Runic Games. They Brought us Torchlight and Torchlight 2. Long before that they were the team known as Blizzard North who were the creators of Diablo and now they've brought us a crafty and quite lovely isometric platformer called - Hob. I played it and If you stick with me I'll tell you about my experience with it. Read more
Way back when - back when PC's were still young-ish and AAA-gaming was a little like indie gaming is today, there was a guy named Jordan Mechner. He wanted to make very visual, story-intense games. But the thing is, the hardware wasn't quite at the point where he could do what he wanted. So, instead of making photo-realistic, beautifully rendered games - because he couldn't - he made stunningly realized pixel-based games that had the most fluid movement you could possibly imagine.
His first design was the masterfully simple Karateka. Always go right. Flip between fight stance and run stance. Kill the bad guys. Watch the story unfold. As simple as Karateka was, it summed up Mechner's way of creating games.
Between Karateka and Prince of Persia, five years would pass - and while the graphics got better, they were still not realistic. Which was fine. Prince of Persia was moody and simple - the motion of the prince was what was important. And boy was he fluid.
This doesn't quite bring me to Sands of Time, but it does illustrate the main point I'm trying to make - a lot of Jordan Mechner's games are about the fluidity of the body - and how beautiful it can seem when running or jumping or engaged in combat.
And that, in a nutshell, is where Sands of Time absolutely delivers. Read more
As a warning: if you love the original Spyro, The Dragon for Playstation, you may want to steer clear of this review. I wasn't a huge fan and you're probably just going to take umbrage. Now, on with the show. Read more
It seems that this was a pretty big week on the Steam Store. Not only did the new Call of Duty hit, but also the renowned Arcade developer, CAVE, has made its Steam debut with their hit "bug princess" shooter, Mushihimesama (mooshee-heemay-sahmah). Additionally, SEGA graciously saw fit to bring over their previously Nintendo-exclusive Sonic the Hedgehog game, Sonic Lost World.
I don't know about you, but the CAVE news alone was enough to send me to gaming heaven (before their punishing shooter promptly sent me to bullet hell). Proceed further to see more of this week's new releases.
My comfort zone when it comes to video games extends to slow games. I like adventure games. I like turn based strategy games [assuming there aren't a billion units]. I like turn based role playing games [assuming there isn't a stupid ton of micromanagement]. So, platformers are generally right out. The speed of a platformer, coupled with the number of enemies and the level of sheer frustration those games can engender just make them not worth my while.
But I've been trying. I most recently beat Evoland 2, a game that takes some inspiration from platformers of the past. I also beat Shovel Knight, again, earlier this year, because I love that game a great deal.
Both these games are great, but they're modern and have modern gamers in mind. Evoland - thoughtfully - saves your progress every time you change scenes. Shovel Knight has a clever, player-directed difficulty setting where you can either break your checkpoints or you can leave them intact, allowing you to make the game incredibly difficult, or just "somewhat challenging."
Banjo-Kazooie is this last, a cute, animal-based platformer that doesn't really take itself seriously at all. The plot is pretty simple: Bad witch discovers she's not the nicest looking witch in all the world. A bear by the name of Tooty is. She decides this simply will not do, kidnaps the bear with the intention of swapping bodies and gets caught in the act, red-handed by a mole named Bottles. Bottles yells for Banjo to help his sister, which, basically starts the adventure.
The creepy nature of the plot aside, Banjo-Kazooie is a blast. You start at Banjo's house where Bottles teaches you a couple of moves that you can use to jump, stomp and run through each ensuing level. For the first few worlds, your move set will slowly broaden until you can fly, bomb creatures from the air and run extra fast with the help of a pair of running shoes.
Each level is a complete little world, with it's own particular perils and theme. In one world, you might be in a winter wonderland, while in another, you may be traversing a scary mansion. No two worlds are ever quite alike. Each has its own [fantastic] musical theme, little character designs that show just enough personality to be memorable [but, given the brief nature of your visits to each, don't get fleshed out overmuch] while never getting in the way of game play or bogging the player down with superfluous fluff.
This particular game comes from an age that incentivized exploration through collectibles. In Banjo-Kazooie, the main "currency" of the game is the musical note. You can pick up 900 of these and each note that you pick up brings you closer to opening sections of Gruntilda's [the witch] lair. At the beginning, you simply need fifty notes to progress, but as the game slowly winds up the difficulty crank, so it expects you to rise to the challenge of collecting ever more notes.
To unlock future worlds, you need puzzle pieces that complete picture frames throughout the lair. Again, starts off simple - you only require one of these to get into Mumbo's Mountain, but by the time the game winds down, you're going to make sure you're scouring levels for as many as you can get. These are - in the game's parlance - Jiggies.
Jiggies are earned through doing a collection of little "quests" throughout the level you're in and these are great. It's a very rewarding way to entice the player through the game. Some are fairly "standard." There's a Jiggy for collecting a "collection" of Jinjo's - little, bird-like creatures that have been scattered throughout the levels by Gruntilda, while others are more esoteric and need far more work. In one of the very last levels, for example, your patience with a young bird [that you hatch, yourself - and then later feed, too] is rewarded when, at last, the bird takes to the skies and reveals the Jiggy it was holding onto for you.
There are other collectibles: extra lives, honeycomb pieces [that extend your life bar] and Mumbo tokens [which allow you to visit the local shaman, Mumbo and be transformed into something native to the world you're in. In one world you might be an ant and in another, you might be an incredibly adorable walrus.] all of which you'll seek out, but the main game requires that you simply collect notes and Jiggies.
And this seeking out is the most fantastic thing about the game. Modern games will hold you by the hand and guide you, step by step through what you need to be doing next. Shovel Knight had the over world. Evoland 2 - while incredibly open in it's second act - still has a structure you can follow. Banjo? If you're smart and wily, you can sequence break - going into worlds that you should only visit further along in the adventure. Likewise, each level is wide open. You can start at any point [for the most part] and collect any Jiggy you choose. [This is almost always true. A couple of worlds force prerequisites on you - Clanker's Cavern has an entire second half that can only be done by doing a very specific Jiggy-related task.]
One of Banjo-Kazooie's greatest assets is this variety. You never quite know what you're going to run into while you're playing and this makes it easy to want to play. If there's one thing modern gaming has entirely lost, it's the element of "what's around the next corner" and this particular game has that down to a fine art. Wozza the Walrus won't deal with me if I'm a bear, but how about when I'm a walrus, too? There's this very weird camel guy in Gobi's valley that says all this funny stuff, I wonder if I can get him to move? All these little things add up to make Banjo-Kazooie a joy to play.
But it is not without its faults.
One early move you learn is a maneuver that allows you to toss eggs, but it's never as accurate as you'd like it to be, because 3d gaming was in its infancy and trying to aim your "missiles" so that they did what you wanted could be quite daunting. This is - to a lesser extent - a problem with every move in the game. 3D wasn't a perfected art at this point, so judging distances - especially when you're high up in a level and the prospect of falling is a clear and present danger - could be tricky. One of my single biggest gripes with the control of Banjo-Kazooie was that they didn't just come to a complete stop. Often, if you're running in a direction and you take your hands off the controller, there's a little gap between your action and the action on screen. Essentially, the bear and bird pair will skid to a halt a couple of steps further than you meant for them to be. This can create a weird kind of terrible tension where you absolutely need to stop dead, and sometimes, the game will keep moving you, plummeting you to your doom.
In the same vein, the forced swimming is atrocious. You get "used to it" by the end of the game, but it is difficult to control, has a tendency to make you overshoot your actual goal and drowning is a thing that can really happen.
And when you die...
...Well, I mentioned that this was an old game with an older design paradigm, so when you do kick the bucket, your notes that you collected get revoked. You're forced to re-play that section of the game again to re-acquire all the notes you just lost so that you can beat your "note score" for that world. This can be a frustration at the end-game where the levels get increasingly more difficult and require particular dexterity on your part. [Engine room in Rusty Bucket Bay, I'm looking at you!]
Besides, at least this frustration has been dealt with in the XBox re-issue of the game.[that you can currently snag through the Rare Replay compilation.]
This Xbox version introduces it's own set of frustrations - Motzhand's organ plays exactly the same note regardless of which key you hit while you're working with that particular puzzle. All of the Nintendo branding and shout-outs are gone [this is understandable, but sad] and that special kind of tension where you lose all your notes when you die is gone. [This can swing both ways. On the one hand, the challenge can be interesting. On the other, it can also be particularly frustrating.]
What do I think of Banjo-Kazooie? I think it's absolutely worth experiencing. The current re-release does some things rather differently, but if you've never played it, this would be the place to start. Of course, if you want the original experience, you should attempt to find it for the Nintendo 64.
This is easily, behind The Dig, one of my favourite games this year.
This is a cross-post from Greywolfe's Blog.
Honeycomb image courtesy of Pixabay
Another excellent Arcade port has come to the Steam Store this week, courtesy of Arc System Works. Arcana Heart 3: Love Max!!!!! is a very Japanesey, all-female fighting game with beautiful anime style graphics. If you're a fan of similar fighter series such as BlazBlue or Guilty Gear, you won't be disappointed with this one.
Also out this week, Inti Creates' 8-bit style action platformer, Mighty Gunvolt, and sports titles, Rugby League Live 3 and NBA 2K16. Fight like a girl, then proceed further to see more of this week's new releases.
Nearly a decade after the the last entry in the series was released, Ty the Tasmanian Tiger 4 has come to the Steam Store. In case you aren't familiar with it, Ty The Tasmanian Tiger was originally an EA-published, console-only series that appeared on the GameCube, PlayStation 2, and original Xbox. It was yet another in a fairly long line of competent, three-dimensional, anthropomorphic animal platformers, and was most often compared to Spyro the Dragon and Crash Bandicoot.
While the new entry does share many of the same elements as previous titles, Krome Studios (still the same developer, by the way) did opt to switch things up a bit by making Ty 4 into a two-dimensional side-scrolling game. You may agree or disagree with this decision, depending on your own tastes, but in my opinion, the gameplay is just as much fun (if not more so) in two dimensions. Also, if you're like me, you may be pleased to note that this series is no longer associated with EA (which can only be to its distinct advantage).
Also out this week, a previously Xbox 360, Japan-only, vertically scrolling shooter, yet another in an alarmingly growing list of Konami fups (this time, with the release of the shoddy PC version of a fantastic console game), and a BMX trick game that looks to be an interesting mix of OlliOlli and Trials (which sounds fun to me). Much like the boomerangs that he wields, Ty the Tiger has returned once again. Proceed further to see more of this week's new releases.
Just in time for its 15th anniversary (and completely as a surprise to me), this week, Grandia II has come to the Steam Store. Already one of my all-time favorite RPGs, this version of the game is even better than I remember. That's because Grandia II Anniversary Edition features upgraded visuals, an extra difficulty setting, Steam Achievements, and an original Japanese voice option.
It doesn't include a soundtrack, though, unfortunately (my original Dreamcast version did). That one small oversight aside, this game is definitely worthy of a purchase. If you've never played it before (or even if you have), I would strongly urge you to give it a look.
Also out this week, Mega Man Legacy Collection (Boo-yah!), a very excellent (and dark) looking sci-fi action platformer, and an action RPG sequel featuring time-travel and evolving video game styles. Celebrate a very welcome 15th anniversary, then proceed further to see more of this week's new releases.