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Review: The Secret of Monkey Island: Special Edition

August 15th, 2020

Written by: Rik

Hello there.

Hope you’re doing ok.

I’ve generously been given the title of this site’s main “review guy” based upon a blistering work rate that produces anywhere from 10-15 reviews per calendar year.

With such a reputation to maintain, I have another one for you today! It’s of a relatively modern remake of an all-time classic: The Secret of Monkey Island: Special Edition.

Review: Commander Keen in Keen Dreams

August 8th, 2020

Written by: Stoo

To be honest Rik is the main “review guy” here, I mostly just chip in with dumb blog posts about getting my ass kicked in RPGs. However, I would like to try and contribute a bit more regularly. So tonight I have another MS-DOS platform game for you. Let’s take a look at the “lost chapter” of the Commander Keen Series: Keen Dreams.


Discussion: Firewatch (spoilers!)

July 25th, 2020

Written by: Rik

Hello and welcome to the latest in our series of discussion reviews of modern indie adventure games (with spoilers).

That’s a sentence that neatly describes what we do each time, but in case you aren’t one of our legion of enthusiastic regular readers, previous instalments have seen us tackle The Vanishing of Ethan Carter, Gone Home and Her Story. Bear in mind the bit about spoilers though, before clicking on those links.

Today we’re looking at Firewatch, the 2016 adventure from developers Campo Santo. Set in 1989, you are Henry, a middle-aged man who takes a job as a lookout in the Shoshone National Forest in order to put some distance between himself and his problems.

That’s probably about as much as we want to say, unless you’ve played the game already. Here’s a short teaser trailer:

As with the other games we’ve covered in this series, Firewatch is pretty short and offers at best a gentle challenge. It also received quite a lot of critical acclaim, with which we’re both in accordance, so we’d definitely nudge you enthusiastically in its direction, if you’ve not played it already.

Otherwise, ***final spoiler warning*** for the discussion ahead!

Discussion: Firewatch (spoilers!) continued »

Moments in Gaming: Summit, Independence Pass

July 18th, 2020

Written by: Rik

Moments in Gaming is where we look back on gaming experiences that have left a particularly strong impression on us over the years: mainly for good reasons, but sometimes for bad ones.

The Rockies: the midway point of The Run, Need for Speed’s attempt at a cross-country race across America. Having battled the elements, AI opponents and police across four previous events, this section’s finale begins with our hero, Jack “Jack” Rourke, warming his hands and staring into space (and, thankfully, not talking), the road ahead blocked by a barrier. If you’re not paying full attention, the reason for the stop might pass you by, especially as the silence, and barrier, are soon destroyed by a fast-moving vehicle.

Jumping in to follow, you engage in a duel, a battle to the bottom of the mountain. No sooner have you caught up, a siren calls out, followed by a flash of flame in the sky, which confirms that those signs were indeed warning of controlled blasts being undertaken, and soon enough your battle is not just with your opponent, but with the environment, as falling ice and snow begin littering the path ahead. By the mid-point of the stage, huge black rocks are clunking onto the tarmac with the sense that your immediate surroundings are collapsing all around you.

It’s a visual feast, particularly for any gamer not fully versed in the tricks, choreography and big set-pieces of modern first-person shooters. The danger feels more real than it perhaps is, particularly at the start, although those black rocks will stop you in your tracks, and the gentle difficulty of the stage allows you to be carried along by events as if starring in a movie action sequence.

For those who remember these action sequences as realised by 90s laserdisc conversions or FMV titles, endlessly failing to remember a series of key presses or move your bobbing sprite away from a video of a closing bay door and watching ‘you died’ animations as a result, moments like this make you realise how far we’ve come.

Of course, it’s a trick that The Run doesn’t always repeat with the same level of success, and at other points there are sections that are very much in line with those experiences of the 90s as described above.

(It turns out this race was actually the one chosen for use in the demo, a move that I can’t quite understand, because it’s one of the best bits in the game, while also being a move that I can indeed understand, because it’s one of the best bits in the game.)

Still, while The Run may be a mixed bag overall, the good certainly outweighs the bad, and for those of us excited by the possibilities inferred by the original game, and Test Drive 2 prior to that, there’s an element of childhood dreams becoming reality.

(Video of your correspondent completing this event now follows:)

Review: Kick Off 3: European Challenge

July 5th, 2020

Written by: Rik

Hi there everyone.

Hope you’re doing okay.

Today’s review is Kick Off 3: European Challenge from Anco.

We’ve got a few video clips from the game too.

And, as ever, a new football game review also means a change to the standings in the FFG Football League.

I hate you, Supreme Titans

June 26th, 2020

Written by: Stoo

The other night I sat down for bit of Might and Magic 6, which I started five years ago but have not yet completed. Which may seem a bit ridiculous. Certainly this is personal record for the longest amount of time spent on a single run through a game.

The slow progress is due to the way I only intermittently give it my time. I make it my main gaming pursuit for a few weeks, and make a bit of progress. Then I put it aside for several months. This might give the impression of a game that has become a chore, something I force myself to trudge through before running out of willpower.

I won’t deny the game can be hard work. It’s taken me weeks to play through some of the larger dungeons, slogging my way through one room full of monsters at a time. It also lacks the conveniences we expect from modern RPGs – there are no map markers to tell you where to go, and fast travel is limited to a few links between towns. On top of all that is the sheer scale of it; the sort of game you can play for weeks and feel barely any closer to the end. So inevitably I’d want a break sometimes.

However, that’s all to be expected from older-school RPGs. I am in fact quite enjoying MM6, and find that it meets my requirements for exploration, questing and goblin bothering. I’m certainly determined to finish it, however long it takes, just for my own personal satisfaction. If I was fed up of it I’d have abandoned ship and churned out a review already.

The problem is more that my gaming time is limited, and I’m also easily distracted. When I do have an hour free I’m thinking do I want to play a Space Quest, or have another go at Diablo 3, or dust off a 90s shooter. Or, I’ve really been wanting to play Deus Ex: Human Revolution. There are stacks of games sat on my virtual shelves, all demanding my attention. So MM6 sometimes falls a little behind on my priority list.

Still, I’ve been making progress since I last wrote about it. My team has levelled up numerous times, gained better shiny swords and learned new spells. Most of the enemies I complained about last time are now a minor threat at most. Every time I see those damn harpies I obliterate them with fire and lightning, even the Evil Eyes are manageable.

Not that the entire game has become easy; I’m questing in new regions where far more potent enemies await. Currently the deadliest threat I have encountered are the Supreme Titans, who are bastards of the highest order.

This isn’t going well.

The Titans are massive, taller than a house. They take the forbidding appearance of ancient, armoured warriors. You’d only need to see them striding around, to guess they are heavy hitters. Indeed they can inflict grievous damage with their fists or magical attacks. Furthermore they can take an insane amount of punishment in return.

These basic factors alone would make them extremely challenging, and thus suitable foes for a high level party. Yet they have one more ability, that elevates them to true bastard status. They can fling a spell that inflicts instant death. Armour is irrelevant. Hitpoints mean nothing. Your guy just keels over stone dead.

The spell isn’t always successful; I estimate it works maybe one time in three. Yet because the titans are so durable, they will have time to cast it several times even if you blast them with everything you have. So the odds are, if you go into battle, someone’s dead within a thirty seconds. Charge into sword range: dead before can swing at them. Stand back and launch spells: watch 10% of their health fall then someone is dead. Cast a bunch of buffs on your team: more attacks land, you take 20% of their health off this time! Then someone’s dead.

Each battle is, therefore, a rather panicked business. In turn based mode it’s impossible to dodge spells and projectiles, so I can flick over to realtime, but that’s all a bit chaotic. I sometimes end up doing these ridiculous evasive manoeuvres: firing my best spells, then running in circles until my casters are ready to fire again (as written about fighting Fire Archers a looong time ago). Another tactic I found was to hide behind an obstacle like a stone obelisk firing meteor shower. This spells calls a hail of firey rocks downs from the heavens and doesn’t actually need clear line of sight. A slightly cheap trick perhaps, but one that I feel is justified in these circumstances.

I’m currently exploring the Hermit’s Isle region, a desolate desert far from civilisation, and the terrifying giants are every where. Every time I see their looming shape on the horizon I hope it’s one of their lesser cousins, the Noble Titans or just regular no-prefix Titans. Those ones are a bit less tank-like in their constitution, and more important can’t cast instant death.

Invariably though, any group will contain at least one Supreme. So I take a deep breath, check all the buffs are up (to boost hit chance, spell damage etc), and look for any bits of scenery to duck behind. If I can somehow bring this thundering colossus down, that’s fantastic but there are probably another eight or ten in the area.

I suppose I am approaching the end-game here so I should be expecting something particularly brutal. The titans are, hopefully, the toughest non-boss enemies. If not, well, I’ll probably be back in another couple of years to grumble about something else.

Review: NBA Jam: Tournament Edition

June 14th, 2020

Written by: Rik


Hope you’re all doing well, or hanging in there, at least.

Like many others, I recently watched and enjoyed The Last Dance on Netflix. I don’t know much about basketball, or US sports in general, but like all the best documentaries, I don’t think that’s necessary in order to enjoy it.

Anyway, it of course stirred memories of the NBA in the 90s, and sent me scurrying back to this DOS version of an arcade basketball favourite: NBA Jam: Tournament Edition.


Dusting off an old feature

June 5th, 2020

Written by: Stoo

Hi all.

When we started this site (nearly 20 years ago) we envisaged writing second opinions for each other’s reviews. Not that I envisaged many major disagreements (“Rik speaks lies! Zone Raiders is a classic!”), just the chance to look at games from a slightly different angle, making observations that would not have occurred to the original reviewer. After all, this is a subjective business and we all have our own point of view.

Sadly, very few of these items ever materialised. I’m not going to dwell too much on reasons why, and certainly don’t mean to be critical of Rik when he’s written a far greater number of actual reviews than I have. However, I’ve lately been tempted to return to the format. So here are a couple for you.

First up, here’s my uneducated but enthusiastic take on early-90s racing in Test Drive III.

Also, I’ve written some thoughts on the MS-DOS platform game from Epic, Jazz Jackrabbit.

More of these to come, hopefully.

Discussion: The Vanishing of Ethan Carter (spoilers!)

May 29th, 2020

Written by: Rik

Hello there.

Today we’re continuing our series of discussions of more modern indie titles. They’re not traditional reviews, as such, and we go into some detail about the specifics of the story of each, and so they’re heavily flagged for spoilers.

Previously, Jo and I have talked about the FMV mystery Her Story and the 90s-themed exploration adventure Gone Home. Today’s game is The Vanishing of Ethan Carter, developed and published by The Astronauts in 2014.

As with those other games in this discussion series, you’re probably best off not knowing too much about it before you start playing. However, the basic setup is that you are Paul Prospero, a paranormal investigator who responds to a letter from a young boy, Ethan Carter, by travelling to Ethan’s home in Red Valley Creek, Wisconsin. Here’s a short teaser trailer from the developers:

We weren’t quite as fond of this one as the previous games we discussed, but it still has plenty to recommend it, and it’s reasonably short and digestible, so do check it out if it looks like it might be of interest.

Otherwise, the usual ***spoiler warnings*** now apply, should you read any further.
Discussion: The Vanishing of Ethan Carter (spoilers!) continued »

Super off-brand Mario

May 20th, 2020

Written by: Stoo

I have a tradition that occurs about twice a year. I dust off my 3DS, tell myself this time I’ll find something to play on it, then stuff it back its bag and ignore it for another six months.

I think there are a couple of problems contributing to this neglect. Firstly, games on its online store seem rather pricey to me, a PC gamer long accustomed to Steam sales. Secondly, I’ve come to the realisation that, apart from those famous first-party series like Mario, I actually know nothing about the games on there. I’m too out of touch to know what an Animal Crossing is, have never been interested in Pokemon and am completely baffled by any jrpg that isn’t Chrono Trigger or Final Fantasy 6/7.

To this day I’ve only actually completed two games for it – Castlevania: Dawn of Sorrow (actually for the older DS) and Legend of Zelda: A Link Between Worlds. Both of them were pretty great but I might have to just admit I’m not going to get much more use out of this device. I’m otherwise too dedicated to the PC, and my Steam and GOG backlogs are too lengthy. My interest in consoles remains limited to the 8 and 16 bit days.

Still, the 3DS can at least cater to this nostalgia for a short while, thanks to its virtual console. The classic games are also pricey (compare to GOG stuff of similar vintage) and the lack of SNES games is inexcusable but it does have a decent library of NES and Gameboy games. So I was rooting around trying to remember what I’d bought several years ago, and found myself on Super Mario Land.

It was probably had the second-highest profile of any Gameboy game, after the almighty Tetris. I’m sure many of us could hum the music to stage one. Yet I’ve always found something about it to be weirdly distracting. It has most of the familiar Mario features – mushrooms, head stomping, bashing blocks from underneath. Yet there are also a bunch of little differences that feel out of place.

The fire flower is renamed “power ball” and works differently. The koopas don’t leave shells for you to kick; rather they explode like a bob-omb. In some levels it turns into an side-scrolling shooter. Worlds are themed on real life locations; so we get ancient egypt in one, China in another. Also Easter Island statues, which have an otherworldly quality wherever you see them (part of why they are so fascinating), but are just plain odd in a Mario game.

The primitive nature of the graphics, even by Gameboy standards, adds an extra layer weirdness to it all. The faux-koopas are barely recognisable, and I was never quite sure if that’s a mouse with big ears or a fly with wings, attacking you on the first level (it’s the latter).

The overall effect is a bit like playing some kind of knock-off; like someone copied Mario but threw in random ideas of their own. Still worth playing for a bit, but even if it’s quite brief I doubt I’ll ever bother making it to the end.

I also downloaded the sequel, which feels much more like a proper Mario game. The artwork looks a lot better, probably because developers had learned how to squeeze more out of the Gameboy’s meagre hardware. Add to that the inclusion of a flying powerup, and levels joined by a map screen, and it’s clearly following the lineage of Super Mario Bros 3 and Super Mario World.

So it’s a reason to keep the DS out of storage for the rest of the week, at least.