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The 2018 Obscure Game Monthly Review Thread.

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 Game: Gun.

Platform: PC/PS2/Xbox/GC/PSP/XBox360

Year: 2008.

Developer: Neversoft.

Genre: Action/Shooter.

 

Many media tend to center around certain settings and genres during long periods of time. Modern media such as film and television require a vast array of materials and set pieces to create a believable environment to tell their stories on, which is something that greatly affected the popularity of certain productions over others. One of the most famous cases of this is the Western genre: based on XIXth century America, the conquest of the Wild West offered a lot of spectacle and human drama with relatively low production costs. Most of this stories were based in the west side of the USA, so there’s plenty of desert to film, most of the settlements in the West were rather small, so they saved up on actors, the sets were rather easy to build and, perhaps more importantly, to reuse without any fuss or complain. The popularity of westerns would last for decades, until it reached a point of full on saturation, where the film industry just sort of abandoned the genre, chasing other more popular trends.

In contrast, other media suffer from very different limitations. Videogames have thrived in areas where their ability to create worlds from scratch had more space to grow, such as fantasy and the science fiction genres, and as such, never really tried that much with the western genre. For the longest time, the most popular videogame centered on the Wild West was “The Oregon Trail”, an educational game that represented fairly well the struggles of people trying to cross half of the United States in wagons to find a place to live at the end of the journey. It would take until the creation of “Red Dead Redemption” in 2010 to bring the style of the westerns of old to the video game scene. It, however, was not the first. Leaving aside Red Dead Redemption as a sequel of Red Dead Revolver (who even remembers that one?), there were other action westerns, and probably the most important one until 2010 was Activision’s “Gun”.

Gun is an action-shooter game created by developer Neversoft and published by Activision in 2005. Between 2005 and 2006, it released for almost every platform that could handle it at the time: PC, PS2, Xbox, Game Cube, XBox 360 and even as a re-release for the PSP with added content. The version I’ve played is the Steam version, so I won’t be talking about “Gun: Showdown”, that content is PSP exclusive.

The game centers around Colton White, a man who hunts for a living, selling meat and fur to the local steam boats alongside his father Ned.  During one of their travels through the river, the steamboat is ambushed by mysterious individuals, resulting in Ned’s death and the complete destruction of the boat. Colton barely makes it out alive, but before Ned died he told him certain things that spurs Colton to travel around the West in search of answers and vengeance. The plot is quite straight forward after that. Colton travels from town to town, finding allies and enemies alike along the way, fighting bandits and Indians by the dozen, all while a not so shadowy puppeteer is chasing him, centered in his own search… The story is all right, and the characters, for the most part, are entertaining. Some of the ones I liked the most end up dead too soon and some of the ones I liked least died too late, but that’s part of the course for this kinds of stories. Some of the set pieces are quite generic for the setting, though. I don’t think we would lose that much if they had skipped the herding part of the game. Likewise, throughout the story, the game offers you constant side missions, allowing you to win gold to improve your arsenal of guns, but some of them become repetitive quite fast. You can only catch so many bandits for rewards (getting them alive is best, they gave you extra money for that) until you get bored. Some are fun, though, trying to keep the peace as Sheriff’s assistant in a limited amount of time makes you wonder why is the town suddenly embroiled in full on chaos. There are also missions that are just bizarre, like bringing food to a man that lives two steps to the nearest shop, or else he dies of starvation. He’s not even crippled or invalid, he’s just fat (that’s the actual in-game explanation, by the way). Why did they even bother with this one? It’s memorable all right, but it’s the dumb kind of memorable.

As you progress through the story, the narrative unfolds through the use of cutscenes. They are decent by the standards of their time, though they’d probably be looked at funny nowadays, some of the expressions are too over the top. To be fair, the game clearly goes for an over the top style and story, with bad guys that are irredeemable bastards and good guys with the tragic backstory that makes you feel instantly sorry for them, while also unapologetically using many standard western tropes without adding that much to them. A bit schlocky, but it’s serviceable, and besides, the story can be beaten in less than 10 hours, so it’s not like it’s wasting your time anyways.

Mechanics-wise, the game is a 3rd person shooter most of the time. You can use a lot of weapons, from pistols, revolvers, rifles, shotguns, bows, burning cocktails, dynamite, machine guns and cannons (although these two only in specific set pieces…). The game offers you the quickdraw, a mechanic that allows a slowing down of time, allowing you to make the shots way more precise, to get all the headshots you could possibly want. Considering that, on PC, you use keyboard and mouse, this ability is extremely broken, allowing you to use this slow down way more efficiently than on consoles. This can translate into some parts of the game becoming quite easy, and the ones that can’t be solved with this method are either damage sponges or have such a strong damage output that you can’t just get out of your cover without risking death in a couple of shots. It’s also limited to the handguns, so forget about using it with your rifle against enemy snipers, you won’t do that much against far away enemies. You can also ride horses in this game (shocking, I know), and use them as weapons to trample enemies. You would have to find empty areas of the map where enemies group up unrealistically close to be able to use it to its full potential, but it’s there.

The game also works as an open world game of sorts, and it has the same problems this kind of games suffer from. The West we’re shown here is quite empty, and divided into different setpieces (fortunately loading times have been trimmed down, so you don’t need to load to go from location to location). While this is impressive, the land is empty as, well, a desert.  The wilderness offers you little outside hunting game and the occasional gold mine. The few towns you can find are scattered and have little to offer you outside of the previously mentioned side missions. There’s also the problem of the lack of fast travel, so you will ride on horse for a decent chunk of this game. The game is linear enough as it is, so giving you no fast travel option is probably there to force you to travel and to do a side mission or two. And once you beat the story mode, there is little to no incentive to keep playing, other than full completion if you care about that kind of thing.

Music is not memorable. Though it tries to follow the typical western sounds, I cannot remember a single track from the game, which is a shame, Westerns have produced some of the most memorable tunes out there.

There’s not much to say about the game, except one last pet peeve of mine. Without making too many spoilers, the showdown between the final bad guy and you in the gold mine is probably one of the weakest boss fights ever. The game goes against everything it has taught you at the time, and forces you to throw explosives at geysers to try and hurt the armored and completely untouchable bad guy, who does not go close to the geysers enough to make reliable damage to him, all the while he can blow you up quite easily with his gun. So once you spend way more time that’s worth to damage him in the first phase, the second phase of the fight is just the quick draw to blow up dynamite he throws at you in the air. Quite a letdown, if I do say so myself.

With Red Dead Redemption 2 coming soon, it’s fun to see the games that tried to do what it’s now a pretty stablished formula, and do it with the knowledge and resources they had available at the time. While it’s still fun and impressive by its time, its lack of content and sort of generic story fail to elevate it to nothing more than a stepping stone to better games.

Score: 6/10

 



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https://store.steampowered.com/app/809280/Grimmwood__They_Come_at_Night/
Grimmwood: They Come at Night

The game recently came out but for some reason not many people bought it. It's a great game that you can easily sink 50 hours into. The reviews are mostly positive and the only negative reviews are non-issues as far as I'm concerned because they point out the following flaws. There are only 3 flaws for myself personally.

1)You wanna play Blitz mode or whatever the fast mode is called. The normal mode is WAY too long. Especially if you're just starting. You can easily finish your day in 10 minutes, but normal mode gives you 24 hour days. Basically, they made the "I'm going to work, I can only play this game for 10 minutes a day" the default mode.

2)Lots of graphical glitches still stuck in the game. They're pretty cosmetic. There are some crash issues that almost never happen, but they're a non-issue given that you can just rejoin the server and start where you left off.

3)They don't have any explanations for the game mechanics anywhere. So you have to learn from other players or through trial and error.



 

Game: Chicken Invaders/Chicken Invaders: The Next Wave

Platform: PC/iOS/Android/Linux

Year: 1999/2008.

Developer: InterAction studios.

Genre: Shoot’em Up.

 

Parody games are as old as time. Sometimes they are born from a deep love of the original game, sometimes they appear to satirize stale tropes and conventions after many years of stagnation, and sometimes they are just an exercise of twisting player’s expectations. They all, however, try to use the angle of humor to poke fun at many of the original game’s ideas and features. How to develop them, however, and how deep will the parody go, is the difference between them. One of the most parodied genres tacked by satire and parody is the shoot’em up genre. To be fair, it is easy to see why: Space Invaders came to define what videogames were back in 1978, and became such a phenomenon in the gaming sphere to the point of (allegedly) causing shortages of 100 yen coins in Japan. While the fast advance of technology gave birth to many new genres, Space Invader’s legacy remained a strong one. The easiness of designing this kind of games allowed their dominance in both the arcades and in the early consoles, from the Atari 2600 to the NES, SNES and Mega Drive. The genre would lose popularity during the N64/PS days, but we still can find stellar games even after that. The space shooters were also given a boost with things like the popularity of sci-fi as a setting, with Star Wars and Star Trek still strong in the minds of many, and many other nascent franchises gaining momentum. This strange combination of genre-making legacy (hell, in Spanish the genre is called “Mata marcianos” or “Martian killers” in its honor) combined with a time that absolutely adored this kind of setting causes Space Invaders and their ilk to be considered the topmost reference when it comes to retro gaming, to the same level as Mario or Pacman.

So, after everything is said and done, one has to ask… why not chickens instead of aliens? This question that nobody had dared to ask to themselves before was answered by the team InterAction Studios in 1999, when they released the first Chicken Invaders on PC.

Before we start the review, I’m going to try and review both Chicken Invaders and Chicken Invaders 2, mostly because the original title is quite simple to review and both games share a staggering amount of similarities. Why am I not reviewing the rest of the series, then? Because I haven’t played them yet, though I’m planning to do that soon. And by the way, I haven’t played the DLC for any of them, so it won’t be included in the review. I’m also sticking to the original PC version for Chicken Invaders and the Steam Release for Chicken Invaders 2.

In a universe full of dangers, a race of sentient chickens are threatening to conquer the planet and destroy the human race. Fortunately, the main player has a spaceship and a voracious hunger for chicken wings, so it’s up to you to drive back the feathery menace while also getting your stomach full. The original game released for Microsoft Windows in 1999, and it’s exactly what it says it is. A vertical shoot’em up clearly inspired by Space Invaders, the game follows its formula to a T, while also adding some minimum arcade elements at it. In the game, you have to beat wave after wave of monstrous chicken hordes flying through space (a single chicken is bigger than your spaceship), and you have to win the round by either getting them all or by surviving whatever challenge the level requires to. The chickens will have a t-shirt of different colors to indicate their toughness, from blue for the weakest, generally needing a single hit to kill, to red for the hardest, needing many hits before they go down. This will also indicate their ability to retaliate, as all of this chickens are able to lay deadly eggs that will kill you in one hit if you happen to hit them. The tougher the enemies are, the faster they will drop eggs on you. There are many different stages outside of the typical Space Invaders scenario: there’s one where you have to free Earth from the chickens orbiting it (while using Earth as a cover), there are rush levels where you have to avoid the enemy charges until they are all gone, there are levels where you have to survive a meteor rain, and then there’s the boss battle. This monster is massive, sporting a green t-shirt with a vegan slogan in it (or at least I assume it is vegan, it has a chicken wing with the no symbol circle), this enemy will drop multiple eggs at once and constantly move from one point to the screen to the other, and requires a ton of damage to defeat. When defeated, the chickens drop either a chicken wing (which will give you points for your score) or presents, which will give you upgrades for your laser. This is the standard affairs laser, but it will slowly improve the more present boxes you recover, adding more lasers to your regular shot. You also have at your disposal a missile function that basically blows up everything around the target if it hits, but this is limited and you’ll need to get points to recover them. As a default, you have three lives, but you can get more by getting extra points.

And that’s kind of it for the game, actually. The original game was basically a loop of ten levels, and once you beat them the difficulty would slowly go up until you run out of lives. This is a very arcade-like game, and the point of the gameplay is to score as many points as possible before dying. The music is almost nonexistent, with the exception of a small jingle here and there and a somewhat altered version of Thus Spake Zarathustra, no doubt an homage to 2001: An Space Odyssey. Graphics are cartoony and as simple as you could expect from a small game at the end of the 90s. The game is so simple that there are many websites that allow you to play this game in your own browser it is so simple. This one is also free on the developer’s website, probably to try to entice potential customers into getting the rest of the series. Considering how simple the original is, it is absolutely not a bad idea, although I was quite confused about why wasn’t the original on Steam when the rest of the series is. It is also the reason why Chicken Invaders is a PC only game, whereas the rest of the series has been ported to Linux and mobile.

The second game, Chicken Invaders: The Next Wave, was released in 2008, leaving a nine year gap between the original and its sequel. While in many respects the technical aspects show a lot of improvement, the game overall feels like a somewhat shallow sequel, though to be fair, how much can it advance from that starting point? Unlike the original game, The Next Wave follows a more lineal format and an actual story mode. Apparently, the plot of the original game was all a ruse plotted by the chickens to distract the hero enough so they could conquer the entirety of the Solar System. It is up to you to free all of the main areas of the Solar System, including the Asteroid Belt and the Sun (yes, the chickens somehow conquered the Sun). The story covers 110 rounds separated in 11 worlds, with all of them covering a similar format and level distribution, with a couple of exceptions. Between each world there is a small cutscene, in reality a short clip of somewhat absurdist humor, like for example the hero getting a ticket from a space cop for driving too fast. In space. With chickens invading the Solar System.

The gameplay stays more or less the same, but with many bells and whistles to the overall presentation. The info is displayed to the player much more elegantly to the player, with score points more clear and dynamic than before that allows you to know what you have to do to score certain bonuses again. The bonuses are named after, you guested, chicken puns, whether this is something of your liking or not is up to you. There are three kinds of weapons, all unlocked by capturing different types of presents: the typical spreader, the concentrated laser and a wave of energy. This all can be upgraded up to eleven times to reach a very powerful massive attack. Out of all of them, it seems that the spreader is still the best possible option, especially when you need to get sideways to defeat the bosses, with the laser and the energy wave taking a backseat (the laser is more powerful, the wave covers more are). The game is rather forgiving when it comes to lives: you get extra lives very fast in the game, and if you run out of them, there are checkpoints at your disposal after every world. They even allow you to keep the last power up you got when you died. Granted, it won’t have the same punch as the one you had, but still. Music is better, though not by much. Graphics are improved in the sense that there are more things in the game, but the same level of artistry is present, with mostly all previous assets recycled. There are small differences, like the bosses’ t-shirt is different, but they are almost unnoticeable. As a bit of a bonus, the Steam version has four achievements, two for each level of difficulty: beat the game using missiles and beat them without using them.

And, once again, that is it. I won’t spoil the final boss, but if you play the game enough, you will see what the devs got in store for you from a mile away.

The Chicken Invaders series is one of those franchises that you love because you have fond memories of it, but looking back you question yourself how did the developers manage to create a franchise out of this? The developers are still making games (and DLC) for it. The last game was in 2015, so it’s not really that long ago. While the idea seems absurd in both concept and execution, I cannot say the gameplay is other than simple fun. They won’t win GOTYs any time soon, that’s for sure, but for what they are, they are simple and charming, though in this days that might not be enough to make them stand out from the sea of old nostalgic games out there.

 

Score: 5/10



You know it deserves the GOTY.

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Hollow knight. Overrated but not exactly bad.



 

Everything in the above reply is my opinion, from my own perspective and not representative of reality outside of my own head!

-Android user, please be gentle with critique on my spelling.

 

Game: Deadly Creatures.

Platform: Wii

Year: 2009.

Developer: Rainbow Studios.

Genre: Action.

 

The Wii was an interesting phenomenon for the gaming industry. Competing during the generation where gaming tried to shed its kiddy façade harder than ever before against machines such as the PS3 and the Xbox 360 was not a really easy task. Especially when we take into account how hard the GC bit the dust during the generation before, both the prospects of releasing another console following the competition’s steps and trying to break the mold were incredibly risky propositions. However, Nintendo’s bet on a boosted GameCube with heavy focus on motion controls took the world by storm, becoming Nintendo’s most successful home console ever, only beaten by the behemoths that are the long lived Game Boy and the equally monstrous DS. The motion controls were suddenly the most successful feature game consoles could have, and even after they fell out of favor, they stayed relevant to this day: the PS Move, the Xbox Kinect are the most obvious examples, but we also have similar outings with the 3DS’ and PS4 controller’s motion sensors, the HD Rumble of the Switch… Even the laureled and hyped VR depends heavily on motion technology. Yet with success, comes backlash. It is frequent to see people online dismissing, and even hating, the Wii for popularizing motion controls, simplifying the console as something to a kid’s toy. But that’s not really close to the truth: the Wii had a library as wide and varied as its two competitors, and there is many experiences designed for mature audiences, even if they never really found the same success as the casual and family friendly offerings.

One of those hidden gems people forget when talking about more mature Wii games is Deadly Creatures. Developed by Rainbow Studios, mostly known for their racing games, and published by THQ, is an interesting experiment in every single way. The game revolves around the point of view of two arachnids, a tarantula and a scorpion, trying to survive their daily lives in the Sonoran Desert, all while being witnesses of a story of greed and treason. The game is fascinating for what it tries to do, this being a title I’ve wanted to play for a long time. However, now that I’ve played it, I have to point out both its strengths and its weaknesses, some of which I did not expect.

The story revolves, as I’ve said before, around the daily lives of a pair of arachnids, who are witnesses to a dark story of human greed. The levels alternate between the tarantula and the scorpion, both having to fight different challenges to survive the attack of predators and to find enough food to not starve to death. All the while, we see snippets of two men trying to find an old Civil War treasure buried somewhere in the desert. It’s a rather simple story, very minimalistic and to the point, but without never really losing the focus of it. For the arachnids, the two humans are too big and dangerous to even fight, hiding themselves every time the ground trembles with their steps or their voice. Their goal is to just survive, having to challenge bigger and deadlier creatures as the game progresses. And while there’s the feeling the developers were trying to push the “the deadliest creature IS MAN!” cliché, they do it really well here. Then again, while the creatures are doing horrible and brutal things to each other, they are doing it to survive, while the human’s story is the one fueled by greed and ambition, their actions are not motivated by pure and basic survival instinct. Some people may find this trope in action tired and old, while some may enjoy the way the game tells its story, which is really good. The game is incredibly atmospheric, with a heavy detail put into the world around it. The detail on the desert is really good, with many set pieces such as the crevices of hills, dumping grounds and abandoned sewers filled with things to see and explore. Even if player interaction with all of this details is limited, seeing the remains of a broken doll head or a lizard being eaten by a spider or even the remains of other human beings from the point of view of the critter protagonists can be very chilling. The music is quiet and moody, usually played very quietly to keep the sounds of the desert as the main cacophony. Graphics, however, are quite modest. The Wii’s graphic capabilities were not that good, and sadly they can make some sections of the game too blurred, with low quality textures here and there. The game also suffers from lack of color contrast: too many browns and dark greens on the desert, though this is kind of inevitable, considering they are trying to replicate the look and feel of the desert. While reading about the game online, I found footage of the game played through emulator, and with the right configuration this game looks amazing. The detail is there, and the cleanup that a higher resolution can do is frankly incredible, one of the biggest I’ve seen with this kind of emulation software.

Gameplay consists of a series of linear levels, divided into different scenarios where you have to fight either a group of enemies or a big boss before continuing to the next level. It’s a rather linear game, with very little incentive to explore, and as such, most of the scenery is just that, scenery. While the limitations of the hardware restrict the possibilities of the overworld’s potential, they could have done something more with it. The player controls two characters, alternating them between levels: The tarantula is more nimble and agile, can crawl walls way better than the scorpion and can use its web to traverse the landscape, but it’s more fragile and not really designed to fight. The scorpion is more tough, bulkier and slower and with more focus on defense and heavy attacks. The controls for the game rely on the Wiimotes and the Nunchuck to move around and attack. And sadly, this is one of the main problems of the game. While the game has no problems with the motions most of the time, the aiming has really big issues. Maybe it’s just my Wii reaching the end of its lifespan, but aiming the Wiimote to get precise actions was very wonky, and not reliable in very hectic situations. An automatic targeting option would’ve solved this completely. The camera is also quite problematic, the unorthodox setup of the game forces the camera to turn around and having to deal with very narrow twists and turns, especially when the arachnids are crawling through the walls or through narrow spots under or above the character. Which is a shame, because otherwise moving through walls would be very fun. There’s a bit of an oversight on the tarantula’s jump, though: if you jump forward when you are on the ceiling, it will act like a normal jump instead of you plummeting to the floor. Small detail, but worth mentioning nevertheless.

The combat is a bit mindless, but there’s enough strategy that you don’t feel it as repetitive, at least for me. You earn more moves throughout the game, to keep it from becoming stale, although there are some moves clearly better than others. There’s enough variety on the wildlife you have to tackle: insects, other arachnids, reptiles and rats, all of them with their strengths and weaknesses, some of them are really easy, some are quite annoying (beware the wasps and the spiked lizards). One of the surprises of this game is the poor balance between the two characters. The developers clearly wanted to make the scorpion the de facto brawler of the two, with its increased attack and defense. And yet it is the spider the one most fun to fight with, and it’s only because one single move. The tarantula can target an enemy and do a jump attack that instantly targets the enemy, both hitting it 100% of the times and getting a brief moment of stun on the enemy. The scorpion has nothing this effective in its arsenal, and it has to bludgeon its way through fights, this being more risky and slow than the tarantula’s strategy. Due to this, I’ve enjoyed the tarantula way more than the scorpion. This two are the only two playable creatures, and you get the feeling every single animal present here was meant to be playable at one point, but due to whatever reason it was limited to the two arachnids. A shame, but understandable considering this is a budget title. There’s also a very fun gimmick with the glory kills, violent combo displays in which the characters finish a weakened enemy. They are activated by following a brief quick time events, while you see the characters beating and finishing off other creatures, while heavy red and yellow blood effects cover the screen. They are really useful to end enemies, especially if you’re fighting big numbers of them, giving you the chance of ending one and enough space to maneuver afterwards (the enemies gang up on you rather frequently if you let them). To regain and improve your attack and your life you can consume other insects, such as grasshoppers, grubs and crickets. A bit of advice, always eat the bugs if you can. Unless they are close to a save point before a tough battle, there’s no reason to not eat them.

The post-game is rather poor though. Throughout the game, eating grubs will earn you points to unlock galleries for concept art. Art that is really interesting and cool to look at, don’t give me wrong, but it’s not really worth the hustle of eating the 450 grubs hidden throughout the levels. No OST player, no developer’s commentary, no alternate skills or skins… This game has very little replay value, and to top it off it’s a rather short game as it is: ten levels that are considerably short. Good for a rental or a discount price, not as a fully priced title.

Deadly Creatures is one of the most interesting games out there for the Wii, both because of its ideas and because of its potential. However, the execution of this title is limited by too many factors, and all of this small problems take a heavy toll on the overall product. Remade as a budget title, with more playable creatures and post-game content, and this would be amazing. As it is, though, it’s an interesting game that shows the creativity of many studios when working with unorthodox ideas for the Wii.


Score: 6/10

 



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Game: Ashes to Ashes Feeding the Fires of War.

Platform: PC

Year: 1996.

Developer: Deep River Publishing.

Genre: Shooter.

 

Successful games tend to generate a massive amount of copycats. That is true for the video game industry as it is for all other industries. The popularity of certain art styles and genres have started through imitation of the newest and most attractive new trends on the market at the moment, and in a space as experimental as was the PC market in the 90s, everything could happen. With the ever increasing capabilities of personal computers and no real restrictions established by manufacturers (unlike the console market) meant that there was potential for real fortunes to be made here, and thus developers and publishers jumped at a mad race to dominate this new wild west. Some of the biggest and most prestigious videogame franchises ever were born here during that period: Command & Conquer (1995), Age of Empires (1997) and StarCraft (1998)for the RTS, Myst (1993), Day of the Tentacle (1993) and Grim Fandango (1998) for point and click adventures, Sim City 2000 (1993) and Roller Coaster Tycoon for the simulation genre… Though it’s arguable that the genre that evolved the most during this period was the shooter genre: Wolfenstein 3D (1992), Doom (1993), Quake (1996) and Quake II (1997), Unreal (1998) and Unreal Tournament (1999), Duke Nukem 3D (1996), Half-Life (1998)… each one pushing the genre further and further. And with so many great games taking the world by storm, thousands of smaller teams tried to take a cut of that pie too by making other shooters as well. Imitation after imitation, this Doom-clones like they were called were of varied quality, most of them just chasing the trend, trying to make a quick buck. And it was during this time that the Corel Corporation, the owners of software such as WinZip and WordPerfect, were trying their brief attempt to enter the videogame market. After a couple of educational titles, for some reason in 1996 they did a completely 180º, getting the Deep River Publishing to release 1st person shooter Ashes to Ashes: Feeding the Fires of War.

Ashes to Ashes: Feeding the Fires of War is a 1st person shooter following the steps of Doom and Quake. Before I start this review, a bit of warning. This game is really old, and it was made with only Windows 95/98 in mind. As such, I haven’t been able to play it in an OS newer than W98, not even with the compatibility mode options. I’ve had to play it on a Virtual Box, and even then, it needs a 256 colour configuration, so it means it can’t be played out of the box. And even after all that, there were considerable problems with the audio, sometimes having to play the game mute. I know for a fact the game does not have those kind of audio problems on its own, having played this game more than a decade ago and having watched a couple of videos of the game, so I’m not going to hold them against the title. Still, this quite an annoying to get running again, so if you ever want to try it, be warned.

The plot of the game is a product of the times, both as a child of the 90s still trying carrying many of the 80s sci-fi tropes, and clichés, and as a follower of over the top games such as Doom, Quake and Duke Nukem. And what I mean by that is that the story is barely there, and what’s there is a mix between over the top epic and stupid. The game only explains its story by an option of the menu called “the story so far”, basically a brief text dump explaining the whole thing, which I’m going to put here:

“Earth’s future is bleak. Devastated by decades of brutal warfare, life on the planet barely survived in the 22nd Century. As the world’s governments crumbled a single unifying force arose from the ashes. THE ORDER was created to preserve the art of war while preventing global annihilation.”

“Under THE ORDER’s control, all disputes, whether personal, political or corporate would now be settled by armed combat in sanctioned arenas around the world. Professional soldiers armed with state of the art weapon systems fight to the death to decide everything, from corporate take-overs to trade deficits.”

“The combatants begin as equals searching for the firepower that will help them destroy their opponents and ensure victory. Every soldier is trained to use any of the war machines supplied to an arena. The advantage goes to the first soldier that hops in a vacant vehicle and has the guts to pull the trigger.”

“The process of controlled combat has maintained the peace for twenty years. But now the arenas have become slaughter houses, as men turn on each other killing everything in sight. Reports indicate soldiers are being controlled by alien brain implants. These corrupted men are spreading rage and paranoia throughout the arena system.”

“With no technology to counteract this mind control, THE ORDER’s only option is to send in their best agent, that’s you, to “clean house”. You’ll be dropped into each arena to ferret out the brain controlled soldiers and destroy them. Don’t waste time looking for allies, you won’t find any. You’re on your own. Stay sharp and you’ll stay alive.”

As you can see, the plot is basically an excuse to justify the gameplay and sound cool, which is fine, though it is still a massive bundle of clichés. Also, why is the arenas becoming slaughter houses a problem, when that’s what they were designed to be? To be fair, this intro gives us this great gif, which is worth it.


Anyway, after this introduction, you are released into the first arena, starting the game. There are around 60 levels in the game, separated into 8 arenas. The objective in each level is to find three soldiers controlled by the evil brains, destroy them and capture the brains. After you do that, you advance to the next level. Also, when the story says that “soldiers are being controlled by alien brain implants”, it is meant literally. When the enemies are defeated, they explode into pixelated bits of gore, and from them a talking brain comes out. The aliens didn’t add implants on the soldiers’ brains, they implanted whole brains! Brains that talk! When you capture the brains, they will speak to you, threatening you or asking for mercy. That’s just wonderfully excessive and silly. There’s no way to differentiate the possessed soldiers from regular ones, so you have to basically kill everything on the level and just hope to get lucky. The enemies are basically carbon copies of you, though with an AI so clumsy that you can just snipe them from afar. They are only threatening in great numbers or in strong vehicles (which, granted, the game does a lot, especially in the later levels), otherwise you can just hit them from afar rather easily. The game includes an auto-aim feature, and it’s quite overpowered, to the point of aiming almost not being necessary, you just point to their general direction and they’ll get hit. From a distance this feature won’t work as well, but they can’t really hit you either, so you have all the time in the world to snipe them from afar. With such a simple gun system it’s not surprise to see that you only have one weapon available to you. If you want variety, you go to the vehicles. Each one has one kind of weapon, some being very good, and others just barely above the standard gun you get while on foot. There are six vehicles: the floating scout pod, the most basic vehicle, the falcon speeder, a faster and stronger version of the scout that can’t stand still, the roller tank that can squish soldiers on foot, the walking exosuit, that has a ton of firepower and defense but takes a ton of ammo to use, and the alien vehicle, that basically can destroy anything but does a ton of damage to you if it takes a hit. They all have different performance when in one terrain or another, so you have to take that into account when going near lava or crossing through mountains.

And that is kind of it, really. The game takes less than a day to complete if lucky, even in the hardest difficulty setting, of which there are four to choose from. One of the big problems of this game is the enemy density and map size. In theory, this game should be about either ripping and tearing through hordes of enemies until you find the brains, similar to Doom, or more precise and limited encounter on small and well-designed maps, like Wolfenstein. The developers made a terrible mistake here when they decided to add huge maps and not that many enemies to fill them with. Whether this was a technical problem or not, this means that, without a vehicle, you’re going to spend most of your time searching for small pockets of enemies. And that’s no fun, it’s just a waste of time. The maps themselves are somewhat bland too. The graphics are your standard 3D pixelated fare, think about Duke Nukem 3D but with much less detail to focus on. Outside of the occasional decoration and actually useful teleporter (useful because at the other end there are usually plenty of enemies). The soundtrack is mediocre: it has three sweet rock themes and the rest is standard ambient MIDIs. That is except for that one level where the developers suddenly decided to add a caribbean tune for no reason. It’s so out of place that it will shock you. It’s just a calypso loop of less than 20 seconds, this is one of the oddest stylistic choices in the game. And that says a lot, considering the game’s tone and presentation is all over the place, sometimes trying to be serious and dark while in the next moment it goes to fun and satire, with wacky death messages popping up once you die.

In the end, the game did not convince the suits of Corel to continue with their videogame line. In 1997 they sold all of their line of Corel Corporation's CD Home Collection (which included over 60 multimedia titles, not just games) to Hoffmann + Associates Inc. And as far as I know, they stopped producing games too.  And considering the game’s quality, it’s hard to see why. While I had fun playing this game, I have to admit this was mostly nostalgia doing the work. There is nothing remarkable in here, outside of a couple of odd choices. Repetitive and simple game with very little depth, and without the finesse, style and technique of the games it was trying to ape, this is one of those games that is forgotten in the sea of unsuccessful games that appear during the seasonal copycat races with every single successful title.



Score: 3/10



You know it deserves the GOTY.

Come join The 2018 Obscure Game Monthly Review Thread.

Game: Submarine Titans.

Platform: PC

Year: 2000.

Developer: Ellipse Studios.

Genre: RTS.

 

 

The concept of the “hidden gem” is something everyone can understand easily. Something noteworthy and with remarkable quality that, for one reason or another, been relegated to obscurity. Everyone knows that, and everyone can safely say they’ve found one or two cases of that throughout their lives. This is not limited to videogames, of course, but the quick growth of the market and the limited chances of release and distribution many software programs find themselves increases the chances of good products becoming properly well known. To be fair, sometimes the game itself is too niche and specific to be liked by the general population, or even a considerable crowd, so it ends up being talked about and discussed in very fringe and reduced circles, especially if ends up competing in an overcrowded market. Now, like I’ve remarked time and time again, the period around the 2000s was a great boon for Real Time Strategy games. From behemoths such as Age of Empires II, StarCraft, Dawn of War, C&C Red Alert, Warcraft III, Homefront, Company of Heroes… All of this titles were sweeping the PC videogame landscape, thanks to computers finally becoming an accessible enough product and internet/LAN capabilities improving to the point stable multiplayer was possible. All of this, of course, caused an avalanche of copycats. Dozens upon dozens of small companies tried to jump into this popular genre. And they found themselves fighting for the smallest possible spot in the limelight. The thing is that, for the most part, this period was very good for budget titles, which were able to fill the gaps between the stars of the show by offering a quality product for a modicum price, as well as publishers dedicated to translate and distribute this games. During the 2000s I found myself playing a lot of different RTSs, and out of all of them, none are more interesting and unique than my favorite obscure game of all time: Submarine Titans.

Submarine Titans is a Real Time Strategy game set in the not so distant future, where humanity has been forced to retreat into the depths of the oceans in order to survive. According to the backstory of the game, in the year 2047, the impact of the comet Clark into the planet caused a series of chained reactions that rose the sea levels to apocalyptic degrees and turned the remaining surface of the planet into a barren radioactive wasteland. The surviving human beings have retreated into the depths of the ocean, where the radiation cannot harm them and life is still possible. This disaster has caused humanity to split into two factions: the White Sharks, a militaristic state that wants to reunite humanity and rule the seas whole, and the Black Octopi, a society controlled by scientists who want to avoid damaging the remaining of the planet’s ecosystem at any cost. These two factions fight for the control of a rare isotope of Corium, brought in massive quantities by the meteorite, and that has allowed humanity to develop massive technological leaps. However, this two factions suddenly discover that the comet was not just a random asteroid, but an alien spaceship, occupied by the mysterious Silicons, who also want to take all the corium for themselves, threatening the survival of mankind as a result. The seafloor then becomes a three-way war between this factions.

Before starting this review, a bit of warning. This game is old, with the latest version of the game (and the one recommended to play) being released in 2001. As such, it may suffer from compatibility issues with modern Windows systems, but I was able to solve them through the use of the compatibility settings. There’s also a surprising amount of tutorials on the internet on how to solve any possible compatibility this game may have with modern OS, so there should be no problem if you want to play it yourself. And if you’re worried about resolution, Submarine Titans supports up to 1280x1024 resolutions, so you shouldn’t have any problem with that.

As this game’s plot suggests, this game takes place in the depths of the ocean. As such, this is probably the only underwater RTS game I’ve ever played, and it’s very possible that’s the only underwater RTS ever made period. You control one of the three civilizations previously mentioned, and your units will vary between buildings and other solid structures, and the titular submarines. The game also shows an insane degree of complexity by adding not only the typical 2D movement and isometric perspective, but also 3D movement, being able to move your units up and down, as well as in every other direction. This adds a layer of strategy: you have to think the height of the emplacement of your buildings, the control and movement through certain bottlenecks on the map… You can even avoid enemy attack by moving up and down, evading enemy torpedoes and lasers by moving out of the way. And by the same token, trying to keep your submarines with adequate deployed formations is paramount to maximize your damage output before running out of ammo. Though it is sometimes difficult to know in which of the five depth levels your submarines are in, and that can be annoying. Outside of this detail, people who have played an RTS before will be familiar with most of the elements and mechanisms present in this game: you collect resources with your civilian submarines, you build your submarine cities, you invest in new technologies to improve your units or to create new ones… It does not deviate that much from the common template that Age of Empires and StarCraft set for RTS, outside of that of the added level of movement depth.

The presentation of the game is stellar. Graphics wise, this game has aged like fine wine, with models of each building and submarine being made out of detailed sprites, which show different effects depending on its activity. The seafloor is filled with detail too: coral riffs, volcanic eruptions, gas columns, forests of algae, the ruins of buildings and cities drowned… There’s a ton of wildlife swimming across the sea, from jellyfish to squids to schools of fish, and some of them are relevant to the gameplay, with some civilizations being able to use certain technologies to control the wildlife (like the White Shark’s Shark Control Center). The lighting in this game is great too, with four different types of illumination giving each map a different shade. Some people may complain that all this does not really make for the most realistic of simulations of the underwater landscape, but if we were to go that route, we would just show a completely dark map, since there is no light down there, and would hurt the gameplay by being too dark. In this case, gameplay over form is the correct choice. A while ago, I reviewed a game named Nightside, and complained at the deficient detail and lighting of the world. If someone of the Nightside team is reading this, please check how Ellipse Studios did that here, it will help your next project quite a lot. The player has at his disposal an interface bar that covers the bottom of the screen, in which is displayed the last submarines and buildings you used, the one currently selected, a map, an option to rotate the map (important to detect any possible detail with the depth), a timer, a zoom option and the amount of submarines you currently control. The ability to see not only your currently selected unit, but the previous ones too, is a really helpful feature, allowing for quick decisions and unit movement, though this feature depends on the game’s current resolution: the smaller the resolution is, the less units you can see at the same time. Though this should not be a problem anymore, since everyone can play it at its maximum resolution, 1280x1024. The design of the submarines are great too, with the Silicons taking the crown with their sea life-like bioconstructs having the most creative units and buildings. However, some people also comment that, for beginners, the shape and design of the building structures are not that intuitive, and may take some time to know which one does. While I don’t really find that complain that important, it does touch a certain complain that I will talk about later. The soundtrack is good, although very limited. There are six tracks, two per faction, one peace theme and a war theme. They are appropriate enough for the game, though the switch between them can be jarring.

Gameplay-wise, the game is similar to other RTS. Each of the three factions have different elements and characteristics that make them unique: White Sharks are the most balanced army in the game, with decent speed and firepower, but due to them not having the same level of technology as the other factions, they don’t have access to strong defenses until later in the game, and also have more limited special buildings and abilities. The Black Octopi, though they are supposedly pacifists, have the units with the highest attack and defense in the game, but this is compensated by their units being more expensive and slow to move and produce, so they can be victims of early rushes and each loss is a hard one. They also have a decent amount of special units and abilities, though once again, they take longer to produce and are quite expensive. Lastly, the Silicons’ units are weak but cheap, especially the basic subs, so they can become a rather dangerous spammer. They also need only three kinds of resources, when the human factions need four, and have the faster builders in the game (though they are one-use only in comparison to the human builder submarines). You start every match with one builder sub (or a couple of builder capsules with the Silicons), a couple of gatherer units and a bunch of military units. You then start creating a base of operations, and from there you start searching for the resources in the map. There are six types of resources in this game, though the human factions only use four of them and the Silicons use three.

-Metal: Used to build buildings and structures by the human factions. It can be found in Metal deposits

-Corium: Used by everyone, it serves to develop special submarines, structures and technologies. It can be found in Corium deposits.

-Gold: Used by the human factions to trade and to develop new sciences. Instead of being found in mines, this resource has to be extracted through gold extractors, extracting gold through a great portion of the map, so it’s better to have them as spread around as possible for maximum efficiency.

-O2 (Air): Used by the humans to, well, breathe. Without enough air, the production and research start slowing down, so having enough O2 factories is really important to keep your faction at peak performance.

-Silicon: Used by the Silicons to produce submarines and structures. This resource is produced by building Silicon Extractors, who cover great areas of the game, like gold, so the amount of space you can control will greatly influence this.

-Energy: Used by the Silicons the same way humans use O2, only this is extracted from metal mines.

The kind of submarines you can produce is really diverse, from the basic units with low attack and high speed, to the big heavy submarines. There’s also the civilian submarines (builders, gatherers, mobile repair platforms and commercial transports) and special military submarines, which can be very different depending on the faction, though they all have units that can capture enemy buildings, teleporting scouts, and other basic templates. The building and structure choice in particular is staggering, and I can see how it can intimidate inexperienced players, seeing that many buildings are incredibly specific in their purpose, either to protect against a particular weapon or to offer a tiny benefit from its use. Likewise, this brings us to one of the biggest problems of the game, its tech tree. Each civilization has a massive technology tree that they have to discover, with so many options and choices that most sessions will end before unlocking half of the skill tree available. This can be seen in two ways: the game’s depth offers a lot of options and flexibility to which develop different strategies with, but I can also see people miffed about not reaching the cooler options and weapons at the end of the skill tree. Especially the weapons of mass destruction, since they are incredibly powerful and a spectacle to behold, though they are arguably not cost-efficient, since they take too much to research and produce, not to mention their high cost. There is arguably also a problem with the game’s speed, which is noticeably slower than other RTS. To be fair, this makes sense, underwater units can’t move at very high speeds, especially in the deepest parts of the ocean, but it can alienate certain players who prefer more dynamic styles of gameplay. If I had to compare it to other game, the general movement of the game is slightly slower than Age of Empires II, so you won’t find StarCraft-like zerg rushes after a couple of minutes into the game. And, to be fair, the game offers you the option of using a very advanced AI (especially remarkable for its time, considering this came out in 2000) that could play certain parts of the game for you. That’s right, the computer can take charge in organizing your economy, your base, even your military. It reaches a point where the AI can play the whole game for you, and do a surprisingly good job of it, though I recommend turning it off, as it kind of rubs the player’s merits from playing. There is also a big problem with the mouse controls. In most RTS, the left button is used to select units and the right one to move and choose certain actions. In Submarine Titans, it’s the other way around. I’d say this game came early on in the RTS gold rush, but it came out months after StarCraft and considerably later than the original Age of Empires, so the standard was already settled. You can get used to it, but it is annoying nonetheless. Sometimes combat can be somewhat chaotic, due to the before mentioned 3D depth, with many battles ending up as two submarine packs shooting at each other. Some volleys can hit the intended sub, some can fail and hit the submarine behind your target, and some can fail completely. This adds a small element of random luck, but it can be mitigated by producing enough ammo and making the adequate choice of submarines. Micromanaging units is a lot of fun, though, and smart players will realize early on the value of minelayers that can make whole areas of the map inaccessible (again, be careful of the depth of the mine, ships can just swim above or under them to a certain degree). Submarines that can capture buildings are useful with guerrilla tactics and in the control for resources, though there’s always the chance of the building not being captured, that percentage can be increased or decreased with different techs. The game also has an incredibly detailed map creation feature, allowing you to make their own scenarios and missions, with a surprising degree of complexity, though it has to be accessed from outside the game.

The game has three campaigns, plus three tutorials. The tutorials are simplest stuff, each one teaches how to control the basics of the game and that’s it, instead of going into more depth on the late game technologies and submarines, which could actually need some explaining. Each campaign puts you in command of one of the three factions, with ten levels on every campaign. The three share a similar story: the White Sharks and the Black Octopi are fighting each other, and then the Silicons appear, and the war turns into a web of alliances and betrayal, with the objective of erasing the other two factions from the planet. One thing from the story I like is that no one is made explicitly a villain: the White Sharks are militaristic and threaten to damage the remaining of the planet’s ecosystem, but if it wasn’t for them forcing both human factions to arm themselves, they would’ve been completely undefended against the alien invader. An alien invader that just wants to get the hell out of Earth. Their spaceship malfunctioned and ended uo crashing, and their objective throughout all of the campaigns is to collect all of the corium to activate a teleporter that will allow them to go back to their planet. It is indeed implied that the planet Earth is poisonous to them, and thus have no intention to conquer it. Though they seem to have harmless motivations, for them to achieve their goal would mean draining the Earth of Corium, condemning Humanity to an energy crisis that would wipe them out for good. The White Shark’s surprising initial alliance with the Silicon (at least in the BO and SI campaigns) may seem hypocritical at first, but then you remember that the Black Octopi’s army is stronger but less numerous than their own, and if they ally with the Black Octopi against the aliens, they’d have enough time to put their industrial power to motion, surpassing them in both numbers and technology in the end. They want to cover their backs before attacking the Silicons, who are too distracted with Corium gathering to offer a serious resistance at first. The first levels of each campaign are relatively easy no matter the difficulty. The problem comes when the “capture and defend certain structures” missions start popping up. Capturing a building means destroying any surrounding enemy presence first without harming the structure, then capturing it, and then defending it from the inevitable retaliation. This can be rather annoying with the White Shark, due to them having many missions centering on the capture of the BO’s investigation centers. Their many, many investigation centers. Their many, heavily defended investigation centers. Suffice to say, savescumming can be essential with certain levels. The final levels of each campaign are quite a challenge in their own right, due to the strength of the enemies present and the limited amount of resources, and they will test the players’ skills and patience thoroughly.

Sadly, for all the good this game did, its poor financial results ended up killing the company. In a 2008 game design presentation, one of the chief designers of the game confirmed that the total sales of the title were around 30.000 units, and described it as not a financial success. The reasons for this sales failure are many, though in my opinion the two most important explanations are the lack of advertisement (due to it being a budget title) and StarCraft coming out just months early, ending up buried under the shadow of Blizzard’s project. Submarine Titans ended up being the last title of Ellipse Studios, closing down soon after. At this point the game is probably abandonware, and even if it wasn’t, the lead developer has commented in GOG’s forums that resurrecting this game is extremely difficult, so there is little chance to see it being sold again.

Submarine Titans is one of the most unique games I’ve played, period. Despite some annoyances here and there, the more I play this game the better it gets. Maybe it’s because RTS as a whole disappeared after the 2010s, but the potential this game had is astounding. The depth, complexity and playability of the title far surpasses what was expected of a budget title, even now, and the presentation has not aged a day. I can’t recommend this game enough, especially to RTS fans who want a more tactical experience and don’t mind dedicating their time on each match.

 

Score: 9/10



You know it deserves the GOTY.

Come join The 2018 Obscure Game Monthly Review Thread.

Suikoden



Graphics/Art Direction 7

Suikoden physically looks like an early SNES game. This isn't always a bad thing, but Suikoden's sprites try to show too much detail with too little pixels. Sprites barely have discernible facial features, portraits look grainy, and environments are sometimes very basic. Had the game used some sort of chibi art style ala Final Fantasy 6 the facial features wouldn't have been a problem. Instead of trying to look like an Anime, Suikoden often tries to make its portraits look like its awful North American cover art. Other than those issues, the game looks fine. Enemies have interesting animations, like when a character warps through a giant playing card. Spells and attacks are satisfying to watch. Some spells warp spacetime, which is a fun to watch.


Each character in this screenshot is supposed to have eyes. Can you spot them all?

Just an example of how bad portraits look in this game. 

Sound 8

Suikoden has respectable music and sound. Nothing really stands out as awesome, or terrible, with the exception of a "dragon sound effect". Dragon roars in this game are just an Elephant trumpet. Thankfully you'll only hear this comical misstep about five times throughout the entire game. Epic spells have epic sound effects to match. Melee attacks have a satisfying clang to them. 

Controls 8

This controls just like any other JRPG with a few hiccups here and there. For starters you can't walk diagonally, so you'll often find yourself walking south, and then west in a quickly alternating fashion just to get a town that is to your southwest. You have to manually move items around in your inventory, and organize them yourself. This is a bit of a pain, but not gameruining. There's no cursor memory so choosing attacks and spells has to be done manually every single turn. 

 

Gameplay 8

Suikoden is a JRPG, with 108 playable characters. You have to find, and recruit these characters to build your army, and castle up. Recruiting characters often involves a small sidequest, or bringing the right item. Many characters in the game have unique abilities. If you put the right combination of characters into your party you can perform a combo attack, with two to three characters that know each other well enough. With 108 characters in the game you'd think leveling up all of these guys would be a massive chore, but Konami did an excellent job with handling XP. The closer you are to an enemies' level the less XP a character gets. The farther below an enemies' level the more XP a character gets. This means that you can quickly take a fresh recruit and have them almost at the same level as your veterans in four or five battles. Early on in the game you are able to recruit a character that sets up a gambling hall in your castle. This makes it almost too easy to raise funds to buy new equipment for new characters. Characters can be customized by equipping runes, and accessories. Runes either enable a character to use certain spells, or they have a secondary effect such as increasing crit damage. Many accessories will increase a certain stat like speed, skill, magic strength, defense, or luck. You can have up to six characters in your party at once, but the game usually forces two to three specific party members to come along. This isn't always a bad thing though, because I feel like the game just wants you to at least try a new character every once in a while. 

Suikoden follows the traditional town, dungeon, town, format of older JRPGs. In between this however are army battles. These battles are basically a game of rock/paper/scissors. Archers beat mages, mages beat soldiers, and soldiers beat archers. Each turn you order your army to attack with either archers, soldiers, or mages. Damage done to your army, and your opponent's army is dependent on what attack each army chose. 

 

Story 8

In Suikoden you are quickly thrown into the middle of a civil war. This war soon finds you and your father fighting on opposite sides. Your character and the servants that raised you are pitted against the country in which you were raised. The story makes good use of this dilemma frequently to emotional effect. Many of the recruitable characters have stories of their own. When the game ends each character gets its own "where are they now?" segment. For example your merchant might open up a new shop, or your wild warrior might disappear to seek new challenges. The game has multiple endings depending on how good you are at keeping your characters alive, and recruiting all 108 characters. One downside is that there are a few times where you can accidentally miss a key character and be forced to start the entire game over. So, if you want the best ending be sure to google which characters can be missed (There are about 4 of them.) 

Replay Value 9

Once you've beaten the game, Suikoden is easy to get through a second time. Knowing exactly where to go, and how to recruit characters on the second playthrough speeds up playtime significantly. This lends itself to replays very well.  I beat it in about 15 hours on my second playthrough. My first playthrough took me about 25 hours. Trying out different combinations of characters keeps the game feeling fresh on consecutive playthroughs. 

Reviewer's Tilt 8

This is just a little number representing how much I personally enjoyed it overall. I'm using the old GameSpot review format, because I feel that it forces reviewers to compartmentalize each aspect of a game, and review said aspects separately. 

Official Score 8/10 (This is an average of the above scores.)

A niche game that is a must play for fans of the genre, but skippable for everyone else. 


Last edited by Cerebralbore101 - on 16 March 2019