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Indie Game of the Week 358: Costume Quest 2

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I wonder how common it is to have developers where you're a fan of their whole style and maybe a few of the people who work there, but mostly only just tolerate the games they put out. Like you appreciate their moxie, or their adherence to a perhaps archaic way of doing things that appeals to your sense of nostalgia, or they're someone you followed over from game journalism and are rooting for them in the next leg of their careers. I have two myself: Supergiant Games, which no longer needs any grassroots support from me to bat for them after the unbelievable hit that was Hades, and Tim Schafer and co.'s Double Fine. Everything I've played of Double Fine's, from Psychonauts to... uh Psychonauts 2, has been good if not great but they're able to bump up my appraisal of those games due to the comedic style they exhibit, much like Schafer's earlier work with the LucasFilm graphic adventure games for which he became a known industry figure. Some DF games I didn't care for at all—Brutal Legend's affectionately silly metal leanings and Jack Black's full commitment to his role really carried that playthrough whenever the tepid RTS sequences threatened to derail it—but I've always mostly liked most of them. One game that I thought could've been a lot better, to the extent that a sequel that built on and fleshed out its mechanics had a real shot of being a truly great DF game, was the kid-friendly spook 'em up turn-based RPG Costume Quest. The sequel Costume Quest 2, which is this IGotW if that wasn't clear from the title and image, doesn't quite fulfill the concept's potential either, alas.

Costume Quest 2 is set directly after the story of the first and works to resolve its cliffhanger conclusion as twins Wren and Reynolds, along with their neighborhood friends Everett and Lucy, pass through a mystical portal on the way to defeating their nemesis, the killjoy dentist Dr. Orel White whose hatred of candy and Halloween night pushed him into unsealing and controlling a realm full of goblin-like monsters to build his own sugar-free dystopia. The sequel pulls a BTTF2 and sees the pair of siblings appear in a future some twenty years removed from the present after Dr. White has already built his grim Biff Tannen hell world. The adult Everett and Lucy, now married with a kid the twins' age, inform the duo that they can still save the present by going twenty years back (or forty years from their perspective) to before a time-travelling Dr. White originally snatched the idol that kept the monsters safely locked away. It's an excuse for some time-hopping hi-jinks, not too dissimilar to the middle act of Schafer's own Day of the Tentacle, as the pair along with a rotating third member run into any number of excuses to fall into the original game's pattern of having a number of houses to trick or treat and either receiving candy (which doubles as currency, as well as a quick pick-me-up for emergencies) or being forced into a fight.

I'm doing like 30 damage per hit at this stage of the game. The specials are the only way I'm going to finish this fight before my butt falls asleep, and the Clown's doesn't even attack enemies (it's the only heal you get for a while, and it sucks).
I'm doing like 30 damage per hit at this stage of the game. The specials are the only way I'm going to finish this fight before my butt falls asleep, and the Clown's doesn't even attack enemies (it's the only heal you get for a while, and it sucks).

Most of the gameplay loop involves running around these new neighborhood equivalents, from the town's Louisianan past as a bayou connected to a New Orleans-like "French Quarter" to the future dystopia with its goblin-run metropolis, all the while collecting candy while assembling new costumes and completing side-quests for useful (and often progress-mandatory) items. The costumes confer new "jobs" for the combat, in which each has a particular elemental type they're strong and weak against (which affects both incoming and outgoing damage), a unique special ability that requires you to max out a gauge first, and their own ratio of health and power increases. Beyond the one special, though, they all fight more or less the same with a few minor differences: for instance, the wizard (which takes a penalty to health for more power) has a normal attack that spreads a small amount of damage to the other enemies, while the Wolfman's attacks leave behind a damage-over-time bleeding effect. What counts most are the elemental superiority/inferiority traits, as it'll help immensely to ensure you're always able to do more damage and take less from the local enemies. (Unfortunately, you only get one costume—the founding father—that is effective against "tech" enemies, making it the only compulsory one.) The game, like its predecessor, also employs a "timed hits" system that further boosts or mitigates damage with accurate timing, and later provides a means of countering attacks albeit with some risk: you have to start charging the counter early, which means making a 1 in 3 guess as to which of your party members is about to receive the attack (it's sometimes obvious, but not always).

Outside of combat, many of the costumes have their own traversal ability attached, most of which become essential for progress at one point or another. In fact, there's very few truly optional costumes in the game for this reason. Annoyingly, you have to switch your main character to this costume whenever you want to use this traversal skill and then remember to switch back if you already have a party dynamic planned out. Given Psychonauts 2 also had a lot of this constant menu tinkering with its powers, it's evidently not an issue DF has found a way around in the years between the two. Despite that, I found the exploration to be the game's highlight, including the many ways it would hide chests and other valuables around the vicinity and task you to uncover them while also being chill enough to sell you maps that give you a firm idea of how many secrets there are to be found (as well as which houses you've yet to "trick or treat", crossing them off afterwards Silent Hill style). The writing and presentation in general is still pretty good, albeit aiming for a younger audience. Of course, you could say that about every facet of the game too: much of the very simple gameplay and lack of features or variety definitely hearkens back to one Final Fantasy Mystic Quest for SNES, a game designed from the bottom-up to be an "entry-level RPG" for those unfamiliar with that subgenre.

Moments like this just about save the game. The jokes that is, not the hopelessly easy boss fights.
Moments like this just about save the game. The jokes that is, not the hopelessly easy boss fights.

That's really where I have an issue with the two Costume Quest games, which are fairly interchangeable if we're talking features and advancements. Anyone going in expecting the bar-raising of a Trails in the Sky SC or Baldur's Gate 2, where character levels have a higher starting point and the game feels secure enough to start rolling out the really heavy stuff for you to contend with, isn't going to get that here. It's as much of a softball as the first, albeit one where instead of a wider range of tactical considerations leading the difficulty curve it's instead ever more damage sponge-y opponents that inevitably do enough serious harm to your party that you have to pause your exploration momentum after every fight to go find one of the healing fountains to refresh—an inconvenience that makes little sense given the game's lack of random encounters (in the sense you always know one is coming, either because the enemies are wandering the overworld or the door you're about to knock on may have a fight behind it). It's a slog, in so many words, and the appealing wrappings around it can only do so much to keep you engaged for the long haul. Mercifully, it's not too long at around a sub-10 hour playthrough, so it at least earns my respect for not stretching things out to eternity like a few other turn-based RPG throwbacks out there. Much like Sonic fans and their own eternal struggle, I'll keep on buying Double Fine games enjoying their style while hoping that they're someday able to nail the gameplay half as well.

Rating: 3 out of 5.

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64 in 64: Episode 39

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Welcome and/or apologies for this month's edition of 64 in 64, depending on your tolerance for second-hand suffering. This would be my regular glance into the library of the divisive Nintendo 64 console on the hunt for games worth preserving through the Switch Online service; the system certainly saw some strong first-party offerings, but what of its third-party support from those companies willing to put up with Nintendo's obstinate refusal to move on from cartridges? Well, there's one western company in particular that stuck by them to the extent that they published almost as many N64 games as Nintendo itself: Midway Games, the arcade giants of the mid-'90s. (Were I a less kind sort already exhausted by this developer, perish the thought, I might even say they got that name by following the Way of the Mid.) We'll be seeing two Midway games this month, such is their ubiquity on the platform.

Actually, truth be told, this month's duo were entirely unobjectionable. The random pick turned out to be a game perfect for this kind of structure, and I was prepared to have to deal with the pre-select being a game that has aged very poorly but fortunately hadn't too much. Sometimes I prepare myself for a bad time out of pessimism, paranoia, or plain old pattern recognition but then you'll get instances like this month where I kinda lucked out a little bit. Just a little.

Speaking of p-words, here are the prules. (No, these segues aren't getting worse, what are you talking about?)

  • Two games are selected for every episode. I picked one, one was picked for me. Sometimes the random pick ends up being the better game, but the odds are startingly low.
  • Each game is played for 64 minutes exactly, give or take human error (I sometimes forget to turn the timer on). I just recently discovered that Windows 11 has a built-in clock app with a timer in it; I've been using a website in a browser like an idiot this whole time.
  • I've tried to be a little more educational by providing some historical background as well as figuring out the various legal reasons why these games can't come to Switch Online in a hurry. I'd say the journal entries as I play through the game in sixteen minute chunks could be considered educational too, were constantly bemoaning one's lot something you could get an academic degree in. Like a "Bitch, Bitch, Bitchelor of Arts".
  • We're not to approach those games that have already passed the vetting process and been added to the Switch Online's N64 library. They are under the auspices of a host of powerful entities I'd as soon rather not deal with, otherwise known as Nintendo's legal team. Anything else is fair game though, even if they trend closer to "bad games" than "fair games". Pretty sure that's how the law works.

If you feel I didn't torture myself sufficiently this time, maybe your latent sadistic tendencies can be better satiated through these previous episodes. Last month's was a real doozy if you missed it:

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-=-

Gauntlet Legends (Pre-Select)

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  • Atari Games / Midway
  • 1999-08-31 (NA), 1999-12-01 (EU), 2000-04-07 (JP)
  • =236th N64 Game Released

History: Gauntlet Legends debuted in arcades as an official entry in Atari Games's Gauntlet franchise—an action-adventure series in which you must zealously protect your characters from harm and hunger as they traverse ever deeper into a precarious dungeon full of traps and monster hordes. Legends brings two notable changes to the blueprint: it's fully 3D, and it's fully an RPG with characters that can level up and grow stronger as they kill enemies and collect treasure. It still has that arcade mindset where there's little plot and a whole lot of fighting but it's easier to get invested in your character once you've levelled them up a few times, rather than just thinking of them as expendable "red warriors" and "blue wizards". The N64 was the first console to see a home version of the game (as well as its debut in Japan) though ports quickly followed for the PlayStation and Dreamcast.

This would be our eleventh featured Midway game, following Doom 64 from last month. I only have myself to blame if I'm the one selecting them but given there's almost 40 Midway games for the system it's only natural I'd like at least a few of them. Atari Games is listed as the developer in most online sources but at this time they were more or less interchangeable with Midway, having already been acquired by Midway's parent company WMS Industries which eventually consolidated their multiple video game divisions under the Midway brand.

So, I've been sweeping up the few remaining translated RPGs that we western N64 owners were fortunate to receive in order to complete a themed mini-project of sorts for the ranking table—a completionist cause I'll be returning to several times for my pre-selected game choices for this final season—and I'd almost forgotten that this Gauntlet reboot was a bona fide action-RPG, albeit a fairly mashy one best suited for breezy multiplayer sessions between games of GoldenEye and Smash. I'll lose something in playing it solo, no doubt, but it's a game I've spent some considerable amount of time with on the original hardware so I didn't want to finish this season of 64 in 64 without one last dungeon crawl smashing up monster spawners for old time's sake. My guess is that it will not have held up, if indeed it was any good in the first place. Let's find out, shall we?

16 Minutes In

This is a high level spawner. As I do damage to it, it'll downgrade to produce weaker enemies. Either way, prioritizing the spawners is essential unless you just feel like grinding for a while.
This is a high level spawner. As I do damage to it, it'll downgrade to produce weaker enemies. Either way, prioritizing the spawners is essential unless you just feel like grinding for a while.

I kinda suspected that my memories of this game would be a little rosier than the real thing, but then that's hardly the game's fault. It definitely embodies what an action-RPG made in the late 1990s would resemble if it also had to adhere to the mechanics and quirks of Gauntlet, a game developed in 1985. Choosing a character class and a color—I notice that there are four secret classes too, maybe a NG+ reward?—you also get to personalize them with a name and then you're sent off to a quest to recover runestones that'll eventually allow you to fight the evil god Skorne. (It's Skorne! A big demon with knobs!) Thing is, there's not a whole lot to it: you fight through monsters until you can remove their spawners, you collect keys and power-ups, and you just kinda make your way to the end of these of these little zones. Once back at the hub between levels, you can purchase other power-ups to take with you.

It feels like it's trapped in a limbo between something with more juice like a Diablo (Skorne's got the juice too, and I can't imagine a more beautiful thing) and its barebones historical antecedent. It's not been bad so far, but it's shaping up to be one of those 64 in 64 entries where an hour's about all I need before I feel like I've seen everything I need to. I'm two zones into the mountain/volcano area—the volcano's called Yserbius, presumably named after the not-at-all-esoteric online multiplayer CRPG Shadow of Yserbius (unless there's some common source from Tolkien or something)—so I'm going to see if I can conquer this part of the game before my time is up.

32 Minutes In

Switches look like tiny round red buttons on the ground. These things aren't that. This is a lava trap that will roast my nethers when I step over it. Worth knowing the difference.
Switches look like tiny round red buttons on the ground. These things aren't that. This is a lava trap that will roast my nethers when I step over it. Worth knowing the difference.

I have to say, this game's affectionate dumbness is starting to work its charms on me. As I've said, there's nothing particularly sophisticated about the combat system—you can swing to attack enemies from a distance, which is generally preferred if you're trying to keep your health up, but the character will attack anything automatically in melee range so they don't even let you have that much—and exploration boils down to having enough keys to open doors or finding switches off the beaten path. Most of the enemies I've found so far are goblins but the last couple of zones have started introducing scorpions (which the protagonist just stomps on instead) and these tougher lava golem things. When I say the game's affectionate dumbness, it's in the way the narrator gravely intones the name of every power-up you find ("you received... the triple shot!") or whenever you level up or have low health—the voice sample commentary being a Gauntlet staple—but also when you collect apples or meat or something for health your own character happily exclaims "I like food!" and I'm left wondering if this isn't a game meant for kindergartners. Definite "baby's first RPG" feeling as I keep going. Might explain why kid-me was so into it.

Only noteworthy thing was finding a secret (though not that secret; it was just lying out in the open) portal to an old-school top-down Gauntlet level full of purple minotaur coins. I have no idea what these things do—I couldn't use them, and I was only allowed to pick up 50—but I was warped back to the hub afterwards having completed the level I found the portal on, so I guess it was just a bizarre shortcut. The two big progress-important collectibles appear to be obelisks (there's three per area, and you need to activate all of them to access the next part of the game once the boss has been defeated) and runestones (there's thirteen in the whole game and I think you need them all to fight the final boss). The wizard you buy stat boosts and power-ups from in the hub area will also tell you where the next obelisk/runestone can be found for free, so they're really foolproofing this.

48 Minutes In

This would be a nightmare to deal with IF they could reach me. They can't. Let's see how well they catch these knives.
This would be a nightmare to deal with IF they could reach me. They can't. Let's see how well they catch these knives.

We're getting to the point in the difficulty curve where you can't just wade into a group of enemies with your sword swinging as you'll get swarmed and pecked apart way too fast. The zone I just completed had a maze-like structure of bridges connecting islands that demonstrated how effective it is to destroy monster spawners from a distance and, ideally, from somewhere enemies can't reach you. Precious few enemy types can attack from range and they're also the only ones that don't pop out of spawners en masse, so distance is your best ally throughout the game (and it applies to all character classes too: even melee/tank characters like the warrior and valkyrie have ranged attacks). I've also discovered that any power-ups that seem kinda whatever can be sold for quite a high price back at the hub, giving you the cash you need to recover health or improve stats or get yourself a few extra keys and potions. The potions, by the way, don't heal you: instead, they're smart bombs and they're the only way to destroy the life-draining grim reaper enemies that occasionally hide in chests. Seems prudent to keep a stock of both keys and potions with you at all times.

I'm enjoying my time here, I suppose. The zones are starting to take on some more elaborate level design between the hidden switches, circuitous routes, and tougher enemies that require more tactics by way of kiting groups until you can whittle down their number or the aforementioned "neener neener neener, can't reach me" abject cowardice strategy, which has always been a firm favorite of mine in any game. I've only got the boss left for this first main area—it's a dragon, which seems a bit harsh this early into the game—but I suspect I might've missed an obelisk somewhere that'll require me to backtrack a little.

64 Minutes In

I have a key for this door, but... well, that wall looks pretty low. Like I could shoot over it.
I have a key for this door, but... well, that wall looks pretty low. Like I could shoot over it.

The dragon proved to be... troublesome. Maybe I'm running up against the limitations of the single-player approach, but that thing was murderously powerful and I couldn't hold onto my health or do anything like serious damage against it so I've opted for a path I call "screw this, I'm out" and have returned to the Cliffs zone for that obelisk I'm missing. Turns out the zone has a second route from the start that I somehow missed and I had just embarked on this other, higher road when the timer rang for the last time. I also read a hint scroll somewhere about an ice axe and a scimitar that might prove to be effective weapons against the dragon: I only found the latter of those, and it sits in a separate page of my inventory for key items being all inactive and such. As always, calling something a game for babies boomerangs on me without fail when I inevitably then hit either an insurmountable obstacle or a puzzle I can't solve, or both in this case.

Anyway, I saw a decent vertical slice of this game and, well, it's a modern remake of Gauntlet. The RPG levelling doesn't add much from what I can tell, and as always your main issue is keeping your health up (though it did at least drop the "health draining every second because it's also your hunger meter" aspect from the original games) and not allowing yourself to be swarmed, either by using power-ups to out-DPS the regenerating hordes until you can reach their spawners or finding yourself a nice bottleneck or vantage point to whittle those numbers down in relative safely. I liked also that I could enable or disable the timed power-ups I kept finding, because it's not like I needed a triple-directional shot or a strength boost with no enemies nearby (though some, like the invulnerability, can't be left for later; darn, I thought I might've had something to help with that dragon). Either way, we're all done here.

How Well Has It Aged?: As Well As the Food I Just Shot. I think if you approach this game as a reimagining of an arcade classic with a few extra bells and whistles, rather than a contemporary RPG of that era, it's probably not the worst game out there. They did of course reboot Gauntlet again in 2014 with even more modernizations and QoL features, and you have Indie throwbacks like Hammerwatch that use that top-down style and crowd control-focused combat but added more considerations for a single-player RPG experience, so maybe Gauntlet Legends isn't really the best way to experience this series any more (if it ever was). Entirely acceptable though, especially given how few action-RPG options you had for the system.

Chance of Switch Online Inclusion: Warning, "Public's Interest in Gauntlet" is About to Die. Depends on what Warner Bros. wants to do with this franchise. The 2014 reboot didn't do a whole lot for it and I'm not sure there's enough demand for this particular iteration of Hungry, Hungry Hack-and-Slashers. If they ever did decide to start leveraging their old N64 Midway library for Switch Online they would definitely be spoiled for choice, and I doubt this will be at the top of the list.

Retro Achievements Earned: 3 of 44. Curious mix here, including the unlockable characters (I think they are what the purple coins were for), some boss speedruns, and various level- and item-related accomplishments.

Midway's Greatest Arcade Hits Vol. 1 (Random)

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History: Midway's Greatest Arcade Hits Vol. 1, a compilation of arcade games that were first released in the 1980s, is a little bit of a misnomer as they were all historically developed by Williams Electronics. As discussed above, Williams purchased Midway and switched the name of their video game division to that branding, leaving the Bally and Williams brands for their pinball tables. This compilation includes most of the same games released in the earlier Williams Arcade Classics: Defender, Joust, Robotron: 2084, and Sinistar. Exclusive to this N64 port were two more: Spy Hunter and Root Beer Tapper.

And so here's our twelfth Midway game, so soon after the eleventh. I'm going to have to take a break from these jokers next month, provided the randomizer lets me. This is also our first encounter with Digital Eclipse. Back then, DE was a port developer that largely focused on converting arcade games to handheld systems like the Game Boy Color and Game Boy Advance. They became Backbone Entertainment for most of the 2000s (where they continued making arcade ports, this time for XBLA) and then relaunched as Digital Eclipse in 2015 with a string of well-regarded retro compilations like the first Mega Man Legacy Collection and The Disney Afternoon Collection, often praised for their vast amount of bonus materials like concept art and interviews. Fans of this site are also aware that one Drew Scanlon currently works for them, presumably pitching in on games that run into H-button compatibility issues. This is the only DE game on the N64: there was a Midway's Greatest Arcade Hits Vol. 2 but it remained a Dreamcast exclusive.

I hadn't really intended to go full classic Williams arcade game-themed this month but I guess the randomizer app had other ideas. Still, though, I'm grateful it's something like this rather than some inscrutable NFL thing or the near endless number of other N64 sports games we've still yet to see from Midway. Having a selection of arcade games to choose from here means those 64 minutes will just fly by... or, at least, that's the hope. Six games for about ten minutes each seems very doable so let's see if I can earn some high scores before we're through today.

16 Minutes In

Would've thought that survival would be reward enough.
Would've thought that survival would be reward enough.

Just so I don't spend this whole session trapped in a "Buridan's ass" loop of indecisiveness over what to play, I'm going to go by how they've ordered these in-game. The first game the cursor sits on when starting it up is Root Beer Tapper, so I guess I'll start by slinging some suds. The emulation is a little rough—I'm dealing with two layers of it here, between the N64 emulator and the game's own emulation of the arcade games, so I can't quite point to a weak link but it seems incredibly sluggish given arcade hardware is always custom-built to avoid such technical issues. Or, well, I guess that would be the case in a perfect world. Root Beer Tapper might just be a sluggish game in general: you pour out pints of non-alcoholic beverages and send them across multiple bars to thirsty patrons, occasionally having to then intercept the empty glasses they slide back. One of the earliest examples of a "plate-spinning game", like Missile Command, where the true test is in your ability to multitask effectively while being conscious of the whole playing field. I got tired of it before I lost—I did lose the mini-game though, didn't expect all the shaken up cans to start shell-gaming themselves—and moved onto the next game.

That next game was Joust, which I would've probably said was my favorite of the games included here and definitely the one I've spent the most time with (via another home conversion, this time for the Atari ST). Designed by a newcomer to Williams's development team, who I'll call John Newcomer, the goal of this flying combat game is to collide with flying enemies—they're riding buzzards, you're inexplicably on an ostrich—but do so at just a slightly higher altitude to knock the enemy off and turn them into an egg. The egg, if left for too long, will hatch into a tougher opponent so it's important to follow through with every successful joust by collecting it; despite what Senator Armstrong might tell you, it is important to fret over every egg here. As the waves continue, you'll see more changes to the field: the lava will burn away most of the bottom layer platforms (which can help, since enemies and eggs will fall into it occasionally) and eventually the other platforms will disappear one by one to make the field more open and perilous. Gets tough quick, and this version also has some of Root Beer Tapper's slowdown which can really mess up the timing on your flapping (you have to hammer it to gain altitude quickly). I'll play it a bit longer for the next segment and then switch to a new game.

32 Minutes In

Your reward for destroying the Sinistar is an epileptic fit, apparently.
Your reward for destroying the Sinistar is an epileptic fit, apparently.

That next Joust run didn't last long: I lost all but one of my lives to the same guy (it was the ping!) and when I finally beat him, the pterodactyl had already arrived. Completing the stage causes the dactyl to withdraw quickly, but it can still kill you if it collides with you as it escapes which it did for me. Snatching failure from the jaws of success, as it were. Our next game was Spy Hunter and I swear it felt like the emulator was dying: not only was it so slow that the famous Peter Gunn theme was unrecognizable but I swear it spent the whole time in a single figure framerate. I can't pinpoint this being the game's fault, necessarily, but it is telling that the two slightly more advanced arcade games they added to this port specifically were the two to give me the most trouble. I'll have to check some reviews from when this compilation came out to see if there's any corroborating experiences. Anyway, in theory Spy Hunter is a fast-paced driving game in which you're also required to eliminate enemy drivers who are trying to ram you off the road or otherwise destroy your flashy vehicle: you have weapons to deter them, each configured to attack from a different direction. I spent almost the whole run in low gear because the lag meant it was nearly impossible to react in time to stuff flying at you in high gear, though of course this meant I ran out of time before hitting the checkpoint. I've never been all that great at racing games to begin with, so I don't imagine I'll have done much better even if it had been emulated perfectly.

After that is Sinistar. I've always liked the idea of Sinistar and I do appreciate a variant of Asteroids where the asteroids don't actually hurt you—the only things that can are enemy starfighter bullets and the titular cosmic terror itself—but it's chaotic as hell and always kinda frustrating when you're chasing a pixel around and can't quite seem to touch it. For those unfamiliar, you're in a race to collect ore from asteroids to create heat-seeking "sinibombs" while the red worker enemies around you are trying to do the same to build an in-progress Sinistar, a sapient dreadnaught. Once Sinistar is complete, he'll warn you with a "Beware! I live!" voice sample and start chasing you while screaming. Very perturbing stuff at the time. With enough sinibombs though, you can just blanket the playing field with them and let them do the work annihilating the scary space monster. The biggest problem is usually those starfighters, since they show up quickly and only take a moment to home their guns on you. Since I've been powering through these games and only have a couple left, I might spend a little more time giving Sinistar the run around before moving on.

48 Minutes In

So this is what we have to look forward to in 60 years. I expected more triangles.
So this is what we have to look forward to in 60 years. I expected more triangles.

I tire of Sinistar. So for this block I played a little of the two remaining games: Defender and Robotron: 2084. I've never particularly liked Defender since the speed of the game makes it far too easy to run into enemies and we go back to that whole plate-spinning thing where you're constantly rushing around saving humans from being abducted. In Defender, if an alien successfully snatches a human and takes them to the top of the screen they'll transform into a powerful "mutant" that will chase you down mercilessly, as if some trace of the human soul still within is pissed at you for letting them die. It does have some admittedly cool visuals, like the main laser weapon and the way it trails off into particles after being fired, but I've always sucked at it. What's more is that the game had its main fire and the hyperdrive (good for escaping a dangerous situation, much like its function in Asteroids) bound to the C buttons rather than A/B like most of the others. Fortunately, we're far enough along with console UI/UX design at this point in time that I could go into a menu and change the control settings.

Last, we have Robotron. Similar deal in that you're protecting humans from hostile forces (this time it's other robots) but instead it's a top-down affair with a dual-stick shooter control scheme. This lends itself well enough to the controller I was using, though I should check to see if they let you switch between D-pad/Analog Stick, Analog Stick/C buttons, or D-pad/C buttons. Given you can move and fire in eight directions, the Stick would be handy for either. I think this one is my actual favorite of the bunch (sorry Joust) just because there's no slowdown and having two sticks makes it closer to the original arcade experience, but man do I need some practice at it. You can tell Geometry Wars got many of the same ideas from this: it's not just a case of being surrounded at all times by enemies, but recognizing each type and what they can do so you can prioritize destroying the most annoying ones first.

64 Minutes In

Try 40.
Try 40.

There's one last game of sorts but, well, it's not really much to look at. It's a quiz game that drops the most esoteric trivia imaginable about the games included in the package, like what brand of coffee the developers were drinking while developing the game (Folgers) or how many cumulative seconds the game has been played between its release and the start of 1999 (3.25 trillion). Best I managed was 9 out of 15 and those were softballs like "what company is advertised on Robotron's title screen" as if Williams was going to drop some hot shout-outs to Namco on there or something. Whatever, I don't feel too bad for not knowing who Root Beer Tapper was sponsored by: it'd been better to put that information elsewhere, like an elucidating slideshow that told you all about the history behind each machine and maybe some less obvious high-scoring tips.

The menus do provide some decent options though. In addition to changing the button bindings you can also mess with arcade toggles like the number of lives you start with and how much you need to score to gain a bonus life, which overcomes the issue of these all being 1CC attempts by design. I embarked on a 50-lives run of Joust (they won't last long, I'm sure) to see how far I could get before the final timer was done. Absolutely massacred, but I held on in there until the 9th Wave. The 8th was hardest: the pterodactyl is summoned immediately and remains a lethal presence throughout. I lucked out and managed to bop it on its snoot, which instantly kills it for a big reward, but that's not something you can rely on unless you're super accurate. I feel like I've accomplished everything I set out to do here, which was to play Defender exactly once before bailing, do a fair job getting some distance into Sinistar, Joust, and Robotron (the good ones), and commiserate over the dire states of Spy Hunter and Root Beer Tapper, neither of which I had much of a fondness for anyway. Mission success.

How Well Has It Aged?: Arcadeic. Archaide. Arc- Let Me Workshop This Some More. I mean, what are we discussing here? The 40-year-old games or the 25-year-old emulation tech used to preserve them? Midway's Greatest Arcade Hits Vol. 1 is not a good option if you want to play these classics in as close to an arcade perfect state as possible. We've seen many more revisions since and those tend to have better controller support to boot. Also, the work Digital Eclipse does now is so much better than it was back then so I'll just wait for them to revive this bunch in some future compilation.

Chance of Switch Online Inclusion: Thy Relevancy is Over. As I said, many better options available, so I can't see Warner Bros. signing off on bringing this specific compilation back. I have to imagine (without looking it up, because I'm lazy) that most of the games here can be played on Switch through some other fashion, reducing its value further.

Retro Achievements Earned: N/A. Too bad, I might've had more incentive to stick with some of those games longer if there were achievements to earn.

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. Forsaken 64 (Ep. 31)
  19. Wetrix (Ep. 21)
  20. Harvest Moon 64 (Ep. 15)
  21. Hybrid Heaven (Ep. 12)
  22. Blast Corps (Ep. 4)
  23. Kirby 64: The Crystal Shards (Ep. 2)
  24. Ogre Battle 64: Person of Lordly Caliber (Ep. 4)
  25. Tonic Trouble (Ep. 24)
  26. Densha de Go! 64 (Ep. 29)
  27. Fushigi no Dungeon: Fuurai no Shiren 2 (Ep. 32)
  28. Snowboard Kids (Ep. 16)
  29. Spider-Man (Ep. 8)
  30. Bomberman 64 (Ep. 8)
  31. Jet Force Gemini (Ep. 16)
  32. Mickey's Speedway USA (Ep. 37)
  33. Shadowgate 64: Trials of the Four Towers (Ep. 7)
  34. Body Harvest (Ep. 28)
  35. Star Wars: Shadows of the Empire (Ep. 33)
  36. Gauntlet Legends (Ep. 39)
  37. Toy Story 2: Buzz Lightyear to the Rescue! (Ep. 29)
  38. 40 Winks (Ep. 31)
  39. Buck Bumble (Ep. 30)
  40. Aidyn Chronicles: The First Mage (Ep. 20)
  41. Midway's Greatest Arcade Hits Vol. 1 (Ep. 39)
  42. Conker's Bad Fur Day (Ep. 22)
  43. Gex 64: Enter the Gecko (Ep. 33)
  44. BattleTanx: Global Assault (Ep. 13)
  45. Last Legion UX (Ep. 36)
  46. Hot Wheels Turbo Racing (Ep. 9)
  47. Cruis'n Exotica (Ep. 37)
  48. San Francisco Rush 2049 (Ep. 4)
  49. Iggy's Reckin' Balls (Ep. 35)
  50. Fighter Destiny 2 (Ep. 6)
  51. Charlie Blast's Territory (Ep. 36)
  52. Big Mountain 2000 (Ep. 18)
  53. Nushi Tsuri 64: Shiokaze ni Notte (Ep. 35)
  54. Castlevania: Legacy of Darkness (Ep. 14)
  55. Tetris 64 (Ep. 1)
  56. Mahjong Hourouki Classic (Ep. 34)
  57. Milo's Astro Lanes (Ep. 23)
  58. International Track & Field 2000 (Ep. 28)
  59. NBA Live '99 (Ep. 3)
  60. Rampage 2: Universal Tour (Ep. 5)
  61. Command & Conquer (Ep. 17)
  62. International Superstar Soccer '98 (Ep. 23)
  63. South Park Rally (Ep. 2)
  64. Armorines: Project S.W.A.R.M. (Ep. 7)
  65. Eikou no St. Andrews (Ep. 1)
  66. Rally Challenge 2000 (Ep. 10)
  67. Monster Truck Madness 64 (Ep. 11)
  68. F-1 World Grand Prix II (Ep. 3)
  69. F1 Racing Championship (Ep. 2)
  70. Sesame Street: Elmo's Number Journey (Ep. 14)
  71. Wheel of Fortune (Ep. 24)
  72. Mortal Kombat Mythologies: Sub-Zero (Ep. 15)
  73. Mario no Photopi (Ep. 20)
  74. Blues Brothers 2000 (Ep. 12)
  75. Dark Rift (Ep. 25)
  76. Mace: The Dark Age (Ep. 27)
  77. Bio F.R.E.A.K.S. (Ep. 21)
  78. Ready 2 Rumble Boxing (Ep. 32)
  79. 64 Oozumou 2 (Ep. 30)
  80. Madden Football 64 (Ep. 26)
  81. Transformers: Beast Wars Transmetals (Ep. 22)
  82. Heiwa Pachinko World 64 (Ep. 38)
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Indie Game of the Week 357: The Procession to Calvary

No Caption Provided

Way back in the mid-'90s, British comedy group Monty Python—or maybe just the one of them that felt like getting involved—worked with American developers 7th Level to create what they felt would be the most apposite video game experiences for their particular surreal brand of humor. What they landed on was a trio of classic graphic adventure games that were packed with FMV clips and Terry Gilliam's striking use of animated Renaissance-era artwork. I feel like that spirit of making absurdist goofs via the medium of high-brow (but is it really? There's a lot of butts and stuff) classical art is alive and well in the games of solo developer Joe Richardson, of which The Procession to Calvary is the second to have this style: the first, Four Last Things, is yet another 2017 game I'm going to have to add to the pile while the as-yet-unreleased third, Death of the Reprobate, was recently featured on Steam Next Fest.

The Procession to Calvary, named for the Pieter Bruegel the Elder painting (which I totally knew and didn't look up), sees its unnamed protagonist on the winning side of a holy war against the tyrant, Heavenly Peter. However, being in peacetime means she cannot righteously murder people any more, which is her favorite thing to do. Learning that Heavenly Peter is still alive and that the current, more benevolent monarch, Immortal John, would not be particularly upset upon hearing of his death, the protagonist sets off to gleefully eviscerate the fugitive ousted ruler for less than noble reasons. Naturally, as this is an adventure game, you'll have various roadblocks to overcome by talking to the right people, collecting the right items, using them in the right places, and eventually doing enough favors for people to reach the next area en route to Heavenly Peter's equally heavenly basilica. Optionally, you can just murder anyone who stands in your way, though—surprise, surprise—there may be consequences for your sins later down the road. Kinda like an Undertale thing, but far less altruistic: even without the killing, you're still stealing tons of stuff while insulting (and optionally punching) people.

Trouble with a lot of these throwback adventure games is that you feel like you've seen all these hotspots before.
Trouble with a lot of these throwback adventure games is that you feel like you've seen all these hotspots before.

Every asset in The Procession to Calvary has been carefully carved out of an actual honest-to-goodness Renaissance-era painting and given animations, where applicable. The violence-happy protagonist herself is taken from Rembrandt's portrait of Bellona, a Roman goddess of war. There's an art museum you can visit that's related to a single puzzle but otherwise mostly just exists to show you where the majority of the game's art originally came from: even at its most irreverent and silly, the game and its developer clearly have a deep admiration for the Old Masters. Or maybe they just didn't want to risk getting haunted by a bunch of 500-year-old ghosts pissed that their life's work was utilized for the sake of fart jokes (though I have to imagine they were as popular then as they are now). As much as I sound like I deride the game's base sense of humor, I found it pretty funny on the whole as it locates a middle ground between the smart, sarcastic LucasFilm adventure game humor that became the bar for would-be point-and-click comedians to pass and slangy, more modern (if not too meme-y) turns of phrase and meta jokes. I've left one achievement to collect after I'm done writing here where you simply murder as many people as possible: looking forward to seeing what might result as the body count rises to ludicrous levels (I'm personally holding out for a tough Sans boss fight).

The Procession to Calvary does stick to its traditional point-and-click guns for better and only occasionally for worse. One puzzle has you opera singing at a talent show for a needed piece of bling and it means memorizing the Italian lyrics beforehand: there's about eight lines you need to rattle off one after the other, and if you pause too long to look up a screenshot your protagonist will shrug and tell the audience she forgot the lyrics, causing the mini-game to fail which means talking to the NPC hosting the thing again and repeating the process. The only way to get past it is to either memorize the whole movement or drag in an external notepad: it's the only puzzle of its kind in the game, so it stands out as a particularly annoying lapse into the sort of substandard quality-of-life some older games often exhibited (I still occasionally have nightmares of what the Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade game put me through). Still, though, it's not the end of the world if I'm forced to learn some opera music. Lord knows my uncultured ass could use it. The other big problem is that it takes a while to traverse multiple screens if the solution to a puzzle is on the opposite side of the world: your protagonist has a jaunty run but it's only mildly faster than the normal walk. Many throwbacks let you skip the movement animations to new areas if you double-click the exit, but that sadly did not appear to be the case here (though it does highlight all hotspots with the middle mouse button, so it earns points back for that).

The cliff was not a shortcut. Though I guess it kinda was, in a way.
The cliff was not a shortcut. Though I guess it kinda was, in a way.

The positives far outweigh the negatives here, including even the generally short runtime since it offers multiple endings depending on how bloodthirsty you chose to be. The puzzles were approachable and only mildly difficult (it did the player a kindness in hinting as to an item or hotspot's use when you examine it, if any), the writing and humor were generally excellent (albeit with a few typos here and there, though I'm convinced I'm the only person left alive who still cares about those), and the striking presentation made great use of its particular theme and the less, let's say, realistic depictions of those old paintings (genuinely surprised at the lack of fucked up cats). I particularly liked that the game was scored by classical music that was entirely diegetic: the musicians appear in every scene, and you can even applaud them if you wish. I'll have to check out Richardson's other works when I have the chance (and once Reprobate is out). And maybe those old Monty Python games again too; I recall them being fun if hopelessly (and deliberately) stupid.

Rating: 4 out of 5.

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Anyway, Here's WonderSwan (Part One)

Like many occidental folks I've little to zero experience with Bandai's WonderSwan: a handheld console released in the late '90s to compete with Nintendo's iron grip over the market as a smaller-budget, longer-battery-life alternative. It was co-created by Koto Laboratory and its founder Gunpei Yokoi, a major figure in the development of the original Game Boy (as well as Metroid and a few other games) so Bandai definitely didn't go into this half-assed like they do with, say, almost every anime tie-in video game they published in the '90s. The original black and white graphics model came out in 1999 and the WonderSwan Color followed a year later, which in turn saw an updated model in the SwanCrystal in 2002. The standard and color versions saw approximately 100 games each and the system was considered a minor success, albeit not one that could survive for long against the overwhelming might of the Game Boy Advance (released 2001). No version of this system ever left Japan, at least not in an official context.

My original plan was to cherry-pick the most promising games from this undiscovered wilder(wonder?)ness of a library, but wouldn't you know it? The random selection apps I use for both Indie Game of the Week and 64 in 64 unionized recently, so now it seems I'm contractually obligated to offer them any additional choosing work that might arise. I guess it saves me the task of actually researching all this stuff ahead of time and if you've ever read one of my blogs you know how much I hate work and preparation and proofreading and all that tedious jazz. (Good thing I'm a pefect speller.)

So really this is just me playing a bunch of WonderSwan and WonderSwan Color games until I get bored—no sixty-four minute requirements here—and summarize what they're about and whether or not it was something we in the west really missed out on (both the game and the system as a whole). Hoping to find some gems here and there, but realistically I think it'll be a sobering glimpse into a world trapped behind a language barrier where I can marvel at the vast number of anime licensed games we were never unfortunate enough to see. Privileged. I'm sure that's the word I meant.

Anyway, here's WonderSwan:

#001: Judgement Silversword -Rebirth Edition-

No Caption Provided
  • Developer: M-Kai
  • Publisher: Qute
  • Release Date: 2004-02-02
  • Inscrutability: Minimum
  • Is This Anime?: Nah.

Field Report: Our first game is, perhaps fittingly, one of the last games ever released on WonderSwan. In fact, it emerged a year after the system was discontinued: reason being is that the original unfinished version of the game was the winner of a game development contest held in 2001 for the WonderWitch—a software development kit released by publishers Qute, the contest serving as a promotion for same. The reward for this contest was to have your game be released commercially, though I guess this retail version came a little late. You don't need a WonderSwan to play Silversword these days: the "Resurrection Edition" can be purchased directly from Steam or it can be played as a free bonus in the developer's later game Eschatos, which was localized and ported to PS4 and Switch as far back as 2022. If you're not familiar with Qute they tend to produce a lot of shoot 'em up throwbacks like Ginga Force and Natsuki Chronicles and this is definitely one of those. Despite being stuck on a portable system it's pretty busy, taking full advantage of the WonderSwan's hardware to have many sprites on the screen at once (albeit with some slowdown). Shoot 'em ups always tend to make good benchmarks for that sort of thing.

I actually had a pretty good time with Judgement Silversword, in part because it makes a lot of very smart choices that may have been more commonplace in the genre at that time (I've barely played anything shmup-related since the 16-bit generation so I couldn't say for sure). For one, there's no power-ups so you're as strong as you're ever going to be: no stressing about getting blown up and being in such a compromised state without all your add-ons that the rest of the game becomes impossible. You're able to switch between three firing modes instead: a focused stream which works best against mid-bosses and armored enemies; a spread shot which is ideal for when the screen is flooded with faster, weaker foes; and a shield that can absorb minor projectiles and delay major ones long enough to get out of their way, though blocking shots with it will rapidly deplete its power causing the area of effect to shrink. The shield in particular is a genius move, akin to the adjustable "Force" shield from R-Type, as it fixes the issue with vertical shoot 'em ups where you can easily run out of room to maneuver around heavy enemy fire with the limited horizontal space. Speaking of which, since the game is built to be a vertical scroller that means you have to hold the WonderSwan on its side N-Gage style and use an alternative control scheme, which is something Nintendo would eventually cotton onto as an idea for a few DS games.

Dealing with all these alien hordes can be tough, but I just take one look at that big beautiful .jpeg I call home and know it's worth it.
Dealing with all these alien hordes can be tough, but I just take one look at that big beautiful .jpeg I call home and know it's worth it.
Conquering the highscore table, even if I'm far from conquering the game.
Conquering the highscore table, even if I'm far from conquering the game.
Maybe the wrong time to take a screenshot while fighting Mr. Screen Filler over here.
Maybe the wrong time to take a screenshot while fighting Mr. Screen Filler over here.

I got about as far as Area 9 on Normal mode where you meet the second boss and have to deal with some pretty intense patterns. I got twice as far on Easy but they take away the combo multiplier so my score was still far less than my best Normal run. I guess the Easy mode is better suited for learning patterns and seeing what the rest of the game is like. One last neat thing: there was a way to unlock main menu options based on your cumulative score, the first of which was being able to pause the game (cheeky). Couldn't seem to unlock others—maybe I need to make a certain amount of game progress in addition to the cumulative score milestones—but I wonder if it'll be things like giving yourself more lives and continues or possibly even some cheats or cosmetic changes. Neat game, though I am a little concerned that it'll all be downhill from here.

Time Spent: About half an hour.

#002: SD Gundam Eiyuuden: Musha Densetsu

("SD Gundam Heroes: Warrior Story")

No Caption Provided
  • Developer: Bec
  • Publisher: Bandai
  • Release Date: 2001-03-15
  • Inscrutability: Maximum
  • Is This Anime?: Sure is. Says "Gundam" right there. I know what a Gundam is.

Field Report: Oh boy, this was more in line with what I was expecting from a Bandai console. SD Gundam, which is a spin-off universe where the Gundams are their own sapient beings and have cute chibi appearances (i.e. super-deformed, or SD), was a popular license for tie-in games and there's eight of them for WonderSwan systems alone (three for b&w, five for color). Stories and games set in the SD Gundam universe might have the usual sci-fi setting but could also fall under the "Kishi" or "Musha" brands: the first being medieval knights and wizards and the second being traditional Japanese samurai and ninja. We're dealing with the latter here, though there was also a SD Gundam Eiyuuden: Kishi Densetsu that released the same day. Look forward to me pulling that on the next episode.

Hmm. A turn-based RPG with a whole lot of talking, is all I was about able to make out from playing this game for the brief duration I could stand. I'm not familiar with the SD Gundam Eiyuuden continuity (or, indeed, any Gundam continuity) but it seems like they go back to being giant robot suits in this game since the protagonists are a bunch of human teens that ride them around. We're tasked by what I believe is both the main character's daimyo (feudal lord) and father to help the soldiers in town fight off some enemy samurai Zakus. After beating their asses in a couple of easy fights I got stuck since I couldn't return to pops to report in, nor could I leave the town or enter any of the houses. If I had some other objective to complete I couldn't glean it from the Japanese script: since we're talking samurai and old-timey Japan there's a lot of kanji floating around I can't deal with.

This guy sure looks trustworthy.
This guy sure looks trustworthy.
The one good thing with SD Gundam is that I get to be a cool robot guy. I can be a dorky human in any other game.
The one good thing with SD Gundam is that I get to be a cool robot guy. I can be a dorky human in any other game.
'Todomeda' means 'final blow'. So, I learned something from all this at least.
'Todomeda' means 'final blow'. So, I learned something from all this at least.

Yeah, so this one was a bust. I'm sure the system is jam-packed with RPGs, adventure games, and strategy games which are all going to need more fluency than I can muster—it would also help if I had any familiarity with the license too—but given how rudimentary this game appears I'm fairly sure I wouldn't want to play it start to finish even if I could follow it. These Dragon Quest clone types were everywhere for a while; here's hoping the next Gundam game I check out is an action title I can roll with for a bit longer. (Though I guess rolling out is more of a Transformers thing?)

Time Spent: Maybe 10 minutes?

#003: Flash Koibito-kun

No Caption Provided

("Mr. Flash Lover" approx.)

  • Developer: Koto Lab
  • Publisher: Kobunsha
  • Release Date: 2000-12-28
  • Inscrutability: Minimum
  • Is This Anime?: Maybe that "other" kind of anime. You know the one.

Field Report: We have our first Koto Lab game on here. If you didn't read the pre-amble (and why would you?) Koto was Gunpei Yokoi's baby and they focused on (extrapolating from this game) some classic Game Boy-ass puzzle games: the type that gave Nintendo's first portable system its identity as a little workhorse on the go that was best paired with something you could play for a few minutes while waiting for a bus, such as Tetris or Dr. Mario (and later the likes of Candy Crush and Angry Birds only went on to show what a prophetic vision that was). Flash Koibito-kun ("koibito" being the Japanese word for a romantic partner, though gender is unspecified) definitely feels like a cute puzzle game with enough nuance to it to grab hold of your attention for a while.

So, the idea is that the protagonist just got rejected by yet another woman and is feeling a mite forlorn about his love life. He passes by a shrine from which a kitsune-masked priest pops out with the promise of helping him with his problem by offering the services of what I assume is the eponymous character: a little ninja fellow whose job it is to ensure the protagonist's words of affection reach his target. The ninja does this by standing in gaps in a circuit that these heart-shaped affirmations follow so that they can complete their journey: each gap corresponds to a direction on the D-pad, so the player often has to bounce around quickly to make sure all the hearts make it to the end. That's the simple version. The advanced version is that you have another ability, a means of holding back hearts by blocking their path. By doing this the heart highway will become congested and form trains that can be a little harder to herd but will score way more love points once they reach their destination due to a combo bonus. Your target lady for that round will accept a certain number of special flashing hearts, so before they're all delivered you have to ensure you've built up enough large chains and brought them safely home to score the maximum three-heart rating. After each level the now swooning girl gives you some sweet talk in Japanese, though if you score the maximum rating these cutscenes are a little longer (though nothing licentious; the WonderSwan is a family system, after all).

You lose sight of the hearts once they pass behind that tower, but you have plenty of time to react when they re-emerge.
You lose sight of the hearts once they pass behind that tower, but you have plenty of time to react when they re-emerge.
Love train a-comin'. Wait, that sounds kinda dubious.
Love train a-comin'. Wait, that sounds kinda dubious.
Nice, uh, antennae. Invade Earth often?
Nice, uh, antennae. Invade Earth often?

I progressed through the first two scenarios which had three levels/girls each—the dojo where you train with Mr. Flash Lover and the city where you try out the results of your training on random comely pedestrians—before I was plucked off the high street by a UFO and started macking on alien women instead. It did make me intensely curious what might proceed next after this little Urusei Yatsura twist but I figured I'd move on. The game's fun but it's also pretty basic for a game released in 2000: we were starting to reach the level of complexity in games (even portable games) where a cute little puzzle thing like this would only appear as a mini-game at most, like say in Mario Party 3 (which debuted the same month). I like the look of it though, adopting a more western-like art style for its characters—they sorta reminded me of that old pixel webcomic, Diesel Sweeties—and the level design kept peppering in some fun cosmetic obstacles like view-obfuscating billboards or teleporters. It's definitely another system highlight; that we're two for three so far is a positive development, especially since I'm selecting these at random.

Time Spent: 45 minutes. I could happily play more though.

#004: Inuyasha: Fuuun Emaki

No Caption Provided

("Inuyasha: Wind and Cloud Picture Scroll")

  • Developer: Bandai
  • Publisher: Bandai
  • Release Date: 2002-07-27
  • Inscrutability: Maximum
  • Is This Anime?: Oh yes. Dogboy was everywhere in the early '00s.

Field Report: It's back down in the anime trenches for us as we take on Inuyasha: Fuuun Emaki. Yes, that's three Us in a row; Japanese can be fun that way. It's the second of three WonderSwan Color games based on the Inuyasha manga and anime, an early staple of Toonami and the like in which the titular half-human, half-dog spirit meets the time-travelling highschooler Kagome and the two are required to go around collecting the pieces of an important sealing gemstone across Sengoku-era (16th century) Japan while encountering dangerous demons and humans both. It was created by Rumiko Takahashi, the mangaka behind Ranma ½, though it offered something a bit darker and more dramatic than the comical transsexual antics of Ranma and company. You know, the whole edgy and emo bit, which I call edgmo for short. I recall a lot of my fellow teens around the time being obsessed with this show; the internet was as full of Inuyasha portals back then as it is today for Demon Slayer or Attack on Titan or whatever the new edgmo YA anime hotness is. (And if you're wondering, no, it's physically impossible to sound older than I do right now.)

This game sees us fairly late in the manga/anime's continuity as Inuyasha and Kagome already have a full posse in tow, though the UI would indicate I've many more left to recruit. It's some kind of action-RPG where you go around a world map looking for trouble and then must fight brawler-style battles in enclosed arenas against either a bunch of mob enemies or a single boss character: I fought against wolves, floating flaming skulls, and some kind of ranger-warrior elf lady who I'd probably recognize immediately if I had any familiarity with the show. Sometimes you could pick other characters to play as but it felt like most of the time I was stuck with Inuyasha; I wonder if there was a way to call in allies for support attacks like it was Marvel vs. Capcom or something. The game looks pretty sharp but man was that combat sluggish (Tales it ain't) and it feels like the only real obstacle to overcome was the ridiculously oversized hitboxes of the enemies: you need to stand far enough way that your sword swings just about hit because otherwise it's too easy to take collision damage.

You hate to see a dog-defeat-dog world.
You hate to see a dog-defeat-dog world.
Dunno who this squirrel guy is but he'll (she'll?) let you practice against different enemy types.
Dunno who this squirrel guy is but he'll (she'll?) let you practice against different enemy types.
Feels like a sword isn't gonna cut it here, so to speak; I think I'll need a super shotgun or a plasma rifle for these guys.
Feels like a sword isn't gonna cut it here, so to speak; I think I'll need a super shotgun or a plasma rifle for these guys.

I did level up a few times but without knowing what I was doing and why it wasn't shaping up to be full playthrough material. I'm not sure how you're supposed to figure out where to go either: the world map had no names or icons attached to the nodes you could visit, and there seemed to be no rhyme or reason behind what I found in those places. Maybe the show itself was about wandering around in circles until some boss showed up and dropped a stone fragment McGuffin in the hero party's lap, though I'd have to imagine there was a lot more to it than that if they sold that many wall scrolls at Anime Expo.

Time Spent: Around 10 minutes. I'm going to try to make it at least that far with most of these.

#005: Magical Drop for WonderSwan

No Caption Provided
  • Developer: Gai Brain
  • Publisher: Data East
  • Release Date: 1999-10-14
  • Inscrutability: Minimum
  • Is This Anime?: Feels like it could be, but it's not.

Field Report: Magical Drop is a competitive puzzle game that's a little like Bust-a-Move or Columns but more involves juggling large amounts of magical spheres by pulling them down from the active field and redistributing them to the right columns to create chains that then vanish from the screen. There needs to be a vertical line of at least three of the same symbol for them to activate and disappear, and they'll also take any connecting symbols with them including those horizontally adjacent. A whole lot of sucking up balls, in short. Money Puzzle Exchanger, a game that I know the former staff of this site were very fond of, was a slightly more complex evolution of the idea. Publishers Data East, who were a more common sight in the arcades but certainly made their presence felt on home consoles, did briefly acknowledge the WonderSwan with this and a Side Pocket port but that was all they had in them. They didn't even develop this Magical Drop port: they left that to Gai Brain, who were better known for porting SNK fighters to non-Neo Geo consoles (as a mostly Neo Geo franchise, I guess Magical Drop fits into their purview). While named for the first Magical Drop, Magical Drop for WonderSwan features characters only introduced in the second and third games for Neo Geo so it's mostly its own bespoke entry. Speaking of which, those two sequels can be bought on PS4, Switch, and Xbox One via Hamster's ACA Neo Geo range. There's also Magical Drop VI, a (fairly pricey) modern entry available on Switch and Steam.

The issue with Magical Drop for WonderSwan is that in regular Magical Drop the different jewels are defined by their colors, with red matching with red and so on. That's not quite feasible on a portable system that only has black and white graphics, and I guess Data East didn't want to wait a year for the WonderSwan Color, so instead Gai Brain found a germane way of fixing the problem by leaning into the game's tarot-based aesthetic—all the characters are named after major arcana, like Justice and Emperor and Chariot—and had the four main colors of the original Magical Drop be instead represented by icons of stars, cups, swords, and wands: that is, the four minor arcana which occupy a similar role as spades, diamonds, etc. do for playing cards. It mostly works, and I'm sure colorblind players appreciated the change, but I think it takes the brain a little longer to parse symbols than it does color. Or maybe that's just me. Brains, huh?

Goal here is to outlast my opponent or eliminate 300 symbols before they can. You can see how far down your opponent's field is with that graphic in the bottom right. In both cases, I (Justice) am ahead of my opponent (The Fool).
Goal here is to outlast my opponent or eliminate 300 symbols before they can. You can see how far down your opponent's field is with that graphic in the bottom right. In both cases, I (Justice) am ahead of my opponent (The Fool).
What? I've been playing for five minutes, how have I already rolled credits?
What? I've been playing for five minutes, how have I already rolled credits?
Solo Mode gives you more room to breathe, but the two extra lanes makes it a bit tougher to juggle.
Solo Mode gives you more room to breathe, but the two extra lanes makes it a bit tougher to juggle.

Outside of all that, the gameplay moves fast enough and for as much as I seem to believe that dealing with icons slowed me down I still managed to wipe the floor with every opponent on the story mode's default easy setting. Even normal, though it required a few continues, didn't present much of a challenge. I wondered if I should go for the full set and try for expert but I chickened out and instead checked out solo (hitasura) mode instead: this one gives you more screen estate to work with without an opponent—the "portrait mode" WonderSwan didn't have enough room to display your opponent's grid, but there's a small graphic in the margin that represented how congested their field is as well as a portrait that changes expression depending on how well they're doing—and simply has you deal with waves until you're eventually overwhelmed. I managed to get to level 20, but I don't know how impressive that is. Probably not very. Either way, like I said earlier, simple puzzle games like these are the bread and butter of any pre-millennial portable console's library so this was a good fit. Little reason to play it now though given the better options on Switch and Steam Deck.

Time Spent: Half an hour.

Current Ranking

  1. Flash Koibito-kun
  2. Magical Drop for WonderSwan
  3. Judgement Silversword -Rebirth Edition-
  4. Inuyasha: Fuuun Emaki
  5. SD Gundam Eiyuuden: Musha Densetsu
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Indie Game of the Week 356: Suzy Cube

No Caption Provided

It seems I'm not sufficiently "Mario'd out" after completing Super Mario Bros. Wonder earlier this month so here I am instead playing Suzy Cube, the "we have Super Mario 3D Land at home" of Indie 3D platformers. All right, I'm being a little unkind here: it's rare to see someone take on the throne so brazenly like this and, all else aside, it's remarkable the developers managed to make this game feel about as good as a Mario to play. Its mere wisp of a plot has Suzy Cube, a girl with a cube for a head and I believe the second video game allusion to Suzi Quatro I've seen this week (Gerstmann was playing the NES pool sim Break Time for his regular NES ranking show, and that also had a "Suzy Cue"), get dragooned into recovering the kingdom's treasure after it gets burgled. She sets off across a series of mostly disconnected worlds—the levels have themes like "snowy" and "desert" but they're not consistent within a single world; the game preferring instead a more random approach.

These worlds have four regular levels each (fairly big ones too) and then culminate in a boss fight, which is preceded by a more time-intensive platforming gauntlet, and finally a bonus secret stage which tend to be smaller, more experimental courses. There's five worlds total, and then a final string of a dozen "special world" levels that are a little more challenging than anything in the main game progression. That 3D Land comparison isn't just me being my usual reductive self, by the way: the courses are fully 3D but are also very linear, with the scant few diversions from the critical path leading to extra lives or the game's main set of optional collectibles (a trio of blue stars per course). The blue stars can be tough to locate but the game throws you the same bone 3D Land/World does by acknowledging the ones you've found in the order they appear in the level: if the middle one's missing, you can be sure it's located somewhere between where you found the first and third. Suzy Cube also gives you a few power-up "suits" which may have stages built around their mechanics. The first of these is simply a cap that lets you take an extra hit (the standard super mushroom, in other words), the second gives you a double-jump and slow-fall skill to make platforming easier, and the third lets you ground-pound sturdy enemies and breakable terrain. It's sometimes worth carrying these upgrades over to other stages, but the chances are you'll be fine without them: the courses usually provide any power-ups you might need.

Van Gogh it ain't, but at least you can tell it's a tree, a trampoline, and some coins. What more do you need?
Van Gogh it ain't, but at least you can tell it's a tree, a trampoline, and some coins. What more do you need?

Where Suzy Cube perhaps falters a bit when trying to keep up with Mario is in its presentation. Graphically, I'd kindly suggest that Suzy Cube is operating with "programmer graphics": deliberately simple designs and models that serve to make it easier to playtest everything before the artists show up with the real deal. Suzy Cube isn't trying to hide that it was made for mobile devices first and foremost with its pleasingly rounded and rudimentary UI and aesthetic, and while it's functional enough it doesn't really stand out either. The music is worse: each course has what feels like a 10 second loop which starts to grate long before the finish line. There is one scenario in which these limited loops are beneficial though, and that's in the game's sole attempt to recreate that Beep Block Skyway level where your platforming has to match the BGM as platforms appear and disappear with the beat. It overall gives the game a thrown together feel, like the designers spent all their time trying to make it feel as fluid and precise as Mario in the way it controls that everything else was an afterthought. Honestly, if I was playing game development triage and trying to assign time to various divisions like I was partitioning out points for a RPG character build, I'd probably also go full "gameplay" and let "graphics" and "sound" be my dump stats.

In terms of trying to match Mario's prestigious level design variety, I'd say that Suzy Cube acquits itself well enough. There's a whole level that gives itself over to more of a classic Zelda top-down dungeon style as you pass through doors and activate switches one room transition at a time. Others might include quickly ascending or descending through the level, spinning or disappearing platforms, dodging missiles while you run across destructible bridges, sliding down slopes to avoid avalanches, and the occasional more open stages that allow for a bit more exploration. The highlights for the game's imagination are in those shorter secret stages I mentioned: each one has its own gimmick, though they don't always land.

The game's one boss. That is to say, it's always this big Onix guy each time. Still, the tactics can vary at least: this is the only course where the goal is to stomp those iron switches to make the turrets fire on the boss before you can damage it yourself.
The game's one boss. That is to say, it's always this big Onix guy each time. Still, the tactics can vary at least: this is the only course where the goal is to stomp those iron switches to make the turrets fire on the boss before you can damage it yourself.

Anyway, the game's a pretty simple homage to those more railroaded 3D platformers that Mario became for a short while there between Sunshine and Odyssey and, given it has its priorities straight, I can't say I dislike it much. Hunting down those blue stars was occasionally a challenge and it flows quite well for the most part, the exceptions being those requiring a bit more momentum/inertia-based trickery like for instance with those spinning block platforms so beloved of the Steal My Sunshine crew or the icy slides: I imagine trying to get all those physics right was a headache and a half. The game could also be a bit unfortunately glitchy on Steam as well: I had it crash on the map selection screen a few times (having that be the least stable part of your game is a new one for me) and the achievement for finding all 123 blue stars in the game was glitched out too—there's even a guide telling you how to effectively patch the game yourself to earn it since the dev seems to have given up on patching it themselves. Tells you plenty, I suppose. Still, as cheap and cheerful Indie alternatives to Nintendo first-party games (that remain eternally at their recommended retail prices) go, you could certainly do worse.

Rating: 4 out of 5.

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Mega Archive: Part XXXVIII: From The Addams Family to Shining Force II

After the FMV-fueled forays of January we're back to classic flavor Mega Archive this month, checking out ten more Sega Genesis/Mega Drive games from the autumn of 1993 as I ensure the Giant Bomb Wiki pages for them are up to snuff. What's odd about this quixotic little project I've embarked on is how nostalgic it's been, not just for the gilded age that these games hailed from but also whenever I find something that simultaneously launched on SNES and I'm reading the work I did back when that was the focus of my wiki tinkering. Probably doesn't bode well for my worries of getting older that I'm getting hit with several layers of this wistful shit just from reading up on some mid licensed platformer everyone's correctly forgotten about. I guess that's still better than paying $200 to some price-gouging collector's site for a copy of said mid licensed platformer because I have it in mind to collect the full console library. Those are the guys with problems, IMO.

Speaking of haunting, October is the time for scares and horrors and what's more terrifying than three whole not-great sports games to cover, including one hated sport of mine that had yet to be represented on the Mega Drive and I prayed never would? We also have a couple of actually scary Halloween games (though not actually scary), a mascot platformer also-ran, a classic of the strategy-RPG genre, and the usual customary batch of Eurotrash to enjoy. I know I enjoy 'em. One of them even has an accented character in the title! Ooh la la.

Check out the Mega Archive's Mega Spreadsheet for links to earlier entries and just a whole heckin' bunch of information about the Mega Drive and Sega CD in one handy place. Going to have to start adding the 1994 games to that eventually...

Part XXXVIII: 481-490 (October '93)

481: The Addams Family

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  • Developer: Ocean Software
  • Publisher: Flying Edge
  • JP Release: N/A
  • NA Release: October 1993
  • EU Release: November 1993
  • Franchise: The Addams Family
  • Genre: Platformer
  • Theme: "They're creepy and they're kooky", etc.
  • Premise: Very loosely following the events of the 1991 movie, Gomez is tasked with rescuing each Addams family member from the villainous Abigail Craven and her allies. Or maybe just a big snowman.
  • Availability: Licensed game based on a specific movie, so unlikely to be rereleased.
  • Preservation: When you think "movie tie-in platformer developed by British licensed shovelware meisters Ocean Software" you don't foster any high expectations, but I don't recall any of The Addams Family games—based on a property that debuted as a comic strip in the New Yorker in 1938—actually being all that bad. You had this, a top-down one based on the (superior) movie sequel Addams Family Values, and Pugsley's Scavenger Hunt which I think was Nintendo-only and based on the animated show instead. Obviously, they're not innovative nonpareils either, but in addition to making them look half-decent Ocean kinda indulged themselves with some Castlevania aspirations when designing the Addams estate and made this game a bit more open: it's still stage-based, but you can navigate the hub-like lobby area to tackle the stages in any order (with the exception of the finale) and there's a few hidden rooms and optional areas leading to permanent health upgrades to discover too. I guess, much like the movie itself which was one of many Boomer-TV-to-movie reboots of the 1990s, it's better than it had any right to be. Anyway, this is our first Ocean Software game on Mega Archive—which is weird, since they're usually all over any system popular in Europe—but we'll be seeing many more to come. (Flying Edge was an Acclaim label they used for their Genesis games for legal reasons, if you needed a reminder.)
  • Wiki Notes: SNES double-dip so just some minor edits.

482: Aero the Acro-Bat

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  • Developer: Iguana Entertainment
  • Publisher: Sunsoft
  • JP Release: N/A
  • NA Release: October 1993
  • EU Release: July 1994
  • Franchise: Aero the Acro-Bat
  • Genre: Platformer
  • Theme: Moving Through the List of Rodents in the Search for Another Sonic
  • Premise: Aero the Acrobatic Bat and his circus friends are attacked by the evil industrialist Edgar Ektor and betrayed by their former colleague Zero the Kamikaze Squirrel. How much suspense could a trapeze act possibly generate if the performers can fly, anyway?
  • Availability: We have or are going to have Bubsy and Gex reboots, but the Aero camp has been very quiet. The license changed hands from Sunsoft to Universal Interactive to Vivendi Games to... oh no, Activision Blizzard. Well, I guess that means a reboot is possible if they can figure out how to stick lootboxes in there. Aero the Gacha-Bat?
  • Preservation: I don't remember what age I was when I began the transformation into my deeply cynical present day self, but I want to say it was probably around the time I noticed all the Sonic clones popping up after the inescapable success of the blue 'hog (we'll be getting one next month too). To be fair, Aero's more about the verticality of being a bat than it is the alacrity of Sonic, but I never found this guy or his games particularly endearing. One issue is that opening the exit requires some arbitrary jumping through hoops, sometimes literally; it's not enough to reach the end of the level, but to have fully explored every square inch. This is the Texas-based Iguana Entertainment (later Acclaim Studios Austin) making a more confident debut with their own IP after porting Midway's arcade football sim Super High Impact [MA XXI], and the studio would go on to find greater acclaim (so to speak) with the NBA Jam home console ports, NFL Quarterback Club, and Turok: Dinosaur Hunter. We'll bump into them several more times yet on Mega Archive, including two more games set in "the Aeroverse".
  • Wiki Notes: Another SNES double-dip. Added EU box art and release.

483: Astérix and the Great Rescue

No Caption Provided
  • Developer: Core Design
  • Publisher: Sega
  • JP Release: N/A
  • NA Release: June 1994
  • EU Release: October 1993
  • Franchise: Astérix
  • Genre: Platformer / Brawler
  • Theme: Francophonic Satire
  • Premise: The druid Getafix/Panoramix has been abducted by the Romans and, given he's the only reason Astérix's village has yet to be conquered, he needs to be rescued. Greatly.
  • Availability: Licensed game. I can't think of anyone who would have the Gaul to rerelease them today.
  • Preservation: Getting back to the subject of games based on comic strips invented long before any of us were born, Astérix is the brainchild of the French writer/illustrator team of René Gisconny and Albert Uderzo about a small village of Gaulish barbarians able to hold the Roman Empire at bay due to a superpower-enabling magic potion, the most courageous of whom are the titular blond warrior and his invincible best bud Obelix. While it sounds like a semi-serious historical comic (besides the magic potion part maybe) it's really anything but; the French creators mostly used it as a vehicle to mock every other country and take jabs at modern politics and trends. Those original creators have now passed away but the comic itself has been inherited by new artists and writers and last saw a publication as recently as October of last year. Most of Astérix's video game appearances tend to be Europe-exclusive because that's about as far as his cultural cachet reaches, though Astérix and the Great Rescue did also see an American release (not the case for its 1995 follow-up, Astérix and the Power of the Gods, however). Most Astérix games are pretty similar: you run around beating up Romans and maybe a wild boar or two (Obelix's favorite food) and probably have a showdown at the end with Julius Caesar or one of his generals. This game has an original plot that's largely just bits and pieces taken from other works (including the 1989 animated movie Astérix and the Big Fight), which is probably the smarter way to go about adapting the material: more of a vibe match than a 1:1 translation.
  • Wiki Notes: Skeleton, so needed almost everything. There was a SNES Astérix released around the same time but it's a completely different game.

484: Boxing Legends of The Ring

No Caption Provided
  • Developer: Sculptured Software
  • Publisher: Electro Brain
  • JP Release: N/A
  • NA Release: October 1993
  • EU Release: N/A
  • Franchise: The Ring
  • Genre: Boxing
  • Theme: Punching People
  • Premise: People Are Getting Punched
  • Availability: Nah, another licensed game. Sure are a lot this month.
  • Preservation: There's something linguistically amazing about the fact that you only needed to add one word to the title "Legends of the Ring" to make an RPG fan like me utterly uninterested. We have our third game this episode from an Acclaim or future Acclaim subsidiary (yaaay) and despite the subject matter there's a few interesting facts I dug up about this one. The first is that The Ring in question is a famous long-running boxing periodical of the same name, the game having licensed the magazine. The second is that it was rebranded for its Mexican launch to instead feature national boxing hero Julio César Chávez: it was renamed Chavez II, the first Chavez being a reskin of the SNES game Riddick Bowe Boxing. This apparently also makes it the only Mexico-exclusive game ever put out on a Sega system, though a little further south Brazil saw all kinds of late-era exclusives for both the Mega Drive and its predecessor the Master System.
  • Wiki Notes: SNES double-dip. Releases, box art, and screenshots.

485: Haunting Starring Polterguy

No Caption Provided
  • Developer: Electronic Arts
  • Publisher: Electronic Arts
  • JP Release: N/A
  • NA Release: October 1993
  • EU Release: November 1993
  • Franchise: N/A
  • Genre: I'm not sure. Spook 'em Up?
  • Theme: Just Beetlejuicin' All Over the Place
  • Premise: An obnoxious bougie family has just moved into the digs you're haunting, and you can't be having that. Better brush up on your Belafonte.
  • Availability: It was part of the EA Replay compilation for PSP. Nothing more recent I don't think.
  • Preservation: When I think of the Mega Drive and the irreverent personality pushed by Sega of America (and Europe) when promoting the thing, and how that went on to define the system in contrast to family-friendly rivals like the SNES, it's games like Haunting Starring Polterguy—where you play as a punk teen who died and came back as a ghost to troll the living—that really stand out as embodiments of what the console was all about. Speaking of embodying things, Haunting has you possessing regular household objects and transforming them into instruments of terror all in the service of booting out the well-off Sardini family, the patriarch of which was indirectly responsible for the protagonist's premature demise. Each of these haunt-able objects are color-coded and essentially work the same as traps: some can be set ahead of time and left to work their magic, while others only work best when manually activated as the target moves into close proximity. While you're undead and therefore invincible, there is still some peril in the game: running out of ghost juice, a.k.a. "ecto", will cause Polterguy to be sent to the underworld briefly where he can restock his supply. He can also he permanently killed there too though, so it's best to use ecto efficiently to avoid too many trips "down south".
  • Wiki Notes: EU Mega Drive box art and release.

486: International Rugby

No Caption Provided
  • Developer: Tiertex
  • Publisher: Domark
  • JP Release: N/A
  • NA Release: N/A
  • EU Release: October 1993
  • Franchise: N/A
  • Genre: Rugby
  • Theme: Gentlemanly Handegg
  • Premise: Like American Football, only without the armor and the five minute strategy meetings.
  • Availability: No. Whomst would even bother?
  • Preservation: All right, so this thing. Let me begin by saying that my animosity for rugby far exceeds that for any other sport: I was forced to play it as part of my Phys Ed classes and it was always the one that led to the most injuries (superficial, thankfully) and mud dunks. No-one's probably going to be surprised to hear that someone who talks about Mega Drive games all day on the internet didn't perhaps care for sports, or indeed strenuous physical activity of any kind, but it's some necessary context for how little I want to think about this incredibly banal rugby game that manages to spell Zimbabwe wrong. All I'll say is that it's one of only three rugby games to come out on the system, soon followed by Rugby World Cup 95 and Australian Rugby League (both from EA). It was also based on an Amiga game: the two pages should probably be merged but my enthusiasm to do so is in the negative digits right now. Let's just move on to another, less PTSD-invoking game instead.
  • Wiki Notes: Skeleton, so it needed a bit of everything.

487: Snake Rattle 'n' Roll

No Caption Provided
  • Developer: Rare
  • Publisher: Sega
  • JP Release: N/A
  • NA Release: N/A
  • EU Release: October 1993
  • Franchise: N/A
  • Genre: Action
  • Theme: Isometric Snakes. Hissometric.
  • Premise: Rattle and Roll, two snakes, want to navigate an abstract world of nebulous terrors in order to eat their favorite food: the Nibbley Pibbleys. Could you guess this game was British?
  • Availability: The original NES version was included in Rare Replay for Xbox One and beyond.
  • Preservation: I always thought of Snake Rattle 'n' Roll as a NES exclusive, but it appears that isn't the case. Can't say I ever saw too many MD copies of this in the wild (whereas the NES version was everywhere; I have one myself). It's one of Rare's originals for the NES, as opposed to the licensed stuff they were usually commissioned to make, and definitely feels like an older arcade game between its Q*Bert/Marble Madness style isometric perspective (which was common in other early Rare games too of course) and its silly-looking enemies like a giant foot and a vicious checker piece. Goal is to eat the balls that come flying out of various parts of the landscape, each of which causes your snake character to grow longer and confers power-ups like a longer tongue and higher jump. You can really rack up the points if you know the tricks, leading to extra lives. I liked the game but never made a serious attempt to complete it so I don't know how long it is. Knowing Rare, it probably gets very difficult quickly.
  • Wiki Notes: NES double-dip (I think I worked on it for the sake of GDQ). There was absolutely no mention on the page about the Mega Drive port so I guess it wasn't that well-known.

488: Two Tribes: Populous II

No Caption Provided
  • Developer: Bullfrog Productions / PanelComp
  • Publisher: Virgin Games
  • JP Release: N/A
  • NA Release: N/A
  • EU Release: October 1993
  • Franchise: Populous
  • Genre: God Sim
  • Theme: Vulgar Displays of Power
  • Premise: The Populous sequel has you rising through the ranks of the Greek pantheon in pursuit of your own divinity. Just gotta ruin a bunch of mortal lives in the process. So what else is new on Mount Olympus.
  • Availability: Like the first, you can buy the PC version of Populous II from GOG.
  • Preservation: Our third and last EU-exclusive Mega Drive game for October '93 is this sequel to the trailblazing god sim Populous, originally developed by Bullfrog Productions and its lead designer Peter Molyneux. The Mega Drive port was the only one to go for a Frankie Goes to Hollywood namedrop in its title: every other version of the game is known as Populous II: Trials of the Olympian Gods, relating to its story about a demigod defeating said pantheon to ascend to godhood. You can learn more about what Populous is all about from when the original was covered here [MA V]. From what I can tell the MD port work was mostly performed by contractors PanelComp with supervision from Bullfrog; we last saw PanelComp as one of the many contributors to flight-sim MiG-29 Fighter Pilot [MA XXXIV] and they'll be behind a couple more Amiga/ST/PC ports to come. Years after the Mega Drive's tenure they became Realism and were responsible for that Super Monkey Ball Jr. GBA game so beloved of the Arcade Pit and very few others.
  • Wiki Notes: SNES double-dip so just minor stuff. One new thing was having to make a company page for PanelComp: I guess they were one of those mostly-unseen contractor types that GDRI only recently dug up (they definitely worked on MD Populous II though, there's a title screen credit and everything).

489: Wimbledon Championship Tennis

No Caption Provided
  • Developer: SIMS
  • Publisher: Sega
  • JP Release: 1994-05-20
  • NA Release: October 1993
  • EU Release: October 1993
  • Franchise: N/A
  • Genre: Tennis
  • Theme: Tennis
  • Premise: Tennis
  • Availability: Licensed sports game.
  • Preservation: One last cheap tennis game to see off the undesirably robust sports section of this edition of the Mega Archive. Wimbledon Championship Tennis was put together by second-party studio SIMS (maybe first? I've never been clear on that) and was released on all three of Sega's extant consoles at the time, with this Mega Drive version inexplicably showing up last by about a year. It does have a few more features than its siblings, including female players (there's no real difference in the sprites besides that they're wearing skirts), so maybe that explains the delay. The game was officially licensed by the All England Lawn Tennis and Croquet Club (why haven't we seen any croquet games on Mega Drive yet? The TurboGrafx had one) so it can use the Wimbledon name, the home of British tennis, but didn't spring for the ATP license so all the tennis players had to stay fictional only. Seems like an entirely OK game, but tennis fans probably had better options: this is the fifth MD tennis game so far, after all.
  • Wiki Notes: Plenty of text and screenshots already, but they were all for the Master System version. Anything MD-specific on that page came from me.

490: Shining Force II

No Caption Provided
  • Developer: Sonic Co.
  • Publisher: Sega
  • JP Release: 1993-10-01
  • NA Release: October 1994
  • EU Release: September 1994
  • Franchise: Shining
  • Genre: Strategy RPG
  • Theme: Glowing Aggression and/or Luminous Belligerence
  • Premise: A thief has stolen a gem that once sealed the demon lord Zeon and now a new Shining Force has to posse up to put Mr. Scary and Pointy back in his place.
  • Availability: You can buy it directly from Steam if you'd like. It's also in many Sega compilations and on the Sega Genesis Mini 2.
  • Preservation: We have a small batch of Japanese MD October debuts left over that I'll polish off in the next entry, but what a banger to end on. Shining Force II is perhaps the greatest strategy-RPG of the 16-bit generation, just about eclipsing its predecessor, and hides many deeper tactical mechanics behind its deceptively cartoonish veneer. For one, it's just not a series of linear battles like the first game, but instead offers more of an open-world structure (albeit still with story-mandated missions) closer to the genre paragons that came later like Final Fantasy Tactics and Tactics Ogre. It's probably the number one MD game I've been meaning to go back and play in full: I bounced off it decades ago for reasons I don't remember, though I did complete the first Shining Force via its GBA remaster. Second-party studio Sonic! Software Planning, otherwise known as Sonic Co., was by this point the Shining franchise's sole custodians after taking over from original creators Climax Entertainment, which had moved onto the Stalker series. Sonic! would also make all future Shining games up to the end of the Saturn generation but nothing else: they were a very focused bunch. Since there weren't any more Shining games for Mega Drive this will be the last time we'll see them on here, but there is still a Shining Force CD spin-off for Mega Archive CD to check out.
  • Wiki Notes: Just some minor release edits. A well-loved page for a well-loved game.
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Indie Game of the Week 355: Golf Club Nostalgia

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If I ever make an exception for sports games on this feature, it's usually because they've got something else going on. Like an abstraction in its premise, or a heavier emphasis on story, or some kind of ridiculous fantastical gimmick to hang some non-standard sports game mechanics upon. In that sense, Golf Club Nostalgia (formerly Golf Club Wasteland) from Demagog Studio—where you're playing a round of 18 (well, 35) holes across the dilapidated remains of a post-apocalyptic Earth—reminded me of Sidebar Games's Golf Story in that, while golf is in the title and you certainly do play a lot of it, the package as a whole is not really just about the sport variously known as the King's Game and Ball Chess. Unfortunately with both games, that lack of focus also means that—were you to treat it as a serious golf game—it'll fall short of expectations with its attention spread elsewhere.

As stated, Golf Club Nostalgia is a 2D golfing game where each course is set in a different ruined location on Earth that your spacesuited golfer will jetpack his way through to take the next shot. Much of the time you'll need to carefully aim the direction and apply the right amount of power to get the ball to some precarious spot or another, often nestled between obstacles and water hazards that will destroy the ball and require another swing from your current position. The controls are simple enough: hold back in a direction to aim the shot and the amount of distance you hold back determines the power you put into the swing, and then confirm with the action button once everything looks good. Some courses have little surprises that might occasionally help you: sending a ball down a pipe might drop it much closer to the hole (or, occasionally, further away) while hitting a switch could open an obstructing door or a fragile window might prove to be a shortcut with a strong enough drive. The animals roaming around the otherwise empty planet might help or hinder your score as well, carrying the ball to more advantageous spot or just eating it.

A typical hole, set in the ruins of a nightclub. The glass ceiling makes that route too perilous, so going over the top is better. It's sometimes a little hard to pick out what's the background and what isn't with this angled faux-axonometric perspective (for instance, the pillar on the left is a physical barrier, but the one on the right isn't).
A typical hole, set in the ruins of a nightclub. The glass ceiling makes that route too perilous, so going over the top is better. It's sometimes a little hard to pick out what's the background and what isn't with this angled faux-axonometric perspective (for instance, the pillar on the left is a physical barrier, but the one on the right isn't).

However, Golf Club Nostalgia has much more going on in the background. The protagonist goes unnamed for much of the game but you learn more about him gradually from diary entries after every hole (retrieving the full entries of which might require going under a shot or two under par as an incentive to improve) and in the process learn how humanity reached the unfortunate position it did where it had to abandon Earth after it became inhabitable and instead fled to Mars, in relatively small groups of only the richest and most connected that could acquire tickets. This is conveyed not just through these journals but by the protagonist's favorite radio station, Radio Nostalgia from Mars, which he's been able to pump through his EVA suit's headset as he silently takes to his golfing. The radio goes through two shows on a loop, approximately 20-30 minutes long each, and comprises of music, guests reminiscing about their former lives on Earth (hence the Nostalgia name), and a smooth-voiced continuity announcer that frequently drops PSAs about the highly restrictive laws the populace must abide by to survive their current, probably untenable status as citizens of the barren red planet. We also learn that our protagonist is as enervated by life on Mars as anyone; he's a figure of some importance, yet he ekes out a sorrowful lifestyle burdened by the survivor's guilt he feels towards the many he was forced to leave behind including his own family. While it initially appears that he's a member of the idle rich who travelled back to Earth at great expense for this extravagant frippery of an interplanetary golfing trip, the truth is revealed to be something a bit more personal and bleak.

Speaking of which, though the premise would suggest some black humor, there's something about the sensibility of the game's eastern European developers (Demagog Studio hails from Serbia) that really hammers home the loneliness, the desperation, and the psychological harm that comes with abandoning one's homeworld for a duration-unknown stay of execution floating in space, knowing that your rich buddies with whom you share this fate are in some way responsible for the capitalism-driven ecological catastrophe that finally rendered Earth inhospitable and the many billions of human lives that were sacrificed on the altar of infinite corporate growth. Most of the wistful testimonials on Radio Nostalgia from Mars come from what sound like the most privileged, oblivious, upper-class citizens who mourn the demise of their lavish lifestyles more than they do the many hundreds of people they must've known by name that were unable to join them on the evacuation rockets, though a few have more human stories about being lucky enough to sneak aboard or how they were a child when they were saved and can only recall bits and pieces of their time on terra firma; it later becomes evident that, while he presumably enjoys listening to the music, the protagonist thinks very little of his fellow survivors—however, it takes the player perhaps a little longer (and a bit more of the backstory of this very exclusive rescue mission for the necessary context) to realize the vapid selfishness of (most of) these speakers. The music's kinda interesting too: being all about waxing lyrical about the good old days, Radio Nostalgia is set up like an oldies channel with its softly-spoken host and gentle platitudes, but the music is as artsy and contemporary as it gets with its combination of EDM and philosophical novelty songs—an attempt to create the type of future music those born after the Zoomer generation would hypothetically grow up with and nostalgically seek out in their advanced years.

An example of the game's unintuitive grasp of physics. Putting the ball into this pipe with a moderate amount of force will cause the ball to roll out too far and into that pile of leaves, which counts as a hazard. However, lightly tapping it in will cause it to stop sooner in that safe green area. Given the pipe's shape would strongly modify the ball's existing momentum as it hits the turns, the Crazy Golf-ass logic kinda doesn't make any sense if you think about it hard enough.
An example of the game's unintuitive grasp of physics. Putting the ball into this pipe with a moderate amount of force will cause the ball to roll out too far and into that pile of leaves, which counts as a hazard. However, lightly tapping it in will cause it to stop sooner in that safe green area. Given the pipe's shape would strongly modify the ball's existing momentum as it hits the turns, the Crazy Golf-ass logic kinda doesn't make any sense if you think about it hard enough.

I'll be frank, while I appreciate a lot of the game's worldbuilding and its mature (if hopelessly depressing) epistolary storytelling actually playing the game as a serious golf sim is an exercise in endless frustration. It's very difficult to accurately understand how far a ball will go when driving because the game deprives you of the usual dotted lines that simpler golf games might give you to judge a ball's trajectory, and as the protagonist is a dying middle-aged man (and perhaps too used to Mars's lower gravity) he's barely capable of hitting the ball more than 50 yards, which is often woefully short of the distances you'll need to hit when safe landing spots become few and far between. The behavior of the ball is hard to predict too: sometimes you'll have the ball run across a metal grate with holes (such as those on walkways) and hit maximum friction quickly, while other times it'll continue bouncing and rolling way further than you'd expect. The unexpected stage hazards can be fun surprises but will often, of course, mess up your attempts. Worst of all is that there's a very long delay when pausing the game, which you'll want to do frequently in order to start over if you're trying for par and have hit an out-of-bounds state one too many times; that there isn't a button that can instantly restart the current hole (with perhaps a "yes/no" prompt in case it was clicked by accident) seems like a major lapse in player UI considerations. That some holes have a 15-to-20-stroke par makes them way too long: you could spend fifteen minutes getting gradually closer to the hole only to have to start over once in putting distance after finally running out of strokes. The game offers a "story mode" where there's no obligation to reach par and you can continue to bash your head against a certain shot ad nauseam if preferred; I'd probably opt for that approach if I had to play the game all over again (and if you're really concerned enough about achievements to play the more punishing Challenge Mode where you can only pass a stage by getting par or under, the last achievement requires playing the full game again under par with no restarts so good luck with that). I might just have a low tolerance for golf games in general but I didn't care for playing Golf Club Nostalgia at all; however, there's enough going on in the periphery that I can't foster too much animosity against it either. Philosophical, maudlin, and deeply deeply irritating. Hey, I think I have my new Tinder tagline.

Rating: 3 out of 5.

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Mento's Month: January '24

Hey all, trying out a not-particularly-novel new feature where I wrap up a month of gaming, blogging, and other miscellaneous activities of a mostly lawful nature. This'll give me all the excuse I need to deep dive on some of the non-Indie stuff I've played this month as well as sprinkle in a few other surprises.

Game of the Month: The Legend of Heroes: Trails from Zero

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Oh look it's Falcom Boy over here ready to gush some more about his favorite (increasingly less) obscure Japanese RPG developer. I am about to get unpleasantly effusive, so be forewarned. The Legend of Heroes: Trails from Zero constitutes the first half of what we Trails types call the "Crossbell Arc": moving the action from the southern kingdom of Liberl that was the setting of the whole Trails in the Sky trilogy to the Switzerland-esque city state of Crossbell, sat between the antagonistic Erebonian Empire (the setting for the Trails of Cold Steel series) and the Calvard Republic (the setting for the most recent Trails through Daybreak series). Crossbell is a demilitarized state with only a self-defense force for protection: it largely depends on Erebonia and Calvard remaining peaceful to continue surviving in its current form. It is, however, one of the richest nations in the world due to its status as a trade hub and various major corporations making it their headquarters and so its citizens enjoy a relatively high quality of life with many modern advancements found only sparingly in other countries, like the internet-equivalent Orbal Network and orbal-powered automobiles. The game follows a newly-minted division in Crossbell's mostly ineffectual police force: the Special Support Section, a squad of younger agents who are able to serve the community through odd jobs and other miscellaneous assignments in much the same way as the Bracer Guilds from previous games. The squad comprises four members: Lloyd, the only qualified detective in the group who joined the force to investigate his fellow cop brother's mysterious death; Elie, a VIP's granddaughter tired of how little Crossbell is able to deal with its rampant political corruption; Tio, a middle-schooler magical prodigy with exceptional senses and a whole heap of trauma to process; and the incredibly-named Randy Orlando, a redheaded laid-back party dude and womanizer looking to escape his dark past (and, like all redheads in Falcom games, is an exceptional warrior).

The thing I kept in the back of my mind throughout my playthrough of Trails from Zero was just how damn smartly designed it is, from its foundations on up. Any random encounter can be instantly dispatched with a stealth approach: attacking an enemy to stun them briefly, attacking them from behind them to knock them senseless, and then walk into them to trigger a fight where you get two full rounds of attacks (the first of which is all criticals, and might even contain an "all-out attack" team assault) which is usually enough to crush any normal encounter milling around. Far from being cheap, it helps minimize and mitigate the amount of grinding and pointless filler battles while still demanding a bit of finesse from the player and, obviously, is not a strategy you can rely on against pre-set encounters like bosses and the perilous monster trap chests (though, mercifully, monster chests have their own distinct appearance to give you a moment to prepare). All the carried over Trails in the Sky mechanics like the Orbment grids and learning when to use S-Breaks and S-Crafts felt like they were rolled out on fast-forward: you're starting from square one again, since it's a new group of characters in a new series, but by the end you're as buff as around the mid-point of Trails in the Sky Second Chapter (everyone has their second S-Craft by then). Speaking of fast-forward, I realize it's a common sight in most older RPGs getting remasters but being able to ramp up the overall game speed in a turn-based RPG is still darn appreciated. But, as I've already intimated, there's very little dead air in a game this sharply compact.

Even if it's a little graphically dated (it was originally a 2010 PSP game) it's still capable of some really pretty environments.
Even if it's a little graphically dated (it was originally a 2010 PSP game) it's still capable of some really pretty environments.
The sassy chest messages are back! I heard the original fan translation group Geofront painstakingly added them back in after the original game left them out. Impressive, since the game still had plenty of other text left in it to translate.
The sassy chest messages are back! I heard the original fan translation group Geofront painstakingly added them back in after the original game left them out. Impressive, since the game still had plenty of other text left in it to translate.
Don't worry Chief, Daybreak is still seven whole games away. (Did they know when they wrote this? Probably, knowing this series.)
Don't worry Chief, Daybreak is still seven whole games away. (Did they know when they wrote this? Probably, knowing this series.)

The old Trails charm is still here and accounted for as well. Not just in the characterization of its major characters, but in how it populates its towns and central city with named NPCs that have all these little incidental stories of their own happening in the background and frequently have new responses for you after major events or could have a word to say to any guest characters that might be tagging along. One such minor sideline involves meeting a crew of delinquents and quashing a beef with a rival gang before it erupts into street violence. You're then tasked with visiting the local hospital which is some ways out of the city of Crossbell. At some point after these two introductions, you learn (again, just by talking to a random NPC at the right time) that one of the hospital's doctors has a son that's part of that delinquent gang. Talking to the doc reveals how stressed he is about his wayward kid, while the kid in question is stifled by his respectable father's authority and has chosen to rebel. Much later in the game while at the hospital, you see the delinquent delivering his father's lunchbox, embarrassingly insisting to the receptionist that it was purely a favor he was doing for his mom: just another little detail that builds up this dysfunctional but perhaps not doomed relationship that you might not even notice existed if you hadn't been paying attention to the seeds being planted. That I know I'll be seeing almost all of these characters again and learning what's been going on in their lives since I last saw them once I eventually play Trails to Azure is just one of many reasons I keep coming back to this franchise.

I'm not exaggerating when I say that the Trails series is still the peak of the turn-based RPG genre as it stands today, albeit with close competition from a rapidly-improving Tales (which isn't turn-based, but hey), the Xenoblades with their huge scopes and tons of QoL features (which I guess is not really turn-based either), and some of the more promising recent Indie throwbacks like Chained Echoes. The worldbuilding and characterization of Trails is so much denser than you'd expect from first impressions and the combat system can be real demanding when it gets to the important fights: some of the battles in Sky SC were downright diabolical without first gleaning the right strategies, and though Trails from Zero was more gentle overall there were definitely some hairy moments. It's going to take some time to get caught up to where The Legend of Heroes sits presently, but I'm more motivated than ever to keep chasing after it.

Also the soundtrack is amazing. This is just the basic-ass battle music and it's so good. The arranged tracks are even better.

Darling Indies and Other Gaming Tomfoolery

The Legend of Zelda: Ocarina of Time: The Cursed Randomizer Run

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That's right, I've been chipping away at that horrible Ocarina of Time randomizer run I began around the start of the year. The one I blogged about here.

As a reminder, here's what was randomized:

  1. All inventory items
  2. All heart pieces and containers
  3. All keys and dungeon items
  4. All vendors and their stocks, including the Deku Scrubs
  5. All golden skulltulas and their tokens
  6. All crates
  7. All pots
  8. All beehives
  9. All cow milk
  10. All entrances and exits
  11. All boss fights
  12. All silver rupees needed for certain puzzle rooms
  13. All Ocarina songs and their notes
  14. All warp song destinations (except Shadow Temple, since it can't be reached any other way)
  15. Dungeons are randomly either their normal or Master Quest variant

I won't go into the full horrors of the playthrough warts and all, but I'll highlight a few of the more messed up moments this randomizer put me through:

  • The whole time I was Child Link I did not have the Kokiri sword. I eventually found it deep inside the Fire Temple while an adult, which was also the most awkward dungeon to access (it involved going through Gerudo's Fortress to reach Sacred Forest Meadow and the Forest Temple entrance).
  • Since I didn't have the Kokiri sword in most of the run, I couldn't get past Mido in Kokiri Forest for the first dungeon for the longest time. I only finally managed to sneak past him using a warp song: the Prelude of Light warped me directly to the Deku Tree.
  • Speaking of Gerudo's Fortress, I cleared out all those sword-wielding prison wardens as a kid with nothing but a slingshot. Took like 20 hits each. Of course, I didn't get all the jail keys until the end of the game so it was kinda pointless (my reward for freeing them all, normally the Gerudo Pass, was instead one rupee. Wooooorth it?).
  • I showed it in a screenshot in the original blog, but I spent some time in the Master Quest Water Temple as Child Link. Couldn't do a thing in there without the iron boots or hookshot though.
  • It took a while to get the bow or boomerang, so to clear out the beehives for their items I had to throw explosives at them. There are probably grainy educational films out there expressly advising against that.
  • I once defeated a Stalfos with nothing but deku nuts and bombchus. Again, a sword would've been nice.
  • I reached the end of Dodongo's Cavern early in my run as Adult Link with six hearts, but the warp took me to the Twinrova fight instead. Fighting her on just six hearts was... rough. (At least I had the Mirror Shield though; would've been even tougher without it.)
  • So I randomized the Ocarina notes, which meant having to find all four C-buttons and the A-button in random places before I could play all the songs. The last of those was C-left, which I found in the Spirit Temple at least halfway through the run. It was a big moment, since I couldn't use Epona's Song, Saria's Song, or Zelda's Lullaby without it.
  • The Queen Gohma fight showed up right at the end of the run (she replaced Phantom Ganon). By then I had the Biggoron sword, almost full hearts with the defense boost, and every item. She didn't know what hit her.
  • The absolute last item I found were the Ice Arrows, in a pot right before the Spirit Temple boss door. They are, as far as I know, the only item that isn't related to progress at all. You never need to freeze a thing, even in the Master Quest dungeons.
'God, you wouldn't believe the month I've had, Zelda.'
'God, you wouldn't believe the month I've had, Zelda.'

Speaking of the N64 I had the fortune and misfortune, respectively, of playing an hour-plus of Doom 64 and Heiwa Pachinko World 64 as part of my ongoing 64 in 64 feature, enjoying its final season this year. My therapist gave me a special cushion to punch whenever I think about the latter so let's not dwell on that but the former was one of those rare occasions on 64 in 64 where the hour flew by way too quickly. If you've read this far you deserve a small hint on next month's duo: they're both Midway games. Really doesn't narrow it down much though, huh? Here's another: neither of them are sports games, mercifully.

The "Indie Game of the Week" of the Month: Tower of Time (Event Horizon, 2018)

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I've played a great deal of CRPGs, many of which hail from the Infinity Engine period (and those of a more modern vintage that have taken after them such as your Pillars of Eternity and whatnot) and yet in all my travels I've only found two that picked up the "real-time with pausing" dynamic from the IE-style combat system and took it a whole different direction. The first was Aarklash: Legacy, a thematically-odd Cyanide RPG from about ten years back, and the other was this game, Tower of Time (IGotW #351). If I had to narrow down exactly what was revolutionary about their approach it's that the player's situational awareness is frequently pressed to react quickly to any and all manner of perils and opportunities, frequently micromanaging the placement of their units. In that sense, it can feel more like a real-time strategy or war game; sort of like a 4X type but focused on a much smaller hyper-specialized group, all the while pulling off more complex evasive maneuvers and making full use of AoEs and other crowd control tactics. The strength of the combat would be enough to carry the game on its own, but I also appreciated how tabletop-like the exploration was too: so much dungeon dressing had flavor text and each floor presented its own challenges and puzzles to overcome, while the tower as a whole had a certain logic to its construction rather than feeling like an arbitrarily thrown-together monster-nest-slash-treasure-vault. Speaking of Arbitrary, I still owe that guy one for recommending (and gifting) this game to me: I wish him luck with the terrible CRPGs he has planned as subjects for his streaming and blogging this year.

Our runners-up this month were Itorah (#352), The Spirit and the Mouse (#353), and Ary and the Secret of Seasons (#354). Itorah had some overt flaws and was far too linear to really qualify as an explormer but at least graphically it was a serious contender; a similar statement could be made for Ary and the Secret of Seasons too, which swung for the fences with its take on a Skyward Sword-era Zelda with a fraction of the budget but even with some impressive Chinese-influenced visuals (the Winter Temple was especially gorgeous) its world overall felt empty and barely held together, like a half-finished house; finally, the Spirit and the Mouse was a much more confident 3D platformer with a fetching Gallic aesthetic with some neat puzzles and clever vertical level design, if a bit on the (understandably) short side. Still, given that their larger scopes didn't do Itorah or Ary any favors, I suppose brevity can be a virtue.

Bonus Indie: Fossil Echo (Awaceb, 2016)

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I have a whole stack of Indies about which I don't think I could easily turn out a ~1,000 word review via the usual weekly series but am still interested enough to delve into, so I'm going to try to toss one or two in at the end of the month and review them here. In January's case, it's an early game from the same studio that would later produce Tchia (a Zeldersatz I've been keeping my eye on): Awaceb, hailing from the French overseas territory of New Caledonia, an island some ways out from the eastern coast of Australia. The game in question is Fossil Echo: a narrative-heavy stealth platformer about a kid infiltrating a really tall tower full of hooded cultists. The reasons why are told in a series of flashbacks shown in reverse chronological order: a Memento-esque contrivance which makes the plot a lot harder to follow when you also consider there's some five-to-ten minutes of gameplay separating each of these scenes.

Speaking of gameplay, the game tends to alternate between three types of 2D platformer: one where you're stealthing around a room full of enemies that you can knock out if you leap on top of them but will otherwise die instantly if one spots you; timed auto-scroller sequences where you have to quickly ascend a platforming gauntlet; and challenge rooms with a whole lot of moving platforms, platforms that alternate between active and inactive, and wooden platforms that break a moment after you touch them. Overall the game can be quite challenging, but it's also pretty short so it balances out: even struggling with a few of the challenge rooms as I did, I managed to complete the game in about two hours. It's also pretty annoying, in part because the game put a lot into its presentation—meaning that the character would often take a moment to animate himself standing back up from an unsure landing or mantling an edge of a platform, which is often a moment you don't have when platforms are regularly vanishing on you.

I'll admit, playing Fossil Echo didn't get me any more hyped for Tchia, though I can recognize the level of craft involved in its presentation at least. It's never worthwhile to judge a studio by their first game either, of course, so I'll probably still be checking out Tchia before too long. No Zeldersatz can elude me for long. (Rating: 3 out of 5.)

The Weeb Weeview

I had fun discussing some anime shows I'd seen in last year's round-up, so I'm going to make more of an effort to talk about all the cartoons I've been enjoying like a proper adult might. Probably mostly new stuff, but I might slip in some older series if it's a quiet season. Winter '24 has certainly not been quiet though. My curated picks this time include three of the bigger, already well-promoted anime airing this period; for February, I'll get into some of the more obscure/divisive stuff I've been checking out.

Delicious in Dungeon

Delicious in Dungeon, or Dungeon Meshi, sees a veteran adventuring party get wiped out by a ferocious red dragon and their leader, Falin, eaten by same. The leader's brother Laios wants nothing more than to venture back down after Falin warps everyone to the entrance with her last breath, but is faced with the two issues of having half the group quit along with a dangerously low amount of supplies. Fortunately, he's heard that there's ways to eat dungeon monsters for sustenance if all else fails; recruiting a fellow monster meat gourmet, a dwarven fellow named Senshi, the remaining party of the warrior Laios, the pessimistic mage elf Marcille, and the talented halfling thief Chilchuck retrace their steps in pursuit of the dragon before it finishes digesting Falin and makes her revival impossible.

I've seen a few fantasy foodie shows before—most recently, the first seasons of Campfire Cooking in Another World with My Absurd Skill and Sweet Reincarnation last year—but Delicious in Dungeon has the tone of one of those crossed with a comedic D&D podcast by way of a Critical Role or The Adventure Zone. Lot of conventions of fantasy RPGs being turned on their head for the sake of a goof, or a segue into a "how would you even eat something like this?" culinary challenge. It also feels like a show with a lot of weight and stakes to it, silliness aside, as the protagonist endeavors to save what's left of his sister's corpse so she can be resurrected: it's a grim reminder at the back of one's mind that life in this dungeon is far too brutal and short and all this eating of monsters is in itself a necessary act of survival.

Frieren: Beyond Journey's End

Still watching this excellent fantasy anime from last year. The most recent arc has the elf mage Frieren and her human protégé Fern join a practical examination to become first-class mages, a legal necessity if they're going to continue travelling further north into inhospitable lands. I guess every anime show has to have either a tournament or an exam arc (or both in the case of My Hero Academia). I'm still digging the pace of the show and the small moments of levity sprinkled throughout even if, like Delicious in Dungeon, the world is depicted as a pretty harsh place. Folks have even been dying in this sanctioned mage exam and threatening to kill each other in order to fulfill the winning condition—capturing a particularly hard-to-catch bird. It's also an excuse to introduce some of Frieren and Fern's magical contemporaries and see how they stack up to our protagonists: given Frieren's over a thousand years old, it would take a lot to get the drop on her these days (as a certain demonic antagonist discovered to her regret earlier this same season).

Anyway, it's still good stuff, even if I'm a little mystified by how many memes have sprung up because of this show. Its subtle, deadpan sense of humor definitely wouldn't suggest that sort of response.

Solo Leveling

Solo Leveling is a show that's... very uncomplicated with its mission statement and vibe. That is, it's pure power fantasy superhero action. Sung Jingwoo is one of several "hunters": regular human beings that awoke to heightened superpowers the same day that the modern world was besieged by interdimensional "gates" to dungeon-like pockets full of monsters and treasure. However, he is also the weakest of these hunters, and due to the nature of these powers no hunter can ever become stronger than when they first awoke (with very rare occurrences of those awakening twice) leaving him to pick up scraps left behind by more talented hunters to pay for his family's bills. After a mysterious and traumatic near-death incident though, he becomes a "player": one that has a video game interface allowing them to take on quests and grow stronger by earning experience. As the only hunter able to advance this way, Jingwoo starts to climb the ranking tables and... well, things get progressively more bananas from there.

Studio A-1 Pictures knew as well as anyone that an adaptation of this manhwa (Korean manga) would live or die on the quality of its action scenes. Having read the manhwa, I did appreciate much of its worldbuilding (less so the character work which is kinda minimal except for the "boring cool guy" evolution of its initially timid hero) but it's really the dynamic, ridiculous battles that elevated the material above standard genre fare. The show's now four episodes in and I think I can safely say it's delivering on that promise: the fight between Jingwoo and an enormous snake dungeon boss last ep was goshdarned electric, both in its pacing and emotional payoff. I'm bouncing on my seat in anticipation for the bigger showdowns to come, though if it's only a 12 episode season (sounds like it might be a two-cours 24 ep one, which is promising) it probably won't get too crazy just yet. Just know going in that it's a show that won't offer a whole lot you haven't already seen before, especially if superhero/fantasy shounen manga/anime is your thing, and maybe check out some of these fight scenes if they ever get clipped anywhere in case you need a push one way or the other. I'll also say the first three episodes have a whole lot of table-setting to get through as well, so bear with it.

That's probably enough anime talk for this month. Probably. Let's wrap it up here and see what this uncommonly-long February has to offer us all. Until next month, thanks for stopping by and I'll continue to fine-tune this thing before it becomes too much of a gargantuan wall o' words. Still, no promises, given how verbose everything I write ends up being. I just love the sounds this keyboard makes, what can I say?

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Indie Game of the Week 354: Ary and the Secret of Seasons

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If there's one thing I can admire in games, especially Indie games with all their limitations, it's ambition. The ambition to shoot for the moon and create something well above your weight class, if only because you have this firm idea for a project in your head and all the gumption and confidence (misplaced as it may be) to get it done by hook or by crook. That moxie is what I see reflected back at me whenever I boot up this week's game, Ary and the Secret of Seasons by eXiin and Fishing Cactus, both of which hail from the infrequently-represented (on here anyway) country of Belgium. Yeah, the waffle place. Ary sees the titular heroine take up her missing brother's sword and pitch in to help her elemental guardian father (still mourning said brother) by substituting for him in the big elemental guardian pow-wow at the Dome of Seasons. Issue is, all the seasons are out of whack across this vaguely Sinocentric world due to some ominous red crystals dropping from the sky and monsters prowl the streets between cities: Ary's got her work cut out for her if she's to become a guardian apprentice (despite being the wrong gender) and track down her AWOL sibling.

Secret of Seasons could've taken the same route as many Zeldersatzes before and stuck to something 2D, or maybe 3D with a fixed perspective, but instead it's a moderately-sized 3D action-adventure that hearkens to more recent Zelda titles like Skyward Sword and Twilight Princess and their level of scope: those games with sizeable overworlds that maybe don't have a whole lot to do in them besides find the entrances to the dungeons where the real action is. Ary's a proficient sword fighter but her chief weapon are the "season" balls that she can activate at any time: doing so creates a sphere of influence for that specific season, helpfully color-coded (pink for spring, green for summer, red for autumn, blue for winter), and by using each season's distinct properties you can make progress through a dungeon's environmental puzzles or when collecting treasures off the beaten path. Ary also picks up typical ability upgrade items like a pair of boots that allow her to double-jump (found mercifully early; they add a lot to simply getting around) and a slingshot to hit distant targets. So far, so traditional Zelda; issue being that all of these snazzy 3D environments and puzzles may have been a little more than the devs could handle. The game got lambasted at launch for its many game-breaking bugs, and some four years later it's still kind of a mess.

A typical environmental puzzle. Hit that big floating magical rock with the winter season, and...
A typical environmental puzzle. Hit that big floating magical rock with the winter season, and...
...You get these scientifically-dubious floating iceberg platforms to help you reach higher areas.
...You get these scientifically-dubious floating iceberg platforms to help you reach higher areas.

I could be here all week delineating all the strange problems this game has... and since I love to complain let's go ahead and get started: Ary receives a distinctive scar on her left cheek early on in the game, but it vanishes in half the cutscenes. The font's real basic-looking and doesn't fit the aesthetic. It's surprisingly easy to jump up to areas that shouldn't be reachable, though there's enough invisible walls to prevent you going OOB too often (though I'm sure speedrunners already know them all). Sometimes there's maps for internal locations like dungeons and sometime there aren't: the four big dungeons that make up the second half of the game don't have maps, but the basement of your parents' house and the tutorial mini-dungeon with the double-jump shoes both do. The larger boar-like enemies drop money that you can never collect because of some sort of solid posthumous hitbox you can't move through. It goes on like this but I'm not a QA report so take my word for it. As far as the more serious stuff is concerned I've also had it glitch a boss battle that made it unwinnable until I reloaded, and it's hard frozen on me once. There was also a time when I panicked because all the passive upgrades I bought disappeared after being captured along with my weapons and my double-jumping boots (which was fair enough; prison wardens tend to take that kind of thing away): those upgrades all come back later, some several tense minutes after the escape itself, but I've no clue how or why learned skills would also vanish with your items. But yeah, from reports it's still in a much better state than it once was.

It's not that the game is sloppy. I mean, it is, but not in the sense that the devs were resting on their laurels or taking things too easy. It feels more like the 2016 Summer Olympics at Rio: they overpromised and underdelivered because it turned out to be way more work than they bargained for with too little time to make it happen (though as far as I know, no-one on the dev team caught the Zika virus at least). Even now, a few years out, the game continues to feel as unfinished as a wall without its final coat of paint; large chunks of the environment are missing everywhere you look. There's some other odd choices too: for instance, you get the summoning balls for the first two seasons (winter and summer) individually with a bit of a tutorial lead-in on how to use them effectively—winter creates blocks of ice that sometimes obstruct the way but can also be useful platforms, while summer removes same. But then you're given both spring and autumn simultaneously after a major moment in the story with no hints as to how to use them (spring removes pools of water, which feels like it should've been summer's job, while autumn makes it rain). You also learn how to destroy the corrupted red crystals found across the overworld halfway through the game's plot, each of which earns you a new HP upgrade: this means you spend the first half of the game with a paltry five hearts and then suddenly balloon to over a dozen shortly after that revelation, making the game's combat significantly easier there on out.

This wordplay is terrible, but I deserve worse for what I regularly put out there unto an unsuspecting world. Doesn't hurt to get my occasional comeup-pun-ce.
This wordplay is terrible, but I deserve worse for what I regularly put out there unto an unsuspecting world. Doesn't hurt to get my occasional comeup-pun-ce.

It is a shame, because fundamentally the game isn't bad at all. Its story and presentation recall one of those recent Disney CG movies where you think it's going a "traditional" narrative route until it swerves on you—there's some gender equality stuff where the female Ary is less than pleased that all the important hero positions are male-only, and you're told that you'll have to defeat all the season temple golems for their cores only to meet the first one and discover he's completely chill and willing to help—and the facial animations for major characters and the goofy hyena enemies are expressive and often amusing. Some of the level design is solid too with some imaginative puzzles revolving around your season-changing abilities (if you recall the time bubbles for that one Skyward Sword area, they're a lot like that) and a few traversal upgrades like the aforementioned double-jump and a magnetic ring that lets you pull around metallic objects. The dungeons can be a bit empty and tough to navigate at times (a map would've helped) but they're otherwise the highlight. Combat's so-so and is rendered more or less moot once you have the timing for parries down (and it's not particularly strict, either) but the few boss fights I've had were engaging enough. I certainly wanted to like Ary and the Secret of Seasons more than I did partly because I have a thing for Zeldersatzes and partly because I can see the big dream it was reaching for but couldn't quite grasp, but there are times when progress can be real hard-going and not for the reasons the devs may have intended and it just makes me feel like I should've gone with the thematically-similar Kena: Bridge of Spirits instead. Maybe I'll cover that game in a future one of these and people can yell at me how it's too high-budget to count as an "Indie". That'll be fun.

Rating: 3 out of 5.

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64 in 64: Episode 38

No Caption Provided

Oh, Fates, why do you hurt your greatest son like this? Sorry to start a new year of 64 in 64 on such a melodramatic note, but if you scroll down a little I'm sure you'll understand. I almost considered adding a content warning for any second-hand empathetic suffering that might ensue. That's right, we're continuing to talent scout old Nintendo 64 tapes ostensibly for the sake of the figurative Noah's Ark that is the Nintendo Switch and its online subscriber library of retro highlights. Are this month's new duo worthy of historical preservation? I feel like I may have already provided a hint.

Anyway, and I swear this is (mostly) unrelated to the random pick this month, but I'm planning for this year's season of 64 in 64 to also be the last. Reason being in part because we're hitting the dregs after covering most of the system's highlights—though I hope to cajole a few more bangers out of the modest N64 library before we're fully through—but also because, for as much as I'll always champion this unfairly-maligned console, I do want to cover other games on other systems in other contexts. Ruts are comfortable, sure, but there's a wide world of gaming both retro and current out there to get all indignant about on the internet. The plan is to continue until November of this year: at this rate of two additions to the ranking table per episode November should see us hit our 100th inclusion and that's as good a milestone on which to wrap things up as any. It'll also be the 48th episode: a lore-important number for 64 in 64 that always heralds the pivotal third acts of these little one-hour dramas. Still, never say never for a comeback, especially if I'm ever reaching for a one-off blog on some quiet month in the future...

Speaking of quiet, nothing kills a party vibe as quickly as recounting the rules:

  • Two games. 64 minutes each. A good one picked by me and a bad one picked by the randomizer tool. It's not actually a rule that it has to pick bad ones for me to play, and yet. And yet.
  • I've broken up the playthrough report into four manageable 16 minute chunks, each with live commentary. This is bookended by a pre-amble and a post-amble about how much the game may or may not suck. I've also determined its odds of appearing on Nintendo Switch Online through a scholastic process I call "making shit up", as well as mentioned any RetroAchievements support it may enjoy.
  • Our ironclad rule is to not touch a game that is presently available on Switch Online already or fated to be added in the near future. Presently, everything previously announced is now on the service. We might hear about more newcomers at the next Direct, but part of me thinks Nintendo's going to focus on GBA or maybe even move onto GameCube. I better start sketching an outline for the GC version of this feature before Minotti beats me to it.

Be sure to consult the table below for prior episodes in case this one didn't produce enough schadenfreude to sustain you:

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-=-

Doom 64 (Pre-Select)

No Caption Provided
  • Midway / Midway (NA/EU) & GameBank (JP)
  • 1997-03-31 (NA), 1997-08-01 (JP), 1997-12-02 (EU)
  • 24th N64 Game Released

History: Doom 64 is a console spin-off of id Software's genre-codifying demonic FPS franchise that was created exclusively for the Nintendo 64 as its own bespoke thing somewhat early in the system's lifespan (pre-GoldenEye, even). In addition to whole new levels and a story that takes place after Final Doom, the game's undergone a visual makeover with all the enemies and weapons given new pre-rendered CG sprite appearances. It also includes a few (then-)modern luxuries, like the dynamic lighting the franchise would polish further with its next big entry Doom 3. Perhaps unsurprisingly, the only significant negative review this game received at the time of its release was from one Mr. Jeff Gerstmann; the man has some very specific preferences, that's for sure.

This would be our tenth featured Midway published game on here, though only the third of those they developed themselves (after Mace: The Dark Age and San Francisco Rush 2049). It's also the first Midway game that was a pre-select rather than a random pick and there may even be more to come soon (what can I say? This is the third season of 64 in 64 and desperation has oh so assuredly set in). We're specifically talking Midway Studios San Diego here: the erstwhile Leland Corporation, a subsidiary of Battletoads-publishers Tradewest (who were also purchased by Midway's owners Williams along with Leland in 1994). They had been previously responsible for Doom and Final Doom for PlayStation and would later develop the N64 Quake port on the strength of their efforts here, which might be worth remembering if I ever find myself in the mood for another blurry boomer shooter that was far from being at its best.

I'll admit to feeling a little weird about featuring this game on here. Of the many id Software/Build engine style FPSes to find their way to the Nintendo's beautiful becurvéd boy Doom 64 was the best of the bunch because it bothered to create an original experience that even established Doom veterans could enjoy as a fresh new foray into the heavy metal world of huge demons and their huge guts, as opposed to the watered-down ports you saw with the others. However, the issue with Doom 64 specifically is that the matter of its potential presence on NSO has already been rendered completely moot: it was recently revamped by Nightdive Studios and that version eventually found its way onto Switch, making the game one of the few N64 ports you can purchase directly for the system instead of just "rent" from Nintendo for a while. Even so, I felt like playing some Doom 64 and, given what the randomizer disgorged onto my shoes this week, I'm grateful to have something not-terrible to cover this month.

16 Minutes In

They laughed when I suggested we needed logging equipment for a Mars base with zero vegetation, but who's laughing now? That's right, it's me, maniacally while holding a chainsaw, like a normal person.
They laughed when I suggested we needed logging equipment for a Mars base with zero vegetation, but who's laughing now? That's right, it's me, maniacally while holding a chainsaw, like a normal person.

Owing to its status as the fourth iterative Doom game rather than one created to be an onboarding point for console newcomers, even the first level—Staging Area—of Doom 64 is on the rough side. For instance, it traps you in a room with multiple demons (the big pink ones) at least twice, the second occasion right after you get the chainsaw so you can understand its utility against melee types like that one. I'm playing on the second-highest difficulty (standard practice for any Doom playthrough) so I wasn't expecting a cakewalk but at the same time I sort of assumed it would be a bit softer on a market as yet untested with the FPS genre. (I say that, but there was a SNES Doom and that wasn't easy either, more so because you couldn't tell what anything was with that resolution.) As a Doom veteran, though, I'm all for anything and everything they want to throw at me even this early on.

Graphically, the game leans closer to the Doom successor Quake with its amount of browns and darker browns replacing the eye-catching RGB of the originals, as well as an overall murkier level of luminosity. I'm not sure I'm wholly sold on the new pre-rendered looks for the enemies, especially up close, but I'm already into the double-pronged chainsaw glow-up. Hopefully I find some of the more welcome additions from Doom II show up soon, in particular the super-shotty. Even with the higher number of foes on the penultimate difficulty, I've not run into any ammo shortages yet: I'm sure that'll change once I start having to rely on rockets and energy weapons more often. One last note: the game throws lots of pink demons at you from the outset, but the imp is treated like a next level opponent as there's only one in the first stage and it shows up to jumpscare you in the final room with the level exit. Did imps always supersede demons in the pecking order? At least these ones look suitably scary: they're still as pointy as ever but also take on a taller, darker, and more alien-like (in the greys sense, rather than the xenomorph sense) appearance. They kinda remind me of Blackheart from the MvC games.

32 Minutes In

Oh, hell yes. Time to settle some arguments.
Oh, hell yes. Time to settle some arguments.

I'm coming around on the game's controls, as odd as they are (on their default setting anyway). As you might expect, the Z-trigger shoots while holding the bumpers lets you strafe; however, the A and B buttons—usually pretty central to any N64 game's controls—are only used to alternate weapons. Instead, the next-most pressed button in any Doom game, which is the one that opens doors and activates switches, is relegated to C-Right. C-Up switches to map mode, which is convenient for finding secrets and buttons/doors you may have overlooked, but I've yet to find a use for the other two C-buttons. If I can strafe and shoot I'm pretty much set; Doom's the type of FPS where aiming isn't really a factor beyond having to center enemies horizontally, making it better suited to this controller layout than most of its ilk.

I'm making... decent enough progress, some ways into the third level now (it's slower-going, but I tend to sweep areas for secrets just in case). It's introduced those tougher transparent blue imps (phantoms?) and plenty of cacodemons but also the super shotgun and rocket launcher, so it's about a wash. I also found an item that retroactively explained the darker environments: light-amplification goggles, which really help the levels become a lot more visible. That it's only a temporary buff is just painful; can't the game look like this all the time? Maybe they weren't as confident in the enemy's new appearances as I thought, so they—like so many nightclubs—chose to make ample use of the obfuscating power of low-light conditions. I'll admit to dying once so far; it does the usual thing of resetting your inventory, which sucks since I managed to find a whole cache of rockets in the second level, but if you enter a stage with barely any health left it's probably not going to go well. Fortunately, every Doom level is built in such a way that you can conquer it with a clean slate—it'll provide everything you'll need, one way or another—so I can roll with the setbacks for now. Maybe I'll be more careful with the boss encounters though; it's a bad time going up against a Baron with just a peashooter.

48 Minutes In

I killed it! I... think? Are all these ceiling lamps just decoration or what?
I killed it! I... think? Are all these ceiling lamps just decoration or what?

Halfway through level 4 now (I'm sure not speedrunning anything on this difficulty) and even though I'm having to squint at all the enemies in the dark—including those near-invisible demons, which are always fun—it's remarkable how much better this game feels to play than any other N64 FPS I've covered on 64 in 64 so far, including Perfect Dark. I guess it's largely because Doom is both timeless and very accessible even with the limited means of the N64 controller (playing most FPSes beyond a certain vintage without two sticks or a mouse/keyboard is simply unpleasant to me now) that it's been able to endure.

Speaking of enduring, I'm now adept enough at the ol' shoulder button shuffle to not have to worry too much about imps and cacos, while making good use of the chaingun to hold melee types like demons and lost souls at bay. It's only a matter of time before the game throws harder stuff my direction but I'm confident enough in my chances. The second-highest difficulty is no slouch though; a single caco shot is enough to drop my HP 25% without armor, so taking four at once would be enough to kill me at full health. Maybe "with an abundance of caution" isn't the right way to play Doom, but I want to repeat as little as possible while I'm limited by a timer.

64 Minutes In

Hmm, which way first? The super armor is tempting, but the trail of viscera leading to it gives me pause.
Hmm, which way first? The super armor is tempting, but the trail of viscera leading to it gives me pause.

Man, forget what I said about them building up to a Baron boss level: the last room of level 4 had three of them clumped together. I suppose they could be the weaker variant (Hell Knights?) but they were sturdy enough for me to resort to the rocket launcher for the first time. Always a little too skittish about the splash damage to rely on rockets too often; of course, in just a few scant years after Doom you were seeing FPSes where people intentionally fired them at their own feet. It's like we all got far too inured to the dangers of wielding heavy ordnance. At any rate, I was halfway through the curiously-designed fifth level—which has eight destinations branching away from you in a star formation as you start—before the final timer sounded. Overall, just the one death so that's something to be proud about, though I didn't find too many secrets either.

Doom's always a great time regardless of the quality of that particular installment/port (it's sort of like pizza in that respect) but I will say that Doom 64 is a smartly-made thing that understands the strengths of the N64 with considerations to its controller and hardware and not one that pulls any punches, berserker-empowered or otherwise, when it comes to giving its audience a challenge. It might've felt a little old-fashioned by 1997—a year that sat equidistant from Quake and Unreal—but I think it dutifully set the stage for GoldenEye 007 and Perfect Dark to follow, if perhaps to a much lesser extent the other id/Build ports. It's one of those rare games I cover here where I wanted to keep playing after the hour was over, though if I do I might restart to make a more earnest attempt at that RA set (or just pick up that Nightdive remaster; it usually goes for peanuts).

How Well Has It Aged?: Probably Better Than Anyone Old Enough to Remember What "SPISPOPD" Means. I'd say it's held up remarkably, with perhaps the exception of the pre-rendered sprites that I still hadn't warmed up to (though I am at least thankful that someone also pre-rendered the dead imp sprite's prominent butthole, as is Doom tradition). I still wouldn't play Doom on anything but keyboard and mouse if I had my druthers but as far as older console FPSes go it certainly wasn't a sluggish struggle the same way something like Armorines was.

Chance of Switch Online Inclusion: IDKFA (I Don't Know; Fuck All?) Chance. So yeah, refer back to what I said at the top. Nightdive and Bethesda put out their remake on everything, including the Switch, so there'd be little point for them to negotiate with Nintendo to add it to the NSO library in its visually weaker, blurrier state. At least, I can't see it being a priority for Nintendo themselves when there's still a few first-party games out there.

Retro Achievements Earned: 5 out of 88. Pretty standard assortment here, including one achievement each for beating a stage, beating it on the hardest difficulty, and finding all its secrets (if any).

Heiwa Pachinko World 64 (Random)

No Caption Provided
  • Shouei / Amtechs
  • 1997-11-28 (JP)
  • =53rd N64 Game Released

History: Heiwa Pachinko World 64 is a pachinko game that, like many developed in this and the previous generation, was not so much meant to be played for fun (because, hey, it's pachinko) but were accurate-ish simulations of actual pachinko machines to help train players for the real thing. Heiwa Corporation is a major presence in the world of the aforementioned ball-interfering pastime and the tables featured in this game are based on their products. If you think it's kinda sketchy that there are video games that simply exist to help you get better at real-life gambling, welcome to the C-tier Japanese game industry circa the mid-'90s: this shit was everywhere.

Developer Shouei's dubious claim to fame is being the team responsible for a great many terrible Fist of the North Star brawler/fighter adaptations for Famicom/Super Famicom, only the second of which ever saw a localization. They'd already been working with Heiwa on the Heiwa Pachinko franchise since the SFC era—this is technically the fourth one, but I guess they skipped ahead a bit with the numeral. Amtechs (or Amtex, as it says in-game) is a bit more of a mystery, since Heiwa Pachinko World is their only credit. From what little I've been able to gather, they're a subsidiary of Heiwa that usually focuses on products of a more serious industrial hardware nature. No clue why they were dragooned into publishing this game on behalf of their owners, but those are the breaks. At any rate, this was the only N64 game either the developer or the publisher were ever attached to.

Sigh. I have a "please, no, god, no" folder of N64 games I strongly don't want to see show up on here, to the extent that I sacrifice a goat to Ba'al every other month to ward them away like they were evil spirits, but I neglected the vast number of Japanese N64 exclusives that would fall under the same category had I done my due diligence in including them. That naturally extends to pachinko in all its fell forms, along with inscrutable shogi and hanafuda sims (I at least know how to play mahjong, so that's off the hook). For the record, the N64 only has two pachinko games—such is my luck that one showed up anyway—with the other being Seta Corp's Pachinko 365 Nichi ("365 Days of Pachinko", so it's cool that someone out there found the nightmare journal I misplaced).

16 Minutes In

Hi, yes, I'll take one box of laundry detergent, a pack of what look like cookies being ridden by a tiny cowboy, and... wait, is that a Discman? Are you even allowed to show Sony consumer electronics in an N64 game?
Hi, yes, I'll take one box of laundry detergent, a pack of what look like cookies being ridden by a tiny cowboy, and... wait, is that a Discman? Are you even allowed to show Sony consumer electronics in an N64 game?

I'm not sure I adequately conveyed how little I want to play a pachinko game for an hour, but I've made my bed and now I have to piss all over it apparently. If you don't know the particulars of playing pachinko or what winning at pachinko entails then... great, we have things in common. Absolutely no clue what I'm doing. The Japanese in the menus is at least surface-level enough that I can navigate them just fine but beyond that all I've been able to do so far is put money into a machine for 125 pachinko balls a pop and then watch helplessly as they all tumble past the pegs and into the abyss below. You can rotate a dial that increases or decreases the strength of the launch—otherwise known as the only control you have over pachinko and even then it's mostly an illusion—but despite aiming for the various little "pockets" on the table there's not been much in the way of big jackpots or really a significant payout of any kind.

What's remarkable is that this game bothered to create an "external" aspect outside the tables, where you're able to walk around a facsimile of a dingy pachinko parlor (absent the overwhelming noise, graciously; instead you just get some jaunty marching music) with four-directional movement like I'm playing some g-d Wizardry. Unfortunately, there's very little you can do in this mode: you can't talk to anyone and you certainly can't, say, turn a corner to find a goblin guarding a chest that has a 5,000 yen bill inside and enough energy drinks to keep you awake as you spend another long day frittering away what little funds your family has while your children go hungry and neglected. That I've been playing this game 16 minutes and am already inventing vivid bleak domestic drama scenarios in my head probably tells you plenty. About this game and me both.

32 Minutes In

2-House-House? Is that worth anything? What does any of this mean?
2-House-House? Is that worth anything? What does any of this mean?

I've found three different machine models so far, despite the fact that in the dungeon-crawler mode every machine looks identical. I'd go into what separates them all but really the only thing that's not identical is the little slot machine in the middle. That's right, this isn't actually a pachinko game: it's pachi-slots, a subtle but significant difference as it involves even more random chance. By dropping balls in the right aperture, you can get one free spin on the pachi-slot in the center, which could win you anywhere between 0 and 0 pachinko balls (from what I've been observing, anyway). Other areas of the table might grant up to five or six new balls, but since the balls drop at around the pace of three per second that's not whole lot of extra pachinko. Evidently there's a way to build up to payouts in the thousands—otherwise, what's the point?—but such a path presently eludes me.

I can actually feel my soul dying as I play this. It's quite the sensation; one almost impossible to describe except I could sense my eyes glazing over and my consciousness enter a disassociated state of being. It might also be because I'm not drinking enough water or I'm squinting too hard at these pins though. Either way, I'm not exactly warming to Heiwa Pachinko World 64 over here. Maybe I'll jog a few more laps around the pachinko parlor again, annoying all the literally faceless people concentrating on their bouncing balls.

48 Minutes In

I am a pilgrim in an unholy land.
I am a pilgrim in an unholy land.

Checking on some mental gauges real quick and it appears I'm running out of steam, patience, fucks to give, and material to talk about, so to address the last of those let's discuss the aesthetics of these three machines. Since I can't read their titles (if they're even displayed anywhere) and we're all about the balls here I've tentatively dubbed them Ligma, Sawcon, and Goblin: Ligma is a pretty straightforward pachi-slots machine with an enlarged central display, so it's clearly not messing around with too many peripheral bells and whistles like its more flippant contemporaries—it knows you're here to gamble, and all that ball and peg jazz only serves to distract from what's truly important in life; the Sawcon machine has a pachi-slot display where ladies cycle between multiple costume changes, up to at least a dozen variants, giving it a coquettish and playful air as it continues to rip you off; finally, the Goblin machine has this cute Pac-Land/Dizzy aesthetic where there's a bunch of anthro pachinko balls in the background going about their lives and the pachi-slots display has LEDs that more closely resemble the old-school pixel art of classic Pac-Man.

The third's my favorite—I was batting around the idea of calling it Pac-Chinko for a while, until I realized that literally translates to "Pac-Man's dick"—though I've been experimenting around to see if there's a machine that's maybe a little worse for wear that I could feasibly cheat at. Not that I'm in any hurry to earn extra pachinko balls but perhaps something, anything, will happen if I collect enough. That could just be my N64 3D platformer mindset inventing things out of whole cloth as it feverishly tries to find some purpose in the 48 minutes we've spent here so far; I'm nigh certain this game has no point to it whatsoever, though.

My mission for the final segment is to see if I can earn enough balls to cash them in for a prize at the counter like they were skeeball tickets. I just hope one of these Japanese detergents they're selling is Mr. Sparkle, though on the whole I'd prefer something a little more exciting like a box of mochi or a fidget spinner or even a BB gun. Or better yet a real gun with a single bullet.

64 Minutes In

What is even going on right now?
What is even going on right now?

I found a fourth machine! This is the most thrilling thing that's ever happened to me. This one, which I guess I'll call Bophides, has a mahjong theme as if to taunt me about the marginally-less annoying experience I could be having elsewhere in the wider world of Japanese-exclusive N64 games. The tiles show up and if three match, then... well, that's kind of minor as far as mahjong goes but here it might mean grabbing more balls than I know what to do with.

While continuing to stare joylessly at all the flashing lights and spinning dials I was able to mentally escape, the ending of Brazil-style, with a thought exercise where I'd imagine all the better uses for the many pachinko balls I was throwing away. Here's a short list:

  • Sticking them up my nose one after the other until it got to the point where it would sound like maracas every time I nodded my head.
  • Place them on every centimeter of floor in my house so I could simply roll to my desired destination (though I would need to workshop the stairs).
  • Use them to trip up the Wet/Sticky Bandits, should I ever fall afoul of the pair.
  • As Fairy Slingshot ammunition to make progress easier in my other headache-inducing N64 playthrough this month.
  • World's Tiniest Ball Pit™.
  • Pretend I was a giant who found some Fushigi balls in the bag of the human I just ate.
  • Make a miniature Newton's cradle for busy office cats on the go.
  • Throw them at cars from the overpass.
  • Throw them at trains from the overpass.
  • Just throw them at people passing by my window; it's too cold out to be walking to overpasses.

And that kept on going for a while until something completely unexpected happened: I actually won a jackpot. At that point, the display changed to a game of strip mahjong with three anime ladies and I managed to keep my streak (so to speak) going until all three were topless. The wildest shit I've ever seen in an officially licensed Nintendo game. I actually thought I might've imagined it while in some sort of horny fugue state until I noticed that my pachinko ball counter had gone up by 2,000: it's truly incredible what the mystical power of anime nudity can accomplish. (I should point out here that they were all covering The Goods with their hands but it's still nutty Shouei managed to get that much past Nintendo's draconian censorship. I guess the odds of winning on that table really were that low if Nintendo's QA department missed it. In fact, going by the rest of the playthrough, they seem to have missed a lot.)

Only question is, will tiny pixel hentai be enough to save this game from the absolute nadir of the ranking table? Ooh, ooh, let's find out, shall we?

How Well Has It Aged?: About As Well As That Sony Discman D-145 in the Pachinko Prize Store. If the randomizer bot ever tries to make me play the other N64 pachinko game I fully intend to quit this feature then and there, several months earlier than the planned end date. This was not a good game and this was not a fun time. Maybe it offers some practical use for degenerate pachinko addicts but I'm not sure that's a strong enough reason for a thing to exist. This is why, even though the parlors are everywhere in Japan, that they've only ever put pachinko in a Yakuza game once: they're just that monotonous and arbitrary. Also it looked like hot trash.

Chance of Switch Online Inclusion: A Snowball's Chance in Hell (Not a Pachinko Ball's Chance in Hell Though, Since They All Go There). To be clear, Nintendo would have to give money to an avaricious, unscrupulous, gambling-enabling pachinko manufacturer to make this game's inclusion on NSO happen. If they were ever prepared to sink that low, they might as well pay Konami instead for all that good, good Ganbare Goemon.

Retro Achievements Earned: N/A. Weird that it's not supported.

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