big change is the switch in focus to Patty and Notti, and in addition to the many small cutscenes there's multiple endings to earn based on how meticulous you were about those big-ass diamonds. Pretty standard take on an arcade classic but one with enough new features to feel both more modern (for 2000 standards, anyway) and distinct enough from other ports to draw in all the Rainbow Island diehards. Not that there can't be too many of those roaming around.

Time Spent: It took 90 minutes to beat the game with the best ending. It'll take a lot longer to get all those RetroAchievements though.

#018: Shin Nihon Pro Wrestling: Toukon Retsuden

No Caption Provided

"New Japan Pro Wrestling: Furious Legend"

  • Developer: TOSE
  • Publisher: Tomy
  • Release Date: 1999-03-04 (launch)
  • Inscrutability: Maximum. On two levels.
  • Selection Process: Random.
  • Is This Anime?: Wrestling is essentially anime, so yes.

Field Report: Shin Nihon Pro Wrestling: Toukon Retsuden is a NJPW wrestling game from Yuke's that happens to be the first game they ever made. Yuke's would later become renowned (if that's the word) for being the custodians of the annual WWE game franchise but they started with the local NJPW circuit and produced the first Toukon Retsuden for PlayStation in 1995, following it with three sequels. Western wrestling fans might know Toukon Retsuden by a different name: Power Move Pro Wrestling, with publishers Activision choosing to toss out all the NJPW talent and substitute in their fictional own. Naturally, squeezing a PS1 game onto a portable meant some cuts here and there but it otherwise seems faithful enough. It's also the third of the four WonderSwan launch games we've covered on here so far (and I fully intend to cover the last of those in due time, since it's Final Fantasy-related).

Of course, I say it's a Yuke's game but it appears as if assiduous contractors TOSE were given the honors of figuring out how to squash a CD game onto a tiny 1MB cart. TOSE would develop 14 WonderSwan and WonderSwan Color games in total, making them the most prolific third-party developer on the platform. Still, 14 games is a mere drop in the bucket for a developer purported to have worked on thousands during their long tenure; they're a seriously impressive group, even if many of the games themselves aren't quite as remarkable. No clue why toy manufacturer Tomy is here, but they were the PS1 game's Japanese publishers also; maybe they had licensing rights for NJPW figures and that included video games too? I suppose that's all the procrastinating I can get away with, so let's boot up this dang ol' wrestling game and I'll try to make as much sense of it as I'm able. Good thing there's only three games of this genre on the system (and one is a Kinnikuman game, which I'll have no problems with at all).

OK, so I've no idea who any of these guys are except the one highlighted, and I only know that's Masahiro Chono because he slaps the shit out of Housei Tsukitei every New Year's.
OK, so I've no idea who any of these guys are except the one highlighted, and I only know that's Masahiro Chono because he slaps the shit out of Housei Tsukitei every New Year's.
Can't have a wrestling game without an entrance animation. Reminds me of Saturday Night Slam Masters.
Can't have a wrestling game without an entrance animation. Reminds me of Saturday Night Slam Masters.
For the second match I picked the mask guy (Jushin Liger?) and did slightly better but even after throwing this headband dude around for five minutes I still got pinned. It'd help if I knew which button did that.
For the second match I picked the mask guy (Jushin Liger?) and did slightly better but even after throwing this headband dude around for five minutes I still got pinned. It'd help if I knew which button did that.

I mean... this went about as well as can be predicted. As you can see from the screenshots, we have a traditional perspective of the ring as opposed to FirePro's more diamond-shaped affairs and the wrestlers—of which there appears to be only six, though maybe there's some unlockables or boss characters—are rendered in a top-heavy chibi style to better suit the limited confines of the WonderSwan. The WS has several face buttons yet I could only get the basic attack and grapples to work: maybe there's a whole "direction plus face button" system involved to access the various piledrivers and DDTs but I'll admit to not being in any big rush to figure this game out.

I managed to get into two bouts, lost both of them, and called it quits there. There's not going to be an onboarding process for newbies and even if there was it'd all be in a language I can barely read. There are multiple modes on the main menu, all thankfully written in katakana: Title Match (exhibition), G1 Climax (a round robin tournament), Time Attack (didn't try it, but maybe "pin the guy in under X minutes"?), something called "Toshi Ichi-Ningu" which is maybe a two-on-one match?, and the Options (which had a sound test, if you wanted to hear a bunch NJPW entrance theme MIDIs). I tried out the first two of those but besides the set-up there wasn't much different about the matches themselves. I dunno, I don't feel equipped to render judgment on a wrestling game even when it's in English so I was pretty lost here. Luck of the draw, I suppose.

Time Spent: 10 minutes.

#019: O-Chan no Oekaki Logic

No Caption Provided

"O-Chan's Picture Logic"

  • Developer: Santaclaus
  • Publisher: Sunsoft
  • Release Date: 2000-01-06
  • Inscrutability: Minor.
  • Selection Process: Chosen (Prime Plus Plan).
  • Is This Anime?: Looks like Sanrio, but ain't.

Field Report: O-Chan no Oekaki Logic is a picross/nonogram game featuring characters from Sunsoft's recurring mascot team that debuted in the NES game Hebereke (Ufouria: The Saga in North America) and later made frequent appearances in games on the SNES and PlayStation also. O-Chan, a girl in a cat kigurumi, is the second member of the group after Hebe (a penguin) and she personally headlines the Oekaki Logic (Picture Logic) picross spin-off series, of which there's at least three entries. (What complicates matters here is that there's an "Oekaki Logic 1" for SNES, WonderSwan, Saturn, and PS1 and I'm not sure if they're all the same game or not. They each have some unique features and a different total number of puzzles, for what it's worth.) If you're unfamiliar with picross and might want a more thorough tutorial than I can provide here, there's plenty of great picross games out there to get started with including the original two Mario's Picross games (GB and SNES) available through the Switch Online service as well as Jupiter's Picross S series on Switch and numerous games on Steam (I recommend either Pepper's Puzzles or Paint it Back!).

Hebereke creators Sunsoft are of course our publishers here, though sadly this is the only game they published on WonderSwan that was either picross- or Hebereke-related. They worked on three other games, developing two themselves, including some Taito ports and a portable iteration of the Shanghai mahjong solitaire series that they originally licensed from Activision. The festively-named developers Santaclaus was a Sunsoft subsidiary that would go on to chiefly focus on browser and mobile games. One of their few big releases was the surreal airborne arcade fighter Astra Superstars in 1998. This would be their only WonderSwan project.

The clean look is nice but the highlighted numbers (when that row is complete) are kinda messed up. They'll pop up even when that number hasn't been confirmed yet. As an example, check that '1 5 1 1 1 2' line that's halfway down the side there: the second '1' is shaded to mean it's confirmed but there's no way you can guarantee that based on the current state of that line. Best to ignore any shaded confirmations.
The clean look is nice but the highlighted numbers (when that row is complete) are kinda messed up. They'll pop up even when that number hasn't been confirmed yet. As an example, check that '1 5 1 1 1 2' line that's halfway down the side there: the second '1' is shaded to mean it's confirmed but there's no way you can guarantee that based on the current state of that line. Best to ignore any shaded confirmations.
O-Chan even put herself in the game as a puzzle. That's an admirable lack of modesty from a girl in cat pajamas.
O-Chan even put herself in the game as a puzzle. That's an admirable lack of modesty from a girl in cat pajamas.
...But it's hard to stay mad at something that cute. Ganbare!
...But it's hard to stay mad at something that cute. Ganbare!

Total comfort pick, this one. I love picross and this is the only picross game on the system. I've played the original O-Chan no Oekaki Logic on Super Famicom but it's been so long that I don't recall any of the puzzles, so I'll just assume for the sake of my own sanity that I'm not just playing through them all again. This game uses the "Wario Mode" ruleset which eventually became the more popular choice for picross game developers. To explain what that is, in the Mario's Picross games (which were more or less the first of their type, unless there's some older obscure PC game I'm unaware of) you had two sets of puzzles hosted by Mario and Wario respectively. Mario's ruleset involved the instant correction of errors, usually inducing a time penalty or some other black mark to highlight you'd messed up; Wario, however, was happy to let you stew in your own juices if you ever made a mistake but on the plus side never gave out demerits for a simple misclick. Since misclicks are extremely common once you're in the flow of things, the laissez-faire Wario approach proved to be the more endearing one (I'm sure he'd be satisfied knowing that given their rivalry).

There's a remarkable 300 puzzles in the regular puzzle mode, spread across four difficulties and grid sizes ranging from 5x5 to 25x15 (which is realistically about all the WonderSwan screen could handle without some awkward screen-scrolling tech). This version of the game also has a "Versus" mode which, as far as I can tell, just involves completing a large 3x3 multi-picross puzzle to reveal an image of your current CPU opponent. There's a time limit in this mode, unlike the core mode, but it's pretty generous at 30 minutes per grid. The game prompts to save after each completed puzzle: I didn't pay attention that the default was on "iie" rather than "hai" (i.e. "no" instead of "yes") so I did lose all the progress I'd made in one session due to that human error, but otherwise I've been happily plugging away at this enormous set since earlier this week and will probably continue to do so for the rest of the month. It's therefore one of the few WonderSwan games that I intend to go back to once I've covered it here. Proof enough that I'm enjoying it I suppose, but that's a near certainty with anything picross.

Time Spent: Let's say 10 hours and counting.

#020: Beatmania for WonderSwan

No Caption Provided
  • Developer: Konami
  • Publisher: Konami
  • Release Date: 1999-04-28
  • Inscrutability: Minor.
  • Selection Process: Random.
  • Is This Anime?: Not at all.

Field Report: Beatmania, or Bemani, is Konami's chief contribution to the arcade rhythm game craze that improved the olfactory quality of those dingy parlors by adding copious amounts of nerd sweat as they frantically shifted their forms to high-BPM Eurobeat and EDM jams. Bemani involved far less awkward stepping than Konami's other big rhythm game series Dance Dance Revolution though; instead, it had budding DJs manipulate a turntable controller to follow the on-screen prompts as best as they were able. Home versions either offered custom controller peripherals to recreate the effect or an alternative control scheme with whatever face buttons were at hand. I feel like such an old person describing all this like it's obscure information given these games hit their peak around 20-25 years ago and have remained consistently popular ever since.

Our first Konami game for WonderSwan is, in fact, the only Konami game for WonderSwan. One Bemani game is all they had in 'em I guess. Maybe the resulting sales figures didn't make sense for them to pursue WS sequels, given the vast number of other platforms beat maniacs had available for all their rhythmic tapping needs. I'm sad we won't get to see some monochrome Metal Gear Ac!d or Ganbare Goemon goodness, but there's a whole bunch of that stuff on Nintendo handhelds if ever the itch should strike.

This Kool Moe Dee lookalike is DJ Konami, the guy who walks you through the tutorial. He yells 'Cool!' at you when you get it right. I didn't hear it too often.
This Kool Moe Dee lookalike is DJ Konami, the guy who walks you through the tutorial. He yells 'Cool!' at you when you get it right. I didn't hear it too often.
This is 'Funk', otherwise known as 'Cat Song ~ Theme of UPA'. It was as obnoxious as it looks.
This is 'Funk', otherwise known as 'Cat Song ~ Theme of UPA'. It was as obnoxious as it looks.
My results screen. Uh... at least more than half the notes were better than Poor? And I still made 40k despite being trash. Being a musician is easy money I don't know why more people don't do it.
My results screen. Uh... at least more than half the notes were better than Poor? And I still made 40k despite being trash. Being a musician is easy money I don't know why more people don't do it.

Yeah, I figured out why there weren't more sequels. Beatmania on WS is hard, man. It's not just the usual high-demand rhythm game struggles either but a certain ambiguity towards the controls that make them challenging to remember. You essentially have six lanes that notes float down: five attached to piano keys and one for the turntable (your only goal is to scratch it; I dunno if there's anything more involved in later tracks). The turntable responds to the R-button and the rest are spread across the top three D-pad buttons and face buttons—you get more buttons to work with when the WonderSwan is in its vertical orientation, which it is here in order to be closer to the arcade format—but in a way where it kinda overlaps on the middle key (which is both D-pad right and the left face button) and that's what keeps tripping me up, along with having to do the mental math of how many positions the key is from the left and what button that corresponds to. When the track gets hectic with multiple beats per second it's just too much for my old man brain to handle.

Of course, that demanding on-beat precision has been a factor with Bemani and rhythm games in general since the get-go, but I can usually handle the easier introductory songs with just a few mistakes: here, I couldn't get through either of the initially unlocked tracks, "Funk" and "Ambient" (I wasn't initially sure if those were their names or just their genres or what) without the little dancing man just shrugging woefully at me. The practice mode walked me through what key does what for its first "lesson" but then I guess it skipped a whole semester and immediately drops me into Ambient, which is the harder of those two initial songs with its two-star rating. I figure the game was probably aimed squarely at those already familiar with arcade Bemani and wanted some approximation to play on the go rather than a new audience of would-be turntablists who maybe don't get out to the local arcade much. Still, even if I flamed out spectacularly on this particular portable rhythm game series at least I'll always have the Ouendan on DS (for which I'll point out that I beat all its songs on the hardest setting, since I need some ego-massaging right now).

Time Spent: 20 minutes of pain.

Current Ranking

(* = Don't need fluent Japanese to enjoy this and/or it has a fan translation.)

  1. O-Chan no Oekaki Logic (Ep 4)*
  2. Kaze no Klonoa: Moonlight Museum (Ep 3)*
  3. Final Fantasy (Ep 4)*
  4. Rainbow Islands: Putty's Party (Ep 4)*
  5. Flash Koibito-Kun (Ep 1)*
  6. Magical Drop for WonderSwan (Ep 1)*
  7. Gunpey (Ep 2)*
  8. Judgement Silversword -Rebirth Edition- (Ep 1)*
  9. Final Lap Special (Ep 2)*
  10. Densha de Go! (Ep 2)
  11. Gomoku Narabe & Reversi Touryuumon (Ep 3)*
  12. Guilty Gear Petit (Ep 3)*
  13. Blue Wing Blitz (Ep 3)
  14. Beatmania for WonderSwan (Ep 4)*
  15. Super Robot Taisen Compact for WonderSwan Color (Ep 3)
  16. Inuyasha: Fuuun Emaki (Ep 1)
  17. Shin Nihon Pro Wrestling: Toukon Retsuden (Ep 4)
  18. Meitantei Conan: Nishi No Meitantei Saidai No Kiki!? (Ep 2)
  19. Metakomi Therapy: Nee Kiite! (Ep 2)
  20. SD Gundam Eiyuuden: Musha Densetsu (Ep 1)
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Indie Game of the Week 369: Supraland: Six Inches Under

No Caption Provided

Hey there and welcome back to another enormous map for Indie Explormer of the Week to uncover one traversal upgrade at a time. Our non-linear search action selection this time is Supraland: Six Inches Under, a standalone expansion for the inestimable Supraland (covered back in IGotW #297). As with its predecessor, it follows a civilization of sapient plasticine people in some kid's backyard as they deal with one disaster after another. Usually, some chump is ordained as the hero that will save everyone, and when the earth collapses trapping everyone underground that person turns out to be you: a blue-tinted plumber (as opposed to a red-tinted one, as that's already been done). Humorously, the hero from the previous game is still wandering around but is immediately sidelined with other pressing business despite already having all the upgrades needed to quickly resolve everything. The rest of the story is fairly slight: there's an underground settlement called Cagetown (it's built out of an old hamster cage) that's led by the Baron, who has been sucking up the fortunes of his permanently poor citizenry. Since his strata-based town system is currently standing in the way of the exit back to the surface you're required to visit various areas—a mine, a factory, a bank, a wealthy resort—for the upgrades needed to ascend through Cagetown.

If you're unfamiliar with Supraland, it has an exceptional grasp on how to do the explormer game format well in 3D and while Supraland: Six Inches Under ("SSIU" from here on out) mostly revisits the same upgrades from the previous game they find many more tweaks and puzzles to bring out new sides to those tools and abilities. A typical power-up for Supraland might include a tool that produces a purple beam that you can use to hook onto anything wooden (and, later, anything golden) and hookshot your way up to it; however, you can also use it to create a solid beam between two wooden surfaces and then walk across it to reach new areas, or conduct electricity through it to power nearby devices. It's endlessly inventive when it comes to applications for its power-ups, giving you some relatively tough environmental puzzles to solve before you can acquire the next upgrade and make further progress. The type of upgrades Supraland sends your way include many I've never even seen in other explormers: oddly enough, the most common explormer power-up—the double-jump—was one I only found in the post-game.

Magnets! Magnets can be awkward to build puzzles around in a physics-based puzzle-platformer, but not if you're the one magnetized. Of course, you do end up wiping a lot of hard drives by accident, but then sometimes that's a good thing. Oh boy, is it.
Magnets! Magnets can be awkward to build puzzles around in a physics-based puzzle-platformer, but not if you're the one magnetized. Of course, you do end up wiping a lot of hard drives by accident, but then sometimes that's a good thing. Oh boy, is it.

Just as appealing as the many exploration and traversal options is the game's aesthetic and sense of humor. Despite being simple Play-Doh people there's a lot of personality given to random NPCs in your path, largely through their dialogue which tends towards the humorously meta or referential and some amusing set-up/punchline situational comedy. An example of the latter comes after a long trek through the innards of a bank vault and its copious laser security systems where you eventually reach a room with a chest that you could see from outside the bank via a glass window. There's an NPC by that window that points out the chest to you on your first visit, but upon coming back to him with the chest's item he sympathetically tells you that he wished there could've been a better and easier way to get on the other side of the glass, gently tapping on it for emphasis only for it to immediately shatter. While the meta commentary might wear a bit thin after a while, the developers keenly understand their audience: there's a massive amount of post-game content built for completionist types, and the "beat the game" achievement even has written in its description "you're probably only around 50% done, right?" (I was, for the record, and I'd been pretty meticulous too). The aesthetic meanwhile is pure Honey, I Shrunk the Kids micro-sized goodness, turning LEGO bricks and other toys and yard detritus into enormous platforms to climb and obstacles to overcome. There's a surprising amount of matches lying around for some fire-based puzzles too, suggesting the human child (whom no-one acknowledges save through whispered legend, despite often being clearly visible and taking up a huge chunk of the horizon—a recurring joke from the first game) that owns everything down here maybe isn't being as closely supervised as they should.

If Supraland and this expansion have a weak link it's the combat, which isn't particularly exciting even when you gain more than just a pickaxe to fight with. There's a limited number of enemy types and most melees can be resolved by mashing attacks and keeping enemies stunlocked until their HP bar drains, not too dissimilar to the lackluster melee of the Elder Scrolls series. Some flying enemies first require that you bat their attacks back to them like Agahnim Tennis but you'll soon acquire an electricity gun that stuns them, dropping them out of the air for an easy kill, and the means of throwing the pickaxe like a boomerang which does the trick also. Some of the arena-like multi-monster melees can be tough but still not particularly compelling. SSIU was smart enough to change things up so that the combat is very limited and often relegated to optional rooms where there's some inessential reward up for grabs. Enemies also don't endlessly respawn in certain thoroughfare areas like they did in the first game, so now having to throw down is infrequent enough to be more of a welcome novelty than an ubiquitous irritation to deal with when you're trying to focus on solving a puzzle or finding a nearby secret cache.

Ms. Disgruntled Rich Lady on Vacation, you are dabbling with forbidden knowledge and are in no way prepared to deal with the consequences.
Ms. Disgruntled Rich Lady on Vacation, you are dabbling with forbidden knowledge and are in no way prepared to deal with the consequences.

I still adore this series and even if SSIU was really just more of the same in a slightly new environment with new puzzle variations I'm entirely fine with that. Between the novel upgrades and the smart ways the game builds its puzzles around them, along with its Levelord aesthetic and genial (if occasionally trolly, in an affectionate way) sense of humor, it's a series that immediately charmed me when I first played it late in 2022 and I've been looking for a reason ever since to get my upgrade-grabbin' mitts on this expansion. It's even proven to be fairly beefy at 10+ hours and that's just to finish the story; there's so much left to discover that I discovered that there were actually more chests left to unlock than had already been opened, reiterating again that I'm normally a really thorough completionist type when it comes to explormers (or... at least I thought... I was). With no more final boss fight to power up for and nothing left in the stores to buy, I'm not sure I absolutely need to raid all these chests for their now-useless contents, but... it's just that they gave me a checklist and a means of detecting whenever one is close by. I'm only human, goshdarnit. If you don't hear from me for a few days, well...

Rating: 5 out of 5.

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Mega Archive: Part XL: From Last Action Hero to Virtual Pinball

I know, you didn't think I'd realize that 40 is XL and not XXXX, didn't you? I'm not as look as I dumb, turns out. Anyway, after passing that incredibly low bar, I'm back once again for more delicious Sega Genesis/Mega Drive tapes. Well, at least that's what I'd like to report but we're still neck-deep in the holiday shovelware rush of November '93 and that means more licensed tie-ins. Five of them, to be exact, some of which are notoriously poor. The rest are racing and sports games for the most part so this won't be my favorite update to write but... this is the life I chose, I guess. The Mega Drive life. Drive-a-Live?

Now that we've passed the 500 mark, I keep wanting to put up a signpost or something, you know? Like "this many miles left to the end of the road" with the number of remaining games (about 400, if you're wondering), or maybe a chart that compares the Mega Drive to how far other consoles managed to reach with their (licensed) libraries. For instance, we passed the N64 a while back: that lightweight couldn't even make it to 400. Conversely, the NES, SNES, and PS1 will forever be specks in the distance even once we're done here: they had libraries in excess of a thousand games, and several thousand in the case of the last of those. Heck, the Switch is up to something like 3,000 and stuff is still coming out on it as we wait for news on its fresh and shiny successor. I don't even know what would qualify as a "good tenure" in terms of a console's total number of games available by today's standard but given Mega Drive was leading the western world in sales for a time you can't argue it didn't do its darndest.

I was going to do some graphs once I hit 500, wasn't I? Whoops. Just have to settle with ten more of these Mega Archive entries instead; that's already probably plenty of listening to me go on and on. Be sure to check in with the Mega Archive MegaSpreadMegaSheet for all the info and links you might want and plenty more you probably don't.

Part XL: 501-510 (November '93)

501: Last Action Hero

No Caption Provided
  • Developer: B.I.T.S.
  • Publisher: Sony Imagesoft
  • JP Release: N/A
  • NA Release: November 1993
  • EU Release: N/A
  • Franchise: N/A
  • Genre: Brawler / Vehicular Combat
  • Theme: "Magic Ticket" My Ass, McBain
  • Premise: Action movie buff Danny Madigan is shocked when he is warped into the world of his favorite series, but not so shocked that he can't spend the whole time pointing out plot holes and illogical inconsistencies. And that little boy grew up to be CinemaSins, lord help us all.
  • Availability: It's a licensed game nobody should want based on a movie more people should watch.
  • Preservation: Starting with a real banger this month, Last Action Hero is the video game tie-in for the Schwarzenegger movie of the same name, one notorious (at the time) for embracing the ironic meta commentary typical of the 1990s to deconstruct the Austrian Oak's prolific '80s career. The movie was actually a great deal of fun if you were the same type of wiseass action-movie-loving kid as the movie's floppy-haired protagonist, getting so meta as to include an animated cat police officer (he gets results so no-one bats an eye) or identifying a mob plant because he's being played by F. Murray Abraham ("he killed Mozart!"). The game's nowhere near as fun, sadly, scuttled as it was by both the usual licensed game deadline restrictions and a bizarre set of rules inspired by all the legal scrutiny games had fallen under due to the ongoing Senator Lieberman/Night Trap business. For instance, action icon Jack Slater could no longer use guns (too violent) and had to politely punch everyone out instead and there's no way you could put a kid in a brawler so the movie's main character was conspicuously absent (though I guess they had a point there). The movie got lambasted quite severely and I bet having an exceptionally poor tie-in probably didn't help. It may be an ignominious introduction but this is also the first Genesis game from British developer B.I.T.S. (later Bits Studio) who would perhaps become best known for the Die Hard game-only sequel Die Hard: Vendetta (apparently originally supposed to be a N64 game?). We'll be seeing more movie tie-ins from them soon enough.
  • Wiki Notes: SNES double-dip. No additional work needed.

502: NFL Football '94 Starring Joe Montana

No Caption Provided
  • Developer: BlueSky Software
  • Publisher: Sega
  • JP Release: 1994-02-04
  • NA Release: November 1993
  • EU Release: N/A
  • Franchise: Joe Montana Football
  • Genre: Football
  • Theme: Football
  • Premise: Football
  • Availability: Like all games in annualized sport simulation franchises it was obsolete within a year.
  • Preservation: Who's ready for some football? Well, I never am, but here we are regardless. Sega had been trucking along with their Madden NFL competitor series Joe Montana Football for quite some time by this fourth entry so they had a pretty firm grasp on the figurative pigskin, once again handled by Californian studio BlueSky Software thanks to their Sega exclusivity contract. We're mostly talking iterative improvements here, carrying over the digitized (and very robotic) "sports talk" live commentary from its immediate predecessors and switching back to the vertical perspective of the field that had become the genre standard by this point. Despite the franchise being named for him, this would be the last game of the series to feature Montana's endorsement: later games would drop the "starring Joe Montana" and just stick with the generic "NFL Football [year]" format, which continued right up until the final days of the Genesis. Which is to say, we're going to see many more of these games and I'm going to have even less to say about them each time. Look forward to that.
  • Wiki Notes: Screenshots and a header image, with minor edits everywhere else.

503: Nigel Mansell's World Championship Racing

No Caption Provided
  • Developer: Gremlin Graphics
  • Publisher: GameTek (NA) / Konami (EU)
  • JP Release: N/A
  • NA Release: November 1993
  • EU Release: 1994
  • Franchise: Formula 1
  • Genre: Racing
  • Theme: Cars Go Brrm
  • Premise: Let this "Nigel" man sell you on Formula 1 with this high-speed racing simulation game.
  • Availability: Nope, another endorsed/licensed sports game.
  • Preservation: Welcome to what the British F1 scene looked like in the early '90s, with the affable but dull mustachioed Nigel Mansell representing the circuit in this nation for many years as a perfect metaphor for a sport that should be way more exciting than it actually was. The same could be said of this game, which perhaps takes to the simulation aspect a little too faithfully as well as feeling a bit antiquated compared to other racers from this era (Daytona USA is only five months off). While simultaneously released on Mega Drive and SNES, and from the same developer no less (Gremlin Graphics, another British studio making their Genesis debut this entry), the two games have some significant differences chief of which is that the Genesis version follows the vehicle from a third-person perspective while the SNES version opts for a first-person driver's seat view. If you were a fan of the 1992 F1 season this game gives you plenty of options for real-life drivers and courses alike, but there were more compelling alternatives out there for racing fans in general including the previous year's Lotus Turbo Challenge and the upcoming Lotus II RECS (both originally from Gremlin Graphics as well). Also, don't ask me why Konami were the ones publishing this in Europe. I guess they saw some sense in publishing a British-made F1 game with a British F1 spokesman in the only territory likely to give a hoot.
  • Wiki Notes: SNES double-dip. Just needed the European box art/release.

504: Pink Goes to Hollywood

No Caption Provided
  • Developer: HeadGames
  • Publisher: TecMagik
  • JP Release: N/A
  • NA Release: November 1993
  • EU Release: April 1994
  • Franchise: The Pink Panther
  • Theme: A-cat-emy Award Nominated
  • Premise: The Pinkest Pu- wait, let me start over. The Fuchsiaest Feline makes his Genesis debut with this movie-themed platformer.
  • Availability: Licensed game. We're due another reboot though.
  • Preservation: Oh, hey, I remember this game. I rented it for SNES back when I was still a dumb kid who didn't realize the Pink Panther cartoons were based on live-action Peter Sellers comedies where the titular cat was actually a gemstone. My enduring memory was that it wasn't terrible but nor was it particularly notable; in terms of licensed feline platformers I'd probably rank it above the Chester Cheetah games but just below Virgin Interactive's The Lion King. (Man, "ranking the licensed cat platformers" would be a truly cursed project. Free blog/video idea if anyone wants it, though.) So yeah, a '90s platformer video game based on a '60s animated series (which, fine, did actually get a reboot around this time) and tacitly named for a controversial '80s British band whose biggest hit was about say gex: that certainly has "youth demographic" written all over it. We have another new face with this game's developers: HeadGames, a short-lived outfit from San Francisco that worked briefly with Sega of America on some other licensed games before being folded into edutainment developers CAPS Software in 1995. That we've already introduced two new developers that will be working on almost nothing but Genesis licensed games from here on out should give you some insight into the wonderful future we have awaiting us on the Mega Archive.
  • Wiki Notes: SNES double-dip. Just some Genesis-related release info.

505: Race Drivin'

No Caption Provided
  • Developer: Polygames
  • Publisher: Tengen
  • JP Release: N/A
  • NA Release: November 1993
  • EU Release: N/A
  • Franchise: Hard Drivin'
  • Genre: Race Drivin'
  • Theme: Race Drivin'
  • Premise: Race Drivin'
  • Availability: It's in Midway Arcade Treasures 3 but nothing more recent than that.
  • Preservation: This region-exclusive Genesis port of Race Drivin', a polygonal sequel to Hard Drivin', comes to us courtesy of original arcade developer Atari Games's console software publisher alter-ego Tengen and our old friends at Polygames, formerly Sterling Silver Software, which had also developed the Genesis port of Hard Drivin' way back in 1990 (covered in Mega Archive #6, so it was an early one). The arcade machine was packed with all sorts of high-tech features, including force feedback on the steering wheel and triple foot pedals including the clutch. Naturally, none of those vehicle accoutrements made it into the 16-bit home versions, which also struggled to keep the polygonal graphics at a decent framerate (for both SNES and Genesis they reduced the gameplay window and put some static dashboard graphics in the empty gaps). That fidelity issue was cleared up somewhat by this game's enhanced Sega Saturn port, though the issue there was that it was exclusive to Japan. Dunno if Race Drivin' wins "Best Game" for this Mega Archive entry but it certainly clinches "Most Imaginative Title".
  • Wiki Notes: SNES double-dip. Needed some MD screenshots.

506: RoboCop 3

No Caption Provided
  • Developer: Eden Entertainment
  • Publisher: Flying Edge
  • JP Release: N/A
  • NA Release: November 1993
  • EU Release: November 1993
  • Franchise: RoboCop
  • Genre: Half Shooter/Half Shoot 'em Up/All Licensed Dreck
  • Theme: Shootin' Dudes in the Balls.
  • Premise: OCP's trying to knock down Old Detroit for their new Delta City and make thousands of innocent citizens homeless in the process. RoboCop's having none of it, even if he has to fight through the RoboNinjas of OCP's new Japanese owners to stop them. God, this movie's dumb.
  • Availability: Wouldn't you know it? It's another licensed game. OCP's not reviving this one.
  • Preservation: Oh jeez, RoboCop 3. The one where they switched actors from the inestimable Peter Weller, killed off the second most appealing character in the franchise, and then gave the guy a jetpack and a streetwise hacker orphan to protect. Just saying, there were better RoboCop movies to make a game around, including all of them. Well, at least this one doesn't have any cyberwitches or whatever it was that gave Minotti so much trouble with that Xbox adaptation. I'm more familiar with the home computer version of this which went for a very early polygonal FPS type of game that ran like molasses, but the console version pretty much plays like all the other RoboCop games: a side-scrolling shooter where you occasionally (by which I mean "most of the time") have to aim diagonally up to shoot crooks popping their heads out of first-floor windows to throw dynamite at poor old Murphy. They do pay homage to that jetpack though, putting RoboCop through shoot 'em up levels as he flies through Detroit. Motown more like Mow 'em Down. That's all I got; RoboCop 3 bums me out too much to bring my A-game.
  • Wiki Notes: SNES double-dip. Needed some Genesis-specific releases and screenshots.

507: Sensible Soccer: European Champions

No Caption Provided
  • Developer: Sensible Software
  • Publisher: Renegade / Sony Imagesoft
  • JP Release: N/A
  • NA Release: N/A
  • EU Release: November 1993
  • Franchise: Sensible Soccer
  • Genre: Soccer
  • Theme: Soccer
  • Premise: Soccer, but it's sensible.
  • Availability: Sensible World of Soccer showed up on Xbox 360 but that's as recent as this series goes.
  • Preservation: Ah, Sensi. The premier European soccer sim is one that, true to its ironic name, doesn't take itself too seriously while all the same having an eminently playable, more action-oriented core built for quick and tense matches. Of course, it's still a soccer game, so my antipathy is out in full force here but I'll admit to finding a few moments of joy back in the day for what would prove to be one of the last of the "approachable" soccer game franchises out there. After this it's International Superstar Soccer, Pro Evo, and FIFA, all of which quickly lost me due to their stronger focus on simulation aspects which gave them slower paces and steeper learning curves. This version of Sensible Soccer is in fact the first sequel, Sensible Soccer 92/93, which came out shortly after the original and is pretty much a mildly improved iteration (so, like every other annual sports game). That first Sensible Soccer never left the European home computer market. We'll see this franchise one more time in 1994 for its International Edition, which arrived just in time for the FIFA World Cup of that year.
  • Wiki Notes: SNES double-dip. Mega Drive-specific screenshots and releases.

508: Spider-Man and the X-Men in Arcade's Revenge

No Caption Provided
  • Developer: Software Creations
  • Publisher: Flying Edge
  • JP Release: N/A
  • NA Release: 1993
  • EU Release: November 1993
  • Franchise: Marvel Comics
  • Genre: Brawler / Platformer
  • Theme: Superheroics on a Budget
  • Premise: Spidey and a few of the strongest X-Men join forces to beat up the worst villain of all: a nerd who loves video games too much. Nice to feel seen by my heroes, I guess.
  • Availability: Licensed game. One I doubt Marvel wants to acknowledge.
  • Preservation: Our second Acclaim game this month is none other than this Marvel crossover that managed to disappoint two (admittedly overlapping) audiences simultaneously. Switching between five characters—Spider-Man and the four X-Men of Cyclops (boring), Gambit (creeper), Storm (overpowered), and Wolverine (Canadian)—the idea of the game is to complete each character's two solo "chapters" before teaming up for the final showdown against the bowtie-sporting antagonist Arcade in his giant mech. Some effort was made to match the powers and level design to each of the characters but it's not enough to exonerate the dull gameplay and annoying, maze-like levels. I'm a fan of Software Creations's original works (none of which made it to Genesis, sadly) but their licensed games and ports left much to be desired.
  • Wiki Notes: SNES double-dip. Genesis screenshots.

509: Thomas the Tank Engine & Friends

No Caption Provided
  • Developer: Malibu Interactive
  • Publisher: THQ
  • JP Release: N/A
  • NA Release: November 1993
  • EU Release: N/A
  • Franchise: Thomas the Tank Engine
  • Genre: Edutainment / Simulation
  • Theme: Dun-dun-dun-dun, Dun-dun, Duuuuuun
  • Premise: Help Thomas and friends (and other coworkers, with whom he merely shares an acquaintanceship) round up all of Sir Topham Hatt's loose carriages and deliver them to the station.
  • Availability: Licensed game. There's been several Thomas games since though and I'm sure they're all as equally compelling.
  • Preservation: Long before his absolutely canon star turns in Skyrim and Resident Evil 4, Thomas the Tank Engine featured in kid-friendly games like this, which presented what was more of a mini-game collection of simple, easy challenges suited for its younger audience revolving around navigating train tracks. I don't think there's ever been a stage in my life where I wasn't perturbed by those giant, expressive faces on otherwise inanimate objects. It's like, what are the rules of this world? Can anything sprout a face and start talking to me? What about the toilet when it's in use? These were the type of intrusive thoughts that kept me awake at night as a child, and so I'm happy to see that others have embraced the scare potential of these uncanny locomotives through the above famous mods or the recent survival horror sim Choo-Choo Charles. At any rate, there's not much to say about this baby game beyond that it lets you choose the color palette of your chosen engine just in case you wanted to create the ultimate blasphemy that is a red Thomas. James is the red one, goddammit. What the hell is wrong with you?
  • Wiki Notes: SNES double-dip. Could this be a new Mega Archive record? No extra work needed.

510: Virtual Pinball

No Caption Provided
  • Developer: BudgeCo + Electronic Arts
  • Publisher: Electronic Arts
  • JP Release: N/A
  • NA Release: November 1993
  • EU Release: January 1994
  • Franchise: N/A
  • Genre: Pinball
  • Theme: Channeling Your Inner-Bakalar
  • Premise: Play some pinball or build your own table in this 16-bit take on Pinball Construction Set.
  • Availability: The original Pinball Construction Set had its source code officially released to the public just recently, but that's about it as far as "new releases".
  • Preservation: We finish this batch with perhaps the most original game this entry in Virtual Pinball, which belongs to the time-honored practice of giving players a fully-featured level editor to work with to pre-empt them mouthing off online about being better designers. It's an adaptation of BudgeCo's 1983 Apple II game Pinball Construction Set—part of a series of level editor-enriched Apple II games that Electronic Arts put out, all from different developers—that was given a 16-bit facelift. There are of course limitations in putting a game like this out on console instead of home computer, chiefly that it's impossible to share creations and the cartridge memory can only fit ten tables in total all of which have to be crafted from prefabricated parts, but its neat that budding game developers could have something like this to tinker with on the Genesis. It might not have Sonic or Mötley Crüe MIDIs to sell it, but I bet you'd get a lot of pinbang for your pinbuck with a game like this. Developer BudgeCo is simply the label used by Bill Budge, the original creator and programmer of the Pinball Construction Set, who has had an interesting, mostly "behind the scenes" career having switched from EA to 3DO to Sony Computer Entertainment then back to EA and finally to Google, from which he officially retired a few years ago. Hey, maybe he programmed in one of those fun Google Search Easter eggs about pinball! Let me just type in "playing with balls" real quick...
  • Wiki Notes: Our only other game this month that wasn't a SNES double dip. Needed some body text and a header image.
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Indie Game of the Week 368: Pseudoregalia

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Hey team, we're back with another explormer on Indie Explormer of the Week, but wait! Put down those rotten fruit, dear sirs and madams, as there's a significant change-up this time: this explormer's a 3D explormer! Quite the novel shift to the staid formula around here, right? Pseudoregalia kinda feels like... if the Klonoa team at Namco played Team Ico's Ico, was inspired to whip up a platformer—fully 3D this time, rather than the hybrid style from before—with the same saturnine tone (connecting it thematically to the downer ending of the first Klonoa) and then whipped up a quick proof of concept PS2 tech demo before Namco nixed the whole thing, and this is that long-lost demo that someone uploaded to the internet decades after the fact. The protagonist is some kind of Toriel goat-woman (whose actual name we learn at the very end of the game) who finds herself summoned to a dark area full of cages, collects a few power-ups to escape the dungeon, and finds a whole castle connected to a bunch of other areas like a bailey, a keep, a theater, and a library and continues making her way through the place to figure out where it is she needs to go and for what purpose. The game is very light on story, though there's the occasional bits and pieces of inscrutable lore, and heavy instead on exploration and platforming. Specifically, some remarkably challenging 3D platforming where you continue to acquire various Mario 64-esque techniques to increase your horizontal and vertical distance. And also maybe a little bit of combat thrown in there just for flavor. union

The combat's definitely the lesser part of the equation so I'll cover that first. The heroine collects a cross-shaped club weapon (vaguely tonfa-esque) relatively early and can use it to bash enemies. Doing so allows her to collect mana which can be spent towards a heal, a similar system to that in Hollow Knight, with eventual upgrades to increase the damage dealt, the mana generation on each hit, and the heal amount respectively. The game doesn't really tell you that you have a lock-on or anything about healing before you're faced with the first (and, turns out, penultimate) boss fight shortly after starting the game which is something of a trial by fire, and an early indication of the mostly hands-off approach the game has to instructing or directing you beyond what is absolutely necessary, which for many is a pivotal quality of an explorer that wants to focus on the exploration side. After that tough encounter though, barring a few tougher enemies like the maids or the persistent ranged attacks of the big hands, the enemies mostly serve to break up the platforming sequences which are much more prevalent. If anything, they're a welcome source of mana and healing if one sequence in particular has been causing you to fall off the world (which thankfully just respawns you near the exit with less health) over and over.

I can already tell that this is going to be fun.
I can already tell that this is going to be fun.

The game truly shines during those times where they've set up a room of obstacles and platforms, some of which feel very out of reach, and tasks you with figuring out your way over to them. Of course, a lot of the time the solution is "I clearly need an upgrade I don't have yet" but once you've intuited the obscure order of destinations to visit to acquire said upgrades, the game becomes that much more engrossing. This is a natural progression of any explormer of course, especially where the traversal upgrades aren't just the key to overcoming specific roadblocks but increase your ability to get around just in general. The game's high jump, long jump, wall-running and other equivalents all contribute to an easier means of getting around quickly and dexterously and there's always that wonderful feeling where, due to the upgrades combined with all the training you've had up until this point, that you're performing platforming feats that would seem remarkable to a version of you from several hours ago. The apex of this particular feeling of platforming supremacy come from the optional challenges you can initiate by hitting a purple crystal in certain rooms: this generates a bunch of orbs for you to collect, either in a specific order or in any order you wish, and usually grants a cosmetic item if you're able to finish the course under a time limit. They're inessential, because they tend to be murderously tough even compared to the rest of the game, but it's where you can enjoy the game's platforming controls at their peak efficiency.

Initially I was a little put off by Pseudoregalia's "tech demo" aesthetic—which I'd describe less in the sense that it feels unfinished but more in the sense of how Super Mario 64 or Bubsy 3D (which really represent the full quality spectrum of early 3D platformers) kinda didn't have any idea what they were doing with regards to a consistent art style or visual language—but it won me over once I realized what the game was attempting with it. That is, an homage to the loosey-goosey feeling of those early PS1/N64 platformers combined with a dreamlike illogical sensibility that turned out to be more germane to the game's plot than I first realized (and yet another reason why I immediately thought of Klonoa, beyond just having Klonoa on the brain recently). It's true that Indie 3D platformers tend to look a bit archaic due to the relative expense of creating games in 3D even to this day, especially when there's more important considerations to get right like the platforming controls and constructing an explormer map that has a natural (if not naturally obvious) intended progression path, but all but a few like Pseudoregalia are too risk-averse to make their games appear experimentally strange the way the earliest 3D platformers could be. What matters is that the simplicity (and occasional obfuscation) of Pseudoregalia's blocky environs don't distract from the exceptional platforming core that powers the game.

This is me every time I open the fridge after it's been a while.
This is me every time I open the fridge after it's been a while.

I've played a few Indie 3D platformers, and fewer still those with an explormer focus, but what makes Pseudoregalia memorable isn't so much that genre rarity but the total package of its dreamy if rudimentary-looking aesthetic and how that belies a carefully-designed and occasionally-intimidating set of platforming challenges, with all sorts of the usual power-ups and traversal abilities to find and acquire. I won't say that it didn't frustrate me occasionally, especially when you're not quite sure if you need a new upgrade or if you're fine as you are and are just missing something (one sequence where you move around in the dark had me believing that you needed some kind of torch power-up until I realized that your sword glows whenever you throw it away, explaining why that mechanic exists at all), but finally conquering the game and its many challenges made it all worth it. If you want a 3D platformer that can move and feel the same slick way many explormers do towards their endgame, Pseudoregalia's one of the precious few outside of a Nintendo product that can pull it off, provided you can get past its look (or, ideally, are as equally entranced by it as you are the gameplay).

Rating: 5 out of 5.

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Mento's Month: April '24

Game of the Month: Marvel's Guardians of the Galaxy

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April's been a relatively chill month as far as my gaming is concerned, which is how I like it given Mays tend to be comparatively busy with all the daily (or close to it) blogging I tend to do for May Madness and its many variations over the years, including a new one about to drop this week. As such, the only "big" game on my list that I managed to complete in April was the Eidos-Montréal adaptation of Marvel's Guardians of the Galaxy which, much like the Avengers game, is sourced from the original comics rather than the Marvel Cinematic Universe. That means a blonder Star-Lord, a Gamora with more face tattoos, and some unfamiliar alternative backstory that the game quickly catches you up to speed on. I'm glad I was able to get a better sense of how GOTG fits into the "traditional" Marvel universe after enjoying those James Gunn movies, but that's really only one quality of many in this game that I'm thankful for.

Marvel's Guardians of the Galaxy pulls a typically "cosmic Marvel" storyline about an infinity stone running amok, drawing in various figures from the Infinity Stone Saga series (though sadly I didn't get to see Galactus or the Living Tribunal show up; maybe next time) and then grounding the OTT ridiculousness of those storylines with the inherent humanity (or alien equivalent) of the flawed, traumatized, doing the best they can to hope for a better tomorrow ragtag group of ex-convicts, mercenaries, and adventurers that are the Gardeners of the Galaxy (patent pending). The game sticks to the traditional five—Star-Lord, a dispossessed "Terran" with a human mother and a very important alien father; Gamera, the brainwashed "daughter of Thanos" who is seeking a new path after finally escaping from his influence; Drax the Destroyer, the overly literal (and overly frank) hulking warrior looking for a reason to keep living after fulfilling his quest for vengeance; Rocket, a not-raccoon (according to him) former lab experiment and current technical whiz that struggles to trust others; and Groot, an empathetic "forest sentinel" of a now-destroyed arboreal world who found a family in Rocket and the other Guardians—but makes sure to still feature movie-popular members like Mantis and Cosmo, though Yandu is missing (and still very much pre-redemption arc) and Nebula is... well, probably someone they were hoping to bring back in a sequel game, maybe.

The Guardians crew, plus dog.
The Guardians crew, plus dog.

The game plays like a combination of a Tomb Raider—something Eidos-Montréal has experience with, being the main developers of Shadow of the Tomb Raider, the third game of its most recent reboot series—and a team action game like the Avengers, for which they lent support development to Crystal Dynamics. I got also a lot of The Last Story from its approach to a party-based real-time action game with a tactical element where you don't so much serve as the main muscle but the support. You only ever play as Star-Lord who relies on his admittedly pretty sweet pair of Halo pistols with elemental powers that are unlocked throughout the game, shooting at targets while instructing other members of the Guardians to perform their strong but cooldown-limited attacks to soften up larger groups or eliminate major threats quickly. A typical melee would either have you take on a large group of enemies with a few troublesome leaders, where a "divide and conquer" strategy might win the day, or else fight one or two larger foes with multiple health bars that you'll need to whittle away at while you wait for some cooldowns to end. As leader, you'll also be required to help any Guardians in trouble, either by distracting the enemy that has them on the ropes or by picking them up from the floor like they were companions in any other third-person shooter. There's also the option to "huddle up": this mechanic not only perfectly plays into the running goof that is Star-Lord's frequently-unreliable tendency to rouse the group with an encouraging pep talk, but gives the game its chance to have a cool hero team sequence (and requisite Mama Star-Lord-approved "classic rock" needledrop) when you hit the right prompt and give everyone a huge (if very temporary) boost.

I also love the visuals in the game, making the outer space part of the Marvel universe one that has a lot of trippy '60s/'70s flair by drawing on the original Jack Kirby artwork for the Infinity Wars (and other early cosmic Marvel) storylines. Things are just arbitrarily striped or polka-dotted or given garish color schemes and it not only makes all the sci-fi-typical asteroids and starship wreckages and seedy space ports more interesting to look at but also gives the game its own very distinct aesthetic. The monster designs are very cool too, where even a repurposed mining robot turned durable enforcer has a sleek and otherworldly appearance (they seriously look like something out of Evangelion). The game takes an opportunity to draw on a lot of Marvel lore for both its main plot and a whole host of incidental audio logs, journal entries, or one-off cameos like the Collector's museum on Knowhere, the dubiously legal trading post situated inside a dead godlike alien's head hovering around the rift at the end of the universe. Like, how can you even go wrong with a setting like that?

Last, I just want to say that the writing is very good, finding that comic ensemble energy that the movies helped to polish with certain comedic character traits like Drax misunderstanding metaphors or Rocket's casual misanthropy while still giving the game some earned serious and/or heartfelt moments (many of which are optional and relate to the collectible gifts you can find for your teammates) throughout. If I had to point to any problems with the game they would probably have some relation to how unoptimized it is for previous-gen systems—an ongoing issue with many new PS4 and Xbox One games I've played in the last couple years—especially with regards to its absurdly long load times, and I really didn't care too much for the few sequences where you're directly controlling Star-Lord's ship, the Milano, since there was something oddly unintuitive about the way it handles. Minor gripes, though, so I have to admit Jan was in the right about this one. It's probably my favorite superhero game since... maybe Arkham City? Hope to see another one of these eventually, despite how unlikely folks make it sound, but even if Eidos-Montréal's next game turns out to be another Deus Ex as has been rumored I'd be perfectly OK with that also.

Darling Indies and Other Gaming Tomfoolery

The tomfoolery was particularly potent this month since I had the ugly notion of penning an April 1st blog, which I then proceeded to take too seriously to the extent that I ended up tricking myself more severely than anyone else. The idea was to take 64 in 64, my recurring Nintendo 64 feature, and instead tweak some variables to make it an Xbox 360 feature called 360 in 360 instead. This required that I play two games for six hours each, which might've been pushing things for the sake of a one-off joke, but it finally gave me an opportunity to try the fourth Star Ocean game, Star Ocean: The Last Hope, which had been sitting unplayed on my shelf for well over a decade and change. Of course, my original plan was to play this copy of Warhammer 40,000: Space Marine with a view to completing it before the six hours were up, but despite an imminent sequel no-one's thought to make it backwards compatible on Xbox One yet. I guess that's on Embracer and their well-established talent for forward-thinking. Anyway, Star Ocean: The Last Hope seemed fine as real-time action RPGs go if not something I have the time to invest in right now (the achievement set is a nightmare too, so that's another disincentivizing factor) and the second game, Grabbed by the Ghoulies (which, as has been pointed out, is not a 360 game), had some neat ideas for a haunted house brawler with plenty of mission design variety but just as many player-unfriendly choices like some obnoxiously difficult encounters and an end-game speed challenge for the best story conclusion that you could only attempt once per new game. I did at least manage to finish Grabbed by the Ghoulies shortly after the six hours were up though, so that's another semi-classic Rare game scratched off the ol' bucket list.

The Legend of Zelda: Tears of the Kingdom

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I also started Tears of the Kingdom this month and... man, I just really don't care for the new Zeldas at all. This one doubles down on everything I didn't like about Breath of the Wild and adds more bullshit besides, and then makes it twice as long even though I was dangerously close to burning out on BOTW several times far from its conclusion. Turning this game into Banjo-Kazooie: Nuts & Bolts does not endear it to me in the slightest, because fiddling around with those awkward Ultrahand controls for minutes on end to bolt a bunch of random detritus together only for it to fall apart or explode or float away just puts me in a spot to keenly understand how my remaining time on this Earth is rapidly diminishing at a rate heretofore unacknowledged, blessed as I was to play games that didn't waste my time quite as overtly or as painfully as this overbloated mess does. I could stick to the combat except there's precious little to zero incentive to fight anything because you'll just wind up breaking your best gear, using up some of your remaining meals to heal, or else just die and lose a bunch of progress (including compendium entries, which sure was nice of them). Maybe I'll turn around on it and see in it that everyone else apparently sees, especially those headcases that think these 100-hour ordeals are anywhere close to the concise perfection of a Link to the Past or an Ocarina of Time, but right now it's looking like the one Zelda game I won't be able to bring myself to finish. And I completed Skyward Sword and Spirit Tracks without issue.

The Zoomers turned Zelda into Rust. That's so skibidi of them.

...Or, at least, that's how it started.

I have been slowly acclimatizing to the game and the new powers, and there's no escaping just how much content there is out there to find and add to one's itinerary of quests, sidequests, side-activities, shrine hunts for some much needed health/stamina upgrades, and just general fucking around looking for Korok seeds or a new cave with one of those bubble toads or taking pictures for your compendium even if most of these distractions feel like there's no immediate rewards behind them. (Of course, it might just be I haven't found the right NPC yet—I just found some woman very eager to reward me for how many wells I'd jumped down. Wells, huh.) Using Ascend to quickly scale trees or Rewind to visit sky islands on the express falling block transit opens more opportunities to collect crap I probably don't but still might need, like all these opals, all the while catching a glimpse of another half-dozen targets on the horizon. It's still got that wanderlust appeal of the previous game, even if I'm still not wholly won over by the amount of crafting puzzles involved. Plus, I miss having explosives at my beck and call; there's so much you can do with phantom bombs that appear in your hand whenever you need them. Could be that I get all the previous game's powers back at some point, but there's no space on my quick use wheel for them so I dunno. Also, I'm still very very slowly getting used to which trigger button does what and I still end up throwing my weapon away one time in five whenever I'm trying to Ultrahand another Frankenstein construct together. I guess one benefit of a game this needlessly big is that you have all the time to eventually adjust to any control scheme no matter how convoluted.

About the extent of my engineering skills. This seems wholly safe, I dunno.
About the extent of my engineering skills. This seems wholly safe, I dunno.
Oh right, this is the goatse shrine game. I vaguely recall having to think about that image again when this game was new and getting press. I gotta stop making it worse by referencing it, it's starting to get pretty painful on the whole. Agh.
Oh right, this is the goatse shrine game. I vaguely recall having to think about that image again when this game was new and getting press. I gotta stop making it worse by referencing it, it's starting to get pretty painful on the whole. Agh.

Tears of the Kingdom might be next month's GOTM or I might've dropped it entirely for any of the other large games in my backlog—and man do I have several—so I guess it's a wait and see for now.

Oh, right, speaking of wasting time I'm still playing Pictlogica: Final Fantasy. The wait duration for the next area unlock is 120 hours now, which is kinda stupid even for the usual F2P tactic of preying on the impatient. You want to keep players right on that there fishing line by making these delays just annoyingly long enough to get them to fork up for an access pass, but forcing them to wait entire weeks at a time is just going to push them away all the faster. Like there aren't a whole bunch of F2P gacha games they couldn't be wasting away with instead of opting to just sit there for days being denied entry to more chocobo pixel art. Anyway, picross is good times. Expect more picross in the months to come. I have a problem.

WonderSwanning, Mega Driving, and Sixty-Forging Ahead

Maybe the least essential Klonoa game, but still kinda neat.
Maybe the least essential Klonoa game, but still kinda neat.

Over here in the retro corner it's been mostly business as usual. I should probably try to make it sound more exciting than that given how much time and energy I pour into my old game pursuits but, as always, most of what I do is for my own edification and amusement and drawing in an external audience is a mostly incidental happenstance. Just mentally going full solipsist this month, don't mind me.

The third entry of Anyway, Here's WonderSwan featured the first game I was invested enough to complete in full, at least if you don't count the short runs of something like Magical Drop, and was also where I had my first encounter with WonderSwan Squaresoft. Blue Wing Blitz is a fascinating "Front Mission but with airplanes" strategy-RPG that seems a little too involved to play in a foreign language but from what I did see it was enough to provide an insight into the type of portable experiments Square was looking to explore at the time. Meanwhile, said game I was compelled to finish was Kaze no Klonoa: Moonlight Museum: the first of what would be several portable Klonoa games, which switched focus from the main series' trademark "two-and-a-half dimensional" platforming action for something that more closely resembled the puzzle-platformers that usually work better on portable systems. Something about the slower pace and the ratiocination factor fits that smaller world so much better, somehow. Other featured games for Part Three included: a Super Robot Wars entry I wasn't in any place to decipher, lacking as I am in Japanese language and mecha anime expertise alike; the Arc System Works portable fighter Guilty Gear Petit, which already ranks up there as one of the better-looking games for the system that I've seen so far even if fighters aren't my deal; and Gomoku Narabe & Reversi Touryuumon, a pair of anodyne board game adaptations which are easy enough to play even without knowing the language.

The Mega Archive dipped into the library of its CD cousin once again with Mega Archive CD: Part IX, providing what has now become the standard mix of Japanese RPGs, FMV disasters, and slightly enhanced Mega Drive ports. Vay was the game I was most drawn in by this time, as a CD-enhanced but otherwise dry turn-based RPG notable perhaps only for having a Working Designs localization (so that's more shoehorned-in jokes) and a general premise that sounds much like that of Krull, one of my favorite fantasy movies growing up. Other highlights of this autumnal Mega Archive CD include: Ground Zero: Texas, a FMV shooting gallery with an entertaining Invasion of the Body Snatchers sci-fi story which recently saw a remaster; Dark Wizard, a first-party strategy RPG that mostly uses summoned monsters for its troops and follows four different story "campaigns"; and Arslan Senki, a Fire Emblem-esque adaptation of the manga/anime about a Persian prince (not that one) retaking his kingdom after his monarch father is betrayed and killed in an invasion. Even if this entry was mostly Mega Drive remasters, there were still a few exclusives worth a look.

Finally, we had the forty-first episode of 64 in 64 this month which saw us take on Bomberman 64: The Second Attack!, a sequel that tries to walk back some of the more divisive elements of its predecessor to create a sort of "best of both worlds" 3D Bomberman amalgam; and Mahjong 64, an utterly unremarkable mahjong sim that I nonetheless had to figure out how to make entertaining after a quiet hour of rons, pons, hans, and yakumans. Neither game was terrible I'm glad to report, though I'll admit to being somewhat underwhelmed by both. Hopefully the blog itself made up for all that interactive mediocrity with some facetious self-deprecating commentary on how I'm probably the last person who should be dropping bombs or tiles, respectively.

My hint for the next two games to feature on 64 in 64: The pre-select choice is possibly the strongest licensed game on the system that doesn't involve British spies, and the random pick is a surprisingly lucky selection that sees us finish off a small batch of N64 games based around a specific theme or format.

The "Indie Game of the Week" of the Month: Ghostrunner (One More Level / Slipgate Ironworks, 2020)

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Due to being a curated affair, conversely to the crapshoots that are my regular retro features, this month's four Indie Games of the Week were uniformly excellent if only lacking in a few areas. A typical "four out of five" sweep in other words; I'm getting worse than IGN with my lack of scoring variation, but then I do tend to gravitate towards games I'm probably going to like (which, now that I've written it out, occurs to me as being a very normal thing to do). Top of the heap this time is the stylish cyberpunk FPS-parkour Ghostrunner (#366), though I suspect I was just won over by how slick it was. Definitely not the usual type of game I feature on IGotW (though the structurally and mechanically similar Severed Steel came up not too long ago) but one I was glad to add to the roster, given its unusual focus on tactically maneuvering around an arena for a surefire kill while avoiding same from the incongruously accurate goons. Just the platforming alone, usually such a hard sell in a first-person game, was effortlessly engaging with its combination of wall-runs and grapple hooks. Made me restless to try out that long overdue Metroid Prime 4 reboot. Maybe I'll fold and get that remastered version of the first game (though I'll admit to being intrigued by the ultra-sharp Dolphin emulated version with its modded keyboard and mouse controls; I should be in the clear to play that, since I do own the original GameCube version after all).

The other three games were, well, I guess proof if proof was needed that I have a type when it comes to the usual fare for IGotW. Specifically, they're all 2D action games with a heavy explormer focus. Salt and Sacrifice (#364) is the follow-up to Ska Studios's Salt and Sanctuary, one of the first in a wave of games to marry elements of 2D explormers and FromSoft's Souls series, which turned out to be a match made in heaven (albeit the uncommon sort of heaven that is murderously difficult to survive). To distance itself from its predecessor, it went for a more Monster Hunter affectation with its large number of "mage" bosses that often show up and cause trouble while platforming before bailing on you. Once you've joined "the hunt" for a specific mage, though, you can use an indicator to follow them back to their lair and finish them off for good, procuring a bunch of crafting ingredients for cooler gear in the process. I'm not sure the new additions did much for me but the unblemished core was still appealing enough as a fan of both its components.

Eiyuden Chronicle: Rising (#365) is more of an action-RPG with just a handful of explormer indulgences, specifically as it relates to a bunch of elemental barriers that you eventually earn the means to destroy as the story mandates. Most of the time you're just doing odd jobs for the bustling frontier village you adopt as your home in the process of finding some enormous treasure to take home to your scavenger family. It takes a little after Valkyrie Profile, much like Team Skullgirls's Indivisible before it, by giving you multiple party members each with a dedicated attack button so you can mix and match their attacks to create effective combos that keep enemies airborne and harmless until they either die or you run out of steam. It's meant to set the stage for Eiyuden Chronicle: Hundred Heroes, which came out shortly after the review went up, so now I'm established enough in that world to take on that Suikoden-like in the (hopefully near) future.

Last, we have the pretty 9 Years of Shadows (#367), which is a much more traditional explormer experience of traversal upgrades and the like. Set in a world vaguely drawing from Greek mythology and giving the protagonist some elemental powers to switch between (which recalled the semi-recent Record of Lodoss War: Deedlit in Wonder Labyrinth, another one of these that took Symphony of the Night as its clear inspiration) it's a showy game but also a relatively shallow one given a relatively small number of power-ups and enemy types. The movement is really good though, especially once you start unlocking the alternative "forms" of the elemental armors you find: they're built to help you quickly traverse certain hazards and environmental features like waterfalls or wall gaps and will quickly switch between forms automatically so you don't, say, accidentally wander into a poison room without the requisite green/nature armor equipped to mitigate the harm. It's a very accommodating game that has plenty to offer if you're looking for a more low-key explormer with some attractive visuals and a moderate level of challenge (barring a couple of nightmare bosses).

The Bonus Indie: Boomeroad, Doronko Wanko, and Nottolot (Bandai Namco, 2024)

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At the end of last month Bamco put out three gratis games on Steam that they presented as something akin to tech demos from smaller divisions within their company that were intended to give the new employees assigned to them some valuable experience in creating a game, familiarizing them with every step of the (typically quite long) development cycle from the concept phase to the final tests and tweaks. Sort of like an internal game jam. I hear Double Fine and Game Freak are also fond of this practice, tossing the figurative pigskin to those lower down the totem pole to see what sort of potential these newbies might have in them as they work on original one-offs between their usual tasks of fetching coffee and tedious quality assurance. All three of these games are very brief—about an hour in length, if that—but ably demonstrate some novel concepts that, while as yet unpolished, could feasibly become fully-featured video games of their own if only as the sort of lower-scope downloadable game that we generally (and often erroneously) consider "Indie". I wanted a chance to check out all three of these just in case these fine auteurs-in-training end up working on the next Tales RPG, possibly even integrating these presently-inchoate game concepts into a themed dungeon or something. Given it's Bandai Namco though, one of the biggest publishers on the planet, it's hard to really make the case for them being Indie. Too short and too ambiguous in its Indie credentials to qualify for an Indie Game of the Week: that's a candidate (or three) for the Bonus Indie section if I ever heard it.

Boomeroad has you control some kid (he kinda looks like Quote from Cave Story, though I'm sure that's coincidental) as he makes his way through perilous ruins floating in mid-air. By finding two distinct monoliths he is able to open the way to the next region of the ruins with the ultimate goal of entering a large tower in its peak. To get between all these floating blocks and other detritus though, he makes use of an ancient boomerang that can create temporarily solid rails in its wake. The player can then ride these rails from one spot to the next, even creating new paths in midair—however, until the player touches ground again, they can only generate so many meters of rail before they run out. The game has two small-to-moderately-sized areas to explore, each with five optional collectibles which serve to extend how far their boomerang rail juice will last, and then taps out with an open-ended conclusion fit for a larger version of this game to explore in further depth. It's a pretty chill game all told and in its current state it's a bit too easy to break the game's progression by flying over most of the obstacles; however, that merely serves to demonstrate the boomerang tech better which is probably more the goal here. I could definitely see this being incorporated into some wind/air-themed elemental dungeon should Tales ever take to platforming challenges the way Ys has in recent iterations. It could still fly as a full game on its own too of course, with perhaps a little more moderation and polish. The pathing for the boomerang could definitely use some work too.

It's like a 3D Kirby's Canvas Curse, just with more laser turrets.
It's like a 3D Kirby's Canvas Curse, just with more laser turrets.

Doronko Wanko is a game where you just absolutely trash a bougie open-plan household from its oversized nursery on the second floor to the expensive wine cellar beneath the kitchen, using your tiny but surprisingly absorbent Pomeranian body as the muddy paintbrush for the biggest canvas a little doggo could wish for. The basic mechanics are to shake mud in order to cover the floor and nearby furnishings with a healthy coat of grime and a button that rolls around in the muck you've made to replenish it. The logistics of this infinite mud loop aren't worth thinking about too hard; the goal is simply to spread mess everywhere with a running tally of how much damage your antics have caused this family of four whose only sin was to leave you (mostly) home alone. Milestones in this tally unlock new items: some are cosmetic, some act as platforms to get you to new areas, others just serve to add even more chaos into the mix by way of something like a back-mounted paint cannon. The "trash a normal suburban house" genre has been in decline since its peak in the Wii era with Elebits/Eledees, and the game wisely supplements its very straightforward mission with dozens of bonus challenges to decipher and accomplish, though most boil just down to either spraying mud on a thing or picking up a thing with your mouth and have it create even more clutter. There's also an endgame and you do have to work a little to find it, but for the most part it's a free-form mischief simulator that allows you to live everyone's guilty secret pleasure of turning a well-ordered world upside down as a cute little canine. Only issue I have is that name: in Japanese Doronko means muddy and Wanko is just a generic cute dog name (an English equivalent might be Mr. Woofy) but it doesn't really sell the premise as well overseas. I'd probably call it something like Pupheaval, but then I'm a monster as has already been thoroughly established.

Safe to say this place has been completely ruined. That'll teach those humans to care for an animal.
Safe to say this place has been completely ruined. That'll teach those humans to care for an animal.

As for Nottolot, well, there's not a lot to say. You play as a spherical robot that has broken free of its futuristic assembly line and wishes to escape to the outside world. Its only ability besides rolling around is to hack into and control other robots, each of which has some sort of hemispherical indentation for you to stick into. You'll want to do this because every robot is set on destroying you on sight: once you've hacked in, though, you're safe. Each of the three robot types also has its own abilities: the little walkers are protected from electrified floors, the flying guys can obviously fly, and the spiderbots can walk across specially marked walls and ceilings. Each has a time limit once you hack in that limits how far you can take them; once the limit ends the robot self-destructs whether or not you're still inside. (The game doesn't necessarily get into if these robots are self-aware too, though given you're treated as an aberration I assume not. Otherwise this hacking business could get really morally gray real fast.) Again, pretty short game with only three stages each with three parts, and it follows Boomeroad's lead (or maybe vice versa) in giving players a few tricky-to-reach collectibles for a tiny extra bit of longevity, but it definitely feels like a demo more than a finished product. I'm pretty sure I won't see any robot hacking in a Tales dungeon any time soon but who can say, they've delved into sci-fi before now (usually of the "ancient advanced civilization that done messed up" variety). Just a few minor but cool things I wanted to note: the game keeps its tutorial instructions on-screen at all times, minimizing any confusion you might have about what each robot can do, and it'll even highlight what the pause button is if you leave the game idle (just so you don't get chumped by some wandering robot). The other is that the sound design is real crisp; when your guy is rolling around it sounds like an expensive camera getting jostled around. Chill music too.

Hacking ass and smoking grass, or however that bumper sticker goes.
Hacking ass and smoking grass, or however that bumper sticker goes.

I'd say of the three Doronko Wanko feels the most like a fully-featured game though, conversely, also the one with the least amount of room to grow. I'm not sure how you'd expand on the idea besides by making the house bigger or full of more stuff, and it's already pretty expensive and busy. The other two could feasibly be expanded into commercial Indie-tier games or, as previously stated, integrated into a larger game as some kind of dungeon-specific gimmick. I guess the one thing we all learned here today is that I'm getting impatient for new Tales games again. Anyway, they're all free on Steam and have that short and sweet approach that's easy on the scheduling (you could beat any one of them in a single lunch break) so go ahead and check them out if you haven't already.

The Weeb Weeview

If I'm being honest, I haven't checked out too many of the new shows this season. There's certainly plenty of them to choose from but I've mostly been dedicating my anime time this month to catching up with That Time I Was Reincarnated as a Slime, which just began its third season. So I'll talk about that and then suggest some shows where I've either checked out the premieres or have heard good things. I might recommend a video from this learned otaku from the Great North (Ottawaku? Except I think he's from Vancouver) who tends to be very insightful on all matters anime; I've been taking a few suggestions from his round-ups of late, especially when it comes to those that qualify as "enjoyable trash" in his view since those tend to make the best "sticking something on while I'm eating" fodder. Naturally, a lot of isekai makes its way into that category also, and I've got two new ones this season I've been watching after having read some of the manga they were (possibly indirectly) drawn from. I'll mention those after the main event here.

So, yeah, back to Reincarnated as a Slime, or Tensura for short (an abbreviation derived from its original Japanese title). The specifics aren't all that interesting—middle-aged business dude gets randomly stabbed, reincarnates as a slime deep beneath a fantasy world, through various circumstances ends up befriending a sealed, catastrophe-level True Dragon called Veldora (who's a total bro, by the way), escapes the underground and establishes a new city in the middle of the monster-infested Jura Forest, and gradually rises up as a major political power player in the world—but the core of the show's appeal is in its portrayal of the protagonist Rimuru as not some teenaged idealist struggling to find their place but a responsible adult that, while certainly having his vices (his final dying request to his subordinate in Tokyo was to erase his PC's hard-drive) is able to approach problems (and problem people) with a measured, proactive, but ultimately empathetic mindset. That he's also this agendered slime being capable of devouring anything in his path almost doesn't factor into the equation except when something he can't reason with decides to make trouble in his neighborhood. As the cast of mostly monsters continues to expand, it's taken on the tone of an ensemble comedy and the humor's been pretty good all-round if perhaps a little too beholden to anime tropes. In the rare times it does action, those scenes are really electric due to how powerful everyone in Rimuru's orbit has become due to his ongoing support and some unique rules about how monsters grow stronger once they're given names (which I've seen a few other shows do too, most recently Fluffy Paradise).

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I am ride or die with all of these weird monster people now.
I am ride or die with all of these weird monster people now.
The plot of one of the slice-of-life spin-off side-stories has Rimuru trying to think of a way to introduce Japanese entertainment to his populace, and would you look at that: a WonderSwan reference just out there in the wild.
The plot of one of the slice-of-life spin-off side-stories has Rimuru trying to think of a way to introduce Japanese entertainment to his populace, and would you look at that: a WonderSwan reference just out there in the wild.

I've completed the first two seasons and am now catching up on all of the bonus content that showed up in the interim, including some interstitial bonus recap stuff, just in case they introduce a character into the main series because I'm that invested now in the extended ancillary cast of loveable goofballs and the way the show keeps humanizing its more sympathetic villains and winning them over to Rimuru's pacifistic, pro-civilization way of thinking (either that, or getting them addicted to manga). It's almost become a Suikoden game with the number of named characters populating the Jura Forest Federation all offering their distinct talents and points of view.

Other shows, of which I'll probably talk more about next month, include KonoSuba (another funny isekai also in its third season), two brand new isekai called Chillin' in Another World with Level 2 Super Cheat Powers and As a Reincarnated Aristocrat, I'll Use My Appraisal Skill to Rise in the World (very descriptive titles), the second cour of Delicious in Dungeon, and the highschool brawler Wind Breaker. I've my eye on a few others, but it's going to come down to what I have time (and/or sub money) to watch. Man, but do they make a lot of this anime stuff though.

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Indie Game of the Week 367: 9 Years of Shadows

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Welcome back to Indie Game of the Week, where we'll be reviewing an Indie explormer. Look, I know. I've been stuck on this one gear for quite some time. It's just... whenever a new explormer comes out and hits the zeitgeist, like it has recently for Tales of Kenzera: Zau and that Prince of Persia thing, I feel my status around here as The Explormer King start to slip all the while the demon known as FOMO rears its ugly head. The only way to purge either of those negative emotions from the ol' map-mulling melon is to dip into my reserve of unplayed explormers and take advantage of this weekly feature to satiate the traversal-upgrade-hungry beast within. But while my myriad neuroses make for fascinating reading, we should really be focusing on 9 Years of Shadows from Halberd Studios instead: a 2D explormer with gorgeous pixel art, a story vaguely related to the Greek gods and muses in a post-apocalyptic world laid under by a powerful curse, and a fluid gameplay style that finds equal challenge in its platforming and combat alike which has very much opted for Symphony of the Night as its inspirational patron.

The protagonist is Europa, a young woman turned halberd-wielding warrior after she was orphaned by the same curse that took the lives of so many. She's tracked its possible source to a tower named after (or is) Talos, the bronze giant who protected Europa's namesake from Greek mythology, and finds the place filled with mindless monsters and traps. Along her travels she encounters a spirit that calls itself Apino and resembles a floating teddy bear: Apino saves Europa after a chance encounter with a demon named Belial and becomes her steadfast companion, with many of the mechanics revolving around their partnership. Europa also keeps meeting the eccentric members of an orchestra who have been separated and terrorized by enemies in the tower: most of the game's sidequests involve defeating specific bonus bosses (who are otherwise optional) to win the musicians' support. I've no idea what all this is earning me, but I suspect it might be one of those "true ending" situations. Europa also pulls a Samus by letting us listen in on her thoughts whenever she enters an elevator transition: she'll muse about the people she's met, the dangers she's faced, and her memories of the outside world for as bleak as they often are.

I always appreciate an attractive save room. Less sure what purpose these rooms have outside the meta though.
I always appreciate an attractive save room. Less sure what purpose these rooms have outside the meta though.

The primary mechanic that 9 Years of Shadows does a little differently to the great crowd of these games is in how it handles health and its recuperation. Europa has both vitality and a light bar: the former is her health and usually consists of just two pips, after which she immediately dies. The light bar acts more like a shield, absorbing hits for as long as it's active. However, it's also used as the source for Apino's attacks, which provide ranged support and are usually needed to reveal a boss's weak point or activate certain switches. Whenever the light bar empties, Europa is vulnerable; however, by hugging Apino (which is seriously cute, but takes a few seconds) she can recover a major amount of her light bar. Pretty soon you can also acquire an upgrade that lets you complete a small QTE to recover light as soon as the bar empties provided you're quick enough to register it. What this creates is a system where you might be a few hits from death at any point in a fight but can otherwise heal yourself indefinitely if you're able to carve out enough time to do so: a similar system can be found in Hollow Knight and several others. One limitation is that you can't recover the light bar unless it's completely empty, so it's often the case that you'll take a hit and must quickly go on the defensive to avoid any further damage before you can recover. You can, however, shoot off a few of Apino's bullets to empty the bar yourself if you find an opportune lull in a boss fight for a quick recharge. It's an elegant system that only occasionally lets you down in boss fights where attacks are relentless, giving you few opportunities to heal: one of those came fairly early on in a battle against one (later three) sea serpent creatures, where they would sometimes charge across the screen too fast to react to. Most other boss fights have been incredibly easy in comparison, giving you plenty of moments for recovery, leaving the boss difficulty somewhat uneven.

Other mechanics tend to be pretty familiar stuff to explormer veterans. You eventually acquire different elemental armored suits for Europa, each providing a means to pass through certain areas (the red armor for overheated zones, the blue armor for underwater sections, etc.) as well as an associated traversal ability. An example would be the green armor and its power to transform Europa into a tunnelling snake, which works similarly to the morph ball except every time you move you can't stop until you hit a wall, creating a few navigational puzzles in the process. While the platforming is fluid and fun enough the combat tends to be more of an afterthought; Europa has a default three attack combo and a finisher which does considerably more damage, but that's about it and you don't really learn any new moves beyond Apino's firepower (which, given its ammo effectively doubles as your health, isn't something you might want to rely on for damage). You can upgrade each suit of armor but this only increases its attack damage by a miniscule amount and provides no other benefits that I can tell. Since the game lacks an XP/level system and most enemies only drop a small amount of currency, which you can acquire in chests in larger amounts, there's usually no reason to hang around and fight everything you see unless you're trying to fill out the in-game bestiary. Add to this that most enemies are the same crystalline-looking golem things and it's not an aspect of the game that feels like it saw much attention. The bosses, conversely, come in all shapes and sizes and when you add in the many optional battles there's plenty of variety to be had.

Character art is really sharp in this game, and you get one of these splash screens with every new suit of armor. Shockingly, getting to electrocute fools is actually the least impressive of the upgrades.
Character art is really sharp in this game, and you get one of these splash screens with every new suit of armor. Shockingly, getting to electrocute fools is actually the least impressive of the upgrades.

On the whole, while there's much to like about 9 Years of Shadows from its competent enough combat and exploration, plus its very attractive pixel art and equally striking hand-drawn animated sequences, it struggles to find much of an identity for itself. This is something many Indie explormers have contended with, which I've been in a position to discover firsthand as I continue to glut myself on a neverending stream of the things, and it's hard to take a game to task for being a perfectly decent if standard iteration on an increasingly well-worn formula. To me, explormers are like pizza: even the less compelling ones are still good eatin' but they're so often obligated to sticking to the same toppings every time (and risk-averse to putting something wild on there in case there's too much flak) that you really can't be eating it every meal, or every other meal, or else you'll quickly grow tired of it. But, man, when a good pizza like 9 Years of Shadows comes along at a time when you're craving some cheesy, meaty goodness, it's hard to be too mad at the fact that you'll probably forget all about it within a few days. Oh great, now I gotta go get a fucking pizza.

Rating: 4 out of 5 pepperoni.

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64 in 64: Episode 41

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Welcome back to the bonus stage of history with this, the most elucidating and entertaining Nintendo 64 retrospective blog series of all those that are currently on your screen right now (aiming high with these approbations) known to those in certain circles, as well as everywhere else, as 64 in 64. We're four episodes into this final season now and I'm working on tying up all the loose ends I've created like it's the final season of Lost and I've left way too much enigmatic nonsense on the table. Just saying, don't be surprised if the finale has the random chooser app suddenly wake up and realize it dreamed all this.

In the interest of said loose ends, our pre-selected choice this week is the third game I've covered in its particular franchise out of four games to have graced the N64, so I'm not quite sure how I plan to shoehorn in that fourth and final game. The randomizer pick, coincidentally, also has us returning to a particular genre I've explored previously but in that case it's not one I'm in any hurry to revisit again for completion's sake. It's almost like that thing just chooses whatever the heck it wants, huh. This will be a pretty low-key episode all told but at least I didn't have to deal with anything too torturous, though I guess that's maybe a knock against it given how quickly this site has taken to schadenfreude with the popularity of Blight Club. Buncha animals around here, feasting on an endless trough of despair and misery.

Speaking of despair and misery, we'd best get to these rules. It's been a month I'm sure everyone's forgotten them already.

  • We play two N64 games for sixty-four minutes apiece. I'm using the royal "we" here, since I'm not about to find someone willing to join in on all this self-flagellation.
  • The first is chosen by me from the small number of half-decent N64 games still remaining, the other is selected randomly from the much greater number of zero-decent N64 games by some software I keep choosing to anthropomorphize. That little guy is truly spoiled for choice these days.
  • I've tried to dig up all I can on each game's history while providing a play-by-play of my struggles with it over the allotted hour, followed by a candid appraisal of its longevity and how likely it is to join the Nintendo Switch Online retro emulation library. Sometimes you need to justify spending an hour with a nothing-game by writing way more about it than you need to. Oops, I'm getting too inside baseball again.
  • This feature is not permitted to even breathe the same rarified air as the vaunted few already in said Nintendo Switch Online retro emulation library. They've already met whatever esoteric qualifications Nintendo has for its older games to earn a second life. Good for them. I wish Nintendo would say I was worth preserving. Wait, did I say that out loud?

I realize I may have tricked some folks with my ribald April Fools' gag earlier this month, but I assure you this is a real series that is truly on its forty-first entry. The others are all here in the table below. I swear they won't all redirect to one Mr. Astley swearing his eternal fidelity through the medium of song. Just most of them.

Episode 1Episode 2Episode 3Episode 4Episode 5
Episode 6Episode 7Episode 8Episode 9Episode 10
Episode 11Episode 12Episode 13Episode 14Episode 15
Episode 16Episode 17Episode 18Episode 19Episode 20
Episode 21Episode 22Episode 23Episode 24Episode 25
Episode 26Episode 27Episode 28Episode 29Episode 30
Episode 31Episode 32Episode 33Episode 34Episode 35
Episode 36Episode 37Episode 38Episode 39Episode 40
Episode 41Episode 42Episode 43Episode 44Episode 45
-=-Episode 46Episode 47Episode 48-=-

Bomberman 64: The Second Attack / Baku Bomberman 2 (Pre-Select)

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History: Bomberman 64: The Second Attack! is the third Bomberman to grace the Nintendo 64 and the second that Hudson developed themselves (the other, Bomberman Hero, was instead outsourced to A.I.). It plays much like the original Bomberman 64, allowing players to pump up bombs to create larger booms and offers Zelda-like 3D dungeons to explore in a mostly linear fashion with puzzles and well-hidden collectibles, with a few additional new mechanics. The story is set directly after Bomberman 64 but with a new cast of characters (mostly; a certain blue jerk makes a return) including a shapeshifting mascot familiar named Pommy who assists Bomberman and a potential love interest in the rival hero Lilith.

Hudson spent quite a while being rivals of Nintendo themselves, pushing their own hardware platform the PC Engine/Turbografx-16 for most of the 16-bit generation, but even so they were still very busy producing games on every Nintendo platform up until the company was eventually dissolved in 2012 by its parent Konami. Prior to that, much of Hudson's talent left to form NDCube: a Nintendo subsidiary that now directs the Mario Party series as well as other Switch party games like Clubhouse Games: 51 Worldwide Classics. The Hudson N64 games with the highest (if not necessarily the best-regarded) profiles were the three initial Mario Party games, but they also developed and/or published several others that we might yet bump into (though at this point the only remaining ones are Japanese-only, so they'll probably be random picks if anything). I hadn't heard of Vatical Entertainment before, and it turns out there's a good reason: they were only active for three years (1999-2001). They also published the North American localizations of Bomberman Max for GBC and Bomberman Party Edition for PS1, suggesting a strong enough relationship with Hudson. They have just the one other N64 credit: Vicarious Visions's snowmobile racer Polaris SnoCross (kinda fitting given Vicarious Visions would later be consumed by a blizzard).

I was a pretty big fan of Bomberman 64 even for all its faults but I'd never tried this sequel until now, in part because it didn't review all that well at the time. Despite that, I've been curious for a long while about how (if at all) it tried to improve on the formula set out by the somewhat mechanically-odd Bomberman 64, which didn't quite take to 3D as naturally as Mario and Zelda did, and what sort of plot continuation it pursued after Bomberman 64 introduced cosmic cubes and betrayal twists to its universe of cute little armored goons blowing each other up. That first game got pretty dark, all things considered.

16 Minutes In

The beige boxes can't be destroyed, but this silver one with the crosses sure can. I just need an explosion big enough to reach it (or I could just drop a bomb down from above).
The beige boxes can't be destroyed, but this silver one with the crosses sure can. I just need an explosion big enough to reach it (or I could just drop a bomb down from above).

The intro gave us quite a bit of story to set us up here: Bomberman found an egg at some point while travelling the galaxy after the conclusion of Bomberman 64 but while waiting for it to hatch he gets caught in the gravity well of a black hole and ends up teleported to a mysterious base where soldiers of a "BHB Army" imprison him and take away his Fire Stone. Turns out the Fire Stone is one of seven gems that govern reality (where have I heard something like that before?) and is the reason Bomberman seems to have an infinite supply of incendiaries. While in chokey the egg finally hatches into a floppy-eared monstrosity calling itself Pommy (frequently, since it's always talking in third-person) who recovers the Fire Stone and allows Bomberman to escape by doing what he does best: blowing everything up.

First thing I noticed here is that the gameplay has shifted to something closer to the original 8-bit/16-bit Bomberman games while still retaining a few choice aspects from Bomberman 64. Gone are the radial explosions, instead going back to the cardinal cross blast waves with a few modern touches: for instance, if the flame hits an angled wall, it will travel along it for a while. You can still inflate bombs by holding onto them and these larger petards will create the big radials of the previous game, but you'll need a glove power-up first as per the old rules. Speaking of, you also need the kick power-up to boot explosives towards enemies and the remote bomb is here as always if you're lucky enough to find it. If anything, the remote makes things too easy: the first boss fight I had, against a fire dude calling himself Baelfael (also what it's called when you are unable to escape a fight in a RPG), actually went out of its way to disable the remote bomb power-up to keep things fair. Speaking of whom, I was in said boss fight just before the timer went off and accidentally wandered into the moat (actually a sewer) around the fight arena and instantly died, so I'll be in a rematch the moment this next segment begins.

32 Minutes In

Wow. What are the odds.
Wow. What are the odds.

Baelfael has faeled his last bael and shortly after we are introduced to Lilith who, in a twist I find slightly uncomfortable, looked like a normal human being but with Bomberman proportions. Evidently Bomberman wasn't as put off by this uncanny Funko valley business as I was because he was soon head over heels despite some very suspicious behavior from the moment this heroine suddenly appeared, chief of which being that the game introduced her as "Lilith, the Scourge of the Starways". Nope, no red flags being raised here. After that, we're told what our next objective will be after feeding bombs to the local boss: we have to destroy the gravity generator that's at the center of this artificial planet we're on, and doing so will allow us to escape and hopefully not also destroy the planet and kill everyone on it. Well, not that I haven't been doing a fine job of that already as I make my way through this gross-looking sewer-base. I just entered said generator room when the timer pinged again.

I found some mysterious (and well-hidden) capsules while playing and I suspect these are the multiplayer cosmetic items that were also very carefully concealed in Bomberman 64 too. One involved reaching a secret room in the moat of that boss fight (once I'd removed the water, of course) and the second required setting up a bunch of remote bombs that I could hop across to clear a gap: the two strategies most of the cosmetic hunts in the previous game required also. I don't think I'll go collectible crazy this time around, but these things do tend to require more puzzle-solving than the regular gameplay loop provides (which involves way fewer puzzles and way more explosions) so I might find myself distracted from time to time regardless.

48 Minutes In

Great, Regulus is back, except now he's calling himself Bulzeeb and is somehow even more of an edgelord. Everyone needs their own Shadow the Hedgehog I guess.
Great, Regulus is back, except now he's calling himself Bulzeeb and is somehow even more of an edgelord. Everyone needs their own Shadow the Hedgehog I guess.

The gravity generator room was just a gauntlet to remove a bunch of shield generators protecting the target, then blowing up said target. Plenty of enemies to fight but it didn't seem necessary to go after them: however, since some of the shield generators needed some platforming nuance to reach it seemed prudent to clear out any nearby enemies first rather than let them interfere. I figured I'd be timed in some way—like the shield generators come back online after a minute or so—but there was nothing that demanding. Might be something they introduce for the later ones though. After that we were treated to one of those "all the bad guys have a meeting to let you know who is who" cutscenes and then we had access to the world map, which gives you two options: the ocean planet or the wind planet. The shop is also available on the world map, so I made sure to buy a health upgrade as well as a couple of cosmetic items with my remaining change. Oddly, the first item up for sale was Wario's moustache. I guess Wario Blast established they inhabited the same universe? Last, as soon as we touched down on the ocean planet (which is called Aquanet, so I hope Hudson cleared that with the hairspray people) Pommy, the disturbing little gremlin that he is, evolved into "Knuckle Pommy" based on all the random food items I kept picking up in the previous world. Won't make much of a difference to me though, as I'll explain below.

So, let's talk about Pommy's role in the game. Far as I can tell he's one of those asymmetric co-op additions like Tails in Sonic 2 that you can let your skill-deficient kid, younger sibling, or partner control since he (she? they?) is effectively immortal. Too many cooks is definitely a factor in any Bomberman when you're dropping explosives all over the place though, so I'm not sure how helpful it is to have two of you causing mayhem given how relatively narrow these rooms can be. The Pommy evolutions, which I'm sure have some sort of hidden logic to how you activate them, will change Pommy's attributes or give them new attacks. Since I've no second player around to test these mechanics on Pommy's just been hanging out so far, though they make it a point to go hide and cower during boss fights (presumably as, much like in Sonic 2, they can become a tad too easy with an invincible helper—same reason for taking the remotes away).

64 Minutes In

Aquanet has a bunch of water-level lowering puzzles, as you might expect from any N64 water temple level. It's usually pretty obvious where the water's coming from if you need to stop the flow.
Aquanet has a bunch of water-level lowering puzzles, as you might expect from any N64 water temple level. It's usually pretty obvious where the water's coming from if you need to stop the flow.

I spent this last segment exploring Aquanet, which was probably a poor second choice given how much of this world involves eluding the high water levels or else dying instantly. At one point I broke a wall barricade which had a whole bunch of water rush in on the level I was standing; I figured as soon as the cutscene was over I'd immediately drown, but fortunately it was only waist-high. Bombs don't work great in the water as you might surmise and this world had a whole bunch of annoying enemies, including crabs that sap you of power-ups if their bubbles hit you and seals that will take any nearby bomb and pick it up and throw it back at you like they were playing fetch. Worst of all was Pommy giving Bomberman shit every five minutes about not being able to swim; fortunately, once you have the glove power-up you can also pick Pommy up and throw it into, let's say, a large body of water. Let's see how buoyant you are, you furry Kirby knock-off.

Truth be told I had a pretty good time here. The worlds feel like they have more personality to them than in the previous game, fitting not only the aesthetics around the current theme but also enemies and puzzles too. A 3D map of the world that's visible on the pause screen gives you some idea of where you're going, if not always a clear route, but the game's been fairly straightforward so it's probably not a major factor. Again, gotta assume if there's map tech involved that the worlds are going to start getting a bit more non-linear and complex to navigate before too long. Either way, though it backtracks on the divisive ingenuity of Bomberman 64 for the sake of being a watered-down hybrid, I can't say I found The Second Attack all that disagreeable. I'm sure there's a major component of the Bomberman fandom that still wonders why these games bother with single-player campaigns in the first place.

How Well Has It Aged?: There Wasn't a Third Attack For a Reason. Eh, it's fine. It's Bomberman. Hard to screw up Bomberman too badly, especially when you play it safe like this one. Usual assortment of robot villains to explode one after the other and outside of that you're spending your time destroying parts of the environment for power-ups and hidden buttons/exits. Bomberman level design always seems to start and end with "what if Zelda but he stopped getting new items after the bombs, because what else do you really need at that point?" as a philosophy, and I can't say it's not a sound one.

Chance of Switch Online Inclusion: Konami. Been a while since our last Konami game and those pachinko fiends continue to be unpredictable when it comes to licensing their back catalog. Recently they've been busy putting new Silent Hill, Metal Gear, Contra, and (of course) Bomberman games into production so they've certainly been making an effort but I still don't think they're invested enough to dig up their old N64 games and make those available again, especially with the poor reputation of the N64 Castlevanias and experiments like Hybrid Heaven. My hope that they localize all the Ganbare Goemon games in one compilation continues to look sadly improbable.

Retro Achievements Earned: 2 (out of 50). Most of these are highly conditional, arbitrary stuff that you wouldn't think of doing if there wasn't an achievement attached to it. Like dropping a remote bomb on all four pillars in the arena that hosts the Baelfael fight. There's also a large number reserved for the Pommy transformations, so that's probably going to require a few playthroughs and a guide open nearby.

Mahjong 64 (Random)

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History: Mahjong 64 is a relatively barebones and straightforward mahjong simulator that was released early in the platform's lifespan in Japan only. Its framing device is that you're at a school for mahjong and must complete the curriculum to graduate, earning enough credits from mahjong victories to pass from one grade to the next—this includes competing with fellow students as well as learning how to play the game more effectively. Despite the simple name suggesting it got there first, it was actually the second mahjong game to be released on N64 after Konami's Mahjong Master (released the previous December) out of a total of seven mahjong games for the system. It's also the second mahjong game we've covered on here after Imagineer's Mahjong Hourouki Classic from Episode 34, but don't hold your breath on me "finishing the set".

Publishers Koei were best known at this time for their strategy simulation franchises like Romance of the Three Kingdoms (Sangokushi) and Nobunaga's Ambition (Nobunaga no Yabou), none of which ever saw a N64 release. They would in fact only publish two games for the system: this and Operation: WinBack, a third-person shooter that was developed by their subsidiary Omega Force (the musou guys) which has the distinction of being the first third-party game to be included in the Switch Online N64 library. Mahjong 64 would also be Chat Noir's sole N64 game: these contract developers almost exclusively made mahjong games for whomever would pay them.

You know what they say about bad luck and black cats crossing your path and here's that aphorism in action with Mahjong 64, possibly the dullest-looking N64 game I've yet encountered. I got drowsy just looking at the box art, despite the spiky action bubble. That said, I can at least handle mahjong unlike shogi or hanafuda so I don't imagine I'll be completely lost over the next hour even with the language barrier. Maybe I'll find some way to make this interesting to read about? Doesn't seem like the random chooser app wants to help my SEO any, but I suppose there are worse things they could've saddled me with. So many worse things. In fact, let's stop talking before I give it too many ideas.

16 Minutes In

Mahjong's a very involved game where almost every combination of tiles has its own name. This particular hand is called 'trash'.
Mahjong's a very involved game where almost every combination of tiles has its own name. This particular hand is called 'trash'.

Wow, this... sure is mahjong all right. After getting through a few preliminary menus where you contribute a name and gender (the text input was almost interesting: rather than give you separate keyboards for hiragana, katakana, and romaji they just had the hiragana set and then had you choose which character you actually meant from a separate menu, including dakuons. Like I said, almost interesting) I'm dropped on a map screen of the mahjong school campus and left to figure out which one will take me to a mahjong game. Fortunately, it was the building on the cursor's default starting position and it didn't take long until I was slapping down tiles like the best of 'em.

I wasn't sure what approach this game was going to have with its school framing gimmick, like whether it was one of those "puzzle" mode type of variations you might see for games like chess or shogi where the board is set up in a mid-game state and you're told that you can checkmate in three moves if you know what you're doing. Perhaps those would be the "lessons" to help you get better at judging what type of yaku to aim for or what would be the more reliable, safer option. Something like a thirteen orphans hand would be nice and all, but maybe not worth sacrificing a fail-safe like a meld of dragons. I'm sure this all sounds like gibberish to a non-mahjong type, but I'm often curious about the intentions of a mahjong game developer when the playing field is already stacked with so many identical sims already; you'd hope they're not just trying to coast along by putting out a cheap adaptation of a board game enough people are into that it's guaranteed to sell at least reasonably well, but maybe I'm expecting too much creativity and ambition from a game literally called "Mahjong 64". Well, even if this game is as basic as it comes, I can at least spend an hour playing regular mahjong without issue. Hell, I've done it often enough in any given Like a Dragon playthrough.

32 Minutes In

As is often the case, a good hand in mahjong might be worth even more than you anticipated. I knew I'd get points for having a hand that was all-simples, all-pons, and had three sets in different suits of the same number (4), but I didn't realize this would be worth 8 han in total. That extremely smug expression my character is making is well-earned.
As is often the case, a good hand in mahjong might be worth even more than you anticipated. I knew I'd get points for having a hand that was all-simples, all-pons, and had three sets in different suits of the same number (4), but I didn't realize this would be worth 8 han in total. That extremely smug expression my character is making is well-earned.

Not much to report, I'm still in the same game I was in before though with that last hand I may have secured victory. I finally figured out what button it was to acknowledge an opportunity—what happens in mahjong games is that an opponent discards a tile that starts flashing, which is the game prompting you to take action by taking that discard into your own hand. There are various reasons why you'd want (or not want) to do this that I won't go into here but I'd been trying every button to make the menu pop up that would tell me what I could do with that discarded tile, and it turns out the magic button was down on the Control Stick. I guess because your position is always the southern player (positionally at least, if not in how the cardinal directions play a role in mahjong since those switch every round) there's some intuitive sense in that but, I mean, you have two main face buttons right there: just have one to confirm that you want to leave the discard where it is, and the other to take it for your hand. Simple enough, right? Whatever, I figured it out before it cost me a ron (i.e. the "I win" button) so it's all good in the hood. The mahjong hood.

Let's talk aesthetics. The game's characters are fairly unappealing because someone decided to use pre-rendered CG rather than sprites and there's this polygonal hand model that is used whenever a player places down tiles (and has male and female versions) which feels like a needlessly expensive indulgence given it doesn't look too hot either. However, the tiles themselves appear nice enough with their little shadows and the music's been surprisingly fun: there's a whole bunch of tracks I've heard so far, and while they're the typical jazzy and/or Chinese restaurant muzak you'd find in any mahjong adaptation like this I'm surprised there's so many of them. I imagine what's actually the case is that there's a distinct BGM for each "wind": once you hear "South" playing, for instance, that's a simple but effective indicator that you're currently South. Could also just be instead that they composed a whole bunch of VGM for this and wanted to use it. Now, if only I could keep the kanji for the four winds straight... (I remember East is the tripod-looking one since East is usually the most important, but I confuse the other three all the time.)

48 Minutes In

The results of the first match. Kinda figured we'd all be highschoolers given the setting, but there's no '21 Jump Street' universe where the guy on the right can pass off as a student. Even Steve Buscemi carrying two skateboards would be more convincing.
The results of the first match. Kinda figured we'd all be highschoolers given the setting, but there's no '21 Jump Street' universe where the guy on the right can pass off as a student. Even Steve Buscemi carrying two skateboards would be more convincing.

Somehow, the player that I scored a ron against in the previous segment was able to keep on playing with negative points so we finished that game with me ahead and I earned a certain amount of currency that I imagine goes towards my mahjong GPA or something. A menu popped up and I chose the top option and I was back to playing the same group again, so I hope it was "rematch" and not "restart" since I'm never going to be that lucky again. Then again, it's not like progress is all that important considering I'll never play a second more of this game once the sixty-four minutes are through, but there's always that slight pang of regret whenever you feel like you may have accidentally wiped your own progress.

Boy howdy, I wish I had more to say about this perfectly anodyne mahjong game. A few observations behind the odd way this game handles riichi, then. Riichi, after which the Japanese style of Riichi Mahjong is named, is a move you can do when you only need one tile to complete your hand and you've yet to reveal any part of it (which you'd need to do if you wanted someone's discarded tile). You're basically boasting to the table that you're on the cusp of winning and doing so gives you bonus points once you do win, but the drawback is that it costs 1,000 points (out of your starting total of 25,000) to declare riichi and if someone else wins those points are lost forever (though they do get returned if the game's a draw). What's different here is that in most mahjong games once you've gone riichi the game puts you into auto-pilot, automatically ditching any tiles that isn't the one (or one of the ones) you need to win: here, you still have to manually discard tiles as usual, so evidently that QoL convenience hadn't become mainstream yet. The other thing I want to say about riichi is that the player's unsightly polygonal hand always whips out the riichi stick—like an ante you throw in to let folks know riichi just happened—in a super flamboyant way, like you're some kind of badass card shark. Tile shark. Whatever the mahjong version would be. It makes those occasions when you don't win after such a showboat declaration that much more clownish in retrospect.

64 Minutes In

And so, we end this playthrough in much the same manner as how we started: with basically nothing going on in this dumb hand. Who the hell needs one of each wind?
And so, we end this playthrough in much the same manner as how we started: with basically nothing going on in this dumb hand. Who the hell needs one of each wind?

Well, things didn't go quite so well for me this time. In one round I declared riichi right after the dude on my right, who then immediately countered my riichi with a ron, which in common parlance would be a "sit your ass right back down" move. Not only did I get dinged for his moderately strong hand but winning in the round immediately after you called riichi is worth additional han (it's called ippatsu, or "one shot"). The only wins I managed to pull out in this second match were a few single-han (the ol' han solo) wiener victories so I'm glad this last segment ended before I had to face the music for my failure. They can't flunk me if I drop out of school early. That's just math. (Man, I'm saying "riichi" so much it's starting to look like a foreign word.)

So that's that. An hour of mahjong. Exciting stuff, but as I said at the head there's worse ways I could've spent this time and I'm sure the random chooser app will discover one just in time for next month's episode. I don't play enough mahjong games to know if this one was much better or worse than what was already available, but I can't say it left a particularly positive impression overall. The wind indicator never seemed to move much—more that it indicated what the table wind was, not what everyone's current round wind was, which is a mahjong jargon sentence I'm not sure even I understand—and I mentioned that missing riichi QoL feature before, which is probably one archaic design choice of many. I think it could've used a bit more visual pizazz besides its creepy CG marionette hands or at least leaned into its school gimmick a bit more by having Persona-style teen drama between rounds instead of it being just a bunch of adult learning seniors going to a highschool annex to be taught mahjong, which isn't the kind of glamorous vibe I want from a gambling-adjacent parlor game like this.

How Well Has It Aged?: As Well as This Ojiisan Sitting on My Right. I don't think there's much call for dedicated mahjong games unless they're part of a bigger whole such as in Like a Dragon or they're something designed to quickly match you with other humans like a Mahjong Soul type of mobile gacha thing. Plus, the tech has probably improved quite significantly since 1997 (which, as I'm sure you need no reminders about, was almost 30 years ago).

Chance of Switch Online Inclusion: Nah-jong. There's no universe where Koei Tecmo decides to dedicate any amount of time they could be musou-ing to reviving this for Switch Online. That said, if Nioh 3 has a mahjong mode in it where winning could grant you a bunch of colored loot or a new collectible tea kettle I wouldn't be at all shocked.

Retro Achievements Earned: N/A.

Current Ranking

  1. Super Mario 64 (Ep. 1)
  2. Diddy Kong Racing (Ep. 6)
  3. Perfect Dark (Ep. 19)
  4. Mystical Ninja Starring Goemon (Ep. 3)
  5. Donkey Kong 64 (Ep. 13)
  6. Doom 64 (Ep. 38)
  7. Space Station Silicon Valley (Ep. 17)
  8. Goemon's Great Adventure (Ep. 9)
  9. Bomberman Hero (Ep. 26)
  10. Pokémon Snap (Ep. 11)
  11. Tetrisphere (Ep. 34)
  12. Rayman 2: The Great Escape (Ep. 19)
  13. Banjo-Tooie (Ep. 10)
  14. Rocket: Robot on Wheels (Ep. 27)
  15. Mischief Makers (Ep. 5)
  16. Super Smash Bros. (Ep. 25)
  17. Mega Man 64 (Ep. 18)
  18. Bomberman 64: The Second Attack! (Ep. 41)
  19. Forsaken 64 (Ep. 31)
  20. Wetrix (Ep. 21)
  21. Harvest Moon 64 (Ep. 15)
  22. Bust-A-Move '99 (Ep. 40)
  23. Hybrid Heaven (Ep. 12)
  24. Blast Corps (Ep. 4)
  25. Kirby 64: The Crystal Shards (Ep. 2)
  26. Ogre Battle 64: Person of Lordly Caliber (Ep. 4)
  27. Tonic Trouble (Ep. 24)
  28. Densha de Go! 64 (Ep. 29)
  29. Fushigi no Dungeon: Fuurai no Shiren 2 (Ep. 32)
  30. Snowboard Kids (Ep. 16)
  31. Spider-Man (Ep. 8)
  32. Bomberman 64 (Ep. 8)
  33. Jet Force Gemini (Ep. 16)
  34. Mickey's Speedway USA (Ep. 37)
  35. Shadowgate 64: Trials of the Four Towers (Ep. 7)
  36. Body Harvest (Ep. 28)
  37. Star Wars: Shadows of the Empire (Ep. 33)
  38. Gauntlet Legends (Ep. 39)
  39. Toy Story 2: Buzz Lightyear to the Rescue! (Ep. 29)
  40. 40 Winks (Ep. 31)
  41. Buck Bumble (Ep. 30)
  42. Aidyn Chronicles: The First Mage (Ep. 20)
  43. Midway's Greatest Arcade Hits Vol. 1 (Ep. 39)
  44. Conker's Bad Fur Day (Ep. 22)
  45. Gex 64: Enter the Gecko (Ep. 33)
  46. BattleTanx: Global Assault (Ep. 13)
  47. Last Legion UX (Ep. 36)
  48. Hot Wheels Turbo Racing (Ep. 9)
  49. Cruis'n Exotica (Ep. 37)
  50. San Francisco Rush 2049 (Ep. 4)
  51. Iggy's Reckin' Balls (Ep. 35)
  52. Fighter Destiny 2 (Ep. 6)
  53. Charlie Blast's Territory (Ep. 36)
  54. Big Mountain 2000 (Ep. 18)
  55. Nushi Tsuri 64: Shiokaze ni Notte (Ep. 35)
  56. Castlevania: Legacy of Darkness (Ep. 14)
  57. Tetris 64 (Ep. 1)
  58. Mahjong Hourouki Classic (Ep. 34)
  59. Mahjong 64 (Ep. 41)
  60. Milo's Astro Lanes (Ep. 23)
  61. International Track & Field 2000 (Ep. 28)
  62. NBA Live '99 (Ep. 3)
  63. Rampage 2: Universal Tour (Ep. 5)
  64. Command & Conquer (Ep. 17)
  65. International Superstar Soccer '98 (Ep. 23)
  66. South Park Rally (Ep. 2)
  67. Armorines: Project S.W.A.R.M. (Ep. 7)
  68. Eikou no St. Andrews (Ep. 1)
  69. Rally Challenge 2000 (Ep. 10)
  70. Monster Truck Madness 64 (Ep. 11)
  71. F-1 World Grand Prix II (Ep. 3)
  72. F1 Racing Championship (Ep. 2)
  73. Sesame Street: Elmo's Number Journey (Ep. 14)
  74. Wheel of Fortune (Ep. 24)
  75. Mortal Kombat Mythologies: Sub-Zero (Ep. 15)
  76. Yakouchuu II: Satsujin Kouro (Ep. 40)
  77. Mario no Photopi (Ep. 20)
  78. Blues Brothers 2000 (Ep. 12)
  79. Dark Rift (Ep. 25)
  80. Mace: The Dark Age (Ep. 27)
  81. Bio F.R.E.A.K.S. (Ep. 21)
  82. Ready 2 Rumble Boxing (Ep. 32)
  83. 64 Oozumou 2 (Ep. 30)
  84. Madden Football 64 (Ep. 26)
  85. Transformers: Beast Wars Transmetals (Ep. 22)
  86. Heiwa Pachinko World 64 (Ep. 38)
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Indie Game of the Week 366: Ghostrunner

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Continuing this trend of being incidentally relevant—this IGotW's game was, until yesterday, also the weekly freebie for the Epic Games Store—we have the extremely slick first-person "acrobatic kill" simulator Ghostrunner from studios One More Level and Slipgate Ironworks, a game with high enough production values that I'll probably get figuratively slapped by those who take umbrage at anything being called "Indie" once it passes beyond a certain budgetary level (OK, fine, it's also published by 3D Realms which is owned by Saber Interactive which was, at the time, fully Embraced, so sue me). Truly, I care deeply for such distinctions. Ghostrunner sees the player as the last member of the titular peacekeeping force that were betrayed and slaughtered almost to a man after Mara, the Keymaster, staged a coup against the ruler and architect of the last urban metropolis standing tall in a post-apocalyptic world. With no Gatekeeper around to keep the Keymaster in check, it's down to the very last of these Ghostrunners to repair their broken circuitry, recover all their flashy moves, and take the fight to Mara to avenge their fallen kin and save the city from her tyranny.

Ghostrunner mostly splits its time between first-person parkour platforming business and tough battles where a single shot from even the weakest (yet remarkably accurate) enemies is enough to finish you off. You're quickly taught your main skill—a mid-air dash that can slow time temporarily when held down, useful for dodging bullets last-second and swooping in for the kill with your katana—and eventually acquire more as the game proceeds, each with their own cooldowns. Platforming might involve grappling to points in the environment, running across walls, sliding under gaps or down slopes to build speed, and using the dash to clear the gaps you can't quite manage with your normal jumps alone. There's a certain alacrity to the game that, like with all the best masocore games, will quickly respawn you after any death so as to not disturb the rapid pace it wants to maintain.

Nice of this dude to just glitch-freeze in this posthumous pose so I could take a picture. Oh wait, I wasn't going to mention it. Nah, this shot was all my incredible timing.
Nice of this dude to just glitch-freeze in this posthumous pose so I could take a picture. Oh wait, I wasn't going to mention it. Nah, this shot was all my incredible timing.

Speaking of which, I have died a lot so far. It has yet to deter me, but it can be a bit aggravating in situations where you might need to clear a whole room of enemies and there's no mid-spree checkpointing available. However, most of the time the enemy groups are small enough that you breeze right through and the platforming, though certainly not easy, doesn't feel anywhere near as stringent. What has occurred to me, and often, is that I just need to improve at the game's combat, using all the options available to juke around enemies and move in closer for the kill without just sprinting right at them like a buffoon. What's been helping immensely is an upgrade I acquired—there's a whole of bunch of these, incidentally, but they use a Tetris grid system that restricts how many you can equip at once—where I can just reflect bullets back at enemies by swinging at them with perfect timing. Naturally, this isn't foolproof (and nor am I bulletproof) especially now that goons with machine guns have shown up but it often means I don't have to be so cagey when there's too much open distance between me and my would-be murderer. As long as I get that timing right, anyway. As I've progressed, I've found more upgrades and new abilities and the limited upgrade system means I can figure out which of those abilities operate the best with my playstyle and just double-down on what's effective. Even early on it was invigorating with its sense of speed and style, but as I continue to fine-tune the game to my own specifications I'm finding that I'm enjoying it that much more as I play.

But man, does this game look good. I've had this new system for just over a year now but I'm always skittish about taxing that cute little 3060 GPU of mine so I've not been playing anything too high-spec just in case, but the moderate buzzing (not quite whirry enough to be worrisome) means it's getting plenty of exercise trying to maintain this very pretty game at the prohibitively-high framerate such a gaming experience demands. It's one of the few games I've played since getting the new system where I couldn't even imagine my PS4 handling it at this level of graphical fidelity, let alone my previous PC which was maybe just about powerful enough to run a calculator app provided I didn't give it any long division to do. I'm gearing up a May-long feature that will test its mettle against all the games I couldn't previously get to run so this will be a good warm-up for that.

202 deaths? Oh, is that all? Good thing this was only the fourth level...
202 deaths? Oh, is that all? Good thing this was only the fourth level...

So yeah, even as annoyingly difficult as Ghostrunner can be I'm finding I'm enjoying my time with it quite a bit. There's always that compulsion with hard games to shake off every failure because you know the eventual victory will be all the sweeter for the struggle, and the key to making that work is to make said inevitable failure as painless as possible; to make it extremely easy to get up, dust yourself off, and jump back into the fray by making restarts near-instantaneous and without forcing you to recover too much lost ground. The large melees against up to tens of opponents are the only big hurdles that have slowed down progress to an unsatisfactory level, but for the most part it's just a rollercoaster of cool moves and grisly takedowns and it feels great when you're in that flow and things are going swell. Worth pushing past that awkward start when I was dying too much from not being able to follow the game's timbre because now I'm having a blast with it. Curious to see how it (and my opinion on it) will change throughout its full trajectory; I'll be sure to supply a post-playthrough addendum as always if things shift one way or the other.

Rating: 4 out of 5.

Post-Playthrough Edit: Well, as predicted Ghostrunner got much better as it went on between all the new powers and the new enemies to take apart (I liked the sword dudes) but man did that final boss stink so let's just call it even and keep it at a 4 out of 5. Though the cyberpunk tropes are all stuff we've seen a dozen times before the sheer amount of style combined with the slick maneuvering and one-shot, one-kill combat (for both sides) meant it was greatly entertaining throughout; one that rewarded inventive approaches to problems when applicable. My per-stage death count even stopped being in the triple figures after the review went up, such was the game's careful tutelage of its mechanics. I'm very much done with the game after that horrific last gauntlet, but I'd certainly be interested in finding out what Ghostrunner 2 has to offer someday.

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