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…
Brand new to start with because I’ve been playing Redfall, the Xbox exclusive from Arkane Studios and Bethesda that launched on Game Pass this week. It’s an open-world first-person shooter set in the fictional island community of Redfall, Massachusetts, USA, which has been invaded by vampires after some kind of scientific experiment gone wrong. And speaking of gone wrong… I can concur with what’s been widely reported about it being undercooked, with its dodgy frame rates and glitches and general lack of polish, and I’m sure that will all get patched in time but is still a situation that stinks in and of itself. That said, I understand people who spent £60-70 on Star Wars Jedi: Survivor are suffering the same thing which stinks even more than for something “free” with Game Pass. All the same, I was looking forward to this and tried to see past all that but the fundamental gameplay doesn’t seem much better – the story is alright but the world it’s set in is dull and lifeless, the missions are boring (as far as I saw) and the combat doesn’t have anything interesting to offer. Hardly next-gen to look at either, although I did like the red mist that floats about spelling your doom! Big disappointment overall, and so much so I’m now wondering if I’ve done the right thing preordering Zelda, as illogical as that might be!
I can never be down on Game Pass for long though… I said a couple of weeks ago here that Guilty Gear Strive – also recently added there – would tide me over until the new Street Fighter arrives, but I wasn’t anticipating BlazBlue: Cross Tag Battle Special Edition appearing on there in the meantime. And it’s brilliant! I’ve had the regular version on PS4 and Switch wishlists since it first arrived back in 2018, and this version, appearing on Xbox for the first time, brings the original 2D crossover fighting game plus all its DLC and post-launch content, meaning a huge cast of characters from BlazBlue, Persona, Under Night In-Birth, and the RWBY series. Most of which I’ve admittedly never heard of! Anyway, Cross Tag Battle is accessible, with tons of offline modes for the antisocial beginner like me, as well as online play for the pros, and has a crazy amount of stuff to unlock. I’m not massive keen on the Chibi-style presentation in the hub between fights but it’s easy to bypass that and go straight into the menus where your choice of action can then quickly begin, and what action! So much fun trying out all the different characters and their insane move-sets, as well as combinations of tag-team partners and their double-team attacks. It’s all incredibly stylish, moves beautifully and some of the stage designs are stunning. Great soundtrack too! I’m really taken with this to the point I might hold off on Street Fighter for a bit to get the most out of it.
That’s all the new stuff taken care of, so let’s move to something in-between. Kind of! Castle of Shikigami 2 came out on Nintendo Switch a couple of weeks ago and while I originally had every intention of buying it on there, I’m not spending £30 on a game from 2003 that I’ve been playing on PlayStation 2 one way or another ever since, however good it is! Instead, to still be able to see it with a fresh pair of eyes, I’ve been playing the GameCube version! Nice borders on this one too, but the rest seems the same as the PS2 (and Dreamcast) versions as far as I can tell, which means we’re talking a very slick and very fun bullet-grazing, bullet-hell, vertically-scrolling shoot ‘em up wherever you play it! There is a bonkers tale about crooked castles in the sky over Tokyo behind it all but all you need to know is you’ve got a load of characters to try, each representing a different ship-type and weapon set-up, and the closer you get them to enemy bullets, the bigger your score multiplier. It’s a really thrilling risk-reward mechanic, although before long the screen will be so full of bullets you’ll have no choice! The presentation isn’t the most dynamic but there’s something about the gameplay that totally compensates for that and makes it very hard to put down, and the stage 3-2 boss fight (if you’re counting) is sublime – more panic inducing than mean-spirited with some really fun dual-boss alternate bullets patterns. Probably worth £30 after all!
And now onto something old! I am fond of a game of Space Harrier but I’d never played the Sega 32X port until this week. Very good it is too, and apart from some occasional slowdown when things get really busy, I can’t see it straying too far from the 1985 arcade version. That said, I did quickly get to stage seven here, where I’ve consistently only got to stage six on the original for almost forty years, so maybe it’s bit easier too! No matter how long I play it for though, and mostly wherever I play, this game will always been a thing of wonder to me – that exhilarating 3D motion, the huge enemy sprites and the sheer vibrancy of everything flying by (and generally trying to kill you) will never get old, and this 32X version has done it all proud!
Can I bore you with another vertical shooter to finish on? This time it’s the brilliant PC-Engine port of Detana!! TwinBee, better known here as Bells & Whistles when it first appeared in the arcades in 1991. This was Konami’s fifth instalment in the cute ‘em up series, and while I’ve never thought overly hard about this, might also be my favourite, although I do still love the original, which, in terms of mechanics, this still follows pretty faithfully. And that means you’re shooting stuff in the air, bombing stuff on the ground and keeping an eye out for clouds to also have a go at because clouds mean bells, and bells mean points or, if you shoot them enough times (but no more!) to change their colour, power-ups too. Actually, it does offer two new ones not in the original, where a purple bell will give you a tail shield and a black one will slow your ship down. Anyway, it’s a joy to play, with its colourful cutesy presentation hiding a tough but fair and very learnable shoot ‘em up with loads of depth (not to mention frustration) in manipulating those bells for both chaining scores and keeping yourself alive. Some really cool boss designs too, with what’s left of the flying robot galleon pictured here being a particular favourite!
I am still plodding through Call of Cthulhu on Xbox but will report back on that again when I’m done, so with that I think my work is done here for this week. If you haven’t already, do check out my deep-dive from last Wednesday into the timeless Shark! Shark! on Intellivision, as well as taking a look at the system’s compilations on PlayStation 2 and Evercade. And we also had our regular look at the (mostly) retro-interest game releases for May on Monday too in On The Retro Radar… If only the motion sickness I was concerned about then had been all I’d had to worry about with Redfall! Anyway, there’s that and loads more besides in there, with trailers for everything, so have a look at that too! And don’t forget to come back next Wednesday, when we’ll be discovering some cool old arcade games adapted for the purpose in Namco Gallery Vol. 2 on Nintendo Game Boy, which I really enjoyed putting together, so hopefully see you then!