Even more indie Gameboygames

Sometimes, one video just isn't enough to cover every game you want. So here Part 2 of Indie Gameboy Games video:

Modern Indie Gameboy Games

Do you like the Nintendo Gameboy? Sure you do! Super Mario Land, Metroid 2, Gradius, Castlevania, all great games.

But did you know indie developers are keeping the Gameboy tradition alive? In this video I take a look at several indie games developed with the Gameboy's limitations in mind for the 2016 #GBJAM. You can learn more about it in my video

Colony Wars Vengeance

Developer: Psygnosis
Publisher:  Psygnosis

Text Review

The original Colony Wars might be showing its age now, but at the time, it was a well-received title with gamers and media alike, going so far as to receive 9 out of 10s from several popular outlets.

Its sales must have been strong as well, because the sequel, Colony Wars Vengeance, launched exactly one year after its predecessor. You’d think this meant the game was little more than a hastily developed cash grab, but the people over at Psygnosis must have been wizards because Colony Wars Vengeance improves on the original in almost every way.

Taking place a generation after the events of the first game, Colony Wars Vengeance, has us play from the Colonial Navy’s perspective. Surprisingly, it ignores the original Colony Wars’ true ending, choosing instead a middle one. Here, The League of Free Worlds drove the tyrannical Colonial Navy back to the solar system, but were unable to take overthrow the Earth’s government.

Instead, the League of Free Worlds closed down all interstellar travel to the solar system keeping planet Earth exiled which eventually sparked civil wars, poverty and extreme famine. Essentially, this means the player lost at the final mission of the previous game which has unexpected repercussions in Vengeance's plot, but more on that later.

Many of the previous game’s features were streamlined for a smoother experience, for example, your aiming reticule now tells you where your target is heading so you can now shoot where they’re going instead of where they are. This change may seem minor, but the fact I don’t have to get near enemy fighters and shoot them at point blank range like I did before means I didn't have to deal with friendly fire anymore.

The graphics were also improved considerably, using better lighting and more complex capital ship designs. Yes, the embarrassing Enterprise clones of the first game are finally gone and instead we get original designs with moving parts and weakpoints such as shield generators, reactors and engines which can be picked off individually. Friendly capital ships are also more resilient so you don’t feel like you’re constantly being forced to babysit them.

Not all streamlines were positive though, in the first game you could control several ship types with different strengths and weaknesses. Here, you’re down to just four vessels, all of which are unlocked as you progress in the game and each one is a direct upgrade over the last. So once you gain a new craft, there’s no reason to return to an older model.

The branching path system was also simplified for a more linear experience. The first game had several endings which could range from utter defeat, to peace between both sides or even a complete victory depending on how well you performed. Here on the other hand, all endings except one lead to some manner of defeat for the Navy. It just seems like the first game was more freeform in how it handled its branches.

I did notice a flaw or two in the branching path system. Namely how some plot points can be raised and then promptly forgotten depending on which missions you succeed. One example is the widowmaker arch, in which the League hires an ace pilot to intercept your missions and it all culminates in a one-on-one showdown. However, if you complete a certain order of missions you’ll only meet him once and then the game promptly forgets about him.

Some of the issues I had with the previous game are still here as well, namely how fighting capital ships is still a complete crapshoot. You have no way when they locked on to you and when they do, their main attack always hits, no matter how many evasive maneuvers the player takes. It might even be worse in Colony Wars Vengeance than in its predecessor because capital ships are much stronger in this game. Enemy fighters will still spawn endlessly on most missions like they did in the first game. The problem here is that this time there are no EMP weapons, so you can’t just leave them disabled. 

As a general rule, the mission design in this game is better than in Colony Wars, they give you more diverse objectives while still maintaining the same sense of scale as before. You’ll be doing everything from targeted attacks, defense and bombing runs to more unique assignments such as uploading viruses, stealthy maneuver past their defenses and even take on the occasional ground mission. Most of these are really solid in concept but there’s the occasional miss like here where you have to close a warphole by playing a game of Simon. I got nothing to say about that.

The Colony Wars series is famous for its difficulty and this game is probably the reason why. A lot of your mission objectives have to carried out in some pretty strict time schedules. Either because someone needs saving, your target is fleeing or simply due to a fixed timer that is constantly reminding you of how little time you have. Even missions that aren't time-based are still pretty difficult because of how easily the League can swarm you or due to special enemy that needs to be taken out a certain way.

It’s during these moments that I truly find myself missing the overpowered EMP weapons, but at least, this time around you can upgrade your ships. The ground ship is the only one that can’t be upgraded so after a while I started fearing these assignments the most simply because of how weak my vessel was when compared to the rest. After completing each mission you get a certain number of tech-tokens which can be spent upgrading your shields, speed, afterburners and turn-rate. There are also new weapons some of which are pretty fun such as a plasma weapon where you can guide your shot towards your enemies.

Perhaps the game’s greatest improvement is its story. In the previous game you were a generic pilot who simply narrated the progress of the war while praising the League and vilifying the Navy at each turn.

Here things are different a lot more grey in terms of morality. Your character, Mertens doesn’t see his side as either good or evil, but rather as a necessity for survival.  And depending on which missions you succeed or fail, the game can go through some really dark places including torture, secret police and even mass suicide. In one possible ending, for example the Navy destroys the Sun as a final  act of defiance against the League and Mertens gladly accepts his death and that of everyone on Earth.

Yet other times you’ll see him questioning both the League and the Navy’s methods and motives including missions where you attack civilian targets such as mining and manufacturing operations. What’s interesting about this is that you also attacked similar civilians targets in the original Colony Wars, but it was never questioned or even portrayed as evil. In fact the game seemed to hint they military targets as well and it’s only now in hindsight that you come to the conclusion that maybe the League and Navy aren't all that different. In one ending, you even learn that the League has no problems in torturing and humiliating its POWs before executing them. All of this while the game is constantly reminding that you’re just another soldier, ready to be murdered by the league or discarded by your own.

It’s this sort of self-questioning that makes the narrative in Colony Wars Vengeance such a compelling one. It manages to tell a ‘war is hell’ story that retroactively spans both games, while blurring the lines between good and evil. Interestingly, the game’s heaviest moments are all set to classical music, though I don't know if this was a stylistic choice or a budget one, but it surprisingly fits the themes of war, politics, betrayal and genocide.

Also surprising is that according to Steve Gilbert, an ex-employee at Psygnosis all of the game’s cutscenes were made in just four weeks, this means everything from design and animation to editing and post-sound. This does explain why you see so many shots re-used, but regardless, each cutscene feels like a reward as you bare witness and contribute to the evils of war.

But the most surprising revelation comes during the game’s final acts, where it's revealed that the leader of the newly resurrected Colonial Navy used to be a League pilot during the first game. This pilot was a fanatic, someone who loved the battlefield and was seen as a butcher even by own peers. He was sent as the only fighter support during the final missions as League superiors hoped the pilot would meet his demise, the same final mission that you canonically failed.

Yes, the big reveal is that the noble freedom fighter you played in the first game was actually a bloodthirsty warmonger who resurrected the faction he nearly destroyed and created this second conflict. Outside of RPGs, you didn't really see this sort of brilliant storytelling ideas in videogames and it’s a shame the story in Colony Wars Vengeance seems to have been largely forgotten.

Colony Wars is a hidden gem in the original Playstation library. The gameplay is showing some age, but it feels much fresher than its predecessor. The graphics and ship designs are generally appealing and the mission variety is some of the best you’ll find in a console space sim, all while being  complemented by gripping narrative. Unfortunately, some of the gripes from the previous game are still here and the overall difficulty level might turn off some. Still, if you can endure these issues, I recommend you pick this one up.

Trivia: Did you know the creators' original intention was to create a setting in which neither side was 'good' or 'evil' ? In the their own words they wanted to make a game that 'focused more on two factions that were forced together to fight over what remained of dwindling resources. There was no right or wrong, just two very hungry animals'

Trivia 2: According to an ex-employee at Psygnosis,all cutscenes were developed in just four weeks, must have been quite the crunch time.

Video Review:

- Engaging 'war is hell' story
- Graphical step up from its predecessor
- Greatly improved mission design
- Alternate path options were downgraded from the first game and may "forget" plot points
- Enemy capital ships rely on cheap shots
- Extreme difficulty may turn off some

Final Grade: B+

The cover looks nice and action packed, featuring two fighters dogfighting with an ominous presence in the background.

The manual features some very high quality paper by game manual standards and it fills you in on some backstory for both the settings and some of the characters, it also gives you a short description of every weapon and item which can be pretty useful.

Overall, not a bad packaging, it's not perfect by any means but it has enough content and is just flashy enough to warrant a second or even a third look.

Packaging Grade: B

Top 5 Retro Games With Sex Scenes

Sex scenes in modern games are a pretty common sight, but they were downright unthinkable of back in the 80s and 90s. Well, sometimes the unthinkable DOES happen and as a result, some seemingly family-friendly retro videogames sneak in a few sex scenes in their stories. 

This is why I created today's video, Top 5 Retro Games With Sex Scenes. I hope you'll enjoy:

Sonic The Hedgehog (Master System) Review

Developer: Ancient
Publisher: Sega

Text Review

Sonic the Hedgehog is one of gaming's greatest icons. Created in 1991 to compete with Mario, it put Sega on the map and helped popularize the Mega Drive / Genesis in the west. Yes, Sonic has been rather hit or miss lately, but he still has millions of fans and it's hard to overstate the series' impact in gaming.

The blue blur's debut was a strong one and a Master System port was launched only a few months after the release of its 16-bit older brother, though this time, it would be developed by Ancient instead of Sega.

Sonic follows the same basic plot and gameplay mechanics as its 16-bit counterpart, though several concessions had to be made to account for the weaker hardware, levels feature fewer enemies, destroying badnicks doesn't liberate cute forest animals and you can't recover any rings when hit. The latter drastically alters how the game flows, by not being able to recover lost rings, the difficulty spikes considerably when compared to other entries in the series. 

Worse still, even with all these features scaled back, the game still suffers greatly from slowdown issues. The framerate is in a near-constant state of flux, making precision jumping particularly difficult in some spots as controls quickly shift from responsive to sluggish. 

Sonic's trademark speed is also missing in this game, there are no loop de loops and the game seems intent on halting your progress through several artificial means. For example, Bridge Zone 2 is a forced scrolling stage, so speed simply isn't an option here while Jungle Zone 2 has the player slowly climb the level. Even when you do reach top speeds the game can purposely force Sonic to a halt in certain segments.

However, the game's greatest issue might just be its level design. One criticism I hear with the Game Gear ports of Sonic the Hedgehog, is that the view area is too small, giving the player little reaction time to dodge obstacles and hiding death pits from view. It's true the Master System's larger view screen minimized such issues, but this problem persists even with the larger resolution on the Master System. it seems every spring on path that boosts your speed is met with an obstacle that immediately grinds you to a halt, if not outright kill you, while other times you're required to take leaps of faith and hope Sonic lands on the correct spot.

Even the game's own rules aren't always consistent, on the aforementioned Jungle Zone 2, Sonic will die if he touches the screen's bottom edge, however, on every other level, the game would just scroll up or down accordingly. As a result, this is actually one of the toughest stages, as you're given no margin of error and any mistake means instant death.

As a rule of thumb, when playing this 8-bit port, the player simply has to forget that Sonic is about speed, and must instead either memorize levels or progress at a cautious pace. In fact, it seems the player was never intended to hit top speed in the first place; there's a spot in the first level where this is possible, but when it happens Sonic goes so fast that the game can't keep up and is unable to create enemies, rings or stage hazards in time, so you essentially spend the rest of level walking in a straight line until you reach the ending. Oddly enough, there seems to be some hit detection issues, especially with springs as they don't always register and sometimes Sonic will just go through them.

Now, I realize I'm being harsh on this game and truth be told, there are positives here, the graphics are bright and colorful and the music by Yuzo Koshiro of Streets of Rage 2 and Revenge of Shinobi fame is outstanding. So outstanding in fact that there are at least two theories of musicians stealing melodies from this game, the first being that Janet Jackson may or may not have stolen Bridge Zone's melody for Together Again, and the theory setting its sights on Australian group, Frente! who may or may not have sampled Jungle Zone's theme into their Accidentally Kelly Street song.

I also have to say Master System Sonic has more level variety than the Genesis / Mega Drive version. Not only do you have regular water stages like in the 16-bit version, but this port also features the aforementioned forced scrolling and climbing levels. Of note, is the fact that there are no mini-games to collect emeralds, instead they are scattered across the game's stages encouraging players to fully explore each level.

But worry not, there are still bonus stages for whenever you cross a goalpost with 50 rings collected. Here, the rotation effects are replaced with short spring-loaded levels where Sonic has to gather as many rings, lives and continues before time runs out. On some stages even flippers are added, reminiscent of the Casino Night Zone from Sonic 2, though this game predates it by a year.

In fact, it seems several ideas from this game would be later used in 16-bit Sonic games, such as Robotnik's final boss fight and Flying Fortress levels which seem eerily similar to their Sonic 2 incarnations, though the Flying Fortress stage also bears a striking resemblance to Bowser's Flying Airship in Super Mario 3.

Speaking of boss fights, most encounters with Robotnik are fairly basic and easy to overcome. However, questionable level design once again comes into play here as there are no rings to collect during these encounters. Again, it's not that the boss fights are difficult, the issue is that much like the Jungle Zone climbing stage, the player can't make any mistakes. At least you can minimize the issue by bringing a shield with you from the previous stage as the power-up carries over from previous levels, but even then this only grants you an extra hit.

I'm sad to say Sonic the Hedgehog for the Master System isn't up to standard with other series entries of the time. Seeing many of the classic stages recreated for a weaker system makes for a neat little curiosity which is helped further by the attractive graphics and great music. However, the constant slowdown, inconsistent world rules, increased difficulty and punishing level design drags the experience down. The sad part is, there was real potential here, many of these issues could have been fixed with light stage tweaking, but as it is, Sonic the Hedgehog may be a great 16-bit title, but only makes for an average 8-bit experience.

Trivia: There's a rumor that Janet Jackson's 'Together Again' uses Bridge Zone's theme. 

Trivia 2: An Australian group called Frente! is also often accused of sampling music from this game, though in this case it was Jungle Zone's theme which may or may not have been used in 'Accidentally Kelly Street'.

Video Review:

- Bright, colorful graphics
- Amazing soundtrack by Yuzo Koshiro
- The change in the ring mechanics completely changes the game's mechanics
- Lots of slowdown
- Questionable level design which needlessly punishes the player
- It's a Sonic game where speed is a liability

Final Score: C

Packaging Review:

I have to say, I like this cover much better than the Mega Drive one. Having some background color makes all the difference, something which is missing in the Euro version of Sonic the Hedgehog for the Mega Drive.

The manual is surprisingly decent as well. As always, this is a VCR-style booklet which shares only the faintest hints of a backstory, but at least we're treated to some nice concept art of most enemies. It's a shame all the screenshots and art are in blue and white, a full color manual would really have brought these designs to life.

Packaging Score: B-

Collecting for the Master System info and Game Recommendations

If you're thinking of collecting for the Master System, here's some pointers about the console and a handful of game recommendations to point you in the right direction.

The Bouncer

Developer: Squaresoft / DreamFactory
Publisher: Squaresoft / Sony Computer Entertainment

Text Review

Developing titles for a system that hasn't even launched is a challenge most developers tend to avoid, as often times the final specs aren't known yet and development software tends to be buggy or incomplete. Yet, often times, studios that take the risk receive their own reward in the form of a promotional boost and sales. With that said, launch titles tend to be hit-or-miss, with the latter being quickly forgotten as tight release schedules, new hardware and other complications often hamper what could have been a quality release.

Indeed, The Bouncer was a game which carried a lot of hype, the graphics looked stunning and it was being jointly developed by Squaresoft and DreamFactory, two developers with proven track records. However, when the game launched, it was quickly forgotten and hardly anyone mentions it today. I'm assuming the challenge of developing a launch title for the PS2 simply proved too great, because simply put, The Bouncer is not a good game.

The Bouncer is a 3D beat'em up, a genre which typically struggles when moving from sprite-based gameplay to a polygonal one. You control one of three bouncers rescuing a girl who was kidnapped by a multinational corporation.

All three characters feature different stats and moves, moreover, defeating enemies nets experience points which can be spent towards upgrading your health, attack, defense or learning new moves. The game even rewards players with multipliers for defeating several enemies in a quick succession. You can even save your upgrades onto a memory card for your next playthrough. 

Unfortunately, all of this is undone by one major flaw; The Bouncer is incredibly easy. Yes, you can learn new moves, but there's no point, you can defeat every enemy by spamming a three-punch combo. Even bosses are complete pushovers. Granted, the final boss requires you to at least defend yourself and occasionally dodge, but outside of a few defensive maneuvers, you can easily beat the game with all three characters by repeating the same attacks ad nauseam.

To make things worse, the game is incredibly slow-paced. Your characters move and run slowly, all of your attacks, basic or advanced, carry a build-up which drags the pace down even further. This issue affects all three fighters but it's downright unbearable when controlling Volt, who has the strongest attack, but somehow manages to control even more sluggishly than his peers.

One odd design flaw I came across is the low number of characters in any given area. Most levels feature a paltry three enemies to defeat before loading another long cutscene, fully healing you and bringing you to the menu screen. Not only that, but throughout most of the adventure, you have two friendly AI characters helping you out, and they're surprisingly useful at dispatching enemies and damaging bosses including the final boss. This means that at times, The Bouncer feels more like a one-on-one beat'em up rather than what you expect from a Streets of Rage, Final Fight or Golden Axe game.

I should also point out that whatever upgrades you add to your characters are persistent for both you and your A.I. controlled colleagues. So in essence, The Bouncer somehow manages to become even easier with each playthrough, it gets to a point where you don't even have to do anything as your team is so strong that they can handle most threats, including bosses by themselves. Technically, you can can perform special attacks using all three characters, but as mentioned before, you'll never need to actually use this and some bosses will even counterattack when performing said moves.

Now, one doesn't typically expect beat'em ups to heavily focus on the story or feature long cutscene, but this one does, but unfortunately, the plot and dialog is terrible. The narrative most likely stemmed from RPG-centric developer, Squaresoft, but for a studio so focused on storytelling, they really dropped the ball. 

The narrative idea is a solid one, depending on which character you choose between stages, the plot will alter slightly, some plot arcs for example can be left unresolved or may be properly addressed if you pick the right combination. The problem is that this interactivity can't save a poor story filled with stilted dialog, voice-acting that received little to no direction and characters whose intelligence is questionable.

Then of course, there's the fact that The Bouncer's constant barrage of cutscenes keep interrupting gameplay. As previously mentioned, most stages only have three enemies, which can take less than a minute to defeat, but upon doing so, you're then prompted to another 10 minute cutscene only to then fight another trio of foes. 

Even the game's graphics leave a lot to be desired. For some reason, the developers added several bloom and blur filters to gameplay portions. Perhaps this was done in an attempt to hide jagged edges, but all it does is make The Bouncer a visual blurry mess. 

I'm sad to say that The Bouncer is a mess. It carries a misguided focus on storytelling for a genre that is typically better without one. The action is slow, easy and does not require the player to master any moves. The graphics are dark and blurry often making it hard to see where you or your enemies and what little enjoyment there is to be had in its gameplay is constantly being interrupted by more cutscenes. If there is one silver lining in all of this, is that the game is mercifully short.

Trivia: The main character, Sion looks remarkable similar to Sora from Kingdom Hearts while Volt and Kou share similar traits to Zell from Final Fantasy 8. This is because all of these games featured the same character deisgner, Tetsuya Nomura.

Video Review

- Story branch idea is interesting
- The cutscenes look nice at least
- Gameplay is shallow, slow and easy
- The long cutscenes keep interrupting the gameplay
- Excessively blurry visuals

Final Score: D-

Packaging Review: 

I quite like the box art here, Sion is detailed and the use of colors does a good job at drawing in your eye. I will say the collar and necklace he's wearing look a little goofy, but that's just one of Tetsuya Nomura's tropes.

Although the manual feature the same cover art, the disc contains an entirely different image. This time, the blue background creates a nice juxtaposition with the manual's dark-red color scheme.

The manual though short in length is printed on a surprisingly high quality paper, not to mention it's in full color. Sadly, the manual barely has any content other than information on how to boot up the game and basic combos.

In a way, this packaging contains many similar faults to that of the game; all flash and no substance. But I can't deny that shiny packaging works better as a Playstation 2 box than it does as a game.

Packaging Score: B+