NES Collection #003: 1943: The Battle of Midway Review

This sequel to 1942 loses the simplicity of the old one, but becomes a much better console game in the process.

Game: 1943: The Battle of Midway
Platforms: Arcade, NES
Price: ~$20

From the moment I started up this game, I knew it was going to be better than 1942. The graphics just look so much better, and the movement is much more fluid. 

The basic premise is the same: you, a lone fighter pilot, are tasked with destroying the entire Japanese amarda. Even though this premise remains the same, the gameplay has been tweaked to create a more engaging console experience.

Firstly, you can earn points to upgrade your plane throughout the game. These upgrades range from defense to fuel to attack and special weapons. Hang on, fuel? Yes, fuel. This game introduces a sort of timer mechanic that means your plane loses fuel throughout the level and when hit by an attack. This means the one hit deaths of 1942 have disappeared, and now the game can throw some harder situations at you, without it feeling unfair.

Special weapons also receive an upgrade. The “POW”-erups that were present in the last game now contain much-needed fuel. Shooting at them can turn them into other powerups such as burst weapons. Another new weapon is the weather attacks, a press of the A button in game results in an elemental attack, such as lighting, disabling the weapons of everything on screen. Both weapon powerups and elemental attacks require a lot of fuel though, so there’s an element of strategy to when or if you use them.

Level design has also received an overhaul. Now each level contains two stages: the first, consisting of planes, bombers, and all the weaker enemies; and a boss section, which can, for example, take place closer to the ocean. Bosses range from cruisers to aircraft carriers to giant planes, or even just a relentless assault from bombers. This is a much better design than the fairly similar level designs of 1942, which were only broken up by the occasional boss battle.


My one major complaint with this game was that it can feel unfair at times, when it just doesn’t need to be. I have no doubt that I will encounter artificially difficult games in this NES collection, but this shouldn’t be one of them. Planes will cole straight for you, with no way of dodging them. Some planes can drop below your line of fire, making them more difficult to kill. I would have much rather preferred some proper strategy here, because 1942 didn’t have this problem to the extreme that 1943 does. A midpoint between the difficulty styles of the two games needed to be reached. There was some minor stuttering occasionally, but nothing major.

I regret to say I couldn’t finish this game. It was too similar to 1942, and the difficulty just felt unfair. Maybe one day I’ll finish this, but for now I have to move on.

1943 is a definite improvement on the previous installment, with numerous gameplay and design enhancements, and so I’m giving it a 4/5 objectively. Subjectively though, although I appreciated the game I just couldn’t get into it, so I’m giving it a 3/5.

Positives

+ Good Level Design

+ Gameplay enhancements

7/10

Negatives

– Unfair difficulty

NES Collection #002: 1942 Review

Scrolling shooters are one of those games that I think everyone is exposed to at some point. 1942 was one of the earliest examples of those types of games, and the NES version was a port of the arcade version. But can this port hold up without the constant need to input quarters?

Game: 1942

Platforms:
NES, Old Computers; Gameboy Colour; PS2, Xbox, Wii

Price:
~$20.00 on eBay

1942 is set during World War II, in the Pacific Theatre. The player controls an aircraft called the “Super Ace”, and is tasked with destroying the entire Japanese airforce. Upon starting the game, the screen displays “level 32” and the game counts down from there. Along the way, there are four evenly-distributed boss fights.

The game consists of shooting down enemy aircraft, and occasionally shooting down a formation will result in a power-up, such as two planes joining you or an extra canon. The gameplay is wonderfully simple, and is executed well, but it is the other aspects of this game that bring it down.

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The graphics are average, but the biggest graphical problem was the difficulty in distinguishing between planes and the occasional island that appears on the quest. Bullets and green planes especially fail to stand out on the sand or grass of the islands, and for a game built on dodging those things, that’s a pretty big problem. Additionally, I found that enemy aircraft would clip into the background, and sometimes the game itself experienced lag when there were a great deal of enemies on-screen.

The music is pretty bad. It consists of a militaristic march-like rhythm played on a single note and a snare drum. The only musical variation occurs when the player dies or when the player completed a mission successfully. Although the rhythm was a little catchy, it got boring pretty quickly. Something with more variety would have been better suited to this game.

The difficulty level in this game is also bizarre; it’s generally slowly rising, but I found the last boss to be the easiest and the final level was comparable to the first in terms of difficulty. When I got stuck, I found I could leave the game for an hour, come back to it with a refreshed mind, and then sweep through the level I was having trouble with as well as the next few levels. You have three lives in this game; if you lose all three you can continue from the title screen, which starts you at the last level you died. As far as I know though, You can’t save, so if you want to get through the whole thing, you’ll need to leave your console on.

1942 wasn’t the worse game I’ve ever played, but it wasn’t very good either. I give it 2/5 objectively and 3/5 subjectively

Positives

+ Simple yet effective gameplay

+ Arcade fun

5.fw

Negatives

– Graphical issues

– Awful music

– Occasional moments of boredom in the 32 levels

NES Collection #001: 10-Yard Fight Review

I’m not the biggest sports person, and for a while I considered skipping this title because it’s an American football game, and I’m not American. I decided to stick with it, and it was an interesting experience.

Game: 10-Yard Fight
Platforms: Arcade, NES
Price: They go for around $6 on eBay, but there were some more expensive versions when I looked.

10-Yard Fight is one of the most simple sports games I have ever played: it wouldn’t be out of place on mobile devices today. The gameplay is simple; your player starts in a formation, running a ball up the field until your character gets tackled, at which point the first of the tackle (“downs”) begins. After this, your character then has four “downs” to move the ball up another 10 yards, or you can kick the ball to move the ball further back. An interception, a ball kick, or a lack of 10-Yard movement results in a turnover, and the opposition attempts to run the ball past your defences. To defend, you choose from one of two characters, and then run forward to tackle the CPU character in possession of the ball. It may not sound simple from my description here, but it lacks plays or other advanced strategies that irked a lot of other reviewers when I did my reading for this game.

The game has a basic career mode, starting at a high school level and progressing towards the super bowl. Each higher level of difficulty results in a slightly tougher AI, but I found that as I experienced the game, the AI became a pushover, and I was able to defeat the computer every time (eventually winning the super bowl 28-7). Once you defeat the super bowl, you just play it over and over again – there’s no high score system or anything else I know of.

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The design is nothing special; the graphics average; music non-existent. The sound effects that do exist are the pattering of feet on the ground (which admittedly, is a decent tune, but doesn’t last long), a slide-whistle for the ball kick, and a awful chord of noise, which I presume is meant to applause from an audience. The most awful aspect of the game, however, is how slow it is; it takes forever to move anywhere on the field, and running forward feels like wading through a swamp.

I also found some graphical glitches in that players would sometimes fade towards the end of the field, which was a little distracting.

Although this game as its flaws, there were a few moments where my heart beat slightly faster in the excitement of it all, and for an early NES game, that’s a pretty good accomplishment. I give 10-Yard Fight a 2/5 objectively, and a 2.5/5 subjectively.

Positives

+ Encapsulates the feeling of sports well

+ A simple design means anyone, even non-Americans, can play it.

4.5.fw

Negatives

– Graphics are nothing special

– Sound isn’t good

– Simple AI

– Slow movement

New Series Incoming: The Complete NES Collection

First things first, I haven’t had much of a chance to write on this site recently, which is a real shame. I quite enjoy writing here, but my life got too busy and I had to sacrifice some things.

That being said, I do want to continue to write here. 

Today I’m announcing a new series, of something very few have attempted before: I’m going to play through the entire NES library. I missed the NES by many years, and I never had the chance to play some of the “classics” on that system, something which I think would be hugely beneficial to my gaming ability (at the moment, I’m very terrible at higher-difficulty games).

This is going to be a very long-term project, and usual reviews and editorials will continue as normal. Gamesland news will be discontinued, and any important news will be opinionated in an editorial. 

Here’s hoping to a good year in 2017!

Tales from the Borderlands Review

Tales From the Borderlands – Full Season Review

Telltale’s become really famous the past couple of years, in part due to their fantastic emotional storylines and tough decision making gameplay. And when the company announced its partnership with Gearbox Software and 2K Games to deliver Tales from the Borderlands, I was a little surprised. But then I started thinking – and the two seem like they could be a good combination. The art is similar, the world is large, so surely this game would have to be somewhat decent, right?

There’s one problem: I’ve never properly played any Borderlands game. I played about half an hour of the second game with a friend once, but that’s all I had when I started playing Tales from the Borderlands. So I was not discovering whether this game is good from the point of view of someone who is familiar with the franchise, but a newcomer, who knows next to nothing about the world.

Game: Tales from the Borderlands
Platforms: PC, PS4, PS3, XB1, XB360, iOS, Android (mobile versions are the full game)Price: ~$25 USD for the complete season on PC. On other platforms, the first episode can be played for free, and the other episodes can be bought together in a season pass for about ~$25 USD.
A Copy of this Game was Provided for Review

For those of you unfamiliar with Telltale Games, allow me to fill you in on the genre of games they make. Telltale develops episodic adventure games. The games generally revolve around a character that the player controls, and makes decisions, dialogue choices, and also solves basic puzzles to advance the game. Telltale games are known to have tough decisions to make, such as choosing whether to keep a character alive. If that sounds a little boring, its because Telltale games are a heavy, emotional narrative that causes you to become emotionally attached to the characters, which is what makes these decisions so difficult.

Episode One, Zer0 Sum, opens with the player-controlled character Rhys, his accounting buddy Vaughn, and their helpful secretary friend Yvette. Rhys is expecting a promotion at his company, Hyperion, famed for the psychopath Handsome Jack, and Rhys has killed a lot of people to get to his position. However, he finds his rival, Vasquez, at his old boss’s desk, as Rhys’ old boss floats past the window. Vasquez demotes Rhys, and Rhys wants revenge.
To take revenge, Rhys and Vaughn head down to Pandora, the planet their space station orbits around, to take advantage of a deal Vasquez was going to make regarding a “vault key”, which can open a vault which leads to treasure. But the deal starts going wrong.

At this point, we’re introduced to a second player-controlled character, Fiona, at a camp in the future (the majority of this game is told as Rhys and Fiona were telling it to their kidnapper). Fiona promptly explains that Rhys is wrong, and starts telling her side of the story.

Fiona is sisters with Sasha, and they work with their father, Felix (who adopted Fiona and Sasha). They’re con artists, and are attempting their biggest con yet: to sell a fake vault key to a Hyperion employee (Hyperion isn’t liked much on Pandora). This is, of course, how they run into Rhys and Vaughn. A host of unlikely events ensue, and ultimately the characters must work together.

That’s all the necessary context you really need to understand the game, and since so much of this game revolves around the plot, I won’t talk about any other part of the plot in order to prevent spoilers.

Because the plot in this game is really, really, good. I thought episode one was a rather bland affair, with too much backstory, and then it just seems to drag on and on. The first episode took two and a half hours for me to complete, whereas the others only took about two. And even though its only an extra half an hour, in the first episode when you haven’t developed an emotional attachement to the characters, it just seems to drag. But episode two is a lot better. And episode three was even better. And episode four was even better. And episode five was a thrilling and fantastic conclusion to the series. Each episode seems to take everything up a notch, and it really works. In Telltale’s The Walking Dead, I thought the series dropped off a little after episode three. In Tales from the Borderlands, each episode keeps getting better and better. And I think that’s because there’s several constantly developing mysteries that expand over the course of the episodes.

The plot is also helped with the fantastic voice acting. These characters all manage to convey so much with their voices, and also have a varied cast. There’s a few robots, for example, that behave like the other characters in that you can interact with them. The superb acting in this really makes it feel like it’s real. It helps a lot with the immersion.

The graphics in the game are Telltale’s usual affair, cel-shaded graphics, and they looked pretty good. The Steam page says its not recommended for computers with Intel Integrated Graphics, which I have, and so I was surprised the game even ran. I had the graphics on low, but the game still looked nice. The art is superb, and it fits in the Borderlands universe perfectly.

Tales from the Borderlands Full Season Review

An example of the art and humour that is in Tales from the Borderlands

The gamplay was also great. Dialogue choices are displayed on four lines at the bottom of the screen, and you just choose one with your mouse to advance the plot/make a decision. All of the decisions are timed as well, and if you don’t make a decision quickly enough, you say nothing. Fortunately, there’s usually more than enough time to read your options and make a decision. The puzzle solving sequences are nothing complex, but are still enjoyable. They’re usually walking around and pressing some buttons. The action sequences are much more enjoyable, and revolve around quick time events using WASD, Q and E, and mouse clicks. They’re also simple, but some of my favourite moments of the game come from the quick time action events.

Tales from the Borderlands puzzle solving

An example of what the puzzle solving view looks like

I was also somewhat surprised at how good the humour was in this game. There’s some really good moments of genuine humour, such as Rhys and Fiona bickering with each other in the present day, Telltale poking fun at how their games work (such as substituting the infamous _______ will remember that for other things), and general moments of absurdity. I was chuckling at some moments, because this game manages to pull of humour really well.

Tales from the Borderlands humour

Telltale poking fun at themselves with a different message instead of the “remember this” message

But, this game also manages to pull off other emotions great as well. There’s some really saddening moments in this game, and at times you do have to make some tough decisions. Things that seem like small decisions can come back and surprise you later. And the game transitions from humerous moments to sadder moments great as well. No part of this game feels out of place.

However, I think this game has a few problems. The first major one I have is with episode one, I honestly think it was too long for an episode. As I played the rest of the series, I see why episode one was so necessary, but playing it was just so unenjoyable. Episode five felt like it dragged on a bit at the start as well, but it kept having new developments to keep it interesting, so it didn’t stay that way. Episode one doesn’t really have the new developments until the final half an hour, and then it just felt a little too late to get me interested again. So if you download episode one for free to try it out, and you think it drags on a little, trust me, it gets better.

I had two minor problems with the game, which aren’t that big of a deal, but would have been the icing on the cake. The first is that the quick time events would sometimes come out of nowhere, and I would miss them and die. Fortunately, the game only restarts at the start of that scene, which is a five minute wait maximum, so it’s not too bad. Some missed quick time events can be recovered from without a penalty, which is nice. The second is that I didn’t always feel like the choices I made mattered. I feel like some of the major choices of the game would have resulted in the same outcome anyway – and with some reading, I found this to be true, which is a little disappointing from a studio that prides itself on having choices matter. I didn’t have this problem with The Walking Dead, but apparently that was the same way. I had a hunch on this one though. I’m willing to overlook this flaw because the story was really good, and also because there was a section at the end that did have consequences for you depending on how you treated certain characters, and whether you said the right thing at a certain time. I was impressed by that, because I think that’s actually a fairly sizeable consequence, some of which resulted from really small decisions I’d made earlier in the season (and when I say consequence, I don’t necessarily mean something bad).

All in all, I was really impressed by this season. Even though I knew next-to-nothing about the franchise, the game fills you in on the pieces you need to know, and still delivers a fantastic storyline even if you don’t know the franchise. I was reading that sections of this game tie in with The Pre-Sequel!, which is another Borderlands game, so I think if you are a fan you will definitely have an even better time playing through this than I did. In fact, if you are a Borderlands fan than this game is definitely worth playing. If you’re not a Borderlands fan, but want a good, exciting, humourous and tragic sci-fi story, than this game is worth playing. But I think that to some people, the humourous nature and style of this game might not appeal, which is a shame because this game has really good plot twists and is probably one of my favourite games from the past few years.

I found it quite difficult to rate this game, because I probably would have been willing to look past its minor flaws, but I just couldn’t get past how much I found episode one average. I would have given episodes three, four, and five a 10/10 score, but I think overall, this season is dragged down slightly by its first episode, which is a real shame.

Positives

+ Fantastic Plot

+ Fantastic Voice Acting

+ Fantastic Humour

+ Great Graphics

+ Great Gameplay

9.5/10

Negatives

– First Episode was Average Compared to How Good the Rest of the Series Was

– Unexpected Quick Time Events

– Some Decisions Felt Like They Didn’t Matter

Film Review – Star Wars Episode One: The Phantom Menace

The Phantom Menace has been universally panned by critics, but is it really that bad when it is watched by an ordinary person for enjoyment?

Film: Star Wars: The Phantom Menace (Episode 1 of the Star Wars saga)
Release Year: 1999

I first saw The Phantom Menace (for the sake of convenience, the title shall be shortened to Menace for this review) when I was quite young – about 8 or 9, but I had seen the original trilogy before I saw Menace. And yet, for some reason, Menace appealed to young me more than the originals did. The originals were interesting, sure, and they sparked my imagination, but I always found Menace more relatable and enjoyable. I think it’s partly because one of the main characters of the film, a young Anakin Skywalker, is the same age as I was, but also because kids tend to enjoy the character of Jar Jar Binks far more than adults do.

The film’s plot revolves around a politically instable republic, with a corrupt government, an evil trade federation invading one of the peaceful planets, and their attempt to escape and warn the government so they can intervene. Except, not as exciting as that. Yes, that is the basic premise of the film, but the plot is nothing special. It takes a while to fully set into motion, and the result is a film that doesn’t feel all that special or memorable. However, it does introduce us to just about every important character in the Star Wars universe (except the clones and the cast of the original trilogy, as most of them haven’t been born yet), which is no small feat. We are introduced to a young, innocent Anakin Skywalker who just wants to protect his mum. An Obi-Wan Kenobi who is agile, and so on. Later on, especially in the later movies, these traits become interesting to look back on.

Visually, the film is stunning. The battle droids, while made with CGI, look sleek and appropriately Star Wars-y. The planet of Naboo is beautiful, and Coruscant just looks like an amazing location. Tatooine makes a return, which makes sense, as it will go on to become a major planet in the Star Wars saga. Everything feels real: there really is an underwater gungan city; those really are old Nabooan relics; that really is a chamber in Coruscant. The film really immerses you in its worlds, which is sadly more than you can say for the story.

The special effects are decent, and the action scenes are well thought-out. Particular mention must be given to the pod racing scene, which is both thrilling and engaging.

But the lacklustre plot, occasional poor dialogue, and other such problems make the film a tough one to enjoy. Jar Jar Binks is a prime example, his behaviour and speech is especially cringe-worthy at the start of the film, but his humour improves by the end into becoming stupid, but somewhat funny.

The Phantom Menace is really a Star Wars episode for kids to enjoy. They will find it much more engaging than an adult will, but that doesn’t mean the film isn’t enjoyable at all: There are some truly great and epic scenes that deserve to be seen (the last battle is especially awesome), but overall, this film is pretty average.

6.5/10

Now Would be the Perfect Time for a Star Trek Game

I had never seen an episode of Star Trek (fully) until after Christmas 2014. For the christmas just gone I received the two recent movies (2009’s Star Trek and 2013’s Star Trek: Into Darkness), and at once, I found a franchise I enjoyed it.

For some reason, I’ve been really enjoying older sci fi recently. In 2010, I was introduced to Doctor Who (which also needs a good game soon, but I won’t go into that today), and in 2013 I saw 2001: A Space Odyssey for the first time, after reading the books. The books are now some of my favourites, and the movie was wonderfully-crafted too. When I was a kid, I loved Gerry Anderson’s Thunderbirds, and I cannot wait until the new series this year. I enjoy Star Wars like everyone else, and I even liked the prequels (even though I haven’t seen them in a long time).

So after I watched both of the new movies (which are really good, by the way, even if the lens flare is distracting at times) I noticed that Netflix had all of the original series. So I watched the first episode. Before I realised that it was the failed pilot. I’m glad I kept watching the series after that episode (which was pretty bad).

Although I haven’t seen a lot of episodes, there’s something about Star Trek that is just so appealing. I think it’s because it plays on our ideals about exploration and then also deals with the relationships between characters on a ship in outer-space. This is why I think it’s time we had a Star Trek game.

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The Problem with Earlier Games

There’s a problem with all the previous Star Trek games, and that is that none of them capture the exploration aspect, or at least make it fun.

2013’s Star Trek game was a poor shooter that received mediocre reviews. I never played it, but it was obviously worse than the reviews suggested it was, as it is now on Wikipedia’s Worst Games List. That’s how bad it was. It was so bad that J. J. Abrams (the director of the new Star Trek films) said he was emotionally hurt by how bad the game’s reception was. That’s how bad it was.

2013 also saw the release of Star Trek Rivals for mobile devices, which is a card game.

Last year wasn’t much better, with Star Fleet 2014 being a combat simulator (which admittedly looks like a serious simulator, but it does cost a bit for a mobile game). The other Star Trek game released last year was Star Trek: Trexels, which is supposed to be a run-of-the-mill mobile game with resource collection and whatnot. It’s free (same with Rivals) so if you like the sound of it, there’s nothing to be lost trying it.

But that’s it. And thanks to Star Trek‘s (2009) negative reception, we unfortunately won’t be seeing another Star Trek game for a while. But let’s entertain the notion.

Why Now?

The future is looking so good for space simulators, with Star Citizen slated for release in 2016, and Elite: Dangerous being released just last year.

This year, we have No Man’s Sky, which looks amazing. If you look closely, you can almost imagine it’s a one-man Star Trek mission, to explore new worlds and all that.

Sometime in the near-future, Tiny Trek will be releasing too, which isn’t shy about it’s inspiration from Star Trek. The game looks like an interactive Star Trek series, where you get to sit at the helm on your ship, and explore strange new worlds. But it never ends: like No Man’s Sky, this game is procedurally generated, so you can discover new planets comstantly. It’s in early access on Steam at the moment (you can find it here, it’s $5), but the developer promises it’ll only be there for four months, which means it’s likely to be released in April, or maybe late March if we’re lucky.

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But What Style Would A Star Trek Game Be?

Well, here’s a few ideas:

  • Telltale’s Star Trek
  • A game like FTL: Faster Than Light, but with the Starship Enterprise
  • A game like No Man’s Sky, but on a larger ship with agressive alien encounters

I mean, all of those ideas sound pretty good. But the last one sounds especially good, and I wouldn’t mind seeing what Telltale could do with relationships in space. Even in the TV show Captain Kirk faced some extreme decisions, so it wouldn’t seem that crazy for Telltale to make a game version of it.

So, Star Trek fans, what would be your ideal game set in the universe? Or if your not a Star Trek fan, what TV show or movie do you think deserves a good game?