Monday 30 May 2022

Cotton Fantasy Review (Switch)


We’ve covered about 8000 Cotton games recently as the cult shoot’em up franchise has been meticulously ported and released on the Switch over the last few months. Now though there is a brand new one to play around with and it could well be the best of bunch.

Cotton Fantasy is a bright and colourful game that runs along at a great pace and rarely falters in terms of its performance. The levels are also highly distinctive in their look and enemy design and each time you complete the game you will unlock another level which can then be played in the story mode. In terms of looks this ticks all the boxes and the added longevity from the drip feed of new levels keeps the game fresh and gives players alternate routes to take through the game. In terms of other ways to play the game, progression is reduced to Normal or Hard difficulty and the Extra mode which has every enemy blasted turning into bullets.

The bosses a highlight and varied in style with a mixture of big bad screen fillers and smaller more agile foes to take on. Doing this also has to be achieved within an unknown time limit or the boss will fly away losing the player a ton of points. 3D bonus levels giving a nod to Panorama Cotton are another nice touch.

Another thing that greatly adds to the fun and longevity is the character roster. Each of the characters plays very differently. You have the standard approach of someone like Cotton herself who picks up crystals and powers up accordingly, but you also have a character who works by utilising the ‘buzz’ mechanic made popular by Psyvariar and another who runs on a timer with seconds being replenished each time you pick up a crystal. They all have different weapon load outs and special attacks as well. With 6 initial characters to pick it means there’s a lot of ways to play with the only downside being that some levels don’t quite gel as well as they could with certain character styles.

We aren’t hardcore shoot’em up players here at Retro 101 but we found that Cotton Fantasy walked the line between being approachable for newcomers and offering high score chasing for the pros well. Depending on your character there are numerous ways to start racking up huge scores while newcomers supported by having infinite continues and a level select training option to aid progress and practice their skills.

Overall, Cotton Fantasy is among the best the series has to offer. There’s very little more any fan of the franchise could really ask for. It’s just a whole load of fun with a decent amount of variety throughout and numerous extras that add longevity. A great return for a franchise that deserves a far bigger audience.

Overall 8/10

Friday 27 May 2022

Gravitar Recharged Review (Switch)

Atari have been producing their recharged range for a while now, taking classic franchises such as Missile Command and Black Widow and giving them a shiny neon look to bring the arcade fun to a new generation. The latest of these is Gravitar, an inertia-based space shooter and exploration game which formed a popular sub genre in the world of early consoles and microcomputers. Aside from on the Evercade we haven’t really played much of the original Gravitar, but we do love Thrust so this had us excited.

Gravitar Recharged, is very much an arcade experience at heart so if you are after anything more than a high score chasing experience this probably isn’t for you. However, it is a very good arcade experience which perfectly encapsulates the tone of the original while updating the graphics to make them look super neon and vibrant. There is some longevity added through the addition of local co-op multi player missions but really it’s you versus the game for as long as you can survive.

The game starts with you floating in space, orbiting a sun. Planets roll around the sun and you need to jet to them in order to undertake missions. These are varied enough to keep things fun as well and range from simply destroying all enemies to stealing documents, blowing up reactors or setting up sensors. Once a planet has been completed you blast off back into space and its orbital trajectory line disappears from the play field. Once all the planets have been completed you move to a new galaxy and start again.

The main gimmick of the game is that gravity continually pulls your craft down to the surface. Players must boost their engines to stay stable and float around the environments. This is made more difficult by the fact that you only have limited fuel supplies. Once your fuel runs out you will simply fall to the surface below and explode. More fuel can be picked up in levels, along with other power ups and this vital to staying alive.

The ship itself handles really well which means although the game is fairly difficult it is always down to the player when you crash or get blasted out of the sky. You also only have three lives which means you will be restarting often so this really is a throw back to old school gaming. Even Gravity Crash on the Vita didn’t take this approach but if you want to progress here you simply need to learn to the play the game better.

Overall, Gravitar Recharged is successful at what it has set out to do. It has updated the look of a game which first released way way back in 1982 and presented it in a fun way that feels fresh in the modern day. It may not hold players attention for long but in short bursts this is a great blast of retro action and so few games use the inertia gimmick it keeps it unique enough to warrant a place in your library.

Overall 7/10

Monday 23 May 2022

Prinny Presents NIS Classics Volume 2 Review (Switch)

The Switch is fast becoming an Ark of overlooked NIS gems and now we have another collection of games set to take up several thousand hours of our time. Classics Volume 2 contains underappreciated PS2 game Makai Kingdom and PSP game Z.H.P: Unlosing Ranger vs. Darkdeath Evilman. As you can probably tell these are going to be games that require some serious dedication from the player but then that is NIS’ whole ‘thing’.

Makai Kingdom released fairly late in the life of the PS2 and came after the Disgaea and Phantom Brave games had established themselves on the system. This version, subtitled “Reclaimed and Rebound”, contains even more content than before and it is one of the most in-depth games you are ever likely to find. Even in terms of NIS games this one is detailed with a seemingly never-ending list of things to do and level up.

The writing and humour live up to the standard we now expect from the company and the crazy plot will sit well with fans of Disgaea. Basically, Zetta the “Bad-Ass Freakin’ Overlord” accidentally destroys his own Netherworld and ends up getting confined within the pages of book and then things start to get weird. It follows much the same look and pattern of other NIS games with the mechanics more akin to Phantom Brave than Disgaea. Instead of the grid system you are given range circles which show how far characters can move and attack and the elemental aspect of Phantom Brave returns with characters being created from raw materials such as rocks or trees and imbuing characteristics of those objects.

Makai Kingdom is arguably NIS’ biggest and most in-depth game. If you are a fan of this sort of thing and want something that’s fairly easy to get into but has limitless depth then this might just be the game you fall in love with.

Z.H.P: Unlosing Ranger vs. Darkdeath Evilman is something a little different. It’s much closer to the Rogue template and has players guiding a single character through dungeons repeatedly dying and levelling up their base stats. The dungeons are randomly generated each time - aside from the boss encounters which will require large amounts of grinding to get past. It’s like if someone took the item world concept from Disgaea and tried to expand it into its own game. It’s strangely addictive and we found ourselves glued to it for hours at a time.

The plot of this one is wonderful as well. The real hero of the piece is on their way to take on Demon General Darkdeath Evilman but is hit by a car and dies when they step off the pavement without looking. The mantle is then passed onto an ordinary person who is just passing by who then must begin training to save the day and rescue Super Baby.

Overall, This collection is another solid release from NIS. A re-release of Makai Kingdom was long overdue and it’s great it can now join other classics from the company on the Switch. We hadn’t encountered Z.H.P: Unlosing Ranger vs. Darkdeath Evilman before but it fits perfectly here and is a real highlight. The amount of grinding may put some off, but the humour and charm of both games will likely see them find new fans, and they should because both are genuinely great games.

Overall 8/10

Monday 16 May 2022

Andro Dunos 2 Review (Switch)

You wait an age for an obscure Neo Geo franchise to be revived and then two come along at once. We recently looked at Ganryu 2 and here publisher Just For Games come, working their nostalgic remit again. Even better, this time the game has turned out excellently.

We aren’t particularly familiar with the original but from what we have seen of it Andro Dunos 2 seems to really be its own beast with the name merely added to produce brand awareness and marketing ability. This isn’t a bad thing as it has allowed the team to make a stand-out side scrolling shoot’em up that’s both welcoming to hardcore fans and casual players alike.

In terms of style, Andro Dunos 2 takes small influences from the back catalogue of famous side scrolling shoot’em ups but ultimately comes out as it’s own thing. It has a distinctive identity and exists away from the homage like titles such as Super Hydorah while retaining the Neo Geo look.

The key dynamic of the game is levelling the multi-weapon system. Players can cycle through four different types of weapons which fire at different angles, speeds and sizes and each can be increased in power. Missiles, shields and other additional accessories can also be picked up as you go. The key though is that for a temporary drop in power each weapon can be used to activate a mega blast. If you have all four weapons powered up enough it then becomes a legitimate tactic to keep cycling through and activating the mega blast before moving to the next weapon while the others are recharging. During the levels blue spheres can also be accumulated which can be used to level up the main and support weapons at the end of each stage.

The stages themselves are also excellent with them gently leaning on the past while depicting something that seems unique to the game itself. The game also lets you settle in and get comfortable before gradually ramping up the difficulty and technical skill required to progress. There is also a continue system which let’s you start from any level which you have previously beaten which is a sensible concession for casual fans looking to make their way through.

The look of Andro Dunos 2 also perfectly captures the arcade feel of the 90’s with it being colourful and bold in both it’s craft design and the levels themselves. The bosses are highlights with them being suitably screen filling and impressive and requiring thought and patience to take down. In terms of nailing that nostalgic vibe with a ‘new’ IP this really is up there with the best of them.

Overall, Andro Dunos 2 is remarkable. It is basically a completely new game from the 90’s carrying the vibe and look of the era for all its worth without falling back on simple nostalgic triggers or being a ‘greatest hits’ collection of other retro shoot’em ups. If this is the future for titles going for the retro aesthetic, then we are all for it and we would recommend it to anyone looking for something new from the 90’s.

Overall 9/10

Friday 13 May 2022

Never Alone Fox Tales DLC (Switch)

Never Alone is a beautiful game that told the story of a young girl and an Artic Fox as they explored the snow covered tundra around them. It also drew heavily on folk law and helped present a new set of stories from a different culture to the world. The recent Switch release brought this to a new audience so we are here to give you another gentle reminder to check out the game with this look at the included Fox Tales DLC.

Fox Tales is a three level addition to the main game and tells another story. This time the tale is one of the pair trying to rescue a small mouse that has been washed away by the spring currents. On their journey they encounter a huge monster mouse that is frightening people away from a lake and decide to defeat it so people will no longer be scared.

The game plays like the original but is more puzzle based and our two adventurers spend most of their time in the water or canoeing on top of it. The main role of the fox is now to move spirits around to cause fast currents to flow in different directions. The girl is mainly used to pick up rocks and then drop them so they bounce around to their destination aided by the movement of the spirits. It’s sort of a cultural marble run. 

It all works well and the story being told is both interesting and enjoyable. It’s not particularly difficult and certainly won’t last you more than an hour or so but it’s great to see the game taking on more folklore tales and putting them across in such a beautiful way. The new mechanics such as rowing the canoe and the new puzzles fit well also. If you liked the original you should really give this a try as it adds some new idea to the core game while remaining beautiful and magical as ever. 

Monday 9 May 2022

Ganryu 2 Review (Switch)

The Switch continues to be a sort of Ark for retro games and systems with the online pass and the the Neo Geo Pocket having a high-profile presence on the system. Arcade and Neo Geo games are also prevalent and there’s even been Saturn and Amiga titles beginning to come through. Alongside this several ‘new’ retro games have started to appear. Ganryu 2 falls somewhere between the two categories as a technically new game, but one that is a direct sequel to a slightly obscure Neo Geo title.

It all starts well enough with big bold graphics that invoke the arcade sprites of old. The characters and environments are beautiful as well and invoke the spirit of ancient Japan well. The problem comes with regards to how the game plays. The first issue is with the control layout. There is a lot you can do with your character but the controls just never feel comfortable. The attack button is clearly in the wrong place and the jump and dash dynamic seems very awkward. There are no button configuration options either which is a real shame.  

Once you have wrestled the buttons under control your next obstacle is the flow of the game. It seems to skip frames at times which means your character is never quite where you think they are and the same goes for enemies. Again, this can be overcome but when you have a game this quick and so reliant on twitch reflexes it is a noticeable issue. Add in memory test enemies and obstacles you have no way of avoiding without prior knowledge and the cracks really start to show. ** (A patch has now been issued to address the frame rate - see paragraph at the end of the review). 

All of this would be forgivable if the game didn’t abide by a crazy approach to progress. You do have a healthy number of lives but when you must reach for a continue it takes you all the way back to the first part of the chapter. We fought through to the end of stage 1-2 only to die at the boss. Naturally we expected the continue to start us back at the beginning of stage 1-2 but no. Right back to the start of 1-1 we went. In a lot of ways, it would be better just to not have continues for all the use they are. There are no other ways to continue progress either.

Overall, the shine on Ganryu 2 rubs off very quickly. It’s a real shame as with a changed continue system the game would actually be a lot of fun - even with the control and frame rate issues. As it is though it’s just too much to deal with and not enjoyable enough to be worth the perseverance. In the end there’s just too many flaws to be able to recommend this to all but the most hardcore of Neo Geo fans.

** Since this review was written a patch has been released for the game. This has changed the frame rate issue dramatically and the game now plays incredibly smoothly. While other issues remain the flow of the game has been dramatically improved and as a result it is much more fun. A future patch is also in the pipeline which adds buttons config options and changes the prevalence of healing items. The overall score has been changed to reflect the current patch.

Overall 6/10

Monday 2 May 2022

Big Bang Pro Wrestling Review (Switch)

The Neo Geo Pocket Colour is really finding a second life through the Nintendo Switch and long may it continue. Scouring lists of essential games though will rarely bring up this lesser-known wrestling game and initially it did seem a rather odd choice to us. First impressions weren’t particularly good either but then it all sort of fell into place and now it’s clear this is one of those hidden gems you hear about so often.

What many may overlook is actually how the game works (handily a scan of the original manual is included). There are two main types of wrestling games when it comes to lock ups. Ones where you hammer buttons and ones such as Firepro which are more focused on timing of button presses and building of moves. This is most certainly in the second camp and once players get used to it there’s a fun game here even though you only have two buttons to pull off moves.

Those two buttons are used to their fullest though with each wrestler having four grapple moves along with a host of strikes and rope based attacks. Each wrestler also has a special move which they can pull of at any time once their name is glowing by pressing both buttons together. The lack of moves is also shielded by the fact that matches are often fairly short so repetition never has a chance to set in.

There’s no shortage of match types either with a career mode that features coffin matches and things hanging on a pole matches (which we’ve still not fully worked out), along with the more standard fair. You can also find weapons around the outside of the ring and even bump the ref. it’s very impressive from the little Neo Geo Pocket and this must be one of the most ambitious games on the system.

The most telling thing about the game is simply how many hours we have put into it without realising. It certainly has the same power as all the best wrestling games where you simply lose track of time and find yourself staying for one more match.

Overall, Big Bang Pro Wrestling has proved to be a really nice surprise. We had never even heard of it but it’s now up there with SNK vs Capcom: Card Fighters Clash as our most played NGP game. It plays well, it’s inventive, the graphics and sound are satisfying, and it uses the control scheme the best you can possibly expect for the system. Well done to whomever picked it out to be given a second chance on Switch- it’s a resounding success.

Overall 7/10