The Two Pages Podcast wants YOU!

Picture 14

Hey everyone, Skeletroy here. I’m on the search for contributors for the next couple episodes of the Two Pages podcast. I know this is a crazy time of year for a lot of people, so I’m pushing the next episode back a week. There is no subject for stories for this one, so “Two Pages of Anything” will now be scheduled for January 11th. Episode 4’s subject is Valentine’s day, and “Two Pages of Romance” is scheduled for February 1st.

The rules are fairly simple:
1. Your story must not exceed two pages in length.
2. Your story should make you, the writer, laugh. Don’t be afraid to be completely ridiculous for the sake of comedy.

If you’re interested in participating in either episode or have any questions about the show, please leave a comment. And if you know anyone who might be interested in participating, let them know about the Facebook group.

-Skele!

P.S. For this podcast, I’ve decided to write stories in the Choose Your Own Adventure format from episode 2 onward. By being on the show, you will play an active role in hearing how my story goes.

Album Review: “Monuments to an Elegy” by The Smashing Pumpkins

This week saw the release of a new album by my favorite band for the past 19 years, The Smashing Pumpkins. “Monuments to an Elegy” is the third part of SP’s 4-album “Teargarden by Kaleidyscope”, a sprawling (eventual) 44 track collection based loosely on the Tarot deck. After listening to Monuments to an Elegy multiple times, I can safely say that this album is the weakest of all their releases, and really leaves me wanting more.

Let’s get this out of the way: it’s NOT because Billy is the remaining member of the original band. I hate hearing that excuse from uninformed people, most likely the same sort who claimed that Billy did everything in the 90s when the original members were in the band. If that were the case, then what has changed? It’s also NOT a case of Billy losing his songwriting touch, as 2012’s “Oceania” was amazing. I honestly think Billy’s simply exhausted, stretching himself too thin. The Pumpkins have been releasing extensive box set versions of each of their albums (for example, the “Mellon Collie and the Infinite Sadness” box set has 64 extra tracks) since 2011, a year which also saw Billy co-found both Resistance Pro, an Illinois-based wrestling company, and a tea house in Chicago called Madam Zuzu’s.

To begin, there are only nine songs. I wouldn’t have so much of an issue with this if they included a long song, but that’s something this album is sorely missing. One of the highlights of any Pumpkins album is their 7-10 minute song (Window Paine, Silverfuck, Starla, Porcelina of the Vast Oceans, XYU, The Aeroplane Flies High, For Martha, Glass and the Ghost Children, In My Body, Mary Star of the Sea, United States, Oceania), and MtaE just doesn’t have one. This is a really short album, with only one of the nine songs clocking in at over 4 minutes.

Secondly, most of the song lyrics are really repetitive, and the musical arrangements are fairly lackluster. I can always forgive repetitive lyrics if the music takes me somewhere, and none of the songs from MtaE do. A big part of this is the lack of guitar solos. Like Metallica’s St. Anger, you’re going to be disappointed if you were going into this one expecting a lot of neat guitar work.

With all that being said, I can’t completely dismiss the album, as each Smashing Pumpkins album is an attempt at something different, and in that aspect, they’ve succeeded. Monuments to an Elegy is their alterna-synthpop album…featuring Tommy Lee of Motley Crue on drums. It’s nice to hear someone making new music that is difficult to lump in with their old work. While it sits in the same corner as Billy Corgan’s solo album, TheFutureEmbrace, it rocks more than TFE, but it’s not as compelling.

Two of the tracks, “Anaise!” and “Dorian” stand out as highlights, most are decent (“Tiberius”, “Being Beige”, “One and All”, “Monuments”, “Anti-Hero”), and the remaining two (“Run2me”, “Drum + Fife”) really aren’t that great. I’d recommend the other parts of “Teargarden” over this, as the previous release, Oceania, was REALLY good. The first 11 songs of Teargarden were released for free online over the course of 2010-2011 (making it the second SP album to be released in such a manner, the first being 2000’s Machina II), and has a lot of really good tracks like “A Song for a Son”, “The Fellowship”, “Tom Tom”, and “Lightning Strikes”. The final part of “Teargarden”, “Day for Night”, is set for release in 2015.

The Two Pages Podcast – #2 – Two Pages of Celebrations


Skeletroy and friends gather again to spread some holiday cheer and tell some more stories!

Tom’s story – 4:12
Grant’s story – 15:16
Debbie’s story – 29:49
Skeletroy’s story – 41:04

To read more of Debbie’s stories, click here!

The Two Pages Podcast – #1 – Two Pages of Halloween

It’s Skeletroy’s newest podcast! For this debut episode, he recruited ThatRuled regulars: NNTV’s Chris, Graham, Thomas Fyrehart, and Grant Beard talk about Halloween a bit, and share some original two-page short stories.

Chris’ story starts at 10:21.
Graham’s story starts at 18:18.
Thomas’ story starts at 26:58.
Skeletroy’s story starts at 39:09.

Video Games That Ruled – South Park: The Stick of Truth

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Warning: This contains some minor spoilers, it’s basically some of my vacation photos in South Park. If you’re a fan of the show, just do yourself a favor and go buy The Stick of Truth now. Seriously you guys, respect this game’s authority. For everyone else, let’s continue to Colorado’s most famous quiet little mountain town.  Here I am in front of my family’s new house.

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As you can see (especially if you click on the pictures to see the enlarged versions), the game looks exactly like the show. In my opinion, this is the most accurate TV show-to game conversion I’ve ever played, and is by no means a crappy cash in title like the South Park games on the N64 and PlayStation. I met a lot of characters from the show, the first being Butters, who is one of my all time favorite South Park characters.

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Butters, a young Paladin, told me all about a war that’s going on in South Park: a fierce struggle between the humans and the elves. We made haste to Kupa Keep to speak with the Grand Wizard.

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It was there that I met Cartman the Grand Wizard, I was introduced to some of the Knights of Kupa Keep, and I got to select my character class. I also found out about the Stick of Truth; he who controls the stick gets to make the rules. This is why the elves want to own it, for then they can control the universe.

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Don’t gaze at it’s awesomeness for too long. After an invasion/tutorial battle, the Grand Wizard instructed me to get the rest of the Knights, as the stick had been stolen during the elves’ attack. We gathered and made our plans.

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Now that you know the basic set up, I’m not going to explain the rest of the story. If seeing these pictures hasn’t made you want to play the game, the only thing left to explain is the gameplay. It’s very reminiscent of the Paper Mario series, from running around town to the timed attacks in the battles. Running around the town is awesome, and most of the classic locations are present, from the school to the town hall to the abortion clinic. There are TONS of references to the show, from seeing Scuzzlebutt in Jimbo’s gun shop to hanging out with the Goth kids.

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The game is basically an interactive, 15-20 hour long episode of South Park. It serves as a wonderful love letter to the series, as references are ever-present. Terrance and Philip dolls and hundred of other item drops, collecting Chinpokomon, Al Gore’s obsession with ManBearPig, depositing money at the bank…the only thing I could think of that I would have added would be a boss battle with Woodsy the Owl in the Lost Forest. This is pure, unfiltered fan service, and the game takes the storyline to South Park extremes. The only times I didn’t have a huge smile on my face was when my jaw was dropped.

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I, uh…I don’t want to explain this next one. All I’m going to say is that any time you see Randy onscreen, you’re going to laugh. I sure did.

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Meeting the Princess of Canada was definitely a highlight of my adventure. Watch out for Dire Snakes in the Canadian wilderness! You know what a dire snake is, don’t you? They’re like snakes…but dire.

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I took a lot more pictures, but you really need to just play this game for yourself. There’s so much I’d like to tell you about, but I don’t want to ruin the surprises (and there are a lot of surprises). This picture of me, the classic line-up, and Randy is pretty sweet though.

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And I’ll totally admit, I was a little sad when my adventure ended and the sun sank over the horizon.

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I know a lot of people have a lot of different definitions when it comes to immersive gaming, but to essentially put myself into a show I’ve watched for 17 years and to have it honestly FEEL like I’m a part of that world was an experience I’ve never quite felt before. I can’t stress this enough – if you’re a big fan of the show, you NEED to play South Park: The Stick of Truth.

The Isometric Perspective – Season 2 Episode 3

The Isometric Perspective is hosted by:

Skeletroy Blockbuster
Grant Beard
Grindhead Jim
This week featuring Thomas Fyrehart

We talk a bit about Strider, Metal Gear Solid V, and Batman: Arkham Knight.

What’s your favorite dinosaur? Let us know here!

The Isometric Perspective – Season 2 Episode 1

Skeletroy, Grant, and Grindhead Jim (the artist formerly/somewhat currently known as JimmyTR) are back to ramble on about video games!

The Isometric Perspective is hosted by:

Skeletroy Blockbuster
Grant Beard
Grindhead Jim

Video Games That Ruled – Sega Genesis Collections pt 5

Click here for part 1!
Click here for part 2!
Click here for part 3!
Click here for part 4!

Golden Axe II (1991, Collection 3)
———————————–
Did you enjoy Golden Axe? You’re sure to enjoy the sequel then. Golden Axe II is a slight improvement on its predecessor, giving you new monsters to ride, an improved magic system, and slightly better graphics and control. The only downside is your enemies’ death screams. In the first game they were melodramatic and funny, but in this one they’re simply grunts. Overall, this doesn’t provide much more than the same action provided by the original Golden Axe, but that’s not a bad thing if you liked the first game.

Shining in the Darkness (1991, Collection 4)
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Here’s an old RPG that I can see myself playing again. The presentation of the game is really neat, although it still has some issues. The King tells you to go buy equipment before you head to the dungeon, but I couldn’t figure out how to see my inventory until I was in the dungeon, so I ended up buying items I already had. You’ll either need to find some maps online or draw your own, because you’re going to get lost dungeon crawling through first person mazes. As is standard with RPGs of this vintage, level grinding is necessary, but I found this to be a lot more enjoyable than Phantasy Star II.

Streets of Rage (1991, Collection 4)
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As good as the Golden Axe series is, this is the beginning of a great series of beat-em-ups. A lot of people like to compare Streets of Rage directly to Final Fight, but as I played through the game I got the feeling like this is a great mashup of the best parts of Final Fight, Golden Axe, and Double Dragon in particular. While I don’t feel like this game is quite on par with Final Fight due to the small sprites and inferior graphics, it’s more than a match for Double Dragon and feels like a better version of it. There are some really great bosses in this game, and unlike Golden Axe, actually require some thought to figure out their incredibly aggressive attack patterns. After playing through the two Golden Axe games, I was slightly disappointed with the lack of the ability to run. This disappointment quickly went away due to the ability to grab an enemy, jump behind them, and deliver a belly-to-back suplex. Streets of Rage is a lot of fun, and is a neccesary part of any Genesis beat-em-up fan’s collection.

Phantasy Star III (1991, Collection 5)
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I’ll be honest, it’s taken so long for me to get this article out because of this game. Phantasy Star II left somewhat of a bad taste in my mouth, and I was apprehensive to continue with the series. My fears were almost immediately put to rest, as this game is a marked improvement over its predecessor. While Phantasy Star II looked like a Master System game on the Genesis, Phantasy Star III looks like it was made for the Genesis. Character sprites, while not much larger than before, take much more advantage of the console’s color pallette, as do the backgrounds. The game mechanics have been tweaked, and meus have been refined. The battle system is much more fair than before, it’s much easier to level your character initially as you won’t be going back to get healed every two fights. The story is immediately engaging, and begins on your wedding day. Being a video game, I can’t see how anything could go wrong…

Wonder Boy in Monster World (1991, Collection 5)
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I LOVE THIS GAME. Wonder Boy in Monster World is my favorite Genesis game of all time. It’s an action platformer, some would say in the “Metroid-vania” style (I wish I knew a better term for this). Back in the day, I tried out almost every Genesis game on emulator (sshhh, don’t tell anyone). I’d play either until I lost all my lives and was asked if I wanted to continue, or if I got to the end of the first stage/world, making my time with each game a short one. I played through this game entirely. I was hooked on the gameplay, the art style is great, and the levels are all varied and interesting (except the ice level, which turns into hair-pulling frustration). Sonic may have been Mario’s lead competing mascot, but I feel like this is the “Super Mario Bros 3 of the Genesis”…although it could be argued that it’s the Genesis’ Super Metroid. It’s THAT good, and it’s the perfect game to usher in the “modern age” of the Genesis.

As always, we’re going to stack these games up with the prior ones to see how everything looks. I feel like the scales of awesome are tipping more and more in favor of the Genesis, now that programmers have had three years to figure the system out. I’m hoping that this trend continues, and the garbage from 1988 and ’89 become distant memories. New games are in bold, and the handy color chart returns.

Collection 1
Collection 2
Collection 3
Collection 4
Collection 5
Sonic Hits Collection

Awesome (I will play these again. Definitely recommended)
——–
Shadow Dancer: The Secret of Shinobi
Streets of Rage
Wonder Boy in Monster World

Good (I will play these again. Recommended)
—–
Golden Axe
Crack Down
Bonanza Bros.
Alien Storm
ESWAT: City Under Siege
Golden Axe II
Wonder Boy III: Monster Lair
Phantasy Star III

Average (I might play these again. Somewhat recommended)
——–
Gain Ground
Fatal Labyrinth
Decap Attack
Shining in the Darkness
Phantasy Star II
The Revenge of Shinobi

Boring (I will never play these again. Only recommended if you’re a big fan of the genre)
——-
Altered Beast
Columns
Flicky
Sword of Vermilion

Awful (I will never play these again. Cannot recommend to anyone)
——
Space Harrier II
Alex Kidd in the Enchanted Castle
Galaxy Force II
Super Thunder Blade

Next time I’ll finish 1991 (finally!) and jump into 1992 with Sonic the Hedgehog, Toejam & Earl, Kid Chameleon, Bio-Hazard Battle, and Streets of Rage 2.

Video Games That Ruled – The Stanley Parable and Gone Home

So…I’ve been trying to write this article for a while, and have had some trouble doing so. How do you tell people about a game without telling them much of anything about it? This is the problem with both The Stanley Parable and Gone Home, two story-driven first person exploration games that I’ve recently played and loved. The short answer is to just tell you to play these games without going to YouTube, as it WILL cheapen the experience…but really, who’s going to do that? Games cost money, and most people aren’t going to spend $15-20 on something they know nothing about.

Let’s start with The Stanley Parable. You control Stanley, an office worker who pushes buttons in his office until one day, he doesn’t receive any orders to do so. This makes him wonder what’s wrong, and starts exploring his office building. You can play a demo that’s not a part of the actual game. The developer, Galactic Cafe, knew that they’d need to entice people into playing their game without spoiling it.

One thing that the demo doesn’t really show off (although they do hint at it a fair bit) is the concept of choice. If I had to make any sort of comparison, I’d say that The Stanley Parable is like a Choose Your Own Adventure book. There is a narrator who provides humorous commentary, but also gives direction. The first choice you’re given is a set of doors. The narrator says “when Stanley approached two doors, he took the one on his left”. If you take the door on the right, the entire story has the potential to end differently. Every choice you make vastly impacts the story, or at least irritates the narrator, which is fun in and of itself.

PROTIP: Go into the broom closet and shut the door. Trust me.

Controlling the game couldn’t be much easier. There’s no jumping, weapons, or puzzles. You can left click your mouse to press a button or pull a lever. Right clicking allows you to crouch, although you need to use the crouch approximately 0 times to make it through the game. If you’re looking for action, you should probably look somewhere else. If you’re looking for a dozen interesting 10-15 minute stories that all start the same way, look no further than The Stanley Parable, my favorite game of 2013.

If The Stanley Parable is akin to a Choose Your Own Adventure book, Gone Home would be a short story. You arrive at your house on June 6, 1995, and no one is home. This game is even tougher to explain than The Stanley Parable without spoiling anything, as it’s up to you to piece the entire story together, including your name. You walk through each room of the house, examining objects you find everywhere. These can be anything, like a receipt, a note from (or to) a family member, books, cans of soda, posters of both real and fictional bands, cassette tapes and cases, or Super Nintendo cartridges, among other things. Certain items will trigger narrative pieces.

PROTIP: Although you can play the cassette tapes, I wouldn’t recommend it unless you’re into C-tier Grrrl Rock.

I was 13 in 1995, and Gone Home honestly made me miss the 90s while I was playing it. Everything feels right, and if you grew up in the 90s you owe it to yourself to play this game just for the nostalgia trip. Once again, there is no action or puzzles, you simply explore the house at your own pace (it’ll probably take you 2-3 hours if you go at a leisurely pace). I found this was a great game to play through with a friend, as we took time to talk about the things that we found and made inferences based on what we had learned each time.

If you’re looking for a slightly different experience than you’re used to, both The Stanley Parable and Gone Home are great games. As noted above, neither game is very long, but that didn’t negatively impact my view on either game (I mean, not many of the Super Mario games are really very long, and I’ve played through all of them countless times). They’re an innovative blend of gameplay and narrative, offering an experience that has yet to be attained by cutscenes, Quicktime events, or Sega CD’s FMV “games”. Download The Stanley Parable demo at stanleyparable.com– if you like it, you’ll love the full game. And if you liked The Stanley Parable, there’s a good chance you’ll like Gone Home.

DISCLAIMER: I can’t honestly say “if you liked The Stanley Parable you’ll love Gone Home” (or vice versa). The Stanley Parable is a really funny game that can (and often does) get pretty dark with its humor. Gone Home is a pretty dark and ominous game that has funny moments, but the draw is the story that keeps you confused and captivated the whole time.

Video Games That Ruled – Sega Genesis Collections pt 4

Click here for part 1!
Click here for part 2!
Click here for part 3!

We’re now fully immersed into 1991, the same year the Super Nintendo was released. Do any of these games come close to the greatness that is Super Mario World? Short answer: no.

Fatal Labyrinth (1991, Collection 2)
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Fatal Labyrinth is an RPG, specifically a top down dungeon crawler. This is a similar style to Diablo, which would be released 5 years later and is a much better game. You run around in a maze, battling monsters and collecting weapons and armor. This game is fairly tough, and if you don’t know what you’re doing you may end up dying very quickly. No, scratch that. Even if you know what you’re doing, it’s still incredibly easy to die. The biggest problem is how often your attacks miss your enemies. A room with 3 or 4 enemies can easily give you a game over, even when you know you’re powered up enough to defeat them. You regain health by walking, but everything is turn-based. If you take a step, so does your enemy. If you’re lucky you can run away and heal yourself, but I can almost guarantee that you’ll have an encounter with a few snails, start screaming “hit him!” because 6 attacks in a row missed, and end up having to start all over again.

Galaxy Force II (1991, Collection 2)
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Galaxy Force II is a third person space shooter. When this game started, I thought “Hey, this looks kind of neat, like what Star Fox might be like in 1991”. Then I began playing, and thought “Wait a second, this is just Super Thunder Blade in space”. And it’s just as bad. Possibly worse. You constantly fire a machine gun that doesn’t hit anything, but at least you still have the heat seeking missiles like Super Thunder Blade. Two years later, and this type of game still feels like a tech demo. Just stay away from this one, it’s not worth your time.

Alien Storm (1991, Collection 3)
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Now here’s an interesting take on the beat-em-up genre. Alien Storm throws away traditional techniques like punching, kicking, and jumping (really, like you’re going to take out a hideous monster with a jump kick?) and gives you a Ghostbusters-style proton blasters. Instead of having a ghost trap, you light them on fire with a bazooka, and if they’re strong enough you’ll pull a pistol out and shoot them in the head a few times before igniting their bodies. Each level is broken up into two segments: the beat-em-up part, and a second portion which is normally a first person shooter style. In level 3, the second part turns into a horizontal shooter. If you’re looking for a beat-em-up with some grotesque enemies and unique twists, check out Alien Storm.

Decap Attack (1991, Collection 3)
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Decap Attack is a platformer that, along with Titus the Fox, is (in)famous for being a pseudo-sequel to Kid Kool on the NES. The big difference between Kid Kool and this game is that Decap Attack is actually playable. The main character Chuck D. Head has an interesting jump, where you can keep tapping the button to make him float to the ground. However, the real draw for this game is collecting a head for Chuck, which he can then use as a weapon to throw at enemies. This is a decent game with bright colors and decent music, but after I defeated the first level boss I was told that I hadn’t found “the most important item” and that I should search every nook and cranny in the level. Not actually knowing what the item I was supposed to find was, I went back through the level, ultimately leading to my death. This might be a fun game if you know what you’re doing, but I can’t say I enjoyed it enough to want to play it again, searching through the first level with a fine-toothed comb to find an undescribed item.

Flicky (1991, Collection 3)
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Flicky makes 1991 feel a lot like 1983. Flicky is a very simple platformer in the Mappy style, where you run along a series of platforms trying to avoid enemies. In this case, Flicky is a blue bird who is trying to rescue smaller birds from cats. The goal is to get them all to the exit, and you get a bigger score bonus if you rescue more of the smaller birds at once. You can knock the cats out temporarily by throwing the objects that are scattered throughout the level. Cats will kill you if they touch you, but they’ll simply break the chain if they touch one of the smaller birds you’ve collected, forcing you to retrieve the birds you’ve just lost. This isn’t a bad game, but it’s very simple by 1991 standards.

Well, it looks like we’ve regressed a bit. This has been the worst group of games I’ve gone through since the first group, although thankfully these games didn’t sink to those depths. As always, I’m going to put these on the awesome-to-awful scale to see how everything stacks up. New games to the lists are in bold text. And since things are getting a little confusing to keep track of, here’s a handy key to the collections.

Collection 1
Collection 2
Collection 3
Collection 4
Collection 5
Sonic Hits Collection

Awesome (I will play these again. Definitely recommended)
——–
Shadow Dancer: The Secret of Shinobi

Good (I will play these again. Recommended)
—–
Golden Axe
Crack Down
Bonanza Bros.
Alien Storm
ESWAT: City Under Siege
Wonder Boy III: Monster Lair

Average (I might play these again. Somewhat recommended)
——–
Gain Ground
Fatal Labyrinth
Decap Attack
Phantasy Star II
The Revenge of Shinobi

Boring (I will never play these again. Only recommended if you’re a big fan of the genre)
——-
Altered Beast
Columns
Flicky
Sword of Vermilion

Awful (I will never play these again. Cannot recommend to anyone)
——
Space Harrier II
Alex Kidd in the Enchanted Castle
Galaxy Force II
Super Thunder Blade

Okay, things aren’t looking so great after the first 20 games, but next time tip the scales slightly more in favor of awesome with my favorite Genesis game, as well as a few other really good ones. I’ll continue further into 1991 with Golden Axe II, Shining in the Darkness, Streets of Rage, Phantasy Star III, and Wonder Boy in Monster World.
Click here for part 5!

Video Games That Ruled – Sega Genesis Collections pt 3

Click here for part 1!
Click here for part 2!

I’m back with some more Genesis games. This time we’re going to finish 1990 and begin 1991, a year that these Genesis collections really seem to glorify with 14 games representing Sega’s output in 1991.

ESWAT: City Under Siege (1990, Collection 3)
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ESWAT is an action platformer where you play the part of a cop in the future. This game is pretty cool, with large, expansive levels to traverse your way through. The graphics look good, the level design is well done, the music is fantastic, and you can fire your gun upward to fight enemies (as opposed to the Shinobi games where you can only fire left and right). The bosses are well designed, and feel less cheap than in most of the previous Sega games. ESWAT is definitely a game to check out if you like the Rolling Thunder/Shinobi style.

Sword of Vermilion (1990, Collection 3)
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Sword of Vermilion is an RPG that doesn’t quite seem to know what it wants to be. The town sections are traditional top down style. Walking on the map is done in first person view. Battles are in real time, fought on an isometric plane. Boss battles are in a side view. With the exception of the town section, none of these are done well, and the archaic/unfinished mechanics of the town sections keep even them from being all that interesting. No stats are shown when buying weapons or armor, so buying new weapons either involves guesswork or a trip to GameFAQs. Check this game out if you like old RPGs, but at the same time, don’t really expect much. Or play Phantasy Star II, that’s probably a better option.

Wonder Boy III: Monster Lair (1990, Collection 4)
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Sega seems to take a strange approach with some of their games. They’ll make a game, then they’ll develop two sequels for it: one in the arcade and one for home consoles, then they’ll port the arcade game to the console as well so it seems like the third game, but could actually be the second depending on your point of view (see Shinobi). In Wonder Boy’s case, however, it’s the debate over the third and fourth games. Wonder Boy III: The Dragon’s Trap is a completely different game for the Sega Master System, and in my opinion is a much better game.

Monster Lair is a platform based, forced scrolling shooter that incorporates the game style of the original Wonder Boy with the shooter style of games like Gradius or R-Type, complete with powerups that change your shot. Each level is broken down into two sections: a platform section, and a true shooter section where you ride the back of a big pink monster. This is a pretty fun game that, once again, attempts to take the Wonder Boy series in a wild, new direction from its previous iteration.

Gain Ground (1991, Collection 1)
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Gain Ground is a top down run-and-gun game that gets better the more you play it. The goal is to defeat all the enemies on screen, or reach the area marked “exit”. You start out controlling a character that throws spears, and sets the game off in a somewhat wrong direction. When that character dies you are put in control of a different character, this one having a gun. Gain Ground immediately gets more fun at this point. As you play through the levels, you’ll see icons representing more characters that you can control. Each character has different attacks, like grenades or fireballs. One downside is that the game seems to move a little too slowly, and you’ll blame some of the times when you die on this. If you take the time to get used to this, it’s really a pretty fun game.

Bonanza Bros. (1991, Collection 2)
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Bonanza Bros. is an action platformer, and is Sega’s spiritual sequel to Activision’s “Keystone Kapers” on the Atari 2600. While in that game you took on the role of a police officer trying to stop a bank thief from making his escape on the rooftop of a building, you play the role of the thieves in Bonanza Bros., attempting to collect tresures scattered throughout the building while dodging and shooting police officers. This game is a lot of fun, especially in 2 player as you both team up to ransack the various buildings. Sure, you can try to compete for points, but if you’re going to make it through some of the later stages you’ll have to help each other out.

Once again, the games this time around were better than last time, and are pretty consistent in quality. As always, I’m going to put all of the games into the 5 categories of the awesome-awful scale. Please note that these are based solely on my opinion, and may change to a different category as more games are introduced.

Awesome (I will play these again. Definitely recommended)
——–
Shadow Dancer: The Secret of Shinobi

Good (I will play these again. Recommended)
—–
Golden Axe
Crack Down
Bonanza Bros.
ESWAT: City Under Siege
Wonder Boy III: Monster Lair

Average (I might play these again. Somewhat recommended)
——–
Gain Ground
Phantasy Star II
The Revenge of Shinobi

Boring (I will never play these again. Only recommended if you’re a big fan of the genre)
——-
Altered Beast
Columns
Sword of Vermilion

Awful (I will never play these again. Cannot recommend to anyone)
——
Space Harrier II
Alex Kidd in the Enchanted Castle
Super Thunder Blade

Next time I’ll continue with more of 1991 with Fatal Labyrinth, Galaxy Force II, Alien Storm, Decap Attack, and Flicky.
Click here for part 4!

Video Games That Ruled – Sonic & All-Stars Racing: Transformed

Sonic & All-Stars Racing: Transformed is a kart racer released in 2012, and is the sequel to Sonic & Sega All-Stars Racing. While the former entry was content being a simple Mario Kart clone (albeit with much better track designs), the latter is not. Playing this game and writing this article were strange and eye-opening experiences, partially because the game makes me feel like I’m betraying my Nintendo roots, playing a Sega game with a PS3 controller on a game I got on Steam…and having more fun than I’ve had in any Mario Kart game.

There is a wide array of selectable characters, many of which need to be unlocked. Several current and older Sega series are represented, like the Sonic franchise, Golden Axe, Shinobi, Nights, Alex Kidd, Skies of Arcadia, Super Monkey Ball, Samba de Amigo, Jet Set Radio, and Space Channel 5. There are also a few third-party characters (more if you’re playing the PC version), which is why they dropped “Sega” from the title of this game. These include (but are not limited to) Wreck-It Ralph, a Shogun and Willemus (representing two different games in the Total War series), and strangest of all – Danica Patrick. I normally would resent a choice like this, but the South Park episode where Cartman wanted to be a Nascar driver makes racing against her a lot of fun. Each character has five different stats: speed, acceleration, handling, boost, and all-star. These are each represented by a power level of 1-5 for each stat. You can also level your character up, although the only benefit to this is that it gives you different mods for your racer, changing your stats (the Speed mod raises your speed, as an obvious example).

The track designs are amazing, and really evoke the feeling of the games they’re based on. Like with the characters, a large variety of Sega games are represented, including After Burner, Panzer Dragoon, The House of the Dead, Burning Rangers, and Billy Hatcher and the Giant Egg, as well as the ones mentioned in the characters segment. There are 21 tracks in total, 4 of them returning from the previous game. This is where the game really shines.

QUICK MARIO KART RANT: Mario Kart tracks are somewhat based on the Mario franchise. Yoshi Circuit is neat, it’s a Yoshi-shaped track, but aside from that it’s not really “Mario-esque”. They’ve been getting somewhat better about making more than just the Ghost House track and Bowser Castle track feel like Mario levels, but then I think about one of my favorite tracks, Waluigi’s Pinball, and despite how as awesome of a level it is, there’s nothing about it at all that screams “this is based on the Super Mario series”.

The first All-Star racing game got the track design right the first time, and this time they knocked it out of the park. The deciding factor is the “Transformed” mechanic. If you like Diddy Kong Racing because of the multiple types of selectable vehicles, you’ll probably get a kick out of this, as you turn into different forms throughout the race. For example, the After Burner track has you racing along an aircraft carrier, then flying across an ocean battle zone, with ships firing at each other and aircraft flying overhead. You make your way to another aircraft carrier, turning back into a car, and keep racing like that along the carrier. After leaving that one, you transform into a boat as you race back to the first aircraft carrier, then back into a plane halfway along the ocean…and that happens in each lap. In a lot of the races, they’re designed so that crazy things happen in the second or third lap, completely re-shaping where you can go. This is also an added incentive to be in first place, to be able to see how the tracks are being changed. In the track based on Skies of Arcadia, you’ll be driving along a bridge in the first and second lap, only to see it destroyed in the third lap, transforming you into a plane and making you go in a different direction. And for those of you who weren’t a fan of Mario Kart 7’s underwater and hang gliding segments, know that the car is the slowest vehicle of the three in Sonic Transformed, and finding hidden opportunities to change into a plane or boat can really change the outcome of a race.

The last thing I’d like to mention is about the different modes, or really one mode in particular. They give you the standard Grand Prix, Single Race, Battle games, and Time Attack modes, but there’s also a World Tour mode. World Tour is set up similar to Diddy Kong Racing in that you have to win races to get stars to unlock more races/characters/mods, but the visual set up is akin to Super Mario Galaxy 2. You go along the map and select whichever races are available, and there are also a large assortment of race types in this mode. There are normal races, but also Sprint (essentially a Time Attack race against a ghost), Boost Challenges and Drift Challenges (getting boosts/doing drifts momentarily stops the countdown timer), Ring Races (flying through a series of rings), Versus (racing one on one against a series of opponents), Boost Races (no powerups, but there are a lot more boost pads on the track), Battle Races (defeating all opponents and/or getting first place without getting killed), Traffic Attack (weaving through waves of traffic), and Pursuit (chasing after a tank to blow it up with missiles). These help to make the World Tour mode a lot more fun, and some of them change the location of the track itself. I was a little surprised doing the Ring Race on the After Burner track, as it has you flying through one of the aircraft carriers at one point, something that isn’t possible during a normal race.

Overall, this game is fantastic. Boasting a wide variety of selectable characters with modifiable vehicles, excellent track designs, and a huge amount of game types, Sonic & All-Stars Racing: Transformed is recommended to all kart racing gamers, and may make you reconsider your excitement for Mario Kart 8.

DISCLAIMER: Racing games are a genre that keep getting noticeably better as technology improves. Mario Kart 8 could in fact be really awesome, and I’m not attempting to tell you not to get it. However, as someone who has been a loyal Nintendo fan since 1986 and has played every Mario Kart game in the series (as well as tons of others, like Diddy Kong Racing, Crash Team Racing, LittleBigPlanetKarting, Pac-Man Rally, Konami Krazy Racers, and Lego Racers), I’m simply asking you not to dismiss Sonic Transformed as I feel it has set the bar higher than any Mario Kart game has for a long time. Double Dash was great, but I’d argue that the series hasn’t brought much to the table since then that didn’t just feel like the same game with a cheap new gimmick attached.

DOUBLE DISCLAIMER: I’m apparently the only person in the world who thought (and still thinks) that Mario Kart 64 was an awful game.

Video Games That Ruled – Sega Genesis Collections pt 2

Click here for part 1!

After a somewhat disappointing start, we’re back with 5 more games from Steam’s Sega Genesis collections. At the time of this writing, I have purchased the Sonic Hits collection as well as the other Genesis games not in bundles, so this is going to turn into an 11 or 12 part series.

Phantasy Star II (1989, Collection 5)
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Phantasy Star II is a sci-fi RPG. It is punishing, difficult, needlessly complicated at times, and a lot of level grinding is necessary. You’re going to spend a fair amount of time hovering around the first town, fighting mosquitoes and ants, and having to go get healed every 2 battles or so. It’s at this point that I realized that old RPGs don’t hold the same charm for me that they did in the 80s and 90s. I’d love to play a remake of this game, and can recommend it to RPG fans. The futuristic setting is different enough to keep things interesting, even though the game doesn’t stray very far from old school RPG traditions.

The Revenge of Shinobi (1989, Collection 5)
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The Revenge of Shinobi is an action platformer, and if you couldn’t tell by the title, is a sequel to 1987’s Shinobi. This is a decent game, with lots of power-ups to collect, different types of ninja magic, and large, expansive levels to fight your way through. However, cheap enemy placement really brings this game down, to the point where having knowledge of upcoming enemies doesn’t really help much. For example, there’s a short underground section in the first stage where several ninjas attack you by appearing via rotating walls. I tried several times, but couldn’t get through that section without taking a hit or two. While this isn’t a great game, it is a fun one, although somewhat frustrating.

Crack Down (1990, Collection 1)
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Crack Down is a top down run-and-gun game, where your objective is to plant time bombs in marked locations and then make your escape to another marked location. There are robotic soldiers trying to stop you, and they increase in both number and difficulty as you progress through the levels. The unique feature to this game is that you can dodge enemy fire by clinging to the walls, although this won’t work on the enemies carrying flamethrowers. If you like Gauntlet/Alien Syndrome style action with a bit of stealth thrown in, Crack Down is the game for you.

Shadow Dancer: The Secret of Shinobi (1990, Collection 1)
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Shadow Dancer is an action platformer, and like The Revenge of Shinobi, is also a sequel to 1987’s Shinobi. Both of these games were developed at roughly the same time, with Shadow Dancer being released as the arcade sequel, while Revenge of Shinobi was a console exclusive. So which one is the “real” sequel? If you’re going according to fun factor, it’s this one. It also has brighter colors, the enemy placement doesn’t feel nearly as cheap (leading to much more enjoyable gameplay), and you even have a companion dog that you can sic on your enemies!

Columns (1990, Collection 2)
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Columns (or “Diagonals”, as I’ve come to call it) was Sega’s answer to Tetris after they lost the console rights. They had developed a version of Tetris for the Genesis, and a few copies were made available, but the infamous Tetris scandal left Nintendo with one of gaming’s first killer IPs and left Sega empty handed. Desperate to find something they could compete with, Sega developed Columns. This game is okay, but there’s really no comparison to Tetris – it’s like steak vs. cat food. If you’ve never played Tetris, you might get some enjoyment out of this one, but it’s a really simple puzzle game that offers virtually none of the strategy that Tetris provides.

So, where do all these games rank on the scale of awesome to awful? Things were definitely better this time around than the first, and this trend will hopefully continue. Once again, I’m going to put them all into 5 categories. Please note that these are based solely on my opinion, and may change to a different category as more games are introduced. New games to the list are in bold text.

Awesome (I will play these again. Definitely recommended)
——–
Shadow Dancer: The Secret of Shinobi

Good (I will play these again. Recommended)
—–
Golden Axe
Crack Down

Average (I might play these again. Somewhat recommended)
——–
Phantasy Star II
The Revenge of Shinobi

Boring (I will never play these again. Only recommended if you’re a big fan of the genre)
——-
Altered Beast
Columns

Awful (I will never play these again. Cannot recommend to anyone)
——
Space Harrier II
Alex Kidd in the Enchanted Castle
Super Thunder Blade

Next time I’ll finish up 1990 and begin 1991 with ESWAT: City Under Siege, Sword of Vermilion, Wonder Boy III: Monster Lair, Gain Ground, and Bonanza Bros.
Click here for part 3!

Video Games That Ruled – Witch & Hero

Witch & Hero is a an action RPG released in April 2013, and is available for download from the Nintendo 3DS store. You control the titular characters, although you play mostly as the Hero. The Witch had been turned to stone in a battle with Medusa, and now the Hero has to take her across the countryside with the hope that he can find a cure for his friend.

This is a very simple game, but that’s part of its charm. Witch & Hero uses NES-style graphics. They’re fairly primitive by today’s standards, but quite effective. The entire game takes place on one of three single-screen locations: the map, the store, and the battlefield.

The map serves as a level select screen, and there are a few hidden locations along the way. You can revisit a level any time you’d like. The store is where you can spend your gold on 5 different upgrades: attack power, defense, speed, fireball, and tornado. The first three are upgrades for the Hero, the other two are for the Witch.

The battlefield is where all the action takes place. The Witch is placed at the center of the screen, and the Hero has to defend her as waves of enemies advance on you. To attack an enemy, simply run into it. If you hit an enemy from behind, you have less chance of taking damage as well. Both the Hero and Witch have their own health bar. When the Hero’s health runs out, he’s knocked down for a few seconds. After that he can get back up and rejoin the fight. The Witch’s health does not refill until you begin a new battle, so you lose if the enemies manage to defeat her. On the plus side, even if the Witch is defeated, you still get to keep half of the gold and experience points you earned in that battle. When you get to the fourth stage, you will be able to pick up “monster blood” as well as gold and XP. When you collect monster blood, it fills in a bar below the Hero and Witch’s life bars. Touching the Witch will give any blood you’ve collected to her. When her bar has filled, the Witch will to come to life for a few seconds and cast either the fireball or tornado spell. This adds a strategic element to the game, as bringing the Witch to life can really help when the screen is filled with enemies.

Overall, Witch & Hero is a really fun, very simple game with a few neat touches that almost anyone could pick up and play. This is great for short sessions, or for keeping you up all night with its “just one more game” style. Also, there is a demo on the 3DS Shop if you’re not sure if this game is right for you.

Video Games That Ruled – Sega Genesis Collections pt 1

The Sega Genesis was a video game console from the fourth generation of gaming. Released in Japan in 1988 as the Mega Drive, it was released in North America as the Sega Genesis the next year. Sega was Nintendo’s main competitor in the late ’80s and early ’90s, and both the Genesis and Super Nintendo Entertainment System are regarded by many as classic gaming’s crowning achievements. I know the library of the SNES inside and out, it’s my favorite system of all time. However, I never had a Genesis, so I missed out on a lot of classic games. I did play some of them via various collections like on the PS2, or through less…legal methods (you put it together, it’s fine if you get rid of it in 24 hours), but now I’m going to make an attempt to rectify this with Steam’s Sega Genesis/Mega Drive Collections. They’ve released 5 collections so far, each including 10 games. I bought all of them, and intend to write a paragraph or two about how each game holds up in 2013/14. Also, instead of tackling them in the collections they’re presented in, I’m going to go through them 5 at a time in a somewhat chronological order (by year shown on the title screen, then by which collection the game is in) to get a better representation of the progression of games for the console.

Altered Beast (1988, Collection 1)
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Welcome to your doom! If you’re familiar with the Genesis at all, you should also be familiar with this game. Altered Beast is a single-plane beat-em-up, and is remembered fondly by Genesis fans. Unfortunately, I can’t say the same. It looks nice, but is a pretty boring game. All of the characters and backgrounds are nicely detailed, but the controls are sluggish and the action is fairly unengaging. The “turn into a beast” mechanic is neat, but getting the power ups feels like busy work. A better, albeit much simpler example of this style of game is Kung Fu on the NES. Rise from your grave…or don’t bother if you don’t want to.

Space Harrier II (1988, Collection 1)
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Get ready! Space Harrier II is a third person shooter. The scrolling effects are done fairly well, but that’s about it. Lousy music, terrible hit detection, and boring gameplay make this quite a forgettable game. I can at least recommend Altered Beast to people, you might like it…but I don’t see how anyone can enjoy this game.

Super Thunder Blade (1988, Collection 2)
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Super Thunder Blade is another third person shooter, although it’s only marginally better than Space Harrier II. It solves the problem of poor hit detection by giving you guided missiles, but that really just turns it into a “hold the fire button down and dodge” kind of game. And this works well until the second level, where I found the giant stone pillars nearly impossible to dodge. One big advantage that Space Harrier II has over this one is that the controls don’t seem so slow. It feels like your helicopter has a lot of weight, and as such it takes a second for you to move in the direction you’ve intended.

Golden Axe (1989, Collection 1)
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Now THIS is a beat-em-up. Before the rivalry of classics like Final Fight and Streets of Rage, there were games like Double Dragon and Golden Axe. These vastly improved on the model set by Altered Beast by changing the view to an isometric perspective, increasing your area of mobility. Also, combos were added to vary the playing experience. You could slash, run, jump, grab, and throw your enemies. The addition of selectable characters, each with their own different appearance and magic, is a very nice touch. The enemies aren’t just mindless punching bags, either. They’ll often run at you from the edge of the screen if they know that they’re lined up with you, so a bit of strategy is necessary when approaching them. Some of them will attack while riding on monsters, and if you hit them you can take control of the monsters, giving you an offensive advantage. The storyline, while simple by today’s standards, is good enough to convey that you’re traversing on a quest, rather than simply playing through levels. For example, with the exception of the progress screen/map, you don’t actually see the giant turtle or the giant eagle, but the map serves its purpose as a storytelling mechanic.

Alex Kidd in the Enchanted Castle (1989, Collection 2)
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Maybe this one’s my fault for expecting Sega’s equivalent of a Mario game, but I pretty well instantly disliked this one. The only time the words “controls” and “good” should be in the same sentence describing this game is if the word “not” is there as well. Everything feels floaty and slippery, and playing rock-paper-scissors (or “janken” as it’s known in the game and, incidentally, in Japan) to be able to buy items is ridiculous. When you go into a store, you should be able to go to an item and just buy it, not have to pay to play a random game of chance to the death.

In short, time has not been very kind to 1988 Genesis games, if they were ever actually good in the first place. They all seem very “tech demo” to me. 1989 hasn’t fared much better so far, with the only one of these early Genesis games that I can recommend to Sega newbies being Golden Axe. It may be showing signs of age, but is still a very fun game, especially with 2 player co-op action. So where do all these games fit in the grand scheme of things? Instead of giving scores, I’m going to put each game into one of 5 categories. Please note that these are based solely on my opinion, and may change to a different category as more games are introduced.

Awesome (I will play these again. Definitely recommended)
——–
nothing yet…

Good (I will play these again. Recommended)
—–
Golden Axe

Average (I might play these again. Somewhat recommended)
——–
nothing yet…

Boring (I will never play these again. Only recommended if you’re a big fan of the genre)
——-
Altered Beast

Awful (I will never play these again. Cannot recommend to anyone)
——
Space Harrier II
Alex Kidd in the Enchanted Castle
Super Thunder Blade

Next time I’ll finish 1989 and dive into 1990, with Phantasy Star II, The Revenge of Shinobi, Crack Down, Shadow Dancer, and Columns.
Click here for part 2!

Video Games That Ruled – Tiny Barbarian DX

Tiny Barbarian DX is a 2D action-platformer that was recently greenlit on Steam. You control the Conan-esque main character in his quest to…save a princess, I think? Hang on and let me back things up for a minute, this game just finished kicking my ass and I need a minute to regroup my thoughts.

Tiny Barbarian DX doesn’t mess around. This is a retro style game, and it’s “NES hard”. Many games currently give you a “death count” while playing or upon completion (Angry Vdeo Game Nerd Adventures, Rogue Legacy, and Stealth Bastard Deluxe are three fine examples), and I died 35 times in the hour and 15 minutes it took me to get through the first chapter. Some of these deaths can be really frustrating and unfair, but luckily the game has auto-checkpoints every few screens. This isn’t “I Wanna Be the Guy”-tough, but it’s still pretty difficult.

When you begin the game, there are no tutorials whatsoever. Unlike a game like “They Bleed Pixels” which has a fairly robust tutorial system, Tiny Barbarian DX throws you to the wolves. You know you can attack and jump, and pressing them in combinations with each other and with the D-pad does stuff, but…I still can’t figure out how I did a jumping spin attack. To be honest, the first time I started playing, I didn’t even know the game had started yet. Before you even get a title screen, you’re thrust into the action. A group of baddies are climbing up a mountain, all the while the camera is scrolling up to show you standing at its peak.

PROTIP: This is where you start taking control.

You’re now in a king of the hill type showdown, facing off against a never-ending horde of increasingly difficult opponents. After you’re eventually defeated (or if you just jump off the mountain), the game will begin proper. You have a choice between “Adventure Mode” (the main game), or “vs. the Horde” (essentially the same as the intro). Going into Adventure Mode you’ll notice that there are 4 chapters, although only the first one, “The Serpent Lord”, is available to play. The other three are not attained by unlocking them. They are still currently being worked on, and will be free upon completion for anyone who already bought the game.

The music is chiptune-tastic. When you get frustrated by all the constant death, the music is there to keep you pumped and ready for action. A good example of this is my favorite track, “Rebirth”, which plays while you’re ascending a tower in a rudimentary elevator. I probably died in this section more than any other (the Serpent Lord battle being a close second), and it wasn’t so I could keep listening to the music. The soundtrack is available on Bandcamp, and is definitely worth a listen.

You may have noticed by now that I don’t really go into much (if any) detail about plot, characters, and storylines in my reviews. This is because I want you to experience these things for yourself. I will, however, tell you that your mighty steed is a giant kitty. If you want a fun, challenging game that’s low on story to the point of forgettable, high on action, and makes you feel like a badass for being able to get through it, check out Tiny Barbarian DX. And when you have gotten through it, just know that there are 3 more chapters to challenge you at some point in the future.

Get Tiny Barbarian DX on Steam or directly from their website.
Tiny Barbarian soundtrack can be found here.