Backlog Blitz: The Games of August 2014


Where does the time go? I can’t believe it’s already mid-September! It was a pretty even month, even though I did buy more than I finished. However, a couple of the games I finished rank as some of my favorites of the year so far, so I’m OK with that.

All in all, I finished -2 for the month, but I’m still +6 for the year. Anyway, the format, as with previous updates, is Game Title (Platform, Purchase Price, Play Time).

Games purchased (-5, $56.50 spent):

  1. 20140916_ghg_ff10Final Fantasy X/X-2 Remaster (Vita, $20.00)
    I was pretty torn on this purchase because I do like Final Fantasy X — it was the last game in the series I ever finished — but I really don’t care for its sequel, X-2. There’s a part of me that wants to go back and play earlier entries in the series, though, and since I only finished this game once on the PlayStation 2, I figured playing it again in portable form on the Vita would be a good way to experience it again. My guess is most of it will feel new since it’s been over ten years.
  2. Chrono Cross (Vita, $5.00)
    Since this game was part of August’s sale on PSN, I added it to the library. While I like Chrono Trigger on the Super Nintendo more, there’s a lot to like in its follow-up, especially the music, which is just sublime. I remember not liking the more serious tone and slower pace of the game itself, which is common to many PlayStation 1-era RPGs, but like Final Fantasy X, I think playing it on the Vita will be fun.
  3. The Humble Mobile Bundle 6 (Android, $4.50)
    Another month, another quality bundle for Android users. This bundle includes Carmageddon, Combo Crew Special Edition, Duet Premium, Eliss Infinity, Joe Dever’s Lone Wolf: Full Game, Llamas with Hats: Cruise Catastrophe, Mines of Mars, Threes!, and Time Surfer. Worth the price of admission for Threes! alone. What a great game.
  4. The Humble Sega Mobile Bundle (Android, $4.00)
    Although I’m not a fan of playing games that aren’t specifically designed for touchscreens, this Sega bundle had quite the solid offering. When are they going to make a proper Out Run game for mobile? Seems like the perfect platform, don’t you think? Anyway, this bundle includes the following: ChuChu Rocket!, Crazy Taxi, Happy Sonic! Live Wallpaper, Sonic & Sega All-Stars Racing, Sonic CD, Sonic the Hedgehog 4 Episode I, Sonic the Hedgehog 4 Episode II, Super Monkey Ball 2: Sakura Edition, and Virtua Tennis Challenge.
  5. Kero Blaster (PC, $8.00)
    From Daisuke “Pixel” Amaya — the creator of Cave Story — for only $8 on Playism, this one was a must-buy. Their website is a no-frills affair, so I didn’t feel all that confident making my purchase. I got my game, though, and started playing it shortly thereafter.

Games finished (+3, $26.00 value):

  1. 20140811_1001_spikes_review_4Aban Hawkins & the 1001 Spikes (Wii U, $15.00, 20 hrs.)
    This was a very fun game, with surprisingly good presentation, multiple endings, and lots of different modes to play. Although some of it feels half-baked on the Wii U with no off-screen play and tons of audio glitches, it is still a robust game at its core that delivers a ton of bang for the buck, and is one of the most challenging titles I’ve played in 2014 so far. Recommended! Overall: A-
  2. Threes (Android, $1.00, 10 hrs.)
    Much better than the very similar game Eights, this one has great personality, intuitive controls, and that “just one more try” addictive quality that makes it a great play anywhere, anytime game for your phone. Overall: B+
  3. Volgarr the Viking (PC, $10.00, 40 hrs.)
    In my written and video review, I summed this game up by saying that it’s my favorite 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. Overall: A+

Only three and a half months left in 2014! I’m bracing myself for the holiday sales, but I feeling (cautiously) optimistic that I can stay above zero before 2015 kicks off.


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: 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: Microsoft Xbox One Wireless Controller (PC)

Although I don’t own an actual Xbox One (XBO), I’ve been hearing great things about its controller since it launched nine months ago. My go-to controller for the PC has always been a wired Xbox 360 one, and aside from its terrible d-pad — and it is truly terrible, despite Microsoft trying to fix it a few times — is probably my all-time favorite controller. It has a great button layout, is comfortable to hold, and I’ve always preferred its asymmetrical and concave thumbsticks over the convex designs found on the PS3 and Wii.

It’s also one of the most durable controllers I’ve ever owned, and I’ve never had one fail… until now. Not bad considering I’ve been using this original white and gray one for what has to be close to a decade now, and it’s been put through the paces, most recently surviving Shovel Knight, Electronic Super Joy and all three of the Arkham games on PC, as well as being a reliable partner in getting me all the way through Super Meat Boy on the 360 back in 2012.


Last week, I started Volgarr the Viking with it, and while it was doing OK for a while, the left thumbstick started to get unresponsive, and that’s not good, especially for a game like Volgarr. Plus, it’s very well-worn, with the raised bumps on its rubber surface barely intact, an ever-increasingly loose dead zone, and an unattractive yellow-greenish discoloration that makes me question my own hygiene. I also didn’t like having to swap controllers for retro gaming due to its DOA-pad, as I so affectionately called it.

“Baby, we had a good run, but I’m afraid it’s time to say good-bye.”

It took me a while to finally pull the trigger on the XBO controller, though. While 360 controllers can be had for a street price of about $30-35, the Xbox One controller costs a whopping $55-60. Sony DualShock 4 controllers are similarly priced, with the Wii U Pro Controller being about $10 cheaper. Controllers are important, however, so if you’re not using a good one, the experience suffers as well.

With my 360 controller not pulling its weight anymore, I clicked the “Place your order” button on Amazon and eagerly awaited its arrival.


I was surprised when the big box arrived. I was half-expecting a padded mailer with the controller sealed in a blister pack, but I’m glad my $55 and change got me a nice box, complete with glossy finish over the controller images. I’m not being sarcastic here; I really do appreciate nice packaging, especially in this day and age where you’re lucky if you get anything resembling a manual at all with your $60 game.

But I digress.


Getting back to the packaging, the box itself is nice and sturdy, with the only included plastic of any significance being the retail shelf hanger (which is recyclable) and the wrapper around the two AA batteries.

Yes, I said batteries. I’m guessing Microsoft had a good reason to stick with them, but it kind of blows my mind that their brand-new console still uses AAs. Sony ditched them last generation, and even Nintendo switched to rechargeable packs in both their Wii U GamePad and Pro Controller.


Anyway, also included inside the box is, of course, the controller itself, a quick start guide, health/warranty information, and a 2-day Xbox Live Gold trial. I ditched Gold a long time ago, but Microsoft’s Games with Gold program makes it more enticing, especially for those used to the perks of PlayStation Plus.

I noticed that the hard internal cardboard that surrounds the XBO controller left light scuff marks on the back of its black housing. They’re minor, but I think Microsoft should include a protective wrap around it to prevent any damage if or when they revise the packaging.

Also, it’s important to note that if you plan on using this as a wired controller — which is how I’m reviewing it — you will need a Micro USB cable such as this one, since no cable is included. Thankfully, they’re dirt-cheap.


The controller itself is quite similar to its 360 older brother, with a near-identical face button layout. On the back? No screw holes! Very nice design. Sometimes those recesses can dig into your fingers during heated, extended gaming sessions, so their removal is a very welcome update.

The Back and Start buttons now have symbols on them that represent View and Menu, which is just bizarre to me. Thankfully — at least on the PC — they behave just like the 360 buttons. The large, circular Guide/Xbox button has been moved up and away from the Back/Start cluster, which I think is great.

What isn’t great is that it now emits a constant white glow whenever the controller is plugged in. My SteelSeries mouse emits a similar glow, but I can turn it off if I want. As of this writing, there doesn’t seem to be any way to turn it off or reduce its intensity, which is unfortunate.

Another slightly annoying bit of behavior is that when you turn your PC on or your plug the controller into a USB port, the controller will vibrate for about 3 seconds. The first time this happened, I had the controller sitting on top of my PC case, which is made out of metal. The loud noise that resulted made me think one of my hard drives had died!

Hopefully both of these issues will be addressed in a future driver update, but to be honest, they’re very minor. The drivers themselves are still very new for the PC, having only been released about two months ago. You can download them HERE. Installation couldn’t be simpler, and you’ll be up and running within a couple of minutes.


Grips feel meatier and more comfortable than they did on the 360 controller, and the triggers and bumpers have been redesigned as well.

The analog triggers are silky-smooth and are more or less silent when you press them. They have individual vibration motors in them, which I haven’t experienced firsthand yet. Microsoft calls them Impulse Triggers, but I believe this first PC driver simply emulates 360 controller support, so time will tell if this gets added in and PC game developers support them.

The bumpers are a little bigger on the XBO controller, but are otherwise similar to the 360 ones. My right bumper clicks significantly louder than the left one, though. Not sure if that is intended or not, but a cursory look around the internet shows that other users have observed this as well. In-game responsiveness is fine, however.


What’s particularly nice about the XBO controller are both the new d-pad and analog thumbsticks.

The d-pad is by far the biggest and best improvement on the controller, with a nice concave shape, and satisfyingly tactile clicks with each directional press. Moving your thumb across it is smooth, diagonals are effortless, and it’s wonderfully responsive. If you like the feel of the 3DS XL or Wii U Pro Controller d-pads, you’ll absolutely love this.

The thumbsticks have been similarly revised, with thick, smaller diameter tops covered in a grippy material. I love these. As you can see on my 360 controller, any grip that was there to begin with is now gone. These have excellent feel, don’t slip at all, and are better-suited for multiple styles of play.


The colored face buttons curve around the right side of the XBO controller more than they do on the 360’s. They are also slightly larger in diameter, sit more flush with the controller’s housing, and are less resistant, which yields great responsiveness. They are easier to read now too, with each colored letter set against a black background.

As with the 360 controller, there is an expansion port on the bottom for headsets and other future peripherals.


So yeah, that darn battery compartment. The good thing is that it’s been designed to sit flush with the back of the controller. 360 owners know how bulky and intrusive the battery pack compartment is on the wireless controller, so it’s nice to see Microsoft improve the design significantly, to the point where you won’t notice it.

I do like the “Hello from Seattle” there on the inside label, too. Nice touch.

But again, why traditional batteries? Yes, I get that if a built-in rechargeable battery fails, you’re basically left with a dead controller, but through multiple generations, I have yet to have that happen. The sold-separately Play & Charge Kit will run you an additional $20, so you’re looking at $75-80 for just one controller, which is borderline absurd.

A brilliant aspect of its design, however, is the fact that the XBO controller doubles as a traditional wired one if you use a Micro USB cable with it. You don’t need any batteries at all if you choose to go this route, and it works beautifully. For PC, I believe this is the only option available, so it makes that decision an easy one.

Most importantly, gaming with this controller is a dream. It got me through the second stage of Volgarr the Viking this week, and the video above shows me playing through the first stage of Irem’s R-Type III: The Third Lightning on the Super Nintendo. Whether it’s classic side-scrolling action or frantic shoot-’em-ups, it gets the job done.

I haven’t played through R-Type III since the ’90s, and it’s crazy how advanced it was at the time! Some of those Mode 7 effects are still so impressive today.


In any event, this is a great controller. It’s everything that made the 360 controller one of the all-time best, with improvements and refinements that make it even better. It’s not as radical a departure as, say, the Nintendo Wii controller was, but when your predecessor is so good, you don’t want to mess with it too much. You risk really screwing it up.

Although not without its faults and with room for improvement, this is a fantastic addition to anyone’s PC controller arsenal, providing seamless support for current and retro games alike. If you can play it with a 360 pad, you can play it with this. Highly recommended.

Overall: A-


Gaming with my sister Cheryl (1978-2002)


I’ll never forget the night my dad called to say that my younger sister had passed away. I had just returned to Los Angeles from a business trip to Outrage Games in Ann Arbor, Michigan. Actually, I don’t remember most of the details of that night, as I was simply in a state of shock, sadness, and helplessness.

I remember telling myself that I had to stay strong for my family’s sake, especially my mom, who had just the year prior lost her mother. So much of the days and weeks that followed were a blur, and before I knew it, I was back at work, doing my best to, as they say, pick up the pieces and move on. It’s always easier to give this advice than to take it.

The year prior in 2001, Cheryl had gotten really sick with encephalitis, and was in a coma for about two days. When she came out of it, it seemed like everything was OK, but then she began suffering from major seizures several times a day. Although she would eventually recover to the point where she was able to go home, she would continue to struggle with occasional seizures and other day-to-day limitations.

It changed her personality as well, where she would lose her patience and get frustrated with things almost instantly, and after experiencing it several times, I would make sure to approach things with her more carefully from then on. After hosting a holiday party for her friends in December of 2002, she passed away in her sleep that night. It was concluded that she suffered another seizure.

A lot of people knew my sister Cheryl, her love for the Los Angeles Clippers, the Denver Broncos, teaching, and anything that had to do with monkeys, but few of them likely knew that she also loved videogames, or that she was better than me at many of them. Maybe it was because we were only 4 years apart, and games were such an integral part of my own life, that it became a shared hobby — and source of competition — between us.

20140818_digdugAs early as 1983, when our family was living in Spring, Texas, and Cheryl was still in kindergarten, I remember the Atari 2600 being central to our home life when the weather didn’t permit us to be outside riding our bikes, swimming, and hurting ourselves in every which way as kids do.

Even back then, she was good at games like Dig Dug and Ms. Pac-Man, which when you think about it, require you to pay attention to multiple enemies on the screen and plan out a good strategy to beat them. That’s pretty advanced stuff for a 5-year-old that everyone expected to be playing with Barbie dolls. For the record, she never liked ’em.

20140818_mastertypeWhile we were still living in Texas, my dad bought the family an Apple IIe. He loved the business applications such as the precursor to today’s ubiquitous Microsoft Excel: VisiCalc, but my sister and I were all about the games.

Although she was getting cool software like Spinnaker’s Kindercomp — which is still very good for its age and target audience — she was always more interested in what I was playing. MasterType was one of those educational titles wrapped up in a game, and it taught both of us to type well at an early age. In fact, it wasn’t long before she was a better typist than me!

20140818_safarihuntAs the 8-bit console era came around and we got our Sega Master System, her favorite games on it were the Light Phaser gun games, such as Safari Hunt, Marksman Shooting, and Trap Shooting.

At one point she was so good at Trap Shooting that she would essentially “break” the game. As you would progress through it, the hit box on the traps would get smaller and smaller. She would get so far into it that the hit boxes would cease to even exist. A bug on Sega’s part, perhaps, but she would always be proud of her achievement.

20140818_sf2tThe 16-bit era is when everything came to a head. All those years of playing on the Atari, Apple, and Master System had honed her hand-eye coordination to needle-like levels of sharpness. No other game proved just how terrible at fighting games I was — or rather, how good she was — than Street Fighter II Turbo for the Super Nintendo.

I thought I was pretty good at it. I mean, I had lots of practice from arcades and the regular Street Fighter II SNES cartridge, but Cheryl was a natural. In fact, she was so adept at it that she would regularly perform a “round-robin” in V.S. Battle mode where she would fight me using each character once — beat me with all of them — and after doing so, look at me, say “You suck!”, drop the controller on the floor, and leave the room. Oh, how that made my blood boil!

20140818_bamIt didn’t stop there. In college, I bought Taito’s Bust-a-Move (aka Puzzle Bobble), which I also thought I was good at after having played a ton of the Neo Geo game in arcades.

Oh, no. Once again, after playing it for just a few short days, Cheryl was like Bobby Fischer with it, hitting impossible shots and rarely making mistakes bouncing the bubbles off the side walls. I would go on to hear her trademark “You suck!” more than I’d care to admit. It was a lot.

The thing is, even though she kicked my butt six ways from Sunday competitively, those remain some of my best memories. Her taunting would evolve from simple verbal jabs to her strategically eating dried squid before a game and then burping it in my face at the most opportune times to mess me up. It worked. A little too well. I can still smell it!

20140818_sbbI think her absolute favorite game, though, was Super Buster Bros. on the Super Nintendo. She even bought her own system so that she could play it after she moved to San Diego for college. Her favorite mode was Panic, where you’d just work your way through progressively more difficult waves of bouncing bubbles and hexagons, and watching her play this was amazing.

Again, all those years of gaming made it easy for her to focus on so many on-screen objects at once. It was actually pretty inspiring to watch, so this also went on to became a favorite game of mine, and I’ll still dust it off from time to time to see how far I can get. Never as far as her, of course.

Unsurprisingly, she was really good at another game that had spherical objects in it as well: pinball.

20140818_pfPorted from the Amiga to the PC in the early ’90s, Digital Illusions’ Pinball Fantasies was one of the best arcade pinball simulators at the time, and the both of us played it nonstop.

Cheryl got really good at saving the ball via the game’s nudge feature. With good timing, you can bounce it out of the bottom at the last second and bring it back into play. It wasn’t very realistic, but it was always impressive when you could get it to happen regularly.

She was also the first one to get over a billion points on the Billion Dollar Gameshow table, and to this day, I haven’t been able to catch and beat her score. I still have her MS-DOS high score files from this game on 3.5″ floppy disk in storage.

The 32-bit generation arrived in the mid-’90s, and by then I was seeing less and less of my sister as not only was I beginning my full-time career at Interplay, but she was nearing the end of high school, working part-time at the Sanrio store, and was highly involved in sports, clubs, and other activities.

20140818_ridgeracerHowever, we would always find time to get in a game or two here and there, and her favorite on the PlayStation was Namco’s Ridge Racer. While we were at the point in our lives where we weren’t all that competitive anymore, it was still a lot of fun to take turns and play.

Her favorite music track in the game was “Rotterdam Nation”, and she would bob her head to it with a serious look on her face as she gracefully drifted around all of the game’s sweeping curves and hairpins.

She would yell at the A.I. cars if they bumped into her, affectionately referring to the Dig Dug car as the “multicolored piece of crap” or the pink 31 flavors-like Mappy car as the “Bastard Robbins”. Seems silly now, but we used to crack each other up with our cheesy jokes.

And that’s what life is all about, right? Making memories that can bring a smile to your face and a tear to your eye, no matter how insignificant they might seem to everyone else. That’s why I get very defensive when people dismissively talk about this hobby with me, saying things like, “Videogames are for kids,” or “You play too many games,” etc.

What these folks don’t understand is that games have the power to not only challenge us on an individual level, but they can bring people together, creating lifelong memories that shape who we are.

Perhaps I haven’t said this until now, but a big reason why I still play games is that they remind me of exactly what I wrote about above: my sister and all the great experiences we shared with controllers in our hands, sitting in front of a TV, yelling, laughing, and bonding.

Happy Birthday, Cheryl. I miss you, and sorry about bringing up the dried squid burps. I couldn’t help myself!


Volgarr the Viking: My 16-bit Obsession


Volgarr the Viking for the PC is a special game. It’s also tough as nails. I’ve been playing it all week, and I can’t even get past the second world yet.

It’s the kind that you play, get utterly frustrated with, but start thinking about immediately after you turn it off. You’ll convince yourself that just one change in your approach will get you through a level unscathed, and then there you are, turning it back on to try again. When you close your eyes at night to go to sleep, all you can see is yourself playing through the game from beginning to end in exacting detail.

That’s precisely what’s happening to me at the moment. This was commonplace for me back in the 8-bit and 16-bit days. I would only get maybe one game per month, if that, so I would play and master every game I received, whether they were good or bad.

20140813_mm2Although I have played some difficult games in recent years, they bring with them modern conveniences, such as save slots or generous checkpoints that reduce the amount of times you have to replay levels. They keep you moving forward, and in many cases have bite-sized level design, which I think are good things, especially as gaming continues to broaden its appeal.

Bravely, though, Volgarr lacks any of that. The most you get is a mid-level checkpoint and the ability to skip stages you’ve already beaten. Respawning at a checkpoint, however, means you have to collect all your gear again and miss out on treasure. Skipping stages means you can’t get the game’s best ending. As such, the few bits of help the game offers come with trade-offs that give even these simple decisions consequence. For all intents and purposes, this game behaves like a cartridge with no passwords or battery back-up.

20140813_sgngAs I said, this approach reminds me of my youth, sitting in front of my Genesis and Super Nintendo getting absolutely destroyed by games like Super Ghouls’n Ghosts, Target Earth, and Contra III: The Alien Wars. And yet I beat them all and I was very, very good at them at the time. Why? Because I had no choice. I didn’t have any other new games to play, so I dedicated myself to what I had, and I loved every minute of it. I’m not someone who likes to show off, but I did enjoy showing my friends how to “easily” get through my games that they were struggling with.

Nowadays? In my Steam library, I have nearly 300 games. My console backlog is so deep that there’s no way there are enough years in a lifetime to play them all. For a system criticized for having “no games”, I have at least 5 on the Wii U that I haven’t even started yet. It’s no wonder then that I find myself moving away from the time-consuming genres I once loved, like 80-hour RPG epics, and prefer blasting through a 15-hour retro platformer, quickly moving on to the next one.

20140812_rosVolgarr, though, has shaken me to my core, and I’m thankful for that. It’s a reminder of why I can still remember the exact level layouts of The Revenge of Shinobi, but not be able to recall what the first level of Super Meat Boy looked like. That’s not a reflection on game quality, but I find that my memory of games is more generalized nowadays vs. how intimately specific they are from past gaming generations.

Feeling that way again this week has been awesome. I don’t know if I’d have this level of dedication with every game, but since it is an innate part of Volgarr‘s vision and design — in a day and age where ease and forgiveness are the norm — I’ll happily bite.


Backlog Blitz: The Games of July 2014


After a huge drop in June, I nearly got myself back to May levels in July. I only bought one game, thanks to lackluster or nonexistent sales and a dry month at retail. I finished seven games, netting me a +6 total for last month. Anyway, the format, as with previous updates, is Game Title (Platform, Purchase Price, Play Time).

Games purchased (-1, $15.00 spent):

  1. Shovel Knight (PC, $15.00)
    Yacht Club Games’ Kickstarter success story looked terrific from the start, and the final product was met with tons of positive impressions. This was the only must-buy for me in July.

Games finished (+7, $113.00 value):

  1. 20140801_ghg_skShovel Knight (PC, $15.00, 10 hrs.)
    One of my favorite games of the year. Fantastic graphics, gameplay, and music to die for. Overall: A+

  2. Electronic Super Joy (PC, $8.00, 5 hrs.)
    A tough platformer in the tradition of Super Meat Boy, this game has awesome style, one of the best techno/trance soundtracks of any game I’ve played, and lots of humor. Short, but great. Overall: A-

  3. DuckTales Remastered (PC, $15.00, 3 hrs.)
    I enjoyed the NES game back in June, so I finally got around to playing WayForward’s remake. It has wonderful animation and Jake Kaufman’s soundtrack — who is the guy who also scored Shovel Knight — does a terrific job here. Too much story and some weird design choices hurt it. Overall: B-

  4. Eights (Android, Free, 10 hrs.)
    Recommended by a friend, this game is all about creating the number 8 and multiples of said number. Simple in concept, but difficult to master. I got over 5,000 points, so I considered myself “done” with it after that. I normally get around 1,500-3,000. Fun, but some bad control bugs hold it back. Overall: C+

  5. Castle of Illusion Starring Mickey Mouse (Sega Master System, $5.00, 3 hrs.)
    Very different from the Genesis classic, but a very high-quality game for the old Sega console. Slippery controls and inexact platforming make certain sequences very frustrating. Beautiful graphics, improved bosses, and non-linear levels round it out. Overall: B

  6. 20140801_ghg_nr2NES Remix 2 (Wii U, $15.00, 43 hrs.)
    A sequel that improves upon the original in every way. Great challenges, better game selection, wonderful Miiverse intergration, and additional challenges make this one of the best games available on the Wii U eShop. Overall: A

  7. Mario Kart 8 (Wii U, $60.00, 20 hrs.)
    My favorite Mario Kart game since the Super Nintendo days. Amazing graphics, buttery smooth controls, fun courses, and memorable music make this one of the year’s best. I would love to see more goal/challenge-based single-player modes similar to Diddy Kong Racing on the Nintendo 64 to really elevate the experience when you’re not online. Overall: A

Only five months remain in 2014. Summer’s usually slow for releases, so this was expected. If release dates stick, the holiday season could be rough. Very rough.

Anyway, here’s to staying in positive territory, and I hope you all have a great weekend!


Bringing my voice to YouTube

When I was in high school, memorizing and reciting poetry was a big part of my junior year English class. I distinctly remember Robert Frost’s The Road Not Taken, which now, over two decades later, not only remains in my memory, but the content resonates with me more strongly than it ever has. Age and life in general have a tendency to do that.

After standing up in front of the class for the first time to deliver it, my teacher made a passing comment about how he thought I had a good speaking voice. Teens don’t have a reputation for ignoring the older generation for nothing; I got embarrassed, shrugged it off, and quickly went back to my desk. He would go on to say this a few more times throughout the school year, at one point saying I really needed to be on the radio. I would just smile uncomfortably and try to forget about it.

Why do we do this? I’ve never taken compliments well, and my first reaction — instead of doing the polite thing and saying thanks — is instead to downplay them. I mean, who knows? Had I instead taken my teacher’s words to heart, I might have gone on to study Media Communications or Broadcast Journalism in college, like my best friend did. I think he has a terrific speaking voice, and he went on to do great things on the TV news channels down in Florida.

Those words from high school stuck with me over the years. I never particularly cared for the way my voice sounded, and as a result, I never pursued anything in that realm. It’s like Werner Brandes (Stephen Tobolowsky) said in the terrific film Sneakers about his own voice, “I always thought it was kind of nasal and pinched.”

But as they say, one of the worst things you can do is have regrets in your life, so with one of my New Year’s Resolutions for 2014 being to face my fears, this week I decided to tackle them both by bringing my own voice to YouTube.


After doing considerable research and of course, talking myself out of buying the most expensive microphone available on Amazon, I picked up a Blue Snowball USB microphone. With good reviews and an inoffensive price point, I bought one along with a Nady MPF-6 pop filter. I was going to buy a small acoustical microphone shield, but it’s an expensive addition, so for now, I’ll likely just buy a piece of foam and create a do-it-yourself one, or use a small pillow.

The microphone itself is of very high quality and is available in a variety of different colors. I went with the brushed aluminum finish, which has a beautiful, classic look to it. Packaging is nice, and although the microphone housing is plastic, it has substantial heft and does not feel cheap. It sits on a sturdy, folding desktop stand, which the pop filter can be conveniently attached.

PC installation is simple: Just plug it into an open USB port, Windows auto-detects it, and you’re ready to start recording.

There are three settings on the microphone, which are designed for speech, live music (activates a -10 dB pad), and environmental (omni-directional). Mine shipped in position 3, so if you pick one of these up, be sure to select the appropriate setting before you begin.


The pop filter came in a somewhat cheap and flimsy blister pack, and the flexible gooseneck has a disappointing tendency to float and not stay in place during adjustment. However, it’s one of the cheaper options available, and if you’re going to be doing a lot of talking, this is a wise investment. Additionally, the stand mount is very solid, and once it’s in place, it stays put.

On the software side, for recording and editing, I have the open-source Audacity, which is easy and very comfortable for me to use. In many ways, it’s similar to one of my old favorites, Cool Edit. Still image, video, and audio integration is all done in Adobe Photoshop and CyberLink PowerDirector.


So with those details taken care of, it was time for the real work to begin. I sat there at my desk earlier this week pondering what exactly I wanted to talk about. Yeah, it would be related to gaming, but how exactly? My mind raced, thinking about the massive amount of current YouTube videogame content creators, and what — if anything — I could possibly bring to the table.

Feeling intimidated, I watched some of my favorites for some inspiration. The most important thing I realized is that the ones that I really like and keep coming back to are incredibly passionate people. They don’t just regurgitate what’s been said before, and you not only learn about the games they’re playing, but you gain meaningful and lasting insight into them as human beings. Sure, some of them do it more loudly than others, but there are just as many who are quiet and introspective. For every expletive-weaving Rageaholic there’s a mild-mannered Pete Dorr, and I like that. I like that a lot.

It opened my eyes. I stopped thinking about it too much, and decided to simply talk about the game I was ready to 100% complete: NES Remix for the Wii U. Now, as I’ve said before, I didn’t really like the game all that much at first, but later on it became one of my favorites. Even looking at that re-review today, I feel the game is even better now, with fantastic replay value and very fun Miiverse integration.

I should have know this next fact beforehand, but yeah, deciding to do something and actually doing it are two very, very different things. While I knew I wanted to discuss the final stage of NES Remix, exactly what I wanted to discuss was difficult to figure out. Would I need an intro? Would I just talk while I played? Would I write a script? Would I edit out the bad stuff? Would I just do a play-by-play of what I was doing? The questions in my mind went on and on.

To get the easier part out of the way, I wrote a script for the brief intro, which went pretty smoothly. Recording it took a good number of takes, as I experimented with different inflections and emphasis, but it was more so because I kept messing up!

For the actual gameplay, I would end up trying every approach. On my first attempt, I immediately gained a new-found respect for people who can play games well and talk coherently at the same time. It’s really hard to talk when you’re trying to concentrate on not dying in a game, and after several failures, I stopped and decided to save that one for later.

Next, I recorded myself playing, and when I was finally happy with the footage, I jotted down notes and scripted out the framework for what I wanted to cover during each segment. This too ended up being a failed style for me since as I was talking about one thing, my eyes would scan ahead, tripping up what I was trying to currently get out. Similarly to what I said above, folks who can read scripts, anticipate what’s ahead, and make it all sound natural have a great talent.

Finally, feeling a bit frustrated and on the verge of quitting, I decided to just do it commentary-style on the fly. I worried about this approach since I’m not the most talkative person on the face of the planet, and am an introvert by nature. However, I set out to get this done, and get it done I did. It took a few tries, but it ended up being the most natural and comfortable technique for me.

After finishing recording and getting everything tidied up in post, here is the result:

For a first attempt, I think it turned out OK. Of course, all I can fixate on are the little mistakes, long pauses, weird choice of words, and other such nitpicks. That’s the double-edged sword of being your own worst critic, right?

In any event, it feels good to have finally broken through this long-standing sound barrier in my life, and I appreciate the comments and suggestions I’ve already received from my friends, readers, and now viewers. I look forward to creating more of these, and as always, if you have any game or topic requests, please let me know. It’d be tons of fun to cover games I would have never thought to play otherwise.


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-