Also available on PlayStation 2 and Mac OS
For literally my entire life, I've been a massive Star Trek fan, and when I first got into online PC gaming, it was through Star Trek games. One of the two Star Trek games that really got me into competitive multiplayer was a Quake 3 based game called Star Trek: Voyager - Elite Force. For pretty much my entire time in middle school and a good chunk of high school, I sank hundreds of hours into this game between the single player, the multiplayer, and the prolific modding community. When GOG added a ton of Star Trek games from the Activision golden age recently, I basically just offered up my credit card to them. While the game's now old enough to buy alcohol in the United States, it's surprising how well it still holds up minus the outdated resolution support.
Elite Force takes place sometime during Voyager's sixth season. Seven of Nine is already part of the crew, and most of the major Delta Quadrant species are either outright mentioned in the single player or at least playable skins in the multiplayer. You play as either Alexander or Alexandria Munro (depending on if you choose a male or female character) and are second-in-command of a special Hazard Team that Tuvok created to handle especially dangerous away missions. As Voyager is voyaging around the Delta Quadrant on its long journey home, a mysterious probe shows up, beats the hell out of the ship, and then transports it to some mysterious sector of space when it explodes. A dampening field pretty much knocks out all of their ship systems (except life support) and auxiliary power. From there, you play through a few dozen linear levels as you investigate where you are, what brought you there, what's keeping you there, and how to get out.
The game definitely shows its age visually, especially where supported resolutions are concerned, but thankfully, the modding community has stepped into alleviate some of that. While it's not perfect and can leave some of the models (most notably weapons) looking just a little wonky, I did find a mod that polishes the textures a bit and forces a pretty decent 1080p resolution. On top of performance mods like that, there are a veritable buttload of map, character, and weapon skin mods for the multiplayer. There are also mods that add an entirely new fan-made single player adventure as well as total conversion mods available.
The official servers are, unfortunately, all down for Elite Force, but there are a still a good number of player-run servers up. Of course, these are filled almost exclusively with bots, and if you're cool playing with bots, you're probably better off just setting up your own custom match offline, but still, it's nice to see that there's an option if you and a friend want to find the same bot-infested server and play together. The multiplayer is mostly your basic deathmatch, team deathmatch, or capture the flag; although there are a couple interesting ones like the one-life gladiator matches and the one-shot-kill disintegration matches. At one point, I was basically unbeatable at Elite Force online. Of course, this point was a solid 15 years ago, but still, the point stands that I was a virgin-tier badass at one point.
The story in the single player is surprisingly solid for a licensed game, and Raven really showed that they knew what they were doing here. I'm not gonna say that this is the best Star Trek game ever made, but it's definitely in the top 3. I'll admit that a lot of my fondness for this game probably is nostalgia, but I absolutely adore it. Even playing the multiplayer by myself with bots is immensely enjoyable for me, and going back through the single player was the best kind of trip down Memory Lane. The single player may only be five or six hours long, but it's a damn fun five or six hours. If you're a fan of late 90s/early 2000s PC shooters, I strongly recommend this game; if you're a fan of Star Trek: Voyager, this game is an absolute must-play. For only $10 on GOG, this game is absolutely worth it.
My Rating - 4 Neps
Atlus really excels with games that pit teenagers against Armageddon, and 13 Sentinels: Aegis Rim from developer Vanillaware is yet another fantastic exemplar of that. The game is intentionally enigmatic at the beginning, being told from 13 different perspectives over five different eras, and that makes a bit hard to really get hooked on at the start, but if you stick with the game long enough for a single narrative to start to coalesce, you end up with a fantastic story full of plot twists, intrigue, and mysteries that don't get fully revealed until the very end.
Without going into enough detail to spoil anything, the game starts with invasions by kaiju that apparently possess the ability to travel through time, destroying one version of the same city after another in different period across time. Built to combat these kaiju are the Sentinels, giant robots that certain people can pilot. Each of the 13 characters from whose perspectives the story is told is one of those certain people (hence the title), and over the course of the story, they awaken to their potential as Sentinel pilots. I know that, just from that synopsis, it sounds *very* stereotypically anime, but like a Russian nesting doll, each time you think you've figured out what's going on, you discover that there's another layer beneath that complicates your understanding of the story and contradicts the revelations you've experienced. It's a wild trip that really challenges your understanding of reality and reinvents itself multiple times throughout the story.
13 Sentinels is main divided into two main sections, Remembrance and Destruction. Remembrance is principally a visual novel although not totally kinetic like Muv-Luv or When They Cry; you can walk around to a certain extent although the game limits that pretty strictly based on what's going on, and there's some very light puzzle solving needed to progress. There are some mild branching paths as well, but this isn't done in a player-choice way since you need to play through all of the paths to progress; it's more just different parts of that story segment. Destruction, on the other hand, is an over the top real-time strategy combat mode where you control the Sentinels in battles against the kaiju. Destruction has some RPG elements as you can accumulate "Meta-Chips" that can be spent to unlock and upgrade Sentinel weapons, unlock major combat abilities, and upgrade Sentinel stats. You'll end up bouncing back and forth between the two as there are progression requirements that need to be filled once you hit a certain point; you'll need to do a certain amount in Destruction to unlock the next part of a character's path in Remembrance or vice versa.
Because of how the storytelling is done, my interest in the game was kind of like putting a car in neutral at the top of a hill; at first, it will start rolling super slowly and just creep along, but soon there's enough momentum built up that gravity takes hold, and the car starts to roll faster and faster. That's how I was here. I was absolutely not captivated by the story for the first couple hours as I just felt lost and in the deep end, so to speak, with no clue what was going on. As I stuck with it, though, and the pieces started to fall into place, it became wildly addicting, and I just had to know what happened next and what mystery was going to be solved with the next Remembrance section. I like it when games immediately hook me, but if that's not going to happen, this is slow-but-increasingly-intense burn is definitely the way to go.
13 Sentinels: Aegis Rim is a hell of an experience, and it's definitely one that I strongly recommend. It's very anime, so if that style isn't your cup of tea, this might not be for you, but if you either like or don't mind the anime style and enjoy a good mystery that gets slowly unraveled bit by bit over time, this is absolutely a game to check out. Being an Atlus published title, it will probably rise in price physically, but if you can either find a good price on it physically or don't mind digital downloads, this is definitely a solid game that you don't want to miss.
My Rating - 4 Neps
Also available on PlayStation 4, Xbox One, Android, iOS, MacOS, and Windows
Empires of Angels IV may be the most recent entry in a series that's been around for nearly 30 years, but most of us in the West had never heard of it before this entry. Don't feel bad; while the series dates back to 1993, this is the first time it's made the jump to consoles, and if I'm not mistaken, the first time it's left China. The best way to describe Empire of Angels is Baby's First Fire Emblem made entirely out of waifus. It's a strategy RPG with (for the most part) really simple mechanics, but literally every character in the entire game is female, and while I could be mistaken, I'm pretty sure the smallest cup size in the game (according or character bios) is C. If it weren't full of fanservice for the sake of fanservice, would it really be EastAsiaSoft?
The story of the game, while nothing special, is perfectly fine. You're soldiers in an empire's army tasked with investigating why people are turning into "Namtars," darkness-touched people who become crazed and violent. From there, you meet a whole cast of waifus with diverse designs, backstories, and abilities, and while the story never gets "gripping" per se, and the ending is a bit lackluster, the interactions between the characters was enough to keep me playing. In the narrative scenes between battles, there's a very nice drawn art style used whereas in battle, a chibi style is used for the characters models that reminds me a bit of a lower effort SD Gundam except with boobs instead of robots. The whole game looks a bit bland for a 2021 release, truthfully - not bad by any means but also nothing that the PS3 or Xbox 360 would have had much trouble pulling off, either.
In addition to the main missions, there are a plethora of side missions that flesh out the characters' backstories, personalities, and relationships with one another as well as unlocking their final class upgrade. There are also side quests to unlock new abilities for your summonable pet unit as well as repeatable random battles you can use to grind money or experience although there's not much need to grind either as the game's difficulty curve is pretty fair, and there are no shops in which to use gold. The exception is if you're trying to do every character's side quests; I found myself stuck with a level 20 character who had to solo a side quest with a level 50 opponent. That definitely required a lot of monotonous level grinding. Thankfully, the music is pretty great for the most part, so while the level grinding is arguably even more dull than in most SRPGs since there's no benefit to racking up gold as well as experience, the nice soundtrack makes it a little more tolerable.
I do need to give a shoutout to my buddy, Joshua French, though for giving the game's script a MUCH needed retranslation before the English release. In the opening cinematic, you can see the somehow-worse-than-Google-Translate quality of the original translation since that cinematic was coded so that he couldn't fix it, but he retranslated the entire script for the rest of the game, and the difference in quality is astounding. Aside from a couple of SUPER minor issues that anyone who's not a grammar nerd wouldn't even have noticed, it reads as if it were originally written in English, not Chinese. The story may not being anything special, but you wouldn't even be able to tell what the story was supposed to be if it weren't for Joshua's hard work.
Empire of Angels IV is a solid middle-of-the-road game for the most part. It's totally playable and pretty enjoyable, but it's definitely nothing that will stand out that much. The fact that EVERY character is an anime waifu is novel, but as far as story and gameplay go, it's pretty average. The combat is fun, but it's not going to have you addicted the way Super Robot Wars, SD Gundam, and Fire Emblem will; it's the kind of game of which you'll probably play a mission or two and then switch to something else for a while. That's not necessarily a bad thing, but you'll probably play this as a side game or pallet cleanser between other big, narrative driven games. It's definitely fun, though, and at just $20, I have no problem recommending this to fans of SRPGs or pointlessly big breasted anime waifus.
My Rating - 3 Neps
Also available on PlayStation 4, Xbox One, Xbox Series X, and Windows
Maneater is one of my favorite games of all time. I love it so much that I own it on Xbox One, PS4, PS5, and Switch (I'll get it on Steam eventually just to have it there, too). When I heard that it was getting DLC, then, I was ecstatic. Unfortunately, Truth Quest isn't currently available on Switch, and the devs have made no mention of a Switch release in the future, but if you have a PlayStation, PC, or Xbox, this is a must-play for all shark fanatics like me.
Truth Quest takes place just a few months after the base game, and so you have to have cleared the base game to play the DLC. It raises the level cap from 30 to 40, adds three or four new organs, and adds a new jaw/body/head/tail evolution set. It also grants you access to a new area, a top secret government base. The narrator has been fired from his TV show hosting job since the end of the base game and has started a new life as an internet conspiracy theorist streamer who sells bogus nutritional supplements to fund his site. Imagine Alex Jones but with the voice of Jerry Smith from Rick and Morty.
As far as gameplay goes, it's pretty much just more of the same but with some really cool bosses like an electric great white shark and a poison orca. You also get a conspiracy nut hidden in each area of the base game (plus three in the secret base) to find and eat, five new hunter bosses, some extra side quests, and a set of time trial races to complete. It's more or less everything I wanted from a Maneater DLC, and while it's not super long - it probably took me something like seven or eight hours to complete everything - it's a lot of fun and pretty reasonably priced at $15.
Unfortunately, the game isn't perfect. I didn't encounter many issues, but there are some major bugs where achievements are concerned. I did EVERYTHING in the DLC, but four of the trophies are bugged and didn't unlock for me, and unless they're able (and willing) to fix it with a patch, I'll have to play the entire game plus DLC over again to get those trophies. That's a major pain in the ass. It started with the fifth DLC hunter boss - as soon as she spawned, the trophy for beating her unlocked even though I'd not even attacked her, and the game crashed. I reloaded, tried to fight her again (since it was a mission objective), and it crashed about three minutes into the fight. I repeated this two or three times before it actually let me beat her. After that, it refused to unlock the trophies for beating the final boss, completing all objectives in the DLC area, completing all time trials, and completing all DLC objectives. As you can see, those trophies, while totally doable, would be a major pain to replay for.
The glitched trophies aside, I had an absolute blast with Truth Quest. I definitely can't give a perfect score due to the glaring problems with the achievement QA, but I still thoroughly enjoyed all of my time playing until I hit those bugs. Hopefully they'll be able to fix that without forcing me to replay everything, but if you're reading this and haven't finished Truth Quest yet, be aware that those trophies can bug out, and if the posts I've seen online are any indication, they frequently glitch for people. If you don't care at all about achievements, though, then you really don't have much to worry about as that one hunter fight was the only instance of crashing that I encountered. If you enjoyed the base game, you'll love this. The humor alone makes this DLC worth buying and playing.
My Rating - 4 Neps
Also available on PlayStation 4, PlayStation 5, Xbox One, Switch, and Windows
Modern Doom - both Doom 2016 and Doom Eternal - are about as good as fast-paced FPS gets. What The Ancient Gods DLC brings to Doom Eternal is basically a whole third modern Doom game as it's a roughly 10 hour experience when you put Part One and Part Two together.
Without getting into too much story stuff so as not to spoil it for anyone who cares about the story and hasn't played the DLC yet, the Doom Slayer basically sets out to kill Satan which will automatically destroy every demon outside of Hell. That's the basic premise. To do this, he has to find Satan's soul which has been conveniently turned into an easy-to-carry rock. Of course, nothing is ever as easy at it seems when it comes to the forces of Hell, but that gets a bit spoiler-y, so I'll just leave it at that.
Part One mostly feels like just more of Doom Eternal - which is fantastic - but Part Two really kicks things up a notch with some intense fights. If you loved the Marauder enemy, then you're in luck because they're heavily featured here. If you didn't love the Marauder enemy (like me; I hated them), then buckle up because they're heavily featured here. Fortunately, while the Marauder makes frequent appearances, there are countless other less frustrating enemies to rip and tear. Be ready and on your A game when you go into this, though; while I am admittedly terrible at most video games, I had this set on easy and still found it to be pretty challenging.
My only real complaint with the DLC (other than the fact that there are Marauders, and that's just because I'm bad at Doom) is that the final boss in Part Two felt rather anticlimactic. It's less that it was too easy per se - he heals himself whenever he damages you, so he's plenty frustrating until you get a feel for his attack patterns - but it just felt too formulaic to me. You're on a flat plane, and the entire battle just consists of dodge, dodge, attack, dodge, dodge, attack so on and so forth. There are no platforms or portals or obstacles or anything to try to use to get up behind him, and you can't just unload on him with the minigun willy-nilly. Figuring out his pattern and getting a feel for dodging his attacks also makes it a fairly simple affair that just starts to feel more time-consuming than anything else.
All things considered, I don't think Doom Eternal's The Ancient Gods DLC is perfect, but it's damn close. It's definitely peak Doom for the most part with only a few bits feeling more frustrating or disappointing than fun to me. The DLC feels like it wraps up most of the story set up in Doom 2016 and Doom Eternal pretty well, so I'll be curious to see if the next game finds a way to continue the story or if they go for an alternate universe or something. If you're a fan of Doom, then The Ancient Gods is a must no matter how much you may dislike Marauders, and if you like fighting the Marauders, then playing this is a no-brainer.
My Rating - 4 Neps
Also available on Xbox One and Windows
Yakuza Kiwami 2 is an expanded remake of the PS2's Yakuza 2 and, in my opinion, definitely the better way to experience that game in 2021. A word of advice to those considering starting the Yakuza series for the first time - MAKE SURE you play Yakuza 0 BEFORE you play Kiwami 2. I was originally going to play them in release order and just substitute Kiwami and Kiwami 2 in for 1 and 2; fortunately, I decided to play 0 after Kiwami but before Kiwami 2. There are a lot of things in Kiwami 2 that are either easier, make more sense, or outright can't be fully appreciated without having played 0 first. There's my little PSA for y'all.
Yakuza Kiwami 2 takes place about year after the events of the first game. Fortunately, for those who played the first game long enough before this one to forget a lot of details, there's a spot right at the beginning that lets you view recaps of the events of Kiwami to refresh your memory. I usually give a synopsis of the story, but given that the events of this game are so closely tied to the events of the first game, and that game is such a masterpiece, I'm going to skip the synopsis so as not to spoil anything about Kiwami 1 accidentally for anyone who may not yet have started their Yakuza journey. As far as the core game goes - as is always the case with Yakuza, there's a TON of optional side stuff to do - it's a highly cinematic masterpiece that never really slows down until the credits roll, and even then, there are after credit scenes to wrap up a few story elements. If that's all you do, though, then you're missing SO much of what Yakuza has to offer. There are literally dozens of side stories as well as two entire optional storylines embedded in the game's two major mini-games.
The first of these two major side story mini-games makes a return of Yakuza 0 - the Cabaret Club Czar, although this time it's called Cabaret Club Grand Prix. The premise is basically the same - there's an evil conglomerate that controls a bunch of shady cabaret clubs, and you've got to beat them in a competition to put your club on the top of the food chain and shut down the shady dudes. If you played through the cabaret club storyline in Yakuza 0, then you've got a head start here because the hand signals that the girls use are the same. There are a few tweaks to the stats and whatnot, and the "Trouble" events that happen when you badly mismatch a customer with a girl have been refined to make more sense and be MUCH easier to resolve, but at its heart, it's the same. You won't be rolling in billions of yen like you were in Yakuza 0, but since you don't use money to upgrade your stats and abilities in Kiwami 2 (more on that in a bit), you don't need NEARLY as much cash, so you end up an equivalent level of "unnecessarily wealthy."
The other major side story mini-game is Majima Construction. Majima has left the Tojo Clan and started a construction business. However, a shady rival business (see a pattern?) is trying to shut him down by wrecking his equipment. Kiryu finds himself in the position of foreman in charge of the construction crews and has to order them about to protect the equipment. This basically Majima: Total War. You can have up to nine Majima Construction employees on a team, and you have to protect the equipment against wave after wave - plus the occasional boss (or bosses) - of enemies. This is more of a money sink than a money maker, so I personally would suggest completing Cabaret Club Grand Prix before tackling this one, but you don't have to; I did Majima Construction first. It's also to your benefit to wait till towards the end of the game to do this storyline because a lot of the employees you can recruit to fight are unlocked from sub-stories and side encounters as you play through the game. This is also true of Cabaret Club Grand Prix, so that advice applies there, as well.
I'll be frank in that it's been long enough since I played Yakuza Kiwami that I don't remember exactly how it handled upgrading your stats and abilities, so I'll refrain from drawing comparisons. In Kiwami 2, you get experience points from eating, fighting, completing objectives, and checking things off your Completion List. There are five different categories of experience points, and different upgrades and stat increases require different types and amounts of experience points. You want to make sure you're eating a LOT because that's a good regular way to keep the experience points coming in. You have an appetite limit, and eating above that keeps you from getting any experience points, so keep an eye on that and have a snack whenever you pass a restaurant.
As fantastic as the combat in this game - and it's truly satisfying - the story is definitely the star of the show. The characters are AMAZINGLY developed, the voice acting is fantastic even if it is exclusively in Japanese, and the narrative is riveting. Of course, if you've played other Yakuza games, you'll know that that's just par for the course; part of what makes Yakuza so damn good is that it's consistently telling an amazing story with amazing characters. It's almost frustrating to have the side stuff in the game because the side stories are too good to ignore, but the main story is so incredibly good that you don't want to deviate from it. It's an amazing problem to have, but it does get a bit frustrating.
I had originally planned to dive straight into Yakuza 3 after finishing Kiwami 2. As with Kiwami 1 and 0, however, I find myself in need of a Yakuza break after this game because of how long it is. It took me roughly 50 hours to get through Kiwami 2 between the side stuff, the main story, and just trying to experience all the game had to offer (and I still only got about 2/3 of the trophies). You absolutely get your money's worth here both in quantity and quality of game, but you will probably feel some game fatigue by the time you're done. The Dragon of Dojima never disappoints, but he does exhaust.
Yakuza Kiwami 2 is a masterpiece of a game. I've only played three Yakuza games so far - 0, Kiwami, and Kiwami 2 - but all three have been absolute masterpiece games. If any game series deserves a television adaptation, it's Yakuza (although they'd probably screw it up). The characters and stories are just so deep and well-written that you'll NEVER be bored with the main story. Some of the side stories and mini-games can get tedious at times, but the main story is turned up to 10 from start to finish. The entire series (almost) is on Game Pass, so if you're an Xbox or PC gamer, you're in luck; Yakuza is no longer a solely PlayStation series. It's not going to be everyone's cup of tea - you definitely need the attention span for long games to get through Yakuza - but if you're into long and heavily narrative-driven games, Yakuza is about as good as it gets, and Kiwami 2 is an exemplar of that.
My Rating - 5 Neps
Also available on Wii U via Virtual Console and Game Boy Advance
Mega Man and Bass, while usually thought of as a GBA game in the West, started life as a Japan-only Super Famicom game despite coming out after the release of Mega Man 8 on PlayStation and Sega Saturn. According to NintendoLife, series creator Keiji Inafune thought that he owed Japan’s kids who hadn’t upgraded to a 32-bit system yet one more game, and thus Mega Man and Bass was born. I’ve got a rather complicated view of this game. My Racketboy friends all told me how much this game sucked, and part of me whole-heartedly agrees with them, but I also feel like the game deserves a little more nuanced an assessment than that.
Mega Man and Bass takes place between Mega Man 8 and Mega Man 9 and serves as a sort of “Mega Man 8.5.” It’s technically a spin-off, but it’s also directly referenced in either 9 or 10 (I forget which), so it’s also kind of a main series game. Regardless, this is a game that snatched defeat from the jaws of victory as far as being a good game goes. You get to choose to play as either Mega Man or Bass, and in a lot of ways, I feel like this is the game’s difficulty setting. The story is pretty much the same with both, but they feel and play radically different. If you choose Bass, that’s the game’s Hard setting; if you choose Mega Man, that’s the game’s Dark Souls setting. There is no Easy or even Normal setting here, and that all comes down to bad level design. I’m absolutely not saying that the game is badly designed because it’s hard; I’m saying that the game is hard because it’s badly designed. Bass gets a weaker blaster but can fire rapidly (which I find to be much more useful in general), and while he can’t do Mega Man’s slide dash, he can double jump. A LOT of the game’s levels were clearly built around this double jump because they require absolute pixel-perfect precision and timing to make jumps with Mega Man. Even with Bass, it’s still hard. I almost tore my hair out on Tengu Man’s stage, and I had access to Bass’s double jump; I can’t imagine trying to get through that as Mega Man.
The game is also just downright unfair in part. There are several areas where I legitimately see no way to get through without taking damage. Boss patterns can be erratic and unpredictable. The game loves to put instant-death spikes behind pillars or garbage piles so you don’t see them until you hit them or to hide them in areas where your only source of light is a small circle thus making them literally impossible to see until you’re falling onto them. Bosses will spend ten second invulnerable and then give you a one second window to hit a specific spot to do damage. Checkpoints are few and far between, too, and there are a handful of obstacles in stages that EASILY lead to instant death but are a nightmare to figure out how to get past.
There is, however, something that complicates my writing this game off as garbage - I LOVE playing as Bass. The rapid-fire blaster, the double jump, his general character design - I love all of it. Bass is a BLAST to play as. The game in which you get to play as him just happens to be a sadistic exercise in bullshit made by people who have no purpose in life other than to revel in your misery and pain. In the part of stages that aren’t designed to simulate the fifth circle of Hell, I had a ton of fun. With the first couple boss fights before someone accidentally locked the difficulty at Nightmare, I really enjoyed it. The core gameplay is REALLY solid here. The level and boss design is just such complete and utter BS that it ruins it.
I have a hard time calling this a truly “bad game.” It’s certainly an unfair game. It’s certainly an unenjoyable game for the most part. It’s certainly a poorly designed game from a level perspective. The actual control, though, is really solid, and the fact that Mega Man and Bass have such drastically different feels to them tells me that the technical side of development here was really competent. It’s a shame that god awful level design ruined what could have been an amazing Super Nintendo game because the end result has too much bullshit for the good to get a chance to shine. Still, though, if you have the Herculean patience to memorize all of the relentless and unreasonable crap in the game, there’s a fun experience buried deep, deep, DEEP beneath the malice.
My Rating - 3 Neps
Also available on Genesis and Windows
During the 16-bit era, platformers - especially mascot platformers - were a dime a dozen. Mario was a juggernaut, Sonic was gobbling up market share at a speed matching his gameplay, and everyone else wanted a piece of the action. Enter Bubsy the Bobcat, Accolade’s attempt to cash in on the fad. Now Bubsy isn’t as bad as, say, Awesome Possum, but he’s definitely a B-tier gaming mascot.
Sonic’s influence on Bubsy is obvious almost to the point where Bubsy is more copying Sonic than inspired by Sonic. Like Sonic, Bubsy builds momentum as he runs and gets a jump boost from landing on enemies. Like Sonic, the level end marker is a spinning marker of Bubsy’s face. Like Sonic, the bosses are enemies in flying contraptions that you have to jump on to damage. To be fair, those are the best things to copy from Sonic; they’re what gave Sonic a distinct and unique style of platforming gameplay and kept him from being a clone of Mario. Unfortunately for Bubsy, there wasn’t any real innovation. The major difference from Sonic that I noticed are pretty much all negatives.
My biggest issue with Bubsy and something that I think just has no place in a 2D platformer is falling damage. In Sonic games, if you fall from a high platform down to ground level, whatever, just keep running. In Bubsy, you’re dead. In Sonic, if you run super fast and hit a wall, whatever, just jump and keep going. In Bubsy, you get stunned and stand around dazed for a few seconds. These are not deal-breakers per se, but I can’t see how they could add anything fun to a speed-based platformer with enormously vertical stages. My other problem with Bubsy is the controls. It felt too slick, and his momentum was hard to get a feel for and control. It constantly felt almost like I was playing on an ice level but for the entirety of the game. Unlike the falling damage and collision stun, this actually does kind of ruin the whole game for me as controls are pretty much the most integral part of a gameplay experience. Screw up the controls, and your whole game suffers for it.
It’s a shame that Bubsy: Claws Encountered of the Furred Kind is such a deeply flawed game at the mechanic level because there’s a lot of potential here. Buried beneath the flaws and poor design choices is a likeable (and uniquely 90s) character and a competent platformer. I like Bubsy’s personality. I like his spunk. I like the whole premise of the game - a cat not saving the world from aliens but just the world’s yarn ball supply - is a stupid juxtaposition to its obvious and much more punk-feeling influence, Sonic. The character is absolutely fine, but the game sucks, and that’s just something that no amount of spunk or silly humor can fix. I haven’t played any of the other releases in the series (and I’m shocked it had a whole series), but there’s just nothing worth recommending in this entry.
My Rating - 2 Neps
Army Men is one of my ultimate guilty pleasure series. The only game in the series that’s actually been good was the second one on PC, and the closest a console release came to being genuinely good was Sarge’s Heroes 2, and that’s 100% remembered fondly only due to nostalgia. Still, though, I love the series. Portal Runner, then, as a spin-off of the series, should have followed this trend of “it sucks, but I love it anyway.” Unfortunately, it stopped at “it sucks.”
I have this on PS2, and while I haven’t played that version yet, I’m pretty confident that it’s got very little in common with this mess. The game looks okay for a Game Boy Color release, but it plays terribly. It’s an action platformer that gets neither the action nor the platforming right. As you go through the levels, you encounter a variety of enemies from Tan soldiers to bugs to other toys to - eventually - aliens. Don’t bother trying to punch them, though, as the hit detection is atrocious. You’re better off either using your bow or just giving up and letting them live. I got lucky with a punch or a jump kick sometimes, but they just didn’t register as a hit a solid 90% of the time. Aiming the bow sucked, too, as you couldn’t aim up or down or even move while you had the bow drawn - your only ability to affect where the arrow landed is long you held the button down - but at least the arrows usually registered.
The combat hit detection isn’t the only problem. The platforming is also really stiff and awkward. It feels like if someone made a shitty Castlevania. There are three dozen levels, but none of them feel like there’s any purpose. For most levels, you just collect five gems (you can stockpile up to 50) and find the portal. There’s no other objective. Every now and then, you’ll reach a boss level where you have to fight a boss in order to use the portal. That’s it, though. There’s no story here whatsoever. You play as Vikki Grimm, but the entire premise of the game is missing. Bridgett Bleu doesn’t appear here at all despite being the other major character in the PS2 game. The other Army Men Game Boy Color games all had some semblance of the story, but there’s just nothing here.
I’ve now played all of the Army Men handheld games, and this is by far the worst. There’s just nothing worthwhile here whatsoever. The platforming is bad, the combat is bad, the story is omitted all together. Thank goodness each of the game’s levels take less than five minutes to complete because even that length feels excessive with three dozen of these boring levels. Environments just recycle with no rhyme or reason; this is the epitome of a quick and easy cash grab game. Not even the most hardcore Army Men fan should bother with this abomination.
My Rating - 1 Nep
Also available on 3DS via Virtual Console
Mega Man Xtreme 2 is the significantly more competent follow-up to Mega Man Xtreme, and unlike the previous game, this is a true Game Boy Color game rather than a cross-gen fence straddler. Granted, the actual gameplay and in-game sprites still use a pretty drab color selection, but the cut scenes look significantly better in this game, and a lot of the issues I had the previous game have been remedied.
My single biggest complaint with the previous Mega Man Xtreme was the control, and fortunately, while they’re still far from perfect - I found Zero especially to feel awkward to control with platforming - they’re leagues better. Gone is the sluggish and unresponsive feel of the last game’s controls, and while I still wouldn’t call this game especially smooth or fluid, it’s far more playable and enjoyable. As I mentioned, Zero’s controls with jumping and dashing felt a bit jerky to me, but that does lead into my favorite addition to this game - a fully playable Zero. When you start the game, you can choose between X’s missions and Zero’s missions. This lets you choose between the two sides of the game; the actual story is the same, but each of the two playable characters faces different bosses and has different endings, so to experience the whole game, you need to play through with both characters. There’s some common content, but it’s probably 85% different between the two which keeps it from feeling stale and repetitive when going through as whichever character you didn’t pick first.
My favorite thing about the choice between playing as X and Zero is how differently the two handle. I found X to feel much more comfortable with platforming, and X has the advantage of a long range attack whereas Zero only has his sword as his standard weapon, but Zero packs much more of a punch than X, and that’s especially noticeable with boss battles. Overall, I found X to be a much more enjoyable character to play as with platforming and Zero to be a much more enjoyable character to play as with combat. That kind of a balance gives both characters a distinct draw, and as a result, neither one feels useless or tacked on. After you face your chosen character’s four Mavericks (recycled from X2 and X3), Iris, your 8-bit robot waifu, gives you the option to change the character you’re using with the Select button, so you actually can use X for the actual stages and Zero for the boss battles if you want.
Overall, Mega Man Xtreme 2 is still a flawed and very imperfect game, but it’s a shockingly large improvement over the first Xtreme, and that can’t be overstated. I actually enjoyed this game. I think IV and V on Game Boy were better games overall, but I’d put this one ahead of II and III for sure and probably on par with Dr. Wily’s Revenge. If you’re a fan of Mega Man, this one’s worth checking out. If you’re not a fan of the series specifically, though, you can probably find better action platformers on the Game Boy Color.
My Rating - 3 Neps
Also available on 3DS via Virtual Console
Mega Man Xtreme gives Mega Man X and Mega Man X2 the handheld treatment by taking bosses and levels from those games and putting them in a downgraded form in a single game. It’s one of those cross-gen games that was made for Game Boy Color will also work on Game Boy (since I consider the Game Boy Color to be a successor to the Game Boy, not an enhanced version of the same system; I’ll die on his hill), but with how simple the color choices are, it would probably have been just fine being on the regular Game Boy.
The first thing that stood out to me about this game was how bad it looks. The color choice is just utterly unappealing in my opinion, and it honestly looks only a little better than the color added to original Game Boy games played on a Super Game Boy. I get that they wanted to retain compatibility with original Game Boy, but Link’s Awakening DX was another game compatible with both Game Boy and Game Boy Color, and its color use was fantastic. The simple visuals here seem to be an intentional design choice. The cut scenes in the game do look quite nice, but they too just have ugly color choices. This is a totally subjective complaint, and some folks may have no problem whatsoever with the color use in Mega Man Xtreme, but it was a major turn off for me.
Another big complaint I had was the level design; they’re pretty much 8-bit versions of their SNES counterparts. Whereas the five original Game Boy games were more “inspired by” than “based on” their NES counterparts by and large, these are straight up “Let’s put SNES levels on Game Boy Color.” On the one hand, it is kind of cool to see what Mega Man X might have looked like if it had been made for NES instead of SNES. On the other hand, unless it’s an actual de-make (which this is not), I’d much rather see some creativity and more unique levels that reference the SNES levels rather than copying them.
My third and arguably biggest complaint is the difficulty, and this has one major component that separates it from just “Waaaa, this game is too hard” - the controls. The five Mega Man games on Game Boy all controlled pretty well by and large, and while the first three had some rough spots, they felt nice and responsive for the most part. Mega Man Xtreme feels stiff by comparison, and it lacks any smoothness whatsoever to the controls. The only thing about the controls that I can praise is that Mega Man is no longer as slow as molasses when ascending ladders. That’s literally the only thing about the controls that wasn’t a step down. These controls make the Mavericks significantly more difficult than their SNES counterparts. The actual bosses themselves are exactly the same - same attacks, same patterns, etc. They’re just much harder to dodge and get in position to attack this go around because the controls are balls. It also feels like the hit detection is wonky here, but I’m not sure if that’s actually the case or it’s just that the controls made it harder to get a good shot in.
Mega Man Xtreme is a huge drop in quality compared to its five predecessors despite being on better hardware. Granted, the Game Boy Color isn’t leagues ahead of the Game Boy, but the games should be at least on par with the five previous ones and certainly not inferior. The only thing that looks better are the cutscenes; even the sprites don’t look as good in my opinion, and that seems to be due purely to stylistic choices. I honestly found this game to be worse than Mega Man III and about equally frustrating albeit frustrating in different ways. It tries to keep up the surprisingly solid plot and storytelling of the core X series, but it fails in every department. The premise isn’t interesting, and the writing is so stilted and god-awful that it honestly would have been better without any story elements at all. I’ve read My Little Pony fanfiction that’s more competently written than this. It’s a shame because the Mega Man X games are some of the best the series has to offer, but this Game Boy Color entry in that sub-series is among the worst that the series has to offer, at least of the games I’ve played. I really can’t recommend this to anyone but the most hardcore Mega Man enthusiasts, and even they are better off just skipping this one.
My Rating - 2 Neps
Also available on PlayStation 4 and Windows
Cotton Reboot! is a remastered release of the 1993 cute-em-up Cotton: Fantastic Night Dreams originally released for the Sharp X68000 (aside from the arcade original, that is). As a sub-genre of shmups that crosses the frantic and addicting arcade shooter action with adorable anime girls, I'm a huge fan of cute-em-up games. While I had never experience Cotton before, I've certainly heard of it, so when I saw that this was getting a retail release on Switch in North America, I pretty much immediately pre-ordered it.
The original Cotton had a lot of different ports to a lot of different systems, but the reason that they chose to port the X68000 version as opposed to, say, the SNES or Saturn version, is because it is widely considered to have the best visuals not to mention a host of exclusive features and content. This reboot release includes a straight port of the X68000 version alongside a new remastered version that gave redrew all of the sprites with gorgeous and more modern visuals as well as putting a higher emphasis on score, something arcade enthusiasts are sure to love. There are also some tweaks made to the game's balance and overall feel, so it's absolutely worth playing through both the remastered version and the X68000 original.
One of the great things about the two included versions and the more score-centric focus of the remastered version is that it gives an otherwise very short game some solid replay value; there are only six stages plus an end boss, so you can clear a playthrough in under an hour. If you try to keep besting your high score, though, you find a lot of incentive to replay. You also unlock other playable characters after clearing the game once, so that adds some additional replay incentive. Also - and most importantly - it's just a generally super fun and charming game all around.
Cotton Reboot! is an exemplar of how to re-release a classic arcade game in a big standalone package. Many would argue - and reasonably so - that a game this short should be an inexpensive digital-only title rather than a $40 physical release, but I think there's some value to be had here. Cotton is a pretty well-known and highly regarded IP among shmup fans, and the presentation here is absolutely top-notch. The performance is super fluid outside of some occasional slowdown in the X68000 version, and while the remastered Arrange mode can get so hectic that it's a little hard to see what exactly is going on, it's got a distinct rhythm that you can get a feel for. This definitely isn't a perfect remaster, but it does show that you can release a short arcade game in a way that gives more value than one might first think. I'm a big fan of Cotton as a character and as a game having played through this, and I hope this reboot is used as a launch pad to revive the series in earnest.
My Rating - 4 Neps
Also available on 3DS via Virtual Console
Mega Man V is, in a lot of ways, the pinnacle of the Game Boy series. It’s pretty close between Mega Man IV and Mega Man V - I enjoyed the level design in IV a bit more - but there are a lot of things that V does better, and I think that V is the overall better game. The story, for one, is totally original in V with an original cast of bosses. The premise and setting is new and really solid, as well. Regardless of if you think IV is better or if you think V is better, this is a fantastic way to end Mega Man’s run on the original Game Boy.
Rather than sticking to emulating the NES games, everything about Mega Man V is original aside from the obvious Dr. Wily boss fight and the fact that you face off against the four Mega Man killers again. Instead of fighting Dr. Wily’s Robot Masters, you’re fighting the nine Stardroids, alien robots trying to take over the world. Of course, Dr. Wily is still behind it all - Dr. Wily is ALWAYS behind it all - but the fact that these are alien robots and not Wily-made robots gives the story a really unique feel. The fact that IV actually dabbled with story-telling impressed me in that game, but V just takes that to a whole new level. It might not be a groundbreaking story, but it’s fantastic in the context of the Game Boy Mega Man games, and even for Mega Man in general, it’s the best of the classic games in my opinion.
Between the nine Stardroids, the four Mega Man killers, the Yellow Devil model, Dr. Wily, and the final boss, there’s nearly a dozen and a half bosses. Despite that, they never feel stale. Each boss feels relatively unique and interesting, and while I got frustrated at times, it never felt unfair or pointless. That’s a pretty impressive feat for a Game Boy game. There’s even a horizontal scrolling shooter segment in space about two thirds of the way through the game for a change of pace. Dr. Light’s lab shop makes a return from IV as does Proto Man’s little cameo, two of my favorite things from that game. Pretty much everything IV did right is brought back in V along with all of the new bits.
I may have enjoyed the level design in IV a little more, but V is still an example of top tier Mega Man level design. Gimmicks are used brilliantly here with some levels changing the strength of gravity, water hazards being used to great effect, and the timing of falling platforms striking that perfect balance of challenging but not unforgiving. The one thing that might turn off some fans but that I, personally, found to be a welcome change was the decreased difficulty. The large sprites already made the Game Boy games tougher than their NES counterparts in a lot of ways even aside from level design, so I enjoyed seeing the overall difficulty of the game take a notch down. That’s not to say that the game isn’t still challenging - it absolutely is - but it’s far less frustrating than the previous Game Boy entries, and it never feels unfair, something that the previous games (minus IV) couldn’t say.
All things considered, Mega Man V is about as perfect as a Mega Man game on the original Game Boy can be. It still have some issues here and there - some bosses are markedly more challenging than others that are fought around the same point in the game, and there’s still a lot of slowdown when the screen gets busy - but considering the limitations of the hardware and the relatively non-linear nature in which you fight the bosses, those are kind of just the nature of the beast with Game Boy Mega Man. This is, without a doubt, the best of the five Game Boy entries in my opinion and an all-around excellent game. I don’t mean that as “excellent for a Game Boy game;” this is a genuinely excellent game and a definite must-play for Mega Man fans. It’s a shame that this has never seen a re-release outside of the 3DS Virtual Console because it definitely deserved one. Hopefully we’ll see a collection with the Game Boy games (and maybe the Game Gear one thrown in just to make it six like the first Legacy Collection) so that this will game will be more accessible to modern gamers. Of all the Game Boy Mega Man games, this one definitely deserves it the most.
My Rating - 5 Neps
Also available on 3DS via Virtual Console
Mega Man III was definitely a disappointment after the two pretty decent previous Game Boy games, but fortunately, Mega Man IV more than makes up for that. Not only does IV fix the problems of III, but it honestly goes above what Dr. Wily’s Revenge and II managed to do; it’s definitely the best of the Game Boy entries yet.
Like the Game Boy games before it, Mega Man IV uses bosses and themes from the NES games - Mega Man 4 and Mega Man 5 this time - but it’s not just a carbon copy. The bosses and themes may be the same, but the levels are actually pretty different. It’s more accurate to say that these stages are inspired by NES levels rather than based on NES levels. I’m pretty sure some of these levels are actually longer than their NES counterparts - an odd choice for a handheld game but one that is not at all unwelcome given how well polished this game is. There are also a number of secrets to find here. For one, Proto Man makes an easy-to-miss cameo here. There’s also a hidden Mega Buster upgrade that Dr. Light gives you after you fail a stage a certain number of times.
The whole game is a massive elevation in quality from the previous three. Gone is the total BS feel that some of Mega Man III’s stages had. Pretty much every stage here feels fair, and there were only a couple of parts that I found myself getting particularly frustrated with. This game is challenging, not merciless; that’s an important distinction that the transition from Mega Man III to Mega Man IV really drives home. You can collect chips in the levels that act as currency that you can then spend in Dr. Light’s shop to do things like recharge your weapons or buy items. If you collect the four BEAT letters in the first four Robot Masters’ stages, you can unlock Mega Man’s pet bird, Beat, who acts as a really powerful weapon. The Mega Man Killer in this game, Ballade, is also probably the coolest one yet and drops a great weapon.
The game isn’t perfect - the large sprites still make it tougher than it needs to be, and there’s still some significant slowdown in places - but literally everything about this game is an improvement over the three previous Game Boy entries, and I honestly feel like it’s a better game than a couple of the NES entries, although there’s definitely some room for good debate on that point. Regardless, this is the first Mega Man game on Game Boy that I think is legitimately “great” rather than just “pretty good” or “good for Game Boy.” Na, this game is just plain good, no qualifier needed.
My Rating - 4 Neps
Also available on 3DS via Virtual Console
Mega Man III on Game Boy is pretty much what you’d expect from a Mega Man sequel...but worse; virtually identical core gameplay as the previous game with new bosses and a feature or two added. The only real substantive addition made here was the ability to charge the Mega Buster. Otherwise, it’s just more Mega Man on the Game Boy. That’s not a bad thing, but they don’t really change up the formula here. Then again, if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it. Unfortunately, they broke it anyway.
The charged Mega Buster shot was the only major addition I noticed, but there was a change that’s worth noting - after you beat the first four Robot Masters, rather than having the last four selected through teleport pods like in Mega Man II on Game Boy, you get a second traditional stage select screen that just has a different set of four Robot Masters. Personally, I like this change as it drives home the point that this is the second half of the main game, not the start of the endgame which is how the teleport pods in Mega Man II kind of made it feel.
Like the games before it, this is an amalgamation of bosses and level themes from two of the NES games - Mega Man III and Mega Man IV. Nothing else really new outside of Punk, the Mega Man killer boss that you fight before Dr. Wily. The difficulty feels like it got kicked up more than a little bit, but unfortunately, a lot of that difficulty feels like BS design. As my good Racketboy buddy GunstarGreen said, “They tried way too hard to make it like the NES games and fell flat on their face. That often unfair-feeling design is on top of the existing issue of sprites being so big that you can’t really maneuver well. One other thing I noticed is the slowdown; while all three Game Boy games have had slowdown, it definitely seems to be worse in III than it was in Dr. Wily’s Revenge or II. That could just be that I was avoiding enemies that I could rather than making a point to kill everything and thus allowing more enemies to stay on screen at a time, but the slowdown definitely felt a lot more pronounced here.
Mega Man III is good. It seems to have fixed the sound issues from II, but aside from that, it’s pretty much just more of the same. It’s great for a handheld Mega Man from the early 90s, but as was the case with the NES games, it starts to feel a bit stale after three games. The gameplay just fails to do anything to build on the previous game's foundations. That’s my biggest complaint with this one; it plays it too safe and somehow still messes up. Put the ability to charge the Mega Buster in the previous game, and they’re basically identical. Still, while it may not push the envelope even a millimeter, it’s still a fun time for what it is if you can look past the bad design choices.
My Rating - 2 Neps
Also available on 3DS via Virtual Console
Mega Man II on Game Boy is, in a lot of ways, just more of Dr. Wily’s Revenge. It’s not a carbon copy, though, as it does make some noticeable improvements. Most noticeable among these improvements is the length. From what I’ve read, a lot of the complaints with the first Game Boy Mega Man game were that it was too short with only four Robot Master stages and two Wily’s castle stages (the last four Robot Masters were just straight boss fights, no stages). This is remedied with Mega Man II. Whereas Dr. Wily’s Revenge had a total of six stages, Mega Man II has a total of ten.
The game does keep the basic design philosophy of its predecessor by synthesizing bosses and stage themes from two of the NES games, this time having the first four Robot Masters come from the NES Mega Man II and the last four come from the NES Mega Man III. Taking design cues from Mega Man III on NES, Mega Man II on Game Boy includes the ability to slide as well as the inclusion of Mega Man’s robot dog friend, Rush, along with the use of Rush Coil, Rush Jet, and my personal favorite of Rush’s abilities, Rush Marine.
This game’s Mega Man killer boss is Quint, and the weapon you get from him is actually my favorite in the game. It’s a giant pogo stick, and while his three forms keep this weapon from letting you totally cheese the boss fight, you can use this pogo stick to take out one of Dr. Wily’s forms in a couple seconds. It’s totally stupid but totally awesome. That one weapon honestly is enough to set this one above Dr. Wily’s Revenge because it just seems so much more random and creative than any of the weapons in that game.
I played without sound to avoid disturbing folks around me (I was in public for this playthrough and didn’t have headphones with me), but friends have told me that the music and sound effects are just awful in this game - a tinny, high pitched nightmare. I can’t comment on it myself, but I figured I’d at least mention what I heard second-hand. As for the visuals, everything is identical to Dr. Wily’s Revenge - NES sprites in black and white. It’s got fewer BS traps and ambushes than the previous game did, but it’s still pretty tough due in large part to how little room you have to maneuver given the large sprites. Still, though, that’s tough to avoid with the size of the Game Boy screen. All in all, it definitely feels more fair than the previous game, but it’s no walk in the park.
Mega Man II for Game Boy is a lot of fun and a definite improvement over the original game excluding the audio design, but it’s still got some rough patches. Difficulty feels a bit artificially high thanks to the large sprites, but the game’s Mega Man killer boss is cool, and they definitely fleshed out the length more vs the previous game. All in all, it’s a definite improvement, but it still doesn’t stand up to the NES originals.
My Rating - 3 Neps
Also available via 3DS via Virtual Console
Mega Man: Dr. Wily’s Revenge is the first Game Boy game in the Mega Man series and serves largely as a condensed and watered down sampler of bosses and stage themes from the first two NES games. I don’t mean watered down in a negative way, mind you; it was just adapted from a more powerful 8-bit console to work on a weaker handheld system. Considering the hardware the Game Boy had, it’s a pretty impressive adaptation.
Basic gameplay is exactly like its NES counterparts albeit brutally difficult. This difficulty is due to a number of factors. The most immediately noticeable of those factors is how big the sprites are. Because of the small screen real estate on the Game Boy, the sprites are much bigger than in the NES games. This means that you have considerably less room to maneuver and thus dodge enemy attacks. The platforming is also pretty merciless with jumps that pretty much have to be pixel perfect and timing that has to be exact. The NES Mega Man games had some ruthless platforming, too, but some of the jumps in this game just seemed brutal. The last major factor that really ramps up the difficulty is that there are some parts that you just have to know. What’s a hole that leads to a room below and what’s a hole that leads to death? It’s usually pretty apparent, but there are a handful of instances where the only way to know is just to know. A couple of sections have enemies shooting at you the moment the screen transitions making it virtually impossible not to take damage. All of that compounds to turn a tough game into a ruthless one.
None of that is to say that it’s a bad game, though. On the contrary, this is an extremely competent NES-to-Game Boy conversion, and I quite enjoyed most of my time with it BS difficulty notwithstanding. The four Robot Masters you can fight in the beginning are pulled from the first Mega Man game, and the four that you fight in Wily’s castle are pulled from Mega Man II. You then fight a Mega Man killer named Enker before fighting Wily himself. With only six stages, the game is pretty short, but I personally think that short games work better for handhelds especially in the pre-sleep mode days of the DS and 3DS.
Mega Man: Dr. Wily’s Revenge is certainly rough around the edges, and parts of it haven’t aged particularly well, but as a whole, I still think it holds up fairly well. It has some really difficult segments, but that’s not too uncommon for the Mega Man series. If you want to play Mega Man on the go today, you’re definitely better off with one of the collections on 3DS or Switch, but his leap to Game Boy was definitely impressive for the time and the hardware. I’m not sure I’ll ever revisit this game, but I’m definitely glad I played through it once.
My Rating - 3 Neps
Also available on Saturn, PlayStation, PlayStation 2, Gamecube, Wii U via Virtual Console, 3DS via Virtual Console, PlayStation 4, Xbox One, Switch, and Windows
Mega Man X3 is, obviously, the third game in the Mega Man X sub-series, and it’s pretty much exactly what you’d expect and want from a sequel to Mega Man X2. I still think the first Mega Man X was the best of this sub-series so far, but X3 definitely brought some much needed improvements over the sub-weapons in X2. That’s not to say that they were bad in X2, but X3 has some seriously cool weapons you can get from bosses.
Graphically, this is pretty in line with the other two Mega Man X games. The biggest changes here are to gameplay mechanics. On the surface, it will look like there haven’t been any major changes, but dig a little deeper, and it’s a different story. Some bosses will either not be fought at all or may be fought in different places depending on how you play the game in certain places. There are optional upgrades hidden throughout the game. Zero even makes his debut as a playable character although how relatively limited the ability to play with him is makes it feel like a little bit of a missed opportunity to me. Still, though, the fact that you can play as him at all was an awesome surprise for me as I think he’s got the coolest design in the series.
One of my issues with Mega Man X2 was that the difficulty seemed a bit skewed with early bosses being brutal without their weakness and easy with it, and the late bosses were just super hard no matter what. X3 is definitely better in that regard. The early bosses were obviously still easy if you had their weakness - that’s the point - but they gave me more of a challenge whereas, with the exception of the final boss, the late game bosses seemed like less dramatic of a difficulty spike. Another point that really impressed me was the story. Mega Man X in general as a sub-series had a more interesting story than the classic series and dug deeper into it, but X3 really nailed it. It’s still not super story heavy, but the world-building done with Dr. Doppler and the Reploids after the defeat of Sigma and the Mavericks as well as the little bit of character building they did for Mega Man X were a fantastic touch that really pushed my experience to the next level.
I don’t quite think it matched Mega Man X1, but Mega Man X3 is still an absolutely stunning game, and it came pretty close to the first game in my eyes. The level design is fantastic, and there are enough upgrades to find and little ways to change the gameplay experience that it has more replay value in my opinion than the other two Mega man X games. As the last of the four Mega Man games to release on the Super Nintendo (in North America, anyway, and excluding Mega Man Soccer), this is definitely a solid swan song. As with the other two Mega Man X games on the system, it’s been so widely re-released that every gamer has access to it in some way, so I highly recommend giving this a play.
My Rating - 5 Neps
Also available on Xbox One and Windows
Part of me is still eight years old. What I mean by that is that most boys go through a phase where they're crazy about dinosaurs, but they eventually grow out of that. I never really grew out of that. Dinosaurs are and always have been friggin' awesome, so when I saw a trailer months ago for a Left 4 Dead style co-op shooter about dinosaurs, I flipped. When it came out on Xbox, it kind of flew under the radar even though I had been super hyped pre-launch; I just never heard anything about it when it actually came out. When I saw it as I was scrolling through Game Pass after signing up, then, I immediately downloaded it. It's a good thing it's on Game Pass, too, as it's still in Early Access, and as excited for it as I was, I have a personal rule against buying Early Access games and an iron-clad personal rule against buying live service games. If it's on a subscription service that I'm already paying for, however, then all bets are off (and so are the dinosaurs' heads).
The premise of the game is that mutated dinosaurs have taken over the Earth (I don't think it ever explains how), but a group of humans have survived and formed a new world government aboard an orbital space station. From there, three-person strike teams drop to the surface and carry out missions to retrieve supplies and cull dinosaur numbers and nests. Other than being dinosaurs instead of zombies and teams of three instead of four, this is basically another Left 4 Dead clone. It is, however, the absolute best Left 4 Dead clone I've ever played, and because it's set up as an open world with optional objectives randomly scattered throughout, it's better than Left 4 Dead in my personal opinion (although, for reasons I'll explain, missing all of the polish of Left 4 Dead).
As I mentioned, the game is still in Early Access, and while it's significantly more polished than the average full release for an Ubisoft game, it's obvious in parts that it's Early Access. It doesn't have any glaring technical issues aside from the infrequent abrupt disconnect, but there have been several instances where a group of raptors spawned in the air above me, fell to the ground, died on impact, and exploded in blood. My friend, Grant, with whom I've played several hours of this game, described it as "Bethesda bugs," and that's a fairly accurate assessment; most of the bugs don't hinder your enjoyment or overall experience but are just bizarre and hilarious.
As the game is still in active development, it's changing constantly, but as it stands right now, there are three difficulties, five playable characters, and six core missions. There are a plethora of little side missions that you can find in the world as you play, and the developers have said for sure that at least one more character is coming this year along with new weapons and dinosaurs. There are a variety of types of smaller dinosaurs - regular raptors, electric enemies that can cloak and flit about, acid spitting dinosaurs, etc - but three big enemies in the game right now are the Ankylosaurs, the Triceratops, and - of course - the Tyrannosaurus. All three of these are virtually impossible to take down solo unless you've got some wicked skills and amazing gear, and the Tyrannosaurus pretty much requires at least one teammate.
As you kill dinosaurus, you collect research points and various drops. These are used to upgrade your weapons. Every weapon has three main categories that can be upgraded - usually damage, recoil stability, and switching/reloading speed - with unique abilities in each of those categories that can be unlocked. There are a lot of weapons, so it definitely pays to experiment around and see what suits your playstyle and each individual situation. I, personally, use either the minigun or - if someone else is playing tank - the assault rifle, although the machine gun and artillery cannon are pretty glorious weapons as well. You also unlock more weapons and support equipment as you level up not unlike Call of Duty, so your options continuously expand as you progress.
There are obviously some Early Access issues that still need to be worked out - little bugs, disconnections and crashes, and the fact that the frame rate apparently just plummets on Xbox One when things get busy on screen (this does not happen on Series X) - but for being Early Access, this game is incredibly well-made. If you showed me this for the first time, I would think it's a final retail release and never question it. It's a shame that you can only have three people on a team - four would really be ideal, I think - but if you can get a couple of good teammates, this is one of the absolute best co-op experiences I've had on an Xbox since Halo 2. If you have Game Pass, ABSOLUTELY check this game out. If you don't have Game Pass but dig co-op shooters and are okay with live service and Early Access games, definitely check it out; I definitely think it's worth the $25 is sells for even in its current state.
My Rating - 4 Neps
Also available on PlayStation 2, Gamecube, Wii via Virtual Console, Wii U via Virtual Console, 3DS via Virtual Console, Xbox One, PlayStation 4, and Switch
After playing Mega Man X - a game I felt was virtually perfect - I had high hopes for Mega Man X2. X2, while still an excellent game and superior to Mega Man 7, unfortunately doesn’t quite live up to the astronomical standards set by X1. Don’t get me wrong - it’s great - but when that’s what it’s got to follow, it’s not terribly surprising that it feels a little lacking.
As far as level design goes, X2 and X1 are about on equal footing generally speaking. X2 keeps its predecessor’s X-cellent controls (I had to make the joke at least once), and controlling the game is easy and responsive. The visuals are fantastic, and the bosses all look unique and creative. Where the game disappoints is with the boss battles. They just don’t feel quite as well-designed as they did in the previous game. You’ve basically got to have the weapon they’re weak to (or be significantly better at Mega Man than I am) to stun them enough and do enough damage to beat them whereas in X1, most of them were doable with just the X-blaster once you got a feel for their attack patterns. At least at my paltry skill level, these bosses just attacked too fast for that for the most part. That’s not necessarily a bad design, mind you, but it felt less about learning a boss’s movements and patterns and more about exploiting their weakness in this game, and it just didn’t feel as fun or rewarding for me.
All that said, if you do have the weapon to which the boss is weak, the battle becomes a walk in the park. With the first eight bosses, it was one of those two extremes - extremely difficult or extremely easy. The Sigma Fortress bosses, of course, were a different story; even with their weakness, every single one of those bosses kicked my tail up and down the screen. That juxtaposition, as well, felt a little haphazard to me. I know part of Mega Man’s formula is being able to tackle most bosses in any order, but the difference in difficulty between regular bosses and Sigma bosses just felt more pronounced here than in most Mega Man games.
I’ve dogged on the boss fights here a lot, but that really is my only major disappointment with X2. It’s an extraordinary Mega Man game, and I had an absolute blast playing it. It may not have lived up to X1 in my opinion, but damn if it didn’t come close. I can definitely call this one of the jewels in the SNES crown. With how accessible the X collection is on modern consoles, this is definitely a game to check out if you’re into action platformers and haven’t played it already.
My Rating - 4 Neps
Also available on Gamecube, PlayStation 2, Wii via Virtual Console, Wii U via Virtual Console, 3DS via Virtual Console, PlayStation 4, Xbox One, Switch, Android, iOS, and Windows
Mega Man X was the series’s debut on the Super Nintendo as well as the start of the “X” sub-series of games. It’s also, however, probably the best game in the entire Mega Man franchise, at least of the ones that I’ve played. I know a lot of folks look at spin-off games as inherently inferior to the main series games - I know I’m guilty of that with Pokemon and Resident Evil - but in this case, those people would be wrong; Mega Man X is definitely a cut above even the best of the first seven main series entries.
The game takes place sometime in the 22nd Century about a hundred years after the events of the main series. Dr. Light created a successor android to Mega Man known as X that was supposed to be able to think, feel, and make his own decisions just like a human being. Obviously this presents the risk of making the Terminator movies real, and Light realized that. Because he estimated that it would take 30 years to test X fully to ensure that he wouldn’t violate the cardinal robot rule of “Never hurt humans,” and he knew he didn’t have 30 years of life left in him, he put X in a capsule that would do some kind of auto-test and instructed that the capsule not be opened until the tests were complete. Fast forward a bit, and Dr. Light’s fears have come true; Dr. Cain, who discovered X in the ruins of Light’s lab, creates a group of sapient robots called Reploids, and one of those Reploids, Sigma, has gone berserk and raised a Reploid army to try to wipe out humanity. X, along with his robot mentor, Zero, set out to stop Sigma and his Reploid army led by a group of robots called Mavericks. Basically, Sigma is the new Dr. Wily, and the Mavericks are the new Robot Masters.
Just like the core Mega Man series, you’re able to pick any Maverick to fight first, each drops a weapon, and each is weak against another Maverick’s specific weapon. For the most part, the gameplay is exactly what you’ve come to expect from Mega Man but polished to perfection and with a few key additions. You can grab hold of walls and perform wall jumps at will - something that makes parts of the platforming much more fun - and you can also perform a dash and a charged up shot from your X-buster. Those additions, however, kind of get overshadowed by how absolutely perfect the controls are. Everything feels tight, responsive, and finely tuned. If you die here, it’s almost always your fault; no blaming the controls on your own shortcomings here.
The 16-bit sprites are absolutely gorgeous, and the soundtrack manages to keep the classic sound and style while adding in some of the more advanced audio effects made possible by the SNES hardware. In every way, Mega Man X is the perfect 16-bit upgrade of the NES Mega Man games even more so than Mega Man 7 despite the fact that X came out a few years earlier. The levels are among some of the best designed in the series, and the same goes for the bosses. My only real complaint with the bosses is that there’s a huge difficulty gap between some of them. A couple of the Mavericks, I was able to beat without taking a hit, no problem whereas others took me several attempts before I could really get into the groove with them. That’s literally my only complaint with the entire game, though.
Mega Man X is the perfect action platformer. Honestly, excluding Metroidvanias since I think they’re kind of a separate sub-genre (like how you wouldn’t compare Xenosaga with Mass Effect even though they’re both RPGs), I’m pretty comfortable saying that it’s the greatest action platformer ever made. It’s definitely the best one that I’ve played. I certainly underestimated this game expecting it to be really good but not jaw-dropping like Mega Man 7 was, but Mega Man X just blew me away. I’m now quite looking forward to jumping into some of the other Mega Man X games.
My Rating - 5 Neps
Also available on PlayStation 2, GameCube, Xbox, Wii U via Virtual Console, 3DS via Virtual Console, PlayStation 4, Xbox One, Switch, and Windows
Mega Man 7 is a game that I never heard much about when I was growing up. It was a fairly late release in the SNES lifespan, it always seemed overshadowed by the Mega Man X series as far as 16-bit entries went. It didn’t make it into the first Mega Man Legacy Collection, but it did make it into Legacy Collection 2. Still, though, having played through the six NES games a few years ago, I figured it was worth playing through, and I gotta say, I’m glad I did.
Mega Man 7 is very much just the NES games but in 16-bits instead of 8-bit as far as gameplay goes. If you’ve played those games, just imagine it with SNES graphics, and you’ve pretty much got it. Like the NES games, the actual stages are the hard part of the game for the most part with the eight robot masters being pretty easy once you figure out their attack patterns. The exceptions to this are some of the bosses in Dr. Wily’s castle at the end. The last three bosses, specifically, were about to make me pull my hair out, especially the final Dr. Wily fight.
Frustrating bosses aside, the biggest issue I had with the game was slowdown. There typically wasn’t an enormous amount of slowdown, but it was definitely frequent and noticeable enough to stand out as worth mentioning. Truthfully, the game’s biggest flaw is that it’s just more of the same. Especially upon its release, the Mega Man series was suffering from the same problem that plagues Call of Duty and Assassin’s Creed today - repetitive yearly releases that don’t really change that much. Mega Man 7 is a solidly good game, but it doesn’t really do anything to stand out from the previous mainline entries aside from being on more powerful hardware, and it just doesn’t manage to be as cool or addicting as the Mega Man X series.
Mega Man 7’s good. Honestly, it’s really good. It’s stale, though. The first few NES games felt fresh because Mega Man was new, and the Mega Man X games added enough in the way of mechanics and plot elements to feel exciting and distinct. Mega Man 7 doesn’t have either of those things going for it. There’s a lot to be said for “if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it,” but when you’ve already not only fixed but improved upon it, you really shouldn’t go back, and that’s what it feels like Mega Man 7 did. There’s nothing wrong with it, but it just feels like a step back rather than forward or even to the side.
My Rating - 4 Neps
As the name suggests, Top Gun: The Second Mission is the sequel to the commercially successfully but definitely flawed Top Gun for NES. This, however, is an example of a sequel done right. Konami clearly listened to the criticism that the first game got as well as the praise it got and set about fixing the problems and expanding on the strengths.
The first thing that most will notice is that this game looks a lot nicer than the first one. It’s not a night and day transformation like Super Mario Bros to Super Mario Bros 3, but it’s a definite upgrade. The cut scenes look much better, and the enemy sprites got a nice touch-up, as well. Likewise, the combat feels much more refined. The dog fights truly do feel like dog fights here. I compared the first game to After Burner in first person, but this game feels much closer to a true arcade experience like that. In addition to the inverted vertical controls like you’d find with a joystick, they added the option for more traditional controls where pressing up on the D-pad moves your plane up.
The gameplay is also a lot faster. Like, a LOT faster. Truthfully, it feels a little too fast at times. Enemies flit off the side of the screen much faster than in the first game, and missiles reach you much more quickly, as well. The increased combat difficulty is matched, however, by a significantly simplified landing sequence. Whereas I had to try and try and try over a dozen times before I got my first successful land in the first game, I have never failed to land in this one. There are also only three missions as opposed to four, but I’d say the game is probably about just as long as these three missions are all much longer than the four missions from the first game.
The first Top Gun was a fun experience that was unfortunately marred by a brutally difficult landing sequence that honestly ruined the game for a lot of people. Fortunately, Konami remedied that problem in this sequel. The combat is way tougher than what you found in the previous game, so don’t expect the easy landing sequence to make for an easier playthrough, but it’s a ton of fun, and at least here, you’re going to die due to missiles and machine guns, not accidentally kamikazeing your own aircraft carrier.
My Rating - 3 Neps
Top Gun is a game made infamous by the early Angry Video Game Nerd videos, and I’m not ashamed to say that that’s where I first saw the game back when I was in middle school. Since then, it always kind of mystified me as this game that was fun to hate but never seemed as bad to me as the internet - myself included - made it out to be. When I started collecting for NES in earnest in my freshman year of high school, I picked this game up at the flea market down the road out of obligation as much as anything else. I felt like a game that seemingly universally reviled was one that I had to own.
Top Gun is a flight combat sim, and despite releasing fairly early in the NES’s lifespan - 1987 - it looks fantastic. The game is from a cockpit perspective, and while it’s definitely a product of 1980s gaming technology, it’s remarkable when you take the hardware into consideration. The combat is fast paced, and you’ve really got to be on your toes to shoot down enemies, dodge bullets, and either avoid or destroy incoming missiles all at the same time. It feels a lot like a first person After Burner to me, and considering that After Burner is one of my favorite Master System games, that’s definitely a good thing.
That’s the majority of the game, but that’s not what most people tend to criticize. Most folks seem to recognize the actual dog fighting as an incredibly fun and well-made experience. What most people criticize - rightfully so - is the landing sequence at the end of each level. It’s nearly impossible to land the plane without crashing and losing a life until you really get a good feel for it, and that’s where most of the hate comes into play. The game consists of four levels, and you have three lives. Even if you play each level perfectly and never get shot down, you’ll still get game over before you finish the last level if you can’t land the plane, and those missiles can be extremely difficult to avoid especially in the last two levels. Even if you follow all of the on-screen prompts immediately, you’ll crash. It just takes a ton of trial and error until you really get a feel for it, and that’s something a lot of people don’t have the patience to do.
Top Gun is honestly a really good game for the most part. The combat is incredibly fun, but that damn landing sequence ruins the game for a lot of folks. I definitely don’t think it’s fair to write off the entire game as garbage because of that part, but given that it’s unreasonably obnoxious, it’s a definite pox on an otherwise excellent NES. Don’t avoid the game just because of it, but definitely go in with the understanding that you’ll want to break your controller when you get to that part.
My Rating - 3 Neps
Also available on Epoch Super Cassette Vision
I’m a huge fan of scrolling shooters. I typically prefer vertically scrolling shooters, but I’m not one to turn my nose up at a horizontally scrolling shooter. Sky Kid is a home console port of a Namco horizontally scrolling arcade game, and while it’s nowhere near the level of shooters like Gradius in terms of speed or fun (in my opinion, anyway), it’s still a solid shooter.
Sky Kid feels a bit like Chopper Command on Atari 2600. You scroll from right to left shooting down enemy planes and strafing ground targets like tanks and trucks all while avoiding enemy fire and physical obstacles. What sets Sky Kid apart from most shooters is the pace. It’s a much slower game than Gradius or, at times, even Chopper Command. The screen scrolls at a steady pace, and while you can move to the left and the right on the screen, you can’t do anything to make the screen itself scroll faster or slower. This can make it tough to avoid some obstacles, but it also means that you won’t have to worry about rushing headlong into a massive group of enemies unless you’re constantly hugging one side of the screen.
While all you have to do in order to clear the level is reach the end and land on the landing strip, your objective is to bomb the target, usually either a large military building or a fortress. You’re not equipped with bombs, though. As you’re avoiding enemies and shooting them down, you also need to keep your eyes peeled for bombs on the ground and give yourself time and room to swoop down, grab the bomb, and regain your altitude. Normally you can use one of the buttons to do a roll in the air to avoid enemy attacks and give yourself a moment of invulnerability, but you lose that when you’re holding a bomb; when you have a bomb, that button drops the bomb. If you waste your bomb, too bad. It’s gone. You don’t have to bomb the target in order to complete the level (with the exception of the last level), but you do get a massive point bonus if you do destroy it.
The sprites in the game are fairly small and definitely have the look of an early NES game, but that doesn’t mean they look bad. Simple, definitely, but not bad. While there’s some slowdown towards the end, the game runs pretty smoothly for the most part, and the serious sprite flicker doesn’t start to really show up until the latter half of the game. It may not be my ideal style of shooter, but it’s undeniably a very competent arcade conversion for 1986, and it’s definitely fun to play. There are better shooters on the NES, but this is still a great piece to add to any collection.
My Rating - 3 Neps
I'm a teacher.
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 high school history; during the night, I spend my spare time gaming. Then I write about it.