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PC Platformers: Game Opinion Summaries

Note: as with my Genesis list I did last, this will be a multi-part series; I really like breaking it up, instead of writing a whole update then uploading it all at once. This first update covers 12 games. Also, alternately read this on my site with slightly nicer formatting: http://www.blackfalcongames.net/?p=280

Introduction

I want to keep moving and start on something new, now that the Genesis list is done, so I decided to finally do this list that I have been thinking of writing for at least a year now. Platformers were probably my first favorite genre on the PC, back in the early '90s, and even if many of the most famous ones are only on consoles, PCs also have their share of great platformers. Just as a warning though, I like platformers a lot, particularly some of the ones in this first update, so there are some summaries (read: Keens 1 and 4, particularly) in this update that are a bit long. The Commander Keen series is fantastic though, they deserve it!

The biggest challenge with a genre-based list is, which games on the margins do you include? I'm still unsure about some -- do Tomb Raider and its sequels, Baron Baldric, or Jump!/Dschump! count? I'm really not sure if they should or not, good arguments could go either way. This is something I will have to decide, but it'd be interesting to hear others' opinions as well, about these and others listed below.

First I will post the list of titles I currently intend to cover, though again this could change based on decisions above; Tomb Raider games after the first one probably won't make it into the final list, unless someone thinks otherwise, for example. But who knows. Then after that I will post the first 12 summaries.

I’m going to use the same organization method that I used in my PC racing games list, but with added dividers for 2d, 2.5d, or 3d platformers. So:

Table of Contents

1. Platformers I own physical copies of, not digital.
1A. 2D Platformers
1B. 3D Platformers
2. Full games that I own through digital download services.
2A. 2D Platformers
2B. 2.5D Platformers
2C. 3D Platformers
3. Freeware titles (selected titles only).
4. Demos and shareware (selected titles only).
5. Demos of games I also own the full versions of, but still have the demo of on my computer too. (this section may be removed from this list)

Games Summarized In This Update
--
Ancient Empires (Educational) (1990)
Arcade America (1996)
Batman Forever: The Real Game Begins (1994)
Blackthorne (1994)
Bumpy's Arcade Fantasy (1992)
Claw (1997)
Commander Keen Episode I: Marooned on Mars (1990)
Commander Keen Episode II: The Earth Explodes (1990)
Commander Keen Episode III: Keen Must Die (1990)
Commander Keen Episode IV: Secrets of the Oracles (Shareware) (1991)
Commander Keen Episode VI: Aliens Ate My Babysitter! (1991)
Earthworm Jim for Windows 95 (1995)


List of Titles That Will Be Covered

Table of Contents
1. Platformers I own physical copies of, not digital.
1A. 2D Platformers
1B. 3D Platformers
2. Full games that I own through digital download services.
2A. 2D Platformers
2B. 2.5D Platformers
2C. 3D Platformers
3. Freeware titles (selected titles only).
4. Demos and shareware (selected titles only).
5. Demos of games I also own the full versions of, but still have the demo of on my computer too.


1A. 2D Platformers - Physical Copies (Disk or Disc)

Ancient Empires (Educational) (1990)
Arcade America (1996)
Batman Forever: The Real Game Begins (1994)
Blackthorne (1994)
Bumpy's Arcade Fantasy (1992)
Claw (1997)
Commander Keen Episode I: Marooned on Mars (1990)
Commander Keen Episode II: The Earth Explodes (1990)
Commander Keen Episode III: Keen Must Die (1990)
Commander Keen Episode IV: Secrets of the Oracles (Shareware) (1991)
Commander Keen Episode VI: Aliens Ate My Babysitter! (1991)
Earthworm Jim for Windows 95 (1995)
--
Jazz Jackrabbit 2 (1998)
Jazz Jackrabbit 2: Holiday Hare 98 (1998)
Lode Runner: The Legend Returns (1994)
The Lost Vikings - Puzzle-Platformer (2D) (1993)
Interplay 15th: Norse by Norsewest: The Return of the Lost Vikings (1997)
Mega Man 3 (1992)
Mega Man X (1995)
Mega Man X4 (1998)
Mega Man X5 (2002)
Oddworld: Abe's Oddysee (1997)
PCG CGC1: Duke Nukem II (1993)
Pitfall: The Mayan Adventure (1996)
--
Rayman (1996)
Rayman Forever (1998)
Sonic CD (1996)
Sonic & Knuckles Collection (1997)
Sonic 3D Blast (1996)
Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles (1989)
Zool 2 (1994)


1B. 3D Platformers - PC Physical Copies

Croc 2 (2000)
Donald Duck: Goin' Quackers (2000)
Emperor's New Groove, The -- Action Game (2001)
Frogger: The Great Quest (2002)
Rayman 2: The Great Escape (1999)
Rayman 3: Hoodlum Havoc (2003)


2A. 2D Platformers - Digital Download

1001 Spikes (2014)
8BitBoy (2014)
Aaru’s Awakening (2015)
Adventures of Shuggy, The (2011)
Apotheon (2015)
BattleBlock Theater (2014)
BiT Evolution (2015)
Bleed (2012)
Camera Obscura (2015)
--
Capsized (2011)
Closure (2012)
Commander Keen Episode I: Marooned on Mars (1990)
Commander Keen Episode II: The Earth Explodes (1990)
Commander Keen Episode III: Keen Must Die (1990)
Commander Keen Episode IV: Secret of the Oracles (1991)
Commander Keen Episode V: The Armageddon Machine (1991)
Cosmo's Cosmic Adventure (1992)
Crystal Caves (1991)
Dangerous Dave in the Haunted Mansion (1991)
Dangerous Dave's Risky Rescue (1993)
Dave Goes Nutz (1993)
Dark Void Zero (2010)
--
Defy Gravity Extended (2011)
Duke Nukem (1991)
Duke Nukem II (1993)
Dust: An Elysian Tale (2013) - Platform-Action-RPG
Earthworm Jim 1 & 2: The Whole Can of Worms (1996)
Electronic Super Joy (2013)
Fly’n (2012)
Freedom Planet (2014)
--
Escape Goat (2013)
Gateways (2012)
Gigantic Army (2014)
Gunhound EX (2014)
Hell Yeah! Wrath of the Dead Rabbit (2012)
Hocus Pocus (1994)
Joylancer, The: Legendary Motor Knight (Early Access Game) (2014-)
--
Just Get Through (2015)
Love (2014)
Magicmaker (2014)
Math Rescue (1992) - Educational Platformer
Momodora III
Monster Bash (1993)
MURI (2013)
Mystik Belle (2015)
--
Cally's Trials
Capsule Force
Nimbus (2010)
Oniken (2014)
Out There Somewhere
PixelJunk Eden
Polarity
Puddle (2012)
Rayman Origins (2012)
Realms of Chaos (1995)
Residue: Final Cut (2014) - Platform-Adventure
Rogue Legacy (2014) - Platformer-RPG (Roguelike)
Schrodinger’s Cat and the Raiders of the Lost Quark (2015)
Scribblenauts Unlimited (2012)
Secret Agent (1992)
Serious Sam: Kamikaze Attack (2011) - Autorunner Platformer
Shantae: Risky's Revenge: Director's Cut (2011/201?)
Shiny The Firefly (2014)
Shovel Knight (201x)
Super Lemonade Factory (2012)
Super Meat Boy (2010)
Superfrog (1993)
Swapper, The (2013)
Tembo the Badass Elephant (2015)
Terraria (2011) - 2D Minecraft
Terrian Saga: KR-17 (2014) - Platform-Action
They Bleed Pixels () - Platform-Action
Toki Tori
--
Ultionus: A Tale of Petty Revenge (2013)
Umihara Kawase (1994/2015)
Valdis Story: Abyssal City
VECTOR (2013)
VVVVVV (2010)
Volgarr The Viking (2013)
--
Waking Mars (2012) - Platform-Adventure
World of Goo (2008)
Word Rescue (1992) - Educational Platformer

Maybe consider including:


2B. 2.5D Platformers - Digital Download

Bionic Commando Rearmed (2008)
Blade Kitten (2010)
Blade Kitten: Hollow Wish Collection (Parts 1 & 2)
Brothers: A Tale of Two Sons (2013)
Chariot
The Cave (2013) - Platform-Adventure
Deadlight (2012)
Fez (2013) - Platform-Puzzle
Giana Sisters: Twisted Dreams (2012)
Guacamelee! Gold Edition (2013)
Limbo (2011)
Magnetic by Nature (2014)
Mighty No. 9 (2016)
Pandemonium (1996)
Pandemonium 2 (1997)
Pumped BMX+ [perhaps]
-Red Goddess: Inner World (2015)
-Sayonara Umihara Kawase (201?)
Umihara Kawase Shun (1997/2015)
Sonic the Hedgehog 4: Episode I (2012)
Sonic the Hedgehog 4: Episode II (2012)
Strider (2014)
-Toki Tori 2+
Trine (2009)
Trine 2 (2011)


2C. 3D Platformers - Digital Download

Cloudbuilt - Platform-Shooter
Edge (2011)
FOTONICA (201x)
Grow Home (2015)
Jet Set Radio
Mirror's Edge
NiGHTS into dreams...
Psychonauts (2005)
Puzzle Dimension (2011)
Quantum Conundrum
Sonic Adventure DX: Director's Cut
Sonic Generations
StuntMANIA Reloaded (2014) - Platformer (3D) (Vehicular)
Tomb Raider (1996) - Platform Action-Adventure
Unpossible (201x)

Maybe consider including:
Mystic Towers (1994) - Isometric Platform-RPG
Tomb Raider II (1997) - Platform Action-Adventure
Tomb Raider III (1998) - Platform Action-Adventure
Tomb Raider: Angel of Darkness (2003) - Platform Action-Adventure


3. Freeware and Full Shareware titles (selected titles only)

2D

Abuse (1996) (originally retail title, now freeware)
Akuji the Demon (always freeware)
Arctic Adventure (1991) (originally retail title, now freeware)
BioMenace (1991) (originally retail title, now freeware)
Cave Story (always freeware; has retail remakes)
Commander Keen in Keen Dreams (1991) (full shareware)
Dark Ages (1991) (originally retail title, now freeware)
Dopefish (always freeware)
Dopefish Forever (always freeware)
Dschump!/Jump! (full shareware)
Eternal Daughter (always freeware)
Guardian Twins (always freeware)
Halloween Harry (aka Alien Carnage) (1993)
Holdover (always freeware)
Keen 2000 (always freeware)
Legend of Princess (always freeware)
Mario!! (always freeware)
Monuments of Mars (1990) (originally retail title, now freeware)
N (always freeware; has retail sequels)
Natuki (always freeware)
Ninja Senki (always freeware)
Noitu Love (always freeware)
Pharaoh's Tomb (1990) (originally retail title, now freeware)
SideSwipe (always freeware)
SkyRoads (once shareware, now freeware)
Treasure Adventure Game (always freeware)
XEVIL (1994) (always freeware)

3D

Miko-san's Miracle Board (always freeware)


4. Demos and limited-content shareware (selected titles only, this list will get longer)

Adventures of Captain Comic
Aldo I, II, and III
Alien Rampage
Clyde's Adventure
Eduardo the Magical Toaster
Electro Man
Gateworld
Hunter/Hunted
Jazz Jackrabbit
Jazz Jackrabbit Holiday Hare '95
Jill of the Jungle
Rochard
Vinyl Goddesses from Mars
Xargon

5. Demos of games I also own the full versions of, but still have the demo of on my computer too. (this section may be removed from this list)

Nothing I can think of at the moment.


Summaries

And now for the actual summaries in this first update.

1A. 2D Platformers - Physical Copies (Disk or Disc)

Notes: "Saves" mean the game supports save files saved to your hard drive; "password save" means that the game will give you codes that you will need to write down in order to continue from that point. "No saving" means you can't save in that game (shame on them!). Number of players listed is for single-system multiplayer first; if a game has online play support, that will be listed afterwards, and noted as such.

Ancient Empires (Educational) (1990, DOS) - One player, saves. This game was later re-released as Super Solvers: Challenge of the Ancient Empires, but I have a copy with the original title. Ancient Empires is one of many edutainment games from The Learning Company. Sort of like how Operation Neptune is an undersea shooter crossed with a math game, Ancient Empires is one part puzzle learning game, one part platformer. This really does feel like Operation Neptune's logic-puzzle-focused platformer cousin, and uses a similar interface. Both are pretty good examples of edutainment, games which are both decent games and might teach you something. These games always seemed less well known than Super Solvers games such as Treasure MathStorm or Midnight Rescue, but they're just as good or better than those games. Maybe the slightly older "10-adult" (AE) or "9-14" (ON) age ranges on the boxes hurt them, versus the games like MathStorm that are for younger children? These wo games have more traditional videogame action than titles like those, but still have plenty of educational elements. As usual for Super Solvers games, you play as an anonymous person in a blue coat who you name. This time you're a tomb-adventurer variant of this person, so you have a backpack and such, but it's mostly the same as the character in most of these games, Operation Neptune excepted since there you are a submarine. So, this game has two parts, platforming and logic puzzles. The platforming side looks reasonably nice for a 1990 PC game, and has VGA graphics and even soundblaster/adlib music, though it's not great and repeats often. At least it has sound card support, though, which puts it above some games of the day, so it's nice they tried. The graphics are well-drawn and varied, with different visuals for each setting in the game.

As for the gameplay, you control your character with the arrow keys on the keyboard. Up jumps or grabs on to things, left and right move, down goes down a rope or such. Enter switches between your three items, a headlamp that shoots out a beam of light that can temporarily freeze enemies, spring-boots for a high jump, and a limited-uses-per-level shield that protects you from damage. Frozen enemies can still hurt you, though, unlike in Operation Neptune, so watch out, and shoot them when you won't hit them while walking past! The game does not scroll, but instead flips between the screens that make up each level. Again ON works the same way. This isn't a fast-paced action game, then; instead, careful thought should go in to each move. This is a puzzle-platformer, after all, and there is a puzzle to solve on almost every screen. There are five different ancient tomb settings to explore inthis game, and you can access four right from the start - Egypt, Greece & Rome, India & China, and Middle East. Each setting has four levels to complete, for a total of 20 stages. There is a harder difficulty option, if normal is too easy; this makes the puzzles harder. Each setting has somewhat different puzzles as well, in addition to graphics. Egypt has many puzzles where you shoot beams of light into rotaing prisms; the Middle East mostly has puzzles with numerous switches that move platforms or walls around the screen, and yes solving these requires a lot of trial and error; Greece & Rome has puzzles where you have to hit switches in the correct order in order to move platforms out of your way, a challenge made harder by that enemies will trigger them as well; and the final stage combines the previous types together. The random nature of many puzzles, particularly the switch puzzles in the Middle East area, is kind of annoying as you hit the switches until you luck into the right combination, but still this game will build some puzzle-solving skills among children, or adults, who play it. At the end of each level, you have to put together an image of an ancient treasure from that region. On the lower difficulty these are fairly simple, and thankfully are NOT sliding tile puzzles; you just take the tiles and place each one in the right place. After that is a tougher challenge at the stage exit, to solve a logic puzzle by figuring out what the right tile is for a question-mark block on a 3x3 grid of tiles with various pictures on them. These start out not too hard, but do get tricky; these are definitely good logic puzzles.

So, overall, Ancient Empires is a fun little obscure puzzle-platformer with decent to good level designs, tricky puzzles, and enough enemy-avoiding action to keep things interesting. The gameplay is stiff, and some elements require maybe too much trial and error, but it's at least a decent to good game. The Learning Company were known in the early '90s for making some of the best educational games, and this is one of their better ones. I wish I'd had this as a kid, but getting it as an adult in the '00s I still have had quite a bit of fun with it. Pick this up if you can, and think you might like this kind of game. Also get Operation Neptune, this games' math/sub-shooter cousin! Unlike the more popular Super Solvers games, this game is DOS floppy disk exclusive; it doesn't even have a Windows-port CD version re-release like ON does, much less a Mac version like the most popular Super Solvers games. For the adult gamer, though, if you want any Super Solvers games, this and ON are the two to get. Physical release only.

Arcade America (1996, Win3.x) - One player, saves, gamepad supported (if it works for you). Arcade America is a bad single-screen 'comedic' platformer with a crass, redneck-styled theme to it that I mostly quite dislike. You're a cartoony redneck guy on a road trip across America, seeing the sights and challenging platformer levels in each area you pass through. The platforming levels are okay I guess, though they can be frustrating due to the games' control issues. You navigate the platforms on each stage, shooting or belly-bumping enemies and jumping between platforms as you make your way to the exit on each stage. It works, though enemies can be hard to avoid at times, and cheap hits are an inevitability. This is a hard game, and it's not the good kind of hard. The graphics are well-animated, though, and vary between amusing and unpleasantly gross, which I'm sure is the point, for those who actually like gross stuff, something I never really have. That animation does sometimes that animation get in the way of the gameplay as well, as it can be distracting. And when you're playing a level for the tenth time, those intro cutscenes and animations the game also has get VERY old. There is one more problem: there is a somewhat hidden time limit. Take too long to finish and you won't get the ending. I hate game-wide timers in games, they're awful! Still, the platforming here is okay. Arcade America is overly difficult and not all that fun, but there is some decent platform-action challenge to be had.

The game has performance issues, however. The installer won't run on my newer computer, it just crashes. Copying the game folder to the hard drive seems to work though, though I also tried installing it in a Windows 3.11 installation in DOSBox; that also did the trick. Unfortunately, I have never been able to get most Windows 9x to recognize gamepads or joysticks on my current computer, which is a real pain for platformers like this one; they aren't as good on keyboard! I recommend using a keyboard-to-joystick mapper if you also have this problem. Running it in that Win3.1 installation in DOSBox didn't fix the problem, either; still no joystick. On my older WinME computer the game does recognize that a joystick exists, but I can't get all of the buttons to work, only jump and shoot, and you need four -- jump, shoot, interact (to grab the end-level pullchain, mostly), and belly-bump. And you can't use the keyboard and gamepad together, so you can't use those on the pad but the others on keyboard. And of course, you can't change any settings while in a game, only from the main menu... and you can only save after each level. Great. So yeah, this game has problems. If you can get the game working with a 4-button gamepad or it works well with a keyboard mapper the game is better, but it's still a frustrating game with only adequate-at-best platforming; this game is not that good.

Unfortunately, that's not all there is to this game. It should be, but it isn't. No, there is also a driving component, as you travel between each location around America, finding your scattered companions. The problem is, this plays in the most minuscule window imaginable! It's somewhat unbelievable that they actually thought that that was a good idea, it's an awful one. Almost all of the screen is taken up with a map of America, and you drive in a tiny one or two postage stamp-sized corner of the screen. Here you have a view behind your car, and flip between three different lanes in order to avoid obstacles coming at you and pick up turbo and ammo pickups. In order to have ammo in the platformer levels you need to collect it here, there aren't ammo pickups in the main game. This mode controls just fine, but these segments go on far too long, so they take up a significant amount of time. With something you play this much, they really needed to put some actual work in and make something fullscreen. But no. As it is, Arcade America is one half incredibly bad racing game, and one half mediocre platformer, all with a visual look and comedy style I greatly dislike. Pass on this game unless you have fond memories of it and can get it running well on your computer. Physical release only.


Batman Forever: The Real Game Begins (1996, DOS) - 1-2 player simultaneous, no saving, gamepad supported (kind of). Batman Forever is the PC port of Acclaim's infamous 1995 SNES and Genesis game based on this unpopular Batman movie. This is a sidescrolling beat 'em up / platformer with prerendered graphics and somewhat awful controls. Batman Forever is difficult, frustrating, and hard to control. It does look nice for the time, but the gameplay beyond the graphics is poor, and this has always been the main issue people have with this game. The core gameplay here is that as either Batman or Robin, you explore levels, beat up the guys who pop up in front of you, and make your way through each stage. You can walk, jump or duck, punch and kick, grapple, and drop through floors. Using those last two is much trickier than it should be because you need to stand in precise, but very poorly marked, spots to do either, and the controls for doing so are awful as well; more on that below. The punching and kicking does work, and you have a couple of variations of each type of attack, but enemies seem stronger than you are, at least on Normal difficulty, so the game quickly gets frustrating. And like an old console game, the game has no saving and not even any continues! When you die you respawn right where you were, but run out of lives and that's it, start over from the beginning. There aren't any cheatcodes either, I believe. Awful, for a PC game. For modes, there is the main game, for one or two players simultaneous, and a bad 2-player-only versus fight option. There are difficulty settings for the main game, but it's hard on any of them. My main issue with this game goes beyond any feature quibbles, however. Beyond the bad controls, my main problem with this game is that I've never really been a fan of side-scrolling beat 'em ups. I like isometric beat 'em ups, they're good fun despite their simplicity, but removing that third dimension makes games too simplistic; there just isn't enough left to keep a game interesting, most of the time. This game tries to mix things up with its platforming, puzzle elements, inventory, varied moves, and tough enemies that often attack you from both sides at once, but the core gameplay still isn't all that fun or rewarding. The internet may overstate how bad this game is a bit, as it can be fun to walk around and beat up baddies, but it is extremely repetitive, has control issues, and is far too difficult. Had it had saving it would have been much better.
 
When compared to the console versions of the game, some things are improved and others are worse. While they did not put in a save system, Acclaim did add CD audio music, voice acting for all text boxes that pop up, and a nice-for-the-time, several minute long CG-rendered introduction. There are also short CG scenes introducing the setting for each subsequent level. Those features are exclusive to this PC version, as there never was a CD-based console release of the game, only cartridge ones. And those are nice features, for sure. However, the controls on the PC are even worse than they are on consoles. You have two options, keyboard or gamepad. On keyboard, the controls are weird and hard to get used to; I list them below. On gamepad, the problem is that DOS only has standard support for 2 or 4 button gamepads, but this game is a port of a console game that used more buttons than that. So, like in Blackthorne (below), you need to use the keyboard along with the gamepad to play this game, if you use one. Movement, blocking, and attacks are on the pad, but the drop-through-floor and grapple buttons are not. You get used to it, but there is a worse problem I have with this game: While the game runs okay in DOSBox on a modern PC, it doesn't like the joystick emulation somehow and when I tried to enable a gamepad, Batman will randomly jump or duck even when I wasn't touching the pad. and the cursor randomly moves around the main menu if you return to it, making selecting anything impossible. Great. Other games in DOSBox do not have this issue. Also, the game only supports one standard gamepad, so if you play a two player game, one player is going to be on keyboard. The only way to get around this is to have a Gravis GrIP setup, which was a multitap for the PC, essentially, for games programmed to support it like this one is. GrIP controllers are, I believe, 4-button gamepads somewhat similar to Gravis's standard classic PC Gamepad from the early '90s. Maybe DOSBox supports the GrIP? If so then that would work, but I haven't tried it myself.

Finally, here are the controls for this game. No, they are not customizable. I'm not sure what all the keys are because I do not have the manual, just a CD in jewelcase, and this game does not have any kind of readme or in-game help, so this is just what I managed to figure out by randomly pressing every key on the keyboard. Finding the grapple and drop-through-floor keys took a while!

left/right arrow keys or numpad 4/6 or joystick left/right - move left/right
arrow key up or numpad 8 or joystick up - jump
arrow key down or numpad 2 or joystick down - duck
arrow key 5 or a joystick button - block
End, 1, or 3 or a joystick button - punch (maybe different types?)
Page Down, 7, or 9 or 2 joystick buttons - kick (maybe different types?)
Insert - grappling hook
Insert+arrow Up/numpad 8 (hit at exactly same time for this to work) - grapple up to next platform above (if at right point)
Delete+arrow Down/numpad 2 (hit at exactly same time for this to work) - drop to next platform below (if at right point)
Esc - Quit to main menu. If there is a pause button, I can't find it - this ends your game, start again from the beginning!
Alt+Q - Quit game.

... Yes, really. No, this is not a very good layout. And again, you cannot change them. So, is the game worth it? Again, it's not all bad; there is a little fun to be had here, as you explore around and beat people up. But with its high difficulty, flawed controls, and mediocre, repetitive gameplay, it's not all that good either. For the few people who actually liked this game on the SNES or Genesis, the question is, is dealing with the iffy controls and emulation issues worth it for the exclusive CD soundtrack and CG introduction? Well, with how dirt-cheap this game should be, maybe. Everyone else should probably pass. Enhanced port of a game also available on SNES, Genesis, Game Boy, and Game Gear. Physical release only.


Blackthorne (1994, DOS) - One player, password save, gamepad supported. Blackthorne, from Blizzard Entertainment and published by Interplay, is a game in the Prince of Persia vein, but with guns and more action. Set in a dark almost fantasy-esque sci-fi world, you are a hero, of sorts, off to defeat the evil king. You've been taken prisoner, but break free, grab a gun with infinite ammo, and begin your quest for vengeance in the prison mines. While you are the hero, you don't actually need to be heroic along the way, as the numerous other prisoners in the game can be killed with no consequence. You can't even free them, just ignore or murder them! I really wish you could free them, the game would be more satisfying that way. Platforming controls are similar to Prince of Persia, so the game is well-animated and your movements are deliberate and controlled. When you move you tap a direction you move a set distance forward, jumps must be pixel-accurate, you have different controls for jumping up and forwards, and you'll need to carefully let yourself up or down platform edges if you don't want to die on impact from the fall damage. You also have an inventory, though do know that if you play with a gamepad you'll need to scroll through it with the bracket [] keys on your keyboard, as this is a DOS game so it only supports the standard 4-button limit on joysticks, unfortunately. Maybe there was no good way around that. It works, but is a little annoying at times. Fortunately you only rarely need to switch items. It's worth using a gamepad anyway, because the rest of the time it's more fun with one. The controls are fine for the genre, though I've always found these games somewhat tediously slow compared to traditional platformers like Mario or Keen. You need to always be careful here, or you'll run off some cliff or walk into a trap and die. Having to carefully face the right direction from the exact right spot to jump up to a ledge above you also gets old fast.

Visually, Blackthorne has classic Blizzard graphics, with an art style similar to The Lost Vikings or Warcraft, but taken in a somewhat different direction. The game looks pretty good and is very well drawn. Each level is large and complex as well, though each area clearly draws from a common tileset so every level in an area will look somewhat similar. The game also uses screen-flipping, instead of scrolling, as in PoP. However, as with Blizzard's earlier great platformer The Lost Vikings, this games was originally developed for the SNES, and the console roots do show in the password-only saving, absense of any features to really explain why this is a CD game and not floppy disk -- the game is under 2MB, has only a Soundblaster or General MIDI soundtrack based on the SNES chiptunes, and does not need the CD in the drive to run -- and console-styled controls. There was apparently also a floppy release of this game in Europe, but they added nothing for the CD version. What is here is good, though, as I really do like the visuals and art design, and the music is pretty good as always from Blizzard.

As for those level designs, this game isn't quite as trap-heavy as PoP games are, but it is still tricky and has plenty of puzzle elements to work through in the stages. Each of the 16 stages is fairly long, so this game will take a while. I've never been a PoP fan so I don't love this either, but the Blizzard touch and more action-packed style makes this a bit more fun for me than Prince of Persia. Plus, no game-wide time limit, thank goodness! The biggest distinguishing element between Blackthrorne and PoP, however, is the combat. While PoP 1 and 2 have the occasional swordfight, traps are your more common foe. Here, however, you will fight many enemies. And while combat is deliberate, it is nothing like PoP, as this games' combat is cover-based. Yes, this is sort of a 2d proto-cover-based shooter, mixed with a Prince of Persia clone. By pressing Up, you hide in the stage background, and while doing this enemy attacks cannot hurt you, bombs excepted. When you let go you dodge back into the plane of action, hopefully to shoot the enemy before they dodge themselves. Naturally prisoners are often in the way, doomed to be killed by you or them. Combat is a tense game of hiding, then popping out when the enemy is vulnerable. You can shoot either direction without moving with two different buttons, which is occasionally useful, as well. The combat system is good. Some stronger enemies must be blown up with bombs, but be careful, because levels usually only give you exactly what you need, so if you waste a bomb somewhere on an enemy that didn't need it you probably won't be able to finish the stage.

Overall, Blackthorne is a good game for this highly-animated-deliberate-platforming subgenre that Prince of Persia created, and mixes things up with its original combat system, but I've never much for this kind of game. I've never gotten more than one or two levels into other popular games of this style, including Prince of Persia, Out of this World, or Oddworld: Abe's Oddysee, and while I have gotten to level four in this game, I doubt I'll stick with it; this just isn't my thing. Still, Blackthorne is probably one of the better games in this subgenre. Fans of this kind of game who haven't tried the game certainly should play it. For the rest, maybe try it out if you're interested, you might like it more than I do. Also available on the Mac, PC-98 (in Japan only), SNES, Sega 32X (with a 32X-exclusive graphical overhaul and several exclusive levels), and Game Boy Advance. This PC version is a SNES port. Blizzard has also made a downloadable PC version of this game available on their website for free, though I have the disc.


Bumpy's Arcade Fantasy (1992, DOS) - One player, password save, gamepad supported. Bumpy is a pretty fun but difficult little puzzle-heavy platformer probably inspired by Namco's classic '80s game Mappy. I think it was only released in Europe, but I found a copy sometime in the mid '90s anyway. The game was made by the French studio Loriciel. This is a fairly obscure game, but it's good, though very tough! Bumpy has decent graphics in that classic early '90s European cartoony-videogame style, but it's only a single-screen platformer; no scrolling here. That works well for the design, though, which is around tough single-screen puzzles to work your way through. The number of colors on screen may be limited for something that does support VGA, but the art design is decent. There is also Soundblaster and Roland MT sound support, but only for sound effects; there is no music, unfortunately. There also isn't any real saving, so the high-scores table is useless, it won't save any of that. Fortunately there are passwords to continue from the start of each level. Bumpy's gameplay more than makes up for these shortcomings, however, and that's why I like it, frustration and all. Sort of like Mappy, you move a character around a screen made up of paths separated by narrow walls, and have to collect all the stuff on each stage and then get to an exit. The differences pretty much end there, though, as that is a fast-action scrolling arcade game, quite unlike this one. Here you play as a bouncing smilie-face ball, Bumpy. You bounce as you move, from one tile to the next, so you've got to set up your next move about a tile ahead of time -- he bounces, remember, and you need to hit the button before the beginning of the bounce. You move with the arrow keys or joystick d-pad, but I recommend the keyboard; this game demands precision, and a d-pad isn't quite as precise as hitting the exact key you want, the exact number of times you need to press it. Hitting, or holding, Enter makes you jump up to the top of the screen. While in the air, left or right will move you a space that direction, though you can only do this while going upwards, not down, and only once per jump. Down makes you stop, vital for avoiding spikes above you. You die in one hit, so you've got to get each puzzle right to progress!

And indeed, while Bumpy starts out simple, by the second level this game is hard, and it just gets harder from there. I've never beaten this game and don't know if I ever will, but it is fun to challenge. Each level in Bumpy is made up of about ten single-screen stages, and you can play these stages in any order from a level-select screen. You only get a few lives for each level, though, and only get passwords between levels, not stages, which is probably the key to why this is such a hard game. There are difficulty choices, but it's hard even on Easy; it mostly seems to just give you a couple more lives. The centerpoint of this game are the many different types of tiles you will bounce on. Wall pieces can form walls or floors; you can't stop on wet tiles, though you can jump or turn around; bounce tiles toss you over two spaces; other tiles throw you horizontally across the screen; spike tiles will kill you on contact; some tiles can only be passed through a limited number of times; and more. There are also enemies to contend with, and if you fall off the bottom of the screen you also die. The free stage select within each world allows you to practice any level without having to beat the others, which is great, but you do need to beat them all in one game to actually progress, and the game quickly starts expecting perfection to get through each stage. I eventually gave up on this game in level three, and never have gotten past that point. Still, based on what I have played of the game I do recommend it. I had fun with this game when I first played it in the mid '90s, and the gameplay holds up fairly well. Bumpy is an interesting and somewhat unique game, with a tough but fun style of puzzle-platforming that keeps you coming back. This game is obscure and perhaps too hard, but it is good. Unfortunately this game doesn't have a digital re-release anywhere, but it'd be nice to see someone bring it back; it deserves it. Play Bumpy if you can. In addition to this PC release there re also Atari ST, and Amstrad CPC versions, all Europe-only of course. Physical release only.


Claw (1997, Win9x) - One player single system or 1-2? player online, saves, gamepad supported (if it works for you). Claw is a good platform-action game developed and published by the American publisher Monolith Software. They also released a 2d Gauntlet-style game called Get Medieval around the same time, but this is their platformer. Claw is a hand-drawn 2d title released at a time when more and more platformers were going 3d, but it achieved at least a moderate level of popularity, probably particularly in Europe. You are an anthropomorphic pirate cat named Capatain Claw, and need to run, jump, slash, and shoot your way through many levels of platforming fun as you try to win a hidden treasure hoard and defeat the evil dog-people of the Spanish Armada. Good cat versus evil dogs? This sounds like my kind of plot! :) The game has 17.5 minutes of fully-animated cutscenes, mostly hand-drawn but with some CG elements such as ships, which is pretty cool. There are two reelases of the game, CD and DVD. The much rarer and more expensive DVD version has 640x480 videos, but is otherwise identical to the CD release. I was lucky and found a cheap copy of the DVD version years back, and I do like the higher-quality videos, but the gameplay in both is the same. The in-game graphics are also good, with large, nicely-drawn and animated sprites on detailed backgrounds. As with most of my Win9x platformers I can't get this game to see my gamepad, annoyingly, but at least keyboard-to-joystick software exists. Claw moves fairly quickly, and you can jump, melee attack, and use several different kinds of ranged weapons that you can switch between. You have a percent-based health meter, and your ranged attacks have limited ammo. The game controls well, though sometimes I was wishing you had a double jump. Ah well. The game also lets you set buttons to directly use the four kinds of ranged weapons, but only supports 8 joystick buttons while there are a total of 9 functions, so if you ant to use these and do have the in-game joystick functionality working you'll need to not use one. This doesn't matter much because just switching to the one you need and using that is simple enough.

Level designs in Claw are large and loaded with treasures to collect for points. A little like Commander Keen games, the game is loaded with side areas full of items to get for points. Unlike those games, though, Claw levels are mostly linear paths, not squares or mazes as so many Keen levels are, and they are fairly long. Levels may twist and turn around, but the path forward is usually obvious and well-marked. Getting through those side areas will take practice, though, particularly the ones that require special, one-time-use, time-limited powerups such as the high-jump power to access. This adds some nice replay value to the game. The 14 levels in this game will take longer to get through in a single run than a Keen game would due to the length of the levels. The game allows you to start or continue from any level or save checkpoint you have reached. But yes, there are two kinds of checkpoints here. Each level has some small checkpoints that just continue you from that point as long as you still have lives, but there are also two per stage which save your progress just like a completed level. The levels are long enough that these are welcome, as they do drag on a bit long. If you continue your last game instead of starting a new one, you keep the score you had before, but you also keep the number of lives, which makes progress difficult once your life counter runs low. The solution is starting a new game from that point, but this, of course, resets your score. I would be trying to collect as much as I can in each level anyway, but this is a good dynamic which makes the score system mean something. Claw is a reasonably challenging game, but it's balanced well and is neither too hard nor too easy. This is a good game that is quite fun to play, repetition aside, and I can see why the people who did play it mostly seem to have liked it. And if you do beat it, the game also supports custom levels, which is a pretty awesome feature. A bunch come with the game, and you can also find an editor for the game online to make your own. The multiplayer is level-racing, competing to get through stages the fastest. It is unfortunately linked only, not splitscreen, but it is nice to have as an option, though I haven't played it myself. It supports IPX network, dialup modem, and direct-IP connections. There was also online play on Engage back when it released, though that has been dead for a long time. Overall, Claw is a good game worth seeking out if you are a platformer fan. The visuals are nice, the game plays well, and levels are fun to explore and collect stuff in. You do do the same things a lot, but what you're doing is interesting so it works. Recommended. Physical release only.


Commander Keen Episode I: Marooned on Mars
(1990, DOS) - One player, saves, gamepad supported. Part one of the three-part Commander Keen in the Invasion of the Vortions game, Commander Keen Episode I: Marooned on Mars is the first game in this great platformer series developed by ID Software, later to be id Software, and published by Apogee, now better known as 3D Realms. You play as kid supergenius Billy Blaze, a young boy off to on an adventure in a homemade spaceship put together with some parts from around the house. Billy, Commander Keen once he puts on his brothers' football helmet, has taken off to Mars on an adventure, but he crash-landed there, and the place is crawling with aliens who stole parts of his ship! You'll need to find all four parts to win. What, a car battery can't power a spaceship? Nah, it can, and this game is proof! Yeah, the story here is a funny and a great encapsulation of childhood fantasy, except it's a childhood where the adventure is real. I first played the shareware release of this game sometime after we got a computer in early 1992, and this was by far the best platformer I had played on PC up to that point. The game made a big impression on me, and I've loved the Keen series ever since. So, this game is a very hard one to review, or even summarize; how to be even kind of impartial about a game I have this degree of nostalgia for? It's not easy. I have always regarded the original Commander Keen trilogy as my favorite games ever developed by ID, and still say their name as "eye dee" not "id" because that's how their name was originally presented as.

But anyway, on to the actual game. Commander Keen is a platformer, of course. But as it is an ID game, the technology behind the game is almost as important as the game itself. At the time of its release in early 1990 it was a revolutionary game because programmer John Carmack figured out how to get a smooth-scrolling platformer to run on the PC, something no one had done before. ID's first thought was to approach Nintendo about a Mario PC game, but that was immediately turned down, so Tom Hall came up with an original idea instead. It turned out pretty well, for sure. There is no parallax scrolling here, but just getting regular scrolling on the PC had never been seen in a platformer in the '80s. All seven Keen games run in only 16-color EGA, and this original trilogy really can't match up to the kind of graphics seen in contemporary console games on the Genesis, but for the PC it was a huge step forwards visually. The art design is pretty good too. The sprites look great, and stages look alright, though backgrounds in this episode are just solid colors. Aurally there isn't much to say; Keens 1-3 have no music and only PC Speaker sound effects. I like that there are movement sounds for things such as walking, jumping, hitting a ceiling, using the pogo, and more, so at least there is something to listen to beyond silence. PC Speaker sounds are simple, but these are good, I like them. I also quite like the signs written in "Standard Galactic Alphabet", a letter-replacement cypher. Find the hidden code in the hidden level in Episode III for the key to read all those signs! Or just look it up online, but that's less fun. Episode I's Yorp and Garg enemies are iconic for sure! Environment graphics are tile-based, as in games like Mario, and levels all draw from the same tileset; each episode in this game has a consistent look to it that is distinct from the others. There are also only a handful of enemy types in this game, but it's enough, as each one is very different and has its own unique style. Each episode of the three in the original game does look a little better than the one before it, in some different colors, but despite this each level has its own unique look and feel.

Each game also has an overworld map you can move around between stages that fits its setting, so for this game it's the planet Mars. There are 16 levels in this game, but this one has the fewest full-sized levels of any Keen game. This game has 8 mini-stages, and 8 full levels. Mini stages are just little areas with only a couple of screens and few or no enemies. These are all optional, and the pogo is in one, so don't skip it! Some have little bits of story, too. As for the full levels, two are required but do not have ship parts, four have ship parts, and three are optional, one of those a hidden stage. I drew maps of the overworlds of most of the Keen games as a kid, listing the shortest paths, number of levels, and such; came in handy here. :)
 
As for the gameplay, Keen has large, open levels with a lot of stuff to collect in them, in that Western platformer style but with better level designs and controls than most. Much like Doom or Wolfenstein would later also do, collecting keycards is central here. There can be up to three in each stage, in red blue and yellow just like Doom, and when stages have keycards they are usually required. A lot of items are out there off the main path if you want to get them for points, though. Your goal in each stage is to reach the exit, but four levels have a Vorticon to avoid or kill in them, at the end; they serve as the games' bosses. Going back to it this is not a particularly long game, but there are enough levels here for a few hours of fun anyway, or many more if you're a kid like I was when I first played the game. Once you finish a level you can't return to it, and the game does have a scoring system, so there is a lot of replay value here if you want to get higher places on the high-scores table. Be wary, though! While bottomless pits are in short supply here, sometimes the game likes to try to trick you with lines of powerups leading straight into pits and the like. With enough skill you can get everything, but be cautious as you explore. I think they got the balance between challenge and fun just right, as the game is not a cheap-death-laden nightmare, but beating each level while getting most of the stuff will take at least a little practice. Keen controls well, also. One button jumps, the other uses the pogo stick, and both together shoot; yes, you do have to hit both to shoot, either control+alt or buttons 1+2 on your gamepad. The pogo stick, once you get it, is great and one of the trademark elements of this series. Once you get used to how it controls it gives you a lot of mobility. As for that gun, ammo is limited, so don't waste it. You only get ammo from the somewhat uncommon gun pickups; enemies never drop anything in this series after death. In addition, you die in one hit, and there are no checkpoints in levels, so watch out! You can touch some enemies, such as the small robots or Yorps, without dying, but they still can push you into a hazard, and others such as Gargs and Vorticons are deadly at the touch. However, you can save anytime on the map, so game only is only for the inattentive. Apogee required all games they published to support saving to save files, a fantastic standard that all console games should have been doing since as early as they could save. That I grew up with Apogee games and the like is a huge part of why the absence of saving in so many console games in the 3rd through 5th generations bothers me so much.

As for flaws, there are a few I guess. Playing the game again now, the game is fairly short, and there aren't a huge number of levels. Also, the shared tileset and limited enemy variety are of note. Additionally, sometimes you can accidentally shoot when you meant to do a tricky diagonal pogo jump because of the two-button control scheme. The scoring system is also partially pointless, since you can save between levels and retry stages as long as you have lives, so you aren't working from a set maximum score; it will just go up as long as you keep playing, though watching it increase is fun. Even if most 'only' got me points, I have very often found myself trying to get every item I can in Keen games. And last, some will dislike the often open nature of the stages. I think that the game strikes a good balance here, with levels short and well-designed enough to hold up well design-wise compared to console platformers while also having lots of stuff to collect as was common in Western platformers of the day, but this is a matter of taste. But overall, Commander Keen Episode I: Marooned on Mars is a fantastic game and one of my favorite platformers. This great game was better than any PC platformer that came before it in both graphics and gameplay, and has some of the most fun game design around. The art design and stage layouts are great as well. I really like things such as the lighting in the Yorp temple mini-stages, areas with Gargs suddenly charging in at you out of pipes, and more. This is a fantastic, must-play title for any genre fan. This game is shareware, and is also available in digital-download compilations of Apogee and Commander Keen games.


Commander Keen Episode II: The Earth Explodes
(1990, DOS) - One player, saves, gamepad supported. While the first episode of Keen was distributed free as shareware, parts II and III are available by purchase only. I loved Keen 1, though, so via mail order, which was how you bought these games back then, my parents bought me the registered version of Keens I-III back in the early '90s. I still have the original disk and manual. So, ID made this game bigger and more challenging than its predecessor. Episode II of Commander Keen: Invasion of the Vorticons is, essentially, more of the above, but with new graphics and enemies. This time, Keen has left Mars, but finds a Vorticon mothership heading towards earth, planning to blow up the planet! You need to take out its death rays to save the Earth. With the stakes raised considerably above the first games' simple 'get off this planet and go home' story, Keen sets off to defeat each base on the mothership and save the world. So, this time the theme is industrial, with more robots and machine environments, instead of the often-red facilities of Mars. I'll probably always like the first games' look the most since it's the original, but this game looks good as well. I always have liked this game the least of the three in Invasion of the Vorticons, for some reason, but it is still pretty good. This game has as many levels as before, and it's a harder game with tougher opposition; as a kid I beat Keen 1 without too much of a problem, but this game took me much longer. It's not only a bit tougher though, but more levels are required this time; there are 15 stages, one less than before, but this game has no mini-levels, so it's probably got more content. Of those ten are required: 8 with death-rays, two other required stages, and five optional levels. This was the last of the original trilogy that I finished. I can beat it now of course, but it does take more effort than the first one. It's fun though, of course. Also, the game has enhanced graphics and more complex levels with additional puzzle elements. Keen 2 does some interesting things, and really is a pretty good game. The backgrounds are now cross-hatched, instead of just solid colors like in the original, and stages now have elements such as light switches that make everything dark, and jumping enemies won't jump in the dark. That sounds good, until they hit a light switch and kill you, but hey, that's part of the challenge! Overall Episode II of Commander Keen is a very good game. The great core gameplay of the first game returns, but the gameplay additions and greater challenge make this a nice followup to the original. This game may be my least favorite of the original trilogy, but it's still a pretty good game definitely worth having. This game is available in digital-download compilations of Apogee and Commander Keen games.


Commander Keen Episode III: Keen Must Die
(1990, DOS) - One player, saves, gamepad supported. Episode III of Commander Keen concludes the original trilogy. This game has the same core graphical style and gameplay as the original, but again the graphics have improved, and so has the gameplay. Keen III is a fantastic game very nearly as great as the original Keen, and in some ways is the best Keen game. I like this game a lot! This time Keen has traveled all the way to the Vorticon home planet, there to end the threat once and for all. There is a nice twist near the end, but the story here is appropriately simple as always. I like the new setting, and the graphics have more varied environments within each stage than before, though it is still drawing from a limited tileset. You'll travel through towns, caverns, and more; the urban theme is a nice change from the sci-fi installations of the first two games. The level designs are really good, maybe the best of the trilogy, as well. There are a lot of mazelike environs to explore of course, but also some very clever areas. As you are on Vorticon you face a lot of Vorticons this time, but most are much weaker than the tough ones from the first game; those were Vorticon commandos, apparently, while these are just the home guard. New foes are harder, though, so there is challenge here, though overall this game isn't as hard as the second game. The world is made up of six small islands connected with teleporters, and if you use the teleport right, you can beat this game having played only three of the 16 levels. Your goal is only to beat the boss you see, you don't need to collect other things along the way. If you play all the levels this will be a tough game, but it's much easier if you take the shortest path. I like having options like that. Mini-levels make a return as well; there are 7 of them, and 9 full stages. Unlike Keen 1 these "mini" levels are pretty much full stages now, though they are shorter and easier than the main levels are. There is also a hidden level again, after not having one in the second game, and it has that aforementioned SGA alphabet cipher to copy down. Once you have it written, reading the signs everywhere throughout the series is fun stuff! So yeah, while Episode has always been my favorite, Commander Keen III is a great game, and a fantastic conclusion to one of the best PC-exclusive platformers ever. This game is available in digital-download compilations of Apogee and Commander Keen games.


Commander Keen Episode IV: Secrets of the Oracles (Shareware) (1991, DOS) - One player, saves, gamepad supported. Commander Keen IV (or 4): Secrets of the Oracle began the second Keen series developed by ID Software for Apogee. Part one of the two-part Commander Keen in: Goodbye, Galaxy game, this is the second shareware Keen game, and was distributed free just like Episode I was. That was how I first played it, and it's great! This game released over a year after the first one, and it shows -- the game has much better graphics with a slightly angled perspective to give a bit of depth to everything, much-enhanced graphics even if they still are EGA stuff that do not quite match up to console games of 1991 like Super Mario World or Sonic the Hedgehog, and actual sound card support for music. CGA support was also added for some reason, but forget that, play in more than 4 colors! We didn't have a sound card when I first played this game, but when we finally got a PC with sound in 1995 it was nice to go back and listen to. The game has 17 levels, about as usual for the series, with 11 required levels, 5 optional, and a hidden stage. Levels are larger and more difficult than before, so despite not having more stages, Keen IV is a pretty tough game and beating it will take effort and a lot of memorization within each level. They added a difficulty option this time though, and Easy mode doesn't just reduce the number of enemies but also slows down your falling speed, so that's a great option for anyone who finds Normal too hard. Again you can play most of the levels in any order, though, so when you get stuck in one stage you can always just try another one, and the stages have a great amount of graphical variety; each is distinct, and many have unique visual looks. The enemies and environments are all new this time, and are more detailed and cartoonish than before. Backgrounds also are improved and look more drawn and less tile-based, and the cartoonish qualities of everything have really been played up. Perhaps for nostalgia reasons I do like the look of the original Keen trilogy the best, but this style Keens 4 through 6 use also looks great. There are quite a few different environments this time, including underwater for the first time in the series, as well as pyramids, jungles, caverns, and more. The addition of music is very nice as well, and the songs here are good. In this game you need to rescue the eight Oracles, who have been kidnapped, so finding them makes up eight of the required stages. Of course, which stages have oracles in them isn't marked, so just play all of them until you find them all.

As for the gameplay, for the most part Keen 4 plays like its predecessors, but with some additions. Keen is now better-animated, and yuou have some more move though this is still a classic platformer. Your gun is now a neural stunner, not a deadly raygun, but in effect it's the same; you just stun foes permanently, instead of killing them. You run, jump, shoot, and pogo like before, though pogo physics may be improved over before; getting used to it will take a minute, but the pogo stick is great and incredibly useful once you learn it. Additionally, Keen 4 adds four-button gamepad support and a dedicated shoot button, so jump, shoot, and pogo are each on a separate button. It's a welcome change which makes getting around a little easier, though you can play in 2-button mode if you want. You can also now grab on ledges and both look and shoot up and down, all very nice improvements. Looking down is particularly useful to see whether jumping down from somewhere is safe. As always ID doesn't load levels with cheap death pits, but there are many ways to die, you still die in one hit, and levels don't have checkpoints, so when you do mess up and bump into an enemy or killer obstacle, you start the stage over. You still have limited ammo too, though it's easy enough to find more. Keycards return, though there are four now, with a green one added. There are also now many switches, usually to turn moving platforms on or off, though some also manipulate other devices. Last, in addition to the many items you collect for points, there are also water drops that do not give points, but instead, like coins in Mario, a 1-up if you collect 100 of them. So, the gameplay here is familiar, but more varied than before. The larger enemy and obstacle variety mixes things up as well. The slugs, invincible bouncing mushrooms, fire-breathing orbs, harmless bouncing smilie faces, and more are fun and varied foes.

Levels are still very, very well designed. Some are straightforward but have optional side areas or hidden areas full of stuff to get, while others are mazes you need to figure out. Your goal is either to get to the opposite end of the stage, in normal stages with exit signs, or to find the Oracle in those stages. Oracles will be in the deepest point of the level, often through a door with a second challenging area behind it. So, you know your goal, the challenge is just to get there. Exploration is key as ever, and levels are just the right size: large enough to be interesting, but not so big that you get lost. Looking around to figure out the path forward and find the many secrets is great fun, if the regular dying doesn't frustrate you. Level size is just right, and the game is not cheap or unfair, just challenging. Like Doom for FPSes, ID showed their impressive level designs skill with games like this one. Just make sure to save after beating a level! Sometimes I have thought it would be nice if levels had checkpoints, but they're doable as they are, once practiced enough. It's quite rewarding when you finish one. The point system returns too, and it's a bit odd as ever -- you get points for everything, there is a high score table, and you can't replay a level once you have finished it, but since you can replay a level so long as you don't beat it and can save anytime on the map, getting a very high score isn't hard if you are good at the game. Still, is is nice to see your score climb as you get farther into this tough game. Oh, lastly, there is also a little 1-player-only Pong minigame in the options menu, with a look as if you're playing it on Keen's watch. It's a nice little touch.

Overall, Keen IV is a great platformer, and certainly a must-play for platformer fans. This game is perhaps the most popular Keen game, and with its good graphics, music, and gameplay, it's easy to see why! This is a great classic, and it's awesome stuff. As with Keen 1, if you registered this game you got its paid followup, Keen V: The Armageddon Machine. I didn't buy that one back in the '90s, so it is covered below in the digital-downloads category. The weird spinoff title Keen Dreams, aka " Keen 3.5", will be covered in the shareware section since I also didn't play that one back then, and it's full shareware. I did buy the last Keen game, the retail-only Keen VI: Aliens ate my Babysitter! back in the mid '90s, though, fortunately, so I'll cover that one next! Keens V and VI both use the Keen IV engine, though, so they look and play similarly, much like II and III do for the original. This game is shareware, and is also available in digital-download compilations of Apogee and Commander Keen games.


Commander Keen [VI]: Aliens Ate My Babysitter! (1991) - 1 player, saves, gamepad supported. Commander Keen [Episode VI]: Aliens Ate My Babysitter! is the final Keen game. It was released shortly after Keens IV and V as a retail-only title published by the publisher FormGen, though apparently it was actually developed between those two because of retail lead-times. Originally this was probably supposed to be part three of Goodby Galaxy, but they got an offer for a retail game, and did not refuse it. Unfortunately, the contract was bad and ID lost the rights for this game to FormGen, so it has not been re-released since the '90s. After multiple mergers the rights now belong to Atari, but that publisher sadly has no interest in making a reasonable deal for someone to publish this game on Steam, GOG, and such, or it would have happened already. And that's really sad, because this is a great game! I am very lucky to have found a new copy of the game to buy back in the mid '90s. I still have the box, manual, Keenings mini-newsletter, and disks, but sadly the Keen wristwatch that also came in the box vanished sometime over the years. That watch did not come with all copies of the game and seems to be quite hard to find now, so it's unfortunate that I lost it.

As for the game though, this is yet another great Keen game, much like 4 and 5 but with even more graphical variety. As this was a retail title they had a bit more space, so this is a two-floppy game, versus less than one for Keen 4. However, in actual file size it is only barely bigger than that game, and it shows. This game does have one of the longer shortest paths to the end you'll find in this series, but the actual amount of content is is very similar to Keens 4 and 5, and Keen 6 still only has the usual 16 stages. So, my initial hopes that because this game is a retail title the game would be bigger than the previous ones was dashed. What you do get, though, is a fantastic platformer that is again among the better games in the genre, so I don't mind this too much. The game does have a somewhat different structure from before, though. Instead of a large map you can wander around, this time the game is more linear. You often do have multiple stage options, but unlike some previous games you do have to play most of the stages in order, instead of just being able to wander around and after getting through a few gate stages play most levels in any order as you can in 2 or 4, for instance. There are still some stages with items to get, but this time they are items to get past certain overworld hazards, so they just function as a gate for getting to the next stage, instead of a 'collect all the things to win' design like you see in Keens 1 or 4. I think this game design works just fine, and it's nice to see a slightly different style in the series even if the openness of the original was great fun. Keen 5 also has a more linear design, it is worth noting, so of the second trilogy only 4 is fully open.

Within the levels, though, Keen 6 is pretty much the same as 4, structurally. The graphics and enemies here are all-new, of course, as always, but the engine and gameplay come straight out of the Keen IV style. Of course, this means it's outstanding, just like its predecessors! This time Keen is on the planet Fribbulus Xax, home to the giant green Bloog people. So yes, as in every Keen game, the setting and enemies are new and game-exclusive even though the core gameplay is shared by the previous two episodes. Keen is there to rescue his babysitter who was kidnapped by aliens. So yes, the last Keen game has the series' first and only "rescue the girl" plot, though she is not a love interest. I don't like "rescue the girl" plots, of course, but 6/7 is not bad and at least it's done entertainingly here. The level designs are as good as ever, though this game is probably a bit easier than Keen 4. If they eased things up a bit for the retail release, it was probably a welcome adjustment. Keen 6 is still plenty hard, with some very tough levels and many of the usual grueling optional areas full of stuff to get, but this is the fun kind of challenge that keeps you coming back until you beat it. This is a fantastic platformer, and exploring the levels for items, hitting the now cartoonishly-giant switches, and going into those tough areas even if there is no real reason to is all great, great fun. Keen 6: Aliens Ate My Babysitter is a nice looking, well-polished game with the usual great controls and level designs you expect from the series. Definitely play it if you can, it's one of the best!
 
Earthworm Jim for Windows 95 (1995) - 1 player, saves, gamepad supported. Earthworm Jim for Windows 95, from Dave Perry's studio Shiny and published by Activision, is the first PC port of the original Earthworm Jim game, or rather, the improved Sega CD version of the game. This platform-shooter was very popular at the time, enough so to have sequels and even a short-lived TV cartoon (though from what little I watched it's terrible). I really love Perry's earlier platformer Aladdin for the Sega Genesis, but have mixed opinions on his other games, this one included. I got this game back in '97, and was happy to get a game that still was fairly popular. This game is a very nice-looking game with good art design, great animation, good backgrounds and a ridiculous comedic style. By 1995 PC games could look better than this, but it still looks good. You play as an earthworm named Jim in a powered superhero suit with plenty of guns to fight with, and body-whip and shoot your way through many enemies in large, complex levels. EWJ looks great and is intially fun to play, but for me that doesn't last long; I thought this game had issues even back in the '90s, and it's probably aged even more now. Jim controls somewhat inaccurately, first; the game does not have the tight, responsive controls you would hope for. You can aim any direction, and while shooting you can't move. This works, but means you'll take hits for sure. Hits are often near-impossible to dodge, anyway. You have a health meter and can take a lot of damage, but still, that the game is designed around this can be frustrating. This game can be cheap and quickly gets extremely difficult and sometimes unfair. The levels also can be confusing, and figuring out where to go in these big, similar-looking stages sometimes is a problem. Worse, what you can interact with and what you can't is not always obvious. Bosses don't have health bars either, and take a lot of hits to defeat, if you're even damaging them; it isn't always clear enough.

So, as popular as the game was, after playing it I thought that this game was probably a case of style over substance, a game not as fun to play as I expected it to be. Sure, it looks and sounds great, and the comedy elements are sometimes amusing. If you get into it this game is plenty hard, too. The levels also have quite a bit of variety both in the normal levels and in bonus stages where you ride an asteroid. Each stage has a new setting and music, and some levels change up the gameplay too, including swimming areas, some areas where you are not in your suit so you're just a worm, and such. EWJ 2 focuses entirely on making levels each have a unique gimmick, but this game does head towards that. That's fine, I love the weird level concepts on Donkey Kong Country 3 for instance, but I just don't find this game fun enough to want to deal with. Still, if you do want to play Earthworm Jim, this is one of the best versions of the game, and it's probably the best '90s version. It has the Sega CD versions' great CD audio soundtrack, but with 256 color graphics like the SNES, and it saves your progress as you can continue from any level you have reached from the menu. Still, back in '97 I quit playing this game maybe a third of the way through, and I've never wanted to go back, deal with this flawed, too-hard game, and get farther; Earthworm Jim is average at best, and may even be a little below average, and the graphics are the best thing about it. Even so, it is unique and weird enough to maybe be worth a try... or maybe not. Maybe skip it if you don't have memories of EWJ.

EWJ is on a lot of platforms, though I only have the two '90s PC versions. The other one beyond this version is a 1996 DOS release of this game in Interplay's Earthworm Jim 1 & 2 collection. I have that digitally (to be covered later), but this is the better game -- that version is a SNES port, without the SCD extras, though they did add password save over the nothing of the SNES/Genesis original. That version is available today for download on PC (Steam and GOG); it's just not as good as this one. However, as this is a very early Windows 95 game, it has serious problems running on modern computers, and indeed the game does not run well at all on my modern PC. It does run, sans joystick support of course, but the full-screen mode doesn't work (it's 320x220/236 only) and sound effects are horribly broken and skip constantly, rendering the game sort of unplayable. Fortunately the game does run great on my old WinME PC. This game is also available on Sega CD as Earthworm Jim: Special Edition, and on Nintendo DSiWare and mobile platforms (iOS, BREW, webOS, J2ME) as Earthworm Jim. Yes, those latter ports are based on this version and not the original release, though they likely have downgraded sound quality. The DSiWare version at least should still be accessible. The original, not quite as good version is available on the PC (DOS EWJ1&2), SNES, Genesis, Game Boy, Game Gear, and Game Boy Advance. The EWJ1&2 version is available on PC digital download platfoms (Steam, GOG, etc.), and the Genesis version on Wii Virtual Console. There is also a digital-only version, Earthworm Jim HD, for Xbox 360 Live Arcade, PS3 PSN, and Windows Mobile. That version has redone graphics, some gameplay improvements apparently, and three new levels and redone visuals and sound, but doesn't have the SCD/Win95 added level.
 

7iberius

Member
I loved the Commander Keen games when I was a kid. Keen 3 and 4 were my favorite episodes. It's nice to see you enjoyed them too.

Not that you're lacking for games on your lists, but have you considered playing You Have To Win The Game (2012, freeware) and Super Win The Game (2014)? Despite their terrible titles, they're a pair of excellent retro-styled 2D platformers for the PC.
 

MetalSlug

Member
"There is also a digital-only version, Earthworm Jim HD, for Xbox 360 Live Arcade, PS3 PSN, and PC (Steam). That version has redone graphics, some gameplay improvements apparently, and three new levels and redone visuals and sound, but doesn't have the SCD/Win95 added level. "

I thought that was only for the X360? I can't seem to find it on Steam.
 
I loved the Commander Keen games when I was a kid. Keen 3 and 4 were my favorite episodes. It's nice to see you enjoyed them too.
Yeah, the Keen games are still quite good, they're very well-designed and great fun. They were even better back in the early '90s though, compared to all those single-screen or screen-flipping platformers so common on PC at the time...

Not that you're lacking for games on your lists, but have you considered playing You Have To Win The Game (2012, freeware) and Super Win The Game (2014)? Despite their terrible titles, they're a pair of excellent retro-styled 2D platformers for the PC.
I don't know those, I'll look them up. One I definitely need to add, though, is I Want To Be The Guy. I've never liked it much so it isn't installed now and thus isn't on the list, but it was a quite popular and influential game which should be covered.

"There is also a digital-only version, Earthworm Jim HD, for Xbox 360 Live Arcade, PS3 PSN, and PC (Steam). That version has redone graphics, some gameplay improvements apparently, and three new levels and redone visuals and sound, but doesn't have the SCD/Win95 added level. "

I thought that was only for the X360? I can't seem to find it on Steam.
Sorry, I got that wrong. It's Windows Mobile, PS3, and X360, not PC. Too bad. I'll fix that.
 
Another 12 games now. This update took a lot longer than I was hoping, so I may need to either reduce the number of games per update or just accept not-weekly updates, and I'd rather not do the latter so... we'll see. But I would like to post weekly or so. (I could try to write less about each game again, as I did in some of the early summaries threads, but... that seems unlikely, at least for these physical ones. :p)

Also, a week or two ago during a Steam sale I got 8 more platformers, so I'll have more than that initial list to cover in the digital-downloads category. But with this update, we continue with games I own on physical media.

Table of Contents for This Update
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Jazz Jackrabbit 2 (1998)
Jazz Jackrabbit 2: Holiday Hare 98 (1998)
Lode Runner: The Legend Returns (1994)
The Lost Vikings - Puzzle-Platformer (2D) (1993)
Interplay 15th: Norse by Norsewest: The Return of the Lost Vikings (1997)
Mega Man 3 (1992)
Mega Man X (1995)
Mega Man X4 (1998)
Mega Man X5 (2002)
Oddworld: Abe's Oddysee (1997)
PCG CGC1: Duke Nukem II (1993)
Pitfall: The Mayan Adventure (1996)


The Summaries


Jazz Jackrabbit 2 (1998, Win9x) - 1-2 player simultaneous, 1-? player online, saves, gamepad supported. Jazz Jackrabbit 2, developed by Epic MegaGames (later to rename themselves to Epic Games) and published by Gathering of Developers, is a shooting-heavy platformer, and sequel to Epic's successful Sonic-inspired early '90s game Jazz Jackrabbit. Epic was the other major shareware publisher on the PC back in the early to mid '90s, along with Apogee. I preferred Apogee for sure, and in the Apogee/Epic war everyone HAD to choose a side, but Epic made some great games as well, including Traffic Department 2192 and Epic Pinball. Their platformers, however, are okay to good, but just don't match up to the games Apogee published such as Commander Keen and more. However, Apogee gave up on platformers after 1994 in favor of first-person shooters, while Epic made one last try at a platformer here before they too fully went over to their Unreal FPS games. I played lots of Epic shareware games, but didn't buy any full versions of their games then, so they aren't covered here. I did eventually get this game sometime in the '00s, though, and it's good, though I still have some reservations about Epic's platformer design style. This game has an impressive feature-set, with lots of levels, two characters, splitscreen and online multiplayer, a level editor, and more, though, so there is a lot here for those who get into it, and more beyond this base title in the holiday edition, expansion pack (that I don't have), and downloadable fanmade levels that you can still find on the internet.

Jazz 2 looks fairly nice. The game has cartoony graphics with plenty of variety and lots of obstacles, platform types, and enemies to deal with. The tile-based graphics do show, though, and things often look very similar throughout each stage. Somehow this game has always seemed like a little bit less than the sum of its parts to me. Now, the original Jazz was a fast-paced game where you run around as an anthropomorphic animal, this one a green rabbit, and shoot stuff with a variety of guns. Your high-speed movement was a hazard though, for while running around is fun, it's far too easy to run into spikes or enemies you never saw coming. Jazz 2 solves this problem by running at a higher resolution by default. While on an older computer that supports it this game will run at 320x240, you really want to play at at least 640x480 so you can see where you're going. At that resolution everything looks a little bit too small for my tastes, but you won't run in to nearly as many things because you couldn't see them. However, due to Jazz's high speed, running into enemies or spikes every so often is an inevitability; Jazz is often too fast for his own good. Fortunately you do have hit points, up to five at most, and they are invaluable. Health refill items are also easy to find, thankfully. Beyond his high speed and guns, Jazz can also fly with your ears and butt-stomp, and you can shoot up, though not down or at diagonals.

Within each stage, as with many of the games I've covered here so far, you run around sizable levels, collecting items for points as you work your way through each stage in this game. Levels are fairly large and are mostly about platform-jumping and occasionally shooting the mostly-not-too-threatening enemies, though there are puzzle-solving elements such as boxes to hit that make blocks or platforms appear or boxes or springs you need to shoot with specific weapons in order to get past them. There are also hidden areas hidden through seemingly solid walls, of course. Most of the trickier puzzle areas are optional sections full of gems to collect for points and weapon ammo for your up to nine different guns, along with some health and extra lives, so it's useful, but the game isn't so hard that you must find them all. Indeed, with practice you won't, as many require specific actions to access and levels are designed with numerous one-way passages, pits, and more, so you can't just run back and try again once you've passed something. That replay value may be the main challenge here, though, because the enemies barely challenge you and bosses aren't too hard once you learn their patterns. Jazz 2 may be a bit too easy, but it's mostly good. Still, I just don't find myself drawn to keep playing this game, and never have gotten even halfway through it; after a few levels I lose interest and don't go back. I don't like the jerky movement as you run then stop then run then stop; Sonic does that much better. I like Claw a bit more than JJ2. Still, this is a good game, at least. Also available on Mac. For some odd reason Epic has never re-released any of their old games on digital download platforms, but they should.


Jazz Jackrabbit 2: Holiday Hare 98 (1998, Win9x) - 1 player, 1-? player online, saves. The original Jazz Jackrabbit had two free Holiday Hare demos of sorts released, in 1994 and 1995. Both have a couple of new levels with a Christmas theme, though the gameplay is the same as in the main game. For Jazz 2 the Holiday Hare tradition returned, but it's a paid title this time, not free. It still is a glorified demo, though, as you get five Christmas-themed Jazz 2 levels for your money in this surely budget-priced jewelcase-only release. The gameplay is exactly as before, so you run, jump, and shoot through large levels, finding secrets and constantly running into enemies and obstacles because you move too fast for your own good. There may not be much content here, and it'd have been great if this was free as before, but even so it's cool that this exists, Christmas is great and too few games have official Christmas versions these days! Physical release only. This set of levels is also included in the JJ2 expansion pack JJ2: The Secret Files, I believe, which compiles everything into one release. I don't have that, though; it seems to be a bit uncommon.


Lode Runner: The Legend Returns (1994, Win3.x) - 1 player, saves. Lode Runner: The Legend Returns, from Sierra, is a sequel/remake to Broderbund's classic '80s puzzle-platform game Lode Runner. I never did play the Lode Runner games much, but I can see the appeal even if it's not my favorite kind of game. This game has 150 levels of classic 2d Lode Runner single-screen gameplay to work through. In each level, you need to collect all the gold then go to the exit which then appears. The Mad Monks are trying to kill you before you get it, though, so you'll need to be clever to survive. Instead of a normal gun, however, the Lode Runner has a beam which can make a hole in the ground, destroying the ground block to your left or right below you. While this title also has some items to collect which you can use here and there, the hole-making mechanic is this is the games' central focus, as always in the Lode Runner franchise. The gameplay here is pretty much the same as in the original Lode Runner, it's just a bit better looking this time, controls well, has 10 different environments to play through, and has easy level-saving for levels you make in the included, and easy to use, level editor. Lode Runner gameplay is simple, but the game quickly gets very challenging. Trying to figure out how to get to every piece of gold without being killed can be tough, and you'll often need to figure out which blocks you need to destroy and when, while fending off the enemies by dropping them in holes as well. And if you really get into the game, its simple design makes making your own levels easy.

The game does have the usual Windows 3.1/9x issues, though, including the requisite "the game can't see my gamepad even in Win3.1 running in DOSBox", and also screen-size issues. See, this game runs in a 640x480 box, full-screen with a border around it, in whatever your screen resolution is. Window's "run this in 640x480" does not work, you'll need to manually change your screen resolution to run this in a window larger than unacceptably tiny. Win3.1 in DOSBox seemed like a good solution for that, but it crashed DOSBox after I beat a few levels and still had joystick problems, so that has issues too. This game also looks as simple as it plays; Lode Runner: The Legend Returns is not exactly a game that pushes technology, for 1994 or otherwise. And maybe some more gameplay enhancements might have been nice, more block and obstacle types, something like that. Also, you really need to like Lode Runner to like this game, and with its somewhat slow pace, single-screen mazes, and high frusration factor at times, it isn't a game for everyone. Still, this game is mostly good. Some Lode Runner game is definitely worth trying, but I don't know which one is best, since I don't play the series that much. This is probably as good as any, for classic Lode Runner gameplay but with a somewhat newer look than the originals. Also released on Playstation and Saturn in Japan. Those don't have this versions' performance issues, but did not get a US release.


The Lost Vikings - (1993, DOS) - 1 player, password save, gamepad supported. The Lost Vikings was Blizzard Entertainment's first major original title, and it's a puzzle-platformer starring some silly cartoon-style time-travelling Vikings. This game shows how a game can benefit from a strong focus on one core mechanic, of splitting the usual action-game moves across three characters you control at once. It was a brilliant idea, and Blizzard executed on the concept very well! The game was mainly developed for the Super Nintendo, but also was released on computers. I got this floppy-disk PC version of the game for Christmas in 1993 and liked it a lot, and it's still a great, great game! I recently covered the very similar Sega Genesis version of this game in my Genesis Game Opinion Summaries list, so read that for more, but this is a great game so I'll say something, at least, this time. This is the first version of the game I played, after all, and the one I have the most nostalgia for. It's also a great version of the game, as much worth playing as any.

In this game, you play as Erik, Baleog, and Olaf, the three titular Lost Vikings. Each one has two abilities, and there is very little overlap. Erik can jump and dash, Baleog use a sword and bow, and Olaf can block and float with a shield, and you must use all three in concert to get through each puzzle-heavy level. Each has only three hit points per stage, and all three must survive and reach the exit in each stage to move on. The expertly-designed stages seem perfectly crafted for each character's strengths and weaknesses, and I love trying to figure out what to do in each stage, in what order. There are many obstacles to tackle, and while hitting switches is a constant and your basic actions stay the same, how you get to those switches, and the obstacles along the way, do change from each area to the next. You'll constantly need to think, and carefully explore each stage, to get through this game. While you will fight many enemies, this is a puzzle game first, action game second. You are given a continue password on each stage and have infinite tries at each level, so you won't need to replay much when you do die.

Your basic actions are each characters' two abilities plus a swap key to change between characters, but each Viking can also carry up to four items, including healing items, keys, and more. You can swap items between characters when they are close enough to eachother. The controls work well, but this is an 8-button SNES game ported to 4-button PC gamepads, so some functions are on the keyboard. You can move, use both abilities, use items, and activate switches on the pad, but switching characters, selecting items other than the selected one, moving items from one character to another, and pausing to restart the level are on the keyboard. It works, but it would be nice to have the character-switch keys on the pad as you do use those a lot. Ah well. Visually, The Lost Vikings is a nice-looking game comparable to its SNES counterpart. Content-wise this is a straight port of that game, and that's fine. The later Genesis version adds several exclusive levels and a multiplayer mode, but you won't find those here, understandably; the controls would be a big problem with multiple people on one system, and this game released before co-op online play was a common option. The sprite-art is all fantastic, as usual from Blizzard, and backgrounds are reasonably varied, as you travel through the various time periods in the game. I love the silly enemies and animations you'll see throughout this game.

The music is also great and has support for Soundblasters and more, though as a kid I never heard most of it, since our computer only had a PC Speaker and with that there's only an intro tune, then silence and sound effects in the levels. But it is a very good soundtrack, with a memorable main theme. Blizzard soundtracks would get even greater than this later on, but this one's great. The writing is funny as well, as the three heroes have amusing conversations throught their adventure. There also are other characters to talk to, and it's all silly stuff. And The Lost Vikings is an outstanding game all around. The game looks and sounds good, plays great, and has variety and depth. The puzzles are interesting and the game is challenging but rewarding to play. The three-characters system is fantastic, and The Lost Vikings benefits from its strong focus on its core mechanic. This is how you do his genre right, and I'm not sure if any game like it since has topped this great classic. Also available on the SNES, Amiga, Genesis, and Game Boy Advance. The Genesis version has slightly worse graphics, but four exclusive levels and an exclusive 3-player co-op mode. Blizzard released this version of the game for free for digital download on their website.


Interplay 15th Anniversary: Norse by Norsewest: The Return of the Lost Vikings (1997, Win9x) - 1 player, password save. Norse by Norsewest is the sequel to the great classic above. As with the first one, it is a 2d puzzle-platformer, and it originates from Blizzard's SNES game The Lost Vikings 2, though this version is based on the enhanced Playstation/Saturn edition which adds pre-rendered CGI cutscenes, voice acting for all ingame dialogue, and prerendered graphics, to the 4th-gen original's core gameplay, writing, and level designs. The original SNES version was apparently completed in 1995 and runs in an enhanced version of the original games' engine, but for some odd reason Interplay decided to not release it until Beam's 5th-gen versions had been completed, so all versions released in early 1997. The version of the game I have came in the Interplay 15th Anniversary Anthology, a pretty fantastic retail collection of 15 Interplay games released around the year 2000 that I got cheap sometime after that, which is why the game title is as it is. And I want to mention this first: unfortunately, while the regular retail version of Norse by Norsewest includes both DOS and Windows 9x versions of the game, this Anthology release removes the DOS version and contains only the Windows port... which, of course, has some big problems, like all these Win9x platformers do -- fullscreen doesn't work at all and you can only play in a 640x480 window at most, and you need to turn on 256 color mode and sometimes the colors mess up. And worse, sadly, both this Win9x release and apparently even the DOS version have absolutely no gamepad support, inexplicably; that's a somewhat unforgivable thing to leave out! You'll need key-to-joy mapping software to enjoy this game. And why does this Playstation conversion again have password-only saving, but it's worse now as this time it doesn't even let you use the keyboard keys to select letters, so you have to flip through with the arrows? The first game doesn't have this limitation. Thankfully the keyboard controls are reconfigurable, unlike some games mentioned here, so that's good at least.

Unfortunately, though, that is far from the biggest issue here. Norse by Norsewest probably is a good game, but compared to its all-time-great predecessor it is somewhat disappointing. The game can be fun and amusing, but it does not live up to its great predecessor, either in gameplay or technically. Basic gameplay here is similar to before, so this is a somewhat slow-paced puzzle-platformer, often heavier on the 'puzzle' side of things than the 'platformer' part. You have many situations to get past, and hav eto figure out how to get through each stage, get the necessary items, or what have you. The biggest issue I have with this game is, however, that Blizzard decided to add more characters and abilities, but in so doing they messed up the brilliant purity of the original. While The Lost Vikings excelled in setting up puzzles so that each character had to do one specific thing, here multiple characters can do multiple things. First, each of the orginal three Vikings returns, but with a new ability or two: Baleog now has a grappling hook to swing over pits, Olaf can fart to jump a little, and Erik can double-jump with some jet-boots. There are two new characters, a werewolf and a little dragon, and both can both jump and attack. So, now you have multiple ways to jump, multiple ways to attack, and more. You only have three characters per stage though, and my favorites are the levels with just the three core Vikings. There are still elements that only one character can get past, so this still is a puzzle game, but by adding lots of abilities, they significantly degraded the genius of the original. This game is a good object lesson in the fact that adding more content to a game is not necessarily better, and indeed sometimes is worse. This game is reasonably challenging and fun, but the focused gameplay of the original is superior to this.

Visually, this game looks decently nice, though the prerendered style has aged. I prefer the simpler, hand-drawn look of the original game overall, and would someday like to get the SNES version of this one, which reuses a lot of graphics from its predecessor. The voice-acting and CGI intro cutscene are amusing, though, and the humor at least remains intact from the first game. This is again a pretty funny game at times, and some jokes from this have stuck with me, such as the "do not touch, not doughnuts!" line from the intro. Whoops... :p Just like its predecessor, NWN is a very funny game. The humor may be my favorite thing about this game, in fact. And even if Norse by Norsewest is a disappointment, it still is a good game. NWN is no TLV, not even close, but it's still a fun, above-average platform-action game, with more action than the first game but still plenty of tricky puzzles and amusing situations throughout. Also available on the SNES (as The Lost Vikings 2; US only), Playstation, and Saturn. The PS1 or Saturn versions are probably the best overall, they don't have the issues this release does.


Mega Man 3 (1992, DOS) - 1 player, gamepad supported. Mega Man 3 for the PC, developed by Rozner Labs and published by Hi Tech Expressions, is an original PC game that uses Capcom's Mega Man character and license, but has no connection to Capcom beyond that. This is the second and final PC-only Mega Man game, following the first Mega Man; there is no "2" because this game released after NES MM3, so they used the name and cover art of the most recent release. This game is, in modern terms, essentially an indie game that got a retail release and a reskin using a very popular character -- Rozner Labs was a team of two American brothers, and Hi Tech Expressions a developer who published exclusively licensed games, most of them terrible. I got this game in '92 or '93 because I'd liked the Mega Man games on the NES quite a lot, wanted to play one on a platform I had, and only had a PC at the time. And ever since, I have had mixed feelings for this game. On the one hand, as a Mega Man game it isn't any good. While this is still a side-scrolling platform action game where you play as the blue robot Mega Man, with somewhat familiar controls and gameplay though this game has some unique quirks, it is very different from any other Mega Man game. The levels here are mazes, not linear paths, you actually swim around in water instead of sticking to the bottom as you do in any Capcom Mega Man game, and the controls and gameplay are a bit clunky and unpolished. However, this is not a bad game. I have thought it's bad at times, but when I last replayed it several years ago, I realized that no, MM3 for the PC is okay. This is an alright Western-style platformer with large, mazelike levels to explore and a moderate amount of challenge, though not too much. The mazelike levels are a huge change from what you expect from Mega Man, but they can be fun to explore. The bosses in this game are quite easy, but the levels are trickier. The game has decent controls, and you jump and shoot as expected. There is gamepad support, though you need the keyboard to pause to switch weapons, and the keyboard controls are not configurable if you use them; get used to J for jump and space to fire. The game also has six bosses, plus a boss stage at the end after you beat the first six. As in the console Mega Man games, you can play the six levels in any order. However, there is no saving in this game, sadly, so you have to beat the game in one sitting; this is why I never beat it as a kid, only much later. It does have fun gameplay and reasonably solid level designs, though.
 
Visually, the game looks alright, though this Mega Man is not quite Capcom's. The game runs in CGA or EGA, and the environments look nice and sprites are decent-looking. The six bosses and final boss are each unique, though they to take design ideas from past NES Mega Man bosses. Five of the six bosses have the same exact attack pattern of just jumping back and forth and shooting at you, though. This game has an environmental theme, as fitting with the times given the popularity of shows like Captain Planet, and apparently originally was going to be a game called Eco Man, before the Rozners were offered the Mega Man license again, since one of them had made the first DOS Mega Man game. So, you're Mega Man, exploring locations such as oil rigs and slimy sewers. Some popular Mega Man enemies appear, but others are original to this game, such as ubiqutous guys in yellow hazardous-materials suits. Yeah. I like the swimming though, and have always thought that it'd be kind of nice if Capcom had released some main-series Mega Man games where you can actually swim around like you can here. One water level's mazelike design can be annoying due to the fans pushing you into spikes, but still, it's a fun stage. However, there is only PC Speaker sound effects with no music; by '92 I would have thought a retail title would have soundblaster support, even most shareware games did by then. Console Mega Man games were known for their great soundtracks, but there's none of that here. Ah well. Overall, though, this game is alright. MM3 for the PC is a decent platformer with okay graphics, controls, and levels, and I do like it. If you forget the "Mega Man" part and just look at this game as a PC platformer, it's a fun little above-average game for platformer fans, and is well worth a try. Physical only.


Mega Man X (1995, DOS) - 1 player, saves, gamepad supported. Mega Man X, developed again by Rozner Labs but published by Capcom this time, is, unlike its predecessor, a port of the SNES classic Mega Man X. After licensing out ports of their PC games before, in 1995 Capcom decided to publish some themselves, and the first two were Mega Man X and Super Street Fighter II. Both were available on their own, or bundled with the 6-button Capcom PC Fighter 6 gamepad. I got the gamepad-bundle version of this game, and I do still have that pad. Mega Man X, from 1993, is a great classic, Capcom's first SNES Mega Man game and a very good side-scrolling action platformer. As with the original series you play as Mega Man, running, jumping, and shooting his way through hordes of enemy robots, but this game is set some time after the original series. Mega Man is the new, cooler "X" version now, fighting evil reploids led by Dr. Sigma, instead of Wily. Unlike the NES games you start out in an intro level here, before moving to a standard Mega Man level select screen with eight stages to choose from. Of course, you need to learn (or look up) the best order to play the stages in, if you want to succeed, because you get a power from each enemy, and each enemy is weak to one of the others'. The controls and level designs are fantastic as always, and the well-polished action feels really good. All of the bosses in this game have memorable stages and character designs, as well. X brings in one big gameplay change versus the original series, though: you can grab on walls and slide down or jump off of them, and also can dash once you get the easy-to-find dash-boots powerup. These changes adds a lot to the game, and the levels really make use of them as well. Still, though this game is great, I have always liked the NES and GB Mega Man games the most, over X. Still, with good to great graphics, music, gameplay, and level designs, this game is really good too. In the '90s, the Mega Man series was one of the best.

This is a fairly faithful port of Mega Man X as well. Everything except for the robot ride armor is here, and the MIDI rendition of the soundtrack is pretty good. I guess it's too bad robot ride armor was removed, but they are a very minor part of this game anyway, so I don't miss them much. The team had to recreate the game mostly from scratch, so it's impressive it is as good as it is. The game looks good and plays great, but it is true that the graphics aren't quite at the level of what PC games could do by 1995; it is a SNES port after all. It is odd though that while the game came with a 6-button gameport gamepad, the game only supports four buttons so you need to have either pause or quick-weapon-switch on the keyboard. You can configure the controls, fortunately. It's probably best to have pause on the pad and pause to switch, classic Mega Man-style. The gamepad, called the Capcom PC Fighter 6, is interesting in that the 5th and 6th buttons actually are a third axis, as DOS only supports 4 buttons, but while SSFII supports all six buttons this doesn't. But when I got this game back in 1995, I was mostly just excited to finally be able to play a real Mega Man game on the PC, and a great one at that! And the other change from the SNES is an improvement -- instead of password save as you needed there, in this version you save to save files instead. There can be up to 15 saves at once, which is plenty. The saves don't save anything more than the passwords did, so you still need to play the whole final section of the game in one try, but still, it is a nice addition. This is a tough game, particularly in that final stretch, so it's unfortunate that you need to beat all of the final levels in one sitting; you really should be able to save between them as you can before! Because of that I've never beaten Mega Man X, though I have gotten to the final boss. Almost everything else about this game is great, though. For one last criticism, there is no new content here, so while this is a CD game, the game is under 6 megabytes large and most of the disc is empty. A CD soundtrack or something might have been nice, but no, it's just a straight port. You don't need the disc in to play, either.

Still, overall Mega Man X is a very good game. It looks good, has a lot of variety between its stages, has some inventive boss concepts each based on a different animal, and plays really well. This game is a classic, and this PC version is very nearly as good as the SNES original. The best classic MM games may be even better, but this game still holds up very well, on the PC or otherwise. SNES port. The SNES version is easier to find to day and has both physical and digital re-releases (on Wii and Wii U Virtual Console and in the Mega Man X Collection for PS2 and Gamecube), but this PC version is a physical-only release. A large part of this game was ported in altered form to the Game Boy/GB Color in the game Mega Man Xtreme. There is also a MMX remake on the PSP titled Mega Man Maverick Hunter X; I haven't played it, but it has 2.5d graphics and is supposed to be solid. And last there is an apparently bad iOS version with redone graphics. For a little more on this game and PC Mega Man 3, see the Rozners' interview in John Szczepeniak's "The Untold History of Japanese Game Developers, Vol. I".


Mega Man X4 (1998, Win9x, DOS) - 1 player, saves, gamepad supported. Mega Man X4 for the PC is a port of Capcom's 1997 PS1/Saturn game of the same name, the fourth game in the the Mega Man X series. This was Capcom's second 5th-gen 2d Mega Man game after Mega Man 8 (PS1/Saturn), and it's a big improvement over that game in every way other than the voice acting. X4 is a true classic, a great-looking 2d game with very good gameplay and really nice spritework and backgrounds. I really liked theis in the '90s, and when I saw this game for cheap sometime in the later '90s, I got it. I remember seeing this, Super Puzzle Fighter II Turbo, and Mega Man X3 for under $10 each, but could only afford two of them, so I got this and the fantastic puzzle game classic Puzzle Fighter. I've still never played the PC version of X3... too bad. (Oh, there is no PC port of X2; it went from X to X3.) But after looking at the boxes this one was newer and had better graphics than X3, so I got X4 over X3. Well, that may not be the best reasoning, but I picked well, because Mega Man X4 is fantastic and my favorite game in the Mega Man X series. This is also the only MMX game I've actually beaten, sadly enough, though I am glad to have finished this one. Mega Man X4 was great then, and still is great now! In addition to the great graphics, art design, great difficulty balance that is not too hard or too easy, and gameplay, the level designs are inventive and varied and the game controls very well also. The game also lets you play the whole game as either Mega Man or Zero, for the first time in the series. Zero's fun to play as. The animated cutscenes and charmingly terrible voice acting are also good stuff, though I don't care for the story; it's dark as in all MMX games, but this goes farther than most into the realm of the depressing. Everything else about the game is great, though, and the port is even fantastic! This PC version of MMX4 is pretty much a perfect port of the PS1 version of the game, but with almost no load times, which is great. I was quite happy to find that the game runs great on my newer computer, too, as it runs with no issues. It's even the only Windows 9x or 3.1 game on this list so far that actually natively works with gamepads on my newer computer! That's pretty awesome. You can redefine the controls, too, thankfully, though you can only use the first 8 gamepad buttons for the games' 8 functions so pause will be on some random face or shoulder button, probably. Oh well, that's a very minor limitation.

Visually, X4 is a big step up from X3. The graphical overhaul the series got in this title still looks impressive and stylish, and X4 really is Mega Man X at its best. Sure, this is a low-resolution game for a 1998 PC game, but since it is a console port that is understandable, and I think the great art design and visuals stand out even if it's not nearly as sharp-looking as some contemporary PC games like Claw; it more than makes up for that with its better art design and gameplay. Every level looks and feels quite different, and the music is good as usual in the Mega Man series, even if the NES Mega Man soundtracks are my favorites. The game is nicely animated too, as your character and the enemies all animate as they move. And beyond the graphics, the gameplay is just as good. As in past MMX games, you can run, shoot, and dash, but this game adds a limited hover that you get if you find the fairly easy-to-find powerup item. The controls are very responsive and are great once you get used to them, though dash-jumping can take some practice to get right. I highly recommend putting the dash button on a shoulder button (and use a gamepad!), so you can more easily use dash, jump, and shoot at the same time. Levels and enemy patterns are crafted around dashing, and you will need to master the dash to get through this game. As usual in the X series, you have an intro level, eight robot masters to beat each with a special weapon you get from beating them, and then some boss levels at the end. Thankfully, this time you can save in between levels of the boss section, so you don't need to play it all in one sitting like you did in X1 above. That's a great improvement and surely helped me finish this one. The save system is clearly console-based, as you have two blocks of three save files to choose from, as if you're selecting one of the PS1's two memory cards, but it works.

The levels here are built off of past Mega Man games, as always in this iterative series, but they're probably the best in the X series. X5 would build on this games' look and design concepts, but it does not manage to improve on them. From the lava level with its rocks everywhere to the cyber-level with teleporters and warping enemies to the lush jungle, the stages are as fun to play through as they are to look at. Each level is broken up into two parts, and if you get a game over in part two and continue from there you only need to redo the second part, which is very nice. If you quit to the menu you will have to redo the whole stage, though. Now, Mega Man games usually either have harder levels, or harder bosses. This one probably has tougher bosses than levels, though with the correct weapon for each boss, if you experiment enough or look up the best route online, it gets easier. Some Mega Man games are too hard, but this ones' challenge is just right. There is also an Easy mode available, for people who find Normal too tough. For skilled players who find it too easy as gun-equipped Mega Man, though, there's always also sword-weilding Zero, the other playable character. Zero's pretty cool, but his very limited ranged options adds to the challenge. I really like that both are playable here, with a full story. But overall, Mega Man X4 is much more than "just right"; it is truly great, one of the all-time best 2d platformers. In graphics, sound, gameplay, levels, bosses, and more, Mega Man X4 is the pinnacle of its series... and the PC port is even fantastic! Get this game for sure for some system, and this one is as good a choice as any. Playstation port, also available on Saturn. The PS1 version is available on other platforms, such as the PS2/GC Mega Man X Collection. Physical only.


Mega Man X5 (2002, Win9x/2000 or above) - 1 player, saves, gamepad supported. The last of the PC Mega Man games released in the US on store shelves, Mega Man X5 released four years after its predecessor. After loving X4 I really wanted another game like it, but it would be years until Capcom finally released more 2d Mega Man X with this game and X6, both 2001 releases on the PS1. More than a year later, this PC port released in 2002, and I bought it soon after release. Mega Man X5 was originally intended to be the last Mega Man X game, though that was not to be. This is a great game, but in most ways it is a downgrade from the incredible Mega Man X4. The game is a lot better than the highly disappointing X6 and X7, but it's not quite X4, either. So, as usual in this series, Mega Man X5 is very, very much like the last game, just with new levels and lower production values. Expect more nice-looking 2d artwork, for a port of a low-rez PS1 game, more solidly-designed platform-action levels to blast through, and more tough boss fights. Versus its predecessor, a few things have changed. First, you can now crouch and shoot while crouching, but your bullets cannot pass through walls, unlike all previous Mega Man games. There are also many ropes to grab on to in the game. Levels make use of these things, and it does mix things up a bit from the Mega Man usual, though it's mostly similar to before. There are also three difficulty levels now, including a new harder option as well as easy and normal. The game also has a time limit, however, and that is annoying, though it's not as bad as in some games as it's not a timer so much as a limit to the number of levels you can play before beating all 8 Robot Masters. Thanks to Sigma, a giant space colony is going to crash into the earth and somehow kill all life on the planet in 16 hours, and a virus is turning almost all reploids into mavericks -- that is, making them evil. So, X and Zero have to go around killing not-actually-evil reploids, like usual in this series, for the usual overdose of overdone depressing writing. The story in this game feels partially copied out of X4 and partially new, but it's not particularly good. There are no animated cutscenes and no voice acting this time, though, only static images and text. Budget cuts indeed. The in-level conversations can be annoying and pointless, too. There are three endings, though, which is nice.

Now, the formulaic design here is fine, as the Mega Man series has always had one game create a formula, then its sequels make new experiences within that formula. And as usual, this game is based on a great formula! However, it is impossible to ignore that X5's levels, bosses, and design here aren't quite at X4's level. The box is smaller too, as the game has a smallish box was the unfortunate trend in the '00s, versus X1, X3, and X4 PC's big boxes. They thought that it would be a good idea to have a time limit in this game, too: the story is that a space station is going to crash into the Earth, unless Mega Man can stop it in time, so you have a limited number of tries until it crashes. Fortunately stopping the space station is not that hard, and if you beat all eight robot masters you can end the timer, so this is no Prince of Persia kind of situation, but still, it wasn't a great idea. I do like that now you have alternate robot suits to switch to right from the beginning though, that's cool. Upgrades for your suit have been a part of the MMX series since the beginning, but X5 lets you play as regular X, Falcon suit X, or Zero right from the start, and you can choose differently in each mission. I like this change, versus having to play the whole game as X or Zero as it is in X4. You can get more suits as well, if you collect the hidden parts for them. The Falcon suit's hover is great, but the unlockable suits each have a very handy power s well. But once yo uget into a stage, the issues return. This game is very good and has some fun stages, but they sometimes feel rehashed from the last game. Still, when I got this game back in '02 I was liking it, and beat the eight Robot Masters. There are some interesting boss fights here, such as the one against the spider-like guy; that's a cool fight. However, I've never gotten past the first of the final set of levels at the end, as its boss, the Black Demon, is absurdly hard unless you use some super-cheap strategies! That boss is a real pain. This game is the most forgiving yet for continues, as if you get game over and continue at a boss you'll continue right before the boss, crazily enough, but that only helps when the bosses are actually beatable... stupid Black Demon.

The PC port of this game is solid, that bug that requires a patch aside, and teh game looks and runs about the same as its predecessor. For 2002 this is definitely a dated-looking game, but it looks fine. The working joystick support is great as well. And the save system is a little bit cleaned up, too -- you have a normal save menu, instead of the two 'boxes' of three files. Overall, Mega Man X5 plays great, looks nice considering it's a PS1 port, and has good classic 2d art and animation. However, the stages are not as memorable as those in X4, the cheaper presentation hurts, and the gameplay tweaks don't all work; I wish you could still shoot through walls, and I never like game-wide timers. The game also may have bugs even after the patch, unlike its predecessor, though they are rare. Still, this is a good game based on a strong foundation, and even if it's a bit 'average' for a Mega Man game, that still leaves it as better than most games in this genre. Mega Man X5 is a pretty good game, but not an essential one. This game is a followup to a great classic, and Mega Man fans should play it because it provides more fun platform-action gameplay to work through. This game has some issues, but it is still mostly good, something that can't be said about the next two Mega Man X games... but I don't have those for PC, so those will be for another time. I did cover X6 in my PS1 summaries list years ago, though; it's kind of bad. Play X4 and X5 instead. This is a Playstation port. The PS1 version is available on other platforms, such as the PS2/GC Mega Man X Collection. As a note, there are PC versions of Mega Mans X6, X7, and X8, but none have US releases; X6 and X7 are Asia-only, and X8 is Asia & Europe only. No PC Mega Man games have digital re-releases.


Oddworld: Abe's Oddysee (1997, Win9x) - 1 player, saves, gamepad supported. Oddworld: Abe's Oddysee is the first game in what would become a popular, lasting series of very strange platformer-ish games. This first Oddworld game is a slow-paced 2d puzzle-platformer with prerendered graphics and Prince of Persia-style controls, but with added complexity. Unlike Blackthorne, this game has a lot more stealth and much less shooting. In fact, your character, Abe the Mudokon, cannot attack at all, only avoid enemies. You can talk to other characters of your species, Mudokons, though, and possess enemies so long as they aren't on the same plane as you. You can then have enemies attack other enemies or kill themselves, or tell Mudokons to follow you or wait, as you try to get them to points where you can save them. As in many games in this subgenre, each area is a single screen, and you move between screens from edges or in doors. PoP, Blackthorne, and others work this same way. Unlike those games, though, this game has a larger, inter-connected world, instead of set levels. You do have infinite lives from the last checkpoints, and checkpoints are frequent, but you will often have to redo multiple screens after each death. The difficulty level is high, though, so you'll need all of those infinite lives if you want any chance of getting through here. Learning the Gamespeak system, the eight phrases Abe can say to other Mudokons, is also key. Puzzles quickly get complex and very tough, but the screen-by-screen nature of the game means that many things, such as enemies, are confined to each screen. Enemies will reset to their default state as soon as you leave a screen, though unfortunately if other Mudokons die they will stay dead until you die and restart the area. Figuring out what to do can be tricky but rewarding.
 
There are two big problems here, though. First, I don't like the comedy or humor much, and second, I like the gameplay even less. For the former, this game has a dark comedic tone. Abe is a worker trying to escape from a massive factory run by evil guys who want to turn Mudokons into their next food source. You can just escape, but there are also a lot of other Mudokons to try to rescue along the way. It tries to be funny, but while it can be amusing at times, I don't particularly care for its comedic style, most of the time; too much off-putitng dark comedy and fart jokes, not enough stuff that actually makes me want to keep playing. The gameplay sure doesn't help, either; I've never gotten much of anywhere in this game, and I doubt I ever will. I know this game is a popular classic, and I can see why, but I don't care for it. The game does look nice for the time, though. This game has CGI-rendered cutscenes with voice acting, and pre-rendered ingame graphics. It looks nice, though it is a bit pixelated and the bland factory backdround is somewhat bland. The audio work is good as well. The game also runs well even on a newer machine, and even recognizes my gamepad! That makes three Win9x games in a row with functioning gamepad support... amazing. You'll really want a pad for this game, too, as it is a console port; the game was also released on the Playstation. My bigger issue is with the controls and gameplay, though. As with all PoP-style games, the controls are clumsy and slow, you move from space to space instead of having free movement, and there are more commands to memorize than any platformer really needs. You'll need to execute them all with perfect timing to survive, too, which quickly gets very difficult. While trying to figure out each puzzle, which switches to hit, which guys to possess, and such, can be interesting, it also can be frustrating. You need to have a high tolerance for repetition and dealing with PoP-style games' usual frustrating controls, but worse here in this game with like 20 or more different things you can do, and I quickly lose patience with the game and quit. This isn't a bad game, I just don't find it fun. If I must play a PoP-style game, give me the more straightforward Blackthorne over this stealth and puzzle-focused title. I much prefer standard platformers over any of these, though. Still, for those who do like this kind of game, the game does look nice, creates an interesting world, and has plenty of challenging, interesting puzzles to figure out and get past. I can see why some people love this game, and people who like this kind of game might want to check the game out, but I can't recommend it, myself. Playstation port. There is also a remake, Oddworld: Big 'n' Tasty, available digitally only for the PC, PS4, Xbox One, Wii U, and PS Vita. I haven't played it.


PCG CGC1: Duke Nukem II (1993, DOS) - 1 player, saves, gamepad supported. Duke Nukem II, the second game in this later-to-be-infamous series, is a pretty good side-scrolling platform-action game. This is a shooting-heavy game where you wander around sizable levels, collecting stuff and shooting lots of aliens as you try to find the key that will let you proceed to the next stage. The last level in each of the four eight-level episodes is a boss fight. The original Duke Nukem had plenty of shooting and a bit of attitude, but this game ups that significantly, though it is not the oversexed gorefest of Duke 3D; there is violence here, but it's 16-bit-style violence, not Duke 3D stuff. Duke is now a narcisstic egomaniac, though, who in the intro is hawking his book "Why I'm So Great" on some TV talkshow, when he is abducted by aliens planning to take over the world, starting with Duke. Naturally, you break out of alien prison immediately and start wiping them out to save the earth. My parents thought Duke Nukem sounded too violent so I wasn't allowed to play either of the original Duke games as a kid, though I remember trying the first one once and thinking not too much of it. I eventually got this second game in PC Gamer's Classic Game Collection Vol. 1 disc, included on the disc that cmae with a summer 2000 issue of the magazine. Duke II is similar to the first Duke game, but this game has much better graphics and sound and better, smoother gameplay, so I'm glad they included this one over the original. Duke II has VGA graphics, unlike its EGA predecessor, and Soundblaster sound and music support as well. The art design is solid, though not amazing, and the music is good.

This is a simple game, and most of the time you just run, shoot, and jump. The controls are okay, but not as smooth as a Mega Man X is, or such. The scrolling is also a bit jerky; it's not nearly as bad as the first Duke game is, but it is worse than, say, Commander Keen. You have health bar in this game and can take nine hits. You'll need it. Some powerups refill health. However, in a Gauntlet-like touch, shooting food items destroys them for points instead of a health refill, so watch out! You do have infinite lives from the beginning of the current level, so there is no real game over here, but still health is valuable and the game does get tricky eventually. This isn't a really hard game, but it has some parts that are a decent challenge. You also get several different weapons, but unfortunately you cannot switch between them during play. Instead, the stronger weapons are just time-limited or ammo-limited powerups, after which you go back to the regular basic gun. I really wish you could switch weapons to save ammo for those, it'd have been great. As for the level layouts, as with many Western platformers of the era, this game has large levels full of enemies to kill and things to collect for points. Exploration is required, as the key and keycard items you will need to get past the laser gates at the end of each stage are usualy hidden off in some corner of the level. Fortunately dead enemies do not respawn, which is great. You will take hits due to the short draw distance sometimes, though; Duke's sprite is large, so you can't always see as far as you might like around you. You'll need good reflexes to avoid damage sometimes. I do like the variety of enemies, though, each of which has their own attack patterns. Enemies do not just charge blindly at you in this game; some crawl on the ground then jump at you and cling to you, some jump between floor and ceiling, others shoot at you, and more. Exploring the levels can be fun, so long as you don't miss that keycard's hiding spot. There are also secret areas to try to find. You can also save at any time, though it will pick up from the beginning of the current level, I believe. Now, this is a shareware game, which means that the first episode is available free, and the other three come with the registered version. Shareware games often let you play the episodes in any order, and this one is no exception, though I'd always play them in order.

Overall, Duke Nukem 2 is a decently fun game. It looks alright and sounds good, plays fairly well, has an amusing sense of humor, and has a good amount of content. The levels are interesting to explore and there are various settings to see as you progress. I like the enemy variety as well. I do dislike the jerky scrolling, sometimes nearly-unavoidable hits, and the sometimes too-well-hidden keycard locations, though. And while Duke II is good for a PC sidescrolling shooter/platformer, it doesn't match up to greats like the three Mega Man X games above. Still, this is a pretty fun little game well worth checking out if you like action-platformers. It's well designed and fun. Available both digitally and in retail. Also available in an Apogee Anthology pack, digitally. The sharware episode is free, demo-style, so play that to check the game out. This game is PC-only, but Duke Nukem for the Game Boy Color took a lot of inspiration from this title, as immediately becomes obvious if you play it. That game's good fun too, far better than the awful GBC Commander Keen game!


Pitfall: The Mayan Adventure (1996, Win3.x) - 1 player, saves, gamepad supported. Pitfall: The Mayan Adventure is an okay platformer from Activision that they seem to have really liked, because they ported it to numerous platforms in the mid '90s; this PC version is from '96, but the SNES/Genesis originals released in '94. Pitfall: The Mayan Adventure is a very nicely-animated platform adventure which can be fun to play. You are Pitfall Harry Jr., exploring Central American jungles and Mayan ruins in a search for treasures you need to save your famous father, the Harry from the original Pitfall, from a curse. This game has 14 main levels, plus 3 bonus levels and the original Atari 2600 game hidden on the main menu via a cheatcode, so there's a decent amount of game here but not too much; this is no Earthworm Jim, it's more average in challenge, though bosses can be tricky. The console versions of this game didn't have saving, so it is playable in one sitting, but this PC release is better, and just like Activision's other platformer from this time, Earthworm Jim for Windows 95, has a level-select menu that unlocks as you complete stages. This game doesn't install, it runs straight off the CD, but it will make a file for your options and level-select progress. Unfortunately, as with that game, it has issues on a modern OS -- it won't detect my gamepad, fullscreen is 320x240 only so it won't work (remember, Windows Vista and better is 640x480 minimum), and it crashes if I turn on the sound effects, too, though the music works at least. That last one's an odd one. But when running on my Win9x computer or virtual machine this game will run fine, and it's the best version of this game so it is worth the hassle if you like the game.

Gameplay in Pitfall: The Mayan Adventure consists of running around collecting stuff while you try to figure out where to go in each stage. You can whip, Indiana Jones-style, jump, and throw rocks at enemies. Thanks to your highly-animated sprite, your movements are a bit restricted, you don't have totally free movement. You do have a health bar this time, though, so you can take some hits, but you will thanks to the controls and often cheap enemy locations. Still, it is mostly fun once you get used to how the game plays. Levels are large and complex, but there is always a main path to follow, once you find it. Therea re many side areas to look at and the main path can be obscored, though, so you'll be bumping around until you figure out the path forwards. Levels are loaded with ropes to swing on or climb, vines to ride down, pitfalls to avoid, and lots of enemies trying to hurt you. One big issue with this game, though, is that you can't always tell what you can stand on or walk through and what you can't, so you'll constantly be bumping into walls or going through things that look like platforms. With some memorization you get used to it, but it can be annoying sometimes. On the other hand, though, the graphics are great, with very detailed backgrounds that even have some animation in them. This is a very nice-looking game, for a mid '90s 2d platformer that originated on 4th-gen consoles. Of the console versions only the Jaguar and SNES versions also have 256-color graphics like this one, but neither of those have CD audio as well, and the music is quite good and fits the setting well, I like it over what I've heard of the chiptune versions. There are also regular checkpoints, and you have three continues per game. This was a much stricter limit on the consoles which didn't have saving than it is here, but you still do need to replay the current stage if you run out of continues.

So, the game can be fun, but before playing for this list I'd always gotten frustrated in the first level by the somewhat restrictive controls and confusing 'is that a wall/platform or not' issues. However, I gave it another try for this, on my WinME machine this time where it runs great, and I liked the game a lot more than I expected to. Pitfall: The Mayan Adventure does have some game-design issues, but running around looking at the environments and figuring out your way through each stage is fun. Overall this is an above-average game which is worth a try, though I would recommend trying it before buying, it's not for everyone. Also available on the SNES, Genesis, Sega CD, 32X, Jaguar, and Game Boy Advance. The Genesis version is available on the Wii Virtual Console, digitally. However, of all those ports, this is the only one with all the levels (some versions have some stages removed), saving, CD audio, AND 256-color graphics, so this PC release is the best version.
 
Update 3

A smaller update this time, so I got it done in a week -- seven games, to finish out the 2d platformers I have physical copies of section of the list. These seven include six games also available on consoles, and one PC-only addon to one of those games. Many are popular and some are great, but all either have design issues or performance issues on modern computers, so there aren't any of these seven I unreservedly can recommend. Still, they are interesting, and even if they don't run well or at all on a modern PC the Sonic games here are great...

Games Covered In This Update
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Rayman (1996)
Rayman Forever (1998)
Sonic CD (1996)
Sonic & Knuckles Collection (1997)
Sonic 3D Blast (1996)
Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles (1989)
Zool 2 (1994)


Rayman (1996, DOS) - 1 player, saves, gamepad supported. The original Rayman is a 2d platformer from Ubisoft. This game was a fairly big-budget game for Ubisoft at the time, but it paid off, as the game was a success and went on to be one of Ubisoft's top franchises. And Rayman is indeed a beautiful-looking game that plays pretty well. It is, however, crushingly difficult, probably beyond the skill level of most people who have played it. Basically, Rayman has everything except for fun gameplay beyond the early levels. The first Rayman game I played is the amazing second one, and I got this game around 2000 because I wanted to try the original. Well, it's kind of good, but I wish it wasn't so frustrating. But to start from the beginning, you are Rayman, a limbless cartoon guy who has a body, arms, hands, and feet, but nothing connecting the parts. It's an amusing look which is distinctive and works well. Indeed, the art design in this game is fantastic, the original cartoon artstyle looks great, both for the sprites and the backgrounds. The CD-audio music is pretty good as well; it's nice bouncy stuff which fits the settings great. You start out with only a jump, but get more abilities as you progress, most importantly, near the start, the ability to throw your fists as an attack; touching enemies hurts you. Rayman controls well, apart from the slippery levels which can be kind of a pain.

The level designs are good, but difficult. There are 28 good-sized stages in this game, so there's plenty to do. However, first, due to the beautiful graphics and their very large sprites, you can only see a short distance in any direction in this game. This becomes a big problem at times, so memorization will be key. Between the enemies, spikes, and pits, levels are full of ways for you to die. There are also far too many small enemies you either can't hit or can only hit if the level is designed with a slope you can stand below them on. Of course, they often aren't, meaning you have to try to jump over them. You do get three to five hit points, depending if you got a P powerup or not, but still, this can be frustrating. Still, working your way through each level can be fun, if you like a challenge anyway. There are plenty of secrets to find along the way, including seven cages in each level, and some require powers you won't get until later in the game, so there's a lot of reasons to go back to each stage later. Adding replay value like that is good. The issues aside above, Rayman's levels are mostly well-designed, if you like a challenge. Those graphicsa re also a draw, of course; it's always great seeing each new type of environment and background. While Rayman did start out as a SNES game, as released it clearly exceeds what any 4th-gen console could do, and it is great to see a 2d game that pushed the genre forward graphically for the new generation. As for running it today, Rayman runs okay in DOSBox, though I have had some issues getting the game to recognize more than two-button joysticks, which is odd; you do need three buttons here, for run, attack, and action. With the right DOSBox configuration it should work fine, though.

Unfortunately, the hard levels are not the only thing making this such a tough game. The game can be fun to play... until you die. Do that a few times and you'll find out that this memorization and replay-heavy game has limited continues, of all things! Sure, you can save at certain save points on the games' level-select map, but it saves how many continues you have left. Yes, there are ways around this, such as cheatcodes or copying your save file so you're always playing the file you didn't die much on, but still, this continue system takes a tough game and amps up the difficulty to near-unacceptable levels. However, the graphics, sound, and gameplay are all quite good, making this a good game despite its issues. So, is Rayman worth it? For masochists, yes, absolutely. For average gamers... maybe; the game is too hard, but it is good-looking and has some new ideas and lots to do. But know what you're in for. For something with a similar visual look to this, but a much fairer challenge, try the very good Rayman 3 for the Game Boy Advance. Rayman was successful, though, and was ported to many platforms. Also on Playstation, Saturn, Jaguar and Game Boy Advance as a physical release, and iOS; Nintendo DSiWare (digital download); Playstation 3, PSP, and PSP as a digital 'virtual console' release of the PS1 version; and Windows Mobile as a digital download.


Rayman Forever (1998, DOS (game) & Win9x (editor)) - 1 player, saves, gamepad supported. Rayman Forever is a collection which includes both the original Rayman with its 24 stages, a level editor for the game, 40 levels made by fans, and a 'making of Rayman 2' video are included on the disc. The levels in this game only use the graphics from the original game though, there is no new visual or audio content here, just lots of levels. The fanmade levels are a mixed bag, but many are good, and you can play all of them at any time so this thankfully dispenses with Rayman's frustrating continue system. So, Rayman Forever basically is a retail expansion pack packed with the core game, and that's it... but that's okay, as Rayman is a pretty good game mechanically. This is a pretty cool compilation disc, and having a level editor is always great! Running physical copies of this game can have issues, though -- while the core Rayman game is the same DOS game it always was, the By His Fans levels have a Win9x installer that runs a DOS sound-setup application partway through the installation and then runs as a DOS program, and the editor is a Win9x program that doesn't run well at all on modern versions of Windows. If you want to play this, you might want to stick to GOG's fixed-up digital re-release. It is kind of surprising that the core of this is still a DOS game, though; DOS was mostly dead by 1998, so this is probably one of the last retail DOS titles, at least here in the US. But as usual here, the DOS program is fine, it's the Win9x parts of this disc that have big problems today, unless you uise that fixed-up GOG copy of course. As for the content though, this is the definitive version of Rayaman. It includes the entire original game, an editor, AND 40 fanmade levels, after all! This is the complete Rayman. Unlike the base game, this title is PC-only, though it is available digitally on GOG. Get it there.


Sonic CD (1996, Win9x) - 1 player, saves, gamepad supported. Sonic CD for the PC is a port of Sega's Sega CD fast-paced platformer of the same name. Probably the best-known game released for the Sega CD, Sonic CD is a fairly popular classic. It does have its critics, as the game has some design oddities versus the Genesis games, but it's great. I do really like Sonic CD. I didn't get this version of Sonic CD until several years ago, so I've mostly played the game on Sega CD, but it is a good port of a great game. The main issue here is, though, why get this version? There is no new content here, but there serious issues if you try to run this on any modern version of Windows. On my newer computer this game won't run at all! Some Win9x games are incompatible with even a 32-bit modern edition of Windows, and this early Win95 game is among them. You'll need an actual old computer or virtual machine to run this, I expect. This was the first main-series Sonic game ported to the PC though, I believe; they did improve things in the next one, below. On a compatible system the game looks and runs great, though. This is a near-perfect port, and other than some minor graphical glitches you'll probably never notice, it's the same awesome game it is on Sega CD. The only other negative is that as with many games on this list so far, there is no pause button on the gamepad; few of these DOS or Win9x games have that feature. You need the keyboard for that. Positively though, the bonus stages, which use scaling and rotation for a SNES Mode 7-esque effect as you run around a small area trying to destroy a bunch of hovering machines, run very smoothly in this version, smoother than they do on Sega CD. Nice.

If you can get PC Sonic CD running, it's great. I covered this game in my Sega CD Game Opinion Summaries list as well, but I'll discuss it again. I love the classic Genesis-era Sonic games, and this one is no exception. Sonic CD looks and sounds good for a port of an early '90s console game, and has some interesting design elements as well. This is a highly-regarded game, though some do dislike elements of it for understandable reasons; the time system is odd. The game has a unique version of Sonic's spin-dash too, which takes getting used to versus the normal one. Sonic CD was in development alongside Sonic 2, though it released well into the next year, and is from a different team. Unlike the other Genesis Sonic games, Sonic CD is not just a linear title. Instead, there are four different versions of each stage, a Past, Present, Bad Future, and Good Future version. You start in the Present, and can warp between times by touching a signpost for the one you want to go to, then running without stopping for long enough to warp. If you do stop though, you lose that sign and will need to find another one to try again for that warp. If you want you can just run to the end, but if you want the good ending in this game and not the bad one, you need to do one of two things: get over 50 coins enough times and beat enough bonus games to get all the Chaos Emeralds, Sonic 1 style but with a new bonus game, or go to the Past on each first and second round of every stage in this Sonic 1-esque three-levels-per-stage game, find and destroy the machine there, go to the good future, and defeat Robotnik there. Each method has plusses and minuses, as the bonus games get tough, while Past signs are sometimes in short supply and avoiding all those Future signs can be tricky at times, but I like that you have a choice for more exploration or more rings and bonus stages. The levels are all huge and lots of fun to explore, too. This is a fantastic classic Sonic game, and the levels are great as usual! This is a simple game, without the multiple characters or puzzle elements in stages of Sonic 3 & Knuckles, but it's great nonetheless. And anyway, the time system and machine-finding adds plenty of complexity.

However, the rings and some platform elements for all four versions of each level are there for all of them, which makes for somewhat odd, messy-looking stages with rings inside of platforms, random inaccessible blocks, and more. It's a unique look which works, though the Genesis games' cleaner styles might be better. The soundtrack here is fantastic, though! This version has the US soundtrack from Spencer Nilsen, and I think it's great. His Sega CD soundtracks are all really good, the amazing Ecco CD soundtracks particularly, but this is very interesting stuff as well. Make sure to listen to all variations on each levels' theme, there are different ones for the past, present, and future. On that note, as great a game as Sonic CD mostly is, the decision to have four versions of each stage has a downside: if you play th game 'right', you'll only ever see maybe half of the content in this game. The whole Bad Future, with its machine look, should be completely avoided, and that's a quarter of the levels in the game! And the Good Future is really only there for you to warp to at the end, too. The time system is interesting, but I might have rather seen maybe fewer versions of each level but another stage or two. Ah well. What's here is great, and Sonic CD has good graphics, great music, good level designs, a unique time system, and all-around great gameplay. However, unless you have a compatible computer, stick with the other ports of this game that are easier to run on modern hardware. Sega CD port. Sonic CD is also available on the Gamecube and PS2 in the Sonic Gems Collection; it is actually a port of this PC version, not the Sega CD original. Digitally, there is also an enhanced remake available for Xbox 360 Live Aracde, PS3 PSN, iOS, Android, PC (Steam), Windows Phone, Ouya, and Apple TV. I've never played that version, but it sounds good.



Sonic & Knuckles Collection (1997, Win9x) - 1-2 player simultaneous, saves (save files for Sonic 3 and Sonic 3 & Knuckles, passwords for Blue Spheres) / No Saving (Sonic & Knuckles only), gamepad supported. Sonic & Knuckles Collection is a great package from Sega that includes ports of the Genesis games Sonic 3 & Knuckles, Sonic 3, Sonic & Knuckles, and Blue Spheres, the near-infinite version of the bonus game you get if you attached Sonic 1 to Sonic & Knuckles on the Genesis. SO, it's not quite the complete collection for Sonic 2 and 2 & Knuckles are absent, but that sort of is a separate game, even if S&K is required. What you do get here is a good port of Sega's best game ever, Sonic 3 & Knuckles. This game was the first Sonic game I owned, when I got it in the later '90s, and while I had played the Genesis Sonic games quite a bit over the years, it was even better finally owning this myself! I recently covered all the games in this collection at length in my Genesis thread, and this version is largely exactly the same, so I won't do that again; read those for my thoughts on this great classic. Versus the Genesis originals, really the only changes here are that the soundtrack is now PC MIDI stuff instead of Genesis chiptunes, the game has the usual Win9x performance issues many games on this list have including no fullscreen on a modern computer because it's 320x240 only, a 640x480 max window size in windowed mode (so run this in 640x480 screen resolution compatibility mode through Windows!), and some performance issues common to many of Sega's '90s console-to-PC ports, though. It does recognize my gamepad at least, though, so that's something. I really don't like playing games which should be fullscreen windowed, however, so I'd rather only play this on a version of Windows able to run in 320x240 fullscreen. Do know that the game needs your screens' refresh rate to be 60hz to run right; alternatively there is a patch to fix this issue.

Still, beyond that this is a great version of one of the best platformers ever. Super Mario World may be my favorite 2d platformer, but Sonic 3 & Knuckles is one of the next-best games on the list! This is a fast-paced game which manages to be great fun despite its speed, unlike too many Sonic clones. S3&K has a lot of levels to play through, three playable characters in four modes (with Sonic alone or Sonic with Tails being separate options) each of which plays differently enough to well be worth trying, that great classic Sonic art design, and all the fantastic platform fun of its console counterparts. Sure, the music is a bit off versus the Genesis, and fullscreen is an issue, but this is an exceptional game regardless. The controls are spot-on and levels very well designed. This game has the perfect balance between letting you run fast and learn stages, and has plenty of challenge without resorting to too many cheap traps you'll need to memorize. Some levels have minor puzzle elements too, and they're fun to figure out. It's great stuff. I love the bonus game too; Blue Spheres is easily my favorite Sonic bonus game ever. It's fantastic that this collection includes the full Sonic 1 lock-on Blue Spheres game, where you can play a near-endless number of Blue Spheres levels. Unfortunately just like on the Genesis you will need to write down long passwords in order to return to a favorite stage, as this is a straight port, but still, it's great to have. They could easily have left it out, as some subsequent Sonic 3 & Knuckles digital re-releases on consoles do.

Still, overall, despite how great the game is, and how much fun I had with this game in the late '90s, today this is not the best way to play Sonic 3 & Knuckles. Unless you've got an older Win9x computer to play this on, dealing with this games' problems will be much more of a hassle than just playing some newer port of the game. It is true that many collections after this one and digital re-releases have not actually included the full Sonic 3 & Knuckles, and thus do not match up to this, but enough do that this has been superceded. There is no new content here, either, and the music is not as good as it is on Genesis. At least one song has been altered, also. Still, on a computer or virtual machine which can run this as intended, the Sonic & Knuckles Collection is a great version of one of the best platformers ever, so pick it up if you see it cheap. Genesis port. This version is PC-exclusive, but all content from this disc is also playable on the Saturn in Sonic Jam and the PS2/Gamecube in Sonic mega Collection & Mega Collection Plus. The Sonic Classic Collection for the DS includes everything except Blue Spheres, though the port is apparently not the best. Digitally, Sonic 3, Sonic & Knuckles, and Sonic 3 & Knuckles are available on Wii Virtual Console, Xbox 360 Live Arcade, and PC (Steam), but Blue Spheres is not. There is also an iOS port that I think includes everything. Sonic 3 and Sonic & Knuckles, but NOT any lock-on games for some stupid reason, are playable in the Sonic's Ultimate Genesis Collection for the X360 and PS3. Sonic & Knuckles is also included, on its own, in many Genesis handheld and clone consoles.


Sonic 3D Blast (1996, Win9x) - 1 player, saves, gamepad supported. Sonic 3D Blast is an isometric platformer developed by Traveller's Tales, now known as TT Games, and published by Sega. The game is controversial, and many people don't like it. And indeed, it is quite different from other Sonic games, with its collection focus, slower pace, and isometric gameplay. However, I do like the game myself, and have all three versions of it, Genesis, Saturn, and PC. Sega ported many of their top console games to the PC in the mid '90s, and this was among them. The game is similar to the Saturn version, but there are some PC-exclusive changes as well, including saving, finally, and a slightly different version of the bonus game. That's all pretty good, and feature-wise, this is maybe the best version of Sonic 3D Blast, but like Sonic CD, I can't get this game to run at all on my newer computer; it needs actual Win9x to work. So, this is another one for people with virtual machines or a Win9X computer only, unfortunately.

And that is unfortunate, because despite its iffy reputation, this game is fun! In Sonic 3D Blast, you explore overhead-isometric stages, trying to find all the small birds called flickies on each part of each stage. Get all the flickies and you can move on to the next area. Unlike the main Sonic games, this is not a fast-paced game; you'll move around somewhat slowly, exploring each level, avoiding the obstacles, and getting those flickies. Each stage is complex and I like exploring them and figuring out what to do and where to go. The designers knew that jumping in isometric 3d can be difficult, so they accounted for this by having most jumping puzzles be not over death or injury pits, but just areas that make you go back, which is great. Good design elements like that make this game much more fun than some games in this genre. The typically Euro-platformer focus on collecting may get old to some, but only having to get five per area isn't nearly as bad as some games, and I do find stages fun to explore. The addition of saving is really great too, because with this games's somewhat slow pace, playing the whole thing in one sitting as you have to do on the Genesis or Saturn is kind of a pain. No issue here! The graphics are quite nice also. This version uses the improved Saturn graphics for the main game, and everything looks pretty good. The bonus game is, sort of like on the Saturn, a Sonic 2-style tube you run down. However, here everything is made up of sprites, not polygons like on Saturn. That change is perhaps a bit unfortunate, as the Saturn one looks pretty good for the time, but it looks fine here, and plays about as well.

Overall, Sonic 3D Blast is a good isometric platformer. This game isn't quite the great classic of the 2d Genesis and Sega CD Sonic games, but it's still a good game, mixed critical reaction or no. I certainly recommend trying some version of Sonic 3D Blast, you never know; you might like it. This version, however, due to its technical issues probably is only for fans of the game. It is probably the best version, but you'll need a computer that can actually run it. This PC version of Sonic 3D Blast is a physical-only PC exclusive. The Genesis version of Sonic 3D Blast is included in the Sonic Mega Collection for Gamecube, Sonic Mega Collection Plus for PS2, Xbox, & PC, and Sonic's Ultimate Genesis Collection for PS3 & X360, and digitally on Wii Virtual Console and PC (Steam). The better-looking Saturn and Win9x PC versions, however, have never been re-released.
 
Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles (1989, DOS) - 1 player, saves, gamepad supported (sometimes). Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles is the PC port of Konami's NES game of the same name. This somewhat infamous platformer is well-known for being frustratingly hard and kind of odd. This is a worse version of that game, but unfortunately, while I loved the Ninja Turtles through the late '80s to mid '90s, somehow THIS was the one and only Ninja Turtles game I bought that decade. Now there was a bad decision; sure, I loved both arcade games, so I played great Ninja Turtles games, but this... this is not good. As a kid I convinced myself it was decent, I guess, probably mostly because I loved the license, though I never got past level two, because it's very hard and quite flawed. And yes, it is worse than the NES original, as this version has worse controls; some altered graphics and decent but not-quite-as-good music; the game has been made much harder than it is on the NES as there are more enemies, enemies don't bounce back when you hit them, and they do more damage; and worst of all, there is a bug which makes one stage impossible in the US version I have unless you cheat to skip that level, but it does add saving. That one positive isn't worth all the negatives in this port of an already-poor game, but it's better than nothing, I guess. Still, the graphics really are kind of ugly. The monsters are all misshapen weird things, the game has EGA or CGA support but not VGA, scrolling is choppy, and the Turtles don't look great either. I don't have the NES version, but from what I've seen it does look a bit better there.

As for the game, though, in this game you play as any of the four Ninja Turtles, going through a series of extremely tough missions. They jump and attack with their weapon, though jumping is awkward and hard to control in this version. The keyboard controls are annoying too, and unconfigurable: Enter to jump, Space to attack. There should be gamepad support, but some versions of the game seem to be missing it, though the one I bought back then does have it. Odd. You can walk around an overhead-view overworld, and from there can enter various sewer or door entrances to play side-scrolling levels. Some levels are necessary, some have useful powerups, while others are just distractions and serve no purpose other than to drain more health than you'll get back from whatever powerup is there, so you will need to learn where to go and where to avoid as you play. And for another change from the NES, no items spawn randomly or when you kill enemies, so the only powerups in this game are the one-time pickups in pre-planned locations. Between all the enemy-behavior changes listed above and this, this game is quite a bit harde than the already-tough NES version. It's just too difficult, an issue I see mentioned in pretty much any online review of this version of the game. And you won't be able to avoid damage, because only Don has a weapon with much range, and it's not going to be enough. You have a health bar, but enemies drain it quickly and health powerups quickly become few and far between. If a turtle runs out of health there are VERY few ways to get them back, and if all four die it's Game Over, so this game gets hard quickly. Enemies swarm you, and they take your health bar down quickly. They respawn the instant you leave the screen, too, and levels are designed to force you to go back and forth some and fight the same guys multiple times. The hit detection is iffy sometimes as well; play control here is a mess. The constant swarms of cheap enemies will overwhelm even Don in a hurry, and once he's low health you're finished. Level designs are mostly fairly basic corridors and platforms, too. There are obstacles to jump over, ladders, platforms, and such, but it's forgettable stuff.

And of course, the second level, an underwater level near a dam, is infamously annoying thanks to its tight timer and mazelike layout; you've got to find some bombs scattered around, and sure won't do it on your first try. What's past level two? Who knows, I never got that far. But level 3 is the one with the impossible jump unless you find a European copy of this game, so there's that.On the positive side, though, you can save anywhere in this version (press Control+S) and continue from exactly that point if you quit to the menu (Control+Q) and load the game, though there is only one save file so watch out where you save. On the NES you can't save and have limited continues, and I do like this addition, but as much as I like saving in games, it does not make up for everything else bad about this game. And the NES game isn't exactly good, either. Also apparently the game gets even more difficult near the end, as the few health powerups drop to almost none. No thanks. This game is mediocre enough in the first two levels, I don't need to see the rest. Overall, the original TMNT game isn't the worst thing, but it is bad. This game is too hard, has mediocre controls with enemies you often have to get too close to to hit, poor level designs, annoying enemies, poor visuals and sound, and a pretty bad bug if you have the US vesion like I do. Don't play this.


Zool 2 (1994, DOS) - 1-2 player alternating, No Saving, gamepad supported. Zool 2 is a below-average European platformer from Gremlin. This game was inspired by Sonic, but has shooting instead of jumping as your main method of attack. I've never really played the first Zool, though it was apparently more popular than this game and was on more platforms, but I got this sequel in the mid '90s because I thought it looked interesting. I don't know what I paid, but I hope it wasn't too much because while games get a lot worse than this, this is one of the weakest games on this list so far. It's okay, I guess, but never was great and has aged somewhat badly. The game has some annoying design traits common to European computer games as well, including bad controls and no saving. This game is an Amiga port with alright graphics, decent audio with limitations, and large levels to explore and collect stuff in. You can play as Zool or his female counterpart Zooz, and the two are the same gameplay-wise. Your controls are okay, but very fast and bouncy. Your character does not feel good to control and moves or bounces around too quickly for you to keep track of, and avoiding damage is often near-impossible. You do have a life bar and health does drop, but still, it can be a problem. Your fast movement can be fun at times, though, and you can grab onto and climb walls, which is nice, and spin-attack if you hold attack while jumping, but still it's way too easy to take hits. You also can only jump with the up button or up on your gamepad, which is terrible; this isn't an Amiga, PCs support more than one-button joysticks! Come on. Gamepad buttons all shoot. And maybe even more annoying, the game does not have both sound effects and music at the same time! You've got to choose one or the other in the menu. I usually choose music, so you're running around grabbing stuff without much sense of interaction with the world around you. It's weird stuff, in a bad way. I really hope that isn't common on the Amiga, it's no good. No other PC platformer I have played is like this. If you want to play a version of this game with both sound AND music, your only option is the Atari Jaguar port, but few people have that console of course. I don't.

As for the gameplay, it's okay, but also flawed. "Collect" is the operative term, here, from my description above, as your goal in each level is to get the pickups-collected number in the bottom left up to 99; before that point, even if you reach the end of a level you cannot exit. So, grab everything you can, get up to 99, then go to the exit. The game starts in a candyland world, and perhaps takes that too far, as the game has a license from British lollypop company Chupa Chups, whose logo is all over the game on pickups. It's kind of silly that this American release of the game still has advertising all over for a company I've never heard of here in the US, but it does. The levels themselves are large and full of enemies, lots of small pickups that look like teddy bears, worms, chicken legs, and all kinds of other weird stuff, bounce pads which look like odd things like eggs, and secrets to find behind hidden walls you can break if you attack them. So yeah, this game is for item-collection fans only! Exploring levels, finding secrets, and picking up the mountains of items can be fun, and the game thankfully has few to no bottomless pits, always a plus in fast-paced platformers like this one. The game is somewhat repetitive, however, particularly when you have to backtrack to find more items to pick up to max out that percentage. Oh, and enemies respawn, too, unfortunately. As a result of all this, the game quickly gets hard, and you have no saving in this game frustratingly enough, and only have any continues if you earn them ingame. There are cheat codes for level-skip, lots of lives, and the like, but without them I've never gotten past world two in Zool 2. Most PC platformers have saving, so the absence of a save system always has been one of my biggest complaints about this game; it has other issues as well, but saving is the worst one. If I could save my progress between levels, the game would be more fun for sure, it would help reduce the frustration factor. You can cheat, but that's not as satisfying. There are some good points to this game, including decent VGA graphics with some okay background designs, large levels to explore which can be fun to find the secrets in, and nicely bouncy music. However, Zool 2 has many issues, including the overfocus on collecting, the too-fast movement and jumping, the absence of both music and sound at the same time, the up-to-jump-only controls, and the inability to save your game. On the whole Zool 2 is an okay but below-average game I can't really recommend except for huge collection-game fans who like European platformer design or for people who want to see all the Sonic-inspired games out there. Also available on Amiga, Amiga CD32 (Europe only), and Atari Jaguar. The Jaguar version is the best as it is the only one with both music and sound at once.
 

Gurnlei

Member
This thread is a nostalgia overload. I remember playing a lot of those older platformers on my uncles computer with Sonic 3 and Knuckles being my favorite. If only we could return to a time where great 2D platformers were common on PC.
 
This thread is a nostalgia overload. I remember playing a lot of those older platformers on my uncles computer with Sonic 3 and Knuckles being my favorite.
Yeah, the PC version of S3&K is pretty good, I like it a lot as well. It probably is one of the best PC platformers ever, being a port of one of the best 2d platformers...

In addition to that though, other favorites of mine for the 'physical 2d games' category I have covered so far are Commander Keen 1 and Mega Man X4. The other PC Mega Man X and Commander Keen games are also great, but those two are my favorites. The Lost Vikings and Sonic CD are also really, really good.

If only we could return to a time where great 2D platformers were common on PC.
You think great 2d platformers don't release on PC anymore? I don't know about that, some do. Platformers on the PC were mostly dead for the better part of a decade, from the late '90s to late '00s, but thanks to digital distribution, Steam, GOG, and such, they have had a huge rebirth... there are a LOT Of platformers on the PC and have been for some time now. I'll get to those in not too long, once I start on digital-distribution games

Now, it is true that my favorite platformers are those by Nintendo, and all of those are console-only, but apart from Nintendo the PC is pretty well-spoken for platformer-wise. There are mountains of indie games, and a few bigger-budget ones like the two modern Rayman titles for example. However, though, it is true that these are mostly 2d or 2.5d games only; 3d platformers never really took off on PC like they did on consoles, either in the '90s or later, and that hasn't changed. There are some good PC 3d platformers, mostly from the late '90s to early '00s (the PC ports of console games like Croc, Bug, and such), but beyond that... some indies have made a try of it, and there are a handful of major newer 3d platformers on the PC such as Sonic Generations, but it's not great. Of course, even Nintendo's a bit weak on 3d platformers these days too, so maybe the PC isn't doing so bad...
 

petran79

Banned
Very informative thread. I remember playing or watching some of the games except Mega Man. I also had an NES at that time and Mega Man 3 was my most played game. Hence I did not bother with the SNES games or PC ports

Duke Nukem was the first 2D platformer I watched at my friends CGA green monitor PC.
He also had California Games, Green Beret, Operation Neptune and Savage. I had experienced the Amiga scene prior to that, so going back to CGA PC graphics felt like a step back but I did not mind. Enjoyed the platformers for the unique gameplay.


When he upgraded to full color and 486DX,sound card and CD-ROM, games like Jungle Jill, Prince of Persia 2:Shadow and the Flame and Jazz Jackrabbit really gave the PC the edge it needed over the Amiga.

Though Amiga and AtariST platformers were still very good. It is unfortunate that most were popular only in Europe. Europe had her answer to the Japanese giants of Sega, Capcom and Nintendo

I remember the cover for this game. Very original.





Fiendish Freddy was also one of my favorites and amazing to play on multiplayer



Somehow platform games on IBM PCs could never get such a firm hold like on the Amiga and consoles. In contrast to FPS, strategy and pre-FMV point and click adventures. Perhaps because most iconic PC games and genres were developed in the USA . While Amiga and AtariST computers were also seen as an affordable arcade port solution. It had decent ports for that time and platformers like Bubble Bobble, Rodland, Shinobi and Wonder Boy in Monster Land were very popular. While in America the best alternative was a 16-bit console.
 
I've never used an Amiga, but while I'm sure many European platformers are otherwise good, but up-for-jump is terrible for platformers. PC games have problems enough with DOS's 4 button limit on game controllers, never mind only having one! So yeah, PC forever, forget any other computer! :)


Update 4

So, only six summaries this time, despite it being almost two weeks. Ah well. This update covers all six PC 3d platformers I have physical copies of, not counting Tomb Raider: Angel of Darkness because I decided to go with GameFAQs and categorize that as an action-adventure. And of these six games, only three actually function on my newer computer; for the other three I had to go to the old Win9x one. And yes, this is one of several reasons why this update took so long, I wanted to see if I could manage to get the games working. No such luck, sadly.

And that brings up quite possibly the worst thing about PC gaming, that games may not work on a newer machine, it all depends on your hardware, operating system, etc. How many people are going to have enough computers lying around to play every game on a system that can run it perfectly? Because you'd need that'; my two certainly aren't enough. Sure, with a very powerful modern machine some of these problems may be solved with virtual machines, but those are very resource-intensive, so for a game it may or may not run playably. For DOS games DOSBox is fantastic, but for Windows stuff there is no great option. This is frustrating stuff at times, and isn't something with an easy answer... because as computers get newer and Microsoft, NVidia, etc. upgrade their drivers and operating systems, some things break with older games that relied on things working a certain way that they don't anymore. And just installing an old graphics card driver may not solve the problem, either. That didn't fix any of these, certainly. Sometimes for certain titles there are fan fixes, but none of the few suggestions I saw online helped me for the Rayman games here. If you play only modern PC games this isn't an issue, but as soon as you try to run older games, you never know if a game is going to work or not. I mean, some people with new machines apparently can run Raymans 2 or 3 just fine, but others like me can't. Why? Who knows! Argh.

So, because I think it is worth mentioning I have covered how games run on my computers throughout this list so far, but this is something which will differ from person to person, so it may or may not be helpful to someone. For someone with a 64-bit OS for example, FAR more games will be broken unless you have a VM or something for 32-bit support! Many, and maybe even most, Win9x games have 16-bit installers, and 64-bit Windows cannot run 16-bit applications anymore. Naturally Windows 3.1 games also are a no (since 3.1 is a 16-bit OS, like DOS), unless you run 3.1 through DOSBox, which functions (I've tried it for some games in this list, including Arcade America and Lode Runner), but can be unstable at times. Or for another issue, controllers. Windows 9x and XP only have DirectInput controller support, which is what I use, but from Vista on Microsoft added a new type, xinput, designed for the Xbox 360 controller as a PC gamepad. Some games from the mid '00s and beyond support both directinput and xinput, while others are xinput only. As I so far have almost exclusively used directinput controllers for PC, in this list I don't mention when a game only supports directinput; that's just "gamepad supported" or such. For the next section though, as we get into downloadable games, I'll need to decide if I want to list which titles are xinput only. I might do that, as it's annoying! Support both formats, games released after xinput game into being. Some people want to use controllers for designed for one, others the other; accommodate both. But anyway, each different computer setup comes with its own problems.

But that's enough of that; on to the list.


Titles covered in this update:
--
1B. 3D Platformers - PC Physical Copies

Croc 2 (2000)
Donald Duck: Goin' Quackers (2000)
Emperor's New Groove, The -- Action Game (2001)
Frogger: The Great Quest (2002)
Rayman 2: The Great Escape (1999)
Rayman 3: Hoodlum Havoc (2003)


Summaries
--
Croc 2 (2000, Win9x) - 1 player, saves, analog gamepad supported. Croc 2 is the sequel to Croc, a pretty good 3d platformer from Argonaut released in 1997. Croc started out as a pitch for a 3d Yoshi game for the Nintendo 64, but after Nintendo turned it down and cancelled Argonaut's Star Fox 2 for the SNES, Argonaut took the game to other platforms. Croc ended up releasing on the PC, Playstation, and Saturn. I first played that game in the demo of the PC release, and liked it a lot. I also played some more of it later in the '90s, but never did buy the game, unfortunately. I need to someday, for sure! Croc's great. But as for this game, Croc 2 is a lot like the first game, but with more open levels, improved visuals, and some more things to do. This is a port of the Playstation original from 1999, but it's a very good, full-featured port with good graphics for the time, support for any resolution you want to throw at it (this game looks great at 1920x1200!), and analog gamepad support with fully reconfigurable controls, which was far from a given unfortunately. The game controls quite well with an analog gamepad. It also runs great on my newer computer, which is fantastic. I imagine that like most of these games it could well have issues in 64-bit Windows, but in 32-bit it's great. I have the Playstation version of this game as well, and this game looks a lot better on the PC, that's for sure.

But what about the actual game? Well, Croc 2 is a 3d platformer, again ported over from the Playstation. Croc is an adorable cartoony crocodile, who is friends with these cute little critters called Gobbos. You saved the day in the first game, but the evil Baron Dante is back, raised from the dead by his loyal minions! So, you set off to save the day again. As with the first game you have tank-style controls, so you move forward and rotate with the stick. You can also jump and butt-slam and have a tail-whip attack. The camera is a bit of an issue at times as it isn't always pointing where you need, but you do have a center-camera button that is useful. Croc moves very quickly and responsively, so the game controls well. It actually almost feels like you move TOO fast at first, but I quickly got used to it. The game plays great too. You have a main objective in each stage, and then if you want more to do beyond that, if you find all five colored crystals in the stage you'll get a gold statue. There are also 100 regular crystals in each stage, and these respawn each time you enter the level so they aren't a limited collectible. Objectives vary, so the first level has you get a key, in the second you need to find a bunch of treasure chests, and more. There are also some side-missions, such as boat races and such. It all plays quite well, and the game is great fun to play. There is also a shop in the hub world where you can buy a few things, including some items you'll need to find some of those colored crystals. This means that you probably won't be able to get everything in a level the first time, which is fine; this game doesn't have Mario 64 levels of extra stuff to do, but there is some.

The level designs in Croc 2 are limited by the games' Playstation roots, however. Levels are larger and more open than the mostly room-based ones from the first game, though I like the larger levels too, though unfortunately this game is still Playstation-scale, and by that I mean somewhat small compared to a PC or N64-first game would be. Levels are decent-length, but very linear. You travel through narrow corridors surrounded by tall walls most of the time. And even when there are open areas, they're not that big even compared to some other PS1 3d platformers like Spyro. But the first Croc had even smaller areas than this one and was a great game, so I don't mind that too much; as Rayman 2 particularly shows, 3d platformers do not need huge open worlds to be great. The very fun gameplay, with enemies to whack, challenges to get past, levels to explore, and tricky jumps to make is great! Croc 2 is not on Rayman 2's level, but it is very good regardless. This game is a lot of fun to play, and it's really unfortunate that this was the last Croc 3d platformer. Argonaut did make more 3d platformers after this one before shutting down in the mid '00s, including the pretty good Malice and I-Ninja for PS2/Xbox(/Gamecube, for I-Ninja), but Croc 3 never happened, unfortunately. But still, Croc 2 is a great game that I wish that any 3d platformer fan should play. Playstation port. This is the better version by far, and runs quite well.


Donald Duck: Goin' Quackers (2000, Win9x) - 1 player, saves, analog gamepad supported (if it works for you). Donald Duck: Goin' Quackers is a decent 3d platformer published by Ubisoft and Disney and developed by Ubisoft Montreal that copies Crash Bandicoot,e: but with a Disney theme. You play as Donald Duck, as the title suggests, running through levels because you need to rescue Daisy from an evil wizard. Oh come on games, quit it already with the "rescue the girl" plots! This game is very unoriginal, too; as in Crash, some stages have you running towards or into the screen, while others play like "2.5d" side-scrolling games where the graphics are 3d but gamplay is 2d. The controls are decent and gameplay is fun. However, this is, unfortunately, one of those games my newer computer will not run acceptably -- it crashes constantly, gamepad support does not work at all and this is a huge problem in a game which heavily relies on analog movement, and the sound is very glitchy and skips a lot. Yeah, it's not good. And that is unfortunate, because this game looks decent and is a reasonably fun little game to play. On my Win9x computer the game runs just as it should, though. It is a very blatant Crash clone, though; no new ideas here. Donald can jump, double jump, and attack, melee only. You defeat baddies by jumping on them or hitting them, though some will hurt you at certain times; watch for those porcupine spikes, for example. The controls are solid, and the double jump is very useful. There are also frequent checkpoints in stages, and lots of stars. Every 100 stars is an extra life and the game is generous with them. So, this is an easy game even though you die in only two hits or one fall down a pit so it's easy to lose a life.

The game is also quite short: there are only four worlds, each with 4 main levels, a bonus boss-ish level, and a world boss level. They pad this length with a second time-trial mode available for each stage, but the game is short. In each world, two of the main levels have you running forwards in a narrow 3d path that, like Crash, only goes ahead, and the other two are 2.5d side-scrolling stages. Boss and bonus levels are varied, but bonus stages often have you running towards the screen, away from a large monster chasing you, again much like some stages in the Crash games. Each boss is different, though. This game is simple, but plays well. These late '90s to early '00s Disney platformers often play pretty well, really, low difficulty aside! For the four main levels, you've got three objectives per stage: find the three toys, find the hidden boss-door part, and finish time-trial mode for the stage. You do the first two objectives and the last one separately, and can only do the time-trial in a stage after you've beaten it normally. Finding the boss-door parts is your most important objective, as that is how you progress though the game. Finding the toys is second, as this unlocks the bonus stage. For each, you find a book, hit it, then get to the nearby toy before the timer runs out. Fortunately toys are visible before you hit the book, you just can't collect them yet. As for time-trial mode, you're racing against Gladstone's best time, but all you need to do is finish before the timer runs out, there is no 'beat this time to win' indicator. I'd have liked that, but I guess this works. The toys do not appear in time-trial mode.

Overall, Donald Duck: Goin' Quackers is a fun part-2d and part-railed-path-3d platformer. The game is a shameless clone of Crash Bandicoot, and is very short and easy and I wish it had more content, but it's a fun little game while it lasts, worth a try if you like the genre or Disney, or are a younger or less experienced player who wants a fun but not too tough platformer to play that stars a familiar character. Fun little game. Also available on the Nintendo 64, Playstation 1, Playstation 2, Dreamcast, and Gamecube. Unless you have a Win9x computer you might want to get one of the many console versions of the game, though this one does support higher resolutions than any of them if you can get it working much better than I can on a newer machine.


Emperor's New Groove, The -- Action Game
(2000, Win9x) - 1 player, saves, analog gamepad supported. The Emperor's New Groove Action Game is a 3d platformer from Argonaut and published by Disney. This game is from the same studio as the Croc games and is also a PC/PS1 dual-format release, but while quite fun this licensed game isn't quite on their level. In 2000 Argonaut made two 3d platformers for Disney, this game and Aladdin in Nasira's Revenge. I've never played that one, but this game is good fun and shouldn't be quite as forgotten as it is, compared to Argonaut's top 3d platformers like Croc or I-Ninja. This is a pretty easy game aimed at a younger audience, but it is good. This game is a simple and fun straightforward 3d platformer where you explore through largely linear worlds as the teenage Incan emperor-turned-llama Kuzco from Disney's animated movie of the same name as this game. The movie was fun stuff, and this game has the films' sense of humor. Kuzco is kind of a jerk, you see, and needs to learn a lesson in humility, so he's turned into a llama. Well, he does not learn his lesson easily, as his adventures in the film and this game show. Story-wise, the game is fully voice-acted and has some clips from the movie in it, so it's retelling the movies' story but in expanded videogame form. The game runs just fine on my newer computer as well, and allows you to use any resolution supported by your PC. You can fully remap the gamepad controls in-game also. Good job there, particularly compared to Donald Duck above, a release from the same year as this!

As expected from Argonaut, this game looks decent, controls well, and has solid level designs which are fun to explore. This game has full areas to explore and is not railed like Donald Duck, but it is quite linear. I don't mind that, though. Environments are a mix of areas in narrow walled 'canyons' and areas on cliffsides, so the games' PS1 roots show, but it's decent enough to do and I do like the art design, it represents the film well. This game is set in a fantasy version of pre-Western-contact Peru, so the many tall mountains explain the numerous cliffside paths. The art design is inspired by Indian art, though just like in the film and TV series there are many random anachronisms done for the sake of comedy; as a history major this annoys me a bit, but it works I guess. Some things do look a little odd because of the low-poly nature of games of the day, but it's good enough, and looks nice at higher resolutions. The gameplay is simple fun. This is mostly a platformer, but the game does have some variety, as you'll have some segments with stealth, racing, and more. Switch puzzles are also common, though rarely complex. You are a llama most of the time, so you can run, jump, and do a roll attack to damage enemies. You can also do a butt-slam attack, necessary against certain foes, and pick up objects on your back, such as rocks or pots to drop on switches. You move quickly, and levels are not complex so you can move thoguh this game at a decent pace. Combat works, though the hit detection is a little too sensitive sometimes; for this one tree I had to knock over with a charge, I had to run at it a few too many times before I hit it. It's also easy to fall off of those numerous cliffsides, though you will respawn nearby, with a hit to your health of course. Still, this is an easy game. There is replay value however, if you want to find all of the hidden stuff in each stage. You'll need to search each level well to find it all, which can be fun. And on the whole, that's what this game is: a simple, fun little 3d platformer, well worth playing for a few hours sometime if you like the genre and find it cheap. This PC version is better, but there is also a Playstation 1 version of the game.


Frogger: The Great Quest (2002, Win9x) - 1 player, saves, analog gamepad supported. This terrible game was Konami's first attempt at a new Frogger game since the early 1980s. After licensing Frogger out to Hasbro for their popular Frogger revival games of the late '90s to early '00s, Konami took the license back in '02 for Frogger: The Great Quest, which was developed by an internal American Konami team. Instead of a traditional grid-based adventure like all previous Frogger titles, and most since, this one is a 3d platformer sort of in the Rayman 2 vein. Switching genres like that isn't a terrible idea, it just didn't work, unfortunately; this atrocious game is probably the worst title covered on this list so far. This was made as a kid-friendly 3d platformer, but it's too broken to be recommendable to anyone, child or otherwise. So what's so wrong with this game? It starts out from the beginning. First, there are absolutely no graphics options in this game. Even though this game released in 2002, it has no resolution options, and instead runs in only a very low resolution I have to assume is probably 640x480. Preset resolutions were common in 2d games back in the '90s, but for a fully 3d game to not let you change resolutions, in 2002, is very surprising and disappointing, particularly when the resolution it choses is so low. There are also zero graphics options whatsoever beyond a brightness slider. As a result, this Playstation 2 port looks terrible, almost more like something that could have run on the PS1 or N64 than a game comparable to other titles of its time. The art design is a mixed bag as well, with awful anthromorphized characters for Frogger and others, with full, awful English voice acting, and some average-looking backdrops. This game was the first time Frogger spoke, and looked like he does here, and both of those decisions were mistakes. Frogger now is human-sized, wears clothing, and acts like an annoying kid. This is not the Frogger I want! This failed attempt at a Frogger redesign was a big mistake, both here and in Frogger Beoyond. Frogger Beyond does have far better gameplay, as it's a 3d Frogger game in the Frogger 2 vein, but it has this games' same character and story design problems. The story is slightly unique in concept, but poorly presented. See, our new "cool kid" version of Frogger wants to find a princess to kiss, so he can turn into a prince like the frog in The Frog Prince. So, he sets off onto this easy and broken adventure. It's not the worst idea for a plot, but it feels disjointed as cutscenes do not always flow well at all.
 
Things get even worse once you start playing. Just like the unconfigurable graphics, you also cannot reconfigure the controls. You can jump, punch or shoot (this is context-sensitive, theoretically), strafe and center the camera (yes, this is one button), talk/interact (with a button), open a pause or item menu, and use items, a standard selection of moves. Frogger can grab on platform edges as well, sometimes, though it's unreliable. At least there is gamepad support, but you only have two movement speeds, walk or run, so you don't have the smooth speed-change controls of most 3d platformers. Control is jerky and frustrating, and I quickly found myself very often walking off of platforms and struggling to manage to get close enough to collect items because of how hard it is to line yourself up with anything in the air or water; judging depth is near-impossible for anything not on flat ground. Grabbing onto platforms is also so unreliable that you'll have to find a point where you can jump up to the above platform, provided that the glitchy graphics, terrible camera that swings around hopelessly, and bad jumping controls allow you to make it up there, that is. And you can't just hold that center-camera button to help either, considering that is also is the strafe-lock control! The level designs are poor as well. Unlike a Rayman 2, this game has mostly somewhat open stages. Don't expect the scale of a Mario 64, Banjo, or even Spyro, though; this may be a PS2 game, but stages feel small. They are open enough to get lost in, until you learn the layouts, but it's not too bad. The tedious gameplay is worse, as you go back and forth across stages doing things for people. Levels are loaded with stuff to collect, but with these controls and depth-perception issues I didn't want to get all the stuff. And beyond that, there isn't much here. Enemies are few and far between, and obstacles that can actually hurt you are even more uncommon than that. It IS possible to die, if you're not paying attention, but you just respawn nearby so the game barely punishes you for it if it does happen. So, this is a pretty easy game, save for the challenge of not turning the game off before you've even finished two levels of the thing! And that can be tough, in a game as boring as this one. The game is supposed to be quite short, but why waste even that amount of time on something this awful? Overall, Frogger: The Great Quest is an awful game. Stay away, stay far away. Also available on Playstation 2.


Rayman 2: The Great Escape (1999, Win9x) - 1 player, saves, analog gamepad supported. One of the greatest 3d platformers ever made, Rayman 2 is an exceptional classic. This game is easily the best 3d platformer I have ever played for the PC, and it's better than most console-exclusive 3d platformers as well. While I have issues with the first Rayman, graphics aside, Rayman 2 is the total package: it has outstanding gameplay as well as great graphics! Originally developed for the Nintendo 64 and PC simultaneously, this is the original release of Rayman 2. Later versions of the game add some additional features, including real voice acting, a hub, and more, but the original version is the best. I got this game in 1999 or 2000, not too long after its release, and I beat the game sometime after that. I have loved it ever since. Rayman 2 has fantastic graphics, music, controls, and gameplay. Visually, this game is extremely impressive. This game has some of the best graphics and art design on this list, and playing the game now it still looks fantastic. They put a lot of work into this games' art, and it really pays off. The cartoon style looks unique and really good, and each area is distinct. While this is mostly a gameplay-focused game, Rayman 2 does have an amusing story. This is a cartoon-style game, and Rayman has got to save the world from evil pirates! You start out kidnapped, in jail on the pirates' flying ship, but your friend Globox is tossed into the cell with you and he has a hidden Silver Lum that powers Rayman up, so you can break free and start your quest to save the day. Despite that intro this is mostly a light-hearted game, as fitting its cartoony world, and that's great. All characters talk in cute nonsense sounds, as in games like Banjo-Kazooie, and I think this works perfectly for the game. And as for those visuals, Rayman 2's art design is just fantastic. This is a whimsical world of curving vines, puffy clouds, and colorful swamps. The robotic villains invading this area are clearly out of place, which fits with the 'robo-pirate invasion' theme. It's all amazing work. The games' soundtrack is also really good; every track fits the location very well, and they all sound great.

The game controls great, too, with a controller, provided you get it working; a patch may be needed, depending on which version of the game you have. Unfortunately gamepad controls are NOT reconfigurable, which is a problem sometimes depending on your controllers' layout, but it's much better than nothing. Keyboard controls are not too good, as you lose the analog movement control that is so important to 3d platformers, but Rayman moves around well with an analog pad. It only uses one analog stick, with the strafe button functioning as a center-camera button as well. The camera here is pretty good though, so it rarely is a problem. The designers often cleverly hide secrets in areas the camera doesn't move towards, though, so explore all of the nooks and crannies of each area! It's good stuff. For actions, you can jump and shoot much like in the first game, and the controls are very good and responsive. As this is a 3d game though, now you have a strafe button, to make dodging enemy fire easy. Your shots will home in on enemies, too, thankfully. This time you only shoot energy blasts, though, not your fists like in the first Rayman, so you can have more than two shots on screen at once. As before you can swing on rings once you get the right powerup, but there are other new powers here as well including being able to jump between walls in places.

But as great as Rayman 2's presentation is and as good as the controls are, the gameplay is the main reason this game is so, so good. After all, Rayman 1 looked pretty good, it's the gameplay that was its downfall. This time, though, everything about the game is fantastic. First, the game is much easier than the first one, and I like this change. This game is still a moderate challenge, but it's no crazy nightmare like the original Rayman. As before, this game has a world map where you choose which level to enter. This also shows how much stuff you've gotten in each stage. The game is a somewhat railed platformer, so in each stage you follow a linear course through a series of challenges, instead of having large levels to wander around as Mario 64 did. This isn't just a railed-course game like Crash Bandicoot, though; you have 3d levels to work your way through and explore that are made up of rooms, corridors, and open areas. Levels are incredibly fun to explore, and are filled with challenges and variety. The main path forwards is usually obvious, but optional hidden areas are common; you will not get everything in a stage in your first try, so completionists have plenty of replay value here. Combat in this game is shooting-based, as you shoot with one button while strafing with another. It works fine, though the controls can be a problem depending on your gamepad. The game has variety too, with segments that go beyond the standard platforming and shooting, including fast-moving avoidance-heavy scenes, such as controlling Rayman while he waterskis, on a near-uncontrollable rocket, and much more. There are also puzzle elements where you need to hit switches, figure out what to do with explosive barrels, and such. You'll juggle bombs while enemies attack you as you try to get to a target, for example. Boss fights usually have a trick to them as well, and those can be fun to figure out. The game has both variety and depth! There are also a lot of Lums to collect and cages to break in this game, for the games' variant on stars in Mario. There are many standard ones, plus some cages to find in each level as well, if you want to find everything. You don't need all the lums, really, but there is a counter there for hopeless collectors. Finding all the cages is worthwhile, though. Between its great controls, great level designs, variety, and many secrets, Rayman 2 is one of the best. This game shows how to make a really good linear-path 3d platformer. I really like how despite having a great base concept, Rayman 2's designers keep things interesting by constantly throwing new challenges at you. It's really good work and keeps you engaged.

There is one big downside to this game, though: currently I can't get it to run at all on my newer PC. I think it used to work, but somehow it won't anymore... bah! The game is still for sale on GOG, and checking there some people seem to be able to run it and others can't. Maybe it's a NVidia driver-version issue? Does it work better on AMD? I don't know, but this is a problem I want fixed, because Rayman 2 is amazing. The game does run fine on my older computer, and runs completely smoothly at the highest resolutions, but still, it's more convenient to have everything working on one machine. This all-time great is an absolute must-play game on some format; do avoid the bad PS1 version, get any other version instead. The Dreamcast version may be best, but this one when it works is also great. Also on N64. There is also an enhanced version on Dreamcast with some exclusive minigames added. There is also a downgraded Playstation 1 version with worse graphics and smaller areas but new voiced speech, and a Playstation 2 version which is based on this one, but that unwanted voiced speech again, a few new areas, and a 3d hub world to run around in instead of this games' level-select screen. There is a Nintendo DS version as well, Rayman DS, which has weaker graphics than the console versions and not as good analog controls. And last there is a Nintendo 3DS version, Rayman 3D, which looks good, though I haven't played it. The game is also available digitally on the PC on GOG; hopefully it works better for you than me, though a Win9x or such virtual machine (and a powerful enough PC) should fix such issues. If you can get it working with full analog gamepad support this might well be the best version of the game, considering it has the highest-resolution graphics support and I don't think the additions of later versions actually improve the game much if at all, so I hope others have more luck with this game on newer machines than I have!


Rayman 3: Hoodlum Havoc
(2003, Win9x) - 1 player, saves, dual analog gamepad supported. Rayman 3 released several years after its exceptional predecessor. This time the Hoodlums are invading Rayman's world, and you need to stop them! And because of them Globox accidentally swallowed a Dark Lum, so you're on a quest to both stop the Hoodlums and get the Dark Lum out of Globox. I was looking forward to it at the time, and picked it up sometime after launch. The game is very good to great, but is very much like its incredible predecessor, and does not quite match that all-time classic. So, as good as it is, the game disappointed me a bit at the time. Still, this is a well-made game that's a lot of fun to play. Also available on 6th-gen consoles, I got the game on PC and not Gamecube because this version was cheaper and has higher-resolution graphics. Rayman 3 is a fairly derivative title which basically tries to be Rayman 2, again, with new environments and some new powers. As before, levels are linear corridors of rooms of various sizes. The gameplay styles of the previous game return as well, with few significant additions. The controls do have some additions, though: the game uses dual analog now, with the left stick for movement and the right for the camera. A dual analog controller is highly recommended for this game, if you can get it working. And while I like the game, "if you can get it working" is a problem.

Yes, sadly, just like Rayman 2, I can't get the game to start at all on my newer computer. Sure, it runs okay on my Win9x machine, but I'd really rather play this on the newer computer, it'd run better! The old machine can't run this game well at the games' max resolution and framerate (even though the game only supports up to 1280x1024, that machine's poor old GeForce2 chugs at that resolution, though it runs well at 800x600, which is still higher than the console versions' resolution. Still, the game would run better on a newer machine, if you're lucky and it works for you. For me it won't, sadly. And checking the GOG Rayman forum, many people are unable to get Raymans 2 or 3 to work on modern PCs, so unfortunately this is far from a rare issue. I haven't seen any single prospective cause or solution either, and the few suggested do nothing for me. So, I can only run this on my old PC... ugh. I do have a few other early '00s games that won't work in Vista for various reasons, including Metal Gear Solid 2 Substance and Medieval: Total War, but it's always very frustrating, since you'd think things should still be compatible, and most games work. And on my older computer? Sure, it runs, but this game hates my dual-analog gamepad for some random reason. I remember it working fine with the gamepad I had back then, but with this very similar model the gamepad doesn't respond correctly and constantly stops responding entirely. Basically I'm forced to either use the keyboard or an old digital-pad-only gamepad, as it works just fine with my old Sidewinder Gamepad, no issues there, but neither of those solutions are good; you really, really need analog movement in a game like this, and this game expects you to have an analog stick for looking around as well! I did play the game some on the Sidewinder, but it's not ideal. For people who can run this on newer OSes there is a fanmade patch which may help get Vista or better working with pads, but it doesn't work on 9x, and it won't help the game run either so it's of no use to me.

But if you are one of the lucky ones for whom the game actually works, or if you buy a console version of the game, Rayman 3 is a very good linear-path-style 3d platformer. The game controls just like its predecessor, and looks VERY similar. The graphics are better this time as this is a newer game designed for 6th-gen consoles, not 5th-gen like Rayman 2 originally was, but comparing the two PC versions, this is just a small-ish step up; there are more polygons on screen for sure, but everything else is similar. The great art design returns but with new settings, so again I love the art design and visuals. The many new locations all look great, though I do like the original a little more overall -- it feels more original. The music is good too, but sound is perhaps a bit worse, as in the PS1 or PS2 versions of Rayman 2 all characters speak in English this time, but I kind of wish they didn't; I liked the squeaking noises and bits of intelligible language, with text boxes, of the original. That's all that is really needed for this kind of game. Cutscenes are also entirely unskippable, which can be annoying at times. Still, the game does look good, and plays well if you can get dual-analog gamepad support working. The game is also again lots of fun to play, as you explore mostly-linear levels, fighting enemies, solving simple puzzles, and doing Rayman 2-style activities such as more auto-moving speed sections, beam-riding levels a bit like Sonic Adventure, and such. The main gameplay addition are some costumes Rayman can find in specific powerups that give him new abilities such as upwards flight, shooting missiles, and such. These are fun, but you only use them in one area to solve that areas' puzzle, you can't keep the outfit. It's a small addition, but does add to the game.

Still, there just aren't many improvements here, and I like Rayman 2's levels, music, and art design a bit more than this games'; Rayman 2 does just about everything Rayman 3 does, but better. So, while I liked it, back in 2003 I lost interest in the game midway through and didn't finish it, quitting at an underwater boss. I still have that save file and got past that boss for this summary, but I quit a bit after that because playing without analog controls is frustrating. Still, Rayman 3 is a great game with good level designs, controls, and graphics. This is one of the better linear-path 3d platformers around. I love Rayman 2, and this games' design concept of "more Rayman 2" is a good thing. It is an unoriginal game that doesn't match Rayman 2's exceptional level of quality, though. Still, overall Rayman 3 is very good, and series and genre fans certainly should play it. Also on Playstation 2, Xbox, and Gamecube, and digitally for PC on GOG. Save yourself the frustration of trying to get it running on PC and buy one of the console versions; they will cost more, but will actually work for sure. I keep meaning to buy this on Gamecube sometime so I can actually play it again with good controls... I should do that.
 

Gurnlei

Member
There is one big downside to this game, though: currently I can't get it to run at all on my newer PC. I think it used to work, but somehow it won't anymore... bah! The game is still for sale on GOG, and checking there some people seem to be able to run it and others can't. Maybe it's a NVidia driver-version issue? Does it work better on AMD?

Hm, I ran it just fine a few years ago. I had a Radeon HD 6870/Phenom II 965 at the time. Didn't have to take any additional steps.
 

nkarafo

Member
I can't get used to the Sonic & Knuckles Collection soundtrack. Maybe it's nostalgia bias but the original is far superior.
 
Hm, I ran it just fine a few years ago. I had a Radeon HD 6870/Phenom II 965 at the time. Didn't have to take any additional steps.

When I try to run either Rayman 2 or Rayman 3 in Vista, nothing happens; they entirely refuse to start at all. The configuration programs work fine, to set graphics options and such, but the games themselves don't work, and no Windows compatibility options help in any way. If you're one of the luckier ones that's great, but looking at GOG's Rayman forum shows that I'm far from the only one with the se issues, unfortunately.

And you never know, what's the problem? I have Intel and NVidia, not ATI, does that matter? Have newer OSes fixed something from older ones? Or would the game not work for you anymore either due to who knows what? I don't know. I think at least one of those two games may have worked on this computer years ago...

I can't get used to the Sonic & Knuckles Collection soundtrack. Maybe it's nostalgia bias but the original is far superior.
It's not nostalgia, the Genesis version really does have a better soundtrack./ While I'd played some of the Genesis games, this PC version is the first one I owned, but I went back to it recently for this list, after years of only playing the Genesis games, and I could tell that the music was different, and not quite as good. It still sounds good, but it isn't at the Genesis's level. The other two Sonic games I covered, CD and 3D Blast, both have CD audio, so they have no such issues...
 
I actually finished a shorter update a bit over two weeks ago, but didn't post it on Neogaf (it was on my site, though) because of E3. So, there's a double update this time here.

As we have moved on to digital downloads, there are a bunch of indie titles released in the past five years in this update. That means I'll be covering much newer stuff, but it also means lots of annoying xinput-only-for-gamepads games. I recommend the program x360ce, it gets most games working with regular PC gamepads.


Titles Covered In This Update
--
2A. 2D Platformers - Digital Download

1001 Spikes (2014)
8BitBoy (2014)
Aaru’s Awakening (2015)
Adventures of Shuggy, The (2011)
Apotheon (2015)
BattleBlock Theater (2014)
BiT Evolution (2015)
Bleed (2012)
Camera Obscura (2015)
Capsized (2011)
Closure (2012)
Commander Keen Episode I: Marooned on Mars (1990)
Commander Keen Episode II: The Earth Explodes (1990)
Commander Keen Episode III: Keen Must Die (1990)
Commander Keen Episode IV: Secret of the Oracles (1991)
Commander Keen Episode V: The Armageddon Machine (1991)
Cosmo's Cosmic Adventure (1992)
Crystal Caves (1991)
Dangerous Dave Pack: Dangerous Dave in the Haunted Mansion (1991)
Dangerous Dave Pack: Dangerous Dave's Risky Rescue (1993)
Dangerous Dave Pack: Dave Goes Nutz (1993)
Dark Void Zero (2010)



1001 Spikes (2014, WinXP+) - 1 player, saves, gamepads supported (dinput supported). 1001 Spikes is an indie platformer from 2014 released as a digital download only. While the PC platformer was nearly dead for almost a decade, thanks to the growth of Steam over the later '00s, the platformer eventually had a renaissance, and this game, and most of the games in this section that aren't digital re-releases of DOS games, are examples of them. I have a fair number, but there are far more 2d platformers than this on Steam and other PC download storefronts now; 2d platformers, particularly ones with pixel sprite art like this one, are one of the more popular kinds of indie games. And indeed, as an extremely difficult indie platformer with pixel art, 1001 Spikes is quite unoriginal. What it is, however, is good, if you don't mind the crushing difficulty. This is a somewhat well-known game, for its good gameplay and high challenge, so I picked it up eventually. You are an adventurer guy, going through ancient temples looking for treasure as you follow your father's treasure map, or something like that; the plot doesn't matter much. The game has nice pixel art with tile-based visuals and small sprites that allow for you to see a long on each screen. Like a lot of these games, the vaguely "8-bit-ish" visuals have parallax scrolling that is pretty much impossible on a real NES and far too many colors for an actual NES, but the look does work. The music is good chiptune stuff, and I like it though it's not incredibly memorable.

The game controls quite well also. You move, attack with infinite throwing daggers for a weapon, and have two jumps, a lower and longer one on one button, and a higher and shorter one on another button. The controls are precise and responsive. The two different jumps are absolutely key to the game, as levels make heavy use of designs that require you to learn exactly which jump to use in each situation. Levels are short but quickly get excessively difficult. The game is broken up into worlds of 5 stages, and is only moderately long in terms of levels, but plenty long in terms of how long it'll take to finish. You have 1001 lives to get through the "1001 spikes" you will face, and you'll probably need a lot of them unless you are very good at games! Levels are only a few screens long each, so they are densely packed with challenges. The most omnipresent threat in this game are spikes, as the title suggests, but there are also many bottomless pits, invincible death-bolt-spitting statues, spikes that move back and forth on tracks, and even, once in a while, enemies you can actually fight such as scorpions. This is mostly an avoidance game, though, and levels are full of traps. You will die many times on each stage until you learn where the spikes will appear from the floor, which platforms will crumble under your feet as soon as you touch them, which stone faces will shoot at you once you get close, and more.

The game follows its strict rules, though, so it isn't unfair, just extremely difficult. You'll need good reflexes and perfect timing to survive, but it is satisfying to finally get through a hard level after dying many times. The life limit is a potential issue, though, as the game auto-saves after each time you die. This means that if you play badly and run out of lives befor the end, I presume you just have to start over... that would be awful. And the frustration factor can be high at times, in the harder stages particularly. I'm only in the third world in this game, but at times I've wanted to quit and never play it again because of how hard it is. Strill, I probably will return, because as hard as it is, 1001 Spikes plays very well, looks and sounds good, and is, overall, pretty good. I can see why the game was successful, it deserved it. I definitely recommend this game to anyone who likes masochistically hard games, is good at platformers and wants a challenge, or is bad at platformers and wants to suffer (or stream themselves on the internet dying repeatedly to hard games). Others may want to stay away, though; this game isn't going to be for everyone. Also playable on Steam on Mac and Linux. Also available digital-only on Wii U eShop, Nintendo 3DS eShop, Playstation 3 PSN, Playstation 4 PSN, PS Vita PSN, and Xbox One XBL.


8BitBoy (2014, WinXP+) - 1 player, saves, gamepads supported (dinput supported). 8BitBoy is an obscure indie PC platformer. Of the games in this update this is probably the most obscure, but it is good, even if it has some issues, as you might expect from an indie game mostly made by one guy. 8BitBoy is a very Mario-esque game, but it also takes inspiration from other platformers as well. You play as a unhappy 30-something guy who gets sucked in to his old 8-bit videogame console, so now you are in the game and have to escape! It's a new take on a classic story, and it works. I do find it amusing that the console looks like a Sega Master System 2, even though this game is very much Mario-inspired. On that note though, this game has a bit of an identity crisis -- the name and story make it sound 8-bit (3rd-gen), but the graphics are very much 4th-gen at minimum, as the game uses parallax scrolling and has lots more colors than you'll find on 8-bit consoles. Ah well. As for the interface and in-game manual, they remind me very much of an early '90s PC game, as you have an on-screen cursor and must click on things, and the manual is one of those flip-through-pages affairs, as in many shareware PC games then. There's a bit of everything here. The game does look nice, though. I like the sprite art, it's good stuff. The music is also great chiptune-style European techno, I like it a lot.

As for the gameplay, this is a tile-based platformer, so you run, jump, and fire-ball-shoot your way through many levels. The game controls decently, but controls are slippery, and not quite as precise as I might have liked. It gets even worse in the ice world, but even the rest of the time, jumps can be difficult Level designs are good. This isn't too complex of a game, and like Super Mario Bros. it has 8 worlds of 4 stages, but there is also an exploration component, as there are coins and powerups all over. The main path through a level is usually a little easier, with tough side areas all around to entice you into tougher situations. It's a good design which I like. This game is a fair challenge and will definitely be difficult to complete, but it's not one of those super-hard modern indie platformers, thankfully; I've never loved the ultra-hard games, a reasonably tough but approachable game like this is better. There aren't checkpoints in each level, but levels are not so long that this is a problem. Your challenge in each level is to figure out the best way through, while getting what you can along the way. The game has both a normal mode with autosaves after each level or a mode where you can only save if you find a special coin hidden in each stage. The choice of either is great to have. Overall, this is a fun game with decent graphics and good music. I like trying to find all the hidden stuff in each level, that's fun. However, the controls do hold the game back, they aren't as precise as they should be. The interface also is slow, when using a pad why can't you just select options instead of having to drag that cursor around? This game has some issues that clearly come from its tiny, inexperienced team. Still, 8BitBoy is a game platformer fans might want to check out. It's above average, fun stuff. Digital release only.


Aaru’s Awakening (2015, WinXP+) - 1 player, saves, gamepads supported (dinput supported). Aaru's Awakening is an indie platformer with good visuals and art design, unique gameplay, and a very high difficulty level. Modern indie platformers with good art don't always have the best gameplay, as finding a good artist seems to be easier than a good game designer, and indeed this game does have some issues. I like that they tried something different, though, that's better than making yet another game like all the others. So, you play as Aaru, a beast serving the Dawn god. Apparently Dawn, Day, Dusk, and Night are four brothers in this fantasy world, and they had a war over who should rule the planet in the past. Now they share the day, but something's going on and you have been sent to Night to figure out what. To get there you need to travel through all four lands, though. Each land is only made up of a few levels, so this is a short game, but it makes up for it with the steep difficulty and high learning curve.

The controls are kind of odd and unique. This game uses dual sticks or mouse and keyboard, and while the controls are re-configurable to a point, there are limits. You move with the arrow keys or left analog stick and aim with the mouse or right analog stick. This is confusing because you face the direction you are aiming, not looking, and when moving 'backwards' you move more slowly, can't jump quite right, etc, so you need to reverse both sticks, or move the mouse and hit the other direction, to turn around. I do not like this. You can also jump and charge, and the charge is both an attack and your double jump. Now, on pad, these can be on one button; tap once to jump, second time to charge, or with an xinput controller it supports analog triggers for jump and charge as well. On keyboard though, you need to use two buttons, one to jump and the other to charge; map them to the same thing and you'll just charge, and won't jump first. This is pretty hard to get used to, to say the least. Your other main ability is this orb you can shoot out and then teleport to. If you teleport into a monster you'll kill it, and this is your only way to defeat foes. Teleporting is also heavily used in puzzles. This is always on two buttons (it defaults to the right shoulder and trigger buttons on pad), on pad or keyboard, so as with jumping you need to get used to hitting one button to shoot out the orb, then hit a different button once it gets to the point you want to warp to. Hitting shoot again shoots a new orb. If you hold the shoot button down you shoot a more slowly-moving shot, tap it and it's fast. The games' levels are designed around the teleport and charge maneuvers, and you will need to get very good at using them in hazardous situations where you can and will die any moment. Touching most hazards or any enemy is instant death and enemy shots kill you in two hits if you get hit in quick succession, so you die quickly in this game. There is no health bar, the screen just goes weird a bit after you get hit with a nonlethal attack. If you're in safety you will recover back to normal a moment later, but it's still very easy to die. Fortunately levels do have many checkpoints, but by the second worlds' boss I was getting frustrated.

So, is the game good? Well, it's interesting, but I don't love this game. On gamepad, the heavily shoulder button-centric controls aren't good; I do not like platformers that rely on the shoulder buttons a lot, they aren't as fast to press as face buttons are. And you have no choice here, you need to use both sticks. And on mouse and keyboard, the confusing multi-button layout is hard to get used to. And even beyond that, levels in this game are designed to kill you unless you do the exact right thing, and you often have little time to do it in. On the whole Aaru's Awakening has nice 2d graphics and I like the originality, but I don't think I will be going back to this one much. Still, some will definitely like this game, so try it out if it sounds interesting. Also playable on Steam on Mac and Linux. Also available digital-only on Playstation 3 PSN, Playstation 4 PSN, and Xbox One XBL.


Adventures of Shuggy, The (2011, WinXP+) - 1 player, saves, gamepad supported (xinput only). The Adventures of Shuggy, from Smudged Cat Games, is a nonviolent, avoidance and collection-based puzzle-platformer with small, focused levels and simple but challenging gameplay. This is a decent but somewhat average game. The sprite-art is decent but nothing too memorable. The game has a somewhat Flash-like look, instead of the pixel-art of many other indie platformers. I've never cared for Flash graphics, so this game looks kind of bland, though the art design is decent cartoony stuff. Levels and backgrounds look fairly simple, with various dungeons and halls and the like. The graphics and tech here are basic stuff. Shuggy himself is a little purple vampire thing, though given your complete inability to ever attack anything, he must be one weak vampire. As for the audio, the music is decent, but forgettable. The controls are simple: one button jumps, and the other is an action button that does various things depending on the stage. Shuggy has okay controls, though there is some momentum to your movement so you won't stop the moment you let go of the button. It's okay but takes some getting used to. And for another negative, there is only support for xinput controllers, which is a pain; I haven't gotten around to setting up a dinpu emulator for this one, but fortunately it plays okay on keyboard. There also are few options, only one fullscreen resolution available, and no way to reconfigure the controls. So yeah, this game has some interface issues.

The game is worth playing despite that, though, as when you do get into it, you'll find The Adventures of Shuggy a very tough, and somewhat original, game. Most levels in this game are a single screen; though some do scroll a bit, levels are always small and focused. Your goal is to collect all of the green gems in each stage in order to win. Stages are made up of platforms, and there are those gems to get, enemies to avoid, and switches to hit in each level. Some switches activate by touching them while you've got to stand on others to keep them active. This game starts out easy, but the puzzles get very challenging as you progress, and the game keeps mixing things up with new ideas. There are a lot of levels in this game, but despite that there's a good amount of variety. Some levels are just basic stages, but many others have a gimmick, and there area good number of these. Some include stages with a grappling rope to use, ones where you have several Shuggies you switch between with the action button, and more. One of the trickier stage types are these ones with a timer. Each time the timer runs out, you keep control of Shuggy, but a new ghost Shuggy will follow the path you followed on the timers' previous course. Each time it goes around another Shuggy is added, and the trick is, if you touch a ghost Shuggy you die, start the stage over! Yes, these stages get hard, but it is satisfying to get one right. Overall, The Adventures of Shuggy is a decent puzzle-platformer with some good gameplay, but bland design and sometimes iffy controls. I also sometimes wished that I could just fight back against the baddies... ah well. This is an alright, game anyway, though, and it is average at least, maybe better. The game does get frustrating at times, but it's also rewarding enough to return to and keep trying. Puzzle platformer fans should check it out. The game is Mac and Linux compatible on Steam.


Apotheon (2015, WinXP+) - 1-2 player simultaneous (with 2 gamepads only, 2 player mode is a battle mode only), 1-8 player online battle mode, saves, gamepad supported (xinput only). Apotheon is a somewhat "Metroidvania"-styled platform-action game with very nice graphics, but fairly simple gameplay. This game has a very cool Greek vase-art visual style, and that looks great. You and the enemies are black forms on a colored background. The visual look is unique, and the game looks really good. There is a light and shadow system too, for torches and the like. and the game looks really nice. The music's simple but good. The story, however, is, unfortunately, generic modern drivel -- this is one of the many edgy modern "go kill the Olympian Gods" / "Ancient Greek Apocalypse & Kill the Gods" stories, like God of War, NyxQuest, parts of the Clash of the Titans reboot movie from several years ago (though that didn't go as far with this as these others here), the last season of Xena, etc. As a history major, all of these stories are COMPLETELY stupid and totally miss the point of what Greek mythology existed for, how the Greek gods acted in their stories, etc, etc. I know the apocalypse is one of gaming's favorite subjects, whether it's a zombie one, nuclear one, or what have you, but still, no, I greatly dislike these stories, they get the myths so badly wrong! And having to kill the Greek gods is cruel, too... they should not be evil. Callous, sure, but not evil. "Zeus got tired of humanity and decided to kill everyone, so kill gods to save the world"? That is a bad story.

As for the gameplay, it's better than the story, but I don't like this game much, so I guess I go against consensus with this one. Apotheon is a combat-heavy action-platformer, and fighting is the main thing you will be doing. That's okay, but the controls have issues, and are bad on mouse and keyboard; the game was designed for a pad. This is a dual-stick game, and you move with the right stick, and aim with the left. Beyond that the controls are configurable, but finding a good layout may be difficult, with how you need to use both sticks, the face buttons, and the shoulder buttons all at the same time. It's asking a bit much; dual-stick controls work in a run & gun, but in this? No thanks. On keyboard and mouse it uses WASD for movement and the mouse for aiming. You attack and switch weapons in the current category with the mouse, while the other controls are all over the keyboard. But either way, the controls are imprecise and flawed. You don't stop moving until a moment after you stop pressing the button. The jumping controls are awkward and are as unresponsive as the movement controls. The 'pulling yourself up to a platform' animation looks really dumb, too; it looks more like you just hover up the side of the wall, rather than grabbing on or something. Aiming is imprecise too, and you will miss ranged attack shots.

As janky as the gamepad controls are, though, keyboard and mouse are worse! On pad, when you aren't touching the right stick and aren't attacking, you can move around normally. If you attack or touch the aim stick you lock in the direction you are facing until the attack animation finishes or you let go of the stick; yes, this can be a problem. But on mouse, you basically are "pressing the stick" all the time, so pressing right when you are moving left will make you back up slowly, not actually turn around. To turn around, you need to move the mouse the other way, which is awful! You need to relearn platformer controls to play games with this control scheme, like this or Aaru's Awakening, but even if you do, it's awkward. I understand how being able to move one direction while you attack in another can be useful, but far more often in this game I'm clumsily trying to attack enemies behind me, which is harder than it should be since you can't just turn around and attack them while they move around you. So the pad controls, flawed as they are, are the way to go.

Beyond that, this game is mostly straightforward -- go to the places the map marks out, kill whatever's there, talk to people and then maybe kill them, and destroy everything in sight to collect the powerups. There are a bunch of types of things collect, including armor and shield upgrades, a whole lot of different types of weapons, some melee and some ranged, and more. The weapon variety is a strength here. Level graphics look great, but layouts are mostly simple. This is a combat-first game, but there is platforming eventually, apparently, and the iffy controls hold the game back there. I imagine that you eventually get powers to use in other areas of the world as well, as usual in Metroidvanias, but I didn't get that far. I didn't help that I ran into a game-ending but that keeps you from progressing past the end of the first area -- Hera doesn't move to let you enter that fire or whatever, you're just stuck there, try again from the beginning and hope it works. No, I don't want to start over... fix your bugs! Oh, as for the multiplayer, it's a versus battle mode only; the main game is 1 player. I haven't tried it, but it's a good feature to have for sure. Overall, Apotheon is a really nice-looking game with average at best gameplay, flawed controls, and a bad story. It's disappointing. Digital download only. Also playable on Steam on Mac and Linux. Also available digitally on PS4 PSN.
 
BattleBlock Theater (2014, WinXP+) - 1-2 player simultaneous, 1-4 player online, saves, gamepad supported (xinput only). BattleBlock Theater is the third game from the The Behemoth, the team that also brought you Castle Crashers and Alien Hominid. This game is quite different from his previous titles, but in terms of gameplay, this one might be my favorite The Behemoth game! It's a lot of fun. The artist behind all three games, Dan Paladin, started out making games for Newgrounds in the early '00s, and that is where I first found his work. I covered the Gamecube version of Alien Hominid in that Game Opinion Summaries list; it's a good game, but very difficult to the point of frustration. It's a run & gun not nearly at Metal Slug's level. The second game, Castle Crashers, is a solidly fun fantasy-themed isometric beat 'em up. It's a good game, though it isn't one of the best in the genre. This third game changes genres again, this time to, you guessed it, a 2d platformer! Now, Dan Paladin's art is cartoon-styled, but one signature element of all of his previous games are that they are quite bloody affairs. previous games are all quite bloody affairs. This time, however, there's no blood to be found, which is a bit weird for one of his games. The game looks great, though, and I really like the art design. The sprites are large and detailed, and levels, while clearly made up of tiles, look good. There's a good variety of obstacles, too. The music isn't amazing, but it's solid, entertaining stuff. Story-wise, the game is a somewhat dark comedy. You are in a bad spot: during a voyage, your (literal) S. S. Friendship, a ship full of you and your friends, is attacked, and you and your friends are all kidnapped by these jerk villain cats and put in their prison! Now you are all alone, and have to restore the Friend Ship by escaping the enemy prison and finding all of your friends. The game has an announcer who says silly or insulting things, depending on how you are doing, and he does add to the game. The game also has some character customization, as your titular block-person can be customized with various outfits and looks for your weapons, and you can buy more with the collectibles you find in the levels.

The gameplay is pretty good as well. This is a simple, straightforward platformer, and your goal in each stage is to get to the end while collecting some stuff along the way if you want. The controls are great and respond very well, and you'll stop right when you should. You can move, jump and double jump, throw an explosive attack, and grab onto things, for your main commands. You can stand on enemies, and they won't go down with one hit; you'll need to punch them into a pit or spikes or something, or hit them with the exploding bomb and have it explode, to take down foes. So, unlike a Mario, you don't face lots of enemies at once here; a few is a good threat. There are some more less-useful buttons, mostly for multiplayer, though, including a "help" button. Indeed, this game has been designed with two player co-op or versus play in mind, and is a fun multiplayer game. Again this game is tile-based, and obstacles include spikes, slimy walls you slide down slowly, exploding blocks, teleporters, cannons you can't defeat, and such. There are also blocks you can grab, blocks you can pass through to find secrets, and water pits which you can cross with boats. The 'splashing in the water to pull the boat towards you' animation is amusing. Levels are generally linear, but along the way there are seven gems and a hidden yarn ball to find, and another bonus mark if you finish within a strict time limit. Finding everything usually isn't too hard, but it is fun; the levels here are great, though the good mechanics help as well. Also, some of those yarn balls are hidden well, and getting the time reward your first time through a level is unlikely. There is also an exploration element to each stage if you want all the collectibles: they are often hidden, and you'll need to figure out what to do to get to them. Level designs are good, and this game is pretty fun to play.

The difficulty level feels just right, too. This game is much easier than an Alien Hominid, and more forgiving too -- it saves after each level you beat, no limited continues or anything. The can gets tough as you get farther into it, and getting everything can be tricky, but it's not oppressively hard, just challenging enough to be fun. And in addition to the campaign, there is also a level editor included for if you want to make your own levels. The game has two player co-op in the campaign as well, which is great, and versus mode as well. The online battle mode is fun stuff too, I tried some. You fight in small battle arenas, and there are a bunch of modes. The basic mode has you trying to do more damage to the other person than they do to you in a 2-minute time limit, but there are more if you get into it. Overall, BattleBlock Theater is a pretty good platformer with good graphics and controls, good levels, an amusing sense of humor, a robust feature set, and generally good gameplay. It's certainly recommended. A not-gory game from the guy behind the Newgrounds Flash title "Chainsaw the Children", and it's probably his best work! Who'd have thought? Digital-only release. This game is Mac and Linux compatible through Steam. Also available digitally only for Xbox 360 XBLA.


BiT Evolution (2015, WinXP+) - 1 player, saves, gamepads supposedly supported (xinput only, can't get it to work for me). BiT Evolution is a clever and simple pixel-art indie platformer. You play as a ball from Pong, somehow escaped from your game and travelling through Atari, Game Boy, NES, and SNES-themed worlds. Your ball starts out with only a jump, but you get an action button as well once you reach the second world; the Atari 2600 has only one button, after all. Controls are responsive, but unfortunately the gamepad support is broken unless you have actual X360 or X1 controllers, for some inexplicable reason. The game claims to support xinput controllers, but unlike with most games, x360ce doesn't work with it. That's annoying. If you also have this issue use Joytokey or somesuch, gamepad controls are essential in this kind of game if you want decent controls! Visually, I like the game. The art design is good sprite-art stuff. Each world has better graphics than the system that inspired it could do, with a much higher resolution here than any of those systems and more, but they do try to at least keep some recognizable traits of the system's graphics in mind, such as the bands of color in Atari graphics. The chiptune music's decent, but in the Atari level it can be hear-hurting at times... though that's just being representative of Atari 2600 music, so it fits.

As for the gameplay, your goal is to reach the end of each level. Each stage has 20 'pixel' pickups to find, and finding them all can be pretty tricky. That counter is the only indicator on screen, though, as you have infinite lives and there is no clock. Well, you have infinite lives, but with a twist: when you die in the main world of each level, you go to a green-and-black sub-world made up of ones, zeroes, and red enemies. From here, if you find a portal you return to a set point in the overworld, but if you die here, you return to the last checkpoint you reached. Checkpoints are only in the overworld, there are none in the sub-world. The sub world' layout is inspired by the otherworld, but it is different. The game often requires you to die in the overworld in order to progress. That's different. If you just want to finish the stages this game is only a moderate challenge, but finding all of the pixels in each level is harder. Finding them all involves carefully searching throughout every segment of both the overworld and sub-world, looking for those dots, as the connections between the two planes quickly get somewhat mazelike. It's an interesting concept, and the game executes on it fairly well. Trying to find everything in a stage can be fun. This isn't a hugely long game, but there is enough here to last a decent while, particularly if you want to find all of the collectibles. I do kind of wish that you could do the four worlds out of order, instead of having to finish each to reach the next, and the broken gamepad support is a problem, but otherwise BiT Evolution is an above average to good little game. This is fun stuff, check it out if you like platformers. Digital only release.


Bleed (2012, WinXP+) - 1 player, saves, gamepad supported (xinput only). Bleed is an okay dual-stick-style indie run & gun action game with pixel-art graphics and chiptune-style music. You play as Wryn, a young woman who wants to kill all the old heroes and thus become a hero, or something, though how killing heroes makes you one makes no sense at all. So yeah, you're killing people who aren't evil, so I guess you're the bad guy? Dumb... I'd rather be the goodguy, not the other way around. Ah well. This game has bland homebrew-game sprite-art graphics, too; this is obviously not a professional title. The gameplay here is a bit like the other dual-stick games on this list, but with guns, and completely independent moving and aiming. For actions you can triple jump, slow down time, and fire. While I still greatly prefer traditional controls to this, this is at least better than something like Apotheon, since here you can move any way you want regardless of where you are aiming. Still, though, on a gamepad aiming will be imprecise due to the limitations of analog sticks. I also really dislike that the jumping controls are on the shoulder buttons, but with both sticks always in use this is unavoidable, unfortunately. So, again unlike Apotheon, the better way to play this game is with mouse and keyboard. There you move and jump with WASD and Space, and aim, fire, slow down time, and switch weapons on the mouse. Mouse aiming really is the way to go for this game! Even on keyboard the controls have some issues, though. While movement controls are responsive, jumping is difficult with either control scheme because of how your triple jump works: the first jump is normal, but the latter two are boost-jumps. Those boost jumps go in the movement direction you are pressing when you hit jump again, and this is odd and takes getting used to. It does work, and gives you great mobility, but it's tricky to get boost-jump movements right. Jumping is crucial to survival here, so the controls hold this game back.

In terms of gameplay, levels are fairly short but action-packed. Levels each have a different theme, and there are trap areas, falling rocks, and more to avoid, or shoot. You have infinite lives, from the beginning of the current section, but you'll need them as getting through some can be tough, particularly at harder difficulties. The bosses are challenging as well. This game isn't as tightly designed or precise as a Contra or Metal Slug, though; you have a health bar in this game, and it's essential because you'll take a lot of hits. Between the somewhat tricky controls and the volume of enemy fire, you will take hits. That slow-down-time ability helps here, somewhat. It is tied to a meter which refills when not in use. It's very useful, but only if you already know level and enemy patterns, so memorization is important -- it's easy to be in a place where you can't avoid damage because you didn't jump almost before a boss's attack even began. Yeah, you take borderline-unfair hits sometimes. There is also two-player support, for both co-op or a versus battle mode; it's local only, no online, but the co-op support is welcome. Beyond that though, this is mostly a straightforward game -- try to avoid the shots, while shooting the enemies. There are no collectibles in stages, and the only unlockables are a few alternate characters to unlock when you beat the game on certain difficulty settings. Bleed is okay, but I have issues with the controls in dual-stick sidescrollers, shoulder buttons (or the spacebar) for jump are no good, and I sometimes find it hard to both move and aim at the same time. The story and graphics also aren't great. Still, Bleed is a fast-paced game with challenge and some decent fun to be had, so while I don't love the game and I'm not sure if it was really worth getting, it might be worth trying if you think you would like it. Digital only release. The game is Linux compatible on Steam. There is also an Xbox 360 digital-only release in the Xbox Live Indie Games store; note that Microsoft has announced that the XBLIG store will be shut down in September 2017.


Camera Obscura (2015, WinXP+) - 1 player, saves, gamepad supported (xinput only). Camera Obscura is an indie puzzle-platformer with pixel-art graphics and one idea that it executes fairly well. In this game, you play as a female photographer, climbing an abandoned tower for reasons explained only in text boxes. The tone of the game, and the world it is set in, are distinctly unhappy, but the gameplay is mostly good. You can run and jump as usual, though the controls are floaty and you don't stop moving until a moment after you let go of the button, unfortunately; this does make the puzzles unnecessarially harder, though it's not too bad. The key feature here is your camera, though. The camera creates a white outline of all rock or stone platforms on screen that then moves around as you move for a second after taking the photo. Once set, you can then move on the outline as if they were normal platforms, for several more seconds until the image disappears. You can also force the current photo to go away with a button. There are also other substances you cannot take photos of, such as metal. So, the puzzles in this game are all about how you can move around those outlines in order to reach otherwise inaccessible platforms. After a little while you start to figure out the timing for how to get the platform-images where you need them to progress -- jump then hit camera and over to drop a platform, hit camera then over and jump to raise one, and such. It's a clever and unique idea, and I don't think I've seen it before in a game. That is all this game has, though: the graphics are extremely bland and simple, and there is nothing more to the gameplay than that. There is no combat, and you can avoid killing anything, though it is possible to lure baddies into pits through camera usage. Still, it's a cool mechanic, and I do like the gameplay.

In addition to just trying to beat each stage, there are also many text pages of character and world backstory to find, and you can try to get medals by making it through levels with a minimum of camera-flashes used. There's also a timer for each stage, for speedrunning. This is a short game, but these features do add some replay value. As for those graphics, the pixel art here is basic stuff; this game could well have been made in Game Maker or something, and the background and environment art is maybe not even as good as PC platformers from the late '90s. Your character sprite looks better, though she's quite androgynous looking; without the text boxes I couldn't tell what gender you are. And enemies look the same as the rest. The music is pretty good, though. It's all atmospheric stuff, and I think it fits this lone quest through a ruined tower well. The music is definitely the best thing about this games' presentation, though the story is decently interesting as well. It is a bit depressing, but it fits. Overall, Camera Obscura is okay to good. The graphics aren't good, the controls aren't as tight as they could be, and the game has no variety, but the unique concept shines through, and the levels are fun to figure your way through. Exploring them more to find the pages and for optimum routes that minimize camera usage is fun as well. Definitely try Camera Obscura if you like puzzle-platformers. Digital only release.


Capsized (2011, WinXP+) - 1 player, saves, dual analog gamepad supported (xinput only). Capsized is yet another 2d dual-stick or keyboard+mouse platform-action game, and it's got a physics system too, another popular modern indie game feature. You move with one stick or the keyboard and aim and shoot with the mouse or other stick. The game recommends you play with the keyboard and mouse for the best controls. You can play with a pad, but the lacking precision in aiming really makes the game harder. Indeed, mouse aiming definitely is best for this title, it's much more precise. Of the mouse-and-keyboard platformers so far this one controls the best, though I still do prefer traditional platformers. In additon to shooting and jumping, you also have a jetpack with limited fuel, for flying some, and a grabber gun which creates a beam that can move objects around. The game heavily utilizes both mechanics, so you spend most of this game on shooting, traversal, and moving objects around.

The story here is that you are a spaceman stranded on a wild, dangerous planet after your spaceship was attacked. You need to escape this place. This is a linear game, though, so it's focused on setting up interesting challenges for you to figure out your way past. I prefer this kind of design to open-world, myself; it allows each situation to be carefully designed. Capsized's gameplay is a mixture of shooting things, mostly monsters, giant insects, living plants, and the like, and moving things with your grab-beam and moving them to places where you can use them to progress, defeat enemies, and such. The world looks nice, and I like the lush environments and slightly odd creatures, even if all you are doing is fighting them; the puzzle elements don't involve interaction with others, but dragging rocks around and the sort. Overall, Capsized is an okay to good platform-action game with puzzle elements. It can be fun, but isn't amazing. The art is decent to good, though the character art can be a little weird, moving around can be fun, and the action is alright. Capsized is worth a look. Digital download only.


Closure (2011) - 1 player, saves, gamepads supported (dinput supported). Closure is another indie puzzle-platformer with very nice, original greyscale-only artwork. So yes, of the pixel-art v. hand-drawn divide in 2d indie platformers, this is in the latter group. Indeed, the game has quite good art design. The all black, white, and greyscale artwork is unique, as is the concept: the screen is almost all black, except for areas lit up by spotlights or light orbs, and only lit areas exist. So, you can jump right through the space that wall in front of you is in if you just don't light it up. The game makes clever use of this light-and-darkness mechanic, and the designer came up with some tricky puzzles for sure. As with many indie games this game sticks to its concept and does not have variety, but when you have a good idea and execute it well, that's just fine. The game controls well, too, as the controls are responsive and work as well as needed for this kind of game. This is not a precision platformer, but you do do a lot of jumping and it controls fine. This isn't a particular long game I believe, though, and there is only limited replay value if you wish to go back and find the few collectibles, but it's an interesting and thought-provoking trip the first time through.

The game makes you think for several reasons, too. The first, obviously, are the puzzles. You will turn spotlights, carry around light orbs and place them so you can jump through obstacles, put orbs on auto-moving tracks then follow the moving light in time, push boxes, and more. The screen is often dark, so when a larger area lights up it really stands out. The game starts out easy and levels are initially short, but level length and complexity ramps up as you progress. Capsized has a good difficulty curve to it, and there are three different main areas to play through, so if you get stuck in one you can go play one of the others. That's a great option to have! Story-wise, this game is dark and weird, as well as vague and confusing. You play as this octopus-ish demon thing, and also these three people in the three main areas, a miner man, a young woman, and a little girl. Their stories are somewhat dark, as expected from the general tone of this game, but all cutscenes are wordless and aren't fully explained, so the exact meaning of the game is open to interpretation. I don't mind that, and the gameplay and characters are interesting enough to get me to keep playing to see what I think. Throughout, the shadowy graphics, the discordant sounds of the strange soundtrack, and slow-paced puzzle gameplay make for an unsettling experience. I, at least, find it unsettling more ina good way than bad, though. If you're up for that, though, and you should be because this game is pretty good, Closure is well worth a play. This game is a good-looking, unique puzzle-platformer which is well worth experiencing. Digital only release. The game is Mac and Linux compatible on Steam. Also available digital-only on Playstation 3 PSN.


Commander Keen Episode I: Marooned on Mars (1990, DOS)
Commander Keen Episode II: The Earth Explodes (1990, DOS)
Commander Keen Episode III: Keen Must Die (1990, DOS)
Commander Keen Episode IV: Secret of the Oracles (1991, DOS) - I covered these four amazing games from id Software and published by Apogee already in the category earlier for games I own physical copies of, so go read my summaries of these incredible classics there! They're some of the best platformers on the PC. The games have physical releases from 1990-1991, and also is available digitally on Steam and on 3D Realms' website. I have Keens I to V for both Steam and 3D Realms' site. Both are the same core games of course, though there are a few DOSBox differences between them. Either is fine, though oddly for some insane reason Steam and 3DR both seem to have decided that the game should run in 16:9, so everything is all stretched. You will need to change the DOSBox settings manually to run in the correct aspect ratio, which everyone who plays any Keen game should do before playing. You also may need to fix the joystick support in DOSBox options, it didn't work for me by default.
 
Commander Keen Episode V: The Armageddon Machine (1991, DOS) - 1 player, saves, gamepads supported. Commander Keen V is the only Keen game that I did not own or play any of in the '90s. This game is the second half Commander Keen: The Universe is Toast, so it's a sequel to Secret of the Oracles. Though Keen VI: Aliens ate my Babysitter was the last Keen game released and is the last one in the story, it had to be finished earlier for its retail release, so this was actually the final Keen episode programmed, though story-wise it is fifth. This time Keen has to stop the Armageddon Machine before it destroys the universe! The gameplay here is standard Keen, with game and level design closer to Keen VI than IV, though all three are quite similar. The controls, gameplay, and visual look is the same as Keens IV and VI, though as with all Keen games the setting and enemies are unique to this title. The Armageddon Machine is a giant ship, so as with the first Keen game, the second game in the trilogy is set on a giant spaceship, while the first and third are on planets. There's some nice symmetry there. The cartoony graphical style makes for a very different game from Keen 2, though, and it all looks fantastic! The graphical design is top-quality stuff as always. Keen games all have a great sense of place and cool, varied enemies to interact with. The memorable art designs in this series are one of many reasons people love it. And the soundtrack is really good too, just as it is in the previous two games. Structurally, the game plays just like Keens IV and VI, as you would expect. The overworld map's design is somewhat like Aliens Ate My Babysitter, in that it's mostly linear and you collect items which allow you to progress past points on the map. I think I prefer the more open overworlds of the first four games over the more linear ones of the last two, as if you get stuck in a level it's fun to have other ones to play instead. As in Keen VI though this game does have many points with multiple stages to try, though, so you aren't always locked onto one level. The games' length is average for the series as well.

In gameplay, the controls are near-perfect as always. Learning how Keen jumps, and then the bouncing and slower turning of the pogo stick, are the keys to the game, and using those tools well is incredibly fun. The pogo stick is a particularly great idea, and is essential throughout. The responsive, very well-programmed controls are another strength of this fantastic but too-short-lived series. Your actions are standard for the series. You will be running, shooting, jumping and bounching through challenging platforming levels, collecting lots of stuff for points as you make your way to the exit in each stage. There will be many switches and keys to hit as you explore the stages, so levels are large and complex. Keen V has more incredible level designs to figure out; the levels here are every bit as great as those in IV and VI. As always it's incredibly hard to choose which game I like most when all of them are this amazing! Level designs in general are great, with designs that are complex but not confusing so you won't get lost, a lot of setting variety between stages, lots of tricky but fun jumping puzzles, switches to hit, moving platform gaps to get past, and more. And as before, I love how this series always has temptingly difficult-to-get point items sitting around the stages, there for you to get if you want to either have a better score or just feel like you've accomplished more of the game. The latter is the bigger draw for me, I think. You die in one hit like always here, and have limited ammo for your gun, so the choice to explore will lead to many deaths, but it's usually worth it. Even if it leads to occasional frustration though I am often drawn in to exploring in Keen games, as the great level designs reward it, and this game is no exception. You will die a lot, sure, but Keen games are almost never unfair or cheap; when you die, it's either bcause you messed up, or because you ran ahead without being careful and were hit by something you probably could have seen if you were a bit more cautious. For example, enemies move in predictable patterns, you can look up and down, bottomless pits are telegraphed, not sprung on you, and tougher areas and levels are often obviously marked as such.

So, overall, Commander Keen v: The Armageddon Machine is a really fantastic game, the last of what still is one of the best platformer series ever released for the PC. It's really too bad that after Wolfenstein 3D ID became id and decided to never make another game like this again, because in the two short years they released platformers, they made some of the best. The Commander Keen series is an absolute must-play series for anyone who likes platformer games at all. This isn't my favorite Keen game, because of nostalgia and the too-linear world design, but the levels, graphics, music, and gameplay are all as great as anything in this series, and I love that I'm finally able to play this, after wondering for all those years in the '90s what Keen V was like. It's fantastic. I have Keens I to V for both Steam and 3D Realms' site. Both are the same core games of course, though there are a few DOSBox differences between them. Either is fine, though oddly for some insane reason Steam and 3DR both seem to have decided that the game should run in 16:9, so everything is all stretched. You will need to change the DOSBox settings manually to run in the correct aspect ratio, which everyone who plays any Keen game should do before playing. You also may need to fix the joystick support in DOSBox options, it didn't work for me by default.


Cosmo's Cosmic Adventure (1992, DOS) - 1 player, saves, gamepads supported. Cosmo's Cosmic Adventure is another Apogee platformer, and it's a pretty good one. You're this cartoon-style alien guy called Cosmo, a green thing with suction cups for hands. This game is Apogee's attempt at a somewhat more Mario-like platformer, as while most Apogee games have projectile attacks, here you mostly kill enemies by jumping on their heads. Cosmo can also drop bombs which will kill enemies near where they explode, but jumping on enemies is your main attack. This game is a fairly standard, level-based platformer. As in the Duke Nukem games but unlike other Apogee titles, this is a linear game where you go from each level to the next, there isn't a hub world. The character design and most of the gameplay is fairly family-friendly, but there is some weird stuff particularly in the later episodes. The art design is good and has a lot of variety, though, and the environments look appropriately alien. The game has parallax scrolling too, impressively for an early '90s PC game, though the 16-color EGA graphics hold it back versus SNES or Genesis games. The very low framerate holds Cosmo back as well. Like Duke Nukem, Cosmo runs at a very low, barely double-digit framerate. The game controls well, so Cosmo is very responsive and moves exactly as you tell him, but it is choppy. You do get used to the sluggish, choppy pace, but for me at least playing these games now it never feels natural, I'm always wishing it would just run full speed. The Commander Keen games run much more smoothly than this, which really shows John Carmack's programming skill. Aurally, the game has PC Speaker only audio, unfortunately, so there are only Keen 1-3-like sound effects and no music. This is okay, but sound card support would have been nice.

As for the levels, Cosmo's Cosmic Adventure has a nice mix of stages. Over the course of the three episodes the difficulty ramps up on a nice curve, so the first, shareware, episode isn't too hard, but starting from episode 2 the difficulty goes up. Cosmo has three hit points, but it's easy to die thanks to the many enemies and bottomless pits. Fortunately you can look up and down, and looking down particularly is extremely useful at times, to save you from some blind jumps. However, it can sometimes be hard to tell what you can jump on and what you can't as backgrounds get very busy sometimes, though you can tell if you're looking closely as anything you can jump on won't move with the parallax background. Dying starts the current level over, but you do have infinite lives and can save at any time, though you will restart from the beginning of the current level. As you might expect, levels are littered with items to collect for points. There are also health-up items and more, but most pickups give you points. Some are on the main path and other on alternate routes, and sometimes collecting stuff is fun, but when the game gets harder I sometimes just want to the end. The challenge of beating the levels is satisfying, though, and with three decent-length episodes to play through there's a good amount of game here. I like the focused, straightforward level designs, it's nice to see something different from the other more exploration-focused platformers Apogee published.

Overall I really like Cosmo's Cosmic Adventure. Apogee was the best shareware developer, and this game is a good example of why! Playing it for this summary I've had a lot of fun. This is a nice-looking game with good controls, gameplay, level designs, and graphics. The audio is basic and the framerate low, but otherwise Cosmo is a good game definitely worth playing.This game is shareware, so the first episode is available free while you pay for the rest of it. The game has a physical release from 1992, and also is available digitally on Steam and on 3D Realms' website. I have the 3DR site version, and it's mostly good, though you will need to change the DOSBox settings manually to run in the correct aspect ratio; for some very odd reason they chose to have it default to filling the screen, even though this 4:3 game should only be played at that ratio.


Crystal Caves (1991, DOS) - 1 player, saves, gamepads supported. Crystal Caves is another Apogee title. This is one of the titles developed by Apogee itself, not another developer. You're a miner guy in a helmet exploring caves full of crystals, as the name suggests. This is a collection-focused platformer with some puzzle elements at times. The game has small sprites and levels that only take up a couple of screens each, a bit like an expanded version of Apogee's CGA titles I will cover later, Pharaoh's Tomb, Monuments of Mars, and Arctic Adventure. Unlike those games though, Crystal Caves has EGA graphics and faster, more complex gameplay, as it isn't designed to run on early '80s computers like they are. The game looks okay, but its art design is fairly average for Apogee, and the small sprites don't look like much. Each enemy, obstacle, or background element looks different, but this is game you play for the gameplay, not the visuals. The simple PC Speaker-only audio also is pretty basic, and is sound effects only. The visuals are small as well, as levels are a single screen each and sprites are all quite small.

In terms of gameplay, Crystal Caves moves at a decent though slightly slow pace. Thanks to the small sprites you can see a long way in any direction. You have a hub world with doors that connect to the levels, and each of the three episodes has 16 levels to complete. Gameplay is simple, straightforward, and hard: you move around, running and jumping to avoid enemies and obstacles and get all of the crystals. You have three hit points per life and a gun to take out enemies with, though you do have limited ammo. As in Keen, you need to collect gun powerups to get more ammo, and each gives you only a few shots. You also have infinite lives from the beginning of the current level and can save on the hub world. That's great, and helps you focus on each level without needing to replay ones you've beaten before. Despite that help, this is a challenging game which rewards practice, trial and error, and some platforming skill. Learning each level well enough to survive by avoiding the traps and avoiding or defeating the variety of enemies, while also collecting all the crystals as is required to exit, is a fun challenge. There are many traps and enemies to avoid or kill, too, including falling spikes, air compressors that instantly kill you if you shoot them, spiders which hit you if you walk under them, enemies with eyes on stalks where you must kill the two eyes, which are only vulnerable when open, before you can shoot the main body, and more. This is a fairly conventional game, but figuring out what to do in each stage can be fun, for a while at least. It's not just shooting either, as figuring out how to get to some of the crystals can require not only precise platforming, but also careful shooting to, for instance, only destroy the blocks you don't need to get to the top in an area with breakable blocks. They won't respawn, so mess up and you'll have to quit back to the map and try again; thankfully you can do this in the pause/save menu.

So, figuring out how to get through a stage can be a fun challenge, but while I like this game, I've never loved Crystal Caves as much as some other Apogee titles. The small graphics and familiar design hold it back, and the game does not have Pharaoh's Tomb's simple charm either. And also, the game has a spiritual sequel that is the same thing but better: Secret Agent. That game is very similar to this one, but is improved and more fun all around. If you're going to play one of these two games play Secret Agent, but Crystal Caves is a fine choice as well. This tricky game will keep you playing for a while if you get into it, and it's satisfying to finally get a level right and get all the stuff. It's not one of Apogee's best games, but it is worth a try. The game has a physical release from 1991, and also is available digitally on Steam and on 3D Realms' website. I have the 3DR site version, and it's mostly good, though you will need to change the DOSBox settings manually to run in the correct aspect ratio; for some very odd reason they chose to have it default to filling the screen, even though this 4:3 game should only be played at that ratio.


Dangerous Dave Pack: Dangerous Dave in the Haunted Mansion (Dave 2) (1991, DOS) - gamepad supported, high score save (but not progress). Dangerous Dave is a character designed by John Romero, and stars in now seven games mostly for the PC and Apple II. This game is the second game in the series. Most games in this series was originally released on subscription disk services, so they were made on the cheap; subscription disk services like Softdisk, this series' publisher from the second through seventh games, didn't pay great, and unlike Apogee kept the rights to games they published. ID signed a contract with Softdisk though, so good or not they had to make games for them for a while. Romero made the original game on his own, then id Software made the second game. After that Softdisk made five more themselves with Romero only in an advisory role. For a long time the series was somewhat forgotten, but several years ago the second through fourth PC games in the series were re-released in a digital-download package on GOG.com, and that is what I am discussing here. For some reason the bundle does not include the original game or either of the Apple II-only titles; no idea why. The last is a 2015 iOS game by John Romero. Dave was Romero's first character, I believe, so he brought him back, with that game and this pack.

Despite there being seven games in the series, though, this isn't a series I remember from the early '90s. So, unlike id's much more famous Keen games, after getting it a few years ago, I went into this game not knowing anything about it. Apparently the original Dave is a puzzle-platformer, but this game is an action-heavy shooter. It's fun, but doesn't match up to the better action-platformers on consoles. Still, the first thing I noticed here is that the early '90s ID style is very evident. Visually, this is an okay-looking title running in 16-color EGA. Dave's character art isn't at Keen's level, but the actual sprite-art is nice and has some of that ID style, though the whole game has only one environment, a mansion, so there is no graphical variety. The sadly PC Speaker-only sound effects are also reminiscent of ID's other games of the time, which is nice. The general look and play of the game is strongly reminiscent of a Keen game. The gameplay is entirely different, however. Remember what I said about Softdisk not paying anywhere near Apogee levels of funding? Sadly, it shows. This game may be from John and Adrian Carmack, Tom Hall, and John Romero, just like Keen, but it must have seen much less development time. It has eight levels, no saving, and a simple goal: kill the undead hordes and try to make your way to the end of each stage. You can walk around, jump, and shoot. Showing that this is an action game first, unlike Keen you don't keep jumping when you hold the jump button down, but instead have to tap it each time you want to jump. In this kind of game that works. You're armed with only a shotgun, and while you do have infinite ammo, you can only have eight shells in the gun at a time and need to reload, which Dave does automatically when you stop moving. This means you'll often have to stand around waiting for him to reload, which can get a bit tedious, though it does also add some strategy, as you need to always consider your ammo before fighting foes. You can only shoot when standing on the ground and not while jumping, but instead you can fire at a diagonal up or diagonal down angle by holding Up or Down and then shooting. These are very useful functions you'll make heavy use of in the game.

As for the levels, the first one is straightforward, but they get more complex as you progress, as levels have doors connecting various areas together to allow for some exploration. This is a tough game, but the threats here only come from enemies, as traps or pitfalls are not in evidence, and enemies stay dead once killed. Some doors hold those passages and other items that give you points, so always open doors here! You will get extra lives for getting certain amounts of points, too. Eeven so, this game is difficult because you die in one hit, the enemies are numerous and often take multiple shots to kill, if you die you restart the level, and if you run out of lives and get Game Over you've got to start the game over from the beginning; as with the absence of saving, there are no continues either. So far I have only gotten a few levels into Dangerous Dave and the Haunted Mansion, but it is fun to play so I'm sure I will try again. The game rewards practice and memorization, as you figure out what to do in each new area of the game. Level designs are good, and not cheap or unfair, so when you died it is your fault; ID always were very good at level design, after graphics engines it's one of their best skills! The controls are good and quite responsive as well, and the scrolling is as smooth as you'll see on an early '90s PC game, as expected from ID. Still, overall, Dangerous Dave in the Haunted Mansion is only above average. Most of ID's games for Softdisk are not the greatest, so this may be one of the better of the bunch, but it's nowhere near the greatness of Commander Keen, or console plaform-shooters like Contra and the like. Still, it's a decently-designed and fun little game that is good enough to be worth a try. When you get it digitally it comes bundled with the two games below, too. though this one is by far the best of the three. Originally released by Softdisk on one of their subscription-service disks; also now available digitally on GOG for PC, Mac, and Linux in the Dangerous Dave Pack bundle with the twm games below.
 
Dangerous Dave Pack: Dangerous Dave's Risky Rescue (Dave 3) (1993, DOS) - gamepad supported, saves. In 1993, series publisher Softdisk decided to have two new Dangerous Dave games made. ID had nothing to do with either one, beyond John Romero supposedly having some small advisory role, though, and it shows: these games aren't terrible, but do not come even close to Haunted Mansion in quality. Haunted Mansion comparatively comes off pretty well compared to this. Risky Rescue has slightly better graphics than its predecessor from two years earlier and has much more detailed backgrounds, but it's still running in EGA only so the improvement is minor. Many shareware games were still EGA-only in '93, but the switchover was happening, just not here. The nicer and more varied backgrounds are an improvement, at least, though. There is sound card support this time, but only for sound effects; there is no music, again something becoming more common by '93. I guess Softdisk couldn't afford to pay a composer. The sound effects are poor as well; this may have SOundblaster or Adlib sound effects, but the gun sound is just pitifully weak-sounding! As for the game, as with its predecessor, this is a sidescrolling action game. It feels like a mediocre knockoff of Haunted Mansion, but does change some things, mostly not for the better. The biggest downgrade is in the level designs, but the controls also suffer a bit. The theme is new, too, Risky Rescue has a violent backwoods Southern style to it, so you're collecting beer and such as powerups and the game is set in forest and cavern environs, and such. The level of violence has significantly increased over the last game, as was becoming the trend in '93. Haunted Mansion has some violence, as enemies die in green splotches and there are little death animations every time Dave dies, but this time all of those have been redone with red blood and body parts everywhere.

Gameplay is mostly similar to the previous game, as you again you walk, jump, and fire straight or at up or down angles and die in one hit. A few things are new, though, most notably that this is the only Dangerous Dave game with limited ammo. Yes, this time you need to watch how much you fire, and pick up ammo pickups along the way. You still need to reload, too, and again it's automatic. The controls are also a bit slipprier than before, and landing on small platforms can be tricky. You'll need to do that a lot too, as right from the first level Risky Rescue demands you make lots of jumps between very small platforms suspended in the air. It can be frustrating stuff, and the game is tough; Game Overs come easily, though at least they added in a save system. Remember to save when you reach a new level, otherwise you have to start the game over! And indeed, since there is no real main menu, you need to start a new game each time, then hit the Load key (F5) to load your game; it's a bit clumsy. You also need to re-enable gamepad support every time you play, it's off by default. Ah well. There are eleven levels here, but level lengths vary so I'm not sure if the game is as long as the last one.

My first impression of this game was poor, as the first level, in a forest, is somewhat frustrating. But once I finally got past it, I did start having some more fun with this game. Still, all of the tiny bits of trees are easy to fall off of, and it can be hard to tell exactly what you can stand on and what you can't. You also can't see your shots, so there's no way to tell where you need to line up to hit an enemy diagonally; it's easier to judge in Haunted Mansion, but here it feels a bit off. And unlike ID games, this game has blind jumps over death pits, making this game much less fair than its predecessor. Still, there is lots of stuff to collect for points if you want to explore, so that's good. Sometimes you just need to die to figure out what to do next here, and while that is far from uncommon in platformers, compared to better games it is an issue. Overall, Dangerous Dave's Risky Rescue is an okay but flawed platform-action game. There is some fun to be had, but the annoying jumps, imperfect controls, and mediocre level designs drag it down, along with the weak presentation. This game is average at best, and probably is a bit below average. Originally released by Softdisk on one of their subscription-service disks; also now available digitally on GOG for PC, Mac, and Linux in the Dangerous Dave Pack bundle with the twm games below.


Dangerous Dave Pack: Dave Goes Nutz (Dave 4) (1993, DOS) - gamepad supported, saves. Dave Goes Nutz was Softdisk's last DOS Dangerous Dave game, though he would be brought back in 1995 for a final Apple II game, with this titles' story but the original games' gameplay. Thankfully the game finally gets a save system added in, which is great, but nothing else was improved; this game is more of the same, with similar EGA graphics, sound effects with no music, and gun controls. The gun-firing sound is at least improved over Risky Rescue, and now you shoot visible bullets so you can tell where to stand to hit people diagonally, infinite ammo returns, and you can aim in a few more angle options than before, but everything else is very similar to the last game, just with a new setting. That may sound improved, but I think I actually like this one the least of the three, though neither of these two 1993 Dave games are great. Level designs might be even more unfair this time than before, and your gun seems to maybe shoot slower so enemies reach you faster, so I feel underpowered here versus the Haunted Mansion. The game also allows you to get a bit too close to the edge of the screen before it starts scrolling, causing issues ID's game never has. And again the game has EGA-only graphics and no music, unfortunately.

The level designs are the worst thing about this game, though, and might be even worse than the last game due to some iffy design decisions. This game is set in an evil hospital, so you're fighting nurses with syringes, people shooting deadly green clouds at you, and more. You aren't contending with tiny platforms right from the start this time, but it's not better; for some reason, the designers thought that inconsistent level designs were a good idea. So, some identical-looking beds are bouncy platforms you fly into the air on, while others don't react at all; some floors are solid, while others that look nearly identical can be jumped through; and more. There are also screens along some platforms, making it hard to see enemies there. And isn't it fun when you jump on a bouncy bed, only to be thrown up more than a screen into the air... where you touch an enemy on the platform there you could never have avoided, and have to restart the whole level from scratch as a result? Yeah, that sure is "fun"! It's also way too easy to jump too high and die because you touched an enemy on the floor above you.

On the other hand, there are changes which make this game easier than either previous title in some ways. There are powerups that give you a time-limited triple shot, getting extra lives from points seems much easier than in either previous game, they did add in an easy mode, and again you can save, but still, those additions do not make up for all the faults. Dave Goes Nutz is sometimes okay, but overall is a below-average, at-times-annoying platform-action game that I can't recommend. It is close between this and Risky Rescue for worst game of these three, but this one might edge that one out... but really, if you get the Dangerous Dave pack, mostly play Haunted Mansion, and only try these out because they come with it. Haunted Mansion is a game decent enough to be worth considering for cheap. So if you do end up with these two, try them I guess, but don't expect much. Originally released by Softdisk on one of their subscription-service disks; also now available digitally on GOG for PC, Mac, and Linux in the Dangerous Dave Pack bundle with the twm games below.


Dark Void Zero (2010, WinXP+) - Gamepads supported (xinput only), saves. Dark Void Zero is a 2d platformer with NES-ish pixel-art graphics published by Capcom and developed by Western studio Other Ocean Interactive. This is an action-platformer with exploration and a jetpack, so shooting and flying around are your main actions. This isn't an indie game, though; instead, it was released as a sort of spinoff of Dark Void, a not-very-popular first-person shooter/flight game released the same year as this game. This game got better review scores than the main title, and it is fun, but I have some issues with it. The team made up an amusing backstory for this game, claiming that it had originally been designed in the late '80s for the NES PlayChoice 10 system as a double-screen game somehow using the lower screen as well as the upper one. There's more to the invented backstory beyond this, but as you may have guessed, in reality the game was designed for the Nintendo DS, or the DSiWare digital-download shop, more specifically. The game plays on the main screen, or your monitor here on the PC, and a very useful map would be on the lower screen. That'd make this game better on DSi than PC, as here you have to hit M (or maybe a gamepad key?) to view the map. And you'll need to, as this is a Metroidvania-inspired game, as each of the three levels in this game is large and open. You will be going back and forth constantly within each stage, and only the map tells you where to go next. Design elements including walls that a specific weapon can destroy, gates that only open once you collect the correct keycard, and areas which take away your jetpack force you to explore. Weapon and jetpack points will give you a specific weapon or the jetpack again, but you can only have one gun at a time so choose wisely. Each weapon is quite different though, which is nice. If you die you start back from the last checkpoint, which there are only a few of per level.

The basic gameplay here is fun, as you fly around, explore, collect stuff, and shoot. Now, I'm not at all a fan of open-world games, but I have liked some Metroidvanias. This game can be good fun, but has some design issues. Both on the ground and in the air you move fairly quickly, and there is no way to look up or down, so sometimes you've got to make blind jumps and just hope you don't land in one of the many instant-death pits or on top of an enemy. Sometimes you will, though. I love jetpacks in games, and it is fun to fly around, but the level designs here are frustrating, and the game is very difficult unless you play on the way-too-simple Easy difficulty. The jetpack also goes upwards quickly, so moving forwards in the air without going up as well can be hard, and areas are designed to exploit this weakness, which can be frustrating. Your controls are fairly responsive otherwise, though. You can duck as well as move and jump, though while ducking you only shoot downwards, so there's no way to shoot enemies while crouching unfortunately; this means you'll need to pop up and shoot them when you can, instead, ducking to avoid their shots during volleys. You do have a health bar, but can't take more than a half dozen shots before you die. Enemies respawn pretty much as soon as you go off the screen, too, so every trip across each stage is hazardous. The respawning enemies and their waves of bullets get annoying after a while, when you're just trying to get across the level to a new room. It would also be nice if you could have all the weapons at once, so you didn't need to go back across the stage sometimes to get a different one. Considering how short the game is all the backtracking makes sense, but it does get old, and frustrating when you keep dying to random stuff. If you do manage to beat a level the game saves that and you can start from the next one... with the number of lives you finished the previous level with, and no more. And given that each level is long and takes time to get through, and if you run out of lives in a level you have to start it over from scratch, this all gets difficult fast. More levels and a more forgiving continue system would have been better than this. That difficulty selection option doesn't fix this issue either, not with such a limited amount of content to see.

Visually the game looks good, though. Dark Void Zero probably uses too many colors for a real NES game, and character sprites animate too much, but the designers did try to give the game a pseudo-8-bit look, and it succeeds even if it's clearly not something a real NES could run. Maybe it's more Game Boy Advance-like, but with downgraded visuals? Still, I do mostly like the look, and as it would be on a real NES there isn't parallax scrolling, unlike many games like this. The shooting and visual look appear inspired by the Capcom classic Bionic Commando, though the gameplay is quite different of course due to that jetpack. The art design isn't the best and does have that Western look to it, but it works well enough. Audio is very NES-like, and it sounds good. Overall, Dark Void Zero is an okay game with flawed but decent gameplay. Exploring and flying around are fun, though the jetpack could have been more maneuverable, and the enemy and trap-laden levels lead to many unfair deaths. Having to constantly switch to the map can be annoying too; this would definitely play better on DSi. This can be a fun game, but it also can be very frustrating and difficult, so in the end Dark Void Zero is average. This is a cheap game, though, so it might be worth a look for hard-games and jetpack fans, particularly. Get the DSi version if you can over this one, though. Also available on Nintendo DSiWare digital-download shop, and also on iOS.
 

Crayon

Member
A BLACK FALCON I LOVE YOU MARRY ME

Someone will find your records a thousand years from now, you know that?
 
Long thread, but thanks for your output. :) Can't wait to hear your impressions on Abuse.

While I'm a long way away from getting to Abuse, that's one of the first of those "aim with the mouse while you move with the keyboard" platform-action games, yes? I play several of those in this last update here, and don't exactly like the way they control, as I go into. So, while Abuse isn't something I have ever put a lot of time into, I have played enough of that kind of game to know that I'm not sure if they are for me. But see the Aaru's Awakening, Apotheon, Bleed, and Capsized summaries for more. Of those four I only like Capsized, and even there I like it less than classic-styled platformers.

A BLACK FALCON I LOVE YOU MARRY ME

Someone will find your records a thousand years from now, you know that?

Thanks for the praise... and sure, it'd be very cool if someone would find my writing in a thousand years, though that seems unlikely with how iffy keeping anything on the internet long-term is...
 
So, two weeks for what really is only seven summaries. Well, that's what happens when I don't do anything at all towards the next update for a whole week after finishing the last one... oh well. I did have this mostly done several days ago, but delayed it to improve some of the summaries. I cover some interesting games this time, so enjoy.

Table of Contents
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Defy Gravity Extended (2011)
Duke Nukem (1991)
Duke Nukem II (1993)
Dust: An Elysian Tail (2013)
Earthworm Jim 1 & 2: The Whole Can of Worms (1996)
Electronic Super Joy (2013)
Fly’n (2012)
Freedom Planet (2014)


Defy Gravity Extended (2011, WinXP+) - saves, dual analog gamepad supported (xinput only). Defy Gravity Extended is a cheap and basic-looking indie game by Fish Factory Games of the keyboard-with-mouse-aiming style. The game may be visually generic, but the gameplay is interesting and fun. You play as an astronaut, trying to get through some tough levels because this is a videogame. Unlike games with this control scheme earlier, though, this one is a puzzle-platformer and uses its mouse aiming for precise firing of the games' key mechanic, your guy's gravity gun. The gravity gun has two modes: you can either create blue gravity wells which attract you and other objects towards it, or yellow points which push things away from them. The physics are simple, but work well. You also can jump and double jump with your jetpack, and can create a shield which makes you immune to gravity powers, so you can drop when stuck in the attract-style gravity wells, for example. You can only create one of each gravity-well type at a time, though, and can only shoot out a few while in the air before you need to land to reset them. Level designs are not complex and all are linear paths; your goal is to figure out how to get to the end of each stage. The walls, pits, instant-death laser beams, and various types of moving enemies or objects you can bounce off of create some interesting challenges to figure your way past. So far I've found the push-away gravity wells more useful, as you create one, jump, and bounce off of it to get over pits, but as you progress you will need to use both kinds; there are platforms that will move towards attract-you wells, for example, and moving-object types which move towards them as well. It's pretty fun stuff, and the game has infinite continues and multiple checkpoints in each not-too-long stage, so you can just keep trying until you get past each area.

The production values here are low, though. This game looks like it was made in Game Maker or some game-creation program like that, and the sprites are very average stuff. The music's good electronic space-ish sound, though, so I do like that. However, the game has some performance issues, as the game does not lock the mouse to the screen, which is a big problem if you have multiple monitors as I do; this is a mouse-and-keyboard game, after all, and it's very easy to accidentally click on the other screen and minimize the game. The only alternative is to use a more gamepad-like control scheme where your mouse rotates a marker and then you click once to fire out a shot and again to create a point at that location, instead of using the direct click-where-you-want-a-gravity well control scheme that is default. That works, but the default style is better, or would be if this game locked the mouse to the screen like all other mouse-and-keyboard platformers on this list so far have done. Ah well. Also, this game is on the short side; there are only 24 levels, and again they are not too long. This isn't a super-hard game, either. Still, Defy Gravity Extended is a fun game that's well worth playing. This may be a low-budget game, but it's a fun, moderately challenging puzzle-platformer with some good gameplay and mechanics. I like trying to figure out how to get through each stage. The price is right too, as I got this game on sale for 30 cents, and it's on sale often. I recommend this one, it's good. Also available on XBox 360 Indie Games, while that is still up.


Duke Nukem [aka Duke Nukum] Episodes 1-3 (1991, DOS) - saves, gamepad supported. The original Duke Nukem is yet another great platformer from Apogee Software. This is the first title in what would become a very popular series. When I was a kid my parents thought that this game sounded too violent, so I wasn't able to play it then, and I never did go back later on and play a lot of this game. It's great stuff though, and playing it for this list reminded me of that. But when I finally did first try the game, I remember thinking something like 'this is it?' Because while Duke 3D would indeed be that kind of hyper-violent game, Duke 1 isn't like that. Yes, you are a muscular 1980s action-movie star parody character, but there's no blood in this game, and next to no women either, sexualized or otherwise. Duke does have amusing quips in the games' few cutscenes, but those aren't as edgy or macho as the sequels; it's more generic stuff. In the first game's intro he mentions beating the games' villain, Dr. Proton, in time to go home and watch Oprah... heh. I can't see the Duke 3D Duke saying that. So yeah, the character was a work in progress at this point, but that's fine, this is the first game! And I, at least, kind of like this less over-the-top Duke.

As for the gameplay, it's familiar Apogee exploration-heavy platform-action, but with a few twists. Your actions are traditional: you run at a quick pace, jump, and shoot. You have only one gun, and it has infinite ammo. Running this game at full speed in DOSBox, you zip around quickly, and the game feels really good to play. Level designs are good too. As in some other Apogee games levels are large and multidirectional, and you need to explore around to find the numerous items you can collect for points, and also the way to the exit. You'll need to find keycards and circuitboards to get past locked gates as well, so exploration is the name of the game here. But unlike a game like Keen, there are absolutely no instant-death pits in Duke Nukem, which is fantastic! You also have a health bar in this game, so you don't die in one hit, either. All enemies or shots will hurt you, though, so do watch out. Still, while there are many traps, laser floors, and such, with VERY few exceptions, those won't kill you in one hit. It's not hard to find health in the levels, either. Even so, Duke Nukem is a reasonable challenge, as you will take hits and levels are long enough that avoiding damage is often important. The difficulty here is well-balanced, apart from those times you get frustrated at not knowing where to go in a level. Sometimes I have wished for some kind of map or radar system here, but you'll just have to memorize things. Ah well. Still, the game keeps things fun. You have infinite tries from the beginning of the last level, too, and can save anytime and continue from the start of the level you're currently on.

The game mostly runs well, too. Programmer Todd Replogle may be a bit odd, and unfortunately retired from programming to sell real estate and then move to Thailand, but he mostly did a great job with this game, though apparently John Carmack did help out. The game runs in 16-color EGA, but it does have parallax scrolling, which is pretty nice. The art design is solid; it's not Apogee's best, for sure, but it looks good enough, and the variety of enemies, environments, and items keep things varied as you progress through the three episodes. It looks fine, with various broken cityscapes to explore and weird aliens and robots and such to shoot, but there is better out there. However, the framerate is low; you move around fast, but play is never smooth and that is distracting. This game runs at something like 11fps, and while it is entirely playable once you spend some time with the game, the framerate is a big negative for me. For sound, the game has PC Speaker-only sound effects with no music, so the audio presentation is basic. This game released after Apogee's first game with sound card support, Replogle's Dark Ages, so it is disappointing. On that note, I really love Dark Ages, it's always been one of my favorite Apogee games... but more on that game much later.

But as for Duke Nukem, it's a good game I quite like. The game plays well, low framerate aside, and levels are well-designed and fun to explore and find stuff in. This game is good to great for sure. Still, Duke Nukem 1 isn't one of Apogee's best, and Duke Nukem 2 is better than the first game, but Apogee made so many fantastic platformers that that is a high bar indeed. Duke 1 is well worth playing, though do stick with it long enough to get used to the slow framerate. The game has a physical release from 1991, and also is available digitally on Steam and on 3D Realms' website. I have the 3DR site version, and it's mostly good, though you will need to change the DOSBox settings manually to run in the correct aspect ratio; for some very odd reason they chose to have it default to filling the screen, even though this 4:3 game should only be played at that ratio.


Duke Nukem II (1993, DOS) - saves, gamepad supported. I covered this game earlier in the physical-games section, and it's the same exact thing here. Duke Nukem II is a much better-looking and sounding followup to the original game above. As average as I find the original, Duke II is a fun game. The basic gameplay is similar, but with smoother gameplay, much better visuals, and music, the experience is more fun. If you are going to play a 2d Duke game, play the second one. Sure, it still can be frustrating at times, and the game still doesn't run completely smoothly, but it's mostly fun, as you explore, shoot, and collect stuff for points. The game has a physical release from 1991, and also is available digitally on Steam and on 3D Realms' website. I have the 3DR site version, and it's mostly good, though you will need to change the DOSBox settings manually to run in the correct aspect ratio; for some very odd reason they chose to have it default to filling the screen, even though this 4:3 game should only be played at that ratio.


Dust: An Elysian Tail (2013, WinXP+) - saves, dual analog gamepad supported (xinput only). Dust is a good indie sidescrolling action-RPG developed by indie studio Humble Hearts and published by Microsoft. As it's not a platformer it probably shouldn't be on this list, but for some reason I decided to include sidescrolling action-RPGs and run & guns on the list but not 3d action-adventure games, so here it is. It'd probably be better to leave these out, but I decided otherwise, so here is Dust. This game is set in a world of furries, anthropomorphic animal-people, and you play as a lone warrior animal-guy, Dust. Naturally, he has amnesia, and you are on a quest to figure out who you are, and defeat the evil hordes along the way. At the start of the game Dust is found by a talking sword and its kind-of-annoying 'guardian' Fidget that I mentioned earlier, and off you go. Your quest is centered around one town and the area surrounding it. There is a story, with some decent to good voice acting and an okay plot, but the main focus is on the action. The story's fine for what it is though; it's cliche, but works well, and I did want to see what would happen next. The character art is a potential negative here for some, and I do dislike a few things about it, your companion Fidget's design particularly, but the game mostly looks quite good. But still, Fidget... why is she naked? I get that she's some kind of fairy fox-bat thing, but everyone else has clothes even though they're fur-covered, so it looks weird. But apart from that, the visuals are good. This is a nice-looking game, with good hand-drawn backdrops with some variety and plenty of well-designed monsters to fight. This game was mostly made by one guy, so everything has a consistent look to it, and it's mostly well drawn. The music is pretty a good orchestral-style score and fits the game well; I like it.

But the main focus here is on the combat. The area the game takes place in is infested with monsters, and fighting is the core of the game. You can slash with your sword for a normal attack, use some Dust moves, one of which spins your sword to swirl enemies around and another which allows you to zip around in the air left or right attacking enemies, and have Fidget shoot out little magic bolts. Her magic is very weak on its own, but combine it with a Dust move and it swirls all around, hitting all enemies nearby for much more damage. A combo counter encourages you to keep attacking enemies. You can also dodge-roll left or right. Combat is fluid and feels great; indeed, the fun, fast-paced, and mobile battle system is the main reason why I like this game. The controls even work decently on keyboard, though a gamepad is recommended. It's not the most complex thing, but it sure is fun, and there is challenge if you want it. I find this game a lot more fun than, say, Muramasa; that game gets repetitive quickly in a way Dust doesn't. The default difficulty isn't too hard, but play on Tough and this game's a good challenge! In all difficulties there is no way to heal besides using healing items, you see, and in Tough you take a LOT of damage each time you get hit, so take a few hits and you'll be in trouble. I like playing this game on the harder setting, as it really demands you learn to dodge to survive. The challenge is good, because this game isn't too long otherwise. It's a fun challenge, and I probably do like the game more on Tough than Normal.

The games' world is centered around that one town, but this isn't an open Metroidvania. Instead, each level is a separate area, and you travel to a specific one for each mission, or freely to explore. Areas do have branching paths though, and you will need specific items you get later in order to access some areas of earlier maps, so there is a Metroidvania-styled element to the world design. Fortunately what you need to do to progress is usually straightforward enough to not be frustrating, but I was wondering what to do a few times. Ah well. There are no bottomless pits in this game, though levels are not flat; there are many jumps, vertical areas, cliffs, and the like, the threats just come from enemies, not pits. That fits this genre well. As for the RPG element though, it's somewhat minor. You do have experience and level up, with one point to assign each level up, but there are only four categories to upgrade and a maximum of five points in each one, and which you choose doesn't seem to make a huge difference. Still, having choices is great, I like that. You also get money and various other random items dropped by enemies. Money's use is obvious, you can buy stuff in stores scattered around or from people in the games' one main town, but items come in two categories, healing items, equipment, and the like, or crafting-style materials you can sell to stores or use for quests which require them. I do not like crafting, but there is no guesswork here; you just sell the right materials to the shopkeeper or bring stuff to the person in question, pay them, and you get the item. It's simple enough, though figuring out how to get some items can be tricky sometimes. Overall, Dust: An Elysian Tale is a pretty good sidescrolling action-RPG with good graphics and sound for the most part, a good, fun combat system with great speed and mobility, a decent-sized world to explore, and a nicely variable difficulty, covering people who want it either easy or hard. I definitely recommend this game, it's good. This game was initially published by Microsoft digitally-only for PC (on Steam) and Xbox 360 Live Arcade, but the developer later also ported it to Mac and Linux on Steam, iOS, and PlayStation 4, all also digital-only releases. I also have the X360 version, and it's pretty much identical on both platforms.


Earthworm Jim 1 & 2: The Whole Can of Worms (1996, DOS) - password-only save, gamepad supported. Earthworm Jim 1 & 2, from Interplay, is a compilation of the original two Earthworm Jim games that were originally developed by Shiny. Released a year after Activision's Windows 95 port of the original game, this title includes both the first and second games, but oddly enough is for DOS instead of Win 95. For most of my thoughts on the first game, see the summary of the Win95 version above, in physical games. Now though, I will discuss the differences between the Win95 and DOS versions of Earthworm Jim, as there are changes between the two versions. Aurally both have the same CD audio soundtrack, but this version has more color on screen as it's based on the SNES version while the Win95 version is based on the Sega CD. However, animations aren't quite as good as in the Win95 version. Also, there are more levels in the Win95 version, as this DOS version copies the SNES's level set, which is missing several stages from the Genesis/Sega CD versions, and also does not have the new level added to the SCD/Win95 edition. This version also has password-only saving, instead of the save file of the Win95 version. Overall, this version of Earthworm Jim 1 is a good port, but I do think the Win95 version is better. As for the gameplay though, EWJ is the same decent, but sometimes frustrating, game that it always has been. I've never loved this game, though I don't hate it either; it's just okay, a great-looking but flawed game with loose controls and hit detection and sometimes frustrating gameplay and level designs.

As for the sequel, unlike the first one, Earthworm Jim 2 isn't a game I have ever spent a lot of time with. I may not have loved it, but I did own EWJ1 in the '90s, so I played a fair amount of the game. I didn't own this game until I got this collection as a digital download a few years ago, though, and even then never have played much of it, so playing it for this summary is one of my first serious attempts at the game. I have always heard that EWJ2 is a less straightforward game than the first, with many more gimmick-based levels with weird mechanics. That can be good, as for example Donkey Kong Country 3 is my favorite of the three SNES DKC games even though it has the most themed, "gimmicky" levels, but I love the mechanics of that series throughout. That's not true with EWJ, so I've never thought I would care too much for this game.

And indeed, playing it now, while EWJ2 has a great orchestrated CD soundtrack and beautiful graphics and great cartoon-style animation for something that is a port of a 4th-gen console game, the controls are still flawed and the game is frustrating. And as with the DOS version of EWJ1, this one also has password-only saving, sadly. The basic gameplay in EWJ2 controls the same as it did in the first game, with no improvements beyond adding a switch-weapons button. That weapon-switch addition is very useful, but that's the one improvement, so hit detection is still iffy and movement control sometimes a bit hard to judge. As with the first one, this is a graphics-before-gameplay game. But indeed, unlike the first game, where most levels played normally, most levels this game have some kind of gimmick. Within just the first few stages you see a normal level where you run, jump, and shoot as you did in the first game, a quite annoying stage where you're on a stairlift having to speed up or slow down to avoid falling old women, a not-very-good shmup level, and a level where you play as a flying cave salamander and have to navigate a maze where touching any wall damages you. It continues like that, with many entirely different sections, not all of them good. And the regular platformer stages aren't great either, just like before.

Still, the game has some strengths. The variety can be cool to see, the graphics and music are really good, and the game can be fun; EWJ2 isn't bad, just somewhat disappointing. I wish that Shiny had improved the controls though, they could have used some work, as could some of the level concepts here. Overall, Earthworm Jim 2 is a below-average but okay game that fans of the first one definitely should play. People like me who never did love Earthworm Jim won't be convinced by this one, though. As for this collection as a whole, the digital version on GOG is a cheap and convenient way to play these games, but I can't quite recommend them, not with all their flaws. EWJ1 is also available on many platforms; see the full list in the Win95 version summary. This version is unique though, with the SNES's reduced level set and visuals but the Sega CD/Win95 soundtrack. EWJ2 is also available on Sega Saturn and Sony PlayStation (in Europe only on PS1), though there are small differences between this version and those two, and without the CD audio on SNES, Genesis, and Game Boy Advance. The Genesisversion is available on Wii Virtual Console.


Electronic Super Joy (2013, WinXP+) - saves, gamepad supported (dinput supported). Electronic Super Joy is a stylish but flawed linear-path platformer by Michael Todd Games with pixel art, a good sense of visual style, good music, some poor choices in the audio department, and irritating gameplay. You are a shadow figure in a world of black interact land on brightly colored, but monochromatic, backgrounds. This game is very much in the "very hard games" school, but while some of that challenge is because of fun, interesting levels, the challenge also comes from random chance elements and the games' often-frustrating controls. Your basic actions are running and a single jump. You attack by slamming towards the ground. Your jump is oddly slow and has a weird sense of momentum to it, so it will take some time to get used to jumping in this game without ending up in a pit half of the time. There is a trail behind you showing your path, but even so, the jumping in this game is odd in a way I don't like. Your attack is also an issue, as you go straight down, VERY fast, so you can only attack while over a platform or you die instantly, as you also die if you touch any edge of the screen, so falling won't drop you back a bit, you just die and restart from the last checkpoint. You'll be doing that a lot, as anything you touch also kills you, and judging if you are over a platform or not, for attacks, can be tricky and near-random. In addition to normal ground, obstacles include enemies which move back and forth; turrets which shoot straight and of course are in a location where you can't attack them; other turrets which shoot incredibly annoying homing missiles at you which are tough to avoid and can come at you in large numbers, and of course the turrets are in unreachable locations and very common; many stages with auto-scrolling to make things even tougher; and more. There are also warps that send you elsewhere in the stage, bounce stars to bounce high on, single-use bounce arrows, slimy surfaces you stick to, keys and doors, and more. All of these elements combine together for interesting jumping puzzles sometimes, but other times they are very frustrating. It's a mixed bag, probably a little more bad than good.
 
The game does look good visually, though. Electronic Super Joy's look, with almost all-black environments with only the occasional white highlight, such as your characters' eyes or the slime on slippery platforms, looks great against the colorful backgrounds. Each level has a single-color theme, and backgrounds are simple with lots of broad beams of color, and the overall look has a great style to it. The music is good stuff too. It's pounding techno, one of my favorite kinds of music, and it's great here and fits the game well. The sound effects don't work as well, though. For some reason, as the name suggests, this game has random, and inappropriate, sexual moaning in the background on a regular basis. There are moans and sounds from people of both genders, but still, why the heck would you do that, it doesn't fit with anything in the actual game and only serves to distract and make the game look juvenile. There is a "PG" mode which disables this stuff, but still, why is it here at all? And that censors out part of the story too, though the story is pretty bad so that's not so much of a problem, I guess. More positively, though, the game does have a good feature set, with plenty of built-in levels in several modes, DLC addons for more content, and a map editor for if you want to make your own levels. The game also keeps track of your best times, and which this is mostly an entirely linear game focused on just getting through each level as fast as you can, levels do have a collectible star to find off somewhere in a tricky-to-reach location, so there is replay value if you want to improve your times and get the few collectibles. Overall though, despite some positives, I didn't like Electronic Super Joy all that much. It is addictive at times even when it's frustrating, that I admit, but with the random-chance deaths, weird controls, frustrating missiles, and iffy, juvenile audio, I can't quite recommend this one. People who like masochistically hard games probably would like this game more than I do, though. Also available, digitally only, on Mac and Linux on Steam, PS4, Xbox One, and Wii U, and there is also a followup of sorts for all those platforms plus iOS and Android. The computer versions have paid DLC, but the Wii U version includes it free.


Fly’n (2012, WinXP+) - saves, gamepad supported (dinput supported, but with issues). Fly'n is a very artsy platformer by Ankama with a beautiful art style reminiscent of LocoRoco on the PSP and platforming with a strong puzzle component that centers around your ability to flip between two viewing modes which make some platforms and collectables appear only in one mode or the other. You play as four cute creatures, a blue birdlike thing, a green plant creature, a red one, and a black one. You start with just the blue one, but gain another in each world of the game. Each of the four has an exclusive power, but all can do the basic running, jumping, and mode-switching. Your goal in each level is to reach the end, and levels are mostly linear, though there is some freedom along the way if you want to explore and try to find all of the collectables. The great graphics are the first thing you'll notice, though. Environments are rich and detailed, the art direction is great, and every area looks rich with highly-stylized life. Red areas or objects are dangerous and will kill you, so avoid them! There is a lot of background animation too, and I like how while there is no speech in this game, when you help out the other cute animal characters they cheer up and happy background animations play. It's great stuff. The soundtrack is also good. It's calming, atmospheric instrumental music and fits the tone of the game very well. Now, these art-first games sometimes play great and other times do not, but while Fly'n may have better graphics than gameplay, the gameplay's pretty good too; this is a good game all around. The puzzles, controls, and design are all good. Indeed, the game controls well, as your movements are responsive.

So, to get to the end in each level, you'll run, jump and double jump, push things around, float, use your current characters' exclusive action, and flip between the two view modes. The blue character can sing to activate things; the green one can attach to walls, to climb to otherwise inaccessible areas; black can bounce, even on danger zones; and red can air-dash. This is a nonviolent game with no real enemies, though there are plenty of those red spiky areas to avoid. Sometimes red stuff will fall at you as well, be on a moving platform, or such, though, so obstacles are not only static. I really like the design here, becuase there's more than enough to focus on with the platforming and mode-switching; adding combat on top of that would be unnecessary. It's also nice to see a non-violent platformer for once. If you do die you just respawn at the last checkpoint, which there are several of per stage. Some stages also allow you to switch between two characters at checkpoints. The game starts out easy enough, but at 40 levels this game has decent length for a game like this, and it does get hard as you progress. This may be a puzzle-platformer, but you will need good twitch skills to get through some areas. Still, it's a fun challenge.

The view-flipping is the most unique element in Fly'n. Most of your environment is the same in both modes, though the color palette changes in each, but some white lines become tangible platforms in one mode but background objects you can move through in the other. Some are tangible in one mode, and others in the other. This leads to many puzzles where you have to quickly switch modes in order to get through a maze of white barriers. Optional collectibles also only appear in each view. There are a lot of these little collectables in each stage, and you'll need to thoroughly search through stages, checking both views, to find them all. Many are easy to find, but getting all of them will require finding hidden areas and figuring out some trickier optional puzzles. The game also keeps track of how fast you finish each level, for some additional replay value. To conclude, Fly'n is quite good. Figuring out how to move boxes around white-line barriers, jumping between platforms while switching views mid-jump, hunting for collectables, and figuring out the tougher puzzles of the later stages is all both fun and a good challenge. With great art, a somewhat original mode-flipping mechanic, plenty of variety, and fun gameplay, Fly'n is well worth a look if you like this style of game.


Freedom Planet (2014, WinXP+) - saves, gamepad supported (directinput supported). Freedom Planet is a pretty good platformer made by GalaxyTrail, a Sonic the Hedgehog fan team. The basic concept here is inspired by the Genesis Sonic games, as you run around, fast, with anthropomorphic characters in a really nice-looking 2d world full of heavily Sonic-styled level design elements. This game is no clone, though, it's it's own game in both good and bad ways. Visually this game is perhaps more 5th-gen than 4th, as it makes heavy use of sprite scaling. It's more like a Saturn 2d look than Genesis, I would say, and it looks great. Gameplay-wise, the biggest difference is that you can only attack enemies in this game with melee attacks, not by jumping on them. So, this is a more combat-focused game than the classic Sonics are. There are three playable characters in this game, all female, a nice change from the all male playable cast of the Genesis Sonics. There is a male character still being worked on, but he's playable in time trial mode only in a beta version of the game.

Unfortunately, unlike the Genesis Sonic games but like newer Sonic entries, this game has a story, a fairly voluminous one. The cutscenes are long, sometimes very confusing, and aren't always interesting either. The basic plot, of the four main characters, led by heroine dragon-girl Lilac, fighting against an evil alien trying to take over and ruin the world is simple enough, but there's an attempt at a deeper plot here, but it often makes little sense. Characters talk to each other as if they know eachother and you should know the context of their conversation, but there is no context, nothing to refer back to to make what they're saying make sense! And the cutscenes are long, too. A patch apparently cut down on them a little, but they're still long. Classic Sonic cutscenes are seconds long at most, and that's all a game like this needs. I know many Sonic fans like the overdone drama of modern Sonic, but I rarely have, and seeing that kind of thing in this 2d game reminds me again of how much better the classic Sonic games are, story-wise; less is sometimes more. There is an Adventure mode which ditches the cutscenes, though, so you could stick to that, but Story mode has some interesting features, such as different level orders and level-sets for each character. There are ten levels in the game, a good number, and the different level sets in story mode add some nice variety. Adventure mode just goes through all ten regardless of character, with only a few short cutscenes.

The controls are Sonic-inspired, but aren't Sonic. Beyond the combat system that requires you use attacks to damage enemies instead of jumping on them, you also have a health bar here, and will need it for the very tough boss fights. Levels have Sonic-styled loops, moving platforms, scattered enemies, pads to activate things, springs, and the like. There is a physics system, but it's different from Sonic, as you can keep running up a vertical wall even if you're moving pretty slowly, as opposed to Sonic where you eventually fall off. This is just different, not better or worse, but I noticed the change. You also have blue crystals to collect, though they aren't health, unlike Sonic's rings, just points and such. There are also some other collectables, such as harder-to-find ones that unlock things in the Gallery mode, and some for time-limited special abilities such as invincibility. For controls the game uses three buttons, for jump and your two attacks. The two main characters' attacks are a basic melee attack and a more powerful one that uses up a meter that automatically recharges, though the other characters are different. Levels are well-designed and are a lot of fun to explore, and each looks entirely different. There are some puzzle elements, maybe on the level of Sonic 3 & Knuckles, to add a little variety and I think they fit in well.

I do have one issue here, though -- there is a huge disparity in challenge between the levels and bosses. In any game like this where you can move so fast that there's no hope of always being able to see where you are going this is a very difficult balance to make, and bosses excepted Freedom Planet focuses on fun first. I do like that there aren't any instant-death pits in this game, and that spikes are kept to a minimum, but this only enhances the lacking challenge, particularly in the early levels; without those two things you don't have the frustration of some Sonic games, and that's kind of great because that's a big problem for instance in the GBA and DS Sonic games, but you also don't have much challenge, as enemies aren't much of a threat most of the time either. I believe that all of my deaths in this game so far have been against bosses or minibosses, and never in a level, and that says something. While this game is pretty good, and it is satisfying when you finally figure out a boss and beat them, I prefer it when a games' levels and bosses are proportional in challenge, instead of the huge gulf between the two you see here. This is one of the reasons I love The Last Blade 2, it doesn't have that common fighting game issue of "suddenly the last boss is nearly impossible after the other enemies were easy once you know how to play". And for one more critique, while levels are fun, they are long; each of those 10 stages should take at least 20-40 minutes. Sometimes these stages drag on a bit long; Sonic levels are much shorter. Still, Freedom Planet is mostly a pretty good game, and exploring the stages, finding stuff, and figuring out the bosses is mostly great.

One other nice feature about the game are that each of the playable characters is quite different. The core mechanics are similar with all of them, but each is distinct. The main two characters each have seven hit points. Main character Lilac can jump and sort of fly in an aerial attack in her stronger attack that uses the meter, while her friend Carol can climb walls and find a motorcycle powerup to ride on, but her meter attack is still just melee-range, though it does have some invincibility. Climbing walls is great fun and makes level traversal easier, but Carol's more limited melee-only combat range makes boss fights harder with her. The third character, Milla, is unlocked after finishing level two, and she's even more different, as she has less health than either of the others, only four hit points, and is a mage: one attack button does a basic melee attack, and the other summons a green blob-square. Then you can toss the square to hit an enemy by hitting that button again, or hit the other button to do a stronger forwards attack. It's fun stuff. She also can jump very high, though she can't wall-jump. The last character, the guy, is different yet again.

Another strength of this game are its very good visuals. The large sprites, very colorful environments, parallax scrolling, sprite scaling and rotation, and transparencies all look fantastic, and give this game a 5th-gen feel to it, as I said earlier. The sprites are also detailed and very nicely animated; I like little touches like the spin when you grab on to a ladder you were just about to go past. This is a pixel-art platformer, but it's a different kind of pixel-art look from the usual pseudo-NES style of a lot of pixel-art games, and the results are impressive. The soundtrack's also good chiptune-style stuff. As for the characters they are all furry anthropomorphic animals. It's good that there are no humans present, really; mixing the two doesn't work well in the 3d Sonic games. Overall, there's more to Freedom Planet I haven't seen yet, but I like what I've seen. This is a sizable game with a lot of content, several characters to play as each with their own story mode, and good gameplay and graphics. The game has a few downsides, including the confusing story and uneven difficulty disparity, but there's a lot more good than bad here. Freedom Planet is good and I definitely recommend it. Digital download only. The game is also available on Mac and Linux on Steam, and also on Wii U eShop.
 
A week and a half for only seven summaries? Well, some of these are fairly long and detailed, that takes some time. This update includes a couple of really good games and some with issues, so it's a nice mix. I do want to again complain about games with xinput-only gamepad support, though, which many of these are. Come on, just include directinput support! Thankfully x360ce is here to save the day, but still, it'd be better built-in. Oh, and yes, The Joylancer is weird.

One note first - I decided to call Guacamelee 2.5d, so it'd been moved to that section, instead of covering it in this update. Fez has similarly been moved there, from a previous update.

Table of Contents
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Escape Goat (2013)
Gateways (2012)
Gigantic Army (2014)
Gunhound EX (2014)
Hell Yeah! Wrath of the Dead Rabbit (2012)
Hocus Pocus (1994)
Joylancer, The: Legendary Motor Knight (Early Access Game) (2014-?)


Escape Goat (2013, WinXP+) - 1 player, saves, gamepad supported (xinput only). I somehow failed to include this game in my list, so I'll have to cover it now instead of last update. Escape Goat is a great puzzle-platformer by Magical Time Bean with pixel-art graphics and some pretty clever mechanics. You are a purple goat, and have been locked up in a dungeon for some unknown reason. So, you need to become the Escape Goat and get out of there! You soon meet a companion, a mouse who will help you out. And to round out the cast, you rescue a sheep at the end of each area in the game. To tell the story, despite being animals, animal-looking animals and not anthropomorphic ones, all the other characters talk to you. That's amusing. The presentation here is good too, with pretty nice too-colorful-8-bit sprite-art, and tile-based, graphics and great chiptune music. The graphics are all very well drawn, and each tile in the game is distinct and easily recognizable despite everything being pretty small on the screen. That is important in a game like this which is all about the interaction between you and the various tiles in the game. And that music, it's catchy, well-composed, and fits the game great. Really good work all around.

The gameplay is just as good, too! Your basic controls include a double jump, a left or right dash you can do on ground or in the air, tossing out the mouse, and, in levels with the magic hat and if you have gotten it, the ability to switch the locations of the two characters. The game controls well with either keyboard or gamepad, and the controls are responsive. Each ability has limits, though, so for example you can throw the mouse high up, but only from the ground; you cannot throw it high up while in the air. In the air you can only toss the mouse normally. And you can only dash left or right, not up or down. These limits can be frustrating, but they make the puzzles work, so they're understandable. There is also a reset button, to retry a level if you're in an unwinnable position, an issue you will often have. You have infinite lives and the game saves after each level, thankfully. Each level is a single screen, with small but detailed graphics. Level designs are interesting, and figuring out how to solve the puzzle that is each room is a lot of fun. Some tiles are just basic walls and floors, but interactive tiles include crates you can destroy by dashing into, fireball-guns which shoot automatically, enemy wizards who shoot fireballs straight at you if you are in their line of sight, switches you or the mouse can activate, ice blocks you can push around by dashing into but the mouse will stop at if it's walking along and touches one, explosive barrels, these interesting wheel-switches that only blocks or barrels can activate but you cannot, blocks that other blocks or wheels or such will be suspended over but you pass through, and more. Your goal is to reach the door in each room, and collect keys to unlock that door if any keys are in the level.

The possibilities when you combine these block types into puzzles may sound overwhelming, but the level designs are really good, and the difficulty is just right.Some stages may take longer than others to beat, but the game does a fantastic job of slowly ramping up the difficulty, so instead of just running straight into a wall the challenge here is a nice, fairly smooth slope up as you learn the mechanics each puzzle teaches you, before later puzzles combine them into trickier forms. You can also abandon a world to try another one if you want, and pick up where you left off later. The level layouts themselves are the best thing about this game, though. Levels have a great mix of action and puzzles, so this isn't just a thinking game, reflexes are definitely also required. I really like the variety of levels and puzzle types you see in Escape Goat. Most levels rely on using both your goat and the mouse in order to beat them, and figuring out how to get to all of the keys with the goat, since the mouse cannot pick them up, is great fun. Escape Goat is not a particularly long game, and should only take a few hours to beat as it is not long or as hard as some indie platformers, but it's a very good one any puzzle-platformer fan should definitely play! There are some hard post-game levels you unlock, too. With good graphics and art design, great music, very good, responsive controls with some unique elements in the two-character mechanic, and great level designs and puzzles, Escape Goat is a fantastic game I highly recommend. There is also a sequel; though I don't have it yet, I'll definitely get it sooner or later. Also available for Mac and Linux on Steam. This game is an enhanced port of a 2011 Xbox 360 Live Indie Games title of the same name. That is still available, until XBLIG's shutdown of course; read above for details on that.


Gateways (2012, WinXP+) - 1 player, saves. Gateways is a mouse-and-keyboard-only platformer with a portal gun. The game has a single large Metroidvania-style world, but with portal puzzles everywhere and with jumping on heads to defeat enemies, classic platformer-style. The game has average pixel art graphics and bland chiptune-ish music, and clearly is a very low-budget affair. The basic concept of a 2d platformer with portals is a pretty good one though, and the game does throw some tricky portal puzzles at you from fairly early on. You are an older, white-haired scientist guy, and are apparently British because this game was written in British English. Something has gone wrong in your oddly videogame world-shaped lab, and you've got to fix it, portal gun in hand... and more as well, later on, including a flashlight and a time gun. Gateways is a flawed game with some definite issues, but the core puzzle element is mostly a good one. Trying to figure out how to get a laser beam to a switch through the use of portals, or where to put portals to get over a pit or to collect all the collectibles that you can spend in hint stations without running into an enemy, can be fun. The game shows you what's through a portal when you look at it, too, which is a nice touch, though it does mean that you can't see what would have been behind that portal. There's a fair challenge here too, as you die in a few hits. You do have infinite lives from the last save point, but save points are somewhat far apart in this game so dying is a punishment.

That's all mostly good, but Gateways has issues. The graphics are bland; the controls are finicky at times as you need to land DIRECTLY on top of an enemy to hit them, which is tough, so I keep taking hits and dying while trying to land on enemies; closing portals is harder than it should be; and puzzles sometimes frustrating. I don't like the open-world concept either, and would definitely like this game more if it had one linear path. There is a map with an arrow pointing out the general area you need to go to, but it's only on a subscreen and not on the main screen, so you'll need to pause and view the map sometimes if you want to navigate, which can be annoying. And while the numerous hint stations around the game are appreciated, that the developer felt the need to include hint stations which tell you if you have the items yet to attempt the puzzle there says something. Sure, that's better than not having them, but shouldn't it be fairly clear without that whether you can do something or not? That is not the case here, so the awkward 'can you do this puzzle yet' element of the hint stations was included. Still though, there are not many 2d portal games, and this one has some good puzzles in it. Fighting enemies is kind of bad with how easy it is to take hits while trying to jump on them, the world is not straightforwardly designed and the game can be frustrating, and the game is visually very bland, but still there is enough here that some definitely will like this game. Myself though, I'd probably call Gateways slightly below average. It's okay, but not great. Also available for Mac and Linux through Steam and GOG.


Gigantic Army (2014) - 1 player, saves settings and unlocks (but not main-game progress, that you need to restart each time), gamepad supported (directinput supported). Gigantic Army is a sidescrolling mecha run & gun action-platformer from Japanese indie team Astro Port. It is inspired by NCS Masaya's classic Assault Suits series, a series of three mecha action-platforming games on the Genesis (AS Leynos), SNES (AS Valken), and Saturn (AS Leynos 2). The first two got US releases as Target Earth and Cybernator, and the last was Japan-only. All three games are short but very difficult games which I like a lot despite the steep challenge. Square also made a similar game for the SNES (Japan only) called Front Mission: Gun Hazard, but it's an Assault Suits clone with added RPG elements that neither this or the next game have, so yeah, this game and Gunhound EX below are both very blatant Assault Suits clones. Making a new game that uses the basic gameplay of a classic, but with new graphics, music, level designs, and such, is a popular approach for some indie developers, and when a series is quite dead, like Assault Suits was before these two games released, I'm fine with them doing this.

I'd like to cover the graphics first because it's the first thing I noticed. Visually, Gigantic Army has a "PC game" look to it, compared to the very console-styled Gunhound EX. Inspired by the original AS Leynos, this game has long levels with infinitely-spawning enemies, and a zoomed-out camera somewhat like the original. The game runs in 4:3 640x480 only, pretty dated for a 2014 release; this looks like something from the later '90s. I don't mind that, but some will. Environments are detailed and the art is good, but it doesn't have the flash or production values of a Gunhound EX. The mechas and enemies don't look as good, and everything here are just basic scaling sprites, with few special effects and a totally flat look. Again, it's a very '90s shareware PC-style look, I'd say. I like that, but it does look cheaper. The music is forgettable electronic stuff, and also doesn't match up to Assault Suits or Gunhound EX sound. Still, the game looks decent to good, and there is variety between stages. And as for a story, there barely is one; all you get are text-only diaries between levels, written by a mechanic working for one of the factions in the sci-fi war you are a part of. The character interactions and deeper plot of Assault Suits games and Gunhound EX are sadly absent here.

As for the gameplay and controls, Gigantic Army is indeed an Assault Suits-styled game. This game uses only four buttons, for your main weapon, secondary weapon, jump/hover-jet, and shield. You can also dash with a double-tap of forward or back. You choose from three different main and secondary weapons at the start of each game, and can't switch during the game. All main weapons have infinite ammo, while all secondary weapons have limited uses per level. I don't think there are any more to unlock, either, giving this game quite a small arsenal for this genre. Your mech moves at a decent pace, faster than Gunhound EX below, which is nice; it's easier to dodge shots here than in that game. The shield is nice as well, and blocks enemy fire until it takes too much damage and breaks. Your main gun and shield both can be aimed by pressing Up and Down on the stick/keyboard, but they lock while firing or holding out the shield, so you need to aim while not attacking, then attack with the firing angle locked. There are no alternate settings here, unlike Gunhound EX. The game controls well, and at first this game may seem easier than some in the genre, but it tries to make up for that with limited continues and no saving in the main game. Yes, you have only three lives here, and then it's back to the beginning of the game. You do unlock levels for play in Practice mode as you reach them, but you can't progress through the game that way. I really dislike limited continues, it's such a frustrating and artificial way to add difficulty to a game! Sure, as usual in these games there is only a handful of levels, but seeing all of them will require a lot of replay. There aren't even checkpoints in this game, so when you die at a boss you have to start the whole level over. This is a problem sometimes. And last, unlike any other game in this genre I know of, there is a ticking timer here with a tight time limit. You will find weapon and time-extension power ups around, and you'll need as many of them as you can get to not run out of time and die. While I didn't usually run out of time, this kind of game is plenty hard without it, it's not needed.

The games' six levels are linear, though there is some platforming here as you navigate each stage. Those constantly-spawning enemies are your main threat. I do prefer a more uniquely designed challenge over a stream of random stuff like you see here, but it does serve to emphasize the difference between bosses and regular enemies, and the boss fights are pretty good. As as always in these games the bosses are huge, take a lot of shots to kill, and can take you down quickly, and thus are easily the hardest part of the game. Some bosses and level design ideas borrow heavily from Assault Suits games, maybe to a fault, but there is enough new stuff here to make this its own game. Gigantic Army is a good fun game with nice graphics, good controls, and lots of explosive mecha-platform-shooting action to be had. It's a homage to some under-recognized classics, and a good one. The game is short, but with four difficulty levels, higher scores to shoot for, and limited continues to pay attention to, there is some lasting value. However, the very flat graphics, forgettable music, minimal story, somewhat average-at-times action, that there are no weapons to unlock, and awful choice to have limited continues hold this game back. I should also note that there is a bug, and saving for your unlocks and scores may not work correctly in this game unless you first start a game in Easy difficulty and then beat at least one level. After doing that quit to the menu; now saving should work right. If only you could save progress too, but you can't. Overall, though, Gigantic Army is good. It's not great, but it is good for sure and might be worth a look. The Steam version also has Linux support available, along with PC.


Gunhound EX (2014, WinXP+, though this is an enhanced and altered version of Gunhound, a game released in 2009 for PC) [aka armored hunter GUNHOUND EX] - 1 player, saves, gamepad supported (directinput supported). Much like Gigantic Army above but better, Gunhound EX is a great, but challenging, Assault Suits-inspired mecha run & gun action-platform game from Dracue, an indie studio in Japan. And as with the above game it's not really a platformer, but it has platforming elements for sure so I'm including it here. The gameplay and visual style of Gunhound is a shameless copy of Assault Suits' visuals and gameplay. The difficulty is right up there with a Target Earth/Assault Suits Leynos or Assault Suits Leynos 2, also -- I like this game a lot, but the game gets very hard in a hurry, maybe too much so for some. But first, some background. Two nations, the NEU and EAU, are fighting, and you are Yuri, a female pilot on the Hound squad of Armored Hunter mecha pilots fighting for the NEU. All other games I've played like this have male pilots only, so the change here is nice. There isn't much of an intro, and the online manual has only a little backstory, but each mission does have a text briefing, and as in Assault Suits games there are regular voiced conversations between your pilot and others on the squad during missions. They'll be of little help in-game, of course, but it's nice that they are there.

Presentation-wise, the game has great 2d graphics, with sprite art that is very early to mid '90s styled, but with nice shiny weapon effects and such that make it look more modern than Gigantic Army. The sprites are large, more like AS Valken (Cybernator) or Leynos 2 than the first one. The blocky and angular mecha designs are VERY much something out of Assault Suits, but that's okay, and while I'm no mecha fan, they look very good and fit the game well. The music is a good up-tempo videogame-style soundtrack, and I like it. The Japanese language-only voice acting is also well-done. There is some slowdown, but I think most of it is intentional. I also had one crash, though that may be my aging computer. Otherwise the game runs well. However, while there are a few graphics options, including 16:9 or fill-the-screen modes, the latter handy for a 16:10 monitor like mine, and framerate and anti-aliasing settings, you cannot change the screen resolution. Also by default the gamepad is not enabled, and you need to use the keyboard to map keys (with Z to select, as is default in Japanese PC games) before you can use it. That's common in older PC games though, lots of DOS PC games don't have joystick support until it's enabled ingame.

Gameplay in Gunhound EX takes some getting used to. You have a variety of weapons to equip, and each controls differently. The game uses more buttons than Gigantic Army. The controls are fully re-configurable, but by default the face buttons jump and hover, dash, use your main gun, and use your secondary attack, while shoulder buttons switch to your two special weapons and lock your firing direction, and the option buttons pause and drop heavy armor. All weapons need to regularly reload, but you do have infinite ammo. You always need to keep reloading in mind, though. That heavy armor has a downside, too: with it on you take less damage, but you move much slower and drop like a rock in the air if you let off the jets. As in Assault Suits games, your main gun is fully aimable in all directions, and while this is not a twin-stick shooter, there are options in the menu for if you want to be able to aim while firing or not. It's a good choice to have; I prefer it with aiming locked while firing, but you can play either way. The game does not have full twin-stick aiming controls, that would dramatically change the way the game plays, so it's better left out. The controls are complex and touchy, and can feel clumsy, but the game actually plays great once you're into it, though a gamepad is HIGHLY recommended, . As you control a giant mech you do not move quickly, so the dash ability is critical for survival. It also helps because when you turn around when not in a boss fight the camera switches to point in the other direction so you can shoot things coming from the other way, something which can be distracting and make dodging shots tricky... unless you dash, as dashing backwards keeps your mech pointed forwards while you move in reverse. Handy! To help get used to the controls there is a very useful, and challenging at times, seven-part training mode available, and I definitely recommend going through it.

In this short but challenging game, The levels themselves are straightforward, with straight paths to follow most of the time so the focus is on the action. Unlike AS Leynos or Gigantic Army, levels here are shorter and are not filled with infinitely-spawning filler enemies; instead, everything is pre-designed. The game mixes things up with its settings as well, as there are land, water, and space environments and a defense mission. The giant bosses are also suitably tricky. There is a webpage link in the pause menu for a strategy site that can be very helpful. In space controls are trickier, as zero-g movement is a bit confusing. The game is short, though: the main game has just five levels and then a final boss. There are those seven training missions also, and there is an unlockable bonus mission as well, but that's it. Still, the levels have variety, and the game encourages replay through its scoring and unlock systems. You can't change weapons between missions, unlike most games of this style, but you can select a loadout on the main menu, and unlock more weapons for it each time you beat the game. Playing for score is also rewarding for those good enough to be able to stay alive as well, for though you have infinite continues from the last checkpoint, using a continue resets your score to zero, so a good score is well-earned. For this kind of game, the amount of content is reasonable; mastering what is here will require a lot of practice.

Overall, Gunhound EX is a fantastic game. The gameplay is cloned straight out of a classic series and content is limited, but this is a really good game regardless, with great sprite-art graphics, good music, and great, challenging gameplay which keeps you coming back. Highly recommended! If you have to choose between this and Gigantic Army, get this one. Gunhound EX was successful enough that its developer went on to make the recent Assault Suits Leynos remake for PS4 (and maybe PC eventually). If there ever is a PC release I'll get it for sure. Gunhound EX is also available for PSP. The PSP version only had a physical release in Japan, but there is a downloadable version in the US you can play on a Vita, since the PSP download shop has been shut down for original PSP systems, but not Vitas. The original Gunhound also has a physical release for PC in Japan only.
 
Hell Yeah! Wrath of the Dead Rabbit (2012) - 1 player, saves, dual analog gamepad supported (xinput only). Hell Yeah! Wrath of the Dead Rabbit is a decent, but somewhat obnoxious, platform-shooting game published by Sega. In this cartoonish game, you play as Ash, rabbit prince of Hell, and need to murder a lot of people and robots because some paparazzi guy took photos of Ash playing with rubber ducks in his bathtub and posted them online. Anyone who viewed that page must die! .. Yeah, I don't think Ash understands how the internet works. He isn't too particular about his targets, though, as you make only infrequent attempts to figure out if the people you're killing ever saw the thread. Ash's a complete jerk, so just kill everything that gets in your way regardless, pretty much. This all has far too much somewhat-annoying attitude, but beyond that, I do not like playing as villains in games unless it's VERY well done, and this is pretty much the opposite of that. I greatly dislike the character you play as here, and what he does in the game is horrible, cartoony setting or no. The game does have pretty good, brightly colored graphics with lots of animation, though; this game had some budget. It is lacking in setting variety, as it's pretty much all set in firey environs, but it looks good. The cartoon-styled art design is good as well.

As for the gameplay, this is a twinstick or mouse-and-keyboard shooter... with a lot of platforming. So you know what that means by now, I think the controls are kind of awful! On keyboard, you need to try to use the keyboard to move and jump while you aim and shoot on mouse, and it doesn't work at all. Fortunately you often can just take your hand off the mouse and use just the keyboard for both, and then just go back to the mouse for when you need to fight, but sometimes you do need both jumping and shooting at once, and it's very awkward and uncomfortable. On gamepad things work slightly better, but jumping while aiming and moving all at the same time is still awkward. While the dual-stick setup gives you great control over where you're aiming, overall I prefer traditional controls. You move quite quickly in this game too, so while the controls are responsive, getting where you want without getting hung up on little corners in the scenery can be frustrating. Maybe the worst thing about the controls, though, are the QTEs. You see, on every single one of the 100 major enemies you kill in this game, you've got to successfully do a "hilarious" QTE in order to kill the thing. And you must kill all of them, as there are gates that only let you proceed once they're dead. If you mess it up, you take damage and get knocked back, which gets old fast. I have always greatly disliked QTEs, and putting mountains of QTEs into a platformer was an awful idea. Sure, there are a lot of violent death animations to watch once you succeed at them, but murdering these sometimes-totally-innocent creatures does not exactly feel good, and the comedy is only infrequently amusing.

Otherwise, though, this is a fairly traditional game, as you run around, explore levels, collect stuff, and shoot and jump. You have three weapons to switch between from, and though this is a level-based game, you eventually get a teleporter to be able to replay old levels and get abilities as you progress that let you get to new areas in earlier levels. The art design is mostly good if lacking in variety, and the fast movement can be fun, when you're not getting stuck on stuff. There is a lot of variety in enemy types as well, which is nice. But overall, Hell Yeah! is trying WAY too hard to be cool, and for me at least it fails at that. I got this game from a bundle and was not looking forward to playing this game because of the obnoxious themes here, and playing it justifies that. Still, there is some solid gameplay here, particularly for people who like these dual-stick platformers more than I do. Myself, I don't think I want to ever play this again. Also available, for digital download only, on Xbox 360 XBLA and PS3 PSN.


Hocus Pocus (1994) - 1 player, saves, 4 button gamepad supported. Hocus Pocus is a platformer developed by Moonlite Software and published by Apogee. This is a later Apogee release, and is one of their few platformers that runs in 256-color VGA instead of only 16-color EGA. So, the graphics are colorful, but how is the game? I remember liking this game well enough as a kid, but looking back on it, it has problems. Moonlite Software had previously made another game I played back then, the thoroughly mediocre title Clyde's Adventure. Fortunately they did much better work with Apogee, but some of that games' design did carry over to this one. Clyde's Adventure is a combat-free platformer focused on exploration and collection. You have to get all the crystals in each stage to progress, levels are large and mazelike, and there's a tight move limit so you need to learn the best route in each level to get through. In Hocus Pocus levels are still large and made up of blocky platforms, and you still need to collect all the crystals to beat each level, though there are only 5-9 per level this time instead of the hundreds of Clyde's Adventure, but instead of that annoying move limit you have enemies to fight and a magic wand that shoots lightning bolts. These changes are good and make this game a lot more fun than Clyde. The game has simple, responsive controls; all you do is run around, jump, and shoot. You can shoot up or forwards, and also can look up and down to see a bit farther. You only have that one main weapon, the wand, but there are upgrades to shoot multiple bolts at once, and limited-use spells with greater power such as fireballs in some stages as well. Exploring levels, fighting enemies, and collecting stuff can be fun. There are also lots of optional items to collect for points, and secret areas to find full of optional items to collect as well. Looking for that stuff's fun. And the game doesn't have any instant-death pits either, which is great, though there are many long pits which damage you quickly and can lead to a death if you wall into them in the wrong place.

The game has some problems, though. First, enemies in this game aren't always wandering around the levels; instead, they are magically warped in when you reach certain points. So, you're constantly having enemies appear right on top of you, which can lead to damage. You do have a health meter, most levels have health powerups to collect, and you can save and the game gives you infinite tries at each level, but still this will lead to deaths. And be careful when jumping, as with your somewhat quick movement it can be easy to miss a jump and take damage as a result. Those crystals can be an issue too, as you'll often have multiple paths to follow, and you'll generally need to fully explore every level to get all of the crystals. If you reach the end but missed a crystal, you'll just have to backtrack for it, avoiding traps along the way. The game also has switches. And on that note, Hocus Pocus's idea of puzzles is either to hide stuff in random corners, or to have multiple switches that you need to set in the correct positions, but there aren't clues so you randomly have to hit them until you get it right. All of this adds up to a memorization-focused game. You will be restarting levels repeatedly until you memorize the enemy, crystal, and trap locations, and while there is fun to be had, it will get old after a while. The bad music, which loops constantly and doesn't vary much within each song, doesn't help much. The background graphics are good, though, and there are nice parallax layers and smooth scrolling with lots of color use. Even so, the sprites themselves do look somewhat amateurish.

Additionally, the game lacks variety over the course of the good-length campaign. This game has four episodes, the first originally released free as shareware and the others pay, and each has a good number of levels. The background tilesets change a bit between episodes, and different levels have different enemies, though each stage seems to have only two or three types of foes in it, but the core gameplay is unchanged throughout and gets repetitive. And for one last criticism, the story is not nearly as funny as the writer thought it was; some of that backstory text is painfully bad. Still, Hocus Pocus is, overall, an above-average game. The game has a fast pace, plenty of content to see, and lots of stuff to find as you search through levels for all the crystals and point items, killing the monsters that appear to bar your way. I may have some issues with this game, but it is more good than bad and is worth a look, for collectathon fans particularly. The retail version was originally released only on physical media, but now the game is available on 3D Realms' website and on GOG for digital download. As usual you'll need to fix the bad default GOG settings they use to get the game looking and playing right.


Joylancer, The: Legendary Motor Knight (Early Access Game) (2014-?) - 1-4 player simultaneous (single system), saves (though the full campaign is not implemented yet), gamepad supported (xinput only, at least for me). The Joylancer is a fast-paced action-platformer developed by alpha six productions and published by Merge Games, inspired indie game inspired by the look and sound of original Game Boy or Game Boy Color games, but with 16:9, parallax scrolling, and optional additional effects. In this sci-fi game you play as one of the Joylancers, soldiers with a drill-like weapon, and have to defeat an ancient evil empire attacking your nation again. Joy the Joylancer is the default character, but there are other choices of both genders, each with slightly different stats and abilities. You zip around with your drill-like lance, fighting enemies and navigating platforms as you try to save the nation from evil. The game definitely still feels unfinished, though, despite being in development for several years now. The game has been in Early Access since 2014 but still is not finished after many delays, so this won't be a review of the finished game, just what it is as of the January 2016 build, the most recent one as of this writing. This is the only unfinished game on this list, but I have it, so I'm covering it.

For modes, the main ones are Arcade mode, where you have to play the whole game in one sitting, and Adventure mode, which is supposed to be the main game but currently just lets you move around the map and play the levels in any order. There is also a battle arena for multiplayer versus fights, though I haven't tried it. The first issue I have with this game, though, is the menu interface. The menu interfaces are confusing and poorly laid out; why is the spacebar the default pause button, on keyboard? Why are the main menu and pause menu entirely separate; most games have an options menu in the main menu, but not here. Why do you need to hit a keyboard key to get to the control-settings screen, instead of having it as an option in the pause menu? It took me a while to figure out where the control settings screen was. Why does the game save all settings completely independently to each save file profile, so if you switch profiles it'll automatically switch the game between windowed and fullscreen modes depending on how each one is set, and the controls will auto-switch as well so your gamepad may randomly not work in some if you haven't set up the keys there? Oh, and I recommend changing graphics display settings ingame, as the menu doesn't show what each one looks like. And while I appreciate having lots of options, sometimes a developer needs to make choices, and putting so many options in like this is a little odd at times. It'll be interesting to see if all of this makes the final version.

Next, the visuals. Now, the display options let you change this, but in any settings the game has some sensory-overload issues. First, the on-screen interface has eight totally different looks (I like G the best), but in any setting the constant stream of large, moving attack-type-and-damage-amount indicators that appear in the bottom right is overdone. At least some don't have useless indicators like a number that changes based on how high off the ground you currently are; yes, I can tell I am jumping without looking down there! You can play The Joylancer in a monochrome palette, a two-palette mode, or full color. In full color the game is garishly bright, as each sprite or background element uses a different 4-color palette and backgrounds are complex and loaded with stuff. I like the concept here, as I love the GB line, but the clashing colors are too much sometimes. So, I probably like the look best in monochrome, though unfortunately this does make it even harder to tell which sprite is yours in the messy melees. The two-tone mode helps a bit here, to at least distinguish sprites from backgrounds, so that's probably the best setting. The actual sprite-art elements look nice, though, color aside. It's just a way too busy style, with the backgrounds, parallax, varying-size sprites, status displays, and effects, if you don't turn them off. As for the music, it's weird. It is chiptune-style sound, but it is this very weird electronic-sound stuff. I have heard this kind of music before, though I have no idea what it's called. I find it discordant and grating, and have never liked this kind of music, though it is interesting I guess.

Finally, on to the gameplay. The Joylancer is a two-button game, jump and attack. This fast and flashy game is the opposite of a precision platformer. As with everything else in this game, the game is a bit overly modifiable, though the core gameplay does not change. You can alter how many attacks work, but how attacks go depends on your power meter, which has several blocks. You have a weak normal attack, but also various power attacks. Power attacks go a good distance forward on land, or diagonally upwards in the air. By default it uses a full power attack when you hit attack and have meter, but I think I like the setting which makes you hit the button again better, so you don't always use all the meter. To recharge the power meter, you either need to tap Down+Attack repeatedly, or find and equip a part which auto-refills your meter. One such part exists in this build, though it might be harder to get in the final game. But oh yes, you have three equipment spots which you will get stuff for. There isn't much now. The auto-charge is great because having to constantly charge attacks is annoying sometimes. You can also jump high straight into the air with Up+Jump, attack straight down with Down+Attack, and the game even has parry and counter systems. Yes, really. Red lines on enemy attacks mean you can counter them with an attack. As for the stages, levels are broken up into many short areas, and those areas are made up of decent but not always great platforming sections, and areas where you can't progress until you defeat all the enemies. The game plays very quickly, but despite this enemies have quite a bit of health and can take a while to beat. Enemies have visible health meters in the status display area, and there is also a burst multiplier meter on screen. Ultimately though I've never liked side-scrolling beat 'em ups much, so the heavy emphasis on fighting kind of loses me even with the additions this game has. Zipping around with your lance can be fun for a while, but I always find myself losing interest in this game after a while.

On the whole, it's fun to zoom around blasting through the enemies as you hit stuff, but I think it's kind of a mess; I have little sense of when I'm taking damage and when I'm not, why my health sometimes refills, and more. It's so fast and chaotic that such details are hard to discern. Since the game uses only two buttons, you're spending a lot of time just mashing one button, sometimes with a direction, so combat is repetitive. I'd like more platforming and less combat, myself. Overall, The Joylancer is an interesting but flawed title, and I'd say right now it's average at best. There is something pretty interesting here, and the extreme degree of customization is somewhat unique, but between the simple, imprecise combat mountain of options to figure out, and unfinished elements because this game is still not done, I can't recommend this game to most. There is definitely an audience for this though, so if it sounds interesting check it out.
 
… So, yeah, this update was long coming; after finishing the Rush 2049 review I was pretty busy for a while and didn’t get anything done towards this next update of my PC Game Opinion Summaries list, which I am returning to here, for weeks. Even considering that I probably should have been able to get this done, but at least it’s done now, and all eight games I cover here have pretty in-depth summaries as a result.

Of the eight games in this update, Love and Mystik Belle are probably my favorite two. The rest are all average to good as well; nothing bad here, though Monster Bash probably is my least favorite of these.

Table of Contents
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Just Get Through (2015)
Love (2014)
Magicmaker (2014)
Math Rescue (1992)
Momodora III (2014)
#Monster Bash (1993)
MURI (2013)
Mystik Belle (2015)


Just Get Through (2015, WinXP+) – 1 player (with online leaderboards), saves (times, scores, and unlocks only), mouse & keyboard or gamepad supported (xinput only). This is, yes, an indie pixel-art platformer. The game is okay, but I don’t love it. This heavily randomized game has levels made up of fairly simple tile-based layouts. There is no story or campaign to play through; you just play levels from various randomized or player-created sets available, trying to finish them in the best time you can. You can also make your own levels in an editor. All levels take place in caves dug out of the ground. You can move in the open spaces, and your goal is to navigate through each level with the games’ wall-jumping mechanic and dynamite weapon. There are no normal moving enemies here, but there are many deadly traps. You must avoid those traps in each stage and make it to the portal that warps you to the next level. Levels are short, but often are tough to get through. The game has mostly randomized level designs, and you can tell, unfortunately, as levels are often random and not well laid out. Visually, the game has a decent look to it, though it doesn’t stand out too much. The game has monochromatic graphics with a variety of selectable color palettes available, so you will see one color for most of the environment, and a second for the background. I have no problem with monochrome graphics, I love the Game Boy, but sometimes it can be hard to tell what is a trap and what isn’t because everything looks so similar in both looks and color. The moving obstacles aren’t hard to spot, but telling deadly spikes from normal plant life is much harder than it should be. And the randomization makes for boring levels sometimes, too, with far too many entirely irrelevant chunks of levels everywhere outside of the path you actually need to follow to get to the exit. There is absolutely no reason to explore in this game, so those areas serve no purpose. Designed levels are almost always more fun than random! Additionally, this game recommends mouse and keyboard play but runs exclusively in fullscreen-windowed mode and does NOT lock the mouse cursor to the screen, so anyone like me with two monitors has a big problem! While playing this game be very careful to not move the mouse cursor out of the window, because it’ll instantly minimize the game to the taskbar if you do. That’s such an easily solved problem, it’s hard to understand how they didn’t think of it. You can also play with a gamepad, and that is mostly better, but aiming will be easier with a mouse.

The gameplay is flawed as well, because the controls are not great. Your movement feels only okay, and the wall jump is very odd-feeling and sticky. You start sliding down a wall when you jump onto it, but the jump off of that wall sometimes goes in odd directions. You do move quickly, and it can be satisfying when you zip past some of the many spike traps and spinning blades in the nick of time, but between the bad wall-jumping and sometimes iffy other controls, too often this game doesn’t feel great to play. Additionally, everything in this game kills you in one hit. You get a set number of lives per run, and cannot save during a run and extra lives are rare, so the game punishes you somewhat harshly for every mistake. Due to the short length of stages runs can be short, so the lack of saving within a run isn’t a big issue and gives the game a classic arcadey feel, but it will lead to playing easier stages often as you slowly try to get better so you can actually get through a run. Given how most randomize level designs most will not be the same each time, but the difficulty curve does ramp up over the course of a run. Now, in order to help deal with that randomization, you have a weapon: dynamite. You can aim dynamite with the mouse or gamepad analog stick, and throw with the mouse button. Dynamite will blow up a chunk of the ground, which can be really helpful for getting past near-impossible trap layouts. I like the deformable terrain, that’s a great idea, but that the designers decided to just let you blow up the stage instead of ensuring that each stage is actually beatable as it is is not that good design-wise. You have limited dynamite too, so you can get yourself stuck in unwinnable situations at times if you are not careful. On the other hand, while this game has no form of permanent progression, every couple of levels during a run the game lets you choose one of three powerups that will stick with you for the rest of that run. Many of these boost or refill your dynamite, but you also can get higher jumps, more visibility, and more. It is a decent reward for getting farther.

In conclusion, Just Get Through is a below-average game with bland and sometimes confusing graphics, a very limited number of obstacles and traps to deal with, flawed controls centering around a somewhat poorly implemented wall-jump system, no goal beyond just playing levels because there is no main campaign here to be found, and a frustratingly high difficulty level at times. The game does also provide plenty of challenge, has endless numbers of levels to play between the map editor and randomization, and can be fun to play at least some of the time once you get used to it, so I can see why some people like it. Going by its Steam reviews, though, Just Get Through is probably over-rated. I found this game somewhat disappointing and can’t recommend it.


Love (2014, WinXP+) – 1 player, gamepad supported (xinput only), saves (options and scores only). Love is a pretty good pixel-art platformer with a classic Atari or Commodore 64-styled aesthetic. In this simple platformer, you play as a stick figure guy who has to make it through some pretty tricky levels. There are several modes here and a custom mode, but the main mode gives you 100 lives to get through 16 stages. I haven’t beaten it yet, though I have gotten pretty far. This is a simple game with simple and straightforward gameplay and controls. The game uses two buttons, one to jump and the other to change your respawn point to the location you are currently standing. You move pretty quickly and have good air control, but even so making jumps can be tricky at times because you only have a single jump, not double, the controls are touchy, and you are constantly having to make jumps to VERY narrow or quickly-changing spaces. The game does play fine on keyboard, but will be better on a gamepad due to the better control of a d-pad. Despite the regular deaths, though, the running and jumping controls here feel good, and the game is a lot of fun to play. As for that user-changeable respawn point mechanic, this button lets you set the location in the stage that you will start from again when you die. You can only change the respawn point when on solid ground, but this is a fantastic feature that helps let you avoid tough parts, if you choose to use it. Your goal on each stage is to reach the end. There is nothing to collect in this game, and no enemies to fight; you simply avoid threats. This may sound simple, but in fact the game has a lot of variety as you progress. This game is entirely predesigned, not random, and every level looks like it had a lot of work put into it.

For features, the main mode is, as mentioned, a 100-life, 16-level challenge. You cannot save your progress during a run, so once you run out of lives you need to start the game over from the beginning. Levels don’t take too long so this is quite doable if you can stay alive, but staying alive will be the challenge! While nothing is displayed on screen during play except for how many lives you have left, after a run you get a score screen showing how many times you used the ‘change the checkpoint’ power, whether you finished all the levels or not, your overall ranking, and more. This gives the game a nice score component, to encourage players to get better at the game and score higher. Beyond the main mode there are four others: a one-life mode for people very good at this game; a Remix mode which gives you 100 lives to get through eight remixed, more challenging versions of some of the levels from the main game; an Easy mode with infinite lives but that gives you much lower scores as a result; a speedrun mode which gives you infinite lives and a timer instead of a lives counter, to see how fast you can get through the game; and custom levels you can make and save in the LoveCustom level editor. Unfortunately the game has no online score or level sharing support built in, so if you want to trade levels or scores you’ll need to do it yourself. Otherwise this is a good, full-featured title.

Visually, Love has a black background, a single color for the regular platforms that make up most of each stage, and white for things which are interactive in some way. This game has a very chunky-pixel, low-resolution style to it, fitting with the games’ theme. It is silly how this very simple-looking game requires moderate computer power to run well, but that’s modern gaming, unfortunately. It runs fine even for me and my 9 1/2 year old computer when I’m not running other applications. Most white things kill you in one hit, but white circles are bounce pads you will automatically jump off of when you touch them, and certain white chains won’t hurt you, they just indicate where moving spike wheels go. Generally, though, you want to avoid everything white and not circular, because it’s death. Each stage has a different color for its regular platforms and a different look to it, so there is visual variety as you progress despite the very simple visuals. I grew up on somewhat newer games than the ones this game was inspired by, but Love’s early ’80s aesthetic looks great. The game does have some trial and error as you learn what to do in each stage and what each white thing will do, but for the most part the graphics are clear and sharp. The music is electronic, but it’s far too high fidelity to be in an actual early ’80s game. Still, it’s good electronic techno videogame music and fits the game quite well.

Overall, Love is a good game I definitely recommend to platformer fans. You don’t need to have played early ’80s games back then to like this game, it should appeal to anyone who likes traditional platformers. The game has a good visual look, good music, good level designs, fun and interesting challenges to work past, and plenty of challenge and lastability in its levels and added modes. I do wish that the game had online leaderboards and level trading, and that the game would tell you what level you are on or died at because it never does that, but otherwise this game is great. Definitely check it out.


Magicmaker (2014, WinXP+) – 1 player, saves, gamepad supported (xinput only). Magicmaker is an indie platformer made a very small team at Tasty Stewdios. The game is a platform-action game with tiny and often amateurish graphics, mouse and keyboard controls, some odd hitboxes, randomly generated levels, and a magic-crafting system that is central to the game, as the name suggests. So, that sounds like I’m sure to dislike it, right? Well, I do dislike the movement controls when using keyboard, but otherwise I kind of like this despite my dislike for both randomly-generated platformer levels and, especially, crafting systems. So, what is there to like about this game, for me? It’s about the gameplay first and foremost, but also the crafting system is simple and not tedious or frustrating; it’s as much an inventory system as it is anything else, as the main “crafting” you do here is equip some of the 40 different types of magic to your mages’ robe, wand, and attack spell. You can equip up to three different magic types to each of those inventory slots, and must choose a loadout before beginning a mission because you cannot change it in-game. In levels you do collect items, mostly new magic types or doubles of ones you already have in order to equip that type to more inventory slots and power up the magics’ strength, but you will never need to memorize crafting recipes here, or tediously hack at the enemies or ground to grind materials, because this is not that kind of game. Thank goodness.

Player control is simple, as you run around quickly, jump, and attack with magic. You can only have one wand at a time, but can equip two spell sets, and if you’re good you can unlock more than that. By default you move with WASD, jump with Space, aim with the mouse, use your two attacks with the two mouse buttons, and switch spells with the mousewheel. Moving and jumping with one hand while you aim with the other is as awkward as ever. Fortunately there is also gamepad support, but combat will be easier with the mouse since you can aim more accurately. There’s no perfect way I have found to play this kind of game, unfortunately. It does work as it is, and you can re-configure the controls, but it’s not ideal. Enemies eventually start shooting a lot of bullets at you, too, so bullet-dodging will be key to your survival; you have a health bar, but bosses particularly can kill you. As for your attacks, your weaker magic wand attack is infinite-use, while your stronger magic spell attacks drains a magic meter with each use. This meter refills fairly quickly, but you can’t just spam the stronger attack, you will need to mix it up. This mechanic works well. Of course the two million possible spells you can create with the 40 equippable magic types also will have a great impact on combat.

And on that note, gameplay in Magicmaker involves going on quests from the central hub at the school to various areas. As with many indie games this game is not too long, as there are only five areas each with a handful of quests, but there is a New Game + available once you beat the game and random missions as well, so there is a reasonable amount of content here if you get into it. Missions are generally simple and usually involve killing everything you find. There is some variety along the way, though, as in addition to lots of platforms to jump on and enemies to shoot at, there are also puzzles to solve, such as having to touch or shoot at gems to move them into doors to unlock optional chests or escape from an area. Mission maps are randomly generatied, though, so while they mostly work, sometimes they will be poorly laid out. There is an on-sceen minimap though, so you shouldn’t get lost. Most missions conclude with a boss fight though, and those can be fun and challenging. Then you can change your equipment and choose what to do next.

In the game, you play as a nameless young wizard who needs a job. A magic temp agency finds you a position as a security guard at a local magic school, so off you go to do the various quests they assign you in order to protect the school, though you end up defending a bad system; alternate endings would have been better. The story tries to be amusing, but the script is sparse at times and isn’t all well written. The gameplay is the draw here, not the story. The graphics aren’t the draw either, for sure, as the sprites are tiny and simplistic. Between your stick figure-ish character and the simple and angular environments, this game kind of looks like a mixture of basic assets and programmer art. That’s fine because the gameplay is good, but I should mention it. Even so, I do like some of the environmental details and the nice variety of enemies. Additionally, the game has some nice spell effects, which change based on your magic types equipped. Once you get used to the visuals, this game does look good. The musical compositions are quite nice string instrument bits. I really like them, but they are pretty short, so you’ll hear each areas’ music loop a lot. Still, it’s good. On the whole, with straightforward gameplay, fun action, and lots of spells to create and fight things with, Magicmaker is an interesting and fun indie platform-action game. The game does have issues, including some occasional possible grind for some magic, the randomized level layouts, and the iffy story, graphics, and movement controls, but it is good overall. This game is worth a try for cheap.


Math Rescue (1992, DOS) – 1 player, saves, gamepad supported. Math Rescue is an educational game which mixes platforming gameplay with math problems. The game was developed by and was published by Apogee. The team made both Math and Word Rescue games, and they are similar, but this game is probably the better of the two both because it released a little later and has improved graphics, and also because this games’ educational element works better than that one. Math Rescue is one part simple collection-heavy Apogee-style platformer, and one part math problem game. Designed for children up to ten years old but potentially fun for most anyone, the game teaches addition, subtraction, multiplication, and division, in both regular and word problem forms. You can play as either a boy or a girl, and run and jump around in enemy-free platformer stages. The girl character is actually the default in both of these games, possibly because the programmer was a woman. Math and Word Rescue are two of Apogee’s only games ever with playable female characters, unfortunately; their rivals at Epic were better with that, but at least Epic did publish these two games with gender diversity. The visuals are fairly standard Apogee EGA fare, with solidly drawn backgrounds and characters. There’s even parallax scrolling in some parts of the game, which is pretty nice for the time on the PC. There is a Soundblaster soundtrack as well, with some decent if unspectacular music.

Your goal in each stage is to find and solve enough math problems to make a key, which will then let you move on to the next level. Each level has quite a few problems on offer, each marked with numbered blocks marked with the numbers 0 to 9. When you touch a block you go into a math problem room. So, like some other edutainment games of the day, this is a math game that controls like a platformer.
You need to jump into the blocks in numerical order in order for your progress towards completing the level to count. Levels are small to moderate in size and are open-ended, so you wander around each level, looking for items to collect for points, number blocks to hit to enter math problem rooms, and avoid enemies. Now, this game is mostly non-violent game, but there are badguys here, the creatures which stole numbers from the world. There is an amusing backstory explaining why these slimy aliens want to steal Earth’s numbers, too. You attack with slime buckets that your helper, Benny the Bookworm, will dump on enemies. Whenever you hit the attack button he will automatically slime the nearest enemy on screen in the direction you are facing, so combat is quite simple. You do have limited ammo and health, though, and each time you get a question wrong an enemy spawns, so you do want to get questions right. If you die you will need to restart the current stage, though the game does save your progress at the current level automatically to a player file you name when you start up the game.

In math problem rooms, the problem you need to solve appears on the top part of the screen, and you can move around on the bottom as usual. There is a row of 10 number blocks there, and you simply jump up into the number, or numbers, that are the answer to the question. It’s simple and works well. The first episode of three in the game, which is the free shareware episode, has only addition and subtraction. If you get the full registered version however, episodes two and three also optionally have multiplication and division problems, which certainly will up the difficulty if you’re trying to answer them all in your head. This game won’t never ask really hard problems, everything involves single or sometimes double-digit numbers, but still there is some challenge here to the educational component in a way that there isn’t in Word Rescue, as I will get to later. Overall, Math Rescue feels like a conventional Apogee game crossed with an educational math game. The open, item-heavy levels feel like smaller versions of stages you’d see in a Keen or Duke Nukem game, the visuals and sound are Apogee-styled, and the game plays great. This is a somewhat slow-paced game as you cannot run and don’t move really fast, and the educational element makes it best for children, but I like it anyway. Math Rescue is a good game for sure, and anyone who thinks it sounds interesting should give it a look. It’s a fun little game. Originally released as a physical title for PC; now also available for PC, Mac, and Linux digital download on Steam, GOG, and 3D Realms’ website. I have the retail version through the now-unavailable 3D Realms Anthology that I got from their site, but you can still buy this game individually on all those sites.
 
Momodora III (2014, WinXP+) – 1 player, saves, gamepad supported (xinput only, if it works for you). Momodora III, from small indie team rdein, is a side-scrolling pixel-art action-platformer. This short but reasonably fun game is a shameless clone of the popular mid ’00s indie game Cave Story. This game looks, sounds, and plays a WHOLE lot like Cave Story, just with two Cave Story-esque square-faced anime girl characters to play as instead of Cave Story’s boy robot, and an even shorter and less substantial game than you’ll find in that title. I did like Cave Story, but I didn’t get as into it as some people did; I never have gone back to it after beating the freeware version once after it came out. And thanks to its popularity, this style of chunky-pixel action-platformer has become an indie-game staple. Even so, this one is worth a look, and Momodora III is its own thing and not only a clone. In this game you play as Momo or Dora, two anime-style girls who look different but play nearly identically. One can buy one item earlier on that makes the game easier, but otherwise they are the same. The story is also lacking. The game does not have an in-game introduction, so the only backstory is the few sentences of text on the online store pages. On top of that, this game does not explain anything that happened in the previous two games, which I have not played. What in-game story that does exist feels thin, as most bosses fight you without a word; only a few scattered characters actually talk to you. Fortunately the action is better than the writing. Visually, again, Momodora III looks like something straight out of Cave Story: the pixels are big and chunky, the characters have big, rectangular heads, and enemies drop bouncing shapes you pick up for points/money. The backgrounds are well-drawn and interesting, though, and there is a strong sense of atmosphere at times. The overall visual look is good. Musically, the game has a good orchestral-style electronic soundtrack. It’s not as low-fi as the graphics, but sounds good and fits the game well. On the whole, the presentation in Momodora III is pretty good, but shamelessly copies a popular game more than I’d like.

Even so, the gameplay is fun and stands up well on its own. In this pixel-art platformer, you run around, slash things with a sword, talk to people, and kill enemies while collecting shiny pickups that serve as money. If you hold down the attack button you can shoot out a projectile attack, but it’s kind of weak and is only sometimes useful. The controls are good and responsive, and you can take multiple hits here. Hearts are your health, three for Hard mode, 5 for Easy, and 6 plus regenerating health for Casual. The game uses only two buttons plus a pad, so the controls are simple too. On keyboard the game defaults to the arrow keys for movement and A and S for attack and jump, and that works fine though it is configurable, but a pad is preferable. However, gamepad support seems to be kind of flaky, and doesn’t work for some people even with Xinput controllers. You may need to use a joystick-to-keyboard program to use this game with a gamepad. Now, Cave Story had a variety of weapons, both melee and ranged, but that is not true here. So, this is a melee-focused game. You will get items, which you can equip in three item slots on an inventory screen, or four slots in New Game + mode, but these are not new weapons, just modifications to your attacks or things like healing or damage reduction. Most items stay in effect as long as you equip them, but a few are one-time-use. You don’t have an item button though, these items activate automatically once the right conditions are met, such as running out of health in that case. There is a free fairy bottle early in the first level, so it’s a very good idea to go back and get another one after using one on a boss and going to the next stage; the stage warps send you back to the beginning of the level you go to, so that’s the best time.

The world design here is simpler than Cave Story’s as well. While that game was a linear title, it has a main hub that connects to various side areas for a somewhat Metroidvania-like style. Momodora III, however, is broken up into more traditional levels. Each area does let you travel back and forth through it, and you can warp to past levels from any save point, but the main game here is mostly just moving forward through stages, and fighting bosses at the end of each level. There are also occasional shops to buy items with, though you also get some free here and there. I have always thought that linearity in games is just fine if it works well, though, and it does here. Each level looks noticeably different, and exploring the stages is fun on both a visual and gameplay sense. Levels are simple, with a good mix of action and platforming. This game is probably more action than platforming, but there are plenty of pits and spikes to jump over. The game also has a lot of bounce pads scattered around. On the action side, there is a nice variety of enemies to fight. Each enemy and boss has a set of attacks, and memorizing those is key. The boss fights are varied and fun, and learning each one’s attacks is interesting. Bosses take a lot of hits to kill and you die quickly, so some practice may be required. Unfortunately, sometimes various background or attack effects can obscure what’s going on, which can be an issue when you must be able to see enemeies to know what action they’re going to take next. Now, this is a very short game, beatable in an hour or two the first time you play it on Easy, the default setting, and it is even shorter with practice. There are only six or seven not-too-long stages here and that’s it. However, the game is fun while it lasts, so that’s okay. There is also some replay value in Hard difficulty and the unlockable New Game + mode, but the short length and unoriginal concept are the games’ main issues. Still, particularly if you find it on sale sometime, with a solid anime theme, good action, fun and varied boss fights, and well-designed environments, Momodora III is a fun little game worth a play.


Monster Bash (1993, DOS) – 1 player, saves, gamepad supported. Monster Bash is an okay sidescrolling action-platformer from and published by Apogee. As much as I love Apogee, this one has never been one of my favorites. It’s a fine game, sure, but their best games are a lot better. In this Halloween-styled game, you play as a young boy in his pajamas fighting off hordes of zombies, skeletons, and the like with his slingshot. That may sound kid-friendly, but oddly this game also has lots of blood for the time, so I’m not sure who the target audience actually is. That is one of several reasons that while it may be getting closer to Halloween as I write this, Apogee’s two halloween-themed games, this one and Alien Carnage/Halloween Harry, are two of my least favorite games Apogee published. Part of that may be simply that I have never liked horror-themed things much, but I also find the gameplay here not quite as fun as some other Apogee games are. Monster Bash is at least average, but most Apogee games were better than that. Visually the game is average for the time for a shareware game. It has solidly-drawn EGA graphics with large sprites, and a fine Soundblaster soundtrack. There is no parallax though, and the large sprites make for a limited viewing distance. You can’t look around to get a better view of your surroundings either.

So, this is a platform-action game. You can run and jump and will be doing a lot of that, but shooting is also a major focus. Your stones shoot out at a slight arc and can bounce around a bit, but you mostly just shoot at things in front of you. You do have a health bar in this game, thankfully, and unlimited ammo. Powerups can upgrade your attack temporarially and refill your health. Unfortunately, one of the biggest issues with this game are its slippery controls. Your guy slides around as he moves, and takes a moment to stop moving after you press the button, too. It’s not great. This game is not quite a Prince of Persia-styled highly animated platform-adventure title, but there is maybe some influence from that kind of game here and I don’t care for that. Levels are linear and fairly straightforward. Eventually more mazelike levels will appear, but the game feels focused on having you try to get to the exit. You often can’t backtrack in stages once you reach certain points, too. There are items to collect along the way for points, but that’s not as much of a focus here as it is in, say, a Keen game. That’s fine, I love lots of linear games, but with controls as flawed as these are, I never have found this game much fun to play and never have been able to stick with it for long. So, overall, Monster Bash is a mediocre platform-action game. Playing it again now, this is the same not-too-great game I remember it being when I first played it in the early to mid ’90s. Still, the game has plenty of large levels to explore, decent graphics and sound, and a theme some people will like a lot more than I do, so I’m sure there is an audience for this game; I’m just not a part of it. Originally released as a physical title for PC; now also available for PC, Mac, and Linux digital download on Steam, GOG, and 3D Realms’ website. I have the retail version through the now-unavailable 3D Realms Anthology that I got from their site, but you can still buy this game individually on all those sites.


MURI (2013, WinXP+) – 1 player, saves (scores and options only, not progress), gamepad supported. MURI is an indie platformer published by Ludosity AB and inspired by early ’90s DOS games, Duke Nukem 1 in particular. This game has some modern elements, but the core audio-visual presentation and gameplay are heavily inspired by Duke 1. The game even has a choice between 16 or 32fps, if you want an authentically low framerate like the first Duke game has. I’d rather play in the smoother mode, myself, but it is a pretty cool option to have. In the game, you play as a middle-aged black woman scientist, but beyond that too-uncommon choice of characters in a game, the actual story is annoyingly melodramatic and quite depressing. I won’t spoil what happens, but I want to play as the good guy in games, not as someone who does the things you do in this game! Too bad. As an aside, “Muri” means “impossible” in Japanese, apparently, but I don’t know why the game has a Japanese name when it’s Western-made and is designed to emulate classic Western games, not Japanese ones. Anyway,the story is conventional but the character isn’t, considering how almost all Apogee games star white males. Visually, this game looks very much like the CGA and EGA games it emulates. The game uses few enough colors that it well might actually be a 16-color palette, and the colors, including purple, white, green, and blue, are the kinds of colors commonly seen in ’90s games. The game also does have some parallax scrolling, though it’s only in some levels. It doesn’t affect the framerate of course, unlike many early ’90s PC games. The game has average to good graphics overall, with some pretty good-looking parts particularly thanks to how much of the look of this game tries to look as much like an Apogee game as possible. However, the sprites are only average looking most of the time and some environments are bland as well. That’s okay, but overall, I’m just not sure about what I think of making a game that you’re charging money for that is this visually similar to a classic title. The gameplay here does have some new ideas, but the graphics do not. As for MURI’s sound, just like in Duke 1, there are sound effects but not music. There isn’t even a footsteps sound like Keen 1-3 has, so there is only any sound in this game when you’re shooting, getting hit, or such. Some may dislike that, or the harsh-sounding sounds, but I think they fit the game perfectly. The audio’s just right.

The controls are simple, but you do have a few more moves than Duke has in Duke 1: you can walk around, jump, duck, and shoot. I like how the jumping controls are just like in Apogee games, so as long as you hold the jump button you automatically jump, and stop going up on your jump as soon as you let go of the button. The game has two-button controls, jump and shoot, just like early ’90s games, and I really like that it defaults to Control and Alt for shoot and jump. You can also use Z and X, but Control and Alt is best for the most authentic feel. Additionally, while you hold the shoot button you lock your firing in that direction, so if you want to fire the other way you’ll have to stop shooting for a moment and turn around first. This isn’t a feature any Apogee game has, and it does amp up the intensity of some of the firefights, as it allows for more bullet-dodging and trickier enemy patterns without the frustration of only being able to shoot forwards. However, there are a few times I died because of enemies hitting me from behind before I could stop firing and turn around, so it can hurt you at times. When you do get hit, you lose health on your health bar. You can take a good number of hits per life, and start with three lives per episode. When you die you respawn exactly where you died and without any progress lost, unlike most classic games; this makes boss fights much easier than they otherwise would be. There are also six different weapons to collect, and just like in Duke 1 you cannot switch them ingame; instead, the game simply equips the most powerful onme at all times. Your default gun has infinite ammo, but the others usually are limited, unless you collect an infinite-ammo version of one. If you do have one of those though, you lose it upon death. The controls overall are good.

As with the controls, level designs in MURI have a lot of similarities Apogee’s work in Duke Nukem 1. As in that game, levels are sizable, fun to explore, full of jumps, enemies, and secrets, and there are no instant-death pits. However, there are also some important differences. First, while the stages are decent-sized, these levels are smaller and much less mazelike than Duke 1’s sometimes oversized levels are. You shouldn’t almost ever get lost in this game, unlike Dukes 1 or 2. There are also a lot less collectibles in each level to find for points. Levels do still have hidden areas to find full of point items, and I like how the game hints at where you should look or shoot for these without always blatantly giving it away, but any ’90s Apogee game has far, far more. Compared to those games MURI puts much more emphasis on shooting and action, and less on exploration. These changes make the game feel more modern, in that less confusing or entirely linear designs are the modern style so as to keep players from getting frustrated, but while this game is definitely fun to play, the levels are much simpler than Duke 1 or 2 levels. The creator said the goal was a more streamlined and arcadey game than Duke is, though, and it does deliver on that. But the resulting stages don’t take long to finish, and this game has only four episodes of five levels each. I beat this game in a bit over an hour on Normal, and it was not challenging most of the time. There are two harder difficulties available, though, and they significantly up the challenge. You see, sadly, unlike every actual Apogee game ever, you cannot save during episodes in this game and if you run out of lives you will have to restart the episode from the beginning. So, in the higher difficulties where there are no health powerups in Hard and no health OR 1-up powerups in the top difficulty, Muri, every death matters a lot. You do get a score multiplier in the higher difficulties as a reward for your efforts, but there isn’t a high-score table or name entry, only a single highest score next to each of the four episode names. That’s disappointing, compared to the full score tables of any classic Apogee game. Overall, MURI is a slightly above average platform-action game with fun gameplay and a great nostalgic look, but it is also short, unoriginal, has an awful story, and is not on par with Apogee’s classics. Still, if it’s on sale and you like Apogee, sure, maybe pick this one up.


Mystik Belle (2015, WinXP+) – 1 player, saves, gamepad supported. Mystik Belle is an open-world platform adventure game by Last Dimension, a small indie team. The same developer also made Ultionus, a game I will cover later in the list. Both games are moderately sized, made while they, or maybe just he, work a bigger Metroidvania title, Legend of Iya, that had a successful kickstarter. Still, Mystik Belle is a reasonable-length game which will take some hours to beat. I still have a long way to go, two hours in. I backed the kickstarter, and because of many long delays he was nice enough to give all backers free copies of both of the games he made in the interim! Getting three games for the price of one was a pretty good deal, so I don’t mind the delays. Anyway, Mystik Belle is a good game with both quality gameplay and graphics. The game has good sprite-art graphics and platform-adventure gameplay that is one part Metroidvania action-platformer, and one part Dizzy series-inspired sidescrolling adventure game. This game is fun, though it can be confusing at times when you’re not sure what to do next. It gets tough at times, too. I’ve never played the Dizzy games so I can’t compare this to those, but even if it is challenging at times, the adventure element of this game is well done, and I like the action too. And visually, the first thing anyone playing this game will see are the detailed cartoon-style graphics with great-looking, large sprites. The game is set in a spooky witches’ school, and everything fits the theme great. The gameplay is pretty good too, but the graphics are one of the best things about the game. Though you are always in one area, there is a fair amount of graphical variety in the game and the graphics for both environments and characters are always very good. You play as Belle, a girl witch student falsely accused of stealing an important item at her magic school. So, you’re stuck with having to save the day yourself even though you did nothing wrong… though as in most any adventure game you will do some questionable actions during the game itself. Heh. Still, that may not be fair, but it’s a solid setup for a videogame.

In the game, you wander around the school and environs, fighting enemies and collecting items you will need to figure out how to use to progress. While you stay alive you will also earn experience which can increase your health meter, but this resets to zero after each death. The two major gameplay elements here are action-platforming and adventure game style puzzle solving. First I will discuss the action side of this game. The action controls aren’t too complex. There are four main buttons, for jump, attack, interact, and dash. There is also an inventory menu button with a good map on it for navigation. You do have a health bar, but bosses particularly can deplete it quickly. And while you might have plenty of inventory items, these are for puzzles only, not combat; you can’t heal with items. You start out only able to jump once, but will get more abilities as you progress. There are a few too many platforms that you can only just barely reach with a single jump, which can be annoying, but the controls are mostly good. The attack button shoots when enemies are at range and swings your broom as a melee attack when they are close. Combat is fun, but fairly standard; there are no combos or such to attempt, just basic attacks. The melee attack is strong, but you are much more likely to take damage close up so there is some strategy, but this isn’t a game with a deep combat system. You will get abilities as you progress, though, to give you more spells beyond your starting fireball spell. You will also get a double jump and more. As per the Metroidvania formula, each of these allows you to reach new areas of the map. Level design is also heavily Metroidvania-inspired, as the school is a large maze of rooms and corridors. There are horizontal, vertical, and larger rooms, and some enemies are set in specific places in a room, while others infinitely spawn from the sides or floor of the room. Regular enemies are mostly not too tough, but you can die, and as mentioned earlier you are punished for that. Unfortunately, after every death you respawn back at the starting room, which is a while from anything. Ah well. There is a warp system, but the warp points are widely scattered. And again, the bosses are tough and require memorization and plenty of dodging enemy shots while trying to shoot or slash when you can, so you will die. Still, the game is a lot of fun to play and learning the bosses is a good challenge, so I don’t mind.

But Mystik Belle is not only a Metroidvania action-platformer, it also a graphic adventure game. This school may be full of dangerous monsters, but there also are people to talk to, always in rooms that don’t have enemies in them, and items to get all over. You can only carry six items at a time, so you’ll be leaving items all over the place. Fortunately, while the map does not mark where people you can talk to or bosses are, it does mark all items you’ve dropped with white dots. That is extremely useful. The adventure puzzles here are traditional inventory puzzles. You get items in many ways — from defeated enemies, lying around on the ground, by using other items in specific places, and such. There won’t be much pixel-hunting here, though, thankfully, as items clearly stand out from the backgrounds, and areas you can interact with are marked with exclamation marks. You also will often need to combine items, but this is automatic: just put the required items in your inventory at once, and provided you’ve learned about this possible combination Belle will combine them. Then, you use those items in other places, either on exclamation point spots or when used on characters. You need to open the inventory menu and then select an item there to use them, though, as there isn’t an inventory-item button. This sometimes is a little annoying as you try to find the right spot to stand on to interact with something. With sprites this big that isn’t a big deal, but it is annoying once in a while. The biggest issue with the game for most probably will be trying to figure out what to do next. There is someone who will tell you about your items, but beyond that you’re kind of on your own. Characters involved in ongoing quests will talk about what you need to do for that quest, but you will need to remember two to talk to as the game does not have a quest log or map markers telling you where to go next. These were intentional choices, to fit the classic style of the graphics and gameplay, but I find it frustrating when I get stuck in a game not knowing what to do next! Thankfully there is a pretty good guide for this game on GameFAQs, so use that if you want. I have looked up a few things, I admit, and I don’t think it hurts the game.
 
In conclusion, Mystik Belle is an interesting mix of genres which works well. The hybrid of adventure and action-platforming is original, but the mix actually works pretty well. The game really is both an action and adventure game, so for example, in order to access new areas sometimes you will need to use items and other times you need to use the abilities or spells you get from defeating bosses. This mixture actually works pretty well, though. The gameplay is similarly good. The controls are simple and reasonably responsive, though jumps sometimes are a little trickier than I’d like, and until you get more moves combat is pretty simple. The game also has great graphics and animation, it’s often fun to just look at stuff. The big sprites do mean you can’t see far ahead, but all areas are designed around this view distance so it’s fine. There is a lot more good here than bad, and I will definitely be playing more of this game. So, overall, Mystik Belle is a pretty good game worth playing for sure. This game didn’t get a lot of press, but while it isn’t perfect, it probably deserved more attention than it got.
 
Can't wait to see at the end which one is the worst xD
Heh... I don't know. Playing bad games on purpose is fun sometimes, but I probably don't have the absolute worst PC platformers; I don't buy atrocious games on Steam much. Of what I have covered so far though, without re-reading everything I've written but looking at the list of titles, I'm leaning towards Frogger: The Great Quest probably being the worst so far. That's a pretty bad game.

Beyond that, for 2d or 2.5d games, I'm not really sure what the worst one I've covered so far is. Part of it is that sometimes I'm more forgiving on games than many are, and it also surely helps that I do avoid the really terrible recent stuff, but most of the games that come to mind aren't actively awful. The worst 2d or 2.5d platformers I've covered so far are mostly just games I don't like all that much and would consider below average, but I can see why others would like them more than I do. Games I've summarized so far and would call below average (for what I enjoy) include Batman Forever, Apotheon, Just Get Through, Dave Goes Nutz, Dave's Risky Rescue, Aaru's Awakening, Electronic Super Joy, Hell Yeah! Wrath of the Dead Rabbit, Earthworm Jim, and Gateways. None of those are REALLY terrible though, so deciding which is worst is hard -- what do you focus on? I dislike those games for very different reasons, after all, as the summaries show. In terms of gameplay and controls, Batman Forever is probably the worst. But it has some other things about it I kind of like, in terms of visuals, style, and such, while some of those other games are far worse thematically -- like how I hate the story and settings in Hell Yeah or Apotheon, how I dislike the twin-stick controls in some of the games on this list and more, etc. Which is worse depends on the question.

So on a related note, are there any really awful freeware or shareware PC platformers I should add in those sections? I know that section could be expanded almost infinitely, so I should limit how much I cover there or it'll go on forever, but covering some really bad stuff could be amusing, if it's free...
 

Gurnlei

Member
Ouch, I was looking at getting Just Get Through based on that 90% positive reviews on Steam. But after reading some of the critiques and reading your post it seems like it won't be a game I'd enjoy. Gotta have tight controls for a platformer.
 
The first three games in this update are games I recently got in bundles, so I've got to cover them now instead of where they would appear earlier in the alphabet. After that, three games covering O and P. I've been quite distracted with some new console game stuff I got recently, but I finally got this done. This time I cover seven indie games released in the past four years. Oniken might be my favorite game this update, but apart from Cally's Trials I like all of these at least somewhat, so it's a mostly solid batch of games.

I did finish a seventh summary for this update, but pulled it at the last moment because I decided that Puddle is probably 2.5d, and for whatever reason I'm separating 2d and 2.5d games, so much later in the list that one goes...

Table of Contents for this Update
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Cally's Trials (2016)
Capsule Force (2015)
Environmental Station Alpha (2015)
Oniken (2014)
Out There Somewhere (2014)
PixelJunk Eden (2012)


Cally's Trials (2016, WinXP+) - 1 player, saves, gamepads supported (xinput only). Cally's Trials is an average-at-best platform action game from VDO Games with pretty basic gameplay and graphics, some bugs, and a nice soundtrack. You play as 6 year old Callie, and she may be young but she's already collecting a large arsenal of pistols, shotguns, machine guns, and more. Probably because the guns here are realistic, considering her age this kind of feels more questionable than games with kids with fantasy weapons like laser guns and the like. But this game has a lot more issues than that. First, visually, this is a bland-looking game that clearly was made on next to no budget in some game-maker software. Many indie platformers use these, but the end results here are pretty much freeware-grade stuff, but this game costs money. The game has bland-looking tile-based environments and okay but genericly cartoony sprite characters. It all looks pretty bland. The soundtrack is better than the graphics, though. I don't know how well all of it fits the game, but this game has a solid soundtrack.

The controls are simple: you can move, jump, shoot, slash with your sword, and switch weapons. The controls are decently average, but can be glitchy at times. You can also get multiple jumps if you buy them in a store in the main hub world. This store sells a variety of upgrades you will eventually need. Now, this game calls itself a "roguelike", but it really isn't; it's just a platformer with worlds that branch off from a hub with a store system. They try to call it a roguelike because when you run out of lives in a game, you are sent back to the hub to buy permanent upgrades with the money you earned in that run. The levels are not randomized, though, and there are no other roguelike elements here, so it really is not a roguelike, just an overly grindey platformer. Can't get past that next area? Grind for money earlier on until you can afford the upgrade you need! I don't like that kind of design much at all. This game wouldn't be too long if you could just play through it, but by making things just difficult enough that you will surely have to die and redo levels until you can afford more upgrades the game drags, and I can't see myself sticking with it much more.

Once you are in a level, you run, jump, and shoot everything that moves. Levels are made up of square tile blocks only, with a handful of types including blocks, spikes, lava, and the like. There are no angled surfaces or such here, and little variety within each of the games' handful of areas. The level designs are decent and can be fun to explore sometimes, but it is average stuff. Enemy AI is essentially nonexistent, as well; all enemies on the ground just move back and forth along the platform they are currently on, while airborne enemies just fly around, maybe at you or maybe not. Each enemy is unique, as some will shoot at you, some will be stopped if you rapidly attack them with your sword while others will not, and such. So, you will need to learn how to effectively fight each type, and this does add to the game. Still, there is zero variety in enemy movement patterns, and this gets old fast. Even bosses are exactly the same as the rest of the enemies in this regard. Unless you get hasty you shouldn't die much to most enemies.

And as for those weapons of yours, you get a sword that does a flat 1 damage per hit, and several guns, more as you progress, that upgrade as you use them. All weapons require button-mashing to an uncomfortable degree, as there is no autofire on any weapon here and attacking quickly is important. Enemies have a lot of health each, too, so it takes some time to kill them. Basically this game is all about finding places where you can shoot enemies where they can't hit you back, and usually finding these places is easy. You can die, though. There are two kinds of death in this game: if you touch an environmental obstacle like a spike, lava, etc., you are instantly sent back to the beginning of the current stage. If an enemy hits you, however, you lose health, and if your health runs out you die and return back to the beginning of the game, with your money to buy those upgrades with. You can buy one-time-use extra lives that will respawn you at the beginning of the current stage if an enemy kills you, but these are pricey and take money away from other things you can buy. The game is designed around repeat runs in a not-great way. This game is a spinoff of a series that was originally on cellphones, apparently, and I'd say that mobile design thinking affected this game negatively. So, in the end, Cally's Trials is a forgettable mobile-style game. The game is never terrible, but it's never good either. I guess it's amusing at times, but it's also mobile-inspired and flawed. There's really no reason to try it unless the game really sounds interesting for some reason.


Capsule Force (2015, WinXP+) - 1 player tuturial/mission mode, 2-4 player simultaneous multiplayer (local only), saves, gamepads supported (xinput only). Capsule Force, developed by klobit and published by Iron Galaxy, is a platformer take on the recent fad for local multiplayer games. This local-multiplayer-focused wave of games may be passing now, and I have mostly not played them myself since I have few opportunities for local multiplayer anymore unfortunately, but I got this in a bundle recently and it does look fun, so I tried it out. Well, this game has everything except for one of the most important things: a good single player mode. The main mode in this game is the multiplayer mode. Here two to four human players, all on one computer, fight it out. There are several different modes, with the main one being a mode where you need to take power orbs to your end of the screen, but there are no computer AI opponent options sadly; the game is multiplayer only. The single player mode is a mission mode broken up into four different mission categories. You need to complete all missions in one category with at least a C rating before you're allowed to move on to the next one, unfortunately. This restriction really can be annoying when you're stuck on one mission and want to try some other game type, but you can't because it won't unlock yet. Mission types are, in order, target shooting, getting through a stage in under a time limit, , and . You control one of the four characters, one of each gender for the red and blue teams, through each mission type. These missions are challenging and fun, and beating all of them with good times will take a decent while, but they are no substitute for AI opponents to face off against and a full-fledged single player game. As fun as trying to get past the walls of laser fire or figuring out the fastest way to destroy all those targets are, the single player mode in this game is basically like if Super Smash Bros. had only the minigames like Break the Targest for a single player mode, and no actual AI opposition to fight against. It's fun, but you need more than this!

All of that is really unfortunate, because Capsule Force looks, sounds, and plays really well. This game is Western, but has an '80s sci-fi anime aesthetic which looks pretty cool. The game has very nice pixel-art graphics, good chiptune music, and solid controls and game design. The stages each look unique, and I like the multi-layered parallax. If this game is trying to look like an '80s arcade game, it succeeds. The chiptune music is good as well and fits the theme great. I like the controls too. The game uses four buttons, for jumping and double jumping, shooting, using your shield, and dashing. When you hit fire you shoot straight, or if you hold it down you can aim your shot; this allows shot aiming without the problems of a twin-stick layout, and it works well. You shoot slowly so you need to aim each shot well and consider your shots, it's key to the game as one shot kills your character, after which you respawn by dropping out of the ceiling from the nearest place there is an opening. The shield is useful, as it defends you as well as damaging anyone close. As for the dash, it goes only a very short distance in the distance you're moving, and then you freeze in place for a moment after that. That may sound bad, but at that moment you can jump again, and you can alternate jumps and boosts as much as you want, which is cool. So, overall, this is a fun and frenetic action-platformer, with good controls, graphics, and gameplay. The absence of AI opponents and a single-player mode with full-length levels is a major problem, though. As good as the game is, and what's here is good, only buy Capsule Force if it's very cheap in a bundle as it was for me, or if you have people to play against locally; it's probably not worth it otherwise.


Environmental Station Alpha (2015, WinXP+) - 1 player, saves, gamepad supported (xinput only). Environmental Station Alpha is an indie Metroid clone from Hempuli Oy with low-rez, very chunky pixel-art graphics and challenging platform-action gameplay. This game is technically a Metroidvania, I guess, but really this is mostly Metroid in both theme and gameplay, though the game does do some things differently from Metroid, at least. You play as a small orange robot that sort of looks like a blob of pixels, and have to explore the eponymous station in the title, looking for information about what happened there and, since you fall deep inside at the beginning, a way back to your ship outside. The controls are appropriately simple. Initially you can only jump and shoot a short distance forward, but you get more abilities as you progress for both attacks and mobility, and eventually you will get items you can map to two additional buttons as well. The controls are mostly solid, but the jumping takes getting used to; due to your fast and somewhat slippery movement, I was missing jumps sometimes for a while. You do have a health bar and the game does not have instant-death pits or traps, but even so this is a very challenging game. It is easy to take damage, both from the many enemies and from environmental hazards like spikes or other traditional Metroid areas like warm areas, dangerous liquids, and such. The issue is that it's difficult to heal damage you take, as enemies don't drop anything in this game; so far as I've seen, the only way to refill health is from the Metroid-style save stations scattered around the world. That's much harsher than most Metroidvania games are. So, the game will be frustrating at times for sure, but you will get better with practice.

Graphically, the visual style here is low-rez enough to sort of look like a game for an early '80s computer or pre-NES console, but, for the most obvious modern elements, better music than any of those platforms have and the usual parallax scrolling backgrounds. The game does seem to use tile-based graphics, but it isn't as repetitive looking as some tile-based games can be, as there is a good amount of graphical variety and different environments to explore. The graphical and level designs are good for the style, but I'm not the biggest fan of this super-low-res, ultra-blocky look; I may love classic games, and it does give this game a slightly different look from many of the other Metroidvanias out there, but it is perhaps too pixelated. The art design is fairly average as well, and isn't as polished as a Cave Story's is. Still, the game does have a good sense of atmosphere at times thanks to the good, sometimes creepy soundtrack, the varied environments and enemies, and some good area design. There are some yellow slime creatures that hop around like an animal which I find kind of creepy, for example; good work there. That soundtrack is quite good also, again. The music tracks fit each area well, with machine-like sounds for station areas, more alive sounds for plant regions, and such.

In terms of gameplay this is a very conventional Metroid-style game. You can shoot down as well as up here and can't roll into a ball, and some powerups such as a grappling hook don't come out of Metroid, but the main influence is clear. There's even a hot area which does automatic damage until you get the right powerup, for example! The world is made up of connected areas, some a single screen and some multiple. The world map is standard stuff for the genre, with the expected horizontal and vertical corridors along with the occasional larger square room, along with plenty of hidden areas. Unfortunately there is a short load between each screen, and this does get old quickly. As is standard in the genre, the abilities and keycards you find in the game will allow you to access new areas of the world. There is a map on the pause menu, but this traditional title requires you to go back and regularly explore around areas you have already been, looking for new places you can go. Some of these are obvious, but others are hidden, so you'll need to search thoroughly to stand much of a chance here. The game world is slowly revealed as you progress so you're not just wandering around the whole world from the beginning, but still, while this game is definitely fun, having to constantly backtrack, looking for areas I can go to now while not actually knowing where I'm supposed to be going, is frustrating. I have never been much of a fan of Metroidvania games; I want to have a decent idea where I'm supposed to be going and what I'm supposed to be doing in a game. Randomly wandering around looking for that one hidden area I need to find to progress or how to solve some tough puzzle with no clues is not much fun, and this game has plenty of that kind of thing in it, particularly if you want the good ending. Sort of like my strong dislike of required grinding in RPGs and the like, I want to have a clue about what I'm supposed to be doing, and be able to progress forwards! Still, with guides I did have fun with and beat both GBA Metroid games and Super Metroid as well. I do kind of like this game because while I don't adore Super Metroid like some do, it is a good game and this is highly reminiscent of it. There isn't a text guide for this game, though, so good luck if you get stuck. But even for Metroidvania fans the absence of any health powerups can be an issue, as it makes the game much harder than it otherwise would be. And you will die easily, particularly to bosses, until you learn their patterns.

Overall, Environmental Station Alpha is a solid, but challenging, Metroidvania game. Thanks to the challenging gameplay combined with very limited healing this game can be tense at times in both good and bad ways. For me though, the biggest issue here is the main hook of this kind of game, that you'll frequently be wandering around trying to figure out or remember where to use your abilities or trying to figure out some complex puzzle, and there are no in-game hints to tell you what you should be doing next. Some people like this, but I don't. Overall then, I'd call this game average, with some good and some bad points. Metroid fans should try it for sure, but for the rest of us, maybe wait for a bundle if you are interested; that's how I got it. There is also a Mac version on Steam. The store page says that the Mac version has no cloud save or gamepad support, but it should otherwise be the same.


Oniken (2014, WinXP+) - 1 player, saves, gamepad supported (xinput only). Oniken is a NES-styled platformer from . In both its graphics and gameplay, this game takes a lot of inspiration from a variety of NES action-platformers. While this game plays heavily on nostalgia the graphics and gameplay are not copied from any one NES game, but are instead reminiscent of many, from Ninja Gaiden to the NES version of Strider and Shatterhand. The story is that you play as a tough future swordsman off to save the world from evil. There was a horrible war, and an evil group called the Oniken used that opportunity to take over. Your guy, a member of the small resistance force, sets off to defeat the villains. You have allies, but naturally they only appear in cutscenes, not ingame. The basic plot is decent average work, but the cutscenes, particularly the early ones, are way too long; there is more story here than is necessary for this kind of game. There are odd sound problems in the cutscenes too, as the audio often completely stops playing halfway through cutscenes. Odd. Once the game finally begins, though, it's pretty good.

Visually Oniken looks good. The graphics look a lot more like a NES game than most of these faux "8-bit" platformers do. The number of pixels on screen and visual look of the game are very NES-like and well done. As much as I do prefer 4th-gen games to 3rd I like how well this game sticks to its theme, and the results are great. This game has pretty good art design with a nice retro-1980s-future aesthetic. The game does not stick strictly to the NES's hardware restrictions, though, so there are some modern elements here, including the usual requisite parallax backgrounds at times, no flicker when multiple sprites are near eachother, and maybe too many colors on screen at once, and there is more blood than Nintendo ever would have allowed on the NES, but the look works well on the whole. The solid backgrounds and quality sprite work help a lot as well, for sure. Your guy is an appropriately musclebound tough guy, and enemies are a selection of soldiers and robots that could have been in games from the late '80s or early '90s. The chiptune soundtrack is similarly good. Like real NES music many songs are short loops, but what's here is solid, apart from a few odd audio issues I will mention.

As for the gameplay, like the games that inspired it this game is a very difficult but straightforward and linear game with lots of swordfighting action and some platform jumping. The game controls well, and as you might expect uses two main action buttons, for Jump and attack. Up plus attack uses a special weapon, and a third button activates the Berzerk special ability if you have it. You can also duck, and will need to duck to hit smaller enemies. The controls are tight and responsive and feel great. You also have a health bar, and when you die you respawn from the beginning of the current part of the stage. The stage layouts are good and the game is fun to play through, but the checkpoints, which are placed at screen transitions, are not frequent; there are only two per level. Dying at a boss sets you back to the start of that segment, not to the beginning of the boss fight, unfortunately, as well. You only get three lives to complete each level with too, and if you run out you will have to start the level over. Thankfully the game does have a level select and levels unlock there as you reach them, so you don't need to replay the whole game each time you get game over, but 'Difficult' is definitely one of the operative terms here. Oniken can be quite frustrating and you will need to memorize each new challenge you reach in order to get past it, though I'll never try the insanely difficult Hardcore mode, myself; that's only for the crazy-good, or ultra masochistic. But overall, thanks to the solid visuals, controls, gameplay, and level designs, Oniken is the kind of hard game that makes you want to keep trying until you get it right, not give up right away. Oniken is a good, solid 8-bit-style platformer and I like it. The challenge is steep, but any classic platforming fan should try this one.


Out There Somewhere (2014, WinXP+) - 1 player, saves, gamepad supported (xinput only). Out There Somewhere is a pixel-art indie puzzle platformer with Metroidvania elements by MiniBoss, a small team which so far has only made this one game. You are an alien astronaut space policeman, stranded on a dangerous world after your ship crashes while chasing a dangerous criminal. In fact this chase is playable in the form of a basic and not great shmup level, but when you inevitably lose it the real game begins. In this highly challenging game, you need to figure out how to use your teleport gun to get past many different situations. You do not have any form of normal attack, only a teleport gun, so this is more a game of avoidance than attack. Now, the game is often fairly linear, but as the 'Metroidvania' label suggests you do get upgrades as you progress, so there is required backtracking. I'd probably rather they had just given you a series of challenges to beat rather than this, but Metroidvanias are the style of the day, so they put that in the mix here. Visually, this game is nondescript; it has average vaguely 4th-gen-ish tile-based pixel-art graphics, and the tiles used repeat constantly. Late '90s PC platformers look better than this. Additionally, as in some other very hard indie games like I Want To Be The Guy, Out There Somewhere does not have scrolling levels. Instead, you travel between static screens that are connected into a single larger world. This means there is no parallax either. The sprite art design is decent and there are some nicely odd creatures here on this strange alien planet, but it's the gameplay that makes this game interesting, not the visuals. The music is similarly fine, but not memorable.
 
The controls are simple to learn, but hard to master. You can jump and shoot your portal gun, and when your shots hit a wall or portal-shot-stopping barrier you teleport to that location. While you cannot attack here this is no pure puzzle game, however; a lot of platforming skill is required. A key tactic used from very early on is that your momentum carries over when you warp, so the game often requires you to have the right momentum when you warp to carry you up to a platform. Or, jump at just the right moment as a portal shot creates that portal and you can effectively jump from the spot you're warping to. Though the controls are tight and responsive getting these warp-jumps right can be hard, so this game gets very tough in a hurry. And all the while, enemies patrol the platforms trying to kill you, and there are instant-death pits, other deadly hazards, and more scattered around as well. You die in one hit too, so if any enemy touches you you go back to the last checkpoint. You do have infinite lives in this game, but the checkpoints are often a couple of screens apart so you will need to redo things frequently. Indeed, as in most games of this kind, the steep difficulty is this games' biggest issue. You need perfect timing on both your shots and jumping to make it through the jumping puzzles in this game without either missing jumps or dying. It is often a fun challenge, but I did start to get frustrated after a while. Overall Out There Somewhere is an average to good puzzle-platformer with interesting mostly nonviolent gameplay and lots of challenge. That challenge will be too much for some, but fans of difficult games, as well as puzzle-platformers, definitely should check this game out. It's very cheap and worth a look.


PixelJunk Eden (2012, WinXP+) - 1 player, saves, gamepad supported (xinput only). PixelJunk Eden is a ... sort of platformer-like thing ... from , the team behind all of the PixelJunk games. Each title in this series has completely different gameplay, but I have only played this one and PixelJunk Monsters, which is a tower defense game, so I don't know much about this series apart from Monsters. That's a good game, but this one is entirely different. PixelJunk Eden is a unique, interesting, and simple game. In this 2d side-scrolling game with simple but striking sprite art made up of solid colored objects, you grow life in a garden by control a little creature which can move by jumping only. Yes, you cannot walk along the ground, but the game works fine as it is. You play with either a gamepad or the mouse by aiming your jump direction with the mouse or analog stick, and jumping with the mouse or gamepad buttons. The left mouse button does a jump attached to a bungie-like thread, while the right button does a normal jump. This is what you will mostly use. This is a simple and chill game with no timer or enemies which can harm you. The game is broken up into levels, and your goal in each one is to collect the Spectra item in that level. Once you get it the game immediately quits the level back to the level-select screen and shows a score screen for your run in that stage, so only collect those items when you're ready to leave. Apparently the original Playstation 3 version of the game does not do this and allows you to stay in a level after getting all of the stuff. I'd have liked to see that option here too, quitting out immediately is annoying sometimes. There are 15 levels with a total of 76 Spectras to collect in them, so a bit like Mario 64 you will need to play each level several times, with a different objective point each time. You can start a level either from the beginning or from the last Spectra you collected.

Within those levels, your goal before getting those key items is to explore around, experience the games' style and music, and score points. When jumping, you will pass through objects you can land on if you hold the right mouse button or its gamepad equivalent down, but will land on the next one you touch if you let go of the button. Additionally, by holding down the button while you jump and moving the mouse/stick around you can adjust your trajectory in the air somewhat. Between these two mechanics you can have fairly good air control, though your jump does have a maximum height so you do need to plan your jumps. In the air there are two different types of items to collect, pollen orbs which stay in set locations and give you points, and moving orb-like Pollen Prowlers, helpless "enemies" that spawn infinitely spawn from the sides of the level and you kill at a touch. When you touch multiple pollen prowlers in a single jump it builds a combo; this will boost your score and also generate more little pixel items. Most of the time these pixel block things slowly float to the ground and give you points when you collect them, but they also will move towards certain circles that are scattered around the environment if they are close enough to them. If you fill up a circle with pixels it will brighten. Then, touch that circle with your character to have a new piece of background scenery grow out of where the circle was. It's a fun and engaging mechanic which fits with the "eden" title, as everything in this game looks alive. As you progress the game adds more mechanics as well, including wind, teleporters, and more, so you won't see everything right away. Though this game is not incredibly long there is a fair amount to do.

Visually, as I said, the game uses large blocks of solid colors to represent objects. Generally there will be three color shades in a stage, one for the background, another for the foreground objects you can attach to, and the last for you, the pollen, and such. The look is simple but works very well, and I like how everything waves around to show how it is alive. Aurally the game has a great, understated techno soundtrack. Overall, PixelJunk Eden is pretty good, but it is simple and challenge-free. Jumping around, growing plants, and then jumping off of them to get higher in the level and reach the Spectras higher up is fun stuff, but that is all there is to this game; the worst thing that can happen to you here is that you land in a point beyond the edge of the level or touch some other hazard, if there are any, and get warped back to safety with no other penalty. This is one of those games meant to be an experience as much as it is a game, I think, since you cannot die and the game has no real challenge. Still, PixelJunk Eden is a good, interesting game well worth a try. Pick it up on sale sometime. Also available for download only on PlayStation 3 PSN, though note that this version made many changes from the PS3 original. I haven't played that version, but it apparently has not quite as good graphics, lets you stay in levels after you get a Spectra, has slightly different controls, has a two player co-op option that this version sadly lacks, and more. I might want to get it, to see the differences.
 
Finally got another update done. I cover some interesting stuff this time.

Table of Contents for this update
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Rayman Origins (2012)
Realms of Chaos (1995)
Residue: Final Cut (2014)
Rogue Legacy (2014)
room13
Schrodinger’s Cat and the Raiders of the Lost Quark (2015)
Secret Agent (1992)

Rayman Origins (2012) - 1-4 player simultaneous local multiplayer, saves, gamepads supported. Rayman Origins from Ubisoft was the first new non-handheld platformer starring Rayman since 2003's Rayman 3, and returned the series to its 2d roots. It is a beautiful-looking 2d game with great art design and sprite work. The great cartoon-animation art design is the first thing you will notice when playing Rayman Origins, and the way the soundtrack is tied into the game at times may be the second, but the platformer engine underneath is very good as well, as is the gameplay. In this fairly straightforward platformer you play as Rayman or several of his friends. It's great that the game has a four player co-op mode, but unfortunately, probably inspired by New Super Mario Bros., the player characters are Rayman, his best friend and comedic sidekick Globox, or two random Teensies, sort of like the two Toads in those games. This games' sequel, Rayman Legends, improves on this quite a bit, as it adds a female playable character to the cast, something this game sorely lacks. The story this time is that Rayman and friends annoyed some creatures who lived deep in the earth and were locked up by them, so you need to break out and beat them all up. Both sides in this fight seem like they have problems. In each level, when you're not admiring the art design, your goal is simple, you just need to get to the end of many linear platforming levels. Levels usually scroll left to right and the path forward is obvious, you just need to get there, and look for secrets along the way of course. Fortunately, while this game is 2d again, it does not bring back the original Rayman's stratospheric difficulty. As in most modern games you have infinite lives from the beginning of the last section of the level here, so you don't need to worry about Game Overs, much less having to start the whole game over because of a cruel continue limit like you do in the original game unless you cheat.

The gameplay itself is familiar, but quite distinct from previous titles in the series. The basics of 2d Rayman controls are here: you can jump and throw your fist as a punch, swing on things, free creatures from cages in each level, and collect as many lums, the basic pickup, as you can find as you go. Familiar enemies return as well, such as those silly pith-helmeted guys from the original game. The controls are simple, with just a jump button, a punch button, and run button. Jumping and attacking are as they were before, but that is where the similarities end. Rayman and his friends can run a lot faster than he ever could before in 2d Rayman games, first, and this game in general is much faster-paced than previous Raymans were. You move through environments quickly in this game when you want to, and with the zoomed-out camera and widescreen view you have a good view of what's coming towards you too, avoiding that issue from the original game. Your heroes have new moves as well, including being able to slowly slide down and jump off of walls when you touch one; grabbing onto ledges when you jump close to the edge; aiming attacks in any cardinal direction while in the air in order to hit enemies above you, say, in mid-jump; ground-pound by hitting attack+down while in the air; and more. As in most games in the series you get new moves as you progress.

Most levels in this game are standard stages where you explore those stages as described earlier. This is an entirely linear game, even more so than past Rayman games, and I'm fine with that, though I can understand that some may have wanted more exploration here. Instead what you get are segmented levels where you try to collect as many of the lums as you can as you explore each stage. The game has many plantlike items you can punch to make platforms appear or disappear, generate some lums, enable or disable a group of enemies, or such, as interacting with things is important. Some of these are actually traps which enable enemies ahead of you while others are essential, so some learning is required. The level designs are good, so exploring around, finding lums, whacking baddies, and hitting objects to see what they do makes for some pretty good gameplay. There are also death pits, though not often, but remember that deaths only set you back to the beginning of the last stage section, so the game is forgiving in that regard. You can also find additional hit points from some pickups, to be able to survive a hit or two before dying. Once you move on to a new stage section you usually can't really go back, though, and you get a rating and rewards at the end of each level depending on how many lums and cages you found and how fast you beat the level, so the game encourages replay if you want to get everything in the game. That's great and adds a lot to the game.

In addition to the standard levels, though, there are also some stages with slightly different rules. I mentioned that music ties into the game at times early in the review, and you see this in the introduction, but it actually gomes into play in the game sometimes. The game has some auto-scrolling levels, and here you need to hit the buttons in time with the music in order to progress through the stage. As I'm hopelessly bad at QTEs or anything music-related these are definitely not my favorite part of this game, but at least they still play like a platformer so it's not too bad. And that music itself is good. It's not as memorable as the great graphics are, but it is good and fits Rayman's cartoony world well. And visually, Rayman Origins is bright, colorful, and cartoon-styled. As mentioned the sprites are a bit on the small side, but this was a very good move for both multiplayer and for general screen visibility reasons. All sprites and backgrounds are hand-drawn, and the animations are typically fantastic, and the detailed environments do not make navigation confusing as colors and sprite designs make it very easy to tell each object type apart. That is something many games get wrong, but not this one. Indeed, visually this game is a big-budget title for a modern 2d platformer and it shows. I have always loved the look of environments in Rayman games too, and while Rayman 2 is still my favorite across the board, this game looks really good too. It both is faithful to the series while also looking more modern to fit its much more recent release date, which was no easy feat to pull off I am sure.

So, overall, Rayman Origins is a pretty good platformer. I do still miss 3d Rayman games, and Rayman 2 has still not been topped within the series, but it was fantastic to see a major publisher other than Nintendo put a big effort into a 2d platformer again, and the game turned out well. Rayman Origins does have a few issues, including linearity, sometimes strict button-press requirements in order to get through challenges, a lot of missable items in levels which ensures that you WILL need to replay levels in order to find everything because you can't just go back and collect the stuff you missed as you go, and such, but these are minor issues compared to all the things the game does right. Between the graphics, music, level designs, gameplay, replay value, and multiplayer, Rayman Origins is recommended for sure. Also available as a physical release for PC, Wii, Playstation 3, Xbox 360, PlayStation Vita, and Nintendo 3DS, and digitally for the PC and Mac through Steam (this version), PlayStation 3 (PSN), PlayStation Vita (PSN), and Xbox 360 (XBLA).


Realms of Chaos
(1995) - 1 player, saves, 4 button gamepads supported. Realms of Chaos was the last platformer published by Apogee, my favorite shareware publisher of the early to mid '90s. I haven't played as much of this game as I did some of Apogee's earlier titles, but I have always liked what I have seen of it. Because of its later release date, unlike most Apogee platformers, this game has both 256-color VGA graphics and Soundblaster or even General MIDI music support, so this game looks and sounds pretty good. The game is a somewhat Conan-esque fantasy platform-action game with traditional but good gameplay. YOu play as two characters, a brother and sister. Fitting to some standard character types, the brother is a warrior and the sister a magic-user. He wears a tunic and fur boots while she has a loincloth and skimpy top, so the outfits mostly fit the setting but the sister's outfit definitely is skimpier. That is stereotyped, but on the other hand this is one of the only Apogee platformers with a playable female character, so I'll take what I can get. You can switch between the two of with a button press, which is cool, and important to the gameplay as the two characters play quite differently. Levels are mostly linear, and this game does not have a world map or multiple routes through most levels so it is a more straightforward and action-focused game that is less collection-centric than many Apogee games are. That style fits the genre well, though, and level designs are good. Of games I have covered in the PC Platformers Game Opinion series so far, Claw is probably the closest to this game in terms of gameplay, but each has some things that make it unique.

Starting from the beginning though, both characters can move and jump. Moving is normal, but jumps are partially automated. While you can control your character in the air to a degree, move around in the air; you can nudge the character left or right, so jumps are not fully automated, but you will need to jump from the right point in order to make many jumps. This reminds me of the Prince of Persia style of game design, and the visual look does as well at times, but the rest of the gameplay is more standard so I would not call this one of those games. Here the differences between the two characters first present themselves, and it's as you might expect: the female character can jump a little farther and moves faster, so she's more fun to move around as, but on the other hand she has less health. The guy has three circles of health, specifically, while she has only two. Each character does have a separate health bar, but if either dies you restart the level, so switching to the other character when one is injured is important. If you die, you can pick up from your last save or else you will continue from the beginning of the level; continues are unlimited. Remember that this is an Apogee game, so you can save anytime, which is great as always.

You will need both of them, though, as biggest difference is in combat.The brother is a warrior, so he uses a sword. He can only attack at short range, and can only attack left or right, but does a good amount of damage. His attack range is a bit shorter than it looks from the animation, but you get used to it. The sister, however, is a mage, so she can shoot small fireballs which shoot across the screen. She can attack left, right, or up, and that upwards attack is invaluable at times. However, her attacks do less damage per hit than his do, and worse her attacks are limited. Beyond health-up items the main collectible in this game is red gems, and she uses one gem each time you hit the attack button. Gems do carry over from level to level, too, so if you use a lot in one stage you won't have as many later. So, it is often worthwhile to play as the guy when fighting regular enemies, because he does not have a limited attack. This mechanic works well though, as it forces you to think a bit more during combat than you might otherwise and encourages some exploration to find more of the gems. Also, there are enough scattered around to be able to attack as her quite a bit, most of the time at least. Once you get used to the slightly odd jumping and attack ranges, playing Realms of Chaos is pretty fun.

Levels in Realms of Chaos are, again, linear. Where you need to go is always clear, the only challenge is getting there. Many enemies patrol the platforms that make up most of this game, and below beds of spikes await if you miss a jump or get bumped off a platform by the baddies. That is sometimes frustratingly common, because traps abound in this game, both in the form of enemies diving in from off the screen to attack you, and also things such as collapsing platforms that are sure to kill you at least once, since they do not look different from the other platforms. With your infinite continues you will get past these challenges with practice, though, and the difficulty here is mostly balanced fairly well. The game does lack in variety, as it does not change too much as it goes along, but when you have a good formula that doesn't matter too much, I think. And it is fun for sure. The colorful graphics are good as well. The art design is good, though not incredible, and there are a nice variety of enemies, including bats, lizardmen, and more. There are multiple background environments you travel through as you explore as well, from forests to caves and castles, and all are pretty well-drawn. There is no parallax scrolling here, unfortunately, but otherwise the visuals are pretty nice for a shareware game. I have had a few issues with how the game runs in DOSBox, such as menus that fail to react, but they are fixable. I like the sort of classical-ish soundtrack as well, and in General MIDI it sounds great. It's by Bobby Prince, the same guy who also composed for Doom and other Apogee and id titles. Overall, Realms of Chaos is a pretty good action-heavy platformer. The game does have a few issues, including repetitive design and controls that take a little getting used to, but with good visuals and sound, plenty of levels to figure out, a good mechanic in its character-switching concept, and fun core gameplay, it's well worth playing. The game has a physical release from 1995, and also is available digitally on Steam and on 3D Realms' website. I have the 3DR site version, and it's mostly good, though you will need to change the DOSBox settings manually to run in the correct aspect ratio; for some very odd reason they chose to have it default to filling the screen, even though this 4:3 game should only be played at that ratio.


Residue: Final Cut (2014) - 1 player, saves. Residue is a unique adventure/platformer from small indie team The Working Parts. This game is one of those that asks the question, how much does ambition and originality matter versus fun factor? Because while this game is interesting, has a good to great sense of atmosphere, and is mostly well written, the actual gameplay is a mixture of tedium and janky frustration. Despite that, there is something here worth a look. This game is set in the now mostly dried-out Aral Sea basin. Because most of the water was diverted to agriculture, the once-huge lake in north-central Asia, the Aral Sea, now is a wasteland. This game follows the stories of several people who live there and are involved in a mysterious campaign at the edge of one of the remaining parts of the lake. The story takes time to get going so I won't spoil it, but it did make me want to keep playing to see what would happen next. Unfortunately, while the dried-out-Aral Sea element of the story is interesting, for some reason there is also one of the worst traditional videogame stories here: you need to rescue the woman. In the beginning of the game, a woman gets trapped underwater. She has an air tank, but can't get free for whatever reason so the main goal of the game is for the three playable characters, who are all male of course, to save her. Blah. Still, the setting and environments are pretty nice. This game has a fairly flat 2d look, and the sprites are not the most detailed and do lack in animation, and it can be hard at times to tell areas you can move or interact with from backgrounds, but the good art direction and stark, barren environments full of rusting ships combine to give the game a good look despite that. The music and sound are good as well, and fit the abandoned, decaying nature of the game perfectly. The script is also fully voice acted by people with thick Slavic accents, presumably from Russia, or Ukraine since that is where the game is set. The voice acting is okay, though it could be better. This is obviously a very low-budget game, and you see it in the janky animations, iffy level designs, and more, but the presentation is good.

For gameplay, Residue is basically a slow-paced platformer with a lot of story scenes telling a graphic adventure game-style story. As such it is a genre crossover; there aren't many other games quite like this. The game controls with the keyboard, and you move with the left/right arrow keys and do your characters' action or open doors with the spacebar and up/down arrows. As mentioned there are three characters you play as here, each quite different. You cannot switch between the three when you want, however; instead, you're stuck with one for a chapter, then switch to someone else as the story demands. The three are the womans' young son, who can move quickly, jump, and swim; an old man who helps out the boy, and moves very very slowly and can aim around a flashlight to help the two of them see in dark areas for his only action other than walking and using ladders; and the leader of the odd group, a man with medium speed and a grappling hook for mobility. The chapters where you have to play as the old man are far too slow-paced and tedious to ever be fun, unfortunately. The grappling hook guy is better, but the points you can grapple to are so arbitrary and hard to discern that his levels are frustrating at times as well. The boy is the most fun to play as, since he moves the fastest and can swim in the many water-filled areas, but here there are issues as well: instead of being able to freely swim underwater, you can only jump in and then go down a bit deeper once by hitting jump. Once down that deep you can only surface, unless you find an underwater ceiling that will hold you underwater that is. So, you need to find areas to jump from that angle you down to the point you need, and ladders and such underwater to use while there. You do have limited air, though, so watch out; run out and you'll have to start the stage over. There are also many breaks for conversations as you go, so gameplay is segmented. And again those level designs themselves are not great due to confusing graphical layouts and design.

The game is short too, with only 11 moderate-length stories; this should only take 3-plus hours to beat, if you focus on it, a bit more if you really get stuck somewhere. So, overall, is Residue: Final Cut worth getting? It has iffy gameplay, keyboard-only controls, not-great controls, some tedious parts such as all of the old man levels, an only partially good story, and sometimes confusing graphical design. On the other hand, though, the game has great presentation and atmosphere, varied gameplay, an interesting and quite original core story about the Aral Sea, and some fun parts. Residue is a mixed bag overall, average at best really, so try it or not depending on your interests. Despite all those issues I do think I like this game in the end, but not all will.


Rogue Legacy
(2014) - 1 player, saves, gamepad supported (xinput only). Rogue Legacy is a popular roguelike action-platformer from . This 2d, sprite-based game has very nice visuals, good controls, and plenty to do, but I only somewhat reluctantly got this game when it was on sale because I didn't like what I heard about some elements of the design. Though I have liked some games with inspirations from the field here and there I've never been a big roguelike fan, and the roguelike-inspired randomization and repeat-play-required elments are absolutely central to this game. And indeed, playing it, this is a game which could be fun in a more traditional setting, but as it is I don't want to keep going for long at all. Yes, the graphical design is good. I like the various castle backgrounds, and the variety of enemies and items you can collect is nice. The music fits the game great as well. The combat mostly feels good as well, though it can be too difficult at times. The overall product, however, just is not for me.

So why is that, then? Rogue Legacy is a game about an infinite succession of heroes, sent off into a castle full of monsters with the goal of destroying the evil creatures within. There is a story, but it's not the main focus of the game. First, you choose one of a couple of possible heroes, each of which has several positive or negative traits. These traits can just be amusing things like something which gets rid of sprite animation, or they can be harmful things such as near-sightedness which makes everything not close to you blurry. Once you've chosen an heir, you set off into town. Here you spend money you got in your last run on upgrades for your character and town. Upgrades are permanent to your bloodline (game save file), but you cannot return to the shop once you enter the castle and you lose all money once you enter so spend everything you can every time, so beating this game on your first heir would be nearly impossible; you need to spend many, many generations (games) dying, leaving, and buying upgrade for future generations before finally you will be able to make much progress. The problem is, I don't like this mechanic. The idea that people inherit everything from their parents is obviously false, first; you inherit some things but not others. So, the basic concept here is nonsense. And beyond that, the idea that you need to have dozens of generations (or more) of this family all die just to form one super-human person actually able to get through the castle is a depressing idea I don't like; I want the hero to be able to win, not their 100th-generation descendant! I know most people probably would call this a weird thing to complain about, but it bothers me on a storyline level. The resulting gameplay, focused around playing similar areas over and over and over and over, bothers me as well, as I have never liked grinding one bit and that is what you do here. If you could return to the store during a run it'd make things a little better; I'd still prefer this as a traditional game and not a roguelike, but it'd help. See room13 below, for example, which benefits from getting powerups during a run instead of only between runs.
 
As for the controls, you move your knight fairly quickly, and can jump, attack, dive-attack straight down, and such as usual. With the right upgrade you can double jump as well, which is great. The game controls okay, but could have been better; with your fast movement it can be harder than I'd like to dodge incoming attacks, and enemies sure will shoot a lot of stuff at you at times. And when you do get hit you die quickly, so the game is very unforgiving. Worse, the game is VERY stingy with handing out health-refilling powerups. It is easy to lose a lot of characters in a hurry, and as you get farther you will need to do well to make any meaningful progress because you lose money when you enter and there is no bank, so you can only spend your last runs' profits on upgrades each time. This can be a frustrating loop. I'm sure it is satisfying when you finally get a character good enough to get through, but I don't know if I want to go through all that. The levels themselves are completely randomized as well, it is important to say. Level designs are mostly good, but unless you pay a guy in town beforehand the dungeon will be completely different every time, and the difficulty found within will vary widely from run to run. It's maybe a bit too unpredictable -- will you start near tough rooms with jumping puzzles over death pits, or easy stuff with basic foes? Who knows. This is why pre-designed levels are usually better than random ones, you get a better difficulty curve. Overall, Rogue Legacy has a good engine that I wish they'd made a traditional platformer with. With preset levels, a shop to return to during the game, more health drops (and/or difficulty level options!), no or only a minimal grinding component, and such, it could have been good. As it is, I know a lot of people really like this game, but personally no thanks. Available as a digital download only for all formats: PC, Mac, and Linux through Steam, and PlayStation 3 (PSN), PlayStation Vita (PSN), PlayStation 4 (PSN), and Xbox One on consoles.


room13 (2015, Early Access Game - still unfinished) - 1 player, saves, gamepad supported (xinput only). room13 is a single-screen run & gun shooter developed by The Paper Robot, a one-man team, and published by Clickteam, who mostly make game creation tools. Yes, this game was made with Clickteam Fusion, but it's interesting to see that they publish games too. More importantly, this is another game that really isn't a platformer but I'm going to cover here anyway. Please note, room13 is still in Early Access and is unfinished. Most importantly, the Story mode does not exist in the game yet, just an endless Arcade mode. The game is an indie title obviously made on a very small budget, but with solid gameplay and decent art design it's fun stuff. You play as some weird guy with a variety of heads, as you unlock more as you progress, fighting against endless swarms of zombies in a giant mansion. So yes, this is a zombie game, one of the more tired kinds of games out there, but I do like it despite that. The game has pixel-art graphics with a mostly black, white, and red color scheme, so it's mostly monochromatic except for the blood. That sounds grim, but the art design itself is cartoony and almost cute, so this isn't as dark a game as it could have been. It's simple, but I like room13's graphical look. The sound and music are fine and fit the game well, but aren't particularly memorable. As for modes, again here there is only Arcade mode, which is an endless score-attack game where you get only one life per run, so die once and you need to start the game over. The game tells you how long you survived for after you die, which is nice.

The gameplay here is kind of a twin-stick shooter, though with limitations. On a pad, you move with one stick and fire with the other, but you cannot shoot in any direction here; instead, you can only shoot left, right, or straight up. On keyboard, the game uses keyboard-only controls. While it is a bit awkward, moving with WASD while shooting with the arrow keys does kind of work. The controls are fully remappable too, which is nice. You move quickly and have several other moves as well, including a jump, a melee attack, and an attack that shoots a projectile which drains some of your health. You see, you have limited ammo here. As you kill enemies, they drop meat chunks and items. Meat only stays on screen for a limited time, so collect it when you can. As you collect meat it fills a meter on screen, and once full an item appears that ends the level once you touch it. Other items include ammo and health refills and things which destroy all the enemies. Once you finish a stage, you have 10 seconds to grab a random selection of powerups you can get if you want. Sometimes you will find new heads in between levels, particularly after beating a boss level. As these affect your stats, it's great that you can get these because it means you can win on any run, instead of having to slowly build up skills over the course of many deaths as it is in, say, Rogue Legacy above. Anyway, between stages you also can either play another level in the same room as the last one you were in, or, by entering one of the doors or ladders that open during this time, move over to a different room instead. There are 13 rooms here, each with different layouts, obstacles, points the zombies come from, and traps to avoid and use against the foes. As you would expect, the first room is simple, but later ones are more complex and challenging.

The core gameplay here involves running back and forth, shooting zombies as they spawn and collecting the meat they drop. There is strategy though, as you should save the health and ammo pickups for when you need them, and need to learn each stage for the best points to stick around in as well. Watching your ammo is also key, as running out when you've got a bunch of enemies between you and an ammo pickup is trouble! The melee attack can help, but isn't the most useful thing all the time. The progression here is kind of an issue, though. Enemy AI is tough, and surviving for even a couple of rounds is hard until you've put a decent amount of time into this game, but the enemies only keep getting harder for a handful of rounds, while the game wants you to play for as long as 25 rounds in one game in Arcade mode in order to unlock all of the heads. So, if you do get good enough to handle the game it mgiht get repetitive, but so far at least I'm having fun. Overall, though, room13 is a decent one-person indie shooter/platformer with a nice cartoony graphical style and good controls, but limited options, modes, and content. It's fun for a little while, but will probably get old quickly. Maybe check it out now, or wait for it to finally get out of Early Access and look at what it has then; a Story mode which puts all of the stuff in order, with heads unlocked as you go and regular bosses as I believe is promised, would be great and I'd like to play that mode. As it is give it a try if it sounds interesting.


Schrodinger’s Cat and the Raiders of the Lost Quark (2015) - 1 player, saves, gamepad supported (xinput only). Shrodinger's Cat and the Raiders of the Lost Quark is an okay puzzle-platformer from Italic Pig and published by Team17. One part partially randomly-generated puzzle-platformer and one part long series of physics jokes, this game is alright and can be fun, but does have some issues. The story is that something has gone very wrong in the Particle Zoo, and it's up to you, a cat called Shrodinger's Cat, to save the day. This game is fully voice acted and the Cat has regular conversations with Zoo denizens during your adventures that even have dialog options, so this game has a bit of an adventure game feel to it at times. The entertaining writing may draw people in, though they are heavily physics joke-focused, so some of the comedy is reliant on the player knowing enough about physics to get it. I haven't taken physics since high school myself, so I'm sure I'm missing some, but still it is good stuff. The graphics are also good and have a nice cartoony look to them. Most characters are various types of subatomic particles, and all have weird or fitting shapes and look good. Background graphics are also nice, but unfortunately most levels are randomly generated rectangles full of random platforms, so there is no flow to stages or the visual look of most of the game.

Unlike the complex physics humor, the basic controls here are simple, though the game has depth. You move with the d-pad or WASD buttons, and jump with W, Spacebar, or a button on the pad. The controls are okay but a bit slippery and average. The game uses one set of buttons beyond those basics, though: you activate Quarks with the arrow keys or the gamepad face buttons. Quarks are collectibles in this game, and there are four kinds of them, all scattered around the levels. Without them you are nearly helpless, with only movement and a basic jump available, but by using Quarks you can activate many more abilities. You use an ability by using three Quarks, and there are at least a dozen combinations available. You press the first two buttons to load those two Quarks into the queue, then hit the third button to activate the power that that combination gives you. There is a combination list on the pause screen, but still you will need to memorize all of the combinations in order to have much fun with this game. Your Quark abilities include a parachute, protective shield, missile to break through one type of terrain, propeller to reach higher areas, net to transport away target enemies, and more. Keeping them all straight takes some time.

This system seems like a good setup for some tricky puzzles, though, and it should have been, but unfortunately most stages are randomly designed. Your goal is to get through while beating as many of the enemies as you can, since the game keeps track of how many have been defeated. The way it works is that the game randomly generates stages for your game, and then they will stay the same throughout your time with the game. So, it may not be obvious that the levels are randomized since you will not see different layouts in levels if you return to earlier areas, but they are. The problem with this is that this really hurts the puzzle element of the game. Quarks probably should be limited, with just the ones needed for each area but instead they are plentiful, and levels feel more like boxes loaded with randomly scattered platforms, Quarks, and foes than they do interesting challenges. Random generation saves game-design time for sure, but it hurts the fun factor so much that I don't think it's worth it at all. So, in the end Schrodinger's Cat and the Raiders of the Lost Quark is an amusing and fairly well-made game with some good humor and plenty to learn, but the repetitive, simplistic environments, boring level designs, and too plentiful Quarks hold the game back quite a bit. This game is alright to good, but it could have been better. Still, it might be worth a look, particularly for people who like science. Available as a digital download only for all formats: PC, Mac, and Linux through Steam, and PlayStation 4 (PSN) and Xbox One on consoles.


Secret Agent (1992) - 1 player, saves, 2-button gamepad supported. Secret Agent, from Apogee, is a great platformer that plays like a sequel to their earlier title Crystal Caves. The story and setting here are entirely original, but the gameplay and engine are taken straight out of Crystal Caves, just with a cheesy and amusing spy-movie setting. So, like many Apogee games, from Commander Keen to Pharaoh's Tomb, Secret Agent is a collection-heavy platformer where you explore around rectangular and often open-ended stages, collecting stuff and trying to find your way to the exit. Crystal Caves is a good game, but I remember definitely liking this one more when I first played them back in the early '90s. I only had the shareware version then, not the registered as I do now, but I thought Secret Agent was very good, like a better version of Crystal Caves in a different setting. I haven't played the game in quite some time now though, so how does it hold up? Well, it is good, but the game does have a few issues. First, despite releasing in 1992, Secret Agent runs only in 16-color EGA and only has PC Speaker audio, not Soundblaster. I don't mind the EGA, but sound card support would have been great, and had been in some previous Apogee titles. And also just like Crystal Caves and Pharaoh's Tomb and its followups Monuments of Mars and Arctic Adventure, Secret Agent has tiny little sprites of limited detail, in order to fit as much as possible on the screen. The art and art direction is pretty good, and the spy-movie theme continues throughout, though, so they did what they could with the small sprites allowed. You'll see '60s-style giant computers, killer robots, enemy agents, and plenty more as you explore the stages. The game mostly re-uses the same enemies and obstacles throughout, so there isn't much graphical or gameplay variety in the game, but what is here is good.

The controls here are quite simple: you can walk, shoot, and jump. Your movement speed is not fast, but it's just right for the small scale of the levels. As for jumping, that can take practice; jumping controls are a little stiff, you fall quickly and sort of stick to ceilings when you bump them, so learning how to make jumps over low ceilings or how to fall onto a moving platform without ending up in the instant-death water below takes practice, but you will eventually get the hang of it. As for your gun, it shoots straight, but consider each shot carefully because you have very limited ammo, and ammo carries over from level to level so if you use it all up in one stage you won't have much in the next one. This can serve to encourage stealth and avoidance, and stages often are designed in ways that let you avoid at least some foes, which can be fun. On the whole the controls are good and responsive. While touching traps like water kill you instantly, otherwise you get three hit points per life. You also get infinite lives from the start of each stage. Yes, infinite lives are not a modern concept in platformer design, Apogee was doing it back in the early '90s! The game has a world map where you choose which level to play next as well, and you can save anytime on the map. This game has a point system of course, so as in Commander Keen and others once you've beaten a level you cannot replay it in that game, so while you can try a stage as many times as you want before beating it, for score purposes if you care about points you'll want to get as much as possible in that run in which you beat the stage. It's all designed well.

The stage layouts themselves are familiar, as I said, but Secret Agent does have a few original elements. First, to beat each level, you must find the dynamite item in that stage and then bring it to the exit door; only then can you leave. Ammo pickups are also scattered around, but I mentioned them already. Each one gives you only five bullets, so use them carefully. The usual requisite colored keycards are here as well, in red, blue, and green, but this time going through a door uses that key, so you'll need top find another key to go through another door of the same color. Also, fitting the spy movie theme, there are computers scattered around which do things such as disable death lasers. You can't just use the computer though, but need to find the floppy disk item in the level, then go to the computer. One other collectible that means more than just points are the X-Ray glasses, which make more platforms appear, as now you can see previously invisible platforms. You can't actually land on these invisible platforms without the glasses, so they act more as a switch than real "invisible platform detectors", but still, it's a unique spin on a quite traditional concept. Most of the rest of the items in each level only exist to boost your score. The villains' thugs patrolling each level will try to keep you from reaching the end, though. Moving enemies just patrol back and forth in a space, but they will charge or shoot at you on sight depending on which type of enemy they are, so you always need to be careful. Levels are basically big puzzles, you just need to figure out the best route through the stage that gets you all the items. If you do kill enemies you will get points, and grabbing the gravestones dead enemies drop gets you more, but that all uses ammo so again it won't always be the best strategy. This game is hard from the beginning, so the learning curve at first is steep, but once you get used to it you'll make good progress.

So, overall, I still like Secret Agent a lot. The gameplay may be simple and straightforward, but the depth and challenge of the many levels will keep you coming back. With lots of levels, nicely-drawn if tiny graphics, a consistent challenge, and just plain good gameplay, this is a game that I still like. Once you get used to the jumping, I really have no complaints with this game beyond wishing it had sound card support for some music. Perhaps more of a difficulty curve would have been nice, going from easy to hard instead of the consistently challenging difficulty of the game as it is, but it works well as it is, I think. Secret Agent is a great game for sure, and definitely give it a try if you like any games like this. The game has a physical release from 1992, and also is available digitally on Steam and on 3D Realms' website. I have the 3DR site version, and it's mostly good, though you will need to change the DOSBox settings manually to run in the correct aspect ratio; for some very odd reason they chose to have it default to filling the screen, even though this 4:3 game should only be played at that ratio.
 
... So yeah this update ended up being absurdly delayed, most recently because first I did the LttP writeup first and then more recently because I built a new computer, but it's finally done, six new summaries. Three of them are great modern classics while the other three are kind of bad, so there's quite a variety here!

Table of Contents
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Serious Sam: Kamikaze Attack (2011)
Shantae: Risky's Revenge: Director's Cut (2011/2014)
Shovel Knight (2014)
Super Lemonade Factory (2012)
Super Meat Boy (2010)
Superfrog (1993)


Serious Sam: Kamikaze Attack (WinXP+, 2012) - 1 player, saves, gamepad supported. Serious Sam: Kamikaze Attack is a runner mobile phone game that has a somewhat obscure PC release. I got it from a Humble Bundle, and certainly wouldn't have this otherwise because I am no phone-games fan and find endless runners fairly basic. And indeed, like most runner-style platformers, this one gets old quickly and has little depth. Still, though, for what it is, the game is okay. So, in this game, you play as a headless kamikaze guy, one of the enemy types from the first-person shooter franchise that this game is a spinoff from, and run to the right as you try to catch up to and blow up Serious Sam himself. The game has some okay-looking 2d artwork of the characters and decent backgrounds, but it's clearly a low-budget affair and that shows. As far as the gameplay goes, you run automatically, so the game only uses two buttons, one for jumping and the other for sliding. You have a double jump and can mix these together, so you can jump during a slide or slide midair, which is nice. As you run you will need to jump over pits, slide or jump over obstacles, bump into things you can push forwards, and slide to knock incoming projectiles like missiles or grenades back to the left of the screen. You have a slide meter which fills up as you slide, though, so you cannot slide endlessly. Managing that meter is important here. Fortunately the controls are responsive, though not precise sometimes, particularly in how slides and jumps connect. As something originally made for phone touchscreens you don't need precision, though, so it controls fine.

So, the basic game design is simple, but it works. The level designs are maybe too basic, though. Some endless runners make attempts at more complex level designs, but you won't find that here; all stages are flat ground that moves from left to right, that's it. It's a completely linear game that follows one path, and that path is flat ground, apart from the occasional pit. There is some variety, as there are several different obstacle types to avoid and multiple environments to run through as you progress, but this is a very simple game. It rarely is challenging either, particularly early on. There is a fair amount of content here, both a main game and also an endless mode for modes. The main game mode has 20 levels per world, several worlds to work through, and an optional objective on each mission to try to complete if you want. The optional objectives are usually things such as 'destroy X number of obstacles along the way', 'knock back Y number of missiles', or such, but they add a little to this otherwise extremely simplistic game. Even so, though, the game is something that probably will only be fun for a few minutes at a time. Levels are short enough that one level won't take long, but why not just spend that time playing a better, more complete game, particularly if you're playing on a PC and not a phone? If this was free maybe it'd be worth a few minutes, particularly for Serious Sam fans, but it costs at least a dollar on phones, and I can't find a legit way to buy the PC version anymore so maybe it was pulled at some point, if it was ever on sale beyond those Humble Bundles that is. Not sure. Anyway, you can still buy this game for iOS or Android if you want.


Shantae: Risky's Revenge: Director's Cut (WinXP+, 2014, original DSi release 2011) - 1 player, saves, gamepads supported. The second game in WayForward's now long-running series, Shantae: Risky's Revenge originally released as a download-only game for the Nintendo DSi handheld system on its DSiWare e-shop. The game brought back the Shantae series after nearly ten years, as despite several efforts there had not been a Shantae game since the first one for Game Boy Color in 2002. On DSi the game was well-regarded and brought this series back, which led to its current success, but is considered to be fairly short. After a while, WayForward published this PC port of the game. It's pretty much identical to the original release, except there is now high-resolution character art that appears on screen during conversations. The contrast between the low-rez sprite art and the high-rez character art can be a bit odd, but anytime you increase a games' resolution and screen size this drastically there are going to be issues. While I'd rather play this game on a handheld, I got this before I had a 3DS and thus access to the DSiWare shop, and this PC version sells for less too, particularly when it's on sale.

That's the background, but how is the game? Like all Shantae titles, Risky's Revenge is a fun Metroidvania-styled action-platformer set in a cartoony world. The main theme is Middle Eastern-inspired, but each side area has a different theme. As always, you play as the somewhat scantily-clad half-genie Shantae. These games are somewhat sexy, but in a tame way; none of the Shantae games have anything beyond an E or E-10+ rating. With simple controls, good if quite low-resolution graphics, and a somewhat small but well-designed and fun to explore overworld with several dungeons deeper within, Shantae: Risky's Revenge is a good game. The game controls well, first. You start out with a basic single jump, hair-whip attack, and back-dash, and all control quite well and responsively. As usual in this genre, you will unlock more abilities as you progress as well. Some of those are upgrades for her regular humanoid form, but Shantae also gets the ability to transform into various animal forms. These mostly are useful for accessing new areas in the overworld map and in the dungeons, both for progression and for finding hidden chests with money or other powerups in them. Combat is quick, as you hair-whip enemies to death. It mostly feels great, though when you have to hit enemies while in the air it can require a slightly annoying degree of precision. There are a lot of different types of enemies though, both in looks and in movement and attack styles, so the game has a good amount of variety. Surely because of WayForward's experience in the industry, Risky's Revenge is a well-polished game; most indie platformers don't feel as good as this to play.

So, the core gameplay is pretty fun and fast-paced. The game has a somewhat interesting overworld design with many multi-layered areas connected with jump pads, instead of just a single-plane map. It works well. Additionally, while most Metroidvania games just have a single world map, or segmented maps you do in sequence, as previously mentioned this game has a world map with dungeons within, making for an interesting mix of styles. The dungeons can be confusing at times, but they are well-designed, and figuring out what to do in each is fun stuff. Still, in both dungeons and the overworld, there is an issue here: as with all Metroidvanias you have to do a lot of backtracking in the game, and you also will need to keep track of suspicious places where you might be able to use your powers. The smallish world does not take too long to explore, thankfully, but you will need to memorize some of it, or just explore around again after getting each new ability. I've never loved this element of game-world design, of course, so it is frustrating at times. In town you can get hints about which direction you should be heading in the overworld, at least, though you'll need to figure dungeons out on your own. There also is a very nice map of the overworld to help you navigate, which shows all the points of interest and how areas connect, including all of those multiple layers many areas have. Unfortunately, however, there are no dungeon maps, so they can be confusing; I really wish the dungeons had maps. Sure, wandering around enough should eventually get you where you need to go, but I find it much easier to navigate mazelike levels with a map.

Visually this game looks great as well, for the platform it was originally released on at least. This game is a pixel-art platformer and the art design is very good. Shantae, the other townsfolk and such, your enemies, and environments all have distinct visual styles which look great. And despite how different each area is, it does fit together well. Yes, everything is heavily upscaled pixel art meant for a handheld, so the original version probably looks better, and that high-res character art looks odd compared to the very chunky pixels of the regular game screen, but the good art design and charm shows through regardless. The music is very good as well, and probably has enhanced fidelity here on the PC. The soundtrack is familiar Shantae-like music for anyone familiar with other games in the series, but it's good fun stuff. Overall, Shantae: Risky's Revenge is a pretty good game. I do often eventually lose patience with the exploration-and-backtracking element of the Metroidvania genre, but otherwise this is a good-looking and great-playing title well worth playing, either here on the PC or on the 3DS if you want to play the original version. Also available on the 3DS eShop; the game was originally released for the DSiWare shop, but the DSi's online store has been shut down, so anyone who does not have it on their DSi today will need a 3DS to play that version of the game.


Shovel Knight (WinXP+, 2014) - 1 player, saves, gamepad supported (xinput only). Shovel Knight, from Yacht Club Games, is a retro-inspired, 8-bit-styled platformer. It is one of many games like that released in the past decade, but among them this game is one of the most popular. Originally a kickstarter that resulted in a PC game, the game has had console ports on physical media and a regular stream of addons from the developers that still continue to release. Indeed, the next major update is scheduled for later this year. As a note, the Plague Knight expansion is in the game now, but I'm just focusing on the original campaign here, starring Shovel Knight. Shovel Knight is not flawless, and there are other good indie retro-style platformers that deserve more success than they have gotten, but Shovel Knight deserves the success it has had. The story is the games' one major weakness, really. You are the hero guy Shovel Knight, and need to rescue your kidnapped female companion Shield Knight from the evil ENchantress. So yes, it's a very traditonal, very sexist "hero saves girl from evil witch" story. Ugh! There is supposed to be a gender-reversal option for Shovel and Shield Knights added in the major patch coming in a few months, but that doesn't fix the issue. I know that this is a very NES-like story, but why copy the bad elements of NES design along with the good? It's unfortunate. The game does have some amusing comic bits here and there and a decent sense of humor, but the core story is bad.

The gameplay is a lot better, though, and so are the visuals. Shovel Knight's core concept is a NES-like platformer inspired first and foremost by the great NES classic DuckTales, with some elements from other games as well. The game does not stick straight to the NES's hardware limitations, though, so the game uses more colors than you would see on a NES, doesn't have any sprite flicker and has very large sprites, and has parallax backgrounds. I'd rather see a classic-styled game like this, which mostly looks very much like a NES game, be accurate to the original hardware, but this isn't quite that. Still, for what it is, a NES-plus title, Shovel Knight looks pretty good. The game has a nice cartoony art style, and the sprites are all very nicely drawn. Backgrounds are varied too, as every level has an entirely different setting and boss. Sometimes the visuals affect gameplay too, in hiding secrets, or in the flashes of lightning lighting up the dark areas of Shadow Knight's stage, for example. The music is a chiptune soundtrack as you'd expect, and it's good. I haven't found it to be all that memorable, so far at least, but each theme fits its area well and they sound good.

The game controls well, and as mentioned above Shovel Knight controls pretty much just like Scrooge from DuckTales, but with a health bar and special magic items on the side. Your shovel works as a pogo stick, just like Scrooge's cane in that game, and you lower it to bounce off of things by pressing Down while in the air. It works great and is fun, though it's not original. Otherwise the controls are simple, with a jump button and an attack button for melee-range attacks. You can attack either by hitting enemies with your shovel either in the ground or air, or by bouncing on them, either works. Some enemies guard against one or both, so in tougher fights you will need to pay attention and attack when you get an opportunity. Additionally, you also have magic. You switch between the equipped magic item with two other buttons, shoulder buttons if you're on a gamepad, and use magic with Up+Attack. The spells are varied, and include ranged attacks, temporary invincibility, and more. Magic is limited though, and your magic counter does not auto-recover; you will need to pick up magic pots to refill it. So, it's sort of like the special weapons in a Castlevania game, for instance. The controls are good and responsive and always work just as they should, but sometimes the game feels a bit messy, as you and bosses trade damage for example; sometimes hits feel unavoidable, just there to drain your health, and it can be frustrating. This gives the game a messy feel at times, one better than a lot of classic Western games to be sure, but sort of like that. I would not want to play this game with one hit deaths and probably usually prefer health bars to one hit deaths, but it is true that not having a health bar forces designers to make their combat systems much more precise than you see here, if you want it to be as great of a game that is. Still, on the whole the controls are good, though it is perhaps a bit too close to DuckTales; I can't say that this game quite matches that classic. It is good that each add-on character campaign they add gives you alternate controls, though; Plague Knight controls completely differently from Shovel Knight, and the same will be true for the additional playable bosses they are still working on.

The game is structured like many later NES titles, in that you have a world map you can move around on, Mario 3-style, full of full levels, towns, and smaller areas to explore. Each of the full levels is a fairly lengthy area with, as mentioned, a unique setting and Knight boss at the end. Levels are linear, but along the way, again like DuckTales, you collect money in this game, and levels are full of hidden areas both large and small full of coins and gems. Shovel Knight has well thought through levels that have bot hvariety and a good challenge curve, from the very easy early stages to much more frustrating ones deeper in the game. You do have infinite lives from the last checkpoint, though, so the game does not copy the NES in its lives system, that is more modern. However, when you die you drop some of the money you collected in the stage, which is then left on that screen in three floating bags. If you die again before getting back to get them you lose that money, and your next death loses you even more cash. So, if you do die, try to not die again before getting back to that point! This can be tough at times later on, but there are some upgrades that can help, and punishing you somehow for dying is good. Additionally you do have the option to destroy checkpoints if you want. This will give you more money, but you will then respawn from the last one before it, as it's gone now. That adds some nice risk and reward for people who want more challenge. Outside of the main levels, towns have people to talk to and shops that you can use your money in. Upgrades include expansions to your magic and health bar, healing items, upgraded suits and weapons, and such. Upgrades are fairly costly, so you'll want to get as much money as you can in the levels if you want to keep up with the upgrades. This may mean replaying levels you have beaten already to grind for money, but fortunately this is optional.

Overall, Shovel Knight is a pretty good game. The core campaign, Shovel Knight's, controls like DuckTales but with Castlevania-like side weapons and a health system, but with responsive controls, a good number of quite well-designed levels to play through, plenty of secret areas to find, lots of varied enemies to fight, good graphics and graphical design, and more, this is indeed a quite good game. It isn't perfect, as the unoriginal gameplay, messy combat, not NES-accurate graphics, and bad story hold it back a bit, but it is very good, and I absolutely recommend Shovel Knight to the handful of people who have not played it yet. Available as a physical release on 3DS, PS4, and Wii U, and as a digital-only release on PS Vita, PS3, Amazon Fire TV, and Xbox One. Available digitially on GOG and Steam for PC, Mac, and Linux; as always one purchase gets all three formats.


Super Lemonade Factory (WinXP+, 2012) - 1-2 player simultaneous (single system only), saves. Super Lemonade Factory is a port of a mobile phone game of the same name. As such, this is a very simple game, and that's okay; it does have one interesting gameplay element in that you control two characters that each have different abilities, sort of like a simpler and not as good spin on The Lost Vikings. Unfortunately, the game has poor, slippery controls and an incredibly limited amount of content that makes it a hard one to recommend. In the game you play as two characters, a young couple who have inherited a soda and lemonade factory somewhere in Europe soon after World War II. The male character can jump higher but only once and can charge into boxes to break them, though this will not hurt anything other than boxes so it is not an attack, while the female one can double jump and can talk to the other characters to get bits of the slightly odd story. You cannot attack, so you will just need to avoid everything that can hurt you. The story is that you both need to go through all of the rooms in the factory in order to inherit it. For no apparent reason, touching any of the factory workers hurts you; the game doesn't make any attempt to explain why this happens, particularly when you can talk to them and get bits of plot... then touch them and take a hit? I know games need obstacles, but it's better when you come up with an explanation for it. Ah well. Worse, the controls are extremely slippery and floaty and do not feel good at all -- this is why you do not make action games in Flash, as this one seems to have been made in -- and the game does not support gamepads; you'll need to use a keyboard-to-joystick converter program for that. There is an option that makes xinput gamepad button labels appear on the screen, but actual gamepad support was removed in a patch because it wasn't working right, and hasn't been put back. The game is playable on keyboard and still wouldn't be great on a pad, but it probably would be slightly better.

The bigger problem is in the levels themselves, though. This game has only twelve levels, all only one or two screens large! The characters are smallish, but these levels are not exactly densely-packed either, so you can easily finish the game on Normal in half an hour. After beating Normal mode you do get a Hardcore mode, which consists of new versions of the same 12 levels that now have lots of spikes everywhere and no checkpoints, to make them more annoying to navigate. If you want to beat that as well it adds a little to the game, but not much. The ending barely exists as well. Beyond that, there isn't much to collect either. Showing its mobile roots there is an analog of a 'three-star' system, but it's far too basic: you get one marker on each level for getting the one and only collectable, a soda bottle placed somewhere in the level, and the other two are one for remembering to talk to the guy character, and one for talking to all workers/enemies in the stage. There is no scoring system or anything, so replay value is near-zero. Additionally there is a level creator, but they can be glitchy, and I'd rather not play this game any more anyway. So yeah, there's very little to this game.

Visually, the game has some decently nice sprite-art characters in a very chunky pixel style, but the backgrounds are extremely basic Flash-environment that doesn't fit the character art too well. There are also only maybe six sprites in the game ,for your two characters and the four or five workers who inhabit the stages. The music is catchy chiptunes, but there are only a couple of songs. Overall, if this was a free flash game, it might be worth playing through once, since despite the iffy controls, figuring out each of the stages is kind of fun for a bit. But for money, much less the $5 the developer wants on Steam, forget it! I got this in a cheap bundle, so for that money it may have been worth it, but probably just pass on this one. The Flash and mobile roots show through in too many ways, and there's far too little here for it to really be worth it. I love The Lost Vikings and as a full game with a better engine this game could be good, but it's not there. Also available on iOS. There is also a mobile-only sequel.
 
Super Meat Boy (WinXP+, 2010) - 1 player, saves, gamepad supported (xinput only). Super Meat Boy is one of the more popular very difficult retro-revival-styled platformers released last generation. After Cave Story and I Want to Be the Guy, indie platformers saw a comeback in the mid to late '00s. This high-quality, polished title is one of the most popular of them. The sequel to a 2008 Flash game on Newgrounds, Super Meat Boy is indeed good. You play as Super Meat Boy, a blob of meat who has to make his way through many challenging levels as you try to rescue your meat girlfriend from the evil meat guy who kidnapped her. Beyond that though the game does have a dark comic style with some questionably violent and cruel humor very much in the style of other Newgrounds games of the '00s. Fortunately the gameplay here is far improved over its Flash-based predecessor. Still, the basic setup is unfortunately awful generic sexist stuff, and that is too bad, but the controls, gameplay, and level designs of this game are all pretty good! Super Meat Boy is a fast-paced game with zoomed-out graphics and many small but tough levels.

The controls are very simple: you run and jump, that's it. You have a run button and a jump button, and jump a shorter distance while not running, and a much farther but less high distance when jumping. You will need to learn when to run while jumping and when not to in order to get through this game; don't just hold the run button down, you will die. You move fast while walking and even faster while running, keeping the pace up. You also will slide down walls, faster if you're holding Run than when you are not. You will need to jump to get higher on a wall though, so strategy is required when on a wall, since the game loves to put obstacles mid-wall that you will need to avoid as you climb. I should note, this is an avoidance-based game with no combat in it. That's just fine. Combining these abilities, you'll need to navigate your way through hazard-filled levels loaded with giant spinning blades, spike pits, moving enemy blobs of meat which patrol platforms, and the like. Pretty much anything which isn't a wall or floor will kill you, so this is a game of memorization as you slowly learn what to do in each level. The very well-designed stages are the best thing about the game, and are surely what gave it the good name it has. Each level has a very different feel to it, and the slow increase of difficulty and variety of stages in a game with limited graphical variation is impressive. You do move so fast that control can be tricky, but when you die it's usually your fault. You restart instantly every time you die, thankfully. It's great that there is no waiting for the next respawn.

When you do beat a stage, the game shows a combined replays of all of the attempts you just made all together, which can be fun to watch. You can also save a replay of your winning run through the level if you want, and see the end of level stats. The main goal of the game is getting through levels as fast as you can, so When you beat a level you see your time, and there are online leaderboards. Beat a level in a fast enough time and you get an A ranking on the stage, which is marked on the level-select screen. Levels also each have a hidden bandage item to find, though, and it keeps track if you found it. You'll need to get the bandage and survive to the exit for it to count, if you die you'll need to get it again. There are also a lot of levels, with at least five worlds of 20 levels each plus bonus levels and user-created levels you can also access, so there are hundreds of stages to play.

Visually, the game has very simple graphics, but it has some style. The story plays up its classic theme, with the villain, a top hat-wearing fetus in a glass jar, taunting Meat Boy with his kidnapped girlfriend at the exit of each level, Game Boy Donkey Kong-style. The visuals fit the setting as well. Meat Boy is a blob of meat, so as you move you leave a meaty blood trail behind on wall surfaces you have been on. By the time you beat a lot of the levels there will be a lot of blood all over, that's for sure, which makes it more satisfying when you finally get a stage right and can move on. The obstacles fit the "meat" theme as well; those aforementioned spinning blades chop Meat Boy up when he hits them, and you'll also see things like meat grinders and the like to avoid. Each world has a new visual look to it as well, which is good. Still, the visual look of the environments has a pretty generic, sort of Flash game-ish look to it, with very sharp lines and plain if varied environments, so the graphics could be better. Super Meat Boy also has a potentially off-putting sense of humor; this game is a dark comedy, and wants you to laugh at awful things. Sometimes it is a bit amusing, but other times it goes too far. This isn't my kind of comedy for sure, though at least it does something different, instead of just being generic.

Overall, Super Meat Boy is a classic for good reason. The graphics may be only okay, but thye have some style, and the fast-paced, extremely challenging gameplay will keep you coming back for a while at least. The game gets extremely difficult by the time you're a few worlds in, and I haven't beaten it, but it is something worth coming back to every so often. Thanks to the short levels and instant restarts, this game is a great one to play for either short sessions or long. Also available, digital-only on all formats, on Xbox 360, Playstation 4, PS Vita, Android, Wii U, and Mac and Linux as well as PC, if you buy it on Steam and such.


Superfrog (DOS, 1993) - 1 player, saves, gamepad supported. Superfrog is a thoroughly mediocre platformer from Psygnosis. First made for the Amiga, this game also released on PC, but if that version is like this one I don't think it's worth playing on either platform. With annoying controls, blind jumps, too fast movement, iffy level designs, and more, this game has too many big problems. Even so though, fans of '80s to early '90s-style European platformers should will like this more than I do. Inspired by the fantastic Genesis megahit Sonic the Hedgehog, Superfrog takes the basic concept from that game, but can't match its great controls, level designs, graphical look, or music. As in Sonic you run and jump and that's it,and there is a momentum system so many jumps will require a running start to make. Unfortunately, the controls are imprecise and can be frustrating. The momentum system here has nothing on the Genesis Sonic games's good physics engine. You die quickly too, so you cannot make many mistakes before restarting the level and, all too soon, the game, since you can't save your progress. Great.

The biggest issue the game has are the level designs. Much like James Pond 3 for the Genesis (or Amiga), this game is very fast and has huge levels that scroll in all four directions, but those levels are full of traps, pits, enemies, and such that you can only see or avoid if you move slowly. So, you plod around with your superhero frog, moving as slowly as you can to see what's coming up so you won't run into it and die. Some of the less fun handheld 2d Sonic games from the past few decades have some elements sort of like this, but it's at least as bad or worse here than it is in those games. Levels in Superfrog are huge and are full of stuff to collect, a familiar style to Western platformers of the time. It can be satisfying to find the hidden stuff in the stages, but the frustrating level designs and not-great controls hold it back too much to make me want to spend the kind of time exploring that this game encourages. Due to the difficulty there's plenty in Superfrog to keep you playing for a while if you get into it, but I didn't, and doubt many others who aren't nostalgic for the game will either. The game does have okay if bland graphics and music, but it's not nearly enough to make up for the many other flaws. Pass on this one, it's not fun or worth playing.

Additionally, Superfrog won't be easy to find legally either, because all digital releases of the game, both the original version on GOG and an HD sequel/remake that was on multiple platforms, were removed from sale in mid 2016. If you want to play Superfrog legally now you will need to buy a physical-media copy, and that is absolutely not worth it. For those who have it, the digital release on GOG also works on Mac and Linux through DOSBox. The HD remake, when it was available, was released digitally for PC/Mac/Linux, iOS, PS3, and Vita. The original version is still available as a physical release for the Amiga, Amiga CD32, and PC (DOS).
 
Six summaries again this time, and it took a little longer than I wanted, but all six summaries are fairly long and detailed so I think I used the time well. Five of these six games are not the best known titles and have some issues, but all five are interesting each in their own way. The other… is the massively popular game Terraria, so most people surely know of it, and anyone with any idea of my taste in games can probably understand why it’s probably my least favorite 2d platformer I have covered so far for this list.

Table of Contents
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Tobari and the Night of the Curious Moon (2012)
Taimumari (2015)
Team Indie (2014)
Terraria (2011)
Terrian Saga: KR-17 (2014)
They Bleed Pixels (2012)


Tobari and the Night of the Curious Moon (2012 Japan release, though the worldwide Steam release was in 2015) - 1 player, saves, gamepad supported. Tobari and the Night of the Curious Moon is an anime-styled platformer from Desunoya, a Japanese indie developer. You play as Tobari, a schoolgirl magic-user at an anime girls' high school which has some odd, and magical, things going on. As the name suggests, night has suddenly fallen on this school even though it is daytime, and you need to figure out what is going on and why. Along the way Tobari will encounter various people from the school trying to slow her down, but this is not a particularly serious game, so it is as much comedy as drama. The gameplay is the main focus here, though, not the story, and that's just how it should be. In terms of gameplay, Tobari is a conventional platformer with a somewhat Kirby-styled design, a moderate challenge, an overworld map of levels that unlock as you go, levels with secrets and hidden exits to find that unlock side things on the map, and more. There is definitely fun to be had here, but unfortunately the game also has extremely floaty controls that significantly hold the game back.

The controls and gameplay here are simple. As in many platformers you attack with your currently-equipped spell, or your magical staff, with one button and jump with another. Your attack is unique and jump is horribly floaty, but you kind of get used to it over time. Beyond that, you also have a 'walk' button to move slowly. You can have two different spells at a time, and there is also a button to switch to the other spell, and another one to drop the currently equipped spell item. There is no limit to how often you can use a spell here, though a few do have recharge time. As in a Kirby game, many different spells are available in most any level, and you have to choose which spells you want to take with you, either for combat or for level traversal. Now, when you do not have a spell equipped in a slot, you attack with that close-range staff mentioned earlier. It works well, and if you hit certain enemies with the staff they drop a magic item which will fill that spell slot with that spell. You can only attack with the staff if an empty slot is currently equipped, however; otherwise that spell replaces it. This is somewhat similar to Kirby, but can be annoying at times when you forget that you have a non-combat spell equipped and get hit. You can also jump on enemies' heads to damage them, unless they have spiked or electric defenses of course, but you can only get magic powerups to drop if you hit enemies with your staff, so be sure to avoid jumping on any foe you want a power from, it won't drop! Additionally, landing on them properly can be difficult with these controls, so your staff or magic are better options. You can take three hits per life by default, and there are health-refilling hearts scattered around the levels, fortunately. Levels also have checkpoints, though if you run out of lives and get Game Over you will need to restart the level.

The magic system is the core of the game. Otherwise the gameplay system is conventional stuff, but I like playing as a mage with multiple spells in a platformer, that isn't something that happens nearly often enough! Each spell is significantly different as well. There aren't a huge number of them, but there are enough for a good amount of variety, including a fireball, a broom which jets you straight forward a good distance, a double jump which can be tricky to use since you have to jump the first time with your regular jump button and then the second time with the attack button, lightning which hits things a bit in front of you at any elevation, a weird ball-magic form you can end up in that makes the controls even more frustrating, and more. Unlike in Kirby games though, you cannot take powers from one stage to the next; instead, you start each level with just your default attack. This is good because you know that all areas in a stage can be reached with the powers available in that stage, if you just figure out how. And there are things to collect here, most notably money. Each stage also has a hidden moon symbol item to find, if you want. There are shops in levels and, if you unlock them by finding hidden exits in stages, the overworld where you can buy things. Shops in levels sell powers, health extensions, and sometimes checkpoints. These are cheap, but temporary, as as usual you lose all of it when you finish the stage. Overworld shops sell saves, some other powerups, extra lives, and such. It all works, and it's easy to get lots of money in this game either by grinding in levels or just through regular play, so the temporary nature of most purchases is fine.

Level designs in Tobari nad the Night of the Curious Moon are solid, if standard, fare. This is a tile-based game with a fairly generic doujin-game look, as the sprite art is nice, but environments are extremely basic things mostly just made of plain blocks, and backgrounds are forgettably generic. The music is fine. Levels scroll in all four directions and are moderate in length, so the game keeps the pace moving at a good clip. Despite the controls this game is only average in challenge at most unless you want to get everything, and I'm fine with that.Also the challenge does go up as you progress of course. There are also occasional boss fights. They're traditional hit-the-big-baddie affairs, but bosses do thankfully have on-screen health bars, so you don't need to guess how much damage you need to do. Things like timer switches also have on-screen bars showing how long they will last, which is great. The side areas full of money and harder-to-find hidden moon icons or occasional secret exits make you want to revisit stages to look for areas you missed the first time, too, if you don't quit because of the controls that is. Some of those secret areas are harder to reach than they should be, since landing precision jumps onto moving enemies is both difficult with how floaty the controls are, and high-stakes, since dead enemies in this game stay dead until you restart the level, so if you jump on an enemy but miss the jump, you'll need to quit and restart to get another shot at that. I usually prefer having enemies stay dead, but here it's actually annoying sometimes; maybe certain foes should have respawned, while the others stay dead. Ah well.

Overall, I want to like Tobari and the Night of the Curious Moon, but it has issues. On the good side, the female protagonist, magic system, Kirby influences from one of my favorite platformer franchises, and some of the level designs are pretty good. I also like that this game is moderate in challenge, instead of the crushing difficulties of so many retro-style platformers. However, the extremely floaty controls make any precision difficult, and I'm not sure if I will stick with this game to the end. You will often have to restart levels because you accidentally jumped on an enemy you meant to attack with your staff, or because you missed a jump and fell in a pit yet again, and such. The plain graphics, sprites aside, could be better as well. Still, I like this game despite its flaws, and there is enough good here that the game is definitely worth a look, particularly for anime or Kirby fans. It's above average and can be fun.


Taimumari (2015) - 1 player, saves, gamepad supported (xinput only). Taimumari is another difficult retro-styled indie platformer with anime-esque pixel-art graphics, though unlike the above title this game is Western. Though this is a somewhat obscure title with a mixed reception, I found it surprisingly good! Inspired more than anything by Mega Man but with some original touches, Taimumari is tough bug good. This is a low-budget game with some flaws and a sometimes quite frustrating difficulty level, but if you like classic-styled platformers there is some good fun to be had here. In this Western anime-styled game, you play as a female mage with animal ears who has to save her world from villains who are going to destroy it by messing with the time stream. The story tries for something a little different, but it's not all that complex, and some seems poorly translated into English as well. The game also tries for some sex appeal in its promo pictures and such which is not reflective of the game itself, which has tiny little sprites and no actual ingame content like that promo pic; was it really necessary? Ah well.

Fortunately, the gameplay is better than the presentation. Taimumari has both challenging platform jumping and melee or ranged combat, so there is some variety here. The heroine has a melee-ranged sword for her main attack, and you can also double jump and do an air dash, Mega Man X-style. Additionally you can slide down and jump off of walls, though oddly there is no visual representation of that in the game. You also have a magic meter, and can use a defenseive shield spell with one button, or one of several attack spells with another. You can switch between offensive magic spells with a separate button, and will find more in the levels as you play. Each spell is a bit different, so get them all! They can use the meter up quickly, but it does recharge fairly quickly. You have a health meter as well, and that does not refill unless you find one of the scattered health-refill pickups. You also have limited lives, and if you run out you will need to restart the current level from the beginning again. This is definitely a punishment because again, while Taimumari is a somewhat short game, with only four levels and then a final sequence of Wily's Tower-like stages, it is also very challenging. The controls are responsive and mostly work well. Usually hits and deaths feel deserved, and for the most part I like the way this game controls. The double jump and dash give you good maneuverability, as you can travel across a lot of screen without touching the ground. Wall jumps allow you to extend this even farther. You will take unfair hits every once in a while and your hitbox can be large, but just stay away from threats and you should avoid damage... though that can be much easier said than done, as enemies in this game like to shoot large amounts of stuff at you that will be tricky to dodge. There are also some cruel instant-death-spike-trap mazes to navigate. Still, it plays well. The controls in general feel fine but average, in that 'probably made in Game Maker or such' way. On that note, the wall-jump thing is oddly implemented; instead of a normal wall-jump where you have to be sliding down the wall to jump off of it or something like that, this game just resets your invisible double-jump 'meter' whenever you're within a tile of a wall or platform, I think. You can also press over to slow your descent, but you don't need to do that to jump. This is more generous than most double jump systems, but it can get weird at times, and just being able to infinitely jump when next to a wall looks odd since there is no visual cue.

On the note of the levels, Taimumari has some pretty good level designs. This is a traditional classic-style game, with linear, left-to-right stages you will need to navigate through that are loaded with enemies to slice up and pits to jump over. Along the way, though, the game keeps mixing things up and throwing new challenges at you. I like the games' varied level designs, as you will face everything from wind blowing you around over death pits and tricky enemy placements that may be tough to kill before they shoot at you, to straight platform-action segments where you run along and slash baddies. The game does rely perhaps a little too heavily on instant-death spikes at times, and be sure to never touch any part of a spike because you will die instantly, but for the most part the level designs here are strong.

The game has fairly basic graphics and sound. This is a fairly plain-looking game with basic tile-based sprite graphics. Excepting bosses sprites are tiny, and they are not particularly detailed for the most part. The backgrounds look nice, and I do like some of the sprites, but visually this game is a quite average indie effort. Additionally, animation is lacking; while you have a wall-slide and can jump off walls at will, there is no visual representation of either of those, so you just need to know that if you're falling by a wall, pressing over towards the wall slows down your fall, again with no 'slide' animation or anything, and you can jump as well. I'm sure it'd be trickier to do, but I really wish the game had a wall-slide animation, it'd help. Otherwise animations are basic and minimal. Still, otherwise visually the game looks fine, and there is a decent amount of variety between levels, as each of the six stages has a very different look and some exclusive enemies as well. The sound is the expected chiptune stuff you expect from this kind of game. It's decent to good, sometimes bland and sometimes catchy. No issues there. This is a hard game for sure and it has some very frustrating parts at times, and the graphics have limitations and the presentation is clearly very low-budget, but Taimumari is a good, classic-styled platformer with solid controls, gameplay, and stages. It's worth a look for the right price, if you want a lesser-known difficult retro-styled platformer to play.


Team Indie
(2014) - 1 player, saves, gamepad supported (xinput only). Team Indie, from Brightside Games, is a nice-looking puzzle-platformer with a time mechanic starring an original cat character, but also featuring the stars of ten indie games, from fairly popular characters such as Commander Video from the Bit.Trip series and Tim from Braid to lesser ones like Jitters from The Great Jitters: Pudding Panic. That may sound gimmicky, but the game actually has a good concept for using all these characters, as you go through each stage using multiple characters that you switch between at certain points. This is a nonviolent platformer with jumping and puzzle elements. It has new ideas, particularly in the puzzles, and while it isn't an amazing game it is fun.

Team Indie has simple controls which mostly work well, rare glitches aside, but each character controls differently so I'm not going to list all eleven. The game uses two main action buttons and the d-pad for movement. There are also buttons that stay the same, one to rewind to the previous characters' level segment and another to pause. The main character is a cat called Marvin, and you must reach level exits as Marvin to complete them so you spend the most time as him. Levels are made up of collections of floating platforms in traditonal videogame style, with scattered collectables, character-switch icons, and switches which enable things. There are also some enemies to avoid, though pits are the main threat. In each level you start out as Marvin, but switch to guest characters when you touch their character switch icon. Each icon is used once you touch it, you you need to figure out the right order to use them in.

At this point you learn this games' design: all of the characters in a segment move at the same time, once you have done that section of the level as a character. So, in one puzzle for instance you need to play as Jitter, a slime who can make platforms in the air, in order to make platforms that let the other characters cross gaps, then cross those gaps as Commander Video, who cannot stop moving forward as per his auto-runner game but can slide, in order to slide through a gap to get some powerups and hit a switch that will allow Marvin to cross and get up to the exit. Once you finish as each character and hit a Marvin switch again, you'll see that character moving on the route you took while you play as Marvin or the next guest character. If you hit an enemy, fall in a pit, or hit the rewind button, however, you will return to the start point of the current characters' run. If you hit rewind again you will go back to the last character before that, so if you messed things up badly you can rewind more than one segment. So, there are two elements to the puzzles in this game, first figuring out what order to use the characters in based on what character-switch icons are available, and then figuring out what to do. It's a fun challenge, though some of the later characters do sometimes have glitchy control issues, and you will often need to rewind a segment or two to get things just right. The game is fun to play and makes me want to find all the collectibles, though, so it's a fun game, when you're not stuck on something that is of course. There are over 50 levels in this game, and it saves how much of the stuff you have gotten in each level, so there is a fair amount to do here, particularly if you want to collect everything.

Visually, Team Indie is a pretty nice-looking game with a good cartoony style, nice sprite art, and detailed environments and backgrounds that remind me a bit of Rayman Legends, just lower budget. There are only a couple of environment types, but they look good so it works. The character sprites each look like their representative character, but redone in the cartoony style of this game, and the sprites all look pretty good and are nicely animated. The music is also good, though the graphics are probably better. Overall, Team Indie is good. Not all ten of the licensed guest characters are equally easy to use and once you learn all the characters the puzzles get somewhat predictable, but for the most part this is a fun game that is just challenging enough to be fun, but not keep you stuck for a long time. I like the graphics, puzzles, and character-switching mechanic. You do end up going through the same areas over and over, but it's different each time since each character has different abilities, and each segment is short enough to not last too long. Team Indie is fun to play and can be addictive as you try to collect everything, and it's worth a try if you find it for the right price.


Terraria (2011) - 1 player local, 1-6+ player online multiplayer, saves, gamepad supported (xinput only). Terraria is a 2d sandbox crafting game, a kind of game I have never seen any appeal in whatsoever, myself. The game is basically Minecraft in side-scrolling 2d, but maybe with more of a focus on multiplayer. You play a character who explores a randomly-generated side-scrolling world, and dig, collect stuff, and use that stuff to craft it together into other stuff as you build things and try to not die repeatedly. The problem is, I absolutely hate crafting and do not like randomly-generated level designs in most cases. Naturally, as a result, I have little interest in Minecraft, 2d or 3d. So, while I've had this game for some time, I've never played it because I've always been sure I would greatly dislike it if I tried the game. And indeed, trying it now, I don't like it much at all. I can kind of see why people who like crafting might see something in this kind of game, but there is nothing here for me, I find it terrible.

But backing up a bit, Terraria starts with you creating a character and world. There are a few customization options, but not a lot. You can set your colors though for each piece, which is nice. Worlds are randomly generated, and there is no actual apparent goal here, you are just tossed into a world and sent off to die over and over and over, pretty much, until you give up or start building things. You can reconfigure the controls, but the defaults are clumsy on keyboard and mouse or gamepad. You can jump, attack, open the menu, use a grappling hook if you have one, and access quick-item slots, or switch between the selected item if you're using a gamepad. With a pad controlling your character is okay, though the controls are kind of clumsy. Menu navigation is awful with a pad, though, as you have to flip between the various panes of items, equip slots, and menus with buttons, and you can't pause in menus, so you can and will be killed just because you were stuck in a menu; awful! With keyboard and mouse character control isn't as good, but menus are much easier... except for one major flaw: the game doesn't lock the mouse to the bounds of the screen! For anyone like me with multiple monitors this is an absolutely crippling flaw, as one little move outside of the edge and a click minimizes or de-selects the game window. And since the game doesn't let you pause, yes, this too will lead to deaths for sure thanks to bad programming, and that's not okay. Beyond that though the graphics and music are pretty good. The music is good and fits the game well, first. Visually Terraria's character and enemy sprites are tiny but look nice, and the tile-based environment look great for tile-based design. The game has lighting effects as well, and a day-night cycle, all of which look good. You absolutely need light at night, from torches, fires, or what have you, because otherwise you can see nothing.
 
While that may be accurate though, and good art direction, from a gameplay standpoint that leads into one of this games' biggest problems: it has a very, VERY high learning curve, and teaches you next to nothing about what you are supposed to be doing. It's also apparently balanced much more for multiplayer than single player, so on your own this game is difficult. It just throws you out there, and you'll start dying over and over and over in notime, since getting to the point where you won't be constantly swarmed by monsters takes more patience than I have for these stupid crafting games. You'll need to build a house to get to that point, I presume, but collecting resources from chopping down trees, digging holes in the ground, and such, and picking up the stuff that drops afterwards gets boring very quickly, and is not my idea of fun at all. In the little time I spent with this game, the parts that were kind of fun were exploring the world and filling in parts of the map, but that isn't what you are supposed to be doing so as much as I love exploring out maps, it got unsatisfying quickly as I died repeatedly from falling into caves, being overrun by enemies, or what have you. When you die you go back to the start point, which gets frustrating.

But as for what you are supposed to be doing, collect and craft, sorry, I don't care about them. The game does do a few things to help out, though: you start with basic items to fight, cut, and dig with, and the game does give you recipes so you don't need to guess at the way items can be crafted together. That's great and is better than some crafting systems, but even so the basic loop of digging/cutting stuff to combine together into other things you can then build with is not something I want to spend my time doing. I like building plenty; I loved Legos as a kid, SimCity 2000 is one of the all-time greats, and such, but this is a different kind of thing thanks to the collection-and-crafting-centric design. Even if it just had building and no crafting I'd probably still dislike this for its unfocused design, as in platformers I usually prefer a more directed experience over a too-open one, but it would be better.

So, after trying this game out, my opinion on crafting games has not changed: I hate crafting and do not find it fun. A very basic crafting system maybe can work, such as Guild Wars 1's, but even with its crafting-recipe menu, Terraria is vastly more complex than that. Worse, its tediously boring collection-focused core gameplay does not interest me. I don't want to "collect them all" in this kind of game, I'd want to explore the map, which gets you nowhere really here. Instead you need to chop through the terrain collecting stuff, and that is incredibly boring. The randomly generated worlds have no predesigned vistas to see either, just whatever it tossed together. Despite that Terraria does look pretty good, and the audio design is good as well, but the actual gameplay is a mixture of frustration and boredom more often than it is even kind of fun, the learning curve is high, and apparently you need to play multiplayer, something I have not done and don't want to do, to have fun here. This absurdly successful game has sold 20 million copies apparently, so most people probably have it already, but while I can see how people could like it, I find this game completely terrible and the least fun game I've played so far in this list. I don't think I want to ever play Terraria again. Also available on Xbox 360, PS3, PS4, Vita, Xbox One, 3DS, iOS, Wii U, Android, Windows Mobile, and Mac and Linux as well as PC on Steam.


Terrian Saga: KR-17 (2014) - 1 player (with online best-time leaderboards), saves, gamepad supported (xinput only). Terrian Saga: KR-17 is a 2d pixel-art platform-shooter from Wonderfling. The game calls itself a "32-bit-style" platformer, and that is accurate, though incomplete. That may sound like most of this update, but this game is different: like MURI but better, the game is inspired by classic early to mid '90s PC games, in this case Commander Keen in specific as far as the level designs go, though the gameplay is its own thing. Unlike MURI, this is no clone. This is one of the most authentically '90s-styled ones of these pixel-art platformers; this game feels like it could be an indie DOS game from 1994 or such, and that's great. The game does have some issues, but it has more strengths. In this charming and fun title, you play as a Terrian military robot sent on a difficult mission to fight against your enemies. The story is just a basic setup for the gameplay, but it's all you need. With a cute and '90s-esque art style and pretty good art design, this game looks nice too.

The controls are straightforward, though the game does use more buttons than a real '90s PC platformer probably would. You can jump and shoot as usual, and have a short-distance forward dash if you double-tap forwards. Your basic shot feels a little weak, but it's enough. Additionally you have a Select/Read button, which is mapped either to a button or Down; a button for your jetpack, when you have it; to use the currently selected special weapon; a button on the pad to switch between those special weapons, which are grenades, a flamethrower, and two types of mines; and a button to use your homing missile companion. The homing missile is this games' most unique element, as when you use it you then control the missile, and can fly it around the stage anywhere you want, until you run into something of course and explode. The game uses this for both combat and puzzles, which can be interesting. You have five hit points in this game, and at least early on there are plenty of health powerups, though things get harder as you go of course. You also have an energy meter. Your main gun can fire infinitely, but homing missiles and your special weapons both require energy to fire. It does not auto-refill, so you will need to find refill stations to fill up again. There are also many save points which you can continue from, and as this game has infinite lives from the last save point, you'll never be sent back. This is a modern touch, but some classic Apogee platformers have infinite lives like this too, so it fits fine. The controls are responsive and feel pretty good, though I would strongly recommend a gamepad, either an X360 one or another one with a keyboard-to-joystick emulator, because this kind of game is much harder played on keyboard. The one control oddity is that you need to find a certain powerup to get the jetpack, and you keep it for the rest of the level, but sometimes you also can use the jetpack in the next stage while other times it is taken away, and the game does not tell you which it is; you'll just need to hit the jetpack button on the next stage and see. It works.

Level designs are large and open rectangles, very much in the Commander Keen style, but with puzzle elements that not only have you finding keycards and hitting switches, but also involve using your homing missile companions as well. I like the level designs here, and figuring out where to go is fun stuff, as is hunting around for all the powerups and items which, as in the titles it was inspired by, are all over, sometimes in sight and other times in hidden corners. Sure you don't need to get them, but trying to find at least some of the hidden stuff! The combat is not quite on par with the puzzle or exploration elements, as it's fairly basic stuff where you run around and shoot enemies while trying to dodge their shots, but still this is a pretty fun game. The game keeps things interesting with a good amount of graphical variety as you go through the various areas in the game, and also with new puzzles and challenges as you progress. Sometimes it can be a little tricky to tell what is a platform and what is a background, or things can be hidden by a background, but this is rarely much of a problem and I really like the detailed graphics, so I don't mind a few slightly confusing bits. Save points and weapon energy refill spots are all over, and all can be used as much as you want. The game also keeps track of how long each level is taking you to beat, and there are online best-time leaderboards on Steam to compete on too. Nice stuff. Some minor faults aside, for the most part this is a pretty good game with good level designs and gameplay.

The graphics are, again, pretty good too! The game has very detailed backgrounds, multiple layers of parallax scrolling, big sprites, nice animation on both your character and the enemies, and more. The in-game sprites and backgrounds all look great. As mentioned backgrounds sometimes do blend in with the foreground, but this is rarely distracting. There are a good number of different enemy robots to blow up, each with a different type of attack, and static obstacles such as spikes which damage you as well. For the cutscenes, the game, surely intentionally, has an amusing art style reminiscent of the somewhat weird look of Western anime-inspired cutscenes in games such as Turrican 2 or Mega Turrican. It fits the theme of this being a '90s "32-bit" game. The music is chiptune-styled stuff as expected, and it's good.

On the whole, Terrian Saga: KR-17 is a really good game. This game is perfect nostalgia bait for those of us like me who grew up on early to mid '90s PC platformers, and this game feels like a new game like that, and that's not something you see very often! The game looks great too, and sounds pretty good as well. There is a fair amount of game here to get through and exploring the levels, finding the secrets, and making your way to the end is lots of fun. With its occasionally confusing graphics, bland combat, and lack of notices telling you when your jetpack is going to be taken away the game does not quite match up to Apogee's best releases, but this game is really fun and is better than most PC platformers. Terrian Saga: KR-17 deserves a lot more attention than it got, and is really cheap, too! I highly recommend this game, get it for sure.


They Bleed Pixels (2012) - 1 player, saves, gamepad supported. They Bleed Pixels is a very difficult pixel-art platformer from Spooky Squid Games. That may sound generic, but while it takes some inspiration from titles such as Super Meat Boy, this game has some pretty original ideas going on. Some of them work and others don't, but They Bleed Pixels is an interesting title. I like a lot about it... except for the controls and incredibly frustrating, excessively high difficulty level. You play as a schoolgirl, just sent to a private boarding school sometime in the early 1900s. In the library there she finds a book, a dangerous book which turns her into a very Lovecraftian form, with a mostly normal body but huge red claw-like hands. Naturally she wants to go back to normal, but every attempt to abandon or destroy the book fails. The plot is simple and doesn't go much beyond that, but still it's a solid setup for a Lovecraftian-styled platformer which plays like one part Super Meat Boy homage, and one part beat 'em up-style action-platformer.

The first unique point here, and major issue, is about the controls. They Bleed Pixels uses only two buttons, but each button has many functions depending on how long you press it and whether you're hitting a direction on the pad along with the button or not. For jumping, your jump height varies depending on how long you press the button down. Make sure to be perfect every time with this, or you will die. You also have a wall-slide, where if you are close to a wall and press towards it you slowly slide down it. You can then jump off of the wall. Attaching to walls can be frustrating sometimes when you are totally surrounded by spikes, but you'll need to be perfect to survive. You also have a double jump, which works fine. For combat, if you tap the attack button you kick the enemy forward. If you hold it, you kick the enemy up. If you hit action plus a direction, you attack with your claws that way. If you hit action plus forward harder, you do a teleport-strike attack in that direction. If you hit attack in the air you attack in the direction you are facing. And if you hit attack plus down in the air you do a downward strike. If you attack enemies with a variety of attacks before killing them you will get a combo, and these increase your points and also how much meter killing them fills up. Those are most of the moves, though there may be a few more. You do have three hit points and attacks always do only one point each, but often being hit once means death, since many spike pits cannot be escaped from, sawblades send you flying across the stage in ways you'll never recover from, and such. This game's level designs demand absolute precision to not die, and between occasional control-response issues, how every button doing multiple things, and the games' frustratingly large hitboxes, getting through the harder levels later in this game is a serious excercize in frustration as you die over and over and over because you weren't quite perfect somewhere. There is an Easy mode available, but you cannot play the last level in Easy and you can't switch between the two during play, so "Normal" is the only real choice.

Helping you out is one more interesting system: you create your own checkpoints. In this game, as you kill enemies and collect the few items scattered around the games' entirely linear levels, a meter builds up. When the meter fills, if you stand still for a few seconds while on flat, non-slippery ground, you will create a checkpoint there. This sort of gives you control of where you continue, but as you progress you will find many segments that don't give you any flat, non-slippery ground for long stretches, so at times you just want to make a checkpoint in the obvious safe spot you've been given, then try to get through the next stretch. You have infinite lives from the last checkpoint, so you can just keep trying, but after dying scores of times in some tough part later in the game my patience started to run out, and despite putting quite a while into this game several years ago, I still haven't finished it. Levels in this game are a long, linear sequence of challenges, some platforming and some combat-based. Your main obstacles include saw blades, spikes, bottomless pits, annoying slippery sections of floor that you slide on, cannot wall-clime, and cannot create checkpoints on, and various types of blade traps. There are also many switches to hit, though watch out because many are traps... that you will have to set off anyway to proceed, of course. Enemies include basic guys which move back and forth and attack at you, little creatures with big swords, annoying ghosts which teleport back and forth to attack you on both sides, and a few more. The combat is decent fun, when the controls work right, and has some variety with your different attack types. It can be frustrating at times, but the platforming segments are where the serious difficulty lies.

Visually, They Bleed Pixels looks great. This is a faux-retro game with a very blade and spike-heavy setting and a somewhat monochromatic look that makes the red blood stand out on your grey, white, and black surroundings. All sprites are well-drawn and have big white borders around them. This is another tile-based game with small sprites, but this game has better art direction than some other such titles covered above. The good visual design is a strength here, even though there is somewhat limited graphical variety, as while backgrounds will vary as you go through the game, but the foreground graphics, enemy types, obstacles, and such, are the same throughout. Still, the game looks good despite that. The music fits the creepy tone of the game game well, also. And the game in general is a lot of fun for a while, as you work through these creepy worlds, killing baddies and working your way past the difficult traps and jumps that fill each level. But as you get deeper into the game, the way that too many functions have been crammed onto each button so it is far too easy to do the wrong thing while hitting the buttons what seems like exactly the way you are supposed to, the way that you must perfectly make every jump if you don't want to die and often have to go through long sequences without being allowed a spot for a checkpoint which ensures that you will need to do hard sections over and over and over, the large hitboxes and the way you slowly slide down walls, and more combine to make the game incredibly frustrating and maybe not fun. Because it does so many other things right They Bleed Pixels is well worth a look, particularly for fans of very difficult games, but because of its flaws even some hard-platformers fans will lose patience with this one, unfortunately. Still, it's a decent to good game overall even if most are unlikely to finish it.
 
Yes, it's finally an update to this list! This time I cover five games. One I like a lot, while the other four have some positives and negatives. With this update I've almost reached the end of the alphabet for digitally downloaded 2d games, but I have a handful more games to cover that I bought while working on this section of the list and decided to do at the end instead of in the beginnings of random other articles as I did several times before, so this category is not quite over yet.

Table of Contents
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Ultionus: A Tale of Petty Revenge (2013)
Umihara Kawase (1994/2015)
Valdis Story: Abyssal City (2013)
VVVVVV (2010)
Volgarr The Viking (2013)


Ultionus: A Tale of Petty Revenge
(2013) - 1 player, saves, gamepad supported. Ultionus is a classic-style platform-action game from Lost Dimension, a mostly one-person team who also made Mystik Belle, which I covered earlier. This one was his first game released on Steam. Like Mystik Belle after it, this is part modern platformer and part classic European computer game-inspired, but the two games are quite different. Where that game is part Metroidvania and part Dizzy-style sidescrolling adventure game, this one is a side-scrolling platform-shooter with some shmup levels starring a scantily-clad female protagonist. The game has an intentionally ridiculous story, as you are trying to ... find .... someone who said some mean things about you on Spacebook. Heh. The game apparently is pretty much a remake of a European ZX Spectrum game called Phantis, but as an American I've never played that game. It looks quite similar design wise-however, going by videos. One title this does remind me of, though, is W.U.R.M. for the NES. The two games are different, as Ultionus has no analog to W.U.R.M.'s boss battle system, but both games have female leads in a game that is part platformer and part side-scrolling shooter. Back in the '80s to early '90s game genres were not as set as they later became, so you saw more interesting crossovers that combine multiple genres into a single title, as W.U.R.M. or Phantis do.

So what is Ultionus? The game is a somewhat short but difficult platform-action title with big, very well drawn graphics and some gameplay variety as you go. Fairly traditionally, you can walk around, shoot, and that's about it. Thankfully you do have a health bar, but depending on the enemy you can die quickly if you get hit. The controls are fine, but you do move slowly and somewhat stiffly. Your goal is usually to go to the right until you find the end of the stage, but there is a good amount of variety along the way, as some levels are linear, others are mazelike, and a few have you controlling a vehicle instead of walking. The variety is nice and helps keep the game interesting; if you dislike a stage, keep playing, the next level will probably be a bit different. There are only six or seven levels in this game, and they are not particularly long, but the game is hard enough that it will not be easy to finish, particularly if you choose to play on the higher difficulties, which give you limited lives. Fortunately there is also an easy mode which gives you infinite lives, and the game does save your progress after each level, but still the game is sometimes frustratingly difficult. In that classic style, the game makes up for its short length with high difficulty, and it mostly works.

I do have one significant complaint about the design here, though: as in games like Valis, this game absolutely LOVES to have enemies zoom in at you at high speeds which you only have an instant to react to. I've never liked the Valis series probably in large part because of that, and it's no better here. The water level, where you are constantly being attacked by large dragons that pop up out of the sea at random, take several hits to kill, and kill you if they touch you, is really frustrating at times for example. I'm sure the original Phantis works just like this as well, but this annoying stuff is why I will never consider the Valis games to be great, and while it may not be quite as bad here it is sometimes an issue.

Graphically, just like Mystik Belle, Ultionus looks great. The game uses very large, detailed sprites with a nice cartoony art style and it is fun to play at times just to see the nice visuals. Each level has a different visual theme too, so there is variety here. The chiptune-style music is also good. So, overall Ultionus is a good game and I do like it despite its definite flaws. The game looks great, plays decently well though I do wish you could move faster, has some fun levels, and presents a good classic challenge, particularly if you want to beat it in the limited-lives modes. It is a short game with some really frustrating enemy speed and placement design issues, and I do like Mystik Belle more than this game, but the game is above average overall at least and is worth a look.


Umihara Kawase (1994/2015) - 1 player, saves (menu and settings stuff only, not game progress), gamepads supported (xinput only). Umihara Kawase is a modern port of a Japanese Super Famicom (SNES) game of that name, which had not had a Western release until this Steam release by Studio Saizensen and published by Degica. Umihara Kawase is a cult classic, and it is for the most part pretty good. You play as a Japanese schoolgirl traveling through a world full of platforms and fish-monsters. You can run and jump, but jumping on enemies kills you. Instead, inspired by Bionic Commando, you have a fishing pole with line which works like a grappling hook, a lot like that games' bionic arm. You can throw the line in any direction, and then swing on it back and forth and pull in or let out the line to change the line's length. Being able to change the line length is great, and is something Bionic Commando never did. On the other hand though, it is harder to swing from grapple point to grapple point in this game than it is in Bionic Commando; here that is very easy and is the core of the game, but here it is a tricky maneuver that will take a lot of practice to get used to. Easier swinging without landing would have been great here. Still, there is a lot you can do with the line, and your control over the line is the central focus of this game. Fortunately, the controls are great. Comparing Umihara Kawase to Bionic Commando, the two games are similar but different. Both focus on a swing mechanic, but beyond that they diverge, as Umihara Kawase focuses entirely on traversing difficult puzzle-style platforming challenges with your fishing line, instead of being both an action shooting game and a grapple-platformer as Bionic Commando is. You can defeat your fish enemies by hitting them with the fishing hook, but they will just respawn at random as you play so you always want to move forward if you can. I do prefer Bionic Commando to Umihara Kawase, but this is a pretty good game too with some great ideas.

As far as the gameplay goes, Umihara Kawase is very simple; this game is entirely focused on puzzle-platforming. There are 40 difficult stages to get through, and this is a very tough game, but there is minimal gameplay and graphical variation along the way. The graphics look nice for a Super Nintendo game and have held up well, but there are only a handful of enemy types and the stage environments and backgrounds all look similar. The levels, again, focus on difficult platforming challenges. Except for a couple of boss levels, your goal is to get to the exit on each stage. Some stages have multiple exits, allowing you to skip levels if you can find the hidden warp exits. The first couple of levels may seem simple, but the difficulty level goes up steeply, and very good line control is required. That's great, but the game has a major flaw: the save system, or lack thereof. To complete all fourty levels you get ten lives, zero continues, and no saving allowed. Oh, and oddly all Umihara Kawase games for some random reason put the status screen info in the middle of the screen, instead of the top and bottom. I wish it was in the usual places, but you get used to this quickly. Anyway, you cannot save your progress or continue from any point other than the beginning, and in a game this difficult and memorization-based, that, for me, is a crushing flaw. This PC port does add a mode where you can play any level you have beaten in the main game, but you cannot progress to new levels from there so this does not fix the problem. They really should have put in a normal save system here, because it kinds of ruins the game. I love the controls and gameplay here, and the difficult grappling challenges can be a lot of fun to figure out, but having to start the whole game over constantly is not fun or rewarding. Definitely play Umihara Kawase, but play it with savestates in an emulator or something if you want to enjoy it. Also on Super Nintendo, in Japan only.


Valdis Story: Abyssal City (2013) - 1 player, saves, gamepad supported. Valdis Story is an indie Metroidvania action-platformer with a combo and cancel-based combat system. This game was originally a Kickstarter, but I got it from a bundle somewhere, I believe. This is an okay but flawed game that I don't particularly like, but I don't really dislike either. I can see why some people really like Valdis Story, but it does some significant things I don't like. In the game you play as one of initially two but later four characters, two male and two female. You start out with two unlocked and get the others sometime later on. They are similar, but each has distinctly different gameplay and upgrade trees. The story is confusing at first and poorly explained, but there is a war between two goddesses, both of whom are turning humans into their allies, angels or demons. Humans who are neither angel or demon are becoming rarer, but the four main characters are still human. The game is set in the eponymous abyssal city, which sank into the earth early in the war between the two sides. The protagonists are from the surface but giant monsters sank your ship, so you descend to it. Unfortunately, the game doesn't explain things very well and the story is confusing. The story is also perhaps a bit overly edgy at times, and is not the draw here. The gameplay is also lacking explanation, as there is no tutorial at all in this game despite it having a somewhat complex combat system and skill leveling mechanic. There is a manual which helps a bit, but even that lacks details of what some commands do. The game has other issues as well, including unbalanced difficulty, design which punishes you for not getting high ranks when you beat bosses, and a very bad map screen. There are things to like here, including some elements of the graphics, the great soundtrack, the controls, and the exploration, but Valdis Story has a bunch of little issues.

In the game you have a bunch of different moves, including a jump, block, weak and strong attacks, a cancel command on the Down button/arrow key, a magic button which you combine with directions in order to cast spells, and an Assist button to call a helper character. You can also wall-jump off of walls when you touch one. The controls are okay, and I do like how you grab onto platform edges when near them, but jumping puzzles can be frustrating in this game because of the large sprites and small platforms. The key elements of combat are the two attack buttons and canceling, as you must learn combos of the two attack buttons in order to do well in combat. I've never liked or been any good at combo systems, and it's no better here than anywhere. Worse, maybe, because of the boss experience system I will describe later. The enemies block a lot too, so you will need to learn when to block or dodge-roll behind an enemy to attack them from behind. In order to roll, you have to press down to cancel and then forward or back to roll in that direction. You are invincible while rolling so it is a key maneuver, but activating it is a bit clumsy. I also don't really understand the cancel system which you activate by hitting down on its own; I wish the game explained how that works, but it doesn't. You use this button to cancel your current action into another one instantly, as in a fighting game, though while I like fighting games I've never been serious enough about them to care about canceling, but this game never explains how to use this or all you can do with it, while also requiring you to use cancels perfectly both in combat and for many puzzles. That's annoying. I like the magic more, though you have limited and too-slowly-regenerating mana so you can't always use your spells. There are six magic elements, and you unlock one spell per button that you press along with the magic-use button, starting with two at the beginning. The buttons are for up, down, air, and left/right. It is interesting that each button has its own unique spells so you may have to swap during combat if you really need to use multiple spells in the same category, but thankfully you can switch from the pause screen. On the whole the controls feel okay, and I like how fast you can move around the screen. I don't like the combat very much though, and that's a big issue since this is a combat-heavy game. This game gets hard fast, and I don't enjoy this kind of combat enough to want to keep playing or learn to get better.

In terms of level design, as usual in Metroidvanias, maps are made up of many inter-connected rooms full of enemies, with gates that require various abilities and such you will need to return to once you get the required upgrade. The designs are fine but not especially memorable for this genre. The map is awful, though, as the pause or on-screen maps only show the rooms very near to your location, and there is no way to view a map of the whole game world. The map also has no details on it beyond marking doors, so it does not tell you where save rooms, chests, or anything are, and doesn't tell you what direction you should be going in either; hope you can figure that out from the clues people give you, the map won't help. Beyond enemies and jumping puzzles though, the game also has many chests that are locked behind puzzles you can only access with perfectly-timed moves to get to that door before it closes. Sometimes you will need to use specific cancels in the puzzles, and the harsh timings can be overly difficult, but at least it's something different. All you get from most of these chest are crafting items though, and, yes, this game has crafting. it's the simple kind of crafting, where you get stuff then turn them in for items, but as someone who hates crafting, I don't think that reward makes me want to do lots of these puzzles. The other reward you get is experience from the enemies you kill, which you can use on skill points and skills as you level up. The game has big skill trees, and lets you put points in anything regardless of if it's a good build or not. Some bosses may be immune to your specialty, but fortunately there is a guy who will respec you, so you may be required to go back and redo your skills late in the game if you chose the wrong skill setup. Of course you won't know this until too late. I love the original Etrian Odyssey even though it does that but worse, but still it is annoying. Worse is the boss experience system: this game has a rating system after each boss fight, and you get bonus experience for higher ratings. Getting higher ratings is apparently very important if you want to do well later on in the game, but I've never been one to want to master the combat system in this kind of game so hearing about that makes me less likely to want to keep playing.

Visually, Valdis Story is fully sprite-based. The art design is okay, but not the best, and some things look kind of look pre-rendered in a not-great way. The backgrounds can look nice, but the game does seem a bit low-resolution at times. Some graphical elements are nice and detailed, but others look blurry; it's an odd mix. There is a nice variety of areas in the game though. Aurally, I do really like the classical music-style soundtrack; that is definitely my favorite thing about this game. It's quite good. Other than that, though, Valdis Story is average at best and kind of a disappointment. This is not a bad game, as the controls, basic fighting when you don't need combos, and level traversal can be fun, but with a combat system I don't like much, blurry visuals, a confusing and overdone story, and a bad map that doesn't really tell you where you should be going, this game probably has more flaws than strengths for me but genre fans should give it a look. Also available on Mac on Steam, along with PC.


VVVVVV (2010) - 1 player, saves, gamepad supported. VVVVVV is, yes, a very difficulty retro-styled pixel-art platformer. It is also a quite short game. That may not sound original, but this games' retro style is more Atari or '80s computer game-inspired rather than NES or SNES, for a simpler and very pixel-ey look, and this is a good game thanks to good design and its key gameplay feature, gravity flipping. Sort of like the classic NES game Metal Storm, but focused entirely on this mechanic, at the press of a button gravity reverses and your character will fall to the other side of the screen, top or bottom. All you can do in this game is move your Atari-like pixel guy left and right and flip gravity, and your challenge is to get through each screen without touching any of the numerous obstacles. This is a pure avoidance and platforming game with absolutely no combat element, and it couldn't be better for it! You move quickly and do skid a bit after you let go of the movement controls, but the game is designed around that and once you learn the controls, moving around is great fun. I really like the gravity-flip mechanic, it makes for some really fun gameplay. When you die it is your fault and not the controls, and this game is all about precise control so that is important.

The story in VVVVVV is that you are Captain Viridian, captain of a spaceship which has run into trouble. In the game, you will need to find your missing crewmates and then reach the end point in order to win. There are also several dozen optional shiny trinkets in often hard-to-reach areas for you to collect if you want some added challenge. Instead of scrolling this game flips between static screens, which works well for its design but can take some getting used to in the few areas with multi-screen puzzles. The world map is open and nonlinear, but it is also not hard to navigate as there is a map screen that fills in as you reach new screens, with details of what is on that screen, and the map has a sort of hub-and-spokes design, as there is a central area with side areas you will go to with each of your crewmates in them. I occasionally didn't know where to go, but just trying to find ways to reach the currently blank parts of the map works well. The games' world is simply designed, made up of only walls, spikes occasional moving or static obstacles of various styles, bounce lines that repel you, disappearing blocks, teleporters, checkpoints, and your other crew members and the trinkets. You learn the various game components quickly, the challenge is figuring out where to flip gravity in order to fall where you need to in order to navigate through the screen to your goal. It's a tricky but fun challenge that I really like. You die in one hit though, but this isn't as bad as it seems.

That is because when you do die, you get sent back to the last checkpoint, but the game has infinite lives and checkpoints are numerous. As a result, most of the time each screen or two are a stand-alone challenge and you will rarely need to replay things you have finished already unless you are backtracking somehwere because of something you missed. This is a style also seen in some other hard indie platformers like I Want To Be The Guy, but thankfully while it is a challenge, VVVVVV does not match that games' crushing level of difficulty. While it is a quite challenging game, the simple design and good controls make this game fun to play and not too hard to progress in with practice. It is difficult at times, but it is a challenge that you can overcome surprisingly quickly. I have finished this game, unlike many titles on this list, and it took only two hours to do so. Fortunately, VVVVVV has a level editor and comes with a bunch of included alternate levels made by fans, most as long or longer than the main campaign, so if you like the game there is plenty more to do, even if it is all using the same graphics and music as the main game.

Visually, VVVVVV is a very simple-looking game. Sprites are small and mono-colored, the platforms and walls that make up most of the screen are made up of a lot of straight lines and bars and only a handful of colors themselves, and while there is parallax, it's just stars flying by behind the screen, not anything more complex. Each screen also has a name on the bottom center of the screen, which is a nice touch. The game looks very much like an '80s computer game, and that is surely the intention. It's a simple but nice look and looks good. The chiptune-style soundtrack is pretty good too. It is a techno-style electronic music soundtrack which fits the game perfectly and sounds really good. Overall, VVVVVV is a very good game. This game released back in 2010, but with great mechanics, good controls, and great level designs with a perfect balance of challenge and fun, it is still one of the better indie platformers around. VVVVVV is very highly recommended; platformer fans really should play this game if you haven't already. Unfortunately, creator Terry Cavanagh has not made another platformer since; his only other paid title since this one is the amazing but impossibly hard arcade-style title Super Hexagon. That game is great even if I'll probably never be anything other than terrible at it, but I'd love to see him make another platformer. The game is available for PC, Mac, and Linux on Steam; as always you get all three versions for one purchase.
 
Volgarr The Viking (2013) - 1 player, saves (optionally), gamepad supported. Volgarr the Viking is a Rastan-inspired 2d pixel-art sidescrolling action-platformer. The character style, controls, and core gameplay all come straight from Rastan crossed with Super Ghouls and Ghosts. Rastan is a hard game but SG&G is excessively difficult in my opinion, to the point where I don't like the game much, and this game is right up there with it in challenge but manages to be fun anyway. As much as I do like this game when I can manage to stay alive, the difficulty is oppressively high. You play as a barbarian guy wearing not much, much like Rastan, and have to get through a succession of very hard levels along your quest. The controls are simple, just right for this kind of game. Volgarr can jump, swing his sword, and throw spears. And not only that, but like in Super Ghouls & Ghosts, you have a double jump but have zero air control, so you need to plan jumps carefully. Air control is nice, but you get used to these jumps with practice. Additionally, hitting down plus attack will do a downward attack to hit enemies or blocks below you, a button rolls forwards, and your throwing spears are not only an attack but will stick into walls to make platforms you can stand on as well. The controls are tight and very responsive, thankfully. because you die if you are hit when not upgraded. Those upgrades come from chests you will find along the way in each level. The first gives you a shield which can block two hits before breaking; the second, if you reach it with your shield intact, gives you a helmet that gives you an extra hit; and the last gives you a fire sword that is more powerful than your basic weapon. Getting hit when fully upgraded drops you down to just having the shield, though. And when you die, you go back to the start of the current section of the level. Levels generally are broken up into two parts, with the boss at the end of the second part... and no, the boss is not a separate part, so die at the boss and you have to redo the whole last long section of the level in order to get another chance. It's intentional and incredibly annoying, just like the absence of additional checkpoints is.

So as that suggests, Volgarr is an oppressively hard game based entirely around memorization. Each level section is a lengthy linear path, and your goal is to memorize exactly what you should do at each moment in order to defeat your enemies as quickly as possible, avoid obstacles, and move forward. This is a classic-styled game, with level designs and challenges very similar to arcade platform-action games of the later '80s to early '90s, and there is a lot to like as you slowly learn each one as the levels are well thought through and carefully designed. Every challenge can be surpassed if you are able to do the right action at the right moment. You will face armies of lizardmen of various colors, spike traps, faces that shoot arrows at you, bottomless pits, plants spitting acid at you, and much more. The first level has a tropical jungle temple theme, interesting for a game starring a Viking, but it works and looks great. Each of the six levels has a different setting and enemy selection, and the challenge just gets higher as you go. The sprite art here, for both backgrounds and characters, is all really good work, just as good or better than those from most classic '80s or '90s platformers. There are some nice effects here and there as well, such as transparent waterfalls. The foreboding and yet adventurous music, with jungle drums and other sounds, is great, and the sound effects are really good as well. This game has some very good presentation. But then you die again, and are reminded that Volgarr's basic design philosophy is "git gud or don't bother playing", and that is problematic for a lot of ways, including that not everyone is equally good at this kind of very demanding game, that some people may want to see the later parts without having to put in the extreme amounts of effort required and that is just fine, and such. There's a lot to love here but also some serious issues.

The problem is, I rarely feel like I have much choice in this game; you just memorize what to do, then try to execute that if you can. The 'there is one correct thing to do at each moment' memorization is perhaps not quite as strict as it is in Splatterhouse 2 for the Genesis, but that is what most of this game is, and when you mess up, as mentioned previously, you are harshly punished. As much as I like the aesthetic and do find the game addictive for a while, the excessively high difficulty level loses me after a while and I have never gotten past early in the second level of this game, because by the time I finally beat the first boss I had had about enough. At least if you manage to beat a whole level the game does save that and let you continue from that point, but you cannot continue from those mid-level checkpoints if you quit the game, you will need to start over. With how long levels are in this game that is a real problem. And to add insult to injury, if you want the good "A" ending, you cannot save at all and need to play the game in one sitting, and without taking much damage either as there is a whole alternate level path if you can beat levels fully upgraded! of course, this does not carry over if you "skip levels" as they call it to start from somewhere other than the beginning of the game. There's oldschool and then there is just obnoxious, and I think this game, like SG&G, crosses that line. Overall Volgarr the Viking is one part a fantastic, very well designed classic-style action-platformer with great controls, very difficult but also very well designed levels, addictive gameplay, and good graphics, sound, and music... and one part exceptionally difficult and frustrating game that hates you designed by a guy who requires the player to no-hit-clear the game in one sitting with no saves if they want the good ending. If you are either very good at games or into masochistically hard games Volgarr the Viking is an easy recommendation, play it now! If you aren't, maybe give it a look; so far I have still only gotten to the first half of the second level of this game, but despite that I really like the game anyway, despite the designers' unfortunate and frustrating "get good or don't play" attitude. Also available, as a digital download only, for the Playstation 4, Xbox One, Nintendo 3DS, and Playstation Vita. There is also a free, but officially-sanctioned, Sega Dreamcast version available for download if you want, which you can burn to a disc and play. I've tried the DC version and it is a good, very faithful port, lower-resolution graphics aside of course. They could have sold it I'm sure, there is a market for retail DC homebrew games, so it's very cool they released it for free.
 
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