Shinsekai: Into the Depths (Switch): COMPLETED!

Just in case I’d not had enough Metroidvania games, I bought another one. Only this one is underwater!

Which means you constantly have to look for oxygen, and being attacked drains your oxygen, and jetting around drains your oxygen, and you move slowly and you have a harpoon. And at one point you gain use of a hovercraft cowfish shaped submarine which means you don’t need oxygen when in it, and – more importantly – you can survive deeper water. One of the main mechanics is that your suit can only deal with a certain amount of water pressure. Go deeper and you quickly die, but you can keep upgrading it to allow deeper exploration with the right resources.

Which is another “difference” with this Metroidvania. You get items mostly from mining rocks and collecting plants, rather than defeating baddies. Combined with the suit and floaty physics it certainly doesn’t feel like just another Metroidvania (not that I’d complain if it did, see previous entries on this blog!) but it is. There’s also two separate endings depending on how you deal with the end boss – I got both.

Bit Orchard: Animal Valley (Switch): COMPLETED!

In case you were thinking this was like a Game Boy version of Stardew Valley, then you’re right. It is. Only very, very cut down. Well, maybe cut down is wrong. Streamlined? Slimmed down?

As in that game, you inherit a run-down farm (an orchard, in this case – albeit one with only one tree), meet people, grow crops (well, just apples), do a bit of fishing, complete some quests, chat to a ghost, and so on. Only instead of taking you over a hundred hours as it does in Stardew Valley, it takes maybe three or four. There’s a lot less to see and do, but sometimes, that’s OK.

Bit Orchard is a bit buggy, fiddly to control (and to lay out your trees, although that’s being fixed in an update I believe) and, of course, short, but it’s also cozy and cute and well worth the low price of entry. Which was a pound at the time of purchase.

Record of Lodoss War: Deedlit in Wonder Labyrinth (Switch): COMPLETED!

Well look at this – it’s another Metroidvania game that I’m playing. Only this one is based on a series of Japanese books (I think!) and looks a lot like Touhou Luna Nights. Not least because it’s running on seemingly the same engine and is by the same team. And it’s really good!

Whereas Touhou Luna Nights “borrowed” the bullet grazing mechanic from the Touhou shooters, in Deedlit there’s a Radiant Silvergun-style colour swap system, where you flick between fire and wind based powers which makes you immune to the effects of those enemies that match you. It means you can run through fire when you’re fire “powered”, for example, but also each style has a gauge that fills up when you use it against baddies – and a full gauge lets you refill your health when you swap to the other style.

There’s a million Symphony of the Night type weapons to collect and agonise over choosing, and the usual upgrades like double jump and levitate, and lots of tricky bosses, secrets and all the things you’d expect from the genre. I think the characters all passed me by as I have no knowledge of the source material, but that doesn’t affect the game, which is a solid example of a Metroidvania.

Unpacking (Switch): COMPLETED!

What I was expecting from this game: a sort of Tetris puzzle game where you have to fit items into a room. What I was not expecting: a putting-things-away simulator with an unwritten, non-verbal story about the life of a woman.

Told over a number of years across various different houses, you unpack your belongings as you move in. Over time, you acquire (and lose) new hobbies, tastes and relationships, but this is only explained by the objects in the houses.

There’s a small amount of “make every fit”, and some stuff will only go in certain places, but it isn’t tricky and there’s no penalty or stress. It’s just a nice little time waster with a surprise story.

Kirby and the Forgotten Land (Switch): COMPLETED!

What a lovely blue skies game this was. It wasn’t the open-world, post apocalyptic Kirby the trailers and pre-release media made out though, as it sticks to the same level structure as most of the classic Kirby titles, but it looks amazing and is a lot of fun.

And is so, so easy! I completed the entire game, including the post-ending extra hard content, without dying at all. Or even coming close to dying. Or, a handful of bosses aside, even paying attention to my energy bar. But then, Kirby games have never been anything even approaching difficult so that’s not really the point.

The point, is that they’re so joyful and quirky and have unusual (to other games) mechanics. Here, you have the standard “suck up enemies to steal their powers” of previous games, but they’ve added Mouthful Mode where you try to suck up large objects like vending machines and cars but they get a bit stuck, although do provide you with some extra temporary skills. The car can smash through things, the big fan can be used to propel a boat, the cone can break through cracked floors, etc.

Your normal powers can be upgraded too. There are short challenge levels that task you with completing them in a certain time, or with a certain power, and these give you special stars which you can spend on the upgrades. It makes the powers deal more damage and so on, but also changes how they look. You don’t actually need any of these upgrades, but they’re nice to have.

In short (and the game is pretty short) it’s a bright and happy Nintendo platformer with charm and cute things and – most importantly – it’s really fun.

Picross S Mega Drive & Master System Edition (Switch): COMPLETED!

Yes, it’s another of Jupiter’s excellent but nearly identical Picross games! Only this one is slightly different as each puzzle is a pixel graphic straight from a Sega Mega Drive or Master System game! But you guessed that from the title.

Not that it really matters because I literally don’t care what the pictures actually are, but it was a bit disappointing that so many of them were just faces of characters from games. Nowhere near as many items, logos, weapons, scenery parts, etc. as I’d hoped for. Also, the music is so, so irritating. The Alex Kidd music, on a loop, for over half an hour? No thanks. And why Passing Breeze from Out Run when Magical Sound Shower exists? Madness.

Can you tell that it’s Knuckles yet?

Thankfully, you can put “soothing arcade sounds” on instead. So I did that.

Oh, and completion time? About 30 hours.

Ghostwire Toyko (PS5): COMPLETED!

There’s a song by Puffy AmiYumi called Planet Tokyo. I mention this not because it has anything to do with the game, but every time I see the title “Ghostwire Tokyo” I read it in the same tune. Yes, I know you probably have no idea what I’m on about.

I went into the game itself pretty blind. I’d glanced over a couple of reviews and read some game-content-free comments on how good it was, but I think I was expecting something a little different to what I got. The initial Yakuza vibe, of Tokyo streets and neon signs and tiny bars and vending machines everywhere wore off quickly when it was clear this was more more explorey than that, much less person-filled, and with combat closer to something approaching Bioshock than a first person shooter or a fighty punchmans game.

The story, with hopefully spoiler avoidance, centres around Akito, a man who is seemingly killed at the same time as almost everyone else in Tokyo has been raptured and replaced with ghosts, spirits and yōkai. Akito is then posessed by KK, the ghost of an ex-police officer (and not the dog from Animal Crossing) who imbues you with spirit powers. Most of the other spirits are literally just hanging around waiting for you to “save” them by sucking them into paper dolls which you then release into phoneboxes because, well, it’s never made completely clear. Much of the game is, or at least, is if you’re going for 100% completion, collecting these souls and in some ways doing so feels a bit like the orb collection in Crackdown, but the actual story involves almost none of this.

Instead, you’re tasked with reaching torii gates (the big red arches in front of Japanese shrines and temples) to “cleanse” them. This clears out the nearby poisonous fog and allows you to reach additional areas of the map. There are various fog-filled places on this map you go to as part of the plot, so clearing the fog is essential to get there, but if you’re just following the story you’ll only have unlocked about 25% of the city by the time you reach the credits, so fog clearance is another expansive extra-curricular activity should you want it.

On your travels, you’ll come across baddies in the form of headless schoolkids, salarymen with umbrellas, banshees, and other zombie-like creatures who you can dispatch with your unlockable elemental powers of wind (the most effective), water (which seems to do literally nothing) and fire (which does a lot of damage to a wide area but your “ammo” is very limited). “Shoot” them enough, and they expose their “core” and you can lasso this with your ghost wire spirit rope thing, yank it out, and they die. Or die more. Or again? I don’t know how it works. There are also boss fights, most of which you’re warped to some sort of broken dreamworld which acts as a way of drastically reducing the game’s required polygon output (I assume) but play out a little differently to normal fights. They reminded me of boss battles in some of the older Lego games, actually.

As pretty much everyone has vacated Tokyo mysteriously, leaving behind clothes, phones and shopping bags, the streets are eerily empty (aside from the spirits). Very little street furniture is interactive, and most shops, stairs, doors and so on are inaccessible in that Shenmue type way that reminds you it’s a video game. It means it’s a bit spooky, but it also feels a bit unfinished. Combat is also a bit vague but repetitive. However, it’s still fun. The plot unravels some mysteries, there’s some great sequences where reality goes sideways, and there are loads of bizarre side-missions where you catch yōkai or feed dogs or collect toys and artworks and stuff to sell to floating cats that now run the shops in the absence of people. I loved all the Japanese and Shintō lore and imagery, and although just a façade of a real place, Ghostwire Tokyo is wonderful to wander round – surprise attacks by fat men with brollies notwithstanding – and a fascinating, if a little shallow, game.

Doodle World (Evercade): COMPLETED!

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A short, simple, Super Mario Bros style platformer which is neither difficult nor exciting. It just… is. You jump on heads and collect things and reach the end of the level, and it has “doodled” graphics, which would be nice but on the Evercade’s little screen they’re a bit small and you can’t tell what most things actually are.

It’s fine?

Sparkle Unleashed (PS5): COMPLETED!

A while back I played that Zuma clone Sparkle 2, and it was pretty good. Well, I recently got a free trial of PSNow to preview what the upcoming PS+ changes might be like, and the original Sparkle was on there and so I gave it a go.

The only real difference between this and Sparkle 2 is that in that game you have the launcher in a fixed point but can rotate 360 degrees and shoot balls that way – like in Zuma. In this, you have a launcher that you move horizontally across the bottom of the screen – like in Luxor.

It’s a polished enough game, and I enjoyed it, but it isn’t exactly high art or anything.

Lego Star Wars: The Skywalker Saga (PS5): COMPLETED!

It’s been a long time since a Lego game came out. This one is (yet another) Star Wars themed one, which re-treads a lot of ground from previous Lego Star Wars games due to the fact they’re based on the same films. They are, however, all new levels, and the most recent two films have never been developed into a Lego game either, so that’s OK. It’s also a “new engine”, “rewritten from the ground up” or something, so you can say goodbye to all the bugs that recurred in every old Lego game!

Except of course, they still exist. Aside from the random crashes and frozen loading screens (yes, loading screens on a PS5), many of the popular past bugs return here. There’s the “you need to speak to someone but they won’t let you” bug! The “go here to collect an item but it’s not there when you get there, just a marker and an empty space” bug! The “collect ten things only you do but one of them doesn’t register so you can’t get them all” bug! Those, and ALL NEW bugs! Like the “when player two presses a certain button, player one brings up the change character option” bug! And the “if one player starts a side mission while the other player is doing certain things, that second player can’t use any of the buttons on the controller any more” bug!

Even after a number of patches, these bugs remain. In fact, I’m sure the game crashes more frequently now than it did the day before launch when we started playing it.

Thankfully, it’s worth the hassle. Because it’s amazing.

It’s funny, it’s huge, it’s got all your favourite characters from Star Wars like Helmet Man and Red Face Hornhead and Baby Shrek and Blue Lady. It has puzzles and shooting galleries and space battles and lasers. It has snow and sand and water planets. It has Blade Runnery worlds and creatures to ride. It has all the Star Wars stories about the good guy going bad and the bad guy going good and the good guy hiding away and the other bad guy turning good just in time to save the galaxy.

You’d be right in thinking I care not for Star Wars as a theme. Which doesn’t matter when it’s enjoyable to just smash everything and laugh at the funnies.

The only real difference to the older games is that the camera angle is now an over-the-shoulder one, more like modern third-person action games. What you actually do is mostly unchanged – collect things, smash things, operate things, get All the Bricks (which are now blue and see-through instead of gold, and there are almost 1200 of them instead of a few hundred) – and I actually didn’t realise we’d been playing from a different angle until we were a few hours in.

I say we because like most other Lego games, I can’t play them on my own. My daughter, who literally knows nothing about Star Wars that didn’t come from a game, insisted she played too so it has been a co-op affair for the entire time. It certainly helps when getting things done more quickly, but one side effect of a split screen combined with the new camera does mean that some events – like those where you have to fly through spheres – are almost impossible as you can’t see them due to the limited viewport.

The actual story, all nine films combined, is actually pretty short (for a Lego title). Each one only has a couple of levels with some short filler sections between, and we’d completed that in about 8 hours. However, the traditional brick mop-up is immense. Hundreds of events, tasks and missions. Wookies and Porgs and Gonks to find all over the galaxy. Fetch quests, capital ship battles, and asteroids to destroy. Finding every hidden character. It may have been only 8 hours to reach the credits, but we’ve spent over 50 hours on it in total so far and are only 36% complete!

So, it has faults, like all Lego games, but is excellent, like all Lego games.

Pokémon Legends: Arceus (Switch): COMPLETED!

It’s different, isn’t it? The last few main Pokémon games have all claimed to be “new” in terms of how they play, with Let’s Go! doing away with proper battles with wild Pokémon, Sun and Moon being properly in 3D and Sword and Shield having the Wild Areas. Arceus is like an extrapolation of those Wild Areas, with several large regions you can freely travel around, seeing Pokémon in the wild doing what they do, and catching them by sneaking up and chucking balls at them.

This mechanic flips the original Pokémon premise on its head. Back then, you’d venture into the long grass and be pounced on by hidden ‘mons, but here it’s you furtively stalking them from the grassy hiding places ready to attack (or catch) when they’re close or distracted. It’s this feature which is the bulk of the gameplay, with different species reacting differently to you. Some, like Starly, will run as soon as you’re spotted. Some, like Aipom, will run up to you and jump around your legs harmlessly. Others will attack on sight, and I mean attack you, not your Pokémon: Another difference to the established norm. You can run away, or chuck out one of your party to fight back, but initially it’s you who can take damage and if you’re hurt too much it’s you that faints, losing some of your gathered items in the process.

They obviously realised there’s no point hiding which attacks are effective and not as everyone would just look them up. So they just tell you now.

Yes, gathered items. Not just potions and balls you have, like in previous games, but crafting materials because all games are crafting games these days. Stuff you pick up, smash open, or get from caught or defeated creatures can be used to make Pokéballs, buffs, food, and so on and although you can buy some of these things, you really don’t have the money to spend on that – at least early on, anyway.

So you wander these large open areas, trapping Pokémon and cock fighting whilst collecting Everything You Can and filling your satchel (which happens a lot, so it’s good you can pay a guy to give you more storage space) with junk and crafting balls and lures and progressing the story. But what is the story?

Well, it’s different to the previous games too. Sure, the details varied from game to game but ultimately every Pokémon title has two main stories. The personal one, where you’ve got to Be the Very Best and beat all the gym leaders and then the Elite Four and become King of All The Pokémon Trainers, and the other one where you have Team Rocket or Team Galactic or Team Skull or whoever doing Evil Deeds and you have to stop them, usually by tracking down some uber-powerful ‘mon and defeating the Team Leader. Then there’s usually some post game content, which basically just gives you the chance to complete your Pokédex. But not here! Well, not quite.

Pokémon Legends: Arceus is set in the past. A few hundred years in the past, in fact, in what would eventually be called the Sinnoh Region (the setting for Pokémon Diamond and Pearl) for reasons that become clear in the game, but is here still referred to as the Hisui Region. You appear in this world, plucked from parts (and times) unknown by Arceus at the start of the game and dropped out of the sky onto a beach just outside Jubilife Village – the seed of Jubilife City from Diamond/Pearl of course. The village is where a group of explorers, scientists and surveyors calling themselves Galaxy Team (waitaminite…) have set themselves up as an outpost in the region, wedging in between the previously-warring-but-now-more-tolerant two factions of Diamond Clan and Pearl Clan. See, it’s clever, yes?

How do you calm a frenzied Pokémon? Balms to the face.

Both clans worship the great Creator, whom they call Sinnoh, but one clan thinks it’s basically the God of Time and the other thinks it’s the God of Space. Without spoilering, they’re both right and wrong. You make friends with both Galaxy Team members and these clans throughout your adventure, which is part you trying to figure out where you came from, and trying to stop the seemingly impending doom caused by the lightning in the sky over Mount Sinnoh which you may actually be the cause of. Mostly, this involves Pokémon battles, catching Pokémon, and boss fights against massive raging Pokémon where you chuck parcels of food at their face until they calm down because of course you do. Oh, and Arceus, aside from sometimes making your “phone” device bleep occasionally, is never to be seen again. Well, not until after the main story is complete perhaps – that’s how far I’ve got.

There’s no gyms. There aren’t really even many trainers. Most people are still scared of Pokémon (and, given they’re all shown as Actual Size, who wouldn’t be) and Pokéballs are still a new invention so the many varieties like Master Balls and Net Balls and so on don’t exist yet. You can ride a handful of beasts that you obtain through the story which allow you to swim, run, jump and fly and so reach new areas. It all feels very fresh and new and yet – and yet – it’s still somehow Pokémon and feels like a Pokémon game even though it’s very different. It’s polished, although some areas are a little lacking graphically, and a bit repetitive with the Pokédex research tasks that require multiple battles or captures with each type of Pokémon and resource gathering, but then if you’re concerned about repetition you wouldn’t be playing Pokémon.

As I said, I’ve completed the story insofar as I’ve done all the missions up to the credits, but now there’s the small task of catching them all. And a million side quests and some additional story. And maybe, actually, Arceus itself.


Pokémon Legends: Arceus is a fantastic new entry in the series, albeit a spinoff. It’s new and old at the same time, and if the recently announced main series games Scarlet and Violet can use some of the same features then I’d love to see that too. If not, a sequel to this set in another region’s past would absolutely do me.

Super Fantasy Zone (Switch): COMPLETED!

This was hard. I’ve played it before but I don’t remember it being this difficult. In fact, last time I said this:

So yes, it’s probably the easiest of all the Fantasy Zone games 

Which is proof I’m an actual liar because no, no it is not. It’s bloody hard and even with saving each level I barely made it through. That said, the bosses were pretty easy – it’s the levels themselves which are virtually impossible to move five pixels without dying. Again. And again.

It was still fun though, despite all that. You can’t hate the blue skies and twinkly happy musics even if you are struggling to progress.

Metal Slug 2nd Mission (Switch): COMPLETED!

And now the sequel! It’s basically more of the same, but there are plenty of changes which improve on it. Firstly, you press pause to actually chuck a grenade (or “pineapple”, as the VO says) rather than use it to swap weapon. This makes it much easier to make use of! You can still pause by holding the button.

Secondly, there’s voices. Like the original Big Boy NeoGeo games, you get sound samples of “Heavy Machinegun!” and “Rocket Lawn Chair!” when you pick them up, which might not sound like much but it makes a big difference.

The game is also a fair bit longer than 1st Mission, doesn’t have as many “maze” missions, and reintroduces the aliens from Metal Slug 2 which were missing from 1st Mission. Your character has more colours too – I assume they mesh two or more sprites together to achieve this. While the first game is still excellent, this is better in so many ways!

Metal Slug 1st Mission (Switch): COMPLETED!

The two NeoGeo Pocket Metal Slug games are both much, much easier than the “proper” NeoGeo games in the series, and they’re also as much about platforming as running and shooting, which differs from the big versions too. They are, however, still both excellent on the tiny screen.

I’ve completed them both before (a few times, I expect), but I hadn’t remembered much from the actual levels. There are a couple where the layout is basically a maze, which was a bit annoying as I got lost and all the baddies respawn, and having to press pause to swap between gun and grenade was not ideal, but 1st Mission was a lot of fun.

SNK vs Capcom: The Match of the Millennium (Switch): COMPLETED!

Yes, another NeoGeo Pocket game from that Switch compilation. And it seems I’d completed this previously – twice in fact. Like all the other fighting games on the NeoGeo Pocket, it’s very good, although they don’t half do a lot of asset reuse. At least in this one they had to create all the Capcom fighters from scratch though!

I played through it three times. First as Ken, then as Mai, then as Leona, getting the ending for each, Of course, Ken is best.