My backlog extends beyond Steam... devonrv’s profile

In other words, you’ll occasionally see me post about…maybe not obscure, but perhaps unexpected games. I’ve already brought up such titles as Baten Kaitos: Eternal Wings and the Lost Ocean as well as Fluidity, and you can expect more in the future.

As for my BLAEO wheel: whenever I buy a game on Steam, I always play it a little bit right then so that nobody can say that I bought a bunch of Steam games I’ve never played. That said, I’m going to keep a game labeled as “never played” until I reach it in my backlog and plan on playing it actively.

Also, since there are some games I never plan on 100%ing, I’ll probably just use “beaten” for all the games that I’ve beaten, even if I’ve technically “completed” them as well. I’ll use “unfinished” for when I plan on going back to play all of a game’s content, even if I’ve technically beaten it already.

Lastly, here’s my review of my favorite game, as well as an explanation of differences between all of puzzle’s sub-genres (something not many people seem to know):

Between this game and Portal, I wonder what some of these people look for in puzzle games, because it sure as heck isn’t good puzzle design.

  • Attractio

    6 hours playtime

    7 of 18 achievements

This is a hidden-object/First-Person-Shooter hybrid. Certain levels have you play as one (or, in a few cases, two) of three different characters, though the only mechanical difference between them are the items they have: one can change your own gravity between up and down (R1), the second has a gun that can change the gravity of blocks to any of the six axes (equip direction with D-pad or L3/R3, fire with R2), and the third can do both. There are also three block types: normal, large (can’t be picked up/carried), and gravity-changing, which reflect blocks away from them upon collision.

One of my main issues with this is an issue I have with all first-person “puzzle” games: because it’s in first person, half of the challenge isn’t in actually solving the “puzzles,” but in panning the camera around every corner of every room to make sure there isn’t a crucial block or alcove hidden somewhere that you missed. For example, not long into the green chambers, you’ll come across a hall with a low ceiling, followed by a lava pit and a single block in the distance. However, no matter which order you change the block’s gravity, you won’t be able to get it to your side because it’ll either hit the low ceiling and stop well before being in reach, or it’ll fall down past the lava. Turns out, if you get really close to the edge of the lava without falling in, you can just barely see that there’s a second block above the first, and that’s the one you need to work with in order to get the blocks over to where you are. The game does stuff like this quite a few times, so you can never be sure if it’s an actual puzzle that you’re having trouble solving or if there’s a hole in the wall (not to be confused with glass, another wall tile) that will just let you shoot the block to where you need it. Compare this with any 2D puzzle game worth its salt, like Toki Tori 1, Prince Yeh Rude, or Sutte Hakkun (or heck, even World of Goo): all of these games either have the entire puzzle on screen or let you move the camera around the entire stage, regardless of where you are. That way, you know exactly where everything is and what all you can work with. In contrast, not knowing everything you can work with is par for the course for first-person “puzzle” games, but that doesn’t require you to stop and think; it requires you to wander around aimlessly on the off chance you stumble across an item or opening you missed that suddenly causes everything to fall into place, and that isn’t fun.

Like with Portal, there were only a couple levels that I found to be actually designed around making you think about how everything works with each other: the final two tag-team levels in the story campaign (but even they weren’t entirely immune to hidden-object-isms). Speaking of team levels, the game requires both teammates to be standing right in front of the exit door to trigger the next level (instead of simply letting both be in that tiny room that doesn’t have anything else in it anyway), so there’s a bit of arbitrary logic in the game, too.

To make things worse, the last few levels are based less on testing what you know and more about introducing new gimmicks and hazards. I admit that action games introducing gimmicks is more of a pet peeve (and in some cases, necessary for variety due to lack of any half-way decent level design or proper difficulty curve), but it’s completely antithetical to good puzzle design. Rather than test the player’s knowledge of the mechanics, the player has to undergo trial-and-error in order to figure out the what is even possible before going on to solve the puzzle, and that isn’t fun, either. To provide examples, I’m going to spoil the “solutions” to the last few “puzzles” in the game:

First room: On the left is a block pushing a switch down. Lifting the block and deactivating the switch turns gravity off entirely, so you can only move by shooting in the opposite direction. The rest of the game never had anything like this, and as you can imagine, its extremely awkward to control. However, there’s also a grid of lasers blocking your path! How do you get past them? Simple, there’s another switch just sitting there on the opposite side of the room that turns them all off; just take the block from the first switch and put it on the other switch.

Second room: While earlier rooms required some action elements to progress (e.g. run past a large block before it crushes you, shoot and change the gravity of a block mid-fall, change your own gravity mid-run so you fall in a nook rather than slide past it due to how the game’s physics work, etc), this one drops the pretense and goes full-on action, featuring nothing but winding corridors and mobile rocket launchers. Oh, but there’s a switch on the ceiling and a block at the end, so I guess they just put in the bare minimum to meet industry standards and called it a day.

Third room: This is a two-for-one: Not only do we have hidden corridors (you’d only see them by going to the corners and looking directly up), but there’s also a new gimmick where you have to get on the block and ride it up the corridors (before now, blocks with gravity facing up would fall under your weight if you stood on them), at which point it hits a block barrier, causing the physics to bounce you up just enough so that you can either switch gravity and land safely, or use your gun to shoot the block hidden in that nook before you start to fall again. Plus, if you get on the block from the wrong side and ride it downward, not only will you take fall damage, but you’ll still bounce just as high as if you rode it upward, causing you to take fall damage again and die. This is why I hate “puzzles” that, rather than teach you how they work (whether by text or game-play), instead rely on knowledge of “realistic” physics or other “realistic” interactions: no matter what, there’s still going to be video-game-isms that make no sense and break the veneer of realism, yet we’re still expected to work around them to see what parts of the game match real life and what doesn’t; it’s no better than any other riddle-based “puzzle.”

Fourth room: This one’s a boss fight, and it’s the only other room to use the anti-gravity physics. Now, not only do you have to figure out what arbitrary series of events will lead to progress (“how was I supposed to know that turning the gravity back on would spawn rocket launchers? They didn’t spawn when gravity was on earlier!”), but you have to do it with really unwieldy controls. There are even times you have to lead the boss into the laser in the center, all the while it’s chasing you and you don’t have accurate control over yourself. Not only is that action instead of puzzle, that’s bad action.

So yeah, this one’s not recommended. Games like this are why I don’t buy puzzle games anymore (and why I’m hesitant even to enter SG giveaways for “puzzle” games).

After playing a few Steam games that weren’t all that great, I decided to take a break from Steam by playing a game I thought I’d like (and that I thought would be short and quick), but I had to give up finishing.

This type of game is a bit more what I was expecting from the previous game I played that had its price slapped on the cover

This is a horizontal shmup, but rather than have stages with fixed scrolling and reliable enemy placement, stages loop and enemy waves spawn based not on where you are, but on how much time has passed. You can even change which direction you’re moving, which also changes which side of the screen enemies spawn from (even mid-enemy-wave). Because of this, there isn’t really any fixed level design outside of the locations of the ten enemy spawners in each level (and the enemies they spawn are different from the ones that appear in waves over time). As more spawners are destroyed, enemy waves appear quicker (and in later stages, shoot faster bullets). Once all ten enemy spawners are destroyed, the scrolling becomes fixed, enemies stop spawning, and the boss appears. For controls: on top of your standard shot (which actually shoots two thin, parallel shots), you can drop a bomb; only one can be on screen at a time, but rather than having a large destruction range like in other shmups, it’s just a tiny projectile that moves with your own momentum and barely does any more damage than your standard attack, so it’s hard to aim and rarely useful. Your standard shot doesn’t have rapid fire, either (you have to hit the button for each shot, and each spawner takes several shots to be destroyed), so look forward to your thumb hurting after almost every round.

One of the first things you’ll notice is that, despite the game being 2D, its camera is a strong contender for the worst game camera of all time. First of all, keep in mind that even if you’re not holding a direction, you still move forward, along with the camera; holding forward just makes you move forward faster (you can stop completely if you move to the bottom of the stage, but I rarely found this to be useful). However, holding forward doesn’t cause the camera to move with you; instead you have to keep holding forward until you get near the other edge of the screen, at which point the camera slowly pans back into position and follows at your speed (and if you let go of forward at any point, the camera goes back to its slow speed and you have to start the process over). Either that, or you have to stop holding forward entirely and hope that your slower speed can avoid the enemies while you wait for the camera to go back into position. This isn’t even the worst part: the camera tries to keep you on the side so that you can see more in the direction you’re facing, but when you combine its slow panning with the fact that enemies spawn from the direction you face, it’s easy to see how you might try to move backward to avoid enemy fire, only for another wave to spawn a mere 2-3 units away from you and kill you before you can react. Honestly, this makes the first few levels way more difficult than their respective bosses in comparison. Why not just keep the camera centered (except during boss fights)? That probably would have been easier to code, too.

On to the rest of the game: in the first round, none of the enemies fire projectiles, so naturally, in the second round (where projectiles are first introduced to the player), there are foreground objects to obscure them. To make things worse, the enemies themselves (including the larger-than-average enemy spawners) are also drawn in front of projectiles, which is an issue that plagues the whole game instead of just one or two levels. It makes the third stage quite a bit easier in comparison, despite the boss being a bit more difficult. The fourth round is even easier still, with all the enemy spawners being on the ground, thus letting you actually stop and shoot them without worrying about running into them (and if enemy waves shoot at you, you can just move a couple units forward). It’s so weird seeing an older game have such a backwards difficulty progression (difficulty curves are normally something they do better than modern games); it would have clearly been better if round 2 and 4 swapped positions and bosses.

Speaking of bosses, the first three are fairly light on projectiles: the first one only shoots them in a cone shape, the second one just has a smattering of projectiles rain down occasionally, and the third shoots lasers (though they get faster when the boss gets low on health, even getting to the point where bombs are actually useful since you can’t really get between them, shoot, and get out fast enough). The fourth and fifth boss are closer to traditional shmup bosses, shooting lots of projectiles consistently, though they also have multiple weak points that need to be taken out. The fifth boss is a little unintuitive since you have to take out all of the front ones before the next set are vulnerable, even though you can clearly hit them with your shots (and they can shoot you) before then. The sixth boss takes things in a different direction: rather than have any projectiles at all, it has six hazard walls that rotate around the center, so you have to keep circling around the boss’s weak point with them to avoid dying. However, rather than speeding up as the boss loses health, said hazard walls speed up over time. It’s sort of a reverse Dynamic Difficulty: rather than get harder the better you do, it gets harder the worse you do. Plus, they also give barely any opening to shoot the weak point (it’s so thin, only one bullet from each of your twin shots can make it through), and it also spawns from the left side of the screen rather than the right like all other bosses, so expect to die a few times before you beat it.

However, as devious as the sixth boss is, the seventh boss is the worst part of the game. It starts off innocent enough: it’ll split apart and fly into the camera, then try to reform on top of you, at which point it pauses, letting you counterattack, then it repeats its pattern. Also, just like the round six boss, it gets faster; the problem is that it gets so fast, it eventually surpasses your own speed, making this boss literally impossible…at least, unless you buy a speed-up item from the shop. However, keep in mind that 1) none of the rest of the game requires a shop upgrade, 2) the shop only appears at the beginning of the level and when you’re around halfway done, 3) you can only change your equipment right after exiting a shop, 4) the speed-up items make it harder to dodge enemies and projectiles, and 5) the first two speed-up items STILL aren’t fast enough! On top of all this, since speeding up its pattern is all the boss does, it’s really easy once you have a fast enough speed-up item, so this boss really only exists as a trial-and-error quarter-muncher. No wonder arcades are dying out.

Oh, and did I mention that none of the levels have checkpoints? If you get hit a single time, even against a boss, you’re sent back to the beginning of the whole level.

On a more positive note, this version of the game has four extra levels that aren’t in any other version (not even the other PS2 version), which is three more than the X68000’s measly one extra level that isn’t in any other version. While its hard to say the levels have…really any level design due to the nature of enemy waves, the bosses here are some of the best in the whole game. The new rounds are placed between the final two rounds from the original game, pushing the former round 8 to round 12. The boss of the new round 8 is a totem tower: the top shoots guided bullets, and the other four segments slide large hazards back and forth, with the weak points being behind said hazards. When a weak point on a totem segment is destroyed, its respective hazard disappears, but the top segment shoots projectiles more frequently. This wouldn’t be that big of a deal, but on top of the usual “hazards hide bullets” issue, this boss also has a reverse-Dynamic-Difficulty thing going on where if you take too long, the boss moves forward and the hazard movements get more erratic, giving you less room to maneuver (especially if you started from the bottom and went up). When all the weak points are destroyed, the main tower disappears and the head moves up and down, shooting at you, and if you get in front of it, it charges forward. Despite its issues, it’s a much better fit to follow the round 6 boss than what we actually got.

Round 9 is the only other round to put all of the spawners at the bottom, and as a result, creates another sudden drop in difficulty, despite the fact that this stage is the only other one besides round 2 that has foreground objects. The boss, on the other hand, is still a drop in difficulty compared to the previous three, but only gets harder in relation to its health going down, which is a nice change of pace. It’s a circle with 8 turrets around it and four shields that cover every other one; the uncovered ones fire, then the shields move one turret to the side, then the pattern repeats; as more turrets are destroyed, the remaining ones shoot bullets that split into more projectiles.

Round 10 is fairly unique because it has a diagonally-moving enemy that ignores the camera’s scrolling, instead just sliding across the screen. All previous enemies that ignored the stage’s scrolling kept to the margins, so far away that if you tried to run into them, the camera would readjust itself, but for these enemies, the awkward camera just makes it even harder to dodge them. The boss is a weak spot surrounded by rotating, fragmented circles; while the circles themselves won’t hurt you (they’ll just push you out of the way), there are hazards orbiting between them, and they’ll still block your shots, so you have to weave toward the center to hit the weak point (which is itself surrouned by a rotating shield, but the gap is significantly larger than the one for round 6’s boss).

While round 10 still isn’t as difficult as round 8, round 11 is even less so; while it has a camera-ignoring enemy that moves across the screen, this one will stop and move vertically for a bit first, giving the player more time to kill them before anything crazy happens. The boss is also easier: while it starts near the camera and tries to run at you like the stage 7 boss, this one is reliably avoidable without power-ups, so it also shoots some projectiles from the bottom of the screen before moving up itself, which isn’t much harder than the round 2 boss. Plus, when it gets low on health, it gets easier since it stops attacking and just slowly chases you; maybe I just encountered a glitch?

The final round is a departure from the rest of the game since there’s only one shop encounter (at the very beginning) and also no enemy waves; instead, it’s just a gauntlet of all the previous bosses. However, these versions of the bosses are different than their original counterparts, shooting more bullets and moving faster. Normally, I’d appreciate the fact that these aren’t total rehashes of earlier bosses like I’ve seen in other games, but unfortunately, the round 7 boss is among them, once again being impossible without a speed-up item, but now you need the absolute fastest speed-up item to avoid it. Not only does this make all of the other projectile-based bosses unfeasible, but this round also includes the new bosses once you’ve beaten the old ones, starting with the round 8 boss (which is hard enough even when you’re in control of yourself). Needless to say, this is the part where I gave up.

So yeah, I would not recommend this game. There’s a good game buried in here (or at least an okay game), but the awkward camera and the round 7 boss ruin much of what could have made the game fun. You’d think with this being a remaster and all, they’d go back and fix the game’s major issues, but I guess not. If you’re still set on playing it, here’s my recommended stage order:

4.Doli Micca
3.La Dune

P.S. The “rapid” fire upgrade is a lie; it only shoots, like, twice per second, making it even less useful than bombs. If you think it will save your thumbs, you’re sorely mistaken.

I got this game the year it came out, but I decided to put it off until after I beat Legend of Legacy (which I got at the same time), and now, new physical copies are almost half-price online. Oh well.

There's a face in the leaves right next to the ESRB rating. I just wanted to point that out.

This is a Zelda-clone with hack ‘n’ slash combat and town-management elements. Exiting the main town (the titular oasis) leads you into an empty open area with scattered enemies and a few paths on its edges, but trying to explore beyond your current story objective just uncovers progression-based roadblocks (just like in real Zelda games!☺). The main difference is that, in this game, examining the roadblock in question will display an icon that shows exactly which ability it requires, thus dropping the pretense that these switch-hunts were ever puzzles in the first place. Unfortunately, there isn’t really any level design here besides said switch-hunts, so the game-play has to stand entirely on the merits of its combat, AND (drum-roll)…it’s okay. You attack with the A button, do a jumping-attack with the X button (for hitting flying enemies), dodge-roll with the B button, and summon a tornado with the Y button (which is really more of a switch-hunt ability since its only combat use is to lower the defense of sand monsters). One thing I want to draw attention to is that enemies are really good at making sure their attacks are telegraphed (which is something other hack ‘n’ slash games don’t do as well), so it’s entirely feasible to beat a never-before-seen enemy without taking damage. Alas, you still can’t interrupt your attack animation with a dodge-roll, so you can end up getting hit anyway if you start a combo at the wrong time. Using the tornado is also annoying since if you simply press the button, nothing happens; you have to hold it down for around half a second, which is especially annoying during time-sensitive segments that require tornadoes.

The other side of this game is the town management, though don’t expect anything too in-depth about it. NPCs will visit the oasis, and talking to them adds their side-quest to your to-do list. Sometimes, this can be as simple as “get me X amount of Y resource” or “let’s go kill X amount of Y monster,” but more often than not, they ask you to find a key item, and said item WILL NOT EXIST until after you activate the side-quest in question (and you can only have one side-quest active at a time). Once the objective is complete, talk to them again and they’ll join the oasis. Some residents can run shops if you have enough money to build them (and there’s little else to spend money on, so the only thing that would prevent you is lack of space), but you’re not going to be buying anything from these shops because the game won’t let you. Instead, you can restock their inventory by giving them the required resources, and after enough time has passed, collect taxes by throwing a tornado at their shops (tax is non-negotiable). Something that took me a while to notice was that if you restock inventory over the maximum, the game will not get rid of the extra stock outright; it will be sold over time like normal. Also, restocking shops increases a meter, and once it’s full, you can talk to the shop owner to go on another side-quest, and completing it will upgrade the shop in question (one new product to be sold and more inventory space for existing products). Beyond that, there isn’t much else; residents can’t leave, and if any visitors leave, they’ll be back after an in-game day or two.

One thing that really bothered me about the game is that it starts off really rough around the edges. You know how some people say that games need to introduce new mechanics regularly in order to be enjoyable? Well, this game takes that to its logical conclusion by hamstringing the game-play at first and making you earn good game mechanics by leveling up. For example, you don’t start off with a three-hit combo, or even a two-hit combo; you start with a ONE-hit combo, so there’s a full-second delay between each attack (plus, trying to fight an enemy a level or two above you ends up being even more tedious due to their HP and defense increase). At least you start with the dodge-roll. Another example is your HP: you start with a maximum of 9, and if you get hit by a level 2 enemy, you take 9 damage. It isn’t until after you level up a bit that you unlock “rainbow protection,” a separate meter that essentially triples your max HP (and that percentage only gets larger as you progress). It also takes some time for you to unlock the ability to fast-travel back to the oasis, so the beginning will have you running to dead ends to get something, then having to go all the way back with nothing but the occasional enemy along your path. Honestly, the entire first four hours of the game feels like little more than an extended tutorial, and you only fight the same two enemies during that time (and the only real difference is that one’s charge attack goes further than the other’s).

But hey, at least you can cite it as a game that *does* get better over time, eh?

It isn’t until here where the game finally decides to let you go into the first actual dungeon, along with introducing its core game-play feature: the ability to take two of your residents with you when exploring outside the oasis and have them fight alongside you. They have their own health bars, and you can switch between them using up and down on the D-pad (and certain enemy attacks won’t deal damage if they hit an AI-controlled ally). There’s even a weakness system with different characters’ weapons being strong against different types of enemies (though their level plays a far more important factor regarding damage output). Plus, it’s their abilities that let you get past the aforementioned progression-based roadblocks, and as you can imagine, this just ends up being a clunkier alternative to the Zelda games’ item menu since, if you don’t have the ally necessary to progress, you have to quick-travel back to the oasis (which itself takes around 10 seconds on an Old 3DS), go down the list of allies until you see one with the ability you need, then go back to the roadblock in question (at least the game lets you teleport to the last location you used the quick-travel ability, though this takes another 10 seconds). Sometimes, the game will require three different abilities in a row, and since you can only have two NPCs with you at a time, you’ll have to do that back-and-forth shenanigan.

However, if you thought the game was done introducing game-play features, you’d be wrong. Once you finally get enough space to build every available shop, the game introduces gardening: you can assign a resident to a plot in the oasis’s garden, but only if they can run a shop but don’t have one out. Later on, you gain the ability to send out residents who can’t own shops to gather resources from a previously-explored area.

But the most egregious example is how it handles festivals. First of all, the leader of another town won’t let you access the second dungeon until after you hold one, so it’s required (which wouldn’t be so bad except for how festivals work). In order to hold the festival, you need enough stamps from your shops, but in order to earn these stamps, you have to restock their inventory enough times. However, due to the shops having a maximum for inventory space, you can only restock four-resources-worth of inventory at best (and that’s only if the shop is really low on stock), and then you have to WAIT for the inventory to drop before you can restock by even one more resource (and I hope you didn’t upgrade your shops, because then the requirement for how much you need to restock to get that stamp increases by over 2,000%!). I get that the devs wanted to stop your action-side progress to make sure you haven’t abandoned the management-side progress, but this just results in making you grind, regardless of how much focus you put on the management-side. Sure, you can go to your hut to sleep and advance time by an in-game day, but don’t be surprised to wake up and see that you can only restock by another one or two resources.

Lastly, I’d like to give some more details about the combat. If you’ve read other reviews, you’ll know that a common complaint is with the camera, but this doesn’t tell the whole story. It is true that the only camera control is the L button, which either puts the camera behind you or locks onto/off an enemy, and it’s true that there’s no way to know if an off-screen enemy is about to attack you outside of a single, non-rotating image that doesn’t even point to which direction the enemy is attacking you from (it could be from the left or right, and it could even be too far away to hit you, but it will always point straight down). However, it’s entirely possible to lock onto one enemy, then move next to the other enemy and attack it instead so you can keep an eye on both of them (sometimes there are three enemies at once, but the same principle applies). The REAL problem here is that, sometimes, when you kill one enemy, the game likes to spawn another enemy after a couple seconds, usually off-screen, with barely any warning that it happened until after you get attacked (you might hear a faint audio cue, but that’s it). It also happens sporadically enough that you’ll forget the game does it until after it happens again. For example, in the second dungeon, there are glowing orb pedestals that do nothing except revive the fish bone enemies when you kill them, so you have to destroy the orbs first, but then when you go to kill the fish bones, the fish bones will revive and you’ll be like “I know I destroyed all the pedestals” only to turn the camera and see one standing where you KNOW one wasn’t standing before. Another example is in the third dungeon, where you’ll be fighting a sand version of an enemy, and by this point, you’ll know that it can restore its health by absorbing sand piles, so you’ll use your tornado powers to blow away all the sand piles, then start attacking the enemy, only for it to run away and restore all its health from a sand pile that showed up off-screen while you were fighting. You’ll also see sand fall from the ceiling (something you can’t do anything about) and form another sand pile, so you know that you weren’t crazy and you definitely got all the sand piles the first time around; the game just added more of them behind your back. I guess that explains why some of the unlocks are “you can instantly revive ANOTHER time after dying”; it’s to make up for some of the more cheap hits you’ll take.

Overall, this game is okay. It does some important things better than other hack ‘n’ slash games I’ve played, but it has enough issues that I wouldn’t recommend getting it at full price. Also, if you do get it, I recommend playing it in short bursts, as it can get repetitive at times.

Today is a rare day in BLAEO history: my amount of beaten games is the opposite of the number of my unplayed games!
Coincidence? I think so.

EDIT: Nevermind, that was before I beat this game.

  • Ass Combat: Assault Horizon

    7 hours playtime

    29 of 50 achievements

This is a flight-combat game. You have your standard “down tilts you up and vice versa” along with constant forward motion that you merely adjust the speed of, but unlike RaidersSphere 4th, holding left/right actually turns you left/right, so this is less of a simulator than other flight-combat games. In fact, this game doesn’t make you rely on that unreliable method of shooting missiles at other planes when you’re “locked on”; instead, if you fly close enough to the back of an enemy plane, you can push both the left and right bumpers at once to enter a close combat mode. Here, your plane will more-or-less automatically follow the enemy’s plane (you still have to steer and keep an eye on your acceleration or else the enemy will break away), and all you have to do is keep the targeting reticle over the plane long enough to charge a more accurate homing missile. Personally, I really like this new mechanic since it puts that whole “hitting enemy planes” thing into something the player has actual control over instead of the coin-toss that it was in RaidersSphere 4th. There’s even a bit of a difficulty curve with later planes taking more drastic evasion methods and even getting behind you and putting you in their close combat mode, at which point you have to slow down and wait for a reversal icon to show up so you can turn the tables.

Of course, if you’re familiar with my posts yet still continue to read them, you’re probably wondering what issues you’ll need to look out for if you play the game, and this game does have its fair share of problems. Notably, the game likes to shift the camera’s focus away from you in order to zoom in on a recently-destroyed target enemy for a couple seconds. You never have to worry about crashing when the game does this since your plane is always stabilized, regardless of whatever trajectory you were in when the enemy was destroyed. In fact, this wouldn’t really be much of an issue at all if it weren’t for the game’s tendency to place enemy planes right next to the mission border: I once shot down the final enemy in the wave (right before it transitioned to the next part of the mission), and when the camera finally cut back to me, my plane had flown out of the mission area and triggered a fail-state. Honestly, for a genre with no level design, this game has some mediocre level design. How hard can it be to copy/paste some more brown hills to the other side of the base so that the mission area border can be extended? Heck, why have mission areas at all? Just loop the terrain! It’s not like there are any landmarks that would meaningfully alter how players approach the mission objective, i.e. level design. Or heck, just do what Starfox 64 does and have the plane make an automatic U-turn at the border!

However, my biggest issue with the game is its overall lack of communication to the player. Sometimes, you can shoot down a non-leader target in one or two missiles, while other times, they take several hits and still keep flying (EDIT: for reference, every target in RaidersSphere 4th would die in just two missiles, with the exception of the final boss). The same goes for your own plane: sometimes, you lose in just a couple hits, while other times, it seems like your plane takes quite a bit of abuse and still flies. Also, as much as I like the idea of the close combat mode, it suffers from the same thing: sometimes, a plane will take a turn so sharp that it goes off-screen, and you still keep up with it even though you were holding the stick in the wrong direction; other times, the enemy plane is right there, and even though you’re turning with it, it breaks off anyway. However, the worst example of this is when you’re in an enemy’s close combat mode: I’m pretty darn sure I kept my plane outside of the red targeting reticles but still took direct machine-gun fire and missile damage. Half (maybe even all) of these problems could be alleviated if the game had better ways to communicate what’s going on, but the game never explains how to avoid attacks if an enemy traps you in its close combat zone; it never lets you know if an enemy broke away from your close combat because of your speed or your movement or what; it never shows enemy HP–it never even shows your HP, and heck, it doesn’t even let you know what your minimum speed before stalling is! I’d always heard that games were trying to be more movie-like, but this is the first time outside of an RPG where I felt like the mechanics were only there to give the feeling of being skilled rather than actually testing your skill. This is especially true for the final boss, where it seems like the boss has infinite health until all the scripted sequences are done with. Call me a conspiracy nut, but why else would it mask those details if it wasn’t secretly changing stuff behind the scenes? Maybe deep down, the game really is skill-based, but it’s hard to say because of the game’s lack of feedback…or maybe I’m just not a fan of the genre–who knows?

The game also likes to throw in gimmicky play mechanics that never show up for more than two or three missions. The helicopter missions actually have free movement (so you can come to a complete stop without stalling) with most of the targets being stationary or slow-moving ground targets. Machine gun fire can be dodged by strafing, and missiles are dodged by pressing both bumpers when the reversal icon displays on screen (though two of the reversal-icon’s three frames are tiny and the whole thing is rather hard to see). Also, the right bumper is used for firing your limited-ammo, non-guided missiles, so it can be a little annoying for them to go off when you just want to dodge the missile. Luckily, your own machine gun isn’t totally useless against the enemies you’re put up against (unlike in the airplane missions), especially since your zoom is a more reliable method of locking onto enemies than what the game actually calls its lock-on mechanic. The only real exception is when the game makes you fight other copters: it takes way too long to kill them with the machine gun, and it’s really difficult to hit them with the missiles (even when they’re basically at a standstill). Oh, and one more detail to file under the game’s lack of communication: late in the second chopper mission, you’re told to stay “below the buildings” to avoid the enemy’s radar, but a few buildings are way taller than the rest, so it would help if the game gave an actual specific altitude (especially since the game tells you what your exact altitude is at all times).

There’s a bomber mission where you have to dodge cones (representing the enemy’s radar), then enter a bombing mode where you just move the left stick and tap the A button when the cursor is over your target buildings. It’s rather dull and unnoteworthy outside of the part where the game makes you fly in one direction before it adds enemy planes to the mission (which you can’t defend yourself from due to having no missiles), only to then put your new destination in the opposite direction of where the game just made you go, barely visible because it’s at the very edge of your radar when it finally decides to show up.

There are also three turret missions, one of which is monochrome, and these are the worst parts of the game since the game never puts icons over enemy units like it does in the other mission types, meaning you can barely see them. It doesn’t help that you only get two pre-set zoom levels instead of an adjustable zoom (you get three in the monochrome one, but if your zoom is too far away, the game straight-up won’t render the smaller enemies). You also don’t get a radar, meaning you’re not going to see where an incoming missile is until it’s too late.

Overall, this game is pretty mediocre. It’s definitely a step up from the previous flight-combat games I’ve played, but it’s gimmicky and has issues with player communication. It might be worth picking up on sale if you haven’t played a flight-combat game yet and are looking to get into the genre (after all, I read that the close combat mechanic isn’t in many other games), but I’m not sure if I can recommend it to others.

I’ve been sitting on this post for about a week; I should probably go ahead and upload it before it goes the way of my Roundabout post.

"Play Anywhere" long as you're playing on a Wii.

This is a twin-stick shooter. Nunchuck’s joystick moves, WiiMote aims, A button shoots, B button uses a special attack (can only hold 3 at once), and the C button dashes (can be used to dodge bullets). There are four ships to choose from: spread shot, laser (goes through obstacles), homing missiles, and electricity that explodes when it reaches where the opponent was when you fired. Each ship gains experience as you get hit combos, capping off at level 3 (level resets when you go back to the title screen). Arenas are all square, only differentiated by background and placements of obstacles (I thought obstacle placement was random, but after tinkering around with the multiplayer mode, it looks like placement is static). Sometimes, there will be metal boxes you can shoot open to get power-ups, but your opponent can get them, too.

The main campaign is a gauntlet: 8 worlds with four battles each. You fight each type of ship once per world, though they’re in different orders each time. That may seem repetitive to those of you who prefer when games regularly introduce shiny new mechanics to jingle in front of your face at regular intervals, but this game keeps things interesting by increasing the aggressiveness of the AI, making the game more difficult as you progress. To be fair, the game does take 3-4 worlds to pick up the pace, and those earlier battles can really drag on (it took me a while to realize I had to drain the stationary opponent’s HP completely in the tutorial before the game would let me start the campaign).

I do have one major criticism for the game: the ships are differentiated by weapon, not by player. This means that if, for example, both you and your opponent have the spread shot, the screen will inevitably be filled with tiny blue dots, making it nearly impossible to recognize which shots are enemy fire, much less dodge them. This means that, even if you do win, you’ll be low on health, and your health doesn’t regenerate after each battle, so you just have to hope that the next arena has a healing item or an extra life (though losing a life just re-spawns you right there with some invincibility frames). Apparently, what Famicom Wars did in 1988, this game couldn’t do in 2007. I knew the game was a budget title, but how hard can that be? Maybe they could’ve used the resources they did on the character creator to make a dynamic palette for the ships instead.

There are a few other modes besides the campaign. There’s endless mode, where you just keep fighting opponents until you lose; time attack mode, where you keep fighting opponents until time runs out; and “Destruction” mode, where you fight waves of regular little enemies until you lose. The other two modes are okay for what they are (though I was satisfied after the campaign, so I didn’t play endless mode much), but Destruction mode will have enemies just spawn in random parts of the arena, so you’ll inevitably take damage when they spawn right on top of you. This really disappointed me since this is the only mode where you fight normal enemies instead of other ships. Plus, while the other modes would zoom the camera in and out to keep both ships on screen, Destruction mode has the camera at a static zoom, at a position where you can’t see the entire arena, regardless of where the enemies spawn (though it still tracks your movement, of course).

There’s also a multiplayer mode, which supports up to four players, though I don’t exactly have the means to test it out.

So, do I think this game is worth fifteen US dollars? Eh, not really. For what it is, it’s okay at best, though the game could really use better ship differentiation (especially regarding the spread shot), and Destruction mode could also benefit from some extra polish.

Here’s yet another game I bought with the intention of playing the older ones first, but between my Steam backlog getting ever bigger and Drakengard being garbage, I decided to axe that plan. I might go back and play them later; who knows.

She comes from a valley without cans.

  • Giana Sisters: Twisted Dreams

    7 hours playtime

    12 of 25 achievements

This is a platformer, but with the additional mechanic of switching planes (and, by extension, your hair color). On top of your standard “these platforms/hazards only exist in this plane” stuff that comes standard with plane-switching, there are moves you can only do in each plane: twirling (hold Y to do an extra jump and float down) can only be done with yellow hair, and dashing (push X to charge in the direction you’re pointing; bounces off walls and kills enemies) can only be done with red hair. Both of these can be done once after jumping, but you can only do one per jump (and if you twirl, you can let go and push the button to speed and slow your falling speed, respectively). Also, if you push one of those buttons while in the other plane, the plane will automatically switch, though it’s possible to switch planes without doing anything else by pushing one of the shoulder buttons.

First, I should point out that the game does some things right. Notably, the difficulty curve is fairly well implemented, which I’ve noticed is something that has become increasingly rare (even Celeste didn’t really have one, instead opting for longer distances between checkpoints to create the illusion of harder levels, only increasing difficulty at the start of each Side).

However, one of the things it gets wrong is a pretty crucial one: controls. Basically, when you hold left or right, it takes around a quarter of a second for the player character to build up enough speed to reach top speed, and when you let go or push the other direction, it takes an equal amount of time to slow down, so you’ll stop around a unit in front of wherever you let go of the controls. For the most part, it’s not a huge issue, but the game wants to be a precision platformer (something evident by the end of the first world), and when the platforms you’re expected to land on are already only one unit wide, that one-unit-long stopping-distance will cause you to slide right off the platform. Of course, this can manifest in other ways, too: for example, there’s a ghost enemy that chases you through solid tiles, and if one of those shows up in front of you, you may not have enough time to stop and turn around before you collide with it and die. The momentum may not cause you to die that often, but it will cause some of your deaths eventually.

The game also has some trouble getting its hazards to stand out from the rest of the scenery. For example, it isn’t uncommon for a level’s yellow-hair-plane to have red lighting, and even though the enemies are green and blue, the red lighting gives everything a reddish shade and causes everything to blend together somewhat. Of course, this issue could have been avoided if only the background and platform textures changed color instead of the entire lighting of the level. There are also skeleton enemies that charge at you if you’re in the red-hair-plane, but if you’re in the yellow-hair-plane, they throw a thin, tiny white bone at you that will absolutely kill you if it hits you (you die in one hit if you didn’t find a shield in the level or you lost said shield). Taking this a step further, moving hazards like crushing pillars or saw-blades render behind regular solid tiles, so if you can’t see the actual hazard, the only way you’d know it’s there is by looking at the edge of the solid tiles (a.k.a. the wall that’s connects it to the background, a.k.a. the part you wouldn’t be able to see at all if this were a 2D game).

Honestly, even by $15 indie game standards, this game lacks quite a bit of polish. The scripted sequence before the 2nd boss (where you’re dashing through a spike corridor) spits you out just beside the platform, so you die if you don’t react in time. Clouds are safe platforms in the red-hair-plane, but if you stand on them too long in the yellow-hair-plane, they zap you and you die (and of course, the game never tells you this). There are multiple areas where rocks continually fall from above, but one of these areas won’t trigger the rocks until you’re directly under their spawn point. There are also at least a couple areas where the model for deadly spikes is placed slightly in the background behind completely safe platforms, so if you’re approaching it from below, you might not realize you can even go there. The final boss can throw a hazard that follows you, and right afterward, the boss can shoot fireballs that trigger geysers, making the only safe places thin vertical corridors for a couple seconds (again, while you’re being chased by a hazard, so you’d have to lure it to just the right spot to avoid taking a hit). Heck, this even extends to little things, like how the title screen menu starts in the middle instead of the top (where the “play game” option is) and how it never says how many gems you need to unlock the boss level while you’re on the level select screen (it only tells you that you need “an average of half” during the loading screens’ randomized messages).

To add insult to injury, the game is also gimmicky. The worst example is in world 1’s boss level: there’s an object that moves back and forth and shoots out a spike when you change planes, and it’s used exactly twice in the entire game: the introduction is during a thin corridor where there are enemies and a spike ceiling (so you can’t kill them by dashing since you’d bounce into the spikes), and the second time it’s used is in the boss’s arena, and that spike is the only way you can damage the boss. This is easily the worst part of the game since you have to wait on two objects, moving independently of each other, to line up just right so you can cause the spike to hit the boss. Also, the spike is delayed, so even if it lines up properly, you still might miss.

Overall, this is a pretty mediocre game. It’s not terrible, but it lacks the same amount of polish you’d find in a free Adobe Flash game. If you’re interested, wait for a steep price cut.

P.S. The “holiday special” levels are all just clones of existing levels with minor changes here and there. I didn’t really find them worth playing.

  • Giana Sisters: Twisted Dreams - Rise of the Owlverlord

    2 hours playtime

    7 of 17 achievements

And then there’s this $5 standalone expansion. It’s basically more of the same (seven extra levels), but now there’s a lot more cheap hits. At the very beginning, once you break out of your cage, spikes start spawning from behind you and unkillable flying enemies come in from above to chase you, and it all happens so fast, you may not be able to react to it. After that level, though, it goes back to where the main game’s difficulty curve left off and isn’t too bad (relatively speaking; it has the same lighting/control/polish issues, though). I do have an issue with the boss, though: the boss will throw a blade at you that follows you, and the only way to damage the boss is to hit the boss with the blade. That’s fine, but the blade only damages the boss if the boss switches to the costume that it wasn’t wearing when it threw the blade. It’s not as bad as the final boss in the main game (and certainly not as bad as the first boss in the main game), but it’s such an arbitrary requirement that I didn’t realize the blade even damaged the boss at first, especially since the blade is no different depending on the costume.

If you liked the main game, you’d probably like this, too. However, I certainly wouldn’t recommend getting this instead of the main game since this one is way worse at conveyance, having text tutorials slide from the top into the top corner while you’re being chased by fast-moving hazards.

Those of you who read my posts will already know that I bought these games before I realized I don’t actually like the series, so I’ll try to keep this one short. With that said, the more of these I play, the better I think I can articulate exactly why I don’t like them (or maybe I’m just repeating myself; who knows). Besides, I already paid money for the game; maybe I can still get something out of it.

You can tell these characters represent the Light because of how washed-out everything is.

  • Tales of Zestiria

    44 hours playtime

    12 of 56 achievements

This is an RPG, except the battles happen in real-time. The right face button is normal attacks, the bottom one is for special attacks, the left one guards, and the top one brings up the menu. While holding the guard button, you can dash in any cardinal direction, though dashing to the side has you circle around the enemy you’ve locked onto (instead of going straight sideways). One major difference between this and previous Tales games is that TP is no longer a thing; instead, all attacks and dashes lower your stamina bar, though it refills completely within a couple seconds of not attacking or dashing. Another major change is that the battle camera stays behind you during battles (as opposed to being in a fixed position, only zooming to keep everything on screen like in previous Tales games), and this is a major change because now the camera can get stuck on scenery and prevent you from seeing anything. Plus, the one time the camera doesn’t follow you is while dashing, which is the one thing you’d want it to keep an eye on you for due to its context-sensitive nature. There’s also a new mechanic where you can fuse with an ally to get stronger attacks, but these are balanced by being slower to use, giving enemies more time to attack and stun you. As for recurring mechanics, an unfortunate one is that, despite the arena and enemy placement being 3D, your movement is locked on the 2D plane between you and the enemy you’ve locked onto (something I maintain only ever worked in Tales of Phantasia, which had 2D side-scrolling arenas where enemies waited in line). Sure, Free Movement also makes a return, but using it prevents your stamina bar from refilling because, apparently, half-way decent mobility is a broken mechanic that needed to be nerfed.

While the game doesn’t necessarily combine the worst mechanics from RPGs and hack-‘n’-slash games, what it does choose to combine simply do not work with each other and instead work to the game’s detriment. For example, outside of elemental weaknesses, the game has a triangle weakness system for different types of attacks, with normal attacks being able to interrupt spells (some of which outright can’t be avoided if they activate), but rather than make it a set number of attacks to interrupt the spell, it’s a set number of damage you have to do, meaning your level has more to do with your success than how good you are at the game. EDIT: Also, if you encounter a large group of spellcasters, all of whom are spread out, it’s literally impossible to interrupt all of them, meaning you’re going to be forced to take damage (I’d even go as far as to say that these battles are harder than any of the bosses). Another example is how stuns work: if you attack the enemy at the right time (and, again, do enough damage with your combo), the enemy gets stunned, and each Tales game besides maybe the first one always makes a point that, if you’re good enough, you can time your attacks with your AI-controlled allies’ attacks to keep the stun going for longer. However, what none of the games tell you is that enemies can randomly break the stun and instantly transition into another attack. Not only are you unable to do this if an enemy stun-locks you, but you can’t even interrupt your combo to try to dash away from the attack, once again resulting in unavoidable damage.

The worst part is that even if you try to take all of this into consideration and use skill to overcome the game’s challenges, it won’t work because the game simply doesn’t reward skilled play. A good example of this is the fight against Maltran: the boss has a lunge attack that’ll hit you if you dash backward, a spin attack that’ll hit you if you dash to the side, and no conveyance for either attack (so the only way you can hope to dodge is if you dash before the boss’s attack animation begins). Also, due to the aforementioned stun-locking, getting hit just once usually gets you killed (at least on Moderate difficulty), especially since, at this point in the game, bosses can trigger special attacks that take more than your max HP from you. After a few attempts where I tried to win using actual skill, it occurred to me that the only thing I could do differently was revive my allies so that they could revive me when I inevitably got killed by the boss again, and sure enough, that’s what led me to victory. That’s when I finally realized the central conceit of the series: it doesn’t reward skill because it was never meant to reward skill; it was made by people who only knew how to balance turn-based RPGs, but still wanted the action mechanics as a gimmick to separate it from other turn-based RPGs. Suddenly, everything made sense: that’s why so many parts of the game force you to take damage; that’s why you’re regularly sent up against several enemies at once during normal battles, all of whom inevitably have different targets and attack at different intervals, with the only possible way to win unscathed being if they start off grouped together and you manage to hit and stun all of them with your own combo; that explains why, after all this time, the border of the arena STILL won’t show up until you’re right next to it, inevitably getting in your way whenever you try to dash away from one of the attacks that can actually be avoided; that explains why there are status effects that PREVENT YOU FROM DODGING IN THE FIRST PLACE, and why every status effect prevents you from using an item on the character with said status effect; that explains why the final boss drops the pretense and has one attack that’s literally unavoidable, regardless of circumstance, and why the final boss’s one-hit-kill attack can only be stopped by dealing enough damage before it activates (something that’s literally impossible if you’re too low level for the current difficulty); it’s just the pretense of being skill-based without any of the things that make it actually reward skill. Sure, future games may take “feedback” into consideration, but the devs will always go back and sneak some more unfair crap to balance everything out. “Oh, what’s that? You want attacks and dodge maneuvers to be fast and responsive? Okay, but we’ll also make enemy attacks faster and larger so you still can’t avoid them regularly!”

So yeah, this one’s not recommended. The only people who’d like it are those who can put up with bad mechanics for the story, but keep in mind that the story is also kinda generic.

Well, I gave this genre a try.

  • RaidersSpherePth

    11 hours playtime

    no achievements

This is a flight simulator, a genre whose controls I found to be more focused on being realistic rather than responsive. For example, rather than holding left turning you left, holding left tilts your plane, and your plane slowly starts to turn left while you leave it in its tilted state (but if you keep holding left, your plane will keep tilting, even going past you being upside down, etc.). So, if you miss your target and need to turn around, you need to tilt the plane until it’s near-horizontal, then hold down to tilt up, which speeds up the turn, but even doing all that, it takes a solid five (5) seconds to make a 180-degree turn. Plus, since the camera stays level with your plane, the camera tilts when you do, which can be really disorienting. Sure, there’s a radar, and it does help, but the radar can only detect your targets (as opposed to the nearby buildings and other obstructions, which will be your bigger enemy since crashing can kill you in one hit). In fact, the game’s challenge is less about shooting down the enemies before they shoot you, and more about fighting the controls and trying not to crash. The game knows this, too, since there are entire missions where you just have to navigate an empty hall without crashing, but these are ironically the easier missions since the obstacles are all presented head-on with plenty of room to react rather than in an arena with enemies hiding between two walls in a narrow hallway, meaning you need to approach just right in order to have a chance at hitting them.

Combat also strives to be realistic as well. This means that there are only two types of attacks: normal bullets that move too fast to be dodged (you just have to hope the enemy misses), and guided missiles. While the missiles can be dodged, there doesn’t seem to be much consistency with how to dodge them; sometimes, the same move that dodged a missile last time will get you hit the next time. The most consistent way to dodge them that I found was to make sharp turns, but that results in the aforementioned disorientation and possible risk of colliding with nearby walls that were just out of view (and I’m still not entirely sure if it’s a 100% guaranteed way to dodge them). Plus, if it’s one of those missions where the priority targets are in hard-to-lock-on positions, it may be better just to take the hit so you can finish the objective. I think I preferred Blue Lightning’s approach where you could also shoot the missiles down instead of dodging, even if that was technically less reliable due to all the smoke. Sure, that was an on-rails shooter rather than an arena-based flight sim, but I’m sure it could’ve been adapted for this game’s genre; maybe pushing a button could go into a sniper mode where you could aim at the missile and shoot it without losing your current trajectory.

Even the difficulty curve isn’t well implemented, being mostly flat with a few difficulty spikes. You’ll frequently find yourself clearing multiple missions in a row on your first or second try, only to reach one mission that makes you do something crazy and ends up being way harder than all the surrounding missions. For example, the third mission tasks you with defending an object from multiple fighter pilots, which are not only moving targets, but can also shoot missiles back at you, meaning you frequently have to put your attacks on hold just to stay alive. Also, since this is the third mission, you’re likely still trying to wrap your head around the controls. Oh, and lets not forget that enemy fighter pilots can dodge your missiles just as reliably as you can dodge theirs, making it impossible to hit them reliably (I beat the game and still can’t tell you what distance is too soon and what distance is too late). It is true that your planes also have machine guns, but not only do these have a much shorter range than missiles (the game literally won’t let you hit enemies if they’re too far away, regardless of your aiming skills), but they’re also significantly weaker than missiles, to the point where you’ll run out of time well before killing a single enemy with them. Needless to say, this one mission is a pretty big difficulty spike, and even after lowering the difficulty to Easy (which AFAIK only affects how often enemies shoot missiles at you), it still took a few tries for me to beat it–heck, I’m not even sure if there’s a way to do it without getting lucky (it might as well be random). The crazy thing is, right after this mission, the game goes back to having stationary targets with minimal resistance, almost like the devs knew that moving targets were too hard for newcomers (but then why not remove this mission from the game, or at least move it further in?). In fact, not only do fighter jets not become priority targets again until near the end (heck, the only real boss fight is a 1v1 against another fighter jet), but the game has an enemy that hovers in the air and shoots missiles, effectively being a stationary (read: easier) version of fighter jets, and they’re introduced during the next “defend this spot” mission, and even then, only the ground targets are the ones attacking the point. Sure, it’s another difficulty spike due to the fact that you still can’t see how much health the object you’re defending has (and the time it takes for said object to fall is much less than the mission’s stated time limit), but it’s much more reliable than the third mission.

However, I think my biggest issue is with the graphics. For the most part, it doesn’t matter since you can tell what and where everything is (as long as it’s in view of the camera). However, there are two missions where you need to fly dangerously close to a large, untextured obstacle: the first is during a “reconnaissance” mission where your targets are objects on the ceiling, and the second is near the end when you have to fly through a storm. For the recon mission, you at least have the benefit of your targets being their own model, which is much easier to tell the distance from, but you’re also being targeted by missiles during this mission (and you’re not allowed to bring your own missiles, either, so it’s not like you can fight back; you just have to avoid them), so it’s really easy to get turned around and end up with your plane pointing at a solid purple texture, even if your radar claims your target is right in front of you (or if you do somehow end up pointing at part of the ceiling that isn’t purple, the texture is far too blurry to tell how far away it is).

The storm mission has a cloud pattern as the texture on the ceiling and floor, but the walls are all a flat, grey texture. Not so bad at first, but there are parts where the game makes you fly through a narrow tunnel within said walls, and said tunnels have that same flat, grey texture all around the tunnels. Even with the lighting, you can barely tell which direction the tunnels twist and turn toward, and I’m 99% sure that the tunnel at 3km before your destination has zero lighting applied to it at all, meaning you’re once again flying straight into a flat texture with no way to tell where to go, only now you don’t have the ability to try reorienting yourself to look for a more clearly-defined object.

So yeah, I wouldn’t recommend this game. Honestly, if it weren’t for those two missions, I might’ve been able to say that flight-sim fans might like it if it’s on sale since it does have some variety with the missions, but I can’t see zero visibility being fun for anyone, especially on top of the other issues I mentioned.

P.S. Starting the game opens up an options window, with a drop-down menu claiming to have support for Anaglyph 3D. This is a lie; selecting the option does nothing.

P.P.S. This game has a bad habit of having dialogue appear during your mission, but unless you’re fluent in Japanese, you’ll need to rely on the auto-advancing text to understand what’s going on, meaning you’d need to take your eyes away from the game-play and risk not seeing potential hazards just to read it (ugh, it’s Astebreed all over again). This is especially frustrating during the tutorial because you risk missing the game tell you how to play, but pushing the pause button skips the tutorial!

I didn’t think a game could have much less tactical options than the Shadowrun Returns games, but oh boy, did I get proven wrong quickly.

  • Overfoil

    9 hours playtime

    7 of 50 achievements

This is a roguelike RPG. After being told the story’s basic premise, you’re thrown into the world with no direction. It seems aimless and confusing at first, but you’ll soon find out that there isn’t really that much to the game: there are various islands scattered around the map, and landing on one triggers a random sidequest based on the inhabitants and/or the terrain (so you can get the same sidequest on different playthroughs). Most of the time, this just results in a few dialogue trees that put you back on the map with whatever reward the sidequest offers in less than a minute, but if you do get into combat, you’ll find that it consists of little more than a basic hex grid, your units, and the enemy’s units. There’s no larger or smaller maps, and only rarely are certain tiles made inaccessible via walls or pits (there are no other tiles besides “ground” and “not ground”), so individually speaking, battles are never that challenging. The trick is that healing items are uncommon and can’t be used during battle, while healing spells only consist of slow regen (2 HP after 2 turns) on top of having cooldowns, and they can’t be used outside of battle. In other words, if you get into too many battles, you’ll die via attrition, and since this is a roguelike, losing just once sends you all the way back to the beginning. In other words, not only is combat dull and lacking in strategy, but you’re also encouraged to avoid as many fights as you can due to the permanent-death mechanic, meaning you’ll only really like this game if you’re okay with bare-bones exploration and simplistic dialogue choices (often, the only time the “correct” answer isn’t obvious is when all of the dialogue choices sound stupid).

As for the combat mechanics themselves, each character has a move phase, an ability phase, and an attack phase, in that order (so you can’t attack first and then move on the same turn). As is common in RPGs, attacks can have a percent chance to miss or deal critical damage, and some moves have a percent chance to apply status effects, but this game goes one step further with attributes. Basically, after a battle, your team members can get permanent (for that run) stat changes based on what happens, but this can be even more random. If a team member dies, you might get an attribute that lets you deal more damage against whatever type of enemy killed said member OR end up with an attribute that lowers your stats if another member dies! If one character happens to miss a bunch during one battle (which is already something that’s out of your control), the game could decide to give that character a permanent drop in accuracy! If you win a battle with low health, that character might get a permanent drop in movement range! Honestly, why do people like roguelikes? Is it purely for the thrill of randomness, of not knowing whether all of your skill and knowledge of past runs can be made irrelevant by the game randomly screwing you over?

However, I think what bothered me the most was the ending. The whole game, you’re trying to find the Everking, and when you finally get there, you’re stopped by an old man who lets you know that the Everking was the bad guy the whole time (which you’d already kinda know if you’d fought the Vorn King already). Does the game let you fight the final boss, who is literally standing right there in front of you at this point in the narrative? Nope, the game ends your current run and expects you to start all over again. Yeah, no thanks.

So yeah, I wouldn’t recommend it, but at the same time, I kinda recognize that the game isn’t really made for me (but at the same time who IS it made for?). I wouldn’t have gotten the game if I realized it focused less on the actual tactics and more on roguelike-style retrying and world-building (which IMO doesn’t get much focus, either). At least I got it for free.

My brother only had two of the three Konami ReBirth games, so I never got to play this one until now:

It may not be official box art, but it's more legible than the Wii Shop icon

This is a side-scrolling run and gun. Sure, you can jump, and sure, there are platforms and pitfalls, but similar to Midnight Wanderers from Three Wonders, the focus is more on taking out the hordes of enemies that get thrown your way. With that said, there’s more to this game than mindless enemies running at you from both sides of the screen: there’s actual level design here, too. Sure, the arrangement of platforms is simplistic enough, but it’s the addition of the 8-way-shooting enemy right there that gives the game its challenge and fun factor. It may not be the best example of level design, but it helps show how even simple applications of level design can prevent a game from being repetitive without having to introduce entirely new things for the sake of “variety.”

Oh, and let’s not forget that the game has infinite continues, which automatically makes it better than the entire classic Contra trilogy (and Contra: Hard Corps). It doesn’t save your progress though; only unlocks and option settings, so if you need to stop in the middle of the game, you’ll either need to leave it paused for a while or start over.

Unfortunately, this game has some problems. In the very first level, there are bits of metal falling from the ceiling, leaving fire trails and exploding when they hit the ground. These are purely background effects, but they’re so numerous that they make it hard to see the small purple projectiles that will actually hurt you, even though said projectiles are technically on the layer in front of the other effects. Not a very good first impression. The game also very frequently likes to spam cannon fodder (enemies that just walk in a straight line) from the sides of the screen constantly, and they only really serve two purposes: 1) pretend like there’s stuff going on during the empty parts of levels, and 2) come in for a cheap hit when you’re dealing with the actual level design. What’s worse is that each enemy’s death effect is also an explosion, resulting in that much more clutter on screen. In fact, if you combine this with the fact that dying causes you to respawn right where you are in the level with a couple seconds of invincibility, you’ll see that the game has the same problem as Broforce, in that the devs seemed to use the death mechanic as a free pass to scatter cheap hits throughout the game.

Stage 2 is the nostalgia stage: the first half is very similar to the first stage in Contra III, just with the mini-boss from the first stage in Contra 1, and with a new bat enemy that comes at you from behind and blends in with the normal crowd of enemies coming at you from behind. You can technically see those bat enemies in the background before they attack, but only if you know to look for them among the carnage (it’s kinda hard to see the bat stick out its head and take flight when it’s blocked by three cannon fodder soldiers and two explosions, with four more enemies attacking you from the other side of the screen). The second half of stage 2 is reminiscent of the vertical mini-boss from stage 3 in Contra III, just without the whole “position yourself precisely between the boss’s legs” part. To be fair, the mid-boss and main boss of this level are original (I think; I never made it very far in Contra: Hard Corps).

Stage 3 puts you on an in-motion truck (falling onto the road kills you) where you have to defend yourself from waves of enemies. The mid-boss of this stage is also the first part where it became obvious to me that the devs never intended for players to be able to react to anything on their first try. Sure, each wave of projectiles has a way to get past them unscathed, but they come out so fast that you won’t have time to figure out what that way is until after a couple game overs, especially since there’s no way to do short hops: pushing the jump button means you’re committed to doing a full jump. Also, the one attack with slow moving projectiles doesn’t make it clear what the only correct path is and which other paths will trap you between the projectiles and the border of the screen. Oh, and let’s not forget the flurry of missiles that shows up right before the mid-boss does; I’m still not sure how to get past them unscathed. At least the checkpoint is right after those missiles, right before the mid-boss. The main boss follows in the same vein, with one attack shooting a flurry of projectiles at only the bottom part of the truck, followed by a stream of missiles that you need to shoot downward to hit. This is also a good example of my belief that the game wasn’t really designed around these controls: you need to shoot down to hit the missiles, but if you hold down, you duck and aim to the side, so you need to jump and hold down because if you hold down and jump, you drop below the platform you’re on and hit the lasers. You also can’t shoot diagonally without also walking forward, which also means that, if you’re ducking, you can’t turn around without standing back up. Each of those details isn’t really a problem in isolation, but combined, you can start to see how the game is deviously designed to appear solid before stabbing you in the back.

The first part of stage 4 restricts your movement even further by having you cling to a single metal rod that constantly moves down (and sometimes side to side), but if you can keep the homing missile weapon that shows up at the beginning, it’s really easy (especially since, like stage 3, there’s no constant barrage of cannon fodder). The mid-boss decides to break form by having the formerly-background-effect explosions actually hurt you this time. The second part of stage 4 goes back to being more of a platformer with level design, but there’s also no cannon fodder enemies being spawned constantly! It might have been the best part of the game, except now there are foreground objects obscuring your vision, potentially blocking enemies and other hazards from your view. Plus, the main boss goes back to being rather unfair: spiked blocks constantly come from the ceiling, and the only way to avoid damage is to wait for the boss to punch them away (and the boss’s punch also hurts you), but enemies can also spawn from broken blocks, and when you combine having to avoid the boss’s punch and the enemies and the fact that you only have 1/5th of the screen to do this in since the boss decided to punch the right side for the third time in a row, I’m not even sure if this boss can be beaten without getting hit, with the possible exception of being extremely lucky. Even on Normal mode, it took all 7 of my lives just to scrape by this part.

Stage 5 decides to break the game’s streak of not-having-cannon-fodder-enemies by having cannon fodder enemies show up again. It’s not too bad until you get to the heart boss, which is now at the top of a staircase with each step separated by a bottomless pit. The boss also still spams normal enemies at you, so the only surefire way to defeat it without getting hit is to walk back and forth on a single step (since, again, you can’t shoot diagonally without walking, and jumping will just get you hit by the enemies walking on the ceiling) and occasionally aim up if you see an enemy about to slip past your defenses. I won, but my thumb started to hurt. After this, the game decides to introduce the only enemy in the game that you can stand on without getting hurt, but once you make it past them, you get a surprisingly forgiving boss fight that resembles the boss of stage 3 from Contra 1, except a worm comes out of its sides instead of more projectiles, and even though more of those stand-on-able enemies show up as cannon fodder, it seems like players might actually be able to react to the boss’s attacks, with deaths actually being the player’s fault. Either that, or it just has way less health than all the other bosses; all I know is that I beat it on my first try, only dying a couple times.

After that is a checkpoint and the actual final boss. Rather than have any kind of visual indication for which attack is coming, the boss’s pattern is instead conveyed by which angle the camera rotates toward. Its attacks mostly consist of throwing a bunch of junk at you, with one pattern just having the junk orbit around itself, meaning you can’t damage it due to all the junk in the way, before it throws it all out randomly and moves on to its next attack. The upside-down attack is probably the worst one since not only is the boss once again behind unkillable junk, but you also need to watch for which one is about to charge into the ground, and when it collides, more junk ricochets off randomly and can be hard to dodge.

Lastly, I want to point out the game’s hard mode. In theory, it’s everything a hard mode should be: enemy HP and attack strength are unaltered, with the changes instead being with enemy placement and giving bosses an extra attack. In practice, this serves to exacerbate the game’s existing problems of clutter and cheap hits (the stage 2 boss’s punch move suddenly gets much faster, meaning you’ll be hit by it on your way back down from jumping over the last punch). I decided to give up trying hard mode during the latter half of stage three, where dying at the wrong time causes the game to respawn you on a platform that’ll get destroyed in a couple frames, causing you to fall down and die again.

So, do I think this game is worth five U.S. Dollars? Maybe, but just barely. It’s always nice to play a game that has actual level design (especially after playing a long streak of games that, well…don’t), but while old-school design certainly has its merits, nobody is going to be impressed by how many sprites the Wii can display on screen at once. I would say to wait for a sale, but the Wii Shop Channel isn’t known for having sales, and besides, the service was shut down anyway, and I certainly wouldn’t recommend buying an entire Wii just for this game. EDIT: Whoops, apparently the game was ten dollars! Yikes.