The Best Games I Played in 2014

Instead of trying to rank the games I played that were only released in 2014, I decided to take a different approach and include non-2014 games as well. Since I’m not the type of person who is always playing the latest and greatest (in fact, that’s rarely the case with me), I would have been doing a disservice to all of the amazing games I played this year had I not included them.

What I’ve done below is break down everything into A-, A, and A+ categories, and listed the games in the order in which I played them. That way the overall quality of the game speaks louder than the ranking, which seems to always be the main point of contention with internet lists.

Anyway, with that being said and out of the way, let’s get started!


Games Scoring an A-

Drill Dozer (Game Boy Advance, 2006) — This is a really fun puzzle/platformer from Game Freak, the company behind Pokemon. I wish they would experiment with non-Pokemon games more often, since I believe this and HarmoKnight (3DS) are the only ones they’ve done, and they’re both good! This game has nice, layered level design and terrific production value, but it has some awkward control issues in some stages that made them more tedious than they should have been. It has expressive animation and upbeat music, and is definitely the type of game that is just aching for a sequel.

Crashmo (3DS, 2012) — Speaking of sequels, this is the direct follow-up to the fantastic Pushmo, which is one of my favorite puzzle games on the 3DS. This one adds several new game mechanics that really switches things up, but Intelligent Systems didn’t do a whole lot with the game’s presentation, choosing to focus more on the puzzles and camera controls. It’s really challenging nd super-polished, but I didn’t stick with it through to the end like I did with Pushmo.

Uncharted: Drake’s Fortune (PS3, 2007) — This was the second time I played through the first Uncharted, doing so this time to experience the story again and to collect all of the artifacts that I missed my first time through. Although its visuals suffer from some rough animation and lack of V-sync, it reminded me of why I fell in love with the series in the first place: it has lots of energy, the characters burst with fun conversational banter, and the story — although a bit ridiculous at times — is entertaining and keeps you going to the very end.

10,000,000 (Android, 2013) — This “match three” puzzle game really surprised me with its RPG-like leveling up system and combat, which made it feel unique in a sea of Bejeweled clones. Its simplistic 8-bit graphics are effective, but sadly, the whole experience is over within a few hours. Although a grind-fest would have made this wear out its welcome, I do wish that there would have been more content to keep me coming back for more. It’s still worth playing, though, and the fact that I completed it really says something, since I rarely finish mobile games.

The Room (Android, 2013) — Did I say I rarely finish mobile games? OK, well, I finished a few last year, including this one, which was very short, but of incredibly high quality. It has a dark, mysterious atmosphere, and while the puzzles aren’t that difficult, everything in the game world has a very satisfying, tactile feel, so I found myself really getting into it, and I didn’t stop playing until I had solved them all. A great paid app that has very nice graphics and sound design.

Broken Age: Act 1 (PC, 2014) — This is Double Fine Productions’ legendary Kickstarter success story. The original scope of what they wanted to do and what they actually ended up with were two very different things, but it’s a good example of how a modest start, huge support, and aiming for the stars can result in a very organic and open game development cycle. While they might be criticized for not delivering on their original vision, I think most people will agree that the end result was worth the wait, and supporters will be getting Act 2 for free when it eventually comes out. It’s a pretty simple, old-school point-and-click adventure game, but it’s made with love, and has some great voice acting, writing, art, and a cliffhanger ending that makes the wait for Act 2 that much more painful.

Batman: Arkham Origins (PC, 2013) — I played all three of the Arkham games last year, and out of those, I thought Origins was the “weakest”. I put that in quotations because it’s still a really darn fine game. It makes solid improvements to boss encounters, and I thought the story was pretty good too. I think it catches a lot of flak for not being developed by Rocksteady themselves, but I thought WB Montreal did a worthy job filling Rocksteady’s big shoes, and the vocal performances by Roger Craig Smith (Batman) and Troy Baker (Joker) do an equally good job replacing series veterans Kevin Conroy and Mark Hamill. It’s more of the same, but that sameness is still very fun to explore and play. REVIEW LINK

Monument Valley (Android, 2014) — Criticized by many for being too easy and too short (and I can’t disagree with that, because it is easy and short), I instead chose to look at it as an example of good visual and audio design. In many ways, it reminded me of Thatgamecompany’s excellent PS3 title Journey, since it has a very solitary — but ultimately positive — feeling and outcome. Out-of-this-world colors, nice animation, and pathfinding that is almost too good, to the point where the game seems to auto-play at times. It might be over in about an hour, but it’s an hour well spent. REVIEW LINK

The Room Two (Android, 2014) — The sequel to The Room, this game took the ideas from the first game and made them bigger and scarier. I liked the more complex puzzle design, but the game felt less intimate and focused than the first game because of its expanded scope. Still, it’s a great example of a high-quality, premium mobile game experience. I can’t wait to see what Fireproof Studios does next. REVIEW LINK

Electronic Super Joy (PC, 2013) — I love difficult platformers, and this is certainly a tough one, without falling into masochistic territory. I love the retro visuals that pulse in time to the absolutely terrific soundtrack. It’s worth playing just for the music, if you like techno and its various sub-genres. It’s a little on the short side with only 40-some-odd stages, but getting all of the collectible stars will give even the most seasoned veterans a nice challenge. It’s really funny at times too. REVIEW LINK

Aban Hawkins & the 1001 Spikes (Wii U, 2014) — After Electronic Super Joy, I continued my platforming kick with this, which was a fun and super-challenging game to get through. It seemed almost unfair at first, but once I got the hang of the controls and the level design, I started to progress through it a lot faster. Some of the later stages almost broke me, but I made it through all the way. Unfortunately, there were lots of audio bugs, and at the time I played it, there was no second screen support, so it felt a little unfinished compared to what I’m used to. REVIEW LINK

LEGO City Undercover (Wii U, 2013) — Earlier in 2014, I finished my first pair of open-world games: Tomb Raider and Grand Theft Auto V. I had heard good things about this one, so with my interest in the genre high, I picked this up and jumped right in. What a game! Although it does suffer from some slow UI and performance issues, it’s still a great game with tons to do, lots of fun humor, superb level design, and some truly standout pieces of music. There are opportunities for improvement, though, so I hope that this becomes a series, because it deserves it. REVIEW LINK

Nier (PS3, 2010) — A strong recommendation from one of my friends finally prompted me to play this. So glad I did, because although the gameplay and graphics are pretty mediocre, Nier delivers characters, story, and music that I can only classify as best in class. It also contains what I believe to be one of the greatest implementations of a New Game+ system that I’ve ever experienced. Truly, the rough parts of the game are worth persevering through in order to experience the rest of it. REVIEW LINK

Monument Valley: Forgotten Shores (Android, 2014) — An in-app purchase for the aforementioned Monument Valley, this expansion takes the simple ideas of that original game and adds a nice layer of complexity based around perspective and order of operations. It’s still a rather short experience at about an hour or so, but its excellent art, sound design, and vibrant colors make a lasting impression on the player.


Games Scoring an A

Forza Motorsport 4 (360, 2011) — Over three years old now, and I’m still playing it. Maybe not as often as I did when it was new, but I love Forza‘s approach to career mode, with its fast progression and abundant rewards. Also, despite what the internet would have me believe about its lack of realism compared to Gran Turismo, I just prefer the feel of the Forza series. Plus, the car sounds absolutely kick its competition’s butt six ways from Sunday. No contest there at all. On the flipside, it lacks a truly robust photo mode, and I hate that it requires Xbox Live Gold just to share pictures, but it’s a great package with lots to do and great cars to drive. The Top Gear UK content is a lot of fun as well. As for the Rewind function and braking lines? I love them. Sue me!

The Beatles Rock Band (360, 2009) — It’s crazy to think that it wasn’t that long ago when plastic musical instruments were all the rage. Although I’ve been playing music games since the late-’90s when Konami’s Bemani series was starting to peak, I also got into the newer entries from EA and Activision. I think this Beatles installment is the best one in terms of production value, and its career mode is of surprisingly high quality. I played this quite a bit when it was new, but only played through the campaign mode last year. It’s a journey worth taking for any music or Beatles fan.

Bravely Default Demo (3DS, 2014) — I can’t remember the last time I put dozens of hours into a demo, but I certainly did with this one. In terms of giving the player a nice taste of what’s being offered in the full version, Bravely Default‘s downloadable demo delivered, with several job classes to master, a good chunk of quests to complete, and lots of addictive combat. Plus, you can transfer data to the full game, which is something that more demos need to do. Great art and music, too. I have yet to start the full version, but plan on doing so in 2015.

The Last of Us: Left Behind (PS3, 2014) — It’s a brief and relatively easy experience compared to the main game, but it’s one of the best examples of story-based downloadable content. It delivers fully on the promise of fleshing out an important piece of Ellie’s backstory, to the point where the events that occur in the DLC fundamentally change key sequences throughout the main campaign. It’s done with a level of care and realism that is rarely seen in games. It’s a wonderful achievement that I look forward to experiencing again in the Remastered PS4 version.

Tomb Raider (PC, 2013) — A fantastic action game that marries an open-world structure with some of the best aspects of the Uncharted series. It’s a lot of fun to play with tons of things to discover and collect. Great graphics and good voice acting for Lara herself. The rest of the cast is just so-so, and is diminished even further by the amateurish and completely over-the-top story. This was the first open-world game that truly drew me in, though, and kept me going until I achieved 100%. Lots of nice touches throughout, and I can’t wait for Rise of the Tomb Raider, although I’ll need an Xbox One first.

Thomas Was Alone (Vita, 2013) — This was a freebie with my PlayStation Plus subscription, and while I didn’t think much of it at first, it quickly grew on me, and by the time I was at its final stages, the game had totally won me over with its touching story and characters. Those characters themselves are (at least visually) nothing more than squares and rectangles, but the narrator injects so much life and personality into them that you can’t help but care for them deeply. The commentary track from creator Mike Bithell is the perfect icing on the cake, and provides a ton of insight into the development of the game and its inhabitants.

Tearaway (Vita, 2013) — From Media Molecule, creators of the LittleBigPlanet series, this was the first retail game that I played on Sony’s struggling handheld. It’s absolutely wonderful, with characters and a world created almost entirely out of pieces of construction paper, and uses the Vita’s various functions (most notably the rear touchpad) in fun and unique ways. It loses its way slightly with some of the Trophy-based tasks, which brings to the surface some of the game’s control quirks, but the package as a whole is undoubtedly one of the best games on the system, and it will be interesting to see what the PS4 update (Tearaway Unfolded) is like. REVIEW LINK

NES Remix 2 (Wii U, 2014) — Audiences are split on the NES Remix series, but I love them. They speak to the arcade high score chaser that was apparently dormant inside me until I started playing these games. They are fun, bite-sized challenges that make you think about old games in new ways. Getting the highest rainbow star ratings on each one is a decent challenge, but matching or beating the lowest times on the Miiverse is something else. It’s highly addictive, and the online component is quite nicely integrated. It’s a very good improvement over the original NES RemixREVIEW LINK

Mario Kart 8 (Wii U, 2014) — This is the first in the series since the original Super Mario Kart on the SNES that I have truly had a blast with. Great track design, catchy music, and fun local/online multiplayer. Its DLC is also a very good example of how Nintendo produces some of the best and most consistently high-quality content in the business. I only wish that Nintendo would add a proper campaign or story mode to this series. I know that the majority of players just want to race online, but adding in something more for the single-player crowd would push this series over the top for me.

New Super Luigi U (Wii U, 2013) — Designed as DLC for New Super Mario Bros. U, this is yet another example of how DLC should be done. NSLU takes the stages from NSMBU, cuts the timer down to just 100 and throws in a bunch of new hidden Luigis, stars, exits, and challenges. If it weren’t for the recycled world map and assets, you would swear you were playing a completely new entry. It’s definitely worth playing, as is its parent game, which in my opinion is the best of the New series of Mario titles. REVIEW LINK

Portal (PC, 2007) — This year marked probably the fifth time I’ve played through Portal, and it remains as good as it was the first time I went through it. Sure, the puzzles are easier just because I’ve solved them before, but the dialogue from GLaDOS is still as hilariously terrifying as ever, and the atmosphere remains solitary and unnervingly claustrophobic. I decided to play through it again since I was trying to train myself to play with mouse/keyboard right-handed, but I gave up. I finished the game anyway, just because.

Pokemon X (3DS, 2013) — The first Pokemon game I’ve ever completed! I had actually tried to play through the game earlier in 2014, and made it pretty far in, but it just didn’t hold my attention. With a friend’s son getting Pokemon Y for Christmas, I decided to start over in order to catch some fun Pokemon he might want. Well, something clicked and I got totally hooked. The rest is history as I’ve blasted through two more games and am a trading card fanatic. This game has a cute story, fun world to explore, terrific music, and the metagame aspects for secrets, breeding, training, and other strategies are insanely vast. There are some annoyances with breeding and how grindy some things are, but this still represents one of the best values in handheld gaming. 100 hours in… and counting. REVIEW LINK


Games Scoring an A+

Super Mario 3D World (Wii U, 2013) — This is Mario’s first 3D outing on console since 2010’s spectacular Super Mario Galaxy 2, and it’s a memorable one. Although purists have derided both it and the Galaxy games as not being another Super Mario 64 or Super Mario Sunshine, I think it holds its own just fine, and is totally fun from beginning to end. Speaking of the end, the last level will test even the best players with one of the most challenging final stages of the series. Graphics are beautiful, music is a cut above the New series (but a cut below the Galaxy games), and the controls are buttery-smooth and responsive. This game also contains the first batch of Captain Toad levels that eventually would inspire a full retail game.

The Last of Us (PS3, 2013) — Sublime. This, more than any other of the PS3/360/Wii generation, successfully combined a touching story, consistent characters, fun gameplay, awe-inspiring visuals, and a beautifully melancholy soundtrack to deliver one of the — if not the — best overall experiences in recent memory. Are there flaws? Sure. Performance can take a hit, I had a couple soft crashes here and there, and some of the collectibles are incredibly obscure, but they don’t hold the game back. Easily one of the best ever made, and absolutely essential for anyone who appreciates the craft of games as a vehicle for refined and engaging storytelling. It’s a game that stays with you long after you’ve turned your console off.

Uncharted 2: Among Thieves (PS3, 2009) — I don’t know what happened at Naughty Dog between the first Uncharted and this one, but they definitely went Super Saiyan with Uncharted 2! It’s a monumental improvement across the board, from its technology and jaw-dropping set pieces to its storyline and atmosphere. Visually, the game is a stunner, with major improvements to animation, scenic depth, and texture quality. Combat and gunplay have never been Uncharted‘s strongest areas, but they get the job done and can be highly rewarding for those who play online. This is my second time through Uncharted 2, this time playing it to get all of the collectibles. A superb experience, five years later.

Grand Theft Auto V (PS3, 2013) — I’m rather ashamed to admit that I’ve never finished any of the GTA games. That is, until this one. I’ve never cared for the series, mainly because the controls never felt good to me, but Rockstar got things pretty right with GTA5. I fell in love with the game pretty early on, and it wasn’t even because of one of the three main characters. It was Franklin’s friend Lamar, voiced with hilarious verve by Slink Johnson. The scene is clear as day in my mind as they’re at the car dealership with Simeon… and the rest is history. The game was entertaining from beginning to end, with the multi-day heists being one of the game’s highlights. Beautiful graphics, terrific banter between the characters while driving, funny gags all over the place, and like most open-worlders, so much to do that it could take months of solid play to 100%.

Batman: Arkham Asylum (PC, 2009) — I had tried to start this twice in the years prior to 2014, but never did get too far either time. Not sure why, but this year, it stuck, and stuck hard. This is an instant classic, with a very smooth and intuitive combat/combo system that quickly becomes addictive. Chain hits together and finishing thugs with the big hits are satisfying in the best bone-crunching way. The voice acting is top-notch across the board, employing two series greats, Kevin Conroy and Mark Hamill as Batman and Joker, respectively. One of my favorite aspects of the game was the various recordings you find throughout, which fleshes out character backgrounds and lore of the Batman world. As a relative newbie to the franchise, these were very helpful and got me into it. This is a must-play for action and comic book fans.

Batman: Arkham City (PC, 2011) — Immediately after finishing Arkham Asylum, I jumped into this. Taking the ideas of Asylum and expanding them into a larger, more traditional open-world structure made for one of the best experiences with so much to do. Some may argue that it’s more of the same or isn’t focused enough, and that’s fine, but it doesn’t stop it from being one of the best games out there. One of my favorite passages from the game involves Mr. Freeze, whose name unfortunately conjures up images of Arnold Schwarzenegger from the 1997 fiasco Batman & Robin. Mr. Freeze’s story here is touchingly told, and cements him as one of my favorite Batman characters. The ending gets crazy over-the-top (and not in a good way), but the game is still ace. Arkham Knight this year!

Shovel Knight (PC, 2014) — Speaking of knights, Yacht Club Games’ Kickstarter success story was easily one of the best side-scrolling platformers I played in 2014. Its visuals and music exist somewhere between 8-bit and 16-bit, with fluid animation and a soundtrack to die for. The game — at least during its first playthrough — skews a little on the easier side, but there is so much to discover that it’s good that the developer took this approach. The entire package just oozes high quality, with a unique risk/reward continue system and a story that is surprisingly heartfelt. I loved every minute of this game, and all I can say is that I hope we get a sequel.

Volgarr the Viking (PC, 2013) — Perhaps the biggest surprise of the year for me was this game. The result of another successful Kickstarter, Volgarr is a hardcore side-scrolling action game that can seem overly punishing, but if you stick with it, you’ll discover — like so many others have — how amazing it really is. The controls seem stiff initially, but that’s only because they are 100% predictable, so once you accept that, it makes learning and traversing each stage much easier. I died so many times, but when I finally beat the game, it felt like the greatest thing ever. The animation is really good, as is the soundtrack. The backgrounds? They’re just OK, but they don’t detract from what is otherwise a definitive arcade-style experience.

Bayonetta 2 (Wii U, 2014) — If I was forced to pick, this would be my overall Game of the Year. Developed by Platinum Games, it’s a small miracle that we even got this sequel in the first place, so props to Nintendo for helping make it a reality. The first Bayonetta was a good game that I enjoyed quite a bit, but the sequel just trounces it in every way. Its vibrant visuals sparkle, and lack of screen tearing gives the game a nice visual polish it lacked on the 360 and PS3. Combat feels faster, smoother, and more impactful than ever, and the worlds are full of secrets, challenges, sweet music, and gorgeous vistas. The story is your typical action game nonsense, which is unfortunate, but Bayonetta 2 doesn’t suffer because of it, and triumphs on all of its other strengths. This is the action game of this generation so far. You need a Wii U to play it, but to be perfectly honest, I have to say it’s worth it.


And there you have it.  All of the best games that I played last year. Agree? Disagree? Have favorites of yours that you want to recommend? Please leave them in the comments — I’d love to hear from you!  Thanks for reading, and here’s a toast to the games of 2015!


Review: Nintendo Wii U Pro Controller (PC)


The Wii U Pro Controller is an interesting beast. It gets a lot of things right, but it also misses the mark in a few key areas too.

I bought one almost immediately after purchasing a Wii U back in October of 2013. Like many other owners, I was feeling rather paranoid about the GamePad breaking, so I wanted the Pro Controller to use for anything that supported it. I’ve used it for most of the games I’ve played on the console, including Super Mario 3D World, New Super Mario Bros. U, and Mario Kart 8.


Due to the fact that I did buy it almost a year ago and am only reviewing it now, I don’t have the packaging to show you. It does, however, come wrapped in protective padding inside a box, and is not simply sealed in a blister pack.

Most notable is the fact that unlike the DualShock 4 and Xbox One Wireless Controllers, the Wii U Pro Controller includes a mini USB charging cable. It might seem silly to call this out because of how cheap USB cables are, but it’s thoughtful of Nintendo to include one.

Finally, this controller streets for about $5-10 less than its competitors, so that’s another nice benefit.


That lower price is good, because if you are thinking of using this controller as a PC gamepad — which is what this review focuses on — you’ll want to spend about $15 to get the Mayflash Wireless Wii U Pro Controller to PC USB Adapter from a retailer like Amazon.

It’s a handy little adapter that only takes a minute or two to set up. Just install the drivers from the included 3″ CD-ROM (or download them from HERE), plug in the adapter, sync your controller, and you’re ready to rock and roll.


The adapter supports both DirectInput and XInput, so select whichever one is best suited for the game or application you want to use.

For most games — especially modern titles — XInput will be what you want, but there may be older applications that work better with DirectInput, so try the latter if you run into any compatibility issues.


One important thing to note is that in XInput mode (pictured above-left), the Mayflash device maps the buttons to match the Nintendo layout, so instead of XY/AB on an Xbox controller, it’s YX/BA.

I realize that this is more “Nintendo authentic”, but it’s an added hassle for those who just want to use one of these instead of standard 360 pad on a PC. DirectInput (pictured above-right) also has different mappings, so pay attention to your button assignments in your game or application in either mode. Remapping will likely be required via an additional app such as Durazno.


Getting back to the controller itself, it’s nicely shaped and fits comfortably in your hands. Size-wise, it’s similar to the Xbox One and DualShock 4 controllers. It does feel slightly lighter in terms of weight, but not as dramatically so as some outlets have reported.

I really don’t like the glossy finish, though, which is something Nintendo started implementing last generation on their Wii Remotes. Yes, they look nice, but they’re fingerprint magnets.

Impressively, however, mine hasn’t shown any signs of scuffs or scratches. The finish itself seems to be very durable, as opposed to the smooth d-pad and face button bases on the DualShock 4, which after only a week, already has light scratches.


The d-pad, analog sticks, and face buttons are all excellent and responsive. They are more or less identical to those found on the GamePad, so transitioning between the two controllers is easy. Nintendo has had a great track record when it comes to producing controllers with terrific d-pads and buttons, and the Pro Controller is no exception.

The Power and Home buttons sit slightly recessed in the center of the controller so as not to get accidentally pressed during play. The Select and Start buttons are easy to locate, similar to the Xbox One controller.


The L/R and ZL/ZR triggers also feel great, and I prefer the Z trigger placement more on this controller than the GamePad, although it is a slight bummer that Nintendo didn’t design the Z triggers as analog ones.

On the underside of the controller is the Sync button, which is located in such a way that it would be pretty difficult to accidentally press it.


Regarding the Pro Controller’s layout, I don’t really care for it. While I totally get that they did it to mirror the one found on the GamePad, they are unfortunately placed in such a way that your thumbs don’t land naturally.

On the GamePad, my thumbs land right on the analog sticks and can be easily moved to reach the d-pad and face buttons. The angles are perfect and they feel great. Honestly, I didn’t think the GamePad would be as comfortable to use as it is.

On the Pro Controller, however, while analog stick placement is perfect, my thumbs — especially my right one — have to strain to get them in optimal position to reach the d-pad and face buttons. I think the problem is that they are spread too far apart.

If Nintendo revises this controller, I’d recommend moving them in closer together and adjusting the spacing on the face button cluster. As of now, the layout feels a bit rushed.


It’s interesting comparing the Wii U Pro Controller to the one for the Wii. While the Wii version feels like a toy and annoyed me with the fact that it had to be plugged into a Wii Remote to function, it just felt more natural to use.

Again, I know Nintendo had to be consistent between the GamePad and Pro Controller, but as of now, the layout doesn’t translate that well.

In closing, I like the Wii U Pro Controller in terms of overall comfort, build quality, responsiveness, and feel, but I’m not a fan of its “different from everyone else” configuration. While this is not Nintendo’s fault, I also wish Mayflash’s default Windows button mappings were identical to those of a 360 controller. Having them flipped introduces an additional remapping step that makes this controller a solid choice for retro gamers, but not for those looking for a seamless 360 controller replacement.

And even for oldschool gaming, there are other excellent and cheaper controllers and adapters out there. While I can’t recommend this for PC gaming, I do think it’s a good controller for the Wii U that reduces wear and tear on the more expensive GamePad.

For the Wii U: B+
For the PC: C

Overall: B-



Review: Sony DualShock 4 Wireless Controller (PC)


This generation has been a strange one for me. I’m typically the kind of person who will buy new consoles at or near launch, regardless of what titles are available. Case in point? I paid an ungodly amount of money for an import PlayStation 2 in early 2000, and the only game I bought it for? Konami’s Gradius III & IV. Don’t ask. It’s not my proudest moment.

The only current-generation console I own is a Nintendo Wii U, and even with that, I waited almost a year before taking the plunge. With nothing really pulling me towards either an Xbox One or PlayStation 4 at the moment, and with most of my time being spent playing games on PC, I thought now would be the perfect time to compare how each of the current-generation console controllers perform on my rig.

I reviewed the Xbox One Wireless Controller last month, and I came away very impressed with it. It’s easily the best controller Microsoft has ever produced, with thoughtful, even inspired design. It has some areas where it could be improved, but overall, it’s become my go-to PC controller.

Although the Xbox One controller is the preferred way to go on the gaming forums I visit, as a reviewer, I felt the need to give the other manufacturers a fair shake, including Nintendo’s Wii U Pro Controller, which I’ll be reviewing soon. So with that, I picked up a DualShock 4 on Amazon last week and put it through its paces.


To begin with, the packaging on the DualShock 4 is pretty good. It’s not as premium as Microsoft’s, but it’s not a cheap blister pack either.

The front features a molded, clear plastic insert so that you can see the actual controller.


Turning the box over, the back highlights some of the DualShock 4’s updated and new features, including the touchpad, Share button, integrated light bar, built-in speaker, and standard 3.5mm headphone jack.

It also notes that a USB cable is not included with the controller. The Xbox One controller came the same way: sans USB cable. They’re so cheap that I wish manufacturers would just include one to save customers the extra hassle of buying one.


The packaging itself it easy to open. Included inside along with the controller is a small instruction manual. Since pairing is done differently on the PS4, note that for PC you put the controller into Bluetooth pairing mode by holding down Share (The Button Formerly Known as Select) and the PS button at the same time until the light bar flashes rapidly.

Other things you’ll want to have if you’re using this on a PC:

As I alluded to earlier, you’ll need a micro USB cable — like this one — for charging and playing with a wired connection, which is how I prefer to play.

Alternately, if you want to play wirelessly, you will need a compatible Bluetooth receiver. I tried a Kinivo BTD-300 Bluetooth 3.0 USB adapter with Windows 7 SP1, and I had no problems pairing.


You’ll also need the DS4Windows software, which you can learn more about and download HERE.

If you don’t use this software or something similar to it, the DualShock 4 will still function as a HID-compatible device, but you will not be able to utilize any of the controller’s additional benefits — including a number of XInput features — so it is recommended that you do so unless you have a game or application that has legacy compatibility problems.

This software also allows you to customize the controller, record macros, create per-application profiles, and use the touchpad for mouse input. It’s a terrific program that once again shows what talented, independent developers can create.

Once everything is installed, the DualShock 4 will be automatically mapped and function exactly like an Xbox 360 or Xbox One controller. Pretty nifty!


Focusing on the controller itself, it’s worth noting that this is the first significant shape change for the DualShock line since the original PlayStation. While the layout and overall design is familiar, just about everything has been updated, and mostly for the better.

The grips are thicker, rounder, and extend further than they did on the DualShock 3, giving the controller a much more comfortable and sturdy feel. The shoulder buttons now sit more flush with the controller housing instead of being set on top of the old “Black Mesas”, as I like to call them.


The most significant update is the touchpad, which didn’t make much sense to me until I actually used it. It functions just like a notebook touchpad, it can be left- or right-clicked, and supports multi-touch for smooth page scrolling.

This makes using it on a PC a fantastic experience, where many games and applications tend to work better if you have a mouse handy. It’s nice to be able to navigate menus and other Windows-specific tasks without having to put the controller down.


Underneath the analog sticks are two ports: an extension port and a standard 3.5mm headphone jack. I don’t believe audio output it supported on PC at this time, but I’m very happy to see Sony not using a proprietary connector for this or the USB charging port.

The PS button remains in approximately the same place as it was on the DualShock 3, and above it is now a built-in speaker, similar to what is found on the Nintendo Wii Remote. Like the headphone jack, however, it doesn’t look like this feature is supported on PC yet.


The infamous light bar also illuminates by default when using it on a PC to communicate charging level and power, but thankfully you can disable this function via DS4Windows’ profile settings, as well as fully customize its colors.

Personally, I leave it off except when I’m using it wirelessly. This way there’s no second-guessing whether it’s on or off.


The analog sticks have been redesigned, sitting a little lower than they did before, with a smoother feel and slightly higher resistance. The classic convex tops of past DualShocks have been replaced with a thinner, more recessed design, but to me, they feel cheaper in quality and less comfortable to use than the Xbox One’s superb design, and to a certain degree, even the DualShock 3.

However, the redesigned d-pad is absolutely a winner. As much as I have loved every PlayStation console over the past two decades, I’ve never been a fan of their d-pads. They’re small, somewhat mushy, and the split design can wreak havoc on your thumb.

While the split design is still present here, it is now flared and slightly larger, possessing better curvature too. It is a joy to use, both with its crisper feel and better tactile feedback. Whether you go with this, an Xbox One controller, or the Wii U Pro Controller, d-pad fans won’t be disappointed.


The Square, Triangle, X, and O face buttons have also undergone some minor changes. They’re similarly sized as before, but are arranged in a slightly tighter cluster. It’s only noticeable when you stack a DualShock 3 directly on top.

The buttons themselves are now flatter, and I’m not entirely sure if it’s just because the controller is brand-new, but they feel snappier and quicker than the DualShock 3’s.

The Share and Options buttons, though, which used to be Select and Start on past consoles, are a disappointment. Their location is good, but they sit flush with the controller housing, and don’t really have much of a feel to them.

They share a similar design with those found on the original Vita, but they don’t click nicely like they do on Sony’s handheld. As a result, I found myself pressing the Options button overly hard to pause games. A slightly raised or convex design would do wonders in making these buttons feel more confident during play.


The L1/L2/R1/R2 triggers are also an improvement over the DualShock 3. I’m not sure what Sony was thinking when they made the PS3 analog triggers convex, but it spawned an entire accessories market for plastic trigger covers to fix them. Heck, I even bought a couple sets!

The L1/R1 buttons feel great, and I much prefer them over the Xbox One bumpers, which are loud and clicky. Most significantly, the L2/R2 triggers are now concave like they always should have been, but they don’t feel as nice as the Xbox One triggers, which are larger, quieter, and ultra-smooth to operate.


The vibration motors in the DualShock 4 are virtually silent, which is an area where it excels over the Xbox One’s, which are surprisingly loud if you’re playing in a quiet environment.

Compared to the Xbox One controller, the DualShock 4 looks more taut, but their footprints are very similar. Both controllers feel great, and either way you go, you really can’t lose in the ergonomics and comfort departments.


It will come down to personal preference for most people. I’ve always loved the asymmetrical design of the Xbox analog sticks, but I prefer the d-pad placement on the DualShock.

The housing material feels more premium on Sony’s controller, but the analog sticks and triggers are superior on Microsoft’s.

Face buttons are equally responsive on both, but the View/Menu (aka Select/Start) buttons on the XBO controller trump the Share/Options buttons on the PS4’s.


The DualShock 4 wins when it comes to its feature set on PC, though, thanks to the DS4Windows software, which gives it convenient mouse support via its touchpad, simple Bluetooth syncing (the Xbox One’s wireless communication is proprietary, and is neither Wi-Fi or Bluetooth), and the extent to which it can be customized.

The Xbox One controller, on the other hand, is superior to the 360 controller in just about every way, so if you’re used to that setup on PC, it could be a more attractive option.

In closing, the DualShock 4 is a massive improvement over the DualShock 3, and apart from a few minor quibbles, this should be at or near the top of the list when the time comes to invest in a great controller for PC gaming. Highly recommended.

Overall: A-



Review: Kero Blaster (PC/iOS, 2014)

Studio Pixel’s Cave Story is one of my favorite games. Created, designed, illustrated, scored, and programmed by one person — Daisuke “Pixel” Amaya — it is often credited for sparking the indie game revolution of the last decade.

It is a meticulously crafted and thoroughly fun non-linear action game, with a good story, strong characters, and wonderful 16-bit sensibilities.


Cave Story has gone on to be ported and enhanced across several different platforms, and many fans — including myself — have been eagerly awaiting his next big release.

In May of 2014 — nearly ten years after Cave Story — our wishes finally came true. With additional help from Kiyoko Kawanaka, his latest game Kero Blaster has arrived.


“Kero” is the Japanese equivalent of “ribbit” in English, and the title itself sounds like a play on “ghetto blaster”, those giant boomboxes from the ’80s. Fitting, given the oldschool graphical and musical stylings of this game.

Those going into Kero Blaster expecting Cave Story II may be slightly disappointed. If Cave Story was Amaya’s tribute to games like Super Metroid and Castlevania: Symphony of the Night, Kero Blaster is his Mega Man and Super Castlevania IV. It’s shorter and linear, but just as fun and entertaining.


At its heart, Kero Blaster is a side-scrolling action platformer with run-and-gun sensibilities. You play a no-nonsense, blue tie-wearing frog who has an acquirable double-jump ability, a sweet bomber jacket for added protection, four upgradeable weapons, and various other health boosts which can be purchased at shops throughout each of the game’s seven stages.

Your frog controls well, although I found him to be a little too — dare I say — slippery at times, but rarely did the slightly loose controls lead to my demise. His double-jump controls do take some getting used to, and will feel more natural once you understand that double-jumping straight up takes you higher than diagonal ones.

I appreciated being able to use my Xbox One controller to play this game. I remapped my controls — preferring to use the bumpers to cycle through weapons — and away I went.


The weapons at your disposal also have a range of pros and cons. Some have a limited reach, some are better in specific environments, while others are very potent, but concentrated, like Contra III‘s laser vs. spreadfire.

All of them are fun to use and look great. I utilized each of them up to the very end, which shows how much thought Amaya put into their design.


Most of the game’s levels are uniquely designed, with some asset reuse occurring during the game’s final act. This is all part of the game’s story, however, and it works extremely well in showcasing how far your little green hero has come.

Each level is fun to explore, and figuring out the best way to dispatch enemies is one of the game’s best qualities. There are also a good number of secrets to uncover — including a fifth weapon — which takes a New Game+ playthrough to acquire.


Speaking of New Game+, like many other games, you can play through the levels again with all of your gear. In Kero Blaster‘s case, however, you’ll start over with only one heart and no cash, but hey, a small price to pay for looking so cool.

In fact, New Game+ is where the game truly comes to life. It’s certainly fun the first time, but going through the levels again — without any of the cutscenes to slow things down and powered-up — is quite literally an absolute blast. There are also some extras to be had for those who play through the game at least twice.


Kero Blaster‘s visuals are wonderful. The frog you control is charmingly simplistic and flat-shaded, as are many of the creatures and characters you run into throughout the game. While they may look rather basic in screenshots, every character is animated nicely, with tons of personality, vibrant colors, and memorable design.

The world graphics are matched perfectly to its inhabitants as well, with excellent foreground and background separation, clear platforms, and smoothly scrolling playfields.

Kero Blaster‘s music and sound effects are also very good, and classic game music fans will find a lot to enjoy here. It’s not as uniquely synthy as traditional 8-bit soundtracks tend to be, but it still has its strong points, with certain tracks sticking in your head long after you’ve turned the game off.


In terms of difficulty, Kero Blaster feels just about right. It’s surprising how easy it is to take damage, and even with a decent amount of heart containers and reserves, I died quite a bit. Checkpoints throughout each level are generous, but if you lose all of your lives, you have to start the stage over from the beginning. Fortunately, you don’t lose anything in the process. A Game Over can sometimes even be a good thing as you’re able to gather more money retracing your steps, allowing easier and faster upgrades to your frog’s deadly arsenal.

I did run into some annoying bugs, like the fact that I had to manually terminate it via Windows 7’s Task Manager in order to properly close it. It wouldn’t launch again otherwise. Also, perhaps due to the number of on-screen sprites — of which there are a lot at times– the game had a tendency to chug a bit, tarnishing an otherwise very polished exterior.

Additionally, a very minor point is the English font. It gets the job done, but I don’t like the fact that the font pixels are smaller than the ones in the game itself. They don’t match, so hopefully this is something that can be updated in a future patch to really make everything cohesive.

The interface is also simplistic, with no display or sound options except for being able to choose the window size. Even going full-screen didn’t fill my entire monitor, possessing a dull gray border around all four sides.


Kero Blaster is short, at just about 5 hours for two complete playthroughs. However, it’s the kind of game you can’t stop until you’re done, and even after that, it compels you to come back and discover all of its many secrets.

While it may not have the historical significance that Cave Story did, it’s still a very fun game that represents all the best qualities of Amaya’s incredible talent.

  • Graphics & Presentation: A-
    Charming, simple spritework with clean and consistent background art. Good environmental variety, parallax scrolling, and trademark Pixel visual design and color.
  • Music & Sound Effects: B+
    A very good oldschool-style soundtrack with crisp sound effects. The PC version’s sound files can be played directly with Pixel’s free audio player, which is a nice bonus.
  • Gameplay & Controls: B+
    Solid controls and a good strafing mechanic make you one deadly amphibian. Linear design doesn’t leave a lot of room for exploring, but they do contain some hidden alcoves that take repeat playthroughs to uncover. Great weapons and enemy/boss design.
  • Value: B
    This is a quick game that isn’t too hard, so most players will get through it the first time in about three hours. New Game+ is a lot of fun and worth playing through at least once. Cutscenes are removed on subsequent playthroughs to keep things moving at a brisk pace. For $8 ($5 on iOS), this is a good value.

Overall: B+



Review: Volgarr the Viking (PC, 2013)


And so begins your journey through Crazy Viking Studios’ 2D tribute to the difficult 16-bit titles of old, Volgarr the Viking. If you’re looking for a game with copious checkpoints, an Easy setting, or something more passive, I suggest you look elsewhere. Volgarr is a difficult game that may seem unfairly cruel at times, but once you master its perfect controls and understand how to properly approach its many obstacles and enemies, it will reward you with a gameplay experience like no other.


Its origins trace back to a small Kickstarter campaign launched in 2012 by just two guys: Kris Durrschmidt and Taron Millet. It successfully funded at the end of August, raising nearly $22,000 above and beyond the original $18,000 goal. There was definitely interest in making this game a success. One of my own biggest regrets was not knowing about this Kickstarter while it was happening. Had I known just how good this game was going to be, I would have sprung for the $150 tier, because the physical Sega Genesis box and cartridge would have simply been way too epic to pass up.

Fast-forward a little over a year to September 13, 2013 when Volgarr saw its public release. By then, I knew full well about it based on the buzz I’d been seeing online. Without a doubt, this looked like my kind of game. Tough, 2D, and meticulously constructed. I bought it, but as is the case with many of my purchases, it sat there unplayed while I focused my energy on Mario, Joel and Ellie, and the Nintendo Wii U.

So why did I choose this month to start? Well, when it comes to gaming, I fall into patterns and genres, and this summer has been all about retro games and platformers. Aban Hawkins & the 1001 Spikes, NES Remix, Electronic Super Joy, and Shovel Knight — which is another Kickstarter success story — are among the games that led up to my inevitable, true face-to-face with Volgarr

…and I’m sorry I waited so long.

Before diving in, I have to quickly mention the manual. It’s fantastic! Styled just like a Sega Genesis manual from the ’90s, it’s full of great information, tips, lots of screenshots, and fun artwork. Again, I wish I could have this in physical form, but even digitally, it’s a thing of beauty.


Volgarr‘s gameplay will be familiar to those raised on the 8-bit and 16-bit games of the ’80s and ’90s. It owes a lot Taito’s 1987 arcade game Rastan, and even its opening scene will give fans of Taito’s game deja vu, but it pulls its influences from other classic games as well, including Magic Sword, Castlevania, and one of my all-time favorites, Ghouls’n Ghosts, which I did proudly beat back in the day.

Each area of the game is wonderfully and creatively constructed to not only challenge the player on an environmental level, but you’ll also have to contend with a myriad of cunning enemies, whose attacks are varied and extremely deadly.

And you will die. Over, and over, and over again. When I first began playing Volgarr, there was a moment early on where I was tempted to give up. I thought to myself, “Ugh, all this time I’m putting in, and I’m barely getting anywhere!” But then I realized that this was exactly the kind of experience that shaped me at a young age. Playing all of those tough games and beating them, no matter how impossible they might have seemed at the time.

That “one more try” quality is what makes Volgarr such a definitive experience for me. Mastery of the game’s techniques will turn you into an agile, bearded, loincloth-donning bad-ass. And you will take those skills with you — perhaps even arrogantly — through to see its three different endings.


To get you there, Volgarr had a wide assortment of moves and tools at his disposal. Most interestingly, his jumps have a single, predetermined arc. There are no low, mid, and high jumps, and if you jump in a direction, the only way to change which way you’re going is to initiate a double-jump. This is very similar to Super Ghouls’n Ghosts on the Super Nintendo. He also has throwing spears, swords, shields, and additional aides to help him through each world. Double-jumping will make Volgarr do a spin-attack, he can roll past enemies, and bring death from above with a downward thrust.

The entire gameplay experience is fantastic, complemented with its trademark controls, which are responsive and predictable. Crazy Viking Studios has also made a number of significant tweaks to the game to make it especially friendly to the speedrunners, which shows just how much they care about making this game appeal to serious players, completionists, and the competitive community.

Graphically, Volgarr get most things right. The character and enemy animation is simply out of this world, and the game itself moves along at a fluid and rock-solid 60fps. Volgarr himself possesses a ton of animation frames, including one of my favorite oldschool touches: idle animations. It always disappoints me when I play a game that lacks these.

The playfield can be either left in its default mode, or you can click a button to zoom out for a much wider view of your surroundings. The zoom effect itself is nice, and the feature itself is extremely functional and helpful.


The background and world art is also good, but isn’t a highlight of Volgarr‘s presentation. They have good color and are full of nice layers of parallax, but the level art isn’t as refined as the characters. When I think about the look of Sega Genesis games, I remember developers really extracting the most out of its limited color palette, blending and dithering together combinations that gave those titles their signature look. I am reminded less of those 16-bit console games here, and instead see early ’90s PC VGA games, which utilized fuller palettes, smoother gradients, and soft blurring.

As a result, I don’t think that the two different styles marry up quite as nicely as they could, but at the same time, the entire presentation does have a distinct, handcrafted look that gives Volgarr its uniqueness.

The audio, on the other hand, is across-the-board impressive, and it’s the one area of the game that belies its 16-bit exterior. That’s not a bad thing, however, as Volgarr is full of crisp, clear voice samples, vibrantly realistic sound effects, and a blood-pumping orchestral soundtrack, courtesy of composer Kochun Hu. While a more traditional Z80-based soundtrack might have been the preferred way to go, I think the music in Volgarr is great, and in my opinion, elevates the experience instead of it just being retro for the sake of it.

Volgarr was introduced for just $10 last year, and recently it saw a staggering sale price of $4 on, but even at its full $12 asking price, this represents one of the best values in 2D side-scrolling action. There are six main worlds in the game, each broken into two long stages plus a boss battle. The main game gives the player unlimited lives, but sparse checkpoints. This is where players will hone their skills, learn enemy patterns, and master the game’s other various intricacies.

Beyond this, however, is a completely separate branch called the Path of the Valkyrie. This mode is comprised of remixed and redesigned worlds, plus a bonus seventh world and true final boss. It also features limited lives, which makes it a challenging, authentic, and super-fun arcade experience. Depending on how you do in this mode will determine which of the other two remaining endings you will get.

Speaking of the endings, they are all worth seeking out. Not only are they funny and entertaining to read, but they feature additional artwork not seen in the main game, plus a memorable credit sequence that is the icing on the cake.


In closing, Volgarr the Viking is so far my favorite game of 2014 that wasn’t released in 2014. It’s a game that truly respects the player’s patience, understanding, and perseverance, and it comes with my highest recommendation.

And now I shall pray to the Allfather Odin that Crazy Viking Studios will produce a sequel. The world existing with only one Volgarr game would be criminal.

  • Graphics & Presentation: A-
    Beautifully drawn and animated sprites, environmental effects, parallax scrolling, scaling, rotation, transparencies, and nice use of color. Some backgrounds and art appear muddy and are not as nicely detailed as the brilliant sprite work.
  • Music & Sound Effects: A
    An excellent orchestral soundtrack brings the world of Volgarr to life. Bone-crunching sound effects, atmospheric ambient textures, and crystal-clear voice samples round out the very impressive audio experience.
  • Gameplay & Controls: A+
    Perfect, ultra-responsive controls make this one of the most intuitive games I’ve played in recent memory. Branching paths, lots of secrets, and diabolical enemy and platforming challenges will put the most seasoned players to the test. Super-tough, but not unfair.
  • Value: A+
    It took me nearly the entire month of August to get all three of the game’s endings. For $12 or less — it’s currently part of Humble’s Adult Swim bundle! — Volgarr represents outstanding bang for your buck.

Overall: A+

For more, including Volgarr playthrough videos with commentary, please check out my YouTube channel HERE.


Review: DuckTales Remastered (PC, 2013)


D-d-d-danger! Watch behind you!
There’s a stranger out to find you!
What to do? Just grab on to some
DuckTales! A-woo-oo!

If ever there was a late-’80s earworm, the DuckTales theme song is it. It’s impossible to look at that iconic logo and not start singing along. DuckTales came out back when I was in junior high. It was a time when my friends and I suddenly got too old — and in our minds, too cool — for Saturday morning cartoons. Shows like Robotech were drawing us away from the cheap, mindless fare that was common back then, but DuckTales was different. It looked terrific, and had exceptional, fluid animation. I loved it, and whether I’m right about this or not, I always credited its quality and success in part for the resurgence of Disney’s animated theatrical releases shortly thereafter with The Little Mermaid and the lesser-known and under-appreciated Rescuers Down Under.

20140711_ducktales_nesIts popularity led to the Capcom classic game of the same name on the NES in 1989, which GHG reviewed last month. Despite its short length, simple boss battles, and pogo-jump controls that are arguably a little too complex, I really enjoyed it, and consider it a very solid 8-bit title, particularly when you take into consideration that it’s licensed, and could have been bad. Very bad.

When it was revealed that WayForward Technologies — a company known for their skill at crafting retro-style action games like Contra 4 and the excellent Shantae: Risky’s Revenge — was developing an HD remastered version of DuckTales, excitement levels went through the roof. I mean, if it’s not going to be Capcom themselves, who better to do it than a company that specializes in this sort of thing? While the selfish side of me was kinda hoping for Inti Creates instead, I put my faith in WayForward that they’d deliver. And for the most part, they did.


First of all, full disclosure here: I played through DuckTales Remastered on its default difficulty first, which is set to Easy. I do this for all games, since it’s my belief that the default setting is what the developers want the majority of players to experience, and most play balance and tweaking generally center around it during testing. More on this later, but it’s an important detail to note.

Graphically, DuckTales Remastered does a lot of things right. The character art in particular is fantastic, with silky-smooth and expressive animation cycles that really bring them to life. WayForward did a phenomenal job ensuring that everyone looks as good as we remember from childhood, with new cameos that will surprise those intimately familiar with the NES original. Enemy art and animation are just as impressive, and it was so nice to see the same high quality level of effort go into both basic enemies and major bosses.


I found the backgrounds to be OK, but there was nothing there that really blew me away. They are full of nice colors and provide a good amount of depth and separation, but they lack detail and most of them just looked overly simplistic to me and at odds with the quality of the superb 2D elements. Throw in generic-looking environmental objects that have a floaty, pasted-on look, and you end up with an overall visual aesthetic that didn’t really work for me. It gets the job done, but there was just something about the look of the game that never quite felt right, and I couldn’t help but ask myself, “How much better would this have been had it all been in 2D?”

DuckTales Remastered‘s soundtrack, however, is tremendous. Composed by Jake Kaufman — who has also scored a number of other WayForward games and the amazing Shovel Knight — this is an updated soundtrack done right. All of your favorites from the NES game are here, with a perfect balance of modern instrumentation, extended arrangements of classic melodies, and beautiful retro nods that pay nothing but the utmost of respect to the source material. Hats off to Kaufman for his great work here, and I highly recommend a purchase of it on Amazon or iTunes.


The game also contains full voice acting, which is all delivered by the talented voice actors from the original show, giving DuckTales Remastered an even more authentic feel. Unfortunately, little restraint was exercised when it came to the sheer amount of dialogue here. Perhaps it was excitement about having the original cast involved, but it’s completely overdone and takes the player out of gameplay for far too long. You can’t speed it up and the only way to skip it is via the pause menu. It really kills pacing and could have easily been cut in half. As it stands, it’s full of needless exposition that is cool at first, but doesn’t take long for it to become borderline insufferable.

Gameplay-wise, DuckTales Remastered is a little bit of the old, a little bit of the new. It controls well enough, and the gameplay is as you remember, with Uncle Scrooge able to use his cane to pogo-jump around levels, find hidden treasure, discover secret areas, and use rocks and objects to take out enemies, just like the NES game. Speaking of the pogo-jump, you can now do it just by jumping and pressing the action button instead of having to press down on the d-pad as well. WayForward has both control options available, though, so go with what you’re most comfortable with. I used the default (i.e., easier) way, and I thought it was great.


There is also a new collectibles objective where you have to find various objects around each stage to progress, but there’s no mystery to their whereabouts since they’re all marked on the pause menu map. It switches up the way you have to play the game in that it forces you to do these things before taking on the level’s boss, which is a fundamental change from how the original DuckTales worked.

These were likely added to enrich the game’s storyline and extend overall play time, and although they feel a bit contrived in that sense, I didn’t mind their addition.


Getting back to what I said earlier about playing on the game’s default difficulty, I got through the game in about 3 hours. Although I didn’t die during any of the boss fights — which are more fun than the NES game’s, but still very predictable — I died quite a few times during regular gameplay, usually falling into a bottomless pit or some other instant-death scenario. You have unlimited lives, and I didn’t think anything of this. That’s modern game design 101, and most games don’t penalize you at all except for maybe sending you back to the last checkpoint. That’s what DuckTales Remastered does. On Easy.

On other difficulties, your lives are now limited. Losing them means Game Over, but it also means you lose everything from that level and you have to start over from scratch. This is utterly crazy. I would expect to at least keep found treasures and overall progress. If I have to start over from the beginning? Fine. I’ll make my way to where I lost my last life, but to erase all that work? No thanks. It made me quit out the first time it happened to me.

This kind of design works when your levels are short. It worked well on something I played recently — NES Remix — because its design is based around concentrated stages where subsequent attempts all build upon the mistakes you made previously, and getting further in each one gives you a strong sense of accomplishment. If you lose all of your lives, yes, you have to try again from the beginning, but it only take a few seconds or at most a couple minutes for a redo. It has no place here in DuckTales Remastered because WayForward has made changes — namely much longer levels with additional collectible requirements — that makes severe punishment like this unnecessary.


Anyway, speaking of collectibles, the money you find throughout the game isn’t just for hoarding inside your giant vault. You can use that cash to buy a ton of artwork and music. Prices are high for each one, so for those completionists out there, it will take several playthroughs to get everything. Starting a new game will thankfully not erase your progress when it comes to these unlockable bonuses.


Apart from the whole Game Over thing and the overwrought dialogue, I enjoyed playing through this game. It’s familiar enough that you will smile with satisfaction remembering everything from your youth, while experiencing new things that may surprise you. It’s not perfect, but to its credit, it successfully captures what made so many people fall in love with DuckTales — both the TV series and the game — in the first place.

Finally, be sure to sit through the end credits in its entirety. It was definitely one of my favorite parts of the game.

  • Graphics & Presentation: B
    Beautiful 2D character artwork and gorgeous animation are this game’s highlight. Serviceable 3D backgrounds with generic objects and some janky animation don’t match the quality of the character work. Long, painfully slow story sections bring the presentation to a near-standstill.
  • Music & Sound Effects: A+
    Fantastic soundtrack by Jake Kaufman, with refreshingly fun takes on the NES classics. Sound effects are good and voice acting is excellent, including all the actors from the show!
  • Gameplay & Controls: C+
    More forgiving pogo-jump controls make the game easy to learn. The sprawling level design is good, although objectives make them feel more linear than they should. Erasing all level progress after losing your lives was a terrible design decision.
  • Value: B-
    It only takes a few hours to get through the game, but unlockable content and different difficulties offer incentives to come back.

Overall: B-



Review: Electronic Super Joy (PC, 2013)


Indie games have become one of the best and only ways for players to experience classic genres with modern design sensibilities. Over the past decade, they have gone from barely discoverable titles on the fringes to being featured right alongside the big triple-A blockbusters at industry shows and events. At E3 this past June, it was not uncommon to hear someone talking about Batman: Arkham Knight or The Legend of Zelda and in the same breath express equal excitement over No Man’s Sky and Ori and the Blind Forest. 

Medium-sized publishers — so prolific in the ’90s and ’00s — have all but vanished from the gaming landscape, and in their wake are a huge number of independent game studios. While some have struck deals with major publishers and manufacturers, or been acquired outright, the vast majority of them still self-publish either via their own websites or a digital content delivery service like Steam, Google Play, and the PlayStation Store.

Electronic Super Joy, also available for Mac and Linux (and coming soon for iOS and Android) is the distillation of all the things that make indie gaming so much fun and unique.


From the moment you launch it, it’s immediately clear that Electronic Super Joy isn’t about being subtle. The title screen hits with a blast of pulsating hot pink and loud trance music. Oh, the music. Before I even talk about the game itself, I have to mention the soundtrack. If you don’t like the techno genre in general, you may want to turn the volume down.

For everyone else, Electronic Super Joy‘s music is absolutely one of its highlights. Composed by enV (pronounced “envy”), the soundtrack does a spectacular job establishing mood, creating tension, and most importantly, getting the player in the zone to conquer. Check it out HERE on Bandcamp.

You’re then met with a rather lengthy warning screen full of exclamation points. There’s something quite liberating and tongue-in-cheek about it, which sets the tone for what is to come. Don’t be too alarmed by it. While there are more than a few obscenities, erotic moaning every time you die, and yes, even battles with a pope, it’s nothing you would ever take seriously. This is a game, after all, about your journey to take revenge on the Groove Wizard for stealing your butt. Yeah, you read that right. And if you are offended, there’s always the PG Rating in the Options menu.


Anyway, its hilarious story aside, at its core, Electronic Super Joy is a 2D platformer in the tradition of difficult classics like Super Meat Boy and VVVVVV. Games like these thrive on their perfect controls, fantastic design, fast death recoveries, and a beautiful marriage of visuals and audio. They reward dedication and perseverance, precariously teetering on that edge of unfairness… but never losing their balance.

Thankfully, Electronic Super Joy gets all of those things right. Your character controls so well, with predictable jumping arcs and quick turns. Throughout your journey, you’ll acquire and use a wide range of different moves, including a downward smash, double-jumps, flying, wall jumping, and high jumps in reduced gravity environments. Speaking of those environments, slick surfaces, single-use bounce pads, lasers, projectiles, spikes, rotating platforms, heat-seeking rockets, and other dangers are all intent on preventing you from getting to the end of each level.


The main game is broken down into three worlds comprised of 15 stages apiece. One nice feature is that as you finish a level, you’re immediately taken to the next one. This gives the game a nice flow instead of constantly dropping you back to the level-select screen. This also makes the game feel extremely short as you can, in one sitting, get through an entire world in about an hour.

It’s not just a matter of getting to the end, though. Much like the Bandages in Super Meat Boy, Electronic Super Joy has 22 Stars that are cleverly peppered throughout each world. Getting each Star is one thing, but you then have to survive long enough to make it to the end or the next checkpoint, whichever comes first. Successfully getting all the Stars will unlock a fourth world that will put all of your skills — and possibly your sanity — to the ultimate test. For those who want even more, a Bonus Content Pack and the recently released Groove City standalone sequel are also available.


Graphically, Electronic Super Joy has a lot more going on than screenshots initially convey. Although the game is primarily done in 2D sprites, there are a lot of 3D elements that add to its aesthetic. Backgrounds have multi-layered, spinning polygonal objects that are often synchronized to the music, producing hypnotic, eye-searing visuals that bring to mind the work of ’90s Amiga demo groups like The Silents, Anarchy, and Spaceballs.

The background graphics are lovely, and they can also be a big part of the gameplay itself. One of Electronic Super Joy‘s earliest levels, “Black and White”, is a great example of the background and foreground becoming one. HERE‘s a video of me playing through it, even though I accidentally take the wrong path at the end.

Characters are small, but they are animated well, and all the NPCs you come across throughout the game have funny, helpful, and sometimes misleading things to say. They happily nod their heads to the beat as you jump from platform to platform, eventually leading you to each world’s fun and bizarre boss challenges.


I had a great time with Electronic Super Joy. It’s a game that doesn’t take itself seriously at all, but at the same time is a case study in expert platforming design and execution. If you love a good challenge, look no further.

  • Graphics & Presentation: B+
    Simple, consistent 2D/3D graphics, with multi-layered backgrounds, vivid colors, and effective foreground separation. Nice, blocky animated menus. Lots of screen tearing with the internal frame limiter off, but input lag with it on makes the game unplayable. Use external V-sync instead.
  • Music & Sound Effects: A+
    An amazing trance and techno soundtrack by enV that perfectly blends with the game’s visuals. Easily worth purchasing separately. Good sound effects and funny vocals that may get under your skin, but you can thankfully turn them off if you prefer.
  • Gameplay & Controls: A
    Excellent controls do exactly what you want them to do. Great gameplay variety, and the Stars are challenging to obtain. Some of the later levels require a bit too much memorization with almost zero time to react, which can be frustrating even for seasoned genre veterans, but the game maintains fairness throughout.
  • Value: B+
    A short game at about 5 hours, but it’s a decent value for only $7.99. If you go for all the Achievements, however, total playtime will be extended considerably.

Overall: A-



Review: Shovel Knight (PC)


It only takes a few moments to see influences from NES classics like the Super Mario Bros. series, DuckTales, and the Mega Man series in Shovel Knight‘s DNAYou’ll also be hit with other waves of nostalgia, being reminded of Zelda II: The Adventure of Link, Konami’s Castlevania series, Sega’s Golden Axe, and other favorites of a bygone era here. Whether references are intentional or not, it’ll feel like the late-’80s again, and in all the best ways possible.

Now, retro-style games have become rather cliched in recent years. The style is very popular for indie and mobile titles, and while I understand the opinion that not utilizing the latest cutting-edge graphic technologies doesn’t move things forward, I personally love it. It’s fascinating to see what modern artists are capable of pulling off with big pixels and limited color palettes. It’s that whole mentality of doing more with less that can potentially yield results even more impressive than the latest blockbuster on the newest consoles. Yes, I love the way Muramasa Rebirth looks on the Vita, but I can equally appreciate the lovingly crafted spritework in Daisuke Amaya’s Cave Story. Don’t let the 8-bit style turn you off, though; Shovel Knight‘s graphics are superb — borderline 16-bit at times as the best 8-bit games were — and animation is detailed, smooth, and brimming with character.


The same can be said about music in games. While I absolutely loved the work of Gustavo Santaolalla in The Last of Us — one of my all-time favorite PS3 games — I equally enjoy what Jake Kaufman and Manami Matsumae have done here in Shovel Knight. Much like oldschool graphics, music that has to be created without the use of real instruments and limited sound channels often produce stunning compositions that transcend the technology itself. One of Shovel Knight‘s first tracks, “Strike the Earth! (Plains of Passage)”, is so inspired and sounds like it could have leaped from the very best of the 8-bit era. In fact, so much of Shovel Knight is of the highest quality that if it had actually come out during the NES era, it would no doubt be regarded as one of the best games of all-time.

The graphics and music are indeed terrific, and Shovel Knight shines in the gameplay department  as well. Its closest relatives would be Castlevania and DuckTales; just think of your shovel as Simon Belmont’s whip or Uncle Scrooge’s cane. Mechanically, it works quite similarly in terms of being a short-ranged melee weapon and a tool for bouncing on enemies and other environmental obstacles. However, chalk it up to the influence of modern gaming to have the greatest effect where it matters most: controls. Shovel Knight‘s controls are perfect, and I can’t think of a single death that occurred because the controls weren’t responsive enough or didn’t do what I wanted. Tight controls (or lack thereof) will make or break platform games, and to its credit, Shovel Knight absolutely hits the nail on the head in this regard.


At its heart, Shovel Knight is a tried and true action platformer with some RPG overtones in terms of armor, weapon, and subweapon upgrades, each having their own set of strengths and weaknesses. Levels are long, and full of branching pathways and hidden alcoves. Discovering them is a joy, and much of Shovel Knight‘s challenge is in finding them all. Writing is also a strong point, with excellent dialogue and a surprisingly poignant and personal story. I had goosebumps by the game’s final scenes, which is a testament to the developer giving every facet of Shovel Knight equal attention.

There are modern conveniences like auto-saving and numerous level checkpoints, but Yacht Club Games changes things up a bit to make its death and continue system have actual consequence. I think one of the game’s neatest feature is how you are given the option to destroy the various level checkpoints. By doing so, you’ll collect extra treasures, but as a result, you’ll no longer be able to continue from that point if you die. This creates scenarios where you have to make it through an entire level in one life or be sent back to the very beginning.

Keeping the checkpoints in place doesn’t give you a free pass, though. Dying separates you from a good chunk of your loot, and if you want it back, you’ll have to collect it from where you died, which is sometimes impossible depending on where exactly you bit the bullet. This is a nice change from most modern games, where death carries with it no ramifications.

The one area of the game that feels slightly undercooked are a few of the boss fights. They are all beautiful to look at and have interesting and learnable attack patterns, but many of them can be defeated rather easily on your first attempt. Being able to carry multiple items that fully refill your health and magic meters further diminishes the challenge if you choose to utilize them. In some cases, though, I appreciated these battles being a little easier after taking a serious beating through some of the level trials preceding them.


Between all of the great action are these wonderful, quiet moments full of reflective calm and other surprises. They’re a great inclusion that very much reminded me of Golden Axe‘s intermission campfire scenes where you can stock up on health and magic potions. However, these brilliantly build a strong bond between the game’s key characters in haunting and meaningful ways. I always looked forward to these after defeating one of the game’s bosses.

The game’s achievements, or “Feats” as they’re called here, are definitely worth mentioning. There are some truly challenging ones that will give trophy hunters a run for their money, extending the life of the game for those who want to extract the most out of it. A number of them run completely opposite to one another, so don’t expect to get them all in one shot. Speaking of the game’s length, it took me about 7 hours to finish it the first time (the in-game clock had me at around 6 hours and 40 minutes), and even though I took my time, I only found about 65% of the game’s hidden Music Sheets, which unlock music tracks inside an in-game sound test. There were also some other important items I missed along the way, so the game definitely will take more than one playthrough to see and do everything.

Not only that, but a New Game+ mode is also included, which ups the challenge for those seeking a more difficult playthrough, but lets you keep all your upgrades from your first time through.


And last but not least, I have to point out the game’s humor. I mentioned earlier that the writing in the game is excellent, and while that applies to Shovel Knight‘s serious dialogue, it equally enhances the more lighthearted exchanges as well. It’s full of puns and other high-energy, exclamation point-filled zingers that make all of the NPCs interesting to talk to.

Shovel Knight is a special game. It represents the pinnacle of 8-bit sensibilities with the refinements of modern game design, wrapped up in a beautiful package that will remind you of all the things that drew you to videogames in the first place. Also available for the Nintendo Wii U and 3DS, Shovel Knight is not to be missed and is an easy contender for Game of the Year.

  • Graphics & Presentation: A+
    Beautifully drawn sprites, gorgeous backgrounds with multi-plane parallax scrolling, and some giant screen-filling enemies. 60fps with no screen tearing, even at its highest resolutions.
  • Music & Sound Effects: A+
    A superb soundtrack by Jake Kaufman, with nods to many 8-bit classics. Contributions by original Mega Man composer Manami Matsumae are a welcome treat. Excellent sound effects bring the action to vivid life.
  • Gameplay & Controls: A
    Perfect, fluid controls make Shovel Knight a delight to play, with tons of hidden areas to find. Fun platforming with all sorts of environmental hazards to contend with. Very unique continue system. Some bosses provide little challenge.
  • Value: A-
    A pretty quick game at about 7 hours or so, but New Game+ and a slew of Feats and hidden items will keep you playing for a long time if you want everything the game has to offer.

Overall: A+



Review: Batman: Arkham Origins: Cold, Cold Heart DLC (PC)

20140424_cch1DLC season passes are a touchy subject. I’m not really a fan of DLC in general, particularly the locked-on-disc variety, or finished content that has been held back to be sold later. While I fully understand that development costs are high, the trend that started last generation of nickel and diming consumers to squeeze out upfront profits is one that just doesn’t sit well with me. Despite all this, I recently purchased the Arkham Origins season pass for $5, and while its other offerings have been forgettable, Cold, Cold Heart redeems it as an example of good, story-driven DLC that makes the purchase worth it.

I happened to like Arkham Origins, awarding it an A- in my review, but one of the standout characters from the earlier games was Mr. Freeze. I didn’t know much about him prior to Arkham City, but he was such an interesting, tragic, and charismatic player. After experiencing his story, I definitely wanted to learn more about him. Hearing that Cold, Cold Heart would focus on Mr. Freeze was exciting news, and I wasted no time hopping back into the Batsuit.

20140424_cch3From the very beginning, I was enjoying this. While it provides the familiar world of Origins to explore (albeit smaller), you get a genuine sense that WB Games Montreal took their time to create some nice, new interiors. They also ensured that the outside world itself stayed consistent with the storyline. It looks great, with subtle changes that fans of Origins will appreciate.

There’s a new addition to the existing enemy types, as well as tweaks to and new functionality for Batman’s array of gadgets. My favorite new device by far is the Thermal Gloves. They address one of my pet peeves of this series, allowing the removal of wall grates by just holding down the A button instead of hitting it repeatedly. It’s a small change that I hope carries over to Arkham Knight because it’s quick, painless, and eliminates an unnecessary game mechanic that got very annoying for me over the course of three games.

20140424_cch2There are several sets of collectibles, similar to the ones found in Origins, and these unlock additional abilities for Batman. I liked that certain ones were relatively easy to locate and marked on your map automatically for later retrieval, but some still require thorough exploration. This helps extend the life of the DLC for completionists who want to get everything, but they mostly feel like busywork, like they did in Origins.

In terms of length, it felt pretty good to me. Not too short and not too long. The story itself has some great moments, with cameos from series regulars thrown in to help mix things up. Most importantly, it provides insight into Mr. Freeze’s backstory, underscoring why he is such a popular and compelling character.

20140424_cch4Finally, the Extreme Environment (XE) Suit is pretty cool. It’s nicely designed, suitably intimidating, and fits well into the context of the story. It looks bulky, but thankfully doesn’t affect Batman’s movement.

I enjoyed my time with Cold, Cold Heart. It’s a nice package that extends the life of Arkham Origins by several hours, focusing on one of my favorite characters of the Batman universe.

Graphics: B+
Audio: A-
Gameplay & Controls: B+
Presentation: B+
Value: B
Overall: B+

PC Notes: Reviewed using an Intel i7-920 CPU (4GHz overclock) and Gigabyte GTX-670 Windforce OC video card (GPU: +126MHz, RAM: +775MHz overclock). Resolution: 2560×1440 @ 60Hz. Graphic settings: Anti-aliasing and DX11 features turned off to maintain 60fps.


Review: Batman: Arkham Origins (PC)

By all accounts, this game had some big shoes to fill. Batman: Arkham Asylum and Arkham City are widely regarded as bona fide classics, and are considered to be some of the best — if not the best — comic book games ever created. I played both in March, and I have to agree that they are two spectacularly fun games.

Prior to playing Origins, I didn’t know much about its history, and only recently found out that it was developed by WB Games Montreal and not Rocksteady. The reviews I perused painted it as a so-so game that didn’t live up to its predecessors.

I finished Origins last night, and completed all the side quests this morning. I have to say that I really enjoyed playing this and think it’s worthy of the Arkham series pedigree.

What the game does right is provide a solid story and vibrant writing, bringing to life the colorful inhabitants of Gotham City. Bane in particular is one of the game’s standouts, brimming with an intellectual terror that far exceeds what Christopher Nolan was able to achieve in The Dark Knight Rises. The Joker comes across as even more sadistic and evil in this installment, with Troy Baker holding his own in the massive wake of Mark Hamill’s iconic villain. Roger Craig Smith also delivers a spot-on reading of Kevin Conroy’s Batman. Origins certainly provides no lack of quality in making its characters memorable.

If you played Arkham City, a large portion of Origin’s world will feel familiar, along with new districts to explore. Traversal is fun, and there is no shortage of secrets and collectibles to find. One disappointment I had was the absence of riddles. In the previous games, I found those to be addicting to find and solve, they broke up the flow of the game (in a good way), and provided natural segues into Gotham’s history. As a result, the collectibles and unlockables here don’t feel as integrated, whereas they were done in virtuoso fashion in Arkham Asylum. It’s still fun here, but you do feel more than ever that you’re going through the same familiar motions.

Gameplay is classic Arkham, with buttery smooth combat, lots of gadgets, tons of puzzles to solve, and big environments to explore. Interiors don’t feel as tightly or ingeniously designed as they were in the previous games, though. The new gadgets are also OK at best, and some are just retooled versions of what we got in Asylum and City.

One of the bigger additions to Origins are the crime scene investigations, which are fun. They are more or less linear exercises, but they add a nice forensic detective layer to the story and sidequests instead of just scanning things in. They do a good job showcasing Batman as a person with very high intelligence vs. someone just relying on fancy gadgets and Alfred to do most of his thinking.

Due to the inherent nature of the storyline, there’s a healthy dose of boss fights throughout. They can be quick, but some of them are excruciatingly long and frustrating. They are also not as memorable as the ones from City, so it’s unfortunate that this part of the game wasn’t as good as it could have been. It’s not to say that they aren’t fun; they just aren’t as well-designed and often rely on old patterns and tactics we’re used to.

That being said, I still had a very good time playing this game. I’m not a Batman aficionado, so my take on these games are from a person whose exposure to the Caped Crusader came mainly from the films of Tim Burton and growing up with the ’60s TV show. However, now that I’ve gone through all 3 games, I want to learn more and I absolutely can’t wait for Rocksteady’s Arkham Knight.

Graphics: B+
Audio: A-
Gameplay & Controls: B+
Presentation: A-
Value: A
Overall: A-

PC Notes: Reviewed using an Intel i7-920 CPU (4GHz overclock) and Gigabyte GTX-670 Windforce OC video card (GPU: +126MHz, RAM: +775MHz overclock). Resolution: 2560×1440 @ 60Hz. Graphic settings: Anti-aliasing and DX11 features turned off to maintain 60fps.