Tag Archives: Retro Gaming

You like Castlevania, don’t you? Part II

castlevaniagameboyWe return to the wild world of Castlevania with The Castlevania Adventure and its sequel Belmont’s Revenge, both for the Game BoyThe Castlevania Adventure is a fun little game for what it is, but I don’t know how much anyone that didn’t already have a nostalgic itch for it would enjoy it. Being a Game Boy game naturally means that it’s been significantly simplified compared to its predecessors. The levels are extremely basic and linear, and movement is oddly slow, not even including the odd occasional lag. Sub-weapons have been removed entirely and aside from Dracula and some minor generic enemies like bats, you won’t be seeing any familiar foes or locations here. The game feels like it may have been outsourced to some people who were simply told to make a game about a guy who whips monsters. Still, it does somehow manage to have a certain Castlevania charm to it, with some interesting new creatures and some pretty catchy music.

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Look at those high-tech graphics! Eh, I guess you’d have to have been there at the time…

Belmont’s Revenge is much like the first one, simplistic and arcade-y, though with enjoyable enough gameplay and music, despite being a vomit green portable game. This time they’ve added in a level select feature, though it really doesn’t matter one bit what order you do them in, so it’s a rather pointless addition. Neither of them are what I’d call essential titles, but they’re a decent enough short burst of fun for a Castlevania freak like me.


castlevania3Castlevania 3: Dracula’s Curse basically ignored everything from Simon’s Quest and returned to a style more closely resembling that of the original, but with a lot of improvements. The difficulty was slightly toned down to a level that was still pretty tough, but not in a painfully punishing way like those last few levels of the original. The game was also a good deal longer than the original, especially with a new system of branching paths that split off into sections with different levels and bosses, each of varying levels of difficulty. There were eighteen unique stages and bosses all together, making it the biggest and bossiest Castlevania so far.

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I told you to stay in your grave!

Each path also contains one of three new secondary characters that you can change to at any time once you’ve recruited them, though their actual usefulness is questionable. Grant and Alucard’s climbing and flying abilities can be used as shortcuts for a few platforming parts, but none of them are particularly helpful when it comes to combat. The soundtrack is one of the very best of the 8-bit era too.


akumajo_special-boku_dracula-kuncoverWhile not an official Castlevania game, Akumajō Special: Boku Dracula-kun, a.k.a. I’m Kid Dracula, was only released on the Famicom in Japan (though there would later be an English remake/sequel on Game Boy). I thought it would be interesting to try it out, as it seemed to be a child-like parody version of Castlevania, so I tracked down a rom that had been fan-translated into English. The first level seemed to support the theory of it being a Castlevania parody, with it being a blatant clone of classic Castlevania levels, along with cartoonish versions of famous Castlevania enemies and music, but after that the game quickly ditches the theme entirely and suddenly turns out to be a completely unrelated shooting platformer that has you hopping around the globe to a puzzling variety of locations. You will find yourself on a pyramid in the desert, or on a spaceship, or on the rooftops of New York, fighting UFOs, blue Spider-Man clones, and having a quiz battle with the Statue of Liberty because that’s the boss fight of that level for some reason.

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Galamoth (or Garamoth, depending on the translation)

It was certainly a…unique experience, but not a particularly memorable or enjoyable one. I wouldn’t play it again and I wouldn’t call it a Castlevania game at all (thanks a lot, WikiPedia). The only thing of debatable worth that I learned from all of this is that apparently that secret super-tough boss in Symphony of the Night is actually supposed to be the main bad guy of the same name from I’m Kid Dracula, though there doesn’t seem to really be any resemblance other than the name. Oh wellllllllll.


Thus ends another installment of You like Castlevania, don’t you? Tune in next time, when the Belmonts graduate to 16 bits of power!

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Review: Blood 2 – The Chosen

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For some reason I never got around to Blood 2 back in the day, or any day since. Perhaps its bad reputation had been subconsciously swaying my opinion about it? Who can say? Whatever the cause, I figured it was time to finally give it a shot and see if what they say about the game is true.

I literally had not taken a single step in Blood 2 before I ran into my first problem. Upon starting the game, it immediately and unceremoniously dropped me into a subway train and told me to track down Gideon. What? How did I get on this train? Who in the world is Gideon? What is going on?

I felt like I had missed something. Maybe I accidentally skipped an intro cutscene somewhere, so I quit and started again. Still nothing. I tried YouTube and sure enough, an intro scene existed (though it didn’t explain a whole lot more), it just wasn’t playing for me at all for some reason. Oh well, there couldn’t be that much story in a game like this anyway, could there? I continued on.

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I…don’t think that’s how blood works…

As it turned out, there was a good deal more story to this one than the original game, but unfortunately it was almost entirely as vague and incomprehensible as the beginning. Gideon is the new head evil guy, and you have to stop him because…he’s evil and stuff, and then one of his lieutenants, I couldn’t tell you which one since they never bother naming them, tries to shoot you with an experimental singularity gun, which instead of killing you causes a portal to open and this person jumps out. You apparently know this person and call them Gabriel, but she corrects you and says to call her Gabrielle, then immediately runs away. Do I know this person? Did they just change gender for some reason? What the hell is going on?? This is a story?

Characters just pop in and out like this on a semi-regular basis, with no explanation whatsoever of who they are or whose side they’re on or what their motivation is. Once, a new character was introduced by him suddenly teleporting into the scene next to me, where he just started talking to me like we were old friends, yet no name or explanation was ever given, we just shared some cryptic banter for a minute before he disappeared just as suddenly as he had appeared and things carried on like nothing had happened. The only thing these characters seem to have in common is that your character interacts with them as if they’re very familiar to them and as if the audience should be very familiar with them too, but I don’t understand how. Later I finally came to realize that these mystery characters were the other members of the group that you were with in the very first cutscene of the original Blood, one where they all died and were never seen or mentioned again afterwards. Oh. Great.

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“Oh boy, a boss fight!”…is not something you’re going to be saying while playing this.

Other aspects of the game followed in a similarly confusing and frustrating fashion. While the core gunplay was fun enough while it was working, it was often tarnished by bizarre bugs like leaping enemies jumping on your head, and I mean they would literally jump up and stand there on an invisible platform atop your head and just be walking around up there until you finished them off. There was also some really bizarre hit detection going on, with enemies who would sometimes take seven sniper rounds to the head to finish off, but sometimes if you just shoot them once in the leg they’d instantly die.

Then there’s the level design. Boy, I sure hope you like office buildings, warehouses, alleyways, and sewers, because that’s 90% of the game, just the most generic, uninteresting locations imaginable. I would expect this from G.I. Urban Action Force 5 or whatever generic military shooter of the nineties, but not from a sequel to a game that was entirely made up of horror movie references. In fact, there are almost no horror references to be seen here either, and instead of spitting out Evil Dead quotes, Caleb has now taken to making bizarre references (I hesitate to call them jokes) to 1950’s pop culture, such as Howdy Doody and Frank Sinatra.

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This is the head evil guy, Gideon. I don’t even watch wrestling, but I’m 99% sure that that’s just a picture of Ric Flair…

I just don’t know what they were thinking with this game. I had hoped that its bad reputation was exaggerated due to it being a little technologically outdated compared to other shooters of the era, but it seems that history was not wrong about Blood 2. Without all the clever level design and iconic horror references that made the original a classic, all that remains is an unrecognizable, generic mess that’s mediocre at best, if you’re feeling really generous. The developers have apparently long since admitted that this game was rushed out in an incomplete state in order to compete with Half-Life and Unreal and all the other much better shooters coming out in the late nineties, the logic of which is utterly baffling. Fortunately, Monolith survived as a developer and seems to have learned from this mistake, as they’re still around and still producing quality games today, but this misstep would prove to be the death of the Blood series, and a gruesome death indeed. R.I.P. Blood!

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Review: Blood

bloodcoverSpeaking of nineties shooters, how about Blood? Published by 3D Realms and developed by gaming legends Monolith Productions, Blood answers the question that no one asked; ‘What if Duke Nukem 3D was a comically violent horror game’?

Created with the Build Engine not long after Duke Nukem 3D, it’s impossible to not see the strong similarities between the two on the surface. From the weapon and items systems, to the structure of the levels, to the mini-map, it almost feels like a high-end mod. However, where Duke took his cues from sci-fi and action pop culture of the eighties and nineties, Blood instead found its inspiration in the horror movies of the same era.

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Excuse me sir, have you given any thought to donating blood?

Blood‘s story is pretty negligible. You’re Caleb, an evil undead guy who is betrayed by his even more evil undead master, and so you must wreak bloody vengeance upon him. That is literally the entire plot right there. The many levels between you and your master have little to no relation to each other and are mostly made up of a random selection of set-pieces ripped straight from popular horror movies. This is all Blood is, really, just a big crazy quilt of all the developers’ favorite horror movies. You’ll travel to sinister temples, grimy slaughterhouses, Camp Crystal Lake, zombie filled malls, and more, and find Easter eggs ranging from The Shining to A Nightmare on Elm Street.

Along Caleb’s journey you’ll battle quite the menagerie of foes, some of which will surely be quite familiar, such as the robed midgets that look suspiciously like the ones from the Phantasm series or aggressive severed hands that taunt you with ‘I’ll swallow your soul’! Caleb’s dialogue is also entirely and unapologetically made up of direct movie quotes, mostly consisting of lines by Ash Williams of Evil Dead fame.

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Don’t underestimate the power of that flare gun.

Naturally, in the process of this journey you will commit many a violent atrocity upon your fellow undead. Shooting, stabbing, igniting, and exploding your way through them in ways that would make Shang Tsung blush. Assuming you can survive that long, anyway. This is one tough game. Blood‘s baddies are incredibly aggressive, prone to ambushes, and dish out damage like it’s on clearance sale. Luckily the game offers manual saving, because you are going to die, a lot. Any given corner turned without care can easily end in a swift death. You’ll need to familiarize yourself with your enemies’ weaknesses too, as certain weapons are much more effective on some enemies than others.

Fair warning, there are some aspects of Blood‘s design that tarnish the experience a bit. The controls are terribly archaic, forcing you to go back to the ancient ways of putting your right hand on the arrow keys and your left hand on Ctrl, Alt, Space, and etc. There is a mouse look feature that can be enabled, but it’s too jerky and imprecise to be relied on. The lack of identification of locked doors on the mini-map and overabundance of key types (there are SIX of ’em!) can make some of the larger, more labyrinthine levels quite the exercises in patience too.

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Hot dogs, anyone?

That said, while it doesn’t quite live up to my seventeen year old self’s belief that it was the greatest game of all time, twenty years later it still holds up well enough to live up to its legend of being a classic game that can be enjoyed by fans of challenging, over-the-top nineties shooters and of old-timey horror movies.

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You like Castlevania, don’t you?

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Welcome to You like Castlevania, don’t you?, my sort-of-answer-to The Year of Zelda. I’ll be playing every game in the series that I can get my grubby little hands on for fun and profit (they pay me in VHS tapes full of 8 out of 10 Cats Does Countdown episodes).

Naturally, it all begins with the original Castlevania for NES where we first encountered Simon Belmont and his quest to severely whip the behinds of Dracula, Frankenstein’s monster, The Mummy, and more. In retrospect, Simon may have been ahead of his time and trying to spare us all from the Universal Monsters movie universe. It’s a decent game, but much like many first wave NES games, it’s noticeably more clumsy and rough than the sequels it would spawn, and it’s easily the hardest game in the whole series.

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[Insert obligatory Devo joke here]

Combat is clunky, enemies are vicious (especially the bosses), health is scarce, and there are soooo many insta-death pits for you to fall or be knocked into (you WILL learn to hate the infamous flying Medusa heads). On the bright side it has an amazingly iconic soundtrack and for those of us that were around at the time, it has that irresistible flavor of nostalgia that still makes it worth a rare replay.


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Simon’s Quest was an interesting next step, though the changes were a little jarring at the time. This was one of that wave of first generation NES sequels where they decided to try something massively different than the original, much like Zelda 2 and Super Mario Bros. 2 (sorta). It actually turned out pretty well though, despite some laughable translations and the poorly explained leveling system. The game just lets you run wild in the “open world” and you’re pretty much on your own figuring out which is the right way to go and exactly what the hell it is you’re even trying to do. It had been so long since I played this one that I actually had to make a little map to keep track of things. Little did we know that these light RPG aspects would return again someday to become the norm for the series.

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What a horrible night to have a curse.

The only real downsides of the game are the severe lack of bosses and the fact that a few times the clues you get regarding directions are completely wrong due to overseas translation issues. It still holds up pretty well overall though.


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Oh, you’ve never heard of the arcade game Haunted Castle? Well, there’s a good reason for that (aside from the fact that I’ve never seen this game in a single arcade in my entire life). This is possibly the most sadistic game I’ve ever played. It’s a game that’s blatantly designed to make you fail miserably and quickly. I’m surprised they even bothered putting all the levels in because there’s isn’t a chance in hell that anyone actually finished this game in the arcade. The words difficult and punishing take on a whole new meaning here, with enemies and traps constantly coming at you from every direction, doing massive amounts of damage, making you wonder why you even have that big health bar full of 18 little bits or so when all it takes is 2-3 hits to empty it entirely. You also have an extremely limited number of continues before it suddenly cuts you off, and you don’t even get to see how many you have left, you’re just done when you’re done. Even using save state spamming, it was a struggle to get through this game.

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This guy will take 60% of your health just by breathing on you.

The last level may very well be the worst level ever designed. It’s just a single bridge that starts crumbling behind you as soon as you step on it, and you just have to keep running forward while bats rush towards you at random times, from a terribly awkward angle that you can only really successfully counter with a moving jump attack. If you miss and more than a few of the bats hit you, you’ll die. If you slow down to try to aim more than a few times, you’ll fall and die instantly.  This goes on for around 2 minutes straight, which doesn’t sound so bad on paper, but it’s a terribly long time to be forced to repeat the same precise actions over and over again without fail, especially when you only get one chance at it. If you should somehow manage to make it across the longest bridge of all time, you’ve still got a multi-formed Dracula boss fight to get through at the end. Good luck with that. It was interesting to see once, but I can’t imagine that I would ever bother touching this one again.


That’s all for this installment of You like Castlevania, don’t you? Tune in next time for Game Boy shenanigans, the Japanese adventures of Kid Dracula, and more!

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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 Year of Zelda

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Like pretty much everyone else in the gaming world, I’m very excited for the release of The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild. After the slightly lacklustre reveal of the Nintendo Switch, I’ve decided to get the game on the Wii U and hold off on purchasing a Switch until there are a few more games. But before I buy it, I want to polish off the few Zelda games I’ve yet to complete.

I’ve played almost every Zelda game out there, but there are still a few that passed me by for one reason or another. I missed out on Minish Cap on the Game Boy Advance, although I recently purchased it for the Wii U. I played Phantom Hourglass on the Nintendo DS, but I never got around to buying its sequel, Spirit Tracks. I got Skyward Sword just after its release, but six years on, I’ve still yet to play it. I’m not sure why I keep putting it off – somehow it just feels like I need to save it for a special occasion.

Well, I guess now that special occasion has arrived. The release of Breath of the Wild is shaping up to be a landmark moment for the series, and I’ve resolved to play through every Zelda game I’ve missed before buying this latest entry. That might mean I miss playing it at release in March, but I can wait – it will only make playing it for the first time all the sweeter.

Changing the season in Oracle of Seasons is key to solving puzzles.

Changing the season in Oracle of Seasons is key to solving puzzles.

At the moment, I’m about two-thirds of the way through Oracle of Seasons, one of a pair of Zelda games for the Game Boy Color that were, uniquely for the series, co-developed with an outside developer, Capcom. I remember the two games, Oracle of Seasons and Oracle of Ages, got a lukewarm reception at the time, but I’m heartily enjoying my playthrough of Seasons. I’d even go so far as to sat that – heresy! – it’s better than Link’s Awakening. Don’t lynch me!

Anyway, here’s the list of Zelda games I’m planning to play through before finally getting my hands on Breath of the Wild, roughly in the order I intend to play them. I’m leaving out Four Swords, Four Swords Adventures and Tri Force Heroes, as really they’re spinoffs (and they don’t particularly appeal to me, anyway).

  • Oracle of Seasons (GBC)
  • Oracle of Ages (GBC)
  • Minish Cap (GBA)
  • The Legend of Zelda (NES)
  • The Adventure of Link (NES)
  • Spirit Tracks (DS)
  • Wind Waker HD (Wii U)
  • Skyward Sword (Wii)

I’m aware that the two NES titles might be a slog to play nowadays, and Adventure of Link is renowned as being the worst in the series, so I may very well just dip into these rather than playing them to completion. Similarly, I’ll probably only dip into Wind Waker HD, as I completed the original back in the GameCube days, but I’m intrigued to see how they’ve tarted it up for the HD generation.

I’m also intrigued to play Freshly-Picked Tingle’s Rosy Rupeeland on the DS, starring everyone’s favourite fairy-wannabee manchild. If I can get hold of it, I might add it to the list.

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Are there any Zelda games you’ve missed out on? I’d love to hear if you’re planning a similar Zelda marathon ahead of the launch of Breath of the Wild.

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Review: Fire Emblem: The Sacred Stones

fire-emblem-sacred-stones-cover-art-gbaNintendo’s Virtual Console policy continues to frustrate me. Certain titles are exclusive to the Wii U or 3DS, which makes sense up to a certain point – Wii games wouldn’t really work on a handheld, for example. But why make Game Boy Advance games exclusive to Wii U? Surely the only reason is to drive sales of the ailing console, yet these games would be much better suited to playing on the 3DS. Why can’t GBA games be sold on both consoles? Why not have the option to buy the games once and download them on both platforms, like Sony offers with the PS3/PS4 and Playstation Vita?

What’s especially irritating is that Fire Emblem: The Sacred Stones was previously made available on the 3DS as part of the 3DS Ambassadors programme for early adopters of the console. Yet five years down the line, these games have still yet to be made available to ‘regular’ punters. Come on Nintendo, open up the vaults to everyone, regardless of which console they own – there’s pure gold to be had in those game coffers.

And Fire Emblem: The Sacred Stones really is pure gold. I remember at the time of its release, it was criticised as essentially being a reskin of the previous title in the series, which was simply called Fire Emblem in the west. Even though the latter was the seventh game in the turn-based strategy RPG series, it was the first to be localised for western audiences, and it was an absolute cracker. I reminisced about it for 1o1 Video Games That Made My Life Slightly Better a few years ago, particularly about its unforgiving permadeath mechanic, which ended up leaving me with the thousand-yard-stare of a war general who’s seen to much. So many purple-haired youngsters sent to their deaths…

Good old Seth, what a powerhouse that man is.

Good old Seth, what a powerhouse that man is.

Actually, I never quite managed to see that game to its end – by the later levels, I’d lost so many characters that it was becoming impossible to get through the stages with my weakened band of war heroes. Sacred Stones on Wii U, on the other hand, benefits from the ‘Restore Point’ mechanic that’s added to all Virtual Console games – which essentially lets you save at any point. I’m not ashamed to admit that I abused this mechanic to the full, so by the end I still had a full crew of warriors (until the brutal final battle, that is).

I’m still a little conflicted about this: by carefully saving regularly and replaying sections if a character died, I was able to see the inter-character relationships develop across the game. But it also felt a little like cheating, and it meant I never quite experienced the highs and lows of seeing a favourite character just about scrape through to fight another day, or see a dutifully raised knight perish suddenly thanks to a silly mistake or unexpected ambush. Still, at least I finished the damn thing.

Ah, Dozla - so playful with that axe!

Ah, Dozla – so playful with that axe!

It’s clear that Intelligent Systems realised that people love seeing characters bloom and get to know each other, hence why this mechanic is hugely beefed up in the most recent games, Fire Emblem: Awakening and Fire Emblem: Fates. They also saw the good sense to add mid-level save points.

Sacred Stones isn’t quite as good as series pinnacle Awakening, but for my money the story is much better than its prequel, Fire Emblem. The pixellated graphics also have a wonderful charm to them – in many ways I prefer them to the more beefed up graphics of later entries in the series. Having said that, they look utterly shit on the big TV screen, as pixels become the size of fists and lose all their charm – I played the game using the gamepad screen instead, on which the graphics seemed much more at home.

Finishingo Sacred Stones has left me hankering for more Fire Emblem, although thankfully I still have the DS title Fire Emblem: Shadow Dragon waiting in the wings. Although again, it’s on the Wii U and not the 3DS, its natural home. Why, Nintendo, why?

Franz starts off as a bit of a weed, so it's satisfying to see him grow up into an armoured death dealer.

Franz starts off as a bit of a weed, so it’s satisfying to see him grow up into an armoured death dealer.

Hopefully all this Virtual Console nonsense will be sorted out the the Nintendo Switch, so finally we can have all of our Nintendo games in one place, as well as the option to play them at home or on the go. And while I think about it, I would love to see the big N localise the initial six games in the Fire Emblem series, which still haven’t made it to the west. Go on, Nintendo, you know you want to.

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