Monday, June 27, 2016

Choicest VGM - VGM #236 - Sid Meier's Colonization - Pizarro at Cuzco



Original Soundtrack composed by: Jeffery L. Briggs, Ken Lagace and Roland J. Rizzo

Amiga Soundtrack by: Allister Brimble and Anthony Putson

Here we have another short track that plays when you meet one of the two "major" native American tribes in the game. I say "major" because only the Incans and Aztecs get their own theme music compared to the many other tribes represented in the game such as the Iroquois, Cherokee, Arawak, etc. "Pizarro at Cuzco" is obviously the theme for the Incans but just as the title of the track suggests, it's a desolate, depressing affair - very much the yin to the Aztec's yang, as "Tenochtitlan" is very much a happy theme filled with hope. It's not one of my favourite tracks to listen to, but it's definitely a memorable one, which is why it's listed here on Choicest VGM.

EDIT (15/10/2016): A fellow YouTube user +Plastiware has alerted me to the fact that despite me originally advertising these tracks as the Amiga version of the soundtrack, it's probably not entirely accurate. I originally marked these as the Amiga version due to the source MP3s I used stating Allister Brimble and Anthony Putson as the composers, but when comparing these tracks to Amiga versions of the soundtrack on YouTube and then comparing it to a DOS CD version, it seems these are most likely from the DOS CD version. Apologies for the mistake.

[ VIDEO: Choicest VGM - VGM #236 - Sid Meier's Colonization - Pizarro at Cuzco ]


Sunday, June 26, 2016

Return NULL - Episode 1 Review

Ah... nothing like the view of the Lower City and its downtrodden inhabitants

  • Reviewed by: Mark Goninon
  • Developer: Michael L├╝ckgen
  • Publisher: Digital Tribe/iNDEE SOLO
  • Release Date: 3 April 2015
  • Time played: 50 minutes

You know how it is with Steam, especially when you end up with a huge library of hundreds or even thousands of games: you eventually forget how you ended up with certain games. That's the case with this one Return NULL Episode 1. If I recall correctly, I managed to nab this game as a freebie from Mix-Master (if you're a regular reader of this blog, you'll know he is a generous fellow who has probably donated 1/5 of the games in my Steam library) - so thanks again Mix-Master!

As you can tell by the title, this game is only the first episode in what is planned to be a trilogy. In this first episode, you play this guy:



No wait, wrong Drebin. I mean you play an ex-cop named Jack Drebin in a dystopian future where your life goes downhill pretty fast for reasons you'll find out in the first few minutes of the game. The game boasts 14 interactive hand-drawn locations, 10 unique characters , a "unique indie European comic art style" (whatever that means), 7 tracks of music and an "innovative, real-time gunplay mechanic".

Doesn't sound too bad, but is it actually any good?

What I like:


Sci-fi adventure

I love a good sci-fi adventure and Return NULL happens to be one of them. The game is set in a cyberpunk, dystopian future where climate change has wreaked havoc upon the world and caused social upheaval as a result. Crime is rampant and the only means to segregate the population is have the lower city as a prison for undesirables. Things aren't what they seem though and as usual there's a big conspiracy that needs to be uncovered.

Neat music

Yeah there are some cool sci-fi tunes in this game but there are a couple that can get repetitive at times.

Multiple paths?

This is still a question mark for me. There are a couple of times you get to make a choice (at least that I'm aware of) - once at the beginning of the episode and once at the end of the episode. The first decision seems to make no difference on the outcome (at least in this episode) and the second decision does result in two different outcomes, but the episode ends on a cliff-hanger so I have no idea how both outcomes can be resolved until I play the second episode.

Steam Trading Cards

You can collect Steam Trading Cards, although since the game is so short I haven't even generated my first one out of three...

What I dislike:


Short

The biggest criticism with the episode is that it’s only 30 minutes long. I've only clocked 50 minutes because I replayed the game to test whether you could get multiple paths or not. Thankfully, the developer has given the episode a fair price.

Really easy puzzles

For any point ‘n’ click adventure veterans, the puzzles in the game are incredibly easy and won’t pose much of a challenge.

Not many rooms

There are only a handful of rooms you can visit in this game so you don’t really get to explore much – although considering there aren’t many puzzles to solve either, the ratio in terms of rooms to puzzles is probably fine.

Amateurish artwork

Well they did say the art style was "unique" but to me that translates to a very amateurish art style where the characters don't have a consistent look.

Not much in terms of animation

The game contains comic book style cut-scenes and there’s very little in the way of animations. Consequently, the game has more in common with a visual novel than a traditional point ‘n’ click adventure.

"Innovative" gunplay mechanic

Look, I actually like the addition of this gunplay mechanic since it offers a mini-game or something a bit different to the rest of the game which is like a mix of a point 'n' click adventure and visual novel - but I'm not entirely sure if I would consider it "innovative" - I'm pretty sure I saw something similar to this in Gemini Rue...

No Steam screenshots

F12 doesn't take Steam screenshots.

Score – 6/10 (Okay)

Episode 1 of Return NULL is good for half an hour of simple puzzles but the game has low production values and it shows. The episode does end on a cliff-hanger with two potential outcomes depending on which choice you make - so maybe you'll get to see the consequences of your choices in the next episode - but then again, maybe not as there's no evidence in the current episode that choices matter. Will I get the second episode? Well considering it's only $0.59 USD on this Steam sale, most likely.

Is the game worth $1.99 USD?: Yes. Despite it being short, there is some traditional point 'n' click problem solving here.

If you like this game, you might like…

[ LINK: Official Return NULL Website ]

Wednesday, June 22, 2016

King's Quest - Chapter 3: Once Upon a Climb Review

Girl in the TOOooOWEER, I'm reaching out - PLEASE tell me what to DooOOoO
  • Reviewed by: Mark Goninon
  • Developer: The Odd Gentlemen
  • Publisher: Sierra
  • Release Date: 27 April 2016
  • Time played: 4.6 hours

Once Upon a Climb is the name of the third chapter for The Odd Gentlemen's King's Quest, published by the new Sierra. Set roughly at the same time as King's Quest II (which I played recently), this chapter is a re-telling of how King Graham finds his future wife Valanice, and when I say “re-telling", it's almost a totally different version of events: Yes, there's a witch called Hagatha. Yes, there's a tower where Valanice is imprisoned in. Yes, Graham has to go to the kingdom of Kolyma to rescue her, but besides the things I've already mentioned, everything is different.

What I like:


Dating simulator!

Once again, King's Quest straddles between the adventure genre and something else. In the second chapter, the game felt a lot like a survival management simulator along the lines of The Organ Trail or The Banner Saga where you have to manage limited resources to ensure your party's survival. In this chapter, your goal is to woo your future wife since there isn't just one Valanice, but two (okay, mild spoiler but it's not that far into the game when you discover this)!

I personally found this better than the original King's Quest II since, despite it probably staying very true to how fairy tales work, princesses immediately falling in love with their rescuer and marrying them is usually a recipe for disaster.

Music

Just like the previous chapters, the music in King's Quest is top notch, borrowing themes used in previous games. This time however, not only did David Stanton (composer for King's Quest) borrow themes from King's Quest V but King's Quest VI as well, most notably... GIRL IN THE TOOoOOOOOWWWEER



*Ahem*

Which is apropos considering that's what this chapter is all about (or maybe it should be renamed "Girls in the Tower"?).

Voice acting

You've still got the same veteran voice actors from previous chapters and they're doing new characters - which just goes to show how versatile they are! You also have Cherami Leigh playing the role of the lovable (although some would say ditzy) Neese.

References to the original series

Just like previous chapters, there are quite a few references to the original King's Quest games. My favourite one occurs right at the beginning of the chapter where you have a passage of time puzzle and are responsible in determining whether an iconic King's Quest V character lives or dies.

The puns are laid on thick in this chapter

Just when you thought it couldn't get any worse, out comes Once Upon a Climb where the puns are laid on thick – especially when you attempt to out-pun (is that even a word?) one of your potential wives.

Dedicated to Valanice

Despite the game following the life of King Graham, we've also learned a bit more about his family in the first two chapters, especially his grandchildren. This chapter is well and truly dedicated to Valanice, King Graham's wife and the choices you make during this chapter will ultimately affect who Valanice actually is, including all her likes, dislikes and character traits.

Sympathetic take on an old villain

This seems to be all the rage nowadays, with books like “Wicked" (which became a popular Broadway musical) giving reinterpretations on classic tales (“The Wizard of Oz" in this case) and making out the villains (The Wicked Witch of the West) into tragic characters. A similar thing happens here with Once Upon a Climb and I like it.

What I dislike:


Seems a bit rushed

Just like Chapter 2, Once Upon a Climb feels a bit rushed, especially towards the end of the game. While the character development with Neese and Val gets off to a good start, towards the end of the game you'll notice there'll be a string of random quests with very little plot or character development in between, giving the impression that some content may have been cut out or not completed in time.

Controls

Using a mix of mouse and keyboard can be confusing at times. Usually, I just thought of them as alternate ways of doing the same thing but there is one part in the game where you cannot rely on the mouse alone and if you do, you'll miss out on the solution to a rather obvious puzzle. In fact, I knew exactly what needed to be done but since I never figured out how to select a particular object (until reading a walkthrough) I spent almost an hour trying different combinations when the solution was staring at me straight in the face the whole time.
Not as long as the first chapter.

Not as long as the first chapter

This actually doesn't bother me that much but some people might not like the fact that the third chapter, similar to the second, is only about three hours long (I took four hours because I got stuck on a puzzle).

Score – 8/10 (Excellent)

Once Upon a Climb is a contemporary revision of the events in King's Quest II and I must say, I prefer this version better: Valanice isn't two-dimensional like she was in King's Quest II, Hagatha is portrayed in a sympathetic light and how can you beat the addition of GIRL IN THE TooOOOWER as part of the soundtrack? The chapter does feel a bit rushed though and like Rubble Without a Cause, is shorter than the first chapter.

Is the game worth $9.99 USD?: Yes. While this chapter is still not as long as the first chapter it feels more light-hearted than the darkness and moral ambiguity of the second chapter – so it felt more like a King's Quest title.

If you like this game, you might like...

[ LINK: Official King's Quest Website ]

Monday, June 20, 2016

Choicest VGM - VGM #235 - Sid Meier's Colonization - Cornwall



Original Soundtrack composed by: Jeffery L. Briggs, Ken Lagace and Roland J. Rizzo

Amiga Soundtrack by: Allister Brimble and Anthony Putson

Ah Cornwall... what do I like about this track? Maybe because my ancestors hailed from there, long, long ago. Or maybe because the song is sweet like a lullaby. The track is a link to the Old World, music to listen to while you watch Land's End disappear into the distance, on your way to a new adventure in the Americas.

EDIT (15/10/2016): A fellow YouTube user +Plastiware has alerted me to the fact that despite me originally advertising these tracks as the Amiga version of the soundtrack, it's probably not entirely accurate. I originally marked these as the Amiga version due to the source MP3s I used stating Allister Brimble and Anthony Putson as the composers, but when comparing these tracks to Amiga versions of the soundtrack on YouTube and then comparing it to a DOS CD version, it seems these are most likely from the DOS CD version. Apologies for the mistake.

[ VIDEO: Choicest VGM - VGM #235 - Sid Meier's Colonization - Cornwall ]


Sunday, June 19, 2016

Cosmic DJ Review


A neat feature of Cosmic DJ is how all the animations dance in time with the music you compose
  • Reviewed by: Mark Goninon
  • Developer: Gl33k
  • Publisher: Devolver Digital
  • Release Date: 30 October 2014
  • Time played: 2.5 hours

So while working through my backlog of games I came across one that apparently doesn't take very long to complete according to HowLongToBeat.com (yes, such a site exists and it's an invaluable tool for those of us with large "piles of shame" to work through). I purchased the game during a sale no doubt since I managed to get it for the rock bottom price of 74 US cents and overall, I'm reasonably satisfied with my purchase.

What I like:


Easiest way to get into composing electronic dance music

I've used really basic music trackers in the past such as eJay where it's just a matter of plonking different coloured blocks (that represent audio samples) onto different channels and I must say that Cosmic DJ is very similar in concept, except it's even easier, yet limited at the same time. Let me explain.

In eJay (and more complex music trackers) you can obviously have the track run for as long as possible; in Cosmic DJ your track is limited to 8 bars of music. Also, with normal music trackers you're able to chop and change your audio samples to however long you want them to be; in Cosmic DJ each note that you record is a crotchet. You can't have minims, quavers, etc. Finally, you only can ever play four notes with each instrument in Cosmic DJ (I'm now referring to the pitch, not the number of notes - the maximum number of notes is obviously 32 with 8 bars).

So admittedly, the game is quite limited in what you can compose but there's enough variety there to make some funky tunes and it's the easiest way you're ever going to get into composing electronic dance music. In fact, considering how simple it is, it's probably a great game to introduce to your kids (if you have any).

Lots of instruments to choose from

There are several types of instruments to choose from once you finally get around to the freeform mode called Quick Play although in the single-player campaign, you'll be limited to what you're given (you can occasionally substitute instruments but I'm not exactly sure what the trigger is for this to occur).

Ability to export mixes

One of the choicest features of this game is the ability for you to export mixes of the music you've created in MP3 format. Keep in mind that you can only export remixes of your music and it's automatically generated. The resultant remix is pretty short but you'd expect that when the original source material is only 32 bars long.

What I dislike:


Lack of control over which instruments to play

You know how I mentioned you have a lot of instruments to pick from when you decide to create music in Quick Play? Well the only downside is that there doesn't seem to be a way of picking specific instruments except for hitting a button that is the equivalent of the "I'm feeling lucky!" Google button or waiting to roll good stats when creating a D&D character.

Very short story mode

The single-player campaign is incredibly short. It took me under 2 hours to complete and consists of only six "missions". Thankfully, there's a freeform mode (as mentioned earlier) called Quick Play that allows you to just muck about and create as many mixes as you like.

There isn't really much challenge

If you go into this game expecting it to be a rhythm game like Guitar Hero, Rock Band or Before the Echo you're going to be disappointed as it's more of a music composition game which means the single-player campaign doesn't offer much of a challenge; as long as you bang a lot of notes using all the instruments (even if the track sounds terrible) you'll still manage to pass the missions.

Score – 7/10 (Good Fun)


The greatest strength of Cosmic DJ is also its weakness: it's probably the easiest way for someone to try their hand at composing electronic dance music. Even children and the musically-challenged will be able to create groovy mixes with Cosmic DJ. However, since it's so damn easy to make funky music in this game it also means it's very limited when compared to proper music composition software. The game will also pose no challenge to rhythm game veterans because it's not actually one of those kind of games.

If you're looking for a music game that allows you to create basic dance remixes for very little effort along with a short single-player campaign and a very affordable price, Cosmic DJ is the game for you. If you want a game that challenges you or one that is able to create longer and complex tracks, you'll have to look elsewhere.

Is the game worth $2.99 USD?: Yes. It's a good couple hours of fun and you even get some funky little dance tunes as a result of your efforts.

If you like this game, you might like…

[ LINK: Official Cosmic DJ Website ]


Friday, June 17, 2016

King's Quest II Review

GRAHAM! WATCH OUT! A PoOOoOiSONOUS VIPER!

  • Reviewed by: Mark Goninon
  • Developer: Sierra On-Line
  • Publisher: Sierra On-Line
  • Release Date: 1987
  • Time played: 3 hours

Prepare for more blasphemy, Sierra fans! I am about to give a review of King's Quest II, a game I've never played before until quite recently. I say more blasphemy because I also reviewed King's Quest: Quest for the Crown not that long ago and gave it a mediocre rating of 4/10 and King's Quest II doesn't fare that much better.

Why am I playing these really old Sierra adventure games? It's mainly because I'm also playing the new King's Quest by The Odd Gentlemen. Quest for the Crown takes place in between the first chapter and second chapter of the new King's Quest and the third chapter of the new King's Quest is a re-telling of King's Quest II. So before delving into the latest chapter of the new King's Quest, I wanted to experience the original story.

Also, note that this review will read very similarly to my Quest for the Crown review, mainly because everything is almost identical except for the story.

What I like:


Retro

A game that was developed in 1987 is obviously going to be retro by today's standards (as it's almost 30 years old): you've got the Adventure Game Interpreter's (AGI's) 160x200 EGA graphics, the PC speaker bleeping out Greensleeves, and everything was controlled using the keyboard. So if you're a gaming hipster, you'll want to be seen playing this game ;).

Text parser

I know the text parser can be kind of cumbersome (and this one is particularly primitive compared to other Sierra games - there are so many words and verbs it won't accept) but one thing I always loved about the text parser is the ability to slowly learn more about your surroundings by examining the room. With the point 'n' click Sierra adventure games, you could often end up hunting for pixels in order to find a crucial item whereas in the age of the text parser, you could just type what to look for or at least search the room so that you'll be offered some keywords to use.

You're playing a piece of PC gaming history

King's Quest II was the first King's Quest game to feature an introductory cutscene and the game was a collaboration with several classic Sierra designers; not only was Roberta and Ken Williams involved but also Scott Murphy, Mark Crowe and Al Lowe (Scott and Mark were the designers of the Space Quest series and Al was the designer for the Leisure Suit Larry series). So it's an important little piece of Sierra On-Line history.

What I dislike:


Extremely difficult

There's really only one thing I dislike about this game but it's a big one: the game is simply too damn difficult. I managed to plod along through the game hunting for items but then I got to a point where I wasn't exactly clear what I was supposed to do and I had a hunch that I would be in for a world of hurt if I tried to pursue the puzzles in this game any further: it turns out my hunch was right.

Don't get me wrong, I have nothing against dying, many, many times - that's a hallmark of Sierra adventure games even in the point 'n' click age - but what does infuriate me are these things: (a) random encounters to produce mission critical items, (b) the ability to reach dead-ends without even knowing it and (c) ridiculous puzzles with answers that don't really make any sense. Just like King's Quest I, King's Quest II has all of these! There are many times where you can accidentally give away important inventory items and you end up wandering around for hours not quite knowing whether you've yet to encounter the thing to help progress the plot or you've actually reached a dead-end. Worse, some critical items can only be gained if you randomly encounter a particular character on a particular screen. If you never encounter the character, how would you know to keep walking back into the screen to generate the random encounter?

While it's somewhat relieving to know there isn't a ridiculous riddle the likes of the original King's Quest in King's Quest II, the game still has its fair share of preposterous puzzles. Spoilers ahead! At one part in the game, you come across a snake that is blocking your path. What's the most logical thing to do in this situation? Walk around it? No. Distract it? No. Kill the snake? No. Throw a bridle over it so that it can magically turn into a talking Pegasus that gives you a magic ghostbustin' sugar cube as a gift for rescuing it? Yes. Seriously Sierra?

Look, I know this is a controversial thing to say to the hardcore Sierra fans (and I've already said this in my Quest for the Crown review) but I'll say it again - I think there are a few puzzles in King's Quest II that are borderline insane and it makes me think that the rumours about adventure game companies purposefully making games difficult so that players could pay for hints through books and phone calls, might have some merit.

Score – 4/10 (Mediocre)

King's Quest II was probably a great game for its time, however, the only people who could possibly gain any enjoyment from this game today are masochists and the hardcore Sierra fans that grew up with the game in the 1980s (and already know how to complete the game). The game also lacks much in terms of plot and consequently, not really worth your time if like me, you want to learn a bit more about King's Quest lore.

(And before I get burned at the stake by the Sierra fans, I'm trying to judge this game on its own merits, playing it today in 2016. No doubt the game was revolutionary and a critical success in the 1980s, but nowadays, things have evolved and, in my humble opinion, generally for the better).

Is the game worth $13.59?: No. Although it really depends if you're an old fan (so you're probably already got a copy anyway) and what price you would put on retro games in general. The $13.59 gets you King's Quest 1, 2 and 3 though.

If you like this game, you might like…

[ LINK: King's Quest 1+2+3 on Good Old Games ]

Monday, June 13, 2016

Choicest VGM - VGM #234 - Sid Meier's Colonization - Tenochtitlan



Original Soundtrack composed by: Jeffery L. Briggs, Ken Lagace and Roland J. Rizzo

Amiga Soundtrack by: Allister Brimble and Anthony Putson

At 24 seconds, this isn't a terribly long track but it's one that's a classic in terms of the Civilization series - that's because it crops up in at least 3 games; It features first as Montezuma's music in Civilization 1, then as music for the Aztecs in Colonization and it features as Montezuma's music again in Civilization II. Not only that, but if you listen closely to the Civilization II intro music, you'll notice that it's a variation of this frequently used theme! Ah the memories...

EDIT (15/10/2016): A fellow YouTube user +Plastiware has alerted me to the fact that despite me originally advertising these tracks as the Amiga version of the soundtrack, it's probably not entirely accurate. I originally marked these as the Amiga version due to the source MP3s I used stating Allister Brimble and Anthony Putson as the composers, but when comparing these tracks to Amiga versions of the soundtrack on YouTube and then comparing it to a DOS CD version, it seems these are most likely from the DOS CD version. Apologies for the mistake.

[ VIDEO: Choicest VGM - VGM #234 - Sid Meier's Colonization - Tenochtitlan ]


Sunday, June 12, 2016

Tropico 5 Review

Tropico 5 looks a lot similar to Tropico 4 and Tropico 3 before it.


  • Reviewed by: Mark Goninon
  • Developer: Haemimont Games
  • Publisher: Kalypso Media
  • Release Date: 23 May 2014
  • Time played: 6 hours (INCOMPLETE)

As a Father's Day pressie I managed to nab a copy of Tropico 5 which at first glance seems like a pretty good choice considering my love for the series. I've played every Tropico game (except for Tropico with Pirates aka Tropico 2) and while nothing can beat the novelty and fun of the original, Tropico 3 wasn't too bad and neither was Tropico 4. So I was expecting more of the same choice gameplay in Tropico 5 but with the ability to play multiplayer and through different eras!

What I like:


New gameplay elements

Most of the gameplay will seem pretty similar to veterans of the series although there are a few new features.

For example, now your island nation will progress through different eras such as the Colonial Era, the World Wars Era, Cold War Era and Modern Era. Each of these eras unlock different buildings, edicts and constitution amendments. Wait, you get a constitution now? Yep, so remember how you were able to set things like immigration policy at specific buildings in previous games? You now can do that via the constitution. The only thing is, once you pick certain policies in the constitution you can't change them for several years. So you've got to be careful in what you pick.

The game also gives you the ability to create a dynasty - which in game terms means you get multiple El Presidentes that are able to give boosts to buildings and your nation as a whole. There's also the ability to sign a contract and setup trade routes between external powers where you can either import or export a particular number of goods for a better rate.

But besides the few things I've mentioned above, the game is pretty much the same.

Multiplayer

I sadly didn't really get an extensive look into multiplayer (i.e. I didn't really get to try it at all) but there's apparently competitive and co-operative multiplayer modes which sounds pretty good to me.

Graphics

As always, I love the graphics in this game - there's just an amazing amount of detail on the island. However, the only criticism I have is that the engine hasn't really changed too much from Haemimont Games's first outing with the Tropico franchise, Tropico 3, and that came out in 2009...

Music

The music is still your fiesta-style Caribbean music and overall it still suits the game although I think the music has been getting progressively worse with each Tropico iteration. Tropico 3 had a more memorable soundtrack when compared to Tropico 4 and in turn, Tropico 4 has a better soundtrack than the latest Tropico game in my humble opinion. Oh and nothing can beat the Daniel Indhart Project on Tropico 1 - that's definitely the best soundtrack in the series.

Humour

Tropico's black comedy and satire has been a hallmark of the series ever since the first game and Tropico 5 doesn't disappoint. In fact, there are a lot of puns and Dad jokes to enter the mix too, as well as pop culture references, such as when Penultimo talks about his movie script that sounds suspiciously like "Brokeback Mountain".

What I dislike:


Painful setup

I'm not sure about the Steam version, but the retail version was a real pain to setup. I had to keep re-downloading a 1.4GB patch (that somehow took a few hours to download) and only after a couple of tries did I finally get a pop-up asking if I wanted to install the update. Why did I need this update? Because...

"The boxed retail versions of Tropico 5 using Kalypso Launcher have been hit by a hideous activation bug which prevents the Launcher from starting up properly."

Oops. Anyway, for those that are affected by the bug, you can check out the hotfix here.

Next time, save yourself the trouble and just get the Steam version ;).

Gated content

In the old Tropico games provided you had the correct prerequisite buildings (such as a power plant) and enough cash, you'd be able to construct the buildings. In Tropico 5, this is no longer the case as some buildings you won't be able to access until later eras. It's probably less annoying to new players than it is to veterans since the veterans will have to re-learn how to play the game without the awesome late-game buildings effectively ramping up the difficulty. Consequently, the game starts to feel a lot more linear and there's less freedom in the game in more ways than one; not only does the player have less freedom and options to employ, but the game also suggests that trying to give the people a liberal, democratic government too early is a bad thing.

You see, in previous Tropico games I've always strived to give free and open elections to the people and while it was a struggle to keep everyone happy and win the elections, it didn't feel impossible. In Tropico 5 it feels impossible to win an election if you aim for a liberal, secular democracy in the World Wars Era. That's because satisfying the people as a whole seems to take secondary importance to satisfying factions. How this works isn't really properly explained but basically from the games I've played the Militarist and Religious factions are pretty strong in the World Wars era. Consequently, when I don't run my island nation as a patriarchal theocracy that has mandatory military service, these guys get really unhappy and it gets worse over time. Sure, you can placate them somewhat by building a few guard towers and churches but they don't really help much and while there is a summary to indicate why factions hate you so much, it'd be nice if they offered solutions on how to curry favour with them.

Also, when you play the main campaign you have to play with a saved island from a previous mission in the campaign; this means when you play a mission (besides the very first mission of course) it will come with all the endemic issues you thought you'd left behind in the previous mission. You basically have to ensure that by the end of each mission you're in a perfect starting point for the next one, which makes the game even more difficult.

Score – 7/10 (Alright)

Tropico 5 feels a lot more linear with gated content compared to previous Tropico games and I found the main campaign definitely more difficult. So much so that after several tries, I found it too frustrating to invest any more time in it. I'd rather just play Tropico 4 since in terms of graphics, audio and humour, it's very similar. Tropico 5 is probably a better game for those who haven't played previous Tropico games or ones that found the Tropico 3 and Tropico 4 too easy.


Is the game worth $36? (Current EB Games sale price): If you've never played a Tropico game before and like the idea of a city builder mixed with politics, then yes I think it's worth a punt. Otherwise, if you've already played one of the previous Tropico games, I don't think it's really worth it.


If you like this game, you might like…

[ LINK: Official Tropico 5 Website ]


Wednesday, June 8, 2016

Disorganized Fun Review


  • Reviewed by: Mark Goninon
  • Name: Disorganized Fun
  • Label: Ronald Jenkees
  • Composer(s): Ronald Jenkees
  • Number of Tracks: 11

This is probably going to be the first time I've reviewed a soundtrack that's not actually a game soundtrack on this blog. Okay, I just did a quick search of my reviews and that's not entirely true since I did review Video Games Live – Level 3 and that's not technically a game soundtrack, although it's a compilation of orchestral music based on game soundtracks, so it's almost the same thing. "Disorganized Fun" on the other hand is a stand-alone album that's not really the soundtrack of any game, although Before the Echo (which I recently reviewed) does happen to licence many tracks from this album and now you know how I found out about the album in the first place (Before the Echo also licences music from Jenkees's first album released in 2007).

I must've been living under a rock for the past few years, that or I'm just not up on my YouTube celebrities, but apparently Ronald Jenkees, the musician behind "Disorganized Fun", is a Pretty Big Deal. He's well known on YouTube for his keyboard performances and his videos have received more than 75 million views. Despite him being an internet celebrity though, it's taken me 7 years to discover this album and I wouldn't have discovered it at all if I never ended up playing Before the Echo. After listening to the music he contributed to Before the Echo's soundtrack I just had to see if I could purchase the music. Thankfully you can and not only can you buy it in digital format but physically on a CD (which is almost unheard of today).

I paid $12 USD + shipping and handling for the CD version of the soundtrack (since there's not much difference in price between the CD and the digital version of the soundtrack for $10 USD). The soundtrack was delivered very quickly through the mail (I think I only waited a couple of weeks if I recall correctly) and Jenkees was kind enough to autograph the album cover too (at least, I think that's his signature :)).

There are 11 tracks on the album with the first 9 being purely instrumental and the last two being rap tracks. Five of the tracks on the album (so almost half of the album) features in the game Before the Echo and these are by far my favourite tracks; these include the eponymous "Disorganized Fun", "Guitar Sound", "Throwing Fire", "Stay Crunchy" and "Outer Space". "Fifteen Fifty" and "Inverted Mean" aren't bad tracks either but I really couldn't get into any of the other tracks on the album. It's probably because I'm not such a big fan of rap unless it happens to be oldschool hip hop such as "Rapper's Delight" or "The Message", and the other instrumental tracks were passable but that's about it.



So what are the major genres at play in this album? There's a lot going on here with traces of hip hop, pop, R&B, French House and VGM, all having a part to play at some point or another. Thanks to his choice of retro synths, some passages of "Disorganized Fun", "Synth One", "Stay Crunchy" and "Outer Space" wouldn't sound out of place in a 16-bit era video game or on the Amiga. "Throwing Fire" on the other hand sounds like a synth version of something Michael Jackson would sing and towards the end of the track, there's even a slight hint of Daft Punk. And just to keep things even more interesting, Jenkees has the epic "Guitar Sound" on the album which is 7:02 of pure, icy coolness. There's 4:21 of blues rock before it enters a second movement of angelic synths. It's very much like prog-rock, yet danceable.

Score – 8/10

There's enough good stuff on "Disorganized Fun" to satisfy any fan of VGM mixed with elements of French House, 90s pop and R&B. There's even a cool rock track along with a couple of rap tracks about fancy cars and lavish parties (if that's your sort of thing). I think you'll get even more enjoyment out of the album if you've played Before the Echo but it's still worth a listen to even if you haven't. Recommended.

If you're interested in purchasing the soundtrack, it's either available in digital format for $10 USD or on CD for $12 USD + shipping and handling from Ronald Jenkees's website

Monday, June 6, 2016

Choicest VGM - VGM #233 - Sid Meier's Colonization - Shady Grove



Original Soundtrack composed by: Jeffery L. Briggs, Ken Lagace and Roland J. Rizzo

Amiga Soundtrack by: Allister Brimble and Anthony Putson

Once again we come across a piece of music in Sid Meier's Colonization that's an adaptation of a real tune. "Shady Grove" is actually based off an Appalachian folk song which is commonly performed today by American bluegrass and old-time musicians. The tune is based off a traditional ballad from Britain called "Matty Groves" which dates as far back as the 17th century. The song travelled to the Appalachians during the American Civil War so it's probably a bit anachronistic having this play in Colonization (as the game is set before the United States even became a country) but hey it's a great track.

I thoroughly recommend you search for live performances of Shady Grove - there are some really good ones on YouTube!

EDIT (15/10/2016): A fellow YouTube user +Plastiware has alerted me to the fact that despite me originally advertising these tracks as the Amiga version of the soundtrack, it's probably not entirely accurate. I originally marked these as the Amiga version due to the source MP3s I used stating Allister Brimble and Anthony Putson as the composers, but when comparing these tracks to Amiga versions of the soundtrack on YouTube and then comparing it to a DOS CD version, it seems these are most likely from the DOS CD version. Apologies for the mistake.

[ VIDEO: Choicest VGM - VGM #233 - Sid Meier's Colonization - Shady Grove ]


Saturday, June 4, 2016

Canabalt Review

The Steam version includes a 3D-style version of the game as well as the traditional, low-res 2D version.

  • Reviewed by: Mark Goninon
  • Developer: Finji/Kittehface Software
  • Publisher: Finji
  • Release Date: 1 May 2015
  • Time played: 1 hour

I'm pretty sure this happens to be another of those games I received as a gift from the always generous Mix-Master, so thanks again!

Why was I interested in this game? Well I've heard quite a lot about it, like how it was responsible for popularising the "endless runner genre", although I think I originally heard about it years ago from my brother (since I do recall watching him play the game on his smartphone). You see, the original game came out ages ago, back in 2009 as a web-based Flash game and was eventually ported onto iOS, Android and a few other platforms. It's only in 2015 when it was finally released as a game available on Steam and not long after, I received my free copy :).

What I like:


One button gameplay

You just click the mouse button in order to have your character jump - and that's it. So it's really easy to master the controls, but being good at the game itself is another story.

The goal of the game is to run as far as possible before dying. While this objective doesn't sound too difficult there are quite a few obstacles in your way such as collapsing buildings, falling debris and the simple fact that your character keeps building momentum (provided he or she doesn't collide with any boxes and furniture strewn around the place). In order to survive as long as possible timing is everything as well as managing your speed.

Choice music

The game doesn't have many tracks but they're all catchy and fit the game perfectly. The composer, Danny Baranowsky, is quite an accomplished video game music composer, having composed soundtracks for Crypt of the Necrodancer, Desktop Dungeons, Super Meat Boy! and The Binding of Isaac.

Addictive

The game is surprisingly addictive, especially with Steam leaderboards as you'll want to keep playing to either beat your friends or all of Steam's Canabalt players overall. There's also Steam trading cards and achievements to collect too, so it should keep you going for a while.

Different game modes

The game also has 8 game modes which are variations of the standard game. For example, in the Purity game mode, there are no obstacles at all (which means your runner can build momentum in less time) whereas in the Box Tripper game mode, you'll be wanting to avoid as many boxes as possible or else you'll be running too slow. My favourite of the game modes is probably Leap of Faith where the buildings are invisible and you have to use sitting pigeons (which fly away as soon as you land on the roof) to gauge when to jump.

The game also has a local co-op two-player mode so if you have a mate visiting you can both play the game together.

Quick games

It only takes a matter of seconds (or minutes, if you've got the skillz) to finish one run. That means it's the perfect game to play while you're waiting for something else to finish or when you only have a few minutes to spare. Probably a good reason why it was so successful as a mobile game (that and the fact you only need one "button" to control the game).

What I dislike:


There really isn't much to the game

It's just jumping over obstacles for as long as possible. Sure, there are different game modes but in the end it's just variations of the standard game.

It's free

Not really a dislike but those of you who are stingy, er I mean frugal, you can play the game for free here.

Score – 7/10 (Good Fun)

Canabalt is a very simple game where the only objective is to run for as long as possible, avoiding obstacles that will cause your demise. However, thanks to things like the Steam leaderboards, the game can become quite addictive as you try your best at beating your friends. Yes, you can play the original game for free but for only a few bucks you can experience the definitive edition of the game and it's a perfect time waster when you only have a few minutes to spare.

Is the game worth $2.99 USD?: Yes. It's true you can get this game for free, but it provides numerous hours of fun especially if you're the competitive sort wanting to beat friends and the gaming public alike via the leaderboards.

If you like this game, you might like…

[ LINK: Official Canabalt Website ]

Wednesday, June 1, 2016

A Chat with Indie Dev Broc Copeland

Screenshot from the game Guardians of the Rose

Interview by Mark Goninon

Broc Copeland is an indie game developer who is hard at work on his first commercial game called Guardians of the Rose. The game is a retro, fantasy 2D action RPG that will be released on Windows, Mac, Linux, Xbox One and PS4, and is inspired by games such as Zelda, Gauntlet and The Elder Scrolls. The game is currently in the alpha stage and it's fast approaching the beta stage but Broc needs help, at least USD $7,500 worth of help to be precise.

Broc wants to become the provider of his family and for his wife to become the primary carer for his children; in order for this to happen he setup a Kickstarter project a week ago hoping to raise USD $7,500 by the 23rd June. At the time this post was published, the campaign has raised USD $2,250 so there's still a bit more to be raised despite the relatively modest goal (USD $7,500 is peanuts in the games development world).

The game looks promising, especially the fact it is going to have multiple endings and good vs evil paths in order to achieve your goals – I love games like this. Consequently, I've now backed the project but then I was curious to know more about Broc; you see I'm always fascinated by indie developers and what makes them tick since I've often fantasised about being a successful indie developer myself but for the time being, I'll have to make do as a lowly video games blogger :). Thankfully, Broc has been very receptive to questions so I managed to have a quick chat about his background, indie game development and Guardians of the Rose.

Broc Copeland

MG: So you mention in your bio that you got introduced to video gaming at the tender age of 2 playing Duck Hunt on the NES with your uncle (what a cool uncle!). Have you been video gaming ever since that time (I'm guessing the answer is probably going to be an emphatic "yes")? Did you ever get into any PC games (this is a PC gaming blog after all, so this is obligatory of course ;))? If so what were your favourites?

BC: Yeah, my uncle is a great guy! He knew I loved his NES so anytime he would come over to our house he would always bring it with him so we could play.

I have definitely been gaming ever since then; pretty much my entire life. I didn't get a PC until I was 12 but when that happened I started playing the Red Alert and Civilization series religiously. A couple years after that I fell in love with Morrowind and Ragnarok Online.

MG: Red Alert and Civ are good choices (they're favourites of mine too) - also loved Morrowind but never tried Ragnarok Online.


MG: You've mentioned that Guardians of the Rose is inspired by several works of literature as well as games such as The Elder Scrolls, Gauntlet and Zelda - but is there anything else? I noticed that the game will have multiple endings and the ability to take a good or evil path; this reminds me of Bioware RPGs such as Knights of the Old Republic and Mass Effect. Is Guardians of the Rose going to take a similar route?

BC: I really don't know because I haven't played either of those games for more than an hour or two at friends' houses. The only other major influencer outside of the ones you mentioned in the question is Ragnarok Online. The best things about Ragnarok Online is how your stats and skills system are completely customisable and the gear upgrading/customisation system.


MG: I've actually had a stint as a stay-at-home Dad and during this time I made attempts at trying different game development tools but I always ended up being distracted by caring for my daughter, applying for "real" jobs (well, let's just call them "relatively stable" development jobs instead ;)), chores, social engagements and, to be honest, the occasional bouts of procrastination. With so many distractions and responsibilities, how do you find the motivation for games development? Is it just a matter of being so passionate about it that you live and breathe games development or can anyone get involved in it if they're disciplined enough? Or is it a bit of both? Passion and discipline?

BC: My advice for anyone that is a stay-at-home Dad and a game developer is to hustle. Work as much as possible during every free minute you have. It is very difficult but you have to sacrifice socialising with friends, watching TV, and anything else that is getting in the way of you making games. I've only felt the need to procrastinate 2 or 3 times since I've been doing game development. I call procrastination "resistance" and whenever I feel resistance I literally just take the day off and play with my kid or watch some show that my wife has been wishing I would watch with her for a year. At some point during the day or the next morning I will start to feel a need to get back to work and then I just jump on that feeling and work hard at whatever I didn't want to do earlier that day or the day before. If procrastination is bothering you too often then I would really just recommend pushing through it for a solid month or two and if you're like me it'll become something you barely have to deal with after that.

MG: With respect to finding motivation for games development, the expression "carpe diem" comes to mind. Seems to be a matter of just recognising when you're in that motivated mood and capitalising on it. And the socialising with friends and family part was a bit of a killer for me - whenever you mention to people you're unemployed or a stay-at-home Dad they figure you've got heaps of time, but I guess that's where the discipline part comes in - learning to say "no" and making sure you give yourself the opportunity to work on your own projects (but that probably applies to a whole lot of things in life, not just games development :)). Regardless, some very insightful comments there!

"Guardians of the Rose is simply the game I can make that offers the player everything I love in video games."

MG: Why did you decide to use GameMaker Studio to develop Guardians of the Rose? Why not Multimedia Fusion 2, RPG Maker or several other competitors? Does GameMaker offer a lot of flexibility that the others do not or is it simply a matter of it being the first game development tool you had a look at (and subsequently stuck with it)?

BC: GameMaker Studio was far from the first game dev tool I looked at. I used to make flash games in AS3 with engines like Flashpunk. I then moved on to Unity. I tried alot of stuff out after Unity and eventually went with GameMaker Studio because the game engines available on the forum, in the marketplace, etc were alot more comprehensive and well put together than anything I could find elsewhere. I learn by reading other people's code so when I found so many professional quality game engines for GameMaker Studio, I knew it was the one for me.

MG: Yes you did mention about AS3 and Unity in your bio - I recall reading that, sorry about that :). There's definitely a lot of GameMaker success stories such as Hotline Miami, Risk of Rain, Cook, Serve, Delicious! and Gunpoint (just to name a few). Hopefully Guardians of the Rose will be another :).


MG: Kind of related to my first question but in general, what are you favourite games at the moment? Will you even get time to play if you spend 12-16 hours a day on developing Guardians of the Rose? :)

BC: Sadly, I do not have time to play other games outside of testing Guardians of the Rose. But my favourite games before I started development on Guardians of the Rose were Dark Souls and Pokemon XY. I can't wait till I have enough time to sit down and play Dark Souls 2 and 3 but that's gonna be a long time from now.


MG: One more question, why Guardians of the Rose? Why did you decide to make this kind of game in particular? Is it because of a love of RPGs? What sort of gamers do you think will like this game? Whom will it appeal to?

BC: I am making Guardians of the Rose because it's a game that I've always wanted to play. I love character customisation, open-world exploration, pixel art, chiptunes, multiple endings, world-lore, and action. I love games that allow you to grow as a character with skills and stats and then combine that with the growth in your ability to control your character skillfully in battle. Guardians of the Rose is simply the game I can make that offers the player everything I love in video games.

MG: Awesome. Any other comments you'd like to add? :)

BC: If you have any questions about the game or would like to support Guardians of the Rose hit me up on Kickstarter or twitter:

[ KICKSTARTER: Guardians of the Rose ]
[ TWITTER: Broc Copeland ]


MG: I'd like to thank Broc taking time out of his busy schedule to answer my questions. It's definitely given me some food for thought and I wish him and his family all the best with his first commercial game, Guardians of the Rose.