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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: Telltale’s The Walking Dead: A New Frontier

81ePIm1wiOLDisclaimer: zero spoilers ahead. If you’ve played and enjoyed the previous two seasons of Telltale’s The Walking Dead, then you’ll be happy to hear that A New Frontier hasn’t altered the successful formula at all. If you haven’t, then you’re also in luck, as this makes a great new jumping on point, with the focus being on a new set of characters and almost no references at all to the previous stories. Clementine from seasons 1 and 2 returns, but doesn’t really talk about the past at all. The downside of this being that this has rendered all your choices from the previous games almost completely irrelevant (though I would still highly recommend playing them both anyway).

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Zahhhhhhhmbies!

If you’re unfamiliar with the modern Telltale formula, these things are really more interactive movies than games, offering very little in the way of direct interaction, but making up for it with impressively high quality writing and pacing. Not everyone likes this lack of control in a game, but if a highly compelling story is enough for you, Telltale games sure have that part down to a science.

As is often the case in The Walking Dead, while the zombies are certainly still rolling around out there and causing trouble, the real threat always ends up being your fellow human beings and their nutty, irrational behavior. You’ll have to prompt new main character Javier “Javi” Garcia through a tangled web of zombies, raiders, post-apocalyptic politics, and awkward familial conflicts, by means of the standard Telltale timed choices and quick time events.

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Press square to win combat.

A New Frontier closely follows the sombre tone of its predecessors, bombarding you with tense choices and action scenes, and punching you right in the feels on a pretty regular basis. Unsurprisingly, this being a zombie apocalypse and all, many things go badly wrong and you’ll be subjected to a lot of highly emotional, and usually incredibly depressing, moments that you would have to be an absolute sociopath to not be affected by.

The only cons here are some performance issues (which are also unfortunately typical for Telltale games). There can be some weird visual glitches, and the game is absolutely going to crash on you, probably multiple times. You would think that with this being their dozenth or so game using this same engine and format, that they’d get around to doing something about these same old technical issues, but I guess not this time. Oh well. Considering how fun these games are and that they’re half (or less) of full price, I suppose I can let that slide again.

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Review: Nightgate

6808304_largerI don’t play very many mobile games (nothing against them, I just have so many other platforms I’ve already got too many games for), but every once in a while an impressive one suddenly leaps out of the shadows and bites me. Nightgate is one such unexpected nibbler. I had never heard of the game, but there it was as the ‘Free App Of The Week’, a feature on my phone that I habitually check, despite the fact that there had never been a single worthwhile looking game offered on it before. I almost passed this one over too, dismissing it as something that looked like some businessman’s PowerPoint presentation gone horribly wrong.

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Sales are down this quarter. Time to shift some paradigms.

At the last moment this cryptic description caught my eye though: ‘In the year 2398, a network of intelligent computers known as Nightgate, is the last remaining life form on Earth.’ Uh oh, is this a cyberpunk game? Well, now I have to try it!

And so I jacked into the Nightgate, where I found myself in the form of a little touch-controlled dot, navigating through a bizarre environment that seemed to be part Tron, part old-timey vector arcade game.

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Screenshots really don’t do it justice. It’s much more vibrant and alive when in motion.

As it turns out, Nightgate is fascinating hybrid of platforming and puzzling, where you must touch and/or connect all the nodes which can be arranged in a complex manner that requires a little thinking, or simply guarded by nefarious looking security programs that will test your dodge reflex.

The soundtrack is also a very fitting and relaxing bit of ambient retrowave that helps sell the idea that you’re floating through what people in the seventies/eighties probably thought cyberspace would look like.

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HACK THE PLANET!

By the end of the 50 bite-sized levels, the game had left such a good impression on me that I immediately went and bought a few more mobile games by the same people (and I’m pretty sure I’ll be picking up that soundtrack too).

So if you’re ever in the market for some relaxing and beautifully designed micro-bursts of cyber-adventuring, log into the NIGHTGATE!

 

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Review: Farpoint and the PlayStation VR Aim Controller

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Farpoint is finally here! After being teased as a possible Playstation VR release title last year, Farpoint and the much coveted Aim Controller were delayed for more fine tuning. Luckily, all that extra polish seems to have paid off, as this is one hell of an experience.

Farpoint quickly strands you on a mysterious alien world and slowly reveals its story through holographic logs that you find while searching for your fellow crew members. While the story is decent enough, it’s not anything particularly original or compelling, but that’s ok because it’s really all just an excuse for you to annihilate hordes of enemies.

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Oooooo, spooky caves!

The game starts you out nice and easy with some smaller bug enemies to practice on, but it’s not long before things get serious and you find yourself faced with increasingly large and aggressive groups of foes. You’ll blast your way through various Starship Troopers-style bugs, killer robots, and angry aliens, and they aren’t going to make it easy on you either. They’ll ambush you, flank you, and call their buddies to help if you’re not quick and accurate enough.

Lucky for you, the combat mechanics and the Aim are both very well designed. Movement is simple and effective with the little thumbsticks on each handle. Aiming is precise and satisfying, whether you’re shooting from the hip by eye or using the nice holographic sights that most guns offer (which is a pretty cool little visual effect in 3D too).

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Oh good, I’ll be safe here out in the ligh—OH NOOOOOOOOOO!

Hopefully the Aim will work as well in future games as it does here. It’s really a nice immersive feature, with comfortable grips/controls and impressively varying rumble effects that really make you feel like you’re carrying and firing the weapons you appear to be holding. It really goes to show that full-on first person shooters are possible on PSVR too, as opposed to the basic arcade style wave survival shooters that seem to comprise the majority of VR games so far.

Farpoint‘s main campaign is relatively short, clocking in at roughly 5-6 hours, but there are also a selection of challenge levels that open up afterwards, and some co-op levels to be played if you happen to be lucky enough to know someone else that has a PSVR and Farpoint (Which I am not…yet!). The game itself sells for less than full price though, so it’s still a pretty good deal of content for your money.

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Plasma rifle, now with built in energy shields!

Now for a few complaints though. While motion sickness is a subject of much debate in the world of VR, with different games having completely different results on different people, Farpoint was a bit disorienting for me when played standing up as the game recommends. I had to make some adjustments to the game settings, relocate my camera, and move my seat forward a bit so that I could play sitting down. Luckily it’s still completely playable this way, but it was a slight hassle.

Also, while Farpoint itself is still freely available everywhere, the Aim Controller, in both solo package and the Farpoint bundle, apparently sold out almost immediately everywhere. Not expecting this, I didn’t pick the game up on release day, and so ended up having to pay a bit extra for the bundle on eBay, the only place I could find it for sale. As of right now the controller and the bundle are already selling for about twice their original price. I’d like to think that this is just temporary and that this isn’t a case of Sony pulling a Nintendo, but one never knows. You’ll have to decide for yourself if you want to rush to buy one now before it gets worse or try to wait it out (If it helps though, neither Aim or regular Move controllers are required to play Farpoint).

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This gun don’t come cheap, baby!

In the end though, Farpoint still proves to be one of the best titles I’ve played in VR so far and hopefully it will serve as an example for others to take the risk on producing high quality VR shooters. The Aim is also a very fun and capable peripheral that’s definitely a worthwhile investment if you’re into this kind of thing.

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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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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://virtuanaut.net/.


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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