Game Opinion Summaries: Digital-Only Nintendo 3DS Games, Part 5: K-L

Yes, it’s not a mirage, it’s an actual videogame article!  I finally got the next part of this series done.  The article should be complete now.  I cover some interesting stuff this time.

Table of Contents
K-L – 20 games

Kami
Karous: The Beast of Re-Eden
Keep, The
Kid Tripp
Kingdom’s Item Shop
Kirby Fighters Deluxe
Kirby’s Blowout Blast
League of Heroes
Legend of Dark Witch 2, The
Legend of Dark Witch III: Wisdom and Lunacy, The
Legend of Dark Witch, The
Legend of Kusakari, The
Liberation Maiden
Lifespeed
Link-A-Pix Color
Lionel City Builder 3D: Rise of the Rails
Love Hero
Gal Galaxy Pain
Queen TV-Game 2, The
Luxor

 

The Summaries

 

Kami – Developed by Flyhigh Works (for 3DS) and State of Play (for the original iOS release) and published by CIRCLE Entertainment in 2015.  Kami is a puzzle game where you need to make a screen all one color.  The game is a port of an earlier mobile game of the same name.  The screen starts out with a bunch of different colored blocks, with a Japanese paper-folding visual theme, and you choose from the colors in the image and touch blocks in order to change that colored area to that color.  Make the field the same color as the screen border and you beat the stage. Once differently colored blocks are changed to become the same color they merge into a larger block of color.  This game is a lot like another puzzle game I covered earlier, Color Zen, but this game is a bit different in that you don’t move objects around on the screen in this game and have to end with one specific color as the color of the whole screen.  I think that overall I like Color Zen a little more, but Kami is also pretty good.  This is a solid, simple logic puzzle game.

The main catch that makes this game tough is that you have a move limit, and must complete the stage in either that number of moves or one more than that target.  You get a better medal for hitting the upper target, a lesser medal for the lower target, and fail and have to retry if you take any more turns than that.  The game starts out easy, but after a while it gets pretty hard to figure out what order to color each color zone in in order to make the whole field the same color.  This is a tricky logic puzzle game that will keep you coming back for some time.  It’s good and I recommend it for anyone who like this kind of game.  Also released digitally on iOS and PC/ Mac (Steam).


Karous: The Beast of Re-Eden
– Developed by RS34 and published by CIRCLE Entertainment in 2015.  The original Karous is a shmup for the Dreamcast, and later also Gamecube (in Japan) and Wii, from the developer Milestone.  Milestone was an okay but somewhat average shmup developer, and I never really liked their games.  Still, when this 3DS title using the Karous name was released I picked it up eventually.  Unfortunately, don’t expect much from this game because you won’t get anything really worth playing.  The original Karous was a subpar, but standard, tate shmup.  This game, however, changes things up.  It instead has a mission-based design with levelling and experience and such.  So, yes, it puts grind into shmups.  Thanks?

Going for a gameplay window the size of the 3DS’s upper screen makes sense, though it does greatly reduce forwards visibility as your ship is quite large.  This is a vertical-scrolling shooter, and there are no stage obstacles to avoid in the levels, only enemies and their bullets.  That is normal for this kind of shooter, but this one has much less interesting enemy patterns than a better shmup.  Indeed, the boring stages and grind-heavy gameplay are much less sensible decisions than the new screen shape is.  In the between-missions menu you can buy upgrades for your ship and choose a mission.  There are a lot of missions, though gameplay-wise they are all very similar: fly forward and shoot stuff.  After you are done, whether you beat the stage or die, you return to base and get some money to spend on rewards.  You get more rewards for winning than losing, of course, but you get some either way as you try to level up enough to actually survive.  You will survive better as you get better stuff, but I don’t think that playing the same boring, empty levels over and over to get to that point is at all worth it.  Not recommended, this game is not good. Nintendo 3DS digital exclusive.

 

The Keep – Developed and published by Cinemax (no, not the TV station) in 2014.   The Keep is a first-person dungeon crawler RPG, in the classic Western dungeon crawler style. This game has real-time action-ish combat, so it is not a purely menu-based affair.  You play as a guy who is exploring a dungeon in order to try to save the locals from the evil wizard holed up within. The game has decent background art, but the character art’s kind of mediocre and the main character guy is a bit odd looking.  He doesn’t look like your stereotypical selfless hero, heh.  The plot is okay, though, and there are some cutscenes.  Regardless, this genre isn’t known for its stories but its gameplay, and the gameplay here is alright.  In the classic first person dungeon crawler style the game has plenty of dungeons to explore, with puzzles, traps, and monsters to fight within, along with story scenes here and there.  This is certainly a modern game, in that it is pretty kind to the player early on and you should be able to progress steadily. I am fine with that; real ’80s to early ’90s PC dungeon crawlers were often insanely hard and grindey.  I prefer this, myself.  You can’t even really grind here, enemies are preset and don’t randomly generate as you go around.  I like this design.

While you are exploring, you will use both the d-pad or analog stick and the touchscreen. The upper screen shows where you are, with nice stereoscopic 3d depth to the visuals as you would expect. The lower screen has your inventory and interface.  A touchscreen is perfect for RPG inventory management, and indeed you will use it for that.  Additionally, one button gives you a cursor to move around the upper screen, in order to interact with things there when you want to push a button or lever or what have you. It’s just like having a mouse except on the 3DS and works well.  When it comes to combat, as I said, this game is real-time.  So, you can kite enemies by attacking them, backing up, waiting for them to move towards you, and repeating this process.  Does this make many enemies in this game kind of brokenly easy to fight if you master the technique, perhaps, but still I find it fun.  You have a variety of regular weapons to use, but also will get magic runes.  If you place the runes in your magic panel in the correct order, as shown in magic spell scrolls you collect, you then can cast that spell by opening the magic panel and activating those runes in that order with the cursor.  It’s a simple but fun magic system which is fun enough to use.

Overall, The Keep is a good game.  This straightforward, classic first person dungeon crawler will have you traveling through dungeons, looking for switches and fighting monsters as you try to defeat the evil wizard. The game certainly is on the easier side for its genre, but given how crushingly hard many dungeon crawlers are, having one that isn’t like that is a very nice option. And there isn’t even any grinding!  Sure, the graphics are bland and the charcter art not very good, but the gameplay beyond those visuals more than makes up for it.  I like this game and would recommend it, it’s above average.  Digital exclusive.  Also available on PC/Mac (Steam) and on Nintendo Switch.  This game is the kind of title that’s certainly more fun portably than on a PC and it makes good use of the 3d effect and touchscreen on the 3DS, so get it on this system while you can.  Also released digitally on PC/Mac (Steam) and Nintendo Switch.  This 3DS release is probably the best version due to making great use of the stylus and 3d effect.


Kid Tripp
– Developed and published by Four Horses in 2017. This game is an auto-runner platformer originally released on mobile, as you might expect. The same developer would go on to make another similar but improved game that mostly drops the forced autorunning, Miles & Kilo, but unfortunately this one is an autorunner.  You are the boy Kid Tripp, and while flying along in your biplane you get blasted by a flaming attack and are shot down on a tropical island. All of the animals in the area are fleeing in fear, and you join them in running away. The game has decently done, if generic, 2d sprite art graphics with stereoscopic 3d depth.  As you run along the game uses two buttons, one for jump and one for a ranged throwing attack.  You can also do a head tilt forward charge-ish thing by pressing forward. Beyond that, it’s just up to you to memorize each level enough to actually get to the end without dying. Completing stages here will take memorization, because you will need very good timing to make the jumps and attacks without dying. Some jumps are just basic platform-to-platform jumps, but others involve having to bounce off of enemies with very precise timing both in the jump and in the approach in order to make it over some pits without falling into the water and losing a life.  The game is alright, but very frustrating at times as you move somewhat quickly and many situations cannot be discerned without dying, perhaps repeatedly, until you get the timing right.  This game is alright I guess if you like dying a lot because of getting the timing wrong, but I’d call it definitely below average overall mostly because of how annoying autorunning is.  I greatly prefer being able to stop and take jumps at my own time to having to deal with always moving forward in a platformer.  Automatic movement works in shmups, but it does NOT work in platformers. Still, it’s maybe worth a look, though Miles & Kilo is better.  First released digitally on iOS in 2013; digital releases on 3DS, PlayStation 4, Xbox One, PlayStation Vita, Nintendo Switch, and enhancements for the Xbox Series X have followed.

 

Kingdom’s Item Shop – Developed by PUMO and published by CIRCLE Entertainment in 2016.  This game is an RPG-lite with a lot of crafting and some light economic-sim elements. In this game you play as a boy or girl running an item shop in a fantasy world.  The catch is, you don’t just sell stuff; instead, you have to go into dangerous areas to collect the component parts for the items you will sell.  However, you aren’t a fighter and don’t go into dungeons alone.  Instead, you hire heroes to fight for you and follow behind them, telling them some basic commands and collecting the items defeated enemies drop.  Each area is a linear path made up of a series of fights, and once you defeat each enemy you move on to the next screen and the next battle.  Your heroes automatically fight, but you can tell them to defend or attack with the buttons.  This is important because in defensive mode they will take less damage, and you want to try to keep them alive because once knocked out they won’t come back that run.  The battle system is simple, but the commands are enough to keep battles a bit interesting, and running around collecting items and avoiding enemy attacks while your party fights actually is fun.  The issue is, the items enemies drop, and the enemies you fight, is somewhat randomized, so getting specific rarer parts requires a lot of grind as you replay the same handful of areas over and over and over.

Once you return to town, you can go to your shop and choose what you are putting out to sell, go to several crafting shops where you try to combine the items you have into new better items, or try to do missions for people.  In both the missions and crafting shops you are given a clue about the item in question, and need to figure out what it is.  Crafters will give you a vague hint suggesting what items you need to combine to succeed at the combination, and the mission messages give a little bit of plot hinting at what item the person wants, but you need to figure out what items are required on your own.  The early combinations are easy enough to figure out and for quite some time I was having fun with this game, but eventually the clues get extremely cryptic.  I do not enjoy crafting much, so it was about at that point, late in the game, when I gave up; the remaining item combinations are just too hard to guess, and getting the supplies to keep trying is extremely grindey.  Even so, despite the heavy crafting focus and simple design, I like something about this game and keep going back to it.  I recommend this game if it sounds interesting.  Nintendo 3DS digital exclusive.

 

Kirby Fighters Deluxe – Developed by HAL and published by Nintendo in 2014.  Kirby Fighters Deluxe is a spinoff Kirby game, based on a minigame from one of the main series titles.  The game has decent stereoscopic 3d effects and nice, classically HAL graphics, but there is very little reason to buy or play it.  The game is one of several fighting game spinoffs of the Kirby franchise; there are two different fighting game with RPG elements Kirby spinoff series, for some reason.  This one is simple, probably too simple. I know this is a cheap downloadable game, but still, you don’t get much here.  This game is incredibly similar to a Smash Bros. game, except with only Kirby with a variety of powers, and instead of having to knock the other players off the screen you win by just depleting their health bars.  The controls here feel taken straight out of Smash Bros. more so than a 3DS Kirby game, since you have limited flight sadly.

For characters, again, there is only Kirby.  The game has a decent selection of different Kirby powers, maybe ten or so total.  You choose one each time before you start; you can’t take powers from the others, but instead just have your current power for the current run through the game.  For modes the game has a single player mode and a multiplayer mode.  The single player is a standard fighting game-style tournament with about eight rounds. Most are against various Kirbies or groups of Kirbies, some of them 1 on 1 fights and some 2 on 1 or 1 on 2 team matches, and two are boss fights.  The length is about right for a fighting game, as in short, and there are four or five difficulty options which do a pretty good job of changing the challenge level.  On the top setting, this game is honestly challenging. However, that’s all you get for modes unless you have friends with 3DSes, because this game does NOT have online play. Instead, the multiplayer is local only. Good luck playing that ever. Overall, Kirby Fighters Deluxe is a mid-tier game, expanded from the minigame it is based on but with a lot fewer features than its later Switch followup. I can’t recommend buying it unless you are a Kirby completionist.  It’s fun enough for a few minutes, but what’s the point of this being its own game?  Just play Smash.  Sure, this has a few Kirby abilitites and environments you won’t find in Smash, but even so, it is just a cut-rate, very feature-reduced Smash knockoff by Smash’s original developer.  Probably don’t bother getting this.  Nintendo 3DS digital exclusive, technically.  This game has a sequel on the Switch, which is also a digital-only release.

 

Kirby’s Blowout Blast – Developed by HAL and published by Nintendo in 2017.  Kirby’s Blowout Blast is a great little isometric side/overhead view 3d action-platform game with very nice stereoscopic 3d effects. As with most of the downloadable Kirby games, this game is an expanded idea based on a minigame from a previous main-series Kirby game. This game was visually inspired by the original Kirby’s Dream Land, which is great. The game looks fantastic with a very nostalgic look, all the enemies and settings of the original game return here. The gameplay is quite different, though. As in that game you play as Kirby and while you can swallow and spit out enemies, you don’t get powers from them.

However, that is where the similarities end. Here your goal is not just to walk, jump, and fly to the end of each level. Instead, it is to defeat all of the enemies, either by swallowing them yourself or by spitting other enemies at them. While this game has some platform jumping, the main focus here is on the combat rooms, areas where enemies attack you and you cannot proceed until they are all defeated. You are scored on your performance in each area, getting more points for getting more kills with a single attack than you do for having to kill each enemy individually. This game is very short, but as with all of the downloadable Kirby games on the 3DS it has good replay value if you want to try to get better scores and rankings in the levels, there is plenty to try to optimize as you try to use fewer attacks and take more enemies out with each blast.

Overall, this is a great and charming game and it’s a definite must-play. The game is simple and straightforward, hence the short summary here, but is extremely fun and rewarding. Of the digital-only 3DS Kirby games this one is by far the best. This game is simple, but it is probably one of the best download-only games on the 3DS and is something everyone with a 3DS should definitely buy. It’s a fun and charming game with good fun gameplay and is plenty of fun. The difficulty is well-balanced too, with easy play for low grades but more challenge for someone who wants to get more points. Buy this game while it is still for sale. Nintendo 3DS digital exclusive.

 

League of Heroes – Developed and published by Gamelion in 2014.  This game is a simple, and not very good, overhead 2d action-RPG. Quite relevantly it is a mobile port. You play as a warrior adventurer guy off on a quest to join the League of Heroes and save the world. The game has nice, well-drawn cartoony graphics with solid use of stereoscopic 3d, but the gameplay is extremely basic and subpar and the controls feel pretty bad. You start in a little town area. There are an equipment seller, an items seller, a guy who gives you new abilities if you have unlocked some, a guy who has quests to complete, and that’s about it. Oh, and while the main game uses stick-and-button controls, all townsperson menus are touch input only for some reason. It’s kind of annoying, use one or the other, not both like this! And that list may make the game sound better than it is, because basically everything in this game is randomly generated, and while there isn’t any paid DLC in this version, they left in some of the real-world timers! It’s just awful. So, once you leave town you go to a world map. Here you can either choose the current randomly-generated stage, or go to a special quest stage if you can based on the current timer. And yeah, that’s about your only options, and 99% of the time only the one random stage as an actual choice you can choose. Games should not rely this heavily on random generation, it very heavily drags them down.

Once you enter the stage, you will find that each level is a smallish rectangular area with scattered enemies and breakable objects or chests with items in them. You complete the stage by killing all enemies. Some areas are just a rectangle with objects randomly scattered around while others follow a more railed path, but either way there is no actual beginning or end to the level, it’s just a space with whatever monster types are present in this stage. While overly simplistic this could be decent if the game was actually fun to play, but it isn’t, at all. To fight these monsters, you have a wide assortment of abilities to use… or not. Nope, you have a sword button and a ranged throwing weapon button, and that’s it. You can’t guard, or use any other skills, or anything, only sword and throw attack. All of the abilitites that you can purchase after reaching certain levels are passives. It’s pretty lame, particularly when combat feels this terrible. Movement, which is done with the analog stick, feels okay, but your weapon feels utterly weightless, like the worst of mobile game controls brought to the 3DS for some reason. The throwing attack is okay, but you have limited ammo and need to purchase replenishment of it from the shop so you can’t rely on it all of the time.

And as for those quests, they feel like they might be randomly generated as well. And if they aren’t they are the most generic boring things ever. Get ready to … get a quest where you have to buy something from one of the shopkeepers? Huh? And while most of this game is mind-numbingly easy and actually dying is hard, some quests even can be borderline impossible, such as if you get a quest to kill a certain number of some enemy type but it isn’t giving you stages with that enemy in them for a while. This game is poorly designed like that. Overall, League of Heroes is a bad game. The graphics are nice, and it tries to be amusing with its writing, but with awful-feeling combat, no depth, completely random boring levels with zero character, no gameplay other than walking around and whacking monsters, and mobile game timers still present even though you can’t pay to get around them in this version, League of Heroes is one to definitely skip. I dislike mobile games and titles like this are a good example of why.  This is probably the weakest title covered in this update.  The graphics are the only thing good about this otherwise awful borefest.    Also released digitally on Android and iOS, but this is the only console version of the game.

 

The Legend of Dark Witch – Developed by Inside System and published by CIRCLE Entertainment in 2014.  The Legend of Dark Witch is a 2d platform-action game.  This was the first game in a franchise that would see about a half dozen releases over the years, four of them on the 3DS.  Three are platformers, and the rest other genres.  I covered the one spinoff released on 3DS, the action-RPG Brave Dungeon, earlier.  The games are okay, though there is something about them I’ve never liked all that much.  This game isn’t bad, but there is just something about it, and its sequels, that makes me not want to play it.  I just have trouble trying to figure out exactly what that is. Regardless, some will like these games. In this game you play as a goddess I guess, or she’s described as such, though for a god she sure dies easily.  She is the “dark witch” of the title, Zizou Olympia. The cast is entirely female.  The series has an anime fantasy setting with a lot of modern elements. The scripts in all three games are poorly translated, to the point of sometimes being borderline unintelligible.  The gameplay here is one part Mega Man, one part shmup, and one very large part generic mediocrity.  As in Mega Man, each game has eight bosses that you can fight in any order. Most are new in each game but some of the anime girls you fight return in later games. You do get something from each boss you beat, but also get magic points which you can spend on upgrades in a shop between levels.

In addition to that, these games have a Gradius-style powerup system and a magic meter for your basic attacks.  As you use regular attacks the magic meter depletes, and more powerful spells use more magic so using them will deplete the meter more quickly.  You will need to wait for it to recharge after that, which is annoying. Mega Man style item meters are probably better.  As for the Gradius-style powerup system, it works fine, and I love Gradius and its powerup system, but I don’t know if it was a good idea here.  From this meter you add things like higher jump height and float and more powerful shots added to your attack.  It is nice when you are powered up, but don’t die or you both go back to the last checkpoint and are reset to default.  As much as I love Gradius, here it’s just kind of … there.  Having this be the way you get these powerups in this game is just … eh, it’s there.  Okay. I get why it’s here, with how many bullets are on screen sometimes there are some shmup elements to the gameplay here so why not a shmup powerup system too, but I don’t know how necessary it is.

One of the major issues with these games is the difficulty balance.  You die in only a few hits here, and losing health is easy because the level designs are loaded with enemies attacking you from unexpected directions.  There is a tightly timed blocking mechanic if you hit Down just before a bullet hits you, but it’s tricky to get right.  The enemy placements are not quite Valis levels of bad, but it’s pretty annoying.  This game requires a significant amount of memorization to get through. You can upgrade your health in the shop, but initially you get only three or four hits. It is also easy to lose lives by missing jumps, since many jumps require very tight timing to make, and upon game over you have to restart the current level.  Now, these games have four difficulty levels.  They generally default to the second of the four, which is a moderate challenge but not too bad.  Go up to difficulty three, though, and now enemies never drop health powerups, and your only healing will be magic items you bought in the shop before the level began.  That is a pretty ridiculous thing to do in a game this loaded with enemies shooting at you!

The background graphics are another issue with this game.  Each level begins with a section without any background detail.  You have a starfield behind and shaded blocks for all platforms, and basic enemies that look the same in every level, and that’s it.  At some point you eventually get far enough to see the actual stage, which is a relief.  The regular stage graphics are okay, decently average 2d sprite art, but the beginning sections before you get the real stage graphics look pretty bad.  I really don’t understand why all three games have them, they are NOT a good idea.

The game has some more systems, and you can unlock a second playable character by beating it, but I’ve never gotten anywhere close, or wanted to.  This game is way too hard to be fun on the default setting.  Memorization-heavy platform-action, as much about shooting as it is anything else, can be great fun, but here I do not find it interesting or enjoyable.  The game isn’t BAD, but the constant dying and returning to the incredibly boring looking first part of the level I’m on does not make me want to keep going, not when nothing about the game gets above average.  There may be more here if you get into it, but I don’t like this game very much.  Objectively it’s average though.

Also available on PC (Steam). There is also a Remastered version of this game on PC (Steam), PlayStation Vita, and Nintendo Switch, which is basically the same as the original but with redone, higher resolution graphics.

 

The Legend of Dark Witch 2: The Price of Desire – Developed by Inside System and published by CIRCLE Entertainment in 2015.  The second game in this series is very similar to the original. Really, this is basically more of the same, with no major changes from the first one.  So, again this game is a slightly Mega Man-esque platformer with almost shmup levels of bullet dodging and firing mixed in.  You do have some interesting options in this game to adjust how the screen scroll works, and can use the ZL and ZR buttons of a New 3DS or 3DS second stick addon to map some more functions that are annoying to use otherwise, but for the most part this is just more Dark Witch, for people who liked the first one.  The new abilities may add a bit to this game, though it does add a bit to the complexity, and the business of the lower-screen display.  Once again there are four difficulty levels, though it defaults to a slightly easier one than the first game so if you play on that setting you will actually beat stages.  I guess that’s nice, but that doesn’t make the game actually better, it’s still extremely mediocre and sometimes annoying.

This game is also available digitally on PC (Steam).

 

The Legend of Dark Witch III: Wisdom and Lunacy – Developed by Flyhigh Works and published by CIRCLE Entertainment in 2017.  In this third and final Dark Witch platformer on the 3DS, you once again play as Zizou Olympia the god or witch or whatever in a very mediocre platform-action game. This time things are similar, but simplified.  A bunch of things have been removed from this game in the name of simplicity and easier play. The interesting ‘adjust the screen scroll’ menu system from the second game is removed.  There is less stuff on the lower screen display menu this time than before.  You start with fewer abilities than the second game, as well, so while this game supports ZL and ZR they have no function at first, unlike that game.  Your only other ability at the start is a new melee-range charge attack on the R button. You don’t get new shot types from beating bosses, so one of the key Mega Man elements of this game is gone.  The blocking mechanic is gone.  And while the game does have different difficulty levels, you cannot select them at first; you start in the default setting and only unlock more by beating it.  So yeah, those are probably downgrades, though it does make the game easy to get into.

Here’s a questionable thing about this game.  Remember what I said about poor translation work in these games? Well, it’s no better here than before. It might actually be worse, in fact.  This game has a sub-menu with art of the (as usual all anime female) characters, unlocking as you reach them.  The first one is for the main character Zizou, and on the right you see art of her wearing shorts as she does in the first two games, then on the right there is art of a dress.  Not her in a dress, just the clothing.  The subtitle text says that she had shorts before to show how she is kind of a tomboy but they tried something more feminine, does it work?  And yeah that’s a pretty strange sentiment, Japan has some questionable views on gender.  But even beyond that, I don’t think the actual sprite in this game is wearing a skirt, I think it’s the shorts outfit on the left.  So I have no idea what they are talking about unless there’s something unlockable later on.

Other than that though, beyond the simplification or removal of some elements of the more complex previous games, the rest of this game is the same as before.  Once again, you walk and jump to the right, use a Gradius-style powerup system, buy upgrades between stages, endure the visually boring first section of each level before you get to actual graphics, and try to learn the jumps and enemy placements so that you survive to the boss.  With all of its simplifications this game is the easiest of the three to get into, so despite being the last one maybe start with this game if you want to try a Dark Witch game, before tackling the previous titles.  But with the subpar level designs and often annoying gameplay I’m not sure that I’d really recommend any of them.  These games are probably just barely below average overall, closer to bad than good.  But I’m sure there are some people who will like them, if blending platforming with bullet-heavy shmuplike elements sounds interesting, so maybe try one.

This game is a Nintendo 3DS digital exclusive.  It does not have any ports, unlike the previous two titles.

 

The Legend of Kusakari – Developed by Librage and published by Nnooo in 2016.  This game is a top-down puzzle-action game where your goal is to cut down all of the tall grass in each level.  This game is set in fantasy Japan during a war between humans and monsters, and you are a random villager guy who decides to help out the cause by … cutting the tall grass, so the soldiers can fight unimpeded by tall grasses.  Yeah, that is the plot. The story may be silly, but unfortunately the gameplay here gets boring quickly.  This is an easy and straightforward game. In each level you move around, cutting grass.  You have two different types of cuts, one which just cuts straight ahead and another better one that cuts all around you.  The first doesn’t have more range, so I’m not entirely sure why there are two, the circular cut is almost always what you want to use.  You also have a run button for faster movement.  And lastly you have a health meter which depletes both when you get hit but also somewhat from cutting grass or walking in certain dangerous terrain types.

In each map there may be enemies, but they don’t go after you; instead, they move along preset paths, as in a Frogger game, and you need to learn their routes to avoid them.  There are also various different terrain types, some of which damage you to walk through them or make you move slowly.  Each level is fairly small and takes only a minute or two to finish.  You do get graded on each level based on how quickly and well you did, but I don’t know if you get anything for getting a better grade.  This game is easy and fairly short, and doesn’t really have much replay value unless you really want to go back to levels to get better times.  I can see that potentially being interesting, there is plenty you could do to work on routing through the stages, but I don’t know if anyone would put in the effort. I won’t, I just don’t find this game anywhere near fun enough to try.  The concept is solid, but it’s too slow and boring to hold my interest.  Also, there are no online leaderboards or anything. overall I do not recommend The Legend of Kusakari, it’s an okay but somewhat boring game that I would say is slightly below average and probably won’t hold many peoples’ attention for very long.  Nintendo 3DS digital exclusive.

 

Liberation Maiden – Developed by Grasshopper Manufacture and published by Level-5 in 2012.  Liberation Maiden is a mostly 2.5d shmup of sorts from Suda51’s Grasshopper Manufacture.  This game is a mini-game of sorts, as it was apparently originally published in Japan as a part of a compilation.  In the West it is sold on its own, but it’s a cheap game.  This game is fairly short and easy, but is quite fun while it lasts.  You play as a teenage girl who was just elected President of New Japan, which of course means that it’s time to get in your flying mecha vehicle and save the country from evil invading forces yourself, because that’s what Presidents do, right?  Heh.  The story is not exactly the main draw here, the action is, but it’s decent enough.  This game is played with both controller and stylus simultaneously.  The upper screen shows your view, and the lower is a map and your touch pad.  You fly around with the analog stick, dpad, or face buttons, and aim and fire with the touchpad with a cursor you control via touch.  The game has a tilted, almost-overhead view and in regular levels you only can move on a 2d plane.  As a result, even though this game has nice polygonal 3d graphics and makes good use of the system’s stereoscopic 3d effect, gameplay is mostly two dimensional as you cannot fly up or down.  This keeps the game simple, approachable, and fun.

As you fly around, plenty of targets appear and will try to shoot at you.  So, target them with the stylus by moving the cursor over those enemies, then lift up the stylus to fire at them.  It’s a nice take on the lock-on-targeting style of shmup or rail shooter design, except here you can freely fly around.  The controls work great, and since you control the targeting cursor it entirely avoids the frustration of the extremely specific targeting cursor of games like Xevious or RayForce.  You also get a second weapon which attacks just by holding the stylus on an enemy.  You can also go into strafing mode by holding a shoulder button, to circle around an enemy.  The controls are simple and easy to get used to, and the game is plenty fun as you fly around blasting enemies while dodging their attacks.  Many enemies take multiple hits to kill, and as in most shooters with a targeting system you can lock on to multiple targets at once.  You can even lock on to many of the missiles shooting at you, which is a nice way to not take damage.  You can take a decent amount of damage without dying, though. Bosses switch to a tube-ish view instead, where you circle around the enemy and now can move up and down.  They may take a bit of practice, but it’s not too hard.  On the default Normal difficulty setting the game is only a moderate challenge.  There are also Easy and Hard modes if you want, though.

Other than its short length, one of the games’ few real issues is saving.  That is, you can’t save during the game, you’ve got to play it in one sitting.  If you quit you will lose your progress and score.  Now, the game is not super long, but even so most games on this system have a much better save system than this one.  They probably did this to give the game a little bit of challenge, because again the game is very short with only five moderate-length stages, but it is a bit annoying. The game does encourage repeat play for score, though, as there are side objectives in the levels as you play through them and there is of course a high score table.  There aren’t online leaderboards though, unfortunately.  Even so, even if the game is over in just a few hours unless you get into replaying it for score, I recommend Liberation Maiden.  This game is a pretty fun free-roaming shmupish game with good controls, fun gameplay, and a silly story it’s a fun ride while it lasts.  Play it.  Nintendo 3DS digital exclusive.

 

Lifespeed – Developed and published by Wee Man Studios in 2017.  Lifespeed is what you get when you cross an auto-flying tube racing game of the style I have covered several of in this series with a traditional racing game. As in those other semi-automated racing games, you are always flying forward in this game and your only controls are for flying, slowing down, and using items. However, this isn’t just a checkpoint-based game where you are alone in the tube, it is a lap-based racing game where you race against a full field of other flying cars. So, this is a hybrid of AiRace and F-Zero.

Conceptually, I like the combination of a simple tunnel flying game and an actual racing game, but while the game is okay, I don’t think it quite comes together as well as it could have. The issue is, the simple auto-flight gameplay just isn’t a great match for a challenging game like this which requires skill. If you put in the time there is probably a lot to enjoy here, but you will need to memorize the turns quite extensively to have any chance at finishing above last place, and at the speed you’ll be going at in this game that is tough.  This is a VERY hard game!  I love fast futuristic racing games, and tunnel flying stuff can be fun, but I think this game shows why most of the other games like this, the AiRace series and such, are the simple games that they are and not more full-fledged racing titles.  It’s all you can do to just fly down the tube at these speeds, but in this game you also need to consider where the other flyers are, go through the rings for boosts and weapons, and attack the others racers with those weapons.  I like the concept here but it still feels both too limited in terms of control thanks to the automatic acceleration, while simultaneously too frustrating in terms of how good you are expected to be in order to do well. Still, I’m sure there is an audience for this game. If you want something which takes that streamlined tunnel-racing genre and changes it into something more challenging and more “normal” while still being an identifiable part of its subgenre, well, this is the game for you.

On the whole, this is a game I really want to like, but just can’t.  If it didn’t have auto-acceleration I think that I would like it a lot more, that would make the game much less frustrating.  But as it is this game is one I keep giving a chance and then quitting in frustration a few races later.  Still, the game is worth a look for sure, it’s interesting.  Nintendo 3DS digital exclusive.

 

Link-A-Pix Color – Developed and published by Lightwood Games in 2018.  This puzzle game is one of three ___-a-Pix games, all from the same developer, with very similar visuals but a different spin on the formula each time.  One of the three is basically just Picross but with multiple different block colors, but the other two are original.  All three have the same interface.  Each allows you to choose a puzzle, shows you the clear time, and gives a medal if you don’t use the ‘remove errors’ function.  One button brings up the errors menu, which tells you if there are any errors currently and gives you the option of removing all of those errors.  Just viewing this screen does NOT affect your medal at all, which is kind of odd — if you want to abuse it by just putting things down one tile at a time and checking constantly but never actually having the system remove the errors, that’s fine, you get the medal!  Heh.  The Picross-style one is the only one with a bunch of DLC puzzles.  That’s really too bad, I wish all three did.  This is the one of the three I have played the most of and I wish there were more puzzles here, I’m like 70% of the way through and will miss it when they run out.

So, in this game you are creating a picture by connecting blocks.  Each block has a different color and number on it, and you need to figure out which two blocks with that color and number you will need to connect and, with the stylus, drag the blocks out of that tile to link the two blocks together.  The background is white, and white is not a tile color, so some tiles will be blank, you don’t fill the whole image with tiles in this game.  You will need to figure out where the tiles are to form the image, and find the right paths for each color.  Most puzzles in this game are quite large, so each puzzle can take over a half hour, but it’s a fun challenge and I’m quite enjoying it.  Sometimes figuring out the route for a link is easy, but other times it is a solid challenge.  This is a simple and straightforward puzzle game which is well made and fun, I recommend it for sure.  It’s pretty good.  The game doesn’t have Nintendo levels of production values of course, but it does well enough.  Nintendo 3DS digital exclusive.

 

Lionel City Builder 3D: Rise of the Rails –  Developed and published by Big John Games in 2016.  This game is a simple train driving simulator probably aimed at kids.  Lionel is a famous model train company, but while this game has their license, this isn’t a game about model trains. Instead, this game is about real trains.  The games’ oddly dark, though unspecific, backstory says that society has collapsed, but in this post-apocalyptic world one guy with his train collection can rebuild the world, one train trip at a time.  Alright, why not?

In the game, you drive trains with simple touchscreen controls.  The game has nice stereoscopic 3d visuals for the upper screen showing where you are going, and you control the train’s speed, stopping, winch for picking up cargo, and more with touchscreen buttons and sliders.  The game is forgiving in that if you go past a target spot you can just back up into it, but you will need to do the needed actions correctly to proceed.  Before and after the missions, there are story sequences as our hero talks to other people and works on rebuilding society with his trains.  It’s all played straight.  Beyond the basic setting this game is not dark and depressing or anything and would probably be fine for older children interested in trains, but it is a bit of an odd choice.  The gameplay is alright. The touch controls work and your objectives are clearly stated.  The game is competent but clearly not high budget.  The missions have okay variety, you aren’t just always doing the same thing thankfully.

In addition to the main story mode, the game also has a creation mode.  Here you can lay out your own track, place trackside buildings, choose a train, and drive around the loop you created. It’s fine, but could be a lot better.  For one thing, when dragging the track into the shape you want, other parts of the track will flop around to new shapes.  There are ways to keep them in place, but seriously it should NOT be like this!  I’ve never seen a track editor as hard as this one to just make the track you’re creating into the shape you want.  The amount of space you have to create a play area in is fairly small, too, which is also disappointing.  You can have some fun in the creation mode regardless, but I think it needed more work.  For some this probably should be the main feature of the game since this is the part more like what its license is about, building a model train setup and then driving around on it, but unfortunately it’s only worth the time for the dedicated.  Too bad.  Still, if on sale this might be worth a buy if you like the subject matter.  Nintendo 3DS digital exclusive.


Love Hero
– Developed and published by Butterfly (Batafurai) in 2019.  This is the first of three very odd and unique, and yet very simple and generic, games from an indie developer called Butterfly.  Each of these games’ actual gameplay is a very simplistic arcade game.  There is also a bit of story in each game telling a weird but generally somewhat depressing story, if you can actually make much sense out of it.  This game does not initially have any story, though as with all three titles in this series there are unlockables if you accomplish certain hidden goals in the levels.  It starts with a coin sound, so I guess this is supposed to be an early ’80s arcade game.  There are five levels in this title.

In each level, you need to survive until the end of a timer shown on the lower screen without getting hit enough times to run out of hearts.  Initially you get multiple hearts, quite forgiving by Butterfly’s standards (see below), but by level three they take that away and you die in one hit.  You control a small, ’80s-style spaceship, and move it around the upper screen with the analog stick.  You cannot use the d-pad to control the character in any of Butterfly’s games.  Controls are analog, so it works.

In levels, if you are allowed to fire in the current stage the A button shoots, and you shoot both up and down.  You do not have autofire so you need to mash the button to keep shooting.  Threatening you are enemies, which are different in each stage. In the first level, the enemies are hearts.  As you shoot the hearts they slowly get smaller until after taking enough damage you destroy them.  You will need to destroy some in order to have space to move around, but destroying them all is hopeless, they spawn too quickly for that and take too long to destroy.  The second level instead has exploding squares for enemies, and the third lines which rapidly move in from the sides of the screen, mostly from below, and kill you if they hit you.  I’m not sure about levels four and five because that’s as far as I have gotten so far.

Once you beat each level, you unlock an image of some medical equipment that you can view in the Museum screen.  Why?  I don’t know, but it will be a running theme in this series.  Overall this game is very simple but it’s alright.  I have always liked this kind of avoid-the-enemies game, and this is a competent one.  Maybe give it a look.  Nintendo 3DS digital exclusive.

 

The Queen TV-Game 2 – Developed and published by Butterfly (Batafurai) in 2020. The second of Butterfly’s three games is perhaps its most accessible, though it is still extremely difficult. This game has a ‘retro early to mid ’80s game’ theme, and it starts with putting a cartridge in a console. This game has voice acting from a woman. She does swear some, so this isn’t for children. This time there are apparently only three stages, though there is plenty of challenge on offer.  This time the game is an avoid-em-up, with a different spin on things in each stage.  In the first level, you control a quite large block.  You use the analog stick to move around, and a face button to use a shield.  You need to not get hit by two balls bouncing around the screen for 135 seconds.  The shield protects you from damage if you are using it while the ball touches you, but it’s limited. If you get hit even once, as you expect from this developer, that’s it, you lose. Try again.

If you manage to stay alive long enough, you move on to level two.  This time you have an even longer counter, over 180 seconds, and control a Breakout-style paddle on the left side of the upper screen. Again you use the analog stick for movement and A is a protective shield.  You need to keep two balls from getting past your paddle.  If you miss them even once that’s it, Game Over.  I have not completed this stage, it’s insanely hard.  There are some things to unlock in each stage if you meet certain goals, though it doesn’t tell you what they are and I did not unlock the first one when beating that level so I don’t know what they are.  It’s probably story-related.  Still, for very cheap this game is interesting enough to maybe be worth a try. This is the first of Butterfly’s games that I got and while very basic, there’s something about it that interested me enough for me to get their other two games as well.  Maybe give it a try.  Nintendo 3DS digital exclusive.

 

Gal Galaxy Pain – Developed and published by Butterfly (Batafurai) in 2022.  The last of Butterfly’s games is their oddest game yet, though unfortunately not in a good way gameplay-wise.   This time, the story consists of images of a woman and medical equipment of some kind and some text explaining some of the story.  What is going on?  Well, you apparently are protecting the Earth from meteors, while also stealing money I guess.  What is going on beyond that, with the woman (maybe you are playing as her, maybe not?  I am not sure) and medical equipment and such, you’d probably need to do well at the game to figure out, if it even tells you.

The story is interestingly weird, but the gameplay this time is extremely frustrating.  I find this the least fun of Butterfly’s three 3DS games and don’t think I will go back to it much.  Gal Galaxy Pain is a touch screen controlled title.  This game is basically Missile Command crossed with a calculator.  Numbers fall down the upper screen, and you need to punch that number in on the touchscreen numpad on the lower screen then touch the enter button on screen to destroy the number on screen with the same number that you just entered.  You have a tight timing window to shoot down the numbers, and if even one number gets to the bottom of the screen, you lose, Game Over.  It’s brutally hard.

Still, the first stage has only single-number enemies, and it’s hard but with some practice I got through it.  Once I got to the two-number enemies in the second level, though, it was too much and I had to give up.  There are probably only a few levels since Butterfly’s other games are short affairs, but it’s too much.  Love Hero has an okay idea and I like the touchscreen usage, but the utterly ridiculously high difficulty and very bland visuals make this, I think, my least favorite of the three Butterfly titles here.  It’s not awful but is only for the dedicated.  Nintendo 3DS digital exclusive.

 

Luxor – 3DS port developed by Engine Software and published by Tulip Games in 2013.  The original PC game was developed by MumboJumbo in 2005.  Luxor is a puzzle game series.  The games were inspired by the Ballistic or Zuma style of match-three ball-shooting puzzle game, but instead of shooting from a central point, in this game you instead shoot balls up from the bottom from a paddle on the bottom of the screen that you can move left and right, somewhat Arkanoid-style.  The concept is simple, you move left and right and shoot the colored balls up where you want to add them to the balls moving along a track on the screen above, but it is a compelling and fun idea that is well executed here. The tracks in this game can twist and turn, going behind other sections of the path and more, as they wind from their starting point to the end point.  If a ball reaches the end point, you lose a life and have the try the level over.  There is a lot of variety from level to level, and it’s always interesting to see what the game will throw at you next.

The games have an ancient Egyptian theme and are solidly fun.  I think the moving paddle adds quite a bit to these games, it makes them more strategic than the games they take the core concept from. I really like being able to aim my shots from the bottom of the screen by moving to where I want to shoot from.  Probably as a result of this, I’ve played more of the Luxor games than of Zuma, Ballistic, or Magnetica.  This is a pretty good series, and this is a good port of the original title.  These are casual games, but they’re plenty hard! By the end this game gets very hard.  Indeed, I’ve never beaten this game, despite a lot of trying.  I got to the final level, but it is just insanely hard and I’ve never quite managed to finish it.  The level throws a crazy number of balls at you in a complex, twisting track, and stopping all of them is just too much.  Ah well, the game is lots of fun anyway.

Quite a few Luxor games were made, particularly on the PC, but unfortunately the 3DS only got a port of the first one.  That’s too bad because this platform is perfect for this genre and the port is quite good.  I’ve played quite a bit of some PC Luxor games but like this experience better.  This game is played with the d-pad or analog stick and buttons, not touch, but even so it is a perfect fit for the 3DS.  I’d recommend this game.  I wish I was good enough to beat that final level though, it’s just so insanely hard!  This game is a lot of fun despite that, though.  Originally released both physically and digitally on the PC and Mac.  Also released digitally on iOS.

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Lego Rebuilding Part IV: The Rest Of My Classic Castle Sets, including Guarded Inn, Viking Voyager, Forestmen’s Hideout, and more, and a Minifigure Inventory

Since my last Lego article, I have continued rebuilding my remaining castle Lego sets, and also have gone through my pirate and space minifigures to determine what I have minifigure-wise from those lines. It’s been a lot more work than that short description may suggest.

Where has videogame content gone?  Well, I have been working on my 3DS Game Opinion Summaries list again, after a too-long break, and am almost done with the next part.  It will post very soon — expect it this week.  But first, more Lego stuff.

Let’s start with summaries of the sets I have newly rebuilt.

Table of Contents

Set Rebuild Summaries
King’s Oarsmen
Viking Voyager
Town Wall Tavern (Guarded Inn)
Knights’ Stronghold
Castle Guard
Forestmen’s Hideout
Battle Dragon

Minifigure Inventory: Space, Pirate, and Town
Space
Pirate
Town
Minifigures, and Sets, from Other Themes

Conclusion: The Sets We Got

Set Rebuild Summaries

King’s Oarsmen – This ’80s set is a small boat manned by two Crusaders. I found most of the parts of this set, only missing one piece and some of the weapons as usual. This set has a blue hull with a white layer above it and black details on the ends, including short fences on the sides and little dragons on the ends of the boat. The sails are made from square white flag pieces, with blue highlights. A sail made of flags may seem silly, but I think it works. This is a simple set but I like the look and think it is good to great. Looking at this set, I like it. It’s an incredibly charming little boat and the details are well thought through. Both soldiers even get shields! It looks great. I would say that ’80s Lego sets were usually good, simple but good, and this set is a great example of that. The set doesn’t have Viking Voyager’s size, but I think I like it just as much, or maybe more. I do like its blue and black color scheme more than the Viking Voyager’s colors, and the small size helps make it really charming. I don’t have too much to say about this set, but it is great. King’s Oarsmen is all-around cool.

Viking Voyager – This ’80s set is the larger of the two Crusaders boats. While not as wide as the impressive Sea Serpent, this boat is just as long as that one. It’s just only four studs wide instead of six. The concept here was a Viking-style longboat, long and sleek, and its crew compliment of five, with three at the ‘oars’ made of spears since Lego did not have an oar piece yet, certainly suggests that. The boat’s midsection, with short fences along the sides holding the area for the three rowers, is my favorite part of this set. Poor guys, they always have to look backwards in order for the boat to be rowed forwards. The front looks okay, but not amazing. The little ‘dragon’ bits on the front and back are very simple. Given the parts budget I get what they were going for, but I don’t know, the front one doesn’t look the best. It’s alright, though.

As for the rear, however, it has four white rubber hose pieces over a treasure chest. This is a not the only Crusaders set I have with rubber hoses used this way, but in both cases it looks kind of silly in a not good way, and how medieval is it anyway? I guess they are supposed to represent some kind of curved wooden enclosure beams or something, and Lego sure loves their treasure chests, but while the hoses on the back make this set stand out I don’t think that they do so in a good way. I don’t like this set as much as King’s Oarsmen.

On a more positive note though, I do like the height of the boat; it uses two hull pieces stacked on top of eachother on the front and end of the boat in order to create raised fore and aft castles. It’s a nice look. The length is somewhat impressive as well, and the boat looks good from ahead. This is certainly an okay to good classic Lego set and it’s awesome to finally be able to see it again. I see why I didn’t keep it assembled, though. Still, this set is nice and it has a quite impressive amount of stuff: five minifigures, five shields (though I only have two left), eight spears, an axe, three lances, and four flags in different colors for those lances. It’s a crazy good for army building for your Crusaders! I am missing three of the shields, the axe, the lances, and the red flag, but found everything else. This one set makes up a significant percentage of my Crusader force.

Town Wall Tavern (Guarded Inn) – One of Lego’s most popular Castle sets of the ’80s, this 1986 set is one I got in Europe in ’90-’91. The Town Wall Tavern / Guarded Inn (the former is the European name, the latter the American) is a legendary set for good reason. I had long been wanting to rebuild this set, since far before I started doing this a few months ago, but thought I wouldn’t be able to find a lot of the pieces and kind of liked our own builds, so I didn’t. Well, I still don’t know if taking apart our town and such was a good idea but it’s gone too far now to turn back, and I do absolutely love that I have this set assembled again! This set has an iconic look at uses some custom pieces you won’t find anywhere else, most notably the red half-timber wall pieces unique to this set. It’s always odd when Lego makes an amazing part, or print, and then uses it in very few sets or only a single set before discontinuing it, but that is what happened here yet again. This is also one of the few Classic Castle sets with a female character alongside the knights; she is the tavern-keeper. That’s great to see.

This set is a tavern set alongside a city wall. The tavern has a guard tower on the roof, a passage along the wall either for people to pass through or perfect as a stable to keep your horse in, and a tavern room with a fireplace and table with chairs. One side of the building is open and the other sides enclosed, but the wall opposite the open side opens up fully on hinges so you can easily reach in from either side. It’s a fantastic look. Of course I could complain that I wish that the missing back side of the building was also a part of the model, folding out on hinges like the front wall does, but I understand that Lego has a parts budget so it would probably have been impossible. Adding one would be a great modification to make, though. Even as it is, though, this set is one of the best looking Lego sets ever. And better yet, despite how long it had been since it was built, I actually found most of the pieces! I am missing some — I had to substitute a good six or seven pieces, plus I’m missing a lot of weapons and such — but still, pretty much the whole model is there.

There is one real issue with this model, though. That is, while the outside of the building suggests a second story, with upper-level windows, unfortunately this is fake. Instead, the inside has a high vaulted ceiling and the only second story is a very tiny space under the rafters that is too small to even fit a single minifigure in. And that really is the only fault to this set — if the set is the “Guarded Inn”, as the American name suggests, where is the inn? There is indeed a tavern here for sure, but an inn requires somewhere to sleep and that would require an actual second floor. As nice as the high ceiling looks, a lower ceiling that allows for a second floor probably would be a better design. Maybe I will modify it to that eventually, now that I have it built again. For now though, Town Wall Tavern, the version of the set I actually have, is a better name. Regardless, this is a fantastic set with an iconic look and great design. This set is popular both for being a civilian building and for looking so great, and indeed both of those are good reasons to admire it. The only question is why Lego has made so few civilian buildings in the Castle theme, whenever they do they are fan favorites. I need to get some more ’80s Crusaders wall sets to attach this to though, it does look a little silly on its own. This is supposed to be the town wall, after all!

Knight’s Stronghold – My most recent rebuild, Knights’ Stronghold is a Black Knights wall and Black Falcons catapult and horseback knight set from 1990. The Black Knights are kind of an odd faction. The line was launched in 1988 with the pretty fantastic looking Black Monarchs’ Castle, but there were no other sets in the line until this one and Black Monarchs’ Ghost in ’90. After this, in ’92-’93 the theme got a refresh with a wave of new sets, most notably the exceptional Black Knights Castle / Dungeon Masters Castle, one of Lego’s best sets ever. Then the Black Knights finally got more sets, though apart from the Sea Serpent ship the others are mostly very small sets with a single guy and some object. And then after that the theme ends, since starting in the late ’80s Lego decided to phase in and out themes in most of their lines every few years. I have never entirely understood why Lego does this, why not keep making sets for good themes? There are a few themes Lego keeps returning to, such as trains and police stations, but for most themes, after a few years out they go in favor of some other thing the next year. Ah well. The Black Knights kind of got shorted — they are the only Classic Castle theme without a torso design unique to their theme, and are probably the only ones to never have their guys appear in a Castle Minifigures pack. I do like their scale mail look, but you often do need shields and such to definitively identify their soldiers. Building a Black Knights army isn’t easy if you only buy their official sets, most of their troops are in the two castles.

But enough of that, I should talk about the actual set. You get three Black Knights and two Black Falcons with the set. This set is from the first wave of the Black Knights. The figures are similar to those of the second wave, but especially in this set are a bit simplified. Instead of the multicolored look most Black Knights figures have, with a mix of blue, red, and/or black on their torsos, arms, and legs, in this set the figures are solid red except for a black waist piece. I have never liked this look, it is visually bland compared to the more distinctive look of the Dragon Master’s Castle Black Knights figures. Even the original Black Monarchs Castle figures are not this bland looking, so I’m not sure what happend here. I know Lego likes to mix up their minifigure coloring on a set by set basis within a theme, but I don’t think it worked here. And they don’t even get shields! The only two Black Knights shields in the set are attached to the wall. Disappointing. They do each get a different weapon, though, one each for axe, spear, and crossbow.

In comparison, the Black Falcons figures here turn out pretty well. They get an impressive armored knight with the only Black Falcons knight with a modern-style opening helmet and plastic plate armor, and a soldier with a crossbow who mans the catapult. The knight is great, one of the Black Falcon’s best, and the soldier fine enough. The catapult looks good, I like its blue and black design, but its function is only decent. The idea is that there is a Technic bar, and when you pull it out the weight is supposed to drop down and fire the ammo. You will need to make this happen with your hand, though, because unlike the Dragon Defender, this catapult won’t fire on its own, but only if you move its arm after removing the pin. If you do make it fire with your hand it has good motion and will fling its ammo a good distance, though. It is a decently nice looking model but it could be better.

The wall is perhaps a bit better, but I remember this set being not exactly my favorite set back when it was new and I can certainly see why. The wall has three sections, with a large central gate, a prison behind the wall on one side, and just a raised bit on the other side. The wall, with black wall sections surrounded by grey bricks for all the highlights around those black walls, looks nice for the most part. Lego used some black flagpole pieces as window bars on both sides of the wall, though. This is the only castle set I’ve seen which does this and it is an okay look but a bit flimsy feeling. These are not exactly the best Lego windows ever. I kind of get the prison one, but why is there an identical window on the other side? Surely they could have put something better looking than that there. I get it, it makes the set look a bit closer to symmetrical, but again, the set isn’t symmetrical so why not put a nicer looking window build on that side? Ah well.

Still, the black-and-grey design style is pretty nice. This is the Black Knights look and it stood out at the time from the grey castles everyone else had. However, black walls would be the primary wall color of Lego castles for rest of the ’90s, so this look stands out much less now than it did when this set released in 1990. Most of those later sets do have grey battlements, though, so this set’s black battlements do stand out a bit and make this set and Black Monarch’s Castle perhaps look a bit blacker than the many black-and-grey castles that would follow. So, this look is not unique, but the color scheme does look good. For another criticism though, I don’t know why a prison was really necessary, come on. Additionally, there is no way built in for you to bar this gate to actually block entry, you need to add your own block for that. And again, why does the non-jail part have the barred window? Even so, this is a decently made town wall gate and I like that I have reassembled it.

Overall, despite my having some issues with this set, I think I like the look of this set a bit more than I remember, and there is more grey in it than I remember. However, where do you put it? The only other compatible sets you can connect this little wall segment to are Black Monarch’s Ghost, which I do have reassembled of course and may attach it to though you can’t really do so properly since the clip and flag on the side of that set blocks you from using one of the attachment pins unless you add a custom spacer bit or move the flag or something, and the original Black Monarchs’ Castle, which I do not have. The Dungeon Masters’ Castle on its hill is not compatible unless you add an attachment pin brick yourself somewhere on its edge, and as after 1990 Lego moved away from the attachable wall segments design idea the second run of sets has nothing to attach this to either. You could attach it to other ’80s sets from the Crusaders and Black Falcons, but then you have a wall that’s an odd mishmash of colors and factions… though considering how I have considered the Black Knights and Crusaders to be allies for so long, perhaps I should just attach it to the Guarded Inn anyway even if the colors look a little odd together. I’ve tried it, it’s a bit of an odd look but kind of works. It works on the Crusaders’ front as well, because while the Crusaders have several sets with wall sections, they don’t have any gatehouses like this one other than using a King’s Castle set itself as a gatehouse. It is kind of amusing to have a set where the Black Falcons and Crusaders are getting along fine attached to one where the Black Falcons are attacking the Crusaders’ longtime allies the Black Knights, though. Heh.

Oh, as far as missing parts go, the model is complete but I did end up with a bunch of weapons, flags, and small bricks I couldn’t find and had to substitute other parts for. Ah well, that happens. If I really can’t find them I will eventually buy replacements. I do seriously wonder where so many of my castle weapons went, though… heh.

Castle Guard

Castle Guard is a small guard shack for the Black Falcons. The set has a white guard house with an interesting red roof and a pair of soldiers, one a footman with an axe and the other a horseman on a black horse with lance and white flag. I’ve always kind of liked this set, the covered guard position is kind of out of scale with other classic castle sets — it’s a full story tall, as high as regular castle walls — but it looks pretty nice and certainly fits with a medieval setting. I particularly like the octagonal sloped red roof, it’s an interesting piece you don’t see often. With that roof and the white sides, it kind of looks like a tent without a front. That could be the idea, or it could be supposed to be a small building. Either way this is a pretty good small little set which I really like the look of. I will be putting it in front of Black Falcon’s Fortress for sure. This is a good set with a short summary.

Forestmen’s Hideout

The only Forestmen set I owned until this year, Forestmen’s Hideout, or Forestmen’s Tower as I have almost always called it, is perhaps the line’s most iconic set. This was the smallest of the Forestmen sets, though it is not small, it’s a decidedly medium-sized build. This set is a pretty nice tower designed to look like a tree. The build is great looking from the outside, and opens so you can put minifigures inside as well. Because they did not use brown for regular bricks or wall pieces at the time Lego went with black for the tree’s main color, but I have always thought that the color works well. Particulalry dark trees can look black, after all. The organic look of the tree is nice too, with green leaves on the ends of branches all over. I like the tower outlook with its barred windows, too. It uses cone pieces for the bars in a pretty interesting way.

The main issue I had with this set when I got it as a kid in the late ’80s, though, is that it’s a bit fragile. And indeed, it is — some of those branches are only lightly attached, and moderate play will knock them off. I found it a bit tricky to build as a child, and hard to keep assembled without it falling apart as I played with it. Black Falcon’s Fortress is much more durable. If all you are doing with this set is looking at it, though, the set is great. For play it’s decent, though not the best. At least the plates the set is built on are solid so you can pick it up without it falling apart from underneath, unlike most modern Lego sets.

As I mentioned in one of my last Lego posts, though, I don’t only have this set, but I recently got its modern update, Forest Hideout, the gift with purchase set from 2022. Of course I had this set long before that one, but it has been probably going on 25 to 30 years since I had this set assembled, but comparing the two of them now, they’re pretty close. I like the classic look of the original set a bit more than the more organic trees of the modern one, but I do really like that they got a ladder in the new one inside the tree, it’s really annoying how Lego loves to make inaccessible spaces. In the original set there is no way to put a ladder inside without a major redesign that would make the set larger. On the other hand, the new one doesn’t come with any vines, while the orignal has two vines hanging from the tree, perfect for having your Forestmen swing from in the forest. They are both very good medium-sized sets and it’s great to have them both next to eachother. I wouldn’t be surprised if an objective observer would prefer the new one, it does look very nice. But there’s something about classic Lego design I love, so maybe I like the original slightly more.

Either way, this is a good set. I don’t absolutely love it like some do and Forestmen wasn’t one of my favorite themes, as the fact that I left this set unassembled for so long suggests, but it is a good set for sure. I like that finally my Forestmen have their tower back, and looking better than ever since I’m more able to build it correctly as an adult than I was as a child, and don’t hae to just hang out on the tree in Dark Dragon’s Den as I mostly kept them in the ’90s and beyond.

Battle Dragon

This set is a small boat with two minifigures. It’s surely intended to be a Black Knights set, as the minifigures are dressed in classic Black Knights scale mail and the boat has Black Knights colors, a red flag, and a nicely made dragon head build on the front. The boat has one guy rowing in the front, and the other with a crossbow in a raised platform in the back. It looks okay, but is pretty average really. It’s fine, and would look a little better if I wasn’t missing one of the two minifigures… ah well. I will replace him. I do like the somewhat silly dragon head on the front.

The main issue with this set, though, is the included shield. You see, to reprise a subject I previously mentioned, instead of coming with a Black Knights shield, this set came with … a Black Falcons one for some bizarre reason. It really does not makes sense why Lego sometimes messed up the theming on their sets, this clearly wasn’t supposed to be a Black Falcons set! This isn’t Lego’s worst theming mistake, that would probably be the carriage in Dark Forest Fortress, but it’s on the list for sure. That Dark Forest Fortress carriage is just insane, though — it is clearly a Royal Knights carriage and looks like a Royal Knights vehicle with their classic blue and black color theming, but both minifigures are Dragon Masters and the shields on the carriage are both Dragon Masters and Black Knights. Yeah, it’s bizarre.

I don’t know how that happened, or how Battle Dragon got its Black Falcon shield on an otherwise all Black Knights set. You can make your own choice about how this happened here, though — are they Black Falcons who stole a Black Knights’ boat and armor? Black Knights who looted a Black Falcons shield, since the two factions were shown fighting eachother in multiple sets? Or something else? That’s for you to decide. For a long time, after disassembling the boat, I put the blue torso guy with the Black Falcons, and the red torso guy with the Black Knights, so I kind of split the difference. That works too.

Minifigure Inventory: Space, Pirate, and Town

 

And with that, all of my Classic Castle Lego sets are reassembled. I will need to move on to either buying ones I don’t own, or reassembling Pirate, Town, or Space sets, next. Or, more likely, both, once I figure out how to find more space to display the sets in… heh. And on that note, I completed my minifigure inventories for the remaining three themes, Space, Pirate, and Town.

Yes, I am really enjoying reassembling Lego sets. I find I want something to keep this going a bit longer. Well, trying to reassemble my Town, Space, and Pirate sets is certainly a way to do that. I am not starting on that yet, though. Instead I decided to go through all of the rest of my minifigures and see what, exactly, I have. The results are interesting, at least to me.

I spent a while recently making a spreadsheet of my Lego collection, as I do with my videogames. I list all the set names and numbers and added a few columns, for the factions represented, release year, type of set and such. For now it’s not much but the results are interesting. Essentially, I have almost no sets from before 1986. This makes sense, I was too young for Lego before that. The only set I have the box or instructions for from before ’86 is a universal Technic set that was on the market for a long time. From ’86 to ’90, I have a bunch of Castle, Town, and Space sets. During this period I mostly got small to medium sized spaceships and vehicles from Town and Space, along with some small and a few larger Castle sets. The Black Falcons’ Fortress was the only bigger set I got during this period, followed by the Town Wall Tavern and the Alien Moon Stalker. The only Town set we even maybe got during this time with a building, and not only a vehicle, was Derby Trotter and that was likely my sisters’ and was more likely purchased in the early ’90s. In the ’80s all of the Town and Space sets we got were vehicles. During this time we got ~9-plus sets for each of the three themes.

Space

My Space sets, which, again, are almost all small vehicles apart from the larger Alien Moon Stalker (and Light & Sound Robot), are mostly Classic Space, but the last three are Futuron. I diassembled all of them long ago and it’s been a very long time since I have seen any of these assembled.

After the late ’80s, however, I mostly lost interest in buying Space sets. I only have a few space sets from ’91 or later, and they are very small sets. I have one little set each for M-Tron (a set too small to even have a magnet), Space Police II, Ice Planet, and Spyrius, and that’s it. Several of these are still assembled since I didn’t use them that much. I got one Lego Star Wars set early on when the line was first released and that’s the only Star Wars Lego set I own. I like the Endor Biker set I have, but like original sets much more than licensed stuff, as I have said before.

So, first I looked at the boxes we have, and got out the instruction books. Then I matched figures to sets. The figure inventory I did revealed something quite interesting, and which I had entirely forgotten: we have a BUNCH of classic Space stuff that does not come from sets we bought. Like, at least one large set’s worth, plus more. Thinking about it, my best guess at a memory is that perhaps our older cousins gave us some Legos at some point in the early ’90s. This may have happened; otherwise I have no idea where we got this stuff, Lego would have been too expensive to get cheap at a yard sale or something I’d think. I guess we COULD have gotten it that way but I’d call it less likely. Regardless, these parts happened to include most of the parts for a set I have never seen built and did not know until just now that I apparently have a lot of the parts for: the big 1983 classic Space ship Galaxy Commander. It looks pretty cool from pictures, I am very interested to see how much of it I have. I know I have a lot of the ship, though many parts are certain to be missing; I don’t have the radar dish piece, for example. If we ever had it, it is sadly gone now. And I only can find 13 or so blue 1×1 sideways clip plates, while the set uses 20. The ones I have are surely all from that set, though, I don’t ahve any other sets they could have come from. Still, I do have a bunch of the sets’ custom pieces, which is how I know it was from this set — I’ve got all four of the big 4×4 slope ship inside parts, in both white and trans-blue, the blue supports, blue steering wheels and white bazookas that could only have come from this set, and more.

So, what are the Space minifigures I have? Well, for the sets I have boxes and/or instructions for, I’ve got the figures from the Classic Space sets Starfire I, Alien Moon Stalker, Light & Sound Sonic Robot, Cosmic Charger, Terrestiral Rover, and Satellite Patroller, the Futuron sets Strategic Pursuer, Twin-Wing Spoiler, and Auxiliary Patroller, the M-Tron set Beacon Tracer, the Space Police II set Galactic Chief, the Ice Planet set Ice Planet Scooter, and teh Spyrius set from the Space/Castle Value Pack. Additionally, I have five minifigures matching the ones included with Galaxy Commander. And last, I have four more Classic Space figures from unidentified sets, likely also from my cousins or something. The ones from unknown sets are one each in white, yellow, red, and blue. I’ve also got some random extra helmets and air tanks in several colors, perhaps from missing figures or something.

So yeah, it’s interesting to not only have a lot of a set I didn’t know I had, but also to have some extra minifigures on top of that. I really wonder how many of the parts of the set I have… though to figure that out I would have to take apart my favorite own creation, my spaceship build, so I don’t know if I really want to find out. And yes, while I don’t have any castle builds I liked enough to keep assembled, I do have a spaceship I built back in the ’90s and quite like. I think it’s a good design. If I rebuild my space sets I’ll have to buy replacement parts or something, I don’t really want to take it apart…

Pirate

As for Pirate, I really liked the first wave of Pirate sets but lost interest after that. To explain, the first run of Pirate was from 1989-1997, after which Pirate was killed off. They brought it back several times, but it’s never lasted nearly as long: the modern runs are in 2009-2010, again in 2015, and one set for adult builders currently on the market now. The first run of the Pirate theme can be broken up into three or four parts. For their adversaries, the Imperials, the eras are easy: first are the Imperial Soldiers, the French-inspired bluecoats, from 1989-1991 and also 2015. This line got six sets of its own in its first run, several in its second, and appearances in other sets. Next came the Imperial Guards, the British-inspired redcoats, from 1992-1995 and also 2009-2010. I’m not sure why I didn’t end up getting any of these sets, they’re alright. The earlier bluecoat sets are better in my opinion, but the redcoats had some good sets as well. This line got seven sets plus several split between the two sides. And last and very much least as far as Lego was concerned was the [Spanish] Armada, from 1996-1997. This line only had two or three sets of its own, never had a large or even medium sized land base, and mostly lived in appearances in the Pirate sets. For some reason Lego gave the Pirates a whole bunch of bases and fortifications in 1995-1997, but the Armada got almost nothing. It was a major contrast from the first era, when the Pirates and bluecoats were on almost even ground. But in the mid ’90s Lego did start declining, as you can see when you look at the pirate sets over time, so them starting to make poor decisions like that makes sense, unfortunately.

Telling the eras apart on the Pirates side is harder, however. Basically, I can think of two ways to think about it: do you go by the major pirate ships, by the land bases, or by changes to minifigure design? Major pirate ships released in 1989, 1993, and 1996. Meanwhile, large land bases released in 1989, 1991, 1995, and 1997. As for minifigure design, the first style of pirate figures were used from 1989-1991, after which they started mixing in some new figures with the old ones in ’92 and changed things more as the years progressed. So, whether there were three or four waves of Pirate sets is really open to debate, as is which years exactly each wave includes. I’m not sure, myself, what I think; Lego made things kind of messy.

But if I had to choose, I’d lean towards going more by the land bases than the ships, because I think that 1992 was when a new generation of Pirate sets started releasing with clearly different designs from the previous ones. The sets that year were still great, even if I didn’t end up getting any of them, and Rock Island Refuge is a fantastic set, but they weren’t different enough from the early ones to make me want to buy them. Still, the new minifigures and base that year diffrentiate it from the earlier sets. And after that, while Lego released new waves of sets, initially good and then degrading rapidly as Lego went towards its juniorized gimmick-heavy years, they didn’t get me back. The sets of ’95 to ’97 are the main issue here. The third pirate ship is a gimmick-laden mess and the later bases are so silly looking, it’s too much.

Just before that, though, in 1994 a third faction was introduced, the Islanders. It was shortlived but interesting. These South Seas Pacific natives don’t really fit in with the Carribbean theme of the rest of the Pirates line at all, but Lego didn’t care about that when they designed the sets and so they released anyway. Islanders sets only have Pirates and Islanders, never any of the Imperial factions, but they are the same Pirate minifigures from the other sets so you’d think it is somewhere nearby and not halfway around the world apart… heh. These Islanders are a cultural mishmash of course, heavily relying on very outdated ‘cannibals in the south Pacific’ stereotypes, but still I like the look of the theme and would like to get more of them sometime, I only have two of the small sets.

Regardless of where you put the dividing line for Pirates waves, however, not up for debate is what we bought back then: only first wave and Islanders sets. I have three Pirate sets from the 1989-1991 first wave, three Imperial Soldiers (bluecoat) sets from ’89-’91, two Islanders sets from their one year run of sets, and four extra minifigures from who knows where, two of them first-run Pirates and two bluecoats. The sets: for the Pirates, Black Seas Barracuda, Forbidden Island, and Renegades’ Raft; for the Imperial Soldiers, Carribbean Clipper, Harbour Sentry (and I do have the European one with the firing cannon), and Broadside’s Brig; and for the Islanders, King Kahuka and Islander Catamaran. I have all of the figures for these sets, though one pair of white legs is missing a leg. The four extra figures are two generic pirates, one a redshit and one blue, a blue shirt Imperial Soldier with tall hat and backpack, and… the torso and head of a second Governor Broadside, except without his unique hat; he just has a regular black tricorn hat instead. This figure is somewhat expensive and only appeared in the Carribbean Clipper and El Dorado Fortress sets, so I really wonder how I ended up with this guy… I have mine from the ship, so it’s not that. Somehow someone elses’ governor from El Dorado Fortress must have gotten mixed up with my stuff some time I was playing at another persons’ house, I do remember playing with that set sometimes with people who had it. That’s a pretty interesting find.

And as for the two attempted reboots of Pirates between ’09 and ’15, I wasn’t paying much attention to Lego at that point apart from Castle to some extent. But looking at them now, they’re okay looking but not great, I don’t regret not getting them.

Town

I may in general prefer fantasy settings to the real world in my media and games and such, but we did have a decent amount of Town stuff, and a Town we built. I have mentioned in previous posts some of the newer Town sets we had, in the Paradida line and such. In the ’90s, we got some Town sets with buildings — Sand Dollar Cafe, Dolphin Point, Gas Stop Shop, Rocky River Retreat, Surf Shack, Seaside Cabana, and two that I haven’t reassembled yet, Pizza To Go and Derby Trotter. The only one of those sets that is from the ’80s is that last one.

Other than that, all of the other Town sets from the ’80s and ’90s that we had were vehicles. Almost none of these are assembled in any way; the only one that is partially together is Surveillance Squad. The rest are not assembled. Going from oldest to newest (1985 to 1997): Family Car (this one doesn’t have its box or instructions, but I certainly got it as one of my first true Lego sets), RV with Speedboat, Light & Sound Hook and Ladder Truck, Fire Chief’s Car, T.V. Camera Crew, Bulldozer, Turbo Prop I (my only plane), Highway Patrol, Fire Truck, Sprint Racer, Hook & Haul Wrecker, Sand Storm Racer, Road Rebel, Sport Coupe, Street Sweeper, Gas Transit, Snowmobile, River Runners, Mountain Rescue, and one non-vehicle one, Sea Hunter. We also got one minifigures pack, City People.

When I did my minifigure inventory of the Town minifigures, I found that two minifigures, both from Pizza To Go, are missing. I really wonder where they went, they are two of only three minifigures I lost from any set we have a box or instructions for. And considering that that is a relatively late ’90s set that we kept assembled, having two of its figures go missing is very odd — the ONLY other missing minifigure is one of the guys from either Kinght’s Stronghold or Battle Dragon, depending on which one was lost. I’ve got everything else for the sets we got. I do have other figures that use the torsos those figures use, so it is possible other figures are missing and not those, but after assembling all of the other figures, it is these parts that I couldn’t find. Annoying.

In addition to the minifigures from all of the sets above sets, as with Castle and Space there are also some extra minifigures. These figures are mostly pretty old looking and likely come from either Lego Basic sets or the same lot of Lego we may have gotten from our older cousins that had a bunch of space stuff in it. There are two policemen (one missing his hat), a very worn chef with chef’s hat, and two red and one each of black, white, and blue torsos. I have no idea what sets these came from and probably won’t unless I find clearly identifying pieces in the bins sometime.

Minifigures, and Sets, from Other Themes

From Adventurers, I have one adventurer guy in a tiny car. I got one small set from that line just to have something from it. From the Western theme, I’ve got the Bandit’s Hideout set, a mine defended by some bandits and a bunch of traps, being threatened by two (US) Cavalry soldiers. It’s a nice set but I didn’t get anything else from that line, for whatever reason. The blue soldiers would make good Civil War Union soldier Legos, though. I have all of the figures from this set, and it is still assembled, I kept it in a box. And lastly, I have one Star Wars Lego set, an early set from the line which includes two Imperial scouts on Endor speeder bikes and Luke with a lightsaber. It also is still assembled. I like the set, but it didn’t convince me to want to buy more licensed Legos, and I have not since I got that set back in ’99 or so.

Conclusion: The Sets We Got

Looking at those sets, it’s pretty clear that when I was a kid my parents would often get me a small Lego set to keep me occupied. I only very very rarely got a big set. Once I got older what I was getting changed to computer games or books or larger Lego sets instead, so I don’t have a bunch of small post-1990 Lego sets like I do ones from ’86-’90. After that came our year in Europe, and thus some sets missing their boxes. Following that, the change to larger but fewer sets makes sense; I was getting older and we got a computer in 1992, which I almost immediately got hooked on. When I did get Lego sets after that I focused on larger sets that I was really interested in, which particularly meant Castle sets after my fascination with wave 1 Pirates ended, until Castle got significantly worse in ’97 and I mostly stopped buying Legos.

Fortunately, though, the Lego of today is not the Lego of the late ’90s to late ’00s. Lego now makes sets for anyone, not only children. And they have brought me back in with their fantastic Lion Knight’s Castle set. I always loved my memories of Legos, but I have to thank Lego for designing this set and convincing me to start playing with them again after so long. It’s never too late to have fun building Legos!

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Lego Castle (and Town), Part III: On Reassembling Lego Sets and Summaries of Wolfpack Tower, Wolfpack Renegades, Black Monarch’s Ghost, And More

Yes, it’s another article about Lego.  I’ve been spending a lot of time with this stuff this month.

After finishing with building the fantastic Lion Knights’ Castle set, which I discussed in my last article but will cover in greater depth later, I got bitten by the Lego bug again. Well, what better thing is there to do after you turn 40? This will only last so long before the sets start just sitting there again, but I’m having a lot of fun with reassembling a bunch of my long-in-pieces sets for now. So, I got out my large metal container filled with loose Lego pieces, a small box with some Lego vehicles, and also a old Oreck vacuum box with the remnants of our ’90s Lego town in it, found and got out the manuals out for sets I want to repair or reassemble, and started reassembling some sets with a focus on the Castle sets as well as some relatively easy to fix Town sets which had been assembled when put in the box decades ago but now are dissolved into pieces. Now, I love the stuff we built with those sets, but … it’s been literally just sitting in a box, untouched, for years. It’s not doing much good there, so why not do something with the stuff now that I’m in a Lego kick at the moment? I don’t like the idea of not having the town anymore, but so much of it has fallen apart over the years as it is that time has kind of destroyed it anyway. And some will be left I’m sure, I’m not going to try to reassemble everything, if I even could considering that a few parts probably come from sets I’ve lost the boxes and instructions for.

So, how has this gone? Well, it sure is interesting. It is very time consuming and frustrating, but interesting. As I work on and complete each set I am keeping a file of missing pieces, so I know how many pieces from that set are missing and exatly what they are. Eventually I will probably order replacements for those pieces from Bricklink. You cannot play with Legos as a child without losing some pieces, so it’s fine that some were lost. I am more impressed by how relatively few, so far, are missing! Most sets have a few missing pieces, most frequently weapons which I seem quite short on, but most of the parts are here and that’s great. I suspect that sets I got earlier, like Town Wall Tavern, will have more missing pieces than sets I got in the mid ’90s, but we’ll see. I’ve done well so far at finding most of the parts.

The Pieces and Sets I’m Starting From

But before I get more into that, I should discuss what I’m working with. I do not have a nicely organized parts collection. Instead, I’ve got a bunch of baseplates with the remnants of our homemade town buildings on them, some mostly assembled vehicles some of which are official and some our own creations, a bunch of loose pieces and chunks of sets, and a lot of loose pieces. The pieces used in our town come from town, space, pirate, and castle sets. As I said, I kept most of my ’90s castle sets assembled, but other than a few spaceships and the shells of the pirate ships, just about everything else was taken apart to go into the town. The baseplates from sets such as Forbidden Island and Wolfpack Tower had some of our mostly one-brick-high buildings built on them.

Of the stuff we had, what official sets were left assembled but have fallen apart and should be not as hard for me to piece back together? From Town, first, four Paradisa sets: Cabana Beach, Sand Dollar Cafe, Dolphin Point, and Sunset Stables. From regular Town: Surf Shack, Pizza To Go, Gas Stop Express, Gas Transit, and Surveillance Squad. And from Space, only a tiny little Space Police ship and the Spyrius ship from the 2-pack that also included the Royal Knights catapult. We never had nearly as many Space sets as the other main themes, but I wasn’t interested in them enough to keep most the ones we did have assembled. I do have a couple of my own creation space sets, one a midsized one I quite like, though.

So, to repeat myself, looking at the stuff we created today, while I have some good memories of building it, I don’t like most of it to keep it assembled, and very much want to see the original sets again. So, I set off on both reassembling unassembled sets, and repairing and correcting changes I made to sets that are otherwise assembled, because a lot of my changes were not for the better, it’s more ‘I want to use that piece for something else, let’s take it off’ and such.

Reassembly Begins

Majisto’s Magical Tower

When I decided to start reassembling sets, I started with Majisto’s Magical Tower, that Castle set which has long been sitting on my castle Lego table in a partially missing, damaged state. The two sides of the set are there, but not the stuff that goes in between them. So I got the instructions, got out the boxes, looked for the missing pieces, and reassembled it. I was left with about five or ten missing pieces, which is not great given how much of the set started out assembled, but I found substitutions for most of them and the set looks much better now. Better yet, as I have continued to rebuild sets I’ve found more of the pieces, and now this set is down to only four missing pieces. The rooves actually line up now! It’s a miracle! The set looks pretty nice now, I like it a bit more than when the middle part of the set was missing. I like that it is a house, there are not many houses in the Castle theme. This is a decently good set with a nice exterior and a solid interior.

Town Sets: Dolphin Point (Paradisa) and Rocky River Retreat

After that I decided to start with some of the easier sets. So, I put back together two of the sets which had been fully assembled when put IN that box several decades ago, but had totally broken apart over the years and moves in between. I thought that these sets would be easier to assemble than the fully disassembled ones, so I decided to reassemble them even if I don’t have a Town setup now or anywhere to put one. I have always liked these two sets though, they have really nice unique baseplates and good designs, so I fixed them up, put them back together, and tried to find their missing pieces. These two were the most complete of the broken-apart sets, which is why I chose to rebuild them first.

After some time hunting through the box, I found almost all of the parts for both sets. I eventually found all of the parts for Dolphin Point, and all but one or two for Rocky River Retreat; all I’m missing are the rope for the fishing pole and maybe a grey bird. That’s pretty good, and I like both of these sets. It’s great these sets are assembled now. Dolphin Point is a great set. It’s a simple build, but the resulting lighthouse looks very nice on its island. Paradisa may have been a female-aimed line, but Lego did a good job making some of its sets appeal to anyone, including boys like me. I don’t think I’d say any of Lego’s other female-aimed lines have been as successful at appealing to everyone, the others are much more targeted at only girls. As I’ve said before Lego used to be a more ‘these sets are for anyone’ company, instead of the ‘we make targeted sets based on popular licenses and such’ company as they are now, and this is another example of that change, I think. The minifigures in Paradisa sets are generally split half and half between male and female figures, and while the pale green, blue, white, and pink color scheme is clearly feminine, sets like three of the ones I’ve got will appeal to anyone who likes beach vacations and the like. I’ve never been to the tropics, but have been doing summer beach vacations most of the years of my life and Lego’s beach sets evoke that. I don’t like the little horse-riding Paradisa set nearly as much as the beach ones, though; my sister is the one who liked horse riding. Dolphin Point is a great looking set with no real issues.

As for the other set, Rocky River Retreat, it doesn’t have a specific subtheme, but it also is a vacation set. We traveled on long vacations every summer in my childhood and teenage years, so I naturally liked this set. This set has a cabin by a river with a rope bridge, a SUV pulling a boat trailer, a couple, and a bunch of accessories — a chainsaw, a pickaxe, a fishing pole with line, a metal detector, and a horse. It’s a nice little model with lots of stuff to play around with on their mountain getaway. Really my only complaints about this pretty good set are that while the window has shutters, the window behind the shutters is tiny and solid and isn’t the classic Lego opening window, and that those rope bridges seem to fail over time. I have two, and BOTH are badly bent in, making them hard to keep in place — the bridge is held up by pins in its corners on each end, and the weight or design of the bridge or something causes it to bend inwards over time. Ah well. Other than that this set is pretty good and certainly is nostalgic.

My Wolfpack Tower, in its temporary location until I free up some space to move these around. Also next to it, two small sets which will be discussed later in this article…

A Full Rebuild: Wolfpack Tower

With some rebuilds done, I decided to pause on that and move on to the first one of the major rebuilds I wanted to do, that of Wolfpack Tower. This 1992 set is probably the largest and newest fully disassembled set I have. I would like to reassemble all of the castle sets for sure, and thought this one is the one I wanted to start with. I decided to start with Wolfpack Tower since it is a pretty interesting looking set and, as the newest set of the unassembled ones, I thought that maybe it would be a little easier to find the parts for.

And, well, I’d say mixed results on that one. On the one hand, I DID find almost all of the parts. I’ve only got four missing pieces. Impressively, the list of missing parts on Wolfpack Tower is actually as short as that of Majisto’s Magical Workshop, even though it had been totally disassembled, its parts had been reused or left loose in the parts bucket, and its distinctive blue 32×16 baseplate had been reused for a house in town. However, rebuilding this set took me a LONG time. It took probably a full eight hours to reassemble a set which, if you had all the parts right in front of you, wouldn’t take more than 15 or 20 minutes. I have said several times here that this process is time consuming, but that should give a good idea of how long it can take. A more professional Lego builder would have a large toolbox-style wall of shelves of small bins, to quickly find each piece they want, but I don’t have that or the space for anything like that. So, I need to do the very annoying “sift through the bin or spread it out all over the floor and spend like half an hour looking for one little piece that was right under your hand where you started the whole time”, which totally isn’t frustrating at all. Heh.

The act of searching for those parts was simultaneously fun, interesting, and very annoying. When you are looking for one tiny piece, which you may only have a few of, among so much stuff, it is pretty hard to find without a lot of patience. And while I was close to giving up at the halfway point of this build, when I had a long list of missing pieces I just could not find, after coming back to it a day later and putting a lot more time into hunting for parts, I found almost all of them. That sure was satisfying. I think I will continue rebuilding old sets from these pieces, I’m having enough fun and satisfaction from this to keep going. Plus, I’ve got several sizable models’ worth of pieces removed from the piles… heh.

So, what pieces have I lost in the probably almost 30 years since I got this set? First, the two grey thin hinge plates. I could not find any, and substituted other colors. Second, one of the grey angled brick pieces is missing and I had to substitute a different color. And last, I can’t find all of the grey L corner blocks, one is missing. I had a very hard time finding these blocks, several were missing from both this set and Majisto’s Magical Workshop and I eventually gave up on finding them and substituted other parts… before today, when I decided to redo Black Falcon’s Fortress and find as many of its missing parts as possible and I realized that I had used three of them there. Well, that leaves only one missing now, which is great. Finding those was quite the mystery… heh. Maybe I should get some more of those bricks for Black Falcon’s Fortress, they do improve it and only weren’t used there because I don’t think Lego had created that brick yet. Fortunately I do still have the original Wolfpack flag. I found all five Wolfpack minifigures, too, and the three from this set are correctly equipped, including the leader’s shield. Unfortunately, the guy from Medieval Knights seems to be missing his shield, which is annoying; I really wonder where that other shield went. Ah well.

Review: Wolfpack Tower

Wolfpack Tower is a midsize Lego Castle set. It is the largest of the three Wolfpack sets, for that short-lived robbers’ faction which I covered in my last Lego post. The concept here is a tower on a little rocky island, connected to land by a stone bridge. The idea is good, and the visual look of the set from a distance is also good. This is a pretty nice looking classic Castle set, and particularly from the front or the angled view Lego used in all marketing materials it looks nice. The bridge looks great, the tower’s gatehouse and BURP/LURP sides look like a rocky island with building built into it, and the tower in the back, complete with glow-in-the-dark ghost, is classic Castle Lego all the way. There are torches, ladders, and more. The way the sides fold out to give you access to the interior of the tower is important as well. You need some way to get into this small, fully enclosed building. I like the curved turret piece on the BURP, too. Wolfpack Tower has plenty of strengths thanks to its great exterior looks.

Once you look at this set closer up, though, you see a bunch of issues. Perhaps most notably, the interior of this tower is very odd. So, the inside of the tower basically consists of the ground, which is blue and doesn’t have a plate over it making it look like the inside of the tower is underwater; a folding ramp which leads down from the bridge and little gatehouse area to the ground, or up to the ghost’s chamber if you turn it upwards; and two ladders. That’s it, other than a treasure chest underneath the ramp. One ladder goes from the gatehouse, and serves as a somewhat weak portcullis. With the ladder down it looks like the path forward is barred, but it’s just a ladder attached only at the top and there isn’t some kind of locking mechanism here, so you can just push it up. You’d need to just pretend it’s attached somewhere. You can secure this by folding the ramp up, forming a more solid wall, though, but of course then the Wolfpack defenders can’t get to the gate either. This ladder is not very useful as a ladder, it doesn’t really go anywhere; it’s hard to imagine someone using it to get up the gatehouse tower, stuff is in the way. The other ladder is on the back tower and goes up to the ghost’s chamber. It works better, either as a ladder to climb up to the ghost’s chamber or from there over to the side tower on the BURP, or as a gate door holding in the ghost. The baseplate is solid blue, so you either need to pretend that there’s a floor, or say that the tiny interior of the fort is totally flooded, which would leave the Wolfpack guys basically nowhere to stay.

And that’s all you get for an interior. The back of the tower has some little spaces in the ghost’s tower and below, but as they are in the insides of curved wall pieces they don’t have pins to actually attach anything there. The ghost is held in by partial walls, but the lower space isn’t very useful. Even if you pretend that the blue ground isn’t water, it’s still a pretty small space mostly filled with the ladders and a treasure chest. Sure, it’s kind of neat how you can move the ladders and ramp up and down into various configurations, but even at the time I think it is reasonable to expect a bit better than this. I know this is a Lego model we’re talking about, but even so this interior is both odd looking and not very functional. The absence of anywhere to stand on the left side of the fort, opposite the BURP tower, also limits their options. If you have all five official sets which have Wolfpack figures in them you’d have eight Wolfpack guys, which is really too many to fit in this fort if you put them all here. That’s not a problem many Lego factions have.

Another strange thing about this set is the grey wall that loops around the middle of the tower. So, around the little tower there is a crenelated wall of grey bricks and arches. From the outside it looks like a second row of fortifications behind the outer rocks and towers. It’s a nice design element from a distance, and it’s even there in the back tower — there is a row of grey, with two little holes, in between the two layers of curved tower blocks. In fact, though, it is nothing other than something to look at, because there is no wall-walk behind those crenelations. They are just meaningless bricks which don’t actually serve any purpose, because nobody can hide behind them. Lego has done this in other sets — the brand new Lion Knights’ Castle has some sections with walls with crenelations but no way to stand on that wall, bizarrely — but I definitely don’t like it in either set. Crenelated walls exist for people to stand behind to defend the wall from, but this can’t do that. I know, a floor in the middle would get in the way of the ladders, but surely they could have come up with SOMETHING! As it is, this wall really only serves the purpose of getting in the way of Wolfpack defenders trying to get to their redoubt on the BURP, since they’d need to climb over the end of the pointless grey wall to get to their actually functional side tower. Yeah.

And lastly, there is even an issue with the otherwise best part of this set, the bridge in the front. So, the bridge on this set is great! It looks nice and is a convincing stone bridge, it’s just that the walls on the sides are low. Most classic castles have crenelations this same height on top of their walls, one solid row of bricks with an intermittent row above that, but those are on top of a wall. This is on a much lower bridge, making the figures more exposed. One more row of bricks on the sides of the bridge makes it look better.

Overall, I can see why I didn’t keep Wolfpack Tower assembled. This set looks good, with solid exterior design, decent playability, and a nice fully enclosed design, but the strange and somewhat ‘missing’ interior and odd design decisions hold it back. It’s an average set overall I would say. I’m impressed that I managed to find enough parts to reassemble it so close to completely and overall enjoyed putting this set back together, though, even if I’ve always had some issues with the actual model. And since I’ll be mostly looking at it now the issues aren’t as important as when I was ten.

More Set Repair, and Castle Minifigure Repair

The next thing I did was to go back to reassembling more of the busted-up town sets. I started with the remaining three Paradisa sets, Sand Dollar Cafe, Cabana Beach, and Sunset Stables. That’s one larger set and two little ones. I definitely like the Sand Dollar Cafe, I think it is Lego’s only beach scene and it’s a pretty nice one. The set is fairly simple, but is great to look at with its beach-print baseplate and beachside cafe. I found almost all of the parts. Additionally, I also repaired the gas station set Gas Stop Shop. It’s a pair of gas pumps with some tools and such in between, and also a gas tanker truck and a tow truck. The two vehicles were already assembled, but the pumps had come apart. Fortunately I found almost all of the unique pieces, only one wrench is missing.

I also repaired the castle set Sea Serpent.  It was mostly correct, but I had modified the way the central oars work, moved the mast, removed the large shields, removed the two rear oars, and replaced the rear flag stand with an oar.  It now is as the instructions show.  I like my modifications to the central oars and may get some parts to do that again, I like them better when they can rotate down to the water instead of only sideways as the set as it is does, but the rear oars and back of the set certainly look better now.  This set is complete other than missing one of the large shields.

With those successes, I decided a few days later to tackle a bigger project: checking through my castle minifigures and trying to put them back together into their original configurations. This ended up being an all-day project which required a lot of research by looking at the set instructions. I found that I had taken apart and redesigned almost every single Crusader, Black Falcon, and Black Knight minifigure. They all needed to completely come apart to be put back together in their original configurations. I had even changed the bodies on all four Black Knight knights, even under their armor! Putting all of them back together in their original configurations took longer than any set has taken, and I found that I have a problem: I seem to have lost a LOT of weapons. Most sets have almost all of their main parts, but when it comes to spears, swords, bows, and the rest, a whole lot are missing. Some helmets are missing as well. That’s pretty unfortunate, I will need to buy replacements.

One interesting thing I found while doing this is being reminded of how odd Lego’s design decisions sometimes are. So, almost every Crusaders set I have, and I have six different ones, has different-looking figures. There are different combinations of pants and torsos each time. The Black Falcons also change looks on a set-to-set basis, from the black pants of the Black Falcons’ Fortress to blue with a black waist of a later set and finally grey pants in their last figures from the Sea Serpent. Overall I like the blue with black waist pants look the best, which is why I’d swapped most of their figures over to those pants. The problem is most of those are Crusader pants and they’d all been swapped to a random mishmash of things, so to make them look better I had to give the Black Falcons back their original pants. Ah well, maybe that’s something to upgrade later. But seriously, I know that sets sometimes released years apart, but when you have a theme why not stick to it, minifigure design-wise? There is consistency in torsos within each theme, but not legs. It’s kind of funny to look at.

Additionally, I found that I have three extra Crusaders minifigures. I found them as loose torsos in one of the parts boxes, and I have no idea where they came from because they cannot have come from any of the Crusaders sets that I have. We must have been given them by someone else or something, there is no set which they could have come from that makes any sense for me to have. I have no other extra Castle minifigures for any other faction. I am missing one minifigure, though — I should have four of the red torso with red arms scale mail torsos, for Knights’ Stronghold and one of the guys on the Battle Dragon, but can only find three. For now I substituted a random space torso in its place, I’ll need to get a replacement. For that to be the only missing minifigure is pretty nice, though, I found everything else.

I also found that I had … reappropriated… some horseback knights. Several foot-bound figures actually were supposed to be knights; I actually have a full five Black Falcon horsemen, and that’s not counting their M-Tron king if I give him a horse. On the other hand I only have four Dragon Masters horseback knights — one of their horsemen had stolen his horse from the Royal Knights, who are now restored to having four horsemen instead of three they’d had for decades now. And I have five Black Knights. I do have only the one Crusader knight, though.


Set Rebuild Summaries

Set Rebuild and Summary: Black Monarchs’ Ghost

While working on the horsemen, I found the answer to a mystery. So, there is one Lego set that I thought I remember having, but did not put in my list. That set is Black Monarch’s Ghost, and I didn’t put it on the list because I couldn’t find any sign of the set — no knight, no box, no manual. Well, despite that, I do have this set. In fact, it is assembled now, it was the one set I reassembled the day I was working on the minifigures. The little building from this small set was among my loose pieces, and the ghost was elsewhere — it was in Dark Dragon’s Den, specifically — but the knight is the interesting part. I found the Black Monarchs’ Ghost knight… on that Crusaders horse. I had put him, in hits impressive armor, on the one Crusaders horse with its nice barded horse cover. I had lost the visor to his helmet, though, so he had a normal old-style helmet originally from one of the three Black Falcon knights who hadn’t had horses for decades. I found the helmet, and replaced the visor with an extra modern one I have. It’s not the right shade of grey at all, modern light grey is very light and does not at all fit with old grey sets, but it’ll do for now.

I am so, so happy to have found this set! I understand why I did what I did, the Twin Arm Launcher Crusader knight has an amazing barded horse but is a quite unimpressive normal minifigure and doesn’t even have a cavalry helmet, btu I had forgotten long ago that I had made this change. Losing the instructions, perhaps because I might have gotten it during our year Europe, definitely did not help. But it’s all reassembled now. The knight looks good, and the little building with a ghost in it is simple but nice. This is perhaps the first of the “small building with a trap” sets, and being an earlier set, from 1990, it’s not as gimmicky as the later ones — there is no trap here, just a ghost behind the doors. It works well, and those glow-in-the-dark ghosts are great. It’s a shame they couldn’t bring that back for the Lion Knights’ Castle. It’s so awesome I have this set assembled again, because of how I’d forgotten about it this was probably the best surprise I’ve had of all the stuff I worked on in this article.

Set Rebuild: Knights’ Arsenal

And then today, I spent more time reassembling sets. I started with this set, the Crusaders horsecart with weapons Knights’ Arsenal. For some reason I have two manuals for this set, and two minifigures that probably are from it, so I tried to build two. I put back together one Knights’ Arsenal as fully as I could, which was pretty close — all I’m missing is a shield, a sword or two, and a hatchet. However, the second one is missing a lot of pieces — the minifigure needs a helmet, spear, and shield, and the cart is missing its black boat piece that makes up the main part of the wagon. There are no supplies in the cart either, the other swords and hatchets are long gone. And worst of all, I can’t find a white horse for this set either. So yeah, I’ve only got maybe half of the second Knights’ Arsenal, but one is near-complete. It makes me wonder if I don’t actually have two of this set and had that second manual for some other reason? But I did have a blue bridle piece and two small wagon wheels which would surely have come from this set, so maybe I do have two of them but just somehow lost most of the wagon. Who knows.

Set Rebuild: Twin Arm Launcher

After that, I moved on to another Crusaders set, Twin Arm Launcher. This is the catapult that the horseman I reassembled correctly recently (above) goes to. Impressively, I was able to fully reconstruct this set with no issues other than some of the usual missing weapons and one little red 1x1x1 barrel piece. Finding all of the parts took a while, and it’s entirely possible we lost some and I’m using parts from some other set, but I found all of the correct parts and that is what matters. Once it was reassemble,d I remembered why I hadn’t kept it assembled in the first place: while it is okay, I’ve never loved this set. Well, I love the knight on horseback with his barded horse armor, but the catapult itself has issues. It’s not even close to the level of, say, the Dragon Defender. Each of its two arms has a relatively low movement range before they bump into either the wheel or the black pole the set uses to stop the arms. I think this set would throw blocks farther if it could throw from a bit higher up, but unfortunately it can’t. The arms also look a little odd in their default resting position, which is almost off of these red flat plates it uses to stop their motion — the black poles are almost at the edge of the plate. And last, the ends of the catapult arms are just these little 1×2 thin plates. They work decently as places for you to grab as you move the catapult arms to throw a stone, but look a bit silly and undersized. Something a bit more substantive on the ends would be better. I can see why I didn’t keep this catapult assembled, it’s alright but I’ve always had these little niggling issues with it which hold it back.

Black Falcons’ Fortress Repair

And lastly, I decided to rebuild the Black Falcons’ Fortress, trying to find all of the parts I had swapped for other colors and replace them with the correct grey bricks. I was inspired to do this because I know I didn’t get it quite right, some areas take off parts of the flooring of the wall walk off way too easily when you take minifigures off in a way that’d never happen if I had assembled it fully to the design. The good news is, I did, after spending some time on it, manage to almost entirely get the set back to looking how it should. I ended up swapping out probably several dozen parts; it may have looked good in that old photo, but look from the right angles and you’d have seen a bunch of white and black bricks. The set still has a sizable list of missing or broken parts, mostly minifigure parts as usual, but it’s a lot closer than it was. And I even found those missing grey L blocks! Redoing this was absolutely worth it and Lego’s best castle looks better for it. I kept a few little changes, such as adding some more clips to attach weapons to and a ladder, but the fixed colors and wall walks are much better now.

Set Summary: Wolfpack Renegades, and Conclusion

In addition to putting together sets I long had in pieces or reused the parts from, I also have thought about buying some classic Castle sets. Classic Castle Legos are expensive, particularly with the boxes and instructions as I would prefer to get them if possible, so so far I only have gotten one: Wolfpack Renegades, as the title suggests. It was not cheap with box and manual and for my money I got a set I had assembled in like ten minutes. The resulting horse cart looks good, though, and the trap floor you can hide a treasure chest underneath is a great concept. I’m not sure why the cart has a full-sized space for the treasure chest on top of the cart too, though. Also, this is a cart full of weapons! Who cares if you hide the treasure, the numerous weapons on the cart should tell anyone who sees it that these people are suspicious… it’s not exactly a disguised cart that the knights would overlook, heh. Well, not unless you take the bow, spear, sword, etc. off the cart and replace them with hay or something instead, which you could do. Regardless, this is a nicely designed set I definitely like the look of. I’m not sure where I’ll put the minifigures if not on the cart though, as I said Wolfpack Tower’s feeling pretty full with its current compliment of five and now I have seven of these guys. For now these two will stay on the cart. Do I recommend this set, yeah, sure. It’s good. Like a lot of Lego sets it is smallish, but that’s okay, you always need sets of all sizes.  The blue and black color scheme of the cart looks good, I like it.

And that is where I am now. My list of castle Lego sets to reassemble is a bit shorter now, which is nice I guess, but I’ll kind of miss it one I’m done. This is a totally different experience from just buying a set, it takes many times more time and is a nice search puzzle. Did buying Wolfpack Renegades make me want to buy more classic Castle sets, though? Well, yes and no. Yes, maybe some of the bigger ones, once I can find the space to put them somewhere. I really want King’s Mountain Fortress and Fire Breathing Fortress, along with Medieval Market Village. But the small sets? There’s just not nearly as much value there, the sets are small and very easy to build and it’s not like I’m going to play with them for hours like I would have as a kid. I’ll play videogames instead. Still, though, I expect my castle Lego collection to grow at least a little.

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Me and Lego Castle, Part II: Lego Castle Set Opinion Summaries

This article ended up being significantly longer than I thought it would be.  It’s more than twice the length of the first Lego article!  Some of that is me repeating things, but most of it is just that I have quite a bit to say.  For now I have it posted as a single article, but I may later break it up into multiple parts and add some pictures.  That might work better, I don’t want it to be even longer than this and adding pictures would make it longer.

My Lego Castle table now. It’s gotten crowded!

Opinion Summaries: Castle Lego Sets

In this section first I will repost the sets I have for each line, followed by thoughts.  It’s Lego Opinion Summaries time.  I mention a few sets I do not own here.  I only mention sets that I have actually played with myself here, not ones I’ve only looked at pictures of.


Crusaders

 

Availability: New sets in their theme 1984-1990, with sets still available until 1992, brought back 2022 as the “Lion Knights”.  This section is only for their original incarnation. 

These were the original default King’s men ‘good guys’, if you consider the King’s men to be good.  I am quite uncertain about that point and often considered them the bad guys.  The Crusaders have a lion emblem with red as their primary color.  On their banners, in earlier sets the colors are red and yellow, but some late sets use red and blue.  Lego was often inconsistent with banner colors in their factions, it’s kind of frustrating.  They clearly didn’t care as much as the fans do.  Regardless, the Crusaders were the first of what would be many lion crown themed “main government/’good’ faction” Lego Castle factions.  The lion and the red color make you think of the British crown, though Lego is Danish.  The Crusaders have a lot of small sets, with two castles.  I only have a bunch of the small sets.  Despite this I have quite a few of their minifigures.   Crusaders torsos have either crossed axes, their lion emblem, scale mail, or plate mail.  With scale mail or plate mail they usually have a red torso with blue arms, though this varies.

Assembled:

Lion Knights’ Castle (2022) – If you count this here.  It’s kind of a Crusaders set and kind of a set in a new line that references their design.  I’m currently considering Lego Castle 2021-2022 as a new line which is at the bottom of this post, where I discuss this set more.

Unassembled:

I haven’t had any of these sets assembled since the ’90s, but I’ll say what I can.

Twin Arm Launcher – This catapult’s alright. It’s somewhat plain looking without the added style of ’90s catapults, but still, sure, it could stand to be reassembled someday.  It’s one of the better looking catapults from the ’80s, the Dragon Defender kind of looks like an upscaled version of this set.  The best thing about this set, though, is the horseback knight!   The set came with a horseback knight with barding on the horse, which is fantastic; this is my only Crusaders mounted knight, and it’s their only one from Classic Castle with the full barding.

King’s Oarsmen – This is the smaller Crusaders boat. It’s a small, average little set.  The set is two guys in a small boat.  I do like the way they made a sail for this boat out of white flag pieces, that looks kind of nice.

Viking Voyager – This is the larger Crusaders boat.  Despite being larger, as the name suggests this boat is moderately long but very narrow.  It looks a bit funny, with its treasure chest cargo at the back covered by curving rubber things, but does come with five minifigures, three oarsmen rowing with spears since Lego had not invented an oar piece yet and two others to give commands.  This is a decent little set maybe I should reassemble, but I’m not missing all THAT much, it’s a bit silly looking.  The large number of minifigures is maybe the strongest thing about this set, the design’s okay but somehow a bit off.

Town Wall Tavern (Guarded Inn) – This legendary set is one of Lego’s best castle sets ever. I really wish that I had it assembled, it’s a really really good one. The set is a small tavern attached to a piece of castle wall, and comes with a barmaid or female tavern-keeper or such, a Black Falcon knight visiting, and a Crusader soldier guarding the wall above. The set uses several red and black wattle and daub wall pieces that don’t appear in many, if any, other sets, which is cool.  There are little details too, including a table in the lower part of the tavern.  This is a fantastic set I need to try to reassemble. I have the European version which is why I call it the Town Wall Tavern.  Probably because I got this set during our year living in Europe in the early ’90s, though, this is one of the few castle sets that I do not have any of the original box of.  That’s unfortunate, I have most of my Lego boxes.  I think that this is my only missing Castle Lego box, but we probably just couldn’t fit it in the luggage.  I do have the manual, though the first few pages are long gone — it starts at step six.  Argh.

Knights’ Arsenal – This set is a small horsecart, with a Crusader knight sitting on the seat of a cart which carries some weapons in its back.  It looks like an okay small set with decent design, even if it does again use that ‘rubber hoses covering the treasure/cargo’ design style that the Viking Voyager also uses.  I have two manuals for this set, so maybe we got two of them?  I’m not sure.

Sets I Don’t Have But Want To Mention:  The original King’s Castle is a solid but simple design.  I have played with it before and it’s nice.  I think that it has been surpassed by newer castles, but it is still the standard all non-hill plate castles are based off of.  The Crusaders’ second castle, the King’s Mountain Fortress, ended up being the line’s last set.  This is a small tower on a hill plate with a gatehouse.  This is a midsize castle, smaller than the big ones, but goes for full size castle money today.  I’ve always thought the tower part looked nice, but the overall design does not make sense.  The wall connecting the gatehouse and the tower is totally exposed on one side, for example, it’s not defensible AT ALL!  This set would need modification to be made sane.  I kind of want to get it anyway, though…  And last, the Armor Shop and Weapons Shop are nice little shops attached to wall sections that’d be pretty nice to have, particularly after rebuilding the Town Wall Tavern since they would attach nicely.

 

Black Falcons

 

Availability: new sets only for them 1984-87, sets with them in them 1984-1992 (and available for several years past that in one set), brought back kind of 2010, brought back for real 2021-22. Again this section is only for their original incarnation.

This is my favorite faction.  The Black Falcons have blue as their primary theme color.  Their early sets have banner colors of green and white for some reason, but I don’t have those sets.  The sets I have either use only blue, or blue and white or blue and yellow.  Lego, color consistency?  What is that?  At least their torsos are almost always consistent, with a blue background and their emblem.  The exception are the knights that have plate mail instead, usually on blue but sometimes black.

 

Assembled:

 

Black Falcon’s Fortress (1986) – This set is a medium sized castle.  It originally came with two archers, two spearmen, and two mounted knights.  The set was re-released in the early ’00s as a classic set.  The only Castle Lego sets to get that honor were this one and the Guarded Inn above.

This set is often considered one of the best castle Lego sets ever, and sometimes is called THE best castle Lego set ever.  For those of us who had it back in the ’80s, it’s easy to see why it gets so much praise.   The design is just fantastic.  It’s a classic small square castle which opens in the back, but this set moved Lego castle design forward and still looks fantastic.  This set introduced multiple new pieces, including the angled castle wall pieces and the yellow and black wall, and has a fantastic look with its great-looking pair of front towers and rear inhabitance at the center top of the back wall.  There is nothing inside the ‘house’ part and it has no side walls, but still it’s a great looking area.  They only had so many bricks to work with back then, after all.  It’s just a brilliant design with no real flaws other than maybe the fairly cheap way the drawbridge rope is supposed to work; it’s just laid underneath the drawbridge, without even any pieces for it to pass through, and there isn’t a winch either, you have to pull the cable and attach it somewhere. That is, if your rope isn’t missing like mine now is. Ah well.

This set was unassembled for years, but I found almost all of the pieces and put it back together sometime in the ’00s. I had to substitute a few pieces for different colors and the drawbridge string is missing. The flag’s clips are broken and it is taped to its flagpole.  Said flagpole is grey, instead of the original black.  At least I still have the flag, though! It is probably overall my favorite Lego piece.  Also I substituted blue flags on the front instead of the yellow that came with it, I liked the look of blue better.  And I have the blue flags hanging from spears, instead of black flagposts as the default has.  Other than that though the set’s in decent condition.  Oh, the white-horse knight lost an arm.  Ah well.  Oh.. and there’s a Chicago Cubs sticker on one of the angled wall pieces.  I’m a Red Sox fan of course, but put that sticker there for some reason.  Heh.

I listed the missing pieces above, but I did make a few additions to this set, including a ladder to get up to the wall and a little catapult on the battlements on one side.  Ladders to get up to walls are important, it’s annoying how often Lego leaves out that detail.  Fix that, though, and this set is just about perfect.  The look from the front evokes some of the best-looking real medieval castles, and there is enough inside, from the minifigures to the design, to keep you interested for quite a while.  The design of the roof of the house part is very nice as well. I know I said it already, but the combination of those amazing front towers and rear house on the upper wall is maybe Lego’s best design.

Note: While they are part of the Crusaders, Black Falcons, and Forestmen factions, I am going to put the new 2021 sets at the end of this list, in order to keep this list roughly chronological.

Unassembled:

 

Castle Guard – This set consists of a foot soldier guard in a guard shack and a mounted knight.  The knight from this set gave his horse to the M-Tron king of the Black Falcons, I believe. The set isn’t assembled but its unique roof tile is around somewhere.  I’ve always liked that roof, it’s a pretty medieval-looking octagonal red roof.  That’s definitely the standout part of this set.

Knights’ Stronghold (the Black Falcons catapult part) – This set was pretty mediocre, but the Black Falcon catapult from it is alright, it’s blue and black.  It also had a Black Falcon foot soldier to man the catapult and a mounted knight.  I should reassemble the catapult sometime if I can find the parts. The set also came with the only Black Falcon knight with separate armor over his torso, which is very cool.  I quite like that knight.

Battle Dragon if for some reason you give this to the Falcons just because of the shield (I don’t) – This is a small and pretty average boat with a Black Knights visual theme and two knights in Black Knights or Crusaders scale mail armor, but one is carrying a Black Falcons shield for some reason.  (The Black Falcons never had the scale mail armor, only the Crusaders and Black Knights.) The dragon head on the front of this boat looks a lot better than the one on the Viking Voyager, I will say.  It is of course far behind the Sea Serpent, though, but given the size difference that is an unfair comparison.

Minifigures Only:


Sea Serpent
– This fantastic Black Knights boat comes with two Black Falcon figures who are attacking the ship.  These two Black Falcons are the last Black Falcon figures made before the recent relaunch of the line and look different from any others as they have grey pant legs instead of the usual black.  The Sea Serpent Black Falcon knight with sword and shield and grey pants is, overall, my favorite Lego minifigure.  He probably should be my internet avatar instead of the random Black Falcon axe guy I use…

Forestmen

Availability: 1987-1990, sets available until ’92.  Line relaunched with some limited-production-run-only sets in 2021-2022 as the Forest Guardians, who I will mention near the end. 

This line is very popular and have natural-looking designs.  The minifigures wear green, with Robin Hood style hats with feathers of various colors on the hats.  When the Forestmen have a banner up, it is always just red.

Assembled: None

Unassembled:

Forestmen’s Tower – This set is one of the earlier Lego sets I remember getting. Young me had trouble putting it together, it’s small and a bit finicky to build, at least for a child.  I managed it eventually, but I remember it being tricky. I took it apart later on to build my own stuff and never have reassembled it, it’s just a small tower that kind of looks like a tree. It’s fine I guess. I kind of like the Forestmen even if I have very few of their figures, I should get more of their sets sometime… but their high prices, since the Forestmen are quite popular, make that difficult.  I would say I should try to re-assemble this set, since it is a nice little tower with pretty good design, but it might be hard to find all the parts, if I still have them.

Black Knights

Availability: 1988-94, with sets available past that.

This line had some amazing castles but the rest of their set lineup was always a bit thin.  The Crusaders have a surfeit of small sets, but the Black Knights don’t.  The other odd thing about this line are their torsos — unlike the other Classic Castle lines, the Black Knights never had a torso with their logo on it. Instead, they have scale mail or plate mail torsos.  The problem is that their torso and leg colors, red, black, sometimes blue often only on the arms, and such, are often the exact same as the Crusaders, so telling the two factions apart based just on their minifigures can be nearly impossible, since the Crusaders also have figures with those same torsos and colors.  About the only real difference is that Black Knights usually have black helmets instead of grey.  Also their banner colors of red and blue are also used on some late Crusaders sets… except for one set, which has green and yellow instead for some reason.  Their dragon emblem is unique in its blue and red colors, but with all those similarities it’s no wonder I consider the two allies and put them all in the same castle…

 

Assembled:

Dungeon Masters’ Castle (Black Knights’ Castle) – This is another legendary set, often regarded as one of Lego Castle’s best ever.  Indeed, this set often seems to finish first overall in Classic Castle rankings, and I get why; it’s an outstanding set, certainly one of Lego’s best ever.  I got it for Christmas in its first year of release, which is why I have the “Dungeon Master’s Castle” version of the set, before they renamed it in year two. My version of the set is very nearly complete; all I am missing is one of the best parts, the large four-quarters red and yellow flag that should be flying from the house in the back corner and the rope for the portcullis.  String is easy to replace, though, while that flag is expensive. This castle is on a one-baseplate mountain plate, and a large prison and well are in the center.  The set came with four mounted knights, six foot soldiers and archers, a glow in the dark ghost, and a Wolfpack renegade thief.

This set well deserves its top-of-the-pack reputation.  The sets’ look is fantastic, and its defensibility is mostly great, but there are some weaker areas. It has a gatehouse in the front corner, three levels high; has full-height walls on the front and right side with a second full level in the corner for towers, one in the front right and one in the back left; and lower walls on the other two sides, only single-height at the top of the hill plate.  There is a well and prison in the center.  The view from the front is probably the second best of any Castle set, second only to the Black Falcon’s Fortress.  The lower walls in the rear are there to let you reach in to play with the set, but they do make the front much stronger than the back as far as defensibility goes.  There’s still a steep hillside to account for so getting in from the rear would not be EASY, but it would be easier than the front, certainly.  The side of the ramp up is also open, to allow you to easily play in that area.  The archways along the side of the ramp have always seemed to me to be security issues, they are wide open and beg for someone to try to attack through them. Admittedly they are probably too small to fit a figure with weapons through, but still, they probably should be mostly filled in. The high walls in front and back of the side of the ramp should make this area still pretty defensible, though.

The real weak point here is the rear corner with the wooden house. Sort of like the two Black Falcon castles I have, this castle has a house part in the back, and like the newer one it has the wooden construction on the outside. This is the only set other than Black Falcon’s Fortress to use the yellow-and-black half-timber wall piece.  It’s a fantastic piece, but here it’s on the OUTSIDE wall, instead of the inside as the Black Falcon’s Fortress has.  That’s not a very defensible thing for a strong castle to have!  This part has a house roof on top as well, no battlement. It’s a nice look but clearly is defensively weaker. The back corner has a little drawbridge, too, for direct access to the house part of the castle.  There is no door or portcullis behind the little drawbridge.  The house looks great visually and is nice inside, with treasure in the upper floor and a table below, but this area is definitely where attackers should focus.  The front’s going to be nearly impossible to take unless you can sneak through the pretty small gaps along the slope on the left side or get over the side walls, but the back corner looks vulnerable unless there’s plenty of water right next to the castle there.

As far as the way the gates work, the small rear drawbridge has no automation, you just raise and lower it with your hand.  It’s the right design for its small size.  In front, there is a wheel on the side of the gatehouse to raise and lower the drawbridge, and it works well. The portcullis is not so fancy, though; it just uses an old-fashioned string on a rope, which you have to attach somewhere else on the castle, such as on top of a tower, to hold it up. My drawbridge still works, but the portcullis string is missing. I hold it up by wedging a brick into the grille.

Regardless of its defensive issues, the Dungeon Masters’ Castle is an impressive and beautiful set. I never considered disassembling this set, it looks too amazing to take apart. This is the second Lego hill plate castle, and it is the best hill plate castle. I entirely agree with the consensus that this set is incredible and one of Lego’s best.  It was designed with style and variety, each area has a different look and feel to it.  Oh, and this was also the last Lego castle to come with four, yes four, mounted knights. Two have full body armor and horse barding and look amazing; the other two are plainer, older designs, and clearly are the lower-ranking guys. You get 12 minifigures with this set total. Pretty nice.  I have always considered the guy with the red barding and the red and blue flags to be the leader, and the one with blue barding and a white flag to be number two.  The white flag guy’s white dragon helmet topper is a piece unique to this set, though, so it’s pricey if lost.  Fortunately I have mine.

Sea Serpent – This boat is the largest ship made for classic castle factions. It’s a pretty nice ship with a cloth sail, and was the last set to come with Black Falcon figures, too, which is pretty cool.  As I said, the Black Falcons from this set have grey pants, making them look different from any others, and the Black Falcon swordsman figure from this set is my overall favorite lego minifigure. The boat and its Black Knight sailors look pretty great too, though, they are the best thing about this set.  The ship has a nice dragon on the front, a cloth sail with a rope attached to it, and a small aft-castle.  It’s a really nice miniature of a medieval-ish ship.  This set is certainly a must-have classic castle set and is by far the best ship for classic castle.  Make sure to get this great little ship.  The one oddity about this ship is the green and yellow banner flying on the mast…

Unassembled:

Knights’ Stronghold – This is a pretty plain little black wall with a gate and, of course, a prison; the Black Knights always have those. The set is okay, but I remember being seriously underwhelmed by this set when I got it.  It’s one of the weaker classic castle sets I owned. It is definitely not a “stronghold” despite its name, it’s just a chunk of wall. The armored Black Falcon knight is the best thing about this set.  If you have some more black wall sets or your own creations to attach this to perhaps it could be nice, but on its own this set disappointed me. It’s fine though I guess, just small and bland.

Battle Dragon (despite the Black Falcons’ shield, I cannot consider this a Black Falcons set, it’s very obviously supposed to be a Black Knights ship. The two guys from this ship are among my Black Knights.) – As I said with the Black Falcons listing, this is a decent but average little boat. I’m not missing much by not finding the parts, though the dragon build on the front is one of the better ones on a classic Lego Castle ship.


Dragon Masters

 

Availability: 1993-95, with figures available for a while in sets for a few more years. 

This line was Lego’s first into a clearly fantasy castle setting.  I like this line.  They use red and yellow banners.  Yes, Lego was incredibly unoriginal with their banner colors and repeat the same few colors constantly.  Their logo is the Black Knights dragon logo, but recolored to green and yellow with some red to match the colors of their green dragons.  This line introduced a bunch of interesting new parts and look imposing with their giant halberds, tall shields, and dragon helmets.  I called them a key part of the good faction despite that.

 

Assembled:

Crossbow Cart – This small set is a little push-cart with a standard large Dragon Masters shield protecting the soldier on the back end right in front of where he pushes the cart from, and a pair of crossbows on the front end to shoot at the enemy with. This is an okay but small set with solid design for its size and price. There isn’t much to say about it other than that at the time the oversized Dragon Masters shields were pretty cool and unique.  Lego introduced several nice new pieces with the Dragon Masters, including the oversized shield, halberd, and dragon.

Dragon Defender – This set is a dual catapult. It’s got a big dragon head on the front, which is both aesthetic and functional because its heavy weight helps the catapult shoot out its ammo. If you release the little lock at the back, the heavy dragon head will toss out the rocks. Sure, they won’t go far, but they will fire. This set fits well with the Dragon Masters line, which are a bit overdone in terms of realism and have dragons and wizards, but I like them quite a bit anyway. I think that after this line Lego went too far with the fantasy elements, but the Dragon Masters are interesting and unique enough looking that for me they work in a way that the Fright Knights, for instance, do not at all.  This set is a great example of Dragon Masters design, with the huge dragon head and functional, big catapult.  I’ve always liked how it looks.

Dark Dragon’s Den – This is the Dragon Masters’ second-largest base. I didn’t get their main fortress, but I got this and it’s probably just about as good. This is a half-baseplate fort with walls mostly made out of BURPs and LURPs [Big Ugly Rock Pieces and Large Ugly Rock Pieces; these pieces are somewhat infamous among Lego fans] and some odd design elements, such as the ladder up the side of the cliff for no good reason, but I’ve always quite liked it anyway. The set has a dragon’s den with front gate on one side and a secure base area for the knights on the other, with a platform on top accessed via a curving stairway or that odd ladder on the other side.  This set is open in the back, so it is not fully enclosed, but you do need to be able to play in it and the set isn’t big enough to have a back section, so it’s fine; you just need to imagine that it’s built into the side of a mountain.  I like the tree growing out of the mountain on one side, it looks like something out of a Forestmen set.  I’ve often put my Forestmen in this tree.   The half-and-half dragon and base design is good too. There isn’t much in the base part by default, but I’ve filled it with plenty of random items.

One thing that the two main Dragon Masters sets have in common is that they both have large flat platform spaces on top of the sets.  This platform is open except for a little tower with a flag on it.  It’s a good design idea which helps them stand out from other lines; no other castle Legos have this same design concept. Majisto the wizard and his top helpers stay on top, perfect for surveying the area and commanding dragons from its height, while the other guards live below by the hopefully tame dragons. From here the Dragon Masters can go out fighting badguys and impressing people with their captive dragons and their leader’s magic.  I’ve always really liked this set for some reason, even if it is a pile of BURPs.

Dragon Wagon – This is a prison carriage. Where some other factions have prison carriages for human prisoners, though, the Dragon Masters have one for a dragon. This set makes walls out of fences in a pretty clever way, and you can easily fit a dragon inside and carry it around until Majisto can figure out the right spell to make it more tame. Yeah, this is a good set which fits the Dragon Masters well.  It has their red-and-black color scheme and looks creepy but serves a good purpose, taming dangerous rogue dragons is a service to society.  The prison-cart theme is a bit thematically scary, but of such sets this is the only one I like enough to buy and I’m glad I did. Actually I have two of this set. It’s one of the few Lego set we got two of. I think one was mine and one was my sister’s.

Majisto’s Magical Tower (this set never fully assembled correctly and still isn’t) – This set is a mid-sized house where Majisto can practice his magic in a tower hopefully away from prying eyes. It’s a good idea and I like the less martial design, but unfortunately this poorly designed set must have had some issues with its instructions because I never managed to figure out how to built it correctly, and I don’t think I am the only one who had such issues with this set. In its mostly-but-not-entirely-right state it is in it’s an okay set and it’s nice for a more civilian setup, but I wish it actually assembled correctly. Whenever I get Medieval Market Village and the Blacksmith’s Shop, though, this will go with sets like those.

Medieval Knights – This is a ‘a bunch of minifigures’ set. Lego has made many of these over the years, but I almost never bought them. This might be the only one I have, actually. This set comes with three Dragon Masters and a Wolfpack guy. One Dragon Master figure is a mounted knight, one a crossbowman, and one a foot halberd man. The Wolfpack guy is a regular swordsman. It’s a nice little set that boosted the size of my Dragon Masters mounted knight force, which is the largest of any faction I have — I have five mounted Dragon Masters knights, and that’s not even counting their two or three green dragons.

Unassembled: None.

Minifigures Only:

 

Royal Drawbridge – A horseback Dragon Masters knight comes with this Royal Knights set.  He’s there to get dumped in the water when you set off the trap.  This is part of why, despite my having all of the Royal Knights sets but not all the Dragon Masters, I have only three horseback knights for the Royal Knights, but five for the Dragon Masters… they just have a lot of cavalry for their size.  Well, cavalry does fit in well with their really cool huge lance-length halberds, so it works.

Wolfpack

Availability: 1992-93, available in sets a bit past that. 

This line are like the Forestmen but without the Robin Hood aspect; these guys are just thieves and brigands.  This was a very short-lived line.  They have brown torsos with a wolf’s head on them, wear peasant / bandit hats, and like the Forestmen when they have a flag it is just red.

Assembled: None

Unassembled:

Wolfpack Tower – This somewhat blah set is the Wolfpack’s only larger set. This short-lived line only had a couple of sets, and this was the bigger of them. Unfortunately, it’s not great. This set builds on a half blue baseplate. It’s got a bridge leading to a small tower in the back.  The bridge looks alright and is the best thing about this set, but the actual tower is pretty disappointing.  The tower has a ladder and a ramp inside at opposite angles, neither really going anywhere much, and you can open the sides to get to the small inside. Compared to the nice stone bridge, the mostly unusable nature of the actual tower part is really something I wish they had improved on.  It’s a bit like the inside of the Forestmen’s River Fortress set but smaller, I’d say.  The set makes use of BURPs too, for the record. I wonder where the ones from this set are. Regardless of its mediocrity though, I have thought every so often about trying to re-assemble it, if I can find the parts. I never did because I don’t remember liking it all that much anyway. The look is somewhat generic too, I don’t think it gives the Wolfpack a strong enough identity.  The idea was an abandoned tower they are using as a base for their thieving operations and I guess it works, but I think they could have done better.  But with how few sets this line got, Lego didn’t give them much of a chance.  They were blowing through themes quickly at this point.

Minifigures Only:

Dungeon Master’s Castle (Black Knights Castle) –  One Wolfpack guy comes with this set.

Medieval Knights – And one fairly plainly armed Wolfpack guy comes with this otherwise Dragon Masters-based figure pack, as well.

 

Royal Knights

Availability: New sets 1995-97, with sets still available for a year or more past that. 

The Royal Knights are the second coming of the Crusaders, essentially; they are the second of many “Good Lion Crown” factions.  I have all of their own sets.  The Royal Knights have red and white banner colors, and their figures are red and white as well, with red torsos with their logo on them and white arms.  At least this faction is thematically consistent, other than whatever Lego was thinking when they designed the one set with them in it that I don’t have, the big Dark Forest set which has some Dragon Masters figures as Royal Knights…

 

Assembled:

Royal Drawbridge – The Royal Drawbridge was the first large bridge for a Lego Castle faction. There have been several more since, arguably better according to people who have them, but this is the only castle bridge I have and I’ve always liked it a lot. Yes, I like this unpopular set, and the line it comes from. As I said before I have all of the Royal Knights sets other than their carriage that came with the big Dark Forest set, and I got them all back at the time because I liked this faction.

Their castle is fantastic, but this bridge is also really cool. The bridge has a pair of towers connected above on one side and a bridge crossing its blue half plate. Underneath one end of the bridge is a hidden treasure chest in the water, and there’s a skeleton in the water on the other side. The bridge is fairly tall, and its large size is impressive. The set comes with a small raft with an archer on it. He’s probably supposed to set off the trap floor. Because you see, this bridge is misnamed; it looks pretty good, but is not a drawbridge. This is a flat bridge which is hinged with a trap floor, so when you pull out the branch you can make the bridge spin with a touch and drop anyone trying to cross into the river. Sure, I’m not a big gimmick fan, but it’s a solid concept they execute on well. I think the set fits well when placed in front of the Royal Knights’ Castle, too, since the castle does not have a drawbridge in front. I like the towers in the back and the design of the bridge. With an amusing gimmick and good design, this is a pretty good set I love having.


Royal Knights’ Castle
– Royal Knights’ Castle uses a large plate-and-a-half mountain plate which was only ever used on this one set. It’s a fantastic baseplate which is easily the best large baseplate used for a castle, since it has a fully enclosed hill, unlike the later plate-and-a-half mountain plates which have two separate hills with a lower path in between. I bought this set new and it was the most expensive Lego set I ever bought myself before this year (2022), and didn’t get as a gift as I had with the Dungeon Masters’ Castle or the Black Seas Barracuda.

What you get for your money is a very impressive model. It does have some influence from the then-growing gimmick era of Lego set design, but even so it’s a very good set. By the way, Lego would call them “play features” instead of gimmicks, but that’s what they are, gimmicks — traps and such in the set that look amusing, perhaps, and serve to supposedly make children more entertained.  I think we were plenty well entertained by the almost entirely gimmick-free sets of the ’80s, though, so it really was not necessary, and these gimmicks often make sets look worse.  Lego went too far with that stuff soon after this line. Here, though, I think they got that balance mostly right.  This is a good looking set… with a few gimmick bits.

The castle has a large tower over the gatehouse, a tower in the back left, and an open tower with a throne room in the back right. The back right tower also has a drawbridge with winch, though you will need to help the bridge lower if you want it to go down, it’s not very heavy. There is not a drawbridge on the front gate, only a large pair of doors with a portcullis behind. It’s fine and makes for a somewhat different look. As usual, the portcullis does not have a winch, you just need to tie off the brick attached to the string somewhere. Why did Lego always do portcullises this way? For minifigures, you get two on horseback, one the Royal King, and a good number of foot soldiers and a ghost and skeleton. That the castle only came with two horseback knights, neither one with the plate chest armor of the Black Knights’ leaders, is kind of disappointing, but the Royal King does have a pretty cool cape, crown, and chrome sword, which make up for a lot.

The castle’s design is mostly great, but much like the Dungeon Master’s Castle before it the set is designed with a much lower wall on the back than the front. The whole long back between the rear towers has just a low wall at the top of the hill, though there is a nice bit going out in the center with a crossbow emplacement. And in the front, this set uses regular full-height wall pieces as towers, and has lower walls elsewhere. This is not as tall a castle as the Dungeon Masters’ Castle as a result, the three main towers are as tall but the other walls are lower. I know that this set is built on a larger baseplate, so they have more space to cover, but still this has always disappointed me a bit about the set. I know that the low back and right side walls are there to make it easier to get into and play with, but even so some higher walls would be even more impressive looking.

The other issue is with that back right tower. Now, the back left tower is fine, it is a normal full two level high tower. The one on the right with the drawbridge, though, is fully open, with no walls apart from its roof. The lower level is the gatehouse for the drawbridge, the second level a throne room for the king, and the top under the roof is a hidden treasure storage area. There is a trap door in front of the king. There is also a little staircase covered by a hinged floor under the tower. It’s a nice looking tower and is surely open for playability, but you just need to pretend that it actually has walls top to bottom because as it is it’s completely indefensible; the king could be easily picked off from a distance by an archer, and there is basically nothing keeping enemies from getting through the huge gaps in the wall around the drawbridge gate.

That is a big issue for me, but still I do love this set. It has a lot of little details; Lego sets were getting more and more complex on the interiors at this point. The inside of the castle has a prison area underneath a ramp leading up to the drawbridge gate, and a well in the bottom. There is also a hidden skeleton trap just inside the main gatehouse. The color scheme of the castle is quite similar to the Black Knights, except with the Royal Knights’ standard blue roofs and perhaps a somewhat softer feel from that open rear tower. This is an impressive looking castle that holds up great. For defensive purposes a rebuild to enclose that rear tower would be recommended, but as is it’s a great looking model and certainly a favorite of mine. Compare this to any hill plate castle released later on and you see the progress of juniorification. It may have just started here, with things like the lower walls and the multiple traps, but had not fully hit yet at this point. At this point Lego may have been focused on gimmicks, but they did still made good models. Sadly that would not last long, but this is an awesome set! And mine is in fantastic condition too, missing no pieces. This is a somewhat less valuable set than the Dungeon Master’s Castle, and it does not quite match it, but I do think it’s under-rated and a classic set. It’s big and impressive to look at and also is a good design with mostly good defensibility.

King’s Carriage – This set is a two-horse carriage. As always for the Royal Knights, both horses are white. All Royal Knights horses are white. This passenger vehicle isn’t particularly medieval, it’s much more early modern, but it is interesting to see a horse-drawn carriage from Lego, there aren’t many of those. The cart is in standard Royal Knights black and blue, and there’s a roof you can open to put the king inside, and the sides are open with flaps for doors. There is also storage for a treasure chest in the back. It’s a pretty large vehicle for only a driver and one passenger inside, but it’s a nice design that looks pretty good. Even if it is not very medieval at all I like this set, it’s a good design with some solid play value both in imagining bandits trying to steal the treasure or kidnap the king and in just having a vehicle for people to travel around in. Recommended.

Skeleton Surprise – This set is a small tower with a bit of treasure inside, guarded by a single Royal Knights soldier on the roof. Inside the tower is a skeleton trap you can swing down. The tower looks nice, it’s a simple but classic design that I kind of like, but resetting the trap is kind of a pain — a lance holds up the skeleton, and he rotates on another pole. After removing the lance, you can swing him down with the pole. Easy enough. Putting that lance back in, and getting it through the hole on the other side, is a bit tricky unless you pick up the set and turn it upside down, though.  You have to feed it through to a hole on the other side of the building with no guiderails in between.  It’s not too hard, but you’d think that they could have come up with a better design. Overall this is probably the most average Royal Knights set, but I like it anyway.

Crossbow Boat – This is a tiny little boat with a shield in the front and a pair of crossbows. It’s perhaps better than the raft that comes with the Royal Drawbridge set, but is otherwise about as bland and forgettable a boat as you’ll find. All of the older boats are better, and larger.

Royal King – This set is a horseback king figure, with crown, sword, and lance with flag.  It’s a totally fine average one of these ‘one single knight’ sets, except with the Royal Knights’ king instead of a regular knight.  It’s fine.

Space/Castle Value Pack  – This set contains a Royal Knights catapult and a Spyrius spaceship.  Neither set was available individually and neither has its own name, oddly enough.  I am only discussing the castle set here.  This set is a small blue and black catapult with a soldier. It’s okay, but as far as movable Lego Castle catapults go this one is about as small as they come. This was a small dual pack set but still, it’s pretty minimal. Okay, but minimal. Despite that this is the Royal Knights’ only siege weapon. They’re a line focused on ‘the Royal King sure is cool, huh, look at his neat stuff’ indeed. Their men are soldiers, but it’s clear their main focus is not on war. It’s on defense, running their kingdom, and service. You could complain about the servility part of that, but for the most part they are a fine faction that I have always liked reasonably well.

Unassembled: None

Minifigures Only:

Hemlock Stronghold – This Dark Forest set comes with two Royal Knights soldiers who are attacking this base.  It’s always nice to have a few more guys to guard their castle with, it is a large castle without as many minifigures as the older castles came with.

Dark Forest

Availability: New sets only released in one year, 1996.  The sets may have been available for a little while after that. 

This line is desirable, being a Forestmen offshoot, and was only sold in stores in the US and was mail order only in Europe, so the sets are expensive and uncommon now.  Their torsos are a bit more ‘realistic ruffian’ looking than the Forestmen’s, though not as much so as the Wolfpack.  They wear mostly green, with brown and other colors for vests and the like.  As with the other similar factions their banners are red.

Assembled:

Bandit Ambush – Dark Forest was a very short-lived Forestmen revival. The line had only three sets in one year and that’s it. It’s too bad, because I kind of like them conceptually, though both of these sets are flawed. They like catapults too much, and they seem a bit less Robin Hood-ish Forestmen and more like just thieves, something closer to Wolfpack though not quite that amoral. I have the two smaller sets but unfortunately not the now quite expensive large one. Even this small set is expensive now, though; complete in box this little set is like $100!  This is their small set, which is a small catapult built into the back of a BURP rock wall. Dark Forest have a lot of static, immobile catapults, for some reason. If it’s for attacking travelers along a road, surely something movable would be better? But anyway, this is an okay but fairly average little set. The Forestmen-ish theme is good, but the set is generic.  The set comes with two Dark Forest guys.

Hemlock Stronghold – This mid-size half plate base has a two-level tower that looks like it was built out of a branch-covered rocky outcropping. The tower has a castle wall piece and small catapult on top of course and a jail cell on the mid level, on one side. One side of the tower base opens, though given how much open space is between them on the bottom level and that not much is in there, there isn’t much of a reason to need to do that really. On the other side of the baseplate is a larger static catapult. with a pretty neat multi-part design. It looks great. It’s a good design, with a firing beam which pushes the catapult arm forward instead of the plain ‘arm only’ catapults that many other Castle Lego catapults are, and is plenty big, but who are they attacking with this catapult attached to the ground near this hideout of theirs? It’s a little odd. The set also has a nice well on the ground.  The set came with two Dark Forest guys and two Royal Knights.  One more Dark Forest guy might have been nice, but ah well.

Overall this is a decent to good looking set but the design is kind of strange, with the split open tower and pair of catapults. It’s alright and I certainly like having it, it has a decent look to it with its height and natural-styled tree and rock design, but it’s probably not worth the high prices it goes for today. Dark Forest didn’t sell well back then, so the sets go for something of a premium now. It’s really too bad I didn’t buy the big Dark Forest set, it’s easily their best one and it is now very expensive.

Unassembled: None

Fright Knights

Availability: 1997-1998. 

After 1998 Classic Castle ended, moving on to a short Ninja era followed by the oh-so-popular (heh) Knights Kingdom line.  This line is a very gimmick-heavy light horror themed line.  It’s my least favorite Lego theme ever, the Fright Knights are the absolute worst!  And for that reason I got very few, very small sets of theirs.  The figures have grey pants and several armored torsos.  Their leader has a red armor torso, others other armor colors such as black.    For flags, their cloth banner has a grey field with a black dragon and a red outline, but their banner colors are… red and yellow.  Again.  Oh, Lego.

Assembled:

Bat Lord – For me, the Fright Knights are where Lego Castle took a steep downhill dive. This is a fantasy horror themed line headed by a “Bat Lord” (a vampire?) and a witch. They have black dragons, light horror theming, and such. I’m no Halloween fan so for me the horror theme was a turnoff, but their set designs are just poor regardless of your opinion on that issue. Certainly, the factions of ’93 to ’96 were not as grounded as the ones before, but they were still pretty good, mostly well designed factions with plenty of good sets. But the Fright Knights? I’ve never seen a Fright Knights set I really wanted to get. They are just bad, with an overabundance of awful, extremely gimmick-focused sets with virtually zero attention to realistic design. See, well, every single one of their buildings, they’re all awful. I have seen and played with their main castle in person at least once, and I was not impressed. It’s tall but is otherwise a total mess of a set design-wise. And so, all I got were two very small sets. This one is the Bat Lord himself riding on a black dragon. It’s fine I guess, though the minifigure design isn’t great, and the dragon color is new.


Bat Lord’s Catapult
– This set is slightly larger than the other one. It has two Fright Knight soldiers with a small horse-drawn catapult. The wheels on the cart are nice looking wooden wheels, but otherwise this set is pretty bad and boring, with extremely minimal detail and nothing but a little barrel on a board as a catapult. This has got to be one of the worst Lego sets I own. But hey, what else would you expect from Lego Castle’s worst faction ever. Only the Knights’ Kingdom lines are maybe worse, since they are not just forgettably mediocre to poor design-wise, as the Fright Knights are, but also are very bland and boring thematically; as bad as they are, at least the Fright Knights have a concept. Still, my personal bias is towards the Fright Knights being my choice for the absolute worst Lego Castle theme. I only got some of their sets because at the time I wanted to be sure to have some sets from every Lego Castle theme.

Unassembled: None

Sets I Don’t Have But Want To Mention: I do not have it, but I’d like to mention the Fright Knights castle again.  I know I complained about this set in the last post in this series, but I need to again.   This set is one some people like, but I have always considered it maybe the worst Lego set ever.  I have seen this set and played with it some, and it’s just SO SO BAD!  This set is tall, but is the epitome of gimmicks.   Every bit of the set is designed for gimmick, not sane design.  The walls have random openings without even a door, the set is built on a somewhat dumb looking very thick brick, the tower is just a mishmash pile of styles that don’t fit together at all and only exist to show off a new gimmick on each level, there are of course no staircases to get up, and more.  Ughhh, this set is just bad bad bad.

Interlude: Ninja

Availability: 1998-1999.  The sets came in two waves, one for each year. I only have smaller sets from the first year.

Ninja sets use Japanese-style torsos and armor, new Asian heads, and Japanese-style vertical banner flags.  The Shogun’s side and their grey ninjas use blue, the Bandits and black ninjas red, and the Imperial / white ninja and Red Ninja factions, despite being enemies, both use the same white banner.

Things needed to change, so Lego tried something different, the Japanese-themed Ninja line. These sets are decently interesting, though not too great from a ‘are the sets actual defensible fortifications’ front; like the Fright Knights, the sets are designed more for visual effect and to show off gimmicks than to create a real good structure. Ah well. I was somewhat interested in these sets anyway, but not enough to buy more than a few of the smallest sets.

The Japanese-themed Ninja sets are alright, though.  They are clearly from the gimmick era, but the unique design and new Japanese-styled pieces help raise them up. Now remember, Lego is a European company. These sets are Japanese-themed, but definitely have an element of random Asian mishmash to them, because like, Japan and China are the same thing, right? This line is mostly Japanese, but there are a few random China-ish bits.  To be clear however, this line is inspired by the Japan of Samurai movies, not by actual Japanese history.  And so, Ninjas are prominent.

The first year of Ninja sets are the Blue Shogun’s Samurais and Grey Ninjas vs. the Red Robbers and Black Ninjas. The good faction uses blue banners and the bad red. I have three small sets from this year. The second year only has a few small sets with the first years’ factions, while the new medium-sized sets have good White Samurais and White Ninjas fighting against Red Ninjas. The second year didn’t have any new large sets. Both of these new factions have the exact same theme colors and flag, with the same black and gold flag with an Asian dragon on it, and with buildings with the same blue highlights on their Japanese-inspired buildings, unlike the red building highlights of the Shogun’s faction or dark rocky bases of the Robbers. I really don’t get why these two look so similar, the first samurai and robber factions are much more different. The buildings look kind of nice, but without the figures on them you’d have a very hard time telling which one is the Imperial tower and which is the ninja hideout inhabited by people who want to kidnap the Emperor. I don’t have any sets from this year.

Good (Shogun) – Blue Samurai and Grey Ninjas

 

Availability: 1998, available into 1999.

Assembled:

Samurai Swordsman – This is one of Lego’s classic ‘single horseback knight’ sets. The blue Samurai looks pretty good, with a Japanese-style vertical plastic flag, a custom helmet, and Japanese-styled plate armor over his torso. This is obviously based on a Western vision of Asia from samurai movies and such, but it’s decently accurate to that.

Treasure Transport (good ninja & the rocks he hides behind) – This set contains a pair of robber soldiers carrying a treasure box between them. Human bearers carrying things on poles, including people in carriages of sorts, was common in East Asia and this set reflects that. Opposing them, a good grey ninja hides behind some rocks, waiting to jump out and stop the thieves. It’s a decently done small set with nice details and accuracy.

Unassembled: None

Ninja – Bad – Red Robbers and Black Ninjas (1998-99)

 

Availability: 1998, available into 1999.

 

Assembled:

 

Ninja Surprise – This set is a small base for the Robber faction and their allied black ninjas. The set comes with yet another of those “small building with a treasure which has a trap guarding it” buildings, one of three such sets that I own. This is probably my favorite of the three, though, the Japanese theme looks nice and the trap, an axe you swing on the side, is simple and effective. The set comes with two red robbers and a black ninja with some supplies. The ninja has a glider with black wings and some weapons. Obviously real ninjas couldn’t fly, but this line is based on movie ninjas than reality so it makes sense they’d have this here. It’s a fun concept I guess if you take leave of realism. This is a pretty decent set for its era.  I probably should have gotten more Ninja sets, but was way too busy buying computer games and saving up for an N64…

Treasure Transport (the transport) – I discussed this one above. It’s a good little set with some nice details.

Unassembled: None

Ninja – Good (Imperial) – White Ninjas & Samurais

Availability: 1999.

I don’t have any sets from this line. I should get something. The white ninja is apparently a woman, which is nice.

Ninja – Bad – Red Ninjas (1999)

 

I don’t have any sets of this line. It’s odd how their flags are the same as the white ones and their design style is so similar. The two ’99 lines have only a few sets each and you can barely tell which are which if you remove the markings.  The Samurai and Robber sets from ’98 look very different, but these do not.  I don’t get it, they look good but why are they so similar?

Overall, I’d need some of the bigger sets to say more about the Ninja line, but it was okay. None of the buildings really are defensible in the way an ’80s castle would have been, the main castle is more of a wall than a castle as I don’t think it can actually fully close, and like the Night Lords Castle has some random openings on the sides. That’s not great, though it looks interesting at least and has a Japanese castle-styled design.  As I said though, the main reason I didn’t buy more Ninja sets was because at the time I just wasn’t buying many Legos anymore in my later teens, I wanted to spend my limited money on computer and Game Boy games and to save up for a TV console finally, which I would do in ’99.  Also Lego’s gimmick focus was alienating me and Ninja is no exception there.


Knights Kingdom (I)

Availability: 2000.

Following that flawed but promising aside, Lego went back to a European setting, and to a much more grounded line, with good knights fighting against aggressive evil attackers. That may sound good, but it’s not; the sets set a new low for juniorization and mediocre design, and also represent a change in Lego Castle theming.  I’ve gone over the eras of Lego Castle before, but to reprise, from 1998 to 2013, Lego Castle would have a series of waves with a very clear Good Faction and a very clear Evil Faction.  It’s kind of lamely basic that way, like something out of a pretty simple good versus evil videogame or movie.  You could say that there were “good” and “evil” factions before this, but they were greyer than it would become from this point on.  The variety of factions declines, as well.  From 2000 to 2013, instead of various different factions, you get a series of pretty similar good factions facing off against various different evil factions.   This first line of the new style is one of the weakest Lego ever launched.  I don’t hate Knights Kingdom like I do the Fright Knights, but their incredibly boring and mediocre sets are in no real way better. Their castle is the most basic, juniorized, and pretty much indefensible thing imaginable for a plate-and-a-half raised baseplate castle, and the somewhat sparse selection of other sets give the sense that Lego was cutting the focus on Castle. The villains don’t even get a base other than one tiny tower, only a bunch of war vehicles!  And the line was abandoned VERY quickly, followed by a several year break before Lego Castle returned.  This line was clearly aimed at a young audience, and with me turning 18 this year that was not me. So I mostly checked out on Lego, buying one medium-small set and moving on for over a decade.

The era’s factions: King Leo’s Knights (blue) vs. Cedric the Bull’s men (red).  The one set I have has both sides represented so I will not separate them into two.

Assembled:

Guarded Treasury – This set has two small towers, each similar in size to the Royal Knights set Skeleton Surprise. Each tower has one soldier of their faction guarding it. The badguys’ tower, which is their only building of any kind in the line, is a little jail, naturally. The good guys’ tower is a trap, with a pair of axes you can swing down from above at someone trying to get the chrome sword inside. So yeah, it’s a lot like Skeleton Surprise, except with an unusable rounded tower on top instead of a platform, so there’s basically almost no space for the soldier to stand on top of the tower. The rounded tower piece is a nice piece visually and they used it a lot in the Knights Kingdom castle, but its inside is smooth so you can’t easily keep a minifigure inside. The lion-face bricks also are new for this line and look kind of nice. Otherwise, these two towers are plain. They’re totally average plain stuff design-wise, with nothing particularly good or bad about them. I guess the axe trap is easier to reset than Skeleton Surprise’s skeleton, but the top of that set has more space for its minifigure, so that evens out. This honestly may be one of the better sets in this line, but it’s as average and juniorized as it comes.

Unassembled: None

Interlude: No Castle Lego Line

NOT Availability: 2001-2003.

After the apparent failure of the above one year line Lego waited several years before bringing Castle back.  That’s somewhat unfortunate, though once they did nobody liked the results…

Knights Kingdom II

Availability: 2004-2006.

Because yes, when Castle finally returned, it was with the final top contender for the worst Castle theme ever.  That’s not good.  This line is so bad that even people who will defend the Fright Knights and such can’t defend this one.

I do not have any sets from this line. I will probably get one eventually. I’m not sure what, though, I don’t really think that there are any notable sets in this line. Looking at them, there really are no great Knights Kingdom II sets, no sets I look at and think “I’d kind of like to have that”.  In every other line I see at least decent-looking sets, but not this one.  The line had several waves, with a first wave of the king and his four knights facing off against an evil wizard and his Shadow Knights with a red and black scorpion logo. The second wave has different enemies and some new allies. Each of the knights has a different color scheme and they look alright, but the sets are the ultimate in junior-focused gimmicks with a set loosely built around the gimmick. The castle is the third incarnation of the very mediocre modular hill plate castle that both Knights Kingdom castles also are. I was ignoring this line at the time, and for good reason. If you were a young child in the mid ’00s I could see enjoying these sets, certainly, but that’s it. At least this time the villains have buildings, Oh, and a majority of the Knights Kingdom II sets aren’t regular sets, but instead are these oversized action figures of sorts of the various knights and villains. It’s pretty lame stuff that I, at least, have absolutely zero interest in owning.

The era’s factions: Good: the the King, the six lead knights, and the Valiant Knights. Each lead knight has a different theme color, but blue is the goodguys’ main color. Bad: Vladek and the Shadow Knights (red and black scorpion logo) and his allied Rogue Knights (black and yellow dragon theme).  The Rogue Knights are from the second wave, along with two of the lead good knights.

Castle 2007 (Fantasy Era) & Vikings

 

Availability: 2007-2009.

I do not have any sets from this line. I will get some eventually, it has some that look pretty good. I wasn’t paying enough attention at the time, but looking back at it, this is where Lego Castle starts to turn a corner to better design. The Fantasy Era sets are still somewhat simple, but they have significantly better designs than anything from the mostly lost decade of 1997-2006, the Fright Knights to Knights Kingdom II, and it’s not even close. The buildings actually are functional buildings now, the fortresses fortresses, and the gimmicks present but no longer the centerpiece of the design. The sets also look like they might have slightly increased internal detail, and decreased juniorization. It’s nothing like the details of newer sets, but it’s more than Lego had had before.

As for the theme itself, this era goes all in with fantasy. The good side are humans and dwarves, versus evil trolls and skeletons. Each race’s sets fit their racial stereotype well. However, the most notable set in this line is Medieval Market Village, which is entirely unlike any other set in the line — it is Lego’s first Castle set clearly aimed more at the adult collector than a child. I did know about this set at the time and absolutely should have bought it, because I WILL get this set eventually and I will pay a lot more than I would have back then. The line has some other good-looking sets as well, though they are, of course, much less realistic than that village. The castle is a throwback to the castles of the ’80s, with a central gatehouse and a square castle which opens, no more raised baseplates. I like raised baseplates when used well, but they had been used so poorly in the last few castles that it’s nice to see a change. The various other bases and vehicles all look kind of cool going by pictures and videos; I’ve never seen any of this stuff in person.

Overall this line was mostly obviously aimed at children, but at least the designs are appealing. The next two lines, Kingdoms and Castle 2013, would follow this line’s general design style, with no hill plates, opening castles inspired by those from the ’80s but modernized, and increasingly more interior details. The new sets from 2021-2022 take that trend to a new level.

The era’s factions: Good: Human Crown Knights (blue and gold), and Dwarves (copper and brown colors) vs. Evil: Skeletons (white and black) and Trolls (red, green, brown…).  The separate Vikings line from this same timeframe fits in well with this era as a neutral faction.

Kingdoms

 

Availability: 2010-2012.

I do not have any sets from this line. I will get some eventually. Kingdoms goes back to a more realistic theme, without the fantasy races.  So, basically you have a faction a lot like the humans from the Fantasy Era fighting against evil badguys like those from earlier eras.  And by “a lot like” I mean “way too much like”; a child in 2007 who got the Fantasy Era Crown castle would see Lego release two more very similar castles of the next six years, all for very similar good factions.  It’s a strange and not very good concept compared to the more cohesively unique factions of the past.  I mean, you could imagine each as a separate kingdom, but that is easier when designs are actually different, you know?  And while these three castles are different, they do not appear to be anywhere near as different conceptually as, say, King’s Castle versus Black Monarch’s Castle.  Ah well.

Anyway, this was the last Lego Castle line with a full array of sets. It looks pretty solid though, and set detail looks like it increased slightly versus the fantasy era sets. In this line’s last year, they released another pricier set with some bait for older Lego fans, Kingdoms Joust. This set has a falcon knight with a modified Black falcon shield, though he’s not necessarily a Black Falcon since he is all black and silver with no blue, and the shield is a bit different. This is another set I thought about getting when it released but foolishly did not. I’ll pay more for it sometime. The other set I really, really should have gotten is Mill Village Raid, which is, I believe, the only ever castle Lego set with a peasant house in it. It looks like a pretty nice design, which is why it’s expensive now despite being a midsized set. Bah. The rest of the theme is solid-looking as well, if more aimed at kids, and again you definitely see the increasing internal detail with these sets.

The factions from this era: the good Lion Kingdom (red and white color banners) vs. the evil Dragon Kingdom (green and yellow colors). Yeah, not exactly original there other than perhaps the color choices for the villains.  Even though set quality had improved, rebooting their factions every few years with new too-similar themes was an idea that was reaching more and more diminishing returns as time passed.

Castle (2013)

 

Availability: 2013-2014.

The next year, Lego rebooted things again with a new Lego Castle line. The smallest castle product line ever, this line of sets consisted of only five full sets, plus two soldier packs, and that’s it. There is a good castle, a badguy tower, a few smaller sets, and some added troops. That’s it. The sets look a bit generic and highly reminiscent of the more realistic-ish elements of the previous two themes, as if perhaps Lego was putting less attention on Castle at this point, but they are nicely detailed with little internal details in ways ’90s sets would not have had, and generally have good-looking designs. I got one of the sets when this line was current, the villains’ tower, because I didn’t want to once again miss out at pretty decent-looking sets. Even if this is a small line of sets, I like the little details in them and might get more of them. There are only five…

The factions from this era: The good King’s Knights (blue and gold colors) vs. the bad Dragon Soldiers (red color). The names and concepts are similar to Kingdoms’ factions but the colors are different.  Why make a whole new era when things are so little changed, though?

Assembled:

Dragon Mountain – This set is a midsized tower with a three-level tower on one side and a one level tower attached by a bridge. The two lower parts of the tower can be accessed from the back. The mid level is a prison, and the top a platform. The tower is full of little details, and there is stuff to see in both of the lower rooms in the tower, including tables, food, and more, and also plenty of little details outside, such as a rat and such. As with all modern Lego sets it is on small plates instead of a full baseplate, unfortunately, but otherwise it’s a pretty good set. Oh, and it comes with a huge red dragon; this guy is BIG, dramatically larger than the ’90s dragons who are kind of oversized horses scale-wise. It is a large plastic dragon with movable limbs and wings and such.

However, as far as human minifigures go, despite being the badguys’ main base, the set actually comes with more good guys than bad — you get two badguys and three good. Specifically you get an evil wizard, a badguy soldier, two good knights with a nicely designed, good-sized catapult, and a princess. She may be supposed to be a prisoner, but I gave her a sword. The catapult’s function is basic, it’s just a board with something to shoot rocks with, but I like how realistic the build is. Overall this is a good set which made me think about getting more sets of this line. I still haven’t, but I probably will eventually.

Unassembled: None

 

Interlude: No Original Castle Line, 2015-2020

After the discontinuation of Castle (2013) in late 2014, Lego abandoned Castle until 2021, seven years later. They made several lightly fantasy medieval slash sci-fi hybrid lines in Nexo Knights and Ninjago, but those are NOT castle sets, no way. Lego did make Lord of the Rings sets, for some actual fantasy medieval castle sets, and while Harry Potter is modern its sets include some castles and such, but I’m not counting the licensed stuff here, which rules out the vast majority of 21st century Lego’s output. I find their original sets much, much more interesting, as I always have, than most of the licensed stuff.

Classic-Inspired Lego Castle Returns, In A Somewhat Limited Way

 

Availability: New sets 2021-2022.  We will see if they continue making any more new Classic-inspired Castle sets or not.

When Lego finally brought Castle back in 2021, it was with the aforementioned Lego Creator Medieval Castle, the Blacksmith’s Shop I do not have yet, and the Lion Knights’ Castle I still need to assemble, along with two limited-production-run Forestmen sets that I mentioned at length in my previous post so I won’t get into how bad limited production run sets are as concept again. As I went into in the first article, these sets lean very very hard in highly detailed builds and largely abandon large castle wall pieces in favor of slowly building up walls. I don’t think I’d call this approach better, just different. It results in time consuming builds and a bumpier, more Lego brick-looking building without the large smooth flat pieces of a classic castle.

The Factions:  The factions now are redesigns of classic 1980s factions.  The Crusaders return as the Lion Knights, the Black Falcons as, well, the Black Falcons, and the Forestmen as the Forest Guardians.  They are similar to their old factions, but slightly different: each has only one primary torso now.  The Lion Knights all have the lion torso, for example.  Banner color-wise, the Lion Knights use red and yellow, the Black Falcons either just blue or blue and yellow, and the Forest Guardians red.  Their minifigure colors are similar to before, red, blue, and green respectively.

Black Falcons (2021)

Availability: 2021-?

Assembled:

Lego Creator Medieval Castle (2021) – This fairly new set is an interesting one. I just finished building it a few days ago, and it was a fun build but it sure showed how much Lego has changed; as I said earlier, this set has a lot of small pieces. Building up walls one piece at a time is a bit tedious at times, but once assembled it’s a nice enough look. This castle has a nice gatehouse on the front with a working drawbridge and portcullis. The portcullis just has a pull string you need to attach somewhere. The back of the set has a house part and a tower part, and a well in the center.

On the note of the drawbridge, I need to complain about a few things about this set. The drawbridge has a wheel to make it go up and down, but it’s a bit of a poor design — the set uses two chain pieces to make the bridge go up and down, and if the chain gets tangled up it can pop off. Once this happens it’s pretty hard to reattach. Also, there is a little lock inside the gatehouse which makes the drawbridge unable to go down. However, this isn’t an external lock like the wheel on the side to move that drawbridge up and down, just a little pin inside the gatehouse, and there is nothing to hold that pin up. It likes to fall down on its own, and once it goes down it locks and you can’t lower the drawbridge. Keep trying and you’ll maybe pull off the chain inside the gatehouse. This really isn’t a good design at all. The other issue with this set is the way it keeps the parts of the set together. So, this is a separating set which comes apart into three parts, the main gatehouse and the two back portions, one with the house and forge and one with a tower. However, the set only uses these tiny little round bits to connect the three parts, and they only BARELY hold it together; the lightest touch will separate the parts. Why didn’t they just use a Technic pin like old castles all did, that’s a dramatically better design which actually stays together! Someday I should fix this issue. And last, for issues, once again, that this $100 set only comes with three or four minifigures, if you count the skeleton, is disappointing. And there isn’t even one horse. The set does come with a large brick-built dragon to attack the castle, but I like the original solid plastic dragons better, myself. This dragon was kind of annoying to assemble and is fragile in a way the old ones are not. And it’s too bad that a more realistic theme like the Black Falcons have a major fantasy element directly connected to them now, I’d rather they didn’t.

And lastly, as far as defensibility goes, the front and tower parts of the castle are quite well designed, but the house part in the back corner has issues; its external wooden construction looks nice, but in a siege would be a pretty clear weak point.

Other than that, though, this is a pretty nice set. It’s loaded with little details — inside there is a blacksmith’s forge which hits a sword with a hammer as you turn the waterwheel on the outside, a lounge room for the guy in charge, a jail cell with breakout wall that very oddly is placed right next to the vegitable market spot, a well, a garderobe, and more. This castle is a moderate size, not too large and not too small. The waterwheel, house, and tower parts in the back all look great. Overall I don’t think it looks as great as the original Black Falcon’s Fortress, it is perhaps overdesigned in some places and lacking in others, but it’s good. I do miss castle wall pieces, they allow for smooth wall angles that you can’t get from brick-built ones. Once you get used to this look it looks nice, though, and I certainly like all of the interior details. It is a nice looking castle that was fun to build and is nice to look at, I’m glad I got it.

Unassembled: None

Minifigures Only:

Lion Knights’ Castle – This set comes with three Black Falcon figures.  One is a horseback knight with full horse barding.  He looks great and has a black helmet with a new design.  The second is an announcer, holding a stick with flag on it to announce the knight following.  And the last is a porter, heavily laden with a large backpack.  As I mention in the Lion Knights’ Castle review below, that last figure is likely a certain film reference.  I like the variety of these figures, but while they work as a procession they’re not as useful in guarding their castle if you return them to it, unless you swap out that pack and flag for weapons…  Still, nice work here in giving them variety.

Forest Guardians

Availability: 2021-?

In 2021, Lego decided to release a new very Forestmen-styled, extremely limited production run set called the Castle in the Forest, and also the new Black Falcons castle above.  Lego’s nostalgia-fueled revamp of 1980s castle was on, and that included two new Forestmen sets. I have one.

Assembled:

Forest Hideout – This set is a part of celebration of Lego’s 90th anniversary as a company .  Lego held a poll about what they should do for their anniversary, and Castle and Space won.  So, they designed this set, the Forest Hideout, and a remake of their first classic spaceship, and released them all this year.  This limited-availability set, which was only available as a bonus with other purchases for some insanely stupid reason, is a redesign of the classic Forestmen’s Tower set which I have but haven’t had assembled in decades.  I missed the window to get this set free because I didn’t know about it, so I decided to buy it on ebay.  I payed more that way but hey, it’ll probably go up in value so that’s not too bad.  It’s now available sealed for $40 to $50 on ebay, and it will surely go up as supply goes down.  Forestmen sets particularly hold value.

As for the set itself, I built it today and it’s a nice little tower.  The set does feel a bit fragile compared to the very sturdy Lion Knights’ Castle, but it’s a well-designed little set with a lot of the little touches modern sets have, including lots of detailed small parts in the build that you would never have seen in a classic set.  It made for a fun build, apart from the part where I broke the set as I was trying to assemble it and sent pieces flying everywhere.  As I said, it’s a bit fragile.  Ah well.  It’s assembled now and looks nice.  As with the original, it opens and there is a ladder to let a figure go to the upper platform inside.  They made one figure male and the other female this time, which is nice.  The trees are made with much more natural-looking curving pieces than Lego had back in the ’80s.  It’s a somewhat different look and I don’t know if I’d say it is better looking than the original set, but it is certainly a good set that should have been more available than it is.  Oh, and the throwback ’80s to early ’90s-style yellow box is great nostalgia for people like me who remember that era.

Unassembled: None

Minifigures Only:

Lion Knights Castle – This set comes with three Forest Guardian figures, a man, woman, and girl.  They are very nicely done and have several hideouts in the castle, so you could say they aren’t minifigures only, but as it is the Lion Knights castle and their sections attached to the building I’m putting this in this category.

Lion Knights (Crusaders)

Availability: 2022-?

This is the most recent revamped theme.  They did a great job with them, but I wonder if we will see more of them or if their new design is just a one-off for this one set…

Lion Knights’ Castle (2022) – The biggest result of Lego’s 90th anniversary celebration is this set, and wow is it impressive!  I don’t know if these new Lion Knights will have a full theme built around them or if this set is all we’ll get, but either way this is a stunning set that anyone who can afford it should buy if you have any interest at all.  I recently finished building this set and have a lot to say, enough that I’ll probably do a separate article with a full review of this set, with pictures.  This summary will cover my thoughts in brief.  This $400 set is an about 4500 piece entirely brick-built castle. There are no large wall or base plates.  Lego Creator Medieval Castle doesn’t use the classic castle wall bricks, but it does use some 2×2 and 3×3 wall panels. This set, however, has walls entirely made of single block high bricks.

So yeah, expect hours of building grey walls.  It’s rarely repetitive, however, because of how cool and interesting the building techniques they use for this set are.  Lego’s designers have clearly improved, and also have been given more latitude to use huge numbers of parts.  This castle does some very impressive things with angle wing pieces and hinges to make castle walls that aren’t all at 90 degree angles.  This more realistic-looking building, with its various walls at 45 degrees, 90 degrees, and other angles, looks just fantastic and is a lot of fun to build!  The build took quite a while but stayed interesting beginning to end because of how advanced the building techniques are.  If you want to get a Lego set which justifies the idea of building Legos as an adult, this is a perfect set to buy.  You can’t get a much more interesting building experience than this, and a child would struggle with some parts of this build so I can see why they call it 18+.

The set is broken up into two parts, a castle part and a ‘village’ part.  They are connected after you build them, but they easily pull apart.  They are latched together much better than the Lego Creator Medieval Castle is, thankfully.  Each half is absolutely insanely loaded with details, from weapons racks with weapons to a very full kitchen and grist mill.  The castle part has square towers, as fitting for a Crusaders castle.  The town has a wattle-and-daub look on the house on top of the walls, as with the houses on the Black Falcons and Black Knights houses.  That’s a great reference there, even if it is similarly probably the weak point of the defenses.  There is a well inside, jail cells, a cave, stairs made with very clever construction, and so much more.  I could go on for a long time about the details, but they are best seen rather than just described so I will save some of that for if I do a review with pictures.

For negatives, the most important one is the price point.  I know that this is a time of high inflation, but this set is expensive.  This castle is large, but probably not as large as the massive price and piece count suggest, since, again, it uses a huge number of small pieces, where a classic set would have a much smaller number of often much larger pieces. Lego has been heading in this direction since the late ’00s, but this set is a perfect example of the ultimate end of that approach. As far as value goes, you pay $400 for a 4500 piece set, versus $100 for a 1450 piece set in Lego Creator Medieval Castle. Yeah, this set has a worse price per piece ratio than that set. It does look impressive though, and tall, and the pieces all actually go into the castle instead of building a large and not so great brick-built dragon like that set has you do.

You do get a lot of characters, though. That set has only four minifigures, but this set has an impressive 22 minifigures, including one Crusader (“Lion Knights”, bah, I’ll use their real faction name regardless if Lego wants to change it because the word “crusader” is a bit controversial) queen, a Crusader knight on horseback with red lion horse barding, eight Crusader foot soldiers, three Black Falcons including one horseback knight, five civilians including a return of the Dragon Masters wizard Majisto now as a friendly wizard loyal to the Lion Knights’ crown, three Forestmen… sorry, Forest Guardians now apparently, to be gender-neutral, and a skeleton.  All that’s missing is a return of the glow-in-the-dark ghosts.  I do have a few comments here, though.  Most notably, including only one Crusaders horseback knight is pretty annoying, any full-sized Lego castle should come with at least two knights for the castle’s faction.  The new horse model is pretty nice, but there needed to be more.  And neither horseback knight comes with a lance!  There are lances in this set, but only attached to the walls of the castle.  Somehow NEITHER knight comes with Lego’s standard armament for a horse soldier, which is just insane, how did they mess that up?  The clips on the sides of both horses’ saddles are empty.  That’s just bad design there.  Some of the soldiers are too lightly armed, too; you’ll need to raid the armory to fully arm them.

You do get a ox or cow pulling a hay cart with the civilian portion of the set, so there are three large animals included, but still, one more would have made this set a lot better.  I am glad to see the Black Falcons knight on horseback, since the new Black Falcons castle doesn’t come with any horseback knights, but really that set should have had one so this could have two Crusader horseback knights.  It’s also quite cool that the set comes with a Forestman family, that’s neat.  The Forest Guardians have a man, woman, and girl.  There’s a great musical instrument piece for one of them.  As for the Black Falcons, they are the aforementioned knight, a person with a flag announcing the coming knight, and a pack-carrying guy loaded down with stuff.  It’s probably a Monty Python and the Holy Grail reference.  Amusing, I guess.

One more thing to mention is that Lego included ten female figures among the 22 in this set.  That’s great, that’s a dramatic improvement over the gender balance of almost any prior Lego set.  However, the catch is that the way they did it is by having half of the knights be female.  That, of course, is quite highly historically inaccurate, that would never have happened.  It’s accurate to videogame fantasy medieval game settings of course, though, so if that’s what Lego was going for that is fine, but it is worth mentioning.  There is only one civilian woman.  More would have been nice, and perhaps also dress pieces, as options, for the Queen and perhaps also for the female Forestmen.  The Queen needs pants for her military costume of course, but how about for when on the (nonexistent in this set) throne?  Armor there doesn’t seem quite right.

On a related note, one other issue that is both good and bad is the new Crusader/Lion Knights torso print.  The new figures have a pretty nice design with good detail… but all of the regular soldiers have the exact same torso.  Only the Queen has a unique print, and then they hide it under armor.  All Black Falcons similarly have identical torsos.  Classic Castle had more torso print  variety over the years, including crossed axes, the lion symbol, scale mail, or breastplate patterns for the Crusaders.  This set just has one per faction, with a slight variation on the Lion Knights one for the Queen.  The detailed, front and back designs are great, but do make the figures look similar, only differentiated by their weapons, heads, and helmets.

Other than that, my other issues with the set are nitpicks of the design — that the Forest Guardians have two separate and unconnected hidden chambers, when it would make more sense if they had one connected one; that the knights are supposed to not know that this cave right under their front door connects directly to one of those Forest Guardian hideouts, even though there isn’t a false wall or anything in the cave, it just connects right to the chamber; that the front gate and back gate of the main castle tower both go to the exact same room, so there doesn’t feel like enough of a reason to have both doors since they don’t go to different parts of the castle like two entrances should; that if I built it correctly the waterwheel connected to the grist stone doesn’t quite line up right unless you press it inwards while turning it; and lastly, that only one of the towers has a ladder allowing you to access it.  The other three towers are inaccessible, just like the towers on most castles of old, which is pretty lame.  This set goes to great pains to have ladders or stairs everywhere else, so they really should have had ladders to the towers.

If I write a fuller review of this set with pictures I’ll show what I mean here in images, but for now that will have to do.  Regardless of my complaints, though, this set is exceptional.  This set is insanely detailed, with a lot of rooms filled with things, loads of minifigures, crazy good construction techniques, and lots of brick-built, detail-added references to classic Castle building design styles and elements.  Overall, Lion Knights’ Castle may have some minor issues, but it is a fantastic set I love having and that I really enjoyed building.  It was the perfect choice for an anniversary set and it got me to finally buy an expensive Lego set because of how impressive it looks.

Set Rankings: How Much I Like Them

 

First, generally the sets that aren’t assembled anymore rank below the ones that are. The only exception to this is the Town Wall Tavern/Guarded Inn, which is a fantastic, top-tier set.  For now this ranking only covers the Classic Castle sets, the modern ones are separate.  They have very different design philosophies…

Top Five Larger Sets

1. Black Falcon’s Fortress
2. Dungeon Master’s Castle (Black Knights’ Castle)
3. Royal Knights’ Castle
4. Town Wall Tavern (Guarded Inn)
5. Dark Dragon’s Den

Maybe Town Wall Tavern should be considered a small set, but I put it here. Whatever, it’s great. But yes, this is basically a list of the big sets I have, but hey, the top three or four of these would be on anyones’ list of the best classic castle sets ever, so that is just fine. I had good taste in castle Legos when I was younger. (The next two are probably Royal Drawbridge and Dragon Mountain. They are fine sets, but aren’t quite top five.)

If I was to put the new sets in this ranking, the Lion Knights’ Castle would probably rank third, fourth at the lowest.  It would be below the top two, but probably above the rest.  It’s a fantastic set.  Lego Creator Medieval Castle would be lower, a mid-tier castle.

Worst: Wolfpack Tower

This is not an awful set, it’s just mediocre. You could perhaps make a case for Hemlock Stronghold being worse, but I think I’ll go with Wolfpack Tower at the moment.

Worst set I don’t own would go to Night Lord’s Castle.

The Best Small Sets: For sets such as vehicles and little towers, I would mention these, particularly:

1. Sea Serpent
2. Dragon Defender
3. King’s Carriage
4. Twin Arm Launcher
5. Ninja Surprise

The top two here is easy, these are far and away my favorite smaller sets that I’ve got. Why is number four yet again a set that I don’t have assembled? Well, Twin Arm Launcher doesn’t only have a nice catapult I should rebuild someday, but also my only Crusaders knight on horseback. And he’s not just a generic knight, but instead one with full horse barding! It’s a fantastic look that really stands out, this set is great particularly for the horse.

For the modern sets, I don’t think Forest Hideout would make the top five, though it would be high on the list after that.

I need to make special dishonorable mention here of Majisto’s Magical Workshop, which is a midsize set which has a great look to it but just does not ever assemble correctly. But…

Worst: Bat Lord’s Catapult

I have already said that the Fright Knights are my choice for worst Castle Lego theme ever, so this choice should be unsurprising.  There’s really nothing good to say about their sets.

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The Eye of Typhoon Re-Release: A New, and Issue-Plagued, Way to Play a Classic (Or, Limited Run Does It Again!)

Why am I posting this before part two of something I’d almost entirely finished writing before posting part one?  Well, I was going to post that today, but this is also important.  This short article is about a re-release of a classic game that previously had only been available in an incredibly rare South Korean-market-only release, and how lazy the Western release is of the re-release is.

 

The Eye of Typhoon

The Eye of Typhoon Re-Release: Contents of the Package

 

So, back in February of this year, Piko Interactive and Limited Run took preorders for a re-release of the extremely rare Korean 3DO/PC fighting game The Eye of Typhoon.  Piko Interactive specializes in re-releases of games for older consoles that previously were not released in the West.  They translate them and release them here, both on their original platform and sometimes also on PC (Steam).  Limited Run, meanwhile, is fairly famous, most people reading this probably know of them.  The company mostly releases limited-quantity physical releases of modern games which otherwise are only available digitally.  They also release a few re-releases of classic games.  This is one of those few.  The game was sold exclusively as a $115 plus tax and shipping collector’s edition with no regular edition offered.  This is really unfortunate and surely significantly decreased the number of buyers, most people would only want a copy of the English 3DO game and not the rest of this stuff.  But regardless, early in 2022  the preorders opened, were available for a while, and eventually closed. Just before preorders closed the last day I decided to buy a copy from Piko Interactive’s site.  I chose them over Limited Run, though the price and what buyers get is almost certainly identical either way.  Piko has since removed the game from their site, though Limited Run still has it listed as something they sold.  I don’t know why Piko removed it.  I could guess, but do not know.

Move forward some months. A week or two ago, my copy showed up in the mail from Piko. And wow is this package odd! First, though, it seems like very very few people bought this thing, because searching online in English I find almost NOTHING about the actual released LR/Piko version of this game. I don’t know if the Limited Run-sold versions have also shipped or not, but on Yahoo I find nothing, and on Youtube only one video from a Korean person showing gameplay. Curious.  I did find a couple of listings on Ebay of people selling the US release of the game, though, so I’m not the only one who has this.  It seems to have already just about tripled in value versus the amount I paid for the preorder early this year.  Given that we are talking about something connected to Limited Run that very few people seem to have bought this isn’t surprising, but it is disappointing and again shows how big of a mistake making this only an expensive collector’s edition was.

But this article is not just about that I bought it’ I buy plenty of things, and rarely make articles on this site about them soon afterwards, that is for elsewhere.  I had to write this because of what I found inside.  Essentially, it is clear that what happened is that Piko and Limited Run sold an unaltered Korean game with no changes other than adding a  small little eight-page English language instruction book that only covers the absolute basics and nothing more.  There were some signs that this would be a mostly Korean product before buying it, I must say.  The LR and Piko listings were both in badly broken Engrish, for one thing.  But I was expecting, at the minimum, the paper materials in this box to all e translated.  They are not.  Instead, almost everything is exclusively in Korean except for the little English manual and the contents of the two English game discs.  Or Engrish game discs, perhaps more appropriately, given the poor quality of the translation.  I’m not sure if the text inside the game is a new translation or one made back in the ’90s for a Western release that never happened until now, but it is comically poor.

Things start off well.  As you see in the picture above, the good-sized box comes with an English-language cardboard slipcover over a Korean-language inner box; a metal rectangle celebrating the developer Viccom’s anniversary; a pack of cards with the moves for each character on one side (move names only in Korean) and the character name and image on the other (name in English and Korean); a Korean-language book explaining Viccom’s history that is apparently called the “Secret Book of Viccom”, which might be nice if you could read the language but is mostly useless for the English-speaker apart from its nice sprite images and commands for every move in the game; an English-language insturction booklet, only eight pages long, explaining some of the story, installation instructions for the PC version, and controls; and three jewelcases. One is a dual-jewel, and two single jewelcases.

Now, this set comes with four discs — 3DO English, 3DO Korean, PC English, and PC Korean. The PC versions will run on a classic PC (that one English-language booklet explains how to install this) or also in DOSBox on a newer machine, which is included on the discs. All three jewelcases have the game name in English along the left side, different variations on the same character art picture in the middle, and the game’s name in Korean in the center top. One of the single jewelcases says 3DO on it, and the other CD-ROM and thus surely is for the PC>.  The dual jewel has the name in English along with Korean in the center top.  The dual jewel says 3DO / PC on it, to show that both versions are in this case.  All three jewelcases have a manual in them, all three exclusively in Korean. So uh, which is the English version? It sure is hard to tell. However, after trying them in my 3DO, the discs in the dual-jewel case say “Korean Version” on them, and indeed they are. The other two standalone jewelcases, which do not say which version they have on them and again have LESS English on the cover and NO English in their instruction books, are in fact the English versions. It would be hard for them to have made this any less confusing.

Of course, the English we’re talking about here is very limited in number of words and is incredibly poorly translated to the point of sometimes being unintelligible, but hey, at least it’s in English! After going through the packaging and manuals and such I was starting to think it’d only be in Korean, since why else would the manuals in the jewelcases all be in Korean?  That eight-page English language booklet doesn’t come even close to translating everything in any of the three manuals.  But fortunately no, both versions are here.

As for the game, this game started out as a Neo-Geo project, but only was released on PC and 3DO. It’s a very SNK-styled fighting game, which is understandable given the developer’s history with making the very poorly regarded Fight Fever for the Neo-Geo.  This game is considered to be much better, though, fortunately.  The Eye of Typhoon has strong influences from Samurai Shodown, The King of Fighters, and of course Capcom’s Street Fighter II.  The characters all are very familiar looking stereotypes to anyone who has played Capcom and SNK fighters, but the moves aren’t all copied out of other games.  For instance there is a character who looks almost exactly like Chun-Li, but she plays nothing like Chun-Li; she’s more of a magician type.  This is a fantasy historical martial artist fighting competition game. It’s mostly about hand-to-hand combat with conventional special moves, so it isn’t a weapon-based fighter.  There are magical martial arts moves aplenty here, though.  It’s a fun, conventional fighter of its era.  On 3DO, the game runs playably but definitely not smoothly; this game almost certainly runs worse than Samurai Shodown for 3DO. You get used to it, but it’s choppy and doesn’t feel great. The PC version runs much better but takes a little more work to get running, requiring DOSBox or an old PC and all.

Once you get into the game, you find another oddity: a lack of options.  The game has only one option, solo or team modes. Other than that you can’t change anything.  There isn’t even a dedicated versus mode, you need to enter from the single player mode by hitting start on the second controller each time you want a two player match.   Fortunately though, despite not having AI difficulty options the game is fairly challenging.  In fact, some people will probably find this game too hard; it gets tough after the first few opponents.  Still, it’s good that the one AI difficulty level you’re stuck with puts up a good fight. It’s a decent ’90s fighter and while not amazing is fun enough. I should try it on PC to see the better framerate, but so far I have only played the 3DO version.  The game is reasonably fun. It’s not as good as SSFIIT or SamSho on 3DO, but based on playing a little bit of it it does live up to its reputation for being a decently good game and I am glad to have bought it.

Overall, this is a genuinely decent to good fighting game and is one of the better ones on its system. It’s great that it was re-released, but it’s simultaneously a real shame that this Western release of the re-release is so incredibly lazy.  It is clear that all Limited Run and Pico did is sell us the Korean re-release with no changes other than adding that little manual booklet, and for the amount of money this cost that is not okay.  I think it is more than reasonable to expect translated manuals and history booklets from a $115 product!  But no, you don’t get that here. It’s disappointing.  Also disappointing, of course, is that no cheaper English jewelcase only release of the rerelease was sold.  This collection is probably already more common than the incredibly rare Korean original release from the ’90s, but it is expensive and is sure to get even more so over time.  I know that can happen with Limited Run stuff, but this is a bit different from most of their releases, not really being their release and all. It’s fantastic to have a legit, licensed re-release of The Eye of Typhoon so I can finally legitimately play this game I have heard so much about.  While flawed, this is a pretty cool thing to have.  But a lot more people should have access to it and it should never have been sold with so much of the written materials untranslated.  It’s a real shame this release was so limited and lazily brought over to the West.  I fully understand why people did not buy this, but considering where its value has gone, more people probably should have despite the significant shortcomings.  Ah well.

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Me and Lego Castle, Part I: A History, Analysis, and Sets List

This is an article about Legos, the toys. I’ve gotten a bit back into them recently. Don’t expect articles like this to be a regular replacement for videogame articles, this is just going to be an occasional thing, but it’s a topic I like so I’m putting it here. It fits with the name of the site, too.

The first part of this article are my thoughts on castle Legos, starting with some of my history with them and then moving on to my thoughts on Lego today. After that, the post will conclude with a list of the castle Lego sets I have. In a following post, which will be very soon because it’s almost finished and I only am breaking it up into two parts because I’d rather post it that way, I will post more extensive opinion summaries about each of the sets in the list at the end of this article.

Introduction

Once, I got a comment about how odd it was that my site is named for my username, which is a Lego reference, but I have no Lego content on the site. Well, this is mostly because while I absolutely loved Legos as a kid and teenager and still like them, I mostly stopped buying Lego sets in my later teens and did not go back to buying more than a handful of them until very recently. Despite having a table with a Lego Castle setup on it, until quite recently I was less of an Adult Fan of Lego or AFOL as they are called, and probably more of a child fan of Lego who held more interest in Lego as an adult than many, but didn’t become a big adult Lego collector or builder.

However, Lego recently released a set which changed that. Lego fans probably know what set I’m talking about. And despite its high cost, I bought it. And while I am continuing my 3DS Game Opinion Summaries series, I love that series and am working on it, I’ve been pretty distracted with Legos recently and want to discuss that at the moment. I’m going to start with this general personal history, before continuing on to my thoughts on the castle Lego sets that I own or owned. I’ve got plenty to say.

I will start with this, though. When it comes to Lego collecting, there are two major issues, money and space. Of course, I am a videogame collector as well as player, but your average videogame takes up much less space than your average Lego set. Videogames are also often cheaper than Legos, as complete or mostly complete Lego sets hold value extremely well, though this varies depending on which game you’re talking about, of course. I have far from infinite space, and a lot of it is taken up with videogames, which I love. So even if I wanted more Legos, where would I put them? It’s not exactly easy. I already have one whole table of them displayed. I don’t really have a good way to display more. But regardless.

My Lego History

When I was a kid, as with many children I liked Legos a lot. (Yes, I’m going to use legos as a plural. Deal with it.) I liked, and bought, Legos for long enough that when I chose my internet username in 1998, when I was in my teens, I named myself for the Black Falcon Lego castle knights, which have always been my favorite Lego line. I would later learn that the Black Falcons are perhaps Lego Castle’s most popular faction, but I didn’t know that as a kid or even in the later ’90s, I just knew that they had the coolest flag and I liked them the most. I really love the opposite-colors design of their logo.

My interest in Lego went up and down over time. As a child, I absolutely loved Legos, they were my favorite toy. We didn’t have a TV until mid 1990, when I was almost eight (because my parents did not want to own one, being former hippies), so books and Legos were what I liked the most. My interest in Lego continued on through the ’90s, though it declined over time as I got more and more into computers and videogames. You only have so much money when you’re younger, after all, and I liked electronic games the most. Doing so was absolutely the right decision, but still I have a strong fondness for the lego sets of the mid ’80s to mid ’90s, when I was a big Lego fan.

After that, however, things changed for me. By the end of the ’90s, between that I was in my late teens and outgrowing Lego’s target audience and the major changes Lego made, towards licensed sets instead of original ones and towards heavily gimmick-focused sets over more plausible ones, my interest in Legos declines significantly. I still was buying big, expensive Lego sets until ’96 or so, but not so after that. I did get some smaller sets in the later ’90s to early ’00s, but following that I mostly stopped buying Lego sets for years. Legos were mostly for kids, while computer and video games have always been for everyone and particularly as an adult have a lot more lasting use value, so that’s fine… but times have changed, and Lego has changed, both for better and worse. I will get into the good and bad of modern Lego later, but one of Lego’s major changes has been that they are no longer aimed only at children. Instead, today Lego makes a significant number of sets for the adult Lego collector, in a way they did not back in the past. Lego knows that nostalgia is a powerful thing, and plenty of adults today have fond memories of playing with Legos and would collect them if more sets were aimed at them. Well, they now are.

… As an aside, thinking about it now, the big thing missing from Lego’s assortment of historical and future themes is something set in the ancient world, such as Greece or Rome. That’d be pretty cool to see. But anyway.

But that’s getting ahead of myself. We had a good number of Lego sets when I was a child and teenager, particularly castle, town, pirate, and space sets, in that order. History has always been my favorite subject, and the medieval era, “castle times” as I said as a kid, has always been my favorite historical period. I would say that it still is. Real castles and learning about the real middle ages is amazing, but playing with and collecting Lego’s Castle sets is also a fun diversion. I’ve got a decent little setup of ’80s and ’90s castle Lego sets, though it would be more impressive if the vast majority of my smaller castle sets were still assembled, which they are not. As a kid you want to not just build a model and look at it, but take them apart and try building your own things.

And indeed, that is exactly what my sister and I did. We built some castle stuff, but our largest work was on a large Town lego setup. We built our own town in the ’90s, though while it was plenty large, we built few buildings over one tile high, they were more floor plans than full buildings. That’s fine, it’s easier to play with them that way and you don’t need to buy an impossibly expensive amount of bricks. We kept a few sets fully assembled, including the pizzeria, Dolphin Point lighthouse, and some vehicles such as a large police command truck, but most of it was our own creations. I still have this town in a fairly large box. A few fully assembled sets are in their own boxes as well, and tehre is also a box of vehicles and a sizable metal container full of loose pieces and chunks of pirate ships. However, they’re in somewhat sorry shape, I raided many pieces out of this town to build other things and other stuff has come apart over the many years of sitting in a box. And as I seem to be getting back into Lego, at least for a while, if I want to ever re-assemble some of the better castle Legos sets that I own but haven’t been assembled for decades, I’ll need to take apart my town setup significantly more. We’ll see.

But as nice as our town is, castle times are what I truly love, so after the mid ’90s as my sister lost interest in Legos the town went in a box and the castle setup expanded. Once I moved to where I am now, I found one table in a corner which I filled up with some of my castle Legos. It’s a nice setup, except for how my cat loves to jump up on the table and wreck havoc on the poor, unsuspecting Lego knights…

My Lego Castle setup, circa 2015.

This is an old photo, taken back in 2012. It was taken well before theI got the sets I hgot this month, but the rest of the classic castle sets I have are there, I hadn’t gotten any more since until just now. I’m posting this older shot because I think that the condition of the sets is at their best here, this was before they really got messed up by my cat(s). I recently tried to fix the damage and will have a newer photos in the second post.

Lego Castle: Old vs. New

So, I have extensive experience with the castle legos of the ’80s and ’90s, and a little experience with a few sets from the ’00s and early ’10s, until the castle Lego line was discontinued in 2014. After that happened, I did not buy another Lego set until this year, with one big exception: Lego Dimensions. I did buy the videogame/Lego set hybrid Lego Dimensions, and built the main base for it and a few other Lego Dimensions sets and figures. A bunch of the Lego Dimensions stuff I got is still complete in its boxes, unused, though, so I didn’t really get that into Dimensions. Lego Dimensions has amazing figures, them being real Legos, easily the best of the toys to life genre, but as far as the actual game goes, I found it less fun than Skylanders or Disney Infinity, the other two major toys-to-life games during that boom. Neither the action nor the platforming are anything special. Lego Dimensions sets are mostly small vehicles and minifigures. Having a Lego Spy Hunter Interceptor is pretty cool.

But regular Lego sets and Lego Dimensions sets are pretty different, as I have now found. And the difference between modern Lego sets and classic ones are quite interesting. I would break Castle Lego sets into five eras: the 1984-1992 era, the 1993-1999 one, the 2000-2013 one, the interregnum with nothing truly castle, and the 2021-2022 sets. The first two eras are the “Classic Castle” era, but I broke it up into two parts to separate the slightly longer-lasting first factions system from the faster turnover of faction replacement of the ’90s and beyond. Lego became a successful childrens’ toy company in the ’80s. In the ’90s, they aimed for a larger mass market and changed their designs, with more gimmicky play features in the sets — there are a lot of sets centered around trap walls and floors and such. These sets started off well, but by the later ’90s I would say that they were getting kind of bad in many cases. In the ’00s, they went for an even more lucrative business by mostly abandoning their homegrown lines in favor of licenses. Almost all of Lego’s own lines were gradually abandoned in favor of the evidenly bigger bucks licenses brought. Non-licensed Lego sets show even steeper decline in quality during this era, with the gimmicks becoming even more prominent and set design getting even worse. At the end of the ’00s things finally started recovering and the last three Castle lines are much better than any since the mid ’90s, but it was too late to save the Castle line and it was discontinued in 2014. People like me not being quite interested enough to buy the new sets, even the great ones, probably didn’t help, but oh well. Lego as a whole needed some work, Castle was not their only problem.

Following this, over the past decade or so, Lego managed to rebuild their flagging business not only with the continued success of their licensed sets and videogame line, but also by focusing on a new audience, adult Lego fans. Sets for adults are significantly more intricate to build and have fewer play features than ones for kids, focusing on interesting design first and foremost. Even designs of childrens’ sets are significantly different than they used to be, though, as Lego has mostly abandoned baseplates; more on this later, I don’t like the change. But anyway, Lego has changed their pricing, piece selection, design styles including piece size, baseplates, target audiences, and more.

One interesting way to look at how Lego has changed over time is the price they charge for their sets, and what you get for that money. Now, Lego sets have always been expensive, and they still are, but accounting for inflation they probably used to be more expensive than they are now. Perhaps moving brick production from Europe, where it was in the ’90s, to more cheaper places around the world including China, helped Lego bring prices down, though in a somewhat unfortunate way considering China’s rights record. But everything is made in China now so what can you do. The result is that Lego sets are, adjusted for inflation, generally cheaper now than they used to be. Or rather, sets aimed at children are cheaper. Of the Lego Castle sets available today, all released in 2021 and 2022, two are more expensive sets aimed at adult audiences only and cost $160 (Medieval Blacksmith) and $400 (Lion Knights’ Castle, aka the new Crusaders’ castle), and one, also for younger builders, costs only $100 (Lego Creator Medieval Castle, aka the new Black Falcons’ Castle), and for that you get a fairly sizable castle. The other two sets are limited production run sets. You would pay almost as much for an only slightly larger castle 25 years ago. What inflation?

What you get within that castle is VERY different from back then, though. As I said earlier, ’80s and ’90s Lego was all about large pieces. You had the raised baseplates, flat baseplates, lots of large bricks and wall pieces, and more, which kept the part count down and the model large. However, interiors were very basic. ’80s interiors are often INCREDIBLY basic or nonexistent, particularly in castle sets where the exterior was clearly the main focus, but even in the mid ’90s castles still often had limited detail inside, with plenty of empty rooms. Today, however, Lego does not do that. Instead, sets now have dramatically more pieces than sets then, but those pieces are smaller. You don’t get nice large baseplates to build the set on, but instead build them on an assortment of smaller plates. This is bad for play as it makes the set easier to knock apart by accident, but adds to the visual look of the set when assembled. But Lego is not catering only to young children anymore, they also want to appeal to adult Lego fans who will be looking at their sets more than they will be playing with them, so this design change makes some sense. It really is a big change, though; every room in that $100 Lego Creator Medieval Castle set is richly detailed in a way that would be unimaginable back in the ’80s or ’90s, they did not have that kind of brick budget. However, this comes at the cost of having over 1,400 pieces in a set only slightly larger than the 424 piece 1984 classic Black Falcons’ Fortress. It all takes longer to build and is more complex.

However, what you don’t usually get with the new sets are as many minifigures. The $400 Lion Knights Castle comes with a huge 22 minifigures and two horses, but the $100 Medieval Castle only comes with three, four including the skeleton, and no horses at all, disappointingly. The Medieval Blacksmith set similarly has few figures for such a pricey set. It’s somewhat disappointing on that front, but seems to be typical now; older sets are often freer with the figures while being much stingier with the part count for the rest of the structure. Black Falcons’ Fortress came with four regular soldiers and two mounted knights, for example. The larger castles of the ’80s to early ’90s came with four mounted knights, though Lego stopped doing that after then and mid ’90s castles unfortunately drop to only one or two horses. Even so, it’s an interesting dichotomy.

The core of it is that Lego has leaned heavily into harder to build sets with very detailed interiors and bases made of lots of very small plates, and has largely abandoned the large thin baseplates of the past. They have done this in all sets, including those for children. I would think that this is bad for children who want sets which stay together, and also bad for people who want a nice base to build their own creation on, but it is good for the visual look of a model sitting on a shelf. The loss of hill plates is also important, because this means that the only way to build a taller set is to add a quite significant amount of bricks to it. There are positives and negatives to both design styles, overall, but I do wish modern Lego wasn’t so anti-baseplate, they have a place. Ah well.

Limited Production Run Sets

This section discusses something Lego has leaned into in recent years: sets made in very limited quantities. It used to be that all Lego sets were sold in stores. Some sets were more common than others and some lines were only sold in some parts of the world — there are sets that only released in the US, for example, but if a set existed, you could buy or mail order it directly from Lego. They branched out into blind-bag minifigures in the ’00s, with some being much rarer than others. Those are just figures and not sets, though.

However, 21st century Lego has changed all that. Now, some sets are only available in limited quantities, and some are only available as limited-time purchase bonuses when you buy another set. I don’t know exactly when Lego started doing this, but I think it is absolutely terrible business, unless their goal is to increase third party sales on the used market and spike used Lego prices, but I don’t know why they would since that makes Lego no money. All this does is hurt the potential customer who can’t buy that set they like because it isn’t available, they only made a tiny number of them and it sold out quickly. This business model is one that you also see in videogames now, with companies such as Limited Run, who make very limited production runs of physical copies of otherwise digital-only games, and I strongly dislike it! The system works on FOMO, or Fear Of Missing Out — you must follow the company closely when it announces new things and buy them quickly or potentially you’ll never have it withouth paying a crazy premium on the used market. It’s incredibly obnoxious and awful stuff, but is sadly common now; Limited Run has a bunch of copy companies doing the same thing.

For the 2021-2022 Lego Castle run, there are two limited run sets, both Forestmen themed. First, they did a new set that takes Foresmen’s River Fortress and redesigns it. That set looked great from the outside, but had nothing going on inside, it was empty. This new set fixes that quite thoroughly. However, the set was only produced in VERY limited quantities and sold out in minutes. If you want one be prepared to pay a lot, Forestmen sets are popular. It looks like a nice set, they should have sold it. It would have sold well, I think.

The other set is a remake of the classic set Forestmen’s Tower. The new tower looks a lot like the old one, but with new pieces and such. It looks okay, somewhat average just like the original is but fine. Based on pictures I might prefer the original, and it was never one of my favorite looking sets. Still, it’s neat they made this… except it was only released as a purchase bonus on the Lego store, and for a very limited time. You had to buy something else and then get this set as a bonus with it. Naturally now it’s going for at least twice the original estimated value of ~$25, and this will probably go up over time. Oh come on Lego, why do you do this? I really don’t understand how it is good business to put all the effort into designing and building sets and then making such tiny quantities of them.

And no, I’m not just upset because I didn’t get either of those sets. I do have some limited run videogame stuff, and I think that it’s awful for anyone else because it’s not right that anyone who didn’t happen to be buying from the right website at the right time now can’t get those games without paying crazy markups on ebay. There’s no reason for it other than intentionally punishing your own userbase in order to get people to buy stuff more quickly when it releases. But wouldn’t you sell more overall if you could, you know, just buy the stuff you wanted? Ugh, this is awful stuff and clearly wrong. I hate this business model.

The Building Experience

 

The way Lego has you build sets has changed in two notable ways. First, Lego set instructions now are EXTREMELY detailed and specific, in a way they were not back in the ’80s or ’90s. They give an image of exactly which bricks you add on each step, and mark on the image exactly where each one goes. That’s a big change. These improvements are good, but do mean that anyone should be able to build even the huge 4500 piece $400 castle, if they have the patience. Of course though, it’s much more likely an adult will have the patience for a set this large and detailed than a child. But anyone who can follow instructions should be able to build it.

The other big change is that large sets like these are now broken up into parts built from numbered bags. Each bag produces one specific part of the set, and you put the pieces to gether as you go. The instructions tell which bag you are on next. Of course this only helps the first time you build the model, so if it gets disassembled anyone else building the set will have a harder time, but if you buy the set new the numbered bag system makes it easy to follow what you are doing without having to sort through thousands of pieces to find the one tiny thing you need. Because when sets are this much bigger, piece count wise, than sets of the past were, the help is appreciated.

So, building Lego sets today is easier than it used to be since the instructions are clearer, but is harder because there are more parts and you spend more time building. Making something take longer to make does not make it better, but you do often get impressive results.

Conclusion to the Article Portion: Lego as an Adult

So, I am currently building the expensive castle. I’m less than a quarter of the way through, but have completed some sections of the set and they look great. As a child, I loved both building sets by following the instructions and also trying to build my own things. Making my own stuff was fun, but it never looked as good as the official stuff so I kept the official sets I really liked the look of together. I saved just about every single box and building instructions booklet from the sets I got and still have those.

But then decades passed and now I’m building Lego sets for the first time in a while, more seriously than the handful of Lego Dimensions sets I got a few years back, and it’s like… it’s fun, and a moderate challenge, but certainly isn’t hard. I like it but don’t love it like I do a great videogame, it’s no Mario Maker 2. Having a physical thing after you’re done is nice enough though. Am I enjoying this enough to make it worth buying, yes. But no it isn’t the most complex thing, though that’s partially good and is a big part of why Lego is so popular; I never got into building plastic models, which is a more challenging task, and am entirely fine with that, and I’m not really artistic enough to make things on my own.

Essentially Lego is a balance, simple to build in that every block just clicks together perfectly in a truly astounding way, Lego’s quality control is impeccable, but challenging enough along the way to keep you interested. It’s an absolutely brilliant thing for children and works well, particularly with the more complex sets, for adults who don’t want to have to deal with glue and such in their models. I’m having fun with it but yeah as I said earlier, Lego goes below videogames or fantasy books on my list of things I like. Sorry. But it’s still good, I love my Lego Castle collection and plan on probably adding to it.

My Lego Castle Collection: Set and Theme Listing

 

And on that note, here is my collection. This is a listing of the castle Lego sets that I own. I may be forgetting a few small ones, if so I will add them to this list.

I will start by listing the castle sets I have that are still assembled.

Crusaders (1984-1990, with sets still available until 1992, brought back 2022 as the “Lion Knights”)
Assembled:
Lion Knights’ Castle (2022)
Unassembled: Twin Arm Launcher, Viking Voyager, Town Wall Tavern (Guarded Inn), King’s Oarsmen, Knights’ Arsenal.

Black Falcons (new sets only for them 1984-87, sets with them in them 1984-1994, brought back kind of 2010, brought back for real 2021-22.)
Assembled:
Black Falcon’s Fortress (1986) (this set was unassembled for years, but I put it back together sometime in the ’00s. I had to substitute a few pieces for different colors and the drawbridge string is missing. The flag’s clips are broken and it is taped to its flagpole.)
Lego Creator Medieval Castle (2021)
Unassembled: Castle Guard, the Black Falcons catapult from Knights’ Stronghold, Battle Dragon if for some reason you give this to the Falcons just because of the shield (I don’t).
Minifigures Only: Sea Serpent, Lion Knights’ Castle (2022)

Forestmen (1987-1990, sets available until ’92, brought back as the Forest Guardians in 2021)
Assembled: None
Unassembled: Forestmen’s Tower
Minifigures Only: Lion Knights Castle (2022)

Black Knights (1988-94)
Assembled:
Dungeon Masters’ Castle (Black Knights’ Castle)
Sea Serpent
Unassembled: Knights’ Stronghold (the wall), Battle Dragon (despite the Black Falcons’ shield, I cannot consider this a Black Falcons set, it’s very obviously supposed to be a Black Knights ship. The two guys from this ship are among my Black Knights.), Black Knights’ Boat (if I have it?)

Dragon Masters (1993-95)
Assembled:
Dragon Defender
Dark Dragon’s Den
Dragon Wagon
Majisto’s Magical Tower (this set never fully assembled correctly and still isn’t)
Unassembled: None
Minifigures Only: Royal Drawbridge, Medieval Knights (minifigure pack)

Wolfpack (1992-93)
Assembled: None
Unassembled: Wolfpack Tower
Minifigures Only: Dungeon Master’s Castle, Medieval Knights

Royal Knights (1995-97)
Assembled:
Royal Drawbridge
Royal Knights’ Castle
King’s Carriage
Skeleton Surprise
Crossbow Boat
Royal King
Space/Castle Value Pack (the Royal Knights’ catapult; I don’t think the space set is assembled.)
Unassembled: None
Minifigures Only: Hemlock Stronghold
(I have all of the Royal Knights sets other than their carriage in the big Dark Forest set.)

Dark Forest (1996)
Assembled:
Bandit Ambush
Hemlock Stronghold
Unassembled: None

Fright Knights (1997-98)
Assembled:
Bat Lord
Bat Lord’s Catapult
Unassembled: None

The Fright Knights were a pretty bad line with mostly poorly designed sets. Things needed to change, and they did, but not really for the better. At this point, Lego stopped clearly separating factions, so they are usually merged under a single banner. I will note each faction within each theme below. Also at this point, the good and evil sides become extremely clearly delineated in a way they weren’t really before. I would say that this was not a good change, it was a more interesting setting when you had different factions which you could pretend were what you wanted, versus “these are the good guys and these are the bad guys”. Yes, factions like the Wolfpack or Dragon Masters may have been meant as “bad”, but they are not evil in the same way that the later badguy factions are, a fact I quite liked. I will get into this soon, but let’s just say that my Dragon Masters are NOT evil.

Ninja (1998-99)
The Japanese-themed Ninja sets are alright. The first year of Ninja sets are the Blue Shogun’s Samurais and Grey Ninjas vs. the Red Robbers and Black Ninjas. The good faction uses blue banners and the bad red. I have three small sets from this year. The second year only has a few small sets with the first years’ factions, and instead mostly have good White Samurais and White Ninjas fighting against Red Ninjas. Both of these factions have the same theme colors and flag, with the same black, gold, and white flag, with construction heavy on black with white and blue elements. I really don’t get why these two look so similar, the first samurai and robber factions are much more different. I don’t have any sets from this year.

Good (Shogun) – Blue Samurai and Grey Ninjas (1998-99)
Assembled:
Samurai Swordsman
Treasure Transport (good ninja & the rocks he hides behind)
Unassembled: None

Ninja – Bad – Red Robbers and Black Ninjas (1998-99)
Assembled:
Ninja Surprise
Treasure Transport (the transport)
Unassembled: None

Ninja – Good (Imperial) – White Ninjas & Samurais (1999)
I don’t have any sets from this line. I should get something.

Ninja – Bad – Red Ninjas (1999)
I don’t have any sets of this line. It’s odd how their flags are the same as the white ones and their design style is so similar. The two ’99 lines have only a few sets each.

Knights Kingdom I (2000)
Assembled:
Guarded Treasury (this set has two small buildings, one each for the good and evil factions.)
Unassembled: None
The era’s factions: King Leo’s Knights (blue) vs. Cedric the Bull’s men (red).

After the above one year line Lego waited several years before bringing Castle back, and when they did it was with the worst Castle theme ever.

Knights Kingdom II (2004-2006)
I do not have any sets from this line. I will get some eventually. (I’m not sure what, though, I don’t really think that there are any notable sets in this line.)
The era’s factions: Good: the the King, the six lead knights, and the Valiant Knights. Each lead knight has a different theme color, but blue is the goodguys’ main color. Bad: Vladek and the Shadow Knights (red and black scorpion logo) and his allied Rogue Knights (black and yellow dragon theme).

Castle 2007 (Fantasy Era) & Vikings
I do not have any sets from this line. I will get some eventually. (The most notable set in this line is Medieval Market Village, which is entirely unlike any other set in the line. The line has some other good-looking sets though.)
The era’s factions: Good: Human Crown Knights (blue and gold) and Dwarves (copper and brown colors) vs. Evil: Skeletons (white and black) and Trolls (red, green, brown…).

Kingdoms
I do not have any sets from this line. I will get some eventually. (The most notable sets in this line are Mill Village Raid and Lego Kingdoms Joust.)
The factions from this era: the good Lion Kingdom (red and white colors) vs. the evil Dragon Kingdom (green and yellow colors).

Castle (2013)
Assembled:
Dragon Mountain (has figures and objects for both factions of the line)
Unassembled: None
The factions from this era: the good King’s Knights (blue and gold colors) vs. the bad Dragon Soldiers (red color). The names are similar to Kingdoms’ factions but the colors are different.

After this, Castle went away until 2021, when they started making heavily ’80s nostalgia-laden sets with the returns of the Crusaders (Lion Knights), Black Falcons, and Forestmen (Forest Guardians). I have three of these sets now, and there are two more I don’t have.  I listed them in their factions at the top in this post, but for the full reviews I will put them in chronological order and cover them at the end.

Timeline Analysis

 

From looking at this list above, for anyone who didn’t know, what you will see is how Lego operates: they make new sets, sell them for a year or three, and then discontinue that set, never sell it again, and design some new set. They only incredibly rarely remake a discontinued set, and sets are almost never on the market for more than a few years. In the ’80s to early ’90s at least the themes stayed on the market for a bit longer — the Black Falcons, for instance, only really got new sets between 1984 and 1987, but continued appearing here and there until 1992 — but since the mid ’90s themes generally only last a few years and are rapidly replaced.

The worst part, though, is that since the end of the classic Castle era in 1998, the constant revolving door of similar-but-different themes were not linked together at all. Sure, you generally had good lion or crown knights fighting against evil dragon knights or such, but sometimes the good guys are blue and the bad guys red, and other times it’s the other way around, or some other colors are used. With the classic factions it’s easy to imagine a world where all the factions live together. Even when there were similar factions, such as the Royal Knights, Lego’s first revamping of the classic Crusaders ‘lion knights’ theme they like so much, the logo and theming are different enough from the Crusaders to make them clearly different. That is not really true for the themes of the ’00 to ’13 era, as Lego went back and forth between fantasy and more realistic themes, between larger and smaller set varieties, and between more ambitious and heavily juniorized sets. Juniorized is a term the Lego fan community uses for simplified sets. That is, sets with simpler design and a heavy focus on gimmicks and poor set design, as typified in Castle with the two Knights Kingdom lines. Compare the Knights Kingdom castles to the ones before and the difference should be immediately apparent.

I understand that Lego is a business, and they only make money when people buy their products. If you just kept making the same sets forever, many Lego fans wouldn’t keep buying them, they’d have them already. And they don’t keep making themes which don’t sell. But the constant cycle between reboots and abandonment that Lego has done to the Castle theme since 1999 has made it hard to have any kind of consistent theming over time or collections. Certainly, each era of castle Legos have similar designs, and you can see when you look at one era and the next how it changed to that one, but the results are disjointed and make sticking with the theme harder than it was before. It’s somewhat disappointing, and the end result of abandoning all of it in favor of the Crusaders and Black Falcons again makes a lot of sense in that context — those themes are not only the ones that people my age, people willing and able to spend a lot of money on a Lego set, remember, but they also were around for a bit longer so there were more opportunities for people TO remember them.

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Game Opinion Summaries: Digital-Only Nintendo 3DS Games, Part 4: G-H-I-J

Yes, the next part is done.  This time we’ve got a bunch of decent games.  There’s nothing really amazing, but most of them are alright and might be worth a look… except for the last three.

Table of Contents for this update

G-H-I-J – 23 games

Glory of Generals
Go! Go! Kokopolo 3D
Gotcha Racing
Gourmet Dream
Gunman Clive
Gunman Clive 2
Gurumin 3D
Harold’s Walk
Hazumi
Hyperlight EX
Ikachan
Infinite Golf
Iron Combat: War in the Air
Jett Rocket II
Jewel Match 3
Jewel Quest IV: Heritage
Jewel Quest 6: The Sapphire Dragon
Johnny Kung Fu
Johnny Hotshot
Johnny Impossible

The Summaries

 

Glory of Generals – published by Circle and developed by Easytech in 2014. This is yet another World War II-themed turn based strategy wargame from Circle. Last time I covered a Risk or Axis & Allies-styled one, but this game is a hex-based wargame. As with all of Circle’s 3DS strategy games it does some things well, and some things not so well. This is a simple and accessible game, not a hardcore wargame. On the positive side, the game plays fine, with decent graphics, multiple troop types including tanks, artillery, infantry, and ships, submarines, and decent enemy AI to fight against.

On the negative side, though, there are no visible stats other than unit health present here and I just listed most of the unit types in this game. There are different types of tanks, but it’s not easy to tell what the differences are. The main unique feature of this game is in the title, the generals. You have a money system in this game, and can buy airstrikes, try to heal units, and such, and most importantly hire and assign generals to units. There are many generals from World War II present from both sides, and you can pretty much hire any of them on either side. Yeah, really. When a unit has a general leading it, the unit gets significantly stronger and harder to destroy. It’s a decent system but can be frustrating because destroying enemy general units is quite tough, they will chew up a lot of regular units.

Once again, this game plays through the European theater of World War II. You can play as either Allies or Axis. As the Allies, you start out with the Battle of Dunkirk, but you are only controlling the French while the British are AI-controlled. You need to survive a required number of turns without letting the Germans conquer all of the control points. Each mission has a turn limit and objective points you must control at the end. In the first stage the famous retreat is not really represented, unfortunately; you just will lose troops steadily as the endless German armies come at you so you will slowly be wiped out. Despite losing almost all of my troops I managed to win the mission on my first try. The game gets harder as you go along, of course, and is reasonably fun if you like wargames. But with so few stats and unit types, once again, don’t expect the depth of most wargames on the PC. Still, it’s a decent game for cheap. Released digitally on 3DS and iOS.

Go! Go! Kokopolo 3D: Space Recipe for Disaster Developed by Tanukii Studios and published by Circle in 2017. This is an overhead action game with some fairly original design. It is a sequel to a DSiWare game that I haven’t played. The game plays on floating paths on a grid. You can’t move off of the paths. The game has a very strong stereoscopic 3d effect, with the paths floating over the background just like Jack Bros. for the Virtual Boy. Also like Jack Bros., there are three playable characters, all cuteified characters, slightly anthroporphised animals here. Unlike Jack Bros., you will need to beat the game as all three characters to unlock the true ending. There is also a helpful tutorial mode which teaches the gameplay basics, a time attack mode which lets you play any level you have reached in the main game and keeps track of the three best times for each stage, and recipe cards to unlock if you defeat the correct enemies in the levels and collect them. But how does it play?

So, this has a few similarities to Jack Bros., but its gameplay is not quite as straightforward as that games’ is. In Kokopolo 3D, you move with the dpad. Two face buttons jump and attack, and the R button runs. Running is central to this game. Because, you see, while your goal in each level is to kill all of the enemies, but you can’t kill them directly with the attack button. Instead, you have to lure enemies into traps. So, you attack an enemy, then run towards the nearest trap as they chase you. You then need to jump over the trap, and any other obstacles along the way, and the enemy will be caught in the trap. Rinse and repeat for each enemy in the stage and you win. If an enemy hits you it will take off some health and you will need to start the process of luring them into a trap over. If you try to defeat an enemy with just your melee attack, it will go away but infinitely respawn. You need to trap them to defeat them.

Overall, this game has great graphics with very nice character and background graphics, fantastic use of stereoscopic 3d, and decently solid arcade action gameplay. The game is repetitive, however, since the ‘hit, run, go to trap’ loop really is all you do here. The game does get harder as you go, with more spike pits to jump over, one-way gates blocking paths, and more, but don’t expect much variety from Go! Go! Kokopolo 3D. Having to be going so fast so often can be frustrating too; memorization is required in this game. The speed makes avoiding obstacles hard unless you memorize stage layouts. You do have infinite tries here, thankfully, but still it can be irritating. Still, the game is mostly fun. On the whole I find this game decent to good, with gameplay that’s fun but not quite as great as the graphics. Jack Bros. is better. Still, this game is worth playing. 3DS digital exclusive.

Gotcha Racing – Developed by Arc System Works and published by Natsume in 2015. Gotcha Racing? That’s just the Western title. This game is actually titled Gatcha Racing, and while it seems to probably be a 3DS exclusive it was made in the style of a Japanese mobile game. Unfortunately, you can take the microtransactions out of the mobile game, and indeed this game does not have microtransactions, but the game does have horrible, game breakingly obnoxious random-draw blind bag nonsense, straight out of a mobile gatcha game. Gotcha Racing is a top-down 2d racing game with decent, if unspectacular, graphics, sound, and gameplay. If it had normal progression and gameplay it’d be a totally average-at-best racer maybe worth trying if you like this kind of thing. The game plays on both screens, with your car on the lower screen and a good view of the upcoming track ahead of you going up onto the upper screen. There is also a minimap, so unlike some fast-moving topdown racing games it won’t be too hard to figure out the turns in this game. It’s a nice use of the two screens that I wish was present in a good game. The controls are only decent, but they’re alright. The game initially is decent fun for a topdown racing games fan, as I am.

However, the good side of this game does not last long thanks to the omnipresent gatcha mechanics, straight out of an exploitative-to-your-wallet mobile game. Basically everything in this game revolves around blind-bag draws. Do you want a better chance in the next race? It won’t be easy, the other cars probably have better stats than you do so you won’t keep up. You’d better upgrade your car, hope you draw some good stuff from the blind draws! Sure, you can’t spend real money in this game, it does not have paid DLC on the 3DS so you need to earn draws with in-game currency, but this does not make the gameplay any better, only the financial hit. This game is a horribly obnoxious pain and is not worth playing. Outside of the gatcha mechanics this is an average game with decent graphics, nice use of the two screens, average controls, and a fair amount of content, but the farther the get the clearer it is that the blindbag draw mechanics are awful and totally ruin the experience. Avoid this mess. 3DS digital exclusive.

Gourmet DreamDeveloped by Arc System Works and published by Circle in 2016. Remember Conveni Dream? That game was an incredibly simple and basic convenience store simulator that was moderately amusing, but was overly simplistic and easy. Well, Gourmet Dream is very similar, except with a restaurant theme and perhaps a few more statistics to track. At first it may seem like this game has more depth than Conveni Dream, but I don’t think it really does. It might be slightly better than that game, though. As with that game, this is a very simple, easy, and stripped-down simulation game which is mostly hands-off and requires only occasional player input. So, you are running a restaurant here. The game hides it, but this is very clearly set in Japan, as with Conveni Dream all the food and such would only be found at restaurants in Japan.

You start off with a tutorial where the game gives you three staff members, two for the kitchen and one out front, some basic tables and such for your restaurant, and several recipes. As with Conveni Dream, you have options in this game but they are limited. The game has recipes to choose between… but only a few. It has tables which seat different numbers of diners, but you can’t choose different types of tables or anything, this game is simple. You can change your staff’s uniforms and spruce the palce up with some plants in the seating area if you wish. Once things are placed in your restaurant they seem to be permanent, though; you can’t move the tables at all, which is pretty annoying. Table placement definitely matters for maximizing the number of tables in your restaurant.

This is a restaurant game though, so the core of the issue is food. The game has recipes for various different dish types, but it starts out with very few options; you can’t create a restaurant here really, just work with the handful of choices you’re given. At the start you can only have four recipes actually serving, though you will slowly get more added to that. You will also get more recipes now and then. Recipes are rated with various stats, the most important of which is a deliciousness rating. The game also keeps track of how often each dish is purchased, which is useful. You want to keep track of this and serve dishes which your customers like more and buy more. There is also one last thing, incredients. Food is made of ingredients, but this game doesn’t go into much detail there; there are only six ingredients to buy, representing the core food categories, and you can choose to either have them auto-reorder as they expire or run low or to manually buy more. The latter option gives you something more to do in this mostly hands-off game.

Indeed, once your core choices are made as far as food, menu, and layout, most of what you do in this game is watch the customers come in and eat. You can tweak your menu as you get new food options, hire more staff once a week, expand your restaurant if you have the funds, advertise, and such, but a lot of your time will just be spent watching, and not doing anything. At the end of each day the game tells you how much money you made or lost that day; so far I have only lost money one day. At the end of each week you get a bunch of customer reviews and more ratings. Good customer reviews are preferable of course, though people seem to come in just fine so long as they are at least decent. Because where in the real world the restaurant business is apparently quite a difficult one, here it is easy. Your success may not be totally guaranteed, but with minimal strategy you will be fine, at least early on. I hope that it eventually gets harder as you try to reach being a Rank S restaurant, but I don’t know if that is the case. Overall, this game is playable but repetitive and simplistic. The only reason to play this game, I think, is if you like somewhat interactive management games. I don’t, really; if I wanted to play a sim game I’d want one with more gameplay than this, a SimCity or Pharaoh or such. But people who do like simple numbers go up tycoon sim games might be amused here. There are at least a few more numbers to track than Conveni Dream has, so it does surpass its predecessor. 3DS digital exclusive.

Gunman ClivePublished and developed by Horberg Productions in 2013. Gunman Clive is a sidescrolling action-platformer shooting game that achieved some minor popularity. The game has a nice Wild West aesthetic and solid, simple controls and gameplay. You play as either Clide or Ms. Johnson, and need to rescue the other character. Yeah, you can rescue the guy if you want, flipping the usual stereotype. Each one plays differently, too — Clive has a lot more health and a normal jump, while Ms. Johnson has a floating jump like the Princess in Mario 2 but has a lot less health. This game is short and not very hard, but while it lasts running along, jumping between platforms, and gunning down the enemies is fun stuff. The controls and core gameplay were inspired by Mega Man, and it does well with it, though not perfectly.

First though, the visuals. The game has a cool visual style that looks kind of like a sketchbook. The backgrounds are done in only a few similar white and pencil-ish colors, and each sprite is filled in with a single color — an orange-ish color for Clive, blue for many enemies, pink for the Ms. Johnson, and such. The look is great. This is one of the earlier indie platformers with a strong visual look which holds the game up; this kind of art-first sidescroller would become very common in the years since, but ten-plus years ago when this game released the idea was still somewhat new. This game, at least, does have good gameplay and level designs too, it is not only about the graphics as it is with some artsy indie games. The visual look is important to the appeal of the game, but it IS also fun.

On the controls, they are conventional but responsive. You move with the dpad and jump and shoot with buttons. It’s standard stuff but feels good. Still, Gunman Clive is never quite on the level of the better Mega Man titles, it’s too simple and has more issues. See the weapon powerup system, for example. Weapon powerups drop from some enemies which give you a stronger attack, such as a three-way shot. If you take a hit, you lose the powerup. This means that on average you will spend much more time without powerups than with them, which is unfortunate. And the games’ Mega Man elements do not extend to its powerup system; there are no permanent powerups in this game, only the basic temporary-stronger-shot stuff.

The game is entirely linear, but has good level designs. Each stage has some new challenges to get past, and there are fun setups all along. Really the only significant fault this game has is how short it is; Gunman Clive is a lot of fun, but it’ll be over in an hour or two of moderate play. For anyone who hasn’t played it, though, I recommend it for sure. The game is very cheap and has stereoscopic 3d depth, so this is not the exact same as the PC version. As for replay value, there isn’t a lot since the game is the same each time, but there are three slightly different characters, one unlockable after you beat the game, so there is that. Either way, this is a good game worth playing. Released digitally on 3DS, Android, iOS, PC (Steam), and Mac (Steam), and in an HD Collection on Wii U, PlayStation 4, Switch, and PC (Steam).

Gunman Clive 2Developed and published by Horberg Productions in 2015. This game is very similar to the last one, but with new levels, more colorful and more varied backgrounds still with stereoscopic 3d depth, a bunch of dinosaurs to fight, and a new Indian character protagonist to choose from alongside Clive, Ms. Johnson, and the unlockable character from the first game. Yes, I said dinosaurs. Oh, and this game is longer and more challenging than the first one too, which is great. This sequel does nothing new in terms of gameplay, controls, or game design, but it does take a very good base title and improves on it in a few ways. You get more somewhat Mega Man-ish shooting platform-action, with good level designs, more varied settings this time as you face off against the dinosaurs which have appeared for some reason, and more. This is a good sequel which improves over the original in most ways and is certainly worth playing. The first game has a purer focus with its very simple environments, but this more ambitious title is fun as well. Expect it to be mostly the same but with new content and you won’t be disappointed. Released digitally on the PC (Steam) and 3DS, and in an HD Collection on Wii U, PlayStation 4, Switch, and PC (Steam).

Gurumin 3DDeveloped by Falcom and published by Mastiff in 2016. Circle Pad Pro / New 3DS added controls supported. Gurumin is, like many Falcom games, an action-RPG. It was first developed for the PSP before being ported to PC and 3DS later on. This 3DS version is pretty much the same as the PSP original, except the whole game is, as you would expect, in stereoscopic 3D now. The graphics and art design are great. Gurumin is a pretty good game, though I’ve never stuck with it enough to finish it. It looks nice. There are a lot of similarities between this game and Falcom’s Ys games of the same era, but there are some significant differences as well. In this game, you play as a young girl who has found a portal from her boring mining town to a town where friendly monsters roam. Something goes wrong, though, and bad creatures kidnap all of the good ones and destroy the town. So, our heroine sets off to beat up all of the bad guys, rescue the good monsters, and rebuild their town so they can all play together happily again.

That may make this sound like a cute kids’ game, but it’s not; it’s actually a pretty challenging action-RPG for anyone. This game plays well, with a few issues, but it is tough. This game is a third person action game with a behind-the-character camera. The main unique gameplay element here is that your weapon is a drill. You can attack with the drill by hitting a button, charge it up for a forward drill dash attack, and more. You get some other items, such as different masks, but your weapon is always the drill. The game has a bunch of moves you can buy over the course of the game. You also have a jump button, but the drill dash also will go over gaps. Some controls are enhanced if you have a Circle Pad Pro or New 3DS: a dodge, which is on both a face button and LZ or RZ, and camera rotation on L and R or the right stick. You also have some touch buttons on the lower screen to quickly change items or bring up the menu to use healing items and such with. It’s a good use of the touchscreen. You also can bring up a menu to use healing items or such, but you can only carry up to three of each type of healing item at a time so they are quite limited. As I said the game gets hard. One thing this game does NOT have is auto-targeting. Instead, you will always attack straight ahead and will need to use L and R to rotate the camera towards your enemy. It makes tougher battles much more difficult and annoying than they would be with an auto-targeting system.

This is a stage-based game, not open world. The game starts out in the human town, and then you go to monster village, but once it is destroyed and the friendly monsters mostly captured you go to a world map. Here you choose a level. Levels are relatively short. The stage lengths show that this game was designed for a portable system. It’s good that Falcom considered that handheld games often have shorter play sessions than TV ones. After you beat each stage you get a rating, so there is some replay value if you want to increase your ratings. You also will need to go back to some areas once you get additional abilities. Additionally, as you save more friendly monsters the monster town will be rebuilt. You also will find items which belong to the monsters and can return them to them. You also can upgrade your abilities and buy items back in the human town, so there is some reason to go back there.

This is mostly an action game, and the challenging combat is the core of the game, but there are also some puzzle-solving elements, and I have sometimes been unsure on what to do next. Some enemies require certain attacks to have a better chance at beating them, and you always should be on the lookout for things you can destroy with your drill. Breaking objects will drop money or, sometimes, other items. I don’t quite understand why Japan loves drill weapons so much, but it’s fun to use here. Additionally, while stages are generally linear, you will need to solve puzzles as well as fight baddies here. I do get frustrated quickly when I get stuck and don’t know what to do next or are at a pretty tough boss fight. I admit, as much as I like Gurumin I’ve never finished this game on any platform. Still, Gurumin is absolutely worth playing, anyone action-RPG genre fan should play this one. It looks nice, plays great, has decent variety, and is lots of fun. Gurumin isn’t Falcom’s best game, more areas and variety might have been nice and it really should have auto-targeting, but it’s still pretty good. The game was made by one of the best action-RPG developers in the business and it shows. Released physically on PSP and digitally on 3DS and PC (Steam).

Harold’s WalkDeveloped and published by Luke Vincent in 2020. Remember Cryght, above? This is another extremely low budget indie 3d platformer, a bit like that one but both more ambitious and perhaps less fun. On the positive side, this game is fully 3d. Your character Harold and the world around him are polygonal, and the game makes full use of stereoscopic 3d to help you see where you are better. The graphics are simple and look like programmer art. You can jump and double jump with one button, roll while moving with another, and walk with a third. You must use the analog stick to move, but have no speed control on the stick, you are running unless you hold the walk button. I wish you had some speed control, it would be quite helpful in a game like this, but oh well. Otherwise the controls are decent. In this short game, you explore levels looking for crowns and the exit. Each level has three crowns hidden in it and an exit portal. There are also donuts which refill your health; you have four hit points and lose one when an enemy hits you. You defeat them the usual Mario way, by jumping on them. So yeah, this is an indie Mario 64-inspired title. There are only ten levels in this game, each short, so unless you want to get all of the collectibles this game won’t take you long. The levels each have a different theme, which is nice; while the graphics are simple, you can tell that some work went into designing them, they are not the borderline random generation stuff of Cryght. There are even some sections which switch to 2.5d, which is neat. So, is Harold’s Walk worth it? Sure, maybe. The game is objectively below average, but it’s alright. It’s cheap and amusing for platformer fans. With very little content and basic visuals this game won’t hold you for long, but it’s enough for a mildly amusing hour at least. If you love platformers maybe get this one when it’s on sale. It has some charm. Nintendo 3DS digital exclusive.

HazumiDeveloped by EyeCancer and published by Gamelion in 2014. Gamelion was a handheld and mobile game publisher. This is a console game, but it has some mobile design stylings. This title is a pretty fun arcade action-puzzle game. You control a bouncing ball here. The ball is always bouncing up and down, and you control its left-right movement with the d-pad. Your goal in each of the 104 levels is to destroy all of the colored blocks. Blocks come in four colors, though, and you can only destroy blocks of the same color as the ball. Certain blocks will change your ball’s color. There are also hard blocks of each color that you cannot destroy but can push, only while that color, by bumping into them. Obstacles such as grinders and chomping metal ‘teeth’ will destroy your ball on impact, and when destroyed you restart the stage. There are only a small number of parts used in the game, but it’s enough. Each level is a single screen, so pacing is good. Visually, the game has nice pixel art graphics. It looks pretty nice. There is a bit of stereoscopic 3d depth on the screen, but it isn’t used as much as it could be. Ah well.

Once you beat each stage, you get that mobile game classic, a rating out of a possible three stars. While playing, each time you break a block a bit is added to a star meter on the lower screen, and your rating at the end is based on how many stars are fully or partially filled in when you break the last block. It’s simple, but is challenging to master. And you will need to get better at this as you go, because in order to unlock levels you need a certain number of stars in earlier levels. As you go the star requirements increase, so you will need to go back to earlier levels eventually. The game starts out easy, but steadily gets harder as you go along. Overall this game is perhaps a bit too simple and easy, but it is reasonably fun. Each level is short but rewarding to play and finish. The stage designs are good, with plenty of fun puzzles to figure out, and they have a good difficulty curve. The game even has a level creator, if you want to make your own levels. Unfortunately there is no online level trading support, though. Overall Hazumi is not complex, but it is a solid, above average game which can be fun and has a nice mixture of action and strategy. Recommended for sure. Nintendo 3DS digital exclusive.

Hyperlight EXDeveloped and published by CatfishBluesGames in 2016. This game is an overhead arena action game. The visual look was inspired by games like Geometry Wars. There are many not-as-good clones opf that game out there, but this one at least isn’t just a clone, it has unique gameplay. Unfortunately, the gameplay is as flawed as it is different. So, much like Geometry Wars, each stage in this game is a single-screen overhead area, on the upper screen. The graphics are nicely drawn and have a good, very cyber-world-ish style. The game makes good use of the 3DS’s stereoscopic 3d display as well. You control a little ship, and enemies appear for you to destroy. However, in this game you CANNOT shoot most of the time. So, this is not a twin-stick shooter. Instead, you move around with the dpad or circle pad, and do a ram attack when you hit A. There is a meter on the screen showing how much ram power you have, and normal enemies will blow up if you pass through them while ramming. If you touch an enemy while not ramming, though, you will be the one to die, or lose your shield if you have one. The meter goes down quickly if you hold the button down to stay in attack mode for a while, but recovers quite slowly.

You do have some help, though. In addition to your ram many enemies drop powerups, and they are useful. The basic powerup recovers some ram power. There is also a gun powerup which shoots straight ahead for a few seconds, walls which create a temporary barrier on the screen, assist drone things, and some more. So, the game is a balance between attack and retreat, as you destroy enemies when you can and run from them when you can’t attack. It’s a fine concept, but it can be very hard to tell when you run out of ram power; random deaths when you think you should be invincible but instead blow up because your meter was too low are common. It often feels like you don’t have enough meter for the amount of foes on screen, either. And this game is punishing when you die, too — in the main mode, Arcade, the game is level-based. You get one or two lives per stage, and if you run out you start the level over from the beginning. Extra lives aren’t really a thing here, either. Progress is difficult and frustrating as you play levels over and over, trying to get past. It’s a decent game but having to get right on top of enemies, literally, to attack them leads to a lot of danger and you don’t have much margin for error here.

In addition to the main arcade mode the game also has two other modes. THere is an endless mode where you try to survive in a single level for as long as you can, original Geometry Wars-ish, and a somewhat odd mode with tilt controls where you can’t go into ram mode and just need to try to stay alive by avoiding enemies by tilting your 3DS away from foes as they try to kill you. Overall, Hyperlight EX has nice graphics and controls well. However, as a game it is average to slightly above average. It has some good ideas and some bad ones and is a bit too frustrating for me to call it great or unreservedly recommend it. Try it if it sounds interesting. Released digitally on 3DS and PC (Steam). There is also a probably enhanced Switch version called Hyperlight Ultimate.

Ikachan Developed by Studio Pixel and published by Nicalis in 2013. This game is a 2d sidescrolling platformer, I guess. It has an underwater setting so you aren’t running or jumping, but are swimming around as a squid; ika is the Japanese word for squid. Studio Pixel, a one-man Japanese indie developer, is best known for Cave Story, but he also made a few other games, including this one. As with Cave Story, this game started out as a freeware PC game, and that PC version was the first game he published, back in 2000. Most of his games other than Cave Story are quite short, this game included; it can be completed in an hour if you know what to do. None of his other games are as popular as Cave Story. While there are some good things about this game, after playing this one honestly I can see why it didn’t become a hit like that game did. I did like Cave Story, but not quite as much as some; I played through it once when the original PC freeware game became popular back in the ’00s and that’s it. I definitely liked the game, but didn’t love it enough to play again to get the best ending or buy any of its paid remakes. It was an important release at a time when retro-styled platformers were rare, and it helped spark the retro-styled modern game revolution that we take for granted today.

But that is a different game. As for Ikachan, I had never played it for PC before buying this 3DS port. From what I have played of this game, it’s alright but certainly is no Cave Story. It’s not just that that game is longer, short games are fine. It’s that the game is more satisfying to play, and not as confusing to figure out, unless you wanted the best ending of course. Somewhat like Cave Story, this game is not just a pure platformer. You also talk to other characters in the sea, and will need to figure out what to respond in order to proceed sometimes. This game mixes action and adventure together, and it can be frustrating if you can’t figure out what to do. The gameplay is also simple, as I will next explain. The game does have great, very Cave Story-style graphics and music, though, which is pretty nice. The game has stereoscopic 3d depth to its background as well, which is great. Cave Story and retro game fans should play this for its visuals, at least, for sure.

But the most important thing about a game is the gameplay. In this game you play as the squid Ikachan. She can swim and at the beginning that’s it. You always are facing updwards. You can angle left or right with left or right on the d-pad, and propel yourself upwards with the A or B buttons. The controls work well and you should get used to them quickly, swimming around is fun. You do move a bit slow since you are underwater, though. You get a hat early on which allows you to damage enemies when you swim up into them from below. It’s easy to miss when you try this. They will hurt you if they touch you from other directions, though. You will get a few more items later on, there are six spots in the inventory. This is a quite short game so there aren’t many items, and there are only five level-ish areas to the game. The game has an experience system as well. When you kill enemies or collect food pickups you gain experience, and as you level up you get more health and such. You can save and heal at spots between each “level”.

The levels are mostly linear, but are not straightforward and do have open areas to explore. You will need to not only just go forward but also will need to talk to the friendly sea urchins, answer their questions correctly, get items, and sometimes go to the same place again after doing some random other thing somewhere else in order to trigger the path ahead opening up. The game may be short, but when you get stuck as I did in the second level it won’t feel that way. I had to look up what to do online. Some of what I missed was obvious and some wasn’t. The game can feel directionless and figuring out what to do can at times be frustrating. Once you do proceed the game is good, though not the best. The swimming can be fun, but combat’s a bit finnicky with having to hit enemies from below. And while I have no problem in theory with exploration in games, having to talk to one person in order for a path to open somewhere else is kind of annoying design. I know I’m complaining too much about one little section, but it did cause me to stop playing this game for years until I came back to it for this summary so I think it’s justified. Overall, Ikachan is an alright game. For an underwater ‘platfiormer’ it’s good, though it is a bit slow-paced as underwater games usually are. The game looks and sounds great, but it is short, simple, and annoyingly nonlinear at times. It is a good game worth playing, but it isn’t great. Released digitally on PC (as freeware) and 3DS (paid on the eshop).

Infinite GolfDeveloped and published by Petite Games in 2017. Infinite Golf is a simple, single-screen-per-level sidescrolling golf game. In each stage, your goal is to get from the tee on the left side of the screen to a hole somewhere else on the screen. The game has two modes, an infinite one and one where you get three shots to complete each hole, and get game over once you fail to complete a hole in three shots. The game keeps track of your best score. In either mode, each stage is randomly generated. There are, unfortunately, no predesigned holes here, only random generation. Each hole is made up of angled ground making up a very rough and hilly surface to try to get through. The controls are simple, with basic touch and button controls for aiming your angle and shooting, which has a standard power meter for how hard your invisible golfer hits the ball. And that’s the game, pretty much.

But how fun is it? Pretty fun, actually! This game is very simple and surely was originally designed for cellphones, but I think it’s quite entertaining. This is the kind of game designed for playing for minutes per session, not hours, but that is fine. The controls work great and while the random stages will eventually dump you into something nearly impossible unless you make a perfect shot, trying to get as far as I can in the three-chances-per-hole mode is fun stuff. This game has simple graphics with only a few colors per stage, but the stark visuals and angled landscapes look nice. Those stages which put the hole right next to an angled slope going off the edge of the screen are quite annoying, but when you get the power and angle just right to make one of those shots it is very satisfying. I recommend this game for sure, it’s simple and cheap and is worth playing for a few minutes at a time.   Get Infinite Golf.  Released digitally on 3DS and iOS.

Iron Combat: War in the AirDeveloped and published by Teyon in 2015. Iron Combat is a 3d flight action game. Perhaps somewhat inspired by Liberation Maiden, which I will cover next time, but perhaps a bit more flawed, this game is somewhat interesting regardless. I will start by saying, though, definitely read the manual before playing this game. Not only is some of the story only in the manual, the controls are also only listed there, not in game. So read it first. With that said, this game is an anime-styled game starring a female android, and set in a post-apocalyptic world. So, this is a mission-based title. Each level in this game requires you to shoot down enemies until the mission ends. There is some voice acting, all in subtitles Japanese, but the cutscenes are text-only, they must not have had the budget for art for them. There is a shop and upgrade system here, and the amount of money you get will depend on how well you do in missions. This can lead to required grinding of earlier stages for upgrade money if you get into a cycle of barely beating missions. This game is tough so most will need to grind.

Once into a mission, the game is fast-paced and mostly fun. Each mission is in a floating box, basically; there is a large cube of sky you can fly around in, with barriers around the edges that will stop you. You have been heavily modified and are both a plane and a floating girl. The two modes control quite differently. The plane form can fly in three dimensions with the circle pad, but is fast and hard to hit enemies with. The humanoid girl form is much more combat-oriented, but you slowly fall all the time while in this mode and cannot control the vertical axis in this form, the stick only moves you left and right. You cannot turn the camera around in this game either, though there is a radar on the lower screen. You will need to rely on the targeting system to hit foes behind you. It kind of works.

As for the rest of the controls, you can switch between the two modes with the R button. In both modes, B fires machine guns and A missiles. Beyond that, in flying girl form Y uses a sword attack. In plane form this will switch you to girl form and use a sword attack. In girl form, you lock on to enemies and the missiles will fire at your current target. Your movement is also based on your current locked on target, and your view points towards them. Since as I mentioned earlier you can’t turn the camera, this means that it can be tricky to hit enemies behind you. X changes targets when multiple enemies are close to you, so try to change targets to whoever is attacking you. Lastly, L does a horizontal dodge. When you are locked on to targets and shooting them this mode is fun, just remember you are slowly dropping and you’ll be in trouble when faced with a bunch of foes coming from multiple directions. You can change targets of course, but it can be tricky. In plane form, you can’t lock on to targets and your view points towards where you are flying. X instead does a rapid turn, and L closes up your upper stabilizers to increase your speed. This mode gets you some elevation again and out of tricky situations. You can fight as a plane too, but will have trouble hitting much unless it is also moving fast.

The game can definitely be fun as you blast the enemies, but it is pretty hard to stay alive. It would have been better if you got more money for beating missions, the required grind to pad out the game is annoying. Also, while in floating girl form I wish you could easily turn around to face enemies coming at you from other directions. You have to rely on either whatever hitting X to change lockon targets does or switch to plane form and fly away, and neither of those options are as good as a more free control scheme would allow. I know that this game doesn’t support the Circle Pad Pro or New 3DS’s second analog stick and added buttons and thus uses all the buttons, but still, I wish that they had done things a bit differently. Even so, Iron Combat is a decently good game certainly worth playing if you like flight action games. This is a plane game, but it feels shmuppish at times as you move left and right to dodge incoming fire while you shoot away at your foes. It’s reasonably fun stuff, the sometimes high difficulty and targeting issues aside. Moderately recommended. Nintendo 3DS digital exclusive.

Jett Rocket II Developed and published by Shin’en in 2013. Jett Rocket II is a 3d, behind-the-character action-platformer. This game is a sequel to Jett Rocket, which was a WiiWare game on the original Wii. For those who didn’t buy that game back when it was available, though, this game stands alone just fine. That game was a 3d platformer. This time, the game has both isometric-ish 3d levels and side-scrolling 2.5d levels, and alternates between the two styles. You play as hero Jett Rocket, and he moves somewhat slowly, unfortunately. You also don’t have speed control; the game has some analog control, for your movement direction in 3d levels, but you’re either walking or stopped. Disappointing. On the other hand, as the name suggests he has a jetpack. You can also jump normally, but the jetpack is the unique thing here. The jetpack is fun to use but you will need to learn to control it. Jetpack usage is limited though, you need to stand on recharge areas to get jetpack uses back. And last you have a roll attack. This is a separate button from jump. On the ground you do a forward roll, and in the air a double jump / spin attack. This move is how you defeat enemies or break breakable objects or walls in the levels. You’ll need to get used to hitting one button to jump then a different one for the double jump and attack. The controls feel fine, not the most responsive but perfectly decent.

As far as level designs, in either the 2.5d or 3d levels this is a good but not great game. You walk around, jetpack, pick up items, roll into enemies, and repeat. I liked the first game on Wii more, honestly; this one feels a bit lesser in scope. That game was entirely 3d, for one thing, instead of being half 2.5d and half 3d as this one is. I like the 3d levels here more than the pretty generic 2.5d ones, so I kind of wish this one was fully 3d as well. I never feel incredibly impressed like I would on 3DS from Mario 3D Land or Sonic Lost World, but it’s a fine, solidly made game with slightly slow but decent pacing, average challenge, and quality level designs. The game does get harder as you go along, so it won’t all be easy. Avoiding some enemies feels janky at times though, but you do have several hit points per life so it’s not too bad. On the one hand, all of the levels in each world have pretty similar looks to them and there are a lot of fairly sterile-looking environments. It is all in 60fps stereoscopic 3d though, so it does look nice. Overall this is a simple game without much depth, and it feels somewhat generic in graphics and level designs, particularly in the 2.5d half of the game, but while ultimately only a bit above average, Jett Rocket II is alright and probably is worth playing if you like the genre. Nintendo 3DS digital exclusive.

Jewel Match 3 Developed by Suricate Software and published by Joindots in 2013. This is a match three item-dropping puzzle game. It is part of a long-running casual PC game series, in maybe its only entry on consoles. There are a lot of games like this, inspired by Bejeweled among many others, but this one is one of only a handful of download-only ones on the 3DS. It’s an easy and conventional, but fun, game. Please note, this game is called Jewel Match 3, but if it is part of a series the rest of the games aren’t on 3DS. The main gameplay here is match 3 puzzles, but it has a few other minigames to keep things interesting. This is a fantasy-themed game. You are a young woman trying to save her kingdom from an evil mage who has imprisoned everyone in crystals and ruined the place. There are story scenes along the way. So, you use the money you get from the match 3 puzzles to rebuild the castle and surroundings and make a garden. These two elements are separate screens. You have two currencies, one spent on buildings and one on plants and gardening items. It is satisfying to get more buildings and expand the castle, and you get additional abilities — that is, items you can use during a puzzle to affect the screen and get past a locked-up impasse where you can’t get the right block in the right place to start clearing a part of the screen — over time, particularly as you free the key people from those crystals. As for the garden element, you place flowers onto the screen, and then can buy items such as water to grow the flowers taller or bug killer to keep bugs off of them. It’s very simple stuff but is a decent inclusion I guess. You play on the lower screen of course, but the castle, which is on the upper screen, and other upper-screen displays are all in stereoscopic 3d.

The main game is mostly standard match-3 gameplay. The main unique feature is that each level has several screens which you will go between. Often each screen is a separate puzzle, but sometimes you will need a key on one screen in order to finish another screen. It’s an idea they could do more with, but I like the feature, it adds a bit to this game. Other than that, the game is mostly traditional. Gems drop from above, falling into open spaces. You play with the stylus, and slide tiles to make a match. You can only move if you can make a match, you can’t move into empty spaces, and tiles only match when you slide them, they won’t break by themselves when they form lines of three while dropping in. That’s fine, there’s almost always a match in this game. If there isn’t one it will drop all new gems, you don’t need to start over. Matching four or more items drops a powerup, some very useful; one clears a full row of tiles. Some spaces have blocks that only open once a key somewhere has been aquired, others wooden boxes which break once you break a block next to them, and others have locks so you can’t move that tile’s gem but have to match next to it. To beat levels you need to drop certain unbreakable items to the bottom row of tiles and/or make a match on certain shining tiles. These are all standard elements of the genre but it’s all implemented well here. The other game types are hidden item puzzles and tile-flipping image creation puzzles. The hidden item puzzles are fine and standard for the category, search the scene for the items shown and touch them when you find them. The tile flipping ones very thankfully are NOT sliding tile puzzles; they may look like it at first, but you can just move tiles anywhere at will and rotate them, to make the tiles copy an image on the other side of the screen. It’s easy.

And indeed, “easy” is one of this games’ defining traits. Match 3 tile games are never incredibly hard, but comparing this to other games in the genre, and I have a bunch on physical carts on the 3DS and DS, such as the Cradle of Rome/Egypt/etc. series, this one seems more forgiving than most. Your abilities are powerful, the powerups that drop are great, the time limits in stages are long and forgiving, the image recreation easy, and the money comes in at a steady pace. I don’t think I have failed a level yet in this game. This is a fun, relaxing game which won’t challenge you much but is reasonably fun if you like the genre. The game feels somewhat ambitious with its various side modes, and the building and simple gardening you do between stages gives you some nice progression as well as your castle and garden grow. Jewel Match 3 feels kind of like a beginner’s match 3 game due to its forgiving nature, but it’s a fun enough time and is worth a look. Released physically on the DS and PC (both released in Europe only) and digitally on PC (on the BigFishGames store only) and 3DS. The DS version appears similar, just without the 3d and with downgraded graphics and resolution of course.

Jewel Quest IV: HeritageDeveloped by Engine Software and published by MSL in 2015. The 3DS version of this game released a few months after Jewel Quest 6: The Sapphire Dragon, below, though it is based on an earlier game so I am listing it first. Is Jewel Quest 4 a sequel to Jewel Match 3? No, they are entirely unrelated games from different publishers. This match 3 jewel tiles series had probably several dozen releases on various platforms, some of them on the 3DS. This game follows up Jewel Quest Trilogy for Wii and DS, and the original PC games of course. The game has a mid 20th century setting, and you play as an archaeologist guy, who with his family starred in the original three games as well. This time, your precious Golden Jewel Board, which was Aztec treasure found by Cortez, has been legally taken from you by a sketchy guy claiming to be Cortez’s distant relative. You need to investigate your own family tree in an attempt to figure out how to turn tables on him and get your precious Golden Jewel Board back for your museum. The plot is pretty dumb, but it’s normal stuff for this genre. There is voice acting. Fitting with the family tree theme, the level select screen is a family tree. Each person has several boards and the game keeps track of your score for each one.

Once you get into the game, Heritage has a large board on the lower screen where you play, and a stereoscopic 3d image on the upper screen showing where you are. This is a match 3 game, so you move tiles to make matches. As usual in these games, you can only move tiles to a space directly next to it left, right, up, or down. Both Jewel Quest games here, this and the next one, are from the ‘you must make a match on every tile on the board to proceed’ school of match 3 game design. Once you make a match on a space it turns gold, and once a whole board is gold you beat that level and move on to selecting a new board to try. Once you make a match new tiles will fall in to fill the space, and if they make any 3-in-a-row matches themselves they will also pop and clear those tiles as well, creating chains. You need to wait until all tiles have finished matching and filling in before you are allowed to make your next move. The next game would change this, but this works fine. An odd quirk both of these Jewel Quest games do share, though, is that you can move tiles freely through empty spaces on the board, without making matches. Since tiles fall you can’t move a tile to a space directly above it, but you can move tiles left and right at will. Some puzzles are impossible without moving tiles around this way. It’s always strange to see, but get used to it here.

Now, one major issue with ‘clear every tile’ match 3 games is the frustration when you need one corner tile and can’t get it. In this game, if you match three golden disc items, you get a powerup which allows you to turn any one tile gold. It’s nice they give you something. It would be nice if there were more powerups, such as the bonus items some games such as Jewel Quest 3 give you for matching 4 or 5 at a time, but this game doesn’t have those. Ah well. The game is mostly very similar from stage to stage, but it does do some small variations on its core design. Each stage has a ruleset listed on the level select screen. Most have just the standard rules, but some have special rules. One noteworthy type of special stage are ones with limited tiles. You must clear a certain part of the board without running out of tiles. It’s kind of frustrating. Moving tiles left and right is essential here. Overall though, this is a fairly simple game. You just match tiles, follow the plot if you care, and go back to matching tiles. This game is a decently average title maybe worth a try if you like matching tile puzzle games. Released physically on DS (in Europe only) and PC, and digitally on PC (on the BigFishGames store), iOS, DSi (on the DSiWare shop, still available on 3DS), and 3DS. Some platforms have the IV in the title and others do not but it’s the same game.

Jewel Quest 6: The Sapphire DragonDeveloped by Engine Software and published by Tulip Games in 2015. This game is also part of the prolific Jewel Quest franchise, a franchise with many titles across a lot of platforms. I don’t know why they skipped the fifth game on 3DS though, but they did. Amusingly, this game released before the 3DS version of Jewel Quest Heritage, above, though the original PC game released after Heritage. This game drops the characters from the older Jewel Quest games for an all-new cast, though it was, oddly, written as if you have seen these characters before and know them. It’s pretty annoying writing when no, this is as far as I know the only game with these characters. The story and writing is worse, I quite dislike it. I should say, this game is fully voice acted. The game has touch-only controls, so you advance story lines by touching a button on the screen. In this game, which is set in the present day, a guy makes a discovery. Then, the game skips to a group of six adventurers, one of them that guy, one his twin sister, and four others. Then people attack and kidnap him wanting to find that discovery first, and you play as the other five trying to rescue him. This game has a levelling system and progression, with each character having separate experience and abilities to unlock. You choose which one you want to play before each level. The game has cartoon-style art but takes its story far too seriously, and the writing is bad. For instance, a major plot point is that the kidnapped guy has diabetes, so they need to rescue him before he has problems because of that. All of the character interactions are just way too tediously serious and realistic, it turns me off of the game. Some of it is very stereotyped, too, such as the Russian woman’s broken English or the way the male characters constantly hit on the female ones. Oh, and the game puts the games’ title screen image on the upper screen of the level select screen for some reason. Odd.

As for the gameplay, this is, of course, a match three puzzle game. When compared to Jewel Match 3 above, there are a few important differences: first the tile size is much smaller, though the board isn’t as much bigger as you’d think since there is a large border around the screen for some reason. It looks small and visually boring. The upper screen is mostly empty, with only some stats and the time bar there and little else. As for stereoscopic 3d, that title screen image that the game’s showing you constantly has it and during story scenes the character images float over the background, but that’s about it. Anyway, as in most match 3 games, each stage is a single board. The biggest difference between Jewel Match and Jewel Quest though is that in this game, if tiles dropping in form 3 in a rows they will make a match and pop those tiles. This allows for chain reactions as tiles drop in and make matches as they go. That can be fun to watch, but honestly I’d rather play the game than watch it play itself. Additionally, unlike Jewel Quest 4: Heritage, The Sapphire Dragon lets you move tiles while other ones are still dropping, for slightly more dynamic play. Just like Jewel Quest 4, though, this game laos has the very odd ability to lets you move tiles stuck around an empty space through the other empty spaces. Yes, there is an exception here to the usual “you can only move to make a match” rule: you can move jewels through empty spaces even if there is no match. It’s so odd to see versus the way this genre usually goes. Some stages rely on this to be possible to complete. Even so, I would call this game definitely harder than Jewel Match 3, since it has much less to help you. Just like the previous game there aren’t powerups on the board for instance, you get nothing special for matching 4 or 5 at a time. Your characters’ skills become more useful with time as they level up, but early on you get little. The early game is more frustrating than Jewel Quest 4 for that reason. The game does have three difficulty levels, but they only affect the length of the time limit.

The way you clear a standard board in this game is by making a match on every single tile on the board. The ‘you must match on every tile’ match three games are almost always harder than the ‘match on these specific spaces’ games, and this is no exception. There are a few other game modes here as well, though. One has you having to follow a path, matching on specific tiles one after another to cross a board. You can’t skip a spot here, you have to match on the right spaces. A third variation has large blocks dropping, getting in the way unless you clear the space under them. Here the ‘you can move through empty spaces’ feature becomes quite apparent. There’s one where you need to match special item types in addition to making a match on all tiles. And more. It’s nice that the game has a little variety, but it’s all just small twists on the same basic idea. Still, it’s something. Even so, with small, bland graphics, writing and characters I kind of hate, and very forgettable gameplay in every way this game is as average as it gets. Only play this if you like match 3 games that require you to spend lots of time tediously trying to make that one match in a corner that almost never lines up. There are a few good things about Jewel Quest: The Sapphire Dragon, but I’d say pass on this game unless you really like the genre. Released physically on PC and digitally on PC (on the BigFishGames store) and 3DS.

Johnny Kung FuDeveloped and published by UFO Interactive in 2012. UFO published three games starring a character called Johnny, all released in the second half of one year, 2012. So, this is a trilogy of sorts, though each game has totally different themes and gameplay. There’s plenty of variety here. On the good side, these games have very good visuals for download only 3DS games, with good art design and very nice use of stereoscopic 3D, much better stereoscopic 3d than most downloadable 3DS platformers and such. As such, had the games just played well, they’d have been easy to recommend. However, they forgot something important: good gameplay. None of them have it, at all. If you look up the few professional reviews of these games they are VERY low, and after playing them I fully understand why. It’s really unfortunate.

Starting with this game, Johnny Kung Fu is kind of a minigame collection. The primary game is a handheld LCD game recreation, such as a Tiger handheld or Nintendo Game & Watch, so you cannot freely move around the screen but instead move from point to point and can only act at specific locations. It is a single-screen game where you need to go up to the top of a three-level area and get through the door. You’ve got to avoid enemy attacks on the firist two floors as you go over to the enemies at the end of each floor and take them down, and then get past a lot of lasers on the top floor to escape. The mode is questionably designed and is incredibly frustrating. Sometimes you’re stuck not being able to move forward on the first floor because of constant enemy attacks and that you can’t jump in the middle third of the screen so you need to just wait for an opening while not missing any jumps before moving forward, for instance; your duck only lasts a predetermined time so to dodge the second floor guy’s knives you need precise timing; and the lasers on the top floor are just awful, there’s no good way to figure out their pattern and not die! I’m rarely much of a fan of handheld LCD games, but this is NOT a well designed one. It’s too hard, and the limitations of the locked-to-specific-locations handheld LCD game movement system are really frustrating. I get what they were going for but wish they had made something more normal.

In between handheld LCD game levels you play other stage types. Some are much more standard side-view beat ’em up battles. These are also on a static screen, but at least you can freely move around. You have buttons for jump, punch, and kick, and sometimes face waves of enemies and other times bosses. It’s pretty average stuff. And last, sometimes there are other little timing minigames. The game keeps throwing new things at you as you go. The problem is it’s rarely all that fun, the handheld LCD game which is the main mode you play is too hard, and the side-view beat ’em up stuff is very very bland and mediocre. And when you die, you lose time. Yes, this game, as all Johnny games do, has a time limit. In each of these three games you have one hour to finish the game, and after each three deaths and thus a game over five minutes is knocked off of that time. Once you run out of time you need to start the game over from the beginning. I absolutely hate this design decision and think it mostly ruins whatever bits of fun you can find in this title, I don’t want to have to start over because your game is too hard! That’s not right. Overall probably don’t get this game, or the others below, unless you want to experience this mess for yourself. Some might enjoy the challenge here, particularly if you like handheld LCD games, so consider it if you do. And if you DO get it at least you’ll have some solid visuals to look at. But I don’t find it very good. Nintendo 3DS digital exclusive.

Johnny HotshotDeveloped and published by UFO Interactive in 2012. While Johnny was a kung fu star in the title above, this time he’s a Wild West Sheriff. The plot here is Johnny was pulled into an arcade machine and needs to get out by beating the game for real. Again, the game looks pretty nice and makes good use of stereoscopic 3d. The gameplay, though? This game is the absolute worst of the three, by far. This game is miserably unfun to playh and has virtually no redeeming qualities; at least you can find SOME enjoyment out of the other two Johnny games. This one, though, is pretty irredemably bad. So, there are three minigames in this title. In each of several stages you go through the same three minigames, playing the three games in the same order each time. The first minigame is a target-shooting game which locks you to your targets. There are three potential targets shown on each of up to two lines on screen, and you hit left and right to change targets and fire to shoot. The lower screen shows cardboard cutouts of targets, and you can also play by tapping the lower screen icons for the people appearing on the top screen; it can be faster. Some targets are armed enemies you need to shoot, and others are unarmed civilians you shouldn’t shoot. And one per stage flees quickly and is very tough to hit.

The game is timed, and once the timer runs out you lose and lose a life unless you completed it. As with all three Johnny titles, each Game Over takes five minutes away from your one hour timer until you have to restart the entire game, which is, again, horrible design. The game does not tell you what you need to do to complete it either in the game or in the ingame manual, and you cannot actually finish it just by taking out enough targets; it’s endless and keeps showing random targets until time runs out and you lose. I had to go read a review of the game online to figure out what to do here. The secret is those elusive guys who run quickly; you must shoot that harder-to-get enemy down in order to complete a stage. Once you manage to hit this target you instantly win and it ends and you move on to the next minigame.

The second game is similar to the first, but you move left and right to shoot at targets. The room is five targets wide, and you can only shoot straight ahead. This time you cannot use the touchscreen, it’s button controls only unfortunately. Again you need to hit the elusive target to proceed, figure out who it is through trial and error. The third minigame is a fight against the stage’s boss. This time it’s isometric. You and your target are on horses running to the right, and you move up and down to avoid their attacks and shoot them down. Once you do enough damage, you mash A and then hit X at the right time to fill up and activate a lasso meter. Then you win. The boss stages are, oddly, the easiest ones. Then you move on to the next stage and repeat the process. You probably won’t want to, though. There are some good classic games with the ‘shoot the targets, don’t hit the civilians’ concept like this game has, but the horrible ‘you must hit the one secret enemy to win or you lose and we didn’t bother to tell you this’ design is really, really bad and the game isn’t much fun even once you do understand how to play it. I don’t think I’ll go back to this game much at all. Nintendo 3DS digital exclusive.

Johnny ImpossibleDeveloped and published by UFO Interactive in 2012. The last of the Johnny games is almost good… but it isn’t. This game is a side-view action-platformer with a spy setting. This is a stealth game, and you need to get through each level without being seen. The game is made up of many single-screen rooms, and you need to figure out what to do in each one to proceed. You will jump between platforms, hit switches, avoid or fight enemies, and such. There are also handheld LCD game style minigames at the end of each level. Fortunately they are a much smaller part of the game here than they are in Johnny Kung Fu. Your items start with night vision goggles and a stun gun, and you get more things as you go. The lower screen shows a map of how the screens connect and also your items. I like that this time it’s actually a platformer where you can move around normally, unlike the previous Johnny games. However, there are several major issues that ruin this game almost as badly as the other two: the controls, the screen view, and the timer. On the controls, you move Johnny with the dpad and jump or use your items with buttons. Control never feels good, it’s slow and mobile game-ish. I’ve missed jumps many times because of the iffy controls. It can also be hard to tell when you will make it onto a platform and when you can’t. Next, the timer. The one hour timer returns, unfortunately. As before, each game over means you lose five additional minutes towards the one hour you have to complete the game. One hit kills you in this game so you will be losing time a lot. The game is also loaded with bugs and glitches. Know you will need to start over.

Now, the above problems are annoying, but not critical. There are plenty of decent games with similar issues to those. The next issue, however, is. UFO, as always, made a major mistake while designing this game. And as for the screen view… So, when playing Mario Maker 2, what do you think of dark levels? Like most sane people, I quite dislike them. It is possible to make a good dark level, but it is extremely rare. Well, this game presages that with … the whole first few levels of the game being entirely dark! Yes, right at the start of the game and for the next large chunk of gameplay after, you can only see Johnny and the area immediately next to him. You do have a button which turns on night vision goggles that shows the whole screen for a second, but the item has a timer so you can’t just keep using them. You can’t move while using it either, and it only lasts a moment. The idea is to learn your surrounding and then go through the area in the dark. Can you do this, yes. Is it fun, no. Noat at all. Because for instance, in the dark, how are you supposed to see that motion sensor beam which you tripped? You probably couldn’t. And now that you hit it, you have ten seconds to get out of the current screen to another screen or you die and lose a life. Of course, you might die on the way out too, that is very possible; given the exceptionally short viewing distance seeing obstacles is unlikely if you are moving with any speed. Now, the whole game is not dark, later levels let you see. Unfortunately, this does not make the poor game design much better. The game still feels bad to play and is very memorization heavy.

As a result, in this game you need to move slowly, learn the traps, work your way around them, and use your tools appropriately to get past enemies and such. And there is something to be said for that. In levels where you can see the whole screen, this game rises to merely a poor game that isn’t much fun. When the screen is dark, though, this game is totally miserable. You will die constantly because of traps you couldn’t see until it’s too late. This game is a very frustrating pain to play and only play it if you want to subject yourself to this kind of frustration. I don’t want to for long. This game is, overall, bad. It may be the best Johnny game, but that is saying very little. Nintendo 3DS digital exclusive.

Ranking of the Games in this Update

 

These are the best games this update. Get them.
Gurumin 3D

These are also good games. Try these if you like the genres.
Glory of Generals
Gunman Clive
Gunman Clive 2
Hazumi
Infinite Golf
Ikachan
Iron Combat: War in the Air
Jewel Match 3

These are decent mid-tier titles worth a look if you like the genres.
Go! Go! Kokopolo 3D
Gourmet Dream
Hyperlight EX
Harold’s Walk
Jett Rocket II
Jewel Quest IV: Heritage

Not very good, but maybe worth a look anyway…
Gotcha Racing
Jewel Quest 6: The Sapphire Dragon

And last and definitely least…
Johnny Impossible
Johnny Kung Fu
Johnny Hotshot

 

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Game Opinion Summaries: Digital-Only Nintendo 3DS Games, Part 3: D-E-F

I have several short articles I’ll post soon, but I wanted to get this done first, and I have.  There are nineteen full summaries this time, plus mentions of the DLC for two of the Fire Emblem games.  There’s some good and some not so good in this update, as usual for digital-only games.

 

Table of Contents

Dangerous Road
Dedede’s Drum Dash Deluxe
Defend Your Crypt
Demon King Box
Digger Dan DX
Dillon’s Rolling Western
Dillon’s Rolling Western: The Last Ranger
Dr. Mario: Miracle Cure
Drancia Saga
Drone Fight
EDGE
escapeVektor
European Conqueror 3D
Excave
Excave II: Wizard of the Underworld
Excave III: Tower of Destiny
Fairune
Fairune 2
Fire Emblem Awakening (DLC levels)
Fire Emblem Fates (DLC campaigns and levels)
Fun! Fun! Minigolf TOUCH!

Rankings

 

 

The Summaries

Dangerous Road – Developed and published by Starsign in 2016. Dangerous Road is a Frogger clone arcade action game. Just like Frogger but with different animals, you play as one of four cute animals, including a racoon and others, and are trying to get to the other side of the many dangerous roads in the game. This isn’t kind of like the modern 3d Frogger games, it’s basically the same thing just with some very small twists. This game has two modes. The main one has 60 levels, and it is a checkpoint-based goal mode. Here you must walk on to all checkpoint tiles in a level, in order, in order to complete each stage. So you can’t just go to the end, but need to find the three checkpoints first and then you can go to the goal at the end of the level. The second mode is a time-based avoidance mode with 40 levels. Here you need to survive to the end of a timer in each small arena-style stage. Avoid everything until the timer runs out and you win.

Along the way, you will avoid incredibly Frogger-like obstacles: roads with traffic and rivers with logs. Yeah, it’s Frogger, but done in simple, low-poly stereoscopic 3d. I do like that the graphics make use of the system’s 3d effects, they look nicer because of it. The controls have more issues than the graphics, though. The controls are as simple as you’d think: the dpad moves you one tile at a time, with each tap moving you one space in that direction. The A button uses your characters’s special ability; each of the four animals you can play as in this game has a different ability. The racoon can slow down time, for instance, twice per stage. That may sound fine, but the controls have a long delay; it almost feels like you don’t move until AFTER pressing the pad! As a result, it can be hard to move exactly where you want to, you’ll often overshoot and die because you hit the dpad six times and a second or two later, after you finally move, realize you should have hit it only five times. And when you die in this game you need to start the level over from the beginning. Levels are short, but still, it’s frustrating stuff that really holds back this otherwise decent game. Other than the controls and complete lack of originality, though, Dangerous Road is alright. I’d call it average, and maybe worth a look for fans of Frogger games. Nintendo 3DS digital exclusive.

Dedede’s Drum Dash Deluxe Developed by Hal Laboratory and published by Nintendo in 2014. This is one of a bunch of digital 3DS Kirby games that are expanded versions of game ideas first seen in the two main cart-based 3DS Kirby platformers. This one is a concept from Kirby’s Triple Deluxe. This game is a music game 2.5d platformer. I love platformers but hate most music games, so I wasn’t sure what I would think of this one. Well, it’s alright. You play as the Kirby villain-of-sorts King Dedede, and run to the right in platformer levels made up of drums you walk and jump on and obstacles to avoid such as enemies, spikes, and pits. Each level has a different song taken from a past Kirby game, and they’re all great. The basic gameplay only requires getting to the end of the level without taking too much damage, which is fun enough. You can run and, depending on how you hold the button, make smaller or larger jumps. You can also clap at the peak of the jump with a well-timed button press.

However, just completing the levels won’t get you far; there are only a handful of levels in this game. The amount of content is reasonable for the games’ low price, but unfortunately the ‘music’ part of the genre is unavoidable. In order to really beat the game, and to unlock all of the stages here, you need perfect scores in levels. In order to do that, you must time your jumps to perfectly match the beat of the music AND do a perfect clap at the top of every jump. It’s just too much, I will never be able to do that. This game is fun enough when I play it as a platformer with a bit of a music theme, but the full-on ‘match the beat’ stuff? I just can’t do it. Oh well. This game is decently good anyway. Nintendo 3DS digital exclusive.

Defend Your CryptPublished by Ratalaika Games in 2016. Defend Your Crypt is a fun but short tower defense action game with a bit of strategy. You are defending a tomb that “thieves”, or rather explorers, are trying to break into and loot, and must kill all of them. You do this by activating traps with the correct timing. This game is almost exclusively controlled with the stylus. You don’t get to set up your defenses or anything here, this game is simpler than that. Instead, in each one of the 30 levels you have a preset assortment of traps in a stage, and you need to figure out how to kill everyone with them with well-timed trap activation. After each use of a trap that trap has a cooldown timer until you can use it again. You do need to spend some funds to be able to use a trap in the first place in a stage, but these are one-time fees and you generally can get most of a level’s traps right away. When you can’t, you will be able to get the rest by the time you need them. The trap types have some nice variety, including spikes, shooting arrows, water traps, crushing ceilings, and more. Some stages are one screen, while others are two screens; you can switch with the dpad or circle pad, in the games’ only use of the buttons. Activating traps to wipe out the invaders is simple, fun, and satisfying. After you have finished the 30 levels, a Hard mode unlocks. It’s still pretty easy but adds a bit more to the gaem. Still, I finished all levels in both difficulties in under 7 hours. I had fun doing so though, so that’s okay. Recommended.  Also released on PC / Mac (Steam) and Wii U.

Demon King Box Developed by Lanan and published by Circle Entertainment in 2014. This game has a solid idea and some very good art design, but the gameplay? Unfortunately, it is highly repetitve and grindey. In this strategy game with RPG elements, you play as a newly awakened mini-demon lord in the modern manga style. Your goal is to recapture the lands the demon king lost when presumably a hero sealed the previous one or such. You do this by choosing a team, which includes a monster hero and five different types of regular monsters. You start with only five types of regular monsters, but will unlock many more as you play. In your base you can give your monsters food in order to level them up, choose which monsters you want on your team, and view what you have unlocked. This is all done with the touchscreen and sometimes the A, B, and Start buttons. When on the ‘select an option in your base’ screen, instead of selecting a base option you can also move a cursor around a map on the upper screen with the circle pad. Icons mark the levels, and show if you have completed that stage or not. If you hit Start you will enter that level.

Once in a level, the gameplay is simple. Each sides’ hero unit is at one end of the field. In between there are three pathway lines, and both you and your enemy send troops along those lines at the other side. The first hero to run out of health loses. You can’t just send troops infinitely though, each one has a mana cost and a cooldown after creating one. Your mana automatically regenerates, but somewhat slowly. The concept is fine and there is a bit of strategy, as you’ll want to have warrior units go in front with archer and healer units behind, and such, but it generally feels like your units’ levels and quality count for more than any strategy does. When you first unlock a new level, you’ll have no chance of being able to beat it, no matter what strategy you use, and there isn’t much in a game this simple, will get you destroyed. Instead, what you have to do is grind earlier stages. You can play levels as many times as you want to build up food supplies to level up your monsters with. And that is really where this game loses me. I like some things about Demon King Box, but the core gameplay is too simplistic and grindey to actually keep me coming back. Instead, whenever I play this game I look at the pretty well done sprite art and wish it was in a better game. Not recommended. Nintendo 3DS digital exclusive.

Digger Dan DXDeveloped and published by Four Horses in 2016. This game is a modern take on the early ’80s classic action/puzzle game Boulder Dash. This is the third Boulder Dash-style game called Digger Dan, one an ’80s title from Ocean, one a DSiWare game from 2011, and finally this one. I don’t know how related the modern two are to the old one, but this game is a graphically enhanced port of the DSiWare title, Digger Dan & Kaboom. The content is largely the same as the DSiWare game, everything just looks a lot nicer now. That game didn’t get much attention, but perhaps partially thanks to the better art this did. The levels here are not all just taken out of Boulder Dash, and there are new gameplay elements here as well, but even so it was similar enough that the rightsholders to Boulder Dash issued a takedown notice to try to get this game removed from sale on the 3DS eshop soon after it released. The developer settled, most likely with a financial agreement with Boulder Dash’s rightsholders. More than your average homage, this game is basically a remake/sequel to the original.

So, as in the original, you control a miner, moving through an underground stage. You can freely move in all directions, and tunnels dig automatically as you go, digging out the dirt. You need to be careful, however, because there are enemies to avoid, gems to collect within a move limit if you want a better rating in the level, and objects to watch out for and use in puzzles. Objects include rocks which will activate and roll once you dig out the ground next to them, a little gopher ally who you can rescue and then switch to in some levels in order to get through narrow passages, warps, blocks which you can drop by digging out underneath them, and more. The concept here is simple and this game is not that hard, but figuring out the best route through each stage may take some effort. I would say more, but figuring out the puzzles is the core of the game, so I will leave that to the players.

Visually, Digger Dan DX has nice prerendered 2d sprite art graphics and good stereoscopic 3d implementation with depth to the background. The game looks quite nice, stereoscopic 3d this good is somewhat uncommon in 2d indie 3DS games. The rest of the game is pretty good as well. Every level feels well laid out and fun to explore, puzzle your way through, and figure out. The first time through a level you may want to just finish it, but going back to collect everything, find the hidden gem, and get to the exit in under the turn limit is quite rewarding. This is a very well made and full featured title with nice stereoscopic 3d, 100 levels, and more to do beyond that if you want to find everything. The core concept is certainly unoriginal, Boulder Dash did this back in the early ’80s, but this is one of the best Boulder Dash-style games released in a long time. Highly recommended. Pick this one up while you can. Nintendo 3DS digital exclusive. Enhanced remake of Digger Dan & Kaboom, for DSiWare, which is also a DSi/3DS digital exclusive.

Dillon’s Rolling Western Developed by Vanpool and published by Nintendo in 2012. Dillon’s Rolling Western was an early-ish 3DS game. The game has full polygonal 3d gameplay and a very nice graphical style with Wild West animals such as your hero armadillo Dillon. However, as nice as the visuals and concept are, with simple gameplay and iffy controls, I don’t find it very fun to play. This game plays with the analog circle pad and the touchscreen only and never uses any buttons. Touch-based controls in games can be great, as I have said I love the 3DS’s reactive touchscreen and think it is perfect for touch gaming, but in this game it often feels more of a gimmick than a necessary feature, and the game around it is thin in content variety and repetitive. This game is okay, I guess, but does nothing to make me want to come back and keep playing it. The basic controls in combat are decent, though advanced maneuvers require annoying amounts of precision with your taps.

This game has a structure is closely sticks to. First, each level begins with a phase where you can explore the area. Each level is a moderately large field in a stereotypical wild west desert. You explore on the upper screen while the lower screen shows a map. There are caves you can explore, and you can repair and add weapons to defensive towers scattered at certain points along the marked path the enemies will follow once waves start. After some time, the enemies attack, following those paths in classic tower defense game fashion. You don’t just rely on your towers in this game, though; instead, you will kill a lot of the monsters yourself. When you touch an enemy in the overworld, you go into a battle arena. The combat goes as described earlier, though most of it at first is very slight-feeling as enemies die in very few hits. The other enemies in the overworld are still moving during your fight, though. Considering how frustrating some of the harder moves are that’s probably good, though apparently the game does get harder farther in. Anyway, after you kill all of the monsters in a wave you go into town, which is just a menu. Here you can buy some stuff with the money you have made and save your game. Then it’s on to the next stage.

Or, in my case, to the quit button after only a few levels; this game is decent, but with combat that is both too simple and easy (at first) and yet too frustrating once it actually requires advanced maneuvers due to the touch inputs required and not nearly enough strategy to keep the game interesting, this game lost me pretty quickly, unfortunately. I absolutely love the tower defense genre, but this more action-focused take on the genre just doesn’t quite work. It’s not a good enough action game to match the better action games around, and isn’t much of a strategy game either. You will need to make decisions about where to spend your money — its quantity is quite limited — and eventually will need to try to be in multiple places at once as enemies keep approaching the town from multipole directions, requiring some planning for where to upgrade towers and such, but for me this just doesn’t add up to a game I actually want to play. Dillon the wild west armadillo is a good character and I like rolling around, but the rest of the gameplay is strictly average stuff unfortunately. Nintendo 3DS digital exclusive.

Dillon’s Rolling Western: The Last RangerDeveloped by Vanpool and published by Nintendo in 2013. This game is basically identical to its predecessor above, just with new levels. Basically everything else is the same. It even still has the annoying touch-only menus, you’ll still need to tap to select menu options instead of just being able to hit a button once you have selected what you want! In the case of the BoxBoy series, that Nintendo published three very similar games on the 3DS is a good thing because the core concept is fantastic. But with Dillon’s Rolling Western, it is unfortunate that the games are so similar because this game really needed some work. It didn’t get any. Five years after this games’ release, a third game in this series released on the 3DS. I don’t have it yet, but in the US it is a digital exclusive (though it did get a physical release in other regions). Apparently they didn’t change very much during that five year gap. It’s apparently still largely the same thing. Nintendo 3DS digital exclusive.

Dr. Mario: Miracle Cure Developed and published by Nintendo in 2015. Dr. Mario: Miracle Cure is a good, but few-frills, Dr. Mario title. Following up Dr. Luigi for the Wii U, Miracle Cure has both Dr. Mario and Dr. Luigi modes, and has both a 30-stage puzzle challenge mode and traditional stage-based and endless modes, along with online play. Dr. Mario is a classic puzzle game. It’s never been one of my favorite block-dropping puzzlers, but it’s a fine series. The game takes place in a pill bottle, which starts with some viruses in it in three colors, red, blue, and yellow. Two-half pills fall from the top, in several colors. If you match four pill halves or viruses of the same color in a line they disappear. This game has several new powerups in the puzzle challenge mode as well, which will destroy all pills or viruses of their color. And as I mentioned earlier, it has Dr. Luigi mode and levels as well. Dr. Luigi, new to the Wii U game, drops two pills at a time insted of one, linked together to form an L shape. I’d say it’s probably not as good as classic Dr. Mario, but it’s a decent twist which can be fun to play for a while.

There is a decent featureset, but it’s not an ambitious game like Dr. Mario 64 was. There is no story mode or such, only the puzzles, their descriptions, and the classic modes. You play on the upper screen in a somewhat small amount of the frame, with a Dr. Mario or Dr. Luigi character off to the side of the bottle. The lower screen just shows info and stats. There’s minimal to no use of stereoscopic 3d, either. Still, with solid Dr. Mario gameplay, classic Dr. Mario music, good controls, some fun puzzle levels to play through, and online play, this game is good and is well worth getting if you like blockdropping puzzle games at all. Nintendo 3DS digital exclusive.

Drancia Saga – Drancia Saga is a very nice looking, but disappointing to play, 2d platform-action game. This title is a mobile port, and unfortunately you can really tell, because you can’t stop moving in this game. Each stage is a side-view single screen area with flat ground. There is no scrolling. Your character, and you have dozens to unlock and choose from in what is probably the games’ strongest feature, always is moving unless you are at one of the two edges of the screen. Your weapon is always out as well, so you don’t need to do anything other than walk into enemeies to attack them. All you can do is change direction, jump and use magic with buttons, and, while in the air, do a ground slam attack with down. You have a health bar, and will have to restart the current stage if it runs out. You get infinite continues but can’t save a game in progress, though with only eight moderate-length stages this isn’t a big deal. Bump attacking can work in a well-designed game, such as the early Ys games, but this is not that; there’s not that level of depth here.

That isn’t to say that the game is a total pushover, though; there are many enemy attacks you will need to try to avoid. Most stages have some kind of environmental hazard that will damage you if you stand in the wrong spots when they activate, some enemies can shoot at you, and others have spikes or weapons it would be better to avoid. There’s some decent variety. The game has eight levels. Each of the eight stages in the game has the same formula: kill all of the enemies, which attack as you defeat their predecessors, then defeat the boss. Bosses take three hits to kill, but are only vulnerable after an attack pattern. You will probably die at bosses a few times until you memorize the patterns, but none are particularly hard. After beating level eight’s boss, there is one final real final boss. It’s not much harder than the previous one, though you do continue from that bossfight if you die. Fighting the enemies would be a fun challenge if you could move around normally, but remember, you can’t; you are always moving forward in this game, auto-runner-style, unless you stand at an edge. This is very poor design which significantly holds the game back. I know that without the auto-movement this game as is would be even easier, and it is not exactly hard, but regardless it would be be much better and more fun that way. It’s a real shame that the game kept this awful mobile autorunner control scheme here on a console, it kind of ruins the game.

After you beat the game, the credits roll and that’s it. There are no difficulty level options here and no unlockable content. Each level plays the exact same way every time. The game strongly encourages a lot of replay, as you only very slowly earn the crystal currency that you can unlock new characters with and only get one new character to potentially purchase each time a game ends in either a game over or game completion. Yes, even if you do have money, you’ll need to go in and die or something in order to get another character to potentially add to your roster. That’s annoying. The game does have guest characters from a bunch of other 3DS indie games if you have them installed on your system, though, and they automatically unlock if you have those games. Gunman Clive 1 and 2 unlock Gunman Clive and Mrs. Johnson; Witch & Hero unlocks the Witch and the Hero; Witch & Hero 2 unlocks the Little Witch and Little Hero; Fairune and Fairune 2 unlock the nameless heroine and three other female characters from those games; 2 Fast 4 Gnomz unlocks a gnome; and Brunch Panic, Urban Trial Freestyle, and Petit Novel Series – Harvest December unlock characters as well. That’s neat, and again the sprite art in this game is all great looking with nice pixel art visuals, but the gameplay is just so bland and mediocre thanks to the annoying mobile game auto-running controls that I can’t quite recommend Drancia Saga. It’s not BAD, but it’s not all that fun either, and it relies very heavily on constantly replaying the same levels over and over and over. It’s not a roguelike or something, the game really is the same every time apart from your character. It can be fun in small bursts, but this game is overall below average. Nintendo 3DS console digital exclusive conversion of an iOS game with added content.

Drone Fight –  Published by Circle and developed by SilverStar in 2018.  This is a low budget flight racing game. The title is half right, and half wrong. This is indeed a game about drones as the planes you are flying in this game are all drones, but “fight”? No, this is a racing game, not a combat game. There are some kart racer-ish attacks, but it is primarily a racing game. Now, one big question in any flight racing game is, how 3d is it? In terms of stereoscopic 3d, it isn’t; if there is any 3d depth here at all I can’t tell. I know lots of indie 3DS games don’t have any 3d effects, and I usually don’t mention that fact, but those other games are 2d games where that makes more sense than it does here in this polygonal 3d behind-the-vehicle racing game. As for the game design though, there is a height component, though in effect this is a “tube” racing game — you have a fairly low maximum flight ceiling. This is fine, and is how most flight racing games work, but this game isn’t quite as well made as the better ones.

For controls, you move up and down and turn with the stick and accelerate, brake, and use items with the face buttons. The controls work fine, though the very over-responsive controls take getting used to and never feel great. Perhaps that is accurate to how drones fly, I don’t know, but you will be flying into walls and trees and such for a while in this game.

This game has four drones to race as, six circuits plus a tutorial, and three speed classes. It’s quite a nice amount of content for the low price this game sells for. In the slowest speed, you can get around any of the tracks in the seven circuits that make up this game without much of a problem. There are checkpoint rings along each track that you must fly through all of, little blue drop pickups which heal damage you have taken, and powerup boxes with those Mario Kart-ish items in them. A blue line floating in the air marks where the path goes that you need to fly along. Many levels are set in narrow canyon-like designs, but even when stages are in a more open space, you always must follow the main path marked by those blue lines, since since you must fly through those checkpoints in order to complete the race.

This game starts out simple enough, but definitely gets hard in the medium or high speed classes. You will need to memorize turns and checkpoint locations in order to finish for sure, or you’ll just be driving into the walls all the tiem and missing checkpoints. That’s fine, it gives you something to work for, the problem is I just don’t find this game fun enough to want to put in that much time with it. With no stereoscopic 3d, simple graphics, twitchy controls, and sometimes frustrating to follow track layouts, Drone Fight is average at best and probably is a bit below that.  This game released on 3DS first, but there is also a Nintendo Switch port that released later.

EDGE Developed and published by Two Tribes in 2013.  This game was first developed for cellphones, before being ported to some consoles such as the 3DS here.  Despite that, though, it’s good.  Edge is an isometric 3d platformer. Or perhaps it should be called an isometric 3d arcade action game? I’d rather call it a platformer; though you can’t jump in this game, the style is all platformer. This game is all about navigating through levels and making your way to the exit. You play as a cube in a world made up of blocks. The game uses mostly shaded polygons instead of textured ones and looks very nice. The game makes great use of the 3DS’s stereoscopic 3d and fits the system very well. The electronic-style music and simple but nice presentation are really good as well. Edge is well made and fun to play.

The controls here are simple: you move the cube around with the dpad, moving tile to tile as you rotate the cube. This game is isometric so the directions are diagonally angled, but you get used to it quickly. By rotating the cube you can climb up one-block ledges, but not more. You do move by rotating, so you can’t go up if you’re in between two blocks, you’ll need to find another way forward. More advanced maneuvers are possible, such as half-going up a block in order to move along the side of moving blocks without falling into a pit. It’s fun stuff. Certain tiles, marked with little white blocks, will cause something in the environment to move around. There are also some prism pickups scattered around each stage. Your challenge is to get to the end of each stage and reach the goal. After beating a level you get ranked, with a grade based on your time, how many of the pickups you got, and if you died. There are a lot of levels in several campaigns, so there’s plenty of content even though most levels are short.

This is a simple game, but it’s quite fun. The stereoscopic 3d effect here looks great, the game controls well, and levels are short and fun. There’s plenty here to keep you coming back for a while. This game is available on many formats, but only this one is in true 3d. Edge is a simple but fun game with good controls, good level designs which are fun to play, and an aesthetic I like. Recommended, this game is good to great. This might be the best version of this game due to the good stereoscopic 3d support.  Also released on PC / Mac / Linux (Steam), Android, iOS, Wii U, BlackBerry, and PSP.

escapeVektorDeveloped and published by Nnooo in 2012. This game is an arcade action maze title. This is a game that plays on a stage made of lines that make paths. These lines are all straight, with right-angle connections. The core gameplay here is basically a modern take on Amidar (Arcade, Atari 2600): you have to travel along all paths in a level to clear the stage. I like this subgenre quite a bit, but while I enjoy this game I found it not as fun as I was hoping I would. A few other games in this subgenre of somewhat Pac-Man-inspired maze games include Zoom! (Sega Genesis), Amazing Penguin (Game Boy), and Pepper II (Colecovision). It’s a pretty fun game style I like. It is important to note, though, that escapeVektor first released with escapeVektor: Chapter 1 on the Wii’s WiiWare shop, but that was only one part of this game. Unfortunately the rest of the game never released on Wii, only in this later title for 3DS and Vita. So, for anyone who has played the WiiWare game, if you liked it this is still worth getting because there is more game here than you find in that one. There are a lot more levels here than in the Wii game.

As with many modern indie action games of its era, escapeVektor has a cool cyber-world look with some nice electronic music. It may not be incredibly original looking and the visuals are simple, but I quite like the look. When you fly over a path it changes color, and once the whole maze has changed color, you beat the stage. Enemies try to get in your way and stop you, though they usually aren’t too hard to avoid. You can speed up or do a ranged attack with buttons, so the game does use more than just the stick. As you get farther more mechanics are introduced as well, including gates with switches which you can lure enemies into to kill them, and more. Once you go on all of the paths in a section of a level, the next part of the level will appear in front of you.

That’s mostly good, but it does have some issues. The game can be a little slow and repetitive. You can speed up, but the speed-ups are limited. Worse, unless you hold the zoom out button down the camera is too close, so if you speed up you can get into trouble. Levels have scores with a bunch of stats tracked, and medals to to work for, if you want to keep playing after you get through it the first time. I didn’t find the story particularly interesting either; yes, there is a plot here for some reason. Overall, escapeVektor is an okay game worth a look. My favorite thing about it are definitely the graphics and music, but the gameplay is a little slow, and having to hold down R all the time to be able to see where you’re going is pretty annoying. The slow pace reminds me of Amidar, though given how old that tile is I give it more of a break. You can see the whole screen all the time in Amidar, too. Overall, escapeVektor is an okay game. It can be fun, but due to some questionable design decisions it isn’t as good as the classics that inspired it in its subgenre. Still, the game is an average to just barely above average title worth playing if you like arcade action games. Also on PlayStation Vita. The Nintendo Wii WiiWare title escapeVektor: Chapter 1 is the first part of this game.

European Conqueror 3DPublished by Circle and developed by Lionant in 2014.  European Conqueror 3D is a board game inspired turn-based grand strategy game. This game is simple at heart, but doesn’t explain itself well at all so it may initially seem complex. Before playing read through the manual, it is helpful. Inspired by board games like Risk and Axis & Allies, but not as good as either, this title can be fun but has some big problems. First, this game is single player only, it has no multiplayer. And the AI is not the best. That’s not good. Anyway though, this is a World War II-themed turn based strategy game. It plays on a map of Europe, and only Europe and a bit of western North Africa. There are twelve nations in the game who have chosen a side, either Allies or Axis. The game has two modes, a campaign mode where you go through a linear series of campaigns, first for Germany and then after that for Britain, France, and the USSR (Russia), and a freeform conquest mode where you choose a nation and try to capture the capitals of all nations in the other alliance. The Axis powers include Nazi Germany, Italy, Romania, Bulgaria, Hungary, and Spain, and the Allies Britain, France, Russia, Poland, Turkey, Norway. Yes, for some odd reason Turkey is in the Allies. That’s not right. Also the US is not included, which makes things much harder for the Allies for sure. The nations are not equal, each one has different ratings, with the Germans having the best tanks for instance. It makes defeating them difficult. The conquest mode has two variants, a 1939 one and, after you beat that, a 1941 one.

Once you choose a mode and start, you go to the map. In the campaign mode each level plays on only a section of the continent, while the conquest mode of course plays on the full map. The map is broken up into provinces. And here’s the games’ first very odd design decision, of many: while this game has three different core troop types, infantry, tanks, and artillery, you can only have one troop type on a province at any time. If tanks are on a province, artillery cannot move into that province, cannot pass through it, cannot do anything but wait until the troops in the way move to another province or are destroyed. The game does have some nice stereoscopic 3d graphics, so the units stand out above the background map, though. However, making things even worse, while you have allies in your alliance, you cannot move through the territory of your allies, you can only attack them and take their territory. When you attack an ally, their troops will fight back, but they will never attack you in return on their turn no matter how much you attack them, which is pretty stupid. If you want to conquer Germany as Italy, the only thing slowing you down will be how bad Italian tanks are compared to German ones, they’ll never attack any province you take. There is absolutely no diplomacy system here. And remember, all you can fight against is the AI, for which there are three difficulty level options. There is no way to fight against a human.

On each turn, you move troops around the map, attack enemies (or allies), and build units and buy upgrades in a shop menu. The game has analog stick and face button controls for moving units and your cursor on the map, since the map is on the upper screen, but the sub-menus, including the shop and battle menus, are touch control only. It’s a bit odd but works fine. When you move troops onto a territory controlled by another nation, the battle screen appears. As fitting the boardgame style, battles are decided by die rolls. Now, no matter how many troops are on a province, only five attack per turn, except for tanks who can attack again if they take zero casualties. Once the top five of your stack of 50 artillery have attacked, that’s all that entire stack can do that turn. Unit stacks max out at 99, but that stack of 99 will be insanely hard to defeat since it will need to be chipped away five at a time.

It gets worse. You initially can only build troops on your nation’s capitol province. If a nation’s capitol falls, that nation is immediately defeated and removed from the game and the nation who took the capitol gets all of their remaining provinces. However, if you upgrade a province’s structures to level five in the shop menu, you can build units on those provinces as well. This makes effectively impossible to get through defenses easy to set up once you have a large enough empire; you’d be able to replace the dead far faster than the other side could break them down. Only taking your other provinces would allow an opening, but the AI won’t do that if you’re attacking someone in your alliance. The AI won’t usually built massive stacks like that, giving you a big advantage, but this is a pretty flawed game either way. Risk and Axis & Allies aren’t broken like this. You DO have a few options, such as an Airstrike you can buy that will damage a province without you taking any casualties, but this game is very badly balanced.

Even so, while this game made a pretty bad first impression, once I got used to it it’s kind of fun. The game is pretty much totally broken balance-wise; conquering German capitols is obnoxiously difficult due to how good their tanks are and how hard it is to actually chip away at a big stack of units in a province that can build units; the absence of the USA is annoying; the map is missing key parts of the European theater such as Egypt; the choices of nations are a bit odd — I mean, Turkey and Spain were neutral in World War II, why are they beligerents here; there is really only one map; and more, but despite all that there’s something entertaining here if you want to play a not that difficult strategy game for a while. This IS a very cheap game and strategy game fans might want to give it a look. Just know, the game does make you play as the Nazis first in the campaign, which is unfortunate. As in Axis & Allies the game uses the iron cross as the Nazi German flag instead of the swastika, but that’s just papering over reality. I never want to have to be made to play as them… Nintendo 3DS digital exclusive.

ExcaveDeveloped by Mechanic Arms and published by Bergsala Lightweight in 2015. Excave is a series of three top-down polygonal 2.5d action-adventure games. Yes, action-adventure; there is no levelling system in this game. In the first two games you play as one of a pair of characters, a male human warrior type and a female elf better at ranged attacks. Their looks are preset, though you will get a fair number of weapons and accessories, and each weapon plays differently. This first game has some good and some bad ideas. The second game removes most of the worst things of this game and is overall more fun to play, but first I’ll describe this one. These games are simple average to slightly above average action-RPGs with some Diablo influence, though this game is nowhere near Diablo’s quality.

In Excave you start in a town, which is a menu. Here you can repair your weapons, which break down quickly based on a hidden durability stat; buy items; and manage your inventory. This is a simple game, don’t expect crafting or anything more complex like that. Your inventory you can take into the action is very small, only 12 tiles, though each of the two playable characters does have a separate one. You can’t switch characters while playing though, only in town, so the inventory is way too small. Additionally you do also have 20 panels of 12-item storage in this town inventory menu. The town menus in the first two games are very similar, except the second one has more inventory space. The last option enters the game. In this first title, there is no sub-menu here, you go straight in. This game is entirely predesigned, it is not a randomly-generated title. The graphics are very simple and bland and it looks like it COULD have been randomly generated, but it isn’t. You will get random item drops from enemies, though. During missions, your very limited amount of inventory space will be a problem, as is common in this genre. Making things worse, random enemy item drops appear in chests, and you cannot open the chest to see what’s in it without the space in your inventory to pick up the item inside. And you can’t drop an item and pick it up again, dropping an item destroys it. And lastly, random drop chests disappear after a little while. Chests with key items in them stay around, but not the ones with random items. You also sometimes will get message items which you need to carry around until you can store them in your base, taking up even more inventory.

Once you start a mission, you move around with the circle pad and buttons on the upper screen, while simultaneously controlling the inventory with touch controls on the lower screen. In town you can control your inventory with the stick too, but not while playing. You must use the circle pad here, not the dpad. Controls are fine. It’s great how you get both views at once, and switching weapons and such is easy, though inventory management during combat can get you in trouble of course. Still, the concept is a nice example of what the DS line of systems can do that single-screen systems can’t do as well.

And now we get to the other very odd thing about this game, the level structure. Instead of selecting stages from a list, you need to unlock and enter warp tiles to go to new areas. You will get keys by beating bosses that you will need to use to unlock the doors to new warp boxes to go to new areas. After beating a boss and getting the treasure from the treasure room after it, you’ll need to manually warp out of the dungeon by holding down X. You can do this at any time while playing, but seriously, why not have a warp box out in the treasure room? Anyway, when you enter a new area, you’ll walk past a line of warps before going to the first area past them. There are pointless dead ends sometimes, it’s annoying. Additionally, if you buy silver and gold keys in the town and take them with you, or get some in drops, you can open doors in the levels, some of which have chests in them and some of which are shortcuts. And this game does not have a map. While you get used to it in not too long, I find the structure of this game quite annoying. With a map it’d be less bad, but the dead ends, the keys, the numerous doors and warps… it’s kind of confusing, I’d much rather have a more normal game layout. It wouldn’t be as bad with more variety, but this game does not have much variety. The very bland dungeon environment and boring, extremely simple enemies — almost all of the enemies you fight in the whole first section of the game are generic slimes — really get old fast.

Now, do you remember when I called this an action-adventure game, and not an action-RPG? Yes, this game does have numeric stats. You have health, attack, and defense stats. Weapons also have invisible durability and damage stats. The game does mark stronger weapons with red star numbers, but other than that it doesn’t tell you how much damage weapons do. But with no experience or level system, so there is no reason to fight the enemies unless you are in a room where the door won’t unlock until you kill everything or you have to kill them in order to get by. If you do fight the enemies, you’ll find that you will need several weapons in your inventory for each time you go into the dungeon because their durability won’t last long… except for the elf woman’s bow, which is infinite use. Yeah. I like how each weapon type is different, but this kind of thing is annoying. Oh, and while this game does have magic, it’s not very useful — spell scrolls are single use and just set off an environmental attack that hurts enemies around you for a while. Then you lose the scroll. Pretty lame.

This game can be challenging, though, so it may keep you coming back; it is easy to die, either from enemy attacks, poison if you run out of antidoes, or more. If you die, you are returned to town with no penalty other than having to redo everything you just did. Overall, Excave has decent graphics with way too little visual variety. It’s an alright game which can be fun once you manage to get used to its oddities, and it controls fine, but this is a very generic game. It’s playable but below average to poor overall, and in my opinion this is the weakest game in the trilogy. It might be worth a look anyway, but the sequel is the same basic thing but better.  Nintendo 3DS digital exclusive.

Excave II: Wizard of the UnderworldDeveloped by Mechanic Arms and published by Bergsala Lightweight in 2015. Releasing on 3DS only a few months after its predecessor, this action-adventure game is very similar to but nicely improved over the first game. First, the odd level structure is gone, in favor of a straightforward level select menu in the base with clearly stated mission objectives given at the beginning of each stage. Beating a level unlocks the next one. You won’t need to manage keys and memorize where to use them anymore, which is great. Additionally, this time you get 18 spots of inventory and 50 panes in the storage screen, both great improvements. Amusingly, the inventory screens quite straightforwardly call the two characters Man and Woman. Heh.

The core gameplay is the same, but with more variety all around. Once again Man and Woman are delving into dungeons looking for loot. The basic setup here is the same as before: go into predesigned levels, fight enemies, kills the boss at the end of each stage, and collect somewhat randomized loot along with the key items the boss drops after you kill them. Then, go back to town to sort through your loot and repair weapons before going to a new level. Some weapons can only be used by each character, as before. There are some new weapon types added here, perhaps most notably magic staffs with attack magic in them. They have just as limited-use durability as most weapons in these games do, but they’re quite fun to use. You play on the upper screen with the buttons while managing your inventory with the touch screen below.

On the game structure, again, the single tree-like stage layout of the first game, with keys that unlock warps to new areas, is gone, and I at least am glad about that. Not only do you have more inventory, but you won’t need to clutter a bunch of it up with keys and notes and stuff, either. The larger inventory is quite welcome, it feels like enough for the length of most missions here. The game just tells you your objective at the start of each level and then sends you off. And the incredibly bland environments are improved on, too. The graphics are a bit better here, and there are more area types. It’s not all the same boring dungeon and forest this time! You even get to fight something other than slimes early on, though the first games’ enemies definitely return in numbers. There’s still plenty of challenge.

Overall, this game is okay, with slightly better gameplay than the first one and a bit more variety as well due to added locations and items. It is very much an iterative sequel released right after the first game, but if you play only one of the first two Excave games play this one. It’s certainly nothing special, and I’d probably call it average to slightly below average due to the very bland design and visuals and only decent gameplay, but that is a good step over the first game and I have had some fun with it. This game is decently entertaining if you are an overhead action-adventure game fan, as I am. This is probably worth a try, at least for genre fans. Nintendo 3DS digital exclusive.

Excave III: Tower of DestinyDeveloped by Mechanic Arms and published by Teyon in 2016. The third Excave game mixes things up slightly. The core game is similar, it is still a 2.5d overhead action-adventure game, but it is more Mysterious Dungeon-like now. For one, Man and Woman, the heroes of the first two games, have been replaced with one character, a somehwat scantily clad dark elf woman. She can use all weapons, so the character-specific weapon element of the previous games is gone now. Another change is that levels are much more randomized now. Before, loot was somewhat random, but the actual level designs, enemies, bosses, and such were all preset. This time, the game is much more randomized, for a more roguelike style of randomly generated stages based on premade pieces. While it may add replay value in theory, I’d call this worse than predesigned stages, myself; I prefer the more interesting design of a uniquely made level over random generation that may lead to pretty poorly laid out results. And you will get that here, as always in games with randomized layouts; expect exits sometimes being right next to entrances, and such. There is even less setting variety here than before, too, it’s all the same dungeon environment.

The game has two modes. In the main story mode, you take on a series of dungeons. Your level and weapons and everything reset each time you enter a dungeon, roguelike style, so there is no continuing progression, quite unlike the previous games. There is no shop or anything and you lose your items after finishing a dungeon. I don’t mind this much, I don’t care much about loot, but those who do will hate this more roguelike change. This mode isn’t too long. The other mode, the much longer one, is called the Fantasy Tower. This is a near endless dungeon, which you explore to see how far you can get. The Fantasy Tower has online leaderboards, which is cool. There are a lot of overhead action-RPG roguelikes out there, plenty better than this, but still there is a lot to do in this mode if you get into the game.

So, there are a bunch of changes here. The combat and core gameplay, however, are the same as before. So, expect more decent but unspectacular dungeon exploration and combat. Exploring around, killing monsters with your variety of weapons and spells, and collecting stuff is fun enough. I got all three of these games not just to have them, but because despite my criticism there IS fun overhead action-RPG combat to be had in all three of these games. The combat controls well and the challenge level is reasonable. Overall this game is okay, but I personally prefer the more permanent and predesigned nature of Excave II over this more randomized adventure with no permanent equipment. This game is below average and is a bit weaker than the second one. Nintendo 3DS digital exclusive.

FairunePublished by Circle and developed by Flyhigh Works in 2014.  Fairune is an Ys or Zelda-style overhead 2d action-RPG starring a nameless female protagonist. The game has very nice pixel art graphics that are a good draw into the game and classic-inspired gameplay, for good and ill. This game was first released on smartphones, but also got ported to consoles such as the 3DS here. It is a short game that should only take three or four hours if you can find your way forward. The combat here is simpler than Zelda’s, though; you don’t have an attack button but instead just attack things by walking into them, classic Ys game style. This origin is the most likely reason for the very simple combat, but it does work. I mentioned Zelda and Ys, and elements of both are here. You explore a fairly good-sized area here, exploring, fighting enemies, levelling up, finding items, and trying to figure out where in the world you need to go in order to proceed. The game does have a minimap on the lower screen showing the whole current area map, which is fantastic, and it reveals as you explore areas. Still, even if you know where to go, figuring out how to get there can be tricky unless you look up help outside of the game. I got pretty far in this short game, but eventually got stuck and stopped playing.

In general there is more item usage here than the early Ys games, but much more levelling than Zelda. You can’t just grind up levels, though; only certain enemies will level you up, you won’t even be able to damage ones too high level above you and will get no experience from ones too weak. The game is strict about this, you will only gain experience from very specific enemies at any time. So the game is technically an RPG, but you cannot go grind levels at all. I’m fine with that, I don’t like grinding. My issue here is that the game gives you minimal direction about where you should go. If you want a clearly identifiable path forward in your games, as I do, this structure can be very frustrating, because you will frequently have no idea what to do to proceed. I want games which aren’t linear to either give good clues about where to go or have a clearly identifiable path forward. This game has neither of those, so while it is fun for a while, once I can’t figure out the path forward I eventually give up on the game. The game world is not huge, but there are several different maps which you will work your way through, and what you need to do could be in any of them. Basically, Fairune is a good but simple game with nice graphics and very basic combat. Exploring around is fun, but you will need to be looking closely for very well disguised hidden paths and probably will need a walkthrough at times. I should use one and finish this sometime. Also released on iOS, Android, and Playstation Vita. The game was also released in the Fairune Collection, which released on the Nintendo Switch, Playstation 4, and PC (Steam). It contains both of the Fairune games, a very short new prequel chapter, and an unlockable shmup minigame. I don’t have it.

Fairune 2Published by Circle and developed by Skipmore and Flyhigh Works in 2016.  Fairune 2 is very similar to the first game, just with a larger world and more stuff to find. For fans of the first one this is everything you could want — it’s got all the frustrating puzzle solving exploration of the first one, just with more space to explore and a longer quest. The game is apparently about twice as long as the first one. It’s still short at 6 hours onhowlongtobeat.com, but not quite as much so as the first one. I haven’t gotten far at all into this game, but it is clear that it is extremely similar to the first game. The graphics, gameplay, design, all are the same as its predecessor, just with new areas and items and such. They also added ten ingame achievements, for those who care about such things; I don’t. So, it’s a definitely good game that is not entirely for me due to its nonlinear exploratory nature. When I can figure out what to do these gamse are pretty fun, but I do NOT like the ‘now figure out what to do, wander around and try stuff on things’ element of these games, or the classic titles which inspired them. I know that’s just me, but it holds me back from finishing them or unreservedly recommending them. The ingame maps help, but not enough to get me through. This game was initially a 3DS exclusive, though it was later released on other platforms in the Fairune Collection for the Switch, Playstation 4, and PC (Steam), which, again, includes both games and some little bonus modes.

Fire Emblem Awakening – DLCPublished by Nintendo in 2013.   I’m not reviewing Fire Emblem Awakening here; it is a fantastic strategy-RPG and one of the best games on the 3DS, but it is a cart release. This is here as a reminder that the game has a whole bunch of downloadable content, including a bunch of additional levels to try and some new outfits for some characters. All of this content will become entirely unavailable once the servers are shut down so buy it while you can, there are some pretty cool maps in there. Nintendo 3DS digital exclusive.

Fire Emblem Fates – DLC & Campaigns Published by Nintendo in 2016.  I’m not going to write a full review of Fire Emblem Fates here. It’s a great strategy-RPG which I didn’t quite finish but did play a lot of and got deep in to the Birthright campaign of. This is, instead, here to remind people that this game has three campaigns, and you must buy some of them as DLC. You can either buy Birthright or Conquest on their own carts, but to play the other campaign you can’t just buy the other cart, but instead in order for them to link up correctly in-game you need to buy the other campaign as DLC. The third campaign is DLC exclusive* and must be purchased. The asterisk notes that there actually is a very rare release of the game, Fire Emblem Fates: Special Edition, which includes all three campaigns on one cart. This was a limited-edition low print run release, and its price is sure to go up even more once the ability to legally purchase and play the rest of the game is denied people who own either of the regular versions, Birthright or Conquest. Regardless, for that and also for the DLC levels, which just like its predecessor this game has plenty of, buy the DLC for this game while you can. It’s not quite as great as Awakening since its entire game design is basically copied out of that title just with new levels and characters and such, but it’s still a fantastic strategy game and one of the best post-GBA Fire Emblem titles. (Yes, GBA Fire Emblem will probably always be my favorite. It’s not close. Still, these are great.) Nintendo 3DS digital exclusive.

Fun! Fun! Minigolf Touch! Developed and published by Shin’en in 2012. This game is a sequel to a WiiWare game called Fun! Fun! Minigolf, which I did not buy so I haven’t played. Shin’en is a developer who makes games with great tech and usually good gameplay. Some of their games are great all around, such as Fast Racing Neo or the Nanostray games, but others are games which look good but have some gameplay issues. This game, unfortunately, is one of the latter type. This stereoscopic 3d minigolf game has three environments each with three nine-hole courses for its main mode, and three three-hole challenge trick shot stages as a bonus mode. You start with one of the courses, and buy the rest of the stuff in an ingame shop with money you make from playing. There are only two minigolfers here really, a man and a woman. You can change their clothing colors and patterns, for shirt and pants for the man and shirt and skirt for the woman, but there are no alternate clothing options. It’s fine, but with how many courses there are to buy I was expecting some clothing options in the store too, but no. You can play as any Mii on your 3DS, though. This is pretty cool, but it just maps your Mii’s facial data and skin color onto the game’s character of that gender. It’s still a neat feature though. The ingame graphics are pretty good, with nicely rendered, varied holes and fun environments.

As for the gameplay, you can play entirely with the touchscreen, but can use the stick and buttons as well. You rotate left and right either with the stick or by rotating a ring on the lower screen. Using R you can change views to try to line up your shot, though you only have two views, behind the starting point or a side view of the hole from one side. Then you tap or hit A to select that angle. Pull back the club to choose how hard to hit the ball, and ‘will you hit the ball dead on’ marker appears. Tap or hit A when it’s at the strength you want to hit the ball at. It’s a simple control scheme which mostly works once you get used to it, though turning left or right to aim your shot is fiddlier than I’d like. Aiming where you want is harder than I think it should be, particularly for a game which does have stereoscopic 3d! Despite the additional depth of view, I still find myself frequently hitting the ball into obstacles, and I don’t feel like the physics always act like I feel like they should; sometimes the ball hits an obstacle and just… stops dead, even though there should be some momentum.

And then we get to what I’d call the worst thing about this game: when your shot doesn’t go where you wanted, that is onto the green or into the hole, you can’t just keep playing from the spot you shot to. Oh no. Instead, the game says ‘Out of Bounds’ and makes you shoot again from the starting point on the tee until you get the ball all the way to the green on a single shot. A border line marks the border of the “green”, and you must get the ball in that area or you just wasted your shot. This utterly bizarre design decision pretty much ruins the game, because while all holes in this game are designed to be able to reach the green in one shot, this is NOT how minigolf plays, not in the slightest!

Overall, Fun! Fun! Minigolf is not fun, the “you must get to the green in one shot” design concept is awful. It looks very nice, as expected from Shin’en, and plays fine, and can be fun when you’re playing well, but overall this game is not recommended at all. If you’re going to make a minigolf game, have it play like minigolf and not the awful target-shooting design they went for here. I like minigolf, but not this. Don’t bother.  Nintendo 3DS digital exclusive.

 

Rankings

These are the best games this update. Get them.

Digger Dan DX (3DS exclusive remake of a DSiWare game)
EDGE

These are also good games. Try these if you like the genres.

Defend Your Crypt
Dr. Mario: Miracle Cure (3DS exclusive)
Dedede’s Drum Dash Deluxe (3DS exclusive)
Fairune
Fairune 2

These are decent mid-tier titles worth a look if you like the genres.

Dangerous Road (3DS exclusive)
Drancia Saga
escapeVektor
Excave (3DS exclusive)
Excave II: Wizard of the Underworld (3DS exclusive)
Excave III: Tower of Destiny (3DS exclusive)
Drone Fight

Not very good, but maybe worth a look anyway…

Dillon’s Rolling Western (3DS exclusive)
Dillon’s Rolling Western: The Last Ranger (3DS exclusive)
Demon King Box (3DS exclusive)
European Conqueror 3D (3DS exclusive)

And last and definitely least…

Fun! Fun! Minigolf TOUCH! (3DS exclusive)

 

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Game Opinion Summaries: Digital-Only Nintendo 3DS Games, Part 2: B & C

In this update I cover the digital 3DS games I own starting with a B or C. I cover some of the greats in this update, including four titles published by Nintendo itself.

Table of Contents

Balloon Pop Remix
Bit Boy!! Arcade
Bit Dungeon Plus
Blaster Master Zero
Bloodstained: Curse of the Moon
BoxBoy!
BoxBoxBoy!
Bye-Bye Boxboy!
Brave Dungeon
Brave Tank Hero
Bricks Pinball VI
Bubble Pop World
Candy, Please!
Castle Conqueror EX
Castle Conqueror: Defender
Cazzarion
Chicken Wiggle
Collide-a-Ball
Color Zen
Conveni Dream
Crashmo
Crimson Shroud
CRYGHT
Cube Tactics

The Summaries

Balloon Pop Remix Published by UFO Interactive in 2012. Balloon Pop Remix is a followup to the low-budget Wii and DS puzzle game Balloon Pop. In this somewhat bland but decent game played exclusively with the stylus, you pop bubbles in a square field of colored bubbles. The game has nice graphics with some good stereoscopic 3d effects on the upper screen while you play on the lower one. You aren’t popping the ones you want to score points on, though; instead, you are deleting bubbles from the field so that the remaining bubbles, which will fly up to fill in the empty spaces, can match up. Bubbles that fill the space you cleared and form into a group of at least three like-colored bubbles will pop, refill your meter some, and allow a potential chain to form if other bubbles on the field fall into threes. It’s important to note that bubbles don’t pop just because there are three same-colored bubbles together, they have to fall in together after a pop to pop themselves. They won’t pop just because some come onto the screen in a same-color block.

The controls are simple. You draw lines on the screen with the stylus to pop bubbles, and must pop at least two at a time. As you draw lines, you use up power from the meter. If the meter runs out you lose and have to restart the level. It’s a simple design, or it would be if dealing with that meter wasn’t so tough. However, it is: the core challenge in this game is keeping the meter up. Not only does the meter go down every time you draw a line and remove some bubbles, but the meter also slowly goes down all the time as a timer. If the meter empties, you lose and have to start the level over. And Balloon Pop Remix’s levels are LONG, probably too long. Losing deep in a level is a somewhat painful experience because of how long it can take to get back to that point, and you will lose because this game gets tough eventually.

The game adds some more elements as you go, with special bubbles and such, but that’s the core of it. This is a simple game using a time-tested match-three forumla with a slightly different twist. This game starts out easy, but get a few levels in and you’ll realize that it’s actually tricky; thought will be required to stay alive. You need to act quickly and pop the right bubbles to match and, better yet, set off chain reactions to really refill that meter. The concept is solid, if average, but the difficulty gets maybe too hard after a while. I start really struggling at level eight, and there are no difficulty options and again levels are quite long. On the other hand, the game plays well and looks nice. The stereoscopic 3d effects are much better than those in most 3DS puzzle games, if other games even have them at all. Overall this game is alright, though frustratingly hard. It’s a decent game worth a look if you like puzzle games. 3DS digital exclusive.

Bit Boy!! ArcadeDeveloped and published by Bplus in 2014. This is a sequel to a WiiWare game called Bit Boy. This game is a pretty charming somewhat Pac-Man-ish 3d arcade action game. The game plays from an overhead perspective, and you control a cube character. You move with the d-pad, with fully digital, four-direction, tile-based controls that move you one space at a time, and maneuver through the level avoiding enemies and collecting pickup items scattered around the stage. There is sometimes more to it, but avoid-and-get is the usual gameplay. This isn’t a strict maze like Pac-Man, it’s more of an open level you move around. Once you collect all of the pickups you become invincible and can kill the enemies if you run into them, and leave the stage by finding the exit that opens at this point. If you die, you start the level over. It’s simple but fun enough. You can die without it being your fault, though, as you can’t see the whole stage at once and enemies can be waiting at the end of a one-way corridor, so you turn around, but another enemy has blocked the other way in the meantime. You die, try the level again. You can zoom the camera out some, which is quite helpful, but you need to hold down L or R to do this. It would have been much better if it was a toggle, but unfortunately it’s not. Also, the game does reuse stages a LOT, though — don’t expect a new level every time, you’ll be playing variants of the same level over and over and over. The game mixes things up a bit as you go, but there is a lot of repetition. Even so, I do like the gameplay here. It’s arcade-style fun done competently and the stereoscopic 3d graphics are simple but nice looking.

In between levels is where the most charming part of this game resides, though — the game’s European creator, represented with a pixel-art rendition of his head, and the game’s main character talk about the game, the story of the game, and more. There is no fourth wall at all in this game, it’s fun stuff. The game is fully voiced, and the cube character has a deep voice that’s amusing contrasted with the cartoony cube image. For instance, every so often the cube character you’re playing as complains about the color scheme in the game, after which the level changes colors as the creator responds. It’s entertaining and endearing stuff. The cutscenes are probably the best thing about this game, though, as the gameplay is repetitive and gets frustrating at times. There is plenty of content and replay value here if you get into it, though, and you sometimes get optional abilities beyond just moving around and avoiding things. This game got poor reviews becasue of the simple gameplay and occasional blind deaths, but on the whole I do recommend this game; it’s a 3DS exclusive and even if the gameplay has issues it’s still decent enough, and the very weird story is worth playing the game for. 3DS digital exclusive.

Bit Dungeon PlusDeveloped by Cosen and published by Dolores Entertainment in 2017.  This is a top-down action roguelike with decent 2d sprite art. It was originally a mobile game. You play as a little knight in armor, fighting lots of monsters in dungeons because that’s what you do in games like this; there’s no real plot here. Unlike most roguelikes there isn’t an inventory here either, not really. You get equippable items, and the lower screen lists your stats, but you can’t view your current equipment. You can customize how your knight looks in each run with stuff you unlock, though. You never actually see your character under that armor.

As mentioned, this is an overhead action game. You have three buttons, for sword, shield, and magic. Your sword attack range is extremely short, so hitting enemies without getting hit yourself is challenging. Your shield is vitally important, you must use it effectively to get very far. You will get stunned if you block for too long so you need to use it well. Magic is less useful; at first your spell is just a short-range stun. I think it grows in power if you beat bosses and get abilities. You have two meters, health and magic. Some drops refill one or the other and your health refills after you clear each floor, and you will level up as you kill enemies, but refilling health can be kind of a pain since, again, there are no items; the only way to refill health is to grind the weak enemies that appear in cleared rooms. Oddly each equipment item has a name, even though you can only see those names when choosing whether to pick it up or not and not after it’s equipped. The game plays on the upper screen, and your stats and such are displayed on the lower screen. When you level up you can choose whether to boost your attack, defense, or critical hit chance. This is one nice element to the game.

So, this game is simple in design. The graphics and combat are a bit like Zelda, but this game is not Zelda, it has no puzzles. Each dungeon in this game is made up of a bunch of rooms connected with doors. There is a map on the lower screen showing how they connect. Unlike many roguelikes, there are no narrow corridors connecting the rooms; each door goes straight into the next room. Each room takes up the upper screen, and as far as I have gotten there are never obstacles in the room, they are always a rectangular room with nothing but a background and enemies to kill. Some enemies or boxes in rooms drop item chests with equipment you can equip if you want. Once you kill all the enemies, a key drops which will unlock one of the doors so you can repeat the process, until you find the floor’s boss room. Bosses are giant enemies with stronger attacks. Beat the boss and it’s on to the next floor.

And that’s all you do. It’s fun for a little while, but is very repetitive. The game plays fine, but refilling your health when you lose it can be difficult, avoiding damage is hard given how close you need to get to enemies to hit them, and with no inventory you’re only really playing for better stat-increasing equipment. I find the game fun for a level or two but not enough to want to keep going after that. There is almost no variety, every room is pretty much identical apart from which enemies are in it, and it’s pretty tough and frustrating. This game has some good ideas but the execution is bland and average. Don’t expect neat 3d effects, either. It may be worth a try if you like these games, I guess. I won’t be going back to this one much. Also on Playstation 4, Playstation Vita, PC/Mac (Steam), Wii U, Nintendo Switch, Xbox One, and in its original non-Plus form on iOS and Android.

Blaster Master ZeroDeveloped and published by Inti Creates in 2017. This game has paid DLC. Yes, it’s yet another Inti Creates game. This classic-styled game is the first of what is now three Blaster Master Zero games, a new series based on Sunsoft’s NES classic Blaster Master. This first one is a remake of the original Blaster Maser game for NES. Blaster Master is pretty good, but it’s not a game I played in the ’80s or ’90s so I don’t have nostalgia for it. Still, I like the game and despite my misgivings about the developer, this one’s one of their better games. Unfortunately, only the first of the three games in this series has a 3DS release, but this probably is the best one to have. The game doesn’t take much use of the 3DS’s dual-screen design though so oh well. That is, the game plays on the upper screen exclusively in-game. The lower screen is not used, it just says ‘touch here for the other pause menu’. You need to pause with the Start button to use the inventory or view the map, which is really annoying. The map should have been on the lower screen.

This game is very faithful to the original title. There are modern enhancements, including a firing lock button and some modern anime flair, but the core gameplay and design were taken straight out of the NES original. Perhaps the most important addition is saving. The original was very, very tough, and there was no saving at all. Here, you can save at regular save points, and this is a very welcome change. So, one half of this game is a side-scrolling action-platformer where you control a fast-moving tank exploring open-ended levels, fighting enemies and finding sub-areas. You can also get out of your tank, though you don’t want to do this unless you have to. The other half of the game is a top-down action game where you shoot your way through sub-areas and fight bosses. I’ve always liked the sidescrolling parts of this series better than the topdown part, but it’s good. Mixing genres like this was common on the NES, it was an experimental time, and sometimes it works, as it did in Blaster Master, and by extension Blaster Master Zero because a lot of the level designs and areas in this game are barely altered from the original title. This is more of a remake than it is a sequel. The story is kind of a hybrid of the Japanese and American plots of the original game, which is nice. The sequels are entirely original, but this game isn’t.

This game controls and plays well. The graphics are above NES quality but aren’t fullly pushing modern 2d like Azure Striker Gunvolt does, which is fine; the game has a nice retro-ish look, though the game has that distinctive Inti Creates graphical style that I never love. It’s just kind of bland. On that note, yes, this game is fine. It’s reasonably fun because the controls are good and it’s a remake of a great game. It’s probably good that so much of this game is a remake, Inti Creates aren’t the best at level design. I never feel like Inti Creates games are as great as the games they are inspired by, and this game is no exception, but for an Inti Creates game this game is alright. The magic of the NES game isn’t entirely here, and the game is perhaps too much of a homage, but it’s fun. I like this better than I was expecting, it’s worth playing for sure.

As for the DLC, there are four alternate characters you can buy, for $2 each — Gunvolt, Ekoro (from Gal Gun), Shantae, and Shovel Knight. Yeah, those late two are random, but neat. While in the tank they play identically to Jason, the regular main character, except with the tank in a new color scheme, but when on foot and in the top-down sections each character has entirely different weapons and abilities, so the alternate characters are worth getting. The alternate characters have no story so if you switch to them the story is entirely disabled, but otherwise the game is the same. Overall, Blaster Master Zero is average to good. The port is good, apart from not having the map on the lower screen where it should be, and the game plays and looks good. Also on PC (Steam), Nintendo Switch, PS4, and Xbox One (with Xbox Series X enhancements).

Bloodstained: Curse of the Moon Developed and published by Inti Creates in 2018. Yes, Inti Creates again. But of the Inti Creates-programmed platform-action games on this list, this is probably the best one. It’s still only good at best, none of these games are great, but it may be worth playing. This is their last 3DS attempt at a somewhat NES-styled game, along with Blaster Master Zero and the two Mighty Gunvolt games which will be covered much later on this list. This game tries to be like Castlevania, instead of Mega Man, and is was designed by longtime Castlevania head Koji Igarashi. Having more than just Inti Creates working on the game clearly helped, because I like this a lot more than their other games. This game is a pretty big improvement over Inti Creates’ other action-platformers on this list, I would say, with nice enough graphics and good level designs and gameplay. That more than just Inti Creates worked on this game is particularly obvious when you compare the level designs here to the one in Inti Creates’ other games, these are much better than their own work.

This game plays a lot like Castlevania, just easier. The main character is a side character from the main Bloodstained game, a very overly serious demon hunter guy. There are also three other characters you will get along the way, including the main game’s main character Miriam. The four characters each play differently and have different abilities, sort of like Castlevania III. It’s fun stuff. The game has some good replay value too, because there are several unlockable alternate modes after you beat it. You will beat the game, though, because that point I made earlier about it being easy is noteworthy. Don’t expect a NES Castlevania game challenge here. Curse of the Moon is fun, but it’s the kind of game you can get through in not too long if you keep at it, this is only a moderate challenge at best. This game’s alright, but it isn’t anywhere near as challenging, or substantive, as the NES games it imitates. Even so though, with good controls, gameplay, characters, and levels, it’ll be decent fun while it lasts. Also on Playstation 4, Nintendo Switch, PC (Steam), Playstation Vita, and Xbox One. The game has a sequel which unfortunately isn’t on 3DS.

BoxBoy!Developed by HAL Laboratory and published by Nintendo in 2015. BoxBoy! is a great side-scrolling puzzle-platformer game done in black and white, with some shades of grey. Color is used very sparingly for specific highlights and effects and such. The game has very nice, and simple, pixel art graphics that fit the game perfectly. The overall look is very much like something from the original Game Boy, except with a higher graphic resolution and a bit of color in spots. It looks great. But while the graphics here are simple, the gameplay isn’t! In this game you play as the BoxBoy, and can move and make boxes extend out of your boxy body. You can create boxes on the left, right, or top side of your body and move around while holding them. You can also drop or throw the boxes. The number of boxes you can create at a time varies depending on the level, each one has a preset maximum number of boxes at a time. Your challenge will be trying to use this power to get through many carefully designed puzzle levels. You need to reach the exit door in each level. In addition to platforms you will face various other obstacles, including falling blocks, spikes, and such. Every level is carefully crafted and well thought through.

In addition to the main goal of reaching the exit door, there also are several crown items to get in each level. These must be reached within a preset number of boxes used total in the stage in order to collect them. Trying to get to the crowns without using too many boxes adds additional challenge to already-tricky puzzles. You can buy various alternate costumes to wear, which is a nice touch. This is a great, and compelling, game that you’ll come back to until you finish it or get stuck somewhere and give up, because this game is HARD. Getting the first ending is doable, and is well worth it to see the ending of this simple but interesting story about your box boy and his box world, but the post-game levels are numerous and incredibly difficult. I admit, I did not finish them, they get crazy hard quickly. You’ll need some good logical thinking to get through this game, but it’s fantastic all the same. This game will frustrate you but in a good way. BoxBoy is a simple but genius game from HAL, it’s a definite must-play. I would say more, but I don’t want to spoil the puzzles! Play this game and experience them yourself. This trilogy is probably collectively the overall best digital-only game(s) on the 3DS. 3DS exclusive. Western Digital exclusive.

BoxBoxBoy! Developed by HAL Laboratory and published by Nintendo in 2016. The second game in the series is more of the same, except with some new abilties and lots of new tricky levels to struggle through. It’s just awesome that this series continued, the first game was original and great enough to definitely make me want more. This game is great! Tough, sure, but great. The main new feature here is that this time you can create multiple separate stacks of boxes, so you can, for instance, leave two different boxes on two different switches to get through a door. That’s about all that differentiates this game from the first one, but that’s fine, more of the same is what I wanted after playing the first game. It starts out easy too, so this is not a game designed just for people who finished the first one. You can play these games in any order, and each one starts out easy but gets hard as it goes along.

I like the first BoxBoy game a lot, but this sequel may be even better, because it’s the same thing but with a new new ability that adds to the puzzles. Figuring out how to create and move your boxes to allow you to get through each level while getting the stuff you need can be tough, but it’s very satisfying when you finally figure out a puzzle. This game won’t convince people who somehow didn’t like the first one, but for everyone else, I recommend getting all three; they’ll give you plenty of content to play for quite a while. These kinds of games are perfect for playing a bit of here and there. This game is great stuff. Buy it. 3DS exclusive. Western Digital exclusive.

Bye-Bye Boxboy!Developed by HAL Laboratory and published by Nintendo in 2017. This is the third game of the 3DS BoxBoy trilogy. So, expect more of the same as in the first two games: you’ve got a new set of tricky puzzles to get through with your box-creation powers in a mostly monochromatic world. For some reason, they removed the multiple box stacks feature from this game, at least initially; it returns to the original game’s single-stack style. As you go new elements are introduced here, though. This time you will travel through multiple planets on your cube ship, each with a different visual theme in the background. New obstacles appear as well, and new gameplay challenges. Most notably there, you will now have many levels which are escort missions. In these levels a child cube person needs to be rescued. It’s initially one, though the game gets harder the farther you get in, of course. After you save them the child will follow you around, and you need to keep them safe from danger. It’s actually well thought through and pretty fun, as you try to figure out how to both keep the child alive and get the crowns in each stage. This game is just as fantastic as either of its predecessors. Yes, it’s again the same basic thing, but when you have a somewhat original idea done very well, making more of that is good.

After this games’ release, Nintendo published a trilogy collection on cartridge… in Japan only. I have no idea why the cart release didn’t come out over here, it absolutely should have, but it stayed Japan only, unfortunately. It’s awful that this wasn’t localized! Unless you want to have to import that collection, called the ‘HakoBoy! Hakozume Box’, make sure to buy these games while the 3DS eShop is still available. This series continued with a fourth game on the Switch. It is just as much of a must-play as these three are. 3DS  exclusive. Western Digital exclusive.

Brave DungeonDeveloped by Inside System and published by CIRCLE in 2017. Brave Dungeon is a topdown dungeon-crawler RPG spinoff starring one of the various female characters from the Dark Witch series of platform-action games, which I will cover later in this list. This game is a simple but fun dungeon crawler. The most unique feature about Brave Dungeon is that enemies cannot move. Instead, marked tiles on the map have enemies on them and when you walk onto those tiles you fight a battle. You won’t be able to avoid combat though, because the mazelike levels lead you through many enemies as you look for treasure and the route to the boss and the next floor. I like exploring the mazelike levels, and love that the game has an on-screen automap that fills out as you go. Oh, levels here are networks of straight paths with intersections; this isn’t styled after Rogue. You do level up as you get experience so this is an RPG, but levels don’t increase your stats, you have to buy stat upgrades in town between runs. It sometimes feels like almost as much of a puzzle game as anything. That’s fine, it’s a fun game.

Combat is similarly simple. The game has standard JRPG battles, the two teams of players go back and forth attacking or using spells or items. Items are purchased in town and regenerate when you go back to town, so you don’t need to keep rebuying the same stuff, which is pretty cool. I like this system. Your party will include three characters at a time from a roster of at least five girls. You can switch in town. When you are in town you can buy items and abilities and such and make equipment out of stuff you have collected if you have all of the right parts. You can also spend money to upgrade your characters’ stats, as mentioned. You’ll need to choose whether you want to spend on stats or items, or grind for both.

So, this game is simple, but I do like playing it. Exploring the maps is fun. One unique element here is that there are five dungeons which you will go back and forth between. You unlock shortcuts after beating the boss on each floor, so when you return back to the town you won’t have to redo the whole floor. Once you beat a floor’s boss you get a key, and your goal is to finish all ten floors in each dungeon. This game is simple fun. The challenge level is just about right; it’s not too easy or too hard. You will need to go back and forth between dungeons once you reach floors too hard for your current party, but with the shortcuts and such that’s fine. Anyway, if you lose you just get warped back to town without penalty. Overall, Brave Dungeon is decent. This game isn’t amazing, but it’s a fun little game worth playing if you like this genre. This is actually probably my favorite Dark Witch-related game, I have much more mixed feelings about the main platformer trilogy. This version of the game is 3DS exclusive, though there’s a collection for PC and Switch which includes this game and a second title not on the 3DS, Dark Witch Story: COMBAT.

Brave Tank HeroDeveloped by Arc System Works and published by Natsume in 2015. This game is a third person tank action game. You choose from three different tanks, and go on over 50 missions to destroy enemy tanks and defend areas and such. The game has appealing cartoony graphics and good gameplay and controls. There are two control schemes available, but I prefer the advanced one, which uses the dpad and buttons to emulate a tank’s two engines, so you push both forward to go forward and one up and one down to turn. Standard tank controls there, it’s easy to get used to with a little practice and you get much better controls than the default mode. You also have independent turret control on the shoulder buttons and can shoot with a button. The controls here are great, I really like that twin-stick controls are present. Each mission in this game is a short challenge against a handful of enemies. The pacing is good and gameplay fun and challenging. The game has an interesting way of limiting the draw distance, too — the world in the game curves away extremely quickly, as if the entire world was minuscule. This allows a shorter draw distance without popup and it has a unique look I like. There’s really not much bad to say about this game; the graphics, controls, and gameplay are all good, and the missions have some variety as well. Definitely pick this game up while you can. It’s also on Wii U, without the stereoscopic 3d but with higher resolution graphics of course. It’s good on either platform. Buy this one.

Bricks Pinball VIBy nuGame, released in 2021.    This is the so-far-last of at least 25 Breakout/Arkanoid-style blockbreaking games that nuGame released on the 3DS.   Yes, twenty five games, in several different sub-series, including Double Breakout, Bricks Pinball, Maze Breaker, Pinball Breaker, and Bricks Defender.  With that many releases one would hope this game would be good, or at least competent.  Unfortunately, it is neither.  This game has decently nice graphics.  Many of nuGame’s 3DS blockbreaking games are played from an overhead view, but this one has an angled isometric view, more like looking at a pinball table.  Each level is about two screens tall, and you see the upper half on the upper screen and the full view on the lower screen.  There is a paddle at the bottom and in the middle, so you have two.  This fits the 3DS’s display well and works great design-wise.  Some stages have additional controllable pinball flippers on the sides.  The graphics are in stereoscopic 3d and the blocks and such look fine.  It is plain, but at least it’s in real 3d.  Audio is very generic and forgettable.

The problems begin when you start playing it, when you will realize that this game, on the 3DS, has digital-only controls.  You can use the analog stick or dpad, but either way control is entirely digital.  Considering how much analog controls help blockbreaking games and that the touch screen or analog stick would give you much better control than a dpad, I have no idea why they went with this control scheme, but they did.  And the issues don’t stop there.  Given the “slightly pinball-ish breakout” theme, some levels have pinball flippers, as mentioned, and pinball bouncers as well.  The bouncers are nice since the ball actually will bounce around decently after hitting them.  The flippers are weird, though, they’re just kind of … there.  You can make them move with a button, but the ball will only sometimes actually correctly bounce off of them; other times it’ll just pass through.  There is just wonderful physics and collision detection here.

On that note, the physics engine is perhaps the worst thing about this game.  The game runs somewhat slowly and is kind of boring to play.  But it’s not slow because of great graphics, though the 3d effect is solid other than that it is very plain, or competent physics, because it doesn’t have that, for sure. It’s just slow.  The ball does not at all follow natural bouncing physics, instead tending towards going straight up and down unless you hit it with momentum.  Hitting it with the sides of your paddle won’t change its angle much at all, you should actually be moving when you hit it in order to get it to do something different.  And even when you do get it bouncing around, the way balls bounce around looks slow and clearly off.   On the other hand, you don’t need to destroy every block to proceed, only a percentage of them which is told to you.  This is a nice touch.  Also, there is no saving in this ga,e you have to play it in one sitting.  There are “only” 15 levels, but that’s probably ten more than I have patience for.  Given how many games in this genre nuGame released and how cheap they are, 15 levels isn’t too bad, and each does have a unique layout.  That’s still far less than better games in this genre, of course. Overall, Bricks Pinball VI is a semi-playable disappointment with more bad than good.  If this is nuGame’s last Breakout-style game, I wish they had put more effort into making their games play better and less into pumping out a high volume of titles.  The 3DS would be a great platform for a dual-screen blockbreaking game with paddles on each screen, and the angled perspective is a good idea.  It’s a shame about the rest of it, but between the poor controls, bad physics, slow gameplay, and more, there is a lot that would need to be fixed for this game to be good.  I wanted to get at least ONE of nuGame’s dozens of Breakout-style games on 3DS, to see what they were like, and I guess I’m glad I did, but you should not.  Definitely pass on this and probably all of the rest of their games too.  Nintendo 3DS digital exclusive.

Bubble Pop World By Cypronia, released in 2014. As a note, this game is NOT in any way related to the early ’00s puzzle game Super Bubble Pop for the PS1 and Gamecube. That game I moderately liked, but this is from a different developer and publisher and has nothing to do with it. What this game is is a match-three puzzle game which heavily uses the 3DS’s often-forgotten rear-facing 3d camera. This is an AR game that requires the question mark block AR card that a 3DS system came with in its alternative-reality cards pack. This is one of the few games on the 3DS other than the built-in AR games which actually use the AR card(s). Fortunately, the used New 3DS I got some years ago was complete in box and did come with the AR cards, so I can play this game. … Well, I say fortunately, but this really isn’t great. This game tries to use hardware in the 3DS that almost no games use, most notably the camera but also the motion sensor, which is how you move the in-game cursor, but I’d rather just play a regular game which has regular controls and graphics. Oh, and I’d rather have better gameplay than this has, too. Bubble Pop World is heavy on the minigames and light on fun puzzle gameplay, but again the core design is part of the issue. Sure, the stereoscopic 3D imagery is cool and the AR thing is kind of neat I guess, but I’ve never cared much about the AR games thing and this does not convince me. I mean, it’s just showing something on a screen over an image from its camera, it doesn’t actually create anything in reality.

So, in this game, there are two modes. One is a puzzle mode where you need to solve preset puzzles with the specific bubbles you are gien, and the other an arcade mode where you alternate between puzzle-ish levels and minigames. In normal puzzle stages, you take your 3DS and point the camera at that question mark block AR card. The playfield is the card, and some bubbles will appear on the screen floating over the card. It’s pretty annoying because I want to be able to point my 3DS any direction I want and play it in the dark and such, but you can’t do that here; you need to be playing somewhere where it’s bright enough to see the AR card and the card is fully visible in the system’s rear camera. You move the camera by moving your 3DS and activating its motion sensor, and fire a bubble with a button. The controls work well but are a little slow. Your goal is to clear the field with the bubbles you are given without having any extra bubbles left over. Shooting a bubble can set off a chain reaction which sends other bubbles flying off the screen, so you need to be careful with your shots. Arcade mode starts out easy, with simple puzzles which let you keep shooting bubbles if you don’t win in the shortest possible number of turns. However, why is there a minigame after every single puzzle level? There are only eight minigames, many fewer than the number of stages, so they repeat constantly. they are neat the first time, but the minigame-to-main-gameplay ratio here is badly out of balance. The minigames do mix things up by having full-screen 3d polygonal graphics instead of the camera’s view for a background, but they should have been one for every handful of levels finished, not one per level. 50% of arcade mode is those same eight minigames over and over. It’s not great.

As for puzzle mode, it is hard from the start, with tricky puzzles and zero margin for error. There is usually only one solution to each puzzle and you must find it to proceed. I may not have a lot of fun with this game, but there IS plenty of challenge here I will admit. And Bubble Pop World does get points for using most of the 3DS’s hardware features; it uses the camera, tilt sensor for the core controls, touchscreen (for menus), and even has a puzzle creator which you can share resulting levels with friends via QR codes. So it might be worth a look for all of that. But the gameplay? Puzzle mode is frustratingly hard, and while a few games make that style of puzzle fun for me this is not one of them. And Arcade mode is pretty annoying due to being 50% minigames that are even less good than the puzzles. Some would say I’m being too hard on this game I’m sure, but I don’t find AR games very interesting and the gameplay here loses me even more. This is, at its core, a generic and mediocre match-three puzzle game with design flaws such as too many minigames in the arcade mode and below average gameplay and controls. Apart from the stereoscopic 3d AR graphics, which are somewhat unique, you can do much better on this console than this. Pass on this game unless you’re interested in the tech. I am not. 3DS digital exclusive.

Candy, Please!Developed and published by Nostatic Software, released in 2017 (port of an earlier mobile game). This game is part of what I believe is a five-game series of adventure games called the Quiet Games series. The series started on phones, but the games also released on console. Well, five of the games did, if there are more past that they haven’t. Only three released on 3DS, though, the first, fourth, and fifth, each sold separately. Yeah, it’s kind of odd. (A Wii U collection includes the first four titles all together, but the fifth one, Turkey, Please, is only on consoles on 3DS.) This game is the fourth one, though they are all stand-alone. All of these games are very graphically simple pixel-art adventure games with huge chunky pixels. It’s not going for a realistic retro console look, but instead just a generic modern low-rez pixel art style. As the name suggests it has a halloween theme. All of these games feel heavily nostalgia-laden, as they were clearly designed by someone wanting the player to think of childhood in the ’90s. The simple graphics are not impressive but work fine and look nice.

You play as a girl, who is the lead in all of the games, and it’s Halloween. You need to find costumes, go with your hyperactive little brother to get candy, and along the way solve plenty of classic adventure game item-manipulation puzzles. This gameplay is standard for the genre, but it’s not easy; you’ll need to look carefully to find everything you can interact with. The game is short and the puzzles are not always intuitive, but hey that’s adventure games, figuring out what to do is the fun part. This game is a decent to good little indie title which is worth a try if you like the genre. It’s nice that these games didn’t stay stuck on cellphones forever. The very simple, massive-pixels sprite art graphics and nostaligic feel of the setting and story work well, and the puzzles are mostly well thought through. Nostatic Software published some not so great stuff but these adventure games are probably their best work and are above average. Also on PC (Steam), iOS, Xbox 360, Playstation Vita, Wii U, and Xbox One. The Wii U and PC versions are both titled the Quiet Collection and contain the first four games.

Castle Conqueror EXPublished by CIRCLE Entertainment in 2014. This is one of those strategy games where there are a bunch of bases on a single-screen stage screen which auto-generate troops, and you play by selecting one of your bases and sending them towards other bases to try to take them over. The game is played exclusively with the stylus, which is great. You can select how many troops to put in each army you send out. In this case, the bases are castles. This game is sixth game in its series; the first five are DSiWare games, then the last two are 3DS eshop games. Your enemy is doing the same thing at the same time, though, and there are neutral castles too, so the challenge is to try to overwhelm them before you get crushed. The strategic gameplay is simple but a lot of fun, I like this style of game. I know the concept comes from mobile games, but it is fun.

This game has a few issues, though. First, you can only have five armies on screen at once. So, once you’ve sent out five groups of soldiers, you need to wait until one dies until you can send another group. Worse, this game is very grindey. The game seems fun at first, and you will make progress, but eventually you will realize that some levels are way too hard to beat naturally. Instead, you’ll need to repeatedly play earlier levels for money, because this game has an upgrade system. You can buy permanent upgrades to eight stats for money, and inventory items which have various effects as well. And you will make a little money for replaying levels you have beaten before. The first big grind cliff hits at level 1-10; the first nine aren’t bad, but level 10 is much harder. You start at a big disadvantage, with fewer weaker castles than the enemy has, and will need better stats to keep up. I had to replay older levels several dozen times, probably, to build up enough stats to clear that stage. And that’s how the game is from that point on, it’ll be almost impossibly hard if you just try to beat each level once. This game is fun and I like the nice sprite art graphics and the gameplay, but the grind is frustrating and has kept me from going sticking with it anywhere near as long as I otherwise would. It is maybe worth getting if you like this kind of game like I do, though. 3DS digital exclusive.

Castle Conqueror: Defender Published by Circle Entertainment in 2014. This is the last title in the Castle Conqueror series. This is a very different game from the last one, though — this time the game tries to be more of a full-on defense-focused strategy game. Each level is a multiscreen overhead stage, with enemies coming at you from the left towards your castle’s defenses on the right. You design your defenses in the first phase in each level, and then go into the fight. Each battle consists of several rounds, with a building phase for you to prepare initial defenses, then an enemy attack, then your next building phase. The game uses a combination of button and touch controls, so it takes some getting used to, but the controls work fine. All-touch controls might have been better, though. During battle you can move troops around and such, RTS style, to stop the enemies coming at you. You can only select one unit at a time, so movement is pretty clunky, but you can move them. However you can’t build new troops or defenses or such, that is only for the first phase. You have limited money with which you can buy troops and repair or build defenses, and get more after each round of the battle. This game has a great concept, I like this kind of game for sure; it’s kind of like a very simplified version of Stronghold (the PC game) crossed with elements of a tower defense game. This game is nowhere near as great as Stronghold or the best TD (tower defense) games, but it is a fun title well worth playing if you like strategy games.

The game is definitely tough, though. If you do poorly in the later round of a battle you may be in an unwinnable situation that will force you to restart the whole thing, since you only have limited rebuilding and unit repurchasing funds after each round. You also need to make sure to build your castle walls just right, because units can only move along a fully connecting wall, and wall segments are two tiles wide. If you have two walls that are one tile apart, there’s not much you can do, you can’t connect those walls with a path your archers will be able to move along during battle. Archers on a wall also can’t go down off of that wall to move to a different wall during battle, they’re stuck there unless the wall is destroyed. This works because of the games’ phase-based nature, but it does emphasize the importance of good planning in your castle design. These limitations can be annoying, but once you get used to it building defenses and then managing your forces during the attack is pretty fun. The game isn’t entirely balanced, some strategies are going to work better than others, but still I enjoy this game.

And here’s the best news: if you lose, you can keep trying! In fact, the game rewards you for losing. If your hero leader unit or base fortress are destroyed, you can simply try again from the start of that phase, and the game will give you a little bit of money to spend on a few things on top of that. So, are you losing because you didn’t have quite enough money for enough traps to slow down the enemy? After losing you may have enough money for it the next time. This helps a lot at making the game more fun. I love defense-focused strategy games of all kinds and this is a good one. There is more to learn with this game than Castle Conqueror EX, but it is rewarding and ultimately more fun since the game feels better balanced and less grindey. Sure, you may do some grinding here, but not nearly as much as in EX. Overall, this game is not the deepest, and as a tower defense fan I am certainly biased here, but I like this game for sure and recommend it, to genre fans at least. 3DS digital exclusive.

Cazzarion Developed and published by Zarpazo in 2020. New 3DS required. This game is a very basic space shooter. The game has three modes. One is a static-screen shooter, Space Invaders style but much less good since the controls are not especially responsive and it’s missing Space Invaders’ better touches such as the bases to hide behind. The second is a scrolling shmup, though it’s a very simple one; you just go forwards in an endless stage, killing enemies until you die. The ships are decently drawn and I do like the 3d planet backgrounds, that’s probably the highlight of the game. Apart from that though there’s not much here of any note. This game has okay graphics, poor controls, no music, only one or two sound effects, menus that are harder to navigate than they should be, and little reason to go back; all the game saves is your one best score per mode. I would say don’t bother buying this game, but I’m pretty sure it has been delisted. That’s too bad, because the one thing about the game that was charmingly intresting was the insanely long text description on the eshop page! It just went on and on and on, describing the backstory of the game and stuff, in semi-intelligible English. I wonder if there’s a copy of it anywhere, I can’t find the game anymore in the eshop. If you have a way to play this game though… meh, try it for a minute or two, why not. Or don’t, there’s no real reason to play it. Also available on Xbox One and PC. That version is still for sale. It may still be up on the 3DS eshop in Europe as well; the game is European.

Chicken WiggleDeveloped and published by Atooi in 2017. This game did have a physical release from Limited Run in the Atooi Collection, but let’s not count them. Chicken Wiggle is a pretty good 2d platformer game and toolkit. This is a pretty tough but seriously under-rated title. It’s a high quality game which deserved a lot more attention than it got. In this game, which is a 2d side-scrolling platformer, you play as a cute cartoon chicken with a worm on its back. The sprite art is great, with a strong cartoony style, and the stereoscopic 3d looks fantastic with great depth. Levels are generally linear platforming affairs. Your goal is usually to reach a captured chicken in a cage at the end of the stage. You can collect gems along the way, and also hidden letters if you want to search for passages behind hidden walls and such in order to get everything in each stage.

For abilities, your chicken can move with the d-pad, and with three buttons jump, peck, and use the worm as a grappling hook. The worm goes straight out in the direction you are facing and attaches to a wall on the other side, if one is in range. Hitting enemies with the worm will often stun them, making them much easier to kill with a peck; you die in one hit, so getting close to them otherwise is very dangerous. Now, in this game, some game elements are always going, but others work based on your movement. Flipping blocks switch between being there or not depending on your jumps, for instance. Some enemies are similar, and only move when you jump. Worm grapples will not change any of these objects’ states, but a jump will. This is a pretty interesting system that adds quite a bit to the challenge. Some things are based on your movement, as well, such as balloons which allow you to go a certain number of tiles before disappearing. Other enemies move all the time though, so it’s an interesting mix. You will have to go through each stage carefully, learning its obstacles and challenges, before succeeding in clearing the stage. Fortunately levels have checkpoints, so you won’t need to restart them from the beginning each time. If you want to make the game even harder you can turn off checkpoints, though I would not recommend it.

But while the main campaign is plenty of challenging platforming fun, as I said, this isn’t just a single-player game, it has a level editor and online level sharing, too. As a huge Mario Maker fan, that’s awesome! Of course this game wasn’t exactly a hit, but it did well enough for some people to make levels that you can play online. That’s really awesome. There are some limitations, though — this game has no difficulty system at all for online levels, and no timer or deaths counters either. There also is no equivalent to the 100 Man or Endless modes in Mario Maker games. Instead, all you can do here is just select a level from a list of stages, with no hints about how hard each of the levels is apart from the level’s name since no such metrics are provided. There’s plenty of fun to be had there, but it is frustrating when you end up in a really hard level by accident. But hey, at least it has online level sharing at all, that is quite rare for this kind of game! It’s awesome stuff.

Overall, Chicken Wiggle will definitely frustrate you due to the challenge of its often fairly precise platforming, but the game has great, very responsive controls, a good toolkit, and good game design. This is probably my next favorite download-only platformer on the 3DS after the BoxBoy games. It even has a level editor and online level sharing! Very cool. Definitely pick this one up if you like platformers. Also on Nintendo Switch.

Collide-a-BallPublished by Starsign in 2016. This is a 3d logic puzzle game. Starsign’s games all have similar-looking menus and similarly simple visuals, but it works. It plays on an isometric field, and there are three gameplay modes. As the name suggests, the main, 30-puzzle mode is about trying to make similarly colored balls crash into eachother. You can move around and rotate objects such as ramps and speed strips in each puzzle, trying to get everything into an arrangement where the balls will hit eachother when you hit the button to send them both off. You need to line it up so both are on the target square at the same time, which can be tricky. It’s an alright but fun puzzle game with simple graphics and good puzzles.

There are two additional modes, too. Second is a 20-puzzle mode which is just a little timing puzzle. You can’t rearrange anything here, you just hit the button once to set off the first ball, and again to set off the second, trying to time it so they are both on the target block at the same time. This is tricky but much less fun than the main mode, it’s not really a puzzle just a mediocre stopwatch simulator of sorts. The third mode is a 10-puzzle mode where there is only one ball, and you need to arrange the field so that it stops exactly on the target block. These puzzles are hard right from the start! It’s fun, though. Collide-a-Ball is nothing amazing, but it’s a quality logic puzzle game worth picking up while you can. 3DS digital exclusive.

Color ZenDeveloped by Large Animal Games and published by Cypronia in 2014. Cypronia is mostly a publisher of pretty bad games, but this one is a major exception to that! Color Zen is a pretty cool logic puzzle game. Each puzzle is a single screen made up of various colored zones, and you need to figure out what order to touch each one in so that you turn the whole screen the color of the puzzle’s border. It’s a compelling logic puzzle game with plenty of challenge and fun. I think puzzle games like this are perfect for the 3DS’s handheld, stylus-using design, and highly recommend this one. It may come from a developer who also has made some bad games, but this one’s borderline great. There are a lot of puzzles, and a good difficulty curve too, as things start easy but steadily get tougher and tougher to figure out. I love this game, the color-based visual aesthetic is cool and the gameplay is original enough to be different from other logic puzzle games while also being very well designed and executed. Also on Wii U, iOS, Android, and Playstation 4. This game is not 3DS exclusive, but I would say this is the best way to play the game and recommend it for sure. It’s really too bad that other than the younger-audiences-focused Color Zen Kids, no other sequels for this game were made. It’s great!

Conveni DreamPublished by Circle Entertainment in 2016. This game is a highly simplified convenience store management simulator. You hire staff, lay out a small Japanese convenience store, choose what goes on each set of shelves, and start selling. The problem is, calling this a simulator is almost false advertising; you barely need to do ANYTHING in this game, once you have your store set up and provided that you keep the shelves stocked as they sell out, the game basically plays itself. There are few detailed economic menus to deal with here. Pretty much all you do is watch the store run, while occasionally clicking on an empty shelf or cooler or such once everything on it sells and choosing what to put there instead, from the limited number of options available. Some item types have short expiration dates and others longer ones, so setting things which expire sooner means you’ll need to go back to that shelf sooner, but it doesn’t really matter financially because this store makes money regardless. Oh, you also do a little hiring, but there aren’t many applicants, you pretty much just hire the people you’re offered. Overall this is not a BAD game, I guess, but there is so little actual gameplay here that I can’t recommend it unless you like very easy and boring games you basically can’t lose but also can’t really beat. Seriously, there’s basically nothing to this. So long as you don’t leave the shelves empty, you cannot mess up enough that customers stop coming in. Its sequel, Restaurant Dream, is a much better, more full-fledged simulation. This one is only for timewaster-game fans. I am not one.  I find this game pretty boring.  3DS digital exclusive.

CrashmoPublished by Nintendo and developed by Intelligent Systems in 2012. Crashmo is a the second game in the four-game Pushmo/Crashmo series, a series of puzzle-platformer games starring a cartoony guy in a sumo wrestling outfit for some reason. Now, this is a series, but this game makes some big changes from the first one, so I think it is fair to cover it separately. In each game you manipulate an image, pulling or pushing or in this case crashing into parts of it to activate or de-activate different colored sections in order to try to climb to the top of the picture. Each level starts with a 2d image made of blocks. Each pixel block image is made up of various colors. Each group of identically-colored blocks is a single piece which you can move around with your silly-looking character. He may look silly, but this game is a serious challenge. Crashmo plays like a platformer, as you move the character around in three dimensions and walk, jump, and move groups of blocks, but plays like a puzzle game. The challenge is not in the platforming, it is in trying to figure out which sequence of moves will let you jump to the top of the structure.

Now, in the first game you can pull any of the color sections in and out at will, to make stairs. In this one however, each piece fully moves separately, and if you pull one off of the other blocks supporting it that piece will fall to the ground. That makes this game much trickier than the first one, you will need good puzzle solving and strategic thinking skills here. There are some other new objects here as well, including switches and more. Getting to the top may seem simple at first, but this game gets very challenging pretty quickly. It’s easy to see why this series caught on enough to see multiple entries on both 3DS and Wii U, but it is something that will frustrate when you get stuck on a level and just can’t figure out what to do. Pushmo is easier, but this one is probably better. The graphics, gameplay, controls, and puzzles are all great, and there are plenty of puzzle levels to work through. Crashmo’s a good game well worth playing, I certainly recommend it. Pick up these games while you can, Nintendo did not release them on physical media. The series contains Pushmo (3DS), Crashmo (3DS), Pushmo World (Wii U), and Stretchmo (3DS). Sadly after that fourth game Nintendo cancelled the series; they should bring it back. 3DS digital exclusive.

Crimson ShroudDeveloped by Nex Entertainment and published by Level 5 in 2012. This game is a tabletop RPG-inspired JRPG from Yasumi Matsuno and Level-5, two big names in JRPGs. It is also a 3DS exclusive that any RPG fan definitely should play. This is no standard JRPG, though; this game takes the “tabletop RPG” part of what I said earlier very seriously. This is the most tabletop RPG-inspired JRPG I’ve ever played. In this game, you play as a warrior guy, in a party of three with an archer guy and mage girl. You are exploring a crumbling ruined fortress infested with monsters, looking for treasure and monsters to fight. All characters are shown on one of the screens as literal immobile figures on bases, as if they were miniatures in a tabletop game. You are playing as the character(s) directly, though, not as people playing AS those characters in a tabletop game. The story isn’t original but is interesting and well told. The game plays on a map of the castle, drawn as if it is on paper. You can only go to certain rooms in the fortress. You don’t move around in each room, each one serves as an event spot. Some rooms will almost always have an enemy encounter, others treasure chests, others just a story cutscene. And there is a lot of story in this game, mostly either told by a narrator or by the characters talking to eachother. Going to certain rooms will unlock new rooms, or new events in other rooms. It’s a pretty good system, and the game has plenty more depth in its battle, equipment, and other gameplay systems.

However, I should get the downsides out of the way first. This is a relatively short game with only the one fortress to explore. It’s a seven hour game on average for the main story. And in that time, despite there being no random battles, you’ll spend a fair amount of time grinding fights as you go back and forth between rooms trying to figure out where to go in order to proceed, since it is not always apparent what you need to do next — sometimes going to a room unlocks the next one, but there are trickier parts. Do you need to go to a certain room a second time? Fight somewhere until you get a certain item you need to proceed? Or something else? Who knows, the game can be quite unintuitive in this respect. While that certainly fits the classic tabletop RPG style, that’s not something I enjoy. You may need to look up help at points.

At least though, those fights are decently interesting. Now, the tabletop RPG side of this has a lot of influence from Dungeons & Dragons, but the battle system here is pure JRPG. Your characters start with health in the hundreds, and each hit does dozens of hit points of damage. That’s definitely JRPG numbers. Each character can attack, guard, or use magic each turn, and also can use a skill if you want after doing an attack. Skills aren’t attacks, they do things such as refilling your magic points. You can also boost attacks with dice you will earn. Whenever you roll dice, for a boost or some other reasons, you actually throw some dice on the lower screen; it’s a really cool touch. You don’t need to roll for every attack, but still, it’s great. Anyway, some abilities are linked to the weapon you equip; each magic staff the mage girl equips changes which spells she can use, for instance. You can’t change weapons during combat, so you’ll need to choose which you want. After you win, a list of items appears. You can take some of the stuff, though you might not be able to take everything, since there is a points system; each item has a point value, and you can only take stuff up to the point amount you won in the battle. This game has no towns or shops, just this one adventure to play through, so it needed a way to get new items, and they came up with an interesting one. As far as I’ve played this game has been easy, but maybe it gets harder later.

On the whole, anyone who likes RPGs definitely should buy Crimson Shroud. Sure, you may get frustrated not knowing what to do at times, and the game is not exactly long, but the tabletop miniature and castle background graphics look fantastic, the script is well written, and the combat, while not incredibly deep or challenging, is fun. Definitely buy Crimson Shroud while you can. 3DS digital exclusive.

CRYGHT Developed and published by TOYURO, released in 2022. This game is from the same developer as a similar game on the Wii U eshop, Crystorld. This newer title is a bit better than that one, though. It’s much more playable. This game is a … very low budget … 3d platformer of sorts. I’ve seen several games like this appear on various systems in the last few years, 3d platformers surely made by one person and done with the absolute lowest budget possible. Basically, you play as a sprite-based warrior of some kind, exploring 3d worlds of flat shaded polygons. You need to reach a specific point at the opposite end of the stage, after which you move on to the next one of the games’ several hundred levels. At first it’s just you and the stage, but eventually you need to fight enemies along the way too, which won’t be easy with this camera and your melee-only sword attack. The camera is fully user-controlled and has no automation at all, so good luck with that; trying to get it so you can actually see where you’re going is often one of the worst things in games like this.

This game is playable and cheap and sure has plenty of content, but when you play a game like this you really see how hard 3d game design is. In 2d, you can get away with a very low-budget effort, and even if it’s not great it can be totally playable. But in 3d? With either a static or fully user-moved camera, extremely basic “this is a collection of solid-color or shaded blocks with no textures on them” level designs, and more, you really see how much work it takes to make a good 3d game. This game is interesting for its many deep flaws, though, and might be worth getting considering that it only costs like a dollar. I like the look of flat-shaded 3d and platformers, so I’m glad I got it. The controls and stage layouts are definitely better than Crystorld’s. Still, know what you’re in for: a very stripped-down platforming flawed experience which you’ll probably give up on after a level or two. I find this kind of game somewhat fascinating for exactly those reasons, though, and honestly am glad the 3DS has this thing in its library. This game isn’t good but it’s fun and I recommend it. Also on Xbox One and Android. Yeah, it’s a somewhat strange selection of platforms, heh.

Cube TacticsPublished by Teyon and developed by FUN UNIT in 2014. Cube Tactics is a simple strategy puzzle game. Too simple. In this game, each level takes a minute or two, no more. Levels play on a small grid of squares. Levels are often sizes like 3 by 7 or 5 by 5 cubes, with a max height of, usually, two cubes. You play by placing different terrain or building types down on the field, and for unit-producing buildings choosing the direction that the soldiers it sends out will initially go. Buildings always are placed on top of a cube, so playing a building will raise the terrain in that spot by one. You cannot remove placed buildings or build above the max cube height, so your options here are very limited. Both players, you and your AI or human opponent, actually draw from the same selection of five cubes to play, but in most stages the AI doesn’t build anything and just uses preset setups so this isn’t particularly important in single player.

And that’s all you do, your troops are entirely automated and there is no economic component to this game. Now, that could be fine, some fantastic strategy games are all about building placement! The problem is this game is just too simplistic, there’s almost nothing to it. You place buildings or environment tiles, watch the little guys go out and try to destroy the enemy’s buildings, and win (or lose) when one side’s core cube is destroyed. There are a few limits on building — there does seem to be a limit to how many buildings you can place, indicated by some meters on the lower screen, but the game does not really make it at all clear what those meters mean or how many buildings you can actually place. Also,you can only build adjacent to a cube that you started with, and can’t build on or next to terrain tiles the other side controls or placed. There is no way to take control of a terrain tile. However, if you destroy an enemy building you do take control of that tile, and can build next to it if space is available in the stage. This won’t often be necessary but is a thing you can do. If one of your buildings is lost you lose that tile for the rest of the battle though, so watch out.

The game has three modes, the puzzle-style single player campaign with the aforementioned mostly preset enemy layout, a multiplayer mode you are unlikely to find someone to play against in, and a free-play mode where you and an AI play on a blank map, creating as you go. That last one is probably the most interesting thing here, but for me it wasn’t enough. For the most part, I find this game kind of boring. It’s not awful, it’s just extremely bland and forgettable. It’s mostly easy, and the extremely short level length and extremely small maps hurt the game, one or two minute levels is too little for a strategy game! Now, the game can be fun at times, once it eventually gets a bit more challenging. You do have a limit on how many tiles you can play, and need to play your tiles in the right places to win, to make paths to the other side, place buildings in spots where they will be able to send troops to the enemy without being destroyed, but even so I can’t recommend this game. There is the core of a good idea here but there just isn’t enough going on to really be worth playing. Try it if it sounds interesting though, I guess. 3DS digital exclusive.

 

My Favorite Games In This Update

There were a lot of fantastic ones this time! Most of them sadly don’t make much use of the stereoscopic 3d this console has, apart from the usual ‘it’s a sidescroller but the foreground pops out a bit from the background’, but plenty are good games. I’m going to group them by quality here. They are unranked within each group.

These are the best games this update. Get them.

BoxBoy! (3DS Exclusive)
BoxBoxBoy! (3DS Exclusive)
Bye-Bye BoxBoy! (3DS Exclusive)
Color Zen

These are also good games. Try these if you like the genres.

Crashmo (3DS Exclusive)
Chicken Wiggle
Crimson Shroud (3DS Exclusive)
Bloodstained: Curse of the Moon
Brave Tank Hero (3DS / Wii U Exclusive)
Castle Conqueror Defender
Brave Dungeon

These are decent mid-tier titles worth a look if you like the genres.

Balloon Pop Remix (3DS Exclusive)
Blaster Master Zero
Candy, Please!
Bit Boy!! Arcade (3DS Exclusive)
Collide-A-Ball (3DS Exclusive)
Castle Conqueror EX (3DS Exclusive)
Bit Dungeon Plus (this game barely avoids the bottom category)

Not very good, but maybe worth a look anyway…

CRYGHT
Cube Tactics (3DS Exclusive)
Conveni Dream (3DS Exclusive)

And last and definitely least…

Bricks Pinball VI (3DS Exclusive)
Bubble Pop World (3DS Exclusive)
Cazzarion

 

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Game Opinion Summaries: Digital-Only Nintendo 3DS Games, Part I: Introduction, # & A

Table of Contents

Introduction
The Nintendo 3DS and New Nintendo 3DS
List of Summaries in the Series
The Summaries: #-A: Games Beginning with Numbers and A
My Favorite and Least Favorite Games In This Update

Introduction

This is the first part of what will be an ongoing series. In this first part I will have the full list of titles that will be covered, talk a bit about the system, discuss my goals with this article, and cover the first part of the list, games with names that start with a number or the letter A. I have 210 digital games for the Nintendo 3DS, so there are a lot of games to cover.   Additionally, I have 19 — yes, only 19 — digital DSiWare games that I also have on my 3DS, since you can also buy DSiWare games on the 3DS eshop.  They may have released before most of these games, but I will cover those separately.  I’ll get to those later, this list is for 3DS games.

This list was inspired by the upcoming shutdown of the 3DS and Wii U eshops, phasing in over the next year. I am trying to write SHORT opinion summaries this time, more like my early summaries than my recent ones, I have other things I want to do on this site this year other than just this. We’ll see how that goes… Heh.

Please note, these games are almost all digital-only releases on the 3DS. I buy 3DS games that have a physical release on cartridge, and I am not going to review those now. So, don’t expect coverage of most of the better-known 3DS games; I’m mostly talking about more obscure low-budget stuff in this list, since I have very few digital 3DS games with a physical release. Some cart games are must-buy games now if they have DLC, probably most notably the Fire Emblem games, but for anything else, only buy them now if you really want to play them; those carts aren’t going anywhere and will still be around after the store is shut down. These games will not, unless you mod your system. Which, after the shutdown happens, would be a reasonable thing to do.

Please note, some of these games probably have been delisted, that happens all the time. I’m covering everything I own either way.

Additionally, remember that every 3DS eshop game has a digital manual. Not all of the manuals are very helpful, but they should at least list the controls. This is very helpful and it’s quite annoying that with the Switch Nintendo dropped the manual requirement; not all games bother to tell you all of their controls in the game, and paper manuals aren’t a thing anymore. The 3DS had a better solution that this industry should have stuck with.

A final note: I put this list, as usual for my lists, in alphabetical order… except that I put series in order, and all together, regardless of each games’ name. This rarely changes things but occasionally does, as you will almost immediately see in the list.

The Nintendo 3DS and New 3DS

 

The 3DS released in 2011. As with the Nintendo DS before it, the 3DS is a clamshell-style console with two screens inside. The upper one is a 16:9 widescreen screen with impressive glasses-free stereoscopic 3d technology, while the lower screen is more 4:3 and is a touchscreen. The system has ABXY buttons and shoulder buttons, along with Start, Select, and a home menu button. The DS’s rarely-useful little microphone also returns, and this system has a tilt sensor as well for motion controls. The later, enhanced New 3DS system adds a second analog stick, via a horrible, hard to use, tiny little right analog nub, and a second pair of shoulder buttons. Fortunately, few games outside of Monster Hunter and such make heavy use of that second analog stick. A few things do make use of the New 3DS’s added controls though.

The system can save games to Micro SD card storage. Be warned though, regardless of the size of your SD card you can only install a maximum of 300 3DS games to a single micro SD card.  Games you own on physical cart do not count towards this total, but all digital games and demos do.  Thanks to installing 210 games plus a lot of demos, I hit this limit recently and had to delete a bunch of demos in order to buy any more 3DS games despite having a lot of free space on my 64GB micro SD card.  I really don’t like having to do that, it’s poor design.  This is an incredibly obnoxious limitation! I think you can get around it if you homebrew-mod your console, but not otherwise. DSiWare has an even stricter game limit of only a couple of dozen games accessible on the system’s internal memory, but at least with those the 3DS allows you to store DSiWare games on your micro SD card, and play them if you copy them back to the system. With digital 3DS games you get no such options and have to use multiple micro SD cards for more than 300 titles. It’s pretty lame. Other than that I absolutely love this system.

The 3DS ended up being Nintendo’s final line of dedicated handhelds, before they switched over to a hybrid model with the Switch. I really love the 3DS, but did not buy one when it was new. In fact, I’ve never owned an original 3DS. Instead, I waited until after its enhanced successor model, the New 3DS, was released, and bought a New 3DS XL in 2016. It’s still the only 3DS I own, so all titles here are reviews of the games as played on a New 3DS. Some games have better performance on a New 3DS than the original system since it has additional hardware power. I don’t know how big the difference is myself, though, of course; again, I’ve never had an original 3DS.

Regardless, I really love my (New) 3DS, and still play it almost every day. I particularly like this system for games that benefit from stylus-based touch controls, because I greatly dislike capacitive touch, either with a finger or a capacitive stylus, for videogames; reactive touchscreens with a plastic stylus are far, far better for gaming. You get dramatically better precision, accuracy impossible with a capacitive screen. This is why, say, the Switch Picross games are so uninteresting to me; why would I want to play those, with their button or inaccurate capacitive screen controls, when I can play the amazing 3DS Picross games?  I wouldn’t, so I don’t.  I stick to the 3DS games.

With that said, while I use my 3DS almost every day, most of that time is spent playing various puzzle games for a few minutes here and there.   This list, of course, covers far more than that.  So far, I have finished the summaries for games that start with #s or A, and those summaries are below in this update.  I have also gotten the summaries for B and C pretty far along, that update will be done next month for sure.  I haven’t started the ones after that yet though.  Hopefully I will keep this moving.

Games Covered

Update One – # & A

2 Fast 4 Gnomz
Geki Yaba Runner Deluxe
36 Fragments of Midnight
3D After Burner II [Arcade]
3D Ecco the Dolphin [Genesis]
3D Fantasy Zone [Arcade]
3D Gunstar Heroes [Genesis]
3D MahJongg
3D OutRun [Arcade]
3D Retro Dungeon Puzzle Challenge
3D Sonic the Hedgehog 2 [Genesis]
3D Space Harrier [Arcade]
3D Streets of Rage [Genesis]
3D Streets of Rage 2 [Genesis]
3D Super Hang-On [Arcade]
80’s OVERDRIVE
Adventure Bar Story
Adventure Labyrinth Story
AeternoBlade
AiRace Speed
AiRace Xeno
Alchemic Dungeons
Ambition of the Slimes
Angry Bunnies
Art of Balance TOUCH!
Azure Striker: Gunvolt
Azure Striker: Gunvolt 2

Part Two – B & C

Balloon Pop Remix
Bit Boy!! Arcade
Bit Dungeon Plus
Blaster Master Zero
Bloodstained: Curse of the Moon
BoxBoxBoy!
BoxBoy!
Brave Dungeon
Brave Tank Hero
Bubble Pop World
Bye-Bye Boxboy!
Candy, Please!
Castle Conqueror EX
Castle Conqueror: Defender
Cazzarion
Chicken Wiggle
Collide-a-Ball
Color Zen
Conveni Dream
Crashmo
Crimson Shroud
CRYGHT
Cube Tactics

Dangerous Road
Dedede’s Drum Dash Deluxe
Defend Your Crypt
Demon King Box
Digger Dan DX
Dillon’s Rolling Western
Dillon’s Rolling Western: The Last Ranger
Dr. Mario: Miracle Cure
Drancia Saga
Drone Fight
EDGE
escapeVektor
European Conqueror 3D
Excave
Excave II
Excave III
Fairune
Fairune 2
Fire Emblem Fates: Birthright (DLC version)
Fun! Fun! Minigolf Touch
Gal Galaxy Pain
Glory of Generals
Go! Go! Kokopolo 3D
Gotcha Racing
Gourmet Dream
Gunman Clive
Gunman Clive 2
Gurumin 3D
Harold’s Walk
Hazumi
Hyperlight EX
Ikachan
Infinite Golf
Iron Combat: War in the Air
Jett Rocket II
Jewel Match 3
Jewel Quest 6: The Sapphire Dragon
Jewel Quest IV: Heritage
Kami
Karous: The Beast of Re-Eden
Keep, The
Kid Tripp
Kingdom’s Item Shop
Kirby Fighters Deluxe
Kirby’s Blowout Blast
League of Heroes
Legend of Dark Witch 2, The
Legend of Dark Witch III: Wisdom and Lunacy, The
Legend of Dark Witch, The
Legend of Kusakari, The
Liberation Maiden
Lifespeed
Link-A-Pix Color
Lionel City Builder 3D: Rise of the Rails
Love Hero
Luxor
Mario and Donkey Kong; Minis on the Move
Mario vs. Donkey Kong: Tipping Stars
Mega Man IV (Game Boy Virtual Console)
Mercenaries Saga 2
Mercenaries Saga 3
Mia’s Picnic
Mighty Gunvolt
Mighty Gunvolt Burst
Mighty Switch Force
Mighty Switch Force 2
Mini Golf Resort
Mini Sports Collection
Mom Hid My Game!
Mutant Mudds Deluxe
Mutant Mudds Super Challenge
My Nintendo Picross: The Legend of Zelda – Twilight Princess
Nano Assault EX
Ninja Battle Heroes
Noah’s Cradle
Of Mice and Sand
Ohno Odyssey
Parascientific Escape: Crossing at the Farthest Horizon
Parascientific Escape: Cruise in the Distant Seas
Parascientific Escape: Gear Detective
Pazuru
Phasmophobia: Hall of Specters 3D
Phil’s Epic FIll-a-Pix Adventure
Phoenix Wright: Ace Attorney Trilogy
Apollo Justice: Ace Attorney
Phoenix Wright: Ace Attorney – Dual Destinies
Phoenix Wright: Ace Attorney – Spirit of Justice
Pic-a-Pix Color
Picross 3D Round 2
Picross e
Picross e2
Picross e3
Picross e4
Picross e5
PICROSS e6
Picross e7
Picross e8
Ping Pong Trick Shot
Ping Pong Trick Shot 2
Pirate Pop Plus
Pocket Card Jockey
Psycho Pigs
Puzzle Labyrinth
PUZZLEBOX setup
Queen TV-Game 2, The
Quell: Memento
Quell: Reflect
Quest of Dungeons
Quiet, Please!
Retro City Rampage: DX
Robot Rescue 3D
Runbow Pocket
Runny Egg
RV-7 My Drone
Samurai Defender
Samurai Sword Destiny
Sanrio characters Picross
Senran Kagura Burst
Severed
Shantae [GBC Virtual Console]
Shantae and the Pirate’s Curse
Shift DX
Siesta Fiesta
Silver Falls – 3 Down Stars
Silver Falls – Undertakers
Slime Slayer
Snow Moto Racing 3D
Space Defender – Battle Infinity
SpeedX 3D: Hyper Edition
Sssnakes
Stack ’em High
SteamWorld Dig
SteamWorld Dig 2
SteamWorld Heist
Steel Empire [Genesis remake]
Strike Force Foxx
SubaraCity
Summer Carnival ’92 RECCA [NES Virtual Console]
Super Destronaut 3D
Super Strike Beach Volleyball
Sweet Memories: Blackjack
Sword of Hope II, The (Game Boy Virtual Console)
Tappingo
Thorium Wars: Attack of the Skyfighter
Touch Battle Tank – Tag Combat
Toy Defense
Tumble Pop
Turkey, Please!
Turtle Tale
VectorRacing
Wakedas
Witch & Hero
Witch & Hero II
Witch & Hero III
Worcle Words
WordHerd
World Conqueror 3D
Zen Pinball 3D
Zombie Incident
Zombie Panic in Wonderland DX


The Summaries, # & A:

2 Fast 4 Gnomz – published by QubicGames in 2012. This game is an endless runner 2d platformer. You play as a gnome, and automatically run forward, very fast. The A button jumps, up on the dpad uses a parachute to slow your descent while in the air, and down on the pad does a charge move to break obstacles. That may sound simple enough, but it’s not, at all, as this game is HARD. Your little gnome character moves so fast that it’s almost impossible to see what’s coming at you until you die at that obstacle, maybe several times. This makes the game very heavily memorization-centric, which gets quite frustrating in a hurry. The game has decent 2d sprite graphics and level designs are fine enough, and once you have a level fully memorized going through it without messing up can be satisfying, but I don’t know if it is really worth the hassle. The game rates you with mobile game style three star ratings in two categories per level, in how many times you died — die few times to get a higher rating here — and in how many of the pickups, which are loose socks, you got. Why socks? I have no idea. The game’s trying to be funny, but it didn’t really work for me, it’s more just weird. And frustrating, thanks to the insane speed of your movement. Only get this if you’re into this kind of thing. Also released on Wii WiiWare, though obviously you can’t buy that version anymore. No big loss, endless runners aren’t that great anyway.

Geki Yaba Runner Deluxe – published by QubicGames in 2016. This game is the sequel to 2 Fast 4 Gnomz. For some reason they went with the Japanese title of the franchise here, GekiYaba Runner. I don’t know why. This game is basically an evolution of its predecessor. It has all new levels, but the exact same story and graphics as the first one. And I mean the EXACT same, it looks identical and the intro cutscene is completely unchanged. The level layouts aren’t identical, though, and most importantly, the crazy speed has been toned down — you move maybe half as fast in this game as you do in the first one. That makes this game much, much easier to play and progress through, you can actually avoid things as they come at you. The game also ditches the star ratings for a meter which fills up depending on how many of a level’s socks you collected. If you get enough to reach two marks on the meter, you get a silver or gold medal. The game doesn’t keep track of your deaths in levels either, though you’ll not be dying nearly as much this time so that’s fine. This game is okay but a bit boring. Overall the two games are probably about even in quality, as one’s too hard and the other a bit bland. Either way, my main takeaway is that I strongly prefer platformers where you can control your movement over endless runners. This kind of game doesn’t hold my interest for long. Also on Vita and Switch.

36 Fragments of Midnight – by Petite Games, 2017. This very small indie platformer won’t take you long to beat at all. The other two ‘Midnight’ games were kind of neat, but this one is much less interesting. Essentially, this game is a one-level platformer with very simple graphics, gameplay, and controls. The game randomly generates the level so it’s different each time, but it doesn’t change the game much. Once you get all 36 objects in the stage you win, game over. There’s maybe a half hour of gameplay here at most, and I saw no reason to go back just because the stage will be slightly differently laid out each time. It’s okay but probably isn’t worth getting. Also released on PC, Mac, and Linux (Steam), Playstation Vita, Playstation 4, and Nintendo Switch. The ports don’t seem to change the game much from this release, so don’t buy it on those systems either.

3D After Burner II [Arcade] – ported by M2 and published by Sega in 2015. Sega made quite a few 3D ports of classic arcade and Sega Genesis games to the 3DS, all ported by then always good retro conversion team M2. All of these games are great ports of the games in question with the same, standardized menu system. You get one savestate and there are some audio options, along with some options specific to each game. In this case, there is a level select in the menu system and you unlock the ability to start from any level you have reached, which is great.

After Burner is a super scaler rail shooter from the ’80s. You’re in a fighter jet, shooting down waves of enemy planes with your machine gun and auto-targeting missiles. One button shoots your gun, the other fires missiles once the auto-lockon indicator appears. You also can go faster or slower with the shoulder buttons. This very fast-paced game is one of the games that best shows off the 3d hardware of the 3DS, everything comes at you in a much more realistic way than on any hardware that doesn’t have stereoscopic 3d! It looks awesome. Unfortunately, After Burner is a very hard game and that is no different here. This game is extremely fast and on any format, I find it very hard to actually feel like I’m in control. Instead, it feels like I just fly forward until some random missile or such hits me and I blow up. I’m sure there are some people actually good enough to be able to tell when you’re about to be hit, but I am rarely that person. After Burner is a rush and a thrill ride, but it’s one that constantly ends in your burning wreckage littering the ground from unfair, random deaths. Thank goodness for that level select I guess. That’s After Burner, though. This is a fantastic version of a frustrating game. Port of an arcade game. There are conversions of this game on many platforms but no other releases of this version.

3D Ecco the Dolphin [Genesis] – ported by M2 and published by Sega in 2013. Ecco the Dolphin has to be one of the weirdest games ever to get a major push by a major, successful console manufacturer. This Genesis classic is well known because Sega pushed it hard despite its totally bizzare … everything, pretty much. You are a dolphin here, in a sidescrolling world. But as anyone who has played the game knows, this game is no fun little dolphin game; instead it is a brutally hard deathtrap of a game with a crazy plot. Lots of people have started this game, but few have finished it… and I must admit, I am not one of those few. Ecco’s a really cool game, and exploring the levels, using your dolphin abilities — a charge, speed-up, and echolocation ping the manual calls “singing” — to figure out your way past puzzles and enemies without running out of health or drowning, since dolphins need air to stay alive. But hte game gets so difficult so quickly that you need to be very committed to finish this title. I will someday. As for the port, it’s pretty flawless as usual for M2’s 3DS titles. This is the Genesis version of the game and not the Sega CD version, though, which means you have the pretty good chiptune soundtrack and not the exceptional CD one. Ah well. The 3d effect is fine but as with most sidescrollers is a fairly minor thing. Still, this is probably worth getting. Genesis port. Versions of this are on many platforms, but there are no other releases of this version.

3D Fantasy Zone [Arcade] – ported by M2 and published by Sega in 2015. Fantasy Zone is one of Sega’s early scrolling shooters. This game is a very bright and colorful sidescrolling shmup with a cute them and brutal difficulty originally released in arcades and on the Master System. The main differentiating feature is that unlike most games in the genre, you can fly either left or right through a looping stage, Defender-style. The game is much simpler than Defender, though; you aren’t defending anything, just shooting down bases. Endless waves of enemies attack you while you try to destroy these hovering bases. Once you destroy all of the bases you move on to the level’s boss. The bosses are challenging and shoot lots of bullets at you, good luck dodging them all. There are also a bunch of powerups you can buy in a shop, which you can spend money you get from killing the enemies on. I really, really dislike that almost all powerups are temporary and only last seconds, though, it makes the upgrade process feel mostly pointless. This is a good version of Fantasy Zone, and the 3d adds a little here, though not a lot. The issue is that I’ve just never been a huge fan of Fantasy Zone; it’s fine, but somehow I’ve always found this game bland and not fun enough to want to try to get good at. I’ve never gotten more than a couple of levels into any version of this game. It’s fine and an objectively above average game, but between the high difficulty, particularly of the bosses, and the extremely obnoxious timers on almost all weapon powerups, I’d rather just play something I like more. Port of an arcade game. There are conversions of this game on many platforms but no other releases of this version.

3D Gunstar Heroes [Genesis] – ported by M2 and published by Sega in 2015. Gunstar Heroes is one of its era’s most popular run & gun shooters. This release is that game, but with decent ‘the sprites stand out from the background’ stereoscopic 3d effects and the usual set of features all of this series of games have. Fans of the game might want to pick this up. I like Gunstar Heroes so I got this and enjoy it, but I don’t LOVE Gunstar Heroes as some do; I like its GBA sequel more, and Contra Hard Corps as well. This is a game I wanted to love but only like. Still, this game’s got a lot of content and is pretty impressive so some version of it is worth playing for sure. And if you want it with stereoscopic 3d, this is your only option. Genesis port. Versions of this are on many platforms, but there are no other releases of this version.

3D MahJongg – by Joindots in 2012. This is yet another low-budget 3DS game. It’s fun, but is it a Mahjong game? No, this isn’t real mahjong; as with most American-released “mahjong” games in recent years, it is a mahjong solitaire game, or a Shanghai clone as the concept was known in games back in the ’90s. That’s a little disappointing, but I like solitaire mahjong so that’s fine. The tiles are in a patterned layout on the screen, and you need to figure out how to match all of them. Matched pairs of identical tiles disappear, but you can only select and match tiles with a left or right side exposed, not tiles between other tiles. It’s harder than it may sound, running out of moves is easy. This version of Shanghai has a whole lot of tile layouts to match the tiles on, a campaign mode where you play all the puzzles one at a time as well as a single puzzle mode where you can play any layout you have unlocked, and several different tilesets and backgrounds to add a little variety. You play with the stylus on the lower screen, in 2d, with a static view of the play area. The upper screen shows the tiles in 3d, and you can rotate that view with the circle pad. Given that you mostly play on the lower screen, the upper one is just a gimmick. Still, with lots of content, if you like this tile-matching game, and I do, 3D Mahjongg is good fun and worth getting. And no, I don’t know why they added a second ‘g’ to the title.

3D OutRun [Arcade] – Ported by M2 and published by Sega in 2015. OutRun is one of Sega’s best and most popular games of the 1980s, and this fantastic port is maybe its best version ever! This is the original Outrun arcade game, with a 60fps option and stereoscopic 3d. At the time of this version’s release, the only versions of Outrun ever to have 60fps support were the Saturn version and this one, the original arcade game and all other ports are 30fps at best. The difference is not huge, but the game does run noticeably smoother and better in 60fps. Combine that with the awesome stereoscopic 3d, which is just fantastic in a super-scaler game like this one, and some of the most fun gameplay in classic arcade racing, and you get a highlight title for stereoscopic 3d effects. Outrun is a challenging and fun super scaler arcade racer. This is a point-to-point game where you drive along a branching road, choosing which course you want to go to at the end of each previous one if you are good enough to not run out of time. It’s a short but challenging affair. The game controls great and even though it is quite hard, you’ll be coming back again and again, learning the tracks and eventually reaching the finish line. Pick this up for sure if you don’t have it already.

3D Retro Dungeon Puzzle Challenge – released by Skunk Software in 2018. This first-person action/puzzle game could have had promise, if an actual complete game was made of it. Unfortunately, it wasn’t. So instead we got this little indie game, which is basically a series of first-person dungeon rooms. Each one has a different thing to do. Unfortunately there aren’t many of them and each is pretty short and very easy. After you’ve finished the ten or so of them, which won’t take long at all, you go to the final level, which… is really hard and frustrating. The rest of the game is maybe an hour of easy fun, but this level is very unforgiving and poorly designed. You basically need to avoid being hit at all but that isn’t very likely. Ugh. Overall, it’s moderately amusing, but don’t buy this. It has barely any content and is very highly unbalanced.

3D Sonic the Hedgehog 2 [Genesis] – ported by M2 and published by Sega in 2015. One of the best platformers of its generation, Sonic the Hedgehog 2 is very similar to its predecessor but with more of a focus on speed; most of the slow parts of Sonic 1 are gone. I’ve covered the game before in my Genesis Game Opinion Summaries list, though. What’s different about this version? Well, you can save your progress with the savestates, but otherwise, not much other than the stereoscopic 3d. The 3d does look nice, particuarly in the bonus stages, but I probably do like playing this game on a TV more than a handheld, overall. Also, Knuckles in Sonic 2 isn’t here; this is a Sonic and Tails-only affair, unfortunately. That’s too bad, I love the Knuckles lockon mode. Also playing any of the two player content, either co-op with Tails or multiplayer, will be much harder than it is on the Genesis due to the limitations of handheld hardware, if the game even has multiplayer. Other than that this is fantastic and well worth getting for the unique visual look of the 3d. Genesis port. Versions of this are on many platforms, but there are no other releases of this version.

3D Space Harrier [Arcade] – ported by M2 and published by Sega in 2013. Space Harrier is another port of a super scaler arcade game. This mid ’80s classic is one of the all-time great rail shooters and is a personal favorite of mine, this game is probably my favorite Sega rail shooter ever. It’s either Space Harrier or Panzer Dragoon, anyway. And with stereoscopic 3d, level select which unlocks levels as you reach them, and perfectly smooth gameplay, this port is one of the best ways ever to play the game! So yeah, pick this one up for sure. Blasting your way through the Fantasy Zone, shooting at the various crazy creatures, and avoiding the obstacles, is incredibly fun. The game is just about as hard as After Burner, but feels dramatically more fair — your pace is a little slower here, and the things coming at you are much more visible. This is an honest challenge, not a cheap one, and it is very rewarding to get better at as you play it more. This is a must have. Port of an arcade game. There are conversions of this game on many platforms but no other releases of this version.

3D Streets of Rage [Genesis] – ported by M2 and published by Sega in 2015. This Genesis classic is an all-time great beat ’em up. I covered it in my Genesis Game Opinion Summaries list years ago. This port is fantastic and as with all of the Genesis Sega 3D Classics games, even has Genesis 1 or Genesis 2 style audio options, which is pretty awesome. There are a lot of ways to play this game, but even though sidescrolling games in stereoscopic 3d aren’t nearly as amazing as into-the-screen games are, it’s still pretty neat and well worth playing. This game is probably my least favorite of the Streets of Rage trilogy on Genesis, but it’s still one of the better beat ’em ups of its generation. I love the complex, twisting level layouts of this trilogy, the great graphical design, and the fantastic music. Awesome stuff. This isn’t an absolute must have since the 3d is the only real differentiating feature here, but still, get it if you like the genre at all. Genesis port. Versions of this are on many platforms, but there are no other releases of this version.

3D Streets of Rage 2 [Genesis] – ported by M2 and published by Sega in 2015. Streets of Rage 2 is the best beat ’em up ever made, and this is that game, but with stereoscopic 3d. I covered this game in my Genesis list also. Streets of Rage 2 has improved gameplay, levels, graphics over the first game. I love the way that levels in this game, like Golden Axe, aren’t just a left-to-right straight paths, but have more interesting layouts. It’s an exceptional classic. Of course two player co-op won’t be as easy as on a console, but oh well. What more needs be said? Get it. Genesis port. Versions of this are on many platforms, but there are no other releases of this version.

3D Super Hang-On [Arcade] – ported by M2 and published by Sega in 2013. Super Hang-On is another of Sega’s classic super scaler games. This one is a motorcycle racing game. It’s you against the clock, you need to try to finish before running out of time. This is a somewhat special one though, because most of the time Sega re-releases the Genesis version of this game. While it has a significant amount of added content, as with most of Sega’s early scaler-style games on the system, unfortunately that version also has an absolutely terrible, eye-hurtingly bad framerate. This release, however, is based on the arcade game, not the Genesis game. So instead of eye pain, you get totally smooth 60fps stereoscopic 3d bike racing excitement! This game is extremely difficult and unforgiving, but it’s incredibly fun. This is probably the one of these games I’d played the least before getting these 3DS ports, due to how bad the Genesis version is. On 3DS however, this game is almost certainly my most played of the 3DS Sega Ages titles I’ve covered here. It’s fantastic and even if most runs end with running out of time — you’ll need to be just about perfect to finish any of the race circuits here — it’s so much fun that you’ll want to keep trying anyway. The 3d looks fantastic as well. Buy this for sure. Port of an arcade game. There are conversions of this game on many platforms but no other releases of this version.

80’s OVERDRIVE – by Insane Code, 2017. This game is a really nice looking, but very average and somewhat boring playing, scaler-style racing game. This indie game has great visuals with nice scaling sprites, but again, that gameplay? This title feels slow and dull. You might want to play this if you look at it in pictures, but once you actually do you’ll rapidly lose interest and want to play something else… such as the vastly superior Sega 3D Classics titles I just covered. I think this game really goes to show how, in recent years, it’s easier to make good graphics and sound than it is to make great gameplay. Because this game only has one of those two things. If you like a game that might bore you to sleep, maybe check this one out.

This game has some things going for it, including a lot of content with plenty of races, a somewhat lengthy campaign mode with cars to unlock and upgrade, races against opponents and not just the clock, a money system that’s mostly implemented well with cash rewards for victories and plenty of cars and upgrades and race fees to spend it on, a strong pseudo-’80s theme, great sprite art, a very good electronic music soundtrack, and more. However, it’s just not very fun to play and has a lot of design problems. On the one hand, most of the time the game is very easy and dull. Drive forward, turn as the road does, you’ll be fine 99% of the time. The controls are as average as can be. Races are point-to-point and are too long, overstaying their welcome by minutes. The game puts a lot of information on screen, but in story mode the one thing that’s missing is a timer showing how long a race is. That doesn’t hide how long these races are, though. And it gets worse; sure, the game is mostly easy, but when you hit that 1% of a course that is trickier and crash, that’s it; you cannot recover from a mistake in this game, you’ll need to pause and restart the whole race. This is a very ’80s arcade game thing to do, it’s absolutely how Super Hang-On and Outrun work, but at least those games are fun to play, even if they are tremendously frustrating as you lose over and over. This game has the frustration but without the fun. Instead, it’s ‘ugh, I crashed right near the end of the race AGAIN? I don’t want to redo like five tedious and zero-challenge minutes of boring driving AGAIN just to get to the tricky part…’ and that’s not good design. Of course your AI opponents suffer no such limitations, only you can crash.

And perhaps even worse, you will need to grind in this game. Buying upgrades and cars and such is REQUIRED for progress, you will not be able to win races without a steady rate of upgrade purchases. But you may not get enough money from just the new races, so you’ll need to go back and race the easier races to build up cash as well. And again, one mistake and you need to pause and redo the race. The good news is that restarting a race is free and can be done as many times as you want, but that’s a small consolation when the game is so grindey and dull most of the time. The sense of speed isn’t even exciting in this game until you have a lot of upgrades, and even then it never reaches Super Hang-On or Outrun’s level. You won’t need to brake almost ever except at those random hard turns that’ll kill your runs, either. But wait, I didn’t mention the time trial mode! This is your classic Outrun-style race against the clock, not other cars. That could be alright, though the slow and boring gameplay would still be an issue… except nope. You literally will not be able to finish a time trial stage or two until you have a LOT of car upgrades from story mode. You’ll run out of time. This is not a real arcade mode, it’s an unusable bonus mode that’s literally impossible unless you’ve pretty much finished story mode. How lame. Overall, probably don’t bother with this one. It’s okay but there are way too many issues to make it really worth playing, and it’s just not all that fun or rewarding. Also on PC (Steam) and Switch.

Adventure Bar Story – developed by RideOnJapan,Inc and published by Circle in 2015 (port of a 2012 phone game). This game is a very generic JRPG crossed with some elements of a cooking game, with sprite art graphics. This is a port of a mobile game and you can tell. You play as a woman who owns a bar, and go on adventures to defeat monsters to collect ingredients to use for food to sell at the bar. That may sound good and some people like this game, but I was quite underwhelmed. As you collect ingredients and recipes you’ll be able to combine them in a menu, either using recipes or guessing at them yourself, to make food. However, you get a LOT of recipes at the start and a bunch of random ingredients, but very few ingredients that actually combine into usable recipes. This gets annoying quickly as you collect lots of useless stuff while all you can make is cucumber sandwiches or something like that. Additionally, this game is VERY grindey. You aren’t constantly making progress to new areas here; instead, you’re going through the same few areas over and over, fighting a thousand of the same few enemy types in the same places again and again. That’s not game design I like, give me new places to go. And the battle system is extremely generic, too, this is a basic turn-based JRPG with random batles. I’m sure there is an audience for this game but I am definitely not it, I find this game boring and not fun. Not recommended. The game was also released on iOS, Android, and only in Japan on the PSP but I don’t know if those versions are still available.

Adventure Labyrinth Story – developed by RideOnJapan,Inc and published by Circle in 2016 (port of a 2013 phone game). This sequel to Adventure Bar Story changes things up significantly, but still is mediocre. You play a different character this time; you are a female warrior in this game, an aquaitance of the character from the first game, exploring a randomly-designed dungeon. So yeah, it’s a rogue-lite, though not one of the better ones. The core gameplay is standard for the genre, with your usual Rogue-like dungeons made up of square rooms and connecting paths. This is a turn-based game, so enemies only move after you do. Every time you attack, the game plays a little attack animation in a pop-up window showing what happened. These animations slow down an already slow-paced game significantly. Unfortunately you can’t turn them off, I wish you could. I like this game more than the first one, but it still isn’t all that fun, it’s just way too slow and basic. There are no unique gameplay features here. In the game you explore rooms, fight enemies, collect items you lose upon death, either clear the dungeon in question or eventually lose and return to the base, and have occasional story scenes with some of the characters from both games. Or don’t. This game isn’t awful or anything, but there isn’t any particular reason TO play it either. There are much better games in this genre on this platform. Also released on iOS, Android, and Playstation Vita several years before the 3DS release.

AeternoBlade – Released by Corecell Technology in 2014. This game is a 2.5d action-platformer game. You play as a female knight in a somewhat anime-inspired metroidvania-ish action game with a time-control mechanic and decent though flawed gameplay. The game has good graphical design and makes great use of the stereoscopic 3d, but it somehow just doesn’t hold my interest and never has. I think that the controls are one reason why. First, despite the polygonal graphics, control is digital, not proportional. A proportional control option might have been good. Now, your character is primarily a swordfighter. Once she starts an attack animation in this game, you are locked into it. You can extend the combo by hitting the attack button more, but can’t, for example, quickly turn around mid-attack to hit an enemy behind you; you’ll need to wait for the attack animation to finish first and make sure to not extend it. It’s kind of annoying. Hitting airborne or underground enemies is similarly irritating, you’ll watch yourself attack nothing a lot until you finally luck into lining up your attack. You slowly get more attack combo options as you kill things and spend the points you get on stats and attack combo moves, but still you’ll mostly just mash attack and watch the overlong animations. I know some people like this kind of action, but I never have.

As for the game structure, at its core this is a linear game, you are progressing through areas and going through a decent, if cliche, revenge-your-destroyed-town story. Areas are a mixture of basic platforming and combat, with some simple puzzles. Areas often have multiple branches, and you will get new items you can equip as you go, so there are Metroidvania elements in the game. Unfortunately, the map is NOT on screen at all times, you must pause to view the map. The lower screen instead has various other mostly much less useful stuff on it. That’s bad. My biggest issue here though is, I think, with the combat; it’s just dull, I don’t enjoy playing this much. The graphical design and music are good, and this game has always theoretically looked interesting, but every time I try to actually play it I want to stop almost immediately. It tries to be good, but is a janky game with issues. It’s probably average but not any better than that. The game was first released on 3DS, but is also on Playstation 4, Playstation Vita, Xbox One, Nintendo Switch, and PC (Steam). The visuals fit the 3DS better than the rest of those systems, so if you really want to play this game this is probably the best way, particularly if you like stereoscopic 3d. The game has a sequel, but the 3DS version of that one was cancelled. It looks like the sequel got even lower reviews than this first one, and reviewers didn’t like this game very much.

AiRace Speed – Released by QubicGames in 2013. AiRace was a series of four auto-flying tube racing games on the DSi and 3DS. This genre of very simple flight racing games first appeared in the ’00s, probably on cellphones, and eventually moved over to consoles as well. This is the third game in the series, and the first on 3DS. This is a quite nice looking game with some cool futuristic tunnel environments to fly through. There are a total of 22 races here, with most being three-lap races, and a few several other types. The game is not amazing, but is pretty good value for the very low price. The controls are simple — you fly with the circle pad, rotate your craft left or right with the shoulder buttons, and go a little faster or slower with two face buttons. The challenge is to not hit anything, and it will be tricky as the tunnels are full of obstacles and twists and turns. It controls well and the gameplay is a good mix of fun and frustration, as you learn each track and do better each time. There are three stars to get on each track, mobile game style, depending on how fast you finish. The game can be hard and I’d certainly understand giving up once the game starts requiring you to get silver stars or better on races; that’d require a lot of practice. And the core gameplay is very simple, you just auto-fly forward and dodge stuff. But even so, this game is decent enough to certainly be worth getting. It is only $3.50.

AiRace Xeno – Released by QubicGames in 2014. This game is the last title in the AiRace series. It’s basically the same as the previous one, but with new courses and a slightly creepier-alien-look theme to some of the visuals. I like the look of this game, it’s pretty cool. However, the game is a dollar cheaper than Speed for a reason, it’s got less content — there are only 13 races here, a big downgrade from the 22 of the last one. They try to make up for this by making the game get hard much more quickly. By only a handful of tracks in you will be required to get multiple stars on earlier courses. Good luck with that one, that’ll take quite some memorization. This game is perhaps too frustrating, but it is still a decently good game I enjoy and probably would recommend. I like a more complex game better, but this auto-driving (or in this case flying) genre’s a decent amusement here and there. Sure it’s frustrating at times, but the game plays well, there are some neat environments here, and the 3d effect is great.

Alchemic Dungeons – by Flyhigh Works and published by Circle in 2017. This game is a simple-looking 2d roguelike. This game started out as a mobile game before being ported to console, but turned out much better than most such conversions. The graphics here may be plain, but I have found this game frustratingly compelling and keep coming back to it time and time again. This is a turn-based overhead roguelike RPG which is broken up into dungeons and with simple sprite-art graphics. You play as one of four characters, each with different stats. The main differentiating feature is that there is a crafting system. You collect a lot of parts as you go, and can combine them in your inventory into other items. However, there is no guesswork here — all formulas are shown to you in the menu. I love this about the game, I don’t like having to guess when crafting things. Each dungeon is longer than the last, and you unlock more item-combination formulas in each new dungeon you reach. You also can attach some items to your equipment to add status effects to the items. These attachments are permanent for the rest of the run, so you need to choose wisely.

This game is frustrating, though. The game can be unfair when you get ambushed by an impossible situation, and as it is a roguelike when you die you have to start over. If you close the program immediately after dying you will go back one turn, but that is not always enough to save you. I wish you had more ways to upgrade your attack power, but you don’t; all you can do is very limited upgrades to your weapon type and add the fire item to your weapon. Adding fire to your weapon is the biggest upgrade you can do to your attack, since it gives you a second hit on every attack, but in the later dungeons you need more than that as you get to deeper floors, but there isn’t really anything more you can do other than use temporary boost items. This is a pretty good game, but the gradually more and more difficult combat gets frustrating later on in a dungeon. I haven’t beaten all of the dungeons in this game yet despite many attempts, with some luck you can have a really good run going until randomly something awful happens and that’s it. I know that’s the genre, but I’d like more power enhancement options in this game perhaps. And yes, this is a game you can finish, I have finished some of the dungeons. Unfortunately the game doesn’t tell you how many floors each dungeon is, that would be good information to know. Still, with a simple and fun to use item combination system and simple but addictive gameplay, Alchemic Dungeons is a good game well worth a try. This is a nice roguelike dungeon crawler to play for a short session here and there, when you don’t want to deal with one of the more seriously complex titles in this genre but do want something good. Recommended. There is now also an enhanced Switch and PC DX version of this game, but I have only played this release, but it apparently adds four more character classes to the four from this game among probably other things. This original version is also on iOS, or at least it was at one point.

Ambition of the Slimes – Developed by altairworks and published by Circle in 2016. As with some Circle titles this started out as a mobile game, but it’s a good one. This game is an isometric turn-based strategy game with very chunky-pixel sprite art. It looks decent but that’s all, you can tell it’s a low-budget game. The gimmick here is that you play as a bunch of slimes, trying to get revenge on the human adventurers who like killing them so much. This may seem hopeless, but a slime gets an amazing power at the beginning of the game: the ability to take over a human by going in their mouth. Your goal in each mission is to take over or kill all humans. It’s an amusing concept and the game is fun to play. As with most games in this genre it does get hard, though. Each slime can only take over one human per mission and cannot leave once in that person, so you can only take over as many people as you have slimes, and you can only take a few slimes into each mission, there is a limit. You usually start out badly outnumbered, and even once you take over some of the humans you’ve got your work cut out for you to take them all down without losing. The first few levels are easy enough, but it gets tough quickly. The slimes and humans both come in a bunch of different class types, each with different attacks and abilities, so there’s plenty of strategic variety here. I should say, this isn’t Fire Emblem — slimes who died in a mission come back after you win and get experience for it. Given how hard this game is you’ll be very glad for that.

This may be a low-budget game, but with a unique concept and good execution, Ambition of the Slimes is a pretty good game. Be prepared for a high challenge, though! This game gets hard early on and I’m nowhere near the end so I can only imagine how much harder it’ll get as you proceed. You do need melee range to take people over, while many of them have ranged attacks, and slimes are weak and have little health and no ability to damage humans who attack them, so after a while just managing to take over the people you want to will be tough. The story is kind of messed up since you play as monsters killing humans, but hey, humans in fantasy games spend a lot of time killing slimes, so why not let them get some revenge. I don’t know what happens to the humans who have been taken over after you win a level, the game doesn’t say, but I assume they are killed; they are entered into the ‘humans defeated’ list along with ones you killed in a level. This is a simple but good game well worth playing and the 3DS version is good. Also released on iOS, Android, Playstation Vita, PC (Steam), and Nintendo Switch.

Angry Bunnies – Released by Cypronia in 2013. From the name, you might be able to guess at what this game is. Yes, it’s an Angry Birds clone… not that Angry Birds was the first game like this either, it wasn’t, but anyway. As in that popular title, you need to shoot cute characters, in this case rabbits, at a defensive structure made of board and wall pieces and such, trying to crush all of the defenders inside. This game looks decent and controls fine. You control with the touchscreen, aiming by pulling a line farther or closer from your cannon. This game does nothing that its precessors in the genre didn’t, but at least the most important part, the physics, are implemented well and there are a lot of puzzles to break your way through. I like this concept and the 3DS is perfect for a game with stylus controls like this, so this game’s well worth a play. The developers later made Wii U and Switch Angry Bunnies games. I assume they are ports of this title, though I’d far rather play it on 3DS or Wii U than Switch due to the Switch’s capacitive touchscreen being far less precise for gaming.

Art of Balance TOUCH! – Released by Shin’en in 2012. This is a pretty good logic puzzle game with good 3d visuals and touch-based controls. You need to try to balance a bunch of blocks of various shapes in a stack without the pile falling over. The game has a good physics engine that makes balancing the blocks tricky. It’s a challenging and quite fun game. The stereoscopic 3d is quite well done as well, Shin’en as usual are great at graphics tech. This is a simple but very good puzzle game which I recommend for sure, though it will get frustrating! It may start out easy enough, but keep going and you’ll see just how hard things get. It’s the kind of challenge that keeps you coming back, though. Play this one.

Azure Striker: Gunvolt – Released by Inti Creates in 2014. Azure Striker Gunvolt was the first game in a now somewhat long-running series of anime-styled action-platformers somewhat loosely inspired by the Mega Man X games. This game is okay, but don’t get too excited; the graphics are pretty nice, but I don’t find the gameplay anywhere near as great to play as it is to look at. Some people really like these games but while I found this game okay, that’s about all. This is a slightly above average game maybe worth a look, I guess. I just wish the gameplay and level designs were as good as the flashy visuals. The somewhat bland main character guy doesn’t help either. You play as Gunvolt, an anime guy in a power-armor suit who’s doing … something involving opposing an evil organization. The plot is totally incomprehensible unless you really spend time trying to understand it, and it’s not well written either. I like plenty of anime, but this anime plot never interested me enough to get me to try to make sense out of it, it seems kind of bad. I last played this game several years ago and remembered almost nothing about what happened when I tried it again to write this.  Oh right, it’s something about trying to protect a girl.  Of course.

As for the gameplay, on the default difficulty Gunvolt is a tedious adventure indeed. But to begin, this is a sprite-art platform-action game in the Mega Man X vein, except without that series’ great gameplay. You cannot crouch and control is entirely digital, but you can wall-jump. You get many items to equip, and which ones you equip in the pause menu will change your shot type and other abilities including what kind of extra jumps you get, and more. You also get abilities from bosses in that classic Megaman style. Gunvolt has two basic attacks, a gun and a laser field thing. The gun does very weak damage and locks on to a target, while the laser field does more damage but mostly only attacks at a short range. You can hit enemies farther away if you lock on with the gun then use your field attack, and this is key to making fights not take forever because your gun is very weak. The laser field has limited power, but recharges quickly when not in use.  It’s a decent concept in theory I guess, but in execution I don’t find this design very fun.   First, on the default difficulty your health is very high, so you are at very low chance of dying. And if you do die you get resurrected with full health and infinite field power! You need to die a SECOND time to actually die. Dying twice is possible in the harder boss fights, but not otherwise. So, regular enemies are just a nuisance and the stages are somewhat inconsequential. The challenge and fun of a Megaman level is not at ALL present here. The boss fights are better, but this core lock-on-and-hold-attack system just isn’t anywhere near as interesting as something which requires more dynamic action such as, oh, Mega Man or Mega Man X. I believe there is a hard mode to make the game require much more active play, but with no quick dodge move I don’t know how fun that would be.

On the whole Gunvolt isn’t a BAD game, but it isn’t a good one either; trying to be objective, this game is average to a bit above average. I just don’t like playing it much at all.  It’s an okay but often boring game far worse than the great classics it was inspired by. I’m not interested or engaged enough to say I’d recommend it to much of anyone. Some people clearly like this series because for some reason there are four, and soon to be five, of these games now, but I’m not one. I didn’t finish this game and don’t know if I ever will. Also on Switch, Playstation 4, and PC (Steam). Some of these later ports have added features this original 3DS version doesn’t have.

Azure Striker: Gunvolt 2 – Released by Inti Creates in 2016. This game is very similar to the first one, but slightly improved. The story is every bit as convoluted and nonsensically badly written as before, except there are two playable characters now, the guy from the first game or a new guy. How about a girl character, like Megaman ZX had? Lolno, they’re only here to cheer on the guys and be plot devices. Ugh, that really annoys me about these games. Those games finally put female character in Megaman, but this sort-of-followup series went right back to having male-only playable casts. Too bad, it makes me less interested in playing them. Anyway, the two characters each have different abilities and routes. But after getting several hours into the first game and being quite underwhelmed, while I did buy Gunvolt 2 when it went on sale at some point I never got around to actually trying it until I had to for this list.

Playing some of it now, it’s similar to the first game but maybe with even MORE tediously long conversations about the game’s sexist and tediously over-complex story and two characters to play as now.  Seriously, they just won’t stop popping up text boxes!  Why did they think people would want so many long conversations in what is supposed to be an action game?  You can turn off the story, but still, the gameplay’s not much better. Gunvolt still is like the first game, so you use the gun to lock on then use your lightning attack to blast them from anywhere. So yeah he’s still not that rewarding to play as, I don’t like that core concept all that much. The other character, Copen, plays more traditionally — he does most of his damage with his gun, and has a different ability to go along with it. I may like this better than Gunvolt, but not enough so to actually make me want to play this game. I’d say the graphics and design are similar to the first one but maybe slightly better. Gameplay is similar in difficulty to the first one, so most of it is so easy that it’s barely even worth thinking about, apart from some bossfights. I have not gotten far in this game but really don’t want to have to keep playing it, these games are so boring… these games look nice on 3DS with quality sprite art and effects, but that’s about all they have going for them.  Also on Switch, Playstation 4, and PC (Steam). Some of these later ports have added features this original 3DS version doesn’t have.

 

My Favorite and Least Favorite Games In This Update

 

My favorite games this update would be some of the Sega 3D Classics titles.  Since it’s a game I haven’t played all that much before, and it is significantly enhanced by being in 3d, the game in this update I’ve played the most is probably 3D Super Hang-On.  3D Outrun and 3D Space Harrier are also must-haves.  Otherwise, obviously Sonic 2 and Streets of Rage 2 are amazing.  Of the games that aren’t retro ports, Alchemic Dungeons is my favorite here, followed by Ambition of the Slimes and Art of Balance Touch.

As for my least favorite games this update… wow, it’s hard to pick!  There are some pretty bad ones here.  If I was going by just pure personal bias, I’d say the Azure Striker Gunvolt games… those are the games here that I least want to actually play, I think.  However, they are far from the worst games I covered.  As much as I don’t like playing those games, they certainly are much better than 3D Retro Dungeon Puzzle Challenge in every possible way.  That’s probably the worst this time.  AeternoBlade, Adventure Bar Story, and 80’s Overdrive are not very good either.

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