Wednesday, October 9, 2019

Dance Game Review: Feet of Fury

This review was originally published on May 22, 2004, in the first issue of Dream On Magazine.

In 2003, Cryptic Allusion Games made history by releasing the first commercial independent Dreamcast game written with free development libraries.

Feet of Fury is a dancing game that borrows many elements from Konami’s Dance Dance Revolution games. You have a set of arrows that you must follow while keeping your steps to the music. The main difference in Feet of Fury is that the game is focused more on strategy and beating your opponent.

There are power-ups and power-downs on the board. Hitting an arrow that contains an icon may cause the speed of the arrows to slow down or speed up, or it might cause the arrows to reverse direction. Because of this element, the multiplayer mode in Feet of Fury is awesome. Another addition is the health bar. At the end of the round, the person with the most health is the winner. It adds a lot more to this type of game when you have to worry about your opponent hitting you with power-downs, and throwing your feet around on the dance mat like an idiot, all while trying to keep your health bar full.

The single-player mode is no slouch either. There are a good number of songs to play and unlock. Each song has a good tempo to it and fits this type of game really well. There are a number of hidden characters and features to be unlocked, so the game will entertain for hours. When you get sick of all that dancing, you can let your fingers do the dancing with what is in my opinion, the coolest thing to happen to dance games since their invention: The Typing of Fury mode. In this mode, letters fly up onscreen instead of arrows, and you use your Dreamcast keyboard to match the letters to the beat while spelling out words. This mode is very challenging, and surprisingly, very fun.

When you add multiple keyboards to the action for some multiplayer mayhem, you’ll see the pure hilarity that ensues. This is a top-notch addition and is a lot less of a gimmick than you might think. Take your underused keyboards from the attic, and set them up for some furious typing. You won’t regret it.

Good songs, multiplayer battle elements, unlockables, and Typing of Fury make this game a good investment, and an example for future independent developers to follow.

Final Verdict:
4 out of 5

Tuesday, October 8, 2019

Shareware Platform Game Review: Commander Keen - Invasion of the Vorticons: Marooned on Mars

This review was originally posted at Jupiter Beagle on October 10, 2008.

Commander Keen: Invasion of the Vorticons - Marooned on Mars is a shareware platformer created by Apogee Software, now known as 3D Realms. It is the reason I bought a Super VGA monitor for my DOS computer in the 1990s, and there’s a good reason for it. Commander Keen is one of the best classic platformers, and my number one pick for the game I’d love to see get a re-release on modern consoles.

Marooned on Mars was the first part of Invasion of the Vorticons, a three-part trilogy that was a shareware game by iD Software and published by Apogee. The idea of shareware was that the first episode was free to download and upload from dial-up text-only BBS systems before the World Wide Web, copy, and share with all of your friends. If you enjoyed the game, the rest of the episodes could be purchased by phone or by mail from Apogee, who would mail you the episodes on disk.

The trilogy starred the 8-year-old genius Billy Blaze, who built a spaceship out of household parts. He dons his brother’s football helmet and defends Earth from the forces of evil in the galaxy as Commander Keen. Part one finds Keen marooned on Mars, where he must find various parts for his spaceship so he can make his way back home.

At first, Keen can only jump over creatures or jump on top of the weaker ones. If he tries to hop on a strong creature, Keen loses a life. The weaker creatures are only stunned, and snap out of it momentarily. These weaker creatures just push Keen forward, while the stronger ones kill him on contact. There are hazards on the levels, such as pits, fire, and spikes, which also cause Keen to lose a life upon contact. Once Keen finds a laser gun, he can shoot laser shots until he runs out of ammunition or finds another gun. Located throughout each level are candy treats and soda, as well as things like teddy bears. Collecting these adds to Keen's points, and at certain score levels, Keen receives more lives.

Later on, Keen also finds a Pogo stick, which lets him jump higher when the pogo button is pressed, which can get Keen to higher platforms and collect more treats. Some levels require exploration, as there are doors that can only be opened by finding the correct colored key (a gameplay concept that iD Software will later incorporate into its popular first-person shooting games). The stages in the game become tougher as they go on, with more hazards and stronger and higher concentrations of enemies.

The game sported great graphics at the time for DOS, which were on par with the graphics on the Nintendo Entertainment System. The music, however, is non-existent. The game was made at a time when most PCs did not have sound cards, and sounds came from the PC speaker, which produced pretty terrible sounds. So, there are only bloops and bleeps in here for the jumping and shooting sound effects. These sound effects are not bad though, and the game is engrossing enough that even playing through the game again recently, I didn’t notice the lack of music.

There is a fan-developed interpreter, however, titled Commander Genius, which uses the original data files and adds optional music. This is my favorite way to play, as the music adds a lot to the atmosphere of the game. All and all, Commander Keen: Invasion of the Vorticons - Marooned on Mars is a definite classic. The storyline is interesting, the graphics are nice, and the gameplay is superb.

Final verdict:
4½ out of 5

Monday, October 7, 2019

Platform Game Mega Review: Sonic Adventure

This review was originally posted in the first issue of the Dream On Magazine on May 22, 2004.

This Dreamcast launch title was Sonic the Hedgehog’s first three-dimensional platform game. For the most part, it maintains the speed of his 16-bit adventures, but it hits a few snags along the way.

Sonic Adventure starts out in a city setting, which represents the “adventure” part of the game. There are several buildings that you can choose to go into. This does get a bit tedious, as the stages are contained within the buildings, and are accessed by entering doors within those buildings.

It takes a while to get used to the layout of the entrances, as the camera often pans around you and gives you a different perspective. This can make finding the right entrance difficult at first, as all the doors look alike. Once you get the hang of it, however, it becomes second nature.

You have separate stories that unfold within the main story. Each of these stories is seen through the eyes of characters that you meet within the game. You start out as Sonic, and once you meet another character in the storyline, you can play that character’s story. This is quite a neat concept, even if it’s not a particularly original one. It’s interesting to see the storyline in someone else’s eyes besides Sonic’s for a change. The music is fitting for this game and it is rock-style music as started with the American release of Sonic CD. The voices are fitting for the characters, but the words do not match the mouths of the characters at times. The voice acting is not the best, but it’s acceptable. As for the game mechanics, the Sonic and Tails sections are by far the most fun. This is where you’ll find the trademark Sonic speed you’d expect from the series, with Sonic racing to the end, and Tails flying over certain paths that Sonic can’t reach to beat Sonic to the finish. The speed stays fast throughout the game, but it does come with a few drawbacks.

You can’t fix the camera to stay at a certain angle, so it will often wrap around your character at the most opportune times, meaning you might be rushing around a loop and the camera will pan backward. causing the movement to reverse, and Sonic to plummet to his doom.

This doesn’t happen often, but it does happen enough to become bothersome. While playing I also found certain areas where the collision detection was not properly tested, and you’ll find yourself falling through the floor at times if you’re unlucky. These problems are very minute and happen infrequently.

It’s possible that you might be able to play through the game without encountering any problems at all. The Amy portion has you avoiding Robotnik’s robots, and using a hammer to destroy enemies in your way. The speed isn’t as fast as Sonic’s or Tails, but as a result, the camera and collision detection problems are virtually non-existent, making for a pleasant gaming experience. The E102 portion (Dr. Robotnik’s robot) consists of blasting at enemies with a laser and rolling through to the end in time. These missions are fairly fun, and E102’s story is interesting enough to keep you going. Knuckles’ game consists of digging for emerald shards, over and over again. This can become quite tedious, and unless you’re an avid Sonic series fan, you might find yourself giving up before completing Knuckles’ storyline. As tedious as Knuckles’ portion of the game is, it’s nothing when compared to Big the Cat’s.

Big’s portion consists of fishing for a frog in water pools throughout the stages in the game. One can only assume that Sega was testing its fishing game ideas later seen in Sega Bass Fishing and Sega Marine Fishing when they came up with Big’s storyline. It is fun in those games as it’s expected.

In this game, however, it’s so out of place it’s almost annoying. Only the truly diehard fans will complete Big’s storyline, as once you complete it you are given the chance to play as Metal Sonic. Everyone else will find solace in the Sonic, Tails, Amy, and possibly Knuckles missions, as those are the meat of the game.

Sonic Adventure DX features improved character models and textures, changes in lighting, and improved water effects. It also adds a Chao Garden mode where you can hatch, raise, and race little blue creatures known as Chao. Sonic Adventure DX: Director's Cut keeps all of the improvements but increases the resolution and fixes some bugs.

The music is excellent, and the voices are tolerable. The Sonic and Tails storylines are a blast, but the camera and collision detection problems detract from the enjoyment. These problems persist in all versions, unfortunately, so which version you choose is a matter of which system you own as well as individual taste. The other storylines are more of a filler, as they aren’t nearly as fun as the Sonic or Tails portions. Big’s storyline is a big letdown. Fishing does not work in a Sonic the Hedgehog game. The game is worth the purchase for the Sonic and Tails portions. Only diehard fans will complete the rest of the game.

Final Rating:

3½ out of 5

Sunday, October 6, 2019

System Review: NES Classic Edition, Famicom Mini, and Shonen Jump Famicom Mini

This review was originally posted on the McMurray Internet Channel website on December 7, 2018.

Nintendo didn’t start the idea of the mini-console revival of classic systems. Atari and AtGames have been releasing their own mini-consoles for years. Nintendo did manage to turn the practice around. These were once seen as niche novelties, but they are now big business, with Sony and Konami also joining the trend.

I'll look at each of the mini-consoles available from Nintendo, Sony, and Konami, but first, let's look at Nintendo’s first Classic Edition offering, the miniaturized version of its classic 80s console, the Nintendo Entertainment System.

The system runs on an Allwinner R16 system on a chip. It has a 1.2 gigahertz quad-core Cortex-A7 central processing unit, a 500 megahertz dual-core Mali-400 ARM graphics processing unit, 256 megabytes of random access memory, and 512 megabytes of Flash storage.

This is obviously more powerful than the 1.79 MHz CPU on the original NES, so the games, powered by an emulator created in-house by Nintendo European Research & Development, run silky smooth. They are also much crisper than the original, as they are output at full high definition, but there is a cathode ray tube filter available in the options for purists.

The menu is easy to navigate, and looks clean and professional, as expected with a Nintendo product. Unlike the later Super Nintendo Entertainment System Classic Edition, the NES Classic Edition only includes one controller, a faithful remake of the original blocky NES controller. The controller has a Nintendo Classic Controller port, so this controller can also be used with a SNES Classic Edition, or a Wii or Wii U. The controller cable included is also really short, but extension cables and additional controllers are also available to purchase.

Both the North American and European/Oceania versions contain the same 30 built-in games. They include a great variety of genres and include classics spanning the entirety of the original lifespan of the NES. The games include Balloon Fight, Bubble Bobble, Castlevania, Castlevania II: Simon’s Quest, Donkey Kong (strangely the version included is the original 1983 port that lacked the factory level instead of the 2012 release, Donkey Kong: Original Edition, which included this level as well as the animation of Donkey Kong carrying Pauline between stages), Donkey Kong Jr., Double Dragon II: The Revenge, Dr. Mario, Excitebike, Final Fantasy, Galaga, Ghosts ‘n Goblins, Gradius, Ice Climber, Kid Icarus, Kirby’s Adventure, The Legend of Zelda, Mario Bros., Mega Man 2, Metroid, Ninja Gaiden, Pac-Man, Punch-Out!! Featuring Mr. Dream, StarTropics, Solomon’s Key, Super C, Super Mario Bros., Super Mario Bros. 2, Super Mario Bros. 3, Tecmo Bowl, and Zelda II: The Adventures of Link.

There are two Japanese versions, which are the regular Famicom Mini and the Weekly Shonen Jump 50th Anniversary version. The Weekly Shonen Jump version is gold. Both contain built-in controllers as did the original Famicom. Otherwise, the hardware specifications on both of these are the same as the NES versions, but the games differ slightly on the regular version and significantly on the other.

The regular Famicom mini contains Balloon Fight, Bumping Sumo, Castlevania, Donkey Kong (the 1983 port that lacked the factory level), Double Dragon II: The Revenge, Downtown Nekketsu March: Let's Go to the Great Athletic Meet (later released in English as Downtown Nekketsu March: Super Awesome Field Day! in the Double Dragon & Kunio-Kun Retro Brawler Bundle), Dr. Mario, Excitebike, Final Fantasy III, Galaga, Ghosts ‘n Goblins, Gradius, Ice Climber, Kirby’s Adventure, The Legend of Zelda, Mario Bros., Mega Man 2, Metroid, The Mystery of Atlantis, NES Tournament Golf, Ninja Gaiden, Pac-Man, Super CSuper Mario Bros.Super Mario Bros. 2 (released as Super Mario USA in Japan), Super Mario Bros. 3, Yie Ar Kung Fu, and Zelda II: The Adventures of Link.

The Weekly Shonen Jump Famicom Mini version contains games based on the manga that appeared in Weekly Shonen Jump, with the exception of Dragon Quest. The games included Captain Tsubasa (released as Tecmo Cup Soccer Game in North America and Tecmo Cup Football Game in Europe), Captain Tsubasa Vol. II: Super Striker, Dark Myth: The Legend of Takeru Yamato, Heaven and Earth (released as Destiny of an Emperor in North America), Dragon Ball: Shenlong's Riddle (released in North America as Dragon Power and in France as Dragon Ball: The Secret of the Dragon), Dragon Ball 3: Goku's Story, Dragon Ball Z: Assault of the Saiyans, Dragon Quest (released in North America as Dragon Warrior), Famicom Jump: Heroes History, Famicom Jump II: The Strongest Seven, Fist of the North Star, Fist of the North Star 3 - The Creator of the New Century: History of the Dreaded Fist, Kinnikuman: Muscle Tag Match (released in North America as Tag Team Match: MUSCLE), Kinnikuman: Struggle for the Throne, Magical Taluluto: Fantastic World!!, Red Dragon King, Rokudenashi Blues, Saint Saya: Golden Legend (released in France as The Knights of the Zodiac: The Golden Legend), Saint Saya: Golden Legend - Final Chapter, and Sakigake!! Men's Private School: Game No. 1.

The regular versions contain the best selection of games, but the Weekly Famicom Jump version may be worth the price if you can read Japanese and enjoy the included selection of games based on various manga, or simply for the collector's value as the gold system does look nice. However, suffice it to say, whatever you choose it is well worth spending if you or someone you love is a fan of retro games.

Final Verdict:
5 out of 5

Saturday, October 5, 2019

Arcade Maze Game Review: Pac-Man

This review was originally posted at Jupiter Beagle on September 28, 2008.

Pac-Man is a true classic. Pac-Man’s pizza-bodied visage is often used as an icon for gaming itself. Everyone has probably played Pac-Man at some point in their life, or if they haven't they at least know about it.

The premise is simple. You control a round yellow dot with no eyes and a mouth that is constantly opening and closing. You have to navigate a maze and eat all of the round pellets on the board while avoiding the four ghosts who are constantly roaming the board looking for a Pac snack to eat. You can turn the tables on the ghosts by eating one of the four large power pellets. This causes the ghosts to temporarily turn blue. Now, the ghosts run away from you and you are able to eat them before the large dot’s effects wear off. 

In the original Pac-Man, many of the enhancements that Ms. Pac-Man brought to the table are not present. The layout of the mazes never changes and the food items that you can eat in each stage after collecting a certain amount of points always remain at the center of the maze. The emulated versions from the Xbox 360 onward are my favorite way to play the game. 

All of the addictiveness of Pac-Man is there as most emulated versions use the true arcade version of Pac-Man. Thus, all of the tricks that can be pulled off in the arcade version can be pulled off in these versions. For anyone who loves Pac-Man but isn’t too good at it, there are tricks in the emulated versions that are not present in the originals. In some emulated versions, you can start from any stage in the game after you complete it once, and in other emulated versions you can rewind a mistake to try it again. 

Arcade purists may not like the fact that these emulated versions often have unlimited continues, but there were versions of Pac-Man in the arcades that had unlimited continues as well. In the Ms. Pac-Man/Galaga Class of 1981 arcade game, Pac-Man can be unlocked by entering up, up ,up, down, down, down, left, right, left, right, left at the game selection screen and then choosing Ms. Pac-Man after hearing a series of dings letting the player know the code was inserted correctly. This version allows unlimited continues as well. The only difference is you have to enter a quarter every time you wish to continue. 

On the subject of achievements in the latest console versions, Pac-Man typically has plenty. In the Xbox 360 version, each fruit or item in the mazes gives you another achievement. If you go for all of them, you will be able to see each of the game’s cutscenes, which were one of the main draws of the game in the arcades when it first came out. The cutscene music is so catchy that it’s sure to stay in your head for quite some time. There are only three cutscenes in the original Pac-Man, and they all show the comeuppance of the ghosts in various humorous ways. 

There are three achievements in the Xbox 360 version, in particular, that are a little more challenging. One requires you to eat all four ghosts in the stage, while the other, harder, achievement requires you to eat all four ghosts all four times in one stage. The latter is quite hard, and all but the most diehard Pac-Man fan should find this one a challenge. 

The other difficult challenge in the Xbox 360 version requires you to get to level 21. After you get to a certain point in the game, the large dots no longer turn the ghosts blue, and the ghosts merely turn around when you eat it. Thankfully the feature offering unlimited continues is there for those of us without super Pac-prowess, so it’s not an impossible task. 

In the end, the decision of whether to play Pac-Man rests on how much you like arcade maze games. Though, if you do, I’d say it’s worth the play even if you are a casual fan of the genre. 

Final Verdict: 
4 out of 5

Friday, October 4, 2019

Platform Game Mega Review: Sonic the Hedgehog

This review was originally posted at Jupiter Beagle on October 2, 2008. A note about Sonic Origins was added on October 1, 2022

Sonic the Hedgehog brought speed to a genre that was previously all about exploration. The levels are laid out well enough so that exploration is still possible, but the game is built with the intention to run through courses at breakneck speed. Going into a roll by pressing down while running causes Sonic to go faster through loops and down hills. Sonic’s speed can be magnified by obtaining a shoe powerup, which increases Sonic’s moving speed exponentially. Sonic attacks enemies by rolling into them or jumping on top of them while in a roll. He will lose rings whenever he touches an enemy. However, there is no health meter in this game. Sonic’s health is gauged by the rings he carries. As long as Sonic holds at least one ring. As with the Super Mario Bros. series, 100 rings give you a bonus life. There are also invincible power-ups, much like Mario’s stars that make Sonic impervious to attack for a short period of time.

In most versions of the game, the lack of the spin dash that was introduced in Sonic the Hedgehog 2 is definitely noticed. However, there are some versions of Sonic the Hedgehog that have a spin dash, which helps a lot. No matter the version of the game, Sonic the Hedgehog still has my favorite levels of any Sonic game I’ve played. The layouts of the levels are very important in a platformer, and the level design of Sonic the Hedgehog is top-notch. There are several zones in the game, and most zones have 3 levels, with the third level being a boss battle against Sonic’s enemy Dr. Robotnik in one of his robotic contraptions. 

The bonus stages in this game are a little weird compared to later games in the series. Here, Sonic enters a bonus stage through a large ring whenever he has at least 50 rings when he reaches the end of the stage. In the bonus stage, Sonic is in a constant spin, and so is the bonus stage board. You have to guide Sonic to the chaos emerald in each stage, which is surrounded by breakable crystals. You also must avoid red exit markers that will end the bonus round immediately. When all 6 chaos emeralds are collected, the player will get the “good ending” upon completing the game.

Sonic the Hedgehog was released on a lot of systems. The game is just about equal on each system, other than control issues due to the limitations of some systems. The newer releases have savestates, or in some cases, save points where the game is automatically saved at the start of each level. This ability to save is a feature that is greatly appreciated for this game. In the original, you had to restart the game completely if you run out of lives and continues. The game also had to be restarted if somehow the power on the Sega Genesis game console was turned off. It’s nice to not worry about leaving the console on to take a break from the game for a while. 

Sonic the Hedgehog on the Xbox 360 is one of my favorite versions. The game is presented well. The sound emulation is well done. The music is faithful to the original, and the sound effects sound good. There are many options for the graphics display. The default setup has the screen at the original aspect ratio with blue borders around the screen where the television screen size surpasses the game’s resolution. The blue borders really stand out and made me sick while playing. Thankfully, these blue borders (called wallpaper by the game) can be turned off, and the borders will be plain black. Even better, in my opinion, is the option to stretch the screen to match the size of your television. There is also an option to smooth the graphics. The smoothing and screen stretching is my favorite combination. This makes Sonic the Hedgehog look wonderful on an HDTV.

In modern versions, most achievements in Sonic the Hedgehog are quite evenly paced. There are quite a few easy achievements, which are given for completing the game’s zones. There are also a few harder accomplishments, such as completing a level (as well as one for the entire game) in a certain amount of time. Other accomplishments seem hard, but with the save state system, even the achievement to complete the game without dying can be completed easily. There is nothing stopping Sonic fans from trying these accomplishments without saving and loading, however.

Sonic the Hedgehog is one of the best pure platformers. If you are a Sonic fan or a platformer fan, you owe it to yourself to try this one out.

Addendum: Tails and Knuckles are additional playable characters in the 2011 remake for Android and iOS as well as the 2022 Sonic Origins compilation for Nintendo Switch, PlayStation 4, PlayStation 5, Windows, Xbox One, and Xbox Series X/S. The Sonic Origins remake has a spin dash as well as a slightly modified drop dash from Sonic Mania that does not allow a change in direction before hitting the ground. It also has the ability to play the game in high definition without a status bar. In the high-definition mode, there are no lives, so the player can play without having to worry about having enough continues. 

Update March 23, 2022: Sonic Origins will be getting an expansion called Sonic Origins Plus. It will be released as a full game and as downloadable content for the original compilation on June 23, 2023. This version includes Sonic, Tails, and Knuckles as playable characters. It also will add Amy Rose, with animations based on her appearance in Sonic CD, as a playable character. As this is the latest version of the remake, this will be my preferred way to play this game.

Final Verdict:

4½ out of 5

Visual Novel Review: Detective Pikachu

This review was originally posted on the McMurray Internet Channel website on February 15, 2019.

Detective Pikachu is a spin-off from the very popular Pokémon series.  A shorter, download-only version of the game, titled Great Detective Pikachu: Birth of a New Duo, was released in 2016 only in Japan. The full game was released worldwide in 2018.

The game stars a boy named Tim Goodman, who is looking for his father Harry, the latter of whom was in a car accident two months prior and vanished mysteriously. He meets his father's Pikachu, who is confused. The same incident that caused Harry to mysteriously disappear also changed Harry's Pikachu. Now, he has the ability to be a capable detective at the cost of his ability to conduct electricity. He also no longer acts like a normal Pikachu, as he has developed quirks such as eating sweets and drinking coffee.

Tim discovers that he can communicate with Harry's Pikachu, who talks to him in a gruff voice. Since both of them want to find out what happened to Harry, Harry's Pikachu, using the deerstalker cap Harry gave him as inspiration, declares that he will help Tim out as the "Great Detective Pikachu". Interestingly, the duo discovers that Harry's Pikachu cannot talk to other humans, and Tim cannot talk to other pokémon, including other Pikachus.

However, Harry's Pikachu can talk to other pokémon, which is helpful since pokémon sometimes see things that humans do not. Tim and Pikachu have to talk to everyone they meet, gaining useful information. They have to use that information to gain new lines of questioning and to collect evidence.

Overall, it's a straightforward game that's aimed at children, but the mystery surrounding Tim's father's disappearance and the sudden change in Detective Pikachu's behavior help keeps players motivated throughout. Plus, the deep-voiced voice actor of Detective Pikachu, as well as the contrasting cute animations, keeps it entertaining. After the movie, people will probably be expecting Ryan Reynolds as Detective Pikachu, but it's still worth checking out to see from where the ideas for the film were generated.

Final Verdict:
4 out of 5

Thursday, October 3, 2019

Point and Click Adventure Review: Sam & Max Beyond Time and Space - Moai Better Blues

This review was originally posted on the McMurray Internet Channel website on March 2, 2019.

The second episode of the second season of Telltale's Sam & Max series takes the weird and wacky and rolls with it, creating a memorable episode with equally memorable characters and situations.

This episode takes Sam and Max to Easter Island where they meet arguably the weirdest set of new characters seen up to this point in Telltale's take on the duo. Of course, oddness usually equals goodness in the world of the Freelance Police, and that is certainly the case here. The new characters are presented, scripted, and voiced excellently. There are also some characters who return from Season One, and their interactions with the new characters are some of the best and most memorable parts of this episode. Plus, this is the episode that gave us Banang, which became a recurring gag in Telltale's games right up to their unfortunate majority closure and assignment in 2018.

The puzzles are equally as memorable and are among the best of Telltale's games up to this point. They are strange but have a weird logic to them that oddly works in the twisted world of Sam & Max. The portal puzzles remain one of my favorites throughout the entirety of Sam & Max. They took a while to figure out, but once I put my mind to the strangeness of the world, I figured them out right away. I've loved them for their weirdness ever since.

Jared Emerson-Johnson and Bay Area Sound are also at the top of their game in this episode. The island setting allows them to get their groove on, with a mix of tropical island beats and the jazz undertones that the series has always been known for, going right back to the original LucasArts adventure game. The voice work is also top-notch, with both the returning and new cast delivering some of the best performances so far.

This episode is an excellent example of a Telltale at the top of its adventure game-making powers. It's a fun, and funny episode, with excellent music, excellent music, and excellent puzzles. It's well worth a play for anyone who is even remotely curious about Telltale's earlier adventure games.

Update March 16, 2023: There is now another way to play the game. Sam & Max Beyond Time and Space Remastered by Skunkape games does update the game to the latest version of the Telltale Tool. It also has improved lighting, high-definition graphics, and a remade title song. Because of changing views on various culture-related issues, Bosco has a new voice actor. Because the new Bosco fits the game well, and the script changes are minor, this is now my favorite way to play the game.
Final Verdict:

5 out of 5

Episode 1 reviewEpisode 3 review

Arcade Platform Game Review: Donkey Kong Junior

This review was originally posted on the McMurray Internet Channel website on December 19, 2018.

Donkey Kong Junior is the first game that pits Mario as an enemy to the player character. The latter is the titular Donkey Kong Jr., who must rescue his father from Mario, who has caged the gorilla due to his repeated attempts to steal Mario’s girlfriend in the previous game.

As this game stars a primate, there is a lot of climbing involved. Donkey Kong Jr. must climb up vines, ropes, and chains while avoiding the obstacles Mario sends after him such as crocodiles and electrical sparks. He will climb slowly when transcending a single vine, but if he climbs two at once, he will move faster.

The level design is quite well made in this game. It’s still a single screen, like its predecessor, but there are now much more varied obstacles than before, including trampolines and chains that raise and drop in height. Because of this level of variety, I recommend this game even more than the original.

Like the first game, Donkey Kong Junior was ported to many different systems, including the Atari 2600, Intellivision, Colecovision, Atari 8-bit computers, Nintendo Entertainment System, BBC Micro, Commodore-64, VIC-20, Coleco Adam, Famicom Disk System, and Atari 7800.

Also like the first game, outside of the original arcade version, the NES version was the most accurate of the versions. This version was emulated on the Nintendo 64 (in Animal Forest), e-Reader, Game Boy Advance, GameCube (in Animal Crossing), Wii, Nintendo 3DS, Wii U, Famicom Mini, and the NES Classic Edition.

The game is a classic that deserves to be played by everyone. The best version remains the original arcade release, which was finally officially emulated in its entirety by Hamster as part of its Arcade Archives line on the Nintendo Switch on December 21, 2018.

Final Verdict:
4 out of 5

Wednesday, October 2, 2019

Adventure Game Review: Hector: We Negotiate With Terrorists

This review was originally posted on the McMurray Internet Channel website on February 22, 2019.

Straandlooper's first episode of Hector: Badge of Carnage was originally released without Telltale's involvement for iOS, after which Telltale got the publishing rights, ported it to other platforms and helped make the other two episodes in the season.  Even without Telltale's involvement, however, the first episode still has plenty to make it worth playing.

The game is a raunchy comedy game, set in an English town called Clappers Wreake. That sentence alone sets the tone of the episode, as there are innuendos everywhere, plenty of taboo subject matter, with a dark, distinctly British sense of humor aplenty. The game follows a crooked cop named Hector and his naive partner, as they attempt to stop a terrorist and rescue the hostages. The episode title is perfectly succinct, as Hector will negotiate with the terrorist to satisfy all of his twisted demands.

The game is presented as a classic two-dimensional point-and-click adventure, and there are plenty of inventory puzzles to work out.  Some of them go to weird (and sometimes unsettling) lengths, but they all fit within the tone of the game. The voices are all performed by one person, which is amazing, as they are all very memorable.  The music isn't quite as memorable, but it does fit the tone of the game nicely.

The first episode is mostly a setup for future episodes in terms of story, as it's mainly a fetch quest to fulfill the needs of a terrorist. Once Telltale becomes involved the story begins to shine, but this first independently produced episode still has a lot to offer and is a necessity if you want to enjoy the full story. If you enjoy raunchy British-style comedy, you'll likely enjoy this game.

Final Verdict:

3½ out of 5

Arcade Platform Game Review: Donkey Kong

This review was originally posted on the McMurray Internet Channel website on December 8, 2018.

Donkey Kong was the first game designed by Shigeru Miyamoto. Nintendo of America had many unsold Radar Scope arcade games and asked for a new game that could be shipped as a conversion kit for those cabinets. Nintendo asked its designers for game ideas, and the idea by Miyamoto (who had previously designed the case for the Color TV-Game Block Breaker console) was chosen.

The original concept was to be based on Popeye, but Nintendo couldn’t acquire the rights at the time. So, the broad character types were given to new characters. Popeye the Sailor became a carpenter, Bluto became the carpenter’s pet gorilla, and Olive Oyl became the carpenter’s girlfriend.

The carpenter was originally named Ossan (a nickname for a middle-aged guy), then Mr. Video, as Shigeru Miyamoto intended him to be an everyman character to use in any game that he created. When Donkey Kong was released, he was named Jumpman for the Japanese release of Donkey Kong, and Mario for the North American release. This name, as well as Mario’s Italian-American heritage, came from a man named Mario Segale. He was the landlord of a warehouse which was rented at the time by Nintendo of America.

Mario’s pet gorilla was named Donkey Kong, chosen because the designers wanted to signify that he was a dimwitted creature. In 1984, Universal sued Nintendo over the name, which they claimed infringed on their “King Kong” trademark, but Nintendo won the case as their lawyer, and future chairman, Howard Lincoln, noted that Universal themselves proved that the plot of “King Kong” was in the public domain in a court case against RKO Pictures in 1976.

Mario’s girlfriend was named Lady for the Japanese release of Donkey Kong, and Pauline for the North American release. This name came is said to come from a woman named Polly James, who was the wife of Don James, the warehouse manager at Nintendo of America.

Mario’s trademark hat, overalls, and mustache were designed to overcome the limitations of the hardware of the time. This design made it easy to distinguish his arm and leg movement, as well as his face. It also gave the game a unique aesthetic compared to the other games of the time period.

The object of the game is to have Mario climb platforms in order to rescue Pauline from Donkey Kong. Mario must dodge the barrels thrown by Donkey Kong, as well as other obstacles in the way. Once Mario completes a stage, Donkey Kong will carry Pauline off to the next stage. Each stage is presented in meters, with the game asking Mario how high he’ll be able to get. The four stages are named by height: 25m, 50m, 75m, and 100m. Once 100m is completed, Mario will reunite with Pauline, only for Donkey Kong to kidnap her again and the game will repeat the four levels again. Like other arcade games of the time, the game gets harder as it goes on and the object is to get the highest score.

The game was ported to many systems, including the Atari 2600, Intellivision, Colecovision, Atari 8-bit computers, Nintendo Entertainment System, TI-99/4a, IBM PC, Commodore-64, VIC-20, MSX, ZX-Spectrum, Amstrad CPC, Coleco Adam, Famicom Disk System, and Atari 7800.

Outside of the original arcade version, the NES version was the most accurate of the versions, except for the missing 50m, or factory stage. This version was emulated on the Nintendo 64 (in Animal Forest), e-Reader, Game Boy Advance, GameCube (in Animal Crossing), Wii, Nintendo 3DS, Wii U, Famicom Mini, and the NES Classic Edition.

A more arcade-accurate version for the NES called “Donkey Kong: Original Edition” was released in 2010 for Wii in Europe pre-installed on red Mario 25th anniversary Wii consoles. It was later released on 3DS in 2012.

The game remains a classic and is worth playing even today. The best version remains the original arcade release, which was finally emulated in its entirety by Hamster as part of its Arcade Archives line on the Nintendo Switch on August 16, 2018.

Final Verdict:
4 out of 5
Donkey Kong Junior review

Tuesday, October 1, 2019

Open World Action-Adventure Mega Review: Shenmue

This review was originally posted on the McMurray Internet Channel website on February 21, 2019.

Shenmue is undoubtedly an influential title in the history of video game development but, while it still does mostly hold up decades after its original release, it's bogged down by a few things that have been refined in later titles.

Shenmue was created by Sega designer Yu Suzuki to address problems that he saw in the role-playing genre in the 1990s, in order to create a game that would feel more realistic than what came before. He coined a new term for the genre of the game he created, FREE, or Free Reactive Eyes Entertainment. It combined aspects of role-playing games, graphic adventure games, and even fighting games using the Virtua Fighter 3 engine.

The game follows a seventeen-year-old Japanese boy named Ryo Hazuki, who witnesses the murder of his father by a mysterious man named Lan Di, who claims that he was seeking vengeance, as the elder Hazuki had murdered his own father. Not believing that his father could be a killer, and wishing to seek vengeance himself for his father's death, Ryo begins asking around his home city of Yokosuka, Japan, in an attempt to discover where Lan Di was from, and where he had headed after he murdered Ryo's dad.

The painstaking detail in the recreation of 1986-era Yokosuka is Shenmue's greatest strength. Even the weather patterns match up with the real weather in the city in 1986. The attention to detail extends to the characters as well.  Every non-player character can talk to Ryo. Every business with an hour of operation sign can be entered when the business is open. The city even includes an arcade that contains the classic 1980s arcade games created by Yu Suzuki, Hang-On, and Space Harrier. Bars, stores, and other buildings also let Ryo collect gatcha capsule toys, play billiards and darts, and try his luck at pachinko. These are side activities that Ryo can play when not furthering the main story, however, there are also scrolls that can be purchased to give Ryo new moves that he can use in the fighting sections of the game.

The game has a lot going for it, as it has an interesting cast of characters, an interesting story, and wonderful music, and it contains an interesting combination of adventure and fighting mechanics. It looked fantastic when it first released in 1999 and still looks decent today, especially in the recent Shenmue I+II compilation.

However, its biggest drawback has always been the English voice acting. It is dreadfully wooden and is a bear to drudge through. Luckily, the aforementioned Shenmue I+II collection includes the ability to combine the Japanese voice actors with the English script. This makes the game quite enjoyable and well worth playing, as long as you don't mind the outdated tank controls and the slow-paced gameplay in comparison to modern open-world games.

Final Verdict:
4½ out of 5

Arcade Platform Game Review: Mario Bros.

This review was originally posted on the McMurray Internet Channel website on December 15, 2018.

Mario Bros. was the first game to feature Mario's brother Luigi and the first to feature the titular duo as the first and second player.

The game sees Mario shed his carpenter profession and join his brother Luigi in life as a plumber, heading into the sewers of New York City to eliminate all creatures that come through the pipes. The game has two-player cooperative play as both brothers try to take out the creatures together. Unlike the later Super Mario Bros. games, the creatures have to be knocked from below, which will flip them over.  Trying to step on them while they aren't flipped over will result in the loss of one life. The flipped-over enemies have to be knocked off the playfield into the water below by kicking them before they flip back over.

The creatures start off easy, with the shellcreeper turtles, which require only one hit to flip them. The game gets progressively harder, as enemies that require multiple hits, enemies that fly, obstacles that cause ice to form on the ground making things slippery, and many more enemies and obstacles, try to stop the brothers from performing their task.

To ease things a little bit, there is also a POW block in the middle of the stage, which will automatically cause one hit to every enemy that is touching the ground. However, this POW block can only be used three times during a game before it is used up forever.

Like Donkey Kong before it, the game has been released on many different platforms, including Atari 2600, Atari 5200, Apple II, Commodore-64, Amstrad CPC, ZX Spectrum, Nintendo Entertainment System, Atari 7800, and Atari 8-bit computers.

The NES version was emulated on the Nintendo 64 (in Animal Forest), e-Reader for Game Boy Advance, GameCube (in Animal Crossing), Wii, Nintendo 3DS, Wii U, Famicom MiniNES Classic Edition, and the Nintendo Switch legacy games online service. The gameplay was also included as a mini-game in Super Mario Bros. 3, and a Super Mario All-Stars-style remake was released with the Super Mario Advance games for the Game Boy Advance.

The arcade original is the best version of Mario Bros., and it was finally emulated in its entirety by Hamster as part of its Arcade Archives line on the Nintendo Switch on September 27, 2019. Hamster's Switch version is the way to go as it also includes online multiplayer co-op gameplay.

Rad Is Out Now

Rad, Double Fine's post-post-apocalyptic rogue-like was released on August 20th for Windows, Switch, PS4, and Xbox One. It's the last game to be published by a publisher other than Microsoft due to the studio's assimilation into the Xbox Games group of companies earlier this year.

I'll have a full review for it soon-ish, but I played the beta, and I can safely say that the game lives up to its name as it really is rad.

    Wednesday, August 28, 2019

    The Evolution of Adventure Games Prelude: Castle & Wander

    There has been a major development in adventure game history that has happened since I first started this feature in 2014. In 2015, a long-lost fantasy story tool titled Wander was found after being lost for decades.

    An interactive fiction enthusiast, with the handle "ant", contacted Wander's author, Peter Langston, in 2015. The 1980 version of the Wander game creation system was discovered in an e-mail archive by a man named Lou Katz, but it only contained a version of Colossal Cave Adventure partially converted to Wander. The entire 1980 version was discovered when a man named Doug Merrit found the files included with a PSL Games collection released that year.

    A 1984 version was also discovered and, as that version was said to be easier to compile than previous versions, it was used to make the engine and the included games compile on modern systems.

    Because of this, it's now apparent that the title of the first text adventure game belongs to the first game developed with Wander.

    Wander was written by Peter Langston in HP Time-Shared BASIC, likely on an HP2000 in 1973. He converted it to the C programming language in 1974. The first game developed with Wander, Castle, released in 1974, contains many of the hallmarks of the adventure game genre, including story-based gameplay, an inventory, and puzzles. These elements are present in the well-known game that was had its initial release the following year, in 1975. These elements also remain present in most western adventure game released to this day.

    1973 also saw the release of Hunt the Wumpus by Gregory Yobb. This game was not a text adventure, but it did contain some elements that were present in text adventures including multiple rooms accessible by using a text parser. It also contained bats that transported you to a random room. The latter is the primary reason that this game was worth mentioning in this article, as these same bats would later appear in the Colossal Cave Adventure, the game that popularized adventure games and gave the genre its name.

    On To The Next Part

    Thursday, August 22, 2019

    Yakuza 3 Available Now In The Yakuza Remastered Collection

    Japanese fans of Sega's Yakuza series received high definition versions of Yakuza 3, 4, and 5 throughout last year and early this year. Ryo Ga Gotaku Studio, the studio inside Sega C2 that created the Yakuza series, mentioned at the time that the remastered games were created for new overseas fans, with no word about when the games would release in the west.

    The wait is nearly over, as the Yakuza Remastered Collection is now available to purchase digitally on the PlayStation Network for PlayStation 4. Yakuza 3 Remastered was released on August 20, 2019, Yakuza 4 Remastered will be released on October 29, 2019, and Yakuza 5 will be released on February 11, 2020. The collection is available for $60. If you purchase it,Yakuza 3 is playable now and the other games will be playable when they are released.

    A retail version of the Yakuza Remastered Collection will be released after all of the games are out, which will be the first retail release of Yakuza 5 in the west, as the original PlayStation 3 western release of Yakuza 5 was only released digitally.

    Saturday, August 17, 2019

    Free-To-Play Turn-Based RPG Review: Middle Manager of Justice

    The Middle Manager of Justice review was previously posted on The International House of Mojo on August 21, 2013.

    There have been countless stories told of superheroes fighting villains. The story that has never been told is the story of the person who sets training schedules, budgets income earned on various necessities, and determines which crimes particular heroes should tackle. Kee Chi and Double Fine have rectified that with Middle Manager of Justice.

    Middle Manager of Justice began as one of the amnesia fortnight prototypes, which was then was extended into a full game for iOS and Android thanks to Double Fine's angel investor, Dracogen. It's a departure from Double Fine's usual fare, as this is their first foray into the free to play market. But, fret not true believers. Middle Manager of Justice is one of the few games to do freemium right.

    You begin with one hero, and can purchase more heroes as you progress. Your task as middle manager is to train each hero to increase their stats. They have four, strength, health, armor, and intelligence. Strength and health can be increased in the gym and intelligence can be increased in a meeting with the middle manager. Armor can be increased by purchasing items from the store. Each hero has a set level of training time, but this can be increased when the hero levels up. The heroes also have a set of power moves, which can be increased by training in a different gym in the office.

    Only four heroes can be active at one time, and from one to four can fight battles at once. Battles are fought through the map in the office (although the map sometimes contains other heroic duties, such as stopping a school bus or saving people from burning buildings). The middle manager can choose to have the fights play out automatically, or to watch the fights, which will allow you to control the fights directly in RPG style battles. The more training and armor your heroes have, the better your chances of winning (the map will tell you a rough percentage of winning before you play, although it's possible to win even with a low percentage).

    The writing shines in the battles, with a lot of Double Fine's trademark humor coming through. In battle, you can deploy your hero's usual attacks, use their super attacks (each super attack can only be used a set number of times, with a gauge telling you how many attacks are left for each hero), or even have your middle manager help out with his management powers. He can push the heroes to work harder, giving them more health and power (however, there's a time limit), reverse the team's health bars so that they can have near full health when before they were near exhaustion, give them pep talks to double the team's chance of making critical attacks, or make them work twice as hard (at the expense of some morale). Health and morale allow the heroes to keep fighting at their peak. Health can be replenished by sleeping at the office, morale can be replenished by watching TV.

    There are also jokes in the office as well, found in the office's bulletin board. It's these little touches that make Double Fine's games stand out, and they can be found here in spades. The game's art style and animations also have a lot of charm, and the animations for the character's activities contain some subtle humor as well.

    The game does use the standard freemium model of having two models of in-game currency. The standard currency, coins, are used to purchase things such as supplies and upgrades on training equipment. The game's premium currency, Superium, is used to purchase things such as new heroes and additional coins. However, even with the standard freemium model of currency, it's possible to enjoy Middle Manager of Justice completely, without ever having to use real-world money.

    Coins are plentiful. You collect them from city districts, which pay based on how free of crime you keep them. You can also set tasks for your middle manager or your heroes to earn coins while in the office. You can earn more coins by upgrading the computers in your office, which like all of the office's equipment, are upgradable with coins.

    Luckily, even the game's premium currency is earned at a steady rate. It's possible to earn 1 Superium randomly after a battle (along with other in-game items). However, the best way to win Superium is after boss fights. Each district has a boss fight, which will allow you to defend a new district once you have won.

    Of course, since the game is freemium, it is possible to purchase currency with real-world money. You can purchase Superium in quantities ranging from 15 for $1 to 450 for $20. However, the best deals are the currency copier (which gives you two coins for each coin earned) and the Superium plant (which gives you one Superium every 15 minutes. These items are only $2 each, and if you do opt to send some money Double Fine's way, give you the most bang for your buck.

    As is often the case with free to play games, the game has been extended since it has been released. There are now more districts than before, meaning more boss fights and more chances at winning Superium. There are also more heroes to buy than before, allowing you to use your earned Superium wisely. Additionally, the game has added a list of most wanted thugs. These thugs will pop up on the map randomly, adding 10 high-experience winning fights to the game. It is also now possible to collect meteorite shards, which can be combined by the middle manager in his office to create meteors which give the heroes more abilities (orange meteorites increase fire damage from attacks, dark blue reduces enemy power, yellow increases coins earned from fights, green causes enemies to take damage when they attack, and light blue increases experience earned from fights).

    The game also has the ability for quests to be added for holidays. So far, the game has had a Valentine's Day quest this February, which added Valentine's themed boss fights and ended with the middle manager going out on a date. It's unknown if there will be more, but Double Fine has stated that more content will be added to the game soon, since they were previously investing time porting the game to additional platforms.

    A huge part of a game is its music, and Double Fine never disappoints in that department. The game's theme song is a fitting tune that is inspired by super hero movies. The game's office tune has an uplifting melody with a catchy horn section. And, the battle theme is suitably upbeat, followed a nice superhero-inspired medley when you win the battle (or recieve a promotion). The sound effects are also done well, with attack sounds fitting well to each move, from lighting cracking to the usual amplified fist chop sounds. And, as with all unvoiced Double Fine games, the characters are mute except for a few noises, but what's there is fun. All of these elements fit the game well, and really add to the experience.

    Double Fine's first foray into the free to play market truly excels as one of the best games of its kind. It's one of the few freemium games that doesn't feel like it is nickel and diming you in order to get the most out of the game. You can fully enjoy this game without ever paying a cent, but if you do choose to pay, there are options available that cost little and allow your money to go a long way. The dialog contains a lot of the trademark Double Fine humor, the art style and animations are wonderful and contain a lot of charm, and the music is catchy and fits the game well. If you own an iOS or Android device, download this game immediately. You won't regret it.

    Final Verdict:
    4 out of 5

    Body-Tracking Party Game Review: Happy Action Theater

    The Double Fine Happy Action Theater Review was previously published at The International House of Mojo on February 21, 2012.

    Double Fine has been making their latest games in easy-to-digest bite-sized chunks, but nothing they've made up to this point is as bite-sized or easily digestible as Double Fine Happy Action Theater.

    The game is aptly named, as it plays out as separate set pieces setting you free to do whatever you want in each set. The default mode is theater mode, where the game automatically starts after the mandatory logos and then automatically chooses a new mini-game after a few minutes. This title was clearly designed with young children in mind, and this automatic system makes it perfect for even the youngest of children. All of the other Kinect games out there require some degree of precision, even those aimed at children. So, ultimately the under-3 set is left out. With everything automatic, you can just let your kids go at it and do whatever they want. You can also press start at any time to bring up a menu to choose any mini-game giving you all the time you want to play a particular stage. This makes it perfect if your child (or yourself) enjoys a particular mini-game and wants more time with it, or if you need some extra time to get an achievement on a particular mini-game.

    Double Fine has made it so that the sensor tracks movement easier than most other Kinect games as well, since it is not absolutely necessary to have full-body tracking for the game. This makes Double Fine Happy Action Theater's best feature possible: Up to six players can play at a time. It also makes it possible for children (and impatient adults) to just hop into the game and play without having to worry if the sensor is tracking your body correctly.

    Adults may also find the title fun, as my mother and myself did since there is a lot to discover in the mini-games. There are references to Double Fine games, and even characters from other Double Fine games and Action Comics to be found within. The games also have some unexpected things to be found, since the game uses every single feature of the Kinect at some point. My mom and I laughed out loud once we realized one of the things the microphone was used for.

    I referred to the mini-games earlier as set pieces, and that's really the best way to describe them, as none of them are really a game, with the possible exception of the Breakout-style mini-game which has a score, albeit arbitrary, that resets to zero once you lose your last ball. The rest of the mini-games have no set goal, leaving you free to experiment with the game to try to find out the hidden things the designers put in each mini-game and to try to come up with weird things to do with the Kinect. The only real goal for gamers in the game is the achievements, which are actually helpful since most of them give hints towards fun hidden things that you might not have known were there otherwise. The achievements also gave me the inspiration to experiment with the Kinect sensor. In order to get the 6-pack achievement where you are supposed to have 6 friends, I used six chairs and myself. Since the game doesn't track full bodies for every player, I was able to duck down behind the chairs once I was recognized and sneak out to get another chair to try it again. I put a teddy bear in one chair and was surprised to see the Kinect recognize it as a player, complete with a tiny skeleton. It's quite amusing to just put the game on the dance stage and watch the teddy bear dance. It's also amusing to sit while on the dance stage, as it makes you look like you are short with tiny little legs. It's these kinds of things that make you come back to Kinect again, just to see what else you can do with a little imagination.

    There are 18 mini-games, plus a credits screen which is a combination of another mini-game (the previously mentioned dance stage) with developer credits, complete with the dancing images of (most of) the development and production team at Double Fine and Microsoft. The balloon mini-game is the first game that starts once you start the game, which is perfect for my 1-year-old nephew who loves balloons. My personal favorites are the image manipulation stage, the dance stage, and the monster attack stage. In the image manipulation stage, images of people and objects in the room are captured and then frozen on the screen. You can then put yourself in front of or behind the objects captured on the screen, so you are in essence interacting with objects that are no longer there. It is quite fun to interact with yourself on screen. Five pictures are taken in total, and then the images reset. On the dance stage, you don't have to do anything, just sit there and watch yourself dance. This is where I did all of my experimenting with the chairs and bears with the Kinect sensor. Not only can you watch yourself and random objects dance, this is also the stage where many of the Double Fine's characters can be found from previous games ranging from Psychonauts to Stacking, as well as the Double Fine Action Comics available on Double Fine's website. In the monsters attack stage, you crush buildings and swat at planes, helicopters, and zeppelins and periodically a picture will be taken showing you attacking the city on the front page of a newspaper.

    I can actually play all of these by myself, but the fun definitely comes in with multiple people. For me, the Breakout stage is the most fun to me with multiple people. This game is in the style of Atari's Breakout, where your body is the paddle and you have to bounce the ball up to hit the blocks above. If you bounce a ball that is the color of your paddle, the ball splits in two. As I mentioned above, this is the only stage where points matter, as the score resets after all the balls are lost. The score doesn't save, but it is fun to see how high of a score you can reach. The more players you have, the more balls you have to bounce off the paddles when it splits, making it pure chaos (and pure fun). There is also a Space Invaders stage, where you launch projectiles at incoming invaders using your arms. This one isn't as fun to me as an adult gamer, as there is no goal since the score keeps adding up.

    The rest of the mini-games are fun to experience once or twice, but as an adult, I soon grew tired of them. I do have to say though that the disco music star stage is a bit of fun, even as an adult, since you control the speed of the music with the speed of your movements (although, sadly it's only possible to slow the music down. Wailing your arms around as fast as you can will not make the music change to hyper speed). The music in that mini-game, as well as the rest of the game, is excellent. Double Fine's games always have a fantastic score, and this game is no different. I found myself humming the music long after the game was over.

    I can't conclude the review without mentioning what I'm sure is on everyone's mind. Ever since the game was announced, it has been stated that it's fun for kids or for a college frat party. There are definitely mini-games in here that are designed for the latter. The aforementioned disco music star stage is pretty trippy, since your body is shown in a star with neon colors all around it, and occasionally a shooting star with your picture on it shoots by. However, there are two stages in particular that are downright psychedelic. There is a stage where everyone is transplanted into a kaleidoscope, with their image bending, twisting, and blending into the colors of the kaleidoscope. But by far the most trippy mini-game is a stage where everyone in the room is shown in silhouette form and colors emanate out from them, slowly fading out with each movement.

    Now that I got that out of the way, I can safely wrap this review up. If you have a young child, an Xbox 360, and a Kinect, this game is a must-buy. If you have an Xbox 360 with a Kinect and are looking for a trippy party game, this game is also a must-buy. For everyone else who has a Kinect-enabled Xbox 360, you should still be able to have fun with it. It's definitely one of the few games out there that make full use of the Kinect hardware. It's also priced 1/3 cheaper than Double Fine's other console games, which in my opinion, makes Double Fine Happy Action Theater well worth the price of admission.

    Addendum April 7, 2023: It's old news by now, but the Kinect technology has a major drawback. It has trouble detecting dark colors, so make sure you don't have on a dark outfit so that the sensor has the best chance to detect your body. Unfortunately, this trouble with dark colors also is seen with hair and even skin color. I have natural jet-black hair, and I have played many Kinect games with my hair completely cut off. People with dark skin tones have reported even worse issues, with Kinect not detecting them or cutting off entire body parts.

    Final Verdict:
    4 out of 5

    Thursday, August 15, 2019

    Run-and-Gun Game Review: Zombies Ate My Neighbors

    The Zombies Ate My Neighbors review was previously published at Jupiter Beagle on October 16, 2008, as part of a 20 Days of Halloween segment.

    Allow me to switch gears for today’s 20 Days of Halloween review with a video game. I present for you the horror spoof developed by LucasArts and published by Konami, Zombies Ate My Neighbors.

    The game stars either Zeke or Julie (or both if the game is played with two players), as they scramble to save their neighbors from certain doom. The animations of the characters and enemies are well done, and still, even today look good, as they were presented in a pleasing cartoon style. The music suits the game quite well, although it wasn’t overly memorable. The gameplay, however, is a lot of fun. The game is a top-down run and gun game, where the player has to navigate around the neighborhood and fight various B-movie monsters such as vampires, werewolves, and of course, zombies. Zeke and Julie can pick up potions that will turn them into monsters for a short period of time, giving them more strength.

    There are 48 standard levels and several bonus levels. As was standard for LucasArts for the time, quite a few in-jokes that only fans of LucasArts would get were included in the game. One of the bonus levels was themed after a point and click adventure game that was released at the same time as this game. Another bonus level was themed after the LucasArts office building and featured LucasArts employees of the time.

    The game is a great spoof of horror B-movies, and it does things well to feel like a B-movie itself. It’s a fun arcade-style run and gun with great humor and pleasing graphics. It would be great if this game did get re-released for a modern audience because it is definitely well worth playing.

    Final Verdict:
    4 out of 5

    Free Puzzle Platform Game Review: Tasha's Game

    The Tasha’s Game review was previously published at Jupiter Beagle on October 1, 2008.

    Tasha’s Game is available to play for free on Double Fine’s website.

    Double Fine is best known as the creator of the game inspired by covers of Metal music covers, Brütal Legend, as well as the underappreciated but excellent platformer Psychonauts. But, they have also released a free flash game on their site that is actually fun and well worth your time.

    Tasha’s Game is a puzzle platformer starring former Double Fine animator Tasha, who is also the star of her own webcomic. In the game, you must rescue Tasha’s co-workers from a mysterious captor. In each level, you must collect various blocks with different abilities in order to reach your colleague. The blocks are placed by Tasha’s helpful cat, who is controlled by the mouse, while Tasha is controlled with the keyboard. The blocks are either static, move back and forth, up and down, or act as a trampoline. The trick is using the blocks at the right time in order to get to the next part of the level.

    The art style is the same as Tasha’s webcomic, and the music is done in an 8-bit style which fit the graphics and tone of the game very well. The game is short, it will probably take you less than an hour to complete, but it is worth playing just for the final boss battle. It completely took me by surprise, as that battle was really rather epic for a free, short flash game.

    Final Verdict:
    4 out of 5

    Tuesday, July 30, 2019

    Direct-Controlled Adventure Review: Dreamfall Chapters Book Two

    Dreamfall Chapters continues from a solid start in book one into an engaging and truly satisfying experience in book two.

    In book two, Zoe's story continues to entertain and the new characters she meets are all strange and interesting. I wasn't sold on Kian's story in the first book, but he's given a chance to shine here, and we're introduced to fantastic characters in his book as well. Both characters find themselves in the middle of a class war, with the government and corporations controlling the lives of the citizens in Stark and the militaristic Azadi forcing the magical folk out of the villages and into prison camps in Arcadia. Things soon get even grimmer, as both Zoe and Kian find themselves in the middle of conspiracies in their respective worlds.

    The voice work is once again exceptional here, with the voice actors for both Zoe and Kian performing their roles admirably. The newly introduced characters are excellently written, but their voice performances are what truly make them memorable. This is especially true of the energetic, excitable young rebel named Eno and the tough, scarred rebel named Likho, the latter of whom had a troubled history with Kian before he changed sides and joined the rebels. The voice actor for the former gives her character a fast-talking yet cute persona, which reminded me a bit of the character of Six from the classic 90s American television sitcom, Blossom. Meanwhile, the voice actor for the latter provides his character with a gravitas that is matched only by his baritone voice, both of which are quite fitting for the battle-hardened warrior.

    The music is also excellent, helping to give levity or amusement to the fantastically written story and working to help elevate the wonderful voice acting to even loftier heights.

    The puzzles in this book are fantastic, especially the underground hatch puzzles that Zoe undertakes when she is directed toward a street gang by an enigmatic merchant who lives on a houseboat in the city's Asian district. The choices here don't seem to change much of the main story, but they do affect the way the characters react to you, much like the games by Telltale from The Walking Dead forward. This actually works quite well, as the story of the game is so emotional, and the characters are so well-written and acted, you can't help but feeling gut-punched when you make a choice that results in a negative reaction.

    The city on the technologically-advanced Stark side is just as beautiful and fun to walk around as ever. On the Arcadia side, as it is themed akin to a medieval village, it's not quite as beautiful and it does get repetitive at times. However, the magical market, while quite a small part of the overall village, is quite lively and wonderfully designed. The same can't be said for the character models though, They are as stony-eyed as ever, encroaching on uncanny valley territory, and emotional moments are hampered a bit when characters go in for kiss, and their character models don't touch each other.

    Book two has an excellent story, fantastic voice acting and music, a gorgeous art style in Stark, and fun engaging characters. It is only let down by the somewhat-repetitive art-style of Arcadia and the stiff character models and animation. However, any shortcomings are small in the grand scheme and don't hamper the overall enjoyment provided. Book two continues the threads created by book one, and strings them even deeper into an even more fantastic plot, leaving you wanting more.

    Final verdict:
    4½ out of 5

    Sunday, July 28, 2019

    Open World Action Adventure RPG Review: Judgment

    Judgment is an action-adventure game that is a spin-off of developer Ryū ga Gotoku Studio's Yakuza series. It has the fighting and open-world exploring of Yakuza as well as investigation and detective mechanics similar to Ace Attorney Investigations. Although it leans in very close to its Yakuza heritage, the investigation mechanics give it a feeling of freshness that's been lacking in the franchise since the first Yakuza game came out almost fifteen years ago. 

    The game follows Takayuki Yagami, a former attorney who lives in Kamurocho, Ryo ga Gotaku Studio's fictionalized version of Tokyo's Kabukichō district. He was formerly his firm's golden boy, getting to handle almost all of the firm's clients after he got a man acquitted of murder charges in a country that has a conviction rate of over 99 percent. However, when the man kills his girlfriend and sets fire to her apartment, Yagami leaves his firm and becomes a private investigator. 

    One of the investigation techniques he uses as a private investigator is called active search mode, which is used for investigating crime scenes, searching for evidence, or verifying information such as eyewitness sketches with the facial features and clothing of a suspect. Yagami also employs the tried and true method of tailing a suspect. While doing so, he sometimes has to hide behind items or blend in with a crowd to avoid being seen. It has to be said that this isn't realistic in the least, as the suspects turn straight around and begin craning their head and turning sharply left and right looking for someone who is trailing them. With these exaggerated head movements, there would not be ample time to hide in reality. However, in a franchise that is known for, and thrives on, exaggeration this actually fits right into the atmosphere of the game once you get used to it.

    The most novel, and topical, of these investigation techniques is a flying drone named the pigeon. It is used to spy on targets below and those that are inside of buildings by looking in through the window. There is also a drone race mini-game that can be played, and the drone can be upgraded to better compete in these races.

    This being the Yakuza universe, drone racing isn't the only way to pass the time. There are many other mini-games that can be played around Kamurocho. These include Sega arcade classics like Virtua Fighter 5, Fighting Vipers, and Puyo Puyo. There is also a unique Kamurocho-themed House of the Dead-style shooting game titled Kamurocho of the Dead. Throughout the city, there are also areas where you can play darts, western gambling games like poker and blackjack, and Japanese gambling games like koi-koi and oichu-kabu. Those who have played Yakuza 6 will find the layout of Kamurocho familiar, as it uses the same map, with some changes. The most obvious of these is that the bowling alley area now has a mini-game inside that is said to be a virtual reality board game of Kamurocho. Here, you roll dice and traverse around a game board. The spaces you land on could lead to several mini-games, from lockpicking or thumb turn bypass (using a thin wire to open a lock), fighting several enemies, or shooting using a drone. There are also spaces that add dice rolls or take them away, and spaces that simply give you a gift. Winning any of the minigames in these spaces will give you a prize, and they will be converted to cash upon successful completion of the board. Any extra dice at the end will also give you a cash prize. Because of this, it's one of the easiest ways to earn a lot of money, as long as you have enough game passes to play. These game passes can be found in gambling centers, or won from simply winning street fights when thugs around Kamurocho jump you.

    The voice acting and motion capture in this game is excellent. The highlight is definitely Takuya Kimura as Takayuki Yagami. I enjoyed Yakuza's protagonist Kazama Kiryu as much as everyone else, but Kimura gave Yagami a much more emotional performance that was a nice change from the stoic performance of Takaya Kuroda as Kiryu. Another highlight was one of the game's main antagonists, Kyohei Hamura. There was a lot of press given to the fact that Pierre Taki was replaced in the role by Miou Tanaka after Taki was caught by police in possession of cocaine. Hamura's face was altered to no longer resemble Taki, but the motion performance is still there, and it is excellent. Throughout the story, Hamura almost becomes a sympathetic character, and a lot of that is down to the emotion given when the entire plot is revealed. That is a testament both to Tanaka's voice performance and Taki's motion-capture performance. In this game, unlike most games in the Yakuza universe, there is both a Japanese voice option and an English one. The excellent thing about this is that the English dub has an entirely new translation from the Japanese one. This makes it flow more naturally when spoken in English, preventing the game from having stilted dialogue as was the case with the Shenmue series or the original Yakuza on PlayStation 2. The English voice actors are equally as impressive, with the highlights once again being Yagami's voice actor Greg Chun and Fred Tatasciore as Hamura. Another standout in both English and Japanese versions is Yagami's best friend, former Yakuza Masaharu Kaito, performed by Shinshu Fuji in Japanese, and voiced by Crispin Freeman in English. I would love to see a game with Kaito as a playable character.

    The game's art style is excellent, as is the case with all Yakuza titles. Kamurocho, the Yakuza universe's fictionalized version of the Kabukichō district of Tokyo, is almost a character all of its own. It is brimming with life, with recreations of famous Kabukichō landmarks and buildings as well as buildings unique to Kamurocho. The game pays tribute to Shenmue in many ways, more so than most Yakuza titles, with capsule toys that can be sold or displayed in Yagami's office, and quick-time event chase scenes. The quick-time events are never as punishing as Shenmue however, as you are given ample time to press the button, and failing to do so won't result in failure, just a reduction of the amount of time that Yagami has to catch the suspect. The latter is not a problem either, as Yagami is given ample time to catch up. Many of these scenes make the quick-time events worth it, as there are a lot of references to famous film action scenes, including everything from Jackie Chan films to Back to the Future.

    The musical score is also top-notch, and while many themes should be familiar to fans of the Yakuza series, there are some standouts that are new to this game. There are also five vinyl records that can be collected throughout Kamurocho containing music that can be played in Yagami's office. These include everything from the traditional Irish tune "Londonderry Air" (commonly known with lyrics as "Danny Boy", although this game includes the song with no lyrics), to a song performed by one of Yagami's love interests in the game.

    Judgment is an exceptional game. It has both Yakuza and Ace Attorney Investigations gameplay styles that work exceptionally well together, and the game's cast of characters are well voiced in both Japanese and English. The separate translation for the English dub is also a welcome change from previous efforts to translate games in the Yakuza franchise, resulting in dialogue that sounds natural when spoken in English. The game's fictionalized Tokyo district, Kamurocho, is bustling with life and energy, and there is much to do around the district as well. This game is one that I heartily recommend to anyone, whether you are a fan of the Yakuza series or not.

    Final verdict:
    5 out of 5