Category Archives: Video Games

Banjo-Kazooie Review

*Review based on Banjo-Kazooie’s release as part of Rare Replay*

In the wake of Super Mario 64 came a new kind of platformer. Differing from the 2D sidescrollers of the past and earlier, more linear 3D platformers such as Crash Bandicoot, Super Mario 64 ushered in a more open-world style for the genre, one that had a greater focus on collecting specific key items at the player’s own leisure,  as opposed to simply making it to the end of a stage. Of all the ‘collect-a-thon’ 3D platformers that were born in Super Mario 64’s wake, there’s perhaps no more beloved example of this sub-genre than Rare’s Banjo-Kazooie.

Released in 1998 – a mere two years after Mario took his revolutionary first steps into the third-dimension – Rare sought to accomplish the seemingly impossible, and beat Mario at his own game. Rare’s bear and bird duo nearly pulled off that feat, delivering one of the N64’s best offerings, and one of the few games for the console that’s still a whole lot of fun to play today.

In Banjo-Kazooie, players take control of the titular duo: Banjo, the lazy honey bear, and Kazooie, the sarcastic bird who lives in Banjo’s backpack. The player primarily controls Banjo for movement, with Kazooie boasting most of the special abilities.

The story is simple stuff, with an evil witch named Gruntilda kidnapping Banjo’s younger sister Tooty in an attempt to steal her beauty. Unfortunately for Gruntilda, her henchman Klungo is a bit of a bungler, and his beauty-extracting machine is on the fritz, giving Banjo and Kazooie ample time to set off to Gruntilda’s Lair on a rescue mission. It’s your typical damsel in distress plot, but the game’s consistently charming characters and often hilarious dialogue make it a unique adventure.

Speaking of dialogue, Banjo-Kazooie’s “garbled speech” is one of its most iconic attributes, with each character having their own distinct gibberish noises playing over dialogue instead of any kind of traditional voiceovers. Some of these “voices” may be a little irritating, but they’ve become somewhat iconic in the years since the game’s release, as they’ve added to the game’s already stellar sound work, with an unforgettable soundtrack by Grant Kirkhope that captures Banjo-Kazooie’s unique sense of charm and whimsy.

In terms of gameplay, Banjo-Kazooie is incredibly similar to the Mario adventure that inspired it. After completing a tutorial in Banjo’s home of Spiral Mountain, you traverse the chambers of Gruntilda’s Lair, which serves as something of a more sinister contrast to Peach’s Castle from Super Mario 64. Golden jigsaw pieces – called “Jiggies” – serve as the equivalent of Mario’s Power Stars, and a set amount are required to unlock each of the game’s nine proper stages. Meanwhile, music notes more or less take the place of coins, but have an added usage in unlocking further chambers within Gruntilda’s Lair.

Each of the stages house 10 Jiggies and 100 musical notes, while the Lair itself has an additional 10 Jiggies to collect, for a grand total of 100 Jiggies and 900 music notes. Not every collectible needs to be obtained to complete the game, however, and all of these items can be gathered at the player’s own pace.

This is where Banjo-Kazooie begins to deviate away from Mario 64’s influence and becomes its own beast. While Super Mario 64’s levels were presented in a sequence of missions (with players only able to go off the path and collect alternate stars from the selected mission on occasion), Banjo-Kazooie’s stages serve as wide-open sandboxes, with players able to gather the collectibles in whatever order at almost any time.

Perhaps an even bigger change to Mario’s formula is that Banjo and Kazooie progressively learn more moves throughout their adventure, provided they can find Bottles the mole hiding in one of his molehills on the first few stages. These moves range from using Kazooie’s legs to walk faster and climb steep slopes to shooting eggs from Kazooie’s mouth and rear. These moves are not only used to navigate through levels and defeat enemies, but many of them are required to find new sections of Gruntilda’s Lair and to reach specific Jiggies, giving the game a small dose of a Metroidvania element.

Along with Bottles, the most important side character is Mumbo Jumbo, a mystical shaman who transforms Banjo and Kazooie into a variety of forms, ranging from termites to pumpkins to bees. Just find some Mumbo Tokens and take them to Mumbo’s Hut to be able to achieve a level’s transformation at any given time.

There is a downside to both the progressing moveset and transformations, however, in that both features can feel a bit underutilized. While the prospect of revisiting levels with new moves to reach previously inaccessible places and items may sound enticing, chances are you’ll find every molehill in one level and have everything you need for the next. Only two of the levels (the snow/Christmas-themed Freezeezy Peak and the desert stage of Gobi’s Valley) are particularly interchangeable, as both are unlocked close together, and each features one Jiggie that can only be accessed with a move learned in the other. As for the transformations, you’ll only change forms in five of the nine levels. And when you do get to transform, the different transformations are more or less just used to squeeze into a particular area Banjo himself can’t reach, all to obtain a single Jiggie.

The fact that such elements are present at all is a joy, as they’re a testament to the inventiveness that went into Banjo-Kazooie’s creation. But perhaps they were ideas ahead of what Rare could handle at the time, with both concepts of revisiting levels with new moves and the transformations fulfilling much more of their potential in the game’s 2000 sequel, Banjo-Tooie. By comparison, time has shown that Banjo-Kazooie couldn’t quite reach its ambitions.

If that is the case, it’s simply another testament to just how creative Rare was during Banjo-Kazooie’s development. The gameplay itself is some of the best on the Nintendo 64 and, much like Mario 64, remains a joy to play even today (though Mario 64’s sometimes clunky camera is still present). And the nine featured levels may just outdo Mario’s famed N64 outing, with some truly ingenious obstacles created to take advantage of Banjo and Kazooie’s versatile moves, as well as featuring themes that add new twists to platforming norms (such as the aforementioned ice world also being built around Christmas, or a sewer stage that houses a mechanical shark as its centerpiece. And Rare was wise to save their most creative level for last; a giant tree that can be visited in all four seasons of the year, with each season changing both the level’s challenges and its inhabitants). If that weren’t enough, Banjo-Kazooie’s playful spirit is perhaps most present after every level is completed, where the heroic duo take part in a quiz show/board game against the evil witch, in which players have to remember details about the game and their playthrough.

Banjo-Kazooie is simply a great time from beginning to end. That so many other games from its era – including beloved titles like Goldeneye 007 – feel so outdated by today’s standards while Banjo-Kazooie still remains one of the best games in the 3D platforming genre is telling of just how much creative energy went into the game, and how well it executed it. It may not always achieve its lofty ambitions, but Banjo-Kazooie is creative, fun and charming enough to stand the test of time.

 

9.0

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Senran Kagura: Peach Beach Splash Review

Senran Kagura is exactly the kind of series I can appreciate in this day and age, when political correctness has seemingly become an all-encompassing evil that seeks to dictate what creators can and cannot create, and in which people seem to actively want to be offended by anything and everything. Senran Kagura is unashamed, irreverent fan-service cranked up to eleven. Yes, Senran Kagura is juvenile, and about little more than its bosomy ninja cast tearing each others’ clothes off in friendly battles, but it’s so tongue-on-cheek and ridiculous, that you’d really have to have no actual concerns in life to seriously be offended by it. Frankly, if it weren’t for some of the language, I don’t see why this series should warrant the same maturity rating as a game that features gratuitous violence or sex.

But again, in such uptight times, I can appreciate something like Senran Kagura all the more. And quite frankly, the entries I have played – though flawed – are pretty fun. Most games in the series are combinations of beat-em-up titles and 3D fighters, but Peach Beach Splash changes things up by turning it into a team-based, water-gun and bikini-themed shooter. Think of it as Splatoon with a dash of Super Mario Sunshine… with lots of boobies.

To be honest, the gameplay and setup of Peach Beach Splash feels more appropriate for the nature of the series than its usual antics. At the very least, I know I’d like to see a water gun battle between these girls than a swordfight. But I digress.

Peach Beach Splash has a heavier focus on multiplayer than past titles, though single player campaigns are still present. The four usual ninja groups (Hanzo Academy, Homura Crimson Squad, Hebijo Clandestine Girls Academy and Gessen Girls’ Academy) each get their own campaign, along with a special fifth campaign that unlocks once the others are completed.

“Katsuragi is my waifu.”

Each of the four standard campaigns sees you take control of that respective ninja group, and you can select whichever member of that group you want for any of the campaigns’ ten missions. Each individual campaign is shorter than the one found in Estival Versus, and are mostly used as a means to unlock different weapons and characters for multiplayer use, as well as costumes and other customizable features for the girls.

The campaigns bring some fun to the table, combining the series’ usual display of defeating hordes of enemies before taking on a team of opponents comprised of members of one of the other groups. Usually to win, you’ll have to defeat every member, which is done by squirting them with enough water that they fall to the ground. Once in a grounded state, a teammate may revive their fallen comrade, so that’s why you have to take them out of the battle by shooting off either their bikini top or bottom (don’t worry, convenient lighting knows just how to censor things).

Simply holding the square button is all it takes to revive a fallen teammate, and pressing square against an enemy is all it takes to enter the “finisher” screen, in which you manually aim a rubber duck to shoot off the girl’s bikini with enough water.

It’s as fun as it is juvenile and silly, with this gameplay carrying over to the multiplayer modes. Unfortunately, the single player campaigns still suffer from some of the shortcomings of past entries in the series. Namely, there are just way too many cinematics. Now, don’t get me wrong, I certainly don’t mind staring at these girls, but I can just as easily stare at them during gameplay. And while much of the characters and dialogue can be funny, you literally get a cinematic both before and after a mission. Sure, you can speed things up and skip dialogue, but these cutscenes are often longer than the missions themselves, and when you have to sit through one cutscene just to go to another one before the next mission, it gets a bit tedious.

It should be said that most of these cutscenes are also, once again, just the character models displaying a limited range of animations in front of static backgrounds. Sure, there are some hand-drawn anime and more animated CG cutscenes here and there, but for the most part, you sit through a large amount of cinematics that look virtually the same.

“Exquisite dialogue.”

That’s not the only limitation either. Just as in Estival Versus, the hand-drawn cinematics expose limitations in the variety of character models. While the official character artwork displays the characters’ having a wide range of body types, the in-game models look almost identical, with just the heads swapped with a copied-and-pasted body. For example, Haruka and Katsuragi (AKA best girl) are a bit more… “amply gifted” than even the other girls in the series, their in-game models look no different than anyone else. You may say that’s a shallow complaint, but in a game that places such a heavy emphasis on the character designs, the characters’ in-game similarities do feel a bit lazy.

Aside from these limited aspects though, Peach Beach Splash is a mostly fun experience. The variety of characters (who each get their own melee attacks) and weapons mean there’s always a different way to play, and special assist cards – which grant different bonuses and abilities –  add all the more variety.

The multiplayer modes are what will likely keep you coming back though. Whether it’s the team battles, queen of the hill, a co-op horde mode or capture the bra (yeah…), Peach Beach Splash gives you plenty of multiplayer options. And there always seems to be something new to unlock, whether it be costumes, weapons, or collectible in-game cards; so if you’re into one-hundred percent completion, Peach Beach Splash will keep you busy for a while. And if you simply want to look at the characters, there’s a dressing room mode where you can spend time with them… or so I’ve heard.

Senran Kagura: Peach Beach Splash certainly isn’t going to change the minds of people who, for some reason, find the concept of animated bosoms to be the most reprehensible thing on Earth, but if you’re a fan of the series, it provides a fun deviation from the usual gameplay. Even if you weren’t a fan of the individual entries in the past, Peach Beach Splash may be the change of pace you’re looking for in the series.

I hope Peach Beach Splash can get some kind of direct sequel down the road. With a bit more polish (and a whole lot less dialogue boxes), this Senran Kagura offshoot may just give Splatoon a run for its money.

 

7.5

Star Fox 2 Review

*This review originally appeared at Miketendo64.com*

Here’s something many Nintendo fans thought would never happen, Star Fox 2 has actually been released! This sequel to the original 1993 Star Fox on the SNES was famous for being completed, but never officially released. The N64 was on the horizon, and Nintendo didn’t see the need to release Star Fox 2 when Star Fox 64 would soon become a reality. But here we are, in 2017, and the release of the SNES Classic Edition comes bundled with the previously unreleased Star Fox 2. But after over 20 years of wondering, just how well does Star Fox 2 live up to the hype?

From the outset, Star Fox 2 looks very much like its predecessors: It features the same (admittedly aged) 3D visuals, and the levels featured are still on-rails shooters. But Star Fox 2 makes some notable changes to the formula.

You’ll notice an immediate difference in that, instead of players taking control of Fox McCloud and being accompanied by his three most loyal teammates (Peppy Hare, Slippy Toad and Falco Lombardi), the player gets to select a primary pilot and a wingman. Along with the four core characters, players can also select new characters Fay the dog and Miyu the lynx. Should your primary pilot be shot down, you’ll take control of your wingman.

Perhaps the game’s biggest departure from the original is its setup itself. While the original Star Fox (and subsequent Star Fox titles) used linear, branching pathways to get from level to level, Star Fox 2 instead goes with a more free-roaming world map, which feels akin to a board game.

The player’s ships can travel around the Lylat System as they please, with certain planets containing enemy bases, and enemy carrier ships floating in space. When the player reaches a planet or carrier, they enter one of the traditional Star Fox levels, where objectives usually involve destroying the base or ship by making your way to their core. Additionally, the carriers will send out ships on the world map, and the bases will launch missiles. If you come into contact with these ships or missiles while traversing the map, you will enter a small stage where you must destroy those objects.

It’s important that you take the time to do so, because these ships and missiles can make their way to the planet Corneria, dealing damage with every impact. Should Corneria reach %100 damage, the game is over. You may even find yourself having to exit a stage to ensure Corneria doesn’t take any extra damage. It may not seem like that big of a change, but it actually makes the progression feel more unique and enjoyable than the original game.

Not everything is an improvement over the first Star Fox title, however, as many of its predecessor’s shortcomings are still present in Star Fox 2. Namely, the controls during the first-person segments feel more than a little clunky, especially the act of maneuvering your ship and aiming with the D-pad at the same time.

Even when your ship is flying in a third-person view, the controls are less than ideal, though they are better than the first-person segments. A new feature in Star Fox 2 is the ability to transform the Arwing into “Walker mode,” in which your ship turns into something of a small mech. This gives the player more control over the vehicle (for obvious reasons, the Walker doesn’t automatically move like the Arwing), and is an overall nice change of pace from the on-rails gameplay.

Star Fox 2 is a marginal improvement over the original Star Fox, thanks to its more unique, board game-like setup, which allows for some more varied levels and progression; and the Walker is small but nice addition to the core gameplay. Unfortunately, the control issues are still present, and the rough, early 3D visuals can make things even more difficult. Not to mention Star Fox 2 may be even shorter than the first game (though this is a title more about getting a better score with each playthrough than it is about a grand adventure). It’s not quite the long-lost gem we’d all hoped it to be, but it is some good old fashioned Star Fox fun.

 

6.5

Wizard Dojo Interviews YouTube’s Arlo!

What’s that? Wizard Dojo is doing interviews now? Evidently so! Allow me to introduce the first-ever Wizard Dojo interview, with none other than Arlo from the YouTube! Everyone’s favorite fuzzy, blue monster video game reviewer was kind enough to take the time to sit down with the Dojo for this interview (I totally didn’t just send him direct messages on Twitter and wait for a response), and shared with the Dojo answers to some lingering questions about his gaming tastes, preferences, and history. Be sure to check out Arlo’s YouTube channel for more of the much-needed quality content and insight he brings to the gaming community.

But here I am rambling. You’re here for Arlo. Okay, okay, here’s the interview.


WD. What made you want to start making YouTube videos?

Arlo: I’ve been interested in video production since I was a kid–playing around with my dad’s camera, making silly little bits and animation pieces, that sort of thing. When Youtube started to become popular it seemed like the natural way to make videos that could finally be seen by people. So I suppose the answer is is that Youtube existing made me want to start making Youtube videos, ha.

WD. How long have you been a gamer?

Arlo: My first console was the Sega Genesis and my first two games were Sonic 2 and Sonic & Knuckles, so I must have been seven or eight. I turn thirty this year, making me something like twenty-two years a gamer.

WD. What are your three favorite video game franchises?

Arlo: If I’ve got to boil it down I’ll say Pikmin, Zelda, and Metroid. Either Mass Effect or Paper Mario would have bumped down Metroid if certain things hadn’t, eh…let’s say “happened to them.”

WD. What series would you say you have the biggest love/hate relationship with?

Arlo: Hey, I think I smell a loaded question! Yeah, it’s probably Paper Mario. There are plenty of series that have caused me both great joy and great sorrow, but Paper Mario might be the biggest one. Thousand Year Door set the bar so high that anything other than pure greatness would forever let me down.

WD. Has any gaming console particularly influenced your taste in gaming?

Arlo: All my favorite consoles are Nintendo ones, and I’ve consistently loved Nintendo games, so technically I don’t think I can say any of them specifically had a big impact on my tastes per se. The Xbox 360 was probably the biggest influencer, because it was what introduced me to all sorts of new genres. I thought I was a Nintendo guy through and through and stayed away from shooters and stuff like that, but after getting a 360 for Rock Band and Guitar Hero I started to try out stuff like Mass Effect and Bioshock. Over time that kind of led into other non-Nintendo series as well, and now I feel that I enjoy more types of games than ever. The 360 opened a door away from Nintendo, in a sense.

WD. Is there any game most people dislike that you secretly (or not so secretly) enjoy?

Arlo: Probably Star Fox Adventures. It’s a terrible Star Fox game, and it’s packed with quirks that drag the whole experience down, but there’s just something endearing about it. I have a natural love of adventure games, and there’s a little nostalgia factor in there, plus all the weird voice acting and dinosaur language… Something about it just sits right with me, even if on something of a shallow level. I’ll never tell you it’s a great game, but it’s fun to sit down with every once in a while.

WD. You are obviously very excited about the announcement of Metroid Prime 4, what’s another dream game you’d like to see become a reality?

Arlo: The obvious answer is a true “Paper Mario 3,” but according to Nintendo there’s no way that will happen. Then my mind jumps to Pikmin 4, but that’s basically confirmed already. So let’s see, Resident Evil already went back to being good, Super Mario Odyssey is just about everything I could want in a Mario game, Mass Effect is dead… This is hard! I think I’ll just go with “Metroid 5.” A new, original 2D Metroid with some of the grand, cinematic elements introduced in Other M but with the truly open format of Super. And if we’re really talking dream material here, a 3D Mario where you go on a straight-up adventure like in Paper Mario and Mario and Luigi, with hammers and towns and a story and all that.

WD. The big question (if you don’t mind revealing this here)… Top 5 favorite games of all time?

Arlo: It’s like impossible to nail down the five best ones, but I’m going to start listing my favorite games until I run out of spaces:

Metroid Prime

Twilight Princess

Pikmin 2

Mass Effect

Resident Evil 4

WD. Any closing words you’d like to say to your fans?

Arlo: As always, the most important thing to say is thanks! I can’t even believe that there are so many awesome, supportive people out there that like to watch videos featuring my ugly mug, and I can’t possibly thank you all enough!


Many, many thanks to Monsieur Arlo for taking the time for this interview. Once again, you can find all of Arlo’s fantastic content at his YouTube channel. It’s well worth it.

Cuphead Review

Cuphead certainly looks unlike any game that came before it, replicating the distinct look of a 1930s cartoon down pat, right down to the grainy picture quality and surrealistic character designs. The music and sounds also have that muffled, “in a tunnel” quality of the slapstick cartoons of the era. Cuphead is brought to life through completely hand-drawn visuals. From its shockingly fluid character sprites to its cel animated backgrounds, Cuphead is a wonder to see in action. It may not be the first game to use hand-drawn visuals, but no video game has earned the right to be called an interactive cartoon quite like Cuphead.

Simply put, Cuphead is on an aesthetic level that’s all its own, and it may be a good number of years before another game showcases a similar level of visual inventiveness.

Of course, all the aesthetic pleasures in the world wouldn’t mean much if the game they contained couldn’t stand on its own two feet. Thankfully, Cuphead is a more than capable gameplay experience, even if its action can’t quite capture the same magic as its eye-popping visuals.

Players take control of Cuphead, an old-timey cartoon figure who – as his name implies – has a cup for a head; while a second player can take control of his brother, Mugman. These two characters live on Inkwell Isle, under the watchful eye of Elder Kettle. One day, while Elder Kettle is asleep, the two mischievous brothers sneak into a casino. After at first securing a winning streak, the casino’s owner is revealed to be the Devil, who raises the stakes on Cuphead’s gambling. After Cuphead makes a bad roll, the Devil demands their souls as payment. The brothers plea for another way out of the mess, and the Devil promises he’ll let them go, if they can secure the souls of others who owe the Devil a debt. So Cuphead and Mugman set out to defeat the debtors, and find a way to get out of their contract with the Devil.

It’s a silly plot, but perfectly in tune with the 1930s cartoons that inspired it. People often seem to misremember old cartoons as being more innocent than they actually were. Many old cartoons, even those starring the “squeaky clean” Mickey Mouse, often saw their cute characters go through some extreme circumstances before they learned a lesson, and it’s great to see how Cuphead manages to capture the tone of its inspirations, and that the 1930s cartoon feel doesn’t stop at the visuals.

In regards to gameplay, Cuphead is a run and gun platformer, with a particular emphasis on its boss fights. Cuphead and Mugman can shoot magic from their fingers, and can perform a “parry” action by pressing the jump button against pink objects while in midair. The more damage the heroes do to enemies, the more a special meter builds up in the form of playing cards, with a successful parry automatically achieving a full card. Cuphead can use stronger attacks by using a single card, but if you wait until you have a full five cards, you can unleash a super attack.

Along the adventure, Cuphead can purchase new types of guns (or magic blasts, whatever you want to call them). You can equip two such guns at a time, and can swap between those equipped by the press of a button. Additionally, you can also buy items that provide other benefits, such as additional hitpoints (the standard is three, but you can up it to four or five), or the ability to hit an automatic parry during a jump. To prevent the heroes from becoming overpowered, however, you can only equip one such item at a time.

There are three types of levels in Cuphead: the standard run and gun platforming stages, boss stages, and bullet hell boss stages (differentiated by Cuphead and Mugman piloting an airplane in an autoscrolling level).

The boss fights are the meat of the game, with most stages being gauntlets of either multiple bosses, or individual boss enemies who go through multiple phases. Perhaps most notable is how creative many of these boss fights are. Despite Cuphead’s simplistic gameplay mechanics, the creativity on display with every boss fight makes them constantly surprising, and every last boss is distinct from the others.

On the downside of things, the platforming stages aren’t remotely as fun, and it seems that the developers were well aware of that, seeing as there are only six of them in the entire game. I wouldn’t say these stages are flat-out bad, but they fail to replicate the quality and creativity found in the boss battles, and feel really bland by comparison.

In terms of challenge, Cuphead is as deceptively sinister as the cartoons that inspired it. Its opening tutorial is perhaps the easiest I’ve ever played, but once you step into the actual game, it can get incredibly punishing. Cuphead’s steep difficulty curve means it certainly isn’t a game for everyone. You won’t find any checkpoints in the boss fights or the levels, so if you die, it’s back to the starting line. And some of the bosses are unrelenting in the amount of alternate forms they take and how many projectiles they throw at you at once. Thankfully, as challenging as it is, the difficulty is mostly fair (I only felt there were two boss fights where it seemed like there were a distracting amount of going-on on screen).

The bosses do include a “simple” option where you’ll only face off against their first few phases at the expense of not getting their soul contract and, subsequently, being unable to progress until you try the actual thing (making the simple mode more of a practice mode than anything).

With how painstakingly long it takes to create hand-drawn animation, Cuphead is an understandably short game, with only three “proper” worlds and a fourth world that consists of one particularly lengthy gauntlet and a battle with the Devil himself. But for the most part, Cuphead is a blast while it lasts. The standard stages may be a little bland, but the boss encounters are one delight after another. And in terms of style, Cuphead is second to none.

 

8.0

Culdcept Revolt Review

*This review originally appeared at Miketendo64.com*

It isn’t all too often that you get to play a game that feels distinctly different, but that’s pretty much the case with Culdcept Revolt, which plays like a combination between a board game and a card game, with some light RPG elements thrown in for good measure. Although it boasts a somewhat tedious nature that will turn away some players, those who will fall in its niche will likely be hooked.

Truth be told, this isn’t the first Culdcept game, as the series saw some releases on the PS2 and Xbox 360 back in the day. But Revolt is the first entry in the series to make its way outside of Japan for nearly a decade, so even those who did manage to play the series during its “test run” era in the western world will likely feel a sense of newness when stepping into Culdcept Revolt’s unique setup.

The goal of Culdcept Revolt is to acquire a certain amount of magic (which varies depending on the board) and then make a lap around the game board while still holding on to the required amount of magic. As you may have guessed, you try to either prevent your opponent from gaining enough magic to win, or steal it from them when and if possible.

It works something like this: the game boards are comprised of five different types of spaces; fire (red), water (blue), wind (green) and earth (yellow) make up the majority of the boards, with the “gate” spaces being required to pass by in order to complete the aforementioned laps around the board.

At the start of each turn, the players are given a card; either monster, item or spell. The monsters are possibly the most important, and are placed on spaces to steal magic from the opposing players who happen to land on that same space. Either the enemy player pays the toll, or they attempt to battle the monster with one of their own. Should the defending player win the battle, the passerby must still pay the toll. But if the offender wins, they get to keep their magic.

Most monsters come in one of four types, corresponding with the elements of the board spaces, and receive bonuses if they’re placed on a space that shares their element; but there are also monsters that don’t have types, and are best used when you’re not in a position to gain the bonuses.

Should you enter a battle with a monster, both parties have the ability to equip their monster with an an item card (when applicable), which may increase their hit points or strength, or provide a different bonus, like a guaranteed first strike.

Finally, the spell cards are used outside of battle, and can be used to get a head start in a fight by damaging a monster, or provide you with extra magic, or even limit the number a player’s dice will land on in the next turn (which can potentially be used to help yourself or hinder an enemy).

Players gain additional magic every time they pass a gate space during a lap, and once they finish a lap, the monsters they placed on the board lose their “fatigue,” which essentially means you can then provide them with additional bonuses.

These bonuses mainly revolve around altering your conquered terrain. You can change the color of a space, swap the positions of monsters, and even increase the value of a space, thus increasing the toll enemy players need to pay.

The catch with all this is that playing most of your cards, and performing these territory actions, cost you some magic. So you can’t simply upgrade your territory and deploy monsters all willy nilly. There’s a sense of strategy to be had.

In terms of the core concepts, Culdcept Revolt has a lot of originality going for it. It feels like something like a crossover between Monopoly and the “Duel Mode” of Mario Party 3, but with fantasy monsters and anime characters.

Despite the freshness and charm, however, I’m afraid that Culdcept Revolt won’t be a game for everyone. Many of its matches will feel like they drag on and on. This is doubly true in the single player campaign, in which the enemy AI seems to take its sweet time in making decisions, and the characters often feel the need to bombard the player with dialogue at the start of their every turn. And frankly, the things the characters have to say aren’t particularly interesting, with a storyline that’s riddled in cliches, right down to the whole “main character with amnesia” trope that seems to follow anime-styled games like cuteness on a puppy.

Another downside comes in the form of the random elements of the game itself. Okay, so like any game where dice is a factor, there’s going to be a bit of randomness about it. But Culdcept Revolt feels like one of those games where computer players conveniently get consistently high rolls, while the human players are outright lucky if they manage to move more than two or three spaces in a turn. Not to mention that the cards you receive at the beginning of your turn are also completely random, which makes it hard to build a proper strategy from the outset. Sure, one could argue that the random cards are akin to an actual board game, but real board games usually provide you with different decks to choose from. At the very least, being able to pick whether you draw a monster, item or spell would help add to the strategizing.

Culdcept Revolt is a game that certainly showcases some fun and original ideas, and even includes the ability to save in the middle of a match to return to it later, which is perfect for a portable game given how lengthy the match-ups can be. But Revolt also isn’t a game for everyone, with its single player campaign teetering on the boring side. Thankfully, local and online multiplayer should have you and another player enjoying the game for what it is. If you have the patience for it, that is.

 

6.5

Ninja Gaiden (NES) Review

“Nintendo hard.”

That’s a term commonly used to describe the often brutal difficulty of games found on the NES. From Mega Man to Castlevania to Battletoads, the NES was riddled with games so punishing, that arguably no system has since repeated such consistently high difficulty. Among the most famous of these “Nintendo hard” games was Techmo’s Ninja Gaiden.

Ninja Gaiden is a side-scrolling action game, where players take control of Ryu Hayabusa through six different worlds, each more difficult than the last. Ryu can jump, slash enemies with his katana, and use special items Castlevania-style by pressing up on the D-pad along with the attack button.

Perhaps Ninja Gaiden’s most notable aspect that set it apart from other 8-bit action titles, however, was Ryu’s ability to wall jump (these were simpler times, when a simple new game mechanic could be used as a selling point for a title).

“Though its story is nothing to write home about, Ninja Gaiden’s cinematics were novel in their time.”

For the most part, Ryu Hayabusa is a fun character to control. His jumping feels smooth and responsive, and the simple combat mechanics are quick and fun. On the downside of things, the wall jump – despite being one of the game’s biggest draws back in the day – isn’t nearly as consistent. Ryu sticks to any wall you jump towards, which is fine, but once he’s on there, it can get tough to get him down. You can’t simply drop down, and instead have to use the wall jump (which can get troublesome in enemy-packed areas). Problems arise though, when the wall jumping doesn’t always coincide with your button presses. It’s a strange phenomenon, because while Ryu’s controls otherwise feel completely responsive, you may have to press the jump button several times before Ryu decides to jump off a wall. Playing as a wall-jumping ninja certainly is a cool idea, but I’m afraid time has exposed how unpolished the mechanic was in Ninja Gaiden.

With that said, Ninja Gaiden is still a really fun game overall. The levels are short but challenging, and for the most part that challenge – while it can be steep – is generally fair. And thankfully, the levels feature a decent amount of checkpoints, and even game overs simply take you back to said checkpoints, so this helps keep the frustration down (though it also may make you wonder why game overs were even included to begin with). You even have unlimited continues, which means you have ample tries to learn from past mistakes.

There are two major caveats with the levels, however: the first is that dying during boss fights will take you back to the start of that level, which is a dumbfounding decision, seeing as any other death takes you back to the nearest checkpoint. I’m not even saying you need to start back at the boss door or anything, but why not the closest checkpoint? It’s just a weird inconsistency.

The other problem with the stages are how easy it is for enemies to respawn. Sure, many games feature respawning enemies if you go a certain distance and come back, but it seems like if Ryu moves even an inch backwards, previous enemies will respawn. This can make things kind of annoying when trying to make the game’s trickier jumps, and you need to keep readjusting your position, only for the enemies to respawn and stand in the path of your jump.

So Ninja Gaiden has a few aged elements to it. I suppose that should be expected, considering the NES era will still something of a pioneering time for the medium. But even if it can’t compete with more timeless NES titles like Mega Man 2 or Super Mario Bros. 3, Ninja Gaiden still displays a strong sense of fun and challenge. And hey, it’s still not as tough as Battletoads.

 

 

7.0