My Nintendo Picross: The Legend of Zelda - Twilight Princess was, as the name implies, a reward exclusive to My Nintendo users on 3DS. It's a basic game - your standard Picross with Twilight Princess themed puzzles - but for my first exposure to Picross, you can't beat free. Even if the price tag weren't $0.00, though, this is far from a bad way to kill some time on a puzzle game.
The game is broken into three parts - Picross, Mega Picross, and Micross. Picross is the most basic game mode, and it's a lot like sudoku crossed with Pictionary. You have a series of numbers atop every column and to the left of every row telling you how many blocks are filled in each row or column and how many are adjacent. From there, you have to figure out what blocks should be filled and what blocks can't be filled to create the picture and complete the puzzle as quickly as possible. As you get into later stage puzzles, the puzzles get bigger, going from something like 10x10 to 20x20. Mega Picross is basically the same but with one major addition; there are some clues that span two columns or rows. You still have your regular single row/column hints, but there may be one section with seven adjacent squares stretching over two columns, for example, adding an extra element of challenge. Micross is like Picross within Picross. The main puzzle is a standard Picross puzzle, but once you finish that, each individual square of THAT puzzle has its own Picross puzzle to solve to add detail to a large overall picture.
The game offers you a "hint roulette" if you need a hand at the start. It scrolls through each row rapidly and, whatever row is highlighted is filled in. It then repeats for the columns. You can opt out of this - it asks you at the start of each puzzle - but it's good for those learning the ropes in Picross (or those like me who just suck at the game). You can also turn on a hint feature that will highlight the numbers atop each column/beside each row if there are moves that you can make for sure although it's still up to you to figure out what you can fill in or rule out. This can easily be toggled on or off at any time during a puzzle. You're scored based on your time, and every time you fill in a square that shouldn't be filled it, the game tells you that you're wrong, Xs out the square, and adds time to your clock as punishment (2 min, 4 min, 8 min, etc), so if you're really bad (i.e. me), at the game, you could spend 10 minutes on a puzzle and have a final time over two hours (true story).
My Nintendo Picross: The Legend of Zelda - Twilight Princess is probably the best free 3DS game I've ever played. It was my first exposure to Picross, so I can't say how it compares to other Picross games, but I thoroughly enjoyed my time with it. The three different puzzle modes gave the game some good variety, and the Micross kept me busy for over two hours start to finish. I'll probably go back to it every now and then and try to get a finish time of under one hour for the puzzles I horribly screwed up on (mainly Mega Picross) as you only get a black and white image if your final time is over an hour, but I think it says a lot about how much fun the game is if I'm planning to go back to it given that I'm notorious for playing a game once and literally never touching it again.
My Rating - 4 Neps
Also available on Xbox 360, PlayStation 3, PlayStation 4, PlayStation Vita, iOS, OSX, Linux, and Windows
Bit.Trip Runner 2 took everything that was great about Runner - which I had already considered to be a nearly perfect game - and made it even better. Literally everything has been improved over Runner. The presentation is leagues better, the levels are more varied in style, there are multiple playable characters, the music is even better, and freaking Charles Martinet narrates the game. They even fixed the one complaint I had about the original - checkpoints. They added checkpoints, and best yet, they're optional for folks wanting a challenge - jumping over the checkpoint skips it but adds 50,000 points to your score.
Runner 2 takes the foundation set by Runner and stretches it, filling in the gaps with awesome features you never knew you wanted. The game is broken into five worlds each with fourteen regular levels and five bonus levels for a whopping total of 96 levels to run, jump, and slide through. Each of the worlds has a drastically different theme, and while the gameplay remains pretty consistent throughout, the visual style gives each one a VERY different feel. The game's core mechanics remain the same from Runner, though; you have to jump, duck, kick, leap from springs, and raise your shield at the right times to traverse the game's obstacles. The biggest differences in the actual gameplay are the introduction of checkpoints and the overall refinement. Runner 2 feels a lot more responsive and fluid than Runner did, and I didn't even think there was much that really needed improvement in that regard.
There was always a storyline in the still images and storyboards of the first six Bit.Trip games, but it's made a little easier to follow for those of us with short attention spans in Runner 2 with Charles Martinet's truly fantastic narration. It was weird hearing him sound SO different from the voice we're all most used to from him - Mario - but the knowledge that it was him doing the narration gave it a special feel. I don't really know how to describe it, but there's something special about having Mario's voice actor do the narration for such a purely fun game.
Bit.Trip Runner 2: Future Legend of Rhythm Alien is the perfect game for short bursts of play. It's broken up enough and easy enough to understand that it's got the positive aspects of casual games, but it's got enough challenge and clever level design to hold the attention of core gamers, too. The story if goofy, but the presentation and delivery coupled with Charles Martinet's narration make it an overall product that it's impossible not to love. As good as Bit.Trip Runner and Bit.Trip Fate were, Runner 2 is absolutely the pinnacle of the series. With Runner 3 set to release this year as a Switch console exclusive (also coming to Windows), the bar is set pretty high. Here's to hoping that Runner 3 does what Runner 2 did for Runner - improve things that I didn't think could be improved.
My Rating - 5 Neps
Also available on 3DS, PlayStation Vita, PlayStation 4, OSX, and Windows
Bit.Trip Flux is the last part of the original six game Bit.Trip series, and it turns the series into a bit of psuedo-Pong sandwich. The first game in the series, Beat, played like a rhythm-Pong with the paddle on the left side of the screen; the last game, Flux, plays like a more refined rhythm-Pong with the paddle on the right side of the screen. While it can seem a bit minimalistic when compared to added visual detail of Runner and Fate, it's a fitting end to the WiiWare series.
Visually, Flux is very similar to Beat. Aurally, Flux is very similar to Beat. Mechanically, Flux is very similar to Beat. The biggest differences between the two other than general refinements are the side of the screen the paddle is on and the way the game is segmented. Whereas Beat was just three extremely long levels with a couple of "checkpoints" that didn't actually serve as checkpoints, Flux is broken up into three similarly long levels, but Flux's levels are broken into eight segments (the last of which is the boss). The biggest improvement in Flux is that the checkpoints between sections actually do serve as checkpoints allowing the player to restart from the last checkpoint rather than the beginning of the level. Granted, your progress through the level is lost if you quit, but it's still a very nice change over Flux.
Bit.Trip Flux is a fitting end to the Bit.Trip series even if a bit anticlimactic depending on your feelings about Beat. It feels like the developers said "What if we had made Beat knowing everything that we know now after five games?" It's basically Beat but better, but that's not quite doing Flux justice. Flux does add a lot to the Beat's foundation, and the game's conclusion does have a good feeling of finality to the Bit.Trip series (except for the Runner sequels). I was a little disappointed, personally, that Flux was the series conclusion after having so thoroughly enjoying Runner and Fate, but that's not to say that Flux is a bad game. It's still a great time and wholly Bit.Trip; it's just not what I would have done for the end of the series.
My Rating - 4 Neps
Also available on 3DS, PlayStation 4, PlayStation Vita, OSX, and Windows
Bit.Trip Fate followed Runner's example of having more detailed environments and models than the first three games in the series. This time, the game is a sort of side scrolling on rails shooter; Commander Video can move back and forth along a line that often zigzags up and down like an EKG, but he can only move along that line as the screen steadily scrolls to the right. I've not played many shooters quite like it, and while it gets pretty tough, it's ridiculously fun.
Whereas most of the Bit.Trip games (save Runner) took place over three giant levels, Fate is broken into three environments with two levels in each. The first level's no problem. The second level isn't too bad. The third level is where the difficulty starts to increase. By the fourth level, the level itself isn't insurmountable, but the boss is no walk in the park. The last two levels, however, get brutal. It's not unfair, mind you, but the game's not pulling any punches by the time you get to the last environment.
Music stays central to the game, but like Void, it takes a back seat to the timing of the gameplay here. Fate has all the intensity and tension of a standard shmup, but the limited range of movement adds a new element that changes how you have to play. It's a fantastic take on the series, and when coupled with the distinct "Bit.Trip" visual and musical style, it's an experience I haven't seen truly or well replicated in any other game.
Bit.Trip Fate doesn't manage surpass Runner's greatness and addictive nature, but it's an excellent game nonetheless and is second only to Runner in the Bit.Trip series. It's extremely challenging in the latter levels of the game, but it's totally worth it. The visuals and music are superb, and the Wii controls work perfectly. Like with Runner, Fate is an absolute must-play.
My Rating - 5 Neps
Also available for 3DS, PlayStation 4, PlayStation Vita, OSX, Linux, and Windows
Bit.Trip Runner is the fourth game in the Bit.Trip series, and it's probably the best in my opinion. It seems to be the one that got most people I know into the series, and it, along with Runner 2, were what got me into the series. It pretty much perfected the "runner" platforming sub-genre and set the standard for what a runner game should be.
Of the first four Bit.Trip games, Runner shows a departure from the minimalist visual style and used much more detailed environments and objects while still keeping a distinctly pixelated look and feel. This is also the first Bit.Trip game in which you visibly play as Commander Video (as opposed to a dot). Kind of like in Void, the rhythm of the music is less key to gameplay here than in Beat or Core, but I'd say it does so more than Void. As with Void, though, regardless of how key to gameplay the rhythm is, the soundtrack is outstanding, and the level you're "powered up" to - Mega, Super, Extra, etc - affects the music, adding more melody and energy with each level.
The game is broken into three "worlds" with 11 levels and a boss level in each one. They start off pretty easy, but all of the bosses are pretty challenging, and the difficulty REALLY ratchets up in the third world. The gameplay is super addictive, though, and there's no "game over;" if you screw up, it just sends you back to the start of the level to try again. I do wish that there were some checkpoints as some of the levels are really long and REALLY challenging, but it's a fairly minor gripe all things considered.
Bit.Trip Runner is the best of the first four Bit.Trip games and the most addicting by far. It's also the most challenging in a lot of ways. The lack of "game over" does make it a little more forgiving than the three previous games, but I found some of the actual level challenges to be tougher. It's a fantastic experience, though, and the epitome of what a runner-style game should be. Regardless of platform, this is an absolute must-play.
My Rating - 5 Neps
Also available on 3DS, PlayStation 4, PlayStation Vita, OSX, and Windows
Bit.Trip Void is the third game in the Bit.Trip series, and while it still very much keeps a lot of the style from Beat and Core, its reliance on rhythm is less than in its predecessors, and its visuals are less colorful. If you've played the first two games in the Bit.Trip series and - like me - love the soundtrack, don't worry about that; the music in Void fits right in with the two preceding games.
Whereas Beat was like an evolved Pong, and Core was like an mutated tower defense, Void is sort of like a hybrid of Pac-man and Ikaruga. You play as a pixelated black circle (the "void" I assume), and the object of the game is to collect as many of the black dots that fly on screen as possible while avoiding the white dots. Every time you ingest a black dot, your circle grows larger and moves more slowly. You move with the Nunchuk control stick, and pressing A on the Wiimote returns your circle to the original size and speed. As was the case with Beat and Core, there are three levels with a boss at the end of each, and while this is probably the most of fun of the first three Bit.Trip games in my opinion, I also found it to be the most difficult towards the end of the last level.
While Void is certainly not a monochrome game, since the player is all black and the dots with which you interact are either all black or all white, the game feels a lot less colorful than Beat or Core because the only thing that really has any real color is the background. The music fits right in with the other two games, but the visuals are definitely less interesting. Fortunately the gameplay is more than good enough to make up for the rather more muted visual presentation matching the addictivity of the first two Bit.Trip games perfectly.
Bit.Trip Void is definitely a bit of a departure from Bit.Trip Beat and Bit.Trip Core, but the style and sound of the game is nevertheless very much in line with the first two in the series. It's a bit less rhythm-dependent than Beat or Core, but that's not to say that the music isn't on par with those two; it absolutely is. I found Void to be the most fun of the three I've played so far, personally, but I also found it to be the most challenging at the end of the third level. In contrast, however, I found it to be the easiest in the first two levels. There's a noticeable difficulty spike from level 2 (Ego) to level 3 (Superego), and if I were to make any solid complaint with the game, that would probably be it. It's still, however, ABSOLUTELY a must-play.
My Rating - 4 Neps
Also available on 3DS, PlayStation 4, PlayStation Vita, OSX, and Windows
Bit.Trip Core took the "really simple but surprisingly deep" gameplay style of Bit.Trip Beat and replicated it with a radically different style of play. Core also carries with it from Beat the phenomenal soundtrack and gameplay intricately and inherently tied to rhythm and music.
Whereas Beat was Pong-cross-Guitar Hero, Core is harder to describe. The closest analogy I can think of would be an old tower defense-ish game (think Missile Command), but that's honestly not all that accurate, either. You control a....thing....in the middle of screen, and you can shoot in one of four directions; straight up, straight down, straight left, or straight right. The rhythm aspect here is that you have time your shots to hit the pixels right as they cross one of those four lines of fire. It starts off easy, but as you eventually get pixels coming at you constantly from every direction, it can get really confusing to keep straight what direction you need to shoot when. Difficulty aside, though, it's an EXTREMELY fun game and, in my opinion, more addicting than the first one.
As was the case with Bit.Trip Beat, Bit.Trip Core has three levels - each much more difficult than the last - and a boss at the end of each level. I actually found Core to be a bit easier than Beat, but that might be because Core's controls use the Wiimote's D-pad rather than the gyroscope, and I have pretty shaky hands, making motion controls a bit imprecise for me even though I love them. Regardless of whether Core is a little tougher or Beat is a little tougher, what's certain is that Core is pretty much the perfect sequel. It took what made Beat fantastic and unique and applied that formula to a radically different gameplay style.
Bit.Trip Core is a truly excellent follow up to Bit.Trip Beat, and while they're so different that it's hard to say whether or not it surpasses its predecessor, it's certainly a superb follow-up. It keeps the fantastic music and emphasis on rhythm and timing while having the actual gameplay rooted in a totally different format. This is how a series should progress in my opinion - taking a concept and expanding it rather than just doing the same thing but bigger and prettier each time.
My Rating - 4 Neps
Also available on 3DS, PlayStation 4, PlayStation Vita, Android, iOS, Linux, OSX, and Windows
Bit.Trip Beat is the first game in the Bit.Trip series. Originally released on Nintendo's WiiWare service, the success of the game and the series it spawned saw ports to multiple platforms. What makes Bit.Trip Beat so awesome is that its extreme simplicity is complemented by extreme addictivity.
Beat essentially plays like someone said "What if we took Pong and made it a rhythm game?" You play as a paddle on the left side of the screen and have to bounce dots back as they come from the right side. Simple, yeah? There's only three levels, but each one is a marked increase in difficulty. You end up with dots that come back to you until you hit them multiple times, dots that burst into multiple dots, and even legit boss encounters. In addition to all of that, the dots fall in rhythm with the music so that every time you hit one back, the sound effect adds to the melody. It's a very simple concept, but it's a lot deeper than you first think.
The game has a very Atari 2600 aesthetic, but the visuals just serve a purpose; the star of the show here is the music. The soundtrack is absolutely phenomenal. I can't speak for the controls on other platforms, but tilting the Wiimote up and down to move your paddle feels so fluid and natural. The Wii really was the perfect platform for this game. I've played around with it on Vita a little bit, and while tilting the Vita up and down certainly works, it feels a lot more natural on the Wii. Whether it actually does perform better on the Wii or it's just my console bias speaking, I can't say, but it's a great game regardless.
Bit.Trip Beat is an inconspicuous little game that ended up garnering a cult following and fairly prolific series, and once you play it, it's not at all hard to see why. It takes the simple Pong formula, adds rhythm game mechanics, and turns it into something wholly new and addicting. It may not have the flashiest graphics, compelling story, or intricate gameplay, but it's fun, it's addicting, and it's got a killer soundtrack. I have zero problem recommending this game especially given how easily available it is.
My Rating - 4 Neps
Also available on PlayStation Vita
Grand Kingdom is a game that I pre-ordered on an absolute whim back during my especially financially irresponsible days (as opposed to my normal moderately financially irresponsible days), and I thought it sounded SUPER cool. It was touted as a strategy RPG set in a continent plunged into near-constant war between four rival kingdoms, and that's the kind of game I crave. Having finally gotten around to playing, it, though, I can't quite say that I'm impressed.
Grand Kingdom's story is a bit broken up. There's a 12 mission main story that follows your character's mercenary company in the Guild, but when you finish that, there are four post-game campaigns that expand the lore of each of the four kingdoms in the game. Unfortunately, by the time I got to mission 9 of the Guild campaign, I was just...kind of done with the game. The gameplay isn't particularly exciting, and neither the story nor any of the characters are all that engaging. The story mainly boils down to this group of bandits that claim to the be descendants of a long dead empire try to resurrect four ancient demons to restore their empire. Not a bad premise, but the execution is just...meh.
The gameplay takes place on a linear field three lines high and two or three screen widths wide. You have a team of four mercenaries (or three if you have one of the fairly uncommon mounted units which count as two) fighting an enemy force of anywhere from two to six. Each unit moves in turn depending on its stats (rather than one team at a time) until one team is wiped out. Pretty simple stuff. There are a pretty good variety of classes, but unfortunately, there are really only 5 real "types" - melee, magic, range, support, and mounted (which is basically the "murder everything" class). It's not that the gameplay is bad by any means, but it doesn't have the depth of most RPGs that I've played (Valkyria Chronicles, Fire Emblem, etc). There is an online component that pits you against CPU-controlled copies of other players' teams from around the world, but it's...not much more exciting than the standard offline gameplay.
The game's got a pretty nice visual style that's reminiscent of anime without being the straight up waifu games I usually play when I'm playing an anime style game. The music is okay, but it's pretty forgettable. It serves the purpose of background music, but it's not a musical score that's going to make an impression like Xenoblade Chronicles 2 or Final Fantasy VII. The voice acting, however, is quite good, and while the characters themselves may not be especially exciting in my opinion, their dialogue, at least, is delivered well by actors who seem at least halfway decent at their jobs.
Grand Kingdom is a game that's presentation and promises are a lot more substantial than the actual product delivered. I think my opinion would likely be a bit better if I had gone into it with lower expectations, but with names like Spike Chunsoft and NIS America tied to it, I went in expecting a fun and engaging game. What I got was a pretty run-of-the-mill SRPG with a bland story, forgettable characters, and monotonous gameplay. If you're into the genre and find it for $10 or less, then it's worth a pick up - it's worth at least that much, I'd say - but this is certainly no "hidden gem."
My Rating - 3 Neps
Also available on Genesis and Saturn, PlayStation 2, and Game Boy Advance via Phantasy Star Collection
Phantasy Star is a series that a lot of folks are familiar with thanks to later entries, but relatively few folks seem to have played the Sega Master System original. While Phantasy Star often gets overshadowed by Dragon Quest and Fantasy Star, the other two "big" JRPG series of the era, Phantasy Star has long been my favorite. I originally played through it about ten years ago and remember hailing it as the greatest 8-bit RPG. Now, ten years later, I have a Retron 5, a Power Base Mini, and the retranslation and FM sound restoration patch that SMS Power put out, so when Eighties Ladies' Night was chosen as the Together Retro theme for March on Racketboy, I decided it was the perfect time to replay it, see if my opinion of it holds a decade later, and experience the FM sound and more accurate translation.
Phantasy Star tells the story of Alis, a girl who lives on the planet of Palma, one of three planets in the Algol star system. After seeing her brother killed in the street by the military, she vows to kill the Algol System's brutal dictator, LaShiec. Along the way she meets Token Warrior Guy, Token Mage Guy, and Token Magic Talking Animal to help her in her quest. You have to go between three different planets with different environments in your quest, fight a variety of monsters with an exponentially larger variety of pallet swaps, and gather the strength and equipment to usurp a tyrant's throne.
Visually, Phantasy Star is fairly standard on the overworld. It really doesn't stand out much from Final Fantasy and Dragon Quest too much in that regard. The battles are from a static first person perspective where you see the enemy but not your characters, just boxes with their HP and MP. No matter how many enemies you're fighting be it one or half a dozen, you only see a single enemy sprite; the only indication that you're fighting more enemies is the list of enemies and their HP in the top right corner of the screen. On the one hand, this is a bit disappointing as it precludes the option of fighting multiple enemy types like in Final Fantasy, but it does allow for larger, more detailed enemy sprites. I think it's a pretty fair trade off in that context.
What really sets Phantasy Star apart from its other 8-bit rivals is the dungeons. Whereas most of its contemporaries feature dungeons that have the same overhead perspective as the overworld, Phantasy Star employs a first person perspective that completely revolutionizes the immersion of dungeon crawling and is, as far as my experience goes, completely unique for RPGs of the era. Because this perspective would have been fairly demanding on the system on a large scale, the dungeons are all corridors one square wide, and the navigation just involves turning corners, going up and down stairs, and opening doors. Despite that, in addition to the aforementioned deep immersion, I found the dungeons to be far more challenging to navigate than those of Final Fantasy or Dragon Quest, but I mean that in the best possible way.
As for what the SMS Power patch changed, the most obvious change is going to be the music. The Master System's standard PSG music chip is okay for most games, but it doesn't always produce the most aurally aurally pleasing sounds in the world. The FM chip, however, which was removed when the Sega Mark III was brought to North America as the Sega Master System, produces some fantastic sounds that were leagues ahead of what the NES could produce. Some games used this chip better than others, but Phantasy Star is one of the examples of brilliant use of FM sound. The music with restored FM sound is simply fantastic and a marked improvement over the music that North Americans originally got in every way. As for the retranslation part of the patch, it had been long enough since I played Phantasy Star as it was originally released that I can't speak too much to how much better a translation this is than what Sega released, but I do know that it's a much more accurate translation from Japanese at least as far as the names of characters and items and the such goes.
Phantasy Star is, admittedly, not quite as flawless as I remembered. It is, however, still the epitome of 8-bit JRPG game design in my opinion. It has its flaws, but I still found it to be a thoroughly rewarding experience and unique among its 8-bit contemporaries. It surpasses both the original Final Fantasy and the original Dragon Quest in storytelling and world building, and it's a shame that it's not been more widely played in the West. Anyone who has access to a Master System, a Genesis with some kind of Power Base device, or a Game Boy Advance really needs to play this game. 13/10 would recommend.
My Rating - 5 Neps
Over on the Racketboy forums, the Together Retro theme for March is "Eighties Ladies' Night" where the idea to is play games released in 1980s with playable female protagonists. So of course, being me, I had to start things off raunchy with one of Mystique's infamous "adult" video games, Beat 'Em and Eat 'Em. For obvious reasons - partly decency, partly Weebly's terms of service, and partly so the Racketboy moderators don't castrate me - this will review will be sans screenshots.
Beat 'Em and Eat 'Em is, truthfully, nothing more than Kaboom! with porn shoved into it. Instead of a terrorist at the top of a building throwing bombs, there's a naked guy with a dick that's legit got to be at least 3 feet long and 9 inches in girl jerking off. Instead of playing as a basket that catches bomb, you play as a pair of large breasted women who catch semen. In their mouths. Yeah...Not exactly the most creative or original premise, but it works, I guess.
Being an Atari 2600 game, it's not exactly sporting impressive visuals, but you can clearly tell what everything is supposed to be (I'll leave it up to you whether that's a good thing or a bad thing). The game uses the paddle controllers and controls surprisingly well although not quite as well as Kaboom! Everything feels just a little touchy and overly sensitive compared to Kaboom!
Beat 'Em and Eat 'Em is certainly an interesting Kaboom! clone, and a pretty good one, but it's not the kind of game you necessarily want to play around people you don't know well, and it's certainly not a cheap game. For just the cartridge, you'd be looking at $50 to $60, and if you're going for the complete box, you can expect to pay anywhere from $80 to $200 depending on condition and how many are listed at the time. It's really not good for much other than a quirky "wtf" collection piece which is why I have a copy. Or if you're just into SUPER pixelated porn. I mean, if that's your thing, you do you.
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.