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

Tuesday, October 29, 2013

Shadowgate (1989)


Genre: Adventure | Players: 1 | Developer: ICOM Simulations Inc.

In this Kemco point and click adventure the player finds themselves abruptly thrown into a high-fantasy yarn where the goal is to stop a nefarious wizard from summoning the ultimate beast: the mighty behemoth! Isn’t there a million of those running around in the Final Fantasy universe? Oh well, this one is special, I guess~

Thankfully, I was never actively mislead or berated by this game and I had a relatively pain free experience as a result. I did have a few conversations about it with a friend who also played these games years ago, however, and I’d recommend you to do much the same. You don’t need to be so specifically fortunate, though, since you can always try to convince someone else to take these journeys with you right now. Checking a FAQ will usually feel like cheating but playing concurrently with someone else is a shared experience, in my opinion.

Returning to the specifics of gameplay, Shadowgate’s defining feature is its torch system. This game revels in its hyper-specific causes of instant death, so never let your torches go out. There are quite a few available but I would still recommend save scumming like a boss. Do something significant? Save. Work your way through as usual and as soon as you figure something else out, reset and do it again as fast as you possible can. Rinse and repeat. It should be noted that the cursor even moves at a speedier clip to accommodate this de facto time limit.

There are also a number of respawning instances that require resources of limited quantity. Scumming helps in this regard as well, cutting down on backtracking which could get you stranded if you do it too many times. I never did come across a place to pare down my inventory like in the other games, but I didn’t have too much trouble without it, to be honest.

Ultimately, alongside Uninvited, Shadowgate is very much worth your time if you can get behind the genre and setting and have the patience befitting.

Buyer’s Guide: Available on Apple IIGS, Mac, Atari ST, Amiga, DOS, NES, Windows (Pocket PC), Palm OS, and Game Boy Color.

4 Deadly Renaissance Faires out of 5

Deja Vu (1990)


Genre: Adventure | Players: 1 | Developer: ICOM Simulations Inc.

This entry in the NES Kemco-Seika trilogy finds you passed out in a seedy bathroom stall with no memory of who you are and very few clues to go on. They roll in at a fast enough pace, however, and before you know it you’re at the center of a small detective tale.

Compared to the mostly straight forward gameplay of Uninvited, Deja Vu opts to include several random elements in its narrative. These are ultimately harmless and can be worked around if you have the patience to abuse the save system and your reset button. On top of that, you will be gambling for cab fare and the math can work out such that you could be left stranded. I didn’t bother to find out what happens if you are, but you’re more than welcome to experiment on your own.

Again, the music falls equally into the discrete categories of awesome, okay, and ear-wrecking. Thankfully, I can only think of one screen where the last is an issue. I would also like to note that if you rapidly skip text on the final screen of the game it will happily erase your file. I was able to replicate this several times and I have no idea why it happens. The option to continue is the default on the game over splash and even then selecting end doesn’t erase your file any other time. It is a mystery.

Okay, I’m going to save you a LOT of frustration by sharing this game’s biggest fault: You’re going to face an obstacle detectives come across repeatedly in their work. You’re going to want to use a logical solution for the ones that cannot be circumvented by the standard means. It won’t work most of the time and the game will actually mock you for trying at one point. The problem is it does work a small number of times, and for me these instances came up after I had been chastised. My inclination to continue trying had been brought to zero. In short, keep trying solutions every time they are applicable.

In the end, the game can become an exercise in trial and error, with the final failure screens guiding you on how to fully prepare yourself. The process of how this is done left a bad taste in my mouth and I can’t help but feel Phoenix Wright would be ashamed.

I still have a fondness for Deja Vu but it is assuredly the annoying-ass little brother of this family of games.

Buyer’s Guide: Available on Apple IIGS, Mac, Atari ST, Commodore 64, Amiga, DOS, NES, Game Boy Color, and Microsoft WIndows (Pocket PC). The GBC version includes its sequel.

2 Really Bad Tacos out of 5

Uninvited (1991)


Genre: Adventure | Players: 1 | Developer: ICOM Simulations Inc.

Through the late 80s and early 90s, Kemco-Seika were kind enough to port three of their notable point and click adventures to the NES. Uninvited was my favorite as a child and I’d argue that it remains the best realized of the lot. Modern gamers may find adventure games of this vintage to be incredibly hokey and/or frustrating but this one still oozes atmosphere if you can let yourself succumb to its charms. The potential for dead stops is certainly present, but I have to give Uninvited credit for its non-damning drop system. Attempting to drop items in the designated locations allows you to pare down your inventory to only the most essential items.

In veeeery loose terms, Uninvited is the Resident Evil of this trilogy. You’re trying to find your sister after crashing your car in front of a foreboding mansion. That’s all you’re getting out of me. The presentation is competent, if bare-bones, and is carried along by a wonderful sense of humor that is present not only in flavor text but also some of the puzzle solutions and item placements. There’s even an easter egg for another Kemco game!

On the music front, two of the tracks are among the funkiest and best I’ve heard on the NES. Mega Man caliber. The nothing’s-going-on tunes are perfectly serviceable, but some of the danger cues can be annoying as fuck if you let them grate on long enough.

There was one major thing that impeded my enjoyment of the second half of the game. I’m not going to tell you what it is, though, because upon completion I discovered it was a result of my own stupidity. The great thing is that the problem in question was made tolerable by the game’s insanely convenient continue mechanic. You will always continue one screen back from where you met your untimely demise. Nothing is lost beyond a few clicks worth of work, no matter what befalls you. You only need worry about saving when you want to end a session.

I can’t recommend this game to everyone, but I can absolutely recommend it to anyone with the patience and imagination this genre necessitated at the time. Kemco’s works may not be as beloved as many of Sierra’s ambitious endeavors, but they have a very special place in my heart (and on my wall), regardless.

Buyer’s Guide: Available on Apple IIGS, Mac, Atari ST, Commodore 64, Amiga, NES, Famicom, PC (DOS and WIndows), and Windows Mobile (Pocket PC).

4 Seemingly Useful Fruit Bowls out of 5

Thursday, October 24, 2013

Constantine (2005)


Genre: Action/3rd Person Shooter | Players: 1 | Developer: Bits Studios/SCi Games

In terms of gameplay, while almost every individual mechanic here is executed competently, the collective simply cannot rise above being blatantly run-of-the-mill. The camera rarely fights you, melee combat has satisfying rumble support, aiming is responsive, and you can even snipe pretty well from great distances. The magic is varied and every spell has a solid purpose either in terms of combat effectiveness or simply traversing the environment.

In fact, some of these spells are given more time to shine compared to their brief appearances in the movie. Most of the areas you’ll explore expand greatly on the ones visited by Keanu and co., as well. The remainder are new, insanely logical choices. These two aspects are representative of this game’s biggest strength: world building. I so rarely see expansions and continuations of fictional universes that are worthwhile and not just cash grabs. The movieverse of Constantine is not complete for me with the movie alone. Even if the storyline here is modified and not as tightly wound, everything about the mythos and world itself is ridiculously top-notch.

Constantine must travel through this plane and hell itself in a manner similar to the dark and light world mechanic of A Link to the Past. Instead of a mirror, puddles of water and holy water ampules ferry you between worlds to solve puzzles and generally progress. Some levels even take place entirely in hell and can become unsettling in the best ways. The requisite collection system has you searching for 12 tarot cards in each level. These yield concept art and some cool interview clips with Gaven Rossdale and Max Baker. For me, the main benefit is being given an excuse to explore the world thoroughly.

While a few actors reprise their roles, Keanu does not. I’m not going to say unfortunately, however, because frankly Bill Hope often out-Keanus Keanu.

Keanu.

This was one of the two games I first bought for the PS2 and I’m still playing it all these years later. That says it all.

Buyer’s Guide: It’s on the PS2 and Xbox. It does work on the 360, but that version has a sloppier HUD, if that sort of thing matters to you. Wiki says it’s on PC. Hmm. News to me.

3½ Above-Average Licensed Games out of 5

Saturday, October 5, 2013

Grand Theft Auto V (2013)

Genre: Sandbox  |  Players: One  |  Developer: Rockstar North

Note: This is for the single player aspect only. GTA Online is included on the disc but is essentially a separate game, so is reviewed HERE.

GTA IV was a depressing game. I would go into it for escapism and come out feeling worse. TLaD is hardly worth mentioning, but TBoGT proved that Rockstar could do better if they tried. With V, they tried and they succeeded. Hell, they excelled. It’s still minus some key elements from the series past that I suspect were held back perhaps for future DLC episodes, or maybe even for GTA Online, but what’s included on the disc is a vast improvement over the miserable fourth numbered entry in every way. Nico is just a bad memory; that pleases me.

How is V better? There are too many reasons to list them all, but here’s a few: the driving is fixed (motorbikes are again the best way to travel); the targeting is fixed; saving your game is simpler; mission structures are more varied; the protagonists are more entertaining; the humour is back; and the radio stations are more interesting. RS learned a lot from the success of Red Dead Redemption, and quite rightly they've included the best bits of it in GTA.

Contrary to what the tabloids claim, it's not just a senseless murder simulator. I'm not trying to pretend it’s high art, it’s not, it’s just a game, but it’s a game that takes a long, hard look at the world in which we live and dares to make a statement about why it’s a complicated mess of selfish ideals, political chicanery and social stratification. It’s a game that takes the American dream and holds it up to a filthy mirror. It’s coloured with biting satire and pop culture spoofs while being critical of television, radio and newspapers, and that most abhorrent of control mechanisms: the opiate of the masses. And that’s just scratching the surface of what you can find within.

The amount of small detail that RS have included is staggering; I've never seen anything like it. I’d occasionally just stop and listen to NPC’s, drink in the ambience and exist for a short time in the game world.  Check out this time lapse video and see for yourself just how alive the City seems to be: CLICK ME.

My only criticism is that the game world is too big. That may seem an odd thing to say, but the scale of it makes it impossible to take in and less intuitive to navigate.
You should also be aware that while it’s bigger geographically, it's also shorter in length than previous games and the difficulty level is lower. I've played all entries since III and this one is by far the easiest of them all.

5 carefully planned heists out of 5