Tuesday, December 22, 2015

Jester's Top 5 Wii U Games for 2015

December ending signals everything from Christmas cheer to New Year's parties and even more than that. it mean top five and top ten lists.  So why not kick things off with my picks for top 5 Wii U games of 2015!!!

Okay, yeah, it's going to be mainly centered around Wii U, but that's how it goes when you only have one current gen system. Trust me though, if you don't already have a Wii U system, these are the games that should make you rush out and grab one immediately.

#5:  Runbow

As soon as I turned the game on, from the music alone, I knew the design team had gotten things right. It was fast, it was energetic, and it promised a rollicking good time--and Runbow absolutely delivers. Fantastic music, energetic game-play, and a satisfying and solid online experience are just the starting highlights of Runbow. I've been a fan of the runner genre since the Bit.Trip series, and any time a variation or new entry into this genre pops up, I have to give it a try.  Some I've liked, some I've hated, but Runbow I absolutely love.

You run along in a mad dash to get to the end of the level before your opponents. Fall behind or into a trap and you're out.  But the traps and pits aren't the only hazard.  As you run along, a swoop of varying colors fills the screen, altering the landscape in its wake. Jumping across a pit via orange blocks just as a swoop of orange fills the screen? Those blocks get lost in the background and your character drops to his death.

With an absolutely huge cast of characters to choose from (you can race as Shovel Knight!), more characters to unlock, and a host of downloadable characters across various properties; you aren't limited to the luchador looking fellow from the main screen art.  I haven't even covered Behemoth play; which is the near endless challenge mode that sees how long you play/race for before you tap out. If you find yourself liking a racing challenge but don't want the typical kart or car to zoom along in, then this game is the game for you.

Whether you're into runner games or not, this game is a must have from the eShop, that's about as simple as I can put it.

#4:  Yoshi's Woolly World

Pretty much everything about Yoshi's Woolly World I can sum up in the following way:

With dozens of Yoshis to find, numerous worlds to explore for hours on end, and hundreds upon hundreds of things to collect; Yoshi's Woolly World offers a fantastic blend of cheer and chagrin. The mechanics of gobbling enemies and popping (pooping?) out eggs is a familiar one by now.  Even hitting a smiling block to get the instructions on how to fire eggs and ground pound feel like a visit from an old friend.  Another "old friend" that pays a visit is the encouragement of a little OCD (Obsessive Completion Disorder). 

I found myself trying levels again and again just to 100% them levels even after beating them and getting all the yarn spools needed to assemble the Yoshi hidden in any particular level.  Miss a flower?  Better play again and find it! Take a few hits mid-level? Better try harder to not get hit next time.  But despite needing to start over and over again, I never once got to the point that I didn't want to try again. "Yoshi" has peppy music, great control, and an addictive quality about it that had me losing hours.  

For an adorable game about exploring a world of yarn and fluff, Yoshi's Woolly World has a nice mixture of making you grin happily at the sweetness of it all sometimes while at the same time making you want to scream in frustration as you get oh-so-close to getting 100% completion...only to take a bit of damage at the last second and end with a 99%.  You won't leave swearing though. After all, that might hurt the Yoshis' feelings.

#3:  Fatal Frame Maiden of Dark Water

I was never a fan of the Resident Evil series.  I've tried time and time again to get into it,and never really have. So when I heard that Fatal Frame Maiden of Black Water was coming out, this time to the Wii U, I wasn't exactly chomping at the bit to try it out, as I had come to the conclusion that survival horror just wasn't my thing.  However, when I found out that you could try the first level/story arc for free, I figured I may as well give it a shot.  I am so, so glad I did.

Fatal Frame boasts  a wonderfully unsettling atmosphere, great story-line, ambient music that doesn't over-sell the creep factor, and jump-scares that feel legitimately terrifying rather than a cheap way of startling you. Ordinarily I don't like getting scared from a game, but in Fatal Frame Maiden of Black Water's case I'll make an exception because it's so beautifully done. It deftly uses the Wii U pad in a way that few other games do.  I loved using the pad as a camera in order to exorcise ghosts. I loved the sense of dread that crept over me as I explored the mist ridden forest. I loved knowing that as my character was getting wetter and wetter from the falling rain I was more likely to be attacked by spirits--and there was nothing I could do about it except prepare to "fight" them with my camera.  

If you're like me and not really a fan of the horror genre, perhaps Fatal Frame Maiden of Black Water was the game you were waiting for all this time and just didn't know it.  For a game in a genre I don't normally like to even rank on a list with me is an accomplishment, let alone the #3 spot over cute and cuddly Yoshis. I want to play this game more. I want to see how the story ends, even if it means having to fight against my own fear to do so.

#2:  Mario Maker

Minecraft, Shmimecraft--gimme Super Mario Maker!  Seriously though, what can I say about this sandbox game that everyone else on the planet hasn't already said?  If you ever thought you could do better designing a Mario level, or thought you had a great idea for one, or just wondered how funny it would be to face off against two Bowsers at the end of a level--this game was made for you. 

You are the master game-level designer as you don't so much just play the game as you design it.  One of the great things about the game is that it doesn't just throw you into the thick of it by giving you all available options once you start up.  You can't just start slapping together that level with double Bowsers.  You have to earn extra icons, power ups, enemies, and other items by putting in the time and you earn them as you progress and design levels with the basic tools given at the start.  Herein lies a great deal of the genius of the game. It teaches you how to create the levels by limiting you, forcing you to get the basics of game level design before progressing with more complicated elements.  I always loved a well designed level in the Super Mario Bros. franchise, and getting the opportunity to design my own level makes me appreciate those levels all the more.  

Little wonder that this game has been winning awards left and right.  Takashi Tezuka, Mario series co-creator himself was even surprised at the level of creativity and inventiveness that has been spawned online by users.  I don't know how or even if the creative team from Super Mario Bros can top this game in the Mario universe, but it'll be interesting to see them try.  


Blisters are forming on the palm of my hand, my thumb, and several fingers are on my hands as I type this. Why? Because I lost another night's sleep playing what I consider the best game of 2015.  Turning the typical online multiplayer shooter on it's head, Splatoon has me fully hooked. I've always steered clear of the online multiplayer shooters, having long ago felt left in the dust when Halo and Call of Duty were just coming into their own. In fact, I would go so far as to say that seeing a parade of similar grey-wolrd, cover-based shooters pop out for the Xbox and Playstation systems has kept me the steadfast Nintendo fan that I am. So when Nintendo first announced Splatoon, I was intrigued that they were doing something that I normally shunned.

Nintendo hadn't really had a new IP in years, and mutiplayer shooter seemed an odd direction for them to take, but not too surprising as every other console maker had been popping them out for years.  At first I was largely ambivalent to the idea, maybe even a little disappointed that Nintendo had decided to hop into this particular corner of the market. However, as the "global test fire" neared, my interest built to the point that I made sure I was free to take the time and participate in this unique, worldwide demo.  Little did I know that I was already hooked after that first time.  When they announced a second test fire/demo, I had errands to run that day. But as soon as they were complete, I raced home and enthusiastically played the last 20 minutes of the second world-wide demo.

The basic premise of the game?  You are an inkling, a tween-age squid-kid hybrid who obsesses about fashion, fun, and endless games of paintball.  You can chose from various head, body, and footwear that offer different abilities which come in handy during the battles. Though there are an ever-growing number of stages available, only four stages available during each time block.  Two for the regular "cover the arena in ink" battle and two other stages for ranked battles which range from a capture the flag type game, to cover certain zones, to a "tower-ride" battle.  What sets Splatoon apart, aside from the characters and color, is that rather than the objective being to rack up kills, you need to cover a greater percentage of the stage than the opposing team, or "bad guys," as they are called. (Naturally, your own team is always the good guys).  This is where the success of the game really lies.  Why pop in one of the dozens of Call of Duty clones, or Call of Duty itself when you can break free from the normal bleak, gritty cover-based-shooting and enter a world full of breath-taking color and shine?  Not to mention the fact that content for the game, FREE content, from new stages, weapons, and gear are being added at a fairly regular rate.

Before I start prattling on much more, I will mention I've already written a fairly extensive review of Splatoon and still have nothing but praise for the game. In fact, if I were to say anything new, I would have to add that the music I dismissed as passable in my original review has come to grow on me. I was only mildly interested in the tunes early on, but nowadays I find myself absentmindedly whistling them and rocking along as the music plays.  Even the main theme seems as familiar to me these days as the title track of a Mario Bros or Zelda game.

Even without a new Zelda, new Star Fox, and who knows what else on the horizon, Splatoon alone deserves to move Wii U systems out retailers' doors.

So what didn't quite make the list?

Honorable Mentions:

Human Resource Machine

Good gravy I wish I knew how to do computer programming, I think I would enjoy this game more if I did. Still, I had a fun enough time watching my wife play and the gang at Tomorrow Corporation have done it again blending great game-play, unique game design, and sublime storytelling. It would have made my top five easily, but I feel like I need to actually be able to play the game for it to get there. Still, it was fun for the few levels I could manage before my more math/computer programmer minded wife need to step in and basically play the game for me in order to beat it. Still, it deserves props for making my wife enthusiastically play a game from start to finish. I don't know if she's ever done that before...

FAST racing NEO

This is very nearly the F-Zero game I've been waiting for--Nay that world has been waiting for. With glorious 60fps, a techno soundtrack, dozens of courses, several different vehicles to fly/drive, and even an online mode--I truly enjoyed this late 2015 entry.  I love logging on and racing, I love the smooth and responsive controls, I love the fact that a tiny slip up can send you exploding down the track with little hope of catching up unless your opponents make the same mistake or worse (challenge is a good thing people).  What I don't love though is that there seem to be glitches in online/multiplayer mode that cause everything from players in the "race friends" mode getting dropped to my Wii U outright freezing and needing a reboot. If it weren't for this the game might have nabbed the #5 spot. Maybe an update will fix issues or add more racers, but as it stands it needs "one more rewrite" as my dad likes to say.


The only thing edging this great little shooter out of the top 5 comes from the fact that despite it reminding me of Robotron, one of my favorite arcade games of all time, it has a little too much going on during on screen action. I enjoy the music, the power-ups, and the fast and furious game-play. However, I wish the color of your gunfire and the color of an enemy death were a bit varied. As the levels get higher and the game harder, I found myself dodging unnecessarily or unwittingly running into enemy fire. I lose a chunk of evening every time I turn it on, but ultimately put it down in frustration when I die time and time again thanks to a minor graphical oddity.

So, there's my list of top Wii U games of 2015. I hope and expect to see a few well known franchises on this list in the future (crosses finger for Legend of Zelda greatness) and some unexpected surprises, though it will be hard to top getting me to like an online multiplayer shooter and a survival horror game.  Here's looking forward to an awesome 2016!

Thursday, December 17, 2015

Midweek Music Box: Alone in the Dark 2 Intro Music

It's Christmas and strange things are a foot in Hell's Kitchen.  It's 1924, a little girl has been kidnapped, and Edward Carnby suspects the inhabitants of a mysterious mansion may have had a hand in it.  Time for some music from the PC classic Alone in the Dark 2.  After all, what says Christmas and Yuletide more than ghost pirates, gangsters, and death traps?  

Okay, so I know that being a survival horror game seems to put this more in the realm of Halloween fare, but I guess the fact that the nefarious pirates are doing their evil deeds near the holidays resulted in me playing the game a bit more often towards Christmastime.  I must have let the beginning sequence play a dozen times just to hear the music.

It goes from a creepy version of Jingle Bells into a macabre tune you might expect to hear from an early horror film or something from a Christmas episode of Nickelodeon's Are You Afraid of the Dark. Oh sure, it's got a few merry bells jingling, and pleasant whistle toot or too...but as soon as it goes to harpsichord, then you know it's transitioned from that friendly familiar Christmas carol to something sinister.Give it a listen here:

"Intro Music"

Spooky, right?

Yeah, I know there are probably games out there with their own little version of yuletide tunes ranging from Frosty the Snowman to Silent Night, but something about the minimal use of Jingle Bells in this song does just enough to help establish the time setting that it really helps sell the story line. It makes for a nice picture of things to come.  Yes, there should be merriment, yes there should be the usual festivities, but when foul freebooters are involved--especially those involved in voodoo pact--you know the time for the trimming the tree has passed and it's time to get down to business.  

The rest of the soundtrack does a well enough job selling the story, but for me, those first few notes of the harpsichord and the spooky strains of a merry Christmas tune gone wrong not only remind me of the season, but of great gaming experience.

Friday, December 11, 2015

Friday Night Rentals: Gauntlet, quite a "Dandy" game

Over the years I rented games from every system that I could.  From NES to SNES to Sega Genesis to DS to Wii--if my local video store had a little plastic box representing a game I was interested in, I would snag that box and hope for the best.  Usually it was mixed bag of hit and miss good times and bad.  However, there were times when I would pick up a game and it would remind me of a game I had already played.

No, I'm not referring to the countless space shooters that seemed to be a staple of 80's retro gaming.  I'm talking about the times a game reminded me of something I had already played on the Atari 800 my parents owned.  Sure, M.U.L.E. was M.U.L.E. whether on the Atari or NES--but there were those games which were basically clones of other games that had already appeared on the Atari.

Gauntlet for the NES came in a cartridge that was unlike any other I had seen up to that point.  That black molded plastic was a bit of an oddity to me at the time.  The oddly tapered, but appealing look of the cartridge immediately set it apart.  Most noticeable to me was the lack of the Official Nintendo Seal of approval.  I remember thinking at the time I was possibly doing something wrong by putting it in my machine.  What if it broke the system?  What if the cart acted screwy and didn't function?  That would mean no game for the weekend!  Or worse, what if Nintendo found out what I had done and I wasn't allowed to use my NES anymore?

(Okay, I wasn't just a total Nintendo fanboy back in the day--still am--and I admit that this sounds silly now, but as a kid this was a real concern of mine.)

So just what did I get when I popped in Gauntlet by Tengen?  Did my beloved NES explode?  Did a Nintendo rep batter down my door and berate me for treacherously putting in an unlicensed game?  Or did my older brother and I realize we were basically playing an upgraded version of Dandy?

So what was special about the game in the day and does it still hold up?

Music and Sound


Unlike Dandy, the sound effects are quite a bit better with little grunts and yells as you guide your character through the dozens upon dozens of murder mazes.  Popping this game in again, the sounds when you hit an enemy and as you fire your weapon are as familiar and welcome as they were back in the day.  It's funny how I used to think at times the audio sounded scratchy at times, but now it makes me smile as I remember how I was satisfied that I had actually hit my target enemy.


So, here's where I normally talk about the music. Except, there are many tracks for the various levels in Gauntlet and truthfully, only one immediately comes to mind when I think of Gauntlet, and that's the music for the title screen and the first set of levels.  I love the medieval sounds and the harpsichord-like quality of the tune that conveys something both adventurous and mysterious.  So when I went looking for the song on Youtube, I ran across this great rendition of it and just had to share.

"Orchestral Version Gauntlet"

For purists, here's a copy of the original 8-bit version, and yes, it holds up just as well as back in the day:

"Song A"

Graphic and Style

No longer were we playing as anthropomorphic numbers running along on little legs and slinging directional arrows at skulls and happy faces.  Now we were wizards, elves, warriors and warrior-esses fighting against ogres, ghosts, and a host of other creatures!  Sure the blocks got an upgrade too, but they were less important to us than the fact that our characters actually had a bit of definition.  Yeah the ghosts look a little goofy now, and there's a certain bit of repetitiveness going on with the levels (many areas just getting a palette swap) but it doesn't detract from the fun.

Control and Gameplay

This still plays as solid as it did back in the day.  You race around grabbing keys, treasures, and potions as you battle seemingly unending hordes of monsters all in your quest to get to the final dungeon, slay the villain and save the kingdom.  You know, your basic classic adventure stuff.  I can't say much more other than when you have a dungeon crawler like this and you're spending much of the time surrounded by enemies, it's nice to know that if you get surrounded and die it's your own fault. I can't tell you how many games I played in the day where I'd get surrounded by legions of monsters and die simply because the stupid controls didn't respond.

Final Memories 

I can't say we ever got that far in this game.  Even when my brother and I plugged along and played for a couple of hours, we were renting, and didn't actually own this game.  As you might imagine, it has a bit of an effect on you when you know that you may or may not ever rent the game again.  Sometimes it can me you try all the harder to beat the game--other times you give up sooner, realizing that a single weekend just isn't enough time to get to the end of a game.  It's nice to actually own the game after all this time because now I can finally do what I was unable to do back in the day.  At long last I can make my way through the seemingly endless dungeons.  At long last I can make a go of winning the game...

either that or pick up something else after I get frustrated from hours of seemingly fruitless playing. Whichever comes first.

Wednesday, December 9, 2015

Midweek Music Box: Sonic the Hedgehog 2

I'm more of a Nintendo guy, that much should be clear by now. But just because you'll typically find me rocking, working, writing, or cleaning to a Nintendo tune doesn't mean I don't love game music on other platforms--even a Sega!  While I won't go so far as to say, "Sega does what Ninten-don't;" I freely admit many Sega games had fantastic tunes. With that said, this time around on the Midweek Music Box we'll be taking a look at Sonic the Hedgehog 2.  I'm only going to highlight three tracks tracks this time around, as I could probably write pages worth on each track and why it evokes so many memories.


What a cheerful and adventurous little melody.  It's got a nice quick pace that helps set the tone of you playing as the fastest rodent alive.  Drum hits aren't too fast, the synthesized keyboard doesn't overpower, and you're left with a pleasant, upbeat feeling. Emerald Hill Zone does a nice job of welcoming you into this odd world of blue hedgehogs, immortal double-tailed foxes, and egg-shaped villains that enjoy robotizing all the furry critters in the world.  It was a happy catchy tune, and I loved running past the various obstacles and enemies as it played.  What a great way to start the game!


"Chemical Plant Zone"

To me this was like a souped up, well done version of something I would expect to hear from the Mega Man X series or someone's version of a classic Mega Man tune, only done with a bit of extra flair.  Yeah, I compared music from Sega's star mascot to that of a well known Nintendo franchise, but that's how it goes, and in my opinion I'm paying the game a huge compliment.  I love the somewhat darker and urgent tone of the tune.  Like it's saying, "Okay, you get the gist of the game?  Good, because it's time to get serious."  It has a fast tempo as you would expect from a Sonic game, but still manages to give you a broad sense of something deeper going on in the game.  You are on an adventure where dangers abound.  It's not all going to be green fields, easy enemies and simple jumps.  I'm sure more than once I lost a life thanks to getting lost in the music while I wound my way through this level.


"Casino Night Zone"

So you go from dashing around Emerald Hills, navigating a deadly chemical plant, through mysterious ruins and are ready for whatever might lie on the horizon, right?  Well, time to kick back to a smooth set of jazzy cymbal hits, drum beats, and boppin' tune.  The whole level design gives you that modern "Vegas at Night" feel, but when it comes to the music, it feels like something from the 1920's.  It's swingin' and hip!  Sure you're already having great fun bouncing around the slots and trying to win rings, but the level probably wouldn't act such a time suck if it weren't for the music that keeps you wanting to trying your luck.  I guess in that way it truly captures a Vegas feel.  I probably lost more lives on this level than any other as the catchy tune and fun action kept me playing over and over again.

So there you have it, a little glimpse into some of the tunes that made Sonic 2 a great game back in the day--and still does now.  I could easily pop in any one of these tracks to help me through my work day, to bop along while writing, or even just driving around town running errands.  If you have a way of grabbing these tunes and others from Sonic 2 I'd highly recommend doing so.

Friday, December 4, 2015

Friday Night Rentals: Editorial Rant: Konami Edition

Can a single game company just churn out greatness and fond memories with ease?  If you were Konami back in the day, the answer was a whole-hearted yes.  From Gradius to Goonies II, Double Dribble to Castlevania, Contra to Rush N' Attack and of course, Metal Gear--Konami was on its A game when they were putting out games for the NES back in the day.  Yes, they've created other mega-smash hits since then, but really when I think about Konami I think of those glory days in the late 80's and early 90's

From the rare but infinitely fun Bucky O' Hare, to the insanely difficult and "Nintendo Hard" Super C; Konami and classic NES games went together not just like bread and butter, but something even better.  Like diamonds and platinum, or invincibility and the ability to fly, or chocolate and more chocolate, or...well, you get the idea.  Point being, I am pretty sure if it was a Friday and I was out to rent a game, chances were fairly high that I was willing to give a game I'd never consider or even heard of a try if it had the Konami label on it.  Simply put, they churned out so many quality titles for the NES, they were more than just another third party developer.  Oh sure, Hudson Soft made some fun games, and Taito and Acclaim popped out their fair share of memorable titles.  When it came to high-powered fun though, you could count on Konami to deliver.  And I often did when it came to a Friday Night Rental.  They had solid controls, great games, fantastic music and sound that still holds up... I mean, they put out Contra for crying out loud!

Pictured above?  Greatness.

So what gives?  What in the world happened?  Who wasn't watching Konami when it toddled off and banged it's head, clearly losing its freaking mind?  I know that me and my generation were doing a good job of watching over it, thank-you-very-much.  We poured out our affection (and money) when we got quality games like Castlevania or Gradius.  We even patted it gently and lovingly on the head when we were handed a particularly messy mud-pie like when Konami churned out Adventures of Bayou Billy.  So just what did you do millennials?  Huh?  Did you accidentally let Konami grab handfuls of lead paint chips and gobble them down like Halloween candy?  If you were thinking we weren't going to notice how insane they've gotten in the past several years you were very wrong!

Seriously, we knew something was wrong, after all we weren't buying the nonsense that one of Konami's greatest employees, Hideo Kojima; simply was having a prolonged vacation.  Before that they were rambling on about how slot machines and "free to start" games were where they really belonged.   Then to top it off they don't allow Kojima to receive his own award at the recent 2015 Video Game Awards!  Did you think that all the tears filling our eyes during the lastest Satoru Iwata tribute would blind us to the truth?

Clearly Konami, the poor dear, has had a head injury or sustained some blow to the brain.  It's not too late though.  There might be hope for this once beloved company, but it's going to take both kinds of us--old school and new generation--gamers to get this done.  We need to let Konami know it's alright and we understand, but they need medical help right away.

What?  You say you'll get started on things right after you're done with Fallout 4 and the latest Call of Duty?


Wednesday, December 2, 2015

Midweek Music Box: F-Zero GX

Running at a glorious 60 FPS, this racing game for the Gamecube has so much going for it from bright and colorful graphics an eclectic cast of characters, to most especially the music.  Not that my current T.V. screen lacks decent size, I'm content with a 32" thanks, but F-Zero GX ranks up there in my top five games that make me wish I had a jumbo big screen.  Can you image zooming along on a jumbo screen with those sweet sounds pumping out?  (Of course, I would be open to a sound system upgrade, but that's another story...)

I mean seriously though, the F-Zero GX music has the "gotta go fast" soundtrack that the last few installments of the Sonic the Hedgehog franchise wish they had.  Constant thumping, heart-pounding rhythms playing directly on your emotions.  I'm glad I don't have some of these tunes playing when I drive anywhere because likely as not I'd get pulled over for speeding, not to mention reckless driving.  So what are some of the specifics as to what makes F-Zero GX's track so incredible?  First, take a listen to the music from Mute City:

"Mute City Theme"

Do you hear that?  Futuristic sound that doesn't have a dated feel.  Guitar strains and a fast chomping heavy metal guitar.  Ever more rapid drum beats and a pounding techno rhythm.  Best of all?  The upbeat tone that it conveys.  Being one of the first races you'll do, naturally there had to be tune that conveyed not only the tone of the track, but of the game itself.  Composers Hidenori Shoji and 
Daiki Kasho (and Alan Bray.  From what I can tell, he did the vocals) have put together a tune that truly show off not only the kind of music they are bringing to the game, but the very nature of the game itself.  The Mute City theme does set itself apart, but there are so many other great tunes within F-Zero, I wanted to single out at least one.  However, for your listening enjoyment, here' the complete soundtrack:

"F-Zero GX OST"

If you can find a way to download this music, you seriously need to do so.  There are many games that attempt to have "the sound of the future," and as time passes they end up seeming as hilariously dated as the Flash Gordon series of old.   However, F-Zero still feels as if it's got a bead on what the future of music might hold.  What with the passage of dub-step, the popularity of techno, and more modern songs using digital sounding effects to create padding--I can almost imagine a world where techno-pop music not only is the rage, but dominates all we do.  Which apparently racing is a whole lot of what we will do.  That and listening to some kick-butt tunes as we fly down reverse gravity corridors and tube-like tunnels.  Who needs hover-boards?  The F-Zero GX future is the one we should be waiting for.

Bipedal Computer Processor: Human Resource Machine Review

Power failures? Robots attacking the city?  Humanity on the brink of doom?  Stop worrying about that nonsense and get back to work!  There's a busy Inbox and Outbox to take care of and you haven't got time to think about petty, mundane things like mankind's forthcoming robot enslavement.  You are the Human Resource Machine!

Yes, the boys from Tomorrow Corporation have returned, this time with a unique take on the puzzle genre that may have left me in the dust, but it made my wife giggle with glee.  How did they make this so?


Although a cute little character appears on screen at all times, what you really are controlling are the various tiles that make up the commands you input in order to make.  They slide around easily, and discarding incorrect tiles is also easy.  The interface is both functional and very user friendly.  Not much to say beyond that it works well for the tasks at hand.

Music and Sound

The music shifts from having an upbeat tone, to oddly melancholy, to mysterious and foreboding.  In short: It's the typically awesome music you come to expect from a Tomorrow Corporation game.  I would download all of these in a heartbeat because they often remind me of Danny Elfman's better work.  There are few game makers I know of outside the major companies that pull off such a rich level of music with such strong personality.  Kyle Gabler just knocks it out of the park again.

"Title Track"

Sound design for this Tomorrow Corporation game also remains as strong as its predecessors.  From the blips and bloops as you enter computer commands, to the pleasant whir of the conveyor belt; each sound in Human Resource Machine carries with it a weight of personality which again feels distinctly Tomorrow Corporation.  Likely they've borrowed assets from previous games, but they are as welcome here as they were in the previous games.  Even though World of Goo hasn't even reached a ten year anniversary, I already feel a twinge of nostalgia when I hear the already familiar sounds.

Graphics and Style

Yup, it too has got that Tomorrow Corporation feel, and that' alright.  All the characters look like something out of Tim Burton's sketchbook, and that works great.  It's amazing how much emotion you can get from the simple little figures.  You really feel like they're tiny little people in a cartoon world.  From the bespectacled boss, to the pop-up book-ish building, to the odd charcoal like shadows--Human Resource Machine has a style which feels familiar, but in a comforting way.  Like, "I know this world and what's happening in it.  They're doomed, aren't they?"

I'm not sure if the games are all connected just because the art style is the same, but I really hope they are.


As I sat down to treat myself to another clever puzzle game from the Tomorrow Corporation people, I quickly found myself out of my depth.  I was working along, got to roughly level 7, and was a little lost as to what to do next.  I kept trying to figure out the puzzle, but being more of a wordsmith, the numbers aspect was throwing me off.  I pondered what to do next when suddenly the controller disappeared from my hand and the weirdest thing happened next:

My wife was holding the controller; playing, smiling, and plugging away at the game like it was nothing.

"You're doing basic programming," she said with delight.  

Ordinarily my wife does not play video games, as most of the more modern 3D games make her motion sick fairly quickly.  However, thanks to the 2D graphics, there she was was beside me plugging away and finishing each level with ease.  Oh sure, there came a point where she slowed, but she thanks to her intuitively knowing what the game was all about after watching me play for a few minutes, she was able to chug through half the game with a ease.  (Or at least what seemed like ease to a person who does writing, not programming for a living.

My wife and I had previously enjoyed playing Little Inferno together, so she was drawn to the game when I told her it was from the same people.  However, where I wasn't able to figure out the puzzles past a certain point she was able to pick up and play through the game because she recognized it for what it was:  A math and computer programming game.  Her talents, abilities, and the lessons learned via her computer science Bachelors degree had come to use in playing a video game!  Why was this?  Well...

Each level involves you moving objects from the Inbox to the Outbox in ever more intricate ways, but you do so by creating a list of commands for your little office worker to perform.  In essence, your human icon is a machine or computer.  You plug in the commands and it does the job you told it to do.  Math and computers just aren't my strong suit, but this did not detract from my enjoying watching my wife play the game.  There was something fascinating about watching a game about "programming."

Final Thoughts

I guess I should have known what the game involved seeing as the website itself has a section where it flat out says, "About the Game:  For Expert Nerds" in big bold print.  Despite it being geared more towards people with my wife's skills, it was just too awesome to pass up though.  I have to really hand it to Allan Blomquist, Kyle Gabler,  at Tomorrow Corporation.  I may not have had the chops to solve the game, but by golly I loved just watching the story, however bleak, unfold.  So much atmosphere and cleverness in a simple but highly effective package.  Bravo guys, you made math and computers interesting to a word nerd like me.

Final Scores:

Graphics: 10/10
Style:  10/10
Music:  10/10
Sound: 10/10
Control: 10/10
Gameplay 10/10

Friday, November 27, 2015

Friday Night Rentals: Black Friday Memories

You rent, you play it, you beat it, and you move on....

...Or you didn't move on, you didn't beat it, and you kept on wanting to play it and eventually, you got it.  

Or maybe there was a cool accessory that you wanted that.  Or maybe there was a game you had beaten on easy, but wanted to beat on hard mode so you could get the "real" ending.  Whatever the case was, when the weekend after Thanksgiving would roll around, my folks would want Christmas lists from us kids, and those lists meant a chance to possibly get video games.

When I was a kid I would spend hours poring over Christmas catalogs from toy stores, electronics emporiums, and any other retailer who sold video games.  I would hunt down advertised games that I'd beaten, games that I had enjoyed, and games that seemed like a deal and that I would probably enjoy playing.  My folks weren't independently wealthy, and I was too young to get a job so Christmas was the time when I was likely to get the most games.  So when making a wish list, I wanted to up the chances of getting something by making sure it was a game that I knew was likely to last a while.

As an adult looking back, there are a so many games I wish I would have asked for when I was a kid.  I hope I don't sound greedy saying that, because I'm not saying that I would have asked for everything under the sun that had a Nintendo Seal of Approval slapped on the cover---It's just that there were a number of games I beat when I rented them, and figured were off limits when it came to asking.  Why expect someone to pay good money for something that I had already seen the ending credit scrawl for?  You overcome a challenge, and then move on, right?  And since whatever games I got were just nice surprises, they were gifts after all, I wanted to ensure the game was something fresh and fun.  Something that either couldn't be beaten, like the puzzle game Yoshi's Cookie, or a game that would likely take a while to beat, such as River City Ransom.

All new 2000 character password system!

As an aside, games like River City Ransom were practically like buying an RPG as far as younger me was concerned, what with the ridiculously long password system and the way you could level up your characters.  On top of that, it was a two player game which meant my brother and I had to have time off together to play it, so that would further stretch the amount of time a game would last.  Usually what dominated my stocking and under the tree unwrapping time were games like Paperboy and Klax though.  I don't regret that one bit just to be clear.  I love the games I got and still do.  Playing through Paperboy and losing hours on Klax still is a lot of fun to me.  Just...there are times I wish that I had gotten Ducktales as a kid.  Such a phenomenal gem, and if I had gotten it as a kid, I would have the manual and box still in all likelihood.  Mega Man frustrated me so much, and I ended up beating the game because I wanted to have that badge of honor.  Now if I want to beat it again, and not as part of an "Anniversary Collection," I'd have to shell out roughly 70 bucks.  I'm an adult, I could afford it now I guess...

But dang do I kick myself for not asking for it as a Christmas gift back in the day. 

I never sold a one of my Nintendo games that I got for Christmas.  All the games that my brother and I played as a kid are still in the collection today.  It has been a great deal of fun over the years to plug in Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles Arcade and remember the hours my brother and I spent playing it.  Great times were had by all, and some of my fondest memories were of gathering around the Nintendo during Christmas afternoon to try out the new games.  Though I may occasionally lament not having gotten certain games back in the day, I can't imagine not having any of the carts from the collection of games I consider the "family collection."  Whenever Black Friday rolls around, I remember those days and what it was like to try and pick just the right game.

Wednesday, November 25, 2015

Midweek Music Box: World of Goo

Faster and faster!

 Higher and higher!


Yes, it's World of Goo by Kyle Gabler and Ron Carmel, the team at 2D Boy.  I remember hearing good things about those goo balls when the game was first released, and I was intrigued by the trailers.  The music in particular for the trailer really grabbed me and sent a surge of excitement through me in a way that few games ever have.  But getting it for my Wii would mean the only way to get it was through download.  I was a bit more hesitant to do that.  After all, what if the early buzz was just hype?  If I downloaded this game simply based on how well put together the trailer was and how pleasant the music was and it turned out it was shovelware...I wouldn't even have a physical copy of something to sell away and get any money back for my folly.  Well, I think you can pretty much guess what I decided to do in the end.

World of Goo was one of the first, if not the first game that I ever downloaded to a console, and I have never regretted for a second.  From the fantastic controls to the clever and challenging puzzles, to the unique and wonderful art style; World of Goo simply "oozes" personality in a way that no other puzzle game has to me.  Sure, Tetris will always be a classic, but to have such a definitive character and to tell an actual story as you progress..,I think I always will find World of Goo a bit of a masterpiece of gaming.  What sold me the most though was the music though, that music from the trailer, the snippets that appeared here and there were as gripping to me as some of the best Legend of Zelda music, no joke.

Here's the soundtrack in it's entirety if you've never checked it out, but I would recommend hunting it down and downloading a copy for yourself, it just makes such fantastic background music for any and all occasions:

Much of the music feels like Danny Elfman himself could have composed, or are even better that some of Mr. Elfman's work.  Then there's other tunes that set a bleak mood without that Elfman-esque feel such as "Cog in the Machine," a slow moving, soliloquy of a song that has mournful echoing metal guitar strains, powerful drums beats, and nice synthesizer padding.  You get a sense of someone relentlessly trying their hardest to overcome an insurmountable goal.  I can almost picture a driving rain as a hero plods along streets more than I can stacking balls of goo into bridges.

"Cog in the Machine"

The entire soundtrack has incredible gems that are constantly in my music rotation, and I always know in an instant when I'm listening to a track from World of Goo without having to look at my computer's music library.  However, one sound track in particular, to me at least, epitomizes the "World of Goo Experience" as a whole.  And that's this one here:


Like a carnival calliope gone mad, the music touches something deep inside you.  The track entitled "Tumbler" makes you feel compelled to do all things faster.  You need to type faster, work faster, play faster, speed along before everything comes crashing down...much like it can in the game.  Not only was the soundtrack that buzzed along in the background of the trailer while showing you gameplay, but it provided such a strong emotional hook that it was incredible to me.  If you had trouble trying to describe the game to somebody, all you need do is point them to this track in particular and it should tell them all they need to know.  Your mind buzzes and flits around with possibilities of what can be done and what needs to be done during the game.  You rush frantically around from stage to stage hurriedly completing each task and then...and then there's a feeling of deep melancholy when you realize that you've finished not just the end of the stage, but the end of the game itself.  No more goo balls to rescue, no more bridges to build.  Just an end sequence to watch, and the hope that somewhere, deep in space, more goo balls are out there...

"Ending Theme"

Kyle Gabler gave the adorable little goo balls a distinctive voice, and I don't just mean that cute little squeaky one from the game.  I can't imagine World of Good would have been nearly as memorable as an experience without the fantastic soundtrack.  It's well worth downloading and deserves more praise than I can give it.

-and don't forget the Sign Painter

Monday, November 23, 2015

Satisfying or Shovelware: Dollar Madness!

Grabbing a cheap game reminds me those times I'd actually plunk money into a crane game.  You feel a few coins in the pocket as you pass one in a mall or other setting, plunk in a little bit of money into the slot, hope for a great result, and either end up doing a minor fist pump in victory...

...or you end up slamming the controls in frustration as the claw grabs air, flails about, and gives you nothing in return.

Yes, it's time once more for Satisfying or Shovelware; where I review three games hoping to pluck out hidden greatness--but some times find nothing but empty flailing as the result.  This week I'll be taking a quick look at a few games which are available for roughly $2 or less on the Wii U.  So let's see what was grabbed this week, shall we?

If you've ever played the arcade game Head On by Sega, or Crash by Exidy, you've pretty much played Don't Crash by RCMADIAX.  You take laps around an two lane oval shaped track while trying to avoid getting smacked "head on" by another driver driving in the opposing direction.  You tap the A button to change lanes, you get points for every successful lap completed, and an additional point for having narrow misses.  The sound effects are nice, and the cracking animation as you and the other car collide are cute in their own little way.  I paid roughly a $1.50 and it wasn't that bad.  I just with there was more to it.  Even Head On and Crash had multiple tracks for you to switch between and pellets to grab to complete the level.  The concept and execution are overly simple, but overall it was still a pleasant experience.  It's likely something I would put on when I have only a few minutes before having to head out somewhere and don't want to get too involved, and truthfully it feels like something I would download to my phone.  Ultimately, it would have been that much better to me if it completely cloned Head On and added the twist of points for narrow misses and successful lap completion.

Final Verdict:  Vaguely Satisfying

Every time somebody calls a Shoot'em Up a "Shmup," a butterfly dies.  That's not fantasy, that's scientific fact.  So naturally when a game developer calls a game a shoot'em up but in reality has produced a clunky mess; some adorable animal must also die.  Scientists have yet to determine what animal that is, but likely some animal that was full of life, joy, and cleverness ---because those things are the exact opposite game known as Hold Your Fire: A Game About Responsibility.  Okay, let me take a step back for a second; I didn't drop that much money on this and there were some things that I want to highlight about the game which were good.  The background music helped to set the space shooter atmosphere quite well and the sound effects were straight out of an old school Atari space shooter.  You fly through space effects which feel as vibrant and as rich as some of the best shooters.  Even the little death-splosion is well animated.  They go so far as to single out the animator of that particular effect in the credit scroll.  

And that's about where the praise ends.  

I guess I should get to the basics of the game, and they are basic.  You fly along, three ships appear, and one of them may or may not be a bad guy.  Hint:  If they are firing at all, you need to blast them to space dust.  Later levels feature asteroids which you must also blast away.  Remember that death-splosion I mentioned before?  Hope you really liked it, because you'll be seeing it a lot.  If you get hit by enemy fire, naturally you die.  But kill a non-firing ship by accident?  Hello again explosion.  Miss an asteroid?  Yup, death for you too.  Miss an enemy and let it pass off screen?  Yes, you guessed it, you die!  Seems that star command has the itchy trigger finger they didn't want you to have.  If bad guys and obstacles don't kill you, those in charge will destroy you instanteneously for your miserable failure.  This wouldn't be so bad if the game moved along at a clip or  had some flow.  Unfortunately, you just plod along.  I should also mention your hit box feels huge.  There were times I swear I dodged enemy fire or missed an object only to explode.  I give the development team points for the funny text scroll that follows the various ways you die, but even that wasn't enough to save this game from making me feel like I wasted my time and money.  And I did give it time, almost a solid hour in fact, hoping that there was some sort of mechanic or skill I would pick up which would help me enjoy the game.  No such luck.  Shame too because they clearly have a good art and music team at Alkterios Games.  Too bad the execution of this outing was so lacking.

Final Verdict:  Shovelware

I feel odd discussing a sequel to a game I've never played, but in this case I believe it's okay in the case of the fantastic action puzzle game 99 Moves.  

In this puzzle game by EnjoyUp Games you have 99 moves to reach the end of the level.  Your character moves like you're drawing with an Etch-A-Sketch, and it may sound odd, but that type of control scheme feels great here as you need to make many quick, sharp turns in order to progress in the game.  You needn't worry that your sprite is a huge block man as you only need to worry about the glowing red energy dot at the center of your block guy.  As he flies along the various corridors, avoiding assorted obstacles, you can collect icons for extra points.  These icons will also reset the status of your block guy should you bump into a wall.  What happens if you hit a wall?  Well, not only do you lose a chunk of your available moves, but the little red blip inside your block guy grows, making the narrow turns and alleyways that much more difficult to go through.  Take too many hits or run out of moves and it's game over.

I liked the graphical style choice as it had an old school feel that many try to replicate, but few do so well.  The music worked well and was satisfying to hear, but a little on the dull side so it likely won't make it to my iPod anytime soon.  Each level had an interesting layout and clever challenges that never felt cheap and always forced me to think through whether I had made the most efficient move possible.  If it turned out that I ran out of moves before reaching the end, I felt it was my fault and not the game's for some how having stupid-hard difficult.  Every puzzle has a solution after all.  

I don't want to gush further other than to say it was well worth the $1.50 sale price, and would have been worth the full price as well.  I'd definitely recommend picking this one up if you haven't already.

Final Verdict:  Highly Satisfying 

That does it for this round of Satisfying or Shovelware.  Next time you seem a load of cheap games in the downloadable game pile, don't be afraid to reach in and see if you can pluck out something awesome.  You never know...you might have found something great to "take home."  See you next time.

Friday, November 13, 2015

Friday Night Rentals: Heartache in a Halfshell: Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles

If you were to search top five "Nintendo Hard" games list, likely this would turn up on many, if not all of them.  Developed by Konami and published by Ultra Games, this little gem has caused so much swearing among gamers that it would make Yosemite same blush.  

I love the cover of this game, as it looks less like the cartoon and a bit more like the original comic that spawned the phenomenon that was, and still is the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles.  Not that I don't still enjoy the cartoon and didn't love it back then, but it was kinda neat for some reason to see all the turtles wearing the same colored mask.  

It was and still is brutally hard.  The dam can cause you to utter its name with blasphemous undertones.  Navigating the labyrinthine levels sometimes can feel like a chore.  Raphael, far from playing the part of a bad-you-know-what like he did in the movies; has an completely useless weapon and will always be your last resort or first to die.  For all her nattering on, April supposedly giving you her support means diddly squat when the Foot Clan seems to have recruited fiery goblins from hell to murder you.  What about music and sound though?  Well, the sound of blades, bo staffs, and other weapons whipping through the air was cool.  The various effects you hear throughout the game shows off not only the particular sound design that was Konami, but shows how they were usually on point with what they were doing.  Music for this game was another matter though.  For those of us expecting to hear the classic cartoon theme, it was a let down.  Just listen:

Not exactly what you'd call the 8-bit version of the ol' "heroes in a halfshell" variety.  But it still works for the game tonally and puts you in the mood for the action.  But if you were hoping to sing along--yeah, it was disappointing.  So what has the game really got then?  Yeah, it has the turtles, but with insane difficulty, oddly laid out maps, and unevenly balanced weapons it wasn't at all what I was expecting when I rented it.  I was hoping for something that was an action-packed awesome-fest like what I saw during the cartoon.  Aside from the graphic design of the turtles making them look pretty decent; I admit I was disappointed and knew playing the game was fighting an uphill battle, only this uphill battle had machine guns firing at you as you made the climb.  I was hoping for bright colors and cool boss fights, not endless wandering around the same stupid sewers over and over again.  But...

But for all that, it's still utterly incredible.  You were the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles!   Beating the Foot Clan wasn't supposed to be a cake walk.  If you weren't fighting a punishing, uphill battle, then conquering the game wouldn't have felt nearly as satisfying.  Who cares if it was hard navigating the electrified seaweed on the dam level?   Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles were awesome and everything about them was awesome.  I asked for this game for Christmas and got it.  And you know what?  It's still an awesome game.  I still get a smile when I hear the "overworld" theme as you wonder the streets looking for buildings or sewers to go into.  Who couldn't listen to this and get a peppy, upbeat feeling inside? :

"Overworld 1"

It might seem odd to heap such high praise on a game that easily qualifies as a "Nintendo Hard" game.  But hard doesn't mean it wasn't fun.  It just meant you were going to have to push through the problems of limited continues and high-difficulty bosses.  After all, it's what the turtles themselves would do.  How would they do it you might ask?


Wednesday, November 11, 2015

Midweek Music Box: 720

Before the epic soundtrack of Tony Hawk's Pro Skater 2, before the tunes of Skate or Die, there was...720.  

Mindscape did a decent job turning this arcade classic into a worthy home port.  The controls felt nearly as good as the arcade, the challenges were just as tough and fun, and even the famous "Skate or Die" line made it into the game.  What didn't make it though was the music.  When you listen to Arcade vs Home...side by side, there isn't much that the two have in common.  Here's the arcade version:

"720 Arcade Music"

Ahhhh...those characteristic Atari arcade twangs and beats.  They were obviously trying to imitate the rockin' and bodacious attitude of those crazy kids and there funky skateboards.  But Atari didn't want you to get too into the tunes and forget safety first.  Not only does the guy wear a helmet, but you're also cautioned not to try any of the stunts you're about to see depicted in the game.  I guess they thought kids would want to try out some radical moves back home on their own skateboards.  I'm pretty sure I never wanted to mimic the multiple face-plants I put my character through whenever I played.  One thing that obviously wasn't mimicked at all was the soundtrack.  Check out the home version of the 720 NES soundtrack:

"720 NES Soundtrack"

Yup, no awesome tunes for you.  Just a simple whistle-type sound and maybe a few beats if your lucky.  It was safe to say that when 720 made it's way to the NES in 1989, Atari decided to give the ol' sound card a rest.  I knew it was unlikely I would get to hear the same level of music quality from the arcade, but I was admittedly disappointed the modulated voice yelling "Skate or Die" didn't make it to the home port.  I really enjoyed that as it not only added a fun bit of tension, but it let me know it was time to get my "A" game on and bust out some sweet moves....

Yeah, I was never that good at 720, but I did enjoy the game.  Just the music...the music was a little lacking and flat.  For an 8-bit chip tune, there are times that the sounds remind me of something I'd hear on the Atari 800.  As I said in my Elevator Action review though, it doesn't always take a full soundtrack to trigger great memories.  I enjoyed the heck out of this game as a kid, and it really was like playing the arcade at home.  It may not have had the some " 'tude" music of the arcade, but that didn't really matter.  If I heard that music playing in the other room while I was working on homework, I knew it meant my older brother had popped in 720 and was doing digital kick-flips so I needed to rush my homework so I could go play too.  

Not every soundtrack needs to be a winner or be iPod-worthy in order to trigger some great memories.  Not that I think the music was terrible, but yeah...not exactly up there in the leagues of Super Mario Bros or The Legend of Zelda.  Still, whenever I hear it, I know it's time to grab a board and skate or die because those killer bees are coming and I'm just a few spin tricks away from my next park ticket...

Monday, November 9, 2015

Bustin' Makes You Feel Good:Extreme Exorcism Review

Take one haunted mansion and one group of plucky ghost exterminators and a set of ghost-bustin' weapons and you've got a recipe for adventure.  Be careful where you shoot and jump though because every move and trigger pull can and will come back to haunt you.  Whether it's your own ghost from the previous round or just some happy haunts the decided to join in the fun the spirits of Extreme Exorcism are on a mission to add you to their ghostly ranks.  So does bustin' make you feel good, or does the haunting get too hectic?


Even for a game where you eliminate ghosts, the controls can get a bit "floaty" at times.  (Hooray for puns)  There were ledge jumps where I swear I made but would slid off.  Other than that the control is pretty solid.  I do like how the mechanics of jumping are similar to Super Mario in that you can control the direction of where you go when you jump or fall, but yeah...sometimes it feels a little off.  When the action really heats up and you have dozens of sprites on the screen it can get a little frustrating trying to blast a boo and miss because your character didn't move quite right.

Music and Sound

Extreme Exorcism has a fast-paced, but upbeat "dark" tone to the music.  The piano, drum and cymbal beats of the main screen have a haunted house feel that perfectly suits the game.  The stage music is also really well done as not only does it present a fun, rhythmic soundtrack with plenty of exciting keyboard pounding, but there's also a distinctly digital sound to the bass line and it 'really reminds me of something I might hear from a 90's arcade cabinet.  Check out this tune called "Music for Ghosts to Rock to" and I think you'll see what I mean by that distinctly 90's arcade sound.

"Music for Ghosts to Rock to"

The sounds from the game are similarly styled, never feeling out of place or too tinny, but rather like they were from a game you might find in the back corner of a local of your local arcade.  I really enjoy the style of music and sound as a it doesn't just reflect the theme of the game, but really helps add to the action on an enjoyable and visceral level.

Graphic and Style

Emulating a pseudo-8-bit era look just feels wrong for the game in my opinion.  Not that the little sprites running around the screen aren't appropriately cute and not that the animations are poor, just that I'm a little too reminded of the mobile game Tiny Tower.  Given the quality of music I wish they'd done a slight graphical upgrade or put a touch more detail into the sprites.  It wouldn't have to get too fancy, I just wish it had a little more uniqueness to it, and something that felt 90's-ish.  It probably sounds like I'm stuck in 90's mode at this point, but at this point I feel like too many companies are trying a little too hard to make a game have a "retro" feel and as a result end up with unimaginative character graphics that look all the same.  Note that I'm not saying design.  The ghosts are cute and I like the little attacking chairs and all, but I were a little varied looking.  Maybe it's just me, but everything looks like Tiny Town lately when it's pretending to look retro.  Tiny Town looks aside, the animations are fun and really work for the tone of the game.  Each different room has some nifty little background animation, like flickering candles and moving books.


The game is set in a haunted mansion in one of several single-screen play fields like a library, a conservatory, and other places that will strongly remind you of Clue. You choose between four different characters, all of whom play the same, but have their own unique character design.  All characters can hold up to three weapons at a time.

Each round starts with you destroying a haunted chair with one of the weapons that materialize on one of the several pads around the room.  The next round, a ghost appears and mimics your movements from the prior round;  including all the shots, knife throws, and sword swipes you took the previous round--then things start to get insane.  With each progressing level, more ghosts appear on screen, as well as more weapons.  The ghosts themselves can't hurt you, but the weapons will end you in a second and you have only three lives before it's completely Game Over.  The hybrid of puzzle and action blends well as you attempt to plot out your next run through in order to avoid previous shots and swipes.  Your first instinct might be to pepper an area with gunfire, but if you do you're likely to run into the "ghost" of those shots next round.  You can end the round quickly though by destroying the crown-wearing "king" ghost, who mimics the oldest set of moves you have on screen.  You can also take the insanity down a notch by grabbing the exorcism wings which allows you to permanently banish some of the ghosts from the play area.  Things can quickly descend into madness and the game has an enjoyably hectic pace.  However, it's sometimes easy to lose your character in all the confusion.  Especially as some of the characters have the same greenish glow as the ghosts.

Final Thoughts

I really enjoyed the fast pace of the game and the quick respawn into action.  If this were an arcade game I could easily see myself unloading a couple of bucks in quarters into this thing.  You can rack up points to open up more areas and more weapons fairly easily, and with all the challenges and modes; the game offers plenty to do.  I really wish that it offered more stylistically, but that's my only major complaint.  It was fun to unlock a new weapon to defeat ghosts, and I found myself enjoying trying to strategize where I would go and how much I would or wouldn't move.  If you like your action platformers with a little bit of a puzzle twist, then this game is for you.  If you haven't already downloaded this game for the Wii U or are a little thrown off by the price, it's well worth the full price or should be grabbed the next time it goes on sale.

My Take On That

Graphics: 7/10
Style:  7/10
Music:  10/10
Sound: 8/10
Control: 7/10
Gameplay:  8/10

Overall Score:  8/10

Friday, November 6, 2015

Friday Night Rentals: Ironsword: Wizards and Warriors

Absolutely Fabio-los

With a swish and flick, your foes fall before you, unable to withstand your might.  And no, it's not your fabulous hair that you're flicking, and the "might" you display has nothing to with the hulking hunk who infamously adorns the cover of this classic game.  You are Fabio!--er, KUROS!  The greatest warrior in the kingdom and vanquisher of the evil wizard Malkil!  (Gotta love those retro villain names.  Just mash malice and kill together and POOF!  You've named your bad guy.) 

I suspect I must have overheard my mom mention his name before, or seen him on TV or something, because even back when I was a kid I knew who Fabio was, and I was left wondering why the bodice-ripper beefcake was on one of my beloved NES games.  Go back to the so-called "Romance" section of the local bookstore yah weirdo and stay away from my game cover!  

Regardless of who was on the cover though, I always found the original Wizards and Warriors a fun challenge.  So when I found the sequel, Ironsword, sitting on the shelf of the video rental store, I knew I had to try it out.  Even if it meant that I had to hand a game to my mom that looked for all the world like something from the cover of what I considered the "girls section" of the book store.

I vaguely remember that I found the game hard, even harder than the original as a matter of fact.  But I was a kid who was worried that he might actually find himself playing through some weird romance novel too.  So when I picked up Ironsword at a swap this past year, I figured my remembrances of a game with frustrating difficulty were as silly as my concerns that I was going to play as a pixelated male super model.

Turns out a game where I played as Fabio might have been less frustrating.  How did my nostalgia stack up against modern me playing?


"Title Theme"

Even if Fabio seemed out of place, the game music seemed spot on.  Ironsword's music still has the same charm of the original.  The tunes convey adventure, a sense of eeriness when needed, and a fast pace when you battle Malkil in one of his elemental forms.  However, I really miss the quick-tempo music that plays when you start to get too low on health.  Sometimes games suffer from an annoying, persistent beep when  you are low on health.  Other times, the music changes pace or tone to let you know that you are at death's door.  I really appreciated how in the first game you got this fast-past music when you had one, maybe two hit points left.  In Ironsword no such tempo change takes place.  As such I was surprised a couple of times by dying thanks to not hearing the sound cues."

Aside from that, the music did the job and did it well.  I'm not sure if they will ever find their way onto my iPod's video game music play list, but nevertheless, they were enjoyable tunes.


You battle your way across various landscapes themed along with the elemental form Malkil has taken.  From clouds, to fiery pits, to water and earth; Fabio, I mean Kuros, has an epic quest ahead before he can engage in the final battle.

Good ol' Fabi--I mean Kuros still controls as well as ever.  In fact, it's even easier now to swish the sword around and prepare to stab any manner of vile creature that tries to stop you on your quest against the evil wizard Malkil.  However, it still feels like the sword has almost no reach, and I was never a fan of how enemies above you seemed able to knock you down and drain energy with ease, while you had no idea whether or not you scored a hit.

An added improvement is the shop that appears in the first portion of each level. You can buy health, or a special spell to help battle the baddies.  If you wanted, you could even play a pachinko-like game of chance with the opportunity to gamble some of your hard earned gems for more moolah.  With more money, you could get a spell more easily or fill you health.  But even if you do choose to fill your health, it almost feels like a waste of time as you could drain to less than half a life bar as soon as you step out of the shop.  Not to mention that several of the enemies drop what looks for all the world like what you'd expect from a health power up--BUT NO!  Most of those drops are actually little nuggets of life-draining death-bird!  I don't know who thought up that one, but it seemed insane. 

Graphics and Style


Those eyes looked goofy to me as a kid, and they look even goofier now.  Why did I have to go hunting for Kuros' helmet anyway?  Why was it locked away in a trunk?  Did Malkil sneak in and steal it away?  Couldn't Kuros have simply picked up another one?  Why doesn't the shopkeeper have a spare lying around that Kuros could use?  

Whatever the reason, you start off each level with a slightly bug-eyed look that makes it seem like Kuros' armor must be squeezing his head too tightly.  I swear if those saucers he calls eye balls were any bigger they pop out on the floor.  Anywho, once you find the helmet and mercifully hide your head, Kuros looks like he's back to his old, knightly self.  The character design still seems solid, and the various enemies and animations are fairly well done.  At first the brightness of some of the colors seemed a bit weird to me.  Wasn't this an adventure game with knights in shining armor and evil wizards that needed defeating?  Well, I'm glad that the style has grown on me over the years, because I remember not liking it as a kid.  Even the screen-filling boss battle, though looking a little on the cartoony side, are well animated and have a nice style to them which I like seeing..  I still like the fact that you twitch about before finally dying.  Even if you have to lose (and by-golly do you have to lose, like, a lot) it's funny to see your guy flail.  I hope that doesn't sound too morbid, just that I appreciate the effort taken to make his death seem different then him just falling to the ground.

Final Thoughts

I had to look it up, and from what I can find online, the only reason Fabio graced the cover of this game was because Acclaim was looking for a well known guy to model as Kuros, and Fabio's agency put his name in for the job.  Another interesting tid-bit that I found was that Fabio was up against none other that Hulk Hogan for the job!  Kinda funny that.  I can only imagine what that would have looked like, and given how things have played out for the Hulkster of late, I'm kinda glad that Fabio made the cover.  (Which I never thought I would find myself saying.).

Fabio-focus aside, as much as I liked the game, I never could get anywhere in it.  I would barely make it to the boss battle in the first stage, and I think I may have gotten to the second level once or twice.  Even if I hadn't worried that I looked like I was asking to rent a playable romance novel I probably would never have rented this a second or third time due to it's difficulty.  As I've mentioned several times before, most times I rented a game for the weekend it was in the hopes I could finish the game off.  Despite a password system and familiar gameplay, I didn't ever plan on renting Ironsword beyond once or twice.  Now that I own the game as an adult; I can't be too sure I'll pop it in my NES ever again.

Unless a Game Genie is involved that is.