Quick reviews of games. Short and sweet.
TL;DR: It's essentially a 2.5D Symphony of the Night lacking a level of polish that holds it back from greatness.
Since I’m playing on PS4 I can’t speak to the frame rate, performance, and resolution issues reported on the Switch. I can say that on PS4 there are many instances in which the frame rate will drop when enemies drop loot, as if the game itself struggles to calculate what the drop will be.
There’s a boss battle deep in the game with an inexcusable performance hit that occurs each time he issues his dozen or so projectiles. The frame rate would drop to about 1 FPS.
Sadly, the game has crashed about 4 times for me. It being rooted in classic game design, this means losing progress since my last save point. What a horrible night to have a game without autosave.
Some of the environment layouts are rather bland, and that includes many of the first areas of the castle. Entry into the castle is a moment to wow the player, and was a missed opportunity.
There’s an inconsistency to the level of quality in the art, ranging from environments to characters. On one hand you have some incredibly detailed areas, and then you have these low quality tattoo textures on Miriam that are cringe worthy when viewed from the pause menu.
The distinction between art and intractable can be muddy at times. My eyes would need that moment to adjust to many of the environments, taking time to make the distinction between enemy, platform, and background elements. There’s just a level of crispness that gets lost in 2.5D games like this. In contrast, Mega Man 11 was able to pull off this style because of the pops of color.
I wish it was 2D.
There were multiple occasions where I felt lost, and I would back track through areas until finally discovering that there was an obscure action I had to perform or item I had to equip. A few more subtle yet helpful nudges would have made me feel less frustrated, and this is coming from someone that has ample experience with metroidvanias.
Making contact with enemies and other targets, especially with small monsters and lanterns, is an incredible chore. I felt as if I was swinging through small enemies and candles. The weapon collision could be a little more forgiving. This is an area that, design wise, would benefit from a higher level of generosity and refinement. As it stands, swinging at a toad or torch is laborious.
The farther I got in the game the more enjoyable the game became. The combination of the various shards, weapons, and attribute upgrades made me progressively feel more and more like a true badass.
The music, while good, left me with no lasting impression. That is, no desire to revisit it, as I will from time to time with the Castlevania III: Dracula's Curse soundtrack or Bloody tears from Castlevania II: Simon's Quest.
The real pain, in terms of audio, comes from the townspeople that repeat the same lines at noisome. “Kill those murderers dead!”. OK, I said I will, take it easy.
It’s a good game that is rough around the edges. And it’s faithful to Symphony of the Night, seemingly giving what fans want in the process. I’d love to see a sequel that feels less bound to the classics this title is so strongly tied to, adding more depth to the story and mechanics, and growing beyond its Castlevania origins. This is a great start, so please carry the torch forward.
Too many games, not enough time. Let’s be brief.
The Legend of Zelda: A Link Between Worlds (3DS)
The best of Zelda with a unique, new mechanic, and all within the revamped familiar world of The Legend of Zelda: A Link to the Past. Pure joy.
RE 2 DLC (PS4)
The remake to Resident Evil 2 proved how a remake should be done. Everything about it just felt right; It’s a near perfect game. The first DLC, on the other hand, is sloppy and unnecessarily difficult.
Castlevania: Symphony of the Night (PS4)
Spells, morphing, gothic music, library cards, and a game after a game. It’s glorious.
Just Breed (Famicom)
When I discovered that a game like Shining Force had existed in Japan for the Famicom I jumped on the opportunity to play. What has the bones to be a great tactical RPG is ruined by exhausting battles that are drawn out by two primary factors: 1) enemy respawn hubs and 2) a movement limitation on your army to always stay in a nearby cluster.
Rolling Thunder (Micro Player)
Rolling Thunder has a special, nostalgic place in my heart. While the micro version isn’t quite the arcade experience, both in terms of physical size and graphical quality, it’s close enough to pull me back to that place in time. This mini machine delivers on one of Namco’s best.
Beautifully designed, smooth animations, enjoyable story arch, and enthralling music. The extreme difficulty feels right since each section is so short. A died a lot on my way to the top and loved every minute of it.
Hollow Knight (PS4)
Brutally difficult to the point of massive frustration at times. The pleasure derived from a successfully slain boss mostly stems from knowing that the moment is finally done, rather than a delight one normally feels in a moment of accomplishment from a more moderate level of difficulty.
Castlevania: Aria of Sorrow (GBA)
A short yet enjoyable addition to the Castlevania series.
Castlevania: Dawn of Sorrow (DS)
Dawn picks up where Aria left off, adding additional depth to the story, characters, and mechanics.
Final Fantasy Tactics: Advance (GBA)
There’s so much to dislike about FFTA: a new judgement system that slows the pace of battle and travel with a layer of complexity that never should have made it beyond a brainstorm meeting, a laborious equipment UX, and a “game within a game” story that cheapens the experience.
Metroid: Fusion (GBA)
It's mostly great. There’s an Alien like atmospheres complete with an enemy to run away from. There’s environments that change over time. And tons of secret areas to discover. The ability to jump as a ball and easily jump upright and grab into a tunnel is a nice touch. Save points feel appropriately spread out, the music and animations are great, and there’s some solid music throughout.
On the negative side, it feels rather linear and you are constantly told what to do. That plus the combination of the DS Lite hardware and the shooting mechanics makes for frustrating boss battles. For example, my giant hands struggled to hold R for missiles + L to aim at an angle + down to aim downward + press B to shoot.
Metroid: Zero Mission (GBA)
Metroid: Zero Mission exceeded and blew away my expectations. I came into this anticipating a simple remake with a few minor improvements and was so pleasantly surprised to discover a completely reimagined experience. ZM is drenched in polish, intrigue, and joy.
The Legend of Zelda: The Minish Cap (GBA)
It fits the typical mold of the games that followed LttP, in a good way, with just enough differences and fresh elements to keep it fun. The only real negative is that my hat friend is rather irritating, playing the part of the tutorial I never needed and never seems to end.
I particularly enjoyed the fusing of stones as a way to get you to return to previously explored areas (both to do more fusing and to collect rewards). Simple yet pleasurable.
I was a little shocked that there wasn’t that moment near the end where you realize Ganon was involved all along. Nope, no Ganon. And that’s perfectly OK.
My favorite “dungeon” was actually Hyrule Town. From the moment you step foot in the town you are teased with hints of secrets at every turn.
Chrono Trigger (DS)
Back in the mid-90s I had rented Chrono Trigger from a local video store, and never had the chance to complete it. With the DS version finally in my hands I was not only able to complete it a few different ways, I was also able to jump into the new content which added some extra depth.
Mother 3 (GBA)
I’m really torn on this one. The story is interesting at times, with curious oddities and strange conversations, and then other times the story just seem so predictable, the mood is juvenile, and the gameplay can be so utterly banal. On the gameplay front, there is an annoying, repeating formula: go to a location, grind in boring “dungeon”, listen to a boss ramble, fight, read a wall of text, and hope you grinded just enough so that you don’t have to grind some more. There’s some cute animations and characters, however, overall, I’m simply not a fan of the art style.
Ninja Cop (GBA)
A ninja that is also a cop...that’s also a ninja. It just works. The only downside is the game ends just as it gets going.
The Messenger (PS4)
A subpar action-adventure platformer that borders on tiresome. If you want to play a far superior throw-back Ninja Gaiden then check out Bloodstained: Curse of the Moon (and as a bonus enjoy its Castlevania goodness).
I love the way you kick me in bed.
And stretch out, forcing me to the edge.
I love the gentle coo sounds you make in your sleep. The deep inhale followed by a pronounced exhale. A sigh.
And all the unique sounds you make.
Your rumbling snore.
Your escalating yips for food that manifest into a bark.
Your cries for help when even a single leaf brushes into you.
And your growl. Never threatening. Unless it’s at a crow.
I love the way you smell.
Wet or dry.
No matter how much your breath carries the odor of fish.
I love your playful behavior.
How you gently nibble at the face of the stuffed bear.
And the game we play where you run from me to your mom.
You light up a room. A walk. A store.
Everyone loves you.
Food is never far behind.
And you always find it.
You instinctually know who to beg and where.
I love how you stretch out your chicken leg when I scratch your thigh.
And the purrs you make when we rub your back.
I love your yawns. Constant and pure.
Your downward facing dog, far better than mine.
And the way you lick our hands. How we fight for your attention. I relish after every kiss on the face.
I love your mind. And your curiosity.
You are an explorer. A city girl yet a lover of nature. Keen to learn new tricks and discover a new world.
I love finding you in your favorite places.
The suitcase that was just packed.
The hamper, if it has enough padding.
And I love that you let it be known if it isn’t just right.
And the crunch sounds you make when eating apples.
The scraping of corn from the cob.
The hollow comps of watermelon.
Even the drool you drop in anticipation for ice cream.
I love carrying you, belly up, like the little baby you have always been.
I never grow tired of the attention you bring.
You know you are loved when you are given so many names.
I love sharing various meats with you.
And the remains of peanut butter from the spoon.
Home made treats.
Sweets from the pet bakery.
And the Susiecakes treats that you pull us to from a mile away.
I love watching your eyebrows dart up and down as you lay coolly in the prone position, observing all activities in the kitchen.
I love that you stole my Cliff bars.
You always enjoyed them more than me.
I love the memories of all of the places the three of us discovered together.
Hikes, hotels, beaches, and car rides.
I love witnessing your energy following a bath.
A puppy breaks forth from the water.
Life is reborn.
It warms my heart to hear the subtle clicks of your nails on the hardwood.
I follow every step as I listen from afar.
I love the feeling of your fur.
Everyone agrees you are the softest dog they have ever felt.
I feel pride every time someone asks about you.
Your fan club is a vast.
I love carrying you when you’re tired.
Sometimes even when you aren’t.
Just so I can hold you close to my heart.
I love the game we play where you expose your belly, I rub, and you nibble at my fingers. All the while making adorable piggy snorts.
I recall the memory where I was first left alone with you. I sat at my computer. Suddenly I felt you standing beside me, on your hind legs, informing me of dinner time.
I envy the infinite bond that you have with your mother. How you upgrade from my lap to to hers when she joins us on the couch. It makes me so happy to see how special the connection is that you have with each other.
I love how you politely knock at the bathroom door, wanting to join me. And wait before knocking again. Trying not to be too rude.
I love the way your ears fluff up and your already wide eyes widen at the sight of treats. You achieve ‘maximum cuteness’, which is difficult to resist.
I love your open mouth smile.
And how you scoop my hand with your head for pets.
How you fly onto the couch like a rocket.
The way you channel your inner cow to graze on fresh grass.
You even manage to make sneezing look adorable.
And how you magically appear from the backseat of the car as soon as we breach 40 mph, in search of a lap.
I love your inverted ears.
My favorite part of every day is the moment it is time for bed. Our routine is never broken. You roll onto your back and I scoop you into my arms.
Every single night.
It's hard to find time these days to play all the great games that are out there. It's equally challenging to find time to write about them. So like in part 1, I'll keep this to the point.
Mega Man 11 - PS4
The first hour was frustrating: I'd die getting close to a boss, yet not quite reaching one, and then would try another level, not sure which was the best one to tackle first, and die some more. At that point I collected enough currency to buy a few essential upgrades, and instantly the difficultly swung in the opposite direction as I conquered level after level with little to no problem. The challenge was still there, it just started to feel more fair.
All in all, it was a top tier Mega Man game, with an aesthetic that really appealed to me, fun weapons, and solid level design.
Castlevania: Rondo of Blood - PS4
This is classic Castlevania done properly. Levels are challenging but not to the point of frustration. The playable characters are unique. The music is stellar. The secrets are rewarding when discovered. My only critique of this game is that the dialogue and English voice acting in cutscenes are extremely cringe worthy.
This is a must play for any Castlevania fan.
Dead Cells - PS4
I've never been a big fan of roguelike games. While I appreciate that there are some elements of persistence in Dead Cells, I personally gravitate to those games that are have more continuous forward motion. I played for a few hours and then moved on.
Resident Evil 2 Remake - PS4
Capcom is continuing to head in the right direction with the Biohazard franchise, focusing on what made these games popular in the first place. So much attention to detail went into this game, and great improvements were made when compared back to the original. The environments are richer and more expansive. The story is more refined. It's enhanced in every way.
What stands out the most is the impressive pacing. There is a rhythm to the encounters you face v downtime, the feeling of safety v insecurity, the placement of items that you find v being completely devoid of ammunition. You actually have to be careful when firing at a zombie, as they sways in a way that can be challenging to hit and move at you with extreme aggression. You have to be on your toes when you enter a room, and likewise, ready to search a room quickly when an enemy rattles at the wooden door that is between you, keeping it at bay. Fleeing is a tackle option, and is actually essential in some instances.
The gameplay is utterly satisfying in so many ways. It just feels good to watch as a zombie recoils from a gunshot, followed by the shock of it continuing to push forward quickly after. Zombies lunge at you from around corners, making it so that walking is often not just more immersive but a safer option. You also can never trust a zombie on the ground, keeping you constantly on edge.
I'm currently doing a second play through as Claire, having originally played as Leon (I elected to do the 2nd option that you unlock after the first play through). There are differences between Leon and Claire's runs, though I would say not quite as different as I had hoped. Needless to say I'm obsessed with this game.
Shovel Knight - PS4
This is classic platforming done to perfection. It's a little on the easy side, although I really didn't mind that. I also highly recommend playing the Spector of Torment campaign, which could have been its own standalone game in my opinion.
Red Dead Redemption 2 - PS4
What stands out the most to me with RDR2 is the amount of polish that went into it. It's incredibly detailed in terms of the mechanics, missions, and just the general interactions you have with NPCs and the world. The story and voice acting is topnotch, although I'm in the camp that feels that Dutch did get a little repetitive at times. There's also something that is so satisfying about the freedom you have to explore and decide how you want to interact with the people and places you discover. And the landscapes are drop-dead gorgeous.
Owlboy - PS4
Playing this game made me feel like I was transported back to the days of the SNES. Owlboy succeeds at marrying crisp platforming, beautiful 2D graphics, and a story that perfectly unfolds.
Axiom Verge - PS4
Some say it's the best Castlevania game ever. It's definitely one of the best Metroidvania games of all times. And it's insanely impressive what one human was able to create. There are so many secret areas to discover, incredible music, and tons of fun weapons. Although, I actually feel the amount of weapons was a determent to the game, as it was overwhelming and many felt useless simply due to the overabundance. Overall I really enjoyed this game and would love to see a sequel.
Crystalis - NES
This, as well as the next 3 games, are all classic NES games I never had the opportunity to play during their original days. Crystalis is a solid action-RPG from beginning to end, and I can see why it is regarded so highly. The battle mechanics, namely coming from the unique swords that carry their own special abilities, made for simple yet effective battle strategies, as well as being the means to progressing through locked pathways.
Battle of Olympus - NES
You may remember this game as the knockoff to Zelda II: The Adventure of Link. It looks, plays, and feels very much like it. The big differences being that it doesn't have the power of the stories and characters from Zelda, and it lacks the overworld element as well. I played this one for a few hours and gave up.
Metal Gear - NES
As with Crystalis, I played this one end to end. I will admit I did have to look up one part online in order to progress, which was a hidden wall that you had to punch through. Having played some of the more modern Metal Gear games it was fun to go back and discover that so much of the themes were established from the very start.
Last week I wrote a review of Resident Evil Revelations, and in short, I was disappointed. This week I'm returning with a review of Resident Evil Revelations 2. This being a rather old game by now, I'll keep my analysis short, and focus mostly on why it is so superior to the original.
RER2 shines in so many places the original failed to. Compared to the original, RER2 has:
Overall it feels like a very different game. The biggest similarities are that you are always operating as a pair, although in the original the notion of having a teammate was a total farce. In RER2 your teammate is highly valuable, and extremely specialized. I found myself rhythmically toggling between partners in order to search, fight, and solve puzzles. There’s still a bit of the tedious nature in this dynamic, such as relying on one particular half of the pair to properly search.
There are some areas where, despite being a great game, RER2 falls a little flat:
RER2 seems to have been heavily influenced by games like The Last of Us, and mostly for the better. There’s the middle aged man and mysteriously important little girl dynamic. There’s the character that can essential wall hack. There’s stealth zombie kills. And you can sprint. Obviously TLOU didn’t invent any of these themes or mechanics, but the connection is clear.
Overall, RER2 was great fun. I was constantly engaged with the level design, characters, and themes. It still holds up fairly well today. If you are thinking of checking it out, feel free to skip Revelations 1 (just read a quick synopsis).
My first exposure to Resident Evil was watching a neighbor play the original on PlayStation. At the time, even as a fan of the zombie genre, I wasn’t that intrigued. It wasn’t until the rerelease, Resident Evil: Rebirth for GameCube, found its way into my home that I finally dove into a Resident Evil game. I was hooked, and played it through a few times. I was ready to consume all things RE.
Fast forward and, after wrapping up RE4, I was caught up on all the series had to offer at the time. By the time I had the opportunity to play RE5 I had heard enough about the frustrations of the AI partner and the mixed reviews, and I decided to skip it. Then RE6 came along and snippets of info was enough to scare me away from that one. It just felt like a strange deviation from what attracted me to the series.
Once RE7 was announced I had grown eager to return. This is a game that reminded me why Resident Evil is one of my favorite series. It looked and felt amazing. The environments were truly terrifying, and I actually jumped a few times. It defined what survival horror should always be.
Which brings me to Resident Evil Revelations. Purchased for PlayStation 4, I figured I would give it a shot. Knowing nothing about it, I placed my order.
Here’s where it fell flat:
This wouldn't be the first time that a Resident Evil title let me down. Zero and Outbreak were also let downs, just for different reasons.
There is a bright side to Revelations, however. At least, I think so. I just played the first hour of Revelations 2, and I'm amazed at how much of an improvement it is in so many ways. I was gripped from the start, and felt the horror that was missing in its predecessor. The team mechanics are sensible, the monsters more terrifying, and the environments are engrossing. While it still is more linear than I prefer my RE games, it gives a better sense of being free roaming. My only beef with the sequel, thus far, is that it clearly was influenced with many of the mechanics and feel of games like The Last of Us. To be fair, those mechanics weren't all original on their own, and have become commonplace. All in all, I have high hopes for this sequel.
For me, like most that had the opportunity, my first experience with the Nintendo Entertainment System (NES) was at a young, impressionable age. Sure, we had an Atari before that, and a couple of games. But it was the NES that had the largest and most lasting impact on me. I was probably about 5 years old when my neighbor, Miles, beckoned me into his home, touting that he had a new game system, with promises of a dragon. Inside I was introduced to Super Marios Bros, and, as I recall the memory, I imagine my jaw remained unhinged for the length of my visit. It wouldn’t be long before an NES reached my home, and many years followed where I would journey, sometimes alone, sometimes with friends, through a rich expanse of worlds.
Fast-forward to around 2002 or 2003, during my college years, where I decided to unpack (and dust off) my old NES. It felt like it had just been long enough where coming back to it felt meaningful. By this time, multiple systems had already come and gone, and the NES, for most, had been forgotten, often only surfacing in a garage sale put up by a parent cleaning an attic.
This is also when I learned about the unreliable and degradation of the 72 pin connector. A few dollars and a few weeks later, a replacement arrived from a vendor on eBay. I recall opening up the system with a feeling that was akin to an archaeologist unearthing a sacred grave. In some ways, it felt like an invasion, and in another, it felt like exploring a newly discovered planet.
After getting the NES operational again, I casually played a few games. It wasn’t long until I was back at it with modern games like Grand Theft Auto III: Vice City and Counter-Strike. My NES was quickly forgotten, re-boxed and packed away. Perhaps it was simply too soon.
It’s now 2018, thirty-three years after the North American release of the NES. At work, we have a #retrogames channel in Slack, where we discuss all things related to retro gaming (including the definition of what retro gaming is). It was in this community that the emotions I have deeply ingrained with the NES resurfaced. Quickly I plunged into all things retro gaming. I binged listened to countless episodes of the Retronauts podcast. I grinded through books like I Am Error, Legends of Localization Book 1: The Legend of Zelda, The Anatomy of Castlevania: The NES Trilogy, and NES Works Volume I and II. I played modern takes on 8 and 16 bit style games, such as Axiom Verge and Owlboy. I also found myself back in a place I hadn’t been since the early 2000s: eBay. My collection of original NES carts quickly doubled.
In the last 6 months I learned more about classic gaming than I had ever known. I gained layers of appreciation and understanding that simply didn’t exist prior. While in doing so, some of the charm of my memories may have been tainted, yet overall, my lasting impressions of what retro gaming means to me has been greatly enhanced. It reminded me a bit like my experience in studying film in college, as once I understood what the man behind the curtain was doing I could now love these things deeper, but the man could never be unseen, and thus some of the illusions were forever lost.
As I prepared my original NES for its return performance I came prepared with the knowledge that hooking an NES up to a 4K television was not going to be an ideal experience. However, I couldn’t even get that far, as just like in the previous round through memory lane, my NES failed to load any games. After a deep clean and another new pin connector I was back on track. This time my goal was to experience games I had never played before, or those that I had only a glimpse of in their infancy. I decided to start with Crystalis.
As feared, the combination of the NES on a modern TV was a mess. The colors were off. Any movement on screen was distorted. And I could see the preloaded artifacts on the right side of the screen, which was an area that would have been obscured on a CRT television. I knew this just wasn’t going to work. Thankfully, there are heroes in this world that have produced gems like the AVS, which plays original NES (and Famicom) carts and outputs to HD. I went ahead and ordered one, and felt back on track.
I’ve since played a number of games, and not all to completion. I dabbled in games like The Battle of the Olympus, drawn to the Zelda II: The Adventure of Link style (or to be blunt, it’s a total rip-off). And played a few levels here and there with Batman: The Video Game, Commando, and The Legend of Kage. With so many games brought into my home all at once I had too much to choose from, a luxury that didn’t exist back in the 80s, which resulted in my fickleness. Thus far, at the time of writing this, the only two I have completed end-to-end are Crystalis and Metal Gear (both great).
Playing games as old as these, so many years later, after experiencing games evolve, and having those games be ones I had never played, resulted in a nostalgia-cocktail. It’s an experience that has been rather intoxicating. I often feel transported back in time, as if I just received ones of these games as a gift. Ignoring everything I have learned and experienced since then, however, is sometimes a challenge, and it’s not something that I feel one should even bother to block out. There is enjoyment to be found in comparing these games to those that followed, to feel the evolution and see what inspired the future. Granted, a hidden door in Metal Gear that is part of the critical path made me want to pull my hair out a little, and it was something I ended up looking up online. But this was the NES! Random, hidden doors was a sign of the time, and I can accept that.
Warning: Sweet Home spoilers ahead
Which brings me to Sweet Home. If you haven’t heard of Sweet Home then you are not alone, as it was only ever officially released in Japan. The version I am playing is a translated reproduction cartridge, meaning it isn’t an original NES game, but you wouldn’t know that by the looks of it. Sweet Home, produced by Capcom, is a precursor to the Resident Evil (Biohazard) series. Similar to Resident Evil, it’s a survival horror themed game that takes place in a creepy mansion filled with creatures and zombies. The mechanics draw similarities as well, as you progress by collecting items, backtracking, and using those items to progress in the form of light puzzles. Notes left behind offer clues to both your advancement and the grander story. Even the ability to toggle between characters is later found in Resident Evil Zero.
Where Sweet Home differs from the Resident Evil lineage the most is two-fold: 1) it’s an RPG, and 2) what makes this game so unique is how you partner with the five playable characters. With regards to the latter, the dynamic of grouping (and ungrouping) with your fellow trapped survivors is what makes the game unique and special. You are restricted to no more than three characters in a party at a time, and each character can only hold two items, in addition to their special item. This forces the player to make strategic decisions. Do I have a good set of items for what I anticipate ahead? If I need items from the group of two I left behind will they be able to safely catch up to the party of three? You’re constantly making trade-offs, and while on occasion it feels somewhat tedious, it mostly feels engaging.
And at times, safety in numbers can backfire. I find myself often toggling between holding a stance that the clues are too literal, and thus, too easy, and wishing the game was more challenging. And then, just minutes later, my entire party of three will fall into a pit, hanging for their lives, and because I wasn’t careful enough my remaining party of two isn’t able to get to them in time to save them. It’s actually moments like these that really up my appreciation for this game as it’s these types of creative surprises that adds flavor.
While I save often in this game, in fear of permanently losing a character, there was a moment that occurred early in the game where I decided to not reset and, instead, decided to accept and carry on. I had crossed a pit to obtain an essential item, by placing a log to form a bridge. My party of three doubled back after gathering the item, and this is when the character in the center of the line broke the bridge and hung to the edge. I was able to pull the character back up, but this meant that one of my other characters, Asuka, was now stranded on the other side. I ended up leaving Asuka on that lonely island for a huge portion of the game, always knowing, or at least hoping, that I would come back. It was a promise I made both to myself as a player as well as between the characters in the context of the game world. Eventually I found more logs, returned, and saved my friend. It was a sense of relief to finally be reunited. That was also when I realized that Asuka, all along, had a log in her inventory that she could have used to cross that gap. I laughed to myself.
The survival horror theme is bolstered even further by the ways in which characters become separated. If you’re like me, you occasionally take unnecessary risks in games (especially if you just saved your progress) in an effort to push the boundaries of the game. For example, there are spirits that will pull a character away from their group, plopping them in a room many screens away. The wisest decision in this moment would be to take the remaining two characters that are still bound together, and to have them navigate to their lost friend. However, like foolish teenagers in countless horror movies, I will often take my solo character and journey on, acting as if I am confined to the perspective of that person. Ask yourself, if you were taken from your friends by ghosts, would you sit still in a strange room? Probably not. Now, a solo trek like this can be disastrous, as you might break a flimsy plank that stretched across a pit, with no one to pull you up. Or you will face enemies alone, and with a finite number of healing items available in the game, this isn’t wise (assuming you even have an item to heal yourself with). This is actually where another ingenious mechanic comes into play: the ability to call for help. In this mode, another character (or set of characters) has limited time to run towards their comrade and assist them. It’s a heart-pounding moment.
Further on the topic of encounters, as mentioned before, this is an RPG, albeit a rather atypical one. Battles are randomly triggered, with the exception of the fights that ensue when you come into direct contact with enemies that traverse across some of the screens. The battles are rather simple, made up primarily of attacks and prayer (think magic). Many of the traditional systems found in RPGs, such as collecting coins, purchasing weapons and items, and resting at inns to regain health, do not exist in Sweet Home (nor do they have a place here). Rather, there is no currency, weapons and items are discovered, and hit points and prayer points are replenished only with tonics.
The environments powerfully convey the mood. In this vast mansion you twist and turn down hallways, up and down stairs leading you to great heights and depths, and explore the outer areas surrounding the property. Each section is truly unique, ranging from underground labyrinths to a lakeside forest. The top-down view is contrasted by more detailed scenes of paintings and monuments, and the occasional open door animation.
Most areas, in addition to having their own visual complexity, are accompanied by a variety of music compositions that fit snugly in the horror genre. A rolling low tone base line is accented by squealing highs. There is a deliberant tempo juxtaposition between the moderate beats-per-minute (BPM) of the exploration music and the upbeat, panic inducing songs that quickly loop and build anxiety when you battle enemies and suffer from poison.
Even with the limitations of the NES, Sweet Home managed to nail the theme of what survival horror should be. You’re scared. You’re often alone. Your resources are limited. Danger lurks behind every corner. The atmosphere is terrifying. A sinister backstory slowly reveals itself, making the world that much more frightening. Death is final.
Not only did Sweet Home bring me back to the joy of experiencing a new NES experience, it also reminded me of the pleasure of solving mysteries through the use of taking notes. Note taking, for many, in and outside the context of gaming, is considered a chore. Growing up in the days of the NES, however, it was not just helpful at times, but often essential. Drawing maps, scribbling down clues, recording passwords...these are all staples of the NES experience.
At this point, from what I can gather from the progression of the story, I’m close to the end. As for what comes next, I will dip into the backlog of titles I still have waiting for me, and keep playing, for as long as it still feels like home. And who knows, maybe in another 10 years I’ll dust off my NES games one more time for another go.
In the coming weeks and months (perhaps forever) I'm going to take a different approach to game reviews. Rapid Reviews, as the name suggests, is a set of quick, concise reviews of several video games.
Here, in part 1, I have games ranging from iOS to PS4 (oh, and Breath of the Wild for the Switch).
Hyperlight Drifter - PS4
Drenched in the warmth of 80s sci-fi synths I breath in the nostalgic, minimalistic visuals and paint in the details with my mind.
The Walking Dead: A New Frontier - iOS
"Now I am become" Telltale, destroyer of batteries. It lacks any real improvements from the previous iterations, and still suffers from performance and audio mixing, in addition to battery draining like a energy thirsty vampire. The gameplay remains overly simplistic for my taste. The writing shines, and only occasionally suffers from “catch all” responses and animations that don’t always match with your choice in words (e.g. I just made a choice that doomed a character from finding “her baby”, and seconds later she is smiling like a smitten teen).
The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild - Nintendo Switch
Yes, this game is as good as the hype. Yes, the horses are a little wonky, but if that’s the biggest critique I can think of then I’m really digging for negatives. The best parts: Exploration is always rewarded, whenever I think “maybe I can…” the answer is always yes, and it’s extremely well polished. Great DLP too.
Super Mario Run - iOS
I ran. I had fun. I beat the levels. I collected all of the colored coins. Then I uninstalled, feeling satisfied.
Mobius Final Fantasy - iOS
My 10 minute experience: “What the hell is going on here? Never mind, this is stupid. I quit”.
Sword of Xolan - iOS
2D retro side-scrolling goodness. Just, not greatness.
Goblin Sword - iOS
Refer to Sword of Xolan review.
Some time back I let the domain name for The Dead Outnumber the Living expire, and I have finally gone ahead and uploaded a zip of the game for people to download and play. Enjoy.
Brian Riggsbee lives in San Francisco CA. He enjoys gaming, writing, creating art, practicing Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu, chasing adorable dogs, and spending time with his wife and boy.