Metal Slug 2nd Mission (NGPC): COMPLETED!

Pineapple!

As well as completing 1st Mission, I thought I’d do 2nd Mission. Makes sense. It’s good, too.

I think I was misremembering how good, though. I was pretty certain it was better in almost every way than 1st Mission, but no. Certainly, the addition of speech, more levels, and two characters to choose from are improvements. Changing the Start button from “toggle between guns and grenades” to “throw grenade” is definitely for the best. However, the levels seem less interesting for the most part, and some – like the prison and the factory – are just rubbish. In addition, many of the bosses are just those from the original again.

They also seemed to add a lot more colour to the game, especially the player character, but this just makes them garish. The animation on the new alien foes, though, is super smooth as they sort of tear open and vomit goo. No, really.

On balance, it’s still excellent. It’s just not quite as impressive or fun as the first game.

Metal Slug 1st Mission (NGPC): COMPLETED!

Rocket Lawn Chair

The Neo Geo Pocket had some great versions of Neo Geo games. They were reimaginings of them rather than ports, and played to the little handheld’s strengths.

Metal Slug 1st Mission looks and feels like the “grown up” version, only is more platformy, a bit less shooty, and much easier. That’s not to say it’s easy, it’s just the original Metal Slug was definitely a bit of a coin chomper. Sadly, there’s no speech, but that’s a small loss.

The levels are varied, with some needing exploration, some straightforward left-to-right jumping and shooting, a few sideways scrolling shooter sections, and some massive bosses. In some ways it feels a bit more like Mega Man than Metal Slug (not least when you get to the disappearing block section), but that’s OK as Mega Man is great too.

Oh, and it looks amazing. That NGPC could really make some pretty games. Just look at the sunset here, for example:

You can’t see from the screenshots, but the animation is awesome too, especially on you and the soldiers. The cute “SD” Metal Slug tank and jet look fantastic as well.

Mappy-Land (NES): COMPLETED!

Cheesy.

Mappy is a game I always play whenever I fire up MAME and haven’t anything in mind to actually play. I’m terrible at it, but I play it quite a lot. Imagine my surprise when I found this NES-only sequel existed. Not only that, it’s pretty good too.

Like the original, it’s a platformer where the gimmick is trampolines. You bounce on them to reach higher platforms. It differs from the original in a similar way to how Pac-Land and Mighty Bombjack did over their predecessors – by making it a side-scroller. Sort of.

You collect 6 items in each level then head for the exit. Sometimes, you have to obtain an item from a  sub-level to open the exit. Once you’ve done all 8 levels and given your girlfriend a load of cheese, the game restarts with different level layouts and a different set of items to collect. Run through all the levels four times, and that’s it! Well, the game starts again, but it’s effectively completed. Which is what I did.

The Librarian (Mac): COMPLETED!

A short point and click adventure game, with lovely pixel graphics and a few simple puzzles. There’s not a great deal to tell you about it, really, otherwise I’ll spoil everything. But I will tell you this: there’s something wrong in the library.

If you’ve played these sorts of games before, then there’s nothing taxing here. I’ve just completed Thimbleweed Park, remember, so this was like easy mode compared to that. It looks and plays beautifully though, so it’s well worth a play. And it’s free! You can get a copy from the author’s itch.io page.

Gynoug (MD): COMPLETED!

Or Wings of Wor, if you’re from “over there”.

Was this always so easy? I mean, it isn’t easy. Not at all. But I found it really hard back in the 90s yet somehow managed to finish it today without much of a struggle. Perhaps it’s because I now understand the concept of “bullet hell shooter” (which this isn’t really, but it helps) so I concentrated on watching bullets rather than enemies.

In fact, I didn’t even die until level 3 or 4, and even that felt unavoidable.

My memory is obviously faulty too, as I was sure that the bosses were much harder to hit when in fact most of them are shot accidentally as you avoid projectiles. Only the final boss caused an issue, and that was because his weak point is well protected and it just took ages more than anything.

I was also pretty sure there was a vertically scrolling level in there. Apparently not. Dunno where I got that from!

Kid Kool and the Quest for the Seven Wonder Herbs (NES): COMPLETED!

Worst game name ever?

As a big fan of the later games by the same developer (Psycho Fox, Magical Hat and Decapattack) I’ve always intended to play Kid Kool. For some reason, it has never worked for me on either OpenEmu on the Mac, or on RetroPie.  I recently rebult my RetroPie image and it now works, so who knows.

Seems I probably shouldn’t have bothered, as it’s awful.

It’s closest to Psycho Fox, unsurprising since it’s an 8-bit title. Like that game, you have a creature that sits on your shoulder that you can throw. Unlike Psycho Fox, you can’t punch, which is where the first frustrating thing comes in. You can still jump on things, but not being able to punch is a massive issue, making some of the game impossible if you don’t have the shoulder pet.

Other issues are present in Psycho Fox too, like the bizarre momentum and ability to just incredibly high but barely horizontal at all unless you’re running. In the later game, this is mostly negated by better level design and the ability to turn into different animals with different physics models, but here – especially with the flick-screen, rather than scrolling, vertical movement – it’s crippling.

Then there’s the bosses, which are repeated (with very minor differences), and are all incredibly easy. In addition, you have to complete the whole game in under an hour in order to “win” properly. And the name! Oh my, what a terrible name for a game.

It’s a shame I didn’t enjoy it due to how flawed it is, but it’s still interesting to see how they improved so many things for the follow-up titles.

Slime-San (Switch): COMPLETED!

Splatformer

To say this was a Super Meat Boy clone would do it a disservice. It’s certainly a game in the single-screen, hyper-difficult nimble platformer genre like Super Meat Boy, and a cursory glance would have you closely compare the two, but Slime-San is so much more.

Take it’s two additional moves, for starters. One lets you do a dash, in any main direction, on the floor or in the air. You can speed under stuff, over stuff, smash through some stuff, or jump a bit higher or further. The other is a morph, which lets you pass through green obstacles and slow down time a little. Together, your little slime can perform some ridiculous tricks. Perhaps the most game changing of these is being able to jump down, round and up blocks hanging from the ceiling.

It starts off simple: avoid anything red (they’re instant death), pass through anything green, and slime on, along or up anything white. Each level, of which there are 100, is a handful of separate screens most of which add new elements to the formula. Green creatures that carry you, or act as trampolines. Platforms that phase in and out depending whether you’re holding down morph or not. A feather which lets you fly – Flappy Bird style – for a short period. Blocks that disappear when you touch them, blocks that move when you stand on them, ghosts that chase you, things that explode, water you can swim in, locked doors, Donkey Kong Country style barrels, warps, a clone of you that copies your moves (and kills you if it catches up) and many many more.

Not only that, but after a certain amount of time on each screen (instantly on some!), red liquid flows in from one side of the level making it even harder. Just in case it wasn’t tricky enough already.

There are puzzles, pixel perfect platforming, and screens that just make you think “Nope. Not possible.” only for you to complete it after several hundred attempts. Oh, and there are bosses too. Insane bosses. Like the evil Uvula who attacks you with a tongue and teeth – sometimes with lasers.

And did I tell you the whole game is set inside the body of a worm, and there’s a whole city of creatures you can meet and talk to in there? Yeah, it’s bonkers. And brilliant. And I feel like the best gamer ever now I’ve completed it.

If you’re a better gamer than me and your hands aren’t ravaged by the passage of time, then you might get even more milage out of Slime-San by collecting the apples in each level (I didn’t get any that weren’t really easy), or completing each level in under par time. I can’t cope with those, but even without that challenge, it’s still an excellent game. And better that Super Meat Boy, which I’ve tried many times and just given up on.

Thimbleweed Park (Switch): COMPLETED!

This is a point and click adventure how you superficially remember point and click adventures used to be. It looks like Monkey Island or Day of the Tentacle, but in fact all the fiddly bits of those games have been quietly trimmed off. Moving from location to location has been streamlined. Items have more obvious uses. It’s more accessible, there’s less backtracking (or at least, less annoying backtracking), and there’s a built in hint system for when you get truly stuck.

What is the same, however, is the humour, the fourth wall breaking gags, the clever puzzles and the characters with bags of, well, character. And so many injokes, with references to old Lucasfilm adventures a-plenty. In fact, the mansion in the game may very well be the actual mansion in Maniac Mansion.

The story starts out as a reasonably simple murder mystery, which your two federal agents have to solve. Only it gets weird. Then some more characters are introduced (initially by way of playing as them in flashbacks), and the PillowTron business and related inventions add more mystery.

Then there’s paranormal complications and eventually, well, a late chapter in the game is called Madness for a reason.

I really enjoyed Thimbleweed Park. A few technical issues – mainly tiny, tiny background pixels being vitally important items – marred it a little. I had to use the HintTron 3000 a few times only to find I was doing the right thing but tapping on the wrong pixel, or using the wrong character. It didn’t affect my enjoyment too much though, and the rest was brilliant.

Subsurface Circular (Switch): COMPLETED!

I didn’t even know this game existed, let alone what it was about, until yesterday. Then someone recommended it on Twitter, mentioned it was by Mike Bithell, and I saw it was less than a fiver on the eShop. Of course I bought it.

Subsurface Circular is a visual novel with light puzzling and investigation, manifesting mainly as conversations between you – a robot detective – and other passengers on the robot-only underground railway. In this world the robots, known as Teks, are sentient. Each has a job or role designation, and it’s up to you to question them in order to try and discover why Teks have been mysteriously disappearing. Or have they?

It’s only a couple of hours long and not exactly taxing, but there’s an interesting story and some humour so it’s worth playing.

Axiom Verge (Switch): COMPLETED!

Glitch in the Metroid

Even without reading too much about Axiom Verge, I knew I was going to like it. “It’s like Super Metroid” was enough. The only confusing thing was how it took me so long to actually buy it.

Actually, I think I did buy it ages ago on Steam or something, but like most Steam games, it sits there unloved. Last week it was on offer on the Switch, so I bought it again, and then completed it.

Those people were right – it is like Super Metroid. Certainly, there are different weapons, and the graphics are all smaller, and of course the plot isn’t the same and you’re not a woman in an exosuit. But it’s so very Super Metroid. Similarly themed areas, traditional locked off bits and powers to access them. Hidden rooms. Power ups. Giant bosses.

The main difference is that it’s so very easy. Every one of the bosses is a total walkover – not least because most of them have areas you can stand and not get hit while still damaging them. That doesn’t actually hurt the game at all though, as the main task is exploring and upgrading. The unlockable powers are a joy (especially once you fully upgrade your drone), and the “glitch” mechanic is original and often clever.

Importantly, it’s great, and I can throughly recommend it. Now to try and 100% it!

Vostok Inc (Switch): COMPLETED!

Money Money Money

You know Cookie Clicker or Cow Clicker or Clicker Heroes or that paperclip clicker? Pointless but somehow addictive, right? And you know that little known twin-stick shooter Geometry Wars? Great, yeah? What about those tamagotchi thingies? Lovely.

Now bung them all into the same game. That’s right, the same game. A single game with all these elements in. There’s no way that can work.

But it does. You develop planets in a solar system in classic clicker style: buildings generate money each second, which you use to buy more buildings. More expensive buildings, and upgrades to buildings, generate more money per second. You keep this up, increasing earnings through ever higher powers of ten.

But while doing this, you have to fly from planet to planet to develop each. And you get shot at on the way and oh look – it’s a twin-stick shooter now. Shooting enemies and asteroids provides more money, although it’s the developing planets that really gets you the big cash.

Use some of your money to upgrade your ship’s weapons and abilities, and then take on the boss before expanding your business empire into the next solar system.

Oh yeah, and while you’re whizzing round the galaxy, why not rescue some executives? They inhabit your ship and – providing you keep them fed and entertained virtual pet style – they’ll give you a money generating bonus. They’ll also give you a minigame each to play should you have some time to kill while waiting for money to build up. They play out on a replica LCD screen, and are simplified variations of Flappy Bird, Galaga, R-Type and even Doom. They’re hardly full of depth, but they’re fun (and hard!) little diversions.

Then, before you know it, 20 hours have passed. Oops.

Assassin’s Creed Chronicles: China (PS4): COMPLETED!

Revenge of She Nobody

I’m in two minds about this. On the one hand, it’s a perfectly good sneaky-stabby 2.5D platformer. On the other hand, it’s a terribly disappointing Assassin’s Creed game with a feeble story that weakly continues on from Ezio’s trilogy.

Initially, it feels a lot like the original 2D Prince of Persia game with obvious technical improvements. The more I played it, however, I realised it was really much closer to the Shinobi game on the Nintendo 3DS, only with a bit more emphasis on staying hidden rather than killing everything.

There’s nothing actually wrong with the game, aside from a couple of “endless runner” sections with their trial and error flaws, but it’s not good enough to make me want to play through the other two games in the series (India and Russia). I’m impressed that not being fully 3D worked a lot better than I was expecting, however.

The final boss was rubbish though. After a couple of proper boss fights with Prince of Persia style swordplay – parrying and stuff – you literally just walk up behind him and press a button. Oh, spoilers, sorry.

North (Switch): COMPLETED!

In the Naughty North and the Sexy South

I read a couple of reviews for North, and although they weren’t exactly high scoring, they all said the story was interesting if a little short. Someone referenced Blade Runner. Another mentioned Papers Please. For reasons that became obvious when playing, specifics were missing somewhat from these reviews.

Then I saw it was only £2.79, and more than that I had some free eShop credit. Not only that, but I’d get some money back now Nintendo have that rewards points thing. Why not, I thought.

North is a narrative discovery game, and starts with you – a refugee from the (seemingly literally on fire) South – having just made it to a city in the North. Before you can apply for asylum, you have to prove you’ve been persecuted in your own country, convert to the local religion, and be fit for work.

This plays out in the form of walking round mostly pitch black areas, writing letters to your sister who is still back in your old country, and some slight interaction with alien figures and switches. It’s important to mention the pitch black areas, because on the Switch at least (Youtube videos of other platforms suggest it’s a Switch thing), some areas are too dark to see anything. Walls, slopes and space are all just black. I missed a door for ages because it was so dark.

One of your first tasks (and the only one that requires any sort of skill or dexterity) is to work. You get a drink from a vending machine which allows you to run, then enter the mines. Here, you have three jackhammers you have to activate (and collect the stones they produce), only you die if you stay in the mines too long. You can recover health by running back to the entrance before you die.

Dying just repawns you outside the mines, but I encountered a bug in doing so: I was unable to get more drink, so was unable to run, and therefore unable to complete the mines. If you can’t complete the mines, you can’t prove you’re able to work, and so can’t progress in the game, so I was stuck. I had to restart the game. There were a few other bugs – sometimes the wrong name of a door appeared on a door, for instance – but this was a biggie.

Hardness to see and game breaking glitches aside, the game’s story was enough to keep me playing. I can’t go into details here much as almost everything is a spoiler, but when you realise why the player is being persecuted, you suddenly realise how politically charged the game is. Especially since it comes from Moscow…

For some reason, it feels a lot like Bernband only more oppressive and more lonely. It’s amateurish in the way it’s built, with unfinished rooms and what I sense are Unity assets, but it seems like that’s just the means used to tell the story. It could have been done in Twine, or Inform, or PICO-8, so I can’t really mark it poorly for that. Apart from the lighting and bugs, of course!

Having played it, I can see how the reviewers had a hard time scoring North highly. It’s like trying to assess a film using the rules of reviewing a concert. Is North a great game? No. Is it a great story? No. Is it an important story to “play”? Absolutely.

Oh, and the title music track is a lovely Vangelis-style thing so it’s almost worth it just for that.

Life Is Strange: Before the Storm Bonus Episode: Farewell (PS4): COMPLETED!

Goodbye my friend

Well this was a surprise! Sure, I knew it was coming, but to appear today with no warning… that I’d seen anyway.

Farewell is set a few days before Max left for Seattle. Her and Chloe seem to be 13 or so, and much of the episode is about them reminiscing over when they were younger. Indeed, the “aim” is to uncover a treasure they hid when playing as pirates five years previously.

It’s much shorter than other episodes (less than an hour long, in fact), and aside from the spoiler (which shouldn’t be a spoiler if you’ve played the rest of the game), not much actually happens. There’s happy chat between Max and Chloe, a bit of house exploring, and Max finally manages to tell Chloe she’s leaving soon. And that’s it.

Farewell doesn’t really tie up any loose ends, nor does it tell you much you didn’t already know. What it does do, however, is cement how close the two girls were and explicitly show just how hard it was for Chloe when Max left. Making the choice at the end of the original game harder still if you’ve yet to play that.

If you want to watch my playthrough, it’s here. Spoilers and stuff, of course:

SNK Gals’ Fighters (NGPC): COMPLETED!

Woman on woman violence. And cross-dressing. It was a different time!

No, I don’t know why I decided to play this either. I mean, I’d just set my Raspberry Pi back up with a fresh install of Retropie, and yeah, I’d added this as one of the games, but still. Why this and not something else, I can’t say.

But these Neo Geo Pocket fighting games are just so good, aren’t they? So slick and responsive and fun. It wasn’t that long ago I played KOFR2 and it was great as well. In fact, there’s a lot of great NGP games. Best console. For a while, anyway.

Anyway.

I’m not sure what else to say about the game. It has a nonsense story about “Miss X” holding a Queen of Fighters contest (do you see what they did there?), but of course Miss X is – spoilers – Iori. And not a “gal” at all. Hilarious and we all fell about in stitches, didn’t we? Then there’s the cut scenes like this one:

Which are great. Just the right about of wonky translation mixed with a limited text area to perfectly ruin any depth to the conversation. Nobody cares about that though, because what is important is how good the punching and kicking is and in that regard, it’s lovely and fluid.

If you’re taking notes, I played through as Yuri. And if you don’t know how she plays, she’s basically Ken from Street Fighter. Which is why she is Best.

Oh yeah, and there’s a sequel of sorts to this coming out on the Switch soon! Yesss.