Toki (Arcade): COMPLETED!

A very long time ago, I played this a lot in the arcade. Then, also a very long time ago but not quite as long ago, I played and completed the Mega Drive version. Which, I noted at the time, was almost completely different. I never went back to the arcade original, until now.

It’s one of those games that has lots of sections that seem completely impossible but then, somehow, they become very easy. Like the crystal mammoth boss – impossible. Until you crouch, hammer fire, and take out his feet.

There are some frustrating bits, and one section where you have to jump from a mine cart thing to a platform and not die instantly by one of about five baddies waiting, but overall I found it more enjoyable (and do-able) than I ever remember.

Doshin the Giant (GC): COMPLETED!

Oh Doshin, you big lump with your slow legs and your slightly inappropriate belly button. Such a relaxing game, even when the disasters come and threaten to destroy all your little people and their houses and monuments and chickens.

Slightly spoiling the relaxing gameplay was a bizarre bug I came across which is probably due to the fact I was running this under emulation and via a Steam Link: Two islands I’d set up and had my people building stuff had all their buildings deleted every time I looked at the list of monuments I’d not yet built. Very odd, and took me ages to realise that was the cause so I probably played for five hours longer than necessary.

That aside though, the slow pace and the nice music and the simple gameplay is always a joy. Even if everyone dies in the end. Oh, spoilers, sorry.

Bulb Boy (Switch): COMPLETED!

Bulb Boy is a nice little walk-and-click adventure game and it was very cheap recently. And by nice, I mean horribly grotesque and full of demonic imagery and guts and dead things and maggots and evil spiders and a giant monster made from your own poo.

There’s a story, although nothing is ever spoken or written down. It’s all gestures and speech bubbles with pictures in. Given the content of the game, that’s probably for the best. I don’t really want to understand fully why there is a giant headless turkey “pecking” about in the kitchen.

I mean, just look at the screenshots.

It’s only a couple of hours long, but I certainly enjoyed it. The puzzles were never too clever or too obtuse, and the sections where you had to navigate hazards provided variety. In fact, the only real complaint I can make is that when you die and your little lightbulb head is horrifically mutilated in some way, it takes just a bit too long to restart. Oh, and I came across a bug where I put an egg in a place and it was supposed to pop out another place and it didn’t, so I had to reload. Aside from those, though – recommended. Just wash your hands afterwards.

Sanrio Characters Picross (3DS): COMPLETED!

I was convinced this took me around 40 hours, but no, just under 28. It just felt much longer than the other picross titles I’ve played on the 3DS, but it’s about par for them.

There’s not a lot else to say, really. It’s picross, with Sanrio (think Hello Kitty) characters as the puzzles. There are loads of stickers to unlock, but they’re of little use as you can’t take screenshots, but the main picross is the same picross as picross ever was.

Burly Men At Sea (Vita): COMPLETED!

I was going to buy this for the Switch on a number of occasions, but never got round to it. And then it appeared on PS+. My Vita came out of retirement, and after twice as long updating it as it took to play the game, I’d completed it.

And then completed it again. And again. And again.

You see, this story about four bearded sailor brothers is somewhat short, but that’s only part of the point. At various points in the story you can make a choice (although it isn’t always obvious there is a choice!) and the story takes a new direction. Whatever you choose to do, you’ll end up back at the start ready to begin a slightly different adventure.

I really love the art style, and the text is humourous. There isn’t much in the way of puzzling or gameplay of any kind, really, but it’s an enjoyable set of sea tales nonetheless.

Car Quest (Switch): COMPLETED!

My first impressions of Car Quest were, it has to be said, less than favourable. It had, as I mentioned on Twitter after my first hour’s play, a definite air of “My First Unity” game about it, not least because of the sparse, blocky environment that just screams “I can’t draw but I can sellotape geometric shapes together”. You, a car, don’t fit within this style either thematically or graphically, and it feels like a placeholder that was never replaced with a giant marble or something that matches the rest of the game.

Blocktacular! You’ve successfully written the first paragraph of your Car Quest diary post!

I can’t really say my second impressions were much better. The basic aim is, you see, to drive your car through this blocky world, finding rotating shapes known as artefacts. Each one opens a new route or area in the world, invariably as far away from your current position as possible so as to artificially extend the length of the game. As you drive around, you collect batteries, which you need to open portals to other areas and so the game is lengthened further as you collect these – which require no skill, just time.

Well done for informing the reader about elements of the game! Some parts of the game require artefacts, and others require time consuming item collection.

My third impressions? Well, near the end of my first hour I hit something new. Puzzles. Things to push around, tiles to drive over quickly in sequence. Clever driving stunts. More started happening – a level with a night and day warp, which raises a water level to ad a new dimension to the puzzles. Some sheep to herd. Timed sections, a maze, and more. Slowly, the game was becoming more.

Over time you may notice new features added to the levels! Like a maze! Or some sheep to herd! It’s blocking incredible.

In terms of gameplay, I was actually starting to enjoy it. The plain graphical style actually started working. I still couldn’t figure out exactly why you were a car, and how Lord Blockstar – who is King, despite being a Lord – the transparent floating head WHO NEVER SHUTS UP managed to convince you to help repair his world by doing all these things.

I do tend to state the obvious. In fact, in the game, I even tell you I state the obvious.

Every time you collect an artefact, of which there are approximately seven zillion, Blockstar tells you you’ve just collected and artefact. And, after opening a new area (which the camera pans to in order to show you’ve opened a new area), Blockstar tells you you’ve opened a new area. And when it’s obvious where to go next, he tells you where to go next. All. The. Sodding. Time. It’s maddening. And then there are all his puns, many of which are block or brick related and they hurt. 

You’ve just finished reading that paragraph but there’s another paragraph to read next!

Car Quest isn’t a difficult game either. In fact, there are only really two difficult things: forgetting where to go next (even if you’re shown, then told by Blockstar, it’s too easy to get disorientated on the map – not least because everything looks the same), and not knowing if you’re doing something not quite right, or aren’t supposed to be doing it yet.

I get the feeling you’re going to sum up the game for the reader now.

To sum up, Car Quest is an oddity. It’s not very well designed, it’s not short of problems, it has too much unnecessary to-ing and fro-ing and the damn lordking guy needs gagging. The car physics don’t feel right, and there being a car not a ball or similar instead doesn’t make any sense. The world of Blocktaria is just too abstract and plain and bizarre. It shouldn’t work and I’d be giving it a 1/5 and telling you not to play it.

But. BUT. Give it an hour or two. I know that’s a big ask. But do that. Play it. Ignore the “college game design project” feel to it and just let it happen. Something clicks, and even though you can see it shouldn’t work, it’s actually fun. A sort of guilty pleasure. And as you groan at yet another “blockcredible” or a 14th loop of the main world to collect yet more batteries, you’ll realise that somehow, you’re enjoying it. It’s not blocktacular, but it’s certainly blockisfactory.

The Gardens Between (Switch): COMPLETED!

Well that was over quickly. So much so I’m a little annoyed I paid £11.99 for it, and that was an offer price! That much money for a game that offered no challenge, lasted less than an hour, and has zero replayability? At least Pan-Pan was a tenth of that.

Money aside, The Gardens Between is a beautiful and clever puzzle game. Each level is a small island, and your only controls are to move forwards and backwards in time, and sometimes press a button to ring a bell or trigger something. As you control time, your two characters – one who can hold and put down a lantern, and the other who can interact with bells – move through the level, sometimes together, sometimes independently. The aim is usually to “catch” a light in the lantern then take it to the pedestal at the top of the island, but as time moves forward things happen to prevent this.

It’s hard to describe but considering how little control you have and how linear (albeit backwards as well as forwards) it is, it’s incredible how many ways they’ve managed to use the gimmick.

Sadly, this works against it too – with so little to interact with, levels are very easy to solve, and even though there are a lot of ways they’ve used the formula, they ran out all too soon.

A clever experience, and one I definitely enjoyed, but over far, far too quickly for the price.

No Man’s Sky (PS4): COMPLETED!

Much has changed. Much has stayed the same. But it’s the changes that prompted a replay of the game that sold me a PS4 over a year before it even came out. Sadly, it was not a happy reunion, and there were more than a few problems…

Bugs are to be expected in games these days more than ever before, but bugs that break the game, then are supposedly patched out, yet still exist, should not exist. It seems along with all the new stuff in No Man’s Sky, a plethora of additional game breaking bugs were added and not completely removed again.

As it was new, I was following the Artemis Path for this playthrough. It involves trying to save Artemis, a fellow traveller, and to do so requires stepping through a sort of base building tutorial. You make a base, build some rooms, employ some staff who give you missions and blueprints, and eventually you have everything you need in order to build a Mind Arc that can rescue Artemis. Only in my case, the game skipped several bits in the middle there so initially, I was unable to craft a circuit board, needed to progress. The game thought I’d been given the blueprints. I had not.

Tyrannosaurus Moose

Thankfully, it was fixed in a patch. Eventually. So I could progress, and make the circuit board and the thing I needed it for. Next up – make some Living Glass so I could use that to craft the Mind Arc, except of course, the game thought I’d been given the blueprint and, again, of course I had not.

Several game patches came and went, and still I couldn’t progress. Someone on Twitter saw my complaints and offered to help: If I joined his game, he could create Living Glass which should make my blueprint appear. So I joined him, and then even more bugs appeared. Sigh.

I could give him the materials, but he couldn’t give them – or anything else – back, as the menu to choose where to send stuff (your ship, roamer, storage, etc.) didn’t show me on his screen. Then we tried him putting them in a storage unit on his freighter, but when I went to take them out they weren’t there. In fact, his storage units showed the contents of my storage units on my base hundreds of light years away. What. Finally, we quit the game and he joined me instead – which actually let him pass on the components to me directly. I didn’t get the Living Glass blueprints, but I did get Living Glass (and a Mind Arc) so I could progress the story at least. My saviour waved goodbye and off I went to give the Mind Arc to Artemis.

Jacks, anyone?

Only that wasn’t the end of it. The place he was supposed to be, marked on the map, wasn’t there. I had no choice but to restart part of the questline and do it all again. That worked, luckily, and a few hours later, I’d finished the game. The most bugged of all games.

OK, yeah. I enjoyed it. I enjoyed the exploration, the souping up my spaceship, the naming every star system “Dave” – but that was all there in the “old” No Man’s Sky. The new stuff just gave me more to do, and sadly, it was all broken. Last time, I spent 125 hours on it. This time, “just” 80, around 20 of which was working round bugs and redoing missions. I genuinely think they’ve made the game worse instead of better, which is a massive shame. It’s still great, but it’s too broken for me to recommend it as wholeheartedly as I did before.

Donut County (PS4): COMPLETED!

A very short, very easy, but fun little game. Imagine Beautiful Katamari only instead of rolling stuff up to get bigger, you’re a hole and you make stuff fall in to get bigger. No, I’m not sure how putting more things in a hole makes the hole bigger either.

Spooky hole is spooky.

There’s very little to it more than that, really. Apparently there are puzzles, but these are laughably simple, and there’s a boss fight which is also incredibly easy, but then that isn’t really the point of the game I suppose. What is the point? Put stuff in your hole. And progress the bizarre story.

Oh yeah, and they spelt “doughnut” wrong.

PixelJunk Monsters 2 (Switch): COMPLETED!

Well this turned out to be disappointing. As a big fan of the original PixelJunk Monsters, this sequel with its incredibly pretty clay graphics (rather than the somewhat minimal ones seen in the first game) was a certain buy. I’d played the demo and yep – it was great.

Sadly, the demo didn’t make clear the horrific loading times. Starting a level? Wait for ages. Want to restart? Wait for ages. Complete a level? Wait for ages. And I mean ages. Literally several minutes in some cases. The entire game took less time to download and install than it takes to restart a level. That can’t be right, can it?

Stupid fat bee things.

And although loading times aren’t the end of the world, they certainly make a difference between “oh I’ve screwed this up, restart!” and “oh I’ve screwed this up, off it goes!”. Why no instant restart? Exactly why does the game need to load all the assets in again even though they’re already loaded? It’s frustrating and kills the fun.

Perhaps the loading times are there to bulk out the game, as there aren’t many levels here either. Around 20 in total, which doesn’t seem nearly enough for a tower defence game, especially since many of the maps look like they were intended to be reused (with blocked off routes opened up) but never are.

Thankfully, the actual game itself is still as good as it ever was. It’s just a shame it’s been hobbled in between the good bits.

Pan-Pan (Switch): COMPLETED!

Having been on sale a number of times, and being pretty cheap already, I’d eyed up the lovely looking Pan-Pan on several previous occasions. Reviews saying it is slightly disappointing tempered my enthusiasm and so I always put my virtual cash away. Until today.

And sadly, the reviews were right. Pan-Pan looks really nice, with its flat shaded, low-poly graphics and almost Pikmin-like world to explore, but it falls very short of excellent for a number of reasons.

Firstly, its world is very small, but it’s the way it appears very open that’s the problem. Most of the puzzles in the game are reachable almost immediately, but some are somewhat obtuse and you’re left wondering if the reason you can’t solve it is because you’re missing the trick, or because you’re not supposed to be able to yet – and there’s no way of knowing.

This little bird doesn’t want you to steal his eggs. But you are a cruel woman.

Secondly, there’s just not enough game here. It’s perhaps ten puzzles in total, and sure, the game was only £2.99 but when I obtained the five items needed to complete the game, I was sure there’d be another chapter – or several chapters – afterwards. But nope, 90 minutes of game and that’s it. No replayability at all.

For what it is, it’s a quaint little thing, and perhaps the sometimes there, sometimes not (it depends where you read) subtitle of “A Tiny Big Adventure” should have tipped me off, but it feels more like a short demo of a larger game, which is a shame.

Shantae: Risky’s Revenge – Director’s Cut (PS4): COMPLETED!

I am very much aware that I’m playing through the Shantae games in an intermittent manner and in an incorrect order. This is because of reasons I don’t have to explain to you.

After completing Yoku’s Island Express I was concerned I’d do my usual thing of failing to decide which game to play next, and spend so long flicking through games I own but haven’t played that I ran out of time to play them. Instead, I forced myself to settle on the first title that came to mind from my pile of bought-but-never-played games, which, inexplicably, was Risky’s Revenge. Who knew?

Sadly, I was all too soon back in the same predicament as before I started, since I completed it in around 6 hours.

What’s cookin’ good lookin’?

But it was a wonderful 6 hours. Shantae is a joy to control, a wonder to look at, and just about as perfect a short-but-sweet Metroidvania experience as it is possible to be. The shortness is no doubt because the original Nintendo DSi release of the game (of which this is a partially HD remastered port) was intended to be a three episode game from which only part one ever appeared, but neither the story nor the gameplay suffers from it.

Fitting between the original Shantae for the GBC (which I played here) and Shantae and the Pirate’s Curse (which I played here) it tells the story of how Risky Boots, the large-boobed pirate from the first game, steals a magic lamp which – considering you’re a half-genie – unsurprisingly is somehow linked to your genie powers. And, spoiler, the reason why The Pirate’s Curse has you missing all your genie powers. Shantae has to get the lamp back by recovering three magic seals (no, not of the fish-eating variety) which, of course, are guarded by three barons in three dungeons.

The cover art is all new HD

Before you lose your powers, however, you obtain them in this game and they’re the skills needed to unlock areas of the map. As in the first game, they take the form of different creatures you can become by dancing: A monkey who can climb walls, an elephant who can smash rocks, and a naked mermaid who can swim. In addition, each creature has a collectable and necessary upgrade to add further skills.

OH! IS THIS A PUZZLE CLUE?

Most of the characters and areas are reprised from the Game Boy Colour original game, but they’re all redrawn and reanimated to a much higher quality. Even though the Nintendo DS is pretty close to retro itself these days it still looks and moves like a “modern” pixel art platformer. Wayforward really are the masters of pretty pixels. The regions of the map are pretty limited in number, and there aren’t many different enemies, but it doesn’t really matter considering the length of the game. The exploring is good, the backtracking and dancing simplified (for the better) from the first game in the series, and it’s much, much easier – perhaps to a fault as I only died once and every boss was a walkover.

It is excellent though, and I’m very tempted to buy the special edition of the latest game in the series now. If only I didn’t have a trillion other games to work through first, eh? Including the part-completed (and also another Metroidvania) Hollow Knight. Hmm.

Yoku’s Island Express (Switch): COMPLETED!

This game is, now bear with me, a pinball metroidvania adventure game set on an island where you’re an ant who also happens to be the new postman, and you collect fruit whilst taped to a ball. As soon as you arrive on the island, the god creature that oversees it is attacked and it’s up to you to find all the tribal elders who together can heal the god. Oh yes, and you’re armed with a party horn, and hoover up exploding slugs, and wear a little fish in order to swim.

So generally standard game stuff, really.

It’s a pretty looking 2D affair, with exploration broken up by caves and caverns that amazingly resemble pinball tables, and strangely convenient “flippers” dotted around the island to assist in getting you about by flicking you up trees and mountains and so on. I mean, it’s hardly a believable world, not least that all this pinball infrastructure only seems to benefit you and not the majority of the rabbits, rats, fish and various other creatures that you chat with.

Don’t forget to actually deliver letters while you’re out saving the island.

It plays like a metroidvania game through out of reach areas becoming available due to abilities you unlock as the game progresses, which let you blow up certain rocks, swim, or fling yourself around buds, as appropriate.

Yoku’s Island Express is a relatively short game with a compact map, but you criss-cross it many times through various routes and shortcuts so it feels quite a bit bigger. It’s not especially difficult, not least because it appears to be impossible to die (it is possible to get stuck and have to restart from a – thankfully frequently placed – restart point though). Some of the trickier “shots” are frustrating however, and the knack for sucking up exploding slugs seems a little random and so a minor annoyance, but aside from that the only real difficulty is figuring how to get to the points marked on the map.

It’s fun while it lasts, and once completed there’s still a multitude of things to collect and deliveries to make (you’re a postman, remember), so completists will get even more value from this already cheap title. Yoku is definitely worth picking up.

Shenmue (PS4): COMPLETED!

It’s been a while. I’ve started Shenmue via emulators a number of times over the years but it’s been ten or more since I last completed it. I remember the plot, and the basic event timeline, but specifics were like coming to it anew. I was worried that one of my favourite ever games wasn’t going to stand up to scrutiny, especially since this is a pretty bare-bones HD remaster, but it turns out that it was fine. More than fine, actually – it’s still excellent.

Sure, it came from a different era, when developers didn’t have two analogue sticks and a pretty standard way of moving your character in third person in a 3D space. Many years of story based games have now shown what is necessary and what isn’t, when the player needs direction and when they don’t, when repetition is good and when it isn’t – but 18 years ago Shenmue was doing this for pretty much the first time. As such, you have to accept that being unable to skip time and having to talk to everyone after every plot progression is just of its day and move past that to the story.

Yeah like these two are made for each other.

Which, thankfully, is still excellent.

One thing, which I spoke about in much detail on episode 14 of the ugvm Podcast, is how much Shenmue feels like a precursor to the Yakuza series. It’s actually one of the reasons I got into Yakuza in the first place, but going back to it now it’s even more obvious. To add to my podcast comments, the 70 Man Battle at the end of Shenmue is yet another thing that feels very Yakuza – as each game I’ve played has a fight against a huge number of enemies near the end as well. There’s too many similarities between the two series for it to just be coincidence!

Road Rash it isn’t.

Now it’s on to Shenmue II, which I remember less well than the original as I only ever completed it once.

Would you like to watch my entire playthrough?

Gradius (Switch): COMPLETED!

And another NES-game-onna-Switch, bus-based game completion. Gradius isn’t something I remember completing before but at the same time none of it seemed new to me. Which is odd because I don’t often play shooters like this.

Anyway, it was hard, especially the bit with the Easter Island heads, and the final boss was a complete walkover for some reason. All you have to do is stay in the right place and keep shooting – no dodging necessary!