Welcome to Rocky’s Reviews where we briefly review some of the old and new games we’ve played. The games are listed in the order we’ve played them. They’re more a reflection of personal experience and less like a proper review.
Here’s how Rocky rates games:
All games are marked out of five paws
Games that receive a ham are must owns! A list of the Ham games can be found here.
Avoid anything that receives a broccoli!
The Legend of Heroes: Trails of Cold Steel
PlayStation 4 – 2018
My first foray into The Legend of Heroes series takes me to the Erebonian Empire, a nation facing threats from both outside and within. Nihon Falcom’s JRPG is an interesting spin on the JRPG genre. Set in a military academy, you step into the boots of several new recruits. Each of these characters have their own attacks and special abilities. They can also acquire magical spells through orbs called Quartz. These can range from defensive spells such as healing or speeding up your characters, to devastating offensive spells. The game features a large cast, with eleven permanent members, alongside some guest party members too. The game manages to balance the large team out by having only certain characters accompany you on field trips. Despite the large range of characters, they’re all interesting. They include the noble Laura, mysterious Fie, explosive Machias and the humble Gaius, all led by the charismatic Rean. The combat is where this game really shines, with character positioning playing a large role in the attacks you can undertake or what enemy manoeuvres you can avoid. You can also link up with characters to build bonds and unleash devastating attacks. There are also S-Crafts, special attacks you’ll learn as the story progresses. The music ranges from epic to forgettable but the voice acting is decent. One issue I had was that in certain scenes, some characters would be voiced but others wouldn’t. It’s odd has the characters that don’t have voice acting in these scenes do have some in later ones. The graphics look good but they’re not exactly pushing the PlayStation 4 to its limit, which is understandable as it was originally a PlayStation 3 and PlayStation Vita title. There are moments of clipping though, which shouldn’t really be happening. The story is arguably its strongest and weakest point. The game does a fantastic job of unveiling Erebonia to you and details the conflicts between the several factions within the Empire. It also balances it well with a student perspective, keeping you in the dark a lot. However, there is a lot of story, especially for a JRPG. There are times when you will be watching cutscene after cutscene, just wanting the game to move on. The game is also very linear, never allowing you much opportunity to explore. When you think it’s opening up, it just turns into a false dawn. Field studies (missions in the game) take a similar form, go to a new area, complete some mission (both required and optional) and then uncover a bit more of the overarching plot. It’s a good JRPG that sets up its sequel well but it just needed a little less cutscenes and a little more gameplay.
PlayStation – 1997
Developed by Core Design and Published by Eidos Interactive, Fighting Force is a 3D beat’em up, a sort of spiritual success to Streets of Rage. Released in 1997, Fighting Force has you take control of one of four characters to stop the evil Zeng. There’s not really much story. The game has some cutscenes when you travel to a new area but it doesn’t really give you any information. As you’d expect from a beat’em up, each of the four characters have their own stats, from the speedy Alana to the powerhouse Smasher. The game can also be played in co-op with a friend. Graphically, the game looks ok, not terrible but not spectacular either. Some areas, such as the street look good but a lot of the indoor stages look similar, with drab tones. The character models look good but as you’d expect from a PlayStation game, there is texture warping. The soundtrack is forgettable, lacking the explosive beats of Streets of Rage. There are some voice clips but it’s nothing to shout about. Combat can feel fluid in places and sluggish in others. Combos can be pulled off easily but there is sometimes a delay with the button input. This mostly happened when I was trying a running attack. Each button has its own move. For example, O jumps, X punches, Square kicks and Triangle grabs. Grappling in the game is odd as sometimes it works, other times it doesn’t and you won’t really know until you’ve gotten hit. The X button is also used for picking up items, which is a pain especially in levels with items littered everywhere. Like most beat’em ups, you can pick up all manner of items from axes to poles and even guns. Enemies will also have weapons that you can knock out of their hands and take. The levels feature some destroyable environments, from standard crates to drinks machines and even areas where you can get weapons by pulling a bar off the wall. The game isn’t long, with a playthrough taking about 90 minutes but there are some alternative paths to take to try and boost replayability. The levels themselves aren’t as free flowing as other beat’em ups, which each one being a short stage where you’ll have to beat up a few enemies before it ends. It lacks the flow of other games, hampered further by the constant load screens. These occur between stages, cutscenes and even when the stage is simply loading the bosses. The camera for the most part does a decent job but can sometimes swing around to show enemies arriving. It falls apart when it comes to boss fights. In single-player its not so bad but in multi-player it becomes hectic. The camera tries to focus on the boss and as a result if the players go in two different directions, it gets confused as to who to follow. Overall, it’s a decent game that can help waste a bit of time and it did try to pull beat’em ups into 3D but it falls short.
Sonic Advance 3
Game Boy Advance – 2004
Sonic Team return with their final entry in the Sonic Advance series. Released in 2004, Sonic Advance 3 builds on its predecessors in a number of ways. The first thing you’ll notice is that now you have to select a partner. When starting off, you’ll only have Sonic and Tails to choose from but as you progress, you’ll unlock Knuckles, Amy and Cream. This team mechanic has some advantages. Certain characters can access different areas in each level and holding down the R button, you can summon your teammate to help you. These can be things like hurling you forward or picking you up and flying over. Your teammate can also collect rings, defeat enemies and get hits on the bosses. There is a downside to this. Your AI partner isn’t the smartest and, in some areas, he can activate movable platforms or mine carts before you are ready. In one instance, Tails activated a mine cart on me, which left me stranded underwater and eventually Sonic ran out of air. The other noticeable addition is hub worlds. Gone is the simple map, where you’ll select a level, replaced with an open area to explore. Here you’ll find levels, bonus areas and boss rooms. You’ll also find chao to give you hints and tips as well as some to collect. Collectable chao can be found in the levels as well. Collect all ten in a zone and you’ll unlock a key to find the Chaos Emerald bonus zones. Collect all the Emeralds to once again unlock a hidden final boss. These hubs are fun at first but after a Game Over, it can be a bit of an annoyance to retrace your steps back to the level. There are now three acts in each zone along with a boss battle. The game is more forgiving than Sonic Advance 2, with game overs merely making you replay the level and not the whole zone. The difficulty has been toned down but you can still change it from Normal to Easy in the options menu. The levels are colourful and have a range of artistic styles unique to this game. The music once again complements each level well, with a mixture of rearranged classic tracks and new ones too. Speed is still important but you’ll need to be cautious this time around, especially in the later stages that require a lot of platforming. The platforming can feel a bit ropey in places. I noticed this more in the final zones that required precision jumping. The boss battles are a healthy mix of different styles, from the usual jumping on Dr. Eggman’s head to dropping platforms on him as he chases you up the stage. Overall, it’s a great platformer for a handheld but with tighter controls, it would have been near perfect.
Sonic Advance 2
Game Boy Advance – 2002
Released one year after the first Sonic Advance, Sonic Advance 2 focuses a lot more on pure speed. As a result, the levels have been made slightly more linear but you still have different routes throughout each level. The game features five playable characters, including newcomer Cream the Rabbit. You start out as Sonic but will unlock new characters after beating certain levels. Again, each character has their own ways of progressing through the stages. The graphics look crisper than the original, with Sonic receiving a blurring effect when you hit his maximum speed. The levels range from your standard entry grass zone, to a musical zone and then the usual egg factory zone. Along the way, each level is accompanied by a wonderful score. These are probably some of the hedgehog’s finest ever tracks. Each zone has two acts with a boss stage at the end. Almost all the bosses are moving and Sonic has to chase after them. At first, it’s a novel idea compared to the standard boss arenas of old but after a while I (and my left thumb) yearned for a standard boss stage. The game does have some difficulty options, with Easy mode and turning time outs off. They make a marginal difference as you’ll be going so fast that you’ll rarely get a time out. The difficulty on the other hand has been boosted since the first game. It will start off easy enough but by Sky Paradise you will notice a significant difficulty spike. At the centre of this spike are the boss battles, with Final Zone ending in a boss rush. The game also features one of the worst looking stages I’ve ever seen, Techno Base. It’s a novel idea, with flashing lights and flickering effects but by my 5th attempt, I just wanted it gone. Since the game is built on speed, I also found myself holding right a lot as I blasted through the different stages. It’s a challenging game that encourages repeated playthroughs to unlock everything, which is helped by each character having their own special moves to help you along.
Game Boy Advance – 2001
Developed by Sonic Team and released on Nintendo’s popular handheld, Sonic Advance would be the start of the blue blurs “Advance” trilogy on the GBA. You can take control of Sonic, Tails, Knuckles and Amy as you whizz through 13 stages (and a secret one), split across 6 acts and a Final Zone. Each character has their own skills, meaning each level feels slightly different depending on who you choose. The levels are well thought out, taking full advantage of each character’s special trait. Playing as Sonic, the game feels like a blast, with the player having to slow down very little. The controls can feel a bit floaty in places but overall, the characters are easily controlled. The game introduces you nicely, before slowly cranking up the difficulty. If you do find it a bit too challenging, you can change the difficulty or even turn off “Time Up”. The camera is zoomed out far enough for you to see what’s coming next, an issue other handheld Sonic games suffered from was not being able to see far enough ahead, but there are times when the game requires you to take a leap of faith. The bonus stages, required to collect the Chaos Emeralds, can be a bit challenging due to the 3D camera. Collect all of these Emeralds and play through the game with the game with all characters and you’ll unlock the true final boss. This is something Sonic games have done previously and encourages you to experiment with the other characters, increasing replayability. The graphics look impressive, even to this day, with the sprite work running smoothly. The levels look gorgeous and there is a nice variety to them. The music is wonderful, taking full advantage of the Game Boy Advance’s sound chips. I played this one through the Game Boy Player on the GameCube and had an absolute blast.