D&D: Family Game – Lost Mine of Phandelver (pt 2)

It’s been about two months since I first shared my progress on my family’s D&D adventures. Unlike many D&D players who can clock in whole afternoons or weekend-long marathon sessions, my family typically only has a few hours a week in which to play. So it’s taken us about two months to get about six-eight hours of playtime in. But things are going well!

Since my last post, my wife and children searched the site of the ambush and discovered the trail back to the goblin’s cave lair. When encountering some goblins outside of the cave entrance, they decided to take one of the goblin guards captive. Hence, the character of “Gronk” was born. Despite trying to follow the adventure as detailed in the book, Gronk ended up being a creation all my own, but one that is also likely to be one of the more memorable parts of the story.

Gronk provided the party with various bits of information (and misinformation) regarding the goblin’s hideout. My youngest son actually became quite fond of the character, and as a result was vastly disappointed when Gronk seized the first opportunity to alert the other goblins in the cave to the party’s presence. As the PCs explored the hideout they came across both the goblin’s bugbear leader and his ambitious second-in-command (who was more than willing to trade a human captive in exchange for the bugbear’s head).

The small hideout detailed in this part of the adventure served as a fantastic introduction to the concept of the “dungeon crawl”. By the time my family was ready to exit the cave, they were very careful to check for traps and other unexpected nastiness around every corner. (Experience can be a brutal teacher). So far, this adventure has truly proven to be a fantastic introduction to Dungeons & Dragons. Next session (assuming my family doesn’t do something completely unexpected), they should end up in the town of Phandelver itself. So far, any actual roleplaying interactions have limited to conversations with Gronk (who was not much of a conversationalist), so I’m interested to see their interactions with actual NPCs over the next few sessions.

More to come.

FFXIV: The Current State of Final Fantasy XIV

I just completed a post discussing the most recent update to Final Fantasy XIV. But I wanted to take a moment to talk a bit about the current state of the game.

Final Fantasy XIV has been very much an emotional rollercoaster since its release. Like everyone else, I was excited when the game was first announced, only to be be terribly let down by all the bugs and lack of content. Then, we had the announcement of 2.0. I found myself re-invigorated. I soldiered through the bulk of 1.0 and looked forward to the promised land on the horizon. Once 2.0 arrived, it seemed like every promise made to us by SE had been fulfilled. Optimism regarding the game was at an all time high. Frequent updates and ever-changing content kept myself, and other players emotionally invested in the game. This was heightened further with the announcement of FFXIV 3.0. The 3.0 launch came and went. The content was good, but it seemed to lack just a little of whatever magic made A Realm Reborn so great. By now the release/update pattern had become very apparent. Q.o.L patches, followed by content patches, each containing and small chunks of storyline content. Things started to feel pretty routine for me at this point. This pattern continued with 4.0. While I LOVED the new areas, jobs, and music introduced in the Stormblood expansion, I could feel my zest for the game slowly settle into a lull.

If that were simply the only complaint, I think everything would be fine. But, there’s been other issues. The most recent offense for me has been the release of the FFXIV Companion app. For years, SE has promised us an app that will allow us to chat with friends, view our characters, make in-game purchases, etc. While the Companion app does indeed deliver on all of these promises, it has really turned out to be nothing more than a giant cash grab by SE. Nearly all of the good features are locked behind another subscription fee. Once I realize this, I was a bit pissed off (to be blunt). And as it turns out, I wasn’t alone. The vast majority of players share this sentiment. But to date, SE has refused to acknowledge our complaints.

To add insult to injury, SE continues to release more and more emotes, costumes, and other digital content to the real money store. Now, I don’t have a problem with this per se. But in my opinion, a game that requires a monthly subscription, should keep optional purchases to a minimum. Instead, SE seems to have doubled down on their real money transactions adding several every month or so.

To get to the point, there’s very little motivation for my to keep my subscription going. There was a time that I would clock in several hours a day on this game. These days, I barely get several hours a month. I typically only play whenever a new patch is released. I grind through the new storyline and quest content. I run the dungeons a few times, tackle the new raids, etc. Then, I’m  bored and done until the next patch hits.

As I type this, I’m seriously considering taking my first break from FFXIV. Maybe just for a short while or perhaps for good. I really don’t know. If I do quit, I’m sure the next expansion is likely to tempt me. But considering the way I feel today, I’m unsure if I’ll actually take the bait. Of course, I’d still cover any major expansions to the game from an informative standpoint here on the site. But will I continue to invest myself into the game? Time will tell.

FFXIV: Version 4.4 Update

It’s been just shy of a month since the latest Final Fantasy XIV update was released. Historically, I’ve always burned through new content at a rapid pace. However, with some of these more recent releases, things have slowed down for me. To be completely honest, I fear my interest in the game is waning. But, let’s not dwell on that now. Let’s take a peek at patch 4.4; Prelude in Violet.

With this patch, I feel like we’ve reached a transitional period in the storyline. Loose ends are starting to be tied up, yet breadcrumbs for what lies ahead are also beginning to appear. If SE follows tradition, I feel like an announcement for 5.0 is just around the corner. And if I had to place a bet, I’d be willing to guess that the Empire of Garlemald will be the focus of the next expansion.

So, let’s see what’s all included in this update:

  • New main scenario and side quests
  • New dungeons
  • New raids
  • New trials
  • New wedding content
  • New treasure hunt content
  • Squadron/Grand Company updates
  • Mannequins and housing updates
  • Various refinements, balancing changes, items, and Q.o.L tweaks

All in all, 4.4 ends up being a fairly solid update to the game. There’s A LOT of Q.o.L stuff included in this update, as well as a lot of new behind-the-scenes changes that are laying the groundwork for some upcoming enhancements to the game (online settings back-ups, UI skins, etc). Sadly, there’s also very little included in this update to wow players. Most of what we have here is more of the same routine we’ve seen from SE thus far. Some will like that, others (like me) will pine for something different. But, as always the writing and storytelling to second to none.

I give this patch a rating of:  B

 

 

Retro Rewind: Atari 2600

I’ve spent the last two posts talking about some of my favorite golden-age arcade games. This time, I’m going to focus on one of the earliest home video game consoles, the Atari 2600.  Interactive video games had actually been around for a quite some time.But they really hit the mainstream in the late 70’s-early 80’s. Hoping to cash in on what believed to be the “next big thing”, Magnavox developed the Odyssey – the first home video game console. However, it wasn’t until Atari released the Atari 2600 Video Computer System that the public really took notice.

The Atari 2600 was originally released in 1977 and took the market by storm. At last, friends could enjoy two-player video games in their own home. New and unique games were being released for the 2600 at a rapid-fire pace. Famous arcade titles were even being ported to the system (albeit in very poor quality). For several years, it seemed like the sky was the limit for Atari. However, by 1983 interest began to wane for the system. The overall poor quality of many of the games, as well as an over-saturated market ultimately led to the 2600’s downfall.

Many of the best games for the Atari 2600 were actually classic arcade games (Frogger, Pac-Man, Centipede), but these ports are dreadful when compared to the original arcade versions. Regardless, the 2600 still played host to some worthy titles. Four of my favorite 2600 games are as follows:

Adventure

Adventure – This was the first overworld exploration game. The purpose of Adventure is to explore an open environment in search of a magic chalice. Once found, return it the golden castle at the beginning of the game. To say Adventure was ahead of its time is an understatement. Games like The Legend of Zelda likely would not exist if it wasn’t for Adventure. This game invented the concept of free-roaming enemies, “continues”, and even Easter Eggs. Naturally, when compared with modern equivalents, Adventure has not aged well. But it is still worth a look for curious gamers.

Haunted House – If Adventure is considered the first fantasy-action games, then Haunted House might very well be the first survival horror title. In this game, you explore a dark haunted mansion in search of pieces to a broken urn. The gameplay is best described as “bumping around in the dark” while looking for items. To actually find anything, the player must light a match that illuminates a small area around them – but doing so will attract monsters. Haunted House was a favorite of mine as a child. But most everyone I knew refused to read the instruct booklet and therefore did not understand/enjoy the game. This a shame, as the game itself is quite well done.

Pitfall!

Pitfall! – If I had to pick a favorite Atari 2600 title, it would be Pitfall!.  This is a side-scrolling action game in which our hero must jump over rolling logs, swing on vines, and avoid mean little critters as he searches the jungle for rumored treasure. Pitfall! may have been the first side-scrolling game that I ever played. As a result, it kindled my interest in the genre for years to come. If you are going to play any game that the Atari 2600 has to offer, this is the one I recommend.

Swordquest – As an honorable mention, I’m including the Swordquest games in my list. I’m not doing so because they were particularly good games… but rather due to the legacy that follows them. Swordquest was a series that consisted of three released titles (Waterworld,  Earthworld, and Fireworld), and a fourth unreleased title (Airworld). These games were part of a larger real-life contest. Depending on which game you were playing, clues were hidden in the game’s instruction manual as well as in a comic book that was included with each game. Players who uncovered the game’s secrets could then write in and hope to be selected to participate in a special contest. The winner of the contest would be awarded with actual treasures. The rewards included: an 18-karat gold talisman that was littered with various gemstones, a jewel-adorned solid gold crown, a jeweled platinum chalice, and a gem-encrusted jewelry box. Of these rewards, two were distributed. The fate of the remaining two are shrouded in mystery… The gameplay itself is a mixture of various genres. For the most part, the main areas of the game were similar to Adventure. But occasionally, the style would switch to various puzzles and platform challenges.  Since the games themselves were designed around a now defunct contest, and the storyline for the games has been left unfinished, there’s very little reason to play these titles today. But the mythology behind them still fascinates many.

 

So, let’s say you’re curious and want to get your hands on these (and other) classic Atari 2600 games. How to do that? Well, a vast number of Atari 2600 titles are included in a the Atari Vault collection. This collection features one-hundred classic Atari titles (both 2600 and Arcade versions). Classics like Centipede, Crystal Castles, Adventure, Haunted House, etc are all included. Xbox One and PS4 users also have their own collection of classic Atari games. However, if you’re hankering to play some Pitfall! The Atari Vault will disappoint.  Currently, the only modern way to enjoy that game is on the Atari Flashback console (version 8 or newer).

 

For 2600 fans, the Atari Flashback 8 Gold is my currently my official recommendation. But, if you can be patient, the Atari Flashback 9 is just around the corner and will included even more long-forgotten games. These consoles simply plug into your TV using an HDMI port. – Just make sure you’re getting the GOLD version if you decide not to wait for the Atari Flashback 9. The non-gold “8” console does not use HDMI and will likely not be compatible with most modern televisions.

Atari Vault

 

 

Atari Vault is available on Steam,

Atari Flashback Classics (vol 1 and 2) are available on PS4 and Xbox One

 

Retro Rewind: Golden-Age Classics (Part 2)

First, I want to start this post with an apology for my absence. When I make multi-part posts like this one, I like to try to have them uploaded no more than a few days apart. In this case it’s been a little over a week since my last entry. This delay was largely due to a recent career change. That’s right, I’m no longer working from home in the banking industry. Instead, I’ve switched gears for something a little more blue-collar. I decided a few months ago that the mental stress caused by my previous job was best abandoned for something a bit simpler. It’s taken me a few weeks to adjust to the new schedule and find my groove. So again, I apologize for the delay. With that out of the way, let’s continue our journey into some of the classic arcade titles of the 1980’s!

Millipede

Millipede – In the same way that Galaga was a re-imagining of Galaxian, Millipede is an update to the classic Centipede. The gameplay is largely the same, with the exception of some new enemies and environmental objects. Millipede was intended to replace its predecessor. But for many players, myself included, it just didn’t have the same magic as the original game. I’m not sure what it is exactly – as both games are very similar. But I just prefer Centipede over this update. Sadly, if you’re curious about Millipede, you’re a bit out of luck. While Millipede has been released on a number of systems over the years, it is currently unavailable on modern consoles.

Donkey Kong Jr. – In my last entry I spoke a bit about the Nintendo arcade classic Donkey Kong. Well, as you might expect, Donkey Kong Jr. is a sequel to that legendary game. The original game ends when Mario captures Donkey Kong and rescues his girlfriend. In this title, you play as the son of Donkey Kong on a quest to rescue his father. Much like the previous game, this is a fast-paced platform title. It’s a fun twist on the original title and one that I actually find it to be a bit more enjoyable than the first. Donkey Kong Jr. is currently available on the Nintendo Virtual Console and coming soon to the Nintendo Switch online service. I highly recommend this one to anyone who enjoys Nintendo-style platformers.

Joust – Did you ever want to knock out a friend with a giant lance from the back of a speeding bird? If so, Joust is the game for you. While not the first 2-player co-operative/competitive video game, it was arguably the most popular.  In Joust, you can either work together with a friend to eliminate bad guys from the back of a flying ostrich, or you can simply duke it out head-to-head. Personally, I can tell you that when I was young, the whole point of playing Joust was to compete with someone else. It was very therapeutic. In fact, many disputes of my youth were settled via Joust matches. Today, curious gamers can  experience this title via the Xbox Live Arcade.

Moon Patrol

Moon Patrol – I loved this game when I was a kid. Nothing was better than Moon Patrol. I remember how excited I was to see that the game was finally available on the Atari 2600, only to quickly have that excitement deflated upon seeing just how horrendous the Atari port actually was. It was bad… So, so bad. The arcade was the only way to really experience this classic title when I was a kid. What made Moon Patrol so great? Well, first of all, there was the “moon buggy”. Who didn’t want to drive a funky-looking moon buggy across the lunar surface while blasting aliens and hopping craters? I know I sure did. The game was made even better by the catchy theme song that played throughout the game itself. All of this made Moon Patrol a classic that still withstands the test of time. Moon Patrol is available today on the PS4 and Nintendo Switch.

Pole PositionNeed for Speed, Forza, Gran Turismo – all of these game franchises owe their success to Pole PositionPole Position is the original arcade racing game. There was no joystick on a Pole Position machine. Instead, the game machine was equipped with a steering wheel and gas pedal. There was nothing else like it at the time. I remember sitting down in the arcade driver’s seat for the first time, I was blown away. This game was unlike anything else I had ever seen. For kids like me, Pole Position set a very unrealistic expectation about what driving a car was actually like – but that’s what makes it fun! Today, you can play the original game as part of the NAMCO Museum collection on Xbox Arcade.  However, the only way to relive the original experience is by sitting inside one of the classic Pole Position machines, assuming you can manage to find one.

Q*Bert – Here we have one of the true classic golden-age titles: Q*bert. When I was a kid, Q*Bert blew me away because it was a video game that could actually talk – well, sort of. The game has a very basic synthesizer built into the audio board. This allowed the game to output obscure vocal tones. However, these phonmes don’t actually end up being combined into English words, instead it was gibberish. The result was very unique and quirky. Regardless, it was pretty groundbreaking at the time. Q*Bert is a game in which each level is comprised of a number of 3D-like cubes. The player controls a funky little orange character that jumps from cube to cube in attempt to change each cube to a uniform color. Once every cube on the stage matches, the levels ends and the game progresses. Of course, there are a handful of bad guys hopping around also. So you must always be aware of your surroundings. This game was a favorite of mine when I was very young. Today, Q*Bert is available on the PS4 and Xbox One as part of Q*Bert Rebooted. This title includes the original classic, as well as a modern re-imagining of the game.

Mario Bros.

Mario Bros. – Most people you will encounter have played Super Mario Bros. But how many are familiar with its predecessor? That’s right, before they were “super”, they were just the “Mario Bros.” This game is a simple platformer, that consists of a number of stages. Mario (or Mario and Luigi – if playing in two-player mode) must defeat a set number of enemies in order to advance to the next stage. Unlike Super Mario Bros., the characters are unable to jump on top of monsters to defeat them. Instead, they must bang on the underside of the platform that the monsters inhabit. This will flip the monster onto its back, thus allowing Mario to kick them into oblivion. Even though Mario Bros. was designed to be a co-operative two-player title, many people enjoyed trying to sabotage the other player in one way or another. When I was a kid, this was only real reason to play the game. Mario Bros. has seen some form of release on almost every system Nintendo has put out over the years. However, each of these ports have paled in comparison to the actual arcade version. Today, the only way way to play the “true” version of Mario Bros. is via the Nintendo Switch. The game is included there as part of the “Arcade Archives” series.

Gauntlet – If you’re a fan of dungeon crawl games, you owe a debt of gratitude to Gauntlet. This is the game that started it all. Gauntlet is a multi-player action game with a fantasy theme. It supports up to four players, each taking the role of a different hero; Warrior, Elf, Wizard, and Valkyrie – each with unique strengths and weaknesses. The object of the game is navigate through the dungeon maze, face hordes of monsters, collect troves of treasure, and ultimately find the exit. In its day, this game was infamous for draining young arcade-goers of countless quarter. Admittedly, I spent a small fortune of my weekly allowance on “continues” for this title. I was completely enthralled with Gauntlet. In fact, this game might very be responsible for my lifelong fascination with the fantasy genre. For a time, the original Gauntlet was once available on Xbox Live Arcade. But today, this classic is currently unavailable on modern platforms. Instead, there is a modern reboot with the same name. But make no mistake, there is only one classic Gauntlet.

Rampage – If you’ve ever wanted to assume the role of a giant monster and destroy entire city blocks, Rampage is the game for you. In this game, you can control one of three kaiju monsters; a giant ape, a giant lizard, or a giant wolf. The goal is to complete demolish various US cities, stage by stage. Of course, military and other hazards await the player.  Rampage was another game that really shined in two-player mode. Sure, it was fun enough on its own, but experiencing it with a friend makes it even that much better. Today, the original game is available in the Midway Arcade Origins collection, which is compatible with the Xbox One. (Dwayne ‘The Rock’ Johnson, not included.)

 

The games detailed in both this, and my last post are simply some of my personal arcade favorites from the golden-age of gaming. This is by no means meant to be a definitive list of golden-age classics. Nor should it be considered a complete “best of” list. In fact, there are many more wonderful arcade titles from the 80’s that captured my attention. Classics like Popeye, Bubble Bobble, Dragon Spirit, 1943, and Afterburner just to a name a few – all left major impressions on me.  However, if you are a younger gamer with an interest in retro-gaming, any of the titles mentioned in there two posts are excellent starting points.

Modern games are amazing. But it is always important to remember your roots.

Retro Rewind: Golden-Age Classics (Part 1)

Most kids today will never experience the thrill of setting foot into an old-school arcade. The closest they will get is likely someplace like Chuck E -Cheese’s or Dave & Buster’s. Sure, there may be a few retro-style arcade halls still tucked away here and there. But sadly, they are now few and far between.

Visiting an arcade in the 1980’s was quite an experience. Most of them were loud, dimly lit rooms, filled with glowing arcade cabinets. Sometimes there were neon bulbs or blacklights on the walls and ceiling. Occasionally, there would be a jukebox blasting music that struggled to be heard over the din of the digital beeps and bloops emanating from the arcade machines themselves.

It might be hard to imagine, but once upon a time, if you wanted to play really good games you simply had to fill up your pockets with quarters and head down to the local arcade. This was especially true in the days before the NES hit the scene. Sure, you could play games at home on the ATARI 2600, but the computing power of the 2600 paled in comparison to what was packed into most arcade machines.

The games that were popular during the golden age of gaming are simple by today’s standards. But nonetheless, they are classics and certainly worthy of attention. Now, I’m not going to go into great detail about the games themselves, but I do want to take a moment to provide a list of some of more memorable arcade classics that I enjoyed as a kid. I’m also going to provide details on how you can best experience these retro games on today’s platforms. So, without further delay, let’s dive in.

Space Invaders

Space Invaders – This is the original fixed shooter! In this game you control a mobile cannon that can move left to right across the bottom of the screen. You aim at rows of descending aliens that attack you with laser fire. Your cannon is protected partially from attacks by a number of bunker-like shields. If the aliens reach the bottom of the screen, or destroy all of the shields, the game is over. Space Invaders took the world by storm. It was a classic that will forever be remembered by older gamers like me. Sadly, there is not a true port of the original game available on modern consoles or for PC. However, a re-imagined version of the game, Space Invaders Extreme is available on Steam and XBOX Live Arcade.

Asteroids – This is a classic game from my youth. My summer camp had an Asteroids table and I wasted countless quarters on this thing. Asteroids in a top-down shooter. In it, you pilot a ship through an asteroid field. You can rotate the ship 360-degrees and thrust forward in whatever direction you are pointed. Asteroids of various size float by and you must shoot them with your laser, breaking them apart or destroying them entirely – without being hit. The best way to experience Asteroids today is through the Asteroid Deluxe title available on Xbox One or Xbox 360. This version of the game includes both to classic 1979 rendition, as well as a modern HD remake.

Galaxian – Many consider this game to be an evolution of Space Invaders. Also a fixed shooter, in Galaxian, you control a starfighter that can move left to right across the bottom of the screen. Hordes of alien ships line up across the top and attack. But unlike Space Invaders, these ships will swoop down and dive at the player. When comparing the two games, it is easy to see just how fast the technology behind the video game industry was evolving. The original version of Galaxian has been included as part of various NAMCO collections over the years, but it is not available on modern hardware at the time of this writing.

Pac-Man

Pac-Man – This is a game that needs no introduction. Pac-Man is arguably one of the most recognizable video games of all time. The purpose of the game is to navigate through various mazes and collect little pellets. Once every pellet is collected, you move on to the next level. The danger lies in being chased by four ghosts. Touching one of them will result in a life lost. However, the tides turn whenever Pac-Man eats one of the larger power pellets. Doing so gives him the ability to chomp down on his ghostly attackers for a limited time. I don’t know a single person who lived through the 1980’s that isn’t familiar with Pac-Man.  The name is synonymous with golden-age gaming. This classic title is available today in its original form on a number of systems. It is available on Steam, PS4, Xbox One, and Nintendo Switch (as part of NAMCO Museum collection).

Donkey Kong – This game was one of the first platform games ever developed. Interestingly enough, it is also the game that introduced the character of Mario (then known as Jump Man) to gamers all over the world. Donkey Kong is a giant gorilla, and he’s kidnapped Mario’s girlfriend! Mario must navigate his way through four levels – dodging whatever Donkey Kong throws his way. It’s a short but sweet classic. It is also responsible for bringing the name “Nintendo” to the attention of the west. If you consider yourself to be a fan of retro classics, this is one game that you should be on your shortlist. Donkey Kong is is currently available on the Nintendo Virtual Console and the Nintendo Switch.

Ms. Pac-Man – At first glance, Ms. Pac-Man might seem to be nothing more than a simple re-skin of the classic Pac-Man. But instead, in many ways it is actually a vastly superior game. The ghost AI is a bit trickier, and the levels are a bit more refined. When it comes to Pac-Man, this is my favorite of the two. It is considered by many, (myself included) to be the definitive Pac-Man experience.  Ms. Pac-Man is available on Steam, PS4, Xbox Arcade.

Defender

Defender – Ahh, Defender. This is the game that started the “schmup” craze. Defender is a sidescrolling shoot-em-up style game that’s renown for it’s difficulty and its ability to take quarter after quarter until your pockets were left empty. In this game you pilot a starship. The goal is to defend against an alien invasion force. In many ways, the concept here is similar to what was found in Space Invaders. But this time in an action-based side-scrolling presentation instead of an overhead view. At the time of this writing, the only modern system Defender is available on is the Xbox One via the backwards compatible title; Midway Arcade Origins.

Centipede – For me, this was the game that started it all. Centipede holds of honor of being the first video game I ever got my hands on. Like Space Invaders, you control a little character that can move left to right across the bottom of the screen. The goal is to destroy centipedes before they reach the bottom of the stage. To make things difficult, the game-field is littered with little mushrooms that provide cover for the centipedes. Defeating the head of a centipede also leaves a mushroom behind – providing a new obstacle for your next go-round. To make things even more challenging, slugs, spiders and other creep crawlies also get in your way and attack you. All of this makes for a fast paced arcade experience. Today, the original arcade version is available to play on Xbox Live Arcade.

Frogger – Who could forget this little guy? Frogger is a game in which you control a little frog as he tries to hop to his home. Of course, along the way there are many dangers – cars, alligators and even… water? It’s a game of both patience and reflexes. Frogger is another classic from my youth. It is simple, yet charming enough to survive the test of time. This game has been ported across a number of systems over the years. Today, the original arcade version is available on Xbox Live Arcade (although without the classic Frogger theme song)

Galaga – Many people confuse this game with its older cousin Galaxian. The confusion is understandable. Both games are very similar both in terms of gameplay and design. In fact, Galaga is a sequel (or some argue a reimagining) of Galaxian. The design and concept is nearly identical, but at a faster pace and with a few new elements thrown in. For many players, Galaga is the more memorable of the two. Galaga is currently available on the Xbox Arcade, PS4, Steam and the Nintendo Switch (as part of the NAMCO Museum collection).

BurgerTime – I was never a big fan of this game. My father on the other hand, loved it as did many others, so I’m including it in my list. The object of this game is assemble a number of hamburgers. Each ingredient is suspended from various levels of ascending platforms. The player must climb ladders and run across the ingredients to make them fall onto the waiting bun below until the hamburger is complete. Of course, it’s not quite that simple. The player is chased by various bad guys (sausages, fried eggs, and pickle slices)… It’s weird, it’s trippy… but it’s ultimately entertaining.  BurgerTime has been ported to a number of systems over the years, but at the time of this writing, it is not available on modern hardware.

Dig Dug

Dig DugDig Dug is a quirky little game that involves digging tunnels in the ground and inflating pests until they explode… Sounds weird? Well, that’s because it is. But it is also lots of fun. When I was little, Dig Dug was extremely popular at my local arcade. I remember seeing one player (a college kid) actually make it to round 256 in the game. Reaching this final level results in an instant kill, but achieving it was on par with having “conquered” the game. Today, Dig Dug is available on Steam, PS4, Xbox Arcade, and the Nintendo Switch (via the NAMCO Museum collection)

I’m going to take a break here and resume my list in a second post sometime within the coming weeks. If you’re a younger player who is curious about golden-age gaming, or if you’re an old nerd like myself, I encourage you to seek out copies of these classics and give them a spin. Better yet, if you can find one nearby, venture out to an actual arcade and try to relive the glorious days or retro gaming. Being there, quarters in hand, was arguably the best part of the experience.

 

Project: Retro Rewind

Now that I’ve completed all the games on my 64-bit Generation playlist, I’m excited to announce a new project. Before I dive into what is, for the lack of a better term, the “128-bit era”, I’m going to take some time to do a bit of a refresher on some of the generations I’ve already covered on this site.

In one of my very first posts, I lamented about my experiences as a child with various arcade games. Having been born in 1978, I grew up in the golden age of video games. The first video game I ever had the pleasure of playing was the arcade version of Centipede. The local Pizza Hut had one and I remember being seduced by the flashing lights and hypnotic sounds. Then, by the time I was in the first or second grade, my parents got tired of all my begging and pleading and finally brought home an Atari 2600 console. And as they say, the rest was history.

As I mentioned above, I briefly touched on this in some of the earliest posts on this site. But instead of discussing the Atari-era at great length, I jumped right into my NES playthroughs. So, what I’m going do is “rewind” the discussion on this site for a bit. I’m going to go back and revisit each of the classic retro consoles. For the systems I didn’t talk about the first time around, I’m going to discuss some of their most iconic titles. This means I’m going to be taking a a closer look at the Atari 2600 and the Sega Genesis, for example. For consoles that I did discuss, I’m going to be digging up some of the more obscure, but still classic titles. I’m going to do the same with some of the classic PC games that neglected to mention.

I’m also going to discuss how players today can best experience these retro classics. I feel that the time is right for this discussion. At the time I started this blog in 2012, retro gaming was still something that only us old grognards seemed to care about. Now, it has reached the mainstream.  Retro console reissues like the NES Classic and the Atari Flashback are flying off the shelves. Collected works like the Mega Man Legacy Collection are seeing the light of day all the time.

I’m going to take a brief pause from the backlog to discuss some of this, before resuming my regular routine. Stay tuned!

Review: Shenmue I & II

This is it! My review for Shenmue I & II is finally here! This also marks the last game in my “final four” list. After this review, I will be taking a short break from my “generational-backlog grind” and I’ll be focusing on a couple of fun projects. But for now, let me share my thoughts on this long-awaited collection.

For many, the Shenmue games are often considered to be two of the greatest video games ever made. I have long been aware of the legendary status they hold. But personally, I never had the chance to experience them until now. Both games were originally released on the Sega Dreamcast, a system often considered to be ahead of its time – but one that never seemed to break into the mainstream. For this reason, very few gamers actually got the pleasure of experiencing these titles the first time around. Regardless, Shenmue’s legacy refused to die. Finally, in 2015, a Kickstarter campaign was announced to fund the release of the third installment. The Kickstarter was a smashing success. As a result, the original two games have finally seen a re-release.

These are two games that I’ve wanted to get my hands on for over a decade. Now, having played and completed both entries, I’m excited to finally share my thoughts. Despite being two separate titles, I am reviewing both games together as a single collection. As a result, some parts of this review may contain mild spoilers. Be aware.

So, let’s start with the first game. Aside from taking place in 1980’s Japan, and being somewhat of an open-world title, I really didn’t know what to expect from Shenmue. I think a part of me was expecting some sort of martial arts beat-em-up/RPG hybrid. But that’s not all what I found. Instead, Shenmue ended up being more of an interactive story than anything else. Sure, there are some brief combat and action sequences – a number of which consist of brief QTE-style events. But for the most part, the game is very casual. The main character in Shenmue is Ryo Hazuki, a young Japanese man who is on a quest for revenge. Early in the game, Ryo witnesses the death of his father at the hand of a mysterious Chinese martial artist. He decides to do everything in his power to learn the identity of his father’s killer and hunt him down.

The game itself consists of open world exploration, as Ryo hunts for clues. He starts by questioning locals about the events of the day his father was killed. With each clue that is uncovered, a trail of breadcrumbs begins to appear that Ryo must follow further down the rabbit hole. His quest takes him from the streets of his local neighborhood into the secret bowels of the Japanese black market underworld.

While there are certainly some action sequences in Shenmue, I was surprised to learn it is more of a detective game than a fighting game. The majority of the gameplay is actually spent talking to NPCs and exploring than engaging in combat. Time passes as you hunt for clues. Ryo only has a few months to piece the mystery together before too much time has passed. That being said, the games gives you more than enough time to explore till you heart’s content. Part of the fun of Shenmue lies in environmental exploration/interaction. Ryo can visit stores and purchase various goods like groceries, toys and cassette tapes. The tapes contain musical numbers from the game’s soundtrack and can be played back on a cassette player Ryo finds in his bedroom. The toys are collectible items  that are obtained at random from gacha-style capsule machines. Ryo can even visit the local arcade which allows the player to experience some of Sega’s classic arcade games first-hand. To be honest, a lot of the game’s content is nothing more than a colossal waste of time. But… that’s part of the charm.

As a consequence of the game’s open nature, some parts of the story do seem to drag on occasionally. For example, anyone who’s really sat down to play Shenmue, will likely roll their eyes at the mention of the phrase, “Do you know where any sailors hang out?”. This is a reference to a seemingly endless storyline thread early in the title. Was it annoying? A little. But that didn’t bug me as much as the portion of the game in which Ryo has to work a nine-to-five  job at the local shipyard. Which of course, requires the player’s interaction. I don’t know about you… but if I wanted to play “Forklift Simulator”, I’d have bought that game instead. Despite these minor annoyances, I completely enchanted with the overall game itself.

Eventually, the first game comes to an end when Ryo departs Japan, headed for Hong-Kong.

Shenmue II was originally released in 2001, two years after the first game. But it picks up right where the first title left off. In fact, you can import data from the save file of the original game into this one. This is a feature not often seen with console titles, but one that I found to be very welcome. A year after its original release, it was ported to the Xbox. The Xbox version of the game is the source for this remaster.

In Shenmue II, Ryo’s search for his father’s killer has led him to Hong Kong. It is there that he must continue his hunt for clues. His journey will take him deeper into the criminal underworld. But not all of his interactions in Hong Kong are bad. During the story, Ryo will also make some new friends. I found the characters in this game to be much more interesting than those in the original title. Often times in the original Shenmue, interactions with NPCs often felt forced or unimportant. Sure there are a few exceptions. But for the most part, none of the NPCs really left an impression on me. That’s not the case at all in the sequel. The new characters are much more colorful. In fact, they often steal the show.

In many ways, Shenmue II is very similar to its predecessor. It’s also is largely an open-world, breadcrumb style game. However, the number of mini-games and interactive side-quests has increased. As players explore the streets of Hong Kong, Ryo can participate in street fighting and wrestling tournaments. He can also try his hand at a number of street-side gambling games. Of course, capsule toys make a comeback as well.

Shenmue II also ups the action a bit. There’s more combat and button-mashing QTE events in this title than were found in the original game. There’s also much more to explore. Players wanting to get the most out of the experience would do well to take their time and explore. There’s quite a few miss-able scenes and even characters tucked away in this game for those willing to dig deep.

Eventually, the setting for this game moves from the city of Hong Kong and further into mainland China, to an area known as Guilin.  The last portion of the game takes place in this locale and, despite being almost twenty years old, it features some of the most stunning visuals I’ve ever seen in a video game.

I’m not going to give anything away, but the story for Shenmue II ends with a massive cliff hanger. It’s going to kill me to wait a whole year to see the next chapter in this title, so I can’t imagine how bad it must have felt for original fans of the series.

Shenmue I and II is a great collection for a great price. Many aspects of these games were very much ahead of their time, while others have not aged well at all. Many people call this release a “remaster”. That isn’t exactly true. This package contains both games, presented in an HD format, but aside from being presented in an updated resolution and with a few QOL improvements, they are largely untouched from their original versions. I had a ball with these games, and I can’t wait for the next installment. But, I can also see how these are not going be games that will appeal to just anyone. Still, if you fancy yourself to be a gaming historian, you won’t want to miss out on these classic titles.

Difficulty: Easy – For the most part, these games provide little real challenge. They are played at a very casual pace with only a few tricky QTE-style events to pose any real difficulty. But even these events can be retried as many times as needed.

Story: This is why you want to play Shenmue. The tale told here is out of this world. Each game feels like an episode in a serial, and the storyline rivals any classic RPG you might come across. What starts out feeling like a crime drama, eventually ends up feeling much more epic and mysterious in the end.

Originality: While open-world style games were really nothing unheard of, Shenmue brought the genre to the console in a big way. The way it integrated mini-games into an explore-able environment was a radical change of pace. Another aspect of the game that really broke new ground was the way that it took real world locations and translated them into an open-world video game. Locales found in both games are real places. Dobuita Street in Yokosuka Japan, the walled-city of Kowloon – all of them were locations that were special to creator of Shenmue. In some ways, these games feel like a love letter he composed as a way to share his passion for certain places that were special to him.

Soundtrack: Overall, both games feature a varied and wonderful soundtrack. I have to give higher marks to Shenmue II when it comes to both music and overall audio quality. But admittedly, the voice acting in both games tends to be a bit sketchy at times. In fact, it ends up sounding a lot like an old Kung Fu movie. Which, in a weird way, is oddly appropriate.

Fun: Fans of open exploration and Asian-themed games will love Shenmue I & II. Players who prefer more structured or action-oriented games may be a bit put off.  Personally, I found the games to be relaxing and entertaining.  Despite being a bit surprised by the gameplay itself, I found myself having a blast with these two games.

Graphics: These games were released in 1999 and 2001, respectively. Despite being presented in an HD format, they show their age, but they do so pretty gracefully. At the time of release, they were both top-of-the line visually.

Playcontrol: This is probably my biggest complaint. Both games can be a bit hard to control at times. Ryo moves in a directional “tank-style” way – very similar to the classic Resident Evil games. Thankfully, this scheme takes place during the exploration portions of the game only. The QTE events in both games seem to be a bit touchy and unforgiving, and are often not very clear. Thankfully, the controls in combat are much more intuitive and function a lot like a beat-em-up style game.

Downloadable Content: No.

Mature Content: Martial arts violence, mild language.

Value:  This collection is available for $30.00 and at that price is well worth it. I’m surprised to see bargain pricing for a set of games with a legacy as renown as Shenmue. So, even if you’re on the fence, the prices makes it worth checking out. The only thing that’s missing from this collection is the proper presentation “Shenmue Passport” content – which was online content exclusive to the Sega Dreamcast. However, these were really nothing more than some scoreboards and an online jukebox. The titlescreen for Shenmue II in this collection features almost the game content.

Overall rating (out of four stars): 4 – Shenmue I & II are not perfect games. But the quality of the storyline combined with the amount of content and the attention to detail gives this collection a four-star rating. If I had to pick a favorite of the two, I’d go with Shenmue II as the better of the two games. That being said, the first game provides a lot of atmosphere and an overall “comfy” feeling. So it’s hard to say the second is really “better”.  Again, if you’re a fan of Asian culture, or games with great storytelling, this collection is a must-have.

Available on: PS4, Xbox One, Steam

Star Wars: Rebels – Season 4

The home video release has been out for almost a month, but I’m finally getting around to sharing my thoughts on the fourth and final season of Star Wars Rebels.

Over the course of these four years, I’ve sat and watched as this show matured from a loose-episodic narrative, to the serial drama that it has now become. This season does a fine job of taking the momentum put in place by season three and continuing to build on it. The relationship between the characters has now reached its crescendo, and fans are in for a real treat. The fate of Kanan is finally revealed, and I must say, extremely well done. Fans of Thrawn are treated to a number of appearances over the course of these episodes. Also, this final season of Rebels continues to bring back the religious mysticism of the force that was largely lost in the prequel era. It seems Disney continues their quest to restore certain parts of the Star Wars mythology back to its roots.

Overall, the entire season is well worth watching for nearly any Star Wars fan. However, it is undeniable that the final episode is one that fans will be talking about for years to come. For those that have not watched it, be warned. The following paragraph is a MAJOR spoiler alert:

As you may have guessed, the main Rebels storyline concludes with the death of Kanan and the formation of the Rebel Alliance. But it is actually the fate of Ezra that ends up stealing the most attention. In order to negotiate peace on the planet of Lothal, Ezra allows himself to taken prisoner by Grand Admiral Thrawn. Shortly after, Thrawn’s fleet is attacked by a slew of force sensitive space whales… (I know it sounds odd, but go back and watch season two and it will all make sense). During the attack, Ezra and Thrawn are whisked away by lightspeed to an unknown fate among the stars.

At this point, the finale takes a very ambitious time jump and picks up back up after the events of Episode VI. We learn that Hera was present during the battles portrayed in both Rogue One and Return of the Jedi, and that she had become pregnant by Kanan before his death. Now, with the galaxy seemingly at peace, Sabine has decided to take it upon herself to uncover Ezra’s fate. On her journey she is accompanied by none of than…. Ashoka Tano. That’s right, in a moment of shock it is revealed that Ashoka survived the events of season three.

Naturally, all of this fuels fan speculation more than ever. What happened to Thrawn and Ezra? If Ashoka is alive during the original trilogy era and after, does that mean she met or even trained Luke Skywalker? The possibilities are endless and it seems fans will have to wait for answers. But the hype train is going full speed ahead. All of this makes season four a must watch for serious Star Wars fans.

Review: Legacy of Kain – Soul Reaver

The third entry in my “turn-of-the-century” Final Four is here; Legacy of Kain – Soul Reaver. Nearly two years ago, I reviewed the original title in the Legacy of Kain series: Blood Omen. It was a game that I had no prior experience with, but one that was often recommended to me. Personally, I was not especially impressed with it. I enjoyed the story and the atmosphere of the game. But I found the overall gameplay to be of poor quality. Regardless, I decided to give the second chapter in the series a fair chance. Originally released on the PS1, Dreamcast and PC – this game also connects all of the platforms I’m currently focusing on.

If you’ve played the original Legacy of Kain, it won’t take long for you to realize that Soul Reaver is a very different type of game. For starters, instead of being presented in the overhead view, like the original. This game switched to a third-person action perspective. Soul Reaver also focuses less on mindless combat and more on puzzle solving. In this regard, it is very reminiscent of other games from the era like Tomb Raider, Castlevania 64, or even (to a smaller extent), Ocarina of Time.

This game takes place fifteen-hundred years after the previous chapter. During this time, Kain (the previous game’s protagonist) has become a vampire lord. His armies overrun the land of Nosgoth. In this title, you play as Raziel, a vampire slain by hand of Kain. After his defeat, Raziel finds himself reborn as a wraith. He learns he was resurrected by an ancient god and has been tasked with defeating Kain and restoring Nosgoth to its former glory. Over the course of the game, the player will evolve Raziel’s powers so that he can ultimately face and defeat Kain.

As I mentioned earlier, Soul Reaver is vastly different than its predecessor. In fact, the only similarity between the two games comes from the storyline. In this game, the player controls Raziel in a 3D world. Players can run, jump and interact with objects. Upon defeating enemies, Raziel can consume their souls to restore his health.

The game is presented in a largely open-world format. Players are able to warp around and backtrack using portals that are unlocked as the player progresses through the game.

Since the majority of the enemies found in Soul Reaver are undead, simply beating them to a pulp is not enough to conquer them. Once they are defeated, the corpses must be either burned, drowned, impaled, or exposed to sunlight to be put to rest. Players can do this by interacting with environmental objects or with special weapons.

Another major aspect of the gameplay lies in puzzle solving. Players progressing through the game will often come across a number of environmental puzzles. These usually take the form of blocks and switches that must be moved into position or flipped in various combinations. In truth, these puzzles are probably the most challenging aspect of the game itself, but also a large part of what makes the game so memorable.

By today’s standards, Soul Reaver feels very antiquated. But at the time of its release, it was actually pretty revolutionary. Sure, 3D environmental puzzle games were nothing new, but this game provided a level of refinement that was second to none. Combined with excellent visuals and audio, Soul Reaver was quite a thing to behold.

Fans of the series should make every effort not to pass this game up. However, it has not aged particularly well and may not appeal to many gamers.

Difficulty: Medium – I’ve heard a number of people claim that this game is exceptionally difficult. I went into it expecting as much. But, I found those claims to be somewhat exaggerated. Sure, some of the boss fights and the puzzles can be a bit tricky. But I didn’t find them to be anything out of the ordinary. All in all, I felt the challenge was just about right for this type of game.

Story: One thing the Legacy of Kain series does well is storyline. The story unfolds through a number of FMVs and cutscenes scattered throughout the game. It is extremely well done. High marks here.

Originality: Credit should be given to the developers for making this game so radically different from its predecessor.  Even though there’s really nothing revolutionary brought to the table in terms of game design, the presentation still manages to feel new and refreshing.

Soundtrack: Superb. The game features an orchestral score that is simply amazing. The music is fitting and really sets the tone for the game itself. Also, the voice acting is second to none.

Fun: Fans of Tomb Raider and other 3D action/puzzle games will likely have a blast playing this game. As will fans of the gothic horror genre. For me, the best part of the game was the atmosphere and storyline. Even when the gameplay started to feel repetitive, the story was good enough to keep me entertained and wanting more.

Graphics: This title was released late in the life cycle of the PS1 and it shows. This is probably one of the best looking games on the platform. If you’re lucky enough to play the Dreamcast version of the game, it looks even better.

Playcontrol: The controls are not perfect, but they are better than most other games of this type from the same era. The camera is pretty accurate and can be rotated using the shoulder buttons. Unlike many early 3D games, it does not get in the way of the action. Occasionally, the controls can seem stiff and cumbersome, especially when dealing with jump puzzles. But overall, it’s not a big issue.

Downloadable Content: No.

Mature Content: Violence, Occult Themes

Value:  This game is actually pretty short. In some ways, the amount of content actually makes the game feel incomplete. I completed the whole game in under twelve hours. These days, the game is available digitally on Steam and on PSN for around $6.00. At this price, it’s more than worth it even with the lack of content.

Overall rating (out of four stars): 3 – Legacy of Kain – Soul Reaver is far from perfect. But, it is an improvement to the original. This is one of those weird games that players will either cherish or despise – depending on your style. All things considered, it’s a pretty solid title with a unique feel. If you’re a fan of horror games or gothic settings,  this one is worth a look.

Available on: Steam, PSN

Other Reviews In This Series:

Blood Omen: Legacy of Kain   –  Soul Reaver  – Soul Reaver 2 –  Blood Omen 2 – Defiance