The Game Corner – What Are You Playing? Week of 1/4/21

ACT Game Corner 1/1/21

Welcome to the new year! Now that we finally left 2020 behind, we’re looking forward to a much brighter and better year! With that being said, welcome to the Game Corner!

ACT Pokemon Game Corner

What is the Game Corner?

Named after the Pokemon series’ casino, the Game Corner is a column where I cover my gaming backlog. I’ll also include activities in the games I regularly play, such as Fire Emblem Heroes and Super Smash Bros. Ultimate. If you’re fond of JRPGs, Nintendo series, PlayStation hits, and a hint of fighting games, you came to the right place!

We encourage you to share your backlogs with us in the replies as well. Hopefully, this column will give you some ideas on what to add to your backlog. If you’re looking for new games to play, you might find something you like!

Super Mario 3D All-Stars

ACT Super Mario 64

Yep, I did it. I cleared Super Mario 64 with 120 Stars. I’m no stranger to this game and I got into it when it came out on the Nintendo 64 back in 1996! I’ve cleared through this game many times to include on the DS with 150 Stars! Despite being many years since I’ve last played through this game, though, it’s a blast to play no matter how many times I replay it.

Surprisingly, as well as it’s held up, it’s become easier to identify some of the design flaws in the game. Perhaps it’s because Super Mario Galaxy spoiled us. But when it comes to finding 100 coins, redoing a long mission because of a death and no checkpoint, or clearing Tick-Tock Clock, some of the missions were actually frustrating! It’s one thing for Mario to be challenging but when you have to go all the way back through the Hazy-Maze Elevator because you feel once, it admittedly becomes tedious.

ACT Super Mario 64 Tick Tock Clock
Tick Tock Clock was heavily redesigned in the DS remake. The level design was much more tolerable.

Still, I gotta say it was hard to put down even today. As long as my backlog is, I’m honestly surprised I decided to stick with 64 till the end and clear it over the last week. Believe it or not, going over some of the 3D platformers I’ve played in my life, I can’t say I’ve played one better from a series that wasn’t Mario. 64 isn’t just revolutionary but a polished monument to some of the best and most enjoyable gaming experiences imaginable.

ACT Super Mario 64 low-poly
Did you know that Mario’s model becomes low-polygon when the camera zooms away from him?

Judgment

ACT Judgment Yagami Kaito

Ah, good old Yakuza. The franchise that received a huge boom in the mid-late 2010s thanks to Yakuza 0, Sega’s been a master at marketing this title. The Yakuza series is known for its hilarious, serious, and clever writing, combining strong storytelling with over-the-top humor. Any fan of shonen anime and Japanese culture will fall in love with Yakuza. It’s got those Fist of the North Star and Jojo vibes in combat with just a hint of pro wrestling.

The beat ’em up gameplay in Judgment is just as smooth and fluid as the Yakuza series could possibly deliver. This spin-off, however, also features a murder mystery. You’ll be solving puzzles, searching for clues, and even defending people in court just like in Ace Attorney. I also like the streamlined sub-quests which are now featured on corkboards for you to pick at.

Look. No touch!

Yagami’s truly a likable protagonist and Kaito’s an amazing side-kick, you could say! They differ from the series’ protagonist, Kiryu Kazuma, in many ways with Yagami being a little more coolheaded and Kaito being a little more cocky. Now that I’m on Chapter 9 I feel like I’m just a bit over halfway through the game at 30 hours.

Having beaten Yakuza 0, Kiwami, Kiwami 2, and Fist of the North Star: Lost Paradise, I look forward to continuing my journey once I clear Judgment. I’ll play through Yakuza Remastered Collection, Yakuza 6, and finally, get to try Like a Dragon once I’m through.

Super Smash Bros. Ultimate

Believe it or not, I’m still on the grind here. Still playing competitively, I find it hard to put Smash down. Even in an era without offline tournaments, I cannot put down my favorite game. I just gotta keep practicing for that time the tournaments return.

I’m still learning new things with Terry, Mario, Cloud, Chrom, Roy, and others. I honestly just love learning multiple characters. Even though in all practicality, you’re supposed to keep a small character pool in tournaments, it’s incredibly hard not to want to play more than a small handful of 78 characters. I even dabbled a bit with Sephiroth when he came out. Unfortunately, his zoning playstyle really isn’t for me and I just found Cloud to be more enjoyable personally.

I found a new YouTube channel, called 1437 Ultimate, with some sick plays by other top players. I’m already getting some inspiration from Zenyou’s Mario. If I find any more goodies, I’ll be sure to include them in my next column!

Fire Emblem Heroes

As always, I’m logging into my only gacha game regularly. I love Fire Emblem Heroes too much not to play it and care too little about other gacha to play anything else. I don’t even follow the meta anymore. I just look up guides on Gamepress, build my characters optimally, and send them out into Abyssal Maps. Don’t get me started on Aether Raids either.

Duma’s Abyssal stage. I still cannot beat this effing map.

Been running Fallen Ike, Brave Dimitri, Peony, and Brave Camilla lately. Unfortunately, I ran into a roadblock trying to conquer Abyssal Duma. Yet one switch from Camilla to Brave Claude and, within two tries, I clobbered that map like it was nothing. You gotta adapt to your changes and when you see a map full of fliers it’s time to get the bow out.

The new year banner is coming so I’m looking forward to that. Much as I would love a summer banner of the Ljosalfheim faeries, this gracious New Year banner gives them beautiful kimonos to wear and fly around in. However, I can’t say I’m ready to commit to the New Year’s banner when I could still possibly get Winter Sothis and Winter Fae. Just maybe!

The Legend of Zelda: Twilight Princess HD

That’s right. I’m back to playing an old favorite Zelda title. Having beaten it on Wii (2006) and the GameCube years later, I had to pick up the HD remaster. One thing that drove me to this release was the addition of a harder difficulty.

Barring A Link Between Worlds, I’ve never been a fan of the Hero Mode difficulty in Wind Waker HD or this one either. However, with the use of the Ganondorf amiibo, I could boost enemy damage x2 and still collect hearts in the field. Unfortunately, I have to use my amiibo every time I load up the game.

I’m at the Lakebed Temple now which is the Water Temple of the game but on steroids. For those unaware, the Water Temple in Ocarina of Time was infamously difficult the first time we played through. Lakebed Temple is that but even bigger and more intimidating. That being said, I’m looking forward to getting this one over with.

Despite how much I enjoy this game, I always thought it fell short of the N64 classics, Ocarina of Time and Majora’s Mask. A large part of that reason was due to how easy combat was. Enemies dealt 1/4 heart of damage and you could get by them without even trying.

While the HD version’s difficulty gives me the incentive to beat the game, I have little doubt that Nintendo will release this game for Switch as part of this year’s celebration, Maybe we’ll see Twilight Princess and Wind Waker as part of Zelda 35th Anniversary. In the meantime, I’ll see if I can use the Wolf Link amiibo to help me with the DLC in Breath of the Wild.

Wrap-up

Well, here’s hoping I can clear Judgment before the next Game Corner. It’s probably around 60 hours and I’m doing side-cases like mad. Eventually, I do want to finally start my copies of Nioh 2 and Ghost of Tsushima, both of which I’ve heard nothing but fantastic things about. But I’m also trying to be good and not scatter off to too many games at once. I say this as I haven’t touched my half-finished copies of Final Fantasy XV and Final Fantasy VII Remake in weeks.

Share with us what you’re playing in the replies below. Stay tuned with us for next time’s Game Corner. And finally, be sure to follow us on our social media links below. Happy New Year, everyone!

Retro Review – Ys Origin: An Epic Action/RPG Worth Your Time

Ys Origin

Ys Origin was developed by Nihon Falcom in 2006. The title would later be published by XSeed in the west in 2012 coming to PS Vita, PC, PS4, Xbox One, and finally Nintendo Switch.

The Ys series (pronounced “Eess”) features hack-and-slash RPG gameplay with real-time combat, puzzle-solving, and challenging boss battles. Ys Origin features three playable characters with the last one being unlocked by clearing the other two routes. With that being said, I found Ys Origin to be quite enjoyable from start to finish.

ACT Ys Origin Rado's Annex

Despite being released in 2006, its gorgeous character sprite work, boss design, and incredibly fast-paced and intuitive gameplay held up more than well enough. While I think it could use a few more exploration routes, this title was an absolute blast to play in all three playthroughs.

Story

Ys Origin takes place 700 years before the start of the series. Taking place inside of the enormous Darm Tower, it features a group of heroes seeking the goddesses – Feena and Reah – to inquire about their departure and the arrival of powerful demons.

The game features three playable characters: Yunica, Hugo, and Toal. Each one follows their own route, interaction, and even a few unique boss battles. They all have their own writing as each character experiences their own growth and development progressing throughout the story. Despite being only 10 hours long, I’m surprised at how much the protagonists grew in such a short span of time.

ACT Ys Origin Hugo Epona

One thing I absolutely love is a major twist that’s only featured in the final playthrough. It brings everything together in a way that could not be explained in Yunica or Hugo’s route. Along with the surnames of the characters (Tovah, Fact), veteran Ys players will meet familiar faces in the series. Fortunately, Ys Origin makes for a perfect entry point for series’ newcomers as well.

ACT Ys Origin Saul

Audiovisual

If there’s one thing the Ys series excels at, it’s music. The rock and smooth jazz accompany such amazing beats and bass lines thrown throughout the soundtrack. Anyone will also fall in love with the heavy metal riffs that play during boss fights. Falcom’s sound design is as sterling as ever. For some reason, the soundtrack gives me major Castlevania: Rondo of Blood vibes. Some of my favorite pieces include “Dreaming,” “Oboro,” “Tension,” and “Beyond the Beginning.”

Despite being overlaid on a 3D plane, Ys features 2D sprites. Yet they meld surprisingly well, hand-in-hand, akin to some of the older PlayStation JRPGs like Valkyrie Profile, Star Ocean, and Tales. Both the sprite animations of the characters and the bosses look magnificent even today. Plus the character art looks gorgeous and detailed and the characters feature different expressions. Falcom truly cares about the artwork as much as their music and it shows by how well it’s held up today.

Gameplay

Like past Ys titles, Origins features real-time hack-and-slash combat. You can jump, slash with combo attacks, and also use magical relics to deal additional damage. The puzzles within the game are enjoyable and nothing too hard. Rather, you’ll find additional relics that will either function as keys or new abilities which can open new paths or increase your movement.

ACT Ys Origin Yunica Boss

You’ll get three playable characters. Yunica, your battle warrior can use an axe while Hugo, the mage, attacks exclusively at long range. When you clear their paths, you’ll unlock Toal’s story. He can also attack at close range but is much faster and deals incredible damage with his claws.

ACT Khonsclard Ys Origin
Several bosses take cues from bullet-hell titles.

Each stage has different layouts. You’ll encounter plenty of different enemy types and stage obstacles. Even though it’s confined to a tower, each floor offers plenty of variety. Quicksand, lava, water, and powerful enemies help make up this game’s 25 floors.

ACT Ys Origin Mantis

If you ever find yourself struggling, it’s worth leveling up a bit. As much as I dislike level grinding, thankfully it never takes more than 2-3 minutes tops to get to a new level. You can save right before a boss room, grind levels for a few minutes, and end up at a high enough level to take them on. Ys Origin is quite forgiving by allowing you to continue at the boss fight if you lose.

Final Thoughts

Ys Origin offers solid replayability in spite of its short length. With 3 stories, it totals up to around 25-30 hours of solid writing, character development, and even tragedy. When you clear the game, you can also unlock boss rush and trial modes which in-turn unlock secrets.

ACT Ys Origin Roo

I enjoyed the game’s thematics. I enjoyed Yunica’s story of feeling held-back for not being capable of using magic or even the goddesses’ own human nature and flawed existence. Meanwhile, both Hugo and Toal fought against their own fate. They’re human and they’re written in a way that seems to defy a game released in 2006.

ACT Ys Origin Toal Reah

I feel like they could have opened up more avenues to explore. Granted, for exploring outside of the beaten path you will get better armor and accessories. However, as much as I love the game, I could always use more. It’s like a cross between the original and Metroidvania titles of Konami’s Castlevania series. While it moves on a linear path of stages, each stage offers a chance to explore a bit. Ys Origin is not perfect as it does feel quite linear. Yet it’s also well-written with some beautiful aesthetics and a fantastic soundtrack to boot.

If you enjoy classic 2D gameplay akin Nintendo’s Legend of Zelda titles, enjoy hack-and-slash games, and want a solid story that paces itself well, Ys Origin is a great choice. It’s a definitive hack-and-slash title and one of the best games in the series out there. Even if you don’t play other games in the series, it’s a quality standalone title that will make a solid entry in your library no matter what system you’re playing on.

Score: 8.5/10

ACT Ys Origin Feena Reah Yunica

 

Retro Review: Ys I & II Chronicles – Outdated Upon Release.

Ys I & II Chronicles is an Action/RPG title developed by Falcom and published by XSeed for PSP, mobile devices, and PC. The latest remake of the titles Ys I & II from the late 1980s, this title brings the original gameplay style to newer consoles featuring an updated visual style, arranged soundtrack, and animated cutscenes.

The original Ys I & II titles were ported to various systems. Originally released on PC-88, the title’s first remake, and perhaps the most prominent, came out on the PC-Engine which was known as the Turbografx-16 in America. This version featured animated speaking cutscenes with full voice acting and an exceptional soundtrack with surprisingly quality instrumentals for a release in the early 90s.

Unfortunately, Ys I & II’s gameplay is woefully dated. Its gameplay style featured the “bump combat” system. That is to say, instead of having an attack button, you would bump into enemies to damage them from an angle. If you were higher level, you wouldn’t take much damage and would win the exchange. If you were low level, you had to frequently grind levels.

While you could save nearly anywhere, the amount of grinding needed to survive became ridiculous. Moreover, the title did not offer many guide points to avoid getting lost and also featured major pacing issues, especially in the final dungeons of each respective title.

For the record, I beat the PSP version on my Vita. If you have hand cramps or carpal tunnel syndrome, then I strongly suggest playing on Steam or mobile.

Story

Ys I begins with the protagonist, Adol Christin, shipwrecked on an island. Ys fans will tell you this is par for the course and that’s 100% true. In this case, the island he’s on houses two goddesses, a black pearl, and a slew of demons that have invaded the island. The progression is tight, simple, and paces itself fairly quickly. After all, Ys I can be beaten within 10 hours with a lengthy chunk of time spent in the final dungeon.

However, Ys II covers a bit more about the goddesses and the villains which have invaded the world. It’s standard JRPG fantasy fare with a bit of tragedy woven in. Perhaps what’s most impressive about the story is the level of consistency that carries over throughout its sequels as well as Ys Origin.

Audiovisual

Make no mistake. This visual update looks gorgeous. The updated character art and the game designs and levels just look great for a game of its time. Ys has some undeniably strong character designs. I’ve always been fond of the artistic style of the Ys series. Taking character designs from the 80s and remastering them in the 2000s, the designs look gorgeous even today.

I’m in love with Reah, so what?

I can’t say enough good things about the epic music. Dungeon, town, and battle themes alike all hit strongly and are memorable tracks. I’m quite fond of “Holders of Power,” “Tower of the Shadow of Death,” and “Dreaming.” Ys excels as a musical adventure which may very well be the best part of the game.

Gameplay

Unfortunately, the gameplay is where Ys quickly slides down to rock bottom. As mentioned earlier, it features the “bump” combat system. However, this is perhaps the tip of the iceberg of problems featured within the game. I say this because this title was also released on DS as Legacy of Ys: Books I & II. The DS version even featured an attack button. But I wouldn’t go as far as to say it’s better when you consider everything else holding the title back.

Legacy of Ys: Books I & II for Nintendo DS (2009)

For starters, if you’re playing on Normal, you will need to grind levels. This happens early on and lasts for the rest of the game. If you do not want to grind, pick Easy mode. It will balance out the challenge which is something I discovered when playing Ys II.

One of the saving graces of Ys II is the ability to use magic.

The bosses themselves are a pain partially because of “bump” combat but also because of the limited window you get to attack them. You will certainly take damage in every fight you’re in. If you’re under-leveled or lack strong armor, you may die almost instantly. One boss even features two floating heads and makes taking damage nigh-unavoidable.

They become endurance matches for your HP rather than a skillful battle of proper timing like, say, Link’s Awakening. I say this because it’s entirely possible to trivialize these very bosses with a bit of grinding making it an incredibly lopsided challenge.

Now, let’s also take a look at the two final dungeons of each game: Darm Tower and Solomon Shrine. In the former, you’re climbing up a lengthy tower, but you will need to go back down several floors, several times, to pick up items and progress.

In the latter, you will find yourself in a less interconnected dungeon, but one that will have you moving all over the place. Not only will you certainly get lost multiple times but you will have to exit the dungeon, multiple times, to finish your progression. These dungeons can take several hours to finish. But the level of warping to-and-from might drive you insane.

Final Thoughts

Overall, I cannot in good faith recommend Ys I & II Chronicles to any but the most patient and curious fans of Action/RPGs or nostalgic fans who played an older version of these games. Both games can be finished in an accumulated 20 hours. While the levels outside of the final dungeon pace themselves relatively well, the momentum halts once you need to grind some more.

If you’re playing on Easy mode, which I strongly recommend, you’ll have to grind less. Unfortunately, the final dungeons will still be lengthy, repetitive, and force you to backtrack for hours. It’s such a shame because I love the audio, visuals, and character designs in this game.

Despite its ambitious audiovisual style and attempt to update the oldest Ys titles, they only hold up well to the most dedicated, hardcore players with enough patience to last through both games. Those seeking a challenge will certainly find it, and then some, in Ys I & II. But aside from its audiovisual presentation and story, you’ll be better off picking another game in the series, such as Ys Origin or Ys VIII: Lacrimosa of Dana.

Score: 4/10

Bloodstained: Curse of the Moon 2 Review – More of the Same, But Better.

Bloodstained: Curse of the Moon 2 is a side-scrolling platformer released for Nintendo Switch, PlayStation 4, Xbox One, and PC. The sequel to 2018’s Bloodstained: Curse of the Moon, this Castlevania-throwback experience features new characters, stages, and even 2-player co-op. Having recently beaten the game’s Final Chapter, I’ll briefly discuss the best and not-so-best parts of ArtPlay and IntiCreates’ latest title.

For anyone wondering, Koji Igarashi‘s studio, ArtPlay, developed the spiritual successor to Castlevania, Bloodstained: Ritual of the Night. Inti Creates, known for Mega Man Zero and Gunvolt, developed the 8-bit Curse of the Moon titles. While they feature similar characters and settings, Curse of the Moon’s storyline spins off from Ritual of the Night’s. Thus, the two are not interetwined.

While I find CotM 2 to be quite an improvement over the first game, I think it still clings to some of the previous title’s fundamental flaws. For one, I don’t really need an excuse to replay a game just for a few different gimmicks. If I want to replay the game, i would rather do it on my own terms instead of being cheesed into unlocking the true ending. That aside, however, its presentation offers a stellar job with boss battles, levels, and gameplay.

Story

Bloodstained: Curse of the Moon 2 follows the plot of the first title. However, Zangetsu is now accompanied by new companions. These include Dominique, the exorcist from Bloodstained: Ritual of the Night, a sniper named Robert, and a mech-piloting corgi named Hachi.

The story’s straightforward narrative involves going to a castle and slaying the demons to save the world. However, it takes some interesting twists within the game’s replay formula. Each one follows an ending, a new chapter, and an opening. Each of these chapters also affects the lineup of your party.

While little changes regarding the level designs, the final boss will be altered in both Chapter 2 and the Final Chapter. There are four different chapters and the final one features the true ending. Additionally, some of the dialogue among party members ends up rather humorous. Between that and the cutscenes that play between chapters, it becomes a bit more worth replaying the chapters with a slight change of pace.

Audiovisual

Much like its predecessor, Bloodstained follows the classic NES Castlevania aesthetic. The 8-bit title features an array of gorgeous colors and boss animations. Similar to Shovel Knight, the game presents various levels, bosses, and design choices far surpassing the NES’ own capabilities.

The chiptune music provides a selection of fast-paced music fitting for a Castlevania-esque title. I found the tunes to be catchy and at times quite engaging, such as The Demon’s Crown. I was also quite fond of the boss theme.

Gameplay

The 2D action gameplay features platforming, the ability to switch between multiple characters, and exploring non-linear stages. This means you can choose different paths to clear the stage depending on the characters you have available. Additionally, each character has their own playstyle.

Unfortunately, I was not at all fond of using Robert. While he served to be a sniper with long-range capabilities, he had no way of protecting himself up close. He felt woefully out of place in this game since his mechanics made clearing stages or bosses extremely difficult if not impossible.

Another slight issue I had was with Zangetsu. He gains a more powerful sword later in the game which gives him vertical slashe and multi-strikes. After Chapter 2, however, if the player didn’t hunt down the secret sword, they would lose it to the basic Zanmatou in the EX Episode. I feel downgrading abilities from a player is a big no-no.

Bloodstained also once again goes the route of “beat game and replay” ad nauseam. They try to write a different chapter of the tale but you’re really just repeating the game again with a slightly different roster in the 2nd chapter or the CotM 1 cast in the EX Chapter. By the final chapter, you have everyone, albeit briefly, to collect parts to reach the final level. But you’re just doing the same stages over again.

The developers would benefit greatly from creating more new stages to go with each stage rather than force the player to do the same game four times to get the final ending. Sonic Heroes is one example of a game that makes the player replay the exact same game, with slight differences, just to get the best ending.

Final Thoughts

I will admit that I greatly enjoyed the co-op in this title. The 2-player co-op allows players to jump in and exit anytime. While it’s limited to offline play, it still offers players to work together to defeat bosses or even access hidden areas.

Another good part was the difficulty level. The Veteran difficulty was tough as nails. Casual Mode offers its own challenge as the stage layout and enemies don’t change. After Episode 2, I switched to Casual Mode because I didn’t feel any need to play the same game again. I just wanted to finish the story. Furthermore, the bosses just become HP sponges on later chapters and it’s no longer enjoyable to fight them and mimic the same pattern each time.

Bloodstained does a great job of presenting a classic 2D platforming experience. However, it still relies heavily on gimmicks like forced replay or unbalanced characters in a side-scroller. Even compared to Castlevania III: Dracula’s Curse, it was at least possible to solo the game with Trevor, Sypha, Grant, or Alucard.

Despite these mild shortcomings, Circle of the Moon 2 is well-worth the purchase. Even if it’s just one playthrough, you’ll surely find an enjoyable challenge and experience through the title. If you’re missing classic 2D Castlevania action or just enjoyed the first Bloodstained: Curse of the Moon title, it’s recommended giving it a try. I found the level designs to be vastly improved and more varied than the first Curse of the Moon title.

Whether you decide to continue with the replay chapters or not is up to you. However, I recommend at least playing through it once to all classic gaming fans who seek a real challenge.

Verdict: 8/10

Why Hasn’t Ninja Gaiden Resurfaced in Years?

KoeiTecmo and Team Ninja‘s legendary action series, Ninja Gaiden, debuted on the Arcades and the NES in 1988. While the former was an arcade beat ’em up, the latter featured a trilogy of Castlevania-inspired platformers. As a result, Ninja Gaiden saw success with its NES trilogy.

Ninja Gaiden (1988) was among the first video games to feature cutscenes.

However, after the initial release of the series, as well as the SNES remake, Ninja Gaiden fell off the map. Despite Team Ninja’s decision to put Ryu Hayabusa into their hit Dead or Alive fighting game series, Ninja Gaiden would remain buried for more than a decade. However, two years after the release of Capcom’s popular 3D action title, Devil May Cry, Team Ninja decided to bring Ryu Hayabusa back from the dead.

Ninja Gaiden Rebooted

Featuring similar action, yet fine-tuned with incredible speed and bloodier animation, Ninja Gaiden came out on Xbox in 2004. Known for its ruthless difficulty, the title was followed shortly after by two successful re-releases: Ninja Gaiden Black and Ninja Gaiden Sigma, the latter which was an HD-upscaled release for PlayStation 3.

Ninja Gaiden Sigma Plus (2012)

Ninja Gaiden would become a hit 3D Action series throughout the 2000s. Team Ninja would follow up with 2008’s Ninja Gaiden II for Xbox 360. Unfortunately, internal issues would force series Producer, Tomonobu Itagaki, out from Team Ninja. His colleague, Yosuke Hayashi, was in charge of Ninja Gaiden Sigma 2 and the sequel, Ninja Gaiden III.

Ninja Gaiden Sigma 2 (2009)

Unfortunately, Ninja Gaiden III would release to poor reviews. While Team Ninja released Ninja Gaiden: Dragon Sword for Nintendo DS, they also opted to release Ninja Gaiden III: Razor’s Edge for the Wii U. Despite the momentum the series carried with its first two games, even the re-release, Ninja Gaiden III: Razor’s Edge, would scarcely fair any better.

Ninja Gaiden: Dragon Sword (2008)

The Future of Ninja Gaiden

Since 2013, Ninja Gaiden has not seen a new game released on any platform. Team Ninja has since focused heavily on the Dead or Alive series. One theory might suggest that Ninja Gaiden III’s poor reception has kept Team Ninja from wanting to risk releasing another title.

Another theory might come from Team Ninja exerting their efforts into their latest hit series, Nioh. Derived from Japanese mythology and history, Nioh took the elements of Dark Souls while adding its own hardcore take. Furthermore, it features its own set of references and Easter Eggs.

Now that Nioh 2 has been released, Team Ninja may have freed up their schedule. While Nioh 2’s DLC will still come out over the next year, players want to know if they will return to Ninja Gaiden. With a new console generation coming, players want to return to playing as the world’s most badass ninja.

Keep in mind that the time span between Ninja Gaiden III: The Ancient Ship of Doom (NES) and Ninja Gaiden (Xbox) spanned 13 years. While only seven years have passed since the release of Razor’s Edge, one can only hope that Team Ninja has not forgotten about their stellar action series that helped put them on the map.

Which Ninja Gaiden title was your favorite? Let us know in the comments below. Also, be sure to follow our social media channels below for the latest gaming content to take with you!

What Were the 6 Best Metroid Games?

When the Metroid series debuted in 1986, on the NES, space warrior Samus Aran took the galaxy by storm. The Metroid series has underwent evolutions several times. Moreover, it’s gone through near decade-long hiatuses several times since its inception.

Therefore, as a long-time Metroid fan, I want to address the best Metroid games in the series. While Nintendo’s intergalactic series remains highly prolific, the gap between the chaff and the wheat might greatly surprise you.

Super Metroid

It comes as no surprise that Super Metroid remains the series’ standard. Longtime fans swear by Super Metroid as the epitome of the series. Evolving from its 8-bit predecessors, this title introduced the mapping system, beam-stacking, and some colossal boss fights.

Super Metroid not only redefined the Metroid series but also gaming as a whole. At the time of its 1994 release, this 24-megabit title was Nintendo’s largest game to date. It also began the modern-day Metroidvania formula thanks to its use of a mini-map. While Metroid on NES introduced gaining abilities to open up new paths, Super Metroid perfected that formula.

The title was known for its massive boss fights, beautiful animation, and diversity in level designs. From the caverns of Planet Zebes to the underwater terrain of Maridia, Super Metroid created incredible and varied worlds. Even though it could be beaten in 8 hours or less, Super Metroid offered replay value for speedrunners, item hunters, and those who simply wanted to pick up and play it again. Best of all, it was polished in a way that still holds the series’ standard. As a result, Super Metroid remains one of the best games on the SNES.

You can play Super Metroid on the Nintendo Switch Online SNES library as well as the 3DS eShop.

Metroid Prime

After Super Metroid, the series spent eight years in hiatus before returning to the Nintendo GameCube and Game Boy Advance. Metroid Prime not only debuted the series in 3D but in first-person as well. Dubbed a “First-Person Adventure” by Nintendo, this title offered more elements than your standard FPS title. Exploration, platforming, and puzzle-solving made up the game’s core concepts.

Metroid Prime continued much of the same action Super Metroid introduced players to. The familiar beams from past titles offered new abilities. Wave Beam was electric and Plasma Beam was fire. These were key in not only solving puzzles but utilizing strategies against enemy weaknesses as well. Furthermore, Missile upgrades allowed these weapons to utilize more powerful abilities such as the Wavebuster and the Flamethrower.

Additionally, Metroid Prime featured more fearsome, gigantic bosses and massive locales. While the artifact hunt near the end might have added some unnecessary padding to the game, Metroid Prime was indeed the longest game in the series at the time. With that being said, Metroid Prime became one of GameCube’s finest hallmarks and a defining title of the 2000s.

Metroid Fusion

The sequel to Super Metroid released on Game Boy Advance at the same time as Metroid Prime. While Prime served as a midquel within the series, Fusion (dubbed “Metroid 4” in the opening) saw Samus taking on the Biologic Space Labs (BSL) to hunt down the X-Parasites.

Metroid Fusion brought much of Super Metroid’s wonderful gameplay and animations to the handheld system. Samus would also gain new weaponry such as the Ice Missiles and Diffusion Missiles.

But what made Metroid Fusion stand out more than anything was its sense of terror. The atmosphere in Fusion indicated you were being stalked by a powerful clone known as the SA-X. This killing machine could end Samus’ life with only a few hits. Along with the music and the bosses that destroyed entire sections, Fusion had the player gripping their handhelds in suspense throughout the game.

Metroid: Zero Mission

Developed as the remake to the original NES Metroid, Zero Mission offered a new story with the upgrades seen in more recent titles. Not only did it feature the gameplay similar to Super and Fusion, such as maps, but it played incredibly fast.

Zero Mission not only served as a wonderful reimagining of the original Metroid, however. It also added a new chapter after the battle with Mother Brain. This new part featured a stealth mission that would also show the origin in Samus’ story.

Moreover, Zero Mission did incredible justice to the boss battles, powerups, and locales of the original Metroid. It was a massive improvement in every way to the original title. As with Fusion, Zero Mission was a stellar game for the GBA.

Metroid Prime 3: Corruption

The Metroid series’ debut on Wii featured a new control scheme. Developed around using the Wiimote + Nunchuck, players could aim with the controller for accurate precision aiming. Corruption also introduced a new suit power which would briefly power up Samus.

Metroid Prime 3: Corruption included voice acting for the first time in the series. This served as a vehicle for one of the most plot-driven entries in the series. Samus met new hunters that were part of her mission and would even interact with them.

Much like the games before it, Corruption featured impressive boss battles, abilities, and gorgeous locales. Unlike Metroid Prime 2: Echoes, however, the player wasn’t forced to get lost and look around for nothing for over an hour. It also did not include a massive fetch quest divided between two worlds. Corruption flowed wonderfully by taking the best parts of its predecessors.

Metroid: Samus Returns

Much like Zero Mission, Samus Returns serves as a reimagining of a previous game. This remake of Metroid II: Return of Samus (Game Boy) was done by Mercury Steam. However, the developers also collaborated with series creator Yoshio Sakamoto as well as one of the composers of Super Metroid.

Samus Returns was fittingly named as it ended the second major hiatus of the Metroid series. Featuring larger areas and Aeion abilities, Samus Returns continued to build upon the formula. While reintroducing Metroid evolutions, these served as boss battles with various patterns to challenge the player.

While Samus Returns wasn’t the prettiest game, one could suggest the visuals weren’t as gorgeous due to the limitations of the 3DS hardware. However, Samus Returns played incredibly well and featured the fast-paced gameplay Metroid fans enjoyed. Moreover, the final boss was an incredible surprise for players including those who had played Metroid II for Game Boy.

Final Thoughts

Three years after the release of Samus Returns, I’m eagerly awaiting Nintendo to announce a new Metroid game. Even if we get a 2D title before Metroid Prime 4 – more likely than not at this point – I’m always ready for more. I feel that the series had its ups and downs. While the lower points of the series weren’t exactly stellar, the best games were among some of the greatest of all time.

What’s your favorite Metroid game? Do you have a favorite boss fight? Let us know in the comments below.

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Which 2D Beat ’em Up Series Need to Return?

The beat ’em ups of yesteryear recently made a return to form with the release of several prominent games. Also known as Brawlers, this 2D side-scrolling genre began in the ’80s. With or without platforming action, the characters could jump, punch, kick, throw, and use weapons against hordes of enemies. The genre became famous for 2-4 player co-op and fighting against powerful bosses.

Double Dragon II (1988)

Brawlers of the 80s and 90s made their presence known on Arcade machines. Titles such as Double Dragon II, Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles, and Final Fight were but a few major names of the era. When Capcom’s Final Fight was ported to the SNES with limitations, Sega went onto create their own title. Following their own Golden Axe and Altered Beast titles, Sega created one of the most prolific beat ’em ups on the Genesis: Streets of Rage.

Streets of Rage 2 (1992)

Unfortunately, Beat ’em ups began to phase out of popularity in the late 90s which was during the rise of 3D gaming. With the exception of few titles, the genre became a sort of novelty and less of a norm. With the release of recent games, such as Streets of Rage 4, however, perhaps the gaming industry may see a new revival of the genre.

3D Beat ’em ups

While names like River City Ransom, Streets of Rage, and Double Dragon became synonymous with the genre, 2D beat ’em ups were not the only titles. The mid-2000s boasted several titles that featured similar gameplay. One example was Clover Studios’ God Hand. Despite being only one player, this cult classic became a favorite among those who played it.

Another was Mortal Kombat: Shaolin Monks. While reimagining the story of Mortal Kombat 1 and 2, this title featured 2-player co-op, juggling combos, and even Fatalities. Much like many titles featured here, Shaolin Monks never received a sequel or a re-release.

3D beat ’em ups began to take form in one particular series. Sega’s Yakuza series adapted the fighting style for its combat in the series. Additionally, using skill trees, Kiryu can unlock new abilities. Plus, Yakuza animated the fights and special moves with ass-kicking technique.

Yakuza 0 (2017)

2D beat ’em ups in the post-2000s.

Viewtiful Joe lead the example of a 2D brawler during the big wave of 3D titles. This single-player adventure served as a platformer/brawler hybrid. Its stylish VFX moves, cel-shaded visuals, and overall charm won the hearts of many players. Viewtiful Joe would continue with several sequels and spin-offs before quietly disappearing from the gaming industry.

Meanwhile, developer Vanillaware created beat ’em up/JRPG hybrids such as Odin Sphere. Original a spiritual successor to their 90s beat ’em up, Princess Crown, the developers would later follow-up with Dragon’s Crown. The latter title not only featured multiple lanes but 4-player co-op as well. Vanillaware’s titles, which were published by Atlus, would be remastered on the PlayStation 4.

Sega re-released their Saturn classic, Guardian Heroes, on Xbox 360. The Xbox Live Arcade release featured updated visuals and gameplay. The controls came inspired by fighting games while the fantasy setting falls in line with similar titles such as Golden Axe. Guardian Heroes is still available to play for Xbox One owners.

Studio 5pb and MAGES’ Phantom Breaker: Battle Grounds serves as one of the highlight beat ’em up titles released in the last decade. This anime-inspired game came from a spin-off of Japan’s fighting game, Phantom Breaker. The studio is also known for the visual novel, Steins;Gate, which was successfully adapted into an anime. As a result, Kurisu Makise is featured as a playable character.

Phantom Breaker: Battle Grounds Overdrive is currently available for all major consoles and PC. It features 4-player co-op as well as online gameplay.

More recently, several companies would make attempts to revive the genre or add a throwback. WayForward revived the Double Dragon series with Double Dragon Neon. Several years later, Arc Systems Works, as well as Double Dragon series creator, Yoshihisa Kishimoto, would release Double Dragon IV. Despite attempting to revive a classic, the title would come out to unfortunately lukewarm reviews.

Double Dragon Neon (2012)

Scott Pilgrim vs. The World

Perhaps the most pressing title that sparked interested in the genre once more was Scott Pilgrim vs. The World: The Game. Based on the graphic novel and movie, Scott Pilgrim largely paid homage to River City Ransom. The title allowed players to enter shops, bash enemies with unconscious enemies, and level up their stats. The art style also took cues from the River City series.

In addition to making references to multiple popular games, it ended up being widely successful. Unfortunately, the title was pulled from digital markets.

However, more recently, series creator Bryan Lee O’Malley mentioned that Ubisoft, developers of the game, have contacted him likely in talks for a re-release of the title.

Gone But Not Forgotten

One of the saddest things about the genre is how developers incorporated licensed franchises into beat ’em ups. While Konami’s titles – Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles, The Simpsons, and X-Men were all re-released in the 2010s, the same could not be said for other classics of yesteryear. X-Men: Mutant Apocalypse remains unreleased since its debut on the SNES.

This beat ’em up/platformer hybrid allowed you to play as 5 different X-Men which all featured their trademark abilities. Similarly to Capcom’s Street Fighter II, each character utilized button input commands for their special attacks. Featuring over 15 different stages and boss fights, X-Men: Mutant Apocalypse was surprisingly well-polished for a title licensed from a comic book series.

Meanwhile, although one TMNT game made the re-release, the same could not be said for Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles III: The Manhattan Project (NES) or Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles IV: Turtles in Time (Arcade/SNES). Both titles succeeded and improved upon the arcade classic and were hallmark brawler titles for their respective systems.

The counterpart to Turtles in Time was released on Sega Genesis. Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles: The Hyperstone Heist (1992)

While Turtles in Time Re-Shelled made an attempt to remake the original classic, it was only a half-baked attempt to do so. However, more recently, a new TMNT arcade game came out developed by Raw Thrills. The game may be found at your local Bowlero or Dave ‘n Busters.

Future of the Genre

With the recent releases River City Girls and Streets of Rage 4, developers attempt to bring back a genre many once thought died. Furthermore, the recently-released Battletoads brings hope that, once more, beat ’em ups will return.

While it feels pleasant to relive those days,  players want developers to remain consistent with their works. Instead of just reliving the past for nostalgia, we want the developers to continue evolving on these brands. Players want to see Streets of Rage, Ninja Turtles, and Double Dragon become a thing once again.

Capcom keeps the spirit of Final Fight alive through Street Fighter V: Champion Edition (2020).

It’s up to the developers to create quality titles, polish them, and market them to get more players to try their games. Old-school fans will always flock to these titles. But if they want to continue growing the fanbase, they’ll need to keep evolving. When you consider the quality of life improvements gaming has evolved with, along with the technology we have in games today, we might be starting off with the strongest era of beat ’em ups in history.

What was your favorite beat ’em up? Let us know in the comments below. Also, make sure to follow our social media channels to keep up with us and take our latest gaming content with you!

Review Plus: River City Girls.

Welcome to our first edition of Review Plus!

You will find our review shortly after the introduction. In addition to our review of the game, you will find useful tidbits of information covering River City Girls. Plus, this review will address the beat ’em up genre and the direction it’s moving in.

River City Girls is a 2D beat ’em up developed by WayForward. Known for the Shantae series, WayForward adapted the River City Ransom (NES) title which is known as the Kunio-Kun series in Japan. Featuring animated cutscenes by Studio Trigger, River City Girls features classic 2D pixel artwork along with anime transitions for the opening, boss fights, and endings. In addition, you will find part of the story told through manga-like cutscenes.

Despite its good intentions, I believe River City Girls falls short of its potential. While it features incredibly strong brawler action, a few issues hamper an otherwise decent revival of the 2D beat ’em up genre. However, the classic style gameplay remains both the focal point and the game’s strongest suit.

Story

The game starts off with Misako and Kyoko receiving a mysterious text that their boyfriends have been kidnapped. Contrary to the stories of games, like Double Dragon, the premise of the story reverses the role.

Perhaps the most pressing part of the story comes from the game’s ending. It turns the entire plot on its head in a surprising way and emphasizes the girls’ true role. I give major props to WayForward for this one.

Misako and Kyoko play foil to each other throughout the game. These single-track-minded women just want an excuse to throwdown. Despite their idiocy, you can’t help but feel charmed by their tenacity.

Unfortunately, I did not find much of the story and dialogue to be amazing. Aside from a little bit of witty banter, I found it to be cringeworthy. While much of the boss dialogue feels like wasted banter, one particular character, Godai, seriously bothered me.

Your resident creeper-stalker feeds you information while trying to get into your good graces. Even without Godai, much of the dialogue in cutscenes felt like forced humor. I honestly wanted to skip most of it but didn’t want to leave out any possible useful information.

For better or for worse, River City Girls maintains a cast of wacky characters.

Visuals

One of the high points of River City Girls comes from the artwork. The character designs and backdrops feature well-drawn details. I’m especially particular about the shop designs. Several shops have their own art of the girls shopping while a different shopkeeper takes their order.

River City Girls features 2D sprite artwork somewhat reminiscent of the 16-bit era. However, I’ve seen this style before used in multiple indie games which it honestly feels more like than a mainstream title. While WayForward tends to use a more cartoonish art style for their flagship series, Shantae, this reminds me more of games like Katana Zero.

Katana Zero (2019)

What I strongly dislike, however, is how small the text is on the menu. The menu is displayed on the character’s smartphone. However, I had to come up to my 52″ HDTV just to check inputs or side-quests that I could not read from my usual sitting position.

Unfortunately, I also ran into multiple frame-drops throughout the game. They didn’t prevail literally the entire game but were noticeable when they did. Even after a year’s release, I’m surprised WayForward still has not patched them out.

Audio

You’ll feel a solid amount of satisfaction breaking your fists on enemies and crashing weapons over their heads. However, I found some sound effects lacking. I don’t get why an enemy slamming a hammer on concrete produces no sound. On the other hand, bashing enemies feels satisfying as you might expect and keeps you wanting more.

Despite middling feelings on the sound effects, most of my enjoyment came from the music. Much of it was catchy and, along with a number of sound effects, featured 8-bit cues you would hear in the NES River City Ransom. Several of the vocal sounds featured some catchy beats you would enjoy while fighting.

Gameplay

This game presents its beat ’em up gameplay in a manner that says the genre never even left. It feels so seamless to beat down enemies with combos, throws, stomps, and weapon attacks. Despite this, however, the game will not count your combos.

One of my favorite parts of gameplay was the ability to recruit enemies to join you. If they surrendered, you could grab them and enlist them as summons. Similarly to Marvel vs. Capcom, they would hop in, use their signature attack, pose, and hop out. You would not be able to use them for a set time.

My problem came from the inconsistency of combos, however. This isn’t Tekken, but you will maximize your damage by juggling your enemies. Unfortunately, your timing must change based on enemy types. This threw me off multiple times.

Gameplay Issues

Another problem I had came from how invincibility frames work. Congratulations to the developer for not giving the characters invincibility frames while using throw moves. It makes them useless when you’re getting pounded in the back of the head. From my experience with other games in the genre, this is a big no-no.

Also, I had a moderate issue with the equips. The Frilled Bra and Frilly Bottom might be the only useful accessories I used. Everything else gives around a 5% increase or a 5% chance to activate. These passives were so useless that you could easily get through the game without using them. I wouldn’t bother buying them and would save your money for the Dojo or healing items instead.

Unlike other beat ’em ups, this also features an RPG system where you equip gear, level up, and can use items to heal. For anyone who remembers Scott Pilgrim vs. The World: The Game, this is where these elements came from. The Scott Pilgrim game paid massive homage to River City Ransom and used many of the mechanics as well.

Scott Pilgrim vs. The World: The Game (2010)

Let me also mention this game is full of load times transitioning between each screen. If it was another large area, I could understand that. But I feel they put no effort into good transitioning for a 2D game released in 2019. This will likely annoy you especially if you’re making trips back to shops to pick up items or new moves.

Co-op

This game is best experienced with a friend. However, not everyone is big into beat ’em ups. If you’re flying solo, you might have a harder time with it than others. Unfortunately, if you’re looking for others to play with, this game does not feature online co-op.

However, for a 2019 brawler, this feels woefully outdated. Multiple games of its genre, released in the last decade, feature online co-op. Even the recently released Streets of Rage 4 features online co-op. I do not understand why WayForward opted not to release a feature such a basic option in a multiplayer game released today.

Extras

This game encourages a level of exploration. Unlike the stage-by-stage games prevalent within the genre, the River City titles have you moving through destinations in multiple directions. You can also find statues of Sabu and destroy them. Completing the quest of destruction unlocks the true hidden final boss fight.

Additionally, you can unlock New Game Plus. Doing so not only lets you carry over your gear from the first playthrough but you can also unlock two characters. Riki and Kunio, the main characters of River City Ransom, become available.

However, this will otherwise not change much regarding the game itself. The only other incentive is a cat side-quest that unlocks infinite SP. Keep in mind, however, that Riki and Kunio are only a glorified palette swap. Nothing about the story changes as the sequences are still voiced by the girls.

The Future of the Genre

River City Girls was the first game in which I recall to pave the way forward for brawlers in the current generation. Previously, WayForward released Double Dragon Neon for PS3 and Xbox 360. Plus, Double Dragon IV came out to a lukewarm response. WayForward’s advertisement at least shined a light on a bright and colorful attempt to bring attention to the new game.

One year after its release, we now have Streets of Rage 4. Sega’s shining star beat ’em up series came back after a 25-year hiatus. Furthermore, even Raw Thrills released an arcade-exclusive TMNT title that pays homage to Konami’s titles of the past.

Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles (2018)

2D beat ’em ups feel largely obscured by their 3D evolution. Modern games include Platinum Games’ Astral Chain or Sega’s Yakuza series. It’s hard to find the interest generated in beat ’em ups in an era without the 90s interest of arcade games. However, the demand for the genre remains real and strong enough for developers to take notice. The genre is not dead and, with this momentum, might become a mainstay for the decade once more.

Also, the creator of Scott Pilgrim noted that Ubisoft, developers of the game, reached out to him.

Final Thoughts

Overall, River City Girls excels in combat despite several flaws hampering both gameplay and story alike. I found it hard to put down as I was pummeling enemies, bosses, and even cars. It even served a heavy enough challenge for me to retry bosses several times over.

However, its addition of annoying dialogue, incredibly short length for a game released in 2019, and a few bothersome issues to gameplay made me want to end the game once I was over halfway through.

While it was cool back in Double Dragon to have enemies that looked like Arnold Schwarzenegger in the 80s. No, it is not funny today to have these same enemies that make “Ahnold” noises with Terminator references.

WayForward’s cheap humor stems from the Shantae series which is hit-or-miss. They could do without forcing comedy and that alone would boost the grade. If you want a better, cute beat ’em up based on anime aesthetics, you could always go with Phantom Breaker: Battle Grounds.

Phantom Breaker: Battle Grounds (2013)

However, if you’re after a beat ’em up and you don’t mind the cheesy dialogue and voice acting, then go right for it. Even then, it features undeniable charm from the character designs. It’s at least 8 hours of fun enemy-bashing and button-mashing.

To summarize, I recommend it for enthusiasts of the genre or those seeking to play some couch co-op action with a friend or a loved one. You’ll enjoy the music, the cutscenes, and the retro homages. It’s easy to pick up and play. However, I don’t think it qualifies as being a game for everyone.

In this era, there are scarcely any releases you will find in the genre besides re-releases of classics. If you passed up River City Girls, you wouldn’t miss much more than some solid aesthetics for an otherwise alright game in the genre. Depending on the systems you own, you could download classics like Double Dragon II, Streets of Rage 2, or even Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles IV: Turtles in Time. If you want a modern release still available on current systems, Phantom Breaker: Battle Grounds would surely endear you.

However, if you like beat ’em up action, then these issues might not stop you from trying a decent brawler. I recommend it to enthusiasts of the genre but I wouldn’t expect it to be anything impressive outside of the aesthetics and your standard brawler fanfare. Despite this, it should still entertain you for a few hours. While it’s not a bad game, it could truly be better.

Score: 6.5/10

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What Are You Playing? – 8/17/20

Welcome to the newest column for All Cool Things. I’m starting a new column blog where I discuss what I’m clearing off my backlog every week! If you find something you’re playing on our list, we would love to hear your thoughts.

Without further adieu…

Tekken 7

I’m no pro at Tekken. I love the character design, music, and gameplay. But I’ve never really played it competitively.

However, I live in a part of Georgia that plays it heavily. It’s one of our top 3 fighting games along with Street Fighter V and Dragon Ball FighterZ. I managed to host a 10-player tournament once but I didn’t compete in it.

Despite that, I’m on a Trophy run right now. I hate admitting that I play a fighting game casually. But I’m trying to finish collecting Trophies. I’ve done all the single-player mode achievements. The 3 Special Battles one was detestably long and random.

The only Trophies I have left are the 1 Ranked Match, 10 Ranked Matches, and win a tournament battle. I main Miguel and he’s the only one I play. I’m vaguely familiar with his style yet I haven’t even incorporated Savage Stance into it yet. Despite being new to the competitive meta, I’ve already managed to send one ragequitter packing.

Did I mention I met Katsuhiro Harada, creator of Tekken, at Final Round 2016?

Odin Sphere: Leifthrasir

Even though it came out in 2007 for PS2, I always wanted to play this game. I loved Vanillaware’s Dragon’s Crown for PS3. Ever since I played Dragon’s Crown, I’ve become a huge fan of George Kamitami’s work.

Right now I’m still only on the Valkyrie story. I love hearing all the familiar voices from the games I recently played. It might be because both Persona and Odin Sphere are developed and published by Atlus that these games share voice actors.

This game still looks beautiful as heck. Even with the remastered visuals, though, I can still tell this is a PS2 title by the mouth movement animations. That’s not a bad thing by any means.

Moreover, I can tell how much Odin Sphere influenced Dust: An Elysian Tail which is one of my favorite indie games. The hand-drawn style and 2D beat ’em up gameplay both showcase similarities between the two.

Once I beat Odin Sphere, I plan to jump onto Muramasa Rebirth for PS Vita. I had the Wii version but sold it shortly after I played it. But now I can try the definitive version of Muramasa before Atlus’ next game, 13 Sentinels: Aegis Rim comes out.

On that note, it makes me wish Princess Crown got localized.

Super Smash Bros. Ultimate

As always, I’m playing Smash. I don’t get how I can’t let this game go. Even though everyone hates online mode – and rightfully so – I can’t seem to stop logging onto Elite Smash, play a few rounds, and call it a day.

Who I’m currently playing as online.

Despite everyone’s online complaints, Nintendo did manage to patch the game’s online. However, this was honestly too vague to decipher what they meant by patching the online experience. We know it isn’t rollback netcode. But at the least, Nintendo also said they would continue patching the game’s online mode.

Fire Emblem Heroes

Did you know I enjoy gacha? Yeah, only this one and maybe a little bit of Dr. Mario World. Even as gorgeous as the Final Fantasy gacha titles look, I’m not allowing myself to get hooked on another one. That especially goes for spending any money on them.

I’m so far behind that I haven’t played much since the latest update. I’m probably missing out on a ton of orbs. Unfortunately, not only is the Pirate banner the only one that interests me, but I haven’t landed a solid 5-star in weeks now.

It’s demoralizing to the point I hardly care. Moreover, none of them give you the 40 summons + 1 free one. Why even introduce this feature if you’re not going to implement it every month? Good thing I didn’t subscribe to Feh Pass.

…Although I admit that my lazy self could also use those continuous auto-battle features. Not to mention I’ve been tempted to buy those beautiful Resplendent units.

Fist of the North Star: Lost Paradise

Finally, after beating Persona 5 Royal, I’m ready to commit to another long game. I haven’t touched a Yakuza title since Yakuza Kiwami 2. I plan on beating this one before I move onto Judgment. Then I’ll start Yakuza Remastered Collection afterward.

I love Fist of the North Star. I finished the anime series before FotNS2. Yakuza is filled with references to the series so it doesn’t surprise me that RGG Studios would want to adapt Fist of the North Star into a game.

I’m only past the intro but it’s fun so far. It’s standard Yakuza side-quests and beat ’em up action with tons of violence. Plus I’m using the Kiryu skin. Interesting fact, Kiryu’s Japanese voice actor is also Kenshiro’s. It fits perfectly all things considered.

Well, that’s a wrap for my play log this week. Maybe one day I’ll finally get back to Dragon Quest IV. I would like to play the rest of the series.

In the meantime, what are you playing this week? Reply with your games in the comments below.

Retro Runback: Castlevania: Aria of Sorrow

Castlevania: Aria of Sorrow is a 2D side-scrolling Metroidvania title. Developed by Konami and released in 2003, this title was produced by Koji Igarashi (IGA) who was renowned for the 1997 hit, Castlevania: Symphony of the Night. Featuring the artistic talent of Ayami Kojima, and music by Michiru Yamane, this title brought the Symphony team together for another experience on Game Boy Advance.

With that being said, I recently beat Aria of Sorrow for over the dozenth time. As my favorite Game Boy Advance game, I wanted to go back and play it to see how well it’s aged. In today’s era, IGA released Bloodstained: Ritual of the Night, the spiritual successor to his Castlevania titles. Therefore, I figured I would return to celebrate one of his best works and see how it stacks up with his latest endeavor.

Story

Aria of Sorrow takes place in 2035 and is set decades after the final defeat of Dracula in 1999. When college student Soma Cruz vanishes from the Hakuba Shrine, he appears at the entrance of Dracula’s Castle. Caught in a solar eclipse, he is greeted by his childhood friend, Mina, and the mysterious Genya Arikado. The latter brought Soma to the castle to discover the truth behind his soul-stealing powers.

The title introduces several characters which include both friendly and hostile faces. Perhaps the most pressing thing about Aria is that it is not your traditional “end Dracula’s reign” game. In fact, Aria of Sorrow may have perhaps the biggest twist in the series’ history.

Aria of Sorrow brings together the new protagonist, Soma, Yoko Belnades, a descendant of Sypha Belnades from Castlevania III, the Belmonts, and Dracula’s son, Alucard, together to help stop Dracula’s evil once more. As Soma, you will venture through the castle in order to uncover the truth behind your powers. Plus Aria of Sorrow features multiple endings including a particularly engaging Bad Ending. For a 2D Metroidvania title, it features an astounding plot.

Audiovisual

Konami released Aria of Sorrow mere months after Castlevania: Harmony of Dissonance. While the latter featured bright, colorful visuals, Konami sacrificed the audio quality. While Harmony of Dissonance had wonderful melodies, composed by Yamane, it could only handle playing 8-bit chiptune music. Aria of Sorrow managed to not only feature gorgeous visuals but did so without downscaling the sound quality.

Castlevania: Harmony of Dissonance (2002)

In Aria of Sorrow, the animations stand out wonderfully. Soma’s coat animates well with his movements while enemies engage him with various attacks. Plus the Soul system offers creative animations for each of your abilities.

Perhaps the excel point of Aria’s visuals include its gorgeous background decor. Each area wonderfully separates itself from the others and looks beautiful, majestic, and gothic. You will certainly appreciate the background pseudo-lighting effects as well.

If you enjoy strong gaming soundtracks, Aria of Sorrow delivers in spades. Michiru Yamane’s soundtrack stands strong to include “Castle Corridor,” “Heart of Fire,” and features subtle remixes of “Cross Your Heart” and “Bloody Tears.” One of my favorites includes “You’re Not Alone” which plays near the game’s ending.

Gameplay

Aria of Sorrow follows the side-scrolling Metroidvania formula set forth by its predecessors. The game encourages you to explore as you fill in your map, break hidden walls, and gain abilities to open up new areas. You can double-jump, transform, slide, and even fly as a Bat.

Combat involves hacking and slashing while equipping new weapons. You can use swords, lances, knuckles, and even firearms. Despite setting itself apart with the use of Guns, the long-range weapons feel remarkably apropos.

Perhaps the most pressing and significant part of the gameplay involves the Souls mechanic. As Soma wields the Power of Dominance, he can absorb the soul of any enemy he defeats. Similar to the Persona series, each soul comes with different abilities. You can equip up to three at a time to configure various combinations.

Between the souls and weapons, players can use a variety of combinations to play in their own style. This mechanic opened up the door to the Glyph system used in Castlevania: Order of Ecclesia as well as the Shards used in Bloodstained: Ritual of the Night.

Extras

After beating Aria of Sorrow, you unlock Boss Rush Mode, Hard Mode, New Game+, and Julius Mode. Boss Rush mode lets you fight against all of the bosses in the game. Clearing within various time limits grants you powerful weapons, such as Excalibur and Positron Rifle.

Unlocking Hard Mode allows you to play with or without a new file if you so choose. New Game Plus will carry over all except a few souls to your next playthrough. Players seeking a challenge can also input NOUSE and NOSOUL to restrict the use of items and souls, respectively. Furthermore, New Game Plus also allows players to discover new weapons not seen in the first playthrough. Clearing the map 100% also features extra dialogue in the ending.

Finally, Julius Mode continues the tradition of unlocking a character to play through the game as them. In this case, players can use Julius Belmont who uses MP for sub-weapons. Julius comes armed with the Vampire Killer whip, a super jump, and a teleport-dash that resembles Akuma’s from Street Fighter. He’s fun to play and quite powerful. Unfortunately, as per tradition with IGA’s extra character modes, I wish they added dialogue to move the story forward.

How does it fare today?

Koji Igarashi released Bloodstained: Ritual of the Night in 2019. The side-scrolling Metroidvania title featured the spiritual successor to his Castlevania titles. When Konami underwent their worst years, and rebooted Castlevania as Lords of Shadow, IGA left to form his own studio, ArtPlay.

Bloodstained: Ritual of the Night (2019)

Bloodstained offers much of the charm you could expect from Castlevania. It features similar gameplay and progression. The side-scrolling gameplay and exploration, and epic boss battles feature series’ hallmarks. Plus it even recently added Zangetsu Mode which echoes the second character mode of IGAvanias.

However, I don’t think its visual polish ever got better than a lighting upgrade before its release. Even in HD, the game looked fairly standard to me. Despite a visual facelift prior to release, I still never found myself impressed with Bloodstained’s visuals as much as I did with Aria of Sorrow’s sprite work.

Plus some parts of the game weren’t properly utilized. If you needed to swim underwater, you found the ability through progression in Aria. Bloodstained makes you kill a random water enemy to gain the swimming ability and I feel that was one of the pacing issues I had with it.

However, I do recommend Bloodstained for any Metroidvania fan. Anyone wanting a callback to IGA’s best games will find plenty of love and polish in Bloodstained. Overall, though, while Aria of Sorrow is one of best IGA’s games, Bloodstained does well on its own as a Metroidvania side-scroller.

Final Thoughts

My only gripe with Aria of Sorrow is that it’s a bit short. To this date, Castlevania: Symphony of the Night is still the longest game largely thanks to the Inverted Castle. Moreover, it was developed on the PlayStation which held more memory than the GBA. Despite this, Aria of Sorrow is a clean, polished adventure from start to finish. Plus, Aria of Sorrow rewards players with an incentive to beat the game more than once.

The Soul System remains one of the best gameplay mechanics ever introduced. I love being able to combine and customize which abilities I can use. Projectiles, support skills, and passive abilities were all organized easily and user-friendly.

The variety also gave life to endless combinations and I enjoyed getting to pick and choose what to use. Plus the weapon system went a step above Symphony of the Night’s. Greatswords were much larger and the weapons offered much more variety.

Overall, Aria of Sorrow just felt like a nice, complete package. It was a polished, near-perfect little game that I’ve come back to for over 15 years. It’s my favorite title on the Game Boy Advance and one I recommend today. However, with the exception of the Wii U eShop release, Aria of Sorrow was never released outside of the Game Boy Advance. Despite this, I highly recommend Aria of Sorrow. If you enjoy side-scrollers and Metroidvanias, track this game down. I hope you will enjoy it as much as I do.