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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Lego Dimensions: The Lego Batman Movie (PS4): COMPLETED!

This is the first of the “needs Lego Dimensions but is actually a complete adventure in itself” Story Packs we’ve played (we as in, my daughter and I). We’ve the Ghostbusters and Fantastic Beasts ones lined up too, but decided on this one initially.

There’s very little to write about Lego games. If you know one you know nearly all of them. As a Lego Dimensions expansion, you can use all the characters from other series (Midway Gamer Guy being incredibly useful) as you play. The plot is mostly that of the Lego Batman film, with some divergence. In particular, there’s a whole section set in the Phantom Zone with gravity changes and warps. There’s also a new use for the portal – a “Phase” power which lets you summon sections of up to three different worlds, which you can only access if your character standing on the associated part of the portal.

We enjoyed it. It’s shorter than a normal Lego game, but much longer than a level pack.

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Kirby’s Adventure (Switch): COMPLETED!

There’s no way it has been nearly six years since I last completed this, surely? That’s absurd. I’m sure I complete it every few months. The Diary, however, Cannot Lie.

Yes, it’s easy. Yes, I had 45 lives left at the end. And no, I haven’t 100%ed it because I need to go back and find a few secret buttons. But Kirby is always fun to play. And being essentially “free” as one of the NES games that comes with the Switch online service, that makes it even better.

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Shantae: Half-Genie Hero (Switch): COMPLETED!

I do like a good platformer with blue skies and fun gimmicks. Which is why I’ve enjoyed all the other Shantae games in the series. Half-Genie Hero is, essentially, more of the same – but it streamlines things, ramps up the gorgeousness of the graphics, and is a bit easier.

The last of these points has been the most obvious change through the series. The first Shantae game, on the Game Boy was incredibly difficult, whereas Half-Genie Hero is a complete walkover. Well, apart from one bit right near the end when it becomes Flappy Bird for some reason.

I’m a tiny flopping blobfish

Streamlining means no arduous back and forth to get to each world (you simply fly there), or to get through each world (if you have the right item, you can warp from section to section). Dances, in order to transform into other creatures, is much simplified too, so doing so is much quicker and less fiddly.

Of course, it wouldn’t be a Shantae game without all the same characters, very similar level themes, and most of the bosses from previous games once more. It doesn’t really matter because it’s still all new to play. There are a number of new transformations too, giving new ways to access areas. One of these, the mouse, makes what you previously thought was just platform design into an actual maze, which blows your mind when you realise.

Up on the roof

Importantly, it plays fantastically and is never (well, Flappy Bird aside, perhaps) anything less than the best fun. So much fun that after completing it I immediately went back into the game to collect all the items I’d been missing in order to get 100%. And then, I tried out a few of the extra game modes.

These modes are mostly the same, playing as arcady versions of the main levels only with different skills for Shantae. In Beach Mode, she has a beach ball weapon but needs to collect suncream constantly or she burns up. In Jammies Mode, she attacks with sheep and takes more damage, and in another mode she plays like the character from Mighty Switch Force, and so on. There’s also a mode where you play slightly remixed versions of the levels only instead of playing as Shantae (it takes place during part of the main game) you’re swapping between Sky, Rottytops and Bolos who each have different skills. Basically, there’s still loads to play.

Which is just as well as there aren’t any Shantae games left for me to play now.

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Phantasy Star II (Switch): COMPLETED!

Phantasy Star II was never my favourite game in the series. It’s the one I’ve played the least, the one I struggled with the most, and the one which has the worst dungeons ever. But I still really like it.

Compared to the original, despite appearing on more powerful hardware, this sequel seems such a step backwards in many ways. The dungeons are no longer rendered in 3D, which is the biggest change, instead being the more usual JRPG “almost overhead” view. This would make them easier to navigate if it wasn’t for the fact many, especially those later on, are a total nightmare. Convoluted mazes with many stairs up and down and pits to fall in which are trial and error.

Dezolians are a bit weird and don’t even understand you unless you’re wearing a Magic Cap or a Mogic Cap. Yes, a Mogic Cap. It’s the same as a Magic one, only you pay twice as much in shops if you’re wearing a Magic one.

The plot is fine but the things you’re asked to do are boring. Oh, a dam to explore. And another one. And another one. And another one. Now search all four of these dungeons for all the “nei” weapons, several of which you’ll never need to use but you can’t progress until you’ve found them. Rubbish.

Then there’s the fact that (spoilers), the entire planet of Palm (neé Palma) is blown up. You’d think there’d be more panic and outcry from the residents of Mota(via) and Dezo(lis), but no – barely a mention from anyone. In some ways it feels like it was cut from the game rather then specifically destroyed. You spend far too long on Mota before you’re able to travel to Dezo and once on Dezo there’s little point returning. In Phantasy Star, you were planet hopping all the time and had jumped from Palma to Motavia very early on.

Unlike the first game, you have a choice of party members here. Several of them seem completely unnecessary, but Shir is fun as she can nick stuff from shops. Randomly, unfortunately, and the things she steals are from a set list of items rather than what the shop may actually sell, but still – it’s a good way to make some money. Hugh and Kain though? Nobody cares.

Oh, it’s Dark Force again. I bumped into it accidentally (it hides in a chest) when I wasn’t on a hight enough level and he killed me. Some grinding later and he was a walkover.

But despite these issues, I must stress that Phantasy Star II is still great. There are improvements, such as each character having their own inventory, far more magic types (now called “techniques”), no annoying going into the inventory to get your ice digger or land rover or whatever all the time, and the dialogue translation is far better. I enjoyed the references to the original too, with shared place names, the main character’s recurring dreams about Alis, and the “is Lutz the same guy as Noah but Noah was a girl and does that mean Lutz is or was it a mistranslation?” thing.

Lutz is definitely a boy. Or a very rude girl.

So, it’s not as good, but it is still definitely worth a play.

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Into the Breach (Switch): COMPLETED!

I’m not sure following Mario + Rabbids with another, but totally different, turn based strategy game was necessarily the best way to get started with Into the Breach. For starters, moves are done in the opposite order (baddies first) and baddie attacks are “locked” in that they’ll still attack the same direction and number of spaces away even when moved during your turn. This is a core gameplay mechanic, and is pretty clever, as you can force them to fire upon their own side, or on your units instead of the buildings you’re protecting.

Maps are tiny, you can’t fire then move (in Mario + Rabbids you can do it in either order), levels are randomly generated, and it was very confusing. That’s not a problem with the game, however!

Levels also have a number of optional objectives for more bonuses.

Something I did have an issue with which is down to the game, however, is the time travelling gimmick. If you die, or as I found when accidentally choosing the “restart timeline” option when looking for a “restart level” (which doesn’t exist), you start the entire game again. From the start. One of your three mech pilots is sent back in time, along with a little of their experience so they’re slightly better than when you actually started the game, but everything else is reset.

I realise that’s mostly the point of the game, being a TBS with a roguelike element, but it doesn’t work for me. Let me take more of my skills or unlocked stuff back, or genuinely restart the game again. As it is, it’s almost completely pointless.

That aside, the gameplay is great and I did enjoy it. It’s just my own fault I played it when I did as I found it harder than I would have if I’d not being getting constantly confused with Mario + Rabbids rules!

Environmental effects, like lava, tidal waves and earthquakes affect both you and your enemies.

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Mario + Rabbids Kingdom Battle (Switch): COMPLETED!

No, I didn’t think a crossover between the worlds of Mario and the Rabbids would work either, but somehow, it does. Perhaps it’s partly because the gameplay doesn’t borrow from either party, and Mario + Rabbids becomes its own thing. Instead of precision platforming or nonsensical minigames, this game provides a fun turn based strategy game interspersed with some puzzles (mainly of the switch pressing or block pushing variety).

It’s not quite Xcom or Ubisoft’s earlier Nintendo title Ghost Recon: Shadow Wars (which was excellent), as it takes that gameplay but twists it. As well as moving your units (a collection of Mushroom Kingdom regulars and Rabbid-ised versions of Mushroom Kingdom regulars), each move you can perform sliding tackles, jumps (which can let you move further, heal status effects, and allow stomp attacks). There’s also two special powers each character has that have cooldown timers and can be triggered in addition to moving and attacking. These vary from defensive shields to attack boosts, to “movement sensors”, where when an enemy moves either during their turn or as a side-effect of another attack, your character gets a free shot.

Each character is different too, with different move limits, skills like being able to jump on two heads in succession, able to slide tackle up to three enemies per move, and weapons. Some weapons have a “damage cone” whereby the further away from the source you go, the wider the blast goes but the less damage it does. Some weapons can destroy cover blocks, and others fire over blocks, set fire to characters, or stop them from attacking, moving or using special skills.

Then there’s environmental stuff to take into account. Some levels have raised areas that give you an attack bonus if you’re shooting lower-down enemies. Pipes let you travel to other parts of the area and add a bonus set of movement spaces when you emerge – some levels you can zip around really quickly as a result. On other levels, lava rains down on certain spots every so often, and sometimes hidden in cover blocks are crates that, when hit, cause negative status effects on anyone stood next to them.

What they don’t realise is I’m about to kill them all in one hit.

There’s a lot to take in, and considering the blue skies and silliness that coats Mario + Rabbids, there’s a surprising amount of strategy. Having to take into account how some enemies react to attacks, or can only be damaged from behind, or will take advantage of your three team members being bunched up together, plus there’s needing to remember that your shots could damage your own team (particularly important when setting up for a “movement sensor” attack) and how some enemies can heal or teleport.

That said, it isn’t especially difficult. Apart from having to try again, you lose nothing for failing a mission. You’re given bonus awards if all three of your chosen team remain alive at the end (after which they’re revived anyway) and if you’ve won in under a certain number of moves, but again, there’s no major penalty for not managing this besides getting fewer coins with which to buy better weapons. Coins are everywhere, however, so you won’t go short.

It’s a block-pushing, switch hitting puzzle section!

Outside of the main levels, you explore each of the four worlds and solve little puzzles, look behind scenery, and so on in order to get more coins, unlockable art and music, and – most importantly – skill upgrade tokens. Yes, each character has a skill tree, and these skill tokens are spent adding movement distance, damage, HP and skill cooldown timer buffs.

Skill tree.

Mario + Rabbids is a great looking, ridiculous concept which is far more fun than it deserves to be. It’s addictive, and although it’s easy there are loads of challenges that open up as you play with additional harder ones once you’ve finished. And even the Rabbids somehow fit.

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