Zookeeper World (iPad): COMPLETED!

The original Zookeeper was the subject of one of my very first posts on this here gaming diary over 16 years ago. Well, not quite the original game as that was a Japan-only GBA release called Zooo or something, but the DS version I played was pretty much the same game. Anyway, forward time on a bit and the world of match-3 puzzlers has changed a bit so you can’t just re-release Zookeeper and expect it to fit in.

So they’ve aped the likes of Simon’s Cat and Puppy Blast and added loads of gimmicks to the formula. Now instead of (or as well as) removing a number of each animal, you also have to deal with revealing panels behind them to remove, or have them in bottles that you have to match two or three times before they disappear. Or there are flowers you can’t directly match to remove, crates you have to break, or beehives where removing animals next to them releases bees. There are fruit bombs that blow animals away, conveyor belts that move things round, and crowns you can only get rid of by dropping them off the bottom of the screen, as well as power-ups to employ.

On top of that, progress through the levels unlocks money and items for your real actual zoo which you can fill, Theme Park style, with attractions and animal displays. This is not the same Zookeeper I remember.

But, it is at least as addictive and it’s a lot of fun. Some of the levels are incredibly tricky, and a few may only be clearable with luck, but I loved working through all 200 of them and it’s one of the more polished and solid games of its genre around. Plus, as it’s Apple Arcade, there’s no in-app purchases like all the other games have, and no adverts.

The Magnificent Trufflepigs (Switch): COMPLETED!

At first glance, and indeed, at several subsequent glances, The Magnificent Trufflepigs looks and feels very much like Everybody’s Gone to the Rapture if it was a series of The Detectorists. It has the same slow, pondering walk through realistic British countryside aesthetic, no combat, and a story which just gets more interesting as you progress. Plus, you have a metal detector and have to dig stuff up.

But the detectoring is just a delivery mechanism for the story, which has you called up by an old friend to help search a local farm for an earring to match one found years earlier. You set off, separately to cover more ground, to discover buried nails, scraps of machinery and bottle caps while discussing how your friend’s life is starting to unravel a bit.

That’s all there is to it – about two hours of digging and chatting in a relaxed, stressless way – until the story reaches the end and there’s a revelation which I have to say I did see coming so wasn’t really surprised. It didn’t matter because it was the journey, the chat and the low-impact gameplay which was excellent and a nice diversion from most other games. And it’s oh so pretty and atmospheric.

The Room Two (iPad): COMPLETED!

I quite enjoyed the first game when I picked it up on the Switch cheap a while back, but never saw this sequel (or rather, second half of the story) appear on there. I noticed it was on Apple Arcade and so thought I’d play it there instead what with it being essentially free.

Controlling it on a touch screen was actually more complex than perhaps it should have been, especially the zooming in and out which felt in inverse of pinch-to-zoom controls every other app ever has. Very little of the game is actually speed dependant though, so it wasn’t really a problem – I just preferred the joycon pointer waggle controls on the Switch.

The story continues on exactly from the end of the previous game, so it seems like one game cleaved in two rather than a separate instalment. It’s also more of the same thing – escape room style puzzles, with lots of key-finding and hidden drawers and arranging thing in a particular way. It did seem a bit easier than the first part, but a few parts of that were a little obtuse so maybe that’s intentional.

Axiom Verge 2 (Switch): COMPLETED!

I do love a good metroidvania, and I’ve played a fair few in the last year or so, and the original Axiom Verge was a great metroidvania. It’ll come a no surprise, then, that I pounced on Axiom Verge 2 the second I was able to get it from the eShop, and here I am telling you I’ve completed it.

And not just completed, but 100%ed – all items, all the map, everything. Which is a sign of a fantastic game in this genre, as far as I’m concerned.

Axiom Verge 2 isn’t really a sequel to the first game, as it’s more of a tangental story that is linked but separate for the most part. It does away with the “glitch” mechanics of the original, but replaces them with a sort of subspace, low res, corruption of the main world that you can slip in and out of in a similar way to how the two worlds work in Link to the Past. This lets you reach areas which would otherwise be blocked, by sort of skipping round them via a fourth dimension.

The plot is complicated, and references worlds that are linked, different civilisations on at least three of these worlds (one of which is Earth), but it’s interesting if difficult to get your head round. I recall the first game had a similar plot complexity and I’m sure recalling that better would shine more light here, but actually, you can mostly ignore it without detriment.

It’s the gameplay that really shines here, and Axiom Verge 2 eschews the normal combat-filled exploration of the game type with the scales tilted far more in favour of exploring than smacking stuff. In fact, you don’t really have much in the way of ranged weapons like before, and every boss in the game (bar one, I think) can be ignored entirely unless you’re after 100% completion. There are even more pacifistic ways of taking down foes too, as you’re able to hack most of them and turn them off, slow them down, or even turn them against each other.

You have to be this spiderbot thing when you’re in the Breach low-res areas.

Exploration is rewarding, both in terms of eureka moments when a puzzle is solved or an obtuse route is discovered, as well as a new power-up or upgrade is collected. I’m one for colouring in all of the map in these games and there’s a great map to fill in here. In fact, unlike other metroidvania games, the map itself is like a very small set of thumbnails of each location, rather than just a blank box.

And the music! Thomas Happ created some bizarre but incredible tracks for the first game and he’s managed the same here. It’s incredibly atmospheric, and the scratchy chiptunes for the “breach” areas are superb too, matching the low resolution aesthetic perfectly.

Someone broke some stuff then.

One of my favourite games this year, for sure.

Doodle God Universe (iPad): COMPLETED!

I’ve just got myself a new iPad so I’ve been flitting around some Apple Arcade games, and landed on this one. I’m not really sure what to make of it, because it’s a mostly-nothing game, and yet I got a bit sucked in.

The aim is to create everything. Because, you know, you’re God and all. You do this by combining things you’ve already created. Many of these make sense, like fire and sand make glass, but a lot don’t – like life and stone creating egg. Since literally all you do is combine things, it rapidly deteriorates into try-everything-on-everything like one of those terrible illogical point and click adventure games.

It’s very polished, and the voiceover guy who definitely isn’t trying to be Morgan Freeman is great (if a bit repetitive), but there’s not really any game here. You just find (i.e. brute force) all the combinations and then you’re done. So I’m done.

Mega-lo-Mania (Evercade): COMPLETED!

Yes. I played Mega-lo-Mania again, and yes, I completed it again. This time, however, it was the recently released Evercade version! Which is just the Mega Drive version again only on an Evercade cart of course.

I chose to play as Scarlet this time through, and for the second time ever, one of the other players managed to stick some people in suspended animation for the Mother of All Battles. Of course, they only had about 10 of them whereas I had a couple of hundred or something, so they didn’t last long. Still, it’s the thought that counts, right?

Wonder Boy – Asha in Monster World (Switch): COMPLETED!

A long, long time ago, I played about 15 minutes of the original Mega Drive version of this game in a local game shop. It was all in Japanese but I liked the look of it. Not quite as long ago, but still over a decade ago, Sega released the first English translated version of it as part of a Wonder Boy pack on Xbox Live Arcade. I bought it, but never played it.

Then this came along. A remake of Monster World IV, with new graphics and save system, on the Switch. And, if you bought the special edition physical game card you got the original game (translated) included on the card for free. Bargain, right? Sure, it looked a bit like a 2000s Flash game, but after the fantastic remake of Wonder Boy: The Dragon’s Trap, and the excellent Monster Boy, it’ll be great anyway, yeah?

Well, not really. It hasn’t aged well.

Firstly, I should say that once you’re actually playing it, the graphics aren’t nearly as bad as they look in screenshots. They’re not quite right, but they’re fine. What is more of a problem is that the levels (it’s not open world like the other related games I mentioned) are just… boring. Each is themed as per every 1990s platformer, but they’re sparse. You walk along, fight one simple enemy, then walk along and fight another. Sometimes you might have to fight two. A couple of times, there were three. But there’s a lot of walking around doing very little.

Some parts of the levels are like mazes that have loads of near-identical areas, loop round themselves if you take a wrong turn (or have to backtrack), and these artificially lengthen the game. Especially the bits you have to retread as the baddies are all gone, so you get long, empty walks.

Another issue is the “2.5D” layering the levels, and the hub town especially, employ. At various points, you can step into or out of the screen into a different horizontal plane. It’s been used a lot in other games, but here it seems mostly pointless as it’s underused and forced as part of your route rather than a way to find secrets. It makes the mazes needlessly more confusing, especially on the mountain level.

You get a companion who is a flying ball/dragon/bird thing part way into the game which acts as a double-jump and glide replacement, which makes you seem much more nimble and the platforming becomes more fun, only (spoilers) the game then nerfs him before taking him away completely later on.

Good points include the music, which is excellent, and Asha’s animation (especially the ridiculous bum-wiggle she does when opening a chest), which is much better than most of the rest of the characters and baddies. The “Persian” theme, however, just serves to prompt comparison with the Shantae games, and most games don’t have a hope in hell competing with their animation. You can also save your progress wherever you like, rather than at the badly spaced, often missable, and far too infrequent Save Sages of the Mega Drive version. They’re still here, but are now pointless.

In all, I’m pretty disappointed with Asha in Monster World. I did have some fun, and I did enjoy it enough to finish it without it being a slog, but it is a game that despite the new paint and trousers, is still stuck in the past. It was an also-ran compared to the others in the series even back then though, so I can’t complain too much.

Minecraft Dungeons (Switch): COMPLETED!

When you pay for the Switch Online service, every so often they give you the full, complete versions of retail games for free – for a few days. Then they stop working. This week, they let you download and play Minecraft Dungeons, and my daughter and I completed it before our free trial was up.

That’s not to say it’s short, although it’s nowhere near as long as I expected (partly because two large additional areas are walled off behind DLC payments), it’s just we played it a lot in a short amount of time.

Although it looks like Minecraft, and has a lot of the same creatures and sound effects, Minecraft Dungeons is actually more like Diablo. You take on a series of isometric levels, killing loads of baddies, getting better loot, and making Numbers Go Up. It’s much more simplistic than Diablo, and it doesn’t have anywhere near as much content, variety, or items to collect as Diablo III, but it’s also more suitable for kids and there’s literally no learning curve just to figure out the character and weapon upgrade system.

It’s also a lot easier. The only time we had any problems is when we started a level that was waaaaay above our current player level. Sure, when you complete it there’s a much harder New Game+, and yes, for most levels you can pick a higher recommended player level than your current one, but that seems to make it impossible rather than “harder”.

We did enjoy it a lot though, and if I’d have known it was as good as it was beforehand, I’d probably have ended up buying it. However, if you’re going to, I’d recommend the PlayStation or Xbox versions instead of the Switch if jerky, stuttering framerates are likely to offend – the Switch version is full of it. Not enough to put me off, but that’s mainly because I wasn’t paying for it.

Earth Defense Force 5 (PS5): COMPLETED!

I realised for the first time while playing EDF 5, having played all (I think) of the previous titles in the series, that I think the reason I enjoy them so much is that they’re basically musou games only with guns and aliens. Sure, there’s less base defence and area capture, but the gameplay is surprisingly similar.

After I’d played a few levels, my daughter noticed it was two player and so asked to join in, which made it even more like musou games like Pirate Warriors and Hyrule Warriors that we’d played together.

If you’ve played an EDF game you’ll know exactly what to expect from Earth Defense Force 5. Millions of giant insects, cities that get levelled, hundreds of weapons and the best worst voice acting ever. Only this time round, it’s all with a rock solid framerate rather than sometimes dropping to seconds-per-frame, even in split screen. I suspect running this PS4 game on my PS5 counts for some of that though.

The game also adds new enemies to the series. The “Hector” robots are gone, replaced with giant frog soldiers (that your teammates refer to as ”just like us” – are they blind?”) and armoured giant alien soldiers. There are also a few more varieties of ants and spiders and stuff. Otherwise, it’s basically more of the same. Which is no bad thing of course, and exactly why I bought it!

Luck Be A Landlord (Mac): COMPLETED!

This game is a bit like a cross between a clicker and a fruit machine. You spin the reels, and get items appear, and then get money depending on what items and how many of each. But you also unlock more items that could appear, and there are buffs to certain items which increase their worth or a multiplier or both.

So, for example, if you get a Witch, then you get more for each Cat it is next to. Or if you get a Monkey, you get more for Banana. After so many rounds, you have to pay rent and then the rent increases for the next set of rounds. Can’t pay? Game over! So yeah, it’s partly luck based, but then it says that there in the title!

There’s an endless mode, which is obviously impossible to complete, but there’s also a mode with an actual ending, and it’s that I completed.

Zelda (Game & Watch): COMPLETED!

I was lucky enough to be given (an original!) one of these, as well a Donkey Kong and Donkey Kong II, this weekend. It’s the best Game & Watch game and although I have a keyring mini replica I haven’t played the G&W classic since it was a Hot Product in the school playground.

And it still stands up really well today. Although it was much, much easier than I recall because I managed to complete it on my first go. Actually completing G&W games is unusual because most are high score chaser games, but Zelda has an endpoint – get all the bits of triforce by killing all the dragons – and that’s what I did. It was Excellent.

Game Dev Story+ (iPhone): COMPLETED!

Many, many moons ago, I bought the original version of this on my iPhone. It was great. In fact, I still have it and my development company (Ubisocks) is still going and is on year 300 or something.

Recently, a modified version was released on Apple Arcade as Game Dev Story+. I’m not sure what is actually modified, aside from a different coloured icon, but it doesn’t matter because it meant I could restart the game without losing my more-than-a-decade-long save file.

It’s easier than I remember. Certainly, the early stages anyway. Once you have All The Money and can get a game that scores 40/40 regardless of how hard you actually try during development or which genre combo you choose then it’s a walkover, but I had no issues in the beginning at all – never ran out of money, constantly made a profit, and quickly grew Fire Sausage (my new development house) to the point of unstoppable sales. My Animal Crossing clone in particular was a massive seller and award winner!

After 20 in-game years you reach “the end”, in that no new stuff happens, but by that point I’d won all the awards and created a best-selling console so I’d done everything there is to do.

One Piece Pirate Warriors 4 (PS5): COMPLETED!

Not that long ago I picked up One Piece Pirate Warriors 3 on the Switch because it was cheap and I was after a fun musou game. Turned out that, despite not knowing anything about One Piece, it was really rather good. So, when the sequel was cheap on PSN and I’d just bought a second PS5 controller, I thought I’d pick it up.

It’s more of the same, really. There’s a few different story arcs, characters who were not in the previous game, and a new skill upgrade tree method which is easier to make use of this time round, but ultimately it’s a prettier looking (thanks PS4), faster loading (thanks PS5) expansion to Pirate Warriors 3.

As before, I played it from start to finish with my daughter in co-op. Well, aside from the few levels which are bafflingly single player only despite there being a second AI character that could be player 2 in each of them. We also completed all 120+ of the “treasure mode” scenarios, which are vaguely analogous to the Adventure Mode in HYRULE WARRIORS, and I even unlocked every single trophy, which is pretty unheard of.

It’s mindless and mashy and repetitive, sure, but it’s also a lot of fun.

New Super Lucky’s Tale (Switch): COMPLETED!

New Super Lucky’s Tale is no Mario 64 or Yooka-Laylee. It’s a nice little (mostly) 3D platformer in that style, however, but without the acrobatics and inventiveness of the former and with none of the fancy moves and humour of that latter. It’s a very pared down experience in many ways, especially compared to those, but actually, it was a pleasant surprise.

It doesn’t do a lot – you collect things and jump around and there are odd characters to talk to and levels within themed worlds, but it’s still fun and it looks nice in its own cartoony art style. Sometimes jumping is tricky in 3D, and there seem to be more 2D levels than I’d prefer, but I enjoyed it from start to finish. I understand this a remake of a game called Super Lucky’s Tale which came out a few years earlier and had a number of issues which this fixed, although I’ve not played that to compare.