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.

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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Kirby and the Forgotten Land (Nintendo Switch) First Impressions

This post will be relatively short for an article on this site, but it is an important one: coverage of a new game!

In Kirby and the Forgotten Land for Nintendo Switch, Kirby and a lot of characters from his planet of Pop Star have been pulled into a sky portal, to a new world filled with the ruins of a civilization that seems to have destroyed itself. Considering how modern-day the ruins appear, yeah, that checks out. But Kirby and the creatures populating the game don’t care too much about the mystery of why the civilization was destroyed, they have their own adventure to go through in this new world. Namely, Kirby is trying to rescue many Waddle Dees which have been kidnapped by a group of bestial wolf-like badguys called the Beast Pack. It’s as much of a story as a game like this needs.

The game released very recently, and yes, I got this game right after release. And so should everyone else, because the game is great! In Kirby’s first full-scale 3d platform adventure, Kirby and the Forgotten Land is a tremendously fun game that is both incredibly cute and impressively well designed. The core game control scheme and screen view is based directly on Kirby’s Blowout Blast for the 3DS, and its Planet Robobot minigame predecessor. If you play Blowout Blast and then Forgotten Land, the connections aren’t just obvious, they are glaring — both games are isometric 3d platform games with a locked camera and linear levels to beat. Kirby basically controls identically in both games as well, with the same movement, running, and flying. In both games you have limited flight and a very limited max jump height. Blowout Blast is very much worth playing for anyone who hasn’t, it’s both fun and is interesting to see the origins of Forgotten Land’s control scheme and its isometric path level style. They figured out what worked in 3d in that small, download-only score-attack game, and took it to a larger adventure here.

However, this gets into my biggest issue with Forgotten Land. While for the most part this game is fantastic, I have to start by mentioning my biggest issue with the controls: You cannot fly higher than you can jump in these games, quite unlike any 2d Kirby game, and you can only keep flying for a little while before you’ll start heading back to earth. This emphasizes moving around on the ground much more than it does flying in the air, which is kind of unfortunate; the ability to fly is one of Kirby’s key abilities, after all! This isn’t a big deal in Blowout Blast, since that title is a battle arena focused game which has only minimal platforming and very small levels, but in the full-on 3d platformer that is Forgotten Land, it is a big deal. Where in a classic 2d Kirby game you would be flying around, here you walk almost all of the time, and actually need to make jumps and such because you can’t just fly up to a platform above you! It’s pretty lame really. As a longtime Kirby game player it’s obnoxiously jarring stuff sometimes. I know this crutch is used to keep you out of areas so you have to go around and follow the path of the level and such, but still. No. This is a Kirby game, it shouldn’t be like that. I’d rather have invisible walls in the sky than this.

However, other than that, this game is so, so much fun! You can’t really tell that this is Hal’s first ever full-scale 3d platformer, because Forgotten Land is a very polished game with well made stages and challenges. As always in the series this game is mostly easy, but there is a good balance of more challenging elements mixed in, including side challenge levels with tight time limits and a lot of hidden secrets in every stage. You’ll find some of the stuff your first time through a level, but after the first level or so you’ll never find everything on your own, some things are too well hidden. I’m still in the middle of the game so far — I have beaten world three — but the added replay value of being able to go back for the rest of the stuff is appealing, and I’m sure I will go back for some of it.

On the subject of those secrets though, they take the form of Waddle-Dees. You see, for some reason, in this game Waddle Dees are now good guys, and not villains. This game is absolutely loaded with Kirby series fanservice and numerous classic Kirby enemies return, but while the game is loaded with Waddle Dees, none are villains like they used to be; now they kind of take the place of Toads and Stars in a Mario game and are NPC villagers and things to rescue in levels. Again just like in Kirby Blowout Blast, the game has multiple sub-objectives in each level. In this game, your reward for completing each one is a Waddle Dee. This time they aren’t the same objectives in every stage, though; ‘complete the level’ is a constant, with a three Waddle Dee group locked up at each stage’s end point, but beyond that each level has several hidden objectives. If you find these hidden objectives on your first play through a level that’s great, but if you don’t, the game will give you a hint about one undiscovered secret after each time you beat a level. Unfortunately you do need to COMPLETE a level to complete an objective if you go back into a stage, though — you can’t just do a side thing early in the level, get the Waddle Dee, and quit; you need to finish the level instead. That’s a little unfortunate, but oh well. Rescued Waddle Dees go back to Waddle Dee Town, and the more you rescue the more buildings you unlock in the town. It works well, good idea. Of course everything is absurdly cute too.

The basic structure of the game is that each world has five levels, the last of which is a boss fight without a full stage beforehand, and a bunch of side challenge stages with your copy abilities. There are twelve basic copy abilities, which is a decent number though not as many as some games in the past since there is no power combining like Kirby 2, 3, and 64 have. However, there is a new twist here: your abilities will change as you progress through the game and upgrade them. If you find hidden scrolls, bring them to the smith Waddle Dee in town, and pay him, you will get a new, stronger version of the power. Once powered up that version of that power replaces the old one and you can’t go back, unfortunately, but the game wants you to upgrade them and each is an evolution of the last. Some of the challenge stages require certain powered up forms of copy abilities in order to enter, so you will want to upgrade them unless you’re intentionally trying to make the game harder by not upgrading your powers. Level and world length is just about right — levels aren’t quick, but don’t drag on too long. It’s all balanced extremely well. Every element of this game feels expertly crafted.

Spicing things up ability-wise are the games’ main feature, the Mouthful abilities. A Mouthful powerup is when Kirby tries to eat an inanimate object and partially becomes it. It’s cute and slightly creepy stuff. Mouthful powerups are temporary powerups that you can only use in certain areas. You can’t take Mouthful abilities with you, you can only use them in the area you get them in. They vary from useful game abilities such as the Car Mouth powerup shown in the games’ early trailers or a water balloon mouth which allows you to spit out water to put out fire blocks and grow plants, to basic stuff like using Mouthful mode to pull the lid off of a metal container with a Waddle Dee hidden inside. Nintendo has many clever ideas in this game for Mouthful abilities and I’m looking forward to seeing more of them.

I should mention how the other currency system works as well. As you play levels, you will collect many powerups which give you money. You also get money bonuses for doing things such as completing the challenge levels quickly; this is actually often pretty hard. Each time you beat a challenge level for the first time in any amount of time you get a rare star as well. Rare stars are only used, along with a bunch of currency, to upgrade your powers, but you also can spend the regular money several other ways, including on buying health items in town and on one other thing: gatcha machines. You see, this game has little toys for Kirby to collect, of the various creatures in the game, Kirby’s various forms, and more. Some of the gatcha balls are hidden in stages for you to get, but you also can spend currency in town for random-draw gatcha machine buys. You always get some little statue each time you buy a gatcha, but it may or may not be one you have already. Of course this is only purchasable with in-game currency, not real money, but I can see some people really getting addicted to trying to get all of the little toys. They are pretty nicely modeled.

They lead to maybe the cutest thing in this entire game, too. So, from the figures collection screen, you can hit a button to view that figure closer up. When you do this the figure appears on a table, and you can zoom in on it and rotate it and such. And… there’s a giant Kirby standing there behind the table, happily smiling while he and you look at the figure! It’s the most adorable thing, I love it. It’s so so cute and nice.

That covers most of what I can talk about without getting into spoilers, which I very much want to avoid. This game may not have much of a plot beyond “explore this apocalypse world and find Waddle Dees” until the end, but that’s quite fine with me and I don’t want to spoil any of the story it does have for anyone. I also don’t want to spoil the level themes or bosses, since the many diverse stages and challenges and bosses are the main draw of this game. Seeing all of the wonderful and fun and cute and occasionally challenging things in the levels are major reasons to keep going in this fantastic game and nobody should be spoiled unless they want to be. So I will only say that every single level has great moments I have loved. After the first couple of levels I haven’t found everything in a level on my first try, either, so while the game may be mostly easy the replay value to get everything is strong if you want to do that.

Overall, so far I love Kirby and the Forgotten Land! This is a top tier Kirby game and has quickly shot high on my list of Kirby games, as it seems to be for many people. The last great Kirby game was Planet Robobot and that game is also amazing, but this one might be even better. I know I’m repeating myself here, but this game is just so incredibly fun that I can’t help it. Sure, the game is apparently only 30fps, but while playing I don’t notice or care. The game has fantastic art design and direction and stages are loaded with interesting things to look at. The difficulty is balanced well, with a fairly easy core quest but some nicely more challenging side stuff if you want to do everything. The levels are expertly crafted, with cleverly hidden secrets and a constant barrage of new and interesting ideas and scenarios. Trying to figure out the secret side objectives can be fun as well. I like the stage settings, it’s a good mix of new and classic Kirby reference themes. As someone who has been playing Kirby games since the first one, I particularly like the references to the classic 8-bit Kirby games, of which there are a great many here. Going back into a level to find more stuff is also satisfying. And all the while you’ve got a totally adorable and lovable character and game. This game is a definite must play, no question, and should be on any Game of the Year contenders list. I’ll be finishing the rest of this one for sure.

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More Super Mario Maker 2 Levels & I Finished my Super World!

Since my last article about Mario Maker 2 on the site, I have made three levels, one in December, one in January, and one just yesterday in March.  The most important of these is the one from January, for I finally finished my Super World!  To reprise, it is a Super World of eight required levels, all adapted from that game I designed on paper as a kid, Castle Siege. It took some time, but the last, eighth level of the Super World is finally done.   I put a lot of work into the level so I really hope people play it eventually, it’s worth the effort.  As for the other two levels, the first is my least interesting level.  The second, most recent stage is a better one well worth a try.

Jumps and Flight (Mario World) – I made this level in December, and it’s one of my easiest and simplest stages. That doesn’t mean it is easy, though; it’s at least Normal in challenge. It’s just quite straightforward, and without much in the way of nice environments or such. This is a short-ish stage. You just jump between small donut block platforms for the first half of the level, then navigate a fairly standard P-balloon path between spike walls in the second half.  There is a checkpoint between the halves.  The level has a clear but no likes and i get it, not sure if I’d heart this level either… I mean, it’s fine, but nothing special. Jump, then fly.

I made this because I wanted to make a level but wasn’t feeling my best so I just put something together quickly that I could clear easily.  I chose this setting because I wanted to make a Mario World level finally, so I did.  I mean, Super Mario World is my favorite 2d platformer ever, not Mario 3.  And yet the vast majority of my levels in this game are Marios 1 or 3, and this is my only Mario World level.  Honestly, one reason for that is because the simplicity of the NES games is appealing; there is no need to account for spin jumps or such in the NES games, or 3D World, which I also have made several levels in.  I might try making a level with that stuff later, but for now I haven’t.  And that is fine, I like the levels I have made.  After all, I love Mario 3’s visuals and gameplay, I just always disliked how excessively short its levels are… a problem I have certainly corrected, heh.  This level is not long though, unlike some of my others.  Play it if you want, I guess.  Code N0Y-X4C-96G.

2-4: Your Castle at Last! (Mario 3) – This level I made in January, and I spent a good week and a half or more working on the stage.  First, building this stage took a while, but then clearing it while editing many parts of the level as I made clear-check attempts took much longer.  I am glad I spent so much time on it, though, because I think I fixed all of the potential issues that would have existed had I uploaded it earlier.

This is a fairly complex level made up of three sections. This level is on the long side — my clear check time is 4:43 — but hey, it’s the last level of the Super World, it better be challenging and a memorable journey! I think that while frustrating at points, it is one of my best levels. The checkpoints are basically perfectly placed as well. Each of the three sections of the level is different –the first a platforming challenge; the second a few tricky jumps and then a battle against a lot of enemies; and the last, the final battle against Bowser, followed with the concluding section celebrating your victory. The first section is reasonably similar to my original concept, but the second is mostly new and the third a mostly traditional, though difficulty-increased, Mario 3 Bowser fight.  After that is the conclusion.  And since this level ends the game, there is a good-sized conclusion at the end to enjoy. Time-wise, that third part actually takes the longest to get through.  Bowser’s RNG can be frustrating as you wait for him to attack at the right spots to break through the floor. I think that was the right choice for a boss battle though, it works well. It’s really satisfying when you get him to beat himself! Clearing this level was pretty hard for me, but it’d be a much less frustrating task for anybody else in one key respect, you don’t need to beat the level from the beginning without dying. That was what I had the most trouble with here; once I finally did that, beating it from the checkpoints took much less time.

So what is this level? It is your final trip to rescue your besieged castle from the enemy leader at its gates. First, you cross a bridge over the poisoned lake in front of the castle. Note, this is a night forest level. That is relevant at times. In this section, you jump between bridge sections, avoiding fireballs while fighting or avoiding some enemies. There’s just one mushroom at the start, but that’s enough for this part. After the checkpoint, which is about 40 seconds into the level on average, there is one final tough jumping section, first. This jump is partially blind, but I couldn’t come up with a better way to make it happen.  I did mark with coins where to go.  You can see the area you need to drop to, it’s just on the bottom of your screen.

The jump after that is trickier, but it’s not as hard as what you face after that: a battle against enemy forces. Here, you get a frog suit, and there are several more around the area. You fight against Bowser Jr. and a bunch of troops in a mushroom forest garden, including Hammer Bros. and Magikoopas. I recommend going up to get the frog suit guarded by the two Hammer Bros. on the gate into the garden; it’s worth it to get rid of them. For this battle, you just need to kill Bowser Jr. to continue, but most of the other foes will need to go to get him. I strongly recommend staying up high and not going down into the bottom of the garden. Once you complete this, you get the second checkpoint and face Bowser. As I said, it’s a conventional Mario 3 Bowser fight, so you have to get him to break a floor. I did add a few fireballs on certain tiles to make things a little tougher, but that’s it. There are several frog suits in this area to give you additional hits, and yes, I needed them.

After you beat him, there’s one last little run back to the castle’s back door, and you win. Make sure to hit the P-switch that opens the door, then get to it! It’s on the bottom of the garden. I tried to make this clear with some notes made of coins.  Working on this part of the level actually took a lot of time.  It may have made a lot more sense, level design wise, to just have the door after Bowser connect to the castle for your victory, but the problem is that that doesn’t make sense in the stage map — the castle’s back door has to be in the garden, so you have to backtrack back to it.  So I added one-way gates and markers and such to try to help people figure out where to go, I hope it’s not confusing.  Just remember, again, to hit a P-switch and grab a star and you’ll be fine.

As anyone who plays the level hopefully will realize, during the process of making this level I decided to use frog suit powerups to represent your allied forces. They should be knights, but there is no way to represent that in Mario Maker 2, really.  I think using frog suits works reasonably well.  Touching them saves them, essentially.  They were going to defend the castle to the last. Fortunately, you saved the day, and all of them,  first.  Or you would if anyone completes the stage… sadly, maybe seven weeks later it is still uncleared.  I really hope that changes, it’s such an interesting stage! Code 7YM-8KL-0CG.

And lastly for now, over the last two days I made this level.  It’s another 3D World level, using a mechanic I haven’t really put in my other two 3D World levels before but makes for some interesting jumping challenges.

Cat Claw Clinging (3D World) – This level is a Super Mario 3D World stage all about the cat suit’s ability to hang on metal grilles and trees.  This is my first level with a clear condition, and I use the don’t touch the ground one.  When used to make levels where you have to stay on the ground, Don’t Touch the Ground is insufferably tedious… but when used the opposite way, such as here, it’s great!  For the most part this is a platformer stage about jumping between places you can grab on to that would work with or without the clear condition, but there are some points where the clear condition matters and makes the stage harder.  I think it’s a pretty well-made stage with a good challenge level.  It’s tough, but not one of my hardest levels, certainly.  It’s not easier but is a lot less challenging than my last stage.  And at a clear check time of only 53 second it’s one of my shorter levels too.  I had fun laying out the obstacles and grilles and such.  The level is mostly just ‘learn the jumps’, but one part is a bit tricky — the level is mostly another of my enemy-free stages, but one section has enemies: you have to bounce on bees through one part.  It’s a bit tricky because you have to line up the jumps just right or you  will get hit and fall.

And on that note, I decided to fully mark out where to jump from in this level with coins.  I’m inconsistent at whether to mark jumps or not; for the most part, I think that as long as a jump is visible and not something off screen, you should be able to do it without the additional help of an indicator.  Indicators on jumps are a difficulty-reducing crutch often used by Mario Maker creators that Nintendo would never use so blatantly in one of their games.  However, there are a few parts of this stage where I thought marking the jump points would be very helpful to reduce player frustration.  And once I had started, I decided to just continue on and add coins between every platform.  Why not.

Oh, this level makes frequent use of a move not listed on the controls page: if you start a cat claw dive with R, then hit the R button again while in the dive, you will cancel it and return to a normal jump.  You can’t do another dive without landing or grabbing on to something, though.   I use this feature a bunch of times for maneuvering around obstacles.  I decided to put in a hint room at the start saying to press R in a dive to cancel it, for anyone who is playing the level but doesn’t know that.  Sure, at this point maybe all of the few people playing this level already know that, but I’d rather help people out.  This level can be frustrating, but it’s the good kind of platformer frustration that, when paired with Mario’s exceptional controls and design, is so much fun to work your way through.  Code: D9L-F3K-PMG

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Atari 5200 Game Opinion Summaries Series II: Part III

There are only six games covered this time, but what this update may lack in quantity of games it makes up for with quality: several of these are among the very best games I have played on the 5200, and indeed, in my opinion, of the 1980s as a whole.

Table of Contents

Space Dungeon
Star Wars: The Arcade Game
Tempest [Cancelled Game Homebrew Release]
Wizard of Wor
Vanguard
Xari Arena [Cancelled Game Homebrew Release]

Rankings

The Summaries


Space Dungeon – 1 or 2 player alternating. Two controllers required.  Supports the Atari 5200 Controller Holder.  Developed by Taito America Corporation and published by Atari in 1983.

Space Dungeon is an innovative and brilliant game that I had not heard of before the ’00s, as with most games on this console, but everyone really SHOULD know. Space Dungeon is one of the first twinstick shooters. Indeed, this might be the very first game which uses the classic twin-stick control scheme, with one stick for aiming and one stick for moving. This game, one of few games developed by Taito’s American branch which would mostly just be a publishing arm, released in arcades in 1981. As a result, it pre-dates Williams’ much more famous Robotron 2084, the so-called (but not actual) “first twin-stick shooter”. That game became a massive arcade sensation which made twin-stick games popular, and proved to be a second major success for creator Eugene Jarvis, following Defender. It deserved the success, Robotron is an amazing game which does just about everything right.

However, that this predecessor in its genre, Space Dungeon, was forgotten and has remained a very obscure title only released in arcades, the Atari 5200, and a half-baked PSP collection port is a tragedy! Because this game is AMAZING. The original arcade game gets most of the credit of course, but this Atari 5200 port is fantastic, playing just like the arcade game except for a lower screen resolution and some slowdown. I said in my first Atari 5200 Game Opinion Summaries list that Defender was my favorite 5200 game, and it still may be because that is an exceptional port of one of the very best pre-crash games, but this game gives it a serious run for its money; honestly, it’s probably a tie between these two games. They are both A+ graded classics, hands-down. The game lacks variety once you get used to it, but other than that is one of the absolute best games of its era. And again, it is quite innovative too.

What makes this game so good, and so original? First, the controls. I am not sure what the first arcade game with twin-stick shooting was, it seems to be unclear whether it was this game or another game released in 1981, Mars from Artic Electronics, but either way, at the time this control scheme was very new and the game implements it extremely well. You move with one stick, and fire with the other. It must be said though, both movement and shooting are eight-way only, and are digital-only. So, this game does not make use of the 5200’s controller. Fortunately, the game works well on this stick and playing this game on 5200 controllers feels great; of the digital-only-control 5200 games this has some of the best controls. It probably helps that you won’t be using those mushy buttons but instead just two sticks.

Before I continue, I do need to mention that when buying this game do make sure to get the Atari 5200 Controller Holder. It is a plastic piece which you can lock two 5200 controllers into, effectively giving you one stable twin-stick joystick. If you don’t have one the game is playable, but MUCH less comfortable to play unless you make your own controller holder somehow. Getting a loose cart copy of this game is relatively cheap, but the Controller Holder costs more. It is only used by this game and Robotron, but is well worth it regardless. Comparing this game with the Controller Holder to Atari 7800 Robotron, which doesn’t have one, is a night and day difference!

Space Dungeon is, as with most games of the era, and endless score-attack game which goes until you die. Along the way you will challenge an infinite number of randomly generated mazes. Before each of the first ten levels, custom text boxes introduce the stage, and new game elements are introduced in each of the first few levels. If you get good enough to get past level ten, though, the game continues on pretty much the same from then on. Getting that far will be a significant challenge however, because this game is satisfyingly hard! Space Dungeon has a good difficulty curve, starting easy and steadily introducing new elements through those first few levels until you’re fully used to the game, at which point the real challenge begins.

In each level of Space Dungeon, your ship explores a six by six screen maze. That’s 36 screens per level. The game has a fantastic on-screen map showing both where you have explored and a lot of useful information; more on that later. The open space within each screen is always empty, but randomly placed walls and openings along the sides of each screen add some variety; no two levels will be exactly the same. In each maze, your goal is to find your way to the exit which warps you to the next stage, while getting as many points as you can along the way. There are 14 treasures scattered around each level of the dungeon, and when you touch the warp to the next stage you get bonus points for each treasure you are carrying. Random selections of enemies will try to stop you. There are eight types of enemies in the game, with several types being added in levels two and three to the base set. The enemy types have a nice variety of types, including wall lasers, a slow but hard to kill enemy that won’t be much of a threat, fast-spawning foes, and more. Some rooms have few enemies, while other rooms have many. The most enemy-heavy rooms are colored in as red on the map. If you kill enough enemies in them the levels will be cleared and go to a normal black square on the map, making them easier the next time you enter them as you explore around. It’s a mix, and due to the random generation you never know what you are going to get when you enter a room.

So, the core gameplay loop is to fly around, explore the map, get treasures if you want, and then go to the exit, while killing as enemies along the way. You never HAVE to get treasures, it is optional. I usually try to get them, though. It’s a great design with great controls and enemies that are a very well thought through balance of challenge and fun. Enemies explode in pretty cool ways too, scattering bits of themselves all over the screen every time they blow up. This really shows off the 5200’s graphical capabilities, a purely sprite-based console like the NES would have a very hard time with this most likely! It can sometimes feel unfair that the enemies can attack you from any direction while you can only fire in the eight cardinal directions, but you get used to it. Every situation is survivable with the right actions.

When you lose a life, highly interesting game mechanics come into play, reminiscent of a both a Souls-like game and a Rogue-like. You see, you don’t just respawn. Instead, you start back from the level’s starting screen. Your map exploration data for the level is carried over, including which rooms are red enemy-heavy ones and such. Unfortunately, the actual contents of rooms is not carried over, so if you die in a room with some interesting setup of enemies when you get back to that room those foes will not be there. This is one of the only flaws in this game, really, but I’m sure keeping 36 screens of stuff in memory was way too much. But anyway, when you die, you drop all treasures you were carrying. All of them are left on the screen you died on, and a map marker shows which screen you died on. So yeah, this game has corpse runs! The idea may have been seen in some game before this one, but it’s very interesting to see it here in this twinstick shooter. There is an additional wrinkle, too: one enemy type, the Thief, also collects the treasures as it goes around. The Thief’s location is marked on the map at all times. If you shoot the Thief it drops all treasures it is carrying, but a few enemies appear as well. You cannot kill the Thief for good, it’ll fly off after being shot. So, wait too long and the Thief will get your treasures and you will need to hunt down the Thief instead of your corpse marker. Helpfully, the map always tells you where the Thief is. This whole system is a really interesting mechanic which adds a lot of depth to the game.

And that is Space Dungeon. While like all classic games the simple design could get repetitive, this game mixes that repetition up with its always-changing levels and room layouts add variety. With simple but very responsive controls, good graphics with lots of stuff going on on screen as the enemies blast apart, and gameplay that is a hybrid of an arcade twin-stick shooter with some elements of a roguelike adventure game mixed in, once I bought the game in early 2021 Space Dungeon almost immediately became one of my favorites. The game is repetitive, sure, but it is incredibly engaging and fun as you explore the maps, look for treasures, fill out the maps, blow apart enemies, and then do it all again on the next stage. The difficulty is incredibly well balanced, providing a good but approachable challenge. This is my favorite game that I bought in 2021.

Space Dungeon has only ever been released in arcades, the Atari 5200, and on the PSP in the Taito Legends Power-Up collection. Sadly there has never been a release on a modern console with two sticks. There should be.

 

Star Wars: The Arcade Game – 1 player.  Has analog controls.  Developed and published by Parker Bros. based on the Atari arcade game, in 1983. Yes, this is an official port of an Atari game that was not not made by Atari. Licensing…

Atari’s first Star Wars arcade game is a vector graphics game. This game is a target-shooting game which borders on rail shooter. Think of as being basically like a light gun game with a joystick, except if you move to the edges of the screen you can move around a little to change direction or avoid obstacles, depending on the stage. The game has three different sections: a space battle against oncoming TIE Fighters, a flight over the surface of the Death Star shooting at towers trying to take you down, and finally you re-enact the famous Death Star trench run scene, albeit sometimes with obstacles added in the trench, as the game gets harder, in order to up the challenge. I don’t know if I’ve ever played the game in an arcae, but I have played home versions of it, such as this or the very good port included in Rogue Squadron 3 for the Gamecube. It’s a good, classic arcade game.

This home console version is as straight a port of the arcade game as the Atari 5200 can muster. Obviously the graphics here are sprite-based and are no match for the perfect lines of the vector arcade game, but even so this is a pretty nice looking game. Each of the three stage types are here, and they all play just like they should. The controls are very good, and are fully analog like you would hope for. Your cursor moves responsively and while it takes some practice to reliably hit targets, once you get used to it the game can be quite fun. It is repetitive, as you’ll just do those three stage types on repeat as you destroy one Death Star after another, but they do add more enemies and obstacles in the stages as you progress, so the game does change as you get farther into it. This is a simple game. In the first stage, the TIE fighter attack, you just need to survive. Shoot the shots heading towards you and shoot down what TIEs you can. That may sound easy, but the TIEs are fast and can be hard to hit, it’s tricky. In the second, which first appears in the second loop, you fly over the Death Star’s surface, shooting the tops of towers. If you get all of them you get a points bonus. They are shooting back though, this is no bonus stage. And last, you go down that trench, avoiding walls and such that may appear in later loops, before the exhaust port appears. Shoot into it to destroy the Death Star. Otherwise, you’ll repeat the trench run until you run out of lives or destroy it, after which it’s on to the next level to do the same thing again but slightly harder.

You start with nine hits before you get Game Over. It’s a generous enough amount that beating the first loop will be simple, but make no mistake, getting a high score will be plenty challenging. That’s pretty much the game, though. It just has the one mode. It’s a pretty good game with good graphics and decent audio, and is and a solid port of an arcade classic. However, this game is simple to a fault. There’s little depth here, just memorization and twitch reaction. I like games with a bit more strategy than you find here, which is probably why I prefer games like 5200 Space Invaders or Galaxians over this or Blaster. Oh, while Blaster is better than this game, both games are good. Also, Star Wars: The Arcade Game can be frustrating at times as I try to stay alive while TIEs zip by too fast to hit as I pile up damage. Also, the very limited amount of movement you can make can be an issue as well, you are mostly railed onto your path and while you can avoid some obstacles and shots by moving the cursor to the correct edge of the screen to turn slightly away from it, dodging isn’t easy. Sega’s Star Wars arcade game from a good ten years after this one also has limited movement, but you can move around a bit more in that game than you can here. It works as it is, but is occasionally annoying. And of course there is no way to reproduce that vector look on an ’80s TV. Overall, I think Star Wars: The Arcade game is good, but not great. It’s fun, but doesn’t have the variety or depth to keep me coming back long term. Still, this game can be had for a reasonable price and certainly is worth owning.

Arcade port. This version was also released on the Atari 8-bit computer, there without the analog controls of course. Other ports were released on many other platforms: Atari 2600, Apple II, BBC Micro, Commodore 64, Colecovision, Atari ST, PC, Sinclair ZX Spectrum, Amiga, Amstrad CPC, and Commodore 64. The arcade version is also included in Rogue Squadron 3 for the Gamecube.

 

Tempest [Cancelled Game Homebrew Release] – 1 player. Has analog controls.  Supports the Atari 5200 Trak-Ball controller.  Developed and almost finished by Atari in 1984, but cancelled and not released. An unfinished prototype rom leaked later on. Almost 30 years later the original programmer went back and finished the game in 2012, and AtariAge published it in 2013.

Tempest is one of Atari’s more popular classic arcade games. It was another vector monitor game, a tube shooter where you spin around the outside top of a tube shooting enemies coming up towards you from the bottom. As with a lot of games though, the 5200 version was never released, it was cancelled along with most 5200 projects in the works in 1984. Fortunately, this one had gotten far enough into development for it to be salvageable into a completed game, as I described above. The result is a pretty fantastic conversion of Tempest to the 5200. This is a great game and a standout for the 5200. However, it is impossible for me to look at this game without thinking of Tempest 2000 and its sequels. I know it is deeply unfair to this game to compare it to a game ten years newer and that was made for much more powerful hardware, but I have a lot more experience with Tempest 2000 than I do the original game, honestly, so I can’t help it. Tempest 2000 is a trancendent masterpiece and one of my favorite games ever. This game? It’s quite good, but isn’t on that level. But for the hardware this does about as much as you can. It is a clear downgrade from the arcade version of the original Tempest as well, but not much could be done about that.

As in the arcade game, in Tempest for the 5200 you control a ship which moves around the upper edge of a polygonal shape, either a wall or circle of some kind, which extends into the distance below. From the bottom of the shape, enemies emerge, moving upwards towards you. If they touch you, you die. They also will shoot at you, though your shots cancel theirs. You can’t shoot all the time though, you have a shot limit. So, you need to shoot them first, but also shoot carefully, in a fast-paced and hectic game with stuff happening all over. It’s a lot to take in, but it’s also what makes Tempest so much fun. This is a simple but very well made game with brilliant design and very strong “just one more game” qualities. All of the enemies from the arcade game are here, as are the level maps. There are quite a few unique stage layouts, and though of course the game loops endlessly once you’ve seen them all it steadily gets harder as it does so. You probably won’t see most of them without a lot of practice, though, because Tempest is tough. The gameplay and controls here are very good. You move left and right with the stick. One button fires, and the other one uses your screen-clearing bomb. You get one bomb per level. This game has full analog movement. The controls are even better with the Trak-Ball controller, too. Tempest was designed for a spinner, and the 5200 does not have one of those, though homebrew ones do exist. The Trak-Ball is the next best thing for most of us, though, and fits the game very well. Once you get used to it, moving around by spinning that ball is a whole lot of fun. You have slower and more precise control with the trackball than the joystick.

For features, there are three difficulty levels, Beginner, Normal, or Expert. In Beginner or Normal modes you can start from any odd-numbered level from 1 to 9, but in Expert you can start from levels all the way up to level 81. There are only a dozen or so different level maps, but each time they loop the background color changes, which is a nice touch. There are apparently 96 individual levels, just like the arcade game, but given the utterly insane speeds of the higher stages I’ve never gotten even close to seeing them. I mostly play this game on Normal. I presume it loops after level 96?

I should mention the major downside of 5200 Tempest, though: the graphics. While great for the 5200, these low resolution, very pixelated graphics can be a bit hard to make out sometimes. Where, exactly is that enemy in that pixelated blob? Are they on this block of the stage or the next one? And are they on top, or not? It can be quite hard to tell when you will touch an enemy and die, and when you still have room to shoot them and they are actually aren’t quite on the top. The lines of the well are a different color from the enemies, their shots are a slightly different color, you are a third color, and the game highlights which space you are on top of, but even so the graphics are low resolution and extremely pixelated, to making out details is tough. This is probably the games’ biggest drawback. Well, also I wish it had background music, but the arcade game didn’t have it either. Impressively, considering the games’ 3-d nature, Tempest runs very well, with no slowdown and minimal flicker. This is a crazy-fast game that runs pretty smoothly. Once the screen really fills up with enemies some may seem to blink a little as they move from path to path, but it’s minor. It runs amazingly well. Staying alive will be the challenge.

Even in this very low-rez form, Tempest is an impressive and somewhat creepy game; the tension as you shoot down that well at the creatures crawling up at you can get to you. This is particularly true once some reach the top and start moving around the top lip towards you. You’d better hope you have some luck or a bomb! Tempest is kind of a horror game in a way, and this is even more true in Tempest 2000. This is a tense, challenging shooter where focus is key. The game is on the line between chaotic randomness and strategic shooting; you can do okay at Tempest, and have fun, while just spinning left and right and shooting down randomly, but if you want to do well at the game thought is required. I like a game to require strategy, and this game does if you want to do well, but just randomly zooming around and shooting can also be fun, in the earlier levels at least. The game eventually gets insanely difficult, particularly if you tackle the higher levels in Expert mode. Tempest 2000 is an easier game to play long sessions of, this game is more punishing. Even so, Tempest is a fantastic classic game and this is a great port of it. Sure, the pixelated graphics take some getting used to, but you’ll get it. If you like Jeff Minter’s shooters or have a 5200 Trak-Ball controller this game is definitely a must own. Tempest for the 5200 is not my favorite Tempest game, but given how exceptional Tempest 2000 is, that isn’t much of a criticism. The game is still fantastic and holds up well today. This is a fun and addictive classic which shows what this hardware can do. This is yet another game that Atari absolutely should have released back in 1984, this is the kind of game which convinces people to buy your system!

Arcade port. This version is 5200 exclusive, but the arcade version is available in many classic compilations for modern platforms. There is also an unreleased Atari 2600 version, which is much worse, and much less finished, than this one. Atari ST, Amstrad CPC, and BBC Micro versions did release in Europe, but at the time that’s it. The arcade version is available for many modern platforms in various collections: The PS2, Dreamcast, PC/Mac (several different times each), Linux, SNES, PS1, Saturn, GBA, PSP, DS (two times), Xbox, iOS/Android, and N-Gage all saw Tempest release in collections. There is also a standalone digital Xbox 360 release.

 

Wizard of Wor – 1 or 2 player simultaneous. Developed and published by CBS Electronics under license from Midway Games in 1983.

Wizard of Wor is one of the best pre-crash arcade games developed internally at Midway. Midway’s most successful games of the era, such as Pac-Man and Ms. Pac-Man, weren’t developed by Midway itself, but Wizard of Wor was. Apart from a very short-lived attempt at making their own console, however, Midway would not start making home console versions of its game until the mid 1990s, however, so the game was licensed out for home systems. CBS Electronics made this port, from the time CBS had a short-lived videogame development division before the crash. Unfortunately the speech samples from the arcade game don’t make it to this version, but otherwise this is a very faithful conversion of a good game. The graphics are not the best that the 5200 can do, but it looks nice enough and represents the game well. Unlike the Atari 2600 version there is zero flicker in this version, which is great.

The arcade version of the game is a single-screen action/maze game where you need to kill all the enemies in each stage to move on to the next one. It’s a bit like Night Stalker on Intellivision or Berzerk, except I’d say it’s better than either of those. The games’ pacing is a good balance of fast action and strategic thinking. The play area is wider than it is high, six tiles high by eleven tiles long, and there are many walls breaking up the space. There are various maze layouts, with harder ones as you progress. The current level number and both players’ scores are always on screen, along with a little map showing where both players and all enemies are. The level name is regularly shown as well. This map is necessary despite the single screen nature of the game because some enemies can only be seen on the map. Oddly, Wizard of Wor on 5200, as with most all versions of the game, flips the players — the first player starts on the right and uses controller two. Strange. And you can’t just play as player two, the two player game is simulaneous co-op.

In the game, the two players start in the two lower corners of the maze. You start as a Worior, trying to kill the evil Wizard of Wor and his many minions. This is a pre-crash arcade game, though, so it is endless; if you are so good as to complete all the mazes, it just loops back around. In each level, from your start point you move around the maze, aiming to shoot the enemies as they appear before they can kill you. Walls stop movement and shots, of course, but there are also open areas. There also are portals on each side of the screen to move to the other side, though unlike in Pac-Man you cannot use these all of the time, sometimes they are closed. You attack with shots, and can only shoot one shot at a time. You will need good strategy as well as quick reflexes to succeed here. Enemies kill you with a touch or a shot. Your shots can stop their shots if you shoot at the right time, but dying is easy and lives scarce, you only get three to start. It’s a hard but extremely well-designed and addictive game. There are five enemy types in total, each with quite different abilities. As an aside, if you look them up, you’ll see that the enemies all have amusing names — Warluck, Burwor, and more. Some can turn invisible, watch out for those. When the Wizard himself appears, do your best to shoot him down before he flees.

The controls are simple, you move with the stick and fire with a button. This game has digital controls, so it is not ideal for this controller, but it works well enough for this initially slow-paced game. Once you get farther in, though, you’ll probably want a digital controller to do your best at this game. It’s entirely playable on the regular controller, which is, again, all I’ve got other than the Trak-Ball that is not for games like this, but it will make reaction times slower. The game starts out quite manageably, as the enemies move around slowly enough for you to easily kill them. But once you face the enemies that can turn invisible some of the time, and worst of all the Wizard of Wor himself, staying alive will be a plenty challenging task. The invisible enemies are on the map, but good luck following that map and the main game screen at the same time without dying! It can be frustrating when you try to shoot an enemy’s shot but instead you die while also killing the enemy and lose one of your very limited lives, but it’s all fair. If you shoot too late, you’re getting hit.

The game ups the tempo as you go not only with harder enemies, but also with the audio — there is music of sorts in this game, a background tone which increases in tempo as you kill more enemies and get closer to clearing the level. It really adds to the experience, and the tension. More games from this era should have music. The sound effects are all very close to the arcade as well and sound great. This game makes a lot of sounds, it adds to the fun. It is disappointing that the speech samples from the arcade game are absent here, several 5200 games do have speech, but that is one of the few issues with this otherwise great version of the game.

Additionally, as for that two player co-op mode, it’s pretty interesting. On the one hand, the game is cooperative, as your goal is to kill the same enemies in order to proceed. Of course you compete for score, but you also will kill the other player if you shoot them. And that’s not all, you get bonus points for killing the other player, and they do lose a life. So yeah, whether this is cooperative or competitive entirely depends on who is playing… heh.

Wizard of Wor is a very well designed game with good pacing, a good, simple concept, and great execution. The colors, dungeon names, Double Score Dungeons which boost your points, the tension of trying to get the Wizard before he gets away, this is a great game! Really, the games’ only issues are that the simple concept may get repetitive after a while and that the controls are digital and not analog. The slower reaction time of digital controls on an analog stick will make it harder to stay alive as the game gets harder, unless you have a digital stick for your 5200. After dying a couple of levels in over and over, rarely getting farther, this game can start to feel old, even with how good it is. After a while you may want to play something else, but you’ll be back. Regardless of that, Wizard of Wor is good to great. This game makes a fantastic first impression, and while dying again and again early on can be frustrating, the game is more than good enough to be worth going back to and improving at, trying to beat your best score each time. This is a great version of an under-appreciated arcade classic and I absolutely recommend it, Wizard of Wor is great!

Arcade port. This version is also on the Atari 8-bit computers. Other ports were released on the Atari 2600, Commodore 64, and, under the name The Incredible Wizard, on Midway’s own short-lived console, the Bally Astrocade, though Midway didn’t make the port themself, they abandoned the system after just a few years. The 2600 version has very bad flicker, making it much harder to play than the other versions. Emulated releases of the arcade game are also in several modern collections, including the Midway Arcade Treasures 2 collection for PS2, Xbox, and Gamecube, the Midway Extended Play collection for PSP, and the Midway Arcade Origins collection for Xbox 360 and PS3. The 360 version is Xbox One/Series backwards compatible.

 

Vanguard – 1 or 2 player alternating. Developed by Atari under license from SNK, in 1982.

Vanguard is a port of the SNK arcade game of the same name. Atari bought the rights to this somewhat successful game, and ported it to their systems of the time. This 5200 version is very similar to the Atari 2600 version, just with better graphics and more content, as you would expect. Vanguard is a very early shmup, and is one of the first scrolling shooters of note. It’s a decently good game with simple gameplay and some oddities. Yes, in some ways this games’ early release date shows. Each level in Vanguard is made up of sections, each a short stage of their own. There are six different types of sections you will see, some which scroll left to right, one diagonally, and some vertically. Different levels will arrange the sections in different ways, so the game isn’t the same every time. The game only has one kind of powerup, and it makes you invincible. In some stages these powerups show up regularly, and are one of the games’ defining features. While invulnerable the music changes, which is neat. You can’t shoot while invincible, either. You can fly right through the walls and stuff though, which is fun. The graphics are somewhat simple but are good enough, and it’s nice that the game has at least some music, too many games on this system don’t have any even though the hardware is perfectly capable of it.

On the note of shooting, when you can shoot, you shoot in all four directions at the same time in this game. And you’ll need it, with how enemies come at you from all sides as you tackle the different stage types the game throws at you. The game lacks depth; this is a very simple game, you just fly and shoot or, while invincible, just fly. You’ll die often but there isn’t much to the game. This game, unfortunately, isn’t so much about memorizing interesting enemy patterns as it is reacting to what the game throws at you and trying to not die. The variety of stage types is nice, but there are only a few enemy types in each stage. Also, the controls have not been at all adjusted for the 5200’s analog controller, so control is entirely digital and you have just the one fire button. The game is slow-paced and does not run fast, either. This game gets old quickly as you wait around for things to happen. For instance, the invincibility powerup is cool the first time you grab one and at times can save you, but given how totally invulnerable you are, getting one is basically ‘you don’t need to play for the next while’ material, which is not great. And on top of that, the analog stick delays your inputs somewhat in a way they could have adjusted for, but didn’t. River Raid for example did adjust the controls to make them analog, and as a result that game feels a lot better to play on the 5200 than Vanguard does. River Raid is honestly more fun than Vanguard, too.

Overall, Vanguard is okay to good. The game is above average, but barely. It may be worth trying considering its importance and low price, though. Still, with slow and flawed gameplay with little enemy variety, Vanguard hasn’t aged as well as the best of the static-screen shooters of its era. I do find this game somewhat fun, but once you’re used to the various stage types Vanguard gets old fast and it doesn’t really keep me coming back. The game is a decent challenge, looks okay, and I like the variety of stage types, but with very slow and simple gameplay and sometimes frustrating controls, it is around average overall.

Arcade port. This version was also released on Atari 8-bit computers. A similar but downgraded version is on the Atari 2600. The arcade version has modern platform digital re-releases, including a standalone release on PSP in the PS Minis line and in the SNK 40th Anniversary Collection for PS4, Switch, and Xbox One.



Xari Arena [Cancelled Game Homebrew Release] – 1 or 2 player simultaneous. Has analog controls.  Supports the Atari 5200 Trak-Ball controller.  Developed by Atari in 1983-1984, but not released until AtariAge published it in recent years.

Xari Arena is a cancelled game that was in development in 1984 when Atari pulled the plug on the console far before its time. It’s sort of two player cooperative, and kind of competitive, Breakout, but with some weird, unique twists. It’s got fantastic graphics and audio, too. Unfortunately, while the game was complete, Warner Bros., Atari’s owners at the time, chose to never release it… not until fans got ahold of it much later and released it themselves, that is. The game seems to get a mixed reception among the fans who have played it, either in emulation, on a flashcart, or as I have it in AtariAge’s semi-official boxed release. Some people love this game, while others find it not very good at all. Once I explain how it plays, I think it makes sense why it’s divisive.

But what do I think? I absolutely love this game! With some of the best graphics, audio, and controls on the system and outstanding gameplay, Xari Arena is an all-time classic. While not quite as amazing as Defender or Space Dungeon are on the 5200, this is still an A-grade classic deserving of some of the highest praise you can give. Xari Arena is a truly exceptional game that gives Warlords and Arkanoid a serious run for their money as the best Breakout-style games ever made. It’s a tragedy that Atari cancelled this game, because with releases like this one and Tempest the 5200 might have gotten more of a following than it had. One of the 5200’s biggest problems, after all, is that it didn’t have a large enough exclusive library, as most of what Warner’s Atari published for the system during the maybe 15 months they released games for the 5200 were games that were either enhanced Atari 2600 games, or didn’t push the hardware all that much. This game is not like that, at all. This game was designed for the 5200, has exceptional analog controls that are great with a 5200 controller and are even better with the Trak-Ball, and, again, looks and sounds fantastic. Take the time to learn Xari Arena and hopefully you will love it.

The game does take some time to learn, though. So, this is a one or two player game, for any mixture of two human and computer players. The standard game is for two players, you against a human or AI opponent, though you can play with nobody on the other side of the screen if you wish. Yes, you can set either player to AI. Player one is on the left side of the screen, and player two the right. On each side, there is a wall of bricks. You lose if your entire wall is destroyed. You control a paddle that the game calls an energy cell. Again, you can freely move around your half of the screen, but cannot move into the opponent’s side. In addition to the two paddles, two kinds of objects move around the screen, spiral-shaped fireballs which will destroy the bricks in the two walls if they hit them but you can bounce with your paddle, and round target enemies called Xaris. Xaris stay around the middle part of the screen, but fireballs will go anywhere. When all Xaris in a level are destroyed, both players move on to the next level. A warp and counter in the center of the screen keeps track of how many of them are left. The game has 32 levels until it ends, so unlike most games of its era this game is not endless, you can win. Beating the game will be quite a challenge though, the difficulty level steadily increases as it goes along.

The thing is, though, when you touch one of the Xaris you take damage unless you have touched a fireball. If you touch a Xari without any fireball power in your paddle, your paddle will have an ‘exploding’ animation for three seconds and won’t bounce back anything, ball coming at your wall or target Xari. You do not want this to happen! So, you first need to absorb fireballs, which Xaris periodicly shoot out. You can choose to absorb or bounce back fireballs with your controller, but will need to absorb some in order to survive contact with a Xari. Each time you touch a fireball you absorb it and a hit is added to your paddle, up to a maximum of four. Once you are filled up, balls you hit with the paddle will always bounce back towards the other side of the field. Also, if you touch a Xari, it will drop the paddle level by one, so you can use up your paddle’s power to start clearing enemies once you have absorbed some balls. Alternately, you can try to hit the target enemies with fireballs you bounce back at them, as this will also destroy them if you make direct contact. Xaris are small so hitting them this way can be tricky, but it will happen. As a level goes on things will get more and more frenetic. With two dozen Xaris moving around and a whole bunch of fireballs all over, franticly trying to keep them from destroying your wall while also destroying the Xaris and bouncing back as many fireballs as possible is a significant challenge. It is also an incredibly fun one, though.

For controls, you move around with the stick or trackball, reflect fireballs with the lower button if you are not carrying a full load of four but still want to bounce a ball back instead of absorbing it, and use a fire extinguisher shield with the upper button. Fire extinguishers shield your wall of bricks from damage for a moment and destroy all fireballs in or near your wall. You can only use your fire extinguisher a limited number of times, and the number is shown on screen. You get one more per level completed, and choosing when to strategicly protect your wall with them is key to the games’ strategy. This game starts out easy enough, but as you get farther in things get faster and faster and crazier and crazier. The screen can have like 25 targets and a dozen balls or more bouncing around, and trying to keep track of everything is quite a task! The player who destroys each Xari gets points for it. For the scoring, after each level, each player gets bonus points depending on how many blocks are left on their wall. There are also point bonuses. So, while both players may always be on the same level, the scores will show how well each one is doing. The two players may both be working towards the same goal of defeating all of the Xaris, but you still compete for score. Every few levels there is a little on-screen animation showing Xaris flying around, like the interrupt screens in Pac-Man. It’s pretty cool stuff. Of course, there is one final one after you beat the game at level 32, if you can get that far. Interestingly, if one player dies, the other will keep going. The computer will continue by themselves if you die first.

The graphics in Xari Arena remind me, more than anything, of a Williams arcade game like Robotron. In terms of visual design the Atari game designer working on this game clearly was heavily influenced by Robotron, for the better, and it shows here. From the paddles to the fireballs and Xaris to the font choices for the games’ text, despite solid black backgrounds, Xari Arena has extremely bright and colorful graphics with a very strong graphical style that is both very of its time and also is timelessly beautiful looking. There’s barely any slowdown at all, either; this game runs fast and smooth. The fire extinguisher sets off a wall of light along your side that looks really cool, too. The visual look of this game stands out from most other games on this console, it looks amazing and barely looks like an Atari game at all! If this console can do this, with this many things moving around on screen all the time and with this much flash, it’s a real shame that games which pushed it were, for the most part, not released. As for audio, Xari Arena has both music and sound effects, so this is another point in its favor. The music is only decently good and not the best ever, but still, it’s a solid track which fits the gameplay well and is very catchy and memorable. The sound effects are very well chosen and each one fits its use perfectly. This game has some of the best graphical and audio presentation on the Atari 5200, with games like this released the system could have been a hit.

Overall, Xari Arena is a masterpiece. This game may be a bit complicated to explain, but spend a few minutes getting used to it and its genius quickly becomes apparent. The fantastic graphics and sound help, the system needed more of this and less barely enhanced 2600 ports, but the gameplay is the real star here. Xari Arena is a fast and frantic game with depth and absolutely brilliant design top to bottom. I still can’t believe this was cancelled in this fully complete state! Warner Bros. really mismanaged the 5200 exceptionally badly, and their choice to not release this gem should be on the list of their mistakes. If you have a Trak-Ball controller for the 5200 this game is an absolute definite must have, buy a copy today. This is a perfect game for that controller. If you don’t have a Trak-Ball, the game also plays quite well with the regular controller, though if you love games like this a Trak-Ball is a great investment. The Trak-Ball works extremely well and makes this amazing game even better.

Buy Xari Arena today, there aren’t many better games out there. This game was originally developed for the Atari 5200. A homebrew port for Atari 8-bit computers exists, but I can’t imagine the game playing anywhere near as well on digital controllers. It also was included in Atari Flashback Classics: Volume 3 for PS4, Xbox One, Switch, and the modern Atari VCS computer.

Rankings
——–

The games this time are all quite good.

Space Dungeon > Xari Arena > Tempest > Wizard of Wor > Star Wars: The Arcade Game > Vanguard

Compared to the games from the previous two parts of this update, Space Dungeon and Xari Arena are the overall top two games in the batch. Tempest is fourth, only behind The Dreadnaught Factor. And the other three are good games in the mix with the system’s higher-quality titles, with Wizard of Wor a good bit ahead of the last two.

Overall Atari 5200 Top Ten

1. Defender
2. Space Dungeon
3. Xari Arena
4. Centipede
5. Galaxian
6. The Dreadnaught Factor
7. Tempest
8. Castle Crisis
9. RealSports Baseball
10. Moon Patrol

Top Honorable Mentions: Super Cobra, Magical Fairy Force, Pitfall II: The Lost Caverns, Pole Position, Missile Command, Wizard of Wor

Defender and Space Dungeon are A+ classics that are among the best games of the 1980s. Xari Arena, Centipede, and Galaxian are A grade hits deserving of high praise. And the other five are A- tier titles I like a lot. The Atari 5200 is a fantastic console that deserves a much better reputation than it gets.

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