Bonanza Bros (Switch): COMPLETED!

I don’t think I’ve ever completed this before. But now I have.

It was actually a lot easier than I remember. Although there’s a level timer, the trick is to take your time and don’t panic. It’s only on the final level I came close to running out of time!

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Civilization VI (Switch): COMPLETED!

After many attempts, I finally got a win. Civilization VI is much, much harder than the previous games on the series, and seemingly much slower too making a lose late on even more frustrating.

Having lost most of my games as a result of not developing science quickly enough or paying attention to rival religions, I chose Gilgamesh as my character who boosts the former and I set about augmenting it with plenty of holy sites. That, coupled with being lucky to not have any war-like opponents, meant I could rapidly develop stuff and then have plenty of faith with which to convert everyone. Victory!

I have to say, though, that as good as Civ VI is, it’s not as good as previous versions. I approve of the hexagonal titles implemented in V, but it feels like the changes to how you develop technology and stuff has been a step back – or a step in an unwanted direction at least. The slowness of the game is a downer after the speed of Civilization Revolution, and I feel I enjoyed II and IV a lot more at the time than I did VI now.

But, none of those are on the Switch, so I can make do!

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Iconoclasts (PS4): COMPLETED!

This is something I’d had my eye on for a while (nice looking pixel Metroidvania, so of course I have), and then, just when I was thinking about actually buying it a little while back, it popped up on PS+. Normally, that means it won’t get played at all, but since I’m letting my PS+ subscription expire (it’s just not worth the money now they’ve halved the number of games per month) I decided to give it a go before I can’t play it any more.

And it’s really good! It has interesting game mechanics, not least the literal mechanics of being an actual mechanic with a big wrench, looks wonderful, has a strange but enjoyable story, and is just a lot of fun to jump around in. And that’s the important thing in this sort of game – it has to be a lot of fun to jump around.

Also a big plus, is that it’s nowhere near as difficult as Hollow Knight. Sure, I love that game but it’s punishingly hard. Much too hard. So hard it’s verging on torture rather than enjoyment. But this is possible for mere mortals! It’s true that some bosses took a few attempts, but other than that, it was pretty easy and a lot more fun for that.

Aside from that “hide and seek” boss, of course. That was pants.

Anyway, here’s me playing it all:

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Iconoclasts (PS4): COMPLETED!

This is something I’d had my eye on for a while (nice looking pixel Metroidvania, so of course I have), and then, just when I was thinking about actually buying it a little while back, it popped up on PS+. Normally, that means it won’t get played at all, but since I’m letting my PS+ subscription expire (it’s just not worth the money now they’ve halved the number of games per month) I decided to give it a go before I can’t play it any more.

And it’s really good! It has interesting game mechanics, not least the literal mechanics of being an actual mechanic with a big wrench, looks wonderful, has a strange but enjoyable story, and is just a lot of fun to jump around in. And that’s the important thing in this sort of game – it has to be a lot of fun to jump around.

Also a big plus, is that it’s nowhere near as difficult as Hollow Knight. Sure, I love that game but it’s punishingly hard. Much too hard. So hard it’s verging on torture rather than enjoyment. But this is possible for mere mortals! It’s true that some bosses took a few attempts, but other than that, it was pretty easy and a lot more fun for that.

Aside from that “hide and seek” boss, of course. That was pants.

Anyway, here’s me playing it all:

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Baba Is You (Switch): COMPLETED!

Describing Baba Is You would take a while and since I’ve already done it in Episode 21 of the ugvm Podcast, I’m not going to duplicate it here. But I will say this: it’s a block pushing puzzle game where you change the rules.

It’s very clever. I mean, it’s very clever right from the off but as you progress through the levels and break and make rules of an ever more complex and bizarre nature, it becomes cleverer. Then, and I’m wary of spoilers, you realise there are levels within – and without – levels. And then all the rules change in a different way and it’s cleverer still.

GRASS IS SHUT is not your usual game rule.

Like the best puzzle games, not only is it clever, but it makes you feel clever when you beat a level. Should you manage to beat it in a way which appears to subvert what you perceive to be the “correct” way, then your head swells immensely and you feel a warm fuzzy glow of smugness. Unfortunately, all too often a level leaves you with just one or two options neither of which achieve anything and suddenly you’re just some thick gamer who has no idea how to play any more because the game is clearly impossible.

And that’s fine because you pass on that level for a while, come back later, and realise a trick you’d missed.

The rules changed.

Baba Is You is a very good, very special game indeed.

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Phantasy Star IV (Switch): COMPLETED!

And that’s them all. No, for the last time, the Online games don’t count. They never counted. They’re not Phantasy Star games and never will be.

Phantasy Star IV fits into the series somewhere after II but likely before III. As you play, it feels much more like II than any of the others, but throughout the game other games are referenced in a way that makes it seem like a final chapter. Of course, that’s what it ended up becoming but at the time I was ever hopeful for a Phantasy Star V. I still am.

These references are pretty big too. Spoilers, sorry: Mother Brain, from PSII, is still about and again isn’t working. There’s a cave with what is almost certainly Myau (called “The Old Man”) inside. A crashed ship like PSIII’s Alisa III is discovered. A Wren-type android, again from PSIII, becomes part of your team, as does a character who is essentially Noah/Lutz from PSI and PSII and a friendly biomonster not unlike Nei from PSII. The Ice Digger and Landrover from previous games returns. People have been turned to stone just like Odin did in PSI, and many place names and baddies return. Having played through the first three games so recently all these characters, locations and lore are still in memory and it was a joy to link things up as I progressed through the story.

Why this looks familiar.

As for the game itself, it looks a lot more like PSII only highly polished with the best graphics in the series. A few changes, which would perhaps be called “quality of life improvements” these days have been added – you walk a lot faster, you can assign macros (so you can set a sequence of battle actions to a menu option instead of choosing who will do what every time), and characters all share an inventory again. Having separate pockets in Phantasy Star III was a bit of a step back, and PSIV improves it further by removing equipped items from the inventory freeing up space and meaning you don’t need to scroll past them each time you need a dimate.

A couple of new things are added to the game too, the first being Skills. In essence, they’re the same sort of thing as Techniques, but they differ in that instead of having a shared “pot” of TP to use on them, each Skill has a fixed number of uses until you rest at an inn. The maximum uses increase as you level up, however.

Not sure where Wren physically installs this item but it gives him a new Skill.

Speaking of inns, another change is that resting at an inn doesn’t save your game! Don’t make the mistake I remember making when I first played this when it originally came out, getting five or so hours in, “saving” at an inn, then turning it off. Instead, saving is a menu option and can be used any time you’re not in a dungeon or a battle.

Finally, there are combos. Certain combinations of attacks, skills and techniques when triggered in succession fire off a massively damaging special combo attack. Most are tricky to rely on (characters don’t always attack in the order necessary, so it doesn’t always work), but they can be very useful. Most aren’t possible until very late in the game, however.

Phantasy Star IV is a fantastic RPG. Being sentimental to the series PSIII will always be my favourite, but I can see that in terms of scope, graphics, the way it ties all the previous games together, mechanics and fun, PSIV is undeniably better. It gave me around 25 hours (like II and III I “walked” in fast forward so it’s probably longer than that) of the best JRPG experience there is. You can keep your Final Fantasy. I just wish I had a PSV to move on to next 1.

Notes:

  1. I’m aware of a Japan-only mobile game which for some definitions is essentially Phantasy Star V but I’m sceptical, and it’s mobile only.

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Saboteur! (Switch): COMPLETED!

I was never not going to get this, as a fan of the original Spectrum game, but I’d seen a lot of reviews and forum comments saying it was overpriced for a simple port of the Spectrum original. Sure, it had new music and sound, but £6 for a Spectrum game (and a very short Spectrum game at that) did sound a bit much, so I waited for a sale. 94p (free, actually, due to Nintendo Gold Coins) and I was in.

And everyone was wrong. What nowhere I’d seen actually mentioned at the time was that once you’d completed the five minute long original game, but a whole new hour long section opens up. New items to find in new locations, new enemy types, puzzles, tasks and tricky platforming sections. That was a big surprise. Imagine avoiding Donkey Kong on the Game Boy because you thought it was only the four arcade levels!

This bit has fewer and fewer platforms the higher the difficulty level.

Despite being new, it still looks and plays exactly like the original. There’s Spectrum colour clash, there’s the same colour palette, and it’s not as smooth or precise as a modern game. It absolutely doesn’t matter, however. What has changed, besides the length, is mainly sound based. Some more realistic thumps and gunshots, and a great soundtrack that fits perfectly. OK, it’s no BEEPer, but the upgrade still works here.

Hope there’s no leaves on the track.

There’s a concession to modern multi-button controllers too. On the Spectrum, the joystick would move and fire would pick up and drop objects, interact, and punch. Up would be go up ladders, jump, jump-kick, and long jumps would be a tricky diagonal. On the Switch, there’s a jump button now which makes things a lot easier, but Up still performs the same functions. Sometimes this means climbing a ladder is frustrating, or you might nudge up, and therefore jump, by mistake. The latter is especially compounded due to the game’s insistence on only allowing use of the analogue stick rather than the d-pad. The original wasn’t analogue, and neither is this, so it feels slightly inaccurate and out of place. That’s the only major flaw I can find though.

Naturally, this relic of a game isn’t for everyone. It’s no Hollow Knight or The Messenger, as it wears it’s origins proudly without much modern modification. It is, however, still a lot of fun and just shows how old games can still work now. In this way it has much in common with Castlevania: Spectral Invasion, only this is on the Switch instead of the original machine. Just don’t let the reviews of “it’s just a port” put you off like it did me: it’s not.

One of the (extensive) new areas.

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Deltarune: Chapter 1 (Switch): COMPLETED!

Deltarune is the follow up to Undertale, that underwhelming RPG from a few years back that ended up with a huge following. It baffles me that so many people revere Undertale as it was so flawed. Entertaining, yeah, interesting, probably. Great? Absolutely not.

So you might be wondering why I’m playing Deltarune at all, let alone to completion. And the only answer I have, is that this chapter was free and, well, maybe it’s better?

And it is better. Not a lot better, and aside from new characters and a three person party, it’s really just more of the same. Sure, it has better background graphics and a slightly less guessworky “act” system in battles, but it’s just more Undertale with the same weird for the sake of weird humour and the quirky but rubbish characters and dialogue. It’s no more fun, deep or playable.

If it ain’t broke and all that, and clearly I’m in the minority thinking it was broke, but I was hoping for improvements in the places that mattered to me. Still, it was free and if wasn’t terrible at all – just not for me, same as the last game. If you loved Undertale, you’ll probably love this too.

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Phantasy Star III (Switch): COMPLETED!

I wasn’t going to move onto Phantasy Star III so soon after Phantasy Star II, but there it was on the Sega Mega Drive Classics menu, winking at me, so I didn’t really have a choice.

As I’ve mentioned before, Phantasy Star III was my first JRPG. It’s still my favourite, and although Phantasy Star IV is probably technically better, it’s III that I have more fondness for. Back in the day I completed it many times. The first time, it took from Christmas to August, but after a few more I could do it in a single 24 hour sitting. This is the first time I’ve completed it in probably two decades, and it took perhaps 15 hours, but there’s a reason for that: I played most of the walking and some of the fighting on Fast Forward (an option in the Mega Drive Classics). If there’s one thing that hasn’t aged well in RPGs, it’s how slow you move.

Gianticorn and Wolfsnail was a short lived kid’s cartoon in the 1990s.

Surprisingly, I still knew almost all of what I needed to do in the game. Even the routes through some of the dungeons was still etched in my brain. I also found the game much, much easier than I ever remember it being, with much less grinding too. I seem to recall always needing to level most of my party up to around level 55 for the final dungeon and boss, but here I walked it at around level 48. Maybe I’m just better now.

For those interested, the characters I played as (the game spans three generations with a slightly different story depending who you marry at the end of each) were Rhys, who married Maia and had a son, Ayn, who married Thea and had a son Sean.

Now, do I start IV or do something else first?

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Doom (PS4): COMPLETED!

Usually, for me to enjoy a first person shooter, there needs to be some added mechanics. Some puzzles. A story. Something more than just mindless shooting. When I think of games from the genre that I’ve liked a lot in the past, I think of stuff like Bioshock, Wolfenstein The New Order or Dishonoured.

But then I forget the older FPS titles which were very much the opposite – the original Wolfenstein 3D and Duke Nukem. Properly mindless. Open a door? Loads of baddies. Pick up a key? Loads of baddies. Press a button? Loads of baddies.

And now there’s Doom. Or to give it its correct title, DOOM (2016). Which is as anti-cerebral as you can imagine. Most of the time the only thoughts you need are “which gun should I use?” and “has my shotgun got enough ammo?”. And you know what? That’s perfect.

Yeah, there’s a story. Some nonsense about you being awoken from stasis to work for the guy who helped unleash Hell on Mars by un-unleashing Hell on Mars. What the story actually is, is Shoot All The Things. Sure, you also have to destroy a big tower and shut down a computer but you even do these things by shooting everything. Or elbowing everything. What DOOM (2016) adds to the formula is the concept of “glory kills” – damage a demon enough and it glows. Then melee it and you finish it off with an elbow to the neck, or rip off their arms, or crush their face, or tear out their heart, or any one of a number of other visceral dispatches. There’s a reason, besides the gory fun, to do this too: glory kills make ammo and health pop out of the corpse.

But mainly the gory fun. So much gore. So much blood and entrails and faces that explode and dripping dismembered corpses and unidentified severed body parts and fleshy chunks of unknown peoplemeat. Gory fun.

The best bits of the game are the arena type areas where demons all spawn and try to take you down while you run around both manically and maniacally, gunning and elbowing all the time. It’s quick paced, feeling a bit more like Quake 3 Arena than original Doom, and far more fun than I can explain. You’re always forewarned one of these fights is going to happen because of the “Checkpoint” save icon and loads of health, ammo and armour is strewn around. In lesser games I’d see these signs and think, gah – another fight. In DOOM (2016) I’m oh hell yes bring it.

One failing the game has is between these big fights, especially on the levels set in Hell itself, is the platforming sections. Platforming and first person don’t sit well together usually (Mirror’s Edge notwithstanding), and when bottomless pits are added, and enemies who can shoot you as you jump the gaps, it’s just annoying. Thankfully most are short and enemyless. In the scheme of things, it’s a minor point but baffling nobody on the development team thought perhaps it was a stupid idea?

Finally, a mention to the sound in the game. The thrashing metal music is great, but the meaty bassy sound effects and excellent “ambient demon noises” in surround sound are just perfect. It’s not creepy enough to be scary, but it’s certainly worrying, when you’re walking down a corridor and the monsters can be heard behind the walls or above the ceiling or seemingly behind you…

Here’s a video of my complete playthrough:

(P.S. there aren’t many in the game, but the toilets that are there are excellent)

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