Post Game Wrap-up: Yooka-Laylee

In 2002, Nintendo shocked the gaming world by selling their stake in Rare Limited to Microsoft. Rare had, for quite some time, been a powerhouse second party for Nintendo, developing beloved titles such as Donkey Kong Country, Banjo-Kazooie, Goldeneye 007, and Pefect Dark. In the years that followed, Rare experienced a bit of a fall from grace, developing titles that were generally received with a “meh,” excepting the popular game, Viva Pinata, while original founders and employees left the company. In 2012, a group of these former employees began to come together with the goal of creating a spiritual successor to Banjo-Kazooie. In 2017, that goal became a reality with the release of Yooka-Laylee.

The Set-up:

You are Yooka, a chameleon, and Laylee, a bat, enjoying a quite life in Shipwreck Creek when, one day, Laylee’s book is mysteriously sucked away by the nefarious Hivory Towers Corporation, run by the malicious Capital B and his sidekick, Dr. Quack. Suffice it to say, the game doesn’t take itself too seriously. Fortunately, as the book is being booknapped (?), it’s pages escape and hide themselves throughout Hivory Towers, and the worlds you’ll encounter therein.

The Story:

The book in question is actually the “One Book,” which has the power to rewrite the universe. As Yooka & Laylee (hereafter Y&L) explore Hivory Towers, which serves as the hub world, they will find the missing pages, or pagies, hidden in Hivory Towers, as well as within five other worlds, each accessible via open books found as you explore more of Hivory Towers. Along the way, they’ll also be taunted by Capital B in much the same way Gruntilda taunted Banjo & Kazooie. Aside from Capital B, Y&L will meet an array of characters that offer upgrades, challenges, and quests for our pair to undertake. Including a seemingly lost knight armed with a gardening tool.

I’m glad they never break the fourth wall.

Yes, I realize this section is a very short synopsis, but the story is what it is. It’s not deep. It’s not compelling, but it does get the job done for the game. And, in all fairness, this game isn’t about a deep story. Yooka-Laylee is all about…

The Gameplay:

If you’ve played Banjo-Kazooie or its sequel, you can almost skip this section. Yooka-Laylee was billed as a spiritual successor to Banjo-Kazooie, and it does not miss that mark. Right from the beginning, the game feels familiar to Banjo-Kazooie veterans, as you undertake 3-D platforming searching for a list of collectables. In addition to finding the Pagies, you’ll be collecting Quills, Ghost Writers, Life & Stamina upgrades, and Gaming Tokens. The platforming itself, the crux of the game, is very tight. I can’t really recall any instance in which I felt the game was working against me in this regard. The controls were very responsive, and the new moves you learn (see below) are integrated into the game seamlessly. Even the camera was very responsive, only on rare occasions seeming to refuse to give me the viewpoint I needed.

In regards to the collectables, other than the Ghost Writers, literal ghosts that each have a special technique used to capture, and whom serve no other purpose than to be captured, each collectable has a use. Quills are used to purchase new moves from Trowzer, a snake wound thru a pair of shorts (admittedly, naming a character after Trowser Snake made me laugh out loud when playing the game). The moves you’ll purchase (along with a few that are gifted to you) will allow you to explore more areas and access new locations in previous areas. These include the ability for Laylee to ride a rolling Yooka, a ground pound, and eventually the ability to fly. As I stated above, these are integrated very well, and are very useful throughout the game, as opposed to being a gimmick that is used once, then forgotten. The Life & Stamina upgrades need no explanation.

The Gaming Token you find in each level is given to Rextro Sixtyfourus (yep), a low-resolution Tyrannosaurus Rex that enjoys creating retro games for you to play thru. These range from mildly enjoyable to simply irritating. With each game, you’ll be awarded two pagies. One for completing the game and one form beating Rextro’s high score. You cannot get these at the same time, so you’ll need to play each game twice. The first three of these were…okay. The weren’t fun enough to revisit for any reason, but were okay for what they were (the one that was an imitation of RC Pro-Am was my personal favorite, but that’s very mild praise). The last two offered no joy whatsoever, in my opinion at least. Both are overly long and very unforgiving. I finished the game nine Pagies short of collecting them all, and four of those are from these two games. After a few tries with each, I came to the conclusion that neither were worth the time or frustration they were giving me.

If he played his own games, he wouldn’t look so happy.

Adding some variety to the standard platforming fare, is Dr. Puzz, a former scientist employed by Capital B. After finding her Mollycool in each level, she will offer a transformation for Yooka-Laylee. These are quite varied, including a potted plant and a helicopter. They are limited to one level, meaning you can’t exit the level as the transformation, but you can play as the transformation for as long as you like within the level. Of these, I’d only consider one a bit of a throwaway, meaning it’s only used in a sparse manner. Generally, these transformations are essential to finding at least a few Pagies and collecting Quills. One boss fight is undertaken while transformed, and is quite a bit of fun because of it.

The last wrinkle to the traditional platforming are sections with Kartos, a sentient mine cart (just accept that everything in this game is sentient). You’ll ride in Kartos, avoiding obstacles while trying to collect a minimum number of jewels to be awarded a Pagie. Kartos can jump, speed up, slow down, and shoot a cannon ball, because why not? These sections get progressively harder, and I found them to be less enjoyable as I went on. In one particular world, I had to make at least 10 attempts before I could collect the minimum number of jewels. I appreciate not being handed something in a game, but I don’t particularly like when challenge crosses the line into annoying, and I think that Kartos did that at least a couple of times, which is an issue when there are only five of these sections.

On a last note, the worlds themselves have an interesting aspect that I don’t believe I’ve ever encountered before. When you unlock a world, a task that requires a minimum number of Pagies, you haven’t actually unlocked the entire world. You actually have to exit the world and offer up more Pagies to expand the world. If you’re a completionist, which I am, you can do this right away for the last couple of worlds, but in the first three, you probably won’t have enough right away. This is a neat feature that makes reentering worlds have more variety, and offers an incentive to collect more than just the bare minimum of Pagies to open the next world.


Ultimately, Yooka-Laylee is a bit of a mixed bag, but in my time with it, I found it to be more good than bad. If you accept that it is a collectathon, based on games that were most popular 20 years ago, you’ll be fine with this game. Yes, there are some frustrating elements to be found, the Rextro arcade games and Kartos sections being of particular note, but it is possible to completely skip those and finish the game. Also, some of the bosses were difficult for the wrong reasons. One particular boss had a move that I simply could not avoid. I don’t believe that I was doing anything wrong, it was just an attack that, regardless of what I tried, hit me every time. Also, it was sometimes annoying to see a Pagie, spend time trying to get it, give up, then realize later that an ability you didn’t yet have was needed. I don’t mind backtracking at all (the Metroid series is my personal favorite, so yeah), but I believe this could have been made a bit clearer in game.

All that said, this is still a very fun game. The platforming is well done, the controls are spot on, and the writing is consistently quite humorous. It absolutely captures the spirit of the Nintendo 64 platformers perfectly. Yes, there are some hiccups within the game, but there’s still so much fun to be had that it is ultimately forgivable. As I stated earlier, I came within 9 Pagies of collecting them all. You don’t get that close to completing a game at 100% if you didn’t have a good time with it. I also tracked down all the Quills and Ghost Writers in the game. Again, not something you do with a game that is frustrating you around every turn.

Yooka-Laylee isn’t for everyone. It is a game that really is from another era. But, if you grew up during that era, as I did, it’s a refreshing dose of nostalgia. A reminder of games that, sadly, we don’t see all that often any more. Here’s hoping that we haven’t seen the last of Yooka and Laylee.

I realize graphics shouldn’t matter, but this is a very pretty game.

Post Game Wrap-up: Rayman Legends


Other than a few levels with my son in Rayman Origins, I’d never played a Rayman game. When I got Legends for Christmas (my brother did good), it seemed like the perfect game to test drive my PSVita on…considering that I also got the Vita for Christmas (my wife did good).

The Set-up:
You are Rayman, among other characters. You and your pals have been asleep for a while, but have been awoken by Murfy as the Bubble Dreamers Nightmares have grown in intensity. The magician from Rayman Origins is also back, and has split into five dark Teensies.

The Story:
Heck if I know. Frankly, I had to pull most of the synopsis above from Wikipedia.

The Gameplay:
Rayman Legends is a sidescrolling platformer, so it lives and dies by level design. Luckily, for those of us that have played it, it lives far more often than it dies.

Levels come in one of four different types:

  • Standard platforming levels are much what you’d expect from a sidescroller. You advance from point A to point B, overcoming obstacles along the way. This isn’t meant to diminish these levels. They are extremely well designed, even rivaling Nintendo in quality.
  • Levels involving touch screen control (on the WiiU and PSVita) in which you control Murfy as he manipulates enemies and obstacles allowing Globox to advance. Globox is CPU controlled, and it can be annoying sometimes when he doesn’t seem to want to do what you need him to do to pick up collectables or discover secrets.
  • Rhythm levels that are still platforming levels, but your every move can generally be timed to the music of the level, including jumps and attacks. The songs used are fairly well known. My personal favorite remains Black Betty in the level Castle Rock.
  • Invasion levels, which are levels that you have finished, but need to revisit as they’ve been invaded. These are timed levels and, the longer you take, the fewer Teensies you’ll save at the end of the level. After completing the game, some Invasion levels include a Dark/Shadow Rayman that mimics your every move on 2 or 3 second delay. Touch him, and you die. Obviously, these levels require you to sometimes double back, forcing you to avoid Dark/Shadow Rayman.

Legends also has plenty of collectables for you to find in each level. Most standard levels have at least two hidden sections with Teensies, along with eight more to find scattered throughout the level. You will also need to pick up Lums, the number of which will determine your trophy at the end of the level. Teensies can be hidden very well, and can many times be easy to miss, meaning that completionists will need to revisit levels from time to time. Legends is so well designed though, that revisiting a level is rarely a hardship and is oftentimes just a chance to have more fun.

Tilting the PSVita was a nice touch to a couple of the Murfy levels.

Complementing the new stages in Legends are about 40 levels from Rayman Origins. These are unlocked by obtaining Lucky Tickets that you scratch off. This sounds like a chore, but I had all the Origin Levels opened up when I decided to start playing through them. So long as you collect a decent number of Lums per level, unlocking the Origin levels is a breeze.

Replayability in Legends is addressed as well, with the game featuring weekly challenges. These range from time trials to infinite levels that challenge you to see how far you can progress. Online leader boards let you see how you stack up against other players. It’s a minor addition, but one that spices the game up and continuously adds new tweaks. It is also a reminder of just how mediocre you really are against more dedicated players …moving on.

I thought I was pretty good…

Rayman Legends is, honestly, one of the best platformers I’ve ever played. It easily stands among the giants such as Mario and Donkey Kong Country. There are levels that feel a little unbalanced, and a few deaths that are almost unavoidable your first time in a level, and that is annoying and detracts from the fun, but never enough so to make you quit the game or to put you off. And seriously, there are only a handful of games that don’t have an annoying portion here or there. At the end of the day, Rayman Legends is a ton of fun and leaves you wanting more. We can only hope that Ubisoft’s next Rayman title can come close to the quality that Legends delivered.

Post Game Wrap-up: Zelda II – The Adventure of Link

Zelda II

Quite some time ago, when I was about 10 or 11, I put a borrowed gold cartridge bearing the name Zelda II into my NES system. There was no internet then, and gaming magazines were not exactly common. Therefore, I had no way of knowing that I was about to start playing a game that would still be among my favorites over 20 years later.

The Set-up:
You are Link. Some years after defeating Ganon and saving Hyrule in the original Legend of Zelda, you discover that you are marked for yet another quest, this one involving the original Princess Zelda, who is in a deep, cursed sleep, and has been for many, many years (and who is the source of the “Legend” in the title). Once again, you find yourself venturing into the land of Hyrule on a great adventure.

The Story:
The plot of this game is a bit secondary, which is the case with most NES games, but you can read the graphic at the title screen and/or check out the Instruction Booklet (remember when those were invaluable?). You are given six crystals by Impa to place in certain temples around the world of Hyrule. The temples are, of course, each guarded by a boss character that you must defeat before you’re able to place each crystal. Upon placing these, you may enter the Great Palace and claim the Triforce of Courage, which can awaken the sleeping Princess.

Zelda II Zelda Sleeping
A kiss just isn’t going to cut it.

There are other minor, very minor, side plots in the game. One involves the followers of Ganon attempting to kill Link, as sprinkling Link’s blood on Ganon’s ashes will revive him. Others are simply mechanisms used to obtain items or spells in the villages scattered around Hyrule, such as finding a lost child or returning a trophy. These are required, and involve no real expansion of the main quest, but do offer up a motivation for villagers helping you out.

The Gameplay:
Immediately upon playing this game, it is very obvious that this is not simply an expansion of the original Legend of Zelda. Link still moves on an overhead map, but anything involving combat or exploration of a particular area is played out via a side-scrolling level. These range from minor battles that occur when you are touched by a shadow on the overhead map that appears when you stray from the main road (agents of Ganon), to the temples where you are to place each of the six crystals. The overworld functions much the same way it does in the NES and Super NES Final Fantasy games. It allows you to travel “vast” distances quickly, but offers very little else in regards of combat.

All that said, it is a very large overworld, consisting of two continents, numerous villages and caves and such, and the aforementioned temples. There are also hidden “tiles” that contain heart or magic containers, or are levels that you’ll need to navigate to continue on. As mentioned above, there is a road you can follow, but you’ll have to move off that into other terrain as you journey through the game. This consists of forested areas, swamps, and deserts (and some kind of volcanic looking area much later in the game). The overworld in Zelda II has always given me the feeling of a vast land, filled with secrets and dangers. In the current gaming landscape, it’s probably not much to look at, but in that day and age, it was filled with possibilities, and seemed almost magical.

Zelda II Map
This helped make the game seem that much bigger.

Combat in Zelda II is very simplistic at first. You stab stuff. That’s it. There are no items such as a bow or bombs, although you do acquire items in each of the temples that will help you out. These consist of items such as the candle which allows you to see in caverns (which are in darkness up until this point), the winged boots allowing you to walk on water, and the whistle which removes a river devil blocking your progress. These items are all non-combat items and can only be used on the overworld map. However, as you progress in the game, you will learn the down-thrust and up-thrust techniques which complement your fighting abilities. These sound simplistic, but are actually extremely helpful in the game, and aren’t simply one and done techniques. There are also Spells that Link will learn, ranging from Shield and Jump to the powerful Thunder spell. You will need to monitor your Magic Meter however, as a spell like Thunder will just about drain it. I will admit that magic can be mostly ignored in this game, but if you’re willing to keep it in mind and use it, it can be helpful and enrich your experience. Especially a spell such as Life which will refill part of your life meter.

Zelda II Red Woman
No comment on what she does to fill your life up.

Speaking of, this game does have Heart Containers to find, but only four of them, and they are found in the overworld, not given at the end of each temple. The same is true of your magic meter and Magic Containers. These meters/containers are supplemented by Link having the ability to level up. An ability that has not been seen in a Zelda title since. Upon obtaining enough experience points (given in treasure bags and by defeating enemies), you are given the option to upgrade your life, magic, or weapon levels. Upgrading life and magic will let you take more damage or use less magic per spell respectively. Upgrading your weapon allows you to deal more damage. Each can be upgraded to a level of 8, and it is possible to ignore upgrading one aspect in favor of leveling up another, providing some minor strategy to the game (especially when used in conjunction with the automatic level up you get at the end of each temple). This RPG element of Zelda II is definitely not close to something you would find in a Final Fantasy or Dragon Quest, but does spice the game up somewhat and further differentiates it from its predecessor.

Even though Zelda II is the black sheep of the Zelda series and it is almost blasphemous to say this in video game circles, I far prefer Zelda II to the original Legend of Zelda. It just feels so much fuller than the original game, which is odd as I imagine that the original game is probably the bigger game. Somehow, Zelda II just seems to have a larger scope to it, and as you travel from the beginning across two continents to the Great Temple, it just seems like more of an adventure. I suspect that this is helped by the addition of villages and NPC characters going about their lives, making the world feel like a populated place that exists outside of the game. These towns and citizens were not present in the original game outside of people hiding in caves. Also, the difficulty of Zelda II is ramped up quite a bit, which helps further the feeling of an adventure that is escalating in difficulty and danger. By today’s standards, this game probably doesn’t stand up as anything special, but in the era in which it was released, a world full of 8-bit games, this game was bursting with a special kind of magic that only a few games are ever able to capture.

Zelda II Magic Map
Even at 34, this map still seems special to me every time I play it.



Post Game Wrap-up: Batman – Arkham Knight

Arkham Knight Title

Ultimately, Rock Band 4 was the driving force behind my getting an Xbox One, but this game was a close second. You simply don’t get games as great as Arkham Asylum and Arkham City everyday, so with the announcement of Arkham Knight, there was no question that I would need to find a way to play it at some point. How could it not be amazing?

The Set-up:
You are Batman. The Dark Knight. Hunting dangerous and deadly villains by the light of the moon. After taking down the Joker (along with virtually every other foe in Batman’s rogue gallery) in Arkham Asylum and Arkham City, you find yourself tasked with stopping Scarecrow on Halloween. His plan? To flood Gotham with a new fear gas and bring an end to you. With Gotham evacuated save for thugs and villains, the city becomes your massive playground.

The Story:
At the end of Arkham City, the Joker dies. This is extremely important to Arkham Knight as it leaves a void in Batman (he and the Joker are essentially a balance of good and evil, this isn’t a deep secret). Also, it becomes clear a bit into the game that Batman was infected with the Joker’s toxic blood in Arkham City, and is suffering hallucinations of the Clown Prince of Crime, including a fear that he will turn into a Joker-esque figure. This is only strengthened by exposure to the Scarecrow’s fear toxin.

Arkham Knight Scarecrow
John Noble will always be Walter to me. #Fringe

Speaking of, Scarecrow is the big bad of Arkham Knight. As noted above, he is threatening Gotham with a new fear toxin, and has also planted bombs around the city, leading to the evacuation referenced above. He also manages to kidnap Oracle early on in the game, leading to a new urgency for Batman to track him down. The Scarecrow has always been one of my favorite villains, and he is genuinely creepy in this game, thanks in no small part to John Noble’s absolutely brilliant voice work. It is downright chilling.

Also, because all of this isn’t enough for the Dark Knight, a new villain, in the employ of the Scarecrow, has risen. Going by the name of the Arkham Knight, this character essentially comes across as a militaristic psycho. Very visceral and brutal, he is an evil Batman, a well trained madman with no conscious. His identity remains a mystery for the bulk of the game, but those who are familiar with Batman storylines and pay attention to the clues within the game will most likely figure out who the mystery man is (I did, though it didn’t take away from the storyline).

Akrham Knight Character
Had it been a Red “A,” this would have been an entirely different game.

In addition to the Scarecrow and the Arkham Knight, other villains such as the Penguin, Two-Face, and Mr. Freeze make appearances, though some are only available via the purchase of DLC. The stories behind each of the other villains are fairly short, but that is to be expected, and was the case in the past Arkham games. In regards to the DLC, the stories flow seamlessly into the main game, and become available as you reach certain percentages of completion.

The Gameplay:
This is the bread and butter of the Arkham games. Rocksteady managed from the beginning to give Batman a combat style that is both deep and easily mastered. No easy task. That hasn’t changed in Arkham Knight. Just as in the past, you can fight with punches and kicks, or delve deeper and use his array of gadgets to take on the various foes. New moves are unlocked by gaining upgrade points (basically, leveling up). For the most part, this is cut and pasted from the previous Arkham games, but that’s most definitely not a bad thing. The combat is superb in those games, so why screw with something that already works? Rocksteady didn’t, and the game benefits because of it.

It’s been a while since I finished off Arkham City, but I do believe that there are a few more gadgets to use in this title. My personal favorite was the one that allowed you to hi-jack drones and screw with other electronically controlled weapons/objects. Causing a drone to blow up on its own operator never got old. My second favorite was the voice distorter. Directing a thug into a trap by imitating their boss gave me far more joy than it should have. I did have some disappointment with the gadgets used in battle. As with another aspect of this game, there almost seemed to be too many to master. Ultimately, I just stuck with a few that I liked and ignored the rest. Also, it sometimes seemed that the trigger for using a gadget just didn’t work. The primary offender for me was the freeze blast. In all fairness, this could have just been me crapping up the controls, but it did seem to happen multiple times.

Arkham Knight Hacker
Seriously, this was pretty cool.

Stealth is also a large part of this game, though it didn’t feel as integral as in the past two games. Rarely will you find yourself in a building where remaining quiet and unseen is an absolute necessity. If you get seen, there is little punishment as you can simply grapple away or go into the vents (though the thugs now drop bombs into the vents if they spot you going into one, which was a nice touch). This is much like the previous games except, again, these areas simply don’t seem as numerous or as important to your current mission. In most cases, I found myself just watching foes from afar, then sneaking up on them when they were alone. I didn’t feel the need to utilize a variety of take downs, sticking to a couple that worked for me. Perhaps I’m simply remembering incorrectly, but I don’t recall it being that easy in the past two games. Now, that said, there are a few areas (recurring mission) that do require absolute stealth, and those are pure joy for those of us that love that element of this series.

There are two major changes that shape Arkham Knight and differentiate it from the previous titles. The first is the sheer size of Gotham City. I’ve read that it’s about five times the size of Arkham City, and I can believe that. There are three main islands that make up the city (only two are available right away), and each has various areas that you will explore. The size of the city is both a blessing and a curse for the game. On a positive note, it provides for quite a bit of variety and makes exploring the game a ton of fun. Also, the city is beautiful. Highly detailed and interesting to explore. Negatively, it sometimes just feels empty and is easy to get lost in. In the past two games, I felt like I got to know the lay of the land. By the end, I didn’t even need a map to know where I was. In this game, I had to rely completely upon the map and waypoint systems. There was just too much for my taste. The islands share some common features, so there never seemed to be any distinguishing styles that allowed you to know exactly where you were just by observing your surroundings. This is a minor quibble, but it just made me feel a bit disconnected from the game.

Secondly, and I believe this aspect was added solely due to the size of the landscape, the Batmobile is present and controllable. For what it’s worth, it is a quick way to travel from place to place, and there are some battles you must undertake in the Batmobile that are quite fun. That said, I never really liked the inclusion of the Batmobile. I prefer grappling from place to place, but the game design clearly discouraged that in favor of driving. Also, the handling of the car is rough at best. You’re never penalized for poor driving, but there are missions where poor handling can screw you up (I’m looking at you Firefly). However, the biggest sin with the Batmobile are the Riddler tracks. These are challenges by the Riddler, in which you must complete three laps around a rigged course with a multitude of traps and pits, many of which are insta-kills. These are, at best, mind-numbing, and I only beat them to advance the Riddler’s story. I just don’t understand why these were added, or why they were ever considered a good idea. They’re the driving equivalents of escort missions. Apparently just there to see how much crap we’ll put up with to complete an otherwise good game.

Arkham Knight Batmobile
Outside of the horrible Riddler tracks, the Batmobile isn’t all that bad.

Speaking of the Riddler, his trophies and challenges are back. The challenges, outside of those involving the Batmobile, are pretty fun. Tracking trophies down is, essentially, identical to Asylum and City. Trying to solve his clues however, can be a bit of a pain due to the simple size of the city. Trying to find a specific poster, mildly alluded to in a clue, in a game five times the size of Arkham City can be…challenging. And tiring.

I think that sometimes I’m just too critical. Or maybe I have far too many expectations of a game. Ultimately, Arkham Knight just didn’t seem as fun as the first two games. Don’t misunderstand me. It’s a very fun, but I did feel that it fell just a bit short of what came before it. Maybe, though, that was always going to be unavoidable. Had this game been the first of the series, I’ve no doubt that I would have thought it was nearly perfect, but it wasn’t the first, and you can only add so much to a sequel. Far too often, parts of this game just didn’t feel as fresh as I had expected. But, again, there was hardly a chance that it could have. It isn’t fresh anymore. Also, when I say I’m disappointed, I mean in a Temple of Doom versus Last Crusade way. At the end of the day, Indiana Jones movies are still better than most any other movie out there, and like those, Arkham Knight is still heads and shoulders above many, many other games.

Let me say this. If you enjoyed the first two games, you will love this game. For all of the criticisms I’ve pointed out above, I played the game nearly non-stop until I had finished it. You don’t do that with a game that’s not great. A game that’s actually stellar. I’m harder on it because it’s already established itself as a franchise that I’m a huge fan of. I’m going to pick it apart far more than if it were another mundane Sonic game (side note: don’t ever play Sonic Lost World…holy cow). The Arkham series deserves a ton of praise, and this game is a part of that. For all the issues I’ve raised above, they are but small issues in an otherwise wonderful gaming experience.

Arkham Knight Joker

Post Game Wrap-up: Super Metroid

Super Metroid - Title

Best. Game. Ever.

The Set-up:

“The last Metroid is in captivity. The galaxy is at peace.”

You are Samus Aran, and so begins the most amazing game to grace the Super NES. Samus Aran has faced down the Metroids on Zebes, and completely eradicated them on their home planet of SR388, with the exception of a Metroid larva which attaches to her as if she were its mother. Unable or unwilling to destroy it, Samus delivers the infant to Ceres Space Station so that it may be tested and researched. Assuming all is well, Samus sets out for a new bounty to hunt (a woman has to eat) when she receives a message. Ceres Station is under attack.

The Story:
The game opens with your return to Ceres Station. As you work your way through this small facility, you’ll notice that the scientists have been slain and the infant Metroid is missing from its containment unit. In the next room, you’ll find the infant Metroid, but before you can get it, two red eyes appear, and the leader of the Space Pirate army, Ridley, snatches the infant, fights you briefly, then bails the scene. This is one of those impossible to win or lose battles. Upon hitting a health level of about 32, Ridley will zoom towards the screen, the space station will begin a self-destruct sequence, and you, as Samus, will need to exit stage left while Ridley flees towards, where else, planet Zebes.

The greatness of this game begins with an almost immediate visit to the site of the first game. After landing on the planet, you proceed through the only accessible area to an elevator and a familiar shaft which leads to a destroyed Mother Brain tube. The entire area is deserted and reeks of age. This portion of the game is identical, and brings back fond memories for those of us that played through the original Metroid. This was an amazing design idea that lets you know, without explicitly stating it, that much time has passed since your last battle here. After collecting some missiles, however, things come to life and the space pirates show up.

Super Metroid - Old Tourian

The most impressive aspect of the story is that it tells you so much without actually having to give you dialogue or text. The opening monologue by Samus Aran recaps the history of the Metroids and her encounters with them. The opening space station level sets up the conflict of the game, the taking of the infant Metroid. The initial exploration on Planet Zebes gives you familiar ground to explore, while also letting you know that there is much more that is new here than is old. Without speaking of the ending of the game (superb), Nintendo manages to get across more plot and story using level design and a short monologue than some games do with 30 minutes of narrative. This is no easy feat, and never fails to impress me when I replay Super Metroid.

The Gameplay:
Starting with the very first game, Metroid has been about exploration, discovering new areas, and using new items to access other new items and areas you could sometimes see, but not yet get to. Super Metroid not only keeps this aspect of the franchise, but perfects it. Initially, you only have access to missiles and morph ball bombs, but you can see doors of differing colors, ledges that are just out of reach, and other various impediments which block your exploration. Your first time through the game, you won’t know how to access these until you find the needed item. This is old hat now, having been utilized by the Castlevania franchise and, more recently, Batman: Arkham Asylum. At the time, however, there were exceedingly few games that worked this way, and of those that did, none did it better than Super Metroid.

Super Metroid - Energy
So close, yet so far

In addition to new areas of Zebes to explore, Super Metroid also introduced new upgrades for Samus Aran to use. In addition to the traditional missiles, you gain access to Super Missiles and Power Bombs. You obtain the Grapple Beam which makes use of specific blocks located throughout the game. Also included is the X-Ray Scope, allowing you to scan areas for breakable blocks or false walls and is helpful, if not necessary, along with the Varia and Gravity Suit upgrades, and the speed boots (personal favorite). Super Metroid also fixes a flaw from the original Metroid in regards to beams. In the original title, one beam would replace the other (an aspect that bit me once when I took on Tourian with the Wave Beam and couldn’t defeat the Metroids as a result). Super Metroid makes beams stackable, meaning that your beam gains an effect with each new pick-up. This is a small, but extremely helpful improvement.

Super Metroid also includes abilities that are not mentioned in the instruction booklet, and have to be discovered on your own in game. For example, there is the wall jump, the shinespark, and the morph ball bomb jump (there are others, just not mentioned here). For the first two, if you explore fully, you will find alien lifeforms that demonstrate how these work. Much like the story of the game, there is no dialogue included, you simply watch the critters, then mimic them. This is a very subtle, but highly effective way of teaching you something in the game without holding your hand or giving you a tutorial.

Super Metroid - Wall Jump

Now, while these “secret” abilities are not necessary to complete the game, or even collect everything, they are essential if your goal is to complete the game as quickly as possible and sequence break. This is part of the brilliance of the game design. Super Metroid is set up in such a way that sequence breaking is expected, and seemingly encouraged. The game is open world, with controls in place to guide you, but you can still attack it in differing ways. You can simply go through the game, revisiting areas when you have the proper items, or you can work around some such controls, accessing areas earlier or via a different path. To this day, I still get to Crocomire, the mini-boss in Norfair, via the exact opposite path that you are meant to take. But that is part of the joy of this game. There are multiple ways to attack it, and each playthrough can be different than the previous one.

Again, this design is simply brilliant. It’s as if the developers set the game up to be completed a specific way, but then added in difficult, but obtainable, shortcuts so spice things up. In the time period of the Super NES, the internet was not a “thing.” Therefore, we had to depend on gaming magazines and guides, or, in my case, simple perseverance to find all of these exploitable shortcuts. In doing so, the game became a true adventure, and you felt that you were truly in control of the situation. Not because you were breaking the game, but because the game was designed to let you explore instead of locking you into one path of exploration. The original Metroid and its sequel did the same, but they only accomplished a fraction of what Super Metroid presented.

What else can I say about Super Metroid? It’s my favorite video game. Period. It’s expertly crafted. Wonderfully paced. Superbly designed. It perfectly captures the feel of being alone in a foreign land, facing, essentially, an army of enemies that want you dead, and in many cases, tower over you. Metroid has never seemed to have the level of fandom of Mario or Zelda, but I will always take the Metroid franchise over those. Mario, Zelda, Starfox, etc… all are great franchises, and I love them, but there is a magic to Metroid that those do not possess. I can’t put that into words, and maybe it’s something specific to me. I don’t believe that it’s nostalgia though. I can recall renting Super Metroid shortly after it came out. I was immediately in love with the game, and rented it multiple times. It would be a while before I owned my own copy, but once I did, I played and replayed it. That feeling I had then has not gone, and I simply can’t imagine another game ever toppling that.

Super Metroid - Ending
Still a better love story than Twilight

Post Game Wrap-up: Hyrule Warriors

Hyrule Warriors - Title

First off, I have never played a Dynasty Warriors title, so when Hyrule Warriors was announced as a sort of hybrid of the two franchises, I literally had no clue what to expect. As more trailers and gameplay segments were released though, it continued to pique my interest, and I ultimately ended up owning it (Thanks, Christmas!). The question is, does it hold up well in the Zelda franchise?

The Set-up:
You are Link…well, initially you are Link. You will eventually be Impa, Zelda, Midna, Ruto, and a whole other cast of characters from all walks of the Legend of Zelda games. An evil force has invaded Hyrule, and you, along with the other good guys, begin a journey to stop it in its tracks. Along with the numerous familiar heroes you’ll control, there are also an equal number of villains that make an appearance, ranging from the “big guys” such as Ghirahim, to more minor foes such as Dodongo and Lizalfos. Each character has a different weapon to use (along with upgrades and weapon augments), and attacks vary, meaning that there is some variety in the combat, which is crucial since this game is VERY combat-centric.

Hyrule Warriors - Enemies
Maybe they just want to talk.

The Story:
The game begins with a large army invading Hyrule in an effort to take Hyrule Castle. The army is led by Cia, a new character, and her generals Volga, a flame-breathing dragon warrior, and Wizzro, an annoying as hell purple clad wizard, reminiscent of the Wizzrobes from the original Legend of Zelda (who were probably his inspiration). Cia is a sorceress, and guardian of the Triforce, maintaining balance. For reasons that aren’t initially clear, she has abandoned her post and is seeking to overtake Hyrule. Link, a trainee in the Hyrulean army, joins the battle, only to discover he possesses the Triforce of Courage.

In spite of a valiant effort, and a victorious battle with the giant Dodongo, Zelda is found to be missing at the conclusion of the battle. Impa asks for Link’s assistance in finding her, and they then journey throughout Hyrule, meeting up with the mysterious Sheik (we all know Sheik is Zelda by now, so don’t pretend that’s a surprise) and Lana, another sorceress from the same clan as Cia, only serving the side of good, assisting Link and Impa in their battles.

The story deepens when Cia opens a Time Portal to different eras of Hyrule, bringing the villains of those eras to her side. However, when these are opened, heroes from those eras arrive as well, assisting Link, Impa, Sheik, and Lana. Deepening this game’s ties to the Zelda franchise, each character is encountered in their specific era. For example, both Midna and Zant are encountered during a battle on the Twilight Field and Palace of Twilight maps. It’s obvious that great care was taken when designing the story to treat these characters with respect, and remain true to each of their origins.

Hyrule Warriors - Imprisoned
True to his original appearance, the Imprisoned is just as aggravating here as in Skyward Sword.

Much to my surprise, I felt that the story of Hyrule Warriors was quite strong, more in depth than many of the main entries’ stories, frankly. It wasn’t one dimensional, or straight-forward, but revealed a bit more with each battle you complete. This doesn’t mean that it stands up beside narrative powerhouses such as NIER or a Final Fantasy entry, but for a game that is, at its heart, a hack-n-slash, it was impressive that a cohesive story exists at all.

The Gameplay:
This game is most definitely a hack-n-slash title. You take control of a character, attack hordes of enemies with your weapon, rinse and repeat. This sounds boring and redundant, but it is spiced up with the inclusion of secondary weapons such as the boomerang, bombs, and bow & arrow. Fortunately, most enemies are taken down in one or two attacks, so you never feel overwhelmed, despite being attacked by hundreds of enemies. Harder enemies will require some strategy to take down, mainly consisting of dodging attacks, and waiting for a weak point gauge to be revealed. Reduce this to trigger a stronger attack with your character. Most bosses can only be harmed via this method. It must be noted that some characters have multiple weapons to choose from for each stage, and stronger versions of those weapons can be collected by defeating enemies.

One last element added to spice up the gameplay is the collection of items, much like the collection process in Skyward Sword. Collect a certain number of particular items, and you can unlock, or buy, various upgrades that increase attack power, add the ability to use health potions, strengthen secondary weapon attacks, etc… This is both fun to use and tedious at the same time. Some needed items are only dropped by bosses, and completing a level just to not receive the item you were after can be aggravating.

Hyrule Warriors - Strategy
Pictured: Strategy

Now, so far I’ve only spoken of the story mode (which includes free-play of levels once they are completed, with other characters). Also included are challenge maps (some are DLC only) that appear as overworld maps in the style of the NES Legend of Zelda. Each square has certain rules or requirements that make each battle unique. These can be very short, or as long as a story level. To unlock adjacent level blocks, you must achieve a certain ranking (bronze/silver/gold) in the current level. Again, the ranking is based on differing factors (enemies killed and time in story mode, any number of factors on the challenge maps). These maps unlock stronger weapons, different outfits, and even some new characters you may play as, so I never considered them optional in the slightest, though I imagine some people will.

Hyrule Warriors is most definitely not for everyone. I can deal with redundant combat and levels, so I quite enjoyed the game, but if you prefer variety, such as you would find in the Arkham games, this is not the game for you. But then, this game doesn’t ever apologize for what it is. It is very much what you see is what you get. You’re never fooled into thinking that you’re getting a full-fledged Zelda adventure. This is a Dynasty Warriors game with a Zelda skin. At the end of the day, it appealed to my love of the hack-n-slash genre and my need to collect as much as possible in a game. There is also an odd benefit to a game such as this. It’s the type of game you can take a break from for weeks, then fall right back into. There are no complex button sequences to memorize, or the risk of forgetting where you are in the story and where you should go next. Again, this will be frowned upon by some, but I rather liked that aspect. Is this a great Legend of Zelda game? No, but it never really tries to be like other Zelda games. When judged by its own standards and not against the Legend of Zelda franchise, I think it stands up as a very good game.

Hyrule Warriors - Chickens
The game clearly takes itself very seriously.

Post Game Wrap-up: Mega Man X4 / X5 / X6

Mega Man X4 - X6

Continuing from my last Post Game Wrap-up, today I’m taking on the second half of the Mega Man X Collection. These titles all originally graced the Sony PlayStation, and while the power of the console was changed, what wasn’t changed was the design of the games…for the most part. Read on to see how the second trio of games compares with the Super NES classics.

The Set-up:
You are Mega Man X…and, for the first time as a regular, Zero. If you’ve played any of the previous titles, then you know how this works. You complete an intro level, get some story tidbits, then pick one of eight bosses to take on. Get their weapon, rinse and repeat. This isn’t a complicated formula, but simplicity doesn’t mean bad either. Besides, if it isn’t broke, don’t fix it.

The Story:
There aren’t many links between these games and the first three games aside from a few familiar characters. Dr. Cain is never mentioned, and instead, you find X and Zero working with a group of other Maverick Hunters. These characters actually have names and fairly large roles in the story of these three games.

While Mavericks still play a role in the plot, you’ll also find yourself battling against reploids that are, in terms of ideals, on your side in attempting to hunt down dangerous mavericks, but in this situation, neither side trusts the other, which, of course, leads to battles. Another development in these three games is that Sigma transforms from just a Maverick into a virus, meaning that he no longer consists of just a physical body, but incorporates himself into new forms (one seemingly built by none other than Dr. Wily, based on some mild clues given by Sigma). You’ll also deal with another “Zero may or may not be dead” crisis, much like in Mega Man X2. Given that Zero is a playable character in all three games, this really isn’t that big of a mystery.

The subtlety is well done here.
The subtlety is well done here.

One thing I picked up on was that, at the outset of X4, the story becomes very serious and very dark. In the first three games, you realize that there is damage and destruction, but it’s never on a grand scale, or addressed in a very serious manner. In X4 – X6, you go from millions of people and reploids killed in a Sky Lagoon crash (X4 intro stage) to the Earth being almost completely uninhabitable (beginning of X6). If you’re one to pay attention to game stories, this can really make the in-game story seem completely inconsequential by comparison. I am one of those people, so this escalation of story bugged me. It makes it feel like there is nothing to gain, story-wise, by completing the game. Yes, I realize that the story in a Mega Man X is very secondary to the gameplay, but game stories, no matter how minor or secondary, are something I take in, and it has to be mentioned here.

One interesting note, Mega Man X5 was intended to be the last of the X series. In it, Zero essentially sacrifices himself to save the planet from a cataclysmic event (a space colony is crashing) and is presumed dead. Inafune (Mega Man X head honcho) intended to continue the story in Mega Man Zero for the GameBoy Advance, but Capcom wanted another game. As a result, Zero is found and rejoins X in Mega Man X6. From what I’ve read, Inafune wasn’t very happy about this as it screwed up his plot for the Mega Man Zero series. It also shows in Mega Man X6 as certain elements change from the ending of X5 to the beginning of X6 to make the revival (reappearance?) of Zero make more sense. It’s also a bit weird in that X5 has multiple endings, so X6 assumes you received the ending that works in X5. Once again, stories in the X series are secondary at best, but if you, like me, follow them, it can’t help but be confusing.

At this point, if that doesn't kill him, nothing is going to.
At this point, if that doesn’t kill him, nothing is going to.

The Gameplay:
The biggest change present here is that Zero becomes a full-fledged playable character in all three entries, after being available a bit in X3. In X4, you can pick between Zero and X, then complete the game as that character. As a side note, instead of getting special weapons, Zero learns new saber techniques. The rock/paper/scissors effect for bosses is still in order. Anyways, in X5, you can select your character before entering each stage. Similarly, you can also pick which armor you want to use for X when entering a stage (again, starting with X5). Capcom also worked on their Samus Aran/Metroid issue in X5 by allowing you to use the armor from X4 right away (called Fourth Armor X), instead of stripping you down to basics as was the case in X-X4. In X6, you have to find Zero, but once you’ve done so, you can again select him (along with certain armors) when entering a stage. This was one of my favorite modifications made in these games. Since X5 and X6 added multiple armors, it allowed you to pick which one worked best and strategize when entering a level. For example, in X5, the Gaea Armor allows you to walk on spikes, but doesn’t allow you to dash or use special weapons. The trade-off is huge, but for a level that could be layered with spikes, it could be worth it.

The flying ability of the Falcon Armor is pretty amazing as well.
The flying ability of the Falcon Armor is pretty amazing as well.

To further elaborate on the gameplay in these titles, I have to actually separate them a bit. X4 plays very similarly to the first three games, with the exception of being able to play as Zero, as discussed above. Zero is much more of a melee fighter, and I’ll admit to only playing through the game as him once many years ago. I prefer to have some space between my character and the enemies. That said, if you like the melee fighting style, then Zero would be great for you. Capcom did a great job of balancing the game so that Zero would not be handicapped. My reluctance to use him is based solely on my preferred fighting style.

While X4 really does feel like an extension of X – X3, X5 and X6, do quite a bit to change things up, and they feel like two parts to the same game in many ways. Rescuable reploids are introduced in X5. They generally refill your health a bit and give you an extra life. They can’t be harmed by enemies on screen, and missing them doesn’t hurt you even slightly. In X6, however, a few of the reploids will give you equippable items (you can equip a certain number of items, up to 5, based on the armor chosen and nightmare souls collected). To up the importance of getting to these particular reploids, Capcom decided that it would be a great idea to place them in peril, and make it so that a “Nightmare,” an octopus looking creature (when killed, these critters leave behind blue orbs which give you the above referenced nightmare souls), could turn them maverick. If this happens, don’t think that you can just restart the stage and get them again. In Mega Man X6, once you’ve lost a Reploid, they’re gone forever, along with any item they may have held.

Now, if you remove the ability to choose your character for each stage and the rescuable reploids, then X5 is otherwise another traditional type entry into the series. The platforming is tough, but generally fair. Some of the bosses can be aggravating, but that’s true of many bosses in the Mega Man games. All in all, X5 is a strong entry, one I prefer to X4, frankly, even with the overly dramatic story. It helps that the bosses all have names based on Guns ‘n Roses members (no joke, just click that link). I think the inclusion of an armor from the onset, as well as having two other sets of armors to find and choose between, along with Zero, for each level, infuses the game with a level of variety never before seen in an X game. Overall it can’t quite match the first couple of entries, but that’s hardly a criticism. X6 though….wow…

Very recently I have praised X6 on Twitter. I had fond memories of it and defended it, as it garners quite a bit of criticism. After playing through it again though, I can honestly say I have no idea why I was remembering it so fondly. X6 is almost a completely broken game. I’ve already touched on the absurdity of permanently losing a rescuable reploid, but there’s more to be said on that front. Quite often, the reploids are placed in such a way that to save them before a Nightmare can get to them, you have to just touch them in route to killing yourself. One stage in particular sees you leaping from wire to wire (X or Zero will hang onto these automatically) over a bottomless pit. Some are horizontal wires, while some are vertical. The catch detection on the vertical wires is sketchy at best. Now, scattered through this section are Nightmares and reploids. Quite a few reploids. I’m not exaggerating when I say that I purposely killed myself five times rescuing reploids. Each gives you an extra life, so there was no danger there, but what game forces you to die in order to essentially collect an item(s)? Imagine a Metroid game where a Missile Tank was suspended over an instant-kill contraption, and to get it, you had to just leap into it and die. That’s almost exactly what’s happening here.

This, but with lots of nightmares and lots of reploids.
This, but with lots of nightmares and lots of reploids.

Now, some people will point out that with the correct armor equipped, it is possible to get these reploids without dying, and they would be correct. Here’s my counter to that though. When you enter a stage, you have no idea what the layout will be like. You also won’t necessarily have access to the armors needed to achieve this. Now, this wouldn’t be that big of an issue itself if not for the fact that near these reploids are Nightmares, and again, once you lose a reploid, it is gone forever. I’m fine with a game teasing me with an item I can’t yet acquire, but can return for later. That’s not the case here. In my Metroid example above, picture the same scenario, only this time there’s a Missile Tank eater nearby that will take your missiles forever if you don’t grab them immediately. That’s how X6 works.

Aside from the frustrations with the reploids and nightmares, level design in X6 is amazingly sloppy. Just to throw out once such example, there’s a level that has you moving below a trash compactor. You will need to seek shelter from time to time. This is annoying, but not broken. The frustrating part arises when you fail to hold down when you’re supposed to be crouching. You will die if you don’t crouch. No spikes or anything, just a flat surface. It makes no sense whatsoever, and it doesn’t help that crouching has never been a major part of X’s move set. I foolishly crouched, then let go of the button once the ceiling was at it’s lowest. I died. I was also flabbergasted. Another level sees you having to dash through spike lined passages. Spikes are never your friend, and if you are off just a bit, you die. This was not fun, this was torture. Another, even more appalling experience I had was in a stage that placed you in a pit, then had ice blocks methodically come down on you. The goal was to dodge these, then jump on them and work your way to the top, except the game put me between two columns of blocks (you can’t wall jump on them, of course), then crushed me. I literally had no where to go, and becoming trapped wasn’t just a mistake on my part, it was impossible to avoid based on how the blocks fell. This should never, ever happen in a game. I was doomed through no fault of my own.

It did not go this well for me.
It did not go this well for me.

Still, the greatest crime of X6 is something that is unforgivable. There are actually portions of the game that you simply can’t pass if you’ve chosen the wrong armor. You have no way of knowing this beforehand and, if you haven’t previously completed the level, no way of exiting the stage. This is simply stunning. How does a game even get released with such an oversight? It feels like this game was never even tested. Also, one such spot is in the second to last level of the game. My preferred armor is the Shadow Armor as it comes with a shuriken shot, a saber, and makes you invulnerable to spikes (plus, you just look damn cool). Enter a section that you need an air-dash to get across. The Shadow Armor isn’t equipped with an air-dash. I had forgotten about this, and actually just cut the game off when playing it at this point. Stubborn as I am, when I played it again, I again used the Shadow Armor, and researched this section. To get past this, you must equip a certain part first. In the level, you have to leap, then unleash a saber swing at just the right time, then use the Giga Crush attack. If executed perfectly, it will add the distance needed to your leap and you can proceed, but you almost have to glitch the game to make this work. I could forgive this if there were some method of switching armors while in a level, but that’s not the case. Also, being a final level, there is no exiting. If you can’t pull off the moves needed to make the jump, you have to kill yourself and continue. This is absurd, but seems almost par for the course for the disaster that is X6.

Few series can hold their quality as sequels continue to pile up. While I think the original Mega Man series stayed strong through Mega Man 6, Mega Man X cannot make that claim. Mega Man X4 and X5 aren’t necessarily bad games, but both did feel like some of the magic from the first couple of entries was missing, and it goes beyond something like fatigue with the series. They just don’t feel as crisp and precise as X or X2. Again, that doesn’t mean they’re unplayable, just that they fall off a bit when being compared to their earlier namesakes. I’m sure that it’s no easy task to live up to titles such as X and X2, and it shows here. I refuse to make such excuses for X6 however. That title is most definitely a black eye on the X series, and the fact that it was allowed to ship at all with the problems it has is amazing. I would love to overlook these, but they are so blatant that I consider it a failure on Capcom’s part. Bottom line here, X4 and X5 are quite a bit of fun, and I recommend them for any fan of the X series. X6 however, should be reserved for completionists or masochists. It’s truly that bad and lowered the bar for Mega Man X…though, as you’ll see soon enough here, X7 managed to lower it even further.

Post Game Wrap-up: Mega Man X / X2 / X3

Mega Man X

As much as I love writing these Post Game Wrap-ups, when I started playing the Mega Man X Collection on the Gamecube, I just couldn’t justify doing three different posts for the first three games, even though it would have given me a week or two worth of fodder. I’ve decided to, instead, break down the X series into the Super NES era, the PlayStation Era, and then do the two PS2 games separately as they’re designs are so different from one another (this is assuming I actually do play through the whole series again). There will be spoilers here, but then the Mega Man X series has never been known for it’s groundbreaking story-telling.

The Set-up:
You are Mega Man X. Approximately 100 years after the era of the original Mega Man, a capsule is discovered containing an extremely advanced fighting robot, Mega Man X. Mega Man X bears many similarities to its namesake, while at the same time distinguishing itself enough from that series so that it never feels at all like a rehash, but like a familiar, yet different game. Whereas Mega Man generally focused on precise timing and meticulous platforming, Mega Man X focuses on fast paced battles with more open platforming levels, due in large part to the simple yet brilliant addition of the wall-jump and the dash.

So simple, yet so game-changing.
So simple, yet so game-changing.

The Story:
Capcom seems to live and die by the “If it’s not broke, don’t fix it” creed, because the general story of the first three Mega Man X games are right in line with the original series. Robot fights other robots, robot fights evil creator/leader, creator/leader seems to be taken care of, rinse and repeat. Yes, the story is rather predictable, but as I said in the opening, these games were never about the narrative. Besides, Capcom really stopped even trying to hide it, showing an outline of Sigma and referring to him as [Sinister Voice] in the opening scenes.

Now, as for the actual story of the first three games, after Mega Man X is discovered and activated, his discoverer, Dr. Cain, is so inspired by X’s advanced design that he creates Reploids, modeled after X. Predictably, this goes very wrong as many of the Reploids go “Maverick,” meaning they become violent and endanger humans. The Maverick Hunters, a group which X joins, work to capture/destroy these Mavericks, including their leader, Sigma. Sigma is the Dr. Wily of this series, being defeated only to return as the “surprise” manipulator behind events in future games.

Dr. Cain serves as the Dr. Light of the series (well, except for the dooming humanity with Reploids stuff), giving X advice and directing he and Zero throughout the first three games. His role was very minimilized in X3, however, and was also his last appearance in the series. There was never an explanation for his whereabouts (though the PSP Mega Man X remake has a scene suggesting he was killed in the Reploid attacks).

Whereas Mega Man had Proto Man as a sometimes ally, X has Zero, who is clearly designed with Proto Man in mind. Zero plays a supporting role throughout X, drops in for a few moments in X2 for plot purposes (although some of your time is spent hunting his parts so Dr. Cain can rebuild him), then becomes a sometimes playable character in X3. I say sometimes because you can switch to Zero once per level, but he is unable to fight any bosses or mini-bosses. Throughout the first three games, there are hints that Zero has more of a backstory than we, the players, know. While this is never fully explained by the end of X3, the next three games shed quite a bit of light on his history and creation, and create yet another link between the X series and the original Mega Man series.

Like, perhaps he was created by some rival of Dr. Light's...
Like, perhaps he was created by some rival of Dr. Light’s…

The Gameplay:
Really, for Mega Man X, there were only a few minor tweaks to the Mega Man formula, but those tweaks are what makes X-X3 so much fun to play and escalates them to the elite status they enjoy in the gaming world. While the usual moves return (including the Mega Buster, but sans the slide), Mega Man X’s moveset was modified to give X a wall jump, meaning that those days of plummeting down sadistically placed holes are gone.  While this could have sucked the difficulty from the game, the designers instead implemented the wall jump to make the platforming that much more interesting. In addition to this, you can also locate well hidden Dr. Light capsules in each game that grant X a new ability for his helmet, body, legs, and buster. Most notably among these is the dash move, which allows X to dash for a short distance, and allows him to leap further (when leaping from a dash, of course). This move is absolutely required to complete the game, which is most likely why it’s impossible to miss the capsule that gives you this move in the first game, and why X has it by default in the sequels.

As per the formula, there are eight bosses that you get to pick from and, upon defeating the boss, you will receive their weapon. Then, you try to pick the next boss based on which is vulnerable to that weapon. Rinse and repeat. There are no true positives or negatives to this system. It worked for six entries on the NES, and works perfectly for the Mega Man X series. One wrinkle to the formula is that the bosses are no longer “Men,” but are instead, usually named after animals (Spark Mandrill being one of the exceptions). Chill Penguin, Flame Stag, and Volt Catfish replace the likes of Ice Man, Heat Man, and Elec Man. This is a minor change, but does help to further distinguish the X series from the original Mega Man series.

You gotta love the flame antlers.
You gotta love the flame antlers.

One thing that is lost with the addition of special moves such as the dash is the brutal difficulty that Mega Man is known for, though this isn’t a negative. Mega Man X is still a challenging game, but it becomes challenging by forcing you to navigate tricky platforming sections using those new moves. There’s not much of the twitch/reaction platforming that the made the original games so difficult. And I’m not saying that the original games were unfair or bad games (they’re some of my favorite games on the NES), just that the expanded moves in X-X3 allows for more room for error by allowing you more ways to recover from something like a missed jump. Also, because you can carry four subtanks (energy tanks) and find a heart in each stage (which increases your life gauge a bit), the game is made easier via exploration. I truly can’t imagine beating this game with only one subtank and a couple of the heart upgrades. Yes, you can rush through this game, but in doing so, you’re increasing the difficulty on yourself. Therefore, you can actually manipulate the game to be as difficult as you wish for it to be.

Although some people are just masochists.

Mega Man X really just feels like a grown up Mega Man. Whereas Mega Man was always light-hearted and a bit cheesy, X feels much more serious. And, again, I’m not denigrating the original Mega Man series, but commenting on the plot narratives of the game. Dr. Wily never feels very sinister, but is more of a cartoon villain. Sigma actually does feel sinister, as do the other bosses. The story just feels much more serious, which I’m certain was a design choice, and a very good one as it allowed the X, X2, and X3 to set their own tone apart from the Mega Man series, which would see two more entries on the Super NES and PlayStation, respectively. The game also looks a bit darker, due in part, I imagine, to Capcom having more power to work with on the Super NES. The sprites are all very detailed, and the change in look when X gets upgrades from Dr. Light are a great touch.

Still, with any Mega Man game, the heart of the game is the platforming, and X never disappoints. As I pointed out above, the designers truly took X’s new moves and ran with them, creating some amazing and very memorable levels. Do the first three X games surpass the original series in quality? I’m not sure I’d say that exactly, but I will say that they do, at the very least, match those games. And saying that a game matches a Mega Man 2 or Mega Man 3 in quality and design is high praise indeed.

Mega Man X Boss

Post Game Wrap-up: Secret of Evermore

Secret of Evermore

Many moons ago, in the mid 1990’s, my brother and I were looking through the video games at Wal-Mart, as we always did when at Wal-Mart. In that day and age, they weren’t locked away behind glass cases, so we could pick up the cases and look them over. Between us, we had about $25 or so and noticed a game on sale for $19.99. After looking at the back, and talking it over, we decided that this was a game worth taking a chance on. The game in question was Secret of Evermore, and at the risk of ruining the ending of this wrap-up, it may have been the best impulse purchase I’ve ever made. Recently, I played through it again for the first time in quite a while, and can’t pass up the opportunity to proclaim its greatness to anyone that may read this blog.

The Set-up:
You are a young boy from Podunk, USA. Along with your dog, you enjoy outlandish adventure movies and exploring areas you’d probably be better off not exploring. But, that would make for a boring video game, so you, along with your trusty canine pal enter a deserted mansion and stumble upon an odd looking machine. After accidentally activating it, the two of you are transported to a strange space station, and your adventure begins.

Secret of Evermore also has an interesting back story that has nothing to do with the in-game story. Developed by a US studio owned by Squaresoft, Secret of Evermore was delivered to the US just about a month after Japan received Seiken Densetsu 3, the sequel to Secret of Mana. Secret of Mana had/has a massive fan base, and had been very well received upon release. When it became known that the sequel would not be localized outside of Japan, it was mistakenly assumed by many that Secret of Evermore was the reason for this. That Evermore’s development had redirected resources from the possible localization. This rumor lead to Evermore getting a bit of an undeserved backlash. Because of that, Secret of Evermore had a stigma attached to it, and, despite being a very good game, never became that hit it probably deserved to be.

That's a bit harsh.
That’s a bit harsh.

The Story:
After arriving in the space station, you are almost immediately escorted to an escape pod by a someone that appears to be a butler, and jettisoned to the mainland of Evermore. After crash landing, you find that your dog has changed forms (a running theme from region to region), now appearing large and wolf-like, a form much more fitting for the jungle you have crashed in. He locates a bone for you, which becomes your first weapon. After a raptor encounter (which can be either won or lost, with both outcomes advancing the story in the same way), you arrive in a village and are introduced to their leader, a young girl they call Fire Eyes.

Evermore Fire Eyes

Now, many years before the story I laid out above, a cut scene informs you that four other people used the machine you eventually stumble upon. Fire Eyes happens to be one of those people, her real name being Elizabeth. You learn from her that she has been there many years, not aging, and that the land she resides in reflects her personal interests in dinosaurs and such (another running theme). In an effort to get back home, she sends you to recover an alchemist (more on alchemy later) that may be of some help.

This is the general set-up for the entire story in Secret of Evermore. You’ll advance through what is known as Prehistoria, before finding yourself in another land, so on and so forth. Each of the regions has its own theme, giving you some variety as your progress through the story. Even with regions, you may encounter differing styles that further differentiate one area from another. For example, in the second region you visit, you will ultimately explore a desert, a Roman-esque city, an abandoned Greek style hall/temple, a pirate area, and a pyramid. It is important to understand that though there are only four regions, each region is quite large and will take some time to fully explore and complete. Likewise, the enemies you encounter will fit with the regions. No palette swapping here. With each new area you visit, you will encounter another of the residents of Podunk, and learn more of the experiment that sent them to Evermore, while also seeing cut scenes that hint that someone is working against you from behind a curtain. The story isn’t the deepest story in a video game, but it does flow well and gives you a reason to keep progressing through the game. The actual villain of the game is a bit of a surprise, but not exactly groundbreaking. I don’t mean to diminish the story at all, it is a good story, and is boosted quite a bit by some excellently written dialogue. The writing in Secret of Evermore is top notch, and filled with humor. You will not want to skip through the text in this game, because every conversation is filled with wit. The story is good, but the dialogue is excellent.

Dialogue Evermore

The Gameplay:
First of all, understand that you can switch between your main character and your dog at anytime. The dog has one attack (biting) which can be leveled up. Also, when not playing as your dog, you can have him search (via sniffing) by holding down the R shoulder button. He will often sniff out ingredients that can be used for alchemy (see below). This sounds very minor, but fully utilizing this one action can be extremely helpful in boosting your stock. It’s one of those small additions that actually adds quite a bit to the game’s charm and personality. There are a few sections that force you to play solo as the dog, but these only last a few minutes. Otherwise, I’d expect you to spend the majority of your time controlling the main character.

If you’ve played and are familiar with Secret of Mana, then you can skip the rest of this paragraph. Secret of Evermore was either built on the same engine as Mana, or on one that copied it. Like Mana, Evermore is an Action RPG, meaning that it contains traditional RPG elements such as magic and leveling, with battles occurring in real time, much like a Zelda title. Replacing the traditional RPG menu is a ring menu system. Essentially, a ring surrounds your character, and you navigate through options from weapons, magic, and equipment to a status screen and items. Along with leveling up your character (and your dog), weapons can be leveled up twice, allowing you to charge them up by holding the attack button, resulting in a stronger attack. Weapons come in three varieties: swords, axes, and spears (personal favorite), though bazookas do show up very late in the game. In each new region, you’ll receive a new variation of each of these. The same is true of equipment. You’ll be able to obtain armor for your body, arms, and head, along with a collar for your dog, with all being upgraded as you advance through the game.

The perspective of the game is the same as A Link to the Past or Final Fantasy VI. You’ll control your character using a top down view point. There truly is quite a bit of exploration to this game, even though the story itself is linear. You will be limited in where you can progress to (by way of blockages you don’t have the means to clear yet), but within those areas you’re confined to, there is still an openness and aspect of exploration. The areas are generally quite large, and beg to be fully examined. Just progressing from Point A to Point B will cause you to miss helpful items, armor, or spells. One early area, referred to as the Bugmuck, contains two spells and a charm (items that cause permanent status upgrades when obtained), all of which could be very easily missed if you refuse to stray from the beaten path. Virtually every area in the game functions in this same manner. Secret of Evermore may be linear, but in many ways, it’s only as linear as you choose to allow it to be.


Now, a word about one of my favorite aspects of the game, Alchemy. This is where Evermore drastically differentiates itself from Mana, and many other RPGs, for that matter. In Evermore, magic is referred to as Alchemy. You’ll be taught formulas by the various citizens of Evermore, but you’ll need ingredients to use them. Each formula (or spell) will require two different ingredients, in varying amounts, to use. For example, the Flash formula requires 1 Wax and 2 Oil. Acid Rain is 1 Ash and 3 Water. As I pointed out earlier, ingredients can be bought and found by your dog. It’s a very simple system, but is ingenious at the same time, providing a very unique spin on the more traditional MP magic system. You are allowed to equip a maximum of nine formulas, with plenty of opportunities to swap other spells in and out of that list. There are also some formulas that can be missed, meaning you will need to search to find them all, though any required formulas will always be right within your path. There is no harm in missing one of the non-essential formulas, but the OCD in me always forced me to hunt them all down. Alchemy attacks will level up as you continue to use them, becoming stronger over time. Each one also has a unique animation, and though this could be a trick of my mind, I would swear that as you level some of them up, the resulting attack will appear bigger. I’ve never been able to truly confirm this, but it seems to be the case. The only criticism I have in regards to alchemy is that there are so many formulas available throughout the game that you’ll constantly want to be switching in new ones, often resulting in very few of them being leveled up. This is a very minor complaint though, as the formulas you receive later in the game are naturally stronger anyway.


Supplementing your formulas are items referred to as Call Beads. When used, these allow you to summon one of the four other citizens of Podunk and use one of their alchemy attacks (after you meet them in game, of course). These are some extremely strong attacks, but Call Beads aren’t very readily available, forcing you to pick your moments.

One other very noteworthy element of Evermore is the music. Be it the ambient noises of the jungle in Prehistoria or the dark, classical music of the Hall of Collosia, each piece of music stands out. The highest compliment I can pay Evermore’s soundtrack is that it is one of the very few that I would happily purchase on CD and listen to independent of the game. It truly is that well written and orchestrated.

As I’ve stated, Secret of Evermore is extremely similar to Secret of Mana in many ways. As popular as Secret of Mana is though, I actually prefer Secret of Evermore. I feel like everything about Mana was sharpened for Evermore. The weapon system is more efficient in the leveling. The hit detection (a personal gripe I have with Mana) is much better in this game as chained hits from enemies are gone. Even the graphics appear sharper and more detailed.

But, this isn’t about Secret of Mana, this is about Secret of Evermore, and what I can say about Evermore is that it is an amazing game. It’s one of the very few games I can hold up as not having any discernible flaws, in my opinion of course. I hold this game in the same regard that I hold A Link to the Past, Super Metroid, and Final Fantasy VI, just concentrating on Super NES games. I don’t believe that it’s an over exaggeration to place it alongside those games. It really is just that good of a game, and I hate that it was hampered by a falsehood regarding it’s development.

This game will always be linked to the Mana series of games, however, and not just because it shares a similar name with the first Super NES entry. They really are sibling games, similar in so many ways. The majority of game players will hold up Secret of Mana as the superior game, and it will always have that legacy, but in my personal opinion, as good of a game as Secret of Mana is, it just seems to me that Mana was used as a template, but all the screws were tightened up, giving us an almost perfect game in Secret of Evermore.

And speaking of Final Fantasy games...
And speaking of Final Fantasy games…

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