LCD Games of the 80s – Part IV: There’s no L in A-R-C-A-D-E

INDIE GAMER CHICK’S LCD GUIDE: PART IPART IIPART IIIPART IVPART VPART VIPART VII

What can I say? I’m a glutton for punishment. Previously, I’ve covered twenty-four LCD games (check the links above) and not liked a single one of them. Today’s feature includes seventeen more LCD games of the 80s (and a few from the 90s). I promise that I will name not just one, but FOUR quality LCD games before this feature is over.

Today’s theme: arcade conversions.

PAC-MAN!!
Tomy (1982)
Gameplay Type: Maze Chase

Like so many arcade games, multiple companies did LCDs of Pac-Man. Coleco did one too, up next.

Certainly one of the stronger LCD games I’ve done. Is it anything like the arcade Pac-Man? Oh god, not at all. Is it fun? Not really. But at least there’s a concept here that has legs that I’d like to see an actual ROM hacker try to recreate. Here, Pac-Man is always facing to the left, and this is worked into the play mechanics. If you pass over a dot from left to right, you don’t eat the dot, since Pac-Man’s mouth didn’t get it. You must pass over it right to left. It’s a one-off type of gameplay mechanic I’ve never even thought of before that certainly got my attention. Not as good is the super unresponsive controls and how I could never, even after four or five attempts, successfully eat a ghost after grabbing one of the stars. Yea, it’s awful, but I appreciate the unexpected twist.

PAC-MAN!!
Coleco (1981)
Gameplay Type: Maze Chase

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Part of their famous table top line, Coleco made some beautiful facades that housed some terrible versions of popular coin-ops. Pac-Man at least is a stronger game than Donkey Kong, but it’s still pretty miserable. The ghosts all look like they’ve already eaten Pac-Man and it’s jarring as all hell. It’s PRETTY close to Pac-Man, but it’s also one of the uglier LCD games and I can’t get over how they look like some kind of virus that has absorbed Pac-Man.

PAC-MAN 2!!
Entex (1981)
Gameplay Type: Maze Chase

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This is a little more close to the arcade game. There’s only two ghosts, but it functionally feels like a Pac-Man LCD. It doesn’t matter which direction you’re facing when you slurp up dots. There’s only two ghosts, but the power-pellets work. I kept having a ghost get the jump on me early on, probably because I left the center dots there as the last dots to get. Even though this is the best controlling LCD Pac-Man, I think it’s boring, but then again, I was never really a standard Pac-Man fan to begin with.

MS. PAC-MAN!!
Coleco (1983)
Gameplay Type: Maze Chase

WHY DOES IT LOOK LIKE THIS! OTHER COMPANIES DID GAMES THAT DON’T LOOK LIKE THIS! IT’S CREEPY!!

It’s the same “organisms that ate other organisms as viewed from under a microscope” look that Pac-Man had, but to Coleco’s credit, this is basically the same game as Pac-Man with more responsive controls. It’s still crap though.

DIG DUG!!
Gakken (1983)
Gameplay Type: Action-Arcade

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Awful. Just plan awful. This might be the worst LCD yet. Nothing works. The enemies get too much a jump on you. In six games I never once successfully defeated an enemy with the pump or kill one using a rock without killing myself. It feels NOTHING like Dig Dug at all and has to be one of the worst games I’ve ever played in my entire life. I don’t dig this. See what I did there? UPDATE 7-18-22: I figured out how to play it. So, you have to actually hold the direction you want the pump to go. So, unlike the arcade game, you can pump enemies above and below you. Once I figured this out, I was able to clear a few levels. Total screw-up on my part and I’ll change my opinion on Dig Dug: from worst-ever contender to merely a cramped slog that is vaguely like the arcade game.

GALAXIAN!!
Coleco (1982)
Gameplay Type: Gallery Shooter

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I’d love to review this for y’all, but I couldn’t stay alive for a single second without being shot. If you die, the aliens don’t stop firing bullets and I respawned right into the path of them. Maybe the emulation is bad, but given my experience with Coleco’s LCDs, I’m not willing to give them the benefit of the doubt.

ZAXXON!!
Bandai (1982)
Gameplay Type: Shooter

Could be some weird space tennis game too for all I know.

I’ve never really cared for Zaxxon, so I was surprised that the LCD is one of the least bad LCDs. Notice I didn’t say “good.” I’d still rather suffer rectal prolapsing than be stuck with this as my only gaming option. BUT, at least this is a semi-competent shooter that feels somewhat vaguely like the arcade game. Shmups might actually work as an LCD. I’d like to try Space Invaders in this format, honestly. Maybe for Part V in 2024 (after making this joke, I posted the next three parts within 24 hours, go figure). Anyway, Zaxxon just doesn’t have excitement to it, which a shooter needs, but at least it’s fair and doesn’t just bleed you out right away like Galaxian does. Not awful, still not fun. Next!!

BURGERTIME!!
Bandai (1983)
Gameplay Type: Maze Chase/Action-Arcade

One of the better character sprites for sure, if nothing else.

Burgertime feels a lot closer to getting it right, but like so many LCD games, the enemies just catch you too fast. A really weird aspect here is that the “drop the food” gameplay is here, but you have to press a button to cause the buns and patties to collapse. I don’t know why! Wouldn’t it make sense to just be able to walk across them like in the game? Yea. But, it doesn’t work that way. I couldn’t make any progress because the enemies are faster than you and you only get five salts, but the salts only work if they’re right next to you, and if they’re right next to you that means they’re about to score a contact with you and cost you a life. The #1 thing about LCD games: they shouldn’t try to directly adapt any game that REQUIRES animation. Burgertime does, and it’s unplayable as a result.

MORTAL KOMBAT!!
Tiger Electronics (1993)
Gameplay Type: Fighter

Yea, no. Let it be said: I put in a good faith effort here, but I’ve yet to play a single Tiger Electronics fighting/brawling game that I thought had any value at all. Myself and the computer AI were throwing punches and landing basically nothing. I was surprised at how many moves are offered (the full range: high and low kicks and punches) but the fact that I wasn’t getting a single hit in on the lowest difficulty (the AI beat me to the punch every time) and that all my matches ended with a time-out? I’m FINISHED with this one. Quality Gaming loses. Fatality!!

DOUBLE DRAGON!!
Tiger Electronics (1989)
Gameplay Type: Combative

What Superman should have done years ago.. drop kick Lex Luthor in the balls.

Walk left and punch and/or kick Lex Luthor until he blinks out of existence. Then walk left more and punch and/or kick Lex Luthor until he blinks out of existence. Then walk left more and punch and/or kick Lex Luthor until he blinks out of existence.. occasionally Lex Luthor is inside a door, but then you just punch or kick him until he blinks out of existence. And you thought Double Dragon III was the shits. Oh my God, what a piece of shit game.

GOLDEN AXE!!
Tiger Electronics (1989)
Gameplay Type: Combative

This one broke me. You walk left, and swing at enemies as they appear. If a skeleton shows up behind you, instead of doing the sensible thing, IE turning around, you instead dislocate your shoulders and just swing the sword that way. Good lord!! I started laughing so hard that I thought I might crack a rib. The funny thing about these Tiger games is that LCD games had been around for a decade, and the formulas that worked to create playable, somewhat enjoyable games were well established. They didn’t bother with ANY of that shit. This and Double Dragon are so stupidly brain dead simple that I can’t imagine anyone not under a fog of laughing gas could enjoy them.

KARNOV!!
Tiger Electronics (1989)
Gameplay Type: Shooter

“ARRRHH! I’M GONNA EATCHA LITTLE BIRD! ARRRHH!”

The thing that bugs me about Tiger Electronics games are they’re often so unimaginative. Move left, press fire button, keep moving right. There’s nothing dynamic or thrilling about this. Say what you will about Nintendo’s Game & Watch games, but they feel like there’s challenge and effort made. These are just so lazy and uninspired. This shit would have bombed in arcades in the 70s, and as a release made after a decade of figuring out how to make LCD game? It’s insulting and kind of disgusting, really. Karnov, based on a little-known arcade and NES game, feels so lazy. It’s a move right, jump and shoot game that they copied ad nauseam in lieu of, you know, effort.

ALTERED BEAST!!
Tiger Electronics (1990)
Gameplay Type: Combative

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You walk right and punch things to the left and right of you. There’s almost no gameplay here. BY GOLLY THIS IS A 100% ARCADE ACCURATE LCD! I kid. Actually, this might be the worst of all the punching-based Tiger games I’ve played so far, except maybe Mortal Kombat where literally nothing would happen for several excruciating minutes. There’s a horrible lag to it and it just feels like you’re barely interacting at all. If not for Dig Dug or Galaxian, this would be the worst game I played today.

BY GUM, THERE’S DECENT LCD GAMES!!

SPACE HARRIER II!!
Tiger Electronics (1990)
Gameplay Type: Shooter

By golly, they actually did it.

Do you know what frustrates me most about Tiger’s lazy, shitty, effortless shovelware? They actually were capable of making decent games. Take Space Harrier II, which will now be given the distinct honor of being the first ever LCD game I wouldn’t rather be dead than be stuck with. And mind you, I don’t even like Space Harrier, but this LCD gallery shooter actually works. It feels vaguely like the arcade game and retains the fun. It even has boss fights! How about that? It’s not very exciting and the timing is a bit jank, but this isn’t awful by any stretch, and for kids from households who couldn’t afford a Game Boy, they wouldn’t have to be embarrassed playing this one. It’s fine. Hallelujah!

Q*BERT!!
Parker Bros (1983)
Gameplay Type: @!#?@!

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Well shiver me timbers: Q*Bert makes a great LCD game! Q*Bert by Parker Bros is a close approximation to the arcade game and not too bad at all. Once you get used to the controls (shit, it really is Q*Bert!), it feels like an LCD version of the arcade game. It works! Shifting the cube colors, dodging the eggs and snakes, and even jumping on the discs feels like an animation-free take on the original game. I’d basically rather play anything else, but this isn’t the worst thing to happen to me today. It’d not want to light myself on fire if I was stuck with only this for more than an hour. Good job, Parker Bros. Kids who had this in 1983 wouldn’t have to murder their parents if they were gifted this.

FROGGER!!
Coleco (1981)
Gameplay Type: Cross the Road

Fitting for a format where cross the road style games are probably the easiest to make quality games for, the king of cross the road is actually the most arcade-accurate LCD game I’ve ever played by a mile, and probably the greatest pure LCD game ever made. It works. It’s arcade-accurate. It didn’t have to compromise hardly anything from the arcade original. Most importantly: it’s actually really fun to play! If you were a kid who got Coleco’s table top Frogger under the Christmas tree in 1981, you were a pretty lucky kid. This is the best of gaming’s worst format, and the only LCD game I’ve ever gotten to say is fun without adding several “buts” to it. BUT, it’s also not my personal favorite..

GAUNTLET!!
Tiger Electronics (1989)
Gameplay Type: Adventure/Combative

Hail the Champion of LCD Gaming. You could say the (puts on shades) Gauntlet has been thrown down. Sorry.

Hey, wait a second.. this isn’t how it’s supposed to work. Tiger Electronics is objectively shit. They’re not supposed to have a genuinely interesting concept, fun and exciting gameplay, and a release that I could find myself playing for fun, on my own time, without doing it for a special feature for this blog. What is happening here? Something is wrong. I’ve slipped into another universe or something. A universe where Tiger Electronics made a good game: Gauntlet.

Is it arcade accurate? No. It’s a totally different take. Basically a third person game, but it features a dynamic 3D maze, satisfactory combat (as far as animation-free combat goes), and it’s fun to locate keys and figure out uses for them. After I finished the final game I played for this feature, I reloaded Gauntlet and kept playing it. That really says it all, doesn’t it? Honestly, the existence of Gauntlet put a smile on my face, but it also infuriated me to no end. That they could get THIS creative with their work and chose not to? Disgusting, really. I’m absolutely floored that anyone longs to see this format make a comeback, BUT, if they had a game like Tiger’s Gauntlet (as opposed to pretty much anything else by them) I could understand how they see their childhood spent getting these LCD games from misguided aunts and uncles who knew you liked those newfangled video game thingies with slightly rosier-tinted glasses.

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indie-gamer-chick-approvedUPDATE: Guess what? The prediction came true.. I found myself playing Gauntlet even more, just for fun. Seriously, I can’t stress enough what an impressive effort this is. There’s even secrets and bonus rooms and more than one breed of enemy. Calling this “shockingly fun” really understates how much I enjoyed this. It actually gives me hope for some of the games that haven’t been included in this now seven part feature. There’s a LOT of hype on Castlevania II: Simon’s Quest, and others have name dropped Metal Gear, Mega Man II, and more. Look at how many games they made. It’s stunning. Meanwhile, do you know what Gauntlet deserves? My seal of approval.

 

Beasts of Maravilla Island (Review)

I spent a good part of 2021 drooling all over New Pokemon Snap. It was my no-doubt-about-it Game of the Year of 2021, because all I’ve ever cared about with video games is having the time of my life and not being “moved emotionally” or whatever everyone else’s choice did for them. The thing is though, people mistook my love of Snap for a love of photography gameplay. It wasn’t. New Pokemon Snap is really just a rail shooter where instead of firing bullets you’re capturing photons. Plus, I’m a sucker for Disneyland-style dark rides and New Pokemon Snap is basically a series of interactive dark rides that you don’t have to wait in line for an hour to ride. The secret to New Pokemon Snap’s magic is that it’s not just about the photography. That’s just the means to the end, like how the New York Knicks only really exist these days to keep tabs on Spike Lee’s whereabouts and to promote shitty indie bands.

Beasts of Maravilla Island uses the same formula as Pokemon for creating unique creatures: animal + unrelated animal = Thingamon. Like this otter mixed with a crocodile creature where the first thing that popped into my head was “thunder.. THUNDER.. THUNDERCROCS! HOOOOO!”

But, once New Pokemon Snap had me and my family roped in, the thing that kept us playing it FOR WEEKS (and hell, my Mom still plays it every day and has some global-ranked scores) was trying to get the highest scoring pictures. If you’re a game where the core gameplay mechanic is photography, but the actual pictures you take don’t matter at all, you’re really just a glorified scavenger hunt that’s going to run out of steam quickly. That’s Beasts of Maravilla Island, the indie photography game I snapped up (see what I did there?) for Nintendo Switch because it’s currently discounted. Really, comparing it to New Pokemon Snap isn’t fair, since they’re two different genres. Snap is a rail shooter, but Beasts is a full 3D adventure.. with creatures that look just like Pokemon. Seriously, a spooky deer keeps showing up and it’s so close to looking like Xerneas that it kind of gets uncomfortable.

Yikes!

Beasts is really short, consisting only of three game worlds that fly by quickly. That’s FINE, because this is meant to be a breezy, no-pressure light-hearted adventure and not every game has to be a 40 hour epic. In that time, not counting the instances where I seemingly locked the game up, I took pictures of almost everything. In fact, I was a bit startled when, after about ten minutes of walking around the first level, I got a notification that I had just taken a picture of every kind of plant on the stage. “Really?” I thought. Nothing was really hidden. It just all out in the open, and sometimes, I wasn’t even trying to get those pictures. Not only do you not need to take quality pictures, but you don’t even need to necessarily see what you’re taking photos of. You can just turn on the camera and scroll around, and when something new is in the frame, it says NEW right on the screen. Just take a picture and you’ll check whatever it is off the list. Even if it hasn’t loaded the sprite for it into the game engine, you’ll get credit. Check out this ten second clip, where I get credit for capturing a picture of a flower that isn’t even visible from the distance I’m at.

Well, that’s not fun! The photography is the entire hook of Beasts, but I took plenty of pictures of things that weren’t even rendered yet and got credit for them. Beasts of Maravilla Island is an ambitious game buried by technical limitations and haphazard execution. The island itself isn’t far off from a Disneyland-like setting, but my immersion was constantly being broken by frame rate hiccups, janky animation, or seeing that my character wasn’t physically touching the vine they were climbing up. Beasts of Maravilla Island looks great.. in still screenshots. But the world itself never feels authentic and alive, which you need if you want a game like this to work.

Well, the first two worlds look great in screenshots. The third and final world, which I completed in roughly 20 minutes, looks like cars from Cel Damage could pop by to frag me at any second. Also, this entire level felt like someone was snapping their fingers the entire time saying “come on, let’s wrap this shit up.”

The shame is, there’s actually a really good video game buried in this mess. The characters and animals are fun, and there’s even some nice puzzles involving guiding beams of light to flowers. The team who made this aren’t hacks by any means. They had a good idea, and it was just a little too ambitious for the resources they had. Really, Beasts needed more time to cook. The photograph system needed a point beyond being a scavenger hunt where just looking in the general direction of something new doesn’t count towards checking whatever off the list. I can’t imagine I’d ever want to just take pictures of the animals featured just for the sake of it. I need a reason, and the game doesn’t really give you one. There’s only three “featured” animals who you have to capture different behavior of, and the game sets you up with the scenarios to get those. Like, you want to see the Otter-Crocodile thingy doing a backflip? It gives you a rock to throw into the water to make it do the move. Easy peasy. Did you not even get the thing in frame and only barely captured the tip of its tail? It still counts. ✔️ Other creatures do things like run across water or whistle or show their plumage, but all that matters is checking them off the list.

This is like combining the Mime in the Box with the Mime with the Rope Ladder bit.

So, no, I didn’t like Beasts of Maravilla Island. And the stuff I mentioned already is hardly the only problems. The level design is dull and easy to get lost in. There’s majestic temples that fuck all happens in. The game sets up this mechanic where you get glowing flower pollen all over you to help lure things closer to you, but it feels like it’s inconsequential to actually getting photographs of animals. And ultimately, it just feels unfinished, rough around the edges, and directionless. It’s not fair to compare a small scale indie game to a blockbuster like New Pokemon Snap, and I’m not. As its own thing, Beasts of Maravilla Island is a photography game where the photography doesn’t even matter, and that’s just plain not any fun. That’s like doing a racing game where crossing the finish line doesn’t matter. You had one thing to do!

Beasts of Maravilla Island is not IGC Approved

Beasts of Maravilla Island was developed by Banana Bird Studios
Point of Sale: Nintendo Switch, Xbox, Steam

$4.99 (Normally $9.99) said the selfie mode never seemed to get another animal in the picture, so why even bother in the making of this review?

What Comes After (Review)

This is not going to be a happy review.

Buckle-up, everyone. We’re heading to Wrongsville. Population: What Comes After.

I probably shouldn’t even buy releases like this, since they’re not my thing. But, when you can’t even be bothered to read the descriptions on the eShop page and go off just the pictures and maybe one screenshot, you end up with a library full of these non-games. I bought What Comes After because I thought it might be an interesting game where a person dies and goes to the next life or whatever. So, what’s it really about?

It’s about a girl having suicidal thoughts.

Uh oh.

Yea, this is a subject anyone, even someone with the best intentions, should tread very lightly with. I’m kind of proud that, in the 2020s, society has come around to the point where we don’t fuck around with suicide anymore. We joke about it a lot less. It’s not done for comedy anywhere near as much. I’ve lost more than one friend to it. I lost my God-nephew to it earlier this year. I think that’s what it’s called. My Godfather’s son’s son. God-Nephew? It’s such a weird sounding thing. Well, the point is, he called me Aunt Cathy, or at least he did, before he killed himself. I’ve spent the last several months trying to shake the images of sprinkling his ashes out of my head. I was close with him once. He even helped me with a couple reviews on this very blog. He was just a teenager. Hmmph.

So, yea, with suicide as a video game story, you have to be delicate. This wasn’t delicate. This is a shotgun blast of “look at the bright side of life!” to the face. Okay, poor choice of words, but I’ll explain why this is wrong below.

These Disney sequels are getting out of hand.

In What Comes After, a girl named Vivi, who is having thoughts of ending her life, falls asleep on a subway. When she wakes up, she finds the train is populated by the ghosts of everyone who recently died within 10km of the train station. This apparently includes a giraffe and an elephant. I’d like to think this is setting up some kind of bad ass Mortal Kombat-like prequel showing how that happened on the same day. Anyway, there’s no “game” here. You just talk to the ghosts, and they wax philosophically on the meaning of life. Some are okay with being dead because they’ve lived full lives and felt complete. Many have regrets. They all feel happy for the girl that she’s still “so full of life.” Sigh.

Okay, so, I’m going to be blunt: the dialog directed to the girl in this game largely talks to her in a way almost all the experts agree YOU ARE NOT SUPPOSED TO TALK TO A SUICIDAL PERSON LIKE! You’ll note there’s four links to such experts there, and a fifth one coming. There’s so many links because, just to make sure my instincts on this were right, I Googled this subject, and read multiple experts on this. They agree:

  • You LISTEN to person. That is the most important element by far, but this game mostly directs dialog at Vivi. Even give and take conversations have almost nothing to do with why she’s having suicidal thoughts, or the pain she’s in, or anything. Even the three main spirits who help her out come across like they’re preaching AT her instead of conversing with her. You also let the person know you’re ALWAYS there to listen. Now, obviously the ghosts in this game can’t do that, but they could tell Vivi to open up to her mother and sister that she lives with.
  • When you do talk, you ask a lot of questions without judgement, about how THEY feel.
  • Most (but not all) experts say you can encourage the person to get help, which literally not one character does. In fact, the angle the game takes suggests that being suicidal is something that can be fixed with gestures. It’s not. It’s a chronic condition that needs to be managed, often long-term.
  • You don’t tell a person to think of the bright side of life or think of everything they have to live for. That serves to diminish the real pain they’re in. It trivializes it. It’s also patronizing and judgmental. Though this isn’t universally agreed on, most experts say you can offer that things will get better, but honestly, “things will get better” is hugely lacking in What Comes After.

Here’s where I take issue: it’s never completely stated why main character Vivi is thinking of killing herself. It hints that she’s depressed and feels like she’s a burden on her family and has no prospects in life. By keeping it so vague and generic, it sort of implies that it doesn’t matter. Which, I’m guessing the “why” matters a great deal to the person. But the What Comes After treats suicidal thoughts as if what can bring someone to this point isn’t incredibly complicated or nuanced, and even if it is, it doesn’t matter because you just have to appreciate what you have and set a goal for a gosh darn happier life. I get that developer Mohammad Fahmi probably wanted to keep the details as minimal as possible so that anyone in a similar position could insert themselves into Vivi’s shoes. But, the overall problem is, any expert will tell you that what helps people who are contemplating suicide the most, statistically speaking, is just having someone listen to them. This is a game about a train full of people talking AT a suicidal person and not WITH them.

For God’s sake, ONE OF THE GHOSTS IS A BABY! A baby that comes across as preachy and guilt trippy, and it’s so cringey and wrong. This whole thing is just wrong. This is the type of game you need to make in collaboration with accredited experts in the field. There are aspects of this game where characters talk to Vivi in ways you are specifically told not to talk to a suicidal person like. Why is this subject matter rare in games? Because it’s the kind of thing most people don’t want to take a chance of getting wrong.

This is the point in the game where I threw up my hands and said “what the fuck? Really?” If a person is suicidal, having the ghost of a dead baby making them feel like shit because they don’t appreciate enough that they actually got to experience life ISN’T GOING TO MAKE ANYTHING BETTER! What Comes After mostly isn’t tone deaf. It’s just very uninformed and misguided. But, this part here? This is where the game got tone deaf.

By the way, there’s absolutely no malice in What Comes After. It’s a game made with the most beautiful of intentions. The whole experience is a one-and-done, no replay value “game” that you can complete in under an hour. To its credit, the story was compelling enough that I never got bored with it, though I think that Mr. Fahmi could have cut the amount of passengers by half and the experience would have been better for it. There’s a tiny hint of broken English (the developer is Indonesian), but nothing that wrecks the experience. And I do genuinely appreciate that the game tries to present a positive message. Hell, I even choked-up a little bit during a conversation with a ghost dog that made me think of my beloved service dog Cherry, who passed away Christmas morning 2018, and how much she would have hated how sad we all were that day.

At the same time, having animals.. and then even plants and trees.. guilt trip a suicidal girl into looking at the bright side of life? YIKES!! Just don’t do that. Why are we even talking about how circus elephants are mistreated? How on Earth can a plant relate to the pain a human being in crisis is in? It’s an important subject FOR HER, but now we’re talking about something completely off topic. It doesn’t exactly come across as insensitive or tone deaf. It feels like a bad way of getting a good message across. I wish I could recommend every game that had its heart in the right place, but that’s not how this job works. And this is a game about helping someone in a crisis that doesn’t follow any of the guidelines recommended by experts and ends with her cured of her thoughts through the grand gesture of having her look over a box of kittens. I found it incredibly misguided and frustrating to read. As charming and heartfelt as the characters come across, it just completely misses the mark. It’s rare that I say a game shouldn’t have been made, but this game SHOULD NOT HAVE BEEN MADE. Because people who are not experts, who have NOT devoted their lives to studying this stuff, are going to take away from this the wrong ways of helping people. It’s wrong.

Again, was What Comes After made with the best of intentions? Sure. But, so is the road to hell, or so the philosophers say.

What Comes After is not IGC Approved

What Comes After was developed by Pikselnesia
Point of Sale: Nintendo Switch, Steam

$4.19 (normally $6.99) noted this game came out April 1, 2021.. YOU RELEASED A GAME ABOUT SUICIDE ON APRIL FOOLS DAY? JESUS FUCKING WEPT.. in the making of this review.

Cuphead: The Definitive Review – The Delicious Last Course

CUPHEAD: THE DEFINITIVE REVIEW GUIDE – PART ONEPART TWOPART THREEPART FOUR

This isn’t going to come as an incredible shock to you, but Cuphead: The Delicious Last Course is worth $7.99. For that money, you get six new bosses, a King Dice style single-phase mini-boss, and five single-phase mini-bosses where your guns don’t work at all and you can only win via parrying. You also get new guns that are the most powerful in the game, new charms that actually made me move off the smoke dash for the final boss, a new character that comes with totally different skills than Cuphead or Mugman, and a secret item that, once you finish messing around with it, basically activates God Mode. It’s a lot of content for eight bucks. As much fun as I had.. and I had blast.. I’m still somehow a bit disappointed. For DLC that took almost five years to make, I guess I was hoping more. Maybe a couple new Run ‘n Gun stages. At least one, right? Nope. No new Run ‘n Gun stages. Maybe more than one new shmup stage? Nope, just one. The best.. and worst.. thing I can say about The Last Delicious Course (doesn’t that sound better than Delicious Last Course?) is that I wish Studio MDHR had spent the last five years just making a sequel, because the content we actually got is spectacular.

The King of Games and the five battles against bosses themed like chess pieces are basically all fun, but some of them are pretty weak too. I beat two of them (the Bishop and the finale, the Queen) on my very first ever attempt playing them. For a game like Cuphead, you really don’t expect a mediocre player like myself to be able to do that.

I suspect they feel the same way and probably have buyer’s remorse that they announced DLC like four years ago. Maybe I’m wrong, but I get that vibe out of Cuphead D.L.C. All the heart from before is there. The bosses are creative (though the whole “you’ve never seen transformations like this” left me expecting much more grand set-pieces than what we got). Yet, after a certain point, I got the “we’re holding back a little” vibe out of it. But, at least you get a lot of value. Turning this $19.99 release into a $27.98 release basically gives you the easy mode-without-penalty everyone has wanted for five years now.

THIS IS CUPHEAD’S REAL EASY MODE

After beating the DLC, I started a new file where I used only Ms. Chalice for everything I was allowed to use her on (only Cuphead/Mugman can do the Mausoleums). I figured I’d need about 200 lives to beat the entire game with her. I actually did it with only 98 lives. Why’s that? Well, Ms. Chalice gets one extra hit point. That’s huge. It can be even more than that with her Super Art II, which is a shield that doesn’t go away until you take a hit (well, unless the game glitches out, and this DLC is glitchy as all hell). She has a shorter standard jump, BUT, she also has a double jump. The double jump by itself nerfs multiple levels and bosses. In fact, multiple coins and challenges in the Run ‘n Gun stages are completely annihilated by just that double jump.

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Ms. Chalice’s parry is tied to her dash, and sometimes this can cost you. She springs-upwards if you score a parry, which can send you into another projectile’s path (this happened to me tons of times), but it also makes probably over half the game’s parrys easier to score. Combine her abilities with the new guns in the game, like the over-powered Crackshot pictured above, and this IS the Easy Mode Cuphead has been begging for. If you want to start over from the beginning, you must beat the Run ‘n Gun stage Forest Follies and Mausoleum I in order to get to the Ms. Chalice charm and the over-powered DLC guns. I’ve created a guide on how you can start a new file and quickly get them.

WHO THE HELL PLAY-TESTED THIS SHIT?

The Delicious Last Course is glitchy as all hell. With the new charms and abilities that grant you extra life, I had planned on at long-last getting A+ scores on every boss. I worked hard to charge up the Cursed Relic into the Divine Relic and was all set to kick ass. Well, so much for that shit. My first match using the Divine Relic, the game said I scored a 0 in life, and like the careless manure farmer, I completely lost my shit. I replayed the level, did more or less as good, finished with three life again, and that time, it gave me credit for it. Huh? And that’s just one of many weird issues. During the very final boss of the DLC content, I used Ms. Chalice’s Super Art II for the extra shield. BUT, between phases, the shield stopped working. ONLY the animation for the shield was still there, as if it was working. But, it wasn’t. You can’t use Chalice’s Super Art II a second time until the first one breaks, yet, here it is.

I mean, they ONLY had five years of development time. Which was the time the Black Plague killed half of Europe. I guess that’s fitting since an actual plague hit during development. Maybe they took a lot of time off to spend that sweet, sweet Netflix money.

The thing that royally frosts my ass about these glitches is Studio MDHR had five fucking years to get it right. FIVE! That’s over twice as long as the Dreamcast had in North America! That’s more than the entire lifespan of the Wii U. Think of all the games developed for those consoles, and remember this is just DLC.. a third of one game.. and yet I triggered these glitches on literally my very first attempt playing. So, these glitches, that myself and other players were constantly bumping into, somehow didn’t get noticed over a five year development cycle? Are you fucking shitting me? It’s so shameful. AND NO, I’m not advocating for crunch or angry that it took so long to come out. I’m angry that, even with all time, easy-to-trigger glitches were left in. Next time, Studio MDHR, hire people that suck and don’t tell them how to play the game. Just watch them play, and take notes.

According to the rules of Cuphead, having your life reduced to zero means you (checks notes) ah yes.. DIE! Well, clearly I didn’t die. This is a victory screen. So, yea, what the fuck, Studio MDHR? And if this is “not a glitch” and there’s a penalty for actually using the items, then you need to explain the rules of your items better. Of course, this is the same company that tells people to “git gud” while never once advertising the game as super hard on any store page. Explaining shit? Pssh, they’re “old school.” As a reminder, old games came with instruction manuals.

What I figure must have happened was their play testers were just too good at Cuphead and didn’t take damage. The classic indie “I forgot that other people are going to play this and they will not have spent the last five years devoting their entire life to this and thus are likely to not play it as well” situation that I’ve seen over and over again for the last eleven years. Yea, games get glitchy, and yea, games get patches. But, these were not like some weird, obscure thing. They were right there, SO EASY to trigger, and yet in five years they never got found. It’s inexcusable.

CUPHEAD IS STILL FUN

Assuming a Cuphead sequel ever hits, and they’ll probably need another decade at the rate they develop games, there’s a good chance I won’t be able to play it anymore. I have early onset Parkinson’s Disease, and on the table for me over the next decade, assuming I still have enough control over my fingers, is the loss of my reflexes. This could very well be my personal Cuphead finale. It’s been a long, strange, rambling journey. It was the announcement of this very DLC that made me realize that I never actually hated Cuphead. That I actually kind of loved it. Once I got over my anger at its snotty “git gud” attitude and the the fact that its studio is filled with douchebags who have no consideration for game accessibility, I realized that, when I beat Cuphead for the first time, it was one of the best times of my gaming life. And finally, the DLC is here.

And they still don’t do enough with the map screens. It took me like five seconds to find this coin.

The Delicious Last Course is fun. I don’t think the bosses are as mind-blowing or over-the-top as a lot of people were promising. Lots of reviewers talk about the six new bosses (eleven with the chess pieces) like they’re a cut above the previous bosses, but they’re not. They’re just new bosses. They’re on par with the previous ones, and the best thing I can say about them is none of them stand out as bad, though I found one to be underwhelming, and there was a phase or two here and there that was kind of boring. I didn’t love the shmup battle. I didn’t love the ice guy. But, I didn’t hate them, either. $8 for this set might be one of the best values any DLC set has ever had. I just wish the effort had gone to a full-blown sequel instead. Now, onto the definitive review..

INKWELL ISLE IV

The King of Games Battles

 

The King of Games is what replaces the Run ‘n Gun Stages and especially the Mausoleums in Delicious Last Course. It’s a series of five boss battles where guns and charms don’t work (except Ms. Chalice’s charm) and you must parry to win. You can start the DLC here, if you wish (and you should since the coins are tied to these battles). The encounters happen between the full bosses.. maybe. Sometimes it lets you do more than one battle, or lets you even choose which battle you want to do, before kicking you off and disappearing for a while. This is also the only section of the DLC where content was cut from the game. There was to be a sixth battle featuring the King himself, and the code for this battle still exists within the game. While Studio MDHR annoys me with their shitty attitude towards accessibility and the fact that they released such a glitchy product even with five years to work on it, the one thing they have my full faith in is, if something gets cut, it got cut for a reason. I’m going to assume the King’s battle must have sucked, because the other five battles are pretty dang fun, even if some are super easy to beat.

Boss #29 (King of Games Battle #1): The Pawns
Apparent Inspiration: They remind me of the ants from old Disney cartoons.
IGC Likes: That such a simple premise is still very exciting and intense.
IGC Dislikes: That there’s no scores for these battles.
Malice of the Chalice: Ms. Chalice has a significant advantage here.

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The pawns are the only of the chess fights that doesn’t feel like a boss, which is fitting, I guess. They leap down at you, and you have to avoid making contact while hitting a parry on their head. Even the pieces you defeat will return to the top to continue jumping down, and if you miss one, you have to wait for the other seven to cycle through their leaps before you get another crack at it. All of the chess battles feel like they were made with Ms. Chalice’s parry dash specifically in mind. In fact, this is the only one of those battles I actually beat using Cuphead, and that was only because I was bound and determined to ONLY use him at first with the DLC, but I gave that shit up. When you play as Cuphead/Mugman, hitting a parry also means throwing yourself into the sky and exposing yourself to the pawns, but Chalice can hit her parries low to the ground. Studio MDHR should have gone to Hasbro and offered to have them sponsor Ms. Chalice, because she absolutely Nerfs™ these battles.

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FOOD FOR THOUGHT: While I mourn the loss of the Run ‘n Gun stages, I’ll be damned if the chess stages aren’t a fun idea and keep what should be a stale formula fresh. It really helps that this opening battle is surprisingly intense. The rate and angles that the pawns jump down at you made me have a few close calls, and I even had a “died on the last one” a couple times. Granted, once I realized the chess battles were made for the chick, I’m like 6 for 0 with Ms. Chalice in this battle, but still, a nice opening sequence. This is probably the weakest of the chess battles in terms of play value and it’s still pretty dang good. A lot more fun than any of the Mausoleum stages. Like, it’s not even close. Great idea this was.

Boss #30 (King of Games Battle #2) : The Knight
Apparent Inspiration: Horace Horsecollar, Ken from the Street Fighter series, A Knight for a Day (1946)
IGC Likes: The only of the five chess matches that I’d classify as difficult.
IGC Dislikes: Unlike the other chess battles, this one feels like it could have been expanded into a full boss battle. Oh, and you can cheese the hell out of it.
Malice of the Chalice: You practically MUST use Chalice. I never came close with just Cuphead/Mugman.

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By far.. BY FAR.. the chess piece that gave me the most trouble, the Knight is easily the deepest of the chess battles. First thing’s first: just use Chalice. The Knight battle feels like Nintendo’s Punch-Out!! franchise as a platformer, where counter-attacking is key, but most of those attacks are too high of a risk if you have to do the parry with an angled jump. The knight has three attacks that he telegraphs, and one that comes with no warning if you stand too far away for too long. Keep a medium distance. If he pokes his head out of his helmet, he’s going to do a big sweeping motion. If he kneels down low, he’s going to dart across the playfield. If he does an upper-cut, it’s a fake out. You can also score a hit when he taunts you, but it’s high risk. On the plus side, if you take damage, you have enough time to score two or three free hits before you stop blinking. You have to parry the pink plume to get him. Awesome battle!

Food For Thought: This is the last instance of “I wish this had been a full battle” I’ll have to deal with in a long time, but I’ll give credit to Studio MDHR: when they had a good single-phase concept, they ran with it. Most of the King Dice mini-bosses and all DLC the mini-bosses are really fun. Yea, I wish they’d been expanded into bigger rights (well, I could do without with the other Chess fights) but I’m happy we got what we got. Never pad anything out just because someone like me is going to bitch about it. Seriously. I know I’m sending mixed messages here, but excellent less is always better than uninspired more.

Boss #31 (King of Games Battle #3): The Bishop
Apparent Inspiration: Catholics. About damn time we get some representation in games.
IGC Likes: A totally unique concept that works within the Cuphead formula. Oh, and I finally joined the “beat a boss the first ever time I faced it” club. Take that, Angela!
IGC Dislikes: That Angela beat Djimmi the Great on standard on her first attempt, which was a much higher degree of difficulty, the show-off.
Malice of the Chalice: This is the one chess battle where you need Chalice the least, though she still has a slight advantage due to being able to parry from the side.

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The Bishop is a one-of-a-kind battle in Cuphead. While you do still have to directly attack him, the major mechanic of this fight is extinguishing the candles he lights. You just have to touch them instead of parrying them (surprised they didn’t work that out), and blowing them all out renders the Bishop vulnerable again. It’s a great idea, and it works. Maybe all this Cupheading has just made me awesome because I aced it on my first attempt. It wasn’t the only one I beat on my first attempt (I also totally lucked into beating the queen as well), but it’s not totally toothless as I died in my rematch with it the second time around. It’s a fight that’s tailor made for close encounters, and once I got over the shock of glorious victory, I have to admit, it’s quite fun.

FOOD FOR THOUGHT: I don’t think Studio MDHR is lacking for good ideas. Each of the chess matches is memorable, and the creepy-ass Bishop is particularly memorable. You don’t expect to see religious iconography in games like this, but you really don’t expect it to be a boss, in a church setting, with crosses and everything around. I admire the guts of it. Just think: Nintendo would have demanded this be altered not even ten years ago. We’ve come far.

Boss #32 (King of Games Battle #4) : The Rook
Apparent Inspiration: Peg Leg Pete, classic Game & Watch games.
IGC Likes: Every aspect of this battle; that they drew Betty Boop as a guillotine, which as I’ve stated before, is the ideal form of execution.
IGC Dislikes: That this character design wasn’t used on a standard boss.
Malice of the Chalice: Ms. Chalice has a significant advantage here.

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While the Knight is probably the most well-rounded of all the chess matches, the Rook battle is my personal favorite. I love EVERYTHING about this fight. I love the character design. I love the heads. I love that he’s just ignoring you and sharpening his axe. I love the macabre vibe of it all. It’s also a satisfying battle. This is by far the most old school of all forty Cuphead bosses. Like someone took a spinning-plate/juggling-type LCD game (such as Nintendo’s Game & Watch Fire) and turned it into a boss fight. And it works wonderfully. This is as close to perfect as any mini-boss gets. Awesome death animation too.

FOOD FOR THOUGHT: I’m not a game developer, but I’d think that there’s a lot of inspiration to be had from the Rook. It takes very old-school gameplay and makes it fresh and exciting in 2022. What makes it feel so epic is the sheer scope of it. Of course, it’s a bit of smoke and mirrors and not really that different from how old 8 bit games used to dress up the bosses to make them look larger. Unlike a lot of the larger-than-life Cuphead bosses, you can see the seams here. What you’re really fighting is just a wall that launches projectiles, and if you bounce the projectiles back at the wall, it counts as a hit. The Rook is just an animation happening in the background. But, it all comes together to make a fight that feels so much larger than it really is.

Boss #33 (King of Games Battle #5) : The Queen
Apparent Inspiration: Alice in Wonderland (1951)
IGC Likes: Another different kind of battle, and another “haha, first try” moment for me.
IGC Dislikes: Oh hey, just like the King Dice sequence of mini-bosses, the chess matches go out with a whimper.
Malice of the Chalice: Ms. Chalice as an advantage in this battle.

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Studio MDHR kind of sucks at mini-boss finales. Okay, that’s not totally fair. It’s not like the Queen here, or King Dice from the original build, are crappy to fight. They’re just underwhelming. Here, you have three cannons that sway back and forth, and you have to parry the fuses to shoot a cannon at the queen. She occasionally sends stacks of lions at you, but the real challenge is she has one of the hardest “make it rain” attack patterns in the game. Once you beat her, that’s it for the chess pieces. Beating the Bishop on my first try made me feel excellent. Here? I felt like I had lucked out. Like King Dice before her, I said “that’s it?” Well, there’s a boss rush for an achievement, but otherwise.. that’s it.

FOOD FOR THOUGHT: Yea, they were out of ideas. Wait, wouldn’t it have made more sense for you to shoot cannonballs at the Rook, which is a castle? And wouldn’t it be more fitting as a tribute to the Queen of Hearts to have her send heads at you (“OFF WITH THEIR HEADS!”) that you have to bounce back at her? Now I’m wondering if I’m onto something. Granted, she wasn’t meant to be the final boss. You know, I pulled this out of my ass because these “Food for Thought” sections I pigeon-holed myself into doing can be tough to write after thirty-three bosses (and I’m writing this on my 33rd birthday. Meta!) but now I think I might be on to something. I’m pretty sure I’m not on something. Unless somebody put something in my water. Let’s not rule this out. Next!!

ANGEL & DEMON: THE HIDDEN MINI-BOSS

Sigh. So, I used the order from the Cuphead Wiki to face the bosses, and they have the Angel & Demon listed last, so I assumed it was some kind of final-final-final special boss. It makes sense! Look at the background! And there’s a thing that looks like the Devil! HE WAS THE LAST BOSS THE FIRST TIME! But, no, this is a special single-phase mini-boss hidden in the game. Before I get to the six primary bosses that the DLC added, let’s review this fight.

GETTING TO IT

There’s a group of three mountaineers, and if you talk to them, they’ll not-so-covertly provide you directions. Next to the Howling Aces battle is a graveyard. Use the center tombstone as a guidepost for each direction.

Like, see how it says “UPRIGHT” in the text? Starting from the center tombstone, you’d go up and then right, and then click that tombstone. Now, repeat the process from the center tombstone for the directions the second and third place mountaineers give you, and you’ll unlock this boss.

What does this do? Well, you can buy an item called the “Broken Relic” from the DLC shop for one coin. Winning this fight.. and it’s no slouch, even for a mini-boss.. changes the Broken Relic into the “Cursed Relic” which is going to be a pain in the ass for you if you want to use it. If you equip it, you only get one hit point to beat bosses with, and it randomizes your guns. Every time you let go of the fire button, use an EX shot, or dash, your gun changes. It’s crazy hard at first, but, it slowly gains more power as you beat more bosses.

If you beat this and want to rematch it, just hold down both triggers in front of the center grave.

Once you’ve beaten enough bosses (there’s a whole scoring system. Consult the Cuphead Wiki on it here) it becomes the Divine Relic, which is basically every charm in one, though the guns are still randomized. It’s insanely over-powered, but by time you get it, you shouldn’t really need it anymore. Anyway, onto the fight.

Boss #34: Demon & Angel in “One Hell of a Dream”
Apparent Inspiration: The battle going on without the soul of all of us.
IGC Likes: The most challenging, original of the mini-boss battles in the game; that it’s a deleted phase from the original game being repurposed here.
IGC Dislikes: That I actually did this boss last, and also the achievement is a reference to Castlevania II, which means operatives from Microsoft will kick in their door and shoot their dog. If they do not have a dog, one will be provided for them. They’ll name it Mr. Tiny, and he’ll be the lost lovable little good boy that ever graced this Earth. They’ll bond with it and learn things about their own capacity for love they never could have imagined. At this point, operatives from Microsoft will kick in their door and shoot the dog. Sorry, this is the established penalty for using “It’s a Horrible Night to Have a Curse.” Rules are rules.
Malice of the Chalice: Ms. Chalice is actually, in my opinion, at a disadvantage here.

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This is one of those “rub your belly and pat your head” bosses. I knew a guy who could do that while whistling, the freak. The idea here is, you will ALWAYS face the Demon, and if you turn around, the Demon and Angel will swap places. The Demon’s attacks will always hurt you. The Angel’s attacks will always pass harmlessly through you. It doesn’t sound very complicated, but holy crap, is this a balancing act. There’s also a platform that moves across the bottom that’s suspended by a lightning bolt that causes damage. Being an idiot, I didn’t notice the lightning bolt and thought the bottom caused damage depending on how you were facing. Once you get used to this, it’s fairly simple. I didn’t get used to it and only won by equipping the heart ring and parrying extra hearts and barely squeaking out wins. Awesome fight though. Fun fact: the Angel & Demon are, along with Goopy from Inkwell I, the only bosses that don’t attack you with minions.

Pachi-Pachi, one of many deleted bosses, though some of them, or their proposed attack patterns, were apparently reused for the DLC. A giant vampire bat was also completely finished and included in early demos and also is a no-show here. I’d thought for sure it was coming.

FOOD FOR THOUGHT: This was a deleted phase from the original build’s finale Devil fight. Well, thank god they cut this from there. This is INSANELY difficult, and it’s only because of how short it is that I managed to pull off a victory. Still, Cuphead cut a lot of content and I was hoping the DLC would restore that, or add extra phases to the existing bosses. As far as I can tell, they didn’t. That’s a shame. There’s some full-fledged deleted bosses that made it far in development, including a sentient Pachinko machine meant for the King Dice fight. No clue why they didn’t add that back in, or Jelly the Octopus, or the Demon Bat. The sad part is, this after-thought bonus fight is actually one of the highlights of the DLC, because there’s no battle quite like it.

Boss #35: Glumstone the Giant in “Gnome Way Out”
Stated Inspiration: The Old Man of the Mountain (1933), Pitfall!
IGC Likes: Seamlessly fits in with the feel of the Cuphead bosses.
IGC Dislikes: One of those “difficult by having busy visuals” situations.
Malice of the Chalice: Ms. Chalice has a major advantage over the first phase only.

Glumstone is basically the icon of Cuphead’s DLC. He was part of a graphic novel released in 2020, and is even featured in The Art of Cuphead book that I used so heavily for the Definitive Review up to this point. We had to wait a LONG time for this fight, which makes me wonder if Studio MDHR wouldn’t have been wiser to just add one boss at a time, for like $2.99. I’d pay that much for each fight, easily. Maybe they could just create an arcade-like Cuphead experience where they release a new boss whatever they finish one. I mean, why not? You don’t need a story for this stuff.

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PHASE ONE – VAPE MOUNTAINS (HEALTHIER ALTERNATIVE TO THE SMOKEY MOUNTAINS): Glumstone’s opening stage takes place on a series of platforms that move up and down, sometimes into the path of geese. You also have to watch out for gnomes that spit fireballs at you or climb up the platforms. The base is covered in spikes too, so stick to the platforms. Occasionally, he’ll also grab a bear and just bring it across the playfield, like the shark in Brineybeard’s fight, only it’s slower and a lot easier to dodge. Glumstone’s primary attack is opening his mouth and blowing clouds at you. If you’re not in close range, only Chalice will be able to reach all of them, as neither Cuphead nor Mugman can jump high enough to reach all of them. It’s a fun phase but easy compared to what’s coming next.

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PHASE TWO – HANDBALL: See, even giants play with themselves using hand puppets. Wait, I didn’t mean it like that. I mean they play with their balls. NO, STOP! I mean they toss their balls back and forth. I mean with puppets. I mean, with their hands. Oh Christ, this is coming out all wrong. What I’m trying to say is the giant bats its ball back and forth while you watch for bulges underneath you. I mean little men coming at you while a bigger guy keeps tossing to himself. It’s a phase and it’s really hard. I mean to beat.

You know what? Screw it. Moving on..

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PHASE THREE – IT’S NOT A TUMOR!!: I guess it’s supposed to be an ulcer but it looks more like cancer to me. Maybe if you just wait Glumstone out long enough he’ll die of natural causes. It’s a nice idea, since there’s like a million cartoons that do this gag, but it’s kind of underwhelming as a finale because it goes from feeling epic in scale to kind of small. But, the Pitfall! tribute is nice, and the difficulty balance is spot on. It’s clear why Glumstone got the lion’s share of pre-release hype. It’s the best of the bosses, besides Chef Saltbaker himself. In short: fun boss. Kind of a meh ending.

FOOD FOR THOUGHT: Glumstone was one of those “on the drawing board a long time” bosses that makes Cuphead work so well. The magic of the art style is there’s dozens of cartoons that use a gigantic character, and Glumstone looks like all of them while somehow also looking like none of them. The ability to borrow liberally from this era and come very close without directly copying any character make for a wonderful resource and it’s awesome someone did such a good job of paying homage to it all.

Boss #36: Moonshine Mob in “Bootlegger Boogie”
Apparent Inspiration: Ants in the Plants (1940), Mr. Bug Goes to Town (1941)
IGC Likes: Recycling deleted concepts from the original build.
IGC Dislikes: The Anteater has a bit too much sponge.
Malice of the Chalice: Chalice has a major advantage in phases one & two and a significant disadvantage in the phase three.

Featuring not just one but two deleted concepts from the original build, the Moonshine Mob was the first boss I fought when I started up the DLC. Yet, it feels like a fight that could have been part of the base game, right up until a delightful (and for some, infuriating) twist at the end of the third phase. Bootlegger Boogie is the ideal DLC experience: it feels like it could have been there all along, yet it twists your expectations ever so slightly.

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PHASE ONE – SPIDER MOBSTER: This is one of the deleted ideas.. kind of. Originally there was a shmup level where you fought the “Flying Gentlemen” which was a spider in a top hat that looks kinda vaguely like the Spider Mobster. This is one of the more fun phases, as it’s actually quite busy, yet it’s super easy to get the hang of. There’s three different channels attacks can happen on, and success and failure will largely hinge on switching back and forth between them. The spider has four attacks.

♥Coppers using bug spray will occasionally walk out and shoot at you, some of which can be parried, though the angles to score one are quite tough.
♣He’ll sometimes pull out a button and drop bombs on the stage that explodes about a second after you pass them. These are a cinch to trigger and avoid the damage.
♦He’ll use an old-timey phone to call in “toughs” to walk onto the playfield and attack you. The flies will camp in the background and give you ample warning before walking out and are easy to kill.
♠His hardest attack by far is kicking a caterpillar at you that ricochets off the walls. This attack doesn’t happen in simple mode.

It’s a pretty good phase. One of my favorites of the DLC.

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PHASE TWO – LIGHT BUG: The Light Bug is one of the earliest concepts for a stand-alone boss that didn’t happen. The attack pattern is, more or less, the same as it was as a prototype. The Light Bug dances back and forth on the second plane while six beams of “sound waves” circle around you. There’s a warning of when one set of three is going to change into an attack. Green is safe, yellow means “shit’s about to go down, yo” and red is dangerous. The attacks only happen briefly and once you get the hang of it, avoiding the attack is easy (and if you do it right, the Light Bug herself won’t be close to you when you switch between levels).

This is where the crackshot becomes very valuable, as you don’t need to take aim and can focus on avoiding the beams. For the musically inclined, you can also use the music as a cue for when the attack will happen. There’s also cops and moonshine barrels running back and forth this whole time, and some of the barrels can be parried. I think I only scored one parry off a barrel the entire time. But, another fun phase!

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PHASE THREE – ANTEATER: Probably the most visually striking of all the DLC bosses, the Anteater’s arrival feels so damn epic. It’s a shame the actual battle becomes quite tedious. You get a chance to score some early damage on the real final boss at the start of the battle, but then the Anteater makes his move. He’s only vulnerable from his tongue. Ms. Chalice’s parry dash is almost worthless here, as the Anteater will take turns doing three to five trusts with his mouth on one side of the level, eventually sticking his tongue out across the screen. The tongue can be parried, and if you have the whetstone equipped, this battle goes a lot faster. In theory, you can time it with Ms. Chalice, but I never could.

Eventually, he’ll retract his tongue and unleash a brawl between a cop and a hoodlum that bounces around the screen like the caterpillar from earlier, only it takes A LOT more bullets to kill. He’ll then switch to the other side and repeat the same attack. After two hours, give or take, he’ll finally die. This would be a fun phase, only it takes FOREVER to finally score the knockout. Only, it’s NOT the knockout.

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PHASE FOUR – SUDDENLY SNAIL: A banner drops down and the Snail declares KNOCKOUT sounding like Edward G. Robinson. The Anteater collapses and the final phase begins with the Snail shooting relatively quickly at you, though many of his shots can be parried. This is the fastest phase in all of Cuphead, and when the Snail dies after just a few shots, the real announcer clears his throat before declaring KNOCKOUT in a nice touch.

FOOD FOR THOUGHT: I think this is pretty much it for the deleted content that got reworked into the game. It’s nice that they found a place for the “The Light” boss that was one of their earliest plans. What strikes me most about Moonshine Mob is how incredible Studio MDHR is at the big concepts, awesome set pieces, and even pitch-perfect timing of humor. Moonshine Mob has a few issues, especially the Anteater phase, but it’s so imaginative that you can’t forget it.

Boss #37: The Howling Aces in “Doggone Dogfight”
Apparent Inspiration: Street Fighter, the dog from Tom & Jerry
IGC Likes: Lots of fresh ideas that makes an otherwise ho-hum design unforgettable.
IGC Dislikes: The most unreasonable condition for unlocking a secret phase in the game.
Malice of the Chalice: Ms. Chalice is neither at an advantage or disadvantage for this battle.

Oh, I get it.. they’re dogs in a dog fight. As in airplanes. They’re not owned by Michael Vick. Right before I finally started to type this section of the review, I was informed there’s a secret phase. I spent the next four hours trying to get it, gave up, and had a tantrum. Then, a friend’s kid told me “use the Lobber” and I got it on my first try. Grumble. After all that effort, the DLC’s lone secret phase wasn’t remotely worth the effort. What a waste of time. Stick to the main path, where an otherwise generic theme becomes an unforgettable encounter.

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PHASE ONE – UNLEASH THE DOGS OF WAR: Hughes Canteen, the NPC that taught you about the airplane in Inkwell I, is your pilot. You stand on a plane that will go left and right depending on how close to each edge you stand. It’s actually very intuitive. There’s an alternate control scheme just for this level, but stick to the default because it works wonderfully. Using this setup, a bulldog pilot will fire slow-moving heat-seeking fire hydrants at you while other dogs rain tennis balls down on you. Occasionally, the bulldog will bail to either shoot you with giant yarn balls or throw boomerang bones at you, some of which can be parried. A nice little phase, though keeping up with the tennis balls is a pain in the butt, and sometimes the timing of them and the yarn attack conspire to screw you.

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PHASE TWO – YANKEE YIPPERS: Four dogs circle around you and throw letters at you, many of which can be parried. If you take your time before picking them off, you can easily charge your cards up during this phase. The dogs don’t take many hits at all, and the crackshot is especially useful here. This whole phase is over and done with in a matter of moments and you move on to the ultra-memorable finale. That is, unless you want to open the secret phase and ruin the best part of this entire boss.

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IF YOU WANT TO UNLOCK THE SECRET PHASE: Don’t. It sucks. There’s not even an achievement attached to it or anything. But, if you’re into completing stages, you’ll want to use the Lobber. The idea is to damage the dogs just enough that the exhaust from their jetpacks turns grey. There’s an audio cue as well. If you kill even one, you’ve missed out on it. Once all four of them are on the grey smoke, their Mom or whatever she’s supposed to be will collect them and the secret final phase will begin.

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PHASE THREE – SHINOOK PILOT SALUKI: One of the best phases of Delicious Last Course, the battle against the Persian Greyhound (clearly the snootiest of all dogs) is truly a spectacle. It starts with mad scentists type of lasers that reminds me of something that would be used to fight Mighty Mouse. After a couple shots of that, the screen will rotate 90 degrees, and the controls along with it, and the Saluki will drop dog dishes on you that you have to jump over. The screen will go upside down after that. Once you get the hang of it, it’s actually a fairly simple battle, and it can even end by shooting the lasers and not the dog itself. It’s not much of a boss, but the gravity effects stand out and turn the mundane into something special. Of course, you can shirk all that and do the pathetic secret phase.

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SECRET PHASE – THE WORLD’S MOST BORING DOGS: After all the hard work I put in trying to unlock this, all the Secret Phase was is a completely basic, generic, overly long sequence of dodging shit. There’s nothing novel or challenging about it. It’s really awful and quite lazy and I’m so disappointed, especially for the amount of time I put into getting it. All the gravity effects that make this so memorable? They’re gone. The charming lasers? Gone. All you do is dodge pineapples (some of which can be parried) and the fire hydrants from the first phase. What a crappy thing to hide.

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DOG FOOD FOR THOUGHT: Like the Rook battle, The Howling Aces take bland, basic attacks and make them exciting by adding unique ways of tackling them. The airplane following your movement works, and I’m a sucker for gravity effects in games. If not for those things, this would be a very boring boss, as the secret phase proves. I’m not in love with the theme, and honestly, I kind of wish what they had done was merged the shump and platform sections. That’s the one thing Cuphead hasn’t done yet with its own formula. It’s probably impossible due to how it loads, but it’s all that’s left.

Boss #38: Mortimer Freeze in “Snow Cult Scuffle”
Apparent Inspiration: The Snowman (1933), Lullaby Land (1933), Darkstalkers
IGC Likes: Probably the most conventional of all the DLC bosses.
IGC Dislikes: My least favorite of the primary DLC bosses
Malice of the Chalice: Ms. Chalice has a minor advantage in the second phase, but otherwise this is a fight more suited for Cuphead/Mugman.

Of the six DLC bosses, Mortimer feels the most like he belonged in the original game. He’s also probably the most middle-of-the-road of the five non-shmup bosses. It’s not a bad fight by any means, and it has some wonderful sight gags, but this is also the battle that I found to be the dullest. Get ready for some temperature based puns that would make the writers of Batman & Robin blush with shame.

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PHASE ONE – CHRIST, WHAT AN ICEHOLE: Mortimer has three ways of attacking. Apparently he’s a flasher, as his most common method of attack is pulling out is opening his cloak to unleash tiny little ice monsters that spike themselves into the ground before coming to life and giving chase. It’s really tough to judge their trajectory while in flight, but once they land they’re easy enough to take out. He’ll usually then just slam a giant whale into the ground. If it hits the ice monsters, it’ll knock them out of the game in an adorably hilarious gag. Finally, he’ll shoot cards at you, which can sometimes be parried. Dull phase, really.

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PHASE TWO – SNOW MORE MR. ICE GUY: One of the hardest middle phases in the entire game, the Snow Monster is fast, aggressive, and specializes in crowding you in. He has a wide range of attacks, and between those he might turn into a snowball and roll or leap back and forth across the screen. If the obstacles from his previous attack are still active, it’ll be difficult to dodge. He’ll also slam the ground and cause ice blades to poke up from the ground.

By far his most common attack is turning into a fridge and shooting ice cubes at you. When the cubes land, they break into smaller cubes. If the starting cube is large, it’ll have two break sequences. They’re easy enough dodge, but it’s when he quickly transitions to the rolling attack that this phase becomes a pain in the butt. He’ll also close the fridge attack by launching evil popcicles at you, some of which can be parried. When you do enough damage, a series of platforms appears that takes you to the finale. The Snow Monster took me longer to complete than almost any second phase and probably should have been the last phase.

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PHASE THREE – OKAY, SNOWFLAKE: After climbing up the platforms, you reach a rotating set of five platforms for the final form of Mortimer. The giant snowflake finale has an attack that never once hit me. He shoots out.. like.. a ghost that circles around the outside. I don’t even know if it can damage you or if it’s just a few seconds of getting free attacks. His other attacks are more dangerous. He’ll launch buckets at you, some of which can be parried. After they hit the wall, the buckets turn into three moons that you have to dodge. He’ll also shoot ice cream cones from four directions at once, or launch his eyeball at you. The eyeball has beams that you must also avoid. A decent finale to an otherwise ho-hum battle.

FOOD FOR THOUGHT: Mortimer is the only of the four traditional bosses that feels like he could only belong in Inkwell III. The other three would fit in more as Inkwell II battles, with Moonshine Mob being on the fringe only because of the Anteater section’s sponge. There’s something about this particular fight that feels climatic or end gamish. Then again, a lot of people insist to me that I’m crazy for thinking Brineybeard belongs in Inkwell I so take that with a grain of salt.

Boss #39: Esther Winchester in “High-Noon Hoopla”
Apparent Inspiration: Clarabelle Cow
IGC Likes: Hey, more shmups is a good thing! One of the most jaw-dropping character transformations in the game.
IGC Dislikes: Probably among the weaker of the shmup battles.
Malice of the Chalice: Chalice has a significant disadvantage here.

I’m so disappointed that there’s only one shmup section in the DLC. I want an all-shmup Cuphead sequel more than I want to live into my 80s. While Esther isn’t among the best of the shmup encounters in the game, she’s still a ton of fun to do battle with. Fun fact: this was the boss that I needed the most lives and time to defeat in the DLC, and by a wide margin.

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PHASE ONE – REAL C.O.W. GIRL OF SHMUP MESA: In the first phase, you have to switch between and upper and lower area. Esther’s primary method of defeating you is by having one of the most visually busy sections of the game. She fires oil out of guns that crosses halfway across the screen before doubling back and coming back at you as snakes (wait, I get it.. snake oil! See, I thought it was ink). Her only other direct attack is to lasso a cactus that will block the entire channel she’s on.

The real challenge comes from vultures that drop dynamite into the playfield. The dynamite explodes into five separate explosions of three, then two (four and then three on Expert). AND while all that’s happening, a horse will fly across the screen and spit cactus balls at you, some of which can be parried. You can shoot the horses down, but you give up parry chances. There’s just a ton of stuff to keep track of here and it becomes overwhelming.

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PHASE TWO – HEY NOW, THAT’S NOT THE CODE OF THE WEST: In a sort of opposite of one of Djimmi’s attacks, Esther pulls out a vacuum and beings sucking loot up, and you along with it. After dodging all the debris, she’ll then bend over and launch safes onto the playfield. When the safes hit the ground, they explode into the loot she previously collected, some of which can now be parried. It’s a basic dodging type of stage that goes quickly, and once you defeat it, this wholesome boss suddenly takes a turn at the corner of Dark and Macabre.

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PHASE THREE – 😶 : The cow gets sucked into the pressure cooker and turned into hot dogs.

HOLY CRAP, THAT’S TWISTED!

Once you pick your jaw up off the floor, this is easily the simplest phase of the whole stage. She starts running backwards and launching steaks at you (my god) that take a sharp circular pathway, and some of which can be parried. While this is going on, you have to dodge cans of beans which can extend outwards. You can see which way the cans face and attempt to dodge them. The difficulty comes from the sheer speed, as this is a fast moving area. Not bad though, and an unforgettable visual.

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PHASE FOUR – A REAL SAUSAGE FEST: The final shmup phase of Cuphead has you now fighting an entire can of hot dogs (do hotdogs come in tins like that?) with two giant arms extending from it. The arms scissor back and forth, but there’s safe spots where no dog is that you can pass safely through. While this is going on, the can shoots waves of chili peppers at you, one of which can always be parried. Resist the temptation to chase one down if it’s not in front of you and focus on dodging the arms. It’s pretty spongy but a wonderful ending to my surprise favorite type of Cuphead levels.

FOOD FOR THOUGHT: Oh this food isn’t thinking anymore. I killed it.

Boss #40: Chef Saltbaker in “A Dish to Die For”
Apparent Inspiration: Pinocchio (1940)
IGC Likes: An amazing finale that’s more epic than the Devil fight. The twisted attacks are shocking in their visceral violence. I love ’em!
IGC Dislikes: That there’s no more battles left.
Malice of the Chalice: Ms. Chalice has a major advantage in this battle.

My Dad when people complain his chili is too spicy.

In what is the least shocking twist ever, Chef Saltbaker was a bad guy all along, and the battle against him is so mean spirited and evil that the smile never left my face. This, ladies and gentlemen, is one of the most memorable last bosses in gaming history. Well, except that it gets easier as it goes along. Seriously, the first phase is a frantic dodge-a-thon, but while the visuals remain striking throughout, the actual battle gets kind cinchy.

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PHASE ONE – CASUAL CRUELTY: All the items are you’ve gathered from defeating the five primary DLC bosses? Yea, the Chef murders them in cold blood with a smile on his face. It’s violent and gruesome and FUCKING AWESOME! Like all professional chefs, this guy is just 100% pure evil. He has four attacks: shooting limes that hover over you, sugar cubes that bounce at you (some of which can be parried), cookies that bounce at you, and strawberries that rain down upon you. None of them are hard to dodge on their own, but the attacks can and do stack. And, while this happens, there’s a fire that jumps from the floor to the ceiling and is super easy to lose track of. One of the most intense and brutal phases in the game.

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PHASE TWO – SALTED NUKES: Yea, this is the most visually awesome sequence in the entire game. It’s so awesome. Here, you shoot four pepper shakers that crash into Chef Saltbaker and progressively crack him. The pepper shakers shoot projectiles, some of which can be parried, and leafs rain down from the ceiling from time to time. The fire from the previous stage is back as well. I highly recommend the crackshot for this battle. When you’ve done enough damage, you’ve earned a break with one of the easiest and quickest phases in any boss fight.

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PHASE THREE – WHAT SLUGS HAVE NIGHTMARES OF: This phase seriously lasts like ten seconds, if that. Two salt things that look kind of like the Stay Puff Marshmallow Man dance up and down. It’s an easy pattern that you can dash under. There’s a saw blade on the ground too but, yea, this is a layup and a break between the real finale of Cuphead. Take a breather, plug these guys with a couple shots, and move on.

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PHASE FOUR – TOO MUCH SALT IS KNOWN TO CAUSE HEART ATTACKS: This is it! After beating the salt dancers, the floor starts to break apart and two lethal-to-the-touch columns of salt spring up. Most importantly, a series of platforms start to appear. If you don’t have Ms. Chalice’s double jump, this section is so much harder. After a few seconds of jumping from platform to platform, the Chef’s heart will appear. You have to shoot it, and apparently it can be parried too though it doesn’t seem necessary to killing it. It’s a bit of a letdown for a finale, especially with how epic those first two phases were. But, that’s it. Unless there’s even more surprise DLC or a sequel coming, this was the final phase of Cuphead.

Thanks, Elias!

FOOD FOR THOUGHT: Thank you, everybody for following me on this weird little journey I’ve been on with Cuphead. From a game I thought I hated (it’s actually the choices made by the developers I disliked) to now being ranked #3 (as of this writing) on the Indie Gamer Chick Leaderboard. I didn’t think the DLC was good enough to bump the ranking ahead of Dead Cells or Axiom Verge, but I still had a blast. To everyone who read the over forty thousand words of this five-part review, I appreciate it. Go, play some Cuphead!

ACKNOWLEDGEMENTS

To all my readers, thanks for the support over the last eleven years.

Angela, you are the light of my life.

Mom & Dad, thanks for all the video games you got me as a kid.

Leslie Meyers, Amanda Lange, Jim Bevan for their contributions to the trivia.

William, my best friend.

Brian, who got me into this game reviewing stuff.

Dave Sanders, you’re the coolest guy I know.

Jordi, you’re incredible.

Dash, you’re a dang cool guy.

Everyone at Indie Gamer Team, you’re all my friends and I love you so much.

Aki, Mac, Andrew, Jon, Ryan, Elias, Michelle, Saud, & Dillen

Friends like Arlyeon, Bob, Dillen the Pickle guy, too many guys named David, Chris, Kris, and Christopher. I have too many friends. I need to finish buying that island off the coast of Bermuda that I can stage death tournaments and make you all compete for my love and affection.

Hunter, for helping us unlock the Howling Aces secret phase.

Studio MDHR, thanks for making a great game and being douchey enough to give me tons of material.

The Cuphead Wiki, for all the help.

If you’re really read this far, you’re weird.

 

Cuphead DLC: How to Turn On “Easy Mode” in All But Name

Cuphead’s DLC is fun. And glitchy. And weird. Indie Gamer Chick’s Cuphead: The Definitive Review – The Delicious Last Course is live, and if you want to know about Cuphead’s so-called “easy mode” that the DLC has, this is the guide of how to get it. For your $7.99, Ms. Chalice isn’t exactly that, but she’s close. If you don’t want to use Ms. Chalice, that’s fine, because the DLC also includes over-powered guns that significantly make the main quest easier (I beat it in under 100 lives, which is a marked improvement over the 713 I needed the first time). Here’s a guide on how to finally give you an edge over the game. Starting a new file, you just need to accumulate coins and give yourself access to Ms. Chalice and the DLC guns. It requires you to only defeat the easiest Run ‘n Gun level AND one Mausoleum. That’s it.

STEP ONE: GET THE TUTORIAL COIN

There’s a coin in the tutorial level inside Elder Kettle’s house. Grab that.

STEP TWO: GET THREE COINS FROM THE APPLE

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Just talking to the Apple will give you three more coins.

OPTIONALLY: At this point, if you have NO faith in your ability to beat Forest Follies with the pea shooter, you can buy a gun to help you. If you skip this, you’ll be able to fully load yourself faster.

STEP THREE: COMPLETE FOREST FOLLIES + GET ALL 5 COINS

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You need to be beat Mausoleum I to open the pathway to the DLC content, and you can’t do that unless you beat Forest Follies. This is the easiest level and the coins are a cinch to get, and you need at least 7 coins to buy the Heart Ring and one DLC gun. Make sure to get all five coins. If you’re confident in your ability to defeat Treetop Trouble, you can beat that and grab five coins there, but it’s a LOT harder, and this is supposed to be “easy mode access.” Wait until you have Chalice.

STEP FOUR: DEFEAT MAUSOLEUM I

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Not only is this required to open access to the DLC, but now you’ll have a Super Art when you start fighting bosses. This is a cinch. Just parry the enemies.

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You can now access the DLC. Talk to the ferryman and he’ll take you to the DLC island, but there’s two more coins (possibly five, depends on how your save file feels) that you can access. You’ll also immediately get the Ms. Chalice charm, the Astral Cookie. With Ms. Chalice, you can’t equip other charms. You won’t need them. She gives you one extra hit point and her double jump is overpowered.

STEP FIVE: GET THE COIN FROM MS. CHALICE’S TUTORIAL

Go to the food cart, which is Chalice’s tutorial, and grab that coin.

STEP SIX: GET THE HIDDEN COIN ON INKWELL IV

Follow the instructions on this tweet:

STEP SEVEN: BUY DLC GEAR AND YOU NOW HAVE “EASY MODE”

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The DLC guns and charms are only on Inkwell IV. Don’t buy from other shops.

Ms. Chalice is incredibly weak against Shmup battles (in my complete play-through with Ms. Chalice, 37 of my 98 deaths were against the Shmup bosses, with Cala Maria taking 13 of those alone), but the Heart Ring works for Cuphead in Shmups and gives you up to three extra hit points. The Heart Ring grants you an extra health for your first, third, and sixth parries at no penalty to your health. This IN THEORY should help you get perfect scores, but Studio MDHR only had five years to work on the game and it’s incredibly glitchy and sometimes you can finish a stage with 5 health and it still says you didn’t finish with the required three health.

The Converge has a really powerful, quick-to-shoot EX shot that I called the “FU BOLT” because, I mean, look at it!

The Crack Shot is my personal favorite of the new guns. It’s like a more powerful Chaser, AND, if you hit the shot before it breaks for the heat-seeking part, it causes almost twice the damage, so it’s versatile. The Converge is the second best, as it gives range, pierces all enemies and is quite powerful. If you hold the aim lock button down, it MIGHT focus the three bolts more narrowly (the game is insanely fickle about this working. It’s not consistent at all. The DLC is weirdly glitchy, but hey, they only had five years to work on this. You can’t expect it to work!). If you didn’t buy a gun for Forest Follies, you should be able to afford the Heart Ring, Crackshot, and Converge.

Cuphead should be a lot easier now, and you have a lot of flexibility to come up with strategies.

OPTIONAL: TAKE OUT THE PAWNS

If you’re feeling confident, you can keep going from here as long as it’ll let you go. The Knight that you fight after the Pawns is by far the hardest of the five Chess pieces, but you get coins for every victory after.

You can get two more coins by taking out the Pawns. Use Ms. Chalice for all the battles with the Chess pieces. You can tell they were made for her. You can also buy the Twist-Up, which has bosses it works really well against, but precision shooting is a lot harder. If it allows you, you can try your luck on the Knight too for even more coins, but he’s a lot harder. If you don’t want to use Ms. Chalice, the Crackshot and the Heart Ring should be enough to at least get your through Inkwell I and stock-up more coins to give you the secondary gun of your choice. Have fun now that you can enjoy the game a little more.

 

Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles: Shredder’s Revenge (Review)

What’s an indie game?

It’s the most common question I’ve been asked over the last eleven years. Here’s my new answer: a game that’s not a AAA game.

I couldn’t find any place else to place this food for thought, but Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles is *quintessentially* an indie franchise. From its origin as an underground comic to today’s game. I mean, the 1990 motion picture was, for nearly a full decade, the highest-grossing independent film of all-time (finally knocked-out by the Blair Witch Project in 1999). “What’s an independent film?” Good question. Here are some indie flicks Turtles did better than at the box office: Terminator. Texas Chainsaw Massacre. Evil Dead. Lost in Translation (Angela’s personal favorite movie). “THOSE AREN’T ALL INDIE FILMS!” Well, you say “tomato..” That’s kind of the point of this review.

I’m not being cagey. The thing is, there’s no such thing as an indie game, even though there’s obviously such a thing as an indie game. It’s something that makes perfect sense, as long as you don’t actually try to define it. It’s like how there’s really no such thing as a continent. I mean, why does Asia and Europe, a massive, continuous strip of land, count as two? Why does Australia count as one but Greenland doesn’t? Because a continent is something we just made up that’s a completely arbitrary definition. And we made up the concept of an indie game. In reality, your independence to make a project is completely arbitrary, which is demonstrated by this actual conversation that took place this week with a longtime follower of mine.

“Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles: Shredder’s Revenge SHOULD NOT count as an indie game.”

Why not? Both the studio and the publisher meet the criteria. They’re small, self-funded, and even DotEmu’s parent Focus Entertainment isn’t THAT big. Plus, my moles within the project tell me that TMNT’s IP holders Viacom and TMNT’s IP gatekeepers Nickelodeon shot down NO ideas. They had full creative control.

“No they didn’t.”

Yes, they did! The game we got is basically exactly what they pitched.

“Could they have done a cut scene where the Turtles walk in on April O’Neal having a threesome with Shredder and Casey Jones while Splitter sits in the corner jerking off? No? Then they didn’t have creative control!”

That wouldn’t be true to the spirit of their concept at all. Why would they want to put that in the game?

“Why WOULDN’T they want to?”

He’s got a point. How else are we going to figure out if my suspicion that Shredder’s a kind, gentle lover is true or not? I mean, it’s obviously true. He made an army of robots to keep him company. That means the bad boy stuff is just an act and, deep down, he’s actually sensitive. We can change him, girls!

At this point, with the thought of Splinter jerking off now stuck in my head, I walked away. I don’t think my brain was ready for this. It took me hours and several jars of petroleum jelly before I was able to win the conversation.. really there were NO winners at all with this whole sorry mess.. by noting that no game on any console is truly “independent” of any and all limitations. You can view this many ways, but an obvious example is that none of the Big Three of Nintendo/Microsoft/Sony allow games that get slapped with the ESRB’s dreaded Adults-Only rating on their consoles. Even if DotEmu AND Tribute Games AND Nickelodeon AND Viacom all wanted that threesome cut scene, it wouldn’t have happened in a million years anyway.

Despite only being spiritually related to the Konami games, there’s callbacks aplenty! Like, the opening stage from Turtles in Time was “Big Apple: 3AM” and now it’s Big Apple, 3PM. Insert Captain America from Avengers “I UNDERSTOOD THAT REFERENCE!” here.

No, Shredder’s Revenge is indie because it’s exactly the game a fan of the 1989 arcade game would have made if they had the tools and ability Tribute Games had. I’ve been on a brawler kick as of late, and I think one of the unsung keys to the genre being modern and relevant goes beyond expanded move-sets and upgrades and replay incentives. No, I think there’s a key that people don’t talk about: PERSONALITY! Sight gags and visual jokes, and a vibe of “isn’t this all silly?” because it kind of is. Well, no brawler ever feels as self-aware as Shredder’s Revenge. The thing about that is, every gag feels like something that anyone would laugh about while playing the original game. “Wouldn’t it be funny if a foot soldier was behind the counter, like they’re working. But, it’s obviously not working, because the disguise is terrible, because it still looks exactly like the exact same soldiers we’ve been wasting for decades now?”

The story mode for Shredder’s Revenge is loaded with “secrets” and by secrets I mean we just found all the hidden fetch quest stuff laying around on our first play-through and only had to replay one level once to get something we missed. It’s like an Easter Egg hunt for the world’s most dim-witted kids.

This is the Ninja Turtles fan game that isn’t a fan game, and it’s everything you’d want in a TMNT game and more. It’s something that only could be indie, because when AAAs do fan service, it always feels like the laziest chumming of the waters. “DID YOU KNOW IF YOU LISTEN CLOSELY, YOU CAN HEAR A VOICE FROM THE STAR WARS CLONE WARS CARTOON CALL OUT TO REY IN RISE OF THE SKYWALKER?” Pandering. Patronizing. Like I said, chumming the waters. It takes no effort or no creativity at all to pull off. Calling that “fan service” is fucking insulting, because there’s no work involved. It’s SELF service, because it only works if the person watching makes it work.

The boss fights are the most perfect element of the game. They’re all fun EXCEPT the last one, which is both a let down as a concept and the only fight that I considered to be kind of boring. SPOILER: it’s Super Shredder again. FUN FACT: in the Secret of the Ooze movie, Super Shredder was played by future professional wrestling world champion “Big Sexy” Kevin Nash. DID YOU EVER REALIZE: That Shredder handly defeats the Turtles in combat but still basically kills himself in both Turtles movies? It’d be like if Lex Luthor defeated Superman in back-to-back movies only for both films to end with Lex turning himself into prison afterwards. Kind of anti-climatic, Lex!

Shredder’s Revenge is the way fan service should work: with craftsmanship and a methodology that assures the service feels fresh to those it caters to. DotEmu could have just as easily did a ROM hack of Turtles in Time, like they did for Wonder Boy: The Dragon’s Trap that turns pixel art into cel animation, while also bringing back the original cartoon cast (like they really did with Shredder’s Revenge) and it would have still been celebrated by Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtle fans. But, that would have only been fresh for those who hadn’t played the original 1992 game. No, this required effort, and a vision, and the determination to do right by fans and not just make them smile for one brief, fleeting second as they say “wow, that sounded like Samuel L. Jackson calling out to Rey! He was Mace Windu! That’s a Star Wars Jedi! I know Star Wars!” Cool. Wouldn’t it have been a lot cooler to see all those Force Ghosts help? But, that would have been a LOT of work, and required direction and set-up and.. eh, fuck it, why bother if people are going to squeal just hearing his voice? I mean, that’s the attitude, right? Why bother? Well, Tribute Games bothered, because they actually care about their work.

I know the #1 appeal in my reviews is when I go full-on scathing, but I just don’t have anything major to complain about with Shredder’s Revenge. Excellent play control. Fun graphics. Rockin’ soundtrack. It had a few glitches, including one that stun-locked my turtle in his damage animation mid-air, but I hear that’s going to be patched-out. So, yea, nothing to complain about. Okay, maybe the voice work from the original cast feels a LITTLE phoned-in, but otherwise, this is kind of the perfect retro revival.

No, Disney could never have done TMNT: Shredder’s Revenge. Nobody could have, except indie developers. Someone who approached this project and this IP with the attitude of “we could get away with the barest minimum of effort, but we’re not going there. We’re all-in!” I can talk about how, for two incredible hours, my sister, my father, and myself cheered, and giggled, and laughed, and screamed, and slapped celebratory high-fives as we made our way through the game’s story mode. I could mention that I’m not remotely a TMNT fan, grew up after its popularity had long since declined, but I was having a jolly old time alongside two people that knew even less about the franchise than me, so really, this game works FOR EVERYONE. I could talk about all the added moves that assures you never get bored with the combat, or how this is the very best example of Konami-style beat-em-up bosses EVER done. But, everyone else is talking about those things, and the incredible personality, and all the sight gags, and all the extra added content to pad out the run time for those who want more than two hours for their $24.99 (I finished the story mode perfectly satisfied and have no intention to go back, unless DLC hits).

Instead, on this, the first day of my eleventh year reviewing indie games, I just wanted to use this review to say Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles: Shredder’s Revenge is a shining example of what the indie game development community can do with long dormant game franchises. And just think.. the best is still yet to come!

Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles: Shredder’s Revenge is Chick-Approved
Leaderboard Ranking: #6 of 301
Top 99.1 Percentile of All 631 IGC Indie Reviews
Top 98 Percentile of All 301 IGC-Approved Indie Games
*Rankings based on time of publication. Check the Leaderboard for updated standings.

Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles: Shredder’s Revenge was developed by Tribute Games
Point of Sale: Nintendo Switch, PlayStation, Xbox, Steam

$22.49 (normally $24.99) did ten back flips in the making of this review. GO NINJA GO NINJA GO!

THANK YOU ALL FOR ELEVEN INCREDIBLE YEARS! Here’s to the next eleven!

The Gaming Thing

This is it. I’ve now been Indie Gamer Chick for one-third of my life. Tomorrow marks eleven years since I opened IGC, and on July 11, I’ll turn 33-years-old. That’s a not-insignificant chunk of my lifespan spent making dick and fart jokes about video games as a means to actually say how much I like or dislike them. Which, looking back, the formula seems to be dick jokes for the good stuff and fart jokes for the bad. As it should be.

One of the voices in my head is telling me “HURRY UP AND GET THIS OVER QUICK SO WE CAN PLAY CUPHEAD!” The rest of the voices are telling me to burn things.

So, this is supposed to be that time of the year where I sit at my keyboard and tearfully thank all my readers for their continued support and wax poetically about the future of indie gaming. But, this time, the tears aren’t there. Oh, make no mistake, I’m thankful. From the bottom of my heart: THANK YOU to everyone who has ever supported my work here at IGC. I do love you all! No, the difference this year is, for the first time doing this annual tradition, I find myself looking nostalgically at the past. Indie gaming’s future is secure. When I started this blog in July, 2011, self-publishing was nonexistent on consoles, outside of the unloved and unseen Xbox Live Indie Games. Hell, Nintendo wouldn’t even talk to a creator who developed their games from home instead of a “studio, with a security system.” That security system apparently being a deadbolt. I’m not joking. Those days are long gone, and good riddance.

Instead, on this day, I find myself looking back at a life spent playing video games. Once upon a time, I was a little girl on the autism spectrum who had no friends. I also didn’t like to play with toys and had trouble having anything besides TV hold my interest. “You have to do SOMETHING more engaging with your free time!” my dad would often croak. My parents were constantly trying to find something that I could get into. I’d played a PlayStation kiosk at Sears at the mall, and told my parents I wouldn’t mind this. On Christmas morning in 1996, Santa Claus brought me a PlayStation with Crash Bandicoot, and I enjoyed it just fine.

Ever since I started doing game criticism, I’ve given the lion’s share of credit to my gaming fandom to Banjo-Kazooie. But actually, Crash Bandicoot was probably the best possible introductory game for a 7-year-old of its era. It’s sort of all-encompassing of the video game experience. Very underrated as a starter-game is Crash Bandicoot.

I wouldn’t call that specific moment life-altering. Rather, it planted an important seed. A seed that was, perhaps, a little damaged when my first outside-of-Christmas game that my parents selected was, I’m not kidding, BUBSY 3-D. Wow, fail, Mom & Dad! Of course, being just 7-years-old at the time, I didn’t exactly comprehend just how historically bad the game was. In fact, I kind of wanted to like it! I put a lot of time into it. I just didn’t understand why it wasn’t as easy to control as Crash Bandicoot was. These days, as IGC, I’d boil it in oil. But at that age, I was just frustrated by it. My parents redeemed that over the next year with games like Herc’s Adventures (REMEMBER THAT?) or Crash Bandicoot 2 for Christmas of 1997. I’d play them. I even beat both Crash games for the first time.

And then, on my 9th birthday, July 11, 1998, I got a Nintendo 64, along with Banjo-Kazooie, and everything changed. I wasn’t just enjoying this game. I was utterly, completely absorbed by it. Obsessed, really. I beat it about three weeks later, but I wasn’t finished. I wanted to get all the jigsaw pieces I missed, and then every note I missed. As summer turned to fall, my parents couldn’t believe I was still playing the same game. “Didn’t you beat this?” I must have heard, without exaggeration, a hundred times from them. When I finally got the last Jigsaw piece I didn’t have, I didn’t know if it would open more game content or not. When it didn’t, I wept. No joke. Like Alexander, I didn’t celebrate, but rather cried, for there were no more worlds to conquer. And I wanted so much more, and my parents obliged. Over the next few months, mascot platformers like Super Mario 64 and Spyro the Dragon dominated my free time. When my parents got me Yoshi’s Story and it was so pathetically easy that I saw the end credits in just a few hours, and I wanted to see what else gaming had to offer besides platforming.

The answer was: EVERYTHING!

Goldeneye! Blast Corps! San Francisco Rush! NBA Courtside! Legend of Zelda: Ocarina of Time! Gran Turismo! All day, every day, at least when I wasn’t forced to stop to eat, sleep, or sit with my tutor and do school work (I was home schooled. My first grade teacher sort of broke me for school forever). I lied earlier. Here come the tears. Because I look back at that time and remember how excited I was by every new release, or something as simple as the new issue of a gaming magazine with a demo disc, and it was so life altering for me. I was a really unhappy little kid, and gaming changed so much for me. I’d found my thing, and the amazing thing about video games is they’re always getting better. Anyone who says otherwise is just drunk on nostalgia.

Some of those 007 difficulty missions were a pain in the ass, but 10-to-12 year-old me aced them all. Goldeneye was the first “super difficult game” I beat, though it took a LONG time (like seriously two years or more) for me to actually finish all those 007 missions. I never really got to show off my skills though, as I was the worst of the four kids who played Goldeneye at an autism support group my parents took me to, where we basically would just play Goldeneye for hours. This kid named Bradley James was so good that we’d play 3 on 1 matches against him and be lucky in some modes if we were even able to spawn without dying. Compared to him, the 007 levels were a walk in the park.

I think the final, solidifying moment of video games becoming everything to me had to be the launch of the Sega Dreamcast. My first ever brand spanking new day one console. I got to go get it at midnight on September 9, 1999. I’d be surprised if I ever got up off the couch once after I threw Sonic Adventure on and kept playing well after the time the sun rose. I mean, I assume I must have gone to the bathroom at some point, but I question even that now! By the end of September, when I was getting hyped for a goddamned fishing game, Sega Bass Fishing, it was a done deal. Gaming was everything to me. All I wanted to do. Any time not spent on a game was a complete waste of time It was a three console process that took place over the course of about three years, but by time Christmas of 1999 rolled around and all I wanted was more video games.

The underrated star of the Dreamcast launch lineup. I had Afro Thunder’s stats so boosted that I literally couldn’t lose. It wasn’t exactly a balanced game, was it?

I was 10-years-old when the Dreamcast launched, and I’ve had an up-and-down life since then. A life that, yes, included extended periods of substance abuse. Nobody is the same person they were as a child, and if they say they are, it’s probably because they’re a douchebag. But, there’s something incredibly reassuring that, twenty-three years later, I’m still spending basically all my free time playing games. They’re still totally capable of filling me with a sense of playful awe. That I can still sit down with my father, 40 years my senior, and Angela, my kid sister 20 years my junior, and the three of us can laugh and cheer and high-five playing a new Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles game in 2022 is such a wonderful thing. My parents always were so happy and supportive of my love of video games, and they’d take time every day to watch me play and ask me questions about it, but they didn’t join me.

There were exceptions, like Wii Sports, Peggle, or especially Boom Blox. For a while, we’d bust Boom Blox out at parties. WHERE HAVE YOU GONE, BOOM BLOX?! COME BACK!!

Well, not anymore. Today, we have four Nintendo Switches in our household. Each of us has one, and my Mom puts about two hours into her Animal Crossing Village or her New Pokemon Snap high scores every day, and she’s cuddled up on my Dad who might be beating Ghostbusters: The Game on his own Switch while he’s at it. Angela’s not passionate about gaming, but she plays her Switch a lot, holds multiple digital pinball world records (so does both Dad and myself), and is already a contributor at The Pinball Chick. My family plays games now, too? Who says dreams don’t come true?!

One of the most common questions I get from my readers and my social media followers is do I wish I had gone into a career in gaming? Usually this takes the form of “do you wish you had gotten into game development?” People are always surprised at how quickly and easily I answer that question: no. I guess that makes me somewhat unique among those who grew up as clinically-addicted game fanatics. The thing is, I never thought I could make a game better than the stuff I play. Well, I mean, sure that depends on the game. One of the dumbest clap-backs to a review is “OH YEA, LIKE YOU COULD DO BETTER!” Which, the obvious reply is “than this game? Well, I have no experience, no artistic ability, no technical know-how, but.. yea, I could pull a better game out of my ass than this. I mean, if I actually wanted to.” But, I don’t. It’s nothing I ever remotely aspired to. I didn’t doodle characters. I didn’t map out levels. I didn’t think of wild twists on the formulas I loved. I loved playing games, but I don’t make them. I still don’t. I’ve had ONE idea for a game in my whole life, for a twin stick Tetris Attack-like game, and I don’t even think it would work.

NBA 2K

My other great passion in life is the sport of basketball, and my only REAL regret in life (well, besides the drugs, BUT HEY, four years sober now!) is that I didn’t pursue a career in basketball. I mean, as a scout or GM. Other than golfing, I’ve never played a real sport in my entire life. Besides, I’m 4 foot 11 inches tall and I chain smoke like a steam engine. Not exactly the traits of a great athlete. But, I’ve loved basketball since I was 6-years-old. I get a kick out of how people call me a “bandwagon fan” for the Golden State Warriors, when my first season watching kicked off a historic drought of them not making the playoffs. Ten fucking years, which ended when the “We Believe” squad pulled off a historic upset of the #1 seed Dallas Mavericks while I collapsed on the floor and cried tears of joy FOR HOURS! I thought that was as good as it would ever get being a Warriors fan. Heh. Who knew?

Nah, I didn’t ever want to work in video games. I think that’s a big part of why I’ve been able to find success as Indie Gamer Chick. I don’t have to pretend like I’m a professional games journalist. I’m not. I never will be. I don’t consider myself an especially talented writer, so I think there’s something about not wanting this to be a career that is reassuring to my readers and followers. I don’t have a Pateron and never will. I don’t ask for money and tell everyone who wants to contribute that they can donate money towards epilepsy research. I almost never take review codes, unless it’s for retro collections or games not yet released (and for those, I buy a copy when the game comes out every time). I can be crass, and I can probably be annoying, and sometimes people REALLY disagree with my opinions, but there’s nothing cynical about IGC. My favorite quote comes from Conan O’Brien, on his final Tonight Show.

“Please do not be cynical. I hate cynicism. It’s my least favorite quality, and it doesn’t lead anywhere. Nobody in life gets exactly what they thought they were going to get. But if you work really hard and you’re kind, amazing things will happen.”

It’s true. My only real regrets with my body of work is that, early on, I had a tendency to be a little too mean-spirited with my negative reviews. Hurt feelings can’t be avoided when a game gets a less than positive reception. Bad games aren’t cranked out of a factory (insert obvious AAA joke here, Ubisoft or EA or whatever). They’re made by people who are often well-meaning and love gaming every bit as much as I do. One of my best friends today, Shahed, is someone whose game I completely demolished, and he’ll never let me forget it, that’s for sure. I’m happy he doesn’t. It’s a constant reminder: review the games, not the developer. That’s the advice I give everyone who wants to do game reviews. And especially don’t assume any bad intentions.

“COME ON CATHY, WRAP THIS SHIT UP!” And burn things.

Actually, my best advice beyond that is, when you do your thing as a gaming content creator is ALWAYS take time to remind yourself why you fell in love with video games in the first place. Because sometimes you’ll be bored and sometimes you’ll have writers block and sometimes you’ll be stuck with a game that’s so middle-of-the-road that you have nothing interesting to say about it. For the longest time, I was mad myself that I didn’t produce as much content as I used to here at IGC. The next review is for Shredder’s Revenge by Tribute Games. The last of their games I reviewed was Wizorb way back in September, 2011. It was my 101st review!! I had only been open for just under three months! Holy crap, I was turning out reviews like a machine back then! And, I hated that I don’t do that anymore. That I CAN’T do that anymore.

Then I realized something: hey wait, who cares? I have an outlet to talk about games and to jump around and play whatever I want, whenever I want, and I’m not a professional so deadlines and due dates don’t apply. And, what do you know? The last twelve months have been the most fun I’ve had since launching IGC on July 1, 2011. How lucky am I? Eleven years later, and I still have fun with this. Over the last couple years, I’ve found my new #1 game of all-time when I ran through Mario Odyssey a second time. I’ve set pinball world records. I’ve played THOUSANDS of retro games. I’ve conquered Cuphead (and I’m about to do it again!) and Dead Cells and many more. After a quarter century of playing video games, and now having spent one-third of my life now doing Indie Gamer Chick, I’m still having the time of my life, doing the Gaming Thing.

Cathy Vice
June 30, 2022

Wizorb

Indie Gamer Chick turns 11 Years Old on July 1, and the big review posting that day is Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles: Shredder’s Revenge. It’s been well over ten years since I last reviewed a new release by Tribute Games. The last time? September 29, 2011, just about three months after I started IGC. Check out my review of Wizorb! It’s still around and still fun.. if you’re into that sort of thing.

Indie Gamer Chick

Wizorb has several things going for it. First, it has style to spare. It’s one of those rare retro games on the Xbox Live Indie Game marketplace that tries to look like an NES game and actually succeeds without in some way pulling back the curtain so that you can see we’re still on the Xbox 360. Second, it has an honest to God gaming pedigree, having been designed by Jonathan Lavigne, who worked on the Scott Pilgrim vs. The World game. And third, just look at this fucking promotional art by Michael James Brennan.

Wow. Who wouldn’t want to buy a game with flyers that look like that? That’s some sexy ass promotional art there. Of course, all the credentials, artwork, and prettiness can’t mask the fact that Wizorb is still a brick breaker. There’s really only so much you can do with that genre. Shatter on the Playstation…

View original post 1,545 more words

The Mod Complex: Episode Two – Super MODio Bros. 3 (CONTAINS THE GREATEST 2D MARIO GAME OF ALL-TIME!)

Some ROM hackers are capable of absolutely amazing things. Sure, some are content to just draw dicks on Punch-Out!! fighters, or change Mario to Wario in the original Super Mario Bros. It makes wadding through the literal thousands of ROM hacks out there tedious. It’s exhausting trying to find the good stuff. So, from here out, I’m going to help y’all find those must play games. The ones that use the original game as a base for an entirely new adventure.

EPISODE TWO: SUPER MODIO BROS. 3

Spent an hour trying to think of the title and that’s what I came up with.

There’s no denying that Super Mario Bros. 3 is one of the greatest games of all-time. It’s universally accepted. I know this because I catch holy hell anytime I note it’s my third favorite 2D Mario game, behind Super Mario Bros. 2 and Super Mario World. I wrote a lengthy love letter to Mario 2, and I’ve openly said that Mario World is the best-controlling 2D platformer ever, even if I’m not totally blown away by the level design at times. Mario 3 is somewhere below those two. I’m not in love with the auto-scrolling airship levels, or the bite-sized Hammer Bros. encounters, and I think a few of the worlds are full of stinkeroos of levels (2 and 6 spring to mind).

Super Mario Bros. 3 (Japan) (Rev A)-220522-011422

I get that Mario 3 was THE gaming event of a generation that came before me, but it’s literally insane that people are offended that you don’t call a game “the greatest of all-time.” If it is for you, good for you. It’s not for me. It’s not even in the top fifty. It wasn’t an event in my life. Fun fact: Super Mario Bros. 3 actually made its American debut when it was added to Play-Choice 10 arcade machines in the United States on July 15, 1989. That’s exactly four days after I was born! I didn’t really play it until it became Super Mario Advance 4 (which released in Japan on July 11, 2003, which happens to have been my 14th birthday!). And, you know, it was great! It’s Mario 3! Mario 3 is great!

And it proved to be an inspiration for a new generation of game makers. Now, Nintendo obviously knows what a talented developer with a vision and the proper tools can do with the foundations they’ve laid with the Super Mario franchise. That’s why Super Mario Maker happened. The modding community has done some incredible things with Super Mario 3. I have four such experiences for you to check out, two of which left me in tears because I was just so overjoyed with how good they were. Let’s begin and end with those!

Never judge a book by its cover.. or a game by its title screen. Going off this, I figured this would be awful. I never imagined I was about to discover one of the greatest Mario games ever made.

Super Mario Ultimate

Normally, Mario Ultimate would be the type of ROM hack I’m not looking for. It’s mostly a respriting and level remix of Mario 3. It doesn’t add a whole lot new to the formula, but there are some tweaks. Like, there’s a reserve item now, and that’s really cool. A couple stages feature a small green block that acts as a platform that you have to push into position. There’s a handful of new enemies and new behaviors. But, beyond that, it’s what you expect from a run-of-the-mill Mario 3 ROM hack, right down to an over-emphasis on previously underutilized powers like the Frog Suit and especially the Tanooki suit. With so many mods that add whole new powers and gameplay mechanics, why would I even bother with this?

Because it might actually be in the discussion for best 2D Mario game ever made.

It even has difficulty settings. I played on “Gamer” and have no clue what “hard” means. This was pretty damn hard on Gamer, so who knows?

I’m not exaggerating when I say that, if Nintendo had released Super Mario Ultimate, it would be considered a landmark in platform gaming level design. Mario Ultimate makes you realize how pedestrian the levels in Mario 3 are. Oh, it’s full of many fine levels, no doubt. That’s why it’s an all-timer. BUT, having replayed Mario 3 after I ran through this game, I was struck by how basic they are. They still boil down to “go from POINT A to POINT B” for the most part. The most experimental Nintendo got with it was, like, making one of the airship stages go really, really fast. Even that’s mundane.

There’s a huge emphasis on close shaves between you and the blade things there. It works though. It’s one of the most thrilling Mario games for sure.

Super Mario Ultimate feels like a mad scientist looked at all the base tools and physics of Mario 3 and said “how can I screw around with this in a way where a player must use it to clear a stage?” Like, you know those windmill platforms that spin around and can knock you across the stage? Well, what if you put one of those next to an ice platform and made it slide the player like a curling stone? Or what if you had to use the Tanooki Suit’s statue on the right side of a moving platform and have the platform shove you past obstacles? That’s the type of design you see in Super Mario Ultimate. While it has a handful of basic levels, most of the design is based around using the already-existing gameplay in unique ways.

The puzzles aren’t of the Baba is You thinking-cap variety. More like finding your way through things. Like here, there’s a shell that breaks through blocks, and tons of invisible blocks that you have to hit to create a pathway for the shell to eventually set off a block that creates a vine that lets you get out of the stage. And no, you can’t cheese your way through these levels with P-Wings. Trust me, I tried.

And it’s brilliant! There’s a few stages that feel weirdly janky, but certainly no weirder or haphazard as the Special World levels from Super Mario World. Hell, that’s actually the closest comparison I could come up with for Super Mario Ultimate: like someone had the Special World mentality of Mario World spread over the course of an entire game. A series of high-concept stages, executed flawlessly in a way that is sure to surprise even the most hardened Mario fan. It’s dazzling and left me in tears when I finished the final stage. I never imagined I’d play another 2D Mario game this good.

There’s several “lost woods” style “where the HELL is the exit?” stages, but all of them are super fun to play, with none of them using space logic. You can sort out all of them through trial and error.

It almost feels like Mario 3 if Mario 3 had puzzle elements. There’s new ideas like racing to reach a platform before a vine gets to it. If you fail at that, it’s okay. Just go through a door and the room resets for you to try again. If a stage requires a specific suit for you to complete it, you’ll be provided with it at the start of the level. Now granted, I used save states heavily while I played it, but I tried to avoid things like rewinding (except to grab media) because I wanted to experience the game’s intended difficulty. Which is pretty well balanced. It’s hard, for sure, but in a good way. It definitely frustrates you, sure, but Super Mario Ultimate never fully angers you.

You get tons of Tanooki Suits and a smattering of Frog Suits to help you out. The card matching game seriously gives you like four Tanooki suits in Super Mario Ultimate. Oh, and the game goes nuts with the bouncing music blocks.

It’s not all perfect. I think the game overuses quicksand. I’d never of been able to finish this if I didn’t have autofire for some of the sections to take the edge off the required button-mashing. I also wish more had been done to alter the fights with the Koopalings at the end of each world. As far as I can tell, only one of the six was toyed with: the one who balances on a ball added platforms to playfield that made the fight feel totally fresh. On the other hand, the Boom-Boom fights at the end of castles, after a few basic ones, have been totally freshened-up, and some of them are jaw-dropping in how they work. While I’m on the subject, there’s THREE possible final levels, each with a unique way arena for battling Bowser. Play all three. Trust me. They’re awesome.

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Probably the biggest problem with Super Mario Ultimate is that the best levels are mostly in the final two worlds. But, that might work in service to the game. It’s one of very few titles I’ve ever played that gets better as it goes along. Often I’m anxious for a game to be over by time I reach the end. For Super Mario Ultimate, I probably would have gone another five or six full game worlds at the rate it was going. It never got boring. Every time I thought I’d seen it all and the developer HAD to be out of ideas, yet another new concept would be introduced. Oh, it’s the last world? How about a puzzle where you have to guide Goombas down a series of platforms so you can spring off one and reach a pipe? The best thing I can say about Super Mario Ultimate: I might look back on it as the best 2D Mario game I’ve ever played. Only time will tell. That time being a week later, when I played the last game featured today. Anyway, get Mario Ultimate here.

Mario Adventure

By acclimation, Mario Adventure isn’t merely just one of the best Mario 3 ROM Hacks, but possibly the greatest ROM Hack of all time. I’m not even close to going that far. It’s FINE, but I found Ultimate to have much stronger level design. Here, the entire game is modified. New levels. New powers. New ideas. But, moderate level design and one game-ruining power. Unlike Mario Ultimate, this isn’t an attempt to build the most elaborate levels. Instead, this is a full reboot.

Some major changes: Fire Mario can jump super high (like Luigi in Mario 2), fireballs you spit travel in a straight line instead of hopping along the ground (but can curve around blocks) and there’s no lives. Instead of 1up Mushrooms, you get 50 coin mushrooms. Using the toad houses costs 300 coins, while the match-the-symbols roulette costs 100 coins and rewards you with items.

The first major thing you notice is that levels can have one of five different randomly-selected weather conditions: early morning, afternoon, night, rain, and snow. As far as I can tell, the only one that makes a difference is the snow setting, which makes EVERYTHING slippery. Even things like standing on the item blocks, you’ll slip and slide around. It makes solving some stages a miserable experience. This is somewhat tempered by the treasure-hunt feel of Mario Adventure. Each of the main seven game worlds has a key hidden somewhere in it. You have to find an invisible music note that will launch you to a special room that contains it. When you beat a game world, you get a clue that vaguely guides you to the key’s location. So vaguely that I resorted to a guide. I wish I could say this freshens up the whole experience, but I was actually pretty bored with it after a couple worlds.

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Then there’s the new power-ups. An invisible cap that is.. uh.. honestly I couldn’t figure out a use for it. But then there’s the magic wand, which turns you into Magic Mario. It works like the fire flower in Mario Adventure does, where you shoot projectiles that travel in a straight line instead of hopping across the ground. But, instead of fireballs, you shoot stars. The stars kill everything. Even if it’s a normally indestructible thing, don’t worry, the stars take it out. The end of stage Boom-Booms? Dead. In one hit. For real. Having trouble with the Boos? They die too. It’s absurdly over-powered. Also, once you have the wand it takes a whopping three hits to knock the suit off you. The only drawback is that, if you need a turtle shell to break a block, you can’t be Magic Mario because jumping on a turtle with the suit on kills the turtle and destroys the shell in one hit. Don’t worry though, because this is one of those mods that lets you bank an item like Mario World, and so you can swap Magic Mario for Racoon Mario just long enough to do what you need with the turtle. There’s a reason Nintendo has never included an item this over-powered in a game. Because it ruins everything.

One consistently mediocre aspect of ALL these Mario 3 mods (except the last one in this feature): the Koopalings are just shitty bosses. They’re boring. They’re too easy. They’re all sorta samey. And I’m not a fan of saying “well the point isn’t the bosses.” The point of Blaster Master isn’t the bosses, but holy shit, are they some damn memorable bosses. Even Nintendo understood the importance of them, because Doki Doki Panic had three Mousers. For Mario 2, Nintendo replaced one of them with an original character: a giant crab named Clawgrip.

I’m certainly not calling Mario Adventure mediocre or anything. For those in the generation before me, where Super Mario 3’s release was THE event of their childhood, they’ll certainly enjoy this a lot more than me. But, the difference between Mario Adventure and the best games featured in the Mod Complex: this feels like a ROM Hack. There’s a lack of authenticity. Ideally, the sweet spot is the ability to believe that Nintendo would put out something close to the hack. I never got that out of Mario Adventure. It’s a solid effort with some neat ideas, but I just didn’t feel it. It’s telling that, of the four games highlighted in this feature, this is the only I didn’t bother finishing, and the only of the three I’m not awarding my seal of approval to. But I do think Mario 3 mega fans will get a kick out of it, apparently, since many name it the greatest ROM hack of all time. I assume they didn’t play the other three games featured here. Anyway, get Mario Adventure here.

Mario in: Some Usual Day

I really should write these things right after I finish playing. I completed Some Usual Day six days ago, and I liked it, but now that I’m writing it the review of it, the only parts that still stand out to me is there’s a Zelda II themed dungeon and Boom-Boom jumped extra high. I had to go through the screencaps I took of it to remind myself “oh right, that was good. That was good too! That was really good. Eh, the Koopa Kids suck, but THAT was good..” You know what? This is a damn fine take on Mario 3, and I feel guilty that it just had the misfortune of being swallowed-up by the last game I played in Episode 2 of The Mod Complex.

It’s sort of hard to forget this part, really. AND YES, this is exactly what you want it to be: a Zelda II Dungeon-type-maze, only it’s Mario 3.

Some Usual Day is a solid, enjoyable, professional-quality take on Mario 3. It’s, more or less, like a more by-the-books expansion of Super Mario Bros. 3, with several twists. There’s special coins in the stages, though I’m not even sure if I figured out what they’re for. There’s only four game worlds, but the effort at making the levels be a joy to play is clear. Give me four worlds that are never boring over eight hit-and-miss ones any day of the week. It does manage to bring some fun twists, too. The Fire Flower stacks with other suits, so you can fly through the air as Racoon Mario and carpet-bomb enemies with fireballs, or be Frog Fire Mario (SO HELPFUL in many stages, to the point that I realize how much the real Mario 3 should have had this be a thing). Even funnier, you can have the firepower when you’re little Mario. It’s always good for a laugh.

Some Usual Day is loaded with secrets, and one day, I will go back and look for them. But, as good a time as I had, it still was just more Mario 3. It felt like finding an old pair of tennis shoes in the closet, putting them on, and remembering how good THIS pair felt. Walk around in them a bit, but as good as they feel, who wears Reebok Pumps anymore?

And it does manage to bring the clever occasionally. Like, one stage will start and you’ll immediately see coins arranged to spell-out GO! and you’re like “huh, what’s that about?” And then you see a sign post that says “HURRY-UP, MARIO!” and you look at the timer, and it’s already down to 90 seconds. “Oh.” AND IT WORKS because the level is designed as an intense maze. Great! Love it! Whereas Super Mario Ultimate wowed me with a mad scientist vibe, the level design of Some Usual Day feels almost scholarly, as if designed by the best student in Level Design 101. Nothing too radical or experimental, but just flawlessly designed and paced stages that highlight what a terrific game Mario 3 already was.

I wish it did more with the bosses. I just assumed that Mario 3’s engine, besides the iconic Bowser fight, just didn’t lend itself to good bosses. Then I played the next game, and uh.. yea, this could have done a lot better. THOUGH. Excellent Bowser fights, though.

And, really, that’s all I have to say. Grab Mario in Some Usual Day here. It actually gave me very little to criticize, which is annoying, because, you know, I’m goddamned Indie Gamer Chick and bitching about little things is my job. I guess Mario in Some Usual Day is remarkable in that sense. It doesn’t give me a lot to work with on the flip side. Which is, you know, my side. The side people used to come read this blog for. I dunno what to say. It’s not Some Usual Day.

Christ, that was tortured.

Super Mario Bros. 3 Mix

After one-and-a-half worlds, I almost walked away from Super Mario Bros. 3 Mix. Originally, I had Mario Ultimate as the finale of Mod Complex: Episode 2, and had intended Mix to be the buffer game I talked about in snarky, flattering but underwhelming terms. It made sense to me. Ultimate was so good it left me in tears. Do you know when the last time a retro game did that to me? Gunstar Heroes, which I played for the first time in 2018. It’s a rarity. Surely, it wouldn’t happen twice in one Mod Complex episode.

Make sure you read ALL THIS, because I think, as a review, I need to describe my full experience playing Super Mario Bros. 3 Mix to understand my verdict on this one.

Super Mario Bros. 3 Mix allows you to choose between Mario, Luigi, or Toad. Do they have different jumping physics? Different play speeds? Do you have to switch between them to access some secrets or clear specific goals? NOPE! Luigi and Toad play exactly the same as Mario. And that’s FINE! Trust me, this game does enough. Oh boy, does it do enough.

I beat World 1 of Mario Mix, which is a tribute to the original Super Mario Bros and remakes many levels beat-for-beat, only it’s Super Mario 3’s engine. Impressive? Sure. Mimicry done right is crazy impressive, and Mario Mix did change-up the formula a touch by adding three hidden Star Coins in each stage to give it added play value. You’ll recall it’s the exact same trick Nintendo themselves used for Super Mario Bros. Deluxe on the Game Boy Color to give people who are sick of the same game they’ve played a million times before added value. It worked then, and it works here. They’re fun to collect. But, I already played these stages before. Hell, the thing I just referenced WAS a 1999 remake of Super Mario 1! This shit has been remade to death already! STOP DOING IT!!

“Wee! Look, I went down a pipe! Just like I did in 1987.” Spoiler: Mario Mix is actually amazing on a level I’ve never before experienced. I just wish worlds 1 and 2 paid tribute to the SPIRIT of the original games with new stuff instead of just rebuilding the same old levels.

And then, Super Mario Bros. 3 Mix got really weird. World 2 is based on Super Mario Bros. 2. As in re-skinned, over-powered Doki Doki Panic. Now, I’ve lubricated all-over Mario 2 already. It WAS my previous favorite 2D Mario game. And while playing that game with Mario 3’s physics sounds like a fun experiment, and trust me, this is THOSE STAGES, so convincing that it blew my mind at the effort that must have gone into building them, those stages only work to the degree they did within Mario 2’s engine. Transplant Mario 3’s engine, physics, and powers into that, and it becomes just very bland. Never totally boring, because I was just fascinated by the total dissonance of it all. But it was the same issue: been there, done that. Hello, Mario 2 has been remade before as the goddamned flagship launch game of the Game Boy Advance, Super Mario Advance. AND DO YOU FUCKING PEOPLE REMEMBER MARIO ALL-STARS?! I get what Mario Mix was trying to be: a tribute to all things Mario, but after two levels of World 2, I said “you know what? This isn’t for me.”

The Star Coins are one of the highlights. They take-up the spot that previously held the cards you got at the end of stages in Mario 3 (that whole thing is replaced by a flagpole). These days, I rarely try to ace levels. Only two recent games were so fun I actively sought out EVERYTHING: Mario Odyssey and Mario Mix. If Super Mario Odyssey is the 3D Mario formula made perfect, then Super Mario Bros. 3 Mix is the 2D Mario formula made perfect.

So, I quit. I wrote up a few paragraphs about Super Mario Bros. 3 Mix (which I’ll just call Mario Mix from here out if it’s okay with you) comparing it to Mario Maker’s user levels. Anyone who has played any of Nintendo’s Mario Maker games knows 90% of the user-made levels are remakes of the same fucking levels we’ve all played a thousand times. Seriously, if I ever see Level 1 – 1 of Mario 1 again (or Green Hill from Sonic for that matter) I’m going to fucking scream! Was I impressed with how World 1 has Bowser battles that shirk the “make Bowser crack through the floor” in favor of playing like the Bowser battles in Mario 1, only with Mario 3 physics? Sure. That’s way cool. Hey, Mario 3 DIDN’T do that, so it must have taken effort to include it here and make it feel totally convincing and not janky.

Instead of an axe at the end of the bridge, it’s a P-Switch, which is a lot more Mario-ish than an axe anyway so I’ll allow it. But, as impressive as it is that a convincing version of the Bowser battles from Mario 1 are here in a game built with Mario 3’s engine, it’s also a stark reminder how far boss battles have come in the four decades since. Fighting Bowser in Mario 1 is just not fun. Period.

Let me be clear about something: I was very impressed by the professionalism of Mario Mix. It never feels at all like a ROM hack. It feels like what Nintendo is doing right now with Mario Kart 8: re-releasing old stuff with the new game’s physics as DLC. If Super Mario Bros. 3 had come out for the very first time in 2020, this feels like something Nintendo would up-sell for it in 2022. Some people want that. Some people want to have pool cues shoved up their asses and broken off for sexual pleasure. I don’t understand those people, and I don’t understand people who want to play the same shit over and over.

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Then, I realized I didn’t capture enough screenshots for my write-up, and I had some down time, so after finishing the previous three games, I decided “I should at least finish World 2, to play this Mario 2 as Mario 3 train-wreck out.” While it didn’t get better, because the two game styles just simply are not compatible, no matter what, even with all the effort in the world and the best of intentions, I wanted to finish it. And then Birdo showed up, and it wasn’t simply like a reskin of a Koopa Kid or something. It felt just like the Birdo fight from Mario 2, ONLY IF that had never happened and Birdo had started in Mario 3 all along. It felt good! It worked! It was fun! It was even fresh, somehow! Did it breathe interest into the game? Not at all. I was still like “yea, really good boss fight, but I still have to play levels to get there.”

Mouser shows up too! And yes, HIS FIGHT IS BETTER TOO! He throws Bob-Ombs at you that you have to throw back and he jumps back and forth between platforms. It’s not a slouch. I had a lot of people tell me the Koopalings being cinches to defeat didn’t matter, but you know what? Mario Mix has some genuinely difficult bosses. BUT, what’s really impressive about Mario Mix’s boss fights is, unlike many ROM hacks, you can’t see the “seams” of where they modified existing stuff within the game code to create a slightly new thing. For the life of me, I can’t imagine what existing Mario 3 things the bosses were built out of to play as well and as new feeling and fresh as they do.

Then Wart showed up as the final boss of World 2.

Fucking WART!

And, it felt great! Unlike the Birdo fight, this one didn’t try to be a 100% 1-to-1 copy of the feel of the battle from Mario 2. The “feed him to beat him” mechanic didn’t carry-over (I assume they wanted to but couldn’t make it work), so while Wart uses the same pattern of spitting bubbles from Mario 2, the way you hit him (throwing enemies at him) is different, AND THEN once you hit him, a whole-new attack cycle is added. It made the whole thing feel fresh, new, and SO FUN! I was totally impressed by the effort. Zero jank. Totally professional, and very creative. THIS IS HOW YOU DO A TRIBUTE, I thought. And, it was also the turning point.

Wart’s battle is a joy to play. I mean, tough too, but not punishingly difficult. So many ROM hacks fall into the trap of “make hardest, most GOTCHA!-riddled Mario levels possible” (see also Mario Maker). Every level in Mix is balanced and fine-tuned for proper difficult scaling on a level that would be the envy of most professional developers. Only ONE TIME the entire game did a bullshit GOTCHA! get me and I’m not even entirely sure it was a deliberate thing.

Once you get past World 2, Super Mario Bros. 3 Mix becomes a candidate for the greatest video game ever made.

Not greatest ROM hack.

Not greatest Mario game.

GREATEST VIDEO GAME!

It just never takes its foot off the gas from that point on. Everything after World 2 feels fresh, new, polished, professional, and incredible! Every single level is a joy. It’s still, at heart, a tribute to Mario’s platform games, but it’s so much more. Mario Mix captures what makes the Super Mario series fun, and cuts out almost all the garbage. It’s like the best the gameplay style can do, over and over and over and over and over, for hours. There’s so much content, and so many surprises. It’s why I can’t excuse the Koopalings for other ROM Hacks, because they’re not here. There’s original bosses here, somehow done in the Mario 3 engine that feel nothing like anything in Mario 3, that are so fun to play. It PAYS TRIBUTE to games like Mario Land, Mario Land 2, Mario Sunshine, and even Mario Galaxy while feeling completely original, and it’s AWESOME!!

Yep, that’s Yoshi! You know, I once played a homebrew of Mario World on the NES (I think it was a Chinese bootleg) and it was horrible, especially using Yoshi. Here, Yoshi plays REALLY well, though not perfect. The eating enemy mechanic feels spot-on. But, dismounting him for super jumps is significantly more difficult to do, to the point that it’s literally the only reminder you’re actually playing a ROM hack and not a big-budget, massive development team first-party Nintendo Mario 3 expansion pack.

Mario Mix is perfection, and a big part of that is the discipline the developer showed with pacing. Hell, you don’t even get some of the suits Mario can use until very late in the main quest. It’s like the opposite of Mario Adventure, where the Magic Mario Suit just totally kills the tension and excitement dead. The powers here, like the Penguin Suit and the Boomerang Suit are teased in the menu on the map screen, but you don’t get them until later (in the case of the Boomerang suit, MUCH later) and they’re balanced and fun when you finally do. You might be better off with a Fire Flower than the boomerangs. You might want to be a Racoon instead of a penguin in some levels. Even the real Mario 3 didn’t do that stuff right. Once you get the Hammer Bros. Suit, the game’s more or less over. Not here.

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Mario Mix is not without issue. Tributes to the ghost houses from Mario World are here, but they suffer from horrific slowdown. Some emulators can eliminate that, but if you play on one that can’t, you might be stuck playing close to whole levels in slow motion. World 8 – 1 had me briefly worried Mario Mix had lost the plot when it reverted to Mario 1 level copying, especially when it had so much slowdown that is wasn’t enjoyable at all. Thankfully, hardware problems to that degree didn’t crop up again, and the levels that followed righted the ship. In fact, that’s my only major complaint. Well, besides the fact that the maybe-greatest-game-ever doesn’t show up until you reach the boss of World 2.

UPDATE MAY 31, 2022: Actually, slowdown seems to crop up a bit more often in the after-the-main-quest Comet challenges, sometimes brutally so. There’s more than enough content in the main game to justify my lovesick puppy shit you’re seeing in this feature, but in fairness, I got that part wrong. Slowdown is all over the bonus material and somewhat muffles the fun. Oh, not ruins it. This is the first NES game I’ve ever played that I’m going for a 100% completion on.

This is why Episode 3 of Mod Complex will be a while: after I finish writing this, I’m going back to Mario Mix right away to 100% it. I only found one single access point to World 0, the hidden bonus world, and I want MORE! And even this doesn’t scratch the surface of all the extra content the developers included beyond the main quest. This thing is overstuffed with entertaining diversions and extras.

Worlds 3 – 8 though? Wow. Just.. wow! Never dull, never boring, consistently surprising, often creative, and ALWAYS fun. And that’s why anyone should be playing games. Honestly, they’d never do it, but Nintendo should just buy Mario Mix and slap a $50 tag on it. It’s that good. It’s got that much value in it. When you beat the game, a second quest pops up that adds the comet challenges from Mario Galaxy to most of the levels. There’s secrets all over Mario Mix, including the Mario World concept of some levels having multiple exits. There’s a whole secret world that I’ve only played one level of thus far, but that level, like most others in Mix, was excellent. This is the rare 8-bit game that I’ve beaten the final boss of (a pretty good, but not spectacular, twist on the “let Bowser break through the floor” fight at the end of Mario 3) and I’m going to keep playing for a while yet. I want to find all the secrets. I want to do all the comet challenges. I want to score a 100%, and I’ll never be bored doing it. Hell, even those World 1 and 2 levels that I was not in love with, with the inclusion of the comet challenges, now I am.

I thought I’d seen it all, but then a world that’s a tribute to Mario Galaxy shows up, complete with crazy gravity effects, and it’s everything you want a 2D Mario Galaxy to be. The gravity works. The level design built around it works. It’s unbelievable. As in I literally do not believe this game exists. I’m in a coma in some hospital somewhere and this is my coma dream, right?

Here we are, almost eleven full years into my Indie Gamer Chick existence, and the best indie I’ve ever played is a ROM hack of Super Mario Bros. 3. It’s better than any 2D Mario game Nintendo has ever made. It might be the best Mario game of all-time, period (though, did really love Mario Odyssey, so I have to think about it a LONG time). Hell, it might be the best video game I’ve ever played. Mario Ultimate left me in tears of joy, but Mario Mix left in tears of pure euphoria because I’d had such an incredible time and I wasn’t even remotely done with it yet. I can’t put it #1 on the Indie Gamer Chick Leaderboard. It would be weird, when this is.. in polite terms.. a grey-area, but for now, whatever is ranked #1 (currently Dead Cells) will have an asterisk on it, because some guy and his siblings took the already stupendous Super Mario Bros. 3, tinkered around with it, and turned in this: Mario’s finest hour. Get it here.

And only a fraction of a fraction of a fraction of Mario fans will ever play it, let alone know about it.

Heartbreaking, huh?

And I’m finally done with episode two. MARIO MIX COMET PURPLE COIN CHALLENGES, HERE I COME!!

The Mod Complex: Episode One – Castlevania Mania

Some ROM hackers are capable of absolutely amazing things. Sure, some are content to just draw dicks on Punch-Out!! fighters, or change Mario to Wario in the original Super Mario Bros. It makes wadding through the literal thousands of ROM hacks out there tedious. It’s exhausting trying to find the good stuff. So, from here out, I’m going to help y’all find those must play games. The ones that use the original game as a base for an entirely new adventure.

EPISODE ONE: CASTLEVANIA MANIA

I love Castlevania! Two of the three NES Castlevanias are among the best games on the entire platform. Simon’s Quest is the shits and no amount of editing will change that. It’s just a terrible game. Castlevania and Castlevania III: Dracula’s Curse, on the other hand, are still enjoyable today, over thirty years after their releases. I can’t get enough of them, but why just replay the same games I’ve played already? The NES mod community has messed with the Belmont clan more than Dracula.

Castlevania Reborn

Of course, the majority of ROM hacks are just the same game that’s been resprited (that’s a word now) or had the colors changed. I guess some people are into that sort of thing. But, if you want a new experience, there’s several modders who tinkered with the level design. Think of these versions of games as remixes. Castlevania Reborn is one of the more popular efforts, and yea, it’s not bad. This one feels like a really good second quest. At least at times.

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The red-headed Simon of Castlevania: Reborn is the most striking change. Several of the boss fights feel identical. Which is kind of fine, maybe? I mean, they are iconic. On the other hand, the third boss has been changed from a pair of mummies to a pair of gargoyles that I slayed in about five seconds. No joke. Five seconds.

Castelvania Reborn-220520-231951Levels are rethemed and play out differently, and a few of the enemies (especially bosses) play differently. It’s a good effort, especially the concept of multiple paths in some of the levels. The issue is, there’s a lot of sections that are just basically straight lines. Yes, the original Castlevania has the “infamous hallway” before you face the Grim Reaper, but that section was a harrowing final test before arguably one of the toughest bosses in Castlevania. The hallways in Reborn are just dull. Also, there’s too many of the axe-throwing knights. But, it’s still pretty okay. Find it here.

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If you want to play an entirely new Castlevania 1 experience, this is a good starting spot.

Castlevania: Chorus of Mysteries

When I started Castlevania: Chorus of Mysteries, I figured it was one of many games that promises tons of newness, but really is just a low-effort reskin. The first level here feels a lot like Castlevania’s first level. It’s so close that I almost quit. And then I noticed there was a new item that makes you invincible, like those jugs that occasionally get dropped, only as an item. So, I stuck it out, and I’m happy I did, because the level design became noticeably different after the first stage. It turns out that Chorus of Mysteries is a pretty dang good effort at revamping Castlevania. Hah, revamp. It’s funny because it’s about Dracula.

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Chorus of Mysteries has new enemies, like these bastards here. So overwhelming were these things that I needed a barrage of boomerangs to get past them and ended up fighting the equally new boss that followed them with only four hearts. Still beat it, and I didn’t use rewinding to do it.. more than a dozen times. Hell, in this pic you can see I was doing just that. And if you’re wondering why Simon looks like a cross between Rambo and Solid Snake, it’s because it’s supposed to be Grant Dynasty from Castlevania III. No, none of Grant’s abilities are there. At least I don’t think so.

And it has teeth, too. HEY, also like Dracula! I’m on a roll! Once you get past the ultra-samey first level, you find one of the most impressive efforts in ROM hacking. Even better is the final boss is the Grim Reaper. I never understood why Death Incarnate works for Dracula. It’s so nonsensical. Here, he’s the last boss, and it’s one of the most impressive and difficult versions of Death I’ve ever fought in all of Castlevania. It’s an excellent effort and a damn fine waste of an hour. Like, this could be a paid expansion pack of the first game.

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Castlevania - Chorus of Mysteries (Castlevania Hack)-220521-012435I don’t really have anything bad to say, except the game is often pretty ugly, and curving Medusa enemies are drawn smaller but seem to retain their old collision boxes, which makes avoiding them particularly problematic. In fact, besides a few enemies with new behaviors and fairly strong level design, you never totally shake that “redrawn/remapped” feeling. Which, again, is why this feels like a really good expansion pack that you can get right here. What I really want is something that feels totally new and original. A mod that uses Castlevania 1 as the base of something new.

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Of all my ROM hack Castlevania experiences, this was by far the most impressive to me. It just works as a final boss. Chorus of Mysteries did all its bosses (except the first.. God, I hate that boring ass Giant Bat) the best.

Castlevania: The Holy Relics

Now, this is what I’m talking about!

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Enemies that feel like reskins of Castlevania 1 enemies have different, often smarter behavior. I played several games where “new” bosses meant changing the giant bat at the end of level one into a giant vulture. That’s not the case here. This is what it promises and more.

I was blown away by The Holy Relics. This ROM hack of Castlevania 1 is a whole new game, with whole new play mechanics, whole new levels, whole new weapons, whole new enemies, whole new music, and whole new bosses. It’s a NEW game, so good that Konami ought to buy it and resell it.

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The first five levels are non-sequential and can be taken in any order from the starting menu, and this is where the first major gameplay addition is revealed: relics. You know the seizure-inducing cross that clears all the enemies? Instead of random candles having it and being basically useless, you just get a few to use any time you want, using the select button. Some of the giant hearts in the game are now shaded blue and reload your relic uses. Beating levels unlocks other relics that have powers like invincibility, restoring health, increasing your whip strength, or even accessing hidden areas. Along with the keys and doors, it assures this NEVER feels like some kind of paint-over of Castlevania 1. You’d swear this is a new game build from scratch.

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The one knock I have on the key concept (which seems to pay tribute to the franchise on MSX) is that the first candle you encounter is often where they’re at. You know what would have been REALLY sick? If they hid the keys inside the walls, where the life refills normally are. That would have dramatically changed the game’s dynamic.

It’s a really strong game too. At times, the level design, at the very least, matches the best NES Castlevania experiences. My one and only knock on the design is sometimes the game relies heavily on moving platforms that you have to wait FOREVER for, which is especially annoying because the game still utilizes a timer. You’re encouraged to find hidden treasure chests as a bonus, but exploring isn’t really an option, especially since you never know if you’re going to have to backtrack. Yea, backtracking. Levels wind around, sometimes requiring you to double or even triple back. You’ll find yourself constantly wondering if you should stay on the pathway of platforms or drop to the level below you. Play it without save states and you’ll be cutting it too close on the timer.

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The weakest aspect of Holy Relics are the bosses. It’s not that they’re bad or anything, but they are a bit underwhelming, both in their attacks and the fact that they totally lack that Castlevania spookiness. This one here I was hoping for a second, terrifying phase. I mean, look at it! It’s kind of adorable.

indie-gamer-chick-approved

All three games today earned this.

ROM hacks are truly the unsung heroes of indie gaming. When they’re what you want them to be, it’s a dream come true. That some guy and a team of artists came up with a better Castlevania sequel than Konami did with Simon’s Quest is astonishing. That’s what this is. Holy Relics certainly doesn’t feel like Castlevania 1.5. It feels like what Konami should have done with #2. It’s really impressive. Bravo to the entire team behind it. So yea, check out Holy Relics, and if you have other games like this to recommend, let me know. I’m dying to play them!

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