Dragon Quest (Switch Review)

The original Dragon Quest predates my existence on this Earth by over three years. As far as historic, genre-defining games go, it’s not exactly one I would have ever relished the thought of playing today, in 2019. During my recent adventures in retro gaming, the only JRPG I had to deal with was the original Final Fantasy on the NES Mini, and I could barely tolerate its antiquated gameplay. Dragon Quest 1, better known as Dragon Warrior in the United States, is even older and more decrepit, though it wasn’t commercially available on platforms I was covering in my old school gaming education. And then Square released three NES remakes as part of the launch of Dragon Quest XI on Switch. And, holy moley, are they ugly. I’ve never seen a classic gaming remake that turned off so much of its target audience just by virtue of its appearance. Not the character sprites while moving on the map or the textures, but rather the look of the enemies during combat.

Yeah.

Jesus Christ, that’s embarrassing. It looks like a fan-made remake with character models done in MS Paint. They’re apparently all in the same poses as the 8-bit Famicom/NES originals, but they look so unintimidating. The overworld doesn’t look like that. It has a sort of high-resolution sprite appearance that could pass for 16-bit. But those hand-drawn recreations of the 1986 pixel designs are so amateurish that it turned off a lot of long-time fans of Dragon Quest from making a purchase. Normally I’d tell people that gameplay is king and looks shouldn’t matter. But Dragon Quest on Switch looks like a student project or something. In reality, this is an actual Square-Enix release. Granted, an inexpensive one that’s based on their mobile Dragon Quest re-releases, but still, it feels disrespectful to the source material. When I’m saying that, someone who the retro community often accuses of being disrespectful to classic games, you know it must be bad. Why the hell do the look like that? What’s the original concept art of the game look like?

Oh.

Well, now all that bitching about the hideous artwork is awkward. But, I’m going to continue to insist the art is direction is a complete failure and those concept arts were just that: CONCEPTS. Never meant to actually be used. And it’s even worse because of the backgrounds that concept art was placed on top of. It doesn’t match! NOR does it match the overworld. It’s three totally incompatible styles that makes simply viewing Dragon Quest (along with Dragon Quest II and III, both also on Switch, though they’re priced higher) kind of painful. Plus, they have this weird shading about them that gives them that cheap MS Paint look I was talking about. I don’t know what they were thinking, but a lot of people who were interested in buying these re-releases passed because of how it looks. I’m going to call that what it is: justifiable shallowness.

But yes, gameplay is STILL king, and Dragon Quest is an old game that I had almost no chance of liking. So imagine my surprise when it turned out I didn’t hate the experience of playing all the way through it as much as I thought I would. In fact, I didn’t hate it at all. Which is not to say I overall liked Dragon Quest. It just wasn’t the torture I thought it would be. Actually, I found the mother of all JRPGs to be pretty educational. Because you can still see the design logic and what they were aiming for, and it all makes perfect sense. For real! No twist coming. No “haha just kidding, it sucks!” There’s honest-to-God merit in it.

Apparently, the NES/Famicom original had a glitch with this item where it didn’t do anything. I can’t tell you if that’s fixed here. They seemed fickle about the stuff they wanted to change or not.

For example, there’s locked doors everywhere in the game. You have to get keys to unlock them. BUT, you can’t possibly hope to get keys until you’ve leveled-up enough to venture east, to the only town that sells them, and even then you have to find the “hidden shop” that has them. Getting to this point required hours of grinding, thousands of gold spent in upgrades, and a lot of exploration. Just to be able to open locked doors. But, believe it or not, the act of buying your first key feels like a major turning point in the game. An event. A significant plot point. And a perfectly logical moment from a design point to build towards. They successfully made unlocking doors a big deal. That’s incredible! It’s like fantasy insertion for locksmiths.

Dragon Quest is impressive as a historic relic because the foundation for everything that came after is laid here. If you’re someone who cares about gaming history, when something works in Dragon Quest, you feel a strange sense of relief, and the slightest hint of accomplishment, for the original team who made it. Especially because there’s so many ideas that don’t work. Of course, this being the first game in the franchise, they had to try these things to realize what was a bad idea. Not being able to save the game anywhere but the starting castle? Bad idea. A very limited supply of weapons, upgrades, or useful items to purchase, essentially rendering all gold found from the mid-to-late game useless? Bad idea. Having the princess’s vagina squeak when you rescue her? Really bad idea. Logically, the squeaking should come later, and probably from behind closed doors.

My God, that’s cringey writing. Even Stephenie Meyer would blush with shame if she wrote like that.

The writing is horrible. That was to be expected. Their chief concern was simply getting the game working. I don’t expect a game from before I was born to blow me away with its plot anyway. But, if you’re going to remake the game, like I said about Link’s Awakening: remake the fucking thing! Otherwise, you’re just making Gus Van Sant’s Psycho: a shot-for-shot remake that has no reason to exist. Why not clean up the dialog or plot? They did for the game play! The original 1986/1989 release apparently featured a cumbersome interface that required you to do every single action through the menu. Want to talk to someone? You have to open the menu to do that. Want to take the staircase? You have to use the menu for that too. I imagine that’d get quite annoying. That’s all gone here. The menu exists for things like casting spells, using items, and checking your status. I never played the original NES cart for more than 30 seconds and I’m pretty sure I quit because of the “open menu to use the stairs” thing in the starting room with the King. I’ve come a long ways as a gamer. Who’d of thunk I’d ever have the patience to beat the original Dragon Quest? Well, the truth is, I didn’t. I did to beat its more streamlined remake, though.

The thing is, Dragon Quest I was boring, but not terminally so. In fact, once I put Dragon Quest in the background and threw on the television, it was actually quite zen-like to grind up experience and gold. 95% of the time you’ll spend playing it can be done without your full, undivided attention. The grinding is so simple and requires so little effort that it’s practically like using a fidget spinner or popping bubble wrap. Something you veg out doing. Actual dungeons and tasks could easily be knocked out in just a few minutes with a guide (and I do recommend a guide since the directions and writing provided by the NPCs are so vague that they’re useless). It’s quite relaxing and kind of fascinating from a time capsule point of view. Playing Dragon Quest is like watching a TED Talk on an interesting historical subject being delivered by a nasal, monotone person.

The Hero was called a heathen in red states for this act.

But, a lot of little niggling issues hold this back. When you unlock a door, it relocks as soon as you leave the town or dungeon, requiring you to go buy more keys (and you’re limited to carrying six at one time). It’s also never really clear what the object of the game is. You know you’re supposed to take out Dragonlord, but the writing doesn’t tell you how, or really what order you’re supposed to do things. You don’t even get a clue what sections of the map are safe to start exploring until you begin a random fight with a significantly stronger creature that you have no hope of beating. Sometimes bridges mark boundaries, but a lot of the time you simply start facing tougher monsters and die. I can’t imagine how this was ever beaten without a strategy guide. The weird thing is, it HAS been rewrote with Dragon Quest I & II on the Game Boy Color back in the day. Why not use the script from that? I don’t get it. And, to be frank, I don’t think the RNG of the game is legitimate. I tried running away from fights a total of seven times, and each of those seven times the run command failed. Meanwhile, I killed probably around ten of the high-experience-yielding Metal Slimes even though they’re supposed to run away, making slaying one a rarity. In fact, I only had six or seven run away. The running gag with me is I’ve always had absurd RNG luck (or, more usually, a lack thereof), but my time with Dragon Quest took it to lottery levels of unlikely. So much so that I suspect there’s something wrong with the RNG code.

Is it fun? Not really in the strictest sense. The plot points are overly simple and there’s only four “missions”: get the keys, then rescue the princess, then get the MacGuffins that open the path to the final level, then beat the Dragon Lord. I suppose getting the legendary armor and sword are part of that, but I sort of just stumbled upon both. When you’re powerful enough to actually set out to complete these goals, they can be finished in five minutes. No joke. The majority of the game is spent simply walking back and forth to spawn enemies to grind up enough experience to not get killed in those areas of the game, and there’s nothing to take the edge off getting from Point A to Point B. There’s a spell that’s supposed to make weaker enemies not instigate a battle that should make the slog of traveling go faster late in the game. In theory. In execution, the spell wears off in like ten seconds. Instead of fighting monsters every X amount of paces, you have to recast the spell every X amount of paces. Problem solved? Meanwhile, there’s no method of fast travel to other towns. It only works to take you to the starting castle. It’s bizarre that they chose to cut out all the menu busy work but not further streamline the Dragon Quest experience with the ability to save in more locations or warp from town to town. Like, they knew it wasn’t idealized and later games figured it out better, but they didn’t want to change too much or fans of the original would lose their shit? I guess? As if they wouldn’t with those ugly ass graphics.

Some moments managed to disappoint, too. The game heavily built up this battle from very early on. The significance of the flute and its effect on the Goelm. When I finally ran into it, guarding the final town in the game, I knew exactly what to do. I blew the flute, put it to sleep, hit attack.. and then the fucking thing woke up and killed me. Seriously? In fact, I had to blow the flute multiple times just to finally slay the damn thing. Couldn’t I just put on country music and hope it killed itself?

So, here we are. I didn’t expect to be on the fence about whether or not Dragon Quest on Switch earned my Seal of Approval. I went back and forth on it more than you’d think. On one hand, I’d find myself looking forward to grinding up enough experience to level up and head to more challenging sections of the game. On the other hand, I’d quickly realize that there wasn’t all that much to see and I’d often be let down once I got there. There’s not a particularly large variety of enemies, and many battles I figured would be epic still ended in seconds. Hell, the final encounter with Dragonlord made me literally chuckle because he looks like Sesame Street character. A silly one. And it doesn’t help that I beat its first form in about ten seconds, followed by it turning into a Spyro the Dragon lookalike.

I can’t remember ever literally LOLing upon getting my first glimpse of a final boss. Jeez, couldn’t they change THAT design too? Something a little more intimidating?

I think game designers and people interested in gaming history will find more than just lessons in Dragon Quest. It’s almost enjoyable. It aged so much better than it had any right to. Though that probably owes a lot to the stuff they removed from the NES game, adding only a tiny shimmer effect to areas of the ground where hidden stuff is and an autosave feature that doesn’t give you any information on where that save is. But really, this is a fraction of what a remake needs to be. So, who is this made for? Old school Dragon Quest fans hate the look. New fans will hate the primitive writing and antiquated gameplay. While I didn’t hate Dragon Quest, the best complement I’ve got for it is that it didn’t bore me as much as I thought it would. I almost gave it my Seal of Approval, but really, games should aim higher than to simply “not bore.” And really, I can’t get over how bad it looks, or why this direction was taken at all. Why not do something like Wonder Boy: The Dragon’s Trap, where the original graphics can be switched on the fly for a newer facade that looks better? Make it look like a cel-shaded anime, like the later games do. The off-putting concept art mixed with sprites that still look wrong for their project just doesn’t work at all. This port feels phoned in, and it didn’t have to be. For its time, Dragon Quest might have been special. Now, it’s only special by virtue of rotting slower than expected. I was THIS CLOSE to giving it a thumbs up..

But, shouldn’t a re-release be about trying to get new fans for your franchise? I mean, you don’t have to convince the diehards to buy your game. I made the same point about Link’s Awakening on Switch: you’ve pretty much made a sale with the diehards the very moment you announce the existence of any remake. They’re going to buy it. They’re going to do so no matter what. That’s just how it works with the hardest of hardcore fans. If you change things around, they’re still going to buy it. They might whine and complain and say “MY version is better” in a fit of nostalgia drunkenness. They might even say those things even if deep down they don’t really believe it’s true. It doesn’t matter either way. They’re still going to buy it. That’s what makes them hardcore. And that’s why the only goal of a remake should be to secure a new generation of fans, tailoring the remake to modern gameplay and writing standards. You know I’m right.

Meh, at least it looks better than Wonder Boy Returns Remix.

Dragon Quest was developed by Square-Enix
Point of Sale: Nintendo Switch

$4.99 said an angry game critic drew near in the making of this review.

The Legend of Zelda: Link’s Awakening (Switch Review)

Here’s a thought exercise for everyone. Ask yourselves how any group of gamers would react if you told them that a 1993 Game Boy release that originally retailed for $29.99 USD would be remade in September of 2019. But, the game would only receive a novel facelift to its appearance. A successful facelift, one that makes it look like no other game before it.. sorta like the LEGO Movie, but with Fisher Price figures instead.. BUT, the actual content would mostly remain intact. What was there in 1993 would still be there, functionally unaltered, in the 2019 release.

The characters that were created during an era where depth and nuance were not normal for game writing? Unchanged.

The world map, which, although ambitious for its time, was largely a result of concessions that had to be made for the limitations of the 1988 Game Boy hardware? Unchanged.

The story, thought-provoking then and now, but left largely unexplored? Unchanged.

That’s the proposition: would they bite at a re-release of a 1993 game, with 1993 gameplay, 1993 storytelling, and all the limitations of 1993 Game Boy development intact, only with 2019 graphics technology..

But, it now costs $59.99 for that 1993 $29.99 Game Boy game. Would they buy it?

I’d think most gamers would decline that offer without thinking about it twice. Yet, here we are. Link’s Awakening for Switch is a huge hit. Nintendo has paid close attention to what Disney is pulling off with its live action remakes and said “why not us?” Those movies make incredible money with the bare minimum effort, and so too is Link’s Awakening, with the bare minimum effort.

This is not a good thing. Also, having good graphics doesn’t change the fact that this is a hugely lazy remake.

To be perfectly frank, I wasn’t blown away by the graphics most of the time. BUT, sometimes they left me gobsmacked. The Face Shrine area is one of the locations where I put my Switch down to just gawk at how nice it looked. Like a diorama.

Now, this opinion is not flying with most Nintendo fans. So many are besides themselves with the mere suggestion that efforts could have been made to improve what was already a very solid Zelda game. If you say “they could have reworked the script. Dialog has come a long ways since 1993” they scoff. If you say “some of the level design is nonsensical or overly-simplistic, even for its era. Maybe they could have sharpened it up for a new generation of gamers” they balk. And they always say the same thing with these suggestions: “it wouldn’t be Link’s Awakening then!”

I have to say the same thing I said about the ToeJam & Earl remake: why didn’t you fucking people just keep playing the originals if you don’t want anything changed? If they make a REAL remake and not just the facade of one, it doesn’t erase the existence of the original games. You can still sit down and play those if you’re nauseated by someone trying to make something good even better or more relevant in 2019. Hell, you can still buy Legend of Zelda: Link’s Awakening DX for $5.99 on your 3DS! And I guarantee you almost everyone rejecting making changes still has a 3DS. Then again, they probably still have their original Link’s Awakening carts and working Game Boys. What the FUCK is wrong you people? Are you stunted?

She’s making a face like Link copped a feel. Maybe that’s why this is Link’s Awakening. He’s going to be woke when Twitter gets a hold of him.

Okay, let me set aside my dumbfoundedness for a second and tell you the good stuff: Link’s Awakening is an incredible achievement for its time. Given the limitations for the Game Boy, some of the levels are absolutely inspired. Ironically for a game based around waking up, it’s a slow riser. After a nifty introduction to the shield and sword, momentum grinds to a halt with a plodding first couple hours and two of the most boring 2D Zelda dungeons ever. But, around the time of the third level, things start to pick up. By level 4 and onward to the end game, Link’s Awakening is not merely good for its time. It’s good on its own merit. Occasionally, it’s even great, like having to move a giant metal ball around a stage to collapse pillars of a level to cause the tower to collapse by one level. THAT is fucking genius and maybe the best 2D Zelda Dungeon ever. Sadly, things crater out a bit in the eighth and final proper level, Turtle Rock, a miserable slog of a stage. And the Wind Fish egg itself is nothing more than callback to the Lost Woods from the original NES Zelda, only with more directions to memorize, followed by the final boss fight.

BUT, this is a good Zelda. And the Switch version has advantages to it. While the maps remain the same as the DX Game Boy Color version (including the lame ass color dungeon, still every bit as pandering and phoned-in here), Nintendo added more pieces of the heart and secret seashells. They’re absurdly easy to find and add fuck-all to the game, but they’re there if you care about that type of thing. By far the biggest improvement is the elimination of tediously fumbling with the menu to change items around. This time, the sword, shield, power bracelet, and pegasus boots are always equipped once you have them. This cuts down on so much bullshit. Having said that, they should have also always had the Roc’s Feather equipped too. You’ll be using it so much that there’s really never a time it’ll go too long without having to take up one of the two item slots. If it had been, the item equipping would have been such a non-factor that it would become the single most desirable reason to own this version of the game.

The Dungeon Maker stuff is one of the absolute worst disasters in recent memory. It’s horrible. You can’t even change the room themes. It feels exactly like what it is: a series of rooms not compatible with each-other being interlocked. It’s crazy limited. You can’t alter the rooms. You can’t even ROTATE the rooms. This is dog shit. The worst idea Nintendo has actually gone through with releasing since Wii Music, easily.

And it IS totally worth owning.. the Game Boy Color version for $5.99 on 3DS Virtual Console. I really can’t recommend the Switch version at full price. Especially when the standards of remakes have come so far. Nintendo fans justify Link’s Awakening by noting that they Nintendo did the same thing with Super Mario All-Stars back in the day (ironically, it came out the same day as the original Link’s Awakening did in North America) and nobody thought it was a ripoff. This might be the dumbest argument since “because the Bible says so.” Super Mario All-Stars had FOUR games in it. And, you know, it came out in 1993. Gaming has come a long ways since 1993.

The issue is, Nintendo fans just never challenge Nintendo to aspire higher. I once joked about Dr. Luigi, literally just Dr. Mario but you throw bigger pills into the jar, and Nintendo fans responding to this absolutely half-assed idea by saying they hoped it came out on both Wii U and 3DS so they could pay for it twice. Nintendo doesn’t support cross-platform eShop downloads. If you bought a Virtual Console game on Wii U, you didn’t get the same game on 3DS. Why would they do that? They have a fanbase that still has their original game consoles but will gladly keep paying new money for old games. Do you realize there’s people out there that already owned the NES Balloon Fight cart who also paid money for..

-Balloon Fight on Wii Virtual Console
-Balloon Fight on Wii U Virtual Console
-Balloon Fight on Game Boy Advance
-Balloon Fight on eReader Cards
-Balloon Fight on 3DS Virtual Console
-An NES Classic Edition, which has Balloon Fight

(And hell, they probably worked to unlock Balloon Fight in Animal Crossing and play it on there)

It begs the question: why do you need so many copies of the same game? Why do you PAY for so many copies of the same game? Because it is the same game. While this doesn’t represent all Nintendo fans, or even most of them, there’s enough people doing this type of thing that Nintendo has never had an incentive to change their business model. “Hardcore” Nintendo fans behave like naive religious fanatics being grifted by a televangelist into sending more and more money to earn God’s favor.

And they didn’t really fix the stuff that was dumb in the first place. Allegedly there’s a rhyme and reason to how rolling these chess pieces works, but I threw them from every angle and every square and they didn’t lock into the desired spot as they should have every time.

Of course, with Switch Online’s $20 a year fee that includes NES and now SNES games, it would appear Nintendo knows they’ve milked that cow for all its worth. But, with all the partners Nintendo has, they now have enough resources accumulated that they can pivot to re-releasing old stuff with new graphics. This has been worth, as of this writing, nine *billion* dollars for Disney with their live action remakes. Functionally, the Link’s Awakening remake copies that model. It’s the same game with different graphics and minimal additions that they really could have done without and nobody would have said anything. When I say “it’s the same game” I get thrown back at me “they added more hearts and seashells!” I ask you, do you really think these fanboys wouldn’t have bought the game if they didn’t add more hearts and seashells to find? Of course they would have still bought it. It’s what they do.

The combat mechanics are now wonky and getting timing down on some enemies and bosses is different now. The Ganon nightmare was the moment in the game that I came the closest to losing a fight. I went through two fairies and Tracy’s secret. Well, that’s because they kept the fight basically the same but it’s harder to judge the angle with the new tilted camera. This isn’t even the final form. It should have been, because the final one is a total pansy.

The shit thing is, Link’s Awakening is probably the most high-concept of all the Zelda games. None of them have THAT deep of stories. But Link’s Awakening has a universe with complex moral implications and consequences that are begging to be explored. I once again have to go back to this old chestnut: gaming has come a long ways. Look at something like Undertale, which explores morality in a way that has captured the imagination of gamers of all generations. Link’s Awakening’s framework has potential to surpass Undertale’s examination of the nature of morality. Instead, it retains the minimalist, on-the-nose writing of a typical 1993 game. Marin is crushing on Link, but we don’t explore why. When Link wakes the Wind Fish, he wakes-up floating in the middle of the ocean, hears the song he first heard from her, and smiles contently. He just blinked her out of existence! Yea yea, she turns into a seagull. Because that was her dream. KIDS DREAM FOR STUPID SHIT! I wanted to be a Power Ranger as a kid. In reality, being a Power Ranger would suck. You’d cause forty 9-11s a year fighting giant monsters with your Zords. Stepping on pedestrians would be inevitable. It’s be awful to be a Power Ranger. And Marin turning into a seagull is NOT a happy ending! He killed her! He killed them all! He did it with a smile on his face! At no point in Legend of Zelda: Link’s Awakening is the hero tasked with the conundrum of consequence. His mission is to wake the Wind Fish. All his interactions with beings are treated as distractions in that quest.

And I’m sorry, but that’s insanely fucked up. Because there’s some damn emotional moments in Link’s Awakening. I got choked up when Marin and Link share a moment on the beach. Marin talks about her hopes and her aspirations. They share a moment, and it’s beautiful. It has an innocence about it that made me think of how a first crush is handled in Charlie Brown’s world, or like the interactions between Vada and Thomas in the film My Girl. But when it’s over, Link doesn’t carry a burden of what succeeding in his quest means for her. Monsters taunt you that you’ll vanish too, but we know that’s not the truth. We know it’s not Link’s dream. Part of the problem is Nintendo is still obsessed with keeping Link as blank a slate as possible, so that any little boy or girl can insert themselves into his shell. It becomes THEIR adventure, not his. But, give children a little credit. When little kids play Star Wars, sometimes they pretend they’re Luke, and something they’re Darth Vader. A child’s imagination is vivid enough that they don’t need a character to be an empty vessel to explore them. But, it’s Zelda. Link is a silent protagonist and that’s just how it has to be. What a missed opportunity.

I was so touched by the authenticity of the connection between Marin and Link that I was fighting back tears. And given how little there is with it, that really says something about how big a lost opportunity it was to not develop this further. Shame on you, Nintendo. You might as well of had ads for AT&T if you’re going to totally phone it in like this. At least that might have knocked Link’s Awakening down to a reasonable price for a twenty-six-year-old game.

There’s tons of ways you can interpret Awakening, and apologists will say that they like how open-ended it is. I find it hypocritical that these guys like the idea of having so little actual plot that you can fill in the blanks with almost any headcanon, yet they lack imagination to such a degree that they can’t fathom the game existing with spruced-up, modernized storytelling and dialog. I said it about Sonic fans, and I have to say it to Nintendo about your fans: if they demand so little of you, you need to go out and get better fans. My review system isn’t set up to account for over-pricing, so I have to award Legend of Zelda: Link’s Awakening my Seal of Approval. It’s a good game, old or not. But unless you can get it on sale, I don’t recommend anyone purchase it. If you’re happy with the remake, great! But don’t talk about what a “slippery slope” it is to bring everything but the graphics into the 21st century. Your old carts wouldn’t just vanish if they TRULY remade Link’s Awakening. They didn’t even bother removing it from the 3DS eShop. It’s still there, and it’s still the same Zelda. Of course, Nintendo fanboys are gatekeepers operating under the delusion that Link’s Awakening is THEIR Zelda, and doesn’t belong to anyone of any other generation on any term but their own. If you want depth or complexity, go play something else and leave their precious 1993 portable Zelda product alone. I don’t get it. If you want to play the same old game, play the same old game. That way you never have to grow up or challenge yourself. The rest of us should be challenging Nintendo to challenge us.

The Legend of Zelda: Link’s Awakening was developed by Grezzo
Point of Sale: Nintendo Switch

$59.99 never was bothered by the frame rate hiccups, which seems to be everyone’s #1 complaint in the making of this review.

Legend of Zelda: Link’s Awakening is Chick-Approved. Non-indies aren’t ranked on the IGC Leaderboard.

For those that already played the Link’s Awakening on Game Boy or Game Boy Color, or own a port of it, it’s worth about $30. If you’ve never played it, $40 is a good price for it. Or $5.99 for Link’s Awakening DX on Virtual Console for 3DS. It’s also Chick-Approved and I recommend it without reservation.

 

Galaxy Champions TV (Review for Nintendo Switch, Steam)

I don’t like Smash TV at all. You’d think that’d make me want to skip a game that invokes the legacy of Smash TV to such a heavy degree that it even includes the “TV” part of the title in its own name. Well, it’s simple: I like games that take the core gameplay concepts of classic games and refine them for a modern experience. I don’t even need to like the original game to enjoy the end result of such a project. That’s already been the case once with Smash TV once here at Indie Gamer Chick. As of this review, Iron Crypticle, which swaps out the futuristic game show theme for a medieval swords and sorcery one, is ranked #14 on the IGC Leaderboard. That puts it in the top 97.7 percentile of all games I’ve ever reviewed. And I hate Smash TV, so that should speak to how open I am to enjoying a proper tribute to a game I dislike.

In fact, Galaxy Champions TV is *supposed* to have a game show theme as well. But, unlike Smash TV, the theme is vastly underutilized here. It just doesn’t feel like a game show. There’s a cheering crowd, but that’s it. They really needed to ham it up with commentary, cut scenes, maybe parody commercials. Something. ANYTHING!

Well, I don’t like Galaxy Champions TV. But at the same time, I think Smash TV fans would very much enjoy this. That’s just a guess, and I can only speak for myself, but GCTV sure seems like it’s been something they’ve wanted for a long time now. Well, up to a point. Though it doesn’t quite nail the gameshow immersion.. or really, get it right at all.. Galaxy Champions TV features a variety of upgrades that are permanent once purchased. It turns the grind of simply progressing into a grind where you get stronger as you go along. I’ve always kind of liked that type of grinding. And, while the variety of weapons is relatively small, there’s enough options and extra abilities you can unlock that it turns the Smash TV formula into one that’s kind of rewarding.

BUT, it’s still just basically Smash TV. You start levels in the center of a stark, empty room surrounded by doors. Swarming enemies pour out of the doors, which you then run from while shooting using twin-stick mechanics. While you don’t get to choose which path to take on the map (always moving to the door to the right), and there’s no catchphrase-spewing host or BIG MONEY BIG PRIZES shit, the actual gameplay absolutely nails the feel. Sometimes when I give a game a negative review, the asinine response from fanboys or “critics” that nobody realistically give a shit about is “did it achieve what it set out to do?” It’s the stupidest defense of a bad game ever, since for all we know, the game set out to simply not crash when booting up. But, with Galaxy Champions TV, yea, it sort of does do what it set out to do. Whether that’s a good thing or not is completely dependent on whether or not like you like the source material.

I only made it to the first half of the third level. But, I took down two bosses, neither of which are sponge baths. In fact, I took down the first boss on my very first attempt and the second boss in two tries. That sure beats spending ten minutes pumping bullets into the bosses in Smash.

Smash TV was hard. Well, no shit. It was created to earn money one quarter at a time, and if players last long, it ain’t earning quarters. But, difficulty is NOT the defining memory of Smash TV. The gameshow stuff is. It would seem that the developers latched onto the challenge as the primary selling point of the game and not, you know, the incredible theme and immersive setting. Because Galaxy Champions TV is so absurdly difficult, and crosses so many lines into unfairness, that I struggle to think even the most masochist golden age gamer would defend it. While you get stronger as you make progress, by the second world the enemies start triggering environmental hazards that make progress next to impossible. Take this shit for example:

Imagine playing ANY level of Smash TV, or any twin-stick shooter.. or any game EVER.. where enemies were capable of completely blocking 80% of the player’s view in a way that lingers for a few seconds at a time. One of the most baffling design decisions that was allowed to be in the final product I’ve ever seen in eight years of reviewing games. What the FUCK were they thinking?

This is only the second of four worlds. There’s enemies that can unleash long-lingering screen-blockage. In a game based on fast-moving, swarming enemies. Oh, and there’s mines on the ground, usually three per room. And it gets even worse. See that green puddle peeking out? Yea, those can be entirely covered by the clouds and cause damage if you step on them. There can also be pink puddles that glue you to the floor. There’s a dash mechanic that you can upgrade that somewhat shields you, but if you don’t shoot down the cloud things (which are the fastest moving enemies I’ve encountered), you have to deal with that much obstruction. This is absolutely unreasonable and beyond ridiculous.

The fully-upgraded flamethrower feels satisfying to use.. until it actively starts to contribute to the screen spamming that makes following the action so difficult.

The issue becomes that Galaxy Champions TV is so reliant on overwhelming odds and unfair situations to create challenge that when you do win, it feels like you were the beneficiary of dumb luck via weapon and item drops. Hell, when I finally beat the first level it was because the enemies dropped so many shields and hearts for me that I was basically being IV-fed them. In any other circumstance, I’d died and started the world over. The one positive I can say is once you finish a planet, you don’t have to start over from the beginning when you game over. Good thing, since you’ll die a lot. And thus, Galaxy Champions TV reveals its biggest flaw: like so many punishing games before it, it makes the mistake in believing the highlight to players is the deaths. It’s not. It’s when you actually survive. But, it has to feel you survived based on your play, and not because you got lucky. I always felt lucky with health or shield drops when I progressed in Galaxy Champions TV. Given that it gets to the point where you can’t even follow the action, I think most people will feel a sense of luck rather than accomplishment.

Really, Galaxy Champions TV is commendable because the movement, shooting, and weapons feel properly tuned, and the upgrades succeed in making you feel like you’re getting more powerful. But, the complete lack of enemy balance undoes all of that. Just before publication of this review, after many, many hours of gameplay, I purchased the final upgrade I had remaining while on the third world of the game. But this occurred on a level with enemies that fire what appear to be Spartan Lasers, enemies that dash at you (mind you, the dashing ones are that world’s most basic enemies), enemies that plant themselves and cause telekinetic explosions across the screen, and respawning landmines so subtly placed that you can’t possibly see them or keep track of them among all the chaos. The game becomes so busy and incomprehensible that I no longer felt like I was accomplishing anything and surviving came down to luck. It was like watching pixels of a screen saver going to war.

The main factor in my final quit was that I just couldn’t tell what was going on anymore. Galaxy Champions TV is too visually noisy. It would be like a Where’s Waldo shooting game.

So, I didn’t like Galaxy Champions TV. Will Smash TV fans? I can’t speak for them. If they want a game that nails the feel (if not the theme) but feels somewhat fresh and modern, this is the game they’ve been waiting for. I can’t recommend it to anyone else. The line between a good tribute, a bad tribute, and a GREAT tribute isn’t as thin as some would suggest. A good tribute is easy to recommend to fans of the game being honored. A great tribute is easy to recommend to even those who hated the original. I could do that with Iron Crypticle, ergo it must have been great. With Galaxy Champions TV, I only can guess that fans will like it, but once I reached the late second world, I even questioned if they would tolerate it. I still think it’s probably worth a look for Smash TV fans, and Smash TV fans only. It pains me to say this, because I’ve ALWAYS hated the assholes who use this term, but this is the one instance where I feel it’s actually true: Galaxy Champions TV does what it sets out to do. You have no idea how much it hurts me to say that. As for everyone else, I can’t recommend you buy it, even for a dollar.

Galaxy Champions TV was developed by aQuadiun Games
Point of Sale: Nintendo Switch, Steam

$4.89 (Normally $6.99) didn’t get to play this co-op because her family says she has “anger issues” in the making of this review. I do not.

A review copy was supplied to for this review, after which I purchased a pre-order copy. All indies reviewed at Indie Gamer Chick are paid for by me out of pocket. For more on this policy, read my FAQ.

The Pinball Chick: Star Wars Pinball (Review & Table Rankings)

It’s not an indie, but following my scathing review for the 1983 Nintendo Pinball (or at least the arcade version of it), a frankly insane amount of interest in pinball drifted my way. And that’s just fine with me, because pinball is one of the great passions of my life. I’ve got real tables. I’ve read books on it. Some of my fondest memories involve the pastime. Like being a four-year-old and having my Dad put a chair in front of our Firepower table, and even then barely being able to reach the flippers, yet still being dazzled by the lights and the action and the noises (and I hate loud noise, so that tells you something). My Dad loved the game, and while gaming was something we never shared, pinball was always there.

“So Father, let me get this straight.. you figured out that I was your son when I was in a completely different ship from you and firing on the Death Star, but you didn’t realize Leia was your daughter when she was standing right next to you?” “Yea? Well you have the Force too and you didn’t realize she was your sister when you kissed her.” “Hah, shows what you know because I totally did and I’m totally into that!”

And then I developed epilepsy at the age of sixteen. But my father was not prepared to have me lose pinball. So we just removed the especially dangerous lights, or used duller LED lamp lights. The situation still sucked. I couldn’t play the tables with the lights out. I couldn’t play routed tables on location or visit the Pinball Hall of Fame when I was in Las Vegas (well, IN THEORY I could if the tables are arranged in a way where ones with strobey effects are not visible to me). And, most importantly, I couldn’t really get into video pinball as the genre advanced past the primitive “living ball physics” of the 80s and 90s. And that sucks, because we’re only just now, in the relatively recent past, getting the ability to fairly accurately recreate real tables, or design original ones that have all the charm and nuance of real life pinball combined with fantasy and sci-fi elements only possible in the anything-goes realm of video games. This is the golden age of video pinball, and up to now, I’ve mostly missed it.

And then I realized that, on the Nintendo Switch, I can turn the back-lighting down low enough that it all but eliminates my personal risk. And so, mid-September through mid-October is Pinball Month at Indie Gamer Chick. And I’ve decided to start with what is not only the best value you can get in the modern digital pinball experience, but what is one of the best Switch games of 2019. Star Wars Pinball uses the engine perfected by Zen Studios with their Pinball FX series and is a complete set of tables released on other platforms. These aren’t to be confused with real tables based on the franchise, most of which the rights are now owned by Stern and could only be recreated on their Stern Pinball/Pinball Arcade platform if they were able to get the rights that are owned by Zen Studios. Which wouldn’t really be worth it, none of them are all that great, though the 1992 Data East table is probably the best of the bunch. In this $29.99 collection, you get a whopping nineteen tables. And, keeping it real, besides the mini-games, they could probably plug-and-play any theme into the tables, so being a Star Wars fan isn’t necessary for enjoyment.

One of the only things that’s on my wish list for Star Wars Pinball is an option to practice just the mini-games. Maybe that would nerf the challenge, but I think it would make it better since some of the games are kind of confusing and you have to take your eyes off the table, with limited time, to read the instructions. Give us practice, Zen! We’re talking ’bout practice, man!

Most modern video pinball DLC comes in packs that typically average out to a cost of $3.33 per table. For the all-in-one Star Wars Pinball package on Switch, it works out of $1.57 a table. It’s the best value out there, easily. Well, unless you count all the tables you get in the truly bizarre Zaccaria Retro Pack (review coming). But those are.. weird. Here, the only thing weird is how good of a value this is. Maybe Zen Studios missed the memo about charging a Switch Tax.

For Pinball month, I’m going to do my best to focus on the tables themselves, but I want to tell everyone first that the physics for Star Wars Pinball are incredibly accurate. It’s very unlikely that video pinball will ever feel 100% table-authentic, but the team at Zen has gotten pretty close to it. While this isn’t as good as some of the tables in their own Pinball FX3, it’s very impressive. There were only very limited moments of wonkiness, like having the ball stop-on-a-dime when it should have bounced at least a little. Or getting balls stuck on the flippers or even knocked out of the playfield altogether. But, in over thirty hours of playtime, I could count the amount of times something that made me go “what the fuck was that?” on one hand, and I’d still have fingers left over for members of the Skywalker family to cut off with their lightsabers. So, this is a good game on its technical merits. And I also don’t feel that Star Wars Pinball did “on-rail shots” or “railing” where some pinball games give players the benefit of the doubt and guide the ball to targets if your aim is close enough. I hate that shit. I want to live or die based on my skills. It feels patronizing otherwise. Anyway, Star Wars Pinball also offers extra modes (like leagues and a career mode). Me? I’m a table dancer. I mean.. wait that’s not what I meant. Well it kinda is but isn’t. Shut up.

There are built-in table guides, and there’s also special challenge modes that are based around honing your skills.

But, I can’t stress this enough: Star Wars Pinball is a damn good game under any circumstance. There are only five tables that aren’t really fun at all. That means you’re getting fourteen quality tables that bring interesting game play and ideas to the table. A handful of those are absolutely breathtaking. Having said that, all the biggest problems with Star Wars Pinball are common with every table. It’s utterly married to the concept that you’re playing on a real pinball machine, and thus all mini-games exclusively use the flipper buttons and sometimes the launcher button to control. But there’s really no reason it should do that. Yea, this is on other platforms, but they could optimize the console versions to use the controller. Or hell, make entirely new mini-games for the Switch version. Why not? Zen Studios, makers of long-time favorite of mine CastleStorm are certainly capable.

Some of the mini-tables are honestly more fun than most of the indie games I review.

Other niggling little annoyances: the plunger is sometimes hard to judge for the skill shots. The game recycles assets between tables a lot. There’s a Darth Vader animation that keeps popping up and looks like he’s trying to offer someone a hand or attempting to declare a thumb war. The voices often don’t sound right at all. There’s no table where Rian Johnson is strapped to a chair while you just batter his ballsack with the flippers.

But, the pinball is mostly solid, the tables all feel different from each other, and staying consistently creative for nineteen tables is commendable. That applies to even the bad ones. I totally hated the Han Solo table, but I admire that at least they were trying something different. Take my word for it: you won’t get bored after a few tables. Each one refreshes the excitement and sense of discovery that Star Wars Pinball offers. And ultimately, that’s why it’s the best video pinball game I’ve ever played. Well, at least for now. I spent over $200 buying up pinball games and DLC this last week. But, if you’re looking for the best package of pins for the lowest cost, this is where the fun begins.

Star Wars Pinball was developed by Zen Studios
Point of Sale: Switch
Special Note: All the tables in Star Wars Pinball for Switch were sold in DLC packs as part of Zen Pinball 2. The tables are unchanged, so please reference the table index if you need help knowing what packs to purchase.

$29.99 shot first in the making of this review.

A review copy was supplied by Zen Studios to me. Upon the release of Star Wars Pinball, I purchased a copy of it out of pocket.

Table Rating Index

Star Wars Pinball: $29.99 (Nintendo Switch)
Total Tables: 19
Masterpieces: 3
Great: 3
Good: 8
Bad: 2
The Pits: 3
Total Quality Tables: 14
Price per Quality Table: $2.14

Special thanks to Steve Da Silva for his guides, which were very helpful. I’ve linked to them all.

The Pits

#19: Han Solo
Speed: Below Average
Difficulty: Above Average
Modes: Below Average
Link to Guide

Han Shat First.

I went back and forth between Han Solo and Rogue One for the worst Star Wars Pinball table, like Star Wars editors trying to decide if Han shot first or at the same time or what. Rogue One feels like a hackneyed rush-job. Han Solo is very ambitious. But, after extensively replaying both, there’s no doubt about it now in my mind: Han Solo is the worst table in Star Wars Pinball.

So, where to begin here? There’s four ramps on the lower-half of the playfield, some of which are crowded by bumpers that can rise out of the floor. There’s often not enough room to build up speed to clear the ramps, but with a crowded playfield, most of the techniques you can use to build that speed up are are blocked in some way. The Millennium Falcon toy in the center is also hard to clear since the lane for it is covered. Combo circuits are frustrating because of the wavy ramp design. Modes and mini-games are clunky. It has the most unforgiving outlanes of any table. I have nothing nice to say about this one. Han deserved better. Between this, going out like a bitch in Force Awakens, and the whole fiasco with the Solo movie, the smuggler with a heart of gold has had a tough 2010s.

#18: Rogue One
Speed: Below Average
Difficulty: Below Average
Modes: Average
Link to Guide

The still image of Jyn Erso has more charisma than the real Felicity Jones. She’s only twenty-two months away from setting that world record for longest time a human being has gone without expressing a single basic emotion. Fingers crossed for you, girl! You got this!

I really don’t get what they were aiming for with Rogue One. The “highlight” of this table is a cluster of jet bumpers with five light targets. In front of this is a large sinkhole that sends the ball to a VUK that feeds the right flipper without fail. The jet bumpers increase multipliers, have easily to unlock multiplier holds (which allow those to carry over if you lose the ball), and open up simple, high-payoff modes. Ignoring every other aspect of the table, I was able to cheese up nine-figure scores focusing on this one aspect of the table with little resistance. And that’s just as well, because the modes aren’t all that fun.

The one redeeming quality I can say about Rogue One is that it might make a good starter table that has simple to hit straight-shots and easy-to-activate locks and lights. Since the table practically spoon-feeds you the ball and potentially challenging modes are muted by ball save being turned-on, you could do worse than starting with Rogue One. It’s a potentially effective confidence booster. BUT, there’s actually a better tutorial table (Empire Strikes Back) that doesn’t feel like shooting Porgs in a barrel. If you’re brand new to pinball, and I mean still-saturated in amniotic fluid new, Rogue One is the easiest option, but otherwise, this table is just boring.

#17: Solo
Speed: Below Average
Difficulty: Above Average
Modes: Below Average
Link to Guide

I’m not sure if this table was made by the team of Lord & Miller or Ron Howard.

Not to be confused with Han Solo, this one is actually based on the solo Solo movie. And that’s fitting because it’s every bit as disjointed as the flick is. The Solo table is the most busted of the entire set. Everything is horrible about it. Solo is based on ramps and orbits, but the ramps are too steep and run the length of the table, and the angles of the tables aren’t suitable for building up speed. I’m guessing combos weren’t the point, because actually being able to pull one off is practically a fucking miracle and rewarded with crazy high scores. The slingshots and rails for the outlanes are practically ball vacuums. Orbit exits point at the very edge of the flippers. The front target of the Millennium Falcon has a high probability of falling straight into the drain.

I initially liked this table, but once I started putting significant time in it, I realized this is actually one of the worst in the set. There’s just no polish. I even was able to knock the ball off the table in my final round playing this. And the shit thing is, there’s some neat ideas, like a stealth-based mode. I couldn’t really play it well because I have to turn the backlighting of my Switch all the way down, but it was a neat idea. I wish it had been on a better design. The scoring is unbalanced. The timers are too short. The best mode involves shooting a ball at a storm trooper walking on the board, but even that can be wonky. Man, Han got screwed by Star Wars Pinball even worse than he did by Lando in Empire. No doubt about it: in Star Wars Pinball, Han shot first. And then died from a self-inflicted gunshot wound.

The Bad

#16: Boba Fett
Speed: Above Average
Difficulty: Above Average
Modes: Average
Link to Guide

Boba Fett, patron saint of failures everywhere, got his own table. Like his real fictional counterpart, his table looks awesome but is ultimately kind of useless.

This table is proof the Speed/Difficulty/Modes ratings aren’t a measure of a table’s overall value. Here, the primary failure is in an overly-basic layout that falls victim to simple risk-reward mistakes. There’s vertical flipper on the left wall that’s very high-risk for shooting the right outlane, yet the reward for successful shots using it is relatively limited. In fact, the most low-risk shots (such as running combos through the ramps) score highest, while the high risk shots put the succubi outlanes in your sights but for minimum score and mode gain. The respect system goes under-utilized. The modes are dull. Boba Fett isn’t a total wash (and it’s very generous with ball-saves and kickbacks), but it’s probably the least properly balanced table in the entire collection.

#15: Might of the First Order
Speed: Above Average
Difficulty: Above Average
Modes: Below Average
Link to Guide

Based on tables like High Speed and Haunted House, which are great tables on their own. Mixed together, it’s a freakshow.

Might of the First Order is the single most tragic table in Star Wars Pinball. It has a lot of clever ideas and homages to classic tables that individually work well. But when you put them all together, it’d be like if Keith went to form Voltron and the Lions all crashed into each-other and exploded.

There’s an under-field similar to Gottlieb’s Haunted House or Black Hole, but without a proper transition when you enter it. It’s hard to tell when you’re in that table and no angle with the camera properly expresses depth, and consequently even skilled players will see their rounds with it end almost instantly before they even realize the mode has began. Star Wars Pinball has multiple tables with mini-fields, but they do it the right way: the action pauses while the camera transitions to the mini-field. Here, since it’s trying to pay tribute to classic real tables like Haunted House, the camera stays fixed and the ball enters play immediately. Thus a good idea is turned into garbage. And don’t get me started on how miserable managing multiball is with this gimmick.

Other problems are all over this one. The time limit on bonuses is too short. The mystery sinkhole is too prominent. The mini-games are boring. General Hux looks more like Tobey Maguire than whoever it is that plays him in the movie. And I’m especially frustrated by all these issues because the layout is one of the better ones (mystery sinkhole placement not withstanding), the speed is spot-on, and there’s a lot of fun gimmicks, like the fireball bonus. Might of the First Order is a bad table that, with a few minor tweaks and timing changes, would jump straight over the good tables and land somewhere near the top of the great list. Lots of fine ideas with bad execution. Sorta like Last Jedi, come to think of it. The movie, not the table I’m going to talk about later.

The Good

#14: Calrissian Chronicles
Speed: Average
Difficulty: Above Average
Modes: Below Average
Link to Guide

Yes, the prequels are stupid, but look on the bright side: George Lucas never wrote a scene where it’s revealed Mace Windu was Lando’s father. Lucas apparently only knows two black people in the entire world and thinks that Red Tails was the first action movie starring African Americans. You KNOW he at least thought about writing that scene. You know, the one where it’s revealed Obi-Wan knows that Mace fathered a child out a wedlock named Lando and so Anakin having kids with Padme isn’t totally unprecedented.

Lando’s table is probably the most difficult in the entire collection, and also probably the most like a real pinball table that’s designed to make money for route operators. Whether or not this is a good thing depends on your personal tastes, but if it were real, Calrissian Chronicles would be a quarter-muncher. I personally enjoyed it, but this is a maddening, unfair, insanely unbalanced table designed to feed the drain like a concubine hand-feeding grapes to Caesar. There’s a multiball-generating captive-ball target, but it’s placed in a way that it has a relatively high-percentage chance of sinking into the drain. There’s cardboard targets, some of which are moving, but they also have a high-percentage chance of draining out. The slingshots feed the outlanes. The lane rails feed the outlanes. The modes are authentic to normal pinball but are all dull and repetitive. This is a brutal table. But, I appreciate that at least one table made a large effort to feel real-life authentic, so it can bring up the rear of the the good tables. But I could totally see where those who consider this the worst table are coming from.

#13: Droids
Speed: Below Average
Difficulty: Average
Modes: Below Average
Link to Guide

Remove the Star Wars theme and you could easily base this on the mythological Kraken with the mess of ramps that look like tentacles.

Droids probably should be in the bad tables list. It shirks every semblance of balanced, logical pinball design in favor of being the most ramp-heavy table imaginable. It feels like someone was just taking the piss with the table design editor, but then a nightmare deadline came up and someone shoved this tangled monstrosity into the final set.

But, fun is fun. And the Droids table is pure dopey fun. And it has actual value: it’s easily the best table for newcomers to practice shooting ramp combos on. You have clean access to every ramp, the entrance to each is low-risk, medium-low at the very worst, allowing players of all skill levels to get a feel for the timing of combo shots.

Sadly, that’s pretty much all Droids has going for it. Confusing mini-games, clunky modes, and lots of lost potential plague this table. It’s a terrific giggle to watch C-3PO blow up and have to collect his parts, but the actual collection process is messy and unrefined. I recommend playing this one, because there’s nothing out there quite like it, but these are NOT the droids you’re looking for.

#12: A New Hope
Speed: Below Average
Difficulty: Above Average
Modes: Average
Link to Guide

I hate to say it, but this table feels gimmicky. A straight table would have been preferable to this roundabout stuff.

Another table that I originally over-rated. A New Hope is based in part on Fish Tales. The entire playfield is a series of horseshoe orbits. And a big problem with that is the access to those orbits is too small a target. Considering how crowded the table is, how high-risk the slingshots are, and how the outlanes practically snort the balls, it’s one of the more difficult tables in the collection. I’m not even exaggerating when I say I sunk 20 consecutive balls in the outlane in a span of under three minutes. You have got to keep the ball as far away from the outlane rails as humanly possible. Even if the ball is beginning to enter the inner-most lane, it has a better chance of rimming out and sinking straight-through the outlane. A New Hope seems specifically made to induce rage.

A New Hope also has a problem with transitions between mini-fields and the main table. There needs to be SOME warning.

But, when it’s not doing that, it’s a perfect fine table. It has one of the more fun multiballs (based on the Yavin Death Star raid) that makes it rain jackpots. It’s got one of the best mini-games (a shooting gallery). It even tries to go retro with a dot matrix screen mini-game. I just wish they had rethought the outlanes, because they’re too easy to hit and almost every mode ends prematurely with them.

#11: Starfighter Assault
Speed: Below Average
Difficulty: Below Average
Modes: Above Average
Link to Guide

Strangely, the plunger is on the left side of the board when you play as the Empire, which resulted in me flicking the left analog stick. I did this nearly every new ball. My brain just couldn’t comprehend that it was still the right stick that controlled the damn thing.

Starfighter Assault is the first table I’m covering today where the mini-games are fun and live up to the theme. I just wish they played better. One plays like a rudimentary space-shmup, another is a first-person view. The issue with them, and all mini-games in Star Wars Pinball, is that even though you move away from the table and enter games with entirely different engines, you’re still controlling the games as if they’re dot-matrix-display minigames that only use the flippers and the launcher. They can still play well, but why not take advantage of the medium more? I don’t get it.

Otherwise, Starfighter Assault is a perfectly fine table. You have to choose whether you’re playing in the Rebel Alliance or the Empire at the start, but that only changes the look of the table and what side you launch from. What I regret about it is how stop-and-go it is. There’s multiple sinkholes and gaps that reset the ball to the flippers, and they’re positioned in ways that an errand shot at the otherwise combo-rich table pretty much halts the gameplay and negates the risk that should come with missed shots. And speed is a constant issue here. The center of the board is narrow, so building up the necessary speed to clear the upper ramp (when it forms) relies on running through combos. Which is not to say it’s not fun. Like Droids, Starfighter Assault is based around racking up combos, and the layout and modes are optimized for being able to make combo-heavy, high-scoring runs. It just hits too many speed bumps.

#10: Ahch-To Island
Speed: Above Average
Difficulty: Average
Modes: Below Average
Link to Guide

Why on Earth did Disney allow them to name the place “Anch-To Island”? Did Michael Arndt sneeze during his pitch meeting to J.J. Abrams and was too embarrassed to admit it, so he just ran with it? “And then finally the movie ends with Rey finding Luke on.. on.. AAAAAANNNNCCCCCHHHHHHH-TOOOOOOOOOO.. uh.. Island. Ahch-To Island! Yep. And then wipe to the credits! While I wipe my nose!”

The primary feature of Ahch-To Island is a prominent spin disc in a cove in the upper-center-playfield, similar to games like Whirlwind. I usually dislike them, but Ahch-To’s is implemented in a way where the ball’s exit isn’t quite as chaotic, nor is it as likely to be an unplayable house ball. If anything, I think they might have been overly conservative with the disc.

In fact, Ahch-To Island’s biggest issue is that it’s incredibly basic. Like Droids, this is a table built more around combos. Simple orbital lanes with high-scoring opportunities if you get into the right rhythm. What limited targets are here are fairly easy to hit. Most disappointing is the modes. They’re all pretty fundamental. This was the first table I opened Wizard mode on, and I did so when I was practically drip-fed extra balls. Still, Ahch-To is an incredibly fast-paced, often intense table. Probably a good table for stepping up your reflex game. Also, it spits up more multiballs than pretty much any other table, so if you’re like me and suck at those, this is your chance to improve. And Porgs. Can’t forget the Porgs.

#9: Empire Strikes Back
Speed: Average
Difficulty: Average
Modes: Average
Link to Guide

The only truly GREAT Star Wars movie is just alright in Star Wars Pinball.

Empire Strikes Back marries a realistic widebody table with video-game style mini-games. And the layout is awesome. Superb ramp placement. Smart short orbits. A fun spinner toy shaped like a Cloud City building. A pop-up ramp in some modes. This is a solid table. And it includes some interesting mini-game ideas, like recreating the lightsaber battle from the movie between Luke and Vader. That game isn’t perfect. You have to use split-second reactions to judge whether Vader is moving left, right, or straight ahead and block his attacks. The issue is, when he moves left or right, the timing for blocking is so unforgiving that you practically have to react the moment he starts to move. I one time had the privilege of facing off against a professional Rock-Scissors-Paper player, rolled my eyes at the concept, then proceeded to lose 20 straight shoots to him. He might have been able to face Vader. For everyone else, the only action Vader does that it feels you have a reasonable time window to block is the straight-ahead attacks. Every time I beat him, it felt like I got lucky.

But, that’s not the issue with Empire. The problem is it has the easiest method of beginning “scenes” (modes) in the entire Star Wars Pinball package. The target to trigger the entrance to the modes is right in front of you. It’s the most basic of shots. So is the entrance, which is a large hole even closer to the front of the flippers. It’s basically handing players the modes. It’s almost as if they weren’t happy with the table or thought the table didn’t have enough going for it so Zen decided to hypercharge the table by always having modes going. They really sold the table short. In reality, the only thing holding it back is the simple mode activation. On the positive side, Empire is the best table to introduce new players to playing through modes, so there’s that.

#8: The Force Awakens
Speed: Below Average
Difficulty: Above Average
Modes: Above Average
Link to Guide

If the broken auto-launcher gets fixed, you can bump this table up a spot or two. I’d be fine with that.

I went all over the place with this table, and at one point, in a fit of uncontrollable rage, dropped it to dead last in the rankings. That part was mostly owed to at one point locking a ball for multiball, and then having the auto-launched next ball clear the entire playfield and go right down the fucking outlane. It caused me to go full pony (I screamed until I was a little hoarse). BUT, to the game’s credit, I might have been able to have given it a little nudge to prevent that. Still, I think that should be patched out.

So yea, Force Awakens is a pretty decent table with some of the more fun modes. Modes I’d have enjoyed a lot more if the ball didn’t have an uncanny knack for going down the right outlane on the onset of almost every one of them. Especially the one involving the Rathtars, which I never got to experience in a dozen times triggering it because the triggering event always led directly to the ball falling down the right outlane. Okay, fine, maybe it’s a little broken. But the multiballs are fun. The BB8 stuff is fun. It’s a solid table, but one that either needs more work or was designed to be unfair. I don’t get the point in that. When a person buys a video pinball game, it’s made its money. It’s not trying to earn route operators quarters.

#7: Masters of the Force
Speed: Average
Difficulty: Above Average
Modes: Average
Link to Guide

Worth mentioning: right before starting the write-up for the Masters of the Force table, I set the world record on it for Switch. After joking about all the records I was setting before the game came out, it was nice to finally become a world champion on one table, even if that has no chance of lasting past this week.

Masters of the Force is another high-concept table that feels very post-Williams. There’s a cube toy that triggers a simple multiball that’s maddening to play well due to the side flippers. There’s mini-tables tied to Yoda and the Emperor that are relatively easy to access but surprisingly hard to play out. There’s nifty simulations of famous Jedi v Sith battles, but they’re done via cardboard targets that crowd the flippers and feed the drains (as do the slingshots). Really, the theme for Masters of the Force is “deceptively difficult.” And that frustration is compounded by being outright screwed by the table. If I had a nickle for every time the Yoda mini-table dropped the ball straight down the drain, I’d.. probably have around 30 cents. But I cussed every time. There’s also a lot of downtime on the table due to an enormous gap in the upper table that really does nothing more than reset the action. I hate those in any game. They’re never good.

Of the 19 tables, as of this writing a week after Star Wars Pinball’s release, this is the lowest global high score on Switch for any of them. STILL COUNTS, FUCKERS! I am the World Champion of this table. Suck it!

And it’s a shame that the table seems to be designed to be so specifically frustrating, because it’s potentially one of the most fun tables. The Balance of the Force concept, which comes down to which flipper you use to hit which target, is well implemented and clever. The mini-tables might feel like glorified dollar-store plastic pinball games, but they work well (most of the time) too. Masters of the Force brings a lot of ideas, good and bad, to the table. That’s fitting, I guess? It’s still fun, but designed to channel your anger to the Dark Side.

The Great

#6: The Last Jedi
Speed: Above Average
Difficulty: Below Average
Modes: Average
Link to Guide

This is literally the only good thing to ever come out of Last Jedi.

One of the most bizarre tables in Star Wars Pinball. The modes are based entirely around running orbits on the various ramps and circuits, all of which are fairly basic shots. But it works insanely well because the layout is so perfect. It’s debatable whether Last Jedi or Rebels is the fastest table in Star Wars Pinball. But, Last Jedi feels like it uses the speed better, and the homages to other high-octane tables like the Williams classics High Speed, Taxi, and Getaway are all over. There’s also a fun shooting gallery mini-game with BB8, though I wish getting these games started didn’t involve so much lumbering animation. With a game that feels like the table is greased, you don’t want to have too many interruptions in the action, and Last Jedi comes close to falling in that trap.

I might have gone higher on this table, but personal issues playing the game got in the way of my enjoyment. Because of my epilepsy, I’m playing on the pinball games on Switch in handheld mode with the backlighting turned as far down as it goes. Unfortunately, many of the modes on Last Jedi (Scene 3 and the Kylo Multiball) turn the screen almost completely dark. I couldn’t pause the game and turn the brightness back up just for these modes because jackpots or other high scores triggered flashes. So this table might actually be better than I have it rated (a lot of my Twitter fans named it their personal favorite table) but I can only rate these based on my own experience. Meh, it’s still better than the Rose subplot from the movie.

#5: Return of the Jedi
Speed: Average
Difficulty: Average
Modes: Average
Link to Guide

Eh, better than Porgs.

I hate Return of the Jedi. It’s boring. The movie, I mean. The Star Wars Pinball table is great. Themed around Endor, Ewoks and all, Return is another table that, with adjustments, would work as a real-life table. Which is not to say it’s perfect. There’s a sinkhole with a flipper to the right of it that’s highly susceptible to abuse, as finding yourself in a position to use it as a dumper and reset the ball to the flippers is too simple. Probably to make up with overly-bouncy outlane rails. The right one, especially, sucks with all the power of Starkiller Base and took roughly 90% of my lives, especially when I had just started a high-scoring mode. It seemed like my ball was suddenly an Olympic gymnast and could do the most improbable tumbling act of all-time finding its way into the that fucking outlane. It’s the only time in my entire thirty hours spent with Star Wars Pinball that I questioned whether Zen Studios caved in and rigged a table for difficulty.

I honestly would have welcomed a round of Oh…Sir! over this.

But, Return of the Jedi’s simple, clean layout and easy to navigate orbits make it a fairly smooth table to play. And then there’s the modes, which range from the perfect examples of risk-reward pinball (the Dark Side spin-disc) to modern pinball’s worst excesses (an everybody out of the pool type of multiball that involves a storm trooper firing onto the balls and altering their gravity or outright destroying them). And then there’s the Speeder Bike mini-game, which is, and I’m not exaggerating here, the worst mini-game in the history of video games. And it especially sucks because it feels like it takes forever to get to the game, and as far as I can tell, there’s no way to skip the fluff getting it started.

But regardless, this is one of the best tables, mostly because it feels real. Nice, clean layout. Excellent target placement. The theme was integrated well with modes based around taking out the shield dish or having a final duel with Darth Vader. Proper balance of risk-reward. This might actually be one of the better tables to show a naysayer pinball purist what the best video pinball can do. It might even be the table I end up going back to the most once the review is done.

#4: Rebels
Speed: Above Average
Difficulty: Above Average
Modes: Above Average
Link to Guide

It’s amazing how both Clone Wars and Rebels, two shows I wanted to like but couldn’t, ended up inspiring two of the best tables in the entire collection.

In my first run-through of the tables, I had Rebels pegged as the best table, and in the Masterpiece category. But, my extended playtime with it revealed quite a few teeny tiny flaws that drops it down to merely being pretty dang great. It has a target placed in a straight line above the drain that’s far to easy to hit from multiple angles. But, the way they designed it, with walls on either side, it too frequently straightens the path and drops the ball down the sink. The issue is, this is the board’s primary target, and a necessary component for so many modes. This was not the target to up the risk-reward factor on.

And that’s such a damn shame because otherwise is one of the best digital pinball tables I’ve played so far. Really fun, insanely quick gameplay. Maybe the fastest overall table. Besides that damn ramp/target, the other targets are clean and well placed, the ramps and orbits are exhilarating, and it feels just sort of spunky. It probably has the best hurry-ups in Star Wars Pinball too. It’s a lot of fun. But incredibly unfair too.

The Masterpieces

#3: Battle of Mimban
Speed: Below Average
Difficulty: Above Average
Modes: Average
Link to Guide

I wish this was a little brighter. I might have been better at it.

More than any other table in Star Wars Pinball, Mimban (which I called “Mimbah” for 90% of my tweets related to it. I swear, I’m not a Rush Limbaugh fan) feels like it’s a video game with a pinball theme. It takes advantage of the medium. And I don’t mean it has mini-games that couldn’t be accomplished on a real table. Rather, it feels like it’s taking place during an actual battle. Most of the modes involve cardboard targets or pop up Mimbanese snipers, which, granted, can crowd the flippers sometimes or lead to errand bounces into the outlanes. Also, of all the good tables, this has the weakest multiball, involving imperfect spherical rocks that occasionally get stuck. Some other tables do that too. This one does it worse.

But, I’m an action type of chick, and Mimban is about fast-paced target shooting. Which is not to say there’s not other fun stuff like combo ramps and orbits. But Mimban focuses on hitting things with the ball, not passing over things with the ball. There’s a base bombing mode. There’s a shooting gallery. There’s drop-targets themed like crumbling pillars that ad so well the the decaying battlefield theme. I love this table. This represents the highest potential Zen Studios can do in making video games you play using pinball mechanics instead of simply being pinball video games.

#2: Clone Wars
Speed: Above Average
Difficulty: Above Average
Modes: Above Average
Link to Guide

This is where the fun begins.

You know what’s really nutty here? I’m not a fan of the Clone Wars movie or TV series. But man, did it inspire one wonderful digital pinball table. Clone Wars has one problem, and only one problem: its outlanes are too hungry, its rails too rubbery, and getting kickbacks turned on is a chore. Okay, wait, that’s.. (counts on hand) three problems. Oh, and the slingshots are basically outlane waiters. Four problems. Otherwise, this is a white-knuckle, super-fast paced table. Excellent layout. Great target placement. Some clever modes, including one that places a force-field on the table. Hell, Clone Wars even has the best mini-table in the game. Even the look of the table is striking. This could be a real table. A really good one.

#1: Darth Vader
Speed: Below Average
Difficulty: Average
Modes: Above Average
Link to Guide

I have to point out that the voice actor for Darth Vader in Star Wars Pinball sounds nothing like James Earl Jones. It sounds like literally every single father in America’s impression of Darth Vader. The one he does that embarrasses you in front of your friends.

The best example of how the table attributes don’t matter to the overall value of the table. Darth Vader, a slower, limited-frills table is just wired for fun. Strange design too. The center of the playfield is essentially empty, with the majority of bells and whistles clinging to one sides. Perhaps a metaphor for Vader himself, torn between the type of person who takes Padme out for a romantic picnic and the type of person who commits genocide with his lightsaber. Twice (don’t forget the Tuskens). The Vader table has an optional intro sequence where you have to build Vader’s suit. I can’t stress enough: you sorta HAVE to do this. It’s the easiest ten million points in all of Star Wars Pinball. But then, yes, you have to sit through a recreation of the “NOOOOOOOO!!!” from Revenge of the Sith. NOOOOOOOOOO!!!

If you enjoy mutliball, and I normally don’t, this is the table for you. And it does have a little more going for it. But there’s elements that I find confusing. There’s a dead flipper on the right side of the table and I can’t figure out what actions give it power. I can’t figure out why the Lightside/Darkside multiball jackpots don’t seem to work sometimes. And while I’m at it, Darth Vader has one of the best mini-games in Star Wars Pinball, based on taking control of Vader’s TIE Fighter during the trench run from the original movie, but it’s maybe the most difficult to access mini-game in the entire collection. It’s not quite a blind angle, but it’s close. Otherwise, great table. Deliberate. You can pace out the multiballs when they happen. Orbit combos are clean. The theme works. It’s the most popular table in the set for a reason. It’s by far the most fun table in the set. And, by definition, that makes it the best. At least in my book.

Arcade Archives: Pinball (Review for Nintendo Switch)

Another day, another Nintendo coin-op that’s damn-near identical to an NES launch counterpart that costs $7.99, which pretty much only nets you the same game that’ll inevitably be ported to Switch Online for free. Joy. Today, it’s 1983’s Pinball by Satoru Iwata of all people. And it’s not good at all. It’s horrible. It’s one of Nintendo’s worst published games.

But Mario has a very brief cameo in it, so Nintendo fanboys of the past convinced themselves it was awesome. That’s par for the course on those Nintendo black box releases. Imagine if he’d made an appearance in Urban Champion. It wouldn’t have the unjust reputation as the worst game Nintendo ever made. While we’re on the subject, Pinball somehow managed to not be that either despite busted physics and some of the the most cheating gameplay ever. Of all time.

I see London. I see France. Pauline ain’t wearing underpants!

You can tell Pinball wasn’t made by someone with a deep understanding of what makes real pinball work. A lot of people describe the pastime as “controlled chaos.” But I grew up in a house with pinball machines (specifically the Williams classics Firepower and Black Knight, both from 1980 and both by the legendary Steve Ritchie, both of which my Dad bought in the mid 80s before I was even born. I got two things from my father: a love of pinball and a predisposition to high blood pressure. Thanks Daddy). Pinball, when played at its top level, is anything but chaos. With enough time and patience, anyone can clock a table, learning every angle, skill shot, and the risk/reward factors of each target. Pinball is a very precise sport. Yes, sport. Fuck you. If curling, golf, or League of Legends are sports, so is pinball. And pinball, which is one of the great joys of my life, has only recently been successfully recreated digitally. It took gaming less time to figure out proper online play than it did to get digital pinball right.

This isn’t the snobbish “real pinball is the only pinball” hot air that you get from many silver ball enthusiasts. A lot of people don’t have the money you need to truly get into it. A decent pin will typically run you $1,500 – $2,500 minimum, $4,000 for iconic tables, going as high as $10,000 for legendary tables. And that’s not even considering the amount of work you need to put into them to clean and maintain them. Turning pinball from a hobby to a passion is very expensive. The majority of people who do buck up and buy a table end up not liking it as much as they imagined they would. That’s why I like video pinball’s potential. If you don’t fall completely in love with the experience, you’re only out a couple bucks. As opposed to thousands.

And, in 1983, this is probably as close to looking like a real table as video pins got. But it’s also not pinball in the sense that you can play it like a real machine. You can’t, because you simply can’t clock Nintendo Pinball. For starters, the ball is alive and always vibrating. Because it’s always having a seizure, even if you hold the ball with a flipper to set up a shot, you can’t control what trajectory it’ll take or how the ball will react upon hitting walls and surfaces. It’s completely random and never consistent from one shot to the next. Nintendo Pinball’s reality lives up to the greatest misconception of real pinball: it’s governed by random chance. The ball also does weird things like somehow retaining inertia that it should have lost when you grab the ball for a tee shot. And the plunger is not easy to use either since there’s no analog way to fire it off. Probably 49 shots out of 50 had me getting the in one of the 500 point lanes instead of the 1,000 point one. Which also tells me that the game does more than just rely on its limited physics to dictate the ball’s path. It must be doing something more to pull the ball away from targets. Simple random chance odds tell me that the ball should be able to go down the center chute one out of three times, instead of once every fifty shots. So something is not on the up-and-up with Pinball. Other parts of the game make this even more clear.

Those slots where the cards are became the most maddening aspect of the game. Because the ball is so erratic and doesn’t have consistent weight or gravity, even if I slowed it down so that it should drop into one of the slots, it’d inevitably suddenly become a high-density rubber ball and bounce off. Also, this almost always happened to the left, leading me to believe there’s invisible suction that draws the ball away from targets.

It also doesn’t help that the table layout isn’t very good. The game is split into two screens. The upper one contains a slot machine that you activate by going down one chute. The numbers don’t stop on their own, and instead you must hit a moving target when it’s hovering above the reel that’s spinning. In over ten hours spent on this game, I only successfully pulled this off three times. This mostly owes to the upper level having three ways for players to be sent down to the lower level: the drain (the gap between the flippers), a portal that fires you past targets on the lower level, and finally a outlane on the left side. This outlane I genuinely believe is rigged with some kind of suction. It has to be. Too many times the ball bounced into it when it had none of the required moment to even come close to the opening, let alone go through it. Inevitably, if the ball even came near the entrance to it, it was like crossing the event horizon of a black hole: no escape.

And then you have the lower level, where the majority of available points are (if you’re playing the five minute caravan mode, getting points in the upper level is so slow you practically have to let the ball fall down to it). Here, there’s five slots that reveal playing cards. Get all five cards revealed and you get a drain stopper and score points. You can also enter a bonus room here. This is where Mario shows up, and it’s possibly the most busted aspect of the game. Ironically, the BONUS room ruined my best runs of the five-minute mode because sometimes the ball’s momentum would just stop on a dime and it would proceed to very, very slowly roll towards a drain. It could eat up thirty seconds by itself. In the NES/Famicom version of Pinball, my understanding is you’re not guaranteed to be able to enter the bonus room. In the arcade version, you enter it every time you hit the portal to it. Assuming you’re actually trying to score points in it, you must reflect a ball with a paddle similar to Breakout. Mario holds the paddle, thus earning the game acclaim from slobbering Nintendo fanboys the world over. If you successfully do this, Pauline will fall from her holding chamber. You must then catch her and deliver her to an exit (which again, she walks VERY slowly to). If you successfully pull this off, you only get 5,000 points. It’s such a little amount of points for such a high-degree difficulty challenge. But, far too often, the ball will launch in a way where it’s unplayable from the start. And, since you only get the points earned in it after losing your last ball, it’s not desirable to enter this room at all in the Arcade Archives Caravan Mode. Even killing yourself to get those earned points isn’t worth it, because it takes forever for them to be added to your real score. Why is everything about Pinball so slow? Pinball ain’t slow!

This is NOT exactly the NES version. In it, the flippers apparently don’t disappear as often, the physics are altered, and you have to unlock being able to successfully enter the bonus room. I guess. I have no means to play it. I suspect it’ll be coming to Switch Online soon. But the disappearing flippers becomes insanely annoying. They’re still there. You just can’t see them. You can cheat like I did and mark where the optimal spot on the screen they are.

In fairness, this bonus room wasn’t designed around a special mode of the game being surgically grafted to it 36 years later. But that doesn’t excuse why the bonus room is so miserable to begin with. Or why knocking down all the drop targets makes your flippers invisible. What in all the fuck is that? Why invisible? Why is the scoring balance so off? Why are the high degree difficulty shots in the upper level worth so little points, while the relatively easy to hit bumpers on the lower level worth so much? High scoring is as simple as getting the ball trapped in a cycle in them, having them knock around, and up through the card slots. I posted the fifth highest score in Caravan Mode’s global leaderboard doing this. It’s pretty much the only way you can do it. I also finished 28th in Hi-Score mode, where you must play with the machine’s default options. So nobody can accuse me of disliking Pinball because I sucked at it. I’m high up on all three global leaderboards.

Especially the normal mode, where high scores count no matter what options you use. I kept all the default options but gave myself five lives instead of three. And then I posted the second highest score ever recorded on the Arcade Archives Pinball original mode global leaderboard: 843,020. A pretty amazing achievement.

Too bad it’s fake.

To my credit, the game kept cheating me. What’s good for the goose..

Yep, I cheated. It’s a bullshit score that I achieved by exploiting an absolutely galling oversight on developer Hamster’s part. Anyone can beat if they have enough time and patience, skill level be damned.

Here’s how I did it. Pay attention Hamster: I’m about to close a loophole in your games for you. You’re welcome.

Unlike Hi-Score and Caravan Modes, where pausing the game to the menu forfeits your score and session, original mode allows you to access a menu, where changing anything but the game’s dip switch options keeps your current session alive. Included in this is a Save State Interrupt feature. For most emulators, Save State Interrupt should only work to save a game if you need to power down the platform you’re on. When you resume the session, it erases the save state. Hamster forgot the erase part. Erasing the state only happens when you game over. Using the save state, I could quit to the game’s main menu if I died or the ball wasn’t where I wanted it to be. I would just replay sections bit by bit, creating a new state every 10,000 or so points and dropping balls occasionally to make it look like it was a believable score, finally laying my ball down once I cleared the 2nd place score to make it look realistic. In reality, I considered taking the top spot (which is over two-million points, significantly higher than the next highest scores) but it took me hours just to get to second using this trickery.

It’s absolutely fucking insane that Hamster didn’t think of this, and it puts a taint on every previous Arcade Archives release. I went back and checked them. All the ones I own have this exploit in their original modes. And yea, I feel bad about it (my apologies to everyone with real scores I beat out making this point). That’s why I put effort towards posting impressive real scores in the other two modes. But, ultimately, even my fifth play finish in Caravan Mode was via dumb luck. My ball at one point got stuck in a cycle in the middle of the bumpers and went through the queen’s slot a dozen times in a row. I also managed to avoid the bonus room and the ball, for literally the only time the entire time I was playing, seemed to bounce in my favor. But when my best accomplishment is based on dumb luck, it sort of mutes the point of being one of the top five scorers ever, does it not?

I’m going to guess the top score isn’t legit either. Looking back, all the Arcade Archives titles have massive gaps in the top scores. You can tell which ones are real and which ones aren’t just by noting those gaps and at which point on the list scores start to cluster closer together. This is also why the scores in Hi-Score Mode and Caravan Modes tend to be closer together. Still, I can’t believe the Vs. Super Mario score is legit. Meanwhile, I cheesed Kid Niki’s global board too in another way (that review is coming up).

So yea, I hated Pinball too. And I’m not even willing to give it kudos for ambition for its era. It’s a horrible layout. The scoring is all out of wack and not balanced to factor in risk/reward, it has a busted bonus room, and it’s almost entirely based on luck. It’s more pachinko than pinball, and since this was made for a primarily Japanese audience, that’s probably by design. I hate to bring back this old chestnut, but I’m sort of forced to: gaming has come a long ways. But the Atari 2600’s Video Pinball from 1980 did predictable, reliable physics better than this warped version of pinball on a more advanced platform three years after-the-fact did. I have to believe Nintendo’s version could have done it too and simply didn’t. Pinball isn’t the worst early Nintendo game. But it is maybe the most broken. We exist in a world that has Ice Climber, so that’s saying something.

Arcade Archives: Pinball (despite this being a Vs. System game, it’s not called “Vs. Pinball”) was developed by Hamster
Point of Sale: Nintendo Switch

$7.99 studied under Rosie Ruiz in the making of this review.

A fan purchased this game for me. All indie games reviewed at this blog are purchased by me. Retro AAA games I accept fan donations on. I matched the purchase price of this with a contribution to the Epilepsy Foundation. And then I blistered my thumb playing it. Also, I think Iwata haunted my Switch.

High Noon Revolver

In the interest of full disclosure, I’m not a fan of Capcom’s SonSon or SNK’s Psycho Soldier. So, how’d I end up with an indie tribute to them? Well, I base my purchases for Indie Gamer Chick on cover art, theme, and one screen shot. I didn’t realize I was buying a game that would start behind the eight ball with me. But, I’d like to think I’m professional and fair. So hear me out..

High Noon Revolver is one of 2019’s worst indies.

I put a lot of time into it, and couldn’t make it past the first level. Despite not being a fan the source material, I consider myself a relatively skilled gamer and I should have been able to make SOME progress. For those that don’t know the concept, the idea is you’re in an auto-scrolling, three-lane shooter where you dodge bullets, shoot enemies, and collect coins or hearts. Coins can be spent to buy temporary (as in they last until you die) item upgrades during breaks in the action. But what upgrades you get to choose from is determined at random. So is whether or not enemies drop coins. I’ve played rounds where almost every enemy dropped one, and ones where none of them did. Success and failure in High Noon Revolver is governed by RNG luck more than any amount of skill. You’ll take damage from fast enemies spawning behind you in a way you can’t possible hope to avoid. You’ll take damage from heat-seeking flying enemies that can spawn directly above you if you’re in the top channel. Ones that also have the advantage of the player character having a, shall we say, slightly generous collision box. People call me a crybaby for complaining about “gotcha” stuff in games, and I don’t get it. What is FUN about just dying at random? If you have no chance to avoid it, it’s really not a game, is it?

I never got past the first boss. Even once when I had six full hearts and longer invincibility from taking damage, I came just shy of getting it half-way down on its life. It’s spongy, it cakes the entire screen in shit that tries to kill you, AND enemies spawn while you battle it. Some of them, like the guys in the mine carts you see, drop bombs that give you even more shit to dodge. This shit isn’t fun. It’s a war of attrition. This was the best I did at it, getting it about 3/4 of the way dead before I finally died when the mine cart guys started spamming the screen with bombs and my only option was to jump into them and get killed or stand still and die from a heat-seeking missile.

And staying in the center channel isn’t really an option. There’s a character that can fire a shotgun in three directions, but you have to be in the exact right spot to hit the channels above and below you. The screen scrolls fast and you’re almost always dodging bullets or enemies. Some of the enemies have shields. Some of them apparently poison you (and the poison effect is so subtle that I didn’t even realize it was happening). It took me around an hour of the most miserable play time imaginable to unlock my first character. Now mind you, the first two starting characters are balanced. The first unlocked character has more life and a weapon with bullets that pierce all enemies (except shelled ones). That sounds fine, but it’s another sign that no consideration was seemingly given about balance while High Noon Revolver was being developed.

I wouldn’t have been so angry if not for the fact that there’s some hope for fun to be found here. Some of the items are truly nifty, like ones that cause enemies to spray bullets out upon being shot, which can possibly set-off a chain reaction. But getting to use the good ones is rare (I played for hours yesterday and today and only got to use that once the entire time). The fun stuff is just too hard to acquire, and it seems that the game becomes its most dickish when you have a potentially great loadout. Most of the items are not all that useful. Why would I need to buy an upgrade that shoots all the way across the screen when my gun already does that? But that becomes an option. The one thing High Noon Revolver does that feels like it’s “smart” is if you have less than 10 coins when you open a chest during a break in the action, you get coins from it instead of options to buy stuff. But literally everything else is done badly. The sniper rifle is the most fun to use, but it’s slow and clunky unless you get to increase its bullet size or eliminate the recoil. The dash move is useless and gets you killed more than it helps. Sometimes it seems like the game drops one heart after another and sometimes it doesn’t seem to drop them at all. Really, it feels like this was meant to be an actual 80s arcade game designed specifically to limit playtime.

These guys look like the blue shells from Mario Kart, but they’re so much cheaper. You get no warning if enemies are coming from the left of the screen, but often that side of the screen is the only place you can safely stand. This is one of the cheatiest games I’ve played as IGC.

And you get no help for the most part. You move too slow to avoid the enemies in too many situations, and sometimes and there’s not enough room to maneuver in a safe way at all. Especially with birds. You’ll wish you had a way to wipe the screen of them. And then you see the bombs, and you get excited. But, in fact, High Noon Revolver has the most pointless, useless bombs in action gaming history. You start each round with a few, and enemies can drop them. But, when you activate them, they don’t clear out the enemies on-screen. As far as I can tell, they don’t damage the actual enemies at all. They only remove enemy projectiles. Which sounds valuable in a game like this, where the whole screen can be cluttered with bullets. BUT, when I’d need to activate them, I’d take damage anyway from the projectiles if they were too close. You really have to fire them off before the projectiles are a real danger. What’s the point of even having them? It’d be like the “break glass in case of emergency” axes only worked if you think there’s a fire. I literally can’t believe the game botched bombs. The easiest, most cliched mechanic in action-arcade games and it still managed to fuck them up. It’s kind of incredible.

I think a big problem is the screen’s scrolling speed. I mean, there’s a LOT of problems with High Noon Revolver. But I think a lot of the balance would be better if you had more time to defend yourself. Those shell enemies shoot in eight directions, but if they spawn during the scroll, they won’t open themselves up to attack until they’ve reached the middle of the screen. By that point, you have other shit to deal with. And, unless your bullets pierce the shells, they act as shields for all other enemies behind them. High Noon Revolver is cheap in the literal sense at $3, but it’s cheap in the other, whiny way.

I literally can’t think of anything nice to say to balance this review. But, then again, the developer didn’t consider balance, so why should I? Even the presentation I find obnoxious because it seems like all the effort was put into making the game look good. I was posting one thirty-second clip after another showing how mind-numblingly unfair High Noon Revolver was and people reading completely missed how angry I was because it looks fun. But it’s not. High Noon Revolver feels like a freemium, pay-to-win game that forgot to add all the pay-to-win stuff. It’s hard to describe, except to say it feels like it’s cheating. More concerned with screwing players over than letting us have fun. Some people genuinely like insanely hard games. But, I’m of the opinion that a game based entirely on luck is only “hard” in the same way winning the jackpot in the lottery is “hard.” It’s luck. Luck isn’t difficulty. It’s just not! If a meteorite crashed through my house and killed my entire family but me, nobody would congratulate me on conquering the meteorite. I didn’t! It just missed me! I got lucky! So why would anyone say differently about video games based on luck? I don’t get it. All High Noon Revolver is a $3 die-a-lot game, and good for it. I like my games fun, and there, it’s firing blanks.

High Noon Revolver was developed by Mike Studios
Point of Sale: Nintendo Switch, Steam

$2.49 (normally $2.99) hung it high in the making of this review.

Save me Mr Tako: Tasukete Tako-San and Pirate Pop Plus

I didn’t grow up with an original Game Boy, and only had a Game Boy Pocket because I wanted to dive into the Pokemon craze right away and had gullible parents unaware that Game Boy Color would be arriving two months after Red & Blue hit the US. To say I have zero nostalgia for the platform would be an understatement. Especially when my primary reason for wanting to own a Game Boy in the first place was a series that’s had roughly two-kajillion sequels with essentially the same gameplay but better writing since then. And frankly, I was never a big fan of the watershed titles for the platform. I’ve played all the Mario Lands. I had Link’s Awakening DX on Game Boy Color. They were what they were, but I wasn’t a fan. Really, the only stand-out to me was Donkey Kong ’94, and that was by virtue of it not having a console-counterpart. If you had asked 10-year-old me what was the worst game I owned in 1999, there’s a good chance I would have answered Donkey Kong Land. Mind you, I had Bubsy 3D.

That’s no joke, by the way. I asked Santa Claus for a PlayStation 1 for Christmas of 1996 because I got hooked on playing Crash Bandicoot while playing a PS kiosk. A few months later, it was time for me to pick out my first non-Christmas-gift game for my first ever console. This is what I chose. With encouragement from my parents, who thought it looked “easy for a little girl.” So my parents were condescending, had horrible taste in games, AND were sexist. On the plus side, I think the seeds for Indie Gamer Chick were planted that week. I really do.

Until recently, while I believe my “anti-Nintendo” reputation was a bum rap, it’s safe to say I really was anti-Game Boy. Following my re-evaluation of Donkey Kong ’94, along with my play sessions with Operation C and Castlevania II: Belmont’s Revenge, I’ll admit that portable gamers weren’t entirely hosed. But I also don’t get why anyone would want to make a game that looks and plays like a Game Boy game in the modern age. A severely limited system where even the best games had many compromises that had to be made in order to keep them portable. Don’t get me wrong: it is impressive when someone pulls off the mimicry without it feeling like they just colored a game in creamed spinach tones. Take both the games I’m reviewing today. They both feel very authentic, to the point that you can buy them as lost 1989 – 1995 titles for the platform that were just now unearthed. If seeing that off-putting color palette stokes those nostalgia fires, ignore this review. Both these games rise high enough that they should work for you. Well, that’s assuming you ignore the maddening difficulty of Mr Tako, but since so many blowhards from that era bitch about games today being too easy, I assume that’s you.

For everyone else, the question is: how good are these games on their own merit?

I want to be.. under the sea.. in a Octopus’s gar.. OH SHIT! NOBODY SAID THEY FORM ARMIES! RUN!

Save me Mr Tako is probably considered the best Game Boy-like ever. It’s super popular. And, yeah, it really does feel like something that could pass for an unreleased mid-90s Game Boy title. One of the ones that came out after developers figured out how to optimize it around the time Wario Land: Super Mario Land 3 or Link’s Awakening hit.  It also offers alternate color palettes that I believe are based on ones offered by the Super Game Boy. The sound, the look, the cramped field of vision. It’s all here. For better and for worse. Picture “worse” here being carved into a series of Everest-sized mountains.

Mr Tako is one of the most baffling experiences of my IGC life, because everything is in place for a fun game. It has a quirky story about a brewing war between sentient octopi and humans. It has an absolute ton of power-ups to keep things fresh through-out. The storyline has you occasionally switch from playing as the titular Mr Tako to human characters to solve puzzles and beat levels. And Mr Tako is potentially one of the great indie mascots. He’s overflowing with charm and personality and is Pikachu-levels of adorable. And there’s a huge variety of levels and themes and enemies. Really, Save Me Mr Tako should be an indie platforming epic.

Look how happy Mr Tako is just to jump! I just want to pinch his little cheeks. Wait, do octopi have cheeks?

And I was just so bored playing it that I legitimately felt guilty. Like it was on me. That *I* was doing something wrong. And this is before the game totally shit the bed with some of the most cheap, unfair shit I’ve seen in years and one really bad oversight. But I’m getting ahead of myself.

Save Me Mr Tako was developed by Christophe Galati ($4.99, normally $14.99 peed lavender ink in the making of this review). **NOTE: This review only covers the Nintendo Switch version. The Steam version is updated to fix many things complained about here. I didn’t like the base game and didn’t care to pay to start over a game I didn’t enjoy in the first place. But the Steam version might be better.

The one concession that Mr Tako offers that feels modern is offering 20 starting lives. As opposed to just doing away with lives. I mean seriously, if you’re going so far as to give players 20 lives, why do lives at all? Every other aspect feels married to being a Game Boy release. The levels are ambitious for 1991-93, but not for modern gaming. Just lots of jumping around. Trees. Nook-and-cranny exploration and searching. It feels like it’d be an incredible, critically acclaimed, game-of-the-year-on-its-platform contender. And it’s not just a typical hop-and-bop. Mr Tako can’t kill enemies. Instead, he hits them with ink and it stops them. While covered in ink, he can jump on them to reach higher platforms. All this framed with a relatively complex story that’s sort of like Wag the Dog, only with an army of Octopuses. Of course, the writing is married to being Game Boy-like as well. Very on-the-nose. Very to-the-point. The most basic writing style. I hate it when neo-retro games do that. The only one that’s really pulled it off is Shovel Knight, where at least the visuals did a little more.

For whatever reason, Mr Tako just never held my attention. I’d knock out a few stages, find something else to play, and dread reopening it thinking “oh God, I’m not liking this and everyone is going to be pissed at me.” Because I honestly couldn’t put my finger on why it wasn’t “doing it” for me. Maybe it was too simple? Maybe it was too basic of design. I don’t know. I did like one aspect of the platforming: when you’re just under being able to jump up on a ledge, the game automatically gives you a little boosty next to the edge of it to put you up and over the top on it. It’s actually nifty. Never seen a game do that. And that is the only aspect of the gameplay that really stood out to me in almost three hours. Now mind you, by time I threw in the towel, I was only 22% complete on the game. If anyone thinks I gave up too early, (1) if a game needs three hours and over 20% of its contents to “get to the good stuff” I say that game is an automatic failure and (2) by time I did quit, Mr Tako had absolutely cratered into a slog of frustration and madness that made me actively hate it.

The good people of the Exxon corporation would like to remind you that THIS SEAL IS HAPPY!

Mr Tako’s one-hit difficulty becomes intolerable when playing as anyone but the octopus. A human character with no means of defense who has twice as much surface-area for enemies and projectiles is just not as fun to play with in our zany cephalopod adventure. It creates such an unwelcome pacing issue in what is already a game that feels slow despite having relatively small stages. There’s fifty hats that grant Mr Tako powers, but most of the ones I’ve gotten so far aren’t fun to play with. And on top of all that, the current Switch build doesn’t pause the action when you open doorways by solving “puzzles” (which is as simple as pushing a gravestone). When the camera pans over to show you what you opened up, you can die, even though you’re not on the screen and have no means of defenes. It’s one of the worst oversights I’ve ever seen in a game. There’s actually a patch that’s been waiting to be applied for a long time, but the developer has no control over when it’ll go through. It’s apparently fixed on Steam, but it doesn’t change the fact that I had no fun up to the point I quit. Maybe the easy mode that’s included in the patch will fix that. I don’t know. I’ll need to try it again when that patch hits. I know one of the devs from Twitter. Nice guy. He knows to hit me up for his Second Chance with the Chick when it’s live.

By the point I quit, I burned 40 lives between only two levels, trying to get past crows and ghosts that buzz-bomb you. Often with limited room to actually dodge them. And then, when I’d actually got past them, I’d open up a pathway by shoving a gravestone over, only I’d somehow die before the camera reached the thing it was trying to show me I unlocked. I’m happy a patch is coming (maybe. Apparently, it’s been stuck in queue for months), but seriously, how did they miss THAT in play testing? Developers really need to remember to find people who don’t know how to play the games to do the testing. If they can’t find such a person, they need to pretend they don’t know themselves and play like a newb would. I run into shit like this far too often.

Really, I think I must just be bias against looking like a Game Boy game. Because I recently also bought a game called Pirate Pop Plus. Instead of opting for complexity, it feels more like one of those really simple early-generation GB titles like Alleyway or Balloon Kid. Inspired by the classic arcade game Pang (also known as Buster Bros. in many releases), you throw a harpoon up at bubbles, which split into progressively smaller bubbles. The twist in the formula is that a pirate shows up to randomly shift the gravity on you, causing the action to rotate around the play-field. It is a fresh twist that manages to play intuitively. I should have liked it given that I’ve enjoyed Pang in the past, and while the gravity stuff is unquestionably gimmicky, it does work.

Also, neither Mr Tako nor Pirate Pop Plus allowed video capture on Switch. Which really sucks for them more than it does me because I post roughly six-thousand 30-second clips per Switch game during my play sessions, give or take. I might not have a million followers on Twitter, but the nearly 20K I do have buy a lot of games based on those videos. Indies are dependent on word of mouth, but with quick video capture options, they can also use show-and-tell too. You need every tool you can get, developers. Don’t cut your fans off from doing your marketing for you.

And yet, I was once again just sort of bored. There’s visibility issues (mostly owing to the backgrounds occasionally being too noisy) and the whole thing just looks and feels very old and tired. I normally don’t give a flip about visuals, but here, they don’t work. And I don’t think it’s just about having a limited four-color palette. Gyro Boss DX had one also. But there, the visuals are stark and clean. No matter what color scheme you’re using in Pirate Pop Plus, it’s still married to a Game Boy aesthetic not in service to the actual gameplay. And that’s a damn shame, because looking the way Pirate Pop Plus does really does take effort. It’s not like making your game look this way is a corner-cutting measure.

Bill Simmons often points out the weird, unique-to-basketball phenomena where traded NBA players look completely different in their new uniforms. When Shaquille O’Neal was dealt midway through the 2007-08 season from the Miami Heat to the Phoenix Suns, even though he was exactly the same player he had been just a few days before, Shaq suddenly looked fat and out of shape upon donning the Suns jersey. But nothing had changed besides putting on a new top. When Kwame Brown was traded from the Wizards to the Lakers, he looked amazing in the purple and gold, and for all we knew, he was going to breakout and prove he wasn’t one of the biggest busts ever. It didn’t happen, and why would it? He was still Kwame Brown! He sucked! But man, did he wear that Lakers outfit to perfection. Meanwhile, I watched Kevin Durant for three seasons on my Golden State Warriors, and while he played marvelously for us, something always looked horribly off. I think even the most diehard Dubnation member would concede it.

There’s tons of unlockables to keep players interested. But, no online leaderboards, which is the only thing with me proven to for-sure keep me going even with games I dislike.

Pirate Pop Plus was developed by Dadako ($3.56, normally $4.99, received an Angry Pirate once in the making of this review)

I can’t help but wonder if this also applies to video games. I recently played Contra Anniversary Collection. When I saw Operation C, and by “saw” I mean literally saw screenshots of it, I was bracing for the absolute worst. It used almost the same character models and lots of aspects of the game were simply black-and-white versions of gameplay elements lifted directly from Contra and Super C on the NES. But it just looked wrong. And guess what? It wasn’t at all. It was one of the best Game Boy games I ever played. One of the most faithful adaptions from the NES to the Game Boy I’ve experienced. And for the entire two hour play-session, my brain kept telling me “this can’t be happening. It just looks like it shouldn’t be possible!” At least my session with Operation C tells me that I’d recognize a good game when I play one. So I don’t actually think Save Me Mr Tako or Pirate Pop Plus are good. But then again, maybe if they looked different, I’d be willing to give them a little more rope. Besides to hang themselves with, I mean.

Whipseey and the Lost Atlas

I pre-ordered Whipseey and the Lost Atlas based on the cover art and one screen shot. It looked like it aspired to be an indie tribute to Kirby. Those don’t happen as often as you would think. Also, the preorder offered $0.50 off the purchase price. You guys really should only pre-order digital games if doing so nets you a discount. Otherwise, it’s not like the eShops will run out of copies. And then, on Tuesday morning the game unlocked and I started it. And right away, I could tell something was off. The scrolling didn’t feel smooth. The controls didn’t feel 100% responsive. Attacking was awkward and clumsy.

It only took me a minute to realize all these things. I genuinely try to review games and not their developers, but I do have to ask: if I realized this stuff was off that fast, why didn’t they realize it sooner? Like, before releasing it?

The shit thing is, Whipseey looks so good in screenshots. It’s a photogenic game. I bet it ends up a best seller by virtue of release date and how fun it SEEMS like it should be.

Whipseey is not good. And that’s a shame, because it sure seems like it could be fun. Despite looking like Kirby, most of the action borrows from entirely different games. Your primary attack is a whip that mechanically functions like original generation Castlevania games and only works straight in front of you. Sounds great. The problem is that it’s clunky to use, with a delay. It’s also not really suitable for mid-jump attacks, and that’s a big problem because the game is built largely around platforms and enemy placement that forces you to mid-air attack. Maybe if the button placement was different, it’d be easier to pull off. But Whipseey doesn’t offer button mapping. On Switch, B jumps, Y whips. I found it quite awkward switching between the two on a standard Joycon. None of the other buttons do anything. So why not offer mapping, or at the very least, some kind of dual button scheme?

On the plus side, the collision detection is absolute shit. It works against you, sure, but you can hit bosses and enemies sometimes without making contact. So there’s that.

See how far my whip is from making contact on this, the first boss? It’s almost a full character length from it. But, this landed. It caused damage. That’s how bad the collision detection can be. That’s fucking embarrassing. I guess to make up for this, the developer gave the boss an electrocution move that has no telegraphing. The first two bosses are genuinely some of the worst I’ve ever seen. Here’s a full video of that boss fight if you want to see me get credit for a few hits I completely whiffed. Also, who makes their first boss an underwater fight unless that’s the entire game’s theme? For fuck’s sake!

The combat is bad. The platforming is worse. Instead of Castlevania, think Donkey Kong Country 2 or 3. Whipseey has the ability to do a Dixie Kong-style helicopter glide, and that’d be great. But the game is filled with instakill spikes with less than accurate-feeling collision detection, instakill pits, and lots of enemy crowding. And the game seems to have a thing for putting something above your head, and a pit in front of you, so that you go to jump but the platform above you cuts off the angle and you fall into a pit. The jumping just feels off. The gravity too heavy, the angles tough to judge. It’s never intuitive. The helicopter thing or the parts where you swing from your whip would be fun if the physics were refined and smoothed out. They’re not, and consequently they’re just not fun.

I really don’t have that much to say about Whipseey. I wanted to quit multiple times while playing it, finally giving up on the last boss. There’s only five levels, none of which rise above bland in terms of design. Things really don’t start to get interesting until the fourth and fifth levels, which had potential to be a bit more than simply bland if all the mechanics had been given more development time. But that means you’re over 60% of the way through the game before the level design feels ambitious. Before that, it’s just enemies being placed in dickish positions, or stuff like hopping on enemies to clear pits. In other games, the “bounce across enemies to finish a section” can be a highlight (see Super Mario 2 with the fish). But for Whipseey, if you fail to make the jump, even if you manage to float back to the starting platform, you’re dead. The enemy never respawns, and despite the door you came from being RIGHT FUCKING THERE, you can’t enter it and then go back and try again. You have to throw yourself into the pit and try again.

Also, this guy moves back and forth. So it’s not like you have a stationary target to hit. It’s incredible how many things Whipseey manages to do wrong in only five levels.

It’s rare that I play a game where it feels nothing goes right, but that’s Whipseey. You get a free life if you collect 100 gems. You get gems from enemies. But, when you whip enemies, the gems don’t just drop. They go flying behind them. In a game based largely on pits. Guess where most of those gems end up? If you run out of lives, you have to start a level again. Guys, it’s time to get rid of lives systems. You’re not doing anything to help your platform game by adding busy work of replaying levels for the sake of “challenge.” Come up with something better. If you need to force players to replay entire stages as a punishment in order to make your game harder, you’re doing it wrong. And, if you’re afraid of pissing off the blowhard crowd that wants to be punished for poor play because privately getting spanked is their kink, make it optional. In Whipseey, there’s a menu for “options” but the only thing you can change is the sound. Bosses are all boring. Enemies are boring and often cheap. There’s only five levels. There’s no power-ups. There’s no twists. It runs out of ideas fast. There’s only one potentially memorable set-piece (set on a train) and it ends up playing quite poorly. I feel like a bitch for going off this much a first-time developer’s game. This really wasn’t a fun review for me to do, but to my credit, it wasn’t a very fun game I was playing.

I’m not actually going to complain about the length. Some might not want a game with five relatively normal sized levels for $6 though. If Whipseey had been just okay, I’d probably been fine with the length. If it’d been good, I probably wouldn’t have been. It wasn’t either of those things. I was happy to get to the end.

All these little problems that add up to overall pretty terrible experience screams of a game that was rushed from conception to market as fast as could be done. NOTHING I’ve seen here leads me to believe developer Daniel A. Ramirez should quit. He clearly had a vision and saw it through to completion, and has a finished game that, when I saw it, I wanted it. And then I played it, and I wish he’d worked on it longer. If this had been given an extra spit-shine when the levels were done, with the rough edges smoothed out and less emphasis on dick-headed enemy placement, Whipseey and the Lost Atlas could have been a memorable indie romp. Instead it just feels like an unfinished prototype. But, it sure looks great in pictures. Big deal. So did Ryan Leaf.

Whipseey and the Lost Atlas was developed by Daniel A. Ramierez
Point of Sale: Nintendo Switch, PlayStation 4, Xbox One, Steam

$5.49 (normally $5.99) doesn’t do great with whip-based indie tributes in the making of this review.

Strikey Sisters

People, myself included, might look at pictures or clips of Strikey Sisters and assume it crosses Zelda-style adventures or RPG-style games with Arkanoid-inspired brick breaking. It doesn’t. There’s no permanent upgrades. You don’t level-up. You don’t unlock new items or abilities. The one Zeldaish mechanic is that the paddle is replaced by slashing at the ball with a sword, but that doesn’t mean the game is essentially Linkanoid. So, don’t let the facade of Strikey Sisters lull you into believing it’s deeper than it really is. This is a one-level-at-a-time, white-knuckle-action brick breaker. But a damn good one. The best brick breaker I’ve ever played, in fact, and one of 2019’s very best hidden indie gems. I just want to make sure people know what they’re getting with it. Like how I think people who take their first kitten home from a pet store should have their cars keyed, with the shop owner saying “this is going to be your couch from now on. You’re going to LOVE IT!”

Can we please phase out “lethal bubbles” in games? They’re only acceptable if they involve dinosaurs capturing enemies in them. Then popping them, which presumably kills baddies via some kind of drop in pressure. Like seriously, that’s how it works in Bubble Bobble, right? Enemies die via an extreme case of the bends?

Actually, Strikey Sisters is based on an obscure 1994 SNES game called Firestriker. I’d never even heard of it, though judging by the amount of people who pointed this out to me when I first started playing Sisters, it must have a cult following. That’s what I love about indie gaming: even the most seemingly forgotten games can be honored with a modern homage. One that presumably improves the mechanics of the original. Because I look at videos of Firestriker and can’t imagine it must have been as good as Strikey Sisters is. Then again, Strikey Sisters does a lot wrong too. Not since Dead Cells has an indie taken me on the type of ride it has. For every moment of jubilation, there was a moment or two of annoyance and rough design. But, as my “best brick breaker I’ve ever played” label already spoiled, not in a way that’s a deal breaker. The steps Strikey takes forward are larger strides than the relatively tiny steps it took backwards. It provided me with a unique way I can explore why Strikey Sisters worked for me while also underachieving.

STEP FORWARD: Strikey Sisters realizes the potential Arkanoid strived for and, in my opinion, failed to achieve in 1986. Arkanoid wanted to actionize the foundation laid by Breakout, providing paddle upgrades, unique brick layouts, and weapons. But Arkanoid’s gameplay was still slow. Enemies had no effect on the paddle. Items of actual value were rare (especially the highly desirable laser that lets you fire upon blocks and enemies). And the physics were married to that of Breakout’s. Arkanoid wasn’t an action game. It was always about the bricks.

Strikey Sisters is about the action, with the brick breaking being the framing device to deliver that action. There’s more enemies, and the enemies always drop items when killed. Almost all the items are useful to some degree in any given situation. DYA Games also confirmed to me they rigged the physics a bit so that the ball couldn’t get caught in repeating loops, like many brick breakers before it. Also, stages in Strikey don’t end when you smash the last brick. Instead, enemies constantly respawn until the last brick is broken, at which point the respawning stops and stages end when the last enemy is defeated. It’s a very clever mechanic that assures stages retain intensity even as the screen starts to clear, and finishing levels feels satisfying and cathartic.

STEP BACKWARDS: The action can be too intense at times. All enemies are wired to march closer to the the character (who functionally serves as the paddle). While this assures that even if your ball is caught in an unplayable trajectory, you won’t be stuck waiting forever to finish stages, it also results in some of the worst crowding I’ve seen in a brick breaker. Ultimately, this is still a brick breaker and your primary survival objective is to keep the ball in play. But as enemies close in, you have less room to play the ball. It often devolves the action into hacky-slashy button mashing just to clear the enemies out in front of you or batter the ball back and forth trying to keep it in play. I get that the enemies closing in 100% assures stages don’t overstay their welcome, but maybe some other solution was needed, like not having the enemies march towards you until all the bricks were cleared, or 90% of them, or something. I wanted to pepper spray the game at times for violating my space, but I’m not sure it would actually work. It’d probably void my warranty too.

The boss battles vary wildly in difficulty. It usually comes down to if their attacks involve crowding the paddle or not. I actually lost more lives attempting to use the Zelda-like charge shot and having the ball ricochet out of playable range than I did from direct attacks. Easily so. It’s not even close, really.

STEP FORWARD: You don’t even need the ball to clear out enemies or bricks. Because every enemy drops an item, and because enemies are designed to move closer to you, you’ll constantly have a chance at picking up items that can be shot at bricks or at further away enemies. It’s another example of a concept that Arkanoid invented being fully realized. Many brick breakers have items that can clear out blocks besides the ball. No game has as many chances to do it as Strikey Sisters. While it isn’t completely immune to what I call Last Mother Fuckin’ Brick Syndrome™, it never devolves into a slog trying to get that last brick or last enemy. Probably the smartest design choice was allowing you to attack enemies directly with your sword, without needing an item to do it. For all the times I’d whine about the bottom of the screen being clogged up, I’d just as often welcome enemies like they were coming to liberate me from the oppression of boredom.

STEP BACKWARDS: The ball’s physics can be downright wonky at times. Sometimes it can end up on a nearly 90° horizontal trajectory after bouncing off an enemy. Sometimes it’ll be bouncing one direction on a thin trajectory and then change directions bouncing off solid blocks for absolutely no reason. It’s especially bizarre because the collision detection is so unremarkable that it’s a non-factor, and yet I have to believe something very weird is happening with the detection for the ball to just abruptly change course. Also, compounding this is the occasional enemy or boss that can alter the course of the ball by doing a ground-pound, which I swear to Christ, always seemed to make the ball go flatly horizontal and thus breaking the game’s flow horribly.

Something that never occurred to me until just now: the sword never gets bigger. The surface area you can cover never grows at all. You never gain the ability to directly control the ball. Really, that type of stuff would’ve been the most obvious items to include and it’s ballsy that it wasn’t done. No pun intended.

STEP FORWARD: Those same wonky physics benefit the player just as often as they annoy, allowing you to clear out enemies that are crowding the paddle or unleash spells on blocks or enemies on the other side of the screen. It’s about 50/50 on the benefit/annoyance scale, really. And all the items feel powerful. Plus, you can use your charge shot to deflect enemy projectiles back at them, either killing them or breaking any bricks they hit. Some bosses feel like they’re built specifically around batting their own attack back at them. It never gets old, either. It’s always satisfying to return their fire. Well, at least when it hits.

STEP BACKWARDS: Strikey Sisters is deceptively difficult. I was playing the game on easy, with unlimited lives, and still had to replay levels and especially bosses all the time. Losing track of the ball is an occupational hazard, especially when enemies start to fire round projectiles roughly the size of the ball. Glowy ones, or fire ones (and the ball can turn into a fireball with the right item). You’re given a charge move with your sword straight out of Zelda, but you can’t use it on the ball if enemies are crowding because it’ll inevitably deflect out of play. And many enemies/bosses are capable of batting the ball back at you, meaning you often have to damage them from behind, and thus you’ll rely on lucky shots instead of skill shots to take them out. While no brick breaker has ever empowered players to the degree Strikey Sisters does, where you frequently end levels in an explosive, satisfying way, I also had moments of glory muted with the knowledge that I got really lucky. Luck factors in a bit too much.

Some of the levels are practically designed for the ball to get caught up in a shallow trajectory that all but removes it from the action. Also, there’s apparently no bonus or use for the coins besides needing to get X amount of them each stage to trigger the appearances of chests. There’s tons of unlockables like levels, artwork, cut scenes, etc that mostly unlock upon beating the game. Maybe the coins should have been used for a store that exclusively unlocks the bonus material. I’d cared a little more about getting them for something like that. By the end of the game, I put as much consideration into them as I did in bending over to pick up change on the sidewalk. By the way, my rule for that is “only for dimes or higher.” If I throw my back out, I think people in the emergency room would laugh at me if I said I did it stooping over to pick up a penny or a nickel. A dime, I feel, would be met with understanding nods and approval.

STEP FORWARD: All of that is done to keep Strikey Sisters at a fast-tempo. Let’s face it: brick breakers are, by nature, slow. Even 2009’s Shatter, probably the high-water mark for the genre up to this point, can be really sloggy at times. When the action slows down in Strikey Sisters, sometimes you welcome it just because you can fucking stop to breathe. Even the relatively tame early stages have players constantly doing stuff besides simply batting a ball back and forth. A brick breaker, at its worse, is just Pong designed for single-player. Which makes sense. Breakout was created because Nolan Bushnell mandated a single-player Pong. Great. But, gaming has come a long ways since Pong. It’s come all the way since Pong. Even your Arkanoids, your Shatters, or indie takes on the genre like Wizorb make the mistake of having their games be focused on knocking out the bricks. But we’ve done that shit for over forty years now. Strikey Sisters is the first brick breaker that figured out how to make the genre relevant to today’s gamers: move that shit to the background. It’s not what you do, but how you do it. Make the “doing it” part fun. It’s a brick breaker, but it’s an action game first. That’s so smart.

STEP BACKWARDS: There’s lots of annoying little things Strikey Sister does (or doesn’t do) that annoy the shit out of me. I got a 98% completion of the map, but I had no clue where the 2% I’m missing was at. Each brick you break drops a coin. Collecting X amount of coins in each stage spawns chests. One chest has a green emerald in it. The other has a card which you can throw at an enemy, capturing them Pokeball-style. Only, all that does is add them to your Bestiary. It would have been neat if you could have used those enemies. I think they probably planned something like that and had to abandon it, since there’s so much emphasis on the capture stuff that goes nowhere. Finally, some stages have a key that opens up extra-pathways on the map. Apparently I missed a single key that opened up one meaningless, inconsequential extra stage along the way. It took me a while to figure out which bare spot on the map I could probably access if I got a key. Now, I’m the proud owner of my first total 100% completion in a long time as part of a game I did for Indie Gamer Chick.

Booyah! Fucked this game up!

STEP FORWARD: Seriously, I can’t stress enough how much stuff is packed into this $10 game. You get an extensive “quest” that took me around six gameplay hours to finish. There’s a lot of stuff to collect, hidden levels to unlock, monsters to catalog (though you can semi-cheat the Bestiary by hitting a creature with a card and then quitting to the map without finishing the stage and it’ll still count). As if that’s not enough, upon beating the game there’s sixty bonus levels thrown into the menu just for shits and giggles. And you might actually not be burned out on Strikey Sisters by time those bonus levels come into play. That I actually wanted to get 100% of the map, emeralds, and enemies captured is so rare these days for me. But I couldn’t get enough of Strikey Sisters. It’s just plain fun. From start to finish. Every frustration, every moment of annoyance, completely trumped by how fun it is. This is a very good game.

For all the issues it has, everything just comes together so well. Hell, the game has deliberately badly acted 90s style voice overs. Seriously, it’s actually promoted as being “cheesy” in the game’s features on the official sales page for it. Being bad on purpose isn’t funny. It’s awkward. But the actual humor in the dialog with its cringey delivery does typically land. How? What the fuck? How did you not totally shit the bed, Strikey Sisters? You’re based on a Super Nintendo game nobody has even thought about in twenty-five years. You have terrible acting. You have a disjointed map that circumvents proper difficulty scaling. The action can become an unmanageable clutsterfuck of confusion and cheap deaths. All in a genre that should be so done-for that even the strongest smelling salts in the world couldn’t bring it out of its coma.

I should note that there’s a co-op mode. The issue is my playing partners are either not into indies or are unwilling to play most genres. BUT, I want to note that there’s two balls in co-op, and players take damage if either ball is missed. That’s a really bad design choice because the game gets insanely chaotic. There should have been two uniquely-colored balls and damage specific to the player the ball belongs to.

And yet, here we are. Strikey Sisters is one of the best indies I’ve ever played. Another wonderful 2019 Switch-console exclusive like Q-Yo Blaster that’s probably fated to plummet quickly into indie oblivion due to an uninspired name and unattractive box art. A game will inevitably be awarded my You Heartless Bastards Award (given to great games that nobody buys) because most people reading this will never give it a chance. But, for what it’s worth, I love you Strikey Sisters. Now figure out a way to sell a million copies so the titular sisters can make a cameo in Smash Bros. I want to see Marie talk shit on Solid Snake and get Elene throwing hands with Ness. Like, I need this in my life. Please.

Strikey Sisters was developed by DYA Games
Point of Sale: Nintendo Switch, Steam

$7.99 (normally $9.99) said “the things we do for our pets” in the making of this review.

Strikey Sisters is Chick-Approved and ranked on the Indie Gamer Chick Leaderboard.

IGC Retro Odyssey: Atari Flashback Classics (Switch)

For the IGC Retro Odyssey concept, I have members of Indie Gamer Team set a target for me, where if I find that many games in a retro compilation compelling enough to play further, the set wins my Seal of Approval. For Atari Flashback Classics, the target number was 50 out of 150, or 33.3%. The actual set finished with..

Fourteen approved. Or 9.3%.

Maybe that was to be expected. I cut my teeth in the PS1/N64 era of gaming. The two most important games of my rearing were Crash Bandicoot and Banjo-Kazooie. Comparatively, most Atari 2600 era games would barely qualify as mini-games even then. I’m sure my opinions on these relics will infuriate the generations that came before me, but remember: nothing bad I say here undoes the historical contributions of Atari or its games. If you genuinely enjoy playing these “classics” today, I’m happy for you. But these games need to be evaluated on their own merit, without historic context, because they’re commercially sold today to gamers of all ages. Games between 29 to 47 years old. Where even the newest commercially-released game (which came out after I was born, I had no idea such games existed for the 2600) is still a game developed for a console that came out in 1977. These games were never meant to still be fun forty-years later. The test of time isn’t fair, but it still happens anyway.

Hell, Atari Flashback Classics is LOADED with games that didn’t even get the test of the present. Maze Invaders is a cancelled arcade game where you play as a drunken Lolo and plays like a cross of Wizard of Wor and Ladybug. It’s terrible, but in an endearing way, like listening to elderly basketball players bitch about the three-point line.

Arcade games are a little more future proof, and that makes sense when you think about it. They’re not something you purchase for the sake of enjoying at home. They were made for route operators or arcade owners to generate ongoing revenue. Companies who made games that quickly went obsolete, ending the lifespan of what should be a long-term investment, would be unlikely to get further business from operators. So the games had to be fun enough to generate revenue for a couple years.

That shows with Atari Flashback Collection. Thirty-two of the titles included are coin-operated games. I liked six of them: Asteroids Deluxe, Black Widow, Lunar Lander, Pool Shark, Red Baron, and Space Duel. One of those, Pool Shark, I’ll admit was a guilty pleasure. The concept is beyond stupid: you play as a cue-ball, and you simply move around a pool table pocketing the other balls. That’s it. It’s so dumb, but it also made me giggle in just how desperate it is. Also, it’s sort of funny because growing up a little girl who had a pool table in her home, I used to “play pool” by just rolling the cue-ball at the other balls with no rhyme or reason besides trying to pocket them. That someone took THAT, a six-year-old’s version of billiards, and made it into a video game.. I can’t help but wonder if creator Michael Albaugh (who was with Atari from 1976 – 2000) had a similar experience to mine. I can’t argue with a straight face that Pool Shark is a good game, but I had fun with it. That’s all that should matter.

By the way, Pool Shark was a complete failure. Operators hated it. Very few units were ever made. I can’t imagine why.

Other games in the set should have been good, but were let-down by poor translations of their unique arcade control schemes. Crystal Castles is one of the better games to come out of the Pac-Man craze, but you can’t replace a trackball with the Switch touch-screen, or even the analog stick. It’s just not the same, and can’t hold a candle to the original. Even with adjustable controls, the bear moved like he had just taken a Belushi-sized speedball, which practically renders the game unplayable (I called it Crystal Meth Castles). Every trackball game suffers this fate. While playing the set, I realized the only way you could do a proper home-version on consoles is to do a bundle that includes replicas of the arcade controls. Which, by the way, would be worth the price. People who actually give a shit about historical accuracy (and I do) would pay the difference. Tempest isn’t Tempest without a turbo spinner. Missile Command isn’t Missile Command without a trackball (weirdly enough, the Atari 2600 port plays MUCH better and was one of eight home games I liked in the collection). In fact, in only one game with unique controls, Lunar Lander, did the touch-screen controls feel like they were a suitable replacement for the original. Maybe it wouldn’t have mattered. Maybe the games wouldn’t have stood up anyway. But at least they would have had a better chance. I know for a fact Crystal Castles is better than this, but my rule for IGC Retro Odyssey is I can only evaluate the games as they’re commercially available for modern platforms. The only version of Crystal Castles you can buy for consoles now is bear-ly playable. See what I did there?

This is Red Baron, which does hold up relatively well. It’s not amazing or anything, but it was the game that convinced George Lucas to sign a deal with Atari. So there’s that.

This issue carries over to the Atari 2600 and 5200 games that used unique controllers. For the Atari 5200, forget about it. Every game included with it either controls poorly or is overall a shoddy release. The ports of Millipede and Asteroids were so bad that I was honestly embarrassed for the company. The company that basically no longer exists, but still, they were pretty fucking shameful. Take a look at the 2600 version of Millipede (which I didn’t like overall, but hey, it’s pretty Millipede-like in terms of gameplay if not graphics)..

And now compare that to the Atari 5200 port, made for a significantly more advanced console (and mind you, this game cost nearly $100 in 2019 dollars back in the day)..

Genuinely repulsive. Only the most shallow, vain ignoramus would trade good graphics for good gameplay. Then again, Atari was run by Ray Kassar..

As for the 2600, unfortunately some sacred all-time games didn’t exactly hold up today. Adventure is probably the most famous of the lot that I had to fail. Despite the set being able to “eliminate” the infamous Atari flicker, Adventure still has blinking issues. Additionally, sometimes the Dragon spawns in a way you can’t hope to run away from. Sometimes you can maroon items in a way where you can’t reach them. And it’s just plain dull compared to modern games that I can’t simply vanish the knowledge that they exist from my mind. Honestly, I think I would have been bored with Adventure even if I had been born back then. It’s just such a nothing game.

Duck Duck GOOSE, mother fucker!

Weirdly enough, two of the eight home console games I enjoyed in this set never actually came out. Both Saboteur (which almost got reskinned as A*Team) and Save Mary (by Tod Frye, programmer of the infamous dumpster fire Pac-Man 2600) had more going for them than a typical Atari game. Well, fine, Save Mary is another “glorified mini-game” type of deal, but it’s a cool one. A woman is in the bottom of a well that’s filling up with water. You have to drop boxes that she can stand on. It’s very clever. It’s also the Duke Nukem Forever of its time. It spent years in development (Frye was probably only part-time by then, and the game was developed by Atari founder Nolan Bushnell’s Axlon), underwent multiple renditions, and ultimately never was completed in its original state. Still, Bushnell himself apparently called it his favorite Atari 2600 game. Meanwhile, Saboteur is cut from the Yar’s Revenge cloth. At heart, it’s a simple shooter, but dressed up slightly better.

Speaking of Yars, it was my favorite home game in the set. It actually held up relatively well, although there’s only two screens. It’s the one and only game in the entire collection I wish had more going for it, because the concept had legs and I would have felt compelled to continue on its own gameplay merits. A home-brew sequel is included in the collection, but it’s really just a glorified ROM hack that moves the action to the center of the screen and feels like Yars’ Revenge as played through a fun-house mirror. Again, ignore the way its advertised as a completely unique game. It’s a ROM hack, and nothing more. There’s a few of those included. Adventure II is a ROM hack of Adventure. Haunted House (the first video game to ever give me a seizure, which happened when my father bought me an early version of the Atari Flashback plug-and-play as a novelty gift before I started IGC) gets a sequel called Return to Haunted House, which is another Adventure ROM hack. Meanwhile, other un-released games included are Combat Two (which is so bad that it’s practically broken) and the 2600 version of Tempest that isn’t even finished and looks like it takes place on Skeletor’s underwear.

I hated the almost the entire Atari experience, but I did learn some things. I learned that Atari’s reputation of having poor arcade translations is total bullshit. Space Invaders isn’t included (given that it was THE killer app that sold the system, come on AtGames: cut a fucking check to include it), but I’ve played the 2600 port and it’s very close to the arcade experience. Asteroids is in the set, and the 2600 version I liked more than the arcade version (others pointed out you can cheese it and not even try, which might be true but I didn’t really explore it). Missile Command is stripped down, simplified, and better on the 2600 than in the arcade version (that might owe to the crappy control translation for the arcade version). Granted, that’s not always the case. Home versions of Crystal Castles, Pong (which has invincible AI), and Warlords are disgraceful. But still, if I were a kid in the 80s who was into Centipede, I don’t think I’d hate the game I got for the Atari 2600 if that was my only home option.

Don’t let the 150 game count fool you though. A lot of the games are stuff nobody in their right mind could want to play today. Educational games like Basic Math, board games like Backgammon or Checkers, and lots of sports games pad out the game count. Some of them are neat as curios. I came very close to saying “yes” to a bizarre one-on-one baseball game called Home Run that was such a desperate, god-awful attempt at doing baseball early in the 2600’s life-cycle (before the file sizes crept up) that you can’t help but admire it. It’s actually kind of playable too. In a silly, I’m laughing at you and not with you type of way. On the flip side of that, there’s stuff like Golf or Miniature Golf, both of which I think would have to be on the list of worst games I’ve ever played in my entire life.

About ten years ago, my Dad bought me a MAME panel, fully-loaded, off Ebay. Seven buttons per a player. Authentic arcade parts. It’s very nice. And I bring that panel up because included on its surface is a turbo spinner that exists just to play Tempest. That’s how important that spinner is to the Tempest experience: an arcade panel that cost close to $1,000 has an interface just for it. (Well, it also works as a steering wheel too, and it’s not like I’ve played all 12,000+ games I have for MAME so there might be other spinner-based games). No amount of controller adjustments to the Switch Joycons or alternative controllers (I tried a Pro and GameCube controller) can make up for the speed-of-light accuracy of the turbo spinner.

Really, there’s easily under 100 games in the set that most people would actually want to at least experiment with. But experimenting is as far as you’ll probably make it. The legendary Swordquest games are included, and the comic books that the tie-in contest used are available, but the gameplay is so abstract and so anti-fun that you can completely understand how only a handful of gamers submitted the correct answers. Neat ideas, I guess, but the actual “gameplay” would boil down to variations of Avalanche or Frogger or other games that already existed. And the Frogger-like components in the Swordquest games were honestly the worst versions of Frogger I’ve ever played. The Swordquest games started as a sequel to Adventure, and not that I like Adventure, but at least it was its own thing instead of derivatives of other, better games.

That was the story for Atari Flashback Classics to me: lots of ambition (sometimes. Anyone that thinks they weren’t totally phoning it in with garbage like Basic Math or Slot Machine is so drunk on nostalgia they probably vomit out chunks of Punky Brewster), lots of imagination, but no means to see it out. A lot of Atari’s staff were handicapped by things like limited storage (every single KB cost hundreds of thousands of dollars in production posts) and a cut-throat work environment where programmers cliqued-up and rarely intermingled. So yea, I hated most of the games. But, that I actually liked eight of 2600 games is kind of a miracle. I wish I could recommend the set because no collection of classic games is closer to the modern indie can-do experience.

It says Spire. IT SAYS SPIRE! That gigantic, bejeweled sword is MINE!

But I can’t. The controller translations are garbage. There’s no bonus features unless you count unreleased games (which I’m not) or instruction books. There’s online leaderboards, but only for the arcade games, and online leaderboards for terrible games is like putting garnish on a plate of shit. And there’s a lot of missing games. Why isn’t Battlezone on this set? Why couldn’t they spring the extra money and include Activision games? I mean, this is a $40 game. That ain’t cheap, and these games have such limited play value that you need as many reasons to buy as possible. I’m guessing Activision’s 2600 games haven’t aged that much better than Atari ones, but I can’t know until I play them. The only third-party games included are M Network games, and they all aged badly too. Really, this set just feels incomplete and cheap. Not as cheap as Flashback is on Xbox One, where the same games are broken into three sets of fifty games each and will cost you $60 to get them all. But still, the only thing keeping this from being the worst set of classic games I’ve ever played is the fact that I own Dragon’s Lair Trilogy.

INDIE GAMER CHICK RETRO-APPROVED RANKINGS

Arcade
1. Lunar Lander
2. Space Duel
3. Black Widow
4. Red Baron
5. Asteroids Deluxe
6. Pool Shark

Atari 2600/5200
1. Yar’s Revenge
2. Save Mary
3. Fatal Run
4. Saboteur
5. Combat
6. Bowling
7. Asteroids (2600 version)
8. Missile Command (2600 version)

Total Games: 150
IGC Goal: 50
IGC Approved: 14
**SET FAILS**

Atari Flashback Classics was developed by AtGames
Point of Sale: Nintendo Switch

$39.99 just lost points with the senior demographic in the making of this review.

The same game is $19.99 on Vita. Same collection. Switch Tax!! Ba na na na na na na na SWITCH TAX! Yes, I just sang the Batman 60s theme but replaced the words “Bat” and “Man” with “Switch” and “Tax.”

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