Phantasy Star II (Switch): COMPLETED!

Phantasy Star II was never my favourite game in the series. It’s the one I’ve played the least, the one I struggled with the most, and the one which has the worst dungeons ever. But I still really like it.

Compared to the original, despite appearing on more powerful hardware, this sequel seems such a step backwards in many ways. The dungeons are no longer rendered in 3D, which is the biggest change, instead being the more usual JRPG “almost overhead” view. This would make them easier to navigate if it wasn’t for the fact many, especially those later on, are a total nightmare. Convoluted mazes with many stairs up and down and pits to fall in which are trial and error.

Dezolians are a bit weird and don’t even understand you unless you’re wearing a Magic Cap or a Mogic Cap. Yes, a Mogic Cap. It’s the same as a Magic one, only you pay twice as much in shops if you’re wearing a Magic one.

The plot is fine but the things you’re asked to do are boring. Oh, a dam to explore. And another one. And another one. And another one. Now search all four of these dungeons for all the “nei” weapons, several of which you’ll never need to use but you can’t progress until you’ve found them. Rubbish.

Then there’s the fact that (spoilers), the entire planet of Palm (neé Palma) is blown up. You’d think there’d be more panic and outcry from the residents of Mota(via) and Dezo(lis), but no – barely a mention from anyone. In some ways it feels like it was cut from the game rather then specifically destroyed. You spend far too long on Mota before you’re able to travel to Dezo and once on Dezo there’s little point returning. In Phantasy Star, you were planet hopping all the time and had jumped from Palma to Motavia very early on.

Unlike the first game, you have a choice of party members here. Several of them seem completely unnecessary, but Shir is fun as she can nick stuff from shops. Randomly, unfortunately, and the things she steals are from a set list of items rather than what the shop may actually sell, but still – it’s a good way to make some money. Hugh and Kain though? Nobody cares.

Oh, it’s Dark Force again. I bumped into it accidentally (it hides in a chest) when I wasn’t on a hight enough level and he killed me. Some grinding later and he was a walkover.

But despite these issues, I must stress that Phantasy Star II is still great. There are improvements, such as each character having their own inventory, far more magic types (now called “techniques”), no annoying going into the inventory to get your ice digger or land rover or whatever all the time, and the dialogue translation is far better. I enjoyed the references to the original too, with shared place names, the main character’s recurring dreams about Alis, and the “is Lutz the same guy as Noah but Noah was a girl and does that mean Lutz is or was it a mistranslation?” thing.

Lutz is definitely a boy. Or a very rude girl.

So, it’s not as good, but it is still definitely worth a play.

Ristar (Switch): COMPLETED!

I did have a longer post for this but the WordPress app swallowed it and I can’t be bothered repeating myself.

What I basically said, though, is that I’d unfairly maligned Ristar for years because I didn’t like it and it wasn’t Sonic, but actually giving it time it’s not that bad at all. It’s still no Sonic, but it’s a decent enough game in its own right.

Sonic 3D: Flickies’ Island (Switch): COMPLETED!

Many times over the years I’ve tried to play this, and every time the slippery controls, wonky collision detection, and overuse of pressing diagonals have put me off before the first boss.

So what’s changed this time? Why did I play it completion? I’ve no idea.

It’s still awful. It’s six generically themed levels, with sound effects nicked from Sonic 3, and a badly realised Flicky collecting mechanic. It’s not Sonic, it’s not Flicky, and aside from being technically very clever it’s really not a very good game at all.

At least it’s not Sonic Forces though, eh?

Ninja Gaiden (Switch): COMPLETED!

I have to admit, I never really played any of the Ninja Gaiden games originally. I knew they were hard, but oh my word was this hard.

There’s no way in hell I’d ever get close to completing it without save states, and it is just that it is difficult – it’s a mess in terms of collision detection, and baddies that respawn if you back-track a single pixel. These two things often conspire against you, as you’re knocked back by one baddie into the path of another that just regenerated.

The sticking to walls is rubbish, as you’re a sitting duck. Often, you end up stuck to a wall you didn’t intend to stick to just because you jumped or fell vaguely near one. And then there’s the stringent level time limits, at least two of which I’m sure aren’t possible.

In all, it’s really not a very good game and I’m baffled by the high regard in which it seems to be held.

Phantasy Star (Switch): COMPLETED!

The Phantasy Star games are some of my very most favourite RPGs. Phantasy Star III was my first one, but I later played the original and, although it wasn’t quite the same, it was also excellent.

Since those days, I’ve completed the first game several times – on the Master System originally more than once, in an emulator, and in the Game Boy Advance Phantasy Star Collection. But, loading it up briefly aside, not for over a decade. Until today.

Considering I only started it three days ago, I think I’ve done pretty well! I’m amazed at myself for how much I remembered in terms of what needed to be done, if not the names of actual people or places. Or specific stuff like exact routes to take through dungeons, although that particular issue was helped greatly with the new automap feature.

There’s a new mode too, called Ages Mode, which I don’t remember starting but I suspect I may have done without realising. It supposedly reduces the number of random battles, but increases the amount of experience points and money you gain from the battles you do get. The reason I think I must have played through on this mode is because I found the game a lot less challenging than I remember it being. Sure, I mostly knew what I was doing, but that can’t be the only reason.

For those asking if a 30 year old JRPG like this still stands up today, then I can say yes, for sure. There’s some clunkiness, such as the tiny inventory, lack of space for full-length item names (a leftover due to the Japanese original needing fewer characters – many games have this “issue”, it’s a pain how you use and disembark your vehicles, and so on, but none of these are major issues. The translation isn’t great, but that doesn’t get in the way of the story or the game, and the battle mechanics are standard JRPG fare and even modern games are largely identical. Coming to this so soon after Pokémon, however, I did notice how there was no “speed” stat, which makes the “fight order” somewhat random.

It’s hard not to like the big chunky Master System graphics, and the 3D dungeons are still pretty impressive even now, so yeah, Phantasy Star is still one of the best games ever made.

ESWAT: City Under Siege (Switch): COMPLETED!

What does ESWAT stand for? Is it like SWAT only with an E like eBook and eLearning and eMail? Or are you supposed to say “es-what”? Who knows. But it’s certainly more interesting than the game.

Yes, friends, ESWAT is a proper stinker. A clunky platform shooter with rubbish weapon selection controls and boring levels. A game that suggests, from screenshots and the first level or so, it’s a bit like Rolling Thunder (which is a great game), but disappointingly, isn’t.

There are some positives, such as the very varied levels and a few impressive bosses, but your character is slow (both to move and respond), badly animated, and these issues make it difficult to avoid enemies. Later levels have you in a sort of power armour suit with more weapon options and a jetpack, but your weapons randomly disappear, and the jetpack is a nightmare to control.

I could say more but I’ve wasted long enough on this awful game already so I won’t.

Alex Kidd in the Enchanted Castle (Switch): COMPLETED!

The first of what will hopefully be many games completed on the Sega Mega Drive Classics collection on the Switch. I was going to play Fatal Labyrinth, but the lack of a manual and the terrible video options (which don’t affect Alex Kidd so much) put me off for now. Instead, this.

The Mega Drive Alex Kidd game isn’t as good as the Master System “Miracle World” title. There. I said it. It looks prettier (although it’s still almost Master System quality graphics), and it’s one hell of a lot easier, but it’s lacking something. I don’t really know what exactly, since it’s very much closer to a remake than a sequel, but there’s something. Heart? Soul? Blocks with stars on them?

Just the two of us. Building castles in the sky.

What it is, then, is a mostly generic platformer starring half boy, half monkey Alex, who suffers from wonky physics syndrome. Alex must unintentionally slide, over compensationally jump, and input lag his way around a number of platforming levels, mostly avoiding enemies as trying to hit them is much harder than just going around them.

He can collect money from defeated baddies and from treasure chests, and then use this money to enter janken (scissors, paper, stone) matches with people for power-ups. You also use janken to defeat bosses. So yes, it’s random as to whether you’ll win or not.

Alex thinking about punching ratboy over there. Sorry Alex! You can only play janken.

Finally, you reach a castle where there is a bit of puzzling and more interesting platforming, before facing the final boss in more hand games and then an actual normal fight. After which, you “rescue” your Dad who hadn’t been captured after all making the entire game a colossal waste of everyone’s time.

But actually, I really quite enjoyed it despite all the terrible flaws.

Knights of the Round (Vita): COMPLETED

Or technically, PSP, as it’s part of the PSP Capcom Classics compilation. Although technically technically it’s an arcade game. And one I thought I’d played before, but it seems not.

It’s basically Golden Axe only set in Arthurian legend times. And your character (I was Arthur) levels up, giving you supposedly more powerful attacks (negated by more powerful colour swapped foes) but ever more impressive looking armour.

It was fun, although I missed being able to dash left and right like you can in Golden Axe.

TwinBee (Switch): COMPLETED!

A few years ago, I completed this on the Xbox 360. And now I have completed it on the Switch. As in, the NES game in the NES classics thing.

It’s a decent little vertically scrolling shooter with an odd bell shooting system (shoot bells enough and they go blue, collect a blue one to speed up your ship), and I lost my ship’s arms at one point so couldn’t drop bombs.

After beating the end boss the game loops back to the start, so no credits as such. Still, done.

Dynamite Dux (MS): COMPLETED!

Bit of a random choice this. I think I’ve played a demo on the Spectrum once before, but that’s all I know of it.

And it showed, because it took ages for the “hold punch to wind up your attack” mechanic to make sense. Once it did, though, it was a very easy game.

It plays a bit like Double Dragon crossed with Alex Kidd, if Alex was a duck and could pick up machine guns and rocket launchers. Maybe NARC in a cute suit.

Also it had Colonel Sanders in it for some reason. No, you can’t punch him.

Trax (GB): COMPLETED!

I had no idea this little gem even existed. Not only that, but it’s by the same chaps as Kirby’s Dream Land. Even without knowing that, I think I could have guessed – the music and sound are reminiscent, and even your tank resembles Kirby. Sort of. Even the end sequence is the same as Dedede chasing Kirby, trying to pounce on him.

But before that, the game.

You drive a cute wee tank and shoot other cute tanks and trucks and things. There are bosses, power ups, hidden stuff (blow up everything!) and it’s really quite fun. Spinning your turret round is a minor pain (you can only do it clockwise), but never really annoying. There’s a fair bit of slowdown, but that’s to be expected given how busy it can get with lots of enemies, bullets and explosions, and this is only a Game Boy, remember.

Did they ever make a follow up to Trax? Because I’d love to see one, perhaps with better turret spinning!

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.

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!

Super Mario Bros (Switch): COMPLETED!

Yesterday, Nintendo finally enabled their online service and with it came a big old pile of NES games for free 1, one of which was – of course – Super Mario Bros.

Like Sonic, it’s a game I have many copies of and of course have played and completed many times. Also like Sonic, I played it again today and completed it again today. Whilst on a bus. It was great.

Notes:

  1. Or at least “free while you have an active subscription”