Wednesday, January 1, 2020

2019

So, I'll make this blogpost a retrospective of my experience with music and videogames this year.

Let's start with music.

I hit 10,000 ratings on RYM this year. I made my first account in... 2007 I think. The account I'm currently using was made in 2008. I was already obsessive about this stuff when I created this account, and I know a lot of the music I had listened to back then was never actually rated, since I never relistened to it, which I guess is fair. Now it's been about 12 years, and the first and only landmark was reached.

My interest in exploring albums was resurrected this year, in fact. There were several years of near-absence of music exploring as I was interested in other things, for example, playing shmups. I've listened to the same old music I already loved instead of exploring. Part of that has been because I've been really depressed and sometimes not wanting to do anything, not even putting in the effort to find music. I think getting back to exploring has been good for me. It makes me happier... after all, there is nothing I love more than music, and finding new music is a huge addiction that hardly lets go when you have enough "bases" covered. As for me, there is just so many different kinds of music I have explored to such a degree, that I know I'll never run out even if I set outrageous limits like "no music from this century" or "only classical" or something.

In commemoration of this wonderful event, I would like to present my top 20 albums I listened to for the first time during this year. I could extend it much farther, but the order would become completely arbitrary beyond the first 20 albums. Well, the order is already pretty random after the first 6 or so albums, lol.

I'll also make a separate list of my top 10 albums of 2019 (which is less important, as I do not follow the newest music very particularly, but I have listened to at least a dozen outstanding albums).

Heck, since It's a new decade, I could even make a list of 2010-2019 best albums, but it would feel more appropriate to make it longer, and... I really don't wanna spend hours of my life on that list. So just look through my RYM ratings if you're curious. Quite a lot of my favourites are compilations and releases of old stuff, making the idea of presenting even a small list here feel kind of silly. So Let's just go with the other 2 lists for now.

Top 20 albums released in any time period that I discovered during 2019:
1. Shoji Aketagawa, Kan Mikami & Toshiaki Ishizuka - Daikanjyo
2. Birds and Buildings - Multipurpose Trap
3. M.S. Gopalakrishnan - Violin Melody
4. Poeme Electronique - The Echoes Fade
5. Frank Wright - Unity
6. The Axis of Perdition - Urfe
7. Michael Pisaro - Nature Denatured and Found Again
8. Frédéric Chopin (Martha Argerich) - 24 Préludes, Op. 28; Préludes Nr. 25, Op. 45; Nr. 26, Op. Posth.
9. Frédéric Chopin (Martha Argerich) - Klaviersonaten Nr. 2 & 3; Scherzo Nr. 3 cis-moll
10. Shamalamacord - S/T
11. I.corax - The Cadaver Pulse II: Mothelix Liquescent
12. Spiracle - Sympathetic Field
13. Jasmine Star - S/T
14. Tomeka Reid Quartet - Old New
15. Organized Resistance - Day of the Rope
16. Kafka's Ibiki - Okite
17. His Name is Alive - Early Works: 1985-1989 Stuff
18. Kwaidan - Make All the Hell of Dark Metal Bright
19. Daughters - Hell Songs
20. The Sea Nymphs - S/T

Top 10 albums released in 2019:
1. Michael Pisaro - Nature Denatured and Found Again
2. Tomeka Reid Quartet - Old New
3. Funereal Presence - Achatius
4. 3776 - Saijiki
5. King Midas Sound - Solitude
6. Magma - Zëss : Le jour du néant
7. Chevalier - Destiny Calls
8. Aoratos - Gods Without Name
9. David Torn, Tim Berne & Ches Smith - Sun of Goldfinger
10. Diagonal - Arc

I'd love to catch up on 2019 releases, but I found it more important to just listen to whatever I felt like listening to. As such, 2019 wasn't explored too deeply.

Some of my favourite discoveries of the year, such as Unity and Shamalamacord, were recommended to me by a different RYM user called Malagigii. Delightful stuff.

Now, let's get into videogames of 2019.

This year I've had periods where I played a lot of Double Spoiler, as usual. I also made a return to Shoot the Bullet for a while. Like the previous few years, I also played a lot of Eroge, and a lot of Warcraft III Melee. I also played in a MAME tournament called Yolympics, and another MAME tournament called La Calice Cup. Many of the games in those tournaments were new to me, and I got a new appreciation for a few of the games that weren't, such as Same! Same! Same!

I didn't actually play many new games released in 2019 since I'm not very interested, though.

So I'll start by making a small top 10 of my favourite games that I played for the first time during 2019:
1. Crescendo
2. Baldr Sky (Haven't finished it yet, could end up overtaking Crescendo)
3. Doom II: Hell on Earth
4. Sekai de Ichiban Dame na Koi
5. Turbo OutRun
6. Cool Riders
7. Tetris the Grand Master
8. Silent Hill 3
9. Daitoshokan
10. Oniikiss
5 out of 10 Eroge... I guess that makes it evident where my priority lies right now.

Next, Let's make a top 25 games released during the decade:
1. Double Spoiler
2. Fairy Wars
3. SeaBed
4. Freedom Planet
5. Subarashiki Hibi
6. Middens
7. Crimzon Clover: World Ignition
8. Gingiva
9. DustForce
10. ring^-27
11. Curve Fever 2
12. Aero Chimera
13. Transformice
14. BEVENTLAED
15. Rewrite
16. Etrian Odyseey III
17. The Cat Lady
18. Katawa Shoujo
19. Toilet in Wonderland
20. Mecha Ritz
21. Psi Knuckle
22. Limbo
23. Steins;Gate Linear Bounded Phenogram
24. Ib
25. Hollow Knight

It might be more concise to stop at 10, but I thought it might be more interesting to see a top 25. Though, please understand that I played many more older games than newer ones.

Next, my biggest accomplishment of the year, is of course, Double Spoiler.
Just like in the past several years, I've made lots of progress in Double Spoiler. A few of my best scores ever were set this year. If I had to make a top 10 of my best scores ever, I would put at least 2 scores I set this year on it. Those 2 best scores would be:
11-6 Aya: 1,890,973
9-7 Aya: 734,050
Other outstanding scores this year includes:
8-3 Aya: 3,152,013
11-6 Hatate: 2,089,307
7-3 Aya: 973,144
7-3 Hatate: 1,235,416
2-5 Aya: 354,952
5-3 Aya: 700,093
8-5 Aya: 2,284,161
11-8 Hatate: 2,048,452        
7-5 Hatate: 723,949
7-5 Aya: 741,938
8-3 Hatate: 4,015,190

You can see all the scores I set this year and download the replays on Royalflare, as always.
I spent around 500 hours on the game this year, setting 30 new high scores (out of a total of 208 possible).
Year after year, the average time spent per category is increasing, which is only logical.  

As for Shoot the Bullet, I made a blog post about all my improvements, including actually talking about the scores a bit here: https://chumthebullet.blogspot.com/2019/08/yolympics-for-july-finished-while-ago.html

While I could absolutely do the same for DS... well. Most of the scores were done early of the year, and I don't think my commentary would be as good as I want to be. Plus, since Double Spoiler is deeper, my commentary would be much longer, even if I try to keep it brief. So let's skip it this time, since it would take hours, and would completely dwarf the other content of this blog post...
Rest assured that there is a lot to say. I just don't think it's always necessary to say anything.

I already talked briefly about Yolympics in the blogpost linked above, but let's talk about La Calice Cup, too. I joined intending to play during the month of the competition. However, there was also a warm-up month where the games had already been decided and players were allowed to practice. My results would have been very different if I had made use of that month. Still, I'm pretty satisfied with my content. I spent around half the competition playing Same! Same! Same!, and the other half playing the other games. If I had to estimate, I probably played for around 100 hours during the month. How I would rank each game, and brief thoughts:
If I had to rank how much I like the games, it would look something like this:
1. EspGaluda - due to its scoring.
2/3. Same! Same! Same! & Dangun Feveron. Exciting games. Same is harder, which is better, but Feveron has a real scoring system, which is also better.
4. Galaga '88. Most people seemed to dislike it. I used to dislike it, but trying to learn basic gameplay made me like it a lot. I was totally wrong about this one. Great scoring system, overall design, and quite engaging. Bit of a slow start, however.
5. Mahou Daisakusen. This game is often poorly designed, but it is just such a great adventure/experience (love the art direction, the whole visual storytelling, and the soundtrack.) that I really like it anyways. Quite a dumb game, though.
6. Gundhara. I doubt I'll play it again, but it was fun. It's stylish and overall enjoyable, and the scoring system seems to be silly enough that it could be fun as well.
7. Sengoku Blade. One of my least favourite Psikyos, and the 2nd loop is one of the hardest, so I decided against learning it. Besides, I find horizontal Psikyo to be unusually hard, probably due to Keyboard being my input device (using the middle finger for both up and down makes horis harder to react in than verts).
8. Nam 1975. Like Galaga, it seems a lot people didn't like this game. I enjoyed it though and got a quick 1cc. Some of the stages are definitely a little empty, such as stage 3 which wastes a lot of time, but the 4th and 6th stages are great.
9. Star Force. I both like and dislike this game. I despise some of the enemy formations, and I think it was a fairly poor choice for the tournament due to how the game works, but I can't deny that it has excitement.
10. Super Spacefortress Macross II. We only played the Beginner course, which definitely leaves something to be desired (and the scoring system is not enjoyable to me). However. I briefly tried Expert Course which seems better. The game looks and sounds good, but scoring fell flat for me.
11. Image Fight. Like Mahou Daisakusen, there's a lot of "nothing happens" in this game. It has some brutal recoveries, as well. I'm not a big fan of the stage design ethos in this game, but I think that it is quite artistic, so it's okay. Couldn't do very well in this game (not even a 1-all).
12. Armed F. This game has bloated stages that are 2 or 3 times longer than needed. There's not enough ideas in this game. The enemies also all fire the same aimed bullet at you. Enemy variety is so fake. But, I think it is very pretty and I like the soundtrack. The last stage is an awesome rave party.
13. Sky Adventure. Perhaps it is "better" than Armed F in the sense that it has a better scoring system (which it does) but I found it kinda dull. It's an alright game, I respect the scoring system optimizations, but I'm not really interested to be honest. For some reason, a lot of people praised this game. I just got a 1cc and didn't bother after that.

I ended up clearing S! S! S! the day after the tournament. Damn! As for my results, I got top 10 in most of the games, including 2 first place spots. I pretty much spent at least 2-3 hours on every game, except EspGaluda because it felt unnecessary, and some of them I ended up playing a bit more, but S!S!S! is probably the only game I played for more than 10 hours. The other games I played a bit more than the others were, I think, Star Force, Armed F, Mahou Daisakusen, and Dangun Feveron (but I doubt any of them got up to 10 hours played... maybe Star Force).
The competition was, of course, quite high. Jaimers was dominating with getting top 3 in almost every game, which yeah, nobody is surprised, but it's still kind of mindblowing given how different all the games are. Just picking up any game and getting the hang of it quickly isn't something just anyone can do. Personally I have a bit of trouble getting the hang of some of those games in a timely manner (Image Fight was hopeless. I needed a lot more time to start doing well).

I'll probably join future tournaments, as it's refreshing to play more than 1 or 2 shmups. Game hopping is something I enjoy doing in a community setting, as long as it's just like a "once in a while" thing.

Let's see, other than that, I would like to mention that there's western Phantasmagoria of Flower View tournaments going on again. We used to have them years ago, hosted by Yorgje. However, no tournaments happened to my knowledge after that. Now there's a new hosts and tournaments happen very often. The level of play is quite high and not many lower skilled players join. I would like to see more lower skilled players join and enjoy the game, because PoFV is a game for everybody that likes STG, not just the best players. PoFV is one of my favourite games ever for a reason, so please, check it out.

As for other players I've followed during the year...
To be honest, I'm not following what others players do that much nowadays. I guess the community is just that scattered. Honestly, I think that's a good thing. Secondaries and primaries shouldn't mingle too much, for one. What sucks is that the players that I can actually get along with have pretty much all quit.. with some exceptions of course. Too bad.

A new decade is beginning and in a few months, Double Spoiler will be 10 years old.
I think I'm going to organize a little event that day. I was thinking we would come together and play 5-4. Anybody who wants to play DS that day is welcome to play 5-4 with the rest of us. Perhaps I'll come up with a better idea before the big day. I don't know if anyone will do it, even if it just ends up being me, that's fine. I'll stream the birthday, if I'm able. I really hope DS keeps up its activity beyond its 10th birthday. After all, It's mostly just me playing it. If you look at royalflare, there's not really a whole lot of other players submitting anything these days. That's really too bad... I hope the playerbase will grow a little. I'll do whatever I can to help realize this dream!

So to sum it up, 2019 has been a great year for me in terms of music listening! This is something that naturally does good things to my depression.
And, It was a good year for DS and photogames in general, even if I, like always, slacked a bit. I have periods when I play a lot, and then periods where I don't play at all.

I wish you all the best, and I hope we survive another decade...
Have a nice life.










Friday, September 20, 2019

My videogame reviews written for Glitchwave


Videogame reviews/ESL ramblings written for Glitchwave. 2016-2019. I dumped these here just in case RYM doesn't "work out". GlitchWave is still in BETA 3 and a half years down the line, after all, and when the moderation team banned me permanently out of the blue (this ban was lifted thankfully) they told me that I had not contributed anything positive to the site in years. Considering this, I should be putting these reviews in a place where I am more in control what happens to them. I'm also fully aware that this website itself is "outdated", and that I should probably move everything older to something more "updated", too.
(might dig up review dates and add those another time, but it seems like superfluous information)

I am not a good writer or reviewer, but I do this for fun and to share information or my own thoughts. Even if I don't have any real flair while doing so, what's important to me is that my thoughts get across. Personally, I think the shmup reviews are by far the better ones, as I tend to understand and articulate positive or negative qualities better with those.

If anyone can spot any misinformation, feel free to tell me and I'll correct it. My reviews are normally written in one sitting and often  years since I last played the game, so I fully expect there to be some mistakes. I'll also consider reviewing anything that's suggested to me, especially if it is a Shmup.
4




Battle Garegga


Garegga is one of the most highly regarded shooters of all time. Its fanbase is very passionate and quite cult-like, and encompasses many intermediate players that get suckered into thinking that Garegga is the deepest, most complex and most genius Shmup ever made as if that were some kind of undeniable truth. Now, don't get me wrong, Garegga is a great game, but there are so many other shmups that are endlessly fascinating the deeper you went into them. Basically, Garegga is an unique game, but it isn't the only unique game, getting deep into score tactics will result in awe of the design and complexity in various other shmups not only by Raizing but also Cave and Team Shanghai Alice.

The first thing you're likely to notice getting into this one is the presentation. Highly influenced by an earlier game called Gun Frontier, The art style is intricate with a stunning attention to detail all the way across the game, the journey itself tells the whole story visually, the feel of the game is more light hearted in the earlier stages and becomes increasingly oppressive only to culminate with one of the most adrenaline pumping final stages I can think of. This is all thanks to the perfectly executed presentation. The style is cold and mechanical yet the music helps retain some highly needed warmth to help the game feel more accessible. Namiki's Detroit Techno influenced soundtrack has some real highlights to be sure, my favorites being Stab & Stomp and Subversive Awareness. The aesthetic accomplishments cannot be understated, you simply have to play it to understand. It is without a doubt one of the best looking games ever made.

The incredible attention to detail isn't just for show. In fact, it synergizes well with Garegga's gameplay. I'm not talking about the realistic-looking bullets or certain explosions that causes visibility issues for some players, but all the destructible parts sprinkled throughout the game that can be interracted with in various ways for different results. Bosses and big enemies are made up of multiple parts that you can blow off both to influence the pattern usage and to optimize your score, for example, blowing up certain parts of the stage 4 boss will cause it to spawn enemies you can milk for points. The stages are full of hidden medals you can uncover by using bombs (the bomb is referred to as "weapon" in Garegga). The variation in said details makes each stage feel different from the next, and that's not even getting into the thematic variations.

The basic gameplay has three buttons. Shot, Weapon and changing your option formation. To elaborate on that last bit, you can pick up to 4 options and there's 5 unlocked formations you can switch between. For example, your options can shoot forwards in a spread, or backwards. Or, you could shoot to the opposite side of where you're facing. This mechanic is very nifty to say the least. There's also hidden option formations you unlock by collecting items in a certain way. Even the basic shot button is important, because you can manually increase the fire rate, which has both upsides and downsides (I'll get more into that later). The weapon (bomb) system works different from most games as well, you pick up little fragments throughout the game, once you have enough, that will form a full weapon. You only need to carry 1 fragment to actually be able to use it, though, in other words, you can use a partial weapon but it'll just last much shorter. The character variation is also quite good. There's 8 ships, 4 of which are guest characters from Mahou Daisakusen. It might not seem like it on the surface, but the strategy is all very different. For example, Gain has piercing options, which causes his interraction with boss parts to differ somewhat. Weapon and power differences are also important, as a lower power means you shouldn't raise the rank quite as high, and proper weapon usage is instrumental to playing Garegga.

I think the rank system is the most infamous part of Garegga, It's also something that is too often misunderstood on a very broad scale. A lot of people think that controling the rank as a beginner is some kind of rocket science, when it is actually very simple and only takes more learning when you get better and want to optimize your score more. Rank is the difficulty of the game at any given time, and that is not a new thing, Shmups often had this well before Garegga came out. What Garegga did differently is that it made rank deeper and more dynamic. Rank controls most notably the enemies volume of bullets and their health, and the game is designed so that you have to control it, if you play the game "too well", it will get too hard in the later stages and there is no way to get the rank down to a very noticeable degree any more. Every time you gain an extend, the rank goes up. Every time you collect items, the rank goes up (some items are worse culprits than others). Every time you freaking shoot, the rank goes up. In fact, the rank even goes up every frame of gameplay. Sadistically, the rank stays up in between credits, and is hilariously brought down by watching the attract sequence. In order to bring the rank down in-game, you have lose lives and not hoard them, as the rank punishment is greater the more lives you have. You should also avoid collecting needless items as they add your rank, and being more powerful will increase your rank more when you shoot. This ties in with the shot rate I mentioned before, increasing it will also increase your rank from shooting. If you only need 2 options, then don't bother collecting 4 of them. You can also limit your shooting when there's nothing much to shoot at. The rank counter is invisible, but it is a numerical value that always fluctuates during gameplay, and with a good familiarity of the game you can learn to play with roughly the same ranks everywhere every time.

As long as you control the rank by dying and chaining medals and so forth, the game doesn't really live up to its reputation of being a particularly difficult shmup by arcade standards. Sure enough it's harder to beat than most games out there, but I think even a beginner could learn to do it with some perseverence. The difficulty throughout most of the game isn't high when you're playing with a low rank, with only a few difficulty spikes. Black Heart MK II, the first of two final bosses, is probably the toughest part for a beginner, but you can simply get here with decent resources to finish the game. As long as you learn a good approach, I think Battle Garegga is quite an average-difficulty 1cc, one of the perks is that there is very little need for memorization. You can just freestyle much of the game.

Garegga is an unforgettable experience and from a surface standpoint it is a masterpiece with its deep and rewarding system and stage/boss designs, and incredible atmosphere and visuals. The reason I'm not rating it higher is because, well, I don't really enjoy it all that much any more. I tried getting into scoring and I didn't like it, and for me, this is a huge flaw in an otherwise outstanding shmup. Scoring in the early stages is tedious and not fun, it just feels like the game is taking up your time when you gamble with the flamingoes and mad ball or tick milk the first boss. The entire 3rd stage just bores me and I wish I could just skip past it. There's even a milking trick on the boss where you sit immoble for like 2 minutes to get tick points. Garegga does get more fun in the second half, I particularly enjoy the rather difficult survival of stage 6, but the actual scoring gameplay just kinda leaves me cold. That said, it's still pretty fascinating how it works and the best Garegga players like Kamui are awesome to watch. In a nut shell, the score is about exploiting everything I've discussed, as well as chaining medals, and a lot of more unintuitive things I didn't go into such as shooting invulnerable parts for tick points, killing things with the right kind of weapon, and more. The game's scoring isn't really about just understanding an overarching game system and routing around that, but rather about learning about how each detail works on an individual level. The infamous flamingoes is a good example, early in stage 2 there is a building you can bomb and flamingoes pop out, handling this for score is quite different depending on your character. You can even do a totally radical "game over" trick here where you lose your last life and gain an extend a moment afterwards from the points you got from bombing right before you died. If you get the extend in time, the game won't count it as a game over. Honestly, the game is just too cool and fascinating to give a lower score even though I didn't end up enjoying scoreplay. No game is perfect, and it just so happens that the most important judgement I make on shmups is how much I enjoy actually getting good at them by reaching a high score. Unfortunately, Battle Garegga, although I might recognize it as a masterpiece otherwise, was not my cup of tea in that area. Another similar Raizing game I prefer to this one is Armed Police Batrider, one of my all-time favorite shooters, which I might try to review in the future. Batrider also has many problems but ultimately I find it a lot more enjoyable, it is sooo much more difficult with a higher skill ceiling overall, which suits me pretty well. Either way, if you are interested in this genre AT ALL, then both Garegga and Batrider are must-plays. There's also a direct sequel to Garegga which is ironically completely different called Battle Bakraid which has one of the most off beat scoring systems ever, that game is its own beast entirely.

Finally, if you are interested in Garegga, this strategy guide written by Icarus from Shmups Forum is good: http://shmups.system11.org/viewtopic.php?f=5&t=351

5

Cannonball ~Neko Neko Machine Mou Race!~


writing/scenario: How to even describe it? There's just so much going on here. Well, it takes place in space and has catgirls, AI, witches, knights, prostitutes, jabba the hut and there's some political shit going on and the longer you play the more ambitious and downright surreal it gets. The setting comes alive absolutely brilliantly, the game world is enormous and the colorful cast is not only interesting and entertaining but it is amazing how many characters they designed for this game tbh. At the same time, the pacing is far more swift than longer VNs like this normally are, and things are introduced or skipped over very haphazardly, so you have to kind of fill in the gaps yourself. Usually VNs will kind of beat you over the head with the contents, so I like this approach, even if it's possible that it's a budget thing. The story is HUGE but the game length is like 30 or 40 hours (much of which can be considered padding, I'm talking about the races) when with typical VN pacing it could've easily exceeded 100. The core of the story is about racing, and at first it might appear to be kind of like Wacky Races in space, but this is only really one part of the game. I would say the real meat is of the game is the storytelling in which the "main" one gets really interesting but on its own wouldn't be a true classic, what makes the game a classic to me is all the mini stories as well because a lot of those are truly golden. There's a lot of characters and character relationships and I'm digging it.

visual: Imaginative. Great CGs, sprites and backgrounds. The volume is impressive as well. I think like half the CGs are H scenes, though. Cool looking racing sequences. Overall a really attractive VN.

sound: The music is pretty meh. The characters are voiced, including most of the less important characters. However, I think liar-soft had budget issues for Cannonball, because there are a lot of unvoiced events.

gameplay: So there's two main types of gameplay. The first is the racing gameplay, which is horrible. Considering you have to play through the game twice to get the true ending, and play and load even more to see all content, the races are going to get annoying in the long run. The race is like a turnbased strategy or kind of like an RPG. You choose what to do in the turns, you should mostly just accelerate your vehicle, but you can also talk to the other participants and some other things. From time to time, other participants will try to fight you, and if you win the fight you will go past them in the race. These fights are incredibly bad, you have a number of moves at your disposal, but the game outright lies to you about when or how each move is effective. In reality, the effectiveness of certain moves has nothing to do with the in game text, and is pretty much just completely random. Each turn in the fight with a certain opponent in a certain race has certain moves be more or less effective, and the only way to find it out is by reading the guide or just experimenting. I would say gameplay couldn't possibly be any worse than this, and playing blind is terrible since there is no strategy involved. Just use the guide for this. The other part of the gameplay is much better. During the adventure/novel portions, you can choose which events to partake in. Sometimes you have to do certain things (like place better than an opponent in the race) to unlock events. Sometimes you have to pick an event to unlock another event later, sometimes many times over the course of the game, so a guide is recommended. To see all events, you need to do a lot of playthroughs or save/loading. When you are done you can also unlock "Tail Play" which is a dumb yet funny ecchi game.

hentai: Very good and very varied. The H scenes don't overstay their welcome but they're oh so memorable. There is a lot of great H scenes here and I would say out of all my favorite VNs this one had the best H scenes. Also be wary that even outside of H scenes there's a lot of casual nudity. Both one of the catgirls and one of the AI heroines always have their chests exposed and one of the witches randomly exposes herself as well. I really like this part of the game actually because sex and sexuality in cannonball is so casual and it's just taken for granted that it's natural and not something the public has to be protected from.

overall: Definitely a personal favourite of mine and not a game I would expect most people to find as impressive as I did, but it is such an unique experience and it is really ambitious and I just find most things about it to be so damn likeable. If you pick it up, be wary of the beginning, the game might not seem that good at first and has a lot of awkward content before it really gets going. If you can't stand poor gameplay then the racing sequences will be frustrating and/or boring, but I have to say that some races are quite atmospheric.

6

The Cat Lady


I didn't play that many Graphic Adventure & point and click style games, but I usually feel like I "almost" hit the jackpot when I do. I've never played one that truly took quality, entertaininment or artistry to a masterful level, but I think The Cat Lady is probably my favourite one, and it's... a little bit of a weird one. There's elements of horror, surrealism, adventure, some bleak realism, and some nice character bonding. I got absorbed in it and ended up playing the whole thing throughout the night and finishing it. I liked it a lot, but let's just get some negativity out of the way first. I can do quite a bit of nitpicking but none of that is too important. However honestly I didn't think the main characters were well realized on the whole. There are many points where the game shows that it does have an understanding of realism (even at points where it may seem phony or be for comedic intent), and it interests me even more because at the same time, the game is largely fantastical and quite surrealistic. There's some content that really hits a home run, like a blackly comedic phone call to the police, and a fight between a married couple. I love this mixture of real and fantasy, and that's why the way Susan and Mitzi behave for large portions of the game disappointed me. Susan is so bland and unbelievable when faced with so many of the situations that to me, for much of the game, she's just too ridiculous and not relatable at all. That's confusing because for other parts of the game she shows some real humanity and character and could be very relatable. I think the writers couldn't decide if they wanted to portray a real depressed person, or an ideal, a hero with lots of sass, to impress the ever-so-"progressive" press looking for "strong" female leads maybe? It just belonged in a different game. You may be able to defend it but I still disliked these inconsistencies, at the very least, they could've picked one side of her character and worked on that one, leaving the other side out. Mitzi is also not very well developed as a character, it was a missed opportunity, as I feel the chemistry between the two could've been really memorable. It feels more like it tries to be memorable in a standard "adventure" way, like a more normal game or a bland mainstream story. Then again maybe my standards are just too high, or I was expecting something that was more in tune with horror.

In any case The Cat Lady overcomes these little problems with ease as it packs a fuckton of atmosphere, has a strong theme and narrative, memorable settings (never keeps you staring at the same stuff for too long) and an art design that is freaking brilliant. I think when it comes to the visuals, stills won't do it justice at all. Play it and pay attention to the movement. The design and aesthetic is impeccable and probably my favorite in any Point and click so far (and I love a lot of them). But, yeah, it's more of an aesthetic preference, whereas many other point and clicks would have more attention to detail, I think. So yeah, the game's really great, but the quality dips at points, though this really depends on who you ask. I thought the fourth chapter was a bit of a let-down as it felt a bit too standard compared to most of the rest of the game, and I was a bit annoyed during the second chapter when I was going around in circles trying the progress. Still though, I have to say that the narrative heads in various unexpected directions and I can appreciate that. I think that story-wise The Cat Lady covers not only a lot of bases but it covers a lot of them really well, too. Much of the game, such as the finale, is truly gorgeous. The graphics adventure gameplay is not my favorite, but it's hard to get stuck too often for too long here, there's only so many different things you can try. Besides, the game isn't very random about what you're meant to do, you can just figure out the general idea and that's usually (keyword) enough to be able to move forward at a decent pace, although as is the case with these games, you will get stuck on some little detail now and then. The dialogue can be fun. There are a few times where you get to "choose" the story, even though it doesn't actually "matter" (I think?) because it pulls the story in a certain direction and you get unique visuals. Of course, I gave Susan the most depressing backstory! These sorts of things breathe life into the game.

The contents are awesome, they're gruesome but not cheap, the overall narrative is effective, and the art design totally stands out in key moments. Overall, a very pleasing game that I would highly recommend. It drew me in and kept me playing. It even managed to be scary sometimes and didn't let go of the fact that it is a horror game, even though large parts of the game is a more standard dialogue reading/point and click affair, and like I mentioned there's some pretty standard adventure characterization for a lot of it. If there's one thing I really wanted more of in this game it would be an indepth study of the "version" of Susan that I liked more (which is as I mentioned the more relatable depressed Susan). I'm 100% sure if Susan's personality was better directed the relationship between her and Mitzi would've turned out better as well, and improvements such as this could've really taken the game to the next level. As it is, it's a fucking great game, but no masterpiece.

7

Chrono Clock


Yet another hopeless Moege
Just because the game is lighthearted does not make it fun. I admit that the common route had entertainment value and that the character art is fine, but the meat of the game, the character routes, are simply not ok. These routes are mindnumbingly dull and poorly written. It is such a shame because I thought I was in for a decent ride, the girls seemed fun in the common route yet most of the game is utterly disappointing.

Near the end of the common route suddenly things get very, very rushed. You've barely spent any time with these girls, you barely even know them, yet you're quickly certain that you "love" one of them. When you start Misaki's route for example, the game just blows its load right away. Chrono Clock lacks a sense of emotional scale and perspective in every single route.

D.D's route is mainly focused on a (very obvious) problem that pops up. The resolution to this problem is trashy and insulting. The journey there is agonizing.

Misaki's route is completely senseless with an insincere air of lovey-doveyness throughout. The "problem" this time is not even worth taking seriously because of how cliché and stupidly presented it is. The writer had nothing interesting to say, does not understand anything about the subject matter, period. Maybe if this is your first time reading anything in your entire life, you might think otherwise. It's completely by the book and lacking in any insights, characterization, anything. Like with D.D's route, it has a resolution that is tasteless.

By the time I got to Makoto's route, it seemed it was going to be at least as bad as the first two, so skip button was used liberally. This might have been the most actively annoying one. Michiru's route was also bad. Skip can be used without loss.

Cro's route on the other hand was better. I wouldn't call it good, but it's noticeably better than the others. The sweet air is more genuine, and the first ending makes effective use of CGs to forward its emotional plot. It did not need an epilogue. This is a common trap among VNs to cheapen the ending it should've had. Another common trap is to "resolve" everything no matter how contrived it ends up in the end (Ever17s ending was the worst in this area). It's sad that so many VNs can't end on a high note. On the topic of not knowing how to end things... Clearly Cro's route should've been the last one.

CC doesn't even engage you with choices like using the clock. Why are there no choices? This seems so obvious to me, you should be given choices to use the clock from time to time to alter the storyline. This would've made it more entertaining and dynamic which could spice things up, I mean why not? The game is superficial to begin with, so... I can only assume that the game is so poor and rushed because the creators didn't care about it one bit. It was likely only made to be a "product". Give it a tasty looking exterior to hide the abysmal blandness underneath and watch it sell, I guess? I cannot find a speck sincerity here, there's no genuine joy in this creation, outside of mmmaybe Cro's route.

H scenes: these are all optional, which is sometimes odd given the contents of the main game. I didn't care to go through most of them, frankly. They're bland and long and the CGs are pretty disappointing. There's no threesome with Michirus, either. Hopeless.
The editing here is a problem. I started Cro's first H scene and decided against reading it. If you've seen it yourself, you will understand. On the topic of its localization, the "buster" was unnecessary, and from time to time they got a bit carried away with D.D. but she was supposed to be a cringey weaboo to begin with so at the same time it is pretty faithful in spirit. If I liked Chrono Clock I might've been more critical towards the localization. Other than unreadable H scenes, it appears passable. I say that with reluctance as I do not like Sekai Project.

With its cardboard cutout characters, bland contents, clueless writing, stock music, poor drama, and tasteless idealism, Chrono Clock cannot be anything other than a failure. It's not the most annoying and in-your-face failure out there, so I wouldn't say that I "hate" it necessarily, but I wouldn't recommend it to anybody. I think there's a lesson to be learned here for myself, which is to try to avoid other games like this one, yet I just can't bring myself to follow through with that, because I know that I love moe when it's done well.

8

Cuphead


Cuphead. I was afraid of it being a subpar game riding on the hype wave and the gimmick factor of the art style, but it surprised me by being a pretty fucking good game in the end. I have a couple of issues with it. 1. The shmup fights have inertia. 2. Lack of replayability 3. Somewhat unsatisfying weapons 4. The stages are worse than the bosses 5. Wildly varying boss quality 6. Foreground/misc visuals can obstruct your view 7. I experienced some frustrating crashes and glitches 8. Unnecessary shop system 9. RNG can be shitty like getting 3 parries on the mermaid boss for an S rank

Having gone through those issues, it's clear that the game is hardly flawless or anything. Then again, I could dig for lots of flaws in lots of games, including my favourites. Sometimes it's a matter of perspective or opinion. Maybe the idea of something being a flaw can be tossed aside if you like the game enough. Maybe something isn't a flaw at all according to you. In the case of Cuphead, I do believe the flaws are there, but the question is if those are pronounced enough to make a good gameplay experience a bad one. The answer for me is no, they don't. Cuphead is absolutely a fun game to play through.

The difficulty level seems to have been done just right. It's nowhere near as hard as a popular opinion would have you believe. It's a pretty standard difficulty level. Personally I love games with a sadistically high difficulty level, and there is no way I would file Cuphead as one of those. I do try to look at it from different angles. Arcade style games would have you die in 1 hit probably and have only a few lives. If Cuphead were one of those, 1ccing it would be pretty fucking tough, even if you trimmed its length. However, Cuphead is as lenient as it gets, giving you infinite retries for the same bosses and giving you 3 hits, which is plenty. As such, I believe most gamers, even the most unskilled, could complete it with a little bit of perseverence.

Replayability is pretty low, which is a damn shame. I did S rank some bosses I enjoyed in Island 3, and I think that S ranking all bosses would take a pretty short amount of time, and then after that there's like nothing else left to do. Cuphead was created for casuals and that's fine, but I wish there was the alternative of going farther with it since the game is so radical. The only thing more I can think of is speedrunning and since this is a boss rush game that sounds pretty boring. There are only 6 stages, and only one of those I would describe as particularly great. The other 5 range from meh to decent. The great stage is of course the crazy gravity switching toy stage.

Overall a pretty sick game that I would warmly recommend to pretty much anyone looking for a good action game. Even if it doesn't keep you busy for very long, it's a great experience. I didn't mention it so far, because it should go without saying, but I guess it deserves a mention... The game is incredibly awesome looking. Radical fucking animation. Big part of my enjoyment came from that, for sure. So much wow factor! If you're not wowed by the animation, then I could see how the game might not seem as great. So it's definitely down to taste.

9

Diablo II: Lord of Destruction


This was one of my most played games as a kid, the social aspect definitely plays a role here as it was so hugely popular, everyone with an interest in PC gaming knew Diablo 2 so it was easy enough to find people to talk to or possibly LAN with. I remember that basically anyone would play it, the only prerequisite seemingly being that they were male. I can only remember knowing one girl that played it. I do think Diablo 2 is best experienced with friends and playing somewhat casually, the game's so monotonous that it really benefits from that social flavor. There are a number of reasons why I struggle to enjoy the game coming back to it as an adult, but I still have a fondness for it and not only because of nostalgia, there's some genuinely compelling reasons to play it even today, including solo playthroughs. Maybe not for me, I've played enough of it for one lifetime, but for a new player.

Diablo 2 is not a very well balanced game. I don't necessarily mean effectiveness of characters or builds, such a balance does leave a bit to be desired but isn't particularly awful either, but the gameplay is not well balanced around accomodating different skill levels, builds, approaches, team sizes, RNG... all the different factors that come into play leads into a mess in my opinion. If you know how to play the game and you want to go at it with a team, then it's way too easy, especially if anyone has geared up a bit. If on the other hand you want to go at it alone and you don't have the right gear, the game could get downright impossible. You might need to farm for runes so you can craft specific gear you need to look at an online manual to know how to, or you'll hit a wall. In general, Diablo 2 is way too gear-reliant which is one of my big beefs with it. The difference between having bad gear and having great gear is just way too enormous, the latter trivializing the entire PvM game, but strangely the gear farming, wanting to get stronger, and I guess ultimately feeling like a total Bad Ass, is exactly why most other people like the game! I just can't understand that at all. Having a geared up beefy hammerdin was totally anticlimactic back in the day, and I got the same feeling out of playing some of the other semi-stronk characters I had. What was the point of all this magic finding? Obviously magic finding or any kind of grinding in D2 is a total chore, takes barely any skill and is just a total waste of time because having a stronger character does not make the game more fun. So if anything I should thank D2 for teaching my kid-self that these kinds of games aren't for me. Same deal with mindless MMoRPGs. If you're playing solo and not using any outside influences, then gearing up to this degree is impossible which is a much better experience in my opinion.

Diablo 2 did have an active PvP community but I didn't really like it to be honest. The gameplay's really wack. Maybe better than fighting all the monsters that prove no challenge in some ways, but not much better. I had the most fun cheesing with a trapsin but ofc the PvP got old quickly and is far, far better in Blizzard's next RPG, WoW. One thing I really disliked was the handholding of PvP. The only way to have any idea where anyone else in the room is, is to be in a team with them, then there's a window which tells you which area they are in, and if you are relatively close to them, you can see them on the mini map. If you're not in a team, you have to be really close to them to see them on the mini map. The only way to attack another player is to declare war on them, which they will be notified by. Then, they can just hide from you. Even if you did find them, they could just leave the game right away to avoid dying. This was the nail in the coffin for me, because the possibility of killing or being killed by others when you're just going around doing whatever would've added a lot of fun to the game. Instead, PvP is only going to be in specific, coordinated rooms for the purpose of PvP. I didn't play much Hardcore but I do remember ganking being more of a thing in that, It's just that playing hardcore when the servers just randomly die all the time is, well, not fun. Besides, instantly leaving the game is still a legit means of escape.

I don't want this review to be too negative though because there's many hours of potential fun to be had here. There's an abundance of different characters and builds to use, and although the basic gameplay is monotonous, you can always enjoy the game playing little chunks at a time. Personally I've always been magic-inclined for RPGs, here I like skelliemancers for PvM, and otherwise I love Sorcs, any kinds of builds with Sorcs. Just teleporting around and spamming your attacks and being comparatively fragile suits me well. I don't like the tanky and clunky gameplay you get with the Barb, for example. With a casual party, let's say people that are relatively bad or new to the game, you stand the bast chance of enjoying it, I'd say. The challenge won't actually be absent if people don't know what they're doing! The action gameplay can be enjoyed with a relatively uncoordinated party, you really don't need to be methodical (just either shoot/attack or kite) in most situations in D2, and everyone can feel useful in some way. Even if you can barely kill anything, you'll be a great addition to your noob party just by having your aura activated!

The gameworld feels less inspired than the first Diablo, that one had heaps of atmosphere and the feeling of descending further towards hell added a lot to that. There's none of that here, it's more of a romp and stomp kind of deal, run around and fuck up hordes of bad guys. The gameplay also has a tendency towards extreme tankiness of enemies, particularly with bosses, which depending on your character could take for-fucking-ever to defeat (I'm talking half an hour kind of deal in some situations). Also, kiting. This game loves kiting, and I find it completely mindless. Building and using your character is a bit disappointing, the gameplay for D2 leans heavily towards action rather than RPG, but character building, instead of complicating the gameplay, mostly just supports that, as most characters if you build them right will just use the same two skills over and over. Ultimately Diablo 2 is a game that's been with me ever since its release date and that I will always have some fond memories for. It's been over a decade since I started finding it really stale, though, and since then, any attempts at playing it again and actually enjoying it has been completely unsuccessful. I doubt I'll ever be able to have fun with this one again, and that's a bit sad.

10

DoDonPachi


DoDonPachi is probably CAVE's most well known and most influential game. I've always struggled to see what makes it stand out so much over other shmups, though. Sure enough, bullet hell was quite rare at the time of its release and it was without a doubt the most important game to develop this "subgenre" and present it to the mainstream in arcades, but I'm just one guy who plays these games and to me all that really matters in the end is how good I think something is and unfortunately DoDonPachi isn't that great of a game. The sequel, DOJ, did it much better, honestly.

About why I don't like the chaining very much: It seems to me to be something you spend a whole lot of time practicing, and in the end you can pretty much do it on command; failure just shouldn't occur anymore. It's kinda like learning to play a piano piece. Once it sticks, it's easy enough to pull off repeatedly. I don't like that, I want the stakes to be high when I play. Something that's nigh impossible to master. I am aware that the Pachi games have nuances with the hit counts, though, so I am aware that my view isn't entirely accurate in the long run, but I think it makes for an apt enough description of why I'm not a fan. Going back to the music analogy, practicing in order to play a piano piece ends up gratifying in the end in a visceral sense. You are not only moving your hands and fingers to play the music, but the music which is lovely to hear also enters your eardrums. It's very rewarding. By comparison, I cannot find chaining nearly as rewarding. Doing the same relatively easy chains endless amounts of times is not something I see much value in. Let's compare it to the coin/medal chaining in Gunbird 2 and Strikers 1999, where the object of what you want to accomplish is more clear and more hectic in the moment-to-moment gameplay: collect each item within a timeframe of about 1/10ths of a second, and do it over and over without ever failing this. That's how you chain in those Psikyo titles and I preferred that kind of chaining a lot more because I found it much tougher to do without fail (and well, it obviously is.)

All of that said, within the DonPachi series I think DDP did chaining the worst out of the 3 DP games I've played. DonPachi is quite slow and bad to play for survival, but the more burst-like "combo" chains in it are more impressive and seems more rewarding to pull off (haven't really tried learning any, so keyword is seems). DOJ as well, which is the game I actually learned a bunch of chains for, is a much better game than DDP and it did chaining a bit better but it's still not something I would wanna sit down and spend my big parts of my life on. Perhaps it is the Hyper management that made it more appealing to me to chain, I'm not quite sure myself, but I really do like that final stage. Anyways, this review is about DoDonPachi and yeah I don't like its chaining.

Then comes the next question. What if you don't care about chaining, and you just wanna dodge bullets and blow shit up? In that case, I also don't think DDP is anything too special nowadays. Even if you only look at CAVE's catalogue, they kept on churning out good games year after year, some of which are way more impressive if you ask me. DDP is much too slow. I do like the second loop a lot more, but the first loop is really a waste of time to play for survival, hardly anything exciting in it. I have quite a strong distaste for this slow micro dodging and all the streaming, as well the slow down in this particular title, which really gets on my nerves. It's really such a shame that so many shmups have to have loops in them because a lot of them would be better with difficulty settings, I really don't want to waste my time playing something easy just to play the same stages in a harder mode. Just give me my fucking hard mode!

The generic cock rock music gets old quickly, and the bosses have no personality, they're just big thingies that shoot some unmemorable patterns at you, for the most part. The pixel art is nicely detailed but the game lacks personality, the whole game was so busy being the new "thing" with its bullet hell and all that it totally forgot that it could also distinguish itself aesthetically, unlike some past pseudo-bullet hells like Batsugun and Battle Garegga, which look gorgeous to this day. Thankfully CAVE proved what they're capable of in this regard with games like ESPRade and Guwange.

I realize this review must be sounding awfully negative, so I'll part with some positivity instead. The game is good, it's just not one of the best shmups ever unlike what you'll hear everywhere else you look. CAVE has done much better numerous times and there are other developers arguably as capable as CAVE that were just doing different things. However, it will come down to how much you like chaining, I think. If chaining is rewarding to you, this game is going to be better than I find it to be, probably. All of the things that makes me enjoy DDP are survival oriented and exist in the 2nd loop. Hibachi is a pretty cool TLB.

11

Doki Doki Literature Club


Embarrassing

Doki Doki Literature Club is a really embarrassing Visual Novel created by a pretentious edgelord whom I didn't know before reading. I first read this when it was brand new, found it to be one of the worst things I've ever experienced, and proceeded to witness it somehow skyrocketing in popularity afterwards. It was really strange, because noone I talked to seemed to like it. It's nothing new that the masses of Steam have abysmal tastes, so I can't even act surprised. All I can say is that it's really sad that this gets so much attention whereas amazing Visual Novels like the behemoth Subarashiki Hibi barely got any attention in the west and only sold a few thousand. It's things like this that makes it impossible to have any faith in others any more.

SPOILERS from here but really, I would advice you to just spoil yourself and not waste your time with this wretched game.

DDLC basically starts out as a deliberate caricature of some kind of EVN-Galge. I'm not really sure what it is supposed to be parodying to be honest. I've read more than 50 visual novels and DDLC doesn't remind me of any of them at all in writing or content. I've read everything from charage and moege, to horror, mystery and surrealism, and even nukige. Listen to me closely here, because I'm assuming most of the fans of DDLC have no experience with VNs. THIS IS NOT INDICATIVE OF WHAT VNS ARE LIKE. The culprit is the writing which is so bland you wouldn't believe. I mean, even the blandest Moege I've tried out (Dal Segno) had more personality than this, and the characters more individual. I'm bothered by how characters act in DDLC... you can tell they are all written by the same person with his own distinct personality, and he has a long way to go to make distinctions between his characters. The only character who is a little bit different is Monika and that is because she is the source of the games gratuitous and anti-intellectual metafiction. This is the most embarrassing use of meta I've ever seen for sure. Basically what happens is that you spend barely any time in this regular caricature setting with cute girls who write poetry. Then shit hits then fan and one of the girls commits suicide. At this point, the genre shifts into a vaguely unsettling abstract horror game. Honestly, I won't fault people for at least finding it interesting if they're new to all this, but come on, be critical for a moment here. As another reviewer described, the horror is incredibly lame and reminds of SONIC.EXE (which has been panned whereas this has not, interestingly). The fourth wall breaking is so annoyingly in your face and pretentious that it just makes me feel embarrassed for the author. Compare it to other Visual Novels with elements like that, like Forest and Subarashiki Hibi and they are just great works of art and in comparison to them this is child's scribbles. I get that people think they're cool because they're reading something subversive and they think this is better because it's parodying something that might not even exist or at least is not particularly well regarded by visual novel folks... but yeah, if you're one of them, then read that sentence again. Do you get it? This doesn't really subvert anything relevant. This isn't what those things you'd call "dating sims" are actually like, unless maybe if you're playing some wretched EVN that might be popular on a stupid website like Steam. Can you really not tell how freakin' badly written this is? If you can, are you really gonna defend it saying that it's meant to be bad as if that makes it clever? Get real

Ultimately DDLC has 2 great problems.
1. The first half is too bland and horribly written and fails to establish any kind of interest in the setting, characters and story. The one good thing I can say about it is that it is definitely decidedly "off" though this is perhaps a little too subtle for some readers (maybe even unintentional? could just be bad writing seeming off) which could explain why some people, despite the triggers warnings at the start, insist that they were "surprised" later on. In that regard it dd accurately prepare me for that this is not a "normal" game, which meant that I didn't drop it instantly. That's not good enough, though, because it is incredibly tedious to get anywhere. The game has an idea, a gimmick it wants to pull off, and this gimmicks relies on investment from the player. Without said investment, anyone who experiences the usage of teh gimmick in the game (unless it's their first time ever experiencing fourth wall breaking or dark themes in anything and they have their first "whoa" moment over that) will just go "ok, and why am I supposed to care about this?" Again I will point towards Subarashiki Hibi for trying something in a similar vein, and also having a "bland" first chapter. Go read that to see just how far VNs can take this sort of thing. Then go back to DDLC and shake your head. In order for the gimmicks in the second half to "work", then there needs to be a sufficient substance and investment, in order for there to be a real "payoff". Otherwise such gimmicks ring hollow.
2. The horror and fourth wall breaking is incredibly juvenile, lame, and obvious. I don't get why any of this is supposed to be cool, or funny, or anything interesting, really. It's all in bad taste and it's not even so bad it's good, because if it were, then at least I would've laughed from time to time, but I never did. It was just... a very boring experience of waiting for the next silly little thing to happen. And whenever it did, it's just the same usual boring edgelord trash. Oh no, the yandere kills herself. Oh no, the loli tsundere says she gets molested by her dad. Oh no, everything is so horrible, and oh no, you have to delete the character files, and... ok, why is any of this interesting!?!?!? I don't understand why! I like things that are good! Subversive media can be so much better than this!

I've also heard that it's a rip-off of Totono but I haven't read it so I dunno if that's true. Either way, it could just be a ripoff unintentionally because that's how obvious the ideas and gimmicks presented are.

Doki Doki Literature Club is a good example of artistic pretension and serves as a great reminder to all creators and artists to not get ahead of themselves. If you want to freak out readers, then take better care, and create a better story first, create more interesting characters, work on your scenario seriously, work on establishment of themes, DEFINITELY work on your way with words and better yourself as a creator, THEN try to make something subversive. If you can't even get the "baseline" right then why try to be "better" than everyone else? Seriously this game isn't "upsetting" because of its themes or horror or whatever, what upsets me about is is how full of itself yet inept it is.

12

Dragon Blaze


First of all, I should mention that my opinions seem to be almost exactly the same as RNG's, so you can go ahead and skip this review and read his instead if you just wanna know why Dragon Blaze is a fucking masterpiece. I'm going to talk a bit about Psikyo's game evolution in my review first.

Psikyo is developer of many shmup classics known for their overall outstanding quality and simple no-nonsense gameplay. Because many of Psikyo's games are very similar in mechanics, level design and pattern design, if you're a fan of one game you're probably gonna be a fan of a lot of them. However, if you look at how Psikyo evolved going from their first game, Sengoku Ace, up until the final scrolling shmup, Dragon Blaze, then It's going to be clear that they've changed a great deal. The interesting thing is that Psikyo shmup evolution was less about experimenting and trying new things (like what CAVE was doing in the late 90s) but more about slightly altering their formula and perfecting it more and more with each game, all while veering slightly more towards Danmaku design and making the games more manic and hardcore. They started making games that felt more classic, without much of a scoring system, with bland patterns, simplistic and slow paced stages, often empty of enemies. These simplistic and old school games includes Sengoku Ace, Gunbird, and (arguably) the first Strikers 1945. They'd add in a new mechanic or two with each game, and often keep that mechanic for the next game, making the games increasingly more complex. With Strikers 1945 II, Gunbird 2, and Strikers 1999, the games got a lot tighter and way more interesting. I think the ship selection got even more amazing in these, and familiar weapon charging mechanics are better worked in. Item chaining is present in these three, and Gunbird 2 and Strikers 1999 got better at giving you visual cues for the chaining. Gunbird 2 added hidden gemheads, and Strikers 1999 gives you a technical bonus if you defeat bosses in a certain stylish manner. More immediately obvious is the increase in difficulty, the more manic stage design, and the more elaborate boss patterns and transformations. Psikyo games were improving at a rapid pace over the course of just a couple of years, and the aforementioned Gunbird 2, Strikers 1999 and Strikers 1945 II are must-plays, however... they still fall short compared to the next game.

Enter Dragon Blaze. This is the culmination of all of Psikyo's improvement and ideas, and easily their best game. It is also, sadly, their swan song, as no more scrolling shmups would be made afterwards. Unfortunately, shmupping was a dying market, which is why only companies catering to the remaining hardcore audience could keep alive... it is such a sadness that Psikyo didn't make it, because Dragon Blaze is shmupping at its most masterful. At a glance, you can tell it's Psikyo, It's as tight as any of them and has many of the familiar trademarks. However, it will become immediately clear, and increasingly more clear the more you play, that there is no other game at all like Dragon Blaze. Psikyo culminated with an experimental system unlike any other shmup that had ever been made before, and finally made a pure bullet hell game with intense and stylish boss patterns and enemies swarming the screen. The Dragon shot is just such an amazing mechanic. In Dragon Blaze, your fighter rides a dragon, and you're quickly going to run into a lot of troubles, and find your DPS far too low, unless you use Dragon Shot. Ramming enemies with your Dragon in order to deal massive damage is the most obvious use of it. After shooting your dragon, you can move around freely while your dragon sits still. Both you and your dragon can shoot at the same time. You can call your dragon back, or command him to wait in place. While dismounted, your dragon gets a new kind of charge attack (so basically all characters have two separate charge attacks). Psikyo were very fond of melee attacks in some of their past games too such as Sengoku Blade and Gunbird 2, but Dragon Blaze takes it to the next level. Also, in the second loop, some patterns will aim at your dragon and you have to dismount in advance in order to avoid those bullets. Your Dragon can pass through bullets harmlessly while you're dismounted.

But what really takes the genius of Dragon Blaze's gameplay system to the next level is the scoring mechanics and the complementing level design. If you defeat an enemy with dragon shot, coins will start to rain down, the bigger the enemy, the more coins. If you just shoot enemies, you get a lot fewer coins for doing so, so obviously you're going to want to dragon shot as much as you can. But, as RNG explained in his review, all your actions come with tradeoffs, you can't always just dragon shot every enemy and collect every coin. This is what makes Dragon Blaze so amazing, the stages are intricate and fascinating puzzles, all while being utterly satisfying to play. You're ramming things with dragons, collecting coins, and avoiding bullets. It just doesn't get much better than this. Also, even if your routing and dragon shot execution is excellent, it's seriously tough to collect most of the coins that end up dropping.

I'm hesitant to try to delve too deeply into the game in my review, as I don't exactly have the superplay experience (my best run got to stage 3 in loop 2, and I've practiced loop 1 light scoring strats and tried to learn most of loop 2 for survival only). So I'm just going to go ahead and agree with all the points in RNG's review, except I want to disagree that the music sucks (I think it fits the game) and I want to compliment the visuals as well. The character selection, in terms of usefulness and balance, (and perhaps even for its flair), is hands down the best that has EVER been made in any shmup to this day. The only games that could possibly compare are some of Raizing's. (OK, at least with Single player only. If you count Multiplayer then it's probably Phantasmagoria of Dim.Dream.) The bullets are a great mix of lightning fast and danmaku-slow, with beautiful, sensible, and engaging patterns. The stage and enemy variety is absolutely phenomenal. The bosses have the Technical bonus, just like Strikers 1999, except the Tech bonus feels better implemented in this game. The bosses are very memorization reliant and there's no room to improvise, but that's just the Psikyo style. This is Psikyo's best, but also their most hardcore and deep shmup, so beginners might want to be wary of this one... unless you really wanna shoot a fucking dragon into enemies... you know you do...

13

Ever17 -The Out of Infinity-


writing/scenario: A group of people get stuck in an underwater park, and according to calculations the place will get destroyed within several days. Can they get help or somehow get out of there in time? During this time, you will slowly learn more about the mystery of the underwater park and about the characters. I really like the scenario up until the true route, which ruined the whole game in my opinion. The strength of the writing comes across better the less you know about what's really going on, the game is an extremely good mystery with a bad resolution. Much of the game will feel like a complete mindfuck, but unfortunately the game actually isn't one in the end... I also have to say that some of the game was quite moving to me especially some of the contents in Tsugumi's route.

visual: Individually the visuals may not be that impressive, but there are good production values for the time with some animations, the game has aged well and most importantly, the backgrounds do a fantastic job at immersing you. By the time you're finished with Ever17 you can map out the whole game world. The park is so damn memorable. On the other hand, the CGs are underwhelming and there's if I recall not that many of them.

sound: One of the highlights of the game is the music. It often gives the game a really dark atmosphere, but much of the music is also more lighthearted and does its job well. One of the best game soundtracks. The characters are voiced.

gameplay: A fuckload of choices. This really feels like an adventure game much moreso than a novel.

hentai: None. The game is not lewd either.

overall: one of the most memorable settings and premises with brilliant BGM and an atmospheric mystery. Just beware that the writing is actually kind of shitty in the long run. I forgive this game because I loved the mystery.

14

Flame Zapper Kotsujin


Flame Zapper Kotsujin is a Doujin shmup. There are just so many of those, likely because of how easy it is to make a shmup (not taking its quality into consideration, of course) and how popular the genre is and was in Japan, so it can be tough to find the good ones. The vast majority of Doujin shmups struggle to find any players at all, let alone reaching a wider audience. However, although it is impossible to play all these games, especially if you want to judge them well, I think I can confidently say that Kotsujin is one of the great Doujin shmups out there. It's the real deal, and I'll tell you why.

First let's look at when the game came out. 1996. It's definitely bullet hell and it predates Dodonpachi, which popularized the subgenre and came out in 1997. That's not saying Kotsujin is the first bullet hell. Batsugun, DonPachi, Garegga, and ChoRenSha 68k are arguably also part of the subgenre, but I think Kotsujin is a clearer example than those. So it goes without saying that Kotsujin was quite ahead of its time. What's even cooler is that it also feels distinctly like an oldschool shmup, even if it doesn't entirely play like one. The graphics are strongly influenced by Truxton, and the power up mechanic is like Raiden's. Kotsujin is both a progressive game and one that proudly takes influence from the greats that came before it. Now, how "bullet hell" the game really feels will depend on the difficulty setting. The game does have too many difficulty settings, but I settled on "Very Hard" as my favorite mode, although I mostly played "Normal" to do my scoring. "Mania", the hardest mode, is simply too hard, and was probably just a sick experiment. The enemies fire too many suicide bullets and have too much health, so I'm not sure it's possible to clear it. It's even harder than Futari Ultra, for instance.

The graphics are quite appealing. Some of the scrolling backgrounds may feel dated or awkward by now, but I think there's a charm to them. The art is quite detailed for a Doujin game. The design of your ship is simply iconic and awesome, and the enemies and bosses look really cool as well. The weapons are very satisfying. Although, in true Raiden fashion, the spread weapon is by far the best, it is entirely doable, and perhaps sometimes even preferable, to switch to one of the other two weapons (like the forward shot for one boss.) The weapon you have also dictates what kinda bomb you use, all three bombs are really fucking radical, which is great fun for casual players. Sadly, if you are scoring, you shouldn't be using the bombs (possible exception being the stage 5 asteroids.) You also get to choose between two different subweapons. Like in Raiden, during the game enemies will drop items that switch colors, and the color determines what item you get when you collect it.

The soundtrack is also legendary. In my opinion, it is not only one of the best Doujin shmup soundtracks, but one of the best videogame soundtracks, period. It's not a huge soundtrack, but it's worth noting that each song has two different versions (I don't know enough about PC-98 to know why this is the case, but some PC-98 games does this.) The composer, who is entirely unknown as far as I can tell, needs to be recognized for his work here. Both E.N.K.A and Ray Future as masterpieces. The sound design is an important part of Kotsujin, because while the gameplay is great, it's not quite as intricate, deep or engaging as good Touhou or CAVE game. Rather, what makes Kotsujin an appealing alternative to those is that it is just simple, fun, and has amazing tunes to drive it forward.

Still, although I personally love the game a lot for it's soundtrack and "feel", it would be a crime to write this review without going into the gameplay more. First of all, the stage design is good. It does feel rather NMK-ish at times, but there's also a Toaplan influence. For the most part, though, I think it's its own thing, and it's remarkable on its own that the enemy types change completely from stage to stage. The stages are varied with many different types of structural enemy purposes. The 4th stage is the only uninspired one; it's just rushed, simple and rather repetitive. However, the 5th and last is where the game peaks. The 5th stage is made up of two parts. The first part is a more generic space portion where you start out fighting large space cruisers and it gradually gets infested with asteroids for you to destroy. As more and more asteroids come in, finally it turns into a constant stream of enemies and bullets as well as big astroids (making it a pretty blatant bullet herding portion). Then you fight a midboss and the BGM changes... what's so cool is that the new BGM, E.N.K.A, is heard throughout both the entirety of the 2nd half of the stage and the final boss. So it kinda feels like the last stage itself is the final boss. In the 2nd half you enter a large base which feels quite Truxton-ish, with a far more remarkable and intense stage composition than you ever get in that game. Enemy composition itself feels more Daioh-ish. The bosses feels a bit more like old school bosses than bullet hell ones. Pretty simple patterns to avoid for the most part, but there's definitely some creativity here, such as how the 4th boss uses its spear, and most of the patterns the final boss uses. Also, considering this is 1996, your hitbox is really tiny.

The scoring system is a mixture of the old and simple, and a new take on Battle Garegga's medal chaining. You'll gain shields, like in Batsugun, which lets you take one hit for free. However, if you fill up the bar to get a new shield while you already have one, you get a bonus. Likewise, never getting hit during a stage gives you a higher clear bonus for that stage. So never getting hit at all pays off. You also get a higher clear bonus for never bombing during a stage, and only on the final stage is it worth (I think) to bomb regardless. Now, the medal chaining is more interesting, and arguably better than in Garegga. In this game, some enemies drop medals when killed, and each time you collect medals, the value goes up until it reaches a maximum... however, unlike in Garegga, you have to pay a lot of attention to when you kill the enemies and when you collect their medals, because the chaining works completely differently. In Garegga the value of the medals drops back to the minimum when you drop a medal, but there's no timer that drops the value; the time allocated in between medals to avoid a chain drop is infinite. In Kotsujin, you can drop medals without losing the chain, but when you reach the 2nd highest medal value (10k medals), an invisible enemy chaining timer is added (indicated by the yellow text). If you take more than 2 or 3 seconds to kill the next enemy, the value will drop back to the minimum, but as long as you keep killing enemies at a steady pace, they will keep dropping CO-2PRO medals, worth 31k. Only some enemies drops medals, though, so in order to score efficiently, you have to figure out when to miss the 10k medals until you're at a point where you can collect many CO2-PRO medals, because the stages do have lots of gaps where you're forced to drop the enemy chain timer. When you find these enemy chaining portions, it's a matter of treating it like a game of DonPachi and combo the medal-carrying enemies efficiently. Remember, these are bursts of chains rather than long chains (More like DonPachi than later entries in that series, in other words.) There is an extra stage which is more like a Caravan game that you can choose to play as well, which is a constant stream of medal-carrying enemies, and a really good way to get into how to do the chaining, as there are very few forced chain drops in this brief stage. The main game, by comparison, has fewer more spaced out medals, and is thus harder and takes more research to chain as much as possible. Overall, I feel that the medal system is a great mixture of item collection and enemy chaining. The game is probably pretty easily "solveable", though.

In short, the gameplay contains both old and new; traditional and progressive. In my book, Kotsujin may just be a masterpiece, but I admit the aesthetic and soundtrack is part of why I feel that way. The game is totally great, very fun, and very impressive, and although it doesn't quite have the depth of most Touhou or CAVE games, I do subjectively prefer it to many of those. All in all, a must play for shmup enthusiasts. A true hidden gem that I was lucky to discover early on.

15

.flow


Yume Nikki is a well known cult game. I love that game but there are also fangames that I love and this one is really interesting. An important note is that .flow is by far the darkest game I've played. If you thought Yume Nikki was dark then this is on a completely other level. It's not really fair to call it a clone of Yume Nikki. On the surface, .flow copied so much so it's very recognizeable as a fan-game. But if you take the time to explore it, to experience all the hidden events, and ultimately to complete it, then you'll understand just how different .flow really is.

I'm going to continue with this comparison throughout the review since .flow has some trouble to break free of its shackles of "fan game" in the eyes of players. Yume Nikki is a game about dreams. All you know about Yume Nikki's real world is the small amount of information contained in Madotsuki's room and on her balcony, and the fact that she refuses to leave her room. Anything else is pure conjecture based on the contents of her dreams. While there's no shortage of interpretations you can make in Yume Nikki, ultimately things just mean what you want them to mean. They're dreams. .flow, however, is different. Although it doesn't have a narrative, it definitely tells a story, and although it is plenty surrealistic, the story it tells is not pretty. In the end, the game is a total mindfuck, but it's the kind of mindfuck you can sit down and piece together if you're dedicated, smart, and if you take aid from other players. It's a puzzle in the same sense as something like Inland Empire, though more unsettling and ostensibly more difficult. If you want meaning, there's a tangible feeling that it's there. It's just almost impossible to understand. I found it totally thought provoking but I definitely didn't understand it. It's like you piece some of the puzzles together but not the whole puzzle. Also there's tons of room for personal interpretation, much moreso than Yume Nikki if you ask me.

As for the music, it's disappointing compared to Yume Nikki. Yume Nikki's music is full of what I would call "ghost tones". Short loops that are spellbinding to listen to on repeat because despite the general theme of ambience in the music, they sometimes contain an overload of sound information, it is so easy to get lost in a song without actually really hearing all of it. It's not uncommon that I'll listen to a song, and notice a certain sound that I never really payed attention to before and listen to it in a new way. Tones might trail off, literally, or they might just be trailing off in your head. It's a very mesmerizing listening experience. Meanwhile, the music of .flow is generally very simplistic, and the repetition does not quite have that hypnotic quality. lolrust is just not a great composer, however, I still do want to compliment the way the soundtrack fits the game. Living up to Kikiyama as a composer is nigh impossible, and lolrust does a decent enough effort for his own game soundtrack. .flow's music isn't as good, but it can still sound distressing, mystical, tense, and sometimes it's actually kinda catchy. This game oozes dark emotion and the music generally does too. He can get all these emotions right, so the sound is absolutely an essential part of the playing experience. The music sounds broken, like ugly fragments of something truly disgusting. Even the catchy songs have this disturbing aura in the context of this fucked up game.

And the imagery, well... I called it by far the darkest game I've played for a reason. This game is bloody, creepy, gloomy, and sometimes sublimely terrifying. Describing imagery isn't my favorite thing to do in reviews so just take my word for it and PLAY THIS GAME NOW! It's a damn masterpiece. It's probably going to be taxing on your psyche to play through this whole game and see everything, as it's like a giant nightmare. It's the slow and brooding kind of horror which you could also see at times in Yume Nikki, and while some people argue that game wasn't a horror game, if this one isn't a horror game then no horror has ever existed in any media ever because .flow is horrifying. Most of the really sublime sights are hidden, so I'd recommend to not just shelve it upon seeing the true ending. Take your time to explore further and/or use the wiki to find all events. I think that lolrust is one of the most interesting game creators, though he's not as "mysterious" as Kikiyama, the game he's made should be just as legendary as Yume Nikki. Also check out lolrust's Pixiv! https://www.pixiv.net/member.php?id=269411

Just be warned before playing .flow as it will disturb you. Consider not playing it if you're still growing, its terror could have a negative impact on your psyche. You might get nightmares. I'd say adults only but that would make me a hypocrite since I would've LOVED to play something this fucked up as a kid!

16

Gargoyle's Quest


I recall playing this as a small child and being completely overwhelmed by the difficulty in those days, I eventually reached the first town after beating the first level, but couldn't make it any farther than that. So coming back to it as a grown-up, I was under the illusion the game was going to be difficult, but it is actually a pretty easy game. Not "trivial", but a good, balanced difficulty for this kind of game to find a wide audience of children, teenagers and adults.

You play as the gargoyle Firebrand wandering the ghoul realm, and it's kind of a mixture of an rpg/adventure game and a sidescrolling action game, as wasn't that uncommon at the time, but I wonder how many games like that there were before this one on the Gameboy? It's very much a gothic adventure which gains style points, but even from a gameplay perspective it really is surprisingly solid. Although it is very much a bite-sized experience  (an "RPG" you can finish blind in a matter of 2 or 3 hours) it really packs good content. So you have the top-down RPG segments, which includes an overworld with random encounters and various places to visit, either towns with the standard NPCs or side scrolling action areas. However, if you are a fan of RPGs, then you shouldn't expect much of that here because this is a very barebones take on the format. The towns have barely anything to do in them, there's little storytelling and few characters. You do grow stronger and you'll gain new abilities over the course of the game, it's simple yet feels natural. It just works. The levels, considering how few they are, are fairly small just like the overworld, but they all have their own unique design and most levels are designed kind of like little labyrinths with some branching paths. The action segments are I guess the real meat of the game, and while these might not be the best thing ever, there's just something magical about the game that draws me in. It's not just the level design, it's not just the atmosphere, it's not just the sense of "progression/growing stronger" which makes great use of the RPG format to forward the sense of progression in the action segments... there's just something awesome about how Gargoyle's Quest fuses it all together to create a cohesive whole. It's hard to call Gargoyle's Quest a particularly fantastic game in the grand scheme of things, but it has earned its place as a notable title specifically for the Gameboy, and I can see great things in it with that in mind. An essential game for GB enthusiasts and otherwise it'll depend on your tastes. Personally I have a lot of fondness for it even if the gameplay is a bit clunky and stuff, and I generally don't like Gameboy games.

17

Gemini Wing


It is hard to believe that this innovative and beautifully realized shooting gem came out in 1987. Gemini Wing, like many other shooting games from its era, focuses more on the simpler and more immediately accessible aspects of shooting. While I'm more of a danmaku guy, Gemini Wing has been a great reminder that these games don't need insane bullet patterns, nor scoring mechanics that makes me learn ridiculous strategies, to grab hold of me. Old-School shooters can be unique, fun and memorable in their own ways, and Gemini Wing is hands down the most overlooked/underrated shooter I know about from the 80s.

First of all, if there's one drawback to the danmaku genre, it's that the less abstract audiovisual feedback tends to take a backseat. Take for example Mushihimesama and Futari, while there's surely effort put into making some pretty backgrounds to help realize the game world, it's all drowned out by a sea of bullets anyway. Basically, danmaku games come with a price. Before danmaku was really a thing, devs were forced to put more attention into making the game look and feel appealing to a wider audience, through a detailed and expressive game world. Gemini Wing shines in this regard, it's truly a vibrant, colorful game with a lot of variety in the stages. I'm not really sure how to express what the progression feels like in this game, but the feeling, the emotion is all there. It really feels like an adventure. The soundtrack is also very good. I wouldn't call the atmosphere awe-inspiring, but it makes an impression.

Where a lot shooters from this era lose me, is the the pure fun factor and longevity. I love danmaku because I enjoy pushing my skills to their limits, forging elaborate strategies, dodging complex bullet sprays... Old school shooters tend to not give you all that much to do in the long run, there's some dodging and shooting in the stage, maybe a barely functional scoring system, and bosses that repeats one or two patterns. I'd rather spend my time on a game with a high skill ceiling. Gemini Wing, despite being from 1987, has scoring that isn't completely broken or boring, so in my book, it's a game that is worth playing for a long time, rather than just clear and move on. Thankfully it avoids the trap of loops unlike so many other shooters. Gemini Wing is also a vertical shooter with stage hazards which is somewhat unusual, but well done in this case. Only some of the stages have any hazards (stuff like walls or moving objects) but they never really feel like much of a chore, in fact, I think the final stage in particular is very well designed. It doesn't rely on hazards as much as, say, Image Fight.

Anyway, lets start from the top with the mechanics. Gemini Wing lets you use a peashooter, which is hardly very impressive, and which you cannot upgrade. In this sense, you need to pick out your targets with accuracy. On the other hand, the main ability is unique. There are specific foes in Gemini Wing that carry so-called "gunballs", which are basically single-use attacks (or point-bonuses/extends/speed-ups). There are several different gunballs, some more effective than others. These specific foes "hold" them, so they will have a trail of gunballs behind them. You can shoot these enemies to change the type of gunball they carry, probably inspired by the bell system from Twinbee. You can then choose to either steal the gunballs by picking up the trail (this could get tricky to pull off) or kill the enemy in which case the gunballs will scatter across the screen so you can grab them. When you grab a gunball, it trails behind you just like it did with your enemies, so then you simply use the gunballs in order.

The effectiveness of gunballs vary greatly, but the idea is that you must use them. There are gunballs that are only mildly effective, like the green rockets, or the purple wave. What you really want is the screen clearing beam or blue circle thingie... there's also a sword-like swinging fire thing that can be very strong in some places. The gunballs are blatantly imbalanced, but since you can put in the extra effort of trying to collect the specific gunballs you want, I think that is actually in the game's favor. Fighting with both peashooter and gunballs creates a fun dynamic gameplay where you're trying to defeat all that you can and stay alive, without running out of gunballs, since that may well spell doom for you.

Moving on from gunballs, the idea behind scoring is not immediately obvious. More was found out about the inner workings in Gemini Wing during a Shmups Forum tournament in 2014. Of course, Japan must've been aware of this since the 80s, but there's very much a divide between east and west in the shooting game scene, so strategies for obscure games like this are often completely undocumented and thus unknown to anyone that wasn't part of the eastern arcade scene. There's more to it but to put it briefy, there's a "queue" for the enemies which actually spans the entire game. Think of it like a caravan shooter (those 2-5 minute mode games) where you kill enemies quickly to spawn even more enemies. Gemini Wing works sort of like that except it spans the whole game, so a newcomer would spawn enemies in stage 2, that a score player will spawn in stage 1. This puts a lot of pressure to constantly get the best gunballs and kill everything efficiently.

Enemies also come in a wide variety which is yet another reason why this game is so fun. The way the enemies behave is more about how their movement works rather than how they shoot their bullets, and the game pretty much never gives you a pause. Foes are plentiful and will just keep on swarming the screen, which is very satisfying given the game system.

I enjoy Gemini Wing a ton, but bosses are a little lacking. This is normal for the old-school style, the bosses are more there to make an "impression" than to provide a really challenging and fun fight. The final boss, however, is not just lacking, but it is one of the worst bosses in any shooting game, and the reason why I was a little hesitant to give Gemini Wing such a high rating. The final boss will never time out, covers almost the entire screen, and you have to wait for it to spawn random eggs to kill, with random gunballs in them. You cannot damage the boss with your peashooter without actually moving behind it (more on that later) and most gunballs are completely ineffective. The boss follows a very, very slow and tedious movement pattern that means you're given sparse opportunities to do any damage in any way. At first, I used a "safe" strategy, but I remember failing to take out the boss in as long as 15 minutes the first time I reached it in an early 1cc attempt. The only effective way to take this boss out that I know of is to do a kamikaze attack during a specific point in the pattern, where you go into its weak point (tip of its tail) which actually doesn't have a hitbox, and is the only place where you can shoot it with the peashooter. Then autofire pointblank. It'll die pretty quickly from this, but there's a high risk that you'll die first, since the eggs spawn here at random times. There are gunballs you can use to speed up the process and slightly reduce the luck aspect, but you get a bigger clear bonus the more gunballs you carry! If you're serious about this game and you die here, then kiss a high score goodbye because both lives and gunballs in stock are precious for the clear bonus. If you die, you will have to painstakingly wait and collect gunballs for minutes on end until you can attempt the kill again, unless you don't care about score, in which case you could just stock up a few specifically effective gunballs. The patterns while waiting aren't terribly hard, but not trivial either, so there's some pressure there.

Despite the awful boss fight at the end, Gemini Wing is a truly remarkable game that deserves more attention. If you have any interest at all in STG then go play this in MAME.

18

Golden Sun


Golden Sun is a game that is beloved to me because it provided some light in my life during my childhood. There were several RPGs that I am no longer particularly interested in that I played when I was younger and enjoyed immensely then. My memories of playing Golden Sun are precious, but JRPGs is just one of those kinds of games that is a tough sell for me these days. I tend to find the gameplay exceptionally tedious, and the storytelling to be trite and really childish. When I think of the Mother games or the myformerselves games (well, those aren't Japanese, but Gingiva at least is partly following that JRPG format) I find myself a lot more intrigued, but let's just say that that's in spite of the limitations of engagement in the gameplay formula. I am not currently a fan of JRPG content, and Golden Sun is unquestionably a fairly "typical" game. Obviously there is going to be some bias involved when I evaluate a game that was so beloved to me, but I really do think that it's actually a pretty decent game despite being a JRPG.

Golden Sun has a compact world so you don't spend all your time wandering around, It's easy to stay focused on the objective. There's always a simple sense of direction of where to go, and the drastic changes in locations is ok. Good for youngsters. It has fast paced combat with easily spammable and cool looking abilities. It's very easy and simple, so it doesn't take much thought or skill to play the game. Again, good for youngsters. You quickly get to four characters and I guess you can try to build them differently by utilizing the Djinns, but really, there's not a whole lot here. You're probably going to play it straight forward, and the game isn't very replayable. The soundtrack is fantastic. The visuals... this is GameBoy Advance which has notoriously ugly games for the time period, but I'll give the art direction a pass, nice colors. All in all, I think Golden Sun is a pretty ok game even for me. Yet, it also has a ton of tedious dialogue, emote time wasters, and stock characters and story. It is, after all, sadly a JRPG, so of course the characters just had to be incredibly talky yet incredible forgettable. The writing is absolutely at its worst during story-driven conversations. The story is your typical meaningless JRPG bullshit. Very little entertainment or artistic value or any insights into relatable characters or worldviews or anything, really. Just by-the-numbers fantasy fluff with simple cardboard cutout characters. On a more positive note, this is also fine for youngsters, since they won't really notice that it's a bad story with bad characters. Things are much simpler when you're younger... And a simple game can be a great sell then. However, if you want something more, then this is going to be boring for you.

My verdict is that I'm confused because I have so many fond memories but I dunno if the game's really that great...? Should I rate it from adult-standpoint or kid-standpoint? I dunno, I'm putting my rating somewhere in between. Golden Sun has some good qualities, and some good moments. I guess I... like it!? A little? The sequel is more involving, bigger, harder and takes more thought, so I guess I like the sequel better for that. I've actually been meaning to replay the sequel for a long time but it just never really happened. I got stuck all the time as a kid so it took me a few years to actually finish it... but GS1 is really easy. If you like JRPGs you'll probably like Golden Sun (and the sequel). Otherwise I dunno.

PS: Correct me if it was only in the sequel, but that was the most ridiculous fucking password I've EVER used, it is INSANE.

19

The Goonies 2


One of the games I saw and played the most in my early childhood. That is, before my first SNES experience. Now I go back to it and I think at the ending, wow, you rescued a flat chested mermaid. Truly the closest you will be to Loliconia in classic NES gaming.

Although the game is a pretty interesting adventure game, it might be tough to actually sit down and be patient since there's superior options everywhere you look today. The game's not bad, but you're going to run around and go into rooms trying to use every item and option on every wall, on the floor, on the ceiling, in every room you go in, in order to get any closer to figuring out WTF to do. Naturally because the game isn't tiny you're going to forget what you've tried where from time to time, and redo things you've already done, go around and around, and it's just gonna be a nightmare of trial and error to get anywhere. This is one of those games that gives you the dilemma of "do I stay patient or do I use a guide". Now, had the game been more fun to play, I would almost always pick the former option in any situation, as I'd rather do things my own way when playing something for the first time. So then, with this game, I'd prefer to pick the guide any time I'm stuck. Well, you already know something's wrong when it's gotten to that point, so yeah...

To put it briefly, The basic gameplay of Goonies 2 is just kinda... mediocre. 2D sidescrolling "metroidvania" I guess, kinda-sorta platformer/adventure/action. I dunno what to call it. No matter what you call it the sidescrolling is most definitely a bit lacking in quality gameplay. A little too Simplistic combat and uninteresting weapons, not challenging platforming, and all-in-all, a bit too slow for my tastes. So then, if this part of the game doesn't shine, then at least something that's better about it is the level design from an exploration perspective. The Goonies 2 is one giant level which has different themes and enemies depending on which part of the level you're at. I think that the game feels pretty cool and is varied enough in sight and sound, and it's just kinda neat to instantly go from a completely different kind of setting... somehow. I guess nostalgia might play a role here and I guess not everyone likes the NES like I do, but from my perspective, it's an alright game. Unfortunately these stupid rooms you go into and do all kinds of shit just ruins it for playing blind, the game was probably designed to sell magazines, so do consider using a walkthrough whenever you feel frustrated with the random "what the fuck do I do" BS. Still, I do think that in the right frame of mind and with enough patience it could be enjoyable without ever using a guide, too, but definitely not for most.

20

Gradius


The original Gradius is one of the most influential shmups of all time. It was a revolutionary game that completely changed the market. How does it hold up today? Well... It's not without its charm, and obviously its importance can't be understated, but I don't consider it a great game personally. To begin with I'm more of a vert-guy than a hori-guy, but even just talking horis, you can do a lot better than Gradius. Darius Gaiden, any Parodius game, Gundemonium Recollection, Harmful Park, DeathSmiles, Ordyne, Sengoku Blade and X-Multiply are some examples of horis that I would rather play than Gradius. Also, I think the Gradius series improved with later entries, and you don't need to play the first one before the later ones. This first game does a remarkably solid job at introducing its mechanics. Where I think the second game improved significantly has to do with the design of the levels and the bosses, making it more engaging, more immersive, and just better all around. I'd say as important as this game is, it's not really an essential game to have played unless you really want to know your shmup history. If you do wanna try it out, you might be pleased to find that it's not especially hard for an arcade game. It's good to learn how to control the rank, and to learn a few safespots first, but as long as those bases are covered, it's a pretty suitable game for beginners. As for people looking for a bigger challenge, well, the game loops infinitely, so have fun with that...

21

Gunbird 2


Gunbird 2 is perhaps the definitive Psikyo Shooter. It's not my personal favourite, but it does contain everything you would expect from Psikyo, and I mean that in the best way imaginable. Sure enough, some people don't enjoy their style of shooting. It's simple, fast paced and to the point. Psikyo games are often considered to rely on more memorization than most other shooters, which some people say is unfair. Don't take this for a hard fact. While I wouldn't deny that Psikyo's style is quite memory reliant, at the same time, It's usually quite easy to learn and remember what to do in their games when you're starting out. Gunbird 2 is only 15 minutes per loop with short stages that won't take long to memorize. Make no mistake though, the game is quite brutal. Don't let the wacky content fool you, this is one of the hardest STGs out there at least on a surface level.

So let's go over some of the Psikyo trademarks all present in Gunbird 2. Well first of all we have the wonderful cast. 6 (1 secret) characters to choose from which all play the game completely differently. They have unique options, bombs, charge attacks and melee attacks. Next we have the crisp visuals which prioritize functionality. Gunbird 2 is a quite nice looking game, but the pretty backgrounds does not come at any cost like in some other STGs, it's extremely easy to make out all the bullets and enemies, all the while marveling at the colorful visuals in general. We have FAST bullets, and some nice pretty looking patterns as well. See the 2nd loop for some lightning speed. Awesome! We have out-of-nowhere lasers. Get killed once, man up, dodge them next attempt. We have awesome seamless boss transformations. SERIOUSLY. These bosses are so fucking radical. My favourite is the 5th boss, especially in the 2nd loop that boss is soooooo cool. Finally we have that simple-yet-fun item chaining mechanic. In GB2 you can uncover coins on the ground which spin around. If you collect them while they're flashing white, that increases your chain, keep doing this and the value of the coins goes up. I really prefer these coins, or the medals in Strikers 1999, to the gold bars in Strikers 1945 II, since those don't have spinning animations. We also have this very friendly mechanic where you don't die if you collide with enemies, but rather, they eat up one shot power level.

It can't be understated how perfect the character variety is. This is something Psikyo really understood how to do in general, though. I think my favourite character is Aine, who is very melee oriented. Speaking of melee, that's an important part of Gunbird 2. All characters have a charge gauge that they build up over time by shooting stuff, and you can spend your charge either on a charge attack, which can be used from a distance, or a melee attack. Most characters have more powerful melee attacks, but sometimes you may prefer to attack from afar. You should often rely on your melee to take out enemies before they start to flood the screen, that's how you need to play Gunbird 2 in general. Like, bosses and big enemies usually have patterns that you'll never get to see because you should be killing them before they can even use them. The character balance is just really good in general. Valpiro is slow and difficult to maneuver through the game, but to account for this he has incredible charge and melee attacks. Aine is fast and has a strong melee, but a very weak and narrow shot and charge attack. Tavia is overall well balanced, and her melee can actually cancel bullets in a small area right in front of her. Their bombs function differently as well, so there's all kinds of things to consider when choosing who to play as. No character is perfect, and you will need to change your strategies depending on who you play cause they're all so different. The game balance, accounting for all its aspects, is overall very clean and professional. Also, there's a character that's unique to the Dreamcast port called Morrigan, she looks awesome but I've only played the original arcade game...

One thing I don't like much is how stingy GB2 is with lives. This is every Psikyo game ever, BTW. You get ONE extend. That's it. Sure, you can rack up a bunch of bombs, but if you want to score high you're supposed to save as many bombs as you can and no-miss the game anyway... I dunno, I prefer playing STGs where there's a lot of room to take risks but at the same time making a single error doesn't necessarily trash your entire run. Basically, GB2 is a very survival-y game where the scoring, outside of coin chaining, kind of sucks. Going over some of it, there's this really tedious high level milking technique which really bogs down the game, but is obviously necessary if you want to compete with the records. There's also hidden gemheads that you shoot to collect gems... If I'm not mistaken, there are a lot of times where you want to get lucky to collect as many of these as the game allows without sacrificing score elsewhere. Finally, I simply don't like survival-reliance to score. NMNBing the game gives you most of your score, and dying a single time sends your run in the trash. You get 100K points, which is a lot in this game, by collecting a bomb once you have a max bomb stock. Then, you get another 100k points for every bomb you have when you beat the whole game (both loops). This is like almost ~2 mil just from collecting bombs and the max score is just a bit over 5 mil. Coin chaining or other forms of scoring don't actually give you a whole lot. All things considered this isn't really my type of game to go all out in...

If you want a real hardcore challenge, then you could attempt to learn the second loop. The second loop in most Psikyo shooters are designed to bully the player. These loops mean business. Basically, every stage is 10x harder than any stage in the previous loop, and enemies fire nasty suicide bullets. The clear bonus comes after you've completed the 2nd loop IE the whole game, so yeah, have fun. No seriously, Gunbird 2, as hard as it is, is really fucking fun. The atmosphere is also about fun, I mean just look at those silly endings. All characters have 2 unique endings, and all character pair combinations during co-op have their own endings. Several of these endings can be, well... inappropriate, let's put it that way.

Ha, Ha, Ha...
Nothing beats being fat!

22

Gun.Smoke


Ahh, Gun.Smoke, my favourite oldie and hands down one of the most intense game ever created. Are you feeling masochistic? Then Gun.Smoke is for you, beginners at STG may struggle just to beat 1 or 2 stages, and there's 10 stages here. Gun.Smoke is the embodiment of the "survival" aspect of STG. This is fucking war. You can only count on yourself, and every single dude on the screen is clearly scheming to get you in some way. You have your wits, reflexes and your guns, and you better fucking clear out the bad guys before they gang up on you. The baddies in Gun.Smoke are unlike baddies in other STG. You can't fucking predict them at all! Sure, they may shoot their bullet straight for the most part, so if you didn't know any better you might think well, just herd the bullets like in any other old school STG. No, the problem in Gun.Smoke is that actually killing the enemies and surviving is a real handful. Enemies move erratically, they're unpredictable almost to a degree where you could deem them intelligent. If you let things get out of hand, all of a sudden you have 2 or 3 guys running around behind you, and more and more incoming assholes from the sides and top of the screen. It's up to you to retain control of the game and go after and kill everything you see as soon as you can.

Shooting in Gun.Smoke isn't easy. Usually shooting is the easier part of a shooting game and dodging the harder part. In Gun.Smoke, that's arguable. You only shoot two tiny bullets and they disappear long before they reach the other side of the screen, furthermore, enemies literally come out of fucking everywhere. Gun.Smoke was designed to let you deal with this by giving you the ability to shoot not only forward, but also towards the sides. All in all, there's 5 different angles for you to shoot. Button one shoots more to the left, button three more to the right, and button two shoots straight forward. You can even press button 1 and 2 or 2 and 3 at the same time for extra accuracy, making up 5 angles. Heck, you can press button 1 and 3 to shoot one bullet left and one bullet right, but at that point there's probably too much to keep track of.

Powering up in Gun.Smoke feels pretty natural, you can power up your speed, your shot speed, and your shot distance. Probably the most essential item is the horse, most stages have this item, and it lets you take a bunch of free hits until you lose it. There are lots of different kinds of enemies, and the stage layouts are both varied and honestly ingenious. It's a western-styled game and that comes across magnificently. Oh, and the boss fights are pure mayhem. Each boss is accompanied by a constant onslaught of enemies. You'll spend more time dealing with those enemies than you can get shots at the boss himself. The bosses really get your adrenaline going. Though honestly, they went too far with the final boss, the proper way to fight just feels annoying. Going through the game does feel like a proper adventure. At the start of each stage, you're shown a wanted poster of the boss you're after. Adventure might be putting it lightly though, it's more like a one-sided war. You against the world. I just love that kind of feeling. Few games really make you feel like you're all alone and everything's gonna kill you. Some people say something like Super Metroid makes them feel like that, but I reserve my feelings for Gun.Smoke.

The game is not without its flaws, but they're flaws that seem so small when you get caught in its pace. The barrels that hold items are needlessly difficult to kill, and knowing the contents is simply a matter of memorization. Most barrels are empty and makes you waste valuable time you could've spent clearing out enemies. Say barrels were shot down faster, in that case it wouldn't hurt quite so much if you didn't know what was inside, but as it is, that is a definite flaw. Another flaw is that the way the bosses take damage is unlike other shmups and it just doesn't work well. It's awkward and unreliable. Damaging a boss should be a lot more reliable. There are some bosses that are always vulnerable, but with most of them it's a crapshoot. The scoring is also broken, but that is to be expected of such an old game. There are infinite extends, as well as checkpoints, a bad combination. If I'm not mistaken you can fight the bosses forever and milk the enemies. There is also an infinite checkpoint milk in stage 6 where you can collect an extend item, kill yourself, and go back and redo it.

Gun.Smoke is a classic sadistic game, and the most enjoyable game by Capcom to me. It's a game that you simply have to play if you're up for it, but I do recognize that it's going to be too damn difficult to appreciate for a lot of people. If you try to overcome the difficulty, you will find a game of pure genius design and nearly unmatched intensity. The 6th stage is one of the coolest stages ever, so you're in for a wild ride if you can make it that far.

23

Guwange


I would say that the games CAVE made after DoDonPachi and before DDP DOJ seem kind of experimental and uncertain, CAVE reached consistent levels of refinement with their PGM trio (DDP DOJ, Kets, Galuda) but I think some of these older and I guess weirder games are pretty underrated, especially Guwange and Dangun Feveron, with Guwange being my favorite CAVE game period. But what makes Guwange so damn good can be kind of difficult to really understand, although this is certainly the case with a lot of these more hardcore and scoring oriented shmups that CAVE has specialized in, Guwange in particular is just such a weird game for CAVE and such a weird shooter in general. Don't fret, if you're one of those who doesn't get Guwange, hopefully you can understand some of its qualities better after reading this review (can't guarentee that you'll agree that these are good qualities, though!)

The first few times I played Guwange it ended up my least favorite CAVE game, period. I really don't know what I was thinking but I can kind of understand how that happened. Firstly I was new and not smart/good enough to interpret these games very well. Other than the very tip of the iceberg being possibly quite likeable if you're really into the feudal setting and Japense folklore, I don't see Guwange's genius being anywhere near obvious unless you spend a a bit of time acquiring the taste for it or unless you are a veteran who can interpret just how fucking ridiculously good the stage design it. Now, I do think that CAVE in general have the tightest stage design in the entire genre, but a lot of their games aren't quite to my tastes. Guwange is precisely my taste both in terms of its mechanics and its stage design, which I think in both cases, is the best CAVE has ever done. The game looks and sounds really good to boot which is a very effective way of drawing in new players, although I still like ESP.Ra De the best in terms of aesthetics when it comes to CAVE's games, Guwange would be my 2nd choice. I don't actually find most of CAVE's games very pretty, but in Guwange it hard not to stare in awe at the spectacle.

Prettiness aside, that's obviously not what you play a shmup for so let's get into the nitty gritty. How the hell do you play a weird game like Guwange? I think the controls are going to take some getting used to just to play the game on any level, even ignoring how deep the scoring is. There's three characters in Guwange which aren't especially different in how they play, they have slightly different characteristics but they all share the same bomb. Shishin's main shot tilts towards the side when you're moving towards the side, like the Helicopter in DP. Kosame is really fast. Gensuke is pretty slow but his shots is penetrative. To be honest I've just stuck with Kosame because I saw SWY using her. They all have different shikigami. Guwange has a system where you can either move around freely while shooting normally, or focus to bring out your shikigami (spirit), in which you can only move slowly and horizontally, and you'll be controlling your shikigami (which moves around freely) at the same time. The shikigami is useful for a lot of things, and the there are a lot of differences between shooting normally and using the shikigami, and I'm not going to cover every little thing in this review, I'll just cover some of the basics here. Controlling the shikigami results in a kind of "painting mode". Think of it like controlling a brush where you are trying to paint the bullets. Bullets under the effect of shikigami will change color and slow down, and explode into autocollected coins around dying targets. It will also propel the skull meter upwards. Keeping the skull meter high results in better coin acquisition, and when the meter is maxed, you can leech coins just from shooting enemies normally. If the meter drops completely, you have lost your coin chain. The higher your coin chain is, the more score you will get from each coin, and the chain does not reset between stages... the chain is kept throughout the entire game. So to play Guwange for score, never dropping the chain is the first step, since doing so will instantly trash your run. The next step is to increase your methodical ability to maximize your coin count at all points, which leads to some very deep routing what with the deep skull gauge control, painting controls and bullet cancelling structure. There ends up being quite a bit of multitasking and the scoring is so fluid like it's alive, you have to think about each little part of the stage as its own little puzzle, as a series of actions executed just right segues into new possibilities. For more information about how deep Guwange's scoring is there are other more proper resources than a silly little review.

Even just playing for survival is a really unique experience since the shikigami can be used so freely, slowing down and cancelling bullets as you want. You also have to take care when not using the shikigami because you will take twice as much damage then. In Guwange, you don't just die in one hit, you have a small healthbar for each life. Getting hit by most things while not in shikigami mode will drain half the healthbar, while getting hit by most things with the shikigami out will drain 1/4th of it. Another reason why Guwange is so unique is its stage design which is as good as it gets. The stages don't have "waves" of enemies, rather each stage has brief unique portions (often with enemies that you'll only seen in that portion) that seamlessly lead to new portions unlike anything else in the game. Each stage is a good example of this and I would say in particular the last stage is really ambitious. There are all kinds of unique enemies here both in terms of their structural purpose and their appearance, and the design is without a doubt masterful. Another great thing about Guwange's stage design is that it's not just a... pure bullet hell shooter? It actually is full of stage hazards whereas bullet hell games normally just give you total freedom to move wherever you want on the screen and reduces the hazards to just bullets or an equivalent to bullets, and enemies. Guwange's stages have bridges and houses and mountains and and lakes that get in your way, and although it is a vertical shmup, the screen will sometimes be scrolling in other directions (often horizontally). This part of the game is also something that could've resulted in failure but the guys at CAVE were geniuses and somehow designed the best stages in the history of gaming.

I can't stress enough how good the stages are. The first stage is a little slow but starting from the 2nd stage there is no end to the amount of genius of Guwange. The third stage is also, from a more subjective standpoint (talking about visuals and atmosphere) just beautiful beyond words. Guwange melds its artistic triumph so well with the gameplay, too, it's almost unreal at times how they nailed it so well. I haven't even talked about the bosses yet, either! A big draw of danmaku games tends to be the boss fights and Guwange unfortunately falters just a little bit in this area. It still has my favorite bosses in a CAVE game, but the bosses aren't as good as the stages. The first boss is pretty boring, but the third boss, the catspider, is fantastic (and in a a scoring run, probably one of the hardest bosses ever lol). The final boss is also without a doubt one of the best CAVE has made. Each form transformation is so different and the final form is some scary fucking shit. The bosses in Guwange tend to have some randomness in the patterns as opposed to something more structured and memorizable. Not Touhou levels of randomness but still something quite chaotic for a CAVE game. If this isn't your thing, that might be a flaw in the game, but I actually like this a lot, which is why Catspider scoring is so fun to me. Fuck that damn house in stage 4 though, that boss is boring as shit.

Guwange has a lot going for it just from a casual standpoint with gorgeous setpieces and unique detailed stage design where each small part effortlessly transitions into something entirely new and different but while still retaining an undeniable flow. Thematically and in terms of mood it has earned its place. What really sets the game apart for me is the depth of the scoreplay and how tight the stages end up being from this standpoint, and how damn fun and fascianting it is to just play. In terms of mechanics and stage design, Guwange is a major masterpiece that every shmup fan needs to have tried out, but do beware that it is a bit of an acquired taste and a pretty experimental work from CAVE. It just ended up being an experiment that worked out so well you can only call it stunning. Guwange is a masterpiece of bullet hell that could both wow casuals and keep the score runners playing for years and years.

PS: I do not condone the existence of the coin leeching technique on bosses as it does nothing good for the game. All it does is ruin your hand. Too bad about this unfortunate mechanic.

24

Hanachirasu


Should've been a kinetic novel. The last chapter of the first playthrough was actually rather profound, I think, but nothing else here wowed me. There's a very fine understanding of the characters which have gone completely off rails. Respectable, but only for fleeting moments. Fight depictions, again, are respectable and it tells a fine story, the story is just buried in inaccessibility in the form of jarring infodumps and an obsessive attention to detail at times. No doubt some people like that, but if we're comparing this to Kikokugai, that one had amazing flow, this one is fucked. I also don't like the music as much as Kikokugai.

Not a bad VN but I was hoping to get more out of this (Nitroplus and all)

25

Heroes of Might & Magic III


Essential link for enthusiastic players: https://drive.google.com/f...GRm/view?pli=1

It's funny how the excellent HoMM2 got such an otherworldly sequel and that it is hardly cared about due to that. Let's imagine a world where HoMM2 never got any sequels. It'd be a great, timeless classic. Yet here we are and this game is infintely better. Everything has been improved on, countless features and immense nuance has been added, everything is bigger and better. This is probably one of the greatest games ever made, it is the perfect pick for dreamers and strategists, as it will both provide you with a sense of timeless wonder and brilliance, as well as engage you with deep strategy. It is obvious that there is a lot of content, but I think that if you approach it from a competitive & skillful play angle, anyone would be surprised by the depth. Though, I'm not going to kid you, it is quite unbalanced. I don't think it takes away so much from the genius here, but it's still a bit of a shame.

If you are new to the game, then just the campaigns, scenarios, and self-imposed challenges can keep you engaged for at least 100s of hours, possibly much more. If you want true longevity, then try playing it with other people. It is potentially a huge timesink. Still, It's the feeling that is especially important to me. There is so much to say about it. There are so many reasons why this game is such an addiction. HoMM3 pulls you into a new world. HoMM3 is pure existence.

26

Hishouzame


Hishouzame, also known as Flying Shark, is as classic as classic Toaplan gets, it was a huge influence on future vertical shooters, including the beloved Raiden series. It set the benchmark for future Toaplan titles, and got heaps of forgettable imitators. You can see that the core idea of what makes a good designed classic vertical shooter is all here. The problem that arises is whether this kind of game is really enough? I didn't put a whole lot of time into it but quickly ran into a situation common for these games: long credits consisting of repeating loops. See, this was really common for shooters back then, that they would loop infinitely. Over time, devs would more often reduce the loops to a finite number and finally more and more of them gained the sense to not loop the game at all.

It's as simple as it gets. You control a slow moving plane and shoot down meticulously placed enemy tanks, boats, planes and turrets, all of which shoot relatively fast aimed bullets. As such the gameplay consists of shooting down enemies and streaming their bullets. Powering up your shot is essential and the main difficulty is recovering after you die since your shot is too weak afterwards to kill stuff in the loops, which means you'll have to carefully plan your bombs. The game doesn't exactly have bosses, but that's down to interpretation, as there are a couple of particularly large foes. Hishouzame does have a mechanic that becomes more important as you engage with the game more, where you can blow off the top of tanks and boats, which means the enemies aren't "dead" per se. They'll still absorb your shots until fully destroyed, but they can't actually shoot you any more.

Although it's a great game for its time, my issue with it is the aforementioned looping and simplicity. There isn't really a scoring system besides just playing as far as possible. Once you've memorized playing the game on max power, you can theoretically loop it infinitely, as the difficulty isn't that high and it stops rising after the 3rd loop, that's when the "deadzones" between you and ground targets are completely removed, and enemy bullets and shot frequency reach their max speed. Personally, I've made it to the 8th loop. Learning the recoveries isn't that bad, either, it's mainly just hard on the 5th stage. As far as Toaplan's shooters go, I'd say this is one of the better ones and possibly the most influential as well. The style may seem generic, but the catchy triumphant music so common in Toaplan's games serves as a good motivator to go on. Also, it is a pretty damn fun game, it just doesn't have enough longevity to get a higher rating from me. It's quite similar to Kyukyoku Tiger / Twin Cobra, and Same! Same! Same! / Fire Shark, though the Japanese versions of those games are tougher than Hishouzame, they're not necessarily tougher in a good way. I believe all of these games have significantly easier Western versions (especially Fire Shark)

A solid classic game that I would recommend to have a look at, but don't expect to be blown away by it. It's a good game to play to ease yourself into this style of STG.

27

Ib


I've binged on these RPGmaker horror games in the past, and I think Ib was hands down just better in every way than all of the similar titles I've played. I would still recommend some of the others, such as Paranormal Syndrome which was had some legitimately great qualities, but I would much sooner point to Ib than any of its contemporaries that I've played. I'm not counting Yume Nikki-likes or Toilet in Wonderland as contemporaries, BTW.

In Ib you play as a little girl who gets lost in an art museum which turns into a living nightmare. The art museum and story is certainly a rabbit hole. You will probably move fairly effortlessly through the world, which is pretty linear, solving easy (but not completely trivial) puzzles along the way. I wouldn't go into it expecting much challenge to get in the way or much depth to the gameplay and puzzles, but there's just barely enough there to have you use your brain every once in a while. The contents aren't too scary. It's short, but there's a good variety in the areas & NPCs you find along the way, and the story is very good for what it is. It's fairly subtle and relies well on both atmosphere and the narrative.

Ib doesn't have much in the way of gimmicky deaths and jump scares like some of the other RPGmaker games do, like Witch's House. I'm not really against that approach necessarily, I think it worked well in Witch's House and in Toilet in Wonderland particularly, but the thing is that just throwing surprise deaths at you all the time isn't usually scary, it's actually just comical. I can think of many games that use this kind of thing with the clear intention of being silly or parodying something else, but what place does it have in an atmospheric horror game? In Ib, more or less forced deaths like this would undermine the story and the atmosphere. Like a good horror game, Ib is more reserved, and the dread and unease is sometimes very subtle. My favorite ending in the game is the best example of this. Ib doesn't often threaten to kill the player, it gives you more room to breathe rather, and I think this was a good choice. Ib is perhaps arguably more surrealistic than horror, but I'd say it's a mixture of both and while playing it, you do get more interested in the characters, due to their placement in their surroundings. You don't really know to which extent you can trust them, there are many reasons to be wary of them, and that makes the experience all the more immersive. The museum itself is even a strong character.

Although I called it a surrealistic horror game, the game is actually quite touching and the author has here attempted to display genuine humanity and bonding, something which I find to be rare in videogames. Ib is one of the first games I would point to when searching for sympathetic characterization and storytelling. The overall direction is quite artistic, as well, though the visuals are so-so. I very much enjoy the warmth of the story within the nightmarish setting, and that makes the actual horrible parts that much more effective. I would highly recommend Ib if you think anything I've said so far sounds interesting, because although I won't guarantee an amazing game, I find it hard to imagine that anyone interested in Ib's contents wouldn't enjoy it on some level. To me, it's a great game, but I'm on the fence on calling it fantastic. Perhaps a replay is in order to decide that. For a silly little RPGmaker game, I also must compliment some of the music, which can be either genuinely evocative (olddoll is splendid, and NoOneInSight wouldn't be out of place in Yume Nikki) or comfortable... humanistic even (HideAndSeek is probably the track that I bonded with most.)

Ib has quite a lot of endings for such a short game, much care went into these, and it would be a chore to play through the game multiple times just to see them all, but I think it's important to experience all these endings as they're a big part of the game. If you played through the game once and only saw 1 ending then go back to it at some point because you missed out. Make sure to watch videos of all the endings, at least, if you don't want to bother getting them all legitimately (I didn't). Really. My favorite is A Painting's Demise, easily one of the best endings to any game I've played. Thinking about this game some more, Ima have to raise my rating, but I have yet to replay it.

28

Katawa Shoujo


Katawa Shoujo is probably one of the more underrated games that I love. It does seem to have a dedicated following (that I've been completely uninterested in checking out, mind you) but weebs seem to be less taken with it. It could be because it is Western, or it could be because some of the character-driven content is more about disconnection than easy relatability. Normally the school setting appears to be used for fluffier contents, waifus, and mundanity. The characters here can be a bit more complex than the usual VN heroines and the game won't always spell this out for you (see Rin, especially, but also Shizune and Lilly). The imperfect protagonist Hisao is also not a character you will always "like" but this is another one of the charms of playing Katawa Shoujo.

The art style is certainly a more westernized Japanese style, which is normally repulsive, but in Katawa Shoujo it is in fact cute. It is downright beautiful when it comes to some of the CGs. There is real heart poured into this game, you get the feeling that everyone involved really tried their hardest to create this work just as it is, and not to pander. The soundtrack, as well, makes for a very cosy experience. Some of the music sounds like ass (anything involving violins, for one) but most of it is really nice, quite a lot is actually great and does a lot for the general atmosphere. Stride is probably my favorite track here, it gives you an uniquely tense yet melodic sensation, like time is always ticking forward, like something important, unseen, is always going on outside of your vision or perspective.

I'm sure you're already familiar roughly with what the game is "about". Dating disabled girls. Though, it should be mentioned, that it is not a dating sim in any way, just the typical galge except with the clear twist that it takes place in a school for the disabled. The protagonist suffers from a heart condition and it is doubtful that he'll live past 30.  The setting and main heroines all come alive in my opinion but the side characters often fill no important role. The "friend" you meet is nothing but wacky comic relief, though he is without a doubt better at this role than most such characters, and has his moments. The other side characters have more or less pointless roles other than the occasional preaching, to make sure less intelligent or mature readers can follow (the librarian is the best example here). The setup is normal, you're in a school, in the first chapter you meet some girls, and depending on which choices you make the next chapters will follow the "route" for that girl. Furthermore, you keep making choices in the routes, there's usually plenty of them, and they might lead you towards a good or bad ending (though there are also neutral endings for some girls)

Katawa Shoujo has 5 heroines: Rin (armless painter), Emi (legless runner), Hanako (scarred and traumatized) Lilly (blind and laid back) and Shizune (deaf and bossy). After giving out this rough outline of the characters you might think the game's trying too hard to contrast the character with their disability but honestly I wouldn't worry about that whatsoever, that's only really a bit objectionable in Emi's route but not in a particularly annoying way. For the most part I'd say the characterization and storytelling is quite heartfelt.

So now that that's out of the way, I'd like to talk a bit more about the different routes in particular, avoiding spoilers and all as much as I can. So I have to mention this very important fact first. Katawa Shoujo is a very uneven game. Each route was written by a different person and Rin's route is by far and away the best one. The others will not come anywhere near, and so my high rating is because I found Rin's route very moving. The others are definitely a bit more of a mixed bag although I would say I like all routes except Shizunes. The contents and tone of the different routes all feels different, the writing style is different, and I think most notably, Hisao's personality is different.

Hanako's route is straight forward and easy to understand. On my first read-through, I felt a tad underwhelmed by it until the ending, but upon a reread I find it a bit better. The main issue on this route is that Hisao is very difficult to cope with and that it spends a bit too much time preaching to the reader about something that is more or less obvious. When it comes to its portrayal of Hanako, I think it succeeds at what it's trying to do, but when it comes to the portrayal of Hisao, it is tedious having to accept how stupid he is. I think Hanako's route has two key points that truly impressed me. There is one scene that takes place in the classroom, Hanako has a nervous breakdown of sorts, she's frozen in place, unable to move or act or do anything. At this point the reader is given a chance to understand Hanako's condition firsthand. This scene is effective and made me feel like I was right there in that classroom, just as unable to grasp the sheer scope of Hanako's emotions as Hisao, yet still witnessing this seemingly unreal culmination of emotions and events. The other impressive part of this route is the good ending which is simply put a fantastic climax that is effective and even poetic in its brief simplicity. I find it really moving, honestly. It's definitely a shame that the bulk of the route is only vaguely interesting and has some rather uninspired writing and that the main point is unsubtly spelled out to you throughout, that is until the ending comes along and makes things more interesting. Somewhat mundane route, but the best parts makes it good and well worth the time.

Emi's route is another good one, but still has some really glaring flaws. This route could've in fact been great if it hadn't been so goddamn stupid much of the time because Emi is really likeable and the contents of the first half are the kind that makes you giddy. It's just fun to see everyone so happy and carefree for a while. Then, things gets more dramatic and at this point you have to slog through some really dumb stuff. Especially, a dramatic turn of events that takes place at Emi's home. This part was I think the most cringeworthy part of the entire novel, very bad writing, absolutely nothing makes sense if you think about it for even 1 second, it's very clear that this is the definition of forced drama. The subplot with the nurse gets stupid, too. Actually, there's a gimmick used to forward the drama in general in Emi's route that was also used in Hanako's route, but in Hanako's route this gimmick made sense and in Emi's it just feels out of place. Overall, Emi's route is more actively enjoyable than Hanako's, but it has more stupid stuff in it, can be annoyingly dramatic and a bit preachy, and lacks impressive material.

Lilly's route is the "good" route that I feel the least for. To me, it just never really comes together. Some of the events are clumsily written, such as the confession and following H-scenes, and the endings, which are just trying too hard. On the other hand, I do sorta like how Lilly is written. She has some flaws that come as a surprise, which is nice since because otherwise I wouldn't really have liked her character. For the most part, the route is just generally decently enjoyable. Not a lot of highs, not a lot of lows. It just gets a bit contrived sometimes.

Shizune's route is definitely the worst one, because I think the writer didn't really know what they were doing. It does have its good points, but it is quite tedious and has a lots of awkward events that either feels forced or is just a weird attempt at doing something it fails at doing, like being funny, etc... The trip to Shizune's dad strikes me as utterly pointless, and the subplot with Misha is fairly annoying. Also how fucking fast can Hisao learn sign language. Anyway, on the good side, I like how Shizune is written and I like this route's take on romance as being fleeting. I like the uncertain relationship in this route, but I just don't like the route.

Rin's route is amazing. Absolutely wonderful and almost life-changing. Are most people going to agree with me? No. Just getting that out of the way right now. In order to really get this route you need to have a certain empathic nature that many people don't have. You need to be empathic towards what you do not understand, towards people that do not fit into society, toward people that might appear unlikeable but are really suffering. It might help if you're a bit of an outsider yourself or if you have a lot of experience with people with mental illnesses and trying to understand and accept them as best you can. This route is all about troubled, disconnected people that cannot find their place in the world, and when I talk about how great Katawa Shoujo is you can count on that this is the part I'm referencing. In this route, Hisao is quite different from in the other ones. His love is of the frustrating kind, because he's confused and doesn't understand Rin. Rin is genuinely a mystery and is at first written in such a way that she might come across as simply quirky, but it doesn't take too long until it's evident that there's a lot more to her than that. You could say that her quirkiness is the crowdpleaser part of the route, something to entertain the people that aren't going to get how deep this is anyways, and I wouldn't say this part of her makes the route any less amazing, but it definitely serves as a Wall built to make less understanding readers judge her character the wrong way. The real meat of the route is utterly obscure. On the surface, Rin's issues are about self expression, She has trouble getting her thoughts across and it's often hard to understand what she's really saying. Her painting serves as a contrast to this, to assure the reader that she has other means to express herself through art, and so the simplest conclusion to reach, is that she's a stereotypical misunderstood outsider artist or something. But really, there's not all that much to the "art" part of the route. This part is completely dependant on character development and doesn't really express anything new by itself. What does Rin really suffer from? Some could make an educated guess and say alexithymia fits her pretty well, but I think just settling on one answer is missing the point. Another thing that you see on the surface is that her personal crisis is clashing with personal love, leading to various misunderstandings and dramatic developments. Still, I implore you to try to get "closer" to this work. Pay close attention to the things she says, and to her relationship with Hisao, and I find that there's so much more here, such wonderfully written characters. These are real people, I feel close to these two. Hisao is the one you're following, and from his perspective, Rin is just an enigma that he loves, cares for but cannot understand. Oftentimes the easiest way to make a character unreadable and enigmatic is to limit their actions, limit their lines, limit their facial expressions. Rin has not been artifically limited by anything yet she is still incredibly obtusely written. I normally connect better with characters that don't act, that don't talk, that you observe more than you listen to. Rin is such a winner because she does act and it does work. As someone who has been very confused when in love before as well, I can completely relate to Hisao in this route.

There are several parts that are moving. I think the most moving part is the Neutral ending which is just so fucking sad and beautiful. Absolutely chilling and heartbreaking, I could safely say that this is one of my most beloved moments in anything ever. It really shattered me. There are other parts that really, really got to me, like when they take turns smoking, or when they walked around aimlessly at night. I felt such a deep connection to this work, really, to me it's up there with something like Un homme qui dort (1974 french film) in its sheer emotional value. Though, if I'm going to be picky, I would say this is perhaps not quite as perfect as that. Nonetheless, If you are empathic, if you feel misunderstood, disconnected, like everything's meaningless, overwhelming and confusing, if you can get emotional about what's beyond your understanding, read this. Read this route in Katawa Shoujo. Skip all the others if you want but at least read this one.

So if I were to grade the routes individually, I would say something like this:
Rin: 10/10 - Essential
Hanako: 6/10 - Good
Emi: 6/10 - Good
Lilly: 5/10 - Fine
Shizune: 3/10 - Poor

So in the end, I love this work mainly for 1/5th of it, but thankfully the rest is quite nice in its own way, even the worst route is not without its good points. It's also really different from Japanese VNs. It doesn't pander much, and it has a very comfortable mood. It does preach at times, so beware of that, but I would warmly recommend this work and argue that it is a highly underrated VN. I think it has an oddly huge fandom, but I'm not a part of that. I'm talking about people that actually read more than 1 or 2 VNs tend to say this is overrated and not like it, making it actually underrated in my opinion.

29

Kikokugai - The Cyber Slayer


A pretty oustanding Cyberpunk & Wuxia evenge story. It's quite grim and IMO the ending gets a bit pretentious in the edgy way, but It's not like I wasn't ready for that kind of ending while reading this game. This is a VN without any interactivity besides reading the text, but I found the story to be engrossing and well written for what it is, and I thought the BGM was superb and effective, and some of the CGs were incredibly awesome. Most of the art actually grew on me pretty fast, at first I didn't think the artstyle was very good, but the more of it I saw the more it drew me in. I thought some of the character developments were rather silly, but that's about the only real problem. I never knew Cyberpunk in written form could be so cool. If you read this, you have to be ready for its edge of some concepts, it goes pretty far. It's absolutely a distasteful read, f you're fine with that it's a great story with some silly existentialism thrown in for good measure but mainly it is the height of hyper-masculine badassery, and with tons of atmosphere.

30

Mega Man 2


The ups and downs of Mega Man 2

The Mega Man series is fun, but it has some consistent flaws that makes it hard to say that I'm a big fan. Mega Man 2 is the game I played the most, so I'll just review this one. It's a great game in some ways, and heavily flawed in others. I think in order to give this a higher rating, I'd have to be focusing only on the speed running because at that point the critical flaws I have with it don't really matter much. Basically, if I were to play Mega Man 2 in a more serious manner, the rating would absolutely start going up, but no matter what happens, my rating will never go down. So imagine that my 2.5 star rating is the lowest I could see myself giving the game.

So in Mega Man you play as a goofy looking kid in a blue suit. Your objective is to run and jump through the stages and shoot down the enemy robots, ending with a boss fight, usually against a stronger robot. The first 8 bosses you face will award you with a new weapon after defeating them. These special weapons requires ammo, unlike the basic buster weapon. However, the ammo is usually more or less infinite because of how the game works. You also gain some bonus platforming items from the bosses. These items just creates a platform for you to stand on, one item is a platform flying to the right, another hovers upwards. The reason the ammo is infinite is because the game has atrocious balance. Health is also pretty much infinite. The weapons take very little ammo to use, especially Metal Man's weapon which is insanely powerful. It will never run out because it takes so little ammo and you get item drops everywhere. You won't run out of health because health drops are everywhere, as well. Casual play is way too easy for these reasons! The Mega Man mainstay is that certain items are extra effective against certain bosses. This is another huge flaw in the series and this game, which makes it laughably easy. As long as you play the bosses in a good order, you will always have a powerful weapon against the boss, defeating them instantly. The bosses almost all suck anyways, so the game just fails hard in this area.

Rather what I like about it is the stage design, the game feel such as the music, and the speed running tricks. Although Mega Man 2 is more basic than later entries, not even having the slide move, it has more than enough speed tricks to make it very interesting and challenging to play competitively. With its numerous awesome-looking zips and difficult platforming sections when going for optimized times, it is a very attractive game to speed run! The stages also have a nice clean design with several cool ideas and an amazing complementary soundtrack. Bubble Man's stage, Air Man's stage, Quick Man's stage, Wood Man's stage and even Crash Man's stage all feel great to play because of the platforming and music. Wily stage 1 is also a very memorable transition into the late game thanks to the music.

The Mega Man series might be flawed, but it's still full of good games if you give them a real chance and try not to be too critical. Looking past the flaws is something you'll learn to do anyways when looking specifically at Mega Man 2, since harder bosses or better weapon and drop balance wouldn't necessarily make the game a better speedgame. The movement tech is also sufficient for the game, I don't think a slide move would've made it any better. In fact, I really enjoy the platforming! I really enjoy Mega Man 2 in general, but I'm still at a bit of a loss of how exactly I am meant to rate it, which is how I feel about a lot of the games in the series. They're good games, but they could've been better designed. Rather, the fan game MegaMari is the one I really enjoy. That game is incredibly good and really ramps up the difficulty and the quality of stages and especially bosses. It also has better weapons than any Mega Man game, and you can control two different characters which both have unique weapons, so when you beat a boss you have to choose which character you want to buff and which weapon you want to have. so if you also wanted more out of the Mega Man games, then try out the fantastic game called MegaMari because Mega Man 2 and every other Mega Man game I've played leaves so much to be desired, and then MegaMari comes along and fulfills all of the desires that I had.

31

Pokémon Red / Blue


I was born 1990. Pokemon appeared in my life at a perfect age. I don't remember how exactly, but I got my hands on a comic, I think it was the same as an early episode of the Anime. Ash & Misty were going through Viridian Forest, Ash catches a Caterpie, and this seemingly useless bug destroyed Team Rocket. I was fucking awe-struck, noted that my brother had the game, and I told him to help me catch a Caterpie. Man that's how it all started!

Eventually I got my own copy of the game. In fact, I got so crazy about Pokémon, I bugged my mom enough about it to get a second copy later on so I had both Red and Blue. I mean, you only get 1 save file, and no way did I want to delete all my progress, but I still wanted to try out the other starters! I was playing on big clunky Game Boy, before GBC, that I somehow still have stored around here. It was fucking hard to light the screen well to really see what's going on. I was always aware of the need preserve batteries and not play the game too often. For this reason I tended to play with very low sound, maybe even totally muted. The batteries would last longer. I had some other Game Boy games, but as soon as I got Pokémon I would simply never ever touch them again.

Being that it was probably the first time I really got into playing an RPG, I was terrible. At first, I didn't even know about poké centers, so I couldn't progress very far, as I would repeatedly die. The game was also in English so I didn't understand half the dialogue (I was like 8 when I started playing, and I'm from Sweden). Even so, I got really into it, but I think it had more to do with the appeal of Pokémonsters, rather than the game itself. I was crazy about Pokémon, and could learn to name all 150 of them... When the show started airing on TV, I would watch every episode. I was even a purist, when Gold/Silver came out, I refused to play them, saying that Pokémon should only have 150 monsters. I couldn't stand looking at the new pokémon or acknowledge them. Yeah, just thinking about what sort of child I was leads to some introspection for sure. How much did I really change? I still feel like an elitist sometimes, but I really did try to change my mindset when I was growing up. Then again, maybe I wasn't wrong about Pokémon. Maybe I was just a clever kid, able to see through the cash grab intentions. Pokémon is a cash cow, they're milking it for all it's worth. No matter if you say the future games are better, who knows, maybe I had the right idea?

I don't know anything about Pokémon beyond Gen1 so let's just talk about Gen1. It's really quite awkward, isn't it? The movesets are unbalanced, and there's lots of weird quirks in the game with the types and effectiveness and lots of other things. The Pokémon sprites look really strange, I feel they're kind of iconic, but I mean I've just seen them so many times... when I was a kid, it wasn't rare that I would see a sprite, and have no idea what the fuck it was meant to look like. Oddish? I saw it as something completely different than what it actually was. The whole game is a really strange mix of something that was amazingly well planned out for a Game Boy title, think about just how damn rich this game is for the system, and awkward, amateurish execution of the actual game itself.

You start out as a young boy who leaves home to become a Pokémon trainer. While that sounds ridiculous to me now, when you're a kid playing, it sounds like the most heavenly adventure ever. Exploring the world to find monsters that will stand by your side and beat up other monsters? Sign me up! Over the course of the game, you find new areas, with their own designated Pokémon. Like, grass areas will have bugs, and trainers with bugs. Caves will have bats, rock pokémon, and trainers with such pokémon. The sea will have water pokémon and trainers with water pokémon. You get the picture, and this is something that SUCKS. Yes, you heard me. It's tedious as hell. Going through the game is simply tedium, nothing else to it. Does anyone over the age of 10 really think it's that fun to go through 10 trainers with the same shit in a row? Furthermore, the game is so badly balanced that it's a terrible strategy to play through it using more than 1 Pokémon. Sure, you'll want to carry a few others for various reasons, but you don't actually level them. Just level up your starter and tackle your way through the whole game. Actually catching new pokémon while intending to use them in fights also means you have to grind them up. Grinding is fun to who, again? If you're given a choice between spending hours grinding up a pokémon so it can be remotely useful, and just going through the game the natural way, what would you choose? As much as I just called the latter tedious, the former is FAR worse. To make things even less appealing, so many of the Pokémon are concentrated into the LATE-game, at the end stretch! Heck, there's even the worst attempt at a post-game ever. What the heck are you supposed to do with your pokémon after you've already beaten the game? Play competitively? LOL. There is no strategy involved in playing this game, at least not if you're not playing against other humans, so there is no real reason to try to pretend to be strategic by using a balanced team. Trust me. It's simply pretense, unless you're legitimately autistic to a degree that grinding pokémon could somehow be enjoyable.

See this is just not a game that ages well when you're no longer infatuated with the franchise. Such infatuation would cloud any kids' judgement. The trainers are terribly programmed. Same with the Gym Leaders. They simply don't make decent decisions with what they have. Oh, and this game is so full of quirks, bugs and exploits that it's honestly hilarious. As a kids' adventure game, yeah, it could be tons of fun. But is it actually a good game? Like, truthfully? No, it just isn't. It has charm, it's rightfully something to feel nostalgic about, but it isn't fun to play. I got over Pokémon rather quickly. It got stale. I couldn't get into the games after Red/Blue. In my early teens, I gave some halfhearted attempt to enjoy the game again during a trip. I was using Missingno. The idea was to have fun, but I couldn't. Then, 5-6 years ago, I learned to speed run this game to get some enjoyment out of it yet again. It was amusing for a while, moreso the social aspect of skyping with some friends also speedrunning. The actual game will always just be more tedious than fun, I feel that I have faith in my feelings now. I will never be able to have fun with this game again. However, I cannot deny the impact it had on my childhood. I will admit that the game world is amazingly well done for a Game Boy title and it was clearly appealing to anyone of the right age at that time. The sound design is pretty ace, and honestly, beating this game for the first time was one of the most memorable moments of my entire life. Dead fucking serious.

32

Quartett!


The worth it could've had is deflated by its frantic pace and short length. It's made up of so many small moments that are over before they are even given a chance to breathe and give life to this work. As such none of the characters are memorable and the overall story just comes across as inconsequential. It also has too many and really boring and dumb H scenes that don't fit at all, it's always the same pointless thing, feels like filler. I think there wasn't a single good H scene in the game. It's a shame about all the glaring flaws because there was real potential here. First of all it has the same pretty artstyle as Period (a game that was simply awesome) though sketchier with less attention to the detail, but there's a huge amount of art crammed in here due to its unique presentation. It's presented in a comic-like style with panels showing up one by one on the screen. Basically, the game is all CGs, you will get unique art thrown at you every moment of gameplay. IMO the artistic presentation is really good and it is the one saving grace of this work. Quartett was supposed to be a story about musicians, but the musicality in it is without a doubt weak, both conceptually and the BGM. It's a bit of a slice of life like Period but this one is more dramatic. The drama does have its moments, Charlotte's route almost manages to make something decent out of the writing, but the other two routes really struggle. Particularly Shuhua's route is just too ridiculous. The routes intertwine a ton, it's more like you're always playing a common route with a little differences in it depending on which girl you're after. So once you've read one, you will end up skipping a LOT.

Despite all this the amount of care that went into the presentation must be commended and I suspect it is the reason why the story is so rushed. Presenting the game in this way demands a lot of work, so the writing likely had to adapt to fit the pace set by the presentation. There are also times where the fast pace is to its advantage, and works really well with the comic panel style. Notably there are some really cute gags. Perhaps Quartett! would've worked better if it had a more comedy and/or lighthearted everyday focus, instead of all the plot-heavy drama which really demanded a slower pace and more care and attention to work. There is a complete lack of introspection or moments given to you to just think or feel. The game is all plot, eager to move the plot forward as soon as possible. In the end I wouldn't recommend Quartett! but I'm not too keen on completely dismissing it either, it's a mixed bag. If anything you could always play Charlotte's route and ignore the others since they'll have so much common ground anyway. Ooyari Ashito is an amazing artist and Quartett! can be an enjoyable experience on a purely superficial level.

33

Rocket Knight Adventures


Out of all the games I've played on the Genesis, Rocket Knight Adventures is easily the only one I'd call absolutely essential. Its flow, level design, art design, setpieces often involving bosses, music, and the gracefully implemented rocket mechanic are all so well done that I cannot consider Rocket Knight Adventures anything less than a masterpiece of a platformer. I also have to thank Rocket Knight Adventures for initially getting me into the speedrunning community, I picked it up back in 2011 after witnessing the GDQ 3-way race between Mike Uyama, Vorpal Edge and mike89, and it was a pretty friendly speedgame to pick up on the whole. Although I had done some running before, this is the game that got me involved with the community initially. So do keep in mind that this review, like most of my others, is written from the perspective of someone who is very interested in the depth of mechanics, how those relate to how the game was designed, and ultimately how you go about perfecting your gameplay and how rewarding of an experience this will turn out.

Leaving that aside for later, though, first I want to talk about and compliment the game's narrative, setting and the sense of adventure imposed on the player. I think Rocket Knight Adventures is a rare gem that really perfected and ultimately made something artistic and memorable out of the childish videogame formula of its time: chasing after the bad guys and saving the princess and the kingdom and all that crap. This game understands how to pull off a cinematic gameplay experience without boring you with cut scenes and the like. It's still pure gameplay. The game is very stylish and embraces brevity, yet has a lot of variation throughout. You play as Sparkster, an opossum knight wearing not only armor and wielding not only a sword, but he also has a rocket pack on his back and goggles for when he's flying... Sparkster is a very dynamic character with a variety of moves and wonderful animations, ranging from the sword cycle to how he dances cutely when standing still, to rocket spinning and flying. Sparkster is the hero of the game and that is communicated gallantly befitting of a rocket knight. In between each level there's a brief cut scene of maybe half a minute at most, the story is kinda building up each level showing glimpses of what's to come and providing mood. This part is a bit difficult to explain for me, but I can't think of any other childish console game from that era that does this as well as RKA did.

The regular gameplay involves jumping, slashing, and charging which allows you to release a rocket boost in 8 directions or to do a spin attack move. Boosting into some enemies will bounce you off of them while dealing damage whereas boosting through popcorns moves you through them. The boost does significant damage but in some cases you can get a lot more damage in by slashing at enemies pointblank as the damage system in the game is quite weird. Basically each part of your sword does damage so the more of your sword that hits the more damage you'll do. That's only true for some enemies, though. Other enemies die in one hit or need a certain amount of hits taken to die and hitting them normally makes them invulnerable for a while.

The segments of each level are generally gorgeously, professionally composed, and the transformation of the high fantasy setting to steam punk and space travel is ridiculously perfect. The first part of the third stage is really amazing. The crystal blocks your vision, but reflects the real action, so you use your reflection to make your way through. Beautiful visuals and well done gimmick. Most stages just relentlessly throw very brief little mini portions at you which are all totally unique ideas within the game. For example, the 2nd stage introduces swimming, and gives you a linear water path which is over in a matter of maybe 20 seconds. You fight a midboss, then there's a few enemy boats. Then there's like 5 seconds of vine climbing and then the game switches things up completely yet again by introducing a second layer of platforming behind the water. Use to platforms to be on one or the other side. The game throws another midboss at you where you have to utilize this mechanic. After this fight, that's it, that's the last you see of this idea. Now you're in a cave, avoiding spikes, killing bats. This cave is also over in an instant. Then there's a single screen of spikes at the top and bottom that move up and down, which is literally over in 2 seconds or so... Then you're outside, riding a minecart, platforming on minecarts and fighting pig guys with bombs and avoiding spikes. This is the only part of the stage that is actually more than 1 minute long. Then you fight a train boss while riding a minecart. The boss also has many variations with its phases, the most entertaining one being when you have to attack its arms. So that's the 2nd stage, it's only a few minutes long but the amount of ideas in it is just unbelievable. Most stages are like this. The bosses in general are fucking radical. You fight a lot of cool mechs in this game. At one point you're in a big mech yourself duking it out with your rival, Axel Gear. Axel Gear is an opposum knight just like you, except hes evil. That's all you really need to know. The final fight against him is pretty damn atmospheric.

The soundtrack is also perhaps my favourite ever. Especially the song for the 6th stage, that is my favourite video game song of all time. It's unlikely I would like RKA anywhere near as much without the god tier soundtrack. Pretty much all the stages have amazing music but especially the last 3 (part 1 for stage 5).

So to sum it up, RKA has an insane amount of ideas crammed in its short playtime, artistic and badass presentation, superb gameplay mechanics and great core gameplay in general, godlike flow and soundtrack, very replayable perhaps will be a little frustrating on the first playthrough though. God tier game. There are very few things about that that I don't like, mostly the boredom of some bosses on repeat playthroughs (3rd, 4th and 6th ones mainly get booooring in a speed run) and it just feels like as great as the game is, some more areas with that delicious "normal" gameplay would've been nice. It is both a good and bad speedgame simultaneously, as it is not quite as deep as the mechanics initially would have you believe. The game has so many unique ideas but in reality many of them result in some unfortunately stale speedrunning. So I both love this game yet I recognize that it is perhaps not suitable as a serious timesink.

34

R-Type


I think R-Type might be the most overrated shmup ever. I disliked it the first time I played it and now that I've learned to play it competently I still dislike it, and I am as confused as ever about what's supposed to be so fun about it. I admit I do like Vertical shmups more than Horizontal ones, but there's still plenty of Horis I love such as the Parodius and Darius games. The R-Type series seemingly got better later on as well (I haven't played them all, but Leo is pretty decent).

Mechanically R-Type offers several things of interest. There's 3 Different weapon pick ups you can switch between strategically when the game gives you the items (mainly the Blue lasers and red Beam, but I've seen that the Yellow flames can be used as an alternative in some places) as well as Bits (options above and below your ship, which are used both for offense and defense, as they can block enemy fire in addition to shooting). You can also use a charge attack which is rarely useful, but there are places where it is helpful, mainly due to its vertical size allowing it to hit things you can't hit normally. The most interesting thing though is the pod that you collect that you can put in front of or in the back of your ship. It increases your firepower and blocks enemy fire. Even better is that you can fire this pod forward and stick it in place, or command it back to your ship or collect it again. I really enjoy mechanics like these, so at least R-Type has something going for it.

Now, what sucks about R-Type is that the stage design is mostly just shit, and the bosses aren't exactly any better. Almost all the bosses are defeated by sitting in one spot and not moving your ship. If you must move your ship, you only need to do the bare minimum. Not dodge anything, not do anything strategic or interesting, just move around the boss until it's dead. The boss design is absolutely horrid. As for the stages, they are typically very boring. The first 5 stages give you barely anything to do, as not really moving your ship at all and just firing at whatever comes in your way will get you safely all the way to stage 6. All you need to do on the way is to remember if enemies ever come from behind you and fire backwards. So the first 10-15 minutes of the game are just a total bore. Then, suddenly there's a big difficulty spike in stage 6, which is a real memorizer. Although memorizing it doesn't take too long, I don't like stages like this one because it just feels too cramped and limiting to me. You have to play this stage exactly the way the game intends you to as most of the time you shouldn't move your ship at all. You have to hang out in tight vertical spaces where if you nudge up or down you'll collide with something. The whole stage is basically like this. Stage 8 (the final stage) sucks just as much as the first 5, as the solution is to not move your ship and just watch all the enemies die, and the boss is seriously awful. The only good stage in the game is stage 7, which is legitimately interestingly designed, with tons of little details and pitfalls, which becomes painstakingly apparent when you try to apply the checkpoint milk strategy on this stage. If you want a challenge from the game, then I would recommend learning the final checkpoint recovery (which is used to milk points from the boss before suiciding and redoing it). I wouldn't call it fun, but it is challenging, and I enjoy a good challenge. There are so many little details you have to perfect to make this checkpoint milk work, and it all comes across as having been intentionally designed that way, which I admire. It's like they designed this one part of the game to perfection. Your reward is reaching the 7th boss where you can score over 100,000 points by just sitting in one spot immobile and shooting for a minute, and killing some stuff the Boss puts out 9 times before killing yourself again. Anyway, after you beat the final stage, the game loops once. The 2nd loop isn't all that different from the first loop because the differences don't really change your core strategy.

Making matters worse is the brutality of recoveries. Recovering after a death is not something that was designed to be doable by casual players. It is unjustly difficult to recover in this game compared with just playing on one life (which is rarely difficult). I don't mind brutal checkpoint recoveries too much in games I enjoy, but since I don't enjoy R-Type due to how boring it is, dying is just annoying and makes me want to quit playing. Like I've mentioned, the challenge that comes from a recovery isn't really fun. You lose all your shipspeed and you have to, in all its turtle glory, play in a very very particular way to recover from some of the checkpoints. Recovering in R-Type is designed for patient experts. Just be aware of that if you ever want to get into this game.

As for other non-gameplay related stuff, I often hear people praise the visual direction of R-Type, but I honestly don't see what's so amazing about it. It looks pretty good, but it doesn't make a long lasting impression on me. Some of the stages have a cool style, but the enemy and boss designs are nothing special. I think X-Multiply is a more impressive looking Irem game. The music is pretty bad. I think a more creepy and atmospheric soundtrack would've been good for the game.

All in all, R-Type is a game with a few good points, but mostly I just dislike it. I find it difficult to focus on those good points because I just hate playing it. Some well done mechanics are just wasted on a game with such awful stage and boss designs, and the scoring system is as bad as anyone would expect.

35

SeaBed


A deeply resonating spiritual and psychological journey for dreamers and artists, for poets and romantics.

SeaBed is as much a spiritual experience as it is a quiet meditation on loss and on longing, on pain and on searching, on acceptance. The story is told through multiple perspectives and especially earlier in the story there will be an uncertainty of what is or isn't real or what time period something is occurring, and this gives it a lightly surreal quality. As the story moves forward, you may come to feel or understand a lot of new things that are never explained, through a kind of subtle story telling that demands total immersion to be emotionally felt. Because the narrative is so obtuse, insisting on delving deep into itself as opposed to telling a straight forward story, SeaBed must be felt rather than understood. It is a surrealistic story that holds much depth and power. I cried a lot reading it. I cried the most in the final chapter. For a story to make me cry like that is extremely unusual. SeaBed shows how you contrast light slice of life with heavy themes and the pain of living and the uncertainty and ambiguity of life and death. The contents are very unusual for Visual novels, which are usually egocentric stories, centered around a main character and copy-pasted girls, uneducated and uninteresting writing that is totally disinterested in the world and only concerned with itself and pleasing a stupid audience is the norm. SeaBed is the opposite as the writing concerns all kinds of different things from a legitimate perspective and real understanding or curiosity. Sachiko and Takako travelled a lot and talked about a lot of different things, the characters will routinely hold conversations about whatever subjects they feel like. It's this descriptiveness, this understanding of the world and of the human condition, this genuine and sympathetic angle and the subtle ability to contrast various events, the reminiscing and nostalgia with the present day for effectiveness and relatability that makes SeaBed such an excellent visual novel. Well, that is only one part of it, as the more you read, the more you will understand and not just feel the nature of the "mystery" presented. I haven't found a VN so resonating in quite some time; we are really on the same wavelength. The only real downside to SeaBed that I can think of is that a lot of it is really mundane and might bore you. This is partly the fault of the prose which is stiff and mechanical, almost as if written by a robot. The writing is so matter-of-fact that it sometimes comes across as depressing. The girls, no matter what the subject is, often don't really sound like they're living. Now, you could argue that this is a stylistic choice (and given the contents, it has to have been purposefully written this way, as it's a form of subjective storytelling) but I was still bored of the text at times, and I believe this to be a potential problem for most readers. Most of the time I was totally immersed though, so it's not a huge problem for me, just the biggest potential flaw I can think of. After having completed SeaBed I understand the potency of the text in an entirely new way, and I promise there's a reason why SeaBed is written the way it is. Also It's evidently a doujin... no voice acting :( The art is pretty cute though (pretty much the only thing about this game that has any relation to "weeb stuff") and The music's not bad, either; the whole sound design is intimate as fuck and they paid close attention to this in some scenes. SeaBed isn't the most impressive VN ever in a sense, but it is a gem that will appeal a lot to a smaller audience looking for an intimate and magical realist story. For those that are lost in life, for those that seek art not just to fill a void, but also to nurture that void... you are the ones who should read this rather narratively and emotionally complex visual novel. Emptiness, confusion and ambiguity is a major part of life for any intelligent human being. That's not to say SeaBed is entirely depressing, it's just a rich story, that's all. I had to read a lot until I started to understood why, but every time the characters interacted with Kozue and that song played I would get goosebumps and butterflies in my stomach... SeaBed is an anti-drama, the absolute anti-plotge, as everything will be "felt" to the right audience, long before it is "understood". That's why, for example, Interactions with Kozue started to become more and more emotional, even though on the surface, there was no cause for it, Because the writers of SeaBed understands how to write this form of magical realism and reach out to this small audience I belong to. In the end, I don't feel like I 100% "understood" the story, but that's alright! I've given myself some time to ponder it, and rereading various passages under this new mode of understanding, it is incredible just how much SeaBed wears its heart on its sleeve despite the game's overall mystical surreal atmosphere and narrative. I have some interpretations of SeaBed's story that may be more off beat. However, the simpler interpretations already leads me to think SeaBed is a psychological masterpiece. I'd love to talk a bit about it with others that have finished it.

FruitBat Factory should be commended for bringing over such a relatable, mature and niché VN even though it was obviously never going to sell in the west. When it was all over, I just had to go back and reread the first part (the first travel in the story). It's such a powerful feeling to reread it... to me, SeaBed is a profound and subtle visual novel, one of the most immersive and resonating to me. If you can get past the prose, and if you don't mind never having all your questions answered directly, you will be deeply rewarded! I suggest you do not look up much of anything about what the story actually concerns besides "two girlfriends go on travels" and just dive in.

And if going into spoilery territory, there is so much more to say about it. Unfortunately It's pretty hard to talk about SeaBed's themes or contents openly.

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37

Swan Song


writing/scenario: The story is a classical tale of the nature of the human group in bad circumstances. I've seen it compared to Lord of the Flies numerous times. Disaster strikes and the group of survivors have to work together to build a new society. Despair, misery and conflicting politics/religious beliefs/opinions permeates this VN which is filled with violence, but there's also a surprising amount of lighthearted content which I suppose gives it a somewhat naturalistic feel. Even in dark times, people still try to cope with the situation to be happy. Swan Song takes a more novelistic approach to writing and I think it could be quite appreciated on RYM. The game follows the perspective of different characters at different times, and one guy in particular ends up downright evil. I think the game could've done a better job at fleshing out the character whose perspective you're following sometimes. Still I'd say the characters are cool and some of the minor ones are especially memorable.

visual: I like the snowy setting and the more subtle use of CGs. It's a bit unique in that the characters don't have sprites, but small portraits instead.

sound: The music isn't very good. The characters are voiced.

gameplay: Standard choice selection, but there's a decent amount of it and some branching in the story.

hentai: There isn't much H, but what little there is is there for story reasons and the game is better off for having it.

overall: A pretty dark VN with interesting flawed characters and overall an attempt at more realistic story telling and characterization. In my book it is not a triumph due in part to the true ending being way too much of a typical VN ending. One of the bad endings fits the game better, since this is not a typical VN. The main reason for me though is that the writing simply isn't confident enough. There are some contrived parts and that sort of thing always rubs me the wrong way. On the whole, though, it is a great success.

38

Symphonic Rain


Favorite visual novel. It started out a bit slow, but the second half of the game was nothing short of incredible. The character development and plot structure is so good and so important that I simply can't say much without hindering someone else's own experience. I'll try my best to say a few things while attempting to avoid this as best as I can. It's a must-play, that's for sure.

There's a very strong theme throughout the game about showing whats "not shown". Throughout, it shows you more and more deceit and pretty much every moment is sprinkled by obscure emotions, intentions and depth. There is much that lies dormant beneath the casual conversations and low-key easy going atmosphere, of course, this is hinted at every now and then, but the sheer emotional scope revealed in the game's second half will surprise any reader, even if some "twists" may be understood in advance. Symphonic Rain is a game for introverts that are still fascinated by the human psyche and by our interactions. It ultimately comes together as something that is profoundly human. you have to follow its slow pace and let it consume you, you will be rewarded for doing so, even if it seems like not all that much is going on at first.

You play as a rather indifferent, asocial and talented boy called Chris who has been attending a music school for 3 years and is soon about to graduate. You are also in a relationship with a childhood sweetheart. She's been living her own life far away from you, though, so you write letters back and forth each week. The game has some "magic" shenanigans going on, which is in part a good thing, and in part a less good thing. The main good thing about it is the fairy character that lives in your room, a "sprite of music". Throughout the game, she plays an essential role. It also rains constantly in the town you live in, every single day, which is comfy-atmospheric. The less good thing is the musicality of the game itself, which is certainly NOT written by someone particularly into music, as they use magic as as a cop out instead of ever describing anything about music. Basically, musicians in this game are good not because of skill but because "lol magic". It was kinda like Quartett! in this area, another game about musicians but without really making that a truly interesting aspect of the game. The pretty backgrounds also reminded me of Quartett. Symphonic Rain is a beautiful looking game due to its backgrounds, and with the rain sounds and animation in the background most of the time, as well as the emotional focus of the BGM and rhythm game and being thrown into a dramatic situation that begs the question where it's all heading, it does have an appealing atmosphere going for it. This game certainly had me hooked even if it took its sweet time to reveal its genius.

So, despite being in a relationship already, this is sort of a Galge type of game, so at the start you're given a choice of pursuing 3 different heroines. Needless to say, you're not really meant to like what some of the characters pull off in this game. However the guy you're playing as is certainly not a playboy, nor is he stupid and inconsiderate. You'll understand him much better after going through more of the game. It has that kind of pursue the heroine structure because you need to have a singer partner for your graduation recital. Your girlfriend wants you to partner with her twin sister, Torta, but you're apprehensive. The other two choices are Fal, "perfect"-character, and Lise, "shymoe"-character. They're less important to the overall story, which is why it is recommended to do their two routes first, and then Torta's. After the 3 routes, the rest of the game is done in a specific order. I did the Fal and Lise routes first and they were enjoyable but the game only really got amazing after that. It also makes you look back at Fal and Lise routes and understand some things about them more.

Chris will spend a lot of the game time practicing. Since the setting is all about music, it makes sense that there's a rhythm game element as well. Now and then, you get a rhythm mini game, it's alright but not exactly a great part of the game. The mechanics and songs are fine although not what I would call great, but there's not a lot of songs to play, and in each route, you're going to play the same song many different times, without anything new getting added. I don't even think the requirements for passing the song goes up, so it's kind of a waste. It didn't take long until I could pass the songs on hard mode, the bar was set really low so that pretty much anyone can pass the songs, provided they have memorized their keyboard's layout, as hard mode will use almost every letter. Normal mode only uses 8 letters on your keyboard which was easier, I played that because I really didn't care all that much about the rhythm game, it was the weakest part of the game. If you want to, you can head to the Free Play section from the title screen and play several songs that you don't encounter in the main game. Honestly, I think that's a weird way to go about it, the rhythm game in the main game would've been a bit less repetitive if it had introduced all the songs there. Oh well. BTW, the BGM is pretty nice in-game, and although the songs in the rhythm game aren't that great, I gotta hand it to the singers, the girls voices are fucking lovely. Especially Mai Nakahara, her voice makes me shiver in this version of 'Secret' https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=wL7b2ERCi-Y. An angel's voice no doubt, so soothing!

Symphonic Rain is an essential Visual Novel if you want to be impacted by a deep drama. It can get pretty damn depressing, but it's about taking the bad with the good. There are also uplifting things, but in general I would call the game bittersweet, or perhaps sweetly bitter. Just beware of its minor imperfections, some more casual parts can be a bit boring, Fal/Lise routes were a lot less good and even a bit heavy handed/cheap at points, the OST doesn't quite live up, musicality within the setting is weaker. Oh and while the art style is lovely (with particularly beautiful backgrounds) the CGs really don't stand out at all from the rest of the game, unlike most visual novels. The CGs are too often just plain close-ups of characters faces. Even these things considered I think this is a top 20 game for me and certainly my favourite story easily. I'm not really focusing on what's lacking or on the flaws, my rating comes from the absolutely devastating content, flaws be damned. This is suitable for all ages and has a solid english translation patch, so what are you waiting for? Start by looking at the opening video, I rarely like these in VNs but I really like this one: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=NtkM0Aza4qw

39

Thunder Dragon 2


It's time to put in more coins, man

I've seen a lot of love for Thunder Dragon 2 in more recent years, and after 1ccing it I have to say that for the style it's going for, it's a great solid game. TD2 is simultaneously a bit of an eccentric oddity and a very simple, generic shmup. It's a vertical shmup that came out a few years before Bullet Hell was really a thing, with music and sound by Manabu Namiki. The game has 8 stages but only 2 stage themes, those themes are so damn good that it gives the game a hypnotic quality, yet at the same time, the lack of themes makes it more difficult to distinguish different stages. Manabu Namiki is also the announcer, and has some really memorable lines such as "EEHURR", "Hey, this is my present for you" and "It's time to put in more coins, man". It gives the game a fun B-Movie type feel.

The gameplay is as simple as it gets, but also has some terrible quirks, such as the item system which, like A Week of Garfield, expects you to memorize countless spots in the level to move to in order to spawn items. There is nothing indicating that you are supposed to go there, but each level has at least dozens of these random spots. Sometimes you're also meant to do other things, like destroy a specific group of enemies, or something... honestly, I have few of these requirements memorized and I might be getting something wrong here... anyways, Thunder Dragon 2 is interesting because it has these elements of Kusoge but at the same time at its core it's hard to deny that it's a quality oldschool shmup, you just have to accept the flaws and focus on what makes the game good if you wanna get into it. Another thing that annoyed me a lot when I first played the game many years ago was the bullet sprites. The bullets are tough on your eyes. When I picked it up for 1cc though, I easily got used to the bullets. Not sure what had changed.

The shooting and dodging is really simple. You're fighting mostly air enemies firing aimed bullets. The bosses fire some more Raiden-esque patterns and for the time period these bosses are pretty damn good. Bullet speed is slower than the Raiden-style, though. It's only a moderate speed. Enemy variety and game flow is good. The stages are fast paced and you're mostly expected to be streaming the enemy bullets, quick-killing enemies, and spawning and collecting score items. To score high, it's often a good idea to kill enemies quickly, as you can spawn bonus enemies that way. In parts of stages where the screen stops scrolling, you can perform some tedious enemy milks. Well, I'm not exactly an expert on the scoring, so I'm sure there's a lot I'm not aware of. The stage composition is quite good, prioritizing flow and simple functionality and intensity over complexity, depth, or unpredictability. There's two different player planes to choose from, each giving you a somewhat different gameplay style, and the difficulty is high enough to be a bit unapproachable for beginners, but low enough that almost anyone could learn to beat the game. It's one of those games that's entirely a matter of memorization; it doesn't take much skill compared to bullet hell shmups. It's also potentially very, very bomb-spammy, which is not something I enjoy, so I tried to limit my bomb usage for fun. All in all, a curious game which manages to be both stylish and generic. It's not the best shmup ever, but for fans of simple classic shmupping, it's definitely one that needs to be played. It's also the best shmup made by NMK in my opinion.

40

Tibia


Freedom is harsh
Tibia is fondly remembered as a ruthless, player/community driven game. I have never played another game where your interactions with other players matter so much and where your actions completely reshapes the world. The game gave players so much freedom to do whatever they wanted, with most areas of the game allowing free PvP. The only punishment for killing others was whatever punishments other players would give you for doing so. On the other hand, the gains from killing others is that you receive their loot, and the satisfaction from having killed another player. In other words, you either needed to be skilled, smart and very patient with lots of time on your hands, or you could just know a lot of other people and get by that way. Anyways, the point is that players could do whatever the hell they wanted, and get away with it depending on the dynamics for that particular server or community. Specific servers could have sub-communities depending on which city you live in, for example. Tibia was a game of endless possibilities, and superb moment-to-moment gameplay which utilized a grid and collision to give you the options of pushing objects and players in the way. The trapping dynamics, using the terrain and aiming your runes made it a very unique and fantastic game to play for PvP. Couple that with the 100% freedom of the world and it was, in some ways, one of the best games I've ever played.

The problem with Tibia lied with its developers. CipSoft and a big chunk of the playerbase didn't really see eye to eye on the charms of Tibia. With each new major update, from the early up to the mid 2000s, CipSoft would make the game more beginner friendly and easy, and destroy a part of its appeal or depth with it. Sure, CipSoft were always adding more content as well, but that was mainly just stretching the worlds wider, and doing so also pulled the players farther apart in a game that was all about player dynamics. In the end, because of CipSoft's abhorrent decisions, they failed to keep the more enthusiastic part of the playerbase, in their neverending mission to appeal only to noobs. Tibia has long since faded into obscurity and has been unplayable for over 10 years. The biggest destruction pulled on Tibia in my opinion was probably first the Skull System which I think was introduced in 2003. The skull system made it so that if you attack another player, you are marked with a white skull and everyone else is free to kill you with no punishment. This white skull eventually goes away, but if you kill too many players you will get a Red Skull which I believe stayed on you for a month, and I think you only needed to kill 3 players to do this! Now, this really complicated how the server dynamics worked, particularly things such as wars, but it really hampered the freedom the game allowed you to kill other players, which is what made the game so fun to begin with. Furthermore, I'm not sure if it was in the same update or slightly later, but CipSoft made it so that you get automatically banned if you get too many kills in too short a time. It's hard to begin to explain everything that's wrong with this, but it completely destroyed Tibia. Something that was more reasonable was that there was an update in 2002 which introduced Kill lists on Tibia's webpage. Before then, you couldn't even prove if a player had ever killed another player, unless you had a screenshot or something. That much is okay, I guess the game was maybe a bit too hardcore without that. The final nail in the coffin for me, that made me decide the game can never be played again, was when I found out that CipSoft had removed collision on the objects you use for traps. These objects and how they are used in Tibia's grid-based gameplay was the biggest stroke of genius that there was in Tibia's moment-to-moment gameplay, and CipSoft, in their utter failure to understand the appeal of their own game, REMOVED that. Tibia also used to have incredibly harsh death penalty, which coupled the game's freedom and PvP nature, ensured that players would have a near-impossible time getting very high leveled. Tibia does not have a level cap, but this was balanced out by the fact that you used to lose a % of your experience when you die. Of course, CipSoft made sure this never needs to happen either, in order to foster their remaining community of Botters.


Tibia had turned into a complete piece of shit game. CipSoft wanted players to play a safe game where you explore, grind enemies, and team up with other players to grind enemies. But who enjoys this? The whole reason people (exceptions for those with autism) were grinding back in the day was in order to stay competitive and have a more powerful presence in the server. Experience and levels in Tibia didn't shape your power as much as it does in most other RPGs either. Grinding is also a lot more interesting when you have something at stake, and old school Tibia usually had wars present in pretty much any server at any given time. Wars in Tibia were just that: wars. Anyone actively playing on a server would know the war is going on and many that don't partake in the war would still end up affected by it. Wars could last for months. Having partaken in wars in the past, I can tell you that it is easily the most engaged I've ever been by a MMO. CipSoft simply didn't understand that these were the things that a big chunk of the mainstay players enjoyed, they casualized the game and failed to punish botters or hackers. CipSoft's handling of Tibia in every away, from how they destroyed their game with updates, to how they banned and deleted accounts, has been an utter disgrace, and as much as I loved what Tibia used to be, at least I can be satisfied that CipSoft got what was coming to them since they eventually had massive drop in popularity. It's pretty hard for me to rate Tibia, because I really do think that playing it passively and grinding levels was incredibly boring. It was just a necessary evil if you wanted to have a halfway decent character with any kind of server presence. Fortunately for me, I never had to do much grinding at all, since I would share accounts with others that valued my skill and insight into the game, and I could use high level characters in wars and PvP that way, since I was an experienced and clever PvPer and trapper. Playing on my own accounts, I would spend a lot of my time in Rookgaard, trapping players in the Mino areas. I spent way too much time doing this in a depressing portion of my life. It wouldn't surprise me if I caused more than 1000 deaths in Rookgaard. My motives were of course sinister, there was just something very satisfying about relying on your skill in moving objects faster than others in order to keep other players trapped.. That was then, now is now. I was 12-13 when I was playing Tibia actively. In my mid teens I started getting increasingly bored with online gaming unless I was playing with other skilled players, or found something random and fun to play with friends. I think everything Tibia was at its best is still kind of ruined by how utterly atrocious the PvE gameplay was. Grinding was simply a total waste of anyone's time. As a result, Tibia was both an amazing and atrocious game. With each new update, CipSoft ensured more and more that Tibia remains an atrocity.

41

ToeJam & Earl


Ahh, the MDs own zany co-op roguelike. Fun times were had, fun times indeed. At first glance, ToeJam & Earl seems to be a quite incomprehensible game. The setup is that these two cartoony aliens have crashed on Earth, and must find all the ship pieces to get back to their home planet. However, the Earth they've landed on appears more alien than TJ & E themselves do. This is one of the really charming points of the game. It's like they came up with the idea of humans crashing on an alien planet, but then reversed the idea and made Earth seem alien instead. Earth as depicted by TJ&E is flat, not round, and you'll meet various NPCs, some good but most of them are bad and will hinder your progress or even kill you. The levels are randomly generated, consists of presents that hold hidden random items, and each level has an elevator that leads to the next level (and possibly a ship piece). You could fall down into space at any point, which would put you back at previous level, at the same point on the map as where you fell.

The contents in terms of design and presentation are pretty out there, but they're out there in a way that's quite low-key, and in this sense TJ&E is more endearing than crazy. There's some funky music, hardly any text, and NPCs are out of place, but not exactly super weird. Some of the weirder NPCs include armies of chickens, oogey boogey men, and fat opera singer ladies. I think the contents could let down or bore some players, but others like me enjoy this take on absurdism which is more situational and gameplay-driven. What makes TJ&E hilarious is not things like dialogue, gags, weird character design ETC... it's the situations you get put into which is a combination of player input, randomness, and the silly presentation. The heart of the gameplay system lies in the interaction between its components: the player, the effect of presents, the terrain, and the NPCs. This interaction is absolutely top notch and if you have the taste for the kind of experience TJ&E offers, it could well result in some of the funniest gaming moments you'll ever have. The basic gameplay doesn't consist of much. You can strut (slowly, and Earl is even slower than ToeJam...), run (belt-scrolling style, so if you run horizontally then you can hardly move vertically), and jump, which is pretty tough to control. You also have a healthbar, a set of extra lives, and no continues, so you need to beat the game in one go. You're meant to be totally defenseless without presents, which becomes increasingly apparent as the difficulty rises.

Going into the gameplay more, I'll talk a bit about what the presents do. Presents are randomly scattered around each level, collecting them will eventually fill up your inventory, so at some point you need to start using them. However, you don't know what's inside the present at first. There are many different kinds of present boxes, and while the same box will always hold the same item during the game, you don't know which present holds which item when you start a game, since that's random. Opening a present uses an item that will affect you (and your partner, if they're close enough) immediately, and the effects could be terrible, amazing, or anywhere in between. One item will just instantly kill you, another spawns a rain cloud which hangs over you and occasionally fires lightning at you. The worst present in the game is the randomizer, which resets all of the progress you've made identifying presents. Due to the existence of the randomizer, beyond a certain point, it gets increasingly more dangerous to use unidentified presents, assuming you haven't identified the randomizer. There are also "individual" surprise presents which doesn't belong to any present groups, so using these is always a crapshoot and you should probably identify them unless you're really desperate. The best presents are things like promotions, which levels you up. Leveling up will give you a new title. You start out as Weiner, but you can level up to Dufus, Poindexter, etc etc... Eventually reaching FunkLord. Sometimes leveling up gives you an extra life, too. You always get experience just by exploring and using presents, but it'll be a pretty slow process compared to just using a promotion. Other great presents includes Icarus Wings, which lets you fly around, and the Boombox, which causes all enemies on screen to dance to the music. You won't actually kill enemies without using presents, and it's generally a better idea to escape from enemies than to try to erase them.

There's also food and currency, and differences in terrain. Good food, like Hamburgers, replenishes your health. Bad food like Cabbage hurts you. Food is randomly scattered across each level. You can find bucks on the ground or in presents, but either way there's not too many opportunities to spend them. Some NPCs can be paid for their services. I think the most important use is to identify your presents at every opportunity you find, but sometimes you'll go through many levels without being able to. On the other hand, I don't recommend using the mailboxes. First of all, oftentimes mailboxes are enemies in disguise, the most dangerous enemy in the game, even. Secondly, all you can do is buy presents, which is usually rather expensive and it's rare to be able to buy anything you need, anyway. The terrain can be very different from level to level. some worlds will just be a giant hub of grass without much else besides a road. Sometimes however you'll get massive amounts of pits which increases the danger of enemies since they push you when they hurt you, lots of water (swimming is possible, but you can drown and there might be sharks. It's recommended to have an innertube) or quicksand. Some levels even have islands that you won't get to without spending presents or getting lucky with tornadoes.

Now, my recommendation for playing ToeJam & Earl is to do it with a friend. Playing it alone is okay, but it isn't going to be very challenging once you get the gist of how to play, and TJ&E is really slowpaced. Multiplayer adds a fun dynamic that I think plays an important role. In multiplayer, you both share the same screen as long as you're both close together, but if you split paths the game turns into split screen. You can do things to help each other, but you can also do things that will harm the both of you. If you split paths and explore different parts of the levels, you actually gain experience separately. You share the same inventory, and if you use a present, it'll affect the both of you unless you have split screen. Plenty of surprise presents can result in some pretty chaotic gameplay. Rocket Skates! I've played TJ&E with many different people, and my experience is that too much experience hinders the fun, since the game is quite easy and so slow. If you're too good at it, it's no longer all that fun, since you'll play strategically to reduce the amounts of funny moments that'll occur. So find yourself a partner or two, preferably about as inexperienced as yourself, and enjoy the game while it lasts. I love TJ&E since I've had some unforgettable co-op sessions. Unfortunately it suffers the same fate as Goof Troop, playing casually is only fun the first few times since when you're too good, the game is loses a lot of its excitement as you reduce the amount of crazy situations. The novelty wears thin eventually. TJ&E does have replay value thanks to its randomness, but I can't guarantee that it stays fun after several playthroughs. It's still an awesome game. The aesthetic and humour is rad. the situations can be utterly hilarious. Falling asleep due to reading a book, only to get drilled by a dentist. Moles stealing your promotions! Panicking and going through unidentified presents... surprise rocket skates! Surprise randomizer! That moment when the tornado randomly takes you to an island with the ship piece... Definitely one of the must-plays on the Genesis, it may appear slow-paced or clunky but ToeJam & Earl is a charming classic that is as unique as it is fun. Upon finishing the game and going back to your home planet, you are treated to a really great ending, one of the better in any game I've ever played. It's unusual and really quite wonderful, and it all comes back to my first point in this review.

42

Touhou Bunkachou ~ Shoot the Bullet


Shoot the Bullet is an unsung masterpiece of the STG genre that should be critically known as one of the most forward thinking shooters out there, because this game mixes bullet hell with photography with extremely tight gameplay and fun, inventive and beautiful patterns. While the Touhou series of games are practically mainstream in Japan (although oftentimes for the wrong reasons), I guess they're still something of a cultural artifact in the West, and not with the best reputation, whether it be "creepy anime" or "impossible bs", there's a certain stigma there that means the game attracts a mixture of weaboos and gameplay enthusiasts. They're also Doujin (non-commercial) games so the lack genuine hype surrounding Shoot the Bullet, a niché within a niché within a niché, is certainly understandable, but it is unforgivable all the same.

Shoot the Bullet was the first non-integer Touhou game (unless you count IaMP, but the fighters are bordering on fangames) which basically means that its an off-shoot of the main series of games. It is constructed completely differently from other Touhou games, which are generally arcade-style 6-stage games with a boss fight at the end of each stage. Shoot the Bullet, instead, is an "individual level" game with 85 "scenes", each consisting of a brief boss fight. Furthermore, whereas in other Touhou games you would shoot at enemies with your own bullets or "spellcards", in this game your only weapon is a camera, and you shoot pictures of the bosses. The goal in each scene is to snap a certain number of pictures of the boss until you win, and if you get hit, you have to retry the scene. It's a shooting game that breaks mechanical conventions and the arcade format convention for the genre masterfully.

Taking pictures might not sound exciting, but the game system is rather amazingly executed. Well, there is a sequel (Double Spoiler) which Improved on the scoring system somewhat, as it is a little basic in this game, but I've played this more so I'll save Double Spoiler reviews for another time. So, you take a certain number of pictures of the boss, to complete the scene. Longer scenes could require as many as 10 pictures, but other times you may only need to take 3 or 4. Sometimes when you take the pictures, the boss will switch its patterns, or the patterns may intensify. The difficulty is quite high, either in terms of pure dodging difficulty or the brain power needed to figure out how to beat the game, so it is not the most suitable game for newcomers! The bosses are all basically guest appearances from past games, but with brand new patterns.

So how do you fight with your camera exactly? The game is deceptively simple, with only two buttons to keep track of, there is still quite a bit to it. First of all, in order to snap a photo, you need to reach 100% charge. If you hold both the focus key (this key makes you move slower and focuses your camera lens, or in other games also "focuses" your options) and the shot key, you will move ultra slow and also charge your camera faster. Another way to charge your camera is to take pictures of bullets, more bullets means your camera will be higher charged after the picture. The cross hairs of the camera will follow your character and somewhat track the boss, it can be manipulated, and signifies where the frame will start from when you start shooting. So, when you're fully charged and you want to take the picture, you can hold the shot key and aim the frame somewhat, just beware as the frame will quickly shrink and even disappear if you hold it too long. In any case, it is possible to take the picture from further away, although it is better to go closer to the boss. You cannot move while you are shooting, so if you're planning to aim for a while, you could get sniped by bullets in the meantime, so take care. Because the frame disappears, you can't shoot all the way across the screen, either. Another important aspect of playing Shoot the Bullet is that your photo deletes all the bullets in the frame, and like I mentioned earlier, more bullets means you start with more charge after. You can use tricks like taking defensive photos of the bullets to prolong the scene but save your own skin or set up for easier boss photos afterwards, and it also balances out the casual "safety" mindset of aiming the photos, as the shrinking frame means you will also delete less bullets.

The patterns, visuals and music are immaculate. Just in terms of aesthetics alone, it is one of the greatest games I can think of, as I love the design of the patterns and the atmosphere. In terms of the fun factor of playing the patterns, it is also incredibly solid. You have here 85 scenes that are mostly very well designed, and quite often very unique, ranging from difficult random dodging material to tight puzzle-solving business. My personal favourite is 9-6 aka seamless ceiling of kinkaku-ji, oftentimes dubbed by scrubs as impossible, unfair, luckshit etc, but that is just total scrub shit talk xD! Anyway just for casual play alone, this is a real winner, but what kept me returning was the score play. You know, what would a photography game OR a shooting game be without a scoring system? Obviously the real goal of the game is to take the best pictures possible. The game will neatly save your "best shots" of each scene and show the pictures to you when you cycle through them, so the game is like your own little photo book, it's very neat. But what matters the most is not the best individual shots, but rather the best high score in each scene, so the best score you can reach after adding up all the photos you took after finishing. or perhaps even moreso, the highest overall score (all scenes combined). Now, if the game let you take more photos than intended by taking photos only of the bullets and avoiding the boss, or by swapping photos during gameplay or something like that, it could get pretty broken, but no, you don't get to choose your photos or something like that. Let's say you need 4 photos to complete a scene, that means you need to take 4 photos of the boss and then you finish, and those photos add up to your score in that scene. Simple, and not broken. Since there's a limited timer, you also have to take care not to rely too much on stalling tactics.

So how does the scoring system work? The backbone of the system is the "base value" of the photos, which is made up by all the bullets in the picture. Each bullet has a point value which will add up to your base points, and which is then multiplied by other metrics. For this reason, the aiming of the shots must be minimized, as the frame shrinking will reduce the number of bullets caught. However the game is well balanced in this regard because the frame won't start shrinking immediately, so you can actually aim the shot for a very brief moment without any loss, which is a crucial detail. Then, there's the multipliers. First, the boss multiplier. The closer the boss is to the middle of the frame, the higher the multiplier. If you want to aim your shot, it could get quite tricky to get the boss right in the middle, but since the lens will somewhat track the boss, if you're close enough you could just press the shot key and get the boss centered. Then there is the Self Shot. If your character is in the picture, you get a large multiplier which is quite essential in any scene. Obviously, in order to both be in the picture yourself and have the boss centered, you have to be quite close up. Next, there is the toughest multiplier to get in consistently, the Nice Shot. Most scenes have it but some scenes don't. StB is a very rhytmic, timing based game, as the getting Nice Shot bonuses are all based on timing your shots. The better your timing, the better the Nice Shot, down to the very frame (or zoom frames, as the game slows down while your picture is zooming). The bosses will show magic circles at regular intervals, meaning to time the nice shots you want to count "beats" rhythmically to nail the timing. I do this in almost every scene. The circle will be at its biggest on the first frame, and then get smaller and smaller each frame until it disappears. Getting this circle in the photo will give you a nice shot bonus, the better the timing, the higher the multiplier. So, if you're aiming for perfect Nice Shots, you will often end up shooting too early and not get any multiplier at all! There are some other bonuses, but these aren't really worth discussing.

The main thing in high level Shoot the Bullet play tends to come down to the base points, which is often a matter of RNG, or inventive outside-the-box thinking, assuming you have the Nice Shots, Boss Shots and Self Shots down, which is typically not the hardest part. There's various interesting factors to maximizing base points which are very scene dependant. For example, bullets will often glow brightly when they're spawned, if you catch them at that very moment, you could get a large (invisible) bonus. This in itself makes some scenes more timing based than you would think. Another example, because of the dimensions of the picture frame, you could get more points if the bullets are spread in a certain way, like if its an +/x shaped aimed pattern, you would want it aimed as an x so that the bullets are aimed into the corners of the frame, meaning more bullets will fit into the frame rather than a + shape. Putting a lot of thought into how to maximize your base points could range from "get lucky, sucker" to some real brain work or ridiculous execution, as if the risk involved in being close and the tight timing wasn't enough.

Essentially, Shoot the Bullet is just a joy to play, not just casually but especially for points. Personally this is the shooter I've put the most time into, well over 1000 hours of scoring and definitely my biggest short term obsession, I mainly played it over a period of less than half a year. Over that time, basically all I wanted to do was play Shoot the Bullet and improve my scores more and more. The burnout was real, though. I'm normally a very relaxed player but Shoot the Bullet did get me to snap a few times. Playing the same little thing for hours and hours and hours, it's easy to see the potential for anger building up, especially with how luck dependant StB can be. Since most scenes have significant RNG to them, usually it's mainly the bullet patterns being random, the base value is completely unstable. So in the long term, the optimization will typically come down to luck. I knew about that, and I was very involved with that, and I still kept playing. It was like playing the slots, except you were doing something skillful at the same time. I am burned out from StB now and don't return to it any more, but my accomplishments in it are possibly my best in anything. I would recommend to play this unique and wonderful game with its brilliant patterns and mechanics to pretty much anyone, and I think all players also should give the scoring an honest try, as that is IMO well communicated as being the primary goal, at least if you can beat the scenes to begin with. Still, is taking higher photos and competing any fun, well, that is just going to depend on the person. In some ways, I think Shoot the Bullet can be rather stupid at a high level, but it is a stupid game that I've spent a lot of time on and that has a genuine place right here, in my heart, in my soul. A game that has defined me and my life. When I was playing it the most, I was playing all fucking day, and it was glorious.

To sum it up, Shoot the Bullet is an essential shmup/phmup that you've probably overlooked. Overlook it no more.

PS: I prefer the sequel, Double Spoiler, nowadays, for its improved scoring mechanics, but I think Shoot the Bullet is better to start with.

PPS: Retrospective Kyoto is the best song.

43

Touhou Fūjinroku ~ Mountain of Faith


Mountain of Faith was a sort of "resurrection" of the Touhou series. ZUN meant to retire after Shoot the Bullet, but the fandom in Japan was huge, and they really wanted more of their Touhou. Despite all this, it's clear that ZUN had not lost any of his creative spark, you could say he was still at the height of his power as a game creator. Having created 5 incredible games over the course of only 4 years previously (Touhou 6-Touhou 9.5) he had already achieved the status of legendary game creator, but he just wouldn't stop there. Mountain of Faith, Subterranean Animism, Undefined Fantastic Object, and his best works yet Double Spoiler and Great Fairy Wars were all waiting to be created. ZUN generally did everything by himself, even the shoddy artwork, but I for one don't really care about artwork so much in STGs, so I don't really mind that part. Everything else about the games tend to be spot on.

Mountain of Faith is one of the more upbeat Touhou games. It has a frantic pace and a solid drive to it, a beautiful catchy soundtrack with no duds in it, and it takes a different direction with its mechanics from the grazing focused 6-8. These new mechanics is the reason why the game can be a bit divisive, as many Touhou players really love their grazing, of which Mountain of Faith has none. On the other hand, there are no other games that play quite like Mountain of Faith, and that has won over many of its players. It's kind of hard to explain the gameplay, it's not quite enemy chaining and not quite item chaining, more like a mixture of both? The game still uses the PoC line, but there are is another line just under it where you still catch point items at max value. The game has a faith meter and faith items, the meter is most similar to the Donpachi series chain meter I would guess, but still quite different from those, as those games don't rely as much on the collection of items. In Mountain of Faith, an equal amount of strategy is distributed to collecting items as they are to shooting enemies. As a higher faith results in better point items and better spellcard bonuses, you can figure out all kinds of wacky strategies to slightly improve your score, and at a high level, that "slightly" is the keyword, as it's all about very very tiny optimizations that make all the difference in the end. Indeed, Mountain of Faith is for better or worse one of the games in the series with the lowest skill ceiling. That doesn't make it easy to play at a high level - there are some seriously silly strategies you can use for stage portions, and you have to No-miss the whole game, often taking some big risks during boss fights to end the pattern as fast as possible. The high end gameplay seems rather frustratingly luck dependant, but I can't deny that it is graceful and fast paced.

Mountain of Faith was never really one of my big favourites, but I've always found it to be a solid game. There's really not much wrong with it, so unless you just don't like the scoring system, I would expect that almost every potential danmaku player would enjoy it. I guess what I'm missing in this game is better boss gameplay, as that is one of the big draws of Touhou. The patterns are aesthetically pleasing and generally of sound design resulting in fun engaging gameplay, but I do wish the game had a bit more depth during boss fights. Still, if you love CAVE's Donpachi series, chances are this might be one of your favourite Touhou games. An excellent game on its own, even if i wouldn't call it one of the best in the series.

44

Touhou Koumakyou ~ the Embodiment of Scarlet Devil


This is the most famous Touhou game, and probably the most important game in my own journey. What I mean by that is that finding this game started a more serious interest in videogaming and also exploring the medium. Before EoSD I usually just played games to kill some time and I was completely oblivious to the existence of the kinds of games I actually like most, STGs. Strictly speaking, EoSD wasn't my first STG, but it may as well have been. EoSD was a total revelation, the biggest gaming revelation of my life. ZUN's music, quirky dialogues and portraits, and above all the bullet curtains, showed me something new and wonderful to explore, and gave me exactly the kind of challenge I've unknowingly been seeking. My first goal was to 1cc Normal mode to unlock extra, so I could fight Flandre, since the whole reason I wanted to play the game was to play the extra stage that I saw on Youtube. Obviously, being a complete beginner, i was fucking awful, but after about 2 weeks I finally beat the Extra stage, and from that point onward I would spend more quality time not only with EoSD but also with other games in this series. EoSD immediately became my favorite game and remained that way until I later on started favoring some others like UFO (nowadays I prefer EoSD to UFO, though) Armed Police Batrider, and Great Fairy Wars.

It's hard to fully describe what makes the mood of the game so charming, because I don't quite get the sense that most people see what I see. I will admit that the charm has worn off a bit over the years, but I can't overlook what it felt it like in my first year of playing. The music is without a doubt my favourite of ZUN's, the soundtrack is almost exclusively genius. After all these years, I think the song closest to my heart is the credits theme, Eastern Dream. That is some "meaning of life" shit right there. When you beat the game and hear that theme, it's like it lights a fire in your heart, a feeling of pure love. EoSD is far from a perfectly made game, but despite it all, it is certainly a game that I love.

So, let's talk a bit about it more specifically. First of all, when I describe this game, I will mainly refer to the Lunatic mode, as among fans of PLAYING (not fapping to or 'lore') Touhou it is the standard mode. Why is this game special? I mean, it's not the only danmaku game out there, and compared to commercial shmups made around that time like Daioujou or Ikaruga, it might seem a bit cheap in comparison. The mood was and remains very special, but what about the gameplay? In all honesty, as much as I like EoSD, its gameplay is not for everyone, including danmaku fans. The stage portions are very simple and will feel empty and lacking to fans of CAVE's games, and the bosses have so much random dodging that it's going to put off the players that prefer to memorize and execute paths through the patterns. However, having played this game a lot, I can tell you that there is a lot to enjoy and appreciate here, if you just have the taste for it. So, the stage portions may seem lacking, but when you are playing for score they are definitely engaging enough from Stage 3 onward. My main complaint lies with stage 1 and 2, which will get old in the long run. From stage 3 onward, the combination of grazing, item collection, and the occasional resource abuse is engaging and highly difficult to optimize. The problem of being unengaging comes if you are playing for survival, in that case routing the stage portions will be simple and basically half of the game will be rather boring if you are a more experienced player. The main attraction if you are playing for survival are the bosses which are some of the more random in the series and in the genre in general, they will throw some crazy shit at you from time to time, or other times they will go easier on you. It's a dice roll.

EoSD is the 6th Touhou game, but the first windows game, it started a new era of Touhou. Not only are the patterns much tougher than Mystic Square or Lotus Land Story on Lunatic mode, but it is quite a bit deeper as well. In this game, you can play as either the shrine maiden Reimu or the ordinary magician Marisa. Aside from the speed difference, Marisa being faster, each character has two shot-types. Reimu has needles, which is the best shot-type in the game, and homing. Marisa has Christmas trees... ok, actually they're magic missiles, and lasers. Each shot-type also has an unique bomb, which is important to playing for score in EoSD, and the reason why ReimuB (Needles) has the highest scoring potential in the main game. The boss characters remain iconic after all these years, the Scarlet Devil cast is without a doubt the most famous in Touhou. The system is probably most similar to Lotus Land Story. It's fairly simple on the surface, but there are also more obscure things to the game system that you need to take advantage of to play for score. Like in earlier games, there are power and point items, and maxing out your power will cancel all the bullets on the screen, turning them into star items which are autocollected. Point items increase your points when collected up to a set maximum the higher up on the screen you collect it. If you have max power, moving near the top of the screen will autocollect all items on screen. Grazing bullets also adds to your score quite significantly in combination with the star items from bullet cancels. Every time you go near a bullet (grazing it) it adds to your graze counter for that stage, and the value you get from star items is multiplied by your graze counter. This is the most significant part of gaining points in EoSD, high graze and good cancels.

Touhou games are usually quite boss-oriented, and EoSD is no exception. Scoring well in the stage, racking up graze, will help significantly in gaining points on the bosses on every stage. The biggest cash-in bosses on Lunatic would be Meiling (stage 3) and Sakuya (stage 5). Besides grazing and just defeating the bullet patterns at the right times for the biggest cancels, there are other ways to gain more points from bosses. First, a new introduction in EoSD, the spellcard system. All bosses have regular attacks, and named attacks, referred to as spellcards. If you clear a spellcard within the time limit without dying or bombing, you get a bonus. The bonus is shrunk every second you take. These bonuses aren't very significant though, what's more important is the resource game. ReimuB is best in this area, so let's use her as an example. ReimuB's bomb isn't great for survival since it does minimal damage and doesn't last long, but as a scoring bomb it is quite perfect. There's two significant things you can do with this bomb. The first is to sit on bullet spawn-points after you've bombed. You can't graze during a bombs duration in EoSD, up until the very last second or two of invulnerability, so what you do is abuse that small time frame to graze bullets at their spawn point. There are many good places to do this. The next trick is more obscure and can probably be referred to as a glitch. When you bomb in EoSD, bullets being spawned are turned into star items which are auto-collected. I mentioned before that star items combined with a high graze means high score. Well, during the bomb period, star items have almost no value at all, so you won't really get anything from collecting them. There is a trick you can use to get some star items at their full value when bombing. You see, the star items will regain their full value at the end of the bomb's duration. What you do with ReimuB is to be quite far away from the bullet source you wish to use, and if you bomb at just the right timing, the star items spawned at the end that you suck up will have their full value. There aren't a whole lot of places where you can abuse this with big results, but this "bombing in the corner" scoreplay is very significant in the few places it can be applied. Of course, the higher graze you've accumulated, the bigger the cash in.

So in order to score in EoSD, what you have to do is graze the fuck out of all the bullets you can, collect all the point items you can, learn how to best cancel all the patterns, and survive all the bullshit thrown at you so you don't lose any of the resources you have to spend at key points. Dying with bombs means you lose all that graze or all those star items you could've gained both from suiciding and bombing. I didn't mention that, but after you die, you are also invulnerable for a couple of seconds and during that time you can rack up graze from spawn points. Lots of graze. Furthermore, after you die, you won't have max power, but if you get max power you will cancel all bullets on screen and get lots of star items. Both dying and bombing strategically is a significant chunk of the score potential, I'd say on Normal mode that a 300 mil run without dying or bombing would be about even with a 350 mil run that uses all the resources. on Lunatic, 500 mil without dying or bombing would be about even with 700 mil that uses the resources. You get the picture.

Through all this talk about scoring, I haven't talked about what's the main attraction of this game for many, many players: the bosses bullet curtains. These are unique and amazing if you just like dodging random bullets. This is a large enjoyment factor. The first two bosses, Rumia and Cirno, won't offer that much resistance in this area, but from stage 4 onward the game shows what it's really made of. The infamous green books in stage 4 are some of the toughest dodging you will find in any shmup, even the best players in the world will rarely reach a 50% clear ratio on these books. Then, you have the bosses, Patchouli, Sakuya and Remilia. They have lots of really nasty challenging attacks that can be extremely tough from time to time if you get hard RNG. This concept of random dodging is probably pretty alien to some shmup players, thinking that you can memorize it all, being aimed or static, or that randomness really just refers to some combination of different patterned things... no, that's not how randomness works in EoSD or many other Touhou games. These patterns are truly random, there is no rhyme or reason to how all the bullets move. You simply have to level up your skill as a player to get better before you can tackle something like this. Some of the meanest patterns, aside from the books (which are stupid-hard) would include Remilia's final two spellcards, Scarlet Meister and Scarlet Gensokyo, and Sakuya's final card Killing Doll. Killing Doll is a card where Sakuya throws out a bunch of knives which have an initial pattern, but then she stops time and most of the knives will randomly change which direction they're heading in. Before you're even done dodging all of them, she'll have fired another volley and stopped time again. The bosses in Touhou being little girls, are quite small and pretty hard to focus fire, so in this card you often find yourself moving away from Sakuya in order to find a dodging path that'll work, in favor of getting damage in. Remilia's last two cards are, like killing doll, crazy fun and super tough. Scarlet Meister is a vaguely patterned thing where all the actual significant bullets are nonetheless random, where you have to do lots of macro and micro dodging combinations. Then Scarlet Gensokyo is just pure sex for those that love random micro dodging and complex reading. Scarlet Gensokyo can form screen filling walls if you are really unlucky, which means you're just about forced to die unless you have near-inhuman skill or are just super lucky. Patchouli is also a fantastic boss fight, having the most spellcards of all the bosses in the main game. However, she will only pick some spells she will throw at you, depending on which character and shot type you are playing. MarisaA will get the toughest (and also most fun, I enjoy challenge!) spells. It can't be understated how awesome the bosses are in EoSD, although I enjoy the scoring, it wouldn't be anywhere near as fun to play if the bosses weren't so insanely chaotic. Again, this is on Lunatic mode, the true mode for Touhou players. The game is significantly easier on Hard mode, and on Normal mode i'd say the patterns are probably easier than what you find in most arcade STGs. There is also an Extra stage which is more patterned and gimmicky, which might be fun for a beginner, but not very engaging for a veteran and especially not if they are used to the chaos of Lunatic.

There are some things I don't like about EoSD too. The first two stages gets old pretty quickly and I do think the stage design is a bit lame, it's just that the scoring system makes up for that giving you some pretty engaging content anyways. Just not really in the first two stages. Furthermore, if you are serious about EoSD, the rather extreme amount of RNG will make consistency completely impossible. It is one of the most random shmups out there, so beware. Finally, some of the scoring strategies really just aren't my cup of tea. The grazing strategies are far better in the next Touhou game, Perfect Cherry Blossom. In EoSD, although there is good grazing content too, there is a lot of "move into this safespot" shit, super precise micro taps, and luck based grazes. What I'm missing in EoSD is more impressive SuperGrazes. What Touhou players mean by SuperGrazing is impressive looking weaving through bullets up close in a dangerous manner completely different from how it's normally dodged. In EoSD, Rather than Supergrazing, oftentimes you're doing some more like SuperSafeSpotting, or grazing that is just kind of bland. I'd say it's still an impressive and good score system with good gameplay, but far from perfect. For examples of supergrazing, see this video: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=pYObFRnR6fs. It's just one of those things unique to the Touhou series that makes it so damn fucking awesome. If you don't dig this shit then you're not a bro in my book. You've yet to reach enlightenment!

So after all these years, even though EoSD was the entry point for me, It's not my favourite Touhou game. I prefer the Camera games, versus games, Great Fairy Wars, and Perfect Cherry Blossom. There's still a lot to appreciate in EoSD, and I think along with PCB and Imperishable Night, it is the natural entry point to Touhou. I personally really enjoy this old "windows trilogy" and hold it in very high regard, but everyone has different opinions, there is not exactly a Touhou canon. Touhou players of all skill levels have totally different opinions about the quality of individual games, so it's just a matter of taste. If you don't like EoSD, that doesn't mean you won't like, say, MoF or PoFV. EoSD is a game that oozes of nostalgia and that can be really enjoyable, but nowadays what feels most attractive in it is not doing serious runs and playing for score, but rather booting up SpoilerAL and starting teh game at all my favorite attacks like Killing Doll or Scarlet Meister and just grinding those attacks for fun. If there is one main reason to play EoSD over and over and over, in my book, it is because some of these patterns are on a completely other level of fun from other conventional shmups. The problem is that you need to reach a certain level of skill before you can even begin to play these kinds of attacks and enjoy them, so yeah... Ganbatte your best!

45

Touhou Seirensen ~ Undefined Fantastic Object


There was a time when UFO was my favorite game, though it wasn't very long lived, as I eventually settled on Fairy Wars, but there's that. However, over time, I started to feel some of the weaker aspects of UFO. There are many ways in which it is spectacular in my opinion but I no longer think it's one of the best games, nor shmups, nor Touhou games.

So at the time of writing this, there's 16 main Touhou games made by ZUN as well as 4 decimal games also made by ZUN. UFO is the 12th main game, and not counting the decimal games which came afterwards (those are my all-time faves) I think UFO is the last main game ZUN made where it really feels like he was in control, that he knew what he was doing and that he created something that is a big success. Since then it's just not been the same. So thinking only in terms of main games UFO can definitely be considered what should've been ZUN's swan song. Of course, Great Fairy Wars would be the real swan song but reviewing that game is too hard for me cause it's just too good and its qualities way too complex and abstract for me to describe so easily.

So... the "infamous" UFO. When it was released, a lot of people found it too hard, it was even considered unfair often, which is kinda silly to me when you have games like PoFV and EoSD which are no doubt more unfair than UFO no matter how you slice it and UFO, really, there's just a few things about it that aren't really fair, and those aren't things that are commonly complained about. Anyways, these days it's not considered as tough I think it has a lot to do with the release of Touhou 15 LoLK which is in a survival sense probably the hardest main game by now, with UFO/EoSD being farther behind. UFO's main mechanic that many beginners like to complain about involves collecting moving UFO tokens to summon a big item sucking UFO you have to shoot down for a bonus. I've never understood why people complain about that so much, it's kind of like collecting/avoiding the moving evolving powerups in Raiden, that kind of movement pattern. UFOs come in 3 colors and some of them change colors at regular intervals, though you can stall the color changing by being close to the UFO, too. Collect 3 of the same color or 1 of each color to summon a UFO. if you collect a 3rd token that wont summon a new UFO (say, red-red-green) then it just removes the first token you collected, so you still only have 2 tokens until you collect 3 of the same or 1 of each. Red UFOs gives you a life token when collected, and if it sucks up enough items, you get 2 tokens. Green UFOs gives you a bomb token, and with enough items, a full bomb. Blue UFOs are have the highest score multiplier, multiplying all point items by 8 when destroyed. Rainbows are weird, they convert all the power items into point items and with enough items they give you an extra UFO token when destroyed. Describing UFO like this, the distinction between playing for score and for survival is very clear, as making blue UFOs for score is utterly useless for survival, but will deprive you of resources, meaning if you want to score the highest you will get only I belive it was 3 extra lives throughout the game, whereas if you were playing for survival and you collect resources in an optimal manner, you can get a ridiculous amount of extra lives (I think around 17 or 18...)

The mechanics might be a bit unfriendly to the most beginner of beginners, but really, if you are able to move in every direction and keep track of multiple objects, which is obviously totally standard in bullet hell gameplay, then congrats, you can play UFO. The difficulty of juggling the UFOs is vastly overstated, even in top score runs it's considered usually not a hard part of the game. UFO also has quite a bit of focus on grazing to increase point item value, as well as collecting UFO tokens while a UFO is summoned. Collecting tokens while a summoned UFO is on screen simply deletes the token, you can't collect anything during this, but you do get 1000 added to your point item value, which really does add up. As such, Rainbows are pretty valuable earlier in the game, to increase that point item value. Doing this plus grazing will enable some very high scoring blue UFOs later in the game. The grazing in UFO isn't quite my cup of tea. It's not very balanced, the biggest reason why is the 3rd boss, Ichirin, who on all difficulties can award you an insane amount of graze compared to the rest of the game, if you can pull off a series of very difficult tricks. The craziest one I've seen in a WR run is shin's ReimuB Hard mode graze of Ichirin's 3rd non. The technique is so ridiculous that if it wasn't shin who had done it, and just some random player, I would've suspected it to be TAS to be honest.

Now that the obligatory scoring talk is over, let's talk a bit more about UFO from other perspectives. First of all, the difficulty setting. UFO on normal mode is pretty reasonable compared to the other games, but on Hard and Lunatic it gets harder to get into than the previous games, I think. There's more learning involved just for a simple clear. However, it's still true that you can rack up an insane amount of lives and bomb through all the hard things, if you learn how. Still, it's one of the hardest games to beat on Lunatic, as well as one of the hardest to No Bomb and No Miss No Bomb. Next, let's talk about the shot types. They're some of the best ZUN has has designed for a single game, there's 6 shot types, 2 per character, with Reimu, Marisa and Sanae being playable. All characters have different hitbox and grazebox sizes, I think this is good balanced design. You could say that it's unbalanced that MarisaA/B who doesn't compete with ReimuA in terms of pure DPS still has a bigger hitbox, but it's still balanced because she has a bigger grazebox as well. Sanae is in between. All shot types have unique shots and bombs, with both having a lot of effect on the gameplay in UFO during stage portions. Think of it like this, you can bomb to collect UFO tokens, or bomb to destroy UFOs. The shots are important too, for example, ReimuB has homing which can be quite nice in a lot of situations, but her homing sucks at destroying UFOs. MarisaA might seem inferior to ReimuA due to lower DPS, but her lasers pierce, making it great for destroying UFOs. When it comes to bombs, any bomb that slows you down, such as MarisaA's master spark, makes it a pain to interact with UFOs, and must be planned rather than just used randomly. Meanwhile, MarisaB, who is overall the weakest character in the game, has a pretty much perfect bomb for UFO interaction. Overall, the shots are very well balanced in an asymmetrical sense, with different shots being better certain purposes. SanaeB is great for bombspamming through the game, while ReimuA or ReimuB are great for No Bomb runs. The Marisa shots are both pretty bad for survival, but have higher scoring potential.

Next let's talk about the stage design. The stages typically have that simple design we know from past Touhou games, with the last stage being more of an artsy thing, with no real focus on difficulty, rather it's a pure cash in stage. UFO tokens are spawned when you defeat certain enemies that hold them, and there are a lot of these, but they are overall well placed with the UFO system in mind. Simple, but well done, other than the 2nd stage, where the UFO placements doesn't save this stage from being boring. The 5th stage is pretty exciting. Next, bosses. Most people can agree that UFO has a great cast of characters, not as iconic as EoSD or popular as SA mind, but they're a cool bunch. The bosses have a very strong personality and presence in terms of danmaku. Kogasa's rain theme is great, and Shou has some really cool looking attacks and those infamous curvy lasers. In terms of sheer artistry, Byakuren is definitely one of ZUN's best bosses ever. The whole 6th stage as I mentioned is quite artistic, it's basically totally foreboding with one of ZUN's most amazing songs playing, ending with a heartbeat sound as you look at the scenery and Byakuren shows up. Her arsenal of attacks as well are utterly breathtaking, as is her theme song. In terms of artistic value and the uniqueness factor I think UFO is a really damn great game, that's never gonna change. Most of my complaints with the game really lies with the gameplay, which is excellent in most ways, but does have some problems. UFO is the first Touhou game that I would say went a bit overboard with the "glow" style of bullets, which is visually intrusive and hinders dodging. Later games get even worse with this. There are also some attacks in this game that are unfair in a way that is entirely unfun, such as Murasa's 3rd spellcard, which walls you into a very tine space between anchors, and then spawns immobile random bullets that can completely get in the way when you next have to dodge her glow bullets. There are some other attacks I don't like, and I especially don't like the grazing strategies on Ichirin, which tend to involve really shitty safespotting strats. It's also quite annoying how punishing deaths can be, as the power loss makes some attacks in the game much more difficult. For all the problems though, UFO is a very very fun game, for the most part, but it is, I guess, kind of chaotic, so a bit of an acquired taste, if you want something more relaxing. Still, if you learn your UFO patterns, and strategize the patterns well, there's a surprisingly little amount of huge challenge left, in the form of random patterns.

UFO is not a great entryway into Touhou unless you've already played a bunch of shmups before and you're comfortable with some of its quirks, because it's not really recommended to just flat out ignore the UFOs, you have to able to deal with them. It's not that hard, but for complete beginners, I still say, stay away from UFO, because you probably won't be able to keep track of enemies, bullets AND Ufos without a bit of basic fundamental shmup video game skill. For everyone else, though, enjoy this excellent shmup. Personally, I find UFO most enjoyable when playing rather casually, summoning ufos very haphazardly and trying to make it alive through crazy situations that you can avoid with more practice. Having done Lunatic No Bomb runs and some light scoring before, I can say that neither of those is something I'm very interested in pursuing further. As a score game, I'm not totally sold on UFO, unfortunately. The mechanics are very unique, and quite interesting on paper, but in execution it isn't as exciting as one would hope to play for score. That's just what I think, though.

46

Transformice


I thought it might be interesting to review this one since it is, from my point of view, currently the most underrated game on the website. I can see multiple reasons why the game might be so underrated. I personally played this game a lot for a couple of years, and in the early days of bootcamp and racing, I was one of the best players in the game, so I think I'm up to the task of explaining why this was actually a fantastic game, far better than the average rating would have you believe.

There are two subjects that must be considered carefully before applying a fair rating.
1. It's an online game. Some gameplay modes such as Bootcamp are played "solo", but new players started out playing regular rooms, learning the ropes, and getting a first taste of the game's community, and the absurd clusterfuck of the "regular" gameplay in "regular" and "user-made" rooms in the regular rooms. First impressions are everything, and I can see how people will just give up on this game before they even -really- start playing it. The community was never very good but definitely got worse over time, and I imagine getting into the game was a lot easier back when it was newer, more vanilla, more innocent, and everyone was bad at it.
2. The game has gone through many updates, and it was definitely at its best before the devs starting going crazy with needless updates, adding stuff like shaman tech tree, mouse skins, etc. However, the game at first was too barebones to reach its full potential, and it took for it about a year or so before it had all the essential game modes (map editor, survivor, bootcamp and racing). So depending on when you actually played the game does matter. If I picked it up right now I would lose interest instantly.

So, let's get into it. I first played transformice with a friend when it was new, we played it together at first, but after weeks or so I believe he lost interest and I kept on playing it by myself. Back then, there's wasn't really a whole lot to the game. The rooms would all cycle through some very basic pre-made maps that actually had no challenge to them. However, back then it wasn't the brilliance of the platforming that was the appeal; noone really got to experience that since the maps were so bland. The appeal in the early days came from two things:
1. The "lemmings" quality. Back then all mice except the shaman looked the same and the absurdity of the mass of mice acting like idiots to try to get the cheese and get into the hole made the game extremely entertaining. It's a bit hard to explain, you just had to have been there. Maybe there are some videos documenting these early days that can show you just how fucking sweet, absurd and entertaining it was.
2. The core of the group, the shaman. Each new map, the player who accumulated the most points would be the shaman. There can only be one shaman, and the shaman has powers the other mice don't. The shaman is able to summon things like boxes and planks, and can construct different kinds of structures through various techniques. This was also funny, because back then most players didn't understand how to be a shaman at all. Gradually, various ways to be a shaman became more and more common knowledge, and some of the funniest shit ever were when a lot of shamans started figuring out how to create what we called Gods, such as Anvil gods. Anvil gods are created by stacking tons of anvils together with the blue anchor. This creates a chaotic anvil creature that goes absolutely ballistics and kills everyone. Look this up if you wanna see just how funny this game can be. Shamans could act in many different ways, you never knew what to expect from different shamans. They could be helpful, play favorites, they could be clueless, or downright antagonistic, shooting cannonballs at everyone.

Eventually there were updates that improved the game. Adding a map editor which led to greater maps was a good start, as this made us all pay attention to the platforming mechanics. People started designing maps that are hard to complete or maps meant for racing. Eventually, there were specific bootcamp and racing rooms, and the game was at its absolute best when they added the Survivor room, in which we played on rather bland maps taking turns to be the shaman and the goal is to kill all the mice. If you are good at being a killing machine, you'll be using horizontal cannons in mid air to keep your shaman perpetually flying through the air, unpredictably firing cannons at other mice. Takes quite a bit of skill, but is perhaps not as difficult as time trials on difficult bootcamps. I think eventually I settled on survivor as my favorite mode. Nonetheless, the racing and bootcamp modes are the essential solo modes which really accentuates, the platforming brilliance. The platforming uses slopes and corner boosts to boost your mouse speed, and allows you to double jump every time you touch a certain type of ground or wall. There are lots of different types of ground and obstacles to use to create artificial platforming styles, such as turn-arounds. It is without a doubt one of the best 2D Platformers I've ever played just in terms of deep speed mechanics, making it a perfect time trial platformer... and because you can create your own maps or play millions of others, well, there is no end to it if you get into it.

So overall, I think this game succeeds brilliantly on just about every level, but only when it was at its best, and its greatest qualities are quite hidden away behind an awful community, you have to try to master the game to understand why it's so good. Or you could just try to ease into it enjoying the chaos factor with a group of friends, that was another good way to enjoy it. Later updates ruined the game as far as I'm concerned.

47

Turrican II


One of the most memorable games of my childhood

A little bit overrated, perhaps, but understandably so. It was mindblowing for a game you could play at home in 1990, having some of the coolest visuals you could get at home in a sidescroller, and a legendary soundtrack by Hülsbeck. It was quite ambitious too, with large labyrinth-like levels and a clear Metroid influence, coupled with a more arcade-inspired run 'n' gun gameplay, and even several shmup segments. The game has lots of weapons, a cool secondary weapon that you spin around, and you can even turn into an invincible rolling ball. It is a marvel to behold with fuckloads of personality, and I will never stop appreciating everything it did right. The problem? Gameplay is shoddy. The developers clearly tried as hard as they could and in many ways they succeeded, but I cannot gloss over the problems. The screen scrolls way too closely to your character, the run 'n' gunning is clunky compared to prime arcade games, the labyrinths sometimes go badly with the gameplay system, and so the game doesn't really feel like enough of an action game and it does neither feel like enough of an exploring game, the bosses are very bad and the shmup levels = Euroshmup, need I say more? Turrican II is a gorgeous game and an amiga classic, but it is still a mixed bag and a missed opportunity. The game could've been superb with better gameplay design choices, especially on boss fights and shmup levels. I used to love this game, but these days I am more critical of it. I've seen it compared favorably to Super Metroid (and I used to be in that camp) but other than the killer soundtrack (and in my case, nostalgia) I think the comparison might be unfavorable to Turrican. Turrican II has flavor, I'll give it that, and it is possibly the best game in its series (which I wouldn't say has any bad games to begin with) so do check it out and see what the big deal is for yourself if you're unfamiliar with Turrican.

48

Twinkle Tale


This is a Japan only gem for the Genesis that I immediately fell in love with when I first played it. I think we were looking for games to blind race on SpeedRunsLive back in the day and I was going through the TAS archives for Genesis games and the fantasy + run 'n gun screenshot of Twinkle Tale looked too appealing to pass up on. I started speed running this one myself in fact and got competition with someone who unfortunately ended up getting carpal tunnel from all the button mashing.

Twinkle Tale isn't a game that should be as remarkable as I may make it out to be, probably, but I have a very soft spot for it for various reasons. You play as a little girl in a huge wizard robe outfit and holding the stereotypical walking staff. You won't even notice that in-game though, it may as well have been an old bearded guy. There's no voice clips or anything. Even the most stubborn Japan-haters should be able to stomach little girls in their games in this case. Anyway, so it's a fast paced top-down manually scrolling shooting game where you just move around and blast fantasy creatures. There's three weapons you can level up by picking up power ups. You can switch between the weapons at any time, and if you get hit, the weapon you're holding gets downgraded by 1 level. The weapons include stars (spread), beam (powerful piercing shot), and homing (it sucks). There's also two different bombs you can pick up, a fire bomb that clears the whole screen and a blue snakey beam bomb that does more damage. The stars are essential for speed running since you can kill things very quickly by mashing at them point-blank. This won't work as well with the beam since it pierces and the amount of your shots allowed on screen is capped. Max power stars pointblank is by far the most powerful.

The system is all very functional, but what makes the game work so well for me is the stage design and fast pace. Each stage has unique environments and you can dictate the pace of the game yourself, if it's your first time playing you're bound to move forwards slowly and be more defensive, but as you memorize the levels it's natural to start speeding through and eventually you can even try to optimize a speed run, it all feels like the game is easing you into improving little by little in a very good way. If you're playing through at a moderate speed it's about 20 minutes with 8 stages that you can just rush through. Each stage is different and gives you new stuff to look at or fight. After beating an outdoors stage with some temple ruins and flying birds and shit you beat a big ass tree. Move inside the tree to kill some spiders and shit. Kill some spiders and shit and you're suddenly inside a huge fire dungeon or volcano shooting at demons. Then you're in a stronghold fighting huge armored knights, mages, skeletons, cyclops, and eventually Satan. There's even a shmup stage after you suddenly learn to fly though that one is pretty mediocre, and the final stage which takes place in a crystal palace is probably the best and most inspired. Even the final boss is awesome with how atmospheric it is, it just builds up in such a cool way. The game does have a story and english translation patch but you don't really need that to be honest. I should probably mention that this whole game is really EASY if you're into games like this, but that doesn't mean it's a pushover on a blind run. Also, there are some things I miss in this game. For example, the soundtrack is just mediocre. I love me some Genesis tunes but this one sorely lacks outstanding ones. Also, speed running, while fun as hell, will give you carpal tunnel unless you go full Nip and play with Rapid Fire.

All in all, a highly recommended hidden gem, but don't set your expectations too high because this is a bit of a personal choice. The game isn't exactly "amazing" on any individual level, I just happen to really really like it.

49

Undertale


Oh boy, where do I even begin with Undertale? I probably should've written about it when it was all fresh in my mind, but I figured the game is just so popular that almost anything I'll have to say about it has been said before many times already. I'll make this one short. To me, this is the very definition of mixed bag. There's so much shit I hate here but also reasons to love this game. Ultimately I cannot decide if I dislike or like this game, I feel like either decision is a flat out lie, but I can say with confidence that there is too much good here to outright dismiss the whole thing.

Everyone's heard of or played Undertale by now most likely so I'll just describe some of the things I think I have a pretty good point of view on in a more objective sense. The combat system is ingenious, but badly executed. This is by far the most disappointing part of the game for me. An RPG game with bullet hell-ish combat mini games? I mean, I don't even need to explain why that would pique my interest, right? The problem is that Toby Fox clearly did not actually play bullet hell games, and doesn't understand how to design a fun game. Out of the myriad of boss fights, the best I can say about most of them is that they have an entertaining gimmick and good BGM. The game is not actually fun to play or challenging, and that's a big problem. The pattern design is beyond amateurish and is designed by and for people that do NOT engage in that kind of gameplay, ever. I understand that most people aren't bothered by this, but seeing as how STG is my favorite genre by far, why I have this point of view should be clear. Now, I should mention that it's not like it's entirely hopeless. I won't lie, the game has a bit of flair like for example the spider boss and Mettaton, and there is one actually legit good boss in this game, Undyne the Undying. Bosses are still way too long sometimes and completely boring and easy and the encounters are also just a waste of time to try to have fun with. Sans isn't very hard, dude just repeats the same "surprises" over and over that you can quickly learn in order to breeze through the fight since it's just memorization with no skill involved.

There are so many other things I could talk about with this game, but I'll just go over the good and the bad very briefly, since as mentioned before, others are bound to have said all this before. Story: Didn't like it, outright hated the "good ending", but there are some really funny parts including easter eggs scattered around the game. Hotdogs, shitty dog ending! I finished the main 3 endings, good ending after the bad one, which resulted in what I'd interpret as the worst end was a nice touch. That's a thing I like actually. I hate the hyper sentimentality of the good route contents but that just makes the bad route contents a nice alternative. Bad route on its own is pretty dumb but as a contrast to the good route I think it works better. That's kinda cool. Especially I liked that I could get the worst end at the end of the good route, it was probably designed to be a kind of "punishment", but for me it's the opposite, since I disliked the characters and story so much. Not Sans, though. Sans is cool. Mood: the BGM helps a lot here. So many amazing songs. I liked the mood of several key areas/encounters, like meeting with Asgore, but I hated everything about Omega Flowey, stupid gameplay and just an all around bloated fight that hammers in a retarded friendship is magic message for children, one of the worst bosses ever. Overworld: This is a real bummer, isn't it? Couldn't the game at least had some actual puzzles instead of just fake puzzles for toddlers? For such an, erm... "ambitious" story, the game sure is short and tiny as hell.

Did Undertale live up to the hype? Far from it, but it's far from a worthless game and I think other games should take cues from Undertale's new "genre" of gameplay rpg. I just don't see Toby have it in him to improve much on this. He seems to be very limited in his understanding of game design and his writing and characterization is a joke.

50

Warcraft III: The Frozen Throne


Guess I'll go first. I will just give a brief history I have with this game to start.

To begin with, I played it pretty actively 2005-2007, but I mostly played custom games, and I wasn't serious enough to play the Ladder that much.

Then, I got it again not much later, but only to play Dota on Garena. This was pretty aimless, but I guess I played at least around 500 games probably much more. To be honest DotA just isn't my thing and I prefer the RTS genre to the Moba genre. Dota Allstars was an incredibly well made map series, in any case.

Then many years of nothing, until I eventually started to eye the competitive scene again, which I only paid a little attention to back in the early years, watching replays by famous players like Grubby and Moon, but never really learning to play that well myself (being around 50% in ladder, which was really bad in those days when everyone was fucking terrible. Then again I was like 14 years old.)

When I actively started watching pro streams and the casters from Back2Warcraft, I knew I had to get into this game again so I bought it in 2016 and have been playing on and off since on w3arena, a server for the hardcore veterans (well, there is also asian NETease for the best of the best, but I've heard getting a 50% winrate on w3arena is harder since the average skill is still better there.)
I only play the regular game nowadays and mostly solo on the ladder on w3arena, I have played almost 1000 solo games on w3arena now and I still feel like somewhat a beginner, because the skill level on the server is so harsh. I'm maining Human and I'm finding this game in 1vs1 to be incredibly fascinating, entertaining, skillful and complex. I'm struggling to be a ~50% player on w3arena and the road to improve from here is not easy. In fact, I'm not sure just where I'm going from here, because I certainly am not aiming to be a pro.

So that's my short story. I will give some short pointers on how I think you can try to appreciate Warcraft 3.

-Avoid single player

Warcraft 3 campaign gives completely the wrong idea about the qualities of this game. The campaign is boring and if you somehow don't find it boring, you will find after learning how to play the game well that it is... probably. The campaign is ok at teaching the very basics, and I guess some people might like the story and thematics of the maps, and it might be somewhat engaging if you are a total beginner at RTS, but I would certainly NOT advice people to only look at the single player and rate this game from that angle. This is a multiplayer game.

-Play custom maps or play around in the map editor

This is certainly what warcraft was most notable for in the public's eye, see DotA especially, which managed to even surpass the normal game in popularity. The map editor is absolutely legendary and the map community is as well. I've enjoyed a lot of custom maps myself even if that was in the past. The truth is that most of it is terrible, to be honest. But hey, the option of being creative and making amazing maps is there.

-Learn how to play 1vs1 melee. Avoid Battle.net which is terrible, get w3arena or NETease.

Try out team/FFA too, as that can also be fun in a different way. Personally I like 4vs4 in theory, just very few competent players playing that compared to all the bad players.

Anyways, 1vs1 is what I like most about warcraft. Not the custom maps, but just playing the normal game against other players. I'll just say that the game is very rewarding to try to master and that the gameplay is way, waaaaay more intense than what you'd think from just playing casually. Warcraft 3 is clearly not a very interesting game to play if you just sit around and build buildings and make an army and kill AI or whatever, there's not much to the economy and infrastructure... There are so many things that make up the true beauty of warcraft that I don't even know where to begin... it will take a lot of time and effort on your part to try and grasp more about this game. I think it perfectly encompases the skill, action aspect of microing/macroing in a RTS while still having the whole game flow and strategy element be deep and constant. The game is masterfully made with a plethora of aspects to consider during gameplay.

I main Human, so for the next part of the review I'm going to talk about why I picked Human.

-Human have the most strategic options of all the races.

In any given (race) matchup, the human can choose to expand in tier 1, make footmen into Riflemen, make footmen only with or without defend, make an archmage or mountain king or even a tavern hero like a beastmaster first, can fast tech with a 2 farm build, have a large variety of creep routes or other gameplay routes available, once you hit tier 2 or tier 3 things get really interesting in the amounts of efficient builds and strategies you can do. then there are a lot of options in individual matchups, I especially like what Humans can do in HvNE. I would argue that Human is the best race to pick if you are a strategy oriented player and you like variety and being a bit of a tricky tryhard.

-Caster oriented gameplay.

The staple of most human armies is the Archmage with his brilliance aura, and a double sanctum pumping out casters. The Archmage, though a very squishy hero, is a hero that still feels incredibly powerful, maybe even overpowered, if you can manage to use him correctly. Fast level 3 pushing on Orc burrows or tier 2 buildings in construction is incredibly powerful and it's nice to have this comparatively "weak" army that can still pull stunts like slowing all enemy units, respeccing into blizzard, etc.

-Fast expansions and the deepest structure/macro gameplay of all races.

This one is maybe arguable, but I would at least say that Human is more macro intensive than Undead and Orc for sure. Having to pull off fast expansions and manage resources, time, experience, items, units and structures (including towers) correctly in relation to the opponents gameplay is one of the cool complex things about playing human.

-Can be strong across all phases of the game.

At the start, you should be pretty strong against most things with footman and militia support, the option to do stormbolt surrounds with MK, or the powerful archmage with his water elemental. Assuming you aren't fast expanding, you can also be powerful in the midgame with Riflecaster armies, and do strong pushes. A strong midgame human is really fearsome in any matchup, but especially against Orcs with tower support. If you can manage to take Human into a lategame, then you can even overpower the dreaded Undead army with your trihero, knights, copters, and perhaps tanks. A lategame human army is also likely to win against lategame NE (unless they get level 6 on their DH or Warden, which could change things completely) they just need to have played a strong game and have the economy and levels needed to reach this point.

-Many frail units to control makes it an extremely micro intensive race.

I just like Human units/army composition in general. Now, don't get me wrong, all races require insane micro to play at a high level, but I like microing certain kinds of units and armies more than others. Human just has a really fun to control units which feels really hard to play. It's basically about units that are large in numbers but weak and easy to kill. The other race I really like controlling is Undead, but the mainstay undead units feels a lot easier to keep alive and control, on the flipside undead micro mistakes can also be more punished. I guess I prefer the human "extremely hard to play but some mistakes are allowed" over undead "not as high skill ceiling but you are punished more for mistakes". that's just my take on it.

-Fearsome tier 2 pushing ability.

It is sometimes said that Humans have to expand to beat some of the other races, especially Undead. But this really depends on the map, and Warcraft is a game where the time and resource investments into expanding can be punished really harshly, so it's good to know to know that Humans can always 1-base if they want to. Against orcs, there's two different kinds of pushes I like doing. Either I pull my militia before I hit tier 2, and get a firelord on the way. No sanctums or any tier 2 units in general, just 2 heroes, footmen, and towers and maybe a shop at his base, just keep making footmen with defend and rely on your summons and try to get towers up. If he doesn't already have a warmill, then you could be in good shape, but good orcs will usually defend this kind of push and win. The other way, which has a bit more stability (pretty much guaranteed level 3, useful units, etc) but less surprise factor, is to double sanctum and do the tower push at around 50 food, with heal scrolls and all. At this point, you might even have a level 3 beastmaster or MK. It's a good idea to try anything you can to wreck the orcs economy and supply block him and delay the tier 2 buildings by using your water elementals and quillbeast at the right time. If you don't pull off any tricks along the way to slow down the orcs, then your push will lose. Against night elf, the riflepush is a dreaded kind of push and is a strategy I've shunned for a long time, but lately I've started playing it and I think it's my best option on a lot of maps. Night elf is the hardest matchup for me for what it's worth. In mirror or against undead, these tier 2 rifle/tower pushes aren't quite as effective, but you can still do a lot of damage or push and win the game in the right situation. I've even seen Imperius riflepush win against 120 on LR.

-Mortar teams.

Once you can add some of these to your army, you're going to feel like a fucking badass.

-Legit cheesing options if wanted.

MK or Paladin first against Undead is a great way to feel overpowered for a minute. Same with using zappers, or making tanks later on. On most maps I will do a fast expand against undead with an MK, try to get level 3, and run into his base with a lot of footmen with defend and kill his goldmine, bolting his acolytes. this has made many undeads ragequit out of frustration, because this is a strat that requires pretty much no skill. just run in, do some damage and tp out. If you're lucky, this could win you the game right then and there. You can do a cheesy tower rush against night elves, and fast AM blizzard humans or orcs. Tanks are probably the cheesiest unit in the game too, noone fucking likes playing against them, but if you wanna win, sometimes you need to make some of these stupid tanks. I don't like playing tanks, but sometimes you gotta do what you gotta do, and it's nice that human has the option.

-Good use of battle terrains, kiting etc to fight is needed.

The human army grows rather complex later on and I just love the strategic use of unit positioning and terrain needed to function, especially against Night elves. You need to find these little chokes and shit. I especially love the terrain use in lategame against NE, when you have your blizzard, casters, breakerwall, mortars, and the possibility of strategic tower placements while advancing on his expo.

-TOWERS.

Need I say more?

So that's some of what I like about Human. I think there's a beauty in all the races, but for playing them, I think the enjoyment you can get out of orc can be kinda cheap for example, as it relies a lot on the ridiculousness of the blademaster, and on RNG with items and crits. I just think Human is the race for me for a lot of reasons but especially the variety you can get and the army composition (where I like Human and Undead more than Orc and NE) even if it isn't necessarily the race I have most success with... I do think it's a pretty hard race to play, lol. At least Human has one really good matchup and that is vs Orc.

I said a lot of positives, but a lot of them on the flipside can turn into a frustrating negative, like if you are careless for just half a second your archmage could just die, failing a bit with the fast expand can cost you the game, failing the tier 2 push can rarely be salvaged, etc. In tier 1 the Blade Master and Demon Hunter is frustrating to face. The balance in the game between the races is really good at a pro level, so you can really play any race and there's not really any advantage in general, just some maps that are better and some matchups are harder to get the hang of. This about the maps is the biggest problem I have, actually... I just find that most of the mainstay maps are troublesome as human. Turtle Rock and Ancient Isles *shudders*

So yeah, I love Warcraft III and if you are even a little bit interested then have a look at the competitive scene and learn the meta game because WC3 is fucking amazing and you're not going to understand that angle at all or why so many fans play the shit out of this game otherwise. Not that everyone needs to but hey this is a site about rating games and I rate it highly mostly for melee so that's why I would recommend to have a look at melee.

51

Within a Deep Forest


A little masterpiece

Without a doubt one of the most fun games I ever played for speed. Within a Deep Forest is particularly compelling because it will not only be both an impressive and novel experience your first playthrough, it will also welcome you to play it over and over and over and over again. Nifflas has made some excellent indie games and I think this is the best of them all, because the gameplay is just on another level. The various types of bouncy ball physics in WADF will plead you to speed run it. I just love the distinct personality and use for each ball. The game is a bit on the metroidvania side of things; it gives you no clear indication of where to go, and you have to have unlocked the necessary balls to clear specific areas. Nifflas has designed a magnificent, bite-sized atmospheric ball game. It mends retro design ideas with more modern ones, bringing out the best in each. The main hub is beautiful and all the main areas will be a memorable experience, and some of them continue to impress me to this day. Within a Deep Forest is honestly one of the best games I have ever played. It is an innocent-looking little title, but it packs a punch of pure gameplay brilliance, and it has heart. Just beware that the game does ask you to to learn some basic competency in controlling the various balls, which might frustrate less patient gamers on the first playthrough, as that is still a learning process. If you can get past that and actually learn to play the game competently, I can assure you 100% that it is worth it to keep playing and to master it. The comfy atmosphere, music and artstyle is just yet another plus. There's even a story, which is nothing more than a cute afterthought. After all, did a game about bouncing balls really need a serious story focus?

52

Zelda II: The Adventure of Link


I think I speak for a lot of people when I say Zelda was a big part of my childhood. However, I'll probably lose most of you when I mention that my favourite in the series is this one.

First of all, let's think a little about context. Whereas Zelda games eventually got certain expectations, especially since they moved on to 3D... You know. Go to the dungeon, find the item, use the item to beat some puzzles, use the item on the boss weak point... stuff like that. Zelda II isn't really like any other Zelda game, and there was no need for it to be, because the series hadn't evolved to that point yet. It's honestly a bit of a shame that they didn't try this kind of side scrolling format again. The first Zelda felt like a natural progression from The Tower of Druaga. In The Legend of Zelda, you didn't really need to be told what to do or where to go. You're immediately thrown into an adventure which takes place in an almost entirely hostile environment. Although there's certainly something to see or do almost anywhere you care to go, including a good amount of secrets that may not get to find on your own, there was a charming aimlessness, a nonlinearity to it that just worked. You could even do the Dungeons in many various orders, and it's easy to stock up on unnecessary keys, which could carry over into the next dungeon. The gameplay was also rather fast paced and more focused on action and with even a bit of multitasking, unlike the 3D games. It's a game of exploring moreso than following a format, and the actual gameplay, while it may seem simple now, was actually rather complex for its time. Later Zelda games got a lot more stream-lined, even including Zelda II. However, Zelda II was effectively skipped as an influence for future Zelda games. The first Zelda influenced LttP, which in turn I would say laid out the foundation for future Zelda games. OoT, of course, dictated how the games were supposed to work in the 3D format, and that's where I stop caring.

So as I mentioned, Zelda II isn't really a relevant entry to the series in terms of influence. It did clearly influence a number of other games, like The Battle of Olympus or Rambo, but it didn't really do anything for Zelda as a whole. It's pretty easy to see why, considering the foundations laid out by OoT. The main combat system and the platforming elements doesn't really have anything to do with the top-down or 3D perspective gameplay of other Zelda's. I mean, those games don't even have jump button. You don't fight with any items in Zelda II and you don't really use the items to solve puzzles. The experience system wouldn't be necessary in future titles. Although Zelda II did introduce significantly more NPC's and added towns, those would've been added anyway to make the series more story oriented. Effectively, Zelda II is its own thing and needs to be treated as such. The first mistake I want to tell you to avoid making, is to compare it unfavorably to other Zelda games just because it's different. Try to enjoy it for what it is, rather than lamenting that it is lacking something implemented in the future titles. In my opinion the future games really should've taken Zelda II more into consideration. 3D Zelda's are so slow and tedious, wouldn't it be more fun if they dropped the dreadful lock-on system, and just let you jump around and slash at things? Imagine running around in a 3D space and down-thrusting anything in sight, avoiding enemies and projectiles from various angles, and that kind of combat multitasking. It could've been a real hit, at least with me.

Enough talk about such matters, let's just get down to the game in question, how it works, why it works and what makes me enjoy it, as well as some of the undeniable and rather unfortunate flaws. I mentioned that Zelda II is more streamlined than the first game, and I'm not gonna comment on whether that's a good thing or not. Let's just say that I really liked the format of the first game. Zelda II has you do things more in a specific order, but there's still a bit of exploration involved. While you're gonna spend the majority of the game in the side scrolling sections, there's also an overworld to explore with a top-down perspective. This is one of the things in the game that could've been handled better. First of all, the overworld, although it feels pretty nostalgic to me, isn't all that attractive. It just looks kind of "blocky". Secondly, it doesn't have enough exploration, which kind of defeats the purpose of an overworld and betrays the original game. There's still enough there to satiate some of that hunger for nonlinear adventure, but there should've been more. The game's still rather big for a NES game, so that's good, but the problem is still that you're pretty restricted in where you're allowed to go.

The main attraction of the game is the combat, which takes place in the sidescrolling sections. Many of these are predetermined, including the larger portions (palaces), but you will also encounter enemies on the overworld, which leads you into a short skirmish on the terrain you were standing on. This is kinda neat I think, since the enemies and dynamics are totally different if you're standing on a swamp tile, which eats up your movement, or in say a forest, where the random encounters spawn right next to you, making it hard to avoid them on reflex. You're not going to find a whole lot throughout the game to make the game any easier for you, unlike other Zelda games. You'll find a couple of nifty spells and abilities, but nothing like later Zeldas. So it's imperative that you learn basic fighting to play the game. First, you have your shield, which cannot be upgraded. The position of the shield is around Link's upper area when you are standing, and the lower area while you are crouching. You can turn around, and crouch or stand while jumping, making blocking attacks and projectiles from left or right very flexible. Second, you have your sword. The sword itself cannot be upgraded either, you have the same sword throughout the whole game, but you can level up your attack power which is necessary to ever kill some of the future enemies, and find two new types of attacks (the down thrust, which makes combat easier and more flexible, and the up thrust, which isn't as necessary). Like in other 2D Zelda's, max health means your sword shoots out an additional beam, however this is quite a weak attack in this game, it's a tiny beam that only flies forward by a small amount and which only hurts smaller or some medium sized enemies.

In order to fight with your sword correctly, you must treat this also as a platforming game, and master jumping. Jumping around is key to fight well in Zelda II, as you will fight sluggishly and leave yourself vulnerable if you simply stand or crouch. Jump-crouch attacking or in some cases, like against Ironknuckles, jump-stand attacking is the way to go. Don't leave yourself open and in most cases be on the offense, jumping at enemies and slashing them, and you will learn that Zelda II isn't as difficult as people say. Although some enemies are a bit more random and unpredictable, in a lot of cases it's just a matter of finding the right method for combat. I mentioned Ironknuckles before, the Daira (axe mohawk dudes) is another good example, run forward and jump-crouch-stab over and over and it is easily defeated. This will even work against the red version, as you will automatically jump over all the thrown axes. In fact, after playing Zelda II more, it's the smaller, more unpredictable enemies that may end up more difficult to handle effectively.

As you're exploring, the various NPCs will give you (bad) clues as to where to go, but usually it's pretty easy just to find out on your own. Over the course of the game, there are various dungeons (though they're called palaces in this game) to enter, and unlike future Zelda's, these don't really contain puzzles. They're just about fighting things. The bosses, also, rarely rely much on gimmicks, so they're more like the regular enemies, except just bigger. Even so, each palace does hold its own item, and has various keys to collect and doors to unlock. The thing is that the items aren't really important. Literally every item is intended as a key to unlock a new part of the game, and have little importance other than this fact. You don't actively "use" the items you find. Some of the items do change the gameplay dynamics though. The gloves, which you find in palace 2, lets you crush blocks with your sword, and this is important in the game after that point. Furthermore, there are two skippable items that completely change how the game is approached. The first is the Candle, which is found in the first palace. As soon as you pick up the candle, you permanently light up all of the many caves in the game. Without the candle, the caves are dark and the enemies nearly invisible, you can just barely make out the shadows of the enemies if you look closely, but it becomes more a matter of enemy placement memorization to play without the candle. You can still see the terrain, though. Next is the cross, which lets you see invisible enemies. These unpredictable flying assholes are pretty much everywhere on the way to the final palace, but you can still make it through without this item. Skipping the Candle makes the game more fun to me, and is a must if you're speedrunning. Skipping the cross is a bitch, but it is also possible. Although the items are generally totally boring, the basic action gameplay is so good that it doesn't need equipment like bows, bombs or, uhh, deku nuts.

There's also spells. These are a little bit more impressive than the items, but they're still nothing to really write home about. They don't do that much to enhance the gameplay. Still, there's a bit of fun to be had here. You can use fairy to fly through locked doors and skip keys, or spell to turn all enemies on screen into bots (slimes). Some people may like to use Jump, which increases your jump height, to fight certain enemies. Most of all though, I would recommend to rely on the defensive spells, Shield and Life, to make the game easier for you. The more offense oriented spells, such as Fire or Thunder, aren't useful. Spells are taught to you in the towns after completing a simple fetch quest, most of which take barely any time at all.

Next there's the experience system. This part is actually really interesting and well done. It may seem a bit weird, when i explain its more intricate nature, but bear with me. In this game, you gain experience from killing enemies or picking up "P-Bags". There are three different stats to level up, Life (decreases damage taken), Magic (decreases spell costs), and Attack (increases your damage). These three stats all have different scales. At level 1, Life costs 50 experience, Magic 100, and Attack 200, so as you can see, the expense differs pretty greatly. For that reason, new players will typically not level up Attack enough. This is even more true since you can game over in this game, and game over makes you lose all accumulated experience (not levels, though). Now, let's move on to the more quirky parts. I mentioned how different stats have different scales, but there's more to it than that. When you gain enough experience to level up a stat, you get a choice to either level up that stat, or to level up a cheaper stat, or to wait and level up later. So let's say you want to level up Attack first thing, in that case, when you reach 50 experience, you have to skip that level. then when you reach 100 experience, you have to skip again. Only after that will you reach the choice to level up Attack. You cannot level up in between, either, this only serves to discourage new players from skipping levels, due to that fear of game over, and results in beginners with low attack stats.

A lot of people say Zelda II needs grinding. If you want good stats, it is a lot smarter to use a different trick than to grind. At the end of each palace, after the boss, you collect an orb of sorts that gives you all the experience you need to reach the next level. Consider this for a moment. I said before that Attack is the most expensive stat, right? Put two and two together, and that means you're going to want to collect these orbs when you have just skipped life and magic level ups, and you will get all the experience you need to level up your attack. With the candleless speed-run route, you can get attack level 5 from palace 1, attack level 6 from palace 2, and attack level 7 (or a crapton of life and magic levels) from palace 3 by abusing this, and there's room to level up life and magic in between the attack levels as well. You'll never have to grind experience when you can gain an hours worth of grinding experience in a moment. You'll have pretty strong stats already starting from palace 4, and if you still don't feel strong enough, you can get all the experience you want pretty quickly from grinding before palace 6 from those really lucrative lizard enemies. Of course, playing candle-less first thing isn't going to happen, but you can still use this trick no matter how you choose to play.

But wait, there's more. Enemies drop items, and this also plays into experience routing. The drops are mostly predictable. This is how it works. Enemies are sorted into different categories, you could say there's big and small enemies, as well as some enemies without drops. Every 6th small enemy and every 6th big enemy you kill will drop an item, and they have separate counters. The more you replay the game, the more it will become second nature to keep count of separate enemy types so you know where the drops will be. The drops themselves are random, but there's only two kinds of drops, a magic potion or a P-Bag. Bigger enemies will leave P-Bags, size is dependant on the XP worth of the enemy killed, or potions, the red kind which fills an entire magic bars worth of MP, and smallest enemies only drop blue potions which only fills one bar of magic. Needless to say, if you follow a certain route while playing, you will always gain roughly the same amount of experience, making it easy enough to use the experience trick at the end of palaces. Overall, the RPG aspect of Zelda II was a very welcomed addition. I say, try to level up Attack and Life for the most part, and don't bother much with Magic Levels until around palace 4.

The best part of the game though is definitely just simply fighting things, which has very fluid controls and mechanics, allows for a fair amount of multitasking, and simply feels satisfying. The various enemies offer up good resistance with different kinds of dangers, unblockable projectiles, blockable projectiles, jumping, boomerangs, slashing... It is a joy to fight them, the detail how some enemies are pushed back, and other enemies are frozen by your hits (which even lets you move through them until they can move again) makes it so much fun. Mashing down-thrust in a closed space to deal 10 or however many blows per second is hilarious. To me sidescrolling action is peak Zelda and Link in this game is the definitive Link. A badass who does damn near everything by himself. The weaker aspects to me are more about casual play, which can seem rather unfriendly. I've talked a little bit about how the experience system can be difficult to make use of properly without enough knowledge on the matter, but there are other ways the game is unfriendly. If you game over, you have to start from the beginning, which in some cases means you have to move through a lot of caves and shit to get back to where you were. You keep all your progress, but you still have to go back. I think the worst part about casual gameplay here by far is the secrecy of the game, which really doesn't live up to the first game at all. If you don't know where to go, it can be a huge chore to explore, whereas exploring was mostly fun in the first game. Sometimes it's rather senseless. This won't affect future playthroughs when you know where to go, but it's still a game flaw and something to take into consideration when picking it up for the first time. The NPCs are pretty much useless as help, and sometimes the palaces have fake walls and floors and are highly confusing to navigate. In addition, the design of the final palace is simply senseless. If you navigate it blindly you'll just run through stupid rooms and reach dead-ends. There's barely any enemies, but the enemies are really powerful, and they give like no XP, so you wanna make sure you've reached all the levels you want to at this point, and then probably just run past the enemies when possible. Even the final boss sucks, since there's a simple exploit to defeat it. Thunderbird who makes an appearance right before the final boss is good, though.

The Japanese version is pretty different. There are some animation differences, different music, and a totally different experience system. If you're a fan of Zelda II, I would recommend to play through this version once. The bosses are rather funny.

This was my most played game on the NES as a kid, and It's always had a special place in my heart. I think it's aged very well. Most of the games I played a lot as a kid aren't as good as I thought at the time. This one's an exception. I played it as a child, and sucked at it but eventually beat it. Rediscovered a bit later when a friend loaned me his Zelda collection for gamecube, and played through it frequently (unlike the other games on the disc) during a more boring part of my life (had no internet or computer). Once I had a computer again, I eventually learned about speedruns, and enjoyed to play without the candle. It's so damn replayable. Eventually, through on and off playing (I've never been all that serious about this game, like practicing or grinding runs) I just naturally got better and eventually I could beat it in almost record time (1:05 with the warpless 1cc category). The best players today are really strong, though, much better than me, some have even got sub-1 hour now. In fact, one of my grievances now is that the game is actually kind of too easy and gets a little boring. Speedruns have too much downtime in the towns and overworld, and stretches with little happening, and there's nothing else exciting besides speedrunning for me to do here. I don't think I can quite enjoy it as much as I used to, but I have to admit the fact that it has such a special place, and it is an all around great game, probably my favourite NES game, and a game that is undeserving of its relatively poor reputation in its franchise, and also of its reputation as a particularly hard game. Give it a chance!

999: Nine Hours, Nine Persons, Nine Doors


I really got hooked on the story. This game's basically like Ever17, so I think I would've liked it more if I hadn't already finished that. It's the same writer, and the shameless repetition was honestly disappointing. Looking past all that this was a really awesome game. The execution of the mystery itself is great, and I think the way the facts piled up to solve the mystery was better than in Ever17, at least before the true end where both certainly could've been a lot better, but Ever17 was just especially disappointing to me. Ever17 had a better mood and a stronger mystery on the whole, even if the overall story in the true end was weaker. This game's also a bit more adult, there's gore and sexual jokes... in fact, there's some questionable fan service in here (like the axe ending). Oh, and this isn't just a Visual Novel. There's escape the room segments, and those are decent at best. The logic puzzles in them are not challenging and the more "explore and click on things" gameplay tends to be lacking in fun and overall purpose or any kind of emotion. To me, the inclusion of gameplay like this demands that it is good enough to live up to the visual novel, and it does not do this. Usually when you start these, the game does not engage you enough, and you prefer to try to get a move on and see more of the story. So that's a negative. 999 comes highly recommended from me, but there are flaws and a ton of laziness here that I cannot overlook.