The Adventures of Rad Gravity (isn’t so Rad)

The problem with dumpster diving is that you need to sift through trash to find the useful things. The Adventures of Rad Gravity is the closest thing to dumpster diving that the NES library contains.  You know that there’s something good in there but aren’t sure if it’s worth digging. There is a reason why some people don’t go dumpster diving and it’s the same reason why nobody ever talks about The Adventures of Rad Gravity: regardless of what you find, it still stinks.

Adventures of Rad Gravity, The (U)_title

Who can resist a game with the word “rad” in the title? You can!

This Could be Rad!

The Adventures of Rad Gravity is a planetary exploration 2D platformer featuring a character you’ve never heard of. Rad Gravity is a large-headed, big-chinned space-man who is on a mission to do something you probably do not and will not ever care about.  The game starts off very simple with a traditional side-scrolling level. The first level is not very difficult and is actually pretty fun. The game has all the standard 2D platforming fare such as jumping, shooting, killing things but as you progress it introduces a lot of adventure and exploration elements.

Adventures of Rad Gravity, The (U)_gameplay

Level One! Rad’s adventure begins!

Each level in Rad Gravity consists of a different planet. It’s pretty nice as each planet looks different and has different enemies in it. There is also a small level of non-linearity as certain planets can be explored in the order of your choice. Exploring the planets can be fun once you realize that there are plenty of new items and upgrades to discover. Taking a page from the classic NES title Metroid, there are maximum health expansions, armor upgrades, weapon upgrades and multiple different weapons to find.  There is a lot to do and an equally large amount of ambitious gameplay elements. In addition to exploration, there are many interesting novelty elements that spice up the game. One level has a series of doors that need to be unlocked by finding a key and tossing it onto it. Another level is played almost entirely while upside-down! These experiences are frequent, varied and make the game feel less repetitive.

Not only are there several planets to travel to but there are several required story events that pop up. Once one occurs, you are required to complete it before returning to your planet exploration. One involves your computer being stolen requiring you to chase down some thugs to get it back. Another has your ship breaking down requiring that you acquire replacement parts from a nearby derelict ship. These events bring an odd cohesiveness to a rather scattered looking game. In particular, these special levels make you feel as if you are making progress through the game rather than randomly exploring planets.

Have you ever wanted to explode a triceratops? Look no further!

Have you ever wanted to explode a triceratops? Look no further!

The Adventures of Rad Gravity is an ambitious game that has a lot going for it.  You can tell that someone worked really hard on the overall design of the game. It is impressive how many different areas, enemies, items, events and creatures you encounter on this little 8-bit adventure. Every couple years I find myself drawn back to its radical allure in hopes of reliving the planetary exploration goodness. And then at about 45 minutes into the game I begin to remember why The Adventures of Rad Gravity never received a sequel.

Not so Rad…

The Adventures of Rad Gravity is a brilliant game about dying over and over again until you shed a single tear, dripping it over the NES controller you’ve already destroyed in anger. This game will upset you. It was frustrate you. It will test your self-control. The Adventures of Rad Gravity is a game that is so frustrating that many will never experience all the “rad” stuff it has to offer. Let’s sift though the refuse:

There is One Song

Yes. Other than the title screen, credits and boss music there is only one song and it plays constantly. Plan on hearing this same song several hundred times. Although it’s not a particularly bad song, it’s seriously the only song in the game for all planets except for the final one (which plays the boss music). Keep in mind that this is not a short game. It will take several hours to beat if you’re willing to stick with it. With all the varied environments and enemies, you’d thing they could at least compose a few songs? Nope. Just listen to this theme over and over and over and over and over…

Movement Acceleration is Terrible

Rad Gravity has a problem with movement. There is acceleration when beginning to move and deceleration when stopping. While this doesn’t seem bad, it makes it extremely difficult to make precise jumps. You have to get a brief running start in order to jump long gaps which is totally fine except for the fact that sometimes you are only given a one block distance to gain this momentum. It makes doing full-speed jumps somewhat annoying. While acceleration is just an annoyance, the deceleration takes the first major step toward ruining the game. When coming to a stop, Rad Gravity slows down before stopping. As you can imagine, this makes jumping onto small blocks incredibly frustrating. You are constantly having to counteract your momentum by press the opposite direction. If you don’t there is a good chance that when you land, you’ll run right off the edge of a block. But you can’t over compensate or else you’ll not jump far enough and might miss the block entirely! Ugh…

Instant Death Pits
DIEEE

Get those tears ready. You’ll be crying in no time!

This is absolutely the worst offender of the game. In a stellar example of poor game design, many levels are filled with pits that kill you instantly, regardless of your health. One wrong move will send you back to the beginning and into a rage. There are several levels that have certain portions designed around tricking you into falling into an instant death pit. This is absurd! Why design a game based on tricking the player into dying? It’s not fun and severely detracts from the game. In particular, the planet Volcania is a lava planet. Everything on this level is designed to knock you into the lava, killing you instantly. This level is terrible. This level is amazingly terrible. Playing this level is the precise moment I decided that The Adventures of Rad Gravity could not be redeemed. It is forever, irrefutably, and officially a bad game.

Confusing Progression

The game occasionally throws you into a situation where you have no idea what to do. While I know how to beat the game, I pity any body who goes into this game blind. In one particular case, there is a part where you must jump up through and off the top of the screen in order to progress. There is nothing telling you that you can do this and if it weren’t for my years of gaming experience, I probably would have never tried that. A few boss fights play more like puzzles than actual fights. During my childhood, I actually thought the first boss had a “random” amount of health as one time it died almost instantly while the next time I spent 15 minutes shooting it with no success. It caused me to give up several times because as it turns out, they are invincible. You can not hurt them with your weapons. I spent far too long shooting them thinking that they just had an absurdly large amount of health. It feels like many situations in this game have a “trick” to it that is not explained. You will get stuck. You will not like it.

Lack of Useful Checkpoints

The Adventures of Rad Gravity is a hard game. I like hard games so that’s usually not a problem for me. What I do have a problem with is that when you die, you must start the level all over again. The game is unforgiving in its difficulty and sometimes feels cheap. You can work very hard and on your 15th try, finally make it to the end only to be killed by some dumb, random thing. Seeing you start at the beginning of the level really sucks the urge to continue playing out of you. Only very small number of levels have checkpoints, notably the first and last level of the game. What happened to the middle levels? Those are hard too! You’re probably thinking, “If you just get better at the game you won’t need checkpoints!” That would be true except for the horrible and frequent instant deaths that I’ve already explained.

Progress Resets

Briefly mentioned above, there is a section of the game where you  are forced to enter a derelict space ship to find a replacement part. This level has the horrible habit of completely resetting your progress when you leave ship area. Since the ship is a bit of a puzzle which involves you having to find and place these fuse-like objects into certain sockets, it can be very confusing to figure out, especially initially. What is even more horrible is that upon exiting the main ship area, your fuse-socket progress is completely reset. I am almost positive this was not intentional as it doesn’t make any sense. It is just unfortunate and frustrating when there is a part where you can “fall” out of the ship and have to re-enter, erasing any progress you’ve made in the last 20 minutes.

The Broken Translocator was Intentional
The translocator is slightly more than broken

The translocator is slightly more than broken. Shown here: passing through walls, the Volcania secret, and falling into glitch-land.

At one point, Rad Gravity acquires a totally radical teleporter item which I like to call the translocator (after Unreal Tournament’s item of the same name). This item allows you throw out a small beacon and then teleport back to it at any time. This item completely destroys any semblance of collision detection that the game ever intended. Using this item and using a small series of obvious movements, you can break the game, skipping whole areas, passing through walls, and in one case that I found, crashing the game entirely. In a shocking twist, it turns out the developers actually knew the translocator was broken. In the level Volcania, there is a secret area that can only be accessed by passing through a wall with the translocator. I do not comprehend why a developer would allow their game to have a portion of it based on a potentially fatal programming flaw. Someone please explain this to me because I do not understand.

How to Make Rad Gravity Rad

The Adventures of Rad Gravity has got a lot of cool things going on and has a lot of great ideas are on display but in order to experience those things you’re going to have to look through layers and layers of garbage. It seems for every one great thing to experience there is at least three pieces of garbage. The good news, however, is that much of this garbage could be cleaned up with a surprisingly few number of tweaks.

Remove or Modify Instant Death Pits

Instead of dying, these pits could hurt you instead of outright killing you. Some games implement a design where falling into a pit hurts you and places you back onto the last solid ground before you fell in. This method could keep the challenge of jumps and oncoming enemies but still allow you to be penalized without having to start the entire level over again. With this, you wouldn’t even to change the level design (of which I actually think is interesting and fairly decent).

Tighten Up the Movement

Rad Gravity feels very slippery. Just be glad there is no ice planet or else Rad would completely out of control! The amount and acceleration and deceleration should be greatly lowered. If you could reach top speed or stop from a full run in about 1/4 the time, Rad would be much more manageable. I’m not a physics expert but I’m sure it wouldn’t take much more than some trial and error to find decent settings.

Fix Translocator and other Minor Bugs
asda

This should not be able to happen. Thanks, translocator!

I am not sure how The Adventures of Rad Gravity checks for collision but it sure doesn’t do it correctly. Without getting too technical, many of the translocator bugs could be fixed by making two programming fixes. One would be resetting Rad Gravity’s velocity to zero before he is teleported to the beacon. The other would be to remove and reset the beacon or eject the beacon if it becomes too far embedded into the wall. In addition, the progress reset bug would just be a matter of not resetting a few memory locations when exiting the derelict ship. These are relatively simple concepts that could be implemented by a moderately skilled programmer without too much difficulty.

Compose More Music

This one is obvious. Ideally, give each planet its own theme. It would considerably help the overall presentation of the game. Enough said.

It Should be Rad!

I really, really want to love this game. There are so many little things going on that I adore. Considering how much quality game there is beneath all the trash, I feel as if it’s an experience worth having but just not in its current state. Though it will never happen, The Adventures of Rad Gravity is in need of a remake. If you take the exact game, same levels, same overall graphical design and just improve upon the areas which I mentioned, you might just have one stellar game on your hands.

Ultimately, I admit that I like The Adventures of Rad Gravity. I do, in fact, think it’s a rad game. It’s just too bad I have to be waist deep in garbage to play it.

Adventures of Rad Gravity, The (U)_endingv3

I congratulate you on reaching the end! Until next time…

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The Flash (is Sluggish)

The Flash is a pretty cool guy. He can run really fast and doesn’t even need to collect Chaos Emeralds! Although a major DC character, the Flash has not enjoyed as much fame as his buddy Superman… but as Superman 64 has shown us, perhaps that is a good thing. While the Flash has been featured in many DC universe properties, he rarely has been the star of his own game. In what may have been his first solo outing, the only Flash game I have had the pleasure(?) of playing is his Game Boy title.

Flash, The_title

I really like this title screen. It’s simple yet somehow feels exciting.

Presented in beautiful DOT MATRIX WITH STEREO SOUND, The Flash is a 2D platformer that has a heavy emphasis on being frustrating, clunky and occasionally fun. With YOU in direct control of the Flash, make your way from the left side of some area all the way to the right side of the area with the intention of punching some dynamite! It’s a fairly standard formula that manages to do a bit right, and a bit more wrong.

Controls

On your journey as the Flash, you get to punch AND kick things! The Game Boy, with it’s two primary buttons, does the best it can accommodate all the actions the Flash needs to perform. Kicking is assigned to one button, punching the other, and jumping, sadly, is UP on the directional pad.The Flash’s normal movement speed is pretty fast but by pressing and holding the A and B buttons, you can use his super speed to racing through the level in a flash (sorry). It’s a reasonable control scheme but there are a couple significant flaws.

Flash, The_gameplay

Level 1: Watch the Flash do some mid-air squats and kick things.

Punching is useless. The kick has a much longer range compared to the measly little punch. Other than the fact that certain things, such as the end of each level, cannot be triggered by kicks, there is no reason to ever punch something. Kicking is always better. I cannot stress this enough. Do not punch.

UP to jump is almost always horrible and The Flash is no exception. Jumping feels very awkward and makes leaping over instant-death pits incredibly nerve racking. It’s hard to explain the weird disconnect-y, laggy-ness to jumping. To compound this, the game is filled with ladders that you must climb. Guess what button climbs ladders? UP! This would be fine if not for the fact that half the time you try to climb a ladder you end up jumping in place.

All the controls feel slightly… off. Everything has some strange lag to it. There’s a bit of a wind-up when attacking which means you have to stutter and anticipate your attacks a bit in order to properly combo an enemy to death. Most noticably, however, is the landing lag. When hitting the ground from a jump, the Flash ducks down for a brief period. It feels very halting and heavily contributes to the overall clunky-ness of the game.

Game Mechanics

Every level is a timed race to the right to disarm a bomb, though not a particularly exciting or hurried race. Enemies each take several hits to kill as does the Flash. The Flash has a fairly generous life bar and it’s even more generous in that every single enemy you kill drops a health pick up. The combat is really dull and easy. Just run up to an enemy, stagger kicks until it dies. That strategy works for every single enemy. It’s trivial until you get the the enemies that shoot. It seems like the shooting enemies will take off 1/4 of your health with each shot. Given how clunky the controls are, it’s often extremely difficult to avoid getting hit.

Everybody knows the Flash is known for running fast. It’s sort of… his thing, you know? By holding both attacks and moving, you can perform the previously mentioned super speed but by standing still you can also perform a power-draining, useless spin-kick move. It drains your super power meter so fast and is so obnoxiously useless that it makes me wonder why it was even put in the game at all. The super speed, on the other hand, is very useful and hardly drains your super meter at all.

Flash, The_scroll

Oh, joy! I love not being able to see where I’m going!

One of the main reasons why I like the super speed is that it causes the screen to show more in the direction you are facing. One of the big platformer no-nos is when the screen doesn’t start to move until you hit the very edge of the screen (I’m looking at you, Turrican!). The Flash suffers greatly from this common retro ailment. As shown in the GIF to your right, notice how little time you get to react to a quickly approaching death-hole. At least super speed causes the screen to show you what’s happening before it kills you.

All the speeding around does come at a price! Using super speed builds up a mighty hunger! Scattered throughout the levels are vending machines at which you must score some delicious snacks. The vending machines will always cost as much money as you have, up to $5. This means, if you have 1-5 dollars, it will use all your money. Depending on how much money you put it, a different snack will come out. Each snack fills up your speed power meter by a considerable amount but the difference between a $1 snack and a $5 snack is so negligible that it always feels like the Flash is getting ripped off.

Dying is a pain in the butt. The good news is that you probably won’t get killed by any enemies. The aforementioned death-holes will most certainly take your life 9 times out of 10. They are everywhere and due to how the screen scrolls, they pop up out of no where. Even more frustrating, you only get a few lives until you are booted back to the title screen. There is a password system to continue progress but dying and continuing both result in you starting at the beginning of the level so it’s just an unnecessary annoyance.

It’s Not All Bad

The Flash does have a few things going for it. Punching and kicking things is always fun and the speedy running feels pretty cool in the context of a Game Boy game. Despite it being shallow and a bit sloppy, there are a surprising amount of levels, interesting music and several distinct environments, including a couple train chase levels. This little game feels like it had some care put into it but not enough to overcome it’s faults. Is it worth playing, though? We’ll just ask the Flash himself…

It was the best five seconds I ever had.

How can you turn this down?!

Metroid II: Return of Samus (is Unfinished)

Metroid II is a great game… but it’s a mess. The more you play it, the more it feels like it was released a good 6 months before it should have been. Every step through the corridors reveal obnoxious and obvious errors and design flaws. You should avoid playing Metroid II: Return of Samus unless you want to experience a wonderful game of solid mediocrity.

Inactive Off-screen Enemies

Maybe he had an invisible shield?

Enemies are invincible when “inactive”.

One of the first annoyances you will notice is that enemies can only be hurt when they are on the screen. This means that the instant an enemy leaves the visible boundary, it becomes “inactive” and stops functioning in every way. This means that it stops moving, cannot be hurt, and cannot supply any fun. You are unable to shoot and run  because if you scroll the enemy off the screen, your shots will not hurt it. This occurs rather frequently and, considering how much of the screen Samus takes up, is incredibly frustrating. As a result, you have to be very close to enemies to even hurt them. Shown to the right, is one of the most blatant offenders. The Gamma Metroid is a very large creature who takes up about 1/4 of the screen width. Once it becomes “inactive” it does not become active again until it is entirely on the screen. You can argue that this is a result of memory limitations but I chalk it up to lazy programming and poor design.

Getting Hit Resets Jump State

It's actually faster to do it this way than to use spider ball.

Thanks for the boost, wall-face!

This is one of the most mind-boggling programming oversights I have ever seen in such a high-profile title. For whatever reason, any time you are hurt, for a brief moment you are able to jump. Using this, you can jump into an enemy and jump again reaching heights you are not yet supposed to reach. In the example shown here, Samus is supposed to find the spider ball power to scale this wall. Instead of bothering to use spider ball, you can simply jump, get hit, and jump again to reach the ledge. This “technique” can be exploited in many, many places throughout the game. Being able to do this makes no logical sense, is incredibly easy to do, and potentially ruins the intended item progression of the game by allowing players to skip certain items such as the high-jump boots. Clearly, this is another example of inept programmers at work.

Morph-ball Resets Jump State

Whoooaaaa!

I cannot logically explain this pre-Super Metroid phenomenon.

In what I can only guess is a related programming oversight, any time you exit morph-ball state, you are able to jump. For the same reasons listed above, this is a silly, easily exploitable “technique” that can be used to reach areas you aren’t normally supposed to. In combination with the spring ball item, you can effectively jump twice, jumping while in ball form, exiting ball form in mid-air, and jumping again. Interestingly enough, the same exact bug was present in it’s predecessor, Metroid for the NES. Perhaps the programmers intentionally added this bug (or neglected to fix it) as a kind of throwback to the original game? Or maybe it just happens to be the exact same programming oversight as they did in the first game? I’d like to believe it’s just a an example bad programming at it’s best… twice.

Missle-Only Tiles

I like the spinning action!

This is the only time these cool blocks are every used.

This isn’t a programming error but rather an example of poor game / level design. On exactly one occasion about 3/4 of the way through the game, Samus will encounter a block that can only be destroyed by firing a missile into it. It’s actually a cool block that has a interesting spin-then-explode effect. I like this block. In fact, I like this block a lot. I think it’s really awesome and I am the president of the “You Must Shoot a Missile At the Block to Destroy it in Metroid II” fan club. No, but seriously, this block is disappointingly underused. This sort of block would have had tons of applications, especially earlier on in the game. By utilizing this block more creatively, it would have considerably spiced up level design. It could even have been used to create more of a missile management scenario. It would have been interesting to require the player to use more missiles on these blocks which would leave less for the metroids. Instead, it appears as if the developers almost forgot about this block entirely. At one point, one level designer remembered it, placed two of them down and then forgot about them once again. It’s a shame because the blocks are just so freakin’ cool.

And that’s Not All

In addition to these, Metroid II is filled with even more programming errors and strange, illogical design choices that I don’t have the time to cover. It feels as though they had the base game down but never took the time to refine it. The entire game is a mesh of good and bad experiences which leave me feeling a bit perplexed. It’s an addictive, genuinely fun experience but lacks a certain polish that should be expected from a first-party game.  Metroid II: Return of Samus is a interesting game and if you can bear with all of its issues, it might even be an enjoyable game.

Don’t Ever Stop! (Hit Reset)

I previously explored a few video games bugs that had no major impact on the game. They were fun, interesting and were generally something that had to be done on purpose. There is another category of video game bug; it’s a category that doesn’t rear it’s head that often. I am talking about the dreaded game ruining bugs. These are the bugs and glitches that, once they go into effect, give you no choice but to reset the game. There are many different ways this could happen but today I am exploring one particular phenomenon.

Endless Auto-running

While there are probably more, these three games all exhibit a game halting glitch which causes your character to travel endlessly to the right. There is no way to recover from this once the glitch has taken effect. Even more unfortunate, all three can theoretically be done accidentally!

Donkey Kong (Game Boy)

When you gotta go, you gotta go...

Climb up the ladder at the wrong time and it’s game over.

Ah, yes. Mario is one heck of guy! Year after year he goes out and saves all sorts of ladies from all sorts of animals.  One dreaded night, Mario was on the chase after Donkey Kong. That rascally ape have kidnapped Pauline once again! With Mario in pursuit, Donkey Kong leap and hollered with Pauline under arm. Suddenly and completely by accident, Donkey Kong’s ape-like howling precisely matched an ancient incantation designed to aid marathon runners. Donkey Kong jumped away with Pauline, not knowing what he had done. Mario, now under a powerful spell stopped his pursuit. Without any control of his body, he levitated mere feet above the ground and ran to the right. When he ran as far as he could, he found himself 20 feet behind where he was! He ran and he ran and he teleported and he teleported. Later that night, Donkey Kong, having escaped with Pauline, made a delicious soup out of her bones.

Mario ran on.

Metroid II: Return of Samus (Game Boy)

Naw, guys. It's cool. She knows what she's doing.

In morph ball form, turn around the same time you cause a screen transition and it’s roly poly time.

Samus has been directed to destroy all remaining metroids on planet SR-388. She landed, explored the surroundings, and gathered data. Little did she know, the foreign planet’s natural defenses, an invisible airborne poison, was slowly penetrating her suit. After a rather lengthy time in one of the tunnels, Samus started to feel a little woozy. The poison, bonding with her DNA, began to alter her… for the worse. Her body began to contort and force itself into morph ball form. Samus, unable to break the control of the poison, was thrust to the right. Fully conscious, Samus could do nothing but think to herself as the true, endless journey began. “This is what I have become. This is what I must be. This is what I deserve.” Her body, now one with the planet, freely moved though air, land, water as it traveled toward some unknown goal. She knew. Samus knew, for the rest of eternity, this would be her life. She was sure of it.

That morning the metroids ate her for breakfast.

Ghosts and Goblins (NES)

Round and round he goes, where does he stop? Nobody knows.

Collect a key in the wrong way and it’s bye-bye Arthur.

Arthur was tired. He was really tired. He had just battled though graveyards, cities, caverns and finally to the top of some ominous looking tower, all in his underwear! With the cross in hand and the captive Princess Prin Prin just ahead, Arthur entered Satan’s chamber. In an absurdly easy battle, Arthur destroys Satan in a matter of seconds. This was it! Arthur has saved the day! Suddenly, Arthur was transported back to the graveyard and a voice boomed overhead, “Har har, Arthur! It was all a trick… but this time it’s for real! Do it again and you can have you’re little princess.” Arthur was pretty upset but he knew it must be done! Once again, through the graveyard, city, cavern and up the tower. Arthur, now with dagger in hand, reaches the doorway to Satan’s chamber. Arthur reaches for the door, grips the handle and pulls.

The door does not open. The voice of Satan boomed again “Everybody knows the dagger is totally cheap and unfair. It’s cross or nothin’. Sorry chump.” Arthur, knowing he would have to go back down to the bottom of the tower to recollect the cross, lost his mind. “Whelp… I’m going home.”

And off he went.

And Then it Stopped

Metroid II: Return of Samus (is Substantial)

Until Metroid: Other M was released on the Nintendo Wii, Metroid II: Return of Samus, released for the Game Boy, was often considered the weakest entry in the Metroid series. Objectively, Metroid II may not be the near the top of the Metroid tier list but it is a very good game in its own right. Many features, now staples of the Metroid series, that were added in Samus’s second outing made it feel like a true sequel and greatly expanded on the original Metroid’s universe and game-play.

Samus is back. This time, she brought save files.

Samus is back. This time, she brought save files.

Battery Backup

Metroid games, especially the first time you play one, are not something you can experience in 30 minutes. Due to this, all Metroid games feature a way to save your progress. The first thing to do when playing the original Metroid is grab a pen and paper. Metroid featured a password system that contained 24 character passwords consisting of 65 possible options per character for an astronomically large 6524 possible passwords. The very first thing to do when starting Metroid II is to take a sigh of relief as the password system is replaced with battery backed save files.  This, in addition to save locations being peppered liberally throughout the game, make for a more comfortable game.

Fun, Interesting Items

Around... around... around...

Spider Ball is way more fun than it should be.

The original Metroid contained a handful of items that augmented Samus’s abilities. While these items were fun, Metroid II took it to the next level.  In terms of firepower, Metroid II almost doubled the amount of types of beam weapons you could fire. Only one beam could be used at a time, it gave the player the option to keep which ever beam they preferred, creating a small sense of customization. Where Metroid II really shines, is the expansion of mobility based items. In addition to the morph ball and the high-jump boots, this sequel added spider-ball (roll around on walls and ceilings), spring ball (jump freely while in morph ball form), and space jump (jump in midair, endlessly). These items were all extremely fun to use and made exploring the game feel genuinely exciting.

More Forgiving

I played very poorly. I apologize.

Samus encounters her first alpha metroid.

Metroid II: Return of Samus is not an easy game but it’s also not too hard. It manages to stay in that healthy middle ground where you should plan on dying a few times but not to the point where it gets frustrating. One of the most annoying aspects of the original Metroid was dying. In its case, upon death you would start back at the beginning of the area with a mere 30 health (very, very little) and however many missiles you had left.  In order to not risk dying again, you would have to exit and re-enter rooms, killing enemies to farm for health and missile pick-ups. It made death a total mood ruining event. Metroid II circumvents this issue in two ways: saves and recharge points. Dying in Metroid 2 merely takes you back to the exact state and spot (down to the pixel) you were in when you last saved. In addition to this, scattered around the game are special persistent recharge items that can completely refill your health or missiles. Death meant that you could immediately give it another go instead of wasting 5 minutes just to put yourself in a survivable state.

Streamlined Progression

I think it's acid... could be <i>any</i> fluid!

One of the many acid pools blocking your progress.

Metroid II: The Linearity of Samus? Compared to the “go-and-do-whatever” Metroid, its sequel follows a very specific progression. The game logs the current count of metroid creatures still left. Using this count, the game blocks off certain areas of the game with acid. When a certain number of metroids are defeated, the acid level lowers allowing you to access more areas. With this, Metroid II is more of a “do-what-you-can-then-move-on” type of game.

Thia type of progression is beneficial in at least two ways. First, it controls the difficulty of the game, allowing it to become progressively more difficult as you go. The original Metroid allowed free exploration which also meant you might find yourself in an area that is far too difficult for you to handle, leaving you frustrated. Second, it keeps you from becoming lost. Metroid and Metroid II are similar in that there are many areas that look identical and even use the same exact layout. However, the metroid counter tells you exactly how many more you need to destroy to move on. Using this, you can can tell exactly how much else you need to do in the area before moving on, keeping you on track.

The Sum of its Parts

If you couldn’t tell by now, I feel that Metroid II: Return of Samus is a fantastic game. I didn’t even get to discuss how atmospheric and fitting the soundtrack is (and it is!) or how they managed to fit a console-like experience onto a handheld system. Metroid II continued to push the limits of what can be done on the Game Boy and in video games in general. While some criticisms (which I dare not discuss!) are deserved, Metroid II: Return of Samus was, and still is, an amazing game.

Or… it might be…

Blaster Master (is Awesome)

I remember being a child when renting video games was still a thing that people did. Those days were so awesome! It was really exciting looking at a whole shelf full of games and getting to pick just one. It was quite possible that whatever I picked would make or break my entire weekend. Now, I don’t remember exactly when I first played the it but I can still vividly remember the entire game. I imagine myself running inside, jamming the cartridge into my NES, hitting power and just sitting in awe at the absurd awesomeness that followed:

You can't see it here but the letters flash like crazy.

I am so pumped!

Blaster Master is a game for people who love games that are fun. It is one of those games that, as soon as it starts, you know you’re in for a treat. The name itself “Blaster Master” speaks volumes. What are you going to do? Blast! What it your blasting skill level? Mastery! Why are you going to do it? Nobody cares why,  especially the developer Sunsoft! When Sunsoft brought the game to the US, even they knew that people don’t care and just want to shoot things with a sweet looking tank. Take a look at this amazing, hyper-realistic cinematic masterpiece of an introduction (starts with him poking the bowl):

There's just more to love, now.

Admit it. You would do the same if you had the chance.

This is absolutely the greatest possible opening for this game. I will accept no arguments.

In case you don’t understand the GIF, let me explain: Jason’s frog escapes from his bowl, leaps to a nearby radioactive waste container out in front of the garage, instantaneously begins to mutate to enormous sizes (by frog standards), leaps down an enormous-frog-sized hole, and is pursued down the hole by his loving owner, Jason. Jason then discovers a suit of armor and tank and decides it is the key to recovering his beloved frog.

Grey? Gray? Whatever... just shoot it!

Shootin’ some grey things and grabbin’ some P’s.

Blaster Master is awesome. Some people will claim otherwise (take note of these people for they should be ignored in the future) and they are objectively incorrect. Yes, it is a little rough around the edges but what NES game wasn’t? The general gameplay consists of Jason driving a tank around side-scroller style searching for things to shoot until you find Jason-sized doorways . You then explore these areas sans-tank in a top-down overhead fashion looking for more things to shoot until you can find something really big to shoot. Destroying the really big thing grants you a tank upgrade that allows you to explore more of the world to find bigger and better things to shoot.

The creatures you end up shooting look very bizarre. Take a look at the grey thing in the picture, for instance. What is it?! I’ve examined the sprite but cannot figure it out at all. It’s a grey bipedal person-oid that hopped around like a madman. Why do these things even hate Jason and the tank? Maybe they just have some sort of inherent hatred for “masters” who “blast” things? Regardless of why, these guys sure are fun to blast!

I just like to call him the "brain" thing.

Apparently, his name is Cramitor…

Besides the sheer satisfaction of shooting things, Blaster Master offers quite a big adventure. The game is Metroid-esque in the way that, although the game is split into distinct areas, you are free to go back and forth as you please between locations. In fact, the overall design requires that you revisit old areas. One of my favorite aspects of Blaster Master is how fun it feels to explore the game. Instead of just painting each area with different graphics and calling it new, the developers made each area feel unique as each area has a distinct look, music, and level construction. Because of the fun and interesting upgrades backtracking never feels dull as it gives me new chances to try out the tanks new abilities.

The tank decided to take dip too...

A leisurely swim after a rough day of killing things.

The upgrades give your tank abilities you never even knew you wanted. How about one that lets you fly? Death from above! How about literally driving up the walls? Do it! Walls not enough? How about driving on the ceiling? The sky is the limit! It’s almost as if the people at Sunsoft thought to themselves “What is more fun than a jumping tank of wanton destruction?” in which  one man, probably sitting in the corner of the room drinking a juice box, said, “How about instead of just jumping it can go, like, where ever?” I assume this was immediately followed by a round of high-fives.

Let’s face it: this game is frickin’ awesome. It’s not perfect but it’s just so great to play. Who cares about the little problems when there is so much fun to be had. If you haven’t played Blaster Master yet, I preemptively accept your apology. Now go out and play it somehow. You owe it to yourself.

Shantae: Risky’s Revenge (is Okay)

I recently purchased Shantae: Risky’s Revenge on the iOS App Store. I’ve known about this game for quite some time as it was originally released as DSiWare in 2010. I am slowly becoming a fan of WayForward and had heard great things about the Shantae series but had yet to play one. When I saw that it was on sale in the App Store for $2, I had to make the purchase (on Christmas gift card credit!) immediately.

That skull top is pretty cool, though.

Don’t get excited people: she’s 15.

For those who don’t know, Shantae: Risky’s Revenge is a non-linear 2D platformer. You control half-genie Shantae in her quest to save the land from Risky Boots, an evil pirate (maybe?) type of thing. While the game is played in a strict progression, it is not level based. Shantae is free to explore anywhere her current powers will allow and backtracking is prevalent. There are plenty of upgrades throughout the game that keep the game fresh and interesting.

For what is effectively a Nintendo DS game, Shantae looks and sounds fantastic. I was really pleased by the sprite work and animations but that is to be expected from WayForward. The graphics, not including UI elements, appear to be exactly the same as its DSi counterpart, which isn’t a bad thing. My only gripe about the music is that it sounds a little compressed like a DS game, not an iOS game. I understand the graphics being the same but you’d think they could up the music quality given the platform.

Shantae is a really great game but WayForward really dropped the ball on the iOS implementation. Yes, it looks and sounds great and the overall design of the game is terrific but the controls are not up to par. Most people who play games on the iOS platform play games that were built from the ground up on the iOS platform. Games that were ported from platforms that have physical controls and buttons need extra love to make the transition to capacitive touchscreen. Shantae: Risky’s Revenge did not get that love.

There are a couple signs that WayForward did not thoroughly think through and test the controls.

First, there is no pause button. None whatsoever. You can go into the inventory menu to pause the action but otherwise, there is no way to pause. What this also means is that there is no way to return to the title screen except for restarting the app or killing yourself. This seems extremely odd for a game with a multitude of achievements.

Awesome desert locale

Just chilling in the desert.

Second, the item button is on the top left. This makes no sense whatsoever. For whatever reason, WayForward decided the best place to put an extremely common action was the furthest point away from all other actions. It is very clunky to have to stop moving just to use an item. Just look at the picture on the left. To use an item, you press the circle in the top left. Does that look fun? It’s not.

Third, the attack, walk, and mode button is all the same button: the “action” button. Normally, if you attack and continue to hold the button, Shantae will begin to dance. During her dance, the action freezes until you let go of the button (dancing is required as it lets Shantae switch forms.) If you attack an enemy and hold the button slightly too long, the game will stutter for a fraction of a second while she starts to dance. This is not a major issue but it is annoying. What really baffles me is how to get Shantae to walk. In order to walk, you must attack and continue to hold the button. Sound familiar? That’s because it is exactly the same way you start dancing. Dancing takes priority over walking which means if you want to walk (which you could only discover by accident), you have to jump, press and hold attack and then land after your attack is completed (if you land before the attack is completed, Shantae will begin to dance.) Then, and only then, are you able to see Shantae’s walking animation. Yes, walking is not necessary, but it’s still a shame.

Last, the controls are not customizable in any way whatsoever. In fact, there are no options to speak of at all. This means that my complaints are set in stone. Certain much maligned iOS ports, such as Grand Theft Auto 3, were criticized for poor controls but at least in GTA3 you had a multitude of control options. If the controls were terrible, at least you had the power to make them as comfortable to you as possible. What Shantae: Risky’s Revenge really lacks is the feeling of comfort; it always feels a bit awkward.

More could probably be said but it’s not really necessary. The game is very fun, playable and well worth the $2 I paid for it.

What does it all mean, though? WayForward obviously put a lot of work into this game as it’s fun to play and engaging. You can get it on the iOS shop for $4.99 (or wait for a sale like I did) or you can get it on the DSiWare shop or 3DS eShop for $12. Here is what I suggest: wait until it is released on the PC. It may be released on the Steam platform sometime in 2013 and will be, as far as I can tell, the superior version. Shantae: Risky’s Revenge is a good game but the iOS port deserved just a little more love to make it a great game.