Monday, 5 April 2021

Mega Cat Studios Collection 1 (Evercade Review)


So far, the majority of the releases for the Evercade have been retro games for consoles such as the NES, SNES and Mega Drive. The Megs Cat Studios cartridge takes a different approach as while the games have still been developed for those systems they are new releases trying to encapsulate the feeling that the older classics have.

There are ten games in total and they vary in terms of genre and quality. Almost Hero is a forgettable and basic side scrolling fighting that we just couldn’t get on with, Justice Duel is an attempt to update the classic Joust which falls flat and Coffee Crisis is either not running very well on the Evercade or simply not very responsive. But these three are the only games that really miss the mark.

Creepy Brawlers is a solid if unspectacular take on Punch-Out! But with monsters and Log Jammers tries to imitate Windjammers and does so to a fairly decent degree. However, while the games are solid in themselves all they really did was send us back to the superior titles that have influenced them.

Multidude is a great little game where you have to use a selection of little bots to solve puzzles in a single screened room. The only real issue with it is that it’s very short (especially for those using the save states). Super Painter also suffers from its brevity but aside from this is an enjoyable single screen platformer (with a slightly dodgy jumping mechanic), based on the numerous ‘paint all the blocks’ games of years gone by.

Things really pick up with Little Medusa. Here you have to turn enemies to stone and then kick them to make platforms in order to pick up stars. Once all the stars are collected you move onto the next single screened level. It’s a top down puzzle/adventure game in the style of something like Kickle Cubicle, only this time set in ancient Greece. It works really well and has a ton of stages to get through.

Deadly Towers is another excellent game and takes the form of an insane puzzle platformer. Here you have to zoom your character around a tower picking up all the objects before making it to the exit door. Your character will shoot quickly in a straight line in whichever direction you choose until they hit the next surface. It’s great and some of the levels are very tricky to work out. The only issue here is that it’s a little short (if using save states), but what’s here is great.

The absolute highlight of this pack though is the incredible Tanzer. Mixing elements from Strider, Altered Beast and a host of 16-bit platformers this really is something special. It runs at a break neck speed and the action is unrelenting and frantic. Enemies are varied and locations are distinguished with big and colourful graphics and perfectly capture the feel of the best 16-bit platformers of the age. It’s also a solid length and offers multiple routes through the games for those returning to it. In all honesty it’s worth getting the cartridge just for Tanzer. In fact, it may well be worth getting an Evercade just for Tanzer – it’s that good.

Overall, It was always going to be a harder sell to get gamers to invest in new IP’s that weren’t going to trigger nostalgic memories. However, Mega Cat Studios have included some real gems here that shouldn’t be overlooked. Little Medusa and Old Towers are really good games that players will spend a fair amount of time with and they are backed up by a couple of fun but brief experiences in Super Painter and Multidude. Then there’s Tanzer. Glorious, magnificent and wonderful Tanzer. It’s not just the best game on the cart, it might be the best game on the Evercade and an absolutely essential purchase.

Game Ratings

 Almost Hero                      2/5

Creepy Brawlers               3/5

Coffee Crisis                       2/5

Justice Duel                        2/5

Log Jammers                      3/5

Little Medusa                    4/5

Multidude                           3/5

Old Towers                         4/5

Super Painter                     3/5

Tanzer                                  5/5

Monday, 29 March 2021

Blizzard Arcade Collection Review (Switch)


Back in the days of the 16-bit era Blizzard created a trio of very different games which went on to be much beloved. These three iconic titles have now returned with a ton of new content to try and prove they are worth more than a nostalgia fuelled ten minute visit. To this end, not only have two console versions of each game been included but also a remixed ‘enhanced’ version which has new features. 

The first of the three games is puzzle platformer The Lost Vikings. The SNES and Mega Drive versions of the game are here with the Mega Drive one having more levels. The enhanced version of the game mixes the two versions together to give you the best graphics and sound and also includes all the levels and a three player option. There’s also a save function which helps, though strangely the screen display settings and other options are restricted to the console versions only. 

The game itself has you controlling three different characters who each have unique abilities and you need to keep them all alive in order to progress through the stages. One of the Vikings can jump and knock down walls by running into them, another has a shield which can block attacks, be used as a platform or to glide across gaps. The final Viking has a bow for shooting enemies and switches. 

The pace is a little slow but the game holds up well no matter what version you are playing. It requires a considered and careful approach and the latter stages are incredibly tricky. However, it is a fun and rewarding game for those that stick with it and well worth checking out. 

The most obscure of the games is Blackthorne. Originally releasing on the Super Nintendo, it follows the same sort of style as Another World and Flashback. Blackthorne, is much grittier though and has players trying to free a world from subjugation by an evil overlord. It is perhaps most famous for the ability to shoot behind you with your shotgun which both looks cool and is extremely useful. 

The Super Nintendo and 32X versions of the game are available and perhaps provide the biggest difference between versions on the collection. The 32X version looks and handles drastically differently to the 16 bit version with the 32 bit visuals moving to a more polygon style. The definitive version takes it’s ques from the original though and is much the same apart from a map being added to aid exploration. 

The game requires some patience to get used to the controls but is still fun and compelling with a brooding atmosphere and lore that is far superior to many of the games of the time. It can be frustrating but remains well worth persevering with and it’s far cheaper to pick this version up than original console versions. 

The highlight of the collection for many will be Rock N’ Roll Racing. Again, we get the original SNES version and the later released Mega Drive game which has more tracks but doesn’t look or sound as good. The definitive version has had the most significant work done on it. There are more tracks, environmental effects have been added and amazingly the rock music soundtrack has been changed to include the original songs rather than chip tune representations. Unfortunately, we have lost Paranoid from the soundtrack but new tracks such as ‘Breaking the Law’ have been added. A four player version is also included. 

The game has you racing around a host of crazy planets against three other racers trying to win as much money as possible to upgrade your vehicle and make it to the next season. Its great fun and you can move from first to last in the blink of an eye as you get buffeted and blasted around the track. There’s also a host of cars such as tracked vehicles and hydrofoils to buy and upgrades to improve everything from ammunition to suspension. All this comes with commentary and some of the greatest rock tunes of all time blasting out which turns it into the embodiment of pure joy. 

The one downside to the definitive version of the game is that for some reason you are unable to save your progress. There are passwords but these don’t record all your information and will see you set back to the start of a race season when used. It’s a baffling oversight and one we can only assume will be patched at some point. You are also restricted again with regards to display settings and other features. 

Overall, it’s clear a lot of attention and care has been taken when bringing these games to a new audience. That said there are some weird quirks in here that take some of the shine off such as not being able to use screens settings and other options in the definitive versions. Not being able to save during Rock N’ Roll racing is also something that can’t be overlooked. That said, if you are a fan of any of these games this provides an excellent way of playing them for a reasonable price. It’s a must of retro game fans, though others may struggle to see the magic in the same way. 

Overall 8/10


Monday, 22 March 2021

Nintendo Switch Roundup 5: Cyberpunk

Cyberpunk has always had a unique appeal with games utilising the style attracting cult followings through the 8, 16 and 32-bit generations. It remained a much under represented genre until recently when all manner of games have been setting themselves in the shadowy world of mega corporations. Here are some of the best available on the Switch.

Black Future 88

If you like your roguelike set in a dystopian future inspired by Blade Runner then Black Future 88 may well be the game you’ve always dreamed of. Glowing neon and pounding synths accompany players as they have minutes to make it up a procedurally generated tower and topple the evil Duncan. The action is insanely intense and unrelenting as you blast and slash your way through a crazy assortment of enemies and bosses. There a numerous weapons and buffs that can be unlocked along the way and countless different systems you will have to balance out to have a decent shot at getting to the top in one piece. The only down side is that there is so much going on that when played in handheld mode it can get difficult to see at times. This really is an overlooked gem that everyone should experience.

Dex

If you prefer your Cyberpunk with a big dose of adventuring then Dex could well be the game for you. It blends platform, beat’em up and RPG elements together in a sort of 2D take on Shadowrun. There’s even a top down shooter element for the inevitable hacking mini game. The environments you explore are excellent and there are a ton of side missions and interesting characters to meet. The animation can be a touch stilted but that is easily forgivable. The combat system seems to be the thing that divides people the most and requires players to understand it before they can fully get immersed into the experience. Once everything clicked for us we loved it and couldn’t put it down. Each mission normally has two or three ways to be completed as well and the story is great. It comes highly recommended, even if some patience is required.

 Flashback

One of the most iconic games of the 16-bit era, Flashback has a heavy cyberpunk leaning to its platforming and blasting. The game is available in (barely), remastered format on the Switch and is still well worth getting into. It has a unique look and the few new features help to alleviate some of the frustration caused by the games difficulty and slightly awkward control.

We have a detailed look at Flashback here  - https://www.retro101.co.uk/2019/06/flashback-review-switch.html

Huntdown

This loud, brash and adrenaline fuelled thrill ride through the gang infested streets of a mega city is the best action game you’ve probably not heard of. Mixing pop culture references with the best platform shooter action since contra this game is a fun filled joy of a game. It’s one of the craziest games we’ve ever played and it’s truly magnificent and crazy and probably better than whatever you are currently playing. Buy it, don’t wait for a sale, buy it now.

We have a detailed look at Huntdown here – https://www.retro101.co.uk/2021/03/huntdown-review-switch.html

 Transistor

The indie darling of simple-yet-stunning design and complex-yet-flexible mechanics is as beautiful now as it was when first released a good few years back. The sleek mix of real time and turn based action coupled with the dreamy visuals and hypnotic sound marks it out as a true classic that will stand the test of time for as long as people play video games. A unique take on the genre and one that everyone should try.

We have a detailed look at Transistor here - https://www.retro101.co.uk/2019/12/transistor-review-switch.html

2064 Read Only Memories

Styled after early 8-bit point and click games, 2064 certainly has a charm about it. It may seem initially tough to get into but once the mystery starts moving along there are a host of excellent characters to meet and an interesting story to unfold.

A lot of the traditional approaches of the genre have been removed here with players looking at environments through a window on the screen and moving between highlightable objects by pressing the directions buttons. It’s certainly easier than trying to recreate the experience of an on-screen cursor but does take away some elements of interactivity. Puzzles are also not particular complex and often solved within the same location. For some this lack of trudging back and forth will be welcome and, though simple, the puzzle element does keep the title just the right side of visual novel for us.

The dialogue, though good, can also be long winded and exposition filled at times which may see some people skipping through parts. That said it does help to build the greater world of the game. We also had some problems seeing things on the screen as the 8 bit style and colour blindness are not a natural mix. It’s a game well worth a look though if you are after something a little different.

 VA-11 Hall-A: Cyberpunk Bartender Action

Now here’s a game that shouldn’t really work but somehow does. A visual novel at heart, VA-11 Hall-A has players taking the role of a bartender and mixing drinks as various clientele appear each day and night. You are stuck seeing the same limited display of the bar and drinks shaker for the whole game (Aside from a small section when you go home), and mixing drinks is not particularly challenging but it doesn’t matter. People come in, they ask for a drink, tell their tale and leave and that’s how the game proceeds and it works.

The atmosphere is mellow, the mixing of the drinks is satisfying and the dialogue is sharp and not overly long meaning you are likely to read all of it rather than skipping ahead. Characters are also varied and from all walks of life with the stories they tell being interesting and adding great colour to the world they walk back out into. There’s multiple endings to be found as well depending on what drinks you serve at certain points which will add a level of replay value for those that get it.

It’s just a really nice game to wind down with and there’s something therapeutic about the mixing and listening to peoples stories. We aren’t the biggest fan of visual novels but this is engaging, relaxing and works really well.

Monday, 15 March 2021

Alwa's Legacy Review (Switch)

A few years ago Elden Pixels released a great NES inspired Metroidvania adventure called Alwa’s Awakening. The 8-bit aesthetic was one of the best recreations around and the game itself played much better than the most of the NES games is was inspired by. Unfortunately, it seems to have been overlooked by a large portion of gamers. Alwa’s Legacy is the sequel and sees the series move from its 8-bit roots to embrace the extra colours and processing power of the 16-bit era.

Setting any game in what many consider to be the golden age of gaming is a brave move. But Elden Pixels have proved with Alwa’s Awakening that they know exactly how to make something that both feels legitimate to the time and has an overall quality that is apparent in every aspect of the game. With that in mind we already knew that Legacy was going to be an adventure worth our time.

The game pretty much follows the same layout as its predecessor. You play Zoe again who needs to adventure around the world, picking up abilities as she goes and finding a host of magical stones in order to beat an evil big bad. You know how these things go, the plot is not overly deep or original but the characters are nice and real focus is in the adventure rather than the story.

So it’s lucky that the actual adventuring aspect of the game is excellent. Zoe herself controls well and the general flow of progression is satisfying. There were a few occasions where we got stuck for a while but a look at the map and some quiet reflection soon gave us some leads and off we went once more. It is worth noting though that sometimes patience is key with Legacy as there is little in the way of hand holding with regards to your next objective. Villagers will offer advice but even that can lead you to some dead ends.

On one particulate occasion we had just trekked around to get a key to enter a dark catacomb only to then be told we needed a light source. No problem, we had been given a hint to a location and off we went. The only thing was when we got there the guy we had been told about didn’t have any further information and the head scratching began.

Still, if you are going to be stuck wandering around a world it’s nice that this one looks so lovely. The 16-bit style has been well implemented meaning there is a consistent thematic look but also that each area has some of its own characteristics which stop things becoming monotonous. It’s also really nice to see one of these games that embraces a bright colour palette. Everything else that comes out at the minute seems to be trying to out ‘Dark Souls’ itself in the levels of gloom it can put on screen. This is nicely complimented by some great music that may well spark a few retro memories of their own – especially in the castle.

Alwa’s Legacy does do things a little different to your standard Metroidvania in that a lot of your abilities are gained fairly early on. Yes, you will be picking things up that allow you to run across spikes or breathe under water but your main three spells are with you for much of the game. In order to get around and solve puzzles Zoe can create a block, a floating bubble or a bolt of lightning.

These three can also be combined in a few ways and the real core of the game is about using these mechanics together to hit switches or get through obstacles. The skills can be upgraded by collecting orbs from around the world but apart from making unbreakable bubbles much of the game is traversable without doing this.

Overall, Alwa’s Legacy is a beautifully designed follow up to Alwa’s Awakening. Its expands and develops on ideas and concepts present in the first game while also presenting a different enough experience to make revisiting the original feel worthwhile. There’s not a bad element in Legacy with everything coming together in an assured and nostalgically comforting way to produce a game that thrives on the spirit of adventure and fun. There’s an absolute deluge of this type of game around at the minute but Legacy has a look and feel that really does make it stand out from the crowd.

Overall 8/10