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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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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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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ESWAT: City under Siege (Switch): COMPLETED!

What does ESWAT stand for? Is it like SWAT only with an E like eBook and eLearning and eMail? Or are you supposed to say “es-what”? Who knows. But it’s certainly more interesting than the game.

Yes, friends, ESWAT is a proper stinker. A clunky platform shooter with rubbish weapon selection controls and boring levels. A game that suggests, from screenshots and the first level or so, it’s a bit like Rolling Thunder (which is a great game), but disappointingly, isn’t.

There are some positives, such as the very varied levels and a few impressive bosses, but your character is slow (both to move and respond), badly animated, and these issues make it difficult to avoid enemies. Later levels have you in a sort of power armour suit with more weapon options and a jetpack, but your weapons randomly disappear, and the jetpack is a nightmare to control.

I could say more but I’ve wasted long enough on this awful game already so I won’t.

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Alex Kidd in the Enchanted Castle (Switch): COMPLETED!

The first of what will hopefully be many games completed on the Sega Mega Drive Classics collection on the Switch. I was going to play Fatal Labyrinth, but the lack of a manual and the terrible video options (which don’t affect Alex Kidd so much) put me off for now. Instead, this.

The Mega Drive Alex Kidd game isn’t as good as the Master System “Miracle World” title. There. I said it. It looks prettier (although it’s still almost Master System quality graphics), and it’s one hell of a lot easier, but it’s lacking something. I don’t really know what exactly, since it’s very much closer to a remake than a sequel, but there’s something. Heart? Soul? Blocks with stars on them?

Just the two of us. Building castles in the sky.

What it is, then, is a mostly generic platformer starring half boy, half monkey Alex, who suffers from wonky physics syndrome. Alex must unintentionally slide, over compensationally jump, and input lag his way around a number of platforming levels, mostly avoiding enemies as trying to hit them is much harder than just going around them.

He can collect money from defeated baddies and from treasure chests, and then use this money to enter janken (scissors, paper, stone) matches with people for power-ups. You also use janken to defeat bosses. So yes, it’s random as to whether you’ll win or not.

Alex thinking about punching ratboy over there. Sorry Alex! You can only play janken.

Finally, you reach a castle where there is a bit of puzzling and more interesting platforming, before facing the final boss in more hand games and then an actual normal fight. After which, you “rescue” your Dad who hadn’t been captured after all making the entire game a colossal waste of everyone’s time.

But actually, I really quite enjoyed it despite all the terrible flaws.

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Mega-lo-Mania (MD): COMPLETED!

I must complete this every year, I think. There’s little need to mention much about the game really, except to say that 1) I played as Scarlet, and 2) once again I reached the final level as the only person to actually put any of my men in suspended animation. Meaning another instant win.

One day, someone else will manage it. One day.

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Pulseman (MD): COMPLETED!

What’s this? A Mega Drive game I’ve never heard of? Surely not. Especially since it was written by Game Freak and published by Sega themselves. How come I’d never seen it before? Perhaps it’s because it was Japan-only?

Well, despite being Japan-only, and all the dialogue in the game being in Japanese, all the speech (and there’s a lot) is in English. Which begs more questions – why wasn’t this released outside of Japan? Bizarre.

The game itself plays like a cross between Mega Man and Sonic the Hedgehog. Pulseman himself looks absolutely nothing like Zero from the Mega Man games, and none of the levels look anything like Aquatic Ruin, Green Hill Zone and Casino Night at all. Unlike both those games, though, Pulseman is badly animated and movement is jerky. He’s got a swipe attack and a weird backflip thing (during which he’s invulnerable), but the main gimmick for the game is his ability to charge himself up with electricity and use it mainly to become a ball that bounces round the screen.

To charge, Pulseman can either run a short distance or perform a dash. The ball he turns in to can then be used to reach higher platforms, break through certain walls, or travel along wires. There’s a power up which allows Pulseman to remain charged indefinitely, so long as you don’t die or finish the level.

Speaking of levels, they’re varied and some look incredible. In particular, backgrounds are often made up of the sort of sine-wavey trickery demo scene stuff tends to do. It’s occasionally distracting (on one later level seemingly on purpose) but it looks really clever. On the casino level you wonder how they squeezed so many colours out of a Mega Drive.

Jerkiness aside, it’s a fun game. Not too hard, sometimes frustrating (mainly due to leaps of faith or those baddies that follow you round discharging you all the time), and with lots of “wow” moments with the graphics.

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Gynoug (MD): COMPLETED!

Was this always so easy? I mean, it isn’t easy. Not at all. But I found it really hard back in the 90s yet somehow managed to finish it today without much of a struggle. Perhaps it’s because I now understand the concept of “bullet hell shooter” (which this isn’t really, but it helps) so I concentrated on watching bullets rather than enemies.

In fact, I didn’t even die until level 3 or 4, and even that felt unavoidable.

My memory is obviously faulty too, as I was sure that the bosses were much harder to hit when in fact most of them are shot accidentally as you avoid projectiles. Only the final boss caused an issue, and that was because his weak point is well protected and it just took ages more than anything.

I was also pretty sure there was a vertically scrolling level in there. Apparently not. Dunno where I got that from!

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Mega-lo-Mania (MD): COMPLETED!

As I do every so often, I sat and played – and completed – one of the very best Mega Drive games: Mega-lo-Mania.

This time it was prompted by a conversation on Twitter, but I don’t really ever need an excuse to play it. It’s so good.

Once again, the CPU didn’t put anybody in suspended animation (see my previous post on this) and, since I’d expected it, I only put the bare minimum in myself. And then won.

Again.

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Road Rash III: pixels

I played Road Rash a lot when I was younger, and Road Rash II about ten times more than that.  I have played both recently, and can quickly get back into the rhythm of the first few races - snaking through the back markers, taking the chain from Viper, avoiding Natasha, and rolling out to the front before the finish line.  The low framerate is slightly jarring, but the games still look clean and fresh.

Despite my love for the second game, I never bought Road Rash III, largely due to middling reviews.  Having now played it, I can see why.  It's still a good game, but the differences from Road Rash II are minimal, with slightly more varied locales and more weapons (which you don't really get to experience, since you carry a weapon from race to race and so effectively get stuck with the first one you grab forever).  The biggest change is in visuals, with the artists moving away from clean pixel art to more photorealistic sprites.



And it just makes the game look messy.  The main character - the one you're looking at half the time - looks washed out and indistinct ... and even more so when you upgrade your bike and find that you no longer have the coloured band on your clothes.


(Pictured on the snow stage just to doubly emphasise the point).

It's still a good game, don't get me wrong.  The problem is that the second game was pretty much perfect, so all the changes they implemented - and of course they had to implement changes to be able to sell a sequel - make things worse.  Muddier graphics.  More complicated bike upgrade screens.  Less catchy music.  More boring dashboard.  Garish or pixellated backgrounds.



 There is one great addition, though.  An opponent called Scab Boy.