30 Reviews liked by fe17
With the success of the original Splatterhouse, the game would then go on to spawn several sequels, such as Splatterhouse 2, 3, and a reboot later down the road. At least, that’s what most people would think this franchise only has to offer. Little do they know though is that, in between Splatterhouse 1 and 2, there was a little treat for the Famicom, exclusively to Japan until the year 2020. It wouldn’t be talked about as much as the other games, which is a shame, because, at least when compared to the first game, I would consider it superior in practically every way, even if it is just a side game. The game in question would be known as Splatterhouse: Wanpaku Graffiti, and no, the game does not involve any kind of graffiti whatsoever. At least, from what I am aware of.
In a similar fashion to Kid Dracula, this game was a parody of the original Splatterhouse, giving everything a much more cutesy art style, while also referencing a lot of classic horror and pop culture along the way. And just like with Kid Dracula, it is criminally overlooked, and I love it dearly. Granted, it isn’t the best of platformers that I have played on the system, and it is a little janky, but it is still a pretty nice package at the end of the day.
The story is literally the exact same as Ghosts ‘n Goblins, but I can forgive it this one time because of the goofy nature of the game, the graphics and art style are very charming and appealing, the music is pretty good, but not something I would go out of my way to listen to, the control is very simple and effective, even if jumping feels a little strange, and the gameplay may be dumbed down in comparison to the original Splatterhouse, but I honestly prefer this overall.
Instead of being a side-scrolling beat-’em-up, the game is a 2D action platformer, where you move from left to right in many stages, defeat enemies either with your regular axe weapon or a shotgun, get health items along the way, and fight bosses based on classic movie monsters and tropes. It is all your pretty standard stuff, but like with the original Splatterhouse, what makes it unique from other titles is the presentation. Once again, the characters are all cutesy in comparison to what they would actually look like, and if you caught a glimpse of my PFP, you would know that I am a fan of this kind of style, and with this new style comes a new amount of fun.
There are numerous times in the game where boss fights will become full on events, making them much more memorable. Such examples include the first boss, where he performs a Thriller-esque dance sequence before sending his minions to kill you, and a boss in Stage 3 that has a girl reminiscent of Ellen Ripley lying on a table, and having a fuck ton of chest bursters come out of her to attack you. Yes, it is incredibly stupid and goofy, and I love them for that. It gives the game so much more personality then others like it, and it actually does a decent job at parodying the source material to where nothing feels too out of place.
Aside from all that, the gameplay does have some standout features that make it somewhat different then others. At the start of the game, you have a pretty small health bar, but when you defeat a certain number of enemies, your health bar goes up by the bit, and by the time you kill enough enemies, your health bar is basically the size of a Mega Man health bar. Not only does this provide a feeling of growth for your character, but it also encourages you to take out anything in your way so you can become durable enough to take on the threats, which is always welcomed.
Aside from that though, the game does also feature some replay value, where you can find two secret levels which give you crystal balls upon completing them, and if you beat the game with the crystal balls, you unlock the “True Ending”, where (spoiler for a 34 year old game, but whatever) the game could turn out to be a dream that Rick has before the beginning of the original Splatterhouse. It’s a nice way of connecting things back together with the original game, but I will admit, I do find the normal ending much funnier and better, but that’s just me.
I don’t really have too many complaints about my time with Splatterhouse: Wanpaku Graffiti. I had a pretty good time with it overall, but I would say that it isn’t anything too substantial compared to other titles. Despite the unique presentation and the innovative way of gaining health throughout, it is your basic run-of-the-mill 2D platformer that most may not get as much enjoyment out of as me, which is completely understandable. Not to mention, sometimes the hit detection on some of the surfaces in the game can be pretty wonky, but I only had issues with this in one or two sections. Not too much of a concern.
Overall, while not offering too much behind the style and flair of the presentation, it is still a pretty fun game that I would definitely recommend if you have an hour to kill, and I would easily say it is my preferred game out of the two in the Splatterhouse series so far. Let’s just hope that the official sequels bring their A-game, as I don’t want to end up thinking that the parody game is the best of the franchise when this is all over.
First played this on launch more than 10 years ago and this was the game that got me to truly appreciate the Playstation 3.
Fast forward 13 years and here we are again with the remaster and......well, if you didn't play it in 2010 then you can now. Odd that the Taxidermist DLC isn't included. This remasters also doesn't really add anything new.
Still one of my favourite games ever though.
After he was finished with making Altered Beast, Makoto Uchida went on to develop his next title, this time themed around action movies such as Conan the Barbarian. Rather then making yet another 2D-side-scrolling beat-’em-up, he wanted to make a game that could stand alongside Double Dragon and the Kunio-kun games. So, taking inspiration from, again, Conan the Barbarian, as well as wanting to make a game to compete against Dragon Quest (for some reason, I dunno), he and his team went on to make a beat-’em-up with a medieval setting, and a set of attacks that he compared to the original Street Fi- ok, hold on, we may actually be in trouble here. That sounds like way too much influence to combine into one, but nevertheless, after a short development time, they then released the original Golden Axe.
As I have mentioned previously, Altered Beast was an ok game, but it didn’t hold up too well upon revisiting, so, with this next title, did Makoto improve upon his craft and make a better experience? Eh… kinda? Again, Golden Axe isn’t necessarily a bad game, and it is an overall better experience then Altered Beast, with less issues then that title, but with the few issues that it does have, it is enough to hold it back from me considering calling it good. That being said, it does have enough of the standard beat-’em-up elements to make it not feel that bad, and I could see others getting into it if this was their first exposure to the genre.
The story is what you would expect from a setting like this, but it does have a little more to not make it too generic, the graphics and art style is serviceable, and it definitely gives those Conan vibes the main dev wanted, the music is good, although sometimes it can get a little annoying, the control is what you would expect from a beat-’em-up, and speaking of which, the gameplay is also what you would expect from a beat-’em-up.
You take control of one of three characters, each being basically the same, with little differences to make each stand out from the others, you move from left to right, defeating what feels like an endless supply of goons, get health and items along the way, and fight bosses. Again, pretty typical stuff for a beat-’em-up, with the special features the gameplay includes also being typical for beat-’em-ups. Animals that you can steal from opponents to ride on and do more damage with? Check. Bonus stages in between each level to gain even more health and items? Check. A special move you can pull off that damages everyone on screen as long as you have ammo for it? Check, check, and check!
All of that stuff is still enjoyable to a degree, but the main focus of the game, the combat, doesn’t carry the same amount of satisfaction or drive as a game like Double Dragon or Final Fight. It just feels more so clunky and like a gamble on if you are gonna be able to take out the enemy without them somehow breaking the combo to take you out. And really, the game is mainly banking on the medieval themes and settings to drive it forward, and while I will guess that was effective for a game like this at the time, it doesn’t really land as well nowadays.
The gameplay does differ, however, in terms of the various modes the game has. Aside from the main Arcade mode, there is Beginner mode, where you can play through the first couple stages to get a feel for the game before jumping into the main game, which seems pretty unnecessary, but I guess it does serve in, appropriately, helping out beginners with getting used to the game. There is also The Duel, a mode where you can either take on a bunch of one-on-one battles with groups of enemies from the game in a single arena, or you can fight another player to see who is truly superior. While it sounds like it could be fun on paper, it really isn’t all that exciting, and it doesn’t really give you any rewards for beating it, so it just seems like, again, a completely unnecessary feature. But, I guess it could be fun to battle it out with a friend… for one round, and then never touch again.
And of course, in good ol’ arcade fashion, this game suffers from arcade syndrome, even on the Genesis version of the game. Most of the game is doable when it comes to the difficulty, but towards the end of the game, it is painful to go through, with you having to fight very tough enemies while on platforms with not that much space to move around on, being able to fall off at seemingly every moment. This, coupled with the fact that enemies can just sometimes attack you and punt you off the edge with no warning or reason, makes the last few stages of the game lacking of any semblance of joy for the most part.
Finally, as one last complaint, the final boss is WAY too hard. It is fitting, having it be the hardest fight in the game, but I remember having way too much trouble actually taking this guy down. It seemed like, no matter what I could do, whenever I approached to attack, he would always manage to land an attack, whether it being a regular attack or one of those electric bolts he sends across the floor. In addition, you have to fight him alongside two skeleton enemies, which doesn’t sound that bad, but these guys get in the way CONSTANTLY throughout the fight, and they have an absurdly high health bar. Yes, you can kill them, but it takes a REALLY long time, and by the time you do, you are just thinking “come on, just let this be over, PLEASE”.
Overall, while the settings, ideas, and themes are endearing for 1989, it really doesn’t do anything to grab my attention or my recommendation, as a pretty generic fighter with no sense of gratification or reward, as well as brutally punishing in the later parts to the point where I almost gave up multiple times. Let’s just hope that the sequels improve on this more for me to actually consider it being somewhat good, and not just making me wish I was playing something else instead.
The following write-up can be considered both an addendum to my spoiler-heavy thoughts upon last year’s replay of Shadow of the Colossus as well as an expansion of my blurb from Pangburn’s “Sight and Sound” Backloggd-canon project. I can’t give him enough credit for his work and giving me the opportunity to contribute in my own little way.
If someone were to ask me what I’d consider to be the greatest game of all time, Shadow of the Colossus would most likely not be my first answer. I’d probably point you to a few candidates that not only elevated the medium, but were also titles that I’d consider practically perfect with no major blemishes: perhaps something like Super Metroid, Chrono Trigger, or most recently, the original Resident Evil remake. That said, Shadow of the Colossus stands above all of these games in my heart, because despite any gripes, I would argue that practically all of these potential “weaknesses” contribute to the final artistic vision. Somehow, it transcends my definition of a perfect video game, and becomes something much more.
It'd be easy to characterize Shadow of the Colossus as a boss-rush with puzzle elements, but I find that this description misses the point. Trying to classify Shadow of the Colossus as “yet another boss-rush” would be like trying to classify Ico as “yet another puzzle-platformer;” perhaps it would be more accurate to describe both as cases where gameplay, as the vessel for storytelling, happens to be a series of boss fights for Shadow of the Colossus or a series of puzzle-platforming segments for Ico. Fumito Ueda himself claims that “They're not bosses… they’re more like inverted Zelda dungeons.” Labeling the colossi as nothing more than bosses would be doing a disservice to the layers of history that these colossi represent, these storied and often majestic creatures rudely awakened by a complete outsider. Moreover, transforming traversable dungeons into responsive boss encounters breathes life into the experience. You’re not just traversing this static, emotionless backdrop; you’re scaling this moving, living being that knows you’re trying to snuff out its existence, an end to justify the means of cruelty. The colossi serve more than just checkpoints at the end of sequences: they become the sequences, their identities firmly embedded within the few minutes spent observing, climbing, and slaying them up-close as they struggle to persist in the inevitability of the ritual. It lends this whole ordeal a layer of intimacy that simply wasn’t found in many action-adventure games of the time.
For this reason, I also think that trying to compare Shadow of the Colossus’ limited controls to other action-adventure titles of the time is ultimately a fool’s errand. This is not your typical power fantasy by any means; this is the classic tale of David vs Goliath, told sixteen times with various degrees of ambiguity. Despite the fantastical nature of your surroundings, there’s a certain realism that Ueda sought to preserve to better capture the gravity of your actions. Wander is no glorious action superstar: his quest to slay the colossi regardless of whatever price must be paid reeks of desperation. It’s why his movement speed and jump feel so constrained, and why his sword thrusts feel sluggish at times. There’s a certain weight behind all his actions despite any pullback, and it fits perfectly alongside the sheer size and awe of the colossi. Their ability to swat Wander about like a flea, or send him flying just from a simple stomp, or even how Wander is bucked to and fro from simply trying to stay standing atop shaking colossi conveys fragility better than any spoken or written language ever could. Even the pain experienced by the player from tightly gripping upon the controller, just as Wander tightly clasps onto the colossi’s fur for dear life, plays right into the sheer tension of the encounter: it’s one of the purest expressions of controls as the extension of the body, just taken in the traditionally opposite direction to lend a sense of commitment behind every action taken in the moment.
What I think stumps traditional audiences, is that Shadow of the Colossus is a game that often makes you doubt yourself. It’s easy to lose faith against this hulking behemoth staring you right in the face that could sneeze on you and send you careening several feet away. Couple that with the thumping drums and clashing chords of tracks like Grotesque Figures and Liberated Guardian alongside overcast and dismal settings, and it’s no wonder that the player often feels disempowered. But that doesn’t mean you can’t turn the tides of battle. In fact, Shadow of the Colossus is a game that doesn’t simply coax adaptation, but rather, demands it through emergent solutions. When making mistakes can end up chipping away half your health bar or falling off the colossi entirely to restart preparation and climbing sequence that can take valuable minutes, every decision matters that much more. With Wander’s limited set of controls and tools (jump, climb, a dodge-roll, Agro, and your sword + bow and arrow), every factor in the environment must be considered… and Team Ico pulls this off effortlessly because not a single detail goes to waste. Anything even remotely distinct within the vicinity, including the bodies of the colossi themselves, are most likely a piece of the puzzle required to scale and discover any weaknesses. Moreover, the game keeps you on your feet despite maintaining its core design principles by varying practically every aspect of the colossi designs (including size, which affects their speed) as well as their respective environments, with few discernable patterns in the overall sequence, forcing players to reexamine their surroundings with every new encounter. In that sense, combat is laborious, but calculated: observation is often required to coax interactions that can get Wander into favorable positions, as the colossi AI follow sensible patterns that must be proc’d with specific player responses (i.e. shooting a colossi with an arrow will immediately draw their attention). The other half of the battle is maintaining patience and not losing your composure in the heat of the moment. As the frame rate buckles from the colossi consuming your screen space and the camera flies wildly about, conveying your character’s sheer difference in size so innately, you have to make quick judgement calls on how to preserve what little remains of your dwindling grip gauge through careful positioning (via careful plants and figuring out the best times & locations to let go and stand still) while never losing sight of your target. Through player perseverance, the fight reaches its climax with valuable player feedback in the form of impactful sword stabs and the triumphant horns of Revived Power. While some would complain that the game never lets you linger in celebration and in fact often leaves you exhausted, I would argue that experiencing that complex, emotional rush is a reward in itself. It is a game that is more than happy to beat you down and leave you feeling insignificant, yet never makes the task outright impossible, and its ability to evoke a variety of emotions while consistently challenging your perceptions is perhaps its most understated strength.
Speaking of challenging perceptions, one frequent complaint is that Shadow of the Colossus’ overworld is empty, with limited meaningful interaction. I reject this assertation that this feature is a weakness, because scattering collectibles and side-quests about the world would defeat the intended purpose of creating a “more realistic feeling of presence.” I also see a lot of players calling it an “open-world” title, and I think this descriptor is slightly misleading; the overworld simply exists to create time and space between each of the intense colossi encounters, and better convey the game’s sense of scale, rather than function as a simulated environment that lets players approach different objectives as they wish. Emptying the overworld of features outside of save shrines and the rare blue-tailed lizard/fruit while silencing the soundtrack (leaving only environmental noises and your horse’s gallop) allows Team ICO to centralize on the act of traversal itself as a form of meditative self-reflection while carefully zooming out and panning the camera to fully display the vastness of the forbidden land, further emphasizing the enormity of this alien world and situation that the wanderer cannot even begin to understand. As an extension of Ico’s core design philosophy of “design by subtraction,” Team Ico sought to remove any element that would distract from the central focus, such as “optional” colossi and excess NPCs. The latter was instead replaced with the sword’s light-beam locator, lending the lighting duality as both a contributing factor of ambience and a gameplay mechanic. As a result, I never did really understand why these long riding sections were often written off by so many; these segments provide a necessary catharsis for players to soak in the subtlety of everything happening around them while discreetly serving as a reminder that there was no place for them on this forsaken earth.
To be fair, it is slightly misleading referring to the player character as a lone wanderer when Ueda heavily stresses the relationship between Wander and his horse, Agro, a detail that often gets overlooked when players bring up the “poor horse controls.” An important distinction that must be made here is that you are not controlling Agro; you are controlling Wander, who is controlling Agro. Realism is again stressed here: there’s a natural response time between Wander manipulating the reins and Agro’s subsequent shift in speed. Additionally, this more firmly establishes Agro’s distinct identity within the game, as she has her own AI-movement enabled algorithms that will allow her to proactively avoid danger and return to Wander even without the usual stimulus of Wander calling out. Want further proof of this in action? Try riding Agro over one of the land-bridges or through one of the world’s many forests, and take your thumb off of the left joystick; Agro will naturally steer herself forward and avoid any obstacle or ledge in the way whenever possible. As a result, players have to learn to trust Agro during more involved riding sections, because attempting to exert too much control will lead to the player fighting the natural horse steering and getting more frequently stuck on geometry; as Ueda himself pointed out, this scheme was based off of the idea that a horse was both a “friend” and a “self-supporting vehicle.” This becomes especially paramount during certain fights where the player must aim and fire the bow and arrow while riding Agro to dodge attacks; these two actions both use the left joystick, and simultaneously juggling the two activities would become nigh on impossible if the player refused to lend Agro any agency during these encounters.
Finally, I’d like to address potential gripes that others may have regarding the storytelling of Shadow of the Colossus. Mind you, I’m not referring to the actual storyline or any particular interpretation of the narrative: I instead want to focus on the act of the storytelling itself. While I’ve heard from friends that the lengthy cutscenes setting up and closing out the game are not ideal, I personally do not believe that these interfere with the game’s pacing in any fashion. Not only do they serve as bookends that do not impact the core experience of switching between riding and scaling colossi, the ending cutscene also serves as a fantastic emotional denouement (during the credits, no less) tying all of your actions together as a nostalgic send-off to further reflect upon your time spent. The short cutscenes in-between the action, on the other hand, keep the player anticipating their next encounter while painting over the deaths of the colossi with the moral ambiguity that would come to characterize Shadow of the Colossus, all with practically no dialogue outside of these moments. It’s also important to note at this time that player control is not completely missing during these segments, because you can still manipulate the camera to some degree during cutscenes to maintain the impression of controllability. This seems to align with Ueda’s beliefs regarding interactivity, for with regards to possible interpretations of the story, Ueda had this to say: “I want them to direct the story themselves.” In this sense, Shadow of the Colossus’ limited storytelling and ambiguous themes make perfect sense, for rather than being a game constructed around a story, it is a story constructed around a game.
To close this off, I want to reiterate that Shadow of the Colossus is by no means flawless. Certain colossi fights take a bit more patience than others due to occasionally stubborn behaviors, rare but sudden frame rate drops in the overworld feel quite unwelcome, and I do have to admit that the fruits and blue-tailed lizards could be eliminated altogether with little consequence to the player. Regardless, many of Shadow of the Colossus’ foibles lend the overall experience a stronger sense of identity in how they meld emergent gameplay with understated storytelling, and are at worse, fairly understandable given how the game was so markedly ahead of its time. Having now completed my third playthrough, I do not believe that Shadow of the Colossus is in any way worthy of the descriptors “aged” or “outdated.” While it does require me to meet it on its own terms, its various innovations and design choices make complete sense once given the context of its scope, and its ability to "tackle any obstacles to building that empathy" is practically unmatched. Shadow of the Colossus was exactly what it needed to be and accomplished exactly what it sought out to do in the time it was made, and to this day, remains a triumph for the medium with its ambitious yet realized integration of visuals and interaction.
If my thoughts seem somewhat pointed, I promise that this was not written with such intentions. I absolutely understand why others may become alienated or be afraid of everything that it represents; by its very nature, Shadow of the Colossus is a game that doesn’t have something for everyone. Perhaps that is what makes it so compelling to me: because there’s a real element of danger involved. It still feels like a miracle that something so blindingly unconventional yet so realized and unmistakably human and empathetic ever came to fruition in the first place, further challenging contemporary conventions in an era where well-known game developers had already pushed so far in their experimentation. Regardless of whether or not I’ve reached you, my message remains the same: throw away your expectations, and see for yourself what Fumito Ueda created all these years ago. Don’t worry if it’s not your thing; while it genuinely gives me no pleasure to see others struggle with my favorite game, I’ll still be proud that you gave it a fair shot. I only wish that everyone could see what I see in Shadow of the Colossus.
My dad bought himself a Switch recently and fell in love with Gris. He sent me $5 to buy this during a sale a few weeks back. He loves the idea of a platformer starting out grey and gaining more and more color.
I liked that aspect in this game, too. I liked the silent story telling and gorgeous visuals mixed into one. I liked the spread out reward of new move-sets, and how not everything is given to you at once. I liked how it makes you take it slow, and pay attention to all the little details put into the game, really making this more of a playable coloring book.
I went into it not expecting much more than a short, pretty game, and that’s what I got. Worth the $5 and is now a nice game to talk to my dad about.
Final Fantasy II
In light of having beaten the Pixel Remaster, this is NOT the best version to play in the modern era. Levelling up system is simply too tedious and grindy.
But, for the first attempt at a proper story, I'd say it doesn't do too badly. And it can get quite dark since a LOT of people die. Like how your party isn't truly fixed until the endgame.
Glad to experience it at last.
It was super cute and fun, seeing a lot of background references was neat too! One issue I have tho is there's no option to see a text log, which is strange cause that's usually pretty standard with visual novels. It would have also been neat to have an extra mode where you can just play the ring collecting game.
Looking back in recent memory, I can’t think of a single year that’s more stacked with incredible games than 2017. It felt like both indies and triple A developers were pumping out hit after hit: Breath of the Wild, Cuphead, Nier Automata, What Remains of Edith Finch, Sonic Mania… we could go on and on. As excited as I was for all of these titles however, there was something even bigger on my mind: the revival of the 3D platformer, my childhood genre. 2017 absolutely delivered in spades, with some instant favorites (A Hat in Time), some flawed yet interesting gems (Skylar & Plux), some daunting reinventions that I played a bit of and didn’t finish for some reason or another (Super Mario Odyssey), and some of the 3D platformers of all time (Yooka Laylee).
In the midst of all of this chaos, was Snake Pass. I’d been following the game from its inception to launch day, and bought it without a second thought at the end of March. You play as a cute happy snake named Noodle slithering your way through abandoned yet breathtaking ruins in the wilderness accompanied by a David Wise soundtrack (which by the way, is probably his most overlooked contribution, please give it some love); how the hell could I possibly dislike this? Yet, I found myself getting filtered within a few days; Noodle just felt a bit too sluggish on the ground, and I couldn’t figure out why I kept slipping and falling from the dangling bamboo poles, constantly respawning and losing all my collectible progress because it wasn’t saved until I manually touched checkpoints. So, I shelved it unceremoniously, and wouldn’t pick it back up until many years later.
Let it be known; 2017 me was an idiot. Snake Pass slaps.
The world wasn’t ready for Snake Pass. I wasn’t ready for Snake Pass. I came in expecting a classic 3D platformer collectathon, with tons of jumping, climbing, and grabbing. I was ready for some combat here and there via tons of scattered minions and flashy boss fights, and of course, was mentally prepared for plenty of gimmick levels in the form of vehicle sections, card/fishing minigames, and maybe a turret or twinstick shooter or two. As is, I think we’ve just taken for granted how formulaic much of the genre has become from its predecessors, and that’s totally fine considering the nostalgia that’s baked into these projects.
What I got instead, was a deconstruction of every convention of the genre as we know it. There’s no “jump” button, because you’re a goddamn snake. Instead, you must rely on three basic forms of movement to cling and glide through various floating isles of peril, filled with spike traps, smoldering coals, illuminative pools, and tons of harrowing gaps of thin air itself. The analog stick controls your head on a horizontal axis relative to the camera (think: moving left and right), the A button tilts Noodle’s head up (while it naturally slumps down due to gravity), and the right trigger moves Noodle forward. The controls are deceptively simple to pick up, but quite difficult to master, and successfully navigating and climbing your way through the separated platform obstacle courses while picking up every collectible and utilizing Noodle’s body to the fullest extent is one hell of a challenge that no other game has ever attempted, much less pulled off.
One of the game’s most well known mottos is “think like a snake;” that is, you can’t approach Snake Pass the same way that you’d approach your classic humanoid mascot 3D platformer. Noodle’s body behind the controllable head is both your greatest strength, and your greatest weakness. See, the body actually consists of 35 connected sphere segments much more similarly to that of a real snake, and the game constantly checks to see if these spheres are in contact with a surface or one another. That’s why the classic S shape slither and curviness of the snake’s body is crucial for maintaining speed. It then follows that as this giant interconnected body, if the head moves in one direction, the body will naturally follow too. As such, the body and the head must be considered in tandem to both move Noodle along platforms/structures and anchor Noodle to contraptions so he doesn’t fall off. The possibilities that stem from this are endless; you can dangle the tail from a rotating pole to collect wisps, you could use your tail to propel Noodle up onto a wall and “slither up,” you could wrap Noodle’s tail around a stationary pole and then slowly extend the head and wrap that head around another pole to complete the transfer, and so much more.
Let me put this all in context with an example to better demonstrate the creativity that Snake Pass’s physics and controls allow for. Consider the following segment made up of a wind tunnel and a bamboo awning in front of the wind tunnel, with the wind currents flowing in the direction towards the bamboo awning. The goal here is to collect the red keystone (one of three) to unlock the portal, but of course, it’s no easy task considering the wind will quickly destabilize Noodle and blow him into the abyss.
So what’s the best approach to take? Do you start slithering on the pole structure and wrap Noodle’s body around the closest vertical pole to the red keystone, slowly extending his head until he contacts the keystone? Do you “climb up” the small ridge to the wind tunnel’s front-left and quickly extract the red keystone from the side? Or, do you take the stylish approach and slither up and behind the wind tunnel, “falling” into the wind tunnel core and being blown into the red keystone and quickly wrapping around one of the poles after exiting the wind tunnel to avoid falling off? I’ve tested all three of these approaches and as it turns out, I've found all three to be completely viable. Simply put, if the problem is collecting wisps, keystones, and coins while successfully exploiting Noodle’s body to avoid falling/dying, then the engine and controls absolutely give the player many forms of viable solutions with little, if any railroading into the “correct” choice.
To add onto the degree of freedom allowed, there are two additional tools that further flip the concept of Snake Pass on its head and allow for even more variety with their own respective downsides. Firstly, the left trigger will cause Noodle to tense up and is referred to as the “grip;” doing so will tighten Noodle’s entire body and make it easier for Noodle to stay anchored to pole structures, especially useful during various parts with rotating pole contraptions where gravity becomes enemy #1. The cost here is that doing so will of course, stifle Noodle’s motility, so figuring out when to hold grip and to let go when moving onto the next obstacles is key to avoid getting too complacent and getting stuck in unfavorable situations.
The second additional tool comes in the form of Noodle’s companion, a hummingbird named Doodle. Pressing the Y button will cause Doodle to pick up Noodle’s tail, which is extremely useful in a jam when you need to reduce the weight of Noodle’s body for movement or elevate the tail onto a platform or pole. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve successfully had Doodle do this to avoid slipping off of platform edges and successfully slither back onto safe ground. The con here is that by taking away the active weight of Noodle’s tail, you won’t be able to use Noodle’s tail as an anchor to remain attached to pole structures or as a coil/pedestal to propel Noodle up walls and ledges. Thus, this push and pull through Snake Pass’s physics and various “safety nets” forces players to think critically of how to best control and exploit Noodle’s movement to successfully navigate the dangerous environments.
I’ve joked about this in the past with friends, in that I consider Snake Pass to be the ideal streaming game; that is, I've always found this game to be interesting to both play and stream. When players pick up the controller for the first time, it’s an often frustrating (and admittingly pretty funny) experience. They constantly find themselves sliding off of poles due to not properly anchoring the body onto structures, or bonking the head onto walls and poles while climbing up & down and slipping into the abyss, or perhaps reflecting my aforementioned annoyance at how slow Noodle seems at first if you’re not actively utilizing the slither pattern on the ground. I’m not going to pretend that the game is perfect either; I understand the obsession for wanting to collect every single thing in the stage and losing progress over and over to deaths (even if upon my replays, I did find that checkpoints are not spaced as far apart as I remember and there’s no real benefit to collecting everything at once; Snake Vision to quickly point out collectibles is unlocked after beating the game initially), and mastering the controls and methodology to the climbing and gripping is definitely a hefty endeavor.
Having said that, once I did get a hang of the controls and problem solving of snagging collectibles without untimely doom, I became really affectionate towards the experience itself. It’s really hard to put down what “good” gamefeel is like, but once it finally clicked, the fluidity and sheer absurdity of what I was able to do with Noodle brought upon this visceral satisfaction that I honestly can’t say many games have been able to match. The closest comparison I can bring to mind is finally figuring out how to “fall” into everything in Gravity Rush Remastered rapid-fire or the sheer number of tricks I was able to successfully perform while sliding and skating around in Jet Set Radio Future. If you're curious, just take a quick look at some of the insane shit they're able to pull off in a speedrun back in 2018. Even the game leans into this, with much of the replay value coming from 100%ing by snagging all the collectibles, as well as an unlockable speedrun mode and arcade mode to further put your execution to the test. As trite as this sounds, there’s really no other game that does what Snake Pass accomplishes, and while the learning curve may be steep, I think there’s real value in niche games like this that are easy to pick up yet difficult to master.
So please don’t make the same mistake that I made. Snake Pass is a bold and radical reinvention of everything the 3D platformer stood for, and in many ways was and still is one of the biggest shocks the gaming industry has ever had. It’s a perfect example of how subtraction can lead to innovation, of how satisfaction can stem not just from speed but also from mastery, and as a calculated and focused product compared to many of its peers, it's an emblematic example of how trying to do something different yet realized is exactly the kind of shake-up that we never knew we needed, but absolutely should desperately want and support.
We don’t deserve Snake Pass, but for what it's worth, I'll always be grateful that we have it.
Conspiracy wasn't originally on my radar, but upon me posting a review for Return of the Obra Dinn and chatting with Detchibe, I more or less got talked into voting for Conspiracy as a potential Game of the Week and was even sent a download link shortly thereafter. (Thanks again for that by the way; I appreciate that you reached out to me even though I basically bought it on Steam as soon as it won the poll.) So, here are some quick thoughts.
Basically, this is a game about piecing together the timeline of "fictionalized" events that all have to do with an underground conspiracy to rig elections, replace the imperial measurement system with metrics, and the usual greatest hits. The goal is to stamp specific dates (a month and a year) onto each Polaroid of a major event with clues given in the form of text documents and audio tapes. You have to get five dates right with eight possible dates that you can play around with and stamp onto photos at any time (any more than eight and you have to delete any "wrong" dates with your own judgement to add on more), and as a result, this system can sort of be abused if you're very sure about four of the five necessary dates and just want to trial and error dates until the cutscene plays. Admittingly, while you don't have to do this, it's also somewhat tempting to do so because you won't get additional clues until you get a set of five validates, and there's no built in hint system or external guidance. So it's interesting how the sense of/need for progression actually might work against the inherent difficulty built in. That unfortunately also means that it's very much expected to get certain dates right in each set of clues, so there's a bit less freedom and a little more railroading.
I think it's super cool that the game's events are built around the real calendar (that is, anything that happened on say, August 12, 2020, a Wednesday in real life, will also be a Wednesday in the game) and this is crucial to figuring out what exact referenced events are and when they happened to get a sense of the timeline, because looking up this information outside of the game is 100% intended. That's also its biggest weakness in a sense though, because I feel like the game doesn't do anything huge outside of that. I think the best comparison here is to something like Chinatown Detective Agency, where it was required that certain contextual details be looked up on Google to figure out exact origins and follow-ups, but at least in Conspiracy, everything is linked under the overall theme of the classic "government puppet-masters in the shadows" and do have recurring characters running everything behind the scenes for their fictionalized reality. That's it unfortunately; you're usually completely set from one simple Google search, and it's not like you will need to perform more than one Google search to keep sniffing the scent on the trail.
I don't know if there's much else to report really. I found the game a bit simple, and was able to piece together most of the timeline through a Google search per necessary clue, and then inserting the remaining dates for each set based off of process of elimination. The presentation is fine for what it's trying to be, and I really liked the simulated audio tapes and voice acting. I can't help but feel like there's a bit of a lack of depth though; as long as you know how to work out calculating time between dates, and Google searching the proper events, you'll probably be good to go. I didn't need to take many notes outside of a few lines of text in Notepad, probably because I was pretty certain of the dates I had already made out via Google and didn't have to rely on much name or context clue recognition/linkage.
Thanks again to Detchibe for inviting me in to voting and playing this, I really appreciate what you're trying to do via expanding Backloggd's horizons in the indie scene. Keep being awesome, and I'm always open to more short indies (especially detective games, think I might try Echo Beach later?) to give new concepts a whirl.
Revisiting some of my old childhood franchises this year has been a bit of a mixed bag. Many of the party games experienced were rather janky, a lot of the mascot 3D platformers I’ve played this year have been some degree of disappointing, and I Spy Spooky Mansion on the Wii left me disabled for a day while my right arm radiated red from abuse. Having said that, no retrospective catch-ups have disappointed me as much as my runs of a lot of the Pokemon spin-off games, which really have not aged well; that’s why it was such a breath of fresh air going back to Explorers of Sky, in the form of the newly released fan romhack, Explorers of the Spirit.
Firstly, I should note that this is a spiritual successor of sorts to Explorers of Sky; a lot of the past storyline is referenced, and you’ll need to have played the final special episode as well to get a lot of the context for what’s going on. As such, if you’re even remotely interested in Explorers of Sky, I absolutely recommend playing and finishing that first (and delving through most of the post-game as well, as a lot of crucial events happen after beating the main storyline that set up the premise of Explorers of the Spirit) before even considering this. It could be argued that the story’s more or less a fanfic “What If” continuation, but honestly, I think the writing’s pretty competent. Sure, your main character can be a bit of a brat at times (though that is a nice contrast compared to the mostly silent protagonist of Explorers of Sky) and a lot of expectations going into the game hinge upon previous knowledge of the game in which it’s based off of, but the authors did a solid job hitting a lot of the same story beats and motifs that are touched upon throughout the series in what I would consider a fairly natural progression and continuation to the series as a whole, while still subverting your expectations here and there to keep you hooked and guessing on what’s yet to come and expanding upon the backstories of a few side characters and enriching the worldbuilding here and there. My only real complaints are that a couple of the characters are removed somewhat abruptly in the form of “deus ex machinas” that are a tad too convenient, and that the ending, though still thoughtful, didn’t hit quite as hard as previous installments. Then again, it’s pretty hard to top the ending of Explorers of Sky, so I’ll give the writers credit where it’s due and admit that they were able to grip my interest throughout its runtime even if the finale didn’t quite blow me away.
I’ve already talked about the core gameplay loop at length not too long ago, so I’ll try not to sound like a broken record and just discuss the main differences instead. The most notable change is that Explorers of Spirit is a much more difficult game. In general, enemies in dungeons tend to be much higher level (and as such, with higher stats) and with more threatening moves (so expect plenty of projectile, surroundings sweep, and room wide attacks) and in the form of stronger species (so plenty of evolved Pokemon and some more “competitively viable” species like Skarmory and Garchomp). It’ll really push your preparation and knowledge skills to match up to the challenge, and as such, I definitely found myself fainting in dungeons more often due to unfortunate critical hits or just being overwhelmed from attacks. As a result, the game also feels a bit grindier since I often felt like I needed to get more treasure and Poke for TMs that would help me expand my moveset (since recruited allies are often not relevant during the majority of the story dungeons) as well as Gummis and general EXP growth just to get the necessary stat boosts to keep up with enemies. To its credit, the game does lean into its higher difficulty and “grindiness” somewhat well; there’s no consequence for fainting in dungeons besides having to restart the dungeon from floor one, whereas fainting in the original game would cause you to lose all your Poke and half of your items. As a result, you can just keep trying over and over in dungeons and becoming more familiar with the territory while getting plenty of loot and stat growth. The lack of consequences from failing also means that you don’t need as many preemptive measures to avoid the fail state, so there’s not as much of a pressing need to have an Escape Orb in the inventory (provided you’re not doing jobs) or constantly rely on Reviver Seeds as an RNG fail-safe against losing your most valuable items. The game also provides you with plenty of Max Elixirs and Apples within the dungeons themselves, so you don’t have to worry as much about starving or running out of PP, and there’s also care taken into the items found on the floors to adequately prepare you for what’s ahead as tailored to each mystery dungeon. For example, one dungeon assaults you with floor after floor of hail, but there are plenty of orbs that can be found and used to change the weather to something more palatable, like sun or rain. Another dungeon is filled with water that’s impassable for most species and often blocks some valuable items, but the floors have plenty of Drought Orbs to help you remove the water if you wish to do so. Finally, a few of the dungeons have a floor wide Monster House as the final challenge (in lieu of randomized traps or randomized Monster Houses, which I did appreciate), but do make sure to drop some room wide orbs like the All Mach Orb or the Foe-Fear Orb if you need a stopgap to help you deal with the sudden danger. Thus, this is definitely a game that will make you sweat, but I would hesitate to call it an unfair game or even a “cheap” game; as long as you know what you’re doing and keep at it, you’ll find a way to break through and feel quite satisfied doing so.
The only other major downfall of Explorers of the Spirit is a bit more akin to a limitation than a weakness, if that makes sense. Since Explorers of the Spirit is a story-focused romhack, there’s not much of a “post-game” element. You won’t be able to evolve your starter/partner in this romhack, or access a lot of the unlockable post-game dungeons such as World Abyss to recruit Giratina for example, since recruitment as mentioned earlier is downplayed due to many story missions not allowing outside party members. While you can continue playing the game after beating the final boss, all it does is place you right back before the final boss, allowing you to go back to Treasure Town to complete all the standard dungeons and jobs that you already could before Explorers of Sky’s post-game. There are some optional very late-game dungeons with some treacherous enemy Pokemon and souped up bosses that could serve as post-game material, since you’ll either need some tremendous stat boosts or some cheesy strats in the form of tons of Reviver Seeds, Vile/Violent Seeds, and Hunger Seeds, but ultimately I found that they required even more grinding than I expected, so I did not follow through with completing those dungeons and don’t plan on going back as of now. As an aside, this also does mean that the natural progression of improving your party via level-up, TMs, and stat drinks/Gummis feels far more condensed within the shorter runtime, so there’s a good chance that you won’t even get a lot of the skills and moves you’re actively looking for unless you’re really good at saving/finding money (albeit a bit easier when you don’t have to be spending tons of money on Reviver Seeds) and actively item grinding in dungeons for Gummis and TMs. It’s a bit of a shame that all the tools you need don’t necessarily feel easily accessible given how the pacing can feel a bit more rushed, though I will admit that depending on your starter character and partner as well as the ability to grind without consequence, these IQ skills and extra moves for coverage can be classified as less of a necessity and more of a luxury in many cases.
Regardless, I found Explorers of the Spirit to be a fruitful diversion and certainly a welcome break from the scores of middling Pokemon spinoffs that I have dabbled with this year. Ultimately, if you’re looking for the fully realized and classic Pokemon Mystery Dungeon experience, I’d still recommend delving into Explorers of Sky and experiencing the classic for yourself. If you’re a veteran of the series looking for something familiar to stretch your limbs and that itch, Explorers of the Spirit will definitely test your mettle while bringing you back to those good old times of saving an unfamiliar yet welcoming world from the depths of calamity alongside your best friends.
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