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…
Something recent to begin with – Dredge on Nintendo Switch. It’s a Lovecraftian fishing RPG of all things, with you finding yourself shipwrecked near an island community where you quickly find yourself set up with a basic boat and gear to get out fishing again, initially working to repay your debt and upgrade stuff so you can catch more fish, get more upgrades and so on. You’ll pick up quests along the way too, forming the game’s narrative as you encounter all kinds of characters and locations, and sometimes that narrative is going to force you onto the ocean at night. And you don’t want to be out there at night because that’s when the unfathomable cosmic terrors start turning up from the unfathomable terrifying depths! The tension as you risk safety for reward is superb, with a clever panic gauge constantly upping the ante as you race to complete a mission and get back to the dock before something unspeakable happens! The sound design also adds to the atmosphere, and while visuals are a bit generic indie, they’re very polished and equally atmospheric, and the fishing is really cool too! Another one for the fledgling game of the year list!
Bethesda’s Ghostwire: Tokyo was Xbox Game Pass’ headline act last week, having finished it’s timed exclusive period on PS5 and PC, and bringing a mix of FPS and RPG to a reasonably authentic but totally deserted Tokyo. Well, apart from the supernatural forces running riot about the place! Luckily you’ve got some supernatural forces of your own up your sleeve (literally), so with the help of these new-found elemental abilities you’re going to try and work out why everyone else has vanished and hopefully save the city! Unfortunately I didn’t because motion sickness quickly decided Tokyo could sort its own problems out! I’m not sure I would have regardless though – it’s all very well having an empty city as your playground but that makes it a dull place. Like the story. And the combat. I stuck around for a few missions but it could have stayed on PlayStation forever as far as I’m concerned!
I did have a quick go at Iron Brigade, much older but also recently arriving on Game Pass, too. It’s Double Fine’s 2011 third-person mech shooter meets tower defence Xbox 360 thing that used to be called Trenched, but it’s not for me whatever it’s called, so we’ll move on and have one more go at new(ish) stuff on Game Pass with Guilty Gear Strive. And this is more like it! I’ve actually been dabbling with this anime 2D fighter – the seventh mainline game in the series – since it came out a couple of months ago, which was also a couple of years after PlayStation, PC and Japanese arcade releases. Absolutely stunning game, with mesmerising, special effect-driven heavy-metal presentation across some truly cinematic combat environments. It’s pretty accessible too, with decent tutorials and a welcoming pace. I guess my only criticism is that some of the characters feel a bit lightweight, but there’s so many I don’t suppose that matters. Not sure it’s a long-term keeper but it’s more than enough to fill the gap until Street Fighter gets here. And I’m still messing around with Tekken 7 as well!
Yoku’s Island Express has been hanging around barely played on various systems here thanks to various freebies since it came out in 2018, so while I was digging around in my Xbox library I finally had a proper go and an enjoyable time on that. It’s a surprisingly effective mix of platforming, pinballing and cute metroidvania-ing, as you uncover the secrets of the tropical island your dung-beetle postman has washed up on. There’s tons to explore as you help the locals and chip away at the island’s wider mysteries, using pinball mechanics blended into the its various biomes to get about the huge map. A bit too huge for me as it turned out, and I’m afraid I got a bit bored of the same simplistic pinball to get fruit to pay to unlock the next bit gameplay loop despite a lot of very pretty locations to gad about in. Good game though, and I was happy to have had my fill even without licking the plate clean.
The Evercade game of the month is back again for the first time this year, and also for the first time on the Evercade EXP handheld, and it’s a cracker! It’s also been on my Switch wishlist since it first came out on there last December, so this is a right bonus! It’s a single-screen 2D platformer presented as a 16-colour pixel-perfect lost arcade classic from 1983, blending Chuckie Egg, BurgerTime, Mario Bros. and a bit of Bomb Jack… Perfectly! This really is superb and would no doubt have just scraped into my last game of the year countdown if I wasn’t such a skinflint! You need to run around the level collecting donuts and avoiding the attention of Donut Dodo and his pals, then it’s onto the next. Not easy, even when you think you’ve nailed it because the quicker you do it, the more points you’ll get, but when you get complacent you make mistakes and you’ll hate yourself for them! So much fun though – controls like a dream, good variety, it looks so vibrant and its modern chip-tunes are gorgeous. By the way, if you don’t have an Evercade it’s been on sale elsewhere recently so check it out!
Still on Evercade EXP, I’ve gone back to the Atari Lynx cartridges now I can play them in my hand as originally intended. As much as I like to give these things a mini-review when I cover them, there’s seventeen games on this first collection so let me just pick out the few highlights I’ve had on the go the most this time… I’d always thought the Lynx Super Asteroids and Missile Command double-pack were just straight arcade ports of some sort, and while they kind of are, they’ve definitely been jazzed up specifically for the console too! Super Asteroids plays in increasingly frantic waves, with power-ups and some lovely solid sprites and visual effects to replace the original vector graphics, while Missile Command goes a step further on the special effects, simplifies control and offers upgrades between levels. And both are great! I did play a bunch of Basketbrawl too but went into that in huge detail here a while back so I’ll skip that and mention Loopz instead, a really addictive puzzler where you’re presented with bits of pipe of all different shapes and sizes and you have to place them on the screen to form closed loops and clear them to make space for more. Think freeform, static Tetris! Various modes and difficulties, all nicely presented, and an essential on the Lynx!
The main reason I went back to this compilation though was to try my luck at Jimmy Connors Tennis again. When I originally got the cartridge this wouldn’t load on my Evercade VS so I ended up getting a replacement because, in my eternal quest to find a new tennis game that I enjoy as much as Tennis on the original Game Boy, it was a key factor in getting it in the first place. And then, after all that effort, it worked fine but it wasn’t exactly beginner-friendly to say the least so I might as well have no bothered! Anyway, it’s a 1993 tennis sim that also came out on the NES and the Game Boy, offering a choice of court surfaces, singles or doubles, match types and four skill levels, which is all well and good if you can actually hit the ball. And here’s the problem! The Evercade instructions tell you to watch the square on the court that shows you where to stand, and the ball also has a shadow so you can easily see exactly where it’s headed, making the choice of shot perfectly intuitive, but none of this helps in reality because if you’re lucky you’ll return it about once per game! And it’s not like I’ve never won online tournaments on Mario Tennis Aces, for example, so something so fundamental and basic shouldn’t feel like this much effort, and that’s way before you even think about where you’re returning the ball to! The thing is, though, there’s a decent tennis game here that looks nice, sounds nice and moves nice, which is why I came back for more and I’m not giving up on it yet! I’ll report back when I’ve consulted the original Lynx manual and maybe a few videos…
I think that will do us for this week, but in case you missed it, be sure to check out my deep dive from last Wednesday into the wonderful chaos of the original Metal Slug, as well a look at its sequels and even some spiritual predecessors too. And next Wednesday, look out for a special feature on my top ten favourite Commodore 64 loading screens, but if you fancy a warm-up there’s also the ZX Spectrum version from exactly a year ago right here! See you soon!