With one month shy of 19 years between the release of Metroids Fusion and Dread, I’m fairly certain this is currently the longest I’ve ever waited for a sequel to a video game (Half-Life 3 is, at the time of this post, at 14 years and counting). It’s also a very, very rare instance of a game I bought on release day, heading out immediately after work to purchase a physical copy. No waiting around on a digital sale event for this one; I had to own it and hold it in my sweaty hands. I think the last time I did that was Super Smash Bros Brawl in 2008, to give context to the weight of this moment. And so, yes, technically it entirely skipped the backlog and doesn’t count, but on the other hand I’ve been waiting for nineteen years so it totally, totally does count.
Yes, I am a terminal Metroid fan, abuzz with anticipation and speculation since the cheeky little hint found in Prime 3. But after all this time spent yearning, was it worth the wait?
Fin or Bin:
Sorry to keep it brief, but why be coy? The atmosphere is rich, the controls obey your thoughts more than your button presses, the movement is super-fast and satisfying, the world feels dangerous but not insurmountable, melee-counter on the move feels great, and the cheerful chimes of the EMMIs will join the opening piano trill of BOTW’s Guardians and the distant howl of Ravenholm’s fast zombies in the list of sounds that will immediately void your bowels. The sense of dread fear that permeates throughout the EMMI zones matches the SA-X from Fusion, an incredible feat in itself; making a player feel utterly powerless without frustrating them is a very delicate balancing act that the series has pulled off twice now. Also impressive is the design of these areas- somehow always funneling me to the correct destination even when I’m running in a blind panic without any thought to direction. Yeah, this game’s great. Can’t wait to Finish it, and then Finish it again and again until I’m finally fast enough for Metroid to take his helmet off at the end.
Cave Story is a wonderful game that I reference often on this blog, holding it high in my esteem as a paragon of indie games borne from a single mind. Developer Pixel released it free of charge and translator group Aeon Genesis produced a superb English version with his blessing. It’s beyond the scope of this blog to explain why, but you absolutely should NOT purchase the Steam version- Pixel won’t see a penny of your money((EDIT: according to Tumblr user inexplicably-spookified, this is untrue, and Pixel does indeed receive a cut. Thanks for the correction I appreciate the lookout. However, given Nic*lis’ business practices in general, I still believe you shouldn’t give them any of your money.)) If you would like to support his work, the best way is to play the free version of Cave Story, and purchase-
Kero Blaster comes from Pixel in the wake of Cave Story’s success, and his fingerprints are all over it. From the graphical style (pixel art, as you might expect) to the instantly-identifiable soundfont used to produce the music, it’s clear even two games in that Pixel just has a certain way of doing things. This is my favourite kind of indie project- just one voice creating everything they can, rough-hewn edges still visible and some questionable idiosyncratic decisions made without committee approval; I adore the individuality and personal earnestness that projects like Cave Story, and Kero Blaster, and Iji, and Momodora, and Undertale exhibit, and I miss it from the far more produced indie scene we have today.
Anyway, my nostalgia aside, Kero Blaster tells what seems to be a personal story of feeling overworked and underappreciated, something that I’m sure will resonate with many. Less likely to resonate is being a custodian with a machine gun, but our unnamed frog protagonist is so-equipped as he travels from remote office to remote office, destroying shadowy badniks and restoring power to the office teleporters. Teleportation sure makes working overtime a breeze!
Fin or Bin:
Where Cave Story took an approach likely to be called a Metroidvania in today’s lingo, Kero Blaster is a far more procedural affair split into distinct levels. While I prefer the former, this is still a strong display of level design and thoughtful enemy placement making good use of the frog’s full arsenal of weapons. Behind the irreverent exterior beats a heart telling a darker story; I only hope I can Finish it before clocking-off time…
Originally branded under the Final Fantasy license, this is actually one of the Of Mana games. That license didn’t exist at the time of its localisation, and while later games dropped the Final Fantasy moniker, this one has held onto its mixed lineage through rereleases. This odd assortment of circumstances made the Collection Of Mana seem quite bizarre to those unfamiliar with the history, but I suppose Squeenix were mostly targeting nostalgia-cash with that release.
Despite being a separate beast, FFA wears its lineage with pride; a great many of the graphics are lifted wholesale from Final Fantasy 3 (another game with a complicated history); the aptly-named Dark Lord, our antagonist, uses the dark knight sprite, ‘Man’ is a repurposed red mage, and even deuteragonist Girl is FF3’s Elia in greyscale.
The similarities end with the graphics however, as the gameplay is more akin to a prototypical Link’s Awakening; protagonist Boy swings his bladed weapon of choice in a 90-degree arc roughly corresponding to the direction he is facing to beat monsters and gain experience points. I say ‘roughly’ as there is no way to target the lower right quadrant on his range, a fact which repeatedly screwed me over. This, along with many other odd annoyances and retroactively-bizarre design choices give the game a distinct “first steps we don’t really know what we’re doing” feeling; niggles that would be ironed out in generations hence are here in their roughest form, forgivable in a time when no one knew better but very chafing to go back to.
Fin or Bin:
Ultimately I found the experience more frustrating than fun, a theme which seems to run through the whole series. Seems like the Of Mana series just isn’t for me. Still, the OST is splendid as ever, even rendered through the Gameboy’s dinky little speaker. I’ll hold onto that while I place the rest in the Bin.
Some important housekeeping before I start the review proper- I was given a key for this game by the publisher, Second Maze, in exchange for streaming it. I haven’t written up a sponsor policy yet because this is the first time it’s happened, so for now please know the following: I will always state very clearly and as the first point in a review if I am given a copy of a game by an interested party. No money changed hands in this instance, and I will always declare if a game is featured as a result of a paid sponsorship. I have not and will never accept any kind of compensation in exchange for a guaranteed Fin.
With the boring stuff out of the way- gosh, what a lovely way to spend an afternoon. Milo the cat is menaced by a squawking mob of magpies as he tries to go about his usual cat business, ultimately winding up seven gardens away from his house. It’s down to the player to provide a series of distractions, interferences, and manipulations in order to clear a path for our intrepid hero to find his way back home.
The adventure is presented in an utterly lovely storybook aesthetic that reminds me of the wonderful Puddle Lane books of my childhood. The puzzles, too, are not outrageously difficult, many being solved simply by finding the correct element to click on. It all comes together to create something that is just thoroughly nice; it’s a light blanket, cup of tea, toasted cheese sandwich, cat on your lap kind of game.
Fin or Bin:
With a runtime of 60-90 minutes, I Finished this one on stream, and we all came away from the experience with our hearts warmed. Hidden object games can be pretty divisive, but even if you are one to sneer at such things, you may well find Milo puts a smile on your face.
I’m going to be very careful to avoid all the obvious jokes, here.
Harkening back to the days of flash games (RIP), the goal of each single-room puzzle in ihtg is as simple a concept as it gets- get your unnamed hero from the left side of the screen to the door on the right side of the screen.
But no one could hate such a simple game! And this is where ihtg bares its fangs; for each chamber has a specific rule that must be met before that door will open- each one more dastardly than the last. All one hundred rooms of the base game will have you thinking laterally in order to solve the one-word clue given. A chamber might need you to find numbers hidden in the background, or change a series of blocks to fit a pattern, or move the walls around to create platforms. Now it’s upside down, now it’s in first person, now the window is tiny, now you have to- you get the idea.
It’s frankly astonishing how different each room feels, with 100 (plus bonus levels) puzzles to solve, but no two rooms were quite alike and the constantly changing pace made for a very interesting playthrough. It also, of course, makes the game very hard to talk about, as attempting to describe any of the cooler challenges will only spoil the fun of discovering that, yes, the game really does want you to do that.
Fin or Bin:
My total play time came in at around 90 minutes, with all the bonus levels and extra challenges cleared. None of the levels are too taxing and a hint system will help you through the odd one or two that leave you scratching your head. Coupled with a superb chiptune soundtrack, this is a great game to Finish in an afternoon.
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