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The 2018 Obscure Game Monthly Review Thread.

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Here I bring another obscure game to the lightspot, only this is the first game I review here I consider a bad game.

 

Game: Nanashi no Game (The Nameless Game).

Platform: Nintendo DS.

Year: 2008.

Developer: Epics.

Genre: Horror.

Horror is a very subjective thing. Some things are able to scare all kinds of people but, for the most part, what is considered horror tend to vary from people from people. However, one of the things that is generally accepted as a good horror trope is unpredictability. The inability to see what’s coming next, that fear of the unknown, is something almost instinctual in all of us. Great scary stories have been told through this, and there are very few horror classics that don’t use this tool. This surprising moments are forever burned into our memories and subconscious, and are able to make us think about what scare us, why does it scare us, and thus learn a bit more about ourselves.

So what can a horror game do when it has an extremely predictable plot and no original thought on it? Welcome to Nanashi no Game, or The Nameless Game.

Before I start this review, a couple of things I want to address. This game is Japanese only, so it has no official translation to other language but Japanese. The version I’ve played is a patched one that changed the original text to English, and as such, I’ve had to play this on an emulator. Some of my complaints may sound harsh knowing this information, but I don’t think they’re unjustified. I’ve also had a couple of visual glitches I know for certain are due to the emulation process, so I will ignore them for the overall review.

Nanashi no Game is a survival-horror game for the Nintendo DS developed by Epics and published by Square Enix. It centres on the protagonist, a Japanese college student who receives a game from his best friend. After discovering his death in mysterious circumstances, he realises the game they were both playing is cursed, and everyone who plays it will die after seven days. Thus, with the help of one of his teachers, he will use that week of life to search of a method of saving himself, along with discovering the dark mystery around the game.

If you think that this description sounds familiar to you, don’t worry, it’s normal. This plot is the exact same plot as Koji Suzuki’s Ring (1991), more commonly known as The Ring in the West. The game is almost the same, with identical beats, themes and twists. It is pretty amazing how similar both are, they just changed the video tape for a video game. If you’ve read the original book or you’ve seen either the Japanese or even the American film, you know what is going to happen at each moment, without exception. Maybe the motivations are different, maybe the backstory is somewhat changed, but the general plot stays the same. The game borrows everything from The Ring, and this is the main source of problems of this title: its lack of originality. This holds the game back constantly, not being able to take advantage of the media to scare us, instead choosing to rethread The Ring. Remember how in Eternal Darkness: Sanity's Requiem the game scared you in many different ways, from making things change and appear without reason to making you think the game had deleted all of your progress? Remember how in Batman Arkham Asylum the game screwed with you by giving you a game over screen and then throwing you into a mindfuck level? There is no real difference here between the video tape and the video game, and if you’re not going to do anything clever with it, why bother changing it? The fact the cursed object is a game is used, don’t give me wrong, but it’s so underutilized it’s not really excusable.

The gameplay is also considerably flawed. The game is divided into three major playstyles: the real world, where you have to navigate scary 3D environments using a combination of the D-Pad and the Touch Screen. This is the majority of the game, where you try to find clues to solve the mysteries of the game and solve puzzles that I wouldn’t really call puzzles they are either so simple or cryptic. Sometimes, you will be attacked by ghostly apparitions, and you will have to run away from them, and this is where the control problems come in. Like I’ve said before, I played this on an emulator, but even then I realised I would have problems trying to move around. You have to turn your DS sideways, and with a combination of D-Pad and Touch controls, try to move around in first person. Not only it is a very awkward form of controlling a character, it also is very slow, even in the run option, and the character will be frequently blocked and become stuck if close to walls or objects, due to the hit detection being somewhat spotty. I’ve heard this is one of the purposeful elements of game design, make the controls somewhat unresponsive to make the player feel powerless and scared. This reasoning is absolute flawed in so many levels, just an excuse to forgive the controls of games like Resident Evil, Silent Hill and Rule of Rose. Unlike those, however, Nanashi no Game is unable to even give satisfactory alternatives to fight back, so the only thing you can do when confronted by evil spirits is run away and hope you don’t get stuck somewhere. To be fair, the ghosts in this game are very slow, with the exception of one moment when it suddenly becomes twice as fast and you have to run to the nearest door to hide. The ghosts themselves are pretty generic too, they’re your standard zombie-esque Japanese apparition, all pale white with their eyes and mouth like black holes, and they don’t really seem to be that threatening, they just touch you, go boo and then game over.

The other main gameplay mode is the videogame mode. The player carries around his TS, which is an obvious parody of the DS, which can receive mail and play this mysterious cursed title. The game itself is basically an 8-bit sprite game where you listen to some of the backstory of the game and, from time to time, get some attempts at a scare. It also serves as a ghost detector, with the screen glitching out more and more once a ghost gets near. The challenge in this mode is even less so than in the regular mode, and it’s almost impossible to fail there. Lastly, there is a final mode, but it’s basically exposition and has no gameplay whatsoever, only really interacting with it once in the entire game.

The setting is mediocre at best. There are seven levels in the game, and they more or less go through many cliché locations in horror games: creepy hospital, creepy abandoned building, creepy lighthouse, creepy train… The graphics are weak but passable, considering the DS was never the most powerful machine out there, and the music is utterly forgettable. I don’t even remember the main theme, and it’s constantly repeated throughout the game. The cursed game is basically cloning Final Fantasy or Dragon Quest in creepy 8-bit, with random glitches and other similar things. Nothing really stands out about it.

And then we come to the story, which, again, is just The Ring with video games, but there are things outside of that that should be commented on. Also, I will spoil some of the events of the game here, so you’ve been warned. Basically, it abuses every Japanese horror stereotype and cliché possible, and with no clever twist, from the scary little girl to the white ghosts that are just unrested spirits looking for revenge. First off, some of the characters are pretty pointless. The best friend of the opposite sex (the player can choose its genre, although it does nothing but change this single detail, so why bother in the first place) is in love with you, and it only affects gameplay when his/her ghost appear to attack you. That’s it. One of the seven days the game has to tell its story, and it wastes one and a half in a character that amounts to nothing. The teacher character is also bizarre, and one of the clearer knock-offs from The Ring, but without understanding what makes the character work. He’s basically Takayama from the book, the protagonist’s best friend to whom the protagonists confides his secret, does investigation on the side and ultimately gets a bad ending. Unlike Takayama, however, the teacher really has no reason to help the student. He investigates on his own instead of giving information to the police (who are investigating the previous death), knows way too much for a bystander (which made me think that he was going to be the twist villain or something, but nope), and dies before the protagonist without actually playing the game, hurting the rules of the setting by doing so. The fact he puts the protagonist, a student of his, in constant danger is a very despicable thing to do, considering nothing so far has shown the curse is real. The father of the creepy kid is important to the story, but it barely does something himself, with the exception of the last act, in which he tells his daughter how much he loves her, breaking the curse or something. Why don’t the police investigate the game too? References to it are plastered all around the scene of the original crime, there is no reason why should just ignore it, how lazy or bad are they?

The evil villain in the game is your typical Japanese little girl, dressed in white and with black hair covering her face, and in the end is just an angered spirit, filled with vengeance. This is an incredibly lazy move on their part, considering how many plot holes she can be sometimes. Why is the image of a well constantly used in the 8-bit game? It has nothing to do with the story, and it’s only there because The Ring had a well. And why does the game kill after seven days? They didn’t even try to give an explanation to that, that’s just stealing lazily!

And then we reach the final level. This forces us to a countdown until sunset of the seventh day, and we have to talk to the ghosts of all of the characters before reaching the end of the cape where the lighthouse is. Mind you, the problems with the controls come back here in full force, because we have to talk to statues of the deceased, wait for them to turn into ghosts, let the ghosts touch you (something you’ve been trying to avoid the entire game), talk to them, and then repeat the process, and then reach the end of the stage by talking to the ghost girl. All while navigating a pretty long walk with many curves and places to get stuck on. And in the end, you realise there are different endings! Specifically, there’s a good and a bad ending. You have to find all of the items sprinkled to the levels before reaching the final stage, then you get the good ending. And what’s the difference? None! They are the same! The good ending has a cutscene in which the ghost girl ascends to the heavens, whereas the bad ending doesn’t. That and a possible hint for a sequel in the bad ending. That’s it. It’s not worth replaying the game for 10-20 seconds of cutscene, none at all. Overall, the game clocks in at 4h of gameplay, even less so if you’ve already played the game. 4 hours, that is incredibly short for a story-driven game! There are scary games out there, free to play games that have much more content than this!

I am honestly surprised Square Enix approved the publishing of this game, and even more so that it has more than one sequel. Most outlets and review sites have very good things to say about this. Am I missing something here? This is awful, and I don’t really get the sequels it got, or the fact Japanese outlets gave it a very decent score. Awful controls, mediocre graphics, unfulfilling and short story that is basically The Ring with a video game… This is not a good Japanese horror title, just go play the myriad of good titles out there.


Score: 2/10



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Game: Intellivision Lives!

Platform: Nintendo DS

Year: 2010

Developer: Realtime

Genre: Arcade

Intellivision Lives is a compilation of arcade games originally from the Intellivision game console. I got this game when I was a kid, tried it out, but quickly got bored with it. There is nothing wrong with these classic games, they actually all play very well, but they just dont have the same appeal as say Pac-Man or Tetris. From the collection of around 60 games included on the cartridge, I really only found any enjoyment in about 4 or 5 of them, and even then it was a fleeting experience since the games would only last for a few minutes. When selecting a game the menus are sorted nicely and even include original boxart for the respective games, which is a nice touch, and would probably give somebody a nostalgia boost.

In researching this game to find the appropriate developer and release year, I came across an interesting discovery. Intellivision Lives has actually been released across the entire lineup of 6th generation consoles as well as the DS, with the Nintendo DS version only getting 10,000 copies printed. It just seemed cool to find out that I am in possession of a very rare video game, even if the game is basically worthless. For being such a scarce title, I was also surprised to find that you could get a copy of the game online for around $30, likely because nobody really wants it.

If my position hasnt been made clear, Intellivision Lives for the DS is not my cup of tea. Its cool to see old, obscure, retro game being reintroduced on modern consoles, and this one is really well made, it just isnt fun to play. But I dont think anyone can deny, a completely glossed over compilation of Intellivision games released for the DS with only 10,000 copies made, is very obscure. It hasnt brought me much joy, but it is a proud piece of my collection.

5 / 10



Hello people, we are starting a new month, and with that, a new review.

 

 

Game: Cossacks II: Battle for Europe.

Platform: PC.

Year: 2006.

Developer: GSC Game World

Genre: RTS.

 

 

The RTS genre is one of those kinds of games that blends itself with many different settings. Out of all of them, however, historic settings are the most popular one, due to having a massive amount of variety in every aspect of the setting, and also being recognizable by the public. After Age of Empires II became the staple of RTS and historical games in 1999, we’ve seen many contenders trying to top it, with little to no results, even by the Age of Empires series itself. It has, however, brought to the limelight a ton of deviations and innovations from the standard set up in 1999. This is where Cossacks II: Napoleonic Wars and Battle for Europe comes in.

The Cossacks series began in the early 2000s, and has always received mixed reviews from most outlets. There have been three major releases, the original in 2000, Cossacks II in 2005 and Cossacks III (a remake of the original) in 2016. In particular, I’d like to talk about the second game in the series, due to it being the most unique of them, with many features and elements not present in the other two. Out of that game, there are two fully fledged versions, the original Napoleonic Wars and an updated rerelease that came out a year, Battle for Europe, which is the game I’ll be focusing on in this review, although both BfE and NW share many elements, so this review will work for both titles unless I specifically mention the differences.

Before starting this, a bit of warning. Cossacks II Battle for Europe is a stand-alone expansion, so you don’t need to buy Napoleonic Wars to play it. The few things exclusive to the original release (basically just a very poorly written campaign mode) aren’t worth the full price of the game. And on that note, both the Steam release of Cossacks II Battle for Europe and Napoleonic Wars are very poorly optimized for modern PCs. BfE crashes frequently on W8 and W8.1, and according to many reviews on Steam, it straight up doesn’t work on W10. I understand these two aren’t the most popular and profitable games, especially when trying to push your new game Cossacks 3, but if you’re going to rerelease it, you better make sure they function properly. The GOG release isn’t that much better, although I’ve heard it fares somewhat better. The multiplayer is dead, depending on the old servers and connection methods of a decade ago, which doesn’t make things better.

Cossacks II Battle for Europe is an RTS developed by GSC Game World, based around the Napoleonic Wars of early XIXth century. In skirmish mode you have to organize and manage your base to keep your economy afloat and to create armies to defeat and conquer your enemy, whereas in battle mode, you have at your disposal massive armies to fight. The game mechanics are simple, yet very different from your standard RTS, but there is no base management. These two modes vary throughout the game, adding different twists and turns depending on the game mode. In single player, you have three options to play: Campaign mode, Battle for Europe mode and Skirmish mode. Campaign is self-explanatory, four campaigns with four-five missions each, plus one tutorial. They are based on battles from the Napoleonic wars, although sometimes they go into the what-if territory (for example, you can win Waterloo as the French in their campaign). They are pretty good missions overall, but the need to get very specific objectives with very limited troops will sometimes make you mad. Skirmish is your typical single player mode, with already generated maps to choose from, and they also include battle scenarios already prepared for you. Battle of Europe is a very fun mode, following a Risk-like style reminiscent of those of Dawn of War Black Crusade and Rise of Nations campaigns. You control one of the playable factions, and you have to, well, conquer Europe. Dealing with resources, alliances, sabotages, trade, territory disputes and, of course, actually battling your enemies, this is the highlight of the single player side of the game. Sadly, it has its problems. For starters, once you beat it, you can’t replay it again unless you create another profile, which is a puzzling design decision. You’d think they would push the best part of the game as much as possible, but they decided not to. This would have been great if expanded, maybe even mod-support to add more maps, scenarios and levels of difficulty, but alas, it wasn’t meant to be.  

Gameplay has two mechanics that differentiate this game from other RTS. First is the need to organize your units into formations. Your barracks have the option to produce soldiers constantly, and once you reach a set of soldiers of the same class (usually 120, but there are smaller specific units) you can create a formation. This will allow them to act in a more organized way, adding options to their movements and attacks, as well as boosting their morale. You can upgrade said formations by adding special units, which will improve their morale. Formations will have to take care of certain elements, though. Stamina will drain if they make movements over certain areas or if they move too much time without stopping. Lowered stamina will cause a decrease of health, attack and morale. The troop’s morale is also very important, and it’s probably the most vital element you’ll have to take care of while battling your enemies. The morale goes up every time you kill or disband a formation, and will go down if you suffer too many losses at once or you suffer a volley of fire too close. If the morale goes below a certain level, your troops will start to run away, and even below that, and your formation will run away. The surviving troops will try to go back to the base, but they usually fall prey to enemy cavalry, and fugitive troops will lower allied formation’s morale too. Finally, you’ll have to take care of the number of troops you have on each formation. If they suffer too many losses, no matter how big their morale is, and you’ll lose said formation. Squads that have managed to survive and win many battles will become veteran troops (after 300 kills), which will grant them a massive morale boost, as well as attack. You want to keep said veteran formations alive and well supplied, because they can be a very obvious objective for your enemy. The other mayor distinctive point is the road system. Each map has a series of roads to move your troops from one place to another. Moving them across the map without using this system will drain their stamina fast, so controlling certain crosses and areas becomes an imperative. It’s frequent to see massive battles occurring on crossroads and important resource points, thanks also to the game allowing to have more than 6000 units at once (although reaching that number is pretty difficult without multiple players at the same time). This massive battles can take forever to end, because of the accumulation of more and more troops on a single point of the map, but if you are able to break morale of your troops and cause a chain reaction of deserters, it is a spectacle to behold. More specific units like sappers and scouts will not need to use these roads, but they’ll also be very vulnerable to any kind of attack.

The game has nine different factions to play with: France, Britain, Austria, Russia, Prussia, Egypt, and three nations not represented in the original NW game, Spain, the Grand Duchy of Warsaw (Poland), and the Confederation of the Rhine. Each one has their strengths and weaknesses. There are three kinds of military unit in this game, infantry, cavalry and artillery. Most factions have three or four kinds of infantry, with every faction having at least one unique unit. Most of them have some sort of musketeer or equivalent, and most of them have access to gunpowder weapons, which take forever to reload (but that is understandable, considering it took a couple of minutes to recharge a musket). Cavalry is divided into light and heavy cavalry, and it’s used to attack enemy units when low in stamina or to try and outflank them. However, in my personal experience with the game, I’ve never felt that heavy cavalry can do anything that light cavalry can’t. It’s more expensive, slower to create, slower to move around and it is not that much better in hand to hand combat. Finally, artillery is the slowest and most limited military unit in terms of allowed numbers, but in the appropriate hands it can be a very destructive force, breaking sieges and fortifications with little effort. Most units have the ability to take advantage of the terrain (musketeers will shoot better and cavalry charges are more effective if they have the high ground, troops can hide in forests to protect themselves from artillery and enemy volleys, swamps become natural barriers that drain stamina much faster, hiding behind buildings will shield troops from enemy attacks…). Unlike the other Cossacks games, Cossacks II doesn’t have aquatic units, focusing entirely on land battles, which is sad, it could’ve included some form of variety outside of how typically most battles play out.

On the base building and economy side of things, the game centers on the capture and control of towns and mines. All across the map, you will find towns that produce a single type of resource (food, iron, gold and coal), and you have to capture them to get said resources. Controlling the most of this places will be essential for your economy. Gold allows you to upgrade and buy special units, iron is needed to create most types of military units, coal is needed for gunpowder and artillery, and food is needed to keep your armies well fed, so they don’t starve and lose morale. Other resources (wood and stone) are extracted by your own villagers, and they mostly serve to build your own base. A player can automatically win if it controls all resource points in the map, although by that point the rest of the players are probably long defeated anyway. On that note, there is a bit of a problem with map variety. Maps are not randomly generated, there are a limited number of maps in the game, and after a while playing, smart player will know what to attack first and with what to deprive their opponents from the essential resources. This limits the longevity of the game quite a lot, and can make a lot of the games seem the same.

Graphics and art design are quite good for a game this old. The game has a pretty good design and adds a lot of historical detail for each of the faction’s units and buildings, although the irregular form of some of the buildings means that some can only go on certain areas, which is a shame. For example, the biggest fortress available in the game can barely be use due to its monstrous size, and the place where it can be placed in aren’t that important they need a massive fortification like that. Maybe that is a commentary on how the XIXth century saw the definitive disappearance of massive fortresses as viable military defensive structures, but it would’ve been nice to use them in the game. Music is decent, but the tracks are a bit overdramatic and they repeat too frequently.

Cossacks II is a decent experiment on RTS mechanics, although considering it came out around the time when games like Age of Empires II: The Conquerors, Age of Mythology, Dawn of War and Company of Heroes were still new and fresh in the minds of people, and while Cossacks II does a lot of things well, it sadly doesn’t have enough punch to differentiate itself from the sea of great RTS coming around in the 2000s. Lack of maps and unit options damper a game that already lacked the speed and depth of gameplay of its competitors, but it is otherwise a great game. Sadly, GSC Game World went back to the structure of the original Cossacks, abandoning the roads and the formations mechanics to try and offer a more traditional RTS experience. I just hope they keep this format around, even if it is in the form of a Cossacks spinoff, or even better, update the original BfE to meet today’s standards. Improve the resolution, make it compatible with modern OS, bring online back, add more maps and battles, make an editor mode and allow mod support. I know it is probably too much to hope for a very small game, but they are still selling it on Steam and GOG, so it would be nice to see. Other similarly small games have done so already, so there's no reason not do do it here too.

Score: 7.5/10

 

Last edited by Darwinianevolution - on 26 March 2018

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Only a week left for the end of this month. How are your reviews going?

 

 

Game: Blue’s Journey

Platform: Arcade (Played on Nintendo Switch).

Year: 1991 (Switch release 2017).

Developer: Alpha Denshi

Genre: Action Platformer.

 

The arcade. One of the most interesting platforms of all of gaming, lasting from the humble beginnings to current day, the arcades have reached for many different genres and forms of gameplay, and have had a considerable impact in the memories of many gamers (and their wallets too). However, not every game can be Space Invaders, Pac Man, Donkey Kong or Metal Slug, and as such, there’s an authentic plethora of hidden gems and underrated titles that, for one reason or another, have not become well known. There are many underrated arcade gems out there, and I’m planning reviewing them as well, once they are released on proper current hardware (playing many arcade games on emulator is risky due to the rom’s possible state). And to start, I’ve decided to take advantage of the new NEO GEO releases on the Nintendo Switch and review one of the Arcade games I played the most in the past, to see if it still holds up: Blue’s Journey.

In the land of Raguy, place of splendor and peace, all beings live in harmony with nature. However, the sudden invasion of the Emperor Daruma and his armies has put the land into severe danger, polluting it as they consume the land’s resources. The people of Raguy decide to ask the hero Blue to defeat the evil emperor, rescue the princes Fa and save the land. And so the game begins. Plot-wise it’s not the most innovative game out there: saving the princes has been a common, if effective, way to create a basic narrative structure for the game to follow, and saving the environment was a very popular subject matter during the 90s, with games like Sonic the Hedgehog having somewhat environmental messages as well. Blue’s Journey is your typical side-scrolling action platformer, with more style than innovation to it. The player is supposed to cross several levels while fighting mooks and avoiding obstacles, with the occasional boss fight added from time to time. The character has three mayor powers: he can jump on top of many (but not all) enemies and throw them at other goons, change its size and use different power-ups. When in small mode, the player can fit into crevices and caves and run faster, but it can’t attack and its jump is smaller. Blue’s main form of defense is his trusty leaf dump (which the game gleefully informs us that he’s a specialist of). Once an enemy is hit, they will be paralyzed, and you will be able to pick them up and throw them at other enemies. You can even pick up multiple mooks, improving the range of the attack, something that is recommendable against the flying monsters. His regular leaf dump isn’t his only weapon, though. He can find throughout the game many other power-ups to use as weapons: a bigger leaf that can improve the leaf’s range, size and power, bombs that can blow enemies away, but you won’t be able to stack them up, and the boomerang, which returns once thrown and can be used upwards. As regular power-ups, the ferns improve movement speed, flower honey recovers life, chrysalides can give you extra lives if enough are gathered, and the mighty cabbage, that turns all enemies on the screen into flowers. And flowers are also an important part of the game too. They serve as a form of currency in this game, and if you have enough of them during certain parts of the stage, you will have the option to access many interesting options, such as a gambit game after beating a boss or secret markets which appear once the player finds a clover. Every time the player loses all of their lives, they will lose part of their flowers as punishment (if you decide to insert another coin and continue the game, that is).

The character player is not the most powerful out there, with only two hit points per life, and only three lives per each coin inserted. Though, to be fair, most of the enemies aren’t that much of a threat either. From the jumpy orange goons that accordingly to the box art are birds, to the jumpy purple hedgehogs, to the multicolor frogs and the troglodytes, chameleonic bugs… Almost all enemies fall in one hit, but the game will compensate this by combining different enemies attacking you at once, forcing the player to play more tactically. As it was typical with games of that time, the title has a problem with constantly spawning enemies at certain points, but it is never that distracting. The bomb will always be the better gun for this scenarios, with the most range of all powers, making sure the enemies stay down. That is important because, if an enemy is not picked up or hit again, it will get up and attack you twice as fast, similar to the koopas in the original Mario Bros arcade title. And also, for an environmentally friendly game, almost all of the games are just wild animals, and not mechanical or industry-related threats, which is odd. You are supposedly trying to save all of the inhabitants of the land, aren’t you? Why are you killing birds and bugs? Sonic games make you fight robotized animals, but in here most enemies aren’t really soldiers of the Daruma empire so much as aggressive wildlife. To be fair, later in the game we do find mechanical enemies, like fire-spitting lizards with tank trails or robots with bladed boomerangs, but it’s still odd to see so many regular animals fighting in favor of the Empire.

The level design is allright, nothing spectacular or ground breaking, but it’s serviceable and offers enough challenge to go around, even if they are fairly short levels. There are certain points which are somewhat unfair (some jumps on randomized logs over lakes or that Ferris wheel on the mechanical stage that has some questionable hit boxes) but it’s otherwise mostly harmless. Most of the challenge will come from the barrages of enemies that will attack you at certain points, but like I’ve said, if you have the bomb in hand, you shouldn’t have many problems (it is quite broken the more I think about it). The game offers you multiple sidequests for the player to find, something rather ambitious for a sidescroller at that time, but the way the game is structured it’s mostly certain that you will either need to get an item you can’t find anymore, or miss the sidequest entirely.

Boss fights are actually quite difficult if you’re not prepared, but after a couple of playthroughs they won’t be quite as hard. The game has a lot of fun with them in the form of dialogues. For example, the onion wizard will offer you to join the Empire, and you have the option to say yes, which will immediately gave you a game over screen. Then the game will tell you it’s a joke and send you back to the boss fight. The final boss of the game will offer to surrender to you, and if you accept his surrender, he will attack you anyway. It’s nice to have those nuggets of character for the game that at the very least show that the developers weren’t just trying to make just another platformer.

The graphics are probably the best part of the game. Considering that this was an arcade title, it’s understandable the efforts dedicated to the game for it to look as colorful and vibrant as possible, trying to catch your eye from the sea of other cabinets. Lush jungles with beautiful flora, cold mountains with an ominous sky, and industrial complexes with all sort of traps, all are wonderfully represented using an excellent pixel art style that breathes life into the world. No wonder they decided to make this game one about the environment, they displayed it with quite a level of mastery. With each playthrough including six worlds (you can branch out to other worlds in certain levels), the game has a decent variety of levels, but most of them will be either forest/jungle levels or mechanical/industry levels, which is not surprising, but it’s disappointing. Music and sound design is… allright. Many tunes are repeated throughout the game, but I like them, so I didn’t mind, but I can see them getting grating for some people. Sound bits like enemy grunts and traps are decent, but it’s clear they didn’t invest that much time in them compared to other aspects of the title.

And now we reach to a very important par. As any arcade game, the title was designed to drain the quarters of innocent players out here, so in arcade games that actually have an ending, they had to use the difficulty as a block to keep people playing. The Switch version of this game, aside from having both the Japanese and the English version (which is rather nice actually), also has an option to see how many times you’ve had a game over screen. In total, I’ve died around 50 times in my first full playthrough. Estimating the deaths, two thirds of it were in the bosses and the rest in the regular levels. I myself am not a particularly good at platformer, so I can assume the average player will have a similar amount of deaths. And the length of a full playthrough was about an hour, so people who prefer longer experiences should be aware of this, although many arcade games were considerably short due to hardware limitations and to avoid complains from the customers.

Overall, Blue’s Journey is a decent platformer with a lot of things good, but nothing that really separates it from the mountains of platformers at the time. The few bells and whistles it has are not enough to elevate it above average, although it does have a lot of charm and personality. As a personal opinion, I think there are many other arcade titles with much more value out there. 


Score: 6.5/10

 

Last edited by Darwinianevolution - on 26 March 2018

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My review for March:

Game: Arcania

Platform: PC/PS3/PS4/Xbox 360 (Played on PS3).

Year: 2010

Developer: Spellbound Entertainment

Genre: Fantasy RPG

Arcania is a fantasy RPG, successor to the Gothic series, like Risen, although Arcania is dumbed down and therefore disliked by most Gothic fans. It is a cliche fantasy RPG - you are a peasant in a small village, then all of a sudden sh*t hits the fan when evil from hell surges, and turns out that you are actually special and have to stop the evil, but before that you have to complete a million fetch quests all while killing a million monsters.

I played the PS3 version that I got in a lot of PS3 games to resell on eBay. I never intended to play this game, I had never heard of it and assumed that it's a second rate Gothic/Witcher/Skyrim knockoff, but I had a blast playing it for all the 40+ hours.

The game clicked with me right from the get go. I have never been a fan of fantasy RPGs, but I play them now and then for variety.

You can disregard the story and for the most part the dialogues, no surpsise, but what matters in these (semi) open world games is exploration and combat, and to me those things in Arcania shine - the game world looks interesting enough for exploration and the combat, while simple, is actually fun. You can hack and slash, use ranged weapons (bows and crossbows), and use magic, which I never understood how to do in this game (haha), maybe my game glitched, but I completed it without using magic.

Dungeon crawling and leveling up in this game is addictive, as you find new better weapons and gear and increase your stats and become more powerful.

Voice acting is notorious but I didn't care for its quality, you can't expect much from AA game.

The music is surprisingly good, while there is not much of it.

I'm aware that Arcania is a dumbed down Gothic and I understand the criticisms, but I still like this game, much better than for example Skyrim with its clunky combat.

Score: 8/10

Last edited by m0ney - on 31 March 2018

Visit my eBay stampers store: eims-stampers

Deus Ex (2000) - a game that pushes the boundaries of what the video game medium is capable of to a degree unmatched to this very day.

Sorry for the delay this month, people. I have been busy.

 

Game: Impossible Creatures

Platform: PC.

Year: 2003.

Developer: Relic Entertainment

Genre: RTS.

 

The 2000s was a magical time to be a PC gamer, especially if you were fan of RTS games. After the absolute smash success of Age of Empires 2 and StarCraft proved the genre could be financially solid and PCs becoming more widespread and capable, there was a plethora of great RTS games that threw their hat at the ring to try and get some of that potential market. With this kind of gold rush, however, there were bound to be many hidden gems that were trumped and buried under the influx of titles, and were unable to make their mark in history. In a previous review I talked about Cossacks II, and how it tried to make a dent on the historical RTS category, just like Age of Empires, Rise of Nations or Empire Earth. However, history wasn’t the only inspiration for settings, science-fiction was also one of them. And in regards of classical science fiction, very few games are as unique and interesting as Impossible Creatures.

Impossible Creatures was released in 2003 for PCs by famous studio Relic Entertainment, who also worked on the Homeworld series, Company of Heroes and Dawn of War. The Impossible Creatures project begun after the original Homeworld, and it’s interesting how they were trying their unconventional spin on the RTS genre even back then. It’s also interesting to see this game was a co-joined venture with Microsoft, who published the game, no doubt confident in the RTS genre after their own titles were met with widespread success. However, it was quickly overshadowed by the two Homeworld games, and while the game is not a forgotten title by any means (the Steam version has a surprisingly amount of active players) it never really made a name for itself. Which is a shame, since the core game is extremely unique and has a lot of potential.

The basics of the game are simple. Like many RTS, Impossible Creatures has you gathering resources, building a base and armies to fight your enemies. However, the game revolves around the creation of the units. Unlike any other RTS I’ve encountered, you have the ability to create your own units from scratch, mixing and matching different animal species to create your preferred hybrid monstrosities, from a list of 76 species available (from the base game and the two free updates). The combining mechanic is the heart and soul of this game, and it affects every single aspect of the title. The idea is absolutely genius, and extremely ambitious by the time period. It adds a lot of depth to the battle system by having to plan and choose each creature and the parts it has to have from each animal (usually divided into head, front legs, back legs, torso, tail, pincers and wings). Each part has different stats and abilities, and the more powerful they are, the more expensive they will be to produce, while also having to keep an eye on the size as a stat multiplier and the required building and technology level needed for its production. Each player has nine slots in their arsenal, so they have to be really careful with what they choose. For example, picking only heavy animals will leave you defenseless during the early stages of the game (and zerg rushing in this game is quite a feasible strategy, especially with level II creatures, when they can use special bonus such as the Herding or Pack Hunter). At the same time, strategies that require lots of cannon fodder units will be weaker to plagues and poisons. If you only pick melee units you won’t be able to counter flying units, and if you choose too many flying creatures you will be vulnerable to the Anti-Air Towers, and artillery units can be tricky to use due to their attacks hurting their ally troops too. The Creature Combiner feature is pretty much like the family creator of the Sims, in what you can end up spending hours and hours just making different animals and armies instead of just playing the game. It also has a recommendation option, giving you an overview of your current army. It is a nice feature to create well-rounded builds, but if you have any particular strategy in mind you’re going to end up ignoring it. Once a creature is created, it will go to a catalogue, where you can see every single design made, useful if you ever imagine a nice mix, but it doesn’t fit with the rest of your army’s strategy. And while we’re talking about strategy, it is once again imperative to remark how important the design phase is. Unlike any other strategy game, where each faction has been crafted to be as balanced as it could possibly be, in this game there’s a real possibility of one army being much more powerful and useful than others in an objective way. Two equally skilled players with different armies will perform much differently, and while the game tries to keep everything balanced through ability availability, stats, costs and structural needs, there is the possibility of making extremely overpowered monsters. There’s also the problem with the base animals themselves, and how some of them are incredibly useful compared to others. The lobster, for example, is ridiculously overpowered: a level II creature that needs the Water Chamber has claws and the ability to regenerate wounds, has great defenses and HP while not being really that slow by itself, and resource-wise not being that expensive, it fits with almost any other animal and, if combined with a creature with horns, it becomes a melee monster, especially good obliterating buildings fast. Compare that to the skunk, whose only real good trait (outside of it being a cheap level I creature usable from the beginning) is its Stink Cloud ability, which slows enemies down, but without actually hurting them. A skilled player will find and identify the best creatures with time, and will find the best ways to use them. But then again, that always leaves the chance of the surprise use of a creature mostly overlooked, taking victory when no one thought possible.

I could talk about the Creature Mixer mechanic quite a lot, but it would be more repetitive, so I’ll move on to the actual game. Mechanical-wise, the game is similar to other RTS, with a base in need of defending, henchmen to build and gather resources and a map to explore. This, however, is where most of the game’s problems come from. There are only two resources in the game: coal and electricity. Electricity is automatically generated in special buildings and geothermal structures built over geysers, but coal is just found in mines. The mines are in the open, and are spread throughout the map. The game will depend on the players’ ability to either keep the most mines for themselves or to take their rivals down before running out of coal. And run out of coal you will, as the game is quite stingy with the coal available on the higher difficulties. You will have to pay attention to the emplacement of the coal on the map (which are not randomly generated, so the coal is always on the same spot, as well as player emplacement). During the game, you will only have one base available, the Lab, and you can’t create more. If the enemy destroys your lab, you lose the game. The games allow up to six players, and there are many gameplay modes, although in reality are only two. “Destroy Enemy Lab” and “Destroy Enemy Base”, which are basically the same, but in Destroy the Enemy Base you have to take down all enemy structures, which is just cumbersome, as the Lab’s destruction practically guarantees the defeat. In “Hunt Rex”, each player is given a human character, and they have to hunt down their enemies’.  Again, destroy the lab and you will have all the time in the world to hunt the objective. And herein lies the problem: the game concentrates all of its depth on the creatures: how to use, how to combine them, how to upgrade them… but there is quite a lack of development of many other elements, and the scarce variety might get many players after a while.

Impossible Creatures, like many of its peers, has a campaign mode. Centered on the origins and creation of the Sigma technology, the tech responsible for combining creatures, and about its use and misuse. In 1937, Rex Chance, war journalist, receives a letter of his father, a remarked scientist, who’s been working on a series of islands on the South Pacific on some sort of secret project. Lo and behold, the technology has fallen in the hands of Upton Julius, a wealthy entrepreneur that is planning to take over the world. Rex is saved at the last moment by Lucy Willing, an associate of Rex’s father. Together, they have to fight Upton Julius and his generals to stop him from using it. Through 15 levels with different settings, you have to analyze different animals on each island, so that you’re able to use their DNA for your army. I love the setting, it reminds me of those classic monster movies, where the mad doctor creates something evil and tries to wreak havoc on everything it finds, and also a bit of Bioshock in aesthetics. The game has great cut scenes, drawn in black and white shots, although they have a dark, almost noire tone to them compared to the camp and fun attitude the game has most of the time. The campaign is a great distraction, but not really fleshed out, as with just 15 chapters, some of them quite short if you know what you’re doing, can go by rather fast. The style of this game is great. The main theme of the game is this fun jazz tune mixed with animal noises that really immerse you in the setting, and it has great 3D graphics for its time. They are close in quality to the Dawn of War models, which is unsurprising seeing that they both have the same dev team.

Multiplayer is… complicated. This game was made during the LAN era, and it shows. Despite it having a reasonably active community on Steam, the game is quite complex to get an online match running, so many just use LAN settings and simulation services for it. Also, there’s a dedicated modding community for this game, understandable due to the potential of the mechanics, and mods such as the Tellurian mod are almost of mandatory download they are so good and content-filled. The game also has a map creator, but it’s nothing special.

Impossible Creatures is one of those games that were ahead of their time in some areas while being weighted down in others. A game with more mechanical depth, better online and more gameplay options would be great, especially now that new animals can be added through updates and modding. Why the game doesn’t get a remake or a reboot is a mystery, but if I were to talk, I’d say the license is on shaky grounds after THQ’s bankruptcy. Right now, the game is published by THQ Nordic, and they have other projects to focus on, other than remaking a game that, for all intents and purposes was never a huge hit. Which is a shame, this game works great on modern systems, and it’s constantly on sale, so I highly recommend trying it out, even if it’s to just try the creature mixer mechanic. Seriously, it’s a blast.

 Score: 8/10

 



You know it deserves the GOTY.

Come join The 2018 Obscure Game Monthly Review Thread.

Game: Might and Magic - Clash of Heroes

Platform: PC/DS/360 Arcade/PS3/ Android/iOS

Year: 2009.

Developer: Capybara Games

Genre: Puzzle Game/RPG.

 

 

Spinoff games are always interesting. They allow series and franchises deeply rooted in a single genre to expand and explore new mechanics and settings, while also deepening their world. Many spinoffs try to work alongside the original games, either by covering stories and plot points not covered by the originals or by offering a different perspective to said events. It is also a great opportunity to expand the userbase: People who might not like, or just ignore the original games for whatever reason might become interested through the spinoff. Thus, every major franchise has plenty of spinoffs to go around, and the more popular, the more prolific they are. With that in mind, my experiences with the Might and Magic series in comparison to the M&M Clash of Heroes spinoff is somewhat clearer.

I’ll be honest here, I don’t like the Might and Magic games. I’ve just played the fifth instalment, but it’s been more than enough to put me off from the rest of the series. The gameplay is slow and dull, the designs are generic fantasy, and the story and setting didn’t grab me in the least. I played and gave up halfway through the game. Maybe judging the rest of the series through that experience is unfair, but there are too many games and very little time, so if a game wants to grab my attention, it better do it quick. This is especially funny when, years later, I saw the Might and Magic spinoff M&M Clash of Heroes, and out of sheer curiosity, I picked it up for my DS.

Might and Magic Clash of Heroes is a turn based puzzle strategy role-playing game originally developed by Capybara Games for the Nintendo DS, and later ported to mobile, PC and consoles. It tells a standalone story from the Might and Magic mythos: in the magical land of Ashan, five noble youngsters reunite to celebrate an important magical event, but then they are attacked by demons and scattered throughout the land, having to fight their way back to avoid some sort of impending disaster, as well as finding the mythical Blade of Binding, said to have the power to allow demons back to the land…

At its surface, the setting is quite generic, and it is, though I blame that on the original games this is based on. The art style, character design and dialogue are much more light-hearted, taking an animesque approach to it. Seeing as many people probably didn’t know a thing about the original games, it was a smart choice. It allows the game to differentiate itself from the rest of the puzzle games on the DS. And trust me, there were tons of those back in the DS days, the DS library was full of both great and horrible puzzle games.

Another thing that separates this game from other puzzle games is the gameplay. The screen is divided into two halves, your opponent’s and yours’. Each side is given a random share of units, and each side has to group them to form attack formations that will deplete the opponent’s life, until it drops to zero, or until it accomplishes certain goals. Once certain turns have passed, the offensive units charge through the opponent’s side of the screen, killing anything in their way or being blocked if they don’t have enough strength. The players can create either attack or defense formations by lining up formations of the same unit and colour either vertically or horizontally. In each turn, the players have a limited set of moves to move their units, and certain moves will grant them more moves. There are three types of units: Core units (three types per faction), Elite (two per faction) and Champion (two per faction). The Core units are your typical runts, they are the weakest and more numerous type of unit, but they’re needed to power up the other two classes. Elite have some neat special uses alongside higher power, and the Champions are massive engines of war that will make a lot of damage, but they need a lot of units to power up and will need many turns to launch the attack, so they will become instant targets for the opponent, either through walling or through spam attacks. Each faction has very different units, as well as different powers and special gear that will add a level of strategy and depth to the gameplay. There are five different factions in the game: the elves, the human empire, the undead, the wizards and the demons, each with their own powers and weaknesses. The more you play, the more tricks and strategies open up to the player, keeping the game fresh despite its repetitiveness. It can get quite grind-heavy on the story mode, but most of the time the gathering of resources needed for recruiting alone should be enough to keep the party at a high enough level. The gameplay in general is fun and, in certain difficulties rather challenging. It is always satisfying to break the enemy’s defences with a well-placed combo. It always keep a constant pace without being either too fast or too slow. The randomness of the unit arrivals can be annoying, though. There were certain boss fights where I just had to restart if the initial placement of the units wasn’t good enough, due to the scenarios having certain time limit. This, however, rarely happens, so it’s not that annoying as it might sound.

The story mode adds elements of RPGs, exploration and resource management. There are five stages on the games, and in each one you play a different faction. Every hero needs a series of resources to recruit special units, as well as the ones who volunteer to help you. You win resources by fighting random encounters and exploring the scenarios. There are three basic resources: Gold (basic money), Ore and Diamond (needed to get special units). There are some puzzles in the game, but they are so simple and easy that I’d struggle to call them puzzles, but they aren’t bad, just a bit of a time waster. In each scenario, you can get rewards by working as a bounty hunter, and those fights can range from very easy to quite challenging, keeping your skills sharp. There are plenty of boss fights, and they can be quite hard. I still don’t know how you could beat Ludmilla without using the Spider Cloak item. The final level has a problem, however. In that one, you play as every previous faction, and if you haven’t levelled them up beforehand, you can’t do it here, so you’re stuck with whatever level you and your units have. Outside of that, it’s a short but entertaining campaign mode.

There is a multiplayer mode, where two players can duke it out against each other, but really, there’s not that much outside of it. This was clearly a small budget title, like the myriad of those released for the DS. Ubisoft, however, must had seen the potential of this title, because they ported it to 7th gen consoles, PC and mobile. These versions got a graphical overhaul to improve their quality from the DS original, with HD versions for the consoles and PC. They also added a voice over narrator, which is nice.

I’m surprised Ubisoft never really capitalized on this gameplay, the foundations are there for a great puzzle game, even without the Might and Magic IP. With mobile gaming and the Nintendo Switch, this kind of puzzle games have a great market to thrive on. The gameplay is great and easy to learn, and the cute graphics make for some enjoyable, if somewhat shallow, campaign mode. Overall, a little gem for a series I’m not really into, really hard to not like if you're fan of puzzle games.

 Score: 8/10



You know it deserves the GOTY.

Come join The 2018 Obscure Game Monthly Review Thread.

Game: Zero Wing

Platform: Sega Mega Drive/PC Engine/Arcade

Year: 1989

Developer: Toaplan

Genre: Side-Scrolling Shoot 'em Up

 

Popular culture is a curious thing. What stays and what gets forgotten by the public can be really difficult to predict or to understand. Many elements are branded in our minds, forever to stay there even if you’ve only paid one second of attention to the original thing. And likewise, there are works that, no matter their quality or effort, simply fail to make any kind of impact in the mind of their audiences, no matter how much attention they’re given, and become forgotten in days. What makes something memorable and what doesn’t has been studied by experts for years, trying to analyse how our minds work, and what makes them tick in a certain way. And yet, sometimes, when the stars align, that something extremely unassuming gets all the attention in the world, becoming a significant part of our cultural baggage. Today, we would probably call this phenomena as “memes.  This small units contain ideas, concepts or expressions that are able to spread through a community, until it becomes ubiquitous. And in the early 2000s, very few memes were as popular and recognizable as the intro of Zero Wing.

It is impossible to separate the 1989 Genesis space shoot’em up from the infamous “All your base are belong to us” meme. Considered one of the most, if not the most famous case of engrish in all of gaming, the garbled, disjointed and nonsensical intro movie had just enough elements to jump into stardom: dramatic scenes, incomprehensible mistranslated dialogue, 16-bit nostalgia and just the right amount of obscurity to get the gaming public with shock and awe and laughter. However, we have to take into account the importance of the game itself. The meme has become a mainstay in popular culture, but how many people even know the origin of the infamous phrase?  And how many have actually played the title? Does it deserve to be remembered beyond the meme?

The first thing Zero Wing shows us is its ill-famed cut scene, which, by the way, comes from the European Mega Drive port, which is the version I’ve played. Pretty much all of you reading this probably know the entire thing from beginning to end, but just in case, I’ll describe it for you. In A.D. 2101, war starts between the “space government” (the good guys’ faction never get a name) and CATS, a humanoid cyborg that manages to surprise the space government and destroys most of their forces in a sudden attack. While gloating of his victory, the Captain of the space government, in a last desperate act, decides to send the Zigs, fighting spaceships to destroy the threat of CATS forever. And that’s it. That’s the plot of the game. This was during the days when plots were mostly an excuse to get the game going, so it’s not exactly surprising they were able to condense the plot in less than two minutes of cut scene and less that twenty lines of dialogue. However, I unironically love this intro. Seriously, in the span of two minutes we get to know everything we need to know about the game: we know why we’re fighting for (“for great justice”), we know who we’re fighting against (“CATS”), and we know how high the stakes really are (“All Your Base Are Belong to Us”, “You are on the way to destruction”, “You have no chance to survive make your time”). Seeing the bad guy destroy every important piece of military importance as it were nothing sends a message of how powerful CATS really is, and how desperate the situation is, and it makes it so much satisfying when we take it down with just our small craft. We get emotionally invested through two different means: by making CATS a ruthless and magnificent bastard that manages to capture all of the bases in a surprise masterstroke, while also gloating all the way. The way CATS appears in the main screen really sells its imposing appearance, like the Emperor in The Empire Strikes Back, menacing and imposing against the image of the Captain. The Captain, as well, knows how desperate their situation is, and we see how he has to send the Zigs as a last resort to save the galaxy, trying to maintain his composure and cold mind during the last seconds of his life. He knows he’s going to die, and yet he ultimately sets in motion the events that would bring the end of CATS. He makes the Zigs’ pilots understand the seriousness of the situation, while also reassuring them they know what they’re doing, giving a brief but effective last words that stay with the player throughout the playthrough. We see our Zig ship depart, while the main space station is being blown up. All while one of the best intro themes of all time plays in the background, absolutely enhancing the scene into epic proportions.

You may think I’m making fun of it, but it’s quite the opposite. Engrish aside, this is one of the best intros I’ve ever seen on any videogame. Period. The amount of information and player investment we get is way superior to many of today’s games, confident in their almost movie-like CGI intros and cutscenes. What other videogames need hours to come across this title does in two minutes. The instruction book has more information about the storyline and the world, but why would you need it? The composition, the pacing, the music, the sound design, the surprisingly good sprite artwork… all combines to make one of the most memorable scenes in all gaming. In that sense, it is a shame the engrish really overshadowed the quality of this scene. Not bad for a completely original addition to the port (the original arcade didn’t really have any story, so the developers made it up here).

Intro scene aside, how is the actual gameplay? Well, once we start the game, it’s a very typical space shooter. You control a small ship that shoots lasers to other small and not so small ships. You have two means of defence: one is your trusty lases, that can change depending on the power up you have at the moment. There are three kinds of power ups: the red one, a basic spreader gun, the blue one, powerful multilasers, and the green one, homing projectiles. If you get multiple power ups of the same type, your attack becomes more and more powerful, to the point of being quite broken. The green and blue in particular are rather overpowered, with the green one basically doing all the job for you and the blue one keeping a massive portion of the screen in check at once. Other important power ups are the boost, which increases the speed of your ship, and the bomb, a powerful single use attack against everything in the screen. The other mean of defence is a traction beam, able to capture small craft and throw it back at the enemies, although this is quite dangerous to use since you have to get close to get it, only really useful to capture and throw the bomb power up.

The game follows a side-scrolling format. The screen moves to the right constantly, and you have to avoid or destroy the obstacles in your way. Sometimes you’ll have to be extremely careful not to touch anything: a hit is an instant KO, so try to fly as far away from the walls as possible. Sometimes it’s unavoidable, having to navigate through narrow corridors to continue the level. Also, in some stages there are multiple enemies that appear from the other side of the screen. Although I understand why they did this (to discourage players from just staying at the left bottom of the screen), some kind of warning is needed, otherwise you just suddenly die for no reason. There are eight stages of different length and difficulty, all with different bosses and sub-bosses. The scenarios are quite well decorated, although they are somewhat standard when compared to other Mega Drive games. The colours are somewhat muted sometimes, but that’s probably just a nit-pick of mine. Playing other sidescroller space shooters lately, I really appreciate the size and colour pallet chosen for Zero Wing. This game was set up in space, and it still fares better there, contrasting the blackness of the background with the rest of the elements of the screen quite nicely. A modern example of this would be Sine Mora, where the ship is quite small compared to the rest of the screen, and the attempt of a more realistic look makes the player ship somewhat difficult to see in certain scenes (especially when playing undocked on the Nintendo Switch). Zero wing has a big ship in an environment that allows little to no distraction, and that is great for gameplay. Which is, sadly, not so great. Outside of the bosses, which are fun to play, Zero Wing’s gameplay is quite easy: the level design is somewhat dull at times, and even quite frustrating at worst, especially when the lack of space hinders your movement. The basic mook designs are forgettable, and they are not especially threatening, only offering a challenge in numbers. This is a quite easy game, especially due to the infinite continues, a rarity at the time. Losing all your lives means losing all your score, but you start at the level you left off, so it’s not really a big deal.

The music of the game is some of the best 16-bit tunes out there. Maybe I’m just a sucker for this kind of compositions, but they are amazing, frequently outstaging the gameplay entirely. Not that much to say there, just find a YouTube play list of the OST and judge yourself.

One thing I’d like to mention is that the game has multiple endings, but you wouldn’t know it at first glance. At the final boss, if you don’t destroy a particular part of the enemy in a certain amount of time, CATS escapes and you get the bad ending. Which is weird. After beating the final boss, you get a couple of dancing raisins congratulating you for your victory. It is a Japanese game, after all, so some weirdness had to be added somewhere. If you do destroy the enemy entirely, you get the appropriate good ending, with your damaged ship being rescued by your allies, the mothership sails into the horizon… and you get an image of a raising staring into your soul. What that is or means, I don’t know. Maybe it’s the mascot of the game or the developer team, but is quite jarring for a game that doesn’t have that many silly things in it.

There’s no local multiplayer, which is a shame considering the potential for co-op here, but I guess some levels just don’t have the appropriate design for two player matches.

Zero Wing is a bit of an anomaly. Its level design and difficulty make it probably one of the easiest games of its genre to beat, so it would be great for beginners, but offers very little challenge to seasoned veterans. The presentation is great, until the level design starts going down in quality. The music is awesome, but it complements a gameplay quite mediocre. The highlight of the game is the intro cutscene, which is a shame, they spent their best asset at the very beginning, accessible without the need of even playing it. Maybe more cutscenes in between the levels would’ve been a great incentive for players and to differentiate it from the plethora of other space shooters at the time. How sad it is that the last-minute addition ended up being the key element of the game? As it is, it’s fine. Nothing spectacular, but fine. You can probably beat it in a day, so it won’t even leave you time to get tired of it.

 

 Score: 6.5/10

 



You know it deserves the GOTY.

Come join The 2018 Obscure Game Monthly Review Thread.

Game: Nightside 

Platform: PC

Year: 2015.

Developer: Omnidream Creations.

Genre: RTS.

 

The gaming space can be a daunting and harsh place for many developers, especially for those who decide to go independent. Without any previous notable work, gaining traction and making a name for yourself is extremely difficult, even if the gaming media has allowed for many underdog stories, either through viral popularity or through the increasing value of indie games for big publishers. For every Cuphead, FNAF or Shovel Knight, there are tens of thousands of games that are left stranded, fighting to make their investment successful in a more and more saturated market. However, the independent market does have one big advantage, and is its ability to continue working with certain genres that fell out of popularity years ago. I’ve mentioned before in some of my other reviews that the RTS genre had its zenith during the 2000s, and after that, their popularity steadily waned in favour of other genres. Games belonging to the MOBAs or the Turn Based 4X only focus on one singular aspect of the RTS gameplay, either micromanaging units without the hustle of base-building, or base-building without the need to bother with real time or constant unit management. Sadly, while this approach was successful, it left the RTS genre as a “Jack of all trades, master of none”, and it went out of style. Fortunately, that left the independent market with enough room to create their own works, free of competition from big publishers. One of the many small RTSs that populate Steam nowadays is Nightside.

Now, the only reason why this game picked my interest, outside of it being an RTS, is its similarity at first glance with a game called Submarine Titans. Now, most of you know that I’m a huge fan of that obscure title (and by the way, don’t worry about it, I’ll make a review of it soon, probably around November-December). The screenshots of Nightside promised RTS action set on an alien landscape, and it reminded me of the setting of Sumbarine Titans, with submarine fights at the bottom of the ocean. The real results of my game time with it was quite different, however. While the settings, mechanics and overall gameplay are very different from the start, I feel like Nightside could learn quite a lot from Submarine Titans. It also needs to be addressed some of the important flaws and poor choices the developers took while making Nightside, as well as how to improve the series in the already announced sequel. The game has potential, but that potential is just that, potential, and a lot of work will have to be put into the title if they want the series to survive in the future.

Nightside is an RTS developed by Omnidream Creations, set in a planet where four factions are fighting for dominance: the Nova, the YX, the Humans and the Noxx. All of them are fighting to gain control of the planet, and more importantly, the valuable resource known as “green ice”. It is the only resource of the game, and it’s only found at certain specific points in each map. The game then consists of all of the players fighting to gain control of the most amount of green ice spawn points (the game cleverly makes sure this points never get exhausted, avoiding problems with resource scarcity) to then overwhelm their opponents. There is a single game mode, which is your typical skirmish. No “King of the Hill”, no “Regicide”, no “Deathmatch”, no “Sudden Death”… As such, all matches end up following the same pattern: The way of defeating your enemies is by destroying their main building. At the beginning of a match, you will have a single central structure, irreplaceable and essential for the creation of your base. While it’s not the only structure capable of creating economic units (the Nova and the Noxx can do it through other means), if that building is destroyed, that player is defeated immediately. As such, the game falls quite frequently victim to zerg rushing, even more so than other games. Even with 4 players, the maximum amount available in a match, it’s very rare for a single game to last more than 20-25 min. And this is further exposed with the design of the factions.

Each faction has a very different playstyle from the rest, so different in fact that it will take most players a try or two to get used to some of the weirdest factions of the setting. In particular, the YX and the Noxx are quite complicated, and not recommended for beginners. The Humans and the Nova are the ones easier to pick up, and even then you might be confused sometimes, but after a while you’ll get used to them. The level of depth of each one of them is found at their particular abilities, due to most of them sharing technology, although this limits to investigation, not units. They all share things like upgrades for attack and defense for units, most of them have some form of shield, they all upgrade their scout (though the aspect in which they do that differs from each faction)… and the skill and tech tree is mostly done. Outside of upgrading one ability or two for the special units, all of the factions have shockingly small room for growth, and it is quite easy for all players will have maxed out in a short amount of time. Now, this is not a bad thing at all, on the contrary. The matches are fast and they rarely go over 30min, which is the time required for fast matches for other RTSs. The fact the tech trees are so short complements the fast pace of the game quite nicely. What does not complement it is unit movement itself. When I first played the game, I thought all units moved unbearably slow. The gatherers moved slowly, the land units moved slowly and clunky, the only ones that avoided this were the air units, and that’s kind of their point. However, after playing multiple rounds of the game, I realized this is necessary. The game is designed for short rounds as it is, if you increased the movement speed of the units, zerg rushing would be so predominant that most matches would end in less than 10min. The movement speed is not the problem here. What it is a problem here is the graphic and art design of the game.

The art design of the game has two inherent flaws. While the simulation of an environment alien and seemingly lifeless is captured quite nicely, all maps end up looking the same. For once, all maps consist of lifeless plains of desolate mineral wastes, with your occasional green ice spawn point and some natural barriers like elevations. This is a problem for two reasons: every map looks similar, and thus, it gets boring to look at. Fast. The second problem is related to the story, but I’ll mention it later. Submarine Titans has a similar problem, but they also have a massive attention to detail in this regard: the ocean floor is filled with colours and interesting things to see: aquatic life, reefs, algae, small volcanoes that explode from time to time, rock formations, gas fountains, ancient and modern human ruins and debris, it has four different styles of lighting, natural barriers that makes you choose the elevation of your units to go over or under them… The maps in Nightside look utterly dead in comparison. The occasional geometrical mineral elevation with a slightly darker shade of purple can’t really improve the visual monotony one can feel after multiple matches. The other problem of the game is its lighting. It is too dark too frequently, and the neon lighting coming from units and buildings, while giving the game an unique aesthetic, is too tiring for the eye, not just in a repetitive way, but in an actual physical way. People with eye problems might not be able to fully enjoy this game, and this problem could be easily solved with different modes and lighting options. There’s also the units’ design to discuss. While not awful, and not as serious of a problem as the two previously mentioned, the factions would benefit a lot from a redesign. In particular, the Nova and the Human factions should really be much more distinctive than what they are now. The YX and the Noxx are fine. The YX are a hive mind species, and as such their angular, almost Lego-like aesthetics work well, and the design of the Noxx is really good, the only one in the game that truly feels alien. But the Nox and especially the humans are somewhat off. The problem with the Nox is that they don’t really have eye catching elements to their design, and benefit from adding more alien-like elements. Maybe designs based of insects, microorganisms or ocean fauna? Maybe more resembling to vintage alien designs? (Also, is it just me or the Nova’s heavy flyer looks like a Warhammer 40k’s Voidraven Bomber?). The problem with the human faction is the fact that they don’t resemble anything remotely close to human designs and aesthetics. This could’ve been explained in the campaign, with the humans being so advanced their designs look unidentifiable and unrecognizable for people of today. However, the game never leaves it clear, and as such, they have an alien-like design for no apparent reason. A more industrial design, or even a zeerust one would have differentiated them from the other factions. Again, this is not a major problem, but it’s something that could be improved.

The game also has a campaign mode, which I’m going to spoil a bit, so be warned. It centres on Adam, a human explorer that gets stranded into an alien planet where a war between the two major factions is plunging the world into chaos. Throughout 14 missions, we’ll play with the four factions in a series of levels designed to show the player how to use each faction, how to counter them, and how to use certain mechanics. The storyline is all right, although it leaves a lot to the imagination, quite more that I would have liked. Why are the YX and the Nova fighting? Why does Adam immediately ally with the Nova? What are the inner politics of the Nova faction to backstab you in the middle of the campaign? And other than the green ice, what are they fighting for? The maps are desolated and they never show either side’s cities or civilian structures worth defending, or important economical centres other than green ice. This doesn’t look like a world worth protecting, or even fighting for. It makes sense for the humans, who just want to get the hell out of there, and for the Noxx, who are so alien anyway that living in that desolate place makes sense, but the other two? I could understand it if it was just a lifeless rock, and the four factions fought for the resources in a no holds barred war, but we never see the stakes at risk, and this is both a problem for the story and the art design. Again, in Submarine Titans, there was the potential of falling into this trap, but it had two things in its favour: the intros for each mission were way more elaborate and with more info, both explained and hinted at, and done with much more personality. Submarine Titans is also an old enough game to come with a manual that explains things a bit further. Nightside’s story has a lot of questions that are never answered. Whether this is a deal breaker, it’s up to each player. There’s also the feeling that the Human faction is overpowered story-wise. You see, there is only a handful of humans on the planet at once, their tech is all based in robots and droids. And these few humans are able to create a massive infrastructure out of nowhere, enough to change the tides of the war until they get fed up with the conflict and decide to leave. Finally, the addition of the Noxx to the story probably meant the extinction of both the Nova and the YX, so the next game may revolve around the fight between humanity and the Noxx? The Noxx are my favourite faction in this game, even though mechanic-wise are somewhat unintuitive. I just hope they stick around for the next game.

Now, the gameplay in the campaign and in the basic skirmish mode is notorious for the lack of a very basic feature, and it is so basic that I’m just wondering why they left that out. The game can’t save. At all. You cannot save your game in the middle of a match, meaning that, if you have to stop playing, or you want to save scum when playing on hard mode, you can’t. This is a baffling omission, and it is almost a deal breaker. I can understand that the game is designed for quick matches, but leaving such an important feature out, not just for RTSs, but for games in general, is unacceptable. Other than that, there are two important points to talk about. First, there is a severe lack of response of the game when you or your base are being attacked. In a game as fast-paced as this, it’s a problem, especially when you are attacking, and the opponents are attacking your base. Having to keep an eye out constantly is not fun, and this could’ve been solved by making the alarm messages more poignant and more precise. Maybe when a building is getting attacked, the message that pops up is bigger and the marks on the minimap are more specific, and when it’s your main building what’s being attacked, the message that pops up is even bigger, even accompanied by a change of score, with some theme of danger indicating the threat in your base. That would give the player more useful information, and as such, help him react appropriately. The second problem is the selection of the hero units during the campaign. For some reason, when you click on the tabs linked to those units, instead of selecting that unit and moving the camera towards it, it just moves the camera. You have to then find your unit and select it manually. While this seems a nit-pick, this can be a problem when your unit is being attack and it’s in the middle of your army. You could lose precious seconds that could cost you the unit, and thus the game. And remember, you can’t save game, so every time you lose, you start the level from the beginning.

Online multiplayer is no more. Despite launching with that feature, and having plenty of Steam achievements related to multiplayer functionality, the games’ servers closed down in 2017. This was accompanied by a price drop to compensate, sure, but they do still include online multiplayer as a selling point on their Steam page, which is a dickish move. At least add LAN functionality to keep the multiplayer selling point going.

Despite my many criticism of the game, I don’t think Nightside is a bad game. It is commendable for a team of just three people to try to make a game as complex as an RTS, but the game has both glaring omissions and many missed opportunities to not pointing them out. Considering its current low price, especially during sales, I wouldn’t mind recommending it, but I would rather just wait for the sequel. Nightside 2 was announced this year, and I wish the best to the team. They have a lot of room for improvement, so I’m hoping to see it come to fruition.


 Score: 4/10

 

Last edited by Darwinianevolution - on 08 July 2018

You know it deserves the GOTY.

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