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Observer Review

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The cyberpunk genre gets tossed around a lot these days.  As with many video games, experiences can quickly devolve into power fantasies and before you know it you’re more Matrix than Blade Runner.  This is not my definition of cyberpunk.  It’s a darker concept with the emotionless merging of man and machine out of necessity, poverty, and corporate societal takeover.  It was built around the concepts of Orwell’s novel 1984, evolved by Gibson’s Neuromancer, and made whole by Dick’s Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep? among others.  I can understand why many don’t walk this path: games are supposed to be fun and cyberpunk is rather bleak and depressing.  That’s why it is so refreshing to play Observer and experience a game that really gets the roots of traditional cyberpunk.  It’s an internal struggle, a socioeconomic dissection, and a disturbing dive into the human subconscious.

Normally I don’t pitch trailers in a review, but the E3 2016 trailer was so compelling that I figured linking it would be beneficial as well as jog some peoples’ memories.  Observer places you in the shoes of Daniel Lazarski, who lives in Poland in the year 2084.  After a digital plague involving bad cybernetic enhancements, mega corp Chiron has taken control of Poland and created the Fifth Polish Republic. Both the plague and the new Republic brought about a class-based society, war, drug addiction, and of course oppressive martial law.  Lazarski is an “observer,” a special police unit that has the authority to hack into people’s minds and access memories in a device called, get this, the “Dream Eater.”  The game opens with Lazarski receiving a call from his estranged son seeking help and asking him to meet in one of the rougher parts of lower class living.

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Written by Fred Rojas

August 24, 2017 at 11:00 am

Night Trap: 25th Anniversary Edition Analysis

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Night Trap holds odd significance to those that grew up with it.  It basically ushered in so-called “Full Motion Video” (FMV) games and in the process managed to snag some controversy, which only escalated its popularity in the early 90s.  The game itself and the storied tale of its development and release have already been covered here on Gaming History 101, so feel free to check out that retrospective for more information on the original game.  Since then the game has achieved cult status and despite being notoriously bad, you can’t help but talk about it.  Then in 2014, the creators attempted a failed Kickstarter that led to a random developer showing the game running on a cell phone, and eventually led to that developer creating the one-man studio Screaming Villains along with a re-release of Night Trap in 2017.  By bringing Night Trap 25th Anniversary to the masses, I fear that it won’t connect with most players that didn’t appreciate it before and it brings up some heavy realities for fans.  If you’re going to take the plunge, either as a longtime fan or for the first time, you’d best prepare for some unfortunate caveats that extend beyond the concept of the original.

When Night Trap premiered it was trying to fit approximately 90 minutes of footage onto CDs and compressing it in a way the Sega CD can show off.  That means a small resolution (168×104) and a limited color palette, which were just a reality back then and no one thought much about it.  Over the years and ports the resolution and quality were expanded to 272×104 and pretty much resembled MPEG1 or VCD standard.  This is nothing compared to the massive 1920×1080 (1080p) resolution we’re currently accustomed to, not to mention 4K, which is four times 1080p. When you look at the cleaned up version of Night Trap 25th Anniversary Edition on trailers, it appears that the game is amazingly crisp, but when you boot up the game proper it reveals itself to be more akin to a DVD than anything else.  For those that have played previous versions, that’s much cleaner than any version we’ve seen, but it doesn’t hold a candle to modern video.  Granted this footage is coming off of the master tape, which is most likely a broadcast standard betamax, and therefore can only be improved so much.  The reason movies can be magically upgraded to blu ray standards is because they are on film, but this wasn’t the case with Night Trap.  For that same reason the frame rate is counter to what you expect from movies as well.  Modern blu rays follow the film standard for frame rate of 24 frames per second (fps), whereas broadcast over the air is typically still 30 fps for the NTSC (US) standard.  Since the Night Trap masters were on tape, it’s captured at 30 fps.  Oddly enough, based on the player codecs of this game the PS4 version plays at only 24 fps so at times it can seem a bit jumpy.  On the PC the game runs at native 30 fps and the action appears smoother.  In both versions, however, you can sometimes experience odd glitches with the video where what’s happening on screen doesn’t match your control console.  Sometimes you trap an enemy that isn’t anywhere near the trap, but in doing so the footage will jump to capturing him and move forward.  Other times the audio will be behind the video, which seems only a bit annoying when watching a random scene, but if you’re trying to watch some plot points or God forbid listen for a code change it can be a game-ending bug.  Since this was pieced together from archival footage, there are extra scenes that were restored in the new “ReVamped” edition that can completely change some important outcomes and endanger characters that you never had to worry about before.   Hardcore fans can relax, you also have the option of playing the “Classic” version of Night Trap that appears identical to the original.  During some of the scenes there can be some tape damage that appears on the screen, certain scenes are pieced together and thus not edited very well, and you should expect a few jump cuts.  It’s nothing to write home about, but it is noticeable.

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Written by Fred Rojas

August 17, 2017 at 11:00 am

Podcast: Eternal Darkness Game Club

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Fred and Jam sit down and dissect Silicon Knights’ 2002 Gamecube title Eternal Darkness: Sanity’s Requiem.  After discussing the lineage of Silicon Knights and it’s history, the two delve into the campaign of a game that literally messes with you.


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Written by Fred Rojas

August 9, 2017 at 11:00 am

Lode Runner Legacy Review

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Lode Runner is back.  That’s one of those odd phrases I never thought I would write.  While the game has notoriety and the series has continued to release games over the more than three decades since the original, I feel I’m not unique in my thoughts that the original was all I needed.  More recent attempts to create sequels or move the game to platforms that just don’t seem well suited have fallen flat, so needless to say I approached Lode Runner Legacy with a great degree of caution.  One thing stood out, though, the visuals.  I love the voxel (volumetric pixel) aesthetic and with the promise of the original 150 levels, it was a slam dunk provided they nailed the feel.  Lode Runner Legacy also excels gameplay and combines it with a whimsical classic soundtrack that made me feel just as addicted as I did back when I was five.  So, like I said, Lode Runner is back.

If you aren’t familiar with the 1984 Apple II game or the endless ports to just about every microcomputer and console since then, allow me to get you acquainted.  It’s a single-screen platformer with restrictions, and acts as more of a puzzle game than anything else.  Your avatar, “The Runner,” is tasked with collecting all of the gold pieces in a level and then escaping through a ladder that extends once the level is complete.  As you can expect there are obstacles and enemies preventing you from your goal and lets not forget the score, which counts down as soon as you begin in a push to have you speed run each level.  Probably the most distinct restriction is the fact that The Runner cannot jump, so in order to navigate the vertical puzzles you have to combine the use of ladders and ropes on the screen as well as your ability to dig away at the very platforms you walk on.  While this can open up new areas, help discover hiding gold, and capture enemies, it can also get you instantly stuck in a fail state.  This push and pull of figuring out just how to navigate the level while a timer ticks away and enemies chase you down is precisely the draw to Lode Runner, for better or worse.  If you are the type of personality that likes challenge, or you’re just a perfectionist, get ready for what will surely become an obsession.  I recall playing this game for hours on my dad’s Commodore 64 in the late 80s and it’s always held a special place in my heart.

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Written by Fred Rojas

July 21, 2017 at 3:02 pm

Podcast: Top 10 Super NES Games

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After months of people begging us to finally do it, the announcement of the SNES Classic Edition was the final straw.  We can’t very well let Nintendo be more punctual than we are.  Fred, Jam, and guest Andy get together to debate the top 10 SNES games in a very tough debate of games that takes almost 3 hours.  In the end, 10 final contestants are chosen and ranked.


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Written by Fred Rojas

July 6, 2017 at 11:00 am

Joust Review

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Joust.  Yes, that ostrich game you may have read about in the fiction novel Ready Player One by Earnest Cline. Well I’m going to talk about it today because the site needs more arcade love and its about time Joust had a review. Full disclosure, I did review this game across a few emulators including MAME and multiple Midway Collections on Mega Drive (Genesis), PSP, and Xbox. This review will feature some brief discussion on the cabinet itself, which I have been fortunate enough to try at retro gaming conventions.

Released in 1982 by Williams Entertainment, Joust is single screen joystick and one button flapping mash fest. You play a knight riding on the back of the magnificent ostrich. With a lance in hand, your goal is simple: take out every enemy rider on screen. Then you repeat that wave after wave until you run out of lives. The single button on the cabinet is responsible for flapping wings of your feathered beast. You have to rapidly press the button to get your bird off the ground, but once you have the momentum going it becomes quite the skill to take down the other riders. You need to be slightly above the other rider and hit them to take them down. Once they are out of action an egg will drop which you’ll need to collect before it re-hatches a new rider and you have to take them out all over again. It becomes a juggle of priorities, choosing to take out the other riders or collect the eggs. The first wave, titled “Buzzard Blitz,” is fairly easy. Just three opponents spawn to ease you into the game, but like with a lot of these Williams games don’t be disappointed if you do loose all your lives on the first wave. It can take a few attempts to come to grips with the controls and figure out your strategy. By this point – back in the arcade days – you would have sunk a decent chunk of change into the cabinet.

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Written by jamalais

July 1, 2017 at 11:00 am

Come Out To Play-yay: How Fighting Actually Ushered In Arcade Camaraderie

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Final Fight by Capcom

The arcade was a diverse place chock full of different experiences.  Looking back at the early 80s it was comprised of single screen experiences, some scrolling and some not, mostly geared around challenging a player’s skill in hopes of consuming quarters in mass quantity.  Conceptually most games were simple but addictive, which is why you see many of the programmers from the classic arcade days transitioning into free-to-play mobile games with ease.  While there were games that involved a second player or massive cabinets, they were few and far between, just another part of the arcade’s myriad of experiences.  Then one day that all changed.  The arcade was about to become a place where large groups formed around a single cabinet and no game was complete without a second player.  Instead of ridiculous challenges leveled against a lone player, it was a machine against whatever talent was walking in the crowd.  It was a taste of things to come and it all started with the basic concept of beating someone up.

Stylized Male Violence

Roger Ebert used the above phrase to describe Paramount Picture’s 1979 thriller The Warriors, itself based upon the 1965 book of the same name by writer Sol Yurick.  In the film, the gangs of New York City assemble to discuss a truce between them so that they can gang up and outnumber the police.  During this meeting, Riffs leader and meeting coordinator Cyrus is shot dead and the Warriors are framed for the murder.  The meeting and murder take place in Van Cortlandt Park, which is located in the Bronx, and the Warriors turf is in Coney Island.  Those not familiar with the five boroughs of New York should note that Coney Island is about 30 miles directly south of the Bronx and therefore the Warriors find themselves a long way from home with every gang in the city eager to kill them.  You follow the Warriors throughout the film as they battle these gangs in an attempt to make it home safe and then clear their name.  The film relies heavily on street gang culture from the 60s and 70s that predominantly involved fists and melee as opposed to guns and knives, although the latter are definitely present in some altercations.  The Warriors has an unquestionable cult status among American moviegoers and expands to a larger worldwide audience.  Of those, a young Japanese game designer by the name of Yoshihisa Kishimoto loosely gets the idea for his 1986 arcade game Nikketsu Koha Kunio-Kun (Hot-Blooded Tough Guy Kunio), which would be renamed in the West as simply Renegade.

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Written by Fred Rojas

June 30, 2017 at 11:00 am

Posted in Arcade, Features

Wonder Boy: The Dragon’s Trap Review

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I’ve been waiting for a Wonder Boy revival ever since I saw that dammed “to be continued…” message at the end of Wonder Boy in Monster World on the Mega Drive. I did get some relief when the Wonder Boy Collection was released in 2012 for Xbox 360 and PS3, however. This game featured the localized version of Monster World 4 which was the sequel to the beloved game from my childhood. Of course this was just an English translation of a Japanese game that had been around for years. Some would be happy with this but, I wanted more Wonder Boy darn it! Which was why, last year I came over as giddy as a school kid when I heard Wonder Boy would be making a return in not one, not two but three games. One of these three games, Wonder Boy: The Dragons Trap developed by Lizardcube, is a remaster of the 1989 Sega Master System game. While not exactly a new entry into the Wonder Boy series, Lizardcube have put a lot of care and attention into this title, reviving a classic forgotten game to showcase to old fans and a potential new audience.

The Dragons Trap is a beautiful remaster with hand drawn graphics, which brought Monster World to life by filling the 2D game with lots of detail in the backgrounds as well as the character sprites. The game allows you to instantly switch between the old and new graphics at the touch of a button. This simple effect doesn’t interrupt the gameplay and allows you to see just how much effort has been put into the remaster when held against the original. The soundtrack has also been updated this time with a full orchestra. The music is still reminiscent of the old 8 bit titles but has really been brought to life with the updated score. Just like the graphics you can also switch between the old and new soundtracks at the touch of a button.

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Written by jamalais

June 7, 2017 at 11:00 am

Seasons After Fall Review

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There is an undeniable attraction to Seasons After Fall.  In what I can best describe as a painting come to life, the striking graphical style draws your attention and the playful orchestral soundtrack keeps you interested.  The game presents a simple premise: a fox, a forest, and magic.  It’s a compelling argument, even before the first true moments of gameplay.  Things aren’t always as they seem with this title, however, as it doesn’t quite play as good as it looks.  Your tolerance to design quirks aside, the value of this title lands solely on the premise that it delivers on what I think games should do: take you to another world.

Seasons After Fall originally premiered on PC last fall during a time that seemed more riddled with open exploration puzzle platformers – I refuse to refer to this title as a “MetroidVania” – including Ori and the Blind Forest and Unravel.  Despite looking similar to these other titles, they are very distinct from one another, but somehow always seemed to be lumped together.  Seasons After Fall now comes to consoles in a direct port, but it’s successfully separated from these familiar looking games.  It’s a true puzzle platformer, best proven by the lack of combat in the game.  Yes, there’s absolutely no fighting, attacking, running from enemies, no enemies at all, and no boss battles.  Nope, this title is as a pacifist as they come.  There’s also no penalty for dying, if you can even call it that since falling into the rare pit results in you simply being brought back to the ledge you jumped off.  Despite these facts, don’t write off Seasons After Fall as a mindless stroll in the woods, because the challenge is in solving the puzzles and as the game progresses there’s a decent incline in difficulty.  It’s at this point you’ll either like how this title attempts to challenge you or hate it.  I might even say it’s impossible to describe your time with Seasons After Fall without mentioning at least a few moments where you are utterly stuck with no idea what to do.

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Written by Fred Rojas

May 15, 2017 at 11:00 am

Podcast: Beyond Oasis/Story of Thor Game Club

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One of the latest Sega Genesis/Mega Drive releases is a top down action RPG and brawler from Ancient, the team also responsible for Streets of Rage 2.  It was known as Beyond Oasis in North America and The Story of Thor in all other regions, and it tells the tale of Prince Ali as he recruits elementals to assist him in defeating an ancient evil.  Jam and Fred delve deep into the development, gameplay elements, and main campaign of this late, but great, 16-bit Sega game.


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Written by Fred Rojas

April 26, 2017 at 3:00 pm