Persona 5 Review

*This review originally appeared at afterstorygaming.com*

A “bona fide, Monafied” masterpiece

While my thoughts on the Shin-Megami subseries may emit a questionable sense of bias, piercing through any form of clouded judgment was surprisingly trivial as Persona 5 is an absolute delight, regardless of my attachment to the series. As I’ve mentioned profusely, Persona 4 Golden is my favourite video game of all-time, and my biased standpoint stems from the sheer fact that this experience saved my life. With that rather audacious statement declared, expectations for its sequel were undoubtedly and unfairly monumental; Persona 4 was an enlightening experience that impeccably resonated with every beat of my contemporary life at that point in time. Persona 5 is not nearly as masterful as its predecessor, but one must understand that it was never going to be nor does it need to be. Persona 5 is an intricately designed experience that exudes an unparalleled aura of stylistic charm, with its immaculate presentation placed in a profound echelon of its own. While its pivotal narrative lacks the grave and brutal nature of its predecessor, it still manages to weave elements of moral intensity, corruption, unity and friendship, throwing in plenty of twists and turns that construct a sound and compelling narrative that is arguable the best in the series. While dozens of returning elements foster the core structure that we’ve come to expect, welcome new additions are added into the mix to create the most streamlined, accessible, and smooth Persona experience to date. Character development and gameplay are seamlessly entwined with each element inherently affecting the other, the simplistically complex battle-system is a refined work of art that bears an untouched stylistic aesthetic, and the excellent new Mementos system provides a refreshing approach to longevity and level grinding, justifying its questionable existence. While Persona 5’s characters aren’t nearly as endearing as the exquisite cast of Persona 4 and the typical sense of dread and impending doom is questionably absent for most of the journey, Persona 5 is undoubtedly the most polished entry in the series as its intricately designed gameplay systems and captivating narrative points are stellar examples of this genre’s iconic framework and impressive capability. It might not be the life-changing experience that its older brother delivered, but Persona 5 is an excellent standalone experience that is extraordinarily gratifying for all who wish to partake in this exquisite journey – it is a bona fide masterpiece.

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Cobra Triangle Review

*Review based on Cobra Triangle’s release as part of Rare Replay*

Cobra Triangle is one of Rare’s more fondly remembered NES outings, and it isn’t too difficult to see why. Though at first glance it may appear to be little more than a boat racing game, Cobra Triangle quickly proves itself to be a game of surprising variety.

The first stage of Cobra Triangle is wonderfully deceiving, being a racetrack you may have predicted from the game’s artwork, with controls that are eerily similar to R.C. Pro-Am’s, albeit with a boat instead of remote controlled cars. Your boat also has the benefit of having projectile missiles equipped at all times, as opposed to Pro-Am’s weapons being power-ups.

Once you finish that first race, however, the game starts throwing curveballs at the player through stages that have varying objectives. Soon you’ll be defusing water mines, fighting massive sea monsters, collecting items, and saving swimmers, among other goals. There are twenty-five stages total, with some stages trading places depending on which paths you decide to take in the racing courses.

The sheer variety of ways Cobra Triangle creates with such seemingly simple gameplay is the highlight of the package. As far as NES games go, few titles in the 8-bit console’s library could boast such versatility.

If there is a notable complaint to be found, it’s that the aforementioned “swimmer rescuing” missions are considerably more difficult than the rest of the game, to the point of being frustrating. Enemy ships will come charging at the poor swimmers like bats out of Hell, and your boat isn’t fast enough to keep up with them all. Add in enemy missiles that temporarily stun you, and things get downright stressful. Granted, there only needs to be one swimmer remaining in order to move on to the next stage, but that is much easier said than done (especially when you consider that your thumb might be exhausted, as you have to repeatedly press the attack button to continue firing missiles instead of simply holding it).

While the rescue missions may drain your lives quickly, the rest of the game provides a steep but reasonable challenge. And once a level’s goal has been met, your boat grows a helicopter propeller and flies to the next stage. How cool is that?!

Cobra Triangle also made the best of its 8-bit limitations with vehicle (and monster) sprites that were really impressive for their time. Like a number of Rare’s other early titles, the game is played in an isometric view, which can admittedly lead to some tricky perspectives at times (such as when trying to collect items when jumping off ramps). But from a technical standpoint, the graphics remain impressive for how there can be so much going on on-screen, yet it can manage to keep up with the action of your ship without any notable graphical hiccups.

On top of all that, Cobra Triangle also features a catchy soundtrack by none other than David Wise. Though it may not have the same depth or atmosphere as Wise’s later scores, the acclaimed gaming composer does help bring out Cobra Triangle’s unique charm through its soundtrack.

Cobra Triangle remains a fun game to play today, which is quite impressive for something that, on the surface, may just appear to be an NES boat racing game. The rescue missions may break the pacing of the game a bit with there considerably difficulty spike, and the perspectives can be a little misleading at times. But there’s no denying the fun, variety and ambition that Cobra Triangle brought to the NES.

 

7.0

Snake Rattle ‘N’ Roll Review

*Review based on Snake Rattle ‘N’ Roll’s release as part of Rare Replay*

Snake Rattle ‘N’ Roll has to be one of the more unique games in the NES library, and it’s understandably gained a reputation as one of developer Rare’s classic titles. An isometric platformer that put its own spin on the genre, Snake Rattle ‘N’ Roll is still a lot of fun today, even if some of its elements can be a little on the frustrating side.

One or two players can join in Snake Rattle ‘N’ Roll, with the playable characters being the titular serpents Rattle (a red snake) and Roll (a blue snake). The goal of the game is to extend the snakes’ tails by eating little orbs called Nibbley Pibbleys.

These Nibbley Pibbley’s come in three different colors; red, blue and yellow. Depending on which snake you’re playing as, the red and blue Nibbley Pibbleys will be worth one or two points (two points for eating those that are the same color as your snake, and one point for the opposite color), while the yellow Nibbley Pibbleys grant three points. Every time your snake consumes four points worth of Nibbley Pibbleys, they gain one extension to their tail. When the tail reaches its maximum length for a given stage, the end of the tail begins to glow. When in this state, the snakes are heavy enough to ring a bell on a weighing machine, which opens up the exit to the next stage.

There’s another twist in this scenario, as being hit by enemies will take away the progress on your tail, piece by piece. And you only have so much time to finish a level, so if enemies start chipping away at your tail faster than you can extend it, you’re in trouble. The Nibbley Pibbleys are constantly spawning via Nibbley Dispencors, so you can always potentially regain your tail, provided you’re fast enough.

Before things can become too repetitious, Snake Rattle ‘N’ Roll throws another curveball at the player in that the Nibbleys behave differently in each of the game’s eleven stages. On the first level, they are simply rolling balls, but during the second stage, they begin bouncing around. The third stage sees them growing legs and running away, while on the fourth stage they temporarily melt into the ground, which prevents you from gobbling them up for a short time. It may be a small difference, but the fact that the Nibbley Pibbleys act uniquely to each stage adds a nice touch of variety to the core gameplay, and ensuring that it feels fresh the whole way through.

Considering Snake Rattle ‘N’ Roll was released in a time when every platformer was simply trying to copy Super Mario Bros. (and never replicating its magic), the game was a really fresh take on the genre in its day, and it still feels unique even today. With its genre-defiant attitude, however, come two unfortunate aspects of the game which haven’t aged so gracefully.

The first of these drawbacks is that the isometric perspective can make certain perspectives really tricky, making the platforming of the game often feeling awkward. The second such drawback is that the jumping mechanics can feel a little floaty, with the snakes often seeming like they can only decide where they’re jumping after they’ve already taken to the air. Combine these two elements together, and Snake Rattle ‘N’ Roll can feel infuriatingly intricate with its platforming elements. And considering the stages don’t have outer walls, you can easily overshoot a jump and fall to your death repeatedly due to the floaty jumps and difficult perspectives.

While these elements do hold the game back from being one of the best NES titles, Snake Rattle ‘N’ Roll still remains a highlight in the NES’ library, and something of a turning point for Rare, as it marked the beginning of the cartoonish silliness and wacky humor that would go on to define the British developer for years to come (even the enemies are an odd assortment of vinyl records and sentient feet). And the game has a memorable score by David Wise, taking inspiration from popular music of the 1950s (including, of course, the game’s namesake Shake, Rattle and Roll).

Snake Rattle ‘N’ Roll may not be perfect, due to some tricky and aged mechanics,. But the uniqueness and fun of its concept, two-player co-op, and undeniable charm shine through, making for one of the more memorable NES outings you and a friend can partake in even by today’s standards.

 

7.5

R.C. Pro-Am Review

*Review based on R.C. Pro-Am’s release as part of Rare Replay*

R.C. Pro-Am marked a turning point in Rare’s history, as it’s often regarded as the developer’s first big success on a Nintendo platform. Rare was previously known for their titles for the ZX Spectrum back when they were known as Ultimate Play the Game. But R.C. Pro-Am’s success on the NES lead to a nearly unparalleled partnership between Rare and Nintendo; one which would lead to years of success due to the creation of games like Battletoads, Donkey Kong Country, Killer Instinct, Goldeneye 007 and Banjo-Kazooie.

When playing R.C. Pro-Am today, it’s easy to see what made it so appealing way back when, though it may lack the depth to make it a worthy alternative to more contemporary similar titles.

R.C. Pro-Am is a racing game. A racing game in which you can pick up upgrades and weapons to help to achieve victory. If that sounds a bit like Mario Kart, well, that’s because that’s very much what it’s like. Though with its 1988 release on the NES, R.C. Pro-Am predated the original Super Mario Kart by four years.

Of course, being released four years beforehand, and on a less advanced console, means that R.C. Pro-Am is also a simpler game than Mario Kart. While Super Mario Kart used the SNES’ Super FX chip to give the race tracks a sense of three-dimensional space, R.C. instead went with an isometric view.

The race tracks are small, and only consist of a few twists and turns, and the cars control in a way that feels surprisingly similar to a remote-controlled toy cars. You’ll always race against three other cars, and will have to use weapons to hinder your rivals and boosts to help you achieve first place. Weapons come in a small variety, like missiles which you launch forward, and bombs which you drop behind.

There’s really not much more to it than that, but the gameplay is still engaging and strangely addictive even today. Though there are some drawbacks to the experience.

On the downside of things, each race ends as soon as one racer reaches the finish line. This means you could be in first for the majority of the race, but then potentially fall into fourth place in the last lap, and lose the race as soon as one rival clears the finishing line, thus not giving you a chance to better your placement. This can be particularly annoying because there are only ever four racers at a time. Claiming first through third places will nab you a gold, silver and bronze trophy, but coming in fourth means you lose that race. Lose three times, and you have to start all over. The penalty for the losses is reasonable, but the fact that you can easily get a loss because of one small slip-up is a bit less so.

Another big drawback is that R.C. Pro-Am is only a single-player affair. With its chaotic, combat-heavy races, this is a game that was begging for a second player to get in on the action. Sadly, your only options are to try to beat the computer and better your performances. As fun as the gameplay is, adding a second player to the mix would have given it so much more replay value.

As it is, R.C. Pro-Am is still a fun game, being something of a precursor to the combat-racing and cartoony go-karting genres, and it boasts a fun musical score by David Wise (always a good thing). But, as you may have noticed, I’ve brought up Mario Kart a few times in this review. Considering Mario Kart is beloved for its multiplayer, well, you may find R.C. Pro-Am may make you want to play Nintendo’s iconic racing series after a few short sessions.

 

6.0

Slalom Review

*Review based on Slalom’s release as part of Rare Replay*

Slalom, as its title suggests, is a skiing video game where players partake in a series of downhill slalom runs. One of the first releases under the then-newly rechristened Rare, Slalom was also the first NES game developed outside of Japan. Perhaps both a testament to the NES’ abilities and to Rare’s output after the name-change, Slalom may be a simple experience, but is considerably more fun than most of the ZX Spectrum games Rare made back when they were known as Ultimate Play the Game.

The gameplay of Slalom is simple enough; you choose one of three mountains, each consisting of eight skiing challenges. Snowy Hill is the place to go for beginners, Steep Peak is of the medium difficulty, and the hilariously-named Mount Nasty provides a challenge for experts.

Once your mountain is picked, you must head down the mountain while avoiding hazards, obstacles and other skiers to keep your momentum going. You can pass through flag posts to gain speed, but if you run into a flag, it’s the same as hitting any other obstacle, and you lose speed. You must make it to the goal within a time limit, with extra points being rewarded for reaching the goal faster and for your performance. But, should you fail to make it to the goal within the time limit of even a single challenge, the game is over, and you go back to the beginning.

If that sounds a bit unforgiving, it’s because it is. Though the core gameplay is fun and addicting, Slalom is one of those NES games that will definitely take a lot of patience before you get the hang of it. Expect to throw a few fits of rage when you start failing on the earlier levels of Snowy Hill repeatedly.

It must also be said that a little something is lost in the Xbox One version in Rare Replay, as this is a game tailor-made for the D-pad, but the Xbox One controller’s D-pad is far from ideal. You’re honestly better off with the joystick if playing on Xbox One, but of course that doesn’t feel right either.

Still, if you can muster up the courage for its challenge, then you have a fun NES game on your hands. The re-release’s controls may not be ideal, but they could certainly be much worse. The simple gameplay of going downhill and avoiding obstacles is a lot more fun than it may sound, and the game has a fun sense of humor by peppering the stages with obstacles like snowmen and kids playing in the snow. And, for an NES game, Slalom has surprisingly strong visuals, with the levels moving in such a way as to bring to mind SNES titles like F-Zero and Super Mario Kart.

It may be simple stuff, but Slalom provides some good, challenging, 8-bit fun.

 

6.0

Gunfright Review

*Review based on Gunfright’s release as part of Rare Replay*

Another one of Ultimate Play the Game’s (now Rare) early ZX Spectrum titles, Gunfright used a similar isometric style to Knight Lore. But instead of werewolves and dungeons, we have gunslingers in the wild west. It also abandons the puzzle and platforming elements in favor of “action.”

In Gunfright, the player takes control of the town sheriff, who is on a mission to track down a band of outlaws and gun them down. The game begins with a quick first-person mini-game, in which the player shoots falling bags of money to claim their initial sum of cash, with which they purchase more ammunition every time they use all six bullets in their gun’s barrel, as well as pay a small fee every time they hitch a ride on a horse for extra speed.

After the mini-game, the primary isometric gameplay takes place. Here, you basically just walk around the town, looking for the outlaws (one at a time). There are two kinds of citizens around town: southern belles who run around the place much faster than our hero can move (which proves to be incredibly problematic, as coming into contact with them results in instant death), and bouncing, sombrero-wearing gentlemen, who point to the direction of the current outlaw.

If you shoot these civilians, you have to pay a hefty penalty out of your cash. It took me a good while to figure out that the sombrero NPCs were pointing in a direction and not pointing again. Suffice to say, I was continuously losing dough before I figured that one out.

As stated, coming into contact with these civilians kills you. And like the previous ZX Spectrum games by Ultimate Play the Game, these characters seem to be everywhere, so you’ll often die just because you couldn’t navigate around the civilians quickly enough.

Should you manage to come across an outlaw, one of you has to initiate a duel (it’s easiest if you shoot first – like Han Solo – since the outlaws often just walk around aimlessly even when you’re right in front of them). Once the duel starts, you go back into a first-person view like in the opening mini-game. You have to pelt the outlaw with as many bullets as possible from the get-go, because if you hesitate for even a second, they’ll riddle you with bullets and you’ll have to find them all over again. As you can imagine, it’s frustrating.

Honestly, there’s not much about Gunfright that’s fun (except maybe the initial money bag mini-game). Many of the same issues that plagued Ultimate Play the Game’s previous ZX Spectrum outings are in full force here (too many characters on-screen that run much faster than you and can kill you with a touch, confusing world design, etc.). The repeated sins even go so far as the sound effects, which once again recycle the irritating, plinky-plonky noises of Atic Atac (Ultimate Play the Game sure got a lot of mileage out of those sounds). And now you have even less visual space for the action, as most of the screen is filled up by your remaining cash and bullets, price tags for items, and wanted posters of the outlaws.

Gunfright more or less serves as a showcase of the dated issues and mechanics of its older ZX Spectrum siblings, all wrapped up in a convenient, wild west adorned package.

 

2.0

Knight Lore Review

*Review based on Knight Lore’s Release as part of Rare Replay*

The third installment in the Sabreman series, Knight Lore is often considered a technical milestone in gaming for its use of isometric gameplay making for a much broader adventure than gaming had seen up to that point, and it is widely regarded as a defining moment in British video game design.

It’s also really boring.

Now, I can understand the game’s technical leaps for the industry, and can appreciate the impact in had on gaming history. But that doesn’t change that, in terms of playability, Knight Lore is very much a product of its time. Though it may not feel as fundamentally broken as its predecessor Underwurlde, Knight Lore has definitely felt the affect of aging, and without the historical context, provides very little reason for a revisit.

In all fairness, Knight Lore actually has a pretty interesting premise: series’ protagonist Sabreman has been bitten by the Sabre Wulf, and has now become a werewolf himself. To break this curse, Sabreman must traverse an ancient dungeon and seek out special items to brew the cure he seeks. But he only has forty days to do so, or else he will become a wolf forever.

Knight Lore features a day and night cycle, with Sabreman being in human form during the day, and wolf form at night. Each cycle only lasts about thirty seconds, meaning an entire game day takes about a minute. Of course, this means the game can (and must) be beaten very quickly, but in order to do so, you’d really have to know what you’re doing. Sadly, much like its ZX Spectrum predecessors, Knight Lore doesn’t exactly help the player out, as once again everything seems incredibly cryptic.

The game features a total of 128 rooms in the dungeon, with a nice twist being that you’ll start out in a different room in each playthrough. The player may have to solve puzzles to get passed certain rooms (usually by pushing objects and platforms), or they may have to avoid obstacles and enemies. Of course, that’s much easier said than done.

The only real gameplay difference between Sabreman’s forms is that the wolf jumps higher, and that certain enemies will take a particular disliking to the wolf. So if you thought maybe at least the wolf would have some kind of attack…sorry, no dice.

Another problem arises with the control of Sabreman himself. He moves far to radically, and he always has to move forward whenever he jumps. Combine this with the prototypical isometric view, and the platforming sections are nothing short of disastrous. It’s even hard to navigate past traps and enemies, what with Sabreman’s clunky controls and the sheer difficulty in differentiating the space and perspectives of objects.

“This is as far as Sabreman can go. Just ignore the wide, open space. You can’t go around this wall.”

There’s also a pretty notable graphical limitation in that what you see isn’t always what you get. By that I mean you may find in some rooms you can walk through all available space, while other times it looks like you should be able to walk around something, but just can’t. While some might defend the game as simply being limited due to the hardware, it doesn’t change the fact that the inconsistency really throws off the player.

I have to admit I feel guilty. I can understand the impact a game may have had back in the early 1980s, and knowing a game had such influence makes you want to say nice things about it. But if we’re just talking about a gameplay experience to play today, Knight Lore just isn’t fun. It feels downright archaic in not just its graphics and sound, but in its gameplay.

Knight Lore was released on the ZX Spectrum in November of 1984. For the record, Super Mario Bros. was released ten months later, in September of 1985. The latter is, of course, proof that 80s games can still be a lot of fun today. There’s a night and day difference between a timeless classic and a relic from the past. If Super Mario Bros. is the obvious timeless classic, well, you can imagine what that makes Knight Lore.

 

2.0