THATS UNDERRATED

Underrated Video Games

Someone be beyond the wall!

WHAT: Wonder Boy in Monster Land

WHY: Wonder Boy in Monster Land is an action platform game released for the Sega Master System in 1988. Despite not breaking a whole lot of new ground, the game was an enjoyable little hybrid adventure game. It successfully combined some of the best aspects of classic juggernauts like Super Mario Bros. and The Legend of Zelda. Wonder Boy in Monster Land remains one of the best games in the Sega Master System's approximately 117 game US library.

Wonder Boy in Monster Land is a sequel of sorts to the classic Wonder Boy but takes the gameplay in an entirely different direction. 
The original Wonder Boy started out as an arcade game before it was later ported to the Sega Master System. The game was set in a prehistoric age complete with a caveman-like hero. The gameplay involved said dude racing on a skateboard where you would have to jump to avoid obstacles. One hit, and you were pretty much toast. The game relied heavily on platforming aspects as you were constantly jumping to avoid something. Strangely enough, through a whole host of licensing issues, Nintendo fans may have unknowingly played Wonder Boy as the game was released as a different franchise named Adventure Island. Change a few names and character outfits and voila, an entirely "new" game. 

Wonder Boy in Monster Land shared very few similarities with the original Wonder Boy other than our diminutive blond hero. The setting of Wonder Boy in Monster Land was entirely different as you were now thrust into a medieval setting. Gone were the cavemen and dinosaur eggs, replaced by knights and castles. Here you play the role of a young warrior named Bock Lee Temjin who is mercifully referred to as Tom-Tom by his friends. Tom-Tom must rescue the kingdom from a fierce creature known as the MEKA Dragon. The gameplay relied much more on combat than repeated high jumps. A major difference from its predecessor is that you are given a life meter filled with hearts similar to The Legend of Zelda and one hit no longer ends the game. You also won't be making sixty consecutive near impossible jumps across narrow chasms where one false step will lead to your demise, as the gameplay focuses more on the action aspects with platforming interspersed. 

The game is not overly difficult but I did apparently need help when I was about seven. Back in the day there was no such thing as those Brady Games strategy guides. Looking up game walkthroughs online was still a thing of the future as well. I actually wrote to Sega and asked them for help with the game. Sega was quite gracious and sent me a typed up walkthrough for the game from the bottom of their benevolent hearts. I remember finding a hidden wall early on in the game and seeing a message flash across the screen that said somehing like, "Someone be beyond the wall." This was not something Sega mentioned in the walkthrough they gave me. To a relatively new gamer I felt as if I discovered a secret that nobody else knew about, some kind of a design flaw that only the most brilliant gamer was capable of unearthing. Kind of like that hidden 1-UP mushroom in Super Mario Bros. Soon I figured out that you could also jump at the seams of buildings to find hidden coins like the hidden meat in the walls of Castlevania. As the game progresses, many of the shops and even some of the bosses are well hidden.  I soon realized that while I wasn't as brilliant as I thought, I did begin to gain a huge appreciation for just how deep the developers made the game with all of the hidden goodies.

The game proceeds at a pretty accelerated pace because of the fact that it is timed. You can't just wander about in Monster Land taking your sweet time (after all the game is called Wonder Boy and not Wander Boy). There is an hourglass icon at the top of the screen and if the hourglass runs out your character loses some life. This feature adds to the tension in the game and makes things just a little bit more realistic. You can't just lollygag around the kingdom while a fire-breathing dragon is roaming about now, can you? When the game begins, the mayor graciously bestows upon you a sword and a revival potion when you begin your quest. Nice, huh? No army, just a sword and a little vial marked "Leap of Faith". Go get'em kid. There are however shops scattered throughout the game (including the aforementioned well hidden ones) that will sell you useful items albeit at exorbitant prices. The shop owners will ask you a question as old as time itself, "Ale or mead?" as both drinks replenish your health meter to varying degrees. The items also include new weapons and suits of armor as well as certain spells that you can use to obliterate your enemies which include snakes, bats, and the obligatory mushroom enemy. I remember as a kid being wowed by how the appearance of the character would change when you buy new suits of armor. Granted, it was basic color palette swapping but I was easily amused. Luckily, the enemy bosses provide you with plenty of loot upon their defeat so you can buy those upgrades.

In regards to bosses, there were numerous boss fights scattered throughout the game. The bosses had a sort of orb shaped emblem affixed to their chests that clued the player in to how much damage they were inflicting. As you landed blows with your sword, the emblem would change color from yellow to orange to red. The boss fights were not too terribly long but they could be quite challenging. Some of the battles required exceptional thumb dexterity as you had to time your jumps and stabs simultaneously in order to turn your foe into a pile of...money! That's right, the bosses turn into copious amounts of gold and treasure that would make any pirate (pick your favorite fictional pirate: Captain Flint, Long John Silver, or your favorite real life pirate: Calico Jack Rackham, Charles Vane) jealous. The designers did a good job of creating a colorful and memorable collection of bosses which ranged anywhere from a giant fire spitting floating kraken to a riddle loving sphinx who forces you to answer his queries like some sort of twisted Alex Trebek.

The overall presentation was solid as well. The music, especially the main theme, is pretty memorable. The soundtrack overall kind of reminded me of those Wizards & Warriors games (specifically Ironsword) and that is a good thing. The graphics were pretty much what you would expect for the time (basic color schemes and small sprites) but they were pretty good all things considered. Everything was strong except for the atrocious box art. The Master System in my humble opinion had some of the worst box art imaginable. It basically consisted of a picture that took up one-third of the box and then a blank blue and white grid that looked like something out of an accountant's desk. Wonder Boy was no exception with that knight on the cover with the goofy smile and the ever expanding checkerboard background. 

There was a highly regarded direct sequel to Wonder Boy in Monster Land entitled Wonder Boy III: The Dragon's Trap. It was released as the Sega Master System was in its death throes and many gamers (including myself) had jumped ship to the Sega Genesis (hello Altered Beast). As a result I never got a chance to play Wonder Boy III: The Dragon's Trap, but it looked amazing! Upgraded graphics, improved gameplay, and a much longer quest was a prime recipe for a spectacular game. The game was nonlinear and you could unlock new areas in different order, making it comparable to Castlevania: Symphony of the Night. The protagonist can even turn into a dragon, complete with fire-breathing attacks. There are other forms you can change into as well, a similar feature found in the Sega Genesis game Kid Chameleon. As is usually the case, more sequels were released in Japan than the US. However, there was a US release of the 1994 game Monster World IV for the Playstation Network and Xbox Live Arcade in 2012. An entirely new protagonist and an entirely new quest are found in Monster World IV. Being such a fan of Wonder Boy in Monster Land, I cant believe I haven't discovered this until now!

Wonder Boy in Monster Land was such a well crafted action platformer that it still holds up well today. It was at the apex of the Sega Master System library during its heyday and remains one of the finest action platform games on any system. 

CHECK THIS OUT: Wonder Boy in Monster Land for the Sega Master System

Article by Chris Ramirez

    
The brave knights battle formation resulted in an amusing game of monk in the middle.

WHAT: Dragon Force

WHY: Dragon Force was a 1996 strategy RPG published by Working Designs and released for the Sega Saturn. Epic large scale battles, lush graphics, an abundance of memorable characters, and a friendly user interface resulted in one of the best console gaming experiences.

The first thing anyone will notice about a Working Designs game is their signature premium packaging (which not surprisingly came with a signature premium price). Working Designs goes all out when it comes to designing their packaging. The instruction manuals were always rendered with beautiful color artwork, many times with shiny embossed covers. Dragon Force is no exception. I have always been a sucker for embossed covers. I remember going to my local comic book store and they were having a pound sale (a bizarre concept where the store owner weighs the comics and charges you by the pound). My sister and I quickly realized that the comics with the shiny embossed covers weighed virtually the same as the regular editions so we scooped up a bunch of them thinking we just made a killing. Right before we went to pay the store owner said, "I really appreciate how you kids just love the comics for the stories and are not like some of the other kids that just get the shiny covers." Awkward! The premium presentation of Working Designs packaging was present in the game as well. Beautiful anime cutscenes help to tell the story of the land of Legendra which has been hurled into turmoil and chaos by the dark god Madruk (who is based on the god Marduk from Babylonian mythology). Sweeping musical scores help set the mood, and excellent sound effects, such as the clanging of swords or death wails of fallen soldiers, make you feel like you are right in the thick of battle. 

There are eight (six playable at the outset) nations to play as each with their own specific troop types. For example, Izumo nation was a samurai clan so many of their generals used samurai troops. Bozack was a beastman clan so their generals for the most part recruited beastmen. In addition to each nation, there were two antagonists named Paine and Agonni who were constantly attacking you. They were the joke that kept on giving, not only for their ridiculous names, but also due to the fact that they were constantly getting walloped by your army. Each of the clan monarchs looked really cool (especially black armor clad Junon who was referred to as the "Black Mask of Death") and had access to their own unique generals. As far as the generals were concerned, some of the characters were awesome like Scar and Rudger. Some however were a bit more derivative. The game designers were guilty of color palette swapping, a technique which Mortal Kombat perfected. Color palette swapping refers to when game creators graciously bestow "new" characters upon us by taking an already existing character and merely changing the color of their clothing. Mortal Kombat started with the sworn enemies Scorpion (yellow) and Sub-Zero (blue), then added the elusive Reptile (green). Things were still fine at this point but quickly got ridiculous when they made Noob Saibot (black),  Ermac (red), Rain (purple rain of course), Smoke (gray), Chameleon (turquoise), Tremor (copper), and Reiko (magenta). Not to mention, the cyborg ninjas like Sektor, Cyrax, Smoke (cyborg version), and Hydro. Did the Dragon Force developers think we wouldn't notice that Rock looked exactly like Scar except he had a different color bandana and no scar on his face? Perhaps they were onto something because I liked Rock precisely because he looked like Scar. Cool bandanas dudes. 

Sure, the game looked and sounded good but there needed to be some sort of gameplay as well. Those old Sega CD interactive movie games were so poorly received because they were more like watching a movie unfold rather than playing a game (despite their poor design I shamefully must admit that I did have fun with them especially Double Switch. Oh Double Switch, how I miss thee). Heavy Rain really struck the perfect balance between being a spectator and drooling at the technological eye candy to actually interacting with the environments. Thankfully, t
he gameplay in Dragon Force is just as impressive as the polished presentation.

The battles play out in grand Braveheart style. Massive armies led by a general square off against each other on various types of terrain. A variety of formations are available for your armies to use including breach, surround, and protect. Some formations work better in different situations. For mages you will probably want to do a combination of standby to clear enemy troops, then advance to stand right in front of the enemy general (just out of his range), and then standby again right in front of him and attack away (Cheap? Yes. Effective? Absolutely.) What is impressive is that there can be a total of 202 sprites on screen at a time. That includes 100 troops and a general on each side of the battlefield, with no slowdown! Each general is usually equipped with a few special attacks such as sonic wave (used mainly by knights) so you can wipe out a few soldiers and simultaneously damage the enemy general. Once all units are eliminated, the real fun begins as the generals will square off in a duel (sometimes to the death, other times you capture the generals). I particularly felt the duels added a bit of balance to the gameplay as you just never knew what was going to happen. You could storm a castle with a huge army, laugh maniacally at how powerful you are, only to have your general miss, miss, and miss while your opponent connects, connects, connects and you lose the duel. It added a since of importance to each battle where you said, "I really have to win this so I don't end up in a duel." It was akin to not wanting to go into extra innings in baseball where you are one swing away from losing the game. The format was team knockout style similar to Tekken or Soul Calibur's team battle modes. Your first general and his army goes against their first general and their army. If he wins, you can use him again (albeit battle weary from the first fight) against their second general and so on until you have defeated all of their generals.

The Risk styled battlemap involves moving generals and their armies around, recruiting more soldiers at castles, overtaking other castles, and leaving enough of a garrison behind to prevent recapture of those castles. Your generals can recruit various types of troops when they are stationed at a castle. The total number of troop types is 10 which includes samurai, beastmen, cavalry, harpies, soldiers, dragons, zombies, mages, archers, and monks. I reckon Richard The Lionheart would have had an easier time during The Third Crusade with an army of Harpies. Although, where exactly does one house an army of harpies? Each troop type has their own strengths and weaknesses in a sort of rock- paper-scissors dynamic. Mages are good against harpies, but bad against cavalry (which makes sense because while they are wasting time channeling their spells, The Riders of Rohan are all up in their faces). Generals gain experience points from winning battles. When they level up, they gain various stat boosts much like in any proper RPG. The gameplay as a whole is very similar to the PC classics Total War: Rome and Medieval:Total War minus the agents you could recruit there such as assassins, merchants, priests, etc. It has a similar concept to Warcraft as well minus the whole building towns and structures. In Dragon Force you basically recruit troops, storm castles, and try to keep control of those castles. That's not to say the game doesn't have a whole host of other actions you can take, but those are reserved for the administrative portion of the game. Periodically, an hourglass at the top of the screen will run out and then the game will end up going all admin on you.

Storming castles and stuff is great fun indeed but I loved the administrative aspects of the game as well (I think it was officially called "domestic affairs"). During the domestic affairs phase you can take numerous actions. You can talk to captured generals and attempt to get them to join your side or chat with your own generals to see how they are doing overall. Unhappy generals will defect so it is important to keep them happy. How do you keep your bloodthirsty battle craving lunatic generals from going all Benedict Arnold on you? By giving them shiny merit badges of course! Whenever a general wins a battle he earns merit. During the domestic affairs phase you can award these generals with merit badges. If a general has merit and you don't reward him, he will be as grumpy as Oscar the Grouch. A merit badge allows the general to recruit ten more soldiers of a chosen type, so if you give him a soldier badge and he had 10 soldiers, now he can recruit 20 soldiers. Generals can recruit different types of troops if you find special medals, so you could potentially have a general that can recruit 40 soldiers and 20 mages. Sadly, you can only use one type of troop in battle so you have to choose wisely. Dragons are insanely powerful so you are better off choosing to take 60 dragons into battle instead of 100 archers. Some generals can also go on scouting missions where they search various castles for treasure. It was always exciting when they came back from a successful mission and said,"Oh, I found this shiny new sword." To which I replied, "Give it to me NOW and go find something else at once!" There were plenty of exciting items to find and discover during the game, and there was even a Star Dragon Sword (although it was a bummer to find out it was not a talking sword like Viktor's Star Dragon Sword in Suikoden). The last administrative option is fortify, which comes in handy since it allows you to hold more troops at a specific castle. The administrative duties are a nice complement to the battles that take place on the battlemap. The battlemap was where you flexed your armies might, while the domestic affairs were where you made your army a well-oiled machine.

Working Designs did release a sequel to Dragon Force, Dragon Force II in 1998. Unfortunately, it was a Japan only sequel for the Sega Saturn. The game looked really good from Youtube videos and such. It appeared there were many more new troop types (ogre, chimera, robot, ghost, birdman) and generals now had the ability to SPLIT ARMIES! Yes, you could go into battle with 40 harpies, and 60 soldiers. I was just drooling at all of the tactical possibilities. I can send in an initial harpy onslaught while my soldiers flank the enemy. Oh, the possibilities. Since I cannot read Japanese, I could not discern much more than that. Being that Working Designs is now defunct and the game is like 17 years old, a localization seems unlikely. Several fan made translations of the game are apparently being worked on for those who like to dabble in the black market.

Dragon Force makes a terrible gift for someone who does not own a Sega Saturn since the game is unplayable if you do not have the system to play it on (what a novel idea). I had traded a friend Dragon Force for Warcraft II back in the day (you know, back when kids would trade games and then trade them back when they finished them) and I still to this day have Warcraft II which means my so called friend never gave me my game back. I think he said he lost it, but this was ages ago so who knows. My sister loved Dragon Force as well so one Christmas I decided to buy her Dragon Force. Well, she doesn't own a Sega Saturn, thus rendering the game unplayable (but the box is so shiny, stare, stare at the shiny box sister). I figured she would be so eager to relive those memories from 1996 that she would come to my house everyday to play it. Not quite. I think I just missed the game so much that I figured I could buy it for her and then just borrow it and play it again. An epic fail of a Christmas gift. It took me years to figure out that it would be better to get someone something they like rather than something I like (and therefore they should like it as well). Gift cards are so delightful, "Leave me alone, and go get your own gift." Perhaps this Christmas I will also get her a CD from the band DragonForce. Yes, there is an actual rock band named DragonForce although I have no idea if they took their name from the video game. It could be though, as guitarist Herman Li described their sound as "Nintendo metal inspired by retro games" in a Guitar World interview.

Dragon Force is a fantastic strategy RPG for the Sega Saturn. Armchair military strategists will be overjoyed to participate in the large scale battles and tweak their armies through a number of administrative options. Despite being the second worst Christmas present I have ever given (I once gave someone diabetic chocolates that wasn't a diabetic) and the third worst Christmas present a member of my family has ever given (Sample Hat takes the cake), Dragon Force is one of the best overall gaming experiences console gaming has to offer.

CHECK THIS OUT: Dragon Force on Sega Saturn

Article by CJ Ramirez

    
Confound your lousy toll, troll!

WHAT: Shadowgate 

WHY: Shadowgate was a first-person adventure game released in 1989 for the Nintendo Entertainment System. It was developed by ICOM Simulations, Inc. and published by Kemco on the Nintendo Entertainment System, after debuting on the Mac in 1987. Shadowgate was a part of an adventure series trio along with Deja Vu and Uninvited although each game has a unique setting. Shadowgate was a challenging game filled with seemingly endless puzzles and wondrous creatures and kept the player on their toes as the grim reaper was always right around the corner.

Deja Vu was a gangster themed first-person adventure game while Uninvited was a haunted house themed first-person adventure game. I never could get my copy of Uninvited to play (BOO!) but I did really enjoy Deja Vu. The game begins with you waking up in a bathroom and having no idea how you got there. You have to slowly piece together clues to find out what has transpired. You move around in a first-person view and explore rooms, collect items, solve puzzles, etc. To complete the game you had to get rid of bad evidence by dumping it in a sewer, which was admittedly kind of confusing (my only real gripe with the game). All three games had similar styles of play and a menu interface with slightly varying options. The menu includes the options- Move, Look, Open, Use, Leave, Take, Close, Hit, Speak, Card, Self ("Examine" was changed to the option "Look" in Shadowgate). There were a variety of things you could do with those options and mischievous players figured out pretty early on that you could combine some of the options like hit and self or use and self to some hilarious and some grim effects. Shadowgate takes the same gameplay style of Deja Vu and Uninvited and adds a fantasy setting twist.

The story of Shadowgate involves an evil Warlock Lord who has taken over Castle Shadowgate in order to perform a diabolical ritual. He is attempting to conjure up a fierce primordial beast known as a Behemoth. Lakmir, one of the last remaining wizards, has chosen you since you are a special descendant of an ancient hero. As our intrepid hero, you are tasked with infiltrating the castle and taking down ol' Dumbledore. Piece of cake, right? Well, the Warlock Lord kind of has an army of mythical beasts with him as well including trolls (think Frank Reynolds in The Nightman Cometh), a cyclops (think Scott Summers on X-men but a little more ornery, just a little), hellhounds (think Benji/Lassie + accelerant), and unfriendly ghosts (the anti-Casper). Also, the castle is rigged with numerous booby traps to kill you in horrendous ways. Beware.

The majority of the gameplay revolved around collecting items, solving puzzles, and dying in unique ways. There were also a few spells including Illumina and the appropriately named EPOR. The items were stored in some sort of invisible magical bottomless box. I mean, how can one carry a sword, a spear, a skull, and a cup, without having the many arms of Kali? Some of the items have great importance to the story while others are just kind of there as red herrings. Items are mostly used to solve the numerous puzzles scattered around the game. Some of the puzzles are simple (hmm...three glass mirrors...I wonder what I can use to smash them). Other puzzles are seemingly counterintuitive. The logic at times can be somewhat baffling. I mean, what would possess one to use the torch on that rug? Also, there is a woman chained up in the tower...let me use a silver arrow on her in case she happens to be a werewolf. Despite a few seemingly illogical puzzles, the puzzles do not require an advanced math degree as many of the puzzles in the Myst series did. I can't believe there was anyone that was able to figure out those puzzles on their own. It was like, well there is this wheel pointing in 90 different directions...let me turn it at a 90 degree angle and then at a 45 degree angle and the sum is 135 which was the game designers favorite number...presto the door opens! How would anyone think of that? Puzzles were so complicated in Myst that they didn't make sense even after reading the solutions online.

Shadowgate is quite the unsympathetic game. The game seems to take personal glee in seeing you frequently plunge to your doom. The flavor text ranges from particularly cruel at times, "The shield melts under the intensity of the dragon flame. Your body fares no better!! Not even your best friend could recognize your body. Dragon flame engulfs your body. You pay for your curiosity with your life," to downright hilarious, "You try to pass the slime but it engulfs your body, dissolving it in seconds. ...you die instantly. No pain, no nothing. You were slimed." Shadowgate has to be one of the most sadistic games ever created right along there with Demon's Souls and Dark Souls. Actually, nothing can be more torturous than plunging to your doom and losing 50,000 souls (damn those archer knights in Anor Londo) but this game comes close. You will die in this game, so save often. There are a multitude of ways you can die including being incinerated by dragon fire, falling through a bridge, getting slimed, getting sucked into deep space, getting eaten by a shark, being torn apart by a wolf, and being smashed to pieces by a cyclops. You also have a limited amount of time to explore the castle because if your torches run out you end up stumbling in the dark and fall on your face, immediately ending the game. There are a finite number of torches throughout the game but they seem to pop up every couple of hallways. You will know when it is time to light your torches because the game music will change and you will scream, "AHHHHHHHHHH my torch is running out!" Perhaps the cruelest part of the game is the grim reaper game over screen. "It's a sad thing that your adventure has ended here!!" The grim reaper seems to take particular pleasure in your repeated demise and always seemed, to me at least, to be grinning with delight. Get used to his theme song, you will be hearing plenty of it. 

Shadowgate had some truly memorable music as well. The main theme was particularly unforgettable. There were so many great songs that it is hard to choose, but I was particularly entranced by the song that plays in the room with the skeleton holding a halberd. If you play the flute in Shadowgate you get a brief snippet of the awesome song Joe's Bar from Deja Vu (I miss those MIDI songs especially the ones in Final Fantasy III for the SNES, known as Final Fantasy VI in Japan). Supposedly, in Uninvited if you play the busted phonograph you can hear the Shadowgate main theme song. 

There were a few sequels to Shadowgate that had some ties to the original game. Beyond Shadowgate was released for the TurboGrafx CD system, a system I am convinced only seven people actually owned. I remember seeing a commercial for Bonk's Adventure and thinking how amazing it looked until I found out the system was like a million dollars and only had  a few games for it at the time. Pass. I "settled" for the Sega Genesis and later the Super Nintendo Entertainment System, two systems which ended up having much more expansive game libraries. A smart move in hindsight. However, I haven't always made the right gaming decisions. When I was a wee lad I was given the choice of any game I wanted for the old Sega Master System as a birthday present. I narrowed it down to Phantasy Star and Miracle Warriors. I chose Miracle Warriors because the box had better artwork (some demon looking thing with wings! a knight with a shiny sword! the game even came with a map!). HAHAHAHAHAHA what a terrible choice. Beyond Shadowgate was no longer a first-person Shadowgate game but actually gave you a sprite-like character to move around in point and click style. The graphics were extremely colorful and cartoonish and had similar visuals to the early Broken Sword games or Discworld.  You play the role of Prince Erik who has been imprisoned for a murder he didn't commit. Erik is a descendant of Lord Jair, the hero of the first game, and must do all manner of heroic deeds to save the land. I never had a chance to play Beyond Shadowgate but it has a reputation as being an above average game. Shadowgate 64: Trials of the Four Towers was released for the Nintendo 64 and players assume the role of a halfling named Del. The wizard Lakmir from the original Shadowgate returns and instructs Del during the game. Del must travel through the four towers of Castle Shadowgate and solve its many riddles and puzzles. Shadowgate 64 was OK. It really was just more of the same and didn't particularly advance the series all that much. Die-hard fans and completists will probably want to check it out at some point and will probably enjoy taking the journey. I haven't played it in ages but I do remember distinctly the meat Del was fed in the jail cell and the coat of arms symbol puzzle. 

Fans of Shadowgate will be pleased to find out that there was recently a Kickstarter campaign, by creators of the original, in order to raise funds for a new Shadowgate game. For those who don't know, Kickstarter is a crowdfunding website where entrepreneurs raise money from the general public for a certain project relating to a product or an idea. It is a pretty cool idea, and I am hoping to raise one billion dollars for my invisibility cloak. The developers on Kickstarter will usually offer tiered incentives to those who donate. For example, if you donate $15 you will get a download of the game before anyone else does. If you donate $30 you will get the game soundtrack, an art book, and all previous rewards (so you get the $10 incentive level as well, the advanced download of the game). The company Zojoi, which is developing the game, has described it as a re-imagining of the original game with new puzzles and new story elements. Zojoi has raised over $136,000 and the game is currently in pre-production. It will be interesting to see how the game utilizes the more advanced technology of today.

Shadowgate may be unforgiving at times but part of the experience was seeing just how many unique ways your character could meet their end. The puzzles offered a great challenge since many of them did not have the simplest of solutions. Trial and error and using multiple game save slots were essential to progress through the game. It will be interesting to see how the Kickstarter Shadowgate project turns out and whether or not it is able to capture the spirit of the original while simultaneously creating a new experience for players.

CHECK THIS OUT: Shadowgate on the Nintendo Entertainment System

Article by CJ Ramirez

    
Go Go Prism Rangers!

WHAT: Disgaea: Hour of Darkness

WHY: Disgaea: Hour of Darkness is a 2003 strategy RPG for the Sony Playstation 2 developed by NIS. The game was published in the US by Atlus, a company which is also responsible for developing the Persona series of games and Catherine. Disgaea is a fantastic journey through a world inhabited by bizarre characters and creatures and is one of the funniest games since Working Designs' Lunar series. Fans of strategy RPG's such as the Shining Force series and (the crown jewel) Final Fantasy Tactics will be rewarded with a deep and customizable strategy RPG experience.

Disgaea: Hour of Darkness tells the story of Laharl, a demon who is the son of the recently deceased ruler of the netherworld. Laharl has a vassal named Etna, a succubus who looks like fellow succubus Morrigan from Darkstalkers (it is nice to see the succubus making a return to prominence, thank you American Horror Story: Coven). The two set out to reclaim the netherworld by defeating other demons who have seized power. Laharl and Etna are two of the most depraved individuals this side of The Gang on Its Always Sunny in Philadelphia. They are motivated by greed and are the kind of simpletons whose machinations constantly blow up in their faces. Etna is always scheming behind Laharl's back and has her own mini army of exploding talking penguins known as Prinnies who cannot complete a sentence without uttering their trademark Dood!TM These are some truly hilarious characters who constantly say the most ridiculous things. Later on they meet a peace and love Angel named Flonne who tries to get them to come to grips with the fact that they really are good little demons on the inside. Flonne  is obsessed with the power of love and hysterically states at one point, "Don't worry! Splitting into ten means that his love is divided ten ways! We cannot possibly lose to someone like that!" As the game goes on Flonne begins to slowly melt the icy exterior of Laharl as witnessed by his following quote, "To show my appreciation, I'll only beat them half to death."  The game has a great sense of humor and the characters oddly lovable depravity is at the center. The dichotomy of the cutesy anime graphics and the degeneracy of the characters only serves to make the games twisted sense of humor even more jarring. There are also several running gags including the character of Vyers who has dubbed himself the Dark Adonis. He is a vain demon lothario who thinks he is the big baddie in the game. The other characters condescendingly refer to him as Mid-Boss (a mid-boss is a disposable henchman that weakens the heroes before they encounter a stronger boss at the end of the level). Needless to say, the designation of Mid-Boss appears under that characters picture throughout the game despite his constant objections. The inept Prism Rangers also appear in the game and provide a hilarious spoof on The Power Rangers.

The gameplay of Disgaea: Hour of Darkness is pretty similar to other strategy RPG's such as Shining Force, Vandal 
Hearts, Tactics Ogre, Final Fantasy Tactics, etc. Battles take place on a 3-D grid where your team of ten soldiers (of varying classes) clashes with the enemy. Each round you can move your soldiers on the grid and engage the enemy troops in combat with a variety of weapons (swords, spears, axes, claws, etc.) or use magical spells to heal your army or attack the enemy troops. Once you are done taking your turn the enemy troops will then respond with similar actions. Initially, the troops you can choose from are pretty standard just like you would find in Final Fantasy Tactics such as Fighter, Red Mage (called Red Skull in Disgaea), and Archer. As you plow through the game more advanced classes will become available including Ninja, Samurai, and Knight. You can also recruit monsters to your army such as dragons and zombies as you progress through the game. 

The battle grid is unique from other strategy RPG's due to the Geo Panel and Geo Symbol system. On any battle map there will be panels of various colors that correspond to the same color Geo Symbols. Each Geo Symbol has a special attribute that can either hinder or aid your army. For example, a red Geo Symbol may contain the attribute "ally damage 20%." This means that if any of your army is standing on a red panel they will take 20% damage. A blue symbol on the same battle grid may have the attribute "enemy weaken" which means an enemy on a blue panel will be less dangerous due to a decline in their stats. This adds further strategy to the game as you may want to focus your attacks to destroy the red Geo Symbols so your army will not take damage when standing on a red panel. You can also lift and throw your characters or the Geo Symbols themselves onto different spaces. If you toss the red Geo Symbol on a blue Geo Panel, the blue panels will now have both the attributes of the red and blue panel "ally damage 20%" and "enemy weaken." What becomes really crazy is what happens when you destroy a Geo Symbol. If you destroy a red symbol while it is on a green panel, all the green panels will turn red. If that green panel had a yellow symbol on it, all the red panels become yellow, etc. Confusing? Perhaps. There were times I sat there figuring out in my head what color would change to what color as if it was some sort of advanced mathematical equation. Sometimes you just have to swing your sword blindly and marvel at all the pretty colors the panels are changing since this leads to huge bonuses at the end of the level. More experience points, more money, and super rare items. You can also buy armor, weapons, and healing items at the corresponding shops in the game.

Speaking of items, there is also a feature called the Item World where players can travel inside their weapons and armor and boost their effectiveness. The Item World contains numerous random dungeons and each stage you defeat levels up the item. If you defeat an item general (found every tenth stage), your item stats are boosted even further. The Item World is a great place to level up your characters, weapons, and armor, and score more rare loot. Items also have their own rarity scores designated by color. Silver items are rare, while gold are legendary rare. The legendary rare items are extremely hard to find but reward the player with huge stat bonuses. If you travel into the Item World within a sword, the sword levels up as you complete different stages. When you exit the Item World that sword could be very powerful depending on how many stages you cleared. You do not have to defeat all of the enemies on a stage to advance as there are portals that can warp you to the next stage. Sometimes it is wiser to make a dash for the portals although there are times where an enemy will be standing on them so you will have to dispatch them first. I did not get too deep into the Item World in Disgaea: Hour of Darkness (it is completely optional). However, in one of the sequels Disgaea 4: A Promise Unforgotten, I spent a great deal of time there boosting my weapons and armor to insane levels.

What is most impressive about Disgaea: Hour of Darkness is its depth of options including (but not limited to) the Item World, Geo Symbols, character classes, and weapon and armor upgrades. The game is DEEP although it is merciful enough to let you decide just how complicated you want things to get. You can spend hundreds of hours in the Item world boosting your items effectiveness and scoring rare loot or avoid the Item World entirely. The choice is completely up to you. There is also another optional feature known as The Dark Assembly. The Dark Assembly allows you to propose bills to a sort of netherworld senate such as making more expensive items availabe at the shops (more expensive and more useful), creating a new character or monster (among the numerous classes), or tripling the experience points earned from the first enemy you defeat in your next battle. There are a whole host of bills you can attempt to pass via a majority senate vote. Some senators will be on your side and some will be against you and require convincing. The Dark Assembly actually works exactly like the US senate. You can propose bills, bribe the senators, and smack them around if they disagree with you (unfortunately this last part is only an option in the game). Disgaea's depth is staggering and provides an endless amount of options. The developers deserve credit for allowing players to plunge as deep as they want into the game. Composer Tenpei Sato deserves credit for creating a wonderful soundtrack as well. 

Disgaea: Hour of Darkness is the best of the Disgaea games due to its originality and having the most memorable characters (Laharl, Etna, Flonne) although they do make cameos in several sequels. All of the Disgaea games are worth checking out though because they offer more Disgaea goodness. The sequel Disgaea 2: Cursed Memories was released for Playstation 2 and builds upon the gameplay of Disgaea: Hour of Darkness albeit with entirely new characters. Laharl can be unlocked as a playable character but it is extremely difficult to do. Pirates can now randomly invade the Item World and cause all sorts of havoc. Disgaea 3: Absence of Justice introduces evilities and magichange weapons. Evilities are like equippable skills for your characters, for example a skill that reduces damage from fire by half. Magichange allows a creature to be transformed into a weapon which can then be wielded by another character further boosting their stats. I never really dabbled in magichange but it has inadvertently saved my bacon. My character was low on HP and it was the computers turn. Instead of finishing me off they spent their turn magichanging which allowed me enough time to retreat and heal up. Disgaea 4: A Promise Unforgotten may have been the most ambitious Disgaea yet with several alterations to the gameplay. Tower allows you to lift multiple characters and throw them a great distance (invaluable in the Item World where you can toss your guys on to the portal to the next level and avoid tough fights). Fuse allows monsters to meld, combining their stats and making one really huge monster onscreen that towers over our intrepid heroes (or depraved demons). There are also evil symbols that can bond characters together if they are standing in the same vicinity. If your Fighter gains a level, your adjacent Red Skull will gain bonus experience points. You can also appoint your characters as political ministers to your cabinet which gives them certain stat boosts.

Disgaea: Hour of Darkness is a hilariously entertaining strategy RPG that fans of the genre will enjoy. The game is deep and customizable but allows the user to pick and choose how involved they want to get in the game (a godsend for beginners). The sequels to Disgaea: Hour of Darkness are also very entertaining games although the most memorable characters remain Laharl, Etna, Flonne, etc. from the first game. Fear not, fans of Laharl and company, newly released Disgaea D2: A Brighter Darkness is a direct sequel and returns Laharl and his pals front and center.

CHECK THESE OUT: Disgaea: Hour of Darkness and Disgaea 2: Cursed Memories for the Sony Playstation 2, Disgaea 3: Absence of Justice, Disgaea 4: A Promise Unforgotten, and Disgaea D2: A Brighter Darkness for Sony Playstation 3

Article by CJ Ramirez

   
Choppin' off Hydra heads and fightin' round the world.

WHAT: The Battle Of Olympus 

WHY: The Battle of Olympus is an action/adventure game for the Nintendo Entertainment System. The game was released in 1989 and published by Broderbund Software (same company who made the Where in the World Is Carmen Sandiego? games which were viewed as so educational that they actually let us play them in school). The game combines many aspects of Greek mythology with an action game similar in style to Zelda II: The Adventure of Link or the various Castlevania iterations.

In The Battle of Olympus you play the hero Orpheus whose lover was taken (if he had seen the Liam Neeson Taken movies he would have been ready for this) by Hades, god of the underworld. In order to bring her back from the dead you have to perform a series of tasks. Much like the twelve labors of Hercules in Greek mythology (which ranged from the mundane task of cleaning stables to the exciting task of wrestling with a three headed hellhound) you have to perform numerous tasks and people never seem to stop telling you to "fetch this item or that item". Therefore, be prepared to travel all over Greece to save your beloved (trust me, she is worth it...that smile!...those eyes!).

Your journey to save your beloved is fraught with peril. The game is loaded with baddies straight out of Greek mythology. You will encounter a half-man half-horse centaur who shoots arrows at you (think of the Sagittarius constellation). There will be a one-eyed giant known as a Cyclops who wants to crush you into little tasty morsels. You will face a stubborn half-human half-bull beast known as the Minotaur (picture your in-laws). You will encounter the multi-headed Hydra whose heads grow back after they are cut off (a beast so complicated that Hercules had to devise a MacGyver like strategy...cauterize the heads!). After all those heads, the three-headed dog guardian of Hades will seem like a respite. 
The bosses can be quite challenging as well as some of the maze-like levels including Peloponnesus and Crete.

Fear not. The gods will keep you well equipped throughout your journey. One of the best aspects of the game is locating the many Greek gods scattered throughout the game. Each god would graciously bestow upon you an artifact to help you along your journey. Hermes, the messenger of the gods, gives you his winged sandals which really changes up the gameplay as you are now able to walk upside down on the top of the game screen. Athena, goddess of wisdom, gives you a reflective shield to repel the arrows and spears of your enemies. Apollo, god of the sun and Amateur Night competitions, gives you a lyre to summon the winged horse Pegasus. Hephaestus, god of the smith, has a more capitalistic nature and sells you a divine sword that shoots lightning. Same for Poseidon, god of the sea, who sells you an ocarina to travel across the oceans. His price is questionable at best.

The gameplay bears a striking resemblance to that of Zelda II: The Adventure of Link minus the Moblins and Octoroks. Both games rely heavily on side-scrolling slashing, jumping, and item collecting. The Battle of Olympus is the more straight forward of the two since the entire game takes place in these side-scrolling action sequences. Zelda also had you move along a mini-map where creatures are encountered and once you touched them the screen reverted to the customary action sequences. It really plays like your typical 2-D action game. It is similar in style to the Castlevania games, Mega Man games, and Shinobi. Swing or fire weapon, move to the right of the screen, pick up items, talk to NPC's (non-player character), fight a boss, repeat. Simple, yet never ceases to entertain.

The Battle of Olympus has a great soundtrack like many of the Nintendo games at the time. Peloponnesus' eerie score gets stuck in your head and serve as a constant reminder of the frustrations of navigating that maze. The intro song is great as well and the boss music is ominous and gets your heart pumping. The best and most memorable music plays when you enter each of the different temples belonging to the gods . The song that plays is actually a variation on Johann Sebastian Bach's (not the lead singer of Skid Row, the powdered wig fellow) Toccata and Fugue in D Minor .

My least favorite aspects of the game were the password and currency systems. The game had a password system in order to resume gameplay from a specific point. The problem is that the passwords were so incredibly long. You had to write them down and some of the letters and numbers looked quite similar. Games like Castlevania had much simpler password screens that did not require entering twenty-six characters. The currency of the game is olives that drop randomly from your vanquished enemies. It can be quite the chore amassing the right amount of olives you need to buy an item of note. Enemies drop either bay leaves, olives, or nothing upon their deaths. I have had instances where I killed three or four enemies and only one dropped anything and it was bay leaves (which restore your health) instead of an olive. Some of the items are fairly expensive so it can take a while grinding it out.  

Battle of Olympus is a fun action/adventure game that plays similar to Zelda II: The Adventure of Link or the Castlevania games. Despite a frustrating password system and the player needing to be patient when accumulating loot, the game is an exciting journey with several wondrous mythological beasts and fascinating gods from Greek mythology.  

CHECK THIS OUT: The Battle Of Olympus on the Nintendo Entertainment System

Article by CJ Ramirez



WHAT: The Darkness

WHY: The Darkness is a 2007 first-person shooter for the Playstation 3 and Xbox 360. The game is based on the comic book published by Top Cow Productions. (Ah, comic books. I remember when I went to my local comic book store and they were selling comics "by the pound" and my sister and I stocked up on all those comics with the shiny lenticular or embossed covers and before we paid for the items the owner said, "I am so glad you kids purchase the comics for the love of the stories and not just the fancy covers". Awkward). The game is an exciting action romp through the streets of New York City as players assume the role of gangster Jackie Estacado. On Jackie's twenty-first birthday he is betrayed by his mob boss Uncle Paulie and conveniently forms a symbiotic relationship with a demon known as the Darkness, which makes the whole one man army trope actually believable for once. 

The Darkness plays like your standard FPS game. You have about five or six different weapons to choose from ranging from your standard dual-wielded handguns all the way up to an assault rifle. There is not much variation here but you will mainly be using the special powers that the Darkness bestows to you. The Darkness thrives on, you guessed it, darkness and you will gain strength from knocking out lamp posts and other illuminating structures across the city. The powers of the Darkness include a demon arm that can move objects, a vortex of doom that sucks in all nearby enemies, special darkness handguns that shoot out darkness energy, and a slithering demon arm that can "stealth kill" enemies from a long distance. The best part of The Darkness is that you can eat the hearts of your enemies. I repeat, you can eat the hearts of your enemies! In order for Jackie to level up the Darkness he must feast upon that beating four-chambered muscle of his enemies. The Darkness only feeds on the bad guys so it has that whole convoluted Dexter logic going on as well. Did I mention you can eat hearts? The Darkness abilities really set this game apart from the typical FPS in addition to some excellent voice acting work and some memorable characters.

Mike Patton, frontman for the band Faith No More does the voice of the Darkness. He does a tremendous job sounding exactly how I would expect a demon to sound like. His eerie voice pops up from time to time to scare the crap out of you especially when you least expect it. It is not all just creepy demon guy however. He does a fantastic job here giving the Darkness character and flair, and provides many moments of hilarious dialogue particularly when he basically says the everyday travelers in NYC are too feeble and wouldn't be worth his time to devour. The Darkness can also summon minions that assist the character and often say or do very funny things. Kirk Acevedo (who played Olivia's FBI pal on Fringe) does the voice of protagonist Jackie Estacado. Jackie is quite the interesting character. He is not your typical twenty-one year old being that he is in the mob and also is inhabited by a demon. Despite his mob ties and demonic possession Jackie is a pretty good guy which allows him to capture the heart (figuratively of course) of Jenny Romano who just happens to be the best girlfriend ever. Jenny remembers that Jackie hates birthday celebrations and obliges him by not making a big deal out of it. Then she watches To Kill a Mockingbird with him (and yes, you can watch the whole movie on the TV screen in the game) before falling asleep on his arm. She even takes down the phone numbers on his answering machine so he can call back his mob connections. If that is not love, then i don't know what is. I was surprised to find out that her character was voiced by Lauren Ambrose who was so brilliant on Six Feet Under, since the voice does not sound like her at all which is a testament to her versatility. It's actually remarkable how prevalent it is for pretty well known actors to be doing voice-over work these days. I remember finding out that Nathan Drake from the Uncharted Series of games was in fact voiced by Spencer's father on Pretty Little Liars. Wait, Nathan Drake is Spencer's father and he is also the voice of Desmond Miles in the Assassin's Creed games? Shocking! Several other characters round out a great cast including the walking contradiction Butcher Joyce who as he says "I never choose sides, Jackie" as he proceeds to tell you exactly how to set up a trap to strike back at Uncle Paulie and his goons. Aunt Sarah is a septuagenarian pistol toting big bad mama (Roger Corman would be proud) that you definitely do not want to mess with.

The setting of The Darkness is also quite enjoyable since it takes places in many real New York City locales. Anyone who has spent some time in NYC will be able to recognize some of the streets and landmarks. You can take the subways between Canal Street and Fulton Street, travel to the Lower East Side, or visit Trinity Church just to name a few places. The game does an admirable job of recreating a New York atmosphere although I did fail to spot staples such as The Naked Cowboy and rats the size of cats. In addition to NYC you also must travel to the Otherworld which is basically one long hellish nightmare. The Otherworld is the home of the Darkness where Jackie must learn of the Darkness' origins and how he can control it. The Otherworld was a nice change of pace from the streets of NYC and had some interesting cameos from the four horseman of the apocalypse who manifest themselves in the strangest of ways. It was nice to have a game set in a familiar location such as New York City. I'm hoping the next Fallout takes place there as well since I was less familiar with the locations in Fallout: New Vegas and Fallout 3, although I did once visit a friend in D.C. so I knew Friendship Heights from Fallout 3 and was way more excited about that than one should ever be.

The game is not without it's flaws however. The minions have some really faulty AI and will do the stupidest things often in the most crucial situations. The Gunner in particular seems to shoot at you more times than the enemies and in some cases he will set up his machine gun right in front of a wall and cause major damage to that wall while the enemies (who one would imagine pose a far greater threat than the immobile brick wall) remain unscathed. At the beginning of the game, before you gain the demon arm ability, it can be quite an endeavor to position the slithering arm to knock out some of the high lamp posts. You can shoot them out but that really diminishes your already limited supply of ammo. The vortex of doom is also insanely powerful and once you acquire that ability the game can become quite unbalanced in terms of difficulty.

Minor gripes aside, The Darkness is a unique first-person shooter that has enough fresh elements to make it worth your time. Mike Patton does a wonderful job of voicing The Darkness and keeps things exciting throughout the game. Besides, how bad can a game be where you can extract the beating hearts right out of your enemies chest like Mola Ram in Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom?

CHECK THESE OUT: The Darkness on Playstation 3 and Xbox 360, The Darkness II on Playstation 3 and Xbox 360


Article by CJ Ramirez



WHAT: Clock Tower

WHY: Clock Tower is a horror adventure game for the Sony Playstation. The US version was released in 2007 and was a sequel to the 1995 SNES Clock Tower that was exclusive to Japan. The plot of the original Japanese Clock Tower was based on the movie Phenomena by Dario Argento. The US Playstation version has a similar storyline and style of gameplay that was found in the original Japanese version. A killer with a giant pair of scissors, appropriately named Scissorman, stalks the protagonists through various rooms in houses, cathedrals, and castles. The game was part of a major movement by Sony towards more mature horror-themed games that was gaining significant momentum at the time.

March of 1996 was when this shift to more mature games started on the Playstation. In March of 1996 the groundbreaking Resident Evil was released in the US. It quickly became a huge commercial success. Gamers embraced it for its unique fusion of action, scares, and copious amounts of blood and gore. The success of Resident Evil opened the door for many more adult horror-themed games. 1996 saw several horror releases including Tecmo's Deception where the player sets traps, in order to kill invaders to a castle, as part of a pact with the devil. Blood Omen: Legacy of Kain involved a human turned vampire who must hunt down and kill members of the Circle of Nine as the price for his own resurrection. These games all paved the way for Clock Tower's release in 1997 as Sony's decision for more mature games was greeted with a resounding yes.

The gameplay of Clock Tower is very similar to other point and click adventure games. If you have played a game like Broken Sword, you will know exactly what this entails. What sets the game apart is that the Scissorman will pop up periodically and chase you while you are exploring rooms looking for clues. You will be exploring the rooms nonchalantly and all of a sudden the sadistic Scissorman theme will crank up and you will know that he is near. The frightening thing is that you have no idea where he is coming from so if you open the wrong door, he might be right there! The games soundtrack does a great job of amplifying these scares. Part of the challenge is finding which hiding places work and allow you to safely evade him. If that doesn't work you can enter what is called "panic mode" and fight him off, however this drains energy and your fighting will become less and less effective until Scissorman eventually overpowers you.

Part of the fun was figuring out just when Scissorman would show up. My friends and I had crazy theories about this and played the game quite superstitiously. There are five different endings for each of the two playable characters so the game does have great replay value. Upon replaying the game we would try to recall all of the actions that we thought had a greater probability of causing Scissorman to show up. If I searched a closet and Scissorman popped out from there the last time, I would warn my friends "Don't Open that Closet"! We really had no idea if he would show up on cue or randomly but we were not going to take the chance. The music doesn't always alert you to his presence and these surprise moments provided the best scares. You could be walking silently in a room and all of a sudden he would pop out from a box or a closet. YIKES!

The game has some instances of spoken dialogue by voice actors and they do a pretty decent job throughout the game. The controls on the other hand are a mixed bag. Running can sometimes be a chore where you have to constantly mash the button. Picking up items is a breeze however and the controls are very responsive in that aspect. Rarely will you have to click more than once for the controller to pick up an object. The soundtrack once again is excellent especially what I call the "Scissorman is Coming to Get Ya" theme. In some scenes there is no sound at all but that just adds to the eerie atmosphere. The graphics are mostly composed of blocky polygons, which really was just a sign of the times. They are pretty dated but shouldn't take away from the overall experience nor should the occasional frame rate slowdown when being chased by Scissorman.

Clock Tower spawned two "Season of the Witch" type sequels in Clock Tower II: The Struggle Within and Clock Tower 3.
For those that don't know, the movie Haloween III: Season of the Witch had absolutely nothing to do with the Halloween movies. The killer Michael Myers wasn't even in Halloween III: Season of the Witch. It was as if the studio made a horror movie so horrible that they said, "Wait! If we slap the Halloween franchise tag on this mess, people will go see it!" Clocktower II: The Struggle Within and Clock Tower 3 share this commonality in that Scissorman is not in them, albeit there is a brief homage in Clock Tower 3. What separates Clock Tower II: The Struggle Within from Clock Tower 3 is that, like Halloween III: Season of the Witch, Clock Tower II is quite awful while the third installment is actually pretty enjoyable overall.

Clock Tower II:The Struggle Within was released for the Playstation in 1999 and revolves around a girl named Alyssa who leaves a mental institution in order to stay at her aunt and uncle's house. She was institutionalized because she alternates between split personalities which include the demure Alyssa and the potty-mouthed psycho Bates. Shortly after Alyssa arrives she encounters many disturbing events and is also chased by a little girl with a knife. The split personality idea was a great concept but its execution did not work as well as it should have. It really just forced the players to search rooms twice since Bates and Alyssa saw different things. This quickly becomes very agitating. The game is also quite confusing where you can chew up a significant amount of time running around trying to figure out what to do next. The sequence of what to do next is not very intuitive and if you miss one little thing it can greatly impede your progress. The translation is also not as strong as Clock Tower and the characters say some pretty wacky stuff. Upon seeing a human arm wriggling on a plate Alyssa says "What...how...it's only an arm?????" Yes Alyssa, THERE IS AN ARM ON A PLATE!!!!!!!!!!! Perhaps the only aspect in which it trumped the original was that the graphics are ever so slightly better. 

Clock Tower 3 was released for the Playstation 2 (ooh...fancy graphics!) in 2003. Like Clock Tower II:The Struggle Within, it really had nothing to do with the whole Scissorman mythos. It was also no longer a point and click game and you had direct control of your character. What it did have in common was that you were once again constantly being chased around by scary enemies while you explore. Instead of one "Scissorman", each stage had a different fiend known as a Subordinate that proceeded to chase you around. Each stage would end after a boss battle with these so called Subordinates. I rather liked this aspect of the game since each stage had a different baddie and part of the fun was seeing what hideous creature was going to come for you next. The graphics were of course much improved from the days of the original Playstation and were no longer those signature blocky polygons. Overall it was an enjoyable gaming experience. Not as memorable as Clock Tower but leagues ahead of Clock Tower II.

A movie based on the Clock Tower franchise has been bandied about for what seems like forever. Brittany Snow, Milla Jovovich, and several other stars had been attached to the project at one point or another. In 2011 it seemed as if the movie might actually see the light of day since a director was announced. David R. Ellis who directed Snakes on a Plane was announced as the director for the Clock Tower movie. However, in 2013 he died suddenly under what were referred to as "mysterious circumstances". At this point there are no plans to make a movie adaptation of the game which is a shame since the material lends itself so well towards a movie. Instead, check out Dario Argento's movie Phenomena which Clock Tower producers cited as a huge influence when they started the Clock Tower franchise.

Clock Tower is a great early survival horror game for the Sony Playstation that provides an intriguing storyline and plenty of scares. Clock Tower 3 is worth checking out in its own right although it has nothing to do with the original Clock Tower, aside from a brief homage to Scissorman. However, avoid Clocktower II: The Struggle Within at all costs. It is not worth wasting your time on. Instead, you can spend time petitioning your local senator for a Clock Tower movie that will hopefully not be directed by Uwe Bolle.

CHECK THESE OUT: Clock Tower for Sony Playstation (1997) and Clock Tower 3 for Sony Playstation 2 (2003)

Article by CJ Ramirez



WHAT: Secret of Mana

WHY: Secret of Mana was an action RPG for the SNES released in 1993. Developer Squaresoft was able to combine lush graphics, memorable music, and innovative gameplay into one spectacular package. It is an overlooked gem, and ironically enough, it was overshadowed by some of Squaresoft's other successful franchises.

Squaresoft (now Square Enix) has been one of my favorite game developers since the old NES days. Their releases frequently epitomize the apex of quality and innovation. Whenever I got a new game from them, I knew that I would like it because they put so much effort into all of their releases. They reminded me of another gaming company, Working Designs (man I miss them), in that they rarely made a misstep. In the months leading up to Secret of Mana's release , many gamers were fresh off of completing Final Fantasy II and were eagerly awaiting the next installment. Final Fantasy III was getting extremely huge press coverage in all the gaming magazines way before it was even due to come out. I remember seeing Secret of Mana briefly in one of the magazines, but I was saving my money for the next Final Fantasy. I also saw screenshots for another Squaresoft game, Breath of Fire, and planned on saving for that as well. Secret of Mana kind of got lost in the shuffle. Also, like many other kids, I had just spent my entire piggy bank on Zelda: A Link to the Past.

Fortunately, fate smiled upon me and I received Secret of Mana as a Christmas present, a few months after it was released. I was eager to immerse myself in the world of Secret of Mana and was glad that I did. It ended up being a fantastic game from start to finish. The first thing that grabbed me was the detailed graphics. The characters looked much bigger and brighter than the ones in Final Fantasy II did and they popped off the screen. The environments were colorful and truly beautiful to look at. It created a great atmosphere, almost as much as the soundtrack did.

The soundtrack was truly impressive, something that has become a staple of Squaresoft games. The tracks ranged from sweeping orchestral scores to low haunting melodies and really helped to create specific atmospheres. One of the most haunting tracks was "Ceremony". It is perhaps the creepiest doll music I have ever heard. I literally could not play that game alone when i was at that juncture and would only play that section if a family member was nearby. That song will still get stuck in my head sometimes. Other standouts include "Prophecy" which played when you were riding your airship-like dragon Flammie on the world map. It was such a great tune where you literally felt as if you were flying across the vast oceans and deserts. Other notable tunes include the boss battle music "Danger" which was really frenetic and expressed the craziness of the big boss battles. My favorite tune was "Dark Star" which is beyond epic!

The music and graphics were just proverbial icing on the cake. Where the game truly shines is with its engrossing gameplay. Players have a multitude of options when battling the baddies. Magic can be used to attack or heal party members and include fire spells, water spells, and many other elemental spells. There are eight different weapons that can be swapped among the three characters including bows, swords, spears, and axes. Weapons can be upgraded after finding certain orbs which will increase their strength and also change their onscreen appearance, which leads to a very cool visual effect. The weapons also have other uses aside from whacking the bad guys. The axe can be used to clear rocks that bar the way, while the whip can be used to cross chasms. Items and upgrades can be purchased in shops or obtained from random treasure chest drops. 

The control system brings all of these goodies together seamlessly via the ring system. Players press a button to bring up a ring of magic, weapons, and items and can easily switch them on the fly. This easy system helps immensely to keep up with the frantic pace of boss fights, etc. You can also charge up your weapon attacks by holding the attack button down and do massive damage. It is extremely fun to smack around enemies after unleashing a level seven charged sword attack. Even more fun is the fact that the game supports multiplayer, one of the few RPG's to do that. You can control the hero while a friend controls the girl and the computer controls the sprite. If you are extra adventurous you can have two friends join you via a SNES multitap or an extra Wii remote.

All of these features made for a great gaming experience and left me wanting more. Secret of Mana 2 was released only in Japan. I happened to stumble upon it when I was away at college one year. I was browsing the school gossip server and saw a folder on the network that said "games". I clicked on it to see what they had and there was a playable version of Secret of Mana 2 in Japanese. I played a little (um, people needed to be writing dissertations and stuff) and really was liking it even though I couldn't understand the language. Sigh, it never came to the US (much like Dragon Force 2, double sigh) so I never got to truly experience it. It was the closest I would get to replicating Secret of Mana since Secret of Evermore on the SNES.

Secret of Evermore was released by Squaresoft in 1995 by its North American team. Affectionately referred to as "a boy and his dog" or as I call it "Secret of Mana lite". Secret of Evermore shared many of the same gameplay characteristics as Secret of Mana such as the menu system, multiple characters, and huge bosses. I enjoyed playing it and would definitely say it was a good game but it did not reach the level of greatness that Secret of Mana did. Secret of Mana was a total immersive experience from start to finish, with memorable characters, engaging boss battles, and a great soundtrack. Secret of Evermore had many of these elements but unfortunately they never quite came together in the same fashion as Secret of Mana. Years later I attempted to satiate my hunger for another Secret of Mana game by playing several of the Playstation "Mana" games. However, each one felt further and further removed from the Secret of Mana experience.

Secret of Mana is one of the finest RPG's made for the SNES, a system that was full of great RPG games. Its beautiful graphics, memorable soundtrack, innovative ring system, and fun multiplayer options make it one of the greatest RPG experiences on any console. Several games have tried to recreate the experience but there will always be only one Secret of Mana.

CHECK THIS OUT: Secret of Mana for the Super Nintendo Entertainment System and Wii's Virtual Console

Article by CJ Ramirez
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