Review: Strafe

Ed’s note: We’re proud to welcome Richenbaum Fotchenstein to The Manor, the first of several new regular contributors. Check out his stuff at https://horrorgasm.org/.


Before I begin, let me take a moment to thank our esteemed host, Lucius Merriweather, for welcoming me into this fine Manor, and thank you in advance to you poor readers out there, for allowing me the opportunity to befoul your unsuspecting eyes with my uncouth words.

Now, if you’ve heard of Strafe, it was most likely due to its controversially NSFW (due to graphic violence) promotional trailer that dropped a few years ago, when the game’s Kickstarter campaign began. If not, Strafe is essentially a parody/tribute to the X-TREEEEEME first person shooters of the 90’s, presented in the form of a sadistic, procedurally generated roguelike. This description alone will either fascinate you or send you screaming for the hills, depending on whether or not you happen to live in that particular patch of land, residing deep within Niche territory.

Personally, as a long-time fan of classic Quakes and Dooms and such, I found the concept very compelling… BUT, now that the time has come, does Strafe live up to its hype? Even now, I’m not entirely sure, which in itself is not exactly a glowing endorsement for the game at all, is it? Strafe absolutely nails the over-the-top 90’s attitude, both in-game and through the course of its continuing, impressively amusing marketing campaign, but when it comes down to the gameplay, it’s a bit of a mixed bag, one that contains many unfortunately amateurish mistakes.

Welcome to the Icarus. It will probably be fine.

The combat is fun, but it’s definitely overly simplistic, with no AI to speak of, just enemies rushing headfirst towards your position once triggered, in a way that feels more similar to post-nineties wave shooters like Serious Sam than the nineties shooters it’s trying to emulate. It’s also viciously difficult, to a degree that will probably put most players off pretty quickly. Not to toot my own horn, but I can beat any Dark Souls type game or roguelike you throw my way, but I still haven’t finished Strafe. (Mark my words though Strafe, I’ll get you someday.)

Time to… PAINT THE TOWN RED!

Another aspect that is oddly both exciting and frustrating is the amount of secrets and Easter eggs. Exciting, because there are so many nods to classic shooters and interesting little hidden mini-games, such as a secret arcade cabinet that lets you play a Wolfenstein 3D clone (done in Game Boy style for some reason) to win some extra power-ups. Frustrating, because most of the secrets are so obscure that you almost certainly won’t find any of them on your own. Having to really work for those optional, non-necessary secrets is one thing, but you also have features like teleporters that allow you to skip worlds, which would be very nice to have access to, considering the fact that full runs of this game can take up to 3-4 hours – but that would be too easy. Instead you have to assemble each teleporter in each world, piece by piece, and 3/4 pieces are random drops, some of which have incredibly low drop rates. I still have never seen the last piece I need to assemble even one of these things, and oh boy am I not a fan of being forced to rely on completely random luck over skill.

The game is also plagued by some baffling design issues, like an absolutely worthless mini-map and weapon upgrades that somehow actually make your weapon worse, as well as a disturbing amount of performance and sound issues and game-breaking glitches across all platforms. While it seems that the developers are trying their hardest to fix all the problems, you have to wonder why it was released in this state to begin with. This is an indie game with no big-company-enforced deadline to meet, yet here we are, about to receive a fifth patch within the first few weeks of release.

I disagree philosophically with the fall-through-the-ground-forever feature.

I love the idea of this game so much, and it’s obvious that the devs were really passionate about it. I even still kind of like it despite all its unfortunate flaws (is this what Stockholm syndrome feels like?), but I simply cannot recommend this game to anyone but the most fanatical nineties shooter fans and/or the most masochistic gamers in search of a challenge that goes beyond ‘hardcore’, into a realm that is, sadly, perhaps too X-TREEEEEEEME for its own good.

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Darksiders: Warmastered marks a last hurrah for the Wii U

Look what just arrived in the post!


Sir Gaulian has been banging on about how good Darksiders is for years, so I finally decided to try it for myself. I initially dismissed the game as a bit emo for my tastes – the ‘LOOK AT ME I’M SAD AND ANGRY’ stylings of try-hard sequel Prince of Persia: Warrior Within sprang to mind – but I’m told it’s more like Zelda than anything else, and that pretty much sold it to me.
The fact that THQ Nordic is releasing this remastered edition on Wii U at all is something of a surprise. It comes seven years after the original game and seven months after the release of Warmastered on Xbox One and PS4, not to mention a good five months or so after the announcement that Nintendo has ceased production of the Wii U. It’s likely to be one of the last boxed releases for Nintendo’s retiring console.

But by all accounts, it’s an excellent game to go out on.

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Review: Xenoblade Chronicles X

Let’s get this out of the way first: Xenoblade Chronicles X is big. Really big.

Xenoblade Chronicles on the Wii was a pretty damn massive 100+ hour adventure, but its sequel (of sorts) knocks its predecessor into a cocked hat in terms of scale. At around 50 hours in, there was still an entire continent I hadn’t even set foot on.

Getting to that 50-hour mark, however, took a lot of perseverance. Having played the previous game in the series, I thought I’d be able to slip into the gameplay fairly quickly, but no – X throws a cavalcade of new, complicated systems at you with only the briefest of explanations as to how they work, and I spent the first few hours in a state of utter bamboozlement. At least the fighting system remains broadly similar, so I sort of knew what I was doing when trying to beat things up. But it took me many, many hours to learn the tricks of that arcane system of Arts and Auras on the Wii game – I genuinely don’t know how someone new to the series could possibly hope to work out what the hell was going on in Xenoblade Chronicles X without extensive reading of the manual and online forums.

Speaking of which, you really need to read the in-game manual from (virtual) cover to cover to have any clue as what to do. It’s the first time I can remember actually reading a game manual in a very, very long time – probably since when they used to have exciting cartoon pictures of what the pixelly things on screen were ‘meant’ to look like, and space at the back to note down passwords. The fact I haven’t read a manual in years is a testament to how most modern games have improved by providing thorough tutorials and help, allowing you to play with confidence without the need for written explanations – in this sense, Xenoblade Chronicles X is thoroughly old school.

Just look at all of the info you’re presented with. It took me HOURS to work out what all of it means.

So, it’s not the easiest of games to get into, then. But my word, what rewards it offers to those who can master its complexities.

The story is compelling – it starts off with Earth being destroyed, which, as an opener, surely takes some beating. The survivors take off in various ark ships in search of a new home, but they are followed by the aliens that laid waste to the Earth. One ark ship – New LA – crash lands on a planet called Mira after being attacked, and the game sees you exploring the new planet in an attempt to find the ‘Lifehold’ section of the ship that contains stasis pods in which the residents of New LA are sleeping. But the aliens are also attempting to find the Lifehold in an effort to wipe out the human race, for reasons which remain unclear.

But because its Xenoblade, you’re also trying to gather up jewels to decorate dresses, building a Back-to-the-Future style time machine and putting on firework displays for the potato-like Nopon folk, because what would a JRPG be without oddball subquests?

It’s damn pretty though. I should have mentioned that, it’s an extremely pretty game.

And speaking of quests, my god there’s a lot of them. Xenoblade Chronicles had a ridiculous number of missions along the lines of ‘kill X of these monsters’ and ‘collect X of these things’, and Xenoblade Chronicles X ups the ante even further. I’ve no idea of the total number of quests in the game, but it’s certainly considerably more than the previous one. After playing for over 130 hours and completing the main story, I still have an untold number of missions to complete. You could literally play this game for years – especially as it introduces online multiplayer and ridiculously hard ‘Nemesis’ battles that occur around once a month. (I barely scratched the online components, but there’s a healthy number of people playing it, even a couple of years after the game’s release.)

So it’s big and intimidating, but Xenoblade Chronicles X is also one of the most rewarding and compelling games I’ve ever played. Getting my own Skell – a sort of giant bipedal mech – at around 5o hours in was one of the most exciting gaming moments I’ve ever experienced. Some have criticised the length of time it takes for the game to give you one of these metal beasts, but I think the waiting just makes the eventual moment all the more satisfying. Having a Skell completely changes the way you perceive the map, and it suddenly lets you confront the huge beasts you’ve been running away from for most of the game. It’s a pivotal moment, but it’s not the only one – there’s an even better part a few tens of hours further on, which I won’t spoil for you here.

You’ve probably realised by now that I’m pretty fond of the game. It’s not without its flaws: intimidating complexity, some naff music, repetitive quests and a morosely unfunny running gag about eating a Nopon ‘friend’ who tags along with you are just some of them. But the amount of things to do is mind-boggling – and it captures the excitement of exploring an unfamiliar alien world better than any game I’ve played before.

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The Year of Zelda: Link Archer Amiibo

For The Year of Zelda, I’m aiming to finish all of the Zelda games I’ve yet to complete before treating myself to Breath of the Wild at the year’s end. It’s going pretty slowly so far – I’ve only managed to complete Oracle of Seasons from the list – but that’s mostly down to putting 100+ hours into the sublime Xenoblade Chronicles X, as well as going mad for Fire Emblem. Now that Xenoblade is nearly done (my level-50 Skell is fully tooled up and raring to defeat the final boss), I can throw myself into my Zelda quest with renewed vigour.

But even though my intended purchase of Breath of the Wild is still months away, I couldn’t resist treating myself to one of the sweet, sweet amiibo that accompany the game.

Pre-orders for Breath of the Wild amiibo came and went in minutes, but I was lucky enough to spot the Link Archer for sale in Sainsbury’s of all places.

As ever, the detail on these amiibo figures is fantastic. I love Link’s little pointy ears.

Link has now taken pride of place on my office-desk amiibo line-up, right next to Chibi-Robo. I’m tempted to get all of the Breath of the Wild amiibo, but realistically I’ll probably stick at the Link Archer and Zelda – if I can get hold of her. Last time I checked, the Breath of the Wild Zelda amiibo was going for silly money on Amazon (one reseller was charging a hopeful £118), but as with other amiibo, she’ll probably come back into stock at a reasonable price once the initial demand fades.

I can wait…

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From The Armchair: Fire Emblem FTW

What ho, chums!

First of all, a big thanks to everyone who has contacted me about writing for A Most Agreeable Pastime, it’s great to hear from you. Sorry for my lack of replies so far – I’ve been hugely busy over the past couple of weeks, but I will get back you all eventually. There are exciting times ahead in The Manor, watch this space!

Last week I wrote about The Legend of Zelda: Oracle of Seasons, as The Year of Zelda got off to a cracking start. I actually finished that game quite a few weeks ago, and I fully intended to slide straight into Oracle of Ages – but Fire Emblem leapt into my face like a barking Chiahuahua with ADHD and insisted that I play with it.

It all started with Fire Emblem Heroes, that gacha-style mobile game that, to all intents and purposes, is a sort of ‘Fire Emblem Lite’ with added gambling. I was sceptical of its tiny maps and lack of permadeath at first, but it soon had its quasi-medieval tendrils hooked into me. In fact, I’ve been playing it every single day, often multiple times – the tiny maps and constantly refreshing quests are perfect for quick five-minute breaks during the working day. I’ve been tending to my ‘A’ team of Lucina, Ephraim, Camilla and Setsuma like a digital shepherd with an overly fond and possibly questionable appreciation of his flock.

And as sure as soft drugs lead to hard drugs and The Beatles led to dance music (FACT: without ‘Tomorrow Never Knows’ there would be no Chemical Brothers), my time with FEH spurred me into buying Fire Emblem Fates: Birthright, and now I can’t put the damn thing down.

I’m still not sure whether it’s better or worse than Fire Emblem: Awakening, but I’m certain that it’s damn good fun. The story is compelling, the little support vignettes between the characters are almost always endearing, and the swoopy 3D of the battles genuinely made me gasp the first time I saw it. I also liked the fact that they’ve done away with weapon durability – swords, axes and lances are now effectively unbreakable – but I miss moving characters over the map world, as it’s hard to get the same sense of progression.

Anyway, I’m almost done with Birthright now, but I’ve already downloaded its companion game, Fire Emblem Fates: Conquest, and I’m keen to see the conflict from the other side. Not only that, you wouldn’t believe the number of hours I’ve been putting into Xenoblade Chronicles X… but more on that another time.

All in all, it means that The Year of Zelda has been put on hold briefly – at least until I can liberate the residents of Nohr/Hoshido and New Los Angeles, that is.

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The Year of Zelda: Oracle of Seasons

A while back, I set myself the goal of finishing all of the Zelda games I’ve yet to play before I start the latest game in the series, The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild. Oracle of Seasons is the first one I can tick off that list.

Originally released for the Game Boy Color back in 2001, just as the ageing handheld was being superseded by the Game Boy Advance, Oracle of Seasons is an odd fish. For a start, it was the first Zelda game to be developed by an outside studio, Capcom, and confusingly, it was actually released as two games – Oracle of Seasons and Oracle of Ages. At the time, I assumed that this dual release was a way to jump on the Pokemon bandwagon, a tactic of releasing two basically identical games with a few minor differences. But that’s not the case – each game is a fully fledged, unique, standalone adventure, although there’s an overarching narrative that spans the two. Cleverly, you get a password when you complete one of them that lets you carry over your save game to the next instalment, although it doesn’t matter which order you play the games in.

Apparently, the whole thing was originally going to be THREE games, each representing an aspect of the Triforce. But the third game was cancelled, and the protracted development saw the concept undergo enormous changes – hence why the games were released so late into the GBC’s life cycle. In fact, they didn’t emerge until well after the release of the GBA, the GBC’s replacement. The Oracle games’ huge ambition and wonderful graphics are typical of late-stage software for an ageing console, as developers finally master the hardware and are able to push it to its absolute limits.

The Rod of Seasons lets you change, ahem, the season, which is key to solving puzzles.

But to start with, I wasn’t enormously enthusiastic about playing Oracle of Seasons. I recalled a few reviews from the time being a little lukewarm about the game, especially in the wake of the astonishing Ocarina of Time, so I never saw it as a ‘must-play’ title. How wrong I was.

I’ll just put this out there right now – I reckon Oracle of Seasons is better than Link’s Awakening. In fact, I’d easily class it in my top 5 Zelda games, it’s that good. It’s just packed with so many great ideas, such as a boxing kangaroo called Ricky that you can ride on to leap over holes and punch out enemies. (In fact, that bit was so fun, it’s a real shame that Link stuck to riding boring old horses in the later entries – bring back Ricky, I say.) The collectible items are also inspired, particularly the magnetic gloves, which allow you to attract or repel certain enemies and pull yourself across gaps by latching onto a metal pole.

Hey Ricky, you’re so fine, you’re so fine you blow my mind, hey Ricky!

But it’s the brilliant dungeons that really make the game. The below instalment of Boss Keys does a much better job than I could of explaining what makes these dungeons so good. They’re a joy to play through – challenging but never frustrating, with a real sense of achievement when you make it through alive. Wonderful stuff.

I’ve already started on the next game, Oracle of Ages, and judging by how much I enjoyed Oracle of Seasons, The Year of Zelda is going to be a very fun year indeed.


This article is part of The Year of Zelda, an attempt to play through all of the Zelda games I’ve yet to finish.

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The Chibi-Robo amiibo is ADORABLE

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Just look at the wee little fella! He’s brightened up my desk with his cheeky little face – surely Chibi-Robo easily takes the prize as the cutest amiibo so far.

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I bought the cheeky scamp as part of the above package with the game Chibi-Robo Zip Lash – I spotted the bundle for the absolutely bargainous price of £16 online, and I couldn’t resist adding it to my collection.

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I’ve never played the original Chibi-Robo game, but I hope to some day – I listed it as one of the ten GameCube games I’d most like to see on the Nintendo Switch Virtual Console. Chibi-Robo Zip Lash met with fairly mediocre reviews when it came out, but I’m still keen to give it a go. To be honest though, I bought the bundle more for the amiibo than the game.

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As with previous amiibo, the attention to detail is fantastic. Chibi’s cable is made from a kind of stiff rubber that’s different from the plug atop his head, and I love the little grass patch he’s sitting on. Bravo, Nintendo, bravo.

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