Video Game Review: Red Dead Redemption II (PlayStation 4)

Perfection is a hard thing to achieve but Rockstar Games did it in 2010 with Red Dead Redemption. But then they did it a second time with this long awaited sequel.

And maybe I see this as better than it is due to my undying love for the last entry in this series but this is a more refined version of the game we got and it’s damn fun!

There wasn’t a lot to complain about with the first Red Dead Redemption. I thought the story was terrific, the game play was exciting and the mechanics, which can make or break a game, were very good. Red Dead Redemption II takes what worked and fine tunes it, making it better and much more fluid.

Additionally, this game adds a lot of new stuff to the mix. There are a ton of side quests and random encounters but you get to sell stolen valuables to fences, hunt down a large amount of legendary animals, catch legendary fish and chase down a lot of bounties. While some of these things existed in the predecessor, there seems to be more here and they’re less cookie cutter.

It’s also cool that this game’s map is massive. You do get to return to two of the previous areas from the first game but not until you get through the main story. Once you do, you see that the size of the map of the first game is very small in comparison to the world you’ve been traveling in in this game. Also, there is a secret area that has its own map when you’re in Chapter 5 of the story. I don’t want to spoil it, so I’ll leave it at that.

In this game, you also need to take care of yourself and your horse. Make sure you’re both well fed. I liked this aspect of the game, even if I screwed up and didn’t eat too often because I was looking for action and popping open a can of beans, every so often, just got in the way of my robbery sprees.

If I had to point out some negatives I’d say that I miss the inclusion of the area based off of Mexico. That was my favorite place in the previous game and it is sorely missed. However, the new secret area sort of makes up for it but the sad thing is that you can’t return to the secret map once you leave it in the story.

Also, the game is long. Really, long. I was completely immersed in the story but you get to points where you just want to get towards the next big narrative step or the resolution. I’m not saying that there are bad or even boring missions but a few parts seemed to drag just for the sake of trying to beef up the story’s length and not necessarily it’s depth.

Regardless of that, however, the ending is pretty damn satisfying once you play through the final mission of the second epilogue. And this game ends in a great spot for you to go back and pick up the previous one again.

I don’t buy new games as often as I used to but this was pre-ordered a while ago and I anticipated the moment where I could finally slide this game into my PS4.

In the end, this did not disappoint and I’m still playing it, even though I’m done with the main story. I’m a completeist with games I love and all the extra bits I’m still working on are just as fun as the main game itself.

Rating: 10/10
Pairs well with: the first Red Dead Redemption and Red Dead Revolver, the original game.

Video Game: X-Men (Arcade)

Kids of the ’90s know this game. Well, assuming that they had a video arcade near them and were into the X-Men at the height of their ’90s popularity.

This game was originally presented in a double-wide arcade cabinet with two screens and room for six players at the same time. I used to love playing this and I always hoped for a version of it that I could play at home. But it wasn’t until about ten years ago that this was ported and released for the PlayStation 3 via the PlayStation Store.

The home version isn’t as exciting, as I don’t have six people to play this with or even six controls but playing through it on my own or with a friend or two is still quite a lot of fun.

This is a standard 2D, side scrolling, beat’em up game. Those were super popular back in the late ’80s and early ’90s with games like Double DragonFinal Fight, the arcade version of Teenage Mutant Ninja TurtlesStreets of Rage, the sister game to this one: Captain American and the Avengers, as well as a slew of others. I loved this genre of video games and could never get enough of them. In 2018, I wish side scrolling beat’em ups still populated the marketplace.

For the time, this had solid graphics, great sound, easy gameplay and it was addicting as hell. You didn’t care how many quarters it took, it was hard to leave the arcade without beating this on a playthrough each visit.

The game came out around the same time as the popular X-Men cartoon series. It wasn’t based on that, however. The game was actually designed after the pilot episode of a failed X-Men animated series from a few years earlier. Now that pilot was popular when it VHS, I rented it a lot, but the game sort of exists as an expansion to what probably would have been a solid cartoon series.

You have six playable X-Men characters in this: Cyclops, Wolverine, Storm, Colossus, Nightcrawler and Dazzler. Professor X and Kitty Pryde also show up. The villains also have an impressive roster with Magneto, Mystique, Juggernaut, Emma Frost, Nimrod, Pyro, the Blob and Wendigo. It would’ve been nice to have Sabretooth though.

I still enjoy the hell out of this game and play through it on my PS3 about once a year. Nowadays, it doesn’t cost quarters and I can run through it in about a half an hour.

Rating: 7.5/10
Pairs well with: Captain America and the Avengers arcade game, Spider-Man for Sega Genesis and Maximum Carnage.

Video Game Review: Black Tiger (Arcade)

I’ll be honest, I barely remembered Black Tiger but once playing it in a Capcom classic arcade pack, it came back to me. I then remembered that this game was a huge pain in the ass but at least you could always continue at a spot pretty close to where you died. It was at least more forgiving in that regard than Ghosts & Goblins.

I was also reminded that this game was very similar to Data East’s Karnov, which I loved. Playing this now, it’s still a pretty fun game but I still love Karnov more.

This game isn’t super hard but once you get to the higher level bosses, it really becomes a pain in the ass. The amount of continues I used was astronomical and I would’ve probably spent a paycheck playing through this and beating it in the arcade.

I love the look, feel and sound of the game but the mechanics are pretty clunky. In fact, what made a lot of the boss battles hard were the controls.

It was also difficult trying to figure out what to buy in the store. This has a sort of RPG style to how you buy and use items in the game but I didn’t know what half the icons were supposed to be and I felt that they could have been clearer on store items.

For a seasoned gamer and someone who is much more versed in this game, it can probably be blown through in under a half hour. Hell, there’s a speed run below that took less than 11 minutes. For me, it took several hours and probably a hundred continues to get through this.

But that’s also what I miss about gaming in the ’80s; shit was actually hard. You had to really work for it and develop a unique skill set for every game.

Rating: 6.75/10
Pairs well with: Karnov, Altered Beast, the Ghosts & Goblins series and the Golden Axe series.

Video Game Review: Alien vs. Predator (PlayStation 3)

I was really excited when this came out because I love both Alien and Predator franchises and especially love when they come together. Well, maybe not in the movies but I always liked the Alien vs. Predator comics, as well as the video games before this one. That old Atari Jaguar game was great for the time.

This boasts good graphics, solid maps and the ability to play as a Predator, an alien or a human space marine. There are three different story routes and a lot of cool game play options.

One thing puts a real damper on this game for me though and that’s the overly complicated controls. I typically play as a Predator because why wouldn’t I? Predators are the friggin’ best and I can turn invisible and violently rip enemies to shreds with my knife gauntlet or blast them into smithereens with my shoulder cannon.

But that’s the problem. Predators can do too many awesome things that keeping track of it all, in the heat of battle, is sometimes difficult. Playing as an Alien xenomorph or a human isn’t that much easier either. Running around as a xenomorph can be very disorienting.

I think that this game was a good step in the right direction for what this needed to be but maybe it needed more refinement. And the learning curve to get the controls down is tough. One certainly can’t be ready to be thrown to the wolves after the weak and brief tutorial mission.

This is a lot of fun once you do get the hang of it though but it seems to lack in replayability.

Rating: 6.5/10
Pairs well with: Other Alien vs. Predator games and similar sci-fi/horror first person shooters.

Video Game Review: Castlevania: Symphony of the Night (PlayStation)

There are lots of great video games over all consoles and platforms, spanning five decades. Few, however, are actual masterpieces. Castlevania: Symphony of the Night is one of those rare masterpieces.

I can’t say a bad thing about this game. I love it wholeheartedly and playing it in 2018 made me weep for myself, as I haven’t replayed through it enough over the years. This experience though, has assured me that it is something I’ll have to play through over a weekend every couple of years. Man, I really enjoyed stepping back into this for the first time in over ten years. It also made me feel the sense of excitement and awe that I had for it when I first bought it and took it home in 1997.

I have always been a fan of the original three Castlevania games and this takes the best elements of the original trilogy of titles, mixes them together and pushes away all the negative parts.

While most people don’t like Castlevania II: Simon’s Quest, I always adored that game and how ambitious it was for the time. That ambition and it’s RPG like style mostly just upset people that wanted it to be more like its predecessor. But Symphony of the Night borrows the RPG elements, throws them in here and presents it all as something closer to Castlevania III: Dracula’s Curse, which was a much better version of the style of the original game.

Like Simon’s Quest, you have to round up pieces of Dracula’s body in order to fight him. And also like Simon’s Quest, you have the freedom to go where you please and obtaining certain items unlocks access to new areas.

The thing is, and most Americans in 1997 didn’t know this, but Symphony of the Night is actually a direct sequel to Castlevania: Rondo of Blood, which didn’t come out in the States until later and was then renamed Dracula X. I’ve never played Rondo of Blood but now I want to after revisiting this. Rumor has it, that a version of it is being released for PlayStation 4 soon.

Anyway, apart from this tapping hard into Simon’s Quest, I also love how many firggin’ boss fights you get in this game. There are bosses everywhere in the castle. It’s like you can’t go ten minutes without encountering another boss to fight. What’s also great though, is that the classic bosses return, as well. You get to fight the Grim Reaper, Frankenstein’s monster, the Mummy and Medusa. You even get the annoying hunchbacks, the pain in the ass gillmen and the mindless zombies, as well as so many other regular enemies that every section of this game is new and fresh.

Castlevania: Symphony of the Night is absolute perfection in an artistic and interactive medium where such feats are incredibly hard to achieve. Kudos to Konami, as this is one of the best games the studio ever produced and my favorite in the great Castlevania series.

Rating: 10/10
Pairs well with: The original Castlevania trilogy for NES, Super Castlevania IV for SNES, the Gameboy Castlevania games and Castlevania: Rondo of Blood (also known as Dracula X).

Video Game: Dragon Warrior (NES)

The original Dragon Warrior or Dragon Quest was the first legit role-playing game that I ever played as a child. I played this before I touched any of the Final Fantasy games and just after I had conquered the original Zelda, which was more of an action RPG.

My childhood best friend and I spent a lot of time on this but we weren’t in a rush. We loved the experience of playing through this and not having the Internet around to walk us through the tough bits. We spent months on this after school but eventually we got to the end and beat the big bad. We actually saved the game in a way that we could both have a shot at fighting the final boss.

Dragon Warrior was such a great experience that I got RPG fever and had to play through its sequels, as well as the Final Fantasy games that came out for the original Nintendo and the Game Boy.

Whenever I play any RPG, I can’t stop myself from comparing it to my experience playing this game. The only other game in the genre that made me feel like this was Final Fantasy VII for the original PlayStation, almost ten years later.

Dragon Warrior was an imaginative game that gave me the Dungeons & Dragons experience that I missed out on because my uber religious mother wouldn’t let me play the “Devil’s Game” with my cousins in the ’80s.

Having just played through this masterpiece again, I was transported back to the late ’80s and felt the excitement and emotion that this gave me back then. Truth be told, I have to fire this up every few years, just to bask in its awesomeness and perfection.

Rating: 10/10
Pairs well with: The other Dragon Warrior a.k.a. Dragon Quest games for the original NES, as well as the NES Final Fantasy games.

Video Game Review: Castlevania III: Dracula’s Curse (NES)

Castlevania III: Dracula’s Curse was really f’n cool when it first came out because of one reason, you could play as Alucard, the son of Dracula.

Well, you could play as a few characters but Alucard was just badass and you could turn into a bat and fly through certain areas. But each character had their own special purpose.

Most importantly though, this returned to the game style of the original Castlevania, which most people wanted after the more complex, tougher and RPG-like Castlevania II: Simon’s Quest. I am of the minority that loves that second game though, even if it’s a favorite classic NES title that people love to shit on. Those people are just simple minded and can’t solve more complex problems and puzzles though.

Anyway, Castlevania III is back to basics with some added flourish in the form of the characters Alucard, Sypha Belnades and Grant Danasty. Your main character is Trevor C. Belmont, as opposed to Simon Belmont, as this game is actually a prequel set a few hundred years earlier.

And while it does return to the formula of the first game, it branches out and is more creative, as it allows you to make choices that effect the game. You can choose different paths and the game has different endings based off of what you do along the way.

This allowed the game to have long lasting replayability. As different people beat it in different ways, kids talking on the playground came to realize that they needed to try different things in order to see the various finales. And this is back in the era when beating a game was a massive undertaking, especially since it typically had to be done in a single sitting. Castlevania III monopolized many summer vacation afternoons.

This is just a solid chapter in a solid series what was fun to play and exciting because of the options within the game. It really was a step forward in gameplay and storytelling evolution.

Rating: 8.5/10
Pairs well with: The other NES Castlevania games: the original Castlevania and Castlevania II: Simon’s Quest, also PlayStation’s epic sequel Castlevania: Symphony of the Night.