Crush Pinball Series – An Overview

Alien Crush (U)-0000.pngAlien Crush
TurboGrafx-16
Compile / NEC / NAXAT Soft
Genre: Sci-Fi Pinball
1989

Alien Crush (U)-0004.pngThe basic premise of Alien Crush is that you, as the pinball player, are fighting back against the aliens inhabiting the table. Spanning across two levels, the table is fairly basic, though there is always something to look at considering the art style is heavily inspired by H.R. Giger, notably having worked on the creatures of the Alien films. Still, the table is about as sparse for player control as it gets with a pair of flippers at the bottom of each screen.

With some luck, however, the player can end up in one of the many bonus rounds. While each bonus round takes place in the same structured room, the objective shifts with targets such as a large alien worm whose segments must be destroyed by directing the ball into certain areas of the room to open eyes that are part of the table. The more segments, eyes and other targets the player manages to destroy before the ball winds up back on the base table, the more bonus points they get.

 

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Along with the regular features of most pinball machines like multipliers and special areas to hit to rack up points, the game has a couple of spots that the ball can be hit into that will “reset” the round, banking the points that the player has received so far but giving them a fresh lease on gaining more when the interactive features start to pile up. It’s a little jarring at first since it seems like you’ve lost a ball just for playing the game, but after a while, it turns into a nice breather since the bankable areas aren’t tough to hit.

Alien Crush has a few interesting features despite having a fairly basic table setup. Players can choose one of two music tracks to play while the game is playing- Lunar Eclipse or Demon’s Undulate. Both are well-composed tracks that lend a different feel to the game. The speed of the ball can also be chosen at the beginning, offering a Fast or Slow option as a substitution for Normal and Easy mode. Even on “Fast”, though, the game can be pretty forgiving. The last- and possibly most interesting for the time- is that Alien Crush has an ending. It’s not a great ending- there are explosions and you are told you are the greatest player- and according to some research, it can take anywhere between 10 and 40 hours of gameplay to reach so it’s probably not worth exploring. It’s still a novel way to end a pinball game for the time.


Alien Crush (U)-0005.pngGraphically and aurally, the game holds up really well, especially considering it is a 30-year old game. The backing track can become a little mind-numbing after a while but not in a negative way. It just feels a bit “featureless” after some time with the game. Both tracks are still quality 16-bit tunes, though, and they complement the colorful-but-foreboding visuals well.

If you’re a fan of pinball games, Alien Crush is a surprisingly fun and addictive entry into the genre. It’s not the most innovative game now and it’s hard to think of a way to justify a full retail price for the title at any given time (as it can be with most single table pinball titles), but it’s an above-average game in its own right and deserves a look if you want to nab it either physically or on the Playstation Network for PS3 and PSP.

Devil's Crush (U)-0005.pngDevil’s Crush
TurboGrafx-16
Compile / NEX / NAXAT Soft
Genre: Dark Fantasy Pinball
1990

Devil's Crush (U)-0010.pngA year later, the same folks would put together another digital pinball game by the name of Devil’s Crush. While the original had a science-fiction bent, immersing the player in a battle against alien creatures destroying them and their allies for points, Devil’s Crush approaches from a fantasy base. Instead of intergalactic invaders, the developers decided to pepper their second title in the Crush Pinball series with skeletons, cults, and skulls.

At the heart of pinball games, you can only change so much while retaining the feel of working with an actual pinball machine. Devil’s Crush takes some steps in the right direction for improvement, though. First and foremost, there are three levels to the table instead of two. By sheer table space, it’s already a larger game than Alien Crush. The first level resembles the breaching of a castle wall, complete with enemies littering the landscape. In the middle, a castle with a number of gates, guards, and a queen (who may not be what she seems). The top-level gets darker, a number of robed individuals circling about in a ritual with skulls and Gothic decor about.

Devil's Crush (U)-0009.pngThe first thing people will probably notice mechanically is that there is a lot more going on. There are more ball catches, pieces that evolve and shift as the game plays on, and the bonus stages are largely the same format but are more involving. The notable difference is that the game feels more difficult than its predecessor since it feels like there is less leeway for earning extra balls. While there are more opportunities to block the ball from being lost through triggering certain conditions on the table, the ball seems to slide more naturally toward these pitfalls than in the previous game.

Fantastic as it is, the game’s major downfall is in its physics. While very few people were looking for realistic pinball physics back in the day, Devil’s Crush makes it difficult to line up shots because the ricochet of the ball seems to be a little random, traveling in the same general direction it was meant to but at a different angle than it was meant to nine times out of ten. Does this ruin the game? Not at all. Does it make things a little more frustrating than they should be? Sure does.

Devil's Crush (U)-0006.pngThe benefit to the year between Alien and Devil is that the graphics and sound have improved, the former more so than the latter. Graphically, the game is a little more complex and feels like it has more polish. There are more moving parts and what little animation they have is fluid. Larger sprites like bonus room bosses are rendered well, and the score tallying scenes after are a nice touch, feeling more thematic than the first game. Overall, though, this game probably has one of the best soundtracks out of any pinball game I’ve played. The composer clearly took into account that people would be spending a while on the table and came up with a synth-rock jam that evolves as the game progresses rather than running the same loop over and over. The sound effects are right on par, too, so the whole game is a fantastic listen.

While only the Sega Genesis version of the game goes by the name Dragon’s Fury and has an ending (which sounds like it’s still not worth the time to get to due to its simplicity), Devil’s Crush is widely accepted as the best of the Crush Pinball series. It’s not hard to see why given how addictive it ended up being and how well crafted it is on most levels. Sadly, it’s tough to come by now without investing in the original game but it did see a brief second life on the Wii and Wii U through Virtual Console.

Naxat Super Pinball - Jaki Crush (Japan)002.pngJaki Crush
Super Famicom
Compile / NAXAT Soft
Genre: Fantasy Pinball
1992

Naxat Super Pinball - Jaki Crush (Japan)020.pngWith Devil’s Crush focusing on a dark “sword-and-sorcery” theme for its table, it seems like a mythology flavored title might be a great fit for the next Crush game. Jaki Crush gave players just that, focusing on Eastern mythology and figures to entertain its flipper-frenzied fans. Of course, the game never released in the US and is the only piece of the Crush series to not be released outside of Japan. Given the relative obscurity of the games at this point, though, and the Super Nintendo library at the time, it feels like it was probably a hard sell on US shores.

Once again, the format of the table follows the three-tiered setup from Devil’s Crush, offering about as much table space as the previous game. Whereas there was an entire progression of breaching a castle and finding its dark innards before, though, the general goal of Jaki Crush is to wage battle against many a demon, both through the main table and the bonus stages.

Naxat Super Pinball - Jaki Crush (Japan)006.pngHow have two years between entries treated Jaki Crush, though? There are some great ideas going on and a couple of steps back. By far, this is the fanciest and most involved table to date. There are plenty of moving parts and secrets to find. The best parts are the colorful and creative bonus levels by a large margin. Even the ball starts as a golden orb with a kanji (from the look of it) that is launched from place to place, almost reminiscent of a Dragon Ball or mystical charm- and it changes appearance and most likely strength once a boss is defeated. There is a lot going on in the game.

There are a few missteps in the table set-up, though. For one, the number of times the ball was launched and dropped immediately into a section that it couldn’t be saved from was frustrating. Even using the table shake option- which is almost vital in this entry- it felt like a number of turns at the table ended too quickly due to the slopes and ramps of the table rather than any skill I could apply. Where the physics in the previous game felt a bit off, the ball in Devil felt like it could generally be guided in the right direction as needed. In Jaki, the ball feels heavy and the trajectory of the flippers feels more arbitrary. Not in a way that can’t be handled or learned, but controlling the ball in Jaki Crush feels even less wieldy than the last game.

Naxat Super Pinball - Jaki Crush (Japan)016.pngThe presentation on the game takes a sharp deviation on each front, too. The graphics are stellar, again showing off some great environments in the bonus levels involving boss fights with thunder-wielding demons, blazing skulls, and ice creatures, just to name a few. In comparison, though, the sound feels like it has taken a step back. It’s not bad, mind you, but everything feels a little more like stock action music and sound effects for the Super Famicom at the time. It does compensate a little by having more musical tracks, taking advantage of the hardware and progressing forward, but it doesn’t reach the heights that Devil’s Crush had.

Given the fact that it’s a Japan-only release, Jaki Crush might be tough to come across without a little effort. If you’re a fan of retro games and pinball, it could be worth it with the right equipment. It certainly isn’t the worst of the series and it does some neat things that fans of Devil’s Crush may want to hunt it down for.


Dragon's Revenge (JUE) [!]_001.png
Dragon’s Revenge
Sega Genesis
Tengen
Genre: Fantasy Pinball
1993

Dragon's Revenge (JUE) [!]_005.pngHaving had success with Devil’s Crush in the US, the folks behind the series decided to ride that wave a few years later by creating a sequel to the game. Since a number of players knew the original by the more popular title Dragon’s Fury due to there being more support behind the Sega Genesis in this neck of the woods, the second game would be titled Dragon’s Revenge, picking up where Fury left off. Oddly enough, though, Compile and NAXAT Soft, the developers of the previous Crush titles, had nothing to do with this entry. Instead, the folks at Tengen (of Gauntlet fame) would take a turn at the wheel- for better or worse.

The “plot” of the game is that the sorceress Darzel and a dragon who are enslaving the village of Kaflin’s Keep. She has captured three adventurers who are integral to stopping her, and it’s up to the player to help rally those adventurers, freeing them to put an end to the dragon’s reign and stopping Darzel from taking over the land. While the plot’s a standard one, the game does its best to incorporate elements of the story into the bonus stages and the table.

Dragon's Revenge (JUE) [!]_009.pngUnfortunately, that’s about where the positive parts of the mechanics seem to end. While boasting what is most likely the largest table of the series up until then, it doesn’t feel like the game does much with it. Instead of having a ball with any kind of physics, the player is left with what feels like a bouncy ball let loose in a room full of trampolines; the more the ball hits, the faster it seems to go until it’s really just a matter of luck if it will stay on the board. The tilt option feels nigh useless, too, rarely coming in handy to save a doomed ball, and the ball seems to push through certain barriers and flippers when it is hit hard enough. It all feels like a mess that outweighs the fun action-filled parts of the game. Even the bonus stages feel sparse, relying more on spectacle than fun.

Dragon's Revenge (JUE) [!]_002.pngThe game is nice enough to look at, about on par with the rest of the Genesis library. Nearly all of the game’s artistic stock is in its bonus levels this time around with interesting enemies that are animated against some nice fantasy backdrops in an attempt to emulate some of the sword-and-sorcery art that was so prevalent at the time. The sound design takes a heavy dip, though, steeped in the heavy bass and repetitive tunes that also permeated a lot of the more average games on the system. Sound effects are all either canned vocal effects (with an embarrassing amount of female moaning) or over the top explosion sounds. While this was an attempt to appeal to the cool action that Genesis had promised at the time, it misses the mark so far as the rest of the series is concerned.

While it’s not a terrible game overall, Dragon’s Revenge feels like the weakest of the Crush Pinball games. Whether it was due to the lack of Compile and NAXAT’s input or trying to appeal to the popular demographic of the time, the game is sloppy and feels like more of a relic of its time than a pinball game made to be fun and engaging. It was certainly the first game in the series I was okay with putting down one I did a few runs.

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Alien Crush Returns
Wii
Tamsoft / Hudson Soft
Genre: Sci-Fi Pinball
2008

While critics seemed to enjoy Dragon’s Revenge, it would appear to be the final piece of the Crush Pinball franchise for years after. In an odd resurgence, though, the actual parting title for the series would come out fifteen years later as a WiiWare exclusive title. Returning to the origins of the series, the team at Tamsoft- who has an eclectic history of games, to begin with- decided to develop Alien Crush Returns, a modern retake on the first game from 1989.

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From the beginning, the improvements are clear. Boasting a story mode and an arcade mode, Alien Crush Returns has a little more depth than its ancestors. Arcade Mode is exactly what it sounds like and plays like the older titles. By choosing one of three tables, the player can aim for the high score and play through three balls worth of alien slaughter. The Story Mode threads a narrative across the tables, placing the player as the universe’s last hope against the aliens in an attempt to destroy their mothership and keep Earth safe. While it only consists of five stages- the three tables and two boss levels- it’s a unique take on the gameplay of the previous games. There is also an added feature of “Action Balls” where with the push of a button, the ball will be propelled forward, backward (key for saving a turn sometimes), or splitting it in a sort of multi-ball. These are all earned as the game is played.

WE9E18-20.pngReturns isn’t without its flaws. Overall, the story feels short, especially for a game that has a save feature and lets you retry whichever table you left off on when you lost your final ball. While there’s no need for an in-depth story, the objectives are achieved quickly across the tables, consisting of destroying all of the aliens that appear or destroying the boss. Really, the game’s longevity is in its Arcade Mode, but the effort to include something new is appreciated.

The physics are still a little off, but they feel a ton better than Dragon’s Revenge, the ricochets and paths feeling much more natural and easy to shoot with skill. Tables are a little smaller and less happens across them, but they are fun to navigate. The two boss battles are also a blast with enemies that actually fight back who can destroy your ball if you aren’t careful. What Returns attempts to offer is a fun pinball experience that can be approached a few ways, depending on your play style.

 

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Fifteen years makes a world of difference for both visuals and music, and Alien Crush Returns takes advantage of that. It’s hard to deny that the graphics are fantastic to look at, losing some of the retro charms of the other Crush games but making for an interesting- and sometimes nauseating- design that compliments the original game’s Giger-esque veneer. It can be easy to lose your ball in the visuals at times, though, which is the only setback. Listening to the game is nice, and none of the tables last so long that the soundtrack grates. The mix of techno and ominous tracks are engaging and while they still don’t beat the best of the series, the soundscape of the game is solid.

While the game’s length is the pain point for most critics, it’s a kind of sad that Alien Crush Returns doesn’t have a way to be purchased anymore, the true issue with WiiWare exclusive games. It’s a fun deviation that has some great ideas and works effectively as a love letter to its 20-year-old inspiration.

Conclusion
The Crush Pinball series is a jewelry box of hidden gems. Even the games I enjoyed the least were still fun to play even with their flaws. Pinball games don’t exactly hit the mainstream often anymore, though, and quite a few of them try to get every bounce and pivot right in an attempt at an accurate recreation of the tables that line almost every arcade. Stepping into this series with the mindset that these are meant to be stylish and a bit wacky rather than a representation of the real deal will definitely help anyone interested in checking these out. By sheer ability to retrieve the games at this point, though, the series may not be worth pursuing since Jaki Crush is Import only, requiring a Super Famicom to play, and Alien Crush Returns can’t be bought anymore, knocking out almost half of the titles right off.

If you happen to have these games or you’re looking to add to your retro collection, it wouldn’t hurt to put these titles on your shortlist. The original trilogy from Compile and NAXAT is a ton of fun and the replayability of the series, in general, is pretty high due to the nature of pinball itself. The trappings that the developers placed to draw people in further are a nice bonus that pays off more often than not.

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PAX East 2020 Round-Up – Most Anticipated Games

PAXEast19Logo
As folks may or may not know, I spent this past weekend at the PAX convention in Boston, staying with a couple of friends near the city and immersing myself in three days of games, merchandise, and fellow fans of nerd culture. Overall, it was an absolute blast. I met with some fellow content creators, managed to grab quite a bit of swag and games that I had been eyeing for a while, and most importantly- I got to chat with developers and check out their games.

Some folks might have heard that there were some no-shows concerning some larger companies like Sony, so there were no demos for The Last of Us 2, for instance. While this made the expo floor feel a little easier to navigate- Sony’s giant area was instead a bunch of smaller vendors and developers by the time PAX opened- the largest games on display were Animal Crossing: New Horizons and the remake of Final Fantasy VII, both of which were near-impossible to get to (though I did manage a demo of Animal Crossing, which was everything I wanted it to be and more).

With all of that, though, this was a year for indies both released and upcoming to shine. Last year, I made a list of games that hovered around the line of high-profile and completely unknown. This year, you might find that there are a lot of games you haven’t heard of on this list if you don’t dabble in the independent gaming scene much. It’s not that the more well-known games didn’t make some kind of impression. If I have to put up an Honorable Mention, Animal Crossing is a game that I’ve been excited about for months and lived up to what I was hoping it would be. Despite the amazing spectacle of the display area, though, and the immense crowd around it at all times, it wasn’t one of my top games I saw at the convention.

Maybe it was the excitement surrounding the smaller booths. Maybe it’s the fact that I’ve been watching Animal Crossing and Final Fantasy VII unfold on the internet for months. Whatever it was, my attention was drawn to a lot of smaller developers this year.

So in no particular order…

Image result for starcrossed contigo gamesStarCrossed – Contigo Games

Billed as a cooperative action arcade game, StarCrossed checked a few boxes right off the bat for me. It was first pitched to me as “Magical Girl Pong”. I know this doesn’t appeal to everyone right away, but my ears perked up. While it’s a simple concept, it was a lot more fun in execution than it sounded at first.

While there’s a story mode that can be played single-player, the cooperative play was the real hook. Each player chooses from a group of five Sailor-Moon-adjacent characters to act as their “paddle”. When the game opens, each side is populated by a player who can move around and bounce an orb back and forth. The orb is drawn automatically toward the character it is heading toward which makes the game seem easy at first.

The game becomes more difficult, though, as enemies appear, prompting the players to line up their orb to strike their assailants while keeping themselves safe. Some of these enemies require a number of hits or being struck from a certain side, so there’s an element of coordination involved. Touting the fact that it can be played online or through features like Steam’s Remote Play, it could be easy to play with a friend and doesn’t take forever to set up or reach a stopping point for.

Since the game is already out on Steam, I bought it while I was at PAX, but there are plans for it to reach other platforms over the next year.

Image result for the red lantern game
The Red Lantern – Timberline Games

Some of the early survival games like Oregon Trail were oriented toward resource management and with very little story aside from reaching Point B from Point A. While there have been a few exceptions, “roguelike” survival games tend to be light on story in lieu of focus on the survival aspect or on the interactions between characters like the recent offering This War of Mine.

The Red Lantern offers up a story-driven survival experience with a number of elements from the titles I’ve just mentioned. Playing as “The Musher” (voiced by the amazing Ashly Burch), your goal is to reach your home over five miles of Alaskan wilderness. Where your choice in team lies is in your team of sled dogs. Each of them have a different personality and abilities and they need to be taken care of as the trip carries on and The Musher’s story unfolds.

Of course, there are environmental hazards, as well- exposure, bears, storms- and Timberline Studios promises that there are hundreds of things that have a chance of happening over the course of your journey. Given the narrative nature of the trailer and speaking on childhood dreams, Red Lantern promises some depth so far as its protagonist is concerned.

Look forward to the game coming out something in the second quarter of the year.

Image result for sacrifice your friends gameSacrifice Your Friends – Astrolabe Interactive

Once again into the multiplayer fray, Sacrifice Your Friends may have been the most fun I had with a demo the entire time on the floor. It’s tough for me not to give some kind of attention to a Lovecraft themed game, let alone a party game with cartoon styled graphics.

Touting itself as a battle royale game in the vein of Power Stone, there is a Story Mode and a Deathmatch mode. In the Deathmatch, up to four players can choose their character, costume, team color- and Old God to worship and become an avatar for.  Starting with 10 lives, each player can run around the various maps, picking up weapons that appear out of nowhere and knocking each other off of the edges of the screen. Last one with lives remaining wins. Sounds simple, right?

As the levels play out, environmental hazards like sandworms, giant tentacles and speeding freight trains crop up, claiming a few lives from the unwary. Each player also has an insanity bar that fills up the more they engage in combat. Once it fills, one press of a button can transform them into a nigh-unstoppable creature that can wreak havoc for a short amount of time. Of course, when three Cthulhus (Cthulhi?) transform at once, more mayhem follows in a madcap brawl until one remains.

Sacrifice Your Friends will hit multiple platforms in the Summer of this year.

Image result for hover game switchHover – Fusty Games

Another game that released recently, Hover has gained some accolades for its inspirations drawn from the colorful and funky Jet Set Radio. Even watching the demo and looking at the art evokes the same feeling of neon rebellion that its spiritual forefather bore.

Rather than sailing around on inline skates, you’ll take on the role of a member of The Gamers, a group of high-tech parkour enthusiasts. Stuck in a city where relaxation and leisure has been outlawed, The Gamers have decided that they need to strike back against the dictatorship that has overtaken their home and find a way to end their oppression.

While didn’t get to play the game personally, I did get to watch it and have read up a bit on it since. Having a limited edition physical copy didn’t hurt my desire to own the game, but I’m a huge Jet Set Radio fan. This just seemed like a no-brainer- and it honestly looked like a blast without even touching a controller.

Hover is already out on the Nintendo Switch and PC so give it a look if it sounds interesting or if you’re a fan of fighting “the man” in a futuristic techno-city.

Image result for panzer paladinPanzer Paladin – Tribute Games

With a name the presentation and approach that Panzer Paladin takes, it’s not hard to see where Tribute Games might have gotten their name from. The game’s demo area was large enough, but it was more of an accident that I happened into watching a friend check out the game. I was hooked almost immediately. With games like Wizorb and Mercenary Kings under their belts, Tribute has been putting out some quality retro-inspired work for a while now.

While there wasn’t much to gather from the plot aside from “defending the world from the occult and demons with technology”, that was really all that was needed. Put in the position of a mech pilot, the player travels through a bunch of levels, finding and picking up multiple weapons to destroy the creatures threatening their world. By busting open walls, floors, and merely finding them throughout their adventure, players will find their arsenal expanding quickly with spears, swords, and a number of other tools.

The weapons play a larger role, though, because by choosing to break them, spells both offensive and defensive can be cast- at the expense of losing the weapon, of course. At times, the player can also choose to eject from the “Panzer” to move about as the “Paladin”, able to fit into smaller areas while being a bit more vulnerable and less versatile offensively.

The inspirations from games like Zelda II: The Adventure of LinkBlaster Master, and Castlevania are worn proudly on the game’s sleeve. It was easy to see the love for the games of the past while still trying to present an original idea that could have released right alongside them. While there’s no exact release date or release, it is expected out this year on all platforms.

 

While there were plenty more games on the floor to talk about, I wanted to keep this short to give just a sample of the offerings that will be coming out that I and some of my friends are looking forward to in the coming year. Does anything sound interesting to you? Were there other games you might know about or might have seen that you’d like to know more about or talk about? Let me know in the comments or over on Twitter at The3rdPlayer!

 

The Ashes Everglowing – Impressions on the Cindered Shadows DLC from Fire Emblem Three Houses

CinderedShadows
Fire Emblem: Three Houses
was one of my favorite games from last year, and the series has been noteworthy for me since I was introduced to it years ago. I logged a record number of hours into the game from the day it came out (only rivaled by Persona 5 and Final Fantasy XII, even at 85 or so hours on the first playthrough) and when Nintendo announced that there was going to be DLC content, I was a bit skeptical, to say the least.

The Fire Emblem games have generally had decent DLC. Awakening‘s DLC had throwbacks to just about every game in the series’ prolific past, Echoes of Valentia had a couple of side quests and a few new characters- but Three Houses felt so complete with four different paths and a number of ways to tackle party building and class customization. Personally, I was a little worried that adding anything that could build on the plot of the game could convolute things, save for one or two very specific open threads left by the game’s main plot.

(As a note, if you want to go into Cindered Shadows completely blind, here is your chance to bail before any spoilers!)

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On February 13th, Cindered Shadows was released. Promising a story of a new house called the Ashen Wolves, trailers gave some details about a plot revolving around an area under Garreg Mach Monastery called “Abyss” where a number of students and other people lived for a number of reasons ranging from societal casting out to committing morally gray crimes and needing a place to hide. Four new characters- brash Balthus, the aristocratic Constance, straightforward-to-a-fault Hapi, and the mysterious Yuri- were to be added to the roster and given the spotlight in the tale involving the strange village beneath the monastery.

For the most part, the story of Cindered Shadows works. The details as to why the people of the Abyss are there, the connections that each of the characters has to the world of Fodlan and its mythos are strong enough, and there are only a couple of moments of “well, why didn’t we hear about this before if it already existed”. The characters are good additions, too, with the small cast from the original game making comments and connections for the audience to flesh out the newcomers. Some care was given to slide the plot of this DLC into the tales fans already knew about the game’s world.

What does this add to the main content of the base game, then? Once the whole side story is finished- an easy task since it is only six chapters and about five hours or so total- all four characters become recruitable in the main game. They also bring four new classes with them, all of which have been displayed in past games: Trickster, War Monk, Valkyrie, and Dark Flier. When the characters join up with Byleth’s ranks in the main story, they will bring a certification that will let any characters take on their class from Cindered Shadows. There are a few other benefits, as like a renown bonus, DLC items, and access to the Abyss with features that include the ability to trade items for renown or vice versa.

Cindered Shadows isn’t going to blow your mind if you’ve played through Three Houses already but it does make for an interesting and engaging story. It is challenging and introduces a couple of new mechanics in some chapters, but with the time-turning Divine Pulse at play, it isn’t hard to take a few steps back and approach your enemies and problems a different way. Is it worth the price tag of $30 for the Expansion Pass? Sure. The Pass gives you plenty of other extras that had already been offered before Cindered Shadows came out, and if you’re a fan of Three HousesCindered Shadows is a worthwhile investment.

 

Save Point – My Week in Gaming – 2/15/2020

Fatal Frame
Hey folks! Welcome to the weekend- even if some of us don’t really get a “weekend” per se thanks to work or other obligations we may not be as excited as we could be about.

Since I’m in the middle of a bunch of games and really haven’t had the chance to sit down and write about them formally, I thought it could be a time to implement a new feature just to chat about what I’ve been doing over the past week or so. I usually dabble in so many games and other media over seven days that it feels like a waste not to chat about it as it’s happening in some way.

Mixing, Matchmaking, and Murder

At any given moment, I tend to have at least one game going on my Switch for handheld and relaxing times throughout the house, two on my PC (one persistent or with friends and one for myself to play solo), and one or two on a console like my Playstation 4 or XBox One. There’s usually something retro thrown in there when I feel up to it, but my backlog has been begging me to give it attention lately, so between that and my consoles having just been hooked up in my new place, I’m pretty much at half-capacity right now.

CinderedShadows

I recently picked up the Fire Emblem: Three Houses DLC, Cindered Shadows, which had been advertised as an April release last I had known but got pushed up and released on February 13th. I’m only a couple of battles in, but I’m already enjoying the return to Garreg Mach and some of the new features and classes that have been brought in with the new House, the Ashen Wolves. Between that and coming to the end of the main story of Atelier Ayesha: The Alchemist of Dusk, my Switch has been working overtime- even if it’s just going back to games I’ve already beaten in some form.

On PC, I caught wind of a game called Song of Horror, an episodic horror game that I had barely heard of before I lunged into the trailers for it and bought the Season Pass so that I had all of the episodes once they released. At five episodes total (and the fifth coming out sometime in the next month), I’ve made my way through the first two and I”m still going pretty strong on the third. Between the quality of the game itself and the persistent nature of losing characters, I’ve got to say it’s been a tense one and I’m really enjoying it.

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So far as games I’m playing with other people, I’ve dipped my toe about knee-deep back into Dead by Daylight with some mixed results. They’ve added a few things since I had the chance to play it like challenges to unlock lore of the game and its world and some more playable survivors and killers, but I’m still pretty average at the game itself. It’s a ton of fun at all times for me, though. I’ve also picked up The Division 2 on sale for three dollars to play with my buddy and some others. I was a big fan of the previous one and I’m enjoying the second one, but it’s a bit too early to tell if it’ll stick around in my usual cycle of persistent games.

Backlogs Don’t Only Exist in Gaming, Y’know

So I’ll admit- I’m behind on writing reviews of some of the games I finished off in 2019. Some of them might fall to the wayside or may end up with some lighter coverage in an effort to give some finality to them, though the two I’ve got in my crosshairs right now are on seemingly-James-Bond-action-RPG Alpha Protocol and the NES classic Crystalis. Having just finished up Tokyo Mirage Sessions Encore #FE, I’d love to jot something down about that, too (though, spoiler alert, I recommend it for any fans the Persona or Fire Emblem series).

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As far as featured articles are concerned, I’ve got entries for both the Atelier Series Overview and the Fire Emblem Overview in the works to cover some of the spin-offs and newer games for Fire Emblem as well as the history of the Atelier titles. I’ve also been toying with a follow-up to the Where Did That Come From? series analyzing Zombies Ate My Neighbors and the immense amount of pop-culture references in it. There are a bunch of plates in the air, but I’m addressing them one at a time and they aren’t crashing to the floor, at least!

So What Else is Going On?

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In a couple of weeks, I’ll be attending PAX East with my good buddy, 76Trombones, and some of our other Twitter friends and I couldn’t be more excited. I’ve been researching some of the games that’ll be there, and I’m hoping to give more “up-to-the-minute” coverage compared to last year- though it will probably end up being some daily reviews and then one big overview at the end. I’ll also be taking another trip into the cosplay part of the convention due to the amount of fun I had with it last year. I extend to my friends and readers here, though, if there are any games you’re interested in hearing more about on display there, please feel free to let me know. Most likely, there will be a post in the next week or so about some of the games I’m looking forward to as well as larger titles of interest.

Over the past month or so, I’ve also been helping to contribute to a new feature over at The Well-Red Mage called Magipedia. By his own description, it’s meant to “discover the etymological, cultural, and mythological backgrounds of video game characters, places, and monsters”, and while there aren’t a ton of entries yet, the material that’s there is great and there are plenty more planned and coming out every week- including a couple from yours truly. If you dig analysis, game history, or general quick reads about the nouns of the video game universe, they’re worth a look!

Last but not least, I’ve been working on putting together a set-up to start streaming. Maybe recording videos. Possibly podcasting. I’m not entirely sure yet, so it’s going slowly while I feel out my computer equipment and software. I’ve had a few ideas about where to go with and how to go about it, but there will probably be more momentum there once PAX has come and gone.

So that’s my week in review and what I’ll be playing this weekend! What are you all up to? What are you looking forward to or working on that you’d like to share? Feel free to let me know in the comments (which have been dodgy as of late, so please forgive my slow replies there) or over on Twitter @The3rdPlayer.

Have a great week, folks!

That Fine Line Between Derision and Admiration – Nintendo 3DS – Creeping Terror – 2017

20190413100028_1Creeping Terror
Nintendo 3DS
Nikkatsu Corporation / Mebius / Aksys Games
Genre: Point-and-Click Horror
2017

The beautiful thing about the survival horror genre is that there are always developers trying to innovate and find new ways to break through the separation between the player and the distance of the screen to send shivers down spines and adrenaline through the roof. It gets tough with so many hands in the pot, though; for every Eternal Darkness, there is a The Ring: Terror’s Realm.

What happens when Japan’s oldest surviving film studio decides to jump into the ring, though? Nikkatsu Corporation is just that company and knowing quite a bit about films, it makes sense that they would eventually want to strike out into other media. Their first game to the development credit appears to be a PS Vita game from 2016 called Tokyo Tattoo Girls. While it doesn’t look up my alley, it genuinely seems like a strange first step for a company that’s been around for over 100 years.

Their second effort (so far as I can find, at least) was 2017’s Creeping Terror and it appeared on its surface to be a Clock Tower homage, which was the perfect draw for me to look further into it. As a fan of a number of games in Aksys’s catalog, it seemed like a safe enough bet that I’d at least enjoy it for a little while. It’s hard not to be wary as a horror fan, though. Some companies just throw some dark corridors together, slap some stickers on the outside comparing their game to “x”, and lure unwitting hopefuls into a web of mediocre and uninspired jump scares with nonsense plots.

Not that I’m jaded- but I had some hesitation heading into Creeping Terror. Continue reading