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A Trip Through the SNES Classic: F-Zero

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It’s shameful, I know, but up until I got the SNES Classic, I’d never played a game in the F-Zero series.  I didn’t even know what type of game that it was, though the title sounded familiar.

For those in the same boat, F-Zero is a racing game set in the future.  It’s the series that introduced everyone to Captain Falcon, though he doesn’t have a clear presence in the first game.  If you’re a longtime fan or a newcomer like me, I recommend reading this interview with Kazunobu Shimizu, Yasunari Nishida, and Takaya Imamura, three of the original developers of F-Zero.  They share some great stories about the history behind the game and the reasoning behind some of the decisions they made.  Some highlights include: Captain Falcon was initially designed to be a mascot for the Super Nintendo system, not F-Zero, and that the game was set in the future to work around different programming issues.  They didn’t have the technology yet to create effective tires that turned, so they just took out the tires and designed hover cars for the racers.

The original game allowed you to pick between four different cars and race through three different sets of tracks: Knight, Queen, and King.  In a manner similar to Mario Kart, once you pick a set, you have to play through all of the tracks. I wish these games would just let me select a racetrack that I really enjoy and let me play it without going through hoops to get there.  That’s something that I appreciate more and more about Diddy Kong Racing.  (And yes, F-Zero has a Practice Mode that lets you do this, but only for seven tracks.)

Regardless, I fell in love with the original F-Zero. I couldn’t get over just how fast and smooth it feels, even when using a control pad.  It doesn’t have all the extra bells and whistles that you get with racing games like Mario Kart or Diddy-Kong.  You can’t pick up items that give you colorful shields or the infamous Blue Shell missiles.  But that’s not a bad thing at all.  It’s just straight, pure racing and I appreciated the change.

When you start a race, your hovercar has a Power gauge that functions similar to health.  If you hit the edge of the track, or your fellow racecars, your power diminishes.  If it drops down to zero, your hovercar will explode and it’s game over.  You can also fail if your hovercar goes completely off-track or if you fail to complete laps after a certain period of time.  It didn’t take long for me to get the hang of things, and it helps having Practice Mode available if one ever needs a quick refresher.

If there’s one thing that holds F-Zero back from being a perfect experience, it’s the lack of a multiplayer mode. While it is fun and challenging, playing against an AI can get boring after a while.  Having the option to play with friends would have made it even better and increased the replay value.

Still, I’m so glad that I had the chance to discover the original F-Zero on the Super Nintendo Classic.  I’ve had a blast playing it, and if the other games in the series are just as good, I’ll have to check them out too.  If you’re a fan of F-Zero and have any recommendations, please don’t hesitate to let me know in the comments!

I’m rating this game 9 out of 10 hovercars.

Review: Breach

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Publisher/Developer: QC Games
Platform: PC
Release Date: January 2019

I was extremely excited to be invited into the Technical Alpha testing for Breach, a game that is expected to be released in early access just next month. Breach is a third person co-op action RPG that has strong hints of Over-salt… I mean, Overwatch.

What’s it about?

Breach takes place in our world, but the veil between the “real” world and the world of mythology has been broken. You can either play as a Hero – with various class choices – or as a Veil Demon.

As a Hero, you can be any number of classes. You don’t have to stick to the standard balanced party of tank, healer and DPS, though it helps. As a Veil Demon, you create breaches, which summons monsters, and try to defeat the Heroes.

Breach has solo, co-op and versus modes. You can also do a custom mode with just your friends.

What did I think?

Gameplay reminded me strongly of Overwatch, but it was still extremely unique. There are various types of objectives for each area. I am unsure if they’re chosen by the game or by the Veil Demon. You may have to capture a point, defeat all enemies, deliver artifacts to a drone, or collect and deliver monster souls to a drone. At the end of each match is a boss. Either the Heroes can win an objective or the Veil Demon can win an objective.

I started out in solo play to get the hang of it. Even in Novice, this is difficult. You spawn in with 3 bots and you’re up against a Veil Demon bot. The Hero bots will only help you kill monsters, they won’t help you with any of the other objectives. This makes sense, of course, but timed capture objectives are nearly impossible when you’re the only one capturing the points.

I moved on to co-op mode. Four players are up against a Veil Demon bot. These are pretty cookie cutter so far. Each location has a set pattern of objectives.

Finally, I tried versus and we were annihilated. It’s 4 Heroes versus 3 Veil Demons, all played by people of varying degrees of experience. We didn’t even get to the end before we were all downed. Unfortunately, the Veil Demon of that section face camped me, so I couldn’t be revived. Needless to say, I was salty.

I did the Veil Demon tutorial, but I didn’t play a match as one.

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The game was laggy when in areas with other people, but that was to be expected. The server was only up for 3 hours and everyone who was invited to the closed Alpha was logged in. I had no lag in the solo matches. This being the Technical Alpha, I expect that that will be addressed before release.

The graphics are amazing and the gamplay itself was pretty intuitive. The tutorial is short and sweet, basically just showing you the basics before letting you into actual matches.

I like the fact that you can play by yourself with AI on both sides. It seems there’s a bit of a campaign with the solo mode, so you can unlock new areas by finishing the previous area and follow a story. I also like that you can have custom matches with up to five people.

Do I recommend it?

Yes, I really do. As someone who loves these types of games (a la Dead by DaylightFriday the 13th, and Overwatch), I definitely see a lot of potential in Breach. On Steam, it’s labeled as Free to Play, so what’s the harm in taking it for a spin when it’s released? You may also be able to still sign up to be a tester here.

Let me know what you think in the comments below!

Indie Spotlight: Forgotten Anne

Tell us about your game: Valdemar Schultz Andreasen (Lead Game Designer):

Forgotton Anne is an untraditional 2D platforming adventure, with a heavy focus on the narrative and an interest in telling a very human story. We’ve done what we can to make it feel as if you’re playing inside an anime-movie, with a cinematography that swoops and zooms around.

The story centers around Anne, one of two human beings trapped in the world of lost and forgotten things – the Forgotten Lands. The inhabitants are socks, scarfs and other objects that people forget, animated into life as citizens of this world.

Anne and her Master Bonku are trying to get back to the human world, but as the story begins, an explosion occurs – somebody is trying to destroy their plans of returning home.

Since Anne has the role of Enforcer of these lands, she is sent out to locate and find the cause of the rebellion.

You play the game as you would a platformer: Anne can walk, run, jump – and then she has two tools in her belt: Her wings give her a boosted jump. Her Arca-glove on her hand can draw and transfer energy – called Anima – between cylinders and power up machines. It can even draw the Anima out of Forgotlings.

Through the story told, Anne interacts with a lot of Forgotlings, not just drawing life, in fact, mostly speaking to them. Anne encounters a lot of different situations that ask something of her situation as the Enforcer, but also moral situations for the player to contemplate.

The decisions Anne and the player makes impact aspects of the story, and it is not always clear what action leads to what reaction or consequence, which might just make it worthwhile to go through the game for a second run.

Situations of identity, loyalty and choice weave in and out of a beautifully aesthetic and engaging experience, that has a constant drive forward with new areas and situations.

The human story emerges as the story becomes an investigation of Anne – not just of her past, but also of who she is as a human being. We have done what we can to avoid turning her into a caricature or a superhero, rather trying for a naturalistic description of a complicated person full of contradictions and emotions, like any of us. While Anne is athletic and cool, she is also sometimes slightly clumsy. Our lead animator, Debbie Ekberg, was really great in portraying Anne’s movements with 2D animation. The game contains more than 5000 individual drawings, frames, of Anne. She would add these subtle touches of animation that showed Anne from a more vulnerable and naturalistic side that really rounded off her character.

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What was your inspiration to create the game

Alfred Nguyen (Creative Director): It came about after a soul-searching period after I quit my job as a creative lead at a mobile games company. I was reaching a point in my life where I wanted to make use of all the skills I had accumulated throughout the years as an animation film director and artist to express something meaningful. I think there is a space for fun addictive mobile games in our lives, but it did not allow me to go deep with crafting imaginary worlds of wonder and tell stories that affected people in a meaningful way. The same way certain games, books and movies had a lingering effect on me growing up. So the first thing I did was to reflect on themes I kept returning to as an artist and topics that kept being there on the back of my mind throughout my life. My parents were refugees from the Vietnam war and I grew up in Denmark, and so had two very different cultures vying for my identity growing up. So the search for an identity, the feeling of being lost, ‘forgotten’ I could see was a recurring theme in my life. Making a game can be a sisyphean task and so I knew it had to have a personal core that guided the project through tough times, and so this world of the forgotten began to form in my mind. From there it’s just been an incredible journey, starting a company, assembling my great and loving team who is responsible for making Forgotton Anne into what it is, and bet that years of work will feel worth it, as long as we focused on a meaningful creative process instead of calculating what will be ‘hot’ in the future to play or current trends.

Forgotten Anne is availble on Steam, Xbox and PS4 May 15th

 

Review: Never Alone

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In 2014, Upper One Games and E-Line Media released Never Alone, a platformer based on the Iñupiat tale, “Kunuuksaayuka.” It is now playable on the PlayStation 3 & 4, Xbox One, Wii U, and PC, as well as iOS and Android devices. I downloaded the game on the PlayStation 4, so that is the version that I will review.

In Never Alone, an Iñupiaq girl named Nuna leaves her village to find out why her people have been suffering from terrible blizzards every day. An arctic fox comes to her aid, giving players the option to either switch between the two characters in Single Play or work together with a friend in Co-Op.

During their journey, they face a hungry polar bear, gusts of freezing wind, spirits from the Northern Lights that try to capture them, and a terrible man who’s been destroying villages to find a bola…the same weapon that Nuna’s been using to clear obstacles. Uh-oh.

Never Alone is an important game because it was made in tandem with the Iñupiat people. As you progress through each level, you unlock short videos called “Cultural Insights,” and you can pause the game at any time to view them. They were made to teach players about the Iñupiat people’s culture and way of life. These mini-documentaries allow one to gain a better understanding of the characters and themes found in the game. It’s a fun way to learn more about an underrepresented group of people through their own voices. I hope they have the opportunity to make more games like Never Alone.

In the game itself, Nuna and Fox each have unique skills that make them essential to the adventure. You can’t simply use one and ignore the other. Fox can climb walls and call spirits to help Nuna. She uses her bola to break apart icicles and burning sticks that block their path. I did not try out the multiplayer mode with a friend, but I imagine this allows for fun cooperative play.

As it is, I found single player mode manageable, though it could become frustrating at times. When using friendly spirit helpers to bring Nuna safely from one point to the other, Fox needs to stay close or the spirit will fade away. This wasn’t a reoccurring issue throughout the game, yet there were a few instances where Fox drifted too far away and Nuna fell. If I’d had a friend controlling Fox, this wouldn’t have been an issue at all.

With that said, the game can get aggravating at times. Initially, I shrugged it off because I didn’t grow up playing the side-scrolling platformers on the NES, SNES, or Sega Genesis. I’m only just getting interested in those types of games now.  However, there were moments during my playthrough of Never Alone when I could’ve sworn I’d timed it right, and Nuna seemed to land a jump on to the back of a Spirit, only to hang in midair without catching hold and then falling to her death. I couldn’t tell you how I eventually succeeded and got her to stick the landing. I think it had to do with where Fox moved the Spirit, but there was so much delicate back-and-forth involved that I don’t know exactly.

You will always feel bad when either Nuna or Fox dies, because every time it happens, the camera focuses on the other one crying and falling to the ground in grief. But this also allows you to feel the strong bond between the two of them, given that neither character talks. Instead, narrator James Mumiġan Nageak tells the story in the Iñupiaq language as you play, with English subtitles at the bottom of the screen.

Never Alone looks and sounds absolutely gorgeous. Those are easily the best aspects of the game. I enjoyed the quiet, haunting main theme. With Nuna and Fox often exploring the harsh environment with no one else around to help them, a big, dramatic arrangement with a full orchestra would have felt out of place in this story. The music’s there just enough to enhance the experience without feeling intrusive.

And there’s such a beautiful world to explore, from floating ice on the ocean to the ruins of a village with the eerie spirits from the Northern Lights trying to catch Nuna. I would love it if Upper One Games could make something in the style of Final Fantasy or The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild, a wide-open, exploration adventure based on other legends from First Nation cultures, with more characters, side-quests, etc. Based on what I’ve seen in Never Alone, that would be amazing.

Never Alone is currently available to purchase on the PlayStation Network at a discounted price for $4.99 until January 16th.  Although it is a short game, it’s worth checking out to support the work of the Iñupiat people.

Review: Theatrhythm Final Fantasy: Curtain Call

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Written by Iris the Keyblade Master

The Theatrhythm Final Fantasy games celebrate one of the best aspects of the series: the music.  Both rhythm games are available for the Nintendo 3DS.  Although if you’re interested in giving Theatrhythm a try, don’t waste your money purchasing both of them.  The sequel, Curtain Call, has all of the same songs and lots more.

I debated with myself about whether to get the original Theatrhythm when it was first released on the Nintendo 3DS.   Having gotten booed out of levels of Guitar Hero and Dance Dance Revolution, and surviving the infamous Little Mermaid sidequest in Kingdom Hearts 2…my experiences with rhythm games weren’t very good ones.  But someone at GameStop encouraged me to give it a try, and that’s how I ended up losing countless hours of my life to this game.  I have no regrets.

The gameplay’s divided into three types of stages: Field, Battle, and Event.  Field songs consist of tracks like “Terra’s Theme” from Final Fantasy VI, the main theme from VII, and “A Place to Call Home” from IX.  An adorable chibi Final Fantasy character of your choosing strolls along a path to the music, while you try to hit as many notes correctly as possible.  Although the notes can come across the screen quickly, depending on the song and the difficulty level, Field Stages are generally slower in pace than their Battle counterparts.

In Battle, you create a party of four chibi characters who fight different monsters and villains who have appeared throughout the Final Fantasy series.  When you hit the right notes, their attacks are successful.  If you miss a note, they lose health.  (This actually applies to the Field and Event stages too, except you’re not attacking anything. You’re just trying to keep the character’s health bar full.)  The songs you can choose from include the always classic “One-Winged Angel,” as well as “Dancing Mad,” “The Man With the Machine Gun,” and “Battle on the Big Bridge.”

Last, but not least, we have the Event stages.  These stages were more prevalent in the original game, because every entry from the series had one.  In Curtain Call, all of the songs that originally appeared as Event stages got turned into Field or Battle stages instead.  It’s a shame, because even if they’re difficult to play, they’re beautiful to watch.  Instead of battling enemies or walking through a field, you watch a video that highlights the most memorable moments from the featured Final Fantasy game.  The selected songs are popular themes from the game that people tend to think about when they think of that particular entry, i.e. “Sutaki da ne,” “Aerith’s Theme,” and “Answers” from Final Fantasy XIV.  The best, by far, appears in Curtain Call.  It’s a gorgeous medley of Final Fantasy themes played over highlights from the entire franchise.  If you’re a fan of any Final Fantasy games, I dare you not to cry while watching it.

It’s worth mentioning that the way you progress through the game changed in a few significant ways from the first Theatrhythm to Curtain Call.  In the original game, you could select any of the main musical stages for each of the games featured in Theatrhythm, from the original Final Fantasy to XIII.  However, once you committed yourself to one of the entries, i.e. Final Fantasy IX, you had to play through all three musical stages before being allowed to go back and play whichever one you wanted.

Read the rest of this entry

Review: Kingdom Hearts: Chain of Memories

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By Iris the Keyblade Master

Kingdom Hearts: Chain of Memories is one of those games that probably shouldn’t work as well as it does.  The first game in the series was this big, epic adventure, involving Sora, Donald Duck, and Goofy traveling all over the universe to stop Maleficent and meeting all kinds of Disney characters along the way.  Kingdom Hearts II was another a big, epic adventure that continued Sora’s quest.   He searched for his lost friends, befriended more popular characters like Captain Jack Sparrow and Tron, and fought an evil organization.

Chain of Memories limits the adventure to one castle made of illusions.  Every floor that Sora visits is designed to look like a Disney world from his memories.  So almost all of the levels that you complete are areas that you’ve already explored from the first game.  (Little did we know that this would be a recurring problem in future games.)  It’s not necessarily what a person would have in mind if you told them to check out the sequel to Kingdom Hearts.

However, I love the story of Chain of Memories, so it’s probably the entry in the series that I replay the most apart from the first game.  It picks up where the first game left off, with Sora, Donald, and Goofy on the trail of their lost friends, Riku and Mickey.  They come across a castle inhabited by a mysterious organization that claims to have something- or someone- that Sora wants.  Sora takes the bait, only to find as he progresses through the castle that he’s losing his memories.

First, the story’s fantastic.  It’s one of two games in the series that involve a group of villains trying to trick Sora into working for them, and this one executes the idea much better.  The other game more or less saves the mind-bending shenanigans for the final level.  In Chain of Memories, it’s a steady progression of Sora forgetting his previous adventures and becoming increasingly obsessed with rescuing Naminé and Riku from the Organization.  Sora’s been previously established as somebody who cares deeply about his friends and the promises that he makes to them, so his change in personality makes complete sense.  The new characters are also well-written.  It’s the game that kicked off Axel’s popularity, and it’s easy to see why.  Naminé is wonderful too and a good example of a well-written “damsel in distress.”

I thought I would hate the battle system when I learned that it would be card-based.  Every attack that you make and magic spell that you cast is limited to the number of cards that Sora has in his deck.  However, I found that it was very manageable and does force you to strategize a little.  You can only carry so many cards in your deck, and the powerful ones are more expensive than the weaker ones.  You can also create special attacks called “sleights,” where you load three cards and use them together.  But the first card that you load for the sleight will not reappear for the rest of the battle.  So spamming sleight attacks will only take you so far.

Oh, and Donald gets to be just as useless in this game as he is in every Kingdom Hearts game.  Only this time, he doesn’t just fail to heal you.  If you don’t watch it, he can heal your enemies.  Yeah.  You read that right.  You’ll be desperately fighting Axel or Hades, who both use Fire spells, and he’ll happily hit them with Fire spells that bring their health back up.  Try to avoid using him in a fight with a magic-based enemy.

I also find it interesting how the difficulty level of the bosses and the usefulness of certain cards did change in the GameBoy Advanced version and the PlayStation 2 version.  See, the GBA obviously has a small screen, so big enemies aren’t hard to fight and Summon cards have a wider reach.  Cloud Strife was my favorite card in the GBA game.  All I had to do was summon him and he’d wipe out enemies with two slashes of the Buster Sword.  But the PlayStation 2 remake puts you in a bigger, three-dimensional area, so it’s a matter of getting close to an enemy, hoping that enemy stays put as you summon Cloud, and hope that Cloud moves in the right direction to slash said enemies.  If you’re in the wrong place or facing the wrong way, he’s completely useless.

All in all, I think this game was much better suited for the GameBoy Advanced over the PlayStation 2.  It has a smaller story and the levels are mostly the same as the first game.  In a way, it’s kind of impressive.  In terms of world design, it plays like a GBA remake of the first game.  Yet it has its own unique story, which supplies a reason for why you’re playing through the same locations again.  If you play the PlayStation 2 remake without that context, it comes off like a cheap, lazy sequel.

Nonetheless, I love playing the PS2 remake due to the improved graphics and voice acting.  Sora’s character arc and his relationships with his friends go to interesting places.  The series got two new fabulous female characters.  The soundtrack mostly rehashes the first game, but Yoko Shimomura composed some beautiful new tracks, i.e. “Naminé” and the final boss battle theme, “Lord of the Castle.”

Although it’s not an entry in the series that you absolutely must play to understand the rest of the plot, I highly recommend Chain of Memories.

Review: Flat Kingdom

Developer: Fat Panda Games
Publisher: Games Starter
Release Date: April 7, 2016
Platform(s): PC

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Flat Kingdom is an adventure platform game for the PC that is more adorable than I have words for. It’s also incredibly frustrating, just like almost all platformers.

You are Flat, knight of the Kingdom. The Princess has been captured because of course she has. By a fox-headed person, whom I assume is wearing a mask. They are also taking all of the crystals that are keeping the Kingdom wonderful and peaceful. Your job, as Flat, is to stop the Fox, save the Princess and return the Crystals. Easy, right?

The artwork is elegant. It honestly looks like it was all cut out of paper and beautifully crafted together. All of the enemies are adorable, but the boss monsters terrifying. I adore everything about this game: the music, sound effects, story, level designs. It is all incredibly thought out and masterfully put together to create an amazing experience for the player.

As Flat, you are primarily a circle, but can also turn into a square and triangle. Each shape has their own pros and cons for each situation, including how to defeat enemies. Thankfully, the game allows you to have a Shape Legend in the bottom right corner to remind you what shape beats what. Circle beats Square; Square beats Triangle; Triangle beats Circle. This is a constant throughout the game; however, it is difficult to tell what all the monster shapes are and this doesn’t necessarily apply to the boss fights. Which are hell all on their own.

The levels, of course, increase in difficulty, starting off with the false hope that I could actually get through a platformer once in my life. Each level reminded me that I’m horrible at these games and that this is my own personal hell. Whilst still having fun and loving the game, I am cursing at the screen each time I die because I was just never good at these to begin with. I will finish this game, though, if it’s the last thing I do.

Right now, I’m in the third section of the game, trying valiantly to finish it and not throw my computer out the window at the same time. My Let’s Plays have dwindled down into death montages and glares at the webcam, but I swear I love this game and, for $8, you will love this game, too. I can’t wait to see what the store has laid out for me because I feel there is so much more than meets the eye.

Watch my first let’s play here: