Monday 26 April 2021

Hotline Miami 2 Review (Switch)


The first Hotline Miami was a revelation. A mix of precision, speed and ultra-violence it pumped along to an incredible soundtrack that pulsed through your very veins as your balletic murder spree spread red pixels across the walls and corridors of intricately designed levels. It’s a lot to live up to and expectation for the sequel were always high. It had a somewhat mixed reception upon first release but how has it aged?

Unlike the original, the game now follows a number of different characters and stories as they make their way through the neon tinged world. It also jumps around in time to both before and after the events of the first game. There are dream sequences, drug fuelled sequences, some of it’s a movie – basically you’ll never really be sure what’s real and what isn’t and that’s part of the fun.

Throughout the game you’ll play as a grizzled detective, a soldier (who later becomes the shop owner in the first game), and a movie star losing his mind, a writer, a group of copycat masked killers and various goons. Most of them have something which distinguishes them from the crowd – such as the writer not killing people or the different masks that the ‘fans’ wear giving them different abilities. It’s a different system to that of the first game and as a result you may feel a little more restricted in the levels.

The characters are what set each level apart here as the design is somewhat different. Each level in the original game had something that made it stand out. You had the train arriving, or the car smashing through the wall of the disco. There’s even the level where the swat team charge in half way through. Unfortunately, there is nothing like that present here and after a while the levels do begin to blur together a bit. We can see what they have tried to do by turning things on their head with the approach and variety now dictated by whom you are playing but it does lose some of the magic.

Levels are also much less tight now. Many of them have wide open spaces to traverse and your ‘look’ command will often not see to the end. This is a real pain as a number of times we were killed by enemies we couldn’t see and had no real way of knowing were there. It turns many of the levels into more of a memory test which is something we really don’t like.

The new level layouts change the flow of the game as well. You need to take a much slower and more careful approach to your slaughter as you are never really sure what is up ahead. While this does raise tension levels it often just ends up being frustrating. The fact you pretty much have to carve a set route out of the enemies also doesn’t help this as you can end up repeating the same starting actions over and over again.

The levels also go on a bit longer in the main which is difficult when you are basically being asked to perfect run a killing spree of thirty plus goons. You do get used to it but much of the time we really weren’t having fun and that never happened with the original. There are also some bugs with objects and characters getting stuck in things and occasionally a level will start with the cursor stuck in the middle of the screen as well which makes moving around interesting to say the least.

When the game works it does do a great job of making you feel like some kind of super hero. When you’ve got the sequence of a level down and you know where the bad guys are you can cause some serious chain damage and come out feeling exhilarated. It’s moments like this that you realise how good the game can be – but there are far less of them than before.

There are also moments of crazy genius at work here. Picking the duck mask for instance gives you two on screen characters to deal with. One uses a chainsaw while the other uses a gun. It’s mad as you pile through cutting and blasting and feels wonderfully unhinged. The story arc and writing is also exceptional and once you work out what the hell is going on and how everything links up with the original you can only admire what’s been done here. The music is also exceptional and tracks set the scene perfectly for the levels they are attached to.

Overall, it is fair to say that no other game has caused us some many headaches when it has come down to working out how we feel about it. At times we loved it and at times we really despised it. It moved from a six to an eight and back even within the same level and at its core this is the issue – it’s not consistent with its quality. Sometimes it’s brilliant and sometimes it’s downright bad. Fans of the original will both love and hate it in a single play through but it does do a lot of things right. It’s a difficult one to score. It’s both a six and an eight so we’ll take the middle ground and call it a seven.

Overall 7/10

Monday 19 April 2021

Namco Collection 1 and 2 (Evercade Review)

Getting Namco on board has proved to be an excellent move from the Evercade team. This has allowed access to a wealth of arcade games and excellent home console titles. The Japanese giant has such a huge back catalogue that the company could realistically continue to supply software for many years to come. The first two Namco collections are quite different but both are worth looking at.

Namco collection one is perhaps the least interesting of the two but that is not to say there isn’t anything here to get excited about. There are eleven titles present with most of them being solid conversions of arcade classics such as Pacman, Xevious and Mappy. If you like the arcade games there won’t be anything to put you off these versions. There are a couple of more interesting titles here as well such as quirky platformer Mappy Kids and duel controlled curio Little Rabble.

Most notably, Super Nintendo strategy game Metal Marines. It’s somewhat pricey to get hold of the original version now so having this slightly obscure title included is a real bonus for Evercade players. The game mixes basic resource management with balancing attack and defence. Players are on one island and have to deal with an opponent on another one separated by water. You can do this by firing missiles or sending over mech soldiers in order to find the enemy bases and destroy them.

It’s not a game for the faint of heart and attacks come often and with ferocity. Even level one will catch gamers off guard until they get used to building a proper defence of turrets and AA missiles. Once you settle in though the game will last you hours as you gradually edge your way towards the later levels.

The second Namco collection of eleven games ups the overall interest and quality level considerably. There is not a single game here which could be called bad and most are excellent. Joining a further host of arcade conversions such as the wonderful Dragon Spirit and Galaga are the notorious Splatter House games.

We’ve never player the games before and are happy to report that even as a newcomer to the series both have a lot to offer. The gruesome aesthetic and hard hitting nature of the action is somewhat unique and really helps to set a bleak and unsettling atmosphere. We found Splatter House 3 to be the strongest with the exploration elements and ability to move around the field of play more freely giving it a more ‘console game’ feel. It’s a solid length as well and begs to be replayed often.

Splatter House 2 is more linear in its approach and only allows movement left and right but is still great fun to play. Some would no doubt argue it’s a bit more focused than its sequel because of this but it’s just great to see both of the games holding up so well. Anyone looking for a real challenge should head towards brutal 2D fighter Weapon Lord though. Crazily complex, the downside here is that you’ll likely need some kind of guide to get the most out of it (maybe something for Evercade to think about putting on the carts in the future).

There’s a few surprises here as well such as Warp Man which proves to be a great top down, single screen, action game which has some Bomberman elements to it and Pac Attack which proves it’s more than just another Tetris clone.

Overall, both of the Namco collections are worth getting hold of. The addition of Metal Marines to the first collection moves it above the level of simply a ‘solid pack-in title’ to something far more interesting and collectable. The second collection is just an example of how to put an all-round excellent package together. The surprises included and showcasing of the Splatter House games have created another addition which really is in the echelon of being a system seller and stands as one of the strongest overall collections on the system.


Game Ratings

Collection 1

Battle Cars          2/5

Dig Dug                3/5

Galaxian               4/5

Little Rabble       3/5

Mappy                  3/5

Mappy Kids         4/5

Metal Marines      5/5

Pac Man               4/5

Quad Challenge     2/5

Star luster              3/5

Xevious                4/5


Collection 2

Burning Force                    3/5

Dig Dug 2                             3/5

Dragon Spirit                      4/5

Galaga                                  4/5

Pac Attack                           4/5

Phelios                                  4/5

Splatter House 2               4/5

Splatter House 3               5/5

Tower of Duraga               3/5

Warp Man                           4/5

Weapon Lord                     3/5

Monday 12 April 2021

Nintendo Switch Round up 6: Mega Man

Mega Man games are notoriously difficult and expensive to get hold of so it can be very tricky for newcomers to get into the series on the original hardware. There’s also so many games that keeping track of it all and knowing where to start is a challenge in itself. Luckily, the Switch has a host of collections for those looking to get into the series. Here we have rounded them up in an attempt to make it easier for newcomers to jump on board.

What we can say is that care and attention has been taken with these collection for the most part. Extra challenges have been put in, museum features added and a number of quality of life concessions have been implemented pretty much universally.

Mega Man Legacy Collection 1

This collection contains the six NES Mega Man games. Of those Mega Man 2 and 3 are the real highlights. Mega Man 1 is incredibly tough even by Mega Man standards and 4-6 are decent if you get into the series as a whole. The collection is well worth it for Mega Man 2 and 3 alone though and if you are ever going to get on with one of the games then the second game in the series is the most easily accessible and of pretty constantly high quality throughout. The addition of save states and other quality of life issues certainly helps as well.

Mega Man Legacy Collection 2

This is a bit of an oddball collection of Mega Man games. You get 7 on the SNES, 8 on the Playstation and then 9 and 10 which were made for the digital services in the old Mega Man style. What is very strange is that some of the features present in first collection such as the rewind function are not here meaning the games need to be played by those who really know what they are doing. You are really getting the collection for 9 and 10 as the other two don’t hold up that well but this is one for those who have mastered the original games. Many may be better just sticking to the first collection.

Mega Man X Legacy Collection 1

The first X collection stands up excellently with each of the three SNES games expanding on the classic Mega Man formulae but still remaining close enough to keep fans happy. The fourth X game moves things to the Playstation and the added graphical heft certainly take the series to new heights visually. The franchise does begin to get a bit stale here but each of the games is worth playing through. There’s also a host of new features added such as the Rookie mode which allows players to take more damage and adds extra lives for those who haven’t been playing these games before.

Mega Man X Legacy Collection 2

This is one for the hardcore fans only. Mega Man X5 is fine but the others here really start to go downhill quickly. By the time the games have reached the PS2 there really isn’t much left for all but the most ardent of Mega Man supporters as the game become tired an uninspired. If you’ve played everything and want more then fine, but otherwise there are far better options available.

Mega Man Zero/ZX Legacy Collection

The portable spinoff series collection covers the GBA and DS games. While the DS titles are a bit uninspired and don’t hold up that well the GBA titles are outstanding. Modified for portable play the missions are short but challenging affairs and there is a system in place which allows Zero to level up his weapons. There are some decent quality of life features in play as well such as extra save points which means you still need to overcome the challenge but don’t have to trek make through a whole level to take on the boss that just killed you again. There’s also a more casual mode that powers up Zero allowing players to take in the story more easily if they so wish. This comes highly recommended for both long-time fans and newcomers to the series.

Mega Man 11

Now this is how you refresh a long running franchise. After the middling reception to Mega Man 9 and 10 Capcom decided to shake things up with 11. As a result we get new visuals that bring the Blue Bomber into the modern era and really help the character find new life. The action is still fairly traditional though with bosses still needing to be defeated in any order and new powers gained from them as you progress. The weight and general movement of the character has altered a bit but the action and controls are as tight as ever.

New difficulty modes have been added for players new to the series but this time you may not need them as a lot of cheap deaths and general unfairness of previous titles has been ironed out. That isn’t to say the game is easier though, more that now you might actually know why you died. There is also a new gimmick added in the gear system. This allows you to either power Mega Man up or slow the environment down for a set period of time. Upgrades can also be purchased as well but they don’t come cheap. This is probably the best place to start for anyone not versed in the ways of retro gaming.

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