On April 19th I unveiled the release of my new retro gaming book Video Game Maps: NES & Famicom, a celebration of NES & Famicom maps. Over 250 games are featured spanning 346 pages.
Bundles and books begin shipping in a few weeks.
27 Game Boy Haikus
Recently I picked up a handful of Game Boy and Game Boy Color games, as I was in need of games I could quickly pick up and put down while juggling a newborn. While I had an original Game Boy as a child I had only a couple of games, making this unexplored territory for me. After playing each I commemorated my experience with a haiku. Some snarky, some celebratory, and others simply about the mood and impression the game imprinted on me.
Rapid Reviews Part VIII
More quick reviews.
Rapid Reviews: Part VII
Do you enjoy video game reviews but hate to read? I have you covered with these quick snippets. Enjoy.
Want more? Check out the previous sets of rapid reviews:
Rapid Reviews: Part VI
Rapid reviews is where I write quick snippets on games I've recently played, and use the word "rapid" as an excuse to justify bad writing. Also check out parts 1-5.
Rapid Reviews: Part V
Check out parts I-IV for more rapid reviews.
Rapid Reviews: Part IV
Quick reviews of games. Short and sweet.
Rapid Reviews: Part III
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).
Rapid Reviews: Part II
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.
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.