Category: Reviews


id software’s amazing run of first-person shooters in the ‘90s are in some of my top games of all time: Doom, Quake, even Quake III Arena was pretty good in spite of Unreal Tournament’s more fun, absurd nature. But one game I had a fondness for was Wolfenstein 3D.

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Wolfenstein is a fairly simplistic shooter by modern standards, but it started laying the groundwork for what made their games tick: Exploring areas, defeating enemies, and strafing around arenas like operatic ballet. What happens when you take most of that away and try to shoehorn in awkward mechanics that don’t fit? You get Wolfram.

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Already we’re off to a great start with this menu…

I have to give a shout out to the Video Game Music Preservation Foundation, which introduced me to this game. Being a fan of Wolfenstein and some of its other games, I had to see if this was the remake of Wolf3D that would be better than the original. The answer is no. Not by a long shot.

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Just like the 1992 original!

Wolfram recreates all of “Escape from Wolfenstein,” the shareware episode of Wolf3D. Levels are the same blocky shapes they were in ‘92, wall textures are a mix between remastered versions of the originals and ports presumably from other versions of Wolf3D, even the music is ripped straight from the original, but somehow sounds worse.

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Oh hey, colored lighting! This would’ve been cool in like, 1997.

So you’re probably thinking, “Hey, this sounds pretty cool! What’s your problem with it?” Well, let me explain.

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Wolfenstein 3D involves using the doors a lot to funnel enemies and dodge fire. Doors become your best friends here.

Wolfenstein 3D’s combat is fairly simple. Outside of some bosses, all the enemies are hitscan – once the enemy shows a certain frame of animation, the game determines if that was a hit or a miss, and if it hits, it calculates for how much damage you take – As you progress, you learn the better tactics of the game involves ducking inside rooms and strafing back and forth at an opened door to avoid getting hit as much. It’s fairly simple and arcade-like these days, but it worked well in the era when Wolf3D came out.

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Back in the mid ’90s, when Sega slowly was losing its competitive edge against veteran Nintendo and newcomer Sony, they were also publishing a fair share of their games on Windows PCs. This isn’t as well known as their other stuff, considering most of them were ports of existing Genesis and Saturn games.

Most of their games was ports of stuff like Comix Zone and Tomcat Alley. But then a certain blue hedgehog burst onto the PC scene, and I don’t mean by strange fan games made in Klik’n’Play….

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Sonic & Knuckles Collection was released in 1997, and was the second Sonic game to reach PC, the first being two different ports of Sonic CD. It was smart for Sega to port The Best Sonic Game* to Windows machines, for people like me.

I was strictly a Nintendo kid pretty much until the late ’90s, when I got my first PC, and later getting a Dreamcast in 2000. Because of that, the Genesis is a system that I owned but didn’t really experience properly, thus I never got to play Sonic 3 & Knuckles until this PC release.

…Well, that and the water levels in Sonic 2 scared me so bad that when I got Sonic 3 and got to Hydrocity Zone, I got so scared that I asked to take the game back. Damn you Yukifumi Makino and your scary-as-fuck drowning music!

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Nooo don’t send me down there

I have not one, not two, but three copies of this game. The first one I got was part of a Jack in the Box promotion, which had a few other Sega PC games like Sonic 3D Blast and Ecco the Dolphin. The others were a complete-in-box copy and a CD jewel case copy that came in a Sonic three pack with Sonic CD and Sonic R. That’s probably more copies than I need of this game, but hey.

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1024px-National_Rifle_Association.svgAhh, the NRA. A wonderful organization based in the United States that helps gun manufacturers with guns and trying to advocate gun safety… while blaming things like Mortal Kombat and American Psycho (?!) for causing violent shootings instead of guns themselves. Color me surprised when I found out they made a video game. Well, rather, they gave endorsement for a video game.

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This is NRA Gun Club. A first-person shooter published by Crave (RIP) and developed by our good friends at Jarhead Games. I’ve covered Jarhead’s stuff in the past, with such thrilling hits as CTU Marine Sharpshooter. (I wrote about that before, check it out here.) As far as I know, this game would be their swan song, not living long enough to make it to the 360 generation. This would also be the sole game they made on the PlayStation 2, and it shows.

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After being introduced to the bland title screen, I am asked to make a profile name. Since this is based on the NRA, I’d thought it’d be nice to name my profile after Wayne LaPierre, the NRA president and mirror-universe-Stephen-King.

 

 

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Or at least his first name, this game has a six character name limit.

The only mode with any sort of progression is Certification Mode. Here, there are four courses, each one unlocked after completing the previous one, with certain requirements needed to pass. There’s Plinking, Bullseye, Trap/Skeet and “Practical Shooting.” I’ll get into each one the best that I can.

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The “Plinking” challenge involves rapid-fire scoring for points. It’s damn simple: Choose a weapon, shoot at targets, score points, repeat until time runs out. Most targets give 5 points, but some such as the cans give 10. Each of these are done in “Strings,” where the board is reset each time, and then the final score is averaged out of the best runs. If the average meets the minimum number, it’s considered a passing grade.

Once you qualify in each of the pistol, long-range rifle, and shotgun challenges, you do the “Multi” course which makes you go through all three. Qualify that and you’re certified in the Plinking challenge.

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If you’re like me, you probably have a massive backlog. I can’t blame you, Steam sales are the bane of our existences. This means you’ll sometimes buy games and wonder why you got them, like Chrome. I almost wrote something about that but I couldn’t stomach it after two levels.

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This is just a small excerpt of some of the games I’ve bought on countless Steam sales and never played or finished.

So let’s see what else I got. Alan Wake is too well-known, writing something about the six Star Wars games I own would be a bit too popular, I don’t think there’s anyone interested in me talking about the Wallace & Gromit Telltale series…

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A-ha, here we go. A game from a Finnish developer who’d later be known for the fun Trine series of games: Shadowgrounds.

This game holds a bit of a memory because of how Steam was ten years ago. See, Steam was a different beast back then. There wasn’t much outside support outside of a few indie games, like the wonderful Darwinia and the one-note, forgettable Rag Doll Kung Fu. Frozenbyte’s Shadowgrounds was one of those early adopters of Valve’s content delivery service, though this was during that period where games like these were still sold in physical boxes in stores. Though it would likely be shoved into the bottom of a GameStop bargain bin these days before being thrown out.

(Story spoilers within! If you wish to play it yourself spoiler-free, it’s on Steam for the low price of $6.99, or $12.99 for this and its sequel Shadowgrounds: Survivor!)

Set on the moon Ganymede, you play as engineer William Tyler, who’s sent out on a mission to repair some generators with some colleagues. Until stuff goes wrong. Armed with only a pistol, you fight loads of aliens as you solve the mystery and see what happens. Along the way you meet allies, and try to make sense of this mess.

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This a top-down shooter. It reminds me of Valve’s Alien Swarm, though European readers may liken this more to Team17’s Alien Breed series of games. You have a crosshair that aims in the general direction of enemy targets, and it plays fairly straightforward: Shoot the aliens before they attack you and kill you.

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For a while, I wasn’t going to upgrade to Windows 10. But then a friend convinced me of a few cool features, and I decided to finally take the plunge since it’s free as of this writing. Since my current PC was on Windows 7, I missed out on all the cool apps that came out during the Windows 8 era. After perusing the store, I found a few interesting games. Boy, I wasn’t expecting this…

It's time for STERN MILITARY SOLDIER POSE

It’s time for STERN MILITARY SOLDIER POSE

Modern Combat 5: Blackout is probably the most generic title for a game ever. This is the product of Gameloft, a French-based development studio known famously for their mobile phone and handheld games. Naturally, this is a “port” from iOS/Android devices, supporting cumbersome touch screen controls.

While I haven’t played the previous entries in the Modern Combat franchise, I am familiar with it. One of the games, Modern Combat: Domination, made it to consoles and I remember Giant Bomb covering it once. At the time, it looked like a mish-mash of Call of Duty 4 with a pinch of Counter-Strike‘s elements. By default, I go into any new game I play with mild skepticism and low expectations just so I don’t hype myself up for disappointment, so I wasn’t expecting much here.

This is a hell of a way to start a game...

This is a hell of a way to start a game…

You play as Phoenix, a mercenary for works for some corporation. With the help of a bald marine named Bull, you two storm through San Marco, escaping from evil terrorists, and eventually escaping a helicopter in a boat chase sequence. Pretty exciting for the beginning of a Call of Duty clone.

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Afterwards, Phoenix wakes up in Japan, taken over by raiders during some terrorist attack or something. I’ll admit, I barely remember the story of this game, and that’s coming from a guy who played through Battlefield 3 and 4, which had really unremarkable generic campaigns. But from what I gleaned from a wiki for the series, it’s basically double-crossing between various factions, and a surprise plot twist that the CEO of the Gilman corporation is also a mercenary soldier who caused the double-crossing. Hardly oscar-caliber story writing, but I got what I paid for. (Nothing.)

One of the many classes you can choose from. You get Recon to start, and the rest require you to either grind or pay up.

One of the many classes you can choose from. You get Recon to start, and the rest require you to either grind levels or pay up to unlock.

Modern Combat 5 has a leveling system, and unlockables. There’s a create-a-class option, weapons can be upgraded by using them in the game to unlock attachments and better weapons, and each class has special skills that are upgraded using SP. SP is gained between some missions, leveling up, and between events Gameloft put up. One thing I liked is how the rankings persist between both single player and multiplayer, which I wish more games did.

Multiplayer is typical military FPS in a post-Call of Duty 4 world: You have perks, you have a powerup you can use, there’s killstreaks like recon drones and EMP strikes, and you get XP for kills. There’s the common FPS gamemodes: Free-for-All, Team Deathmatch, Capture the Flag, and an unusual TDM variant called VIP where the VIP is always visible on the minimap and killing them rewards more points than killing other players. Fun, but a VIP kill is 5 points and the scorelimit is 50, making the matches go by faster than expected.

Huh, I guess my dad was right about combat drones. Never thought they'd look like this, though...

Huh, I guess my dad was right about combat drones. Never thought they’d look like this, though…

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PC gaming in the ’90s was a real wild west affair. When games like Doom took off, everybody started making shovelware compilations of anywhere from hundreds to thousands of levels. Most of them were downloaded off BBSes without crediting people, which is pretty scummy in itself. But if you had no internet connection, this was a way to get levels with ease.

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After a few years of this, publishers like WizardWorks started making their own unofficial expansions for games like Quake, Descent and Warcraft II. While this was an improvement – level designers could actually license their stuff for commercial use – the internet was really starting to bloom in the late ’90s, making these unofficial “expansions” obsolete.

Today, I’m gonna look at one of these unofficial expansions for a little game called Quake

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This looks like something I’d see as a background of some pick up artist’s vlog channel.

Aftershock for Quake is a terrible pun, but one of several expansions made to capitalize on Quake‘s success. Published by Head Games, this featured “advanced levels”, adding three episodes and a bevy of deathmatch maps.

Unlike the official expansions – Scourge of Armagon and Dissolution of Eternity – these have no new monsters, powerups or weapons. These are vanilla Quake levels, designed to run with a registered copy of the original Quake. The episodes are drastically shorter than vanilla Quake, only having five levels for each episode.

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There isn’t much of a story to these maps. Hell, with the exception of episode three, there aren’t any credits to who made this. It’s unfortunate, because I was hoping to find a “before they were stars” moments with this expansion.

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It’s the holiday season, and what better way to celebrate than playing something Christmas-related? How about a game based on one of the best damn action movies of the 80s, Die Hard?

I don't care what anyone says, this is a Christmas movie in my book.

I don’t care what anyone says, this is a Christmas movie in my book.

Okay, I may be stretching it a bit here. But it’s better than trying to find some Christmas-themed game involving Santa Claus. It’s also appropriate, considering Die Hard‘s legacy.

There have been many Die Hard games over the years. There was the top-down action game for the NES that’s been featured by the Angry Video Game Nerd and Games Done Quick, the multi-genre Die Hard Trilogy, even the Sega brawler Dynamite Deka which was rebranded as a Die Hard game when it hit stateside. But we’re gonna be talking about a little-known budget shooter that featured our old pal John McClane, Die Hard: Nakatomi Plaza.

Love how they don't even bother to show not-Bruce Willis' face.

Love how they don’t even bother to show not-Bruce Willis’ face.

This game had an interesting history. Starting out as a “Die Hard TC” for Duke Nukem 3D, it eventually made the leap from the aging Build engine to the new GoldSrc engine in 1999. Development on Nakatomi Plaza went silent in 2000 as rumors went around 20th Century Fox did a cease and desist on the project. Eventually the game got re-announced the following year with the license proper, as well as another upgrade, this time on the fancy new Lithtech Engine. The engine that was used in The Operative: No One Lives Forever, and… lots of budget games I’ve actually talked about before. We’re talking CTU Marine Sharpshooter, Vietnam: Black Ops and…

But enough about that. Let’s get into the game itself. Nakatomi Plaza is a loose retelling of the original Die Hard‘s story. If you’re reading this and you’ve never seen Die Hard, stop reading this and watch the film NOW. Alternately, you could read the book the movie’s based on, Roderick Thorp’s Nothing Lasts Forever, which I heard is actually a good book. If you have seen Die Hard, then continue. Preferably read this while listening to that GuyzNite song about the Die Hard franchise.

Since this game’s hits all the famous parts of the original movie, I won’t go into a play-by-play of the game, only for some of the changes. Because I’m going to assume, like before, that you’ve seen the film already.

The game starts out exactly the same as the film: John McClane arrives at Nakatomi Plaza thanks to Argyle the limo driver, meets up with Mr. Takagi, Ellis and Holly Gennaro, before Hans and his terrorist buddies come in and wreck stuff, leaving John with his 9mm Beretta, shoeless.

It's weird to be playing an FPS with a left-handed protagonist. What is this, Counter-Strike?

It’s weird to be playing an FPS with a left-handed protagonist. What is this, Counter-Strike?

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There are many things that I’m always fascinated by, and one of them is portable versions of big console games. It’s surprising to see studios small and large try to squeeze as much power out of handhelds and hopefully make a good game out of it. I collect these on a rare occasion, and thought I’d dig one out of mothballs I bought awhile back and give it a spin.

Let's OWN THE CITY! As opposed to what, Own the Parking Lot?

Let’s OWN THE CITY! As opposed to what, Own the Parking Lot?

Let’s hop in a ride and drive the mean streets, because we’re checking out Need for Speed: Carbon – Own the City for the Game Boy Advance. I mentioned buying this in an old “I bought stuff!” post from a year ago, and I wanted to see what a racing game looks on the ol’ GBA. This is an EA Canada joint, and came out on the GBA, PSP, and DS as the spinoff portable title alongside the main game. Usually the portable version is different in some ways than its console brother, so let’s check it out.

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The story’s fairly silly: You were in a race alongside your brother Mick, and a multi-car pile up by some unknown assailant caused the death of your brother and made you get amnesia.. What follows is a typical revenge plot as you work with Mick’s former crewmembers, Sara and Carter, as you climb your way to the top and dominate districts and solve the mystery.

So let’s take a look at how this looks on the Game Boy Advance…

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If you think it looks bad on a screenshot, imagine this in motion!

Oh. Oh dear. I’m not a graphics snob by any means, but wow this game looks pretty bad, even by GBA standards. Feel the thrill of going 100 mph while it looks like a casual stroll through a city road. The game runs pretty slow for a racing game. Now I know the Game Boy Advance is not a 3D powerhouse, but something is really wrong when this runs at a snail’s pace. It doesn’t help that I can barely see anything. It’s hard sometimes to see what’s ahead of you, and most of the roads are made at 90 degree angles that make it hard to make good turns. Doesn’t help that this perspective also makes swerving past traffic and other racers difficult.

One of the few modes where being in first isn't guaranteed a win.

It’s impressive how the 3D looks, but it looks like a pixely mess where I can’t see crap.

But enough about how it looks, here’s how it plays. A accelerates, B brakes, L activates Nitrous – provided the car has it unlocked, and R is the handbrake. There are four race types: Circuit, Sprint, Elimination, and Hunter. Circuit and Sprint are simple races. Elimination removes the last place driver at each lap. Hunter is a strange one: Every skill or trick you do fills up a health bar, but hitting anything or stopping loses health. It’s less about finishing first and more about finishing skillfully.

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I have a certain fondness for Wolfenstein 3D. Back in the early 2000s when I was just a middling teenager, I was playing a bunch of cool level packs for Wolfenstein. Hell, the first online blog post I ever made was talking about an old Wolfenstein 3D mods website that I thought was cool. Yeah, it’s kinda plain compared to Doom and Quake, but damn it, I still had fun going through mazes killing things.

I’ve played practically every major Wolfenstein game barring the Muse Software prequels and the most recent The New Order. I was even a hardcore Wolfenstein: Enemy Territory player back in the day. But I didn’t know that there was a Wolfenstein game I missed…

They don't make game covers like these anymore...

They don’t make game covers like these anymore…

Mission Pack 2: Return to Danger and Mission Pack 3: Ultimate Challenge are unofficial third party expansions to Spear of Destiny, developed internally at FormGen and released in 1994. If you were craving more Wolfenstein and were ignoring Doom for some reason, this was one of the few ways to get more digital nazi killing. That, along the Wolfenstein map generator mentioned on the box, gave you seemingly endless opportunities to expand your Wolfenstein 3D experience.

Both episodes have similar stories: Hitler recovered the Spear from B.J. Blazkowicz, and it’s up to B.J. to fight Hitler’s Nazi regime and recover the Spear twice more before he brings hell demons to Earth. It’s corny stuff, but back in those days FPS games were never known for having great stories.

Well, I hope you like blue because there's a lot of it.

Well, I hope you like blue, because there’s a lot of it here.

So what’s different in these Mission Packs compared to vanilla Spear of Destiny? Surprisingly there are a bunch of changes in this game. New levels (natch), new sprites, new textures, even the enemies look and sound different. So already this is looking promising, right? Oh, if only.

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Every once in a while, I kind of go on a “vacation” with the site. It’s not that I hate writing for this site (In fact, I love all those who read this site, especially those who leave hateful comments on that Doom mods article I wrote in 2014!), it’s that I get into a writer’s block, struggling for ideas. But then those vacations give me interesting ideas while I’m doing other things. Suddenly I get an idea, and get back to writing. Today, I’m dipping into a bit of late ’90s-early 2000s nostalgia.320px-Dreamcast_logo.svg

Sega was going through some rough times throughout the ’90s. The back-to-back failures of the Sega CD, 32X, Game Gear, and the Saturn put them in pretty bad shape by the time they released the Dreamcast. While they made a lot of games that I loved (Crazy Taxi and Chu Chu Rocket were my jams, man), it wasn’t enough to fend off the PlayStation 2 and the forthcoming GameCube and Xbox, forcing Sega to bow out of the console race for good around 2001. Nowadays, Sega is merely a husk of what it formerly was, occasionally putting out a Sonic, Football Manager, or Total War game to keep them afloat.

But let’s go back to the glory days of Sega. Around 2000, Sega’s PC arm made this game available to freely download, which became a wonderful time-waster during my middle school years:

What the heck kind of company is

What the heck kind of company is “Sega of America Dreamcast” anyway?

Introducing Sega Swirl, a fairly simple puzzle game released by Sega, loosely inspired by the Dreamcast logo swirl (seen above).

Sometimes, simplicity is better than complexity when it comes to menus.

The gameplay is fairly simple: You’re given a grid of swirl colors, and your goal is to find groups of colored swirls for points. Removing them shrinks the playfield down, making it easy to build up combos. The only danger is removing a single swirl rather than a cluster, which’ll give you a score penalty.

They almost look like colored cinnamon rolls.

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If you were around in the ’90s, you might be familiar with Tetris mania. The original game hit a myriad of systems, most notably the Game Boy, and became a massive worldwide success. Naturally when something like Tetris is popular, people try to reinvent the wheel and make variants of Tetris, with varying levels of success.

Some of these, like Tetris 2 or Tetris Blast just added a more puzzle element to the base Tetris game. Others were games like Tetris Attack, which was merely a rebranding of what we now know as Puzzle League. Then there’s the game that we’re talking about today:

Even the cover is similar to the original NES Tetris cover.

Even the cover is similar to the original NES Tetris cover.

Proudly mentioned on the box as “Tetris made Letter Perfect!”, Wordtris is a Tetris-like game released for several different systems. Though today we’ll be specifically looking at the SNES version of the game. Spectrum Holobyte took the block-building concept of Tetris and put a unique spin on it, which is hardly unknown territory to them. Wordtris was one of several Tetris spinoffs Spectrum Holobyte released, including Welltris and Faces: …Tris III. See, I wasn’t kidding when I said there were many Tetris spinoffs in the ’90s.

Surprisingly bare-bones looking for a game like this.

Surprisingly bare-bones looking for a game like this.

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The year is 2011. We’re nearing the final stretch of a console generation. We’re seeing awesome games made by awesome people. Here I was, browsing on Twitter like I usually do, until someone I followed retweeted this gem by one Clifford Bleszinski on Twitter one day:

Naturally, being the curious guy I am, I checked out the website and found out there was a free game. I download the 700MB installer, not knowing what to expect.

Making something sound so generic is quite impressive.

Making something sound so generic is quite impressive.

Duty Calls: The Calm Before the Storm is a parody game that makes fun of the long-standing Call of Duty franchise. This is very apparent by the logo that makes fun of the old Call of Duty logo, to even that important disclaimer that Activision had nothing to do with it. Because the last thing we need are lawsuits.

Parodying games in other games is a fickle thing. Sometimes you can be right on point and make it funny, otherwise you end up just making half-baked references like “That’s one Doomed Space Marine” from Duke Nukem 3D did. So let’s see how they did with this parody, shall we?

Must be very boring for the army today...

Must be very boring for the army today…

Our adventure begins with an introductory cutscene learning about some secret base, complete with a Call of Duty-style talking about how war has changed, and yet war never changes. Reminded me of that Wizard song from Idle Thumbs. After that, our intrepid shooterguy drops in with an M4 assault rifle and a secret base to find by some random commander dude. So let’s jump into the fray and fight the big bad.

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I’m convinced no one wants to be the sniper in a video game. Yeah, there’s parts of movies where being a sniper is cool, but most of it involves walking around and occasionally killing people at a distance with a bolt-action rifle. Unless it’s something like Call of Duty 4‘s “All Ghillied Up” mission, which is more of a stealth level than a sniping level.

Thus any game I’ve played where sniping is the focus, like Sniper Elite V2 or Sniper: Ghost Warrior, ends up being a fairly simple shooter with strangely elaborate sniping mechanics. I don’t know why people keep making games based on it, but then again they keep making sequels to the Sniper movies, so I guess there’s an audience for this stuff.

Today, we’re looking at another one of those sniping games, and this time, it’s a budget shooter…

If this doesn't look generic to you, I don't know what.

If this doesn’t look generic to you, I don’t know what.

CTU Marine Sharpshooter is a budget FPS where sniping is the base mechanic. Despite the name, you don’t play as Jack Bauer, but rather a generic soldier dropped into certain exotic locales and go pew pew at bad guys with sniper rifles.

The developer of this game was Jarhead Games, a master of making budget military FPSes, such as Navy SEALs: Weapons of Mass Destruction and Army Ranger: Mogadishu. The only other notable thing they made was NRA Gun Club, which is ironic considering the NRA was lambasting video games before. Guess they forgot about that one.I’ve played only one of Jarhead’s games before, and it wasn’t that interesting, so I don’t have high hopes for this one.

Man, what kind of gun skin is that, Spotterguy? Can I get that for CS:GO? :P

Man, what kind of gun skin is that? Can I get that for CS:GO? 😛

You play as some generic sniper and his spotter buddy, with an M4 assault rifle. They don’t give them names, so I’m gonna call them “John McSniperdude” and his partner “David Spotterguy.”

What a good starting level, a big load of nothing.

What a good starting level, a big load of nothing.

After a thrilling introduction where McSniperdude and Spotterguy arrive to Afghanistan by boat, the game begins. Sniping in this game is a bit strange: You use the mouse wheel to zoom in and out. It takes a little getting used to, especially since I’m used to many other games allowing you to scope in with the right mouse button. As you play, Spotterguy will tell you that there’s enemies in a certain direction, also highlighted on your radar above.

Each set of levels gives you a unique sniper rifle: The starting Afghanistan missions give you an M40A3 that requires to chamber a round in each time you reload. Later, you get a Barrett M82, a heavy anti-tank rifle that the player uses like it was an assault rifle. The final set of levels give you an “AW”, which I assume is meant to be the Arctic Warfare Magnum, which would’ve been more appropriate in the other levels.

Get used to this weapon. It'll be your best friend in many cases, more than your sniper rifle will be.

Get used to this weapon. It’ll be your best friend in many cases, more than your sniper rifle will be.

When not sniping, you have two other weapons: A useless knife, and your SOCOM-MK23 pistol with an optional silencer. The pistol is really only useful in close quarter areas, of which there are a few. I’d recommend telling your Spotter to fire at will so you don’t have to switch between weapons or no-scope enemies often. You’re given 4-6 health packs you can use (signified by the crosses on the HUD), but they only refill when you change locales, so if you used up all your medkits on the early levels, you won’t last long. Also, your spotter has infinite kits and can heal himself willy-nilly.

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I think Devolver Digital is slowly becoming one of my favorite publishers. Earlier this year, they teamed up with The Expendables 3 and released a demo for Broforce called The Expendabros that was pretty damn fun. (You can read about that game here.) They gave the dormant Serious Sam and Shadow Warrior franchises new life with new games in the series, and published the awesome yet frustrating Hotline Miami. So yeah, they’re a pretty cool publisher.

Now they’re spreading some holiday cheer with yet another free game, this time featuring their mascot/CFO/Twitter darling Fork Parker. This one is quite a doozy…

This title is a damn tongue-twister.

This title is a god damn tongue-twister.

Fork Parker’s Holiday Profit Hike is a Christmas-themed promotional game featuring Parker and developed by Dodge Roll Games, a new studio who’s working on Enter the Gungeon coming out next year. Unlike Expendabros, Holiday Profit Hike is not a reskinned version of Gungeon. Instead, it’s a unique game of its own.

Fork Parker seems like my kind of guy.

Fork Parker seems like my kind of guy.

You play as Fork Parker, who must make a load of profits for Q4. His solution? Climb a tall “mountain” filled with perilous spikes, snowball-throwing yeti, and tacky Christmas sweaters while trying to grab cash along the way. If you get to the end and finish in the black, you’ve saved Devolver Digital. A fairly simple holiday-related story, and for a game like this it doesn’t need anything more complicated than that.

Holiday Profit Hike boasts a pixel art aesthetic, which I’m usually not a fan of, but I’ve been slowly warming up to it in recent years. Somehow Dodge Roll Games made a dodgy old dude like Parker into a cute-looking character thanks to the art style. It also has a few music tracks, one that loops endlessly. It’s a bit short, but it fits the rest of the game’s atmosphere.

The start of a short, yet rewarding journey.

The start of a painful, yet rewarding journey.

So what makes this game different from other platformers? Well, Parker comes equipped with a cool feature in which he can throw pitons at certain walls and floors and make a rope zipline he can ride with his cane. This is the core mechanic of the game, and is pretty unique for a platformer. He can even use his cane as a pogo stick to temporarily stun some enemies, taking a few tips from Scrooge McDuck. I wonder if Parker and McDuck are BFFs. They both share a penchant for cash…

This game follows the formula that games like Super Meat Boy and VVVVVV follow in which one hit is certain death. There’s a lot of spikes strewn around, and lots of slippery blocks will be the cause of many deaths. Thank god the game has checkpoints after every major puzzle, but even with those, it’s not an easy challenge. Nothing sucks more than getting past a difficult part, only to die in a spike pit, negating all progress.

This one part almost drove me insane. I'm surprised I beat it.

This one part almost drove me insane. I’m surprised I beat it.

I don’t get frustrated at games very often, but Holiday Profit Hike broke me. I died so many times that my swearing became shrieks and cries of “NO!” when I botched a difficult section. The part above is what wrecked me the most, causing me to swear and shout more than anything else in the game at that point. Eventually I got so frustrated from failing so much on this one section that I received concern from other people in my house. When people start worrying about me over a game like this, I knew I had to take a break.

This is why I'm not a businessman. Or a platformer expert.

This is why I’m not a businessman. Or a platformer expert.

However, I am not a quitter. I will push myself, yelling and screaming until I finally get past those damn difficult sections. After many failed tries, I persevered and got to the top of the mountain in an hour and a half. Alas, I got the worst ending, but it’s better than giving up and missing out.

The game isn’t very long, and doesn’t have much in replay value. The only other options are get better and beat the game with a positive score to get the best ending, or to speed run through it, which is an impressive feat if you can do it. I don’t think I’m up for replaying this, but I did enjoy playing through it in spite of it breaking me more than any game has in years.

If you wanna play this, it’s available on Steam for a limited time. It’s very frustrating, but still fun despite the hard difficulty. Props to Devolver for giving out a free holiday game, and to Dodge Roll Games for perfectly capturing the spirit of a balls-hard platformer. I wouldn’t mind seeing a sequel of this. Just make it a bit easier next time, alright? 😛

Hoyle Casino: Gambling on the go.

For a long while, I was fascinated by casino video games. Maybe since I was too young to actually play at a casino that I wanted to simulate the casino experience without losing loads of money in the process. It’s a shame that nowadays casinos are inundated with digital slots and video poker machines, with maybe a blackjack and craps table here and there. Damn kids don’t know what they’re missing.

During my teenage years, I was playing one of these casino games, back when I had just gotten the fancy new Game Boy Advance. Though, it was a Game Boy Color game…

Probably the best quality picture I could find. If my box wasn't crushed to hell, I'd just scan mine in.

Probably the best quality picture I could find. If my box wasn’t crushed to hell, I’d just scan mine in.

Hoyle Casino is a game sponsored by the Hoyle game company, which primarily was known as a card company though these days they’ve branched out to publishing digital games based on shows like Ice Road Truckers. This game is also unique because it was one of the few games Sierra published for the GBC, the others being Hoyle Card Games and a version of 3D Ultra Pinball: Thrillride. The game came to other systems, but today I’m looking at the portable release.

Pulsar Interactive worked on this, and they were mostly known for Game Boy games like Barbie Fashion Pack, as well as assisting in Quest for Glory V and Blood & Magic, as well as IBM’s Manage This!, which is not a video game but they were more than proud to feature it on their website.

I figured I played this a bunch because of the aforementioned fascination with casino games. Plus since it was on a portable and this was before everybody had smartphones, it was a great time waster when you had nothing to do, which was fairly common in my high school years.

Now, my gold standard for casino games is Nintendo’s Vegas Stakes – both the original SNES version and it’s Game Boy counterpart – so let’s see if Hoyle Casino is good enough to dethrone the king of casino video games.

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