Hype Train: Streets of Rage 4

I was reading various blog posts and otherwise trolling the Internet yesterday and came across a game I had no idea coming. Series as old as this one rarely get direct sequels, rather reimaginings or reboots or even remakes. But 26 years ago, the last entry in the Streets of Rage franchise released. That is, until Thursday. Seriously, I think perhaps the lack of an E3 this year or simply the fact that I haven’t paid as much attention to gaming news sources lately let this one slip by. I was a huge fan of this style of side-scrolling beat-em-up game in the 1990’s. Back then I was fully a SEGA kid, and I played all three games in the series religiously, along with others like it — the Golden Axe series and TMNT: The Hyperstone Heist for example. We can’t say that these games were revolutionary, mainly because there are so many of them and so many that did different things in different ways. I largely left the side-scrolling and platforming genre behind in the 90’s, until a few years back when I started playing some rogue-likes and metrodvanias that started making a comeback with current technology. It turns out I still enjoy the play pattern, though these games tend to hold my interest a little less than they once did. Still, this seems like the perfect couch co-op game, and also has some online functionality that could make it even better. I’m not sure if they’re going to take things to Dragon’s Crown levels of replay-ability, but it still seems to have enough features to feel like a worth while purchase, if nothing else for nostalgia alone. Take a look at the reveal trailer and you’ll see what there is to like.

The game looks pretty damn beautiful, yet captures the spirit of the originals. I can tell this by just looking at it, but it also seems to have improved the combat mechanics to a point where there are more things to do than just mash a button (though I’m sure there’s still a lot of that). Another selling point they revealed is the ability to play with all of the playable characters through the original trilogy, but also included a couple of new characters, so I imagine there’s a lot of different combinations there to play with, and I’m sure achievements could be bound to completing things with each. Also noted is the ability to play as retro versions of the characters inside of the new engine, which is a nice touch, though I think I’m more inclined to stick to new artwork for a new game.

It’s an interesting idea that also attempts to pull on the heart strings, but since I own copies of the originals I can get that experience anytime and would prefer looking at the new stuff. The final selling point is “battle mode” which I guess was something you could do with the old games? I honestly don’t remember. Anyway, here’s that:

It’s a thing. It looks like it could be pretty fun, it’s obviously up to 4 player brawls, but I also don’t see a lot of room for strategy either. I guess it’s sort of a mini Street Fighter game within a game. Whatever the case I think the package as a whole looks pretty damn sweet, and with a $25 price point I can’t help but pick it up. I’m hoping to rope the family into playing it with me, as a last feature I can note is that there is now 4 player local co-op for the game. I’ll likely have more to say about this one come the weekend as release is in just a couple of days.

Thoughts on Blasphemous

I didn’t hear about Blasphemous upon its release last year. I also am not typically looking for Metroidvania style games to play — I enjoy them, but few do much to set themselves apart from the crowd. Recently the Playstation Store has been hosting a “Mega March Sale” and with much of the world on quarantine, it was a perfect way to pick up some games on the cheap to have something to do while social distancing. It also turns out that this game does set itself apart in ways I didn’t expect, in that it has combined elements of those games that have come before but has done so in a way that appeals to modern gamers. So yes, it’s a side-scrolling hack n’ slash game, but it does have check points, more interesting combat that evolves over time, and a fantastic art style reminiscent of the Atari/Amiga era of the 1980’s. Examples:

Thought this is pixel art, it’s very high res and the animations are smooth. Back in those early days these images would have been still with very little animation, whereas these are full on cutscenes done in this fantastic artwork. But, I understand that this isn’t for everyone, so your appreciation may vary. Blasphemous is also a rather adult oriented game. There are religious influences along with blood and gore. I’m assuming there might even be nudity, because it’s already come close, but whatever the case the aesthetic works very well for me. When you’re actually playing the game, it looks a bit different, but is still pixel-perfect:

You’ll meet a variety of characters, mostly in various states of unrest. There is a small safe area that is functionally a town, where you can save your game and use the currency to make upgrades to your fighting skills, along with infusing your sword with additional properties. It turns out there is quite a bit of progression when it comes to this, as various skill/item trees exist in the menus. Your sword gets Mea Culpas, your magic spells are called Prayers. You’ll also collect prayer beads that give valuable passives, and there are some items that increase your health, the number of health potions you can carry and your magical energy as well. This is reminiscent of the Souls games in that your only fail safes are the couple of potions you can carry, and refilling them and saving your progress only happens when you visit the shrines that are pretty well spread out.

The combat is also more than just button mashing. You have the standard sword strike, and it chains up to three times. You can duck and jump swing to hit differing enemies, but eventually you’ll run into those that have wide swinging arcs or other defenses, and will have to either slide past them or parry into riposte. These things all make more sense when you’re playing the game, but each set of enemies comes with their own challenges. Death comes early and often. Upon dying, you’ll also drop your soul, and the guilt of losing that energy weighs upon you. Finding the soul in the world where you died will gain you back the favor and whatnot that you’ve lost.

Really, if I had to make comparisons to other games, this is the 2-D version of the Souls games, but also more reminiscent of Castlevania II: Simon’s Quest. I feel the back and forth nature, along with little baubles to collect and side quests that aren’t really very defined fits the mold of that game. The gothic design of the game helps as well. Overall this was a very pleasant surprise of a game and I’m glad I picked it up. If you’re into this style of game you’ll definitely want to give it a try.

Quick Thoughts: Castlevania Collection and Dragon’s Crown Pro

There was a “Retro Sale” on PSN the other day and a few titles caught my eye. There has been a nice trend of old school games getting repackaged into collections and ported to the Playstation and though we’ve seen this before, it’s become more prominent. Not only are we getting some awesome retro games you can’t get elsewhere (unless you own the original consoles and cartridges, which most of us do not [hence the retro console emulation boom]), we’re also getting retro games redone with modern graphics and I couldn’t be happier with some of these products. Not only have I picked up the NES and SNES minis, I have a retro Genesis console, a Genesis collection, I picked up Shadow of the Colossus, the Crash Trilogy and CTR, even the new Resident Evil 2 redo. One that is on my list to pick up is the remake of the Spryo Trilogy, and though it was on sale too I didn’t want to spend too much all at once. There were a few other collections of old arcade style games that I was interested in as well, but I try to limit my spending on games particularly when I’m already working my way through multiple titles. As such, I settled on the recently released Castlevania Anniversary Collection, and the upgraded Dragon’s Crown Pro.

Truth be told, I don’t think I’ve ever completed a Castlevania title. I remember playing Simon’s Quest and Dracula’s Curse on my NES, and the Genesis title Bloodlines, but I don’t think I ever completed them. The other games on the list are all new to me.

The menu is slick, and the collection boasts eight full games. The original trilogy from the NES, Super Castlevania IV from the SNES, two Gameboy titles, the Genesis version, and the never before released in the US Kid Dracula. The games are pixel perfect, meaning they won’t fill up the entire screen and are displayed in 480p. The games run fine, but do have the same sort of clipping and hitching present in the original cartridges.

There are definitely some memorable moments here, the church with the creepy looking priest has been etched into my mind from my youth. I love the quote above, there’s actually a Black Dahlia Murder song by the same name. Castlevania is a typical platforming game, but Simon’s Quest was truly epic and was one of the first games I played with RPG elements. The third title introduced branching storylines and additional playable characters, and this feels like it was before its time. The SNES and Genesis games are better performing and slightly better looking, but overall follow the same formula. I couldn’t get into the gameboy versions… they are just terrible to look at and not satisfying to play. Kid Dracula seems fine as platformers go, but I actually like the more adult oriented games in the series, and this one is a little too cute for my liking, but overall they are cool games that everyone should at least check out if nothing else.

The collection also has a bonus digital book that is actually really cool. It tells the developer’s stories, the game’s stories and even has artwork and compares and contrasts the Japanese and US versions. I spent some time pouring through this and I think it was a nice touch.

The other game I picked up is Dragon’s Crown Pro. I played the original Dragon’s Crown on PS3 a few years back, and I remember hearing about the game being ported to the PS4 but when it launched they were still asking $40 for it which I felt was a bit much. I paid full price for the original but it was a new game and something that appealed to me so it was a no-brainer. In this case I wanted to wait for a sale, because though the game has been made to support up to 4k resolutions, I don’t have a capable TV so the only real upgrade here is that the full soundtrack was redone by an orchestra. It does seem to run smoother too, I’d attribute that to the better hardware. Either way it’s still the same game, but it was an awesome game and I’ve been having a blast playing it again. Both versions have the same trophy set, and upon inspection it turns out that the last time I earned a trophy on the PS3 was back in 2013, so it’s definitely been long enough that I don’t really remember the storyline.

Playing again has been refreshing. I remember there being some updates that occurred with the game that sounded interesting but I never went back and played it after beating it a single time through. The character I played on the PS3 was the Dwarf, so this time around I created a Fighter and have started over. It does support save game importing, but for whatever reason it was saying that it couldn’t find my save data from the PS3, so I would have had to track that down and it wasn’t worth the effort to me. I’m okay with playing the whole game through again anyway. Dragon’s Crown is essentially Golden Axe meets Diablo. It’s a side-scrolling 2D fantasy brawler that you’ll be familiar with if you ever played Golden Axe, Streets of Rage, TMNT, X-Men or countless other Arcade and Console titles. What keeps things interesting here is the fact that there is a town that serves as a central hub where you can buy and sell goods, pick up quests, modify your party of AI characters and other various activities. You’ll also get gear as you play, level up and spend skill points to customize your character. You’ll always only have one character to play, but you’ll change out the AI quite regularly, or you can go online and play with friends or strangers.

The art style is amazing, hand-drawn and slick. I love it but I’m also not easily offended. There was controversy over this game due to the depiction of its characters — women are almost always scantily clad and out of proportion, and men are also muscle bound meat heads. If you can overlook this, you’ll find a cool story with great music and voice acting, along with fun mechanics that have a lot of replay value.

The bosses in each stage get progressively more challenging, and in between story quests you’ll get side quests that require you to revisit areas you’ve already been to. Later on you’ll also gain access to branching paths that expand on previous areas and give more opportunity for stories and loot. From what I remember they had also added in an endless mode or something to that effect, and in that you can level up to ridiculous power levels. Some of the trophies require finishing all of the quests or beating certain bosses on harder difficulties in short amounts of time, so it’s a game that can potentially be played for a very long time.

The skill system is set up with various cards, and each character has their class specific abilities along with those common to all classes. A fair mix of both is probably the best course of action, but you’ll be able to tack on extra effects to your attacks along with making things you pick up give you health or extra points that translate into XP. It’s a well balanced game and each character has interesting skills, though it all really boils down to mashing the right buttons at the right times. Don’t forget to bring healing potions too!

Overall both of these games are worth their asking price, but even better on sale.

Guns, Gore & Cannoli

One of my friends told me about the excellent Guns, Gore & Cannoli back when it released in 2015. I never got around to playing it until recently — it was on sale for a couple of bucks that I just so happened to have on my account so I picked it up. Apparently there is a sequel that released at the beginning of the year as well, perhaps after I complete the original I might pick that one up too.

If you’ve played a side-scrolling platformer, you’ve played them all. There isn’t a lot here to set GG&C apart from the competition outside of its unique storyline and excellent hand-drawn art style. I suppose that goes for most platformers too, as each tries to carve its own niche in the genre in a similar fashion. Our story revolves around Mr. Cannoli, a mob man that was called to “Thugtown” to help with a job. Unfortunately for him, stories have been coming out of the town about angry mobs attacking any and everyone. These mobs of course, are Zombies. I love Zombie related media, so this one fits in nicely as a different take on the Zombie genre. There’s no real explanation of how the Zombies came to be, you just arrive at the town via ship after a short animated introduction, and Zombies have already boarded and eliminated the crew. Good thing you’re a badass mobster who’s packing heat!

As far as the action goes, it’s pretty straight forward. You will pick up a variety of guns that come in varying power levels. You’ll shoot, reload and blow up zombies with grenades and molotovs. You’ll eat cannoli to regain health. You can jump, you can kick, and that’s really all there is to it. You don’t get the full range of direction to aim with, it’s simply shoot left or right, jump if you need to aim higher, and crouch if you need to aim lower. Most zombies are upright, but there are those who crawl, some have shields, some throw barrels/axes, and some run while others walk. Pretty much the entire gamut of zombie themes are present here. I really enjoy the art direction and the gameplay is smooth and easy to jump into. The most recent game I’ve played that I’d compare it to is Rocketbirds: Hardboiled Chicken (which was also a rather excellent game — loved the soundtrack!). Really, there isn’t much to expect in the way of differences, but platformers have always been a fun distraction from more complicated games and are usually a good way to boost your trophy count. I can’t say that I would pay a ton for games like these, but when you can get them on sale for under $5, it’s worth the admission price.

Thoughts on Chasm

I don’t remember where I first saw Chasm. I just know that when I saw it, I wanted to play it and its been on my wishlist ever since. I’d kind of forgotten about it, to be honest, because when I saw that it released the other day, I was surprised to find that it had been on my wishlist since 2016! Apparently this was a crowdfunded title and there were some development hiccups along the way, but it has officially released on PC and Console, and being a Metroidvania my preferred version was on the PS4. I downloaded it on release day and got to playing it shortly thereafter.

For the uninitiated, a “Metroidvania” is a particular style of game. It’s one part side-scrolling platformer and one part gated exploration. For instance, on a given level, you’ll come across places that should be accessible but are not due to lack of a particular skill. You’ll find a small crack in the ground and later get a ground pound ability to get through it, or will find a way to shrink to fit under low hanging boundaries. This type of game’s namesakes are Metroid and Castlevania, two pioneering titles of the genre. Chasm has these same sorts of mechanics, but have added some RPG elements along with a touch of procedural generation. As such, when you start a new game it will be a particular seed, and you could give this seed name out to share the same world with someone else.

Our story opens with an introduction to the protaganist (named by you), who is a recruit for some army or another. Your first task is to head to the town of Karthas and find out what is going on with the mines there. After a long journey (on foot) you arrive and it appears to be a ghost town. After inspecting the buildings, you’ll run into the mine’s foreman who is holed up in his office. He tells you that the miners dug a bit too deep and that something terrible happened and now they are all trapped down there.

You’ll head into the mines with little more than a sword and some quilted armor. From there it’s hack and slash time, with platforming jumpy bits in between. The map will open up as you progress, and soon you’ll find some of the townsfolk trapped in cages. Release them and they will return to town, and new options will open up for you.

One of the townsfolk is a merchant that you can buy from and sell to. Another opens up new areas in the mine, while the last one I found took up residence in the tavern, and has a gambling game you can play. I have no idea what sorts of prizes you might win, I lost the only coin I had to the machine.

The menu system is pretty straight forward. You’ll find your typical RPG character sheet with stats, an equipment menu to gear up on, and your item inventory screen with descriptions of things you’re picking up. Food items will restore health in a pinch, and some valuables appear to be used in crafting though I guess I haven’t rescued the appropriate NPC just yet. There is also a bestiary tab with stats and info on monsters you fight, with each individual monster requiring a set amount of kills before you open their page.

I’ve faced off against a couple of different bosses so far, and they weren’t too difficult once you figured out their play pattern. As I mentioned earlier, these style of games tend to have a gating system that requires you to find particular equipment or skills to progress past certain points, and so far the only item I’ve found are the Spiked Gloves. These allow you to grab onto ledges and traverse areas you couldn’t reach before. Still haven’t found a way to shrink or slide/roll to get through small spaces, but I have found those areas on the map.

The only way to save your game is to come across these altars (one is also present up in Karthas) which means you’ll have to be careful in between saves. I’ve had a few deaths and though you don’t really lose anything XP or gear wise, you do lose any progress since your last save. Hoarding HP items is probably the best advice I can give, but once you learn the play patterns of enemies it becomes fairly easy to avoid death. I’ve delved fairly deep to this point, down to the third level of the mine which has stopped looking like a mine and more like some ancient temple. I imagine there will be different biomes as I persist, but to this point it has been slowly ramping up in difficulty and I can’t complain. Chasm was listed for $20 but was on sale for $17.99 during the first week. I’d recommend it if you enjoy this style of game and are looking for something new. The random element might make it worth several playthroughs, I’ll let you know if that’s the case once I’ve completed it for the first time.