So, Sony’s new Wi-Fi router Playstation console has finally been unveiled. It’s opponent? The Microsoft Air Purifier 3000X. Overused memes aside, the battle for gamers’ attention begins here. Will you be Team PS5 or Team Xbox? Does anybody actually care about console warz anymore?
It’s been a while since I posted something here on Darkstalker90. There are various reasons for that but I won’t bore you with those because that’s not why you’re here, is it? You’re here for some gaming-related content so I’ve skipped over the (frankly embarassing) backlog of semi-completed drafts to talk about a game that has commanded my attention over the last week or so: the mighty Streets of Rage 4.
Go back just a few years, and SoR4 would have been just a fantasy – one of those games that cropped up on many a retro-head’s I-wish-they-would-make-this-but-they-probably-never-will list. The franchise’s future seemed to be confined to re-releases on retro Sega compilations and those iffy plug ‘n play devices. Sega themselves had tried and failed in the 90’s to develop a Streets of Rage 4, and the popularity of the side-scrolling beat ’em up had rapidly waned with the demise of arcade-style gaming.
So it was a pretty earth-shaking shock to say the least when Streets of Rage 4 was first shown in 2018. With Sega acting solely as a licensor this time, it was down to the collaboration of Dotemu, Lizardcube and Guard Crush games to do the series justice and deliver on twenty-six years of fan anticipation. No pressure, then… Continue reading “Walking the Streets of Rage once again…”→
Mini Reviews: I played it…I just don’t have a lot to say about it.
Nobody is more disappointed than me to be writing a Mini Review of Tombi (Tomba to you fine American folks) rather than a full-fat verdict. But after finally playing this game (after a looooooooong wait), I felt so “meh” towards it that I’m struggling to work out what to say.
It’s imperative to understand that my interest in this game goes all the way back to the late 90’s when my Dad surprised us all by coming home one day with a Playstation under his arm. Included in the box was the latest version of the legendary ‘Demo 1’ disc and one of the games previewed on there was Tombi. I think I played the Tombi demo more than any of the full games that we had for the Playstation. I just couldn’t get enough of the comical, extremely exaggerated visuals, vibrant colours, dangerously addictive music and the game world itself, which seemed to be packed with places to explore and secrets to uncover.
Unfortunately, we didn’t get the full game but I frequently returned to the demo for my Tombi fix. Eventually I grew up (in physical age at least…the jury’s still out on my mental maturity) and acquired a disposable income as well as a keen interest in retro gaming. I still wasn’t able to buy a copy of Tombi however, because it turned out that the game was quite rare. You couldn’t find it on the pre-owned racks in physical shops and ebayers wanted big money for this OMG L@@K!!!! MEGA RARE VINTAGE PS1 SONY GAME – something that hasn’t changed when used copies still sell for anywhere between £100-£150 on ebay.
Thankfully, the game was made available in 2012 for a much more sensible price on Sony’s Playstation Network (£6.49 at the time of writing), something that surprised me when I (wrongly) assumed that it would be a niche game lost to the mists of time, or swallowed up in a licensing/rights hell. Even so, I was tardy at downloading Tombi and didn’t get around to it until this year.
So…that’s eight years after it was re-released and a whopping twenty-three years since the game was originally published. It’s fair to say that my anticipation was sky-high, and I was genuinely excited as I watched the progress of the download on my Vita.
They do warn against meeting your heroes however and I’m afraid that I may have fallen foul of this slice of philosophy given how I put a healthy wedge of hours into Tombi but haven’t touched it again since.
Now don’t get me wrong: the game still absolutely oozes with charm and, being a 2D game, it has aged very well compared to all those (then) cutting-edge 3D Playstation games that look rougher than a badger’s arse in 2020. I’m still head-over-heels for the game’s visual style, music and playful humour. I also appreciate the game’s non-linear structure. You will collect loads of items on your adventure, for example, and have to go back to previous areas to complete quests or access new places. There’s a vague Metroidvania feel to things with new areas linking up to older ones in unexpected ways.
And, while Tombi is a 2D platformer, you are able to traverse both the foreground and background. There are also areas that rotate and allow you to explore all four sides of a structure. It’s a creative and clever game that tries to do something different and shake up the 2D platform formula.
Unfortunately, the charm and nice ideas only carried Tombi so far and I rapidly tired of the game, much to my disappointment. Perhaps I expected too much, or had waited far too long. Maybe I had built the game up in my head to be something that it was never going to live up to. More likely, it was the deciphering of cryptic clues to make progress. The difficulty ramps up very quickly too, demanding uber-precision from the player. A challenge is no bad thing in a game (it’s entirely necessary) but when it saps the enjoyment out of the experience, then all the aesthetic charm in the universe can’t compensate for getting pissed off at cheap deaths, being expected to make super-precise jumps and having to constantly re-load my save to try again. I wanted to enjoy the game for all the positive, happy things that I previously mentioned, but ultimately found that I couldn’t be bothered to continue with it.
Will I be selecting Tombi from my Vita’s home screen again? Well, never say never. There is that small voice in the back of my head suggesting that I may have thrown the towel in prematurely rather than rising to the challenge. That said, Tombi is – and always has been – all about the art direction and creativity for me and I’d really rather not spoil those things by persisting with unsatisfying, often frustrating platforming mechanics.
Mini Reviews: I played it…I just don’t have a lot to say about it.
Prior to playing Overboard! (known as Shipwreckers! to my NTSC-U readers) on the Playstation, I had heard a lot about it. The game does, after all, crop up on many people’s “hidden gems” lists and “cult classics” countdowns. It’s also a rare thing: a game for Sony’s debut console that comes with a good rep and doesn’t cost the earth to source from the likes of ebay.
Unfortunately, I will have to burst the nostalgia bubble and say that I didn’t really get on with Overboard! but I can, nevertheless, see why the game has the following that it does.
You guide a dinky pirate ship through maze-like waterways, fending off enemies and circumventing all manner of hazards in your quest to collect treasure and capture ports. Your galleon boasts a hell of a lot of cartoon-ish charm, as do the enemies and overall visual style. It’s these appealing aesthetics and enjoyable music that form the bulk of Overboard!‘s appeal but it also controls well and does a deft job of staggering the introduction of new weapons, enemy types and mechanics.
Overboard! is a piece of simple but effective puzzle/action game design that doesn’t need discs full of CGI or an unnecessary storyline and, as much as I enjoy those things, I’m all for a more straight-forward, unbloated experience that prioritises gameplay. It reminds me of Kula World in that respect, and that should be a good thing.
So I was surprised to feel a dull apathy towards Overboard! once I’d finished appreciating the presentation and fun tone.
First of all, it’s incredibly easy lose your ship to enemies and hazards, especially fire-based obstacles. You have the weapons to deal with enemies but I found it extremely fiddly to switch between them on the wheel-like selector, and often skipped past the one I wanted in my rush to get to it before my vessel was sent to Davy Jones’ locker. It was a problem compounded by being attacked from the sea and by bomb-dropping birds from above at the same time. I tended to try and ready the weapon I wanted before advancing into a new area and it usually turned out to be the wrong one for the situation, resulting in a lot of health lost.
Having to restart also means dealing with sluggish load times, something we were liberated from a long time ago with modern games and now struggle to accept when getting our retro fix. I could suffer this though because I expect it. What I couldn’t suffer was the way in which you can save yourself into a corner. The game allows you to save to the memory card after completing each level. Unfortunately, it also saves your lives and ammunition and doesn’t allow you to have another go at a failed stage with replenished lives/weapons. You have to re-load your save and start again with whatever you had at the point of saving, so it’s entirely possible to save with zero spare lives and be stuck with that bum deal every time you load up.
Overboard! is one of those games that I desperately wanted to like because it has a lot going for it. Sadly, I couldn’t gel with the weapon selector, being constantly killed by hazards that I wasn’t prepared for, and the save system. It’s by no means a bad game at all but I also have no desire to play it again.
Whenever there’s a discussion about which of Capcom’s forgotten fighting games (so anything other than flippin’ Street Fighter, then…) should be brought back in a blaze of current-gen glory, there’s usually only one franchise that tops the polls: Darkstalkers. As a huge fan of the Darkstalkers, I can’t suppress the fanboy in me very effectively and I tend to agree. That said, there is another fighting game with a cult following that has been pushed to the back of Capcom’s storage locker for far too long: Rival Schools.
I’ve always been aware of Rival Schools but it was one of those games that I didn’t get around to playing in period. Until recently, the closest I came to the franchise was playing as Kyosuke in Capcom Vs SNK 2 and Batsu in Tatsunoko Vs Capcom. That all changed when I was slimming down my collection and testing out game discs (many of which I’d bought years ago and never played) before listing them for sale on ebay. The Playstation port of Rival Schools: United by Fate was one such game and there was a part of me that had to wonder why I had shoved this to the back of the shelves and ignored it for so long, especially since I’m a big fan of classic Capcom.
It’s what’s inside that counts
The first hurdle that needs to be cleared, when playing Rival Schools for the first time in 2020, are the horribly outdated visuals. Look, I’m no graphics whore. I grew up playing the Playstation and I’ve also enjoyed Sega Saturn and 3DO games long after they were “current” systems, so I’m no snob when it comes to old 3D. But it’s an unavoidable fact that we’ve been spoilt by the realistic graphics of the last few hardware generations, so returning to the era that pushed crude textures and pioneering polygons into the mainstream is always going to be jarring and requires a brief adjustment.
As such, I was initially taken aback by the character models in Rival Schools when I first booted up the game. Perhaps I’d just become accustomed to the perfect curvature of Sophitia’s bosom in Soulcalibur VI, or maybe it was because I’d not played Rival Schools before so my eyes weren’t prepared. Whatever the case, some of the most enjoyable fighting games of the 90’s – Tekken 2, Street Fighter EX and Virtua Fighter 2 – all look pretty blocky these days but that shouldn’t (and doesn’t) detract from the quality of the games.
So once I’d acclimatised to some of the derpy expressions and Tiffany’s cubism-inspired tits (complete with a primitive jiggle effect), I found myself enjoying the game, warts and all. In truth, the characters only look janky up close during win animations. During regular gameplay, they actually look pretty good for their age and you’d be a fool to expect much better from the original Playstation. Perhaps Tekken 3 and Soulblade are a little easier on the eyes but Rival Schools isn’t that far behind.
But it really is what’s under the skin that counts.
Rival Schools is presented as a three-dimensional fighting game fit for the late 90’s but, in truth, it’s a bit of a hybrid. While it does have a sidestep feature and dynamic camera angles to capture the crazy super moves, it still feels like a 2D fighting game. That’s because it uses the familiar Street Fighter-style inputs on the d-pad and a light/heavy attack set-up over on the buttons.
It’s not necessarily a bad thing however because I immediately knew what I was doing, allowing me to pick the game up quickly and concentrate solely on getting to grips with Rival Schools‘ unique mechanics.
First up, Rival Schools is a tag-team fighting game of sorts. I say “of sorts” because you can’t actively tag back and forth between your two characters, as in the Marvel Vs series, but you can switch in between rounds. You can also utilise your partner for powerful combination super move known as a Team Up Technique. Depending on your partner, the Team Up move can be an outrageous tag-team super move for big damage, a stat boost, or even a cheeky health boost. I really like this tag-team system because it injects strategy into a fighting game; do you choose a partner that can restore health and simply use them solely for that purpose or do you forfeit the stat/health boosts, select two characters that you are competent with, continuously switch between them and opt for the big damage Team Up Techniques?
Each character also has a selection of “Burning Vigour” super move attacks. These and the dual-character Team Up Techniques are all ridiculously awesome because they are incredibly over-the-top and feel stupidly OP. These crazy moves also tend to be shown off with different camera angles, taking advantage of the game’s 3D engine. I’ve played a lot of Capcom fighting games and I have to say that the Burning Vigour and Team-Up Techniques in Rival Schools are probably some of the most visually satisfying of the lot.
You also get plenty of access to these attacks too because the super guage fills up faster than The Flash on Speed. Some may criticise this because it makes the game feel easy and the super moves throwaway. I get that, and agree to a small extent, but Rival Schools is more about the entertainment factor than being a serious tournament game.
But there’s still more to the core gameplay. For instance, there is the Textbook Combo (a nice school-themed pun!) which is the ability to string together a short sequence of light and heavy hits, similar to Darkstalkers‘ Chain Combo system. You can also launch enemies skyward then jump up to hit them with a Textbook Combo in mid-air and even cancel into Burning Vigour supers. If it sounds similar to the the Vs series’ air combos then that’s because it feels exactly like that, down to the launcher input being the same.
There are also Defensive Fall and Get Up Attack techniques, as well as dash attacks. Finally, there is the Dodge ability that snaps you out of the 2D plane and back into the 3D realm. You can dodge sideways in either direction and, if you time it just right, you can evade an incoming attack at the very last moment and slide all the way around to your opponent’s back to catch them off-guard with a combo or deliver a different, more powerful throw attack that can only be used at an rival’s back.
A loaded package
Away from the actual gameplay, Rival Schools is simply bursting with charm and it’s easy to see why so many people love this neglected series. The characters are bold and full of personality, the music is terribly catchy and there is a big effort put into the presentation of the game. There is an anime-style intro upon booting the game up, for example, multiple animated endings and every character has their own unique illustrated endings to their stories. It’s one of those games where even the sound effects for selecting menu items are endearing.
The characters all feel unique to play as, and there are twenty of them to choose from as standard. That said, the veteran fighting game player will spot some cheeky imitations in amongst the roster, such as Hideo who is essentially the Ryu of Rival Schools with Shoto-style special moves. Roy seems to have borrowed Ken’s Shoryu-Reppa super move and Street Fighter Alpha‘s Sakura is included in the line-up. Overall however, the roster isn’t simply a copy-paste job; the majority of the fighters have their own style and are fun to experiment with.
Capcom really went all out with the Playstation conversion of this game too. There are two discs: an Arcade disc and the Evolution disc. The Arcade disc alone would have been acceptable enough since it features a fantastic conversion of the arcade original, a training mode and extra, bonus features. But Capcom also threw in the Evolution disc which is just so much more.
The Evolution disc contains an optimised, more balanced version of the game and more characters. As well as unlockable, alternate outfit versions of four of Rival Schools‘ female characters (complete with unique Team Up Techniques), there are 24 pre-edited special characters – mash-ups of the original characters and their moves. You also have the new Group Battle, League Battle and Tournament Battle modes, as well as the Cooperate Battle which allows four players to get in on the tag-team fighting with the assistance of the Playstation Multi-Tap. Finally, there is a “Lesson” mode and an art gallery. Phew!
It seems surreal in this post-Street Fighter V age to be playing a Capcom fighting game that had a warehouse of kitchen sinks thrown at it. To any younger readers of this blog, I would say this: go play PS1 Rival Schools and you’ll understand why us grumpy old farts moan about the bare-bones menu screens on modern fighting games, and the way that there is nothing to unlock (unless you are paying by credit card).
Rival Schools: United by Fate was an incredibly pleasant surprise and I think I need to be sent back to education myself for making the schoolboy error of not playing this sooner (enough with the school jokes!). After spending a good amount of time with the game, I can definitely confirm that the characters have just as much charm and appeal as Morrigan and co. from Darkstalkers. What’s more, the fighting system is excellent and strikes a perfect balance between the technical stuff and accessible, mental fun. It certainly wouldn’t need much to be brought up to scratch for a modern revival, something I’m now very much all for.
The only downside is that the Playstation port isn’t the cheapest used game to pick up these days, and it hasn’t been re-released on PSN outside of Japan (reportedly due to licensing issues) which certainly doesn’t help. That said, I think that Rival Schools is worth every penny of your money if you are a fighting game nut or a fan of classic Capcom.
I’ve recently earned my first ever platinum trophy in a Playstation game. Bearing in mind that I’ve been playing trophy-compatible Playstation games since the PS3 days, you might be wondering just why has it taken me so long. The short answer is that I simply didn’t care about trophies, no matter how much bragging I read about trophies (or Xbox Gamerscore) on the gaming forums I was once heavily into. I was finished with a game once I’d completed the story or gotten bored of messing about in a post-credits open world. My trophy count didn’t even factor into it. They were simply annoying little “ping!” sound effects that disturbed the game.
But it seems that I’ve finally succumbed to the pull of trophies…sort-of. I lost my platinum V-plates thanks to Spyro: Reignited Trilogy but it should be noted that the three games included in this remake package are EASY to plat’. Many of the requirements for unlocking trophies are insultingly easy and involve menial, non-skillful tasks. I achieved most of them by pure chance for example, including 97% trophy completion for Year of the Dragon, on my first run-through, without even looking at the trophy list. What I’m saying is that I don’t really class this very first platinum trophy as an “achievement”. Yes, there were a few fiddly trophies that took several attempts to snag but, overall, the difficulty level was nothing to write home about.
I completed the Reignited Trilogy last year but, on a whim, I decided that I fancied another run of the game before I got into another story-driven or open-world game. Knowing that I’d almost accidentally platinum-ed the game(s) the first time around, I thought it would do no harm to have something extra to do on my second visit. So it was that I decided to fill in those blanks and collect that first platinum trophy.
More importantly, this made me think about how my attitude toward trophies and achievements has mellowed over the years. Hence why this topic is going to be first in an ongoing “Shifting Perception” series; a series that aims to examine how many of my gaming opinions have altered over the years.
How I used to think
At the start of this post, I implied that I had traditionally been indifferent towards trophies and achievements but, while that is certainly true, I also used to be strongly against the concept. Y’see, I’m not a show-off or a braggart, and I’ve certainly never been interested in trying to beat other gamers when it comes to high scores or – in this case – an achievement tally. I’ve always been more interested in simply enjoying a game myself. I never understood why some people were so hardcore when it came to their virtual trophy cabinet or the size of their Gamerscore.
So, while others were embracing the concept, I was actively trying to avoid it. After all, it added nothing of value to my gaming experiences. I was more annoyed at how some PS3 games used to briefly stutter when a trophy notification was popping up!
It also didn’t help that I became aware of a particular breed of gamer during the PS3/Xbox 360 era: the species of gamer that put their achievements before the pure enjoyment of the hobby. These were the gamers who would intentionally buy crap games, childrens titles or movie tie-ins that came with easy trophy/achievement lists. A few hours “work” and they could max these games, boosting their platinum trophy collection or Gamerscore with little effort. I even frequently saw articles in gaming magazines and websites that promoted this sort of thing by listing off ten or twenty games that you could buy cheaply on the used market and quickly max out.
In my mind, it invalidated the entire trophy/achievement thing and made a mockery of it. Some games were incredibly difficult to achieve the platinum trophies or full achievement score on, requiring multiple play-throughs or genuine skill and persistence to get. With these games, maxing them out MEANT something. But what did those hard-earnt platinum trophies count for when Dave down the road had three, four or five times as many for beating a big stack of bargain-bin games designed for kids below the age of ten? At a surface level, you can only see the number of trophies attached to another gamer’s profile so, unless you dug deeper, you wouldn’t see that Dave’s trophy collection was just a superficial front.
I just didn’t get it, and this dark practice did nothing to make me want to join in.
How I’ve changed
Over the years, however, my attitude has changed somewhat. I have less gaming time on my hands these days so I tend to want to play less and get more out of what I do play. It’s why I’d rather play a handful of games and invest in the DLC, if it’s any good, rather than trying to rush through as many new releases as possible.
I suppose this is the main reason why I’m not so against the trophy and achievement systems anymore. After all, it’s something that helps you get more out of games before putting them on the shelf or trading them in. As long as I can maintain a nice balance and not end up becoming one of those sorts of gamers that I’ve just criticised, then it could be fun going forward.
It also takes me back to the days when I didn’t really have a disposable income and therefore had no choice but to replay games and squeeze every last drop of value from them. It’s a more humble and balanced approach in my opinion and beats the alternative of having shelves upon shelves loaded with more games than I’ll ever have the time in my life to play, let alone complete. Been there, done that.
Sometimes, we wonder how gamers in the 70’s, 80’s and 90’s had the patience or skills to complete some of the most unforgiving, balls-hard games ever coded. The answer is that they weren’t spoilt or drowning in cash. They had a game and it had to last them so they had to get good at it. If trophies or achievements had existed back then, you can be sure that gamers would have wrung even more out of those old cartridges/tapes/floppy discs and maxed out those brutal games.
The PSP, like any other respectable handheld, has no shortage of puzzle games. It’s also no stranger to block-based puzzlers, as the mighty Lumines can testify. But, also like any respectable handheld, the PSP hosted enough puzzle games that some inevitably got forgotten. Take MagicPot’s Koloomn for example: a block-based puzzle game that is just as addictive as any other.
Originally released as an arcade game called Kollon in Japan, Koloomn found a more natural home on Sony’s debut handheld in 2005. The Western PSP translation of Kollon is, in fact, an enhanced edition of an earlier Japan-only PSP port of the arcade game. Confused? Well, to muddy the waters just a little more, North America received the game under another name: Ultimate Block Party. Being completely unbiased, I have to say that I prefer the ‘Koloomn’ name and the box art we received here in Europe. It just looks more Japanese.
Does any of this nerdy, anorak stuff matter though? Absolutely not. All that matters is that Koloomn/Ultimate Block Party/Kollon is a cracking puzzle game.
Stack ’em up(wards)
Unlike many other block-based puzzlers, the blocks in Koloomn rise up from the bottom of the screen but the aim is still the same: to prevent the advancing ranks of blocks from touching the top of the play area OR, in multi-player/versus, to brick up your opponent’s screen. Blocks are cleared by forming links of four of the same colour. So far, so simple.
You re-position the blocks with a square 2×2 cursor, rotating them about until you can place four matching ones together. You are relatively free when it comes to shuffling the blocks about, moving them all around the play area by rotating them out of rows/columns into adjacent ones. That’s the basics. You’ll need to think bigger however if you want to create large combos or put an opponent under pressure.
Y’see, a group of four matching blocks is just the minimum requirement. Any number of blocks can be chained beyond that provided that the colours match. A formation takes a few seconds to disappear and, in that time, you can rotate other matching blocks to join said formation. Get smart – and quick on the controls – and you can link up multiple clusters on the playing field to clear a fat amount of blocks all at once. This is called a ‘Pop’ and, proving that size sometimes DOES matter, the bigger the Pop, the better. You can also forcibly advance the blocks with a press of the ‘R’ button and flirt with danger by filling the screen to give you more blocks to play with.
Additionally – as per Sir Isaac Newton’s law of gravity – the vacuum left behind by eliminated blocks causes everything above to tumble south and fill the void(s), potentially linking up for more Pops. These are called ‘Chains’. Chains are vital for earning big points and making ‘magic’ blocks appear. Arrow blocks, for example, will turn every other block in the arrow’s direction into the same colour and eliminate them. Tactical positioning of arrow blocks can really help clear the screen when the pressure is on.
Bomb blocks turn all adjacent blocks into the same colour for an easy, instant nine-block Pop at the bare minimum. Then there are the Wave blocks that eradicate all blocks of the same colour, no matter where they are on the screen. You’ll only get one of these for making a chain of four though, so you you’ll need to be very good or (more likely) incredibly lucky.
Multi-player is – as you’d expect – a frantic exercise in managing your own ever-filling play area whilst also dishing out the pain to your opponent. There are several different attacks or temporary status effects that you can hit your opponent with and BE the victim of such as being lumbered with inverted controls (ugh…), having giant blocks dropped onto the field or having the size of the cursor increased, severely hampering precision.
One glaring problem with playing Koloomn in 2020 is that this all-important multi-player aspect is obviously dead, unless you have seriously cool friends who still play multi-player PSP games. So that’s about three people worldwide, then. Sarcasm aside, there are at least Arcade and Campaign modes (confusingly hidden in the Multi-Play menu…) where you can play against the CPU and still enjoy the competitive side of the game. These two modes are pretty much the same with the only differences being that Campaign forces you to play as the main character, Kollon, and you have some humourous cut-scenes before each round.
Single player mode is your standard solo play where you attempt to survive for as long as possible, each successive level increasing the speed that the blocks rise up from the screen’s bottom.
That’s pretty much it. The game does at least store your high scores and rankings but there’s precious little to do once you remove the multi-player side of Koloomn and that’s the game’s only real weakness.
You can’t help but be won over by the presentation, however. Koloomn has a really bright and bouncy cartoon aesthetic that I immediately fell in love with. From the comic-book style menus to the chibi characters with their bold outlines, it’s attractive stuff. The characters are nicely animated and full of personality and a humurous, playful vibe permeates everything. Even the blocks are smiling! The music is upbeat and dangerously catchy too. This isn’t necessarily the sort of game that you would think began life in an arcade cabinet but then again, I can totally picture the lively characters, vibrant colours and jaunty music being perfectly at home in a buzzing Japanese Game Centre.
Yes, Koloomn is lacking in content and, yes, it might have disappointed as a full-price release back in its day for that very same reason but that’s kind of missing the point. After all, Tetris didn’t have a whole lot going on but it still managed to charm a generation without being criticised for a lack of value. No, the value in Koloomn – as with Tetris – is in its addictive nature. It’s one of those puzzle games that’s easy to understand but takes some playing with to get proficient at. Once you’ve had some practice, however, Koloomn becomes like any other good puzzle game and hooks you with that ruthlessly effective “just one more go…” drug. Once that’s happened, you will only need the few modes to have a whole lot of fun. The fact that it looks fantastic and costs next-to-nothing to pick up today are just added bonuses.
I honestly thought that I was done discussing this game. I’d spoken at length about my problems with Street Fighter V in general THEN I gave the uprated Arcade Edition a second chance before finally reaching my concluding sentiments towards Capcom’s flagship fighting game. I didn’t think I’d be making any further posts about SFV and that I’d simply enjoy playing the game from time to time (because Soulcalibur VI is just BETTER and enjoys more of my attention).
But then Capcom decide that they are going to release ANOTHER subtitled entry into the Street Fighter V series – Street Fighter V: Champion Edition…
The gaming world be like:
Now, some people are pissed about this and some aren’t but before I get into that, let’s have a look at what the Champion Edition consists of, shall we? Essentially, it’s as close as you can get to a “complete” edition of SFV. CE includes all of the currently available DLC characters, stages, costumes and new V-Skills. The only bits not included are the Fighting Chance costumes, collaboration costumes and Pro Tour DLC. Even so, that’s one whopper of a deal.
Price-wise, Champion Edition will weigh in at £24.99/$29.99 for the physical edition (out February 2020) or £19.99/$24.99 for the digital upgrade kit. If you want to simply upgrade whatever version you currently have then you can do that now and get ahead of the physical release, though it’s worth remembering that the “physical” version is likely going to be a tea coaster of a disc with a voucher code in the box for the content, so the digital upgrade is worth considering.
Additionally, everybody – regardless of which version of SFV they currently own – will receive a free update that adds the new V-Skills and balance changes to their game.
Finally, there are going to be two new DLC characters added to the game and the first one is an absolute tool that Street Fighter veterans will have to remove their forcibly-erected mental blockades to recall. I am, of course, talking about the ultra-cheap Gill – one of the most notorious and cheesy bastards from the entire fighting game genre. I personally hate Gill. I LOVE playing Third Strike…but I don’t like reaching the end of an arcade run-through and dealing with THIS shit:
Hopefully, they tone this guy down for SFV. I mean, it’s kinda cool that he’s back at last – after years of being exclusive to SFIII – but he just needs to chill the fuck out.
But let’s get back to Champion Edition‘s bundled content because many are (understandably) not too happy about this. Anybody who is familiar with SFV will know that it isn’t a cheap game. Gamers who have stuck with it since launch will likely have spent a pretty penny on DLC OR earnt the add-on content by grinding away online and using hard-won Fight Money to purchase new characters, costumes and stages. Characters tend to cost around the £5 mark while costumes are (at least) a few quid apiece, as are stages. Even colour swaps cost money (remember when you had those just for using different buttons to select characters? Ah, the old days…).
So £25 for the whole shebang is a bit of a kick in the teeth for long-term players. For one, complete newbies will be able to rock up to the party late and purchase everything for this budget price. Secondly, can you even forgive Champion Edition‘s existence and low price-point when it makes a mockery of how much you’ve paid over the years for add-ons? Let’s not forget that the disc version will likely get even cheaper once it’s been on the shelves for a while.
And it isn’t as if Capcom are rewarding your loyalty because the digital upgrade to your existing copy is a mere £5.00/$5.00 cheaper. In my opinion, the discount should be a lot bigger than that. After all, that difference will be negated in no time once the retail edition’s price drops.
Of course, there are a few things to remember. Firstly, if a Street Fighter V player has been playing the game, buying bits and pieces of add-on content here and there, and feels like they’ve had their value (regardless of Champion Edition‘s devaluing of existing DLC prices), then that’s fair play. Not everybody cares about being outraged over stuff like this.
Secondly, nobody ever puts a gun to the head of a gamer and forces them to buy DLC. It is – and always will be – entirely optional. It is – as depressing as it is – just the way that modern gaming is and the way that publishers make money. If you feel that strongly about a publisher’s business model for their game, then don’t buy what they’re peddling.
Lastly, Capcom have some form with this. If you were naive enough to believe that THIS time it would be different, and that THIS time, Capcom would “play fair”, then I only have one response for you:
This is the company that charged full price again and again for multiple updates of Street Fighter II back in the 90’s. It’s the same company that promised that it would be different with Street Fighter IV…before they released Super, Arcade Edition and Ultra flavours. And it’s the same company that APPEARED to be doing something different with SFV, and though they technically haven’t gone back on their guarantee of the base version being the only disc you will ever need to buy, they are still trolling those who spent a fortune on DLC by packaging it all up in a cheap bundle.
I’m not defending Capcom at all but what I AM saying is that the consumer needs to accept some of the blame for trusting them over and over and over. This shit? It was always going to happen. Menat could have seen it in her crystal ball thingamagic. The smart people are those who avoided the game until now because they knew that this would happen. Those people are set for a hell of a deal if they pick up Champion Edition and obtain everything for £25/$30.
Am I annoyed? Of course I am. I only recently bought the Arcade Edition, after all, and I have purchased several characters and costumes throughout Street Fighter V‘s life. But I’m still going to pick up Champion Edition because the content I haven’t yet bought far outweighs what I have, so that £25 price point still represents big value (and I will make sure to pull the trigger once that price has dropped even lower). But I went into this game knowing that Capcom would pull these sorts of stunts; I expected it to happen so how can I be outraged? This is what they DO and people are furious every single time as if they expected something different. I mean, if being charged for fucking palette swaps didn’t alert you to that fact, then what would?
In conclusion, Champion Edition is Capcom at their trollish best and I absolutely don’t blame anybody who is angry. The discount for going digital and upgrading early isn’t big enough and the package is an almighty kick in the balls for anybody who has already sunk a lot of money into DLC. That said, perhaps it’s time to finally wise-up and take Capcom’s promises with a pinch of salt when the inevitable Street Fighter VI arrives with the ‘promise’ of there being no revised versions down the line.
Almost two months ago, I decided to give Street Fighter V a second chance after ditching the pre-Arcade Edition version some time ago on the grounds that I just didn’t like what Capcom had done with it. I chronicled my thoughts, justifications and rants (mostly just me moaning, then…) in a dedicated post which you can read here, if you missed it. I signed off with an intelligent cheap “Meh” meme and these words…
…I still don’t really feel anything when I’m playing. It’s a solid game but that’s all. There’s a certain magic that I feel whenever I play Alpha 3 or Third Strike for example but not here. As with my first tour of Street Fighter V, I feel that there is a good game suffocating beneath all that F2P and online-biased structure.
But I carried on playing and thought I may as well share my final verdict now that I’ve played the expanded Arcade Edition.
And, well, it’s a good job that I’m feeling hungry because there’s a plate of humble pie in front of me.
Yes, that means I enjoyedSFV.
There – I’ve said it.
That doesn’t mean that the game is completely off the hook though. I still rank it below the other Street Fighter games (with the exception of the EX spin-offs), including Street Fighter IV, which in itself polarised opinion amongst the fanbase. To recap the things I didn’t and still don’t appreciate:
Being charged for everything, including simple colour swaps (seriously?)
The silly amount of in-game currencies, fortune tickets and all that BS; basically the smoke and mirrors that attempt (and fail) to disguise that SFV is an F2P game where you will simply end up paying real money for stuff.
The shift in focus to the online/tourney scene. Understandable but a definite thumbs-down from me.
The hack-job censorship applied to characters like Cammy and Mika…because we can’t scare the kiddies now, can we? Screw that shit.
And there’s a new one for the list that I hadn’t included before because I needed more time with the updated version of the game; the new characters. I’m assuming that Capcom has run out of ideas because the brand-new characters are just crap in my humble opinion. I’m not necessarily talking about their play style; more their look and inspiration. There’s ‘G’ who looks like lanky riff on Uncle Sam for starters. I thought it was a joke to begin with. At least his theme is cool.
Falke and Ed are just…whatever…more ‘tragic’ Shadaloo experiments. Abigail is Hugo on steroids and Zeku is Guy’s master from Street Fighter Alpha 2 but still not very interesting (why not just give us Guy?). His link to the Strider clan is a neat move on Capcom’s part but I still struggle to care about the guy (no pun intended). Then there is Necalli. Does anybody give a shit about this bloke or his story? I suppose somebody must…somewhere.
Finally, I really, really fucking hate Kage. Talk about lazy! I suppose his design is supposed to be ‘epic’ but really, it’s just yet another Evil Ryu with familiar moves. You know, I like Shoto characters, with Akuma being one of my go-to Street Fighter favourites, but I think I’ve had enough of all these new ones. Aside from the powered-up ‘Shin’ versions, there has also been various versions of Evil Ryu, a Super-Saiyan Akuma by the name of Oni, Violent Ken and now Kage. Just stop…
I’m undecided on Menat. She seems to have become popular enough but, eh…she’s just a new version of Rose, isn’t she?
The only new characters I’ve warmed to on any level are Laura and Kolin, though you could argue that the latter isn’t technically a new character since she was Gill’s assistant in SFIII, albeit non-playable.
ALL of that aside, I have enjoyed playing Street Fighter V. The Arcade mode has to take the lion’s share of the credit here because it finally allows me to do what I wanted to do in the first place – just have a few run-throughs with my favourite characters in the same format as Street Fighters of old. Prior to this mode’s addition, I was stuck playing Survival in the offline mode and while that was okay, it wasn’t really the same given the different rules. Arcade gives me – a non-online player – something to do and it has been an absolute godsend.
I enjoy getting good as my favourite characters and adjusting the CPU difficulty to suit but I know I’m not good enough to take it online. I’m just not that serious about fighting games anyway, and never have been. While the gameplay ‘feel’ is damn important, I’m more about the characters, design and art direction when it comes to fighting games. If all of that is spot-on, then I’ll get a lot out of a game.
With that said, I know I’m in a minority so I DO understand that I’m not Capcom’s priority or target audience anymore. My refusal to go online, for example, would probably render a lot of my complaints irrelevant in the eyes of many and I get that – I truly do. Nonetheless, I’m still a paying customer and long-time veteran supporter of the Street Fighter franchise so i’m going to give my opinion, no matter what it’s worth.
In summary, I’m not in love with Street Fighter V, but I have found myself losing more time to the game than I’d expected. I like how the game plays and the aesthetics are pleasing enough to my eyes. The game is now back in ‘rotation’ on my gaming playlist and that’s not something I could have imagined myself saying earlier in the year when the box was sitting, forgotten, on my shelf.
Moral of the story: don’t rule out giving games a second chance.
Earlier this year, I played, completed and reviewed the rather wonderful Spyro Reignited Trilogy. The remastered collection of one of my favourite series’ of games wasn’t perfect (largely due to unwelcome glitches) but it made me smile no end and really, that’s what gaming is all about. It wasn’t the first modern remaster of a beloved Playstation platforming series though; that accolade goes to the Crash Bandicoot N SaneTrilogy – the commercial success of which can likely be thanked for Spyro’s adventures receiving a makeover. I actually received both collections for Christmas last year but made a beeline for Spyro as those games were my favourites. Now, I’ve had the chance to unwrap, play and complete Crash’s remasters so here is my review of the N Sane Trilogy.
A sympathetic makeover
In my review of the Spyro Reignited Trilogy, I had this to say about the overall makeover of the original games:
My overall feeling is that Spyro Reignited Trilogy is a totally authentic and – more importantly – sympathetic remake. Everything from the level layouts to the word-for-word script is as I remember it. The individuality between games has also been retained i.e. the designs of the treasure chests, the shapes of the gems and the extra life systems. Immediately, there is nothing on a basic level to offend the traditionalists who demand the most minimal of changes…
The same is true here for Crash. Everything is as you remember – it just looks a hell of a lot better. The beauty of the original Crash Bandicoot and Spyro games is that, while their worlds were crafted from (then) cutting-edge polygons and 3D tech, it was done in a cartoon-like, exaggerated style. So while those games are clearly aged when viewed through a modern filter, they are still perfectly acceptable today. Pop the original discs into your Playstation or download the digital versions from the Playstation store and you won’t be offended by horrible textures or laughable “realism” because those original games were inadvertently future-proofed by not chasing realism. The visuals are still sharp, the games still move smoothly and the music remains timeless.
With that in mind, I was sceptical about what the remasters could achieve. After all, there are plenty of other Playstation games that I think would absolutely benefit from ground-up remasters because the originals are just difficult to deal with after several decades of videogame evolution and refinement. Crash on the other hand didn’t really need much in my opinion. That said, the N Sane Trilogy manages to impress regardless. We have realistic textures now, much more dynamic special effects and nice, detailed touches such as Crash actually having proper fur. All of this is achieved without taking away any of the original games’ cartoon appeal.
Audio-wise, the music has been updated too but again, it’s very subtle, a testament to how good the original soundtrack was. I think I prefer the original but only because I’ve played the Playstation originals so much that I miss some of the minute details (the more pronounced clanking sounds in the sewer levels for example). Overall though, it’s an on-point mix that I can’t grumble about.
As with Spyro, the individual games and level layouts themselves remain utterly unchanged which pleased this crusty veteran gamer. There were only a few small additions that I noticed. You can now switch between Crash and his sister Coco for example. I didn’t detect any difference between the two Bandicoots but it’s a nice surface-level update. Coco was, after all, only originally playable in specific levels in Crash Warped. You also receive useful hints on the loading screens to point you in the direction of the bonus gems and secrets. Some may call this “dumbing down” but many of the secrets in the Crash games were pretty obtuse and even I couldn’t remember how to reach some of the coloured gems.
“A smashing blast from the past!”
One thing that the N Sane Trilogy successfully reminded me of was how challenging the first game in the series was. This is where it all began and so Crash’s reportoire of abilities is restricted to just jumping and spinning, severely minimising the amount of tricks that the player can use to negotiate the levels. This is proper old-school platforming that demands pin-point accuracy, respect for hazards and practiced timing. A lot of so-called “hardcore” gamers like to scoff at the 32-bit Playstation era and proffer the elitist opinion that this was where games got too easy and while I cannot argue with the crushing brutality of the preceeding 8 and 16-bit eras, Crash’s debut is no walk in the park and Activision did nothing to soften the punches with this remaster.
The later castle-themed levels for example play out in a 2D style and feature a gauntlet of moving platforms, staircases that collapse into ramps (requiring perfect timing) and moving enemies that must be used as platforms. Then there is the natural hazard of the into-the-screen, forward-facing platforming that often makes it difficult to safely land Crash when jumping between platforms. Yes, you have Crash’s shadow as guidance but even then, it can be challenging to guage the relative height of other platforms. This is a recurring quirk of the Crash Bandicoot games that never really goes away throughout the series and is something that you simply have to get used to.
Going for the 100% completion is also much harder here than in the sequels. To earn the bonus clear gem, you must destroy all crates within a level. This much is common between all three games. What makes this objective harder in the first Crash game however is that you must perform this feat without dying even once. You need that perfect run which can require multiple restarts as well as trial-and-error mastering of a level. I had expected Activision to nix this for the remasters but they didn’t, much to their credit. It provokes frustration and sweaty-handed, tense gaming on the more challenging levels but that challenge is what we all want from our games, right? My main nemesis when going for the 100% completion was the “Fumbling in the dark” level which must have taken me three-quarters of an hour of constant re-tries to nail. That feeling upon finally hitting that perfect run though? Priceless.
Crash Bandicoot 2: Cortex Strikes Back is my favourite of the trilogy and this has always been so. The game remained challenging and laden with secrets but lost that brutal edge that the original game sported. For example, you can now collect the clear gem for smashing all crates without worrying about dying in the process. Crash also has some new moves such as the belly flop, crouch-jump and the uber-useful slide. Sliding then jumping allows Crash to fly further forwards for those trickier leaps of faith. You can also slide, jump then spin, a combo that requires lightning-fast inputs but launches Crash even further.
Crash 2 is the perfect balance. The player will be challenged to achieve the 100% but it is nowhere near as demanding to do as the first game. Crash’s new moves give him enhanced mobility, the music is possibly the best of the series and the game saw the debut of memorable level designs such as the jetpack segments and riding the adorable polar bear.
For many gamers though, Crash Bandicoot Warped is their favourite. The game follows a similar hub-world structure to Crash 2 but this time, the levels center on real-world themes including medievil/fantasy, the Great Wall of China and Egyptian tombs. Underwater levels make their debut as do jet ski and aeroplane missions. The overall sense I get from Warped is that the traditional platforming challenge is traded off to a degree in favour of visually impressive set pieces. Here again, we have parallels with the evolution of the Spyro franchise which gradually reduced the difficulty in favour of side-missions and unique mini-games.
That’s not to say that Warped is a weak sequel – far fom it. It is undeniably the easiest of the trilogy to beat however. This is largely down to the fact that Crash gained even more special abilities and by the time you have them all, Crash is operating in Super Saiyan territory. If you had all of these abilities in the first two games for example, there would be no challenge at all. There is now an enhanced belly-flop that can destroy nearby crates with a shockwave. You can also keep pressing the spin button to fly a great distance through the air, dramatically reducing the threat posed by pits and ground-based hazards.
The number one offender however is the Fruit Bazooka. Once you have this, the game becomes a cakewalk. Crash can stand still and take aim at distant enemies with this weapon and eliminate all threats without ever having to get near them. Crates can be shot for easy collection as can TNT and nitro crates, removing those hazards from Crash’s path as well. Did I mention that the ammo is also unlimited? This weapon is just absolute overkill in my opinion and I still don’t know why Naughty Dog thought it was a good idea in the first place. Granted, the Fruit Bazooka is a welcome friend when you are chasing the 100% but it also feels like you are cheesing the game.
Warped is nonetheless a great game and was a great way for Naughty Dog to sign off from the franchise (CTR not withstanding) back in the day. The set pieces and variety in gameplay keep things interesting and at the end of the day, it is fun which is what matters.
Like the Spyro Reignited Trilogy, these Crash Bandicoot remasters are a warm, welcoming nostalgia trip. They will raise a smile and take your mind back to the late 90’s, a time where life was – possibly – simpler and the future was teeming with possibilities. Gaming was simpler back then too but despite the aged formula, the Crash Bandicoot series has stood the test of time. Clever platforming design, an unmistakable visual direction and loveable characters are the key. The N Sane Trilogy brings it all back for gamers old and new without stepping on Naughty Dog’s toes and altering their work. In short, this is the perfect example of an ideal remaster.