Tag Archives: Video Games

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: Zone of the Enders HD

Zone of the Enders is embarrassingly short, repetitive, packed with piss-poor weapons and has a plot that makes no sense. Yet somehow I found myself quite enjoying it.

I think I’m right in saying that it was one of the launch titles for the PlayStation 2, and at the time reviewers were wowed by its next-generation graphics. Even in the HD edition it looks a bit dated nowadays, particularly the cut scenes, with their weird approximations of human beings – imagine the odd-looking humans in the original Toy Story after they’ve survived a terrible plastic-surgery mishap. But the robot-on-robot action moves at a terrific pace, and I can imagine many PS2 owners wheeled out this game to show off the prowess of their new machine.

“Oh my god, your face! I’m so, so sorry.”

That said, I do remember seeing preowned displays practically knee-deep in copies of this game not long after its release – probably because you could finish the whole thing in a day. I saw off the story in about 7 hours, but you could easily do it a lot quicker, and there’s not much reason to return. It’s something that would have annoyed me 20 years ago, but nowadays with my boring, responsible adult life, a lovely short game that I can finish in a couple of nights is a real blessing.

The actual gameplay involves boosting about in your ‘orbital frame’ (i.e. massive robot) and essentially whacking the square button as fast as you can when you encounter any other massive robots. There are about ten or so secondary weapons you can collect over the course of the game, yet all but three – which you get right near the end – are utterly useless. I mean REALLY useless. I tried using them occasionally as an alternative to just going up to enemies and whacking them in the head with my big fancy sword, but I may as well have just been breathing heavily on them for all the damage they cause. It’s a shame, because just flailing your sword around all of the time gets old pretty quickly, and it doesn’t help that there are only three (yes, three) types of enemy – all of which require pretty much the same tactics. That is – you guessed it – smashing them about the body and face with cold steel (or whatever your future sword is made of).

Mash square button to flail sword. Repeat.

And yet. AND YET. I still found it strangely enjoyable. Perhaps it’s just the catharsis of beating things up while piloting a big robot. Perhaps its just the frenetic pace of the battles. Or maybe its because I just really love how sparks fly from your pointy metal feet when you boost along the floor. (I never got tired of that – sometimes it’s the little things that keep you going.)

I even started enjoying the utterly bizarre plot. Some bad enemy robots attack a space station around Jupiter for some reason, and a kid who looks about nine ends up piloting an advanced robot for some reason, then some crazy woman in a kick-ass robot starts murdering everyone FOR SOME REASON. Then it ends with a climactic battle that I won’t spoil for you here, except to say that IT MAKES NO SENSE.

The boss battles add some much-needed variety.

Still, the game gets noticeably better as it goes on. The first dozen or so levels are pretty much identical – go to an area, kill all of the robots there, repeat – but the final string of bosses are great fun to fight, and just before the end it mixes up the gameplay a little by charging you with finding bombs while fighting off bad guys. If the ideas from those last few levels were expanded across the game as a whole, it would have been much better. As it is, it’s a pretty weak and repetitive game that’s worth playing through to get a glimpse of the PS2’s past, but otherwise hardly a classic.

It’s basically FINE.

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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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From The Armchair: Stealth, How I Hate Thee

What ho, chums!

I’ve been thinking of giving my Xbox 360 the old heave ho for a while now. But before I let the old girl go, I wanted to sample some of the handful of games I’ve procured for it that I’ve yet to cast my critical eye over. I blew the dust out of the old dear’s vents and fired up the white 12GB beast. A quick look at my profile revealed it’s been a whole year since I last switched her on – how time flies.

Of all the unloved Xbox 360 games on The Mantelpiece, Metro 2033 was the one that most intrigued me, so that was the one I reached for. Based on a Russian novel, the game tells the tale of a post-apocalyptic Moscow, where the survivors of the disaster have formed a new society in the city’s metro system, safe from the radiation and mutant horrors above. But mutant attacks are on the increase, and new, mysterious entities known as ‘Dark Ones’ have appeared on the scene.

It’s an intriguing set-up, and it’s wonderful to see a post-apocalyptic game that – for once – isn’t set in America. In the sense that it features mutants and is set in an underground ‘bunker’ of sorts, Metro 2033 bears close similarity to Fallout 3. But the Russian setting really makes it feel different, and this is a much more linear adventure – a first-person shooter full of corridors rather than a full-blown RPG.

The characterization and atmosphere are simply excellent. Each station is dripping in detail, packed full of eye-catching posters and NPCs going about their daily business of survival. I spent a good while just listening in on their conversations and taking in the lore of this subterranean world. Individual societies have sprung up at each station, and traders trek back and forth between them. Some have been taken over by communist or fascist ideology, and have started wars with their neighbours. It’s a fascinating world to take a glimpse into.

The gameplay, too, is clever. Bullets are scarce, and the weapons you find are often cobbled together from spare parts. Cleverly, the currency of the metro is military-grade bullets that have survived from before the war – which are really too valuable to fire. Instead, you mostly have to rely on weak ammunition that’s been fabricated in makeshift factories across the underground. I love the fact that there’s no HUD to speak of, too – things like objectives can be found on a clipboard that you hold in front of you, using a lighter to illuminate it.

So, a great game then. Or perhaps not.

It all fell down at the point when my companion Bourbon was incarcerated by bandits. I started the level in the air vents, as a guard walked by whistling on a set patrol pattern. “Shit,” I thought, “It’s a bloody stealth level.”

And it was all going so well, too.

I hate stealth games. I simply don’t have the patience for them, which is odd because I’m usually a very patient person when it comes to pretty much everything else. Perhaps it’s because I play games for escapism, for the feeling of exploring exiting new worlds, discovering fascinating stories or embodying an all-powerful avatar. Not skulking about in the dark and hiding in drains.

I’ve always felt like this. I remember playing Metal Gear Solid for the first time (on the Dreamcast, interestingly enough, thanks to Bleemcast), and just wondering what the fuss was all about. I found the game thoroughly irritating with its endless monologues and boring sneaking, and gave up on it after no more than a couple of hours.

I found Deus Ex: Human Revolution similarly frustrating. Thankfully though, that game at least let you beef up your weapons to the point where by the end I pretty much ignored stealth tactics in favour of going in guns blazing. It was a similar story with Dishonored – the game gave you the option to focus on sneaking or all-out warfare, and I unfailingly chose the latter. Sure, I might start off being a bit stealthy, but by the end of a level I’d always be relying on brute force to finish off my objective.

Sadly, the brute force method is highly unreliable in Metro 2033. After about 12 attempts, I finally managed to get to Bourbon by mowing down all the guards in the way, but it was very tricky. Artyom, your character, can’t take many hits before buying the farm, so it took a long time to carefully work my way through and eliminate all the guards without dying myself.

Still, I finally did it, and the next level was a treat. One of the things I really like about this game is that it’s not just mutants you face – there’s all sorts of really weird paranormal shenanigans going on too, and no-one really knows what’s causing it. I lapped up all the bizarre phenomena, and when that ended, I found myself on the front lines of a war between Nazis and Communists.

And then there was another f***ing stealth level.

This time, the ‘non-stealth’ route was practically impossible. Faced against a legion of armoured Nazi guards with shotguns, I died continually. Eventually, enough was enough. I turned off the Xbox and vowed never to play Metro 2033 again.

It’s a real shame, because it’s a beautiful game (if you can call a post-apocalyptic subway beautiful), and it does a superb job of conjuring atmosphere. But unlike Dishonored (and to a lesser extent Deus Ex), stealth is pretty much required, rather than an option.

F***ing stealth.

I think I’ll just read the book instead.

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Celica arrived!

Well, my Celica amiibo actually arrived about a week ago, but what with all the hoo-ha about E3, I’ve not thought to mention it until now. Take a look, she’s a beaut:


In fact, I think this is the best looking Fire Emblem amiibo yet. Even better, she doesn’t have creepy eyes.


I’m aiming to collect all of the Fire Emblem amiibos, but tracking down Corrin has proved tricky – pre-orders are already sold out everywhere. Hopefully come July I’ll manage to pick one up…

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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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The five best games of E3 2017

E3 is finally over, after a seemingly endless stream of barely watchable conferences, Earth-shattering game announcements, utterly desirable plastic figurines, tepidly received hardware, surprisingly sweary trailers, zombies, androids, gods and superheroes, visions of the post-apocalypse (and zombies), more visions of the post-apocalypse (and Nazis), and visions of Mario *being* a dinosaur (no Nazis or zombies).

But did we get any of the things we wished for? The Manor folk are on hand to run through their top five games from this year’s E3 – Professor GreilMercs already listed his highlights, but here are the picks from the Baron and Lucius.


Baron Richenbaum Fotchenstein

#5 Marvel vs.Capcom Infinite

This game just hits me right in the Marvels and cranks the classic video game character nostalgia up to 11 with what looks to be a super fun and ridiculous single player campaign. This is the most excited I’ve been about a fighting game in ages.

#4 Doom VR

In theory this could be the best of all, because I loved the new Doom so much and was already thinking about playing it again and wishing it was VR capable, and here we are. I’m hoping that the teleport movement in the trailer isn’t the only option though, and slightly worried that the transition from non-VR to VR controls might be a little tricky for a game with so much fast movement and jumping involved.

#3 Wolfenstein II: The New Colossus

Looks to be more of the same of the last one, but that was a ton of fun so I’m quite alright with that.

#2 The Evil Within 2

A sequel to the greatest horror game of this generation besides Resident Evil 7? Of course I’m interested in that!

#1 Metro Exodus

If this can really live up to its promise of an open world set in the beautifully decrepit Metro universe, and the high production values of the previous games tend to make me believe that it can, then this could end up being the game of the year for me. Sci-fi, horror, first person shooting, and a huge world full of content? What more can a man ask for?!


Lucius P. Merriweather

#5 Sushi Striker: The Way of Sushido

This new IP was announced quite late on in E3, but it quickly became one of the games I’m most looking forward to. It’s an action puzzle game from the makers of NES Remix, and it looks wonderfully absurd – you have to collect sushi from the conveyor belt in front of you and fling the dishes at your opponent. But the best thing has to be the music – check out the trailer to see what I mean.

#4 Wolfenstein II: The New Colossus

Wolfenstein: The New Order was a wonderful surprise after a string of lacklustre Wolfenstein titles – the story was compelling and the gameplay was a refreshing return to old-school health packs. The sequel – now set in a  Nazi-run America – looks just as good. Can’t wait.

#3 Mario + Rabbids: Kingdom Battle

Well this one was a bit of a surprise. Thanks to leaks, we knew there was a Mario/Rabbids crossover game on the way, and most people groaned at the news, expecting some sort of dull mini-game compilation like the previous Rabbids games. But instead we got XCOM and Mario with a gun – I don’t think anyone saw that coming. What’s more, it actually looks really, really good.

#2 Super Mario Odyssey

We all knew that Odyssey would be good – there’s nary a dud game in the Mario back catalogue – but from the footage revealed at E3, it looks like it’s shaping up to be something extra special. The ‘possession’ mechanic is a wonderful idea, and the sheer variety of ideas on display is breathtaking. I mean, you can possess a dinosaur. A DINOSAUR. Roll on October.

#1 Monster Hunter World

This game came as something of a surprise, as it’s heading to PS4 and Xbox One rather than Nintendo’s machines. What’s more, it looks utterly stunning – after sampling Monster Hunter 3 Ultimate in HD on the Wii U, I’m looking forward to another HD monster hunt with even shinier graphics. It seems Capcom have given the mechanics a long-overdue shake-up as well, so this looks like almost a new start for the series. Still, I’m keeping my fingers crossed that it will make its way to the Switch as well…

Special mention – It didn’t quite squeak into my top five, but I want to give special mention to Griftlands, a cartoon-style RPG from the makers of Don’t Starve where the emphasis is on charming and swindling your way through the game. Looks very promising…


And that’s it! Thanks for reading our coverage of E3 2017 – if you missed anything, you can find all of the posts archived here. See you back here next year! We’ll leave you with this wonderfully infectious tune ‘I’ll Be Your 1-Up Girl’ from Super Mario Odyssey…

(Apparently it’s sung by no less than Pauline, who’s now the mayor of New Donk City…)


UPDATE FROM LUCIUS – D’oh! I just realised I completely forgot to mention the new Metroid games, which were specifically on my wish list! Seeing as we have no footage of Metroid Prime 4 whatsover, it’s hard to put it in my top five, but I reckon Metroid: Samus Returns should go in at number 2, nudging out Sushi Striker at number 5 (sorry Sushi Striker). I played Metroid II recently, but it was a struggle to get used to the old-school gameplay (there’s not even a map for chrissakes), so I can’t wait to play the remake. Samus Returns seems to add some nifty innovations, too: check out the fancy counter move in the gameplay trailer below. Day one purchase, I reckon – and it’s been far too long since we had a new 2D Metroid.

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