Emily is Away (Mac): COMPLETED!

AFK BRB

Emily is Away was an odd one. On one hand, it was very easy in the sense that you can’t really fail and it’s pretty short, but on the other hand it appears to be impossible to get a good ending. I’m not sure I missed anything, as I played it through a few times and although you can get different endings, none of them I’d suggest were “good”.

Emily is Away
Ho ho ho! That ceiling joke!

The game I’ve played before which is most like Emily is Away is probably the iOS game Lifeline. Whereas that played out like a Choose Your Own Adventure in real-time over a course of a few days, Emily is Away is real-time multiple choice AOL chat-alike played out one chat per year over five years.

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You’re Emily’s friend, and you chat about music, school, college and friends. Depending on your actions, your relationship with her can be platonic, unrequited or temporarily requited (it seems), as you live apart for your college years and she ends up in a strained relationship with Brad while you offer advice from afar. Will she see your advice as interfering, helpful, or with an ulterior motive? That’s where the sometimes ambiguous multiple choice comes in.

Ultimately, all my attempts ended up with me being miserable, her being miserable, or both of us being miserable – and with us losing our friendship completely. See, no good ending. Actually, there’s an early tip-off that there’s no good ending when Emily tells you she’s really into Coldplay. That probably tells you a lot about Emily.

Emily is Away
Yeah we do.

It was an interesting game to play, and since it’s free (or “pay what you want”, if you want) it’s definitely worth a look. Just don’t expect any sort of happy ending.

Star Fox Guard (Wii U): COMPLETED!

Remember when it was Starwing?

Well Star Fox Guard wasn’t quite the game I was expecting. I had read it was a tower defence game, and it is, but what I didn’t know what that you have to manually activate and control the towers yourself!

Star Fox Guard

In each level there’s a sort of maze, with a tower in the middle. Twelve camera turrets (which you can move about) are stationed around the maze, with all of the “feeds” shown on the TV. On the gamepad is a map of the area showing the current locations of the cameras and a radar of any enemies they’ve picked up. You tap on a camera here to make it the live camera on the TV, which you can then use to aim and shoot the baddies as they appear and head for your tower. If they reach it, it’s game over.

Star Fox Guard

The baddie robots come in two classes – combat and chaos. Combat bots must be prevented from reaching the tower, whereas chaos bot try to disrupt your cameras by disabling, blocking, or even stealing them. It gets a bit frantic at times as you try to juggle all the attacks. Thankfully I had my daughter calling out the numbers of the cameras that bots appeared on!

After every three levels you get a new map, and after every three maps you get a boss level and then move onto another planet.

Star Fox Guard was quite short, but I’ve unlocked a load of extra missions now and there’s a mode where you can create a level for others to challenge (and of course, you can take on other people’s creations too) so there is still plenty to do. It’s a good game, and when I finished it I realised it sets itself up as the prequel to Star Fox Zero… which I also have!

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Gauntlet 4 (MD): COMPLETED!

Try this level now

Gauntlet 4That was excellent! I’m really, really pleased that I’d not been misremembering how great Gauntlet 4’s Quest Mode was. I had been misremembering how easy it was, however. Or was I just being extra cautious, escaping from the towers every time my health was low and I didn’t have a healing potion? Either way, I didn’t die at all. Not even on the end boss. Or the end, end boss after him.

Gauntlet 4Oh yes, I had forgotten that too. You see, once you’ve beaten all the dragons in the towers and opened up the Castle, then made your way through that, there’s a final dragon boss. He’s much the same as the other four, only he also has four crystals in front of him. You have to shoot all of these crystals in order to be able to damage the dragon as he’s invincible otherwise, and after a few seconds the crystals reactivate. Once I’d got into a steady rhythm though, he was quite simple. After that you’re given the option of escaping from the castle, or learning the secret of eternal youth. Take the first option and you have to defeat the dragon again – the end, end boss (albeit without the crystals this time) – before you can run away. Take the second option and you’re turned into the dragon and have to kill adventurers.

Gauntlet 4

I consider this second option the “bad” ending, so went with the first. And that was it.

For those interested, I was Questor the Elf (I’m always the elf in Gauntlet – he’s the best character) and here are my end of game stats:

Gauntlet 4

Gauntlet 4 (MD)

Elf has eaten all the food lately.

It’s a bit good this, isn’t it? Why i’m asking you, I don’t know. You probably don’t know anyway, and I already know. In fact, it’s my third favourite Mega Drive game. At least, it was a very long time ago and when I started playing it again today for the first time in at least 15 years, I was a little apprehensive that it may have aged badly. Thankfully, I need not have worried: It’s excellent.

Gauntlet IV

Oh but wait – I’m not talking about the main game here. Arcade mode is essentially just the original Gauntlet arcade game, and although that is still an absolutely fantastic thing, the main game mode for me is Quest. Quest is almost an RPG, as your hero navigates four towers with ten levels in each, finding traps to open walls and allow progress to the final floor where a dragon resides. Yes, it has boss battles. As you beat foes, you gain experience which you can spend on improving your stats (shot speed, defence, magic power, etc.), and as you collect treasure you can spend that in shops to gain better equipment (which essentially also just boosts your stats).

Gauntlet IV

So far, I’ve completed the Fire and Water towers, and am about a third of the way through the Earth tower.

Rainbow Islands (MS): COMPLETED!

The Story of Bubble Bobble 2 (So “Bubble Bobble 2” then)

I got very close to completing Rainbow Islands on the Spectrum once. I think I put a cheat mode on and made it to a high level but it crashed. Since then, although I’ve played many versions thoughout the years, I’ve never come close as it’s just too hard.

Rainbow Islands
Aw! Look at the cute little ladybirds! KILL THEM ALL.

Or so I thought. I read somewhere that the Master System version was, for whatever reason, quite a lot easier than other versions. Having played it, and (obviously) completed it today, I think whoever wrote that was right because it is. Sure, it’s not a walk in the park, but it was relatively straightforward.

I found that once you have the power-up that gives you a double rainbow (I presume the missing triple rainbow is due to technical issues – the game suffers greatly from flicker and slowdown as it is), providing you’re careful, almost every level is quite easy. All the bosses are pushovers with a double rainbow too, whereas when I’ve played before they were nigh on impossible. Of course, if you die you lose it, but another power-up to give it back tends to come along soon enough.

Rainbow Islands
I vant to suck your rainbow.

Another reason it’s so easy is that the water that forever chases you higher, and serves mainly to make you panic and die, takes much, much longer to make an appearance. I saw it just once in the entire game, and that was near the end when I fell about four screens downwards – I still outran it without difficulty though.

However, easiness aside: I didn’t get all the diamonds. That really is too hard. What I did do, though, is complete the seven worlds and then use the code that provides you with to unlock the eighth and final world, and then completed that. I may not have found all the diamonds but I did beat all the levels and bosses, so that’s good enough for me.

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Magical Flying Hat Turbo Adventure (MD): COMPLETED!

The plot is all in Japanese but frankly, I don’t think it’d make any sense in English either.

Magical Flying Hat Turbo Adventure
Swimming with Dizzy the Egg

Magical Flying Hat Turbo Adventure (there’s some debate as to the correct order of the words in the title) was always one of my favourite Mega Drive games, and I’m pleased to report it hasn’t aged a bit. It’s still just as good as it ever was, although it seems far easier. Running out of lives was never an issue before as they’re so plentiful, even if you don’t make use of the springy poles that can give you about 15 lives each. Every level has two or three that are easy enough to find, and the bonus levels can net you up to five at a time without much difficulty, and up to 25 if you’re a gambler and are lucky.

Magical Flying Hat Turbo Adventure
Land directly on the top of these to light up the dots – they’re worth a life each!

All the lives in the world are not much use if the levels are impossible though, but there’s not. Even the bosses, several of which I’m pretty sure were really difficult back in the day, were complete walkovers. I remember I used to same some of my power-up potions for them, as one gives you a homing fireball and another turns you into an invincible rocket-launching mechanical monkey for 15 seconds, but in fact I only bothered with those on two or three of the bosses. I swear this game used to be more difficult. I think I only died twice.

Magical Flying Hat Turbo Adventure
Metal Monkey With A Gun

If you’re looking at the screenshots and thinking, “hmm, this looks familiar”, then you may be thinking of either Psycho Fox, which is a similar game by the same development team (which I played recently too), or Decap Attack, which is essentially Magical Flying Hat reskinned for western tastes.

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LocoRoco Cocoreccho (PS3): COMPLETED!

Thirty minutes of fun.

A short post for a short game. LocoRoco Cocoreccho was a disappointing item on the PS+ free rental list this month. Not because it’s a bad game, more because it’s was already almost free and it’s very, very short.

It’s charming though, and reminded me a lot of Hohokum. Of course, it reminded me more of the PSP LocoRoco games, but this plays much more like Hohokum than those. Perhaps this game was a source of inspiration for Hohokum?

Er, so the game then. Or “interactive screensaver” as I think it was even sold as. You vaguely guide little blobs around flowers and platforms and water, waking up other sleeping blobs and jiggling the controller to make things move. Wake up enough blobs and you can move on to the next area. In the final area, you shoot your collected blobs at baddie spider blobs. And then you win. All while the blobs sing at you.

And I won! Yay?

Sonic 3 & Knuckles (MD): COMPLETED!

Sonic is best of all the animals

I’ve completed this many times through the years, but it’s been quite a while since last time, and even longer since a full all-emeralds run. So I did that.

Sonic 3 & Knuckles
Hey Knuckles – punch Tails for me, would you?

It’s clear that Sonic 3 & Knuckles is still the best Mega Drive game. It looks and sounds incredible, has varied levels, gimmicks and bosses, and is actually huge. Yes, I know it sort of cheats by spanning two cartridges, but that’s irrelevant as far as I’m concerned as together they are the best game. Some people will say Sonic 2 is better. Those people are wrong.

Sonic 3 & Knuckles
Hey Eggman – could you laser Tails for me please?

In total, it probably took about four hours. I’d forgotten just how big it was. I only died three times, one death being a Time Over on Flying Battery 2 (I’d spent ages looking for Super Emeralds, and just squeaked past the final lamppost when the time ran out – lucky!), but then the game was never really difficult – especially once you’re able to be be Super or Hyper Sonic. Nor does it matter that it wasn’t hard – it’s just great. Apart from Tails. Oh god does he need to die. He actually killed me on one of the end boss fights as he hit Eggman first and I fell through him instead of bouncing off.

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Streets of Rage 3 (MD): COMPLETED!

Very little actual rage on the streets. Not that many stages set in the street either.

SOR3-0507-201834Streets of Rage 3 is certainly the hardest of the trilogy. As far as I recall, I’ve only completed it once before, and then I don’t think I got the best ending.

And so it is that I didn’t get the best ending this time either, unfortunately. I reached the chief in Stage 6 too late (and only just too late as well), and so Shiva was the final boss for me. It’s frustrating, as I played through the game three times today, and on the second attempt I did save the chief – then died on Stage 7. On my third and final try, I didn’t save him. Annoying.

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Streets of Rage 3 probably isn’t as good as Streets of Rage 2. It has lots more moves, bigger sprites and in some parts (like the disco) some incredible graphics, but SoR2 plays better and has more variety and much, much better music. Also, Zen (in 3) is rubbish. Where has Max gone, anyway?

Hudson Hawk (GB): COMPLETED!

Hawk! Steal things! Because reasons!

The Game Boy version wasn't fantastic, as it turned out, but was reasonably playable.I seem to recall, back in the day, that although the film Hudson Hawk was utterly dire, the games based on it for various platforms were actually rather good. The Game Boy version, which I decided to play today for no specific reason, wasn’t fantastic as it turned out, but was reasonably playable.

Hudson Hawk is a platformer (because of course it is – pretty much all film licences at the time were), where Bruce Willis throws balls at things and steals paintings. There are two puzzles in the entire game, both really quite simple, and aside from not being able to see very far ahead of you (making some baddie appearances a bit of a surprise), the whole game was surprisingly easy. And short. It’s a very short game, especially since the first mission is longer than the other two combined, giving you a false sense it’ll be a much bigger than it was.

Affordable Space Adventures (Wii U): COMPLETED!

For just over a quid, it was an Affordable Affordable Space Adventure.

Affordable Space Adventures was, like Freedom Planet, another one of the recent Nintendo Humble Bundle games. It’s a game I’d intended to buy at some point anyway, but I just never got round to it.

Affordable Space AdventuresTaking control of a tiny spaceship lost on a strange planet inhabited by long forgotten machines, you have to pilot around taking care not to get spotted, crushed, frozen or lasered. As your damaged ship starts to self-repair, additional systems come online, and eventually its fully functional with two different drive systems, a scanner, assorted types of landing gear and so on. Each on-board system generates noise, heat and/or electricity, and the machines you come across are variously sensitive to these, so you have to be careful which ones you activate, and how you use them.

Affordable Space AdventuresThis makes the game a bit more of a puzzle game than I was expecting. Tweaking power outputs and turning off unnecessary systems using the “heads-down display” on the Gamepad is genius, watching your outputs to ensure you can safely glide past a sentry or a mine undetected. Sometimes you need to coast along on minimal (or no!) power, other times you have to switch from your fuel engine to electric engine, or make use of your heat shutters to appear cooler to enemies. It’s very clever, really.

Later on, environmental hazards start playing havok with your ship’s computer, changing settings for you or completely disabling certain abilities, so you have to pay attention to your computer at all times.

Affordable Space Adventures

It’s a beautiful looking game, and quite unlike anything else I’ve played. It’s hard to see how it would work properly on any system other than the Wii U (expect, perhaps the 3DS at a push), and it shows just what kind of thing can be done with Nintendo’s unusual hardware. It’s a shame more games don’t. There’s a multiplayer mode too, which is how the game was really designed to play, with up to three players taking over different aspects of the ship – a pilot, and engineer and a science officer – but I played through solo without too much difficulty. Apart from Level 37, the final section of which took over an hour’s worth of attempts. I scraped through eventually. Affordable Space Adventures is an essential game for any Wii U owner.

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Freedom Planet (Wii U): COMPLETED!

Fight and you may die. Run and you’ll live – at least a while.

Almost a year ago, I played the demo of Freedom Planet which was released with a million other Wii U demos as part of Nintendo’s E3 stuff. This is what I had to say about it then:

What looks like Sonic and sounds like Sonic but is terrible (like Sonic is now, I suppose)? Freedom Planet! Awful animation, screen juddering everywhere and all hopes and dreams of a possibly good Sonic game (even though it isn’t Sonic) up in smoke. Boo.

Numerous people have told me since that these animation and juddering issues aren’t in the PC version, and in fact, when the Wii U version came out, finally, I was told they’d gone there too.

They haven’t.

Freedom Planet
This bit is like Zool

The screen still jerks around like the camera isn’t sure where it’s supposed to be. The animation is excellent in cutscenes and set pieces, but when you run round loops and up hills, the animation is really quite terrible – the sprite is rotated instead of redrawn, and it literally just looks like the sprite is being rotated. The physics are all wrong, and you’re able to run up vertical slopes (and upside down) without needing much momentum. The controls are unresponsive, especially the “dash” button which caused me to die numerous times as it didn’t activate. And yes, I did have enough power to do it.

It rips off Sonic so much, even though your main character Lilac is not really much like Sonic at all. Many of the levels are similar – there’s a Lava Reef Clone, an Aquatic Ruin Clone, a Death Egg Clone, a Flying Battery Clone – and there’s even a bit with what are remarkably similar to Chaos Emeralds. You loop like Sonic, there are springs and bumpers like in Sonic games, the music could easily have come from a Sonic game and the power-up “bubbles” are effectively clones of Sonic 3’s. One of them even sucks in rings-er-gems when you go near them. Marble Garden’s spinners are here too, and many of the enemies could well be lifted from various Sonic titles as well. The extra life sound effect is eerily familiar.

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But. And this is a huge but. I really rather enjoyed it. Once you see past the Sonic bits, you realise that it a more than decent game in its own right. The levels are gorgeous and huge, and some aren’t Sonic-like – such as the shopping centre. The bosses too are pretty impressive, with normal character fights and massive several-screens-wide dragons and things. There’s a proper story too, which you have the option of completely skipping (I didn’t, as I thought it might separate it from Sonic a bit more – it does),  with some mixed success voice acting and humour.

Freedom Planet
This bit is like Sonic 2’s final boss

It was a pretty easy game overall, with almost all my lives lost on bosses, most of my deaths coming on the final boss, and most of them lost on the final boss’ final form. I’m pretty sure now I know how to defeat the bosses I’d be able to complete it on a single credit, so it isn’t too difficult.

Freedom Planet
Died a bit.

I can’t completely commend Freedom Planet, as the animation and jerkiness does detract a little and the unresponsive controls are a crime, but I paid just over a pound for it, and it’s definitely worth more than that. I’m glad I gave it a chance as it surprised me, and if I’d just left it at the demo I’d never have realised there was a decent game there. Stupid demo.

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The Beginner’s Guide (Mac): COMPLETED!

As long as we’re together
The rest can go to hell

I’m going to keep this short, because not only is the game itself pretty short, but it’s something you have to experience and play yourself, rather than read what I have to say about it.

Beginner's Guide

The Beginner’s Guide involves a walk through a number games written by the (presumably made up) Coda. The narrator tells you about them, Coda’s likely state of mind at the time, and various other facts about the simple games as you progress through them. There aren’t really any puzzles, there’s very little shooting, and each “game” is very short and mostly simple.

But, as usual in games of this type, that’s not the whole story. The narrator has more than just a history lesson to talk about.

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I enjoyed it, although not as much as either The Stanley Parable or Dr Langstrom, with both of which The Beginner’s Guide shares DNA, but it’s worth the 90 minutes or so I spent on it. It’s just a shame it crashes so much on the Mac!

Firewatch (PS4): COMPLETED!

Spoiler: Surprisingly few fires actively watched.

FirewatchFirewatch has been on my wanted list for quite a while, but I felt I should both clear a few other games out first, and wait for a sale before picking it up (plus, it had horrible framerate issues to begin with – these have mostly been patched out now). This week, thanks to it both being on sale and me picking up some very cheap PSN credit, I nabbed it from the Playstation Store for just £8.92. And then I completed it.

The plot, which I’ll be vague about because spoilers, involves you, as Henry, taking a summer job as a fire warden in a remote part of the Wyoming wilderness. Your marriage has run into… complications… and you’ve decided to escape for a while, so this seemed perfect. You’re stationed up a watch tower, alone but with another nearby warden called Delilah for company via a radio link. You’re tasked with chasing off some teens for starting a campfire, keeping an eye on things, and generally hiking around a bit mainly just to pass the time.

Firewatch
So pretty.

Delilah chats with you, and you get to know a bit about each other (how much is up to you via dialogue choices) as the days pass. Soon, however, it becomes clear that something is going on. Somebody is listening in on your conversations. Someone is watching. Something is happening.

Firewatch

It could be some sort of conspiracy. Is Delilah who you think she is? Are the teens? Who keeps starting fires? What is the fence for? At times, it’s a mystery, at others, it’s almost paranormal. From the moment things get a bit weird, though, it’s utterly compelling.

Firewatch is a Narrative Discovery Game. Some people call games like this, Gone Home, The Stanley Parable, and so on “walking simulators”, but I take offence to this as there’s more to it than that. Yes, they’re very light on actual gameplay elements – Firewatch has no real puzzles and very little interaction bar opening stuff and chatting – but the exploration is how you progress the story, so I prefer to the term “narrative discovery”. I’ve said many times that a good story in a game can overcome most other limitations, so even though most of your time is spent walking around (although having to navigate by map and compass is fun) you’re following an excellent tale.

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Henry doesn’t see much in the way of other people (or animals) in and around his watch tower, although I did adopt a turtle and call him Turt Reynolds, so you really feel how isolated he is. Even Delilah, who can see you from her tower feels a hundred miles away. When you enter a cave system and can no longer contact her by radio, you immediately feel vulnerable as your only lifeline is cut off – this is amplified when you make certain discoveries too.

In all, it’s a wonderfully told story, with some beautiful scenery and is pretty short so the long hikes never get a chance to become tedious as they surely would if the game was twice as long. The ending is perhaps a double twist, the discovery of may come as a disappointment to some, but I actually felt it was a relief: Again, spoilers so I won’t elucidate. If you liked Dear Esther, Gone Home or even Life Is Strange, then I can’t recommend Firewatch enough.

Here’s part of my playthrough, roughly the middle third of the game. It contains lots of spoilers, so beware:

The Witness (PS4): COMPLETED!

It was never explained why it was called The Witness, mind.

The Witness
That top-right puzzle was a pain to find the solution for.

So things carried on much as before. Puzzles that were impossible were suddenly solvable if I went away somewhere else for a bit and came back. I found more lasers – seven of them, in fact – and triggered the puzzle at the top of the mountain. A puzzle that took over an hour to solve by itself, I should point out. This (spoilers!) opened the inside of the mountain, and here there were even more puzzles. Because of course there were.

The Witness
My eyes literally bled here.

A lot of the puzzles here were corrupted in some way. The screens were broken, flashed, scrolled or had incorrect colours. One of them even span round, faster and faster as I got closer to completing it. Frankly, the whole area was a bit hard on the eyes as well as the brain, but I persevered and eventually made it to the base of the mountain and even here – right at the end of the game – they devs found yet another way to reuse the same grid puzzles in a different way by wrapping them around pillars.

With those completed, I was treated to the end of game island flyby, and then was plonked back at the very start of the game again – only I noticed a secret environmental “circle and tail” which involved the sun, and activating that allowed me to enter the most bizarre end of game credit sequence since… well, The Stanley Parable, I suppose. And after that, there was a FMV sequence which I won’t describe as it really is a spoiler. It was all very odd.

The Witness
Laz0rs.

Now, I’d finished seven lasers but I’d been told there were eleven. I knew where the missing four were, and most were very close to being activated so I reloaded a save from just before completing the game, and didn’t take long to get three of them. The area in the desert, however, I’d not even started so it took a little while to work through there. With all eleven lasers pointing at the mountain (one needed tweaking with a mirror in the town, I noticed), I found The Great Glass Elevator again and triggered it only to be given the same ending. I thought I’d missed something, but it appears not. Aside from Challenge Mode, which I found and opened up. Oh god.

Challenge Mode then, is a set of puzzles you trigger by playing In The Hall of the Mountain King on a record player. Each puzzle is random, and you have until the song finishes to do them all. None are especially taxing, but you’re under pressure. Many hours passed. So many attempts. Then, finally, everything clicks and I make no mistakes (that require you to redo puzzled) and I make it to the final secret – a box! And in it, the solution for a puzzle in the theatre! And that’s it. Apparently the video it unlocks is an hour long. Ain’t nobody got time for that.

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I went back and solved a few missed puzzles, found a handful more environmental puzzles, and wandered through the caves a bit solving all the puzzles there, but I think I’m now done with The Witness. It was beautiful, it made me feel very clever, and even though there were over 400 puzzles – all of which are essentially the same basic premise – somehow it never got too frustrating, too repetitive, or too boring. I don’t think I want to find every hidden puzzle in the game, but what I’ve done has been throughly enjoyable.