Monday 22 February 2021

Cathedral Review (Switch)

Another day and another pixel art styled Metroidvania appears from an up and coming indie development team. There are so many of these types of games now that it’s becoming difficult to stand out from the crowd (You also have to wonder why Konami hasn’t sub-contracted out to one of these studios to make a new Castlevania game but we digress). Cathedral is the next in this long line to stake a claim for your attention. The thing is, after this one, developers are going to have to try an awful lot harder because Cathedral is a bit special.

You start the game inside the mysterious old Cathedral of the games title with little understanding of what’s going on or what your mission is. Shortly after this you will escape and head to a nearby town. The town’s folk will help to fill you in on the games law and from there you undertake a vast adventure to defeat a particularly big bad in the best traditions of magic and fantasy.

The game throws you early on in terms of how it plays. Initially, we were pretty convinced what we had unearthed was effectively Shovel Knight the Metroidvania. The art style is similar and our hero knight can even do the Duck Tales bounce with his sword. The longer we played though the more we realised the game was very much its own beast and one that seems more influenced by Rare’s Wizards and Warriors trilogy on the NES (but much smoother in terms of how it plays).

It’s also fair to say that it took a few hours to get into. To begin with we found it difficult to judge the edges of platforms and the general inertia of the knight which had us falling to our death over and over. There are also some pretty heavy colour blind issues surrounding health bars and some on screen objects. But after finding a few items and giving the game some time everything simply clicked into place and all our initial problems just faded away.

When we said the game was vast we meant it. It clocks in somewhere between twenty and thirty hours to beat depending on just how much exploration you are doing to get all the extra items. It’s a good thing then that the many locations feel unique and different both in terms of design and look and each begs to be explored in full.

Traversing between locations can be a bit of a pain if you take a wrong turn but there are a number of teleport points around to make things quicker. That said, there were a fair few times we got a decent way through an area only to be blocked from progression because we didn’t have a particular item and then needed to trek all the way back. There are frequent save points in place as well which is handy as the game can be tough and repeating certain sequences of rooms over and over when you just want to get back somewhere can be frustrating.

Minor issues aside, there is something magical about Cathedral. It’s the first game in a very long time where the world seemed to contain a genuine sense of wonder and mystery to it. It calls back perfectly to the adventure games of the 8-bit generation where hidden objects and rooms where packed into every corner. The locations are so beautifully created and diverse as well that it means you are always driven to keep going and uncover one more mystery.

Enemies, bosses and environmental hazards are also wonderfully varied throughout. There are some repeating creatures but generally there is always something new to take on and even enemies that are graphically similar often act in different ways depending on your location. Puzzles are also varied and range from stopping poisonous waterfalls to moving platforms in order to keep progressing. Before long you'll also aquire a spirit helper called 'Soul' who can be used to move the odd block around for you. 

Bosses come in all shapes and sizes from small but relentless gargoyles to huge floating eyes and each falls into the challenging but beatable category. We rarely found our progress blocked for too long as though we may have died a lot there was always the feeling that we would get the beastie in our next encounter. 

Another minor quibble here is that sometimes bosses are a few rooms away from save points which adds some unnecessary trudging around. A slightly odd design choice related to this is that your knight doesn’t spawn with full health (unless you buy upgrades), but there are often healing statues near the save points. This means if you are dying often you fall into a monotonous cycle of respawning, going to heal then trudging back to the monster to try again.

Overall, Cathedral is a magical realised adventure game. We have highlighted some small issues in design but the vast majority of your time spent with the game will bring about a feeling of mystery, joy and the urge to push ever onward that many players may not have felt for a very long time. It encapsulates what made 8-bit adventure games so good while also ironing out many of the issues that they were often hindered with. We love a good romp through titles like Wizards and Warriors and Battle of Olympus but Cathedral does it better. There may be hundreds of Metroidvania games out there but hardly any of them can hope to be as accomplished as this. It’s a classic and the new indie standard in the genre.

Overall 9/10

Monday 15 February 2021

Nintendo Switch Retro Roundup 4: ACA Neo Geo Fighters

There’s a whole host of arcade and fighting games now available on the Switch. As a long-time fan of the genre here are our personal picks of the host of Neo Geo ones available.

World Heroes 2

Though a fairly simplistic fighter, World Heroes 2 does have a lot going for it. One of the things that set it apart is the expansive and colourful cast of characters based on historical figures. What other fighting game allows you to pit Hulk Hogan and Bruce Lee look-a-likes against Joan of Arc?

The standard two round mode only acts to show up the games shortcomings. Select the Death Match mode however, and things suddenly become a whole lot more interesting. Here two fighters battle over a single energy bar during one extended round. The best aspect of the Death Match is the obstacle filled levels you fight in. Some stages have metal blades running along the floors, while others are strewn with landmines or take place in a small metal cage.

World Heroes 2 may not be the most technical game, but once you switch it into the Death match mode it can still offer something to fight fans today. If you want to try a game that's a little different then hunt it out


Samurai Shodown 2

For many this mix of martial arts and swords is SNK's finest hour. Here at Retro 101 we don't hold it in such a high regard, but we do still love it to pieces. The Samurai Showdown series is one of the most unique fighters out there and this second iteration is one of the finest fighting games available.

In this sequel more characters were added, along with the POW finishing moves. More importantly, the game was fine-tuned and balanced to be much more even than the first. What we end up with is a tense series of bouts where any wrong move could be your last.

Fitting for a series concerned with weapon combat, the basic gameplay requires quick strikes when an opening presents itself, rather than long combo sequences. This can seem tough for newcomers as three or four strong blows can end a round. For those that learn the ways of the sword though it soon becomes clear that Samurai Showdown is as much about knowing when not to strike as it is about attacking.

A host of Samurai Shodown titles are available on the Switch and there is also a collection which includes the final version of Samurai Shodown V Perfect for the first time. The newest title in the series is also available and holds up fairly well on Nintendo’s machine.


The Last Blade/The Last Blade 2

This often overlooked other weapon based fighter is, in our opinion, the best of SNK's 2D fighting games. While Samurai Showdown III and IV ended up fun but uneven these two games are a lesson in balanced combat where mastering your character is the key to victory.

Each character is different and all have their own strengths and weaknesses. They can also be customised by picking different attack forms. The first game lets you make your fighter either speed or power based, while The Last Blade 2 adds an EX option as well.

The difference between the three styles makes a remarkable impact on your strategy. It also looks beautiful and each new area is presented with a subtle cut scene beforehand to add atmosphere. The special moves are not massively flashy but it all keeps with the games ethos of balance and skill. Everything about the title(s) leaves you with the impression you have just played something destined to be a classic.


Garou: Mark of the Wolves

This re-imagining of SNK's long running Fatal Fury series was developed to provide competition to Capcom's Street Fighter 3. Perhaps surprisingly, it almost manages to match Ryu and friends. The action is fast, tense and fluid and each of the characters has a real personality of their own.

Mark of the Wolves is a distillation of all the good points of the Fatal Fury series over the years and also throws in some wonderful tactical features. For instance, blocking at exactly the right time creates the chance to parry your opponent's attacks for big damage. Also, a new T.O.P bar is placed on your characters health meter. When you drop into the bar it allows for a new technique to be used.

As a reinvention of a franchise it is hard to think how a better job could have been done. From a slightly ageing and creaky bunch of titles a vibrant, skill based and flair filled fighter has emerged that really does deserve all the credit it gets


The King of the Fighters 

The proverbial SNK team based cash cow. Ever since the first title way back in 1994 a new game has appeared almost yearly. While none of the games are bad, the real cream of the crop appeared between 1996 and 2000. After that, the focus seemed to be more on making things look flashy in 3D, though King of the Fighters XIII is excellent. Our personal favourite is the 1998 entry.

For those that don't know, the King of the Fighters titles allow you to pick a team of SNK's finest from various games and take on other teams. When one player is knocked out the next in line joins the battle. Certain versions of the game also introduce a fourth striker character that can be called upon to use a sneaky special move a limited number of times.

Considering the amount of fighters on offer the game remains remarkably balanced. It also requires players to learn many more moves and strategies than they would normally as you need to be handy with a number of different characters to succeed. A few minor balancing issues aside the series always remains fun and highly enjoyable.


Real Bout Fatal Fury

All three of the Real Bout games are available on the Switch. Each adds and refines elements but it’s the first game that we find ourselves returning to. The reason for this is simple that in the first game at the edge of each screen are breakable barriers. Once destroyed opponents can be through from the stage causing an instant ring out. It may not sound like much but ducking an opponent’s charge only to see them going flying off a pier into the sea rarely gets dull. 

The series is often forgotten when talking about Fatal Fury so it’s nice to see it well represented. It’s also one of the only places you can play Real Bout 2 as it never made it to home consoles originally.

Waku Waku 7

Waku Waku 7 is one of the weirdest and most wonderful games we have ever come across. The game itself is a polished title from sunsoft that bases itself on the classic SNK four button template. What sets it apart is the mad cast of characters and super bright colour scheme. This title, you see, is a completely crazy parody of Japanese anime.

The bizarre combatants include a giant Totoro style Japanese soft toy creature and a walking tank with a gun for a head. The moves are over the top and it all rolls along at a lively pace. It's unlikely that Waku Waku 7 will hold players attention for as long as something like Street Fighter Alpha 3 but it is undeniable fun and anarchic. Waku Waku 7 is pretty difficult to find so having it available on the Switch is great.

Monday 8 February 2021

Interplay Collection 2 (Evercade Review)

The first interplay collection featured only six games but there was more than enough to keep us interested thanks to the inclusion of a couple of iconic titles in Earthworm Jim and Boogerman. This second collection also contains six games with five coming from the Super Nintendo and one lone NES game in Rad Gravity.

Despite the limited number of games we are happy to report that this is definitely a case of quality over quantity. Clay Fighter 2: Judgement Clay, is the only SNES game out of the five that is really disappointing as is seems to have lost much of the charm and fun present in the first game. The style of it is far too dark and the action average at best and it’s likely you’ll be moving on from it very quickly.

The Adventures of Rad Gravity is an often underappreciated NES game and one that is well worth putting some time into. It’s certainly not perfect as the controls are frustrating at times but the game has always had charm in spades and the use of the save states will certainly help progression. It’s also quite inventive at times with gravity inverting on certain planets and an absolute ton of objects and gadgets to find and use.

The lone puzzle game on the system is The Brainies. It involves moving little creatures around a maze before time runs out and placing them on specific spots. It’s kind of a mix of the labyrinth board game and a tile slider. It suffers from cumbersome input due to the SNES pad being used when clearly a mouse would work better, but it is quite engaging once you get into it.

The remaining three games are all platformers. The inclusion of Earthworm Jim 2 will already be enough for many people to pick up the cart and it’s nice to see that it retains the wacky humour and twisted nature of the first game. It’s excellent and carries on the franchise well. A few new elements have been added (such as using Snot as a grappling hook), and there are a host of new weapons to play with that keeps things fresh throughout. The changing theme of each level seen in the first game also returns here.

Claymates, continues Interplays mini obsession with the clay-style look of some of their games. Here you play a blob who can take on the form of various animals as you progress through the levels. These animals all have different abilities (of course), such as a cat being able to climb up trees or the mouse being able to get into small spaces. It’s a fun game that was cruelly overlooked on first release and will hopefully find a much deserved second life on the Evercade.

Rounding out the cartridge is Prehistorik Man which was flavour of the month back during the 16-bit age. It soon disappeared in a massively crowded market but is another game that really does deserve to find a new audience. It’s colourful and detailed and has a strong personality to it. The environments look great and it handles pretty well also. It should come as a nice surprise to players experiencing it for the first time.

Overall, the second Interplay collection is just as strong as the first. There’s a great selection of overlooked titles and more Earthworm Jim is always welcome. There is perhaps an argument that the games from both could have been curated into one collection but it certainly feels like there is good value for money here. The titles may be a little more obscure but the collection itself is one of the strongest released so far for the Evercade.

Game Ratings

Earthworm Jim 2                                4/5

Rad Gravity                                        4/5

Claymates                                           4/5

Prehistorik Man                                  4/5

The Brainies                                       3/5

Clay Fighter 2: Judgment Clay     2/5

Monday 1 February 2021

Technos Collection (Evercade Review)

Now owned by Arc Systems, Technos is most famous for Double Dragon and the Kunio-kun series of games. Basically, anything that involves bashing people with weapons and things that happen to be lying around in the street. It’s a back catalogue that seems like a smart fit of the Evercade and this first collection from the company certainly has some highlights.

There are eight games here in total with seven of them coming from the companies NES back catalogue and Super Double Dragon being the lone Super Nintendo offering. As SNES games go though it’s certainly not a bad one to include. The original cart is very expensive now and this is the first time it has appeared on a system since its initial launch all those years ago.

The game itself is pretty solid as well. It’s quite a technical brawler with different types of kicks and punches available and a parry and counter system also in play. The only real downside with it is the fact it moves along quite slowly and there is a lot of repetition in terms of the enemies that you face. That said, it is well worth playing and it looks absolutely gorgeous with the detail of the levels and sprites rivalling the best the system had to offer.

The other Double Dragon representation comes in the form of the original two NES games. The first game is quite different from the arcade with added maze sections and some different levels. Players also have to level up their character in order to pull off more moves. It’s an odd but fun game that is severely helped by the save state system.

Double Dragon II remains the highlight of the NES trilogy and seems to hold up just as strongly as it did back when first released. It’s up there with the best the NES had to offer in terms of brawlers with varied levels, decent graphics and a solid move set. It’s Well worth seeking out for fans of the series.

Renegade and the highly regarded River City Ransom also make this first collection. Using a less refined version of the system used in Double Dragon II, Renegade is fairly entertaining but is really showing its age in terms of how basic and unforgiving it is and is one for the hard core and history loving fans only. River City Ransom is yet another highlight though with the mix of brawling and light RPG elements still able to create an engaging and interesting take on the genre. It does require some grinding but is packed full of charm and small touches that newcomers and old fans alike will be drawn to.

The rest of the package is rounded out with oddball sports games. Street Challenge is a kind of urban version of track and field which is never quite as fun as the concept suggests, while Super Dodge Ball is hounded by flickering sprites and slowdown that can make an otherwise entertaining game a real chore to play. Once you get used to the controls, Super Spike V’Ball has a decent amount of fun on offer though the later pairings are almost psychic in how they anticipate your moves. Also, this is one game that would really benefit from a two player option to get the most out of it.

Overall, the Technos collection is a solid addition to the growing Evercade line up. Most of the games are solid and the inclusion of the SNES version of Double Dragon will catch the eye of collectors. There’s three really good games on here and the others fill out the package well. It’s a worthy addition for brawler fans – even if it is a bit odd to have a Double Dragon collection without Double Dragon 3 and actual Arcade based version of the game on it. Now, I wonder who has the rights to Battle Toads and Double Dragon: The Ultimate Team?


Game Ratings

Double Dragon                                                                    3/5

Double Dragon II: The Revenge                                        4/5

Crash ‘N’ The Boys: Street Challenge                              2/5

River City Ransom                                                            4/5

Super Dodge Ball                                                              3/5

Super Spike V’ball                                                            3/5

Super Double Dragon                                                       4/5

Renegade                                                                          3/5