Vice: Project Doom (Switch): COMPLETED!

I’d never heard of this game before, and I only gave it a go as I noticed it on the NES Online service thing on the Switch today. Surprisingly, it was actually pretty good.

I say surprisingly, because it very much reminded me of two terrible games I’ve played recently: ESWAT and Ninja Gaiden. Somehow, though, it’s much, much better than either of those. It has the same sort of platforming, bosses, and even a plot not too dissimilar to Ninja Gaiden, as well as interstitial dialogue like both other games. It plays much better, though, with tighter collision detection and baddies that don’t constantly respawn if you move one pixel back and forth.

As well as the platforming, there are a couple of Spy Hunter-like driving sections. These aren’t great, and actually play out more like a vertical shooter than a driving game, but they’re easy and quickly over. There are also a few Operation Wolf style shooting levels, which are OK but obviously suffer a bit as you can’t use a lightgun.

So yeah, it was surprising. Not the best NES game by any means, but above average and I’m amazed I’d never seen it until today.

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Wonder Boy in Monster Land (Switch): COMPLETED!

I thought I’d completed the Master System version of this a few months ago, but it turns out it was actually May last year. How time flies! This version is the Sega Ages remaster of the original arcade version, which I’d expected to be virtually the same as the Master System on (albeit with better graphics), and although it was very similar the differences still threw me.

For a start, it’s a lot harder. Like, several difficulty levels harder. This is for a number of reasons, not least that the timer runs down much more quickly and unless you’re legging it through the levels at full pelt (which you can’t do) you will definitely lose a lot of health – you lose a heart every time the egg timer runs out. The bosses also seem to require many, many more hits. Even with the best sword in the game, they’re just sponges. Then there seem to be more, and trickier, levels too.

This is probably the hardest boss in the game. He chucks out smaller clones who then chuck ice at you.

But it has some features the Master System didn’t. You can continue when you die, which is more than useful (until the final level where they don’t let you any more), and if you decide to restart the game from scratch, this Sega Ages version allows you to start with the equipment you had previously. This means you can get hold of the best armour, boots, shield and sword much more easily. As I said though, the bosses are so hard that doesn’t help with them so much.

When I finally reached the final level I had the choice of getting the bell (to find my way through the maze) and the ruby (to make the final boss a lot easier). I went with the ruby and hoped I could remember the route. Thankfully, I could! The dragon wasn’t too hard (way easier than bouncing mushroom guy or Snow Cong & Chums, for sure), and then the game was over.

He does that thing where when he’s dead he just changes form and you have to fight him again. Sigh.

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Alex Kidd in Miracle World (Switch): COMPLETED!

As I got closer to the end of this game, I realised that I’d almost certainly never completed it. I recognised every level up until the 7th one (in the cave), and then have vague memories of a castle, but I think the castle memory may even have come from the Mega Drive Alex Kidd game.

Hardest. Screen. Ever.

I also realised why I don’t think I’ve completed it. There are a few tricky sections (the one near the end with the spikes in the water can do one, for example), but the main reason was that winning relies entirely on luck! The janken matches are seemingly random, and you’ve no way of telling what your opponent is going to choose. At least in Alex Kidd in the Enchanted Castle there’s a power up that lets you see what they’re thinking, but in the Master System version? It’s all guesswork.

Helicycle levels are so easy – as long as you don’t crash.

Other than that, it’s a pretty decent game. Alex slides all over the place as he has weird physics and friction, and the collision detection is a bit rubbish (the octopus and the samurai bosses in particular). The question mark blocks are also almost always worth ignoring too, meaning they’re pointless – most of the time they have that baddie that just homes in on you, so it’s not worth the risk.

Not the best Sega Ages re-release on the Switch, but I got it in a sale so I’m not disappointed.

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Sly Spy (Arcade): COMPLETED!

This week I’ve been playing games on the retro game streaming service Antstream. I have a lot to say about the platform, but not here. One of the games I played was Sly Spy, and it’s the first one on there I’ve completed.

It’s not a great game. Much of it plays a bit like Rolling Thunder, but without the hiding and dodging abilities that make that game so much fun. Getting through each level without being shot constantly is difficult, and so isn’t really that enjoyable. The way it’s so much of a rip-off of James Bond doesn’t work as a parody as it’s too close to the source material and not humourous with it either.

It is what it is, though – a coin chewing arcade game that hasn’t translated well to playing at home, and isn’t as good as similar titles from the same era anyway.

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Golden Axe III (Switch): COMPLETED!

Is Golden Axe III going to be a good game, given the previous two were not? Go on, have a guess.

At least it tried. Instead of being almost exactly the same as the other games, the graphics are all new, the animation is new, and most of the baddies are new. Reminiscent of those before, but new. There’s a different art style too, but actually, it’s worse. And there are two new characters but they’ve relegated the best one – Gillius Thunderhead – to a little less than a narrator role. You can’t play as him. I chose Tyris Flare instead, who now has ridiculous beefcake muscles.

They’ve improved the “AI” so the enemies no longer blindly walk off ledges, and for the most part the old running attack left and right “trick” isn’t possible any more. But sadly, this doesn’t really improve things. Golden Axe III is actually worse, somehow, than its predecessors.

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Golden Axe II (Switch): COMPLETED!

I was pretty sure that Golden Axe II was a better game than Golden Axe I. And I’d remembered correctly – as it is. But it’s still almost exactly the same game only with more pink and purple, a better (for Gilius at least – I only ever play as him) special attack.

Both “tricks” from the previous game still happen here, and for this one Sega Mega Drive Classics actually has an achievement for doing it enough times:

A hole new world

The other trick is the “running headbutt” one, and that’s still alive and well here too. Some of the baddies have evolved to make it a little harder – the giant dog things with maces, for example, now try to Tiger Knee you mid-dash. I also found a new trick which I don’t think worked before:

Mmm, pink

The bosses were also quite a bit easier than the original game, especially the final boss who rarely actually hits you. The big headless knights can’t be beaten like their headed counterparts (headbutt or jump-slash), but if you walk diagonally into them you can axe them before they attack so they’re actually easier to dispatch.

Graphically, the game seems better looking but the giant turtle and eagle based levels are replaced with just normal paths and caves, and the previously mentioned pink and purple enemies are a bit garish. The music, as ever, is great though.

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ToeJam & Earl: Panic on Funkotron (Switch): COMPLETED!

I never got on with this previously. I think the main issue was that it didn’t feel like a proper sequel to the original ToeJam and Earl, which was one of my favourite Mega Drive games. It had the same funk, but it was a totally different experience.

Ditching the roguelike trappings of the first game, which was set on Earth (sort of), Panic on Funkotron instead became a platformer set on ToeJam & Earl’s home planet. The Mega Drive was swamped with platformers, so that didn’t help it stand out. Many times over the years I’ve tried to play through this and given up before the end of the first level because it just wasn’t what I wanted to play. But this time, something clicked.

One of the new baddies is a ghost cow who possesses you. Because of course it is.

The main gameplay is to explore levels finding earthlings to throw jars at. Jar them enough and you can capture them. Capture them all, and you can move on to the next level. Often these earthlings are hidden in trees and bushes, as are presents and traps. Presents don’t work like they used to, giving you random points, coins (for parking meters that trigger secrets), funk (for special moves) and a few powerups and special attacks (like one-hit jar captures).

This bonus game pops up frequently. It’s pretty hard and mostly pointless.

So it’s different. Some things are the same, like the characters, general graphical style and of course the music, but it plays out totally different. In the original, combat was rare and earthlings were generally just avoided. Here, you need to take the fight to them, and there’s some skill involved for taking out each type. It’s also quite a lot easier, so long as you take your time and don’t rush into areas in case of hidden baddies. Panic on Funkotron is also much, much longer – so it’s a good job there’s a password system in place. Of course, on the Switch version you can just use save states, but it took me six or seven hours to complete the game. Some of the levels are huge and the earthlings well hidden!

Alright old man.

It’s a shame I never got on with this originally. Maybe if I’d never played the first game I wouldn’t have had the problem with this being different. It’s still not as good as the first game (but to be fair, very few games are), but it’s much better than I ever previously gave it credit for.

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Altered Beast (Switch): COMPLETED!

As it’s Easter it makes sense to play a game about a man who is resurrected.

And that’s the best thing to say about Altered Beast. We all know what a bad game it is. It’s even worse than The Story of Thor. It hasn’t improved with time and was never any good to begin with.

I can’t be bothered writing any more about it.

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The Story of Thor (Switch): COMPLETED!

Let me start this post with a couple of points. Number 1, it’s called The Story of Thor even though Mega Drive Classics calls it Beyond Oasis. I’m aware it’s called that in the US, but this is MEGA DRIVE Classics, not GENESIS Classics. Number 2, it is Not A Good Game.

Oh sure, it looks nice with its big sprites and Link to the Past-like overworld. It’s sort of clever with its four special spirits you can summon (once you’ve collected them all, at least). It also has some really impressive looking bosses. But, sadly, everything else is rubbish. The combat is woeful with only four directional attacks when eight are really needed, and it’s made worse by the terrible collision detection. The sprites being huge means screens are cramped with both a small viewport and too many baddies squashed up together. I suspect the animation suffers too, with some creatures having hardly any frames.

The Little Shop of Horrors “spirit” is called Bow, for no sensible reason.

Your inventory is too small, and success on some parts of the game rely on having certain weapons. The problem is, you can only hold so many and each has a limited use. At least twice I needed bombs but had none, nor space to carry them even if I did, which was a pain.

I’m on a boat!

Also a pain is how the spirits you can summon can only be summoned by “shooting” specific things. For the fire spirit, you have to shoot some fire, for example. Frequently, this is the basis of a puzzled and often that means either being psychic and triggering a summon when you can and bringing it along, or backtracking to where you’re able to trigger. Making use of the spirits is hit and miss too, especially when trying to get the fire one to light bonfires and torches (necessary to open doors or solve puzzles) as it wanders around with a mind of its own.

The final boss, who looks like Dark Force, is actually the easiest one in the entire game.

The bosses, as I said, are mostly pretty impressive. Several are as large as the screen, but most are very, very easy to beat. It’s actually swathes of minions which are the hard bits, and sometimes these appear to be infinitely regenerating and other times there’s just hundreds of them. There’s no way of telling if it’s necessary, or even possible, to defeat them all, and sometimes you need to for an important item to appear.

I’ve often seen The Story of Thor in lists of the best Mega Drive games, and I recently saw it in an article about “games for other systems that are similar to Zelda: A Link to the Past”, and it’s baffling that it’s in either of these. It’s nowhere near good, let alone “best”, and, a slight graphical nod aside, not really much like Zelda either. It’s not fit to lick Zelda’s boots.

And no, I don’t know why I played it to completion.

All the spirits leave you in the end. Oh, spoilers, I suppose.

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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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