Category Archives: Games

Blazing Chrome

Be Quick or be Dead

While observing the major events of past decades, you can detect a dialectical pattern in the way things play out. The 40’s were a time of Depression and War, with the 50’s being seen as an era of Stabilization and Growth. The 60’s could be defined as a time of Change and Progression, with the 70’s being summarized as a tumultuous time in response to a majority population coming to terms with that progress. With this in mind, what would one see when examining the Zeitgeist of the 80’s? This time of Fast Cars, Action films, and Hair Metal Bands. And, of course, Video Games.

As a newer medium of entertainment, they would naturally emulate and mirror movies such as Commando, Aliens, and Rambo. Resulting games like Contra, Ikari Warriors, and Turrican would give fans of action a more interactive experience, and proved to be incredibly ppoular. While it is true that these games fell out of style in the late 90s and after due to the proliferation of 3D Games, dialectical examinations teach us that nothing ever truly vanishes. Instead, they merely wait for a time when nostalgic yearnings enable them to return, similar yet also changed. What form would such a game take, drawing not only on the original film and game inspirations, but also on three decades worth of refinements and ideas that have been introduced collectively by an industry always in motion?

Blazing Chrome answers that question in a bombastic throwback to 80’s action sensibilities that will leave fans of the genre yearning for more. Combining ideas and gameplay from a variety of the best run-and-guns through the ages as well as bringing it’s own ideas to the table, it’s a wonderful time capsule. It also represents some of the best things about the Indie gaming scene. Namely that gamers have figured out that even if the industry is no longer interested in genres you are passionate about, that we can just do it ourselves in the space they conveniently left for us.

First Blood

It’s not an exaggeration to say the Contra is my childhood. My first video game system was a used NES, coming with a box of games that included Mario/Duck Hunt, Contra, Black Bass, Defender 2, Super Pitfall, ExciteBike, Baseball, and Contra. Though my favorite game was always going to be Mario, Contra was a close 2nd. Watching my Dad playing this game and later joining in using the now famous Konami Code are memories I still hold fondly to this day.

My next systems were SEGA Genesis and SNES. Again some of my favorite games were run-and-guns. Games like Mega Turrican and Gunstar Heroes introduced me to mechanics outside of Contra, and I enjoyed both immensely. Then I played Contra 3; to this day it is one of my favorite games to just pick up and go, delivering one of the tightest arcade-style experiences you can get. Sadly by the time the next generation of consoles showed up, developer attention turned to 3D Games. With the new emphasis being of First person Shooters and 3D Platformers, and the efforts like Contra: Legacy of War being….painful, I began to move on from this style of game, forced out by a lack of viable options.

Years later, with the birth of the Indie scene, a plethora of genres forgotten by a progress-obsessed game industry began to come out of hibernation to the excitement of many gamers, myself among them. Even more hype-inducing was the prospect of these games getting physical releases thanks to the efforts of small limited-edition publishers like LimitedRunGames. Blazing Chrome was among the ones that I was most excited about, and from the moment I first heard about it I knew that if it received a physical release I would have to get it. Sure enough, not long after it’s release it was announced for $34.99. I bit immediately, and when it arrived the box went on the shelf, the cart went into the Dacckit, and it awaited it’s turn as I burned through my backlog.

That time is now; I suited up and prepared for the mission.

In Search Of The Last Action Heroes

Blazing Chrome wears it’s inspirations on it’s cutoff sleeves. Sometime in the future, the development of a supercomputer led to the decimation of the human race. As the machines became stronger and began to produce biological weapons as well as more combat robots, humanity began to fight back. You are one of two commandos on a mission to infiltrate and shut down the core of this AI in order to take the planet back for team Homo Sapiens. It’s a barebones premise to let you know the high stakes you are fighting for.

Every action epic needs a Hero, and this one has two that you can play as from the get-go. Mavra is a Human resistance fighter, and Doyle is a reprogrammed combat robot. From what I can tell they both functionally play the same, with each having the ability to jump, go prone, roll, and shoot (melee when the baddies get close). Both have access to a plethora of powerups and guns that can be found in supply drops as the stages progress. In addition to your default Machine Gun, There is an arcing Grenade Launcher, a charging single-fire Laser Rifle, and an Energy Whip what operates like a flamethrower, heaping on constant damage. There are also pickups like a Double Jump that increases maneuverability, An assault Drone that doubles your firepower, and an energy shield that allows you to eat an attack.

You’ll need all of it. Blazing Chrome is a hard game. enemies are numerous and aggressive, and on higher difficulties can make short work of even the most seasoned action star. Which is why the lessons learned from other Run-and -Guns come into play so effectively here. Each player has the ability to switch between the four guns on the fly, provided that they have collected them from a supply drop. Your default gun is now auto fire, and you can also aim in all 8 cardinal directions, with a button to anchor in Place while you do so. This means the only tricky shot is the one straight down below you. Checkpoints are also numerous, giving you an allotted number lives to reach it depending on what difficulty was chosen. It takes elements from games across the genre and distills them down to their essence for a challenging but fair excursion.

The Enemy That Defines Us

The campaign takes place across 6 missions, 4 of which are selectable from the beginning ala Gunstar Heroes. Each mission has a simple description of it’s objective and an accompanying difficulty rating. Once selected you will immediately be thrown into combat against a variety of Machines and biological mutants out to finish you for good. Enemy variety is consistent but not overwhelming, and generally fit in with the scenario at hand. expect to see Robotic Warriors in defense of the Communications Tower, Mutant Experiments at the Bioweapons facility, and a variety of berserkers and infantry robots in the City Siege.

Each mission also has a number of set-pieces and hazards that will also factor into your run. From crumbling floors and platforms to quicksand that you slowly sink into, the environment themselves also offer an obstacle to fulfilling your objectives. The game also serves as a greatest hits compilation of awesome moments from past run-and-guns. There are over the shoulder straight on gauntlets ala Contra 1, Speedbikes and Mechs from Metal Slug, and an innovative jetpack sequence that is all their own thrown in for good measure. These are conservatively interspersed between the standard fare and show up just enough to keep the pacing feeling brisk and efficient.

A modern game like this would also be lackluster without a stellar group of boss encounters, and in this instance, Blazing Chrome does not disappoint, either. Bosses are doled out several times throughout each mission, in a manner reminiscent of Alien Soldier and Contra: Hard Corps. Many of these bosses also have multiple moving parts that can be targeted to remove a dangerous weapon from it’s arsenal as well, giving the player some choice in how to engage each encounter. Each fight also has relevance to the scenario at hand. You will fight the tentacles of the Biomonster on the surface prior to going underground to fight the body itself. Units rain from the sky from the final carrier you will fight at the end of the train stage. These battles provide an explanation as to the problems you have faced and give a great sendoff to each stage.

The Art Of War

I can’t say enough about the graphical direction chosen for this game. JoyMasher nailed it, providing a 2D Graphical style with depth and shadowing that give a lot of character to this technological apocalypse. There are a lot of details in the multilayered background that gives the game a real sense of motion as you trek through these missions. The Straight-On, Over the shoulder segments are well done and provide some interesting uses of the game’s engine, in particular a late game segment that I was honestly blown away by. All in all, nothing but praise here.

It will also rock your socks off in the audio department. This is an 80’s-Style soundscape that is equal parts Mega Man and Contra, and was really impressed with how well it synergized with the pacing and mood of the game. Equal parts upbeat and desperate, it drives you forward with a sense of urgency, with my particular favorites being the Communication Tower and Train mission tracks. In terms of sound effects they do their jobs admirably, and synch well with the onscreen action. The detonation of enemy robots and sounds coming from both friendly and enemy fire do not detract from the game.

in regards to performance, the game was smooth, and I did not notice any hiccups in either 1 or 2 player mode. In fact, the only thing I can say in critique of the game is that I never really understood the utility of the roll ( In fact it actively killed me on a few occasions), and that I wanted more of it. Once you complete Blazing Chrome, there is more to do in what is certain to be at least one more playthrough. Outside the unlocking of a Hardcore difficulty, which challenges you to complete the game with less lives, limited continues, and more numerous and aggressive enemies, you’ll also gain access to 2 additional characters. These are melee-oriented, changing the way you will engage the enemy. There is also a mirror mode that flips the levels in a fun way, adding further challenge. While the replay value is high, it must also be kept in mind that at the time of writing, Blazing Chrome is an expensive package, and that at the time of this writing I could not find a copy for sale for less than $110.00. Proof of the games quality, but also of the limitations of limited physical releases.

Putting Down the (Run And) Gun

In recent years, Konami has been one of the most disappointing studios in the world, squandering the potential of their franchises or ignoring them completely. In the case of Contra, one of the legendary inspirations responsible for the existence of blazing Chrome, they chose to put the utterly Putrid Contra: Rogue Corps the same year, showing not only that they do not care about the fans or IP, but also that no amount of begging or competition will alter their behavior.

And that is fine. Konami may own Contra, but they do not own the Run-and-Gun. When a genre outgrows a particular franchise, sometimes the right thing to do is say goodbye. Konami’s lack of care can never take the memories I have of prior entries, and cannot prevent talented developers like JoyMashers from making more. As I tore through the robotic hordes in 2-player with my Dad, I can’t help but think that we are in the middle of making the second batch. Though I wanted more, If I’m being honest I can understand that Blazing Chrome is a game that respects my time, and will always be waiting for me when I come back, which I will. It’s a hell of a good time.

-Mongunzoo

Slay The Spire

The Dead Man’s Hand

Cards stand with board games and physical sports as some of the earliest forms of Gamification in recorded history. From their first mention during the Tang Dynasty to their proliferation throughout Europe in the middle ages, they have always had a significant presence in our lives. Old sayings factor them into their wisdom, many famous memes utilize their symbolism, and even the rare person who has never played a game of Poker or Blackjack is bound to have a basic grasp on how to play through Cultural Osmosis alone.

Gaining prominence in the 17th Century and developing parallel were Tarot Cards. People claiming Divination utilized these to tell futures, over time becoming synonymous with fate. Given this background it makes sense that cards feature so prominently in the subconscious of humanity, as making the most of the hands we are dealt in life encapsulates the human experience. It was Socrates who famously said that Luck is Opportunity plus Preparation, but what happens to those who cannot manage to bridge the two? And what impact would these repeated failures have on the individual forced to endure them?

Slay the Spire puts you in such a situation. It’s gives you all the information you need to make the decisions that would result in your success, yet often denies you the tools to make it happen. It’s a card game that you’ll come back to over and over again, teasing you with the possibility of that perfect run, only to knock you down to the base of the tower to start anew. Through the crucible of struggle, it will make you mindful for what you are given, yet also painfully aware of what you are not. Most of these runs will inevitably end in failure. With this in mind, what does that say about thi game’s system? And what does our response say about us?

A Good Run of Bad Luck

My experience with cards started with illustrated decks for Old Maid and Go Fish that I would play with my family. As time went on and we upgraded to a standard deck of playing cards, new games were played; War, Bullshit, and Poker chief among them. I got pretty good at such games, enjoyed having a single set of cards that all draw from. As research shows that engagement with games is a chief socializing factor in children, this fairness is an important and often overlooked distinction, but one with a deception built into it. That being that most games aren’t fair at all.

Pokémon and Magic: The Gathering were my first lessons in this. I loved the vibrant art style and complex rules of these card games, and the wealth of strategic opportunities that they provided. I remember getting Pojo’s Magazine and looking through the wealth of Cards, brainstorming decks and writing them down on lists my mom still has. The problem is none of those decks ever came to be realized as in order to build a 60 Card Pokémon Deck, you needed to purchase Booster Packs, far too expensive than our finances afforded at the time.

Lacking the finances to spend hundreds of dollars on deck-crafting, and not having the money to go to the comic store and buy the often expensive single cards needed, hard reality set in. A couple of my decks were used by some of my friends, with a Rainbow Haymaker I developed even going to regionals. It was an early lesson that knowing the rules of the game only got you so far. Fast forward years later, and I hear about this Procedurally-generated fantasy card game for $30.00 Dollars. I was hesitant, given my background with cards thus far, but having heard nothing but praise for the game ultimately led to a purchase. “Maybe my luck would be different this time?”

I stepped up to the table and advised them to deal me in.

Uncut Gems

Slay The Spire’s premise is lightning quick-If you blink you’ll miss it. You are an adventurer that has arrived from a faraway land on a quest to defeat some force that lies at the top of a Spire. Through playing the game you can potentially learn the backstory of each character archetype, and there are some unifying details for those who pay attention (Automatons, a Strange Bird Cult, and Eldritch horrors aplenty). Despite this, in my numerous runs I was unable to grasp any real story. Not that this is a bad thing: it’s an excuse plot to justify you being here.

In pursuit of this goal, you will choose between three (four once you unlock them) different characters, each with an entirely different playstyle and set of cards. The Ironclad is a Warrior with the ability to regenerate health every turn and cards focused on Damage Dealing and Defense. The Silent is a Rogue who can draw more cards and has an emphasis on debilitation and poison stacking. The Defect is a Mage that can be played a number of ways and easily has the most challenging mechanics of the three. Once you choose your Hero, it’s off to plan your route through the first of three maps that represent your ascent up the spire.

Stages are randomly generated each time you start a new run, and are full of potential pitstops in between the battles with Weak and Elite Enemies. Question marks signify special events that can grant various boons or harms. Campfires where you can either upgrade your cards or restore some Health (one of the few ways you can reliably do this). Stores allow you to purchase or remove cards using gold won in battles and events, or buy potions and Relics that add abilities to your character. Finally there are are Chests that announce a free relic upon landing there. Properly charting a course through these events will make or break your run.

The Heart of the Cards

This is because your battles will ultimately be determined by the strength of your deck and the tools you have uncovered during your journey through the Spire. Each character starts with a basic deck of four strikes, four defends, and two class cards as well as three turns to use those cards. Everything else is gained or lost during the run and nothing carries over from previous attempts. You must Slay the Spire in one go with what you have.

This is done through battles with an assortment of enemies using a brilliant Intent system. Your foes telegraph whether they are going to defend, buff/debuff, or attack, as well as how much damage they are going to deal, giving you opportunity to plan your turn in a way that minimizes damage while getting in hits when you can. Provided you have the hand to do it. Encounters start relatively easy before ramping up quickly, and by Act 2 you will be expected to make the most of every opportunity to build a deck, gather tools, and Properly read your foes in order to succeed. Victory over weak foes grants you a choice of a new card. Triumphing over Strong foes will net you a relic. It is this risk/reward dichotomy makes Spire such an addictive experience. Do I rest some health back or go into the boss fight hurt but with an key upgraded card? Do I take the Defensive Card or the one that hits all enemies? Go to the store or roll the dice on a special event? You will die, but the next run is a button press away, and every time you enter the Spire, you will have more foresight than you did last time.

It can take some time, but when it finally all comes together these victories are exhilarating. The Ironclad Monster that was easily doing over 200 damage in a single blow as he stacked Strength and handed out vulnerabilities in massive amounts. The Impregnable Ice Defect that could stack 60 defense while whittling enemies down with attrition. Every run promises to be the next one of these, and while most are not, it happens often enough to make for a game that is honestly very hard to put down. On top of that, the game allows custom runs that have a massive amount of tailoring options for you to choose from. Want to build your perfect Starter Deck out of 30 cards? Or build a Chimera Deck from all characters during a run? Want to make the game harder? Custom runs allow you to tweak these and more for a nearly unlimited level of play.

The Aesthetics of Chance

Visually the game is solid, with a special emphasis on the art design. Everything is hand-drawn, with little to no animation to speak of. Actions are conveyed through special effects, like a flame powering you up or a line blasting through enemies. Character design delivers compelling twists on fantasy stalwarts, blending fantasy with Lovecraftian horror. And the cards themselves are well-illustrated with fitting imagery to their effects.

In terms of the soundtrack, I would say that it is also solid, and while there are no earworm tracks that I can’t get out of my head, it conveys the mystery and the danger of the Spire clearly enough. Sound effects are a real standout, delivering impactful blows with gusto. I winced visibly at times when an enemy broke my guard in a spectacular fashion, and felt it when a fatal wound was dealt to an enemy. This contributes to the satisfying nature of the gameplay loop and is the unsung hero in this department.

Technically the game has very little hiccups, which is to be expected from a hand-drawn indie game. There is nothing really demanding going on here behind the scenes, and the game was snappy and responsive, with a particular nod to the short loading times. The algorithm that builds the world seems to be competent as well, delivering a fair if challenging experience filled with enough opportunities that most runs will be viable. I only experienced one run where I felt it was entirely unfair, running into an enemy in the third act I have only seen once; this foe, who I am convinced is some kind of random superboss, dealt close to 100 damage and was not appreciated.

Ace of Spades

Few Jokers aside, Slay the Spire is a compulsive experience that I am certain to return to over and over again. It is a Roguelike that deserves to be spoken of in the same hushed tones as greats like Binding of Isaac, Hades, and Dead Cells. It is a game that I could easily see me sinking dozens of hours into, with enough depth, complexity, and customization to make just about anybody who is even remotely interested in a quality card game interested. As of today, you can score a copy of this game for 25 Dollars, and at that price this is difficult not to recommend.

It is a quality reminder of the power of videogames to bring experiences that can be prohibitively expensive to people in a digital format. Going back to my Pokémon Cards for a second, and interesting observation comes to mind. While I was never able to put the finances together to build a dream deck for real, Nintendo managed to put out a Pokémon Trading Card Game for the Game boy which contained the ability to get all the cards from the first three sets. I loved that game, and will never forget the Moltres Wildfire Deck I was able to build and utilize in that game. Give the Spire a visit and enjoy the climb!

-Mongunzoo

Streets of Rage 4

The Rhythm of Violence

Life moves at a breakneck pace, one that only picks up speed as the years go by. While we all have memories, most events are ephemeral, fading into the haze of thousands of similar moments that blend together into what becomes your collective experience. The memories that stand out from this backdrop usually do so for one reason or another. Perhaps it was a significant milestone of your life, or a particular good or bad moment. Sometimes it’s a unique event that doesn’t have to share real estate with hundreds of similar memories. And sometimes it’s just a series of events that define an era of your life. These are particularly common in our childhood, where sights, sounds, tastes and smells can instantly transport you back to a time when everything was new and magical.

Streets of Rage 4 was a vehicle for me to have that experience. it took me back to the 90’s, that magical Shangri-La of Aladdin’s Castle Arcade visits, after school co-op gaming with friends, and the best Saturday Morning Cartoons (Fight me, 80’s babies). At the same time, it also serves as a clever evolution of the formula both mechanically and thematically. The end result is a game packing in innovations to satisfy while being mindful of expectations of it’s fans.

It’s a game that sends you on a violence-fuelled adventure under a Neon Skyline, thrashing to the beat of the music with your favorite character and testing your beat-em-up metal. Best of all, it allows you to do this with a friend, enabling couch co-op for that buddy cop experience in video game form. And by the time it’s all over, makes me ask why this genre, like the 90’s era in general, ever went out of style.

Back to those Mean Streets

Like many kids growing up in that era, I was immersed in the console war between SEGA and Nintendo, and was fortunate to have ready access to both. While this turned out to be a double-edged sword in that I was always considered a wishy-washy fence-sitter by the kids on the playground (I wasn’t, BTW, SNES all the way), it also gave the ability to see the strengths and weaknesses of both libraries. And while both libraries has their share of excellent Beat-em-up games, I will always see Streets of Rage 2 has the Holy Grail of the genre. The game just felt so good, boasting one of the best soundtracks of the era alongside frantic and fast-paced action.

Nostalgia was also a factor, as Streets of Rage 2 was at my grandparents house, one of a variety of games available for me and my cousins to try out during family get togethers. As a lad with little to no disposable income in a time where games could cost upwards of 70 dollars ($138.00 in todays currency), there was no way to have all the games, and so these visits to family and friends was like stepping into a variety of other worlds not available at home. Jurassic Park, Chiki Chiki Boys, and the original Sonic were all there to play, but the one we popped in more often than not was Streets of Rage 2.

So the day it was announced that there was going to be another game, a long-forgotten sequel of one of a long-neglected genre’s best games, I knew that I would have to get it day one. Limited Run games had a physical for $34.99, which I purchased, and when it arrived, I popped it in and gave it a test run, along with a multiplayer session or three with my cousin. Two things stood out to me. First, how bad I was at these games. Also, how good it felt to be able to have this experience again over decade later. And while it was a game I continued to come back to casually, I knew that it was time to put it through it’s paces and examine why everyone loves bashing and smashing their ways through these vibrant yet gritty streets.

I tossed on my denim jacket, tightened my bandana, and stepped back into the 90s…

History Repeating

4 takes place a decade after the closing moments of 3, with Mr. X defeated for good and his kids stepping up to run the new syndicate in his absence. Upon hearing this, Axel and Blaze jump into action. They aren’t alone; tagging along is Cherry, the daughter of series regular Adam, and Floyd, a big lug with Cyborg Arms. Together they set out to clean up the crime in Wood Oak City one last time. It is a guided experience that sets you on a path, and then places a variety of people, items and hazards in front of you to let the fun commence across 12 levels.

The stages are riffs on action movie staples, full of wonderful Easter eggs for film buffs and series fans. You will get your 007 on while fighting atop a moving train, do your best Oldboy impersonation through a narrow alley while facing a line of single-file enemies, and fight your way up a tower full of enemies in a dramatic Game of Death. The layouts provide myriad opportunities for mayhem, allowing you to use weapons fabricated or otherwise to pummel you opponents, strategically use hazards like venting pipes and downed power lines to lay traps, or knock enemies into exploding barrels and pits, as long as you take care not to wander into them yourself.

Or maybe you’re just looking to pound them to a bloody pulp? The game gives each of the characters ample tools to accomplish this. From Axel and Blaze’s balanced offense to Cherry’s rapid strikes or Floyd’s ponderous but powerful blows, there is a style for every player. There is also an option to clinch if you walk into the enemy, allowing for throws and beatdowns. Each character also has a strong forward attack, and power attacks that cost some of your health in order to execute them. It is also worth noting that the game rewards aggression and timing of these moves, as you can regain lost life by hitting the enemy uninterrupted. Just remember that if you get hit, you lose all health expended from your power attacks. Finally, each character has a Super move they can unleash if they have a star available, devastating everyone near you and knocking them all down, giving some much needed breathing space.

Bloodsport

With both new and returning baddies ready to rumble, variety isn’t a problem. You have your fodder enemies that exist to run into your fist if they don’t have a weapon. You also have combatants like the dropkick girls and the bomb throwers that will hold their own and often have unique attacks that can put some serous damage on you if you’re careless. Then there are the miniboss-class enemies like Big Ben and Goro variants that can be incredibly frustrating to deal with. Thankfully there are foodstuffs to recover health and cash collectibles to give points that can score you extra lives and continues. All these elements come together to give a tense and challenging experience that enables the player to smash their foes in a variety of satisfying ways.

Finally, there are the bosses. Streets of Rage 4 has some incredibly fun boss encounters and boasts a mixture of returning favorites and new baddies. Escalation is also done well, with bosses gaining difficulty and complexity over time. These encounters are a lot of fun, and expect to spend carefully hoarded lives and Super Moves on these monsters. The final Boss in particular is a hell of a slog, and I have still yet to complete it on higher difficulties. My personal favorite takes place in the Chinatown level, which should be noted is also my favorite stage in the game, where an old friend gives you a fast-paced and honorable duel you won’t soon forget.

Streets of Rage 4 includes several ways to calibrate your experience to your skill level. On Easy, you have more lives available to clear a level. Enemies are also slower, less aggressive, and come at you in fewer numbers than on higher difficulties. There are also modifiers that and be set up to impact things such as more stars for special attacks or giving more lives at the cost of negative score modifiers. Overall I found the normal difficulty with no modifiers to be a challenging experience single-player, while Hard was better for 2-player mode. I’m not a sadist so my experience with higher difficulties is limited.

Technical Knockout

While my understanding is that there has been some controversy over the art style used, I personally love it and think that it oozes 90’s personality. Stages are vibrant, colorful, and soaked in Neon, and there is so much character to the stages. The main fighters have all aged, and the character design fits this as well. Strong outlines give things an almost Comix Zone Vibe, and considering that’s another of my favorite beat-em-ups, that’s not a bad thing. Animation is fluid with no noticeable lag or hiccups despite the large amount of chaotic rancor going on in any given screenshot.

Musically the game shines. While I will always personally prefer Streets of Rage 3, this has a great evolution of the style of that game, giving you the same techno beats with a little added soul and slow jazz elements that just gives everything so much more character. Wood Oak City has aged and changed with the times, and the soundtrack reflects a city buckling under the tyranny of time. I also love that the story manages to work the soundtrack into it’s progression, as the Big Bad’s plan to use music to brainwash the city into becoming violent thugs, providing a brilliant metacommentary on the players themselves rocking out to these tunes while beating the hell out of everything they see. A neat touch that I really appreciate.

Once you have completed the game, there is more stuff to do. There are a ton of characters to unlock from past games as you build your lifetime score by playing. They have Sprite graphics, which is awesome, and while many of them are variants of available characters from the prequels, they are different enough in function to be worth a try. There are also some secret levels hidden within the stages, an while I won’t spoil how to unlock them, look carefully at your environments for things that may be out of place in the 2020’s. And while I am personally not a fan of this Hamster Gaming of making the player unlock things like character skins, theres enough there to satisfy at the inception and it’s not like you wouldn’t come back if they weren’t there at all, so it’s all good.

Hard to Kill

When I searched for prices on Streets of Rage 4, Physical Copies are going for 25 bucks. For what you are getting, that’s a steal. That’s because Streets of Rage 4 might have transported me back to the best times of my childhood more absolutely than any other game I have played that year. It’s not just because its from a long-dormant genre that I loved in the 90’s. It’s not just the iconic music styles. That’s part of it, but not the whole story. This game transports me back to a time when the best part of the week was coming home from school on Friday knowing you were going to Grandma’s house to some quality time with your cousin, It brings me to a time when even the minor stresses of a kid going to school vanish in a haze of techno music and laughter from family that, while gone or distant, still exists in the vaults of my memory.

Streets of Rage 4 is a terrific experience that Guard Crush Games and Lizard Cube should be proud of. My understanding is that many 16 Bit franchises, particularly SEGA is going through something of a Renaissance. With Sonic Mania sitting on my shelf, I can only hope this quality outsourcing to developers that are genuine fans of the properties continues. With a well-structured campaign, options for couch co-op, and some of the best beat-em-up gameplay available, there’s no reason not to get back in touch with your inner 90’s and give these mean streets a walk.

-Mongunzoo

Crysis

“Ain’t got Time to Bleed!”

Advances in technology are a fact of life, and one that I tend to have trouble with. This blog could be considered a manifestation of this, as in an era where many people would take to YouTube to chronicle a game experience, here I am sitting here banging out words for people to actually read. Novel, isn’t it? And while video is flashy and confers many advantages, chief among them being the fact that more will consume that style of content, I cannot help but be drawn to reading a good article from time to time.

Now this coming from someone who still has a flip phone may mean very little by itself. But what happens when those tried and true habits of old, replaced with the New and Flashy technology of today are suddenly needed? What occurs when reliance on these new innovations create habits that may trap you into a false comfort, ultimately putting you in a bad or desperate situation when you least expect it?

Crysis masterfully pulls this off in a way I seldom see in a genre that is often accused of playing it safe. You begin the game overpowered to such an extent that you feel like a kid kicking down those anthills, only to figure out later on that those mounds were hiding something way scarier than a few insects. And it feels…..Great. The best action movies are often built in a way that the audience is shown a premise, only to then have your expectations be completely subverted in a way that surprises you, catches you off guard. It becomes that big, dumb, schlocky action film that stays with you long after the credits roll, enjoying mentions and discussions years after it’s debut. And while the release buzz may have centered around amazing setpieces and over the top special effects, it’s longevity proves that under this surface examination lies a deeper, more unifying experience at the heart of this major blockbuster.

Welcome to the Jungle

I never had an opportunity to play Crysis when it was first released. With a PC that could be charitably described as a “potato” and a Wii, there was no way I was the guy who was going to answer the question “….But can it run Crysis?” with anything but a mumbled “No”. And at the time, that was okay, as my last major experiences with FPS games would have been Doom on the SNES (not ideal) and games of Goldeneye and Perfect Dark at my cousin’s or friends house. FPS’s on home consoles had yet to hit their stride in a major way back then and my PC wasn’t able to run much beyond Solitaire, so as a result I was left with a pretty uncharitable view of the genre as a whole.

As a result, when I heard that Crysis was going to be on the Switch, I was pretty shocked and excited, especially seeing that Saber Interactive was working on the conversion. There was one problem: No physical version. Disappointed, I moved on with my life and didn’t think about the game again until one day, browsing Amazon, there it was: Crysis Remastered for the Nintendo Switch, for $39.99. I ordered it, and once it arrived, on the shelf it went, waiting for it’s moment to be put through the paces.

One of my most utilized gaming habits is Genre Cycling. Rather than just sticking to one game genre specifically, I will switch it up (hahaha)game to game. So I may play a Visual Novel, and the next game might be a more intense game such as an FPS or action game. In the background I am also usually playing a more long-term game such as a long RPG as well. The reason for this is to avoid burnout, considering I have almost 300 games to go through on this journey, and that number will only grow. The time was now, and I could fill it in my bones. It was time for a FPS. I knew the first game I was going to reach for.

My flight to the Jungles of Lingshan Islands was booked and ready….

The Deadliest Predator

You are a Special Forces soldier from Raptor Team on a mission to rescue a team of scientists from a North Korean Invasion force that has occupied the island and is excavating something big on the mountain. It is often described as an open world game, and while not entirely true, the missions take place in maps that are absolutely massive in sprawl, enabling free movement and decision making in how you want to get to your marked goal. Vehicles are available, enemy camps are set up at various points, and foliage is thick enough to hide in. So do you want to snake around the beach and do a thorough reconnaissance? Do it. Want to take a gunboat across the harbor and shortcut it? You can do that, too. It’s all left up to the player to navigate the space in a manner of their choosing.

Layered onto this freedom of movement is the suit itself, Set in the future year of 2020 (oof), you are given a prototype suit that enhances your soldiering, and this suit will become an essential tool in hoe you choose to navigate the first act. There are four modes available to you. Stealth Mode allows you to cloak Predator-Style and masks your enemies ability to properly sight you, especially at a distance. Armor Mode enables a shield to take fire instead of your health bar, letting you get in touch with your inner Rambo. You also have s Speed mode enabling blitzes and retreats, as well as a quick strafe to avoid gunfire. Finally Strength Mode allows you to Jump high and reach vantage points, Throw Objects with deadly force, and grab enemies for use as a Human Shield.

These systems all synergize to make just about every playthrough a different experience, and allow a diversity of tactics not often seen in a shooter. Imagine jumping into a vehicle and activating stealth mode, getting in a vehicle, and driving into an enemy encampment, jumping out, and tossing a grenade as the enemies gather around to investigate the mysterious ghost car. Or jumping onto a roof and punching your way though it to jump down into the structure once spotted, speeding into the building opposite, and then using your cloak to snipe them from the opposite side of the map. The arsenal is also diverse and comes with attachments to further customize your experience, allowing you to tailor your guns on the fly to your current approach. It’s a marvelous layer of systems that truly enable to player to tell their story on the island.

A Reversal of Fortunes

As you traverse the first act, there are signs that there is more at play than what is initially seen. Soldiers, both your own and North Koreans alike are found butchered together, a cargo ship is found frozen in a mountain pass, and strange dronelike fliers are seen attacking friends and foes alike. Escalation of events, in both the story and in the in-game action is handled very well, and to me is reminiscent of a game like Contra, beginning with throwing grunts and vehicles at you, progressing to more heavy duty armor and more specialized soldiers as the mission progresses. Tactics will be altered but nothing is thrown at you that you cannot handle as long is you fight smart and utilize your suit. You become used to the feeling of being the strongest thing on the island, feeling like the Predator hunting Duke and Company. A final confrontation with the general in charge of the North Korean forces commences. You win, roll credits.

The game absolutely could have ended there and been a complete experience. But then, it happens. Revelations are arrived at, a new enemy is introduced, and you are put in a position of fighting for your life against an overwhelmingly powerful opponent. You go from a mission that has been a nonstop advance toward the mountain, to a quick and desperate retreat as you fight for your life. The tactics employed with your suit no longer effective, serving only to keep you from dying immediately, and with the old tactics no longer working, you reach down deep into your tried and true shooter tactics, hone in, and get in the zone. Both narratively and in execution, Crysis sets up this false sense of security brilliantly, spending 2/3rds of the experience feeling like a badass before yanking the carpet out from under you and sending you bruised, battered, and running for cover.

In keeping with this change the game does lose some of the openness that I also came to appreciate, adopting a more brisk blockbuster pace as events race towards their final conclusion. I can see how this will disappoint many, but given the structure of the game I understand and respect this decision. Stages become more linear and focused, and as a result the last act of the game will blaze by, not letting you up until the very end. By the time the real credits roll, we are honestly left with more questions than answers, and the cliffhanger ending is one of the steepest drops I have ever encountered in a game. I despise when this happens, as games should be experiences that can feel complete on their own, and here we are left with almost no closure on how this particular situation ends.

Battlefield Canvas

Technically speaking, I am shocked that this game plays on the Switch at all, and especially as well as it does. Crysis was held up for years as the bar for technical excellence and achievement by sneering PC Snobs, and I see why. There is no way a game should look this good when it came out in 2007. Sunlight streams in over photorealistic foliage. Wildlife inhabits the island, trees sway in the breeze and can even be shot down. Environments are almost fully destructible, and the Island showcases a variety of times, climates, and lighting that keeps things from getting too stale and predictable.

From an auditory perspective the game shines as well, with a soundtrack that kicks in during the more intense setpeices, and fades in into the background when less is going on. This allows cooperation with the outstanding sound design, letting the ambience of the island shine through in between shootouts. The sound effects such as the gun reports and explosions also deliver in effective and convincing ways.

The games AI operates in effective and convincing ways, with enemies investigating suspicious activity and alerting allies when you are spotted. There is the occasional shooterbrain enemy, in particular when you are at a higher elevation, but overall I was pleased with the enemies. The game also approaches difficulty in a unique way. Rather than upping damage to you and upping enemy health bars, the game instead takes away HUD indicators and features, with the penultimate difficulty making the enemy soldiers speak to one another in Korean. All said Saber Interactive did an outstanding job with the port, as barring a few framerate hiccups, some motion blurring, and a serious battery drain in portable mode, I didn’t notice much of anything that limited my enjoyment of the game. Being able to take this one on the go is an incredible achievement they should be proud of.

The Fight Goes On

As I reflect on my time with Crysis, I am left with mixed feelings. As a game, it is undeniably of high quality, and left me with many moments that I will remember fondly. From the harrowing night time hike back up the river for extraction while low on ammo, with a helicopter trailing me the entire time, to leading an all out dawn assault on a series Anti Aircraft guns, the game is filled with amazing moments generated by the players choices and decision, unique to each one. It’s also a technical miracle, operating on portable hardware. At the same time, the cliffhanger really dampened my final moments in this world, forcing a purchase of another game to conclude a story that another chapter or two could have concluded in a satisfactory way.

Yet despite this hangup, it’s hard not to recommend this to Switch players looking for a good shooter in a library that honestly needs as many of these as it can get. Crysis is a game that lets each player tell their own story, and gives you all the tools to do just that. It will also challenge you in surprising ways, and make you dwell on our reliance of technology, and whether that will ultimately become a saving grace, or a crutch that when removed will cause our fall. It’s an experience that makes you dig deep, using pacing and circumstance to let you experience life as Both Predator and Prey. For action fans, don’t miss this trip to the Jungle. And don’t be shocked when upon completion, you dive back in.

-Mongunzoo

The House in Fata Morgana

A Series of Unfortunate Events

In Viewing the Timeline of Humanity, one can be forgiven as viewing it as a sequence of Traumas. Those affected by them die out, fading from memory only to re-emerge in a new form, again and again. When Stepping back and looking at this unfortunate series of events that composes the human experience, what conclusions can be reached? The late anthropologist David Graeber gave us one lens for this; a large amount of these traumas have stemmed from the use of Power against others, and the resulting reactions to those projections, namely, intolerance, misunderstanding, and scarcity.

Though they manifest in unique ways over a myriad of cultures and time periods, a commonality remains over the years of societal and moral development, taking the form of structures and systems designed to support whatever those in the past intended, binding us to their will. As time marches on and progress has been made what happened to these structures? The House in Fata Morgana suggests this takes the form of accepted norms and circumstances and obligations that are accepted unexamined, resulting in acceptance of the horrible realities that they bring. Generating trauma and tragedy, and forcing them to perpetuate damaging structures that ultimately forge who they are, and passing on the evil that they do to future generations.

The House In Fata Morgana asks a lot in the beginning, and in the end it rewards those who stick with it with one of the more thoughtful and nuanced meditations on Power and Trauma I have yet to see. In finishing this tragic tale of circumstance, one may begin to examine some of the contrivances that ensnare their own actions, and in doing so, make this not only a game of Big Ideas, but Important Ones, as well.

How I arrived at this Mansion

Before we delve any further, It;s well worth stopping to reflect on how it is that I ended up in the mansion to begin with. Anyone familiar with my gaming tastes over the years will no doubt do a double-take that this is the first Switch game I have chosen to examine. I am not known for my love of storytelling in games, as I typically see the unique strength of games as being a format that allows YOU to tell your own story, the game merely being a canvas to do so. Naturally this would make Fata Morgana and other Visual Novels near the end of any consideration for playtime in an already impossibly clogged backlog.

A few stars aligned that made it possible. For a long time I have heard people discuss this game as being a must-play experience, but with no physical edition available the game was not in existence as far as I was concerned. Then one day, Limited Run Games announced a physical edition of the game, and as a lover of both horror and physical media in conjunction with the game’s artwork, suffice to say…. I couldn’t pass it up. I purchased the game for around 35 dollars and forgot about it until it arrived in my mailbox, the game box placed on the shelf, the cartridge placed in my binder, and the idea of the game fading into my memory.

Then came a series of articles from NintendoLife by Kate Gray that highlighted that this game had an almost perfect Metascore. While I typically pay little attention to such things, I admit I bristled at this news. THIS was comparable to the likes of Breath of the Wild?!? Really?!? My curiosity was piqued, yet still I did not bite. The final piece fell into place in the midst of a hellacious and stressful work life that left me drained for anything other than a Netflix Binge post-workday. The House in Fata Morgana drifted into the periphery of my consciousness, calling to me, promising a more laid back experience.

I took the plunge, and Entered the Mansion

Memories of the past

At it’s heart, The House in Fata Morgana can best be summed up as a horror mystery. You awaken in a rocking chair in front of a warm fireplace, with a maid standing nearby beckoning you to rediscover who you are. This sets up a journey through a series of doors, each taking you to a different era and giving you a glimpse into the lives of the inhabitants of the mansion during these various epochs. The first few hours of Fata Morgana can charitably be described as slow. Very slow. You are treated to a series of unlikeable and despicable people without being given the context to care about any of them. I would be lying if I said it was a difficult experience to get invested in up front.

I mention this because it is a common parlance of media such as television that a three episode grace period be given; That if a story has not hooked you in the first three episodes there is no reason to stick with it. People approaching Fata Morgana with this ethos will be doing themselves no favors. This is a game that demands your full attention through to the end. If you stop in the first three acts, you will think this is one of the weakest “stories” you have ever been tortured with. So don’t to that. Commit UP FRONT to suffering through three stories of unlikeable people with no real context for their actions and no real hook as to how they are connected with your identity or the house itself. Trust that this is a deliberate choice by the author and that things will get clearer as you delve deeper into the mansion’s mysteries. Take the Maids advice, never let go of her hand, because like the in-game protagonist, if you do, you will be forever lost in the dark with no resolution in sight.

As these stories play out you will begin to notice some anchors to each experience. The Maid is always present, the mansion is always the setting, and there is always a White-Haired Girl central to every narrative. Each of these anchors is pivotal to unraveling the games plot, and once you are through the first three stories the pieces will begin to fall into place. Context will be introduced, details will be highlighted, motivations will be revealed, and information withheld will come to light. It is in these “AHA!” moments that the game begins to truly tell it’s story and elaborate on it’s darker themes. And while there are plenty of grisly scenes and surface horror that will certainly entertain your typical scary movie fan, it is the themes beneath the game’s murky surface that provide the most unsettling observations on how we have chosen to construct our relationships and societies.

On the Nature of Chains

When I said that Fata Morgana is a game of Big Ideas, I meant it. It it’s in this second act that we get to examine the the Enslaving nature of Obligation and Power, and the tragedy that arises from being chained to these contrivances. In one instance a village that has been living under the radar of the local lord. You get to see the villages work together in peace and harmony with little infighting prior to the lord discovering the existence of the community and demanding tribute, including back taxes. Very quickly the forced scarcity emanating from this projection of power shatters this close-knit community, turning neighbors on one another and causing outsiders to be demonized.

In another instance, a lord describes the exhaustion that sets in with the day-to-day running of a kingdom, lamenting his constant need to focus on keeping his power, unable to do the things he envisioned himself doing once achieving this end, and ultimately illustrating that Power is also damaging to the one wields it, and that they are as much a slave to it as the people he victimizes. The game goes to great lengths to show that no one seems to be happy with the way these obligations play out, whether it be to a kingdom, a family member, or an ideal. They only serve to trap these characters in their own personal hell.

It’s not all so dark. There are also moments of genuine happiness, that however fleeting, are the moments that these people remember foremost in spite all their suffering. These moments, often presented as a result of going against the norms taken for granted as “the way things are”, help to buoy them even in their darkest hours. We are also shown what happens when these moments are not enough, when the trauma overrides the good memories so severely that it reverberates through generations, impacting the future. I am limited in what I can say regarding these, as the less you know going in the better it is. But the hope and horror go hand in hand and are executed intelligently and with purpose.

Art with Purpose

A hand-drawn Gothic art style accentuates the themes well. Note that this is not a game that shies away from all sorts of imagery, both in the graphical style as well as the words that are painted onto the imagination of your mental canvas. Even more impressive is the soundtrack, ranging from haunting melodies to jazzy upbeat numbers to a few tracks that would be at home in a Silent Hill Game. Vocals in the songs are impressive and are in languages appropriate to the time and places, I recall Latin, French , and Italian off the top of my head. The same attention to details that are present in the story are also present in the soundtrack, with some of my favorites like Close My World, Dammi Una Sigaretta, and Hex going into regular rotation on my work Jams.

Technically the game doesn’t seem to have any hiccups, which is to be expected as this is a visual novel, and that would honestly be unacceptable. Menus work as intended, no stutter was detected during gameplay, and it has the standard logs, autoplay, fast forward, and save options. I also never really had any trouble navigating the rare choices that pop up in the narrative. It’s an overall smooth experience, as the game does it’s job well enough that I was never taken out of the yarn it was spinning. Nothing else to really to say here.

Feature-wise you are getting a pretty epic package here. You get Fata Morgana, the fully voiced sequel Reincarnations, and various side stories. There is also an option to unlock all content right away, though why anyone would do such a thing is beyond me as you would be utterly LOST, but you do you. for 35 dollars it’s a steal, though the current physical price as of this writing is hovering around $70 dollars. At that price you better be a fan of this style of gameplay, an avid horror fan, or both in order to justify that.

Suffering and Salvation

The House in Fata Morgana is a demanding experience. It will demand your attention, your emotional energy, and an honest examination of who we are and why we do things the way we do them. It is an examination of the way that events impact future generations, and how those generations response impacts further futures. It doesn’t give a solution, in fact my takeaway is that there may not be one. It does a splendid job of showcasing human nature in all it’s glory and hardship, and in asking you if those precious moments snapshotted in time are worth all the suffering it takes to get to them. Each person will have to answer that themselves, but when I stepped out of that mansion, I can certainly say that my perspective has been altered if not changed entirely, I am still uncertain if this genre as a whole is for me, but I will certainly be more open minded in the future in regards to how a game can tell a narrative.

Art is the practice of using the world around us to illicit an emotional response, and in my case, The House in Fata Morgana was a resounding success. It takes me back to a time when I was so certain of my lens on reality, so sure that I knew that way the world worked. l met people who told me that I have it wrong, or at least that I lacked the whole picture. I heard them, but I didn’t listen. People rarely do. Trapped in autopilot, we rely on what has worked before. But worked for who? And did it ever really work at all? I honestly don’t know. As look back at my time with this game, I remember the many spirited discussions I had with someone brave enough to tell me I was lacking context. I heard but I never really considered. And I think he was right. If that doesn’t sell you on this being an experience worth having, then it’s truly not for you.

-Mongunzoo