Back again for our regular roundup of quick-fire reviews and impressions of everything under the spotlight at Retro Arcadia this week, old and new and a bit of both…
This is a public service announcement! Download The Excavation of Hob’s Barrow demo on Switch or Steam or wherever else it is and fall in love with it like I did! It’s a point-and-click adventure in the style of classic LucasArts, but with an easy modern interface and possibly less obscure puzzling and exploration! The pixel art graphics, including suitably primitive cutscenes and animations, together with the soundtrack, form the perfect old-school gothic atmosphere for your adventure across the bleak Yorkshire Moors as an antiquarian unravelling the very English folk-horror mysteries of this ancient burial ground. The demo does its job outstandingly, giving you more than enough to leave you fully sucked in to its intriguing storyline through an initial cast of suspicious villagers and slick environmental interactions. And then you’ve bought it and you’re thinking you’ve got a potential game of the year on your hands here! But we’ll talk about that when I’ve finished the full game!
Another demo next! And, amazingly, another one doing what demos set out to do… I finally got to the Octopath Traveller II: Prologue Demo on Switch this week and it also totally blew me away! I think it said you’ve got three hours to play from the moment you first save the game but I’d made my mind up way before that, despite still not having finished the first one yet! The unique pixel art meets 3D-CG visuals are looking more stylish than ever, the soundtrack is glorious, and with eight new characters, each selectable here with their own unique story arc, there’s tons more RPG-ing to sink your teeth into! I went for a somewhat tragic lady thief and was immediately hooked by the foundations of her adventure, leading me through a series of compelling objectives and strangely thrilling turn-based battles that already more than hinted at the freedom which apparently soon turns it into very much your own adventure. Definitely more game of the year fodder here, although this time if I wait for a bit of a sale on this one it might give me the chance to get through its predecessor first!
No more demos now but a Spectrum conversion I’d never played before of an arcade game I’ve also got on the Sega 3D Classics Collection on 3DS but had barely ever played until this week too, and that’s Galaxy Force II. Also known as Galaxy Force! Confusingly, the sequel to the original 1988 rail-shooter in space wasn’t a sequel at all, but an arcade cabinet conversion kit that added a couple of new levels and balanced the gameplay difficulty. When the home ports came along they seemed to be referred to as either depending on where or when you were looking, but were pretty much all based on the “sequel” such as it was. It’s like Atari’s Star Wars arcade game meets After Burner or Space Harrier, and that’s particularly true of the technically impressive but forgivable messy-looking Spectrum version, which goes for a similar but mostly monochrome presentation, although some very colourful UI does spice it up a lot! I had a lot of fun discovering this on both Spectrum and original arcade (or was it the sequel?) on 3DS this week, and while the Spectrum one is probably more of an interesting curio than long-term passion, I’ll definitely be back to the 3DS for more whenever I fancy a mindless thrill-ride now I properly know it’s there!
I finally had my fill of the dreadful Atari Jaguar kart racer, Atari Karts, on the Atari 50 compilation on Switch, somehow sticking it out to beat all the cups in Beginner, Warrior and Miracle classes, so that meant I could finally get back to doing the same on Mario Kart Super Circuit! This is the Game Boy Advance version, recently added to the expanded Switch Online service, where I’d completed all the cups in both the 50C.C. and 100C.C. classes before I got bizarrely sidetracked by that absolute Atari shocker! Anyway, I’ve now polished-off the 150C.C. cups too, and more than 20 years since I did the same on the proper GBA, I can only reconfirm that this thing is both a masterpiece and a miracle that it ever even existed on there! It still plays like a dream, especially handheld as originally intended, with imaginative but tightly designed tracks throughout that are so vibrant and move so effortlessly. It’s the race balancing that does it for me the most though – always rewarding both skill and time spent but with just enough luck that you’ll often look back and wonder how you just pulled that off. Or, of course, the opposite too!
I’m definitely not done with that one yet either because I’ve only played as Luigi so far, but I’ve also not touched any of the Nintendo 64 games that come with the Switch Online Expansion Pass yet, so I decided to go there for my next racing fix instead! And as tempting as it was to just jump across to Mario Kart 64, I fancied a change of pace and went for F-Zero X instead. I’ve got a lot of history with pretty much every other instalment of the iconic futuristic racer, but like pretty much everything else on the system, I’ve never even seen this one in action before! And would it be wrong to say I’m really not sure about it yet? There are a ton of positives but it’s mainly the chaos of thirty racers in track at once, the speed and the superb soundtrack that have clicked for me. When everything is working and you’re being spun upside down and you’re wondering whether to boost one more time and gain a place or save your energy for when you inevitably hit a wall as you try, there’s nothing more exhilarating! There are sections where it looks absolutely stunning too! But then there’s others where it just seems a bit sparse, even with all those other racers around you, with huge wide tracks and not a lot going on around them. And I’m really not sure about the Switch Joy-Con analog stick. And it glitches a lot too, although that’s forgivable. I’m still on Novice class and there’s tons here so I’m going to reserve judgement but for the time being I’m having fun, if not quite maximum fun yet!
Was there ever a better-looking bit of neon in a game than in the first stage of Einhänder on the original PlayStation? The picture at the top of the page probably doesn’t do it justice but regardless, I’ve had a great time going back to this 1997 horizontally-scrolling shoot ‘em up this week! The name comes from the German word for a one-handed sword, and refers to the numerous destructive attachments you can pick up from fallen enemies, three of which you can have at your disposal, hanging off your ship, at any time. It’s 2D on a 2.5D or even 3D plane at times, as camera-angles regularly move to impressive dramatic effect, and there’s even full-motion video between stages. As well as looking great, it’s got quite the soundtrack too, jumping from hip-hop to opera and most things in-between, but it’s the multiplier-based score-chasing gameplay that still makes it a classic today, especially that weapon-switching, some prolonged set-pieces and some superb boss fights – in fact, I’d go as far as to say the second stage boss (the approach to which is pictured here) is one of my favourite bosses in any game, with its spectacular and diverse but ultimately fair and learnable attacks.
I’m also still playing Alien: Isolation, now my physical copy has turned up and I’m no longer held to the whims of Xbox Game Pass, and it just gets better and better; surprisingly lengthy too but I’m perfectly happy on that infested spaceship! And I think I’m nearly through point-and-click adventure Call of Cthulhu: Shadow of the Comet, which I’m enjoying too but haven’t really had the opportunity to play for any length all at once this week and finish it off. Anyway, I’ll aim to get both done for final thoughts next time! Finally, in case you missed it last week, be sure to check out my deep-dive into a very fancy graphical text adventure from 1986, The Pawn on Commodore Amiga, and next Wednesday the stunning Night Striker on Sega Mega-CD will be getting the same treatment, care of the marvellous Mega Drive Mini II. See you then!