Nut Load. Mini reviews of games old and new. No fuss. No spoilers. Occasional shock face.

Friday, November 17, 2017

Castlevania II: Simon's Quest (1988)

Genre: Action, Platformer, RPG | Players: 1 | Developer: Konami

This review is an experiment. Or, more precisely, this playthrough was an experiment. It had been decades since I last played Simon’s Quest, in any serious capacity, and I wanted to judge it as objectively as possible. Were the virtually universal problems with the game actually legitimate complaints? I was determined to find out. There were some solutions that I could not remove from my memory, however. In those cases, I set about determining if there was ANY way to intuit those things in the course of normal play, bereft of Nintendo Power and the strategy guide of its era that I had back then. I fully admit that there was an obscene amount of nostalgia in play, but I did my best to not let that determine the score.

No matter the outcome, I knew a singular truth would remain, one that outreaches its success or failure as a playable and enjoyable experience: this is the kind of game that I like. Honestly, it’s the first game I encountered that won me over with its ATMOSPHERE. I do enjoy the original Castlevania and Dracula’s Curse, and I now believe that those are very successful at creating atmosphere in their own right. This is because of my latter-day experiences with Castlevania IV. However, none of those are the type of game that I innately prefer. Simon’s Quest has you visiting towns, exploring the countryside, finding secrets, and collecting a set of special objects. The engine is very similar to the other two games in the franchise that were released on the NES, but the execution is almost wholly different. You aren’t traveling a fixed path. You have to backtrack and explore the world. Your progression is dependent on finding, buying, and trading items; it’s the first step towards Metroidvania! I love the world and I love the mythos. As a kid, I poured over Oriental Trading catalogues to find exactly the right toys to be Dracula’s body parts. As much as a ring can be a body part, at any rate… I had two copies of F.X. Nine's Worlds of Power adaptation! I even had the Tiger Electronics handheld.

Right, onto the game itself: Hearts act as currency and seemingly allow you to level up. There's an experience meter, but in my...experience, I've always leveled up when actually collecting a heart. You have three lives but this only really matters when you’re grinding to buy something. I.e., when you’re trying to buy something, park yourself on the closest screen with enemies and BE CAREFUL until you’ve reached your goal and made the purchase. Okay, okay, continuing does affect the ending you'll receive, as well. I'll get to that in time.

Frankly, this does everything right that Zelda II does wrong. Yeah, you're moving back and forth and up and down levels, but the areas look different. They're colored diversely. Different colored woods, different colored skies, different colored towns. There's as much back and forth in the entire game as there is in, I dunno, the first two palaces in Zelda II? That game is out of its mind. I should have scored it lower.

It is similar to that game in that if you're playing on an NES, you'll be placed back in Jova when entering the password you can ask for when you Game Over. They’re a little lengthy (16 characters), but they aren't the worst I've heard of, and Jova is fairly centrally located. If you're playing on the Virtual Console, just exit to the Wii Menu when on the Game Over screen, without resetting. That way, you can pick up exactly where you left off. You don't even have to write down the passwords because of this de-facto save state.

Alright, moment of truth: In my opinion, it's not badly translated. It's deliberately cryptic. The manual even says that some of the townspeople are tricksters! I had one problem, and it was the result of a lack of exploration and an assumption naturally made by the human brain given the specific visual stimuli on display. However, that decidedly is NOT the result of mis-translation. I was able to completely fill out the menu and do EVERYTHING, except proceed to the endgame. I acknowledge that not being able to find Castlevania is an intensely significant act with which to have trouble. However, it is nice to see that the greatest challenge was the final one. Someone more clever and thorough than me could easily manage it. I'm just over the moon that it didn't involve the translation or any of the puzzle-solving.

It was partially MY fault, and partially the designers being intimately aware of the intricacies of human perception and thought processes. I think it's a fair and intelligent challenge. You're free to disagree all you want.

You’ll have to play for speed if you want the 'better' endings, but that’s no different than other games on the system (e.g., Metroid). Also, the ending you’re almost assuredly going to get the first time is completely fine! I like it better than the 'middle' ending, to be frank. Also also, this really is obviously all about the journey.

I'm not sorry, guys; this is an ambitious, fully fleshed-out NES game, whose clue-dependent puzzles can be solved with the text as it was presented. If you'd like to see my justifications for the ones that I couldn't forget the solutions to, please visit this post, on my blog. More than anything, though, I'd like this to serve as evidence for my belief that, if you're truly interested in something, you should judge it yourself.

Buyer's Guide: Originally an NES game. It seems it was re-done for the PC. I know for a fact that it was on the Wii and Wii U Virtual Consoles. It's also on the NES mini. There's a redacted version out there, available on actual carts, but it should be obvious that I don't think you need to bother with that sort of thing.

4 Deliciously Bloody Tears out of 5

Tuesday, January 17, 2017

Pokémon Moon (2016)

Genre: RPG | Players: 1-4 | Developer: Game Freak

"It is only when the balance of old and new is just right that you can create something original."

Are you listening, Toei? Unlike the demo, which skewed heavily towards Gen 1 (probably for the sake of players returning via Pokémon Go -_-), Moon actually abides by this mantra, to the letter. I’d argue that the mix is about 90:10, in favor of entirely new content. Instead of challenging gyms, you’re tasked with completing various trials. These activities vary and increase in creativity and appropriateness as the game progresses. Don’t get annoyed if the first one feels disappointing, like it did to me. After every trial on a given island is complete, you’ll face off with its kahuna, in the standard manner. In both instances, you’ll be awarded with their associated Z-Crystals, which allow your pokes to use Z-moves. If one of your pokes has a move of the matching type, they can equip the crystal and perform a corresponding special move, once per battle. Just as Mega Evolution grants a power-up form, a Z-move is essentially a hissatsu. Yes, one of the event pokémon IS an homage to Kamen Rider Ichigo and his unique Z-move is a Rider Kick!!! Many status moves can also be utilized as such for status related effects.

I’m not entirely sure how some folks flew through the game as fast as they did, given that the main storyline took me just over 140 hours to complete. I admit some of that time was a result of stopping to train up new pokes. I wanted to try out a good number of them! I’ll tell you right now, at the end of the series (Lockstin REPRESENT), I have found my favorite set of starters. That’s so fitting for me! A large chunk of the Alola dex is absolutely stellar. I even like most of the Alolan forms for Kanto pokémon. I only briefly used a Grimer, but that’s because I wanted to mostly use new pokes for my first run. I even used the GTS to get one that’s only available via an Island Scan. You can scan QR codes and build up to being able to encounter some that aren’t normally available in the wild, by default. This includes the Johto starters and the pre-evolution of my beloved Roserade.

Though, while I'll be able to bring my Mawile from Y over, it cannot arrive holding its Mega Stone, which is also completely absent from Alola. I’m made to suffer for the sake of keeping things balanced for competitive players. That’s bullshit. I came to like Mega Evolution once I had conceptualized it as a power-up form. I.e., it's fine that it's temporary.

There are some ½ health mechanics in play for a handful of new and “returning” pokes and while I feel they ruin the Wimpod line and Wishiwashi, I quite like it when it comes to Zygarde. This is because it works in reverse. After you find all 100 of his cells and cores, via a classic squee-worthy collection quest, he can assume his Complete Forme when he reaches ½ health, whereas the others escape and become useless, respectively. Plus, you can Dragon Dance every turn while you’re waiting to be whittled down. Also also, your HP is restored at the end of the battle. I adore Zygarde. Can you tell?

If you’re planning on using a Grubbin or a Crabrawler, know that they cannot fully evolve until almost the end of the game. This is different than not being able to get a poke at all until then, and the payoff WAS worth bringing a Charjabug with me across four islands.

Other new features include Poké Pelago, which mainly allows you to collect evolution stones and poké beans, which replace the puffs in X and Y. The mini-games of Amié were removed to streamline Pokémon Refresh, which now takes place in front of a background matching where you currently are, making it feel much more organic. You can also take pictures at designated spots if you’re a fan of Pokémon Snap. Poké Ride is a new system to replace HMs. While I am proud to be a distributor and love how that makes all of my pokes feel even more special, I have to admit that this was done exceedingly well. It maintains the spirit of everyone having a role to play in our exploration and progression, because the instantly summoned Ride pokémon feel like my own. The choices are incredibly sound and I already had characters associated with the vast majority of them. Because of Ride, I have a team of 13. Yes, 13. 

I want to mention that you should purchase a large number of pokéballs before doing the last thing in the story, and have a non-damaging status move on one member of your team. Trust me on this. As a final mechanics note, know that when pokémon feel they are in danger, they can call in reinforcements and this is helpful for leveling, getting pokes not otherwise available, and shiny hunting, as the chances increase as the chain does. It also makes it so you can get pokes with maxed IVs, but forget that sort of thing. Focus on the story!

It’s fantastic, on the whole, and several aspects just make MUCH more sense in Moon as compared to Sun. Development is intensely poured into one character in particular and I’m so sincerely fine with that, given that she’s now my favorite character in the entire franchise. Cause and effect, yo~ As with Y, my privilege as the playable character makes me feel like a douche, but unlike the previous generation, this one allows for a very concrete head-canon via the last image in the credits. 

One that makes everything perfect.

5 Chances to Go Out on the Highest of Notes out of 5

Wednesday, December 14, 2016

The Last Guardian (2016)

Genre: Adventure / Puzzle / 3D Platformer  |  Players: 1  |  Developers: Team Ico / genDESIGN / SIE Japan Studio

The many delays and behind the scenes troubles that plagued the game's development are well-documented elsewhere, so I'll skip all of that. My stance can be summed up with a familiar phrase, 'better late than never'. And in a strange way the delay makes TLG more special to me, because it delivers the kind of one-player PS2-era experience that is becoming rare in titles on modern consoles.

But, subjective silver lining aside, there's a drawback to deal with. While not much of a problem at the beginning, what's required of you as you progress deeper into the game causes the camera mechanic to feel outdated. Because it has to acknowledge both the boy and the giant cat-bird-dog creature (named Trico) featured on the cover art, it can favour one when you need it to favour the other. It moves freely with the right stick, but in cramped spaces its functionality takes a hit, leading to frustration, and the game features quite a lot of such places.

Trico feels more alive and has more personality than any collection of pixels should conceivably have. Equal parts ferocious and timid, Trico is a genuine wonder, and it only takes about twenty minutes of play to become completely attached to its presence. The creature has its own mind, it's not an empty-headed steed, so when you want it to go someplace you'll have to encourage it, which often means assessing its mood and influencing it accordingly. If it's hungry, feed it; if it's frightened, soothe it, etc. Judge well and you'll have smoother sailing.

If you enjoyed Ueda's previous games, namely ICO (2001) and Shadow of the Colossus (2005), then the chances are good that you'll enjoy TLG, too. The world has the same kind of ancient, historically rich beauty as its predecessors; the same kind of forward progression and puzzle solving as ICO; and the necessary interdependence of the two main characters is once again where the heart of the story resides. You play as the young boy, but if you're an animal lover in real life then the winged Trico is likely where the majority of your sympathies will lie.

The many set pieces that punctuate the emotional journey are heart in throat experiences that I'll remember and no doubt relive for years to come. Takeshi Furukawa's music often heightens them, periodically adding mysterious, exotic, sympathetic and dramatic tones that help bring what's important to the surface.

4 nutritious barrels out of 5

Saturday, November 5, 2016

The Legend of Zelda: Majora's Mask 3D (2015)

Genre: Action, Adventure | Players: 1 | Developers: Grezzo, Nintendo EAD Tokyo

As with the 3DS remake of Ocarina, this revamp of Majora’s Mask successfully addresses every issue I had with the original. They were laser-precise in fixing the things that irked me the most, and even if I feel that those things were overcome-able by patient, smart players, I have to admit that there is an incredible sense of legitimacy to the changes herein. There is no similar great crime to rival the hand-holding present in Ocarina 3D’s trade quest.

The two largest alterations have a gigantic impact on how convenient it is to do a 100% playthrough. Owl statues now grant permanent saves, instead of temporary ‘memo’ saves. Resetting the time, however, no longer elicits one. I.e., get into the new habit of resetting, playing the Inverse Song of Time and running around the clock tower to the owl statue, now centrally located along with the bank. Having legitimate saves in the middle of cycles makes once trying things, like completing Anju & Kafei’s quest, completely tolerable.

The other significant innovation is that the Song of Double Time now allows you to pick the exact hour to which you’d like to travel within a given day. Picking a time in the next day will require a second rendition, but it’s still a huge boon in comparison.

While many other small refinements were made, sometimes the original tail-end dialogue for events will remain, resulting in a nice sense of preservation, but also a tiny loss of overall semantic logic. Further, relocating two of the masks may seem infuriating (especially given what one of them is), but this does result in a stronger story for an involved NPC.

The four boss fights are updated, unequivocally, for the better. They are more involved and cinematic. In order to maneuver underwater like an Arwing, Mikau now requires magic. Fear not, you can still dash and dolphin leap just fine without any, but if you want to have unfettered fun, I absolutely recommend going to grab a bottle of Chateau Romani before taking a swim.

There are only two problems. One is a bonus feature, so I’m not inclined to hold it against this release: While it makes all the sense in the world to finally bring the one truly missing feature of 3D Zelda games to MM3D, the fishing is simply a complete disappointment. The IDEA of wearing certain masks to catch analogous fish is incredibly sound! Having to basically catch every fish in the lake to spawn “boss” fish, however, is tedium and there is no reward, at all. When I say reward, I mean a log, a menu to fill up stating which fish I’ve caught. That’s ALL I ask for when it comes to fishing in Zelda, and I’d imagine that’s true for most fans. Here, as far as I can tell, you catch them, (sometimes) hear a comment from the fishing hole attendant, and release them with no record whatsoever that you caught them in the first place. If I’m wrong, please correct me.

The other issue could be serious, depending on individual circumstances: There were two instances where I became caught up on the geometry in Termina Field. I was able to free myself both times by changing forms. I realize that you cannot go outside prior to gaining control over the Deku Mask, but that could easily occur in Clock Town, if you’re trying to be adventurous with your jumping the same way I was when I had trouble outside.

I absolutely recommend this over the original versions, but please be careful on your first cycle! That said, I don’t think I've ever made it entirely clear how much I adore this interactive piece of fiction. Majora's Mask 3D makes this dense, rich experience magnitudes more playable. It is an utter joy to execute actions in this game once you understand how to play it. Resonant emotional colors bleed from it profusely. Cherish it, if it speaks to you even a fraction as much as it does to me.

4½ Inexcusable Instances of Deku Scrub Racism out of 5

I do not have binocular fusion and are thus incapable of experiencing 3D. 
Don't ask me how it looks here, or in any other 3DS game.

Monday, September 12, 2016

Back to the Future: The Game (2010)

Genre: Graphic adventure  |  Players: 1  |  Developer: Telltale Games

If you're not already familiar with Telltale's brand of graphic adventure, I'll attempt to explain in one paragraph: TT are storytellers. The story is the main event. Because of that, calling it a game is being descriptively generous. The visuals are stuck in the PS2 era. The animations are clunky. The interface is as simplistic as they come, with the player required to interact with people or objects and walk from place to place to find them. Conversations have multiple possible responses, but quite often it doesn't matter which one you choose or in which order because the response will be the same. You don't buy a TT title just for gameplay - you buy it for story because TT know how to deliver in that dept.

It begins on May 14th 1986. Hill Valley. The events in the films are the past. Doc Brown is missing. Marty is with Biff and George, and he's worried. Things seem bad, but they're about to get a lot worse and it'll be your job as Marty to fix them.

The time-hopping shenanigans that follow reference the entire film trilogy but take cues mostly from the structure of Part II (1989). If you know and love the films then you'll spot a HUGE amount of additional detail. The people at TT must really be fans of the franchise. They captured the enduring spirit of the series perfectly.

Not all voices are provided by the original actors, but they sound like they are; the effort made to match them exactly really paid off, with the discernible nuances of each actor's dialogue being present and largely correct. Ironically, some of the original cast sound less like their 1986-selves than the replacements do!

The adventure is split into five episodes, each individually priced, but if you buy the Complete Pack digitally or the retail edition (on an actual disc) then you'll have them all. Play them in the correct order to properly finish the tale.

It gets more and more self-referential each time. Ep III is very talky but also funny, clever and with a high level of satire. The puzzle solving is fun but can quickly slip into being frustrating. Deductive reasoning alone isn't always enough to get you though, so be prepared for much trial and error and seeing multiple times animations that can't be skipped. Nevertheless, it's worth the inconvenience.

3½ scientific predilections out of 5

Tuesday, September 6, 2016

Silent Hill 2 Expanded Editions (2001-03)

Genre: Survival-Horror / Action | Players: 1 | Developer: Konami

Unlike Rise from the Ashes, Maria’s sub-scenario was never released individually. However, I’m going to argue that because of it, the variously titled augmented release of Silent Hill 2 is significantly different from the original and is therefore worth addressing in detail, in the service of aiding potential or subsequent purchases. 

Right off the bat, I have seen this expanded version of the game advertised as containing new weapons. While undeniably factual, it sadly exists as a marketing machination and nothing more. They’re weapons for Maria, not for James, and they are simply variations of standard ones found in the main game, and the series at large. Put no weight into this bullet point.

The new endings are of course Maria’s and the UFO ending. It’s retroactively hard for me to believe that they initially left that out, but they did. If you’re the sort to shoot for the 10 star ranking, it’s a bit easier to do on the vanilla release as you don’t have to spend time doing a UFO run. One less available ending is one less ending to achieve. Maria’s is done well and cannot be divorced from her journey, hence it is a legitimate selling point.

That journey is the crux of the entire issue. Do I think her scenario is worth purchasing the enhanced edition of the game over? I personally feel it IS a worthwhile use of one’s time. However, I am very aware that I am a diehard fan of the game and consequently biased. It exists as part of Silent Hill 2 and gels with themes of the franchise and specifics of the game proper, so of course I would feel that it’s indispensable. To someone new to the game, I would objectively say: if you can find a version of it containing the extras for up to ~$5 USD more than the standard release, grab it to avoid having to double-dip, should you end up loving the experience. If you have the original and adore it, go ahead and double up. I cannot see a big fan of it being disappointed.

I’m not going to lie to you, it’s short. Incredibly so. However, the atmosphere is unique in the scope of the series and it’s even given nods in other entries. All of the following are the complete version of the game containing the additions covered herein:

Silent Hill 2 for Windows
Silent Hill 2: Inner Fears for Xbox (Europe)
Silent Hill 2: Director’s Cut for PS2 (Europe)
Silent Hill 2: Saigo no Uta for PS2 & Xbox (Japan)*
Silent Hill 2: Restless Dreams for Xbox (North America)
Silent Hill 2 Greatest Hits release for PS2 (North America)**
Silent Hill HD Collec.....DON’T. YOU. EVEN. THINK. ABOUT. IT.

3½ NOPE Moments Actually Not Elicited By A Radio out of 5
This score is obviously for Born From A Wish and the UFO Ending

*Listed solely for completion's sake. DO. NOT. expect to be able to play this on a NA or PAL console, or it to be entirely in English.
**Be sure the disc is shown in listings before purchasing. I've seen listings on ebay that are the Greatest Hits case and the black-label disc. Make sure the disc has the red coloring beneath the PS2 branding. If it's the GH disc and the original case, however, I'd say snap it up. Best of both worlds!

Tuesday, August 23, 2016

Soundless Mountain II (2008)

Genre: Survival-Horror | Players: 1 | Developer: Superflat Games

Seeing the above picture in a Google image search may lead someone to believe that it's simply a kitschy bit of fanart. As awesome as it would still be if it were indeed nothing more than that, this is actually the artwork for a genuine computer game! It sadly does not come close to encompassing the entirety of the source material's journey, but it is a loving 8bit-esque homage to it. The text predictably skirts just to the right of the actual dialogue and the pathfinding is simplified to a notable degree. The combat is best avoided when possible, but it doesn't really distract from your limited exploring to have to dodge things on the 2D plane utilized here. There's one screen I guarantee you'll be capping, even if you never return to this the way I do from time to time.

I'm happy to tip my hat to Jasper Byrne, Phil Duncan, The Mysterious Lorc, and C418 for all the work they did to make this a reality. It's incredibly quaint, but its heart is unquestionably in the right (special) place. Further details and download links can be found on Jasper Byrne's page, Superflat Games.

3½ Tiny, Yet Incredibly Inviting Parking Lots out of 5