Retro Gaming

Top Things I Miss About Retro Gaming

Jordan Zolan talks about gaming’s past…

A friend of mine was recently late to a meet-up we scheduled because he had to reach a save spot in a game. He complained how long it took to save his data, and that he was frustrated about being late as a result.

It all got me thinking about how things used to be back in the day, and that him having to wait a little bit to save is nothing like what we had to go through when I was a kid. We discussed what it was like oh so many years ago, and I started to reminisce about all the other aspects of retro gaming that I miss. Here are just a few things gamers today might not remember, but they were staples of my gaming experience growing up.

Cheat Codes:

Anyone who grew up in the ’80s and ’90s can probably still recite a cheat code or two. Whether it’s “IDDKQ,” “KDFM,” or “Up Up Down Down Left Right Left Right B A B A Start,” these sequences are burned into our memories. With cheat codes, we could act like God’s among men, devilishly manipulating the world around us. We now had the power to grant more lives, unlock unlimited weapons, or bring ourselves back from the dead.

Playing through Doom II was fun but having the ability to equip the BFG from the very start made for a really great ride. Knowing the correct buttons to push or keys to input, made gamers feel like they knew something no one else did. It was a secret that made you feel larger than life. Sure, everyone knew these codes, but in the privacy of your own home, you were the sole wielder of such great power.  To this day, I can’t pop in Contra on my NES without inputting the code for thirty lives. It’s ingrained in my muscle memory for all time.

This all still exists today, but it’s not as prevalent and just doesn’t feel as cool as it did oh so many years ago. What are some of the cheat codes you remember always using as a kid?

Retro Gaming

Save Game Passwords

Gamers today don’t know how easy they have it when it comes to saving a game. Most of the time you can just hit the start button and save your data on the spot. Occasionally, there will be a game that makes you work a little hard for it by having you find a save spot or wait until finishing a level. Either way, saving games in today’s world is a simple affair.

This wasn’t always the case, and I remember the pains of what my generation had to go through. Back in the day, we didn’t have the option of saving willy-nilly. What we had, were things called passwords or save game codes. If a game did allow you to save (which wasn’t always the case), it would give you a long string of randomized characters to input. This would allow the player to start at the most recently completed level, or at the spot where the password was received. I used to have notebooks full of passwords written down as to not lose them. I worked hard at advancing through various games, and those save game codes were of vital importance. I can’t imagine having to do something so archaic today, but back then it was the norm.

Retro Gaming

Instruction Manuals

I don’t remember when exactly it became a thing to get rid of instruction manuals with games. Back in the day, every title came packaged with a detailed booklet for all to read and enjoy. If you go back to the NES days, not only were they informative, but many had fantastic artwork throughout the pages. To see a great example, try to find an original Zelda manual. Each enemy and all the weapons were beautifully drawn with immense detail. Many times, there would be whole backstories written inside to build the world of the game.

I used to collect mine, never throwing any away. One day, all of my manuals were tossed, and it was devastating. Today, assuming you don’t buy a game digitally, all we get is a little insert, possibly a coupon or code, and that’s about it. I’m sure it was a cost-cutting measure to do away with instructions, but they used to add so much to the gaming experience. Even to this day, I think about my tossed books of fun, and I wish I had them to read through.

Retro Gaming

Nintendo Power

Sure, gaming magazines are still released on stands today, but none of them are as iconic or enjoyable as Nintendo Power used to be. When you received a copy of that larger than life magazine in the mail, it was a glorious day, to say the least. The wonders and thrills imprinted on each page always brightened my day. The cover art was always amazing, and the details within continually made me excited for what was to come.

From 1988 to 2012, Nintendo fans were treated to something special within those pages. The magazines released today still inform players of upcoming games and news, but it’s not the same. By the time an issue hits the newsstand, the information it contains is outdated and made irrelevant by the internet. I was given a subscription to Game Informer when I paid for my GameStop PowerUp Rewards, but I didn’t read a single issue. The magic that was Nintendo Power can never be recreated.

Retro Gaming

PS1 Power-Up Theme

This might be silly, but I loved the theme that played when you first turned on an original PlayStation. It gave the PS1 an instant bravado that made it say “I’m Different, and I’m going to kick butt.” When you heard that tone, you knew you were in for an experience. I can remember turning up the volume, controller in hand, and hitting that power button with the biggest grin on my face as that music played.

It truth, not all games lived up to the hype generated by that grandiose tone, but it always made you feel you were strapping in for a great ride none-the-less. Other consoles had their other start music after that, but nothing quite matched the grandeur of the original PS1. I loved the GameCube start-up music as well, but it didn’t have the same adrenaline-inducing magnetism as the PS1.

Retro Gaming

Peripherals

Nintendo was king of the peripherals. From the Power Glove, Super Scope 6, the Power Pad, and the Light Gun to name a few, gamers in the ’80s and early ’90s were inundated with first and third party peripherals.

So many of these add-ons were quite useless, but I’ll be dammed if they didn’t look cool on the shelf. The R.O.B for the original NES was probably the most confusing and nonsensical peripheral of all time, and yet there was something special about it. I still have mine, although it doesn’t work, and I’m missing all of the various attachments.

Steering wheels, flight sticks, brake pedals, and arcade-style lap controls were all a part of what gaming was all about. I know they still sell things like that today, but the newness of it all back in the NES heyday made it all the more special. If you loved playing Afterburn in the arcade, now you could have your very own Jet flight stick at home.

It was kitschy and pretty geeky to have some of these beautiful pieces of plastic, but it just made the who gaming experience so much more visceral. What are some of your favorite peripherals from back in the day? Are there any you always wished you had but never owned?

Retro Gaming

Simple Wired Controllers

I can remember getting so frustrated at games (I’m looking at you Battletoads), that I would throw my controller in a fit of rage. The NES controllers were built like tanks, and since they were wired, they couldn’t go very far.

I can safely say I never broke a single controller back then by throwing it. It was a great way to channel your frustrations and to take a minute to cool down and try again. Jump to today, and I would NEVER throw a controller no matter how blind with rage I’ve become. Aside from the fact that they can easily break, controllers are exceptionally expensive. Having to replace a first party Xbox One, PS4, or Switch Pro Controller will set you back $60 or $70 bucks. The Joy-Cons, as much as I love them are also exorbitant. Throwing your controller today is an expensive form of anger management, one which I highly recommend you do not do.

Makes me yearn for the little square piece of hard plastic with its two buttons and securely wired tether.

Retro Gaming

These have been just a few of the things I miss about retro gaming. Sure, many of the things I listed above aren’t practical today, but that’s not the point.

I realize gaming has evolved to make things easier and more streamlined for players, but that doesn’t mean I can’t reminisce about the days of yore. I wouldn’t want to go back to inputting a long password to start a game where I left off or be forced to use simple wired controllers again.

I enjoy how gaming has evolved, but a part of me misses the simple pleasures of how things used to be. Are there aspects to retro gaming you miss? Write in the comments below and let me know what you think of my list and what I might have left off.

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Solar Flux Review [Switch] – Simple, Beautiful, And Addictive

Jordan Zolan reviews Solar Flux on Nintendo Switch.

Playing Solar Flux from Firebrand Games on my Switch, I was reminded of an old quote from French novelist George Sand. He (she) said, “Simplicity is the most difficult thing to secure in this world; it is the last limit of experience and the last effort of genius.”

With increasingly more powerful systems launching alongside intricate and massive games, it’s hard not to think the age of simplicity is a thing of the past. I love playing through experiences such as Horizon Zero Dawn, Dishonored, Red Dead, and all the rest, but sometimes I crave simplicity at its finest. Solar Flux offers just that, in the form of a beautiful puzzler with soothing notes and serene visuals. It’s a game that doesn’t pack a lot of punch but will keep you engaged and pleased for hours on end.

Solar Flux: Switch
Solar Flux: Switch

Stars are on the brink of burning out, and it’s your job to reignite them before they’re gone.  The object of the game is simple; collect balls of plasma and launch them into a star, with each sun on screen denoting how many balls of plasma it needs in order to accomplish the mission. Sounds simple enough, but the strategy needed to collect and launch plasma safely is a whole different story.

The controls are exceptionally simple. Each level starts with the player needing to launch the ship by aiming towards the desired location. Once launched, the only other options are to fire plasma or use your engines, all accomplished with a touch of the screen. To launch the plasma, simply tap on the star you want to fire at, and to operate the engines, touch the screen behind the ship in the opposite direction you want it to go.

Solar Flux: Switch
Solar Flux: Switch

Even though you have engines, the point of the game is to complete the mission without using them. Every time plasma is launched into a star, a 360-degree shockwave is emitted from the centre of the sun. Time the shockwave just right, and your ship will be nudged in another direction. By riding these waves, you can traverse each level, collect all the necessary plasma, and complete the mission without ever using any fuel. Finishing each level in this manner will yield the player three out of three stars. I personally make it a goal to always get a perfect score on puzzle games such as this, so I found myself replaying levels over and over to achieve perfection.

It wouldn’t be a great puzzler if there weren’t hazards stopping you from completing each mission. Scattered over the maps, you’ll find asteroids, black-holes and comets that frequently lead to your ship’s destruction. Even the stars themselves can ultimately come between you and victory. Space is a stunningly beautiful place but deadly through and through.

Solar Flux: Switch
Solar Flux: Switch

As I played through the scores of levels, 80 in total, Solar Flux began to remind me of the game Zuma and of the classic arcade staple Asteroids. The relationship between physics and geometry during play is of the utmost importance. Not only do you have to launch your ship with precision aim, but you need to know the correct second to shoot plasma, in order to ride the shockwave to the next destination. Shoot too early and you’re flung off in the wrong direction or into the dead of space. Time the shot too late, and your ship could be sent hurtling into an asteroid belt. As the levels go on, I found the increase in difficulty to be both masochistically satisfying and at times wildly frustrating; just how a great puzzler should be.

The sound design is simple and yet hauntingly beautiful. The subtle notes of the underlying score have an empty feeling, giving the sense of being in a cold and vacuous place. Everything from the sound of collecting and shooting plasma, to the shockwave, and even the low hum of your engines, seem to denote an odd calmness. It’s all painfully simple but manages to pull me into the atmosphere the game is trying to create.

Solar Flux: Switch
Solar Flux: Switch

I’ve always had a love for challenging puzzle games. They don’t need to be overly sophisticated in order to be good at what they’re supposed to accomplish. Games such as these force me to think in ways most big blockbuster titles don’t. I’m not exploring ancient cities or long-lost ruins, and I am not gunning down thousands of baddies with a myriad of weapons. Solar Flux simply asks you to collect and discard, but to do so perfectly will take a keen eye and a brilliant sense of timing.

Hello Neighbor Review [Nintendo Switch] – Great Idea, Little Satisfaction

One would imagine that if you backtrack before the release of Hello Neighbor by Dynamic Pixels, before coding and artwork, before storyboards and script writing, someone, somewhere had a great idea for an amazing game.

Hello Neighbor [Switch] – Great Idea, Little Satisfaction

They wrote pages and pages of scribbled notes on a napkin sitting at a diner booth in the late hours of the night, drinking coffee and eating a cold plate of fries. This budding game designer would feverishly jot down ideas for a wild new concept that would revolutionize a genre. As their fries got colder and the napkin count rose, a fully fleshed out world would start to take shape.

I am sure whatever was written on those grease-stained napkins was pure genius, but that genius never made it past the face towelette stage. Hello Neighbor, a self-professed “Stealth Survival Horror” game, might have sounded like a spectacular idea at the start, but what we got will more likely make you weep then shake in your boots.

Hello Neighbor Review
Hello Neighbor Review

The main objective is to sneak into your shady neighbor’s house and find a way to break into the basement to discover his dirty secret(s). You have the option of going through open bedroom windows, the front door, via the roof, and more. Be careful though, if the evil neighbor catches you, he’ll throw you out on the street. If he sees you lurking outside, he’ll jump through the closed window to boot you onto the curb. Magically, the window gets fixed in an instant.

Sounds easy enough, but as you find different ways of infiltrating, the Neighbor finds new ways of stopping you. The A.I. in the game is meant to counter your every move. Where once the front door was open and clear, now there will be cameras watching. Certain windows will have bear traps to stop you, or the Neighbor will find new shortcuts to get to you before you complete your mission.

If you manage to make it in the house, you can hide in cabinets and under tables as your enemy searches frantically to no avail. The house itself grows with new rooms and ways of getting lost, which I found to be pretty neat.

Hello Neighbor Review
Hello Neighbor Review

It should all be fun and innovative, but instead, feels clunky, buggy, and frustrating. For instance, you can stack boxes to reach a window, but the physics engine seems to be off. The boxes are infuriatingly easy to knock over before ever getting anything done. It reminds me of a late ’90s virtual reality game that you think is going to be really awesome but ends up disappointing your childhood.

The colour pallet looks as if Thomas the Tank Engine had a baby with Marge Simpson, and then gave it up for adoption to Gumby. It’s not that I hate the way everything looks, it’s just that it has this uncomfortableness about it.

Hello Neighbor Review
Hello Neighbor Review

There was one thing I did like about the game, and that’s a rather interesting auditory experience. If you listen carefully, you can hear the Neighbor’s footsteps as he walks inside and outside of the house (and it’s easy to differentiate between the two).

You can hear him as he is using the kitchen or bathroom sink, snoring in the living room, or grumbling to himself. The Neighbor will even turn on a record player or a broken TV, which you can then turn off by sneaking in through a window. Eliminating the extraneous noise allows the player to hear better and locate where the Neighbor might be at a given time. Out of all the things the developers were going for, I really enjoyed this one specific play mechanic the best. It isn’t perfect, but it’s fun.

Truth be told, I never made it too far into unlocking the mystery of it all, but that’s mostly because I stopped caring. I know this review sounds harsh, but that’s probably because I feel the concept is actually really cool, just poorly executed.

I Love the idea of an A.I. that learns and makes things harder minute by minute. I love the idea of using your senses to avoid the enemy and solve the puzzle. I am a huge fan of using your surroundings to aid in the quest. I just wish it all came together better.

Hello Neighbor Review
Hello Neighbor Review

Why Is Video Gaming So Complicated Now?

Two buttons and a directional pad, that’s all we needed back in the day to play our games. The NES, released in 1985, was simple by today’s standards but contained an almost endless amount of fun and intricate games. There were no shoulder buttons, touch pads, or motion controls built in. The phrase more power never passed through the lips of the gaming community, nor did developers need to design overly complicated play mechanics, just to pack their Magnus Opuses with a cornucopia of actions and abilities. As the industry upgraded to 16-bit, games were still fun, even as developers were starting to make them more complex. Jump ahead to today’s world of video gaming, things have gotten so complicated, so over-bloated, that games have stopped being fun, and turned into a commitment.

The Complification Factor

With increasingly powerful hardware, overstuffed controller designs, and epic game times of over a hundred hours to complete, I find myself shying away from certain modern gaming franchises. Here are just a few reasons why games stopped being a fun journey, and have transformed into an overwhelmingly anxiety-ridden experience.

Since I brought up controller design, I might as well finish that argument to start. With each successive console release, controller redesign is always front and centre. Granted, current models have only received slight modifications over the last generation, but it took a lot to get there. We have gone from two buttons to over eleven in certain cases. Microsoft’s latest Xbox Elite Controller is truly a masterpiece in design, but with the ability to customize the buttons and the fact that it’s touted as the “ultimate gaming controller,” it’s all a bit too much.

controllers

I have to admit, I loved the simplicity of the original Wii Remote; the controller bucked the trend and it made playing a fun experience. I can’t tell you how many times when playing a modern epic like Horizon Zero Dawn or a smaller indie game such as Xenorade, I’ll continually hit the wrong button(s). It’s hard enough to remember everything you have to do in a game, but to memorize what each of a controller’s multiple buttons do at any given moment is frustrating.

Game experiences are too long, and unfortunately, I no longer have the time to dedicate to a hundred-plus hour extravaganza anymore. Popular franchises such as Fallout, Assassin’s Creed, and Mass Effect can take a lifetime to finish, and countless more hours to reach a hundred per cent (if that’s even possible). I feel guilty enough as it is playing normal length games, but a commitment that long is insane.

I am no longer a kid or in college, and I certainly can’t justify spending that much time on anything, let alone a video game. I can see it now, written on my tombstone, “Never accomplished anything in life after playing too many epic games.” These blockbusters take so long to complete because they are overloaded and filled with dump-truck loads of extraneous stuff. Players often get sucked into a rabbit hole of side quests everywhere they turn. Just to be fair, you all know I love the Zelda franchise, but even Breath of the Wild suffers from needing far too much of a commitment.

catsleep

Speaking of over-bloated and overwhelming experiences, I am getting a little tired of games that require constant upgrading and modifying. From weapons to uniforms, hair colour and eyebrow placement, players have the option to modify and craft everything in these games. Watching a friend play the latest Fallout was nerve-wracking. I don’t mind a little bit of tinkering here and there since it can be fun, but when there are hundreds of things you can change, it takes away from the overall experience. I don’t want to spend a million hours turning my pulse rifle into a bad-ass, steampunk death machine; I just want to select my pre-designed gun, blow the crap out of something, and move on. I don’t mind side missions too much, but when a game is stuffed with a thousand of them, and there is little payoff, I find it to be a waste of time and energy.

crafting

Hey kids, I hope you got your allowance this week because buying the full price game doesn’t mean you get the full price experience. I am not sure when gaming became less about the adventure and more about making money, but we’ve reached the apex of greedy corporations nickel and diming gamers with pay-to-win loot crate acquisitions. EA just got in trouble for it and removed the pay feature from Battlefront II, but we all know it will be back.

Speaking of Battlefront II, it’s terrible; the game is clunky, boring, and looks like EA threw it together during a drunken holiday party. The fact that the full game wasn’t in place was even more of a slap in the face. Gaming used to be about fun, excitement, and the allure of a great adventure; now all we get is greed, contempt, half-ass developments, and developers who seem more like the mafia than beloved imaginariums.

expensive

Continuing on the greed front, we used to get stuff when we bought a system. The NES and SNES came with a game and two controllers; even the PS1 had a fun demo packed in. Today we get nothing extra but a list of things we need to buy. From the console, extra controllers, games, online subscriptions, separate charging stations, carrying cases, and protective covers, the amount one could initially spend is astronomical.

When the price of the system itself starts at three to four or even five hundred dollars, all the extra accessories become a luxury most people can’t afford. This is why I didn’t by a Switch right away, and why I can‘t see myself buying PlayStation VR anytime soon. Call me weird, but I have this thing where I enjoy eating and buying the essentials in life over an extra Joy-Con or Pro controller.

nes package

In the eighties and early to mid-nineties all you had to do was hook up a console to the TV, insert the game, and press power. There were no startup screens, multimedia hubs, camera peripherals, Kinect sensors, VR helmets, or social media postings to worry about. Games could be epic without being convoluted. It says a lot when a thirty-plus-year-old game is just as enjoyable as its modern-day iteration.  I am not saying I don’t enjoy the modern epic because that would be a flat-out lie. I love games and gaming today, but I sometimes yearn for the days of my youth, when video games were simple, where fun and whimsy came at no extra cost.

How Your Parents Bought Their Video Games

How Your Parents Bought Their Video Games

As I was downloading a game onto my PlayStation 4, it dawned on me that the process in which we purchase video games is nothing like the bygone days of my youth. Back in the ancient times of the 80’s and 90’s, we had to go to places called stores, which were constructed of bricks and mortar, and staffed by human beings from all walks of life.

These hallowed halls contained gaming wonders and often times, you could overhear the finest of nerd conversations and debates.

It not only saddens me that those days are most likely over (with a couple exceptions), but it makes me weep for the younger generation who will never know what that experience was like. For all those who don’t know what video game buying was like oh so long ago, I am going to list all the places and experiences from my childhood where one could go to treat themselves to a cacophony of gaming.

Toys R’ Us

I feel like I should start with Toys R Us as they only recently went out of business, and younger gamers might know what this was like. I can’t say if the store changed the way it sold games in recent times, but back in the day, it was an interesting experience.

Finding your way to the video game section was always fun because you got to pass all the awesome toys on the way. Once you got to the correct aisle, there were, in fact, no games to actually take. Instead, where games should be, buyers would find tiny slips of paper. You’d take the slip you wanted, bring it to the register to be scanned and paid for, and sent to a waiting area by a storeroom. You’d hand your receipt to the employee who would disappear momentarily before returning with your game.

It was a unique experience, most likely put into place to curb theft, but It always felt like an adventure. Nothing was more heartbreaking then locating the game you wanted, only to find there were no more slips of paper, just a sad sold-out sign. Toys R’ Us would also have systems on display before they were released; I’ll never forget the first time I saw the Nintendo 64 at my local store and nearly lost it over how amazing the system was!

KB Toys

KB Toys was a staple in practically every mall in the United States up until they declared bankruptcy in 2008 and disappeared. They were small toy stores but always had a special charm to them that I can’t quite put my finger on. I pretty much went to KB Toys for the sole purpose of either buying Star Wars figures or video games. They had a wall of Star Wars toys that would make any nerd weep and always had a figure or two that was harder to find. Their gaming section was pretty much non-existent, however.

Everything they had was located behind the counter, so you’d have to ask if there was something you didn’t see. I always found it slightly impersonal, but reliable in a clutch if a game was sold out elsewhere. If memory serves me, they were also a tad more expensive than other places, which is probably why I mostly stuck to the Star Wars figures. It’s been years since I’ve seen a KB Toys let alone walked into one, but a trip to the mall was never complete without walking down its disorganized aisles of fun.

Funcoland

I don’t know if this was a New York thing, or if they existed across the country, but Funcoland was a unique experience, to say the least. Not really a place where you’d go to buy new games, as they were definitely more expensive than other retailers, but they were one of the only places in town to buy older games and systems. If you were looking for an original gold cartridge of The Legend of Zelda, that was the place you’d find it. They had quite the collection and usually had a few systems hooked up to play. In fact, they had a ton of systems visitors could try out and waste hours hopping from one to another.

This was a store where the true gaming fans went to play old games, strike up good conversations, and perhaps walk out with a classic they hadn’t thought about in years. It should also be noted they all looked slightly run down, which further added to their magic. Like KB Toys and Toys R’ Us, Funcoland no longer exists, but retro-gaming stores of today owe a lot to this pioneering gaming utopia.

Electronics Boutique

Another mall staple and a place that’s near and dear to my heart! EB, as it was known back in the day, was my home away from home. It was well-lit, clean, and always stocked with the latest and greatest. This was the place I bought 90 per cent of my gaming needs. I can’t think of a time where I didn’t walk in to buy something but ended up there for hours just talking to the employees about all things geeky and gaming. There were systems set up to play and everyone had a great time. It was our Central Park, our hangout spot.

I loved EB so much, I ended up working there for a couple of summers when I was in high school. Walking into a GameStop today is almost exactly like the experience gamers would have had back in the EB days. The layouts are similar, the staff have the same vibe, and it’s probably the number one place to buy used games. There is, of course, a reason for this, which brings me to…

Babbages

Babbages has a long and storied history, which is shocking when you think about it. I did not like Babbages when I was younger. They were also a mall mainstay but palled in comparison to Electronics Boutique. Whereas EB was big and bright, clean and inviting, Babbages was small and dark, dirty and off-putting. The staff was usually not as friendly (or knowledgeable), but they tried their hardest to compete. Over the years, Babbages has been bought and sold, changed its name, and tried to reinvent itself.

Eventually aquired by Barnes & Noble (they also bought Funco as well), back in the late 90’s, the entity formally known as Babbages went public and was renamed, you might have guessed, GameStop! That tiny hole in the wall store has become one of the biggest names in gaming retail, which is mind-boggling to me.

In a WWE vs. WCW move, GameStop even purchased formal Rival EB Games (Electronics Boutique) for a whopping $1.44 billion back in 2005. GameStop is a great place and I enjoy my visits, but the evolution it took to get to where it is today is staggering.

Next time you enter a GameStop, take a minute to think about the history that goes along with it. Buying a game or a system isn’t just about the purchase, it’s about the experience. The sights and sounds of a retail store are unique and magical in their own right. With their acquisition of ThinkGeek, GameStop stores are even more wonderous than ever before.

Heart And Soul

I’m pretty lazy these days, so if I can purchase a digital download or a physical copy of a game online, I probably will, but sometimes I really miss doing it the old-fashioned way. A good gaming chat is hard to come by these days, and the conversations you strike up with people while waiting in line or behind the counter can’t be recreated with an online purchase. Buying video games may be more convenient these days, but the heart and soul of it all is an endangered activity.

Henry The Hamster Handler Review [Nintendo Switch] – A Simple Yet Challenging Rhythm Game

In a time dominated by an ever-growing number of expansive open world games, it’s occasionally nice to sit back with something simple. There are a lot of small games for the Switch, a good amount of which can, unfortunately, be written off as cash grabs. Simplicity, however, doesn’t always have to mean bad.

Pong is simple, and yet one of the most iconic games ever created. Henry the Hamster Handler by Pocket Money Games is not going to reach the icon stratosphere like Pong, but it is a simple game that packs in a lot of complex fun.

Henry The Hamster Handler Review

Henry The Hamster Handler Review

The game’s premise is basic; make sure the furry little nuggets of joy reach their destination without getting eviscerated. The Hamsters walk at an even pace across the stage with various obstacles in their way.

You the player must press the correct Joy-Con button when prompted in order to allow the little ones to proceed without impediment. Fail to do so, and you’ll immediately see your new friends burned, gassed, crushed, vaporized, or fall to their deaths. If a majority don’t make it across the danger zone intact, the stage will automatically be lost.

There are three hundred levels, each one with increasing difficulty and speed. Like most classic rhythm games, you have to get into the groove or you’ll get overwhelmed pretty quickly.

The first couple of levels ease you into the play mechanics, but I found myself scrambling to hit the correct buttons pretty soon out of the gate. As you can guess, the hamsters keep coming, forcing you to act fast or face the consequences. Things got so intense, I definitely became anxiety-ridden on more than a few occasions.

Henry The Hamster Handler Review

There’s really not much else to the game. Hamsters drop down, and the human must ensure they make it safely to the goal. Fail to do so, and you have to restart the stage. There are no frills, no bonus menus, and no options to speak of. This is as simple as it gets, but don’t let that fool you into thinking it’s not worth your time.

Animated Jigsaws: Beautiful Japanese Scenery Review

Animated Jigsaws: Beautiful Japanese Scenery Review [Nintendo Switch] – A Digitally Zen Experience

I’ve been a fan of putting things together ever since I was a little kid. Puzzles, Erector Sets, models, and more. From Legos to Lincoln Logs, if you could build it, I would have done so. Out of all the projects I got my hands on, one, in particular, stands out from the crowd.

When I was around ten, I was given a four-thousand-piece puzzle depicting a beautiful forest. The scene consisted of various shades of green and brown, with a deer grazing amongst the trees. The sun shined through the canopy and a tiny stream flowed in the foreground. Over the course of several years, I would start and stop, sometimes obsessing over it and at other times letting it sit untouched for months on end. It took over five years for me to finish the thing, but it was worth every second of time put into it. We flipped it over, glued the back, and put the massive puzzle in a frame; there was no way I would allow that beautiful piece of art to ever be taken apart.

I was reminded of that puzzle the other day when I popped in Animated Jigsaws: Beautiful Japanese Scenery from Rainy Frog. Just as the name denotes, we have a collection of animated scenes from various locations around Japan, cut into jigsaw puzzles and presented to those who want a meditative experience for their Nintendo Switch.

Animated Jigsaws - Beautiful Japanese Scenery
Animated Jigsaws – Beautiful Japanese Scenery

There are ten animated scenes for puzzlers to choose from, ranging from 60, 120, or 240 pieces, based on preference. The famous locations include Mt. Fuji, Tokyo, Kyoto, and more. These aren’t simply static scenes, but fully animated and photo realistic. Rivers run, and the leaves blow in the wind as the images come time life with every puzzle piece put into place. The designs and detail are exceptionally beautiful.

While putting together these majestic scenes, players are treated to traditional Japanese music. The whole experience is quite Zen-like, and I found myself wanting to relax by putting together a puzzle after a hard day. The difficulty is almost nil, but one doesn’t really pick this one up to be challenged. You can even join four people together if you wanted to share the puzzle with some friends in multiplayer. It’s not necessary in the least, but an option nonetheless.

Animated Jigsaws - Beautiful Japanese Scenery
Animated Jigsaws – Beautiful Japanese Scenery

For a little-added assistance, the pieces snap into place on the main board as well as with each other when in the appropriate position. It’s a nice little feature that makes the game even more stress-free when figuring out if things fit. I found the jumbled mess all the pieces start off on to be slightly annoying, but then again, that’s how a normal puzzle is in the real world. There’s an open area on the right side of the screen in which players can keep pieces for later use, allowing you to spread things out to make the puzzle slightly more manageable.

Not all of the scenes are unlocked from the get-go. You only have a few to choose from at the start, but can unlock more with the completion of the puzzles available. It’s easy to unlock additional backgrounds, but with only ten, I hope there will be some DLC in the future which will add more selections into the mix.

Animated Jigsaws - Beautiful Japanese Scenery
Animated Jigsaws – Beautiful Japanese Scenery

Having enjoyed this experience thoroughly, I have a renewed interest in starting a new mega puzzle in the real world. Due to events in my life which are beyond my control, I have no idea what happened to that puzzle I had put together so long ago. I’d like to think it’s still hanging in a frame somewhere, with that tiny deer forever grazing amongst the trees.

Shantae and the Pirate's Curse Review Nintendo Switch

Shantae and the Pirate’s Curse Review [Nintendo Switch] – A Hair Whipping Great Time

From Pitfall and Super Mario Brothers to Kid Icarus and Crash Bandicoot, the platformer has been challenging players for over thirty years. I feel the genre reached its peak in the late 90s when the PlayStation took the world by storm. Soon thereafter, games started to get exponentially larger and more complicated with hardware increasing in power with each successive generation. Gamers started to gravitate towards more hack-and-slash and open world titles like Devil May Cry or GTA.

In today’s gaming universe, nostalgia is having a direct effect on developers who grew up in the 80s and 90s and are looking towards the beloved games of their past. With the proliferation of Steam and the monster success of the Nintendo Switch, the platformer is making a massive comeback in the most glorious way possible. Indie developers finally have their time to shine, with WayForward’s Shantae and the Pirate’s Curse proving that old school platforming is healthier than ever.

Shantae and the Pirate's Curse Review Nintendo Switch
Shantae and the Pirate’s Curse Review Nintendo Switch

Shantae and the Pirate’s Curse Review Nintendo Switch

This is the third adventure to feature everyone’s favourite hair whipping genie, where Shantae has lost her magic powers just as a great evil takes over her home of Sequin Land. Shantae must join forces with her arch nemesis, the pirate Risky Boots in order to vanquish the evil. As she struggles without her powers, Shantae must learn the pirate way and gain new weapons to take on her enemies.

Let me preface the rest of this review by mentioning that I have never played any of the other games in the series. They all look great, but I won’t be able to make any comparisons between them. If you enjoy this game, I suggest playing the other titles for some more platforming fun.

Shantae and the Pirate's Curse Review Nintendo Switch
Shantae and the Pirate’s Curse Review Nintendo Switch

In this latest instalment, Shantae starts off with only the ability to whip her hair (her main weapon) and jump. Don’t let her innocent look fool you, that hair of hers is a deadly weapon and can vanquish her enemies with ease. As Shantae explores the islands around her home, she collects new weapons and upgrades which aid in the fight and also help her solve various puzzles located throughout. At the start of the adventure, you’ll notice hard to reach switches that you can’t seem to hit. It’s not until Shantae reaches the second island that you receive the flintlock pistol, which allows her to shoot through the narrow openings, activating the switches. The puzzles aren’t a great challenge, but they’re fun in their own right. You can also upgrade Shantae’s hair whip to make it stronger and more effective.

Just as the puzzles aren’t anything to write home about, the varying enemies could have been a little more ‘varied’. Each island has its own monsters to fight, but in reality, they all feel (mostly) the same, just with different skins. One island will have goblins, another has evil mermaids, and yet another will be populated with the walking dead, (not that one, sigh). The visuals are nice, yes, but they’re all defeated in the same way. I would have liked to see a little more variation in the baddies, instead of what seemed like the same sprites with new outfits.

Shantae and the Pirate's Curse Review Nintendo Switch
Shantae and the Pirate’s Curse Review Nintendo Switch

The world that WayForward created is full of unique and colourful characters though, each beautifully animated throughout the adventure. I found the interactions between Shantae and the population tended to go on a little too long, but it all serves as exposition and backstory necessary to help move the story forward. It wasn’t so bad the first time around, but if you die and have to have the same interaction again, you’ll be glad there’s a skip button to race through the conversation.

The platforming in the game reminds me of a cross between Aladdin on the Genesis and any of the Mega Man games from the NES days. It’s not going to set any standards, but you’ll have a pretty fun time throughout the experience. Aside from vanquishing monsters, Shantae can also collect gems to buy health, weapons, and power-ups, and in a Zelda-like manner, find lost Heart Squibs which allow you to increase your heart containers/health meter.

Shantae and the Pirate's Curse Review Nintendo Switch
Shantae and the Pirate’s Curse Review Nintendo Switch

As a fan of the platforming genre, I highly enjoyed Shantae and the Pirate’s Curse to the point that I would definitely seek out the other titles in the series. The game won’t win any awards on difficulty, but the story is funny, the characters well developed, and there’s a high fun factor in general.

Bingo Review Nintendo Switch

Bingo Review [Nintendo Switch] – A Simple Game That Would Be Better With Friends

When I was a young kid, I went down to South Florida every December to visit my grandparents. They spent winters down there to avoid the three straight months of extremely cold weather, and I certainly didn’t mind getting a momentary reprieve as well. The two of them lived in what could best be described as an efficiency motel, where their room had a kitchen and acted like a pied-a-terre of sorts.

All of their friends were there, and there were nightly events and activities for the residents. One of my favourite activities (and I must preface this with the fact that I was six), was Bingo night. They had one of the old school metal cages that housed the balls, and cards that must have been in circulation for decades. Every time I think of Bingo it reminds me of that time long ago.

Bingo Review Nintendo Switch

Jump to today, and developer Starsign has released their version of BINGO for the Nintendo Switch with a little twist. It doesn’t have the same appeal as playing in that Florida Motel, but the game certainly has its charms.

There are four different modes to choose from, each accommodating up to four players. If you don’t have any friends around, you’re forced to play with the computer, which is not nearly as fun. Players can choose from Classic BINGO, Buzzer BINGO, Slide BINGO, and BINGO Poker, with each mode having its own set of rules and play mechanics.

Bingo Review Nintendo Switch
Bingo Review Nintendo Switch

Classic BINGO is just as it sounds. The numbers come up as usual, and when you can complete a row, you win. Buzzer BINGO pits players against each other, where everyone must scramble to grab the numbers as they pop up on screen. You must be quick on the draw, or you’ll be left in the dust. Slide BINGO is a game in which you move the rows around to align the red tiles on your card to make a winning row. Finally, there’s BINGO Poker, a game in which you try to get a BINGO using both the pre-existing red tiles and the new numbers you get. However, when you acquire a new number, you must throw away one your existing numbers in return.

There really isn’t much else to say about this one. It’s definitely designed to be a party game for when you have a group of people together. Playing it solo with just the computer as my opponent quickly became boring and tedious. Without the comradery of a group of friends, I simply didn’t have any interest in playing for any length of time. With basic designs and a no-frills soundtrack, there was only so long I could tolerate playing by myself.

Bingo Review Nintendo Switch
Bingo Review Nintendo Switch

There is a niche market of consumers who will pick up this title, most notable being the board game types if I had to guess. There is nothing inherently wrong with it, but the game will most likely come and go with a whisper of remembrance.

The Final Station Review

The Final Station Review [Nintendo Switch] – Hop On Board And Blast Away

Do you sit at home wondering why no one has ever made a game that combines the ingenuity of a train simulator with the all-out fun of blasting away hordes of zombies? I knew you did, which is why I have great news. Do My Best Games has brought their 2016 opus The Final Station and its follow-up DLC The Only Traitor in a combined offering to the Nintendo Switch. I know I sound like I’m being sarcastic, but as random as that pairing may be, it all works exceptionally well to create a rather engrossing post-apocalyptic journey.

The Final Station Review [Nintendo Switch]

It’s been quite a while since the Visitation brought death and destruction to all. Mysterious canisters of no known worldly origin crashed landed on Earth, releasing a viral toxin that turns people into mindless zombies. In The Last Station, you take control of the train operator who travels across a dying world in search of supplies, passengers, and perhaps the salvation of all mankind. As you go from station to station, you must piece together what happened and wonder if another Visitation would or could happen again.

The Final Station Review
The Final Station Review

The story of The Last Station is told through a narrative environment. Notes, text messages, letters, and books from those no longer alive attempt to fill you in on what exactly happened over a hundred years earlier. This combined with conversations with the living, help to paint a picture of everything that has, is, and will occur. It’s a great way to unveil how the world came to be, but I did at times find it slightly confusing and hard to piece together.

After beating the game in under four hours, I was still a little hazy on what exactly happened, what the Visitation was, and who or what was behind it. You’re led to believe it was an alien attack from countless light-years away using advanced tech to send the poison gas to Earth. By the time the game ended, I wasn’t quite sure if this was the case. Whether it was manmade or extraterrestrial, that’s for you to decide.

As stated above, there are two distinct aspects to this game. On the one hand, you must operate the train as it goes from abandoned station to abandoned station. While travelling, the train operator (you) must make sure the equipment doesn’t break down and the passengers (whom you rescue), don’t die in transport. Various components of the train start to break down in route, and you must act fast to counteract the faulty parts. It’s not difficult, but if you’re tending to sick or dying passengers, you might not realize the train is about to go offline. Ignore the train issues long enough and the whole thing just stops in its tracks. The longer you take to get moving, the higher the odds someone will die.

Speaking of dying passengers, you need to pay attention to their health and hunger meters. Once either meter reaches the bottom, times up and they die. Each passenger you successfully bring back to a shelter will yield money and other necessary items. Furthermore, the more passengers you bring home safely, the more achievements you unlock. This is simply for those who love achievements, but it has no bearing on the actual content of the game.

The Final Station Review
The Final Station Review

There is a crafting element to the game as well, which you will need to utilize in order to make more medicine and ammunition. You often find food and medkits at the stations, but if you’ve run out while travelling to a new destination, you can craft more while in transit. The medkits can be used on your own wounds or for your sick passengers. When it comes to food, only those seeking refuge on the train will require it, but it’s found sparingly so use food kits wisely.

Once the train reaches a station, it’s your job to go exploring in order to find more equipment, passengers, and most importantly, the code needed to reach the next station. That last part sounds confusing, but I assure you it’s not very difficult. Armed with a handgun and your fists at first, eventually, you find a shotgun and a rifle to aid in your protection.

The Final Station Review
The Final Station Review

The station designs are rather creepy and add to the dark ambience of a zombie outbreak. You never know what’s behind a door or lurking inside a bathroom stall. Yes, the game is obviously using retro designs, but it effortlessly creates anxiety and apprehension. The graphics aren’t going to sell everyone, but the game isn’t supposed to be Resident Evil. It’s simplistic, but exceptionally well done. By taking away all the modern advances, Do My Best Games is allowed to focus on the story, and that’s what really matters.

The main quest contains four types of zombies. Fast animal-like, slow and traditional, armoured, and explosive. The first two can easily be beaten, but don’t underestimate them. The armoured ones take an extra step, but once you knock off their helmet, a single shot to the head does the trick. The explosive zombies are the ones you really need to watch out for. A single bullet will ignite them, but you better run, or they’ll take you and everything out around them. Using the pyro zombies to your advantage in clearing a room works quite well.

The Final Station Review
The Final Station Review

In terms of difficulty, I would say it’s on the lower scale of things. Throughout the experience, I typically punched enemies to death eighty-five percent of the time versus using a weapon. Between low amounts of ammo and the fact that they’re taken down without much effort, it just seemed easier that way. I would have liked a little more of a challenge, but I am by no means saying the game was a breeze.

Finding passengers is optional throughout the game. You can easily search for supplies, get the next code and move on, but then you won’t earn any money to buy more supplies down the road (and you won’t get those achievements I spoke about earlier). Plus, it’s fun to explore the stations in their entirety, and you won’t get all the pieces to the apocalyptic puzzle if you don’t.

The Final Station Review
The Final Station Review

The music in the game adds to the dystopian feel. It’s a planet long in the throes of death, and that’s the exact feeling I got through the music. I don’t feel enough people take the time to really listen to the subtlety of the notes in the background, but for me, it puts me in this world and holds on as I navigate my way. Slap on some good headphones and you’ll have an amazing auditory experience.

Switch owners are lucky enough to have both the main game and the DLC content The Only Traitor. In this, you play a man driving across the wasteland, looking for the last remaining shelter, picking up passengers along the way. You’ll revisit some of the places from before, and learn more about what happened to this world. There are new types of zombies (the acid spitting one was a treat), which I was very happy to see. Seeing as how you drive a sweet muscle car, there is only room for one passenger. As you discover new people, you must decide if you want to take or leave them based on the stats provided. It’s great the devs included this content for free, as it extends what would have been a rather short experience.

The Final Station
The Final Station Review

Storytelling is an art that has spanned ions, and when one comes across a compelling narrative, it’s a breath of fresh air. The Final Station isn’t graphically superior to anything, it’s rather short, and its simplicity is apparent from the get-go, but what it lacks in sophistication, it heavily makes up for with story. To be honest, I’m still not a hundred percent sure what exactly did and will happen, but my curiosity is overwhelming.

The Darkside Detective Review [Nintendo Switch] – A Mystery Worth Solving

I tend to harp on the overly simplistic ports that have inundated the Switch since its release. The one to ten-year-old ports that have crowded the eShop can be annoying, and it’s that over crowdedness which can bury a great indie game under all the clutter. If you can manage to wade through all of the nonsense, you might just be lucky enough to find The Darkside Detective, from Spooky Doorway and Isometric Dreams. I simply adore everything about this title, with the story, humor, music, and overall premise of this game overjoying me. What could easily be dismissed as yet another title from a bygone era, is actually one of the more fun and entertaining titles in the Switch library.

The Darkside Detective Review [Nintendo Switch]

The Darkside Detective is a cross between the The X-Files, Kolchak, and Twin Peaks, and follows around Detective Francis McQueen as he attempts to solve mysteries of the supernatural. Following the Detective on his cases is officer Dooley, a dim-witted, but hilarious beat cop who adds little help to the case, but a whole lot of entertainment to the player. As the pair work on cases involving members of the occult, ghosts, monsters, and the paranormal, the detective must put all the pieces together to uncover the mysteries of the Darkside.

The Darkside Detective
The Darkside Detective

The game is rather simple at its core, and is mostly a point/drag and click adventure. There’s no free movement, but rather you click on the direction or room you want to go and the slide changes. Each room and environment (which are all beautifully animated), can be interacted with and searched for clues. As you hover the pointer over objects and people, you’re given the option to either talk, examine, or take. It’s very important to listen to everyone, as clues to the case could, and most likely would, be blurted out.

From haunted police stations, spooky libraries, and eerie subway tunnels, the town of Twin Lakes where this is all set is unique and filled with mysteries. McQueen must make his way throughout each location in order to solve the case, and the objects you find can be combined in order to help. A missed clue or object could mean endless searching for what you’re supposed to do next. The game is about being a detective, so go and detect!

The Darkside Detective Review
The Darkside Detective

Making the overall experience even more enjoyable is a laugh-out-loud tongue in cheek humor. From the names/puns of the missions and characters to the witty banter, I found myself bursting out into laughter on more than one occasion. I don’t want to ruin any of the funny lines, but in one instance, McQueen and Dooley are standing in a room with a giant marble statue of an angel. Click on the statue, and Dooley simply blurts out “Don’t Blink.” For any Doctor Who super-fan such as myself, that little reference is just about as close to perfection as a nerd can get. These pop culture references and humorous one-liners pop up throughout the game and help to set the adventure apart from similar titles.

The Darkside Detective Review
The Darkside Detective

The only true negative I can think of is that it’s all too easy. There are only six cases to get through, and I was already on case four by day two. The only time I felt challenged was when I failed to find an important object or didn’t talk to someone and missed a vital clue. This isn’t a bad thing necessarily, but as someone who is in love with the game, I really wanted the journey to last longer. It’s my hope that the developers release some new cases in a future DLC pack.

When I say I am in love with this game, I mean everything about it, including the music. As I was playing in handheld mode, the music sounded amazing. I slapped on some Bose headphones, and the experience magnified. From composer Ben Prunty, the man behind games such as FTL and Gravity Ghost, the music in Darkside Detective is just beautifully done. Befitting the supernatural tone of the game, Prunty’s score is some of the best music in recent gaming memory. Just remember, this is a simplistic game, so the fact that they put this much effort into the music really shows the passion surrounding the project.

The Darkside Detective Review
The Darkside Detective

Mercenary Kings Reloaded Review [Nintendo Switch] – Run and Gun To Your Heart’s Content

Four years after its initial release on Steam, Mercenary Kings from Tribute Games Inc. has made its way to the Switch. With two parts Metal Slug, one part Contra, one part Metal Gear, and a tiny dash of Fall Out, this Kickstarter led 2D action game is not without flaws but does manage to entertain and be a great addition to the Switch’s portable lineup.

The premise of Mercenary Kings is straight out of a 1980’s action fest. As part of the Mercenary Kings, you are a member of the greatest gun-for-hire groups on the planet. Without warning, the majority of your team is wiped out in quite the gruesome fashion by the sinister group known as CLAW (I guess someone loved inspector gadget as a kid). With only two survivors, you must rebuild the group and go after CLAW, who have just taken over a secret island laboratory base and the dangerous weapons contained within.

Mercenary Kings Review
Mercenary Kings

Players get to chose from different characters to play as, each with different sayings, attributes, and a few unique weapons. I don’t feel the game plays any different based on your choice of avatar, but I’m sure players will have their preference. The first few missions of the game have you rescuing more team members to add to the ranks. Each of these individuals are experts in a specific field, such as weaponry, knife making, piloting, medicine, etc. After you rescue each teammate, they are able to help you on your missions.

As you run-and-gun through each of the over one-hundred missions, you’re able to pick up various items to aid in the crafting of better weapons and necessities. Once you’ve gathered enough of the required material, simply visit one of the aforementioned genius teammates who will upgrade your weapons, body armor, and overall equipment. When it comes to crafting, I typically think of big open world games like Fallout, but having the option to do it in what’s especially a 16-bit game that I could have played on my Neo Geo, is actually quite fun.

Mercenary Kings Review
Mercenary Kings

The jungle setting does get a tad repetitive after a while, as there is only so much you can do and change to make things look different or unique, but the varied nature of enemies to blast away does tend to make up for it. From normal grunts that are easily killed with one shot, to giant behemoths and mechanized warriors, players will enjoy the challenge. This is not to say the game is extremely difficult, but it certainly isn’t a breeze either. I found I had to restart a mission more than once because I either ran through my limited lives or wasn’t able to complete the mission in the time allotted. Once the timer runs out, the mission is lost, and you’re sent immediately back to base (the same happens if you lose all your lives).

Each mission comes with a monetary reward for completing it in its entirety. The more things you miss or fail to pick-up/achieve, the less money you get in the end. Throughout the mission, you’re able to use a transceiver to call in favors from your crew. Need some health, a different weapon, and mission advice? Just dial up the right person in a similar fashion to the old Metal Gear codec. These requests cost you, so keep that in mind before going crazy. You’ll need to save up as much of the bounty you receive from missions in order to craft/buy better weapons and equipment. As nice as the standard gun is, you’re really going to want to upgrade to something better as the levels increase in difficulty.

Mercenary Kings Review
Mercenary Kings

Gamers can most definitely go at it solo, or they can play both online and offline 4-player co-op. Like the original Contra, this is one of those games that is exceptionally fun with two or more players. There can be a lot going on in these missions with enemies flying at you from all directions. I can attest to the fact that having an extra gun or two on your side would greatly relieve some of the pressure. It’s another instance where the Joy-Cons and the overall portability of the system really shine, and we had a ton of fun playing co-op with this one.

As an added treat, the character animations in Mercenary Kinds have been designed by Paul Robertson, best known for his work on Scott Pilgrim and Pixel. Robertson’s designs fit the game perfectly, using a great balance of 80’s camp and pure machismo to give each character a unique look and feel. It’s the little touches when a developer goes out of its way to bring in someone like Robertson that I really appreciate. To me, this makes the game stand out from the clutter.

Mercenary Kings Review
Mercenary Kings

Overall, I really enjoyed blasting my way through Mercenary Kings. It’s nothing entirely new, but the little things like crafting and calling in for supplies really adds to its enjoyment. I do enjoy a good run-and-gun game, especially ones that remind me of stuff from back in the day, but even I have to admit it got a little repetitive. I know this is a common complaint of mine, but I call it like I see it. I also felt the difficulty was a bit erratic, with some levels being exceptionally easy, while others unnecessary difficult.