Portal Runner (Game Boy Color)
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
Mega Man Xtreme 2 (Game Boy Color)
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
Mega Man Xtreme (Game Boy Color)
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
Cotton Reboot! (Switch)
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
Mega Man V (Game Boy)
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
Mega Man IV (Game Boy)
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
Mega Man III (Game Boy)
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
Mega Man II (Game Boy)
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
Mega Man X3 (SNES)
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
Second Extinction (Xbox Series X)
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
Mega Man X2 (SNES)
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
Mega Man X (SNES)
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
Mega Man 7 (SNES)
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
Top Gun: The Second Mission (NES)
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 (NES)
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
Sky Kid (NES)
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
Skull and Crossbones (NES)
Also available on Amiga, Amstrad CPC, Atari ST, Commodore 64, ZX Spectrum, and MS-DOS
Skull and Crossbones is another unlicensed Tengen game on NES, and that usually means that it’s either really good or really bad. Unfortunately, this qualifies as the latter. You would expect that a game about pirates would involve plundering treasure and fighting with cannons and swords. It does not. Well, it does involve fighting with swords, and it involves your getting shot with a cannon, but it’s far from the 8-bit rendition of Assassin’s Creed IV that I was hoping to play.
Instead of doing actual pirate things, this game is actually just “What if Mario dressed like a pirate?” You’re not actually doing much pirating; sure, you’re taking “booty,” but that booty is mostly rum and raspberries, and you only ever steal from skeletons and other pirates. There’s no ship to control or anything; honestly, LJN’s Jaws game felt more pirate-y than this in that regard. Each level - I think there are half a dozen or so - consists of wandering around a cramped platforming stage killing random pirates, rats, skeletons, demons, and zombies until you kill a certain amount and trigger the boss fight. Then you fight the boss, collect the alcohol and fruit they threw around the area, and then you’re off to the next level. This would be fine if the game controlled well, but it doesn’t. Your character is slow, clunky, and hard to control as he somehow falls like a brick when he jumps while also moving like he’s on ice.
When I described the game as “What if Mario dressed like pirate,” I wasn’t talking about the gameplay so much as the plot. Your wife/girlfriend/wench is a princess who was kidnapped by an evil wizard, and you’re going through these stages chasing the wizard to rescue the princess. If a real pirate were trying to rescue a princess from an evil wizard, it wouldn’t be to have a dance party on his ship (I’m not kidding, that’s the actual ending); it would be to ransom her for a massive cargo hold full of gold coins and then sail off into the sunset filthy rich.
Maybe I’m being a bit too harsh on this game, but literally nothing outside of the use of a sword and pistol actually feels pirate-y. Change the costume and nothing else, and this could easily be a game about a time traveling space ninja. The game is playable once you get a feel for it, but it’s length is entirely down to difficulty, and its difficulty is entirely down to bad design. Your character is hard to control, the bosses can hit you before you’re able to attack them, and your weapons are limited and replaced by finding piles of bones that could contain weapons or could instantly kill you. Hope you’re feeling lucky. All in all, this game is just bad, but it didn’t have to be. The game’s premise was always going to be dumb, but the game itself could have been fun if it had been made by competent people.
My Rating - 2 Neps
Dynowarz: Destruction of Spondylus (which gets stuck in my head as “Destruction of Spinobifyda”) is an example of a phenomenon that plagued the Atari 2600 era and remained fairly common into the 8-bit and 16-bit eras - box art describing a game that is way cooler than the game it actually contains. For most NES games, it’s not usually that bad as what’s being shown is typically pretty close, at least in basic concept, to what you get. Dynowarz is 2600-tier, though. The box art makes it look like you’re going to be playing a game as fast paced and intense as Contra or Xenophobe, but it ends up feeling more like Dragon’s Lair.
The premise of Dynowarz is fairly similar to Mega Man except instead of robot masters, it’s robot dinosaurs in space. Part of the game even feels like a dollar store Mega Man, although that’s only half of the two play styles you’ll see in the game. You play part of the game as a random dude in a space suit with a peashooter gun, and this is the part that feels a little bit like a bad Mega Man clone. You progress through a short section horizontally with some light and extremely cumbersome platforming until you reach a bootleg Mother Brain. Shoot that until it dies, go back the way you came through the platforming part, and then hop into a giant dinosaur mech. This is where the gameplay style changes.
The second play style is where the game goes from disappointing to bad. This is also side scrolling, but in your giant dinosaur, you move at a snail’s pace and jump with all the effect of a paraplegic. Fortunately, the platforms here are few and far between, but there are some spike pits that you have to jump over, and the controls are even more awkward than with the space suit guy. To make matters worse, you don’t even have a gun. You have a fist. This dude had the technology to make a giant dinosaur mech, but he couldn’t be bothered to put a gun on it. You can, at least, pick up weapon power-ups if they drop from defeated dinosaur robots, but none of them really feel that great. You can get a punch throw - you literally throw your robot fist, and it comes back like a crappy boomerang - a fireball so small that you can barely see it, a bomb that launches in an arc over your head, or a laser that is about as satisfying to use as a slingshot.
Dynowarz is a tale of two failures. It’s like they played Blaster Master and said “What if we made this but terrible?” The on-foot stages are a little more fun to play (though it would be more accurate to say “slightly less awful”), but the dinosaur robot stages are a bit better to look at with more interesting sprites and detailed worlds; neither, however, are truly good in either the visual or gameplay departments (except the cut scenes of your robo-dino; those are cool). They both look drab, and they both handle like crap. The sprite flicker is also pretty intense at times to the point of being outright distracting, and while I understand that the limits of the NES’s PPU make sprite flicker a fact of life, there are so many games that run much better and play much better without nearly as much flicker. This is just not a great game. It’s passable, but it’s definitely not good. Unfortunately, it’s not even like Rollerblade Racer where it’s laughably bad; it’s just bad.
My Rating - 2 Neps
Astral Chain (Switch)
Astral Chain, like Bayonetta 2 and Wonderful 101 (until the remaster) before it, is a Nintendo-exclusive Platinum Games title, and that pretty much tells you everything you need to know. Like From Software, Platinum has a very distinct style, and you can usually tell that they made a game just based on the feel and flow of the combat, and Astral Chain is no exception to that.
Humanity has been pushed to the brink of extinction by incursions from interdimensional creatures called Chimeras from the "Astral Plane." Our species now lives exclusively on an artificial floating megacity called the Ark. These Chimeras are typically invisible to the naked eye and tough as nails in a fight, so to combat them, a shady research institute with the UNION government developed a way to capture Chimeras and bind them with an "astral chain." These "Legions" would be paired with a highly trained cop in the Ark Police Department's Neuron division; these Legions give the officers in Neuron the ability to see and fight Chimeras effectively.
If you've played Bayonetta and Wonderful 101, this is kind of like a blend of the two though far closer to Bayonetta. You could also think of it as a modern action implementation of the core idea behind Knuckles Chaotix. You control one of the two characters on the game's cover depending on what sex you chose; they're twins, and whoever you didn't pick becomes a major supporting character. Your Legion is chained to you with the titular astral chain, and while you can control the Legion's movement while holding ZL, it will be AI controlled most of the time while you control the human character. Combat is fast-paced like most of Platinum's games and like most of their games can best be described as "acrobatic." It can take a little practice to get the hang of it, but once you do, it's extremely addicting and gives you a major sense of power as you're chaining up enemies, hopping and sliding across the battlefield, and pulling of brutal finishing moves.
Astral Chain isn't just a treat to play; it's also a treat for the eyes. With gorgeous colorful visuals and a bright art style, it definitely disproves the Internet trope of "Switch games have bad graphics." It's definitely no Nier Automata nor could it be with the hardware difference, but Astral Chain is a beautiful game nonetheless and definitely one of the best looking games on Switch. I played with the mClassic dongle plugged into my HDMI hub, and that gave some slight smoothing to some of the stair stepping, but the effect wasn't night and day or anything, and the game obviously still looks absolutely fantastic by itself.
Astral Chain, as a Switch exclusive, is definitely a feather in the console's cap. Having sold over a million copies in its first half-year, it may not be a "killer app" for the Switch, but it's definitely a huge success for the system and for Platinum; game director Takahisa Taura told Famitsu that the game had outperformed the company's sales expectations. The game may not sell consoles on its own, but it's definitely another bullet point on the list of reasons to own a Switch, and it's a game that Switch owners who enjoy action games definitely need to check out. It can get a little repetitive at times, but there are enough side missions to keep things varied, and as I've mentioned, the combat is just sublime.
My Rating - 4 Neps
The Falconeer (Xbox Series X)
Also available on Xbox One, PlayStation 4, PlayStation 5, Switch, and Windows
I remember when The Falconeer popped up on Limited Run Games website as, if memory serves, their first Xbox game. Granted, it's part of their distributed line, not one of their numbered entries that they're publishing, but still. I thought it looked super good, but I was trying to cut down my spending, so I skipped it at the time. It came back on my radar when their website added physical releases of the "Warrior Edition" release on PS4, PS5, and Switch. Naturally, being a big Switch collector, I bit the bullet on that release, but having just signed up for Game Pass and seeing The Falconeer on there, I thought, "Why not go ahead and play through the game in 4K at 120 fps so I can better compare to how it plays on Switch?"
What's super impressive to me is that this game was made by one guy considering that it's a pretty decently sized open-world game, and while the world is mostly ocean, it's still impressive. There certainly isn't as much content and side quests and whatnot as most open-world games, but as far as the open world goes, it has a vibe similar to Wind Waker except that you're flying instead of sailing. The game is broken into a prologue, four chapters, and an epilogue, and with the exception of the prologue (which is basically just a tutorial) and the epilogue, it's all open-world. Each of the chapters is from the perspective of a different faction, and as the larger narrative of a budding war unfolds, you start to see that, just like in real life wars, there is plenty of blame to go around, and no one is innocent.
The actual gameplay is aerial combat. Think Crimson Skies on Xbox, but instead of an airplane with machine guns, you're riding on the back of a giant bird with a magic lighting rifle. You other giant bird pilots, ships on the ocean, and big airships. The combat is definitely the highlight here; as I mentioned, the open world is a bit sparse, and the story is good but nothing mind blowing, but the combat is smoother than an android's bottom especially if you're playing on Series X and set the frame rate to 120 fps. Zero frame rate issues, zero screen tearing, a beautiful cell shaded world, and addicting combat mix to make this one of the finest aerial combat games I've ever played.
That said, the game isn't perfect. The voice acting is pretty bad. It's not 90s FMV game bad, but it's definitely not one of the better voice acted games out there. The story, as well, is good enough to keep me going, but it's nothing memorable, and I can guarantee I'll forget the majority of it by August. There are some side quests that can keep things interesting and give a break from the main quest, and there are random tasks you can complete for money, but with fairly limited means of buying upgrades, the incentive to do them was pretty low in my opinion. It's a great game, and there's apparently some DLC available that's going to be included with the PS4/PS5/Switch releases, but I pretty much stuck with the main story outside of hunting down the discoverable locations for achievements.
The Falconeer is an extremely fun and addicting flight combat game with a gorgeous world and a good enough story. That said, the world can feel a bit empty, and the story isn't going to set anyone's literary loins ablaze. Still, the gameplay is more than enough to warrant a strong recommendation. It's on Game Pass, so if you have that, give it a download, but even if you don't, it's definitely worth the $20 download.
My Rating - 4 Neps
Also available on PlayStation 4, Xbox One, iOS, Android, and Windows
I bought this game completely on impulse and purely off of the cover art. It looked like a gritty noire mystery but where every character has an animal head; as it turns out, that's exactly what it is. And it's a freaking masterpiece. I expected a stupid "lol meme" game, but this is a legitimately amazing mystery story.
The main character is soon-to-be-retired Clawville PD detective Sonny Featherland, one half of the titular "Chicken Police" duo along with his partner, Marty MacChicken. When a young impala somehow makes her way into Sonny's apartment and asks for his help on behalf of her employer, Natalia Catzenko, who has been receiving concerning threats, he approaches Marty to get the band back together, so to speak, for one last case. Little does he know that what seems at first to be a simple harassment issue will turn into a conspiracy large enough to turn the power structure in the city-state of Clawville on its head.
Aside from the fact that every character has the head of an animal on an otherwise human body and the subsequent animal puns, this is a completely serious and legitimately fantastically written noire mystery. The whole game is in black and white except for Natalia's green eyes (that's how you know she's at the center of the story) and red blood. There's also an option to turn on a film grain filter to give it that authentic 50s noire look. It's a lot like Ace Attorney in that it could principally be described as a visual novel but with a lot of interactive moments; you pick locations to investigate, who to talk to, specific questions to ask during interrogations that can determine how well the interrogation goes, and you have to put pieces of the puzzle together on a cork board at a few different points in the game. There are also some timed mini-game sort of segments. It's got enough variety to break up the potential monotony of a primarily text-driven game (although it is 100% fully voice acted).
The fact that this game got minimal marketing and, from what I can tell, is sold only at Gamestop physically, you'd think this is a fairly mid tier quality game, but literally every aspect surpassed my expectations by a mile. The art style is just astounding. They manage to nail that old noire look PERFECTLY with the monochromatic color, the film grain filter, the character's outfits, and dialogue all working in tandem. Speaking of the dialogue, the voice acting is fantastic. Some performances were naturally better than others - Kerry Shale's performance as Sonny Featherland is legitimately one of the best voice acting performances I've ever heard in a video game - but not a single character had a bad voice acting performance. The choices of music as well perfectly complemented the zeitgeist of the game. The world building also has to be complemented; despite being a game that only lasts maybe six or seven hours, they manage to drop enough details of the world into conversation that you get a feel for the culture in Clawville, the situation of the world in the game, and the political tensions within the city-state and the real-world situations of which they're allegories. I'm being completely serious when I saw that most AAA studios don't make games that impress me as much as this game that seemingly came out of nowhere did.
Chicken Police absolutely caught me off guard and swept me off my feet. I expected six hours of bland story-telling, so-so voice acting, and bad jokes, but what I got was six hours of brilliant mystery writing, deep characters, S-tier voice acting, fantastic writing, and an overall experience that I cannot recommend highly enough. It may not have enough interactivity to keep some more easily distracted gamers' attention, but for those who enjoy mystery stories and are into primarily narrative-driven games, but this is a true masterpiece in my opinion. There are optional side bits to discover and add to the codex that fill in some additional information about the world and characters, some collectibles to find, and different dialogue bits that play out depending on how you conduct your interrogations, so there's definitely some replay value to be had here. Overall, for a $20 asking price on the eShop, this game is a downright bargain when you take into consideration the quality. I really can't sing this game's praises enough, and I can guarantee that it will end up being one of those games with a cult following that not nearly enough people play.
My Rating - 5 Neps
Battletoads (Xbox One)
Also available on Windows
I am a huge fan of Battletoads. My friend, Brett, and I played through Battletoads and Battletoads/Double Dragon on my NES as well as Battletoads in Battlemaniacs on SNES when we were in high school, and I bought Rare Replay day one specifically for the inclusion of the Battletoads arcade game. Despite that, this release somehow managed to fly under my radar for nearly a year. When I saw it on Game Pass the night I signed up a few days ago, I immediately downloaded it.
Battletoads, for the uninitiated, is cult classic early 90s beat 'em up series from Rare that tried to capitalize on the success of the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles. The three Battletoads, Rash, Pimple, and Zitz, battle their archnemesis, the Dark Queen. The early games are fun, brimming with 90s 'tude, and brutally difficult. An April Fool's joke in 2008 of a fake trailer for a Wii reboot of the series exploded into a meme, reviving interest in the series and eventually leading to (or at least I assume it was a factor) the inclusion of Battletoads as well as the first ever console port of the Battletoads arcade game in 2015's Rare Replay for Xbox One.
This reboot of Battletoads is as much a love letter to the series as it is a continuation. It's done in an animated art style which I was lukewarm on at first, but it grew on me. The premise is that the Battletoads find out that rather than being beloved heroes, they're totally unknown random toads who have spent 26 years locked up in a buried underground bunker; likewise, the Dark Queen has spent 26 years held prisoner in an abandoned theme park. The Dark Queen then teams up with the Battletoads to fight their common foe. It's cheesy and cliche, but it works.
The gameplay is what kept me playing. It spans multiple genres. Obviously you have the beat 'em up levels which I honestly felt weren't particularly well done; they're fun and totally functional, but they felt very generic and blah. You've got a few turbobike levels, call backs to the infamous stages in the original games. There are a handful of platforming levels, a handful of shmup levels, and even a few QTE-style levels. There are several boss battles spread throughout, and they're all unique with their own gimmicks and tricks. The level variety may be a turn off for some as it does, admittedly, keep the game from fitting into any one genre and excelling at that, but I found it to be great as it kept the game from feeling stale. I never got bored at any point because it never stuck with one playstyle long enough to feel monotonous.
This Battletoads reboot is going to be divisive among longtime fans, but I personally had a blast with it. It only took me I think two and a half hours to beat, but it was a fantastic time. The writing is stupid but hilarious and clever, and at no point does the game take itself seriously; it's aware that it's just a reboot of a TMNT rip-off. The varied gameplay styles keeps things interesting, the fact that each level has five collectables to find adds some replay value, and the inclusion of three different difficulties tailors the game for everyone from the longtime Battletoads veterans to the newcomers who just want to laugh at the dumb jokes. It's definitely not quite what Battletoads fans, myself included, probably wanted out of a reboot of the series, but it's definitely fun, and I thoroughly enjoyed my time with it.
My Rating - 3 Neps
Also available on Xbox One, PlayStation 4, Oculus Quest, and Windows
Tetris is my all-time favorite puzzle game. It (along with my lack of self-discipline at 14 years old) is why my online Latin 1 class my first semester freshman year of high school remains the lowest grade of my life; I spent that whole semester playing Tetris Friends instead of actually learning Latin. It makes sense, then, that my first Game Pass game after finally signing up for the service was Tetris Effect: Connected.
Tetris Effect is home to a host of single player and multiplayer modes, but what I spent the most time on is Journey, the primary single player mode. This is set up like a campaign with each stage having its own unique theme. These themes are represented by different styled tetrominos, backgrounds, and music, and they really give the game a trippy New Age sort of feel. It's just Tetris, but the presentation makes it feel unlike any Tetris game I've ever played before. The game calls Journey mode an "emotional" experience, and while I'm not sure "emotional" is necessarily the best word, "zen" is definitely apt. The game's zeitgeist has a real Western-yoga-hippie-woman-style Buddhist vibe to it, and I absolutely adore it. It reminds me a LOT of my late aunt who passed away last year and how she was back before the Alzheimer's corrupted and changed her personality, so it made an especially major impact on me.
It's available on all non-Nintendo last gen consoles, but the only current gen system to get an optimized version is the Series X, the version I played. This has the game running in native 2160p at a flawless 60 fps, and it's an absolutely surreal experience. I only dabbled a little with the multiplayer because I was so engrossed with Journey, but the fact that it offers both cooperative and competitive multiplayer options is fantastic and gives the game a lot of replay value. Because I played on Xbox, I wasn't able to experience the game in VR, but my time with it has definitely inspired me to order a PS4 copy on Amazon so I can play it with PSVR.
I may be a bit biased because I'm such a big fan of Tetris in general, but honestly, the words "euphoric" and "spiritual" are the only the ways I can think of that really capture the feel of Tetris Effect. I was expecting another generic Tetris game, but this isn't that. It shows a real dedication and passion that most Tetris products haven't shows in years. The controls are smooth and responsive, the style of the game is second to none, and the multiplayer options ensure that this is a game that Tetris fans will keep coming back to for a long time yet. Most gamers have either a PS4, an Xbox One, or a PC, so this is a game that can be experienced by pretty much anyone, and since it's on Game Pass, that makes it especially accessible for Xbox and PC players. Make sure you don't sleep on this one; it's a truly surreal experience.
My Rating - 5 Neps
Neptunia ReVerse (PlayStation 5)
It's no secret that I'm a MASSIVE Hyperdimension Neptunia fan. It's also no secret that the games in this series are decent at best. Sometimes I even acknowledge that fact. To celebrate Nep's 10th anniversary, Idea Factory decided to release a PS5 remaster of the PS Vita remake of the PS3 original. What started as Hyperdimension Neptunia on the PS3 was remade as Hyperdimension Neptunia Re;Birth 1 on the PS Vita and then remastered as Neptunia ReVerse on the PS5. Personally, I would have preferred a fully remade game for the series's PS5 debut, but for a series that excels at mediocrity, this is exactly what one should expect.
The game takes place in Gameindustri, a world divided into four nations each ruled over by their goddess, a Console Patron Unit - Planeptune, ruled over by Lady Purple Heart (Neptune); Lastation, ruled over by Lady Black Heart (Noire); Leanbox, ruled over by Lady Green Heart (Vert); and Lowee, ruled over by Lady White Heart (Blanc). These four goddesses fight endlessly in the land of Celestia floating above the four nations the Console War over Shares, the power derived from the devotion of the people. At some point in the endless fighting, Neptune gets ganged up on by the other three goddesses and goes plummeting to the ground below, landing headfirst like a javelin in Planeptune and losing all of her memory. As she seeks to regain her memory, aided by her new friends Compa and IF, she stumbles on a sinister plan to destroy the four goddesses and all of Gameindustri with them.
As far as gameplay goes, Neptunia ReVerse is about as generic a JRPG as it gets in most ways. Your four CPUs (seven if you play Arrange Mode which I'll discuss in a bit) as well as the four CPU Candidates that you can unlock later in the game can activate HDD (Hard Drive Divinity) and transform into their true forms which gives them a pretty substantial stat boost. Other than, it's totally generic run-of-the-mill JRPG. Honestly, that doesn't bother me; the game exists to be fan service, not to push the envelope of JRPG mechanics. The story is also pretty generic, although having the entire thing be an allegory for the game industry (even if the names are bit on the nose) is pretty awesome in my opinion. So why do folks buy these games other than the obvious anime tiddies? The characters. The characters and their interactions are, while pretty trope-y, a lot of fun. That's why I keep coming back, at least; Neptune and Compa are two of my absolute favorite characters just kind of in general.
The Neptunia series has never pushed the limits of the hardware it's on, and that absolutely holds true here. The game looks amazing compared to the rest of the series, but truthfully, this is nothing that the base PS4 couldn't have pulled off. Don't get me wrong; I'm thrilled to have another PS5 exclusive. It's just a shame that the development team didn't take advantage of the hardware. It looks very nice with some reflections and visual effects we've never seen in the series before, and the frame rate is a consistent 60 fps, but the models and textures aren't going to impress anyone. The music is a similar story; it's great, but it's nothing that fans of the series haven't heard before, and outside of a few tunes here and there, it's nothing that's likely to get stuck in your head or make much of an impression.
The big change here from Re;Birth 1 are the trophy set and Arrange Mode. There are significantly fewer trophies in ReVerse than there were in Re;Birth 1, but that's largely because Re;Birth 1 had a trophy for getting each character to level 99 whereas ReVerse doesn't have any character-specific trophies. Arrange Mode is the big change; the core story doesn't change at all, but the balance is changed up. First off, you get every character right from the get-go including some like Plutia, Peashy, and Uzume who I don't recall being unlockable in Re;Birth 1 (I know Uzume wasn't because the game she's in hadn't been released yet). You also get most of their costumes unlocked from the start. It also changes the XP balance; enemies give less XP, but it takes much less XP to get your characters to levels beyond 100, so while it may feel tougher in the core game, if you're going for the high level stuff, it gets (somewhat) less tedious. I played in Arrange Mode having already played through Re;Birth 1 and wanting to see what they changed, and it was definitely nice having every character opened up to me at the start, but I ended up just using the same eight characters throughout the whole game. It's definitely not something you want you to do on your first playthrough - you want to get a feel for each character as they're unlocked - but it's perfect for replays.
Neptunia ReVerse is a solid remaster of the Vita's Re;Birth 1, but given that it's on a 9th gen console instead of an 8th gen handheld, it's disappointing that more wasn't added. The visual upgrades are definitely nice and a new high for the series, but even so, they're only impressive in the context of the rest of the series. It's definitely a tougher game than some of the other recent entries, but even so, as with most JRPGs, that's nothing a little grinding can't take care of. It's definitely a fun game, but if you don't care about anime waifus, you'll get bored quickly. It's a very competent JRPG, but it doesn't do anything truly unique or impressive, and it's not going to make much of an impression if you're not a mouth-breathing weeb like me.
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.