Monday 29 January 2024

The Legend of Steel Empire Review (Switch)

The Megadrive was home to an awesome range of 16-bit shoot’em ups and it’s great to see some of them making their way over to the Switch. We’ve had less high-profile releases of games such as Gleylancer and Gynoug, as well as some of the Thunder Force series. Steel Empire is the first to get a proper reworking though. First released in 1992, we’ve seen the game pop up a couple of times. First on the Gameboy Advance and then later the Nintendo 3DS. Unbelievably, the last release was now ten years ago so we are more than happy to have its steam punk inspired madness appear again on the Switch.

The wonderfully stupid story revolves around two waring factions. The tyrannical Motorhead Empire are trying to take over the entire world with their huge steam powered mechanical monsters and all that is standing in their way is the small, rebellious Republic of Silverhead. Players take on the role of head of the Silverhead air force and are charged with single handedly blasting through seven stages to victory.

The first thing you notice is how amazing the game looks. The original sprites have been kept as pixels but everything in the backgrounds and in terms of explosions has been given much richer colours and had detail added. There’s a few new FX and bits of lighting as well which really helps to enhance the overall look of an already pretty game, without sacrificing the style of the original. The game still runs in the original aspect ratio with the side of the screen now used for much of the information and feedback which works well in this case.

The original control scheme remains and is now fully customisable. Here buttons are used to shoot to the left or right with the final one primed to deliver the games version of the smart bomb which not only causes massive damage but clears the screen of projectiles, allowing much needed escapes from the constant onslaught of enemy fire. There’s no noticeable input lag either which is excellent.

In terms of powers ups, there is a simple but effective system in place. There are the standard extra lives, increased speed, and points to collect but there’s also icons that level up your ships rank up to a maximum of 20. Each level provides extra fire power or assist vehicles to help you, and it can often be worth taking damage in order to collect them, so you’ll stand a fighting chance of being able to down the massive units you’ll come across. You can also pick between two ships at the start of each mission. There’s a plane which is quick and agile but takes less damage and the slow but heavily armoured blimp. Each craft is better suited to one of the levels, so you’ll have to think carefully about what you’ll need.

Overall, The Legend of Steel Empire is great re-working of the original game which was pretty great to begin with. It’s chaotic but isn’t the hardest of shooters to get through so It’s testament to how fun it is that you’ll likely be more than happy to go round for another loop. There’s a lot of these types of game on the Switch but the style of Steel Empire means it’s still well worth checking out and can hang in there with the best of them.

Overall 8/10

Monday 22 January 2024

Rock N' Roll Racing Review (Nintendo Switch)

For many, the highlight of the recent Blizzard collection is Rock N’ Roll Racing. It packages the original SNES version and the later released Mega Drive game together with the new ‘definitive’ edition and a version which allows four players. This shows fans right from the start that the franchise has been treated with great care.

The story goes that in 2833, intelligent life was found on the planet of Bogmire. The inhabitants of this strange world became addicted to the art of racing and started using souped-up cars to bomb around the planet. Something else that caught on quickly was Earth's rock music and thus from these strange beginnings the Rock N Roll Racing Commission was created. Set across six planets each with a whole host of tracks, Rock N Roll Racing is good over-the-top racing fun.

The definitive version has had the most significant upgrade work done on it. There are more tracks, environmental effects have been added to planets 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.

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 each vehicle can have numerous things added to it in order to help you through - these include mines, missiles, nitros, better tyres, and thicker armour. But the real skill comes in being able to take on opponents with as little as possible, as when you reach a new planet one of the opponents will have a new car meaning you need to upgrade - and rest assured these contraptions do not come cheap.

The cars are a joy to drive and very easy to get to grips with. After your first race you should be able to grasp the controls enough to be able to fire well-aimed shots at your opponents while taking a ninety-degree corner. Indeed, after a few races - as well as fighting off the other racers - you will find yourself trying to grab all the extra money packages laid around the courses as well. While the action can become a touch samey due to the fact certain tracks must be raced upon more than once, nothing really takes away from the feeling that you are having a lot of fun.

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 with regards to display settings and other features.

Overall, it’s clear a lot of attention and care has been taken when bringing Rock N’ Roll Racing 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 version. Not being able to save is also something that can’t be overlooked. That said, if you are a fan the game (and who isn’t?), this provides an excellent way of playing it for a reasonable price.

Overall 8/10

Monday 15 January 2024

Astral Ascent Review (Switch)


There’s a couple of genres on the Switch that most people would agree probably have enough games already. The rogue-like would certainly be one of those and there seems to be a new one released every week. But as Hades proved, there’s always room for one more when they can be put together in a way that engages and draws you back in time after time.

In keeping with Hades, Astral Ascent is also a story about trying to escape from a celestial prison. In this case it’s a sort of Garden of Eden guarded by 12 zodiac gods. As you progress through the game, you’ll find memory fragments for the different characters which will slowly unfold the link between the gods and why the various prisoners are trapped there.

In terms of the structure this works like pretty much every other action rogue-like. In this case each of the environments you need to get through consists of twelve relatively short levels with a boss at the end. Levels are classified as exploration, where you can treat them like assault courses and just find the exit, or fight based which normally enclose you inside a locked arena until all enemies have been defeated. If you are lucky, you’ll come across rest rooms and shops to help you as well.

Along the way you’ll acquire more skills and buffs until you inevitably hit something too strong and get sent back to the start to try and do it all again. In this case there are also a host of permanent improvements that you can unlock slowly along the way which grant you more strength, hit points and things such as mana and magic.

In terms of when you are in a run you can pick up add-ons for your various spells known as gambits. There are an absolute ton of different gambits and range from simple attack increases to adding elemental statuses or poison. Coupling these with your ever-increasing spells list means you have will eventually end up with a huge arsenal at your disposal to customise your attacking options. On top of this you can also pick up auras which add further buffs to your character.

There are four characters in total with two being available from the start. All of them approach combat in almost completely different ways but all share the core move set of a standard attack that can be used to create combo’s, a jump, a dodge, four single spells that once used gradually recharge and a special attack. So, you are well equipped for what’s to come. All this means that when you are facing the multiple hordes that are trying to take you down that you always feel in control of your own destiny and death is always due to players not reacting rather than any innate unfairness. That said, it did take at least an hour of banging against a relative brick wall to start make small chunks of progress and to get out of the first area will likely take much longer than that.

The visuals are done in a glorious pixel visual style that captures the heavenly vibe particularly well. As lovely as they are though they are very small on the Switch when it’s in handheld mode. We didn’t find any other performance issues aside from this but when porting to the Switch, in an ideal world, more consideration should have been taken regarding this. Even if the text size could have been changed it would have made things a lot easier.

Overall, Astral Ascent doesn’t really do anything new or anything particularly innovative but the game plays so beautifully well that it won’t really bother you. It’s one of the more hardcore and complex rogue-likes as well so there’s something for veterans to challenge themselves with. If you’ve got room for one more of these games, then Astral Ascent is a good one to fill the gap with.

Overall 8/10

Monday 8 January 2024

ASTLIBRA Revision Review (Switch)


We cover mainly indie games here at Retro 101 and there can be little argument that ASTLIBRA is about as indie as you can get. The passion project of a single man developed over the course of 15 years you certainly can’t doubt the dedication behind it. It’s also with some relief that we can report that, though flawed, it’s also a playable and interesting take on the action rpg.

The plot is an intriguing one. It follows a nameless blond hero who loses a young girl to monster attack one night. When he awakens, he has amnesia and with the aid of a newly arrived talking crow they set off to nearby town, only to wander for eight years in the wilderness without meeting a single soul. Eventually you find a mysterious old traveller and things pick up.

As evidence to its long development the game has isolated chapters which often move you off to different locations each time. There is a sort of central hub city eventually and despite the patch work nature of the structure it does all just about hold together enough to remain enjoyable. Tying in with this jigsaw approach to design, a lot of the graphics are acquired assets but the way everything is put together does give the game a distinct personality of it’s own which is an impressive feat.

These sorts of games live and die on how they play and though a touch old fashioned, the combat is solid. You can jump, attack, cast magic and use a parry to get the upper hand against the wide range beasties on offer. You also get a host of satisfying sound effects and numbers feedback on each strike. If anything this can become difficult as when there are multiple enemies attacking the action can become obscured with all the data feeding back to the player.

Away from the satisfying combat there are a few old school problems that players will have to breath in and just accept. One of the most annoying is that quests can be locked behind conversation sequences that need to be gone through in pretty much an exact order. Early on we were stuck for ages looking for wood simply because we hadn’t spoken to the owner of the pub at the correct point during the quest set up. Along with this, finding quests in the first place takes the very old school approach of NPC’s giving out the vaguest hints and directions possible. We would suggest keeping a guide nearby for help.

The levelling system is an interesting one and based around collecting different materials to unlock buffs on a skill tree. You level up as well, but you’ll need a certain amount of grinding to gather the materials required to move substantially up the skill tree. There is also a nice concession in that if you don’t have the specifically required material needed you can still upgrade by using three times the amount of a different one.

Overall, ASTLIBRA Revision is an interesting and somewhat unique game that is well worth your time. It does require quite a large chunk of patience to get the most out of, however. For those that are willing to put in the time and can forgive some of the archaic throwbacks to action RPGS of the past there is a rich and rewarding game here.

Overall 7/10