What I’ve Been Playing (Q3) 2022
Thoughts and impressions on the games I played/finished during Q3 of 2022; including Hell Pie, Ys IX: Monstrum Nox, Elden Ring, Klonoa Phantasy Reverie Series, Wave Race 64 and more…
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Thoughts and impressions on the games I played/finished during Q3 of 2022; including Hell Pie, Ys IX: Monstrum Nox, Elden Ring, Klonoa Phantasy Reverie Series, Wave Race 64 and more…
With each passing year, it’s become increasingly difficult to stay on top of every new game release. Between mainstream, “AAA” blockbusters, indies and all of the in-between, gaming continues to be an embarrassment of riches. While you don’t have to (and realistically can’t) play everything, for someone like myself who has a fairly broad range of interests, it’s nearly impossible to just pick one game and stick to it. Choice paralysis is definitely a thing and the third quarter of 2022 continues to have me paralyzed (mostly in a good way). With that said, despite a busy summer filled with travel (while also dealing with a pinched nerve in my left elbow since March, which still hasn’t fully healed…), here are the games I managed to roll credits on during the third quarter of 2022. If you missed what I played/finished during Q1 and Q2 of 2022, you can read about it here and here!
ElecHead, developed by Nama Takahashi and company, is a masterclass in 2D puzzle-platforming. I completed the game back on PC in 2021 (and gushed about it here), but I decided a 100% playthrough was in order for my revisit of the Nintendo Switch version since I only rolled the initial credits on Steam. As far as I know, there’s nothing exclusive to the Switch version of the game, but if you haven’t played it before, there’s never been a better time, especially if Switch is your indie platform of choice.
ElecHead is filled with secret passages and collectables that are extremely well hidden, especially if you’re not using a guide. I felt compelled to find everything the game had to offer this time around and even after scouring the map, which asks the player to hug most walls on each screen, I still came up short and had to resort to a guide to discover some of the more elusive secrets. With that said, 100%-ing ElecHead only took me around 5 hours and it’s still some of the best 5 hours I’ve had in gaming, period.
Toy Story 2: Buzz Lightyear to the Rescue, developed by Traveller’s Tales, is a licensed 3D platformer that attempts to retell the story of Toy Story 2 through the lens of Super Mario 64. Before Traveller’s Tales became a Lego-making machine, they used to create games that were either original (Haven: Call of the King being my favorite) or licensed, like Toy Story 2. Most licensed games back in the day were not received well by critics/consumers alike. While this generally is the case for most licensed games from this era, it was mostly because they just weren’t very good or they felt like cash grabs that tied into their respective movie releases. Buzz Lightyear to the Rescue, however, is a competent 3D platformer that’s well worth your time, especially if you’re a fan of the genre.
Similar to Super Mario 64 (SM64), each stage contains Pizza Planet Tokens which are essentially the Power Stars from SM64. These objectives range from collecting a certain amount of coins for Hamm to finding pieces of Mr. Potato Head or even fighting a boss character (most, if not all of which are unique to the game). The level objectives can be tackled in any order and while some ideas repeat throughout the game, there’s always a slight twist on how you complete the objective. I was surprised with how open-ended the levels are and while their size might feel small/confined by today’s standards, the scale of these areas were relatively impressive for their time. The game mostly follows the scenes from the movie too, but it takes some liberties for obvious reasons. I completed the game at 100% and it took me somewhere between 7-10 hours. If you’re you’re looking for a good licensed game, Toy Story 2 has aged surprisingly well.
Ys IX: Monstrum Nox, developed by Falcom, is the latest entry in the long-running Ys franchise and the follow-up to Ys VIII: Lacrimosa of DANA. Ys IX, for better or worse, still retains the party-based gameplay found in the more recent titles. If you’ve played the previous entry, Ys IX is essentially the same game but instead of a tropical island, Adol and friends have found themselves in a prison town. Ys IX has often been criticized for its somewhat bland look and while a dreary fortress town isn’t as appealing as a tropical island, the prison city isn’t without its charm. From my recollection, Ys IX is the first Ys game to recognize most of Adol’s previous exploits and use it as a focal point in the story. Most Ys titles are treated as standalone adventures with few references to previous games. In Ys IX, however, Falcom seems to have taken a big-picture approach, almost treating the game as if it was one of their Legend of Heroes titles. This decision to make Ys more dialogue and story heavy hasn’t sat well with the older fanbase, however.
Some fans prefer the older Ys games when it was just Adol on a solo adventure, more dungeon-crawler focused than the party-based, traditional RPG experience the series has been as of late. While I think I prefer the structure of the older games, I don’t dislike the current state of Ys either. If there’s one aspect of Ys that remains true no matter the entry, it’s how formulaic and tightly designed they are, almost to a fault. If you play these games thoroughly (equipping the latest gear, doing every side quest, etc.), you really don’t have to grind. If you’re under-leveled in an Ys game, a boss encounter will let you know. Combine this with the action-oriented combat and the recent introduction of perfect guards/dodges, Ys games deliver a consistently satisfying experience and Ys IX is no different.
I will say I’ve grown slightly tired of the “rock, paper, scissors” combat system and the party-based gameplay, which Falcom will be changing for the next entry. I completed Ys IX on Hard difficulty with all of the side quests completed and nearly everything done and collected at around 50 hours. Falcom has been making games for nearly as long as I have been alive. Sometimes I wonder how much longer I have it in me to keep playing games, but as long as Falcom keeps creating classic RPGs like Ys, I’ll keep going along for the ride. Similar to the previous games, there’s new game+ options, harder difficulties and boss rush modes to tackle if I wanted an excuse to revisit the game, but for now I’m happy to move on to other games while I wait patiently for Ys X.
Pocky & Rocky Reshrined, developed by Natsume, is a remake of a SNES cult classic. Pocky & Rocky is a challenging arcade-like experience but at its core, it’s an on-foot shooter/”shmup”. I never got the chance to play this game as a kid, so I had little to no expectations diving in. With that said, I’m simply a fan of retro games with tight gameplay, good music and killer sprite-work. Pocky & Rocky checks all of these boxes and then some. Outside of the rock-solid gameplay, my favorite thing about the game are the visuals. In the very first level, fall leaves litter the grounds of a shrine. As your player runs and dives over them, the leaves get kicked-up behind you (even your weapon knocks the leaves around!). It’s extremely intoxicating to watch and there’s little details like this sprinkled throughout the stages. The background art is simply gorgeous, the boss animations are superb and the game simply makes me want to be a kid again.
Pocky & Rocky is incredibly short, but it’s meant to be replayed and mastered on higher difficulties. Fortunately, the game’s checkpoints are fair and there are unlimited continues. Some stages are broken-up into sub-levels and if you die halfway through the stage, you’ll start at a mid-way checkpoint instead of the beginning of the stage. There is local co-op as well, but it must be unlocked by completing the game once in single-player (or by earning enough coins from regular play), which is an odd decision given how difficult the game is. I completed the game once on the default difficulty, but the trophy list asks you to complete the game with each unlockable character using only a single credit… which isn’t happening anytime soon!
Klonoa: Door to Phantomile (from the Klonoa Phantasy Reverie Series), developed by Bandai Namco & MONKEYCRAFT Co. Ltd., is a 2.5D platformer that was originally released on the PlayStation 1 (PS1). In Klonoa, you play as a dream travelling cat with floppy ears and a hat with an embroidered Pac-Man logo. Klonoa can run, jump and flutter a short distance, similar to how Yoshi controls from Super Mario World 2: Yoshi’s Island. Unique to Klonoa, however, is his ring that can be used to capture enemies. What was most interesting about Klonoa back in the day from a design perspective, is that it made use of both the background and foreground. You could capture an enemy with your ring, use the enemy to double jump or toss it into a switch or at other objects in the background/foreground to discover hidden items. While a handful of games played around with the 2.5D perspective from the PS1 era (Tomba! and Pandemonium! come to mind – both of which use exclamation marks in their titles, by the way), I personally felt Klonoa did it best (Digital Foundry does a much better job at explaining why Klonoa is so great). While the gameplay remains on a 2D plane, the paths twist and turn into and out of the background and combined with the dynamic camera angles, it provides the feel of a lush 3D experience.
Klonoa has an interesting legacy, some of which might come as a surprise to most people. Did you know, for example, that the director of Ninja Gaiden worked on Klonoa? Klonoa also had a sequel on the PS2 and a handful of portable releases, some of which never made it to the states. The series has been dormant since the failed Wii remake of the first game back in 2008. Until recently, most fans thought Klonoa was long dead and buried. It’s honestly a miracle this collection exists and I hope it sold well enough to warrant a true sequel. While the collection was rumored for quite some time and the trademark would constantly get renewed, year after year time would pass and an official announcement would never come to fruition. Some say the new visuals lack the grittiness of the original and while I somewhat agree, there’s a nice overall compromise here between the PS1 classic and the Wii remake. Klonoa Phantasy Reverie Series is the best of both worlds and considering the eBay prices for the two games on their original platforms, consider yourself lucky that there’s now a convenient way to experience these classics.
Klonoa: Door to Phantomile is arguably my favorite platformer of all time and it was the first game to ever make me cry. While the game is relatively short, each stage offers unique platforming sequences, environmental puzzles, citizens to save, and gems to collect. Underneath it all, the game is also building towards an unsuspecting emotional conclusion. When you reach the end of the game, the music becomes much more serious and the high-stakes become clear. Ultimately, under Klonoa’s lightheaded and colorful exterior lies a dark game with a truly depressing ending. Growing up with 2D platformers like Super Mario Bros., Donkey Kong Country, and Sonic the Hedgehog, for example, Klonoa was the first one I played that actually made me feel some sort of emotional resonance and for that reason alone, I think it’s special. I completed the game at 100% but new to the Phantasy Reverie Series is an unlockable Hard difficulty which I will revisit down the road. Buy and support Klonoa so it doesn’t go dormant for another 10+ years!
Stray, developed by BlueTwelve Studio, is a game where you play as a cute cat in a post-apocalyptic world that’s rooted in classic adventure game elements. When I’m drafting my game of the year (GOTY) list, I think about the games that made me put the controller down and reflect. Each year, I’m on the lookout for games that give me moments like this and not only did Stray have them in spades (see the spoiler section below), the game has a built-in mechanic that lends itself to the very idea. In Stray, there are spots in the game where you can cuddle-up into a ball and take a nap. The camera zooms out and the head’s up display (HUD) disappears, giving the player a moment of respite to reflect on everything they’ve accomplished so far. Many games incorporate this “cinematic resting” technique, but there’s something about how it’s utilized in Stray that really resonated with me. Perhaps it’s because I love cats and envy their simple, carefree lifestyles (eating and sleeping whenever they want to) or maybe it’s just because the relationship between the robots and the furry feline feels so comforting and genuine. It’s clear that the developers are cat lovers.
End-game Spoilers Begin Here: One of my favorite things about games is when the developers know they’ve created a sense of place. At the end of Stray, it’s revealed that the areas you’ve been exploring is actually a domed city, sealed shut from the outside world. During the final gameplay sequence, you destroy a command center of sorts and the ceiling above the city begins to open. If you look out from the big windows in this room, you can see the entirety of the city from above. Every area you explored is detailed and visible below and it feels like you’re looking at a miniature diorama set. The sense of scale is incredible and as the metal plates retract, sunlight bathes the city below and the game lets you quite literally soak in all of its glory. The entire sequence is all in real-time too and you can watch the scene unfold in silence, if you so choose. It was a “game of the year” moment for me and months later, I still think about how impactful the whole experience was.
End-game Spoilers End Here: The opening chapter of Stray feels like a Team ICO game. There’s no dialogue outside of an opening title card sequence (in a really stylistic alien/robot-looking font) establishing that you’re outside of the city’s walls. The further you progress, however, the game sort of shows its classic adventure game influence as it quickly devolves into a fetch quest of sorts with a lot of back and forth conversations with various NPCs. I mostly enjoyed the narrative approach, but I do understand how some people could have been disappointed with how, at times, it doesn’t really feel like you’re a cat. The game’s arguably from the perspective of a little robot companion/familiar who accompanies you on your quest, which again, could be disappointing to those who just wanted a game solely about our feline friends.
Another interesting choice from a design perspective is the fact that the developers chose third-person instead of first-person. The little robot friend who accompanies the kitty happens to be equipped with a flashlight so that the player can see in the dark. Cats, however, are known to have night vision, so it requires some suspension of disbelief while playing. It was something I didn’t think about until I was listening to a recent podcast episode of EasyAllies where they were sharing their thoughts on the game. Watching the cat jump around the environment and how it interacts with the robots sells the game, however, so it was probably the right choice. There was something else I couldn’t stop thinking about while playing Stray, though. Cats have a free will and unless they’re trained, they’re not known for taking directions from humans very well. The fact that the player is controlling an animal that would clearly have a mind of its own requires even further suspension of disbelief, but the same thing could be said about any person, animal or creature we control in a video game, so it’s best not to overthink things. I completed the game with all memories collected and every trophy outside of doing the speed run. Stray is easily one of the best games I’ve played all year.
Ape Escape, originally developed by Japan Studio, is a 3D platformer for the original PlayStation that was mostly known for its use of the DualShock controller. When the original Ape Escape launched for the PS1 back in 1999, it required Sony’s DualShock controller in order to play. For those who may not remember a time before analog controls, the DualShock allowed developers more freedom in both character control and camera movement applications. Ape Escape was one of the few games to take full advantage of the controller’s capabilities. Players could make over/underhanded swings with their net to capture monkeys, twirl a hula-hoop by rotating the right analog stick to stun enemies or even control an R.C. car to solve puzzles by utilizing both analog sticks. It was kind of a big deal (and I wrote more about it here).
Similar to Klonoa, not only is Ape Escape one of my favorite platformer series of all time, the series has been dormant for quite some time. The last mainline entry was Ape Escape 3 back on the PS2, but since the release of classic PlayStation games on the PS5, Ape Escape has finally returned. I rolled the initial credits on Ape Escape, but there’s an entire post-game where more monkeys get added to each level. There’s also time trials where you can earn Gold medals based on how quickly you capture each monkey in a stage. Getting 100% in Ape Escape takes quite the investment and while I completed the game to its fullest back in the day, I was simply happy to revisit one of my favorite games of all time, even if it wasn’t to its full extent.
Hell Pie, developed by Sluggerfly, is a disgustingly well-made 3D platformer made-up of all of the best ingredients from the past. While Hell Pie does have a story, it’s mostly a collect-a-thon through and through. You play as an intern at Hell Inc, the official headquarters/workplace of the damned. You’re tasked to collect ingredients from 4 themed worlds so that you can bake the ultimate birthday dessert for Satan himself. To aid you on your quest, you’re chained to a cute cherub friend who you can use as both a grappling hook and a weapon. The character movement and how it generally feels to control your character is one of the most important aspects of a 3D platformer and Hell Pie nails it. It’s super satisfying to swing from one platform to the next and one of the game’s many collectables can be used to upgrade your swing, which gives you even more control over your jumps. In fact, some may say that it feels a bit broken at times once you unlock certain skills. If you time your jumps well enough, you can bypass entire sections of particular stages with an upgraded swing, but perhaps that was the creator’s intent.
Hell Pie’s humor and tone can come off as somewhat offensive and juvenile within the first few hours. For one, the game’s relatively gory. Cute-looking creatures get decapitated and fragged on a regular basis. Secondly, one of the first levels you explore is a sewer that’s inhabited by literal pieces of shit and giant naked monsters that eat fecal matter. In another world, which happens to be a jungle, all of the fauna is phallic in design and the creatures that inhabit the woods are extremely horny (and they don’t hide it either). The game’s pretty gross but it’s also one of the best 3D platformers I’ve played in a long time. The sense of humor and tone might rub people the wrong way, but ultimately, I didn’t find anything too offensive and it never really crossed any serious lines. I completed the game at 100% with the Platinum trophy earned.
Bright Memory: Infinite, developed by Chinese-based FYQD Personal Studio, is a first-person-shooter (FPS) that feels more like a character-action game à la Devil May Cry. Following the release of the original Bright Memory (a proof of concept/demo of sorts that was released originally as a standalone episodic game), Bright Memory: Infinite feels more refined and realized than the first outing. Developed primarily by a single person, Infinite shoots for the stars in terms of “AAA” blockbuster set-pieces and production values but it still feels rooted in its humble independent beginnings. Infinite is a frenetic, fast-paced shooter at its core that, at times, feels like you’re playing Titanfall 2. Its B-movie dialogue and campiness, however, quickly reminds the player what they’re actually playing (for better or worse). There’s a sequence towards the end of the game where you drive out of a mountain tunnel that’s about to come down and as if it were a James Bond film, you eject out of your car and grapple hook onto a commercial airplane that’s spiraling towards a black hole in the sky. It’s ridiculous.
Bright Memory, both its original release and Infinite, also reminded me of old-school lightgun arcade shooters like Time Crisis or The House of the Dead and for that reason alone, I dig it. The game is incredibly short and it can be beaten in a single sitting. There are multiple difficulty levels and new game+ options if you want to max your character out and collect everything, but as a whole, there’s maybe 5-6 hours of content here. Bright Memory: Infinite is incredibly ambitious and inspiring, considering it’s mostly a one-man project, so I hope the developer continues to make games moving forward. I completed the game at 100% with the Platinum trophy earned.
Ty the Tasmanian Tiger 2: Bush Rescue HD, developed by Krome Studios, is a remaster of the original game that released back in the early 2000s. I haven’t played this game since I was a teenager and after revisiting it in 2022, I came away with a different perspective and a newfound appreciation for it. TY, at its core, is a 3D platformer from the PS2 mascot era. It feels more in-line with Banjo-Kazooie at times, right down to the music jingle that plays when you collect one of the game’s many collectables. TY 2 feels like the type of sequel where the back of the box would have read, “Bigger baddies, bigger areas, more collectables, more attitude… more everything!”. It also mirrors its contemporaries by employing a semi-open world filled with mini-games and kart racing, just like Jak II, Jak 3 and the latter two Sly Cooper games. While Ty 2 offers much more variety in terms of gameplay, it shines most during the traditional, explorable spaces that feel more reminiscent of the levels found in the first game.
If there was one new takeaway I had revisiting this game as an adult, it was probably the almost-educational angle the story leans towards. During multiple sequences in the game, you’ll control a water-blasting robot where you’re tasked to put out huge fires. The game’s sub-title is “Bush Rescue” which can arguably be interpreted as one who saves the Australian Outback from bushfires? The game’s story goes off the rails towards the end and it unfortunately becomes a Saturday morning cartoon more than anything else, however. I completed the game at 100% for the first time this year and I really enjoyed my trip down memory lane. I hope Ty the Tasmanian Tiger 3: Night of the Quinkan makes its way to consoles next as it’s the game I have the least amount of familiarity with in the series.
Time on Frog Island, developed by Half Past Yellow, is an adventure game of sorts where you play as a shipwrecked sailor on an island filled with frog-like people. Time on Frog Island might look like another Animal Crossing type of game from afar, but it’s actually more in-line with traditional point-and-click PC-style adventure games. There’s no dialogue in Time on Frog Island and everything is communicated through environmental storytelling/emojis. At the start of the game, it’s clear that you have to collect certain items in order to repair your ship. By solving the requests of the islanders, your character slowly uncovers the pieces that are needed in order to rebuild your ship. Time on Frog Island, at times, feels more like a glorified item-trading game. It’s as if someone took the item-trading quests from numerous Zelda games and made an entire game out of it. The majority of your time spent on this island is finding an item and bringing it back to someone. To make matters a bit more tricky, there’s a day/night cycle, weather effects and NPC routines.
You can complete the game relatively quickly, but if you want to uncover all of the secrets and fulfill every request on the island, you’re probably looking at 10+ hours of gameplay (if you take good mental notes). I completed the game with what was presumably the best ending and saw nearly everything the island had to offer (outside of some elusive trophies/achievements that might take a new playthrough to earn). Time on Frog Island’s story was surprisingly heartwarming, too. Brief artwork vignettes are shown in-between gameplay sessions when you go to sleep and it’s just enough motivation to see how/why your little sailor friend has to get off this island. Time on Frog Island was surprisingly delightful and highly recommended if you’re looking for a relaxing, thoughtful experience.
Destroy All Humans!, developed originally by Pandemic Games, is a 3rd-person shooter, action-adventure game of sorts where you play as an alien (who sounds like Jack Nicholson) who’s orders are to invade Earth, extract human DNA and find a missing spacecraft. Destroy All Humans! is filled with social commentary (some of which is still relevant today), but feels rooted in old, B-movies about extraterrestrials. It’s like Mars Attacks!, but with a slightly different sense of humor. The writing seems to take a middle ground, sort of “all sides are wrong” approach in favor of the alien species that wants to simply destroy all humans (as the name suggests). After these past few years, I would honestly accept an alien invasion at this point, given the pandemic we’re still living through, the threat of nuclear war and the social/political unrest that continues to stew. Our climate has and continues to change on Earth and NASA just developed a rocket that can ricochet planet-destroying asteroids, so it looks like us humans will have to do the honor (and it’s fast-approaching, it seems).
Destory All Humans! existed in a post-Grand Theft Auto 3 world and its age clearly shows. It’s a semi-open world game with waypoints, optional missions, citizens who walk around aimlessly with no real purpose, a “crime” meter (for when you cause too much havoc) and collectables galore. For whatever reason, I felt compelled to complete the game at 100% and obtain the Platinum trophy. Like all PS2 games on PS4, PSN classics come equipped with new sets of trophies for the player to earn. Surprisingly, despite being able to earn the in-game 100% completion by the end of the game, you can miss some of the trophies during a playthrough if you’re not careful. I had to do a quick replay of the main game where I had to scan/disguise myself as a certain amount of unique NPCs throughout the course of the game (which is one of the game’s core gameplay mechanics). A remake of Destroy All Humans! now exists on PS4/PS5 too and while the visuals do look impressive (and is probably the version I should have played), I wanted to see what the original game had to offer. I spent nearly 30 hours playing this game, which is far more time than I wanted to spend with it, so I will give the remake and the sequel a spin around the sun some other day down the road (if the Earth is still standing by then).
Ice Age Scrat’s Nutty Adventure, developed by Just Add Water, is a licensed 3D platformer based on the animated movies by Blue Sky Studios. From my understanding, it’s an original story centered around Scrat, who is a saber-toothed squirrel who simply loves acorns. While scouring the lands for food, Scrat stumbles upon a ruin where his ancestors speak to him about the existence of legendary acorns. Naturally, you set off on an adventure to procure these ancient artifacts. I’m not exactly sure what drove me to play this game, let alone acquire the Platinum trophy for it. After watching Kyle Bosman’s charity stream where he played nothing but early-to-mid 2000s licensed movie platformers, I just couldn’t resist the allure of an animated film game. Fortunately, being a PS Plus Premium member, the game was free to download with my subscription. I love 3D platformers, they are my bread & butter. Sometimes I need to play brainless, inoffensive, average games just to ground myself. It doesn’t help that I’ve played nearly every worthwhile 3D platformer (or I’d like to think I have… go on, I dare you to name something I haven’t played!).
Scrat’s Nutty Adventure feels like a fan-made game that uses default Unreal Engine assets for its environments. The levels are long and overstay their welcome. The platforming is frustrating and the controls are stiff. Levels consist of moving platforms or switches you need to activate, although you do obtain some Metroid-like abilities at the end of each world which allows you to explore previously unreachable areas. While it could be someone’s (a kid’s) first game, in what world would anyone recommend this game over any Super Mario game, for example. I do like the hub area where the game begins, however. Each collectable gets displayed on the walls here and it gives the player a nice sense of progression at the very least. At the end of the day, it’s just not a very good game and it’s one that I find hard to recommend (unless you’re a 3D platformer aficionado like myself and have nothing else to play).
Wave Race 64, developed by Nintendo, is a jet ski racing game that was originally released on the Nintendo 64 (N64). It’s arguably one of my favorite racing games of all time (if not favorite). I played it to death back in the day, but since it was just re-released on the Nintendo Switch Online (NSO), a replay of the entire game was long overdue. It blows my mind that no other developer has captured the feel of this game since; the controls are simple yet nuanced, the soundtrack is catchy & memorable and the water physics are unmatched (and have aged beautifully).
Crashing over waves, pulling off (unnecessary) stunts, listening to the overly excited announcer, there’s just nothing else like it. Perhaps you had to be there back in 1996 to truly appreciate everything the game had to offer, but after all of these years, I still find myself wanting to return to the water and not the pavement. I made sure to complete the game on every circuit, including Expert and Reverse (which were extremely challenging to place first in overall) and I also unlocked the dolphin. Wave Race 64 is quite frankly a masterpiece.
Frogun, developed by Molegato, is a 3D precision-platformer with a PS1-style aesthetic. The visual style is reminiscent of Mega Man Legends and the overall look of the game is very pleasing to the eyes, especially for a particular generation of gamers (me). Frogun’s levels are grid/tile-based, but you have full 3D control of your character. Your weapon, a frog… gun… can be used to either grab enemies and use them as projectiles or use it as a grappling hook to traverse stages. Prior to some recent updates, Frogun becomes frustratingly difficult the further you progress (especially if you’re trying to collect everything in a level). Similarly to how I felt about Demon Turf (another 3D platformer that I wrote about which also released this year), Frogun’s level design felt more like fan-made stages from a level editor than something handcrafted with a vision. Although the game has a world map of sorts, there’s really no sense of place. Each level feels like it’s a custom-made obstacle course that’s suspended in the air. It’s likely the designer’s choice, but it’s an approach that doesn’t vibe with me as much as other more traditional 3D platformers that have more realized/grounded explorable spaces (see Hell Pie above).
Initially, any items you collected weren’t saved until you hit a checkpoint (which has since been updated). I bought the game at launch and was happily 100%’ing each level before moving on, but it became way too challenging towards the latter half of the game. When you’re grappling from object to object midair, the auto lock-on/targeting just doesn’t feel right and almost always results in an untimely death. I ended up completing the game at 72% and finished one of the unlockable boss rush modes in the post-game. There are a ton of gallery images and hats to purchase, which will take some time to grind out too. The story and characters aren’t very interesting either, although the game insists on providing collectable scrolls with background story and the occasional dialogue sequence. You even have a rival who races you during particular stages (which are probably the most difficult levels to master). I really wanted to like Frogun more than I ultimately did.
Elden Ring, developed by From Software, is the latest and most ambitious “Souls” entry to date. It also feels like a culmination of everything From Software has been working towards since the 90s. As of late, I’ve had a love/hate relationship with their games. From Software is a developer that is near and dear to my heart. I have fond memories of bringing our original PlayStation to the shore so that my brother and I could play King’s Field II late at night after coming back from the boardwalk. We bought a PS2 for Eternal Ring and Evergrace, From Software’s not-so-popular PS2 launch games. We would later import Shadow Tower Abyss, the Japanese-only sequel to Shadow Tower on the PS1, so that we could utilize a fan-made translation on a modded PS2 and experience it in all of its obscurity. Prior to Demon’s/Dark Souls, From Software used to be known for a variety of games across multiple genres. During the PS2/GC/Xbox era, for example, we were graced with games like The Adventures of Cookie & Cream, Lost Kingdoms and Otogi. Today, From Software is a Souls-pumping machine and outside of a few experimental projects (see Déraciné or Sekiro: Shadows Die Twice to a lesser extent), From Software isn’t the company they used to be and for most of the community and industry at large, it appears to be for the better.
The most impressive thing about Elden Ring is probably its open world and how it differs from its contemporaries. Elden Ring is essentially From Software’s take on Elder Scrolls, more so than say Nintendo’s The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild or Guerrilla’s Horizon series (which everyone can’t resist making comparisons to). There are what the game considers “legacy dungeons”, which are essentially the size of the main areas from Demon’s Souls, for example, but they’re integrated/placed within a much larger overworld filled with its own smaller areas, tombs, ruins, encampments and other eye-catching landmarks. With that said, the first 30-50 hours or so, the developers do a good job of disguising the repeated ideas/concepts. There are these 4-legged, stone monuments that stomp across the land in various spots, for example. It’s an incredible moment the first time you witness these monstrosities, but once you see the 6th or 7th “one of these”, the honey moon phase quickly comes to an end and then there’s only pain and suffering. Elden Ring may be more approachable than some of the other games in the series (if you get lost in one area or if you’re struggling at a particular boss, you have many more options in terms of “finding something else to do”). At some point, you have to defeat some of the main bosses in order to proceed and like any other Souls game, it’s not easy.
I completed the game at Level 147 with nearly 110 hours logged. I uncovered most of the map and beat all of the “secret” bosses that netted trophies. I did as many side quests as I could and did not resort to a guide until I reached the end of the game (just to see what I could mop-up before attempting the final boss). Unlike previous Souls entries, I found myself completely exhausted/defeated by certain boss encounters towards the end of the game. Typically, I prefer to solo Souls games before summoning online players for help. The Godskin Duo is what broke me, however. Summoning allies is part of the game’s experience and core gameplay mechanics, so I didn’t think much of it (despite what some purists might say). I played a mostly DEX/STR-based character throughout most of the game too, but by the 75+ hour mark, I started to invest in Faith so that I could use some of the dragon incantations. I earned the Elden Lord ending and nearly met all of the conditions for one of the secret endings. I really like Elden Ring, but I’m ready for something a bit more different than just open world Dark Souls.
Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles: Fall of the Foot Clan (from the Cowabunga Collection), developed by Konami, is the first TMNT game for Gameboy. I never played this game as a kid, but I managed to finish it without using save states/rewind. It’s more fair than Castlevania: The Adventure at least! There are 5 stages and you can play any level out of order. The levels are extremely linear with enemies pouring out of both sides of the screen. The levels themselves aren’t very interesting structurally, considering it was originally a GB game, I wasn’t expecting much. You’re constantly moving forward in the levels and outside of a few stage hazards (like falling rocks and giant tires), there’s not a whole lot of variety. The hit detection is rather lenient, however, and the stages don’t overstay their welcome.
You choose your turtle before playing the stage and if you die, the turtle gets captured and you need to pick another one (you essentially have 4 lives). Enemies do drop pizza frequently to restore health, but there are also hidden areas to gain health back (although they’re really well hidden and I never found one on my first playthrough). Speaking of which, Digital Eclipse did an amazing job with the collection as there are in-game tip pages which look like illustrated manual pages from their respective platform. The information in these menus are super helpful, especially if you’re looking for some assistance (and you don’t even have to go online and look at GameFAQs!). I finished the game in less than an hour and I’m looking forward to checking out the rest of the collection soon.
Tinykin, developed by Splashteam (of Splasher fame), is a classic 3D platformer that feels straight out of the PS2/GC/Xbox era. While Tinykin shares some similarities to Pikmin, it’s more rooted in traditional collect-a-thons like Banjo-Kazooie/Jak & Daxter. In Tinykin, you play as a space traveler of sorts who lands on an alien planet (that seemingly looks like someone’s house from earth). On this planet, you discover Pikmin-like creatures that can be used to traverse the environment. Each Tinykin type grants the player new abilities; red Tinykin are used to destroy objects and green Tinykin can build ladders to reach new heights, for example. The game’s “Honey I Shrunk the Kids” approach lends itself to tucked-away secrets and collectables in nearly every nook & cranny of the house. Pollen-like golden nuggets are scattered everywhere and you can trade them for upgrades to your hover ability, which allows you to complete certain objectives you couldn’t do otherwise. You also obtain a bar of soap early on in the game so that you can freely skate around the environments.
Tinykin has a ton of world-building and dialogue, although you don’t really have to engage with any of it to make progress. The game takes place in a human-sized house filled with insects and creatures that have made their home within the confines of its walls. Each area of the house is run by a tribe of insects with their own cultures and philosophies. Most of it is fairly well written, but sometimes there’s just a bit too much of it, considering it’s a 3D platformer at its core, I struggled to not skip the text because I just wanted to jump around, explore and collect things. The ending sequence reveals a somewhat interesting twist, but it didn’t feel earned and sort of went in one ear and out the other for me.
Tinykin is one of the most immediately satisfying games I’ve played all year. It’s a constant stream of dopamine, particularly for completionists or for those who simply enjoy collecting stuff; it’s extremely hard to put down. It has the satisfaction you get for delivering items to your ship in Pikmin, but without all of the micromanaging, strategy and stress that comes with it. I completed the game at 100%, but I missed an achievement I can no longer earn (unless I delete my current save as there’s only one save slot). There is an achievement for collecting all of the Tinykin in the game. Tinykin are housed in egg-like cocoons scattered around the stages. There are a finite amount of Tinykin to collect in the game, however. If you don’t toss a Tinykin at one of these egg-like cocoons, you will miss the “Sniper” achievement if you’ve already hatched them all by normal means (which is usually accomplished by just running into them). Other than a missable achievement and a story that doesn’t quite stick its landing, Tinykin is nearly a perfect game that accomplishes what it sets out to do. I can’t wait to see what this developer does next because in my books, they’re two for two so far.
Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles II: Back from the Sewers (from the Cowabunga Collection), developed by Konami, is a much better and more ambitious game than the original Gameboy release. Similar to Fall of the Foot Clan, there are 6 stages (instead of 5) and they’re split into sub-levels which culminate in a (usually frustrating) boss encounter. You can still pick between the 4 turtles, but you can’t do the stages out of order like in the first game. The sprites are much larger and the background art is more detailed naturally. The levels are much more interesting to traverse as well and have some much needed verticality. It feels like a sequel, all things considered.
I once again completed Back from the Sewers without any save states/rewinds, but I nearly caved during a particular level. There’s a stage that takes place in the sky and if you’re familiar with most Zelda games, it’s a “Lost Woods” type of level. If you don’t traverse the stage in a particular order, you’ll loop back around to the start of the level. The problem, however, is that there are literally no visual hints, so good luck guessing your way through. The final stage is relatively difficult too and acts as a sort of boss rush. Even though Back from the Sewers is technically a better game, I think I might prefer the simplicity of Fall of the Foot Clan. I finished the game in about an hour or two and I’m looking forward to checking out the rest of the collection soon.
See you next quarter! The 2022 GOTY discussion is upon us…
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