Tag Archives: retro

Paul’s Preeminent PlayStation Plus Purge – Ultratron

gd-ultratron-ps3-early-impressions

I’m trying to think of what the first “bullet hell” shooter was that I ever played or, at least, the first time I came to know the term. It might be U.N. Squadron. Or maybe 1943: The Battle of Midway. It was definitely something back on the SNES, because I remember cementing my dislike for the genre early in my gaming history. Though I’m sure some could argue that those titles don’t necessary meet the definition of a “bullet hell” shooter. Regardless, clearly from my examples there, it is a genre I don’t play often, and I could blame it on a strong lack of eye-hand coordination–which is also why I don’t play many fast-paced first-person shooters–but the truth is that I simply do not find this style of gameplay all that interesting.

Anyways, this post is about Ultratron, another “bullet hell”-esque shooter from Puppy Games, the same company that put out Titan Attacks!, which I previously played and uninstalled from my PlayStation 3. For lack of a better description, Ultratron is a twin-stick arena shooter inspired by classic arcade titles, updated and improved for the 21st century. The story is uninteresting and thus: the last human in the universe has been slain by evil killer robots. As the only remaining humanoid battle droid left, you’ll be fighting through over 40 arcade levels to take on the four giant boss robots of the apocalypse to…I don’t know. Get revenge? Make them go away and feel bad about their decisions? Grow as a metallic entity? Spoiler: I’ll never find out, as I only got slightly past Bellum, the second boss.

Ultratron‘s main goal is to obliterate wave after wave of incoming robot hordes. As you progress further, these tiny robots become tougher, rocking shields, explosive firepower, and other ways that they can damage you. However, as you destroy them, they burst into gold coins that you and your little pet droid can pick up, and there’s a shop-like screen at the end of each wave that lets you purchase new shields and smartbombs, along with special abilities and power-ups to increase your firing capability. They get tougher, you get stronger, rinse and repeat until your wiring no longer works. Also, there are a few challenge levels between waves, tasking you to dodge all enemies or, shockingly, shoot all enemies, with the money you earn at the end being determined by your performance.

Aside from this, there’s not much else seemingly to do in Ultratron. Which is a shame because it looks super slick. The game, without a doubt, takes its old-school style and runs for the hills with it; there are flashy gun effects, glossy animations, and a confined, stylized arena motif that truly makes you feel trapped and on your own to survive. That said, this ultra bright aesthetic often made it difficult for me to discern what was happening in the arena, with fruit trails blending into one another and swarms of teeny-tiny robots getting lost in the action. Also, text pops up in the bottom left of the screen, which is already condensed to begin with, in the middle of a dogfight, making it next to impossible to read while fighting off an enemy or dodging bullets.

Lastly, every time I typed the name Ultratron for this farewell post, all I can think of is the theme song to Ultraman. Enjoy.

Oh look, another reoccurring feature for Grinding Down. At least this one has both a purpose and an end goal–to rid myself of my digital collection of PlayStation Plus “freebies” as I look to discontinue the service soon. I got my PlayStation 3 back in January 2013 and have since been downloading just about every game offered up to me monthly thanks to the service’s subscription, but let’s be honest. Many of these games aren’t great, and the PlayStation 3 is long past its time in the limelight for stronger choices. So I’m gonna play ’em, uninstall ’em. Join me on this grand endeavor.

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2018 Game Review Haiku, #16 – All Our Asias

Polygonal realm
Holds memories and answers
Surreal sounds abound

For 2018, I’m mixing things up by fusing my marvelous artwork and even more amazing skills at writing videogame-themed haikus to give you…a piece of artwork followed by a haiku. I know, it’s crazy. Here’s hoping you like at least one aspect or even both, and I’m curious to see if my drawing style changes at all over three hundred and sixty-five days (no leap year until 2020, kids). Okay, another year of 5–7–5 syllable counts is officially a go.

All Our Asias surreally explores Yuito’s dying father’s mind

Even the Ocean was one of my favorite games in 2016. Analgesic Productions crafted a game of platforming and exploring, with just the right amount of challenge to not make it feel like a cakewalk, while also weaving a tale of friendship and loss and impending doom that, to this day, still sits inside me, gnawing at my stomach. Aliph’s quest to fix a bunch of power plants to stop the foretold invasion of flood-bringing monsters is not a straightforward affair, nor a happy one, but it’s something she does because…someone has to take charge. More power to her, if you ask moi.

Similarly, Yuito’s mission in All Our Asias is also on a bit of a time-crunch. This is a completely free to play, surreal as surreal gets 3D adventure, about Asian-America, identity, race, and nationality. It comes from Sean Han Tani, one part of Analgesic Productions and the co-creator of Anodyne, which, alas, I’ve still not gotten to play. In this one, you play as Yuito, a Japanese-American hedge fund analyst in his early thirties. His estranged father is dying, and it’s too late for Yuito to communicate with him; however, thanks to advances in technology, despite his father being on life support, he can enter his father’s Memory World, which is a supernatural landscape full of the man’s experiences and secrets. The technology is nascent, and the process is risky, but Yuito has questions and wants answers.

Gameplay is twofold–walking and talking. To explore this Memory World, Yuito glides around inside a tiny tank-like vehicle, something that instantly made me think of that bright red tank from the PlayStation 1 Ghost in the Shell game (I briefly experienced it via one of those demo discs). You’ll find people to chat with, who will often guide you to the next area or offer a tidbit of info about this strange, hypnagogic realm. He’s trying to learn more about his father, but not everyone is forthcoming with information; in fact, there’s an entire sidequest about restaurants and instituting new tax policies that I didn’t entirely understand or see how it was connected to the big picture, though it does tackle issues about race and shared sympathy and other sensitive topics generally not explored by this medium. Movement is slow, most likely deliberate, which gives you time to observe the environment and eat up the soundtrack. You can do a short-hover jump to help with ledges and staircases, but this is by no means a puzzle platformer, and beating the game gives you a cool upgrade to help speed exploring up…though I didn’t feel compelled to keep playing.

I genuinely love the look of All Our Asias. Sure, my first gaming console was the Super NES, but when I eventually did that terrible thing of trading in a ton of my games to get credit to buy a PlayStation 1 from Toys”R”Us, rest in forthcoming peace, I was taking a big step, one that would forever impact my history with gaming. Here was a console I was getting myself, not as a birthday or Christmas gift, but through the sacrifice of others, and boy was I going to get the most out of this system. I played the heck out of Final Fantasy VII, Metal Gear Solid, Bushido Blade, Silent Hill, The Granstream Saga, Chrono Cross, Resident Evil, and so on. I become one with low resolutions and polygons, with fog designed to purposely mask load times or pop-in, with in-game character models with next to no details beside shapes and some color. Exploring All Our Asias forces your imagination to see things bigger and better, to look past its flat textures and chunky models; it’s a blend of walking simulator-esque gameplay and emotionally complex storytelling, drenched in 32-bit visuals, and I love it.

Sound-wise, All Our Asias is a dream. Again, I’m never not lost on the difficulty of describing music via words, but please, take a listen. It’s soft, it’s mesmerizing, it’s soothing. You’ll at once feel like you are floating above a city skyline on a gorgeous September morning while also zipping through the innards of a dying man’s mind where thoughts and memories race against each other, fighting for attention, scrambling for security. Somehow, the soundtrack never overtakes the story, but provides ambiance and a haunting sense of dread, and I can’t get over how pretty of a tune “Somewhere’s Meadow” and “What Will He Retain?” are for the ears. Getting lost a couple of times and unsure of where to proceed next wasn’t frustrating, as it just meant I got to listen to some more songs.

Right. All Our Asias is not perfect and certainly not for everyone. It’s focus on narrative and slowly moving towards the next story beat will probably feel like a chore for many; however, I found myself instantly sucked into this world, curious to know more, much like Yuito himself. I won’t stand here and say I understood everything it was going for and definitely could not relate to some of its themes, but your mileage may vary, and you won’t know until you give it a click.

Paul’s Preeminent PlayStation Plus Purge – Titan Attacks!


It’s 2018, and I’ve never played Space Invaders, and I probably never will. That time has passed. Though clearly I’m aware of it and its influence on the gaming industry; I mean, you can’t walk down the Ocean City boardwalk and pass a T-shirt store without seeing those iconic pixelated aliens on some piece of unlicensed merchandise. Space Invaders was one of the earliest shooting games, releasing in arcades in 1978, with the goal being to defeat waves of aliens with a laser cannon and earn as many points as possible. It sounds simple to our ears today, but Tomohiro Nishikado, the game’s developer, had to design custom hardware and development tools to make the thing.

But I’m not here to actually talk about Space Invaders specifically, but rather a tribute from Puppy Games called Titan Attacks!, and yes, the game’s title ends in an exclamation mark, which will probably drive my editing eyes nuts, but that’s life. In this arcade shoot-em-up, you play as the last surviving tank commander on Earth and must single-handedly turn back an invading evil alien army called the Titans. If you can drive them back across the solar system, you might be able to defeat them on their homeworld, saving yours from total annihilation.

Titan Attacks! retains the same easy-to-learn and score-based gameplay of classic arcade shoot-em-ups, but does bring in some new features and strategies, along with stylish neo-retro visuals and a pulse-bursting, head-bobbin’ soundtrack that is ultimately the thing I came away from liking the most. Earning bounty money allows to you upgrade your tank-ship-thing with extra cannons, better shields, and special single-use powerups. While zipping left and right on the ground and firing up into lines of incoming aliens, you’ll also need to destroy falling wrecks, dodge hurtling asteroids, and capture escaping aliens. It starts out slow enough that you can keep track of everything, but the chaos ramps up the further you progress. Thankfully, you can take a hit or two and keep moving, though you’ll lose your multiplier bonus. No biggie.

I played Titan Attacks! for an hour or two, but didn’t get too far down the planetary path–there’s something like 100 levels/waves–before both taking too much damage and losing interest. That’s fine. I had fun for a bit, but this style of game is never going to hook me (as you’ll see in an upcoming post on Ultratron, also published by Puppy Games). Chasing high scores through repetition does not get me salivating one bit. Now, maybe if I could dress my tank up in different outfits and craft powerful weapons from various materials and check off quests one by one in some sort of log book, I might more interested in seeing this to the end, but alas, nope. Not for me.

Oh look, another reoccurring feature for Grinding Down. At least this one has both a purpose and an end goal–to rid myself of my digital collection of PlayStation Plus “freebies” as I look to discontinue the service soon. I got my PlayStation 3 back in January 2013 and have since been downloading just about every game offered up to me monthly thanks to the service’s subscription, but let’s be honest. Many of these games aren’t great, and the PlayStation 3 is long past its time in the limelight for stronger choices. So I’m gonna play ’em, uninstall ’em. Join me on this grand endeavor.

2017 Game Review Haiku, #113 – Midnight Scenes: The Highway

Detour leads to farm
Full of trouble, mystery
There are no answers

I can’t believe I’m still doing this. I can’t believe I’ll ever stop. These game summaries in chunks of five, seven, and five syllable lines paint pictures in the mind better than any half a dozen descriptive paragraphs I could ever write. Trust me, I’ve tried. Brevity is the place to be. At this point, I’ve done over 200 of these things and have no plans of slowing down. So get ready for another year of haikus. Doumo arigatou gozaimasu.

2017 Game Review Haiku, #87 – Drop Alive

A drop of water
Switch from liquid, solid, gas
Not the tightest jumps

I can’t believe I’m still doing this. I can’t believe I’ll ever stop. These game summaries in chunks of five, seven, and five syllable lines paint pictures in the mind better than any half a dozen descriptive paragraphs I could ever write. Trust me, I’ve tried. Brevity is the place to be. At this point, I’ve done over 200 of these things and have no plans of slowing down. So get ready for another year of haikus. Doumo arigatou gozaimasu.

Someone needs to push the reset button on Reset 1-1

Reset 1-1 is just one of the handful of games I got back in early January 2017 when I plopped down some digital cash on the Steam Winter Sale. It was bundled with a group of similar-minded, indie action platformers, the kind that ask you both to make jumps as well as damage enemies in your way. Of them so far, I played Dungeon of Zolthan and found it pretty enjoyable, challenging, and quick despite its minimalist look and goals. Reset 1-1 was next on the to-do list, and I began liking it a lot, eating up its quirky sense of humor, bouncy soundtrack, and stamina-driven combat. Alas, I’m now actively against the thing. Don’t worry, dear readers–I plan on telling you why.

Developer xXarabongXx describes Reset 1-1 like so:

The world has ended, Demons have risen to conquer the uninhabited and flourishing nature outside. It’s your turn, with your unknown identity, to find your path for a new beginning.

For those not aware, my day job is editing. I read a lot and am thus quickly able to suss out when an author has no idea what they are talking about, but need to have something down on paper to show that they are clearly alive and involved in the project. That is what I’m getting here: a bunch of keywords loosely connected to each other that, hopefully, comprises something of a story. Unfortunately, it doesn’t, but I guess many aren’t coming to Reset 1-1 for its wondrous plot twists. Still, a little more work could have been put towards this. A little more defining. Here, I’ll even do the developer a solid and provide a better description at no cost whatsoever:

Demonic forces have taken over the world. It’s up to you to discover who you are, defeat evil, and create a new start.

Sure, it still sounds like a generic mess, but I don’t have much to work with. There are hints of story and character development early on, with our pixelated tiny hero not knowing his true identity (is it John of Jhon?), but that doesn’t seem to last longer than the introductory levels. Each boss you come across has something quick to say before the battle ensues, but it is usually of the “I’m going to kill you” ilk. Other than that, this is more about action, with a focus on nailing tough jumps and effectively managing your stamina, especially during boss battles.

In terms of gameplay, Reset 1-1 is a platformer. Think Fez, but less puzzles, more fighting. I guess Cave Story is a better comparison, especially in the graphics department. You run, you jump, and you throw projectiles at enemies by swiping your sword in their direction. Our hero can also roll, and much of his actions are dictated by a stamina bar that quickly depletes. As you progress and defeat bosses, you gain experience points to level up, and you can pick either more damage, more health, or more stamina as an upgrade. There are also different swords to find, as well as single-use health potions to hold on to dearly or, if you are like me and playing with a controller, accidentally hit the X button to use it when most definitely not needed (I was trying to open a door). Speaking of controllers, plugging an Xbox 360 controller in works, but does not work well, as I found the game immediately laggy; however, the standard PC controls are even funkier to get a grasp on so it was this or nothing.

So, I got to the final boss fight in Reset 1-1 last night. It’s some kind of weird ghost-thing that throws fireballs and summons a wave of them up from the lava below that you need to carefully time two rolls to make it through alive. I can’t beat it, and each attempt is more difficult than the previous thanks to this game’s sinister system of upping the difficulty, slowing down the frame-rate, and dissolving color from the graphics with each subsequent death. It is extremely difficult to now see throw projectiles, and jumping with lag is as much fun as you can imagine. Unfortunately, it seems like I’m just digging myself into a deeper hole, and there’s no way to start this final fight on equal ground. More annoyingly, I got the Steam Achievement “Tales of creation and destruction” upon meeting this big baddie, but there doesn’t seem to be one for kicking its ethereal butt or even finishing the game.

On Reset 1-1′s title screen, there are four options–play (continue), reset, options, and quit. For some reason, my brain shrunk in size and strength, and I clicked “reset” thinking that this would reset the fact that I had died so many times that everything moved like quarters through molasses, but kept me there at the final boss fight, refreshed and ready. Naturally, this instead wiped my entire progress. Granted, it only took me about an hour to get to the end area, but still. Time lost. Grrr. Sure, I could go through Reset 1-1 again, but knowing that I’d get to the end boss and only have so many viable attempts early on before I found myself drowning in my own mess is a whole new level of stress that I’m not interested in handling. A shame, as I was nearly there.