Also available on Game Boy Color and 3DS via Virtual Console
The Castlevania Adventure gets a bad rap, and it's really not nearly as bad as folks make it out to be. It's got its flaws, for sure, and I'll address those, but for a game from 1989 on the original Game Boy and one of the system's first games, I thought it was really quite good, and aside from some frustration, I thoroughly enjoyed my time playing it.
Castlevania Adventure is a prequel to the original Castlevania and sequel to Castlevania III: Dracula's Curse. The game's protagonist is Christopher Belmont, the member of the Belmont Clan who faced Dracula in the 16th Century - 100 years after Trevor Belmont but 100 years before Simon Belmont. Unfortunately, the folks at Konami's American office didn't know what they were doing and put Simon's name both on the box and in the manual, leading to a ton of confusion when Castlevania Adventure II: Belmont's Revenge came out a few years later and suddenly started talking about some dude named Christopher.
As I said, I don't think this game deserves a lot of the harsh criticism it gets from players these days, but there are some definite flaws. It takes him FOREVER to get anywhere, and you can forget about outrunning enemies. He also drops like a rock after he jumps. If you've played the first Castlevania NES, you know that Simon got a little bit of air before he landed. I guess Christopher ate a hearty diet of lead because he drops faster than my bank balance when a new Nintendo console launches. In sharp contrast to his supersonic drop, his gait is downright glacial. Christopher moves about as quickly as a continental shelf. His slow speed and rapid descent in and of themselves didn't bother me, but it made stage 3 excruciating to get through. In stage 3, you spend the majority of the level jumping from rope to rope and making pixel perfect jumps. All this while you're being pursued by a spike wall that moves just a little too fast for comfort. You pretty much have to climb the rope to the top to be able to make your jumps with how fast he falls, but remember that he moves really slowly, but ALSO REMEMBER that there's a massive wall of instagib spikes rapidly closing in on you. It's extremely stressful and indescribably frustrating and really the low point of the entire game.
Now that I've discussed the game's major flaws and why most of the Castlevania fandom seems to despise it, let's take a look at what the game does right and why I, personally, really enjoyed it. The game is broken into four stages, and as I've already said, stage 3 sucks ass. The first two stages, however, are a lot of fun, and aside from the normal frustration that comes with Castlevania games, I had an absolute blast playing them. Yeah, Christopher's slow as molasses in an igloo, but that's okay (when you're not trying to outrun homicidal spike walls). Stage 4, being the last stage and the one in which you fight Dracula, is obviously a very challenging stage, but it didn't feel as maliciously sadistic and almost unfair as stage 3 did. It'll frustrate you, for sure, but it's still fun to play. One thing that I think is important to note is that the game doesn't try to do too much. I'm sure you've all played a game that had some great ideas but just did too much either for the hardware or the controls to really facilitate properly. Castlevania Adventure didn't do that. With a D pad and two buttons on a handheld system that already isn't particularly powerful, they didn't needlessly complicate things; they kept it simple by removing subweapons and hearts. Some folks are going to be disappointed by that, sure, but keep in mind that this was not only the first Castlevania game on a handheld but one of the first third party games on the Game Boy; it's more important to get the core gameplay right than to do too much and screw it up, and I think given the game's slow pace, less is more.
Don't let the internet fool you; the Castlevania Adventure isn't nearly as bad as folks make it out to be. It's far from perfect, but at the end of the day, for what it is and when it was made, it's a good, competent Castlevania experience. The movement is slow, and Christopher falls too fast, but all things considered, I thought the game controlled pretty well. Given the Game Boy's limitations and the fact that this game came out just six months into the system's life, I think Konami made a fantastic first effort here. It may not have aged well, but that doesn't mean that it can't still be an enjoyable experience if you can put it in the context of 1989.
My Rating - 4 Neps
Also available on Wii and Wii U via Virtual Console
Super Castlevania IV was not only the first Castlevania game to be released on Nintendo's 16-bit console but also a full remake of the original Castlevania, relling the story of Simon Belmont's journey into Dracula's castle to slay the vampire lord and save 17th Century Transylvania. Konami held nothing back with this game, making full use of the Super Nintendo's horsepower to deliver a truly incredible game that took the high standard they set for themselves with Castlevania III and raised it even higher.
Right off the bat, it's clear that Konami's team put a lot of TLC into Castlevania IV. The controls feel better and tighter than the NES games' ever did, the music is top notch, and the visuals are phenomenal. The isn't just a straight remake of the original Castlevania, though. While it does retell the events of the game and base a lot of its levels on the first game, there are several completely new levels. For instance, in the first game, you started off right there in Dracula's castle, but you start this game outside, fighting your way through the horde of eldritch horrors to get to the castle. The same goes for the soundtrack; the game's music is a mix of 16-bit renditions of music from the NES games as well as completely original tracks created for Castlevania IV. The whole game just has a fantastic presentation.
Konami thankfully kept the format of the game the same as the original - linear action platforming. Like the original, falling deaths are going to be a common thing for you - especially on the last two stages - but the game is a lot more forgiving with the landings for your jumps than the NES games were. In the games on NES, your jumps had to be pretty much pixel perfect, and while there are some jumps here that require precision, you're not often going to see Simon's foot go through part of the floor on the edge of a platform. It sounds like a small thing, but that little bit of leeway prevented a LOT of deaths in my playthrough. That will not, however, protect you from the flying Medusa heads and bats that make a return here and live for the sole purpose of knocking you off platforms at every available opportunity. The Medusa heads seem a bit harder to dodge here than in the original game because they're patterns aren't quite as exact, but they also seem easier to hit, so it balances out.
While it's true that Konami made good use of the Super Nintendo's capabilities, including some fantastic use of parallax scrolling and some truly impressive Mode 7 functions, they did so at the expense of some performance. While most of the game runs extremely smoothly, when there's a lot going on or heavy use of Mode 7 features, the game suffers from significant slowdown. This doesn't ruin gameplay, per se, but it's severe enough that it can break your rhythm if you don't expect it. It's a shame, too, because the visual effects used are incredible, especially for 1991, and the game is nearly flawless otherwise. Also, as seen below, apparently Colonel Sanders' angry wraith haunts Dracula's castle. Still not sure what that's about.
Super Castlevania IV is not without its flaws, but it still remains an exemplar of what a 16-bit adventure game should be. The controls are solid, the level design is superb, and the visual and musical presentation are almost unrivaled in the fourth console generation, at least from my experience. This game is nothing short of a masterpiece, and while there are some disappointing performance issues where some of the more graphically intensive effects come into play, that does not detract from incredible overall product. It's not a particularly cheap game, it's not nearly as expensive as some Super Nintendo games these days, and it's absolutely worth every penny. This is a must for Castlevania fans and SNES collectors. Even more casual gamers are doing themselves a disservice by not at least downloading the Virtual Console release on Wii or Wii U.
My Rating - 5 Neps
Also available on 3DS, Wii, and Wii U via Virtual Console and Windows
Castlevania III: Dracula's Curse is a great example of a company looking at what worked and what didn't work in the past and using that information to make a better product. Castlevania III went back to the action-adventure format of the first game and fixed almost all of my complaints with the original title. Not only that but it adds branching paths and multiple optional playable character, giving the game some significant replay value.
This return to first game's format makes it an infinitely more enjoyable experience for me than Simon's Quest. A couple times throughout the game, you'll have a choice to make with regards to your path. There's one "straight" path to Dracula, but taking some of the side paths can get you other playable character. In addition to the game's protagonist, Trever Belmont, there are three other playable characters - Sylpha Belnades, a priestess on a secret mission to infiltrate Dracula's castle; Grant Danasty, a rebel from Wallachia who tried to raise an army to overthrow Count Dracula; and Alucard, Dracula's son who changed his name to Alucard (Dracula backwards) to show that he opposed his father's evil and tyrannical way of life. Each of these character have a unique style of play that give the game a different feel.
Castlevania III is a prequel to the original game, taking place roughly 200 years before the events of the first game. In the 15th Century, Dracula's demon armies have begun ravaging Europe, and the Church has no choice but to turn to Trevor Belmont, the head of the Belmont Clan and wielder of the Vampire Killer whip at that time, for help. The Belmonts had previously been banished from Wallachia as the people feared their super-human strength, but "the enemy of my enemy is my friend," as they say, and Dracula was a much bigger threat to the people of Wallachia than the Belmonts.
While graphically very similar to the first Castlevania game, Castlevania III brilliantly outshines its predecessors in every other regard. The music is top-notch, keeping the action going and mood consistent the entire time. My two big complaints with the first game - the slowdown and apparent ability of enemies to past through supposedly solid walls - have both been addressed to one extent or another. There's still some slowdown, and it's still irksome, but it isn't NEARLY as bad as that of the first game, and that significant improvement makes a huge difference. As for my gripes with the enemies, that's been fixed, too. The Medusa heads still bob up and down through the floor, but their movements make it clear that it's intended for them to do that; the other enemies that seemed to pass through walls and floors unintentionally never did so, at least not during my playthrough.
Castlevania III: Dracula's Curse feels very much like the ambitions of the first game fully realized. It's clear that Konami's team was much more comfortable with the NES hardware by this point as the performance is significantly improved over the first game. Minimal slowdown, fewer enemy glitches, and overall better level design make this a superior game in every way. Multiple playable characters and branching paths give the game a high amount of replay value, and the near-perfect soundtrack is the just the icing on the cake. This is definitely a magnum opus of 8-bit gaming, and it's no surprise that Netflix chose this game as the basis for its Castlevania series.
My Rating - 5 Neps
Also available on Famicom Disk System; 3DS, Wii, and Wii U via Virtual Console; and Windows
Often with new IPs, developers will try to change up the formula with the second game in a series given there isn't yet an established "norm" for the franchise yet. We saw that with The Legend of Zelda, Super Mario Bros (at least in the West), Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles, and in terms of game mechanics, Mass Effect and The Witcher. This is also the case with Castlevania II: Simon's Quest. With the sequel to the fantastic Castlevania, Konami decided to take the Zelda II approach and replace the first game's iconic action-adventure style with a more RPG-esque format. Gamers around my age who spent time on the internet about 10 years ago, I'm sure, are familiar with the Angry Video Game Nerd review of Castlevania II, but is it really as bad as James Rolfe made it out to be? No...but the game isn't great.
Castlevania II takes place seven years after the events of the first game. Although Simon Belmont defeated Dracula, as he died, Dracula placed a curse on Simon that would send him to an early grave unless he revived the vampire. Simon's quest is to collect the five parts of Dracula's body that have been hidden throughout Transylvania and burn them, destroying the vampire's power and lifting the curse from him. The story, I think, is actually pretty cool, and I'm (almost) always a fan of direct sequels rather than chronologically far removed or unrelated sequels, so it's got that going for it, as well.
What kills the game for me are some of the choice of mechanics. The game features a day-to-night cycle, something that I generally think is pretty cool, but the way they do the transition from day to night gets irksome. Daytime lasts from 6 am until 6 pm (18:00), and night, obviously, lasts from 6 pm until 6 am. Every second of real time is four minutes of in-game time, so a full 24 hour day takes six real world minutes. During the day, townfolk are out and about in the towns, but at night, monsters appear in towns, the monsters out in the world are twice as strong, and you can't enter any town buildings. The annoying part of this day and night cycle is that every time it turns to night, you're greeted with an unskippable six or seven second message that says "What a horrible night to have a curse," and every time it turns to day, you're greeted with an equally long and unskippable message that says "The morning sun have vanquished the horrible night."
In addition to the various towns and field parts of the world, the game has six dungeons - five mansions, each containing one of Dracula's body parts, as well as the ruins of Dracula's castle. These dungeons are, for the most part, fairly well designed, although there are some false blocks that you can fall through if you don't know they're there, wasting a lot of time, that I found to be extremely annoying although not insurmountable. When you die, you respawn pretty much where you were when you died, and when you lose all of your lives, you get game over, but it gives you a password that lets you pick up where you left off. Honestly, the game's biggest problem is that it's just too damn obscure at times, and it's easy to get lost as all of the towns look extremely similar. Some of the game's hints are pretty straight forward and easy to understand, but some of them could use a little clarification. "Give this one thing to this one dude in the graveyard." Okay, well, there are like three graveyards in the game spanning both far ends of the map. It's not easily made entirely clear which town you're in. Even in real life, towns usually have several signs with the town's name on it, and that's especially true in most video games. I might be nitpicking here, but it bugged me.
Castlevania II: Simon's Quest isn't a terrible game, but it's not a particularly good game either. It's kind of just...average....and that's a shame because it really had a lot of potential. There's no one glaring flaw in the game but rather a "death by a thousand cuts" sort of weakness; there are a lot of small issues I have with it. Most of the game is a generally enjoyable experience, but there are definitely a number of areas that I felt could have been improved, namely the day/night transitions, some platforming sections, and the NPC's direction hints in the towns. If you're a huge Castlevania fan, then I'd say to give it a play, but if you're not a die-hard fan, I'd say skip this one. It's definitely the weak link in the early Castlevania games.
My Rating - 3 Neps
Also available on Famicom Disk System, Commodore 64, Commodore Amiga, Game Boy Advance; Wii, Wii U, and 3DS via Virtual Console; MS-DOS, and Windows.
Castlevania is one of Konami's late 1980s NES masterpieces, and it's easy to see how it spawned such a prolific series, even netting itself a recent Netflix series. Even more than 30 years later, the game remains extremely playable and addicting. While the events of the game are different from Stoker's novel, the game's antagonist is clearly inspired by the book's villain. You know, having the exact same name and all.
Castlevania stars the protagonist Simon Belmont on his quest to rid the world of the evil vampire Count Dracula. Dracula had been slain by Simon's great-grandfather, Christopher Belmont, a century prior to the game's events, but every 100 years, faith in God weakens in Transylvania, and Dracula is resurrected by evil men who long for chaos and destruction. Thus it fell to Simon, a member of the Belmont clan and current wielder of the legendary whip Vampire Killer, to fulfill his clan's sacred duty and slay Dracula once again, returning Transylvania to peace.
For those unfamiliar with the game, Castlevania is an action platformer. For most of the game, you're moving in a side scrolling fashion, although there are many staircases to ascend as you make your way to the top of Dracula's castle. During the game's six levels, you'll fight hordes of Dracula's minions as well as five bosses before you face the vampire lord himself. As challenging as most of the bosses can be, with the exception of Frankenstein and Death, I found the levels to be more difficult than the end bosses. The levels are generally well designed, but there are a few parts where enemies leap while you're trying to get across narrow platforms over a death pit can induce controller throwing since you flinch back whenever you're hit. Those parts are obnoxious, but they're fair; the part of the game that would piss me off would be the occasions when enemies would fly through walls or platforms (the latter is common) that are supposed to be solid. I understand that it's a design choice, not a bug, but that sort of thing always pisses me off.
While I generally found the levels more challenging than the bosses for the most part, the bosses provide some real challenge, especially the last three. One of the bosses - Death - is guilty of my OTHER major design pet peeve. In addition to flying around the level and attacking you, he always has four smaller scythes flying around the stage. These scythes can be (and pretty much must be) destroyed, but they respawn quickly. Now the bullshit part that I hate is that when you kill him, his scythes keep flying around for a bit, so even if you kill him, you can still get killed by a scythe and die. I almost broke my controller when that happened to me because he's a hard boss in general.
Castlevania truly is a classic game. It's a damn hard game - even with save states, it's hard until you really memorize some of the enemy placement and boss attack patterns - but it's a damn good game. There are a couple of design choices that I found questionable, and there's a good bit of sprite flicker in parts that gets annoying, but all in all, it's an extremely enjoyable game and a must-play for fans of the NES.
My Rating - 4 Neps
This review is dedicated to my dear college friend, Austin. He knows why. ;-)
Buck Bumble is a game that is near and dear to my heart for reasons that are 90% nostalgia. The Nintendo 64 was the big system of my childhood, and growing up, I had a real fascination with this game. I'm not sure if it was the third person shooter gameplay - a genre for which I still have a great fondness - or the KILLER 1990s British garage rock soundtrack, but for whatever reason, this game was my shit as a 9 year old. Is the game really a fantastic gem of Nintendo's 64-bit powerhouse, or are my fond memories just my view through nearly 20 years of nostalgia glasses?
So let's start with the premise. The game takes place in 2010 in England where a chemical spill has turned all of the bugs (except the heroic Buck Bumble) into crazy evil bugs that are part of the dastardly Herd (why they didn't call it the Swarm, I don't know, but whatever). You play through 19 levels, and while the game is a third person shooter and very much has the feel of one, since you're a flying bumblebee, it's really not much of a stretch to think of it as a flight combat game albeit a rather clunky one. You have you move and fight in all three dimensions, you some of the same aerial maneuvers that you'd expect to see in a flight sim, and fighting some of the enemy wasps can feel like a fighter jet dogfight. It's certainly not got the speed or intensity of, say, Crimson Skies, but it's worth noting.
Releasing in 1998, Buck Bumble came out right in the middle of the Nintendo 64's lifespan, and the developer - Argonaut Games - was no stranger to working with Nintendo as any SNES fans will know. With those two things in mind, then, Buck Bumble's visuals and performance can feel pretty disappointing. The graphics certainly aren't bad for the time, but the fairly low resolution textures and EXTREMELY limited draw distance (even for England, this fog is ridiculous) do take their toll on the game's visuals. Also leaving some to be desired is the game's performance; the frame rate sits around 15 fps for the majority of the game. Sometimes it goes up towards 30, sometimes it goes down towards 10, but in general, it stays around 15 relatively consistently. The bright side - if there is a bright side - is that the dips and spikes are infrequent enough that it's fairly easy to get adjusted to the low frame rate.
The last of my complaints with the game are the controls. They're fairly simple to get the hang of; A accelerates you, B slows you, Z fires your weapon, R does a sort of circular back flip thing, the D pad cycles through your weapons, and the control stick moves your character. The part of the controls that I didn't much care for was the sensitivity. The control stick can be very sensitive, and it's difficult to hover in place for long, making aiming extremely difficult, especially when you're being attacked. This can lead to a lot of wasted ammo as you fly around trying to the hang of the aiming. Eventually, you will get a feel for it, but it will take a fair bit of time and practice. What DOESN'T suck, however, is the game's music. That opening theme is legit the hottest track of 1998. The whole soundtrack is superb, and while NOTHING could be as awesome as that main theme, the background music for the game is fantastic and keeps the energy up throughout the game. Honestly, the game's worth putting in your N64 and just leaving on the title screen for mood setting. Throw a killer rave or get drunk and have a shitty dance party. This game's soundtrack is perfect.
Having revisited 9-year-old Mr. Deck's favorite Nintendo 64 game as a 25-year-old, it's clear that a lot of my fondness for it is, indeed, nostalgia, but not all of it is. The music is actually BETTER than I remembered, and while the game doesn't look nearly as impressive as I remembered, the gameplay holds up fairly well. Yeah, it's not the best performing game on the system in terms of framerate, and the aiming and control definitely takes a bit of practice, but once you do get a feel for those flaws and learn to compensate for them, it's still a really fun game. As of this posting, it goes for about $10 or $12 online, and I'd definitely say it's worth that much. Screw Bubsy; let's get an HD reboot of Buck Bumble.
My Rating - 3 Neps
Also available on PlayStation 4, Xbox One, and Windows
Snake Pass is an indie physics based 3D platformer with a premise that I found fascinating when I first read about it - you play as a snake. Granted, it's a stupid snake (what kind of snake is a vegetarian?) named Noodle, but still, a platformer where you play as a snake sounded really cool. Unfortunately, the best part of the game is the premise.
Story is definitely not this game's strong point. Honestly, I don't even remember what the story is, and I started the game this week. Something about having to recover magic crystals to restore portals or...something. That's your objective in each level - find a green, yellow, and red crystal, bring them to a portal to activate it and leave the area. In addition to your main objective, there are like 15 or 20 bubbles in each level and 5 golden coins that you can collect. They don't really do anything; there aren't any secret levels that they unlock or anything. They're just kind of there to give an extra little challenge. I promptly ignored all of the ones that I didn't stumble upon as I searched for the crystals.
In general, this game personifies "okay." The visuals are good, but they're not mindblowing. The sound design, both music and sound effects are extraordinary only in their mediocrity and sheer forgettability. The game does excel in one area, however - level design. All of the game's 15 levels - broken into four different worlds - are very well designed and keep the challenge interesting and gradually increasing. Well, mostly gradually; there are a couple of parts that are abruptly REALLY difficult. Most of the game's difficulty, however, are due to the aspect that pretty much totally undermines the game's fantastic level design - controls. On the surface, the controls seem fine; the right trigger makes you slither forward, the left trigger makes you grip (to help with coiling or climbing), the Y button has your hummingbird friend (named Doodle) pick up your ass, and the A button lifts your head (so you can climb). The left control stick controls which way Noodle moves, and the right control stick controls the camera. Pretty standard, right? Well, there's one GLARING flaw with the controls - Noodle will abruptly start moving in the opposite direction if the camera passes a certain threshold. If you're turning to the right and move the camera, you'll start turning to the left so quickly that it's a miracle the damn snake doesn't get whiplash. Couple this with a generally shitty camera that seemingly goes out of its way to do the opposite of what you want it to, and you take what could have been a fun platformer and get a recipe for unbridled frustration. I was really enjoying the challenge up until about level 12 or 13. Then it became more frustrating than fun, and that's not a point that games should hit.
Snake Pass is a tragic story of a young indie game bursting with potential and living up to none of it. Well, "none" is a bit harsh; it does have some legitimately clever level design, and the concept is brilliant. If you can get past the awkward controls and temperamental camera, one might have a lot of fun with this game, although the game feels a bit like trying to play Sonic the Hedgehog with Chris Redfield from Resident Evil (a description some of my Racketboy friends found hilarious). Even with those issues, though, I really enjoyed the first three quarters or so of the game. Towards the end, though, the camera and controls just get too frustrating to be worth it. It's definitely not worth the $20 it currently costs, but if you see it on sale for less than $10, I'd say it's worth a sale download.
My Rating - 3 Neps
Also available on PlayStation 2 and Windows
Panzer Dragoon was one of the few truly stunning system exclusives that Sega Saturn owners could boast back in 1995, and as an exceptional Saturn exclusive, it gained a bit of a cult following. I picked this up in a bundle with the other two Panzer Dragoon games on Saturn five years ago, so I figured it was time to fire up again for a replay.
For those unfamiliar with Panzer Dragoon - and shame on you for that - it's a rail shooter not entirely unlike Space Harrier that takes place thousands of years in the future in a post-apocalyptic world ravaged by a great war between humanity and their biologically engineered weapons. One of the nations, known only as The Empire, discovers a large tower near their capital; in this towers, they harness the power to control the monsters that roam the world, and they soon use this power to conquer nearby nations and expand their power ever farther. You play as a hunter who, after seeing an Imperial airship fly past him in a canyon, is attacked by monsters and chases them into a large cavern where he finds ancient technology and, soon after, a black dragon against which his weapons are useless. He loses consciousness and later awakens to see a blue dragon piloted by a mysterious rider. This rider makes a psychic connection with the hunter, tells him not to let the black dragon reach the tower, and then promptly dies, leaving this clueless - and probably completely uneducated - hunter as the only person standing between the world and conquest by the Empire. I assume. Honestly, the story isn't entirely clear to me as it's told entirely in series of cutscenes.
As one might expect from a rail shooter, Panzer Dragoon is not an especially long game; there are six stages (four if you're playing on Easy) and a final boss. If you don't die, each stage takes roughly seven minutes or so, I'd guess, and the final boss will probably take about that long as well, maybe a little less. Including time for deaths, you're probably looking about an hour or two to playthrough once, so it's easily doable in an afternoon or if you just want a quick revisit. It's well worth revisiting, as well; while the frame rate isn't great and the controls may feel a bit imperfect (I've heard it's better with the 3D pad, but I don't have one yet), it's still a fantastic game nonetheless.
Those of you familiar with fifth generation consoles know that the Saturn wasn't the best designed for 3D visuals, so while Panzer Dragoon certainly doesn't look bad for the era, the 3D textures don't look quite as nice as they might had game been on PlayStation or Nintendo 64. The best aspect of Panzer Dragoon isn't the gameplay, the visuals, or the story, however, but the music. The music is absolutely PHENOMENAL. The soundtrack is almost entirely orchestral, and it truly is one of the best video game OSTs of that entire generation. From the first French horn notes of the opening theme, anyone at all familiar with music will realize just how special a soundtrack the game has, and even those not versed in music will be able to appreciate just how grandiose the entire musical production is.
Panzer Dragoon truly is a marvelous and very special game. Like most games of that era, it hasn't aged particularly well from a gameplay or visual perspective, but even so, it's still a great experience and an absolute must-have for Saturn collectors. It's a shame that, other than a Windows port in 1997, the game's never gotten a rerelease in North America. This is the kind of game that would have been PERFECT for a port to Wii that used motion controls. Even a straight emulated port to a modern system with HD upscaling would have been great. Perhaps one day Sega will start to like money again. Until that day, keep your Saturn plugged in because this game is dope.
My Rating - 4 Neps
This review is dedicated to Colin's dogs, Pascal and Cidr. Such good boys.
Crimson Skies: High Road to Revenge is one of the games that always gets mentioned when discussing the best Xbox exclusives, and despite the fact that I've had the game since I bought my Xbox back in 2012, it wasn't until this week that I actually played it. I'm not sure why I put it off so long; I absolutely adore flight combat sims. I had played some of the multiplayer previously (locally, obviously), but man, I had no idea just how great a game I was missing out on.
So Crimson Skies takes place in an alternate universe 1930s where the United States broke up into a handful of nations following the end of World War I, and instead of automobiles and large tanks, airplanes and airships became the dominant means of transportation and combat. With the collapse of the United States government and relatively weakness of the various resulting governments, air piracy as ballooned into a major source of criminal activity. You play as Nathan Zachary, and the game begins the morning that your character wakes up to a gun in his face. Nathan spent the previous night gambling - unsuccessfully - and lost his prized fighter plane as well as his pirate airship. The first part of the game consists of getting back that which you lost and settling the score with the Ragin' Cajuns, the rival pirate gang to whom you lost your aforementioned aircrafts. After that, you visit an old friend, end up stumbling on a potentially apocalyptic evil plot, and set out to thwart the bad guy and save the world. Or at least Chicago.
The game consists of four pseudo-open world areas and a final boss fight. You can collect money from completing various mission, and you earn upgrade tokens either by finding them hidden in the world or by completing story missions. With money and upgrade tokens, you can upgrade each of your planes (of which there are a total of 12) to give them slight stat bumps. It's rarely a dramatic increase - a couple of points in each of the three stats (defense, speed, and firepower), but it helps. In addition to the main story missions, there are a handful of side missions, and each area has a race on which you can wager money. The controls are fairly simple, and I mean that in the best way possible; your airplanes control beautifully, and flying feels like swimming through a pool of cream. The left stick steers, the right stick rolls, and clicking the right stick before moving both sticks in a certain direction can perform a few special maneuvers. The B button brakes, the Y button accelerates, and the X button is your general "action" button to take a plane lying in the environment, initiate a mission, or enter an AA gun. The right trigger fires your primary weapon of which you have unlimited ammo, and the left trigger fires your secondary weapon of which ammo is finite. The multiplayer is basically dogfight deathmatches, and it's IMMENSELY fun.
The sound design in the game is fantastic. The voice acting is decent - not horrible, but nothing special - but the music fits the situations, and the sound effects are great. Slower, more powerful weapons have a really meaty bass to them, and the faster firing weapons are loud and proud. Nathan has some fantastic one-liners, as well - the kind that are stupidly lame but freaking amazing nonetheless (hell, probably BECAUSE they're so lame). The visuals are a bit more polarizing; while the actual gameplay looks fantastic - especially in 480p if you have component cables - the cut scenes feel a bit...off. In general, they look fine, but they look just a little murky, almost as if the video compression weren't quite right. I can't quite put my finger on it or put it into words, but the cut scenes just didn't look as clear as I might have hoped. A very eloquent and precise description, I know.
Crimson Skies: High Road to Revenge definitely deserves the praise it gets, and it's definitely one of the Xbox's best exclusives. Most modern flight combat sims don't hit the perfect balance and control that Crimson Skies manages, and each of the various planes from which one can choose feels unique and has its own pros and cons. My personal issue with the cut scenes aside (and truthfully, they still look good for the time), Crimson Skies does almost everything right. It looks great, it sounds great, it plays great, and while the story isn't amazing, it's interesting enough to keep you going with humorous dialogue to keep you entertained. Combine that with some simply brilliant level design (especially the last area, holy crap), and you've got a must-have for any Xbox collector.
My Rating - 5 Neps
About a week ago, I found myself wanting to play something on my Switch but just a little too drunk for Breath of the Wild, Mario Kart, or Bomberman. I remembered that I still had about €6 on my French eShop account, so I pulled it up to see if I could find anything that looked interested and fit my six Euro budget. I saw Kamiko, and while I'm generally pretty sick of the pixelated "retro" style games, it looked interesting enough, and most importantly, it was only €4.99 - even with tax, I could afford that with what was on my account!
Honestly, I have no idea what the story is in Kamiko; it didn't really interest me. Something to the effect of "I want to become a super priestess warrior and fight evil reconnect the heavens and Earth, thereby saving the world or whatever!" A for effort, D for execution as far as plot goes. As for gameplay, it feels a little bit like a mix of Link to the Past and Ys. Actually, it resembles Link to the Past WAY more than it does Ys, but for some reason, I kept thinking about Ys I when I was playing Kamiko. When you start the game, you have three characters from whom to choose. Yamato is a close ranged sword wielder who, according to the interwebz, is best suited for beginners; Uzume is an archer so naturally long ranged; and Hinome, whom I chose, is a bit of a hybrid of short and long range, throwing a mirror shield like a boomerang for a powerful ranged attack but also wielding a dagger for close quarters attacks while her shield is still in the air.
The biggest problem I had with the game is the length. There are only four levels with a boss after each (the last boss has two phases). Even for a five Euro game, it's EXTREMELY short; my playthrough with Hinome took me just a little over an hour, and if and when I go back and play with the other two characters, I will probably only take me about 45 minutes for each playthrough since I now know roughly where the switches in each level are and how to beat the bosses. Don't get me wrong - the gameplay is a lot of fun, and I thoroughly enjoyed my time with the game - but it's so short with no real replay value. Even the storyline is identical across the three characters, so there's not a lot of incentive to replay it with the other two.
Kamiko truly is a fun game, but it's just too short to recommend highly. If it happens to go on sale in the future - maybe $3 or less - then by all means, download it. It's a great action-adventure game. Just don't expect to get more than an hour or so out of a playthrough. The art style is lovely, and the music and sound effects fit the game well. It's just a shame that there's not that much game for them to fit.
My Rating - 3 Neps
I'm Mr. Deck
And I like to play video games. I like to collect video games. I like to talk about video games, and I like to write about video games. During the day, I teach history at a high school in central North Carolina; during the night, I spend my spare time gaming. Then I write about it.