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Sprite Machine

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  1. Previously... 37) The Legend of Zelda: Majora's Mask 3D - 3DS - 2015 (2000) Fun fact: Majora's Mask for the N64 was the very first item of any kind I purchased through eBay. Two decades later and the 3D remake is still bloody hard to buy, at least in the UK where it never got a budget re-issue. Still, that wasn't going to stop me. It's a weird, brilliant and frustrating sort of experience, this one. It's a work of absolute genius and creativity, but also at times tediously dull and depressing. The core premise of impending doom creates an ever-present sense of dread, and replaying the same three days over and over starts to feel like you're trapped in a nightmare inhabited by puppets. Any sense of relief or joy at breaking these hopeless characters out of their slump and bringing a little happiness to their lives, falls flat when you're forced to turn back the clock and watch them struggle with the same things over and over again as if nothing you did made any difference. All you can do is use their lives as a means to get some permanent item into your inventory and start over again. Repeat times a thousand. Clock Town and its surrounding locations are not especially big, but they are densely populated by a ridiculous number of side quests, each one intertwined in a complex temporal system, all working together like the cogs of a clock, fittingly. Though the dungeons and their surrounding areas are large and substantial, there are only four of them, and as somebody whose favourite part of Zelda games is the dungeons, this was always a sore point for me. Majora's Mask is something very different from other Zelda games; it's a work of art that simply couldn't exist in any other medium, and I am glad that it exists. There is a lot to enjoy here and on the whole I had a good time with it, but at many points I struggled or found it immensely frustrating. The game often leads you down paths you can't complete yet, or sends you back and forth to pick up specific items, or forces you to repeat things you've done before, and it feels very stop-start. With so much of the game requiring playing songs, transforming or moving through time (requiring constant unskippable short cutscenes or menu fiddling) the flow of the gameplay suffers, even with the improved interface. And while it may be churlish to complain about minor performance issues considering how much nicer it is than the original, this version is a little bit sloppy in places. All in all, by the end, I was just going through the motions to finish it. I have to say I did not enjoy this anywhere near as much as Ocarina of Time, which I willingly played through twice in quick succession. This felt like more of an ordeal than an adventure, and part of me is glad it's all over. Whatever my issues, though, it's such a brilliantly sad and melancholy game. There's nothing else quite like it.
  2. Based on the definition of remastering as it applies to movies and TV shows, it means creating a new 'master copy' from which all subsequent copies are derived and distributed, such as rescanning and cleaning up a film to digital 4K, or going back to the original elements (camera negatives, master tapes or audio recordings, etc.) and piecing them back together to create the new master copy. It doesn't get changed or 'updated', just cleaned up. Remaster: A new definitive version of the same game, brought up to a higher visual and audio quality, either by restoring original art assets or recreating them in greater detail. (eg. Day of the Tentacle Remastered, MGS2 & 3 HD, Ico/SotC Collection, Night Trap 25th Anniversary) Remake: Generally the same game but remade from scratch. Can include changes to graphical style, controls, etc. (eg. MGS: Twin Snakes, Tony Hawk's 1&2, Star Fox 64 3D... and this Sands of Time remake falls under this too) Re-imagining: It's sort of the same as the older game and probably follows the story or structure, but been re-defined as something almost totally new (eg. Tomb Raider Anniversary, Silent Hill: Shattered Memories, FFFVII-R, Black Mesa) Then you have games that fall between two of these and cause arguments.
  3. Previously... 36) Limbo - PC - 2011 (2010) Just a quick one, this - an indie platformer with silhouette stylings and bags of atmosphere. I originally played it on the 360 when it first came out and absolutely loved it, and it was great to play it again on PC. I didn't even realise I owned it; I must have picked it up in an indie bundle years ago, redeemed it on Steam and forgot about it. Two and a half hours later and it's all over. Less is more, and this is a game of absolute ambiguity. Is the boy dead? Is he trying to find his sister? What's with all the other kids and why are they trying to kill him? Why is there a factory and a hotel and a forest and a giant spider in here? Are we in the the imagination of a boy who's filling this world with his nightmares before death? And is that shattering glass at the end alluding to what it looks like? Who knows! I'd rather not know and just enjoy it. Limbo knows when to shut up, and its soundtrack does too, presenting little more than haunting ambience throughout. The whole thing is seriously evocative, moody, creepy and wonderful. And its gameplay makes excellent use of physics and puzzle-solving as you move from left to right through oppressive monochrome environments without a word uttered or printed. If I had any complaints it's the trial-and-error nature of the gameplay, especially early on. The game delights in killing you with sinister traps that you couldn't possibly avoid almost as much as something like Abe's Odyssey or Flashback, and when you 'die' you just pop back instantly to a checkpoint like it never happened. Surely a more organic form of challenge would suit the game better and be less jarring? If by some miracle you haven't played Limbo yet and it sounds good, give it a go. It's on every format, it's excellent and it's something you can clear in an evening or spend a couple of leisurely nights on with the lights down and the sound up.
  4. Previously... 35) Star Fox 64 3D - 3DS - 2011 (1997) After playing Star Fox last year and Star Fox 2 earlier this year, I thought I would give the sequel a go, having played it briefly on the N64 when it was known as Lylat Wars. So I played through and completed the 3DS remake a few times, to try alternate routes and see all of the levels (approx. 8 hours total). I got the good ending eventually, on normal N64 difficulty. This is an on-rails shooter like its predecessors, but can be thought of as a reboot of the series as it follows the same scenario as Star Fox 1 and ends with a fight against a giant Andross head. Obviously it isn't relying on the SNES's FX-chip to render pseudo-3D anymore so it can do the concept justice. This was an impressive game back in the day and the first to make use of the rumble pak, which is sadly not an option in the 3DS remake. However, the remake does have some impressive new graphics with snazzy textures and no vaseline-o-vision. I like it, but it's a little uncomfortable to play for long periods. This didn't get much attention in 2011, did it? I guess for those unfamiliar with Star Fox, it's just a short on-rails game. And fans of the original probably snubbed it for having too many changes like re-recorded dialogue and the aforementioned new graphics. Still, for the money (not much these days), it's a pretty fun on-rails shooter with some nice ideas, excellent presentation and a structure that begs you to play through it lots of times. Different routes through the levels produce different outcomes or make different characters appear in support roles. It's got levels with land- and water-based vehicles and adds the All-Range mode, which is its attempt at free flight dog-fighting. This for me is the weakest element, as I find it frustrating, unable to turn and face my targets quickly enough or get enough distance from them to aim well. It made the last fight against the big brain thing a nightmare as he just follows you around the arena, inches from your back. There's local multiplayer and score challenge modes but I'm not particularly interested in them so I'll probably sell this on. I wonder if it's worth playing any of the other Star Fox games or if it's all downhill from here...?
  5. I've got both the PC and iOS versions of Sonic CD and they're basically identical. However, I seem to recall it was harder to restart a special stage on the iOS version for some reason, whereas on the PC (and consoles, presumably) you could quit the game from within a special stage and reload at the beginning of it. Something like that, I can't remember exactly, but it made it harder to practice the special stages. Pretty sure all formats have both soundtracks included (just without the lyrics in the Japanese intro, for legal reasons).
  6. Previously... 34) Lego Pirates of the Caribbean: The Video Game - PC - 2011 Completed to 100% (approx. 24 hours). As per all the Lego games, this is shallow, but accessible and addictive. There's something satisfying about smashing bits of Lego into smaller bits of Lego and watching little spinning studs get absorbed into you. There's also something compelling about the gradually opening-up structure and using multipliers to rack up massive scores while unlocking new characters and 100%-ing levels. I didn't love it, but I felt obligated to see it to the end! This is one of the earlier Lego games, before they used voice acting, and is probably the game that made the developers realise they'd come just about as far as they could with grunt-and-gesture-based storytelling. I've not seen the fourth 'Pirates' movie, but trying to follow the plot in Lego form was hard enough in the ones I have seen. The gameplay is pretty much the same as every other Lego game I've played, but the style suits the franchise well enough and the music is epic. It's no Star Wars or Superheroes, but it's a decent entry if you enjoy this sort of thing. I definitely need a little break before I play another one.
  7. Previously... 33) Day of the Tentacle Remastered - Vita - 2016 (1993) Completed twice - once for the first time in a decade and then immediately again with the developer commentaries turned on. The remaster really is excellent, treating the game like piece of history to be preserved, re-drawing all the art in the exact style of the original, going back to old audio recordings and re-cutting them, enhancing the music... and then offering the unaltered version underneath. I've played Full Throttle and Grim Fandango Remastered and they're both excellent, but this is the most faithful and perfectly done of the three. The only problem is I can't stop myself from switching between old and new graphics on every screen - it's just one button press and it's like an addiction! Originally released in 1993 when the most advanced console games were Sonic and Star Fox, this came out on PCs looking like a feature cartoon with full voice acting and incredible art design that has withstood the test of time. It's not just a looker, either; it's got great writing, humour, clever puzzles and originality oozing out of its sewage pipes. The use of multiple characters and using time travel as a mechanism for problem-solving is inspired. Its puzzles boil down to the usual "find item to do thing" variety, but without the annoying 'pixel hunting' you often get with the genre. Instead, each room has just a few obvious points of interest, and the challenge comes from working out how it all fits together. The game sends you back and forth through an intricately woven tapestry of sub quests that you can broadly tackle in any sequence you like. It's challenging enough to make you think and only occasionally did I get properly stuck. It also contains, as a game-within-a-game, the entirety of its predecessor, Maniac Mansion. I've spoken a bit about MM before, particularly about how open and unrestricted it was, allowing you to get yourself trapped or killed while trying to overcome a precise sequence of timed events, atypical of almost every LucasArts adventure since. While it's brilliant in its own way (and I would love a proper remake of it one day), Day of the Tentacle doesn't allow you to die or fail, and so you can enjoy the sillier dialogue options or see what happens when you do something you're not supposed to, and everything works out fine. I think ultimately it's much harder to design a game where you can't box yourself into an unwinnable scenario, and I appreciate the clever writing used to achieve this. This game is timelessly brilliant, and now that it's been restored, remastered and upgraded, it's one of the best point-and-click adventures there is.
  8. Previously... 32) Alpha Protocol - PC - 2010 A forum recommendation from the 'PS360' era. I'm glad I stuck with this after my iffy first impressions because it gets quite good. It starts off as a pretty janky action game, where you're given all these enticing options for espionage and combat and stealth and gadgets... and none of them fucking work! Before you actually level-up your abilities, you can't aim for shit, can't sneak for shit, can't tech for shit, and it just feels like a load of shit. I have understandable issues with the concept of an "action RPG" for this reason, but as I got better at sneaking and using pistols, I found the missions much more enjoyable. (Pump your skill points into pistols, for the love of god!) What's most remarkable about this game, however, is its bewildering array of choices and how those affect the storyline. Aside from innocuous dialogue that can make other characters like you a bit more or a bit less, there are some pretty big choices you can make that substantially change the storyline - not to the extent that major events happen differently, but which people are involved and who is dead or alive to help you - things like that (like the good bits of Mass Effect but better and ALL THE TIME). I don't know exactly how different things could have got; the game doesn't have a 'New Game+' to speed through again and check, which is a shame. Those choices are not straight-forward, either. You might trust someone only to learn they've betrayed you, or somebody you think of as an enemy could be your greatest ally. You might think you're doing the right thing in the moment only for unforseen repercussions to hinder you later. It's a really good system and although the plot is the usual Tom-Clancy-esque WWIII nonsense, this dynamism in how the details play out is thoroughly compelling. If I had any complaint, it would be that the time-limited choices come up waaaaaay before you can understand what each option means, before the previous dialogue has finished, and you need more time to think about your answers. I got into a bit of a bother a few times because of lack of context in the response options. Beyond that, the game is a bit buggy, has some unintentionally hilarious facial hair malfunctions, and overall looks like it's from five years earlier than it actually is. But do you know what? I like these sorts of rough diamonds - the games that aren't the prettiest but they do interesting or clever things. Having never played an Obsidian-developed game before, they are now on my radar. Good recommendation, forum.
  9. It's certainly been a funny old year but I guess I picked a great time to decide to clear my entire backlog in (mostly) chronological order. I still have lots of PC and console games waiting in the wings (the digital stores keep giving out free stuff, it's not helping! ) however, wrapping up Ace Attorney brought my handheld backlog to an end, so now I can move on from "games I own but haven't played yet" to "games I still want to get". Previously... 31) Final Fantasy Adventure - GameBoy - 1991 It's not really a Final Fantasy game (despite having chocobos and moogles in it), it's the first of the Mana / Seiken Densetsu series. It could be described as a Zelda-like game crossed with an RPG, so while you wander the densely structured square tiles that make up the world, entering dungeons and attacking enemies with weapons and magic, you also earn EXP and can level up, which makes some of the aimless wandering and monster bashing strangely cathartic. In every other respect, however, this game falls short of Nintendo's brilliance and that can't be blamed entirely on the two-button dot-matrix hardware it was designed to run on. If you thought the handheld Zelda games needed a lot of to-ing and fro-ing through menus for changing items/weapons, you ain't seen nothing yet! Want to use a potion? No problem, just bring up the menu, sluggishly move the cursor to the item option, scroll down the limited inventory to the potion you want to use, press the confirm button, press it again, then press the cancel button to come out of the menu, then press the cancel button again to actually use the thing. And be sure to repeat the process when you want to put a different item in the slot, or a magic spell, or a key, because you can only hold one at a time. And the enemies make sure you need to keep swapping weapons by being annoyingly invulnerable to some of them. If you're very lucky, you might even run out of keys in the middle of a dungeon and have to spend half an hour trying to leave to find somewhere that's selling more of them because you've come across one too many locked doors and all keys are consumable. And if you accidentally walk into an NPC, you better be ready to talk to them, as they assault you with text boxes if you so much as brush past them. Are the dungeons even any good? No, not really! They're incredibly repetitive and confusing. Literally every dungeon has identical walls/pillars/doors to every other dungeon, just with different layouts and the occasional bit of outdoor scenery, and the 'puzzle solving' is rudimentary at best and frustratingly obtuse at worst. Is the story any good at least? Well, it's a typical hero's quest storyline with a clichéd 'rescue-the-girl' subplot and a magical tree that gives life to the world but can give ultimate power to a dark lord who is literally called Dark Lord. So no, not really. The English translation is pretty bad, too, even allowing for the limited text box size. And yet, I kept playing to the very end for some reason. Despite all of its faults, I was somewhat hooked on it and had to finish it, finding the repetition and simple action gameplay strangely comforting. Maybe I just enjoyed the change of pace. There is something compelling about retro games, particuarly when you work your way through them without any help, and I'm pleased to say that I only needed to consult a guide once during this playthrough (and that was only because I didn't know the battle axe could also chop down trees). After that, I worked everything else out myself. Not that it was hugely difficult - probably a fair few tads easier than NES Zelda 1 for instance, but I'm still proud of myself. I'll never play it again and I can't honestly recommend it. Yet I'm glad to have played it.
  10. I've barely spent anything this year, as I made a pact to play through my entire PC, console and handheld backlogs before I buy anything new. But now I've almost run out of handheld games so I had to buy some PSN credit. Oh well! ------ January: Phoenix Wright: Ace Attorney - Spirit of Justice (3DS) £8.24 February: Nothing March: Nothing April: Nothing May: Nothing June: Nothing July: Nothing August: £25 PlayStation Network Credit £23.99 Star Fox 64 3D (3DS) £7.95 The Legend of Zelda: Majora's Mask 3D (3DS) £31.95 Total so far: £72.13
  11. Previously... 30) Uncharted 2: Among Thieves - PS4 - 2015 (2009) Completed on normal difficulty (10 hours). I last played this about nine years ago, and while I'm sure there have been a lot of third-person shooters released since then, this still ranks as one of my favourites. Taking what made the original work well and expanding (and combining) every aspect, be it the platforming, the spectacle or - crucially - the combat scenarios, the Uncharted sequel goes full throttle and rarely stops for breath. Yes, much of it is a linear, scripted roller-coaster affair, but when you get into those combat arenas and all the options open up for you to experiment with, it's great fun. Making use of vertical space, stealth, hand-to-hand combat, long and short range weapons and explosives, Uncharted 2 is an impressively dynamic combat game. The remaster is excellent, too. Silky-smooth framerate, flawless presentation, no loading breaks, high-quality animations and cutscenes integrated seamlessly with the gameplay - Uncharted 2 was already a high-quality production but this version seals the deal. It also makes it easier to play, as I found I was popping off headshots more frequently since the aiming / scrolling speed is smoother - or maybe it's just the better controller that helps. I struggled at times with sticking to cover - not sticking where I wanted to, getting stuck where I didn't want to - it often felt fiddly and that's not something I recall being so much of a problem in the original, but again, it's been a while and maybe the game has just aged in the intervening years. Certainly, the raw spectacle of fighting in a collapsing building or jumping from one speeding truck to another, is less impactful when you know what's coming - I remember being blown away by it the first time around, amazed that these scenarios were playing out while I still had full control and weren't just cutscenes or window dressing. Still, it manages to impress today and remains a very enjoyable action-adventure title with just a few little blips that spoil it here and there. I look forward to playing the third one, as I skipped it originally.
  12. Playing Final Fantasy Adventure (aka Mystic Quest, aka the original 'Mana') and that is one bad English localisation! The game feels a bit like Zelda but more clunky, and with levelling-up - so I don't feel too bad about wandering around aimlessly as at least I can earn some exp.
  13. Previously... 29) Phoenix Wright: Ace Attorney - Spirit of Justice - 3DS - 2016 I've had this on the go for ages and finally completed it. I have enjoyed all of the Ace Attorney games to varying degrees but they are all basically the same, despite originating on the Gameboy Advance and going through two generations of technical improvements in the meantime. The same fundamental problem persists: the game logic requires you to be on its wavelength for the plot revelations to be effective. If not, you're either guessing until you catch up with what the game expects you to know, or you're way ahead of the game and jumping the gun, waiting for it to catch up with you. But on those occasions when the revelations come and you're perfectly in-sync, those triumphant moments, those incredible plot twists, the iconic 'turnabout' scenes, are just as effective as they were back in 2005 - arguably now even better with the improved presentation and musical accompaniment. Those 'putting-the-clues-together-in-your-head' sequences near the end of each court case, for instance, are some exceptional moments. Unfortunately, those moments are in between some excruciatingly long scenes, linear investigation sections and lots of fairly slow dialogue. Despite their attempts to bring the characters to life with animated humour and over-the-top sound effects, I continue to find the writing very leaden and verbose. This is not a short game at all, in fact its five chapters took me over 40 hours to get through. I spent several weeks just trying to clear the last case in particular - as every time I picked it up to play some more, I would start falling asleep. The slow investigation sections couldn't keep me awake and I just wanted the game to get to another good bit in the courtroom (which it eventually did). I had to force myself to power through and finish it. Was it worth it in the end? Yes, I suppose it was... but now I feel like I'm done with the series. I won't be getting the DLC episode and in all likelihood I won't be getting whatever sequel or follow-up is released. For me, this series has run its course.
  14. Previously... 28) Tomb Raider: Underworld - PC - 2008 Completed on the normal ('Tomb Raider') difficulty, 9-ish hours. This is the last of my Tomb Raider backlog that I bought on Steam about six or seven years ago. It's the third game by Crystal Dynamics and by this point they'd gotten pretty good at making Tomb Raiders, however I reckon this was rushed to meet the Christmas 2008 release date because it feels decidedly unfinished in places. Lara's moveset is expanded a little and the levels do make good use of this, however she also feels quite twitchy to control and the camera often misbehaves itself. The early levels in the ocean and Coastal Thailand are very strong, probably some of the best modern Tomb Raider has to offer. Mexico isn't bad and the larger sized areas and motorcycle are a nice idea in theory. After that, it starts getting a bit rushed, with repetitive level design, shorter levels and storylines wrapped up quickly. Also the 'secrets' in the game are literally all over the place and rarely very secretive, often found by kicking some clay pots over. On the whole, this is not a bad end to the series, and thankfully this one worked without issue on my PC, but it could have been better. After everything Crystal Dynamics achieved with Tomb Raider: Anniversary, they deserved the chance to knock this one out of the park, but it wasn't to be. I still enjoyed it, though.
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