SEGA AGES Phantasy Star: Pretty Much, Perfection

sega ages logo

And quite well, in this case (Ha and ha-ha).

As soon as I heard that Phantasy Star was making a return as a digital exclusive on the Nintendo eShop, there went that not needing to ask for a review code stuff. Yeah, I  immediately bought it outright (it’s a mere $7.99) because back on the Sega Master System, it was the first JRPG I played and it’s been a game I’ve gone back to a few times, the last being om the Game Boy Advance where we got three of the first four games squeezed onto a single cart (to mixed results). Yes, I still have that one in the library, but I’m not even going to bother comparing it to what’s here (just yet) because once you fall down the Phantasy Star rabbit hole (Rappy hole?), you’re not coming up for air anytime soon.

 

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Capsule Reviews: It’s A Puzzlement!

Not every game needs to go for epic length status or terminally flashy visuals to be enjoyable. I tend to gravitate to puzzle games when I need a break from other genres  and there have been a few really cool ones this year. Here’s a quick look at a some of the ones I liked a lot:

 

solar flux switchSolar Flux (Nintendo Switch, $9.99): Firebrand Games’ great space-themed puzzler may look simple, but it riffs on classic arcade gameplay with homages to Asteroids, Lunar Lander, Puzzle Bobble, a bit of Star Castle and probably a few other titles my brain can’t recall in a really fun, challenging manner. While it’s at heart, a supremely soothing experience, the reliance on touchscreen-only controls combined with limited fuel and the need for precision movement of your very fragile ship means you’ll be getting a game that won’t easily be mastered in one sitting. Yes, the music is ear-pleasing and completely chill, but if you’re easily flustered by even the tiniest of mistakes, the gameplay can get pretty tense if you’re not able to tip-tap-steer your way out of trouble. Practice makes perfect, folks.

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That challenge ramps up geometrically during the 80 missions set across 4 galaxies, but nice looks and all, you’re not here to do any sightseeing. Getting the best times as things get complicated is somewhat tricky (but rewarding). So expect a few retries and perhaps a few times when you’re just putting the game down for a bit and coming back later if you lose that zen-like concentration. Don’t worry, though. Those assorted suns you need to recharge will be there when you return. All is good in this universe, just relax and it’ll be quite the thrill.

Score: A (90%)

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Capsule Reviews: Get Me Reroute! (Or: Part 2)

Heh, oops. I had a little router issue not long after posting yesterday that had me a bit flummoxed after several restarts and too much waiting around, but we’re back on the boat and headed somewhat upstream, whee. Anyway, back to more of what you should be playing or at least looking at with a thoughtful gaze:

 

 

forgotton anne boxForgotton Anne (PS4/Switch/PC/Mac, $19.99): No matter what you get this one on, it needs to be bought, played and thoroughly enjoyed. If the words “playable anime” get your ears perked up, you’ll be pleased to know that developer ThroughLine Games has created exactly that, as well as a love letter to the works of Studio Ghibli. A beautiful hybrid of adventure, platform and puzzle game with a bit of detective story for good measure, it’s also (in my opinion) hands down, the absolute best game to date to come out of the Square Enix Collective program which focuses on getting more indie games out to the masses. Go download and play the PC or Switch demo (the latter is on the eShop) and you’ll see this one’s an instant classic.

In addition to a memorable lead character and well-told story, the game’s visuals, voice acting and soundtrack are all phenomenal. The addition of multiple dialog choices makes the game quite replayable because the manner in which you interact with characters or solve problems alters a few plot points or closes off some paths. This isn’t a game about fighting tons of enemies, leveling up or the usual stuff you may expect. It’s a story-driven game where you’ll appreciate the quality of the finished work as you’re drawn into the plot and memorable characters for as long as the experience lasts.  I’ll go as far as to say this one is one of my favorite indies of 2018 and it should be one of yours as well.

FA_Garden

Everywhere you look, there’s something to see that catches your eye in this game.

This is a game I’d even highly recommend non-gamers have a go at, as there’s neither a life bar to worry about nor a true Game Over state. That and with a controller, even the slightly tricky longer jumps that need to be made aren’t a total pain. Just watching Anne’s animation as she gets around is a joy, and yes, the different Forgotlings are equally impressive. While this game probably won’t get a sequel, if ThroughLine wants to do another Ghibli-inspired game, I certainly won’t stop them. Hell, I’ll be cheering them on and hoping it’s as good as or even better than this is.

Also, if this ever gets a physical edition at some point down the road, I say get it just for anything art-related that comes as part of the package. Well, the game, too, but yeah, seeing more of this gorgeousness is a thing that’s necessary in a more physical over digital manner.

FA Wings

To paraphrase ZZ Top: “She’s got wings… and she knows how to use them…”

Score: A (95%)

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Superbrothers: Sword & Sworcery EP: So Far, So Good

Way back in 2011, I spent about five minutes with Superbrothers: Sword & Sworcery on a friend’s tablet, but I liked the tiny sample I played enough to keep that memory socked away in the brain files. Seven years later, I’m playing it on the Switch and so far, it’s quite an impressive experience. This isn’t a review (yet), but more of a recommendation if you’re looking for a game that’s quirky, amusing, and yep, maybe a bit pretentious (but in a good way provided you “get” its humor). Oh, and the soundtrack by Jim Guthrie? Perfection. That and it’s a mere ten bucks, people.

It’s been quite a good year for these sorts of indie games, so I’m pretty pleased that this one’s out in the wild and seeking new players as well as those Switch owners who’ve played one of the previous versions. Go get it, I say. Review incoming in a day or two, if you feel the need to wait.

-GW

Gear.Club Unlimited 2 Launch Trailer: Wheel Impressive

 

Skidding into retail and the eShop today is publisher Microïds and developer Eden Games’ Switch exclusive sequel, which is the sole licensed racing game on the console following the success of the original Gear.Club Unlimited (which has gone on sale on the eShop for a limited time). The sequel offers more than 1800 miles of tracks, over 50 cars, 250 races, including championships, missions and challenges, enhanced upgrade and customization features and more.  A review copy is on the way, so keep an eye peeled for an upcoming post. I did really like the hands-on time I spent with the game, so feel free to check out those impressions here.

GCU_2_01

“Key in the ignition, pedal to the floor, open road around the bend, headed down Highway 10…”

-GW

Capsule Reviews: Barney’s Got It Right (Again) Part 1

(Thanks, CptNem!)

“Get me rewrite!” Or: Sometimes the Stupidest Things Happen at the Dumbest Possible Times Division (Q Branch). Anyway, last night I was about two hours into writing up this article, I actually sneezed while typing and (get this) accidentally replaced about 8 or 900 words and a few videos with one word. I hit that Undo button and laughed loudly because boy, it’s a good thing that option exists when stuff like this occurs, right? But guess what? That actually didn’t work. Yipes. I then find out that WordPress’ auto-saving function in drafts or works in progress does NOT account for these unhappy accidents and yes, will overwrite even as one is trying to fix an issue. Eep.

After some time messaging with a WP tech support rep who was otherwise helpful but couldn’t solve my particularly stupendously stupid accident, I figured out that yep, I needed to start over. I absolutely HATE rewriting stuff like this, so after pressing the old panic button about a dozen times until it exploded, I decided to go watch a three quarters of a very good Netflix documentary on Orson Welles and call it a night. Hey, it was a long day up to that point and staying up any later trying to fix what was busted would have just made things worse.

Anyway, yep, I’ve been busy playing a bunch of games that I’m going to recommend below, now in slightly shorter form than the original, but I think you’ll get the gist of things. Or at least your wallet will start trying to hide before you can whip it out.

R-Type D EX boxR-Type Dimensions EX (Nintendo Switch, $14.99): Absolutely stellar versions of the 1987 classic arcade shmup and its 1989 sequel offer up a wealth of options that make it accessible to anyone who can hold a controller. Both games feature the ability to switch between 2D and 3D art on the fly (with a number of visual options), super responsive 60fps gameplay at 1080p and even a 2-player co-op mode where friendly fire can be toggled on or off.

There are even slow motion and fast forward options if you want to learn how to play or just make things pure hell on your stress level, although that crazy fast forward mode is survivable if your skills are up to the challenge. Me? I laughed so much while using it because I was thrilled I actually survived a few levels while using it. The game tallies up all the R-9 ships you’ve lost, so completing a stage with as few (or no) deaths is pretty rewarding when it happens.

R-Type 01

Heh. You may need a Geiger counter (or H.R. Giger counter, actually) to tally up this game’s visual references in a few stages.

The game is still as incredible a challenge as it’s ever been, with those Bydo Empire baddies doing their level best to blast you into space dust. Whether you play with unlimited lives or really challenge yourself with the more intense original difficulty, you’re getting a pair of games with a ton of replay value as well as a nice slice of game history. I’m not sure if Tozai Games has the publishing rights to the other entries in this series, but if they do, a nice set of all the games would be more than welcome by fan if they can make it so. This one’s also on Steam if you’re a PC gamer looking to check out what’s here on a PC that will run it, so go take a peek if your interest is piqued.

Score: A (95%)

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Gear.Club Unlimited 2 Hands-On: Eden’s Zippy Switch Racer’s a Winner

GCU2_Keyart

GCU2_boxFor whatever reasons, games with licensed cars have been a bit (okay, REALLY) underrepresented on Nintendo’s home consoles for far too many years. The sole good game with licensed cars during the last generation was 2013’s Need For Speed Most Wanted U, a stellar conversion/update that got overall excellent reviews but didn’t sell as well as it should have. I won’t even mention that Fast & Furious game from the same year because it was memorable for all the wrong reasons.

With the Switch doing so exceptionally well since its launch as a home/away hybrid system, you’d think that at over 1230 or so games in we’d see more and better licensed racers filling up retail and the eShop, but nope. Other than the still delayed rally-focused V-Rally 4, and the upcoming truck sim Spintires: MudRunner – American Wilds, pickings are slim for those who want a more authentic racing experience with branded foreign and domestic cars.

GCU2_map

Only a tiny portion of the map is revealed here. All those other courses unlock as you go.

 

Thankfully, last year, veteran developer Eden Games stepped to the plate with Gear.Club Unlimited, an enhanced upgrade of their popular mobile game that removed the mobile-friendly microtransactions and added more cars and game modes. While well received by racing fans and some critics, there was some negativity about shorter than expected race sessions and some elements that seemed too close to the mobile game’s roots. Still, the game did well enough (and is still moving units at full price) that Eden set out to make a sequel that addressed the issues in the first game while adding improvements guaranteed to make the sequel even more impressive.

Let’s just say they have (and how):

 

 

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Review: Johnny Turbo’s Arcade: Heavy Burger (Nintendo Switch)

HEAVY BURGER

Holy… wow. this game is too freakin’ incredible. BUY IT. Or at least hope that Mr. Turbo has plans to get in onto a platform you can play it on.

 

Ahem. Every so often a good, well-made game of any genre makes me want to wax poetic, so here you go, a rhyming (not “rappin'” as I can’t do that at all unless it’s leftovers that need storage in the fridge) review of quite a fine Switch game you need to buy (ASAP, as its really, really good). Yes, the (very) old Bad the Bard alter ego has resurfaced from the grave, so expect the following verse to be cringe-worthy at best. Very cringe-worthy, apologies in advance…

(Takes out invisible lute and busted Casio VL-10). Er, go watch this rather conveniently placed trailer while I warm up… I’ll be back below the jump.

 

(Thanks, Flying Tiger Entertainment!)

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Review: Ninjin: Clash of Carrots (Nintendo Switch)

ninjin switch cubeHa. less than thirty seconds into developer Pocket Trap’s excellent Ninjin: Clash of Carrots ($14.99) and I’m cackling like Renfield because while it’s being marketed as a “beat ’em up” style endless runner game, it’s more of an arcade shooter/brawler hybrid and a damn good one at that. Of course, you may need to adjust your brain past the clever marketing stuff and your play style from “runner-based slug-fest” to “arcade shmup/beat ’em up”, but trust me, it makes a pretty cool game all the more cooler once you do.

The story is pretty simple, but comic timing courtesy some well-placed jokes and visual gags at every opportunity keep things fresh and funny.  Your character of choice (Ninjin the rabbit or Akai the fox) is tasked with zipping through the game’s super-colorful levels collecting a village’s stolen carrots while taking down waves of enemies and a series of increasingly challenging sub-bosses and bosses. Yes, you can see it as a sort of brawler based on the many weapons and upgrades you’ll recover from downed baddies or in the two shops you’ll discover.  However, switch to playing this as a coin drop arcade shooter and you’ll see those items in a new light.

Ninjin 01

It’s either R(abbit)-Type in disguise, a more hallucinogenic Fantasy Zone, or some other old arcade shmup retooled for today’s gamers. At least that what I get from this auto-scrolling and shooting/slicing stuff.

 

Firstly, the constantly scrolling levels and enemy waves are pure shmup, as are things such as recognizing enemy patterns and the necessity of upgrading to better weapons as you go. Granted, the need to tap out moves constantly is more of an old school shmup and fighter/brawler thing , but you also get screen clearing moves, ranged weapons that feel lifted from shooters and an overall sense of fun that’s addictive enough to make one crave more when the experience is over. Yes, you have swords, spears, axes, meat (!) and other weapons to swing away at baddies with. But the non-stop pacing is made to keep you on your toes as enemy speed and ferocity varies from simple to nightmarish, fluctuating a few times as the game progresses.

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Review: ZARVOT (Nintendo Switch)

Zarvot Switch CubeTrying to nail down ZARVOT (A Game About Cubes, by the way) into a specific niche is, in an amusing way, a waste of time because it’s a perfect example of using a less by the book scholarly critical analysis and more of a “shut up and play it!” approach. While you can (and should) snap this up for the solid multiplayer modes, it’s worth the $19.99 alone for the brilliant Story mode and its blend of adventure and puzzle game elements, droll to laugh out loud humor and straight up surreal nature. It’s also a master class in game design as well as showing off the versatility of the Unity engine thanks to Sam Eng (@snowhydra), who put 4 years into making this great looking instant classic. Oh, and the soundtrack? yep, worth paying for as well.

In a nutshell, cube pals Mustard and Charcoal set out to put together the ultimate birthday present for their cube pal, Red, stuff goes wrong and needs to made right. There’s a lot of laser fire involved in this and saying anything more would ruin a hell of a lot of surprises. When you find yourself putting down a controller to either laugh at the absurdity of it all or pause to reflect on an emotional issue a character is facing (for cubes, insects and other assorted creatures, they’re quite… human, warts and all), you kind of get a better sense of game appreciation. I actually wish this were on a physical game card because it’s one of those keepers that might get lost in the well over 1200 games (and counting) filling up the eShop.

But I’m getting all scholarly and critical here, so let me stop that and dip into the fun stuff…

 

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