Castlevania

Contrary to Konami developers, this castle’s architects had no idea what they were doing.

Game Name: Castlevania (1986)
Developer: Konami (Gyrus, Gradius, Contra)
Platform: Family Computer Disk System (original), NES, Arcade, C64, Amiga, MS-DOS, Windows, Game Boy Advance, Mobile Phones, Nintendo DS, MSX2, Atari 2600  (reviewed on NES emulation)
Categories: NES Classic, Side Scrolling Platformer, Pitfalls, Power-Ups, Meticulous Level Design, Multi-Stage, Catchy Soundtrack, Medieval Castle Dungeon, Delayed Player Input, Life Bar, Hidden Items, One-Hit Minions, Vampires and Universal Movie Monsters, Overlapping Enemy Patterns, Infinite Tries, No Saves, Punishing Difficulty

May Appeal To: leather wearers, 17th century tailors, S&M enthusiasts, lion tamers, and those that chow down on pork chops discovered in the very walls of gothic castles.
May Repulse: sun shunners, neck biters, atheists, anti-reflectionists, those with a garlic allergy, and anyone requiring explicit permission to enter a domicile or who felt compelled to cart a coffin of dirt from their country of origin.

Comparable To: its descendants. Castlevania II has inferior design, pacing, art direction, music, and level layout. Symphony Of The Night empowers the player instead of crippling them, though it showcased a complex map and bestowed personality upon the very environment with attractive sprites and surprises. Castlevania 64 reeks of the early push to convert popular side-scrolling platformers into 3D, low-poly, shitty-camera shadows of their former selves. Lament Of Innocence and Curse Of Darkness successfully hone this newer perspective, added more to the strategic RPG experience with customizable summons or inventory management, and offer spatial reasoning challenges as well as a new focus on exploration. Portrait of Ruin was considerably easier for me, though the loads of maps and the dual-character system prove to be fun, diversionary mechanics in hindsight.

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Rampage

“Cut out that racket. I’m trying to FISH.” – Man with a mermaid  in his boat.

Game Name: Rampage (1986)
Developer: Bally Midway (Mortal Kombat, Cruis’n USA, Spy Hunter)
Platform: Arcade, Sega Master System, NES, Atari Lynx, Amstrad CPC, ZX Spectrum, C64, Amiga, Atari ST, Atari 260 (reviewed on an NES emulator)
Categories: Arcade Port, 2D Side View, No Scrolling, Giant Monsters, Button Masher, City Smasher, Tank Trasher, High Scores, Infinite Lives, Multiplayer (co-op/competitive hybrid), 100+ Levels, No Saves, Great Localization, Bad Ending

May Appeal To: Godzilla fans…. excuse me “Gojira” fans, King Kongers, social gamers, digital marathoners, Americana tourists, home-grown 80’s nostalgic terrorists.
May Repulse: PETA, irresponsible corporations, challenge seekers, soloists, arcade diehards, cartographers, city planners, and members of the organized armed forces.

Comparable To: an early proof-of-concept for Smash Brothers, baby’s first Primal Rage, and Godzilla: King of the Monsters but with expressive characterizations. Lastly, let’s throw in GTA’s wanton abandonment of social mores in a city setting. Continue reading

Luftrausers

Simple concept: win the war by throwing a lone zombie daredevil pilot with a vision disorder headlong into a grid of enemy tracer fire. Brilliant!

Game Name: Luftrausers (2014)
Developer: Vlambeer (Nuclear Throne, Ridiculous Fishing, Yeti Hunter)
Platform: PC, Mac, Linux, PS3, Vita, Android (reviewed on Vita)
Categories: Shoot ’em Up, Bullet Hell, Inertia Physics, 2D Looping Scroller, MonoChrome, Minimalist, Unlockables, Crazy Plane Combinations, Short Sessions, WWII Propoganda Newsreel, Chinese Shadow Puppetry Visuals, Looping Audio, Repetition, Impossible Mode, Indie Production Values, Addictive

May Appeal To: would-be ace pilots, the deaf, gamers on the go, and the twitchy.
May Repulse: actual WWII pilots, the colorblind, depth divers, and the sluggish.

Comparable To: a fast paced R-Type, a less demanding Stardust, or an immensely simplistic Enter The Gungeon. This game has the looping battle arena of Odin Sphere, the anachronistic experimental tech of the classic 194X series, and the general layout/feel of a beefed up Asteroids with gravitational pull. Continue reading

Odin Sphere: Leifthrasir

Sweep the leg. No mercy!

Game Name: Odin Sphere: Leifthrasir (original 2007, re-master 2016)
Developer: Vanillaware (Dragon’s Crown, Grim Grimoire, Muramasa Rebirth)
Platform: PS2 (original), PS3, PS4, Vita, (reviewed on Vita)
Categories: Sidescrolling Reflex-Based Combat, Top-Tier Art Execution, 2D Exploration, Map Node Dungeons, Focused Combat Skill Progression, MOB Juggling/Crowd Control, Challenging Bosses, Casually Epic Story, Multiple Vantage Points, Extensive Voice-over Dialogue, Immersive and Engaging World, Extreme Inventory Management, Masterful Port

May Appeal To: button mashers, RPG addicts, art critics, Vanillaware fanbois, nostalgics, completionists, and introspectively deliberate story appreciators.
May Repulse: women’s liberation advocates, stat-crunchers, and brevity seekers.

Comparable To: the sultry hand-drawn visuals of Dragon’s Crown but minimal sexualized characters and situations. Odin Sphere: Lift-raiser has the sounds and story-telling mechanics of Grim Grimoire and bears similarities to Darkest Dungeon’s navigation. I’m not crazy, but the battle mini-map plays out like classic Defender and you slurp life essences out of the air like Soul Reaver. Continue reading

Wizardry VI: Bane of the Cosmic Forge

I don’t…. I mean….. How is…. Alright fine, whatever.

Game Name: Wizardy VI: Bane of the Cosmic Forge (1990)
Developer: Sir-Tech (Jagged Alliance 2, Wizardry 8, Freakin’ Funky Fuzzballs)
Platform: AmigaOS, MS-DOS, SNES, Mac OS, NEC PC-9801 and FM Towns according to Wikipedia, whatever those are (reviewed on PC via DOSBox)
Categories: 1st Person Dungeon Crawler, Custom 6 Person Humanoid Team, Old Skool Fantasy RPG, Movement Grid, Turn-Based Battles, Vendors/NPCs, Deep Spell System, Sprawling Labyrinthine Locales, Dialogue via Word Parser, Traps and Loot, Punishing Difficulty, Archaic Presentation, DIY Mapping, DIY Quest Notes/Tracking, DIY Item Juggling and Stat Cataloguing, Multiple Classes, Multiple Endings (sort of)

May Appeal To: senior citizens, codgers, curators, dinosaurs, dotards, fogeys, fossils, geezers, grandfathers, greybeards, old timers, patriarchs, and those with an unusually severe computer budget. I’m kidding around but this game is really showing its age.
The cartography is quaint and amusing while epic completionists looking to export their party across the Dark Savant trilogy will want to start here.
May Repulse: anyone with eyeballs, ear holes, or sensibilities. Wizardry 6 lacks post-90s conventions and by no means should be played on its own without ulterior motive.

Comparable To: the overall feel of Wizardry 7, Bard’s Tale, and The Dark Spire. Wizardry: Tales of the Forsaken Land, Strange Journey, and the Etrian Odyssey series are all superior versions of the same style of grid-based first-person dungeon crawling. Wizardry 8 and Legend of Grimrock take obvious cues from Wizardry 6 though have splintered off in considerably different directions. I couldn’t help but think of King’s Field and Shadow Tower as being inspired by this game despite a lack of similarities. Continue reading