Review: Monster Bash

bandicam-2017-06-29-23-56-48-914.jpgMonster Bash was one of those early 90’s games by Apogee, former king of weird PC platformers and shoot-em-ups. I think this was about the last game like this that they did before they became 3D Realms and started doing nothing but first person shooters (not that there’s anything wrong with that!). Monster Bash tells the thrilling story of Johnny Dash, whose dog has been stolen by the evil Count Chuck, a powerful, vampiric leader of the undead who I guess has nothing better to do but kidnap all the local cats and dogs for…reasons.

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Who exactly put these signs here?

You’ll have to slingshot your way through a slew of creepy locations, none of which you can escape from without finding and rescuing every pet first. This is all looks and sounds rather simple, but don’t let Johnny‘s silly pajamas fool you, this game actually gets pretty difficult pretty quickly. There are a lot of strange and deadly enemies trying to stop your progress, but that’s not really the biggest problem for Johnny. No, the greatest challenge is making your way through the maze-like levels without killing yourself on the many, many spikes, water pits, and various other traps, all of which deal out pretty heavy amounts of damage.

There are occasional health refills and extra lives to be found if you take the time to find them in the many well-hidden secret areas scattered throughout each stage, but you’ll need to be careful here as well. Health refills give you your entire life bar back, but their rarity means that you have to be careful to not touch them if you don’t need them yet, or you might end up in trouble later down the line.

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Just a quick trip to hell to save a few cats and dogs.

Oddly enough, there’s no way to see how many lives you have left either. You just have to assume that you’re always on your last one and try to get through each level without losing any lives that you haven’t regained before the exit. In fact, you really should probably just play this on Easy and/or use the +5 lives cheat (press Z+F10!), or you’re going to be replaying levels a lot later on, to the point that you may become too frustrated to continue.

Also to be found in the many secret areas are many secret skulls and candy pick-ups. These are all entirely optional and only serve to add to your score (which is also strangely absent from the UI). Don’t be surprised if you find yourself hunting these things down anyway though. Finding all the cleverly hidden secrets in this can be pretty fun and satisfying, despite the lack of any real rewards.

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I don’t even know what this place is. Some kind of evil lumber mill?

Also worth mentioning are the interesting backgrounds and monster designs/animations (disclaimer: the screenshots here appear a little smoother than the game actually is due to me using the high quality filter in DOSBox, which does some automatic edge smoothing). The sound and music are also very nice for their time, with fittingly satisfying monster and monster death noises and some really catchy midi tracks.

Overall, it’s not exactly an essential title that everyone should immediately rush out and play, but it’s a nice little classic DOS platformer that is quite effective at scratching that particular nostalgic itch, should you ever find such a need arising.

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“Now I’m in the stew. Oh poo.”

 

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Corrin amiibo times two

Hooray! Oh happy day! Two more amiibo have plopped through my door!


This time it’s some double Corrin action – the Fire Emblem Fates protagonist in both male and female forms. Which one do you like best?


I think I prefer Lady Corrin. That pose just shrieks carefree cool. It’s like she’s doing an interpretive dance with a flaming sword.

Also Man Corrin’s hair is weird. Just look at it.


It sort of ends in reverse Triceratops horns at the back. Still, brave look.

Anyway, the important thing is that my set of Fire Emblem amiibos is complete – at least until Chrom and Tiki are released in the autumn, anyway. Check them out.


Obviously capes are very in right now. Although clearly Alm didn’t get the memo.

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You like Castlevania, don’t you? Part III

Super_Castlevania_IV_North_American_SNES_box_artSuper Castlevania IV finally brought Castlevania to the 16-bit world and did quite a fine job of it. Konami really went all out with this one, taking advantage of every bit of the Super Nintendo’s new technology. The backgrounds are highly detailed, animated, and often multi-layered. The vaunted parallax scrolling is also applied to the level in some interesting ways, making for some great background effects and that one very cool, but very short, level where the rooms start rotating.

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Manual whip control. The greatest new feature that you’ll never use.

Once again there’s a killer soundtrack too. I probably say that about just about every Castlevania game, but man, they just have some really good soundtracks, and this one is one of my favorites out of all of them.

Beware though, this game gets ferociously difficult in the later levels, with some very nasty platforming segments, and a final level that throws four super tough bosses in a row at you. At least they give you a password system though, so you don’t have to do it all in one sitting.


21305_frontCastlevania Bloodlines is an unusual, but enjoyable entry in the Castlevania series. This time you’re in the early 1900’s (over 100 years after the previous games…and all of the sequels, which went right back to the 1800’s), facing off against…Dracula’s niece? I didn’t know Dracula even had a brother. He isn’t mentioned at all here, but I’m just going to assume that his name is Giuseppe the Impaler.

Anyway, it’s a decent game, with some nice visual design and music like usual, but I can’t help but get that feeling that this was another outsourced title. There are so many weird little changes and so few recognizable enemies that it feels slightly out of place.

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LOOK WHAT YOU DID TO THE CARPET! BAD DOG!

It feels like an odd step backwards too, after Super Castlevania IV. While it’s still a perfectly enjoyable and well made game, it can’t help but feel a little clunky and clumsy compared to all the fancy enhancements in the previous game. You can also choose to play as some random new guy with a spear, but I don’t know why you would really want to do that in a Castlevania game.


250px-Dracula_x_(j)_frontThe next game in the series was Akumajō Dracula X: Chi no Rondo, a.k.a. CastlevaniaRondo In Blood. This one only came out for the PC Engine, a.k.a. the Turbografx CD, and only in Japan. An English port was released overseas, Castlevania: Dracula X, but our filthy Eastern consoles hadn’t quite reached that level of CD-ROM gaming yet, and so we ended up with a pretty dumbed down version of the game.

Many years later we would see The Dracula X Chronicles on PSP, which was much more similar to the original version, but was still very different, having been completely remade using 3D graphics. I had always heard that the original was the ultimate version, but never had a chance to play it until the modern wonders of the internet once again graced us with a translated copy.

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Because you won’t be able to understand the complex plot otherwise.

Now I finally understand. You can really see the resemblance to Symphony of the Night here (which was a direct sequel to this game, not Bloodlines, as the incorrect translation in the beginning of Symphony claims). The visual style and CD music are both amazingly similar to Symphony, though slightly less polished. The gameplay is a lot more complicated than the linear SNES version, with multiple secret paths to be found in each level, that lead to alternate levels and bosses, and a few secret maidens to rescue. There are also some anime-style animated cutscenes with full voiceovers, though these are a bit goofy.

I must say, I really do much prefer this version to either the port or the remake. It’s no Symphony of the Night, but it was a much more exciting next step for the franchise than the Super Nintendo port had led us to believe back in the day. It’s definitely a version that’s worth playing if you can get your hands on it one way or another. Turns out that the full Rondo in Blood is actually unlockable on the PSP game, so I guess I’ve actually had it right here and ready to play since uh…*looks it up*…2007?!? Oops!


Thus ends another episode of You like Castlevania, don’t you? Tune in next time for Symphony of the Night with a twist, trying to force myself to play and enjoy Castlevania 64, and more!

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Review: Slayaway Camp

IMG_1980Another mobile game? Has the world gone topsy-turvy? Slayaway Camp suckered me in by promising me piles and piles of puzzles, all with the theme of being goofy eighties slasher movies, and I’m pleased to say that it did not lie.

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Just like that Game Boy game where you moved the boxes around! You know…the one with the boxes!

Underneath all the blood and guts lies a very classic slide-the-block-around puzzle, the likes of which we’ve seen many times before, though I can’t seem to actually think of the names of any that I’ve really played and enjoyed.  Things start off relatively simple, with you having to navigate your killer through little mazes in order to pick off all the victims and then slide into the exit, but things get surprisingly complex the deeper you get into the game.

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JUST CLOWNIN’ AROUND!

You’ll soon find yourself having to deal with fires, pits, police, cats, victim escape doors, teleporters, and many more tools, traps, and obstacles, which turn these little maps into really complicated procedures. Things can get pretty nasty in the later levels especially, but there’s a rewind button that lets you avoid having to redo whole levels from scratch, as well as a built in hint system to exploit if you need it. You’ll have to spend a little gold for a hint, or a bit more cash if you want to be shown a full solution, but don’t worry, it just uses regular old earned-in-game currency and not some kind of awful special dollars that you have to pay real money for. Or you can just blow all your gold on unlocking new killers and kill animations, all of which are entirely cosmetic and optional.

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Even space isn’t safe from your wrath!

All of this takes place across ten “videotapes”, the game’s version of chapters, each with a different theme and killer, ranging from a summer camp, a theme park, high school, and even outer space. Each tape has around 10-13 normal levels and 3-5 “deleted scenes” bonus challenge levels that open up after you’ve completed a tape, for a combined total of almost 200 levels. That’s a hell of a lot of puzzles for only $2. It’s not the most mind-blowing gaming experience, even by mobile standards, but it’s a solid bit of fun with a pretty huge amount of content for its humble price (and It’s also available on Android and PC too).

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From The Armchair: Accidental JRPG July

I only just found out about JRPG July, and it turns out I’m already participating in it – quite by accident.

The other week, after reading reviews of the just-released Valkyria Revolution, I decided to have a go on Valkyria Chronicles Remastered, the first game in the series. I got it for my birthday last year, but this is the first time I’ve played it. And whereas Valkyria Revolution has met with generally terrible reviews, Valkyria Chronicles is already shaping up to be one of my favourite games ever.

I was delighted to discover that it’s a tactical turn-based game, which happens to be my favourite genre – games like XCOM (review), Ghost Recon: Shadow Wars (review) and Fire Emblem are some of my most played. I was also delighted to find that Valkyria Chronicles stars Vyse and Aisha from Skies of Arcadia among its cast, which was a lovely throwback to that fantastic Dreamcast RPG. Seeing them again has made my yearning for a Skies sequel all the more keener.

I’ll post a full review of Valkyria Chronicles when I’m done – I’m over halfway through now, so I should be able to get it finished in time for the end of JRPG July. But it’s not the only JRPG I’ve been playing.

Valkyria Chronicles is astonishingly good.

I finally finished Fire Emblem Fates: Conquest the other day. To be honest, it was a bit of a slog after Birthright, thanks to its much greater difficulty – even playing on Casual, it got really tough towards the end. I’m glad I didn’t play it with permadeath on, like I did with Birthright, as I’d probably only have half a dozen characters left by the final level. I’m interested to play the third and final Fates game, Revelations, if only to fill in some of the plot holes, but I’ll leave it for a while – I’m a bit Fire Emblemed out right now.

I also started playing The Legend of Zelda: Skyward Sword. First impressions? Link is surely at his most beautiful in this game. What a handsome youth he is, in all his cel-shaded glory – the game seems to hit a perfect sweet spot between Toon Link and the more gritty Ocarina Link. But aesthetics aside, I’ve loved what I’ve played so far, particularly when the cook scolded me for breaking pots. Nice subversion of expectations there, Nintendo. I’m going to get straight back into it when Valkyria Chronicles is done and dusted.

So how about you lot? What have you been playing for JRPG July?

What a good-looking chap.

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15% off Most Agreeable T-shirts!

There’s a sale on! Use the code 15OFF717 and get 15% off Most Agreeable T-shirts until 23rd July!

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Fire Emblem Heroes: Five months on

Lucius and I have joined forces to take stock of Fire Emblem Heroes, Nintendo’s smartphone game that for both of us has become an unexpected obsession. Both of us are long-time Fire Emblem fans and have written about this game before (here and here), but our detailed look back starts with the earliest announcements and days of anticipation and goes up to the present. We also look to the future, with some thoughts about where things may go from here. So strap on your armor or grab your tome or healing staff, cue the Fire Emblem theme music, and join us for a closer look at the dangerously addictive Fire Emblem Heroes.

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Announcement reactions

Professor GreilMercs: Nintendo had announced Fire Emblem on mobile devices way back in spring of 2016, leaving fans to speculate for months over what form it would take. One obvious route would have been to just create a digital version of the trading card game (which, by the way, is called Fire Emblem Cipher and is a lot of fun), but fortunately developer Intelligent Systems had much more in store. The game was finally revealed via a Nintendo Direct devoted to the series early this year, and my initial reaction was of cautious optimism. While I was super psyched to see the return of my favorite characters from the series, the small size of the maps seemed limiting. I was also disappointed in the lack of support conversations, which in the main games is where two characters interact, and it’s a mechanic that serves to really bring the characters and the world of the games to life.

Lucius P. Merriweather: Yeah, I wasn’t too sure of it at that first announcement, either. The small maps seemed like a “dumbing down” of the main game, and I was worried the whole thing might just be some throwaway gimmick with a greedy gacha money-making system tagged onto it. The lack of support conversations also seemed like a big loss; in the last couple of games, the fighting almost took a back seat to the ongoing soap opera of the characters’ lives, and those conversations have really become a mainstay of the series.

However, I was pleasantly surprised when I finally got to play the game for myself…

Release and initial reactions

PGM: I enjoyed the game on its initial release, and quickly blitzed through the story mode. The character artwork and voice acting and the touchscreen interface are all great. I pulled two quite good 5* characters (the highest ranking) who saw me through a lot of my first months with the game, as I was hoarding orbs (the currency for pulling new characters) until my favorite characters were released (basically anyone from Sacred Stones and Path of Radiance/Radiant Dawn). In terms of character selection, it’s not surprising that the vast majority of the characters are drawn from the most popular games, namely the first game in the series, Shadow Dragon (remade as Mystery of the Emblem), and Awakening and Fates, the two most recent games (barring the just-released Shadows of Valentia). Incidentally, in terms of character selection and such, Nintendo is taking the same approach with the upcoming Fire Emblem Warriors by focusing on elements from those specific three games, which is somewhat disappointing for long-time fans of the series.

LPM: I was also a little disappointed at the relative lack of characters from earlier games, but it’s understandable given the sales figures for the later entries. Awakening sold upwards of 2 million copies, so the characters will be familiar to lots of people, whereas earlier entries like Sacred Stones sold well under half that amount. Still, I was well chuffed at bagging Sacred Stones stalwart Ephraim early on – and I’m holding out for an appearance from Ewan or Syrene. But in terms of fan service, they’ve done a good job of rolling out old favourites quite regularly, and there are still hundreds of characters they could release.

PGM: Regarding the gacha mechanics, they’ve actually ended up not bothering me too much, as the game gives you a steady stream of free orbs and you can stockpile them for an event featuring a character you really want. In this case I definitely don’t feel compelled to be a completist, and through conscientious hoarding and a fair amount of good luck I’ve able to get the characters I wanted most (in particular, those of my namesake, such as Ike and Soren). The game also does a good job of getting you started with building up your roster of characters by letting you battle and earn characters for free, via “Hero Battles”, a regular rotation of low-star regular characters where you can earn two of each of 12 characters for a total of 24, and “Grand Hero Battles”, which are timed events that feature unique characters, often villains from the main games.

LPM: I’m surprised at how generous they’ve been, to be honest. I was expecting constant paywalls, with progression linked to buying orbs and characters. But there are numerous ways to earn orbs, and I’ve amassed an army of more than 100 characters without having to spend a penny. I have quite a decent crew of five-star characters, too. That said, the limited time period for which special characters are available does mean the temptation is always there to spend a little cash. I picked up cute lil’ old Bunny Ears Lucina during the spring event, and I was sorely tempted to throw some money at the game just to complete the spring set before the event ended. I mean, who could resist Xander wielding a giant carrot?

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PGM: Haha. Yeah, the special event characters are definitely tempting, but I’ve been doing a pretty good job of not getting too distracted by them. Although that sort of went out the window with the current summer swimsuit event, haha. 😉

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PGM: As for the gameplay itself, it’s actually less dumbed down than I expected, as there’s a lot more emphasis on characters’ skills than in the main games and everything is quite well balanced in terms of characters’ stats, their weapons and movement abilities, and their assist, special, and passive skills. I wasn’t sure how my interest in the game would progress, although the developers did promise regular updates to include new characters and modes.

LPM: Yes, what really pleased me the most is that although the game is much simpler and quicker than the main games in the series, there’s still a lot of strategy – and at advanced levels there’s all the skill setting and stat watching you’d expect of a full-fat FE title.

New modes and features

PGM: During those first months my interest in the game continued pretty steadily, which was somewhat surprising. The almost daily release of new missions to tackle, the majority of which offer worthwhile rewards, is compelling and super addictive. The limited-time Grand Hero Battles include the game’s most challenging maps that generally require repeated attempts and have a puzzle-like element. They’ve continued to fine tune the Arena mode (which pits your team of 4 against another player’s, although theirs is controlled by the CPU) and roll out new story chapters, variations (such as maps that require you to survive for a certain number of turns or have tiles that boost your defense), and modes (such as the Voting Gauntlet, which has you choosing amongst eight specific characters and fighting on his/her team).

LPM: I love the Voting Gauntlet. I’m currently championing Elise in a war of the lady healers. Seeing the ridiculous number of points each team accrues is a reminder of just how many bloody people play this game, and it helps you to feel part of a larger community.

The Grand Hero Battles are fantastic, too. The harder ones are almost impossible to beat sometimes, and it can take days or even weeks for me to work out a strategy to beat them. High-class stuff.

PGM: One of the biggest changes was the introduction of Skill Inheritance, which was added only a month and a half after the game was released. Skill Inheritance allows you to sacrifice a hero in order to pass her/his abilities (e.g. weapon, assists, specials, or passive skills) onto another hero. At the time it seemed way too early to add this feature in, as it seemed like it would destroy the game’s balance and wipe out all the things that made the heroes unique as all characters would all converge to the same combination of skills. But in practice this hasn’t quite happened. The core gacha mechanic ensures that your roster of characters will be different from others’, and so your pool of skills to inherit from will be quite different. Skill Inheritance does a good job of both letting you customise a character that you really like to fit your play style, and letting you make good use of characters that you don’t really like or have multiple copies of.

The other big change was added only recently, which was a new event mode called Tempest Trials that ran for the past couple of weeks. This mode actually makes the game feel like a proper Fire Emblem game, in that you have to tackle a certain number of maps in a row (seven being the maximum). You’re also limited to a certain number of attempts (in the form of four-person teams you can use). The rewards were high, and the challenge was worthwhile. The mode forces you to focus on a range of characters rather than just using the same four over and over again. The only downside was that the mode required you to play it over and over again during the event period without any breaks in order to get the best rewards, which ended up being super repetitive and a real slog. Still, this mode adds great depth to the already engaging game, and all of these additions have done an amazing job of keeping me hooked on the game way past the point I had expected to be.

Enjoyment turning into obsession

LPM: I think the moment I realised FE Heroes was becoming an obsession was when I missed my bus because I was just too engrossed in the game. I growled in frustration as I looked up to see my bus sailing past – but I was also secretly relieved because it gave me more time to play Heroes while I waited for the next one.

My daily routine now includes opening the game just after 8am to see what missions and goodies are on offer. And every ‘screen break’ now features a quick session of FE Heroes – which does slightly negate the point of a screen break, I suppose.

PGM: My interest in the game has gone through several slight dips and peaks. I hoarded characters until I reached the limit you can have (200, although you can pay orbs to up that number), and then I got into merging characters (combining two of the same type of characters to raise their stats) and inheriting skills. Planning out characters to use and what skills to inherit is exactly the type of Fire Emblem geekery that I obsess over, and I’ve spent hours looking up characters’ stats. I have a huge file on my computer where I record the stats of the characters I have amongst other geeky info, and I’ve pretty much memorized the various tier lists for the game that I’ve been consulting daily religiously.

I’ve been amazed at the number of hours I’ve put into this game. The other day I somehow got sucked into playing the game for 6 hours. A couple of those hours were finishing up the special marathon Tempest Trials mode in the morning, a couple more hours on grinding characters for skills in the afternoon, and then a couple of hours at night trying (and failing) repeatedly to beat the “Infernal” mode of a Grand Hero Battle map. There were a couple of days last month where I was caught up on all the missions and I was, frankly, relieved that I didn’t have to play the game. Right now I’d probably have to play about an hour a day to keep up with the missions, which is a little higher than would be ideal, but is still doable.

LPM: I was worried the game might get too repetitive at first. Certainly, grinding characters through the Training Tower can get a little dull sometimes. But the sheer variety of missions and battle types they’ve added to the game has put all thoughts of repetition out of my mind. There’s an embarrassment of options here.

The future?

PGM: Developer Intelligent Systems has perfectly paced the game’s rollout of new features, and definitely kept me hooked even though I haven’t had to spend a dime. I find it hard to imagine how they can continue to keep adding new features and modes, but just as it is the game should be able to continue to keep my attention for a good while (although I’m still waiting for some of my other favorite characters to be added, whine, whine). Right now with the existing roster of characters each character has a fairly unique combination of movement type, weapon type, and spread of stats (although there are too many sword users, which is inevitable as nearly all the main characters from the main games are sword users). A lot of the newer characters have been given new unique skills that have still managed to keep things pretty balanced, but it’s hard to imagine how that can continue for another 100+ new characters.

LPM: It’s been fascinating to see how the game has evolved and has continued to keep evolving. At first, characters like Hector and Takumi seemed far too overpowered, but nowadays it’s a struggle to get far with them, as more and more options and heroes have been introduced. Keeping on top of the meta game is a full time job, and it’s only going to get more complex and involved as more characters get introduced.

PGM: Intelligent Systems is one of my favorite developers, and contrary to my initial expectations the game is actually so much fun and addictive that I’ve added it to my list of Favorite Games of All Time. I’m skeptical that the game can continue to keep my attention for another year, but I’m also looking forward to seeing what Intelligent Systems has up their sleeves.

LPM: Me too. Oh my god, summer swimsuit Tiki has some sort of melon hammer! Right, time to farm some orbs…

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