I don’t know that I’d call Growl a good game, but man is it great.
Originally released into arcades in 1990 courtesy of Taito, a friend and I happened upon it last weekend while dabbling with AtGames’ Legends Gamer Pro. A classic beat ‘em up with middling gameplay, Growl would fit right in amongst a police lineup (or an identity parade, as I just learned it was called across the pond) of contemporaries. Nonetheless, we plowed through it in about a half-hour, won over by the numerous absurdities.
I think it’s safe to say that when Metal Slug launched in 1996 it put recently minted developer Nazca Corporation on the map in a big way. It wasn’t their first effort as a team though, more like their major label debut. And like your favorite band’s major label debut, it was an effort produced after years of honing their craft. In their case, that was with games developed for Irem like Undercover Cops, GunForce II, and In the Hunt.
Last week was pretty great, and not just because I played through a different Metal Slug game each day. No, it was pretty great because I spent the week with my three month old son. My wife’s FMLA was scheduled to end and accordingly, we had planned for me to use up some accrued vacation time to prolong daycare one more week, and you know, get some quality time with our little tree frog. I had taken off the week when he was born, and of course we had plenty of bonding time in the evenings and on weekends when my wife would get a break, but nonetheless, spending so much unbroken time with him was immensely fulfilling. At this stage in his development, he seemed to make noticeable improvements with his motor skills daily; and I may be a little biased, but everything he does is so fascinating!
Who else but Housemarque could’ve perfectly melded arcade-inspired twin-stick shoot ‘em up gameplay with class-based multiplayer, RPG character progression, and an addictive loot system? The Helsinki-based developers are after all, in their own words, the torchbearers of the classic arcade game ethos. They’ve been riffing on Asteroidssince the early 1990s with their Stardust series, paid homage to Defender with Resogun, the best title to play on the PlayStation 4 at launch, and even collaborated with Eugene Jarvis, the man behind Defender and a few more of the most iconic arcade games of all time, on 2017’s Nex Machina. Fast-paced, responsive, good feeling gameplay is at the core of their best works, some of which represent my favorite games of the last couple of console generations. And now, after a few dozen hours with it, I can add Alienation to that list.
After cleaning up the trophies in Tokyo Jungle and Blue Toad Murder Files, I went back through my partially played PlayStation 3 history to see if there were any other trophy lists I could mop up somewhat quickly. I was on a roll and figured I would keep trophy hunting before devoting serious time to something else, like Suikoden III. After all, whether my friends realize it or not, we’re in a never-ending competition to obtain trophies, achievements, etc. I eventually decided upon Sonic’s Ultimate Genesis Collection. The prospects of unlocking the platinum trophy didn’t seem too daunting, and to boot, it’d give me an excuse to purchase one of the Retro-Bit 2.5 GHz Genesis controllers I’d been salivating over.
When I think of Sony’s Japan branch, I think of all the oddball titles they’ve made in collaboration with smaller studios. Games like Rain, Mister Mosquito, or Tokyo Jungle.
Developed by Crispy’s, a seemingly now defunct developer based in Tokyo’s Chūō ward, Tokyo Jungle was published for the PlayStation 3 on June 7, 2012, with western releases following in September of that year. The middle release of their output, it followed MyStylist, their self-described “fashion life support tool” which remained exclusive to Japan following its February 2008 release for the PlayStation Portable. And to my knowledge, their 2014 endless runner Short Peace: Ranko Tsukigime’s Longest Day, made in collaboration with Grasshopper Manufacture, remains their last published work. Oh, and they also revamped Tokyo Jungle for mobile devices and the PlayStation Vita, although that version is shamefully unavailable to play anymore.
A little more than nine years later, I’m finally making good on the parting words from my review of Blue Toad Murder Files’ first episode. That is, a review of the game in full. In actuality, my friend and I did see the game through to the end back then, but I failed to follow up. And I suppose it’s because there really wasn’t much to add. Rereading that review all these years later, I’m surprised above all else that I didn’t cringe. There are some things I would change were I to write it now, but I honestly think it summarized the game pretty succinctly.
To recap, the multiplayer orientated, puzzle solving whodunit was rich with British charm and a variety of brain teasing puzzles. Each episode followed the same formula, and in replaying them all for trophy cleanup last week, the experience wore thin. This is definitely a game best experienced with others, and with a day or week break in between each hour-long episode.
Even now I don’t have much to add to my original thoughts, but one point I didn’t touch on back then, and this is the accountant in me speaking, is how efficient the developers at Relentless Software were. At the time of this game’s release, they were making a go at independence after a number of years developing the Buzz! games for Sony. The concept for this game allowed for a single setting, a small number of environments that didn’t need to be overly detailed, characters that didn’t require much animation (including no visuals below the waist), and relatively simple interaction for the puzzle gameplay. And still, it was an enjoyable experience all the same. Brilliant!
Considering I finished Return of the Obra Dinn a couple of months ago now, this review isn’t particularly timely. A lot has happened in the meantime; most notably my wife gave birth to our first child! The typical rigors of early parenthood – lack of sleep, deciphering the baby’s wants, etc. – have been accentuated by the COVID-19 pandemic, so this will undoubtedly be an especially memorable time for us. Unlike this review however, my playthrough was quite timely. Every year around Halloween, I like to play a thematically appropriate game, and conveniently this particular game, which had been on my radar for a while, was having an anniversary sale. The choice to purchase it was a no-brainer, although the game itself was anything but.
The tradition continues. Another year in the books, and another list of the favorite games I played in said year, in alphabetical order. This list omits Pokemon Sword and Pokemon Go, both of which I’ve poured a ludicrous amount of time into this year.
Suikoden II lives up to the hype. Having heard its praises sung for years, I’ve long been interested in playing it, and the series as a whole. The recent announcement of a spiritual successor reignited my desire to jump in, and I found the first game quite enjoyable. Suikoden II though, is an improvement in almost every regard. Like its predecessor, the developers adapted gameplay systems and formulas common to traditional Japanese role-playing games – think turn-based battles and town-dungeon-town progression – but did so with their own twist.