Altered Beast (Switch): COMPLETED!

As it’s Easter it makes sense to play a game about a man who is resurrected.

And that’s the best thing to say about Altered Beast. We all know what a bad game it is. It’s even worse than The Story of Thor. It hasn’t improved with time and was never any good to begin with.

I can’t be bothered writing any more about it.

The Story of Thor (Switch): COMPLETED!

Which Norse god bit his tongue? Thor. Note: the game is not about Norse gods.

Let me start this post with a couple of points. Number 1, it’s called The Story of Thor even though Mega Drive Classics calls it Beyond Oasis. I’m aware it’s called that in the US, but this is MEGA DRIVE Classics, not GENESIS Classics. Number 2, it is Not A Good Game.

Oh sure, it looks nice with its big sprites and Link to the Past-like overworld. It’s sort of clever with its four special spirits you can summon (once you’ve collected them all, at least). It also has some really impressive looking bosses. But, sadly, everything else is rubbish. The combat is woeful with only four directional attacks when eight are really needed, and it’s made worse by the terrible collision detection. The sprites being huge means screens are cramped with both a small viewport and too many baddies squashed up together. I suspect the animation suffers too, with some creatures having hardly any frames.

The Little Shop of Horrors “spirit” is called Bow, for no sensible reason.

Your inventory is too small, and success on some parts of the game rely on having certain weapons. The problem is, you can only hold so many and each has a limited use. At least twice I needed bombs but had none, nor space to carry them even if I did, which was a pain.

I’m on a boat!

Also a pain is how the spirits you can summon can only be summoned by “shooting” specific things. For the fire spirit, you have to shoot some fire, for example. Frequently, this is the basis of a puzzled and often that means either being psychic and triggering a summon when you can and bringing it along, or backtracking to where you’re able to trigger. Making use of the spirits is hit and miss too, especially when trying to get the fire one to light bonfires and torches (necessary to open doors or solve puzzles) as it wanders around with a mind of its own.

The final boss, who looks like Dark Force, is actually the easiest one in the entire game.

The bosses, as I said, are mostly pretty impressive. Several are as large as the screen, but most are very, very easy to beat. It’s actually swathes of minions which are the hard bits, and sometimes these appear to be infinitely regenerating and other times there’s just hundreds of them. There’s no way of telling if it’s necessary, or even possible, to defeat them all, and sometimes you need to for an important item to appear.

I’ve often seen The Story of Thor in lists of the best Mega Drive games, and I recently saw it in an article about “games for other systems that are similar to Zelda: A Link to the Past”, and it’s baffling that it’s in either of these. It’s nowhere near good, let alone “best”, and, a slight graphical nod aside, not really much like Zelda either. It’s not fit to lick Zelda’s boots.

And no, I don’t know why I played it to completion.

All the spirits leave you in the end. Oh, spoilers, I suppose.

Bonanza Bros (Switch): COMPLETED!

I don’t think I’ve ever completed this before. But now I have.

It was actually a lot easier than I remember. Although there’s a level timer, the trick is to take your time and don’t panic. It’s only on the final level I came close to running out of time!

Phantasy Star IV (Switch): COMPLETED!

Final Phantasy.

And that’s them all. No, for the last time, the Online games don’t count. They never counted. They’re not Phantasy Star games and never will be.

Phantasy Star IV fits into the series somewhere after II but likely before III. As you play, it feels much more like II than any of the others, but throughout the game other games are referenced in a way that makes it seem like a final chapter. Of course, that’s what it ended up becoming but at the time I was ever hopeful for a Phantasy Star V. I still am.

These references are pretty big too. Spoilers, sorry: Mother Brain, from PSII, is still about and again isn’t working. There’s a cave with what is almost certainly Myau (called “The Old Man”) inside. A crashed ship like PSIII’s Alisa III is discovered. A Wren-type android, again from PSIII, becomes part of your team, as does a character who is essentially Noah/Lutz from PSI and PSII and a friendly biomonster not unlike Nei from PSII. The Ice Digger and Landrover from previous games returns. People have been turned to stone just like Odin did in PSI, and many place names and baddies return. Having played through the first three games so recently all these characters, locations and lore are still in memory and it was a joy to link things up as I progressed through the story.

Why this looks familiar.

As for the game itself, it looks a lot more like PSII only highly polished with the best graphics in the series. A few changes, which would perhaps be called “quality of life improvements” these days have been added – you walk a lot faster, you can assign macros (so you can set a sequence of battle actions to a menu option instead of choosing who will do what every time), and characters all share an inventory again. Having separate pockets in Phantasy Star III was a bit of a step back, and PSIV improves it further by removing equipped items from the inventory freeing up space and meaning you don’t need to scroll past them each time you need a dimate.

A couple of new things are added to the game too, the first being Skills. In essence, they’re the same sort of thing as Techniques, but they differ in that instead of having a shared “pot” of TP to use on them, each Skill has a fixed number of uses until you rest at an inn. The maximum uses increase as you level up, however.

Not sure where Wren physically installs this item but it gives him a new Skill.

Speaking of inns, another change is that resting at an inn doesn’t save your game! Don’t make the mistake I remember making when I first played this when it originally came out, getting five or so hours in, “saving” at an inn, then turning it off. Instead, saving is a menu option and can be used any time you’re not in a dungeon or a battle.

Finally, there are combos. Certain combinations of attacks, skills and techniques when triggered in succession fire off a massively damaging special combo attack. Most are tricky to rely on (characters don’t always attack in the order necessary, so it doesn’t always work), but they can be very useful. Most aren’t possible until very late in the game, however.

Phantasy Star IV is a fantastic RPG. Being sentimental to the series PSIII will always be my favourite, but I can see that in terms of scope, graphics, the way it ties all the previous games together, mechanics and fun, PSIV is undeniably better. It gave me around 25 hours (like II and III I “walked” in fast forward so it’s probably longer than that) of the best JRPG experience there is. You can keep your Final Fantasy. I just wish I had a PSV to move on to next 1.

Notes:

  1. I’m aware of a Japan-only mobile game which for some definitions is essentially Phantasy Star V but I’m sceptical, and it’s mobile only.

Saboteur! (Switch): COMPLETED!

That’s “Saboteur!” not “The Saboteur”.

I was never not going to get this, as a fan of the original Spectrum game, but I’d seen a lot of reviews and forum comments saying it was overpriced for a simple port of the Spectrum original. Sure, it had new music and sound, but £6 for a Spectrum game (and a very short Spectrum game at that) did sound a bit much, so I waited for a sale. 94p (free, actually, due to Nintendo Gold Coins) and I was in.

And everyone was wrong. What nowhere I’d seen actually mentioned at the time was that once you’d completed the five minute long original game, but a whole new hour long section opens up. New items to find in new locations, new enemy types, puzzles, tasks and tricky platforming sections. That was a big surprise. Imagine avoiding Donkey Kong on the Game Boy because you thought it was only the four arcade levels!

This bit has fewer and fewer platforms the higher the difficulty level.

Despite being new, it still looks and plays exactly like the original. There’s Spectrum colour clash, there’s the same colour palette, and it’s not as smooth or precise as a modern game. It absolutely doesn’t matter, however. What has changed, besides the length, is mainly sound based. Some more realistic thumps and gunshots, and a great soundtrack that fits perfectly. OK, it’s no BEEPer, but the upgrade still works here.

Hope there’s no leaves on the track.

There’s a concession to modern multi-button controllers too. On the Spectrum, the joystick would move and fire would pick up and drop objects, interact, and punch. Up would be go up ladders, jump, jump-kick, and long jumps would be a tricky diagonal. On the Switch, there’s a jump button now which makes things a lot easier, but Up still performs the same functions. Sometimes this means climbing a ladder is frustrating, or you might nudge up, and therefore jump, by mistake. The latter is especially compounded due to the game’s insistence on only allowing use of the analogue stick rather than the d-pad. The original wasn’t analogue, and neither is this, so it feels slightly inaccurate and out of place. That’s the only major flaw I can find though.

Naturally, this relic of a game isn’t for everyone. It’s no Hollow Knight or The Messenger, as it wears it’s origins proudly without much modern modification. It is, however, still a lot of fun and just shows how old games can still work now. In this way it has much in common with Castlevania: Spectral Invasion, only this is on the Switch instead of the original machine. Just don’t let the reviews of “it’s just a port” put you off like it did me: it’s not.

One of the (extensive) new areas.

Phantasy Star III (Switch): COMPLETED!

Let me three your phantasy.

I wasn’t going to move onto Phantasy Star III so soon after Phantasy Star II, but there it was on the Sega Mega Drive Classics menu, winking at me, so I didn’t really have a choice.

As I’ve mentioned before, Phantasy Star III was my first JRPG. It’s still my favourite, and although Phantasy Star IV is probably technically better, it’s III that I have more fondness for. Back in the day I completed it many times. The first time, it took from Christmas to August, but after a few more I could do it in a single 24 hour sitting. This is the first time I’ve completed it in probably two decades, and it took perhaps 15 hours, but there’s a reason for that: I played most of the walking and some of the fighting on Fast Forward (an option in the Mega Drive Classics). If there’s one thing that hasn’t aged well in RPGs, it’s how slow you move.

Gianticorn and Wolfsnail was a short lived kid’s cartoon in the 1990s.

Surprisingly, I still knew almost all of what I needed to do in the game. Even the routes through some of the dungeons was still etched in my brain. I also found the game much, much easier than I ever remember it being, with much less grinding too. I seem to recall always needing to level most of my party up to around level 55 for the final dungeon and boss, but here I walked it at around level 48. Maybe I’m just better now.

For those interested, the characters I played as (the game spans three generations with a slightly different story depending who you marry at the end of each) were Rhys, who married Maia and had a son, Ayn, who married Thea and had a son Sean.

Now, do I start IV or do something else first?

Kirby’s Adventure (Switch): COMPLETED!

Kirby Your Enthusiasm

There’s no way it has been nearly six years since I last completed this, surely? That’s absurd. I’m sure I complete it every few months. The Diary, however, Cannot Lie.

Yes, it’s easy. Yes, I had 45 lives left at the end. And no, I haven’t 100%ed it because I need to go back and find a few secret buttons. But Kirby is always fun to play. And being essentially “free” as one of the NES games that comes with the Switch online service, that makes it even better.

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.