Capsule Reviews Are GO! (Part 3)

Back in 1995_01

Ever have one of THOSE days?

While I won’t be totally going this way in terms of reviewing bigger and longer titles, I’m finding it a nice challenge to play some of these shorter games and write less about them while trying to convey in a few sentences (well, two paragraphs) how well most of then do at delivering sometimes unique, sometimes similar gaming experiences to those that pick them up. Some of the games in this series might seem like just easy ways to earn fast trophies in a few minutes, but often there’s quite a bit of replay value under the hood or you get games that may SEEM simple on the surface unless you take a closer look and see what’s what. Granted, in some cases, a few things work better than others as you’ll see below:

Back in 1995 ps4Back In 1995 (PS4/PS Vita Cross-Buy, $9.99): Very much an intentional visual, aural, and gameplay throwback to the 32-bit era, indie developer Throw the Warped Code Out (Takaaki Ichijo) has recreated a game with both the look and feel of those old days of “tank” controls, fixed camera angles, and oddball “what the hell is that weird blocky thing coming at me?” monsters. While the game has flaws in storytelling and seems more meta exercise than “serious” horror game, the best thing to do here is take away more of the former meta feel than the latter serious horror thing and enjoy it for the nostalgia factor if you remember those not-too far away days. Ratalaika Games handled the console ports and publishing, but this one’s not your average easy Platinum, that’s for sure.

If you don’t remember or even like that era, expect some confusion and likely, frustration here. The game doesn’t break any new ground and isn’t supposed to, and I’ve the feeling that Ichijo was going more for evoking an particular atmosphere and sense of time more than making a game that would be “perfect” at the end of day.  It’s sort of like the scent of something familiar from the past one might recall when walking into a room, but it might end up not being a favorite scent when you stop and remember everything good and bad about it. I got it right away, so I’m scoring it accordingly with the big caveat that it’s not going to be everyone’s cup of tea.

Score: C+ (75%)

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Super Capsule Reviews: Are GO (Part 2)

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Well… try not to get hit (too much).

The ever long debate I see over indie games being “as good as” or “better than” AAA content is a bit silly because at the end of the day, both types of games are welcome and necessary for a few reasons some folks would figure out rather quickly if they kind of shut up and played stuff more than they do rolling around in the internet alley fighting about. Me, I just love seeing what a dev team (or single developer in some cases) can whip up because hell, playing a well-made game created with passion that can be seen on screen is a good way to get anyone who loves a wide range of visual and gameplay styles to go spend some of that hard-earned cash on some really fun titles like the ones below.

Xenon Valkyrie+ PS4Xenon Valkyrie+ (PS4/PS Vita Cross-Buy, $9.99): Fabrice Breton (dba COWCAT) has worked on some pretty hardcore pixel art game ports that provide a hefty amount of challenge for the money. Xenon Valkyrie, originally created by Daniel Fernandez Chavez and published by Diabolical Minds for PC, was improved and ported to consoles by Breton, is dripping with retro charm and packs in a mix of rogue-like, light role-playing, platforming, and fast-paced combat action that’s somewhat addictive even after multiple deaths. Part of the thrill comes from surviving the levels and their randomness, part comes from earning new gear as you go and using it to beat maps that seem impossible and impassable until you get that gear.

The cool thing here is you learn as you go what works and what doesn’t and runs will be, thanks to the randomness, a mix of small and large victories against enemies and the destructible maps. You’ll be using every skill and tool in a growing arsenal here, and the way each character plays will make some areas tricky to complete, but you’ll get better with skill and practice. There’s a lot of game here if it hooks you in and you don’t mind the learning process. As with the COWCAT ported game below, there’s some serious replay value here if you’re brave and willing.

Score: B (80%)

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Super Capsule Reviews Are GO! (Part 1)

JnJDX_01

“Do not adjust your television set…”

Well, between getting sick a few times and kicking myself back into gear (or restarting things when I get better – “Prowler needs a jump!”), quite a lot of smaller games have been filling my backlog over a bit of time. For most of these, I’ve done notes on them and have even a few incomplete drafts, but it’s been a bit of minor hell in sitting down to complete some of them when one gets into “Hmmm, so what’s going to hurt today?” mode when some of the usual aches get a bit fussier. That said, as I’m currently in decent shape  (Whee! Ow.) and sure, you do need to read a bit more on my writing (I guess?), I’ve resorted to a bunch of short form reviews on a bunch of budget-priced games that may interest you if you’re curious and want to expand your horizons.

the tower of beatriceThe Tower of Beatrice: (PS4/PS Vita, $5.99 each) Puzzle-filled point and click adventure, anyone? Developer Fairy Forest and publisher/port house Sometimes You have a pretty basic, short game here where if you’re a fan of these types of games,  you don’t want to look up solutions because the fun comes from figuring out what goes with what as the things you need to do get more obtuse. You play a thief in search of a magic book now trapped in the titular tower by a witch who first tests you, then wants you to work for her. The potion making stuff is nice, but a bit underused for my tastes. Still, it’s nice to see used here in a pretty well-done manner.

If you’re and point and click veteran, much of this will be routine stuff that you can play with one eye closed. On the other hand, if you’re just in it for fast trophies (a lot of folks seem to be into that), the game may fluster you into cheating to net everything in a hurry when things get the tiniest bit confusing (some puzzles in the game can be a bit perplexing when they’re not explained well and are counter-intuitive on purpose). The translation is also a bit jarring, as seems to be the norm with so many imports these days, but I liked a few things about this one. Still, it’s more of a time killer between better titles at the end of the day.

Score: C- (70%)

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Review: One Night Stand (PS4)

ONS_PS4 02

“Back up for a sec. I did WHAT last night?”

ONS_boxShort and simple on the surface, Kinmoku and ever busy port-house and publisher Ratalaika Games present a nifty little surprise in the form of One Night Stand, ($4.99) a game practically guaranteed to tee some prudish or easily triggered folks off (such as those expecting the usual trophy hunt from the publisher. Oh, they’re here, but it they come with a bit of baggage some can’t or won’t handle). This one’s a “slice of life” game, a visual novel where the person you’re playing wakes up in bed with a girl he met the night before and has (well, it’s an option here, but who doesn’t like a mystery?) to put the pieces together as he attempts to find out a few things about her.

Yeah, yeah. “Ooh, cooties” and all that dopey nonsense some will chime like broken bells as they whine about this game being the end of the world or bottom of the barrel or whatever. But it’s actually a pretty decent experience overall if you free yourself from any prejudices you may have Like it or not, some people in the real world sleep with each other and they’re not married and pumping out children. You can say this game is a sort of representational reality in a way of some (DEFINITELY not all) of the effects.

ONS_05

Yeah, Let me choose (carefully, now!)…

Granted, waking up next to a total stranger is quite a change of pace (and how!) from this publisher of budget games, but it’s a risk that pays off big in little ways. As noted, the game is short (about 10 to 15 minutes per outcome), but replaying the scenario you get will extend the story across a few branches and yes, get you those trophies you’re after. As I like to note in my reviews of these games, Trophies are the last thing I think about and games like this are excellent ways to shake thing up.

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Review: Scheming Through The Zombie Apocalypse: The Beginning (PS4)

Scheming_02

Oh, for now, it does, Larry…

Scehming 1Disclaimer: Zombies as portrayed in the media aren’t a real thing at all and if you’ve been paying attention, apocalypses (other than the cosmic variety) are kinda man-made messes these days.

That said, in Scheming Through The Zombie Apocalypse: The Beginning ($4.99, also on Switch, Xbox One, and PC) some really hilarious and crude content awaits in this game where an old cartoon rabbit called Hank and his younger mutt friend Larry, scam fellow animals to do their supply runs in this really fun and short (because it’s presented episodically) game from the fine folks at Entertainment Forge, GrabTheGames, and Ratalaika Games. The funky cartoon style and limited animation recall something you’d see in an underground comic or during Cartoon Network’s better years, the script is pretty funny, and the game is memorable enough that you’re left wanting more (and more is on the way).

As the game begins, a (or The) zombie apocalypse has started, and buddies Hank and Larry have plans to hole up with Hank’s storage of a year’s worth of food plus some movies to get by (and yes, some drugs). Four months later (oops), they’re out of supplies, the power has been turned off (it’s actually one of the first things that happens) and Hank and Larry have to brave the outside world to get new supplies, starting with the wrecked shop across the street from them. Poor Larry is the first guinea pig, as Hank’s a bit slow (and he’s got the binoculars) and he survives, only to run into a drunken parrot and two easily pissed-off bulls who demand they give up some of their hard-gained loot.

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Capsule Reviews: Ratalaika Ravings (1 of 2)

I’m at that point in my gaming life where I’m really appreciating all the shorter indie games I get codes for simply because most of these titles are a blast to play and have a bit of replay value in cases where you’re hooked in and don’t mind having at it a few more times with a game you’ve enjoyed. Anyway, the fine folks at Ratalaika Games have been really great at dropping some fine budget titles that range from great to surprisingly good, so here are a few you may want to take for a spin:

metagal-squareboxart-01-ps4METAGAL ($4.99, PS4/PS Vita – Cross-Buy, Nintendo Switch, Xbox One): Or, MEGA MA’AM, if you like. Indie developer RETRORevolution’s cool little game is a nicely crafted mash note to Capcom’s classic hard as nails franchise, and while it’s not in the same class as as that long-running series, it makes a good enough impression that I’d love to see some sort of followup down the road.

The game has fun with its references and that titular character has a few amusing lines that keep the experience light and airy through the mildly to major challenges you’ll face. Character design and the overall artwork are stellar stuff, recalling the 16-bit MM titles, while level design is a bit of hit and miss. Well, you’ll be missing a few jumps here and there and taking hits thanks to faith-leaping and some enemy placement that assures you take those hits and like them (slap!), but that’s par for the course in the platforming game, folks.

As with a MM game, you can choose to play in a linear fashion or hop around, taking on the eight stages as you see fit. Sounds and music are also appropriately retro, so expect to get a grin going throughout this one every time you fire it up. I’ll gripe here about not being able to shoot up while climbing and the too easy to nab Trophies, but overall this one is a nicely priced budget gem that deserves a Buster Shot recommendation when all’s said and done.

metagal 05

(sings) “What goes up, must come down…”

Score: C+ (75%)

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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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Head to Head (Sort Of): Fast Striker vs. FullBlast (PS4/Vita)

I can recall a few years back reading in more than one place that the arcade shooter was dead as last week’s formerly fresh fish, but this was really never true. Between numerous indie developers and fans keeping the genre alive through making and publishing and distributing games via digital and retail formats, the good ol’ shmup lives on pretty much anything that can play them. Two of the more recent ones go for the gold and succeed when by being well-made games with excellent price points destined to hang out in your game library for a spell. Let’s take a peek at both, shall we?

Fast Striker 01

Pretty, isn’t it? well, it’s also PRETTY FREAKIN’ HARD to an old gleep like me, but I keep playing these shmups because I used to be better at them back in the day.

fast striker PS4First up is Fast Striker ($6.99), a 2010 NEO·GEO MVS/AES vertical shooter getting a new life on current gen systems thanks to German developer NGDEV and publisher Eastasiasoft. Six levels of frantic, gorgeous bullet hell bliss await with four difficulty settings to challenge. Yes, six levels may seem short to some of you out there, but this game makes you earn those high scores and like a solid shmup, you’re going to keep coming back to beat your previous runs or die trying.

There are some basic screen resizing and wallpaper options, but I personally prefer sticking to the more arcade accurate default window than going full screen. Er, not that it helps much given my awful reflexes when the going gets too tough (or okay, a little tough. Hey, I’m getting old!). For example (yipes):

 

 

Yes, I’m THAT bad at this game, but I managed to get through the Novice difficulty and messed with the others (Omake mode is SUPER nuts). I’ll be a saint here and link you to the official trailer just so you can see how a far better player does:

 

 

In addition to the digital release, Online retailer Play-Asia has a very limited edition physical version ($34.99) for both the PS4 and Vita set for a November release. Each is limited to 2200 copies worldwide and will include the region free game, a manual, collector’s box, soundtrack CD and a numbered certificate you can show off if you please. The price difference is yes, because of all that stuff inside the box, but if you’re into packaged games and have the shelf space, it’s a fair enough price point.

fast striiker LE

You’ll want to be a Fast Striker if you need this nifty Limited Edition exclusive from Play-Asia. Better pre-order this now before the scalpers snap them up to resell at ebay prices (ugh).

 

Overall, a pretty solid shmup that’s a trip down memory lane to my former glory days and perhaps yours as well (but I hope you can play better than I can).

Score: B (80%)

-Review code provided by the publisher

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Review: Super Destronaut DX (PS4/Vita)

(Thanks, Ratalaika Games!)

SD_DXAmusingly enough, in the middle of all the stuff I’m working on, I got distracted by a code for Super Destronaut DX ($4.99, Cross-Buy) and made the “mistake” of downloading and playing it for a bit longer than expected. I use the word “mistake” in the jokiest of manners because the game is not only a ton of fun, it brings back memories of hitting the arcades on the weekends and dropping quarters into way too many now classic shooters and other games. It’s also a Trophy hunter’s dream game, as those rewards drop like rain during a sudden thunderstorm. Even if you’re not into collecting those invisible treats, they appear so frequently that you may think there’s some sort of crazy glitch taking place.

Once again, Ratalaika Games and Petite Games have whipped out a fun retro-inspired blast of greatness that’s seemingly simple on the surface, but packs in the fun for a low enough price point that it’s an instant recommend. As with Inksplosion (also $4.99 and Cross-Buy, so go get this one as well), the game’s not the longest out there on the surface. However, to this former arcade denizen, both of these titles replicate flawlessly the intensity and some of the challenge of those old arcade games (which by the way, were primarily really short experiences that were replayed in order to be mastered).

 

(yep, that’s me being lousy at this game. Hey, I’m old!)

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Review: Devious Dungeon (PS4/Vita)

Devious Dungeon 03

Devious Dungeon PS4_VitaSometimes a review writes itself before you even get a chance to take a single note. That can be both good and not so good, but let’s see where this automatic type-fest leads now, shall we? Devious Dungeon ($7.99, Cross-Buy) is great fun because of its solid combination of easy to grasp gameplay, crafty, challenging randomized levels, and single-minded enemies set on “kill”.  There’s a very reliable straightforwardness to the game in that, as a port of a mobile game from a few years ago, it’s not focusing on gimmicks and boxing you in with arcane rules and overly complex gameplay. This is more or less, side-scrolling dungeon 101 and because it works so well, that’s all it needs to be.

There’s no character creator here – you’re just a musclebound chap sent in to clear out an ever-changing dungeon other adventures have fallen prey to. You start out with an old sworn and crappy armor and yep, killing monsters nets you gold and experience. The gold is for buying better gear, the experience levels you up. You’ll also need to find a key to unlock the sealed doorway somewhere on a level. Sometimes you’ll find the door before you find the key, sometimes it’s the other way around. Either way, death lurks everywhere thanks to monsters, traps and other hazards. Combat is simple, but you’ll need to time your attacks carefully lest a foe or foes do you in with their own well-timed hits. Ranged weapons or spells are especially painful, by the way.

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