Top 5 games of 2021

The usual rules apply; the game must have been on a physical media to count (unless there’s significant merit for it), 2021 must have been the year I’ve first time have had a copy of the said game, and the year of production doesn’t matter. As usual, these are not in any sorted order; the first listed game doesn’t mean it is better than the four after it. With all that laid out, I’ve noticed that I haven’t really played many new games this year, and have concentrated on older titles instead. theHunter: Call of the Wild ends up being my to-go stress reliever still from the last year, while certain other titles serve other roles on the side.

I admit that once again, I’ve found my resources being invested in other matters. A new home has taken a significant toll on me in many ways as has human relations. A broken PC Engine has limited my choice of games for it quite a lot. I’ve also found a certain lack of time to play games due to work and other necessities. It’s less than I’ve suddenly had more responsibilities and more that I’ve decided to not fuck around with things that will have longer-lasting consequences. Adversely, this has also affected my want to write more, but have lacked time for it. Ah well, there’s always the next year. Unto the list of games;

Tactics Ogre: Let Us Cling Together 2011, PlayStation Portable

There’s not much to be said about Tactics Ogre or Ogre Battle that hasn’t been said already. It’s one of the best tactical role-playing game series that has been produced to date, which also spun off the best Final Fantasy title to date in Tactics. I decided to jump into the series this year after wanting to play something tactical and enjoyable for some time, and the Ogre series turned out to be a pretty good target. Now collecting those games into my shelf is another thing, so starting where the bar was lowest with the PSP remake of Let Us Cling Together was an easy choice. While a lot can be and has been said about the game’s historical inspiration in its narrative, with the dissolution of Yugoslavia and the end of enforced peace between Croatians, Bosnians and Serbians, the play really is its driving force in the end.

Building your own team and fine-tuning the synergy between your units and their skills is extremely enjoyable, albeit also very time-consuming. This is due to the need to grind as usual, but the end result often gives a strong, well-balanced team. Sure, the game can be somewhat easily broken even without the use World Tarot system, after which the Japanese subtitle Wheel of Destiny was given. In this, after beating the game you are able to skip back to story points in the game with your current units and make different path decisions.

Additional tweaks make the PSP remake somewhat easier game than the Super NES original, like being able to rewind back to max 50-turns, class rebalances that make their end-forms more breaking while being more crippled at the start, experience points are given as classes rather than individually, permanent death on the field has a 3-turn count with 3-lives backup and such. However, players can choose to handicap themselves and ignore most of the tweaks from the original if they so choose to. One of the best additions to the game is an overhead map, which hardcore fans like to equate to chess. Sadly, all this reminds us that the game got tweaked quite a lot, but visually it’s still the same title. Higher-resolution character artwork looks nice, but some sprite assets don’t really look all that good in comparison to the new higher resolutions portraits and even text boxes. It creates a mish-mashed look. Remaking the game from the grounds up with modern low-polygonal 3D assets for the playfields and perhaps even replacing the character sprites with proper 3D models would’ve made things less jarring. The overhead map becomes essential, as with the current sprite maps, you can’t rotate them, something that would’ve made the game that much more.

Nevertheless, Tactics Ogre: Let Us Cling Together is a damn fine game independent of whatever version you are playing it in. The PSP version is still rather easy to find and not terribly expensive, while the English PlayStation version can break a wallet. Of course, Japanese versions are readily more available, but you’ll be faced with a language barrier.

Last Gladiators 1995, Sega Saturn

I can’t say no to a video pinball title when I see one. If we’re honest, making a good video pinball title is hard, and you’ve essentially got two choices to go with; either make it a simulation or embrace the video game format and go nuts what it could be. While the NAXAT Crush series of pinball games are more of the nature of video games, Last Gladiators embrace the simulation aspect. Surprisingly, where video pinball will always lack in terms of kinetic controls and that simple feel of real buttons on the sides of the pinball cabinet, the atmosphere and design have been nailed like no other.

Just by looking at the game’s footage, you can tell a few things it got so damn right. The field design is limited to one screen, but everything has been laid out as if it was a real table. No scrolling back and forth, no gimmicks that wouldn’t be possible on a real table, text and colours are appropriate for an actual table’s screen. The sound is spot on, with one of the best rock soundtracks from the era and the constant barrage of pinball sounds you can expect. Even when text is flashing on the screen above the playfield, it is short enough not to mess with your concentration. Different guides are positioned to the sides with arrows in a manner that’s not to obscure the field itself.

The game offers four fields, all of which have their own theming and concentrated gimmick. This might make an individual table somewhat short in gimmicks, but they’re rather concentrating on doing those few things right. Some modern pinball games like to throw tons of different kinds of gimmicks on one table without much balance, so going back to something that offers multiple tables with their own strong designs with less content per table is a nice breeze of fresh air. Designing a pinball table is stupidly hard and becomes geometrically harder with each introduced goal and gimmick. However, there is a slight over-reliance on ramps, so on a longer session that might become a dulling effect when jumping between the tables.

The most important bit in any video pinball game is in ball physics, and much like how I’ve sung NAXAT Crush series praises, Last Gladiator nails it. The visuals add an impressive heft to the ball, the sounds add to it even more and controlling the ball feels heavy and accurate. All this of course adds to the need for instant action and reaction, something that modern flat-screen televisions and screens still have an issue with. Playing with a good ol’ CRT is your best option, with a nice surround system to go with. Trying to run the game on an emulator didn’t really help. The latency of modern hardware just didn’t cut it.

The game is nothing short of a burst of pure energy. The way it is distilled fun and game in a package that we don’t get nowadays all that much throws it at the top of my list. I wish we had real pinball tables still around here.

Cotton Reboot 2021, Steam, Switch, PlayStation 4

The Cotton series of games is again one of those 1990’s Japanese exclusives that saw very little attention in the West. Mind you, even in Japan the series was more a cult classic than anything else after its arcade-original game. Yet it was kept afloat by fans and people who remember all these old games, and just like we’ve seen resurgence with Umihara Kawase (for the better or worse) Cotton and her lust for candy has graced us with one of the better remakes in some time. It’s one of the best kinds of remakes, don’t do too much for it, make it more what it already was, and give it a banging soundtrack. Cotton Reboot has without a doubt a year-defining soundtrack, with the first stage’s theme ringing in my head from time to time spontaneously.

Cotton Reboot is a rather standard horizontal shooting game, though its stage designs and Bomb mechanics are rather unique. Some stage layouts take advantage of Cotton’s magical broom having an afterburner-like flame and able to damage enemies right behind her all the while having loads of verticality. While the first stage is a sort of forward-push kind of deal, the rest of the stages mix and match the scrolling direction. Enemy patterns across the board shine, with some clever use of ground-only mooks with chasing Deaths. You get stronger and stronger Bombs, or rather Magical Spells as you level them up with experience points. An initial Fire Dragon may be anaemic, but level it up for multiple Fire Dragons or one massive, screen-filling monstrosity. Alternatively, just drop tons of rocks across the whole screen.

There’s so much you can say about a remake that nails the original’s tone and style, something that can turn people off. The game has that 1990s Japanese whack-humour, similar to Slayers or Battle Mania at their zaniest. Visually, the designs, shading and everything that’s presented to you is top-notch in production quality. The usage of modern tools to reproduce older styles has come a long way in the last decade or so and all of it looks glorious.

While the game is easier than its original versions and offers infinite continues, it does come with its X68000 version with no bells or whistles added. While not necessary, these sorts of things always add something special to the mix and preserve old games for new generations. Too bad we can’t reproduce the dancing keyboard the X68k version had. While some bad blood was born between BEEP and importers when they removed English support after Western localisation was confirmed, the game stands out as damn fine and worth the purchase.

Mega Man: The Wily Wars 1994, 2021, Sega Mega Drive

Retro-Bit re-published the somewhat rare compilation game Mega Man: The Wily Wars this year. After sitting down with it and mulling over whether or not it gets a spot here, or with the close-call-five, it gets a top-five spot just barely. The game was at one point much maligned as inferior to the NES original games (the first three Mega Man titles) but this has seemingly been due to most people playing the PAL ROM file, which runs at 50Hz. This does make the game run significantly slower and the music becomes droning. These aren’t really issues in themselves, but rather than the issues with development are visible across the board. Some of the sprites, while upgrades from the 8-bit originals, are of weird design at places. Proto Man’s sprite wasn’t redrawn either in Mega Man 3, which just looks weird with him being smaller and all. Numerous small sound effects are missing, but at places this is a blessing, as the first Mega Man has tons of ear-ripping sounds. Some mechanics are slightly different, like how there’s a slight delay in movement, Mega Man’s centre gravity centre is smaller than NES counterpart’s and glitches have been fixed. No more Player-2 pad debug features for Mega Man 3.

The game has some glitches due to the difficult nature of development that never got ironed out. These include the ability to re-spawn the final boss of Mega Man 3 by walking out of the room, which causes the ending to screw up too, using Ice Slasher in the first Mega Man to prevent spawning of certain flying enemies, DokuRobot’s Atomic Fire doing no damage under certain situations and stuff like that. However, outside very few glitches, a player most likely won’t be faced with these under normal playthrough. Speedrunners have used these for some benefit.

Nevertheless, this is your familiar Mega Man, Mega Man 2 and Mega Man 3. While I’ll still argue how MM1 is a rather bad game, the whole package really is still a great way to play these games. There’s a fair bit of challenge, as the games use a Save system over Passwords, and if you’re intending to get to the whole-new Wily Tower segments, beating the three games first isn’t the fastest thing in the world. Mega Man 2 is still a series-making game and once you get used to slightly different controls, 2 and 3 become somewhat a breeze for experienced players. Wily Tower might be the only new content, but it’s a nice challenge overall for series veterans, and something to look for during your first playthrough.

Even when contrasted against other games we’ve seen this year, The Wily Wars stacks well against them. While it is an unrefined gem, an uncut diamond of sorts, it still pulled me back to the early days of Mega Man when we didn’t have tons upon tons of cutscenes messing with the play and slew of bolted-on gimmicks that didn’t do the series service. Do note that the game was also included in the Mega Drive mini, and that’s the thing I would recommend you to pick up if you have interest to play this outside your usual emulation needs.

Undercover Cops 1995, 2021, Super Nintendo

While old arcade-to-console ports always lack something, they often retain that certain charm and pull that the arcade original had. Mind you, there are plenty of examples of failed home ports, but Undercover Cops isn’t one despite the lack of two-player mode. Sure, the home port doesn’t match the arcade original in sound or graphical fidelity, it sure as hell retains the charm and fun play. While it is your run-of-the-mill beat-em-up on the surface, the addition of hidden special moves alongside your usual desperation attack, clever use of the environment here and there (e.g. you can beat the first stage’s boss quickly by using a giant press rather than just beat it up) and superb controls make this a gem. I just wish they had managed to squeeze that two-player mode in.

Honestly, that’s all I should need to say, but the charm is strong with this one. Despite being one of the less colourful games out there, with loads of greys and browns with subdued colours in everything else, the character designs, animations and how they feel and act is just so damn nice. Backgrounds also pop-up like no other, but what would you expect from the same people that were in charge of Metal Slug? The converted spritework is superb and the large sprites sell themselves just fine. The designs are very much core 1990s, but in a manner that makes them nearly ageless; there are tons of cues taken from the sixties onwards in a blend that makes it hard to pinpoint any given era for the game’s world. The game does tumble with this by stating the year is 2043, which will sadly not look as rad as this.  It was great to have the re-released, as the American localisation never happened despite advertisement being pushed out. Retro-Bit made sure there were both US and PAL compatible releases to boot.

It’s short, sweet and fun to come back from time to time, but perhaps not up there with the absolute best in the genre. At a time, it was an underrated title, but with the Internet making everything available for everyone, even somewhat obscure games gain a strong following. Personally, I’d probably pop this in over Final Fight or Streets of Rage 4 any day, but then again, I do love swinging a concrete pylon every other Sunday.

Do note that I would still recommend gunning for the arcade version, but not the World version mind you. Go for the Japanese or Alpha Renewal version, as they retain all the background details and moves. We really need something like an Irem Arcade Collection one of these days, which would collect as much of their original titles into one package as possible.

Honourable Mentions for those who didn’t make the cut

R-Type Final 2 2021, Switch, Steam, PlaySation 4 , Xbox One

It’s an unfinished product, by all means. R-Type Final on the PS2 was the last curtain call for the series as a shooting staple. Final 2 was supposed to be a glorious return, but instead, it is more retreading the same waters. It was delivered in a lacking stage, with only a third of those 101 ships found in Final. Extra Stages ended up being purchasable DLC rather than on-disc, which more or less means the game isn’t the advertised ultimate shooting game experience, but again ends up being a DLC hell cashing-in for nostalgia.

There’s very little that adds to the experience since R-Type Delta, and in the end the game feels a letdown in every respect. The new stages for the game don’t provide as much a challenge as previous games, no interesting mechanics have been introduced to make the game stand out in the marketplace and even the music has no real pull. The series stagnated right after Delta, and nothing has really managed to pull the series out from the rut. The Tactics games were interesting, but the overt masturbation on how difficult they supposedly are and how much a slow slog both titles ended up being, it would’ve been better to forget the series and forge for something new.

Tony Hawk’s Pro Skater 1+2 2020, Steam, PlayStation 4. Xbox One, 2021, PlayStation 5, Switch

If you haven’t played the original games, or don’t have access to them any longer, do yourself a favour and pick this collection up. 1+2 updates both titles to the series’ latest mechanics and standards, and that’s also the fault here. The stages and challenges weren’t exactly designed to work under post-THPS3 mechanics and you notice that rather quick. However, you can rever the controls back to their original settings, and that’s who you should play the game; no reverts, spine transfers or wall plants. Nevertheless, it’s a faithful recreation of those two games, with some very minor changes to physics and mechanics. Most people won’t notice how it feels slightly different from the originals, but just like the Crash remakes from earlier, seasoned veterans will notice and will have to take some time to adjust themselves.

However, that’s all there is. It doesn’t exactly expand anything further, but it doesn’t really need to. It plays in the same ballpark as the 2001’s THPS2x, which was an enhanced re-released of the same games for the Xbox. It’s more of the same, but not really adding anything to the mix. It’s a damn good title nevertheless that I’d recommend, but not a Top 5 candidate.

Super Robot Wars 30 2021 Steam, PlayStation 4, Switch

The first mainline Super Robot Wars to be released in the Western frontiers, and plays like a sequel to a game we never got. DLC characters have nothing to do with the main game and are there to take up space in a game with plenty of units to choose from already. Because the game introduced a non-linear progression system inspired by the Compact series scenario system, which was also seen in Impact, stages have less a flowing feel and more something you’d play episodically. Honestly, the game wastes the Ultraman debut in SRW as DLC-only and based on the Netflix CGI show, and that rubs the wrong way. Loads of the sprites have a plastic sheen to them, which makes them more at home on your mobile phone than on a console or PC. Ever since SRW games have been getting closer to getting rid of the Super-Deformed designs, the further away we’ve been getting from well-animated sprites. SRW Alpha 3 has tons of SD sprites that have terrific animations, exaggerated and full of life, and in contrast, we’ve been getting animations that are stiffer by the year with more reliance on cut-ins. At this point, SRW might as well abandon scaled SD sprites altogether and present everything in so-called 1:1 design and have people wondering why the hell is Mazinger Z so big compared to a battleship. The series is going in the wrong direction.

Cotton Guardian Force Saturn Tribute 2021, Switch, PlayStation 4

This could’ve been a good collection, but after Cotton Reboot, this is just a lacklustre attempt to cash in. While the best way to get your hands on Cotton 2, Cotton Boomerang and Guardian Force, it falls in the same category as many other collections that they do nothing else or special with them. In addition, the initial version of the game has notable input lag, which has been rectified to some degree via patch, but really, Beep’s just riding on Cotton Reboot‘s success with this.

Blaster Master Zero 2017, Nintendo 3DS, Switch, 2019 Steam, 2020, PlayStation 4, 2021, Xbox One

I don’t know who wanted or asked for this game. Take a popular NES game, don’t give a modern face-lift but instead remake the game in overly used retro-sprites style and try to incorporate tons of story elements. Sadly, the graphics aren’t all that special and have issues with collision detection at places and plot’s forced down your throat while being poorly written. Serving both as a remake and a reboot of the original Blaster Master, you probably would end up having a better time with the original NES game due to how much the game holds your hand and halts the game with plot sequences. You’d think nailing a NES game revival’s controls would be easy, but yet they made them lacking. The revised designs are also pretty terrible, playing the most tired anime-esque tropes you can find out there. It’s IntiCreates went overboard where they could to compensate for the otherwise lacking design and detail in the game. In the end, the game ends up being a chore to play, but I admit, it at least is colourful.

Top 5 games of 2019

I have to admit that I’ve slowed down when it comes to games. I’ve begun to prefer more and more games that don’t waste my time and allow quickly to start the game and quit even faster. Things like like making sure if I want to save after confirming Save. For example, every time I want to quit Earth Defence Force 4.1, the game has to make certain that if I want to quit, and then opens a new message telling me that game is about to quit itself. This is a topic unto itself and I’ll have to get back to it later, as holy shit modern games are huge time wasters in this manner. It’s like with that one Senran Kagura on PSVita few years back, where half of the game was sitting in loading screens and menus. Except, y’know, this is the game telling me to confirm things I’ve already told it to do. Sometimes twice.

Furthermore, this year was rather dry in terms of games of interest. Not many titles peaked my interest even on the retro front, so the list below is rather predictable. This has made me to decide ditching following most new game release news outside limited release titles, and concentrate on picking up some more expensive old games I’ve always wanted to play, but for whatever reason never did. Emulation, of course, is not really an option if you want to have the real thing in your hands.

The usual rules apply; any game from any year is applicable as long I’ve played it for the first time this year in physical form. This means if a game only has a digital release, it automatically gets disqualified. There is no top slot either, because that’s stupid. There is no One Best Game.

Mobile Suit Gundam Seed DESTINY GameBoy Advance, 2004

I feel that this CM has been stretched out of its proportions, it looks like it should be in 4:3 because how fat the Gundams are

The GameBoy Advance doesn’t have many good fighting games. Some Street Fighters, one Tekken, a downgraded port of Guilty Gear XX and few others. Derivatives and sequels of sorts. Mobile Suit Gundam Seed was a new entry to the console, despite being part of the whole long-running Gundam fighting game attempts dating at least to the 1993 Mobile Suit Gundam and 1994 Mobile Fighter G Gundam, both of which are largely trash. New Mobile Report Gundam Wing: Endless Duel from 1996 on the SNES really hit the mark, marrying Gundam with entertaining fighting game. Seed and Seed DESTINY on the GBA follow the example set by Endless Duel while adapting some of its elements for the smaller screen. This shouldn’t be surprise, as Natsume worked as the developer on these three titles. The first Seed game got localised in the US with the subtitle Battle Assault tagged to it in order to tie it to the previous Gundam Battle Assault titles despite having nothing to do with them. The sequel, which is the topic today, stayed in Japan. As a side trivia, Endless Duel uses a modified game engine from a previous Natsume fighting game; Power Rangers: The Fighting Edition,

The game everything you’d want from a fighting game; tight controls, easy-to-learn but hard-to-master mechanics, mechanics that are simple and only handful, yet they do great service to the game. It’s one of the best handheld fighting game experiences you can have because of this, not being bogged down by unnecessary mechanics just to add complexity for the sake of complexity and is simply joy to play.

The game’s a joy to see and listen to. GBA’s sound hardware wasn’t the best, but that shouldn’t really matter when tunes are somewhat catchy and properly hypes the player for needed matches. The game uses pre-rendered sprites, which works pretty damn fine on the system. All the 3D models had simple geometry and lots of smooth surfaces, and anything more would be a waste; it’d make the sprites far too clumsily detailed and be wasted. There are usual sprite trickery here and there you see on the GBA, but the overall package is just so satisfying and well made. Lots of unlockable units, few different modes thrown in and Link Cable VS mode really makes this a must-have title for the system. An absolute joy, and the last good Gundam fighting game we ever got. After this, it would be mediocre 3D action title after another and strategy games.

The game is criminally underrated, and worth checking out if you have a passing interest in Gundam and fighting games.

There are three good things that came out of Gundam Seed Destiny; its soundtrack, this game and Lunamaria Hawke. The show itself is garbage

Phantom Breaker: Battlegrounds Overdrive PlayStation 4, 2015, Switch, 2017

There has been loads of sidescrolling beat-em-ups, or belt-scrolling action games recently. Fight’n Rage is perfect example of modern take on this classic genre, which also hits just the right spots in both nostalgia and evolution of the genre with ton of playable characters and movelists. However, Fight’n Rage doesn’t have a physical release, so it can’t get on the list. Phantom Breaker Battlegrounds Overdrive however fills that slot just as well, with high production values.

For a belt-scroller, Phantom Breaker Battlegrounds Overdrive is surprisingly lengthy. Seven stages doesn’t sound a lot, yet these stages are long and split into multiple parts. There is also lots of story bits for people who want that, which is very much tongue on cheek. The game is also longer for completionists, as there is a  decent amount of characters, who also require to be played relatively extensively to unlock all of their Skill tree, not to mention unlockable characters. This goes down much faster after you’ve grabbed few friends and some extra controllers and have gay old time in multiplayer.

What else really needs to be said? It’s a great modern action game, though the pixelart style was already overused at the time of the game’s original release. Would’ve been nice to see smooth, high resolution SD sprites over what the game got, as used in the promotional materials and such, but can’t win always. It’s still a game nice to look at, with high amount of animation frames and stages having scenic changes often enough. Due to the SD-style, some of the attacks and moves feel rather limited in range at times, and there really isn’t much exaggeration to go around. Still, big colourful sprites makes most things clear, the different hit sparks and other effects sometimes obscure the action a bit too much. This has been a thing in multiple games I’ve played in these few years, where for whatever reason you can’t see the action and hits clearly and just have to trust that the enemy and player animations tell the tale that hit has been made. It would have been nice of all of the game was done in sprites, but some of the background elements use low-poly 3D assets that just don’t look too good.

Music’s nothing special per se, but fits the game just as well. Bit music as a throwback to the NES days, with more channels and such, the usual par for the course. Some of the tunes stand out far better than others, but that’s not said much. Optionally, you could get the FM sound pack, which harkens back to PC88 and X68k sound fonts. The two sound versions are like a night and day, and I can see some people outright disliking FM versions.

Advanced Busterhawk Gley Lancer Mega Drive, 1992, 2019, Nintendo Virtual Console, 2008

The fight for a spot to get a shooting game unto this list was harsh; it was either Darius Cozmic Collection or this. I didn’t manage to find time to play Battle Garegga.

Ultimately, despite being deeply flawed, Advanced Busterhawk Gley Lancer is just joy to play. Hard as balls, unforgiving at times, requires some very tight reflexes at times and learning some stage layouts, Gley Lancer is classic shooting gaming at its best. One of Masaya’s more neglected properties on their library of IPs, the re-release Columbus Circle put out this year should still be in circulation if you want to pick it up.

Console shooting games rarely emphasised scoring, though nowadays it feels like that’s all shooting games are for. Gley Lancer balanced things out much better, standing somewhere between R-Type‘s survivalist approach to Gradius‘ laxed pacing. If you’ve ever played Gradius V and are familiar how to lock support satellites in place, this is the game Konami picked it up. The satellites, or Options if you want to call them that, can shoot to different directions from your ship’s movements. With multiple weapon  options, including the usual Auto-Targeting option, it adds slightly different layer to the play, which then requires changing the approach just enough.

Music’s rather solid, if you’re fan of FM music and Mega Drive sound overall. The first stage’s theme is a damn classic by its own rights, and few of the later stages are still awaiting remixes to find them. Graphics overall are nice, especially on the story sequences. Big, clear sprites like this were Masaya’s forte and go-to gimmick. Nine stages makes the game about medium in length, but due to some of the stages being rather empty Gley Lancer ends up draggin itself a bit. Not a whole lot, but just enough you to notice.

In the end, the PV shows what you get; that’s what you get; a solid shooting game. Sure, there are better ones out there, both on PC-Engine and Mega Drive, yet something about Gley Lancer hits the spot in a way most other shooting games don’t. There’s that kind of atmosphere, that kind of sound to the music and an era-specific look to the colourscape and design. Something just clicks the right way in Gley Lancer, and that makes it stand out from the rest of the bunch in a way e.g. later Gradius games just can’t make themselves stand out anymore. Maybe it’s because franchise fatigue or something else, but Gley Lancer has character to it.

Sadly, the player’s ship sprite looks very little anything like the ship on the cover.

The Ninja Warriors Once Again Switch, PlayStation 4, 2019

The thing about these Natsume’s retro remakes is that they’re not exactly needed, but the way they’re done is example how to do them. Sure, the base game is the same as it was on the Super Nintendo, but that’s the starting point. Revamped sprites, wide-screen support, local two-player mode, new game play elements, more playable characters and an extra mode all are welcome additions. You don’t need to reinvent the wheel again, just make it better, faster, stronger. The Ninja Warriors Once Again sets the bar for remakes like this rather high as all the areas the game aims to improve is spot on.

Controls are strict as usual, but there’s some every so slight to make them tight. The only reason you get hit is because you didn’t make a move at a proper time, the game’s design and controls are that accurate. No bullshit hitboxes like in Fromsoftware’s games.

The two new characters are the main attraction to the series veterans. Raiden being a hulking beast is very much to an extreme end from the rest of the cast, especially when the second addition, Yaksha, is small but requires very peculiar approach to her play. It’s a small miracle how different the whole cast of playable characters ends up feeling, with none of them replicating strengths or weaknesses. Despite the core game play staying the same, each of the characters skill sets impact how you approach to pretty much everything in the game, from base mooks to bosses. Well, except the final boss, which has always been a letdown.

This game, despite being a remake, is a standout solid title that does everything it promises on the box. It’s one of those games I’ve been coming back again and again since its release simply to enjoy how a game with limited but purposeful controls like this also allows stupid amount of technical execution.

Funny that, the Asian English release I bought had to be renamed as The Ninja Saviors: Return of the Warriors, probably because Ninjas can’t be warriors in China or Korea. I don’t know, but it’s stupid and renaming the game now implies machines made to assassinate and then nuke themselves are somehow saviours, when the game’s plot clearly implies the new regime that takes over the nation afterward are no better. I guess it’s a cycle, where you always get new robot assassins to kill the new totalitarian regime after another.

 

Alien Crush PC-Engine, 1988, Nintendo Virtual Console, 2006, PSN, 2010

While Peach Ball Senran Kagura is a very entertaining and fun pinball game, the lack of fields really brings it down. There’s not much to do in the game as it is, but that’s mostly because there has been genre defining pinball games in the Crush series. Alien Crush is the first in the series, succeeded and surpassed by Devil’s Crush, but still stands very well in direct comparison to modern video pinball as its field design and music is top notch. Despite technically having only one man field, the setup and moving back and forth its low and upper parts. It takes a while to get the groove on, but the moment the game’s pace clicks, you can easily rack up points in no time to finish the game. The ball physics are not perfect, but for 1989, Alien Crush nailed it the best. While there’s just one main table to play on, there are numerous one-screen sized secret tables that pose specific challenges. All of them are a welcome break from the main table and shake up the play a bit. While the later games would have more secrets to access, Alien Crush arguably has better balance, not elongating the main table beyond two screens and allows more focused scoring.

The Gieger-esque design is bit on the nose, and the game overall wouldn’t be too far off from easily being made into an Alien licensed pinball game. The little details make it live, pulsating and looking organic. Alien Crush takes advantage of it being a video game and doesn’t lock itself into what shouldn’t be possible on a real table. While music is sparse, both main tracks sound for the part. Though you can’t change tracks mid-game, they do get a bit grating after a while.

That said, it is a niche title, well forgotten at this point, but still available via some online services like PSN and used to be Nintendo’s Virtual Console. Goddamn the Virtual Console was a great thing, and Ninty just killed it. The Crush series pinball games are still top notch, and a very high bar to beat in terms of sheer distilled video pinball quality.

 

Honourable Mentions for those who didn’t make the cut

 

Darius Cozmic Collection Nintendo Switch, 2019

The definitive way to get into Darius as a franchise, though it lacks G Darius. The collection didn’t get into the Top 5 because A) there’s a retarded amount of different variations of this collection for no real reason outside sheer stupidity and B) the games themselves aren’t in the end up there. Some standard editions have less games, some other editions have more games, it’s all stupid. That said, the games run pretty much perfectly, but Darius is a franchise that rode on multiple screens gimmick and didn’t actually get all the competent until Darius Gaiden. All the previous games, while nice and all, don’t have the same impact on the small screen as they did in the arcades, and without a similar multi-screen setup where you could replicate that experience, playing these games on a console or PC is a waste. It’s nice to have stupidly rare games like Darius Alpha on the collection, but that doesn’t add much to the game itself. The collection and packaging itself, in the end, are more impressive than majority of the games on the collection. The aforementioned lack of G Darius makes this collection very much incomplete in terms of classic Darius, before the Burst era begun. Maybe they’ve lost the source code or can’t make a proper PlayStation emulator, who knows.

Peach Ball Senran Kagura Switch, 2018, Steam, 2019

There’s exactly one reason why Peach Ball Senran Kagura didn’t take Alien Crush’s spot; lack of fields. I can understand and get why a pinball game from 1988 only have one main stage, but the lack of multiple stages in Peach Ball is a hard drop. Instead, you get three different daytime variations on two stages, which is really just an insult. Rather than basing the fields on something that would be familiar to the series’ fans, the two stages are a generic circus-carnival type of thing and Japanese themed field. While this makes both fields pretty solid, in their own terms, there’s surprisingly little to do, and despite the ball physics being pretty damn fine tuned, there’s just something little bit off that makes it all feel just tiny bit lacklustre. The emphasize of course is on unlockable clothes and balls, which all really amount to nothing. It would have been fun to see different balls having different physics, like a rubber ball being more bouncy compared to a metal ball. They don’t even make a different sound, it’s just a visual difference. I can appreciate the naughty bits just fine, with the whole flipping life and hometown up and down being a thing, but the lack of recognisable fields and cramming the two full of visual clutter ultimately made this a disappointment. I wish the game would’ve included a mode, where you could’ve turned the Switch on its side, but the stages are not even designed for that. There’s potential, so much of it, but it just can’t get there. The game lives and dies through short sessions, which in it serves perfectly.

Capcom Belt Action Collection Switch, PlayStation 4, Xbox One, Steam, 2018

What should I say about this collection? It’s good, it has great titles, it has Armored Warriors and Battle Circuit, two games that two games that were never ported home before, but Capcom should’ve thrown just a bit more cash at this collection in order to include Cadillacs and Dinosaurs, The Punisher and the eponymous Alien VS Predator. Where’s titles like Mighty Final Fight or the SNES sequels to the original Final Fight? No Tenchi wo Kurau/Dynasty Wars or any of the Capcom Dungeons and Dragons games either. What’s on the disc is great, but Capcom’s beat-em-up history is so much more. This collection comes out as halfassed and janky, not even having any of the home console games they released in the past. Apparently, it sold decently well, but I hope Capcom will put far more effort and resources in future compilations.

Why the Japanese title? Because that’s the label on my copy.

Wonder Momo Arcade, 1987, PC-Engine 1989

Wonder Momo is a class example of pure core design of a game and never deviating from it. Almost every other official attempt to revive the franchise has failed, mostly because they were lacklustre and didn’t get that simplicity doesn’t mean simple in play and design. Wonder Momo straddles on the line of being just simple enough and being too simple with its stage setting and enemies, strict and limited controls. It’s very much like playing old Castelvania or that new The Ninja Warriors, where the game is fair but hard. It’s a damn classic, and it’s sad that official revivals never understood it enough to expand on it.  However, this is where Toushiryoku Kenkyujo’s Wonder Pink doujinshi games come in. Sumomo Theater is effectively an upgraded version of Wonder Momo in every way and manner, with the two other expanding the system to multi-level side scrollers. Sumomo Theatre is a perfect example how integral it is to understand and acknowledge the core of the game you’re remaking.

Rumble Roses PlayStation 2, 2004

For numerous years now I’ve been trying to look for a wrestling game that would not suck. The few pro wrestling games that I’ve played have been absolute trash, while some others are more like fighting games in a ring, like Capcom’s Ring of Destruction: Slam Masters 2. Nothing wrong in that, I’d be down for a new Slam Masters game if Capcom were ever to make one, but somehow almost all 3D wrestling games end up playing janky and feel as smooth as trying force spaghetti through a motor. I really wanted to love this game, I really did. Joshiprowres is something I’ve always loved on the side, but it’s never been my main interest. Blizzard Yuki’s a personal favourite, dunno why. Maybe it’s the comic. Playing Rumble Roses ultimately ended up feeling like so many other wrestling games; unfulfilling. The way these 3D wrestling games are designed and realised needs a total paradigm shift, something would move towards making the games play like silk rather than feeling like you’re scraping against the asphalt. Still, there’s a lot to like about the game, from somewhat nonsensical storylines to alternative versions of each character to nice designs overall. I’ll just have to keep looking for that one wrestling game that might sate this craving.

Top 5 games of 2016

It’s that time of the year to make possibly the most self-indulgent post in this blog and tell you what were my Top 5 games of the year. As per usual, the year the game was released doesn’t matter, just the fact that I played the game for the first time in 2016. There is no order to these either, thou to be honest with you here, I really should write the games I think could be good contenders down as soon as possible in order not to wonder what the hell did I play this year. However, one of the criteria for personal top games is that I still play them after an extended period of time and don’t just drop it. Let’s get on with the show and start with a Vita title.

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