PC Platformers Game Opinion Summaries, Part 10: Digital-Download 2d games (Part 7)

So yes, after three weeks since my last article, I return with just seven new summaries. Between the horrendously disappointing election and then getting a cold right afterwards, though, I think I needed a bit of a break. Well, this list is back now, so enjoy! I cover some good and interesting stuff this time.

Table of Contents for this update

Rayman Origins (2012)
Realms of Chaos (1995)
Residue: Final Cut (2014)
Rogue Legacy (2014)
room13 (2015)
Schrodinger’s Cat and the Raiders of the Lost Quark (2015)
Secret Agent (1992)

Rayman Origins (2012) – 1-4 player simultaneous local multiplayer, saves, gamepads supported. Rayman Origins from Ubisoft was the first new non-handheld platformer starring Rayman since 2003’s Rayman 3, and returned the series to its 2d roots. It is a beautiful-looking 2d game with great art design and sprite work. The great cartoon-animation art design is the first thing you will notice when playing Rayman Origins, and the way the soundtrack is tied into the game at times may be the second, but the platformer engine underneath is very good as well, as is the gameplay. In this fairly straightforward platformer you play as Rayman or several of his friends. It’s great that the game has a four player co-op mode, but unfortunately, probably inspired by New Super Mario Bros., the player characters are Rayman, his best friend and comedic sidekick Globox, or two random Teensies, sort of like the two Toads in those games. This games’ sequel, Rayman Legends, improves on this quite a bit, as it adds a female playable character to the cast, something this game sorely lacks. The story this time is that Rayman and friends annoyed some creatures who lived deep in the earth and were locked up by them, so you need to break out and beat them all up. Both sides in this fight seem like they have problems. In each level, when you’re not admiring the art design, your goal is simple, you just need to get to the end of many linear platforming levels. Levels usually scroll left to right and the path forward is obvious, you just need to get there, and look for secrets along the way of course. Fortunately, while this game is 2d again, it does not bring back the original Rayman’s stratospheric difficulty. As in most modern games you have infinite lives from the beginning of the last section of the level here, so you don’t need to worry about Game Overs, much less having to start the whole game over because of a cruel continue limit like you do in the original game unless you cheat.

The gameplay itself is familiar, but quite distinct from previous titles in the series. The basics of 2d Rayman controls are here: you can jump and throw your fist as a punch, swing on things, free creatures from cages in each level, and collect as many lums, the basic pickup, as you can find as you go. Familiar enemies return as well, such as those silly pith-helmeted guys from the original game. The controls are simple, with just a jump button, a punch button, and run button. Jumping and attacking are as they were before, but that is where the similarities end. Rayman and his friends can run a lot faster than he ever could before in 2d Rayman games, first, and this game in general is much faster-paced than previous Raymans were. You move through environments quickly in this game when you want to, and with the zoomed-out camera and widescreen view you have a good view of what’s coming towards you too, avoiding that issue from the original game. Your heroes have new moves as well, including being able to slowly slide down and jump off of walls when you touch one; grabbing onto ledges when you jump close to the edge; aiming attacks in any cardinal direction while in the air in order to hit enemies above you, say, in mid-jump; ground-pound by hitting attack+down while in the air; and more. As in most games in the series you get new moves as you progress.

Most levels in this game are standard stages where you explore those stages as described earlier. This is an entirely linear game, even more so than past Rayman games, and I’m fine with that, though I can understand that some may have wanted more exploration here. Instead what you get are segmented levels where you try to collect as many of the lums as you can as you explore each stage. The game has many plantlike items you can punch to make platforms appear or disappear, generate some lums, enable or disable a group of enemies, or such, as interacting with things is important. Some of these are actually traps which enable enemies ahead of you while others are essential, so some learning is required. The level designs are good, so exploring around, finding lums, whacking baddies, and hitting objects to see what they do makes for some pretty good gameplay. There are also death pits, though not often, but remember that deaths only set you back to the beginning of the last stage section, so the game is forgiving in that regard. You can also find additional hit points from some pickups, to be able to survive a hit or two before dying. Once you move on to a new stage section you usually can’t really go back, though, and you get a rating and rewards at the end of each level depending on how many lums and cages you found and how fast you beat the level, so the game encourages replay if you want to get everything in the game. That’s great and adds a lot to the game.

In addition to the standard levels, though, there are also some stages with slightly different rules. I mentioned that music ties into the game at times early in the review, and you see this in the introduction, but it actually comes into play in the game sometimes. The game has some auto-scrolling levels, and here you need to hit the buttons in time with the music in order to progress through the stage. As I’m hopelessly bad at QTEs or anything music-related these are definitely not my favorite part of this game, but at least they still play like a platformer so it’s not too bad. And that music itself is good. It’s not as memorable as the great graphics are, but it is good and fits Rayman’s cartoony world well. And visually, Rayman Origins is bright, colorful, and cartoon-styled. As mentioned the sprites are a bit on the small side, but this was a very good move for both multiplayer and for general screen visibility reasons. All sprites and backgrounds are hand-drawn, and the animations are typically fantastic, and the detailed environments do not make navigation confusing as colors and sprite designs make it very easy to tell each object type apart. That is something many games get wrong, but not this one. Indeed, visually this game is a big-budget title for a modern 2d platformer and it shows. I have always loved the look of environments in Rayman games too, and while Rayman 2 is still my favorite across the board, this game looks really good too. It both is faithful to the series while also looking more modern to fit its much more recent release date, which was no easy feat to pull off I am sure.

So, overall, Rayman Origins is a pretty good platformer. I do still miss 3d Rayman games, and Rayman 2 has still not been topped within the series, but it was fantastic to see a major publisher other than Nintendo put a big effort into a 2d platformer again, and the game turned out well. Rayman Origins does have a few issues, including linearity, sometimes strict button-press requirements in order to get through challenges, a lot of missable items in levels which ensures that you WILL need to replay levels in order to find everything because you can’t just go back and collect the stuff you missed as you go, and such, but these are minor issues compared to all the things the game does right. Between the graphics, music, level designs, gameplay, replay value, and multiplayer, Rayman Origins is recommended for sure. Also available as a physical release for PC, Wii, Playstation 3, Xbox 360, PlayStation Vita, and Nintendo 3DS, and digitally for the PC and Mac through Steam (this version), PlayStation 3 (PSN), PlayStation Vita (PSN), and Xbox 360 (XBLA).

Realms of Chaos (1995) – 1 player, saves, 4 button gamepads supported. Realms of Chaos was the last platformer published by Apogee, my favorite shareware publisher of the early to mid ’90s. I haven’t played as much of this game as I did some of Apogee’s earlier titles, but I have always liked what I have seen of it. Because of its later release date, unlike most Apogee platformers, this game has both 256-color VGA graphics and Soundblaster or even General MIDI music support, so this game looks and sounds pretty good. The game is a somewhat Conan-esque fantasy platform-action game with traditional but good gameplay. You play as two characters, a brother and sister. Fitting to some standard character types, the brother is a warrior and the sister a magic-user. He wears a tunic and fur boots while she has a loincloth and skimpy top, so the outfits mostly fit the setting but the sister’s outfit definitely is skimpier. That is stereotyped, but on the other hand this is one of the only Apogee platformers with a playable female character, so I’ll take what I can get. You can switch between the two of with a button press, which is cool, and important to the gameplay as the two characters play quite differently. Levels are mostly linear, and this game does not have a world map or multiple routes through most levels so it is a more straightforward and action-focused game that is less collection-centric than many Apogee games are. That style fits the genre well, though, and level designs are good. Of games I have covered in the PC Platformers Game Opinion series so far, Claw is probably the closest to this game in terms of gameplay, but each has some things that make it unique.

Starting from the beginning though, both characters can move and jump. Moving is normal, but jumps are partially automated. While you can control your character in the air to a degree, move around in the air; you can nudge the character left or right, so jumps are not fully automated, but you will need to jump from the right point in order to make many jumps. This reminds me of the Prince of Persia style of game design, and the visual look does as well at times, but the rest of the gameplay is more standard so I would not call this one of those games. Here the differences between the two characters first present themselves, and it’s as you might expect: the female character can jump a little farther and moves faster, so she’s more fun to move around as, but on the other hand she has less health. The guy has three circles of health, specifically, while she has only two. Each character does have a separate health bar, but if either dies you restart the level, so switching to the other character when one is injured is important. If you die, you can pick up from your last save or else you will continue from the beginning of the level; continues are unlimited. Remember that this is an Apogee game, so you can save anytime, which is great as always.

You will need both of them, though, as biggest difference is in combat.The brother is a warrior, so he uses a sword. He can only attack at short range, and can only attack left or right, but does a good amount of damage. His attack range is a bit shorter than it looks from the animation, but you get used to it. The sister, however, is a mage, so she can shoot small fireballs which shoot across the screen. She can attack left, right, or up, and that upwards attack is invaluable at times. However, her attacks do less damage per hit than his do, and worse her attacks are limited. Beyond health-up items the main collectible in this game is red gems, and she uses one gem each time you hit the attack button. Gems do carry over from level to level, too, so if you use a lot in one stage you won’t have as many later. So, it is often worthwhile to play as the guy when fighting regular enemies, because he does not have a limited attack. This mechanic works well though, as it forces you to think a bit more during combat than you might otherwise and encourages some exploration to find more of the gems. Also, there are enough scattered around to be able to attack as her quite a bit, most of the time at least. Once you get used to the slightly odd jumping and attack ranges, playing Realms of Chaos is pretty fun.

Levels in Realms of Chaos are, again, linear. Where you need to go is always clear, the only challenge is getting there. Many enemies patrol the platforms that make up most of this game, and below beds of spikes await if you miss a jump or get bumped off a platform by the baddies. That is sometimes frustratingly common, because traps abound in this game, both in the form of enemies diving in from off the screen to attack you, and also things such as collapsing platforms that are sure to kill you at least once, since they do not look different from the other platforms. With your infinite continues you will get past these challenges with practice, though, and the difficulty here is mostly balanced fairly well. The game does lack in variety, as it does not change too much as it goes along, but when you have a good formula that doesn’t matter too much, I think. And it is fun for sure. The colorful graphics are good as well. The art design is good, though not incredible, and there are a nice variety of enemies, including bats, lizardmen, and more. There are multiple background environments you travel through as you explore as well, from forests to caves and castles, and all are pretty well-drawn. There is no parallax scrolling here, unfortunately, but otherwise the visuals are pretty nice for a shareware game. I have had a few issues with how the game runs in DOSBox, such as menus that fail to react, but they are fixable. I like the sort of classical-ish soundtrack as well, and in General MIDI it sounds great. It’s by Bobby Prince, the same guy who also composed for Doom and other Apogee and id titles. Overall, Realms of Chaos is a pretty good action-heavy platformer. The game does have a few issues, including repetitive design and controls that take a little getting used to, but with good visuals and sound, plenty of levels to figure out, a good mechanic in its character-switching concept, and fun core gameplay, it’s well worth playing. The game has a physical release from 1995, and also is available digitally on Steam and on 3D Realms’ website. I have the 3DR site version, and it’s mostly good, though you will need to change the DOSBox settings manually to run in the correct aspect ratio; for some very odd reason they chose to have it default to filling the screen, even though this 4:3 game should only be played at that ratio.

Residue: Final Cut (2014) – 1 player, saves. Residue is a unique adventure/platformer from small indie team The Working Parts. This game is one of those that asks the question, how much does ambition and originality matter versus fun factor? Because while this game is interesting, has a good to great sense of atmosphere, and is mostly well written, the actual gameplay is a mixture of tedium and janky frustration. Despite that, there is something here worth a look. This game is set in the now mostly dried-out Aral Sea basin. Because most of the water was diverted to agriculture, the once-huge lake in north-central Asia, the Aral Sea, now is a wasteland. This game follows the stories of several people who live there and are involved in a mysterious campaign at the edge of one of the remaining parts of the lake. The story takes time to get going so I won’t spoil it, but it did make me want to keep playing to see what would happen next. Unfortunately, while the dried-out-Aral Sea element of the story is interesting, for some reason there is also one of the worst traditional videogame stories here: you need to rescue the woman. In the beginning of the game, a woman gets trapped underwater. She has an air tank, but can’t get free for whatever reason so the main goal of the game is for the three playable characters, who are all male of course, to save her. Blah. Still, the setting and environments are pretty nice. This game has a fairly flat 2d look, and the sprites are not the most detailed and do lack in animation, and it can be hard at times to tell areas you can move or interact with from backgrounds, but the good art direction and stark, barren environments full of rusting ships combine to give the game a good look despite that. The music and sound are good as well, and fit the abandoned, decaying nature of the game perfectly. The script is also fully voice acted by people with thick Slavic accents, presumably from Russia, or Ukraine since that is where the game is set. The voice acting is okay, though it could be better. This is obviously a very low-budget game, and you see it in the janky animations, iffy level designs, and more, but the presentation is good.

For gameplay, Residue is basically a slow-paced platformer with a lot of story scenes telling a graphic adventure game-style story. As such it is a genre crossover; there aren’t many other games quite like this. The game controls with the keyboard, and you move with the left/right arrow keys and do your characters’ action or open doors with the spacebar and up/down arrows. As mentioned there are three characters you play as here, each quite different. You cannot switch between the three when you want, however; instead, you’re stuck with one for a chapter, then switch to someone else as the story demands. The three are the womans’ young son, who can move quickly, jump, and swim; an old man who helps out the boy, and moves very very slowly and can aim around a flashlight to help the two of them see in dark areas for his only action other than walking and using ladders; and the leader of the odd group, a man with medium speed and a grappling hook for mobility. The chapters where you have to play as the old man are far too slow-paced and tedious to ever be fun, unfortunately. The grappling hook guy is better, but the points you can grapple to are so arbitrary and hard to discern that his levels are frustrating at times as well. The boy is the most fun to play as, since he moves the fastest and can swim in the many water-filled areas, but here there are issues as well: instead of being able to freely swim underwater, you can only jump in and then go down a bit deeper once by hitting jump. Once down that deep you can only surface, unless you find an underwater ceiling that will hold you underwater that is. So, you need to find areas to jump from that angle you down to the point you need, and ladders and such underwater to use while there. You do have limited air, though, so watch out; run out and you’ll have to start the stage over. There are also many breaks for conversations as you go, so gameplay is segmented. And again those level designs themselves are not great due to confusing graphical layouts and design.

The game is short too, with only 11 moderate-length stories; this should only take 3-plus hours to beat, if you focus on it, a bit more if you really get stuck somewhere. So, overall, is Residue: Final Cut worth getting? It has iffy gameplay, keyboard-only controls, not-great controls, some tedious parts such as all of the old man levels, an only partially good story, and sometimes confusing graphical design. On the other hand, though, the game has great presentation and atmosphere, varied gameplay, an interesting and quite original core story about the Aral Sea, and some fun parts. Residue is a mixed bag overall, average at best really, so try it or not depending on your interests. Despite all those issues I do think I like this game in the end, but not all will.

Rogue Legacy (2014) – 1 player, saves, gamepad supported (xinput only). Rogue Legacy is a popular roguelike action-platformer from . This 2d, sprite-based game has very nice visuals, good controls, and plenty to do, but I only somewhat reluctantly got this game when it was on sale because I didn’t like what I heard about some elements of the design. Though I have liked some games with inspirations from the field here and there I’ve never been a big roguelike fan, and the roguelike-inspired randomization and repeat-play-required elments are absolutely central to this game. And indeed, playing it, this is a game which could be fun in a more traditional setting, but as it is I don’t want to keep going for long at all. Yes, the graphical design is good. I like the various castle backgrounds, and the variety of enemies and items you can collect is nice. The music fits the game great as well. The combat mostly feels good as well, though it can be too difficult at times. The overall product, however, just is not for me.

So why is that, then? Rogue Legacy is a game about an infinite succession of heroes, sent off into a castle full of monsters with the goal of destroying the evil creatures within. There is a story, but it’s not the main focus of the game. First, you choose one of a couple of possible heroes, each of which has several positive or negative traits. These traits can just be amusing things like something which gets rid of sprite animation, or they can be harmful things such as near-sightedness which makes everything not close to you blurry. Once you’ve chosen an heir, you set off into town. Here you spend money you got in your last run on upgrades for your character and town. Upgrades are permanent to your bloodline (game save file), but you cannot return to the shop once you enter the castle and you lose all money once you enter so spend everything you can every time, so beating this game on your first heir would be nearly impossible; you need to spend many, many generations (games) dying, leaving, and buying upgrade for future generations before finally you will be able to make much progress. The problem is, I don’t like this mechanic. The idea that people inherit everything from their parents is obviously false, first; you inherit some things but not others. So, the basic concept here is nonsense. And beyond that, the idea that you need to have dozens of generations (or more) of this family all die just to form one super-human person actually able to get through the castle is a depressing idea I don’t like; I want the hero to be able to win, not their 100th-generation descendant! I know most people probably would call this a weird thing to complain about, but it bothers me on a storyline level. The resulting gameplay, focused around playing similar areas over and over and over and over, bothers me as well, as I have never liked grinding one bit and that is what you do here. If you could return to the store during a run it’d make things a little better; I’d still prefer this as a traditonal game and not a roguelike, but it’d help. See room13 below, for example, which benefits from getting powerups during a run instead of only between runs.

As for the controls, you move your knight fairly quickly, and can jump, attack, dive-attack straight down, and such as usual. With the right upgrade you can double jump as well, which is great. The game controls okay, but could have been better; with your fast movement it can be harder than I’d like to dodge incoming attacks, and enemies sure will shoot a lot of stuff at you at times. And when you do get hit you die quickly, so the game is very unforgiving. Worse, the game is VERY stingy with handing out health-refilling powerups. It is easy to lose a lot of characters in a hurry, and as you get farther you will need to do well to make any meaningful progress because you lose money when you enter and there is no bank, so you can only spend your last runs’ profits on upgrades each time. This can be a frustrating loop. I’m sure it is satisfying when you finally get a character good enough to get through, but I don’t know if I want to go through all that. The levels themselves are completely randomized as well, it is important to say. Level designs are mostly good, but unless you pay a guy in town beforehand the dungeon will be completely different every time, and the difficulty found within will vary widely from run to run. It’s maybe a bit too unpredictable — will you start near tough rooms with jumping puzzles over death pits, or easy stuff with basic foes? Who knows. This is why pre-designed levels are usually better than random ones, you get a better difficulty curve. Overall, Rogue Legacy has a good engine that I wish they’d made a traditional platformer with. With preset levels, a shop to return to during the game, more health drops (and/or difficulty level options!), no or only a minimal grinding component, and such, it could have been good. As it is, I know a lot of people really like this game, but personally no thanks. Available as a digital download only for all formats: PC, Mac, and Linux through Steam, and PlayStation 3 (PSN), PlayStation Vita (PSN), PlayStation 4 (PSN), and Xbox One on consoles.

room13 (2015, Early Access Game – still unfinished) – 1 player, saves, gamepad supported (xinput only). room13 is a single-screen run & gun shooter developed by The Paper Robot, a one-man team, and published by Clickteam, who mostly make game creation tools. Yes, this game was made with Clickteam Fusion, but it’s interesting to see that they publish games too. More importantly, this is another game that really isn’t a platformer but I’m going to cover here anyway. Please note, room13 is still in Early Access and is unfinished. Most importantly, the Story mode does not exist in the game yet, just an endless Arcade mode. The game is an indie title obviously made on a very small budget, but with solid gameplay and decent art design it’s fun stuff. You play as some weird guy with a variety of heads, as you unlock more as you progress, fighting against endless swarms of zombies in a giant mansion. So yes, this is a zombie game, one of the more tired kinds of games out there, but I do like it despite that. The game has pixel-art graphics with a mostly black, white, and red color scheme, so it’s mostly monochromatic except for the blood. That sounds grim, but the art design itself is cartoony and almost cute, so this isn’t as dark a game as it could have been. It’s simple, but I like room13’s graphical look. The sound and music are fine and fit the game well, but aren’t particularly memorable. As for modes, again here there is only Arcade mode, which is an endless score-attack game where you get only one life per run, so die once and you need to start the game over. The game tells you how long you survived for after you die, which is nice.

The gameplay here is kind of a twin-stick shooter, though with limitations. On a pad, you move with one stick and fire with the other, but you cannot shoot in any direction here; instead, you can only shoot left, right, or straight up. On keyboard, the game uses keyboard-only controls. While it is a bit awkward, moving with WASD while shooting with the arrow keys does kind of work. The controls are fully remappable too, which is nice. You move quickly and have several other moves as well, including a jump, a melee attack, and an attack that shoots a projectile which drains some of your health. You see, you have limited ammo here. As you kill enemies, they drop meat chunks and items. Meat only stays on screen for a limited time, so collect it when you can. As you collect meat it fills a meter on screen, and once full an item appears that ends the level once you touch it. Other items include ammo and health refills and things which destroy all the enemies. Once you finish a stage, you have 10 seconds to grab a random selection of powerups you can get if you want. Sometimes you will find new heads in between levels, particularly after beating a boss level. As these affect your stats, it’s great that you can get these because it means you can win on any run, instead of having to slowly build up skills over the course of many deaths as it is in, say, Rogue Legacy above. Anyway, between stages you also can either play another level in the same room as the last one you were in, or, by entering one of the doors or ladders that open during this time, move over to a different room instead. There are 13 rooms here, each with different layouts, obstacles, points the zombies come from, and traps to avoid and use against the foes. As you would expect, the first room is simple, but later ones are more complex and challenging.

The core gameplay here involves running back and forth, shooting zombies as they spawn and collecting the meat they drop. There is strategy though, as you should save the health and ammo pickups for when you need them, and need to learn each stage for the best points to stick around in as well. Watching your ammo is also key, as running out when you’ve got a bunch of enemies between you and an ammo pickup is trouble! The melee attack can help, but isn’t the most useful thing all the time. The progression here is kind of an issue, though. Enemy AI is tough, and surviving for even a couple of rounds is hard until you’ve put a decent amount of time into this game, but the enemies only keep getting harder for a handful of rounds, while the game wants you to play for as long as 25 rounds in one game in Arcade mode in order to unlock all of the heads. So, if you do get good enough to handle the game it mgiht get repetitive, but so far at least I’m having fun. Overall, though, room13 is a decent one-person indie shooter/platformer with a nice cartoony graphical style and good controls, but limited options, modes, and content. It’s fun for a little while, but will probably get old quickly. Maybe check it out now, or wait for it to finally get out of Early Access and look at what it has then; a Story mode which puts all of the stuff in order, with heads unlocked as you go and regular bosses as I believe is promised, would be great and I’d like to play that mode. As it is give it a try if it sounds interesting.

Schrodinger’s Cat and the Raiders of the Lost Quark (2015) – 1 player, saves, gamepad supported (xinput only). Shrodinger’s Cat and the Raiders of the Lost Quark is an okay puzzle-platformer from Italic Pig and published by Team17. One part partially randomly-generated puzzle-platformer and one part long series of physics jokes, this game is alright and can be fun, but does have some issues. The story is that something has gone very wrong in the Particle Zoo, and it’s up to you, a cat called Shrodinger’s Cat, to save the day. This game is fully voice acted and the Cat has regular conversations with Zoo denizens during your adventures that even have dialog options, so this game has a bit of an adventure game feel to it at times. The entertaining writing may draw people in, though they are heavily physics joke-focused, so some of the comedy is reliant on the player knowing enough about physics to get it. I haven’t taken physics since high school myself, so I’m sure I’m missing some, but still it is good stuff. The graphics are also good and have a nice cartoony look to them. Most characters are various types of subatomic particles, and all have weird or fitting shapes and look good. Background graphics are also nice, but unfortunately most levels are randomly generated rectangles full of random platforms, so there is no flow to stages or the visual look of most of the game.

Unlike the complex physics humor, the basic controls here are simple, though the game has depth. You move with the d-pad or WASD buttons, and jump with W, Spacebar, or a button on the pad. The controls are okay but a bit slippery and average. The game uses one set of buttons beyond those basics, though: you activate Quarks with the arrow keys or the gamepad face buttons. Quarks are collectibles in this game, and there are four kinds of them, all scattered around the levels. Without them you are nearly helpless, with only movement and a basic jump available, but by using Quarks you can activate many more abilities. You use an ability by using three Quarks, and there are at least a dozen combinations available. You press the first two buttons to load those two Quarks into the queue, then hit the third button to activate the power that that combination gives you. There is a combination list on the pause screen, but still you will need to memorize all of the combinations in order to have much fun with this game. Your Quark abilities include a parachute, protective shield, missile to break through one type of terrain, propeller to reach higher areas, net to transport away target enemies, and more. Keeping them all straight takes some time.

This system seems like a good setup for some tricky puzzles, though, and it should have been, but unfortunately most stages are randomly designed. Your goal is to get through while beating as many of the enemies as you can, since the game keeps track of how many have been defeated. The way it works is that the game randomly generates stages for your game, and then they will stay the same throughout your time with the game. So, it may not be obvious that the levels are randomized since you will not see different layouts in levels if you return to earlier areas, but they are. The problem with this is that this really hurts the puzzle element of the game. Quarks probably should be limited, with just the ones needed for each area but instead they are plentiful, and levels feel more like boxes loaded with randomly scattered platforms, Quarks, and foes than they do interesting challenges. Random generation saves game-design time for sure, but it hurts the fun factor so much that I don’t think it’s worth it at all. So, in the end Schrodinger’s Cat and the Raiders of the Lost Quark is an amusing and fairly well-made game with some good humor and plenty to learn, but the repetitive, simplistic environments, boring level designs, and too plentiful Quarks hold the game back quite a bit. This game is alright to good, but it could have been better. Still, it might be worth a look, particularly for people who like science. Available as a digital download only for all formats: PC, Mac, and Linux through Steam, and PlayStation 4 (PSN) and Xbox One on consoles.

Secret Agent (1992) – 1 player, saves, 2-button gamepad supported. Secret Agent, from Apogee, is a great platformer that plays like a sequel to their earlier title Crystal Caves. The story and setting here are entirely original, but the gameplay and engine are taken straight out of Crystal Caves, just with a cheesy and amusing spy-movie setting. So, like many Apogee games, from Commander Keen to Pharaoh’s Tomb, Secret Agent is a collection-heavy platformer where you explore around rectangular and often open-ended stages, collecting stuff and trying to find your way to the exit. Crystal Caves is a good game, but I remember definitely liking this one more when I first played them back in the early ’90s. I only had the shareware version then, not the registered as I do now, but I thought Secret Agent was very good, like a better version of Crystal Caves in a different setting. I haven’t played the game in quite some time now though, so how does it hold up? Well, it is good, but the game does have a few issues. First, despite releasing in 1992, Secret Agent runs only in 16-color EGA and only has PC Speaker audio, not Soundblaster. I don’t mind the EGA, but sound card support would have been great, and had been in some previous Apogee titles. And also just like Crystal Caves and Pharaoh’s Tomb and its followups Monuments of Mars and Arctic Adventure, Secret Agent has tiny little sprites of limited detail, in order to fit as much as possible on the screen. The art and art direction is pretty good, and the spy-movie theme continues throughout, though, so they did what they could with the small sprites allowed. You’ll see ’60s-style giant computers, killer robots, enemy agents, and plenty more as you explore the stages. The game mostly re-uses the same enemies and obstacles throughout, so there isn’t much graphical or gameplay variety in the game, but what is here is good.

The controls here are quite simple: you can walk, shoot, and jump. Your movement speed is not fast, but it’s just right for the small scale of the levels. As for jumping, that can take practice; jumping controls are a little stiff, you fall quickly and sort of stick to ceilings when you bump them, so learning how to make jumps over low ceilings or how to fall onto a moving platform without ending up in the instant-death water below takes practice, but you will eventually get the hang of it. As for your gun, it shoots straight, but consider each shot carefully because you have very limited ammo, and ammo carries over from level to level so if you use it all up in one stage you won’t have much in the next one. This can serve to encourage stealth and avoidance, and stages often are designed in ways that let you avoid at least some foes, which can be fun. On the whole the controls are good and responsive. While touching traps like water kill you instantly, otherwise you get three hit points per life. You also get infinite lives from the start of each stage. Yes, infinite lives are not a modern concept in platformer design, Apogee was doing it back in the early ’90s! The game has a world map where you choose which level to play next as well, and you can save anytime on the map. This game has a point system of course, so as in Commander Keen and others once you’ve beaten a level you cannot replay it in that game, so while you can try a stage as many times as you want before beating it, for score purposes if you care about points you’ll want to get as much as possible in that run in which you beat the stage. It’s all designed well.

The stage layouts themselves are familiar, as I said, but Secret Agent does have a few original elements. First, to beat each level, you must find the dynamite item in that stage and then bring it to the exit door; only then can you leave. Ammo pickups are also scattered around, but I mentioned them already. Each one gives you only five bullets, so use them carefully. The usual requisite colored keycards are here as well, in red, blue, and green, but this time going through a door uses that key, so you’ll need top find another key to go through another door of the same color. Also, fitting the spy movie theme, there are computers scattered around which do things such as disable death lasers. You can’t just use the computer though, but need to find the floppy disk item in the level, then go to the computer. One other collectible that means more than just points are the X-Ray glasses, which make more platforms appear, as now you can see previously invisible platforms. You can’t actually land on these invisible platforms without the glasses, so they act more as a switch than real “invisible platform detectors”, but still, it’s a unique spin on a quite traditional concept. Most of the rest of the items in each level only exist to boost your score. The villains’ thugs patrolling each level will try to keep you from reaching the end, though. Moving enemies just patrol back and forth in a space, but they will charge or shoot at you on sight depending on which type of enemy they are, so you always need to be careful. Levels are basically big puzzles, you just need to figure out the best route through the stage that gets you all the items. If you do kill enemies you will get points, and grabbing the gravestones dead enemies drop gets you more, but that all uses ammo so again it won’t always be the best strategy. This game is hard from the beginning, so the learning curve at first is steep, but once you get used to it you’ll make good progress.

So, overall, I still like Secret Agent a lot. The gameplay may be simple and straightforward, but the depth and challenge of the many levels will keep you coming back. With lots of levels, nicely-drawn if tiny graphics, a consistent challenge, and just plain good gameplay, this is a game that I still like. Once you get used to the jumping, I really have no complaints with this game beyond wishing it had sound card support for some music. Perhaps more of a difficulty curve would have been nice, going from easy to hard instead of the consistently challenging difficulty of the game as it is, but it works well as it is, I think. Secret Agent is a great game for sure, and definitely give it a try if you like any games like this. The game has a physical release from 1992, and also is available digitally on Steam and on 3D Realms’ website. I have the 3DR site version, and it’s mostly good, though you will need to change the DOSBox settings manually to run in the correct aspect ratio; for some very odd reason they chose to have it default to filling the screen, even though this 4:3 game should only be played at that ratio.

About Brian

Computer and video game lover
This entry was posted in Classic Games, Game Opinion Summaries, Modern Games, PC, PC, Reviews and tagged , , . Bookmark the permalink.

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