River City Girls (Switch): COMPLETED!

Probably my favourite side scrolling beat ’em up of all time is the Scott Pilgrim Vs The World game on the Xbox 360. Although I still have it on my console, it has now been delisted, so can’t be bought any more. What I liked about it, aside from bloody everything, is the upgrades and food items you could buy – just like in the NES River City Ransom game it is clearly a Scott Pilgrim themed homage to.

So when they announced River City Girls, which is literally a followup to River City Ransom, which also has modern pixel graphics like – or actually, surpassing – Scott Pilgrim, AND it was being developed by Wayforward, one of my favourite devs, I couldn’t not get it, could I. So I did. Immediately it was released.

Unfortunately, it doesn’t seem you can play the arcade games. Or can you?

And today, after playing through it completely in co-op with my daughter, we completed it. And it was incredible.

Even more incredible than I was expecting or hoping for. From the fantastic graphics and animation, to the perfect voice acting, the humour, the cut scenes, the manga comic flashbacks, and such a brilliant sound track – plus of course the punching people in the face which is so well executed and with so many unlockable moves it never ceases to be enjoyable.

The floor is la–uh, lots of toys you shouldn’t stand on.

There are boss fights that seem impossible, but which then aren’t after you’ve nailed the tells and routines, bonus missions for the creepy Godai, and – and! – toilets. The game literally has all the things I want from a game. And now we have unlocked… spoilers… and there are still some hidden statues to smash and a new game mode to start, there’s still more to do.

Shenmue II (PS4): COMPLETED!

When I bought the Shenmue I&II pack, my intention was to play them just before Shenmue III came out. Only, I didn’t start II right after I because III had been delayed. Fast forward a bit and the actual release of Shenmue III is suddenly almost here, and I hadn’t started II! So I did that.

Yuan is an effeminate man in the original Japanese version and this remaster, but a woman in the original western release. Sega were never confused.

As I mentioned when I played Shenmue I around this time last year, I didn’t remember Shenmue II as well as the first game, and when I came to play it, I was right. I recalled the bit where you get off the boat, some of the Hong Kong harbour, having to find the Four Wude (but none of the detail in doing so), being chased by Dou Niu at some point in Kowloon, and a very, very long walk with Shenhua. I didn’t remember Wong, Ren or Xiuying, all of whom play massive parts in the game. I didn’t remember the street fights and the scout in Kowloon. I had totally forgotten about how you meet Shenhua and that you end up at her house, and – somehow – I forgot the hilarious tape you listen to from the wiretapper. I’d also forgotten, spoilers, about Shenhua’s powers.

It’s the Shenmue Tree, which despite having dreams about (and about Shenhua), Ryo neglects to mention either of these things to her. Or even react that much to actually finding them for real.

Compared to the first game, there are a lot of improvements. Maps for each area are portable and overlaid, you can wait until the right time (most of the time), and the graphics are much improved. The latter point may be because this is a port of the Xbox version rather than the Dreamcast, however. The audio sounds less muffled too, perhaps for the same reason. It’s a bigger game as well, both in terms of scope (with three main, very different, locations) and length (it’s nearly twice as long). There appears to be a lot more in the way of QTEs, however, and some of them, such as the plank walking one, are pretty brutal. Having a sequence of complicated ones after the long slog to fight Dou Niu, only have to fight him again if you miss any one of them, is especially cruel.

These planks can bloody do one. How run down are these buildings, anyway?

But, it’s a great game. For all the repeating floors in the Kowloon buildings, and the never ending “Shenhua?”/”Nani?” conversation, and the worse-than-forklifts book airing section, it’s a gripping tale and I can’t wait to get into Shenmue III now. Please don’t let me and my £270 pledge down, Suzuki-san.

Wonder Boy in Monster Land (Switch): COMPLETED!

I thought I’d completed the Master System version of this a few months ago, but it turns out it was actually May last year. How time flies! This version is the Sega Ages remaster of the original arcade version, which I’d expected to be virtually the same as the Master System on (albeit with better graphics), and although it was very similar the differences still threw me.

For a start, it’s a lot harder. Like, several difficulty levels harder. This is for a number of reasons, not least that the timer runs down much more quickly and unless you’re legging it through the levels at full pelt (which you can’t do) you will definitely lose a lot of health – you lose a heart every time the egg timer runs out. The bosses also seem to require many, many more hits. Even with the best sword in the game, they’re just sponges. Then there seem to be more, and trickier, levels too.

This is probably the hardest boss in the game. He chucks out smaller clones who then chuck ice at you.

But it has some features the Master System didn’t. You can continue when you die, which is more than useful (until the final level where they don’t let you any more), and if you decide to restart the game from scratch, this Sega Ages version allows you to start with the equipment you had previously. This means you can get hold of the best armour, boots, shield and sword much more easily. As I said though, the bosses are so hard that doesn’t help with them so much.

When I finally reached the final level I had the choice of getting the bell (to find my way through the maze) and the ruby (to make the final boss a lot easier). I went with the ruby and hoped I could remember the route. Thankfully, I could! The dragon wasn’t too hard (way easier than bouncing mushroom guy or Snow Cong & Chums, for sure), and then the game was over.

He does that thing where when he’s dead he just changes form and you have to fight him again. Sigh.

Burnout Paradise Remastered (PS4): COMPLETED!

I have always maintained that the best Burnout, is Burnout Paradise. And I was slightly concerned going into this that perhaps my memory is faulty and maybe the eleven years that have passed since I played the original version on the Xbox 360 have not been kind. I needn’t have worried – it’s still excellent.

However, the passage of time has still had an effect. The main thing being that the massive open world map doesn’t feel massive any more. Or even big. In fact, since you can drive from one side to the other in about two minutes, it actually feels small. Perhaps other games I’ve played since, like the spiritual sequel Need for Speed Underground, or Forza Horizon, just raised the bar. It’s also not quite as much fun as I remember, but only because of niggles like no instant restart and having to go back to the junk yard every time you want to change car. I’d bet these would be fixed in a new game these days.

I went into the game in a lot more detail on episode 26 of the ugvm Podcast if you want to hear more, but overall it was a lovely £5 trip back to a great driving game and I enjoyed playing it all again. DJ Atomika or no.

PictoQuest: The Cursed Grids (Switch): COMPLETED!

It’s another picross game! But this one is different! And isn’t by Jupiter!

Sure, it’s still picross. PictoQuest adds light RPG elements to the formula though, with items and powerups and baddies to “fight” by completing rows and columns in the grids.

Which all sounds perfect, until I completed it and realised I’d totally ignored absolutely everything to do with the RPG stuff as it’s entirely unnecessary and does nothing. Sure, perhaps if you’re very, very, very slow completing the levels there’s a slim chance you might die, but other than that this is almost exactly like a Jupiter picross game. I didn’t use a single item, die, or even pay attention to what the baddies were doing. I did buy the extra hearts from the shop mainly as something to spend my accrued money on, but I didn’t need them as I was rarely damaged.

As a picross game, though, it’s great. It’s just everything else that’s pointless.

The Lego Movie 2 Videogame (Switch): COMPLETED!

Yes, it’s another Lego game. Which means that it’s the same as all the other Lego games, right? Well, no actually. In several important ways.

Of course, the basic gameplay is mostly unchanged. You go around a level, solve little puzzles and generally smash everything you come across, but this game (and it’s possible the Lego Incredibles and Lego DC Super Villains do the same – I’ve yet to play them) is more open world and far less linear than previous Lego titles. Rather than levels, as such, you have a number of planets. Each has a pretty large unrestricted area to explore, with a number of “missions” in each – find items, do fetch quests, kill X number of baddies, and so on.

Instead of gold bricks, there are now purple sparkly bricks to collect. On each world you need a number of these to progress to the next, and they can be obtained from missions as well as found hidden – and not so hidden – around the map. Red bricks are gone, replaced with special items you can collect that do similar things to the red bricks (2x multiplier, shield, “super” weapons, etc.) but you can’t use them all at the same time.

Also new to the series is the ability to build things. You’d think, being Lego, that would have been there all along – but in fact previously you could only build pre-determined items in pre-determined places. Here, once you have the blueprint, you can build what you want pretty much anywhere. Most things are small and provide specific functions – a generator, a water sprinkler, a trampoline, various vehicles – but there are huge structures that are of use on one almost-empty world that you need to populate.

Perhaps the biggest change, however, is you don’t need different characters to do certain tasks. Before, you’d need a character with a gun to shoot targets, or a character with super-strength to break certain objects. Part of the game would be unlocking all these characters, but in The Lego Movie 2 Videogame, it seems every character can do everything – one you’ve unlocked the skills through the story anyway. It streamlines things but loses a bit of what makes a Lego game a Lego game, I think.

Speaking of the story, it vaguely follows the plot of the film although almost as a sort of side story, spending lots of time on bits that barely got screen time, or entire sections I don’t remember from the film at all. Maybe it was based on an early draft of the screenplay, or perhaps they added bits to flesh it out? It’s also not as funny as either the film or other Lego games. There are no jokes, no silliness, and a lack of random pigs, sausages and toilets. And I’m serious in that this takes a lot away from the game, especially since the source material is supposed to be funny. You could forgive Lego Jurassic World or something not having jokes (but it did), but you can’t here.

Finally, it’s short. Very short. Way back when, the likes of Lego Star Wars III or Lego Marvel Super Heroes would take 30+ hours just to finish the story (albeit with a good 30 more to 100% it). More recently, 10-12 hours (with about 10-12 more) seemed to be the length. This game, however, I completed in co-op in under 5 hours. That’s really, really short for a Lego game. Almost one sitting, in fact. Yes, we’re only 40% complete, but even then that implies 12-13 hours total for 100%. Perhaps the open-world nature of it, when played in two player so both are achieving different goals at the same time, might be some of the reason.

All that said, it still plays really well. I like some of the new stuff, I don’t really like the changes to how characters work or the lack of humour, but it’s still a good game. Just not one of the better Lego games. Also: it’s “video game” not “videogame”, TT Games/Lego/Warner/whoever.

Alex Kidd in Miracle World (Switch): COMPLETED!

As I got closer to the end of this game, I realised that I’d almost certainly never completed it. I recognised every level up until the 7th one (in the cave), and then have vague memories of a castle, but I think the castle memory may even have come from the Mega Drive Alex Kidd game.

Hardest. Screen. Ever.

I also realised why I don’t think I’ve completed it. There are a few tricky sections (the one near the end with the spikes in the water can do one, for example), but the main reason was that winning relies entirely on luck! The janken matches are seemingly random, and you’ve no way of telling what your opponent is going to choose. At least in Alex Kidd in the Enchanted Castle there’s a power up that lets you see what they’re thinking, but in the Master System version? It’s all guesswork.

Helicycle levels are so easy – as long as you don’t crash.

Other than that, it’s a pretty decent game. Alex slides all over the place as he has weird physics and friction, and the collision detection is a bit rubbish (the octopus and the samurai bosses in particular). The question mark blocks are also almost always worth ignoring too, meaning they’re pointless – most of the time they have that baddie that just homes in on you, so it’s not worth the risk.

Not the best Sega Ages re-release on the Switch, but I got it in a sale so I’m not disappointed.

Bloodstained: Ritual of the Night (Switch): COMPLETED!

A lot has been said about how terrible the Switch version of Bloodstained is compared to the other platforms it’s available for. Low quality graphics, 30fps not 60, longer loading times, and so on. As I’ve mentioned elsewhere, I don’t actually care. It’s the version I wanted, and short of being broken (and it’s not) it doesn’t matter to me about the rest. And I was right, as it’s pretty much a perfect Castlevania game and I enjoyed it very much.

Not sure female rock guitarists have been a baddie in Castlevania before.

We all know it’s by Iga, so is going to be the most Castlevania game ever, but I wasn’t expecting it to be almost literally Castlevania in every way possible. Every baddie is a reskin of a classic CV foe, every character is analogous to someone from a CV game. There’s a castle, there’s a vampire, and although it’s named differently, Soma’s (from Castlevania Dawn of Sorrow) soul mechanics are here too. All it’s missing is an end boss called Dracula and Castlevania in the name.

Some sort of lab with creatures in tubes round here.

As a Castlevania game, after completing it, I felt I needed to get 100% of the map (or 100.4% or whatever it is here), but unfortunately I’ve reached 99.8% and I’m stuck as to where I haven’t opened up. I’ve resorted to checking completely unlocked maps online and comparing them with mine, and I’ve found every single hidden room shown. I’ve no idea where the remaining ones are.

Super Mario Maker 2 (Switch): COMPLETED!

“How do you complete a game where you make your own levels?”, you may ask. Well, because there’s a pretty sizeable single player mode where Nintendo show you loads of ways you might want to make levels, by giving you a hundred or so levels to work through.

I’m always astounded at the creativity Nintendo have with Mario games. You’d have thought that every possible idea in platforming has been done now, but nope – most of these levels have a new gimmick, or at the very least, a twist on a previous one. As you complete them you gain coins, and you use these coins to rebuild Peach’s castle (for unimportant story reasons).

New items for use in your home made courses are unlocked as you go along, so there’s another reason for playing Story Mode too.

As well as completing that, I’ve also played 30 or so user-made levels, which, like the first game, vary enormously. Some are huge and complicated with puzzles or skill sections, and some are little more than items placed at random on the screen. I’ve also made a terrible, short level of my own with a toilet in it, because of course I have. The ID, if you want to play it, is 3P7-5JL-CTG.

Sly Spy (Arcade): COMPLETED!

This week I’ve been playing games on the retro game streaming service Antstream. I have a lot to say about the platform, but not here. One of the games I played was Sly Spy, and it’s the first one on there I’ve completed.

It’s not a great game. Much of it plays a bit like Rolling Thunder, but without the hiding and dodging abilities that make that game so much fun. Getting through each level without being shot constantly is difficult, and so isn’t really that enjoyable. The way it’s so much of a rip-off of James Bond doesn’t work as a parody as it’s too close to the source material and not humourous with it either.

It is what it is, though – a coin chewing arcade game that hasn’t translated well to playing at home, and isn’t as good as similar titles from the same era anyway.

Yes, the sound really did break half way through. Something to do with Antstream probably.

My Friend Pedro (Switch): COMPLETED!

This Shoot Is Bananas

If, like me, you were very much interested in My Friend Pedro off the back of its surprise showing at E3 last year, you may be a little disappointed to discover that it isn’t quite the dual-wielding slow motion ballet that presentation would have you to believe. But, you’ll realise that’s probably most likely for the best.

You see, all that is there. Jumping and spinning to avoid gunfire, and returning bullets in two directions at once is still a large part (and it is always impressive and makes you feel like a Big Man) of the game, but it isn’t as relentless as shown. There are platforming sections. Lasers to avoid. A bizarre level where you have a propellor hat so can effectively fly. A section on a motorbike. Door and trapdoor opening puzzles. Lots of things, in fact.

Also perhaps a surprise is how the game is actually geared towards score combo and high score arcade type play. On Normal mode, the game isn’t very difficult, checkpoints are frequent, and it’s very forgiving with plenty of aim assist and reminders to dodge bullets if you’d forgotten. It’s running through quickly, cleanly, and seeking out every baddie that nets you the big points, so the three or four hours length is mostly irrelevant. Now, I’m not a score chaser generally so that doesn’t really interest me, but the game is still great anyway.

Many people wondered how the dual aiming would work, worrying the game would be on-rails if the two analogue sticks were busy, but in fact it’s pretty simple – you lock on to one foe first, then you are free to target a second and can shoot both together. It works well, but it turns out that it isn’t used as frequently as you maybe thought. Indeed, later weapons aren’t even dual-wieldable.

So it might not be quite what I was expecting, or perhaps I’d say hoping for, but in fact it seems the game knew what I really actually wanted more than I did because the deviations from the original reveal videos are welcome and I suspect too much of the same thing would have made it a bit of a chore. It’s definitely recommended if you want what could be described as Olli Olli only Bulletstorm, but even if you’re not after a score attack game it’s funny and stylish and unusual enough to warrant a purchase anyway.

Golf Peaks (Switch): COMPLETED!

Golf Peaks is a little puzzle game where you have to get the golf ball in the hole. However, unlike actual golf, you use card with distances on for your “shots”, and various surfaces act upon your ball – stop it dead, kick it in the air, make it slide, etc.

Each “world” has it’s own new gimmick across its 12 levels, and when you’ve completed at least 9 of them you move on to the next level.

It’s quite simple, both to play and in presentation, and although a handful of the levels had me thinking for some time I’ve not really struggled. It’s no Baba is You as far as the difficulty level is concerned. With 109 levels, many of which take only a few seconds, it’s not exactly long either, but it’s certainly interesting and as it’s really cheap on the eShop at the moment it’s definitely worth a purchase.

Q.U.B.E.: Director’s Cut (PS4): COMPLETED!

I’d read in a lot of places, and the screenshots didn’t help, that Q.U.B.E. was a poor man’s Portal. Aside from the first person view and the clinical environments, it really isn’t. Mainly because there aren’t any portals, and so the puzzles rely on other quirks instead. Mainly, making use of coloured shapes that do various things – extend, act as a trampoline, create blocks, and so on. You do this to hit switches, move cables, or direct balls, and after each section of the game (of which there are seven) new elements are added, such as being able to rotate parts of the room or direct lasers.

OK, so it’s still a little bit like Portal.

Apparently for the Director’s Cut, they added a story. I’m assuming this is the one sided conversations you listen to on your radio in the game, and if so, before they added them it would have been a very quiet, rather pointless affair. The plot is that you are on some sort of spacecraft made of cubes, and by simply solving puzzles which exist for some reason, you’re destroying the spacecraft. Which is on a collision course with Earth or something. A woman tells you who you are (you’re conveniently suffering from amnesia) and praises you, but then you start getting messages from someone else who says this woman is a liar and you’re going to die. Who do you trust?! (Spoiler: you have no say in the matter).

Anyway, it’s not too difficult (although I did accidentally pass a few of the puzzles without realising), and certainly I enjoyed it, but I can’t say it’s a classic or anything.

Golden Axe III (Switch): COMPLETED!

Is Golden Axe III going to be a good game, given the previous two were not? Go on, have a guess.

At least it tried. Instead of being almost exactly the same as the other games, the graphics are all new, the animation is new, and most of the baddies are new. Reminiscent of those before, but new. There’s a different art style too, but actually, it’s worse. And there are two new characters but they’ve relegated the best one – Gillius Thunderhead – to a little less than a narrator role. You can’t play as him. I chose Tyris Flare instead, who now has ridiculous beefcake muscles.

They’ve improved the “AI” so the enemies no longer blindly walk off ledges, and for the most part the old running attack left and right “trick” isn’t possible any more. But sadly, this doesn’t really improve things. Golden Axe III is actually worse, somehow, than its predecessors.

Assassin’s Creed Origins (PS4): COMPLETED!

My understanding of this game was that it wasn’t anything like previous Assassin’s Creed games. It was written from scratch, didn’t reuse any engine or assets, and had completely new gameplay. The title also suggests it’s the start of the Assassins. It turns out nothing is true, everything is permitted.

Maybe Ubisoft did scrap everything from the series and built it all up again, but it doesn’t show. In fact, aside from the new control scheme (attacks are on the shoulder buttons now), and the biggest map so far, this is just more of the same. But that’s actually fine.

Yes, you have an eagle.

Yes, so there’s a literal eagle vision now (with an actual eagle), and yes, it tells the story of the start of the Brotherhood, but it’s still parkour and stabbin’ just like before. This time it’s set in the achingly beautiful setting of Egypt, which is far more varied than the sand and pyramids you’d expect, but the core missions are still scoping out the enemy, picking them off, and assassinating a series of important historical figures. And it’s so much fun.

Your guy this time is Bayek, a medjay (a sort of trouble fixer) from the region of Siwa, who, along with his wife Aya, is out to get revenge for the death of his son. Bayek, despite the “by ‘eck” link that can’t be unheard, is a great protagonist. He’s well voiced, has real empathy and morals, and is hard as nails. He’s probably one of the best the series has ever had, actually. At points in the game you also get to play as Aya, who is also great but her sections are generally boating (straight out of Black Flag, and so the worst thing about the game) or combat-lite. She also doesn’t have an eagle, which makes the final mission a bit tricky.

I’ve since found out that the next game, Odyssey, is actually set hundreds of years before Origins, not immediately afterwards as the story of Origins might suggest. This does make a bit of a mockery of the name of this game, but I suppose it doesn’t really matter. I hope they do bring Bayek back for another game though, perhaps round Greece?