Golden Axe II (Switch): COMPLETED!

I’ll axe you again.

I was pretty sure that Golden Axe II was a better game than Golden Axe I. And I’d remembered correctly – as it is. But it’s still almost exactly the same game only with more pink and purple, a better (for Gilius at least – I only ever play as him) special attack.

Both “tricks” from the previous game still happen here, and for this one Sega Mega Drive Classics actually has an achievement for doing it enough times:

A hole new world

The other trick is the “running headbutt” one, and that’s still alive and well here too. Some of the baddies have evolved to make it a little harder – the giant dog things with maces, for example, now try to Tiger Knee you mid-dash. I also found a new trick which I don’t think worked before:

Mmm, pink

The bosses were also quite a bit easier than the original game, especially the final boss who rarely actually hits you. The big headless knights can’t be beaten like their headed counterparts (headbutt or jump-slash), but if you walk diagonally into them you can axe them before they attack so they’re actually easier to dispatch.

Graphically, the game seems better looking but the giant turtle and eagle based levels are replaced with just normal paths and caves, and the previously mentioned pink and purple enemies are a bit garish. The music, as ever, is great though.

Golden Axe (Switch): COMPLETED!

Golden Axe is not a good game. It’s a clunky, short, repetitive arcade game with some stupid AI and just isn’t fun.

Take this “trick” for example, where you beat baddies by them jumping to their doom:

Or this easy way to fight one or two baddies:

Stupid. But I completed it anyway.

The Mystery Of Woolley Mountain (Switch): COMPLETED!

I’d never heard of this point-and-click adventure game but it seems it was a Kickstarter project a while back. Looking at the credits, now I’ve finished it, there are a number of high profile backers and a fair few people I know or follow on Twitter, so I’m surprised I’d not seen it mentioned before now. Anyway, the lovely @IndieGamerChick gave me a copy via her IndieSelect initiative earlier in the week so here’s my Contactually Obliged Comments. I mean, I would have talked about it anyway because that’s the point of this blog but there you go.

First off, before I even get into the game properly, I want to get some negative stuff out of the way. I’ve already had most of these comments picked up on by the devs and there’s a patch coming soon (and a workaround available now) to fix the main one, so I’m not going to dwell on most of them. The main problem is a game-breaking bug where you’re unable to move. I’m assuming it’s intermittent, or caused only by a specific but unnecessary sequence of events because otherwise there’s no way this would have passed testing.

A second issue isn’t so serious but jarred. All the dialogue is spoken, but the quality of the voice acting isn’t… well, it’s not great for some of the time. I can see from the credits it’s probably because they’re not voice actors, but the main issue is that lines of dialogue that follow each other were clearly not always recorded together, so the flow from sentence to sentence feels off. That said, well done for the range of accents from the prim to the silly. Also on the voices – there’s a lot of chat. Sometimes, too much. It doesn’t seem to be as much of a problem nearer the end of the game but I don’t know if that’s because it was cut back or I just got used to it.

Yes, this game has wolf poo.

Finally, the graphics and animation. There’s something a bit “Flash game” about the sprites and how they move and scale, and it just doesn’t work for me.

Problems over, what is good about The Mystery of Woolley Mountain will partly depend on whether or not you were a geeky kid in the UK in the 1980s. There are references to films, TV and – of course – games from that era coming out of your ears. Some feel a little forced (Roland Ropeman listing all his collectables, for example) but many are incidental (like the Jamie and his Magic Torch poster, or The Adventure Game area). You don’t need to “get” these references to complete, or even enjoy, the game, but if you do it adds a lot to the experience.

As a point-and-click game the quality of the puzzles make or break it. Some games suffer from having too many obscure solutions where items are used in such an abstract way you wonder how you were supposed to figure it out at all, and descend into “use everything on everything” just to progress. That, thankfully, doesn’t happen much here, with plenty of hints or nudges in the right direction. The few times it does come up, it’s helped by being able to press a button to highlight which items on the screen are interact-able – it’s harder to miss items that you might consider just part of the scenery that way. The puzzles themselves are pretty varied, with some requiring you to combine items, some requiring you to work out letter or colour combinations, and others where you have to find specific items for characters.

If you ignore the incorrect aspect ratio and palette, this is a Spectrum.

I would go into the plot but it’s not really necessary to tell you more than it’s about a bunch of odd chaps on a submarine who have to rescue one of their own, and a load of kids, from a witch. There’s a robot, time travel, monsters, a pub and a horde of strange characters with puzzle-exploitable foibles to interact with along the way.

The Mystery of Woolley Mountain is not the best game in the genre you will play, and it’s very rough edged and quirky – and not always in the good way. But it’s funny, it’s not too difficult, and it’s well worth a few quid especially if you’re a fan of this sort of game. Especially if you too were a Spectrum owning 80s geek.

ToeJam & Earl: Panic on Funkotron (Switch): COMPLETED!

I never got on with this previously. I think the main issue was that it didn’t feel like a proper sequel to the original ToeJam and Earl, which was one of my favourite Mega Drive games. It had the same funk, but it was a totally different experience.

Ditching the roguelike trappings of the first game, which was set on Earth (sort of), Panic on Funkotron instead became a platformer set on ToeJam & Earl’s home planet. The Mega Drive was swamped with platformers, so that didn’t help it stand out. Many times over the years I’ve tried to play through this and given up before the end of the first level because it just wasn’t what I wanted to play. But this time, something clicked.

One of the new baddies is a ghost cow who possesses you. Because of course it is.

The main gameplay is to explore levels finding earthlings to throw jars at. Jar them enough and you can capture them. Capture them all, and you can move on to the next level. Often these earthlings are hidden in trees and bushes, as are presents and traps. Presents don’t work like they used to, giving you random points, coins (for parking meters that trigger secrets), funk (for special moves) and a few powerups and special attacks (like one-hit jar captures).

This bonus game pops up frequently. It’s pretty hard and mostly pointless.

So it’s different. Some things are the same, like the characters, general graphical style and of course the music, but it plays out totally different. In the original, combat was rare and earthlings were generally just avoided. Here, you need to take the fight to them, and there’s some skill involved for taking out each type. It’s also quite a lot easier, so long as you take your time and don’t rush into areas in case of hidden baddies. Panic on Funkotron is also much, much longer – so it’s a good job there’s a password system in place. Of course, on the Switch version you can just use save states, but it took me six or seven hours to complete the game. Some of the levels are huge and the earthlings well hidden!

Alright old man.

It’s a shame I never got on with this originally. Maybe if I’d never played the first game I wouldn’t have had the problem with this being different. It’s still not as good as the first game (but to be fair, very few games are), but it’s much better than I ever previously gave it credit for.

Altered Beast (Switch): COMPLETED!

As it’s Easter it makes sense to play a game about a man who is resurrected.

And that’s the best thing to say about Altered Beast. We all know what a bad game it is. It’s even worse than The Story of Thor. It hasn’t improved with time and was never any good to begin with.

I can’t be bothered writing any more about it.

The Story of Thor (Switch): COMPLETED!

Which Norse god bit his tongue? Thor. Note: the game is not about Norse gods.

Let me start this post with a couple of points. Number 1, it’s called The Story of Thor even though Mega Drive Classics calls it Beyond Oasis. I’m aware it’s called that in the US, but this is MEGA DRIVE Classics, not GENESIS Classics. Number 2, it is Not A Good Game.

Oh sure, it looks nice with its big sprites and Link to the Past-like overworld. It’s sort of clever with its four special spirits you can summon (once you’ve collected them all, at least). It also has some really impressive looking bosses. But, sadly, everything else is rubbish. The combat is woeful with only four directional attacks when eight are really needed, and it’s made worse by the terrible collision detection. The sprites being huge means screens are cramped with both a small viewport and too many baddies squashed up together. I suspect the animation suffers too, with some creatures having hardly any frames.

The Little Shop of Horrors “spirit” is called Bow, for no sensible reason.

Your inventory is too small, and success on some parts of the game rely on having certain weapons. The problem is, you can only hold so many and each has a limited use. At least twice I needed bombs but had none, nor space to carry them even if I did, which was a pain.

I’m on a boat!

Also a pain is how the spirits you can summon can only be summoned by “shooting” specific things. For the fire spirit, you have to shoot some fire, for example. Frequently, this is the basis of a puzzled and often that means either being psychic and triggering a summon when you can and bringing it along, or backtracking to where you’re able to trigger. Making use of the spirits is hit and miss too, especially when trying to get the fire one to light bonfires and torches (necessary to open doors or solve puzzles) as it wanders around with a mind of its own.

The final boss, who looks like Dark Force, is actually the easiest one in the entire game.

The bosses, as I said, are mostly pretty impressive. Several are as large as the screen, but most are very, very easy to beat. It’s actually swathes of minions which are the hard bits, and sometimes these appear to be infinitely regenerating and other times there’s just hundreds of them. There’s no way of telling if it’s necessary, or even possible, to defeat them all, and sometimes you need to for an important item to appear.

I’ve often seen The Story of Thor in lists of the best Mega Drive games, and I recently saw it in an article about “games for other systems that are similar to Zelda: A Link to the Past”, and it’s baffling that it’s in either of these. It’s nowhere near good, let alone “best”, and, a slight graphical nod aside, not really much like Zelda either. It’s not fit to lick Zelda’s boots.

And no, I don’t know why I played it to completion.

All the spirits leave you in the end. Oh, spoilers, I suppose.

Bonanza Bros (Switch): COMPLETED!

I don’t think I’ve ever completed this before. But now I have.

It was actually a lot easier than I remember. Although there’s a level timer, the trick is to take your time and don’t panic. It’s only on the final level I came close to running out of time!

Civilization VI (Switch): COMPLETED!

Bingo bingo bongo, as the culturally insensitive song said.

After many attempts, I finally got a win. Civilization VI is much, much harder than the previous games on the series, and seemingly much slower too making a lose late on even more frustrating.

Having lost most of my games as a result of not developing science quickly enough or paying attention to rival religions, I chose Gilgamesh as my character who boosts the former and I set about augmenting it with plenty of holy sites. That, coupled with being lucky to not have any war-like opponents, meant I could rapidly develop stuff and then have plenty of faith with which to convert everyone. Victory!

I have to say, though, that as good as Civ VI is, it’s not as good as previous versions. I approve of the hexagonal titles implemented in V, but it feels like the changes to how you develop technology and stuff has been a step back – or a step in an unwanted direction at least. The slowness of the game is a downer after the speed of Civilization Revolution, and I feel I enjoyed II and IV a lot more at the time than I did VI now.

But, none of those are on the Switch, so I can make do!

Iconoclasts (PS4): COMPLETED!

This is something I’d had my eye on for a while (nice looking pixel Metroidvania, so of course I have), and then, just when I was thinking about actually buying it a little while back, it popped up on PS+. Normally, that means it won’t get played at all, but since I’m letting my PS+ subscription expire (it’s just not worth the money now they’ve halved the number of games per month) I decided to give it a go before I can’t play it any more.

And it’s really good! It has interesting game mechanics, not least the literal mechanics of being an actual mechanic with a big wrench, looks wonderful, has a strange but enjoyable story, and is just a lot of fun to jump around in. And that’s the important thing in this sort of game – it has to be a lot of fun to jump around.

Also a big plus, is that it’s nowhere near as difficult as Hollow Knight. Sure, I love that game but it’s punishingly hard. Much too hard. So hard it’s verging on torture rather than enjoyment. But this is possible for mere mortals! It’s true that some bosses took a few attempts, but other than that, it was pretty easy and a lot more fun for that.

Aside from that “hide and seek” boss, of course. That was pants.

Anyway, here’s me playing it all:

Baba Is You (Switch): COMPLETED!

BABA IS WIN

Describing Baba Is You would take a while and since I’ve already done it in Episode 21 of the ugvm Podcast, I’m not going to duplicate it here. But I will say this: it’s a block pushing puzzle game where you change the rules.

It’s very clever. I mean, it’s very clever right from the off but as you progress through the levels and break and make rules of an ever more complex and bizarre nature, it becomes cleverer. Then, and I’m wary of spoilers, you realise there are levels within – and without – levels. And then all the rules change in a different way and it’s cleverer still.

GRASS IS SHUT is not your usual game rule.

Like the best puzzle games, not only is it clever, but it makes you feel clever when you beat a level. Should you manage to beat it in a way which appears to subvert what you perceive to be the “correct” way, then your head swells immensely and you feel a warm fuzzy glow of smugness. Unfortunately, all too often a level leaves you with just one or two options neither of which achieve anything and suddenly you’re just some thick gamer who has no idea how to play any more because the game is clearly impossible.

And that’s fine because you pass on that level for a while, come back later, and realise a trick you’d missed.

The rules changed.

Baba Is You is a very good, very special game indeed.

Phantasy Star IV (Switch): COMPLETED!

Final Phantasy.

And that’s them all. No, for the last time, the Online games don’t count. They never counted. They’re not Phantasy Star games and never will be.

Phantasy Star IV fits into the series somewhere after II but likely before III. As you play, it feels much more like II than any of the others, but throughout the game other games are referenced in a way that makes it seem like a final chapter. Of course, that’s what it ended up becoming but at the time I was ever hopeful for a Phantasy Star V. I still am.

These references are pretty big too. Spoilers, sorry: Mother Brain, from PSII, is still about and again isn’t working. There’s a cave with what is almost certainly Myau (called “The Old Man”) inside. A crashed ship like PSIII’s Alisa III is discovered. A Wren-type android, again from PSIII, becomes part of your team, as does a character who is essentially Noah/Lutz from PSI and PSII and a friendly biomonster not unlike Nei from PSII. The Ice Digger and Landrover from previous games returns. People have been turned to stone just like Odin did in PSI, and many place names and baddies return. Having played through the first three games so recently all these characters, locations and lore are still in memory and it was a joy to link things up as I progressed through the story.

Why this looks familiar.

As for the game itself, it looks a lot more like PSII only highly polished with the best graphics in the series. A few changes, which would perhaps be called “quality of life improvements” these days have been added – you walk a lot faster, you can assign macros (so you can set a sequence of battle actions to a menu option instead of choosing who will do what every time), and characters all share an inventory again. Having separate pockets in Phantasy Star III was a bit of a step back, and PSIV improves it further by removing equipped items from the inventory freeing up space and meaning you don’t need to scroll past them each time you need a dimate.

A couple of new things are added to the game too, the first being Skills. In essence, they’re the same sort of thing as Techniques, but they differ in that instead of having a shared “pot” of TP to use on them, each Skill has a fixed number of uses until you rest at an inn. The maximum uses increase as you level up, however.

Not sure where Wren physically installs this item but it gives him a new Skill.

Speaking of inns, another change is that resting at an inn doesn’t save your game! Don’t make the mistake I remember making when I first played this when it originally came out, getting five or so hours in, “saving” at an inn, then turning it off. Instead, saving is a menu option and can be used any time you’re not in a dungeon or a battle.

Finally, there are combos. Certain combinations of attacks, skills and techniques when triggered in succession fire off a massively damaging special combo attack. Most are tricky to rely on (characters don’t always attack in the order necessary, so it doesn’t always work), but they can be very useful. Most aren’t possible until very late in the game, however.

Phantasy Star IV is a fantastic RPG. Being sentimental to the series PSIII will always be my favourite, but I can see that in terms of scope, graphics, the way it ties all the previous games together, mechanics and fun, PSIV is undeniably better. It gave me around 25 hours (like II and III I “walked” in fast forward so it’s probably longer than that) of the best JRPG experience there is. You can keep your Final Fantasy. I just wish I had a PSV to move on to next 1.

Notes:

  1. I’m aware of a Japan-only mobile game which for some definitions is essentially Phantasy Star V but I’m sceptical, and it’s mobile only.

Saboteur! (Switch): COMPLETED!

That’s “Saboteur!” not “The Saboteur”.

I was never not going to get this, as a fan of the original Spectrum game, but I’d seen a lot of reviews and forum comments saying it was overpriced for a simple port of the Spectrum original. Sure, it had new music and sound, but £6 for a Spectrum game (and a very short Spectrum game at that) did sound a bit much, so I waited for a sale. 94p (free, actually, due to Nintendo Gold Coins) and I was in.

And everyone was wrong. What nowhere I’d seen actually mentioned at the time was that once you’d completed the five minute long original game, but a whole new hour long section opens up. New items to find in new locations, new enemy types, puzzles, tasks and tricky platforming sections. That was a big surprise. Imagine avoiding Donkey Kong on the Game Boy because you thought it was only the four arcade levels!

This bit has fewer and fewer platforms the higher the difficulty level.

Despite being new, it still looks and plays exactly like the original. There’s Spectrum colour clash, there’s the same colour palette, and it’s not as smooth or precise as a modern game. It absolutely doesn’t matter, however. What has changed, besides the length, is mainly sound based. Some more realistic thumps and gunshots, and a great soundtrack that fits perfectly. OK, it’s no BEEPer, but the upgrade still works here.

Hope there’s no leaves on the track.

There’s a concession to modern multi-button controllers too. On the Spectrum, the joystick would move and fire would pick up and drop objects, interact, and punch. Up would be go up ladders, jump, jump-kick, and long jumps would be a tricky diagonal. On the Switch, there’s a jump button now which makes things a lot easier, but Up still performs the same functions. Sometimes this means climbing a ladder is frustrating, or you might nudge up, and therefore jump, by mistake. The latter is especially compounded due to the game’s insistence on only allowing use of the analogue stick rather than the d-pad. The original wasn’t analogue, and neither is this, so it feels slightly inaccurate and out of place. That’s the only major flaw I can find though.

Naturally, this relic of a game isn’t for everyone. It’s no Hollow Knight or The Messenger, as it wears it’s origins proudly without much modern modification. It is, however, still a lot of fun and just shows how old games can still work now. In this way it has much in common with Castlevania: Spectral Invasion, only this is on the Switch instead of the original machine. Just don’t let the reviews of “it’s just a port” put you off like it did me: it’s not.

One of the (extensive) new areas.

Deltarune: Chapter 1 (Switch): COMPLETED!

Hugs?

Deltarune is the follow up to Undertale, that underwhelming RPG from a few years back that ended up with a huge following. It baffles me that so many people revere Undertale as it was so flawed. Entertaining, yeah, interesting, probably. Great? Absolutely not.

So you might be wondering why I’m playing Deltarune at all, let alone to completion. And the only answer I have, is that this chapter was free and, well, maybe it’s better?

And it is better. Not a lot better, and aside from new characters and a three person party, it’s really just more of the same. Sure, it has better background graphics and a slightly less guessworky “act” system in battles, but it’s just more Undertale with the same weird for the sake of weird humour and the quirky but rubbish characters and dialogue. It’s no more fun, deep or playable.

If it ain’t broke and all that, and clearly I’m in the minority thinking it was broke, but I was hoping for improvements in the places that mattered to me. Still, it was free and if wasn’t terrible at all – just not for me, same as the last game. If you loved Undertale, you’ll probably love this too.

Phantasy Star III (Switch): COMPLETED!

Let me three your phantasy.

I wasn’t going to move onto Phantasy Star III so soon after Phantasy Star II, but there it was on the Sega Mega Drive Classics menu, winking at me, so I didn’t really have a choice.

As I’ve mentioned before, Phantasy Star III was my first JRPG. It’s still my favourite, and although Phantasy Star IV is probably technically better, it’s III that I have more fondness for. Back in the day I completed it many times. The first time, it took from Christmas to August, but after a few more I could do it in a single 24 hour sitting. This is the first time I’ve completed it in probably two decades, and it took perhaps 15 hours, but there’s a reason for that: I played most of the walking and some of the fighting on Fast Forward (an option in the Mega Drive Classics). If there’s one thing that hasn’t aged well in RPGs, it’s how slow you move.

Gianticorn and Wolfsnail was a short lived kid’s cartoon in the 1990s.

Surprisingly, I still knew almost all of what I needed to do in the game. Even the routes through some of the dungeons was still etched in my brain. I also found the game much, much easier than I ever remember it being, with much less grinding too. I seem to recall always needing to level most of my party up to around level 55 for the final dungeon and boss, but here I walked it at around level 48. Maybe I’m just better now.

For those interested, the characters I played as (the game spans three generations with a slightly different story depending who you marry at the end of each) were Rhys, who married Maia and had a son, Ayn, who married Thea and had a son Sean.

Now, do I start IV or do something else first?

Doom (PS4): COMPLETED!

Literally rising from your gwave and welcoming to your Doom.

Usually, for me to enjoy a first person shooter, there needs to be some added mechanics. Some puzzles. A story. Something more than just mindless shooting. When I think of games from the genre that I’ve liked a lot in the past, I think of stuff like Bioshock, Wolfenstein The New Order or Dishonoured.

But then I forget the older FPS titles which were very much the opposite – the original Wolfenstein 3D and Duke Nukem. Properly mindless. Open a door? Loads of baddies. Pick up a key? Loads of baddies. Press a button? Loads of baddies.

And now there’s Doom. Or to give it its correct title, DOOM (2016). Which is as anti-cerebral as you can imagine. Most of the time the only thoughts you need are “which gun should I use?” and “has my shotgun got enough ammo?”. And you know what? That’s perfect.

Yeah, there’s a story. Some nonsense about you being awoken from stasis to work for the guy who helped unleash Hell on Mars by un-unleashing Hell on Mars. What the story actually is, is Shoot All The Things. Sure, you also have to destroy a big tower and shut down a computer but you even do these things by shooting everything. Or elbowing everything. What DOOM (2016) adds to the formula is the concept of “glory kills” – damage a demon enough and it glows. Then melee it and you finish it off with an elbow to the neck, or rip off their arms, or crush their face, or tear out their heart, or any one of a number of other visceral dispatches. There’s a reason, besides the gory fun, to do this too: glory kills make ammo and health pop out of the corpse.

But mainly the gory fun. So much gore. So much blood and entrails and faces that explode and dripping dismembered corpses and unidentified severed body parts and fleshy chunks of unknown peoplemeat. Gory fun.

The best bits of the game are the arena type areas where demons all spawn and try to take you down while you run around both manically and maniacally, gunning and elbowing all the time. It’s quick paced, feeling a bit more like Quake 3 Arena than original Doom, and far more fun than I can explain. You’re always forewarned one of these fights is going to happen because of the “Checkpoint” save icon and loads of health, ammo and armour is strewn around. In lesser games I’d see these signs and think, gah – another fight. In DOOM (2016) I’m oh hell yes bring it.

One failing the game has is between these big fights, especially on the levels set in Hell itself, is the platforming sections. Platforming and first person don’t sit well together usually (Mirror’s Edge notwithstanding), and when bottomless pits are added, and enemies who can shoot you as you jump the gaps, it’s just annoying. Thankfully most are short and enemyless. In the scheme of things, it’s a minor point but baffling nobody on the development team thought perhaps it was a stupid idea?

Finally, a mention to the sound in the game. The thrashing metal music is great, but the meaty bassy sound effects and excellent “ambient demon noises” in surround sound are just perfect. It’s not creepy enough to be scary, but it’s certainly worrying, when you’re walking down a corridor and the monsters can be heard behind the walls or above the ceiling or seemingly behind you…

Here’s a video of my complete playthrough:

(P.S. there aren’t many in the game, but the toilets that are there are excellent)