I love milkshakes.
I know they’re not necessarily the healthiest treat option available to me, so I try not to drink them too often. However, when I get my hands on one, I am relentless and guzzle it up, usually to the point that my wife has to tell me to stop making disgusting sounds as I suck the straw like an addict trying to get just one last tiny hit from his crack pipe.
The Etrian Odyssey IV demo is kind of like that.
I have tasted every last bit of what it has to offer and am starving for more. Atlus was generous to provide such a meaty demo, but in a sense, they were also a little cruel. If anyone takes the time needed to build a party of adventurers, traverse through and map out every square inch of the available labyrinths, level up their characters to the max that is allotted in the demo, and complete all offered quests, they are going to find it very hard to wait a couple more weeks to continue their journey into all that Etrian Odyssey IV has to offer.
I find it particularly amusing that Ignition UTV saw fit to release a niche title like Magical Drop V the same week big-budget blockbuster Call of Duty: Black Ops II hit stores. But in some ways, it makes sense.
The Magical Drop series harkens back to an era when an adorable, saccharine puzzle game could happily coexist on a Neo Geo MVS cabinet alongside games with samurai warriors slashing swords in one-on-one duels, military grunts blasting everything in sight to smithereens, and brawny ballplayers swinging for the fences. And while it’s likely only a tiny slice of the total Black Ops-playing fanbase would ever consider playing Magical Drop V, I believe when it comes to the skill and dexterity needed to succeed, it is a game that is every bit as rigorous and demanding as a top-tier Black Ops session, if not more so!
Way back in 1990, when I was but a freshman in high school, I received R-Type for the TurboGrafx-16 as a Christmas present. As anyone who has played the game knows, it is an absolutely punishing horizontal shooter. I lost count of how many times I blasted off to destroy the evil Bydo Empire only to be met with failure, and I’m not too ashamed to admit that I never cleared the final stage. Nevertheless, I refused to give up, and in fact, the game’s extreme difficulty level may have made me love it more.
R-Type requires players to methodically conquer each stage one small step at a time. Getting just a tiny bit further in a level is cause for celebration. The more I played, the further I eventually progressed, learning exactly where on the screen I needed to position my humble spacecraft at any given moment. I can’t think of any other shooter in which so much trial-and-error, memorization, and perseverance is required to succeed.
“But Mister Raroo,” you might wonder, “Why are you spending so much time talking about R-Type in a PixelJunk: SideScroller review?”
Because, dear readers, playing SideScroller is very much like playing Irem’s masterpiece. SideScroller is clearly a love letter to the classic horizontal shooter genre of yore, and it contains elements that bring to mind games like Gradius and Darius, though more than anything, I couldn’t help but think it would fit most comfortably in the R-Type family.
Poor Mother Earth! We humans have been treating her badly for far too long. But at least one good thing has come out of our mistreatment of the planet: it inspired the creation of the lovely Okabu.
With a strong ecological message, the game puts players in charge of halting the industrialized takeover of a blissful wilderness by a thoughtless empire, the Doza. But who possesses the power necessary to stand up to the might of such a mechanized menace? Cloud whales, of course!
Okabu does not take place in our world, even if its message reflects the perils we are currently facing. The game’s fantasy realm immediately brings to mind The Legend of Zelda: The Wind Waker, particularly Link’s home village. Okabu’s gorgeous, flat-shaded visuals leap off the screen with an abundance of color and detail. Zones within the game range from grassy lakesides to illuminated forests, and a good chunk of Okabu’s enjoyment comes from simply exploring every inch of these beautiful stages. The accompanying soundtrack, which mixes traditional African music with jazz, adds even more vibrancy to the already rich world.
To my amazement and despite some initial concern, Sideway: New York didn’t make my head hurt. The main hook of the game is that you play as a character sucked into the 2D world of graffiti art, making your way from one point to another by moving along, up, and over 3D buildings. It’s an atypical game design concept, and quite difficult to explain in words. Imagine sliding a Shrinky Dink through a maze that runs over all sides of a box and that should give you a start.
Thankfully, what I figured would be a confusing, infuriating nightmare turned out to be clear-cut and easy to navigate. Color me impressed.
HAL Laboratory was the first developer to truly show just how cool games could be on the Nintendo DS. Those of us who survived the dark, dreary days that were the DS’s first few months of existence know how slim the pickings were. But, like the sun breaking after a long night, along came Kirby Canvas Curse, and gone was any buyer’s remorse we had been feeling.
Canvas Curse skillfully demonstrated that the DS’s touch screen could be used for more than gimmicky mini-games, while also taking the Kirby series in an interesting new direction. I still play it on a regular basis all these years later – it is fabulous, and if you haven’t played it, do yourself a favor and track it down immediately.
Now we find ourselves in the twilight of the Nintendo DS’s reign, and HAL returns once again with an absolute knockout release. Kirby Mass Attack, like its cousin Canvas Curse, does away with a traditional control scheme and opts instead for stylus-driven control. Thankfully, the wizards at HAL superbly integrated this type of control scheme into engaging and intelligent level design and aesthetics, and the end result is one of the most interesting, innovative, and fun games to hit the Nintendo DS in quite some time.
Hitogata Happa seems downright impossible. Oh sure, everything starts off straightforward enough, and you might assume it’s a typical top-down 2D shooter. You blast enemies, you collect the goodies they drop, you reach the first boss… and then you die, again and again.
And if you’re like me, you probably give up and go play something else.
Yet, something about Hitogata Happa calls you back. You try again. You die again. You get angry. You get defensive. “This is the first stage! Why the heck is it so difficult?! This game sucks!”
I didn’t understand what I was doing wrong. I skillfully avoided every single bullet the first stage’s boss fired at me, while slowly whittling away at its power. When you start fighting the boss, a timer begins to count down, and when the clock hits zero, the boss suddenly goes bananas and unleashes a ruthless barrage that always resulted in me seeing the Game Over message. And the timer hit zero every single time. Argh!
My world became dark. I had really wanted to love Hitogata Happa so, so much. I was especially upset because I found the game’s world enthralling. Though I’ll admit I skipped the story sequences because I don’t care for such things, the plot’s gist is that the protagonist is extremely pissed off about some wrongdoing (her family was killed or something) and, in order to get her revenge, sends little “dolls” out to decimate her enemies. And, boy, are there a lot of enemies to kill!