I can't find a separate page for the Famicom SMB2 so I'm rating the Famicom SMB2 not the all-stars one.
I feel like the difficulty and ''unfairnes'' is hugely overstated. Did we play the same game? It's great.

[Version Played: PC, English, EU Steam Market]
[Modes played: Arcade Normal + Stage select]
[Stage Content played: Stages 1-7]
[Player content played: Used all weapons]
[Disclaimer: As always, these are merely first impressions. The formatting is messed up because writing it on this site is a pain in the ass so I write it in word]
Andro Dunos II is a sequel to an old horizontal Arcade/Neo Geo pixel art space themed shmup with traditional linear stage progression as its structure and format.
The things that make this shmup stand out and fun are also the same things that kind of bother me about it. Some of these features you can kind of ignore, but if you do it's just not as much fun. I have never played Andro Dunos 1, so I can't really say how this compares other from the fact that this entry does not have co-op
First off, most enemy waves and some strong enemies will drop orbs. There are 30 orbs to collect in the stage. ,At the end of a stage, you'll get extra points per orb, and every 10 orb gives you an upgrade point for your weapons. This is a neat and organic way to tie micro character progression, macro character progression AND scoring together. This system is a great way to incentivize you to kill entire waves for reasons other than score or a direct powerup drop or getting score for an extend, and it presents it in a way that makes for some tense buildup where you can see all the orbs on the bottom of the screen and as it builds you slowly hope to collect them all giving a sort of ''collection'' and ''completion'' feel. It also makes it less boring to replay stages as you're more incentivized to try to kill all the necessary waves, while leaving some extra room for waves that don't drop orbs for extra points. The countdown at the end tallying up the score is quite satisfying. On a macro level, the game has a very nice rhythm/flow and loop because of this orb and upgrade system.
The problem is that as far as I know, you seem to need exactly 30 orbs, and every 10 orbs gives an upgrade point. This means that getting 20 is usually pretty easy, while getting that last point for 30 is really damn hard and sometimes you'll frustratingly end up with 29 or 30 just because you didn't pick up 1 orb on time or something.
Instead of using a gradius/r-type style weapon system, this horizontal shooter uses a loudout based left or right weapon switching system with exactly 4 weapons to switch between and that's it, so you're encouraged to switch between weapons when the situation suits it.
Presentation wise you will see what weapon you have equipped on the top of the screen and the weapon next or behind it and you can pick the order of the weapons in the options screen. I kind of find this questionable. Given that this is a modern game..Why not just map the different weapons to different parts of the controller? Because now unlike in lets say a PC first person shooter, switching takes concious time and effort to the point I often am kinda lazy and stick with switching back and forth between 2 weapons right next to eachother, or switching in 1 direction between all weapons. I do not find the effort it takes to master the switching itself rewarding enough to justify its existence, I'd like to focus on easily being able to switch but just needing to at the right time. Besides, I don't see why the fourth weapon can't be shown on screen, there's enough screen size.
The powerup system is quite nice though. Some special enemies drop either a powerup for your main weapons, a powerup for your back weapon which is fired with the same input (usually missiles) or a powerup for your more passive front weapon (usually shields in a particular formation that can make bullets disappear). Each main weapon has a different variation for these secondary/tertiary weapons. There is some what I call ''forced concurrency'' for these secondary weapons like in Gradius that as always can make for some interesting dynamics of decisions for timing and positioning. Each main weapon gets its own slot of power, you have to power them up individually, while you don't need to for the others. I think they made the right decision there, cause it's interesting to pick a build for your main weapons while also having to separately fill the secondary weapons would be overkill. Whenever you die, you lose 1 point for the main weapon that is currently being used. This means that if you are alert you can switch to a different weapon right before dying so you don't lose a point in the one you're using. It also means that the game does not have any significant ‘’gradius syndrome on death’’, and you respawn in place upon death plus your hyper shots stay strong. It’s easy to bounce back from a loss, but it also means that you’re slowing down how quickly you can fill up all your weapons and it also means you’ll likely miss an orb so everytime I die I feel a little disappointed on the inside so it’s punishing enough even though my chances of survival are still very reasonable. Also, you will not lose anything for your secondary/tertiary weapons, so again it’s not overkill on filling them up especially as they use a different pickup item, and you can use that for planning your build.
The weapons themselves feel unique and fun enough, with 2 of them being focused on the front, 1 of them having a weak shot on the front but a strong shot on the back, and another being more useful in multiple directions (except for its low level version). They have their own unique quirks and the secondary/tertiary weapons make it interesting. In terms of the general roles though, The blue one is kind of your generic focused strong shot, the purple one is your wide shot, the 2 directional Is your tail shot, and the other is your slow firing, smaller multi directional. As usual your missiles are important for hitting ground enemies, especially because this game uses the ‘’terrain kills you instantly’’ system, but given that your missiles are weaker, it rewards you for being risky and shooting these ground enemies normally whenever it’s worth giving up the positioning, and otherwise you will try to time your position to at least hit with your missiles.
The stage design is definitely accommodated for these weapons and it adds to the routing. Sometimes there’s parts where it’s ambiguous or preference what to use or dependent on your setup.
But they also make sure to sparsely use simon says style parts where they obviously convey to you that you for example should switch to your tailspin weapon, where enemies will suddenly move to the other side of the screen (make sure to immediately dodge that ‘’charge’’ attack when you see the telegraph prior, you should assume that when you see a telegraph to make a run for it). So while there is some ambiguity, I think it’s good there’s also some non ambiguity, without necessarily forcing you to switch either, it’s just more tedious if you don’t switch as it takes longer to kill the enemy, also potentially leaving more bullets on screen.
Anywho, this ensures that most people will at least switch weapons sometimes, while good people will switch between them often, though I suck too much to know if this is actually well balanced enough to cause that effect at a higher level.
This is all fine and dandy, but then we get to the hyper shot system. You have your regular way of shooting, and another input for a strong ‘’hyper’’ shot (each main weapon has its own hyper shot) which is tied to a cooldown, after the shot there’s a few recovery frames, and during the cooldown the main weapon you were using goes back to level 1, which is another way the game forces you to switch weapons. It’s actually pretty smart because instead of feeling like I’m punished, I feel like I’m maximizing my damage by thinking of switching to the right weapon after. Though it unambiguously discourages you from using that weapon for a bit, it’s not necessarily a downside to the hyper shot, it’s more just an inherent part of the style of the game. It also makes the weapon switching more interesting, because now you may also switch to a weapon simply for the hyper shot.
Outside of being the ‘’’periodic special attack hard hitter’’ as a primary role, On a secondary level, The hyper shot also serves the role of bombs as they aborb a lot of enemy bullets like your shield does, so it’s a unique twist in that regard, and the hyper shot is probably the main twist/gimmick mechanic of the game the game is built around in terms of gameplay themes. While the orb system is something I would like more with a little tweak, I genuinely like and both dislike this hyper shot system at the same time. On one hand, it can be quite satisfying to just wreck this bullet spongy enemy, and it can be nice to come up with a good way of routing/timing your hyper shots at the best spots In the game. On the other hand, I don’t think it’s as satisfying as it should feel game-feel wise, and I genuinely do NOT like the micro level rhythm this game has because of it, and it also kind of forces me to memorize the stage for routing if I want to make sure I’m using it right. Your cooldown recharges quite quickly. If you don’t want to waste the shot, you’ll have to keep using it as soon as it’s available, unless that Is too detrimental for what’s coming up. This means that rhythm wise you’ll constantly be going back and forth between regular and then hyper shot, intending to be a build up to reward release buildup to reward release kinda thing, though your main shot definitely isn’t weak. Once this happens, you can not switch weapons, even during the recovery frames after it ends, yet you have to switch because it powers down, so to me, it feels super sluggish and kind of annoying. On top of that, as the hyper shot absorbs so many bullets, half the time I’m not even really dodging anything and I end up getting quite careless only to get hit by something later.
To top it all off, while in early parts of the game it feels like you can get by without the hyper shot much and instead are simply rewarded more for using it, in later stages things start to feel bullet spongy to me to the point it just feels kind of monotonous and tedious. It especially doesn’t help that there aren’t any health bars, it’s only conveyed through some part damage sprites.
The normal difficulty curve was fine. The different stages all felt distinct and recognizable with nice pacing/flow and decent dynamics, though there wasn’t much cohesion. The enemy types are fairly standard. The level design style is fairly standard arcade shmup style stuff where there isn’t much building on past challenges in a progressive/cohesive manner like action platformers tend to, it mostly just moves on from moment to moment. The player and universal mechanics are pretty cool, but the stage/enemy/situational unique mechanics don’t stand out much, it’s pretty standard, but that also means it’s not all that gimmicky. There’s not a lot of environmental hazards despite all the touch damage, though there is a part where you have to weave between opening/closing pillars. The bosses do have different parts with different weapons to shoot, which at this point is pretty standard. The graphics, game feel and atmosphere are quite nice. On PC the controls are responsive, and while there is no speed powerup in this game, the standard speed and switching directions all works fine and snappy for what the game throws at you. Everything is presented in a pretty relaxing pace, though around the end it gets quite hectic with tons of enemies all over the screen.
Quality of life features and technical stuff wise, I didn't notice any input lag and the frame rate was fine. the option menu is a little barebones, but there’s nice functional gameplay settings for your weapon order and firing buttons. The issue is that any technical setting outside of a hotkey for fullscreen (enter), it’s done outside of the game itself. There’s only three difficulty modes (normal, easy, hard), so to me that lessens the replay value. Outside of the main mode and it’s three difficulty submodes there’s another functional game mode. When you’ve finished a stage, you can select them from a stage select menu to practice, and you can pick between a single stage run or continuing after said stage ends. I think it’s crucial to have this in a modern arcade style shmup release without emulator save states. The last functional feature is a ranking screen, but you can only see a local top 10. On top of that, it only shows you the stage you died at and the score, even though it does NOT stop counting your score when you lose extends. Not having online rankings is kind of fucked in this day and age. There’s quite a few build/routing options, but on a fundamental level, you’re not going to find all kinds of different playstyles, especially as mechanical content wise, it’s pretty barebones, with there only being 1 ship. Stage content wise, it has a good amount for the type of game it is, and for a 1 sitting style game the pacing is totally fine. There’s not a lot of other features or content in general. Again, It’s pretty barebones. It has what it needs. No extra gameplay modes. No 100% completionist kinda thing. I don’t even know if it has a story. To me, this isn’t a big deal, but for some, especially those not used to shmups, it might be disappointing and give it less value.
In terms of gameplay fundamentals rather than the standout systems, the bullet patterns aren’t super interesting. You don’t need to be super precise when hitting enemies. it’s often more about being able to hit the whole swarm in time, which is more about positioning and timing. They kind of use the gradius style bullet patterns where each individual enemy just shoots a thing or two and they all end up coming towards you in a line, and they’re usually about medium speed, but there’s some some slower shots and area denial lasers and the like to dodge as well, and you’ll occasionally dodge charging enemies their touch damage or swarms their touch damage and bullets.
There’s some quirky attacks in the game, but not too many. You don’t need to weave between slow bullets all that often, often it’s more about a quick macro dodge or eliminating the right enemy on time before it shoots. You don’t need to worry about matchups of different targeted/fixed patterns that much? The difficulty is more in the sheer amount of different enemy types that will be on screen at some point (all with added touch damage), rather than the bullets patterns themselves, and it’s quite dependant on positioning. You won’t find cave shmup nor touhou shmup dodging here, it’s closer to gradius and R type, but the fundamentals are still quite its own thing rather than a clone. It succeeds in that regard, but combined with the rather..Okay game feel and presentation, it feels a bit underwhelming. Good, yet a bit bland at the same time.
All in all I’d say that it’s a pretty nice game. I’m not a shmup expert at all, I just casually play a lot of them, so I can’t tell if the shmup fanatics will love it. At the very least, it’s a proper arcade style sequel that genuinely looks and feels like a 90’s arcade game rather than an imitation but with modern polish, so I think any fan of shmups would be quite happy with that. People who aren’t fans of the genre might have better luck with another game, but if you do end up getting this, you’ll probably have some fun with it. Andro Dunos II might not be the most creative or stand out piece, but it’s pretty interesting nonetheless.

I can't really give an accurate review, because I found myself so bored by the early game I couldn't continue playing after zone 4.
It's an Arcade Style Action Platformer. The chiptunes are nice, and while it looks a bit amateurish I like the graphical style. The controls feel pretty satisfying to use. But it's just incredibly mediocre to play. The level design is bland. No interesting placements and combinations of enemies to create memorable challenges, no interesting synergy between types of level mechanics and player combat/movement mechanics, no interesting thematic gameplay ideas or thematic scenarios/setpieces, no interesting exploration or platforming challenges in between combat, no interesting structure or pacing to it, it just feels like you're haphazardly going through the motions easily killing enemy after enemy.
It's incredibly easy at the start too, as well as super forgiving on the lives and health, to the point I often didn't really pay much attention to what was going on. Legit the only thing that stood out so far was the first boss. There were 2 enemies at once each with a distinct attack. 1 could fly and only shot several small shots periodically. 1 only shot periodically as well but was on the ground and would send a shockwave along it, and could only be hit when not attacking and running around. It was interesting to try to hit the ground enemy when I could, and then hit the flying enemy when I couldn't to quickly dispatch of them while paying attention to the intervals of their attacks so I wouldn''t screw myself over. That was the only moment that resembled gameplay.
It's a shame because the combat seems pretty nice, I like its game feel and just doing a burst of dashes to quickly get rid of an enemy close up. You have a short range, but attack very quickly and attacking does not stop movement and can be done in the air. It has quite a few active frames and basically no recovery frames whatsoever. There's only a tiny bit of starting and stopping momentum. When you are close to an enemy, you are a death machine, and well, getting close to enemies and getting in and out of situations is rather easy due to your movement options. First off you get 3 fast dodgerolls WITH quite a few invincibility frames if you dodge on the ground AND a fast airdash if used in the air, though it depletes a stamina bar. You have a double jump, so while your regular jump arc doesn't cover much of the screen, if you have some height and stamina you can jump very far. There is very little starting and stopping momentum, though that already is a bit more than most action platformers.
There's wall jumping, though it didn't have much of a use yet and sometimes I would do a double jump instead of a walljump which was a bit annoying, but intentionally double jumping after every wall jump did the trick. You even get a sorta desperation screen clearing shmup bomb style move if you stand still and hold dodge for a bit which you can use a few times. Meanwhile the enemies aren't nearly as mobile as you are, have a bunch of hitstun on hit, and they initiate their attacks in a slow initial interval so you can often dash by them and kill them before they have a chance. Bullet patterns are very simple, small and slow. The only times I started to see some kind of challenge was when they had a shield to block attacks from a certain direction. I don't know what the rest of the game is like, but there's a difference between an easier start to get you into things, and a games level design just rewarding mindless play for a while with no memorable ideas or moments even outside of challenge. It did not make me want to continue, and I think that's far worse than a game that has some frustrating elements.

relatively spoiler free
It's a neat little indie game that does a lot with very little with a neat core gameplay/thematic concept that hasn't been explored much, but I have to say that despite its great character writing, I could not finish it. The game was quite buggy. Times when there should have been a pop up to note that there's new dialogue, there wasn't. Characters got stuck. Dialogue options I had already picked wouldn't become marked or vice versa, even though you often need to redo conversations to exhaust all the options. There's also how you can just possess someone, put them in a different room, examine an item as another character that was already in the room, and the character that's left will still say something he'd say when you examine an object as another you're not supposed to touch. It didn't really try to make sense of you possessing and letting people switch places in general.
The pacing was well done from a perspective in which you slowly discover more about each character, but in a general sense, it felt like everything kept dragging on.
In terms of gameplay and progression it's a mess. It's unintuitive, but luckily there is a hint system..Which magically disappears on the chapter you most need it. As it is unintuitive, your actions will often revolve around talking to every character as every character while occasionally trying a special character ability. But later on you can ALSO full possess a character, which can have different dialogue options, so that's another point you will have to brute force. There's a LOT of downtime in this game where you keep switching between characters trying to make it progress. That's not inherently an issue if it wasn't so unintuitive it's unsatisfying. It didn't really make me feel like I was solving a mystery myself where 1 unraveling led to another riddle to solve, I was trying to make the game let me make progress. Speakin of the mystery..The plot and mystery is rather unsatisfying too. Eventually it starts to feel like you're not really making much progress and keep hearing similar things that don't really say much, but then suddenly out of nowhere poof things happen.
That's not to say you shouldn't play this game. It's unique. It uses only a handful of locations and characters yet does a lot with them. It's unique, The ghost trick esque possessing concept gives a neat perspective for the story. The music is pretty charming and so are the mother style graphics, Even if the overall presentation is rather basic. But most importantly, it has a very interesting cast of characters that occasionally have some neat interactions/dynamics as well, as well as some neat moments when it comes to the dialogue. I think that makes it worth experiencing alone, it's just that it's so buggy and the last chapter is so convoluted to get the right ending and drags on so much that I ended up watching the end on a let's play. That's a pretty bad sign, but it's something I sadly just have to admit.
I don't want to spoil much else.

Dear Diary, Today I played Pac-Man.
To my monkey brain, there’s something inherently interesting about chasing things and being chased. I could say the same for collecting things. Pac-Man combines all three. It does the collecting part in that sort of ”I gotta clean up all the spots” way like where it’s less about collecting, reward and exploration, and more about the challenge in going past all of the spots at least once while avoiding your obstacle. While now we consider a pac-man style game a genre, back in the early days, there were less clearly distinct sub-genres around within these arcade action games. Pac-Man seems to have little bits from different types of formulas that were there, but definitely did something new. You had what I’ll call the ”Elimination” type gameplay found in the trap your enemies game Heiankyou alien. That specific example might be a maze game, but this genre is more about timing of killing or trapping enemies with some kind of specific action or movement gimmick, where doing it consecutively or concurrently was the main way of scoring. Then you have the ”chase” and ”collect all the stuff stuff” style games, which were combined in the manage your speed and pick the right lanes while being chased game Head-On. Plus, we could thank the general movement based game to something like Blockade, the first snake like game. These games follow a ”here’s 1 or a few arena or maze layouts that endlessly repeat or loop where mostly the number based mechanics such as enemy speed get harder and harder over time”.
A lot of these games had 1 button tied to 1 specific verb that did something unique which would either be the main mechanical theme and twist for the game, or a way to give the player some extra power or to give them some leniency to save themselves when things go south. Pac-Man again kind of has a bit of both, but instead of the verb being tied to a button, it’s contextual and tied to the power pellet pickup item found in four specific parts of the map, with a one time use immediately triggered on pickup. Still, it mostly focuses on the chase aspect of the game. Most arcade games had one ”twist” idea or gimmick, so here ofcourse it is the appeal of turning the tides in power dynamics, where you briefly go from the chased to the chaser in a tense back and forth. It serves as a little moment to catch your breath and an important part in getting higher scores. But the core thematic gameplay idea is eating stuff while being chased.
Like most arcade games, it’s mostly centered around space and time, not about giving you a ton of verbs to work with. It’s not a game where you’re dodging attacks using overly quick reflexes or doing fine motor skills or thinking about immediate positioning. You’re mostly reading your enemies and manipulating them as you quickly pick which directions in tiny little lanes you take. Every intersection you’ll have 4 raw decisions to make, and in every lane itself you can either keep moving forward or retreat if possible. It has some of the most instinctively intuitive controls and concepts ever with only 2 real verbs, one modifiable to 4 directions, yet there’s actually quite a few options and variables to consider. Essentially you’re constantly trying to answer the question ”Can I make it to that spot on time before that ghost gets in my face?”. Even when your options decrease, You’re always forced to move in real time, you’re still always assessing, thinking about where those pressure applying ghosts might be going who are chasing you most of the time, so there’s a sense of tension and needing to pay attention, unless a ghost takes a specific direction, because they can’t normally reverse directions. It’s a nice balance of simplistic physical execution and heat of the moment decision making that’s very accessible, but has enough depth to keep things interesting. There’s a certain high I get when I juuust correctly predict when I’d make it in time just barely escaping the ghost, When I quickly mash two opposite directions to barely avoid touching the ghost, when I pick the right place in the map to go to, when I knew the ghost would switch to a direction I wouldn’t go to because I exploited their AI, when I shake them off by turning well or abusing the tunnels on the side, when I group the ghosts together correctly and consecutively eat them with the power pellet, when I go through that risky lane and make it out alive, when I time getting the optional fruit just right for extra points, or when I accidentally pick the wrong option but the ghost unexpectedly picks the wrong route and I saved myself. These great moments are only possible because its mechanics just complement each other well and fulfill their roles. You’d think that’d be hard to fuck up beyond just the concept being quite nice, but no, I’ve played pac-man clones that basically fucked up every aspect of this simple game.
The ghosts all have a distinct role by assigning each their pathfinding destination to a different tile in relation to pac-man, which is where most of the reading, manipulation and cool moments come from. It doesn’t tell you which tile it is, but it does tell the intended role in the Ghost’s their names (I’m using the Japanese ones). The red ghost is the chaser, he’ll try to target the tile behind you so he’s the easiest to avoid and predict, but your main sense of pressure forcing you to always be on the move. The pink ghost is the ambusher, targeting two tiles in front of you, so they’re mostly working together to trap you from both sides, but because of the targeting and pathfinding system, it’s not always the case despite being pretty predictable which adds a bit of excitement to it. The orange ghost (the one who pretends to ignore) and the blue ghost (the fickle one) are the ones that are supposed to be more like wild cards that will catch you off guard.
The blue ghosts target tile is related to both your and the red ghosts position. Oh and there’s a bug that causes the pink ghost tile to also go 4 tiles to the side when you move up, which is actually quite fun to abuse but still doesn’t trivialize the game. The pathfinding (except for when they’re in a frightened state from the power pellets) isn’t RNG, but it’s so hard to calculate and constantly changing in real time that you can only predict him in the most general of ways. You’ll learn to be afraid of him. Meanwhile the orange ghost is so non threatening that he’ll catch you off guard every once in a while. His target tile is the same as pinkys but being the shy boi he is he’ll run away if he gets within an 8 tile radius. Which direction they pick is based on what has the shortest distance if you draw a line from their location to the target tile, but if there’s multiple options, they’ll prioritize up, the left, then down, then right. They can also only see a few tiles ahead of them, so it will sometimes look like they make dumb decisions, which lead to some really nice moments of escaping them and makes things a bit less bland. As you can see, they have a distinct function that complement one another that makes for exciting on the spot decision making as to where I should be going on the map at any point in time. This is not the case for various clones.
In GJ Pac-Man, the ghosts all have a different pre-set path for every level. On any given level they will always do the same thing regardless of what you do. It makes rounds lack individuality and player expression, like no matter what you do it doesn’t really matter, you’re not really playing against the ghosts, they’re just in your way. There’s no reading or manipulation to be done at all, and you can’t group the ghosts together. Meanwhile in Pac-Guy, the enemies just kind of..Fidget around randomly, often getting stuck in places for a while then suddenly moving out. They don’t stick to tiles that align with the maze either, despite being of varying sizes. Here it feels like you’re taking a complete gamble as to whatever the fuck will happen, yet whatever happens is always rather unstimulating, as you tend to just sit in a safe spot hoping for them to move in a position where you can shoot them. Yes you can shoot in that game.
In Pac-Man, the ghosts have different states or phases too. To add to the back and forth feel and to make it so you don’t constantly feel pressured and have time to relax, they added a brief ”scatter” mode for the ghosts where their target tile turns into their respective corners. This is the only moment where you’ll abruptly see them reverse directions, which throws you off a bit but hey it’s a decent cue as to what’s happening and keeps you on your toes. How long it happens and when depends on the stage, and after a few times they’ll constantly chase you down. It feels a bit too abrupt, short and out of nowhere for me to truly feel like a moment of rest, but I think it works on a subconscious level.
There’s other details that are lacking in those games too. 1 is character speed and movement In GJ Pac-man, there’s momentum so you need to build up speed and it takes a bit before you stop. Every single turn halts your momentum unless you time it absolutely perfectly and even then it doesn’t always work. While that does reward skill for speed, it just feels extremely tedious and constantly halts the flow. It’s like I’m moving through quicksand. it’s not like it’s very rewarding to pull off you know, normal movement and doesn’t complement the rest of the mechanics at all. You also don’t move automatically. It brings in less pressure, I never had those moments where I quickly had to keep turning to stay alive and felt like I was doing a trick, but it also sucks for the controls because you can’t hold down a button before you cross an interest so you can automatically move in that direction when you do, adding to the tediousness of simple movement. Meanwhile pac-man has cornering, if you DO time it better, and not extremely precisely you turn, and you turn a bit faster than the ghost. You get rewarded for doing better, but it feels fine to do it the normal way. Just like with the pellets, it adds an element of needing to properly assess how long it might take before a ghost catches up to you and whether it’s a safe route to take, and it also just feels really good to shake off the ghosts by taking corners. It even helps give parts of the map with a lot of corners more of their own role.
The max speed of things seems to be the same in GJ Pac-Man. In pac-man, eating pellets actually slows you down a little. The ghosts are faster than you when eating pellets, but slower than you when not, and way slower than you in the wrap around tunnels. Every time I went for the pellets, it felt a bit more risky as a result. All the spots I already cleared become less of a threat so it’s easier to retreat and get back to the pellets as well. It makes for these moments where a ghost almost catches up to you because of the pellets but then you move onto a blank space and you finally escape them. This whole aspect was gone in GJ Pac-Man and Pac-Guy.
I’m not sure if ghost speed increases, but in pac-man, depending on how many pellets are left the red ghost will speed up slightly increasing the pressure and tension a bit, in different amounts depending on the stage. There’s also this decision to make, do I want to go for full points and work on getting an extra life earlier, or do I use my power pellets to briefly get some rest from a ghost or 2 so they won’t be able to hit me and will be sent to the middle for a bit and I can safely eat more pellets?
Both Pac-Guy and GJ Pac-man don’t really do the whole power pellet thing in a way that is as satisfying, though I feel like it could be a bit more interesting in pac-man too? The power pellets are always on the same 4 spots of the map, the ghosts randomly move away to a tile and get to a slowed down frightened state. It’s always exciting to pick when this happens, but it’s not as exciting to do the chasing as to be chased. You usually try to create a good opportunity when the ghosts are close, then kind of hope for the best. Aside from set up and timing, there isn’t as much calculated movement going and positioning going on. in Pac-Guy power pellets are replaced by bullets to shoot, which kill enemies forever. It makes you just sit there in a safe spot waiting for the enemy to move in your line of sight and hoping the bullet reaches them early enough. The longer you play a level, the less of a threat that level becomes. If you miss a shot though..Tough luck it ain’t coming back, and sometimes enemies are in positions where you can barely get through a spot at all with no other path around.
In both those games, there’s a distinct set of levels you go through like later arcade and console games. While there are more gimmick mechanics within these levels, it doesn’t really matter because the core gameplay is so shallow (btw you know that little pause when you eat the enemies in pac-man? It’s so satisfying but not really there in these games). The difficulty is more dependant on the specific level layout and enemies, while pac-man follows the ”1 arena where the numbers and mechanics are changed a bit to get more difficult” format of the olden days. While I generally think that this keeps things much more tense and exciting in pac-man, I think the numbers that change are a bit all over the place. It’s hard to anticipate how long a power pellet will last the first time, which makes it a bit of a fun gamble if you don’t know the stages but also a bit frustrating because you feel like you’ll waste the first one. At some point, power pellets barely last any time at all, also giving you way less options for when to use them. I actually think that’s one of the things I really don’t like about the game. It makes it feel asif power pellets were more a crutch used to make the levels easier I’m not allowed to rely on anymore, rather than one of the main scoring/chaining mechanics and options that adds to making the other mechanics more interesting and adds to the pacing. It feels like there’s less to consider in the game, I like that whole aspect where I catch my prey that haunted me okay. I do find it interesting how the power pellet time changes are not linear. For a while you’ll have levels where they’re short, then long, which makes for some interesting pacing and kept me on my toes. Other times I feel like early on the chasing is not hard enough on subsequent playthroughs to keep me interested, but luckily you can just focus on scoring well.
There’s the level itself too. I feel like every spot feels like it has its own different thing to it. You can most easily get to the sides because of the tunnels, though be careful to not get yourself stuck. The bottom has this one long ass route that’s the most risky, so you’ll usually want to take care of it as quickly as possible. To eat the fruit, an extra little thing to worry about for scoring and lives, you always need to return to the middle. I like the fruit mechanic, it’s not a huge deal if I don’t get it, but it’s this one little extra thing to take into consideration, will I be able to get there on time when it appears and how will I get back? The true middle is where ghosts return to when eaten and where they start, while the corners are where they move to in scatter mode, so the main dominant location for the ghosts switches roles when they switch mode. The part around the ghost house has a lot of turns so you can quickly get away from them even if it’s pretty close to the ghost house. The top part has these boxes that make it a bit riskier than said part, but not as risky as the bottom. I felt like I wasn’t just taking the ghosts and pellets into consideration when moving around, but the map definitely plays a big role.
Given how it feels like everything in this game fits together so well, it’s no wonder I come back to it time and time again. While maybe the difficulty pacing is a bit wonky, it’s biggest problem for replay ability might be knowing that there’s no real rng involved for the ghosts movement. Instead of relying on my knowledge of every variable in the game and how they combine, it allows you to just memorize a pre set path for various sets of stages and win over and over, which is more efficient than anything else. I think that makes high level play a lot less interesting than just casually fucking around like me.
It’s a very simple movement based game with satisfying concepts. You’re constantly on your toes, but you’re not making super complex decisions, there’s very little character control to master and few precise inputs. Yet it manages to be engaging all the way through, through interesting difficulty and mechanics that all fulfill their purpose within context. Many have tried to copy pac-man, while some succeeded, many have failed.
Presentation wise, for how limited the graphics were in that era, it’s designed in such a way I immediately understand what is going on just by looking at its silent demo or watching someone else play, but it also makes the colors of the characters pop and has a cutesy style that I really love that stands out from the many grey space shooters and the like of the era. Pac-Man’s visual and conceptual theming is so abstract rather than based on anything resembling real life that it really feels like its own unique, charming thing that stands out immediately and is very inviting.
All in all, I don’t think I’ll ever stop coming back to pac-man. I think today was time well spent, and I wonder how the other games in the franchise people barely ever talk about compare.

The saturn/ps1 generation of SMT had no true mainline game. I feel like this first entry in a spin off series is the closest thing we got. The other thing we got was Persona 1. Luckily these early spinoffs are still similar to SMT.
Everything you're familiar with about SMT is here. The difference is the setting/story/tone, the way it is structured, the row system and the vice system. Everything else has more to do with various tweaks and quality of life features.
But the thing is I think I'm going to have to give up on this one. . I'm saying this as someone who played through Kyuuyaki Megami Tensei 1+2 and Shin Megami Tensei 1+2. Recruiting demons in this game is a huge fucking pain in the ass, and when you get them it's a pain in the ass to get them to actually listen to you due to the ''vice'' system. To top it off, the atmosphere is pretty chill but the story isn't interesting.
Maybe I'll try again later, but for now I'll have to take a break.

This review contains spoilers

[First impressions and overview with some spoilers]
This game is one of those ''compilation of otherwise seemingly unrelated short stories with 1 main story that serves to connect all of them together'' kinda stories. It's also one of those ''You get a glimpse of an underlying story through bits and pieces in someones mind/dreams and information in environments, giving it a text but also a clear subtext you keep guessing as to what exactly did happen and didn't'' kinda stories. You know like Paranoia Agent is for Anime.
The game is split into ''chapters'' and sometimes 2 areas/levels/maps between them you can only really move between when specific section ending events are triggered. Odd numbered chapters tend to involve the main story, and while they feel like something is off and weird, they feel more grounded in reality. The even numbered stories tend to be obviously not real dream-like ones that also serve as their own independent short stories where except for the first time the protagonist takes on a different character form entirely that is in some slight way related to the protagonist. This makes for quite some decent pacing as you go back and forth between the two wondering what else weird the game is going to throw at you next.
To connect the two together a bit more, during both you'll slowly regain bits and pieces of the protaganists memory through cutscenes. While they do interrupt the flow of the game for me, they have a mysterious show not tell vibe to them I dig. You slowly start to uncover more and more of what is a twisted but much more accurate representation of reality, and it keeps you guessing without the answers to the mystery ever feeling disappointing. It's clear about the main events, but subtle enough to keep you on your toes. As wacky and insane as a lot of the in-game moments are, these cutscenes their more grounded feel work as an explanation and suddenly the context behind it actually feels very sad and human. Instead of just being fun little short stories with incredibly interesting, creepy imagery it becomes something more than the sum of its parts.
Eventually you'll notice a pattern in the chapters that despite being so seemingly unrelated, you'll probably quickly notice that the even numbered chapters are stories that have parallels and themes in common with the main plot you uncover throughout the game. They're metaphors, but the fun part is always that they work as their own little separate stories first, though it would have probably grown old and predictable if there were even more within the exact same structure. It's fun to see how many ways they could essentially tell the same kind of story. The twist is that when it ends you'll realize that as the game foreshadows, fucking none of it was real, not even the odd numbered chapters. But it's not like it's a cheap ''haha everything was a dream'' because well you could already tell from the start something was just very off, and the gimmick in these kinds stories is in indirectly figuring out what really happened through these dream sequences and memories.
The game's strong point is definitely its imagery. The pre rendered isometric style often used in CRPG's definitely stands out on its own, but fuck if it isn't good at building atmosphere. There's a lot of strange, creepy, yet beautiful locations and moments in this game.
I can't really say the same thing for the voice acting though. It sounds EXTREMELY CHEESY to me and while that adds some 90's charm and kinda fits the ''delusional insanity' theme, it also makes it hard for me to take the game seriously. Ofcourse, the graphics have 90's cheese to them as well, but I find that that actually adds to the uncomfortable and zany atmosphere, the voice acting just takes me out of it at times.
Maybe it's because I'm playing this for the first time and in modern times but I don't seem to find the game as impressive as others do. It's probably because the gameplay is pretty typical point and click adventure but I don't really like its scenario progression in this at all it didn't make much sense to me and I didn't feel much direction. A lot of it basically felt like a really lame escape room riddle with some separate logic puzzle screens thrown in every now and then. I just skipped most of it with a guide, to be honest. The thing is that a LOT of the game is actually gameplay. It's not like you are constantly uncovering clues about the main story, you often just run around looking for clues as to how to progress for the sake of it (You're not really given much motivation) rather than to progress the plot of whatever story you find yourself in. There's some fun quirky characters to interact with but there's a lot of dialogue that at least when playing for the first time feels like goes nowhere, or on the opposite end dialogue that feels purely to be there for the gameplay progression rather than narrative.
I mostly like the game for its story and imagery, but when so much of the story is actually just gameplay scenario progression contextualized into it, it gets kind of tiring.
There's some quality of life features here and the odd control scheme works fine, but the game is pretty janky. I had to reboot a soft lock a few times and well, those action sequences are definitely awkward.
The only chapter I personally just didn't like was the olmec one. I heard a lot of people didn't like the hive one, but I fucking loved that one because I'm into body horror and similar settings. It just felt so weird and otherworldly, I like that kinda thing.
The final chapter, while short was neat as well, culminating every other world into 1 place not just in environment, but also in switching between the different characters. It's a good way to wrap it up and pace it well.
I like piecing together the mystery set up in the intro cutscene, I like how the game ties otherwise unrelated things together with its psychological themes in multiple ways, I like how there's both clarity and nuance to it, but I do think the game can feel a bit incohesive at some points and seemingly aimless at others.
All in all, even if I found it a bit frustrating at some points and dull at others, I think Sanitarium is such a unique intriging experience that even people who don't like adventure games should give it a try. It's the type of thing you typically only see in other mediums, but it still does it in its own way I haven't seen elsewhere.

When Gnat Attack and Mario Composer are better than the main thing

I love the graphics/art style but the difficulty and pacing later on is just frustrating and gets boring/repetetive quickly, at least when playing solo. The final fight based mechanics are also pretty standard. I quit pretty early on. Yes, I am giving this a good rating simply because of how it looks, even if it could use more variety in said looks.

Note: I played the Japanese version with the Japanese manual. The Japanese version did not come with the larger map, and does not have the translation issues.
Disclaimer: These are just off the cuff descriptions and impressions I wrote on a whim. As such take it with a grain of salt. See it more like a summary + whether I liked it or not. There isn’t really any structure to this, it’s just what came to mind.
I feel like later Zelda games never really refined or expanded upon what the original Zelda set out to do. Instead it altered and streamlined it. As a result, the original Zelda is quite refreshing.
Considering that it wasn't the arcade days anymore and they could now add a save feature through adding a battery, the central idea was to capture that sense of exploring the world as a kid, making a game about mysteries, discoveries and figuring out where to go and trading findings with other kids playing the game. It even does a great job with its combat in a way not often seen in the other games in the series. Considering the limitations of the time and the fact that this kind of design wasn't standard back then, they did a really great job. Even to this day the game's approach still feels relatively refreshing as it lacks handholding and focuses so much on exploration, navigation and riddles.
There are two main aspects to Zelda 1, navigation/riddles (how it does its progression), and combat(How it does its core gameplay). In addition, there’s some ‘’effort’’ type difficulty for progression sake, and a lot of the progression is done not just through overworld key item/events but items that give character ability/strength progression.
The game is clearly separated into a clear structure of overworld vs dungeons, with the dungeons being your typical levels and the overworld being the way to get to them. But unlike many adventure-structure games, finding the dungeons is part of the challenge and appeal in and of itself. It’s not just there to give structure and context to the core gameplay, it IS part of the core gameplay. Both the dungeons and overworld involve both of the core elements, but the dungeons focus on combat while the overworld focuses on the navigation/riddles. I loved the overworld, but the dungeons got tedious after a while.
As for the overworld, well. the Legend of Zelda just throws you into a world to explore. There's some general hints in the manual, and description of what items and enemies they are and what they do, but other than that, you're supposed to figure things out for yourself, while the designers nudge you into the right direction. To everyone saying you need a guide to beat this game, well, at least for the Japanese version, that is complete bullshit. It’s just a difference in conventions of games at the time. You were supposed to read the manual. Take notes. Maybe make a rough map, or at least for peculiar areas. I got through the game by just taking screenshots of things that looked mysterious. There’s some super cryptic secrets in the game, but they’re not mandatory. Yes, the game is hard as fuck without them, but that doesn’t make it any worse, that just makes it a different type of game. Just explore, take note of anything suspicious and write/type out all the hints the old folk give ya. Then when you find 1 thing, you’ll link it together with something you saw before and boom, you’ve unlocked the key. It’s less about puzzles, and more about solving mysteries through clues and navigation skills.

I was fucking lost throughout the beginning of the playthrough. But the game is designed in such a way that I was always making progress. You can even do plenty of things out of order. Everytime I died and respawned because the enemies were quite tough and walked back, I had a bit more money so I could later buy those items I kept seeing in the shops. Everytime I found more clues, sometimes leading to items that made me stronger, other times to dungeons that were too high level I could mark. Everytime I got to see more of the rather small, but varied overworld and I got to learn more about the enemy types lurking in it. Seriously, they get a lot of use out of such little cartridge space and so few graphics. I rarely got lost and there’s a lot of spots that stand out due to good use of the few tile types, tile formations, enemy types and specific properties like a forest that keeps looping when you walk through it. The combat in the overworld is just challenging enough to keep you on your toes when traversing and so retreading ground doesn’t get too stale, as well as to not make you want to go through areas you’re too weak for (but the fact that it lets you is nice). They aren’t super interesting combat encounters like in some of the dungeons, but if they were, it’d get quite tedious to traverse the overworld. You’re also never too far away from anything you need to get back to in the overworld. It’s quite small, it’s not many screens long but you can only go to screens from specific directions which makes it feel a bit bigger and more interesting to navigate. . It just feels rewarding to not be guided towards a shop, explained how it works and buy something. But to unlock the shop yourself by solving a mystery.
A big problem with the overworld though is that because I was lost and kept finding later dungeons, I had eventually found every dungeon and solved most mysteries before I even set foot in the first dungeon. After that I quickly had to go through most dungeons. That pacing of overworld-dungeon-overworld-dungeon gets fucked up by accident. I like the freedom, but in that sense it’s too much. There’s also how I think you could have gotten a bit more freedom with dungeon order, but there’s specific items which you can even just miss out on and not know why you can’t really progress to the next dungeon. There’s also the obvious issue of how the overworld is quite basic and doesn’t feel as alive as it could be and there aren’t that many ways to interact with it or events to see, but it’s an early nes game so it’s to be expected. That said, it does a very god job with what little it has to work with. Overall, the overworld gave me a fun ‘’find the items and dungeons quest’’ with a good balance between freedom and linearity. Going over why would spoil things a bit too much. I suggest not playing this game with a guide to get that experience.
Meanwhile I’m not too keen on the level design when it comes to the dungeons. Modern Zelda dungeons are a lot more focused on navigation and puzzles, while also having good pacing through themes, dynamics and variety. This isn’t the case for the rather vanilla, combat focused dungeons in Zelda 1. Earl on you’ll mostly get through just walking around and killing everything while also paying some attention. Later you’ll need to put in more effort with navigation due to paths to bomb, places that warp you to other places, etc. But instead of the navigation getting more interesting as it goes on, it just gets maze like, drawn out and frustrating. It just never reaches that mysterious fun of the overworld, it just feels like a tedious exercise in putting things in the way.
These dungeons do not have a sense of pacing, identity or theming. It will eventually feel like you’re just thrown into combat room to combat room. It gets monotonous, there doesn’t seem to be a good beginning, middle and end. Even the room to room structure is often just some random shape like a skull or whatever, it’s which room can be reached from which direction that really gives it its unique ‘’shape’’ but still it feels uninspired. It eventually felt like it just went on and on and on. By dungeon 6 I was getting kinda tired, but by 9 I wanted to turn the game off.
This is a shame because the combat still really holds up, in fact it’s much more focused on that kind of challenge compared to later Zelda games. Like most older games, it’s about space and time, rather than picking the right moves. It focuses on positioning at the right time rather than quick reflexive dodge. When it does have quick reflex based dodges, it can feel a bit clunky to me.
It’s top down 4 directional pixel movement. Your weaknesses are a lack of diagonal directions, being pretty slow, your sword having very little range ,that you need to stop moving to attack, and your poor ability to change swing directions and not being able to turn without walking. You do have very little recovery frames and a high attack interval, though it’s hard to quickly turn your attack direction from 1 direction to another, unless its from the same side to the other side, which adds a bit of commitment to your directions, or you’re using some kind of speedrunning technique. These weaknesses are and its perspective are the crux of the type of challenge and combat you’ll have in Zelda. I don’t know how it works, but enemies will get knocked back on hit, but not always, so if you keep mashing the button, they may run into you. Many enemies don’t die in one hit, and you’ll need to make room to run away from them and hit them again, but by then another enemy might be in the way.
When they fire a projectile, if you don’t swing your sword, you’ll block it with your shield, which adds a layer of needing to time your swings without the need of a third button. Enemies typically run around in a rather random fashion, but will stop for a bit before they do an attack, and typically do that in a somewhat predictable interval. You need to think about which enemies will get into range when and which directions you can possibly defend yourself against when.
The hitboxes can be pretty lenient, you can be facing the ‘’wrong’’ direction and still hit enemies in some instances. You can also hit two enemies at once if you get the opportunity which is quite satisfying.
Every enemy has a different way of moving and attacking. They all serve good roles/weaknesses and strengths that can be mixed up with eachother to create interesting combat encounters. There’s ones you can’t hit from the front, ones that shoot projectiles, ones that teleport and stand still in a spot in a specific interval and then fire, Ones that can’t be killed and move around walls, etc. It’s a pretty neat set of enemies that complement one another on a fundamental level and don’t feel too gimmicky. The stage geometry matters, but not as much as in let’s say a platformer and there isn’t as much as an interesting layer of spacing because of it. There’s no such thing as jumping or height, and it’s far from being like 2d top down run and gun combat.
Eventually assessing and predicting when what spot is safe gets more difficult, and due to things like aimed bullets, your positioning of the last dodge will impact whether and how you can dodge the next. Later on there’ll be a huge increase in pressure/urgency attacks matched up with hard to hit enemies , more enemies and enemies with faster and more erratic movement patterns. At some points however there’s so much to manage, and you are so slow, that it can just get tedious and overwhelming, especially because you might be wandering around a dungeon figuring out where the fuck to go, and especially because later dungeons get quite long. It’s not that it’s necessarily unfair or too hard, it’s just tedious, especially with the bad pacing and sometimes repeated rooms. Sometimes because I had a lot of hearts, I just said fuck it and spammed instead. When you die you respawn with 3 hearts, so sometimes that made me go ‘’ugh this is just too much, and I don’t even want to grind for heart drops’’ as well. It will also depend on when you find what upgrade. Another issue I have is that the base enemy movement just seems overly unpredictable. Their quirks are understandable and you can work around them, but sometimes it feels tedious to constantly be afraid of which direction an enemy might suddenly take when the yare faster than you. It’s not an issue on slow enemies though.
It’s one of those games where you feel quite limited in your movement and options, and what appears on screen isn’t that ‘’cool’’ but once you properly execute it through careful timing and assessing it can feel quite satisfying. It’s less about fine motor skills and dodging, but it does happen and when it does it can feel a lot more tense rather than deliberate. I’d say its combat is a bit like Castlevania, but not as interesting as it in my opinion, and it has less punishment for your attacks (instead you just lack range).
One thing that’s cool are the active/attack items themselves. Your sword is assigned to one button, your items to the other, and you can switch between them by going to the menu, though that takes a while. Most of them have general uses that allow for player expression, as well as more key item style uses. Bombs can be used just fine in combat for a delayed area of effect independent attack but also as an active key item to explode optional walls, to defeat dodongos, and to explode mandatory walls. The bow is a great ranged weapon, but costs rupees to use (this and the ability to buy potions ensures you will always have a use for rupees). The staff/wand is a bit slow, but leaves a flame upon hit and goes through walls. It’s just kind of a shame the candle eventually becomes useless. The flute makes for an interesting, mysterious item that despite having some wildly different uses, I still managed to discover. Most items can be upgraded once, which makes the character progression feel like it continues without really fucking with the balance too hard and without needing to add more stuff in a game with limited hardware.
Even some of the passive items actually add to the core gameplay, like the ladder that changes the way you can move in some of the combat encounters.
There isn’t any room for quick weapon switching or combos or whatever because of the limited inventory system but I don’t think this is the type of game for that kinda thing. Sometimes needing to open up that slow ass menu felt as tedious as how every single room needs to scroll before you get to the next one though. I found it really annoying when they put enemies immune to my best weapon in a dark room that needed to be lit. Fuck lighting up all those rooms was fine at first but got tedious after a while. At some point I was like why even make them dark in the first place. The menu could even use some quality of life, like you can’t even move the selector down, it only goes side to side, though it does have a wrap around. There’s other quality of life and information related features too, you get a general location of where you are on the overworld, a map that slowly fills up on the menu screen in a dungeon, etc.
There’s a few other minor issues and neat things I could mention, like spawning and drop systems, like how picking the wrong locked door first caused me to run out of keys, but that you can easily find keys on the overworld, etc. I think I’ve summarized most of the important stuff though.
All in all, The Legend of Zelda can be quite annoying, but it’s also very memorable and interesting in ways I haven’t seen most of the later Zelda games touch upon except maybe the gb/gbc games and Breath of the Wild. It isn’t nearly as archaic as people make it out to be, the thing is perfectly playable and fun to this day, which is pretty fucking impressive considering the hardware and time of release. Even if it overstayed its welcome, I had a good time. Maybe someday I’ll even try the second quest, who knows.