HYPER BEAM Review! iOS/iPhone

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Do you miss the arcade games of old, where twitch reflexes and split-second decisions meant life or death, high-score or nothing? Then grab your iPhone, boot up the AppStore, and head straight to Rinikulous Games’ new space shooter HYPER BEAM. Let your thumbs do the talking as you negotiate with enemies via a death laser, also known as the mighty Hyper Beam!

If you like attractive minimalist design, space, and bullet-hell action with inventive touch controls, you’d be well-served to give HYPER BEAM a try. You won’t survive long, but what a life it will be!

Check out my full review with more info and screenshots at KeenGamer.com! Also check out my review of Rinikulous Games’ last excellent mobile game, Lonely Sun!

CLADUN RETURNS: THIS IS SENGOKU! Review!

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The classic dungeon series is back with Cladun Returns: This is Sengoku! With a new Nobunaga-era backstory and more dungeons than you can shake a pixel at, NIS’s brilliant bite-sized RPG is bigger, funnier, and more loot-filled than ever! Grab your controller, laptop, or Vita, and dive into this retro-themed masterpiece that’s sure to take years of your life (and you’ll love it!)

It comes down to this: Cladun Returns: This is Sengoku! is a treasure trove of time-killing pleasures, the kind of game where boredom has to be sought to be found. Between dungeon crawling, loadout tweaking, magic circle and fortress-fortifying, drawing, and composing, there’re just too many play options to detail. The dungeons look good, play great, and will have you coming back for more.

Check out my full review with more info and screenshots at KeenGamer.com!

OPERATION ABYSS: NEW TOKYO LEGACY Review!

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Operation Abyss: New Tokyo Legacy is an excellent dungeon romp through a near-future sci-fi Tokyo.Finish that high-school class quick, so you can gear up and dive headlong into a quest for missing students that’ll lead you into fierce battle against bizarre enemies. Best of all, this dungeon-crawler won’t make you crunch more numbers than math class! (Unless you’re into that.)

For those unfamiliar with Wizardry games, especially their later Japanese-spawned entries, suffice it to say that they consist of first-person dungeon wandering through grid’ed environs, where players control a party of characters in turn-based combat and have a metric ton of stats, gear, and spells to play with. Operation Abyss contains all of those traits, but trades the more common sword and sorcery theme for a near-modern future filled with high-tech laboratories and medical facilities hidden beneath local high schools.

Where Wizardry games, and their recent ilk such as Stranger of Sword City, often lose people is in the complexity of their numbers’ systems. Players need to be aware of no less than two dozen stats and traits to fully utilize their party, and often the mere act of equipping a new sword can take minutes. The fun comes from eventually fine-tuning your crew into the ultimate monster-slaying heroes, but it can come at the price of playability. Operation Abyss: New Tokyo Legacy skips this terrifying time-sink by using story progression as a way to spread out the introduction of new stats and systems. Certainly this is nothing new to the gaming world, but being able to plunk your way through a few dungeons before having to worry about crafting is a nice change of pace, and makes learning the complexities of the game engine a gradual pleasure, rather than a brick wall on the highway.

Operation Abyss: New Tokyo Legacy is both fun and approachable, like the best guest at a party. It doesn’t bore you with convoluted ways to make your guacamole taste better, but you know it could if you asked for it. It’s as complicated as you want it to be, and a nice challenge no matter what.

Check out my full review on KeenGamer.com!

THE SILVER CASE Review!

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Suda51 fan’s, unite! The Silver Case, the cult-developer’s first title from the PSX era, comes to U.S. consoles for the first time in a remastered and expanded edition. A visual novel with graphic crime content and supernatural undertones, The Silver Case grants players a rare chance to see the beginnings of a great game-maker, and experience one of the strangest visual novels ever to grace the genre.

Anyone looking for something different to pop into their PS4’s will never find something as different as The Silver Case. It’s proof-positive that Suda51 and Grasshopper Manufacture were breaking the mold right out of the gate, and those willing to fight with a UI better left to history will be rewarded with an experience like no other.

If, like us, you’re rabid Suda51 fans, then consider The Silver Case a must-buy. The influence of it on later titles like Killer7 are visible almost immediately, and the story is yet another example of how Suda51’s versatility is unmatched. If, however, you’ve only ever played the lovably wonky No More Heroes series, but think the idea of a visual novel sounds dreadful, then you may have to pass on this one. Unless, of course, you’d like Grasshopper Manufacture‘s other quirky titles to get re-releases (or better yet, sequels!)–then you ought to do yourself a favor and give The Silver Case a try.

Check out my full review, plus a ton of screenshots, at keengamer.com!

KITE Preview!

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16-bit shooters are reborn in the early-access title KITE! Super Nintendo and Genesis fans take heed because Kite’s Universal Soldier vibe and 90’s-era pixel graphics make blasting through a cyberpunk dystopia sheer bliss! Hop on board now, because this title is already a ton of fun.

Get more details at my KeenGamer.com Preview!

SNES REVIEW – PHANTOM 2040 (1995)

The game has good multi-layered scrolling effects, such as these roaming parrots flying behind the foreground ...
The game has good multi-layered scrolling effects, such as these roaming parrots flying behind the foreground …

The Phantom 2040 cartoon series from 1994 is perhaps one of the lesser known Phantom comic character outings, but it stands out as one of the best, thanks to its intelligent plots and bizarre character designs (props to Æon Fluxcreator Peter Chung).  The show ran for only two seasons, but spawned one of the most undeservedly overlooked platformers of the era, the titular Phantom 2040 for the SNES (which also had versions released on the Genesis and Game Gear systems).

What makes the game stand out?  Sure, it has tight controls, unique weapons, and smooth animations ala Flashback, but what else?  How about Metroidvania style levels with multiple ways to complete them, and a branching story that leads to differing twists and over 20 unique endings based on how your progress through the game?  Yes, 20 endings, and while you may not get them all, you’ll definitely be starting over after completing the game to take that missed pathway, and then the next one, and then the next one, and so on until you simply can’t remember which ones you took and didn’t take.

The Inductance Rope tool lets you scale walls, swing from the ceiling, and get to those hard-to-reach places ...
The Inductance Rope tool lets you scale walls, swing from the ceiling, and get to those hard-to-reach places …

On it’s surface, the game plays like a smoother Another World crossed with any ol’ platform shooter, letting you blast, jump, and power up your way through the future city of Metropia on a quest to stop corruption and crime.  But soon enough you’ll realize that you’re in for more of a Metroid experience, thanks to the  Inductance Rope too that lets you scale walls and swing from the ceiling ala Bionic Commando. You’ll be scouting out how to get that difficult-to-reach power up, and you’ll find yourself using the city map between levels to re-visit previous locations to open up more areas thanks to newly acquired items.  Speaking of items, while many are weapons, there are some unique ones in there, such as pellets that you can drop to douse local flames.  You can build quite a hefty arsenal if you put the time in, and most items are worth playing around with, even if not required to progress.

The story is told through illustrated cut scenes, occasionally launching into animated full-screen affairs that show the wonder of the SNES’s later days.  Like the show it’s based on, the game’s story has more variety and flair than most of it’s ilk, and I found myself checking out the Peter Chung-designed weirdos portraits for a while before I even read the next plot reveal.

Gotta love a good animated cutscene ...
Gotta love a good animated cutscene …

Where Phantom 2040 succeeds in gameplay, story, atmosphere, and variety, it lets down a little in the sound department.  None of the music or effects are overtly terrible, but everything from the digitized shout on a new-game start to the enemies’ explosions seem somehow muted, like a collection of great audio clips were neutered on their way through production into mere adequate fair.  The graphics are the opposite, however; while the Phantom and some humanoid enemies seem to stand too erect and walk too stiff-legged, the animations and rendering on everything else is worth studying.

In the end, I can’t recommend Phantom 2040 enough; I’ve beat it, but I haven’t finished playing it, and is there any better compliment you can pay a game?

PHANTOM2040_SNES SCORECARD

GAMEBOY ADVANCE REVIEW – TEENAGE MUTANT NINJA TURTLES (2003)

Gotta love the attention to details, like the TCRI neon sign ...
Gotta love the attention to details, like the TCRI neon sign …

GBAcartAw, the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles.  Great comics, great cartoons, (mostly) great movies, and great games.  Where most licensed games are, at best, adequately playable, Turtles games include not only some of the best within that category, but also some of the best console games period.  Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles II: The Arcade Game for the NES and Turtles in Time for the SNES are the most well-known, and were excellent beat ’em ups.  This is no surprise, since Konami made them after having cut their teeth with The Adventures of Bayou Billy for the NES, and afterword followed up the above TMNT games with the arcade hits X-Men, The Simpsons, and Bucky O’Hare.

            While Turtles in Time is generally considered the pinnacle of TMNT beat ’em up joy, Konami hasn’t stopped making good Turtles games.  To check the truth of this statement, I took a look at Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles from 2003 for the Game Boy Advance.  Inspired by the slightly darker and (arguably too) “edgy” 2003 cartoon series (not to be confused with the original 1987 run or the current 2012 Nickelodeon series), the first GBA Turtles title looks to be a classic beat ’em up meant to satisfy your Turtles in Time cravings.  Play a few seconds of the game, though, and you’ll see that this brawler is actually a sidescroller without any of the Final Fight-esque foreground/background depth of movement allowed.

Some areas allow you to take alternate routes ...
Some areas allow you to take alternate routes …

It still feels like a brawler in that vein, however, as it throws waves of enemies at you during bouts of locked screens.  Bobbing arrows direct you to take occasionally diverging paths, and the backgrounds are definitely fitting of the TV show.  So are the enemies, which range from mousers to purple dragons, and even Casey Jones in the classic Raph-meets-Casey-and-they-beat-the-crud-out-of-each-other story.  That brings up the character graphics for the Turtles, themselves, which are a little mixed.  At times, the Turtles actually look a little worse than the enemies, and it seems that the developers started the Turtle sprites by taking screen captures from the actual show, then modeled around them.  This may not be true, but it would explain the excessive artifacting of their characters.  The animations of the Turtles’ attacks are great, though, and make up for their slightly blurry appearance.

Each turtle has some unique touches, like Raph’s ability to scale walls with his sai …

Each turtle has a normal attack, a jump attack, a special attack, and a power up attack that you can charge by Each turtle has some unique touches, like Raph’s ability to scale walls with his sai …holding down a shoulder button.  Hold it too long, and your Turtle will apparently hemorrhage, reducing them to a shivering, panting easy target for a few seconds.  The spaz-out is by far the coolest animation, and I urge you to do it every time you’re waiting for another wave of foes.  The foes are relatively easy, though I did have to hit continue (of which you have infinite) every few screens and during some boss fights.

Rather than following a traditional beat ’em up plot, where you can select your favorite character and lead them through a single storyline, this title chooses instead to give each of the four turtles their own mini-plot.  Leo searches out the source of the mousers, Raph fights Casey Jones, etc.  Some reviewers have lamented the limiting of certain levels to certain Turtles, but I found the multi-story approach welcome, as the stories act as great intros to the core tales of the TMNT mythos.  The cut scenes use static backgrounds with static characters moving in and out as they dive into the conversation, and do their part admirably.  The writing is in keeping with the show, but could’ve used a little more charm.

The game starts with an intro culled and cut down from the show, and looks and sounds good for the GBA.  The in-game music and sound effects are alright, occasionally rising up to remind you of the great SNES Turtles in Time tracks, though they never reach that excellence.

Vehicle-based minigames and toy placements abound ...
Vehicle-based minigames and toy placements abound …

The truly unique thing about this ’03 GBA outing that sets it apart from its fellow sidescrollers and beat ’em ups is the minigame levels.  These are stuck between the main sidescrolling levels, and include things like a rail-shooting Sewer Shark-style segment with Leo piloting the Sewer Slider, an Excitebike-style motorcycle race with Raph on the Shell Cycle, a sewer skateboarding section ala Sonic 2‘s special stages featuring Mikey, and a sidescrolling shooter with Donny hooked up to a glider.  Clearly, Konami did their best to put in plugs for Turtle toys like the Sewer Slider and Shell Cycle, but the Thrashin’ Mikey and Air TMNT figures hadn’t been designed or released yet, leaving Mikey and Donny to use generic gear for their minigames.  The minigames are a welcome addition, although some (like Leo’s) seem a bit overlong.  However, if I were twelve years old and stuck on the school bus, I’d have been more than happy to sink the time into them.

Overall, the game is good.  It’s a little bit original NES Turtles and a little bit Turtles II, and with the minigames, that’s more than enough value to merit a play.GBAcart

TMNT03_GBA SCORE CARD

COMMODORE 64 REVIEW – B.A.T. (Bureau of Astral Troubleshooters)

5_25 floppyIf you haven’t heard about this Ubisoft adventure/rpg from 1990, then you aren’t alone.  I came across a boxed copy of this 5 1/4 floppy game last year, and it looks like an enticing Blade Runner-esque rpg on its face.  If nothing else,

This mainly point-and-click adventure starts you out with an optional character creation opportunity.  Don't ask me if it really changes anything ...
This mainly point-and-click adventure game starts you out with an optional character creation screen. Don’t ask me if it really affects anything …

the box is great and way ahead of its time (it looks solidly like a 1995 game, so it had to sell a bit on that, alone.)  The game of B.A.T. itself, though, which is actually a port from the Atari ST home computer version, is a mixed bag of awesome and awful.

I’ll start with the awesome: the setting is just darn cool.  It embraces rather than shy’s away from its Blade Runner roots, casting the player as an interplanetary detective searching for an escaped criminal scientist who’s suspected of siding with a known human-hating terrorist.  There are lots of aliens and bizarre landscapes to view, though I’d say that none are so outlandish as to be utterly unique.

Also good is the amount of open-ended action.  You can find a phone, and dial the number off of a pamphlet or ad, and speak to different individuals that you may or may not ever encounter.

Locations branch into comic-like panels when you delve deeper into them ...
Locations branch into comic-like panels when you delve deeper into them …

There are limits, though, and you’ll hit them after about half-an-hour.  Still, given the size of the game (one double-sided disk,) the achievement is commendable, and you’ll find plenty of places to wander around and aliens to chat with.

The speech system is okay, giving you random conversation encounters with recurring characters and the occasional on-screen static illustrated character, but having long ago mastered interactive fiction/text adventures, the “Discuss/Attack/Steal” type options of interaction seemed overly limiting.

Personally, the graphics did it for me.  They aren’t fantastic when compared to the Atari ST version, which, coincidentally, is what they decided to stick on the box.  However, they did a lot with the limited graphical capacity of the C64 hardware, and it definitely succeeded in keeping the gritty urban/sci-fi atmosphere they were shooting for.  The fight scenes in particular look great, which sometimes occur randomly, and sometimes occur at your prodding (there’s a great ATTACK option for every random person who talks to you, and I urge you to hit it often if you want to lose all your ammo and die over and over again.)

Battles look pretty good, but don't forget to buy ammunition ...
Battles look pretty good, but don’t forget to buy ammunition …

Now, for the awful bits about B.A.T. for the 64. LOADING, LOADING, LOADING.  Every C64 enthusiast knows the lengthy wait times associated with booting up the real deal software, but this game takes the “read a book and play at the same time” idea to the next level.  I’m not sure what the developers were struggling with, but having to switch from side 1 of the disk, then side 2, and back again is truly maddening. Even emulating this title can feel like a chore, though it makes the task a bit easier.

The gameplay of B.A.T. consists mainly of you clicking on static images, either to go to new locations, talk to characters, interact with technology, or search an area for items.  Like other games of the point-and-click adventure genre, your cursor will change depending on what it is you’re dragging your joystick cursor over.  This brings up the second biggest problem with B.A.T.: there is no indication on which way you came from, and your new location screen never keeps a consistent perspective.  This means that you will click an arrow to go to the next place, yet you have a 33%-50% chance of going back to the previous screen by mistake–keeping in mind that you had to wait half a minute or more for the new location to load, switching disks like a fleshy-jukebox all the while.  This makes that easily attainable online walkthrough all the more tempting, which isn’t what I look for in a great game.

I had nightmares about this guy ...
I had nightmares about this guy …

When the cursor driven interface succeeds, though, it’s adequate.  The learning curve requires you to realize that, when you click and search on that little item in the picture, you are actually searching the whole screen.  It’s confusing at first, especially when you click on the picture of a gun in a case, search it, and the dialogue box pops up to say “Sushi. Will you take it?”

I’ve said already that the fight screens look good (though don’t expect them to change,) and consist of you looking at your target from a first-person view.  You have a limited amount of time before they start shooting, which they will, without fail or variation, and in that time, you need to click on what weapon and shield (if available) that you want to use in the fight.  This is where you learn that, while you may have a gun, you probably haven’t bought any ammo.

Yes, this is a point-and-click adventure mixed with an rpg of the old-school–you’ll get hungry, thirsty, and tired, and occasionally you’ll have too much stuff and be forced to leave stuff in random locations like a slug leaving a slime trail.  This isn’t a bad thing, though, and adds something a bit deeper to the talk-to-him and find-this gameplay that makes up the majority of the game.  Did I mention that there’s also a time limit to your overall mission?  Don’t fret, though,

This game features a computer implanted into your arm that allows you to check your stats, and even to program in a little BASIC-style setup.  Although a strong foreshadowing of Fallout's Pip-Boy, Brian Fargo had nothing to do with this game ...
This game features a computer on your arm that you can program. Yes, like Fallout‘s Pip-Boy, but Brian Fargo had nothing to do with this game …

because you’re not likely to reach it before you either complete the game (I commend you) or decide to quit while wondering if the game is loading or just plain crashed.

This may sound to you as though I didn’t enjoy my time with B.A.T., and I hope to correct that misconception.  There’s a lack of cyberpunk adventure in the world of games, despite some well-known favorites like Beneath a Steel Sky (which you can get free with a free account at gog.com) and Neuromancer (also on the C64 and other platforms, and much easier to play,) and I think that any addition to the fold is a welcome one.  If cyberpunk is your cup of tea, and reading Philip K. Dick while your 1541 disk drive clicks and whirs away sounds heavenly, than I suggest you give B.A.T. a try. Also, check out the sequel, The Koshan Conspiracy for DOS, the Amiga, and the Atari ST systems.5_25 floppy

BAT SCORE CARD

GENESIS REVIEW – UNIVERSAL SOLDIER

GENESIS cartOh, licensed games, how you confuse us.  We love the movies and comics that you represent so thoroughly that we temporarily forget the tragic history of poor games shoved out the door to make a quick buck.

But that’s not always the case.  Sometimes we get lucky, a golden ticket of a game that combines a great license with fun gameplay.  Ducktales for the NES and the Arkham series of Batman games have taught us that developers can give us great licensed games that combine quality original game engines with the atmosphere of the source material, but there’s another strain of licensed game that merits our attention: licensed games that are great versions of other games.

So the movie didn't have any giant robot-insects--they're better than generic character actors!
So the movie didn’t have any giant robot-insects–they’re better than generic character actors!

Rambo: First Blood Part II for the Sega Master System falls into this category, as it’s a re-skinned version of Ashura/Secret Commando. Since it’s a re-marketed version of a good game, Rambo: FBPII is, itself, a good game making okay use of a good license.  There’s a similar game that does one better, and it’s Universal Soldier for the Sega Genesis.

Ten seconds with this game will tell any experienced gamer what the engine is from, and it’s an amazing thing: this game is a retooled version of Turrican II for the Commodore 64.  Like Turrican II, Universal Soldier has the excellent animation and quality shooting and platforming controls that made gamers riot when the Turrican II demo was released and there weren’t enough copies to go around (Cologne, circa 1991).

Never played a Turrican game? Imagine the love-child of Contra and Metroid.  Sound good?  It is, and Universal Soldier  has the platforming and shooting joy that it denotes.  Turrican lets you jump and shoot like any good Contra-esque title, and there’s a lot more platforming and some hidden secrets ala Metroid.  Also like Metroid, you can press down and

Spiny-balls of doom are pretty much always a great game-maker, right?
Spiny-balls of doom are pretty much always a great game-maker, right?

attack and you roll like a spiky ball, whacking enemies and spinning through hard to reach places.  Something Universal Soldier takes solely from Turrican  is the automatic fire mechanism–hold down the fire button, and your character locks down, spraying a rain of bullets in whatever direction you aim with the directional pad.  It’s a staple of the Turrican series, and it works just as well here.

So it’s got a good engine, you say, so what? It also has something that most shooters don’t, and that’s a weird sense of humor.  See those tiny mechs that look like little baby ED-209’s running at you?  Sure, you can shoot them … or you can jump on them, Mario-style, and watch them collapse like a can, skittering back and forth and spraying sweat into the air.  Not enough?  Okay, what about

There are tons of power-ups picked up from shooting flying drones ala Contra ...
There are tons of power-ups to collect by shooting flying drones ala Contra …

discovering hidden blocks that, when shot or bumped, spit out power-ups in a showering arc like, oh golden coins?  Yeah, that all happens, and it really gives the game a sense of fun missing from a lot of shooters.  The odd bits remind you “Hey, it’s a game. And I’m having fun.”

The music is a so-so bag, giving adequate but not memorable tunes paired with radically mismatched ones (I’m talking about you, level 2–YOU SHOULDN’T BE THAT HAPPY.) The graphics, while the animation and colors are great, are also uneven.  Turrican II  had some awesome enemy sprites, whereas the Universal Soldier film had, uh … b-actors pretending not to have emotions (except Dolph Lundgren–he’s the bomb.)  So the retooling Universal Soldier did on Turrican II (it’s not a total rewrite, but it’s a lot more than just a re-skinning) resulted in uglier and less-creative enemies, all in an attempt to make the game fit the license.  Yeah, it’s a sad result of the process, but anything that gives the world another Turrican game is a positive.

Turrican II (left) had much better enemies than Universal Soldier (right), but the action in both is just as fierce.
Turrican II (left) had much better enemies than Universal Soldier (right), but the action is just as fierce in both …

So if you want to shoot the gears out of a million robot-bugs and cyborg fighters, Universal Soldier is an excellent (not to mention inexpensive) action-platform fix that is a perfect fit for any Genesis or Mega Drive owner with an itchy A-button thumb.GENESIS cart

UNIVERSAL SOLDIER SCORE CARD