Wednesday, June 30, 2021

Cyber Shadow Review

Developer: Mechanical Head
Publisher: Yacht Club Games
Platforms: NS, PS4, XBO, PC
Price: $19.99
Version Played: Switch

When I first saw Cyber Shadow around 3 years ago, my first thought was, Ninja Gaiden 2099. But while there is definitely some Ninja Gaiden influence in Cyber Shadow, it's much more than a futuristic Ninja Gaiden. Cyber Shadow is sort of like the Shovel Knight to retro 2D action games. You can clearly see the influence of games like Shatterhand, Batman, and Contra, among others, in Cyber Shadow. But like Shovel Knight, it still manages to feel like its own thing.

Cyber Shadow takes a lot of inspiration from NES classics; however, I feel like it's structured a lot like a certain SNES classic, Mega Man X. In Cyber Shadow, you play through levels in order, but you can teleport to previous levels and find hidden power ups using your new abilities, like in MMX. The HP and MP upgrades even look like Mega Man E tanks, so I don’t think I'm imagining things. A lot of the abilities are also rewarded to you after beating a boss, which is definitely a Mega Man thing. I think the game would have worked just fine as a strictly linear game, and you can play it that way, but the hidden areas and power ups add a little bit of replay value and I had fun looking for them to 100% the game.

If you know your NES action games, you're probably thinking Cyber Shadow looks a lot like Shadow of the Ninja. And I agree, it does look a lot like Shadow of the Ninja. I don't think it plays a lot like Shadow of the Ninja, though. I think it plays more like a mix of Mega Man X and Ninja Gaiden. Cyber Shadow makes Shadow of the Ninja feel slow and clunky in comparison. Shadow’s basic running, slashing, and jumping feel a lot like Ryu Hayabusa’s, and once you start getting abilities like the air dash, longer sword, and wall slide, Shadow starts feeling a lot like Zero. The gameplay gradually becomes flashier and faster-paced as you get new abilities, and by the end of the game, you’re clearing screens full of enemies without even touching the ground. It almost feels like a 2D Devil May Cry at times. I love the abilities, the pace in which the game gives them to you, and how the level design changes as you get them.

Even with all the abilities and subweapons, you could totally play Cyber Shadow with an NES controller. You can do everything in the game with only the d-pad and 2 buttons. You can dash with R instead of double tapping the d-pad, like in Mega Man X, though. I would actually recommend that since double tapping to dash can be a bit finicky. One weird thing I didn’t like about the controls is that you can’t duck. That’s just something people used to playing these kinds of games expect to be able to do, I guess. I don’t think the game really needs it, but there were definitely times when I was missing a duck.

Like Ninja Gaiden, Cyber Shadow’s gameplay is very combat-heavy. The enemies in this game are relentless. There are slower cool down moments in the game, but most of it is very fast-paced and action packed, with enemies coming at you from all sides. It’s very arcade-like in that way. The level design is much more varied and interesting than something like Ninja Gaiden, though. There’s a lot of platforming, wall climbing, and traps to avoid, all while fighting tons of enemies. I also think the game does a great job in changing up the enemy and level design as you get new abilities. The game is always putting your new skills to the test.

If you guessed that this game is hard as hell, you guessed right. Cyber Shadow is just as challenging as any old NES game. It’s not downright sadistic, like Ninja Gaiden, it's not going to pull something like sending you back 2 levels after dying, but It’s harder than any Shovel Knight campaign. Thankfully, it has a checkpoint system that is very similar to Shovel Knight’s. You can tackle each level in small chunks, you get infinite lives, and there’s always a checkpoint before a boss, so it rarely gets too annoying to die and try again. I did feel like a few very difficult sections went on for too long without a checkpoint, though. You can also buy HP and MP refills at checkpoints, along with subweapons, so that’s something that might help you out if you need it. Although, I felt like it was really hard to find money around some checkpoints when I didn’t have enough to buy something. I really enjoyed the challenge of Cyber Shadow, and even though you don't unlock anything for beating the game or finding all the upgrades, I went out of my way to 100% it just to play all the different areas.

Of course, the thing that caught my eye about Cyber Shadow when I saw it on Twitter years ago was its gorgeous NES-style graphics. Cyber Shadow gets that NES look many people associate with games like Batman, Shatterhand, and Shadow of the Ninja just right. The color palette, level of detail in the characters and backgrounds, and even the Ninja Gaiden-like cutscenes all look like something that could be done on NES, even if thought they’re probably a little too good for NES. I also really liked the designs of the robots in the game. They’re very reminiscent of the designs in the European versions of Contra, Probotector.

The music is also very NES-like. It has that 80s synth kind of sound that was very popular in NES games from the late 80s and early 90s. It’s very reminiscent of 80s action movie scores. I was also reminded of NES games like Mega Man, Double Dragon II, and even Zelda II, but that was more the familiar NES style sound of the instruments than the composition of the tracks. Overall, a really awesome and memorable soundtrack. I also heard a lot of very familiar sound effects straight out of NES games, like the Castlevania meat sound, which I got a kick out of.

Cyber Shadow is a must play for fans of NES action games and fans of 2D action games in general. Especially Ninja lovers. It’s pretty much everything I hoped for. I love the gameplay, level design, and bosses. It has beautiful NES-style 8-bit graphics, a rocking soundtrack, and a really cool story that builds a world full of potential for more badass cyber Ninja games in the future. I wish the game had a few unlockables for beating the game or some easier difficulty levels for those who are not into old-school challenges, like me, but I still think it’s a great game overall.

Wednesday, June 16, 2021

Wonder Boy: Asha in Monster World Review

Developer: Monkey Craft/Studio ArtDink
Publisher: Inin
Platforms: PS4, NS, Steam PC
Price: $40 Physical, $35 Download
Version Played: Switch

Wonder Boy Asha in Monster World is a remake of the 1994 Sega Mega Drive/Genesis game, Monster World IV. Monster World IV was the 6th Wonder Boy game and it was never released in English until it came to PS3 and the Wii Virtual Console in 2012. It’s also available on the Sega Genesis Mini. This remake features new 3D graphics, a remixed soundtrack, new cutscenes, voice acting, and a bunch of little gameplay improvements.

If you've played the original Monster World IV, you know that the game world was laid out in layers. There were doors in the background and doors on the invisible wall in between Asha and the camera. Thanks to the new 3D graphics in Asha in Monster World, that original diorama style vision finally feels like it's fully realized. The world makes more sense now because it has actual depth and feels more like a real place.

The hub town of Rapadagna makes the best use of the 3D graphics with its new design. You can now walk around and behind all the buildings in Rapadagna on preset paths. If you've ever seen the unreleased Mario Land for the Virtual Boy, it's sort of like that. The layout of Queen Praprill's castle has also gotten a redesign replacing the old layered maze design with a fully 3D castle. This layout makes the game look like a 3rd person game at times, like Mario 64 or Zelda OoT, but you still can only move Asha in 2 directions no matter which direction she's facing. I have to wonder if the developers are thinking of making a 3D Wonder Boy sequel.

You can totally play this game with a 3 button setup, just like on Genesis, but you don't have to. In this remake, you can have your shield on a separate button and you can run without double tapping the d-pad by using the analog stick instead. A few other changes to modernize the game have also been made, like being able to carry up to 9 healing potions instead of just one, counters for collectables in each level, and the ability to use items without having to go to the inventory screen, which makes a few sections in the game, like the intro, a lot simpler. Sadly, the ice pyramid is still the only dungeon that gets a map. There's also a special meter that allows you to do a special move when it's full, and Asha's sword slash covers more space than in the original. You can also save anywhere at any time now, which basically gives you save states. That's kind of a weird thing to put in the game because the emulated Genesis version of MWIV that's bundled with the physical version of this game doesn't have save states.

Another very cool change is that you can go back into completed levels. Levels were closed off after completion in the original, so you could totally miss out on life drops, which work like heart containers in Zelda games. You’re still losing Pepelogoo abilities as the game goes on in this remake; though, so you can still miss your chance to get the life drops. There is a way to get any Pepelogoo form at any point in the game, but you have to beat the game to unlock the item that allows you to do that first.

I love how this version feels. I love the control options and I feel like the graphics give you a better idea of what’s going on with the hitboxes than in the original game. I also really like being able to save anywhere and being able to carry more healing potions. I think this remake plays much better than the original. All these little changes do make the game a lot easier; though, which some people might not like. This is the best playing version as far as I'm concerned.

The most glaring flaw in this remake is the new script. It's full of typos, punctuation and word spacing errors, and straight up missing words. It’s terrible. I don’t know how something like this gets through or why they felt the need to redo the script. The English script they use for the Genesis version is fine. I'm hoping this is fixed with a patch because it's a real eyesore.

Sadly, I don’t think this remake’s new graphics stack up to the original’s. I love Asha and Pepelogoo's cute animations and I think the cel shaded characters do a good job of recreating the art style of Monster World IV as seen in the manual and art work, but the environments just aren’t very impressive. The textures look very simple and repetitive, and they make the backgrounds look bland when compared to the Genesis game’s sprites. Monster World IV is one of the best looking Genesis games. This remake just looks like a low budget indie game.

The framerate in the Switch version is also very inconsistent. It aims for 60fps, but hardly ever reaches it. Most of the time the game hovers around 50fps and I’ve seen it drop as low as 39 fps during gameplay, even with 1 enemy on screen and barely anything going on in the background. I’ve heard that the PS4 version mainstains a smooth 60fps, but I have not played it myself.

Asha in Monster World features quite a bit of voice acting, but it’s all in Japanese, so I didn’t understand much of it. There is no English voice acting at all. I think Asha and Pepelogoo’s voices sound very cute, at least. You have the option to turn off the voices if you want. This remake also features a remixed soundtrack. It's the same great songs redone with more instruments and in higher quality. They sound great, but they're not played with live instruments or anything. You also have the option to play with the original soundtrack with a code. I prefer the new soundtrack. The Genesis soundtrack sounds a little out of place here.

As I mentioned earlier, the physical versions of the game come bundled with an emulated version of the original Monster World IV for Genesis. The Switch version has it on the cart and the PS4 version has a download code for it. I messed around with it and thought it was pretty good. It doesn't have save states, borders, or rewind, but it does have fast forward and pretty much every display option imaginable. The CRT and scanline options are especially in depth. It also has button remapping. It's nice, but I think I'd rather play it with save states, like on the Genesis Mini.

Asha in Monster World is a fine remake. This is still a great game. It's just not going to blow anyone away. It’s a low budget indie game from a tiny Japanese developer and it shows. It plays better than the original in a lot of ways, but it just can’t match how awesome MWIV looks and sounds for a Genesis game. The framerate on the Switch version and the embarrassingly bad script are also a real downer. This is the version to play in my opinion, but it’s far from the Zero Mission to Metroid. This remake is supposed to also serve as a reboot for the series, so I guess we can expect a sequel at some point.

Thursday, June 3, 2021

New Pokémon Snap Review

Developer: Bandai Namco
Publisher: Nintendo
Platform: Switch
Price: $60

Gotta snap 'em all! Gotta snap 'em all! That's how the song goes, right? No? Well, that's what New Pokémon Snap is all about, taking pictures of Pokémon. If you remember the N64 game from 21 years ago, you have a pretty good idea of what this game is. New Pokémon Snap is about as safe as sequels get.

New Pokémon Snap is the videogame equivalent of going on a Pokémon safari. You ride on a vehicle through different environments and take pictures of Pokémon in their natural habitat. There are no railroad tracks on your path, like on N64, but your vehicle is still "on-rails" and you have very little control over where it takes you. I say very little because you can take alternate paths through some zones by scanning certain spots in the environment with your camera. Yes, like Metroid Prime scanning.

Besides filling out your "Photodex", one of the main goals in New Pokémon Snap is getting pictures of each Pokémon in 4 different poses. You get Pokémon to strike a pose for you by luring them into place with Fluff Fruit, hitting them with Illumina Orbs, scanning them, playing music, or making them interact with other Pokémon by doing those things. For example, you might wake up a sleeping Pokémon at the beginning of a level by pelting them with an apple, see them later and hit them with a ball that will make them glow, and have them strike the perfect pose for you.

Once you're done with a trip, the Pokémon Professor will grade your photos based on pose, size, position, background, what direction the Pokémon is facing, and whether or not there's other Pokémon in the picture. The Professor is just a videogame AI, though. He wouldn't know true Pokémon photography art if you hit him over the head with it! Your best pictures won't always get the best scores. Luckily, you can just press the - button and have the game auto select the best pictures.

Each zone has 4 levels and the scores you get for your photos after a trip are the experience points. Leveling a zone makes more Pokémon appear and also appear in different places. But you don't get a lot of XP from just going through each zone over and over. You have to keep finding new Pokémon and better poses to get enough XP to level the zone. The problem is some Pokémon are very well hidden, and it'll take some experimenting to find out what will get you new poses. The game does give you hints in the form of side quests, or "requests", but these are usually very vague. If you want to discover things without a guide, you’ll be going through these zones a lot. Leveling up a zone to level 2 during the main story isn’t a problem, but once you beat the game and are trying to get all the Pokémon pictures, this becomes a very boring and grindy road block.

The progression through the main story is also a problem area for me. It's not enough to simply go through a zone and take pics of most of the Pokémon. There's a story about the Crystalblooms and some ancient ruins going on, and you have to keep it moving to unlock new zones. And you do that by taking pictures of things that are not Pokémon. The problem with this is that the game isn't great about telling you what you need to do or when you need to do it. Sometimes all you need to do to unlock the next zone is get it to level 2, but other times you need to take a picture of a Crystalbloom. There’s a bunch of these things in every zone, though. How do you know which is the right one? I often found myself redoing zones to level it in hopes of unlocking the next one, only to have the Professor pop up after a few trips and tell me I need a picture of a flower. It’s very confusing. Or maybe I just had trouble paying attention to the sub-Pokémon anime quality story. I'm not ruling out that possibility.

New Pokémon Snap puts the N64 game to shame in terms of content. This is a much bigger game. The N64 game had 6 levels and only featured 63 out of the original 151 Pokémon. Including Day and Night versions, New Pokémon Snap has 24 levels across 12 different biomes. It also features 214 Pokémon spanning from Red and Blue to Sword and Shield. There’s a lot of content here and it will take a lot longer to complete the Photodex than on N64.

Back in the day, you could take your N64 cart to Blockbuster and get stickers of your Pokémon Snap pictures printed out, but Blockbuster isn’t really a thing anymore. Instagram is what people are into these days. So instead of using that, the developers of New Pokémon Snap made their own PokeGram (it doesn't actually have a name). I would say Nintendo's gonna Nintendo, but this game was made by Namco. Here, you can caption your photos, apply filters, and put sunglasses and googly eyes on your Pokémon. Then, you might get lucky and get the algorithm to show your picture to other people, but most likely, it’ll be ignored. Just like with Super Mario Maker levels, nobody is going to pay attention to your pictures unless you’re some kind of Internet celebrity. I posted this picture of 3 Bidoofs swimming in sync a few days ago and it only has 6 likes. What more proof do you need?

Pokémon Legends Arceus might take the top spot someday, but as of right now, New Pokémon Snap is the best looking Pokémon game I’ve ever seen. It still has that simple cartoony Pokémon style, with low res textures, simple lighting, and the same Pokémon models they use in every other Pokémon game, but there is just so much going on in each zone. Every zone is full of plants, water, ruins, mountains, and of course, tons of Pokémon running around. The framerate is really smooth too. It actually maintains 60fps most of the time, with some drops into the 50s. That’s pretty impressive. I wish Pokémon RPGs looked this good.

New Pokémon Snap’s soundtrack is very soft and mellow, so you might not hear much of it over the sound of you hitting Pokémon with Fluff Fruit, but it's pretty good! I really like the smooth Jazz and acoustic guitar themes. The little bit of voice acting there is in the game is nothing special, but it’s not bad. I have to say that they did a wonderful job with the sounds of all the Pokémon running around. You can get a pretty good idea of where a Pokémon is just by listening. Pikachu's VO steals the show of course.

New Pokémon Snap has more Pokémon, more levels, and much more to do than the N64 original, but it’s still just more Pokémon Snap. I played the original back in the day and I always imagined something more complex for a sequel. I hoped that it would be in 3rd person and let me freely run around taking pictures, like the photo modes in many recent games do. New Pokémon Snap is cute, relaxing, and fun for Pokémon fans, but I just don’t think it’s very compelling or exciting. I had trouble really sitting down and playing it for more than half an hour at a time. If Blockbuster was still around, I’d say this is a rental at best.