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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A list of Western-Developed, Sega-Published Games for the Genesis, Sega CD, and 32X

I probably have written something similar to this before, but not in this format.  Here is a quick list I just made of what should be all Western-developed games Sega published for the Genesis, Sega CD, and 32X.  As you look down the list you will notice some classics and some forgettable games.  Games like sports games are important, they are some of the best-selling titles and sports games for Western markets were a critical part of the Genesis’s success.  Please note that I do say when games didn’t release in North America, but not necessarily when they didn’t release in Europe or Brazil; sorry about that.  This list shows the depth of the Genesis’s Western support.  It is one of the best consoles and has an outstanding game library.  I do not agree with people who dismiss the Genesis’s Western library.  Many of the best Genesis games may be Japanese, but American developers contributed many of the best-selling, and some of the best, games on the system as well.

I decided, for this list, to list games by their developer.  Sega’s few first party developers go first, followed by their third party studios.  Sega contracted a lot of third-party studios to make Genesis games, though a few, most notably Novotrade/Appaloosa and Blue Sky Software, released the most titles by far.  I think grouping it by developer is an interesting way to look at this information.  Each developer appears in the list at the point they made their first game published by Sega, so developer relationships go forward in time as you go down the list, though time bounces around depending on how long developers worked with Sega for.

Unfortunately for Sega, both the first and third party relationships listed in this list almost all broke down during the Saturn generation.  Sega mismanaged things badly after the boom years of the early ’90s.  But we all know that, so how about we focus on something Sega succeeded at instead, and that was making a lot of Genesis games for its largest market, the US?  I know that some people like to hate on Western Genesis games, but it’s not deserved; certainly there are many sports games and mediocre licensed games on the list, but there are also great classics like Vectorman, Comix Zone, and The Adventures of Batman & Robin.  And some of the licensed games are well worth playing as well; it’s a mixture for su1re.  Fantasia is awful, for instance, but Marsupilami is a somewhat unique and fun game.

And lastly, again, sports games are important!  They sell very well and are a key part of any successful console’s library.  People want to play them, and a more successful platform with the general audience usually has more sports games on it.  Sega’s many Western-made baseball and football games, and the smaller number of hockey and basketball games, are important and a key part of the system’s success in North America.   Sega published nine football games on the Genesis, all American-made; six baseball games, four American-made; and one hockey game and two basketball games, all made in the US.  I’m not a big fan of any of these games, my Genesis sports game loves are for the NBA Jam, Hardball, and EA’s NHL games, but they are mostly quality games and deserve to be remembered as such.

After the list, I did a quick list of my rankings for the licensed platformers.  I only covered those because Aladdin aside, they are often more overlooked than original titles like Kid Chameleon or Vectorman.

Note: Games are Genesis-exclusive unless noted.  A few titles do have modern digital re-releases, I am not counting those here.  None of the sports or licensed games have modern re-releases except for Aladdin, though.

Sega Genesis

FIRST PARTY
——————

Sega Technical Institute

1992 – Kid Chameleon
(1992 – assistance with development of Sonic the Hedgehog 2)
1993 – Sonic the Hedgehog Spinball
(1994 – assistance with development of Sonic the Hedgehog 3)
1995 – The Ooze
1995 – Comix Zone

Sega Interactive (previously Interactive Designs)

1993 – Tom Mason’s Dinosaurs for Hire
1993 – Eternal Champions
1994 – Disney’s Bonkers
1995 – Garfield: Caught in the Act

Sega Midwest Development Division

1994 – World Heroes (port of the SNK arcade game)
1995 – NHL All-Star Hockey ’95

THIRD PARTY (or first/third party collaborations)
——————-

Electronic Arts

1990 – Joe Montana Football

Western Technologies, Inc.

1991 – Art Alive
1992 – Menacer 6-Game Cartridge
1993 – X-Men

Recreational Brainware / Sega of America

1991 – Spider-Man vs. The Kingpin (first released here; game later was ported to other platforms)
1992 – Taz-Mania

Realtime Games

1991 – M-1 Abrams Battle Tank

Infogrames

1991 – Fantasia
1992 – Toxic Crusaders

Novotrade (to 1995) / Appaloosa (1996-later)

1991 – California Games (port of a multiplatform game)
1993 – Cyborg Justice
1993 – Ecco the Dolphin (first released here; game later was ported to other platforms)
1994 – Ecco: The Tides of Time (first released here; game later was ported to other platforms)
1994 – Richard Scarry’s Busytown
1995 – Ecco Jr.
1995 – Scholastic’s The Magic School Bus: Space Exploration Game
1997 – The Lost World: Jurassic Park

Ringler Studios

1991 – Mario Lemieux Hockey

Blue Sky Software

1991 – Joe Montana II: Sports Talk Football
1992 – NFL Sports Talk Football ’93 Starring Joe Montana
1992 – Disney’s Ariel: The Little Mermaid
1993 – NFL Football ’94 Starring Joe Montana
1993 – Jurassic Park
1993 – The Ren & Stimpy Show Presents: Stimpy’s Invention
1994 – College Football’s National Championship
1994 – World Series Baseball
1994 – Shadowrun
1994 – Desert Demolition starring Road Runner and Wile E. Coyote
1994 – Jurassic Park: Rampage Edition
1995 – College Football’s National Championship II
1995 – World Series Baseball ’95
1995 – Vectorman
1996 – World Series Baseball ’96
1996 – Vectorman 2
1997 – World Series Baseball ’98

ToeJam & Earl Productions

1992 – ToeJam & Earl
1993 – ToeJam & Earl II: Panic on Funkotron

ACME Interactive

1992 – David Robinson’s Supreme Court
1992 – Evander ‘Real Deal’ Holyfield’s Boxing

Extended Play Productions

1992 – Chakan: The Forever Man

Westwood Associates

1992 – Warriors of the Eternal Sun

Interactive Designs (afterwards this developer was purchased by Sega and became Sega Interactive)

1992 – Disney’s TaleSpin
1992 – Greendog: The Beached Surfer Dude!
1993 – Home Alone 2

Malibu Games

1992 – Batman Returns
1992 – Ex-Mutants
1994 – Greatest Heavyweights
1994 – NBA Action ’94

Brian A. Rice, Inc.

1992 – Home Alone

Virgin Interactive

1993 – Disney’s Aladdin (first released here; game later was ported to other platforms)

NovaLogic

1993 – Captain Planet and the Planeteers (PAL and Brazil-only release)

Rare

1993 – Snake Rattle ‘n Roll (PAL-only release) (port of the NES game)

Rage Software

1993 – Ultimate Soccer (PAL-only release)
1994 – Striker (PAL-only release)

Graftgold

1993 – The Ottifants (PAL-only release)

Core Design

1994 – Asterix and the Great Rescue
1995 – Asterix and the Power of the Gods (PAL-only release)

Realtime Associates

1993 – Barney’s Hide and Seek
1993 – Berenstain Bears: Camping Adventure

Zyrinx

1993 – Sub-Terrania
1994 – Red Zone

Double Diamond Sports

1994 – NFL ’95
1995 – NBA Action ’95 starring David Robinson

HeadGames

1994 – Taz in Escape from Mars
1994 – Wacky Worlds Creativity Studio
1995 – X-Men 2: Clone Wars

Sensible Software

1994 – World Championship Soccer II

Waterman Design

1994 – Instruments of Chaos starring Young Indiana Jones (North America-only release, and probably the worst game on this list)

Artech Studios

1994 – Crystal’s Pony Tale

Probe

1994 – Bodycount (PAL-only release) (light gun game)
1994 – Daffy Duck in Hollywood (PAL-only release)

MicroProse

1994 – Star Trek: The Next Generation: Echoes from the Past (multiplatform game – also on SNES from a different publisher)

Apache Software Limited

1995 – Marsupilami

Farsight Technologies

1995 – Prime Time NFL starring Deion Sanders
1997 – NFL ’98

Clockwork Tortoise (founded by former Malibu Games staff)

1995 – The Adventures of Batman & Robin

Syrox Developments

1995 – VR Troopers

Eurocom

1995 – Donald in Maui Mallard (PAL-only release) (first released here, but a year later a SNES port was released.  The SNES version did get a US release.)

Cryo Interactive

1995 – Cheese Cat-Astrophe starring Speedy Gonzales (PAL-only release)

Gremlin Interactive

1995 – Premier Manager (PAL-only release) (multiplatform game based on a popular computer game franchise in the UK)
1996 – Premier Manager 97 (PAL-only release) (as above)

TecToy

1995 – Ferias Fustradas do Pica Pau (Brazil-only release)
1997 – Duke Nukem 3D (Brazil-only release) (based on the PC FPS game franchise, but this title is original)
2001 – Show do Milhao (Brazil-only release)
2002 – Show do Milhao Volume 2 (Brazil-only release)

Atod

1996 – Bugs Bunny in Double Trouble (also on Game Gear)

Traveller’s Tales

1996 – Sonic 3D Blast (first developed here, but would also be released on other platforms later)

Abalone

1996 – X-Perts

Al Baker & Associates

1996 – Arcade Classics (classic collection of three Atari classics — Pong, Centipede, and Missile Command)

 

32X

FIRST PARTY

Sega InterActive

1994 – Star Wars Arcade (port of a Sega of Japan arcade game)

THIRD PARTY (or first/third party collaboration)

id Software / Sega of America

1994 – Doom (port of the PC game, based on Jaguar version)

Flashpoint Productions

1994 – Golf Magazine: 36 Great Holes Starring Fred Couples

Artech Studios

1994 – Motocross Championship

Blue Sky Software

1995 – World Series Baseball starring Deion Sanders (different from the Genesis games)
1996 – The Amazing Spider-Man: Web of Fire

Novotrade

1995 – Kolibri

Probe Software

1995 – Primal Rage (port of the Atari Games arcade game, on many platforms)

Paradox Development / Blizzard Interactive

1995 – Blackthorne (port of a SNES/PC game, with new 32X-exclusive prerendered graphics)

Frontier Developments

1995 – Darxide (PAL-only release)

 

Sega CD

FIRST PARTY

Sega Multimedia Studios

1993 – Jurassic Park (different from the cart game)
1995 – Wild Woody

Sega Interactive

1995 – Eternal Champions: Challenge from the Dark Side

THIRD PARTY (or first/third party collaborations)

Digital Pictures

1992 – Night Trap (first released here, but would be ported to many formats)
1992 – INXS: Make My Video
1992 – Marky Mark and the Funky Bunch: Make My Video
1993 – Double Switch (first released here, but would be ported to other platforms)
1994 – Prize Fighter

ICOM Simulations

1992 – Sherlock Holmes: Consulting Detective (port of a multiplatform game)
1993 – Sherlock Holmes: Consulting Detective Volume II (port of a multiplatform game)
1993 – Dracula Unleashed

Malibu Games

1993 – Batman Returns (Genesis port with significant added content)
1993 – Joe Montana’s NFL Football (different from the genesis games)

Novotrade

1993 – Ecco the Dolphin (Genesis port with added content)
1994 – Ecco: The Tides of Time (Genesis port with added content)

Monkey Business

1993 – The Amazing Spider-Man vs. The Kingpin (enhanced port/remake of the Genesis game)

The Code Monkeys (programming) / Sega of America

1993 – Surgical Strike (first released here, would later get a 32X CD port)
1994 – Tomcat Alley (first released here, would later get a PC port)
1995 – Wirehead (a 32X CD version of this was in development but was cancelled.)

Park Place Productions

1993 – NFL’s Greatest: San Francisco Vs. Dallas 1978-1993

Core Design

1993 – Wonder Dog

Hammond & Leyland

1993 – Racing Aces

Delphine Software

1994 – Flashback: The Quest for Identity (port of a multiplatform title)

Stargate Productions / Sega of America

1994 – Midnight Raiders

Dynamix

1994 – Bouncers

The Learning Company

1994 – Compton’s Interactive Encyclopedia (port of a multitplatform title)

Infogrames / Sega of America

1995 – Fahrenheit (came with the Sega CD and 32X CD versions in one case)

Orion Technologies / Sega of America

1995 – Mighty Morphin Power Rangers (an FMV game, different from the cart game)

Clockwork Tortoise

1995 – The Adventures of Batman & Robin (different from the cart game)

(Note: Prince of Persia, Eye of the Beholder, and SimEarth on Sega CD are Japanese-developed, Sega-published ports of games originally made in America for other formats. I am not including them here because the SCD versions aren’t Western-made.)

 

32X CD
(note: all 32X CD games are enhanced ports of Sega CD games.)

THIRD PARTY (or first/third party collaborations)

The Code Monkeys / Sega of America (filming)

1995 – Surgical Strike (Brazil-only release at the time)

Infogrames / Sega of America (filming)

1995 – Fahrenheit

Opinion: Ranking of the Licensed Platformers (and non-FMV action games)

When compared to Nintendo’s SNES library, it is incontrovertible that Sega released far more games and was much more willing to release mediocre games than Nintendo was.  Sega also relied somewhat heavily on licensed games.  However, most of those licensed games are actually at least decent, and some are great.  Here’s my quick ranking of the licensed platform, action, and RPG games in the list above.  Note: I’m not counting FMV games here.

Bad – These games are the worst of the bunch.  Taz-Mania, Fantasia, Instruments of Chaos starring Young Indiana Jones.  I’d pick Young Indy as being worst.  Fantasia may be the most popular pick, but Young Indy is just so stunningly unfinished!

Okay –  These overall average games may be fun. Jurassic Park (Genesis), Jurassic Park: Rampage Edition, Batman Returns, Bugs Bunny in Double Trouble, Bonkers, X-Men, Spiderman vs the kingpin (yes I know a lot of people love this game. I don’t.), Little Mermaid, Chakan, TaleSpin, Asterix and the Great Rescue, VR Troopers

Good – These are good games well worth a look.  Marsupilami, Taz-Mania: Escape from Mars, Desert Demolition, Jurassic Park (Sega CD), Dinosaurs for Hire, Garfield: Caught in the Act, X-Men 2: Clone Wars, The Lost World: Jurassic Park, Shadowrun

Great – These all-time classics are some of the system’s best games.  The Adventures of Batman & Robin (Genesis), Aladdin, The Adventures of Batman & Robin (Sega CD)

I haven’t played any of the educational kids’ games ones so not rating those. I also haven’t played either Home Alone game though I imagine they’d go in “okay” at best. Also I haven’t played the PAL or Brazil-exclusive ones much if at all. I don’t have power rangers sega cd either but I’m sure I’d hate it.

Posted in 32X, Classic Games, Genesis, Lists, Sega CD | Tagged , , , , | 1 Comment

2021 Game of the Year

This 2021 Game of the Year article could be longer, but I think I cover the necessary categories well enough to post one this year.  (I did a GOTY list in 2019, but not 2020.  It makes a return this time.)

Introduction

In 2021, as per usual in recent years, while I bought a large number of games, few are 2021 releases. Additionally, while I did try most of the notable recent releases that I did buy, there are many games I bought this year but haven’t played yet. I have spent a lot of time playing Mario Maker 2 instead of other games. That leads into an interesting question, that of playing endless online games — for me primarily Mario Maker 2, followed by Splatoon 1 and Dead or Alive 6 — versus shorter single player games either for new or old consoles. I like both, but those multiplayer games take up a lot of time and are quite addictive.

With that said, there are a few 2021 releases that I want to recognize. Following that will be a list of my favorite games that I bought in 2021, regardless of when they released. And last, my overall favorite games of the year regardless of when I first bought them. Hey, I played over 250 hours of Mario Maker 2 this year and still absolutely love the game, I need to give it continued recognition!

Please note, some of these games are available on platforms other than the one I mention, but I only list the platform I have the game on.

The Best New Releases of 2021

1. Cruis’n Blast – Nintendo Switch – One of the first arcade racing games to be released on console in the past decade, is an outstanding, incredibly fun experience that totally captivated me for the 20-ish hours that it took me to unlock everything and beat all of the challenges, getting every collectible.  This game is by a wide margin to best game in the Cruis’n franchise and is a must-play title for anyone who likes arcade-style racing games at all.  I should have written a full review of this game a few months ago, and still plan to.  I will save my full thoughts on the game for that.

2. Mario 3D World + Bowser’s Fury – Nintendo Switch (this is here for the new part, Bowser’s Fury.) – I don’t like Bowser’s Fury as much as the base game, but it’s still an incredibly fun Mario experience. While it is very well made, I do kind of dislike how Bowser’s Fury gets far away from 3D World’s design philosophy, unfortunately; I really like the multiplayer, level-based concept of 3D World, but Bowser’s Fury is an open-world single player adventure. What they made is great, but personally I would rather have seen more content in 3D World’s style. It’s also disappointing that you can only play as Mario in Bowser’s Fury, that was a mistake. This is the Mario game with a bunch of interesting playable characters, after all! Put them in the new part too! Still, it’s a fantastic re-release with significant added content. And Bowser’s Fury really is very good, for the short time it lasts.

3. Diablo II Resurrected – Xbox Series X (also on Xbox One) – This is a remake, but the new graphics mode puts it in this category and not just classic re-releases, I think.  The gameplay is the same as before, but the new dramatically larger storage chest makes this game MUCH MUCH less frustrating to play than the original version, since you can store so much more stuff!  Your inventory is the same size, but your storage chest has a whole bunch of tabs you won’t find in the original game.  The redrawn art looks fantastic in 4K, too.

4. WarioWare: Get It Together! – Nintendo Switch – This game is very good, but I was aa bit disappointed, as I will say below.  I think it deserves its place here anyway, though; if you can get a handle on its complexities, there’s a very rewarding experience here.
5. Magical Fairy Force – Atari 5200 (physical release was 2021) – I covered this game in my review, but yes it’s pretty good and well worth playing.
6. Deedlit in Wonder Labyrinth – PC – I’m not the biggest Metroidvania fan but this one is definitely pretty fun.  It’s short and mostly easy, but has great graphics and animation and good music.  It gets harder later on, also, and the classic anime license is nice to see.
7. Age of Empires IV – PC – While I have always liked the Age of Empires series, I found it a bit too slow-paced.  This game is a very faithful classic RTS and that is fantastic to see, but… I still don’t entirely love the series.  This is good but not the best, I’d say.
8. Seasonal Assistant – Nintendo Wii U – This little indie game is one of the dev Ultra Dolphin Revolution’s last Wii U games, and it’s a similar NES-styled top-down action game, just like the previous two Assistant games, but with a holiday theme this time.  It’s pretty fun.  I hope Ultra Dolphin Revolution continues making games on some other platform after Wii U game uploads finally are shut off next year.
9. New Pokemon Snap – Nintendo Switch – I am a strong critic of the original Pokemon Snap for N64, but this game fixes most of the original’s worst mistakes.  Most notably, there is more than an hour of content this time!  Yes it’s true, you actually have reason to play the game more than once.  There’s a lot here and it’s well done.  The visuals are nice and the game has a good amount of stuff to find and take pictures of in each environment.
10. R-Type Final 2 – Xbox Series X (also on Xbox One) – While flawed, there is more than enough R-Type greatness here to make it deserving of being on this list.  This game is crushingly hard like you expect from this series but it makes you want to keep trying.  The game sometimes feels unfair due to near-invisible enemies or obstacles though, the graphics are visually bland and sterile-looking, and limited continues were an awful choice; R-Type DX, more than twenty years ago, does continues far better!  Still, it IS R-Type.

The Most Disappointing Game of 2021

Wario Ware: Get It Together! – While a lot about this game is good, it is also extremely frustrating and difficult in a way past games in the series aren’t. I liked playing through the story despite the frustration of the extremely different ways the characters control, but quit almost immediately after that because the weekly challenge mode doubles down on the worst and least fun things about the game in an unpleasant way.  The moving-a-character concept makes the microgames much harder to figure out in an instant than past games in the series, and the very different abilities and controls of the characters are by design highly unbalanced as well.  This makes the game more varied, but also more frustrating depending on who you are playing as at the moment. Once you get into the challenge mode and have to beat lots of minigames with certain characters, or such, while trying for good scores, the game quickly gets quite frustrating.  I finished story mode and enjoyed that, but quit on challenge mode after just a couple of weeks and have not gone back.  This game is good but for its series is a definite disappointment; the experiment of Warioware but with more complex, character-based controls is, I think, not a success on the whole compared to how the series was before.

Tales of Arise also disappoints me. It’s alright but not nearly as good as I was hoping, either in gameplay, story, world design, or graphics.  The story is predictable (wait, a Tales game has… evil racists? No!), the world mostly linear, the battle system somewhat odd in how the characters share meter, and more.  It does not make my best of 2021 list.

The Best Classic Re-releases of 2021

All three of these re-releases are exceptional, must-have games or collections if you have any interest in the games included!

1. Super Mario 3D World + Bowser’s Fury – Nintendo Switch (for the re-release of 3D World) – Mario 3D World is one of the best 3d platformers ever. It plays faster than the original Wii U game, and I think I like the pacing of the original version better, but for those without a Wii U this is an essential purchase. For me, buying this made me go back to the Wii U game again. Still, it wins this category anyway because of how amazing the game is. Super Mario 3D World is a highly under-rated classic as good as almost anything in the series. It’s not quite Mario 64 or Super Mario World’s equal, but it’s a very high-tier game.

2. Blizzard Classic Arcade Collection – Xbox One (played on Xbox Series X) – Blizzard’s collection contains all of their non-licensed SNES, Genesis, and 32X games, including some all-time classics, and is very well presented.  I’m a longtime The Lost Vikings fan, and this game is there, and with a new mode that combines the best features of both the SNES and Genesis versions into one.  The pretty good topdown racer Rock n Roll Racing has some nice new modes, also.  This collection also includes the first ever re-release of a 32X game, the 32X version of Blackthorne.  Blizzard beat Sega at this one, sadly enough.  They even added the SNES versions of Lost Vikings 2 and RPM Racing as a later, free patch!  Pretty awesome stuff.  Seeing Lost Vikings 2 get re-released is particularly cool.  It’s kind of too bad that it is only the SNES version and not the next-gen one on PC/PS1/Saturn, but I know that Blizzard themselves only made the SNES game so it makes sense that is the one included here.  The game itself is the same, only the graphics and audio were changed.  I like the SNES graphics, it has nice sprite art versus the somewhat mixed quality CGI rendered stuff of the next-gen version.  I just liked the voice acting in the CD version.  Ah well.  [As for the missing licensed games, Justice League Task Force, for either SNES or Genesis, since Blizzard made the SNES game and bought the developers of the Genesis game, is pretty poor and is no loss.  The Death and Return of Superman for SNES is better, but the licensing would be a problem for sure and it’s still average.]

3. Gleylancer – Xbox Series X (also on Xbox One) – And in third but still really great, Gleylancer is a fantastic shmup and has the best CRT shader ever in a classic game re-release.  It’s very configurable and looks great.  And again, the game itself is one of the better ones of its time as well.  Gleylancer is very hard but well worth putting some effort into.  The game natively supports next gen consoles and outputs at 4K on the XSX, also.  Nice stuff.  They followed this up with a re-release of Gynoug / Wings of Wor, but I haven’t gotten that one.

My Favorite Games I Bought in 2021 That Released Before 2021

1. Space Dungeon – Atari 5200 – this absolutely exceptional twinstick shooter is something any fan of the genre MUST play! My review is written and will be posted once I finish the rest of part three of Atari 5200 Game Opinion Summaries.
2. Super Mario 3D Allstars – Nintendo Switch – This is in second because while exceptional, all three included games were previously available on other consoles.  This collection got some controversy, but is mostly great.
3. Polybius (2018) – PC – Jeff Minter makes amazing games.  This rail shooter is one of his best.  I wish I had a VR setup, I’m sure this game looks unbelievably cool that way…
4. Gate of Thunder (Japanese copy) – TurboGrafx CD – Stiflingly enclosed top-tier shmupping defines this game well.  It’s fantastic but claustrophobic at times.
5. Moose Life – PC – More Jeff Minter rail shooter goodness!  And yes, it’s very very good.  I don’t like it quite as much as Polybius, but it’s a cool game in his inimitable style.
6. Immortals: Fenyx Rising – Xbox Series X (also on Xbox One) – I was surprised by how good I found this game from last year; I’m not an open world game fan at all, but this one has enough structure to work even for me.  There is a decent balance of exploration and clear forward progression here.  The combat and controls feel good and it looks quite nice.  I don’t mind the story either, and like the ancient Greek setting.
7. ToeJam & Earl – Sega Genesis – I don’t love this game like some do, and never have, but after playing more of it I finally started to see why people liked it so much.  This game is basically a non-violent roguelike, which is a pretty interesting concept.  It executes on the idea fairly well.
8. Battlemorph – Atari Jaguar CD – The low framerate is the main thing holding back this otherwise interesting futuristic flight combat game.  Battlemorph isn’t as good as Warhawk on PS1 or Starfighter on 3DO, but is a good game that plays well and has nice variety and decent depth.  Once you get used to it this game is quite fun.
9. Castlevania Anniversary Collection (Nintendo Switch) – This is a solid collection of Konami classics.  It’s too bad that Rondo of Blood and the later two Game Boy games (GB Kid Dracula and Castlevania Legends) aren’t included, but it’s otherwise good.
10. Contra Anniversary Collection (Nintendo Switch) – Finally, a cheap way to play the Japanese version of Contra Hard Corps, with multiple hit points!  I wish they had the hit points option with English text mod here, but still, it’s pretty awesome to see.

Honorable Mentions: Puyo Puyo Tetris 2 (Xbox Series X), Vanguard (Atari 5200), Kingdoms of Amalur Re-Reckoning (Xbox One/Series X), Blaster (Atari 5200), Gridder (Commodore VIC-20), Tunnels of Doom (TI 99/4A), Trials Rising (Xbox One), A Magical High School Girl (Nintendo Switch), Dragon Quest Heroes (Playstation 4), Jewel Link Chronicles: Mountains of Madness (Nintendo DS), Super Demon Attack (TI 99/4A), Scarlet Nexus (Xbox Series X), Treasure Island (TI 99/4A), Mia’s Picnic (Nintendo 3DS), Reader Rabbit (Apple II)

And lots more highly deserving games that I bought but never got around to playing. Shame on me for that…

What I’ve Mostly Actually Been Playing In 2021: My Favorite Ongoing, Endlessly Playable Games

1. Mario Maker 2 – Nintendo Switch – I played over 250 hours of this game according to Nintendo this year, and I believe it; this game is just about the perfect game, conceptually. I mean, it’s very far from perfect — Nintendo made many significant mistakes here — but it’s great despite them and I absolutely love everything about Mario Maker. I badly wish that instead of abandoning it Nintendo had given the game the support it deserves, but even just what we have is one of the best (and worst, but that’s part of the fun!) games ever made.  Nintendo may have mostly abandoned this game, but it’s my favorite regardless.

2. Splatoon – Wii U – After getting up to A+ rank I greatly slowed down how often I play this exceptional game, but it is still the best console first or third person shooter ever made and I still go back to it as a result. Splatoon 2 isn’t anywhere near as good for several reasons, first among them the much worse input lag. That game feels noticeably worse to play than this one. I’ll stick to this game, thanks.  It is still amazing and still, thankfully, has an active community of people playing it online, particularly from Japan.  Finding a game rarely takes very long.

3. The Nintendo 3DS Picross e Series – This kind of doesn’t count here since there are a limited number of puzzles on the 3DS games, but I’m including it anyway because I play a Picross puzzle or two just about every day and yet still have a vast number left. I’ve finished several of the games in this series now and will keep going until I play through them all. I have little interest in the Switch games due to the controls, you need touch with stylus for this kind of game to play its best.

4. Dead or Alive 6 – Xbox One (played on Xbox Series X to finally make the load times tolerable) – This game is the one I like but also kind of hate but keep going back to the online multiplayer of.  The over-sexualization, monetization, unlock procedure, and more are big issues with this game, but it has great fighting mechanics, is addictive, and has people still playing it online on Xbox.  The Xbox version on a Series X is also one of the only 3d fighting games with 4k60 graphics.  I got up to A+ rank earlier in 2021 but then started losing almost every single match, so I stopped playing for quite some time and have only sporadically gone back. I still lose most of the time, which was not the case before Tecmo announced the game was being abandoned. I think the players who aren’t really good mostly quit the game at that point and never returned. It’s frustrating because the mechanics are really good, but what can you do…

Overall Game Awards: My Favorite Games of 2021, New or Old

1. Super Mario Maker 2 – Nintendo Switch (and also Best Ongoing Game)
2. Space Dungeon – Atari 5200 (and also Best Old Game)
3. Cruis’n Blast – Nintendo Switch (and also Best New Game)

Honorable Mention: Polybius – PC (not new but a must play!)

I think this top four covers my favorite games of this year quite well.  All of these four games are absolute must-play classics. Cruis’n Blast, best new game of 2021!  Buy it today if you haven’t yet, it’s one of the most purely fun things I have played in a long time.

 

Platform and Special Awards

 

My most-played consoles of 2021

Please note: I am sure that number one on this list is first by a good margin, but I don’t know for sure what the order of the rest of the systems is for certain.  I’ve just got to guess.

  1. Nintendo Switch
  2. Xbox Series X
  3. Nintendo 3DS
  4. Nintendo Wii U
  5. Atari 5200
  6. Atari Jaguar / Jaguar CD
  7. PlayStation 4
  8. Nintendo DS
  9. Sega Genesis
  10. TurboGrafx-16 / CD


Special Awards

Best Graphics: I know I got this game in November 2020, when I was so lucky as to get an Xbox Series X on launch day (due to having pre-ordered it day one), but experiencing The Falconeer in 4k 120fps is an experience that is hard to forget.  The game is good but definitely has some jank, but the graphics, reasonably high poly count flat-shaded polygons, look incredible.  Other than that, this is another game from not 2021, but Dead or Alive 6 in 4k60 does look quite nice.  As for games from this year, I’m not sure; the winner probably should be Microsoft Flight Simulator’s Xbox Series X release, but I haven’t played that.  Of the games in my top ten at the top of this post, it’s Diablo II Resurrected.  It’s a nice looking game with some fantastic lighting.

Best Music: For new games, is it cheating to say that Diablo II has a truly great soundtrack?  This game has the exact same music as the original from 2000, but it is really good…

Worst Company: Activision-Blizzard.  I may be a huge Blizzard fan, particularly of their games released between 1993 and 2003, but they sure earned this one no question!  They still make some of my favorite games ever, but between the sexual harassment and the hiring of awful former Republican party officials, Activision-Blizzard and their very long-term boss Bobby Kotick well earned this “award”, sadly.  On the other hand, but it looks like most of the worst behavior came out of the World of Warcraft team, a game I have never liked anyway, so… the Blizzard I loved, as far as I know, largely isn’t directly connected to that stuff.

Best and Worst Level Design: Super Mario Maker 2.  You sure get a lot of the worst from this game, though that’s part of the fun, but some people have made really good levels as well.  It covers the full gamut of quality and that is one of the amazing things about the game; there is an endless amount of content, and while it certainly is not all worth playing, more than enough is to fill as many hours as I want to play it for.

Best Surprise: My discovering how incredible Space Dungeon for the Atari 5200 is.  This game is seriously incredible.

Posted in Articles, Atari 5200, Atari Jaguar, Genesis, Lists, Modern Games, PC, PlayStation 4, Turbo CD, TurboGrafx-16, Wii U, Xbox One, Xbox Series X | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Atari 5200 Game Opinion Summaries Series II: Part II

Yes, after a bit too long here it is, part two of my new, three-part Atari 5200 Game Opinion Summaries series. I’ve only got eight summaries this time, but some of them are fairly long so while this is shorter than the first update, it’s still a good-sized article. Next time, the last six games. Several of the part three games are among my favorite games made in the 1980s. None of these eight are quite on that level, but they’re all interesting in some way or another regardless.


Titles covered in this update:

 

Mario Bros.
Moon Patrol
Pitfall II: The Lost Caverns
Ratcatcher [PD Homebrew]
RealSports Baseball
RealSports Soccer
RealSports Tennis
River Raid

Rankings

The Summaries


Mario Bros. – 1 or 2 player simultaneous. Developed and published by Atari in 1983. Licensed from Nintendo.

Mario Bros. is a port of Nintendo’s arcade game of the same name. Coleco stole home console rights for Donkey Kong and Donkey Kong Jr. away from Atari in the early ’80s, but Atari did manage to get the console rights to the next game in the series of sorts, Mario Bros.  Atari released ports of the game on their consoles, the 2600 and 5200.  Meanwhile, less popular Nintendo games Popeye and Sky Skipper were published on Atari consoles by Parker Bros.  I covered Popeye for the 5200 previously, but Sky Skipper was unfortunately only on the 2600.  But anyway, Atari’s 2600 and 5200 releases were the first American home console releases of Mario Bros.   Nintendo would release a Famicom (NES) version of the game in in Japan in the same year as this one released here, but that would not see an American release until 1986.  In the interim, this was one of the better ways to play the game here.  Unfortunately for Atari, Mario Bros., while popular, was nowhere near the hit that Donkey Kong before it and Super Mario Bros. after it would be. This is a single-screen arcade game and while it is good, it has always been overshadowed by the games before and after it.

Despite that, Atari did a good job with this port. While it is not arcade perfect and, much like Popeye, it doesn’t quite match up to the NES version, Mario Bros. is a great version of an early Nintendo classic. This game and its characters look a little funny, but I think the look works. The game plays well too. As in the arcade game, Mario Bros. takes place in a sewer. This is a single-screen platformer and you walk and jump around the four-level sewer. The game has digital controls and only one button, for jumping. Jumping is limited, in that you cannot control yourself in the air at all. What jump you do is determined before you leave the ground. That’s not like later Mario controls at all, but that is how this game plays. It certainly makes things tougher. Additionally, the digital controls make no use of the 5200 controller’s additional features. This game would surely be easier with a digital controller as you would get quicker response times, useful for avoiding the many enemies. I only have regular 5200 controllers and the Trak-Ball, though. The game plays okay, it just can take you a little longer to stop moving than you’d like.

In that sewer, your goal in each screen is to defeat all of the enemies. You need to beat all of them to proceed. Your enemies are Koopas, crabs, fireballs, and various other foes. They start at pipes on the top level of the screen and move towards the bottom. Once they reach pipes on the bottom, they warp back up to the top. Very much unlike almost every game in the series since, you CANNOT jump on your foes here! Instead, you need to hit the platform an enemy is walking on from underneath to stun them. Then you can defeat them with a touch. As in Joust though, wait too long after stunning a foe and it will get back up. Some enemies need to be hit from underneath more than once to knock them out so you can defeat them. There is also a POW block on the screen you can hit from below three times. It will stun enemies. Use this power wisely though, for once you use it up it’s gone until the next level. The game gets hard quickly as your foes pile up and faster and tougher to beat enemies get added into the mix. Things may be a bit easier in the two player co-op mode, though. That’s a great feature to have.

Mario Bros. is an addicting classic game.  I’ve never loved this game, but it’s fun if you give it some time.  This game is challenging, perhaps too much at times, but it’s easy to see why the game was successful. It’s challenging and well designed, and may keep you coming back.  Its sequel would be one of the greatest and most important games ever made. This game is not that, but it is a good game certainly worth playing.  Is this version in specific a must-play, though? Probably not.  It’s neat to have as a Nintendo game on a non-Nintendo console, but there are many versions of Mario Bros. are out there, and quite a few are more arcade-perfect than this.  Newer ports will control better than this, too.  Even so, Mario Bros. for the 5200 is a good game well worth getting if you already have a 5200.

Arcade port. This version is also on Atari 8-bit computers. This game is on many formats, including the NES, Commodore 64 (two different versions), Atari 2600, Atari 7800, NEC PC88, Sinclair XZ Spectrum, Apple II, Amstrad CPC, Game Boy Advance, and in arcade-perfect form on the Nintendo Switch.  Multiplayer-focused adaptations of the game are also present in other Mario games, most notably Super Mario Bros. 3 for the NES and in all of the Mario Advance games on GBA. The game has only one true sequel, Mario Clash for Virtual Boy. That is a pretty good game.


Moon Patrol – 1 or 2 player simultaneous. Developed and published by Atari in 1983. Licensed from Williams, the original American publisher. The original arcade game was developed by Irem.

Moon Patrol is another port of an arcade classic. Moon Patrol, one of the early Japanese scrolling shooting games, is a side-scrolling platform shooter where you drive to the right while jumping over obstacles and shooting enemies coming your way. The arcade game is simple, but plays well and was apparently one of the first with parallax scrolling backgrounds. The game has background music too, unlike many early arcade titles. This 5200 version is a lower resolution but very accurate port. Just like the arcade game, this version has parallax scrolling backgrounds and music in addition to the sound effects! The backgrounds are really nicely done. Your tank here is a somewhat funny-looking blob thing, but that’s alright. Having music is particularly great, this system can do music but often games don’t have it. The music is a simple loop but is catchy.

In the game you control a moon tank. This is kind of an early auto-runner or shmup-on-wheels game, as you can’t stop moving, only go a little faster or slower. This version both looks and plays great. It has nice graphics for the system with parallax scrolling, the controls are responsive, and it contains all the content from the arcade game. The controls are digital and not analog, but work well — forward and backward on the stick make you go a little faster or slower to move your tank forwards or back, while one button shoots and the other jumps. Yes, jump is on a button. Take note, James Bond 007… but anyway. When you shoot, one bullet goes upwards to the top of the screen, while the other goes only a short distance forwards. Jumping, meanwhile, gives you good control of your jump. Your tank’s hitbox is large though, so some later jumps are tricky. This is close to the arcade game and is worlds better than the extremely tricky, tight jumping of the Atari 2600 version. Nearly impossible jumps there are easy in this version. To make things even easier, this game has something very rare for an early ’80s console port of an arcade game: continues! And infinite ones, at that. That’s right, when you get game over you can start right off from close to where you died. Your score does reset when you continue, though. When you get a game over your time does NOT reset, however, and if you finish a level with a fast time you get a point bonus. The game rewards not dying.

This game has two difficulty options, Beginning and Championship. Beginning is a single, easier run through the game. After you beat it you move on to the Championship course. Championship is harder and endlessly loops, so each time you finish a Championship course you start again. Every loop is very similar, though. Each loop of the game is broken up into five areas. You start at letter A. After you get to letters E, J, O, T, and Z, you get a screen showing how you did for that part of the game. In the game, you go to the right through 26 sections, each noted with one letter from the alphabet. In some waves flying enemy ships attack you from the skies, and you’ve got to shoot them down or avoid them until you get through to the next letter point. Some drop bombs that can blow holes in the ground you will need to jump over. In other waves, your main obstacles are rocks and pits. You need to jump over the pits and shoot or jump over the rocks. Because of your short forward shot distance, you need to really watch out for those rocks on the ground. Enemies in the air can be deadly, but it’s the rocks and pits that often are the greater threat here. Eventually you will face more threats and some variation on the formula. The game starts out easy, and finishing Beginning mode won’t take long. Championship is more challenging, but with the continue system it’s beatable fairly quickly if you don’t care about your score. Of course the game loops infinitely so you can always play for more points, though each letter’s stage is always fairly similar.

This is a simple but fun game. It’s a game of quick reactions, as you try to avoid the obstacles coming at you while shooting down your enemies. It does not have the depth of a newer shooting game of course, but this is a very fun classic that is well worth playing. The game has very good graphics for the time, good music, and well designed and balanced enemies and obstacles to work your way past. Really my only issue with Moon Patrol is that it won’t last all that long unless you get into playing for score. The game has quite a bit of variety, but with the static stage structure, between the good controls and continue system, unless you want to play this game for score it probably won’t last all that long. Still, however long you play it for some version of Moon Patrol is a must-play for classic game fans and this is a great version of it. You can see how Irem would become one of the ’80s better arcade game developers.

Arcade port. This same version is also on the Atari 8-bit computers. Other ports are available on Atari 2600 (with very tough jumping controls), Apple II, Commodore 64, PC (DOS), Sord M5, Commodore VIC-20, TI99/4A, MSX, Atari ST, Game Boy / Game Boy Color (packed with a port of the NES version of Spy Hunter), and in perfect arcade port form on the PlayStation 4 and Nintendo Switch. There are likely more versions of this game out there than that as well. There is also an improved homebrew hack / remake of this 5200 version of the game called Moon Patrol Redux. I haven’t played that one.


Pitfall II: The Lost Caverns – 1 player. Developed and published by Activision in 1984.

Pitfall II is a very ambitious game. A groundbreaking platformer when it released in 1984, Pitfall II has a large world to explore and a very modern-feeling continue system with infinite lives that send you back to the last checkpoint. It also is fairly open-ended and, I would say, extremely frustrating. This game was first released on the Atari 2600 and this is a port of that version with moderately upgraded graphics. The 2600 version used an added chip in the cart to get more out of the system, but nothing like that is needed here. The graphics have more detail, but it is clearly the same game. Controls are identical, so this is a digital-control game with one jump button and that’s it. It would control much better with a digital controller than the standard analog pad I have, control in this game can be frustrating with the regular controller. As with the Atari 8-bit computer version of this game and only that version, though, Pitfall II for the 5200 has one major advantage over all other versions: it has a significant amount of exclusive added content! If you manage to get to what is the end of this game on any other platform, there is a whole second half of the game, full of more treasures to find and obstacles to avoid, that is just as big as the first half of the game, waiting for you. If you can get to the end of all that, this version has a much more satisfying ending than the 2600 game. Yes, this is one of the few 5200 games with a real ending. These are very cool additions which makes this almost certainly the best console version of this game, if you have a good controller for this kind of game. I do not, the standard 5200 controller has issues with this game.

As for the game itself though, Pitfall II is a nonviolent exploration platformer. The world is a rectangular maze of screens, and you move around as Pitfall Harry, running, jumping, climbing, and swimming as you try to avoid all of the many enemies, save several people you need to rescue, and collect as much of the gold as you can find. Oddly, the game scrolls when you go up or down, but flips from screen to screen when you go between screens horizontally. Huh. Your goal is to rescue your niece and cat, get the rat, find a diamond ring, and then escape. Along the way, you want to try to collect as much of the gold as you can. This task will be more challenging than it is on the 2600, though, since you have twice as much game to get through to finish it. As with the first Pitfall, this game is set in a jungle. The map is dramatically more complex than before, though; where before the game was made of 265 nearly identical screens in a straight line, this time there are perhaps fewer screens but each is totally unique, and they are, again, in a rectangle instead of a line. There are also water areas you can swim in which add some variety as well. There are also many ladders to climb up and down. These are very frustrating to use though, as you need to walk up to them while holding UP [or down] and forward to grab on to the ladder; if you just press forward you will fall into the hole the ladder is in, falling straight down until you hit a floor, water, or, frequently, an enemy who of course kills you instantly. The ladder controls are finicky stuff and really should be better.

The ambition is obvious here, and a lot is accomplished. However, I find this game maybe more frustrating than it is fun. First, I mentioned the controls already. Those digital and one button-only controls are limiting and are not a great fit for the 5200 controller. I badly wish you could duck; that would make this game much better, I think. Also, this game is sometimes considered to be a proto-Metroidvania game. It does not have items which unlock areas, but it does have exploration. Compared to later titles in this genre this games’ exploration is relatively straightforward once you get used to the game, as the game has a mostly linear path to follow with dead ends and smaller side areas along the way that may have gold in them for you to find if you want, but exploration still is a significant part of the game; it’s up to you to figure out which are the side paths and which the main one. Again this game is fairly mild in this respect, but still, I do like some exploration in games but strongly prefer to know where I am going; I hate wandering around lost in a game! You can’t get too lost in this game, but you can wander around aimlessly in some areas and that gets frustrating. You move slowly in this game so going to a dead end and back can take a while. Also, I know the treasure is optional, but I wish that it told you how many treasures you have. Figure it out yourself. It does have a score on screen, which increases each time you get a treasure, but this score will also go down so it’s not a great measure of progress unless you aren’t dying.

At first I disliked how open the game feels, I want to know where to go. It made me want to not play the game, a common reaction I have to open-world games. However, once I realized that the game is actually fairly linear, I started to like it a bit more. The music is catchy, graphics decent, and some of the exploration is fun. However, while exploring and finding your way can be fun, as you remember which paths to take and where the gold is, the controls are slow and avoiding the enemies is very frustrating. Avoiding enemies requires very precise movement, you must be at the exact right spots to not get hit. And you will often be hit, and you die with one hit.

So, even when I am starting to have fun exploring, the constant deaths get in the way. This game introduced the innovative concept of checkpoints in an open world, and they work. The issue is that they are quite far apart. Getting from one to the next without dying over and over and over will take a lot of practice. And when you die yet again and are sent all the way back to the last checkpoint it gets very frustrating. Trying to avoid the enemies and not die on the ladders or such can be really tough. All you can do is walk or jump, no ducking, no fighting back, and enemies are placed to run into you unless you do the exact right movements at just the right spots. For instance, bats fly just at head level, edging just barely higher at certain points so if you stand at the right spots you won’t die. Frogs hop back and forth over ladder entrances, killing you if you slightly mess up your timing. And more. Many enemies were placed in order to make getting past them frustratingly hard. And every time you get hit it’s all the way back to the last checkpoint for you. When you get hit, you watch Pitfall Harry float back to the checkpoint while a sad song plays while your points reduce down until you get back. The sad version of the song continues playing until you collect some gold. I often wish I could just fight the enemies to get them out of my way to get to some of the gold, but you can’t. All you can do is just memorize where to jump that gets you over them. When you do finally work your way to a hard-to-get-to gold bar or person it is quite satisfying and may be worth the hassle, but this game has some definite drawbacks.

Overall, Pitfall II is a classic, but you will need a great deal of patience and memorization to get very far in this game. A lot of people love this game, and I recognize the games’ ambition and innovation, but between the design, controls, and controller, a lot of the time I find this game much more frustrating than fun. This is a game of exploration and avoidance, and is both simple and yet complex as you try to find out where to jump from and where to go in order to find all of the gold. So far I have not been dedicated enough to it to finish the game, but it is certainly well worth trying. Objectively, Pitfall II probably is a very good to borderline great classic. Subjectively, it’s a very frustrating game I don’t know that I want to play much more of.

Expanded Atari 2600 port. Also on Atari 8-bit computers. Remember, only the 5200 and A8 versions of the game continue on with a second half after finishing the original game. Unexpanded ports of the 2600 version are also available on other platforms, including the Colecovision.


Ratcatcher [Homebrew] – 1-3 player simultaneous. Homebrew game developed by Average Software (now Phaser Cat Games) and published by AtariAge in 2016.

Ratcatcher is the first original 5200 game from Average Software’s Ryan Whitmer, and I think it could be said that his inexperience shows here. His newer title Magical Fairy Force, which I covered last time, is a mostly pretty good game. This game, however, I find much more, well, average. Ratcatcher is a single-screen arcade style game, though this game is far too complex to have made a good arcade game; until reading the manual I didn’t have a good sense of what was going on. Once you figure it out the game is alright, but has some design issues. First, though, I should mention that control here is entirely digital. Other than using two buttons this game does nothing with the 5200 controller. You could play the game with one button, but it would make an already hard game even harder. I should also say, perhaps the most interesting thing about this game is its three player simultaneous play. You will, of course, need a model 1 5200 to play with three players, but if you have one this is one of the few games to take advantage of those additional controller ports. As a solo game it definitely loses something, versus having other people on screen; this game feels better balanced for multiple people working together than for a solo player. You can play a single player game, though it will be harder.

Anyway, in this game you play as one of three ratcatchers in a sewer. The graphics are seviceably decent and audio is basic. This game is about gameplay, not flash, though it looks alright. You need to avoid deadly obstacles, most notably a massive plague of sewer alligators, while doing as the games’ name suggests and grabbing as many rats as you can. Each level has ten rats in it, and you get only one chance at each one. You must grab five rats before the level ends or you lose a life. Getting all ten sends you to a bonus stage full of points to collect before the next regular level returns to normal. You also lose a life if you touch a deadly obstacle such as a live alligator, a cloud of sewer gas, or electrified water. You get rats simply by touching them, unlike in reality they cannot hurt or attack you. They will run away from you when you walk towards them, though, so some strategy will be required.

Indeed, strategy is the name of the game here. Ratcatcher takes place on a five-floor screen. Enemies will fill the lower three levels, while the top level is generally safe, at least at first. You can move left and right, but cannot jump; your only interaction is to turn some switches. There are several sets of these, water-wave switches in the center and gate-selection ones along the sides. For those side switches, if you stand in front of the switch by the sewer gates on either side of the screen, the two buttons will move selection lights up and down. One button moves the indicator up, and the other down, for quick selection of any of the four floors. If you walk through that gate, you will come through onto the selected floor. Walking in again will only send you back out that same gate, though, so you’ll need to move the indicator again to go back to the floor you came from. You can have different floors selected on each side of the screen though, of course, and doing so is important. You can only change the selected floor at the correct side’s gate switches, though, so thinking ahead is important. This can be frustrating though, as enemies will ambush you right after you go through a gate and there’s nothing you can do, there’s no way you’ll be able to change floors and get through before that enemy gets to you.

You do have some defenses against the hordes of alligators and other threats, however. First, there also is a water meter which rises over time. Two switches on the center of the top level will, once the water meter is full enough, send a wall of water across the screen, one switch for each direction. This wall of water will go out of the floor you have selected with the gate switches on the side and push anything on that floor as far over as it can. If you let the water meter overflow, it will set off a wall of water in one of the directions even if you don’t hit a switch, also. The water will wash away all foes, though washed-away rats are lost and not captured so watch out for that. And last, there are six gates on the lower three levels that you can move up and down with switches on levels two and four. The gates are always there, you can only choose which floors they are on. For both the waves of water and the gates, your ratcatchers are affected; the water will wash you to the side of the screen, and you can’t walk through those gates any more than the enemies can. So you need to plan ahead, though with the random nature of the way enemies appear from the sides of the levels this is difficult. You start with “only” having to deal with rats and alligators, but once sewer gas, electrified rats, and more, are added in this game gets tough.

And really, that complexity is this games’ downfall, I think. This kind of game is best when it is easy to understand and play, but while somewhat interesting, this game is definitely not easy to understand or play. You need to consider which floors to block with gates, when to use the walls of water, and most importantly which floors to set each sides’ portals to, while trying to grab those rats and avoid everything else. And if you miss too many rats, you lose a life, and three lives lost and that’s Game Over. Ratcatcher is a decent game once you learn how to play it and it certainly presents a good challenge, but it is probably a bit overly complicated and frustrating. It is far too easy to die without feeling like you did anything wrong simply because of unfair enemy spawns in a game where you can’t always easily get away from foes. Due to its complexity and challenge Ratcatcher makes a poor first impression. You will lose, quickly, for some time. If you keep going and learn how to play it gets better, though, so if it sounds interesting it may be worth putting some time into, particularly if you have interested other players you can work with, so, say, one person can flip a gate switch while someone else gets the rat without being killed by an alligator right behind it as you would be in single player. This game feels better balanced for multiplayer than single player; as a single player game it is too hard and frustrating. Ratcatcher is, overall, an average game that may be worth a look if it sounds interesting.

Atari 5200 homebrew game. This was first made for the 5200. An Atari 8-bit computer version also exists, I believe. The developer also made a PC version.


RealSports Baseball – 1 or 2 player simultaneous.  Has analog controls. Developed and published by Atari in 1983.

In the early ’80s, Atari started up a new line of sports games and called it the RealSports series. These games try to be more realistic than the early Atari 2600 sports games. There are RealSports games on the Atari 2600, 5200, and 7800, but of the games in the franchise this one, RealSports Baseball for the 5200, probably has the overall best reputation. And after playing it, I get why! RealSports Baseball for 5200 is a great game, and is easily the best pre-crash sports game I own that isn’t a tennis/pong game. This game has some flaws, most notably in how hard it is to score runs, but it is very good and holds up great. Baseball is my favorite sport, and this is a good baseball game.

For reasons why, first, most early sports games were two player only. This game, however, has AI opposition to play against. The game has four difficulty levels too, to cover many skill levels. Even on the easiest setting beating the computer is difficult because of how hard scoring runs is, but there is still a nice skill gradient here. The game even allows an AI to play against an AI, if you want. Fun stuff. The game has a voiced umpire calling the balls, strikes, and outs, too, for a very nice touch. Voiced speech was rare in games at this point and it’s a fantastic inclusion here. Now, this title does only have single games and not a season mode or such, but for this era that is to be expected. There also aren’t named players or teams, just a red team and a blue team, and there is just one stadium. That’s fine, the game has what it needs. For the time, AI and voice make for a pretty good feature set.

As with most baseball games of the pre-crash era, RealSports Baseball for the 5200 is a single-screen game. Later on, baseball games would zoom in and have you basically field on a mini-map, while the zoomed in main screen showed just a part of the field. In this game, though, as with earlier titles, everything is on one screen. This means that the outfield is dramatically condensed down in size; outfielders look like they are standing right behind infielders. The game accounts for this by having the ball take a lot longer to be thrown from an outfielder to an infielder than from one infielder to another, so the real distance is taken into account even if visually it doesn’t look that way. There are plusses and minuses to this approach. On the positive side, I have never liked the zoomed-in-field style of baseball games; I want to be able to see on the main screen where the ball is going. My favorite baseball game is Hardball III, which uses a single screen to show the whole vertical distance of the field. That game is newer and higher resolution and has a much more accurately-scaled field than this one, though, so the distances appear correct on screen in a way they don’t here. So I kind of like this, but on the negative side, the small outfield makes getting balls to drop for hits much harder than it probably should be! Batting is one of the hardest things in sports, and this game makes successfully hitting the ball pretty hard since fielders almost always seem to be standing right where you hit the ball to. The small outfield here gets frustrating. Still, there’s plenty of fun to be had.

For batting, there is not a separate batting screen. Instead, the pitcher simply throws the ball towards the batter, who tries to hit it. You pitch by hitting the upper button to throw the ball. You then can control its motion with the stick while the ball flies towards the plate, though only along the horizontal axis; there isn’t a vertical axis here for the ball. This makes things a little easier, but batting is still hard. The lower button throws the ball to a base, to try to pick off a runner. If the ball is hit the game automatically selects the closest player. You can change players with the lower button and throw with the upper one once you pick up the ball. The game automatically targets throws to the farthest base that a runner is running towards, which can be annoying at times when you want to go to a much closer base for the out, but you can change your target base with the lower button. Defense works well here and after a few games I wasn’t giving up many runs against the easiest AI.

When batting, you swing the bat by moving the stick on your controller horizontally from left to right. You need to have the stick start fully on the left side in order to properly swing, then move the stick at the right time to hit the ball. Your stick movement is fully analog, as you would expect on the 5200, for good control. This control scheme is kind of strange, but it works well once you get used to it. Atari would use this same control scheme in other RealSports baseball games, but it works much less well on a console with digital-only controls like the 7800 than it does here. Once you get the timing down for batting this game is fun, even if it is frustratingly hard to actually get enough hits to score many runs against the AI.

Overall, RealSports Baseball is a great game. Games against the AI do tend to be low-scoring and victory is difficult, but the effort is rewarding and the controls and gameplay very good and well thought through. With two button and analog both supported here, this game makes good use of the 5200’s controller. The voiced speech lines calling balls and strikes are also great and add a lot. This very much is an early title features-wise, but if you don’t mind that RealSports Baseball is definitely recommended. This is great for its time and still is a lot of fun today. It’s even better in multiplayer, of course.

Atari 5200 exclusive. There are games on the Atari 2600 and 7800 with the same name as this game, but they are different games, neither one as good as this one. I covered the 7800 game years ago and did not have good things to say about it. Reading that summary again, I notice that that game shares a lot with this one, they just did everything worse there.


RealSports Soccer – 1 or 2 player simultaneous.  Has analog controls. Developed and published by Atari in 1983.

RealSports Soccer works much less well than the baseball game above, unfortunately. I do not have nearly as much experience playing soccer games as I do baseball games, though I like the sport well enough, but this one… this is not very good. I haven’t played many other pre-crash soccer games to compare this one to so perhaps it is fine for the time, but still, after a match or two of this I didn’t want to go back. RealSports Soccer is just below average, not awful, but there is little reason to play it today.

As you might expect, features-wise this game has one or two player play with four AI difficulty levels. As in RealSports Baseball, player one is the blue team and player two the red one. It has only single matches and no seasons, as with all sports games of its day. The game scrolls on a three screens long field. It’s not large, but with how slow the characters move, that size is more than enough. The game does have isometric perspective for a more realistic field angle than most older games had and some nice player animation as they run around. The audio, however, is very simple and basic. You won’t find any of Baseball’s speech here! Each of the players, either human or AI, starts by controlling one of the two players at the kickoff. The two controlled players have different shirt colors from their teammates, to distinguish them. The ball and the two human or AI-controlled players are always on screen, along with three other AI-controlled players per team that you can switch to. Movement controls are analog, as you would hope for on the 5200, but I don’t think that’s enough to save this game.

For the controls, when you have the ball, one button attempts a pass, and the other other a shot on goal. You can also aim shots high, medium, or low with the 1, 2, or 3 keys on the keypad. When your team has the ball, you always control the player with the ball. When you don’t have the ball, you can switch between players with the 4, 5, 6, 7, 8, or 9 keys on the keypad. Goalies are automatic and are always AI-controlled, you can only play as the other players. The thing is though, while visually this game is three on three, with, again, the ball and the two controlled players always on screen, as for the four AI-controlled players, when they go off screen they immediately come back on at some random location on the edge of the screen. This gives the sense that there are more team members here, but the game isn’t actually keeping track of their locations; it’s just randomly having people appear when one leaves. When one leaves on the right, the next one to enter will often be on the left.  There is no behind-the-scenes simulation of the rest of the field.  And of course the ball and the two controlled players never leave the screen. This results in a very stripped-down-feeling soccer game.

Worse, this game is slow. The pace of play here is very sluggish and cannot be sped up. This makes the game somewhat boring to play. The game is easy, too. If RealSports Baseball is hard, RealSports Soccer is easy. Scoring goals is easy, and stopping the AI’s team from scoring is maybe even easier. Beating the AI takes little effort on any difficulty. Maybe this is a bit better against a human opponent, but it’s not very fun against the AI. The game does play okay — you can run around, pass to your other players, and shoot on goal — and apart from the slow speed the game looks nice, but with gameplay this slow and easy I don’t really want to. Atari tried for some new things here, with the AI opponent, multiple shot angles you can shoot at, throw-ins when the ball goes out of bounds, and more, so it may be a decent effort for the time, but the sluggish pace, lacking simulation, and very easy AI hold it back a lot. RealSports Soccer is a tedious, below average game not really worth playing.

Atari 5200 exclusive. There is also an Atari 2600 game of the same name, but it’s different.

RealSports Tennis – 1 or 2 player simultaneous.  Has analog controls.  Supports the Trak-Ball controller. Developed and published by Atari in 1983.

Tennis was the first sport made into an electronic game. At first you had games like Odyssey Tennis and Pong, simple ball-and-paddle games inspired by tennis, but by the early ’80s things had progressed into a somewhat more realistic simulation of the sport. And that is where this game gets a definitely mixed reception. RealSports Tennis has somewhat bland graphics, with a decent but unexciting isometric court and nicely animated players. As usual in the series, one player is blue and the other red. Yes, this game is singles tennis only, not doubles. You can actually give human players three-letter initials if you want, like in an Odyssey 2 game. Nice. There are no courtside graphics, just the green court on a dark red background. It has challenging AI to play against and allows you to play a full, five-game match of tennis. That’s all okay, though visually and aurally average at best.

The controversy here is about the controls. Well, and also the AI. First, controls. In this game, you don’t just automatically hit the ball like you would in Pong Sports / Video Olympics on the 2600. Instead, you move around with full analog controls. You move with the stick or, if you have one, with the Trak-Ball’s ball.  The trackball is a bit better of course, but either one works.  Either way, the rest of the controls are on the  keypad and buttons.  To hit the ball, you need a well-timed button press.  The button you press may be the regular side buttons or a keypad button, depending; this game makes heavy use of the side buttons.  However, in order to serve you need to press the upper side button to serve.  Having to go back and forth constantly between side buttons and keypad can get a little confusing at times.  Still,  serving is easy and you’ll pretty much always hit it in bounds on the serve. The upper side button will also hit the ball back the way it came on a similar angle. You can also hit a lob with the lower side button. However, if you press one of the buttons on the keypad instead during a volley, you will hit the ball towards that part of the opponent’s side of the court. Think of the nine numbers as aiming at the nine sections. With this you can control where the ball is going to a much greater extent than you can in older tennis games. That makes this game feel much more modern than its 1983 vintage. However, the way you do it is somewhat clumsy, with those keypad keys, and the controls take some definite getting used to thanks to how many buttons the game uses. I like having the ability to aim my shot, though. I think it adds to the game. The game was certainly designed around it, you will need to aim carefully to get the ball past the AI.  It can be a fun challenge.

However, the AI in this game is crushingly difficult! While winning games is possible, the AI gets to the ball almost all of the time. You really need to learn the game to be able to actually win sets. Just hitting the side buttons to hit the ball back the way it came won’t be good enough, aimed shots with the keypad are pretty much required. Some luck would help, as well. This is a somewhat slow-paced game, as the ball often feels like it’s moving slowly, but it does pick up at times. The game can get intense as volleys continue. I wish the AI was fairer but I’m sure that is very hard to do well on a machine from the early ’80s. On the whole I think this game is alright, but flawed. I like the greater control you get from being able to aim your shots, but beating the AI is frustrating and this isn’t the most exciting game. It’s a decent game maybe worth a look, particularly for two interested players. The controls will take getting used to though.

Released on Atari 5200 and Atari 8-bit computer. That version looks similar, minus the analog character movement of course. There is also an Atari 2600 game of the same name, but it’s entirely different.

River Raid – 1 player.  Has analog controls. Developed and published by Activision in 1983.

River Raid is a port of the very popular and successful Atari 2600 game of the same name. One of Activision’s biggest hits this side of Pitfall, River Raid was naturally ported to many formats and the 5200 is no exception. This port is, for the most part, a by-the-numbers port, largely identical to the original 2600 game except for improved graphical detail.  The graphics are much sharper and clearer, this is a nice next-gen enhancement of the game.  However, that’s not all.  Activision did an interesting thing here — not only did they improve the graphics, they also made the controls fully analog. It’s a really nice change which has a very noticeable impact on the game. Or at least, movement left and right is now fully proportional and analog. Speed control feels more digital, as instead of gradient speed control you switch between set speeds depending on how much you push the stick up or down.

Other than that, though, this is River Raid. River Raid is an early vertically-scrolling shmup. You fly a plane in narrow canyons over a river, shooting down enemy ships and tanks and destroying bridges at regular intervals. It was inspired by a famous bridge-attack raid from World War II. This is a simple game, with enemies that only sometimes attack you and relatively simple graphics and gameplay, but it is quite challenging and can be addictive. It is very easy to mess up and hit the walls, and that loses you a life just as fast as enemy bullets do. The game also has a fuel system. Your fuel meter steadily decreases as you go, and flying over fuel tanks refills it. Unlike Konami’s Scramble, you cannot refill fuel by shooting fuel tanks; you need to fly over them without shooting them, instead. Running out of fuel is initially rare, but the farther you get the easier it is to run low. You also will face some more aggressive foes as you get deeper into the game.

As mentioned previously, with many 5200 games, this game is a last-gen port, from the 2600.  Everything looks better and higher resolution here, with jagged coastlines with cliff faces along the edges of them and more detailed enemies to shoot, but it does not push the hardware as much as an exclusive would.  River Raid is no match for the best shmups of the later ’80s, since the game is simple and lacks the depth of a Gradius or R-Type.  In this game you just fly up and shoot the somewhat randomly laid out enemies the game throws at you while avoiding the walls.  Still, River Raid is an addictive classic that still holds up fairly well. This game is not as complex as a next-gen exclusive like The Dreadnaught Factor, and I don’t like it quite as much as that game, but it’s still good.  Enhanced last-gen ports have a place as well. The shooting and dodging gameplay of River Raid is timeless fun.

Overall, River Raid is a good enhanced last-gen port.  The game is simple, has held up well, and still is a lot of fun to play.  I do find it a bit too simple to keep me going for longer play sessions, but it’s a good game to play here and there.  I’m not sure if the analog controls make this game better than the 2600 version or not, but they do at least make it distinctly different and certainly are a lot better than the game would feel with digital controls on this system’s analog control stick. I think the results are good and make this version of the game well worth a try, thanks to the controls it’s a bit different from other versions of River Raid. Other than that though this version plays the same as the original. I’m sure more could have been done than they do here.  Some of Activision’s games on the 5200 are more impressive than others, and this one is in the middle on that.  Oh well, it’s still a good version of a great game.

Atari 2600 port.  Other ports were released on the Intellivision, Colecovision, Commodore 64, MSX, Sinclair ZX Spectrum, PC, and, as far as I know always in its Atari 2600 form, on numerous Activision collections for newer consoles from the last 25 years.

Rankings

These rankings are not absolute, but here’s what I am thinking at the moment.

RealSports Baseball > Moon Patrol > Pitfall II: The Lost Caverns > Mario Bros. > River Raid > RealSports Tennis > Ratcatcher > RealSports Soccer

Including the games from part one, The Dreadnaught Factor > Castle Crisis > RealSports Baseball > Moon Patrol > Magical Fairy Force > Pitfall II: The Lost Caverns > Mario Bros. > Blaster > River Raid > RealSports Tennis > Ratcatcher > Decathlon > Frogger > Buck Rogers > James Bond 007

Of these, the game I ranked highest that I like playing the least is Pitfall II. I’m giving it a lot of benefit of the doubt for its ambition, clearly.  Based purely on how fun I find it, Pitfall II would probably go either just above or just below Ratcatcher.

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Four More Summaries of my Latest Mario Maker 2 Levels

Yes, I’m back to another one of those. I may be the only one who cares about my descriptions of my Mario Maker 2 levels, but I still think this is one of the greatest games ever made and don’t plan on ever entirely stopping playing it so long as it is supported. I did take a break from it last month, as I played several modern games one of which I will review, but I’m back to Mario Maker again and made another level.

Before I begin though, I AM playing Atari 5200 games and am working on the next update for that summary list. I was too busy with those modern games to get this written this month, but it will happen soon. I played several games today for it, in fact.  I had forgotten about the fully analog controls in 5200 River Raid… interesting.

But on to Mario Maker 2 level descriptions. As I said in the title, I have four. They are from June, July, August, and October.

In June I made The Climb – Versus. Code 124-T1P-XNG (Theme: Mario 1)

This level is a second take on my level The Climb from a bit ago. I thought that the level’s ‘climb as you jump up around dropping ice blocks and donuts’ concept would work great with multiplayer, so I made this level that does exactly that. It’s the same basic idea, but with four sections for multiplayer versus play and more variety as you climb — each of the four routes up the level is broken into several sections, each a bit different. First you climb with static icicles, then with donut blocks, then finally with dropping icicles. There are powerups to give you extra chances, though I put more at the bottom of each path than the top. The level has eight plays and no hearts, though it does have two clears. Disappointingly, it hasn’t been played in multiplayer versus even once. I know it’s hard by multiplayer versus standards, but still, it’d be nice if it was. I think this level is probably overall better than the original version of The Climb because of the added variety as you go up, but with way fewer plays and no hearts I guess players disagree?

Oh — for design reasons, two of the four paths are jumping along the right side of the shafts, the other two on the left side. I wonder which way people find easier… I found it easy either way, though — while working on and clearing this level I played through all four paths, to make sure they worked, and didn’t die even one single time. I’ve clearly played my ‘the climb’ concept enough that I find it easier than most.

In July I made my next level. This one finally continues my super world, at long last! 2-2: Bombardment Hills. Code 43Q-GC6-5JG. (Theme: Mario 3)

For the few of you who played The Castle, don’t worry too much; while challenging, this level is short, not long, and is nowhere near as hard as that level is. This is a one minute long speedrun of sorts. Basically, you’re running to the right mostly at full speed, jumping over spikes as you go, while a whole armada of Lakitus try to kill you from above. If you stop for more than an instant, they’ll get you. So yeah, the level is frustrating and can seem unfair based on Lakitu ‘where are they throwing the spikes’ RNG, but with practice I figured out how to fairly consistently get through. Most of the level is done without a powerup, as I couldn’t think of a way to give you one that wouldn’t make it possible to probably damage boost up and take one of the Lakitu clouds, something that I don’t want to happen until the end of the stage. There also isn’t a checkpoint because I can’t think of a way to have the Lakitu cloud chase work from halfway; I’d need a second Lakitu cloud, and that would hit the enemy limit and then they wouldn’t throw many spineys if the first cloud was still on screen. The level is short enough that it’s very beatable in one shot, though; it is only a minute long, again, and that includes the boss fight at the end. As for that boss, I thought of several things, but ended up going with something that I think works pretty well — it’s a fight in a clown car against a Koopa Kid. Take out the Lakitus as well for some lives, and then relieve yourself of their attack. The fight can be a bit tricky but hit those question mark blocks, they have mushrooms in them!

The other thing I did not do in this level is put a coin trail along the way telling the player what jump heights they should be using. Perhaps I should do that, to save the significant amount of trial and error it takes to get the jumps down since they are NOT all max height, but I chose to leave it up to the player; I don’t like too-heavily-indicated levels really, unless the indicator is necessary. And that’s why there is a coin trail at one point in the level, for one truly blind fall. I had to indicate that, so I did. Otherwise though, learning those jumps is the point of the stage. You either like this kind of level or you don’t. I’d say I’m on both sides of that one; I mean, I like this type of level so long as it isn’t too too hard (I’m no Team Precision player to say the least!), but it certainly can be frustrating, particularly if certain spinies keep killing you. For a small hint, small hops on the uphill slopes are a very good idea. That’s the only way I found to survive one particularly annoying spinie on a steep uphill early in the level, for instance.

Overall I think this level turned out well, it fairly accurately reflects the original design I drew back in the early ’90s — remember the eight numbered Super World levels (of which this is level six) are based on paper designs of mine from my childhood. This level was a ‘run and jump over the spikes while a cloud chases you shooting lighting bolts at you’ concept. I think a bunch of Lakitus stand in well for an angry cloud.

The third level, from July, is a 3D World level about walljumps.  Appropriately, I titled it Walljump Land.  As the name suggests, this level is all about jumping from wall to wall.  Specifically, this level is about walljumps in narrow vertical shafts.  This is all about quickly jumping back and forth between two sides of a vertical path, avoiding spikes along the walls by jumping to the other side as necessary.  The level only took me about a minute and a half to clear so by my levels’ standards it’s on the shorter side, but it’s a fairly intense stage due to how I mix up the jumps.  I change the distances between safe spots on the walls frequently through the level, and have a section late with timed switching block walls as well.  It’s fun stuff, but I found it difficulty. I eventually decided that it was too hard, so I caved and added powerups to the level; I’m not good enough to do this without them, or with only one at the start or such.   I am sure anyone else playing it will also appreciate the powerups.  At the bottom and middle of the subworld I even put in pipes giving out infinite powerups, if you want to drop back down to get a powerup again. As a result, the level is a good challenge but not TOO hard.  I think this is a good level, and there are a few bits which show off why 3D World is unique, including a section where you have to spin jump for extra height; I know this is only my second 3D World level, but I love the 3D World style!  I think this level works well and hopefully is fun.  The level code for Walljump Land is WDC-7N2-0SG.  Oh, yes, this is another level of mine with no regular enemies.  You certainly can die though, it’s filled with spikes to avoid with your wall jumps.

After that aforementioned break, I came back to Mario Maker 2 recently and over the last few days made a new level.  It is the seventh level in the super world numbered levels series, and is titled 2-3 – Ocean Crossing.  This level finally adapts the seventh level of that childhood game concept of mine to Mario Maker.  This one was always going to be the hardest level to make, because the level concept and map are not nearly as polished as levels 1 to 4 are since I didn’t redo it later as I did with those stages.  Additionally, the basic concept of this level is something that you can’t do in Mario Maker 2, so I basically had to make a new level with few connections to my original idea apart from the basic concept of “you’re crossing over water while avoiding obstacles and fighting enemies”.  The original idea was that your characters would be in little boats, perhaps a bit like the Ninja Turtles in Turtles in Time with their little hoverboards in the Neon Night Riders bonus level, fighting against enemies in their own boats and jumping over rocks and whirlpools that would get in your way.  Well, you can’t do a whirlpool in Mario Maker really, there are no water currents in this game.  The original Super Mario Bros. in 1985 has water currents, but this game does not!  It’s one of the things they really should have put in at some point, but never did.  Unfortunate.  You also can’t make little boats that track the player.  However, I can make a level vaguely thematically similar, as there is a level theme with a water surface available at least, the Forest theme, so I can make SOMETHING set on top of the water.  It just won’t be the level I imagined.  This level is the least like its source material of all seven so far, and I’m sure level 8 will not be this different either.  And yeah, I don’t like that; while I do think I made an interesting level, I kind of want to try again sometime at making something more like the original concept, though I have no idea how, with Mario Maker 2’s limitations, you would reproduce it.

Basically, while thinking about what to do for this stage over the course of this year, I had two ideas for this level: either a frog suit level about challenging jumps, or a poison water night forest level about jumping from boat-like platform to boat-like platform and rock to rock.  The poison water concept makes sense because the original idea would not have had you swimming in the water, but considering that my Super World’s numbered levels are all Super Mario Bros. 3 levels, and the frog suit is pretty great, going for the frog suit option was an easy call.  So, this level, 2-3 – Ocean Crossing, is a frog suit level.  There are two parts to this level, challenging jumps on the water’s surface as you try to get over various barriers, and fights on a pair of enemy ships.  I tried to have obstacles appear at roughly the spots I drew whirlpools or rocks on the original level map, but otherwise this is all new.  Having the enemies have some large ships is a new idea too, actually. That seems like an idea I should have had back then, but didn’t.  This level took me about 2 minutes 20 seconds to beat, so it’s decent length.  It has two checkpoints and is pretty tough; it took me a few days of trying to finally complete the stage.  I did edit it as I went though, mostly to make some things easier where I was really having trouble, so it’s not quite as hard as that suggests; I greatly reduced the difficulty of most of the most frustrating jumps.  If you know your frog suit jumping distances, this level should be fun, I think. If you don’t, well, here’s a good time to learn them!  You can take damage in many areas and keep going, damage-boosting your way past some obstacles, but there are a few points, mostly in the second half of the level, where I require you to keep your frogsuit.  This level is all about learning the jumps, and given the very controlled way the frog suit moves and jumps, that is quite doable.  I do not put indicators in the level and I would like to know if people think I really should use them, but… I had to learn these jumps through practice.  Isn’t learning that what a level like this is all about?  Everything is visible, there are no blind jumps here.  It’s just about positioning.  (Yes, I know I’ve been a bit inconsistent with how I indicate jumps sometimes and not other times, but I do put thought into when I use indicator coins and when I don’t.  I just don’t really know whether other people think I should use more or not.)

As for the two ship battles and the boss, I did put a lot of difficult enemies on them, most notably a bunch of Hammer Brothers, but hey, you’re nearing the end of the game, I wanted it to be harder.  I did ease up a bit, though — the final ship now has two good powerups, while at first there was only one regular mushroom.  That was not enough, so I improved the powerups and removed some enemies.  I tried a lot of things for the final battle against Morton (since I used Ludwig in level six, 2-2), and ended up going with a partially submerged one, appropriate to the level.  I strongly recommend killing all enemies above before trying to fight him.  Oh, and story-wise, while making this level I thought up the idea that these two enemy ships are filled with treasure looted from your castle, which you will soon return to.  It’s a nice idea which fits the game well I think.  And yes, there are plenty of coins to get in both ship holds.  Overall, what do I think of this level? I like it.  It’s not my favorite level of mine, but I like the challenge and the frog suit.  The level code for this level, 2-3 – Ocean Crossing, is VCW-1D6-NYF.

On a somewhat unrelated note, here’s a secret… what is the level of mine that I go back and play the most often?  It’s …

Bombardment Hills.  Yes, really.  Despite all of its semi-random nonsense, I keep going back and playing this level over and over… heh.  I’m not sure why but I really like it.

 

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