Wednesday, April 26, 2017

Wonder Boy in Monster World Review

Wonder Boy in Monster World (AKA Wonder Boy V: Monster World III) was originally developed by Westone and published by Sega on the Sega Genesis in 1991. For this review, I played the PS3 version, which is part of Sega Vintage Collection: Monster World, developed by M2. It is also available on the Wii Virtual Console, Xbox 360, on Steam for PC, and there is even a Sega Master System version.

Wonder Boy in Monster World is the third game in the Wonder Boy subseries, Monster World. While it is the followup to Wonder Boy III: Dragon’s Trap, it was released after the run and gun/shoot ‘em up, Wonder Boy III: Monster Lair, which is not part of the Monster World subseries. It doesn’t really have much to do with the story of Dragon’s Trap, but it does play a lot like it.

The story follows a young man named Shion as he sets off on a quest to rid Monster World of monsters. It turns out that Monster World has been invaded by monsters, again. We don’t get any more backstory for Shion at all. He just wakes up one day and decides that he’s had it with all these monsters in Monster World, I guess.

The game’s structure is very similar to Dragon’s Trap’s, but much bigger in scope. The game takes place in a free-roaming world full of towns, dungeons, and enemy filled areas tying them together. While Dragon’s Trap only had one small village tying major areas together, this game has one big city tying major areas together and smaller villages closer to some of the dungeons. The dungeons in this game are a huge improvement over the ones in Dragon’s Trap. They’re no longer simple corridors full of enemies. The dungeons in this game are bigger, less linear, have more puzzles, switches, and platforming. The bosses are also much improved. Their forms are more varied and creative, they have more attacks, and their patterns are more complex.

Similarly to Dragon Quest, each town or village has its own little scenario that ties into the overarching story. After you reach a new village and talk to the people in it, you’ll be given a reason to go to the nearby dungeon and kill the monsters in it. You’ll also get a small NPC who will follow you around through the dungeon. This feature seems to have been inspired by WBIII: Monster Lair. These NPCs are more like keys than combat helpers, though. They don’t do much fighting, they just allow you to progress through specific parts of the dungeon. For example, one of these characters is a little fairy who helps you find the ocarina in the first dungeon. Sounds familiar. Since this game doesn’t have a lot of special items or abilities to help you get to new areas, this is how it handles some situations which require you to do something you normally can’t.

When you start the game, you move very slowly and have a tiny sword with horrible range. I imagine this makes a lot people turn the game off right there. You have to get really close to enemies to hit them and you have to get right up to the edge of a platform to make a jump. Thankfully, you can get your boots upgraded at the first store you come across and you can buy a new weapon once you get to the first town. I guess this is the game’s way of teaching you that it’s important to upgrade your gear. By annoying you!

The game has 2 kinds of weapons, swords and spears. Swords have arching attacks and can be used in combination with shields. You start off with a small one, but can get longer ones as your progress through the game. Spears have longer range than swords, but have a thrust attack that only hits directly in front of you and can’t be used in combination with shields. In addition to shields, you can also buy armor, which increases your defense, and boots, which increase your movement speed. There are also a couple of pieces that give you special abilities.

The combat in the game consists of a lot auto shield blocking, learning enemy patterns, and attacking at the right time. You can also use a variety of magic spells. These spells take the place of Dragon Trap’s special items, but aren’t your usual Castlevania-like things. The spells in this game feel more like they’re inspired by Dragon Quest spells. You have fire, thunder, and quake spells, along with one that increases attack power, a shield spell, and a spell to return to the last Inn you slept at.

The game’s graphics are pretty nice for a Genesis game. The sprites are detailed yet clean and they work well with the anime art style. I think they’re a good representation of the art used in the manual and background wallpapers. The animations really give everything some personality. Every enemy has a little cartoony animation they go into when you hit them and when they die. Even though the game does have some areas that look like areas from Dragon’s Trap, the overall style of the game’s graphics more closely resembles the style used in WBII: Monster Land and WBIII: Monster Lair. You start off in an area that looks like it’s straight out of Monster Land, Purapril City is a lot like towns in those games, and a few enemies from those games, which were not in Dragon’s Trap, appear in this game.

I played Wonder Boy in Monster World and Monster World IV before I played the recent Dragon’s Trap remake and I really wanted to go back and see if Wonder Boy in Monster World held up. It definitely does. The Dragon’s Trap remake might look amazing, but the level design and size of the world can’t match Wonder Boy in Monster World’s. This game remains my favorite in the series. If Wonder Boy: The Dragon’s Trap was your first game in the series and you enjoyed it, you owe it to yourself to play Wonder Boy in Monster World.

Friday, April 21, 2017

Wonder Boy: The Dragon's Trap Review

Wonder Boy: The Dragon’s Trap is a remake of the 1989 Sega Master System game, Wonder Boy III: The Dragon’s Trap, also known as Monster World II. I don’t know why they dropped the III. Maybe because Monster Lair is also Wonder Boy III and Wonder Boy in Monster World is Monster World III. Confused? Good! Just trying to keep Wonder Boy tradition alive. The game was made by a small developer named Lizardcube and it’s available on Switch, PS4, and XBO for $19.99, and it’s also coming to PC.

I never owned a Master System and I never played Dragon’s Trap until recently, but I have played every other game in the series and I’m a big fan of Wonder Boy in Monster World and Monster World IV, which are the sequels to Dragon’s Trap and the games Dragon’s Trap is the most similar to in the series. If you’re not familiar with the series, these games are similar to games like Zelda II and the original Shantae trilogy. They are 2D action platforming games with some RPG elements and dungeons in a free-roaming world.

Dragon’s Trap starts off on the last stage of Wonder Boy II, Wonder Boy in Monster Land, AKA Monster World I. You are at “The Last Dungeon”, Meka Dragon’s castle, and you’re there to kill him. After raiding the monster’s lair and defeating Meka Dragon, he puts a curse on you and turns you into Lizard-Man. You then escape the crumbling castle and set forth on a quest to remove the curse. Nobody specifically tells you to do this, but the fortune telling pig in town strongly hints that you should.

This game is old-school. It’s from 1989, after all. It sets you loose in this world and there isn’t much in the way of direction or hints. The fortune telling pig does give you some hints, but they are few and somewhat vague. There is no map, radar, or blinking arrows telling you where to go. You’re left to figure things out on your own. Gamers used to today’s handholding games might have issues with this, but I’m fine with it. Exploring the world on my first playthrough was a lot of fun.

As you progress through the game, you’ll get different animal-man forms to play as, which give you different abilities. These abilities allow you to reach new areas and discover secrets around the world. You start off as Hu-Man or Hu-Girl (AKA Wonder Boy and Wonder Girl), who can crouch and use a sword and shield. Lizard-Man can crouch and breathe fire, which can cancel out enemy fire balls. Mouse-Man is half the size of everyone else, so he can get through small spaces and he can cling to checkered blocks around the world to walk up walls and upside down on the ceiling. Piranha-Man can swim. Lion-Man has an arching sword attack that can break blocks above and below him, which most other characters can’t hit. And finally, Hawk-Man can fly, but takes damage if he goes into water.

The combat and controls are reminiscent of Zelda II. The combat consists of a lot of shield blocking, jumping over enemy attacks, learning enemy patterns, and attacking at the right time. It’s simple, yet challenging at times. Your character’s movement has a lot of inertia to it. It’s not quite like a game with icy floors, but your character doesn’t stop on a dime. It’s a bit like the original Wonder Boy or Mario in Super Mario Bros. This takes a little bit of getting used to, but I was already familiar with other Wonder Boy games, which play similarly. I think the new graphics really help the character movements make sense. The remake has more frames of animation than the original and they let you know what your character is doing in a much better way.

A few changes have been made to make this remake a bit more playable and modern. The biggest change from the Master System version is the way that gear becomes available at shops around the world. In the original, you were blocked off from buying certain pieces of gear by the charm stone system. The charm stones were stones you found around the world inside chests and from random enemy drops. The amount you had collected determined what gear you could buy. That system is gone and now your only barrier to buying gear is the amount of money you have. The gear in the game has stats, so this does make the game a little bit easier by increasing your attack power and defense and also cuts down on grinding.

The gear in the game is actually very important, but the game never tells you just how important and leaves you to find out on your own. Each piece of gear gives different stat boosts to each form, so gear that got you through a dungeon as Lizard-Man, might not be the best gear to play in as Mouse-Man. On my second playthrough, I tried fighting one of the bosses without buying a specific sword and was having to hit him twice to take away 1 HP. I ended up resetting the game to go back and get the sword.

Another big change is the addition of autosaves. The only way to save your game in the SMS version was through 14 character passwords, which you could only get from the fortunetelling pig in the village. The game now autosaves whenever you do anything, even something as small as collecting a coin. The old password system is also still in the game. You can even use a password from the SMS game and continue your game in the remake or take a password from the remake and use it in the SMS game. I actually did this myself for my third run. I played about halfway through the SMS version and then used a password to continue my game in the remake. I even still got a chance to pick between Wonder Boy and Wonder Girl and choose the difficulty setting, even though the SMS version didn’t have Wonder Girl or difficulty settings.

The game has 3 difficulty settings. Easy makes enemies easier to kill and increases potion drop rates. Normal is basically the difficulty of the SMS game. Hard increases enemy HP and adds a time limit to the game. This mode is for the hardcore speedrunners.

There are also some smaller changes that help playability. Thanks to there being more buttons on your controller, you now have a separate button for special items. In the original, you had to press down and jump at the same time to use items. You can also scroll through your special items with the L and R buttons now. You had to switch your special items in the pause menu in the original. It also seems like potions drop more often in the remake. I played about halfway through the SMS version and never got a potion to drop from an enemy.

Of course, the most noticeable change is the new graphics. The whole game has been redrawn in a completely new style. This new style doesn’t really match the original's, but it looks great anyway. The new art style is more like a Disney comic book than the original game’s in-game graphics or Japanese artwork. The new style reminds me of Jeff Smith’s Bone comics. The game even looks like it’s drawn and hand painted on rough comic book paper and even uses traditional shading techniques, like cross hatching. I think it looks amazing. They really went the extra mile and made something awesome, even where they didn’t have much to work with.

The music has also been completely redone. The composition is still pretty much the same, but it has been re-recorded with acoustic instruments. It’s kind of like a band going on Unplugged and redoing all their hits in a new style. All the sound effects have also been completely redone and there are even new sound effects where there were none in the original.

As if it wasn’t enough to have completely redone graphics, music, and sound effects, all the original graphics and sounds are still in the game. You can press ZR at any time and seamlessly switch between the new and old graphics. There’s no loading or anything. There’s even options for scan lines and retro monitor effects. You can also press in on the right analog stick to switch between the new and old sound effects and music. There’s also an option to use the FM sound unit from the redesigned Japanese Sega Master System.

I think this is a great game. It’s not as big or as complex as Wonder Boy in Monster World or Monster World IV, but that’s understandable. This game plays like the game that came before those. I had a ton of fun playing it and have played through it 3 times already. I actually think speedrunning it is super fun and I’ve never really been into that kind of stuff. The game is just a joy to play, the graphics are amazing, and the music is beautiful. The developers obviously have a lot of love for the Wonder Boy series. I highly recommend it to anyone who is a fan of the Genesis Monster World games, the Shantae series, Zelda II, or Metroidvanias in general.

Sunday, April 16, 2017

Shovel Knight: Specter of Torment Review

Shovel Knight: Specter of Torment is the second expansion for the 2014 indie hit, Shovel Knight, now renamed to Shovel Knight: Shovel of Hope. It is a 2D sidescrolling action platformer which pays homage to old NES games, like Mega Man, Castlevania, and Ninja Gaiden with it’s gameplay, graphics, and music. You can get it as part of the Shovel Knight: Treasure Trove bundle for $25, which includes the original game and all past and future expansions, or as a standalone game for $10.

Specter of Torment is a prequel to the original Shovel Knight: Shovel of Hope. The story follows Specter Knight as he recruits Knights for the evil Enchantress, to form The Order of No Quarter, the villainous faction you fight in Shovel of Hope. The story sheds light on the origin of Specter Knight and other characters, fleshes out the Shovel Knight universe, and sets the stage for Shovel of Hope. I thought the story was pretty good and I enjoyed seeing how it tied into Shovel of Hope.

Specter Knight is a badass. He’s a Ninja/Grim Reaper/Knight and looks a little bit like Doctor Doom. That pretty much covers all aspects of badassery. I mean, maybe you could give him an electric guitar to make him more badass, but that wouldn’t fit the lore. Specter Knight is very mobile, easy to use, and by far the most stylish and combat focused of the playable characters in the series so far. While Shovel Knight’s moves were more influenced by games like Duck Tales, Mega Man, and Castlevania, Specter Knight’s arsenal is heavily influenced by Ninja Gaiden, which was a Castlevania clone to begin with, but I digress.

The new mechanic that really sets Specter Knight apart from the other playable characters and makes the gameplay feel unique is his homing scythe attack. It’s basically a diving swallow attack from the 3D Ninja Gaiden games. You can use this move to get across chasms, jump to higher platforms, and attack enemies. The way you use this move is by jumping in the air and getting close enough to an enemy or floating lantern, and then pressing the attack button. When you get close to your target, a flame slash will appear across that target, and then you’ll be able to use the homing attack on it. It takes a little bit of practice, but it is easy to learn. Specter Knight also has a regular standing scythe attack, which is straight out of Ninja Gaiden 3, he can run up walls for about a second, grind rails on his scythe as if it was a skateboard, and he can wall jump with the press of the jump button during a wall run.

Relics from Shovel of Hope are back in the form of Curios. These are special items you spend you magic or “darkness” to use, which you can buy in exchange for the special currency hidden around the levels.They are completely optional, but fun to use. A lot of these special items might remind of you of Mega Man powers and special items from Castlevania and Ninja Gaiden. There’s a shadow clone Curio, a time stopping Curio, a boomerang, a flame wheel shield, and even a summonable skeletal sniper. Sound familiar?

Armors are also back in the form of Cloaks. You can buy these in town for gems and they give you different buffs. For example, one of them lets you grind on spikes as if they were rails. Some of the color palettes of these cloaks look like they are references to characters such as Future Foundation Doctor Doom and the Green Goblin. The cloaks are also completely optional.

I think the level design in Specter of Torment gives Shovel of Hope’s levels a run for their money. The new levels flow very well and make great obstacle courses for Specter Knight. It feels like Yacht Club learned a few things from the previous games. Unlike Plague of Shadows, Specter of Torment features 9 new levels made specifically for Specter Knight. These levels use the same graphics and themes as the other 2 games, but the layouts are different. There are small parts of the levels which are reused or remixed parts from the levels in the first 2 games, but for the most part, they’re all new.

The game has chiptune music and 8-bit graphics that are made to remind you of old NES games, much like the gameplay does. The graphics have an 8-bit look to them, but they could never be done on a real NES. I did hear that the music was made within the limitations that the Famicom Disk version of Castlevania III allowed for, though. The soundtrack consists of a lot of Shovel Knight remixes. They’re really well done and a lot of them are so different, they might as well be new songs.

I love this series and I loved this expansion. I grew up with the NES, so I feel right at home playing this. If you liked Shovel of Hope or you just like 2D action platformers, you’ll probably like this. If you grew up playing NES, I highly recommend you give this game a try.

Thursday, April 13, 2017

The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild Review

When Nintendo first started talking about BotW, they called it an “open air” game. When I heard the term, I thought it was just Nintendo’s way of saying “open world”. I thought this would just be another Ocarina of Time or Twilight Princess with a little bit of what they did in A Link Between Worlds. I was wrong. This is the biggest change in the series since Zelda II. Most Zelda games do a few things that set them apart, but they still keep a lot things that are in every Zelda game. BotW is different. Nintendo said they set out to break Zelda conventions and they meant it. It truly feels like they questioned why they do certain things in every entry and what really makes a Zelda game a Zelda game.

The term “open air” might sound like the Nintendo way of saying “open world”, but it’s much more than that. This game is all about the great outdoors. Previous Zelda games had huge overworlds to explore with tons of secrets to find in them, but they were really there to connect all the dungeons together. The dungeons have always been the main attraction in Zelda games. BotW changes that. The overworld is the main attraction in BotW. This is where most of the game takes place. The overworld is filled with puzzles, secrets to uncover, villages, and even bosses. You might have heard the term PVE or player vs environment before, that term fits this game perfectly. This game doesn’t only challenge you with puzzles and enemies, figuring out how you’re going to glide and climb to where you want to go is a huge part of this game.

There’s still plenty of traditional puzzle solving to be had here. A lot of it is even underground. There are a handful of dungeons and 120 Sheikah Shrines. These shrines are where most of the traditional Zelda dungeon gameplay is found. The shrines are basically small dungeons with a few puzzles and enemies in them. Most take about 5 to 10 minutes to complete. Some shrines test your puzzle solving skills and some test your combat skills. Some shrines only have treasure in them and the puzzle is in discovering them. The Sheikah Shrines were my favorite part of the game, but I have to mention that some of these shrines contain one of the worst parts of the game. There are shrines with the “apparatus” name and these shrines are motion control puzzle shrines. There are only a handful of them in the game, but they can test your patience. I ran into some of these on my Wii U playthrough and I ended up having to switch controller and flip my Y axis aiming to get through them. The Wii U Pro Controller doesn’t have motion controls, so of course, I had to switch to the GamePad. Then I had to flip my Y axis aiming, because I play inverted and the game also inverts your motion control aiming if you do that.

The dungeons and the quests that lead up to them are where you’re going to get a lot of the story in the game. There are 4 main dungeons and each one is closely tied to each Hylian race and their city. Once you set foot near one of the main cities, cutscenes and quests given to you by NPCs will lead you to the dungeons. The dungeons are kind of like the Sheikah Shrines in what kind of puzzles they contain, but they’re much bigger and they each have a unique mechanic that you won’t find anywhere else in the game. I thought the dungeons were very good, but they’re really a small part of the game. There’s actually much more puzzle solving to do in the 120 shrines in the game.

Nintendo really made it a point to break Zelda conventions with this game. One of the big changes is the way you get items. Zelda A Link Between World already broke that convention, but it’s done differently in BotW. In BotW, you get all your items in the beginning of the game as runes for your Sheikah Slate. It’s kind of like getting an app for your tablet. In a lot of previous Zelda games, you couldn’t get to or get through some dungeons until you had a certain item. Since you have all the items at the beginning of the game, you’re free to go wherever you want. Well, at least wherever your skills will let you. While the game lets you go wherever you want, the enemies might still kill you in a single blow in some areas.

Another new element that changes how the game is played is the physics and cartoon logic of the game. You can cut down a tree and use it as a bridge. You can melt a giant block of ice with a torch. You can throw a giant rock down a hill and bowl down a group of Bokoblins. The game lets you tackle puzzles and combat situations in many different ways. YouTube is already full of crazy Zelda videos to watch. The latest thing seems to be making flying machines powered by the Magnesis rune.

Not all the new things they added equal fun, though. Nintendo added a few mechanics from other games, which I don’t think make the game any more fun at all. There have been areas where Link takes damage from the temperature in previous Zelda games, but this game takes it to the extreme. There are entire zones where you’ll either have to buy armor to protect yourself from the weather or make a food and potions to help you beat the heat or cold. It’s very much like something you would find in a Monster Hunter game.

BotW also has hundreds of materials such as mushrooms, fruit, fish, meat, insects, monster parts, and ore for you to collect and use in cooking, potion making, and to upgrade your armor. This is also very much like something you’d find in Monster Hunter or The Witcher series. This isn’t necessarily a bad thing, but does it make the game more fun? Is it more fun than just collecting rupees and buying some potions from a witch in the woods? I don’t think so.

The worst offender of these systems they’ve added is the weapon durability system. All your weapons will break at some point. You’ll have to keep a stash of weapons with you at all times and collect whatever weapons you can find on enemies you kill along your way. It’s by far the most complained about thing about the game. I just don’t see what it adds to the game.

The game's graphics are probably the best on Wii U and definitely the best in the Zelda series. The world is very colorful and full of detail. Just going into someone's house, you'll find little things, like books, lamps, dishes, clothes, and pictures. Around the houses in town, you might find the owner's farming tools, their crops, and maybe even a shrine for the goddess Hylia. The overworld is also full of little details, like grass, leaves, and little rocks everywhere. You'll also see bugs, wild animals, fish, and birds all around. The game also has a bunch of weather effects. There’s fog, rain, snow, smoke, and a full day and night cycle. The art style of the game kind of looks like an evolved version of art style of the GameCube classic, The Wind Waker. It's very colorful and cartoon-like.

When the game first launched, there were a lot of framerate issues throughout the game, particularly while docked on Switch. A lot of that has been cleaned up with a recent patch and it runs at 30 fps most of the time while docked. The game always ran pretty well while undocked on the Switch and it runs even better now, after the patch. The Wii U version drops frames more often and even after the patch, there are still a lot of places where there is slowdown. The Wii U version also has lower resolution textures, lower draw distance, and less effects. The Wii U version doesn’t look bad, though. It actually holds up pretty well to the Switch version.

The music and sound effects are done somewhat differently than in other Zelda games. There’s a bigger focus on the sound effects and I think they’ve done a great job with them. There’s many different kinds of footsteps, weapon sounds, and sounds of weapons hitting different surfaces. The best sound effects are the sounds of the environment, though. You can hear the wind blowing, the water and lava flowing, waves crashing, crickets chirping, birds singing, deer running, etc. It all comes together to create a beautiful song of the wild.

Nintendo really put the emphasis on ambient sounds over the music in this game. There is still plenty of beautiful music in the game, though, including a few new versions of classic Zelda themes. However, these songs are more infrequent, subtle, and low key than they are in other Zelda games. You won’t hear much music while exploring the world. While in the overworld, you might hear a few notes here and there and then the music might go away for a while. The game reserves the music for specific places and situations. Each town has a musical theme, stables play a new version of Epona’s song, and there’s a new battle theme that plays when you run into an enemy in the wild.

The story in BotW is told in a way in which only a game can. How do you tell a story when the player can go anywhere whenever they want? As you probably know, Link has been dead for 100 years. At some point in the game, Link will get a quest to recover his memories. As Link travels around Hyrule, he will trigger cutscenes which tell part of the story. The game lets you rewatch all these cutscenes whenever you want, so you can put it all together whenever you want. It’s a new and unique way to tell a story in a Zelda game and I think it worked very well.

Overall, I think this game is a masterpiece. I spent over 200 hours on it. I did just about everything in it, which I don’t usually do in games. I just wanted to keep on playing. I pretty much did nothing but play this game until I did everything in it. I did every dungeon. I did every quest. I did all 120 shrines, found all 900 Korok seeds, killed all world bosses, and filled out the picture album. I did everything except upgrade every piece of gear in the game. It was addicting. It was engrossing. I was completely hooked and wanted to do nothing but play this game. If you have a Wii U or Switch, buy it.