Sunday, April 30, 2023

Arcade Boxing Game Review: Punch-Out!!

Most gamers know Punch-Out!! as the story of a small boxer named Little Mac who rises up the ranks against boxers way out of his weight range in order to become the champion.

However, Punch-Out!! didn't begin on the Nintendo Entertainment System. It originated in the arcades with a third-person boxing game with an unnamed boxer. The goofy boxers from different countries originated here, However, it only has one circuit with only six boxers, most of whom returned in the NES classic. These boxers are Glass Joe, the French boxer who lives up to his name, Japan's Piston Hurricane, Turkey's Bald Bull, America's Kid Quick, Italy's Pizza Pasta, and the American champion, Mr. Sandman.

The original Famicom Punch-Out!! lacked the Mike Tyson, or Mr. Dream, fight just like the arcade original. It also began with Glass Joe and ended with Mr. Sandman. Piston Hurricane and Bald Bull also returned. However, Italy didn't get representation in the NES game and the United States of America had to settle with just Mr. Sandman.

The game is a bit hard to get into for fans of the NES game and the Wii game since the third-person view that looks through the body of the unnamed boxer is a very different gameplay representation. The boxer is also the same height as his opponents, making the boxing mechanics vastly different. Once you get used to the different gameplay styles, the goofiness of the game still shines through. There are no Doc Louis intermissions, however. He originated in the NES game and added some extra goofiness to the franchise.

Punch-Out!! for arcades is an important milestone as the start of the well-regarded Punch-Out!! series. However, it is very different from the more well-known NES game. So, if you began your Punch-Out!! gaming with that title, or the Wii sequel, then it will take a while to get used to the differences. When you do, however, it is a fun boxing game with the unique goofiness for which the Punch-Out!! series is known. The arcade version is now available through Hamster's Arcade Archives series on Nintendo Switch, so it has never been easier to play.

Final Verdict: 
3½ out of 5

Saturday, April 29, 2023

Turn-Based Role Playing Game Review: Steven Universe - Attack the Light

Steven Universe: Attack the Light is a mobile role-playing game adaptation of Cartoon Network's Steven Universe television series.

Even though it is a mobile game, it is a capable turn-based role-playing game in its own right. It has all the hallmarks of the genres, including leveling up, finding items in chests and purchasing them from stores, and tough boss battles. Steven Universe actually works perfectly as an RPG, as Steven himself points out in the game. The series, especially in the early seasons, is all about the Crystal Gems traveling to dungeons and defeating monsters.

The main Crystal Gems, including Steven Universe and his adoptive parents Garnet, Pearl, and Amythyst, are all playable. Steven is the assist character, which fans of the series will attest is perfect since Steven Universe is all about healing people and helping people with their problems.

The story finds the Crystal Gems traveling across the world to areas to familiar areas such as the strawberry battlefield as well as then-new areas such as the desert. They are chasing after a creature known as a light prism. Their search brings them face-to-face with a new Gem threat.

The music fits the game, but don't expect anything on the scale of the memorable music numbers seen in the series. The graphics are a departure from the series, with a unique water-painted look that somewhat resembles the later Dove shorts. It works well for this universe as the general spirit of the characters still shines through.

Steven Universe: Attack the Light is a great example of how to do a video game adaptation of a popular animated television series right. The gameplay is a lot of fun, and the music fits the game well. The story is just like those you would see on the show, which is helped by the fact that it was written by the series creator, Rebecca Sugar. 

Final Verdict:
4½ out of 5

Friday, April 28, 2023

Action-Adventure Review: The Legend of Zelda: Ocarina of Time

The Legend of Zelda: Ocarina of Time changed up the formula, successfully bringing The Legend of Zelda series into the 3D era.

The game followed a child Link, who has been raised by the ageless Kokiri. With an ocarina, he can play tunes that act as spells to control time and space around him. One song will send him forward and backward in time. Link resembled the ageless Kokiri he was raised with as a child, but as an adult, he towers over them. Adult Link can explore areas that have changed dramatically as a child, but he can also use the ocarina to go back in time to when he was a child to influence things in order to change them.  This aspect reminds me of Sonic CD, albeit with a lot more interaction between time periods due to the fact that Ocarina of Time is a story-rich action adventure.

The game mechanics have been translated well into the three-dimensional age. Like Super Mario 64 before it, the game is very different from its two-dimensional counterparts, but it retains enough of the formula that it fits perfectly within the universe. Link can now travel in complete three-hundred-sixty-degree directions. However, the basic gameplay is still there. Link has to buy equipment or acquire it from non-player characters. He travels to dungeons where he gains keys to unlock doors and chests. In some chests, he finds dungeon keys that will unlock large dungeon doors and some chests. He also can find equipment in chests that he needs to use to get through future dungeons.

The music has always been a strong point of the series, and that continues here. There is the obligatory updated theme song, but there is also a lot of music that is unique to this game. It's fantastic, taking advantage of the audio hardware of the Nintendo 64, and a lot of them will remain in your head long after playing the game. There are also the usual fun little musical motifs that play when certain actions are completed. The short chest opening music still acts as an earworm when thinking of the game, even decades after its release. The characters, including Link now have grunts and yells. This aspect is kind of charming, and it remains in The Legend of Zelda series to this day. The one drawback is the voice of Link's fairy companion, Navi, who will yell "hey" or "listen" whenever there is a new piece of information. It is cute the first few times, but it becomes grating after a while. There are only a couple of voice clips, which is a shame, as this could have been alleviated with multiple recordings of the lines or by using multiple words.

The Legend of Zelda: Ocarina of Time is a great example of how to translate a two-dimensional game into three dimensions. It gives additional abilities that come with the new perspective but keeps the basic gameplay that made the original games so much fun. It also adds a fun mechanic with the titular ocarina which has musical spells that affect time and space. The graphics aren't as impressive as they once were, but the unique style still shines through the incredibly blocky characters and environments. The music is fantastic, and most of the grunting and yelling voice work is charming. Navi the fairy becomes annoying after a while, but she isn't enough to take away the enjoyment of this fantastic game.

Final Verdict:
4½  out of 5

The Legend of Zelda: A Link to the Past ReviewThe Legend of Zelda: Majora's Mask Review Soon

Thursday, April 27, 2023

Free Point-and-Click Adventure Review: Sfinx

LK Avalon, the Polish developer that had previously created Sołtys, released another adventure game two years later.

Sfinx, also known as UFOs, is thematically the opposite of LK Avalon's previous game. While Sołtys focused on adult humor with its theme of a father chasing the groom who left his daughter at the alter during their wedding, Sfinx focuses on two school kids. Because of this, it is a game that can be enjoyed by all ages.

Two friends, a girl named Andzia and a boy named Wacek, are friends from school. The impetus of the game is an old professor, akin to Doc Brown from Back to the Future, who tells the children that an unidentified flying object had crashed nearby. Intrigued, as children are wont to do, the two school kids go looking for the UFO.

While the theme of Sfinx is vastly different, the interface remains graphically and functionally the same as that seen in Sołtys. This is a good thing, as the interface was the one saving grace of the latter game. It has a graphical user interface at the bottom of the screen where actions can be selected as well as inventory items. The main difference between the two games is that both the girl and the boy are controlled by the player. The drawback is that the two characters can carry four items each, and some items can only be picked up by a specific character. There are still stereotypes here, as the girl won't touch dirty items, but it's nowhere near the level of those in Sołtys. Honestly, that stereotype is innocent enough that it's easy to overlook in the grand scheme of things.

The puzzles are pretty zany but can be figured out pretty easily if you put your mind into the mindset of a cartoon. The zany style doesn't just go for the story and the puzzles, but it is also shown in the art style as well. The characters have a pleasing cartoon-style look and the colorful backgrounds complement them perfectly. Although there are no earworms that will remain in your head after you play, the music also fits with the various scenes of the game.

LK Avalon has improved upon Sołtys greatly with Sfinx. The story, art, and music are fun. The interface is easy to use, although the limitation of inventory slots is a bit of a drawback. The ScummVM team translated the game into English for the first time and released it for free on their website. While I didn't care for Sołtys, Sfinx is a game I recommend that adventure game fans give it a try.

Final Verdict:
3½ out of 5

Wednesday, April 26, 2023

Beat 'Em Up Game Review: Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles III: The Manhattan Project

Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles III: The Manhattan Project was a beat 'em-up video game for the Nintendo Entertainment System based on the 1980s animated television series.

It has the craziest storyline of all the Konami games based on the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles. However, since the 1987 series was so zany, it fits with the franchise perfectly. In the game, Shredder and Krang stole the entire island of Manhattan and it is up to the ninja turtles to get it back.

As it is for the Nintendo Entertainment System, it only has two action buttons. However, it makes great use of what is available. It manages to have most of the moves from the arcade games thanks to button combinations. It also pushes the Nintendo Entertainment System to its limits. It has the fun enemy animations and background object interactions from the arcade games that weren't present in the NES version of the original arcade game. It lacks the ability to have different kinds of enemies on screen at a time, but since the enemies have a ton of character, it's not that noticeable while playing through the game.

The game also has quite a nice soundtrack that evokes the feeling of the arcade games. It also has voice clips, but, of course, they are highly compressed due to the limitations in file size available on NES ROM cartridges. This was pretty standard practice at the time, and voice clips weren't common on the NES at all, so it's cool they're included. It really does help to evoke the feeling of the Konami arcade beat 'em ups.

Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles III: The Manhattan Project is a worthy member of Konami's 90s ninja turtle beat 'em up oeuvre. When I was a little girl, I avoided the NES Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles games due to the small size of the sprites and backgrounds necessary for the games to fit in the small resolution of the console. This was a mistake on my part, as Konami managed to translate all of the gameplay, style, and charm from the arcades into Nintendo's little grey box. If you are going to play this, and you should, opt for the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles Cowabunga Collection. That way you can reduce the flickering that was necessary to push the console to its limits. That's one of the great things with emulation, we have much stronger hardware now, so we don't have to live within those limits anymore and can experience games at levels the developers could only have dreamt of back in the 1990s.

Final Verdict:
4 out of 5

Tuesday, April 25, 2023

Free-to-Play Fighting Game Review: MultiVersus: Season Two

The MultiVersus open beta is no longer available to download for new players and the server will be shut down for existing players on June 25, 2023. It will return out of beta in 2024, but for now, it's worth looking at the disastrous season 2 rollout.

After a fantastic season 1, fans, including me, were looking forward to season 2. Warner Bros. Discovery has a fantastic library of characters to choose from including the classic Warner Bros. characters from Looney Tunes, many classic characters from Cartoon Network, MGM cartoon characters, and HBO characters, to name just a few. Season 1 received characters from all of these properties, so hopes were high for season 2. However, only one character was added, Marvin the Martian, in November 2022. Throughout the four months of 2023 that the game was widely available, no new characters were added at all.

Another large expectation for season 2 was new maps. Each of the above properties has unique worlds that would be fantastic to translate into playable arenas. Each map in season 1 also came with remixes of music from those worlds, so they were aural treats as well as visual. They also came with their own interactive elements such as breakable walls and switches to activate platforms. These were all themed after the properties as well, making each map a pleasure to play. Season 2 received one map, the throne room from Game of Thrones. It was great to finally see Arya Stark get an arena to go with her universe, but there was almost half a year of time available for season 2.

The only element that really saw wide release in season 2 was premium content. There was new free content available through the battle pass including new banners, icons, stickers, and badges. However, most of the new content including a Marvin the Martian announcer pack, dozens of alternate costumes for the characters, and dozens of profile icons were all paid content. With only one new character and one new map, the fact that most of the new content was locked behind a paywall made season 2 extremely disappointing.

Season two of MultiVersus was a disaster by any definition. Only one new character and one new map were released. There were no new game modes and most of the new content that was available, such as an announcer pack and alternate costumes, was behind a paywall. The fact that the new content that was available for free, such as badges, stickers, and icons, were all vanity items stung for free users. The only thing that didn't hurt about season 2 was that the game itself was still fun to play. It's just a shame that very little went into making it even more fun to play this season.

Final Verdict:
2 out of 5

Monday, April 24, 2023

Virtual Reality Point-and-Click Adventure Review: Psychonauts in the Rhombus of Ruin

Psychonauts in the Rhombus of Ruin is a Virtual Reality game with a story that takes place directly in the middle of Psychonauts and Psychonauts 2.

The game takes place directly after the end of Psychonauts on the mission to rescue Lili's father, the leader of the Psychonauts. The plane they are on goes down while flying over the Rhombus of Ruin due to an abundance of psylirium, a radioactive material that is mentally disorienting to most psychics.

Because Razputin Aquato is a powerful psychic, he is able to mostly overcome the effects of psyliryum, making him the only person who can uncover the plot behind the leader's disappearance as well as to save his fellow Psychonauts and his girlfriend Lili.

It is one of the best uses of virtual reality that I have played so far since it sticks to the strengths of the concept while avoiding the pitfalls of the current technology. To reduce the possibility of motion sickness, the game can be played while sitting. It plays like a point-and-click adventure game where the motion of your head acts like a cursor, while there are text prompts for objects with which you can interact. 

The story is also told in a fantastic way that makes complete sense why Raz would be seated as he serves as your eyes and ears. You can use many of his psychic powers to manipulate the environment as well, with many powers from the original Psychonauts making their return. There are many characters that make their return as well, including one that fleshed out a larger backstory than they were given in the original game.

The music and art style was a big part of what made the original Psychonauts so appealing, and Double Fine did a fantastic job capturing the spirit of the original in both respects. The opening has my favorite song in the franchise so far, as it is a James Bond-style spoof complete with over-the-top female vocals. You can also move your head around to view the credits in virtual reality which was a nice touch. The rest of the game retains that spirit as well.  There aren't as many areas to play around, so there isn't as much of a vast difference in art styles between the real world and the mental worlds, but they all adhere to the aesthetic set by the original game.

Psychonauts in the Rhombus of Ruin is a fun virtual reality point-and-click adventure take on the world of the Psychonauts. The voice acting, art style, and music are all great and adhere to the style of the previous game. The story is also fantastic and ties the virtual reality aspect into the story well. It's a shame Double Fine hasn't released a version of the game without the headset requirement, but if you have a PlayStation 4 and a PlayStation VR or a Windows computer with a VIVE or Oculus headset it is well worth playing.

Final Verdict:
4½ out of 5

Sunday, April 23, 2023

Action Game Review: Super Bomberman

In 1993, Hudson Soft released a follow-up to its popular Bomberman action maze game with Super Bomberman for the Super Nintendo Entertainment System.

Super Bomberman takes what was best about Bomberman, including the mechanics of using bombs to blow up bricks and enemies. powerups for extra bombs and longer blasts, and level exit doors that can only be entered after all enemies are defeated. It then takes it a step further, with more enemies, stages taking place in themed worlds, more powerups, and boss battles.

It also has a fun multiplayer mode where up to four players, using the multitap accessory, try to blow each other up in a last Bomberperson standing battle royale. Not all of the players had to be human either, as there were optional artificial intelligence-controlled opponents for which you could set the difficulty level. Of course, it is infinitely more fun with at least one human opponent.

The graphics are fantastic, as they make great use of the capability of the SNES with bigger and more detailed player and enemy sprites and blocks compared to the original game. Atmospheric effects like fog also appear in some stages. The new enemies are all expressive, and even the balloon enemies from the first game look better here. The bosses are the highlight, as they are very detailed and extremely large, dwarfing Bomberman. This makes the stakes feel higher and gets the adrenaline flowing. 

Super Bomberman is a game that set the standard for the series, taking everything from the original game and adding lots more of its own elements that would become series staples. The larger roster of enemies, themed worlds, and bosses makes this game stand out from the originator. Plus, the multiplayer battles are loads of fun, making it a fun break from the usual story mode. If you enjoy Bomberman games, maze games, or just blowing things up, then make sure to give this one a try. It's a true classic.

Final Verdict:
5 out of 5

Saturday, April 22, 2023

Puzzle Game Mega Review: Wario's Woods

Wario's Woods was a puzzle video game developed by Intelligent Systems and published by Nintendo for the Nintendo Entertainment System and Super Nintendo Entertainment System in 1994.

Despite Wario in the title role, he is actually the game's villain. The playable character is Toad, who is also known under the much-cuter name Kinopio in Japan. The story finds Wario using a spell to turn residents of the Peaceful Woods into monsters to act as his minions, renaming the forest Wario's Woods. Toad acts as the Mushroom Kingdom's hero to restore the woods to their previously peaceful form.

Monsters of multiple colors lay at the bottom of a tree. Bombs drop down from the top while Toad runs along the bottom picking up the monsters and stacking them on top of each other. Three colors have to be lined up in order to clear them, and one of those colors must be a bomb. Because monsters can be stacked on top of each other until a bomb is on top, it is possible to line up large amounts of colors.

Toad has some tricks up his sleeves to accomplish his goal besides picking up monsters, stacks of monsters, and bombs. He can also kick monsters and bombs across the ground and climb up stacks to pick up specific bombs or monsters.

Clearing all of the monsters ends a round, leading to the next round with even more monsters. If Toad takes too long to clear a round, the ceiling starts to come down in the form of a Thwomp. If the ceiling reaches the monsters, then the round ends.

The Super Nintendo Entertainment System has a gradient background for the tree, whereas the Nintendo Entertainment System version is simply a single color. The sprites are also more detailed in the SNES version, but both games play and look great. The music isn't as memorable as many other Nintendo titles, especially spin-offs of the Super Mario series, but it works well for the game.

Wario's Woods is a lesser-known SNES and NES puzzle game that is one of the few games to feature Toad as the playable character. However, it has an art style befitting a Mario series spinoff, and music that fits the game. It is also a lot of fun if you enjoy puzzle games. It was available for Wii and Nintendo 3DS Virtual Console, but those services are discontinued now. The easiest way to play the game now is with the emulator available to subscribers of the Nintendo Switch Online service or by unlocking it in Animal Crossing for GameCube.

Final Verdict:
4 out of 5

Friday, April 21, 2023

Arcade Platform Driving Game Mega Review: City Connection

City Connection was a very unique 1985 arcade game by Jaleco that combined racing games with platform games in an easy to get into kind of experience.

The game follows a teenage girl named Clarice. She drives a small little orange car along platforms painting platform panels as it drives over them. The car keeps going along, but it is possible to push the opposite direction button to quickly turn in the opposite direction. There is also a jump button that allows the car to jump from platform to platform.

There are obstacles along the way that have to be avoided such as construction vehicles, police cars, and odd little flag-waving cats. Oil cans can be used to spin out vehicles, but not the cats. These cats don't need nine lives as they are completely invincible.

If Clarice manages to collect three red balloons, she is immediately brought to another stage. However, if she stays on a stage for too long, spikes rise from the platforms to immediately end her trek.

There are twelve stages to drive through, each themed after a well-known real-life location. The background art is incredibly detailed and brings each of these areas to life. The twelve stages and the associated backgrounds are, in order, skyscrapers in the Manhattan borough of New York City, the Tower Bridge and Big Ben in London, England, the Arc de Triomphe and the Eiffel Tower in Paris, France, Neuschwanstein Castle in Bavaria, Germany, Tulips and windmills in the Netherlands, the Valley of the Kings in Egypt, the Taj Mahal in Agra, Uttar Pradesh, India, Tiananmen Square in Beijing, China, Mount Fuji on the island of Honshū in Japan, Sydney Opera House in Sydney, Australia, the Teotihuacan, Nazca Lines, and Moai in Mexico, Peru, and Rapa Nui, Chile, and finally, Tsé Biiʼ Ndzisgaii or Monument Valley on the Colorado Plateau in the United States.

City Connection was ported to the MSX, ZX Spectrum, mobile phones, Nintendo Entertainment System, Windows, PlayStation 4, and Switch. The latter five were the most accurate to the arcade original, with the Hamster arcade emulation on PS4 and Switch being the best available home version of the game. The NES version is also available on Switch through the NES emulator for the Nintendo Switch Online service. 

City Connection is an enjoyable and one-of-a-kind game. The backgrounds are well done for the time and still look good today and the gameplay is easy to pick up and play as well as addictive. It is a fun, unique game that is well worth playing and is easily obtainable today.

Final Verdict:
4 out of 5

Thursday, April 20, 2023

Motion-Sensing Multi-Sports Game Compilation Review: Kinect Sports Ultimate Collection

In 2012, Microsoft played up the popularity of Rare's Kinect Sports series with the Kinect Sports Ultimate Collection.

This collection was a compilation of the two Kinect Sports titles which were available at the time, Kinect Sports and Kinect Sports: Season Two. Thus, it contained all of the sports available in each collection, including bowling, boxing, soccer, table tennis, track-and-field, and volleyball in Kinect Sports and gridiron football, skiing, darts, tennis, golf, and baseball in Season Two.

It simply contained the two discs from the respective games in a case with a Kinect Sports Ultimate Collection cover. It would have been nice to see an additional sport or two, or even extras such as the making of the game, but both games are here complete with all of the included sports, so it is exactly what it says on the tin.

Kinect Sports Ultimate Collection was a completely no-frills compilation of Kinect Sports and Kinect Sports: Season Two for Xbox 360. It contained no extras at all, simply the game discs in an Ultimate Collection case. However, as it was a bundle of two formerly regular-priced games, it was ultimately a good value worth picking up if you hadn't owned it already. If you are interested in the Kinect Sports games, this is easy to find for a good price, so it could still be worth getting this rather than purchasing the two games separately.

Final Verdict:
3½ out of 5

Wednesday, April 19, 2023

Open World Action-Adventure Mega Review: Shenmue II

Shenmue II was the sequel to the formerly Dreamcast-only Shenmue. It featured more locations than the previous game.

The original game took place in a single town, Yokosuka, Japan. In contrast, Shenmue II has three, including Hong Kong, Kowloon, based on the real-life Kowloon Walled City in Hong Kong, and Guilin, China.

The story picks up after Ryu Hazuki disembarks the ship that brought him from Japan to China at the port of Hong Kong. He almost immediately gets into trouble when a young boy steals his backpack. After managing to get it back with help from a young woman named Joy, he soon befriends the pickpocket, Xianweng "Wong" Ni, and makes a begrudging alliance with a gang member named Wuying Ren.

He will need all the help he can get to obtain more information about his father's killer, Lan Di, as well as to get more information about the mysterious mirror that his father left for him when he died. He'll find himself opposed by several people on his quest for information, including members of a gang known as Heavens, an extremely large and strong gang leader known as Dou Niu, and a transgender woman known as Yuan.

As is often the case with transgender characters in their localization from Japan to the West, especially in 2002, the character had a change of pronouns as well as voice actors. I appreciate that the translation lost the hurtful misgendering and was referred to properly as she, however, I am divided over the fact that she lost her deeper voice for a less ambiguous female voice. I wish that the character had remained obviously transgender in the translation, however, the character was portrayed with a stereotypical gay voice, so it really isn't really a loss to get rid of that voice acting in the long run.

Speaking of voice acting, like the original Shenmue, the best way to experience this game for native English speakers is with Japanese voice acting with English subtitles. The English voice acting remains wooden and not pleasant at all. The Japanese voice acting sounds more natural. This is likely not just due to the voice actors, but because of the text as the English translation is lacking nuance again and is really dry compared to the original Japanese text. It's alright reading the translation that way, but it doesn't translate well into the spoken word.

This game is a lot longer than the first and more action-packed. However, a few things let it down. Earning money through lifting and moving crates is not as fun as the forklift of the original game. Unfortunately, it is necessary to earn a lot of money, since Ryo needs to pay his way into three martial arts challenges in order to get the information he needs.

Also, this game goes way too far, in my opinion, with the button-pressing quick-time events. This is especially the case in the last fight, where it is possible to lose the fight just by not getting the quick time event correct even after properly beating the snot out of him. It's frustrating to repeat scenes like this if, like me, your fingers and brain don't cooperate well since the amount of time given to complete the QTEs is woefully small.

Shenmue II is larger and has more action than the original game. However, it is let a bit down due to the lackluster way to earn money as well as the overabundance of quick-time events. It also has poor English voice acting, but the Japanese voice acting is much better. So, the best way to experience this game, if you choose to do so, would be to avoid the original Xbox version as it only has English voice acting. The Dreamcast game only has Japanese voice acting, and the high-definition version by d3t has selectable voice acting. In the end, the story is interesting, so it is worth experiencing if you want to continue Ryo's quest to find his father's killer.

Final Verdict:
4 out of 5

Shenmue reviewShenmue I & II review coming soon

Tuesday, April 18, 2023

Turn-Based RPG Review: Yakuza - Like a Dragon

Yakuza: Like a Dragon was a turning point for Sega's Yakuza series. It was the first to feature the new series protagonist Ichiban Kasuga, the first to be a turn-based role-playing game as opposed to an action RPG, as well as the first game to use the Japanese series title, Like a Dragon.

Ichiban Kasuga is a man who was raised in a Japanese soapland, an establishment where women wash men's bodies and usually allow prostitution. He became a punk on the streets of Kamurocho fighting other young men until he used the name of a yakuza patriarch to try to scare some yakuza. That backfires as the yakuza were rivals of the yakuza named and tried to use Ichiban to shame their rival. 

Expecting to be killed after it was revealed he wasn't a yakuza, the patriarch instead claimed Ichiban was one of his men and took responsibility for his actions. After this, Ichiban felt indebted and kept coming around the office of the yakuza patriarch until he let him join his family for real. In 1999, when the patriarch's son commits murder, Ichiban is told to take the blame for his crime. He is finally released twenty years later, in 2019. However, his yakuza family isn't waiting for him.

With a criminal record and no one to help him, he is moneyless in the Yokohama district of Isezaki Ijincho, which is based on the real-life Isezakichō district. Unlike the previous series protagonist Kazuma Kiryu, who was a stoic man of few words, Ichiban is a passionate man who makes both allies and enemies quickly. 

After the sixth main series game broke from tradition by only having a single protagonist to focus on what was then meant to be the end of Kiryu's story, Yakuza: Like a Dragon once again featured the same amount of playable characters as the number of the game in relation to the series. As Yakuza: Like a Dragon was the seventh main series game, it featured seven playable characters. Six were added to Ichiban's party during the main story, while the seventh is an optional ally that can be added through a side story.

The main six playable characters include a homeless man named Yu Yanada, a former detective named Koichi Adachi, a hostess bar mama named Saeko Mukoda, a man named Joon-gi Han who is second-in-command of the Korean-Japanese criminal organization known as the Geomijil, and a man named Tianyou Zhao who is the leader of the Chinese-Japanese criminal organization known as the Yokohama Liomang. The optional playable character is a woman named Eri Kamataki who is the heir to a sweets-making company known as Ichiban Confections.

Each of the characters has unique skills that can be used during a battle that are common in turn-based roleplaying games such as combat, healing, and projectile use. These can be changed through jobs, which give the characters unique outfits as well as new skills to use. Weapons and armor can be purchased, many of which can only be used by people with a specified job set.

Ichiban is said to be a fan of the popular Square Enix RPG series Dragon Quest. He has a vivid imagination, which allows the game to go to even crazier places than usual. The enemies encountered are probably the weirdest ever encountered in a Like a Dragon series game, and that's saying something. This craziness also extends, naturally, to the side quests. These are always the craziest part of all of the games in the series, and they are equally crazy here. The main game has some really funny moments, but the zaniest still comes from the side missions.

I wasn't sure how I would feel about turn-based combat after being so used to the beat 'em-up style action of the other games in the series, but it actually works surprisingly well for the series. Fans can still get the usual action RPG gameplay through the Judgment series and Kiryu spin-offs, so I'm actually glad they changed things up in the main series. For as good as the games are, the gameplay is definitely repetitive from game to game. That's not the case here, since no series entry has used the turn-based style of combat, and the game is better for it.

Yakuza: Like a Dragon is a worthy successor to the Kazuma Kiryu saga. Ichiban Kasuga is a much different character than Kazuma Kiryu, but his quirkiness, friendliness, and earnestness endeared me to him very quickly. Ichiban's six companions, including the bonus character, are all very memorable with excellent backstories. Ryu Ga Gotoku Studio has finally managed to make all of the playable characters feel fleshed out and worthy of your time. It has also finally given two women characters, Saeko Mukoda and Eri Kamataki, fighting chops. These women are usually used as assistance characters, but they can still kick butt as well as anyone else. Yakuza: Like a Dragon is well worth playing, and is a harbinger for good things to come when the series returns to turn-based combat in Like a Dragon 8.

Final Verdict:
4½ out of 5

Monday, April 17, 2023

Body-Tracking Multi-Sports Video Game Review: Kinect Sports: Season Two

Kinect Sports brought the Xbox 360 its own take on the popular Wii Sports title for its competitor, the Wii. However, with a lack of the most popular games from that title, it didn't shine quite as brightly.

That changed when Microsoft tasked Rare with making a sequel for the body-tracking Kinect camera, this time with help from developer BigPark.

Kinect Sports: Season Two contains more sports including gridiron football, skiing, and darts. This time around, it finally features some of the most popular games from Microsoft's competitor Nintendo, including tennis, golf, and baseball.

The sequel manages to get around one of the main problems of the Kinect, which makes it need a lot of room to get full-body tracking. Season Two's use of upper body sports has more going for it for people, like me, who only have enough room to get partial body tracking. 

This game, by far, gets the use out of the two games by my family. Darts is a favorite of my mother's. She often asks to play it because it is fun, intuitive, and easy to use with the Kinect camera. I, personally, enjoy the baseball minigame. Like darts, it works great with the Kinect camera. All of these work much better than season one as the camera isn't as finicky due to the fact the entire camera body tracking isn't needed. You can toss around the pigskin, throw darts, and hit baseballs and tennis balls with ease. Even golf and skiing work with just half a body detected, although these two can be more finicky than the others, especially in the case of skiing.

This game still contains the major drawback of the Kinect, however, as that's purely a hardware issue. The Kinect camera 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.

Kinect Sports: Season Two is a drastic improvement over the predecessor. It solves some of the problems the Kinect has with a small living room space by having games that need only partial body detection. Gridiron football, darts, and baseball work great. Even skiing and golf work with just partial body detection, although these might need more adjustment than the others. The hardware issues with problems detecting dark colors are still a problem for people with jet-black hair and even worse for people with dark skin tones. However, Kinect Sports: Season Two managed to better play to Kinect's strengths with a game that is very satisfying to play.

Final Verdict:
4 out of 5

Sunday, April 16, 2023

Action RPG Mega Review: Like a Dragon - Ishin!

Like a Dragon: Ishin! was originally released only in Japan for the PlayStation 3 and PlayStation 4 in 2014. However, in February 2023, the game was finally released to worldwide audiences in a remake for PlayStation 4, PlayStation 5, Windows, Xbox One, and Xbox Series X/S. The remake is simply titled Like a Dragon: Ishin! in the West, but it is known as Like a Dragon: Ishin! Kiwami (Ryu Ga Gotoku Ishin! Kiwami) in Asia.

The Kiwami subtitle should tell you the treat we're in for, as Ryu Ga Gotoku Studio produced a remake similar to Yakuza Kiwami and Yakuza Kiwami 2 where the content from the original release is there, albeit remixed a bit, but new content has been added as well.

The story takes place right before the Restoration period of Japan, hence the Ishin in the title, as Ishin means Restoration in Japanese. The story follows a samurai named Ryōma Sakamoto who takes on the identity of Hajime Saitō and infiltrates the special army for the Shogunate, the Shinsengumi, to discover who murdered his foster father, Tōyō Yoshida.

Ryōma Sakamoto, Hajime Saitō, and Tōyō Yoshida are all historical samurai who had an influence on Japan, but in real life, Ryōma Sakamoto and Hajime Saitō were separate people. The story mixes the lives of both men, as it begins with the life of Ryōma Sakamoto, with his friend Takechi Hanpeita, the head of the Tosa Loyalist Party. It twists things a bit, with Tōyō Yoshida being Ryōma Sakamoto's foster father in the game. This is where it diverges with the life of Hajime Saitō as it details his joining of the Shinsengumi, although in the game it is to find the person who killed Tōyō.

It's a very dramatic story filled with betrayals and bittersweet triumphs mixed in with craziness, especially in the side stories. In other words, it is very much a Ryu Ga Gotoku Studio game.

The characters are portrayed by Like a Dragon series staples, as well as those characters who are lesser known. The likeness of Kazuma Kiryu, complete with the marvelous deep voice of Takaya Kuroda, plays Hajime Saitō, aka Ryōma Sakamoto. The likeness of the wonderfully crazy Goro Majima portrays Soji Okita. You'll be glad to know Hidenari Ugaki plays Okita with all of the passion of Majima, complete with taunts of Hajime-chan! Many of the likenesses and voice actors of other characters that were playable in previous games also appear here as historical and fictional characters including Haruka Sawamura, Shun Akiyama, Taiga Saejima, Ryuji Goda, Koichi Adachi, and Tianyou Zhao. Other series characters are also represented in supporting roles.

In the change from Like a Dragon: Ishin! to the Kiwami remake, some of the characters from games released after the original release of Ishin!, such as Koichi Adachi and Tianyou Zhao from Yakuza: Like a Dragon, were used for characters that had no counterparts as well as those from games that were recently released at the time of the original release but aren't as well remembered now, such as Shigeki Baba from Yakuza 5.

It is an action RPG as opposed to the turn-based RPG style of Yakuza: Like a Dragon. However, it does represent a change from the usual fare as swords and guns are available with unlimited use as fighting styles. Like Yakuza 0, Ryōma can use four styles of combat. These include brawler which uses fists, swords, guns, and a combination of guns and swords. These styles can be leveled up and new moves can be learned from masters of the various styles. Master Komaki even serves as the master of the brawler style.

Happily, minigames made it into the game despite the pre-Restoration era setting of Japan. Karaoke is available, including a mix of "Baka Mitai (I've Been a Fool)" with a backing track of traditional Japanese instruments. The usual Japanese gambling games are present, as is the Western gambling game of Texas hold 'em poker. The latter does make sense within the context of the game, as the era is set when the "black ships" from Britain came to Japan. As expected from a Like a Dragon series game, there are also odd yet fun minigames included such as cannonball slicing and cannonball skeet shooting. You can also fish, farm, cook, and then sell the results of your hard work with help from Haruka. 

Side stories are also here, and many are just as crazy as you'd expect. The creators also had fun with the time period with some side stories, as there are some here that just wouldn't work in modern Japan. Speaking of the time period, Atlus has once again gone far and above in localizing the game into English, as there is a glossary of terms for players unfamiliar with the setting of the game.

Like a Dragon: Ishin! is finally in English, and it was worth the wait. This is a fantastic game, with all of the series staples that you would expect from a Ryu Ga Gotoku Studio game. The voice actors, as usual, have brought their A-game, delivering fantastic voice performances. The plot is interesting as well, weaving together the stories of two famous historical samurai in a story with both historical and fictional elements. If you are a fan of the Like a Dragon series, or just interested in historical Japan, this game is one that is well worth playing.

Addendum April 17, 2023: I meant to mention how much Fist of the North Star: Lost Paradise resembles Like a Dragon: Ishin! As the former was released before the latter, it is obvious where Ryu Ga Gotaku Studio got the inspiration to delve into the post-apocalyptic world of Fist of the North Star. As I was playing the Kiwami remake of Ishin!, I noticed the similarity right away due to the rustic feel of the in-game villages between the two games. However, once Haruka's villa was available, it became more apparent. Lin's expressions, comments, and movements are identical to Haruka's here. It works in both games, though, as it gives off a cute vibe that suits both characters.

Final Verdict:
4½ out of 5

Saturday, April 15, 2023

Arcade Action Game Review: Elevator Action

Elevator Action is a classic arcade game that the Japanese developer Taito released into arcades worldwide in the 1980s.

The game follows a spy who slides into different apartment buildings, traveling up and down elevators as well as escalators in order to enter specially marked doors to collect the secrets contained within. There are enemy agents within the building. The spy has to avoid the enemies while shooting them before being shot. Light fixtures can also be shot to drop on the head of enemy agents. 

Once all the secrets have been collected, the spy heads to the underground garage to take an escape car. Then, the spy slides into another apartment building and the collecting begins again.

The music works well, and although simple, is very memorable. The graphics are also simple, due to the game's age, but they depict the apartment and spies well. The death animation and music are as memorable as that in Pac-Man even though the game isn't as well remembered.

Elevator Action is a simple, but fun arcade game from the 1980s. It is a true classic that has graphics, music, and gameplay that stand the test of time despite its age. It deserves to be played by every gamer at least once.

Final Verdict:
4½ out of 5

Friday, April 14, 2023

Free Point-and-Click Adventure Review: Dráscula: The Vampire Strikes Back

Dráscula: The Vampire Strikes Back is a point-and-click adventure game by the Spanish developer Alcachofa Soft.

The game follows a man named John Hacker who rescues a girl from the vampire Count Dráscula. It's a game with many humorous takes on the movie monster genre. Unfortunately, the English translation is let down by the sub-par voice acting and translation mistakes.

The version of the game with Spanish voices and subtitles, the version with English voices and subtitles, and versions with French, Italian, and German subtitles, are available for free download from ScummVM. Due to this, it is possible to have Spanish voices with Spanish, Italian, French, German, or English subtitles. This is the way to go as the voice work isn't as rough in the Spanish version.

The graphics are quite nice, with a pleasing cartoon style and detailed backgrounds that fit perfectly with the character sprites. The point-and-click interface is unusual, but it becomes second nature once you get used to it. There are a few puzzles that stretch logic a bit, but they are all solvable with a little out-of-the-box thinking.

If you play the free version from ScummVM, make sure to download the music add-on which is available in several different audio formats including FLAC, MP3, and OGG. It's well worth the download as the music is actually quite good. Together with the graphics, it is definitely the best part of the game.

Dráscula: The Vampire Strikes Back is a humorous adventure game that has a lot going for it. However, if you play it make sure to combine the data with the subtitles in the language of your choice with the Spanish voiceover. The English voice work is done by actors whose first language is not English, and it shows. The English subtitles have a few translation mistakes, but it is quite enjoyable with the Spanish voices in the background. The unusual but easy-to-learn interface and good puzzles round the game out well. The music is the best part of the game, as it fits the tone of the game perfectly. Dráscula: The Vampire Strikes Back is far from perfect, but it is free. With a little fiddling to get the Spanish voices working with subtitles from other languages, it is also pretty fun.

Final Verdict:
3½ out of 5

Thursday, April 13, 2023

Free Point-and-Click Adventure Review: Lure of the Temptress

Lure of the Temptress was the first game by the English video game developer Revolution Software, which would later become known for its popular Broken Sword series of adventure games.

It was also the first game that featured the Virtual Theatre engine, which allowed non-player characters to wander around the game scenes doing their own business, giving the game world a larger sense of realism. It was rough here, as characters would sometimes block the path of the building you needed to enter and, even more annoying, would sometimes be way off on another screen and you would have to chase that person down if you need him or her to complete a task. This would become less of a hassle in Revolution's next game, Beneath a Steel Sky.

The game's interface was a bit rough here as well, as you needed to click on an object and choose an action from a drop-down menu. It's not intuitive, as it is quite different than other point-and-click adventure games. It takes a while to get used to it, but once you do, it's at least tolerable.

The story of the game involves a man who has been imprisoned. He escapes and another prisoner joins him. He sticks by your side as a sidekick and sometimes will be required to solve certain puzzles. He isn't as oddly charming as Foster's robot companion Joey in Beneath a Steel Sky, but like that little robot, he provides much of the game's humour. It's not as humourous as some of Revolution's other games, but it definitely has its moments.

The goal of the game is to learn about and later confront and defeat the titular temptress. She is actually a level beyond that, as she is more of a sorceress, and is probably the most memorable part of this game. The puzzles to get there are decent, and aren't too hard to figure out. This part that brings this game down a bit is when you need to involve townsfolk to complete a task. The directions to do so are sometimes obtuse, especially in the directions given where you need to talk to people that are from, or will be in, certain areas. This is mainly due to the fact NPCs will wander from screen to screen, as mentioned above, sometimes making it hard to tell where they are or even whether that person really is the one you want.

Lure of the Temptress is a rough game, especially in its interface and the fact NPCs are given too much leeway to wander. However, an interesting sidekick and a memorable villain, plus the fact that it is free to download and play, make it a bit appealing despite its flaws. If nothing else, it is neat to see where Revolution Software and its Virtual Theatre engine began.

Final Verdict:
3 out of 5

Wednesday, April 12, 2023

Free Point-and-Click Adventure Review: Sołtys

Sołtys was a point-and-click game by LK Avalon. It was never released commercially in English, but it was later translated and released as freeware to download and play on the ScummVM adventure and role-playing game interpreter.

The playable character is the titular sołtys, the elder of his village. His daughter was arranged to be married, but due to her unattractiveness, the groom left her at the altar. Her father then goes after him to bring him back so the wedding can be completed.

It's a humourous game, but it is impossible to overlook the blatant misogyny inherent in the storyline of the game. Notwithstanding the issues with arranged marriages, the fact that the daughter is reduced to her appearance, especially as a punchline, is hard to take. The sołtys is searching for the husband-to-be, but it is not to restore his daughter's dignity but rather to complete the ceremony.

As for the game itself, the puzzles are pretty good. There's nothing memorable, but there's nothing too outlandish to require trying every inventory item on everything to advance the plot. Inventory items are selected from a bar at the bottom of the screen. The music is also fine, but not memorable. It does complement the game and works well for each scene.

The graphics are actually the high point of this game. It is presented in a pleasing cartoonish style, which works with the silliness of the dialog. Each character sprite is designed to evoke this aesthetic and the background art compliments the sprite style extremely well.

Sołtys is a problematic game with its misogynistic storyline. The fact that the ugliness of the daughter of the sołtys is the whole catalyst that sets off the game's story makes it impossible to ignore. That said, the rest of the game is decent. The puzzles are good with no clicking and searching required, the music isn't memorable but it fits the scenes well. The art is the best part of the game, as it has a cartoony aesthetic that fits the overall silliness of the game. If you want to try it, and you can stomach the misogyny, it is free to download from ScummVM.

Final Verdict:
2 out of 5

Tuesday, April 11, 2023

Arcade Fighting Game Mega Review: Virtua Fighter

In the early 1990s, video games were switching to three-dimensional polygonal graphics, and the most impressive examples were in arcades. Sega was at the forefront of that with games from genres ranging from racing to fighting games. The latter of which was exemplified by Sega's 1993 arcade hit Virtua Fighter.

Virtua Fighter, like most fighting games of its era, was light on story. Basically, a bunch of fighters from around the world competed in a tournament to determine the best fighter.

The game did have a rather diverse cast, from Akira Yuki and a jujitsu fighter named Kage-Maru, to the blond-haired Sarah Bryant and her race car-driving brother Jacky Bryant from the United States, a woman named Pai Chan and her father Lau Chan from Hong Kong, a drunken fighter-style warrior named Shun, a First Nations fighter from Canada named Wolf Hawkfield, and an Aboriginal Australian named Jeffry McWild.

Each of the fighters had a unique style. For example, Shun fought in low, semi-crouched positions and Sarah was proficient with kicks. In the single-player mode, the chosen fighter fights through the ranks until he or she reaches and defeats the last fighter. After that, a special stage featured a metallic female fighter named Dural. If defeated by Dural, the game goes straight to the credits, with no chance of a rematch.

Speaking of rematches, the game could be continued right where you left off by putting a quarter in the machine to add a credit and choosing to continue, or by pressing a button to add a credit in the ported and emulated versions for home consoles and computers. In this game, you are not required to continue with the character you just used. Continuing brings you to the character select screen where you can choose any of the fighters to play for the rematch.

Virtua Fighter is an absolute classic. It is primitive by today's standards, but the core game still remains fun if you can overlook the blocky graphics and slow camera pans. The remake on the PlayStation 2, Virtua Fighter: 10th Anniversary Edition, is extremely well done, and it increases the number of characters, has smoother camera movements, and updates the moves to those of Virtua Fighter 4. If the original old-school Virtua Fighter isn't your thing, that version might be your cup of tea instead. 

Final Verdict:
4 out of 5

Monday, April 10, 2023

Arcade Maze Test Game Review: Dottori-Kun

In 1990, Japanese law required that all arcade cabinets had to be shipped with a working game so that purchasers could plug it in and immediately test whether the cabinet was functional. Thus, companies created simple games with cheap hardware that could be included and then disposed of by the purchaser. Taito created Mini Vaders, based on Space Invaders, for their EGRET candy cabinets. Sega created Dottori-kun as the game that was included with its Astro City arcade candy cabinets.

Like Taito, Sega also reached back into the 1970s for their test game. Dottori-kun was based on Head-On, a maze game released by Sega in 1979. Like Mini Vaders, Dottori-kun was a monochrome game with no sound and no score tracking. The buttons only change the color of the background and game graphics, although they still remain as tinted monochrome. Dottori-kun was never meant to be released commercially, but presumably, for the sake of completion, Sega Toys included it in its Astro City Mini video game console.

Despite the lack of sound and a score, Dottori-kun remains fun. As it is based on Sega's Head On, it is a game that combines maze games with automotive chicken. The goal is to collect all of the dots on the four rectangular-shaped roads. The hitch is that each road is only large enough for one vehicle and there is a computer-controlled racer zooming around the tracks in the opposite direction. There are splits in the roads at the center, so the trick is to grab the dots when the opponent car is on another road so that you can collect the dots and then turn onto another road so that the two cars aren't coming at each other head on.

Dottori-kun is an arcade game from 1990 that is a simplified version of the already simple 1979 arcade game Head On. Despite it just being a test game with monochrome graphics, no sound, and no score tracking, it still is remarkably fun. I'm glad Sega Toys included it in the Astro City Mini since this game doesn't deserve to be junked.

Final Verdict:
3 out of 5

Sunday, April 9, 2023

Free-to-Play Endless Runner Review: Run Forrest Run

Run Forest Run is an official free-to-play endless runner video game for Android and iOS developed by Viva Games Studios based on the 1994 Paramount Pictures film, Forrest Gump.

The title comes from early in the film when a young Jenny tells Forrest Gump to run away from the bullies chasing him. It later gets a callback when he becomes a college football running back. His love of running also comes into play in the film when he runs from the eastern United States to the western United States, and back again.

Because running is a big part of the film, it is a no-brainer that a game based on Forrest Gump would be endless runner.

Viva Games Studios went the Subway Surfer route with a pleasing cartoonish aesthetic that still evokes images from the film despite its animated appearance. 

It is a three-dimensional game with a third-person view as Forrest continually runs through American streets, avoiding cars and construction, and jumping on top of busses to collect coins. The game continues until Forrest hits an obstacle unless the player chooses to purchase a continue. The coins can be used to purchase one-time-use gear for Gump such as a football helmet to give him protection from hitting an object or to purchase costumes for Gump or even additional characters such as his young love, Jenny.

Run Forrest Run is a pleasing time-waster that, despite it being a freemium game, doesn't require you to break out your real-life credit card if you wish to just have some fun running time with Forrest. As with all casual free-to-play games, it isn't for everyone. But if you enjoy endless runners, Run Forrest Run could be worth your time. If nothing else, it's probably the most on-the-nose license for the genre possible.

Final Verdict:
4 out of 5

Saturday, April 8, 2023

Free Open-Source Point-and-Click Adventure Mega Review: Teenagent

The Polish game developer Metropolis Software House was founded to develop the adventure game Teenagent. Metropolis Software House was purchased by CD Projekt in 2008, and in 2009, the game was released for free through CD Projekt's digital storefront It was added to the open-source adventure and RPG interpreter ScummVM in 2010.

Teenagent follows a teenager named Mark Hopper who was chosen to work for the RGB intelligence agency. His first mission is to bring a thief named John Noty into custody.

Mark has to travel to many locations on his mission. As this is a point-and-click adventure game, the tools in his arsenal are pockets with infinite storage space and his wits. The puzzles are for the most part pretty fun, but there are a few weird ones here and there. It's nothing too big though, so it doesn't detract from the enjoyment of the game.

The graphics are the best part of the game as they are really detailed and are reminiscent of LucasArts adventure games, as is the interface. This was obviously intentional as there are a few in-jokes about games in the development house that George Lucas built scattered within the game.

The music is a mixed bag. Some of it is enjoyable, but unfortunately, there is one track that I found rather annoying. Your mileage may vary on this point, of course, but I personally got through that area as fast as I could. 

In the version, there is no voice acting, but there was a voiced version included on the coverdisc of the Polish Gambler magazine. This version has voices recorded by the creators of Gambler and is only available in the Polish language 

Teenagent is a free adventure game that is pretty fun. It has fantastic background and character art, and the story is a fun, purposefully cheesy take on the spy genre. However, a few odd puzzles and at least one music track that might be considered annoying depending on the player, drag it down a bit. Thankfully, these spots don't last too long. That is good because the rest of the game is rather enjoyable.

Final Verdict:
3 out of 5

Friday, April 7, 2023

Open-Source First Person Shooter Mega Review: Wolfenstein 3D

Wolfenstein 3D was a first-person shooter released in 1992 by iD Software. The company was a name well-known in shareware circles at the time, but after the release of this game, it became close to a household name.

The game was based on the 1981 Muse Software stealth action-adventure game Castle Wolfenstein and its 1984 sequel, Beyond Castle Wolfenstein. The idea was always to create a three-dimensional version of Castle Wolfenstein, but the company didn't own the rights until John Romero, the co-founder of iD Software, purchased the rights to the Wolfenstein name from the creator of Castle Wolfenstein, Silas Warner.

With the name secured, the game had much of the same story as Castle Wolfenstein in that an allied prisoner of war escapes Castle Wolfenstein. This time however, the role of the prisoner was given to William "B.J." Blazkowicz, who fought his way through the game with his guns and fists rather than through stealth.

The game had a first-person view, with the player experiencing the game through the eyes of B.J. Blazkowicz himself. Through six episodes comprised of six levels each, he blasts through Nazi enemies and collects health, ammo, and new weapons as he goes along. 

The game gets crazier as it goes on and leans heavily on the notion of Hitler trying to make augmented super soldiers. In this universe, the program succeeds, both through giant Nazis that take multiple shots to kill as well as Nazis in robot armor. This even extends to Adolf Hitler himself. 

Some levels will require a key to unlock doors which can generally be found in areas filled with guards and sometimes guard dogs. There are also hidden doors that can be found by pressing walls and paintings. Many times these will be found in the latter, which are usually giant pictures of Adolf Hitler. The hidden door will slide away and Blazkowicz can grab the loot found inside.

When a level is completed, the player is given a screen with the time it took them to get through it, the number of enemies killed, and the secret areas found. A time that is par for the level will be displayed with which to compare the player's time.

Wolfenstein 3D is a landmark game for the first-person shooter genre. It's over thirty years old now, so it definitely shows its age. However, it is still fun to play, even if it may cause dizziness due to the fact that the graphics are presented through ray casting, making only the surfaces visible to the player. The game has been ported to many different architectures from the Super Nintendo Entertainment System to the Nintendo Switch, so it is easy to pick up and play on your platform of choice. Fans have also converted the game as modifications for many later, more capable engines from Doom to Half-Life 2, and even in Virtual Reality in Half-Life: Alyx. However you play it, it's well worth playing to experience the game that popularized the first-person shooter genre.

Final Verdict:
4 out of 5

Thursday, April 6, 2023

Body-Tracking Multi-Sports Video Game Review: Kinect Sports

With the surprise runaway success of the Wii, thanks in large part to its pack-in title Wii Sports, Sony and Microsoft rushed to make their own motion-sensing technology. Sony released the Move, essentially its version of the Wii Remote. Microsoft, meanwhile, released a body-tracking camera known as the Kinect.

Microsoft deemed that Kinect needed its own sports compilation, so it tasked one of its subsidiaries with the project. The company that worked on Kinect Sports was the famed English video game developer Rare.

Kinect Sports contains several sports including bowling, boxing, soccer, table tennis, track-and-field, and volleyball. Track-and-field actually constitutes five separate events including discus throwing, hurdle jumping, javelin throwing, and long jumping.

As long as you have a lot of room that allows the Kinect to detect your entire body, all of the sports work well. That's the main drawback of any Kinect game. A lot of room is needed. It will be a struggle to get the game to detect the entire body in a small room, especially with furniture in the way. 

In this game, volleyball is my favorite, as it seems to be the event that works best even with only partial body-tracking. If I'm lucky enough to get it to detect my entire 1.8 meters (6 feet) tall frame, the other games are fun as well. Another drawback of the Kinect is that 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.

Kinect Sports is a fantastic showcase for Kinect. However, it also showcases the issues with the Kinect sensor. If you are tall or have a small living room space like me, most of the games aren't fun to play. Volleyball still works well with partial body tracking, but the rest, especially soccer and track-and-field, are unplayable. The Kinect also has problems detecting dark colors, which has been an issue for people with jet-black hair like me and has been even worse for people with dark skin tones. Kinect Sports is great when it works, but it is brought down by the limitations of the Kinect.

Final Verdict:
3½ out of 5

Wednesday, April 5, 2023

Motion-Sensing Multi-Sports Video Game: Wii Sports

In 2006, Nintendo released the Wii, a console with a motion-sensing controller that managed to bring in multiple generations of players, from toddlers to the elderly. A big part of the console's success was due to its pack-in game, Wii Sports.

Wii Sports is the perfect game to showcase the ability of the Wii. It contains five sports, baseball, bowling, boxing, golfing, and tennis. Four of these require just the Wii Remote itself, while boxing requires the included Nunchuk accessory.

They all control well and promote motion while playing. Because of this, they became popular in assisted living facilities and nursing homes. The low-cardio sports are the ones that are likely to keep you coming back. Tennis and boxing are also fun, but they are strenuous and, unless you are in excellent health, it is likely they will be too much. Of the remaining three, bowling is the most fun. Golf and baseball have their strengths, but bowling is just a fun time, especially playing with friends. Because it is a low-impact sport by design, bowling is also the sport out of the five that feels most like playing the real thing.

A cute aspect of this game is the inclusion of Miis, the Nintendo player avatars that originated with the Wii. It's fun to design an avatar that resembles yourself and then play Wii Sports with that Mii. I have Miis for each of my family members, and it is a lot of fun to see them on the screen when I'm playing with my family.

Wii Sports was a bonafide system seller that is even fun to play years later. I still occasionally boot up my Wii with Wii Sports to get some cardio in when the weather outside prevents walking or if my chronic conditions flare up. For the latter, Wii Sports is a godsend. The five included games, baseball, bowling, boxing, golfing, and tennis are all fun games that are done well. Motion-sensing games sometimes get maligned by long-time gamers, but when it comes to Wii Sports it is unfounded. The game is a bonafide Nintendo classic.

Final Verdict:
4½ out of 5

Tuesday, April 4, 2023

System Review: Astro City Mini

Following consoles shaped like miniature arcade game cabinets from companies such as SNK, Sega decided to dip its own foot in the well with the release of the Astro City Mini.

The system is modeled after Sega's popular sit-down candy cabinet known as the Astro City. It's a self-contained unit with a screen, speakers, and a joystick with arcade-style buttons. The screen picture is sharp and easy to read the text on the screen despite its small size. The speakers have a little too much treble with too little bass for my tastes, but they sound fine. The most important part, the joystick, is a dream. It has the tight feel of an arcade joystick. Plus, the buttons have a satisfying click-clack and aren't mushy.

The thirty-six games included are Alex Kidd: The Lost StarsAlien Syndrome, Alien Storm, Altered BeastArabian FightBonanza Bros.ColumnsColumns II: The Voyage Through Time, Cotton: Fantastic Night DreamsCrack DownCyber Police ESWATDark EdgeFantasy ZoneFlickyGain GroundGolden AxeGolden Axe: The Revenge of Death AdderNinja PrincessPuyo PuyoPuyo Puyo 2Puzzle & Action: Ichidant-RPuzzle & Action: Tant-RQuartet 2Rad MobileScramble Spirits, Seishun ScandalShadow DancerShinobiSonic BoomSpace HarrierStack ColumnsThunder Force ACVirtua FighterWonder BoyWonder Boy in Monster Land, and Wonder Boy III: Monster Lair

It also includes a bonus game in Dottori-kun. This game is based on Sega's 1979 arcade game, Head On. It was included with Astro City cabinets as a test game to ensure everything was hooked up and functioning correctly.

The included games spread across a wide variety of genres, from beat 'em ups such as Altered Beast and the Golden Axe games, to fighting games such as Dark Edge and the classic Virtua Fighter, the maze game Dottori-kun, platformers such as the Alex Kidd games and Flicky, puzzle games like the Columns and Puyo Puyo series, racing games such as Rad Mobile, run-and-gun games such as Alien Syndrome and Crack Down, and shoot 'em up games such as Cotton: Fantastic Night Dreams.

The console was released by Sega Toys in Japan and by Limited Run Games worldwide. As of the time this article was published, on April 4, 2023, the Limited Run release is rather expensive but the original Japanese release is reasonably priced and easy to obtain.

Since Sega began releasing its own game-packed retro consoles rather than relying on outside companies such as AtGames, it has arguably become the leader of the miniature console market. Astro City Mini continues that trend with thirty-seven games spanning multiple genres of arcade games that were originally released between the mid-1980s to the mid-1990s. The emulation is fantastic, the console is cute, the sound is adequate, and the joystick and buttons are as tight as you'd hope for in an arcade cabinet release. Because it can also be hooked up to television sets through HDMI and to external joysticks and gamepads through USB, it is a fantastic way to experience three dozen arcade classics.

Final Verdict:
4 out of 5

Monday, April 3, 2023

Action-Adventure Game Review: Zelda II: The Adventure of Link

Zelda II: The Adventure of Link went in a completely different route from its predecessor which led to a game that, other than the Philips CD-i games, is the most polarizing entry in the entire series.

The team behind Zelda II opted for a side-scrolling action adventure with platforming and role-playing elements as opposed to the top-down action-adventure sword-fighting of the original. It did have top-down sections, but only as the map that Link walked through to get from town to town. 

Like the original game, Link gained abilities as the game went on that would help him in later parts of his quest. However, this time around, Link earns the ability to cast magic. As such, Zelda II has a health bar as well as a magic bar. Most abilities consume a certain amount of magic, so it is important to use your magic sparingly. Magic can be refilled by talking to specific people in the villages or from certain items dropped by defeated enemies.

Although the combat and exploration were different, it did add some elements that returned in future installments. The villages were explorable and you could talk to villagers who would sometimes do things to help Link or have helpful items in their houses. Future games would revert to using hearts to represent life, but the magic meter bar returned to keep track of things such as energy to cast fire or ice.

The story is, in my opinion, the best part of the game. As this was released in 1987, at a time when cartridge space was tiny due to the cost of memory chips, most of the story was told through the manual. The story in the manual is as follows. Before the events of the first game, the Kingdom of Hyrule was prosperous due in part to a mystical artifact known as the Triforce. The King of Hyrule had two children, a boy, and a girl. After he died, the Triforce of Courage was split into pieces. The prince sought the help of a magician to acquire the pieces of the Triforce that he did not inherit. It was believed Princess Zelda knew much about the Triforce, so the magician interrogated her. He threatened her with eternal sleep if she did not reveal what she knew, and when she remained silent the magician made good on his threats. Distraught by his sister's state, the prince ordered that all female descendants of the Hylian monarchy be named Zelda.

This leads to the game itself. Link sets off to find the missing pieces of the Triforce of Courage to wake the sleeping Princess Zelda. He begins his quest in the palace where the princess lies asleep. If Link fails in his quest, the evil Ganon is resurrected. This leads to a red game over screen, which flickered in the original release but has been toned down in re-releases due to fear of causing epilepsy in the children and adults who play the game. This is accompanied by an evil laugh which is also heard in Mike Tyson's Punch-Out!! and its variations. All of this, combined with the spooky silhouette of Ganon, scared me as a kid. Yet, it also made me determined to do better as I didn't want to see that game-over screen again. I still saw it multiple times, as the game is tough as nails, but it gave me the motivation to keep playing.

Zelda II: The Adventure of Link is a game that doesn't deserve all of the hate it gets. It is the most different of the Nintendo games in The Legend of Zelda series, and it is really difficult. However, it is not more difficult than other games that are still praised from that time, such as the Mega Man series. The Nintendo Entertainment System was chock full of difficult games. The random encounters of enemies on the map were also certainly annoying, but in the late 1980s, this was common in role-playing games developed in Japan. 

The combination of platforming, magic, and role-playing elements was certainly interesting. If this wasn't part of The Legend of Zelda series it would no doubt be better remembered today. The story and atmosphere make it very memorable. The musical pieces, from the classic theme song to the palace combat tunes are also extremely memorable. Zelda II: The Adventure of Link definitely deserves to be played with a fresh set of eyes. You might find yourself actually enjoying it.

Final Verdict:
3½ out of 5

The Legend of Zelda ReviewThe Legend of Zelda: A Link to the Past Review