Video Game Review: Fire ‘n Ice (NES)

I never knew there was a sequel (or I guess prequel) to Solomon’s Key. In fact, I just discovered this while researching some of the background on the original game when I reviewed it recently.

Being that I love Solomon’s Key, I had to give the prequel a try.

At first, I didn’t like this. I would have preferred a game with the same gameplay as the previous one but with new levels and challenges.

The gameplay here is similar, but instead of creating regular blocks, you now create ice blocks and have to use them to defeat monsters, usually flames, and to figure your way through the mini labyrinth that is each stage.

My only issue is that you can’t create blocks level to the player like in Solomon’s Key, now they can only be created a level beneath you. So making blocks to climb like steps isn’t an option.

However, the more I played this, the more the physics of it started to click in my brain and I actually enjoyed it. Even if I got to a point where I was hung up, eventually I’d work through the solution and figure it out.

Well, until I got to level 7-10, where there was an ice platform blocking my path and there was no way around it. I ended up watching a video of someone else playing the level and they didn’t have the same issue, so I’m not sure if I’m missing a piece to the puzzle but that’s the point where I got stuck.

Despite that, this is still a pretty good puzzle game from the 8-bit era. I had hours of fun up until I got trapped. But had I bought this, I don’t think I would’ve had buyer’s remorse.

Rating: 7.5/10
Pairs well with: Solomon’s Key, as well as Monster Rancher Explorer.

Video Game Review: BurgerTime (Arcade)

BurgerTime is a pretty simple early ’80s arcade game that got ported to just about every computer and console during its heyday.

But it was deserving of that, as it’s a great time waster and a lot of fun, even if it can get frustrating with evil food minions trying to hunt you down. Although, if sausages and eggs were chasing me, I’d grab a fork and knife.

Anyway, at its core, BurgerTime is a simple puzzle game. You play a chef and you run up and down ladders and across platforms that hang on to different layers of a burger. The object, is to knock down each layer and build burgers out of them.

The layouts change with each level and the difficulty increases as you move through the game. Levels get more complex and enemies get faster.

While a lot of similar games have come and gone and are long since forgotten about, BurgerTime is well designed and, in my opinion, has successfully stood the test of time as a solid, action packed puzzle game that never gets old is still worthy of revisiting every now and again.

Rating: 7.25/10
Pairs well with: Peter Pepper’s Ice Cream Factory, Super BurgerTime and Diner.

 

Video Game Review: Solomon’s Key (NES)

There aren’t any other puzzle games that I enjoy as much as Solomon’s Key.

I think that has to do with the fact that this is also an action game, with monsters of all sorts and it takes place in a cool setting.

This game is challenging as hell and I never could beat it as a kid. It wasn’t until I was an adult and playing this on emulators that I was able to really dedicate the time that the game needs to complete it.

The main reason for that is because emulators have save states and thus, allow me to save whenever I want so that I can come back and play through the game at my own pace in more than one really long sitting.

Solomon’s Key is still a damn fine challenge, regardless of how many times you play through it. It doesn’t just require you to solve the puzzle of each room but it also requires you to act quickly and to time your movements.

This is a game that has stood the test of time and I still find myself coming back to it at least once per year.

Rating: 9/10
Pairs well with: its prequel Fire ‘n Ice a.k.a. Solomon’s Key 2, as well as Monster Rancher Explorer.

Video Game Review: Gauntlet II (Arcade)

From memory, Gauntlet II was just more of the same in regards to how it plays when compared to its predecessor. However, having now played both of the games in their original arcade versions, I can say that they aren’t exactly the same and that this one improves over the first one.

The level design in Gauntlet II is fantastic and a lot more maze-like than the original. Also, there is more visual flair in the designs with stunningly vibrant colors, as well as new kinds of walls and floor tiles. Playing this just after the first game really shows you how much this one has stepped forward in its overall look and style.

The game also seems to have more diverse groups of enemies to swarm you. Everything is almost the same regarding enemy types but they seem to be mixed up better. Instead of levels that are primarily ghosts, you now have ghosts, demons and trolls all coming at you from multiple spots in pretty close quarters.

If anything, this one was definitely a quarter thief.

I think the addition I liked most was the dragons. Every half dozen levels or so, you will encounter a pretty large, fire spitting dragon. They do massive damage but they also add a whole new level of coolness to the proceedings.

Gauntlet II is everything the original game was and then some. It’s a shit ton of fun and thankfully, I don’t have to dump actual quarters in it anymore.

Rating: 8.75/10
Pairs well with: the original Gauntlet and then the later sequels.

Video Game Review: Gauntlet (Arcade)

Few games made me go broke faster than the arcade version of Gauntlet. That being said, I still loved the absolute shit out of it at an age when losing a quarter felt like losing twenty bucks.

When I eventually got the version that was ported to the original Nintendo, I was ecstatic because I would no longer have to lose boatloads of quarters or tokens. Granted, that version of the game wasn’t as epic and grandiose as its arcade counterpart.

What’s great about the arcade version is it’s graphics and sounds. Also, it plays so fluidly where I always found the NES port to be buggy and laggy.

Sure, you get severely overwhelmed in all versions of this game but that’s sort of the appeal. There’s just something cool about being absolutely swarmed by a ghost army and then having to run for your f’n life every time the Grim Reaper or multiple Grim Reapers appear onscreen.

I guess I had always assumed that eventually you would reach the end of this game. However, I played this for two hours straight and after a while, the levels, despite their number, start to repeat.

This is an endless game. I’m sure it was designed that way to deliberately squeeze as much change out of ’80s kids as humanly possible but that doesn’t make me mad, it makes me kind of respect the game’s developers.

Because, really, this isn’t even a game you play to beat, it’s a game you play to see how long you can hang.

Rating: 7.75/10
Pairs well with: Gauntlet II

Video Game Review: Gyromite (NES)

Gyromite was the first game that I ever played for the Nintendo Entertainment System. Back in the day, it was originally packaged with the console before the Super Mario Bros./Duck Hunt combo cartridge was the norm.

The game was also unique in that if you played it solo, you had to use R.O.B. (Robotic Operating Buddy), a peripheral that came with the earliest versions of the system. R.O.B. sort of failed as a concept and with it, Gyromite faded into obscurity but the experience of playing the game and using a friggin’ robot pretty much blew my seven year-old mind in 1986.

R.O.B.’s long-term failure probably had to do with the fact that you could only use the peripheral with just two games. But, at least R.O.B. proved to be a marketing success, as many kids wanted the console that came with a robot and without R.O.B. and Gyromite, Nintendo might not have become the powerhouse that they did.

Playing this game now is kind of difficult. You have to have a second player or if you are playing it on an emulator, you need to set up the Player 2 controls in a way that it makes it easy for a single player to control the hero in the game, as well as the moving pipes.

This is an action puzzle game, which was something that Nintendo (and many of its regular third party developers) were superb at developing.

It starts out pretty tame and easy but the game gets seriously difficult as you progress. It’s damn hard playing it on an emulator where you have to basically work with two different controller sets via keyboard.

Still, revisiting this was entertaining and it definitely filled my mind up with some strong nostalgia. It truly is a product of the ’80s and it still works well for what it is, even if the dual controller situation makes it a bit awkward to play.

But in the game’s defense, it was made to be played with your friends or siblings. It’s a tandem, multiplayer game that requires solid teamwork and communication to make it work. That’s not a bad concept.

Rating: 7/10
Pairs well with: other action puzzle games for NES: Solomon’s Key, Marble Madness, Clu Clu Land, Lode Runner and Burger Time.

Video Game Review: Shadow of the Colossus (PlayStation 4)

I know, I know… I’m really late to the dance on this one but if it’s any consolation, I intended to play this game for a dozen years before picking it up.

I’m kind of glad that I did wait though, as I was able to play the PlayStation 4 version of the game, which was rebuilt for that console from the ground up. Having seen comparisons of the original PS2, remastered PS3 and the rebuilt PS4 versions, I’m glad that I had the best possible incarnation of this game to play through.

That being said, as absolutely fabulous as this is, and I’ll get to the why in a second, it did have one thing working against it, that being PlayStation 2 era clunky controls. Now it wasn’t enough to hinder the experience and I’m sure it is completely accurate to the controls of the first version of this game but having just come off of Red Dead Redemption II, riding a horse in this was like a giant step back.

Also, some of the jumping and grabbing mechanics were wonky and shooting arrows is damn difficult when compared to more modern games. The boss fight with the sand worm was tough because of the controls and really nothing else. I feel like they could have vastly improved this but I also get why they didn’t. Just as I get why they didn’t change the subtitle font from Papyrus to something less cringe for a 2018 game. In 2005, Papyrus wasn’t quite the design faux pas that it is now but it does take something away from the absolutely gorgeous design of this game.

But putting the negatives behind, I can’t speak enough on how great this game is. It is stupendous, excellent and an incredible experience. I wish it was a longer game but you also get so much out of it that you don’t feel cheated in that regard.

Shadow of the Colossus takes place in a giant, vast kingdom where nothing other than a few birds, lizards and fish live. The empty world is haunting but it is also effective, as when you do get to your destinations, you are almost always blown away by the scale of things.

The game is really just sixteen boss fights. Plus, each one is a puzzle to solve. Each Colossus needs to be defeated but the way in which you must take them down is very diverse and incredibly creative. And just about every battle is a good challenge, requiring skill, patience, timing and a good amount of trial and error in trying to figure out how to damage them. I’ll admit that a few of them were a real bitch to figure out but none of them were so hard that I didn’t enjoy the process.

Above everything else, the one thing that this game does exceptionally well is how it creates a very unique atmosphere. The game features action and danger but it is almost peaceful and calming to play. It’s really hard to describe and can really only be experienced through actual play. But this does get a full recommend from me.

But being completely honest, I wasn’t sure what to think about it for the first hour or so. I really had to get the feel for the game and absorb what it was offering. It was so different than anything else I’ve played and I’ve been playing video games for almost 40 years. But the more you play this, the more it draws you in. By the time I was midway through the game, I was in love with it.

This is a masterpiece in regards to its design and its ambiance. It’s clever, creative and stunning to look at, especially in it’s PS4 form.

If it wasn’t for the control issues I had at key parts within the boss fights, I’d have to give this a perfect score. However, I can’t ignore those issues, as there were two boss fights that frustrated me only because the mechanics added an extra level of difficulty that didn’t need to be there.

Rating: 9.75/10
Pairs well with: man, it’s really hard to think of anything. This is such a unique game but I guess anything good within the fantasy action RPG category.