Review: Commander Keen: Episode 1 (~3 hours)

The six PC Commander Keen games don’t get enough credit. In the 90’s, talk about platformers was limited to Mario and Sonic. But the PC, as early as 1990, had a great platforming series of its own, Commander Keen. A collaboration between iD Software and Apogee, the first game has a lot going for it. But there’s room for improvement as well.

The story can be selected from the main menu before you start the game. It’s a big block of text that’s rather comical, about a boy named Billie who goes to Mars on a spaceship made from household items, like a vacuum cleaner and a car battery. The aliens on Mars, called the Vorticon, steal four parts of your ship, and you’re trying to get them back.

The first level presents you with red platforms and grey walls. There is a harmless enemy in front of you, and a lot of things to collect. Commander Keen was a collectathon before the word collectathon was coined. There’s a high score list, which is mostly determined by how seriously you take collecting things. It’s a lot of lollipops and imitation Pepsi cans. Less frequent are slices of pizza, teddy bears, and books written in the Vorticon language. Every collectable gives you points. In addition to putting your name on the high score list, points can give you an extra life.

Unlike Mario, which is a two-button game, and Sonic, which is basically a one-button game, Keen is a three-button game. You have a jump, a pogo stick (which I think might be optional), and a raygun. Once you get a feel for the jumping, the game gets a lot easier. The pogo stick allows you to jump to higher platforms. Enemies can rush toward you, but the raygun takes care of most of them.

Unfortunately, the game has way too many grey walls and red platforms. This is my biggest complaint. It’s better than NES graphics but worse than Genesis. I’m not going to be too critical of graphics. This is the first game of six. The team at iD really got their act together in the latter half of the series. Also, The famous SoundBlaster card is put to good use here.

There are a number of secrets, including a hidden level, accessible from a warp point inside of another level. The levels are short. The game has lives but doesn’t have continues. I played with an SNES-style USB controller, which made the game more fun than using a keyboard.

I’m aware of Keen’s relevance. Mario was the most influential. Sonic was all about speed. Europe had their own home computer scene going in the 90’s, with their own platformers. But this is a start to a six- game platformer series from a reputable developer, iD Softwae. I had a lot of fun.



Joint Review: Metal Slug (45 minutes), Metal Slug 3 (1 and a 1/2 hours), and Metal Slug X (1 hour)

Let’s get down to brass tacks: the Metal Slug series, most of all, was designed to eat quarters and tokens in the arcade. It’s a side-scrolling shooter with enemies that come at you in waves. Those enemies enjoy firing weapons at you, and sooner or later, you will get hit. You can play one player or two player, from the first game onward. The three games are short, but if you have a home arcade, or perhaps have an arcade controller, these games aren’t a bad investment.

With the original Metal Slug no specific time period is given for the game, but it looks like World War II. You have a health bar, and early in the game, you find a tank which acts as a buffer for you and your health, as well as a much more powerful means of attacking enemies. Outside of a tank, the available weapons are a pistol, a heavy machine gun, a rocket launcher, and a shotgun. Between waves of enemies, you rescue hostages, who give you guns, and occasionally odd things like a chicken dinner.

You will die a lot. Unless you’ve got the game figured out the way a speed-runner would, this is a hard game. It’s hard to track every single bullet or projectile coming at you. You can jump around like an idiot, but chances are you will still get hit. It’s really depressing how many quarters and tokens it might take to beat the game. In the PC version, on the other hand, you have unlimited continues at your disposal.

There are six total levels – actually in all three games. A nice touch is that every hostage has a name (presumably on a dog tag), and completing a level shows you what his name is. Six levels isn’t so bad. It might take ten quarters or tokens to get to the end of Metal Slug in an arcade.

Moving on to Metal Slug 3, the first thing to notice is you aren’t fighting soldiers. You’re fighting hermit crabs, jellyfish, and eels, as the fight goes underwater. You move on to fighting zombies later, and eventually the enemies take a turn for the supernatural. Enemy variety adds to the game’s appeal, though enemies are still occasionally unfair.

You still have the pistol, heavy machine gun, rocket launcher and shotgun. But new to your arsenal are a laser gun and a flamethrower. The sixth level is rather long. When you feel like you’re close to the end, there’s something more to do. It becomes a shmup for a while (think Galaga or R-Type – space shooters where your ship at the bottom shoots enemies from the top), which adds to the fun factor. Ultimately, it’s a better game than the first, but lest we forget it’s an hour and a half long game.

Metal Slug X is the final part of the Steam package. Wouldn’t you know it, we are back to shooting soldiers and saving hostages, but the aliens from 3 make a return. Too many boss fights are from previous games: the giant tank, helicopters, the sub-machine gun guy, and a giant spaceship. The other bosses are new.

Seeing that this is a one-hour game, I trust these things aren’t spoilers. The biggest distinction for the X game is location. You start in an Arab city, move on to Aztec temples, start a level on top of a moving train, later arriving in an Asian city, and ending the game in the Arctic. In the end, you’re celebrating the death of a Hitler look-alike with some soldiers, further confirming that the first game was inspired by World War II.

The Metal Slug series feels like a technical showpiece, but the Neo Geo hardware it’s running on was six years old upon release of the first game. Still, Capcom’s competing CPS-2 board, which was relevant at the time, couldn’t handle nearly as much on-screen action. The player(s) and the enemies, firing bullets and projectiles and causing (sometimes massive) explosions, all on screen at once, is impressive to look at.

The people who ported the series to PC, DotEmu, did an excellent job, with customizable controls and screen resolutions. Still, it doesn’t let you have an insert coin button, a problem for home arcade builders. I’m sure a hacker could just extract the ROM file.

The Metal Slug games are classics… at least in SNK’s portfolio. Purchased at a discount, these three games weren’t exactly fair to arcade-goers, but on the PC it’s an interesting collection of history from a publishing house that’s long been underappreciated.


Review: Grand Theft Auto: Vice City (~45 hours)

Grand Theft Auto: Vice City is an important game. Rockstar North proved they weren’t just a one trick pony with 3D open-world games after Grand Theft Auto 3. Lest we forget, Rockstar basically invented the 3D open world genre with GTA3. Moving the game from a fictionalized New York to a fictionalized Miami was a bold move. It’s not as well known a city, but they improved on the old game in almost every way.

It’s a bigger world. You spend much of the game on one island, only to realize there’s an equally large island right next to it, just one bridge away. The story is better, often thought to be inspired by the movie Scarface. There is better voice acting. They’ve done away with the silent protagonist. Now you’re Tommy Vercetti, a henchman for a number of mobsters, only to become a mob boss one day yourself. There’s more licensed music. Set in the 80’s, it’s a lot of glam rock, and Phil Collins makes a guest appearance. You can ride a motorcycle and pilot a helicopter. The list just keeps going.

At the same time, the game is showing its age in some ways. The biggest shortcoming of Vice City is that, toward the latter half of the game, you are required to go on a ton of side missions. The main story starts to get really interesting, and then it just drops off, because you have to do so many missions that aren’t related to your main missions. By the time you get back to the main missions (of being a mob boss), it feels unrelated to all the odd jobs you are required to do first.

The technical rundown isn’t that different from GTA3. The engine is the same, although it looks like the draw distance has been improved. The PC port I played isn’t especially better or worse, but there are some neat mods. I found one that let me use an Xbox 360 controller, and the button prompts matched the controller buttons. Yes, you can play in high-def and widescreen, but it’s still an engine made for PS2, and this game has some blocky polygons of that era.

As a big fan of GTA4, I found it interesting to play Vice City for some perspective on how 4 came to be. There was still a sequel prior to 4, Grand Theft Auto: San Andreas, and critics still enjoyed it. That said, Vice City is too long, and San Andreas is supposedly all the longer. With a chance to make a GTA on a new engine (I suppose their third, seeing there were top-down GTA games on a different engine first), GTA4 improves on story and character development all the more. Vice City is a proud sequel to 3, but it’s not perfect.


Review: Castlevania: Symphony of the Night (10 hours)

I was reluctant to write this review, because in my research after playing the game, I found out that there are four additional endings to the one I received. I beat the game, the credits rolled, but I could have done it four more times in four different ways. I will write about the game as I know it, and discuss multiple endings that I’ve recently learned about.

I am a big fan of the Game Boy Advance and Nintendo DS Castlevania’s, and Symphony of the Night is how this style of game got it’s start. It is considered to be the first Metroidvania game, a game that combines elements from the game Super Metroid, with traditional Castlevania gameplay. On the one hand, this is the first game in either series to include RPG mechanics, such as levelling-up and loot collecting. On the other, the game features a massive map like in Super Metroid, as well as moments where sections of the map are blocked off, usually until a specific item has been collected. Combine these things with superior combat from the Castlevania series, and you have a genre that has spawned a lot of copycats.

Unlike the Game Boy Advance and DS versions of Castlevania, Symphony of the Night doesn’t follow a progression where you enter a new area, and grind until the boss fight, at least not early on. Instead, the game is a lot about exploration, as well as loot collection. Your sword and armor can be upgraded, and these items are often dropped by enemies, if not hidden in a secret area. There’s also a “Life Max Up” and a “Hearts Max Up”, in addition to regular leveling. Loot collecting is a lot like Diablo, while RPG mechanics feel borrowed from Final Fantasy.

The combat is good. Really good. As a change of pace, you don’t bear a whip, but a traditional sword, and you can equip a shield if you choose to. I think this is because you play as the son of Dracula, Alucard, which someone had to point out to me, is Dracula spelled backward. Like in past Castlevania’s, combat is a lot about good timing. You also can swiftly move backward to avoid an incoming attack – actually, you can move faster backward than forward.

Still true to the Castlevania namesake, there are sub-weapons, such as an axe, dagger, and a cross, and all sub-weapons consume hearts. Beyond that, armor that you carry can work in your favor, such as a shield that restores hit-points. Finally, there are a number of one-time use weapons you pick up that can attack one foe or a group. And if you’ve been playing a little while, it can all look so graceful.

Around halfway through the game (leading up to the first ending), you come across a library. The head librarian is an old man who happens to be a salesman. In the library, this seems a bit odd – normally we borrow from libraries. He can sell you a Castle Map, which pretty much exposes all the areas you haven’t been to yet, as well as highlighting where you’ve already been. There’s some great stuff to see, such as a Colosseum, where defeating numerous powerful enemies leads to a boss fight, and the power to turn into mist, so you can glide through barred doors. There’s also an underground waterway, that leads to a special item and armor.

The sad truth is, you can “beat” Castlevania: Symphony of the Night in about an hour and a half, with enough time to gain levels for the final boss fight, as well as see the entire castle. Something I didn’t know till recently is that’s it’s just the first ending. There are five endings. The game is old enough (released in 1997) that it’s spoiler-free to say there is an entirely new castle after the third ending, which is the same as the main castle, but upside-down and backwards. Upside-down in the sense that you’re walking on the ceiling, and backwards in the sense that the entrance to the original castle where the game begins is at the far left, and in the upside-down castle at the far right, far from the beginning. I learned the enemies are much harder here, and the second castle is a lot like a New Game Plus mode.

I didn’t play Symphony in the Night until I was deeply entrenched in the portable games. That said, it’s really well made. The biggest downgrade is that the series had to take a resolution hit to work on Game Boy Advance and DS. It exceeded my expectations, and let’s not forget it started the Metroidvania genre. I will get all five endings. The game is tied to my Microsoft account, and I don’t have an Xbox to play on right now. In hindsight, if you’re looking into Metroidvania games, this is the best place to start.


Full Review: Dust: An Elysian Tail (22 hours)

Editor’s Note: This game was reviewed previously.  This review is more complete.

The genre “Metroidvania” has really taken hold in the independent game making space. It is said to be a hybrid of two games, Metroid and Castlevania. Metroid has a large map to explore and locations that can be accessed after certain events occur. Castlevania (starting with Symphony of the Night) adds RPG leveling systems and refined combat. This game is definitely a Metroidvania, but the difficulty level is well below that of the first games in the genre.

The combat wears it’s God of War influence on it’s sleeve, but it’s just far too easy. You’ll notice that after the first encounter of the game. I thought to myself, “OK, they’re getting me familiar with the controls, it will get harder in the coming fights,” but it never really did. The exact same enemies kept standing in front of me doing nothing while I kept performing the same three hit combo. Meanwhile, I was leveling up, and inproving things like Strength and Health (capacity), but never did it feel like I was in danger.

You come across towns and villagers offer you quests. You are accompanied by a flying cat, who was born out of your sword, and both your cat and your sword talk to you. Your name is Dust, and you have some amnesia. Villagers have individual personalities and all of the dialog is spoken. And yet, the game had to go with furries for it’s character’s, those shameful anthropomorphic animals that became an internet craze years ago. I guess sooner or later, they had to cross paths with the gaming community. Still, I was embarassed to have these things on the television in my house.

It’s a shame because a lot of work went into the game’s art. Everything as far as the eye can see is 2D, and looks hand drawn. There is a lot of paralax scrolling going on, giving the locations a sense of size. On top of that, there are nice lighting effects. Being designed and developed by one man (Dean Dodrill), it’s an accomplishment. The music was made independently, but it didn’t especially stand out. And Microsoft is to thank for publishing efforts.

To be fair the difficulty spikes toward the end, but winning is far from too hard. If you’re really into God of War combat, you will have a good time with Dust. If you’re into Metroidvania’s, you might want Dust for your collection. It was a big deal in 2012 because it was published by Microsoft. Still, there are better Metroidvania’s out there. If you haven’t already, try Castlevania: Symphony of the Night first.


Full Review: Jet Set Radio (9 hours)

Editor’s Note: This game was reviewed previously.  This review is longer and more complete.

“How do I get rid of these nasty roaches?” “Easy… just burn your house down!”

I played Jet Set (actually, Jet Grind) Radio on Dreamcast when it was first released. I love this game. And it was such a loving tribute to one of Dreamcast’s finest that the game was released more than a decade later on PC. Somehow, even after so much time, the game feels as current now as it did then.

You’re on a team of roller-skating graffiti artists known as the GGs that starts as a group of three, and expands as new skaters show up challenging you to prove you are as talented as they are. Early levels have you tagging buses and billboards while the local police department tries to stop your vandalism. Soon you meet rival gangs and paint over their graffiti to claim turf. Local police turn into SWAT teams until they turn into, perhaps, private military contractors. All over a little street art. Jet Set Radio is as much about tagging walls as it is avoiding and taking down the fuzz. And it’s all so much fun.

The soundtrack is a mix between dance and turntable music–fitting for a counterculture game. The music is the only thing that hasn’t held up as well since Dreamcast. Kids just don’t listen to music like this anymore, but I still have nostalgia from playing in my room. I love the song “Bout the Town”. It’s the only rock song in the game. I found out the band is called “Reps”, but I’ve searched endlessly for information about the band and song, and there’s almost no information to be found. The only information is that the song is in Jet Set Radio.

Let’s talk technical. The upgrade from Dreamcast to PC is huge. Sega handed porting efforts over to Blit Software, who clearly had access to the game’s source code, allowing them to make sweeping improvements. The first thing to note is high-definition and widescreen graphics. The amazing part is that it still holds up graphically. The game was released when “cel-shaded graphics” were a big deal, and it was among the cel-shaded games of the era. The cartoon aesthetic keeps the game looking modern, polygon count be damned. The draw-distances are long and the anti-aliased graphics are sharp from start to finish. Amazing what retaining the source code can do to a game. I played at a 1920×1080 resolution, and it looks like it’s running at 60 frames per second. The resolution (on PC) can go higher still.

At nine hours of playtime, it’s a shame the game is short. At the same time, it’s a nine hours I’d gladly live again. The towns and cities you explore are filled with personality. People jump out of the way if you’re about to skate into them. There are busses and trains. There are rooftops and sewers that can be explored. Towns are presented in daylight, sunset, and nighttime.

I know a lot of this review is nostalgia talking, but Dreamcast was the end of the hardware era for Sega, and it’s nice to see that, for one, they still haven’t forgotten their back catalog. But for another, becoming a PC publisher made a great game even better. Five stars.


Review: Tekken 3 (~5 hours)

Tekken 3 is my first exposure to the Tekken series, and put briefly, it’s fun. I didn’t realize what a big deal this release is. Tekken 3 the third best selling fighting game of all time, behind Super Smash Bros. Brawl and Super Smash Bros. for 3DS. Having spent ample time with Smash Bros., Street Fighter, and now Tekken, I can tell you there is no wrong way to make a fighting game.

Tekken 3 takes place in a 3D ring. A simple tap up or down on the D-Pad has you side step into the third dimension. Moves are simple to execute, especially compared to a game like Street Fighter. You have two punch buttons, and two kick buttons. Press a punch and a kick at the same time, and if your close enough to your opponent, you do a throw. Combos are made by either pressing a button more than once, or by making a button press before another button press. It’s really simple.

As someone who spent a lot of time with Super Smash Bros. Melee, I can say Smash Bros. is a more technical game than this. There’s a light attack, heavy attack, jump and double jump, a throw button, and a block button. Items add a new modifier to the mix. I think Smash Bros. is more fun, but I do have fondness for the characters.  I’m making a paragraph about this because if your thinking of playing a fighting game, especially with at least one friend, weigh your options.

I played Arcade Mode with every one of the ten main characters. There isn’t a lot of distinction between how they play, but I found Law to be the best fighter to play as. Arcade mode is ten matches. The first eight are selectable characters, the ninth is Heihatchi, and I’ll leave the tenth a mystery. Each character has their own FMV (full motion video) sequence after Arcade Mode is won. Playing Arcade Mode unlocks new characters. Just make sure you’re saving in Options so the game remembers.

There are a lot of unlockable characters, including Heihatchi. I unlocked every fighter in Arcade Mode, save for one, which was in a different mode. Of course, there’s a Vs. Mode for two players, and a Practice Mode to work on moves. Beyond this, modes get really boring. There is a Team Battle Mode, where you select how many players are on a team (between one and eight), and face equally as many players randomly. There’s Survival Mode, which tests how far you can go on one bar of health.

Here are the two interesting modes. Tekken Ball Mode, which is beach volleyball with punches and kicks. Gon (the dinosaur), the only character I hadn’t unlocked yet, made an appearance. On my third try in the mode, I defeated Gon, and the Tekken 3 roster was complete. Finally, there’s Tekken Force Mode. Wouldn’t you know it, they made a side-scrolling beat-em-up like Streets of Rage or Final Fight. Enemies are named Hawk, Falcon, and Owl, and you stumble upon chicken dinners to boost health. There are four levels, and a final boss. Not as fun as the classics, but I appreciate the attempt.

As of the date of this post, we are up to Tekken 7, and it’s no longer exclusive to PlayStation. I’m glad it’s still around. In playing Tekken 3, I didn’t have to memorize button combinations like in Street Fighter, and balancing issues aren’t as problematic as they are in Smash Bros. At the same time, the combat is pretty basic, and there’s a lot of fluff with boring modes. Sooner or later, you’ll want to put the controller down.


Review: Street Fighter 30th Anniversary Collection (12 hours)

I am a proud arcade cabinet owner, with a PC inside the cab to play multiple games. Street Fighter was always on my list of games to add to the machine, but I could find only the latest ones, IV and V. Well, the Street Fighter 30th Anniversary Collection has arrived, with twelve Street Fighter games in all, including the one original Street Fighter, all five versions of Street Fighter II, all three versions of Street Fighter Alpha, and all three versions of Street Fighter III. It is a massive collection, and by pre-ordering the game, I received Ultra Street Fighter IV as part of the package. At $39.99, this collection made financial sense, but how do the individual games stack up?

The first Street Fighter is not so bad. Ryu and Ken are in it, but most remaining characters – including Joe, Mike, Geki, and Lee – are hardly recognizable. I eventually learned the strategy to winning: sitting in the back throwing fireballs. Roll credits.

Street Fighter II made the series recognizable to the mainstream. You select one fighter from eight and face the remaining seven. After, there are four boss characters. Beat all eleven and Arcade Mode ends. SFII holds up despite age. The game’s balance (fairness between characters) isn’t perfect, but it’s still fun.

In Street Fighter II: Champion Edition, the four bosses are now playable characters (M. Bison, Balrog, Vega, and Sagat). I’m not sure this is enough change to warrant a sequel, but the game exists.

Next is Street Fighter II: Hyper Fighting, which increases the game’s speed. It’s a faster game. Moves are executed more quickly, which would continue through to Super Street Fighter II: Turbo.

The next follow up, Super Street Fighter II: The New Challengers, is on new hardware, a CPS-2 board. With it comes more graphical horsepower, and levels and character models get an upgrade. On a different arcade board, the series is no longer the same. Timing has changed. The next game, Super Street Fighter II: Turbo goes the distance to balance fighters on new hardware.

Super Street Fighter II: Turbo is regarded by many as the greatest SFII release. The graphics updates stay, the game is more balanced, speed is increased from the predecessor, and more special moves per character are available. The new Turbo Meter, when charged, enables special moves to do more damage. I had a good time, but the original Street Fighter II still holds me. Perhaps Turbo will grow on me, like a record would. Moving on.

Street Fighter Alpha feels like the developers having fun with their own series. It can be easier to win a game by mashing buttons than by using carefully timed attacks. It’s a ten-fighter game, including Adon from the first game, as well as Guy and Sodom from the beat-em-up Final Fight. I played as Guy, and I learned his secret: he has almost no punching ability. His kicks will carry you to victory. All told, it’s a welcome departure from Street Fighter II.

In Street Fighter Alpha 2, we have a very similar game, but with more characters. Again it borrows fighters from Final Fight, Street Fighter, and Street Fighter II. There’s an all new character, Sakura. I played as Chun-Li, and arcade mode was pretty easy. There are eight fights, and the final boss is M. Bison. Just avoid his fireballs and watch for teleporting. I will note, it’s odd that the Alpha series is included, but I had a great time with these first two.

Street Fighter Alpha 3 was released between Street Fighter III’s two sequels, 2nd Impact and Third Strike. Strangest of all, they went back to CPS-2 arcade hardware, after SFIII was released on CPS-3. Alpha 3 is hard. The CPU is much smarter. The game is made complicated, with three “playing styles” that are hand selected. Each determines how Super Combos are used. If you lose a match in arcade mode, you start arcade mode over again, Continue or not. This is unfair. On the plus-side, it has the most fighters, 28 total.

Finally (finally, finally), we have Street Fighter III. In my mind, this is the most technical in the series. The initial release, New Generation, introduces brand new characters, and the next two sequels continue to add to the roster. Beyond Alex looking a bit like Guile, the characters are a bit strange. Necro and Twelve have pure white skin, and Q has a face made out of metal, for example.

In combat, a perfectly timed block will do no damage to your character. There is a lot of strategy in this. You still build up a charge meter, and can unleash a pre-selected “Special Arts” move, doing much more damage than a special move would. Having owned the Dreamcast version of SFIII, I had fun playing again.

The above is a review of the Arcade mode in the “Offline” section of Street Fighter: 30th Anniversary Collection.

To the dedicated fan, these twelve games are exactly what was in the arcade. There is a trade-off though. Every game is set to “Free Play”, except in the first Street Fighter, where there is always one credit in the machine. You can’t map inserting a coin to a button, unfortunate for arcade owners like myself. I’m still considering adding a coin slot in the machine. I’m sure a dedicated fan could extract the ROM files for each game, but that would detract from the attractive presentation.

There is a two-player mode of course, and every single game can be played in two-player mode. It’s fun for pick-up-and-play, but you could also go so far as to arrange a tournament. The last part of the “Offline” mode is a Training mode, good for learning special moves.

Online is a bit different. As a retro gamer, I struggle with online modes in games, as they lose players with the passage of time. The original Xbox Live is now offline, as are the servers of MMORPG’s that were less popular than others. I did play Street Fighter online (Capcom made four games compatible), and was beaten quite badly. It’s hard to know how long people will play the collection, but you can create your own lobby, and invite friends from your Steam friends list. Cool.

Finally, there is the Museum. What we see most of all in the Museum are internal Capcom documents about the series. Some include artwork, and some are notes written in Japanese. I’m sure some readers have held an office job where you’re asked to take notes. It’s cool these things exist decades later.

There’s a Music Mode in the Museum, and it looks like every track from the twelve games is available. As a former contributor to the video game music file format scene, I’m just hopeful these aren’t MP3’s (where audio fidelity is lost).

Perhaps the most unfortunate part of the collection is that we didn’t get the console ports, such as Genesis and Super Nintendo versions. There were even MS-DOS versions and Game Boy Advance versions of Street Fighter. Still, these are twelve arcade-perfect ports. I did not experience sluggishness in playing between two computers. There are minor bugs, like saving and loading a game can crash it. I have faith an update can be released.

As mostly an outsider to the series, I’m finally getting the appeal of Street Fighter. And as fun as it is to hone my skill against a computer, these games are meant to be enjoyed with friends. Super Smash Brothers: Melee is still my favorite fighting game, but I think Street Fighter Alpha 2 is number two, and Street Fighter III: 3rd Strike is in the top five. In short, the collection is a necessity for fans, and enjoyable to the layperson. Mostly for me, I now have a go-to game for showing off the arcade. People who were writing about games years before I started writing told me to check this series out. I’m glad I did.


Full Review: Grim Fandango Remastered (19 hours)

Editor’s Note: This game was reviewed previously.  This review is more in-depth and complete.

The first point-and-click adventure game I played is a children’s game called Putt-Putt Saves the Zoo. What I most enjoyed is that you could click any number of things in the game world and it would elicit a different response. Additionally, there were games within the game. You could play ice hockey, ride the white-water rapids, or give Putt-Putt, who is a car, a new coat of paint. Grim Fandango Remastered is an adventure game geared more for adults.

As such, there are fewer “I wonder what clicking this would do” moments, and the game focuses on story most of all. It makes you realize the term “adventure game” can mean many things. As for the story, you are literally the Grim Reaper, who visits the recently deceased in the land of the living, brings them to the land of the dead, and offers them travel packages. The Grim Reaper has a name, Manny Calavera, and the travel packages are a part of Manny’s office job, in a very tall skyscraper.

Manny, however, has been struggling to make a good sale for a while, and is let go from his job by Don Copal, who is just as much a skeleton as Manny. Almost every character is a skeleton, and as a side note it’s often hard to tell them apart. Before being let go, Manny gets a great customer, a woman named Meche, who was so good natured in the Land of the Living, that she gets a wonderful travel package on the Land of the Dead’s Number Nine train. After being fired, you set out to give Meche, who leaves your office after a computer glitch interrupts business, the travel package she deserves.

This is all in the early minutes of gameplay, but I’d hate to spoil any more of the story. The graphics are pre-rendered, not unlike so many PlayStation games of the era. There are a few FMV sequences (full-motion video), but the visual fidelity isn’t a huge improvement over the rest of the game. It appears in the remaster, the developers had access to the higher resolution pre-rendered images, which look better in HD, but it’s not as big a leap as other remastered games.

The best reason to get the remaster is the addition of developer commentary. If you’ve ever owned The Simpsons’ DVD’s, you probably know what to expect. The developers sitting in a room together, remembering the good old days at LucasArts. There are fond memories of developer’s who’ve moved on to different things, as well as talking about who thought up which jokes.

Yes, Grim Fandango Remastered has a lot of comedy. The biggest threat to the Land of the Dead is life, and the game pokes fun at that with a gun that shoots flowers. In the word’s of the man working at the morgue “We may have years, we may have hours, but sooner or later, we push up flowers.” Perhaps Tim Schaefer has always had a fascination with the holidays that celebrate the dead, because as of 2010 and 2014, there are two games in the Costume Quest series, which celebrates Halloween.

As a console gamer in the ‘90’s, it’s nice to have chances to go back in history and play classics for the PC. Puzzle-solving often requires outside-the-box thinking, but the story and commentary make this a great package.


Full Review: Bastion (~9 hours)

Editor’s Note: Bastion has been reviewed previously.  This review is more complete and in-depth.

From start to finish, Bastion is narrated by a guy introduced as “The Stranger” who sounds like he dropped out of the Wild West to describe the events of the game world and of the game’s hero, “The Kid”. It’s a novel concept. If books and movies can have a narrator, why not a video game? Beyond narration, Bastion is heavy on quality artwork, occasionally charming music, and fun yet repetitive action, that ultimately ends at around the right time – for me, the nine hour mark.

Bastion starts after “The Calamaty”, perhaps an event not big enough to be apocalyptic, but distressing to the world. Aside from frequent enemy encounters, some people left in the Calamaty’s wake have been reduced to ash. After an introduction to combat, you arrive at the Bastion, a central hub that needs to be rebuilt a building at a time.

Early on, the narrator himself is found along the way and he goes straight to the Bastion. He slowly teaches you that cores have been scattered throughout the world. Cores remember the world as it was, and reclaiming them restores peace to the land of Bastion. It’s a bit of a weak story, but the narrator keeps it moving. Though the Bastion is mostly empty upon arrival, you can head north to the Skyway, and land in places where cores can be located.

Speaking of land, from the start of the game, land springs from beneath your feet as you travel. Though some land is already there, most of the time it’s arriving from what looks to be a blurred painting below you. This was likely just a stylistic choice made by the developers, and much as I do like it, I wish there was a story hook for why it’s in the game.

Combat is a high-point. You find a hammer early on, only to find a repeater after a bit of fighting some ghost-like creatures. More weapons make themselves available throughout the game, and you can upgrade weapons in the Bastion at a forge. Doing so involves using an upgrade tree with two options per row of upgrades. Your repeater as an example, one option might increase reload time by a percentage, and another might increase ammo capacity — and you can’t have both.

Combat is a back and forth between upgrading the two weapons you have, and testing them in the field. It’s worth noting you have a slot in your arsenal for magic, but the choices for types of magic aren’t that great. It’s also worth noting that you fight a lot of the same types of enemies until a new enemy is finally introduced. This is a big drawback in my opinion.

Bastion is an art showpiece most of all. Playing can feel like walking through a painting. To prepare for the ending, I spent a lot of time in “Who Knows Where” (a battle arena-type place), getting points to level up my gear. This made the game much easier. I had fun with it, but the action is simple, easy, and grows tiresome. I did not play the New Game Plus.