Review: Night Trap (25th Anniversary Edition)

You didn’t think I’d let the month of October go by without posting a review for a horror game did you? I know I usually review something spooky and paranormal. But this year, I decided to change things up a bit and go full-on campy with Night Trap.

If you’ve never heard of Night Trap, you’re not alone. It wasn’t exactly a big seller. To start with, it was released on the Sega CD, which was an add-on product that didn’t see very big sales in the first place. Second, it was extremely rare to find on store shelves due to a nearly unprecedented level of controversy. You see, Night Trap was labeled as one of the most morally offensive games of all time. Any parent who allowed their child to be exposed to such filth should be locked up! It was called pornographic and filled with excessive violence. The negative buzz around the game actually got so bad that many retailers pulled the product and refused to sell it. So what was the big deal? Is Night Trap really as disgusting and violent as its critics claim?

The answer is no. Not at all. I’m actually a pretty conservative guy when it comes to what I allow my children to be exposed to, and I’d let either of them play this game. I mean, there’s literally no concern. So what was the big deal? Well, to start with, Night Trap is not your regular video game. Instead, it is made up of actual video footage. It is very much like an interactive movie. I suppose having an interactive game featuring REAL scantily clad women in fictional peril was just too much for some. It stirred up so much hullabaloo that  Night Trap was one of the games directly responsible for the formation of the ESRB.

The gist of the game is simple. There’s been a rash of mysterious disappearances around the house of a very prominent family. It’s been determined that the house is equipped with a slew of traps and security features. To get to the bottom of the mystery, the police have sent in an undercover officer into the home with a group of teens. They’ve also been able to hack their way into the home’s security system, thus giving the police access to all of the traps remotely. Your job is monitor a number of security cameras and use the traps to capture any intruders or suspicious characters that might pose harm to either the undercover office or the teens in the house.

As the story goes on, you learn that the home’s owners are in league with a weird band of vampires called “Augers”. You must capture as many Augers as possible and avoid letting the house become overrun. This is easier said than done, as you will have to switch between a number of live feeds on they fly in attempt to detect any suspicious activity.

The original version of Night Trap was notoriously difficult. Today the game is available in a special 25th Anniversary Edition. This package includes the game in its original form, as well as a handful of alternate UI versions. Some of these new renditions do make the game a bit easier by allowing the players to see previews of all of the camera feeds. This can help save time by not forcing the player to constantly jump from screen to screen when monitoring the house.

The game itself is actually quite a novel idea. In a time when CD ROM drives were still considered to be jaw-dropping technology, making an interactive film was inevitable. Sure, the acting is terrible and the script is even worse. But the whole concept behind the game is both original and brilliant. Playing Night Trap is akin to experiencing an interactive B-grade horror flick. I was surprised at just much fun the game actually is. If you’re a fan of cheesy horror movies and you’re looking for something different this Halloween, Night Trap might be exactly what you’re looking for.

Difficulty: Variable –  Completing this game is no simple feat. This is true even when using the modern UI. If you really want a challenge, the original layout of the game makes things even more difficult. The trick to Night Trap is repetition. The more you fail and start over, the easier it gets. You’ll learn the story and memorize certain cues. But some parts will still require near perfect execution in order to avoid failure.

Story: Despite being exceptionally cheesy, the storyline for this game is well done and entertaining. The way it is presented is also very enthralling. At any given time, there’s a handful of different scenes available to watch. To see everything, you’ll need to play the game multiple times. The more you watch, the more you’ll see how the entire plot twists together. It’s actually quite brilliant.

Originality: At the time Night Trap hit the scene, there was nothing like it. Sure, interactive films were not a new concept. I remember seeing VHS tapes in the 80’s that would have you rewind and fast-forward to achieve a similar result. But never before had anyone taken the “interactive film” concept and made it so easy to use.

Soundtrack: The game features two memorable pieces of music. The first is a little background music that is heard whenever bad guys appear on the screen. The second is a terribly-good bubblegum song performed by one of the characters. Everything about the music in this game is B-grade cheese. But that’s actually part of the charm.

Fun: While there’s not much to the gameplay, it is actually quite fun. There’s a certain satisfaction achieved when you are able to perfectly anticipate and catch a handful of sneaky Augers. I enjoyed this game much more than I expected to.

Graphics: Being a FMV-based game, there are really no “graphics” to score. The game itself is made up of real video. The source material is quite old but holds up surprisingly well in the 25th Anniversary Edition.

Playcontrol: The controls for this game are quite simple. On the PC its point and click with a single keyboard button to tap. On consoles it also just as simple.  The game is very dependent on the player’s reaction time, but offers no playcontrol issues whatsoever.

Downloadable Content: No.

Mature Content: Campy violence.

Value:  If you’re going to play this game, your best bet is find a digital copy. The game sells for around $15 digitally and is also frequently on sale. If you’re looking for a physical copy, be ready to spend a upwards of $70-$80, as the game is already out of print.

Overall rating (out of four stars): 3 – Night Trap is a strange beast. Most people seek it out simply for the mythology that surrounds it. It’s very much a curiosity for many. But if you actually sit down with it and take the time to learn its charms, you just might find a pretty good game hiding under all the hearsay. I recommend this title to anyone who enjoys 80’s camp. It’s a riot and surprisingly pretty entertaining.

Available on: Steam, PS4, Nintendo Switch

Review: Bloodstained – Curse of the Moon

It’s been three years since Koji Igarashi (or IGA, as he tends to be called) unveiled his plans for “Sword or Whip?” – the spiritual successor for the Castlevania franchise. Since that time, the game has been given a proper name; Bloodstained: Ritual of the Night. The game itself is still in development with a release date scheduled for later this year. So, to hold players over, IGA has released a small spin-off title called Bloodstained: Curse of the Moon.  

As many know, Bloodstained is a game born from the ashes of the Castlevania series. For many years, IGA was in charge of the franchise while he was employed at Konami.  Ritual of the Night is viewed by many to be the modern continuation of the gothic-horror/platformer genre.  So if RotN is the future, what is CotM? This amazing little game is essentially a retro-clone. It’s presented in the classic 8-bit style that so many Castlevania fans will be familiar with. And yes, it serves as a prequel to the upcoming Ritual of the Night. As such, it is a delightful nod to the old-school roots that serve as the foundation for what IGA is about unveil.

The storyline for this title is surprisingly well done and it sets up the events leading into Ritual of the Night.  In a nutshell, the story goes like this: In the 18th century, science is on the verge of overtaking the long-practiced arts of magic and alchemy. In attempt to maintain their grip in the modern world, a group of alchemists conduct experiments on innocent people, implanting dark crystals into their bodies in hopes of summoning a demon. The experiment is successful, but instead of controlling the entity, the demon breaks free of the alchemists’ control and opens a portal to hell itself. Monsters and demons pour from the portal and overtake the countryside. Enter hero: Zangetsu – a blade-wielding demon-hunter. His only goal is to hunt down and destroy the source of the demonic infestation. During his journey he encounters the following other adventurers:

Miriam: A young girl who was taken as a child by a mad alchemist. Subject to the experiments mentioned above, her body was fused with cursed crystals – giving her demonic powers. Freed by Zangetsu, she seeks to hunt down the demonic entities with her enchanted whip.

Alfred: One of the alchemists responsible for unleashing the demonic threat. Fueled by his search for an ancient text, he will let nothing stand his way, be it human or demon.

Gebel:  Also a victim of the alchemist’s experiments, Gebel somehow managed to survive the ritual. However, his body continues to slowly be consumed by demonic energy. He seeks revenge against humanity by embracing the darkness that now consumes him.

When the game starts, players are in control of Zangetsu. As they continue to clear levels in the game, they will unlock the other playable characters. The player can switch between characters on the fly. Each character offers a slightly different style of play, with benefits and drawbacks of their own.

The game itself is VERY reminiscent of the NES-era Castlevania games, Castlevania III especially. The graphics, sound, level design, and overall presentation make this feel like a long-lost entry in that series. Everything that there was to love in those games can be found here, but with some more modern concepts thrown in as well. This makes Curse of the Moon feel like an evolution of those retro games instead of just a carbon-copy clone.

The game itself offers two difficulty levels from the start. Casual Mode offers unlimited lives and disables the knock-back that is experienced when a player takes damage. The Veteran Mode provides a more retro experience. Lives are finite and losing them all will result in players having to redo the entire level over again. Regardless of the mode selected, the game is not quite as difficult as the original Castlevania titles it is based on.

Upon completion of the game, Nightmare Mode is unlocked. This allows players to replay the game from the beginning with the additional characters already available. There’s also a Boss Rush mode that can be unlocked as well.

In the end, Curse of the Moon is both an excellent tip-of-the-hat to the games of yesteryear, as well as a clever set up for things to come. Everything about the game from the graphics to the enemy design is there to remind you of those classic Castlevania titles. But other aspects such as the depth of the storytelling to the well-designed boss battles, give players a hint that Bloodstained is going to be so much more.

I was blown away by this game. My level of excitement for Bloodstained has increased tenfold. This is a game worth a look.

Difficulty: Medium –  When stacked against the platformers of the past, Curse of the Moon is considerably easier. Even in Veteran Mode, this game is nowhere near as difficult as say, Castlevania or Castlevania III. The boss fights are probably the hardest part of the game, but the battles all contain patterns that are easy enough to learn and master. This is true even for the secret hidden boss available in the game’s alternate mode.

Story: The backstory for this game is surprisingly well done. It is presented at the start of the game and through readable in-game dialogue. This whole title actually seems to serve as a set up for the upcoming Ritual of the Night. I’m glad to see there’s actually some interesting lore for this new franchise. I’d hate for RotN to end up as nothing more than a poorly constructed style-clone.

Originality: Despite paying homage to retro Castlevania titles, Curse of the Moon manages to somehow feel fresh and exciting.  Maybe it’s because it’s been a while since we’ve seen anything like this. I’m not sure. But I do know that playing this game didn’t feel like a tired slog through memory lane. Instead, it felt like the start of something new and exciting.

Soundtrack: Classic retro bit-tunes. The soundtrack really took me back to the days of my youth. Most of the music was catchy and appropriate, but it honestly doesn’t hold a candle to some of the great jams we were treated with in the old Castlevania games.

Fun: This game took me by surprise. I was expecting to simply get a nostalgic smile or two out of it. But, instead I was floored by how good it was. The intricacies of the characters and the polish of the game design are simply brilliant. This little downloadable title is way better than it has any right to be.

Graphics: This game was designed to mimic the classic 8-bit NES era. With that in mind, it does a perfect job. By today’s standards it is not going to blow anyone away. But then again, it isn’t supposed to.

Playcontrol: If there’s any major improvement over the original Castlevania titles, it is this. The controls are responsive and accurate. No sluggish movement, no lag, No complaints whatsoever.

Downloadable Content: No.

Mature Content: YES – Religious and paranormal themes.

Value:  Backers of the Bloodstained Kickstarter can download this game for free on the platform of their choice. All others can purchase it for $9.99. In my opinion, this is a more than fair price for a game of this quality.

Overall rating (out of four stars): 4 – Despite being a retro-inspired game, Curse of the Moon is a quality product. I love the way the developers used the 8-bit era to create a prequel for their upcoming title. It let’s the players know the source of the developer’s inspiration, while setting the stage for the next era. This title is a love letter to older gamers like myself, but I really feel that even younger players who grew up with their PS3’s and Xbox 360’s will find enjoyment in this title.

Available on: Steam, Switch, PS4, Xbox One, 3DS

Review: Deep Space Waifu

It’s Valentine’s Day! And I’ve decided to start a new tradition on this blog. A few years back, I posted a Valentine’s Day review of a flirty little game called Hunie Pop. I did this as sort of a one-off joke. But due to the recent upswing in indie H-games on Steam and the fact that all of my friends insist on gifting me with embarrassing purchases just so they can point to my game library and laugh, I’ve decided to embrace it and review these ridiculous games on Valentine’s day.

When it comes to “questionable” games, I really didn’t know where to start. As mentioned above, I already reviewed Hunie Pop. Which, despite it’s lewd nature, actually featured some pretty solid gameplay. Then back in the summer of last year, I shared a review of the dumpster fire that is Dragonia. Yeah… Let’s not even talk about that. I didn’t think I’d ever be able to top Dragonia. So for this review, I decided to go with a game that had the most absurd title possible. I wanted to find something both descriptive and cringeworthy. Well, I didn’t have to look hard. As soon as I saw the name “Deep Space Waifu“, I knew this would be the game for 2018.

Deep Space Waifu is technically a schmup. Some might even call it a bullet-hell style game. But, I’m not sure it quite fits that description. The gameplay will certainly be familiar to fans of the genre. But it includes the added mechanic of having to also destroy certain “environmental” features along with just enemies. (And by environmental features I mean, blasting the clothes off of crudely drawn anime girls).

You see, in this game, you play a character known as “King Bear”. King Bear hooks up with random girls that he meets on Space Tinder. He then takes that girl on a date. The goal of the game is to have as successful of a date as possible. But every date is sabotaged by random aliens. Completing a date means that you have to blast aliens from the back of your flying motorcycle until a Boss shows up, then you blow the Boss to smithereens. The success level of your date is determined by the percentage of “environmental damage” you have done… Upon completing a date with a rating of 100%, you then unlock what is essentially Easy Mode for that level… (you’ll see what I mean if you play).  As you progress through the stages, you will unlock new special weapons and attacks.  It’s really quite simple.

When this game was first released, it was pretty rough. The artwork was cheap looking, and the controls were pretty wonky. However, the title has received numerous updates since it debuted on Steam. Each of them improving nearly every aspect of the game. At this point, it’s actually a very polished product. The game can be played using either a keyboard, mouse-only or with a controller. But, having tried all three, I highly recommend the mouse-only mode. There’s really no reason to try anything else. Being a mature title, the Steam version of the game is censored. But the developer has released a patch that restores the game to its original form for users who are ambitious enough to go looking for it.

The main game is pretty short and can easily be completed in under an hour. At the time of this writing, there are two forms of DLC for the game. The first is called the Academy Expansion. This bit of DLC adds some additional dates with sports-themed girls to the main game. There’s also a standalone expansion (basically a separate game) called Flat Justice. Add them all together, and you end up with a decent sized game.

The Flat Justice expansion is actually more like a sequel than a piece of downloadable content. In this version, we learn that King Bear is actually a cop. He is tasked with rooting out corruption in the police force. To do so, he must go undercover and date several suspects from among his own unit until he finds the mole that is working with the enemy.  This version of the game actually attempts to craft some form of a plotline by adding cutscenes in between levels and tacking on insanely inappropriate names and art designs for end bosses.

To say that this is a niche-game is an understatement. On it’s surface it seems only to appeal to lonely weeabos. But fans of shoot-em ups may actually get a bit a fun out of it too. I certainly received way more entertainment from this game than I expected to. The gameplay is very well done, the graphics are colorful, and the humor is over-the-top. This is a game that doesn’t take itself very seriously. The whole thing is really one big joke. It’s a bit like renting a really bad horror movie – It’s terrible but in a good way.

I’m ashamed to admit that I gave this game and its expansions as much attention as I did. I’m even more ashamed to admit that if the developer releases an future content updates, I’m likely to add them to my library as well.

So, if you ARE a lonely otaku looking for your waifu… perhaps you should consider one of the deep space variety.

Difficulty: Easy –  Even though this could be considered a “bullet-hell” game. It is EXTREMELY casual. It is very possible for most players to fly through this game and it’s expansions with relative ease. The difficulty does increase a bit as your progress through the different levels. But not by much. The real challenge lies in playing the game in “Gentlemen Mode”. With this option enabled, you want to avoid to any environmental damage at all… but even with this added challenge, the game is still pretty simplistic.

Story: Yeah… you’re a space bear trying to hook up with space chicks. Then, suddenly you’re a cop doing the same thing in the name of justice… If a thought provoking plotline is what you’re looking for, you won’t find it in a game called Deep Space Waifu.

Originality: This is a tough call. While overhead schumps have been done to death, this game adds a pervy twist with a retro/anime feel. It’s an odd combination that somehow manages to keep this game feeling like something you’ve never seen before.

Soundtrack: High praises here! The soundtrack is arguably the best thing about this game. This is especially true for the Flat Justice expansion. Nearly the entire game features music by an artist called Funny Death. This is a musical artist I had never heard of until I played this game. But I have since purchased their entire discography. The music is best described as retro/synth-pop with a bit of a foreign flair. It’s absolutely phenomenal and it fits in well with this quirky game.

Fun: As much as I hate to admit this, Deep Space Waifu is a fun game. It’s not because of the risque art, but the game itself is just downright entertaining. And the silly aspect of the whole thing only adds to the level of enjoyment.

Graphics: When this game first hit the scene, it looked pretty bad, to be honest. But it has since received an overhaul and it’s actually a good looking title these days. Much of the art work is hand-drawn, the rest are rendered in a retro-style that sparks nostalgia and overall good vibes.

Playcontrol: As mentioned in the above review, Mouse-only mode is the way to go. Playing this game with a controller is probably your second best option. But on more than one occasion, I’ve found some issues with responsiveness when using that method. Playing with a keyboard is possible, but not recommended.

Downloadable Content: YES– This game currently features two add-ons. One is a proper expansion, the second is a stand-alone title.

Mature Content: YES. This is a game that focuses on adult situations and inappropriate humor. Enemy names are puns for various body parts, etc. Even though the Steam version of the game is censored, it is still at it’s core pornographic in nature. This is not one for children.

Value:  The main game and the Flat Justice expansion are $2.00 each. The Academy DLC is sold for $0.69. So, you can obtain the entire collection for under $3.00. That is simply a steal. The game is also often found on sale for even cheaper than that.

Overall rating (out of four stars): 3 – Deep Space Waifu is a playable joke. It’s not meant to be taken seriously at all. With that in mind and considering the price point, I have to admit that most players will get a good amount of entertainment from this title. However, the adult nature of the game will limit its audience. This is a bit of a shame, as the game itself does have some really good qualities.

Available on: Steam

Review: Doki Doki Literature Club

The October tradition of horror game reviews continues! This time I’m taking a short break from the PSX era games to review a modern title: Doki Doki Literature Club… Wait. That doesn’t sound like a horror game! It certainly doesn’t look like one either. Well… it’s not. At least not in the traditional sense. There’s no jump scares, zombies, horrifying monsters or any of that. Instead, what we have here is a game that shakes and rattles you mentally when you least expect it.  That being said, if you have not experienced this game and you think you might want to, it might actually be in your best interests to stop reading now. This game is truly best experienced blind. You should go into this game with as little information about it as possible to obtain the best experience.

Doki Doki Literature Club is a visual novel game. This is a genre that I’ve not really talked about on this site before, but one that I do enjoy. These days, most visual novels are romance/anime style games. They are filled with cutesy characters and more often then not, the goal of the game is to “meet your future waifu”. The creators of Doki Doki take this expectation and build a game that smacks the unassuming player in the face with a cold dose of shock and anguish.

The game starts off just like any other stereotypical Visual Novel. You play as a young, socially awkward school boy who is unexpectedly forced to associate with a handful of adorable school girls. Depending on the choices you make in the game, one of these girls will slowly start to take a liking to you. You continue to play in attempt to develop this relationship, while juggling your duties to the other characters in the game. Each character has their own quirks and backstory, and these become more apparent as you continue to play. Then, out of nowhere the game takes a very unexpected turn. I won’t go into specifics or there would be no point in playing the game for yourself. But, as if this twist was not enough – you soon begin to discover that everything you thought you knew about the game is completely wrong. How do I put it? You’re not really playing a game. Instead, this game is playing you.

At this point, some players might suspect that something is wrong with their computer or that somehow their game has become corrupted. But, sharp players will realize exactly what is going on and will feel extremely satisfied with the experience.  It’s difficult to discuss in a review without giving away too many spoilers. But, let me just say that in all my years of gaming, I have never had an experience that made we want to sit back and clap my hands in salute to a developer until now. This game completely exploits the players expectations and trolls them to levels unseen previously. It’s simply masterful in its execution.

One of the first things you will see when you start the game is a warning regarding the game’s disturbing content and imagery. This warning is very true. It might take you two hours or more before you encounter this type of content, but once it starts it doesn’t stop.

The disturbing content in Doki Doki Literature Club is more mental than anything else. If you are a person that truly suffers from anxiety or depression, it might seriously be a good idea to skip this title. That’s no a joke. This game will put you in a state of mind that you were not expecting to find yourself in. You have been warned.

That being said, if you are looking for a unique gaming experience that will kick-start your Halloween, this is certainly a title to consider. Look past the J-Pop and busty anime babes and give this game an honest chance. You will be surprised at what you find.

Difficulty: Easy–  As a visual novel there’s really no level of skill needed to play the game. However, unlike most games of this type – if you mess up and don’t get the result you want from the story, it’s not quite as easy to quit and reload your previous save as you might think…

Story: The storyline here is the main focus of the game, and it’s very well done. However, if you play through to completion you’ll realize there’s even MORE going on than the scenario presented in the game itself. You’ll get even MORE out of it if you try to play through a second time. Try it, you’ll see.

Originality: This title is probably one of the most original and refreshing gaming experiences I’ve had a long time. It takes an established genre and exploits the players expectations to a point I’ve never seen before. Sure, many games offer twist endings or try to surprise you in one way or another. But this game takes it to a new level.

Soundtrack: The music in the game is perky and cute. Typical of most Japanese style visual novels. I found the music to be oddly appropriate, but also a little repetitive and annoying after a while.

Fun: I wouldn’t really call this game “fun”. Then again, it’s not supposed to be. This game, if anything, seems to be a bit of a social experiment. It is certainly worth your attention and it’s an experience you are not likely to forget anytime soon. Overall, for me the takeaway was very positive. But this is not going to be everyone’s cup of tea.

Graphics: Typical Visual Novel flair. The game has colorful, anime style visuals. It’s very “kawaii” and well done. 

Playcontrol: No issues. Point and click 100%.

Downloadable Content:  N/A

Mature Content: Disturbing imagery, adult themes, sexual content, violence.

Value:  This game is available to all at no cost. It’s 100% free.

Overall rating (out of four stars): 4 – This game is very unique. I recommend it. Don’t be fooled by it’s outward appearance. This is not your typically sex-driven anime VN. This is a psychological horror experience wrapped in a cutesy interface. It defies labels. Players looking for something different will find what they are looking for here if they have the patience to see it through.

Available on: Steam

Review: Thief II – The Metal Age

Again, I want to apologize for the long hiatus between game reviews, but I’m back now and continuing my “turn of the century” playthroughs. Today I give you my long-awaited review of Thief II: The Metal Age. I discussed the original Thief more than three years ago, in anticipation of the Square-Enix reboot. But it took me this long to catch up and play through the second entry in the original franchise. But finally, here we are.

For those unfamiliar with the original game, Thief took the concept of first-person PC games and turned it on it’s head. Instead of being a fast-paced shooter, this game required you to sneak around in the shadows and actually try to avoid killing enemies unless absolutely necessary. It was a smashing success and it was only a matter of time until it spawned a sequel. Thief II took everything that was great about the original game and cranked it up a notch. In fact, this sequel is a great example of developers actually listening to their customers. The folks behind the game took the feedback they received from the first title, and added more of what fans liked the most, and removed some of the concepts that seemed to garner the most complaints. The end result, is a game true to the original but largely superior.

This game takes place one year after the events of the original title. Garrett continues to make his living as a skilled catpurse, relying on no one other than himself. Since the events of the original game, a new faction has emerged in the city. One that believes in a future ruled by technology and machines.  As a result, the nature-worshiping Pagans have been driven out of town and into hiding.  None of this matters too much to Garrett, as he has other things to worry about. You see, there’s a new sheriff in town, literally – and he’s got his eye on putting an end to Garrett’s way of life. However, as one might expect, it’s not so easy to remain neutral. Before long, Garrett finds himself wrapped up in the middle of this conflict between the Mechanists and the Pagans. To save himself, he’s going to have to choose sides.

One thing to know before you decide to jump in to the world of Thief II; this is an older game and one designed for a different age of computing. However, just like the original – there’s a number of tweaks and unofficial patches available that will allow the game to run on modern hardware. I recommend something called “TafferPatcher”. This is a fan-made all-in-one patch that will both optimize the game for modern hardware, but retain the original look and feel of the title. Despite being unofficial, it’s widely respected and very much safe to install.

As I mentioned above, if you enjoyed the original game, Thief II is certainly worth your time. Every single thing that is great about the first title is expanded on here and there’s lots of it. To me, both the size of the levels and the number of mission objectives have increased and become much more engaging. There’s nothing better than sneaking around in the shadows right under the noses of the night watchmen and looting a place clean. The feel of the original game remains intact, but this time with a more engaging storyline.

From a technical standpoint, Thief II feels very much like it’s predecessor. I don’t really see a big difference in the bulk of the game engine. The environments look very similar to those founds in Thief. But, the character textures are greatly improved.  The enemy AI is also quite a bit better – in this game guards will notice more things that seem out-of-place. For example open doors or damaged environmental objects. So, tech-wise, Thief II does show signs of progression over the original.

To me, the Thief series represents a high point in PC gaming. It was a time where the industry was largely engaged in copy-cat behavior. But the Thief series took a bold step to stand apart from all the clones. It was a risk that paid off big. To me, Thief II represents the very best of the series. It’s a game that I recommend to retro PC gamers looking for a unique experience.

Difficulty: Variable–  Thief II offers several levels of difficulty. Increasing the difficulty level not only gives the player more objectives to accomplish during the game’s missions, but also going for Hard or Expert restricts you from being allowed to kill enemies. The game is certainly more rewarding on one of these two settings. But I recommend Normal for most players going on their first run.

Story: Thief II continues the lore and storyline established in the original game, and it’s quite well done. The game story develops a number of ways. First, there are cutscenes between levels. But, tidbits can also be picked up by eavesdropping on various NPC conversations or reading notes and journals that you encounter as you sneak your way through the areas of the game. Players who take their time and explore every nook and cranny will be rewarded with additional storyline elements.

Originality: The trail was certainly blazed with the original Thief. But the concepts laid out by it’s predecessor are highly refined and presented to players in this sequel.  Despite being a sequel, Thief II still manages to avoid feeling like a cheap retread of the original game.

Soundtrack: There not a lot here in terms of game music. But, that’s ok. This game is ALL about atmosphere. You have to listen for footsteps and other audible clues as you play. These sound effects are very well done. This is one of those games that still takes advantage of older surround sound technology – and it does it very well. Ambient noises aside, the voice acting in the game is also superb.

Fun: This kind of game may not appeal to all players. It requires patience and a willingness to learn from your mistakes. This will likely be a turn-off to some, but for those that enjoy stealth games, this one will provide hours of entertainment.

Graphics:  The first two entries in the Thief series are an odd mix of both really good 3D graphics and funky, blocky textures. However, Thief II does improve on the look and feel of NPC characters significantly. This entry also includes improved skybox and lighting effects. Regardless, it still looks very dated when compared to modern games. But it was quite top of the line for it’s time. 

Playcontrol:  No real issues here. The game runs on the standard WSAD keyboard layout for first-person PC games, with some modifications for the game’s unique features. Occasionally, climbing and jumping around on platforms can feel a bit awkward and cumbersome. But, it’s merely a minor annoyance at times.

Downloadable Content:  N/A. 

Mature Content: Mild language.

Value:  Thief II can be found on Steam for around $7.00. For that price, the game is well worth every penny. The amount of content in this game and the quality of this title overall makes it an absolute steal for that price.

Overall rating (out of four stars): 4 – Thief II, despite it’s age, still holds up as one of the definitive stealth-based first-person games of all time. Fans of the genre that have not yet experienced it, should not hesitate for a moment. This is one game worthy of your attentions. For players who are not sure if this type of game would appeal to them, the price tag alone makes it worth the gamble. You’ll never spend a better $7 on a PC title.

Available on: PC (Steam)

Original Trilogy:

Thief: The Dark Project  –  Thief 2: The Metal Age  – Thief: Deadly Shadows

Reboot:

Thief

Review: Dragonia

It is with both shame and amusement that I type this review… As it is my ritual every summer in the weeks leading up to the Steam Summer Sale, I always take a moment to browse through the store looking for games that interest me. When I find one, I will add it my wishlist to ensure that I receive a notification if it goes on sale. This year, while perusing the store I came upon an interesting trend – I found a number of anime style games, of various types that were selling for $1.50 or less. Due to the extremely low price, I snatched up as many of them as I could. One of them happened to be an anime-style shoot-em-up by the name of Dragonia. After scrolling through the store page for the game, it quickly became obvious that this was an adult title. But, the game play looked interesting and the reviews were great so I bit the bullet.

Now, even knowing that the game contained some adult themes, I had NO IDEA what I had got myself into… to say this is a “mature” game is an understatement. This game is downright pornographic. On top of that, there’s even an “uncensoring patch” available directly from the developer, just in case you need absolutely nothing left to the imagination. In fact, I debated even reviewing this game at all, considering the content. But, as you will see, it’s actually a somewhat intriguing title. So much so, I decided to review it regardless of it’s extremely adult nature.

Let me take a moment to explain what this game actually is. First off, in it’s heart and soul, Dragonia is a bullet-hell schmup. You play the character of Feeney, a half-human, half dragon. Feeney is summoned by an old witch to help purge the land from the grip of several Evil Dragons. As it turns out, only Feeney has the ability to defeat and “purify” these dragons. As might be able to guess, to “purify” them, Feeney has to resort to her… seductive skills and… well… you can guess the rest.

(Censored by Sensei)

The basic storyline outlined above is easy enough to decipher. However, that’s about all you’re going to get out of the storyline text in the game. The English translation in this game can only be described as horrendous. It seems to literally be a copy paste from Chinese to English via Google Translate… Which in some ways is actually a godsend, because the text likes to describe in detail every single thing Feeney has to do to “purify” her enemies.

All of the adult material in the game is limited to the cutscenes that play before and after each game level. The gameplay itself is pretty much family friendly. You control Feeney from a birds-eye-view as she flies around and blasts her opponents from the air.  Enemies approach from every angle. It’s a classic bullet-hell scenario.

As you play through each level, Feeney will collect “souls”. In between stages, souls can be exchanged for a variety of things. You can unlock new modes of attack, you can increase your damage level, health, etc.  So in some ways, this game has a very RPG-like progression element to it.  You complete a level by defeating a certain number of enemies. Once you reach this number, the level boss is spawned. Defeating the boss allows you to proceed to the next area.  At first, the game levels are fairly simple but eventually you will come across a boss that you just can’t take down. This is where you’ll want to grind up some more health of damage output. Some bosses are weak to certain attacks (lightning, fire, etc). So unlocking specific attack modes is also part of the strategy.

In this way, despite the extremely high levels of fan-service, the game actually has some redeeming value to it.  I personally found the gameplay to be engaging and overall very well done. There’s no shortage of upgrades to unlock. So, this game gets quite a few things right. It’s hard to argue that the gameplay itself is bad. And, depending on your viewpoint, the cutscenes are either going to be a big plus or a big turn off.

The down points to this title are without a doubt the terrible localization and the UI/playcontol. The in-game menus look like they were designed by rank amateurs. There’s no logic to them at all. But with a little diligence, you’ll be able to figure out their quirks and limp through the UI. The game itself can be played using a keyboard, but I don’t recommend this. These types of game just work best with a controller. Personally, I played Dragonia using my trusty USB Xbox 360 controller.  Even on a controller, the control-scheme makes little sense. But, it is accurate and responsive. Normally, these types of complaints would be a BIG DEAL, because when I say they are bad, I mean they are really REALLY terrible. But, when the game sells for $1.50, it’s very difficult to complain. Especially for all of the content you actually get with that $1.50. Dragonia is a short game, but it’s longer than others that I’ve paid premium prices for.

If you enjoy schmups and bullet hells, this is a game that might tickle your fancy. Just know going in, that it is filled with unapologetic hentai visuals.

Difficulty: Easy–  This game is a curious case in terms of difficulty simply because as a schmup, it is exactly what you’d expect: bullets flying everywhere, endless enemies pouring from all sides, etc. Each level gets harder and harder. But, as mentioned in the main review, you can upgrade your life meter and even the damage that you deal. So, if you find yourself stuck on a particular level, the only thing you really need to do is be patient and grind until you are overpowered enough to blast your way through whatever roadblock you encountered. This mechanic actually renders most of the challenges in the game meaningless.

Story: If we’re being honest, the storyline for this game is nothing more then a vehicle to deliver some heavy doses of fanservice. In fact, I have a sneaking suspicion that the game itself was developed separately from the dirty cutscenes and the two were cobbled together into the game that we see now. The in-game story is shallow and weird. But, admittedly mildly interesting. The translation is barely comprehendable.

Originality: Hentai games are nothing new. Neither are bullet-hells. But, I have to admit that this is the first time I’ve ever seen them lumped together in one title. Add in the the RP/progression element and you have a pretty original package.

Soundtrack: The game has a somewhat catchy soundtrack. But the sound effects can be a bit annoying at times. One weapon in particular sounds like high volume static. It is quite annoying. Overall, the audio in this title is pretty poor and unimaginative.

Fun: It’s hard to admit this. But, I had a pretty good time with the game. The gameplay kept me hooked. I enjoyed leveling and unlocking all of the weapons. The cutscenes are amusing, albeit shocking at times. A certain fraction of players will no doubt be able to have a really good time with the cutscenes.

Graphics:  The cutscenes are colorful, crisp and well rendered. Fans of anime-style art will be pleased. The game itself is actually quite-well rendered as well. The bullet effects are colorful and dynamic. Sadly, the UI is crudely chopped together and messy.

Playcontrol:  No matter what method you use, the playcontrol is rough and very non-intuitive. Playing with a controller is manageable, but it still just feels off.

Downloadable Content:  None. 

Mature Content: Pornographic content and extreme adult language.

Value:  Despite the many negative things about this game, it’s hard to argue with the price. Someone paying a little over a dollar for a game shouldn’t expect much. Considering the paltry cost for this title, you are getting your money’s worth ten times over.  Often, many adult-content games actually come with a premium price tag. It’s hard to go wrong here from a value standpoint.

Overall rating (out of four stars): 2 – Content aside, a lot of aspects about this game are well done and interesting. There’s quite a bit of content for a very small price. On the other side of the coin, the game suffers from bad localization, terrible UI and playcontrol. It’s an interesting but largely mediocre title, but one that will appeal to certain gamers.

Available on: PC (Steam)

Thoughts On: Serena

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Well, it’s Halloween. While I didn’t get as many horror games finished before today as I had hoped. (Thanks in part to a one-week vacation). I did finish up the unusual game of Serena today. So as usual, I’m here to share my thoughts.

Serena is different kind of game. First of all, it’s free. So right away, it’s worth a look. This game was designed as both a game-engine demo as well as an homage to the old point-and-click adventure games of yesteryear. As a child, I played a number of these type of games on the old black and white Macintosh. Some of my favorites were, Enchanted Scepters and Transylvania. Serena is a bit like those in many ways, but also quite different.

 

This game takes in place entirely in a one-room log cabin. You play the role of a tormented man who is awaiting the return of his lover, Serena. Oddly, he cannot seem to remember her face or many of the details about her. The game consists of walking around the cabin and examining the various articles and furnishings that are laying about. As you do this, your memory slowly starts to return.

The gameplay is entirely restricted to this one room. Progress is measured by the hourly chime of a clock on the wall. Once the chime goes off, you will typically have to re-examine all of the various items around the cabin again. This time, a different narrative is provided, etc. This continues until you uncover the secret behind Serena’s disappearance and finally reach the conclusion of the game.

The game itself is very short and features a very basic interface. As I stated, the goal here is really to simply provide a demo for an adventure game-engine. In many ways, Serena is very similar to the games Gone Home or P.T., that I reviewed previously. Except it’s not nearly as advanced as either of those titles.

For this reason, I will not be giving Serena a full review. But, I will say that I found my playthrough of this title to be an interest change of pace and upon reaching the end, I consider it to be time well spent. The graphics are very well done for this type of game. The voice acting is superb and the game audio is engaging.

As far as including it in my Halloween playthrough… it fits. Just play it to the end and you’ll see what I mean. Very psychological. The ending is still hotly debated on the steam forums.

Serena is available for free on Steam.

Review: Slender – The Arrival

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Next up on the spooky game list is a title that I’ve had sitting in my Steam library for awhile. Slender – The Arrival. Now, before playing this game I actually knew very little about the “Slenderman” phenomena. I knew that the character of Slenderman was born from some creepy Internet meme,  but I was completely ignorant regarding the background story or mythology behind the character. I think my lack of knowledge actually made the game seem even weirder and creepier than it would have been otherwise.

First off, I should mention that the day before this review was posted, a major update to the game was released. This update is quite literally, a game changer. The 2.0 updated added new levels, better performance, and many needed quality of life improvements. I was almost done with my playthrough of this game when the patch hit and it actually made me start all over so that I could re-experience the game from the ground up.

So let’s get started. Slender – The Arrival is your typical survival horror game. In this game, you start off playing a girl named Lauren who is on her way to visit an old childhood friend at her home. On the way there, the road leading to her house is blocked by a fallen tree and you’re forced to walk the last mile or so on foot. As you approach her home, it suddenly grows unusually dark. Once entering the house, you are quick to realize that some strange has happened. The house is in shambles and there’s weird scribbles all over the wall. You find a flashlight and begin to search the house for clues. Eventually, you hear a scream from outside the window and proceed to investigate. This is where the game really begins.

Apparently, your friend Kate has become obsessed with a supernatural entity known as Slenderman. A faceless being that is rumored to chase and abduct children. Throughout your search for Kate, you are relentlessly pursued by Slenderman and some of his other creepy friends. For some reason, I never really understood, your character carries a video camera with her at all times. The game experienced through the eyes of the camera. The picture will jump or distort if Slender draws near. So it serves as a bit of a warning device. At the end of the game, it seems to become clear that you, the player, are watching the recorded footage – so there’s that. But again…. why is this girl video taping everything?

As you proceed through the game, more details regarding the backstory begin to emerge. Some levels are actually played through the perspective of other characters in the game. All in all, as the plot thickens, the game manages to actually get even creepier.

The gameplay itself is quite basic. There’s no combat. Most levels have a series of objectives that need to be completed to move on to the next stage. However, each time you complete an objective, Slenderman appears more often and begins to pursue you relentlessly. If you get caught by him, it is game over.

As far as games go, there’s not a lot of content here really. Even with the new levels brought in by the update, the game can easily be completed in a couple of hours if you’ve got the hang of things. To me, the experience provided by this game is more focused on scaring you than actually timesinking content. This game has moments that are downright chilling. Everything from the level design, to the atmosphere created within the game is frightening. There were times while playing, where I was so close to completing the level only to see the screen start to distort and hear the swelling of the background music – I’d get goosebumps knowing that just around the corner I was going to see that pale white face, in the dark suit staring blankly in my direction. Fantastic.

In a lot of way, the environments and atmosphere created by game designers are often freakier than the protagonists. If you’re looking for something to put a little fright into you on a dark night, this game is worth a look.

Difficulty: Moderate –  There are two difficulty settings. Normal and Hardcore. The later is only available after beating the game on the original difficulty setting. Overall, the game is pretty middle of the road. Early on, I died a lot. But once I got a feel for the game’s mechanics, it did become a little easier. Hardcore mode is just that. In this mode, there are often additional steps required to complete a level as well as a big increase in the aggression of Slender Man.
Story: For such an inexpensive title, there is a surprising amount of storyline here. However, it is not spoon-fed to you. The story behind the game is uncovered as you play. If you take the time to pay attention and actually read many of the news-clippings and notes that you find throughout the game, much of the background begins to become very clear.
Originality: These days, survival horror games are nothing new. But Slender manages to keep things unique with it’s unusual presentation and rich character-based storyline.
Soundtrack: The score for this game is subtle, but overall I found it to be well done. The music is dynamic and does a great job at setting the tone for the game as well as adding to the suspense.
Fun: If you enjoy horror/survival games this is certainly a title that worth your time. It’s spooky, anxiety-laden, and keeps you on the edge of your seat.
Graphics: The new “2.0” version of the game is a big improvement over the original edition. If you’re new to this title, this is version that is now available on Steam as well as PSN and Xbox Arcade. So no matter what platform, you’re sure to get the latest version. The graphics were always well rendered but now include motion blur effects, and better lighting enhancements as well. Not to mention the overall graphics performance has been tweaked big time.
Playcontrol: This title is playable both on the keyboard and with a gamepad. Either way seemed both fitting and natural.
Mature Content: YES- Gruesome violence. Language. Horror elements.
Value:  For $10, this game offers quite a bit of bang for your buck. It is somewhat short, yes. But I feel that it is very much worth the experience. — If you played this game when it first came out, the new version included new levels integrated into the game itself. So veterans might want to take a second look.
Overall rating (out of four stars): 3 – This game may seem a little unusual to casual players. But fans of the survival horror genre have a lot to appreciate here. However, even for a casual gamer, the $10.00 pricetag certainly makes Slender a purchase to consider. This game offers a true horror experience at a budget price.
Currently available on: Steam, PSN, Xbox Arcade

Review: Gauntlet (2014)

Gauntlet-2014

If you’ve hung around on this blog awhile, you know that I love old games. The very first video game I ever played as a young child was an arcade version of Centipede. Back in those days, home consoles just didn’t have the technology to compete with a full sized arcade cabinet. Some games could only be experienced at an arcade room. Gauntlet was one of those games.

Gauntlet was a fantasy/dungeon themed multiplayer game. You could be a Warrior, Valkyrie, Wizard or Elf. Each character having slightly different attacks and playstyles. The object was to delve deep into a maze filled with endless hordes of monsters and earn as many points as possible. Aside from that, there really wasn’t much to it. The game was brutal and often times unfair. The ultimate goal was to get the highest score possible and earn your bragging rights.

To me, it always stood out as one of the first video games I ever played that could actually talk. “Your life force is running out!” The game would mumble those words as you neared death. Luckily, the reaper could be kept at bay if you were willing to sacrifice another quarter into the coinslot.

The original game is all of its glory

Over the years there have been sequels and remakes. Each game drifting further from the roots of the original. Many of them good games, but they didn’t seem to capture the magic of the original title.  Now, Arrowhead studios has brought us a modern take on the classic. A fresh look, simply named: Gauntlet.

Right off the bat, the new Gauntlet is very similar to the original. Overhead view, the same characters with the same general playstyle, waves and waves of enemies, and the snarky voice is back. There are of course, several changes. First of all, the game looks fantastic. Gone are the days of 8-bit pixels. Here we have beautiful accelerated graphics and dynamic lighting. Visually, the game is everything you could hope for when it comes to a modern version of the classic title.

Where the game differs is not so much in the way it is played, but rather with the addition of some much needed features. In this new version of Gauntlet, the gold you find while plundering the maze can be used to purchase new skills and upgrades for your character. Skills can be executed at will as long as your character has a potion to consume. The key to mastering the game is pairing specific skills with the different characters and leveling them up over time. For example, the Elf, a ranged fighter would not benefit very much from a skill that immobilizes nearby foes. It may come in handy from time to time, but not as much as it would if he were a Warrior, fighting in close quarters.

As characters take damage, their life force diminishes. This can be restored by eating plates of food that are found within the maze. Of course, like in the older games, it’s possible to accidentally strike the food and destroy it. So it is important to be mindful and not simply dash around swinging blindly.  If a character does die, they can be revived. Much like the arcade days, this is accomplished by spending a “coin”. However, you longer have to dig deep in your pockets to keep playing. In this version, coins are earned as you defeat enemies.

The purpose of the game is to work your way through the “gauntlet” and uncover three mysterious relics. The game is broken up into three, multi-level dungeons. Each dungeon has a special boss to defeat.

When it comes to progressing through the game, your progress is saved separately for each character. It can be fun to switch around, as each character controls and works completely differently. Ultimately, you’re likely to find a favorite. Gauntlet can be played single player, but to be honest this game is best played with others. Up to four players can team up (one of each class) to take on the dungeon.

For the Steam version of the game, multiplayer is as simple as either creating a new game and making it public or joining an existing game. Sadly, it seems that already even after a week or so since its release the number of players has dwindled a bit. But there’s still plenty of players to be found if you’re patient enough to wait a few minutes.

 

Difficulty: Variable –  The game offers a number of difficulty settings. Easy, Normal, Hard and Unfair. These are aptly named and quite accurate. For a new player, I would recommend starting on easy at first. Once you have a feel of things, Normal is the way to go. Hard mode and Unfair can only really be recommended for multiplayer games.

Story: The story here is pretty minimal. There’s a brief set up during the tutorial followed by some narratives as you progress through the game. Most of the meat of the story can be found in the digital comic book that was available to players who preordered the game.

Originality: Being a remake of a classic arcade title, there’s quite a bit of added content to keep the game interesting. Ironically, it’s the lack of new features that actually manages to keep this game feeling fresh. They don’t really make games like this anymore and playing Gauntlet was a really nice change of pace.

Soundtrack: Overall, the game soundtrack is very well done. The music is fitting and tends to ramp up at appropriate times. The voice narrative is excellent. All of the classic one-liners are present in this version.

Fun: Gauntlet is a bit of a niche game to be honest. I think it will appeal most to older gamers such as myself. That being said, the real fun here lies in the online play. Other players really add to the experience and as always, Gauntlet is best played with friends.

Graphics: The developers really seems to nail the graphics just right. The art direction, lighting and overall feel is spot on.

Playcontrol: Ok. Here we go. Gauntlet is a PC game and offers two options. Mouse/Keyboard or gamepad. That being said, this is “gamepad game”. I highly recommend playing with an Xbox 360 style controller. Playing with a keyboard is possible, but not very intuitive at all. I hated it.

Mature Content: Violence – Blood and gore.

Value:  At release, Gauntlet sells for $20. This is a fair price if you enjoy this type of game. If you’re not sure if this is the game for you, you may wish to wait until it goes on sale or the game sees a permanent price drop. The game itself is somewhat shorter than most modern games, but it is very replayable. The developers have hinted at future DLC content and additional levels coming down the pike. Time will tell.

Overall rating (out of four stars): 3 – I enjoyed my time with the game and felt satisfied with the purchase. After completing it, I decided not to uninstall it. Every now and then I get an itch for some hack and slash casual gaming and Gauntlet seems to satisfy that need. Fans of the series will not be disappointed.

Currently available on: PC   (Steam, GOG, other digital stores)