Secret of the Stars
Genre: Role-Playing Game
Video games have a variety of ways that they can gain notoriety over time, but they tend to fall into one camp or another. One way is that the game is so well-made, fantastic, or charming that the general public can’t help but fall in love with it. There are a vast number of games from the golden age of the Super Nintendo and Sega Genesis days that I can think of off the top of my head when I think about the games that captured my attention and have stuck with me to this day.
Then, there is the other way; the way that may not be considered quite as positive as the first. There is a selection of games that miss the mark in such a grandiose way that they become cult classics, revered for the mess of positive and negative elements that they bring to the table. These are the games that are not so universally terrible that they can’t be played, but the ones that effort was put into to make into a game that could walk alongside its technological brethren and hold its head high as one of their equals- and managed to miss the point of why those games were so successful.
Tecmo’s Secret of the Stars is one of those games to me. Before I got the chance to play it, I had heard so much about how terrible the game was but hadn’t really heard exactly why it was awful. It wasn’t that I doubted the people saying these things about the game. Usually, when I haven’t heard of an RPG from the early 90s era by this point, I feel like there’s something off about it that has kept it in mind blind spot over the years. I felt like I would be letting myself down to not at least try to forge through Secret of the Stars and see exactly why it has been panned by so many people, though, and much like some other games I’ve reviewed here, I turned the game on with an open mind in an attempt to analyze it to the best of my abilities.
Let’s see how that went, shall we? Continue reading
The Simpsons: Night of the Living Treehouse of Horror
Game Boy Color
Genre: Action Platformer
My first introduction to horror growing up came in the form of television specials that would pop up around the Halloween season. I vividly remember episodes of Home Improvement, Roseanne, and Boy Meets World that entranced me as a kid. Honestly, they probably scared me a bit, too, even though they’re probably pretty laughable to me today. They were a good gateway into a genre that I love now, though, and my gaming and movie tastes might be fairly different if it weren’t for those spooky interludes in my sitcom watching days.
As it happens, I also watched a lot of The Simpsons growing up. Like most other sitcoms, they had a Halloween episode carved out each year, too, called the Treehouse of Horror due to the framing narrative involving the stories being told in the oft-utilized structure in the family’s backyard. As an anthology of short Simpson-flavored homages, this appealed to me since I enjoyed reading and the specials were well-produced, I’ve always held a special place in my heart for them.
Imagine my delight, then, when I was looking through my collection for something a bit scary to play while leading into the spooky season (yeah, I start early) and stumbled across The Simpsons: Night of the Living Treehouse of Horror. How this had slipped under my active radar, I’m not entirely sure, but I made a quick plan to rectify the problem. After some quick preparation- and honestly, setting myself up for the possibility that the game could be terrible since I had never heard of it and it’s a licensed game- I jumped into the shoes of the familial quintet to see if I was in for a trick or a treat. Continue reading
Genre: Survival Horror
In general, horror is a tricky genre to be successful in, despite there being quite a bit of leeway as to what “horror” can actually pertain to. Sometimes, horror can be encapsulated by the visuals of a game, making for some gruesome scenes or grisly environments that can offset a player’s senses. Action-horror can give a player weapons and defenses aplenty at their disposal only to let them whittle away as the game continues. Then there are games that don’t even give you weapons, offering either environment or a host of hiding spaces to avoid assailants as you attempt to escape the encroaching danger.
Whatever the specifics are, horror games usually have the primary goal of trying to scare the player. Jump scares can be cheap but effective and atmosphere and digital disorientation can leave a lasting impression but takes a thorough followthrough to pack a punch. There is a delicate balance involving tension, foreboding, art, and programming that has to go into these games for them to achieve their goal.
One game that made this attempt was Fatal Frame, the origin point of a series that never quite reached the popularity of some of its brethren but has a well-sized and devoted following. Touting a rare “based on a true story” label on its cover, the game left quite the impression on me growing up but I never finished the original title, opting instead to play through the second entry with a friend in high school over the course of a night one summer. I’ve had fond memories of the pieces of the series I’ve played in the past, so I decided it was time to buckle in and push through the game that started the series on its quiet course into cult reverence. Continue reading
DreadOut: Keepers of the Dark
Genre: Survival Action Horror
Certain games lend themselves to a convoluted and drawn-out mythos. Taking into account some certain popular horror games, you could easily find essays about Silent Hill’s background and characters. Personally, I’ve poured through a number of analyses about Rule of Rose and the symbolism within the world drawn up over the game’s events. While a lot of that is in the eye and explanations of the analyst behind the keyboard, most franchises are not foreign to the idea of adding more to an already existing mythos to explain mysteries or flesh out their universe. It’s what endears people to their work, after all.
The original DreadOut (which I reviewed a while back here) took its inspiration from some already existing mythology, sending a group of trapped teenagers and their teacher up against some of the specters and demons in Indonesian stories. The game didn’t just rest on this, as it had its own plot and story to tell, but the combination of existing and specifically created histories made for an interesting plot to watch unfold as the horrors played out.
Keepers of the Dark is not a straight sequel to DreadOut as one might be led to believe from the title and timeline. I say this not only informationally but as a bit of a warning for the discussion to follow since there is almost no way to discuss the game without referring to elements from the original DreadOut and possibly giving some spoilers. Acting more like a “missing chapter”, according to the game’s page on Steam, it sort of takes a quick sidestep from the plot of the original and has events that relate to it. If you haven’t played the original game and don’t want it ruined for you, feel free to turn away now. No hard feelings here, I promise!
Otherwise, take a peek at what I thought of this extra chapter from the DreadOut universe and how effective it may or may not have been as a standalone piece. Continue reading
A Boy and His Blob: Trouble on Blobolonia
Nintendo Entertainment System
Imagineering / Absolute Entertainment
Genre: Puzzle Platformer
The introduction of the NES to the video gaming market felt like it was a time where a lot of chances were taken. Not to belittle the consoles that had come before it. There were plenty of games that tried something new, but it felt like there was a marked shift in capabilities for the system and the approach to video game mechanics began to spread to a larger variety that was accessible to more developers. With that, some companies attempted to step outside of the box a bit, jumping from their work on earlier consoles to embrace the growth of technology in the field.
Such was the case with Imagineering and Absolute Entertainment who had produced and published games for the Atari and Commodore 64 before making the jump onto the Nintendo Entertainment System. With a bit of innovation and some high aspirations, their first attempt to break into the NES market in conjunction with one another was with a little game that has seen a few entries in its legacy called A Boy and His Blob: Trouble on Blobolonia.
Attempting to put a spin on the classic adventure platformers that were so plentiful in the system’s library, the idea was to create a game that did away with tedious inventory management and would be another step forward in the genre given the influence designer and programmer David Crane had already with his work on Pitfall!, a classic in its own right that pushed the adventure scene in a promising direction.
Having played this game as a kid, I had never finished it and remembered it being a bit too challenging when I had attempted it last. One morning, with my renewed resolved and a few more years of gaming under my belt, I decided to take a swing through the game and take a journey with A Boy and His Blob. Continue reading