The End (sort of)

I’ve taken the decision to cease posting on this blog. My renewal for my site plan and domain name are due in a week’s time but I will be cancelling them. This is partly personal (I want to simplify and streamline my life, including online activities), partly because I don’t feel I am getting my money’s worth. The site plan + domain name cost just over £50 a year and, while that might not sound like much cash to worry about (it works out at less than £1 a week), it’s still a product that I’m paying for and not getting anywhere near the most out of. I simply don’t post enough.

“So post more frequently then,” I hear you say. I wish I could. However, I don’t feel as fired up about games and the videogame industry as I once did. My weekly play time is at an all-time low, I have no interest in the upcoming new generation of consoles (and the games which all look the same as what we have now), and I simply don’t have a lot to say. Don’t get me wrong, I DO still enjoy gaming and hopefully always will do, but I just don’t enjoy writing about games as much as I used to.

So is this The End? Not entirely. You see, I also have a second blog. It’s a bit different to this one as I tend to write about politics, self-improvement/development, current events etc. But I also review books and the odd movie. It’s a bit of everything with no real cohesion – suicide for a blog that wants to go somewhere I suppose, but I’m not doing it for the money or fame. Going forward, I will be posting any videogame-related thoughts on this other blog which you can find here. I want to continue blogging, but I would rather just manage (and pay for!) the one blog. I can sprinkle videogame-related content into my other jack-of-all-trades blog but I can’t post that stuff here.

I’m not asking that anybody follow that blog or migrate across. First of all, I’m not big-headed enough to consider Darkstalker90 Gaming any kind of internet success that people love to come back to. Secondly, I’m fully aware that the other topics that dominate Unfiltered Opinion won’t be of any interest to a lot of you.

All I’m saying is that it’s there and, if you still want to read any videogame reviews or associated thoughts from the muddy depths of my brain, that’s where they will be published from now on.

Cheers for the views, likes and comments that I’ve received here. I appreciate it.

Well THAT was epic

If you read my recent post regarding my thoughts on Yakuza 6, you might have been under the impression that I was speaking about the game from the perspective of somebody who’d actually completed it. Well, confession time: I hadn’t. But I have now. And what an ending it was too.

But this was more than just the conclusion of yet another Yakuza game: this was the finale of Kiryu Kazuma’s story – an epic, and emotional story that spanned seven main series entries, over a decade of Yakuza/Ryu Ga Gotoku releases (the first being the PS2 original which hit Japan in 2005), and an in-game timeline that began in the late 80’s with Yakuza 0. It’s fair to say that Kiryu went through a lot during that time. He’s been embroiled in countless Yakuza conflicts and shadow games involving corrupt officials, lost countless friends and loved ones to said conflicts, and been shot, stabbed and beaten more times than I’ve had hot dinners.

The Yakuza series has always been OTT, with characters that can survive a highly unrealistic quota of explosions and bullets, but there came a point where Kiryu’s tale simply became far-fetched, so I can understand why Sega decided that it was time to retire the Dragon of Dojima. Nevertheless, I wasn’t particularly happy about said decision when Kiryu and his allies have become much-loved staples of my personal gaming landscape. So this Yakuza 6 ending NEEDED to be pretty good.

[Spoilers ahead, obviously]

Continue reading “Well THAT was epic”

April 2020 Updates: Reviews, New Content and What I’m Playing

I don’t like to make these sorts of update posts. For one, if I’m going to spend time typing something up for this blog, then I want it to be real content, such as a review or discussion piece.

Secondly, I don’t have a big enough ego to believe that the internet cares about what I’m doing. This blog has about fifty followers and, while I certainly appreciate any views and the odd comment, I’m a realist. Fifty followers isn’t even a grain of sand in the blogging world.

Yet here I am, doing what I just said I don’t want to do.

So why, then? Well, I’m on a small roll here, having put out two mini-reviews over the past few days. I want to keep that ball rolling. New reviews are in the works and I want to get back to doing some more in-depth discussion things. The irony is that this sudden spurt of motivation isn’t even linked to me being stuck indoors due to the big, bad C-Virus. My job means that I will still be going to work full-time unless a) I fall ill or b) my workplace shuts down, which is – fortunately – unlikely given that I work in the food distribution industry.

Once the day job is done and dusted however, I can get back to enriching the internet with entirely unnecessary reviews of games like this:

DSC_0122

Yes, I decided that Dead or Alive Xtreme 3‘s sunny beaches, chilled music and bodacious babes would be the perfect antidote to all the misery and worry gripping the planet right now. Was I right though? You’ll find out in the upcoming review which is currently baking in the oven. I probably could have had the review finished by now but I had a lot to say about Xtreme 3 and the resulting review should be reasonably meaty.

I’ve also been on a retro kick, specifically a Playstation one as you will already be aware of if you’ve checked out the previous two mini-reviews on this blog. I’ve dug out another old favourite which has stolen a lot of my gaming time in recent weeks:

DSC_0123

Expect a review of this too, once I’m done perving on digital girls with improbable proportions, that is. Priorities and all that.

Elsewhere, I’m continuing my Yakuza marathon with Kiwami 2 – the most excellent remake to my favourite game from the entire series (Yakuza 2, duh). As ever, I was aiming for that sweet 100% completion and, again – as ever – it’s looking unlikely since I absolutely cannot be arsed with the Japanese gambling games. Even the casino has been making me angry. Several hours of trying to win 1000 chips in one sitting to satisfy Haruka’s request has that sort of effect on you. Still, you don’t need that 100% rating or a platinum trophy in your virtual cabinet to enjoy one of the best story-driven series’ of modern times.

Finally, I’ve been dipping in and out of Soulcalibur VI again, especially since I paid up for the second season pass after months of putting it off. So I now have access to Hilde (who actually looks awesome to play as) and her stage, which has such good music that I don’t even feel the need to swap it out with a classic BGM from one of the earlier games in the series’. As a bonus, it looks like I’ve bought in to Season 2 just as Samurai Shodown‘s Haohmaru is about to be added, along with some new creation bits.

tl;dr: expect DOA Xtreme 3 and Destruction Derby Raw reviews very soon and (hopefully) some new discussions/articles.

Most importantly: stay safe, stay sensible and look after each other.

 

My 2019 in Gaming inc. my GOTY

Yes, posts have trailed off here on Darkstalker90 Gaming but that doesn’t mean that I haven’t still being playing videogames. I’ve just been spending less time with them, and have had even less time to write about playing them. But I thought it would be a wasted opportunity NOT to look back at this year and the games I’ve played.

First of all, this might be first year that I’ve not played a single new release. Everything that I’ve spent time with or completed has been pre-2019. On the flipside, I’ve also not spent much time at all with retro games. 2019 has been about catching up on my backlog and playing stuff from recent years that I just hadn’t gotten around to until now.

My list of completed games looks like this (links to my reviews where available):

So, not very many then but that’s an accurate reflection of the sort of year I’ve had: not many games completed and most of those that were finished took me ages to get through, purely due to a lack of time and, in some cases, motivation. I can’t lie: I did fall out of love with gaming at several points in 2019 and simply couldn’t be bothered with it.

spyro-1

But what I did play, I really enjoyed. Spyro Reignited Trilogy and Crash Bandicoot N Sane Trilogy were two mighty fine remasters that I heaped praise upon. Spyro Reignited in particular impressed me no end. The Spyro games were, after all, some of my absolute favourites of all-time so I was concerned that the Reignited Trilogy might do too much meddling and piss all over my happy late-90’s memories. I needn’t have worried though. Yes, there were some unforgivable glitches and, yes, there were a few small alterations to pander to our overly-sensitive modern society, but otherwise this was how you remaster games.

I’m very much looking forward to getting around to the Crash Team Racing and Medievil remakes in 2020 when I finally pick them up. Hopefully, the positivity can continue (I haven’t read any reviews of either and I’ve mostly avoided gameplay videos).

Finishing Yakuza 5 after starting it years ago (literally!) felt like an almighty relief. I’m a completionist you see, and Yakuza 5 is possibly the most bloated of all the games in terms of 100% completion requirements. In the end, I had to just give up and complete the main game to get it out of the way but I did achieve well above 90% completion. I never did manage to catch that damn Ito fish nor beat the toughest difficulty of Winter Combat, though. As for the Japanese gambling minigames? I’ve decided that I’m never going to bother with these, even if it does mean forfeiting 100% completion in all Yakuza games going forward.

yak0-1
[Image Source]
There was more Yakuza to come in 2019, however. After a little break, I decided to get into the PS4 generation of games and play Yakuza 0/Zero. What a game this was! First up, there was still a lot to do but Zero was nowhere near as vast as Yakuza 5 so it was definitely a less intimidating challenge. Again, I skipped the gambling games and just went for my own custom “100%” completion and did manage to complete everything else. The storyline – set in the 80’s bubble of real estate and excess – was fantastic and really helped flesh out the events of the Yakuza canon prior to the original game. The combat was much improved too with a selection of different fighting styles to master. All in all, Yakuza Zero was more of the same but, paradoxically, felt incredibly fresh, despite it being the sixth installment in the series that I have played. It’s a true testament to the quality and consistency of these games that I can play what is essentially the same thing for well over a decade and still be utterly absorbed by the experience.

So I give my Game of the Year award to Yakuza 0.

2019 was also the year in which I reacquainted myself with Platinum and their signature brand of off-the-wall, crazy action games. I started by replaying Anarchy Reigns (PS3) and finding – much to my pleasure – that I enjoyed it a lot more the second time around and, despite the many flaws, I was able to appreciate it for what it was. I then moved on to the Bayonetta games. Yes, I was well behind on playing these but that didn’t detract from the experience. The first game, for example, blew me away with its amazing style and challenging gameplay. The sequel was more of the same but not quite as impactful in my opinion. It was much more sedate near the beginning and, on the default difficulty, I didn’t die a single time, rarely having to dip into my swollen stash of health-restoring items. That said, I still got a lot out of Bayonetta 2 and, in a way, the lesser challenge allowed me to enjoy experimenting in battle a bit more. Overall though, I believe that the original is still the best.

Aside from games that I can actually say that I completed, I also put a lot of time into two fighting games this year: Soulcalibur VI and Street Fighter V. I won’t go into great depth about either here (because I’ve done enough of that this year on this blog) but suffice to say, I have really enjoyed both. Street Fighter V was a game that initially didn’t sit well with me at all and, while there are still numerous elements that I will likely never accept, I gave the game a second chance and did at last gel with it in terms of gameplay.

SCVI-Cass-1
I have put a considerable amount of time into gittin’ gud with Sophitia’s sister, Cassandra, since she was added to the game via DLC.

Soulcalibur VI, meanwhile, has retained its crown as my favourite fighting game of the current generation (out of those I have actually played of course…). The DLC has never failed to please me and the gameplay itself is just so much better for feeling closer to SCII/SCIII than the deflating SCV. The support shows no signs of slowing down either with a second season of DLC right around the corner kicking off with Samurai Shodown‘s Haohmaru, SCIV veteran Hilde, new moves and more customisation items. I can’t wait.

In closing, I won’t make any resolutions or promises for 2020 because I know that I likely won’t stick to them. However, I feel that I played far more games this year that I enjoyed as opposed to games that I didn’t, so if I can have a similar strike rate for next year then that would be enough for me.

CEX really stinks

It’s very rare these days that I will make the effort to visit a physical brick ‘n mortar videogame retailer. I won’t go into the reasons in this post because I think there is potential for a follow-up post dedicated solely to the decline of videogame stores. If I DO decide that I want to shop for games outside of the internet however, then there aren’t many options available here in the UK. First up, I don’t know of any independent game stores in my town (or the surrounding towns for that matter). So that leaves me with either GAME or CEX.

GAME is the most well-known videogame retailer in the UK and I can honestly say that I have no love for the company or the shopping experience there. GAME absorbed the (much cooler) Gamestation brand then binned it altogether when the group almost collapsed several years ago. That was strike one. Strike two is awarded for the sterile store interiors that dedicate half of their space to gaming merch, trading cards and Amiibo-style toys/figures. GAME also receive a third strike from me for how it’s all about the new shit. They used to keep retro games and pre-owned software from previous generations around for quite a while for example but it gets eliminated sharpish these days. This is all understandable from a marketing point of view of course but it does mean that I often leave a GAME store with nothing to show for my visit. If you are a mommy and just want to buy the latest Call of Duty or FIFA for little Timmy’s Xbox One then GAME is perfect. For gamers with a more niche and varied taste that doesn’t necessary depend on cutting-edge hardware, it’s not so interesting.

cexlogo-1

CEX on the other hand carry a wider variety of used videogame stock. They have cabinets of retro games/consoles as well as shelf space for the PS2/Xbox/Gamecube generation and everything that has happened since. So it should be the perfect antidote to GAME…right? Well, not really.

Now, I don’t know if CEX operate anywhere outside of the UK (I have heard that Australia have CEX?) in which case, y’all might be wondering just what the hell I’m talking about. Familiarity with the brand doesn’t matter in this instance though because I’m going to list all of the reasons why CEX is such a horrible shop to peruse and these reasons should resonate with everybody.

The stores stink

A CEX isn’t a CEX without some sort of nasty, nose-wrinkling odour permeating the interior of the store. The strange thing is that every CEX – no matter where you are in the country – smells terrible. Imagine a stale, sweaty, hot fragrance sometimes infused with undertones of shit and that’s what a typical CEX smells like. Honestly, it’s enough to make you evacuate the place after just a few minutes. Bleugh.

The other customers

I’m not sitting here and acting all elitist as if I’m a member of a superior master race but I certainly don’t believe that I’m “just as bad” as the typical CEX customer. Whether it’s shifty-looking individuals eyeing up used smartphones in the glass cabinets or snotty, rude kids clogging up the aisles, your fellow CEX customer isn’t a pleasant sight. Then there are “those” shoppers…the huge blokes with unkept long/afro hair wearing oversized camo-pattern jackets and enormous backpacks, taking up all of the space. Finally, the last time I visited a CEX, some guy pushed past behind me and the lingering smell of pure shit that he left in his wake forced me to leave at once. The smell was so bad that I wanted to gag. True story.

The prices

A double-edged sword this one. Sometimes, you will find a game in CEX that is so underpriced that you break into a huge grin once you’ve successfully purchased it and left the shop. One such instance occured when my sister found a Professor Layton title for the DS marked up at £6 back when each game was averaging £20 used due to their popularity. These are rare occasions however. Anything retro or from the PS2 generation is often priced according to the higher end of the “what it sells for on ebay” scale. Yeah, you won’t exactly be getting ripped-off but it’s no bargain either, especially when the manuals are often missing or the cases dirty. The proper retro stuff in the “high end” glass cabinets are the worst offenders though. You will find cardboard-boxed games in beaten-to-hell condition for the top-end price that you’d expect to pay on ebay for a copy in nice shape. Consoles are often overpriced and in filthy, scratched-up conditions as well. Also, CEX’s definition of “mint condition” is best described as ‘loose’. If “mint” means a battered-up case and missing instructions then I’d hate to know what a “bad” condition game looks like…

The condition of the stock

If you are after games that look as if they have been shat on or unearthered from a Jurassic-era bog then CEX’s shelves may have what you seek. DVD-style cases that look as if dogs have chewed on them are another common sight. Will such horrible items come with bargain-bin prices though? LOL – get out of here with that common-sense thinking!

Trade-in hypocrisy

The biggest mystery surrounding games in such despicable states (as described above) is this: how did they come to be a part of CEX’s inventory in the first place? “Well, maybe they are super loose on condition when trading in”, you might be thinking. Funny that because anybody I know who has traded games in at CEX will tell the same story: they scrutinise the condition of discs and reject badly scratched games or dirty items. This is how it SHOULD be as it is in the interests of the consumer AND the business to have good condition stock on the shelves. It is a mind-boggling contradiction then when you see games on their shelves that are only fit for the bin. Attempt to make any sense of this and you will likely look like

whymeme-1

Lack of professionalism

Look, I know that CEX is just a crappy retail job that probably pays low and will therefore not attract professionals. That said, the CEX staff often don’t inspire any confidence at all. I have dealt with polite and decent guys/gals in a CEX before but often, the people behind the counter are dopey, lazy and more interested in continuing private conversations than serving you promptly and professionally. I don’t need to see a college kid flirting with the pretty emo/goth/punk girl to his right. I don’t want to see staff spinning my games around casually or bitching loudly when they can’t find a disc or can’t pronounce the name (if it’s something Japanese and weird). And why do they work with battered-up laptops instead of proper till systems? Why are the card machines hidden under the counter like a guilty secret?

So that’s why I really don’t like shopping with CEX. If my standards seem too high then please, feel free to berate me in the comments section below…

My Playlist for April-May 2019

We’re only five months into 2019 but I can already say that this has been my most barren year for gaming so far. Not a great thing to publicise on a gaming blog, huh? Well, a combination of things has stunted my gaming enthusiasm:

  • Being stuck on ‘big’ games for too long
  • Less available time than before
  • A general lack of desire

With that said, I have still managed to get my game on during April and May and play a few things…

Dead or Alive 5: Last Round (PS4)

doa6-1Earlier in the year, I posted about why DOA5 was such a great fighting game in my opinion. With the arrival of DOA6, I decided to get back into its immediate predecessor again. There are a few aspects of 6 that I’m not overly happy about hence why I haven’t purchased a copy yet. That and the fact that I didn’t ever get the most out of DOA5 despite playing all of its revisions. I tend to stick with Ayane and a few other characters for the most part so there is still a lot for me to get from the game which is why I wanted to get back into playing it. I think, as a gamer, you just KNOW when you haven’t mentally finished with a game and this is certainly the case with me and Last Round.

Soulcalibur VI (PS4)

SCVI-1

Fighting games have always been my favourite genre but I seem to have fallen behind lately. Thankfully, the wonderful Soulcalibur VI has reignited my passion for fighting games and even though I haven’t sat down with a controller nearly as much this year, this is probably the one game that has hooked me enough to lose track of time on numerous occasions. To tell you the truth, I’m still in shock at how good this game is and how we came from the awful Soulcalibur V to this, a sequel which is right up there with SCII and SCIII for me. Every time I take a bit of a break, Namco drop some more DLC for the game that gets me all excited again and makes me feel the way I did earlier in my gaming life when I wasn’t so jaded. I love creating characters for example and Namco keeps adding new customisation parts that encourage me to make more new characters and go back to my older ones to update them. Oh and as of typing this, they just added in the OSTs from SCII and III to customise the game with! SCVI has pretty decent music in fairness but II and III were the high points for me so this was AMAZING.

Metal Slug Anthology (PSP)

MS3-1

Last month I decided to charge up and use my handhelds just to look after the batteries. What I didn’t expect was to end up playing a fair bit of Metal Slug Anthology on the PSP, a game that I sold a long time ago but had had the foresight to retain on my custom firmware-enabled memory stick. Of course, you can’t just have a “quick go” on a Metal Slug game; they are addictive and it just doesn’t work that way! So I ended up playing all of the games and reviewing the compilation. What I re-learnt was that the classics don’t age and neither does Nazca’s mind-blowing art style. I adore these games and playing them granted me a strong hit of love for videogames in general.

Yakuza 5 (PS3)

yak5-1

This was the “big” game that was bogging me down and had been for over a YEAR now. Yakuza is one of my most cherished videogame series’ and so it must be stressed that I wasn’t burnt out on it and I hadn’t had enough. The problem was that I had decided to go for 100% on Yakuza 5 which turned out to be a bad decision. Eventually (for my own sanity) I had to turn back and be satisfied with 95% completion. So I finally, FINALLY completed the game after 170 HOURS of playtime. Fucking hell; how did that happen? All the wandering around, fighting and trying to get the 100% I guess. This is easily the hardest game in the series to 100% in my experience and so I don’t feel too bad about abandoning my quest as much as it hurts the obsessive part of me. I don’t enjoy or understand the Japanese gambling games, the Ito fish is impossible to catch (seriously, fuck that fish – it doesn’t exist!) and the hardest level of Winter Combat is something I ran out of SOUL to continue attempting. It was a superb game though and it’s a shame that it was a digital-only release here in the West as my Yakuza shelf looks incomplete without a box showing the number ‘5’ on the spine. I have Yakuza 0, Kiwami and 6 all ready to play on the PS4 (still need to pick up Kiwami 2…) but I think I will take a bit of a break from the series to avoid burnout.

3D Streets of Rage 2 (3DS)

SOR-2

As part of charging up my handhelds, I played this again on my 3DS since I have very few retail games left in my collection and have nothing new to play. This is no bad thing however as Streets of Rage 2 is one of my all-time favourite games and a masterpiece of design. These days I tend to stick with the mighty SoR Remake on PC but there’s still something nice about going ‘pure’ and playing the second game as it was intended. M2 did a sterling job with the 3DS port and all the lovely options/settings it comes with and so I always have a blast coming back to SoR2. As with Metal Slug, games like this make me feel happy without even trying. I can’t wait for SoR4

Crash Bandicoot N. Sane Trilogy (PS4)

crash-1

This has been sat on my shelf since Christmas and I’ve only just taken the wrapping off the box. I’ve played Activision’s remasters in the “wrong” order and completed the Spyro Reignited Trilogy right after receiving it (also a Christmas gift) but then I got distracted by other games and the mountain that was Yakuza 5 so Crash got neglected. Spyro was always one of my Playstation favourites though so those remasters were ALWAYS going to get played first. I finally got stuck into the N.Sane Trilogy yesterday and so far, so good. I’ve aways considered the original Crash Bandicoot to be the trickiest of the original trilogy with a more merciless level design that holds little room for error and I’m not finding it much easier this time around. That’s probably because the OG game was tight and short of dumbing down the game and level design, there wasn’t anything else that could be done. I’m glad that they didn’t meddle however because otherwise, I simply wouldn’t be interested in these remasters. It’s nice to be playing these games again in lovely PS4-o-vision but at the same time, I’m feeling a bit ‘meh’ about revisiting the original Crash Bandicoot. Don’t get me wrong, I still adore it but I feel like I’m going through the motions. It probably doesn’t help that I downloaded the first game on my PSVita not that long ago so the game is still relatively fresh in my head. Still, it’s fun enough and the 90’s PS1 fanboy in me is enjoying the nostalgia hit. I played these games when they were new back then and I can’t understand where the time went!

That brings me up-to-date with my gaming situation so far in 2019. I plan to take a break from the bigger, more time-consuming stuff for a while now so that I can focus on having a greater variety of gaming experiences rather than slogging away at the same few games for an eternity.

Review – Marvel Nemesis: Rise of the Imperfects [Playstation 2]

mnem1Release Date: 2005   |   Developer: Nihilistic Software   |   Publisher: EA Games   |   Also On: Xbox, Gamecube, PSP, Nintendo DS

Gather ye round, little ones and listen to this old man’s tale. Once upon a time there was a fantastic wonderland known as 90’s Gaming. It was a time of great change, innovation and colourful arcade games that made everybody go deaf and blind such were the booming audio and bright visuals. Today, we live in a second gaming wonderland with access to all of the old goodies plus huge, immersive experiences that previous generations of gamers could only fantasise about. But in between these two ages there was a dark age. It was a time when everything had to be moody, brown and uber-violent to pander to the teenage boys locked in bedrooms with closed curtains and crusted, very soiled socks hidden beneath beds. Games had to be brutal and gangsta and feature women with enormous breasts and blank, “sexy” expressions. Because reasons.

And games that had no reason to get serious were affected too. If – like me – you were a massive fan of the magnificence that was Marvel Vs Capcom 2 then you could have been forgiven for feeling the hype when EA announced Marvel Nemesis: Rise of the Imperfects. After all, it was a 3D Marvel fighting game backed by the might of EA. It was going to be huge! Holy shit! And it was huge…a huge fucking disappointment that has been lost to the mists of time. Nobody talks about it and very few remember it. here’s why…

Devoid of imagination

For some reason, I had always assumed that Marvel Nemesis was a 3D fighting game but no, I’m an idiot. It’s a 3D action game where you move about arenas/stages defeating enemies in a beat ‘em up fashion. The game’s story mode opens with The Thing walking along a bridge when aliens suddenly attack New York City. Your job in this first stage of the game is to defeat all the enemies on the bridge, punch through some blockades and that’s it. The next stage demands that you defeat all enemies on the streets. The third stage is back to the bridge again with the task of (guess what?) defeating all enemies. Okay, there’s a time limit this time but it isn’t anything taxing. Then it’s back to the streets again to…you get the idea. These opening stages with The Thing really show you what Marvel Nemesis is about. All of the stages in the game are essentially identical. Some have time limits or other conditions including handicapped health but the underlying requirement is always to beat all enemies or destroy a certain number of objects. The level descriptions sometimes almost attempt to disguise this mundane exercise but others can’t be bothered and simply state “Spiderman must defeat all enemies!” or “Daredevil must defeat all enemies!”

There’s nothing inherently wrong with this set-up because – as you may be eager to point out – even the classics such as Final Fight have the same paper-thin game structure. The PS2 has its own collection of competent 3D beat ’em ups such as Urban Reign and Beatdown: Fists of Vengeance so the formula could still work back in the mid-00’s. It has to be interesting to play though and aesthetically appealing on some level. Marvel Nemesis could only dream of being these things.

mnem-2
Spiderman vs some bloke that nobody cares about. With added brown for that gritty effect.

There’s very little challenge for example with most of these ‘missions’ finished in a matter of minutes. Honestly, I felt like I was looking at loading and saving screens more than I was playing the game. Some of the missions are just plain embarrassing too such as the one where Wolverine must “navigate the traps in the Avengers mansion and defeat all enemies”. This translates to bypassing one set of security lasers then clearing a single room of enemies. Big mansion, huh? The character bios in the manual make mention of the ‘New Avengers’ so why the hell is the Avengers mansion even here? Anybody who reads Marvel comics knows that the mansion was destroyed before the New Avengers were formed. Obviously I’m nitpicking on a dangerously nerdy level here but that’s what happens when you play Marvel Nemesis; you get so bloody bored that your brain exits stage left and goes for a wander.

The graphics do a supreme job of reflecting your mood when playing this game. Everything is dark, muddy and desperately dull in a game world that barely manages to look much better than a PS1 title. The music is similarly complementary in that beautifully forgettable ‘stock music’ fashion. The soundtrack isn’t criminal but you won’t remember it thirty seconds after shutting the game off. I’ll let you decide whether that’s a positive thing or a big fat neg.

You’d expect the controls to be rotten as well wouldn’t you? Well you’re wrong! Shockingly, the controls are actually functional here; one analogue stick controls movement while the other offers generous manipulation of a reasonably compliant camera. You have buttons for attacking, blocking, grabbing/throwing and jumping so there’s very little to get wrong. Holding R1 while attacking allows for some more powerful moves (such as Storm’s lightning or Daredevil’s club) while doing the same with L1 allows for bigger jumps or some characters i.e. Human Torch and Spiderman to fly or swing.

Complimenting the controls is like trying to apply a tiny plaster to a massive, gaping wound that is gushing blood from a main artery however.

Marvel Nemesis shouts about having fully destructible environments but this really boils down to having arenas littered with projectiles such as cars, furniture and oil drums. As suspiciously numerous and carelessly abandoned as these drums are, they swiftly become your best friend in the whole wide world because most tight spots and boss battles can be negotiated by simply spamming drums and throwing them for big explosions – a tactic that remains effective no matter how far you get into the game. Stand in the wrong place when an enemy is throwing a drum though and you can instantly lose over half of your energy in one massive blast when getting caught in a chain reaction of exploding drums and cars. Well, you gotta take the rough with the smooth. Swings and roundabouts and all that.

mnem3
Surely this cannot be visually appealing to anybody?

I said that the game is really easy but there are ways for your ass to be handed to you in no time at all, the aforementioned random explosions for example. Like all poor 3D beat ‘em ups though, you can also get caught between multiple enemies and trapped in a loop of hits that will leave your character with hardly any health. Boss fights too swing from pathetically easy to being extremely cheap. The boss battle against Storm for example saw me getting hit by a bolt of lightning before I had the chance to move then stuck in a cycle of follow-up hits, leaving me with no energy and open to a finishing move in seconds. After many copy/paste starts to the battle, I finally won by jumping around and…throwing oil drums…sigh. The only way to overcome some of these battles is to fight fire with fire and be cheap by abusing oil drums or ranged attacks. Other times I have witnessed boss battles end instantly thanks to the opponent graciously walking themselves off the edge of the stage and to a ring-out defeat.

With the gameplay confirmed as tedius, poorly designed and possessed of stupid difficulty spikes and a severe lack of fun, what about the playable characters? You need to remember that Marvel Nemesis was released in the mid-2000’s so the roster is a good reflection of the pre-MCU era of Marvel cinema and who was popular as a result. There’s Spiderman (complete with Tobey Maguire era costume), Daredevil, Elektra, Iron Man, Wolverine, Storm and Magneto to name a handful. There really isn’t much more to say but I can’t avoid discussing Elektra.

For some reason, Elektra is the only character to have been given a visual revamp by EA and her new outfit looks like a bra/thong set from a racy lingerie catalogue with the red trousers from the crappy Jennifer Garner Elektra film thrown in for good measure. Oh and a spiked gothic choker. She looks nothing like Elektra should other than being garbed in red and her model is just plain fugly. All of her attacks seem to be accompanied by sexual moans and groans and even sans super-powers Elektra can still rip parking meters out of the ground and smack enemies about with them. Who needs the Thing?

Worse still however are the ‘Imperfects’, the foes of the game. The Imperfects are humans modified with extraterrestrial technology by the game’s alien villain so that they can do battle with Marvel’s finest and capture them for their powers (it’s a really crap storyline) but EA’s villains receive no injection of originality and appear to ape the powers of existing Marvel characters. Can you guess what sort of superpowers the likes of Solara, Fault Zone and Johnny Ohm (good grief!) have at their disposal? Asking these characters to stand next to Marvel characters is like you or me going back in time to when Arnold Shwarzenegger was still on the body building circuit and being asked to compete on-stage next to him. It would be a competitive massacre and the same applies here in Marvel Nemesis. I think I can say that Stan Lee didn’t lose sleep over being beaten to creating Johnny Ohm.

Conclusions

In hindsight, this game had all the ingredients of a disaster but we were naïve and could not have known that Marvel Vs Capcom 2 would remain the definitive use of the Marvel license until Capcom came riding in to save us in 2011 with MvC3. Likewise, it’s only now that we can look back on EA’s mid-2000’s output and realise just how many shoddy movie tie-ins, licensed trollop and relentless yearly updates their logo ended up being slapped on. If I had paid £40 for Marvel Nemesis: Rise of the Imperfects then I would have been absolutely devastated. Thankfully, I chose other games back in 2005. Aside from functional controls and the almost perverse desire to go back in time and experience shit games, I can’t come up with any other legitimate reasons to recommend Rise of the Imperfects. If anything, it shows just how far Marvel has come and you can’t imagine that precious money-printing license being permitted to associate with garbage like this game in the same way that films like the 2003 Hulk or Jennifer Garner Elektra would never happen in 2019.

Summary

The controls work at least

Repetitive, non-imaginative gameplay

Miserable visuals and forgettable music

Original characters are unispired and uninteresting

Random cheap deaths and chaotic gameplay

 

 

Atari Retro Handheld Review

Things that have aged well: The Jaguar E-Type, malt whiskeys, Anthea Turner.

Things that have NOT aged well: The UK’s post-apocalyptic road surfaces, casual racism, many, many Atari 2600 games.

Now you might be considering me a blasphemous fool if you worship the altar of Atari. You might even consider me an unqualified fool who “wasn’t there” when I drop a further bombshell and remind you that I was born in 1990 and so don’t have any first-hand experience of 2600 (or VCS) gaming to fall back on. Thing is though, despite starting my gaming journey with Sega’s Mega Drive, I’m not the sort of gamer to instantly dismiss older stuff from the 70’s/80’s based on it’s age. After all, without the flashy graphics and sophisticated technology that came later, games from this era had to rely on raw gameplay and that crack-like “just one more go” pull to get arcade goers to part with their coins and – subsequently – their folding paper money for home versions.

In short, I have big respect for the past and am always prepared to give something a go which is why I have been playing on this ‘Retro Handheld Console’ by Blaze featuring fifty Atari games. The problem is that the box craftily refers to the built-in titles as simply “Atari games” which might lead you into expecting the presence of some arcade classics. These are 2600 games though and without the benefit of rose-tinted vision, I struggled to muster up the enthusiasm to play many of these for an extended period of time. 2600 conversions were undoubtedly a big deal back in the day and the height of what a gamer could reasonably expect given the host hardware but in 2019, I have to say that most of what is on this handheld device is simply no fun to spend time with.

I will return to my gripes with the games in a moment. First though, I want to have a quick look at the device itself.

Atari1

I really like the design. The faux wood effect and grooved black plastic are a nice throwback to the 1977 original and if the Atari logo was to be removed, there would still be no doubt as to what this is. It’s such an iconic and nostalgic look. Furthermore, the red buttons are immediately reminiscent of the single red button featured on the famous 2600 joystick. Happily, the build quality on this thing does actually feel quite solid. It’s sturdy and the buttons don’t feel too cheap. The handheld takes four AAA batteries and comes with a standard headphone jack as well as an AV-Out port on the top edge.

My only criticisms of the hardware itself is the small screen (initially difficult to adjust to after years of huge, high quality smartphone and handheld console displays) and the fact that the sound isn’t that beefy through the headphones even with the volume wheel spun up to the max. I wanna hear those awesome Atari explosions damn it!

On the whole though, I was impressed with the overall finish and sturdiness of the handheld. As many retro gamers will be aware, a lot of these devices are hit-and-miss when it comes to construction quality and Blaze themselves have put their name to some poor efforts in the past. Not so here though – it’s a firm thumbs-up from me. I just wish that some kind of instructions came in the box because as it is, you are directed to an online site for the manual. The console doesn’t have built-in instructions for the games so some are pretty much impossible to fathom out without directions.

Let’s get back to those pesky games though and the first big issue: the lack of any third-party games. There’s none of Activision’s enduring classics present on the device for example and things get worse when you realise that a great many other essential games (third AND first party) don’t feature. Games such as Ms Pacman, Berzerk, Kaboom, Battlezone, Defender II and Jungle Hunt would have made this device a nice little pick-up-and-play distraction for example. Instead, the list of games is padded out with filler crap such as Fun With Numbers, 3D Tic-Tac-Toe, Video Checkers and a collection of hopelessly antiquated sports titles…the usual stuff that has been wasting space on Atari Flashback devices for years.

FwN-1
Isn’t it about time that this ‘game’ stopped appearing on Atari compilations and retro gadgets?

There are a few redundant and unenjoyable ports such as Tempest and also some extremely abstract role-playing games like Adventure and the Swordquest series – games that were fun back when you had no choice but to use your imagination while moving simplistic squares about but not so much in 2019. If you were there when these games were new however then you might be able to extract some nostalgia-fuelled enjoyment from them. Additionally, there are several games on the handheld that make no sense in the single-player environment such as Air-Sea Battle (ignore the second gun and play with yourself) and Pong. Playing Pong alone against the computer is a bleak experience that could well send you down a nihilistic route in life.

So are there any games worth buying the device for? Obviously there is an element of personal taste involved (as with anything in the field of entertainment) but these are the games – based on previous experience as well as with this device – that I will definitely be giving more attention to:

  • Asteroids
  • Gravitar
  • Crystal Castles
  • Millipede
  • Missile Command
  • Off The Wall
  • Radar Lock
  • Yar’s Revenge

Eight games out of fifty isn’t what I would consider a strong strike ratio however. Granted, I have eliminated the rest based on the fact that I personally have no nostalgia for the games or because I genuinely believe that they are creaky and no fun to play. If you grew up with the 2600/VCS then I would implore you to check out the full game list because this handheld may well speak to you a little more than it did to me. For younger gamers or Atari virgins however, I can’t recommend this product.

missilecommand2600-1
Missile Command is a classic that plays well for a 2600 conversion but this device needed more games of this quality to qualify as an essential purchase.

You want to be playing the arcade versions of games like Tempest and seeing what the 2600 was really capable of by digging into the Activision support, not playing Pong by your lonesome or something like Video Chess. The problem is that far stronger compilations of games have been released across various consoles over the last fifteen years or so. Emulation is also a thing as is Activision Hits Remixed for the PSP.

I wanted to like this because the device itself is pretty cool and surprisingly well put together but it could have been so much better. If you can find one dirt cheap or you receive it as a gift (like I did) then sure but otherwise, it’s just another underwhelming retro device that doesn’t stand out for any reason.

Is there an SJW agenda in videogames?

For this discussion topic (more like a random brain-fart born of the sludge in my mind), I’m going to have to rewind a bit to last year (2018) since this was an idea I had back then but – for one reason or another – didn’t get around to writing about.  First of all, I have to admit that the title for this post might be a bit too sweeping and broad because I’m only really going to be talking about sexual imagery. I just didn’t how else to head it up.

Anyway, Streets of Rage 4 was announced last year much to the uncontained joy of old-school gamers and Sega fans the world over. Opinion was split on the visual style and whether or not the game looked like a worthy successor but I noticed that there was one specific aspect of the reveal trailer that received comments of a consistent theme…

SoR4-Blaze-gif
[gif: benfiquet.com]
That’s right. People seemed more satisfied with the fact that Blaze Fielding had retained her infamous, sexy look. Forget the game itself – fuck that triviality. All that matters is that Blaze is still rocking a highly impractical short skirt + boob tube combo. Let’s not forget those glorious “thicc” thighs and bouncy, poorly-harnessed breasts either. Twenty-four years may have passed since Streets of Rage 3 but Ms. Fielding is still a fox. The comments section on the Youtube video for the trailer was particularly interesting with many praising the retention and enhancing of Blaze’s original design rather than toning her sexuality down to appease the SJW brigade and their perceived attack on videogame design.

Capture

The above is just a tiny snapshot. There were twenty-seven replies alone in just this one stack for example. Disregarding the presumptuous and angry language used in many of the comments, there was a clear indication that there is a division of gamers that feel their hobby is under attack by SJW types and those with political-correctness on their mind(s). These are just the reactions to one game however. Across the internet, I have been reading exasperated comments from fans of all kinds of games who are subscribing to the idea that social do-gooders are working to remove the sexuality from female characters and leave a political imprint on escapist entertainment.

A few other examples that have fanned the flames of dissent in recent years:

  • Nintendo censoring cleavage and blurring out upskirt shots in Tokyo Mirage Sessions #FE (Wii-U)
  • Nintendo (again…) removing unlockable lingerie outfits from Project Zero: Maiden of Black Water (Wii-U)
  • Capcom fiddling camera angles in Street Fighter V to conceal Rainbow Mika’s taunting butt-smack intro
  • Nintendo (not picking on them – honest) de-sexualising Zero Suit Samus for Smash Bros. Ultimate (Switch)
  • Sony’s recent decision to start applying stricter censorship to Playstation games in the future.

There are doubtless many more but you get the idea. Personally, I have a mixed opinion on these. Some I certainly don’t agree with, some I’m not bothered about (because there is little impact on the game itself) and others I’d be okay with if the developers didn’t apply ‘censors’ in such a crappy, bodge-job fashion. On the whole however, I am one hundred percent against such petty censorship that goes against the original designs and artwork. Thing is, if you complain about toned-down boobs or being unable to get a clear upskirt shot then you will likely be considered a pervert or sad, basement-dwelling nerd. It’s not about demanding gratuitous, seedy imagery however; it’s about being treated like a child and having somebody hold your hand, deciding what you should or shouldn’t be able to see. It’s about being told that sexuality is evil and immoral. It’s about having the artwork of others meddled with – a crime in itself.

But I’m not here to go too in-depth with my own views on the subject. I’m here to try and look at this rationally and ask the question: is there an SJW agenda in videogames?

I think that the answer isn’t entirely clear. It’s a “yes” and “no” kind of thing. I don’t believe that there is a conscious agenda aimed at sanitising everything but I DO think that wider, more encompassing feminist and moral causes have had a knock-on effect for the videogame industry. Nobody is specifically looking at Rainbow Mika and writing to Capcom in a offended frenzy, demanding that she put her mega bottom away for example. In this particular instance, Capcom USA decided to that it was necessary to tone down Mika’s bawdy behaviour in order to achieve the desired age rating for Street Fighter V and tap into as bigger a consumer base as possible. This is a knock-on effect of increasingly sensitive ratings boards who in turn want to ensure that they align themselves with society’s expectations of what is and isn’t “acceptable”.

SFV-1

We could dig even further back and investigate the social and political shifts over the past few decades that have encouraged our definitions of acceptability to evolve. We could ask the (perfectly legitimate) question of whether or not social media and biased news outlets have warped the minds of millions during that time and directed people towards certain viewpoints. We could even wonder why harmless titillation must be heavily scrutinised in the USA but the right to own destructive military-grade firepower is deemed to be okay.

The point is, it’s a more complex issue than simply pointing the finger at “them” and raging about not being allowed to see boobies anymore. Yes, the SJW agendas have affected the videogame industry but in an indirect way. The fact is, most of what we feel we have “lost” would probably still be included if it weren’t for the trepidation of the publishers and the amount of money they have invested in a project…money that they may not see a return on should the likes of the ESRB, BBFC and PEGI decide to award a higher certificate and therefore restrict sales. Large companies are very keen to prevent problems from ever becoming problems. Commercially, this makes sense. Unfortunately, it’s not such a great time to be of an artistic mind as a result.

I wouldn’t say that we are being “oppressed” but we are certainly experiencing the fallout of high-profile sexual assault scandals here in the West and these massive stories have dramatically altered the landscape of our society and given more voices to feminists, SJW’s and those who are hunting out misogynistic behaviour. It’s no surprise that the entertainment industry suffers as a result, especially when the likes of Facebook and Twitter offer a platform for people to begin shouting and attracting negative attention for movies and videogames “guilty” of sexualising the female form for the benefit of men. Publishers don’t want their products demonised and their reputations tarnished and so less liberty tends to be allowed on game design.

I am certainly not an apologist but the videogame industry has gotten away with using the “sex sells” theory from the start so there is perhaps an argument to say that we had this coming. Nowhere was it more blatant than the mid-2000’s or PS2/Xbox/Gamecube era as it might be better known. This was a time when so many games and advertising campaigns were sexed-up to the max for the sake of it. These days, the PS4 and Xbox One are owned by a wide range of people but the PS2 was more synomonous with the stereotypical teenage boy and so it seemed that the way to increase sales was to include as many tits as possible, even when there was no logical reason to do so.

popwow-1
Prince of Persia: Warrior Within went all dark, emo and gratuitous, much to the confusion of those who loved Sands of Time [image: gamesradar.com]
I am a man therefore I like boobs and bums. No point in sugar-coating it for the snowflakes out there. I do still retain my brain lobes however and I can recall so many instances of advertisements or actual game content that depicted idealistic, incredibly well-endowed women that didn’t really add anything to the games themselves. Some games were childish to the extreme (Big Mutha Truckers and BMX XXX for example) while others such as Tecmo’s Dead Or Alive Xtreme ditched subtlety altogether and turned their cast of female warriors into little more than sex dolls.

It’s amazing to consider that all of this was a mere decade ago and now here we are with small details being edited out or painted over. On one hand, it’s impossible to defend objectifying women, even if they are digital and fictional.

On the other, it’s important to remember that videogames are entertainment, fantasy and escapism from an increasingly professional, sterilised (and monstrously hypocritical) world and we should be careful how far we take this quest for “justice”. The road to hell is paved with good intentions as they say and I happen to believe that a world without the freedom of expression and artistic liberty is Hell. I am after all a massive believer in letting people get on with what they enjoy and simply opting out if it isn’t to their tastes. I rarely play games that lean towards the glorification of cold-blooded violence for example but I’d be the last one demanding that the industry “wake up” and start censoring everything I disagree with. Slap an appropriate age rating on the box and let us decide for ourselves what we wish to consume. We must take responsibility for our own actions and what we choose to view after all and on that note, responsible parenting also falls to us – not the companies putting out content that WE allow our offspring access to.

In conclusion, I cannot agree that the SJW hardcore are working to keep us down and pick apart our media with laser-precision targeting. What we are experiencing is the simple knock-on effect of what is going on in our society right now. However, I also urge restraint and implore people to have common-sense rather than pushing, pushing, pushing all the time. The snowball effect is a very real risk and genuine, worthy causes may very well end up neutering expression, art and harmless titillation. The next decade is going to be very interesting.

Consistency is Key

If there’s one thing we don’t see enough of in gaming, it’s consistency. With which franchises and developers can you safely place your hard-earned money for a day one purchase without waiting for the reviews to come in or the Youtube streamers to show you the truth of the final product? The answer is “not many” and it has always been this way. Games that hit the big time and spawn sequels will inevitably fall into one of several traps:

  • Eventually the series will go for a sequel too far and interest will drop off once consumers have finally had enough of the same formula.
  • On the flipside, a spin-off or radical revamp of a much-loved series will change too much and get universally condemned or – at best – become a “meh” title that purists shun.
  • The publisher milks a good thing and turns it into a yearly series. Originality and consistent high quality become diluted and suffer as a result.
  • A different developer/publisher takes the reigns and fails to capture the magic of the originals. See the likes of Spyro and Crash in the PS2 era for example.

SpyroPS2-1
Unforgiveable glitches and performance issues aside, Spyro: Enter the Dragonfly wasn’t a terrible game…it was simply bland and lacking any of the charm of the Insomniac games.

So what is the secret formula that can produce consistency over a long period of time? I’m not sure that there is a concrete answer and there is perhaps an element of circumstance and dumb luck involved. Additionally, it’s important to remember that quality and consistency are also subject to personal taste/opinion. For example, mainstream gamers may say that the Onechanbara series is consistently a load of weird shit with terrible production values but avid fans of the series will say that as long as the games stay as they are then they are consistent in a positive way.

These things aside, I have decided on three ingredients of videogame development that I believe can contribute to consistent high quality plus a developer and series to help illustrate each point.

“It’s done when it’s done”

GTAV-1

Say what you will about Rockstar’s Grand Theft Auto series but the developer doesn’t rush the next game out, no matter how loud the fanbase is calling for a remake of Vice City or a game that is even bigger than the last one. A new GTA simply arrives when it arrives and the consistency in the results is staggering. Each new game is bigger than the last, more feature-packed than the last, prettier than the last and all of this without sacrificing quality. Every game has small glitches but GTA games don’t arrive as buggy messes that need enormous day one patches to repair. They also manage to remain relevant and the series has avoided stagnation over the years as a result. The only deal-breaker is personal preference and for some gamers, the violence and outrageous moments are a turn-off but this aside, you cannot deny the quality of the completed product. Truly a safe bet for a pre-order.

Love

DC-1

I’m technically cheating here – since I’m not focusing on one single game/franchise but a developer’s entire output – but this is my blog so screw the rules. You may recognise Vanillaware’s Dragon’s Crown up above and that’s because Vanillaware are a developer that clearly pours a lot of love into their games. The art is always beautiful and the team make the games that they want to make based on influences close to their heart. There is also an element of “it’s done when it’s done” with this developer in particular because there is always a long wait between new releases given that the team is relatively small BUT the wait is always worth it. Basically, if you adored the likes of Odin Sphere, Dragon’s Crown and Muramasa: The Demon Blade then you can safely slap your money down on day one, whatever comes next.

This long gestation time allows Vanillaware to put a lot of themselves into the game(s) and ultimately, they are making said games because they want to, not because some marketing bloke in a suit has ordered them to get to work on whatever’s hot right now. Of course, this way of working can also go the opposite way when a superstar developer uses his position to indulge personal fancies and the results are interesting games that suffer with horrible mechanics or dull gameplay, all the originality being confined to plot and wacky characters (see some of Suda51’s less critically acclaimed releases for example). On the whole however, I see love as absolutely essential for a series to remain of a consistent high quality. After all, if a developer truly loves a game then they won’t be satisfied with a shoddy hack job.

Constant Enhancement

yak5-1

Sega’s Yakuza series is almost a contradiction to the very factors that cause the stagnation of videogame franchises. After all, they have been pumping these games out at a crazy rate for a good while now with the older titles being completely remade at the same time that brand-new sequels are in development. We already have four Yakuza games on the PS4 for example which is noteworthy given how the first five (not including the two Ryu ga Gotoku Kenzan spin-offs and Dead Souls) were spread across two hardware generations. How many will we have on the PS4 by the time the platform is obsolete? Who knows.

Additionally, while the games improve technically and visually, you are basically doing the same thing every time: working through a cinematic, Japanese crime saga with many, many sidestories and distractions, beating up thugs and exploring Japanese cities/culture. Yakuza avoids the repetition factor however because each new game remains familiar enough to veterans whilst constantly introducing enough new stuff to surprise. These enhancements range from significant updates to the combat engine to smaller details such as new mini-games. Yakuza 4 introduced multiple characters/storylines for example while Yakuza 5 pumped even more fresh content into the game in the form of in-depth, character specific sidestories such as Kiryu’s taxi racing and Shinada’s baseball missions. Basically you know what you are getting but there are always enough enhancements and additions to keep the series feeling fresh. How Sega consistently maintain the overall quality and production value of the series while their other franchises (Sonic for example) are all over the place is something even I cannot answer properly however.

This constant, gradual enhancement is necessary for a long-running series to endure. Too much too soon and hardcore fans run away. Change too little and consumers will eventually ask “what’s the point” and not rush out day one.

These are just my thoughts on how to achieve consistency. Are there any other major contributors that I’ve overlooked? Let me know in the comments!