Tag Archives: PC Games

Strikey Sisters Review

Strikey Sisters is a modern day brick breaker by DYA Games. Though this genre has largely been left behind to gaming’s yesteryear, Strikey Sisters does a great job at reminding players why such a simple genre can be so appealing, not to mention addictive.

The goal of each stage in Strikey Sisters is to eliminate every block and enemy on a stage, with the blocks needing to be destroyed first, as their presence allows the enemies to respawn. Once the blocks are dealt with, knock out all the enemies and you’re ready to move on. It’s simple enough in concept, but Strikey Sisters throws enough curveballs to make for quite a challenging experience.

As is often the case with games like this, the players can only move left and right at the bottom of the screen, with one or two players being able to control either of the titular sisters. In order to break the blocks and defeat enemies, the sisters have to repeatedly strike magic balls, which then bounce around the stage dealing damage to enemies and chipping away at the blocks. Each sister has three hit points to start with, which are depleted if they are either hit by an enemy attack, or if they miss their ball and it falls off the stage. Things get all the more hectic with two players, because if both players strike the same ball (something that will be inevitable), then it belongs to both players, meaning if it goes off course, both characters lose a heart.

The pinball-meets-Kirby’s Block Ball set up is a lot of fun, especially with two players, and it’s made all the better by the inclusions of power-ups that mix up the gameplay. You can get bombs that target all on-screen foes, or lasers that will destroy any block or enemy in its path. You can even get an item that slows the balls down so they’re easier to hit and keep track of. The best such power-up, however, is the iron ball which – as its name implies – turns the magic balls into iron, allowing them to plow through enemies and blocks with a single hit for a limited time. Strikey Sisters also features some pretty tough boss battles, who bombard players with repeated attacks, making their stages all the more difficult to complete.

Should you get stuck on a particularly difficult stage, multiple levels usually unlock at once, so you can always move on to something else and come back to a tough stage later. Additional replay value is added to the stages by the inclusions of gems and character cards. A level isn’t fully complete until you grab a gem that will appear from one of the bricks, and manage to collect a card of every enemy type that appears on the stage. To collect a card, just grab the card power-up and throw it at an enemy. These are simple additions, but they do add that little something extra for completionists.

The game is also an aesthetic treat, with graphics that are reminiscent of Saturn Bomberman, music that sounds like a cross between Kirby and Nights Into Dreams, and sound effects that echo Mega Man Legends. I’m not sure if it was intentional, but the visuals and audio really make Strikey Sisters feel like a love letter to the Sega Saturn and PSOne.

Indeed, fans of 2D gaming’s final run in the early years of the 32-bit era (before they saw a resurgence this last decade) are probably who Strikey Sisters is geared most for. Though any fan of simple gameplay, steep challenge and replay value can have a good time, especially if they bring a friend along.

 

8.0

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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

Mr. Shifty Review

*This review originally appeared on Miketendo64.com*

Remember that opening scene from X-2: X-Men United where Nightcrawler is teleporting all over the place, beating people up every time he reappears? Take that, and merge it with a top-down beat-em-up, and you have a good idea of what Mr. Shifty is all about.

Players take control of the titular Mr. Shifty, a teleporting thief who is trying to steal “Super Plutonium” from the clutches of Chairman Stone, who seeks to weaponize it. To do so, however, Mr. Shifty will have to infiltrate Stone’s building, which is the “most secure facility on the planet.”

Mr. Shifty is a very simple game. Your goal is to clear a room by either eliminating all enemies or solving puzzles, with each stage consisting of a number of rooms. The catch here is that Mr. Shifty dies in one hit, and can only use his fists – or various objects he finds – as weapons. So you’re left with figuring out how to best utilize your teleporting abilities to shift through walls and sneak up on enemies. You’ll also have to teleport past deadly lasers, land mines, and explosives, all of which can also be used to take out enemies, if you’re crafty enough.

The game can actually be very creative with how it goes about its premise, with many of the game’s puzzles requiring on-the-fly thinking and its simple combat being tough and exciting.

With that said, the game can feel a bit repetitious after a while. As fun as it can be, Mr. Shifty’s bag of tricks does start to feel exhausted from time to time. It will introduce fun ideas (such as rooms that prevent you from teleporting, stripping you of your primary means of defense), but then keep using them to the point where you may start to get frustrated with them. This is especially true in times when you have to endure a gauntlet of enemies amid such moments, with a single death resulting in starting the whole gauntlet over.

This only intensifies as the game goes on, with the third act unfortunately being the low point of Mr. Shifty, as things really begin to drag on and on.

The aforementioned story is simple, and in case the “Super Plutonium” didn’t tip you off, is full of self-parody and jokes at the expense of gaming and action movie clichés. It can be decently funny at times, though at the same time, I don’t think it’s funny enough to be particularly memorable.

Mr. Shifty is also bogged down by some technical issues, with slow-downs and temporary freeze-ups being common occurrences. It’s by no means broken, but the technical blips are notable enough to hinder the experience somewhat.

Hopefully this doesn’t sound too negative, because when Mr. Shifty works, it’s a lot of fun. The teleporting mechanic brings a good dose of creativity to the puzzles, and the combat is delightfully reminiscent of the beat-em-ups of old. The visuals are also pretty decent for the genre, and the music – while maybe lacking in variety – fits the game well.

Mr. Shifty is a fun experience while it lasts, with simple and addicting gameplay that gets bonus points for the creativity in which it presents its key mechanic. But the increasing monotony, along with the technical issues do hold it back. Mr. Shifty is a game that wants desperately to be replayed over and over again so that players can beat their best times. But after the novelty wears off, it’s hard to say just how replayable Mr. Shifty would be.

 

6.5

Killing Floor Review

Killing Floor

Killing Floor began its life as an Unreal Tournament mod in 2005, before getting an official release in 2009. Killing Floor is a first-person zombie shooter, and a pretty decent one. It may not bring the same kind of depth to the genre that made the Left 4 Dead games so great, but it does provide some solid fun and suspense.

Killing Floor has two primary modes of play, one of which bares the same name as the game itself, and sees players fighting to survive hordes of zombies, with short breaks in between waves allowing the survivors to purchase weapons and upgrades. The other mode is Objective Mode, which sees players race to meet certain objectives all while fighting off zombies.

It’s simple stuff, with the usual first-person control scheme, but it works. And Killing Floor finds some fun little details that add to the experience, like being able to weld doors shut in order to slow the zombies down, as well as a short list of selectable classes which you can level up by continuously playing as them, which unlocks more features for said classes.

As simple as it is, it can be really fun and suspenseful, with the game being at its best when playing multiplayer, as the team-based setup makes fighting hordes of zombies more manageable. Plus, having different players as different classes playing together means that you each player brings something different to the table. Not to mention some of the boss zombies are just ridiculously difficult when going solo.

The maps featured in the game also add to the game’s creepy, suspenseful atmosphere, with broken down amusement parks and abandoned freight yards serving as good backdrops for the action. There’s even a recreation of Aperture Science from the Portal series as one of the stages, which gets extra points because Portal 2 is one of my favorite games of all time.

Unfortunately, Killing Floor does have some annoying features that can hamper the experience a little. While the visuals of the game look nice, there are some special visual effects that take place at certain times that are intended to give things some cinematic flair, but become a little distracting. For example, the closer you get to death, the darker and blurrier your vision becomes. I suppose that actually makes some sense, and I get what they were going for, but after a certain point you can barely see what’s in front of you, which just makes the situation more difficult. At other times, when you’re taking out several zombies, the game may go into slow-motion, and when some zombies get too close, the camera brings your gun to the front and center of the screen. These aren’t big complaints, but and you can appreciate the effort that went into trying to make it a more cinematic experience, but these visual effects can make things more difficult than they need to be.

You might also find yourself questioning the game’s longevity. Again, if you have multiple people to play with, you might have some good fun, but the gameplay can get pretty repetitious pretty quickly, so if you’re playing solo there’s only so much to see. And even if you are playing with others, I do have to point out that there are better options in this same genre (Killing Floor was released the same year as Left 4 Dead 2, which is a more complete experience). So while Killing Floor may be fun, it doesn’t have a whole lot of replay value.

All in all, Killing Floor is a solid, capable game, if an unspectacular one.  It does have a good balance of fun gameplay and horror elements, but what it has to offer is pretty short-lived, with single player in particular probably only holding your attention for a couple of sessions. Still, fighting zombies with some friends in Aperture labs? Sounds good to me!

 

6.5

Dead Sky Review

Dead Sky

Dead Sky is a top-down zombie shooter game released on Steam by Shoreline Studios in 2013. Though the game shows some polish, its more frustrating elements can prevent it from feeling like anything more than just another zombie shooter.

On the surface, there’s nothing really bad about Dead Sky. It’s a decently fun top-down shooter that provides players with the satisfaction of destroying hordes of zombies with a variety of weapons. The game is probably most notable for its multiplayer modes, which can actually be pretty fun with their mindless simplicity, but the game also features a single-player campaign.

The campaign itself is pretty short, and can probably be completed in a little over an hour, but the game tries to squeeze in some nice variety while it lasts. While most levels see players fighting their way through zombies as they progress through them, other levels work as an endurance test, and have you fighting off waves of zombies for an allotted time, while others work as driving stages. One level even sees you using the chain gun aboard a helicopter, and defeating a set number of zombies (as well as a giant sandworm) from the skies.

It’s a decent campaign, but there are some annoying drawbacks to it. For one, the cinematics are unskippable, and every time you die you have to start a level all over again with no checkpoints (this includes watching the cinematics again).

Other big drawback is that you can only carry one gun at a time. You have a pistol which has unlimited ammo, but once you pick up a shotgun or machine gun, you have to use it or lose it, you can’t even switch back to the pistol. And most of the other weapons don’t have that much ammo, so it almost feels best to just keep the pistol, even if it is a weaker weapon.

Another small quibble is that you don’t automatically reload when you use up a whole clip of a gun. It may seem like a small complaint, but these days it seems like every shooter has your character automatically reload when a clip runs out, so it just feels kind of annoying when you’re being surrounded and run out of ammo, as you often forget you have to manually reload. It may be a small complaint, but combine it with the aforementioned one gun at a time setup, and it gets a little tedious.

All these complaints may sound minor, and in a lot of ways they are. But the sad truth is that Dead Sky, as a whole, just isn’t that spectacular of a game. It provides some good fun (especially multiplayer), but it doesn’t really stand out from any other zombie shooter available on Steam. It’s not bad, it’s just nothing special.

Still, if you just want to see some zombie heads explode, you could do a lot worse.

 

5.0

Papers, Please Review

Papers, Please

Papers, Please is an indie game created by lone developer Lucas Pope. Originally released via Steam in 2013, Papers, Please turns the immigration process into a surprisingly addicting video game.

The setting of Papers, Please is the fictional dystopian nation of Arstotzka, which has recently ended a lengthy war with rival nation Kolechia. A wall now separates the city of Grestin, with the east side of the city being a part of Arstotzka, while the west side is part of Kolechia. Players take control of a border control officer, who has been randomly selected via lottery for the position, forcefully moving him and his family to a place his government deems convenient. Your job is to look through the papers of those trying to cross the border and search for any discrepancies. If someone’s papers are all in order, you may let them pass. If not, you have to deny them access to Arstotzka.

This all starts out easy enough, as the first two game days only require the player to inspect passports, but as tensions between nations increase (there are five other nations in addition to Arstotzka and Kolechia), new and stricter laws go into effect. People are required to show more and more papers and identifications, leaving players to memorize all the information from their handbook and whatever papers are provided to obsessive-compulsive levels.

There is an even bigger catch to all of this. The player is rewarded with five credits (Arstotzka’s currency) for every person they successfully allow or deny access to the country, so the more people you manage to go through in one of the game’s days, the more money you have to pay rent and take care of your family (which includes a wife, son, mother-in-law and uncle). Should the player make a mistake in their proceedings, they won’t receive the credits. And three mistakes on a given day will begin costing the player money.

This already makes the player’s job difficult, but to add more heft to the game, the player is often given steep moral choices. You may allow a man into the country after he has shown all of his papers, and then when his wife fails to provide the same documents, you will have to decide either to let her through at the expense of your family, or send her back to her war-torn nation and separate her from her husband so your family remains healthy.

It’s honestly some of the best usage of player choice I’ve seen in a game, since it rarely presents players with blatantly right and wrong options. Instead it asks players to make morally ambiguous choices and emotional sacrifices.

Papers, PleaseWhat’s really impressive is how much variety Papers, Please manages to squeeze into its limited concept. Players may have to scan people in search of smugglers, detain international criminals if they can find a face matching that on a wanted poster, and even take bribes as a further means to help their family (but be warned, the Arstotzkan government makes sure its citizens don’t make too much money, and should the player get greedy they may be the subject of an investigation). Just when you think you have the game figured out, it adds an extra layer to the formula in the very next game day. To top this versatility off, the game features twenty different possible endings, depending on your performance, the decisions you make, and the people you choose to help (or hinder) along the way.

The player can earn small bonuses in the form of hotkeys. Initially, the player is left to the cursor alone to shuffle through all the game’s documents and stamps which, as you might imagine, can take time. If you manage to unlock the hotkeys, you can shave off precious seconds so that you can get through more people faster, thus earning a bigger paycheck at the end of the day.

Papers, PleaseOn the downside, the number of hotkeys you can unlock are pretty limited, and you can’t gain a hotkey to use the loudspeaker to move the line forward after you’ve finished processing someone (which may not sound like a big deal, except the loudspeaker is pretty small on-screen and dcently removed from most of the other objects you interact with, meaning it will always end up costing you some time despite your best efforts). And admittedly, some points of the game may end up being more stressful than fun, as looking at every tiny detail of every single document as the clock ticks away can sometimes grow tedious.

So while Papers, Please may not be a game for everybody, it is a unique achievement among video games. One that proves the medium can take pretty much any concept – no matter how mundane it may seem – and with the right amount of ingenuity and proper execution, can turn it into a compelling and fun experience.

 

8.0

Random Statistics From my Game of the Years

A Link to the Past

After reflecting on my gaming life with my (more or less) complete list of Game of the Years from the year I was born up to 2015, I noticed a few things. Random things. Random things that must be statistically categorized.

To be more specific, the following are some random and fun (in my mind, anyway) statistics in regards to the games, series, and platforms involved with my Game of the Years. I originally was going to include these at the end of that aforementioned list, but already spent enough time writing it and wanted to move on.

Anyway, here are some finer details and random factoids regarding my selected games and runners-up. Because why not?

 

Series with the most Game of the Years

Super Mario Bros. 3

The Super Mario series has claimed the most Game of the Years from me with five winners: Super Mario Bros. 3 (1990), Super Mario World (1991), Super Mario RPG (1996), Super Mario Galaxy (2007), Super Mario Galaxy 2 (2010).

The only other series with multiple winners are The Legend of Zelda, Donkey Kong, Super Smash Bros. and Banjo-Kazooie, which have two each.

Platform with the most Game of the Years

The Super Nintendo Entertainment System and PC house more of my personal Game of the Years than any other platform, with five each. Though it should be noted that the Super Nintendo winners were all exclusives in their original release, whereas two of the PC winners were concurrently released on Playstation 3 and Xbox 360.

The platform with the second most winners, somewhat to my surprise, is the Playstation 3, with two exclusives (Uncharted 2 and Ni no Kuni) winning in their respective years, along with the previously mentioned multiplatform games, for a total of four. The Nintendo 64 and Wii tie for third place, with three winners each.

Handheld Games

Another surprise I found out about myself is that, despite my general love of handheld games, I guess I’m not as invested in them as their console counterparts, seeing as no handheld games claimed a Game of the Year, and only nine appeared as runners-up (Pokemon Red & Blue, Pokemon Gold & Silver, Mario & Luigi: Superstar Saga, Castlevania: Aria of Sorrow, WarioWare Twisted, Mario & Luigi: Bowser’s Inside Story, Mario Kart 7, The Legend of Zelda: A Link Between Worlds and Animal Crossing: New Leaf).

Does this mean those are my favorite handheld games? Not necessarily. But it was an interesting tidbit that I couldn’t think of many others I would list. Kind of makes me sad. I should play more handheld games…

Developer with the most Game of the Years

Somewhat unfairly, Nintendo claims the most Game of the Years. I say “somewhat unfairly” simply because “Nintendo” is a rather broad description of the various development teams at Nintendo.

Six winners are labelled as being developed by “Nintendo,” while the two Super Mario Galaxy games by Nintendo’s Tokyo Studios bring that number to eight. Depending on how you view Super Mario RPG and Donkey Kong Country titles (which I listed under Square, Rare and Retro Studios), that number could go up by three more.

Other developers with multiple winners include Square and Valve with two apiece, and Rare, with three winners.

Indie Games

Undertale

Undertale, the most recent winner, is the only indie game I have so far given my Game of the Year honor. Shovel Knight and Rocket League were also included as runners-up. So it seems indie games are sneaking their way into my heart.

Series with the most runners-up (Besides Mario)

Mega Man 2

Not counting the Mario series, whose runners-up can be broken down into different sub-series (Mario Kart, Paper Mario, the platformers, etc.), the series with the most runners-up is Mega Man, with seven: Mega Man 3, Mega Man X, Mega Man 8, Mega Man Legends, The Misadventures of Tron Bonne, Mega Man 9, and Mega Man 10.

The Legend of Zelda and, shockingly, Sonic the Hedgehog each have five runners-up to their name.

Series with a Game of the Year and runner-up in the same year

Mario and Sonic are the only series that have both a winner and a runner-up in the same year. Sonic the Hedgehog 3 is my retroactive Game of the Year for 1994, while Sonic & Knuckles was a runner-up that same year. 1996 sees Super Mario RPG take the cake, with Super Mario 64 also being in the loop.

Genre with the most Game of the Years

Banjo-Tooie

Platformers claim an easy victory with a whopping eleven Game of the Years. Though if you consider 2D platformers and 3D platformers as separate genres (and let’s face it, they are, along with fighting games, one of the only genres with enough differences in 2D and 3D to qualify the different perspectives as differing genres), then 2D platformers have seven victors (Mega Man 2, Super Mario Bros. 3, Super Mario World, Sonic the Hedgehog 3, Donkey Kong Country 2, Castlevania: Symphony of the Night, and Donkey Kong Country: Tropical Freeze), while 3D platformers have four (Banjo-Kazooie, Banjo-Tooie, Super Mario Galaxy, Super Mario Galaxy 2).

Second place goes to the action-adventure genre with five games (The Legend of Zelda titles, A Link to the Past and Wind Waker, along with Shadow of the Colossus, Okami, and Uncharted 2). In third place is the RPG genre with four titles (Secret of Mana, Super Mario RPG, Ni No Kuni, Undertale).

The bridesmaid

Kirby has four games listed under my runners-up (Kirby’s Adventure, Kirby Superstar, Kirby 64, Kirby’s Epic Yarn), but no Game of the Years. Hopefully that will change down the road, since I believe Kirby is the only longstanding video game character who has never been in a bad game.

This has me thinking that perhaps I missed out ranking a few more Kirby games as runners-up in the very least. I mean, Dreamland 3, Canvas Curse, and Return to Dreamland were all games I really enjoyed. I may have underrated the little guy, which means I’ve become everything I ever hated.

So there you go. Some random factoids I deduced from my Game of the Years. Hopefully you enjoyed this admittedly-needless-but-hopefully-fun post.

Why not check out those Game of the Years again?