Rogue Aces (Switch): COMPLETED!

Well, the “Frontline Campaign” completed, at least. I’m not sure the other modes are completable? Anyway, I completed it.

And good grief was it hard. It plays out as a grid of islands, each one like a miniature normal mode, only there are a fixed number of targets to take out. Once you’ve done that, you move onto taking over another island, heading from the bottom left of the map to the top right. As you do so, the enemy head from the top right to the bottom left.

It starts out pretty easy, but once the enemy reaches you, a Baron – a highly powered up fighter plane – seeks you out on the level and really makes it difficult. I found taking him out needed to be top priority.

The final level on the map was utter chaos with many, many retreats due to being almost shot to pieces. Eventually I took everything out and won the war.

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Picross S (Switch): COMPLETED!

It’s hardly innovative, being yet another game in the long line of Picross titles from Jupiter. And after Picross e to Picross e7, as well as a few others, you’d think I’d be fed up of Picross games by now, right? Well, no.

In fact, Picross S is in some ways a step beck from the 3DS games. There’s no Micross mode for a start. It also doesn’t make use of the massive Switch screen to allow huge Picross puzzles – 20×15 is your lot here.

But that doesn’t really matter all that much, as it’s Picross and Picross is great. Besides, there are more puzzles here than in any previous game (although I suspect many are repeats), and I got around 25 hours out of it. Picross S2 now, please.

Although I do have Picross e8 to get now too.

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Metal Slug 2nd Mission (NGPC): COMPLETED!

As well as completing 1st Mission, I thought I’d do 2nd Mission. Makes sense. It’s good, too.

I think I was misremembering how good, though. I was pretty certain it was better in almost every way than 1st Mission, but no. Certainly, the addition of speech, more levels, and two characters to choose from are improvements. Changing the Start button from “toggle between guns and grenades” to “throw grenade” is definitely for the best. However, the levels seem less interesting for the most part, and some – like the prison and the factory – are just rubbish. In addition, many of the bosses are just those from the original again.

They also seemed to add a lot more colour to the game, especially the player character, but this just makes them garish. The animation on the new alien foes, though, is super smooth as they sort of tear open and vomit goo. No, really.

On balance, it’s still excellent. It’s just not quite as impressive or fun as the first game.

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Metal Slug 1st Mission (NGPC): COMPLETED!

The Neo Geo Pocket had some great versions of Neo Geo games. They were reimaginings of them rather than ports, and played to the little handheld’s strengths.

Metal Slug 1st Mission looks and feels like the “grown up” version, only is more platformy, a bit less shooty, and much easier. That’s not to say it’s easy, it’s just the original Metal Slug was definitely a bit of a coin chomper. Sadly, there’s no speech, but that’s a small loss.

The levels are varied, with some needing exploration, some straightforward left-to-right jumping and shooting, a few sideways scrolling shooter sections, and some massive bosses. In some ways it feels a bit more like Mega Man than Metal Slug (not least when you get to the disappearing block section), but that’s OK as Mega Man is great too.

Oh, and it looks amazing. That NGPC could really make some pretty games. Just look at the sunset here, for example:

You can’t see from the screenshots, but the animation is awesome too, especially on you and the soldiers. The cute “SD” Metal Slug tank and jet look fantastic as well.

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Mappy-Land (NES): COMPLETED!

Mappy is a game I always play whenever I fire up MAME and haven’t anything in mind to actually play. I’m terrible at it, but I play it quite a lot. Imagine my surprise when I found this NES-only sequel existed. Not only that, it’s pretty good too.

Like the original, it’s a platformer where the gimmick is trampolines. You bounce on them to reach higher platforms. It differs from the original in a similar way to how Pac-Land and Mighty Bombjack did over their predecessors – by making it a side-scroller. Sort of.

You collect 6 items in each level then head for the exit. Sometimes, you have to obtain an item from a  sub-level to open the exit. Once you’ve done all 8 levels and given your girlfriend a load of cheese, the game restarts with different level layouts and a different set of items to collect. Run through all the levels four times, and that’s it! Well, the game starts again, but it’s effectively completed. Which is what I did.

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The Librarian (Mac): COMPLETED!

A short point and click adventure game, with lovely pixel graphics and a few simple puzzles. There’s not a great deal to tell you about it, really, otherwise I’ll spoil everything. But I will tell you this: there’s something wrong in the library.

If you’ve played these sorts of games before, then there’s nothing taxing here. I’ve just completed Thimbleweed Park, remember, so this was like easy mode compared to that. It looks and plays beautifully though, so it’s well worth a play. And it’s free! You can get a copy from the author’s itch.io page.

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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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Kid Kool and the Quest for the Seven Wonder Herbs (NES): COMPLETED!

As a big fan of the later games by the same developer (Psycho Fox, Magical Hat and Decapattack) I’ve always intended to play Kid Kool. For some reason, it has never worked for me on either OpenEmu on the Mac, or on RetroPie.  I recently rebult my RetroPie image and it now works, so who knows.

Seems I probably shouldn’t have bothered, as it’s awful.

It’s closest to Psycho Fox, unsurprising since it’s an 8-bit title. Like that game, you have a creature that sits on your shoulder that you can throw. Unlike Psycho Fox, you can’t punch, which is where the first frustrating thing comes in. You can still jump on things, but not being able to punch is a massive issue, making some of the game impossible if you don’t have the shoulder pet.

Other issues are present in Psycho Fox too, like the bizarre momentum and ability to just incredibly high but barely horizontal at all unless you’re running. In the later game, this is mostly negated by better level design and the ability to turn into different animals with different physics models, but here – especially with the flick-screen, rather than scrolling, vertical movement – it’s crippling.

Then there’s the bosses, which are repeated (with very minor differences), and are all incredibly easy. In addition, you have to complete the whole game in under an hour in order to “win” properly. And the name! Oh my, what a terrible name for a game.

It’s a shame I didn’t enjoy it due to how flawed it is, but it’s still interesting to see how they improved so many things for the follow-up titles.

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Slime-San (Switch): COMPLETED!

To say this was a Super Meat Boy clone would do it a disservice. It’s certainly a game in the single-screen, hyper-difficult nimble platformer genre like Super Meat Boy, and a cursory glance would have you closely compare the two, but Slime-San is so much more.

Take it’s two additional moves, for starters. One lets you do a dash, in any main direction, on the floor or in the air. You can speed under stuff, over stuff, smash through some stuff, or jump a bit higher or further. The other is a morph, which lets you pass through green obstacles and slow down time a little. Together, your little slime can perform some ridiculous tricks. Perhaps the most game changing of these is being able to jump down, round and up blocks hanging from the ceiling.

It starts off simple: avoid anything red (they’re instant death), pass through anything green, and slime on, along or up anything white. Each level, of which there are 100, is a handful of separate screens most of which add new elements to the formula. Green creatures that carry you, or act as trampolines. Platforms that phase in and out depending whether you’re holding down morph or not. A feather which lets you fly – Flappy Bird style – for a short period. Blocks that disappear when you touch them, blocks that move when you stand on them, ghosts that chase you, things that explode, water you can swim in, locked doors, Donkey Kong Country style barrels, warps, a clone of you that copies your moves (and kills you if it catches up) and many many more.

Not only that, but after a certain amount of time on each screen (instantly on some!), red liquid flows in from one side of the level making it even harder. Just in case it wasn’t tricky enough already.

There are puzzles, pixel perfect platforming, and screens that just make you think “Nope. Not possible.” only for you to complete it after several hundred attempts. Oh, and there are bosses too. Insane bosses. Like the evil Uvula who attacks you with a tongue and teeth – sometimes with lasers.

And did I tell you the whole game is set inside the body of a worm, and there’s a whole city of creatures you can meet and talk to in there? Yeah, it’s bonkers. And brilliant. And I feel like the best gamer ever now I’ve completed it.

If you’re a better gamer than me and your hands aren’t ravaged by the passage of time, then you might get even more milage out of Slime-San by collecting the apples in each level (I didn’t get any that weren’t really easy), or completing each level in under par time. I can’t cope with those, but even without that challenge, it’s still an excellent game. And better that Super Meat Boy, which I’ve tried many times and just given up on.

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Thimbleweed Park (Switch): COMPLETED!

This is a point and click adventure how you superficially remember point and click adventures used to be. It looks like Monkey Island or Day of the Tentacle, but in fact all the fiddly bits of those games have been quietly trimmed off. Moving from location to location has been streamlined. Items have more obvious uses. It’s more accessible, there’s less backtracking (or at least, less annoying backtracking), and there’s a built in hint system for when you get truly stuck.

What is the same, however, is the humour, the fourth wall breaking gags, the clever puzzles and the characters with bags of, well, character. And so many injokes, with references to old Lucasfilm adventures a-plenty. In fact, the mansion in the game may very well be the actual mansion in Maniac Mansion.

The story starts out as a reasonably simple murder mystery, which your two federal agents have to solve. Only it gets weird. Then some more characters are introduced (initially by way of playing as them in flashbacks), and the PillowTron business and related inventions add more mystery.

Then there’s paranormal complications and eventually, well, a late chapter in the game is called Madness for a reason.

I really enjoyed Thimbleweed Park. A few technical issues – mainly tiny, tiny background pixels being vitally important items – marred it a little. I had to use the HintTron 3000 a few times only to find I was doing the right thing but tapping on the wrong pixel, or using the wrong character. It didn’t affect my enjoyment too much though, and the rest was brilliant.

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