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Julius

Your 2024 Gaming Diary

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42 minutes ago, lostmario said:

Yeah, still got 1 & 2 on PS2. Had 3 Remastered but must of traded it in at some point.

Not played the 2 PSP games or Ascension.

Good stuff. You'll get a lot of the references in Valhalla then.

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Poor start to the year for me. Only the 9 games were played and finished in January, with 8 platinums being earned.

Spoiler
  • Assassin's Creed Mirage (PS5)
  • Astalon: Tears of the Earth (PS4)
  • Tinykin (PS5)
  • Cannon Dancer: Osman (PS5)
  • Tinykin (PS4)
  • Kirby Air Ride (Gamecube)
  • Rally Cross (PS5)
  • Rally Cross (PS4)
  • PJ Masks: Heroes of the Night (PS4)

In a bit of a rut at the moment and can't really be bothered to play anything substantial. :( 

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13 minutes ago, Hero-of-Time said:

In a bit of a rut at the moment and can't really be bothered to play anything substantial. :(

Did you ever get around to playing Nobody Saves the World? That's a fun game which isn't too long (took me around 12 hours or so IIRC) but still has a decent amount of content to it, could be a good one to check out. :)

Cocoon is a really interesting game as well with some very unique gameplay mechanics, but only takes a few hours to play through.

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Just now, RedShell said:

Did you ever get around to playing Nobody Saves the World? That's a fun game which isn't too long (took me around 12 hours or so IIRC) but still has a decent amount of content to it, could be a good one to check out. :)

Cocoon is a really interesting game as well with some very unique gameplay mechanics, but only takes a few hours to play through.

Played it last year. It was the first game I played/platted in 2023. 

Cocoon is on sale at the moment and I remember you really enjoying. Dunno if a couple of hours of gameplay is worth dropping £15 on though.

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1 minute ago, Hero-of-Time said:

Cocoon is on sale at the moment and I remember you really enjoying. Dunno if a couple of hours of gameplay is worth dropping £15 on though.

I didn't realise it was that much. Yeah, probably better to wait for another price drop.

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New year, new style! I'm hoping to put a slightly new spin to the way I post about titles this year. Make more thematic posts, essentially. In fact, I'm not even going to mention yet which title I finished first this year, that's coming at a later date.

So, Sega announced a dozen of franchise revivals last December. That's pretty cool, but one of them bothered me: not because I disliked what I saw, but because it's a franchise that never really crossed my path. I was bothered by my ignorance, and by the fact that I kept putting it off, despite those games being on my backlog.

And thus I ventured into a classic series I knew barely anything about. That series is.........

........

 

Shinobi

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That's right, I never really played anything about this classic Ninja series, despite it showing up all the time when talking about Sega. So let's start with the first entr-

Wait, I don't actually own the first game? Why isn't it on the Mega Drive collection? Oh, it was only on Arcades... and now only available through SEGA AGES?

uuuuhhhh... Nevermind, ignore this.

Shadow Dancer

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Weird name. Do I own this? Oh, good, I do, it's on Steam.

SO! Apparently the second Shinobi game did not actually have Shinobi in the title! I don't know what Sega was cooking back in 1990, but they were definitely smoking it.

Shadow Dancer is billed as a 2D action game in which a Ninja (which may or may not be the same Ninja from the first game) and his good boy doggie go up against a terrorist group that suddenly attacked... the world, I think, while "committing all of the atrocities known to man". I assume that includes eating a Francesinha with your bare hands, so I'm already motivated.

I thought this would be a 2D platformer, but the stilted movement and focus on killing enemies made me think this was more like a Beat'em up (or a Shoot'em up, it's a fine line between those genres). It's a fun one, for sure, as progress through each level depends on rescuing every hostage before continuing, which I thought was a neat idea. In some cases, you may need to explore the level a bit to find them all.

Combat is fascinating. Your main moves are throwing shurikins (yes, that's the spelling), but that button turns into a context-sensitive sword slash if an enemy is nearby. Mashing the attack button does work for attacking frantically one way or the other. You'll want to do that, because your Ninja dies after a single hit (or so it seems).

The other key move you have is siccing your dog at an enemy, which will leave them busy/stunned long enough for you to approach and kill them. If you take too long, the dog will get attacked and shrink back into a pup... as dogs do in those situations, I suppose (I wouldn't know, I'm more of a cat person). The dog can't be sicced while he's a puppy, but he'll grow back into houndhood after you earn a few points. I decided to name the dog "Mario".

Mario is very useful for dealing with enemies with guns, as well as invulnerable enemies who only drop their shield for a few seconds. There are tricky situations where making good use of Mario is key to dealing with crowded clusters of enemies. This pondered approach is encouraged, which is pretty neat.

There's also the nuclear option: ninjutsu. Once per stage, you can unleash a move that kills every enemy on-screen, but you get fewer points at the end.

I did say there were one-hit deaths, but there seems to be an exception: if a rushing enemy runs into you, you just get bumped back a bit. They'll try to attack with knives afterwards, but that initial bump gives you the breath you need to avoid the killing attack. I thought this was a clever way of designing the game, deaths are instant, but there's plenty of leeway for avoiding attacks, with extra tension.

And then we reach the 3rd level, and those damn ninja enemies just jump at you with knives, so suddenly it's frustrating again. A shame, because outside of those enemies, I thought it was a cool system. Thankfully, the game is short-but-sweet, with just 5 levels (each with 3 stages). The bosses are all pretty cool too (except for the final boss, which is pretty tedious)

Soundtrack isn't that memorable, but there is this one track. The special stage in-between levels feels like the early 90s distilled into a funky Mega Drive beat.

It's a fun game, but later levels put a hamper on it. 3 stars from me, which isn't a bad start. Mario is a good boy.

The Revenge of Shinobi

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Yeah, so this is the first entry of the series to be made from the ground up for the Mega Drive. First released in 1989, wait that doesn't sound right, wasn't Shadow Dancer released in 1990?... Or was that the date for the MD port? It wasn't a port? So, Shadow Dancer was an arcade game, and after Revenge, they just decided to redo Shadow Dancer entirely for the Mega Drive with different levels and assets instead of making a new game?.....And named it Shadow Dancer again. The fuck, Sega? Your flights of fancy are ruining the chronology I was going for!

Anyway, terrorists invade, they're out for revenge against our Ninja (called Joe Musashi, apparently), they kidnap his girlfriend just to lure him into several levels of danger. The title is misleading, this revenge is being inflicted upon the Shinobi.

This game feels like a much smoother experience. Joe here controls a lot better, jumps properly, can double jump even (and if he throws a shurikin* while double jumping, he throws 5 at once in an arc, it's pretty rad). His shurikins are now finite, meaning you can't just spam them without consequence. More importantly, he has a health bar now, he can take a few hits throughout the game. Sadly, no more Mario :(

The ninjutsu command is now a system where you can pick one of four ninjutsu at leisure. The screen-nuke spell is still here, but we now also have a shield ninjutsu (4 hits before it breaks), jump ninjutsu (useful for a couple of stages), and suicide ninjutsu. This last one is an even stronger screen-nuke, with the caveat that you sacrifice your current life. Sounds useless, but since checkpoints are sparse, it's actually a great way to regenerate your health without restarting the level. Plus, since you only get to use one ninjutsu spell per life, the suicide move is the only one to replenish itself!

Right off the bat, the first level gives you well placed enemies that attack with projectiles, but can be dealt with good positioning. There are also armoured Samurai that deflect projectiles except for a few moments at a time, you have to goad them into attacking so you can dodge and hit them back. It's pretty cool stuff, having several situations that call for caution and skill. It's also a very varied game, with each level bringing a new idea, and nary a sprite recolour in sight. Fantastic bosses, too, especially the incredibly tense final boss, where you need to defeat the bloke before he kills Joe's girlfriend.

But, uh... They're all copyrighted by someone else. Not unexpectedly, I mean, they literally put Godzilla as a boss in the game... and also Spider-Man... and also Batman... and also Rambo... and also Arnold-Schwarzenegger-who-turns-into-the-Hulk... Shit, even the eyes at the title screen were done in the likeness of an actor without his permission. The more recent releases replace most of these characters with copyright-friendly substitutes, and even then, they didn't catch them all :D Man, Sega was brazen.

Unusual for the time, our main composer Yuzo Koshiro gets top billing. Deservedly so, as the music is terrific. Favourites include the first stage, boss music, and Chinatown.

It's a charming game, but there are significant flaws: that double jump has finicky timing, which is pretty bad for how many times it is needed to proceed. There are a couple of nigh-impossible jumps too, which is pretty bad design (lose a life, or use the jump-jutsu, pick your poison). Furthermore, some levels are just unreasonably hard, like the subway and highway levels requiring you to dodge things all the time, or the military base that feels like a bullet hell, or the worst one, the utterly dull labyrinth. Level gimmicks are all well and good, but these gimmicks kinda stank.

All of these frustrating aspects are pretty serious, and hamper the game a lot, especially since they're derived from legitimate gameplay and level design issues. The main proof is that I started to brazenly use the rewind feature because I felt like the game was getting super unfair. And after beating it, I have no desire to try the higher difficulties.

I liked the game enough, and it's pretty strong in other areas, but it's hard to ignore the problems. Sadly, they're enough to bring the game down to 3 stars.

*They keep calling them shurikins, but they're clearly kunai.

Shinobi III: Return of the Ninja Master

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Sega, for eff's sake, this is the fourth game in the franchise, and the first to be numbered. Why can't you be normal?!

Wow, this is a glow up. The Shinobi team was inspired when they made this one.

So, in yet another tale of terrorists invading the world, our boy Joe Musashi looks and feels better than ever. He can now run (!), block projectiles at will (!!), wall-jump and dive-kick (!!!), and even ride horses and surfboards (!). The ninjutsu and finite shurikins are the same (though we now have the option of storing two or more ninjutsu at once), everything feels like a strict improvement.

Everything feels faster, easier to control, level gimmicks are more fun overall, level design is much better across the board... This is a very fine game!

The music isn't as good as Koshiro's, but it is pretty fitting and energetic. The opening theme sets the tone.

This is also an easier game than Revenge. Not just because it's less frustrating, the enemies are genuinely easier to defeat and deal with. This is not a bad thing per se, I thought the game's difficulty felt right, even while the final levels ramped it up. Ended up replaying the whole game on the highest difficulty, it's that fun.

Honestly, after the previous games, I didn't expect this one to be as good as it was. 5 stars, easy decision.

(On a side note, I noticed is that I now reach for the rewind button as soon as I feel like a jump didn't come out like I meant it to. I think I'm gaining bad habits. I tried to avoid doing this on my second playthrough, and yet my fingers would still do it at times...)

-------------

And as for the original Shinobi... from what I see, it's basically Shadow Dancer without the dog, so I'll pass on the AGES version, even though I'm sure it's great.

For the series as a whole, I really liked learning about it! Didn't expect to see as much charm as I did, and I certainly appreciate the ways it approaches combat (I swear, that suicide ninjutsu is brilliant stuff). When I look at what Lizard Cube are doing with the new entry, I now can't help but grow excited at the revival.

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The Last of Us Part II | 2020

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I hadn't returned to The Last of Us Part II since I rolled credits on it back in 2020, at the height of the pandemic, when I sprinted through the game in just a handful of days following its launch (it released on a Friday; it was complete the Monday night). The game, at that time, and at that pace, took a toll on me that I don't think any other story has; it was gruelling, exhausting, and so viscerally cruel. I struggled to sleep when I was playing it, I didn't play any game alone by myself for weeks following it, and when I think back to that time, while so much of the lockdown period was a blur, there is a bottomless pit of nothingness in my mind when it comes to the weeks that followed my time with the game. 

When the Remastered version of the game was announced towards the end of last year - the need for which I think can still be debated - I found myself in a different place with the series. I had replayed the first game countless times, even on some of the higher difficulties, and my time spent revisiting the game had solidified my thoughts and feelings that it was a masterpiece both as a game and as a story; there just aren't that many holes to poke in The Last of Us, when it comes to its writing, its gameplay, and it is still one of the best-paced stories in gaming over a decade since it first released. I loved the HBO adaptation (for the most part). I became as about intimately familiar with the first game as I feel I reasonably could. 

All of this meant that one overwhelming truth clarified for me over the last couple of years: for me, Part II never had a hope in hell of living up to its predecessor. No chance. Zero. The cards weren't just stacked against it, the entire casino was against it. And that's before we even begin to consider just how damaging the hack and subsequent leaks leading up to release were. 

As the release of Remastered approached, and with the game already on my shortlist of games to revisit for the year to revisit, parse through, and clarify my own feelings on the experience, it quickly became apparent that this was the time to do so. But, for the first time when revisiting a story, I knew I had to challenge myself by leaning on the game's structure to pace myself and not get dragged down by it again; thankfully, I can say I'm fine, with credits rolling on the game over half a week ago. Am I still reflecting on it and processing some of those heightened moments of emotion and tension? Sure. Is it still heavy as hell? Absolutely. Have I managed to clarify how I think and feel about it, my main aim going into the game this time around? Yep. 

I think that it's a masterpiece. 

Which makes revisiting my 2020 Gaming Diary entry on the game force a chuckle out of me, because my general attitude towards the game and so many of my points of praise remain the same. This game is still exhausting. Unrelenting. Draining. Its performances are second to none, with special mention reserved for Ashley Johnson, Laura Bailey, Shannon Woodward and Ian Alexander; its writing by Neil Druckmann and Halley Gross incredibly ambitious (though perhaps overreaching and a bit on-the-nose and repetitive at times); its score masterfully composed by Santaolalla and Mac Quayle; its animation work, visual design, lighting, sound design, and so many other of its technical facets all still best-in-class (and, I think it's easy to argue, still the best in class, despite being halfway through a new generation of consoles and having seen a spate of wonderful AAA feasts in realistic settings release since); its endless list of accessibility features still undeniably best-in-class; the physics, those ropes; its cutscenes (framing, composition, timing) all spot on, and I have to highlight their utilisation in transitions allowing players to not see a loading screen outside of jumping to a particular point or reloading after a game over state, because it leans on the "crawl/squeeze through this space while we load up the next" only a handful of times in the entire game, despite it plaguing the industry in an overbearingly noticeable way in the vast majority of AAA games released before and since. The story also had much more levity than I remembered, though I can't really blame myself for forgetting that, with how heavy it can get. As much as I enjoyed it before, I have to mention that this time around the gameplay really gripped me - I'm not sure if it's a case of just getting better at games, wanting to test the game's limits, playing the first game on higher difficulties or a combination of all three - and, I've got to say, the moment-to-moment gameplay makes this probably, for me, the best third-person shooter...ever? At least that I've played; some of those combat encounters blow away any encounter in the first game (and still does, given how little they changed in the remake). It's also the best stealth-action game not directed by someone called Hideo Kojima. 

The funnier thing to me, though, is that all of my criticisms still read as being spot on, too; in fact, revisiting the game this time has me doubling down on pretty much all of them. This game is long, with its pacing is shaky at times, downright screeching to a halt at others, and it's the pacing, for me, which is probably the most noticeable and biggest step down from the first game to the second. Areas are too wide open at almost every point in the game which isn't a setpiece, and in a world as dangerous as the one found in these games, you can spend a whole lot of time - too much time - going from house to house scouring the place for supplies; this extends to and compounded by the crazy number of things to collect in the game. Starting a QTE to move something that's blocking a door or to yank on a chain points out to the player that the area can't be returned to once you go through, and so it takes you out of the game by reminding you that it is one, and I often found myself backing out to look around some more before carrying on. There's an open wide section early on in the game, the inclusion of which I don't mind because it's a great way to break the game's linearity up a bit and allow for some proper exploration, but there are one or two areas you frustratingly can't return to if you miss something while looking around (and the game's auto-save only takes up one slot, which sucks, so if you miss something you're just out of luck), which further compounds being meticuolous and very slowly scouring places for supplies. There are one or two times where I encountered a funny animation glitch, like Ellie just getting caught in a loop of restarting the same animation while climbing over something after clambering out of water, and while this is probably the best example of nitpicking I've got, when you're as ambitious and as realistic-looking as this game is, yes, it does take you out when things go a little bit wrong. 

I think what changed my experience this time around was the clear intent to lean on what I knew about the game's structure rather than to sprint through, which is arguably the best way to go through the first game, but in Part II it only serves to compound how noticeable some of the pacing issues are. I want to speak to some of the story beats and the pacing a bit more than I've allowed myself to on here before, so I'll do so in the below spoiler tag; obviously, avoid this if you haven't played through the game yourself yet and are planning to, but if you aren't planning to, I think this will probably give a much greater insight to what my biggest issues with the game are. I also want to talk a bit about what I think they could have done differently to address this, and while I could go on endlessly about this, I've tried (that being the key word here) to keep it short, but I want to address the relationship between the duties of a storyteller and the one experiencing the story, too. 

Spoiler

While we're in spoiler tags, got to mention Abby and Lev's partnership, and also how Future Days is utilised, as well as the flashbacks to Joel. Throughout the game they're careful to not tell you where Ellie and Joel stand, starting by saying they're "fine" before we see flashbacks revolving around their deteriorating relationship based around the lie Joel tells Ellie, before we're hit with the flashback that shows they actually had a big bust-up - and they lead us to believe they didn't patch things up before Joel's death. The game frames it as though Ellie is seeking vengeance because they ended on a sour note - which makes it hit that much harder that actually they did patch things up somewhat, and that her vengeance is predicated on grieving for a future she didn't get to have with Joel (their Future Days) more so than avenging the time she wasted being (rightly) upset with him. 

 

Anyways, to focus on the pacing and the issues I see with the story, for me, Part II asks a lot - and I mean a whole lot - of its players, not just from a gruelling and exhaustive gameplay perspective, but also because I think you need to be onboard for three major things in the game's story to not be turned off by it (note: "onboard with does" not mean "wanting", it means just being open to what they're doing): Joel's brutal death, the switch from playing as Ellie to Abby (Joel's murdered), and Ellie not exacting vengeance at the end of the game. I think the first and last of these are essential to the story, but I think with some changes this game could still have a dual narrative which maybe doesn't bring things screeching to a halt because you don't know if you want to play as who you're playing as. 

I think the biggest problem with Part II is its pacing as a result of its structure, with two playable perspectives propping up the game's story. It depends on a four-act structure:

  • Act I is a prologue, the inciting incident with Joel's brutal murder in Jackson, played from the perspectives of both Ellie and Abby. 
  • Act II is Ellie's time in Seattle, which breaks down into its own mini three-act structure: Day 1, Day 2, Day 3 culminating in the confontation with Abby at the theatre. 
  • Act III is Abby's time in Seattle parallel to Ellie's, also breaking down into the same mini three-act structure: Day 1, Day 2, Day 3 culminating in the converging confrontation at the theatre, fighting Ellie as Abby. 
  • Act IV is part-epilogue, addressing the consequences of the converging event from Ellie's POV back in Jackson, the continuation of Abby's story (playing as her one final time) in Santa Barbara, before playing as Ellie (one final time) in Santa Barbara, culminating in the final confrontation. 

The main issue with the game's pacing for me revolves around two main things, for me, the first of which is that both Ellie's and Abby's Day 1 sequences in Seattle are incredibly long. Yes, they set up both characters from a functional perspective in gameplay and story (Ellie grabbing supplies and making it to a safe location we'll return to; Abby's Day 1 gives us background to her character and the WLF) but they're also noticeably longer than Day 2 and Day 3, for both characters, and both come at what I think are pretty unfortunate times - the game's Act I/Prologue in Jackson is quite a long setup, though Ellie's Day 1 perhaps gives us as the players some time to breathe, process, and refocus. Abby's, on the other hand, comes at perhaps the worst time. 

So, it wasn't shared publicly by Naughty Dog before the game released that Abby would be playable, and though she had a brief playable section at the start of the game, I don't think it was necessarily a sign that she would be playable that most players would catch on to; I mean, technically, Joel is also playable at the start of the game (albeit on horseback). For those who had managed to avoid the leaks, then, myself included, the end of Act II lines up almost perfectly with the runtime of the first game: 12-15 hours. You've fought hard as Ellie to seek vengeance for Joel for three days in Seattle, and when it all comes to a head...the rug is pulled from under you, at the game's peak tension point, what you think at the time is a third act beat, to find yourself cutting away to controlling a younger Abby.

After playing through a short sequence as her and getting the background that Joel killed her father, the doctor looking to operate on Ellie in the first game in a way which would almost certainly result in her death at the potential chance at making a cure, the game then cuts to black, and as happened with Ellie before, white text appears on the screen. 'Seattle'. 'Day 1' is then faded in for dramatic effect: you realise you'll be replaying the last three days, in some form or another, from Abby's perspective. 

And this is where I think Naughty Dog failed most in their duties as the ambitious storytellers of a video game in Part II: I think, if I'm going to suggest the least work that would need to go into sorting this game's pacing out, is that this game needed an intermission. 

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That's the one from The Godfather Part II, by the way - a film which clearly had an impact on this game's narrative taking shape in the way that it did, in the same way that Part I clearly had an impact on the narrative taking shape in the way that it did in the first game. I'll come back to that, but you know what The Godfather Part II did which is most similar to TLOU Pt II? A dual narrative. Not in the same way, mind you (we'll come back to that), but a dual narrative nonetheless, and as a storytelling mechanic, it certainly had an influence on how Part II shaked out. 

Now, what makes me say that the game needed an intermission is that a game, unlike a film, is interactive, and in the case of its story, the pacing is in the hands, ultimately, of the player. A film can be watched in one go 99% of the time; the opposite is true for a video game, it's impossible (or definitely not recommended and probably frowned upon, for countless reasons) to ask a player to sit down with a 20 to 30 hour game and digest it all in one go. In The Last of Us, the pacing is linear, and while there are three clear acts, it is told from the perspective of two characters in a pretty small cast, allowing it to ebb and flow in a very controlled manner, which makes returning to it night after night or going through the entire thing in one fell swoop completely doable. For me, and I imagine for many others playing Part II at launch? The transition to Abby came in the middle of a long session with the game, which brought things screeching to a half, and with no direction to suggest otherwise, we kept playing...going from what we thought was a tense third act confrontation to finding out that we were only halfway through the game, at best. And then Abby's Day 1 section is incredibly long, and we're in the shoes now of a character the game has kind of taught us to hate along with Ellie. 

So, yes, the least intrusive way to fix this is that I think that this game needed an Intermission: the least intrusive way to actually do this would have been to have the hard cut at the end of Ellie Day 3 during the confrontation, play Abby's prologue/flashback as her playable younger self to get her backstory, and then a simple message saying 'Intermission. We suggest that you take a short break from the game.' before continuing on. Heck, more intrusively? Let that intermission hang around for 15 minutes. Even more so? Maybe the game should have been released in two parts, or - probably technically a nightmare - a download screen pops up during the intermission to play the second half of the game, or heck, 'Please insert Disc 2' to just force them to get up for a minute, let the next disc kick in, and take a moment to take a short break from the game. 

I suggest this not because I'm against the decision to play as Abby, but because it trusts and asks too much of the player. I paced myself this time around, taking a break at the point I suggested, at the game flowed noticeably better when changing from Ellie to Abby. I actually want to highlight here that Naughty Dog placed a lot of trust in their players here, and I think that there was a much easier road to take: similar to how The Godfather Part II weaves a past and present narrative, the easy decision here could have been to do away with playing as Abby entirely and to instead have the other playable character be Joel, either to fill the gaps between the two games or to give us some insight into Joel's background, before and maybe even following outbreak day. I feel like having those two narratives run parallel could have been really effective and met with a much kind reception, with Joel being a good father before his descent in the years that followed outbreak day coming to a head with us revisiting his decision, whereas Ellie's descent would focus around her lust for vengeance and ultimately come to a head with her making her own - different - decision. Maybe that's something they pick up on in Part III, who knows? 

Anyways, a slightly more intrusive way to fix the pacing issue, for me, would be to have been weaved between Ellie's and Abby's time in Seattle: Ellie Day 1, Abby Day 1; Ellie Day 2, Abby Day 2; Ellie Day 3, Abby Day 3. It would make the Day 1 section extraordinarily long, but also pointed the player at the converging point with the confrontation on Day 3 from two different angles, and with full context for both. 

This brings me to the way that I personally think Naughty Dog should have handled things, in an incredibly irresponsible and intrusive shake-up to the game. And I think it starts with the game's marketing.

The Last of Us Part II - after the success of the first game, but not to mention Naughty Dog's other critical and commercial success stories with the Uncharted series - was going to be picked up by everyone who played the first game anyways...and so I'm going to argue that you don't show that Ellie and Joel are in the game. You market the game about being focused around a group of friends in the WLF, that Abby is a playable character, and you play up the Seraphites and maybe even tease her meeting Lev and Yara with what they showed in the violent woods sequence shown at Paris Games Week in 2017 (but nothing more).

I would market it as something a bit more on the nose, like 'The Last of Us 2: All Gone', a nod to a song from the first game - and which really builds up this idea that we're going to see a different perspective on surviving in that world, this time from within a city tearing apart at the seams because of the ongoing WLF/Serpahite war. 

Not only that, though, I'd restructure the game and tweak things a little so that it runs like this:

  • Act I (originally Act III): new prologue about Abby being a former Firefly after they disbanded and journey to Seattle. Abby in Seattle Day 1, Day 2, Day 3. Ends with the cinema confrontation with Ellie, cuts at the same point. 
  • Act II (originally Act I/Prologue): play as Joel and then playing as Ellie and Abby, Joel's murder in Jackson. Play as Ellie post-Joel's death and prep for Jackson. 
  • Act III (originally Act II): Ellie in Seattle Day 1, Day 2, Day 3. Play through the confrontation with Abby as Ellie. Hard cut then to playing as younger Abby in her flashback (context of her father being killed by Joel and what happened to the Fireflies). 
  • Act IV (same, untouched): Ellie's return to Jackson, Abby's time in Santa Barbara, Ellie hunting Abby in Santa Barbara and the final confrontation. 

So, to explain, I think Part II is unique in that is isn't unique at all in the dilemma it provides players with: it pulls a Metal Gear Solid 2. Okay, not to the same extent that MGS2 is guilty of (I mean, you play as Ellie for a considerable amount of time, compared to Snake only being playable in the prologue/Tanker Chapter/Trial Edition) but also...way worse, in other ways? They didn't advertise the transition to playing as Abby, and though I respect the risk they took, I can imagine a lot of players downing tools when they realised they would be playing as the character who murdered Joel and scarred Ellie by committing the act right in front of her (arguably much worse than Abby had it, by the way). Also think it'll be an interesting discourse on player characters in games and when the game takes control from you. 

I think by restructuring and marketing the game in the above way you play as the character who goes on to kill Joel, you can play up her friendship with her group more (somewhere I think the game as it is now falters a bit), but as the days go on, learn about them dying in this war...and then on Day 3, learn that it seems they're being hunted, before the sniper setpiece where you make it to the sniper and...wait, was that Tommy? What's going on? Abby makes it back to the aquarium, finds Mel and Owen dead, tracks the killer to this theatre, and it was Tommy. Why has Tommy been killing all of Abby's friends? Jesse and Ellie bust through the door, this guy called Jesse is dead (who is he?), Tommy is seemingly dead, Abby is about to shoot Ellie, aaaaaaand...cut. 

Oh sweet, we're playing as Joel. Probably a bit discombobulated at this point. Then they play as Ellie a bit, and oh hey, Abby's here too, huh? Play as Abby helping Joel and...woah wait what's happening? Why's Abby turned on Joel? Play as Ellie, Abby kills Joel, so on and so forth, and then it's set up so that we actually want to play as the other character: we want to play as Ellie. We're going to get revenge. We slay all of her friends on the way to Abby before she tracks us down at the theatre, kills Jesse, and then we fight Abby from Ellie's POV - cool as it was to fight against Ellie, I also didn't want to fight Ellie in the way that I think players would want to fight Abby (I'll admit I let myself die the first time I played through the game when I realised I'd be fighting Ellie), but they might still hesitate here. 

Then you get the context of Abby's prologue/flashback and suddenly it all starts to add up. The rest of the game plays out the same and as before you have context for both sides going into that final confrontation, but I think it would be paced between and more driven by the player if it was restructured this way. 

Oh, and the title card changes on a hard transition from 'The Last of Us 2: All Gone' to 'The Last of Us Part II' at the start of the credits. 

Also, if I'm going to highlight the game's visuals, I guess I ought to showcase them.

Spoiler

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In 2013, The Last of Us delivered on its promise to drive narratives in video games forward, with a game which transcended the boundaries between game and film - arguably, some might argue, for the first time in the history of the medium. In 2020, The Last of Us Part II delivered on the promise to drive narratives in video games forward once again, this time in a manner not nearly as universally beloved or as functionally flawless, but purely founded on its ambition. If nothing else, it's hard to not come away from Part II this second time around with a newfound respect for the risks Naughty Dog took with this game, but more than that, despite its flaws, I think Part II deserves the same respect as the first game, be it because of its superb gameplay, its ambitious story, or its timeless - and unfortunately also seemingly always timely - message around the importance of letting go, empathy, and the cyclical nature of violence begetting vengeance, and vengeance begetting further violence. 

I think Part II is a masterpiece, and I think with this replay, it might have just cemented itself as one of my favourite games and experiences with a story in any medium. 

 

Spoiler
  1. Chrono Trigger (1995) - completed 16th January [REPLAY]
  2. The Last of Us Part II (2020) - completed 30th January [REPLAY]

 

Edited by Julius
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It's February, and i have already completed my second game of the year! I had to open a window to let out the smoke coming off my PS4 controller.

I managed to finish Uncharted 3: Drake's Deception

It's a fantastic game, I absolutely loved it. Someone on here (was is Sheikah?) said that the 2nd one is the best, and not to bother with 3 and 4, but i wholeheartedly disagree. 3 is brilliant in every way. Each game gets more and more like being in a blockbuster action film, and I love it. Sure, the plot is a bit crap, but all the best action films have slightly naff plots anyway.

The locations the game sets up are just so imaginative - most games of this type will have you having a shootout in an old street. Or a warehouse. Or a slightly different street. (And yes, there are a few warehouses), but the whole section with the cruise ship, the ship breakers yard, the horseback chase etc, make for a much more memorable game.

The only slightly dodgy bit for me was the weird bit where you are wandering around the desert dying of thirst for several levels. Not a fan of that. It was interesting that they took this level and made it into a full game though (Journey).

 

Anyway, i'm definitely going to continue on a play 4 at some point, but i may have a break and play something else in between.

 

Games completed by me in 2024:

  • Mass Effect 1
  • Uncharted 3
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It's February, and i have already completed my second game of the year! I had to open a window to let out the smoke coming off my PS4 controller.

I managed to finish Uncharted 3: Drake's Deception

It's a fantastic game, I absolutely loved it. Someone on here (was is Sheikah?) said that the 2nd one is the best, and not to bother with 3 and 4, but i wholeheartedly disagree. 3 is brilliant in every way. Each game gets more and more like being in a blockbuster action film, and I love it. Sure, the plot is a bit crap, but all the best action films have slightly naff plots anyway.

The locations the game sets up are just so imaginative - most games of this type will have you having a shootout in an old street. Or a warehouse. Or a slightly different street. (And yes, there are a few warehouses), but the whole section with the cruise ship, the ship breakers yard, the horseback chase etc, make for a much more memorable game.

The only slightly dodgy bit for me was the weird bit where you are wandering around the desert dying of thirst for several levels. Not a fan of that. It was interesting that they took this level and made it into a full game though (Journey).

 

Anyway, i'm definitely going to continue on a play 4 at some point, but i may have a break and play something else in between.

 

Games completed by me in 2024:

  • Mass Effect 1
  • Uncharted 3
Did I really say that? I definitely preferred Uncharted 2, that game was legendary. That train set piece, man. Uncharted 3 was not on the same level for sure, and I felt like Uncharted 4 was a great way to showpiece the PS4's capabilities but as a game wasn't very exciting. The gameplay and puzzle solving felt a bit old hat and stale and they were right to end the series at that point.

 

You've played Mass Effect 1, in my opinion Mass Effect 2 and 3 should definitely be high up on your list. Great games and the remasters made them even better.

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@Julius I quite like the idea of having a built-in Intermission.  Probably would get frowned upon for being pretentious, but it’s a neat concept that I’m surprised that nobody has done before in a story-driven game like this.

Could be effective if the game forced the player to take a break; maybe even lock out the player from playing for at least 24 hours to force them to reflect on what’s happening.  I’m sure it’d be viewed with outrage online (HOW DARE THEY TELL ME HOW TO PLAY THE GAME I PAID FOR!!!), but I think a game like TLOU could well benefit from such a move when it comes to pacing :)

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On the eve of the death of Xbox, I played and finished two games that were vaguely fitting for the situation...

Sonic Adventure

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The year is 1998, and The Legend of Zelda: Ocarina of Time just launched in November of that year in both the US and in Japan.  It was lauded as the beginning of a new era for video games in general, and a revolutionary title that would go on to redefine the industry from that point onwards...

... just one week later, the SEGA Dreamcast would launch in Japan.

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God bless you Hidekazu Yukawa

The SEGA Saturn was dead, deader than a can of spam.  And so, SEGA cast their final dream out into the world... well, the world of Japan at least.  While the rest of the world wouldn't get the Dreamcast for another 10 months, SEGA placed a mandate upon Sonic Team.  They absolutely had to get a proper 3D Sonic game out in time for the Dreamcast's launch, come hell or high water.  No more pissing about with failed experiments or personal pet projects.  They had to tow the company line, and the blue blur HAD to make it out in time...

Sonic Team missed their deadline by about a month.

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Sonic decided to sleep in during the Saturn's lifecycle

Released in December 1998, Sonic Adventure was an utterly mindblowing release for the time; but what's even more mindblowing is just how fast this game was made.  Reportedly starting development in around April 1997, Sonic Adventure was bashed out in just 18 months.  That's 18 months, on hardware that hadn't even been finalised yet.  I'm also going to point out here that this would be the first (and last) time that a Sonic game would be developed specifically as a launch title for a console.  And if you think that's crazy, consider this.  Sonic Adventure wasn't even the only game that Sonic Team put out in 1998, because they also somehow managed to release Burning Rangers for the SEGA Saturn that same year! Insane!!

If I could only use one word to describe Sonic Adventure? It would be "Ambition".  Sonic Team's greatest strength, and their greatest weakness, has always been their ardor.  Their previous Sonic title had been so aspirational that it ended up needing to be split up into two seperate cartridges and locked-on together to be played in its complete form.  And Sonic Adventure is probably the single biggest distillation of that spirit that Sonic Team ever put out.

A massive 3D Sonic platformer for a next-gen system as a launch title, 6 playable characters with wildly differing gameplay styles and systems, full voice acting, full live-recorded soundtrack, a story with FMV cutscenes to rival Final Fantasy... all within just 18 months, while they were also making another game.  Surely something would have to give?

Oh yes it did.

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No, not at all!

Sonic Adventure is a beautiful janky mess of a game that collapses under the sheer weight of its own ambition.  It's a game that attempts to do just about everything.  It's a 3D Platformer! It's an Action Adventure! It's a Kart Racer! It's a 3rd Person Shooter! It's a Downhill Snowboarder! It's a Panzer Dragoon Rail Shooter! It's a fucking Fishing Game! Hell! It's also a Tamagotchi! Why not!? Sonic Team wanted this to be their answer not just to Super Mario 64, but also Ocarina of Time and Final Fantasy 7; all at the same time.  The problem is that everything here is so incredibly under-baked as a result.

Now, I want to focus first on the parts that it actually does pretty well.  For starters, the core level design for the action stages is actually pretty solid.  The stages are all well paced, with interesting layouts, gameplay gimmicks, some great set pieces and lots of very cool and unique ideas behind them.  They're laid out well, read cleanly and are easy to navigate; even the Knuckles stages (which would've been the most difficult to design, given their open-ended nature).  There's also a really nice balance of fast-paced action sections and slower, more methodological and exploratory parts; with plenty of opportunities for cheeky shortcuts available to expert players and speedrunners.  Sonic Team had some really good level designers back then, even if Yuji Naka had no appreciation for the art.

The presentation was also absolutely second to none at the time of its release, even amongst early Dreamcast contemporary releases.  It looked and felt a whole generation ahead of literally everything else at the time, and it was a pioneer of many technologies that we take for granted today (in fact, it was the very first game to even attempt lip syncing with in-game real-time graphics... attempt being the keyword here).  And the music was just out of this world; it's still great in fact.  It was also a pioneer for internet connectivity with it being the very first console game to feature any form of downloadable content; granted, it was all very minor stuff like holiday themed events and in-game posters, but the fact that a game from 1998 was even attempting this is just utter madness.

I also want to point out that this game's aesthetic really is Y2K As Fuck.  Like... THIS is exactly the game I think of (alongside PSO) when I recall the whole Y2K period.  Whites and blues and skies/clouds and water and skeuomorphism and transparancies everywhere!

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Don't tell anyone that it's actually from 1998 though

You can tell that SEGA had some real hangups about the Saturn's difficulty with transparancies, because they abuse the Dreamcast's transparancy effect capabilities to the extreme with this game, to the point where its main villian is a walking pool of transparant water :laughing:

The storytelling is also surprisingly well done, with Tikal's backstory handed out in piecemeal form throughout each character's story in an interesting way that keeps a bit of mystery going.  You're never told the full story on any particular character's tale, so it incentivises you to play through all 6 character's campaigns in order to get the full story.  I also really like how shared events are told slightly differently, with your chosen character getting the camera angle spotlight and slightly different dialogue; it gives the impression that each character is recalling events with a bias towards themselves, a very nice touch.

Finally, I'd also like to lavish a bit of praise on the voice acting.  With the sole exception of Tales (who was voiced by an actual child and unfortunately comes across as pretty grating and stilted), everyone puts in a pretty stellar performance, especially for the time.  Good quality voice acting was not common in 1999, especially in a game with as much voice acting as this one; but really, I have to give specific props to Deem Bristow for his performance as Dr Robotnik; he steals the show here, and his voice forever lives rent free in my head.  Just the perfect maniacal scientist here! :D

However, you can't really talk about Sonic Adventure without discussing how incredibly broken the game is.

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Walls are just a suggestion in this game

Now.  I don't need to rag on about the camera.  You've probably played this game before, or at least seen someone play it, or read the hundreds of articles out there that demonise this game for its shoddy camera.  It's shit.  In fact, it's monkey shit.  It's fucking awful.  But you know what's actually worse than the camera? The collision detection.  My GOD! The collision detection is fucking woeful, it is outright BROKEN.  There are SO many times where you'll be happily running along when all of a sudden, your character will just get stuck on a wall, or a pebble on the ground, and just come to a complete stop; or just phase right through it.  It's bloody infuriating!  It makes navigating these environments with precision into an utter nightmare.  And it's a damn shame, because the core gameplay mechanics and physics are actually really fun!  Sonic and friends actually have genuine momentum implanted into their gameplay physics, in a manner reminiscient of their Mega Drive predecessors, and when the game isn't having a heart attack, it's actually a ton of fun...

... but sadly, much of the game's fun is just sapped away by the wonky collision detection.  There's no way to get around it, the game's programming is just fundamentally broken.  And you know what's even more wild? The version we got in the west was actually significantly improved over its original Japanese release.  Holy fucking shit! How bad was the original Japanese version!?!?

The cutscenes as well... they tried.  They really did.  They were clearly working with some very basic and unfinished technology here, because the animation and camera work in cutscenes is ropey as fuck.  This is no Ocarina of Time or Metal Gear Solid, hell even Super Mario 64's few cutscenes utterely blow away the real-time cutscenes on display here.  While I admire the ambition on display, the result is honestly pretty laughable.  At least the cutscene animation & camera direction is entertainingly bad!

For the record, I played the original PAL Dreamcast release from 1999, not the DX version that was later released for the Gamecube (and subsequently PC and 360).  The Gamecube version would add some additional content in the form of optional missions, an overhauled Chao Garden and unlockable Game Gear titles, as well as upping the framerate from the original game's unstable 30FPS (there's quite a bit of slowdown here on the DC, so lurches to around 20FPS aren't uncommon), to an unstable 60FPS; which does improve the control response and sense of speed, but this version would also introduce new glitches of its own; and make some questionable changes to the game's art direction.  The unlockable Game Gear games and Metal Sonic costume actually do fix a significant issue with the original game though, and that's with the Emblem system.  The original game would attempt to incentivise the player to replay stages by offering additional tasks, that reward the player with an Emblem... The problem though is that in the original Dreamcast version, the Emblems do precisely jack and shit, so there's no reason to collect them, and no real reward for completing each additional mission in each stage; so the additions put into the DX version actually do make a meaningful difference here, because you now actually have a reason to collect all the Emblems.

Sonic Adventure is a game that tries to do a bit of everything, and doesn't really stick the landing with any of them, owing to a rushed development cycle and an insane level of ambition that could never possibly be executed on.  Despite how incredibly broken the game is however, there is a ton to like here, and I can't bring myself to call it a bad game.  It's a broken game, but ambition counts for a hell of a lot in the video game world, and this is amongst the most ambitious titles the video game industry has ever seen.  I'd say it begs for a full-on remake that does its ideas and concepts justice, but I don't think such a game could ever really be made in the modern era.  It's just too ambitious to ever really be made properly.

Sonic Adventure 2

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Sonic Adventure 2 is the more streamlined sequel to Sonic Adventure.  After a small portion of Sonic Team moved over to San Fransisco to work on the international version of the original Sonic Adventure, Sonic Team USA was born.  While the Japanese branch of Sonic Team would go on to make Chu Chu Rocket and Phantasy Star Online, the newly christened Sonic Team USA would get to work on a follow-up to Sonic Adventure; much in the same way that Sonic The Hedgehog 2 for the ol' Mega Drive was developed in the US by the newly formed Sega Technical Institute before.

The parallels also extend to its development schedule, which would go on to take around 18 months again owing to the untimely death of SEGA's dream; but the die was cast and the dream had to be cut short.  Of course, this is still a Sonic Team game, and that means that their ambitions would still be wild.  But lessons were certainly learnt and feedback was listened to.  While there were still 6 playable characters, 3 of them would essentially be clones; meaning that there were now only three main gameplay types this time around (Platforming, Treasure Hunting and Shooting).  Gone also were the hub areas and interstitial moments that had you looking around for NPCs and powerups; instead, the powerups would be integrated into the stages themselves, the story followed a linear progression going from stage to stage, and the Chao garden stuff would be hidden around the stages this time.  The minigame stages are also gone as well, save for the one Kart Racing section (which goes on forever, and gets used twice with no changes!).

The collision detection is also much more solid this time around.  While it's certainly not perfect, and you can certainly break this game in half if you try to, it's leaps and bounds ahead of the original Sonic Adventure.  In fact, from a technical standpoint, it's a remarkable step up from its predecessor; to the point that it's shocking that they were both made for the same console.  We've gone from an unstable 20-30FPS to a more or less rock solid 60 FPS, AND the graphics are significantly better.  It's stunning how much progress was made in just those short 18 months... to think about how much more they could've gotten out of the Dreamcast if it had survived a bit longer...

The improvements also extend to the cutscenes as well, which are now fully motion captured, and far better directed (thanks in no small part to the development assistance provided by Visual Concepts).  Though this can sometimes feel a bit like a double-edged sword, with scenes sometimes feeling like they're being acted out by people in theme park mascot costumes :laughing:

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What Sonic learnt from Crazy Taxi

All that being said though, I don't think the level design is quite as good as in the previous game.  It feels like the stages were made of smaller parts that end up getting copy/pasted a bit too much... and they're often too long for their own good, starting to wear out their welcome a bit before they end... but the biggest offender by far are the Treasure Hunt stages.  They're massive, far too massive.  The Knuckles stages worked in the first game because they took place in smaller, contained spaces that weren't so difficult to navigate.  Here though? The later stages can get to be almost 10x the size, to the point where it just feels obnoxious and frustrating.

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I'm Knuckles.  3 and a half mins in with no emeralds and I'm not chuckling.

What's also worth noting is that in order to achieve that more polished feeling to the gameplay, the developers had to resort more often to scripted sequences that wrestle control away from the player.  You might not notice it if you're coming from newer modern Sonic titles (which do this to such a ridiculous extreme that they practically play themselves), but coming from its predecessor? You can feel the difference.

The Chao Garden also got a significant overhaul here, now greatly expanded with much more in-depth mechanics.  Though the Gamecube release would expand on this even further, adding the Black Market and the Chao Karate minigame, as well as a greatly expanded multiplayer mode; I played the original Dreamcast release this time around, so I didn't dive into the Chao stuff on this playthrough.  But the Chao stuff is great, and I remember spending many an hour playing around with the Chao Garden (and the GBA's Tiny Chao Garden) with the Gamecube release back in the day :D

Really I think that about sums up Sonic Adventure 2 quite nicely.  The developers took the original game's core gameplay (at least the Platforming, Treasure Hunting and Shooter sections), trimmed out the parts they felt unneccessary and worked to polish what they had.  While the reduced scope certainly is to the game's benefit, I would be lying if I didn't miss a lot of what was taken away.  While Sonic Adventure 2 is a good sequel, and exactly the kind of sequel that I think they should've made, ambition still counts for an awful lot.  It's much more polished and streamlined, but I do still have a soft spot for the sheer aspiration of its predecessor.  A fitting end for the Dreamcast then.

And with that?

Spoiler

Sonic Adventure (Dreamcast)
Sonic Adventure 2 (Dreamcast)

 

Edited by Dcubed
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And now, it is time for a new kind of posting for me. It is time for...

A Jonnas NSO Update

(See, I wanted to post this update monthly, but I missed the end of January, and life gets too much in the way. So, to heck with it, I'll post these whenever I feel like it.)

Since I decided I wanted to "clear" the NSO, I figured I'd give a quick rundown of the sort of games I've been playing. It's not chronological, it's a general rundown of what I've been up to. Bigger games get their own posts (like my Shinobi post up there, some of them played on the NSO), so these updates will be for smaller games or experiences.

Here's some fitting music.

NES Ninjas

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After the Shinobi high, I decided to revisit Ninja Gaiden. It's been ages since I last played it, to the point I barely remembered it. After the Shinobi series, I can appreciate how fast-paced it is, as well as its raw fun gameplay. It's certainly well remembered a lot for that, coupled with cinematic cutscenes that were quite uncommon and ambitious for the time.

What isn't so hot is its incredibly frustrating enemy design, coupled with levels that heavily favour them (enemies that glue themselves onto the edge of platforms you must jump to, wobbly birds all over the worst places, enemies that literally respawn while you aren't even moving, etc.). The game is infamously difficult, so I shamelessly used rewind, but by the time I reached the final level, I realised I wasn't even having fun, so I dropped it. I appreciate what it does right, but ffs, the mid-to-late game is unbearable.

I also tried Ninja Jajamaru-kun, a Japanese-only game on the service. I didn't like that one, it was quite dull.

The Lesser Classics?

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Fun fact: I already knew who the Ice Climbers were back when Melee was released. I had seen Ice Climber on a collection of roms on someone's PC, so they were familiar. But the truth is, I never touched this game ever since that first glimpse, back in the 90s. As such, I decided to properly play it.

Sadly, it's not good. I actually like the general idea, and how the levels are structured, but Popo plays like butt. Incredibly slow walking speed, incredibly hard to judge jumps, he straight falls through edges he should land on... It is painful to play this game. A shame, because the levels get creative, and progressively different. In a way, this is the inverse of Ninja Gaiden: well designed, but dreadful to play. Dropped it all the same.

Next, a game I first heard about in Melee: Clu Clu Land. Didn't understand a single lick of what was happening, what my goal was, or even the controls. Quick drop.

Finally, a game I keep seeing all over the place: Balloon Fight. High time I checked what the fuss is about. It's a fun game, actually. Really floaty, but it's part of the point, and its charm. Played several levels, and ended up putting it on the same level as Flicky: will visit it from time to time, no rush in beating it. After a slew of disappointments, this one was refreshing.

16-bit Procedural Puzzling

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Kirby's Avalanche! That's the game you should know! Kirby's Avalanche! It's got nothing to do with snow!

It's Puyo Puyo with a Kirby coat of paint. American Kirby, at that. He's such a jerk in this game! I expected to play a few matches and get bored, but since this is a solid Puyo Puyo game, I ended up playing to the end and beating the Story Mode. Solid challenge too, the last few matches were insanely fast.

Meanwhile, Kirby's Star Stacker and Panel de Pon were definitely not it. They're the ones where you swap blocks horizontally, and I don't like that particular type of puzzle. Well made games for sure (Panel de Pon felt fleshed out, and Star Stacker's got Rick, an instant win), but if Pokémon Puzzle Challenge (based on my favourite Pokémon generation) couldn't win me over with this style, these two wouldn't either.

I also played Magical Drop 2. It's like someone half-listened to what Puzzle Bobble was supposed to be, and tried to recreate it, badly. Confusing rules, uninspired aesthetic, and generally unfun, I consider it Magical Dropped, too.

There was also Bombuzal, a really terrible port of what might've been a decent PC puzzle game. Dear lord, do not play that travesty, it is horrible.

Brutal Brawlers

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:(

Tuff E Nuff is offensive on many, many levels. Bad boxart. Terrible title. Cut content from the western release, including all of the story. Janky hitboxes. 10 characters, but only 3 are playable. Sluggish game. Character designs that range from generic to stupid. There's actually a decent character design here (Rei), and now I'm sad she's stuck in this sorry excuse of a fighting game.

The most annoying thing? This was actually the first game I beat this year. I didn't even want it to be that way, I expected to drop it, instead I just... kept playing and beat the boss. The shame...

Doomsday Warrior manages to be worse, couldn't make it past the first couple of fights.

Fighter's History is a pathetic Street Fighter II clone. I can respect that the final boss is Karnov from Bad Dudes, but that's it, nothing else positive to say about it.

Brawl Brothers, Peace Keepers, and Rival Turf! are interchangeable, I cannot remember which is which. They're all terrible, uninspired Final Fight clones, and the only thing of note is that one of them has a colour customiser for every sprite in the game (very difficult to use, though).

---------------------

On a final note, unrelated to NSO, I have decided to do good on one of my New Year's Resolutions and quit Fire Emblem Heroes. There's a multitude of reasons behind it, but the two principal ones were that I was no longer enjoying my time with it, and its daily routines were taking too much of my time. It's nice to uninstall that sort of game on my own terms.

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Chained Echoes is a turn based RPG mostly developed by Matthias Linda. Yes, that's not a company name, that's a person's. It's not a complete solo effort, but over a long 7 years, I can only imagine a painstaking amount of effort went into it. It was released on all modern platforms on December 2022. I played the Switch version.

The game is set on the continent of Valandis, and doesn't have a true central protagonist for most of the game, but the main focus is on five characters. Glenn, the mercenary with an incorrectly spelled name. Lenne, a princess who is undercover to better understand her country. Sienna, a thief known as the "Red Succubus". Victor, a famous playwright, and his friend, Ba'thraz, a blacksmith, who's my favourite character. Why is he my favourite? Who knows? Couldn't possibly be because he's a lizard. Nah, don't be silly. (Real talk, his backstory hit the hardest, so yeah. My lizard bias at first. But after that? Genuine favourite)

A year ago, Valandis was in the midst of a war. It had been going on for 150 years, but then it suddenly ended when a humongous explosion killed thousands of people and scared everyone into signing a peace treaty. This explosion was caused by something called the Grand Grimoire, and Glenn may have been tricked into setting it off. He's feeling a bit guilty about it, but bigger issues may be arising as rumblings of someone trying to restart the war are starting to circulate. The 5 main characters all have their own reasons for stopping this war, but explaining that would be spoilers.

The plot is very excellent. Easily the strongest aspect of the game. The characters are all great, Sienna was another fave of mine. She's very sarcastic, and may be a little self-aware.

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I mean, she's not wrong.

The battle system is the other strong aspect of Chained Echoes. It's pretty unique. Best to explain this with a picture.

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There are two main mechanics to battles. The first one is the tag team system. If you look at the bottom right, you'll notice the red haired guy at the very bottom has another person next to him on the HUD. That means those two characters can swap between each other. The key thing is that they can only swap with each other. So you need to think about who can compliment each other well. You don't want to leave yourself without some way of healing, for example.

The other main system is the Overdrive bar, on the top left. That arrow moves towards the right whenever anyone performs an action. When the arrow is in the yellow section, then everything is normal. If it goes into the green section, then you're in Overdrive mode, which means you take less damage, deal more damage, and skills cost half the TP. However, if you let the arrow travel to the red section, then you take wayyyy more damage. That's bad.
Some things can make the arrow go back to the left, swapping characters does it a little, as does defending, but when you're in Overdrive, a random type of skill will be shown on the top left, where that padlock symbol is. If you use a skill with the same symbol, then the arrow jumps to the left a considerable distance. Using an Ultra Move (Basically, a limit break, but any character using theirs will deplete the bar entirely, and each character has a different one.) also makes the arrow go to the left. So the flow of battle revolves around balancing that arrow in the green area.

Each character has skills unique to them, but you can find "Class Emblems" which basically function as a rudimentary job system. It's a very basic implementation of a job system, but hey, it's some level of customisation, and that's no bad thing.

I wish I could say the same for how you get stronger though... For some stupid reason, this has a similar method of leveling up as Chrono Cross. Levels are tied to how many bosses you've beaten, which means grinding won't do much. You do get SP for winning fights, which upgrade the skills you have equipped, but don't expect it to help much. Each level you get has to be manually spent on either a usable attack, a passive skill, or extra stat boosts.

I don't like the kind of system that arbitrarily limits the player, especially if the game happens to be really quite difficult. Chained Echoes doesn't mess around, I honestly found standard enemies more difficult then the majority of bosses. The game autosaves all the time, which is good, because it's very easy to end up dead suddenly. The balance is all wack. After the midway point, when you get at least 8 characters to use, it gets a lot more manageable. It is handled better then Chrono Cross, mind you, as there's a number of optional level ups, normally tied to sidequests or the achievement board.

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The descriptions are pretty great though.

Honestly, the game has a lot of cool mechanics that I haven't mentioned, but it would take too long to go through them.
Anyway, the visuals are fine, probably didn't help that I played Sea of Stars right before this game. Kinda unfair, really. But now that I know that most of it is done by one person, I can be a bit more lenient now.

The music's decent too. Not a massive masterpiece, but very nice.

So yeah, the game's solid, and quite an impressive product with how small the team was.

Spoiler

Sea of Stars
Chained Echoes

 

Edited by Glen-i
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